It wasn’t the Ritz. It wasn’t even the Motel 6.
Our room was a roach-infested cave that smelled of stale smoke and failure masked with narcotics. The cigarette-stained ceiling and the unidentifiable brown spots on the mattress made me want to take a shower until I discovered the black mold that seemed to crawl on the bathroom walls in the flickering light.
“This isn’t that bad.” Eyes said as he threw his duffel bag on the bed barely giving the roaches time to escape. Always the fucking optimist. Did he not remember why we were here, that the world was looking for us? He must have seen me roll my eyes. “It’s just temporary.”
As if how long we stayed here made the place any less of a shit hole. How long did it take to contract hepatitis? I might want to look up local clinics.
It was fitting, in a twisted sort of way: staying in a shit hole motel in Pinehollow while there was a national shit show going on.
I closed my eyes and put my hands out; like I was getting a premonition. I didn’t have to see him to know Eyes had all his attention on me. “I’m sensing something. Yes. There is a presence here...” It was a fucking lie. I’d had no visions for weeks. “No. I’m wrong.” I dropped the facade and gave Eyes a look. “It’s just the stench of rats breeding in rotten shit.”
“Mary, stop it!” I fucking hated it when he used my real name. Mary was what my parents called me. Useless fucks sent me away to the Halcyon Institute when I was eleven because I was hard to handle. Seven years of experiments. No visits. No birthday cards. “It’s not like we have a choice.”
“Well, Fuck you too, Calvin.” Eyes never really gave a shit if you used his real name or not, but the over-enunciation I place on it still made me feel a bit better. “Choice? Of course, we have a choice. We could have stood our ground or we can turn ourselves in.”
“If we had stayed, we’d be dead like the others, and do you really want to go to the feds hoping they will clear our name for us?”
“No.” He was right. I’d end up back in one of Halcyon’s monitoring cells or on Odin’s dissection tables. Hair and scat in the bathtub suggested Sasquatch was the room’s last occupant. Eyes was right, the other choices were worse...but not by much.
“I know everything is fucked up.” Eyes was calm even when he used profanity. Nightmare thought he might be a sociopath, devoid of emotion. Nightmare didn’t think much at all anymore. “Just try and take everything one step at a time. Here.” Eyes pulled a roll of cash from his breast pocket and pulled a twenty off. I didn’t expect him to have the national treasury in his pocket. Fucking hell, where’d he get that? He was always a boy scout. I’m going to get him to buy me a dress when this whole thing is over and it’s going to be green. “There’s a diner across the street. Why don’t you get us something to eat? Fresh air might be good for you and it’ll give me a chance to fix this place up.”
There was no way to fix up this place unless he planned to burn it down and rebuild. I grabbed the twenty and had the door shut before I heard “bye”.
It was still light but the night’s chill had already rolled in.
I could see it from here. We had traveled decently far out of the city. Forty-two miles to be exact. But it was there, like a gigantic ink stain in my vision; the black dome that used to be Empire City.
I needed a cigarette. The Captain would have been very disappointed. The Captain didn’t approve of anyone on the team smoking. It was a bad habit for heroes to have, could lead to cancer and even death. Not that I ever needed it before but the captain’s opinion seemed to mean less now, on account that The Captain was dead.
The diner was what you would expect in a town that housed the world’s largest -and probably only- butter sculpture of Charles Lindbergh. It had a nineteen-fifties art deco motif, cheap coffee, and most likely pies homemade by an Over-Waitress named Dotty.
A tiny bell jingled, announcing my entry into Garret’s Griddle. Not a single head turned. Every eye belonging to patron and employee alike was glued to the TV set that hung above the coffee mugs.
The field reporter was Christine Gontara. She stood there in a hazmat suit in front of the black sphere. Like a sealed rubber suit would shield you from primateria.
“Thank you, Raleigh. Yes, as you can see the military has set up barricades. Information is scarce and they seem to be keeping the details to themselves. They have not yet said what the black sphere is, only that the Paragons have all gone missing and are thought to be somehow responsible. No one seems to know what has happened to Empire City or its occupants.”
The fuck they didn’t know and the fuck we were responsible. Didn’t surprise me that men wearing ODIN jackets were mixed in with the military and FBI.
I walked up to the redhead waitress watching TV and slammed my fists down, coughing not so subtly.
“What can I get for you, honey?” Her eyes never left the sight of the black sphere.
I snaked my head around her to read her name tag, before taking a seat on a stool; Darcy.
“Well, Darcy, I assume you have burgers and fries. I’ll take two orders of each. And, what kinda pie is that?”
