Episode 24: A Big House in the Country

Episode 24

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The upside of raising seven children occupying one body is not having to change seven diapers each day. But that was about it for the upside. There was no going to doctors, specialists or therapists: that would have made them media freaks overnight. They would spend their lives under the public microscope and never be really free to live their own individual lives, and that was Natalie’s biggest concern. She feared that finding out about the others within themselves might cause them all to collapse into one personality and she wasn’t going to let that happen. She had seven children, not one less, and she wasn’t giving any of them up. Ever.

It took planning—long grueling hours of planning—but she had Manzer, who’d become a godfather to the kids and offered to use his government contacts to create legal identities for each of them. Thanks to Manzer, they each had their own birth certificate with different last names—and birth dates one day apart. 

 She bought a sprawling country house in the center of ten acres of land far enough from any town or city to isolate them from the contradictions of the outside world but close enough for them to know it was there. 

***

While she was still in the hospital, she noticed things they had in common: they fell asleep at exactly midnight and, an hour or so into that sleep, she could see the transformation in their faces and body postures. She watched the nervous agitation of Jack give way to the quiet confidence of Jackson and then to the mystical in Jax—and finally to Jackie. She knew that Jackie would always be at odds with herself—a woman in a man’s body, aware of it every moment of her life. It was going to be tough but Natalie knew that she would find a way to bring some kind of balance into Jackie’s life. 

In the meantime, there was much to do. 

***

When they began to speak she noticed another thing they had in common: they perceived the passage of time in a different way from the rest of the world. Their one day was their week. When faced with the other six days, they weren’t puzzled, they just didn’t see them. It was as though they occupied a plane of existence where the hours of a week compressed into the hours of a day. She knew this would be a problem when they started interacting with the outside world, so she worked out survival strategies for them. 

***

She wasn’t surprised that Jackie was the first to notice something different about time. In a way, she existed outside the body of the other six and Natalie assumed that she would always be the first one to question things because she’d already be questioning things. 

It happened on a rainy Sunday morning when Jackie was five. They were homeschooling at the kitchen table Jackie pointed at a schedule fixed to the refrigerator door with magnets.

“What’s that?” she said. 

Natalie followed her finger to the schedule showing the days broken into periods of learning and play for each of the children. She immediately realized that the schedule and anything like it would have to go or be hidden. “Oh, that’s just something I use to remember things.”

“But what are Monday and Tuesday and those other names along the top?” She looked into Natalie’s eyes, not with puzzlement, but interest. “I’ve heard of them from some of my books and on the internet, but they’re all wrong.”

“And why is that, Sweetheart?”

“Because Wednesday isn’t as long as Tuesday and Thursday.” She chuckled. “Nobody takes all Wednesday to eat lunch.” She laughed loudly. “You’re going to remember things all wrong, Mommy!” 

It took Natalie a few minutes to catch on. Jackie was seeing the schedule the way she perceived her days: the row of days at the top of the schedule was the column of time periods of her day. Though the periods were different lengths of time, she’d assimilated the concept of the seven day week into her life as seven periods of her day. Natalie used this phenomenon to build a construct of the world outside the house that would allow her children to function out there. 

They made it easy for her with their stubborn refusal to see time in any way other than their own. The rest of the world had a problem, not them, and Natalie capitalized on this and took it further with a mystical approach to their education that included a dream state in which they might do things they might not remember later. This dream state, reasoned Natalie, would explain those times when their lives might overlap, like when they couldn’t remember how they’d cut a finger.

   As they grew older, they stopped thinking of this as some mystical dream state and just shrugged off things that were suddenly different. 

Oh yeah, that. Just like Mom said.

It was as though some inner mechanism operating in each of them was busily patching up the cracks of inconsistencies before they became holes, allowing them to function in a world that might have been in another dimension.

She never fooled herself, though, that things would be easy for them, or for her. There would be sacrifices. Their lives would not be the same as the lives of others. No matter how well the coping mechanisms worked, confrontations with the realities of the rest of the world were inevitable. The best Natalie could do was to prepare for those eventualities, anticipate them, think them through and plan for them.

She and Manzer made lists of scenarios—thousands of them—everything from schooling to friendships they’d make as they grew. They planned for jobs, romantic relationships, social circles where they might come into contact with people who knew one or more of the other personalities. They made lists of every possible interaction they could have with each other, like how their rooms would be arranged and the clothing they would wear that would be dictated by their personal tastes. 

In the end, they would be lonely, cut off from the rest of the world in many ways and always feeling that something at the essential level of their being was not quite right. She was glad now for the way she’d named them; the similarity in names would help later when they came into contact with people known by the others. They would have to spend their early childhood in the house, homeschooled, limited in their contact with the outside world until they were ready to fit into it on their own terms. If they wanted to attend college, it would have to be online. 

But, no matter how much they planned and prepared, there would always be the matter of their independence. They had to be free to be themselves as much as possible. Natalie could not always be there to holds their hands but she also needed to be close by to put out the fires caused by unforeseen events. At some point and at some level, she would have to leave them.

So they planned her death. And they planned her resurrection.

Episode 23 – All My Children

Episode 23

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Her screams splattered against the corridor walls and rolled through the halls like slow thunder for twelve hours. She screamed and she blamed the absent father, “You did this to me, fucker!  Fucker!” She blamed the world and she screamed, “You did this to me! Fucker!” She blamed herself and she screamed, “What have I done! Fucker!” She blamed God and she screamed. “Why? Fucker!” She screamed for forgiveness and she screamed for it all to end, but no amount of screaming could stop the life struggling out of her womb.

So she laughed. 

It felt good. She laughed some more. 

Then she screamed some more and wished that she had hung herself when she had the chance.

***

“Push! Push!” 

The nurse was getting on her nerves. 

What the hell does she think I’m doing, trying to hold the baby in? 

Natalie glared into the nurse’s eyes above the blue mask. She wanted to tear them out of her head. She screamed and laughed into the nurse’s face as she glared into those two sympathetic blue eyes. She pushed and clenched her fists, splitting the corners of her mouth as she wailed while, inside her body, a tiny life began to feel something akin to alarm as Natalie’s pushes and its own struggling changed the nature of things

***

Jack 

The screams and laughter had dissipated into the walls and ceilings; the wards and halls seemed to breathe easier. The sound of loud sucking emanated from Natalie’s room. Life flowing into life, she thought as she looked into the wide, startled eyes. She sensed fear in the small life. His breathing seemed forced and panicky. His body shook, even though he was wrapped tightly in blankets. His eyes darted around the room as though looking for something that might pounce at him. Something terrible was unfolding in this baby’s mind on his first day of life but she would protect him and make whatever threatened him go away.

