Chapter 5A Chapter by Domenic Luciani
Busy doing nothing. I hope you enjoy the ending.
Nothing interesting happens in heaven.
Tyler closed the book he had been looking at and pulled another from the shelf. It had black binding with a golden cross on the front. He flipped open to a random page and read “The book of John . . . Who’s John?”
“Must’ve been somebody important if he’s got a whole book on him.” Sam said. She was strewn across the couch with one leg off and an arm slung over the edge behind her head. She had a book of her own, but she didn’t seem to be reading it.
“No,” Tyler said, rapidly flipping chunks of pages. “There’s a bunch of people named here.”
Sam just shrugged.
They had been sitting in what used to be Steve’s apartment for three hours now. Beck had explained that Steve would no longer need it, though he didn’t go into explicit detail. The police had obviously conducted a search earlier, but they hadn’t removed anything. There were clean marks in the thick layer of dust where things had been picked up and put down. It also appeared that Steve had told Beck he had a room hidden behind an inconspicuous patch of drywall that contained memorabilia from who-knows-how long ago. The room was hidden behind a bedroom closet, and once Beck had knocked a small hole in it, you could crawl through.
Among the collection of books was an old box television with metal antennae jutting out the back, along with a VHS player and a couple black cartridges that, after a while of fussing and jamming, they discovered fit into the slot on the VHS player. The plugs were outdated and wouldn’t fit into the outlets around the apartment, but the hidden room also contained a dusty old miniature generator that was compatible.
Beck had left the apartment sometime ago. First he had thrown on two extra coats with shirts stuffed into them so that his thin frame looked bulky and muscular. Then, he had ripped open a pillow and glued pieces of stuffing to his chin and lip so that he looked like an old man with an overly fluffy white beard. Add thick-rimmed glass and a bowler hat and presto. Beck stood in front of the full-length mirror in the bathroom to inspect his handiwork.
“How do I look?” He had asked, stepping out into the living room. Sam had burst out laughing, but Tyler shrunk away in shame. “I don’t know you,” he had said.
After he left, Tyler and Sam had tried to hook up the television and the VHS player to the generator with mild success. The generator sputtered and honked before the steady whistle kicked in. They were waiting for it to warm up.
And so they sat on a dead man’s floor, looking through his stuff and laughing about it.
Tyler became engrossed in a fantasy novel about pirates and buried treasure, Sam squinted at a newspaper article. “Hey,” she said. Tyler didn’t look up. His mind was in deep blue oceans and aboard groaning ships with men who sang merrily while they killed people and took their money. “Hey!” She yelled at him. Tyler looked up.
She thrust out the newspaper towards him and said, “Read this to me.”
“Read it yourself,” he snapped and tried to get lost in the novel again.
Sam got up from the couch. She rolled up the newspaper and smacked him on the head with it. “I can’t,” she said.
Tyler looked bewildered. “You can’t read?”
Sam rolled her eyes. “No, I can’t. Stop being an a*s and just read it.”
Tyler took the paper from her. He had never known anyone who couldn’t read"hell, he had never even heard of anyone who couldn’t read. They had always taught him in school that children were born with the ability to read and write.
“Where are you from?” He asked.
“Outside the city.”
“You mean one of the gated communities?”
“No, I mean that smoldering pile of crap that surrounds this place for miles. The people here like to think it’s abandoned, but it isn’t. There’s a lot of people still hanging around. Most of them are just squatters, but some of the old geezers have been there forever, even since before they built the wall.” Sam sat back down on the couch.
But the wall had always been there, Tyler thought. He wasn’t an idiot; he knew the wall couldn’t have always been there, obviously someone had to have built it, but it must have been so long ago"too long for anyone still alive to remember it. That’s right, isn’t it?
Tyler sat thinking for awhile until he realized that Sam was waiting for him to read. He looked at the newspaper and said, “Rising gas prices estimated to top out soon. It says that in big letters on the front.” Tyler read through the entire article, pausing when he came to words and terms he didn’t know.
He looked at the date and laughed in disbelief. “No wonder none of this stuff makes any sense,” he said, handing the paper back to Sam. “Look at when it was written!”
Sam looked it and smirked, but she didn’t find it half as amusing as Tyler did.
