Victoria S. Hardy

Victoria S. Hardy

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Who's Watching The Watchers?

Who's Watching The Watchers? 

 “They’re always watching,” Uncle Russ said, pulling a beer from the cooler beside his feet.

“Who?” I asked, swaying in the tire swing.

“Them.”  He pointed at the gate.

I looked over and saw nothing but a whitewashed fence.  “I don’t see anyone.”

“Well, of course you can’t see them if you look straight on, they hide in the shadows and in the periphery.  Haven’t you ever thought you saw something out of the corner of your eye and you turn and then there’s nothing there?”

“Well, sure,” I said, digging the toes of worn Keds into the dirt.

“That’s them.” 

I pushed my hair behind my ears and focused on my feet, looking for movement from the corner of my eye.  “I don’t see anything,” I said after a few moments. 

“Of course you don’t, I just pointed them out.  They’re hiding.” 

“Why would they hide from me?  I’m just a kid.”

He chuckled under his breath.  “Kids certainly see them better than adults.” 

“Then how can you see them?”  I swatted a mosquito that landed on my thigh and studied the smear of blood. 

“I’m not right in the head, never have been,” Uncle Russ stated, draining the last of a beer before opening the next. 

I knew he was right; Uncle Russ was schizophrenic, at least according to my mother.  I often heard my mother complain to my father about Uncle Russ. 

“I know he’s a war hero, but can’t we keep him away from Cindy, I don’t like the stories he tells, I don’t like how close they are.”

“What am I supposed to do?” my father asked.  “He’s my brother, he lives here, and he has just as much right to this house as we do.”

“It’s summer, why don’t we enroll Cindy in a dance class or the Girl Scouts.”

My father laughed harshly.  “We are talking about our daughter, right?”

“You could make her.”

“Well, you could too.”

“You’re the man, you supposed to be the one that sets down the rules.  You could make her stop spending so much time with Russ, he’s crazy, he drinks too much, and won’t even take his medicine.”

“Am I crazy?”

“No, I …”

        “Well, I grew up with Russ, he has an active imagination and that’s not such a bad thing for a kid.  He’s never hurt anyone.”  He paused.  “Okay, he’s never hurt anyone outside of the war, but he was getting paid to do it then and sending money home to pay for my college.  Relax.”

“He’s filling her head with crazy ideas.”

“Kids are supposed to have crazy ideas, it’s our job to point them in the right direction.”

I spun the swing wondering if the motion would help me locate them.  “So do you see them?  I mean not just in the corner of your eye?”

“Yes, sometimes.  Mostly I see the movements on the outskirts of my vision, but sometimes I see them up close and personal.”

“What do they look like?”  I asked, stopping the tire by digging my feet deeper in the gutter underneath. 

“They look a lot like us.  Their eyes are bigger and their noses and mouths smaller, but pretty much like us.”

“You mean like the aliens from outer space?  I saw a show on TV that showed drawings of aliens and they were gray, had huge eyes, and not much of a nose or mouth.”

“No, I’ve seen those pictures too, but these don’t look that severe.  They have hair and they wear clothes, mostly suits, but they aren’t small and gray like the drawings.” 

I pushed off again, pondering his words, and letting the movement of the swing rush wind through my hair.  I wasn’t well adept at discerning the age of adults, but I knew Russ was older than my father.  I glanced over at him and felt overcome by the swelling of love in my heart.  Uncle Russ had been my favorite uncle for as long as I could remember, I had others on mother’s side of the family, but they never spoke to me as Russ did.  Uncle Russ spoke to me as though I was an adult, he didn’t ask about school, grades, or extracurricular activities, he was more interested in what I read and thought, than what others thought of me. “So why do they watch us?”

“It’s their job.  Sometimes they help us, they sure helped me in the war, and sometimes they lead us astray, but you can never, ever trust them.  Mainly they are here to observe and report, but sometimes they appear to assist you in doing something good or something very, very bad.  You do know we’re living in two worlds here?”

I nodded.  “You’ve told me, but I don’t always understand it.”

He leaned back in a ratty, water damaged, wooden chair and pulled off his cap, dropping it in the pile of empties beside his chair, and scratched his head.  “Okay, there is the world you know, the TV, the shopping, the schooling, the wars, but underneath all that is another world.  Underneath all you see and know is a world where everything is orchestrated.  Is your dad going to get a promotion?  Well, it runs through the channels in this world and a decision is made, but underneath, before the decision is made here, it runs through another world.  Is he a good employee, a good person, did he help the woman with the broken down car during the storm?  Things like that, and then, depending on what they decide underneath, your father gets a promotion or he doesn’t.”

“So they’re good?  I mean they must be good if they saw him helping that woman.”

“No, they’re not good, although sometimes they have a wicked sense of humor.” He laughed softly.  “They just are.  For your dad it might be did he do the right thing and should we reward him?  But for another it might be did he do a bad thing?  See, you can’t trust them, but you have to respect them because they have a lot of power here.” 

I dragged my feet through the dirt, stopping the swing.  “So why would they reward someone for doing a bad thing?”

“It’s hard to explain.” 

“Because I’m a kid?”

“Oh, no.  No, don’t think that, you’re far easier to talk to than adults who believe they have all the answers, they just think I’m crazy, at least you and I discuss things.”  He winked.  “I don’t know for sure, but I think it has something to do with the balance of the world.  You’ve heard of karma, correct?”

“Yes,” I said, turning the tire to face him.

“It’s a bit like that.  The world has to be balanced, there has to be bad to appreciate the good, and there has to be good to understand the bad.  Make sense?”

I nodded. 

“So these folks, these watchers, they keep their eyes on us.  Now in the war I did bad things that were called good, and the watchers were watching me, I saw them quite often, and they helped me to do bad things that were called good.  Understand?”

I nodded slowly, thinking, and slapped another mosquito.  “Killing people and stuff?”

“Yes.  You know we’re not supposed to kill?”


“Or steal or maim?”

“Yes, sir.”

“In war it’s different, you’re supposed to do all those things and when you do them well they pin metals to your uniform and have ceremonies.  Doesn’t seem right, does it?”

“No, it doesn’t.  But I guess in war the rules are different.  In war you’re out there protecting me and Mommy and Daddy, you’re making sure we’re okay and that makes you a hero.”

He smiled at me and my heart swelled again.  “I’ll always take care of my Cindy-bug, you know that.  But if God said those are bad things, why are they good when we call it war?”

“I don’t know.  Because this is America and we have to protect our freedoms?”

“That schooling is teaching you all right.”  He rolled his eyes. 

