Thursday, February 28, 2013

Three Wishes (Part 3)

            The founder and CEO of ITG nursing, James Montague, has a secret obsession with the paranormal and trains a handful of his travelling staff to detect and identify paranormal occurrences, Irene happened to become one such nurse after her second regular nursing assignment. Her current placement at South Shore is also a covert attempt to locate a paranormal signal in the area which several ITG employees serendipitously located when driving along the Skyway. Unlike many of Irene's other paranormal objects of interest, this one is constant in time, location, and strength, suggesting a fixed point emanating the paranormal energy.
            It took Irene less than twenty-four hours on the job to find the paranormal disturbance. For lunch break on her first day, Emma takes her to a little hole in the wall cafe two blocks away that every hospital employee swears has the best coffee and danishes in town. Even though Irene and Emma are working first shift and it is early for a proper lunch rush, a line four people deep has already formed to order.
            "Do we have time for this?" Irene wonders aloud, checking her watch. As an afterthought, she switches the watch mode to the paranormal detector view built into the watch of every ITG paranormal hunter and her eyes bulge out of her head. The detector is a simple dial arranged in colors from coolest to hottest, black to red, around the outside of the dial with a needle that points at each color to indicate the level of paranormal energy within a few mile, or less depending on the strength of the paranormal energy, radius. Irene's detector currently points to green, suggesting a strong disturbance a mile off or a mild disturbance very close by.
            "Yeah they're quick." Emma responds to her question, studying the patisseries displayed in a case by the cash register, unaware of Irene's reaction to her watch.
            "That's good anyway." Irene mutters off-hand while scanning everything else in the room and giving renewed attention to the proprietors of the shop. After a moment her eyes fall on a decorative brass jar resting on an old wooden mantle, the only remains of a fireplace that once heated the room. The jar is the only thing on the shelf and has accumulated a large amount of dust relative to everything else in the room.
            "Is that old thing?" Irene asks Emma, pointing towards the item.
            "What old thing?" Emma responds, ripping her eyes off the pastry.
            Irene points, "That thing over there on the mantle."
            Emma's eyes slide past the place in an odd fashion and she frowns at Irene, "I don't see what you mean." With a sigh, Irene breaks out of line and marches the few paces across the room to show Emma the lamp. Side stepping a table on her right than a table on her lamp, she compulsively wipes at a discoloration on the lamp before turning back to Emma pointing directly at the object.
            Halfway into the motion of her turn, Irene's vision sways and her brain registers that a strange thing has just occurred. The colors of the room keep turning and the clinking of utensils and glasses, the zooming and honking of cars, and the general hubbub of people packed into a small space fades to silence. The change is not sudden, but startling none the less. When Irene's vision settles her eyes fix on Emma, her head tilted ever so slightly and her eyes narrowed at Irene, her entire body projecting a feeling of slight annoyance or exasperation. Everyone else in the room, but Irene has stopped as well, exchanging money, sipping coffee, or gesticulating wildly over their food.
            "Um, okay," Irene says aloud to give herself something to do.
            "Okay, what?" A resonant, baritone, male voice inquires behind her, making her jump a foot in the air and whirl around. The room whirls with her again, the flying colors and streaks of light making her dizzier, disorientated and motion sick than any such motion would normally produce.
            A man is floating improbably on the mantle within easy reach of the brass ornament, which Irene now realizes is an old Middle Eastern-style, oil lamp. Internally she groans as it hits her that the man hovering above the six inch strip of wooden mantel is probably a Djinni, out loud she asks, "Are you a Djinni?"
            The man's face reacts imperceptibly, but Irene intuits an expression of surprise upon it, in spite of the lack of visible change, "Yes, but you astound me by calling me as such. In your language we are more commonly referred to as Genies."
            Irene nods, but studies the man suspiciously, "And so are you here to give me three wishes, which will never work out for my benefit, but the fulfillment of which will allow you to escape from eternal imprisonment?"
            The Djinni laughs a jolly peel which files the eerily silent room in an even eerier way. "Well now little lady aren't we just getting ahead of ourselves here. First allow me to say, I am Aasifa and I exist to serve. What is your name my lady?"
            "Irene." Her mouth hangs open in unspoken questions and statements as the Djinni continues.
            "By rubbing the lamp you have freed me from a sleep which lasted several thousand years, actually several hundred, as you may have surmised my previous master transported me to this spot and it was only built, well okay you have awakened me from my sleep which lasted about a hundred years." The Djinni flashes a charming smile with an accent of condescension. He is an attractive man, with a dark face and chiseled features, Irene considers him to have an interesting resemblance to Mr. Montague, although everything about the Djinni is slightly surreal and indistinct. A blurring around the edges as if heat waves are perpetually rising around him and a breeze is constantly shifting his clothing and hair.
            She opens her mouth, but snaps it shut again as Aasifa's speech continues, "I was bound millennia ago by the great king Solomon himself, and tasked to grant three wishes to any who should disturb my slumber. Therefor to you, Lady Irene, I grant three wishes, you have until the end of eternity to contemplate your wishes for I will be bound to my lamp forever. When you have completed your wishes, my lamp will disappear from your sight and be re-hidden in the world at large, you may search for me if you wish, but your eyes will be blind to my location." Aasifa finishes with a grin, a wave of his hand, and a grand bow from his position above the mantel piece.
            "What's the catch?" Irene asks, still lacking trust in the Djinni and all that he proclaims.
            "There are no catches to my wishes. They will be fulfilled exactly as you phrase them, which may not be exactly as you intend them, but," Aasifa shrugs as he trails off.
            "Aren't there supposed to be rules, no wishing for more wishes, no wishing someone to death, whatever." Irene presses on, Aasifa's lack of reaction to her comments unnerve her and the thought grows in her mind that she should just wish for him to turn himself and his lamp into Mr. Montague.
            Aasifa chuckles at her, "You have been hearing too many tales. No I am not a Djinni such as these, there are no limits on the requests you make of me."
            "Why not? It seems a great amount of power. Do most people use it well or poorly?" Irene inquires seeking to glean as much information from the Djinni as possible before deciding what to do with him. The Djinni's face never changes, but Irene obtains the impression of an exasperated or confused face where before it was jolly and nonchalant.
            "Many of the Djinni imprisoned by the great king Solomon were evil Djinn. Like humans Djinn may possess any sort of temperament and natural inclination to help or harm their fellow living things. The situation was always tense between good and evil Djinn, and in the time of Solomon, the situation came to blows and a war enveloped the good and evil Djinn, spilling over into the world inhabited by men and angering the great king. The good Djinn had long worked with the great king and consequently, Solomon sided with them, imprisoning all that stood against them. Most of the neutral Djinn had aided the good Djinn in the war; I am a neutral Djinni and personally, had decided to not get involved. Unfortunately for me, when the evil Djinn were imprisoned, my lack of commitment to the winning side was perceived as an affront. 'If you are not with us, you are against us,' is what they told me. I was imprisoned along with the evil Djinn, however, as I had engaged in no crimes against other beings and showed no inclination to do so, many of the restrictions placed upon evil Djinn were not placed upon me."
            "An evil Djinn might perceive an evil act, such as murder as the only means of accomplishing a humans wish, thus restrictions were leveled upon them; however, I will look for other ways to fulfill my master's requests and only stoop to murder or other despicable acts when directly ordered to do so or when no other recourse is open to me."
            "The prohibition upon wishing for more wishes is a simple loop hole in the original enchantment, a Djinn is not prohibited from saying such things to his new master, and an evil Djinn will use such a tactic to ride himself of a human master to which he is forced to bow as soon as possible." Aasifa returned his face to a pleasant smile during his story and had not reacted shown any signs of emotion when explaining the reasons for his imprisonment. Irene still did not trust him, but decided to bind the Djinni to herself anyway, a tiny voice insider her head told her this was a mistake and she would regret it, but she sets the idea aside to digest later.
            "Okay, I wish for more wishes." Irene declares.
            "You have used your first wish to wish for more wishes. You now have four wishes." The Djinni responds formally. Irene notices that the Djinni only gave her two more wishes over the two she would have already had by virtue of freeing him, suggesting stinginess about him she otherwise would not have guessed at.
            "I wish for unlimited wishes."
