That comfort level you felt as a kid?
It’s back. Sarasota Memorial offers you a depth and breadth of care that no other hospital in our area can equal. HealthGrades® agrees. They think we’re one of the 50 best hospitals in the country. But it’s how our patients feel that matters most to us. And they tell us they feel better just knowing we’re here.
DISCOVER THE NEXT PHASE OF UNPARALLELED LUXURY LIVING. FALL 2012
The Concession Real Estate Company, Inc. 7700 Lindrick Lane Bradenton, FL 34202 www.theconcessionrealestate.com ����������������������������������������������������������������������������� ������������������������������������������������
EMBRACE THE EXPERIENCE
THE CONCESSION GOLF CLUB Where Golf is our Priority
The Concession, an award-winning Signature Jack Nicklaus Golf Course, designed in association ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� in dining at Bistro at The Concession, where Members have access to a variety of exceptional culinary services. To inquire about The Concession Bistro, or schedule a private tour for your special event call Membership Director, Alan Pope at: 941-322-1922 or visit: www.TheConcession.com.
COAST INFINITI 2124 Bee Ridge Road • Sarasota, FL 34239 941.924.1211 • coastinﬁniti.com
Beach Reads August 2012
Volume 55 No. 7
16 THE CONCESSION HOSTS 2012 AJGA ROLEX CHAMPIONSHIP 18 ARTIST SERIES POPS IV AT SARASOTA BAY CLUB 20 CELEBRATING A 100-YEAR LEGACY In our cover story we look back at the Toale family, marking a century of celebrating life.
By Steven J. Smith | Family photo by Rob Villetto / Villetto Photography
When pest control gets tough, an unassuming professor takes the law into his own hands. By Virgil Suarez | Illustration by Erica Gilchrist
It's a different world these days & nobody pays any attention to a little old lady on the bus. By Julieanna Blackwell | Illustration by Erica Gilchrist
36 FLY BY NIGHT
A retired Air Force pilot and his North African fisherman guide hunt for a very unusual wreck.
42 PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT
A wealthy but aging developer leaves his shopping mall kingdom in the swamps of Florida for a journey to the bright lights of Vegas. He has some bad news for his daughter - but she’s got a surprise for him too. By Jarret Keene | Illustration by Jack Quack!
48 SASSY DANCER
By Ward Larsen | Illustration by Jack Quack!
An impromptu road trip takes a slightly desperate suburban housewife out of her dull grey life and into the Technicolor of Miami Beach. By Mara C. Bell | Illustration by Jack Quack!
58 THE WATER THIEF
Life on Mars can be mysterious. And it only compounds when water disappears from a system that should be totally secure. By Ben Bova | Illustration by Jack Quack!
67 THE WEDDING BAND
A writer comes home seeking the story of a lifetime: which just may be a bit more than he bargained on. By Scott Ciencin | Illustration by Jack Quack!
74 WITH MY LOST SAINTS
In a dystopian future, two teens race against time for health — and love — by banking on what's really in a name. By Julianna Baggott | Illustration by Erica Gilchrist
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
nduring the test of time in any business is more often than not a very challenging task. Changes in peoples’ needs, new technology and other business variables make for many sleepless nights even for the brightest
entrepreneurs. So whenever we can celebrate the success of a well-respected local business that has nurtured our community for one hundred years, we should
embrace the opportunity. SCENE proudly features the story of Toale Brothers Funeral Home and Crematory – adeptly run for a century by a wonderful family whose proud heritage of service and dedication is an accomplishment to be chronicled and commended. At SCENE, we are also celebrating. As the longest-running magazine in our market soon entering its 56th year of publishing, we also continue to evolve as we proudly serve our community. Hopefully you will delight in a few visual changes in this issue. We’ve given the SCENE masthead and table of contents a more contemporary look and we’ve gone out on a limb with this issue’s editorial content. You’ll not ﬁnd our regular monthly features as you turn the pages (relax – they’ll be back next month!). With many of our social, arts and cultural events cooling off in the summer months, we’ve branched out in a different direction for your reading pleasure. This issue is themed Beach Reads. We’ve gathered seven original short stories and one stand-alone chapter by eight notable Florida authors. Two very talented Ringling College of Art + Design students designed the story illustrations. They are amazing. On behalf of SCENE’s dedicated and talented staff, we hope you like our fresh new design and enjoy our unique issue content. After you savor reading each story, the best thumbs up you can give us is to pass Beach Reads along to your family and friends for their enjoyment. See you in September!
Experience the Legend in
Time marches on, but perfection lasts forever. Enter the Jupiter 32. Based on the highly successful Jupiter 31–a ﬁshing machine that enjoyed a 12-year 1,000-vessel-plus production run and a plethora of repeat buyers–the new 32 is the culmination of both customer and dealer input. And like her predecessor, this vessel is aimed to go deep for big game. �������������������������������������������������������������������������������� ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
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LOCALLY OWNED, OPERATED & PRINTED FOR MORE THAN 55 YEARS CEO/Publisher:
Julie A. Milton
Editorial Assistant: Account Executives:
Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong Greta Carlo Wanda Martinetto
Special Issue Director:
Julianna Baggott Mara C. Bell Julieanna Blackwell Ben Bova Scott Ciencin Jarret Keene Ward Larsen Steven J. Smith Virgil Suarez
Cliff Roles Rob Villetto
Address Phone Fax Website
7269 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota, FL 34241 941-365-1119 941-954-5067 www.scenesarasota.com
SCENE Magazine publishes 12 issues a year by RJM Ventures, LLC. Address editorial, advertising and circulation correspondence to the above address. SufďŹ cient return postage and self-addressed, stamped envelope must accompany all manuscripts, art work and photographs submitted if they are to be returned or acknowledged. Publisher assumes no responsibility for care of return of unsolicited materials. Subscription price: $12.95 per year, $19.95 for two years. All contents copyrighted. Reproduction without permission is prohibited. ISSN 1535-8895.
Special Publications: Arts & Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County's Arts & Culture Guide, Doctors On The Scene, The Giving Book, Leading the Scene, Men On The Scene & Women On The Scene. 12
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scene | social THE
CONCESSION HOSTS 2012 AJGA ROLEX CHAMPIONSHIP
he top 72 juniors in the world of women’s golf were invited to compete in this summer’s American Photography by Cliff Roles
Junior Golf Association Rolex Championship held at Bradenton’s The Concession Gold Club, an awardwinning Signature Jack Nicklaus Golf Course, designed in association with Tony Jacklin. It was a ﬁeld whose talent was unquestionable: six of the girls also qualiﬁed for the 2012 US Open. Tournament winner Ariya Jutanugarn is the ﬁrst repeat champion of the Rolex event. Finishing at 18 under
Katie & Lexi McKenney, Paula Creamer & Julie Kickbush
par, this rising star of the LPGA broke her own record of 17 under during last year’s event and defended her title for another year. The second place ﬁnisher was none other than her older sister at even par. Thirty college coaches were present for recruiting including UCLA, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and reigning NCAA champion Alabama. In all, nineteen of this year’s top twenty-ﬁve programs sent scouts. Not
Mariah Stackhouse, Karen Chund, Jaye Green & Casey Danielson
to be outdone, Yale, Princeton, Michigan, Miami and more ensured that they were also represented. LPGA stars Paula Creamer, Jodi Ewart, Jessica Korda, and Brittany Lincicome were also in attendance; Creamer was the speaker at the event’s Player’s only Dinner. In a lovely local touch, Concession member Mika Liu not only qualiﬁed for the event, but did so as the youngest in the ﬁeld. Katie Tahara, Kiley Johansen, Megan Vandersee & Blaire Thompson
Karen Arimoto & Kana Nagai
Ashlan Ramsey & Shannon Aubert
Moriya Jutanagarn & Allison Lee scenesarasota.com
Pro-Legends of Golf Jim Albus • Andy Bean • Bobby Cole • Jim Dent • Allen Doyle • Dow Finsterwald • Robert Gamez • Gibby Gilbert • Jenny Gleason • Mikes Goodes • Lou Graham • Jerry Heard • Jim Holtgrieve • Tommy Horton • Sean Jacklin • Tony Jacklin • Warren Jacklin • Doug Johnson • Jim Holtgrieve • Tommy Horton • Larry Laoretti • Wayne Levi • James Mason • Jim McClean • Bob Murphy • Bobby Nichols • Lonnie Nielsen • Jay Overton • Jim Owen • Phil Parkin • Brett Quigley • Dana Quigley • Joe Rassett • Tom Shaw • Hollis Stacy • JM “Woody” Woodward • Jimmy Wright • Larry Ziegler
Pros subject to change without notice.
H A N G A T L HA
L LL A G
Charity ProAm 3 Day Event: November 1-3, 2012
The Ritz-Carlton Members Club Callaghan Tire Waste Pro The Concession Golf Club Scene Magazine Bridgestone Tire Moffitt Cancer Center Continental Tire
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• Practice – Call for tee times:
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More Than $200,000 Donated to “Golfers Against Cancer”
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scene | social
Artist Series Pops IV at Sarasota Bay Club
he beautiful Sarasota Bay Club provided Photography by Cliff Roles
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Denise de la Cal, Donna Hill, Chelsea Young & Betty Meinholz
Florence Katz & Helen Ettinger
Conny Ellison & Jenny Walder
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The story of Toale Brothers Funeral Home & Crematory is more than a chronicle of a respected Sarasota family-owned business that has endured one hundred years. It is a story of the contributions of entrepreneurs and visionaries who, through the years, have nurtured a small village and its residents through decades of tragedy and triumph to form the very foundation of the Sarasota community they continue to serve today.
CEL EBR AT ING A
100-Year Legacy TOALE BROTHERS
FUNERAL HOME & CREMATORY By Steven J. Smith | Toale Family photo by Rob Villetto / Villetto Photography
With three locations in Sarasota and Manatee counties, the funeral home is now under the watchful eye of the third generation of Toales: Jason, 33, and Jeff, 31. Although funeral homes are historically Mom-and-Pop operations that are passed down from generation to generation, Jason and Jeff say they never felt pressure to take up the mantle of the family business. “We were always given the option that, if you want to, the funeral home is here,” Jason said. “But Dad said if you want another career, go figure out what you want to do.” Jason and Jeff then sat down and discussed it, concluding they had a rare and unique opportunity — to preserve their family name and extend its indelible mark into a third generation of service. “We have a business with a good name and reputation, and a lot of history in the community that we want to see go forward,” Jason said. “Our slogan is ‘Celebrating Life,’ and that’s what we’re here to do. We serve all faiths and all types. We are the community funeral home.” The First 100 Years Established in 1912 by George Thacker, the community’s first undertaker, the business (whose main chapel is located in downtown Sarasota) was purchased in 1948 by George and Jack Toale, two Bradenton brothers. Two of George’s sons (Curt and Robert) and one of Jack’s (David) succeeded them. Robert’s sons Jason and Jeff came into the business full time about nine years ago and have assured it will
â€œOur quality service and dedication have allowed us to celebrate 100 years, which is an amazing achievement ...Itâ€™s what sets us apart and has given us our proud heritage. We look forward to serving this wonderful community for another hundred years.â€? scenesarasota.com
retain the Toale name for decades to come.
“Folks think it’s greener, more earth-friendly,” Jason said. “And
The brothers take their family heritage seriously.
it’s more convenient. A lot of people move to Sarasota as a retirement
“I think that knowing our grandfather (George Toale) has been
community. They move away from their family up north. So instead
very loving and nurturing, and our whole family has been very close,
of going through the expense and hassle of getting the whole family
it’s just carried over into the funeral business,” Jeff said. “We’ve al-
together down here, many choose to have a cremation here and send
ways tried to make a connection with the families we serve. Dad told
the ashes back up north to be buried in the family plot.”
me when I started here, ‘If you make a mistake, you have to walk down the street and look these people in the eye.’ It always resonated
Another trend the brothers have seen develop in their industry is the video tribute.
with me that we serve our neighbors.”
“We have a screen and projector as part of our funeral services,
While Toale Brothers has organized some high-profile funerals
so the family can display a PowerPoint slide show of a person’s life and
over the last century, Jason and Jeff were reluctant to talk about them,
times,” Jeff said. “It can comprise family photos from the ‘40s or a two-
out of respect for the families.
minute video of home movies that can be played during the service. I
“I will say there are more moving parts to bigger funerals, such as crowd control,” Jason said. “But that’s part of our job and we give the
think our dad was more used to moving flowers around, whereas Jason and I are more used to moving around a screen and projector!”
same attention to smaller funerals that we give to the large ones. Each and every celebration of life is as important to us as any other.” The brothers said they serve a unique sector of the American population in Sarasota, handling funerals for a wide variety of fascinating peo-
“We get the best reactions from attendees on video tributes, with people saying they really enjoyed seeing an intimate glimpse of the family,” Jason added. “It spurs more conversation between attendees and members of the family. It really celebrates the person’s life.”
ple that have contributed a great deal to our society — and our history. “You hear stories about a person who served in World War II,
“It’s therapeutic for the family, too,” Jeff said. “They all get so involved in developing the tribute. It brings them together as well.”
who stormed the beach at Normandy, or people who fought in the Pacific Theater, or captains of industry, or CEOs of major companies,”
A Delicate Balance
Jason said. “We had a gentleman who survived the Bataan death
Operating a funeral home can be demanding, because it is not
march. The stories you hear are just incredible. It’s a real history les-
a 9-to-5 kind of job. Jason confessed it can be a challenge, balancing
son. And you see the values that got these people through such trying
work and a family life.
situations instilled in the family members I sit across the table from. It’s really, really incredible.”
“This business operates 24/7/365,” Jason said. “Balancing my time between my own family and the families we serve is one of my biggest challenges.”
Keeping Up in a Changing World
The brothers are quick to credit their employees, most of whom
The size and scope of the funeral business has changed greatly
have been with the company for many years. “Our company success
over the last century, and Jason and Jeff have become students of its
would not have been possible without the years of service of our dedi-
history as well as active participants in its evolution.
cated staff,” Jeff said. “We celebrate services as a team and consider it
“You go back to when this funeral home first began, horse and
a privilege to serve the Sarasota and Manatee communities.”
buggy drawn carriages would take the casket out to the cemetery,” Jason
The brothers agree that running a business in such close quarters
said. “The funeral home also once ran an ambulance service, and at one
with death gives them a greater appreciation of life. Some situations,
time the ambulance served as the funeral coach. That was a trend that
such as the funeral of a child, can be heartbreaking. “But like a doctor or a nurse, you must be emotionally profes-
went on for years, before the formal EMS system was put in place.” Cremation has also evolved as a popular choice since the mid-
sional,” Jason said. “You have to know how to best serve the families compassionately and professionally in their darkest hour.”
1970s, the brothers said.
TOALE BROTHERS T IMELINE : A Legacy of Firsts
Sarasota’s first train arrives: The United States and West Indies Railroad and Steamship Company. The predecessor of Toale Brothers opens with founder George L. Thacker as Sarasota’s first undertaker. Catherine Toale, the first female licensed embalmer in Florida, graduates from Cincinnati School of Embalming.
1909 1912 1914
The funeral home brings Sarasota’s first hearse, also used as the community ambulance. John Ringling arrives in Sarasota.
1948 Jack and George Toale purchase Thacker and Van Gilder Funeral Home from George L. Thacker and F. W. Van Gilder. scenesarasota.com
Giving Back Helping the community makes them feel better, too, and community service has been a part of Toale Brothers Funeral Home for generations. “It started way back with our grandfather and great uncle,” Jason said. “Jack Toale was involved with the Kiwanis Club and George was involved with the Rotary. Same thing with my father and uncle. Both were involved with the Rotary here, they were active in the Shrine Club, and now Jeff and I have gotten involved in the Young Professionals Group through the Chamber of Commerce, and I also sit on the board of the Argus Foundation [which focuses on
Floyd W. VanGilder
George L. Thacker
such local issues as governance, education, environment and land planning, health and human services, and transportation].” The Toale brothers also take part in philanthropic endeavors like holiday giving to local charities such as the Sarasota/Manatee Police Athletic League, Goodwill, and the Suncoast Communities Blood Bank, to name a few. “We’ve gotten on the Sarasota/Manatee County social services rotation list for the indigent, where the family is not able to provide funds for a funeral,” Jeff said. “When we’ve been assigned, we’ve worked with each county as far as handling the burial, whether through the
George E. Toale
John P. (Jack) Toale
Sarasota National Cemetery or cremation or whatever.” Preparing for the Inevitable The brothers stressed that preplanning one’s own funeral — which they said is done by about half of their clients — is an important part of easing the stress of one’s survivors, and alleviates additional anguish of loved ones making emotional decisions that can create division in families who are already in pain. Preplanning, they said, diffuses debates or feelings of guilt as to whether the right choices have been made.
Main Street – 1917. Sarasota’s first funeral chapel. George Thacker was director & owner.
“There are two aspects to preplanning,” Jason said. “There’s the paperwork process that makes sure I’m buried here or my ashes are spread there. Then there’s the financial part, which is pre-paying for it. We guarantee the price going forward, so it’s a good value.” “The biggest benefit is that the framework is already there,” Jeff added. “The tough questions are already answered and when the time comes, it’s just a matter of putting the plan in place.” The economic downturn has affected everyone, but Jason and Jeff asserted that they cannot — and will not — take shortcuts in their business. “It’s easy for me to cut corners and outsource different aspects of our job, and cut back
First Hearse in Manatee County – 1902.
on staff,” Jason said. “I can’t do that and still provide the level of quality service to our families. We just invested in a new crematory two years ago that’s essential to our business. We felt if we had cut back on that we’d be doing a disservice to our families.” “Our quality service and dedication have allowed us to celebrate 100 years, which is an amazing achievement and one I want to see continue,” Jeff added. “It’s what sets us apart and has given us our proud heritage. We look forward to serving this wonderful community for another hundred years.”
Terri Harrison contributed to the research and writing of this story. Original Building at 40 North Orange Avenue.
The second generation of Toales – Robert, Curt and David – assume leadership of the business. Toale Brothers expands cremation services with launch of crematorium. Jason and Jeff — the third generations of Toales – implement 21st century technology including a comprehensive website and state-of-the-art projection equipment for video memorial tributes.
Toale Brothers opens additional branch locations, launches Pre-Arrangement Services and a Marker & Monument Division. scenesarasota.com
Today, Toale Brothers is one of the oldest, largest and most respected funeral homes in Florida.
Present Building at 40 North Orange Avenue.
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Diaspora constitutes a powerful descriptor for the modern condition of the contemporary poet, the spokesperson for the psyche of America. The poems in American Diaspora: Poetry of Displacement focus on the struggles and pleasures of creating a home — physical and mental — out of displacement, exile, migration, and alienation. To fully explore the concept of diaspora, the editors have broadened the scope of their deﬁnition to include not only the physical act of moving and immigration but also the spiritual and emotional dislocations that can occur — as for Emily Dickinson and other poets — even in a life spent entirely in one location. More than one hundred and thirty contemporary poets reﬂect and meditate, rage and bless, as they tell their own stories. In short, this is an anthology of American poetry that draws upon the sensitivity, tenderness, rebelliousness, patience, and spirituality that point to the future of our nation.
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Arma�illos By Virgil Suarez Illustration by Erica Gilchrist
They come through in the night.
have been a nest of them somewhere.
