5:13 pm . . .
I’ve got the doors open, letting the breeze blow through the apartment. It’s nice, too, because some trees are blossoming, or shedding, or whatever it is they do when they smell so nice. Ricky’s back at the ALG office, narrowing our search. We’ve started getting some alarming reports of kidnappings and disappearances in southern Mexico, as well as Serbia, Croatia, and the eastern tip of Morocco.
Ricky and Billtruck thought it would be a good idea to find out if they were gang related, or if there was some darker, more sinister motive. But me, I’m just laying down on the couch, not really thinking about anything in particular. Outside I can hear a few planes flying by. Lots of happy birds doing their worm collecting. I can even pick out some of the fancier cars that pull in and out of the drive that crosses down by Luigi’s Pizza.
The sky is equal parts blue and cottony white clouds. The curtains near the windows, they’re just rolling slowly as if invisible hands are pushing them gently to and fro. I’m in the antipode of the Land of Shadows. With all the life and light and color, and the pleasant smells, and the delicate ebb and flow of the warm wind, this is like the most diametrically opposite place to Deadside.
As nice as it is, I still realize that the Land of Sorrows is literally stacked on top of us, barely separated by the space of one electron. Do you have any idea how close that is? It has a mass of 9.1 ×10伤grams, which is only 0.0005 the mass of a proton. And, you know, protons are really small!
That’s so close a distance we should be able to see the souls stuck in Deadside bleeding through every now and then. And it’s a theory I have for ghosts. That they should ‘echo’ or bleed through every so often. I don’t know what the conditions might be, but it makes sense to me. That might explain a lot of ghost sightings. Now that I’m in this line of work, it’s okay to entertain such thoughts and ideas.
Anyway, I’m kind of relaxed right now, enjoying the best parts of being on the Earth plane. I don’t think anything could be better than this. And that’s when my cell phone rings. I’m tempted not to get it, but then I remember that it could be her.
I sit up, reach out and grab my phone off of the coffee table we have in the living room. I put the phone to my ear, not recognizing the number, and slouch a bit.
“Jack,” Billtruck says, “I’m going to link your phone up to Hal, so when I call back in a minute, don’t answer it.” Click.
I didn’t get a chance to respond before the line went dead. I set the phone back down and laid back on the couch. I took a deep breath and tried to relax again, enjoying the peace and serenity. My phone started ringing—beeping really—and I’m trying to ignore it. Three or four beeps and it’s quiet again.
All is well. Now I’m hooked up with Hal, whatever that means. I’m sure he’ll be texting me messages at all hours, giving me dating advice and whatnot. Truth be told, I could probably use the help.
About a minute later the phone starts it’s cricketing again and I reach out, sliding it towards me. I don’t even open my eyes, I just answer the call.
I say, “Did it work? Because I let it ring.”
“Did what work?” she says.
My brain is momentarily twisted. I say, “Hal . . . is he plugged in?”
“Who is Hal?” her soft voice asks.
I sit up, my eyes wide open. It’s Angela. She’s called me! Probably to scream all kinds of obscenities at me, but at least it’s her.
“Hal is a, um, it’s a friend of mine,” I try to explain.
“Do you know who this is?” she asks.
“Of course I do,” I reply quickly. “Angela. I didn’t expect you to call. I figured you were still, um—”
“You want to go to the carnival with me?” she asks me.
I want to ask her if she’s mad at me. If this is a ploy to get me out in the open where a sniper can take a shot at me, or a bunch of her bookstore friends can kick the crap out of me? But I don’t ask her anything.
I just say, Yes.
24 minutes later . . .
Angela met me at Luigi’s, with her environmentally friendly car. We’re going green, I guess. I’m really kind of nervous to be near her right now. I know we’re going to have a discussion about my more than alarming revelations at the book store. And I’m not sure how I’m going to answer that.
I could lie and say that I made it all up as a joke or something. But I think that’d be worse in the long run. No. Truth, even if it’s just part of the truth, is better than lying to her.
Sitting beside her on the way to the carnival, she’s wearing some kind of perfume that should be a class-2 controlled substance. She smells so incredible that I’m having a hard time thinking about anything of consequence.
“I love the carnival. This is just a little one, in an old Safeway parking lot, but it has all the games and the Ferris wheel, and everything,” she tells me. And then she smiles to herself, driving with perfect DMV manual technique. “You look nice, by the way.”
I’m wearing a thin, long-sleeved grey shirt, with loose, faded blue jeans. Really, I feel like a homeless guy who stumbled onto somebody’s expensive clothes. But Ricky says chicks like that. The underplayed, carefree guy who isn’t afraid to be normal . . . but wearing casual-looking expensive designer clothing.
Angela, now that’s another story. She looks like she just got finished shooting a Gap add. She’s got on khaki shorts that show her legs. Her legs are about as smooth and perfect as I can imagine legs ever being. There’s not an ounce of fat on her.
She has on a blue t-shirt that’s just tight enough to make me deliberately concentrate on not staring at her breasts. There is something clever printed on the front in silver silk-screen. It’s like a happy face wearing a baseball cap backwards or something. And she’s even got a baseball cap on, backwards. So, she’s basically too flippin’ cute to describe.
Her eyes, with the way the light is, they’re brown at the edges, but almost golden as you go towards the center.
“You’re the most pretty girl I’ve ever met,” I tell her.
She laughs, “You don’t have to kiss up for the other day. We’ll talk about it when we’re both ready. Just forget it happened.”
I’m not kissing up, Angela. You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met, on earth.
And then she laughs again. But I’m so not kidding.
“You are a very unique man, Jack. I just can’t figure you out,” she says, glancing over at me with her wonderful face. Her eyebrows are thin and delicate.
I tell her, I don’t remember ever having gone to a real carnival.
“Everybody’s been to the carnival.”
She pauses for a moment, probably considering if I’m putting her on. Then she nods, “Well, I’m the perfect tour guide, then. Because I go to carnivals all the time. I practically have cotton candy in my blood.”
That sounds good.
“And,” she said as she kind of fluttered her eyebrows, “they have a Ferris wheel.”
I don’t recall ever being on one of those.
Her face got bright and animated, “You’ve never been on a Ferris wheel, either?”
Not that I can remember, no.
“You haven’t lived until you’ve been on one. They’re incredible.”
And she’s so full of vigor and energy when she talks, it’s like she’s a kid, again. Like the world is just so simple and there are no politics, or diseases, or tomorrows. Only right now.
We pulled into the parking lot and I saw all of the multicolored tents and canopies and spinning machines and people . . . and the Ferris wheel. And for a little carnival that thing sure looks high.
“Come on,” she says as she stops the car and shuts off the engine. “I have to teach you how to live a little.”
She has no idea how morosely funny that actually is.