I felt a drop of sweat roll down my forehead as I poked at my smart phone screen with a single trembling finger. The soft tone that accompanied each number tore through the anxious silence in my brain like bursts of cannon fire. I swallowed hard as the call went through.
“Shit,” I said out loud, wiping the palm of one free hand on the leg of my jeans. The worn, filthy denim couldn’t absorb the sweat, so my hand was just as wet when I pulled it away.
I traced the outline of the End Call button.
“Hello?” said a female voice.
It really was her.
“Who is this?” she asked. There was a touch of anxiety in her voice.
“Hu-Hi Karen,” I said. “This is Jack.”
Karen sighed hard enough to blow out the little microphone on her phone. I tried to picture the scene in my mind. She’d have whatever the latest iPhone was, or some trendy thing like that. I could see her, head cocked, phone pinned between her ear and her shoulder and mostly covered by wisps of baby fine red hair.
“How did you get this number?” she demanded.
“Yeah, about that,” I said flatly. “Believe it or not I dreamed of it last night. I can’t believe it’s your real-”
“What did you just say?” she said, suddenly breathless.
“I dreamed about you last night, and you gave me this number. Honest.”
“Oh shit. Oh SHIT. Oh shit.”
She never cursed unless she was really mad.
“Look, I’m sorry ok? I don’t know why that happened, but I see your point. I guess this is creepy and I’m sorry.”
“No, shut up. I mean, yes this is creepy, but not just for the obvious reasons.” I heard muffled banging sounds on her end of the phone. “Tell me as much as you can about the dream.”
“There’s not that much to tell. You were standing in front of me.” I decided not to tell her she was naked and soaking wet. “You held out an apple. Your eyes were weird. Empty. You read off the digits of the number and then you smiled at me.” I could have written poetry about her smile. I missed the way it brightened up her face and opened up little dimples at the edge of her soft, thin, pink lips. Back when I kissed them, they tasted like peach flavored lip balm. When I woke up I was crying. I left that little detail out, too.
“What kind of apple was it?” she asked. There was real panic in her voice now.
“I don’t know. It wasn’t a bright red one. It was one of those red and yellow ones.”
“Oh FUCK! Oh god. Oh shit.” With each explicative she pounded on something wooden, maybe a kitchen table or a computer desk.
“Did you have the same dream?”
“No! Well, yes, actually… sort of. It’s hard to explain. Goddamn it! I didn’t mean to drag you into this. It was an accident when I thought of you. I didn’t mean to. You just kind of popped in there.”
“That happens to me too,” I said. “You just kind of pop into my head.”
“No, stop that. Listen, I think you need to fly to Chicago, like, as soon as you can. I mean, like right now.”
“I would really like to see you too-“
“Stop it! This isn’t about that. This phone line is probably tapped. They’ll come after you. Fuck, I shouldn’t even be talking to you. I should have just hung up the phone. This is SUCH a complete FUCK UP. “
I had no idea what to say to that, so I kept my mouth shut. I heard the faint clicking of a computer keyboard from her end.
“Ok, you still live in Pittsburgh, right? Can you get to the airport in an hour? You should be able to make it through security in time to catch the eleven forty five. Maybe we can get you off the plane before… I don’t even know. Can you make it, or what?”
“Um, yeah I guess so. This is pretty sudden. Maybe we shouldn’t move too fast, you know?” I was playing coy and hoping she hadn’t heard me shoving clothes into my overnight bag a few moments earlier.
“Shut up. I’ll meet you at the airport. I’m sorry about this.” Click. She was gone.
Yeah, so Karen is the one who got away. Everyone’s got one. Don’t try to bullshit me. You’ve got one too. If you’ve never known someone who was so special that you’d instantly fly across the country on their account, I pity you. If you’re with that person right now, I envy you. Fuck yeah, I flew to Chicago for Karen. Shit, I’d have let someone tie me up and drag me to Florida behind a beat-up station wagon, doggy paddle across the Caribbean Sea, dive head first into a vat of mosquito attractant, walk through the Amazon jungle naked, and jump off the highest peak of the Andes.
Anyway, If Karen planned on groping me half as eagerly as the overweight, slack-jawed TSA agent did, we’d have to get a room first. That seemed unlikely under the circumstances, but hey, a guy can dream.
I ran passed about a hundred televisions on the way to the gate. They seemed to be mounted on every flat surface. Tired, sallow-faced travelers were huddled around each one, watching a pretty blonde CNN anchor drone on about something. I paused to catch the story, but it was just a bunch of gobbledygook. I figured the men were just watching because the top three buttons on her blouse were undone. Ordinarily I would have stuck around to enjoy the view myself, but I was in a hurry.
The stewardess was already making the last calls for boarders when I jogged up to the gate and handed her my boarding pass. As the plane taxied out onto the runway all the things Karen said bounced around in my head. It was just a jumble of nonsense. I couldn’t parse anything useful out of it. It didn’t help that the guy sitting next to me was coughing up both his lungs and at least one kidney. He doubled up in his seat with his hands over his face and hacked.
“Are you alright?” I asked
“No,” he said through his fingers. “I think I’m coming down with bronchitis.”
“Make sure you keep everything on your side of the arm rest, ok?” I said.
“Yeah, ok,” He wheezed. “Asshole.”
Somewhere down the aisle the stewardess was pushing drinks on everyone. I thought I heard her tell someone it was three bucks for a goddamn Coke.
I stared out the window. Little pinpricks of white light twinkled above me, and down below. Countless thousands of lights shined in the darkness of the rust belt, as if Pittsburgh was a mirror for the stars. If stars shined in Pittsburgh, did borderline alcoholic unemployed steel workers drive ramshackle pickup trucks in space? I wondered what Karen would have thought of that idea. She had just the right kind of mind for bouncing stupid shit off of. It’s hard to reconcile our hours of silly conversation with the three sentences she’d uttered that ended our relationship. “I’m sorry. I’m moving to Chicago and you can’t come with me. This is goodbye.”
The stewardess passed and I pretended to sleep. When I looked back, there was a little glass of Coke in the drink holder of my arm rest. I figured I’d heard wrong earlier. It must be free, but for three bucks they’d put some booze in it or something. That seemed a little more reasonable.
“Hey man,” said Coughing Dude. His tubes were clogged up pretty good. He sounded like Doctor Claw. “Are you going to drink that?”
“All yours,” I murmured absently.
I tried to focus on Karen, but Coughing Dude started living up to his nickname.