            "You have used your second wish to wish for unlimited wishes. You now have unlimited wishes." The Djinni announces, without missing a beat.
                        Irene contemplates the phrasing of her next wish before continuing, "I wish for you to be truthful and forthcoming with me at all times, you may never lie to me or fudge the truth, but must give your honest assessment of the situation. If you do not have enough information to fully assess the situation you must tell me in your true opinion."
            "You have used your third wish to wish for something which is completely redundant with the spell which imprisons me, you know have unlimited wishes."
            Glaring at Aasifa and his lack of reaction to her proclamation, Irene asks, "I thought you said evil Djinn could tell their masters they only have three wishes via a loop hole."
            "Yes that's true. The loop-hole is that statistically speaking, it's true. Almost no one uses more than three wishes, if you wish for one more thing you will be become an anomaly, three more and you become an outlier." The Djinn eyes her with a bit more interest at this.
            "Why? Doesn't everybody wish for more wishes?" Wishing for more wishes seems like an obvious choice to Irene.
            "Yes, but most only ever use three. I imagine you will see why."
            Irene thinks about this and changes her line of reasoning in addressing the Djinn, "Every time I summon you, will this happen?" She asks waving at the frozen, yet unstable world around her.
            "Yes, unless you wish for it to be otherwise. There are limitations of this place however, and staying here indefinitely would be dangerous for you, moving things not attached to your person when you enter this state may be dangerous to you, and any danger outside of this place will still be there. For example, if a car was about to crash through that window and kill you, you would have to use a wish to avert the disaster as my disappearance would result in a resumption of time and space and therefor your ultimate demise." The Djinn's lack of facial expression unnerves her and she absorbs the impression that the Djinn is amused at this potential outcome, which unnerves Irene more.
            "No one else could see your lamp. If I remove it will the shop owner notice?"
            "Why not?"
            "My former master wished it to be as such. He thought me evil you see, and desired to imprison me even more thoroughly than I already am." This statement puzzles Irene.
            "But you claim to be neutral and to be bound to answer my questions truthfully and without lies." She blurts.
            "Yes, but how do you know I'm not lying? You only have my word to take that I may not tell lies." This answer stuns Irene and she realizes that everything she knows about the Djinni was essentially based on his word. There were legends and movies and pop-culture to reference, but they often misrepresented everything under the sun, why should Djinni be any different. If the Djinni was capable of lying then he could lie to her about everything, either he was telling her the truth about everything or lying about everything.
            "If I leave you here, no one will be able to see you?" She challenges suspiciously.
            Another issue stuck out at Irene, "Why could I see you?"
            "You couldn't, when you first came in. But you became aware that I was here and knowing that I was here allowed you to see through my spell, another loop-hole." The Djinni's face hints at a broad amused smile without actually assuming it.
            "I see." Irene muttered, fidgeting with her watch. "Alright I desire to take you with me." The Djinni seems pleased with her statement, waiting forever in a cafe might not be his idea of fun, Irene reflects.
            "I wish for a bag large enough to hid your lamp in, but inconspicuous," Irene peers across the street, "A large shopping bag from that home decoration store over there would probably suffice." Such a bag materializes around her right arm. It is a strange feeling, there was nothing there and then suddenly there is as if she had the bag all along and forgotten about it, only to suddenly remember its presence.
            "You have used your fourth wish to wish for a large inconspicuous bag to hide my lamp in, you now have unlimited wishes." Aasifa anoints.
            "Um, how do I put you back in your lamp, and will it end this immediately?" Irene wonders, it would still look alarming for her to be stuffing the lamp in her bag as she reappears.
            "You say, 'my wishes are complete' and you will have about five seconds before you return to your world."
            Irene studies the Djinni carefully for a lie at the words 'my wishes are complete.'
            "Don't worry, I will return, and if nothing else you have my lamp and can always compel me to give you more wishes." Aasifa responds to her unsaid question.
            "Alright, my wishes are complete, for now." Irene reaches for the lamp and places it in the bag as Aasifa's body turns to mist which suffuses back into the lamp. She places it gently in the shopping bag before turning back towards Emma prepared to continue their conversation.
            At Emma's first sign of confused movement Irene says, "Never mind, I must be hallucinating."
            Emma's lips curl into a tiny smile before they collapse into a frown, "When did you go shopping, I didn't notice that before." Emma points at the bag which appeared on Irene's arm over the course of a split second.
            "I had it all along," Irene states smoothly, "I brought it from home, it had my scrubs and stuff in it. I was going to throw it out, but realized I might want to take some of the paperwork and stuff they gave me at the hospital today home."
            "I didn't see it." Emma retaliates maintaining her confusion.
            "I had it folded up under my arm." Irene answers as she returns to Emma in line.
            "You can't take any of that stuff home anyway, I don't think so at least." Irene sees the moment in Emma's eyes when her mind shifts away from the possibility of a magically materializing bag to the more reasonable explanation that it was there all along. Irene, however, already realizes one of the draw backs of the Djinni's wishes as she reintegrates into her everyday life, discussing work with Emma.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Three Wishes (Part 2)

            After dinner and another brief chat with her father Irene leaves and drives across town to her new place. She moved most of the stuff earlier that day via a key stashed in the mailbox, but her roommate was not home at the time and she has not met her in person yet. Pulling up to the condo, Irene sees the warm glow of lights spilling out onto the front lawn, announcing her roommate’s presence. The houses here are not as elaborate as her parents, but still nice, the sort a couple wanting to start a family could afford and be proud of buying.
            With her hand on the door handle she has a split second of doubt and thinks maybe she should ring the doorbell, before concluding that would be foolish, after all she lives here now, at least for the next three months. A gale of laughter peels from the dining room and Irene mounts the stairs to greet her new roommate and guests.
            "Hi," she states as she rounds the top of the stairs.
            "Hey there," a brown haired woman, her own age or a bit younger calls back, assuming her feet, "You must be Irene, I'm Rita." She extends her hand and Irene accepts it noting the other three people gathered around the dining room table and a fourth and fifth in the kitchen.
            Noting the direction of her eyes Rita continues, "This is Johnny, Jackson, Emma, Kelly, and Angela, they all work at the hospital too. We were going to head out to a bar in a bit, you're welcome to come if you want." Each person raises a hand or a drink to Irene as Rita travels around introducing them.
            "Is it close by?" Irene asks.
            "Yeah right around the corner." One of the guys, she thinks Johnny answers, "Totally walking distance if you want to come out for a bit and then leave."
            Irene grins, "I think you just read my mind. I might do that."
            The guy grins back, "Do you want a beer?" Rita offers, "You can have one of mine, I'm sure you'll get me back for it at some point."
            "Thanks," Irene slides past the two in the kitchen to get at the refrigerator. She would have been perfectly happy to stay home and unpack her stuff or relax that night, but experience told her making friends sooner would help her out later.
            Everybody chats amiably and Irene begins to understand this group of co-workers and surmises their relation to several other factions within the hospital infrastructure. The people gathered in her house are similar to Irene herself, relatively young, optimistic, and unattached, not surprisingly she enjoys all of their company. The group leaves for the bar, Irene drinks sparingly and plays a few rounds of darts (which she is terrible at) with Johnny, Jackson, and Rita before calling it a night. As it turns out Johnny and Emma have shifts the next day and want leave about then as well.
            The chill night air swoops out to envelope Irene as they leave the bar, freezing her through in seconds, she huddles under her coat and contemplates buying a sturdier one in the future. The near dark of a city at night closes in around them and snow drifts, cars and lawn ornaments lurch out of the night at the small party.
            "Why did you decide to be a temp for so long, Irene?" Emma asks as they are walking home.
            Irene shrugs, "I didn't really find a place I wanted to settle down in, I guess. I still wanted to see the country; I still do want to see the country."
            Emma glances back at her, "The money though, you get paid so much less. I feel like I'd rather go see parts of the country on vacation."