He hears them outside the window, nuzzling under dead
Rich knows armadillos aren’t stupid, which is why he’s de-
leaves, scratching the ground for worms, tasty morsels. They nose
clared war on them. He’s declared it on his soon-to-be-moved-in
around, dig down to the fattest grubs. Armadillos, he’s convinced,
neighbors, too. In the night, when he cannot sleep, he walks over
are not of this world, with their armor, the way their tiny ears angle
and removes nails, dismantles 2x4s with his own saw. A couple of
up like silver radar dishes.
cuts in the right places and the frame comes down. He did this a
How do they do it, find their way in the night? One min-
few nights until he realized that it was a losing battle: as much as
ute evading the heat of day in their burrows, the next scavenging
he’d like to stall the construction, the builders just keep fixing it,
lawns by starlight. Destroying them. Pock-marking them. Rooting
doing more each day. It’s inevitable.
through azaleas, prize daisies.
For weeks the sound of the house next door going up ruined
Armadillos, the great insomniacs of the animal kingdom,
his concentration. He’d gotten a new job here in Bradenton teach-
that’s why you find them flattened on country roads, squashed by
ing composition to undergraduates at a nearby little college, a go-
trucks in the middle of cool nights. Cracked armor, festering coils
nowhere job but he wanted to be closer to his mother. His father’d
of entrails and sinew. Crows love them. Hawks too. Up, sleepless,
passed away during the recovery period after colon surgery. The
hungry, then dead by the roadside.
Friday he was supposed to be discharged to go home, a massive
Rich sleeps, having stayed up for two nights – it’s their fault,
coronary laid him low.
he wants to say, that he sleeps so poorly – they wreck his lawn, his
The ICU Code Blue surgeon blamed it on a blood clot. “These
pride and joy. It’s taken him several months to get the St. Augus-
things happen,” he explained, pulling the vermillion mask from his
tine grass growing neat around the walks and flower beds.
mouth. These things do happen. Rich remembers his students’
When he bought his house, no others were going up. The re-
excuses over the years – drunken uncles killed in car crashes,
altor assured him his would be the only one here on Journey’s End,
grandmothers who tumbled down staircases, knife fights, drunken
that the lots surrounding his property wouldn’t be developed for
brawls with loaded guns, tractor-trailer explosions on the highway
at least ten years. Yet this summer, builders started on the empty
. . . these things happen.
lot next to his house. All that space available, and they chose to
Like the damn armadillos coming through and tearing up his
build another house right up against his. Construction’s what has
lawn. He wants not to think about them, or cancer, or all the crazi-
set the armadillos running. Scared the armadillos out of their bur-
ness that keeps him awake at night.
rows, all that cutting-down of trees, moving of earth. There must scenesarasota.com
He moved back to Bradenton because it was a quiet, noAugust 2012
nonsense place where he could work on his book of comparative paragraph structures in student compositions. But since he’s come back he hasn’t touched the manuscript. His father’s dying sort of settled things for him. What’s the hurry? It wasn’t like he was up for tenure. Heck, nobody really bothered much with him. He likes his invisibility in the department. It’s his habit to only show up when he needs to. He prefers to teach his classes, be good to his students, and rush back home. Other than checking up on his mother, taking her to buy groceries at the Publix, watching football games, he sits on his chair on the porch and shoots at the armadillos. There are nights when he thinks he is winning the war, but then he wakes up in the morning and finds his lawn pockmarked with more holes. During the summer nights, the insects fly up from the tall grass to the street floodlights. They flit and flash against his windows. The frogs gorge themselves on moths and mosquitoes, these green tree frogs that speck his window screens, their translucent bellies flattened against the wire mesh. He hoses bug spray onto his forearms and legs, wears his jeans and a t-shirt, brings out a six-pack cooler of Rolling Rock and drinks outside through the night. Drinks and ponders his days as a teenager. He played baseball in high school, but then he hurt his arm pitching. Afterwards, a lot of his buddies stopped calling, hanging out. Rich didn’t really date much back in those days, and in college he spent too much time at the library. Now, he’s afraid he’d violate fraternization rules, sexual harassment laws, so he leaves his door wide open during teacher-student conferences. He cringes when the young girls call him “sir” or “professor.” Not much has happened in Bradenton in the past twenty years, and not much will in the next twenty. He likes it like that. His parents loved it too; that’s why his father the office furniture salesman chose to relocate to this spot on the Gulf coast when Rich was three. They always nodded when they talked about Bradenton being the right choice. His father was a soft-spoken man who liked a good joke, and a good round of cheap golf too. Rich remembers his father shooting at the armadillos to dissuade them from rooting into his tomato garden. It’s been a long, long fight, Rich thinks while he drinks more beer and reloads. Once, Rich shot a possum because the animal startled him with its ugly snout and sharp claws right there on the porch. He simply pulled the trigger and the animal fell onto its side and stopped breathing immediately. He buried it beyond the woodpile in his backyard. That’d been many nights ago, perhaps a year or two ago. That’s also what he appreciates about Bradenton, that time passes unabashedly. He is in the right place. Rick sits scenesarasota.com
there, watching it ease from darkness to dawn, a bleaching of the night sky he loves to see.
Rich hears music again, more scanning, hesitation, and then a song he swears he recognizes but not really because it’d been
Tonight he spots a female scuttling from around a pine.
a long time since he’s listened to the radio. He enjoys television
She’s with a couple of babies, trailing not far behind. The babies
better, and only when it’s a necessity. He watches football, and
stop to sniff the air.
every once in a while a movie on HBO.
Rich takes a swig of his beer, feeling it cool his throat. Then
From where Rich sits, he can see how the driver, a young
he takes the rifle, aims at one of the babies, then changes his mind
man, rolls down his window and lights a cigarette. The illumina-
and targets the mother. Mother’ll have more babies, he thinks.
tion of his face and long, blond hair in the match’s brief flash.
He pulls the trigger. The report startles the babies. Rich re-
“That’s cool,” the young man says.
loads and aims at the bigger of the two babies, but it’s too late.
“ . . . Damn it! . . .”
They scram across the street and into the tall grass.
“Leave it, leave it.”
Rich walks over to the dead armadillo, kicks its armor, and studies the damage. Clean off. No head. He picks up the animal by the tail, carries it over to where the
The young man smokes. He takes a long puff, holds it for a long time, then exhales. Rich sees smoke plume out of the car window and rise in the light.
babies headed, and swings the mother’s corpse into the darkness.
“How you get this thing off?”
That’ll teach them, he hopes. In a few days they’ll be back, Rich
Rich makes out a young woman’s voice. It’s a bit drawn, raspy,
knows, but for now it’ll get him a few days of peace. Maybe.
of someone who’s been drinking. Slurred words, feebly chosen.
When morning comes, he surveys the yard in front and
There is quiet, then Rich observes the car moving. He imag-
around the house, throws the beer empties in the green recy-
ines some hanky panky going on. The two bodies move from the
cling bin, folds the chair and goes inside to sleep. He teaches
front seats to the back. Then come knocks and thumps.
mid-afternoon and early evening classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He is always home. He steps inside, removes his shoes and leaves them by the door, then steps on the plush carpet of the living room, places the chair behind the door, drops his father’s rifle, now his armadillo eradicator, on the couch and goes to the bedroom to sleep. Tonight an indigo 1970 Nova with the mag tires and hood
The thought of what those two are doing hardens in the back of Rich’s mind and stays there, like the gulp of warm beer he retains in his throat, feeling the suds dissipate. He swallows and makes up his mind. He rises from his chair quietly, puts the beer down and then as he takes his first step, he knocks the bottle over. He freezes. The car keeps rocking in the moonlight.
flair paint cuts its lights and drives up on the neighbor’s drive-
Rich moves from under his porch and walks toward the pine
way. Rich has been on armadillo vigil for a few hours. He’s taken
trees on his front lawn, away from the car, but comes around so
out a half dozen beers already. Despite the bug spray, the mos-
that he can see through the rear windows.
quitoes are biting and it’s hot, muggy.
As he draws closer, he feels the heat on his back. The light
He didn’t see the car come around the corner at first, but he
shines bright and for an instant he almost changes his mind. The
turns toward it when it cuts its lights and crunches up the gravel
surprise of what he thinks he is doing keeps his adrenaline up,
of the driveway next door. Luckily Rich knows he’d never be
pulsing down his legs and arms so they become tense, his back
seen because he sits in the porch with the lights off, though the
stiffens. He holds tightly to the rifle, keeping the barrel facing to-
streetlight floods the entire corner lot and part of the neighbor’s.
ward the ground.
He sees perfectly from where he lurks. The car with its dark, shiny hood and top, idles there, moonlight glinting off its slick paint. Muffled music comes from inside the Nova. It sounds like “Brass in Pocket” by The Pretenders, or some other 80s band. In high school he’d had a buddy with a Chevy Nova like this, only a lot less nice. They cruised up and down the main drag, still too young to sneak into the bars, and besides the college girls made fun of them because they were still a couple of dumb teenagers who looked it. The driver shuts the engine off and soon enough its sound is replaced by those of the night. Crickets, frogs, insects tick against things.
thinks. Having sex in a car parked in his neighbor’s drive. As he moves in closer, he sees them, a young man and a young woman, in the back seat, white flesh flashing in the moonlight, between light and shadow. Rich hears them. A belt buckle hitting something. Ashtray? Rich can almost feel their breathing, the boy’s voice so low in the girl’s ear: “Oh, man, oh, man . . .” Something elastic snaps against flesh, and then everything stops. All sound ceases inside the car. Rich leans in as much as he can to get a closer look, but he can’t see more than a bulk leaned over: t wo bodies close together. She mutters something Rich can’t make out. What did she say?
Someone inside changes the stations.
What does he think they are doing, those two? Having sex, he
A frog starts to croak near the car and Rich doesn’t hear it. scenesarasota.com
What he does hear is the sound of his own heart pounding deep inside his chest. He
stands still, but continues to look inside the car. Now he hears a buckle being unclasped, and the car begins to rock again. Rich brings the rifle up and holds it in both hands as he tilts closer toward the back window, close enough to see his own reflection in the glass. “Amazing,” the young man says, then he slides his partner onto her back and crawls on top of her. Now the car sways, and Rich can’t look away. The girl’s white legs are up, the bottoms of her feet hitting the ceiling.
Then there’s a scratching, a rustling, that same sound that’s been haunting his dreams, the same sound that’s been in his woodpile, his yard, his house, his mind.
aims the gun at the bodies tangled in the
back seat of the 1970 Nova. He places his
Rich recoils, takes a step back and
finger on the trigger. What drives people to behave like animals? he thinks. They’re
no better than insects, than rodents, than armadillos. Not these two. He feels the trigger move beneath his finger. A man draws a line somewhere. This is his house, his property. This is the place where he just wants a little peace. Who would believe this? he thinks. A grown man peeping on a couple of punks screwing in a car in the middle of the night? Rich just wants to stand his ground, but he’s shaken by what he cannot control.
Virgil Suarez was born in Havana, Cuba in 1962. Since 1972 he has lived in the United States as a naturalized citizen. He is the author of several works of fiction, has edited several anthologies, and is the author of eight collections of poetry, most recently 90 Miles: Selected and New Poems, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. He lives and works in Florida, making Key Biscayne his home. When he is not writing, he is riding his motorcycle up and down the Blue Highways of the United States. scenesarasota.com
Ella By Julieanna Blackwell Illustration by Erica Gilchrist
She stood at the corner. She was going to visit her friend. Old.
grinned at him as she reached into her pocket for her Senior Citizen
She never wavered or paced, nor did she fidget back and forth.
Discount Card and some loose change. Her expression changed to
Solid, she stood on the sidewalk along a slim lawn that separated
one of slight concern and she hesitated from putting the coins into
her from the busy street — waiting for the bus.
the fare box. Instead, she squeezed herself to the side to allow
Her name was Ella.
room for the others to board.
She wore a pastel tweed coat. She and the coat were a cut
The young man dropped a token into the slot and found a seat in
from decades long past. She, not the coat, had shrunk in size. The
the front of the bus. The Spanish woman paid her fare with a card and
fluffy green strands from her lambswool knit hat were the only
headed to the back, never lifting her eyes from the comic book.
parts of her affected by the breeze. Pastel eye shadow flaked under
At the very instant the doors closed, the bus hissed with a jolt of
her eyebrows and her red rouge had collected in the creases of her
acceleration. The driver must have been running late. Ella wrapped
cheeks. Her face held an expression of experienced waiting.
her arm around a pole and spread her legs apart to assure herself
That was Ella.
a steady stance. Holding her palm open, she counted her money,
It was midday. She only took the bus after the rush — fewer
touching each coin with the tip of her white gloved index finger.
people. Soon a young man in a faded jacket, possibly out of work, joined her. Then a short Spanish woman leaned against a parked car as she was reading a Spanish comic book. Ella didn’t move an inch. She knew exactly where the bus would stop — right at her feet.
“It seems I’m short,” she said to the driver. The driver didn’t answer, swerving the bus around a pothole. His expression was one of experienced toleration. She pulled a glove off. “I seem to be a quarter short. I don’t
And so it did. The bus roared up and its doors opened before her
understand. I know I had it. I counted my money before I left the
as the hydraulic mechanics lowered the stairs to her level. She raised
house. I always carry exact change.” She slowly searched through
an arm, then a leg, pulling herself up to the first step. The young man
one coat pocket. “I always have my fare ready with my senior
stood behind her. The Spanish woman waited at the back of the line.
card.” She dug into a second pocket. “Oh, this is so embarrassing.
When both her legs were on the first step, Ella extended her arms up
I must have lost a quarter somewhere.”
the railings and steadily placed her left foot onto the next step. “I’m right behind you, don’t worry,” the young man said. The Spanish woman huffed. Ella boarded the bus, as she would have, with or without help She noted she never had this particular driver before. She SCENE
eyebrow to those riding on the bus. “Oh dear, all I have is a five dollar bill.” She looked at her fellow passengers. No one seemed to notice
An old beaded coin purse appeared from her pocket. Like a prop, she unzipped it. Looking through its contents, she raised an
her, or her situation. Two boys horsed around in the back. The scenesarasota.com
Spanish woman’s lips moved along with the comic. A fat construction worker snored, his head suspended within the motion of the
over the years, I should ride for free.” “Either pay or get off my bus.”
bus. A pretty young lady read the newspaper. A heavyset woman,
“There you go — there you have it. One can never depend
with gold teeth, stared out the window. So did the unemployed
on the kindness of others,” she fumed. “Look at a bus full of pas-
young man. Indeed, her survey confirmed that no one cared about
sengers and no one has change for a little old lady. Except for these
the little old lady in the front of the bus.
two nice young people, at least they tried.” Ella motioned to the
“Maybe someone has change?” She flashed a sweet smile to the possible solution.
pair. They in turn smiled at each other. She felt they made a handsome couple — too bad he was out of work.
By this time, the bus had reached the next stop. The doors
“What’s it gonna be, lady?” The driver stopped the bus at a
opened and two schoolgirls lumbered up the steps. Still straddled
stop sign and turned in his seat. “Either put that bill in the fare box
around the pole, Ella squeezed herself to the side, again, to make
or get off my bus.”
room. “Excuse me?” she asked. “Do either of you two have change for a five dollar bill?” “Sorry, ma’am,” the girls shouted, running to the boys in the back of the bus. The driver sighed as he steered the bus out into the street. “I’m sorry, do you, ma’am?” Ella asked the heavyset woman. “Do you happen to have change?” “No, no, no,” the heavyset woman repeated, shaking her head. Maybe she didn’t speak English.
“What!” Ella gasped. “The whole five dollars? And pay the city extra for nothing? You’ve already taken me four blocks from my house.” Ella shook her head. “Let me off here!” “Fine,” the driver snapped. The hydraulics hissed, as the doors swung open right where another old woman happened to be standing — waiting for the bus. “What a rotten world, when no one finds it in their heart to help an old woman. And you,” Ella said to the driver, “I hope you find yourself old and feeble some day. Then we’ll see. A city pen-
As the bus rocked, Ella moved along the aisle. She passed
sion won’t be enough.” With the driver behind her, Ella’s expression
the sleeping construction worker and approached the pretty young
shifted to one of satisfaction. She made her exit off the bus, step by
lady. “Excuse me? Would you happen to have change for a five?”
step, down each stair — slowly.
The young lady did something unexpected; she pulled out a huge handbag from between her legs. “Hmm, let me see.” “Maybe,” Ella stated, looking hopeful as she quickly glanced out the window checking on how far the bus had taken her. The young lady stopped short from opening her bag and sighed. “No, I don’t. I just did laundry the other day, and, I’m sorry, I don’t.” Ella slowly turned her head and glanced over to the young man. “Do you have change?” she asked him. “Oh, I wish I did. I have no cash on me at all, not even a token.” He shrugged. “Oh dear,” she sighed. Ella was right — he was out of work. “Maybe the bus driver will let you ride with only the amount you have,” the young man suggested. “What, you’re just a quarter short?” Ella’s expression changed with an amused eyebrow and she moved back towards the fare box. The driver cleared his throat. “Exact change, lady.” He sniffed. “I’m only a quarter short,” Ella pointed out. The bus listed through an intersection causing everyone’s
The driver hesitated from closing the doors, waiting for the other old woman to board. She didn’t move. She just stood there — with Ella. “Well, what about you?” the driver yelled. The other old woman pursed her lips. “I don’t want to board your bus. I’m waiting for someone.” The doors slammed. The bus drove off. Ella folded the bill into her coin purse, zipped it shut and slipped it back into her pocket along with the loose change, one white glove and her Senior Citizen Discount Card. “Hello, Ella,” the other old woman said. “Hello, Agnes.” The two old women coupled arms and started walking. “Ella, what was that all about?” Agnes asked, looking back to the bus. “Don’t tell me you’re still pulling that ‘Little Old Lady Short on the Bus Fare’ scam, are you?” “Why should I pay full fare to go four blocks? Marvin, God rest his soul, always said we pay too much in taxes.” “But Ella, what if someone gives you the change?”
heads to sway. “You know the rules; exact change.” The driver placed his hand over the fare box. “What has this world come to? An old woman rides the bus every day and once she is a quarter short. Now, the city can’t sur-
“Never,” Ella said, shaking her head. “When has anyone ever given someone else change on the bus?” The two old women turned and walked into a courtyard building — slowly.
vive without my twenty-five cents?” Ella asked. The young lady said, “Just let her ride.” “Really, let the old gal pass,” the young man added. “Why thank you, but I can fight my own battles.” Ella turned and leaned in close to the driver’s ear, pointed her crooked finger and said, “I think after the amount of taxes I’ve paid to this city
Julieanna Blackwell is an author of short stories and the humorous column, Skipping Down the Slippery Side of the Slope, which appeared in the Naples Daily News. Julieanna grew up riding the CTA buses in the city of Chicago. She lives in Bradenton with her husband and daughter. scenesarasota.com
The newest thriller from Ward Larsen...
Available online and in bookstores!
Jammer Davis, a retired U.S. Air Force pilot, has been sent to Sudan to investigate the crash of a top secret CIA drone. Learning that an aircraft of some kind has gone down near a small fishing village
on the Red Sea, he must try to locate the wreckage. But he has nothing to work with, and his only help is an Italian doctor, Regina Antonelli.
By Ward Larsen Illustration by Jack Quack!