“Well, Uncle Russ, you protected us,” I said confidently.

“No, Cindy-bug, you were never under a threat.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I don’t either, bug, but I know when I did my worst over there, the watchers were watching.  But do you know what I never saw?”

“What?” I asked, feeling a chill work through my body producing goose bumps, despite the heat of the day. 

“I never saw who was watching the watchers.  But one day I’ll see them, I’ve been looking.” 


Cindy put down the pen and shut the journal.  She didn’t know why she was suddenly so captivated by the last summer she spent with her schizophrenic uncle.  She had work to do, real work, not envisioning that she, herself, could be an author, but helping those who actually had the gift and the fortitude to complete a book.  Thus far all the handwritten meanderings had been focused on that last summer with her uncle.  Her crazy uncle who was found dead and bloated at the base of the bridge spanning Johnson Creek three days before she started sixth grade. 

She dropped the journal in a drawer and slapped it shut with too much force, the sound wave ricocheting off the wall and slamming back into her, making her jump.  She picked up the folder from her desk and opened it, pacing.  She couldn’t believe she had to have this meeting, she couldn’t believe they had approved the book. 

Cindy had scanned the first couple paragraphs when she found the manuscript on her desk and tossed it into the reject pile, but the next day the book was on her desk again.  She read two chapters and knocked on her boss’ door.  “You don’t really expect me to read this garbage, do you?” she asked, dropping the bound papers on the desk. 

“Yes, I expect you to read it and I expect you to get some editors, you’re going to need a few.  It’s a done deal.”

“Are you serious?”  Cindy asked, sinking into a chair.

“Yes, it’s going to be a best seller.”

Cindy stared at the gray haired woman across the cluttered desk.  “It’s trash, it’s poorly written torture porn.” 

“I know,” the older woman sighed and leaned back in her chair.  “But it’s going to be a best seller, so get to work.” 

Cindy glanced at the clock, looked over the changes she and the editors had agreed should be made, and felt her stomach tighten, knowing her day would be spent battling attorneys over every line.  She couldn’t understand how an unknown, first time novelist could get such leeway in a contract, but her job, along with a few editors and a couple attorneys, was to work it out. 

The phone on the desk buzzed and a voice spoke under crackling static.  “Your two o’clock is here, Ms. Olsen, and settled in the conference room.”

“Thanks.”  Cindy looked over the file again and dropped it on her desk with a thud.  She pulled a blazer off the back of the chair, slid into it, and then checked her hose for runs.  She buttoned the jacket roughly and took a deep breath.  “It’s just another day at the office,” she said softly, picking up the file and forcing a smile on her face. 

She settled on the publishing side of the table and looked at the media displayed by the author’s side.  The sharp publicity shot of the author showed a well-built man, with a fall of hair over one eye.  In the corner of the room was a six-foot cardboard cut out of the author looking muscular and toned in a tight black t-shirt, slim fitting jeans, and cowboy boots.  “He already has over two million fans on social media and the book hasn’t even been released yet,” a suit from across the table announced. 

Cindy poured a small glass of water, settling in for a long day, and saw movement out of the corner of her eye.  She turned and swatted at her hair expecting to find a fly, and finding no flying or buzzing insect, she shifted her attention back to the upcoming book-signing schedule of the author.  She gazed at the glossy advertising posters set to be displayed in bookstores and saw a shadow move across the wall.  She glanced over, saw nothing, and focused on the words of the opposing team.

Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a man move across the room until he was standing beside the life-sized version of the attractive, but untalented writer.  She jerked her head up and she looked at the cardboard figure.  There was no man and no one had entered the room or gotten up from the table.  I saw a man, she thought, trying to concentrate on the meeting.  From across the table another set of glossy papers were set down.  “And we’ve already scheduled television interviews.”

“First we need a readable product,” Cindy interrupted.  “That is why we called this meeting.  We’re all pleased to know that the publicity is underway, but we have to have something to give the public.” 

“The book is written,” an older gentleman, with white hair and an expensive suit, spoke from the opposite side of the table.

In her peripheral vision, Cindy saw a man moving again, this time he hugged the cardboard cut out and kissed its cheek, delicately lifting up a foot.  Cindy turned her head abruptly and saw no man standing on one foot kissing cardboard. 

“The book needs so much editing, it’s like it was written by an illiterate serial killer,” the editor next to her said, bringing her back to the matter at hand.

“In the first two chapters alone he uses the C-word twelve times,” she said, turning to the editor seated beside her.  “Twelve, am I correct?”

“Yes, Ms. Olsen, twelve.”

“We need a better way to express that idea, some softer words, especially if your target audience is women,” she said, barely restraining her disgust with the poorly written erotic/torture novel. 

“We hold creative control, it’s in the contract.”

Cindy sighed, sitting back in her chair, and suddenly seeing two men dance around the stiff photograph out of the corner of her eye.  One was shifting his hips left and right, and the other was using one hand to point at the glossy image, while the other was giving her the thumbs up sign.  She took a sip of water as one of the editors argued across the table. 

Uncle Russ, she thought and sighed, no wonder I’m thinking about you.  She stared at the schedules and photographs scattered on the table and saw a third man join the party beside the corrugated figurine, doing the bump with the finger pointer.  She laughed and all eyes around the table turned her direction.  She quickly covered the laugh with a cough, taking another sip of water, and apologized.  “I’m sorry, please continue,” she said. 

The argument across the table grew heated and the invisible men danced.  Cindy remembered slapping mosquitoes, blood smears, and Uncle Russ’ words, “I did bad things that were called good, and the watchers were watching me, I saw them quite often, and they helped me to do bad things that were called good.  Understand?”  She felt the gooseflesh erupt on her skin and turned her head, the watchers were fully visible, at least to her. 

She looked at the glossy papers on the table, glanced at the men and women arguing above the prints, and turned her gaze back to the men now holding hands and circling the cardboard image in a cartoonish dance.  She heard her uncle’s words in her mind … “but I know when I did my worst over there, the watchers were watching,”

She laughed hysterically, drawing all eyes from around the table, and gasping for breath.  She wiped away the tears flowing down her cheeks and stood up.  “Excuse me, I have to find out who’s watching the watchers,” she said, abandoning her files as she let herself out of the conference room.  She shut the door softly, despite the overwhelming need to run surging through her, and the watchers appeared, dancing around her crazily as she made her way to her office. 

They followed her, miming a Vaudeville routine, one poking the other in the eye, and she grabbed her bag off the floor, pulling her journal from the drawer.  “I see you and you know I see you,” she muttered, shoving the leather bound book into her oversized purse.  “And I’m going to find out who’s watching you.”  She slid the strap over her shoulder, looking around the office for anything else she may need, and knowing she’d never be back.