They gave up on reading after a while and worked on the television. They pressed buttons and turned knobs, but all they got was static. Tyler shoved one of the black cassettes into the VHS player while Sam fiddled with the volume knob, flinching as she turned it too high and the room filled with Pffffffffffffffffffft!
“Ouch,” Tyler said, fingering his ear. He fiddled around some more on the VHS player, sliding his finger carelessly along the black row of buttons, and then did the same with the television. Something came on the screen that wasn’t static.
“What the hell is that?” Sam asked, moving in closer to the screen.
“I think it’s a cartoon. They used to show us stuff like this when we were kids, but those were informational.” Tyler looked down at the box he had pulled the cassette from. “It’s about a dog who runs away from home or something. We can change it if you want. I think I remember what I pushed"”
“No, leave it.”
Sam was entranced in the movie. Tyler wasn’t impressed. 2D movies were for little kids. Anyone could make them. He went into the other room and pulled over the smaller couch. For the next two hours they watched the comedic capers of the cartoon dog as he ran through some archaic city getting into all sorts of mischief. That was a new word for Tyler: ‘mischief’. The educational system tried to avoid the use of words like mischief, crime, violence, death. They thought it would be better if children grew up in a world where these terms, and the acts they represented, were nonexistent.
When the movie ended, they put in another one. This one was live-action, but it wasn’t even in color. Tyler assumed it was something wrong with the television. The movie was a noir crime drama with a good-looking male lead.
By now it was getting dark, and Tyler was worried about his father. Sam didn’t seem bothered by it though, and there was nothing he could do, so he just kept on watching the movie. He closed the blinds though, just so nobody saw the flickering lights.
Then there was something Tyler wasn’t familiar with. A scene had come on in the movie, where the male lead seduced (another new word) a female costar. They were in bed, breathing hard and moaning, sweaty bodies pressed together, pushing hard into one another again and again and again. Close-up on the girl’s face, her features contorted in a look of sheer ecstasy. The guy kisses her neck and then down her body. There’s the quick monochromatic flash of a n****e here and there, but nothing is shown in clear view. Tyler started to feel uncomfortable, but he wasn’t sure why.
Sam looked over at him, sensing his anxiety. “What’s up with you? They’re just doing it.”
“I know what they’re doing,” Tyler said. He barely managed to choke out the next few words. “They’re procreating, right?”
Sam looked at him for a moment longer then burst out laughing. She started to say something once or twice, but couldn’t get the words out. She was laughing so hard, tears were streaming down her face and only an odd rasping noise is audible.
Tyler didn’t understand. Sex was a taboo term. Procreation was for the continuity of the species and that was it. End of story. In the class he had to attend when he was five, they had explained the scientific concepts of it, of the difference in anatomies between men and women, and a vague description of the process. There was no pleasure in it. It happened once when people were ready for children and that was all. If anything, it was an inconvenience. Beck had told Tyler later that same day that MedTech was trying to perfect a process of artificial insemination that was guaranteed a perfect success rate and would one day become the default method of conception. Procreation, in regards to sex, was an outdated and primitive practice. He explained all of this to Sam who shook her head.
“You people don’t know what you’re missing,” she said.
The black-and-white movie finally came to an end and Tyler was posed to claim a bed to sleep on. Unfortunately, there were only two bedrooms and he was inclined to let his father have one and give Sam the other. He powered off the television and hauled the couch back into the living room.
The darkness was overwhelming. Tyler found a blanket and called to Sam to tell her goodnight. From the bathroom, she echoed him. He laid down on the couch, taking his shirt and socks off, then pulled the blanket tight to his shoulders and closed his eyes. The toilet flushed, the sink ran for a moment, and then he could hear Sam’s light footsteps tread into one of the bedrooms. The creak of bedsprings, the shifting of sheets, then silence. Tyler held his eyes closed for a long time before any amount of sleep came.
Nobody ever had dreams. Ever.
The apartment door slammed open then shut just as quick. Someone entered the apartment making no effort to conceal their noise. Tyler nearly jumped off the couch as he awoke. He remained frozen in place, waiting to hear what the next sound would be. His eyes were wide and his ears cocked back like a dog’s. Right now, he thought, Sam must be doing the same thing.
“Tyler!” Beck called. “Sam!”