            Irene forces a laugh, "Yeah, I guess I didn't get to see as much this way, I've always been working, but it's still different to live in a place for three months than to visit it for three days. I still managed to save some too, not as much I know, but ITG is a good employer even if the hospitals are sometimes shady." Emma's statement masks another question which Irene sought to partially answer. When Irene started travelling, the positions she held were all legitimately temporary, covering a shortfall from a retirement or illness or pregnancy, as years ware on however, most hospitals in the country had taken to hiring temporary nurses as a cost cutting measure. Able to pay a temporary nurse less money in base salary and provide fewer benefits, many hospitals would continue to hire new temporary workers long after a nurse’s retirement or recovery form illness. Permanente nurses had no problem with temporary nurses as auxiliary, but they did not smile at the idea of being completely replaced by them. Other problems arose from the temps as well, many are immigrants and while most are hardworking and well trained there every hospital has experience with one nurse that was under qualified or had such poor English skills as to be a burden to bring down the reputation of all the others, and of course the prejudice of immigrants stealing American jobs did not help the situation either.
            "I'm not a tweaker either." Irene adds into the tiny silence that has elapsed.
            Now Emma and Johnny laugh with an unnatural tightness, "No one said you were." Johnny pipes up in a cheerful voice to clear the mood.
            "I know," Irene amends her statement, "but a lot of people think it. I worked with a tweaker on my first assignment named Gina, she was from ITG too so I know they happen everywhere, even in my own company. Anyway, I didn't know she was a tweaker, I'm not sure she was at that point either, but I saw her like four years later and it wasn't a pretty sight." Tweakers were probably what brought the biggest prejudice against travelers, drug addicts who hid their addiction by stealing from store closets and unwitting patients. Three months was a short enough period of time that it was difficult to catch an offender, and then they just moved on to a new place.
            "We've all seen it at one time or another I think." Johnny says without the false cheerfulness, "In patients or in professionals, and anyway it's not just a problem with temps, we had a nurse get charges pressed against her six months ago, and she'd been working there ten years. It's a nightmare for the hospital all the same."
            Emma nods, "It's a sad case that. This is my car, I'll see you tomorrow, Johnny, and you whenever, Irene." Emma points at a car Irene barely notices than saunters off.
            Johnny scowls at her back, "That was smart of her. She parked halfway between the bar and Rita's place." his eyes shift to Irene, "I mean your place. I'm parked on the other side, I still have like four blocks to go, and it's getting colder out here. I hate winter, I'll never get used to it."
            "You're not from here originally than?" Irene inclines her voice to make it a question at the last second.
            "Naw, I'm from near San Diego, I came here for school. It was the best and worst decision I ever made. I'm entrenched here now though I suppose, but I do miss the weather. I'm not sure I'll ever get used to it."
            Irene smiles at him, "I thought I would be like that, go to a warm place and forget about how to deal with winter, turns out you don't though, I think it's mostly psychological."
            "Bah, live in San Diego as long as I did and you'll be just as weak I guaranty it. Also that's your house, you just walked past it."
            Irene switches her face to study the houses in shock, the street is a different world in the dark at night, "Um, which one?"
            "That one," Johnny points with a giggle, "You have key right?"
            "Yeah, and I was totally just testing you." Irene peers at the dark house indicated on the side of the street, it does look familiar.
            Johnny busts out laughing, "No you weren't I was testing you. You're in the next block over, that one just happens to be the same layout. Rita tried to get in their one night and the owner came out with the lights on and threatened to call the cops on her, it was near Easter and she sent them a fruit cake to apologize, not that that's much of an apology, come on I'll show you the right one."
            Irene chortles, but cuts it off with a frown at Johnny as they continue down the street, "You wouldn't have let me do that right, walk up there?"
            "No, I just wanted the opportunity to tell the story, it's a good story. Rita hates it though, don't tell her I told you." Johnny adds, glancing over his shoulder a with a mischievous grin.
            Silently, Irene concludes he is not the most trustworthy person she has ever met, but still harmless and pretty funny as long as the jokes not on you. He drops her off at her actual house and continues on to his car, she is relieved all the same when the key turns in the lock and she finds her possessions arrayed on the floor where she left them.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Three Wishes (Part 1)

            Irene is happy to be back home in Chicago. She is not actually from Chicago, but near enough that she has always considered it home. After seven years of traveling, a respite with family and friends is desperately needed. Familiar surroundings and well-loved voices ease the soul in a way that nothing else can. She hops up the steps of her parents suburban home, nothing distinguishes it from the neighbor’s house except the family that lives there.
            Entering without ringing the doorbell or knocking, she strides across the threshold, "Hi mom, I'm home."
            Her mother arches her back so her head pocks out of the kitchen down the hall, "Oh, hello dear, I'll be right over, just let me put this down."
            Depositing her things on the door mat, Irene moves through the house, nothing has changed much, the pictures on the walls and table depict her and her brothers as successful adults who ware fancy clothing happily rather than rambunctious children forced into fancy clothing unwillingly, but otherwise things are very much as they were. The walls are still white, the floors still wood parquet, the stairs still have the strange electric blue carpet running upstairs that matches nothing else in the rest of the house. Her father still stares down the television in the living room, waving distractedly at her over his shoulder.
            Her mother comes bustling out of the kitchen, she may have gained a little weight, but otherwise she is unchanged too. From her nineteen eighties hair style to her nineteen eighties make up, right down to her recycled rubber shoes, mother looks just like mother.
            "Oh Rennie, it's so good to see you," Irene's mom extends her arms in an anticipatory hug as she waddles down the hall, knocking a decorative end table with her hip and a family picture with her hand. She pauses just long enough to fuss at the picture before Irene swoops down to hug her mother. Half a head taller than her mother and a third as heavy, Irene smells the all natural mint and rosemary shampoo her mother switched to two years ago to help with her dandruff, and the pungent smell forces tears to her eyes.
            "Hey, mom, so great to see you. Is Dad watching the Bears game?" Irene flips her palm back towards the living room from whence a loud, NO, erupts at that very moment with a corresponding crash of a chair hastily exited, making the question somewhat mote.
            Her mom roles her eyes in response, "Why don't you come into the kitchen with me? Diner won't be ready for another half hour I'm afraid and then I won't be able to peel your father off his backside for another hour after that, but we can have some girl time in the meanwhile."
            "Sure mom, I'd like that," Irene smiles at her mother, but a small sense of dread blossoms in the pit of her stomach, she had been hoping to avoid any girl time conversations with her mom.
            Following her mother into the kitchen, Irene observed that while the entry was trapped in the illusion of homely, reserve, and timelessness, this room aspired to different goals. Everything was different here, the appliances had all been swapped out for gleaming, high-end, new, stainless steal boxes with little touch screens that Irene suspected her mother still did not know how to use properly.
            "This new oven was supposed to be fabulous," Irene's mom pouts as she peaks through a useless window that lets you check if your cake has risen yet every fifteen seconds, "Everything should cook evenly, but I just can't get things to cook properly at all in it. Everything takes an hour longer than it should, I have just had to adjust all my recipes, but I really should just chuck the thing out and get the old one back."
            Irene knows her mother's comments, however casual sounding, are always calculated. This one is meant to imply several things: first, any imperfection in the cooking is not due to a lack of her mother's skill, but inherent issues with these new fangled things; second, it draws attention to the fact that the kitchen is full of such, expensive, new fangled things; third, the implication of wealth that Irene's father brings home enough bacon to the family that they could just scrape the results of a hugely expensive kitchen renovation at her mother's whim; and fourth, that Irene's mother is such a dedicated and resourceful woman that she will just power through and make due.
            Rather than tread into any of these subplots to her mother's rant, Irene sticks with the safest option flattery, "I'm sure it will be great mom. What are you making, I always miss your cooking when I'm away."
            "Oh you," Irene's mother waves a towel dismissively at her, "I'm making corned beef and cabbage, because I know how much you like it."
            "Wow, thanks mom. So how have things been with you?" Irene felt herself flailing already, trying to delay the inevitable turn the conversation would take.
            "Same as always, same as always," she twitters as she bustles over to the kitchen counter, Irene has taken a seat at one of the stoles used for the breakfast knock, and her mother grabs a second stole and flips it around the counter to sit across from her daughter.
            "Is there anything in particular you want to do while I'm around? I'll be busy a lot with work, but I'm sure I can get some time off." Irene notices no change in her mother's exterior, but feels her mentally coiling like a cat, ready to pounce.
            "Having you around for dinner a few nights a week will be just wonderful. Maybe we can have lunch in the city some time too, where are you working?"
