11:44 pm . . .
We’re just about to commence takeoff. We’ve all been staring blankly out the windows watching the palm trees whip back and forth as if they were as light and malleable as blades of thin grass. The wind is kind of rolling across the runway bringing with it dust and debris. The rain hasn’t hit yet, but it’s only a matter of time.
Mr. Green was listening to the local radio broadcast with more than a bit of concern being vocalized by the weathermen. Los Previsiones (the forecast) calls for muy muy mucho rain and thunder. And if their tone is any indication, it’s got to be the end of the world as we know it. And I feel fine.
Ms. Josephine has been quiet for the last hour or so since we landed. She’s been staring out the window, but her eyes, they’re somewhere else. I don’t think she’s seeing party capital, Cancun. She’s in Haiti, again. I wish I knew more about her. She’s so interesting and sagely that there just has to be an incredible back story there. In time she might tell us more. For now, all we know is, she’s frighteningly gifted, and she’s connected to the other side.
Ricky has been doing a gear check for the last 30 or so minutes. After every bag is thoroughly inspected, he reads out numbers and letters to Mr. Green. He’ll nod here and there, and that’s about that. From their interactions it would seem that we have everything we need.
I’m making little mist circles on the window with my mouth. Yeah, I’m that bored. I can’t sleep. I want to get this all started. I want to hunt and kill vampires, or whatever it is we’ll find. If they do turn out to be giant bats, I think a tennis racquet will be more efficient at dispatching them. But that’s just a theory.
“We’ve been given final clearance to go, so please fasten your seatbelts and stow all of your luggage and any other loose items . . . ” Captain Salazar says in a deep Spanish accent. “The trip to Quito should take us a little less than four hours, depending on how far we have to fly around the edge of this current low pressure system.”
Then he finishes with, “Please enjoy your flight, and thank you for choosing Ricky Airways.”
Ricky snorts through his nose, “That’s my dad having a laugh.”
Mr. Green is closing up the small radio, laughing to himself.
I go and sit next to Ms. Josephine. She backs away from the window and blinks several times as if she’s coming back to us. “’ey dere, Jack. ‘ow you doin’ wit all dis?”
I shrug, “Alright, I guess. It’s just part of the job.”
She looks at me and smiles. “You sure are stronger dan I first imagined you’d be.”
“When da voices from da other side first started calling your name. When dey told me to give you da book. I never expected all of dis.”
But it was all a scam, Ms. Josephine. It was nothing but a lie so that they could escape. And I fell for it . . . hook, line, and sinker.
She looks at me, almost apologetically, “We all fell for it, Jack. But dat doesn’t mean you ain’t special. No matter what da circumstances were, you still crossed over dere and did what you thought was right. And you did it because you loved dat girl.”
I thought I loved her. I was mistaken.
“You don’t know nothin’ about love, and yet you got a bigger ’eart dan most. You loved dat girl as much as you knew. You tried to save dat girl’s life. All of dem lost souls.”
I killed her.
“But you didn’t know dat, den,” she says as she puts her hand on my cheek. “You followed da only ting you knew . . . your emotions. And dey’s so powerful sometimes dat it’s impossible to go against dem. We’ve all done tings like dat in our lives. You ’ave, too. You just don’t remember.”
I’m not sure I can kill her again.
And then she just pulls me in and hugs me. And this is as close as I’m ever going to get to a mother. I hug her back. We probably hold each other for just long enough to tell each other we care for one another, without actually saying it.
Thanks, I tell her.
“No, Jack. Thank you. You let me find my destiny. And for dat I am in your debt.”
Well, you let me find my way home from the Land of Sorrows. So, I’m forever in your debt. Although, to be terribly honest, I don’t like eating spiders and centipedes.
“Dat’s not even da ’alf of it,” she says, glancing at my necklace.
I don’t want to know.
Beneath us we feel the runway race by, and suddenly there is nothing. There’s a dramatic tug as we head to altitude, and Einstein’s Equivalence Principle is working correctly, again. And I know this because Sodomy Cat is sliding towards me. I put my foot out and stop it, lifting it up and motioning to Mr. Green.
He wiggles his finger at me to open it, and when I do I see that he has placed a note in it for me. I pull it out, unfolding the small piece of yellow paper. This loner, badass, mercenary, dispute arbitrator, that speaks five languages and could pilot a successful coup in just about any civilized country, do you know what he writes on the note?
’Connections to people don’t make you weak . . . they make you strong.
Connect with enough people, and you become invincible.′
I nod to him, he nods back, and then I toss the book back. He snatches it out of the air like a hawk taking some small helpless insect in a flash. Mr. Green is a contradiction. He’s not just the peripheral sum of his parts.
And then I start to realize that I don’t really know anything about people. I make snap judgments based on how people look and what they do for a living. But beyond that, I don’t have a clue.
Part of that is my social ineptitude. And some of that is laziness on my part. My reliance upon stereotypes instead of doing the work to get to know people. Because it takes work to really know somebody. You can’t just wing it. You can’t say, well, he’s got a green shirt, so he’s very intelligent, but with those brown shoes and black belt he’s a computer geek with no girlfriend. Sure, you might accidentally be right, every now and then, but when you’re wrong . . . you’re way wrong.
I guess this deficit in my own character, this weakness of aptitude, it bothers me. It worries me that I might not know evil when I see it. And if I can’t see these evil beings, how in the hell am I going to deliver them back to Deadside?
This is not an insignificant problem that I’m facing. Ricky is super intelligent, but he can’t see the spooks. Ms. Josephine can hear the dead speak, but she can’t see them coming. Mr. Green can probably kill them all with his bare hands, but he’s just a shooter. He can’t be sure that the people he’s ripping limb from limb are evil.
And that just leaves me. So if I don’t figure out a way to find the needles in the haystack, we’re all doomed. And when I say we I mean, like, the whole planet we. The big us. All of us.
Ms. Josephine seems to sense this nervousness and apprehension in me.
“Jack, you are very gifted. Much more so than anyone I have ever worked with. And I’ve trained many. You have the tools for this hunt. And you are the one. You may not be what you thought, but you are definitely somethin’ special. You will only get more capable as we continue. Just listen to your heart. Let your emotions point you in the right direction.
“And when the time comes,” she says, her face growing very serious and almost dark, “ . . . you rip every bit of evil out of this place that you can, and you send it back to rot on the other side.”
This is the side of her that I’ve only caught glimpses of. The side that was born in a jungle in Haiti, raised in a culture that practices blacker arts than I’ll ever know. She’s most likely eaten long pork, and enjoyed it. This short, chubby, harmless looking woman has probably seen and heard things none of us could imagine in our worst nightmares.
I’m glad she’s on my side.