“Maybe if you’re dying of consumption, you should just go to the fucking morgue,” I scolded. I had some more choice banter ready to go, but I stopped myself short.
Coughing Dude’s face was bright red, and tears were running down his cheeks. The little plastic glass of Coke splashed on the floor at his feet. “Help,” he tried to scream, but it came out in an ugly, hoarse whisper. He frantically undid the buttons on his shirt and starting flailing at his bare chest.
“Hey!” I stood up and shouted. “I think he’s having a heart attack!”
A general murmur rose up amongst the other passengers, and the stewardesses came running. The pretty one who passed out the Cokes was first on the scene. Her name tag said “Charlotte.” She glanced down at the spilled glass on the floor, and then looked at me. Her eyelids narrowed to little slits and her lips thinned out, and she glared at me. Then in an instant her face morphed and she was showing nothing but excitement and detached, professional concern. “Get the Head Flight Attendant!” she said.
A crone who I guess was supposed to be the Head Flight Attendant showed up with a stretcher and shoved an oxygen mask over Coughing Dude’s face. The stewardesses huddled over him as they tried to give him CPR, so I couldn’t see that well, but I watched his feet beat and kick. Slowly, horribly, the kicking died down and became twitching, and then his legs were completely still.
“Um, we need some volunteers to help lift the gentlemen up onto the stretcher,” announced Head Flight Attendant Crone.
“Is that guy dead?” asked a voice behind me.
I nearly jumped out of my chair. It was a girl of maybe twelve or thirteen, dirty blond hair pulled back into two tight braids on either side of her head. Disgust folded the skin around her nose and pushed all her freckles together. Her eyes were alive with morbid curiosity. She was leaning up over the back of my seat, craning her neck to take in as much of the scene as she could.
“Um, I don’t know kid,” I said.
You see, I was less concerned with his actual death than I was his potential murder, if you follow me. Coughing Dude was not at the peak of health, but he seemed like he was holding it together more or less ok. Call me paranoid, but it did seem like Coughing Dude became Heart Attack Dude the minute he took a sip of the drink I didn’t ask for. I didn’t like the look I got from Charlotte, either.
They might come after you. That’s what Karen said. Who were “they”?
Paranoid delusional fantasies danced around in my head.
Karen moved to Chicago to start a new job for a research firm that worked with the government. I was surprised by that, and not just because I thought we had more of the “death do us part” kind of relationship than the “I got a new job in a better city, see you in Hell” kind. You see, Karen was the type of person who would rant about the Military Industrial Complex given the opportunity and a little bit too much to drink. Her working for some faceless quasi-government corporation never quite jived for me, but then again I was biased against the whole thing.
Crazy as it might seem, I figured I may as well keep an eye on Charlotte and avoid any other refreshments that turned up while I wasn’t looking.
“This is your Captain speaking,” said a voice over the intercom. “Thank you for your patience and assistance with our ill passenger. I wanted to let you know that there will be medical personnel waiting for him as soon as we reach the tarmac, and we’ve been given emergency clearance to land as soon as possible to make sure we get him the help he needs. We will be touching down in Chicago in about forty-five minutes. It’s a pleasant evening in the Windy City with temperatures around fifty-four degrees. Thank you for flying with us today.”
Did that mean Coughing Dude wasn’t really dead? I thought not. They probably wouldn’t announce something like that to everyone.
The adrenaline was starting to wear off, and my eyelids were getting heavy. I decided to stay awake though. We’d be landing pretty soon, and it would be best to stay vigilant. There was a lot of cloud cover beneath us now, so I couldn’t watch the ground lights anymore. The blinking light on the plane’s wing winked on and off, casting a red haze over everything for an instant and then fading out. In and out. In. And out. It was relaxing, and the hum of the engines faded to a pleasant white noise that blotted out the unpleasant symphony of clearing throats, snores and clicking laptop keys from my fellow passengers.
Then I was standing with Karen in an apple orchard.
Karen was nude and soaking wet. Hair clung to the sides of her face in clumps, and she was holding a bright red-and-yellow apple in one hand. I wish I could tell you that I’m evolved enough that my eyes didn’t immediately flit down to her chest but I am not. Her nipples were hard and erect, but there was nothing sexual about her demeanor. Her eyes were staring straight ahead, empty and lifeless. She wasn’t looking at me. I just happened to be in the way.
“Hey?” I asked. “Can you hear me?”
Karen gasped and took a deep breath. Her fingers tightened around the apple and her fingernails dug hard enough into the skin that little rivers of juice ran out.
“Jack,” she whispered. Her eyes turned and met mine and her face lit up with a brilliant smile. “Seven-seven-three. Nine-five-eight. Oh-one-one-eight.”
The scene shifted, and Karen was nude in the middle of the aisle on the plane. Oxygen masks had fallen out of their little cubby holes in the ceiling, and all the passengers were grabbing for them and scrambling to get them over their wide eyed faces. There was a strange feeling of vertigo, and the scene out the window was a cloudy blur.
“Jack,” Karen whispered. “Seven-seven-three. Nine-five-eight. Oh-one-one-eight.”
Karen’s chant-like whispers were somehow louder than the screaming, and the strange, low-pitched roaring sound that nearly drowned out everything else. The plane lurched, and all the passengers around me were tossed up in the air, like riders on one of those roller coasters that goes over a double dip.
“Karen!” I screamed and I tried to hug her.
Something held me back and dug painfully into my groin, and I realized it was my seatbelt. I wasn’t standing in the aisle in front of nude Karen. I was still slumped down in my seat. All that shit had been a dream.
Except the part about the plane crashing. Apparently that was real.
“ Everyone please remain calm,” said Head Flight Attendant Crone, struggling to keep the panic out of her voice. “Please put on your oxygen masks and remain in your seats. Soon we’ll- Charlotte? What are you doing?”
I turned and looked back over my shoulder. Charlotte was wearing some sort of backpack, and she was working the handle of the emergency door at the rear end of the cabin. The door burst open, and Charlotte tumbled out backward like… like a sky diver.
“Oh shit,” I tried to say, but the sound of metal ripping itself to pieces drown out my voice. Above me, the ceiling of the plane ripped away and the world rocketed by at a crazed angle. The sounds of screams were cut off by an enormous crash, and then everything went black.
The first thing I was aware of was pain. Excruciating pain. It pressed down into the comforting darkness and lifted me out with cold, steely hands. I could smell ozone and burning plastic. I tried to move, but I was pinned down by what appeared to be a bathroom sink. With herculean effort I managed to push it up and out of the way so I could sit up and get a look around.