Davis and Antonelli found their man pulling his boat onto the
“He’ll think you want to go fishing.”
beach for the night. He looked like a fisherman, a North African
“Tell him I need to find something in the water.”
version of Hemingway’s old man. He might have been fifty years
Antonelli said it in Arabic. The old man listened, replied with
old, might have been a hundred. His skin was wrinkled leather,
somewhere between black and brown, cured by a lifetime of
“He wants to know what you’re looking for.”
saltwater and sun. The close-cropped gray hair was thin, and his
“Okay, tell him.”
black eyes were set deep behind clouded sclera, as if they had
Antonelli did, and the old man looked at him quizzically,
their very own measure of protection against the elements. His
probably trying to wrap his mind around the idea of using a boat
hands were scarred like any fisherman’s, having been pierced by
to find a sunken airplane.
hooks and fish spines, calloused from casting hand lines, hauling anchor ropes, pulling oars. When Davis and Antonelli walked up, the man stopped his shoving and stared at them. There wasn’t any anticipation or annoyance. Maybe curiosity. Two westerners walking onto his spit
Davis said, “I want to hire him and his boat for a day. Ask him how much.” She did, and got two words from the old man this time. It was probably the longest conversation he’d had in a month. Antonelli relayed his answer. “How much do you have?”
of beach, clearly with something on their minds. That couldn’t
Davis took out his wallet and turned it upside down over
happen often in Al-Asmat. Probably hadn’t happened to this guy
the weathered wooden seat in the boat. A small pile of twenties
in all his years. Fifty or a hundred. Davis considered helping him
and some other odd denominations fell out. Two hundred bucks,
pull his boat a few feet higher onto the beach, but decided against
maybe a little more.
it. A guy who spent his life alone on the sea might take that the wrong way.
something now, and Davis recognized it as khat, the herb that was
Antonelli looked at Davis and said, “What do you want me to ask him?” SCENE
wildly popular in this part of the world as a mild stimulant. “He wants to know how you will find this airplane in the
“Just tell him I’d like to hire him.”
The old man nodded, then spoke again. He was chewing
ocean,” Antonelli relayed. scenesarasota.com
Davis took out the scribbled coordinates he’d taken from Larry Green and showed them to the old man. The old man shook his head. Spoke again. “He says the ocean is very big, very deep. How will you find it?” It was a valid question. Davis had done marine investigations before. He was practically an expert. To find submerged wreckage you wanted magnetometers and side scan sonar. You used ships that had navigation computers coupled to autopilots so that search patterns got corrected for wind and drift. Everything tight and precise. Davis had none of that. He told Antonelli his plan. She told the old man. He, in turn, looked quizzically at Davis. A smile creased his mahogany face and his clouded eyes sparkled. Sometimes you didn’t need to know a person’s language to understand exactly what was on their mind. Certain expressions were universal. This I gotta see. That’s what the old man was thinking. Which, Davis decided, meant that his answer was yes. * * * Davis woke to a chamber of commerce morning, or what would have been if Al-Asmat had a chamber of commerce.
He found breakfast — a chunk of bread, some dates, and a small pot of coffee — on
a tray near the door. There was also a pair of old shorts, folded once, and a tattered old T-shirt, XXL. On top of it all was a note
We Protect What’s Important To You Because You’re What’s Important To Us!
written in a loopy cursive: Same restaurant, same time. See you there. Contessa. Davis held up the shorts. They were full of holes. Moths, bullets. No way to tell. They looked like a tight fit, but for
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what he had in mind that might be a good thing. He went to work on breakfast. The bread was stale, the dates fresh. He ate it all. The coffee was magnificent, not because it was any kind of fancy brew, but because he hadn’t expected any at all. When he stepped outside the sun was already up. Seven o’clock, maybe seven scenesarasota.com
thirty. He doubted precision timekeeping was a priority here. The air was still and dry, which seemed at odds with being adjacent to the sea. The temperature differential between the two should have manufactured some kind of air movement. There should have been alternating onshore and offshore breezes, cycling with day and night. There was nothing. Davis looked for a path that led to the water, and quickly discovered that all paths led to the water. He supposed that was how it worked in a fishing village. The old man was there at his boat, coiling a line, and when he saw Davis coming he smiled a smile that put two rows of yellow, broken teeth on display. Davis stopped right in front of him, and said, “Good morning.” The old man nodded blankly. It struck Davis right then how hard this was going to be. He didn’t speak a word of Arabic. His skipper probably knew “fish” and “dollar.” Maybe, “Down with America” or, “I am not a pirate.” That was the
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best he could hope for. So they’d have to do everything by pantomime. Pointing and nodding and waving off mistakes. The old man finished coiling his rope. It was at least a hundred feet long, and he held up one end to show Davis the modification he’d been working on. The old guy had clearly put some thought into their mission, and Davis recognized it as just what he needed. He nodded approvingly, and thought, Okay, maybe this little expedition will work out after all. The boat was beached amid an outcropping of rock that was etched with tide pools. Around the freeform ponds, smooth shelves of stone were covered by gray lichens and green algae, and barnacle-like shells clung for their lives as an easy morning surf sputtered over everything again
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and again. Davis looked over the boat for the first time in the light of day. It was no more than twenty feet long, but the short waterline was compensated for with thick, tall gunnels. At the back, screwed onto the blunt transom, was a Yamaha outboard so scenesarasota.com
small it seemed comical. Davis eyed the gas tanks. There were two, both pretty good sized. Davis pointed to the gas supply and stretched out his arms to suggest size, adding an inquisitive face. Do we have a lot? The old man pointed to the sun, then arced his arm all the way across the sky until it landed on the western horizon. That will last all day. Okay, Davis thought, so far so good. He saw a chart on the seat, an old nautical
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print that covered the local waters, everything within fifty miles of the village. That was probably the old man’s limit, as far as he would take the little boat, which was fine with Davis because the area he wanted to search was well inside. The chart had two dozen X’s scribbled randomly across the reefs, which made it look like a pirate’s treasure map. More likely his hot fishing
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holes. Or maybe his father’s — the chart was dated in one corner. 1954. Is anything in this country new? Davis wondered. The depths on the chart were listed in fathoms, and Davis decided that at least those measurements couldn’t have changed much in the last sixty years. The old man watched Davis use a finger to roughly sketch the area they’d need to search. It was near something called Shark Reef. Davis sighed. The depth went from two fathoms — twelve feet — to over a hundred, the outer reef giving way to a blue-water abyss. That being the case,
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they were going to need some luck to find anything. If the wreckage had gone over the precipice, it would never see the light of day again. Davis reached for the mask and snorkel. He’d seen it last night, tucked under the wooden bench. He put the mask to his face,
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and it seemed to fit. The snorkel was like any other — not much could go wrong there. The old man was clearly done with the preliminaries, because he went to the
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bow and started pushing the boat to sea. Davis went alongside, got a good grip, and things went faster. The boat looked smaller once it was in the water. It began moving on waves that barely registered to
the eye. The old man held out a hand, inviting his lone passenger
any in the village. He was sure the old man had never heard the
to climb aboard.
term SPF in his life.
Davis stepped off of Africa and onto the boat. The old man
“Listen,” he said to get the old man’s attention. “We need a search
gave one last push seaward, and flipped himself over the rail
pattern.” Davis made chopping motions on the bench seat at even in-
with a lot more grace than Davis had managed. There was no
tervals, then traced an interlacing pattern with his index finger.
Coast Guard safety briefing about life jackets or fire extinguishers
The old man said it again. “Gamun.” He showed Davis the
or emergency whistles. The skipper just went to the motor and
receiver, showed him a base waypoint, and then hit a button la-
squeezed a bulb in the fuel line. He grabbed a pull-cord at the top
of the little Yamaha and gave a good tug. Nothing happened.
Davis raised his palms. “Okay, okay.”
Davis didn’t say a word. Wouldn’t have even if he could speak
He should have known better. You couldn’t live your life on
the skipper’s language. After five unproductive pulls, the old man
the sea and not, at some point, drop something valuable overboard.
pulled off the cowling and started fidgeting with a wire. Davis was
A good lobster pot, a fishing pole, a valuable anchor. Sooner or
not instilled with confidence. He looked at the other fishing boats
later something went over and you had to get it back. So the old
along the beach. There were seven, and of those, only three even
man would know all about marking a point and running a search a
had motors, the rest relying on canvas and wind. None looked
pattern around it. Essential stuff, with or without Mr. Gamun. The
more promising. The old man kept busy, but his hands were never
old man took the long rope and secured one end to the transom,
impatient or agitated. They were careful, almost respectful. Davis
then showed the other end to Davis. He had fashioned a handle
realized that this motorized contraption, made in a factory ten
out of what looked like a broom handle. Now it looked like a rope
thousand miles away, was to the old man what a camel had been
for water skiing. Only Davis didn’t have any skis.
to his grandfather — a temperamental thing that had to be coaxed
The seas were still light and the tiny boat rocked gently. Back
into the right behavior. A vital part of his livelihood. With the
on the beach it had almost seemed like a reprieve; a day on the
cowling off, he gave another pull and the motor coughed. Two
water where he wouldn’t have to face jungle ambushes or break
tries later it began to run. The old man dropped the cowling back
up well-armed poker games. But now this little cruise seemed less
into place and secured it, then pointed the boat north.
appealing. Davis was about to get dragged through the sea for
The seas were gentle, lapping at the bow in a soft rhythm.
hours on end. He was going to have waves slapping him in the
Davis watched the old man look up at the sky, then back at the
face, saltwater pouring down his snorkel, the sun beating hard on
village. He was probably taking bearings from landmarks, Davis
his back. Altogether, it put a serious damper on his yo-ho-ho.
reckoned, using a process of navigation that had been handed
Davis turned back to business. He touched the outboard’s
down by his father and grandfather. He half expected the skipper
throttle, then gave a big thumbs up. “Up means faster.” He
to pull out a sextant or a compass.
made a big zooming noise and pointed to the engine. “Thumbs
Davis reached down and offered up the chart, stuck his finger on Shark Reef. “Map?” he suggested. The old man wagged a finger at him. “Gamun,” he said con-
down, slower.” The old man nodded like he got it. Davis considered more signals, but then thought, Screw it. It’s time to get wet. The old man heaved the rope overboard and put
fidently. “Gamun?” Davis repeated, wondering if he was about to be guided to sea by the whims of some mythical nautical god. The skipper reached into his pocket and pulled out a handheld GPS receiver. Made by Garmin. He smiled broadly. “Gamun.” The old man gave the throttle a turn, and the little boat pushed quicker through the sea.
the idling motor into gear. Davis sat on the gunnel, and the boat tilted to starboard. He back-rolled into gin-clear water, swam to the rope and let it feed through his hand until the handle came to him. Davis grabbed on and waited for the slack to play out. When it did, he raised one hand out of the water and gave a thumbs up. With a jerk on the handle, they started moving.
* * * They reached the search area two hours later. The old man pointed to Gamun, and then down into the water.
To find out what happens next, check out the novel Fly By Night (Oceanview Publishing, 2011).
Davis could still see the coastline to the southwest, a strip of brown to split the variant blues of water and sky. In the distance a big freighter was plowing west toward the Suez Canal. It seemed motionless, a great rust-red slab, the only indication of headway a crease of white spray at the bow. Davis pulled off his T-shirt. The sun was hammering down, already searing into his back and neck. He hadn’t brought any sunscreen, hadn’t thought to ask for scenesarasota.com
Ward Larsen is a two-time winner of the Florida Book Award. His debut novel, The Perfect Assassin, is being developed as a major motion picture by Amber Entertainment. A former Air Force fighter pilot, he has served as a federal law enforcement officer, and is also a trained aircraft accident investigator. Currently a captain for a major airline, he resides in Sarasota. August 2012
From What I Want By Jarret Keene Illustration by Jack Quack!
Lionel Blatt returned his seatback and tray table to their upright
an abandoned theme park in Silver Springs. Kids with disabilities
and locked positions. Having napped during the flight, he worried
learned to canoe, burn marshmallows and enjoy the cypress-treed
he might have drooled or snored. But his lips were parched and
wilderness. His wife ran the whole shebang and did a remarkable
the chubby schoolteacher next to him was engrossed in her Kindle
job, though Blatt worried she might be sleeping with a chiseled
novel, A Game of Thrones. Blatt’s wife had long wished him to en-
counselor her own age (thirty-six, though she had wrinkled and
dure a somnoplasty. He was sixty years old, though. If he were to
weight-gained considerably since their marriage four years ago).
go under the knife, he believed it should be for a serious ailment.
The foundation made him feel good. He suspected his daughter
Shelby loved him more for it. When their political debates grew
He yawned, rubbed his eyes and considered what to buy his
heated, she always returned to the matter of his legacy. Shelby
daughter, a women’s studies professor at, of all places, the Univer-
insisted it would ultimately define him. She encouraged his philan-
sity of Nevada in Las Vegas.
thropy. He was grateful for her attention.
“Priestess in a whorehouse,” he’d joked with golf buddies.
Her gift, though. Shelby routinely brought up the organic su-
They chuckled. One jerk, though, a Subway-franchise tycoon,
permarket chain Whole Foods — how she loved it despite it being
launched into a Limbaugh-derivative mini-rant about how he
expensive. Well, he’d buy her a gift card. Cards were tacky, but he’d
shouldn’t have to pay taxes for loose feminazi college girls’ free
given up trying to impress her. He was still hurt by her decision years
birth control. Blatt remained unsure of the connection between
ago to become a vegetarian the week he’d sent her a box of Omaha
that particular concern and his daughter. Although a Republican,
Steaks. She could have acknowledged her timing was poor. Heck,
Blatt didn’t care for social issues. A war-film buff, he looked to his
just say thank you and spare his feelings. He was getting older, more
personal icon, Clint Eastwood, for guidance. He even flirted with
sensitive. He wished to cling to his illusions until the moment God
the idea of getting a tattoo while in Vegas: WWCD.
called him into the Great Retail Space in the Sky.
Blatt was a mall developer. His mid-sized projects dotted the
“Convention?” the schoolteacher said, jarring Blatt from his
Florida swamps, from Oldsmar all the way to Titusville. But the bulk
celestial thoughts. She put away her electronic reading device as
of his recent fortune came from flipping a few key parcels around
the plane began its descent.
Orlando, where the Seminole Tribe and the Hard Rock Cafe had, as a business journal observed, “bought before they thought.”
“No,” he said hoarsely, then cleared his throat. “My daughter lives here.”
These days he directed a significant percentage of his wealth
“Work in a casino?” Something about the woman’s unstinting
toward his nonprofit. The Blatt Foundation managed a ranch near
corporeality embodied all those bighearted Democratic ideals he
hated. Her lax figure reminded him of the many hourly-wage work-
Blatt shook his head. “All show-ed out.”
ers he’d hired and fired over the years. Well, she was exactly what
This fleeting encounter needled his conscience. He’d recently
he deserved for flying coach these days.
sold the Ocala lakeside property to timeshare developers, friends
“She’s a teacher, actually. At the college.”
of his. Shelby had wanted his cabin that sat near the water since
“You must be proud.”
she was a little girl. The offer was too good. He didn’t need the
money, a difficult fact to circumvent. But he could do so many
What he felt compelled to tell Shelby this weekend would strain
things with the money, like sink it into a Lakeland stadium proj-
their already tenuous relationship. His confession might be a legacy-
ect sure to generate, well, millions more. She’d made him promise
tarnisher. As penance, maybe he’d promise to give her his Ritz-Carl-
years ago, before grad school even, not to sell. She mentioned the
ton club membership in Aspen. As punishment, maybe she’d throw
cabin last time he visited six months ago.
wine in his face. Selling off a girl’s lifelong dream of having a cabin in the woods came with its own unique set of consequences. * * *
He’d broken his word. Consequences. The walk back to Bellagio wore him down. He took a shower, put on a fresh Tiger Woods golf shirt, Greg Norman plaid shorts
Blatt didn’t like that his daughter taught until 6 p.m. — espe-
and chewed-up Sperry docksiders. He called the VIP host to fetch a
cially as that now left him with several hours to fill. It was still tech-
Whole Foods card and went downstairs to play high-limit blackjack.
nically morning, so Blatt took a cab from Bellagio to Celebrity Cars
He quickly drank a martini and began to regret skipping lunch.
at the Palazzo. He was in the mood to eyeball luxury machines
A few hands in, someone tapped his shoulder.
that resembled dessert. He immediately gravitated toward “The
“Hey, I thought you were here to see your daughter.” It was
Blown Grape,” a 1939 Studebaker custom low-rider with a 570horsepower V8. It sat, glazed in deep-spectrum violet, between an interior cocktail bar and sunlit patio tables. The car was so alluring
the schoolteacher from the plane. “She still on campus?” He stood up from his stool and smiled. “She should be wrapping up now.”
he wanted to sink his teeth into it. The price tag was $60,000. He
Awkward silence hung between them. She appeared to be
could buy it and drive back to Boca Raton. Instead he sat at a table
alone and was saying something to the effect of “Well, have a won-
with an umbrella, ordered a vodka martini and studied the tight
derful time, nice to see you again,” and was about to turn away,
tushes of young ladies.
when he offered her a seat. She took it – to the relief of the room’s
In the shade he peered into his iPhone. Shelby had just Facebook-posted an image of a work by conceptual artist Jenny Holzer. It was a message that appeared on the LED marquee of Caesars Palace in 1987: PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT. Blatt smiled. An artist could never get away with that now. Ve-
employees, who sought to preserve an aura of privilege. “I only play video BJ.” She seemed to excuse herself from the game, indicating she would watch. “Nope,” he said, impulsively taking a stack of thousand-dollar chips from his pile and placing it in front of her.
gas hotels today were too safe, sanitized, overly corporate, worried
He drank another martini. The schoolteacher — her name was
about brand standards. Blatt never considered his brand. He sim-
Mary — began to clean his, and the dealer’s, clock. It wasn’t long
ply built places where people could spend money and enjoy them-
before she accumulated an impressive display of badly arranged
selves. What was wrong with that? According to Shelby, plenty,
chips. Between hands, they chatted about work. She had taught
but she’d always been a half-assed socialist, arguing on behalf of
music for 30 years. She was getting ready to retire, but found her-
alligator nests, manatee populations, Native American land rights.
self coming to Vegas more often. Which meant she should keep
She failed to see the superficiality of her ideas, and that, without
her job, she joked.
gold, man was just another stupid, confused beast.
For his part, Blatt disclosed his mall projects, not wanting to
Oddly enough, outside the image-anxious casinos, the Strip
get too technical. Work bored him. He asked about her personal
was devolving into a sideshow. Card-slapping immigrants pro-
life, to which she replied: divorced, son in the Army, cats. It was
moted escorts. Insane skid-rowers in dirty superhero costumes
more than a little sad, the loneliness palpable, but Blatt admired
charged tourists to have photos taken with them. T-shirted yahoos
that plump old Mary had enough pluck to fly to Vegas by herself.
carried plastic footballs of beer. When the mob ran Vegas, life was
“How’s A Game of Thrones anyway?”
better, it could be argued. In the olden days, confrontational art
“Terrific. The HBO series is amazing.”
emblazoned the signage, cops evicted creeps and people wore
“Yeah, well, hobbits are pretty neat, I imagine.”
suits at blackjack tables.
She said nothing, and Blatt suspected he’d confused the book
After finishing his drink, Blatt walked out onto the Strip and glanced at the Caesars Palace marquee. Cher was back. His wife would love to see that. Too bad. Next time. “Free show?” said a timeshare salesman in a white shirt and bowtie.
with Lord of the Rings. Blatt would have let her rape the table, but Shelby texted “Here,” meaning she was seated at their six o’clock reservation at Prime steakhouse. God, time had flown. scenesarasota.com
He gently advised Mary to cash out. “You’re right,” she said, embarrassed at having enjoyed herself. “I should go.” She began pushing chips toward him.
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“Again, nope.” He snapped his fingers
Estate Agents “Best In Client
at the manager. It was out of character, but
Satisfaction” – 4 Years
since he was buzzed he forgave himself. The chips were brought over to the high-
2010 Florida Realtor Honor
limit cage. Blatt walked over then returned,
Society – 4 Years
pushing a wad of bills into Mary’s hand. Her expression fell. “I can’t take this.”