            "South Shore Hospital." Irene waits for her mother's reaction to that.
            "Where is that? I don't think I've heard of it." Her mother’s eyes dart back and forth and suspicion slaps across her face.
            "80th Street, off of Yates. It's close to the Skyway and Rainbow Beach." Irene suppressed a smile, she could have driven a Mac Truck through her mother's dangling mouth.
            "Why on Earth did they give you a job down there?! What's your employers phone number, I'll give him all call right now and ask for you to be switched. You can't possibly work down there and live! Where did you say you got an apartment?" Her mother's agitation amuses Irene and she hopes she can keep it off her face.
            "I'll live in Calumet Heights, mom, and the hospital is near there too. It'll be fine, it's actually a pretty good hospital." Relatively speaking, Irene adds in her head. In her years with ITG, Irene had held positions in significantly less desirable neighborhoods, although she rarely told her mother as much. For Irene, being a temporary nurse and paranormal investigator had ended up being just as, if not more dangerous on the nursing side as the paranormal side. Very few of her assignments had even led to the detection of paranormal energies, and a personal inclination towards self-sacrifice and a true desire to help the less fortunate had resulted in her relatively high number of jobs in underprivileged, understaffed, urban and rural areas.
            "Humph," her mother flusters, "You're definition of 'fine' seems a bit off to me. But it could be worse I suppose. Still you can't expect me to go down their, you'll just have to come up here for dinner every week. You could live here couldn't you?" Irene's mother prattles on. South Shore hospital and the Calumet Heights neighbor hood both have the uneasy distinction of being a fairly safe, well off area, completely surrounded by the worst of Chicago's South Side.
            "No, I'd have to commute through downtown everyday, and I'm not up for doing that for three months straight, especially in winter. I found a pretty good place too, another nurse at South Shore owns a two bedroom condo and I'm going to sublet the second bedroom from her." This is one of the better temporary living arrangements Irene has managed to secure and she was proud of it.
            Her mother humphs and snorts again compulsively shuffling over to the oven to gaze through the door at the roast that had not changed. "Next weekend you'll have to come up here on Saturday for sure. I've already asked the Hamil family over for dinner."
            "Hamil?" Irene cut across her mother's speech, the name sounds familiar, but she cannot place a face to it.
            "Yes, Joseph and Olivia, and their son, Eric, I can't believe you don't remember him, he graduated high school the same year as you." Irene suppresses a groan at this statement and knew herself to be strolling right into her mother's trap. She did remember Eric Hamil, not that they had any classes together after freshman year, he was the sort of guy who had skated by with B's, good looks and a good sense of humor; however, by now Irene had enough life experience to know that good looks and a good sense of humor ultimately got you farther than good grades.           
"I might remember him. Don't try and set us up though, he wasn't my type in high school and I doubt he's changed much somehow." Irene attempts to cool the approaching storm from her mother.
            For her part, her mother acts indignant, "Set you up! Now Irene, you know I would never dream of such a thing, but really would he be such a bad choice? People do change in ten years and after all you're almost thirty can you really expect to be choosy with men at this stage in your life?"
            Irene sighs as her complete impotence in avoiding this conversation dawns on her, "I still have plenty of time mom, I don't need to be married, I'm perfectly happy with my life right now."
            "Oh sure, you're happy with it. But wouldn't you be happier if you were married and settled down. Here in Chicago would be ideal I'm sure, and Michael's oldest is nearly ten now you wouldn't want to deprive him of cousins his own age, don't you remember how much fun you had with your cousins." Irene's mother presses on.
            "They do have cousins their own age already, or did you forget about all our in-laws?" The only reason Irene could forgive her brother for having kids so young was his wife's bevy of family more than compensated for her mother's argument.
            "That's not the same Rennie." Irene silently disagrees with her mother on that point, cousins are cousins after all, "I still think you ought to give Eric Hamil another chance, he's done quite well for himself, managed to expand his father's business."
            Irene has no idea what the Hamil family business is, but mentioning Eric Hamil so close to children has brought up another association for her, "Doesn't he already have a kid? I thought his girlfriend in high school was pregnant."
            Her mother stiffens ever so slightly, "As a matter of fact she was, and they were married, but I'm sure you'd make a great step mother as well as mother."
            Raising her eyebrows is the only response Irene can muster to this comment. Of course it should not surprise her that her mother believes she can only capture a man with a history already, after all her mother considered her an old maid at twenty-five, and Irene herself perceives nothing wrong with blended families, but a year ago her mother would not have suggested it and it reeks of a strange kind of desperation.
            "Why so eager to see me married off mom?" She inquires a new degree of suspicion arising within her.
            "I've always wanted you to be happily married sweety," her mother simpers before turning away from the conversation, "Oh look, the corned beef is done!" she declares at the oven.
            Irene is handed the impression that the conversation is over as her mother flounces about the kitchen preparing dinner. The silence stretches, but not uncomfortably, whatever words may pass between them, the silence between Irene and her mother has never been awkward. After a few minutes of preparing food, Irene's father is drawn into the room by the tempting smells.
            "Hi, Rennie, the Bears lost." Her father shakes his head as a way of greeting looking mortified at his feet.
            "Sorry about that dad. How's everything else?" Irene laughs inside, but quickly stifles the merriment. Her father's irrational emotional attachment to sports vaguely amuses her, but laughing at her father's rare moments of sorrow pains her too.
            "Alright. You know, the hospital is doing fine, I'm retired from surgery now, I don't know if your mother told you." he sighs only a little at this declaration, although Irene knows it hurt him immensely to be pushed out of surgery by younger fresher men with younger fresher hands and eyes, "It's mostly administrative work now, which is boring and stressful, but it pays better and beggars can't be choosers I suppose."
            Irene cannot imagine her father ever being a beggar, unless her mother bankrupted them with lavish spending, something she had always been threatening to do with her over the top renovations and other purchases. "Well you can retire anytime you want to now. It's not like you have to help pay for us anymore, if you don't like the job quite."
            "I could never do that. What would I do with my time?" Her father protests raising his hands before his face as if to ward off the idea. Irene's mother drops a plate of food in front of her father and he scoops it up before sliding to the refrigerator and procuring a beer.
            "You'll be around next weekend won't you, Rennie? We can talk about you're new job then." He shoots over his shoulder as he shuffles out of the room. For as long as Irene can remember her father has eaten his meals in his office so as not to be disturbed, as long as Irene can remember her father has done everything at home in his office so as not to be disturbed, even sleep for the most part. After her eldest brother moved out he gave up the farce entirely and had a door put through from his office to the recently vacated adjoining bedroom, creating an office suite for himself inside the house were nobody else dared to enter uninvited. Not that it mattered much to Irene, her father had always been an aloof ideal, something to aspire to and some one who's wrath was to be avoided, but he was not her friend, her mentor, or even really her parent. He was the surgeon that just happened to live her house.
            Irene's mother places a plate of food delicately in front of her and takes a second for herself, it's just the two of them so they eat at the counter like old times. Just like old times, Irene's mother returns to the bone she wants to pick, although the conversation is exasperating to Irene, she knows deep down it is her mother's way of showing how much she cares. Her mother is happy with the route she chose in life and just wants her daughter to have the same amount of happiness, without understanding that Irene might find happiness in different places.
            "What about some of the men you've worked with then? I remember you mentioning one a lot, MJ right?"
            "No, not him." Irene does not want to expand on that one, but feels a tiny shudder escape her. Immediately, a wave of guilt hits her at her reaction. MJ might have been a great guy once and he did serve their country after all, but she is not interested in a project for a husband and MJ's mind is to fractured to pretend he would be anything else.
            "Okay, okay, but wasn't there another young man you talked about at work, about a year ago?"
            Irene possessed no idea to whom her mother was referring and sensed she was just fishing for information, "I'll look for someone well I'm here, how about that? Maybe I'll meet someone at work." The admission rips from her and she is unsure if she means it or not, but nothing else will pacify her mother.
            Her mother beams back, "Of course you will Rennie." There is an unspoken implication that the conversation is over and the both turn back to their meals.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Chekhov's Vampire (Act 3 Scene 2)

I sleep lightly, but awaken with a start all the same. Checking my watch tells me it is seven in the morning now. Nothing has changed as far as I can tell, which leads me to enact phase two of my plan: destroy the computer servers. Calmly, I drink some coffee, get some oatmeal from the pantry and begin making it in the pot on the hot plate. Once I have eaten all the oatmeal i want and drunk a few cups of cold coffee, I gather the pot, pan, two chair legs, my knife, and the EE, carrying them all into the computer server room.