As far as I could tell, we’d basically spiraled down and drilled right into the runway like an out of control lawn dart. There was wreckage everywhere, and a lot of it was on fire; pieces of fuselage lying around broken, charred pieces of chair, an overturned food service cart with airline meals scattered all around it, still freshly sealed in neat, unbroken foil.
“What do you know?” I mumbled to myself. “Coughing Dude is out of commission, but the roast chicken with vegetable medley might just live to see action after all.”
I chuckled at my own joke, but if any of the other survivors heard it they didn’t appreciate my sense of humor. The ones that could make noise were just moaning, or crying out for help. I guess it wasn’t the worst reaction I’ve ever gotten to one of my jokes, but I digress.
With great fear and trepidation I took a look down at my body to assess the damage. Judging by the amount of pain I was feeling, I two-thirds expected gigantic shards of metal impaling every inch of me from the chest down, but I didn’t see any major visible injuries. I moved my arms. I wiggled my toes. They weren’t particularly excited about it, but they followed directions. When I tried to stand, my legs screamed “Fuck you!” at my brain in Painese, the language they speak in Hurtsestan. I fell forward onto the asphalt hard enough to scrape a good bit of skin off the palms of my hands.
Before I could give it another go, I heard something that made me think it might be better to lay low.
“His name is Jack Kalinowski. He’s a known terrorist with connections to radical militias and racist, right-wing groups. We believe he may have been involved with the bombing. Have you seen him since the crash?” It was Charlotte, but now she was dressed in a charcoal gray pantsuit with a pair of sunglasses. She held a picture from my Facebook profile in front of a panicked looking soccer mom who was pinned under a piece of fuselage.
“I haven’t seen him,” said Panicked Soccer Mom. “How long until the ambulance gets here?”
“Emergency medical teams are already on their way. Any information that could help us bring this fiend to justice would be very much appreciated, ma’am.” Charlotte reached into her pocket and pulled out a small, thin object I couldn’t make out.
“I swear I would tell you if I saw him.” Panicked Soccer Mom squirmed, and tried to push the chunk of twisted metal off of herself. “Please help me! It hurts!”
Charlotte scowled and unfolded the object in her hands. It was an old fashioned straight razor, the kind you might see in a Three Stooges short about a barber shop. Charlotte brought it down in a smooth, straight arc across Panicked Soccer Mom’s throat.
Panicked Soccer Mom screamed, but it came out as a terrible, wet, gurgling sound.
“There you go. No more pain,” Charlotte said coldly.
Panicked Soccer Mom reached up and grabbed at the lapels of Charlotte’s suit jacket, but Charlotte stood and batted it away, as if a gnat had been buzzing around her. Charlotte worked the blade of the straight razor open and shut absently with her thumb. Her eyes reflected the firelight with murderous intensity as she surveyed the wreckage.
I lay completely still, hoping she might not notice me. I could almost feel her gaze moving across the runway.
Charlotte’s eyes settled on something in the wreckage a little to my left.
“Hey, little girl? Are you awake?”
My heart began to pound in my chest. I recognized the voice. It was Morbidly Curious Freckle Face Girl.
“This is Jack Kalinowski. We believe he may have been the one who bombed the plane. Have you seen him since the crash?” Charlotte held up my picture and smiled, but she had the straight razor ready in her other hand.
“He sat in front of me,” said Freckle Face.
“Uh-huh, but what about since the crash? Do you know if he’s still alive, hon?”
“I haven’t seen him since the masks came down,” said Freckle Face.
Charlotte brought the razor up over her shoulder.
Now, I’m not claiming to be some kind of hero, but I’m not going to allow a psychopath to slice up a tweener on my account. That’s just not how I roll.
I forced myself up onto my knees. My entire body stung, ached and agonized. My legs were throbbing. My head was pounding. I was so dizzy I could hardly see. With what little strength I had, I launched myself at Charlotte. I guess it was more of a “fall” than a “launch,” but I managed to knock Charlotte off balance and away from Freckle Face. I face planted right on top of a twisted, upside down row of chairs. An arm rest went up into my guts, knocking out what little air I had in me.
“Ooooow,” I groaned.
Charlotte sneered and swung her razor at me. I rolled off the chairs and fell onto the asphalt. I felt my teeth click together and I saw stars, but I kept moving. This time I rolled to the side and I felt Charlotte’s razor slice through the air in front of my face. I’d been about a millimeter away from losing my nose. I kept rolling until my muscles gave out and I stared up the stars for a moment. My ears were ringing, and I could hardly breathe.
“You’re a hard man to kill,” Charlotte said.
“That’s what she said?” I added.
Charlotte scowled. “That didn’t even make sense.”
She was right. I couldn’t even crack wise. I was in bad fucking trouble.
“You’re in way over your head here,” Charlotte said. “You’re on the FBI’s most wanted list. We’ve frozen all your assets and posted your picture all over Pittsburgh and Chicago. You can’t hide from us. Your life is over. Why don’t you just sit still and let me cut you? It will just hurt for a second.”
“Um… How about ‘fuck you’?”
Charlotte rolled her eyes, unbuttoned her suit jacket and tossed it away.
“Asshole. Ok, fine, if it has to be that way,” she said. She brought the straight razor up to her bare arm and pressed the razor up against the skin in the notch of her elbow. With a quick, deft motion she pulled the razor down to her wrist, slicing her own arm open right down to the bone. Blood spurted out of her opened veins and flowed down her open palm through her fingers to pool on the asphalt at her feet.
“What the fuck?” I said.
“I told you, you’re in way over your head,” Charlotte said. She curled her fingers up into a clenched fist, and the stream of blood slowed and stopped. I don’t mean that there was no more blood coming out of her cut arm, I mean the blood was just hanging there in the air. It looked like someone hit the pause button on life. Charlotte lifted her arm and snapped it to the side, the stream of blood whirled and cracked in the air, like some kind of whip.
I thought I might be hallucinating, but I wasn’t sure. In any case, Charlotte was dangerous and I knew it was better to be as far away from her as possible. My valiant fumble to save Freckle Face was pretty much the last hurrah for my muscles, though. There was no chance I was going to be able to stand again, so I kind of crab walked backward on my elbows and ankles.
“For fuck’s sake,” Charlotte growled. With a snake’s quickness she lashed out with her weird blood whip. It lashed around the bent row of chairs between us. Charlotte yanked and flung the chairs violently up and out of the way. “Why won’t you just lie down and die?”