“It’s rhubarb. I baked it myself, this morning.”
Ah, she was the ‘Over-Waitress Dotty’. “Never mind.” Something about the word rhubarb makes me think of deranged lunatics in clown make-up.
Still engrossed with the news, Darcy filled out the check and passed it to me over her shoulder all without moving her head.
This was the first pause I had in the sixteen hours since the device had been turned on. I blankly thumbed through the menu, feigning delight in my head at how good some of the dishes sounded. Some part of me just didn’t want to deal with what happened to Empire City and my team. I couldn’t look at the TV screen and tried even not to listen. I was tired. It was a train wreck and the world was watching, but I was there. Just hours ago, running towards the Captain and the others to help, when over the comm I heard Sonic Boom say, “Oh, Fuck! He can’t control it. Run!” I turned as fast as I could and I ran. I listened to the screams of my team, my fucked-up superfamily, in my ears as a wall of black ink chased me. I was in the middle of a road, heading out of town, where the black stopped. I was exhausted and crying when the cops showed up. They didn’t say anything, they just started blasting and I ran again. Eyes, found me after that. He had survived too. He said they were blaming us for the whole thing and we needed to get away from the city to figure things out.
It didn’t take very long for my order to be finished. I seemed to be the only one ordering anything. I grabbed the burgers and went outside. I couldn’t stomach the idea of going back to the room yet. I needed a cigarette, bad. I hadn’t had one since before we left Paragon Tower.
There was a gas station just down the road; I needed nicotine. Eyes was going to have to deal with a cold burger. I’d just tell him “This isn’t that bad.” And that “It was only temporary”.
Three days had passed before the room became ours. Maybe it was because the diner’s burgers were better than any burgers in the middle of nowhere ought to be or maybe it was that channel five ran episodes of, I Love Lucy nonstop but what had happened seemed a bit more in perspective.
We kept ourselves fed solely on diner food, making my face a regular. Even out of costume Eye’s enhancements could raise too many questions. I told them my name was Isabelle. There was no point in watching the news, Darcy in addition to being the Over-waitress was the town’s gossip trader. If there was anything worth knowing she knew it. The only thing faster than gossip in a small town is light. She liked to exchange juicy tidbits for juicy tidbits. I had the low down on the whole town, from the payment program for fake speeding tickets the sheriff and the dentist’s wife played on a weekly basis to the school janitor that used to play for the Legionaries but couldn’t kick a coke habit long enough to pitch a whole inning. To gain access to the vault of Darcy’s knowledge I had served her several courses of succulent morsels about Eyes and a pregnant wife in Ohio. I told her, he had gone for a gallon of milk at a store that must be located in the same place where a couple of hobbits destroyed a ring. Darcy always gave the same response after every one of my stories; “It’s a damn shame.” I really ought to remember to tell Eyes he’s married. Maybe he’ll like the stories, most likely not. I can’t have people liking him too much, this was “just temporary”.
“All those poor people.” Darcy looked as if she was going to shed a tear and win an Oscar. “I mean it’s a real tragedy. Five million souls missing. Lord have mercy. Everyone in this great nation has been affected.” I sat there and observed her. She used a half-full coffeepot to gesticulate the gravity of her words. Frank...or was it Hank...; one of the regulars clung to her every word with his mouth agape from thirst and his empty coffee mug outstretched like a beggar. Darcy was holding the coffee hostage.
Frank-hank must have had the patients of a river wearing down a mountain as this had been his pose for the last twenty minutes. But, even the strong break. “Do you think all those people are dead?” Frank-Hank’s interest was adequate ransom for Darcy to let the hostage go and fill his mug with warm brown joy.
“I don’t know. I figure if someone was alive, they would have walked out by now. We won’t know for certain until tomorrow. They say they are going to try and send a team in,” said Darcy.
I couldn’t help myself. I let out a sigh. “That’s a mistake.”
Darcy’s attention turned to me. “Oh, why do you say that?” She brought the coffee pot close to her person and angled her body so that the hand that held it was furthest from me.
All of a sudden, I felt like I was being interrogated and my access to coffee was on the line. I couldn’t tell them the truth. That I had been there. That I knew what that black shit did to stuff it touched. “They shouldn’t risk people. It’s too uncertain. Drones would be a better idea.” I tipped my empty mug towards the Over-waitress.
Darcy seemed to mill over my answer while looking at me. Her gears stopped moving and she rewarded my contribution with coffee.
