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Under the Weight of Time (Desert Trilogy #2)

By Eric Freyer All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Thriller

Chapter 21

Part 4: Sunset

21.

He would go. That’s at least what Raymond thought as he awoke Sunday morning. The piece of paper Beckett had given him had found its way down to his feet sometime during the middle of the night. But something was off. He wrinkled his forehead to try and figure out what it was. He was breathing heavily, like something sitting on his chest had finally flown away. He reached over to grab his synthetics. He didn’t have to look at where they would be. He pulled the bottle in front of his face. Close. The cap easily unscrewed. He hesitated. Could this be okay with what we need to do today? It would without a doubt help. He looked at the clock, it was 8:30. He had plenty of time.

A queer sound formed in the backs of his ears, like a fan starting up from somewhere far away. A squad car pulled in front of his window, behind one already there. The other night! They know I’ve seen something. They will want to search his apartment again, that much he knows.

He takes two of his pills, puts the bottle in his pants, and dives into his closet to grab the only suitcase he owns. He knows he will go to jail for the rest of his life if they find out he has a carrier. He pulls out the case…BANG! BANG! BANG! —They are already at the door.

“Raymond? It’s the City PD. We are here to ask you some questions. Open up!” The voice muffled behind the door made it sound deep and evil.

There was no way to hide from this. They must be able to hear him making noise; rummaging around to grab anything of importance to jam into the suitcase.

Something to flip the situation.

He decides it’s the only way, and slams the closet door shut.

“One second please, I’m just getting dressed.” He was surprised he had come up with such a good excuse on the spot like that. The synthetics must already be working. Made for quick absorption.

He flung the suitcase onto his bed and reached for the main component of the carrier: a large metal box, situated between the remaining wires and plugs carefully laid on the shelf after every use. But right now he couldn’t stop his hands from working faster than his brain. The pieces flew into the suitcase, a mangled and chaotic mess. He slammed the suitcase shut and closed the two clasps. His foodbin beeped and he noticed a cup of coffee already there, waiting for him. The suitcase slipped perfectly under his bed. He grabbed for the cup of coffee and sat down at the table.

“Come in,” he called weakly. He needed to control his breathing, and fast.

The doorknob turned and stopped. Of course the door was locked, though he was sure they could get in if they really wanted to. Raymond started walking up with the cup of coffee in his hand but placed it down before he got to close…More hesitation they could hear.

He expected to see uniforms when he opened the door, but instead saw two men in plain colored suits, as they had been before, standing in the hallway. A fraction of hesitation washed across his eyes. He could see it reflected in their own; a moment of uneasy ambivalence. It was tense, and Raymond wished for one of them to talk already. It wasn’t his turn to speak, was it? Why wouldn’t they stop acknowledging that they assumed he was guilty of something? The FBI had ways of speaking without their mouths. Years of seeing the worst sides of people would do that. Speaking the least became the best way. Raymond hated the unintentional animosity.

One man coughed: “Do you mind?”

Raymond was standing in the doorway, blocking them from entering. He relaxed and stepped to the side. Hadn’t this happened once before?

“Of course. Sorry about that,” he said as they had already passed into the apartment.

Casual steps with their hands behind their backs. They had done this hundreds of times before. Everyone as a suspect until they weren’t. Raymond pushed himself into the penumbra of his partially glassed bookshelf while they scanned. He watched them scavenge the apartment with their eyes. Even amongst the looming threat of being put into jail for life, he mostly felt embarrassed of his messy apartment, his bed especially. Who knows what kinds of smells he had become blind to. They had stopped in the middle of the room looking at his window. Raymond knew exactly what had been answered: He saw everything.

One of the men with pointed black boots, polished and shiny, swung his foot around in a half pirouette to look at Raymond still nervously standing by the door, hiding behind his books. The man winked and started to walk in Raymond’s direction, stopped, stared down at the palms of his hands, and sat down on the bed. The backs of his feet were only inches from the suitcase. Raymond tried with all his will not to look down. His shoulders rose to his ears. The one sitting began to play with his tie, while the other, still standing in the same place, stood with eyes still forward towards the window. It seemed to take them a long while to process any new bits of information thrown their way. They both seemed quite introspective, and Raymond felt a fleeting sense of comfort from this. These guys must be the brunt ends of all the jokes at the office.

Without looking up, the one playing with his tie spoke: “What can you tell me about the night of the event?”

They didn’t need to say what night, or event it was they were referring to. They were more than certain he had seen something.

Just get through the questions, don’t lie, and they’ll just go away. They are not here for any other reason.