At first I am systematic in my destruction. There are twelve servers in the room, six on each wall, proceeding to the first serve across the room by the original door I entered through, I use the little screw driver tool on my pocket knife to open the casing and pull out all the hard drives with my bare hands. I continue thus for the next four servers, before I start to get a little angry. I doubt Butch would let his prisoners near the computer servers if they were absolutely essential to his set up, but the fact that he seems to be completely ignoring my activities irks me.
At the sixth server, I take the pot and pan and begin smashing the crap out of the thing. It is not terribly effective, the pot and pan dent the casing and server rack, but do not damage the hard drives, as little bits of residual oatmeal go flying out of my pot. After a while I turn my wrath on the already destroyed server hard drives, and pulverize a couple before getting a grip on myself and returning to the more effective method. By noon I have finished my work. I stand in the doorway back to the kitchenette and survey the damage with a twinge of pride. Bits of hard drive and wiring lay scattered throughout the room like toilet paper that's been attacked by a kitten. Returning to the kitchenette with everything of value, I acquire a few sharp metal bits from the server destruction which I plan to embed in the wooden chair legs somehow to make them a more effective weapon. Removing the canned goods, I allow the door on the server room to swing shut. The door stays closed once it is closed and I open the remaining door off the kitchenette.
I am shocked at what I find there. It is a bedroom and tiny bath room about the same in dimensions as the server room and pantry, but what shocks me is the number of beds, two bunk beds are pressed against the wall. The suite of rooms I am in is designed for four people. I should have realized it earlier, after all everything in the kitchen is designed for four people, but the thought of Butch intending to kidnap whole families and keep them down here disturbs me. He could have been doing it for years already; I have never seen even this far inside his bunker, who’s to say what else is down here.
I utilize the toilet tucked away in the corner of the room before returning to the central room. I do not bother propping the door open with cans, the next phase of my plan is to see if Butch will move me from the suite I am currently in if given a chance. Eating some canned stew and drinking the rest of the coffee, I harvest some supplies from the pantry. I am not convinced that Butch has a good reason to keep me alive for a prolonged period of time, so I plan to take a small amount of food wherever I go in the compound. Tying off the sleeves in my jacket, I am able to store several cans of soup, along with a spoon. A couple of bottles of water from the pantry, the can opener, and my various weapons go into the torso of my jacket allowing me to pick it all up and carry it in one hand, my other hand has a broken chair leg, just in case.
Unblocking the pantry door I allow it to swing shut behind me. I investigate the shelves at the opposite side of the room where I expect another door is hidden. The shelves are not as deep here as they are along the walls, I run my fingers along them looking for a joint or a hinge. I do not find anything, the wood grain seems solid and continuous, but I grasp s shelf and give it a good yank anyway. It advances towards me straight out from the wall about three feet away from its original position the shelve slides to my left, revealing a long, collapsible, metal pivot hidden behind the shelf at the top. A few cans fall off from the abrupt movement, and I slide behind the shelf and push open the door it reveals.
This leads me into another sleeping chamber, identical to the one in the suite of rooms I just left. As the door closes, I note how seamlessly it blends into the concrete wall and stare around at the other walls suspiciously, they could all be hiding secret doors for all I know. I move through the room into the kitchenette and try the door to the left. It is another computer server room, great I think, no wonder he does not care if I break them, but I set to work anyway.
I am more careful in my disassemble this time. The servers all have blinking lights and wires and things, I think they are working doing something, although for all I know they are dummies set here to distract people like me. I also examine the walls much more carefully. The metal casings are about the size of a door, and based on my estimation, another small square room should fit between this server and the one in my previous suite of rooms. Perhaps, Butch has little hidey holes no one else can access and that is how he moves around. Of course, such rooms would not be connected, they would be enclosed by the server rooms on two sides, the kitchenette, and the original room with the table, so it eliminates that possibility a bit.
My destruction of these servers yields no new information about the walls of the room, as far as I can tell there are no doors leading off of the room, besides the two visible ones. I try the door I did not enter through and to my surprise, it opens. The room is exactly like the first room of the complex. Four wooden doors in a cement room with a large, wooden table and chairs at the center. This room has a full complement of chairs which means it is diffidently not the first room. This comforts me as I realize my sense of direction in this place is screwed up enough that a gentle slop to every room could have put me back in the first room without my knowledge. I wonder if Butch has thought of that, I bet he has, I bet this whole place is designed in symmetrical patterns to make it impossible to tell how far from the entrance you are.
With a sigh I sit at the table, open a can of soup, and begin eating. I thought it was a can of soup, actually it's just green beans, a little disappointed, I eat them anyway. About halfway through my green beans, the door across the table from me opens. There is no sound to accompany the opening and noticeable change in air or light pattern, my hand tightens on my chair leg weapon. A middle age man stands across from me, wearily frozen in the doorway, on the precipice of action, whether that action is rushing me or running away I am unsure.
"Hello," I say, "Want some green beans." I stick the can out in front of me, prepared to dash it in his face if the action leans towards rush.
"No thanks, I just ate some soup." he replies, motioning behind him. I glance past him, another server room, another suite of living quarters most likely.
"I don't suppose you destroyed the computers in their did you?" I ask.
"No," he laughs, "Why would I? There must be a thousand of them down here."
I raise my eyebrows in surprise at him, "Really a thousand?"
He seems surprised at my interest, "Well no, not a thousand, but a lot anyway."
"Well, I would like to destroy them, so if you don't mind, prop the door open before you sit down." I motion to one of the chairs across the table from me.
After a pause, he nods, pulls a five inch knife from his belt near the small of his back, and jams it under the door he is holding open. I take my hand off my chair leg and resume eating, watching the man as he sits down across from me at the table.
"I'm Laura."
"Alex." He does not extend a hand or make any friendly jester towards me.
"How long have you been here, Alex?" I ask still studying him, he looks more than a bit disheveled and insane, the sort of person you would avoid walking next to on a street corner.
"I don't know, maybe a week, maybe a month. It's hard to tell time down here. What about you?"
"I look at my watch, about sixteen hours." I answer.
"Wish I had a watch," Alex says, not moving his eyes from my wrist, the glint in his eyes is makes me reconsider trusting him, even the tiniest bit. "Not that it matters much anymore, time. No place to be."
"Oh I don't know," I answer, "Seems useful enough down here, can't tell time by the sun anyway."
Alex shakes his head vehemently, "I don't mean that, I mean the end of the world. It ended, that's why I came here, it was supposed to be a safe haven."
"Ah," another piece in the puzzle falls into place for me, "well, it hadn't ended sixteen hours ago."
This statement agitates Alex, he shifts in his chair and a dangerous glint appears in his eye, "No it ended. The date was right and the signs were all there."
"Did other people come here with you? When the world ended?" I ask, both trying to shift the conversation and because I want to know if there are other people.
Eyeballing me in an unfriendly, skeptical manner, Alex answers the questions anyway, "Yeah, there were four of us, but we got separated pretty early on. Actually, I got separated first so I don't know if the others are together or not. There was another woman too, a couple of days ago. I got separated from her too, the doors you know." He motions to the one stuck open behind him, an inflection in his voice and a twitch in his face forces me to believe he is lying, about the woman anyway. I can think up a number of reasons why he might lie, but as I have already decided not to trust him too far, it does not change my situation drastically.
"You're the first person I have seen down here this time, although Butch spoke through some sound system once." I repay his information with what little I have.
"Who's Butch?" He looks genuinely confused at the name, which surprises me.
I frown at him, "The guy that owns the place."
"No, it's owned by a group not one guy. The Survival Association." Alex replies in a very earnest fashion, "I am a member, you can join on the internet." He fumbles about his pockets for a wallet and pulls out a black and white business card and swings it around, tapping a line, "That's the website. They've owned this place for a hundred years, kept it up to date and stocked for survival needs."
"No, it's defiantly owned by Butch." I say firmly, I have no intention of bending on this one.
