The Story Continues
As promised, we are presenting Into the light, an urban fantasy novel, that will be serialized in this blog. Comments are welcomed and thoughtful suggestion might be utilized in the novel as all stories can be revised and we will be putting the novel out in print and ebook form later on. We will offer about 4/5 of the story out for free for your reading pleasure. Now on to the odd tale of an odd man who goes on a crusade to change the world by revealing a dark conspiracy to the media about beings who control the destiny of humanity, and don't want them to evolve beyond their current malleable state. It's got a madman, whimsy, demonic visions, and good old self-righteous delusions where a first person narrator interjects here and there in the story. Enjoy.
Note: the italics and smaller font are indicators of the first person narrator.
Into the Light:
Book One: Trials. Chapter: 1
You are all doomed. Not like I didn’t see it coming, but I thought you humans might pull it off, but no, and it does not look as if you’ll survive. The tangles of and twists of delusions from your self-anointed divinity have bound around the precious gift of consciousness, choked into submission by fear and bias. The die is cast, broken and brittle.
Must say though, you humans are such a joy to play with but are so oblivious. Not complaining though, since such conditions make for more amusing stories than what I can inspire with a few nudges. Each epic tragedy and comedy reveals the progress you’ve made since the days of being more prey than predator. It makes me proud in an odd way. So in my infinite wisdom, I’ve decided to reciprocate and share a story you might not have known about because certain powers chose to conceal it from public view. Who knows? Maybe your damnation isn’t set. Stories do change the world.
This is a story about Blake Moxley, a good kid, a kid from a stable family, a guy who just wanted to be accepted. Thing is, I decided to conduct a little experiment and he just happened to be the right person at the right time. Why did I set his elaborate fate in motion? I was bored, but if you were me, you would be too.
So before we get on with this tale of half-truth and half-imagination, let me apologize for breaking the forth-wall. I know your frail minds don’t normally get a director’s cut commentary to your bouts of vicarious illusion but this is my fun. If you play along, it can be yours too. I’m gracious that way.
Best I give a minor introduction now, but don’t worry I will reveal myself to Blake in a capacity that his mind can comprehend later, and you will get a fuller scoop. Of course at that time his perception will be addled with hallucinations brought on an overactive temporal lobe, but some of the experiences will be real, which ones will be up to you. So, who am I? You can call me the quantum entanglement of the human collective consciousness or Will. Yes, Will is a pun, the lowest form of comedy, but there you go.
I sometimes exist in the corners of your consciousness and poke your mind with thoughts not previously fathomed. You know, the voice urging you to punch that guy on the elevator but not so much that you actually do it. This is my way of trying to help you acknowledge beastly impulses so you may go beyond them. Sadly, or not so much, some of you punch the guy in the elevator or act on the thoughts and urges that are repulsive even to me. Well, not always. Who am I kidding? I love it all. You people are some dirty, dirty apes.
Now back to the experiment within the experiment, Blake Moxley. He’s going to get into trouble so let’s start this chronicle off with one of my favorite episodes. Don’t worry. I’m not going back to his childhood or any of that mess. Let’s get to when Blake is carrying a corpse across Washington D.C. traffic. And by the way, I’ll be back in a few to chime in while I reside in the recesses of your thoughts right behind your eyes. I never really leave. Fun fact: humans can actually die of fright.
What was once shadow has slipped out into the cascading sun and three laser sights from sleek semi-automatic pistols pin to his forehead with green focused light. He can almost feel the dots dancing on his skin but he knows that’s not possible.
Saving the world from the Masked Ones had not gone as Blake planned. Revealing the demon’s form to the media failed and now he finds himself hauling a limp body out of the city park where the reporters gathered to cover the Senator’s rally. Three security guards with their guns drawn follow him onto the busy street and shout for him to freeze but he’d rather be dead than caught by the demons’ unsuspecting henchmen. Screeching tires and car horns tear though the air as Blake steps into the road.
With a scant glance, he looks back and sees Juli’s ghost float out from behind a tree. She waves and dissolves into the surrounding soft sunlight. Blake can’t help but smile.
The body of the female Masked One known as Senator Constantine begins to slip out from under Blake’s left arm so he tightens his grip. The youngest of the three guards with a face like a hawk makes a thrust forward so Blake lifts the knitting needle up to her throat. He knows the only way to escape is to keep them believing that she’s still alive and not dead weight. The scent of rose water drifts up to Blake’s nose from the corpse’s hair and his eyes tear up.
“How the fuck did this happen to me?” he whispers into a dead ear even though he knows when the metamorphosis began those months ago but at least now he knows what the old freak meant. Tears fall from the corners of his eyes and drip down to the cold crumbling pavement below.
See. Wasn’t that fun? Of course it was. It’s one of my favorite parts of this tale. A guy dragging a dead politician across a street is just too symbolic to not lead with but it isn’t the beginning. That happened well before when Blake was a kid but I won’t bore you that. We’re going to go back when Blake’s perception began to change with an encounter near his apartment building in New York City. To answer a question you’ll ask, yes, I persuaded the vagrant to go to Manhattan with a few choice words in his thoughts to get this experiment underway but the clothing options were all his own.