Of course, I didn’t tell her, but I was damn tired, and the idea of surrendering did have its own bent appeal. God knows, in the empty, years since the end of my relationship with Karen I’d come pretty close to jumping off a bridge anyway. But that’s just the thing. Karen was talking to me again, and however brief and cryptic the conversation had been, I was going to see where it might lead.
Charlotte grunted and cracked her whip at me. I was too slow this time, and before I could skitter out of the way, I felt the tendril wrap around my midsection. It was wet and viscous, but it had a grip like steel. The tendril tightened, and I could barely breathe.
“Dumbass,” Charlotte muttered under her breath. She brought her other wrist up to her mouth and bit into the soft flesh there. This time her blood flowed up into a strange teardrop shape that hovered in front of her hand.
“Jesus fucking shit! What are you?”
“Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to worry about anything anymore.” She hovered over me and pushed the floating orb into my face.
Warm, wet, coppery blood flowed into my mouth, up my nostrils and down my throat. I coughed and gagged, but I couldn’t clear it out. My vision blurred and faded, even worse than it already had. I was drowning.
“Just go to sleep you obnoxious dipshit,” Charlotte said. “Don’t waste my whole night.”
A heavy, thunderous sound rang out, blunt and deafening over the crackling of fires and the incoherent lamentations of the other survivors. Charlotte tensed up, and most of the blood flowed out of my nose and mouth. I spat out the rest and got in a frantic breath, and some of the color and definition came back into the world. Charlotte had both hands up in front of her face, and her blood had curved up around her into what amounted to a shield. Little spatters of blood sprayed out here and there. It took me a moment to realize that the little spatters were bullet impacts.
“Jack! What are you doing? Hurry!”
It was Karen! I scrambled to my feet and immediately fell again.
Karen was sitting gloriously astride her tiny pink Vespa, shooting at Charlotte with a tremendous hand cannon. Her baby-fine red hair peaked out from under a little peanut shell helmet, and each shot rocked her entire body with the force of the recoil. From my vantage point on the ground she looked like an avenging angel, with all of heaven’s terrible wrath and gentle beauty.
“Get on,” she commanded, pausing to load another magazine in her gun. “Hurry.”
I obeyed. The world seemed like it was trying to shake me off, and I could barely keep my balance. I teetered over to her and climbed up onto the Vespa. The rear was still covered with stickers for things like “Save the Eastern Californian Sand Crane” and “END irresponsible deforestation.”
“Hi,” I said.
“Don’t hug me,” she said. “Use the handles on the back.”
I begrudgingly complied.
“Goddamn it,” Charlotte screamed. She was fucking pissed. Her hands were balled up into fists, and tendrils of blood were waving around her, like the flailing tentacles of a furious octopus. “You two are a pain in my ass.”
Karen reached into the breast pocket of her weather worn leather jacket and came up with a beaker full of clear liquid which she immediately tossed at Charlotte. The beaker shattered and the liquid splashed all over her.
“Wha?” Charlotte said, then she started to scream. The blood tendrils lost their shape and splashed on the earth, and the massive wounds on her arms started bleeding openly again. Charlotte fell to her knees and started pressing down on the cuts, but the blood kept flowing out between her fingers.
“What the hell was that?” I asked.
“Anticoagulant,” said Karen. “I thought it might keep her from using her blood to make solid weapons.”
“Looks like you were right,” I said. God, you have to admire her.
“Of course.” Karen nodded, an adorably exaggerated gesture under her helmet. “Hold on tight.”
She pulled back on the throttle, the Vespa’s engine whined to life, and we made an annoyingly slow but admittedly effective escape.
Karen and that goddamn Vespa. She adores that thing. Rides it fucking everywhere, rain or shine. In the coldest months of winter she puts it in storage and pines over it every day. She does not own a car. When the Vespa is out of commission, she takes the bus. When she moved to Chicago, she drove the Vespa all the way there. I shit you not. It took like, two days.
It sounds like a lawn mower, and it goes from zero to sixty in about eight hours.
“Good to see you again,” I said, shouting to be heard over the agonizing wheeze of the engine. “So, who’s the creepy bitch trying to kill us?”
“Just a monster,” Karen said. “They have lots of monsters. Some are born that way. They make some in labs. I’m not sure where she came from, but it doesn’t matter. She’s a monster, and that’s all.”
“Ah. I suppose the next question is ‘Who are they?’ The Military Industrial Complex?”
“It’s so much worse than that,” Karen said. “That phrase makes you think that it’s only part of the system that’s fucked up, you know? Steve just calls it ‘The Establishment.’” She actually took her hands off the handlebars to make little quotation marks in the air with her fingers. The Vespa shuddered and veered off course. Karen grunted and grabbed the controls. “It’s not just arms manufacturers and the military. It’s dozens of huge corporations and the entire government. It’s really all one big entity.”
“Just some guy I work with.”
I didn’t like her tone of voice at all.
“Let’s stop at that diner up ahead. They have TV,” Karen said.
“Oh, you’ve been here before?” It didn’t seem like the kind of place she’d frequent. I doubted there were smug nerds with windswept haircuts and Emo glasses slinging eight dollar cups of coffee behind that rusty old Art Deco façade.
“No, but everywhere has TV,” Karen said, leaning into the turn to bring us into the diner’s parking lot. Gravel crunched beneath the Vespa’s tiny wheels.
Karen was right. There were at least three big screen HD televisions in the little diner. They seemed oddly out of place; enormous, gleaming and new, while everything else was rusting and falling apart. Not only that, they were strategically placed so that no matter where you sat you’d have a perfect view. I ordered a cup of black coffee and a grilled chicken breast with fries.
“I wouldn’t eat that if I were you. I don’t think they have organic chicken here,” Karen said.
“No, probably not,” I admitted. “They probably have bizarre-o mutant chickens that look like big, feathered centipedes with hundreds of legs and wings each. They keep them locked up in big long cages.”
“Their suppliers probably do,” Karen said flatly.
At any rate the coffee was awful.
“So, there’s a baseball game on TV,” I said. “Is that why we’re here? Turn into a big Cubs fan since you moved out this way?”
“No. Stop being stupid. Don’t watch the TVs. Watch the people watching TV.”
The Cubs were getting shellacked by the hamster-fucking Pirates, and we’re talking late season Pirates here. It wasn’t pretty, and I was barely keeping my bland, tasteless, potentially myriapod chicken down. Mercifully the game went to commercials. A tall, handsome, lantern jawed dude appeared. His eyes were big, soft and kind, like a cherub from a Claymation Christmas special. He grinned, and I wanted to basically punch him to death, in the face.
