October's 21 thru 31

“You appear slightly flustered,” screen-face wheezes. “Why?”

“It is surprise. I have not heard my own name since…before the gray.”

As the heavy front door pivots open he indicates with a jiggle of chins for me to enter and says, “Aahhh. Well. I am Lösch.” As if he thinks that should be sufficient explanation.

I enter. Through a dim entry hall and into a deep, comfortably lit, central room—I follow the smell of a wood-burning fire and the sound of his voice. “Food and drink in the kitchen behind you; even Surinam cherries.” He knows about my cherries?

“Our meeting is not in-person,” Lösch’s disembodied body image—dressed in an unflattering wrap—says from a couch near the fire. “Hologram,” he coughs, exhales deeply, and points at a series of mod-art looking rectangles, mounted near the ceiling.

“I wondered about the odds of you living in the same city as Joe Lorber,” I say.

When finished laughing, which is all breath, he giggles, “I’m not even on the same continent as your husk. But I do enjoy your subtle sense of humor, Roble. Coincidence. That’s how you operate? How you choose?”

“No such thing as coincidence,” I reply.

“No?” he asks. “Then tell me how the decision was made to mistake Radamir’s husk for a pizza.”

I stroll the room’s circumference. Floor-to-ceiling, the walls are covered with intricate honeycombs of woven material. A few area rugs in muted shades, which match the walls, cover the tile floor.

“Earlier today, I saw an advertisement for a place named: Vuil Bemiddelaar; when he referred to himself as a go-between…,” I shrug and let my sentence trail off.

“Two grimy go-between’s is coincidental.”

“A clear message,” I say. “Punctuated by total hearing loss. Regained upon soot-suit’s—Radimer’s—arrival in the gray.”

“Interesting interpretation. What are your thoughts on retaining the lifespan of your young-mister-lorber?”

Sitting in an overstuffed armchair facing the fireplace, I say, “It would depend.”

“On?” His voice whistles when it inflects at the end.

“I’ll put it like this: Radimer. His gray—right now—is either the total void of the newly returned or it is an improved gray.”

When Lösch’s hologram stands and walks until it disappears, his voice emanates from the wall he walked through. “I’ll answer your non-question-question with two questions. How many improvements have you made? And how many years ago did Roble die?”

“Surprised that knowledge is not in your possession.”

Returning into sight with a carafe and a plate, Lösch mumbles, “Humor me,” around a mouthful of chocolate cake.

“Over twenty improvements in eight centuries.”

“Who grants your requests?” His voice echoes out of the carafe.

Raising my eyebrows and shoulders slightly, I say, “I only know Zuella is its mouthpiece.”

“Tell me about her.”

“Whenever I think of her—no matter what—I recall blinding sunlight, shining off her beautiful, long, yellow hair. We were kids together. Still kids when she became my wife. Never anything I wouldn’t do for her.”

I consider my words—all the despicable things she asks of me. Is that why it uses her as a mouthpiece? “Aaah-anyway, I injured my hand and arm on a broken stake during the family harvest and returned home early. Because no hearth-fire smoke was visible and the shutters were closed, I left my mount in the orchard and found her with rounders. Using my ox-mallet, I bludgeoned the one with his back to the door and staved-in the other’s face as he got off her. She claimed they were mendicants. That they took her, after determining she was alone.

“But the lack of table-disarray or injuries—on her, as well as on the bodies—indicated no struggle occurred, so I accused her. We fought. And, as she should have done to rapists, she attacked me. After she reopened my arm, I cubit-clubbed her. She bit through my foresleeve before losing consciousness. I drowned her in the Zaragoza, where I sank all three bodies.”

“Ever bother you? Not knowing for sure?” Lösch asks.

“Until I died, yes—I called it plague, burned the house, and became a shipman—but not after.”


“I realized she became a husk that morning.”

As Lösch’s image nods (in an ‘I-understand’ manner) I stand and enter the kitchen where I fill plates with fruit, crackers, cheeses, butters, and meats from overstocked refrigerators and pantries. His voice, audible from the next room, asks, “Assuming a constant rate of improvements, describe your gray in ten-thousand years.”

On a hassock, back towards the fireplace-embers, I reply, “All my senses, time, unlimited space...”

“Presently?” He cuts me off.

“Timeless. Limited to a pier. There is a beach and nearby tree line. Birds. No color yet. I hear, and have gravity; but no sense of touch, smell, or taste."

“After mission accomplishment,” Lösch says. “If you have asked questions for every recovered sense—except the last—then, asking one specific question will stick you here. Of course, there’s something I’ll need, before I tell it to you.”

“According to Zuella, a question is an escape lever that returns me to my gray. If I died in this husk, for example, I would be condemned to Joe Lorber’s gray: the void.”

“Then why didn’t you return to your pier when you asked Robert if he was ready, after lunch today?”

Absentmindedly fiddling with piggyback dad’s gadget, my skin crawls. Shit.

“Ask two questions, you won’t go anywhere.”

I consider returning to the pier for an interminable amount of time without new sex-memories, then decide to take the chance. “Where can I get a pistol without engaging the focus of the law—since I may soon be concerned about Joe’s future?”

I listen to Lösch breathing and the fire pop. He points over his shoulder at a cabinet. Inside I find a loaded Heckler & Koch 9mm, which I pocket.

“What happens if I ask another question before my next sense-recovery?”

“Back to your wonderful pier, like Zuella said,” he replies.

After outlining my mission to him—as I understand it so far—Lösch details how the police can track piggyback dad’s phone and gadgets. So, as I finish snacking, I melt them. Lösch gives me replacements, which he explains how to use. Leaving, I say, “see you when my mission is over, Lösch.”

“Not if I see you first, Mister Coincidence,” he chuckles. His image winks out.

In the crisp, pre-dawn light, with tulips bordering the walks—it still looks like a jailhouse—I head for a turn out. The gadget's—V-Sat's—screen blips green as I call the car.

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