Division

Division

A Story by Marvin K. Mooney
"

An English assignment that took some odd turns.

"

        It's near sunset and I am lost in thought when the chauffeur tips his hat. I stare blankly at him as my feet lead me toward the house. He raises his bushy eyebrows, shrugs a little, and turns back to his duties. Sherman and Meyer lag just behind me as I trip up the wet, grey steps to the stone entrance, laced with ivy, and the huge double doors made of oak two inches thick. All three of us are dressed in shirt and tie with black pants and suit jackets. I have a brown sweater over my shirt, and my companions wear blue, knitted vests. Standing on tiptoe, I reach for the plain brass knocker and look back at Sherman as my fingers close on it. His red face is split by a grin that radiates all sorts of ignorance and Meyer's dark eyebrows are climbing into his curly black hair. Meyer, who never struck me as being cut out for this, looks as timid as ever, and Sherman just as reckless. They look healthy.

       One knock summons the butler, Griffith, a tall, bent, dark suited man of about seventy, with a folded face, pale, watery eyes and white hair that slides backward from a place well beyond his forehead.

       "Good evening, Mr. James," he says, with a kindly, bemused tone and the faintest trace of a smile, "Welcome back. Your presence is anticipated in the dining room."

        We step out of October and its brilliant maple trees onto an ornate marble floor. Dark paneled cherry and rose-colored stained glass rush downward into its mirror finish as we enter, until I glimpse the finely painted ceiling far below my feet. The mop of black hair sweeping straight up from my forehead creates a convincing illusion -- as though my reflected self might plummet headlong to the ceiling below if not for the fact that his feet are anchored to my own, in the world above. I still can't get used to my reflection. It looks harmless, I think -- healthy, and good -- maybe too harmless. I pull my shoulders back and straighten my spine, trying to appear larger, noting that the technique is less effective than I had always imagined.

        I give my jacket to Griffith and stand for a moment while he attends to Sherman and Meyer. After stowing the coats, he shuffles down the darkening hallway and I follow, silently, staring at his heels, wondering what it must have been like, under the wide sky and the maple trees, looking down at everybody all those long years.

        My mind turns. The Division that placed me here will reclaim me after tonight. Time seems to slow with every step. My pulse is rising, but my mind is steady, and my skin is cool.

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        Every day was the same: black uniforms, gray walls, floors, and food, white fluorescent lights, an endless rush of classes, drills, and exercise. The only thing I never tired of was weapons training -- that joy of energy, speed and destruction, concentrated and waiting for infusion into my arm with the squeeze of a trigger. I was good at it, too. Even with lifelong training, not many ten-year-olds got to eat, sleep and sit though Geography with two .45 caliber handguns. Officially, we were all equals, but everyone understood that I was something more: I was a natural.

        "Meyer! Powers! Sherman!" the Sargent Instructor's voice could make your eardrums bleed. I slammed my book closed on the desk and stood at attention, in unison with the two boys to my left.

        "You're shipping early. Head out to Briefing."

        As we hustled past, his cracked face arranged itself into an expression that could almost have been pride.

       "Eyes front, Powers!" he shouted, and I realized I had been staring. I felt embarrassed " but my mind was steady, and my face was cool, and my stride never missed a beat as I turned through the doorway, into the hall. Two masked guards, wearing body armor over adult-sized versions of our own black uniforms, saluted and stood aside to let the three of us into the elevator.

        "Why Meyer?" I thought, looking across at his eyes: hollow, oversized, downturned. How anyone here could remain so apparently frail and apathetic was beyond me. Meyer always looked as though he hadn't slept. Maybe he didn't. I grimaced inwardly and turned my gaze to Sherman who also seemed intent upon the elevator floor. Up until a few months ago our hair had always been trimmed close to the scalp, but they hadn't cut it for a few months now and Sherman's was beginning to resemble a dusty haystack. Both boys were taller than I was, and Sherman was stronger, but neither of them dared to look me in the eye. No one here would. It was as though something in me terrified them: something about my face, I imagined -- though at that time I had never seen a mirror. The elevator surged, and sped upward.

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        Henry's dining room is enormous even if you haven't spent your life in an underground bunker. There are large windows in the long walls, with latticed lead frames full of small diamond-shaped panes of glass. The rain-streaked sky outside is turning orange and yellow to match the trees, and the room is dimly lit by crystal chandeliers high above. Flames in the hearth at the foot of a long table throw faint, spidery shadows across the glowing wood floor.

        "How was the exam?" I ask.

        A red-haired boy turns halfway in his chair and smiles sideways at me.

        "Nothing to worry about," he says, turning back to the table as we all sit down.

        Sherman laughs, can't contain himself. "Yeah, I wouldn't be worried about that now," he says. What an idiot. Henry looks at Sherman confusedly for a moment, but he can't have had any idea what to make of that remark.

