Earthquake Weather – Snippet 03

Earthquake Weather – Snippet 03

“Call me Fishmeal,” he whispered, and shivered. He had not smeared mud on the foot of his bed at all this winter, and he had eaten several slices of rare London broil for dinner last night–he had even been allowed to drink a glass of champagne at the stroke of midnight!–but nevertheless, he was again, clearly, experiencing the sense of being nearly able to see the whole American West Coast in some off-the-visible-spectrum frequency, as if with eyes underground as well as in the sky, and almost hear heartbeats and whimpers and furtive trysts and betrayals as if through the minute vibrations of freeway-shoulder palm trees and mountain sage and urban-lot weeds. And below the conscious level of his mind, faintly as if from distances remote beyond any capacity of natural space, he thought he could hear shouts and sobs and laughter from entities that were not any part of himself. When he had felt this sense of expanded awareness before, it had generally been in breathless dreams, or at most in the hypnagogic state between sleep and waking, but he was wide awake right now.

He stood up and got dressed, quickly but thoughtfully–Reeboks, and comfortable jeans, and a loose flannel shirt over the bandage taped onto his ribs; and he made sure the end of his belt was rotated into a Mobius twist before he buckled it.

He blinked as he let his gaze drift over the things in his room–the tasco 300-power reflector telescope in the corner, the framed black-and-white photograph of Thomas Edison on the wall, the coin-collection folders, the desk with clothes and a pair of in-line skates piled carelessly on it.

He jumped in surprise, and an instant later a woman’s voice mournfully exclaimed, “Oh hell!” somewhere in the parking lot outside the window.

“It’s bartime showtime, folks,” Kootie whispered self-consciously, and he opened the bedroom door and stepped out into the hallway that led to the kitchen and living room.

He could hear someone moving around in his adopted parents’ bedroom, but he wanted to have something specific to say before he talked to them–so he hurried to the front door and unhooked the feather-fringed chain and unbolted the door.

The woman who was the property owner was just walking around the corner of the building from the parking lot as Kootie shuffled across the threshold and pulled the front door closed behind him; and her brown face was streaked with tears. “Oh, Kootie,” she said, “all the beasties are dead!”

They were already dead, Kootie thought–but he knew what the woman must mean. The morning air was sharply chilly in his curly, sweat-damp hair, but the breeze was still scented with the night’s jasmine, and he felt ready to deal with this particular crisis. “Show me, Johanna,” he said gently.

“Over by the trash cans and Mr. Pete’s van.” She was plodding heavily back the way she had come, her bathrobe flapping around the legs of her burst spandex tights. Over her shoulder she said, “I gave them some new gravel last night–could that have poisoned them?”

Kootie remembered his dreamed vision of the woman in the vineyard with the bloody, ivy-wrapped staff, and as he followed Johanna around the corner into the slantingly sunlit parking lot, he said, “What killed them was nothing that happened around here.”

He trudged after her across the broken checkerboard of asphalt and concrete, and when he had stepped around the back end of the parachute-shrouded van he stopped beside her.

The beasties were obviously dead now. Three of them were sprawled on the pavement and in the ice plant here, their gnarled old hands poking limply out of the thrift-store shirt cuffs, their mouths gaping among the patchy gray post-mortem whiskers, their eyes flat and sheenless behind the scavenged spectacles.

Kootie shook his head and clumsily ran the still-numb fingers of his left hand through his curly black hair. “Terrific,” he said. “What are we going to do with them?”

Johanna sniffed. “We should give them a burial.”

“These people died a long time ago, Johanna,” Kootie said, “and these aren’t their bodies. These aren’t anyone’s bodies. The coroner would go nuts if he got hold of these. I doubt if they’ve got any more internal organs than a sea-slug’s got . . . and I always thought their skeletons must be arranged pretty freehand, from the way they walk. Walked. I doubt they’ve even got fingerprints.”

Johanna sighed. “I’m glad I got them the Mikasa glass candies at Christmas.”

“They did like those,” Kootie agreed absently. Her late common-law husband had got into the habit of feeding the shambling derelicts, and for the last three Christmases Johanna had bought decorative glass treats for the things, in his memory. They couldn’t eat organic stuff because it would just rot inside their token bellies, but they had stiff liked to gobble down things that looked like food.

“Good God,” came a man’s voice from behind Kootie, and then a woman said, softly, “What would they die of?”

Kootie turned to his adopted parents with a rueful smile. “Top of the morning. I was hoping I’d be able to get a tarp over ’em before you guys got up, so I could break it to you over coffee.”

His adopted mother glanced at him, and then stared at his side. “Kootie,” she said, her contralto voice suddenly sharp with alarm, “you’re bleeding. Worse than usual, I mean.”

Kootie had already felt the hot wetness over his ribs. “I know, Angelica,” he said to her. To his adopted father he said, “Pete, let’s get these necrotic dudes stashed in your van for now. Then I think we’d better go to Johanna’s office to . . . confer. I believe this is going to be a busy day. A busy year.”

He nearly always just called them “Mom” and “Dad”–this use of their first names put a stop to further discussion out here, and they both nodded. Angelica said, “I’ll get coffee cooking,” and strode back toward the building. Pete Sullivan rubbed his chin and said, “Let’s use a blanket from inside the van to lift them in. I don’t want to have to touch their ‘skin.'”

***

Angelica Sullivan’s maiden name had been Elizalde, and she had the lean face and high cheekbones of a figure in an El Greco painting; her long, straight hair was as black as Kootie’s unruly mane, but after she put four coffee cups of water into the microwave in Johanna’s kitchen, and got the restaurant-surplus coffee urn loaded and turned on, she tied her hair back in a hasty ponytail and hurried into the manager’s office.

A television set was humming on the cluttered desk, but its screen was black, and the only light in the long room was the yellow glow that filtered in through the dusty, vine-blocked windows high in one wall. A worn couch sat against the opposite wall, and she stepped lithely up onto it to reach the bookshelves above it.

She selected several volumes from the shelves, dropping them onto the couch cushions by her feet, and took down to a nicotine-darkened stuffed toy pig; then she hopped down, sniffed the air sharply, and hurried back into the little kitchen–but the coffee was not burning.

A sudden hard knock at the door made her jump, and when she whirled toward the door she saw Kootie’s face peering in at her through the screened door-window; and then the boy opened the door and stepped in. followed by Johanna and Pete.

“You’re not on bartime, Mom,” said Kootie, panting. “You jumped after I knocked on the door; and Dad jumped after I flicked cold hose-water on his neck.”

Pete’s graying hair was wet, and he nodded. “Not much after.”

Johanna was staring at Kootie without comprehension, so he told her, “Bar-time is when you react to things an instant before they actually happen, like you’re vibrating in the now notch and hanging over the sides a little. It’s. . . ‘sympathetically induced resonation’; it means somebody’s paying psychic attention to you, watching you magically.” He looked at Pete and Angelica. “I’ve been on bar-time since I woke up. When Johanna found the beasties, I jumped a second before she yelled, and when we went back to the apartment to wash our hands just now, I reached for the phone an instant before it started ringing.”

 

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