September's 11 thru 20

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Keeping her in my peripheral vision, I turned my head and examined the tree line. Wind-surge through branches made quasi-surf sounds. I stared at one tree…on the edge, lighter than the rest—an easy focal point. Sometimes, a hawk landed there. Not today.

The phrase: unable to see the forest from the trees, referred to gaining understanding by stepping back and examining things objectively and in their entirety.

It appeared that Zuella’s puppeteer thought I was hungry to accomplish a new errand. Maybe other trees in this dragon-master’s woods were ravenous to return, no matter how sickening the task.

Voicing my quandary was tantamount to contemplating the inevitable depression, which would inseminate me while I executed Zuella’s errand. Despair would linger like hot tar scars after a tar and feathering. Nonetheless, I wanted to return. The desire for more experiences and fresh memories was stronger than the return baggage. Even if the feelings were once removed—I missed the good shit. I looked at Zuella. She was either meditating or up-linked mentally with her Cheohss (which would not surprise me). I said, “I’ll accept the punishment you have for me.”

“I’ll grant you one wish, first.” She whispered skyward.

“Tell me everything about the principle players in my next task, before I leave. Everything. Who, what, where, when, why, how—the whole miserable payload—I want to know more about them, than they know about themselves.”

“Why? What difference could all that knowledge make?”

“Not telling you why, is also my wish.”

She was a dozen feet away, eyes closed, head tipped back—now standing next to me with her hand resting on my upper arm. Her location changed silent-instantaneously as if the special effects editor removed a few seconds of film.

Goosebumps raced down my skull and back.

She said, “Don’t forget who and where you are. Why you are here. How long you have been here. And how much longer you are going to be here... Tool. Also don’t forget what this cage was like when you started.” Her voice took on a slippery note, which I couldn’t smell. “Your past wishes all have been within acceptable parameters—why not request something more sensible. Maybe a quaint lighthouse on the horizon?”

“No.” I mumbled. I thought about looking away from her too-close face, but was afraid to make any movement she may interpret as fear. “Just information.”

Her hand, which was still touching my arm, began to feel warm. Warm! I hadn’t felt anything in so long that I involuntarily smiled. Then everything switched off.

No sounds. No sights. No smells. No warmth on my arm, (which I attempted to lift but couldn’t feel) my body was gone. I tried inhaling; no air meant no talking. I was back to square one. I thought about the endless evil I was responsible for—and the small semblance of sanity I gained, over time, by slowly turning this gray nothingness into an oasis of reality with my small wishes.

Blue. Ice. Drifting. Growing. Fracturing. Other senses disconnected, but I recognized odd shapes of information drifting in the void. Wait. How did I make that illogical connection? Pain. I felt pain in my thoughts; a freezing, biting, excruciating-migraine-on-acid sensation, which would bring death if only that were again possible.

Joseph Francis Lorber Jr. born 20 years ago in upstate New York and raised by his paternal grandparents, Etta Mae and Gene, after his parents committed murder-suicide, unusual in that his mother, Francine, shot his father with a .410 shotgun before overdosing on a cocktail of weight-loss pills, alcohol, and heroin...

The details of Joe Lorber’s life gained speed...scenes, odors, foods, and noises, engulfed and shocked me. His thoughts rushed into actions that plummeted through his waking and sleeping world only to course beyond my grasp—as if he lived his life strapped into a roller coaster.

My brain-pain receded when I stopped speed-reading the hourly blur of Joe’s life and focused on the fabric of his months and seasons after they were knitted. Understanding my confusion became exciting; but would this intimacy alter the only part of me still in existence? Fear prickled. Does sanity recognize it’s own departure?

Weight and color—I have both. Both!

The first thing I’ll forget after I leave is also the first thing I feel—the constant tug of gravity on my bones. Joe’s bones. This time I know what flavor of simpering idiot I’m wearing and it makes all the difference.

The tunnel glints. Pulses. Vision takes the longest to tune in.

Although I’m still only a ride-along, I hear bustle and smell indifference and euphoria: words indistinct, pavement under shoes, grilled meat on warm eddies of passing cars. A horn. Exhaust. Damn I feel great...Joe, of course, feels slightly dizzy.

“You okay Joe-Lo?”

I recognize the voice as Robert-not-Bob’s, my—Joe’s—friend since their freshman year. I don’t try to respond; it’s too soon. Joe doesn’t say anything; he’s feeling about as good as I can see.

“Sit down, man. You look fragged all-a-sudden.”

I feel Robert-not-Bob’s shoulder under my right armpit. As he steers, colors begin coalescing. Joe sits hard. I feel cold concrete steps under and behind me. No harm in pushing things, so I try: I’m hungry. An understatement, since I haven’t eaten in over 67 years. A grack-like choking sound comes out. Definitely a good start.

Joe whispers, “I’m not me, Robert. I’m going. I need a Doc...Doctor...” then slips off the steps. As Robert-not-Bob helps me up, I continue the sentence “...Pepper.”

Although I’ve never had it, it’s a drink Joe likes. The memory of it on his tongue makes me salivate. “Let’s go eat,” I say.

I laugh woozily with Robert-not-Bob. He seems honestly concerned, glad I’m feeling better, and accepts my low-blood-sugar explanation. As we plow through jammed sidewalks toward Ray’s on Twelfth, he explains, loudly, on a phone the size of a money-clip, “...after lunch, Barbara...with Joe-Lo...yes...loveya too...”

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