She’d had no idea what she was going to name him but the name Jack suddenly bubbled up from her subconscious and that was his name. “My little savior,” she said tenderly. Feeling the exchange of life. “Some day, you’ll do great things. I know you will. You’ve already done them for me.”

An old man from down the hall, Manzer Doyle, had walked in and remarked how beautiful her baby was, and how beautiful Natalie was, and how beautiful they looked together. He’d promised to drop by and check in on her the next morning, maybe even bring her some chocolate. 

She had a friend and for the first time in her life, she was beginning to feel things.

More surprise.

Jackson   

There was just one thing wrong. This wasn’t the baby she’d given birth to the day before. This was another baby. This baby was quiet, almost introspective, and exuded confidence and grace. Even the lips suckled differently.

***

Manzer Doyle had an eye for the exceptional, a trait had driven him into one of the most powerful offices in the public service, a position obtained by surrounding himself with people who went beyond the norm—not an easy thing in the public service where thinking rarely deviated from the policies and procedures that guided the career-bound through the minefield of the current party in power. He cultivated relationships with exceptional people and maneuvered his career so that he worked only for the brightest managers until he’d retired as one of the most prominent of those extraordinary people, a man with real power and influence and the ability to make things happen. Manzer Doyle was exceptional and he recognized it in others. Like in Natalie’s baby. 

This was no ordinary baby. This baby had something about it, a glow or vibration. This baby was different in a way that separated it from others. And Natalie was right. This was not the same baby whose eyes Manzer had looked into the day before. This was a completely different personality, unmistakably.

He shifted in his chair, his weight raising a storm of creaks as the chair’s metal frame shifted with his weight. His pale blue pajamas looked pressed and ready for a formal pajama party with dignitaries. He’d wandered in to say hello the previous evening and she’d told him that she’d be in the hospital for another week or so while the doctors kept an eye on certain “complications” that Natalie didn’t want to get into. He liked this woman and her baby fascinated him. “You’re right.” His voice was deep, resonating. “This isn’t the same baby. Even the body seems just a little different, if that’s possible.”

Natalie let out a long sigh. Relieved. If Manzer agreed then maybe she wasn’t crazy. “But how?”

“You’ve got me on that.” He leaned forward and stared into the tiny calm eyes.

“That’s what I thought too. His eyes…”

“Not like any baby’s eyes I’ve ever seen.”

“But today…?”

“Yes. A whole different personality. This baby’s…” He crossed his arms over his chest and sat back in his chair with a flurry of grinding metal. “I don’t want to alarm you.”

Natalie smiled, laughed quietly. “You have no idea how far past I am from being alarmed. At anything.”

Manzer looked into her eyes and smiled. “This baby was troubled yesterday, infear of the world and today…he’s in charge of the world.”

Mona looked deep into the eyes of the baby in her arms. “I have two babies.” Manzer smiled in agreement. “Little one, I’m going to name you…Jackson.” She hugged the baby. “Let’s see which one of you is back tomorrow.”

***

Jax 

It was unmistakable. This was not the same baby that Natalie had birthed two days before, nor was it the same baby that had sucked from her breasts yesterday. This was a whole new person. Manzer nodded agreement.“Natalie,” said Manzer, as he gazed into the baby’s eyes, “You definitely have another baby here. Someone very different than the last two days. This one seems almost, mystical. Look at his composure.”

She nuzzled the baby with her chin. “He looks so meditative.” She nuzzled him again. The baby smiled and made a soft purring sound.

“Maybe another Houdini,” said Manzer. “A spiritual guide for the masses. A…”

“Manzer…” Natalie’s voice seemed hinged on regret with a trace of worry. “Where are the other two? Jackson and Jack. Where are they today?”

Manzer leaned forward and stroked the side of the baby’s head with a massive hand. The baby gurgled happily. “I’m sure they’re in there somewhere. They’ll be back. In their time.” The two sat in silence for a few moments as the baby stared into a space just beyond its nose and gurgled happily.

“So,” said Manzer, “what are you going to call him.”

Natalie ran her fingers lightly through the downy strands of hair on the baby’s head and thought for a moment. “Jax. With an x,” she said. “I’m going to call him Jax.”

“Jackson, Jack and Jax.” I’m seeing a pattern here. He chuckled. “Any reason for the names?”

“No. No particular reason. Just the names that jumped into my head.”

“Well, I’ll let you spend some time with your new son. I’ll drop by later for a visit.” He stood up and stroked the baby’s head again. “And tomorrow? Who knows? We’ll see who’s back, or see who’s new.”

***

Jacky 

“Very determined looking,” said Manzer. “And definitely another baby.”

“But where are the others?”

“They’ll be back. I’m sure they will.”

“But what if I have a different child every day…” She shrugged lightly as the baby sucked. “…for the rest of his life?”

Manzer chuckled. “I don’t think so. We’ll see. And the name?”

“Jacky.”

Manzer’s deep laugh rolled through the air. “Why am I not surprised?”

***

Jacques 

“That’s one very misty-eyed baby you have today, Natalie.” Manzer’s huge head dwarfed the baby as he stared into its eyes, seeing yet another person in the tiny body.

Natalie smiled. “I think I might know what’s going on in his little head.”

“And what would that be?”

“What could be so sublime as to make a new baby squirm and coo like this?” Natalie bounced the baby lightly on her breast. Manzer thought for a moment and it came to him. He smiled and nodded and said, “Love.”

Natalie brushed the side of the baby’s head with her palm. “This one will be a hopeless romantic.” She stared into her baby’s smitten eyes and said, “Won’t you, Jacques?”

Jacques shivered and shook his arms and legs with the madness of his feelings.

***

Jac 

Natalie wiped sweat off the baby’s forehead as he struggled and twisted from God knows what nightmare haunting the mind of someone so young that he shouldn’t have enough knowledge to have a nightmare. Again, this morning, she awakened with a new baby inhabiting the shared body of five other completely different people. “How crowded it must be in there,” she whispered as she ran a cold wet cloth over the baby’s cheeks.