Raymond started: “Well,” he voted against stepping forward, “I was just minding my own business, drinking a cup of coffee,” he took a sip to cure his dry throat and exhibit that he does indeed drink coffee, “and I saw someone had been pulled over in front of my window. So I walked over and—”

“Do you drink a lot of coffee, Raymond?” the man standing asked.

“Huh?” The question caught him off guard. He was balancing on one foot.

What are they getting at?

“I like to drink it, if that’s what you mean.”

“It’s not.”

Raymond hated that neither of them were looking at him, or even in his direction for that matter.

“I…I guess I probably drink more of it than the average person,” and there was the stomachache. He could usually take his synths when he woke up, because he would soon after get some food in him, before it really kicked in. But not this morning. He let out a sigh in his gut.

The one standing looked to smell the air. With a swift kick of his foot Raymond dragged a chair out from the table to sit in before he needed to hunch over and grab at his stomach. He could feel their eyes following him. The two men glanced at each other as Raymond shifted in his seat.

“Everything alright, Raymond?” the one standing up said. Still he wasn’t looking at him. Raymond felt defeated having to look up at the towering man from his seat, like the agent had already won the battle.

“Oh yeah, fine. Just a little upset stomach is all.” Is all? It hurts like fucking hell! He guzzled down some coffee.

“So let’s recap.” The one sitting down this time spoke. “You walked to the window and saw what exactly?”

“Well, at first not much. Just looked like someone who had been speeding or something, you know?”

“Mhm, then what?”

“Then, umm…Then it kind of escalated somehow. Two or three other cars surrounded the one that was pulled over…”

“Cop cars?”

Oh. Yeah. I remembered they drew their guns after they connected to the building and the car. I assume so it couldn’t escape?” It was a genuine question he was asking them.

“It?”

Raymond thought he could hear the joints in their necks creak as they, in unison, panned their heads and faces to where he was sitting. They both looked at him now. Something new fell behind their eyes, making their irises enlarge. In that moment they looked neither human, nor humanoid.

Raymond was unsure of what to say next. The idea they weren’t actually City PD crossed his mind, but only briefly. If those were their cars outside then they had to be.

“Yeah, I mean…” How could he explain this? “It didn’t seem like whatever they pulled over was…human.”

“How do you mean?” The man sitting on Raymond’s bed threatened to stand up.

“Well for one, it just kind of…sat there. And I don’t mean how someone sits and waits to get ticketed, that comes along with some moving, fidgeting, even just breathing for christ sakes.”

“And?”

“And this thing didn’t do any of those. It was like looking at a photograph of a shadow.” He would have to write that down later.

“Photograph?” the one standing laughed.

He kept talking even though he was sure he had given them enough description with the way their eyebrows moved. “Yeah, and just as it was totally surrounded… WHAM! It got all of ’em at once.”

Anyone else would have needed to ask about this further. Such as: “What do you mean got ’em?, or, Just how exactly did it get them? But they already knew what had happened, they just needed him to say it.

The man sitting on the couch scratched his knee and waited for the other to say something. He bent down so his head was between his knees, stretching out his back. He was looking almost directly at the suitcase.

“I’m sure you don’t mind Raymond, but standard procedure calls for us to search the premises for any evidence.”

“But—” Raymond began to protest.

“Now, Raymond. We are well aware that you have nothing to hide, and that you were only a bystander in this heinous crime. But the law is the law.” He said this last statement with his pointer finger jabbing into the palm of his other hand.

“We know it’s a hassle, but it’s just something we’ve got to do, Raymond,” the other said.

Raymond was cornered. He couldn’t refuse. Even if he did, what would it matter?

The man standing was already starting to snoop, first towards the window, then into the small kitchen. The man sitting on the bed let out a large sigh and pushed himself up with his arms on his thighs. A fold in the rug. The toe of his pointed boot caught beneath. He fell.

Raymond gasped.

The man’s head was on the floor. He didn’t move for some time. Raymond took a sip of coffee with eyes glued on the man, grasping the mug with both hands like a worried mother. He could feel his eyes were wider than they should be. The man in the kitchen was barely shaken. The doors to the cupboards were wide open and the foodbin was getting a thorough fingering.

“Going on a trip?” the man on the floor said, still on his belly.

Raymond almost dropped his cup of coffee. Was that a joke, or a real question?

He knocked the rest back, hoping he wouldn’t have to respond.

He gave in: “No sir.”

The door to one section of cupboard slowly closed, creaking like their necks. The one standing was definitely smelling the air. This time Raymond could hear it.

The man on the floor squirmed towards the bed like he was crawling under barbed wire. Reaching under he pulled out the cheap, plastic suitcase. He held it up to his head and rattled it next to his ear like a wrapped gift.

They could all hear the clatter inside.

The door of his apartment was still open.