        "Are your mother and father around?" I ask. "I thought they were having dinner with us."

        "Upstairs," says Henry, "They'll be down in a minute. Hey, try one of these."

       He hands me a dinner roll.

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        Concrete walls and floors, white tile drop-ceiling, fluorescent lights, no windows, no glass. Briefing could have been any other classroom in our Division, except that it was empty. Three brown, labeled envelopes lay on a long metal table in front of three chairs. Ronald Meyer, Thomas Powers, Alan Sherman. Each of us sat down and opened his envelope. I pulled out a stack of photographs: several depicting a short, pleasant-looking man in a dark suit with glasses and slick, black hair. Howard Davies. There were a few pictures of an imposing, English-style mansion in Albany, built with stone, very old and overgrown looking, with maple trees all around and two black Bentleys in the driveway. I memorized the address and the floor plan, then studied another photograph of the same man with a slender, slightly taller red-haired woman and a boy, with hair like his mother's, dressed in gray. Howard, Penelope, Henry. I drew a plastic card out of the envelope and studied it. It was a photo ID for a prep school student about Henry's age. Eric James. I didn't recognize him from any of the other pictures. With a shock I realized that I was looking at a cover ID: that the unremarkable face in the picture was my own.

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        The other three boys at the dinner table turn toward the sound of approaching footsteps. I don't move, watching the reflection of the doorway behind my own distorted face in the polished surface of a silver spoon. Howard and Penelope Davies step into the room, arm in arm, picturesque.

        "I'm so glad the rest of you could join us this evening," says Mrs. Davies, "Henry never stops talking about the adventures he has with the three of you."

        She turns to Sherman, "You must be Jeffrey."

        We all stand, and Sherman takes her hand with a smile that makes my skin crawl. Penelope seems to find it charming.

        "So, this is Porter!" Howard beams, shaking Meyer's hand energetically, "Henry tells me you're an archery expert. It's a hobby of mine, you know."

        "Pleased to meet you, sir." Meyer finds his voice just as I am beginning to think he might faint. His eyebrows are climbing up his face again.

        "Of course, we're always glad to see you too, Eric, " Henry's mother says, placing her hands on my shoulders as Howard slaps my back, "Gossip at the school says you're a legend in the making." My stomach turns, but my face is a picture of smug, smiling perfection. I shrug.

        "We'll see."

͋

        Attracting a following at St. Gregory's hadn't been a problem. My tendencies toward confidence and indifference worked wonders within the social structure of middle school -- and the attitude was easy to maintain since Division operatives were handing me my finished homework assignments in a folder every morning, completed in my own handwriting. Not that we needed the help. Thanks to the Division, I spoke eight languages and could solve partial differential equations in my head. I had commited my books to memory within the first two classes and in a given day I could quote back any lecture word for word. They didn't know it, but the teachers at St. Gregory's were children themselves, compared to me.

        My "target" was a different matter. Henry's talent for painting baffled me, made me feel like a child -- something he was, and something I had practically never been. We hit it off within the first week, and before the month ended I had microphones in every room of the Davies' mansion, most of which had been planted unwittingly by Henry himself. By bugging the paintings Henry produced in his art classes I had even managed to infiltrate his father's workplace. My Division was elated.

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        "Would you excuse me for a moment, please?" I ask, pushing my chair back from the table as Mr. Davies finishes a prayer.

        "Of course," says Penelope, "do you know where the bathroom is? I don't think you've been in this wing of the house before."

        I know every room, down to the precise location of each pipe and wire. I play dumb.

        "Just through that door," she points, "It's under the staircase. You'll see it."

        "Is this chicken?" I hear Sherman ask, as I turn the corner.

        I walk calmly out of earshot, then sprint, silently, up the stairs. I want more, for some reason. Nothing good can come of asking questions, but I have to know why the Division wants this.

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        I won't deny that the world above has its peculiar charms. I actually came to enjoy going to school after a while, but I never could shake the feeling that the vast, glowing sky was just another ceiling. The retask code appeared on my doorstep eight weeks into the term -- an old quarter, 1976, with a hole through the middle. No surprise. From the time I had picked up that envelope I had known there was only one reason to send me.

        I didn't have to put up any pretenses. Henry invited me to dinner as soon as he found me that day. He was telling me some story about one of the teachers. He was laughing, inside and out. I was flat and hollow, dead inside, with an ear to ear grin and a twinkle in my eye. I wanted to apologize, but words for that sort of thing are hard to find. Besides, honesty would get me nowhere.

        "See you tonight?"

        "Sure. Alright if I bring Jeff and Porter?"