“That does seem to make more sense. I’m sure they got it all planned out though.”
What were they planning? Maybe a drone would only confirm what they already knew. But I think Odin was in charge and those sick fucks want to see the effects of primateria on human flesh in real-time.
I took a swig of my coffee. It was too much hot at once. I began to cough with the liquid half-swallowed. And then it happened.
I was no longer in the diner. I was standing on a basketball court. It looked as if I was in the slums of Empire City and in the middle of a two-on-two game. It was more shit talk and flashy moves than actual scoring of points. The players played as if I wasn’t there.
I was in a vision. It took me a moment, but then I felt drawn. Not to any of the players but a young boy in a hoodie sitting on a side bench. He wasn’t watching the game. His head was bowed, looking down at his feet. I wasn’t able to hear or understand what he was saying but his lips were mouthing a thousand words a second.
“Whoa. That kid’s got fucking problems.” Jaarl materialized next to me. Even in visions, the cigar he perpetually smoked stunk.
An Anthropomorphic deer was the shape he had chosen to appear this time. The only features that were constants were his liquid pearl eye and that damn cigar.
“What’s he saying,” I asked.
“He’s having a conversation with someone. I’m not sure who is on the other end of that line, but there directly tapped into the kid’s head. Let me just-” before Jaarl could finish the basketball court grew dark and a wave of screams came from the horizon.
The ballplayers stopped and turned towards an approaching wall of black.
The boy in the hoodie snapped to his feet, all ridged with his head thrown back. Now, I’m not quite sure how to describe the sound that came from this kid’s mouth. It was like a combination of an old twenty-eight-eight kilobyte modem connecting to the internet and someone seriously fucking losing their shit. One thing is for sure it’s the most unearthly sound I have ever heard and if that wasn’t weird enough the kid started to glow.
The darkness overtook the court, but it wasn’t the darkness of the primateria like it should have been. It wasn’t dark enough. Light was being reflected from the sky like the moon at night. But it wasn’t the moon or at least our moon. It had rings around it.
“What just happened?” I turned to Jaarl for an explanation.
Jaarl did not answer. He walked towards the boy, now silent and his hood slumped. “I don’t think we are on earth anymore.” Jaarl reached where the boy was. “Creepy son of a bitch, isn’t he?”
Like prey hearing a hunter approaching the boy snapped his head back, looking exactly where Jaarl was, and then vanished.
“Jaarl, what just happened?” Jaarl looked at me, the only time I’d ever seen a puzzled look on his face. “Jaarl, what the fuck just happened?”
“He saw me.”
I slammed the door to our room shut. I think I’ve been cut off from coffee. I’m sure half the town knows about me having to be picked up off the diner floor.
Now there were two problems with that kid seeing Jaarl. Jaarl is my imaginary friend. He is a manifestation of my subconscious in my own mind. He can bring things my subconscious picks up to my conscious mind, things I know but don’t know I know them. but, no one can see him but me because Jaarl doesn’t actually exist.
And second; it was a vision. visions are just that they don’t react. They are like recordings, glimpses of the past or future. They cannot see or interact with me. I am guessing what I saw was the past, given Empire City is currently fucked. How was that kid able to have a new reaction in an event that has already passed? I can sometimes foresee things and change their outcome. But this is like watching a movie and having the character ask you by name to pass the popcorn.
My head throbbed. I still had one of the diner’s towels with ice held to my head. I made it for the bathroom.
“Mary.” Goddammit Eyes, I’m Moirai!
I didn’t have time for him. I continued to the bathroom. Man, I looked like shit. Like I had undergone one of Halcyon’s electric inducement procedures for a week straight while a troop of girl scouts, pissed because I stole all their Thin Mints hit me in the face with whiffle bats. At least it wasn’t Halcyon, I didn’t have to deal with caramelized nails and my teeth weren’t vibrating. What was that vision and who was that kid?
“Mary!” Goddammit Eyes, why are you yelling? Wait Eyes was yelling and I didn’t hear I Love Lucy playing in the background.
I walked back into the other room. Eyes was sitting in his adopted chair. His key-gloves and optical interface were on the floor in front of him and he was tied up. A man in a tailored suit with fashion sense bad enough to wear sunglasses inside pointed a gun at the back of Eyes’s head.
“So, you’re The Moirai.” His accent was thick but it was only cold war social damage that had me wanting to say it was Russian. “Little Mary Rayner.” Oh, you mother fucker. I’m not Mary. I’m going to make you regret calling me that.
Are you enjoying my ongoing story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Micah SchulteWrite a Review