Tyler jumped off the couch and ran into the other room, where his father sat on the floor with his back pressed against the door. He was bleeding. The disguise he had worn earlier was completely gone except for a few bits of white fluff still plastered to his chin. His jacket was torn and covered in dirt.
“Dad, what happened?” Tyler asked, helping his father up.
Beck went into the bathroom and removed most of his clothes except his underwear. Most of his wounds were just cuts and scrapes, but the deep gash on his shoulder was definitely caused by a bullet. He washed what he could with soap then looked around the cupboards for something stronger. He found a first aid kit and started tossing out random objects. Finding a bottle of peroxide, Beck dumped most of the bottle’s contents onto his cuts without much accuracy, gasping and clenching his teeth as the peroxide began to foam white around the cuts.
The bullet wound was a little more difficult. Sam offered to stitch it up herself but Beck shook his head. “Just clean it up for me while I do it.”
Tyler and Sam took turns wiping the blood away from the gash with towels while Beck threaded a needle and sowed the skin back together. He made a horrible mess of it, and by the time he was finished, he was pale white and shaking badly.
“You should’ve let me do it,” Sam said.
Beck waved her away, throwing more peroxide on himself and shuddering with pain. A few of the cuts and the bullet wound were still bleeding a bit, so Beck covered them with gauze while Tyler tossed the bloody towels into the incinerator and flicked the switch. Poof! A flash of light and the evidence was no more. Sam mopped up the trail of crimson droplets leading to the bathroom.
Beck was barely standing at this point. He hobbled over to the couch using Tyler as a crutch then collapsed like a ton of bricks onto the cushion. Tyler threw the blanket over his chest, still warm from when he had been sleeping under it only a moment ago. Beck was breathing hard still, his eyes were livid with fear.
“Dad, jeezes, what the hell happened?”
Beck took awhile to catch his breath then replied, “Nothing good. The plan failed. My only plan failed.”
When Beck had left earlier that evening, he felt like an idiot and looked like an overly upholstered armchair. He stepped out of the elevator into the lobby, ignoring the odd look the doorman was giving him, and strode out into the street.
The shipyard was nearly all the way across the city, and Beck had been hoping to the great being in the sky that nobody stopped him along the way.
By now, the emergency lockdown was being lifted so he could hop on the subway. The crowd had resumed its natural order as well, and Beck found himself walking side-by-side with two men in business suits. With his oversized coat, beard, and boots, Beck looked downright gigantic by comparison.
There was an unpleasant scent in the air. Beck caught a whiff of it at one point and tried to catch more, but whatever was wafting through the air, it either got snagged on his fake beard or disappeared entirely. Nobody else had seemed to notice it though. The solemn procession continued without a skip in the step. Beck kept on walking.
The subway was just as crowded as it always was. Full to the bursting with bottom-of-the-barrel corporate zombies. They drifted amongst each other, more asleep then awake. One man has his hand cupped and held out, but there’s nothing in it. He got on the train without even noticing.
Something was different today, and Beck stopped on the landing to the platform once he saw and immediately turned heel walked back up the stairs. He pushed against the oncoming mob of people like a fish swimming against the current. At the top, he rejoined the current and began to walk across the city to the shipyard.
There had been some sort of police checkpoint. Several officers had been standing at the edge of the platform inspecting the people who got onto the trains. Even as he was walking away, the police had grabbed a man about Beck’s size and ran a retinal scanner over his face. It clicked negative and the police shoved the man onto the train.
Great, he thought. Now I have to walk. A piece of his fake beard came off in his nose so that he started to make a wheezing noise when he breather. Wonderful.
The police were definitely looking for him now, of that he had no doubts. There were multiple smaller checkpoints from then on. Luckily, Beck managed to hide himself by slipping behind people or taking a detour down side streets. Luckily the city rarely ever had anything like this happen, and so the protocol was a little hazy. The police were unorganized, operating by the book and without intuition. Beck navigated around them with ease.
We are all the rats in the maze.
By the time Beck made it to the shipyard, the sky had gone pitch black. Spotlights had kicked on so that the workers could see what they were doing. The shops were massive and lined up in neat rows like towering black dominos.
There was a large plateau of barren concrete which led up to where enormous cranes were unloading row upon row of steel crates and loading others back onto ships; a field of multicolored metal gravestones. Everywhere you look the sound of heavy machinery fills the air. Everywhere you go, the smell of toxic fumes camps in your nose.