2010 Director, Sarasota
“You’re going to buy me one more
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drink and then dinner,” he said. Mary didn’t seem to notice or care that his words
2009 Women’s Council of
Realtors (WCR) Sarasota
“Excuse me, sir,” said the host, extending a yellow Hallmark envelope with the name Shelby handwritten on it. Yikes, the gift card! He’d almost forgot. Appreciative, Blatt tipped him a hundred-dollar
“Business Woman of the Year”
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bill. Absurd. Mary couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow. “Sure you need a drink?” “Positive.”
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At the center bar she paid for two Gibsons. They clumsily toasted. “Onions,” he snorted. “In a martini. Wow.” “You don’t like it?” He shrugged, then gulped down the whole thing. “Love it.” “Um,” she said. “You just ate an onion.” “Apparently. C’mon, let’s meet my daughter for dinner.” “Oh no.” He looped his arm around hers and took a strange step, docksider sliding off his foot. He tried to crab-claw the shoe with his bare toes into a slip-on position. “You’re drunk,” said Mary, unamused. “Hardly. My foot lost weight.” He screwed up his features into what felt like an expression of sobriety. It must have allayed her worry because she was walking with him again. She laughed. They began to sing Santana’s “Smooth.” After turning a few corners, they were
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at Prime. From the maitre d’, Blatt could see Shelby seated at a four-top, face illuminated by her iPhone. Another woman he scenesarasota.com
www.FreedomBoatClub.com August 2012
didn’t recognize was seated, too, also checking messages. He and Shelby had each brought secret, unknown guests to dinner. Fine. It
Everyone became very quiet, very still. A waiter suddenly appeared, filled glasses with ice-clanking water and disappeared. “Seeing her how?” said Blatt, feeling instantly sorry.
was that kind of evening. As they approached the table, Blatt pulled Mary close, which, naturally, caused her to push away. It was a comical arrival. He
Unimpressed, Anita sat back in her seat and inspected his eyes. “The way anyone would want to have his daughter seen.” “You’re looking at me weird, Ms. Anita,” he said. “I don’t like it much.”
sniffed a bit of butch on the mystery gal. “Better late,” said Shelby just as Blatt got within earshot.
“Let me guess, you’ll both have the fish.” It came out ruder,
“You’ve had three boyfriends I know of,” he said to Shelby.
cruder than he intended. He felt his face go hot and struggled to
“What’s going on?” “Dad.”
keep from belching. Shelby shot Mary a look of utter dismay and exhaled deeply.
“Shelby,” he said. “Lionel,” said Mary. “I should really go.”
“Dad? You OK?”
“The wine list, Mr. Blatt,” said the waiter, laying down a thick
“I’m great! Shelby, this is Mary. Mary, Shelby.” Mary extended her hand. “Such a pleasure. I hear you’re a professor!” “I am. And who are you — or, what might you do, I should say.” The implication was, of course, that Shelby suspected Mary was a hooker.
leather binder. Blatt put his hands on the table and studied them for a moment. His fingers were fat, ugly. He’d used them to build, well,
“Er, music teacher,” said Mary, grinning without showing
nothing. But with a good brain for numbers he’d constructed vast
teeth. “Met your father on the plane from Tampa.” She glanced at
architectures of dumb, credit-charging pleasure. Here in Las Ve-
her thin silver watch. “You know, I prob—”
gas they’d clearly mastered the art of erecting delightful buildings.
“Stay,” Blatt insisted, touching her arm. “Shelby, I haven’t met your friend either.”
Problem was, no one walking these casino floors knew the first thing about self-control. They wouldn’t know discipline if it squat-
“Oh,” said Shelby. She looked nervously at the woman next to her,
ted in their grubby mitts. His own fingers were deformed sausages,
then cast her gaze down at the table. The woman was darker-complex-
the digits of a million other mindless brutes assembling edifices to
ioned than Shelby, Blatt noticed. Displayed poor posture, too.
the god of money. The hearts of such primitives were sealed, he
“Anita,” said the woman finally. She rested her thick arms on the table and leaned forward, as if to share a clandestine football play. “I suppose you already know that I’m seeing your daughter.”
realized. They beat drum-like for war, not love. Who could blame women for seeking other women? His iPhone made a sound, indicating a text from his lawyer. He
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scanned it to see that his wife — his lovely young wife who ran the foundation that bore his name — had filed for divorce. The counselor, no doubt. Fiat youth had defeated sound money. The room started to spin. He stood up anyway. The lights dimmed off and on. Before he could pass out, he sat down and dumped a glass of iced water on his face. That felt better. He blew a raspberry. “Oh my God, you’re having a heart attack,” said Shelby, digging
frantically though her purse. “I’ll call an ambulance.” “I sold the Ocala property,” he said. “Sorry.” Shelby was silent, motionless, mouth open. Then she crossed her arms and said, “Wait, is this a ploy for sympathy? I’m supposed to forgive you for losing the cabin because you’re drunk and involved with a strange woman who’s not your wife?” “I met Mary on the plane,” he insisted. “And I didn’t lose anything. It was a million and a half, pumpkin.” “Burn the cash for heat, then,” she said. Her lower lip began to stick out, like a child. Like the little girl she was not long ago. Blatt’s heart wept but his body was stunned. “So what do you do?” said Mary to Anita. It was an obvious life raft. “Helicopter pilot,” said Anita, chewing ice. “Oh, now that sounds like fun.” Mary placed her hand on Blatt’s leg under the table. “On the Strip?” “You want to fly? I’ll take you after dinner. We can all go.” Blatt said to everyone gathered, “I need a Porterhouse in my stomach or I promise you I will die of alcohol poisoning.” “Don’t die, Dad,” said Shelby. Removing her glasses, she dabbed a tear with a black cloth napkin. She emitted something like a tiny sob. They pretended not to hear it. Blatt felt like a jerk throughout dinner. Every tasteless bite was another step closer to sobriety. His life was slipping out of his control. He had lost his current wife and was in the process of losing his daughter, too. Soon he would be left with little scraps of
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money. Success should have brought him more than this. He and Shelby exchanged wounded looks, each feeling guilty, wronged. Thankfully, Mary and Anita hit it off, the latter making them laugh with tales of inebriated tourists behaving atrociously in flying machines. Later that evening, up in the sky, Anita was careful to not to jostle the copter too much. The Strip resembled a forest of jewels. Turning a hard right toward Grand Canyon, Shelby leaned into Blatt, resting her head on his chest. He slipped her the envelope with the gift card and kissed her strawberry-smelling hair. It should have been a blessing.
Jarret Keene is author of the poetry collections Monster Fashion and A Boy’s Guide to Arson, and wrote The Underground Guide to Las Vegas and the unauthorized biography The Killers: Destiny Is Calling Me-The Untold Story of America’s Hottest Rock Band. Keene is a contributing music editor for Vegas Seven magazine and teaches ancient literature at the College of Southern Nevada. He lives in downtown Las Vegas.
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SassyDancer By Mara C. Bell Illustration by Jack Quack!
On February 14th while driving home from the grocery, Traci
“Are you totally crazy? I wore that Monday!! The bathroom
ramped her sky blue van onto the highway like it was the space
stinks. Sid needs to change the cat litter NOW. He never does it.”
shuttle Discovery, and she kept on going. Forty minutes breathing
Traci sighed. She was beginning to think her son had no ability
fumes on the icy Baltimore beltway didn’t change her mind. Her internal navigator needed a reset. She was heading south. * * * The day had begun as normally as burnt toast and jam. At six a.m. Traci washed her face while her husband shaved. “Oh, hon. We get Nibby this weekend again. Sue’s going on a cruise,” Bob said to the mirror. “Um,” she said, drying her face on a towel.
to smell at all. The red skirt was in the laundry room between her brown “Mom” pants and an old beige blouse, like a cardinal in a woodpile. Wow was it short. “Are they going to send you home to change again?” “What do you think, Mom, huh? Can you just lay off?!” Amy blinked eyes ringed with dark eyeliner and a poisonous purple shadow. Traci wanted to say that the red skirt didn’t look terribly warm
Nibby was her sister-in-law’s five-year-old who was allergic to
either with all the sleet they were getting, but held her tongue.
cats, so Butterfluff would have to stay at the vet’s. Traci squeezed
Amy could be volatile in the morning. She tried not to feel wound-
into her clothes and fed the dog and cat. Then she threw a coat
ed by it, but the blisters were rubbed raw. Instead, Traci shoved
on and dragged the dog out by his collar. He gave her a distressed
the steaming plate of eggs in front of her husband. Bob looked up
look when sleet hit his head, but finally submitted to a quick walk.
from the newspaper.
Then she went in Sid’s room. He was sleeping through his alarm
“Hon, can you fold up the paper when you finish reading it? I
again, his gangly thirteen-year-old legs growing off the side of the
have to turn it back to the front. Your whole family does that, just
bed like bamboo stalks. She shook her head and called for him to
leaves it open when they finish.”
wake up. Then she made eggs, an English muffin (separated with a
“Sorry,” Traci said. “Guess I was interrupted.” She’d planned to
fork and given two pinches of cinnamon) and strong coffee for her
finish the article while she ate, but with the winter mess on the roads
husband while he read the paper.
she’d need to leave early. Sometimes when she interacted with her
“Don’t scramble them too much, they get tough, hon. Nibby will want her special cereal. We all out? Can you check?” Amy asked, “Mom, did you wash my red skirt? I can’t find it.” “Can you wear the blue one?” SCENE
Sid was still sleeping. She turned on the lights and called out in her most cheerful and encouraging voice, “Rise and shine!” Sid groaned.
family she pictured foam darts zinging at her from all directions.
Traci cleaned out the litter box. At seven a.m. Amy ran by brandishing a mascara wand and her cell phone. scenesarasota.com
“Don’t forget my shampoo!” Amy said as she grabbed for the door. “Blue bottle, but with the detangling not the thickening kind. Everything else I put on a sticky on your grocery list.” Amy hopped in her car and zipped off to high school, soon followed by Traci’s husband with his briefcase and cell phone. “Bye, hon,” he said, giving her a tidy kiss. “I’ll be a little late if my meeting runs over.”
“You new?” Traci asked. “I’m following you,” the woman said, her face red and beaded with sweat. “I have no idea what’s going on.” “You’ll pick it up. I started this January. It was hard at first but then I began catching on. I’ve been having a blast.” “January?! You must be a natural!” As the music started up again, Traci felt a buzzing glow run
At seven-thirty Traci checked on Sid’s progress. She managed to
through her body. She couldn’t help grinning. She danced like she
awaken her son by pulling his legs out of his covers and placing his
was on stage and twenty spotlights were trained on her. She had
feet firmly on the floor, and then poured herself coffee. As she was
never been a natural at anything before.
putting milk on her cereal Sid came out of his room holding one lime green tennis shoe and looked like he might throw it at the cat.
After class, she was back to reality: the groceries. There was a short list of essential items for the house, and then Amy’s
“I can’t find my other shoe, Mom.”
sticky note. Amy could go through cosmetics faster than anyone
There was an extensive search for the missing shoe (which she
she knew. Her list was lengthy, and specific. It took twenty-five
found next to the TV) and a math book (which he decided he’d left
minutes to track it all down, made more challenging because the
at school). They had dashed out of the house late, frightening But-
grocery was packed with residents from a nearby retirement home.
terfluff who performed an acrobatic scratching skid off the leather
Twice she was nearly run over by a motorized wheelchair. Nor-
couch. Traci had trouble balancing his breakfast bar and to-go cup
mally she found old folks charming, but for some reason a strange
of milk along with her purse and coffee thermos and tripped over
fury had been bubbling up since she’d clomped out of bed. She
the front door mat. She opened her car door with her pinky.
could almost feel fangs sprouting.
“You finish studying for the spelling test I was quizzing you on last night, Sid?”
Her plan was to unpack the groceries, pick up the dry cleaning, vacuum the house, and get Nibby’s room ready for the week-
“What?” he snarled. He yanked out an earphone.
end. After that it’d be to take Butterfluff to the kennel, pick Sid up
from school and take him to football practice, fetch Nibby from her
“I’m all over it.”
mother’s so that Sue could go on another cruise, then stop by the
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she grumbled, but he’d re-
video store for some Disney flicks. Traci was good at making plans
placed the earphone and was jerking his head to a phantom beat.
and proud of it; she could squeeze more chores and errands into
After running a few orangeish lights she managed to make it to
a day than a congressional secretary. But somehow her planning
the middle school on time. Sid put on his shoes after they rolled up
got away from her for the first time ever. Leaving the grocery store
to the school and spilled out of the car with his jacket unzipped.
parking lot, Traci noticed that her van’s dashboard distance-to-
As she pulled away she saw him saunter towards his homeroom
empty indicator read 368 miles in tropical blue lights. She paused
classroom building to the sound of the school bell, like he wanted
to make a quick calculation. Three hundred and sixty-eight miles
to be late. It made her feel like hollering, but she took great pride
meant thirty-one trips to the middle school, forty-six trips to the
in keeping her cool – someone had to do it. From the school Traci
grocery store, or thirty-eight trips to the dry cleaners. Three hun-
made her way to her exercise studio for Sassy Dance. She would
dred and sixty-eight miles was also one big hunk of highway. A
have an hour free from responsibilities, other than working off the
right turn out of the lot meant following the exact route she’d taken
extra six pounds she’d gained at Christmas.
thousands of times for twenty-one years; Peabody to First, First to
Sleet blasted her face when she got outside. The sky looked like it might puke up even more. She walked into the building shiv-
Oak, Oak to Clermont, and Clermont to Spring. Traci turned left. * * *
ering and took off her heavy quilted coat and gloves. Underneath she was wearing bright pink Lycra shorts and a tight white sport
Once the traffic on the Beltway let up, a wave of euphoria
tank. In the mirror she could see that there was a roll of fat threat-
overcame her. Traci hit the gas, cranked up the radio, and started
ening to poke out from underneath the tank shirt, and she was
to howl. “I drive smooth, ride in such a mean, mean machine,” she
badly in need of a haircut for her brown mop of curls, but in this
sang. “Start it up!” This was something her kids would never toler-
class, everyone was a goddess. The dance studio felt cold at first,
ate, but they weren’t in hearing distance. She belted out the words,
but then the music started pumping. Traci rolled her hips and shim-
and added some of her own.
mied with the beat. She followed the group as they turned and
In Northern Virginia, she stopped for ice for the fish. She got
twisted, hopped and clapped. Her feet knew just what to do. Soon
Sid’s football helmet off the back seat, tucked the salmon inside,
she was dripping. In the silence between songs Traci turned to the
covered it in cubes and placed it all back in a grocery bag. She also
skinny woman behind her.
took his “cool guy” sunglasses out of the cup holder. They were
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iridescent blue and fit perfectly on top of her head. Aretha came on the radio as she pulled back onto the highway. “What you want, baby I got it. All you need now, do you know how I got it?” Traci sang. She wished she’d picked up an Aretha CD. Pipes like these deserved an audience. By the time she made it to North Carolina, her voice was hoarse. She took a break at the Welcome Center. Traci’s stomach rumbled. In her environmentally friendly cloth grocery bags were: two pounds of salmon and a bunch of bananas (for her husband), two bottles of expensive shampoo and conditioner, mascara, eye shadow, nail polish and lip gloss (for Amy), one bottle of Man-X body wash and a pound of American cheese (for Sid), a box of Sugar Yumz cereal and mini raisin boxes with zoo animals on them (for Nibby), and one bottle of cheap shampoo (for herself). In addition there was one very small but expensive bottle of face cream guaranteed to rub out 98% of wrinkles fast fast fast.
Traci made her way on down the coast. At first she thought she’d stop for the night, but when she got out of her car in Georgia, it was still cold. She might not have a plan, but she knew for a fact she wanted to be rid of the coat. As she turned back on the highway, she got a text from Bob: get dryclng. She answered: get Nibby then as afterthought added, on roadtrp i95 S. Traci turned off her phone and tossed it in the back with the groceries. Seven more hours of driving and four diet Cokes and she arrived in Miami.
She pulled out a mini raisin box and sat on a bench. An elderly couple that had recently emerged from a salty camper with Ottawa tags was sitting on the bench next to hers. “Want one?” the woman asked. “We have an extra,” holding out a waxed-paper-wrapped sandwich. It smelled like tuna. “Sure,” Traci said. She usually avoided talking to or taking food from strangers – which was exactly why she wanted to now. “Thanks.” “Can’t wait to get rid of this coat and put on a bathing suit. We’re headed to Florida. How about you?” Traci had never been to Florida. “Well,” Traci paused, biting into the sandwich, “me too!” “Isn’t that a coincidence? We’re going to Miami.” “Yes, me too,” she said with a mouthful. “Where you staying?” “Uh, that big one on the water.” She waved her hand in the air as if to make it more substantial. “Which one?” “Well, the one with the, uh,” she started, then noticed a convertible with a blue top pulling up next to them, “with the blue roof near the, um, dancing place by that really nice beach.” She had described her dream destination (one with aquamarine water, sunshine, and lots of joyful dancing people unlikely to snarl at her), hoping that it was vague enough to satisfy the two. “Oh, you must mean the Athena at South Beach.” Traci smiled and shrugged. By the time she hit Fayetteville, N.C. she got a text from Sid: can u get here erly brng mlkshk. Sid’s school would be letting out soon. She sent him a text message: take bus. He’d have a fit, but she wouldn’t have to listen to it. Just past Florence, S.C. she got a text from Amy: need postr brd 4 pep rally. Traci answered: no problm. Sid replied in the middle of his math test: Why? She answered: bcuz. Amy replied with: get pizza Beth n Suz comin ovr. Traci typed: sure. Amy replied: and soda.
It was three in the morning when she found the Athena. It was a restored white Art Deco boutique hotel right on the main road fronting the beach with a large blue dome on top. The strip was hopping, and the crowd was young. When she handed her keys to the valet the salty ocean breeze passed right down her body like a warm hand. She sashayed into the lobby past the crowded bar still wearing her skintight pink workout pants and Lycra top. A handsome young man working at the registration desk grinned as though he’d waited up just for her. “Any rooms?” Traci asked, smoothing her hair. “Yes we do, miss. One. We can offer you the honeymoon suite.” Traci’s heart beat faster. The cost would be huge, but she decided she was worth it. She looked up at him and smiled. “Thank heavens, I’m beat.” “You’ll sleep like an angel, right under the blue dome,” he said reassuringly. He nodded to the bellman. “Luggage?” the bellman asked. “Actually, groceries.” Traci pointed to her van outside the glass doors, feeling nearly tipsy from pampering. The bellman politely said, “Of course, ma’am.” Exhausted, she fell face first into the round waterbed under the twinkling lights of the blue dome. She didn’t move until ten a.m. when the sun shone directly into her eyes. Outside the windows she could see pastel Art Deco hotels lined up to either side of hers along Ocean Drive like cheerful kindergarteners holding hands, ready to dash through the coconut palms, across the white powdery sand, and into the turquoise ocean sparkling beyond. Traci grabbed a banana and the bottle of wrinkle cream (SPF 30) out of a grocery bag and a towel from the bathroom and headed straight for the beach. There was no point eating out. She wasn’t going to waste money on anything but the absolute necessities – a luxury suite and an unlimited supply of drinks. It was a beautiful day. Bright blue waves were frothing in and scenesarasota.com
seagulls played over the water. A brown pelican dove into the surf with a large splash and came up with a writhing mullet. She wished she had a swimsuit. She looked at the women around her. Half of them wore bikinis that looked like underwear; who would know? She stripped down and stretched out on her towel, then slathered her entire body in wrinkle cream. “I’m on vacation,” she thought, giggling. This was her first in years that didn’t include whining children or relatives, and she felt better than Butterfluff with new catnip. That night she washed her hair with Amy’s (expensive) papaya-scented shampoo, washed her Lycra outfit (with more shampoo) and dried it with the hotel blow drier. She felt like a luscious papaya. When she put on her clothes, she didn’t feel quite ready to face the clubs along South Beach. She hadn’t worn makeup in years and the fluorescent lighting in the bathroom wasn’t helping. She opened Amy’s mascara and put some on. It was purple. Traci decided she looked wonderful in purple. She added more. She also tried Amy’s sparkly eye shadow and as a final touch, she painted her nails with Amy’s silvery polish. Just the smell of it made her feel fancy. The message light was blinking on the hotel phone, but she was too busy to be bothered. She munched a cup of Nibby’s dry Sugar Yumz cereal tossed down with a six ounce bottle of minibar Chardonnay for dinner. Then she hit the strip. South Beach had one night club after the next, and Traci wanted to try them all.