The baby thrashed wildly in Natalie’s arms as though wave after wave of horror flooded through his world. 

Natalie pressed the baby close to her chest. Manzer sat on a chair by the bed and shook his head. “I think you’ll have a tough time convincing this one there’s any good in the world.”

Natalie glanced quickly at him and looked back into the baby’s eyes. “Jac. That’s your name, Jac. I promise I’ll make whatever it is that terrifies you right.”

***

Jackie 

“There’s something definitely different about this child,” said Manzer, peering deep into the baby’s eyes.

“I know,” said Natalie staring as well into the deep blue of the seventh baby’s eyes, the Sunday child. “I have a feeling I know what it is but I can’t quite put my finger on it.”

“Well,” said Manzer, rubbing his bristly chin with the joint of his thumb, “they’ve all been different, different people all in the one body.”

“But this one’s more different than the others, like night and day.” She jostled the baby lightly on her breast. “And what is your special secret, little one?” Staring into the infant’s eyes, it suddenly occurred to her. “Manzer,” she said, “I’d like you to meet Jackie. My daughter.”

Episode 22: Sunday – Jackie

Episode 22

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Cut 1 Play Ep 22

 Jackie let out a long sigh. She’d written the entire play in one sitting and she was drained. But it was a good feeling. She felt that this play was her best yet. It expressed so clearly how she felt about herself and because of those feelings about herself, how she felt about other people. She would wait another day to start the editing, a process that generally took longer than writing the first draft.

Maybe I’ll get dressed and go out for a glass of wine or two tonight. I think I’ve earned the right to treat myself. Never written a play this fast before. Maybe this is a sign that things are going to be different. Maybe I should make things different. Maybe it’s finally time that I took control of my life and made it MY life and not someone else’s, whomever that someone else is. But you know who that someone else is, don’t you? You know who it is and you still don’t do anything. All these years living like this. All those years lost because you’ve never really been yourself. You’ve never experienced life as yourself.

And who is yourself?

She slipped out of her housecoat and walked, nude, to the bathroom. Light from passing cars played across the surface of a tall frosted glass window beside a green porcelain shower with a sliding glass door. Across from it, a six foot mirror with four copper lights reflected her body.

She looked down at a flaccid penis hanging below a patch of black hair and sighed. 

“It’s time, Jackie…that has to go.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 21: Saturday – Jac

Episode 21

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Jac laughed out loud. Who are these fools? Who the fuck are these fools? AllTheNewsYouNeed ran an editorial on Jac’s books.

Arial 38

Maybe it’s time for me to start launching a few things myself, like lawsuits against these people. On the other hand, this might be a great test of my security. 

He went to his email and scanned the subject lines. 

Oh, A. Fan…what insights do you have for today? 

He opened the email with the subject line: Following You Always.

Arial 39

Sure you are. Maybe in a hundred years, and by then, I’ll be even harder to find. 

“So…let’s see if Mr. MacDonald has anything to say about me.” A few clicks and he was looking at The Word and Its Many Meanings. He smiled as he read. “So now I’m the target of a mass worldwide effort to be shut down forever. Jax, you’re fucking crazy. Let’s see what I can do to make you even crazier.” He scrolled down to the comments section.

Arial 40

Take that, you little clown. 

He closed his browser and opened the manuscript for his new novel—all one title of it. Images of clowns exploding into balls of fire and steam hissing from eyeballs bunched up in his mind. He stared at the top of the document. Circus of No Hope. For Jac it summed up the human condition so succinctly. All you had to do was turn on a television, open a news site or go into any social media group and there is was—the world was one big circus with one overwhelming theme: There is no hope. The human race was on a crazy roller coaster ride diving and flying on a oneway course into oblivion and nobody seemed to want to get off or stop the wagons. And through all this there was the pain of life, the sorrow and loss of every day, the struggle to rise above it all just to find you’ve risen to the bottom and it starts all over again. And again.

He stared at the title and he felt good about what he was doing. He was telling the truth. He was giving the world a much needed dose of itself, showing them all who and what they were and where they were going: Nowhere. At least, nowhere good. Everywhere was pain. Everywhere was loss and regret. Fireballs with the bewildered eyes of children bounced off the walls of his imagination. Horses with blazing manes trampled entire families into smoldering cinders. 

A ten year old boy cut his pet dog’s throat and then slit his wrists.

***

It was dark outside. He gazed into the emptiness of the space under the title. It was time to set the stage for nightmares, it was time to sleep. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 20: Friday – Jacques

Episode 20

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Creative thinking and a six-pack of beer. That’s what it had taken to give Jacques his escape route. He still found it hard to believe that he’d sent the first part of the email along with the one he intended. He was certain he’d just thought the comment, not written it. Or he’d known that he’d written it but forgot to delete it. Whatever happened, there it was:

Arial 36

And now Judy was on the war path with that most formidable of weapons, social media. How many of Jasmine’s fans would turn on her because of his mistake? Not that she had a lot of fans but the ones she did have were loyal and bought her books

But creative thinking and a six-pack of beer had saved the day.

Jasmine Jackson’s email account had been hacked! Some malicious hacker had barged into her email and had sent out insults to her fans. So, Jacques sent out a dozen insulting emails to other fans, just enough to stir up his readership and get them posting to the reader sites, especially after seeing Judy’s post. Given how nice Jasmine had been in the past in her emails, her fans would wonder about the sudden avalanche of nasty messages. They would wonder if something was wrong: Has she had a nervous breakdown? Did she drink too much coffee? Was she on drugs? With that many malicious emails, they would have to assume something was wrong, that Jasmine Jackson wouldn’t deliberately insult her readership, that she wouldn’t deliberately loose her readers, her fans. It had to be drugs. Or maybe it was alcohol? Was Jasmine Jackson an alcoholic?

Beautiful, Jacques! You now have scandal, questions, innuendo, gossip…all the things that lead to celebrity in the modern world.

He knew that, even after he posted to the groups with apologies and an explanation, the wheel had started spinning and though it might slow down for a bit it would keep spinning and might even spin faster when the rumors took root. He liked to think of it as “turning a blunder into thunder,” as he wrote the apology in his blog. After posting it, he would create links on the reader’s sites, social media sites and Jasmine’s personal website.