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        Maple leaves outside the windows pour shadow and color into Howard's darkened study, breaking up the dusky sky. On the wall behind the desk a single lamp casts an oval of white light upon a small portrait. Henry had painted it. It is a better likeness than he knows; all the more for what it doesn't show -- the hidden microphone, embedded in its backing, behind the angelic image of Eric James. I am startled by the unexpected recognition. Henry's painting holds more, somehow, than my reflection. The painted eyes draw my gaze, forcing me to stare.

        As I look, mesmerized, the pupils seem to swell, pulling in the light, until the irises are threads of brilliant blue flame around black wells of ice, sinking to an infinite depth. I can feel my mind beginning to harden, and freeze. The smile on the beautiful face seems to stretch continually outward, eclipsing my field of vision, pleasant, and pitiless, and a thought begins to wind its way through the cold stillness of my mind, gaining force, taking shape. I think of the reflection, curved in silver around a spoon in the dining room; I think of the way the others in the Division have always diverted their eyes; I think of Perseus, catching the image of Medusa in his burnished shield, of armored soldiers turning to stone. I feel like screaming in terror, in agony, but my hand is inexplicably steady as I reach out to touch the frame.

        A fax machine starts up on the desk, shattering the illusion, reinstating time. My heart bolts back to life as I scan the familiar form. Division. Eric James. It is a copy of a page that I had pulled from the envelope in Briefing two years ago. Someone is trying to warn Howard. No more time for questions. I snatch it from the tray and fold it into my pocket as I slip back into the hall and head for the stairs.


        Meyer and Sherman stand as I stride back into the room. Time is crawling now, almost still. Sherman's teeth are showing, but his expression is no longer a smile of any form, and Meyer's big eyes are narrow black slits. They draw their weapons in fluid unison, and I realize with some surprise that my own twin pistols are in my hands. Mr. Davies grips the edge of the table with white knuckles, rising as Penelope clasps his arm. Henry is frozen in shock, open mouthed, a roll in one hand, a butter knife in the other, his eyes locked on my face. I feel the familiar push against my shoulders as the brass kicks back and metal explodes from both barrels.

        Meyer's arms slacken as Sherman spins backward, falling over his chair, trailed by an arc of deep red, streaming from his neck. Then Meyer sinks to his knees and falls limply forward, pouring blood onto the floor from a hole where his right eye had been. No one makes a sound. No one moves. My reflection stares up at me from a dark pool, spreading slowly across the bright, polished wood. Expressionless. I pull the folded paper from my pocket and toss it onto the table in front of Howard, then turn and stride out of the room toward the front door.

        Griffith meets me in the hall before I reach the foyer, clearly perplexed, worried. I nod at him and he stops in his tracks, wide-eyed, until I pass by, then he hurries down the hall toward the dining room. Faster than he's ever done, all those long years.

        The golden, burnished marble opens before me again. I step out onto its surface, ignoring the coat closet, and the front door. I make for a smaller door in the corner, open it, and step onto a spiral staircase. There is a clatter of footsteps in the hall. Henry bursts into the foyer, sliding to a stop with his father close behind.

        "Eric!"

        "No, Henry!" his father grabs him by the collar and pulls him to the ground.

        The edges of my vision turn hazy white as I slam the door shut and run up the staircase. I feel like crying, but my eyes are dry. Another door appears in front of me and I take aim with a pistol and squeeze the trigger, never breaking stride. The latch explodes as I reach the landing and I drive my foot into the door, crushing it backward on its hinges. I stagger out into the fresh air, and the grounds expand beneath me as I approach the edge of the roof. A thin layer of water covers the asphalt driveway, and I catch sight of my reflection far below, peering up at me as I lean over the parapet. Silver clouds are shifting through a charcoal sky in the depths above his head.

        "Eric, stop! What is this? I have to talk to you!" Howard is clambering noisily up the stairwell behind me, but his voice seems to be receding as a curtain of shaded silence draws itself across my mind.

        I take a few paces backward, pausing to fill my lungs with the damp air, taking in the endless maple trees, like fire stretching to the horizon. The world above. On a day like today it is almost as good as one of Henry's paintings. Mr. Davies crashes silently through the broken door and approaches cautiously, recklessly, beckoning with one hand, clutching a crumpled sheet of paper in the other. His lips are moving, but only distant whispers reach my ears. I smile at him as I turn, sprint, and lunge, kicking off of the top of the wall into a high arcing dive. Through watering eyes, I watch my reflection sail out underneath in perfect unison, turning slowly to face me, arms outstretched, rocketing upward from the rippling world below. I feel like laughing, and, to my amazement, I see the reflection smiling back.


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© 2012 Marvin K. Mooney


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Added on November 23, 2012
Last Updated on November 23, 2012
Tags: child assasin, violence, reflection, decision, action, suicide, division

Author

Marvin K. Mooney
Marvin K. Mooney

Boise, ID



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