“I can’t explain it. Even after fifteen years, my wife is still the sexiest woman I know,” said Lantern Jawed Dude.
“Oh my God,” Karen said. “I can’t take it. I’m going to look at you.”
“You’re the opposite of him. Watch the people, not the TV.”
The scene changed, and the camera focused on close up shots of different shades of make-up, floating around the screen. “Shhhh, don’t tell him your secret is the fabulous array of cosmetics from the Armelle Company,” said the disembodied voice of a female narrator.
Lantern Jawed Dude came on again. He shrugged and scratched the back of his head. “She works so hard. When I get home, I’m going to give her a massage.”
“Aaaaauuugh….” There was a moaning sound over my shoulder, and I realized that the waitress had slipped into some kind of lustful trance while reaching over to refill my atrocious coffee. Her eyes were glazed over, and a thin river of drool ran down the laugh lines in her haggard face. There was a look of pathetic, open longing in her face as she gazed up at Lantern Jawed Dude’s shining visage. She did not notice as my cup overflowed and scalding hot coffee slopped all over the table.
“Um, hello?” I said.
It took real effort for the waitress to look away from the television. I could see it in her eyes. She stared at the river of coffee, which was scathing its way along my arm like magma.
“Hyuh? O-sorrabout-that.” She mumbled and slumped away.
“Did you see that look in her eyes? That’s a form of hypnosis,” said Karen. Her eyes were locked on mine. “Stimulate the base functions of the brain then introduce a high-level suggestion.”
I took a look around the room. All the women had that same glass-eyed stare.
“Sex sells.” I shrugged. “What does any of that have to do with the government?”
“That make-up is full of chemicals that cause cancer, brain damage, early onset Alzheimer’s Disease, and who knows what else? But the FDA lets it slide, because the big companies can bribe politicians to write loopholes in regulations to let them slide, while smaller companies get run out of business. Meanwhile, the chemicals make people dumber, and that makes it easier for the same politicians to get reelected. Then the big corporations get them to write in even more loopholes. It’s like they’re turning everyone into zombies.”
Karen threaded her fingers together in front of her face. “Government and these big corporations are now woven together, into one gigantic entity. They regulate, mass produce, genetically modify and chemically extend the shelf life of pretty much every single thing you ever buy and use. It doesn’t matter what party you vote for, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Anarcho-Capitalist or a Socialist who thinks the government should strictly regulate everything. We don’t actually have a say in the way the government operates. All we have is this… thing… this Establishment, and all it wants is to make people stupid and sick, so they’re easy to control, manipulate, lie to and rip off.”
“Ok, let’s say I accept that premise for the sake of argument,” I said. “How do we get from there to a stewardess trying to kill me and then crashing a plane and slicing up the survivors with… blood whips? I mean, what do you even call that shit?”
“It’s my fault. Like I was saying, you’re pretty much bombarded with propaganda and thought control bullshit every waking moment, right? So what’s left for them to control?” Karen closed her eyes and tapped on her forehead with one slender finger. “Your dreams.”
A chill ran down my spine. “What exactly do you do at that research lab you work for?”
I pulled my hair back into a tight ponytail and splashed cold water over my face. It didn’t help to ease the tight band of tension that had settled in over my eyes, or quiet the nausea rumbling around in my belly. I sighed and made sure that I’d tied a good, tight knot in the belt of the bathrobe I was wearing before I stepped out of the lady’s room. The air conditioner was running, and goose bumps popped up on my arms and legs.
Steve must have been waiting in the hallway, because he pounced on me before I was even out the door.
“Are you sure you’re ok with this?” he asked, pushing his glasses up his beaky nose with one finger.
“Yeah, I’ll be alright.”
Steve leaned in close, and I caught a whiff of his aftershave. It was Old Spice or something like that. Ordinarily it might have been pleasant, but I was on edge and it pushed me that much closer to puking.
“Thank you, you’re very brave. This should be the last time. We’ve got enough material to blow this place wide open,” he whispered.
I shushed him and kept walking. “I’ve been practicing my meditation techniques. I think I can keep the hallucinations under control this time.”
Steve pushed open the door to the Oneirology Lab. All my coworkers were there, pale-skinned and thin-faced, with tired eyes gazing out from sunken sockets. I suppose I probably didn’t look much better. We’d been putting in a ton of overtime over the last year, as Project Zaqar came to fruition and the Rapid Eye Movement Imaging Machine came to life.
Looking them over, I suddenly realized that I felt sorry for them, and the emotion took me by surprise. They were unethical scientists, pioneering a new tool that the Establishment would only use to control and manipulate people. At the same time, they were a bunch of really nice guys. A little nerdy for my tastes, but still, really nice. They quoted Battlestar Galactica and The Walking Dead, and had arguments over which superheroes would win fights against other superheroes. They tripped over their own feet trying to flirt with me. It was… kind of pathetic, actually.
Once Steve and I collected enough evidence, including some results from the first successful tests of the REMIM, we were going to the press. All those sad nerds who fought over my attention would probably find themselves out of jobs. It might be the end of their careers.
“Karen,” said a friendly, energetic voice behind me. “Ready for another round in the chamber?”
“Yeah, boss,” I nodded.
With his perky demeanor, cheesy grin and incessant stream of compliments, Doctor Hasanovic was more like a motivational speaker hawking a self-help book on an infomercial at four in the morning than a demented genius in charge of top secret government project. His precise quaff and perfect white teeth gleamed in the harsh light of fluorescent bulbs.
“The timing is right. We’ve got fourteen women and eight men in REM sleep in the Control Group, twelve and sixteen in Group A, and seventeen and ten in group B. It’s your time to shine, Kare.”
I hated it when he called me Kare. Jack tried to call me Kare when we first started palling around. I hit him until he stopped. You can’t hit your boss, unfortunately.
In the center of the room was a big, sleek, white plastic pod. As I approached, the upper half opened and lifted up, revealing a shallow pool of water. That was the sensory deprivation tank. There was a privacy curtain hanging from the ceiling, kind of like what you might see in a hospital room with more than one bed. I pulled it shut and undid the knot in my bathrobe.
I guess I should try to explain my role in all this. The purpose of the REMIM is to broadcast images and concepts directly into people’s brains while they sleep. At first, we tried streaming pictures and video from a computer, but that never seemed to work. When we asked the subjects what they dreamed about, they described a bunch of vague, colorful blurs.