"How can one man own a place for a hundred years?" Alex shoots back.
I study him for a minute. Within a few seconds of meeting him I concluded I could take him in a physical altercation, but I would rather not have to. Assessing his mental state as insane enough to believe the truth, but not quite ready to snap yet, I just go with the truth.
"He's a vampire." I say with an unconscious shrug.
"Oh." Alex's hand drifts up to the side of his neck. I notice tiny puncture marks on his throat, great I think.
"That's it? I was expecting more of a reaction from a bomb like that." I say, shock at his lack of shock slipping into my voice.
Alex shifts uncomfortably again and licks his lips, "I think I saw him." I perk up at this statement, "A couple of nights ago, when that other woman was still around. At night, I was having the worst dream, but I heard someone moving in the room and woke up, I thought it was her. There was this guy though, he looked sick, anyway, I thought it was part of the dream at the time."
I nod, even a recently feed vampire never really looks healthy, "That sounds about right. Do you know where he came from?"
Alex shakes his head, "he was just there." A threatened look comes back into his eyes. "Have you seen him before?"
"Yeah." I figure Alex is a dangerous enough traveling companion that lying to him will not help me much, any excuse, this man just needs any excuse. "The company I work for, they hunt the paranormal, the threatening kind. Anyway, Butch does not like other vampires and he would give us information on them for a price. He had given us information and I was bringing back his reward, research material, vampire tissue."
An angry revolted look creeps onto Alex's face, "You should have been hunting him."
"So it seems. We didn't know about this." I wave around the room, "We thought he lived off pig's blood. That he was essentially harmless."
He snorts at this as his sole response.
"Tell me about the Survival Association." I ask, having finished my green beans I stand up, "And help me take apart these," I point to the computer racks behind him, "and I will tell you about vampires."
Half turning in his chair, Alex glances behind him, "Fine, you start."
I shrug and proceed over to the computers, pulling out my pocket knife, Alex follows and stands at an uncomfortable angle behind me, just out of my peripheral vision, but impinging on my personal space enough that I can sense he is still there.
Unscrewing the first casing I begin, a few sentences in, Alex stops me with a question.
"Why can't they go out into the sun then?"
"I don't know exactly," I answer, "As far as I know, all physiological processes have shut down, this includes melonine production in the skin, tissue repair for when the skin gets damaged, and DNA repair for when the UV light in the sun damages skin cells. In other words, sunlight normally damages your body, but you can repair it, once you're dead you can't repair the damage anymore. I don't think it would be a spectacular death, but the burns would cause considerable pain over time and a vampire would probably develop skin cancer pretty quickly."
"Huh." Alex grunts, "If they drink blood do they need to eat food?"
"No," I answer, "as far as I know they actually can't eat food. Not really anyway, the stomach doesn't work and won't digest it. Even if a vampire eats food, they won't gain any nourishment from it and I think it can cause problems, but I don't know."
            I have the casing off and turn to him, at this distance, my eyes confirm what I had previously expected. Butch has turned this one, he has the sickly appearance of a newly made vampire like he is just getting over a bad case of the flu.
"Pull those out and break them." I say, jabbing a finger at the hard drives.
"Why? What's the point? There are a ton of these." His tone both exasperated and accusatory.
"There hard to replace." I answer, "Especially for one guy, it lets me know I have already been here, how many rooms there are total."
Alex ponders this for a second than pulls the first hard drive and smashes it on the floor.
"If he can't repair anything, how did this guy live so long?" Alex questions.
"I don't know. I don't really know too much about how vampirism works. Honestly, Butch is the world expert on it, which is why we came to him for information."
"So why did he build all this crap?" Alex yells over a smashing hard drive.
"He's too weak to face us in a physical fight. We're trapped here, but it's also intended to wear us down physically and mentally. It's hard to keep constant sleeping and eating cycles when the lights are always on and you have no sense of time. Which reminds me, have you seen any vents in here?" I finish trying to redirect the conversation.
"Vents?" Alex frowns, "No I suppose I haven't, no cameras or microphones or anything either, but they must be here somewhere."
"Yeah," I respond, "The vents bother me most though. The air must be being exchanged somehow. So about the Survival Association."
Alex launches into a narrative of the association with a manic glint in his eyes. I am able to keep ahead of him in removing the casings from the server racks, which makes me more relaxed as I am not constantly dealing with his invasion of my personal space. The Survival Association is run mostly through the internet and sounds like the perfect human farming ground for Butch. Alex and the others that came here with him are all adults, who left of their own free will. It will be months before they're reported missing and if anyone comes here investigating, I am sure Butch will make the place look like an abandoned farm. Yet another iteration of internet scams.
After unscrewing the last casing I return to the table room and smash two chairs before helping Alex with the last of the servers. He gives me a look, but does not ask about the chairs. The first table room I was in was down one chair, now this one is down two, if Butch is really trying to mess with me I doubt he will let the system stand, but I will attempt it anyway. I try the door at the other end of the server room which leads to the kitchenette, but it won't open.
"I just came through that one," Alex says as he finishes off the last hard drive. "He never lets you back into a room you've been through."
"If you say so. I came through that door," I point to the one to the left, "and that one leads back to the front," I indicate the door across from us, "So let's try this one on the right." I pull the door and it swings inward revealing another room lined with computers.
"Are we going to smash these too?" Alex sighs.
"Yeah, but I could use some coffee first, close the door."
Once Alex lets the door into the table room swing shut the door to the kitchenette releases and I nearly fall into the room. "Want to prop this one?" I motion to the door and Alex stabs his knife between the door bottom and the floor. There are bare millimeters between them and I am a little surprised the technique works.
I go into the pantry and find coffee, pull out the drip maker and get started. Noticing that every kitchenette I enter appears to have never been entered before, and I wonder at the reasoning behind including a coffee maker in every living suite. As the pot is brewing, I take the dish towel, identical to the dish towel in my first kitchenette and begin shredding it into individual threads, or as near as I can achieve with my pocket knife.
"What's that for?" Alex asks bearing down over my shoulder.
"I'm going to look for air currents." I answer, tying one of the strings off to the tip of a butter knife. I have no idea if this will work, but there have for be vents somewhere and I intend to find them somehow.
Beginning at the top of the room by the pantry door, I travel around the room sipping coffee and holding my little string. It never stirs in a breeze or moves aside from when my hand moves it. Alex watches me intently and I can feel him rolling his eyes at my back. After a while, he drops down into a corner of the room and passes out. Vampires do not need sleep, but I am not sure he knows he is a vampire yet, and he is still in the habit of sleeping. Or he is trying to put me at ease.
After the top of the room I move onto the floor, crawling on my hands and knees. Next to the kitchenette counter I hold my breath. The string deflects from its straight hang by just a hairs breadth, but I can see it. I investigate the bottom of the counter and frown at the barest joint. Running my finger over it, I feel just a hint of air rushing out from underneath. Suddenly, the joint is gone, and the whole counter rises out of the floor on hinges. I sit back on my heels and look up at an automatic rifle aimed at my face by a demented and deathly Butch.
The gun flicks out of my face, "Drop the knife." Butch croaks at Alex, who is standing with the door to the server room closed behind him his blade in hand. I am unsure which of them I am more shocked at, that Butch would decide to show himself, or that Alex was apparently sneaking up to try and murder me.
"Hello, Butch." I say casually.
"Hi," Butch mutters, "I'm surprised you two haven't killed each other already."
"I suppose that's why you put us together." I guess, it seems a little obvious now, "so we could fight it out. Make it easier on you."
Butch twitches his eye onto me, but not the gun, "Something like that. You're both rule breakers, not doing what you're supposed to."
Alex bursts into maniacal laughter at that and we both glance nervously at him.
"A choice between evil," Butch mumbles. I lunge at him before he can switch his attention back onto me. Getting a hand on the gun I push it up and away from myself, while tackling Butch down into the stairwell he came out of. We fall half a story and contact the concrete floor. Pain shoots through my left shoulder, but the brunt of my fall is broken on Butch's body. I roll off to my feet half a body length away and aim the gun at him. Pulling the trigger, nothing happens, it's not loaded.