Arial 37

Nice, Jacques. Let the rumors and innuendo explode. You might end up with a lot more fans because of this. 

Blunder to thunder.

***

It was too early to be drinking his six-park and he hadn’t worked on his next novel today but he was stressed out. He’d brought things around but he was still too distracted to write. He would just write twice as long next time. He lay back on a couch splashed with a rustic yellow and brown flower motif—a piece of furniture he’d practically grown up with—drank a third of the bottle of beer, burped and relaxed into his thoughts.

His blog posting was making the rounds. He’d planted links all over and those links would link to other links and to other links and his posting would be everywhere that mattered to him. He was counting on that predictable small group of readers who loved a good rumor and loved even more to spread it further, and maybe even embellish a bit. They were the ones who would spread his name to new readers, people who would thrive on the insults to his readers and completely overlook the fact that someone else had written them, or so he hoped they would.

He didn’t have much contact with people other than to study them and make notes for his novels. He wasn’t good at interacting with people—there was too much randomness to the whole thing. Other people didn’t always do or say what you wanted. And for some reason, other people seemed to view him as odd. He was sure no one knew that he wore a dress and chewed on cigars when he wrote. But that had never bothered him. He had his writing and in spite of the torrid sex scenes in some of his more explicit novels, he’d never had, did not want to have and never would have sex.

Instead, he wrote about it.

Half an hour later, he was acting completely out of schedule. He was into his fourth beer and his fingers were tapping madly on his keyboard. The hem of his red dress draped over his knees and a prominent erection bulged under the dress. 

 

Episode 19: Thursday – Jacky

Episode 19

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Paul Mcdermitt was an amateur photographer who’d  bought dozens of Jacky’s prints. They covered the walls throughout his apartment as “inspiration.” He was short and geeky looking, but then, he was a geek, a programmer who’d tried unsuccessfully on several occasions to explain to Jacky what exactly he did. Jacky just nodded and tried to look like he understood. 

Jacky was explaining to him how he’d captured one of his macro images. “I used a 70 to 200 lens with a two times extender full out at four hundred and focused in close to the leaf. The trick to getting that nicely faded background, which we call bokeh, is to make sure the background is a good ten feet or more behind the main subject.”

Paul nodded profusely as though Jacky were giving him guarded secrets of the inner workings of photography. “And I always thought you had to get up close.”

“That’s for doing extreme macro, when we’re isolating a part of the subject and the background is going go be featureless. And the best way to really take out any background is to use a flash. The background will be black.”

“No kidding? Black.”

“That’s right. And when we want those nice circles in the background we use a telephoto lens and keep the background far away.”

Paul looked at his watch, a complex piece of machinery with several windows that looked more like a wrist computer than a watch. “Oops. Gotta go now Jacky. Lunch time’s over. Thanks for the macro tips. I’ll try those after work. You going go be here tomorrow…no…that’s right. I’ll see you next week.”

“I’ll be looking forward to talking to you again, Paul.”

Paul shuffled off quickly, looking back and waving to Jacky. 

Jacky smiled. He liked Paul. The geek’s life seemed similar to his own, limited. But now there was something new in his life: Krista Coleman. And he would be seeing her at five to go for dinner. His stomach and chest roiled with excitement at the thought of seeing her again.

He had a feeling that she was going to be different than the others. She would stay. The others hadn’t and Jacky never understood why. Their reasons never made sense to him, things like him living in another world. He didn’t think that his art put him in another world. He’d always thought it rooted him more firmly in the world…in a perspective, in fact, that put him in the world more than most people. He saw things that others passed by every day of their lives and never noticed.

But none of his relationships had ever turned into actual relationships to the point where there was any kind of permanence, let alone living together, and that’s what Jacky wanted. He wanted to live with a woman. He wanted to do things that he’d read about and heard about…things like waking up in the morning with a warm body next to him or watching TV while cuddling and sharing a bowl of popcorn. Making love till the wee hours. Sharing household chores. There were so many things he knew he was missing and he didn’t know why that was. 

But that was all going to change. Krista Coleman had come into his life and he wasn’t about to lose her.   

***

The grey-haired woman with the granny glasses had Jacky cornered. He was stuck at the gallery till five. This was in the contract with the mall. No one was in the kiosk so the holographic walls were down and Jacky had nowhere to hide from her. She’d moved from a couple of questions about his work to talk about her cousin who was a wonderful photographer to stories about her life and family that she, herself, seemed bored with. Jacky just nodded while he thought about Krista arriving at any moment.

He saw her walking toward the kiosk at twenty to five and he very politely said to the woman, “Oh, excuse me, but I have a meeting scheduled with one of my clients who has just arrived. I sincerely hope that things work out with your Uncle Dan, and have a nice day.” The woman frowned and was about to say something but Jacky was already walking toward Krista.

She wore a blue dress and her blonde hair, flowing over her shoulders, created an esoteric Asian presence. She walked smoothly and confidently. And she was so beautiful. When he reached her, she put her arms around his neck and kissed him lightly on the lips. “So what do you have planned, Jacky?” she said. “I hope it involves food. I’m starved.”

“Food it is,” he said. “I made reservations at Jen Jen’s for 5:30.”

She laughed and hugged him tightly. Her musky perfume sent a thrill through his body. She pulled her head back and kissed him again. “I love Jen Jen’s! How did you know!”

“I love their food too. They make the best spring rolls and cheese stuffed mushrooms anywhere. Shall we get going?”

   “Yes!” She almost bounced back a foot and grabbed his hand and suddenly stopped looking toward the footsteps winding through the now invisible gallery. “Oh…you have lock up…or something?”

   Jacky laughed and squeezed her hand. “Nope. Everything’s automated. Works all on it’s own. All I have to do when I’m here is talk to people. The gallery does everything else.” Still holding hands, he led her to the mall’s exit.

   The old woman with the granny glasses, still frowning, stared at them from the hall across from the gallery. As soon as their backs were turned to her, she slanted her head and stuck her tongue out at the couple. 

***

Candle light and mood lanterns located strategically around the room created a dark mystical ambience at Jen Jen’s, enhanced by kaleidoscopic oriental rugs hanging on the walls. The place was close and romantic. Krista and Jacky were holding hands across the table. Jacky couldn’t remember being happier.

“I’m really excited to see you again, Jacky.”