The trio stopped their antics and shook their heads in the negative. 

“I know you killed Uncle Russ,” she muttered, stepping out of her office and heading toward the exit.  They followed her, cavorting over one another as though a circus act.  “I’m going to find out who is watching you.”  She threw open the door to the street and they disappeared.  She stood on the sidewalk for a moment, releasing a long breath of air, and looked back through the glass door to see the watchers doing summersaults down the hall and sliding through the thick wooden door into the conference room. 


Monday, April 22, 2013



Sissy caught sight of a hawk landing firmly on one of the four-by-fours that secured the privacy fence around her property, narrowly missing the razor wire balled on the top, and her heart rushed with anxiety.  She wanted to protect the few squirrels, cats, and songbirds that spent time in her garden, but she knew the predator had to eat as well as they did.  She sat back in her chair and closed her eyes.

She stood slowly and shut the blinds.  She busied herself with the list, making sure to grab a hat and some gloves, and pouring half a cup in the animals’ water bowl.   She stepped outside and rolled down the sleeves of a thick linen shirt and pulled the gloves on to cover her hands.  She grabbed a bandana from her back pocket, decorated in bouncing cats and birds, and tied it behind her head, covering most of her face.  She walked across the sandy garage and lifted the hood of the ancient jeep, ensuring there was water and oil.  She slammed the hood and walked to the back of the vehicle, looking through the window to see three five-gallon jugs of water mixed in with some tools. 

“Okay,” she said, donning the hat and setting her sunglasses in place.  “To town.”  She climbed in the Jeep and reversed, backing down a long driveway and checking the status of her plants along the way.  She parked and jumped out of the car, pulling the hat down further, and walked to the gate.  She pushed open the thick wooden doors and was nearly blinded by the white light, she tilted her head, watching the toes of her boots, and pulled down the thick leather brim.  She climbed into the idling vehicle, backed out, and pulling up the brake, she ran back and shut the gate. 

The difference between her own yard, sheltered and green, and the outside world always took her breath and she paused, leaning on the warm metal of the hood for a moment.  She loosened the top button of her shirt and pulled another bandana free, wiping her forehead.  “To town,” she whispered and stood up, shoving the cloth into her back pocket.  She climbed onto the cracked leather, adjusting the visor to block the harsh light, and released the brake, putting the car in gear. 

The blacktop had disintegrated into tar rock, pebble, and drifting sand a few years ago and Sissy worked to hold onto the steering wheel as she bounced across the piles.  She looked at the barren land that used to hold a huge house, equipped with three working fireplaces, and sighed.  She remembered the Regopoulis family who had been her neighbors for as long as she could recall, four generations lived in the same house, but now there was no evidence that the house had ever existed at all.  It’s like it was never even there, she thought.  The last she heard from the Regopoulis kids she went to school with, Rosa and Jimmy, they were doing well in the city and each had a child.  

Sissy bumped down the broken road, finally reaching the corner, and turned toward town, grateful that the concrete held up better under the heat than the blacktop.  Her view seemed endless, so unlike what she remembered from childhood.  Sometimes on her drive to town she imagined that she was living on another planet as she gazed at the empty landscape.  The houses, stores, schools, trees and hills from her past had been erased as though they had never been, what had once been a productive town was now nothing more than a deserted, flat land, thick with blowing sand, a white hot sun, and not even a cactus to make up for the loss. 

Driving on the concrete was faster and easier than the broken blacktop, but she knew that it wouldn’t be long before the road would no longer be so easily traveled.  She gazed out the window, remembering the houses and storefronts, and looking at the ground.  “There has to be something left,” she said.  “Even though it looks flat, it doesn’t mean I won’t hit the foundation of a house or a chimney.”  She glanced through the pocked windshield, dodging a familiar pothole and noticing it had grown since the last time she passed.  She imagined the town as it once was, studying the terrain, and fixing in her mind the old paths and back roads that she may need to know to get to town in the future.   

The sun glared, bouncing off the dome of the city, and blinding her.  Despite the black market tint of the windows, the visor, glasses, and leather hat that she’d acquired by trading an illegal kitten, her eyes watered under the white-hot reflection.  Her foot fell off the accelerator and she paused on the side of the broken road.  She checked her back pocket for her permit and then double-checked the monetary card.  She pulled out the list, wagering in her mind the cost of the items she needed, the cost of parking, and then checked her balance again.

“I got it,” she smiled, and pulled the silk bag from under the seat, stowing her cards inside.  She threw her hat behind the seat, set her glasses in the glove box, and attempted to fight the glare to check out her appearance in the mirror.  She smoothed back a few hairs that had escaped the intricate braid and began unbuttoning her thick linen top.  She untied her boots, pulling them off her feet, and tossing them in the back.  She reached for the skirt, protected in plastic, as she shimmied out of hardy denim.  She managed to slide into the skirt without having to step out of the vehicle.  “Yay,” she muttered.  “Thank God for small favors,” she said, buttoning the cloth behind her back. 

The last time she was in town yellow and green were the proper colors, and she prayed that they hadn’t changed the color scheme in the three weeks since her last visit.  She liked yellow and green, but a couple months ago the colors were red and black, she wasn’t such a fan of those colors and wore them simply to be able to purchase the things she needed. 

She made sure that her clothes were adjusted properly and pulled forward slowly.  She entered the first checkpoint, the dome blocking the sun beaming in her windows and heating the Jeep, and showed her papers.  The young man, blue eyed and pink cheeked, waved her to the next station.  She showed her monetary card and a bit of cleavage at the next checkpoint.  The guard glanced at her card, and then stared at her chest for a moment before waving her through to the next level.  The next guard inspected her tag and allowed dogs to run around her vehicle.  “Have you arranged for a conveyance?” he asked, scanning her monetary card in a small device he carried on his belt.

“Yes,” she said, smiling her brightest smile. 

He handed back her cards, his eyes running over her in a way that made her feel dirty, and said, “Second level, slot forty-two.”

“Thank you,” she said and smiled.  The smile disappeared as she pulled into the towering, nearly empty, parking deck, but then she glanced at the cameras every thirty feet and smiled again.  She parked and stepped out of the vehicle, checking her appearance in the glass.  It must still be yellow and green or they wouldn’t have let me through, she thought, smoothing back a few more hairs and applying powder and lipstick.  She took a deep breath, turned to the exit, and aware of the cameras filming her, held the smile. 