I switch my grip on the gun so I am grasping the barrel in both hands. Alex flies down the stairs faster than I expected him to be capable of his knife brandished before him, a feral snarl across his face. Smashing the butt of the gun across his face, I attempt to dance away from his stab and do not succeed. The blade cuts my flesh, raking along the right side of my rib cage. The cut does not feel life threatening and I am imbued with adrenaline and the knowledge that my body will recover, his won't.
I smash the gun into the back of his head as his momentum carries him past me. Alex stumbles and falls to the floor, to be sure, I jam the butt of the gun strait down onto his skull. His vampiric change is still early and it does not have the same satisfying crunch as it would on a long time dead one, but I feel confident he won't get up and stab me in the back.
Pivoting, I see Butch regaining his feet. The fall damaged him even more than I expected, his left arm hangs limp and broken and he has wrapped his right arm around his ribs, grimacing in pain. I advance on him and he just stares directly into my eyes. Using the butt of the gun I clobber him once in the head, he drops like a sack of potatoes and stays unmoving. Retreating from the corpses a few paces, I watch them to be sure they stay down. Checking the gun I see that it is loaded, but the safety was still on.
"Anticlimactic," I proclaim aloud, dropping the gun. Not that it was ever going to be a fair fight; I have no idea why Butch came out to face me. The sound of my voice and the gun bouncing on the floor echo in the room and I study my new surroundings. The room is a massive concrete monstrosity. I expect I am roughly in the middle and cannot see any of the walls from where I stand. Columns and stairs branch up at regular intervals to support the weight of the rooms and earth above.
A little ways off sits a computer command center and I walk over to it. I judge it to be below the first table room of the upstairs complex, a single chair sits before a bank of computers. Behind the computers, the vampire corpse I had brought is flayed out on a table. I drop my eyes from it and focus on the screens before me. Several show camera views of at least four people and one brutally murdered woman. Moving through the screens I finally find an internet connection and log into the ITG network.
"Hey Amy," I type into a new chat with her, "I have some bad news and I'm going to need some help."

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Chekhov's Vampire (Act 3 Scene 1)

Twelve hours is a very long time to think about how STUPID it is to be driving through three states with a body rolled up in the back of your rental car. The benefit of it being a vampire is the lack of a pungent decaying flesh smell as vampires do not rot. I maintain the car at about five miles over the speed limit to keep from being suspicious and hope for the best. After an hour on the road I call Amy McAdams with a description of the body, but as bodies are not normally transported in black tarps for burial, I figure I would be at least temporarily screwed if I get pulled over. Giving the body over to a completely insane vampire is not my idea of smart either. Butch has provided ITG with all of our, admittedly limited, knowledge about vampires, but does that make our continued association with the man worth it?
I chew myself out for agreeing to this deal with him in the first place for the first three hours of the trip. I stop for gas in Colorado about half way to Denver in order to punch through the city before rush hour. The journey is surprisingly uneventful, despite the small nagging fear in my mind that I will get pulled over at any minute, no such issue arises. The only time I even speak to a cop is about ten miles away from Butch's place.
A truck, I can only assume the driver was totally drunk, lost control and traveled several hundred feet off the road, through a chain link fence, knocked over a sturdy looking metal power tower, and swerved off into a transformer. The driver did not survive and the damaged to the power tower resulted in it leaning over precariously, snapping some power lines and dragging another tower at an angle along with it. This had happened sometime during the night and power crews had been working through the night to repair the damage. A cop leans on his car up the road of the sight and signals for me to travel more slowly, I stick my head out the window,
"What happened?" I yell as one of the strained lines give a fitful spark.
"Someone drove their truck in there," he calls with a jerk of his thumb at the vehicle still tipped on its side near the massively dented transformer, "Must have been going a hundred miles an hour. Drive careful." He adds.
I nod and roll up my window, as I drive past I watch the cop in my rear view mirror, he does not even glance at my backseat or trunk. Continuing down the road, I notice that every house for miles has their power about, the truck must have taken out something central to power in the region.
At the end of Butch's driveway I stop, sigh, and study the tarp rolled body in the trunk. Butch does not like visitors and he especially does not like visitors who drive right up to his house. On the other hand it will take me forever to carry a body all by myself up his mile long driveway. It’s not exactly covered either, I flick my eyes along the area, the house is invisible because it's down a fairly steep slope, but before the slope is all flat land open to the road. I weigh my options, carry the body at great inconvenience to myself and possibly be identified from the road or drive up to the house, if cops find me with a body I have no business being around, I go to jail. If I drive up to the house, what's the worst that could happen? Butch might shot or blow up an unknown person in an unknown car. I twist my grip around the steering wheel as I debate with myself if Butch is that psychotic.
After sitting in the car for fifteen minutes, I climb out, retrieve the vampire corpse from the trunk, and start walking. The sun was just passing the horizon when I arrived and now it is properly night. A quarter moon rides in the sky and between it and the stars I can see well enough to make out my path, but hopefully will be difficult to observe from the road.
I start with the body in a fireman's carry over my shoulder, but as I am not a man, it keeps slipping off my less broad, slanted shoulders. After several attempts to readjust and maybe thirty yards of forward progress I give up and drop the body to the ground. Dragging the thing is slow progress on the dirt path and my grip on the tarp is not fabulous. Every couple hundred feet, I stop and readjust. About halfway down the drive, when I guess I am hidden from the road I sit down and take a break. Abruptly, I detect a flickering light out of the corner of my eye; I swing my face towards the light and jump to me feet in a panic before realizing the flicker is a light from the television of the nearest neighbor. The power must have returned in that instant and Butch's neighbors, who as far as I can tell are always watching TV, must have left it on. Several moments pass as I watch the house suspiciously. I have never paid it much attention before, it's too far away for me to see anyone and for them to see me, I judge and continue on with my body drag.
By the time I get to Butch's front step I am worn out and cranky. I have been up since down, taken out vampires, driven twelve hours, pulled a corpse for a mile, and now this asshole won't answer the door. Ringing the doorbell for the third time nets no response. Sitting on the stoop, attempting to decipher the big dipper, I consider just dumping the body there and leaving. Minutes tick by and I realize, I have not left yet. I stand and turn the door handle, to my immense surprise, it swings open. I stare at the dark opening and blink rapidly to make sure I am not seeing things. Peering into the dark, I poke my head inside and study the above ground house. From the stoop I can see every inch of it and nothings there.
"Um, Butch?" I call into the room. "You in there somewhere?" No response of course, I sigh. He is probably a mile away in his concrete cave.
Swiveling my head I examine the looks on the door frame. No sign of forced entry on the locks, any of them, and there's like ten. As if the whole house is going to explode at any second, I pick up my right foot, move it a foot inside the door, hover on one leg dangling my toes over the tile, and finally set my sneaker on the floor. Nothing happens, I slide into the room remaining hyper alert, I examine the second half of the locks on the inside of the door. They all look perfectly pristine and intact.
Why would someone as paranoid as Butch leave his front door unlocked? There's like ten locks and he couldn't be bothered to use one of them? My first thought is that he just forgot to bar the door, but I quickly dismiss that. Maybe he was in a rush, carrying something heavy, my eyes flick to the body. I am not going to find any answers standing with one foot barely resting inside the house, but my fear of the potential security features Butch has managed to install over the years keep me from pushing on. I have no idea what he has done to his house to protect himself from the end of the world.
After several minutes I sigh and decide the best thing to do is go around back to the barn and check on the pigs. I leave the door open, the body at the stairs, and proceed on with my search. Of course the barn might also be booby-trapped. I have known for a long time that Butch maintains a human-like appearance by drinking pigs blood. Apparently, the pigs are close enough that they can substitute for human beings, and he keeps a good number of pigs on hand.
Once, Butch mentioned something to the effect of, "I long for the good old days, when you could pick off a human without any fear of detection." Before he remembered himself and clammed up, I don't think he likes living off pig’s blood.
The sounds and smell of pig reach me long before I get to the barn. I must be down wind, the pigs are inside and have food. As far as I know they show no signs of neglect, but then I am not a farmer and have no idea what a mistreated pig would look like. Even if Butch is dead and they have been starving for a week I doubt I could tell.