“Me too. I mean…to see you.” 

Nice one Jacky. 

He felt a flush rushing across his face.

Krista laughed, full and hearty. She was feeling good tonight. “I didn’t mention this last time, but I was just laid off from my job.”

Jacky started to say something but Krista cut in. “It’s OK. I just landed a very…very lucrative contract. And I’m thinking about going freelance.”

Jacky smiled. “That’s the way to go. Self-employed. You never get anywhere working for someone else. They get rich, you get the work.”

“Exactly! I should have done this years ago. But I just never had the nerve.”

“So it looks like your misfortune turned out to be the best thing for you.”

“It did. From the ashes…” She laughed again.

God, what a beautiful laugh. And she’s so beautiful. 

“So you’re the phoenix. Such a beautiful phoenix.” 

Such a beautiful smile.    

She leaned in closer. 

The waitress arrived and, after she poured water into their tumblers, they ordered the same: sesame chicken with rice and a bowl of spring rolls with cherry sauce…her favorite, and now his favorite. She sipped from her tumbler and looked him in the eye. “I was looking at some of your new images. I think they’ve been there for a few weeks. The ones with just the leaves from ground plants.”

“Right. Got all of them in the morning before going to the gallery at noon. What did you think of them?”

“Well, I noticed they all had something in common. The leaves are all deteriorated. I mean, with holes in them and cuts that look like insects have been chewing on them. I was wondering why you would take pictures of those leaves instead of healthy ones. It seems like a break from the rest of your work. Have you turned your attention to leaves at risk?” She laughed, stopped abruptly, and reached across the table to put her hand on his. “I’m not being critical or making fun of your work. The images are still brilliant but it does seem to be something different.”

“Are you ready for a long-winded boring explanation?”

“Go ahead, bore me.” She smiled. 

“Well, it’s not really a complimentary thing about the human race…”

“Go ahead.

“OK, here goes.” He leaned closer to her. “I get it from traditional Japanese art. It always has a flaw in it, as though perfection itself is only perfect when it has a flaw. The flaw, or the imperfection, is what makes it perfect because then it embraces everything. It expresses the struggle for perfection as a perfect act in which perfection will always be one step ahead of imperfection.”

“So…it’s like perfection is actually the journey toward perfection?”

“Exactly! Yes! And that’s what I’m trying to express in those images. I just feel that they make a more powerful statement on beauty than the ones that are beauty only.” He leaned back in his chair with a defiant look in his eyes. “Well, that’s my take on it and I’m stickin’ with it.” He tried to hold his serious look but broke into laughter. They both laughed.

“I think that’s a wonderful approach to beauty,” she said.

“Good. Let’s change subjects. All this heavy thinking is hurting my head.”

“OK.” She cupped her hands around her tumbler. “What would you like to talk about?”

“You said that you wanted to see the inside of one of the buildings in my neighborhood.” He felt as though his heart was about to jump up into his throat. “Would you like to see the inside of my building?”

Krista smiled.

***

“Oh…look at the banisters,” said Krista. “This is genuine teak.” She ran two fingers across the surface of the wood. “I’ve rarely seen teak banisters like these before.”

“They knew how to build back then,” said Jacky. “They were artists and buildings were art, not jigsaw puzzles.”

They climbed a wide stairway with a circular stained glass window on the second floor. “That must be gorgeous in the daylight,” she said.

“It is. Makes the stairway explode with color.”

“And the lights are chandeliers…in the stairway and halls. This place is gorgeous.”

“I like it,” said Jacky. “You’d think I’d get used to it after a while but it impresses me every day.”

“How long have you lived here?”

“About ten years. Give or take a decade.”

Krista laughed. “Smart ass.”

***

A door opened on the first floor and a figure passed through it into the shadows at the base of the stairway facing up at the couple admiring the stained glass window. 

Well, you knew this was going to happen sooner or later, she thought. 

***

Jacky lay in his bed glowing with the after energy of sex. He’d wanted her to stay but she had to get up early for the commute to her new client’s home. She’d been so giving and warm and soft. He’d admitted that he was a virgin and she didn’t seem disappointed or anything. In fact, it seemed to stir up her passion. She became aggressive and her breathing became hot and loud. She’d lay him back and sat down slowly on him, swallowing him into her wetness and heat over and over until he exploded with a cry that must have waked up every tenant in the building. 

“Do I make you happy?” she’d said later. 

The words to answer her question crashed into each other in his mind. He couldn’t think what to say to describe to her how happy he was, how much joy he felt, how much he loved her. She’d looked into his eyes and seen the tears and kissed his face over and over.

They’d talked for a while and she’d wanted to know when she was going to see him again. He’d seemed to have difficulty explaining to her that he wanted to see her every minute of his life and she’d repeatedly said, “But why just then?”

She didn’t seem mad, just confused, but they finally worked it out and she said she had to leave so that she could get up early for work.

Jacky couldn’t remember ever feeling so happy. 

***

You idiot, thought Krista. Why…why do you always pick the wrong men? What is wrong with you? He seemed so nice, so sweet. And he was a virgin. You were his first woman. His tears. He seemed for nice, so natural and down-to-earth. 

She walked fast, carelessly on the sidewalk, not seeing the street lamps with their panicky clouds of insects swarming mindlessly around the street lights. 

And he only wants to see you one night a week? One night a week!

 

 

 

Episode 18: Wednesday – Jax

Episode 18 copy

(New to The Weekly Man? Go here. Reading on your phone? Go here.)

 

“You must track him down. Find him.”

Track him down. Find him.

“He is the danger of dangers.”

 The danger of dangers. 

“He will destroy my plans. He will obscure my message.”

Destroy plans. Obscure message. 

“You are my prophet.”

Yes I am. 

“You must end this evil man’s life and spread my message so that I can save you and the rest of the world.”

I’m going to be saved. We’re all going to be saved. All I have to do is kill the writer. 

Jax had checked the news sites before receiving Ratlas’ messages. There was nothing about Simon Pierce, nothing about mobs of angry parents storming his home and stringing him up. But then, it was hard to say what had happened. He could have been quietly murdered by someone smart enough not to get caught and smart enough to maybe get rid of the body so that it would never be found and Simon Pierce would just disappear from a world where no one would miss him let alone ask questions about him. He would just disappear.