Sissy placed the canvas bag and yellow silk bag over her shoulder, following the signs to the exit.  She stepped out of the tunnel, in a familiar place, and armed herself to take the next step.  She paused, glanced at the camera set in a tree above her, and stepped into the range of a streetlight that did dual duty.  The light pole illuminated the area, but it also had a message to relay.  You could only hear the message if you were in a twelve foot radius and there was only six feet open on the path that lead to the city.  She stepped into its reach, looking at the artificial sky above.  “Beginning four-twenty-seven the colors will be pink and silver.  Pink and silver on four-twenty-seven.”  Sissy stepped out of the mental intrusion and looked back to the sky. Outside of the dome, it was a wasteland; the sky was white, hot, and killing.  Inside the dome, the sky was usually blue and the rain came when scheduled, conveniently announced on TV, Internet, and radio, and there was an ever-present gentle breeze filling the air with the scent of honey suckle and jasmine.  There was no trash on the streets, no beggars or homeless asking for help or money, no stray animals, and the walks, yards, glass, doorknobs, and stairs all gleamed as though recently cut, raked, polished, and scrubbed. 

She turned to the right, passing a clothing store, and the mental beam erupted in her mind again,  “Monday, four-twenty-seven the colors are pink and silver.  Sale.  Sale.  S..”  She stepped out of the beam and sighed, smiling at the camera perched on a Magnolia branch.  She waited on the corner, hoping that Rusty hadn’t forgotten her, and watched the rickshaws and people pass, listening to snippets of conversation. 

“I love it when they change the colors,” a woman, carrying several shopping bags, explained to a friend.  “I get so bored with wearing the same colors for so long.”

“I know, I’ve seen enough yellow and green to last me a lifetime, now we just have to wait for four-twenty-seven to wear our new clothes.  That’s always the hardest part.”

“Well, it gives us something to look forward to, plus then we have a week of Color Balls, those are always so much fun.  The dancing, music, food, wine, and fashion, it’s so romantic!” 

“It is…”
The women drifted out of earshot and Sissy looked for Rusty’s rickshaw among those passing.  No cars were allowed in the dome and lone individuals were permitted to walk, although it was frowned upon, but she needed to pick up more items than she could carry.  All the passing rickshaws were yellow and green and would have to be painted to the new color scheme before their permits would be renewed.  Some rickshaw owners had several vehicles making it easier for them to get a jump on the new colors, but most would lose a couple days of work waiting for the paint to dry, luckily though, they had Color Balls to attend. 

She recognized Rusty’s out of control curls as she saw him headed in her direction; she stepped to the curb and waited.  “Sorry I’m late, Sissy.  The last customer…” he shook his head.  He helped her onto the wooden seat and put a yellow blanket over her lap.  “Got a long list today?”

“Not so long, but heavy, I’m stocking up.”

“What’s our first stop?”

“The yarn store, I’m still working on that baby blanket.”  She winked.  “How is Amanda feeling?”

He grinned and ran his hand through unruly hair.  “She’s amazing!  I can barely wrap my arms around her she’s so big!  It took us so long to get the permit, I can’t believe her pregnancy is almost done and the baby is almost here.”  He climbed on the bicycle part of the contraption and began peddling. 

Sissy sat back and observed her surroundings.  The sidewalks were a sea of yellow and green, blurring with the awnings hung over storefronts and street signs.  She sighed, knowing the next time she came to town the streets would be a wash of pink and silver.  There were few animals and no birds in the dome, except for the holographic ones and piped in bird song, and only a select group in the city could afford the permits for a dog or cat.  Luckily, she still had breeding cats on her property and a black market kitten went a long way to supplement her meager allotment. 

Carson Pharmaceuticals owned the entire domed city and those that chose to live in the city were regularly tested to ensure they had an adequate level of the drug in their system and when the colors changed, the required pill also changed.  The black and red period was a bad time in the city, the yellow and green period had gone better than expected, and Sissy could only wonder what the pink and silver time had in store for the residents of Carsonville. 

Rusty pulled to the curb and helped her out of the rickshaw.  “I’ll be quick,” she said.  “And then we need to go to the market.”

“Yes, ma’am.”  He smiled and leaned against the vehicle.

She made her selections quickly, picking out four balls of blue yarn, surprised she could find it in the barrels of yellow and green, just as pink and silver were being stocked, and used her monetary card to pay for her purchases.  She stepped out on the street, shoving her purchases in an approved canvas bag that bore the logo of Carson Pharmaceuticals.  “What about dogs?” Rusty asked, helping her into the seat.  “Do you see any more breeding dogs out there?”

“I haven’t seen a puppy in years,” she whispered.  Black market dogs could get you jail time.  “Last puppy I saw was Bella, and although she’s healthy and I have a couple males, she hasn’t gotten pregnant.”

“How do you live out there?”

“It’s not so bad, Rusty.  I have water, plants, and animals.  And I can wear any color I like and not take the required drugs.” 

“That red and black period, I lost three friends and me and Amanda almost broke up,” he said softly and shook his head, covering her lap with a blanket.  “I think our population went down by a good three hundred.  Think you can get us a kitten?”

“Probably, but are you sure you want to take such a risk?  Especially with a new baby?”

“I’d like my child to know about life before the change.”

“Think about it, okay?  Talk to Amanda, I would hate myself if your world was screwed up because of me.”

“You’re good folk, Sissy.  We’ll think about it.”  He climbed onto the seat and pulled away from the curb.  “Market next, right?”

“Yes.”  She watched the people moving on the street, most carrying shopping bags preparing for the new color change, and saw a couple storeowners pulling down their awnings, wondering how they could afford a new awning every time the decision was announced for the new requirements.  She searched the sidewalk for children and only saw two.  There were strict rules about having children and unexpected pregnancies were waylaid by sterilization at birth, or at acceptance of living in the city.  The process of being approved to have children and then the reversal of sterilization was long, most didn’t even try to apply, but those who did had a rough road before them.  It took Rusty and Amanda ten years, more paperwork than she could imagine, and many meetings with the board before they were accepted, and then the surgeries.  Rusty always asked her how she lived “out there” and she always restrained herself from asking how they lived in the dome. 

She had no man, no desire to procreate, she had enough work with the land, growing her own food, and keeping up with the animals.  She knew she was luckier than most as her property had a well with an aquifer underneath.  As the world outside of her gates grew hotter, dryer, and the sand storms blew down everything, somehow her property, the piece of land that had raised four generations, survived.  Her great grandparents had installed an irrigation system long before the world changed, and it had mostly been forgotten until she discovered the strange knobs, dials and levers in the back of the well house.  The water, the most valuable thing in the new world, came out of the pipes cold, refreshing, and clean, but she feared that Carsonville had discovered the deep aquifer and would soon drain it dry.  But she had enough to worry about, and had to trust that if that happened, or when it happened, she would be long dead and buried. 