Raymond flung the table head over heels towards the man holding the suitcase and bounded out the front door. He slammed into the wall opposite the door from the momentum, and for a moment, just before he ran down the hall towards the reception room, saw the two men inside standing there, dumbfounded, still too confused to figure out what it was they should do.

The hallway was long, and Raymond was sure they had guns. He waited until he heard the first of them enter the hallway and shout his name before he leapt off his feet and dove around the first corner.

They had found him out. It was all over. He would never be able to go back to his apartment for the rest of his life.

The bottle of synthetics dug into his thigh as his body fell to the floor. He quickly got up, found his footing, swayed from a rush a blood, and was off again down the hall. He knew of a stairwell that would get him down to floor one, but he was not at all sure whether it was a good idea at the moment. It seemed like more of a trap then a way of escape…He decided a taxi was the best option.

The balcony was almost empty. Sunday mornings proved to be a quiet time in the city. No one besides those on the street needed this day as one for work. The only need to leave your apartment was to either go to the parks, which all resided much higher on the exclusive two-hundredth floor, or to take a trip to the bar, or cafe. Time goes on, but people will always want to congregate and drink. Restaurants had far been abandoned ever since the trusty foodbins had made them obsolete—so that wasn’t an option. One could even look up into the sky on Sundays and see it as humans had seen it before, but with only small slices of sky bleeding through.

Yet we still stand on floors, which means the Earth still turns, Raymond thought. His carrier was gone forever.

Raymond ran to the only taxi waiting there. No buses today. As he ran forward he hoped to god the men weren’t outside yet. His hand grabbed the door handle and pulled. It didn’t open; there was no driver in the front seat. His vision blurred, and his head grew heavy. Maybe I should just give up and get caught. At least that way they would maybe feed me before the interrogation.

But there might be no interrogation, another voice thought, only a cell.

He looked over the edge. Climbing down was not an option, but jumping was. It was something he thought about often, but knew he would never do. He was too afraid of death.

He needed to hide, and eyed the bar where people sipped their orange juices in the morning. Dashing over to the bar stocked with empty bottles and upturned chairs, he watched the doorway towards the reception desk where they would be arriving at any second. He slid behind bar just as the one with the tie poked his large head out and into the terrace.

Raymond couldn’t be sure if they had seen him or not, but covered his mouth with both hands to dampen the irrepressible gasps for air regardless. What he should really be concerned about was his aching stomach, and it’s predisposition to make rather loud calls for sustenance when it had none.

The men didn’t speak to each other, but the sounds of their shoes against the floor told Raymond they were searching. Besides, it was deathly quiet.

Raymond peaked around the bar and saw the man with the tie peering into the taxi, pulling at the handle of the door, and…what the hell? The man bent at his knees and…Yes that’s definitely what he did: He smelled the handle! He smelled the handle, looked back to his partner, and nodded!

They knew he was here.

Who the fuck are these people? Raymond thought while mouthing the words ‘What The Fuck.’

He was done for. They would find him, and then what? It was only a matter of time now.

“Raymond!” the man farther away called out, quickly looking behind the reception desk. It was only a matter of time until he was caught. “We know you’re here. It will make it all that much easier if you just give up without a struggle.”

Maybe they were right, but something would not allow his legs move. He clasped his hands into tight fists. The man’s speech sounded serpentine and evasive, like there were words being said behind the ones being spoken.

Just as he started up saying something again—“And—” an audible pulse started up; a countdown before an explosion. Raymond stopped his thinking and peered back around the corner. He could see only one of the men now, clearly staring at the other with his watch held up to his ear. The man’s otherwise hardened face flashed a moment’s worry. The glass bottles behind the bar began to clink together, yet Raymond could feel no vibration. The wooden chairs began to scrape against the tabletops in short, screeching bursts. Raymond pressed himself against the bar and clutched his head in his hands. He could feel it now. All the subtle noises, there were too many. He wasn’t sure if he should run or stay put.

He could see only a sliver of the loading dock where the taxi was parked—only it’s front bumper really. The sky behind looked endless. His feet were starting to numb from the vibrations; anesthetized. Raymond listened as their feet joined in the center of the room. Behind the rows of folding plastic chairs, knee-high tables, and Caribbean themed coasters, they were just as worried as he.

Strange gasping clicks, one set high, and the other low, escaped from the bowels of the room. At first Raymond figured there must be a telescreen switched on somewhere. He peered carefully over the top of the bar. The counter was hard to hold. The men were in the middle of the room were having difficulty standing. They held onto each other’s shoulders to try and steady themselves. They were ducking while darting their rigid eyes around as if unsure of where the thing they most feared was. Raymond wished he could be ungrounded. Everything he touched made him shake.