Or maybe the message just hasn’t had time to get out. 

“It will though. It’s just a matter of time. Ratlas will cannot be resisted. Its message of hope will prevail.” 

He opened his email program and, amazingly, he had mail. Maybe there would be something in the comments section of his blog today. He looked at the Sender field. His eyes widened and his mouth opened enough for spittle to drip over his lower lip and onto the keyboard. It was from Simon Pierce.

What? 

He opened the email.

Arial 34

What? 

He read the email again. 

“What?” 

He read the email nine times before he stopped saying “what”. His confusion had turned to outrage.

Ratlas is right. This evil person must be stopped. Exterminated. 

He opened his blog. He wasn’t sure what it was at first but something was different. Something was suddenly strange about his blog. After a few moments of thought, it came to him. There was a comment in the comments section. 

Finally. 

He read the message.

Arial 35

“Not on The Word and Its Many Meanings! Not here! Not on Ratlas’ platform to send its message of hope to a world in danger of extinction.” Jax’s face flushed deep, deep. His hands shook over the keyboard. “No, Mr Pierce. You will not get away with this. You will not besmirch Ratlas’ message.”

He closed his eyes and started blogging.

MY FRIENDS AND FELLOW HUMANITY WHO I HOPE HAVE STOPPED USING PLASTIC AND ARE OPEN TO ITS MESSAGE THAT THE WORLD MAY BE SAVED AND RETURNED TO ITS PRE-PLASTIC DAYS OF WONDER AND BEAUTY AND NATURAL MAGIC TEEMING IN THE FORESS AND THE PLASTIC FREE OCEANS THERE HAS BEEN AN ABOMINATION OF THIS BLOG FROM AN EVIL EVEN GREATER THAN PLASTIC THAT MUST BE OBLITERATED IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND DECENT IN A WORLD FAST DARKENING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF THIS SOURCE OF GREAT EVIL GOING BY THE NAME OF SIMON PIERCE WHOSE POISONOUS WRITINGS HAVE CAUSED THE DEATH OF A TEN YEAR OLD BOY TO KILL HIMSELF AND HIS NEW PET DOG IN YET ANOTHER TRAGIC INCIDENT MARKING YET ANOTHER INSTANCE OF THIS MAN’S SHAMEFUL INFLUENCE ON YOUNG MINDS USED TO SWAY THEM TO DARK THOUGHTS AND ACTIONS AND WE MUST PUT AN END TO THIS EVEIL IN A MASS WORLDWIDE EFFORT TO SHUT DOWN SIMON PIERCE FOREVER!!!

AND PLEASE AVOID THE UNNECESSARY USE OF PLASTIC. 

He sat and stared at his post, nodding his head in agreement. 

This will bring them to action. This will seal Pierce’s fate. There will be a tide of retribution for his defamation of The Word and Its Many Meanings. 

Simon Pierce, you will suffer for your trespass.”

He couldn’t remember feeling this way before now. What he felt for Pierce was genuine hatred. If the man were in his presence at this moment he would very likely kill him. He wasn’t sure how but he knew instinctively that it had to be done. There was no reasoning with pure evil, only the elimination of it so that it wouldn’t be able to taint the world around it. 

He thought back to his childhood in the days before Ratlas when he used plastic and was unaware of its dangers. He remembered his days by a stream flowing through a wooded area, watching the water flow for hours so that he could feel the inexorable movement downstream as though he were water himself flowing out to the sea. In those days he was at one with everything and felt that everything was at one with him. He talked to trees and flowers. He lay in tall grass and felt his soul sway with the grass on windy days. He sank into blue skies, sliding off clouds deeper and deeper into the sky.

He wasn’t certain exactly when those days had stopped, when he felt the threat of rampant civilization disrupting the natural balances of that giant beautiful organism called Earth. It seemed like he was a kid and then he was an adult listening to Ratlas’ messages and spreading them to a world of indifference. But it was something to do. He had no idea what he would do if he didn’t have Ratlas’ message to spread. The very thought of doing anything else made him nervous, and he sometimes wondered about that.    

 

 

 

 

Episode 17: Tuesday – Jackson

Episode 17

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Jackson smiled as he stared at the monitor, not even listening to Jody’s shrill voice. 

Yep, I think it’s about time for Jody Blake to become someone else’s problem. 

He didn’t like being threatened or bullied and that’s exactly what Jody was doing. He felt like muting the sound (which he wasn’t listening to anyway) and just watching the contortions in Jody’s face as he went on about Jackson’s responsibilities towards him and all the money he’d stuffed into Jackson’s bank account and the suspicious nature of his and Roy’s office conflict resolution courses coming out at the same time (“without any warning”) and how he owed at least a little support to his clients and how there were other people out there who could design the courseware for him and maybe even do a better job and maybe for less money and maybe they would offer more customer support. 

Time to take control.

“Well,” said Jackson, “if that’s the way you feel, I can recommend some other designers, people I know whose work is on a par with mine. But I don’t think there’s going to be much difference in the pricing. In fact, I’ve been giving you a preferred customer discount for some time now because of our long term relationship.”

It was hard to tell if Jody’s jaw dropped. His round face, round mouth and lack of a chin made it difficult to determine where his jaw was. But his eyes said it all. He thought he would have Jackson cowering at the thought of losing his business, probably had fantasies about him making all sorts of apologies and finally agreeing to post a rebuttal of Roy’s posting. But it wasn’t working and now he was silent, staring unbelieving at Jackson.

He wore a suit and tie for the meeting. A suit and tie for an online meeting while he was sitting in his kitchen. Jackson wondered if he was wearing pants. Jody’s mouth began to move. 

“Is this how much you value my business?” It was almost a plea. “All these years and you want  to refer me to someone else?”

“Well, Jody, if you’re not happy with my work and you feel that I’m not offering enough support then maybe you would be more comfortable with someone else.”

 “No, Jackson, that’s not what I was saying.” 

Starting to worry are you, Jody? 

“I just think there should be a little more support when it comes to accusations about the integrity of my courses.”

Beads of sweat blossomed on Jody’s forehead, made all the more visible by the Friar Tuck baldness. 

You’re afraid of having to start all over with a new designer, aren’t you? The unfamiliarity of it. The unpredictability of coming out of your shell of comfort and starting all over. So who’s in the driver’s seat now?