Rusty stopped at the curb, beside the yellow and green tent tops.  “Do you need a hand?”

“Yes, I think I do,” she said, following required Carsonville convention and waiting for him to take her hand and help her down to the ground. 

“Okay, let me lock up.”  He stowed her bag of yarn under the bench seat, locking it, and then locked the wheels with a metal device. 

Sissy took a deep breath before stepping into the shade under the tents.  The market both illuminated and hid the poverty of Carsonville.  The sellers, dressed in the appropriate colors, were emaciated and barked out their goods as she passed.  It reminded her of the pictures her parents showed her of festivals, circuses, and fairs of a long ago era.  She walked past the tents selling material of pink and silver, bypassed the tables with small bowls of fish, the only pet deemed appropriate without a permit, and stopped at a table with bags of wheat, rice, and flax flour.  She bought a twenty-pound bag of mixed flour, noticing that the price had increased since the last time, and Rusty carried it as she sought out some sugar.  Cane sugar was rare, beet sugar was what most people consumed, and she talked to three merchants before she found an acceptable ten-pound bag.  She didn’t really use the sugar for herself, but somehow the humming birds still passed over the barren earth and she felt obligated to give them a treat. 

It was funny that she worried more about the animals than herself, but her family was mostly gone, she was the last, making a hopeless stand in the white washed desert and felt the call to help nature.  She shook her head, as though nature needed her help.  Okay, she admitted, moving to the next booth as Rusty carried her purchases; it was a selfish desire to see the earth as she once remembered it, to see it still producing, and to see the animals thriving.  On her land she had three goats, uncountable chickens, a dozen or so cats, four dogs, some elusive lizards, catfish and tadpoles in the pond, and a desert tortoise that she found attempting to push down her gate to gain admittance.  She also had a myriad of birds and squirrels that she couldn’t really feed, but kept the baths full for their enjoyment. 

“Thief! Thief!  Thief!”  A voice cried out and Rusty grabbed her, pushing her against one of the vendor tables, and covered her body with his own. 

A hopelessly thin man, wearing the appropriate colors tinged by filth, ran by with a small bag of beans in his hand.  The chant began slowly, and then grew to a crescendo. “Suspend him, suspend him, suspend him!”

The man was stopped before he made it to the exit by two police officers dressed in yellow and green, they grabbed him roughly, shaking the bit of food from his hand, and dragged him to the street. 

“I’m sorry, Sissy,” Rusty muttered, pulling away from her, but still shielding her body from the rushing crowds determined to see the suspension.  “I think we’re stuck for a bit.”

She nodded.  “It’s not your fault, Rusty.  I have a bit more shopping to do.”  She searched her mind for anything else she may need.  She wandered, being shadowed by the rickshaw driver, toward the back of the tent city, listening to the cheers from the street.  Chill bumps erupted on her skin, despite the climate controlled dome. 

“He shouldn’t have stolen, he has all he needs,” Rusty said. 

Sissy briefly shook her head and made no reply.  No one has all they need here, she thought, no one.  They had lots of rules, color changes, permission slips and permits, and drugs, but no one had all they needed in Carsonville.  She approached the last booth, purchasing a few buttons and seeds that were not guaranteed to grow, and waited until she saw the hoards of people moving back inside laughing and joking about the suspension. 

“It looks like it’s over, are you ready?”

She nodded and moved slowly toward the exit. 

They stepped out of the tent to see a body, dressed in dingy yellow and green, hanging from a street light right over Rusty’s rickshaw.  She tried not to look, but her eyes kept betraying her, and she observed the green cloth sandals on the feet hanging just a couple feet over her head.  Rusty helped her into the rickshaw, covering her lap with the blanket, and stowing her items on the floor. 

“Don’t forget the color change,” he said, unlocking the wheels.

She nodded, trying not to look at the emaciated body swinging above her in the gentle, artificial wind.

“Next stop?”

“Yeah, Carson clothes.” 

She tried to halt her eyes from straying, but they kept darting to the poor, dead man hanging above.  She couldn’t stop looking at the swinging feet in cheap green sandals, and even as Rusty pulled the rickshaw away, she eyes stayed on the dirty toes.  

“I don’t know why he was stealing, we have everything we need here,” Rusty said.

Sissy restrained herself from speaking.  Evidently, the dead man stealing a handful of food didn’t have everything he needed, she thought, but knew she couldn’t talk to Rusty, he was excited about the birth of his child.  He couldn’t see himself or his child or his wife hanging above the street with dirty feet and cheap shoes.   

Rusty stopped at the curb in front of Carson Clothes. “I’ll watch your things,” he said, helping her down.

“Thanks,” she said, standing on the sidewalk and looking at the deep blue sky above that no longer existed in nature.  “I’ll be quick.”

“Take your time, Sissy, you are my favorite customer.”  He winked.

She stepped into the store and picked a few items off the racks.  She chose a couple tanks, pink and silver, and then pulled down a couple skirts.  The only choices available were tanks, blouses, and skirts, women were forbidden to wear pants in Carsonville.  She looked at the display of hats, but they were cheap, thin cotton, and could never stand up to the world outside of the dome.  She walked over to the shoe display, filled with designs in the new color.  She shunned the outrageously high heels and settled on a couple pairs of flat sandals.  She took her purchases to the counter and paid, scraping by with just cents left in her allotment. 

She met Rusty at the curb.  “Okay, I’m done.” 

He settled her into the seat and headed off to the parking deck on the east end of town.  He parked, locking the conveyance, and threw the bags of flour and sugar over his shoulders, following her through the maze of mental messages to her Jeep.  “Three weeks, right?”

“I hope so, Rusty.  And if I don’t make it back, let Amanda know how much I love her and how excited I am for both of you.”

“You’re talking like I won’t see you again.”

She sighed, remembering the swaying body.  “You know, Rusty, one day we won’t see each other again.”  She lowered her voice, looking at the cameras overhead.  “But you know, you, Amanda, and the new one always have a place with me.”

“I’ve only been out of the dome once, Sissy, since it happened, I don’t like it out there.”

“I know,” she said, and lightly touched his arm.  “But you’re always welcome.”

He straightened, looking in the back of her car, and then at the white dust on the outside.  “I’ll see you in three weeks, regular time, same place.”