Doctor Hasanovic had the idea that it might work better if we tried streaming content directly from one mind to another, without trying to artificially encode a digital signal in the electro-magnetic frequencies used by the brain. We all took turns at it, but I was the best source brain. No one’s sure why, but the subjects reported more frequent and more vivid dreams when I was broadcasting. The sensory deprivation tank was supposed to remove any possibility that my surroundings might influence the broadcast. I hated the sensory deprivation tank. White. Hot. Hatred.
I slipped off my bathrobe, self-conscious in spite of the privacy curtain. I could hear computers whirring, keyboards clicking and the guys shooting the shit. Being naked at work is just… too weird. I climbed up into the tank, awkwardly covering myself incase the privacy curtain spontaneously blew open. I liked my coworkers, but I did not want to be center stage in their pathetic wank sessions any more than I already was.
I sank into the tepid water and there was a faint mechanical sound as the lid slid shut up above me. The light of the office shrank to a little crescent and winked away. There was only darkness and the sound of the water sloshing around in the tank.
It was so dark that there was really no difference between having my eyes open and having them shut. It was as if I didn’t have eyes at all. The water slowed and became perfectly silent and still. Without the sound of the water and the feeling of ripples tickling my skin it was as if the rest of my body had vanished along with my eyes. All that was left of me was my mind and the slow, steady rhythm of my breathing. In and out. In and out.
This is the meditative state I needed to attain before I could begin the broadcast. Perfectly relaxed and free from distractions. Doctor Hasanovic had chosen an old painting of an apple orchard for that night’s experiment, and I’d spent an hour every day staring at it and memorizing every detail. I imagined the painting and placed myself inside it with my mind’s eye.
I was standing in the apple orchard. Neat, perfectly even rows of trees spread out in every direction. Behind me there was an old farm house, long abandoned and fallen into ruin. Only one window had any glass left, and it was just a few shards hanging from a ratty frame. Behind the broken glass there was just an empty, black void where the painter had neglected to add any detail. It was like looking into a black hole. When I thought of a black hole, I worried it might suck me inside and pull me down into the formless darkness until I went completely mad.
Suddenly, I felt gravity start to pull me in. Apple trees raced by me on either side as I rocketed toward the farmhouse. I was falling sideways, to be shredded by the shards of glass and vomited into an abyss.
“Ok, focus, Karen, focus on the painting,” I said. “I’m standing in an apple orchard. I’m standing in an apple orchard.”
The world slowly righted itself, and I was standing on the path again. The sky was a dreary, steely gray, and the slight breeze was just a little too cold to be comfortable. I hugged myself as I walked down the bare dirt path between the trees. Up ahead, the orchard stretched forward forever, an eternity of apple trees. It hurt my mind’s eye to look out that way, and I felt a rush of panic up my spine.
“Ok, just need to add some detail. How about a mountain?”
A great, snowcapped mountain sprang up out of the ground, enormous and shrouded in dainty wisps of cloud. It looked wrong somehow, jagged and exaggerated, like something I’d doodled when I was a little girl. A wave of vertigo hit me like a punch in the guts. I looked down at my feet and waited for it to pass.
An apple had fallen down onto the path. It looked firm and ripe, with shining red-and-yellow skin. I picked it up and prepared to take a bite, when the apple blinked open and became a baseball-sized, blood-shot eye, staring into me with cold malice. I shrieked a little bit, an embarrassingly small and feminine sound. Somehow, that brought me back to my center.
“It’s not an eye. It’s an apple. It’s just an apple.”
The eye did not wink back into an apple. It just glared at me. I felt the pace of my breathing quicken and my pulse started to pound. I was starting to lose control again.
“It’s an apple. It’s an apple. It’s an apple.”
The eye rolled over to my left. I followed its gaze and was pounded in the guts with nausea. All the apples on every tree were eyes now, all staring at me.
“I’m in an apple orchard. I’m in an apple orchard. I’m in an apple orchard.”
The sun was an eye. Even the Earth itself was an eye. I was standing right on top of a vast pupil. I was naked. I was alone. Some horrible, insane entity was watching my every move through thousands and thousands of eyes.
“NOOOO!!!!” I screamed and tried to cover my face, but even my hands were eyes. “AAAAAAUGH!!!!”
My strength of will completely melted, and I was just a frightened little girl flailing through her own mind for something, anything comforting and safe.
The scene shifted.
I was walking through a parking lot, cast in pale shades of yellow by flickering old street lights high overhead.
“Meh, don’t worry about it too much,” Jack said. Like always, he was wearing a beat up old leather jacket and a shit-eating grin. He shrugged his broad shoulders and looked up at the stars. “So what if no one came to the show? The bands all sucked anyway, and at least you got your picture in the paper. Maybe someone will see the article and send some money to… whatever it was you were doing.”
“Sassafras Grass Roots! They’re trying to get keep a fracking project from getting started in Ohio to protect the Reticulated Proboscised Funnel Mosquito.” I sighed. “Don’t you even fucking care about what we’re doing?”
“Nope,” he said. “I just want to hang out with you.”
“You’re an asshole,” I said, but not unkindly. If you hang out with Jack enough, your perception of human emotions goes sideways and “asshole” almost turns into a compliment.
“That seems to be the general consensus. Want to hear a joke?”
“What does the Dalai Lama say when he walks up to a hot dog stand?”
“I don’t care.”
“He says ‘Make me one with everything’,” Jack said, wiggling his fingers and dropping his voice into an exaggerated, mystical tone.
“That’s fucking retarded and so are you.”
“Yeah, but you’re giggling.”
“No, I’m not,” I said, trying to keep the giggles under control.
“Yes you are. Go on, laugh at the retard.”
I did laugh, and some of my frustration slipped away. Jack put his arm around me, and I put my head on his shoulder.
The scene changed again, and now I was just Karen in the sensory deprivation tank. Alone with my thoughts, I was aware of a deep and painful nostalgia. I mean, I wouldn’t go as far as saying I wish I hadn’t dumped Jack and left Pittsburgh. That needed to happen, but he was funny, and sweet in his own… assholish way. It’s hard to explain.
“I wonder what he’s doing now?” I thought to myself.
The darkness inside the tank parted, and then I was looking at Jack. He was sitting by himself on the couch in his apartment and he looked terrible. He’d lost a lot of weight, his clothes were filthy, and he’d fallen asleep in front of the television with a slack-jawed expression. There were empty candy wrappers and fast food bags on the floor. That was very unlike him. Something was terribly wrong.