Events that change the world start with small decisions and Blake Moxley makes one as he opens the door to his apartment building for a young Chinese-American delivery man carrying a stack of pizza boxes. A fake moustache clings to the delivery man’s lip and the vibrant red stripe of the Italian flag jacket, one size too large, leaves a trailing afterimage in Blake’s field of view as the man passes.
Blake blinks a slow blink as he lets the door slip from his fingertips and steps onto the sidewalk outside his apartment building in Lower Manhattan. With a sharp nod, he decides to just do it. He won’t get pushed around anymore. For most of his life, Blake had been a package wrapped in plain brown paper that got lost in the mail but eventually was Returned-to-Sender, unopened, corners bent. Not today though, today the package will reach its destination.
An autumn morning casts over Blake as he pulls the lapels of his black jacket together to keep the wind rolling off the East River from stealing his body heat. Distant car horns echo and roll by. With one continuous motion, Blake scans his block that swarms with pedestrians walking faster than necessary. Across the street in a shop window framed by sunlight, a jack-o-lantern with a twisted smile catches Blake’s attention through the passing traffic.
“Five days until Halloween. I need to get candy,” he says.
He pats his jacket pocket to make sure his phone is there and with a sigh the walk uptown to meet his bookie begins with short anxious steps. He heads towards the intersection of Great Jones Street and Lafayette Avenue at a casual pace as a clutch of fast walking, fast talking, hipster boys in black and pork pie hats sift around him. Blake checks his pocket again. The phone is still there.
The thought of collecting money in person, and not online, makes his palms sweat. He wipes them dry on his jeans while passing a parked cab and sees a woman wrapped in the coils of a blue wool scarf bearing down on him as she texts on her iPhone. Just before they collide, Blake steps out of the way. He turns back around, waves a sarcastic wave, and snickers a bit too loud but she doesn’t respond. She just keeps on walking and vanilla perfume trails behind her like thin ribbons on the autumn air. It tickles Blake’s nose with a sharp tingle.
“Some rumors are true,” he says and heads back towards the intersection.
Before Blake moved to New York in mid 2005, he heard some gossip from Bill Sawyer who went to NYU but was visiting home for the holidays. While they were Christmas shopping at Walmart outside of town, Bill spoke about secret societies of bicycle delivery men and the tribes of homeless who lived in the abandoned pneumatic subway tubes under the streets of Manhattan. Blake mostly forgot all the stories and dismissed them as Bill’s small town mind trying to absorb the vast elements of the raucous city but two rumors stuck out to him. The first was that pedestrians, especially pretty girls, don’t move out of the way for anyone. That turned out to be true. The second was that some bookies have their clients mugged after paying out so they can get their money back. Blake’s problem is that the sum of money he won can be easily tracked online by the IRS so the only way to get the full amount is face to face. His trek to Midtown continues at an even pace.is trek to Midtopwn His
“Dues from the devil,” Blake says to himself.
Dangling like a gold pocket watch above the Manhattan skyline, the sun casts sheets of amber light over each lofty spire and low street corner. Traffic rumbles and diesel exhaust permeates the streets as a never ending battle of car-horns honk away in a war of attrition. The soles of Blake’s Italian loafers clack the pavement and he brushes back tufts of black hair with his fingertips while scanning the block. An obstacle stands in the middle of the sidewalk.
A man in his fifties, thick as an oak stump planted in concrete, is cocooned by a puffy lime green jacket and his checkered pants slip out underneath like two gnarled roots. The odd little man holds a cardboard sign that reads Open Your Eyes. Blake stops a few feet away, looks the man up and down, and thinks is this guy for real?
A yellow wool cap like the flame of a torch burns high on the man’s head and below a pair of oversized black sunglasses consume the daylight around the man’s face. A deep scar, scuffed with age, slithers from the man’s left cheek to the bridge of his tapered nose. Blake tries to side-step the man thinking there’s no way he can see me through those goggles. The man drops the sign and shoots out his arm to grab Blake’s shoulder as he tries to pass. Blake spins, knock the man’s hand off, and steps back.
“Hey buddy. Watch it,” Blake says.
“I’ve been looking for you for a long time,” the man says.
“You want a couple bucks? Here,” Blake says and reaches in his jacket pocket for his wallet.
“I don’t want your money. I want you to see,” he says and takes off his sunglasses to reveal sunken pits where eyes should be. Blake looks into the discolored sockets and steps back.
“Sorry man. My bad,” Blake says and the man steps into his path.
“Listen son, you can’t trust your eyes,” he says and puts on his sunglasses as he reaches inside his puffy jacket pocket with his other hand.
“I can get you some help if you want,” Blake says.