She nodded.  “Thanks, Rusty.”

“It’s the least I can do for my baby sister.  I love you.”

“Love you, too.”  She wanted to hug him, but the cameras hung above.

Sissy settled in the car, grateful when the engine sprung to life, and backed out of the slot. She made her way through the checkpoints, pulling her hat from the back and grabbing her sunglasses.  She pulled out of the dome, parking on the side of the broken road, the setting sun blocked by the unnatural eruption on the earth, and changed back into jeans, boots, long sleeves and gloves. 

Dressed for the unchanging weather, Sissy pulled into the wasteland happy and excited to be heading home. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

I Scream, You Scream

 I Scream, You Scream

 Sarah heard the screams coming from several blocks away, attached the dog to his lead, and grabbed the cat, locking her in the house.  She checked to make sure the latches on the gates were secure, and then stepped into the house to ensure that the front door and windows were locked.  She pulled the loaded .38 from the closet, grabbed a beer, a pack of cigarettes, and settled in a chair in the yard. 

The screams were growing closer, blending with the sirens, and with the always-present sound of the ice cream truck on its route.  She was new to the neighborhood, having only moved in the house she inherited from her grandmother the previous summer, but she was familiar with the weekly, and sometimes daily, occurrence.  Only once during the passing of the ice cream man did anyone threaten her or her animals or her property, but once was enough to keep her on her toes. 

She popped the tab of the beer, took a sip, and lit a cigarette … waiting.  The dog barked and then she heard someone rattle the gate. “Sarah, let me in.”

She slid the gun in the back pocket of her jeans and set the bottle on the ground.  “How much have you had to drink, Wes?”  Alcohol lowered inhibitions and lowered inhibitions were a scary thing when the ice cream man passed.  A drink or two lessened the physical effects, but more than that left you open.

“Nothing, I promise.”

“I’m armed, Wes,” she said, rising slowly.

“I know.”

She walked to the gate, nearly hidden behind old-fashioned climbing rose bushes, and looked at him through the bars.  His eyes were clear, his clothes wrinkled but clean.  “Okay,” she said, quickly pulling some keys from her pocket, as he looked over his shoulder.  “Calm down, it’s still two blocks away.”

“Says the girl in the fortress,” he muttered, and sighed deeply when he stepped into the overgrown yard.

“You could stay home,” she said, locking the gate behind him.

“I’m a wimp, I don’t like to be home alone when it happens, plus I don’t have a gun.”

“Did you lock up?”  She turned back to her chair.

“Of course.”

“Well, go get a beer and a chair, it’s almost here.  And for God’s sake, don’t let the cat out.”

“That cat is smarter than both of us, she’s hiding.”

Sarah settled back in the chair, listening to the chaos grow closer.  Two blocks away she heard gunfire as the dog beside her, nearly as big as she, curled up under her feet as though she was a barrier against bullets.  “You’re okay, Einstein,” she soothed, and reached down to rub his oversized back. 

Wes pulled a chair from the shed and settled beside her, opening a beer and draining it.  He popped the top of another and took a sip.  “You got a cigarette?”

She handed him the pack as she heard Mr. Edmond from the next street bellow at his wife.  Mrs. Edmonds could never be considered a weak woman and yelled even louder, “Fuck you, dipshit!”  The Edmonds had been married, happily, for well over thirty years and they doted on each other, at least they did until the ice cream man passed. 

“It’s happening,” Wes whispered and downed the beer.

She nodded and listened to Mary Ann Whitmire wail in agony.  Mary Ann was disabled and had been confined to a wheelchair since birth, typically she was a pillar of strength and optimism, except when the ice cream man passed, and then she fell helplessly into the pain and despair of her condition.  The house across from Mary Ann’s had been empty for a month since the murder suicide that took the whole family, Sarah had heard the shots several minutes after the ice cream man had passed. 

Einstein shivered, whimpering under her feet, and Wes reached out for her hand.  She allowed him to take it, took a deep swallow of beer, and closed her eyes.  The tinkling music of the truck, repeating a song she could never remember, washed over her, first exciting her with memories of warm summer days, imagination, and endless time to explore, but then the underlying wave came, and she felt the rage slam her.  She squeezed Wes’ hand and took a slow breath as the images of torturous violence and degrading sex flashed before her mental eyes, and then she heard the words bellowing in her mind.  “Mary Ann is just a whining, pathetic bitch, someone should put her out of her misery.  Mr. Edmonds is a child molester; remember how he’s always so nice to kids?  Wes just wants free beer and a piece of ass.  That little teenage shit across the street hit your car; you know it’s true!  Do something!  Are you going to let them get away with that?”

Sarah tried to slow her heart with her breathing and reached down to pet the dog when he whimpered.  Wes’ hand tightened on hers and she sat back.  “Breathe,” she said softly, still trying to calm her racing heart.  She could hear the sirens and yells and abuse to her right, but by the time the truck had set off to its next destination, the entire neighborhood would be in chaos.  The worst experiences were when the truck sat at the stop sign on the corner a little longer than necessary, and she held her breath involuntarily waiting for the truck to pass.  She expelled the air in her lungs roughly when it began moving again.  “Thank God,” she said on a sigh.  Wes lessened his grip on her hand a few seconds later. 

“Now we wait,” he said, sprawling out in the chair, and lighting a cigarette.

She took the pack and lit a cigarette, wondering where the last one had gone, and relaxed into the chair.  Her heart began to slow and her ears grew sharper.  “Now we wait.” 

Einstein pushed his broad head between her calves and lifted his nose to the air. 

The next block over she heard Elizabeth Marconi screaming at her stair step hoard of children, and she took another drag.  She exhaled as she heard three gunshots from three doors down.  Einstein whined and she heard the siren from a fire truck.  Soon all the dogs in the neighborhood, except hers, were howling with the sirens and several turned into aggressive barks and fights.  Einstein shivered and she rubbed his neck and shoulders with her foot.  “You’re okay,” she whispered. 

The screams, anger, violence, and sirens were now in stereo, coming from her left and right, from behind and before her.  She shuddered. 

“Five minutes, that’s all it takes,” Wes said.  “Probably not even five, it feels like a good hour when it’s happening, but I think it’s only like two and a half or three.” 

“Yeah,” she said, but her word disappeared under the screeching of cats fighting in the street outside of the gate.  Einstein jumped to his feet and was caught short at the end of his lead, even though the yard was fenced, Sarah always chained him when the ice cream man came.  Smoke spiraled over the trees a couple blocks away and the smell of wood smoke filled the air.  “What is that?  The third or fourth house since Christmas?” 