“And I wish I could help you with that, Jody, but that would be unprofessional of me. I can’t side with one client over another. That might even set me up for legal action.” Jody was practically squirming. “So, if you were having your courses developed elsewhere, they might be able to help you. And like I say, I can refer you to some very good people. And I can refer you to a consultant I know who is excellent at media rebuttals.”

“No!,” he almost yelled. “No…that’s not what I’m saying. Or…yes…maybe I could speak to your consultant. But…yes…I understand…and I wouldn’t put it past that bastard to try to sue you. I think we can work things out.”

“You said you had an idea for another course.” Jackson watched as relief settled over Jody’s face like the tide washing out. 

“Yes. I’ve been giving this some thought for quite a while now. It’s based on my extensive experience in building working relationships in…”

They discussed his ideas for half an hour and Jody said he would send more detailed information by email.

Roy’s posting at BetterThanCollege wasn’t brought up again. 

***

Jackson had mixed feelings about his face-to-face with Jody. Things had worked out in his favor but he had a feeling that Jody’s reaction to Roy’s posting and his insistence that Jackson do something about it was more than just a little overblown. In the past, the two had seethed for a while over attacks from the other but the vitriol generally wore off quickly when they settled into working on their next course. But Jody had gone way overboard this time, expecting him to actually work against one of his clients. He was ready to drop Jody and he’d hoped deep down that Jody would have done it in their face-to-face. 

He ate lunch as he scanned the news sites. Ham and cheese sandwich and a glass of milk. That had been his lunch menu every day for as long as he could remember, which was most of his adult life. He lived in the NOW like a mystic who was far from believing in mysticism. He lived each moment of his life focussed on each task and activity according to an unbending routine. Every moment had its irrevocable slot in the timetable of his days.

Even his relaxation periods were written in the stone of a Gantt chart, a detailed list of projects broken into objectives and time-allotted tasks to achieve the objectives covering every moment of his day from waking to sleeping. He had exactly thirty minutes for lunch and a browse through the news. He never bothered with the weather. It meant nothing to him. He mostly checked the business and education sites. Mainstream news generally didn’t interest him but a headline in one of the general news sites caught his attention.

Arial 33

There was something about the headline that drew his finger to the hyper-linked text and he started reading. Some kid named Timothy had read a book about a girl who hanged herself after her hamster died and then cut his dog’s throat and cut his own wrists.

He suspected there was a lot more to the story than that. The kid was probably having some serious emotional problems, or on drugs. He’d cut the dog’s throat with a knife. 

What kind of normal kid cuts his dog’s throat with a knife and then cuts his own wrists? And how does a ten year old kid even think of that? And where were his parents while all this was going on? And why did they let him read a book about a girl who kills herself? 

The mother was quoted as saying, “He was a normal little boy. His dog just died and we bought him a new one. He seemed happy.”

You let your ten year old read a story about a girl who kills herself right after your son’s dog dies and he has a surrogate to replace the one he loved? 

“Good luck with your next baby.”

He moved on to an article about 9 Trends in Modern Education, but he noticed that he felt a vague chill after reading about the boy’s suicide. Something wasn’t right about that.

 

Episode 16: Monday – Jack

Episode 16

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“Time to invoke the Fourth Prerogative.” Panther’s words flowed from a panel of black cars with headlights forming spotlights on the road into Panther’s mouth in the next panel. His eyes were wide but determined. “They’ve pulled out of Knitsburg and they’re on Route 1,” said Leopard as he tracked them on his cell phone with an app he’d developed that tapped into government surveillance satellites. “They’re less than thirty miles away.”

“God knows what they’ve done in Knitsburg,” said Panther in the next panel, which showed the group circled on the floor. In the following panel, a close-up of Bobcat showed her saying, “Nothing good, I’m guessing. Probably poisoned the water supply or something equally as insidious.” 

“But the Fourth Prerogative?” said Cougar through a closeup of his face looking both worried and awed. A dialogue balloon led into the next panel with the tail pointing to Panther. “We have no choice.” 

On the next tier of panels all seven faces formed a circular pattern looking into the reader’s eyes, their expressions dead serious, and maybe a little frightened. The gutter between this panel and the next was bridged by a square dialogue box leading unto a panel showing the tops of their heads, faces bent down looking into their cell phones. The dialogue box had Panther saying, “We need to synchronize and begin.” 

In the next panel, Jaguar says, “But we’ve never done this before. We don’t really know what we’ll be unleashing.”

Jack smiled as his pencil flowed from panel to panel. He still wasn’t sure what the Fourth Prerogative was, but he knew it was something fraught with danger for the Tyranny and possibly for the Unseen themselves.

 It was time for a break before finding out what this formidable weapon was. It had to have something to do with their cell phones. He knew this by instinct. 

Something in their cell phones, a powerful app against evil. 

He brought out his laptop, turned it on and went straight to his mail program. There was a slight tremor in his hands and his stomach was tight. His heart quickened when he saw the email from her.

Arial 30

Jack’s heart pounded.

Arial 31

And another few pages that Jack read eagerly, sometimes reading lines two or three times.

Arial 32

 Of course we can. He noticed that she hadn’t mentioned the time, but it was always the same, so he would see her at nine. And the man in the baseball cap wasn’t one of them. He was just a creep giving her a hard time and if he hadn’t chickened out, he would have been there to protect her from him. This time he wouldn’t run. He would stay and meet her. Finally. 

***

Argyle Street cut through an old part of the city not far from where Jack lived. In fact, the buildings and streets were much like Jack’s area: lots of trees, wide streets and older but well maintained buildings. The Argyle Coffee Shop was on the bottom floor of a four story red brick building. Like all the other buildings on the street, small shops and businesses occupied the main floor with flats and condos on the upper floors. A fenced area outside the Argyle surrounded tables and chairs but the cold air had driven the customers indoors.

Jack stood by the entrance to the patio staring into the windows of the coffee shop. The tables inside were like the ones outside—round with just enough surface area for a cup of coffee and a laptop. They lined the walls leading deep into the building. About two dozen people talked and drank coffee, almost all of them couples. Vine sat near the back, alone, her tan rain coat hanging from a coat rack on the wall by the table. Her black turtle neck sweater contrasted vividly with her bright blonde hair flowing over her shoulders. He’d never actually seen her close up but from a distance he could see that she had almond eyes, light brows and an almost pug nose. 