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Some had hula girls; others, mixed drinks in glasses large enough for Nibby’s Betta. There were Conga drummers, men in tight swim shorts draped with live boa constrictors, magicians, every kind of entertainment under the Florida stars, and most of all, the
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world’s most awesome dance bands. She danced with old geezers, a handsome Brazilian, a college student, businessmen, and even by herself. “Bamba, bamba,” the band sang out. “Bamba, bamba,” Traci sang, twisting
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The next day she swam, went running on the beach, and bought a few cheap cotton sundresses and a bikini from a street vendor who looked down on his luck. For dinner she grilled salmon right near the water at sunset, which she shared with an entire family of seven on vacation from Heidelberg. They all sat around the grill, watching Traci squeeze lime (that she’d swiped from the hotel bar) onto the fish. The father, Otto, sported a small red swimsuit shaded by an outcropping of sunburned belly. He joked with Traci and his family as he handed a loaf of dark brown bread to his wife Margit. Their grown daughter Lena and her husband kicked a soccer ball with their teenagers and an aged granny who didn’t speak a word of English. Granny managed to grunt a few good kicks into a makeshift palm frond goal while the kids cheered her on. Margit loaded paper plates with shrimp and potato salad. Granny Schneider gave up the game, panting, and produced a bottle of schnapps. “Trinken!” Granny said, laughing. She passed the bottle and motioned for it to keep going round their circle. “Any of you like to dance?” Traci asked, taking a shot. “I’m a natural.” “Sure!” Margit said, taking a second shot of schnapps. “Tanz!” she said to Granny Schneider. Granny clapped and laughed. Traci took all seven for a tour of her favorite nightclubs. Lena walked arm in arm with her daughter down the sidewalk laughing and joking in German as they passed a variety of peculiar characters entering the clubs. Traci watched them with envy. “I want that,” Traci said to Margit, nodding at the two. She wondered if her own daughter would ever feel that relaxed and happy with her. Margit cocked her head. “I don’t understand. Perhaps my English?” “That’s just it, me neither. Americans are supposed to be so friendly, but I can tell which families are from out of the US just watching them walk together down this sidewalk. You guys link arms and lean towards each other, different generations together. We only hold hands with our little ones so we don’t lose them.” “Or sweetheart, right?” Margit said. “Maybe you don’t want to lose them either.” They started at the Angelfish and ended at the Pirate Gallows, sampling several bands and sharing several desserts in between. Otto had an elflike dancing technique. Margit was reserved and graceful. Granny showed marvelous enthusiasm. The teens had nice style. But Traci out-danced every one of the Schneider clan. They left each other with bear hugs in front of her hotel. Otto said, “Bring your family to Heidelberg!” His face was still red and sweaty. “Your family must stay with us,” Margit said. “We will all go dancing together!” “I’d love to!” Traci said. She really would have, but she could imagine their families together in Heidelberg. Sid would be trying to find a game console; Amy would be looking for an internet cafe while Bob tried to find a restaurant with “American” food that he’d still complain later “gave me heartburn.” Back in the room the phone light was still blinking. She tossed her clothes on top of it and went to sleep. Traci spent six days in Miami. Every day she spent at the beach, every night dancing, then sleeping spread-eagled on her magnificent round hotel bed, facing a different compass point each night and taking all the pillows. On the last morning she was informed that her room was reserved for others that afternoon. With that news she fetched the remains of her groceries and a few hotel soaps that smelled of coconut, and loaded up her car. She found her cell phone in one of the bags next to Sid’s Man-X body wash. She’d missed 147 texts and 32 messages. She sent Bob a text message: home soon xox. On the drive north through Florida, Traci surfed on a wave of elation from her adventure. Up the highways of Georgia she marveled at how refreshed and happy she felt. Even her body was invigorated by so much swimming and dancing. By the time she passed Flor-
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ence, South Carolina she felt less energetic with each passing mile.
going so far. I guess I needed a break more than I realized.”
One thing kept her going: she missed her family. All the magazines
“Nibby broke my skateboard,” Sid said.
she read in the grocery store checkout lines made it seem like her
Amy tossed her head. “Because you pushed her too hard on
family was totally normal: the snarling, the cutting words, the bar-
rage of criticism that rained down as reliably as dirty socks. Then
“The important thing is that you’re home safe,” Bob said, pat-
there were the media barriers separating each one from the others
ting Traci’s hand. He leaned close to her and whispered so the kids
like kennel runs, even when they were all in the same room. Well,
wouldn’t hear. “You’ve always been such a responsible person. I
maybe most American families could live that way, but not Traci.
knew you wouldn’t be gone long, but all the way to Miami? We all
She’d had enough, but had no idea how they’d gotten into the mess
felt like yesterday’s stale bread without you. I wished you’d called,
or what to do about it. Through North Carolina she focused on her
but let’s just write this one off. Forget it happened.”
return to them. She thought about how two magnets can be. If you
Traci felt that more should be said, but instead, she held on to
turn them one way, they push against each other. All you have to
the moment. Things could have gone much worse. It was a relief
do is flip one around, only one, and zip: they don’t just connect,
that the kids were OK, that Bob wasn’t completely ballistic. Half-
they’re practically inseparable.
way through the movie she fell asleep with one hand on a pizza
In Virginia as she rolled on, she realized that a gray muck of
slice, her head lolling on Bob’s shoulder.
guilt was seeping in. She had deserted her family, taken a vacation
That night from her side of their bed Traci could see the last
by herself, ignored phone calls and wasn’t even bringing home the
curl of the moon. The dark room felt so familiar: her pillows, the
dry cleaning. She wished her mom were still living. She’d know
warmth of Bob beside her, the slight indentation on the mattress
how to fix things. As she approached her neighborhood she no-
where she always settled. She wondered about the way lives grad-
ticed for the first time how much the electrical lines that crossed
ually mould in unexpected ways. But even the window glass sepa-
over the streets seemed like spider’s webs.
rating her from the moon was fluid, as if she could reach out, grab
Traci arrived home on Saturday at four. Her entire family ran out of the house when she emerged from her van. At first she
that bit of moon and twirl it around her finger like her wedding ring. Maybe what she wanted was still within reach.
wasn’t sure if they were a welcoming party or an inquisition.“We
Bob fidgeted with the sheet. “When you went down there,”
were worried about you. You OK? You just needed a holiday?” Bob
he asked her, then paused, “were you meeting someone, or well...
asked as he tugged at a thread hanging from his sleeve. He was
looking for someone?” His voice sounded unsteady, like he wanted
wearing an unstarched shirt. With no belt his pants were dragging
to beg her not to answer.
low on his hips. There was ketchup on his chin. “Mom, you’re so skinny!” Amy said, her head cocked to one side and one hand on her hip like she might refuse entrance to the house. “Your hair’s got red highlights in it.” “And your skin’s brown,” Sid added, looking at her strangely, his
“Yes, exactly,” she whispered, hopeful that at last she could explain. “I left desperate, but I had to go because I went looking for me.” He grunted. Moments later emerged his nasal snoring. On Saturday, Traci cleaned the house, wiped Nibby’s crayon marks off the walls, washed and ironed the clothes, helped Sid
arms crossed defensively over his chest. “You bring us anything?”
with his math, got the cat poop off Sid’s bed and washed all his
“Soap,” she said in her most positive-sounding Mom voice.
bedding. Sunday night Traci made a roast, twice-baked potatoes,
“Why’d you go?” Sid asked.
broccoli with mushrooms, glazed carrots, biscuits and an apple
“I told the kids you were in Florida,” Bob said, pushing his
pie. Everyone loved the food.
glasses up on his nose. “Saw the charge for the hotel online.” He
As he took his last bite of apple pie, Bob said, “I’m so glad
held the front door open for her and followed her inside. “I was,”
you’re home, and that everything is back to normal.” He looked
Traci said, giving Bob a big kiss. It resulted in static electric shock
well rested, the part in his hair a crisp line.
that made him jerk back. “I left a couple of messages with the desk.”
“I liked the pie,” Sid said. “Can you type my history report?” Traci looked at the pile of dirty dishes. Sid was on the couch
“You did? That was so sweet.” Traci took his hand and
next to the kitchen playing a gory online shooting game. His fingers
squeezed it. “I got the groceries.” She gave the kids each a quick
tapped faster on his controller than Liberace on a piano, which made
firm hug before they could scoot out of the way.
sense because he practiced at this more than Liberace ever did.
They ordered pizza and ate by the TV. Traci passed paper plates and poured milk for the kids and beer for her and Bob. She felt as though she should talk about her trip, and why she’d gone, but now that she was home, she wasn’t sure where to begin.
“Sid, any chance you could help a little in the kitchen?” “I’m in the middle of a game!” Sid said without tearing his eyes from the screen. She looked at Bob, but he was too involved with his new golf
“I missed you all when I was gone,” Traci said. She looked
magazine. Traci took the pan that held the roast and put water in it
around, but they all had their eyes on the screen. “I didn’t plan on
to soak and loaded the dishwasher. Then she started to fill up the
sink as Amy walked into the room.
The ceramic tiles were now slick and bubbly. Traci went into her
“Amy, could you help me a little with the dishes?”
Sassy Dance moves. She remembered every step, every grind and
“Mom, I just painted my nails!” Amy said, fanning them out.
every shimmy. She dumped more suds. She leapt and twirled and
Her fingernails had already changed three shades over the course of the weekend and were now midnight blue.
did a belly roll. “And I’m doing this and I’m typing that!” Traci sang, going
As Amy spoke, the good china serving platter slipped from Traci’s hand and shattered in the bottom of the sink.
into a low twisting shimmy with a backbend as Mick urged her on. “Cause you see I’m on a losing streak!” she sang back, rubbing
“Oh CRAP!” Traci said, as Bob popped up from the couch. “What was that?” he asked.
suds along her arms. By the end of the song, Sid, Bob and Amy were all gathered on
“Oh nothing,” Traci said, taking dish soap and dumping it under the running water to hide the evidence. Bob went back to his
the opposite side of the kitchen island. A soap bubble rose above them, sparkling with delicate iridescence.
magazine as a large dome of bubbles began to rise from the sink.
“Traci?” Bob said, pushing his eyeglasses up on his nose.
Traci turned on the radio to drown out the shooting noises and
Traci looked down at the sink. The bubbles vanished with
final throes of dying coming from the television. On the radio Mick
small pops. She picked up the faucet sprayer and began to rinse
Jagger was crooning,
the remnants down the drain, turning the water up to full blast.
“I can’t get no satisfaction!”
That thing could shoot! She began to smile.
It was one of Traci’s Sassy Dance songs! “I can’t get no satisfaction!” she sang.
“I’m fine, really,” Traci said. She aimed and fired at the game controller, the golf magazine and the nail polish bottle, then took
“Mom, stop!” Sid yelled.
out her entire family in one smooth and artful sweep.
“Cause I try and I try and I try,” Mick sang. “I can’t get no!” Traci sang loudly, cranking up the volume. She took large scoops of suds and tossed them in the air. Half of them landed on the tile floor. “When I’m ridin’ round the world!” Traci sang with Mick.
Mara C. Bell is a fiction writer and poet who is currently working on her first novel. An architect and Florida native, she finds inspiration in drawing, dancing and writing under tropical skies.
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By Ben Bova Illustration by Jack Quack!
“This is serious, Mase,” said Drake Callahan, his brow creasing as he struggled to control his anger. “Water is precious and you know it.” Fourteen-year-old Mason Callahan thought about turning off both his hearing aids but decided not to because (a) it would be wrong and (b) his father would see him doing it and get even madder at him.
month. I want it to stop. Rules are rules.” “Yeah, sure, I know,” said Mason. “This is Mars, kids,” Drake said sternly. “I know it’s home to you, but it’s still a dangerous world in many ways. We have to be very careful about how much water we use. Lives could depend on it!” “But we’ve got plenty of water, don’t we Dad? I mean, there’s an ocean of permafrost underneath us, isn’t there?”
“We’re not wasting water, Dad,” he said, with a glance at his
“Yes, but it takes energy to melt that ice and make drinkable
little sister, Mariah. She looked kind of scared, her eyes big and
water for everyone here. We all agreed to the water allotments,
solemn and riveted on their father’s stern face.
and we’ve got to stick to them.”
The three of them were in Mase’s cluttered bedroom, father standing by the entryway with his arms folded angrily across his chest while Mase hunkered down on the floor and scuffed one
“We are,” Mason insisted. “Somebody is using more water than he should,” Drake said darkly. “It’s got to stop.”
softbooted toe on the lucky yellow rock he’d found on an excur-
He turned abruptly and left the room.
sion outside. Mariah was sitting on a cleared spot on Mase’s bed.
Mason looked at his sister. “I’m not wasting water,” he muttered.
For a moment there was absolute silence in the cramped little
“Neither am I,” said eleven-year-old Mariah.
room, except for the sighing of a gentle Martian breeze wafting
“Then who is?”
past the window of their habitation module.
“Tregon,” she answered, without an eyeblink of hesitation.
“Mase, you’re older, that’s why I’m talking mainly to you. Or
“This must be one of his stupid tricks.”
maybe I should corral your buddy Tregon.” “Dad, nobody’s wasting water! Not me, not Mariah, and not Treg.” Drake unfolded his arms and scratched at his short-cropped
* * * “Me?” Tregon looked genuinely surprised. “I’m not using up your water. You know that.”
dark hair. “Well, the water monitors show that we’ve exceeded
The two boys looked a lot alike. Both were the same age,
our allotment for the past three months straight. We’ve gone over
both had dark unruly hair, both wore funky t-shirts and rumpled
our fair share. Not seriously over, I admit, but somebody’s using
jeans. Tregon was 10 centimeters taller than Mason, but so slen-
more water than he should have and it’s getting a little worse each
der that he looked almost frail. Mason’s eyes were lighter than
Tregon’s dark Hispanic ones.
“And there’s no leaks in your pipes,” Tregon added. “At least,
“Well,” Mason said slowly, “if I’m not wasting water, and you’re not, and my dippy little sister isn’t, then who is?”
none that EMMA could find.” Mason shook his head. “Dad’s gone over all the pipes three
Tregon grinned crookedly. “Let’s find out.”
or four times. He’s even had a couple of guys from maintenance
check ‘em out. No leaks.”
“Simple. We turn EMMA into a detective.” * * *
“But you’re still using more water than you’re supposed to?” Tregon asked.
Mason fidgeted uneasily at the doorway of the workshop as
“Somebody is,” said Mason. He hesitated a heartbeat, then
he looked up and down the corridor, watching out for any ap-
asked, “Look, Treg, I’ve gotta ask you...is it you? Are you sneaking
proaching adults. It was mid-afternoon and everybody was at their
water from our place?”
jobs, so the corridor was empty. Still, Mason searched both ways,
Tregon looked totally surprised. “Me! No way!”
feeling more and more nervous with each passing second.
“Sis thinks it’s one of your tricks, and she’s got Dad halfway
“Aren’t you finished yet?” he hissed at Tregon. His buddy was sitting cross-legged on the workbench, his head inside the humanoid robot’s open back panel. “Almost,” Tregon muttered. “Well, hurry it up; it’s almost time for the afternoon shift to end. Everybody’ll be coming through this corridor and they’re gonna wonder what you’re doing with EMMA.” “What we’re doing,” Tregon corrected, with a chuckle. “Come on,” Mason urged.
thinking she might be right.” “It’s not me,” Tregon said, utterly serious. “Okay,” said Mason. “Then we’ve got to find out who it is, before Dad goes ballistic.” “He’s that mad?” “I heard him telling Mom that it might be better if they stop letting you visit our place.” For one of the rare times in his life, Tregon looked sad. “He really said that?”
“Okay,” said Tregon. “Finished. All I have to do is replace the panel.”
“He’s pretty sore. I think it’s not knowing how we’re los-
He clicked the plastic panel into place, then picked up the
ing the water that’s really got him spooled up. Dad’s a scientist,
remote controller and thumbed its power key. EMMA stirred to
y’know, and the worst thing that can happen to him is coming
life; its round camera eyes began to glow, a slight whirring sound
across a puzzle he can’t solve.”
buzzed from deep inside its chest cavity. The little robot was
Tregon’s cocky grin returned. “Then we’ll have to solve it for him.” * * *
slightly shorter than Mason, and only shoulder-high to Tregon. Tregon said in the deepest voice he could manage, “EMMA, review your new program, please.”
“What are you two up to now?” Mariah asked the instant she stepped into Mase’s bedroom.
The robot turned on its wheels to face Tregon and said, “I am to
Mason and Tregon were sitting on the floor with their backs
monitor water usage in the Callahan residence. From midnight to 0600
against the bed. On the floor in front of them was an open laptop
hours I am to check all water pipes in the residence for leakage.”
computer with a hologram shimmering faintly above it.
Tregon nodded. “Right. Good.”
“Go away,” Mason snapped. “Go to your own room.”
“Let’s get back to my place,” Mason said, feeling relieved.
“Oh no,” said Mariah, with her nose in the air. “You two are
As the two boys hustled down the corridor, with EMMA trailing slightly behind them, Tregon said, “My bet’s on Apollo.”
up to something, I can tell.” “We need some privacy, Mariah,” Tregon said. “Why? What’re you doing?” Mariah scampered across the
“Huh?” Grinning, Tregon explained, “That’s one smart cat you’ve got, Mase. I bet he figured out how to turn on the tap at your kitchen sink. He’s your water thief.”
messy room toward the two boys. Tregon quickly turned off the hologram. “Privacy,” Mason said firmly.
Mason shook his head in silent disbelief. * * * Two days later, Tregon admitted, “Well, it’s not Apollo.”
“No,” said Mariah, planting her fists on her hips stubbornly. Mason growled, “If you don’t get out of here–” Tregon interrupted, “What we’re doing is Top Secret, Mariah.
“And it’s not Sputnik, either,” Mason said glumly.
If you want to know about it, you’ve got to swear that you won’t
The boys were in Tregon’s bedroom, watching the sped-up
video that EMMA had recorded during the previous two nights.
Mariah hesitated. “You mean, like, not even Mom or Dad?”
Apollo napped in Mariah’s room, then got up, prowled, sniffed
“Not even anybody,” Tregon said, with great seriousness.
here and there, lapped at his water dish, then napped again – all
“Look, Sis,” Mason said, “Dad’s blaming Tregon for our water
in blurringly fast motion. Despite his growing worry, Mason had to laugh at the video. Apollo was all over the apartment, flitting away madly, while the dog Sputnik slept blissfully, unmoving except for a twitch of his tail or an occasional scratch with his hind leg.
shortage–” “He’s probably right,” Mariah sniffed. Mason gritted his teeth, then continued, “So we’re trying to figure out what’s really going on, and who’s stealing our water.” scenesarasota.com
“So what’s so secret about that?” Mariah asked.
all the time. They even have robots crawling inside the pipes to
“We can’t tell you until you promise not to tell anybody,”
check ‘em. No leaks.”