“The third, I think, but I could be wrong.”

She nodded, luckily they didn’t see the ice cream truck very often in the winter.  Her heart regained its steady beat and she sat up straighter in the chair turning her head like an animal as she listened to the sudden eruption of noise in the neighborhood.  She glanced over at the birdbath and feeders and saw that they were empty of life and then gazed into the trees and saw no movement.  Suddenly the limb of a dogwood bent nearly to the ground and the chatter of a gang of squirrels split the air.  Einstein ran to the other end of his lead barking as the squirrels chased another through the trees.  The squirrel in the lead darted into a small hole on the side of her roof, just under the shingles she’d been planning to fix, and the other five squirrels darted through the trees looking for it.  She chuckled. “Snoz made it again.”

“Right on,” Wes whispered, getting to his feet to watch the squirrels search for their missing target. 

Snoz was a squirrel she fed and his name came from the white spot on his nose, while the other squirrels were purely gray, Snoz stood out because of the white splotch and she briefly wondered if that was why all the other squirrels chased him.  She stood up and listened to Sam McGuire, across the street, scream at his teenage son and felt guilt for the thought that the boy had scratched her car, even if he had, he had enough to deal with and she wouldn’t in her right and regular mind to make an issue of a small ding on her old vehicle.  

A slap and then a scuffle sounded and Einstein lost interest in the squirrels and ran to the other side of the fence, again stopped abruptly by his chain.  Pounding feet let her know that the boy, Eli, had run from his father. 

Thankfully, she couldn’t see into the street from the yard, which meant she couldn’t be seen and she felt safe in that knowledge.  Before moving into her grandmother’s house she’d rented a house far out in the country where her nearest neighbor was nearly a mile away, she liked the quiet, but she also liked the idea of a rent-free house so she moved into the city.  Perhaps living isolated for so long made her aware of the tactics of the ice cream man, although that didn’t occur to her until after she lost her boyfriend.  The ice cream man came by five times that week, and after the fourth she and Elliot had officially broken up.  It wasn’t long after that when she figured it out. 

“I’m getting another beer, stay here,” she said.

Wes nodded, stretched his arms over his head, and took a deep breath going into some yoga pose.

Two car alarms went off simultaneously and a girl screamed.  She paused and listened.  One alarm and the girl’s scream came from the south end of the street; the other alarm came from the north.  It’s moving away, she thought, at least the initial intensity.  “Now we wait,” she muttered, dropping the half burnt cigarette in a bucket of sand beside the back door.  She stepped through the door, and knowing the cat wouldn’t be seen again for the next hour or two, she left it open.  She walked through the house quickly, making sure all was as it should be, and grabbed a beer from the fridge.  She stepped out, pulling the door shut, and heard a fight on the street. 

She walked to the front of the shed and leaned against it, listening. 

“You told me ten bucks an hour fucker!” 

“I’m sorry, dude, but if boss man doesn’t pay me, I can’t pay you!”

The punch rang out with the crack of bones.

“Fuck,” Wes whispered, stepping toward the shed.  He leaned on the wall behind her facing the east end of the neighborhood.  “Was that a wrist or a neck?” he asked softly.

Sarah shrugged.  They couldn’t see the street at all, behind all the shrubs and climbing vines her grandmother had planted over the years, was a six-foot, reinforced, iron fence.  Sarah remembered her parents talking about it when it was installed some thirty years ago, about how ridiculous it was to spend so much money on a fence, and as soon as it was erected her grandmother began planting.  From the street or in the yard, the overly dense metal could no longer be seen; it was simply an eight foot green wall of blooms, scents, butterflies and birds.

“You killed him!” an unknown woman screeched. 

“Daddy!” a child cried, under the thumping sounds of cheap rubber flip-flops on concrete.

“Fuck!” Wes muttered.

“Yeah. Are you clean?” Sarah asked in a whisper.


“You swear?  Nothing, not a pill, a joint?”

“Nothing, got my ID and ten bucks in my wallet.  I don’t even have a condom.”

“Put the chairs away and throw away the bottles, I’ll get Einstein.”  She swallowed half the beer and handed it to him. 

They moved quickly and quietly through the yard, Einstein sat at the end of his lead, quiet, and facing the back door.  She unlatched the dog and took his collar, as Wes grabbed the chairs, closing them softly, and trotted off to set them by the shed.  She ran toward the back door with the dog at her side, as Wes grabbed the empties from the yard, setting them gently and softly into the recycle bin without a sound.  She opened the door silently, pushing the dog inside, and waited for Wes.

She heard leather against pavement, the boom of a shotgun, and Einstein barking from the living room.  Wes met her at the back door and they stepped inside just as a man yelled, “You killed my fucking brother!”

She shut the door and engaged the locks.  “Must have been an extra dose tonight.  Are you sure you’re clean?”

“Nothing, Sarah, I swear.  But what about the gun?”

“I have a license.”

“I know, but there’s been a shooting on the street.  We got a 50/50 chance that we’re going to get a knock on the door tonight.”

“I know.”  She sighed.  “I’ll start dinner, you go turn on the TV.” 

She walked into the bedroom, reached in the closet for the metal case that came with the gun, and pulled the weapon from her back pocket.  She thought about unloading it, but it simply wasn’t worth the risk with a gunfight on the street.  She opened the box, set the gun inside, and carried it into the kitchen, placing it on the counter without engaging the lock.  She walked into the living room, grabbed Einstein’s collar, pulling him away from the window and urging him to quiet down.  Giving one more vocal lament, he followed her to the crate in the corner and went inside without complaint.  She double-checked that the locks were secure as she closed the gate of his enclosure and heard another gunshot from the street.

“Turn on the stereo, too, Wes, and I’ll grab a bottle of wine out of the kitchen,” she said, moving quickly.  She ran to the kitchen, opened the pantry door, and grabbed a bottle of screw-top merlot.  She pulled off the cap as she skipped to the sink, listening to Einstein howl as more sirens were heard on the street.  She poured a third of the bottle down the sink, and then dropped in some fragrant dish washing liquid and turned on the hot water, reaching for some wine glasses.   She poured two glasses, turning off the waste of water in the sink.  “Come on!”

Wes appeared at her side and lifted his glass, taking a big sip and holding it in his mouth with a smile. 

“Swish it around,” she said with a smile and then took a large drink, holding it in her mouth. 

She swallowed and laughed.  “I must be hysterical.”  She shook her head.  “Okay, drink more.”  She took a large swallow of wine.  “Okay, this is the story, we were drinking, watching TV, listening to music, and making out.”  She pushed her t-shirt over her shoulder exposing her bra strap.  “We didn’t hear a thing.  Got it?”