He looked around the street. Street lights muted the autumn colors in the trees. There were no alleys here, but most of the buildings had steps outside leading to basement apartments—perfect concealment for anyone watching him. Everything looked good. No eyes burning hatred through the gates and grates along the road. 

Tonight. I’m going to meet her tonight. I’m going to do it. Finally. 

He looked back inside the coffee shop. She was still there. 

Of course she’s still there, fool, she’s meeting you there in a few minutes. 

A black SUV turned onto the street a block away. Jack froze on the spot, watching it approach. It seemed to him that it might be going far too slowly and there was something suspicious about slow driving black SUVs. He kept his eyes trained on it as it approached. He was partly crouched, ready to spring into a run. He could make out a dark haired woman’s vignette as the SUV drove by. His heart beat returned to normal and his shoulders stooped as his breathing relaxed. 

Just a woman out for a drive. Nothing to worry about. Nothing to worry about. 

He walked up to the door and paused.

What are you doing? You only know her from emails. No. Stop it. Not tonight. What would Crosby do? Fuck Crosby. You’re going to meet her. It’s going to be OK. You love her. She’s not one of them. She loves you. It’s time.

He opened the door and stepped inside slowly, eyes darting back and forth at the people sitting along the walls, forming a wall-less hallway leading toward her. Her head was bent over. She was reading something. He walked closer, breath shortening with excitement, stomach curled into a big heavy knot.

She’s so beautiful. What does she see in you? You’re a big fat nothing. But maybe, just maybe

He was just a few feet from her table. She was still reading and hadn’t seen him. He saw what she was reading. A cell phone. 

What’s she doing with a cell phone? Who’s on the other end? She’s supposed to be with me. Who’s she texting? Them? She’s texting them?

He walked right past her table to the back of the coffee shop and into a hallway that led to the washrooms and the fire exit. He opened the door and ran. 

Crosby was right.

 

 

 

 

Episode 15: Sunday – Jackie

Episode 15

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Jackie often wondered about the other tenants in the building. In the years that she’d been living there she’d never met any of them in the halls or outside the building on the steps and it seemed strange to her. She figured that, like her, they were hermits. But she wondered what they did, what they were like, what their flats were like and if, like her, they felt completely out of touch with themselves. Maybe in this building she was surrounded by soul mates, people who would understand the hellish prison she was to herself.

Or maybe they were invalids but then there would likely be special access features in the building, like a wheelchair ramp leading up to the front door. Or maybe they were just antisocial people who hunkered in their rooms and avoided all things human. Sometimes she liked to imagine they were asleep, hibernating for a hundred years. Or a thousand.

OK, Jackie, enough of the crazy thoughts. Get back to work. You have a play to write.

The Beautiful Ugly was something she’d thought of in one of her moments of angst and today was the day to start on it. She lay in bed in her bright blue writing pajamas with her computer in her lap. Steam curled from a coffee cup on the bedside table. She loved this part of writing a play, when everything was a mystery. All she had was a bare bones idea about the shape of the play. She didn’t even have a plot. All she knew was that the play was going to be about her and she had one line from which the entire play would emerge: The ugliness of her life flowed like sewage under the tissue of her beauty.

She read the line several times.

Not bad. Pretty much sums up my life. Now, how to build a story around this? It’s about you so, what about you? What about sex?

Her fingers started to fly across the keyboard as she jotted down notes about a sex scene from her own life.

She was fourteen when she met Darren. He was handsome and muscular and a few inches taller than her. She’d always thought of herself as beautiful but the beauty turned to ugly when she looked at herself in a mirror. They’d felt an immediate attraction, something deep and primal and delicious. He seemed nervous, shy, almost looking guilty as he bent his head down and kissed her on the lips. He said, “You don’t mind?” She said, “Of course not.” He said, “You’re OK with this?” She said, “Why would I not be?” He said, “Well, it’s just that other people…” She reached up and put her arms around his neck and kissed him hard on the lips. She felt his hand go down the front of her jeans and that’s when everything turned sour. She knew there was something wrong. There was something out of place. Something wasn’t right. She stepped back from him, staring hopelessly in to his eyes and ran from the room.

That should make a good scene. How to get the mirror thing across on the stage though? That will have to be another scene. Maybe the opening scene.

She reached for her coffee mug and held it under her nose, reveling in the aroma of coffee before sipping it.

Oh my.

She was always surprised when the coffee tasted as good as it smelled. She put the cup back on the table and started writing.

SCENE 1

Opens with Kayla leaning both hands on bathroom counter in front of mirror,      staring at herself, facial expressions of disgust, discomfort, anguish, breaks into tears

KAYLA:      (still staring into mirror) Who the fuck are you? What are you?                                  (sobs) (screams) Go away! Just go away! Fuck off and go away!

And that’s it for today.

This was the way she wrote her plays: some quick notes to set the stage, which almost always suggested the first scene, write the scene and then get away from it and let her subconscious work out the rest of the story. It worked and she knew that when she came back to it, the words would flow and the play would almost write itself. She believed that the stories for all her plays were already hidden deep in her subconscious mind. They just needed a little nudging to get them out where she could see them and turn them into another play with a limited but enthusiastic audience and just enough money to scrape by.

But she was happy with that part of her life. It was the rest that made life a confusion of being. The not knowing what it was, not knowing why she wanted to crawl out of her skin every day of her life. It was there in front of her every day, but just beyond her ability to see it. Or maybe her unwillingness to see it.

She put the laptop aside and rolled out of bed.

A stroll around the park. Yes, a stroll around the park would be relaxing and get the creative juices flowing nicely.

She walked to the wall and traced a pattern onto an invisible pad that opened the door to her closet. She walked into it and considered her choices. It was a Tomboy selection: jeans, t-shirts, tank tops, sweaters, running shoes—and all of it except the shoes was black. She considered herself the ultimate Goth.

After changing into a pair of jeans, a black turtleneck sweater and orange running shoes she walked to the short hall leading to the door and sat down on a chair beside the entrance to the hall. She stared out the window, watching as the light faded into darkness and watched the darkness until it was time for bed.

(I hope you’re having a great Sunday coffee break. This brings us to the end of the second week of The Weekly Man and closer to the mystery that binds these people together in a very shocking way.

Soon.)