Compared to the rest of the city, this place is the slums. Sailors weren’t even allowed past the docks.
Take your stuff and get out.
Beck gave the area a wide birth, crouching and running at the same time. Beyond the edge of the concrete dock there was a five foot drop and perhaps three feet of sand that tapered into open water. He jumped down and ran along the tiny beach until he came to the first pier. In the darkness, nobody could see him. Night had thrown Beck, the sand, and the vast open sea into oblivion.
The pier was directly above him. Sailors and workers rushed along, carrying boxes and shouting to guide the cranes through their descent. He could hear the footsteps on the metal above him; the rapid tapping of sailors, and every once in a while there would be the heavy clunk of a police officer’s boots. They moved slowly, carefully overseeing the whole operation. They looked inside all of the cargo boxes with black lights, checking every bar code to make sure nothing illegal was being smuggled in. Every once in a while, the police would find something that didn’t add up or wasn’t on their list. Usually when this happened, someone was killed on the spot. Beck knows this because more often than not, it’s one of his colleagues who ordered something sketchy from a foreign country. They would come down in a huff, ignore the dead bloodied-up body on the ground, and ask why their precious material had been tampered with.
Beck climbs up onto the metal support beams that criss-cross each other and works his way over to the ship, wondering if his old job was really bad enough to warrant all of this.
Every so often he made a noise; his foot slipped off a support and splashed into the water or he moved too quickly and cracked his head on the metal. After this happened, he would freeze until he could hear footsteps growing distant.
At the end of the pier, Beck stuck his head out from under it like a groundhog in the spring. A worker was just stepping off the platform, just barely managing to miss the top of Beck’s bowler hat as he dipped back down. Once the mechanic was gone, he hoisted himself up and walked casually up the ramp. The officers only see the silhouette of a bulky sailor with what may or may not be a live animal plastered to his face. Hopefully he was home free.
The interior of the ship was familiar. Beck found his way through the maze of stairwells and tight corridors with relative ease. He found Ben, the slovenly-dressed first mate, yelling at one of the crew members just outside the captain’s quarters. As Beck approached, the sailor scampered off and disappeared into a cloud of steam. Beck walked up to Ben with a cheery smile.
“Just who the hell are you?” Ben asked. Beck cleared his throat and hastily introduced himself. “Beck? What on Earth are you wearing? Never mind. Can you believe this?”
Ben held up a thick black leather-bound book with the words ‘Maritime Law’ etched in gold at the top. He shook it until the pages slipped out of the binding, then picked up the innards that had fallen to the floor. He shoved it angrily into Beck’s face. “Can you believe it?” He asked again.
Beck squinted at the front page and read out loud, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin?”
“It’s a novel,” Ben said, walking over to the nearest incinerator and tossing it in. At the push of a button, the pages were reduced to particles smaller than dust. “I don’t care what they do on their own time, but now, while we’re in port? Do you have any idea how quickly they’d shut us down if they knew we had novels on board?”
Ben says novels in a hushed tone, as if the walls have ears. Who knows, Beck thought. Maybe they did.
After rambling on for a bit about the ethical implications of literature, Ben directed Beck up the stairs and to the right where the Captain was in the kitchen cooking some sort of lentil stew for a small crowd. The men who were there had very concerned looks on their faces. A few of them recognized Beck and whispered to him, “He always insists on cooking a meal for us at least one night a week.”
“It’s good for you; try to ignore the taste.”
“Just humor him.”
Beck swept some crumbs off the nearest stool and took a seat to wait.
The captain dropped heavy wads of some hideous brown sludge into bowls then handed them out to the men. He sat down across from Beck looking positively cheerful. The captain wore an enormous khaki trench coat that flowed past his knees and a stained white-and-blue-striped shirt beneath it. His face was worn with a crosshatching off wrinkles, and only a few sandy-blonde locks remained amidst the gray. The captain was not particularly old, but the salty seas had pruned his skin and weathered his features until he came to look nearly twenty years older than he really was. He looked at Beck and smiled until his cheeks pushed up into his eyes.
“What can I do for you today, Doctor Huxley?”