Tregon said. Mariah thought it over for all of five seconds, then said,
“Inside the pipes?” Mariah asked. “Yup,” said Tregon.
“Okay, I promise.” “You’ve got to swear,” Mason insisted. “Swear?” With a crafty smile snaking across his lips, Tregon said, “You’ve got to swear that if you don’t keep what we’re doing an absolute, totally cosmic secret, Mase and I can take your doll collection outside and bury them all in a crater.” “Bury my dolls!” Mariah looked horrified. “That’s the deal,” said Tregon. “If you tell anybody what we’re doing, your dolls sleep in the sand.”
Mason sighed. “Somebody’s taking more water out of the system than he’s supposed to.” “On purpose?” Mariah’s voice squeaking slightly. “On purpose,” Mason agreed. “Which puts us right back where we started,” said Tregon. “Missing water and no clue about how, why, or who’s doing it.”
Mariah stood in front of the two boys, her face showing the
Mason nodded as Tregon went on, “And whoever’s doing it,
struggle going on inside her. She frowned, she grimaced, she
he’s taking the water from the section of the pipes that leads into
grumbled to herself.
At last she said, “Oh, all right. I swear I won’t tell anybody what you’re doing.” And she plopped herself down on the floor next to her brother. “If you break your promise,” Tregon said, “your dolls...” He drew a finger across his throat. Mariah nodded solemnly. Mason turned away slightly so she wouldn’t see him grinning. “Okay,” Mariah said eagerly, “so what’s the big secret?” “We’ve tapped into the base’s computer files,” said Tregon, lighting up the hologram again. “You hacked the central computer?” “Just the water system,” Mason said, pointing at the bewildering set of colored lines criss-crossing in three dimensions. “That’s the base’s whole water system?” Mariah asked, peering at the schematic hovering above the laptop’s keyboard. “Most of it,” said Mason. “We couldn’t get the section where the water pipes go out to the reactor.” “Everything about the reactor is kept under special safeguards,” Tregon said. “I could hack into the files for the rest of the water system, but not the part that involves the reactor; they’re under special security codes.” “People worry about radiation because the reactor’s nuclear?” Mariah asked. “It’s not a bomb,” Mason grumbled. “It can’t explode.” Mariah looked as if she didn’t entirely believe that. Then she asked, “Why do the water pipes go out to the reactor, anyway?” Mason answered, “They need water to cool the reactor.” “And they use the waste heat from the reactor to help melt the permafrost, underground,” Tregon added. “It’s a pretty cool system,” she said. Nodding, Mason replied, “Except that there’s a leak someplace, and we’re getting blamed for it.” Tracing a finger along one of the red lines on the holographic display, Tregon said, “There’s no leaks. If there were, they’d show up on this schematic. The maintenance people check those pipes scenesarasota.com
“He’s stealing our water!” Mason said, starting to feel angry. “What makes you think it’s a he?” Mariah asked. “It could be a girl, you know.” “A girl? Give me a break!” Mason looked disgusted by the idea. “Boy or girl, somebody’s taking water from the pipe leading into your module,” Tregon said. “But the maintenance robots haven’t found any leaks,” said Mariah. Mason scratched his head, very much the way his father often did. “Wait a minute. The maintenance robots are programmed to look for leaks, right?” “Right,” said Tregon and Mariah in unison. “But they’re not programmed to look for a pipe that somebody might’ve added to the system.” “Added?” “Our thief,” said Mason, “must’ve connected a pipe to the main line that supplies our module. He takes some of our water away with the pipe he’s tacked on to our line.” Tregon shook his head. “Nah. That would show up as a leak. The maintenance robots would spot it.” “Not if the thief’s pipe has a valve on its end,” Mason said, grinning at them both. “A valve that he only opens when he wants to steal some of our water. A valve that he keeps closed when the maintenance robots are checking our section of pipe.” “You think?” Mariah asked, her green eyes wide. Tregon looked intrigued. “Then the thief knows how to get into the water system.” “And add at least one pipe without letting anybody know it’s there,” Mason said. “And he must know when the maintenance robots are coming through,” Tregon added. “It’s got to be somebody who knows the system backwards and forwards,” Mason agreed. “Who could it be?” Mariah asked, almost breathless with excitement. “And why is he stealing our water?” August 2012
Mason noticed she no longer thought the thief might be a girl. * * * “Why can’t I go?” Mariah asked. “You stay here,” Mason told his sister, “and warn us if Mom or Dad shows up.”
pipe joins the main one.” Mason leaned over the edge of the shaft and played his light along the pipe. “I can see where it joins the main pipe.” “Is anything else there?” Tregon asked. “Another pipe attached to yours. Or maybe to the main?”
Mariah, Mason and Tregon were in the tiny kitchen of the
Mason edged further over the lip of the shaft. “No,” he re-
Callahan’s module. Mason had unscrewed the panel under the
ported. “No other pipes. Just the one from our kitchen, connected
sink and laid it on the floor. Tregon was sitting crosslegged beside
to the main.”
it, squinting at the tiny screen of his wristphone. “Besides,” Mason went on, “you’re too big for this job. You’ll get stuck down there.” Mariah frowned at her brother, but said nothing. She thought of all the times she had twitted Mase about being taller than he. Now Mason was getting even.
“Blast,” Tregon muttered. “Nobody’s tapped into your pipe.” “Guess not,” said Mason, wriggling back from the edge of the shaft. “Then who’s stealing your water? And how’s he doing it?” “I’ve got another question for you,” Mason said, sweating even harder than before.
“Maybe I oughtta go,” Tregon said. “I’m the skinniest.”
“Another question? What?”
“I’ll do it,” Mason said firmly. “You watch the schematic and
“How do I get out of here? I’m stuck.”
follow my beacon.” He picked the tiny disc of the radio beacon off
the floor and tucked it into the pocket of his cutoffs.
“I’m trying to back out, but I can’t. Something’s got me hung up.”
Tregon nodded. “I can see it on the screen now.” Mariah bent over Tregon’s shoulder and saw the hologram of
Tregon could hear the fear in Mason’s voice. Without hesitation he said into his phone, “Hang in there, Mase. I’ll come and get you.”
colored lines that represented the system of water pipes. A tiny
“I am hanging in here! It’s all I can do!”
red dot was flashing away in one corner of the display.
Mariah said, “Tregon! Wait! Let me go after him.”
“Okay,” Mason said, taking in a deep breath. “Here I go.” “Be careful,” Mariah whispered to him. “Sure.”
But Tregon was already crawling under the sink. “I’m slimmer,” he called back to Mariah. “I’ll get him.” “Here,” she yelled to him. “Take this cord with you. You
Mason slithered beneath the sink and crawled on his belly into the darkness beyond the opening in the wall. “Boy, it’s cramped in here,” he muttered into the phone clipped to his ear. He heard Tregon’s voice, “You’re following the pipe that carries water into your module. See any pipes that shouldn’t be there?” “Not yet.” Mason inched along the narrowing passageway, his flashlight in his right hand. “Just the one pipe.” “It bends to the left just a meter or so in front of where you are,” Tregon said.
might need it.” Tregon stopped only long enough to grasp the coil of electrical cord that Mariah was holding out to him. “Where’d you get this?” he wondered. “From Dad’s tool box. I thought it might come in handy.” “Good thinking,” Tregon said, clutching the coil in one hand. Then he slithered forward, after Mason. He heard Mase’s voice in his wristcom. “I think my shirt’s hooked on something. Like a nail or a screw or something.” “Okay, okay,” Tregon said, feeling excited and a little afraid.
“Yeah, I see the bend.”
What if I can’t get him out? he asked himself. What if his parents
“And then it goes down to join the main pipe.”
come home and he’s still stuck?
Mason was sweating. It’s hot down here, he said to himself. I thought it’d be cold. He felt the pipe. It was cold to his touch. He could hear water
It was dark in the tunnel, and Tregon hadn’t thought to bring a light. But at last his hand bumped into something that felt like Mase’s softbooted foot. “That you, Mase?”
gurgling. “Hey!” he shouted. “Water’s flowing through the pipe!”
Tregon’s voice answered, “Your sister’s taking a drink.”
“Can you turn around?”
“Oh. I thought somebody was stealing our water.”
“Naw. Just Mariah.” The cramped tunnel seemed to end up ahead. Mason saw that the pipe elbowed downward, into a dark shaft. “I’ve reached the spot where it goes down,” he said. “Right. I can see the beacon. Can you get down that shaft?” “It’s pretty narrow,” Mason said, peering down into the black-
“Okay, okay.” As he fumbled in the darkness Tregon said, “I’m gonna tie this cord around your ankle, then we’ll drag you out.” “We?” “Your sister and me. We ought to be able to haul you free of whatever’s got you caught up.” “I hope so,” Mason said.
ness. His flashlight’s beam seemed to be swallowed up by the dark.
Tregon knotted the cord around Mason’s ankle, then started
“It only goes down three meters,” Tregon said. “Then the
slithering backwards along the tunnel. The walls and floor felt gritty,
dusty, but smooth enough. Nothing sticking out to get caught on. Finally he was under the sink. Breathing a sigh of relief, Tregon crawled out, the cord firmly grasped in his right hand. Before he could get to his feet, though, he saw that Mason’s father was standing in the middle of the kitchen, fists on his hips.
Tregon grinned back at him. “So let’s find a breathing mask and an air tank.” “I don’t think we ought to do this,” Mason muttered. “Hey, it was your idea. Remember?” Mason had to admit that Tregon was right. But he hadn’t meant it seriously. He’d just been thinking out loud. If we can’t
Mariah stood beside him. She looked scared. Drake Callahan looked furious.
find the reason for the water loss from looking at the outside of
* * *
the pipes, he had figured, then the only thing left to do is take a
“I’ve never seen your father look so spooled up,” Tregon said, with genuine awe in his voice. “I thought he was gonna explode.”
look inside the pipes. “I didn’t mean that we should really do it,” he said.
Mason still felt guilty about the whole thing, especially about
Tregon reached for one of the breathing masks hanging in a
getting himself hung up on a projecting bolt in the tunnel. His Dad
row along the wall. “Hey, it’s a good idea, Mase. A logical idea.”
had hauled him free, but it had torn Mase’s shirt and rubbed a raw
“A crazy idea.”
bruise along his chest.
“Not to me.”
“I can’t stay long,” he said. “Dad doesn’t want me to see you.
Mason shook his head, but helped Tregon lift one of the heavy air tanks from the cradle on which it rested.
If he finds out I’m here...” Mase’s voice trailed off.
“If it’s my idea,” he said, holding the green tank in both The boys were in the maintenance locker, out at the far end ����������� �������� �� ����������������� ����
hands, “then I should go.” of the settlement where the maintenance crews stored most of ������������� ���������������������� ���������� their equipment.
“With those big shoulders of yours?” Tregon kidded. “You ����� � ������� ������� ��������� �����
got yourself stuck under your own sink. You’d never get through “He won’t,” Tregon said lightly. “Nobody’d think of looking ���� ���������� ��� �������������������������� for us out here.”
����� ����� ��������� �the water pipes.” “Neither will you. Not the smaller ones, anyway.”
“But if he does...”
“We’ll see.” Tregon tapped his friend’s shoulder. “He can’t possibly get ����������� ������� ������������� ����� any madder at you than he is now, can he?” Reluctantly, Mason helped Tregon slip his arms through the ������������� ���� ���������������!� Despite his fears, Mason broke into a grin. “No, I sure don’t think so.”
tank’s shoulder straps and buckle the waist cinch around his slim
middle. Tregon pulled the breathing mask over his face. "����� �������������� ���� "�������� ���� ��#��$�������� ��� ������������ ��������������������� %��������� ������������ ����������� �
Ben Bova returns us to the oceans of Jupiter! The huge creatures known as “Leviathans” are now thought to be intelligent, or are they? Twenty years after their discovery a probe is dispatched to ﬁnd out! As always with Bova there are politics, libidos, and tech to be considered.
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“Check the air flow,” he said, his voice muffled by the mask.
down and tied one end of the lightweight cable around Tregon’s
Mason looked at the little gauge on the tanks. Air was flowing.
“You’re okay,” he said.
“In case you need some help getting back.”
Tregon nodded and the two boys stepped past shelves of
“The voice of experience.” Even though Tregon’s face was hid-
more equipment, to the very end of the structure. An airlock was
den by the breathing mask, Mason could hear the grin in his voice.
set into the end of the wall. Mason could see the dusty red surface
Mason nodded. Then he grabbed Tregon’s hand. “Good
of Mars through its thick window. The normally clear air was a dark sickly yellowish color, with clouds billowing up far out at
luck, bud.” Tregon slapped Mason’s shoulder lightly, then said, “Here I go.” He climbed down the ladder and disappeared from Ma-
the horizon. “Looks like a dust storm building up out there,” he said.
son’s sight. * * *
“Good,” said Tregon. “That’ll keep everybody’s attention
The pipe was narrow. And the water was cold. Tregon could
away from us.” There was a big hatch set into the floor, with a wheel sticking
feel his air tank bumping against the top of the pipe while he
up from its heavy dome of steel. The boys had checked the water
“walked” on his fingertips and toes through the icy water. This is
system’s schematics: there were no alarms attached to the mainte-
cool, he thought. Kind of like swimming.
nance hatches. At least, they hadn’t found any in the schematics.
Mason had attached a lamp to a sweat band and snugged it
Half expecting an alarm to start hooting, Mason helped Tre-
over his head, so wherever he looked there was enough light to
gon turn the wheel that unsealed the hatch. No alarms. Only a
see the plastic insides of the main water pipe. The water flowed
slight squeaking sound from the wheel itself. It took both of them
smoothly, gently; Tregon could push himself through it without all
to lift the massive hatch and swing it back.
that much trouble. Every now and then he heard a gurgling sound
Mason couldn’t see Tregon’s face inside the breathing mask. But his friend stuck out his hand and said, “Here I go.”
and saw bubbles drifting past him. Somebody must have turned on a tap someplace, he thought, and a valve opened to allow the
But Mason said, “Wait.”
water to flow.
He trotted back to the shelves and searched quickly until he found a spool of buckyball cable. Wire-thin, the material was much stronger than steel. Carrying it back to Tregon, Mason knelt
“How’re you doing?” Mason’s voice sounded thin, almost feeble, in the communicator built into the breathing mask. “Okay,” Tregon answered, surprised that it took so much ef-
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fort to say anything. “It’s pretty cold in here.” “You want to come back?” “Not yet.”
“No thief.” Tregon shook his head. He could feel his long hair sloshing around in the water.
Tregon had memorized the layout of the pipes. His aim was to slither all the way down to the point where the access pipe from Mason’s module connected with the main. There has to be another pipe attached in here somewhere, he said to himself. A rogue pipe that the thief snuck into the system. Has to be! But there wasn’t. He saw seams in the pipe, where sections had been cemented together. Some of the seams had a thin, slimy-
“Guess I might as well come back,” he said, feeling disappointed. “Guess so.” Mason sounded just as glum. It was a tight squeeze to turn around inside the pipe. Tregon felt his air tank scraping along its curved plastic wall. But after a few wriggles and bumps he got himself headed in the right direction and started back.
looking coating on them, most didn’t. He saw valves and joints
At last he climbed up and out of the pipe, dripping wet, and
where other pipes tapped off the main. Nothing that he didn’t re-
yanked off his breathing mask. Mason started to help him slip out
member being in the schematic. Nothing that didn’t belong where
of the air tank’s shoulder straps.
it was. Nothing that indicated somebody was stealing water. Why would anybody want to steal water, anyway? Tregon asked himself. If you need more water you ask the water board. They hardly ever turn anybody down.
“Hey! What’re you kids doing in here?” They looked up and saw one of the maintenance technicians heading toward them, a deep frown lining his face. Tregon and Mason looked at each other and said, “Uh-oh.”
There it was. The pipe that led up to the Callahan’s module. “I see your access pipe,” he said into the mask’s microphone.
Tregon’s cutoffs were still dripping water onto the floor as he and Mason stood before the maintenance chief’s desk.
“Inside the main water pipe?” The maintenance chief clearly
“I counted six pipes between the place where I went in and yours.”
was having a hard time believing it. He was one of the older men in the Mars settlement. His hair was silver gray, but he still looked
A pause. Then Mason’s voice, sounding disappointed, “Six. Check. That’s what the schematic shows.” “No extra pipes.”
* * *
trim; his coveralls didn’t bulge in the middle, the way some of the other elders’ did. They had wrapped a blanket around Tregon. Mason, standing
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beside his friend, said, “We were trying to find out who’s stealing
“I know it was wrong, but – ”
water.” Then he added, “Sir.”
Dr. Callahan was definitely smiling, Tregon realized.
The maintenance tech pointed to the breathing mask and air tank. “They stole this equipment. And damaged it.” “We borrowed it,” Mason said quickly.
“I don’t mean that what you did was wrong – although it was,” said Mason’s father. “What I meant was that you did find the water thief.”
“And it’s not damaged,” said Tregon.
The maintenance chief got up from his desk and walked over
“That gray slime on the air tank. Do you know what it is?”
to the equipment. He bent down and lifted the air tank. “Maybe it’s not really damaged,” he muttered, looking the tank over carefully. “But what’s this crud smeared on it?” Mason saw a grayish slimy-looking goo sticking to one side
“Glop,” said Tregon. “Bacteria,” said Dr. Callahan. “A colony of underground bacteria. Martian bacteria.” “Martian?” Mason gasped. With a nod, Dr. Callahan said, “We’ve know that there are
of the tank. “That’s the stuff that was on some of the seals in the piping,”
colonies of bacteria living deep underground, way down below
Tregon said. “The tank must’ve scraped some of it off when I went
the surface. They’re similar to bacteria types on Earth that the biologists call SLiMES: subsurface lithotropic microscopic eco-
through.” The chief touched the goo with a fingertip. And frowned.
“Glop,” he said, reaching for a tissue to wipe his finger. Turning to
“Lithotropic means ‘rock loving,’ doesn’t it?” Mason asked.
the technician, he asked, “What is this stuff?”
“Right,” his father answered. “They eat rock.”
The tech shrugged. “Darned if I know.”
“They look slimy,” said Tregon. “That’s for sure.”
“Some kind of sealant?” the chief mused.
“We’ve found Martian SLiMES living kilometers deep, below
The technician shook his head. “We don’t use any sealant
the permafrost layer,” Dr. Callahan went on. “They must have sensed the liquid water in our pipes and come up to take advantage of it.”
inside the piping.” “Then what on earth is it?” the chief demanded. * * * Drake Callahan scowled at the boys. He was sitting at his desk, his son and Tregon standing at attention in front of it. The maintenance chief had marched Mason and Tregon to Callahan’s laboratory as soon as he had determined that no damage had been done to the water system. Mason’s father sat there for many long, silent moments. Tregon wondered when the explosion would come. He thought he saw the beginnings of a smile on Dr. Callahan’s face, but he figured that was just wishful thinking. He and Mase were in for trouble, real trouble, and he knew it. At last Dr. Callahan said slowly, “That was an incredibly stupid thing you two did.” Mason glanced at Tregon, then replied, “We were trying to find the water thief, Dad.”