I return to the front of the house and conclude there is nothing to do, but drag the body down into the bunker and leave it there. If Butch never returns, fine, at least no one else will find it down there. Pulling it up the short steps is a bit tricky, the corpse is reluctant to go and almost slides out of the tarp back into the dirt where it started. At the foot of the bed I drop it, and feel the locking mechanism beneath the foot of the bed which opens the underground bunker. It is a confusing thing with several tiny bumps and pull levers. I lay on my side and try to peer up at it, but the room is too dark to see anything.
Having observed Butch input the combination on several occasions, I guess, and hope the thing does not strike out with a viscous blade to cut my hand off. To my surprise, the sequence is correct and the bed swings upward. I stare at the opening to the bunker, which is as well lite as ever and the hairs on the back of my neck stick up. Turning I look back out the open door at the stares. There is something wrong here, I have no idea what it is, but something is diffidently wrong. Glancing between the bunker and the body I finally conclude I just want to finish my job and get out of here.
Pulling the body after me, I proceed down the stairs. It is much easier than going up the stairs, but once I am fully inside, the door to the bunker closes of its own accord. I pause and contemplate, trying to remember if it did that all or along and I will just be able to push up on it when I want to leave. Leaving the body to push up on the hatch brings no corresponding opening. I should have just shoved the body in, put the bed back in place, and left. Too late now though, I continue down with my cargo, hoping Butch is down there or I can find his control room and let myself out. At the bottom of the stairs, I push open the door. The table is there the same as always, with still no indication that Butch is anywhere. Rolling the body next to the table, I turn to leave the room. The door has closed itself behind me and when I press to open it, the door stays shut.
"Okay," I mutter allowed, I pull the handle, still nothing no give at all. A few seconds of heaving and yanking let me know it's not moving. "Butch!" I yell into the air, as I spin to survey the room. For the first time I am struck by the incredible blankness of the room. Without the body to orientate myself, I would not even know which door I came in.
"Butch," I call into the air again, "ITG knows I am here. You can't get away with kidnapping me, they'll send people." I know it's true, but I also know there is no one at ITG more qualified than me to take on Butch and no one on assignment within fifty miles. It would take a good long while to send a rescue mission, which might ultimately be unsuccessful or, at least, too late. On the other hand, Butch could be lying dead somewhere, having finally given up the will to hold onto his body, and this is all just a preprogrammed response mechanism of his lair.
I take a seat at the table next to my friend the dead vampire and begin having a conversation with myself about my options. Checking my cell phone, I see an unsurprising lack of signal. My watch shows no paranormal activity, but then I had been lead to believe that the technology in the watch either originated from Butch or was created with his help. I consider it reasonable to believe he possess some way to jam the detector, of course it could still be an indication that he is dead, as in will not get up ever again dead, not the kind of dead he already is. Watching the minutes tick by as I think, after fifteen of them elapse I decide I am not making any progress into investigating the mystery just sitting here.
Resolving to try the other doors, I start with the one on my right. It opens onto the server room, the only other room I have ever glimpsed in Butch's home. The twenty foot long corridor holds nothing, but neatly arrayed computer parts and an identical door at the opposite end. Letting the door swing shut, I stay in the first room and check the other two doors, both unyielding.
Back at the door to the computer server room, I survey the situation. Nothing inside the room to prop the door open and the self-closing, self-locking, sequence of doors behind me leads me to be suspicious of this one.  I drag the body a little further and use it to prop the door. Walking across to the other side of the room I push open the door on a little kitchenette. Two more doors lead off of this room, breaking the completely symmetrical lay out of the bunker thus far. I stand against the door half in both rooms, examining them both, neither has anything in reach to prop open the door. Returning to the first room, I take one of the chairs and use it to prop the kitchenette door open. Unfortunately it's a rather flimsy chair, not heavy enough to hold the door all the way open and I have to place it between the door and the frame to hold it from locking. This cuts off my line of sight through the other two rooms which makes me unhappy.
Quickly, I try the other two doors, one will not budge, the other opens on to a pantry stocked with canned goods. I scan the shelves doing a mental inventory. Most of it looks like it has been home canned from Butch's garden, the room is at least as large as the server room and completely stocked. There are no doors off of it, only the one I am standing in. Grabbing a couple of nearby, large cans off the shelf and prop open the door. Back in the kitchenette, I pull the door to the computer servers wide open.
"Shit." I exclaim, the door back to the first room is closed, the corpse and its tarp gone. Leaving the door into the kitchenette ajar, I run past the severs and push on the door, nothing. Half sprinting, half skidding I return to the kitchenette, the pantry door is still held open by cans, the remaining door shows no signs of moving.
I hop up on the counter of the kitchenette, sitting in a semi-reclining position with my back against the wall and the three doors into my room within sight. "Butch!" I shout again. "I know you're around somewhere and I bet you can hear me." I scan the walls as thoroughly. They are concrete, solid concrete, without any hint of cameras or microphones, but he must have some way of keeping an eye on me.
"Why are you doing this?" I try again. Why is he doing this? Catching a human to drain their blood slowly over time, fine. But why me? It will only spell disaster for him in the end. People know I am here, people who know what he is, people who could destroy him. Obviously, this is what his doomsday stock pile is for, I always assumed it was. Once the end of the world comes, humans would go missing all the time, what is to stop him from holding them, caring for them, and draining their blood every day? But this is not the end of the world. Someone will come for me.
It dawns on me, that maybe he thinks it is the end of the world. The power outage would not have affected him, he is self-sufficient, but maybe his neighbors came over to check on him or charge their phones. Or worse, maybe his neighbors are just as nuts as him and told him it was the end of the world, maybe the brought over a stock pile of guns and before they could use them he locked them in a room like mine. If Butch has guns, that would be my worst case scenario. As a vampire, even a vampire with fresh human blood, he does not stand a chance against me in a physical contest, but if he has a gun and I do not, that levels any playing field.
After a while resting and contemplating, I feel eyelids drooping. I would rather not sleep if possible, so I get up and to get to work. First, I take cans from the pantry to hold the door to the server room and the door to the canned goods completely open. Fortunately for me, both of these doors open into the kitchenette, unlike the door I used the corpse on, which opened away from me. This should make my impromptu doorstops more defensible. By sitting on the kitchen counter I can see the door through the server room back to the first room and the back of the pantry. Sizing up the pantry, I expect that the room is exactly the same size and exactly the same layout as the server room. Meaning, I think there is a hidden door at the back of the pantry. If Butch plans to drain my blood he would need a secret way into this place while I am sleeping to avoid face to face confrontation. The third door might be an option, but I suspect, that room holds a bathroom and possibly a bed.
I try the third door off the kitchenette again, still locked, "When one door closes another door opens." The voice of Butch echoes slightly in my kitchenette, the first contact I have had from him.
"Thanks, I gathered that." I respond to the air, "I can piss in the sink." I am certain this message is meant to imply that if I close the door to the server room, I will gain access to the bathroom. "That's also not true, at some point you let me open two doors." I motion towards my accomplishment. It is unlikely Butch intended for me to retain access to the computer servers, which begs the question, why put them their? A few more moments of contemplation leads me to realize that I have no idea what is going on in Butch's head.
I go back into the pantry and retrieve some coffee from the shelf. Then I open every cabinet in the kitchenette, locating the coffee pot, I start a brew while surveying everything else in the room taking stock of my supplies. They consist of, four spoons, forks, and butter knives, four large plates, four large bowls, four plastic cups, dish soup, a pot, a pan, a hot plate, a can opener and a hand towel. From my pockets, I pull out my own pocket knife and the EE device [in revision: add that she always carries these with her and what the EE is earlier] after a moment of contemplation, I pick up the chair I had used on the door and casually discarded in a corner and smash it on the counter. Amidst the splinters of wood, two of the legs have stayed together mostly, making them potential weapons as well. I line them up with the other things, retrieve a can of soup, which I open and begin eating strait from the can and pour myself a cup of coffee.
Butch has to show himself. I begin hatching a plan to lure him out of wherever he is hiding down here. My first attempt will be, to go to sleep. If there is no one else down here than maybe my prone form will elicit his desire to come drink my blood. Also, I know for a fact that I cannot continue on in a sleep deprived state for very long. This makes the coffee somewhat unnecessary so I stop drinking it. After I eat my soup I check my watch, it's past one in the morning now. I prop myself up against the wall on the kitchenette counter, among the scattered tools of my intended war on Butch and dose off.