“Duncan,” Beck started. He wanted to choose his words carefully. The captain was an invaluable asset to him and he needed to make sure he didn’t say anything offensive. Despite Duncan’s generally good nature, once angered, he was difficult to console.
“There’s been a change of plans"a change in situation, really. It’s a bit of a long story, so I’ll spare you the details, but the main thing of it is that I can’t go back to MedTech. They’re probably after me or something, I don’t even know, but I’ve got my son and a girl from the lab sitting in Steve’s apartment, and I honestly have no idea what to do next.”
Duncan listened patiently to Beck speak, then said, “Sounds exciting. Where’s Steve by the way?”
Beck’s stomach hit rock bottom. He had almost managed to push the event of Steve being beaten to death behind a wall of police officers from his mind. “Steve is, uh. . . .” Beck drew in a deep breath. “Steve is gone, Duncan. He’s gone. The police got to him earlier when we got off the subway.”
Duncan’s thick brow folded over his eyes in sadness. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he said. “Very sorry.”
Stephen Vitello worked in the loading docks at MedTech. Some of the scientists called them pack rats. They unloaded all of the equipment from trucks and ships and set everything up. The pack rats were the real muscle of MedTech. As the organizer for the rats, Steve was set aside to deal with the more ‘delicate’ materials. ‘delicate’ in this case meaning ‘human’.
Beck had met Steve entirely by chance. He had come down to the loading dock one day in order to pick up a rare sample of bloodroot that, despite preservatives, perished quickly, and so Steve had to be there to hand him the sample. It was then that Steve asked him about the human subjects. At first Beck had been perturbed; nobody outside MedTech departments was supposed to know about that. He heard them, Steve had said. When he would be handling the heavy steel crates, he would hear them crying or shouting. He had thought he’d been going insane.
They had remained in close contact with each other after that, eventually coming up with their plan to smuggle the children MedTech was using for rats out of the city and off the grid.
Duncan had been the one Steve had confessed to first. He wasn’t from the city, and so he had no reservations about asking people what was bothering them. “Demon’s got your throat, eh?”
Duncan was full of these little quips.
“Look,” Beck said. “I don’t know if I came here to ask for help, or if I’m just wasting time until MedTech comes and finds me. If it was just me, I’d be fine with the way things are, but I’ve got my kid, and I need to make sure he’s safe. Can you help me?”
Duncan sighed. “I don’t know what you expect me to do for you, Beck. I feel for your cause, trust me, I do, but you’re getting in a little deeper than I’m prepared to go, and I’ve got to think about my own family, you know?”
Beck let out what felt like a lifetime of air in his lungs. He put his hands on his head, entwined them and pushed his skull into his spine. What to do, what to do. What is there to do when you’re busy doing nothing? A very large sequence of possibilities was ending along with Duncan’s aid. His plan had crashed and burned before it even got off the ground.
Something in the corner of the room caught Beck’s eye; a man with his back turned to him. There was something intensely familiar about this man that Beck couldn’t put his finger on. It disturbed him. An odd feeling was crawling up his spine and raising the hairs on the back of his neck. Without understanding anything else, he knew something was horribly wrong.
“Look,” Duncan said, rubbing his temples. “I might be able to help, but I reserve the right to cancel at any moment, okay?”
Beck drew his attention away from the man in the corner, refocusing on Duncan.
“What do you mean?” Hope was rising in his chest, but he forced it back down. The last thing he needed was to have his hopes up for nothing.
Duncan groaned. “I can’t shake the feeling that I’m screwing myself over here, but what the hell. I’ll be back in three days, if you can hold off until then, I can probably get you out of here.”
Beck’s hopes skyrocketed through the ceiling and into the stratosphere. Three days. He could pull that off, right?
But Duncan wouldn’t return in three days. He wouldn’t return at all, because at that moment, Beck realized who the man in the corner was. It was the man who had bumped into Steve on the Subway. Just as he figured it out, the man stood up and pulled out a pistol from inside the folds of his jacket and shot Duncan in the chest.
© 2012 Domenic Luciani
Added on February 28, 2012
Last Updated on February 28, 2012
Forest of Men
AboutThat is my real name, and that is really me in the picture. Like Patrick says, I'm not in the witness protection program. I mostly write books and stories. I like fantasy, or fiction, but if.. more..