“So there was a water thief, after all,” Tregon said. “They wormed their way into the pipe, through the seals between sections of piping,” Dr. Callahan explained. “Maybe there were pinhole leaks in the pipe and that’s how they found the water.” “You mean we’ve been swallowing Martian bugs in our drinking water?” Mason asked, feeling alarmed. Dr. Callahan shook his head. “No. Our drinking water is filtered.” “But we’ll have to figure out a way to keep them out of the pipes,” Tregon said. “Otherwise they’ll take all our water, sooner or later.” Dr. Callahan laughed. “The biologists will tackle that problem. But they don’t want to drive the SLiMES away altogether. It’s much easier to study them up here, instead of way down deep, where they usually live.” “We actually helped the biologists?” Mason asked. His father’s stern expression came back. “Don’t think you’re
“Were you.” The way Dr. Callahan said it, it wasn’t a question.
going to be congratulated. What you did was dangerous. Foolish
“Yessir,” said Tregon.
and dangerous. You’re not heroes.”
“You might have been seriously hurt. You might have damaged our water system. Did that ever occur to either of you?”
“Maybe not,” Tregon said, beaming his biggest grin. “But I’m the first guy ever to go scuba diving on Mars!”
“We didn’t get hurt and we didn’t damage the pipes,” Mason said. Dr. Callahan started to reply, hesitated, then said only, “That’s true.” “We were just trying to help,” Tregon said. “We wanted to find the water thief,” Mason repeated. “And did you?” Dr. Callahan asked darkly. Both boys shook their heads. “No, we didn’t,” Mason admitted. “Wrong.”
Ben Bova is the author of more than 125 futuristic novels and nonfiction books about science and high technology. In his various writings, Dr. Bova has predicted innovations from the Space Race of the 1960s to the discovery of ice on the Moon. Dr. Bova received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation in 2005, “for fueling mankind’s imagination regarding the wonders of outer space.” His 2006 novel TITAN received the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel of the year, and he received the 2008 Robert A. Heinlein Award “for his outstanding body of work in the field of literature.” In 2012 the National Space Society recognized him as a Space Pioneer. scenesarasota.com
Band By Scott Ciencin Illustration by Jack Quack!
“Can I see it?”
about the bullet. I need to know what it felt like when the bullet
He holds out his hand. An old bloated hand reminding me
hammered his ring and sparked jokingly away instead of enter-
of a century-old cypress: varicose veins for vines, coarse peel-
ing his brain. Him on his knees in the corner, hands over his
ing skin for bark, blackened scabs for knots. The ring is exactly
head, knowing he was about to die, hearing the shot, feeling...
how it was in the news photos. A third of an inch wide, a hole
what? Was he knocked unconscious? How had he kept the fin-
chipped into the top like something had taken a bite out of it.
ger? So few details in the news reports. A writer lives for details,
Which in a way it had.
dies without them.
“You didn’t fix it.”
“So these gals,” he goes on, “a little plump, both of them.
“Naw. Don’t no one would really think it happened least-
Big sun hats, big sun dresses, orange and purple and red and
wise. A real conversation starter, yah? Great at parties.” He
green, like a grenade went off as they was strolling past the
grins, flashing big false teeth flat as picket fence posts. “Hey,
produce down at farmers market on Main but they either didn’t
I got a good one for you. You still keeping that book? Funny
notice no how or was taking pride in their gaudiness, couldn’t
things people says?”
tell which. But they from Hotlanta so they some hot shit, right?
I draw a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Hitches a few times, a jackhammer powering down, almost revealing my panic. He doesn’t catch on. “Sure.”
You know the type.” I did. I grew up in a crap house on Siesta Key near the canal, a fourplex my father owned and rented out. Million dollar,
“Okay. So Ella and me, we gets these customers in, these
two million dollar houses prowling up down the twisting palm-
Georgia gals down from hoighty-toighty Hotlanta. This here,
lined avenue, every one of them bloated from breathing in the
this is a jewelry store. Economy being what it is, prices are what
rich sea air: heavy, moist, intoxicating. On the stroll, delusional
they are. I’m more than fair. But some people...”
and surgically stressed trophy wives power-walking their high,
He doesn’t notice my hands squeezing each other, knuck-
proud and unmoving silicone chassis. Ahead of them, desper-
les popping whiter than fresh hospital sheets. I want to hear
ate, wild-eyed hundred pound poodles on bungee leashes. I
scored enough cash selling weed to those ladies to get to L.A.
a great script and how nothing I pitched got their interest...
and start film school.
except old Avery’s story. Except what happened with him and
“They try to unload some costume jewelry they insist is
his ring, which had been all over the news. But they leaned in,
diamonds and pearls. I smile and wish them luck with that. On
all ears, to the story I said I could deliver, the one no one had:
the way out, just as the door is literally tapping one of these
What happened after. “They never caught the boys?” I’m nearly hyperventilat-
pig-faced women in her plump rump, she done looks over her shoulder and says to me, ‘you have a blessed day.’ I think that’s
the end of it, but she still standin’ there, smiling and batting
“Nope. And that’s fine. Way I see it, we all had a near miss
her lashes like she’s done gonna drop her panties and stroll on
and now we could just go on with our lives. I just prayed he or
into Sunday services and she adds, ‘where we come from, you
any of his friends never done nothing like that again. Nothing
ignorant cracker, that means go fuck yourself.’ And then she
else for it, really.”
takes her leave.” He smiles, pleased with himself. “Isn’t that just
“That night, what did you do? What did you feel?”
beautiful? I think that’s beautiful.”
“Well, I was happy!”
I can’t wait any longer. Fingers shaking, I raise my phone, scroll to notes. “Oh, right, so that’s how you do it now. People do everything on the phones, isn’t that it? You got a folder for whatchacallit, colloquialisms?” I don’t answer. Bands of iron tighten around my ribs while ice drips down my spine. “You must be freezing. Right under the air-conditioning vent like that. I’ll go turn it off.”
“I’ll bet. You had your life back! Did you go out and celebrate?” I keep encouraging him but this is like fishing in the Gulf with red tide rushing in. “We had sex. That was good. Course we do that a lot. My brother Ned is a pharmacist, don’t tell anyone, but he hooks us up with the blue pill and... shiiiiit.” I feel another headache coming on but I can’t get angry, he’s trying, I won’t get what I need if I say what I’m thinking. Count to ten. Count to ten. If I repeat that ten times...
Whatever’s in my eyes now stops him. His smile performs
Sympathy spoons up in his dark gentle eyes. “Look, I got
a magic trick: vanishes. He doesn’t have to say that he’s only
nothing for you. I get it. You’re not the first come here wantin’
seen the look like what I’m giving him once before, in the eyes
what you’re wantin’. Most of these people, I just tell them to
of the boy who robbed his store three years earlier and shot
have a ‘blessed day,’ basically. But with you, you’re, ah...”
him. But it’s clear. And I’m too afraid of what’s waiting for me
“One of your strays.”
back on the coast to feel ashamed.
“There’s just nothing. You’re looking for the O. Henry
I read it off to him. Exact. “‘Age doesn’t provide wisdom; only regret.’ Your words. After you’d been shot.”
twist. That whole crazy chain of events that one thing kicked off. How almost dying made me reevaluate my life and reach
He shrugs. “I shoulda seen what he was fixing to do soon-
out to people who wronged me or whom I had wronged. Kevin,
er. Maybe I could’ve talked him out of trying to throw away
I’m sorry but I’m a boring old fuck. I like Sudoku. I gamble a
both our lives.”
little racing the greys and scream myself hoarse like a damn
Breathless. Waiting. “That’s all?”
fool at the DeSoto speedway. I was in the war but mostly I was
“That’s enough, I’d say.” His hand, the one with the dam-
just a supply clerk. Ella and me been together goin’ on 50 years
aged wedding band, rests on my shoulder. My quaking eases,
and not once have we strayed. I ain’t done nothin’ crazy, nei-
doesn’t stop. “I ever tell you how much you remind me of the
ther before or after what happened. What happened happened
neighborhood strays back in Arcadia, when I was a boy? I think
and then it was done.”
that’s why I gave you a job that summer. Now... you got troubles, don’t you? You think I can help.”
His hands were steepled before him. Glare from a jeweler’s lamp seared the gold expanse on his ring finger, caught in the
My voice: raw and breaking. “I’m dead if you can’t.”
blackened teethlike jagged grooves left by the bullet strike. He
So I tell him. About the Mazuchelli family in Burbank (I
caught my stare, sighed.
couldn’t even manage to get in with Hollywood gangsters,
“Who is that other writer you like so much? Saki? And that
Christ...) How much I owed them, how it turned out they want-
guy, he had the TV show with the horses going around the car-
ed into the film business like everyone else, but just needed
ousel and he had a big bald goopie egg of a head—”
“Roald Dahl. Tales of the Unexpected.”
I’d never noticed when I’d worked here before college, ink he
“Right! That big busty gal from Dynasty, she was in a cou-
scratched like it was new. A puppy on one bicep, a kitty cat
ple of them stories and she was real young. That’s what you’re
on the other. Wide trusting eyes. Details. Sometimes it was
looking for, yah? Some crazy thing...” He held up his hand and
just murder to keep up with them all. “That light in your eyes.
the glow dropped from his ring like tears after a heartbreak,
Potentiality is what we called it up in the rice paddies. I was
slow and easy and beyond anyone’s control. “Like the ring still
infantry for all of two weeks before I was transferred out. Long
being busted years later needs to have, ah, symbolism, and rel-
enough to see boys younger than you playing out their whole
evance and themes relating to, uh, how we relate, in relation-
lives in their heads every time they thought they saw a glint of
ships and marriage and shit, fair the by... like if I had gone home
something in a tree. Their whole lives, burning like the sun, like
that day and I’d found my brother and my wife going at it or
a prize waiting to be taken. Staring at diamonds all day, seeing
something, right, and under any other circumstances I done
that refracted light, it’s a mite like that. All the things they wish
woulda for sure just shot them myself but I was like ‘this is just
they had time to do...”
life’ so I yelled ‘room for one more’ and jumped in and we been
Excitement wound through me. “A bucket list!”
a happy threesome ever since. Now we do swinger’s clubs in
“Like in that movie?”
mattress factories and I’m not happy unless I got a ball gag in
“The story starts here, today. Maybe there’s something you
my mouth, right? That kind of thing?”
always wanted to do. Some path you were on once and you
I actually brighten up at that.
were led off it by circumstances. But it stayed with you. Some-
“But nothing like that happened and I ain’t puttin’ my name
where in the back of your head you’ve always wondered ‘what
to that. Could it be, like, genteel or religious? Like, I’d had a rov-
if.’ Maybe you wanted to go to Egypt and see the pyramids. Or
ing eye and sinned in my heart before that day and I was just
run away to the circus and walk a tightrope. Maybe run for of-
about to commit the mortal sin of adultery but I saw the face
fice and take on Washington. That could be the movie!”
of Jesus in that bullet when they showed it to me later and uh...
“I don’t like heights.”
naw, I’m not puttin’ my name to that either...”
“Okay, but you get my point.”
“There’s got to be a metaphor in there.”
“Huh.” The fingers of his right hand sinuously pulse and
“Surely, surely in the fictional sense I’m sure there is. But
writhe over his wounded wedding band. “I’ve led a pretty
in life shit happens and then there is more life and there’s more
happy life. I’m fulfilled, except...” He glances out to the shop
shit and it just keeps going like that. I just don’t know how to
and the Closed sign. Casts his gaze downward. “There is some-
We sat in silence in his workshop. I glanced to the door-
My wildly beating heart is almost in my throat. “You can’t
way, to the modest showroom beyond, the Closed sign hanging
be ashamed of it. No one’s going to judge you. I just want the
above the locked door. A man in a suit tried the door anyway,
truth. I want you to be honest with me, be honest with yourself,
shook his head, moved on, frustrated. No one I recognized. But
you’re safe, you can be who you’ve always wanted to be, do
then it wouldn’t be.
whatever that one thing is you’ve always wanted to do, you—”
“No one knows you’re here? You didn’t say you were coming back home?” I shook my head.
I don’t know when the hammer leaped into his hand. I do know when it connected with the side of my skull. * * *
“You told these Burbank people about me? That this really
It wasn’t a smooth transition. I didn’t just immediately lose
happened, you weren’t just making it up? So even if I hid you
consciousness and wake up where I am now on the long black
out here, eventually...”
marble table, two spent rolls of duct tape holding me in place.
“Yeah, eventually. They have reach.”
It was awkward, it was embarrassing, it was almost comical. Ex-
“They have reach...”
cept for the pain. The terror. A voice in my head screaming, this
I saw him looking at me then. Studying my face the way
is happening you have to get out. The feel of his heavy bulky
I’ve been studying his. “What?”
body above me, behind me, around me, not so much grap-
He eased back on a stool. A big man, twice my size. Torso
pling as smothering, razor burns from his stubble scraping into
like an overstuffed bag of flour. Muscular arms with tattoos
the back of my neck, the sharp nasty tang of his cheap shav-
ing gel and the sickly sweet of the baby powder he’d doused himself with after showering. The struggling until the hammer
Jewelers’ blades in his hands. Plastic on the walls. Hammers. Saws. No...
finally stopped catching me on meaty bits and connected with
“I never lied outright to Ella. I told her I was disappointed
my ankle when we were playing Twister, somehow, the rush
I didn’t see action in the war, but didn’t explain why. I told her
of vomit, the weakness, the slamming of my forehead into the
my childhood was troubled and left it at that. All truth, just not
table until I was too weak to do anything but cry and he finally
the whole truth, not freely giving of myself as I am with you,
had me down.
“It was just animals when I was a boy,” he said. “Mice and
The tinkling of bells. Footsteps from the alley entrance. Ella,
then squirrels. A raccoon once, but they’s nasty. The neighbor-
neatly put together, aging gracefully and beautifully, cartons of
hood strays, even the pets that done set to wander, they was
rich smelling Thai takeout and her birdlike hands. Staring.
easy and you could get something outta that. Just feed them
“Oh,” the man with the cracked wedding band says.
some drugged meat and down they’d go. Down to the work-
Her eyes meet mine. I plead, I beg. I’m that boy who
shop. You’re right, Kevin, everything you said. A man shouldn’t
worked at the shop, the one she and Avery had over for dinner
be ashamed of who he is, what he is. Of the things he needs.
who knows how many times, who washed and polished their
Age only brings regret if you let it.”
El Camino, who sat with her on the old porch swing behind the
My mouth had been open a little when he taped it. My
house eating beef jerky and looking up at the stars telling my
tongue was stuck to the gloomy part. It was hard to swallow.
stories, whittling out my dreams with words, telling jokes, mak-
The tape is tight over my ribs and gut. Hard to breathe.
ing her smile, and for a moment she sees me, really sees me, and I know there’s a chance and I know I should be signaling her to run, to save herself, but I want to live, and she doesn’t
He’s staring at his broken ring. Easing the band in tight short semicircles around his thick finger. “I think I got that metaphor now.
know, can’t know what her husband is, I don’t think he really accepted it ‘til today, and she’s shocked, she’s surprised, she’s processing, she can save me, with a word she can make him stop and she’s thinking about it, I can tell, she pities me, she—
It’s that as much as I might love my wife, as
The universe slips, it shifts, something in her brain switches
close as I might feel to her — and I do, I’d
over and in a blink there’s nothing in her gaze. Not for me. She
never bring her a moment’s pain — there’s always been, the way this ring is now, a lit-
turns it on her husband and her eyes fill with the light of unconditional love. She’s made her decision. “I need this,” he says. He’s watching her. What he said
tle chipped part, a little something missing.
before was true, I can see that, he won’t hurt her. He’d sooner
A kind of unity that wasn’t there, that I did
end his own life than bring a moment of pain to hers. He’s
feel... this is going to sound crazy... with those neighborhood pets. When they were as you
looking for that hurt, wondering if he’s harmed her with the little sideshow she just walked in on, with keeping this part of himself from her?
are now, we were wed. When that light of all
There’s no pain in her. She’s accepted this is how things
they ever might be came into their eyes and
are now, her thin hands working her wedding ring, caressing
into to me as they passed, we were one. In a way that even holy matrimony simply can’t provide for, if you take my meaning.”
it, marrying him all over again in this crazed instant. This is the ‘for worse’ part, and it’s bad, but if it’s needed, if this is what he needs... (Help me, Goddammit!!!) I can’t imagine anyone loving like that. It’s one part insanity, one part the most beautiful and dangerous thing I’ve ever
Count to ten. Count to ten. Count—
seen, and I feel a wetness down my leg as my fear collapses my
“But they just dumb beasts. They could feel, but not think.
self-control. I’m dead, I’m dead now, she’s made her choice,
Not as you or I.”
why would I think she’d choose me, I throw up a little in my scenesarasota.com
mouth and think I’ll choke, and I’m dizzy and the room is keeling, but I don’t choke, don’t pass out, don’t— “If you need this,” she whispers. “All right.” A nod. A thin but warm smile. “All right. You need any help?” “N-no... I got this.” She sits down with the food beside his microwave. This is a thing that’s happening and she’s made her decision, she’s treating it as if he just got a delivery and had to focus on his work, as if this were normal. Shit happens, then more life, then more shit, then... “Thought you might want some lunch... Avery, hon, there’s some bad smells in here. You want I should...” She stops herself. Thinks about it. Gets it. “No, no real point yet, I suppose. Smells’ll be worse later. I’ll see what cleaners we have under the sink, maybe something with a pine scent.” Watches me struggle. “That tape enough? I can get the handcuffs from Christmas, the special ones—” “No, no, no. This is good. We’re good.” “Aah right. I love you. Meatloaf later. I’ll keep it warm. Don’t worry if you don’t eat any of the Master Changs, probably got MSG anyway. You take your time.” “All right.” “All right.” Then she’s gone. Then he’s looking at me. Then to his ring. He’s slipping it off. I’m writhing. Trying to scream. Trying to get loose. I can’t see him anymore. There’s tapping, something tightening, a vise? I smell something burning. He’s going to burn me. I hear liquid. A sizzling. Smelting? Is he going to pour whatever he’s melting in my mouth, my eyes, oh God— This time I really do pass out. * * * When I wake I am in the trunk of a car. Avery’s ratty old El Camino. Cool night air sifts onto me. The trunk is open. I’m looking at Avery and Ella. My wrists are handcuffed together in front of me. Takes them a while. They bang me up quite a bit getting me out of there, spilling me onto a white painted line separating spaces in the vast parking lot of a deserted grocery store far from the nearest lamp. A wind kicks up, a stray shopping cart rolls, squeaking, stops. Ella crouches next to me and I am crying again, my knees up protectively, a fetal position. Her cold lips touch my ear. “It’s like with those boys. They’re on with their lives, we’re on with ours.” She steps back, takes her husband’s hand. Even in the dim light, a shard of golden light, a gleam of insane brilliance, breaks off his wide wedding band. It’s whole. It’s complete. The missing piece filled in. Ping! A tiny key falls within my reach. I lunge for it, fumble for freedom. When I look back, they’re driving off. * * * Stopped at a light. “Avery?” “Uh-huh.” “You’re the most generous man I’ve ever known. I ever tell you that?” “Figure it all evens out. He’s got his story now.” She takes his hand, rests it on her thigh, smiles down at the wedding band, now a perfect match to her own. Snuggles against his shoulder. “And we’ve got ours.”
Scott Ciencin is a New York Times bestselling author of adult and children’s fiction with over 100 titles from Random House, Simon & Schuster, Scholastic and many others. He also writes for the Sarasota Film Festival as “The Insider” and works as a scriptwriter and creative consultant for film, comic books, video games and more. He is currently at work on his next novel.