“Yep,” he said, taking a swallow and wiping his mouth. 

She followed him into the living room, glass and bottle in hand.  They settled on the couch and she picked up the remote as another gunshot rang out, she turned up the volume. 

“Is it going to be another murder suicide?  Another family gone?”  Wes asked, taking another sip of wine.

“Probably,” she said.  “I think they want us out, this is valuable land.  Hell, back in the day when this neighborhood was built it was valuable, but suddenly folks have discovered its value again, it only took them forty years of decay to figure it out.  You saw the proposed plans for the new mall, condos, and freeway; I showed you articles about the new private security company patrolling.”

“But what does all that have to do with the ice cream man?” 

She leaned her head on his shoulder.  “I don’t know, but I know what I feel when it passes and you know, too.  Is the two one thing?  The corporation wanting to buy our land and the ice cream man; or are they two different things?  Now, I’ve only lived here nine months, you know more than I do.  When did the ice cream man come?” she asked as the sirens grew louder and Einstein whimpered, his back to the gate of his crate. 

Wes sighed and rested his head on the back of the couch.  “I moved back here four years ago when my parents moved to Florida.  I had my wife, Cassie, and we saw it as a great way to save money.  The first year it was ideal.”  He laughed softly under his breath.  “I think the ice cream man started coming around about three years ago.  That’s when we started fighting.  Suddenly after years of marriage we were having these eruptions.  They didn’t last long, except when they did, but they left scars, you know?”

“Yeah,” she said softly.

“One morning I woke up and she was gone, and then I lost my job.”

She nodded.

“And then one night after the ice cream man passed I woke up in jail.  I’d jumped on my neighbor for his dog’s shit in my yard, it was a freaking Chihuahua and I have damned near an acre and I attack a man about tiny turds?  So not like me.  And then you moved in.  My secret summer girlfriend, I remember the summers you used to spend with your grandparents.” He smiled, winked, and wrapped his arm around her shoulders.  “But all I know now to do is move away.  You said there was no ice cream man out in the country.”

“No.” She shook her head.  “But is the ice cream man done by some corporation trying to take our land, or something else?  In the last year I’ve read of technology, out there science fiction Star Trek crap, which can put thoughts and emotions in your head and I’ve also read that corporations can afford them, but I keep thinking, is the ice cream man real or not?  Have you ever seen a kid you know taking a push-up, rocket-pop, or a nutty-buddy?  Have you ever seen the trash on the street?” 

Wes sat up, pulling his arm from her shoulders, and scratching his head.  “No, never.  And I’m always picking up trash.” 

“How do we know it’s even real?”

He stood.  “We hear it, we feel it, we’re affected by it, and so is everyone else.”

She shrugged.  “What if it’s not real?  I’m not saying the chaos that ensues isn’t real, but what if the rest of it is …  I don’t know …” she sighed.  “Not so much in this world as we think?”  She shrugged her shoulders again and picked up her glass. 

He began pacing.  “You’re saying that the emotions are real, the emotions that drive us to wail, kill, attack, defend, and accuse are real, but the thing that causes it is not?”  He stopped pacing and turned to face her.  “Then what is it?”

She stood, seeing her windows fill with red and blue lights and grateful that the sirens had silenced.  “I don’t know.”  She sought out her cigarettes from the kitchen and pulled two free, carrying both and a lighter into the living room.  She reached back behind the hardbacks on a bookcase and retrieved her grandmother’s favorite ashtray, cut in blue glass, and set it on the coffee table.  “It’s gotta be something, we’ve both felt it, we’ve both acted out the energy.  We both hear it and see it.  It’s not a ghost or an aberration.”  She handed him a cigarette.  “It’s real, but it’s not real.”

The room quit spinning in red and blue colors. 

“Trip,” Wes said, lighting the smoke, and looking around the room.  “Are the cops gone?”

“Were they ever there?”

“Of course they were, we heard the shots, the fight, the screaming, and the sirens!  We saw the lights.” 

“Did we?”

“Quit fucking with me, Sarah!  It’s not funny.”

“No, it’s not funny and I’m not fucking with you.  Come on,” she said confidently, but draining the last of the wine from the glass before she led him to the back door.  “Trust me,” she whispered, slowly disengaging the locks and opening the well oiled hinges.  She stepped outside and walked slowly, and softly, toward the small opening of the iron gate and peeked outside.  There was nothing on the street, no blood, no dead bodies, no bullet or shotgun casings, no police cars, and no flip-flops left in despair.  “What if it’s not real?” she asked and then heard screams to her left.  “Fuck, it’s coming back!”

She ran in the house and pulled out a fancy digital camera she’d recently purchased and was grateful she’d actually read the instruction manual and knew how to work the device.  She checked the battery power, smiled when she saw it was full, and ran to the kitchen, shoving the pistol in her back pocket and grabbing the extra battery pack from the drawer.  She met Wes at the gate.  “No chairs this time.” 

He nodded as she held the camera to the street. 

The music grew stronger and she was pulled into the memory of eating a nutty buddy on the curb with her best friend from fifth grade, Veronica, and contemplating exploring the woods that lead to the river.  And then the energy changed.  She took a deep breath and fought the visions, challenging them in her minds eye, when they showed her destruction, she focused on sprouting plants, when they yelled words in her head, she remembered her grandmother talking of inconsequential things about plants or patterns or cooking instructions.  “Wes?  Are you okay?”

“You fucking bitch!”  He hit her in the side of the head.

The blow was a white light in her mind, an explosion of red and yellow in her eyes.  She fell and rolled and wished she had let Einstein out of his crate, but she held onto the camera.  She kicked up her leg, catching him between the legs, and as he fell she pulled the camera to her eye.  She rolled to the gate as her head throbbed to the music and focused her camera on the street.  The music grew louder, the images and words in her mind harsher, and she remembered the gun in her pocket.  She heard Wes groaning behind her, but she kept her camera eye on the street, ensuring that it was recording the non … event? 

The wave washed over her and Wes didn’t attack again.  As she listened to the music fade away, a song she still couldn’t name, she turned her head to see Wes on the ground.  “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah.  I’m sorry,” he breathed.

“Yeah, me too.”  She clicked the button to turn off the recording and then rewound the images to see nothing on the screen. “You want to watch a video?”

“It wasn’t there, was it?” he asked, standing with a groan, and wiping the dirt off his jeans. 

“No, it wasn’t,” she said, standing slowly, and running her hand over the side of her face. 

“What the fuck?”