8:18 am . . .
I slowly awaken and I’m resisting the urge to open my eyes. I’ll either see bright light and Angela, or the dark blue and grey of a place where the forsaken wander aimlessly. Six in one hand, half-dozen in the other.
Finally, I squint open my eyes and see a mixture of both.
The sun is shining in across the loft as little fingers of yellow light cut across the furniture. Where Angela was, all there is left of her is a blue envelope with my name printed on it.
I sit up and take a breath. My arms are free of large-bore needles and rubber hoses so I know Ricky’s been tending to me. My throat is dreadfully dry and I’d probably punch a nun for a glass of iced water. I take the letter and blink a few times to get the death out of my eyes.
First thing I do is sniff it a couple of times. There’s just the hint of apple. That’s probably from her shampoo. And as I inhale deeply there’s even the trace aroma of cinnamon and . . .
“Are you serious?” Ricky says as he walks in. “You’re actually sniffing that letter? I didn’t raise you to be that kind of queer.”
No, I say. For real, I can smell her shampoo. It’s that fruity—
He holds his hands up as he grabs my wrist, checking my pulse. “Whatever, Jack. Whatever. Angela’s cool.”
“Yeah,” I say, nodding as a stupid grin crosses my stubbled face.
Ricky feels around my throat, pressing his fingers here and there. “Plus . . . she’s alive, unlike your last girlfriend.”
Just then I panic a bit, “Hey, dude, promise me you didn’t say anything about Kristen and the twenty-three Evils to Angela.”
He doesn’t answer, he just keeps on checking squishy parts of my neck and arms.
He laughs, “Relax, Jack. I’m not going to recount the tales of your infatuation with a dead chick. That’s the kind of thing that might scare a girl off. And I’m not a cock-blocker.”
“I’m not kidding, Ricky. I like her,” I warn him.
Then he gets all serious, “Alright, we need to get the gear from the office to Addison Airport. Our plane should be leaving late this afternoon. So pack for the jungle.”
“I don’t have jungle clothes,” I argue. “I’m not ready. I need to go shopping.”
He doesn’t answer, my clever friend. No, he walks past me to my closet and opens both of the sliding doors so that I can see all the clothes that I own in the world.
The closet is full. Like, easily three times as full as it was the last time I opened it. I stand up and walk forward, my legs still quite stiff, my gait awkward and ungainly. I see khaki pants, camouflage jackets, boots, brown shirts, and all kinds of mercenary looking gear that I’m sure Ricky had a grand time purchasing.
I turn to him, and he’s grinning like a pig in poop. “Where did you get all this stuff?”
“We’re not going to half-ass it like we did in Damascus,” he says as he walks toward the door. “Also, I hired us a translator.”
A translator? Does he know what we’re doing? I mean . . . the Evils and all that?
“He doesn’t care about stuff like that. He’s a security contractor that my dad turned me on to.”
What does that mean, he doesn’t care?
“He’s a gunslinger, Jack. Used to be in the French Foreign Legion. Speaks like five or six languages. Fights wars for money, that sort of thing.” Ricky walks out of my bedroom yelling, “Pack heavy. We’ll be heading out in an hour.”
And now it’s just me and my new gear.
And my letter.
As much as I want to read it, I have to get my packing done. I decide to hold off reading Angela’s words until we’re airborne. It’ll be easier that way.
I pull a large, waterproof, black duffel bag out of the closet, and it’s already half full of socks, shrink-wrapped meals, a vest of some kind, a Rambo-style knife that looks big enough to cut a car in half, and empty grey magazines that look like they go into guns of some kind.
Ricky . . . what is all this?
“Pack your shit, Jack!” he barks back from his bedroom. “We’ll sort it all out later.”
Once I’ve packed every conceivable thing I might need, I head to the bathroom to wash my face and brush my teeth. I study myself in the mirror, wondering if I’ve changed since the last time I saw my reflection.
For me, it feels like time is stuck still and I’m the one rushing by in the blink of an instant. Like all the clocks in the universe are frozen and I’m the only one moving.
I’m living the opposite of Einstein’s Equivalence Principle. Everyone and everything stops, and I keep on going. Gravity is jaded. Friction doesn’t matter. I have a good feeling that this is all about to turn nasty.