He looked up, and his eyes met mine.
“What the fuck?” he said.
His face was hilarious. The look of complete and utter shock and amazement was just too funny. He’s always so cynical and filled with obnoxious, sarcastic comments about everything. I couldn’t help but grin.
“Karen,” he said, and his eyes were sad.
“Jack,” I whispered. Then, something strange happened. I just started rattling off my new phone number. “Seven-seven-three. Nine-five-eight. Oh-one-one-eight.”
I don’t know why I did that. It just happened.
And now he’s sitting across from me in the diner and he clearly doesn’t grasp the urgency of this situation. He looks like a kid whose Mom just took him to the toy store, gave him $50, told him to pick out whatever he wanted for his birthday.
“Goddamn it Jack, stop looking at me like that,” I said. “This is…”
“…serious!” Karen scolded.
“I know,” I said.
FUCK YES! FUUUUCK YEEEEEESSSS!
That’s what was going through my head, over and over again. Recall that for the last three years, I’d been obsessing over Karen. Getting bored and thinking about shit we did together and getting all moony over it. Or having some random thing remind me of something funny she said and getting all choked up. Sitting up at night, wondering if she was laying next to someone else. It was fucking bullshit, and the worst part of it was, as far as I knew, I was the furthest fucking thing from her mind.
But now, here was proof that it wasn’t the clean break it seemed to be. She still remembered me and even missed me. It was a tiny glimmer of hope. Anyway, it was a hell of a lot better than nothing.
I don’t know. I don’t do well with all this emotional stuff. Maybe you’ve noticed.
“I fucked everything up,” Karen said. She took off her glasses and polished the lenses with her blouse. Her face looks weird without glasses. “One of their monsters broke into my apartment a few hours after you called. I had to shoot my way out. I haven’t heard from Steve. I hope he’s ok.”
“Who’s Steve?” I asked nonchalantly.
“Just a guy I worked with, who might be dead for all I know,” Karen frowned and put her glasses back on.
The waitress dropped a little leather booklet with the check inside in front of me. I thought that was presumptuous of her. Isn’t this the age of Women’s Liberation? I pulled out my wallet and dug out my debit card.
“What the hell are you doing?” Karen demanded.
“Paying for dinner. Are you looking to challenge the Phallic Power Structure and split the bill?” I asked.
“No, idiot, you can’t use your debit card. Freezing your accounts was probably the first thing they did. Now they’ll be tracking us. If you scan that thing, this place will be swarming with government agents before we pull out of the parking lot.”
“Oh yeah. Charlotte mentioned that. She said I was on some kind of terrorist watch list, or something.” I stuffed my debit card back in my wallet. There were two wrinkly old dollars in the billfold. I’d doodled a ‘70s cop mustache on George Washington on one of them. I get bored sometimes. “We might be doing dishes.”
“The Phallic Power Structure has gone flaccid on me, eh?”
“Ha.” Damn it. You have to admit she’s good.
“Luckily, I was prepared for this kind of thing.”
Karen reached into her boot and pulled out a thick wad of cash. She flipped through it, and slapped a couple twenties on the table. I figured, fuck it, and tossed my two beat up dollars down to add to the waitress’s tip. Karen glanced at George’s mustache and raised an eyebrow at me.
“That’s historically accurate,” I said. “He grew it during the war to keep his face warm. I mean, the bastard didn’t even have shoes.” I pushed the door open and was grateful for the burst of cool night air on my face. I was starting to get drowsy and I was still wicked sore from the crash and the fight with Charlotte.
“Oh God. What am I going to do with you?” Karen sighed.
“My Mom used to say the same thing,” I said.
“I don’t doubt it, but I mean, literally, what am I going to do with you?” She shook her head. “I didn’t mean to drag you into all this. I basically ruined your life. You can’t even fly home.”
“I hadn’t even thought that far ahead. I was stuck on ‘survive duel to the death with super powered homicidal maniac’ and then ‘enjoy dinner with Karen.’”
“I guess I’ll have to take you with me.”
“Don’t say it like that,” I said, and crossed my arms.
I dropped into an exaggerated impression of her voice and moaned “Oh no, I have to take that jack ass with me.” I dropped the act. “Look, what’s done is done. I’m here, and that’s all there is. While I may be a halted adolescent, and a smart ass, you have to admit I did some great stuff for you. Remember that time I convinced that foul smelling big shot Internet Hippy to put the story about your Wear Green to Save the Redwood campaign on the front page of his blog?”
“You threatened him.”
“Threaten. Convince. Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to. What about the time I pushed your Vespa two and a half miles in the pouring rain, so it wouldn’t sit out overnight in Wilkinsburg?” I elbowed her.
“You do have ways of making yourself useful. I’ll give you that,” Karen said, and smiled.
“So, what’s next?”
Karen breathed in sharply and opened the storage compartment under the seat of her Vespa. A hunter green messenger bag had been unceremoniously crammed down in there. “I want to make sure the research we did isn’t used in the field. I want to destroy the REMIM.” She frowned down at the bag for a moment and sighed as she yanked the zipper open.
I peeked inside at a haphazard pile of what looked like bricks of brown clay, except for the stern warnings written on the sides in a military stenciled font.
“Um… is that…”
Karen leaned over and whispered. “It’s C4 plastic explosive.”
Some of my enthusiasm waned when she mentioned the explosives.
“You’re not thinking of going all Timothy McVeigh on me, are you?”
“No, not like that.” She shook her head. “I just want to blow up the research lab. Everyone goes home at five unless we’re running an experiment. The place will be mostly empty.”
“Yeah, only mostly.” Karen swallowed. “The monster calling itself ‘Charlotte’ will be there. I’m sure of it.”
“Fuck that bitch,” I said jovially. “Hit her with some more of that anticoagulant and she’s toast.”
“That was the only dose I had. If we face her again, we have to beat her on her terms.”
“Maybe you could just distract her? While I set the charges?”
“That sounds… tricky.”
Karen sighed and rubbed her temples. “You don’t have to help me. This is my problem and now I’ve got you all tangled up in it.”
“No, I’m in.” I said. “I want to help you. We’ll find a way to beat Charlotte if we have to.”
Karen looked at me, and she had that look. You know? Every chick has one. That gleam in her eyes, like her whole world revolves around you, and the sun only shines because of the radiance of your soul. When Karen looked at me that way, it made my knees weak and made me feel like my entire disastrous life had some kind of deeper purpose and meaning. God, it was fucking awesome to see that look on her face again.