By Julianna Baggott Illustration by Erica Gilchrist
This is the heaven of tree-lined streets, sidewalks,
seen pictures of this house all my life — the pale beige
homes cocooned from infection in their nonporous plas-
clapboard, the brown door, the ivy still thriving beneath
tic bubbles, which glint in the sun. I tell Allyster that I’d
the bubble, which probably amplifies the warmth like a
like to roll down the car windows, feel the sun and wind
greenhouse. The driveway is empty. The inflatable walk-
on my face, but he reminds me that I can’t risk the con-
way that leads from the front door and eventually locks
tagion, especially not in my weakened condition.
onto the door of the car — airtight — has that same sheen
We’re looking for my heaven specifically. 1411
and ripples in the wind.
Browning Drive. We’re close. I would recognize this
This is the home of Susan Wraith.
street anywhere. “Maybe this street was named after the
poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning,” I say. Allyster slows
I’ve known this house forever but we had to steal the
the rental car. “The proctors had me memorize her po-
ems — I love thee with a love I seemed to lose/With my
A sketch of her face sits on the seat between us. Her
lost saints.” I glance at Allyster. “They must have had me
face is my face. And yet, I don’t know my own face well.
memorize it because she had to memorize it.”
The proctors never allowed mirrors, which is why Allys-
“There’s no other explanation,” Allyster says. “Not for
ter got so good at making likenesses. The other pupils
anything we know, except what we’ve taught each other,
begged him for portraits, also not allowed; he made them
accidentally. Except for our daily lives which weren’t re-
and let people look at them only during a short study
ally ours anyway.”
break before lights out. Then he’d open a window and
And there’s the house of my heaven. Allyster parks the car. The air in the car goes quiet and hallowed. I’ve 74
burn the etching in an empty garbage can. Except mine. He let me keep mine. scenesarasota.com
Allyster’s original took art lessons. The proctors were
decision to clone a child is a natural one for the rich. With so
forced to teach him to draw. Luckily, his original also knows
many virulent super-diseases now, their children often per-
how to drive, which is why he can operate the car at all.
ish before adulthood. Bearing more children wears on the
Allyster would recognize Susan Wraith if she ap-
mother’s strength, degrades her body. You’ve been raised to
peared in an upper window right now, but would I? Even
replace your original if she dies. Like the school play. You
though her face is my face?
were once an understudy for Brita March, weren’t you?”
My name is Susan Wraith, too, of course. How else
I nodded, unable to speak. The news was as terrifying
would I know to look up when someone said those two
as it was satisfying. My life — our lives in the Ward of Be-
words? I want someone to call my name. I want to lift my
loveds — made sense. I didn’t understand the science of it,
head and find that it’s my mother at the front door, call-
but I knew, deep down, that this was the truth, the purpose
ing for me! But this is farfetched. And if she were calling
of my life. It’s a truth not many people ever get — and rarely
for me, she wouldn’t be calling me at all...
with such clarity. (We have been taught to always look for
It’s like coming home to a foreign land. In ten days, I’ll be eighteen, and Allyster will turn eighteen in two months. It’s time we got to come home, isn’t it? “We deserve homes,” I say.
positives.) I folded the edge of my sheet, my hands shaking and I looked up at Proctor Elizabeth, waiting for more. She’s scarred like all proctors, a line down one side of her forehead through her eyebrow, lightly along the lid of
“That’s what I want to hear,” Allyster encourages me. “We are deserving!”
one eye and then down her cheek, tear-like from there to her jaw. She made no attempt at sympathy. Her voice held
In the next few days, we’re going to kidnap Susan Wraith. Allyster and I. We’ve never stolen anything in our lives, but we are going to steal a human being — in
a barely muted glee. I realized then how much the proctors hate us. I didn’t understand. “And now that I’m eighteen, what’s changed? What if Susan Wraith dies tomorrow?
hopes of saving my life. ***
I’m still of use, aren’t I? I could still go to heaven and live
Long ago — before penicillin and vaccines — peo-
with my heavenly parents if I’m good, can’t I?”We’d been
ple had many children because few survived childhood.
taught from birth that we were each given our own ver-
The poor needed children to work the farms. The rich
sion of heaven — the cooing of our specific parents’ faces
on screens mounted on our cribs. Hell existed outside of
(This is something I’ve read. I know this. Does she know this, too?)
our gated school — the impoverished hell of The Zones. Our ward, like purgatory, existed between the two.
It’s what I thought about when Proctor Elizabeth told
“It has nothing to do with good or bad. We used
me the news in my hospital room — why I exist, what
those concepts as threats to keep you well-behaved,”
level of insurance my heavenly parents paid for, and how
Proctor Elizabeth said. “It’s random. If your original
I’d soon be appropriately scarred and sent to the other
dies, you take that child’s place. If the original lives,
hospital, the one in hell, where people go to die.
there are two options. If your parents only paid for
She wasn’t supposed to tell me until I turned eighteen. But I asked her to visit me, to sing when they turned out the lights. Maybe I sensed that I wouldn’t be beloved much longer.
Level I insurance, the basics, you are scarred and sent out to live in one of The Zones at eighteen.” “Elroy Wincester,” I said. I’d seen him on the bus ride to the one good hospital where we go when we’re very
Weary and angry, she pulled a chair to my bedside and
ill. While riding through hell in the long dark car to get
stated the facts. “You’re a clone,” Procter Elizabeth said. “The
to it, they told me to close my eyes. But I looked out the
window through my splayed fingers to see those on the
streets. So many people, worn and tired. They shuffle and
“Some parents pay to continue insurance — in case
shove among each other. So many of them have the scars
their child, in adulthood, needs you as a donor. You’re
that run down their faces, like the proctors. I believed
really of no use as an understudy anymore. At a certain
what I’d been told — the scars were a punishment for the
point, you can never really pass as your original. If need-
sins of their nature. There was something within each of
ed for parts, the pupils are given plastic surgery for their
them that wasn’t worthy. The scars were administered by
facial features, new identities, and they live in one of the
the government, but also sometimes self-administered.
Protected Areas, where they’re more likely to survive.
“People know the sin within them.” I felt sorry for the
Some marry and have children. Some even have enough
scarred. There were so many of them — face after face,
money to choose to clone their own children. We’ve had
sliced down one side, a long risen seam.
some multiple generations that way.”
And then I could have sworn I saw Elroy Wincester, standing in a long line outside of a building with a dark-
“But we’re beloved. You’ve all told us that again and again. Was that a lie?”
ened door. It looked like a government handout line. He
“No,” Proctor Elizabeth said. “They pay handsomely
was cold, shifting his feet, shoulders hunched, hands in
to clone you children. You are beloved. It’s just that your
the pockets of his thin coat. He had the long rough scar
status as beloved has an expiration date.”
of a proctor, which I now know is the scar on all clones
She looked old to me then, unbearably old — fine
that aren’t ever of use, not just proctors. I told myself I
wrinkles, budding jowls. I hated her. In fact, for the first
was wrong. We’d been told that Elroy had gotten called
time in my life, I understood hatred. “What about you?” I
to heaven to live with Mr. and Mrs. Wincester.
As I looked away, Elroy spotted me. He mouthed my
“I was once like you,” Proctor Elizabeth said. “I was
name then waved and shouted. “Hurry,” I told the driver.
going to be sent to hell, but I got lucky and got a proc-
Was I afraid of Elroy now? How could I be? He was so
tor post. Who else would know how to care for clones
kind and good.
but clones? One day, my original may need me for parts.
He was fast enough to get one hand on the window.
She pays monthly for the privilege — unable to afford
I heard his muffled voice. “Susan! Susan! Find me, okay!
the surgeries for me. If she stops paying, I’m no longer
After! Find me!”
of much use.”
The driver sped up. Elroy pounded the trunk with his fist. It was over. “What about Elroy?” Proctor Elizabeth asked. “He did everything right. Always. He was so good.
“You aren’t like me,” I reminded her. “I’m dying.” This was the truth that the doctors never really wanted to state, but I knew that my case was terminal. “Ironic, isn’t it?” She walked to the window.
After he was gone, you told us he’d joined his family: a
beautiful reunion of souls! But I saw him in hell.”
“If you were an original, you’d need your clone. But
“We tell you whatever makes sense, that the good go to heaven, the bad to hell. But it’s senseless. Reality isn’t reasonable. Except the Zones do feel like hell, though, Susan. I’ve walked those streets. They are hell.”
you’re a clone. Your original is not going to come and save you. Susan Wraith doesn’t even know you exist.” “Tell my parents I’m sick. I’ll die if I’m sent out of this hospital. Tell them!”
How many times had she explained this to pupils like
“Dear heart,” Proctor Elizabeth said, “don’t you
me as they turn eighteen? It seemed practiced. Was this
think they’ve been given the opportunity to up their pay-
the best part of her job? “What’s the second option?” I
ments? They know. Of course they know.”
You can dream it, we can build it!
*** Duct tape, rope, a cloth to use as a blindfold. A knife, not to kill her, just to threaten her. A crowbar to jimmy a window — though we hope to catch her outside, perhaps in school where the kids are still allowed to shuffle among each other. Allyster puts all of these objects on the orange comforter of the hotel bed. We’re staying one town away from 1411 Browning Drive. “It’s good they let us watch all the movies they’ve watched. How else would we know how to kidnap someone?” Allyster says. “We don’t know how to kidnap someone,” I remind him. “Hopefully, we won’t need to. When we talk to her, maybe she’ll understand. I’m more than a twin, right?” “You should lie down.” He’s always afraid I’m about to die, suddenly, without warning. How many times have I explained that mine will be the slow painful kind of death? I’m tired though so while he puts everything into his satchel, I climb into bed. There’s only one bed, a double. We had to tell the desk clerk we were newlyweds or he’d
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have made us get two rooms. We made that mistake in another hotel lobby. We were called fornicators and invited to take our business elsewhere. Allyster and I aren’t fornicators. Not yet. But I think I’d like to be a fornicator with him, under the orange bedspread in this dim hotel room, before we kidnap a human being and feel that weight and shame forever. We’ve only kissed once, the night he rescued me. Allyster broke out of school to visit me in the hospital, late at night, and he made it all the way to my room. It was the night before they were to take me to the hospital in the zone. I told him everything Proctor Elizabeth had told me. He found me a set of clothes in the doctor’s lounge, baggy and ill-fitting. He broke into a room full of records and emerged with my entire file — the one that stated the address of my original — and then, together, we escaped. Security is high — to get in. But getting out wasn’t so hard. Back stairwells, service exits. Once out on the streets, he didn’t know where to go. scenesarasota.com
But I knew, yes. Elroy Wincester. We retraced the route
guage lab — like, like, like, you know?”
of the car, and I found a building with the darkened door.
“I’m glad too.”
“This one, I think.”
“Here.” He pats his chest.
Eventually a line formed. We sat across the street, watching. “There he is!” I pointed him out.
I put my head on his heart and close my eyes. “Do you think Allyster Brooks is out here somewhere? Do you think we can find him? After ...”
It took two weeks living as Elroy lives, in culverts and shanties, until he helped us make
“I don’t want to find him.” “Don’t you want to see your heaven?” “This is my heaven.”
a plan. Beyond the Zones to the east, there
I look up at him and this time, I kiss him. I love thee
are checkpoints that, once passed, take you
with a passion put to use/In my old griefs, and with my
into the outskirts of heaven. Elroy had con-
nections to the underground network. Proctor Elizabeth was right. Hell is hell. But Elroy got us everything we needed.
My body feels hot at its core, as if inside me there was a glowing coal. When Allyster pulls away, he says, “We could get married, one day, and live somewhere far away from all of this. There are other countries. We’ve gotten this far.
I was Elwyn Foundry and Allyster was Merton Varga. When we were finally in a rental car driving around heaven, I
Once you’re well, we can keep going.” “Let’s keep going forever,” I say. “Forever and ever.” ***
turned to Allyster and said, “Thank you, Merton.” He didn’t say, “You’re welcome, Elwyn.” He kissed me on
Because I feel weak, Allyster goes out alone to fol-
the mouth — full and sweet. “You can’t die,” he said. “We
low Susan Wraith. I want to glimpse my parents and even
don’t just owe them for our existence. They owe us, too.”
some version of myself, but I simply can’t. The jolt of be-
I think of this now as he gets under the covers with me. He says, “Remember when you were twelve and they gave your perfect chin a scar with stitches?”
ing that close to my heaven took a lot out of me. In the evenings, he tells me her patterns. Today, he talks about lockdown at school. The screening process’s
I’ve thought about this too. “You think that Susan
intensity — everyone is given a daily medical check be-
Wraith was learning to skateboard in secret, don’t you?
fore they can step foot in the halls. He gets in the shower,
And that her lie was exposed because she was injured?”
scalding away the day. We’ve lived so protected that we
“Maybe she’s rebellious.”
have to be extra careful.
“Now we’re rebellious, too.”
“We’ll never get in.”
“We were so taken care of there was no need to rebel.”
“I don’t want to break into her house.”
We were pampered and protected for their sake. I try
“It’s your house too.” He turns off the shower and
to imagine what he would look like with a scar — raw
eventually opens the door, letting loose all the steam.
and raised, stippled with blood, running down his fore-
I know almost every inch of that house. We’re shown
head through his eyebrow, light along the lid of his eye
exterior and interior footage. They update the images ev-
and then down his cheek to his jaw. I would love his
ery six months. I notice when they’ve gotten new cur-
scar. “So many things that never made sense now do.”
tains, a new range, a new bedspread in my room. “How
“I’m glad we never learned to speak the way they
did we ever believe their lives would be something we
taught us,” he says, “wearing headphones in the lan-
could one day walk right into?” I walk into the bathroom,
staring at my fogged reflection. Allyster stands wrapped in a towel tucked in at the waist. His chest is bare — muscled and pale. Beautiful. Last night, we did things together — in bed, in the dark. I know much of his body now by touch. “I saw Jinny Wilshire,” he says. “Remember her?” “She was just a year behind me. She left three years ago — to go to Hell.” “Her original must have died because she attends the regional high school. She plays the flute still. She was carrying that small black case.” “They had her practicing the flute all the time,” I say softly. “Jenny Wilshire. She was so mean and now she attends high school.” “She might even know Susan Wraith.” I walk out of the bathroom and pick up Allyster’s smartphone. We only have smartphones because all of our originals have smartphones. “Look her up online. See if you can get a number. Call her.” “No,” he says. “It’ll give us away. If I call and then Susan Wraith goes missing...” I look at the phone in my hands. “I want to hear her voice. I’d know if it was really her or not. I’d know it in her voice. I would.” “I’m going back out.” “Tonight?” “Susan Wraith is rebellious. She might make it easy for us. It’s Friday. She might go out. I have to give it a try.” He walks back into the bathroom to get dressed. We’ve been taught modesty. He emerges fully dressed. He picks up his satchel — the one filled with supplies. “If you get an opportunity,” I ask him, calmly, “are you going to take it?” He can’t look at me. He nods and puts on his coat. “I’m coming too.” “Are you sure?” “This might be my only chance.” “Don’t come.” He looks at me in a way that scares me. “I want to talk to her. I have to.” “I don’t know if this is going to work out the way you think.” “I have to see her for myself.”
We park the car down the street and sit low in the seats. I feel nauseous. My mouth tastes slightly metallic. My stomach hurts. Familiar symptoms. Allyster knows by the way I squeeze his hand that I’m not doing well. “I can take you back to the hotel,” he says. “And come back alone.” I draw in my lips and shake my head. “I want to stay.” It was an infection that damaged my kidneys. They try to keep us free of disease, cut off from the Zones of Hell, but we share water, food sources. Disease is always possible. 80
One thing is certain. It’s not a genetic disease. My original and I are the optimal versions of our parents. “What do you think she’ll say when she sees me?”
ly down the sidewalk, her arms wrapped around herself, hugging herself tightly. A light goes on in the house, on the second floor. A
Allyster turns to me and cups my face in his hand. His
shadow passes by a window, like a moth. Is it my moth-
eyes are lit by the street lamp. He runs his thumb down
er? My father? I could become all they have left in the
the line where the proctors have their scars — down
world. They would love me. They would have to. I would
my forehead, lightly touching one eyelid, then down my
finally get everything I ever longed for, everything I de-
cheek. He says, “There are still three days on their poli-
serve. 1141 Browning Drive.
cy. You don’t turn eighteen for three more days.”
Then I remember the ending of the poem. I love thee
“What are you talking about?”
with a love I seemed to lose/ With my lost saints. I love
“I’m not here to talk her into giving up her kidney,
thee with the breath,/ Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if
Susan.” “Well, I know that she might say no. I know that. And we’ll cross that bridge when we– ”
God choose,/ I shall but love thee better after death. “After it’s over,” Allyster says, “we’ll drive back. We’ll reappear at the hospital and say we ran away and spent a few
“Three more days,” he says.
days in Hell. They’ll tell us the news — that there was an
And just then the door to their house opens from
accident and your parents need you. I looked in my files, Su-
within. Pale light shines into the inflated walkway. There
san, while I was in the hospital, looking for a way out. There
is Susan Wraith — more robust than I am, fuller and
were records from my appendicitis. I’m a Level II. If they don’t
broader. Maybe even taller. Her hair is just like mine.
need me in two months, I’ll move into the protected areas to
No. Mine has been cut to be just like hers. She closes the
continue as a prospective donor. They’ll change my face, and
door and the light fades quickly.
I’ll find you, Susan. We can be together.”
Still, we can see her as she makes her way, crouched
He puts the car in gear but doesn’t lift his foot off the
low, to the lock at the end of the walkway, the one that’s
brake. All he has to do is gun it, pop the car up over the
supposed to make a seal with the car door.
curb and run her over.
I look back at Allyster. I know what he’s thinking. I shake my head. “You can’t,” I whisper. “You can’t.” “They’ll take you in. They’ll get you the best care that money can buy. They’ll cherish you.”
“They’ll think it was a drunk.” “A drunk,” I hear myself say. “A drunk, that’s all.” “The world is full of drunks.” “It is, isn’t it?”
Susan has made it to the end of the walkway now.
“Plus,” he says, “she shouldn’t be out. If you had that
She’s working on the locking system. It releases so quick-
house, those parents who loved you, would you have
ly, her hair is blown from her face for a second.
run off into the night like her?”
Allyster turns the key, but doesn’t turn on the head-
lights. He says, “Even if she thought of you as more than
“Let me do this,” he says.
a twin, did you think her parents would ever let her give
“But I love her.”
up a kidney for you? Did you think they’d ever love you
“You can love yourself now. You can be yourself.
the way they love her?”
Susan has stepped out into the open night air. The
I shall but love thee better after death. I know the
door automatically closes behind her. She isn’t dressed
poem because Susan Wraith was taught the poem. Did
warmly enough for the night. Maybe grabbing her coat
she really pay attention to it? Did she memorize it because
would have aroused suspicion. She starts walking quick-
it was assigned or because she loved it?
I fasten my seatbelt and nod. That’s all. Only that. After being good for so long, is that nod such a crime? “Thank you,” Allyster says, and he raises his fist in the air. “God! Thank you.” He grips the wheel, steps on the gas, and it feels, for a second, like it’s lifting ever so slightly from the earth, as if it’s not going to go forward and crush the delicate body of Susan Wraith, but is going to peel from the earth and veer into the sky. Julianna Baggott is the author of 18 books, under her own name as well as pen names Bridget Asher (The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted) and N.E. Bode (The Anybodies Trilogy). Her most recent novel, Pure, the first in a dystopian trilogy, was a New York Times Editor’s Choice, and is in development with Fox2000. She teaches in the College of Motion Picture Arts at Florida State University.
From national bestselling author Julianna Baggott
THEY ESCAPED THE APOCALYPSE... “Make room on your shelf for PURE... dark and wildly imaginative.”
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