A strata of light, stacked in an array of colors, as if the various hues were of different densities, fell from the ceiling…or the floor of level 101. The scene outside turned red as if a piece of colored cellophane had been placed over the opening to the outside.

The strange gasps from the men became louder. They stood there, bracing themselves for some kind of impact. A bright flash, two times. Everything stopped. The men stood motionless. Statues. One was reaching for something in their pocket, while the other had turned to run the other way. But neither of them had completed their actions.

Their hands and noses looked strange, like clay.

“Hello?” Raymond said, still hiding behind the bar. The vibrations had seized, and a bird could be heard in the distance. The men did not respond. Raymond needed to move; to walk, or pace, or talk, or jump. Anything. He pumped his hands, tapped his fingers against his thumbs, scratched at his head.

Strange sounds of would-be laughs-of-nervousness walked across his lips. He thought there were beads of sweat on his head but wiped his palm against a dry forehead. He wanted to speak again but was too frightened. The men still stood, static in space and time. Their noses and hands were now a sickly grey. Raymond rubbed his eyes and thought the light may just be playing tricks. The bar no longer hid the majority of his body, yet he stood behind it like a child too embarrassed to play with the other children. His fingers were doing mad things. He was looking down at his feet, laughing now. It wasn’t something he could hold back. If he were to look back at the two frozen men he might lose it. It never occurred to Raymond that he might be in danger as well. Those vibrations.

He looked up, unable to hold back his boyish curiosity any longer. Around their feet, piling up to their ankles, was a fine grey soot; ash from a fire, and above their belts…nothing.

We are strange creatures, still can turn to dust.

Raymond thought he was going to be sick. He imagined the scene as an outsider, and knew he had to leave. Waterfalls of ash cascaded between the folds of their pants as they slowly deteriorated from the top down. The pile of soot was growing comically large.

The sound of him tiptoeing past the two sets of legs, now only the bottom halves of such, were much louder than he would have liked. He stopped and listened to the falling soot. It was a strangely beautiful sound, like rustling of the most delicate tissue paper, falling and rubbing against itself.

He wanted to scream. It was held in his cheeks. His eyes bulged and every muscle in his chest went tight. Everything else was the same. The sky still endless, the taxi still parked, and he hoped, the carrier still safely tucked away in that clunky old suitcase.

He moved close to the receptionist desk, looked back one more time, saw only the tops of their black, shiny shoes, and turned to run back to his room.

The door was wide open. He stood in it. Outside his window he saw the cop cars were gone. And, well…Raymond was fairly certain that what he saw constituted as something going wrong; plan failed; woopsey fucking daisy! The grey wall seemed intrepid; a fake barrier blocking absolutely nothing. An illusion, grasped by no one. Fickle. Incarnate. A lousy substitute for a sense of security. His carrier was gone…

When he was done, the room was turned upside down, as though he had glued all the furniture to the ceiling and found a way to glue himself up there as well.

Looking down at the ceiling a piece of wood from his poorly constructed bed jabbed into the lower half of his spine. Yet still he didn’t move.

He ran back out to the dock that had experienced only normalcy that morning, and was met with few dazed glances and perturbed coughs of unease. He ignored these and looked around in every spot the men could have put it. People backed away, out of his path, rigid and confused as to how someone such as this was living in their building. Everyone wanted the unpleasantness to leave.

Raymond stood in the middle of the room between half turned over chairs and broken glasses. They spun around him in frantic jets of obscured light. A baby cried somewhere close by. He pushed open the door to the stairwell with everyone watching.

There was only one place to go now, and his mind was made up.

On his way down he could only speculate as to how this meeting would go. He had the note memorized and burned days back. Days?

His legs were strong, but they ached from lack of nutrition. Part of him didn’t care what trouble he was going to get into as long as it came with something to do outside of his normal routine. Anything to keep his mind from falling back to what he had just lost.

He sung a song in his head to the rhythm of his steps. It was slow and covered with a blanket of despair. A sadness to distract him from his sadness.

It would be a 30-minute walk from where he would exit. He knew the spot well. Near Tironan Park, a small and obscured alley with little to any foot traffic. Nothing much could be down there. It was too obvious of a spot not to have some kind of surveillance from the top. His bosses were everybody’s. Some people would do most things to be as close to the administration as he. Of course this is why they needed to meet.

But he couldn’t think of that now. He would sing his songs, and take his time. The view over the side of the railing was endless, and he thought about how hard it would be to angle a fall in such a way to reach the bottom without hitting any of the rails. He stepped over a box of barbed wire and considered grabbing hold of it. He had never felt barbed wired, though he dreamed of crawling over it on top a blanket, over the wall separating him from the rest of the world. If there was a rest of the world.

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