In spite of everything, I doubt any man ever felt as much triumph climbing onto the back of a Vespa as I did right then.
The Vespa engine whined like an asthmatic weed whacker as we pulled into the laboratory parking lot. There were no other half assed-chick motorcycles, cars or people visible in the faint light of the flickering yellow street lamps. I knew Karen was right, though. Charlotte was there. I could smell her. As I stepped off the Vespa I tightened my grip on the gun, a Glock .45. I would have double checked to make sure it was loaded, and that the safety was off, but I didn’t have the slightest idea what I was doing. No problem, though. All I had to do to win back my lost love was dust some circus freak government assassin and blow up a building.
Easy peasy. Karen would be blowing me before the sun came up.
It was late enough that it was starting to get early, and dew was starting to come down on everything. You could feel it in the air, cool and wet. It felt good on my skin. Something was nagging at the back of my mind, though, and I wasn’t sure what it was. I figured it was probably just terror and dismissed it.
“So what do we do once we’re done here?” I asked, shouldering the messenger bag full of C4. “Lay low?”
“They’ll send more agents after us. They have some worse than Charlotte. I know some people who live off the grid on a commune in Idaho. We can lay low there for a while. After that we’ll have to go into hiding, take on fake identities, maybe leave the country. Steve will know what to do.” Karen jammed a fresh magazine into her gun and chambered a round.
“Who’s Steve?” I was careful with my inflection, making sure to say it conversationally, as if I’d never asked that question before. Just for shits and giggles.
“My boyfri-” Karen stopped in mid-sentence and mid-stride, but she didn’t catch herself in time. I heard it.
In an instant I realized what had been eating at the back of my head. I’d subconsciously I’d come up with an alternate interpretation of the events Karen explained to me. Hearing the panicked way she cut off the word “boyfriend” confirmed that interpretation, and it burst into conscious thought, shouting and waving its arms around.
“So… at what point in your plan where I risk my life to help you blow up a government building were you going to tell me you’ve got a boyfriend?”
Karen rolled her eyes. “I never said I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“You clearly implied.”
“I did no such thing.”
“You gave me the look.”
“You know what look, and not only that you squeezed my hand.”
Karen sighed and put her arms straight down at her sides. She was pissed, but so was I.
“You already had that C4 ready to go. When did you decide to rope me into this little shindig? Don’t just glare at me, answer the question.”
She glared some more, and then crossed her arms over her chest. “While we were on the phone.”
“Wow,” I said. “Amazing.”
“You’re such a fucking asshole.”
“Ok, fine. I concede the point. I am an asshole. The loosest, hairiest, pimpliest, least wiped, stinkiest asshole in the world. Now, let’s talk about you. You are an emotionally manipulative douche bag.”
Karen’s face twisted up while she thought about that. “Douche bag? I don’t know. I always thought of that as more of an insult for a guy.”
“You’re right about that. Douche bitch? No. Douche cunt? No. I hate that word. Douche ho? Hey, I like that. That fits. It has a nice ring to it.”
“Look, Jack, are we going to-”
“Shut up, douche ho! She how well that fits? So why isn’t your boyfriend helping you?”
Karen looked up over her right shoulder and inhaled. She was fucking livid. “Steven is a very peaceful man.”
“Ha ha ha, he’s a fucking sissy! You’re a douche ho, and your boyfriend is a fucking sissy.” That broke open some kind of floodgate of madness in my head. I let out a big, rolling gale of laughter. Once it started, there was no stopping it. My stomach and chest ached, and I got a big stitch in my side. I could feel tears coming down the sides of my face.
“Are you done?” Karen asked.
“Oh, no. I’m just getting started. I’ve had an epiphany, and you’re probably the only other person in the world who will understand. I’m afraid I’m going to have to lay it all out for you.”
“This whole situation is just a big, exaggerated version of the same bullshit you’ve been pulling since the day we met. It’s just like any of your retarded causes. Remember that time you organized a show for Folk Rock Against Domestic Violence?”
“That was wonderful! We raised over four hundred dollars for-”
“For bullshit. A thousand rednecks got lit up and wailed on their inbred wives the day before your show, and a thousand more did it the day after. It was a bunch of bullshit and you know it. Meanwhile, you made a little speech and got your picture in the paper. Well, who called and threatened to make sure all those fuck-for-brains hipsters actually showed up with their guitars? Who fronted the cash to get the venue for the night? Who carried the speakers and took money at the door? I did. I did all the work so that you could feel good, while you accomplished nothing. Now I’m supposed to get clobbered by government agent with super powers while you plant some C4?”
“For fuck’s sake that was years ago. And this is different. We can’t let the Establishment use my research to tighten their grip on people!”
“ This is exactly the same. Blowing up your old lab won’t do squat. You don’t think they’ll have offsite backups in some classified data center forty miles under the Earth’s crust? You don’t think they have three or four teams running all the same experiments? This is just how you make yourself think you’re special. It’s pure, 100% fuck all douche ho behavior.”
I tossed Karen’s Glock into the basket on the handlebars of her Vespa and started walking away.
“Where are you going?”
“Somewhere other than here,” I said. There was a new and living energy pulsing through my veins, wholly unlike anything I’d felt before. The obsession, the longing, the constant malaise I’d found myself in since Karen dumped me was gone.
“Jack, you should know. I really did think of you, because you made me laugh.”
“I don’t care and I don’t care if most people really do walk around in some kind of trance.” I looked back over my shoulder and grinned. “I’m not hypnotized anymore.”
Call to Action
Thanks for reading! I hope you had a good time with A Mirror for the Stars. I’m planning on releasing more free novellas with Jack and Karen very soon. Meanwhile, if you enjoy young adult adventure novels, or know someone who does, please check out my Perfecting Reality series. The Amazon Kindle version of book 1, The Far Unlit Unknown, is only 99 cents as of this writing.
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Eli Horowitz, thank you for reading and for your in depth comments. They’re always highly appreciated.
Karen was the love of Jack’s life… until she dumped him to take a job as a research assistant at a shady government contracted science lab in another town. He tried to put her behind him, but spiraled into a deep, years long depression. Until Karen appeared in his dreams and whispered a mysterious number. Now Jack finds himself placed on a terrorist watch list. His bank accounts are frozen and he’s pursued by relentless government agents with bizarre super powers. Broke, injured and with his life in ruins, Jack must decide how far he’s willing to go for the one that got away.