“I don’t need help. I’m here to help you,” he says and lifts a clenched hand. In one motion, the man opens his fist and blows a mighty breath across his palm that sprays a cloud of white powder onto Blake’s face. Instinct takes over, Blake shuts his eyes and turns away but the powder covers his face in a fine grit. He steps towards the curb, bends over, and wipes the substance off with his sleeve.
“What the hell? Blake asks.
“It’s the powder of Prometheus. It brings the fire of truth to your sight. Now you won’t have to pluck your eyes out.”
Blake grabs his collar and uses the inside of his shirt to dust off his brow. With a few spots of powder remaining on his strained face, Blake stands up straight and opens his eyes. The man is nowhere to be found.
“Fucking crazy bum,” Blake says, spits, “what is this shit? Smells like mothballs and Gold Bond.” He spins around and heads back to his apartment to change.
Love the name given to that hallucinogen. It’s also an accidental epigenetic compound made by mixing of Ibogaine, Ayahuasca, and a new designer drug from Moscow. The stuff changes the very expression of your DNA. A two for one deal I suppose. I take no credit for the moniker but the myth of Prometheus deserves a bit of acclaim. So, here we go. Minds are going to get mixed up and the best part is the slow onset, so no one really notices until it’s too late. Then, the revelations will come because when sensory regions of the brain start overlapping what was hidden comes into the light.
In Midtown on Madison Avenue between Thirty-ninth and Fortieth streets, Blake stops in front of a Chipotle Mexican Grill and looks at his reflection in the storefront window. With a decisive tug on the lapels of his blue sport jacket, never once used for sports, he straightens the collar and then a curiosity makes him tilt his head to investigate. The part in his hair has become uneven during his stroll and his Ray-Ban sunglasses are crooked.
“Need a trim,” he says to the reflection.
The errant hairs are brushed back as customers inside look at Blake with curious stares. He grabs the corners of the sunglasses and as he is about to straighten the frame a hazy halo appears around his head like a living mirage.
“What the..?” Blake asks and swipes off the sunglasses.
The halo is gone.
“Losing it kid. Must have been a reflection,” he says.
The sunglasses fit snug and Blake turns to walk back down the bustling sidewalk. After a few steps, horns flare on the street when a silver Mercedes cuts across traffic and Blake looks over in just enough time to see the Port Authority bus sideswipe the luxury car with a metallic crunch.
“Idiot,” Blake says and continues to the intersection where slick baristas smoke Virginia Slims, a man in a duck suit hands out fliers, two business men text clients even though it’s Saturday, and tourists with plastic I Love NY bags in tow head to the theatre district. A passing box truck farts diesel exhaust at the people waiting for the light to change.
The walk signal glows white and Blake crosses to the eastside of the avenue and reaches his destination, Shaughnessy’s Irish Pub. Inside his bookie waits. A small chalkboard leans on the outside wall like a tipsy patron and reads: Happy Hour 4-7. Domestic beers $3. He puts his hands in his jean pockets and heads inside. The narrow bar reaches back farther than Blake can see and a crowd of patrons from Holland wearing orange shirts are clustered together as they watch a World Cup qualifier soccer match on widescreen TVs. He steps to the bar and looks down to the far end where the Irish bartender flips his blond curls back while trying to chat up a woman from Amsterdam with a few words in Dutch.
“Blake, back here,” a low male voice says from behind.
Blake spins towards the front window and sees his bookie for the first time in real life sitting alone at a table sipping Pellegrino from the green bottle that looks like a baby’s toy in his hand. His tailored suit struggles to contain the man’s bulging arms and thick body that stretches the navy blue fabric at the seams. The bookie’s hair is plastered back with gel.
“Hey,” Blake says, steps over, and lifts his hand to shake. The bookie looks at his hand as if it were rotten fish.
“Sit. You know you look older on your Facebook profile,” he says and Blake slides onto a stool.
“Nice to meet you. So, how do we do this?” Blake asks.
“What’s the rush?”
“No rush. Mind if I ask your first name?”
“Yes and I’ll ask the questions.”
“So Blake, you like living in Noho?”
“Yeah, but how’d you know that?”
“Hey, I ask the questions.”
“Where you from? You’re obviously not from the city.”
“A town about an hour outside Pittsburgh.”
“Steelers, nice. They made me a lot of cash losing that Super Bowl. Come to think about it, you don’t bet on them,” the bookie says and sips from the tiny bottle.
“Bad luck to bet on your team.”
“Good enough. Here’s your take,” the bookie says and slips an envelope under the table to Blake.
Dutch fans erupt in cheers as the Netherlands’ top striker curls a ball into the back of the net and scores the game’s first goal. Blake flinches and the bookie sits, unmoved, staring straight into Blake’s eyes.
“That’s loud,” Blake says.
“Count it. It’s all there.”
“That’s all right. You never stiffed me through Paypal before.”
“So anything you want me to put down?” the bookie asks and rolls his shoulders back.
“Eight on the Rangers for Monday.”
“Eight? I just handed you four large. Listen, you seem like a good guy and I’d hate to lose you as a client but eight is a new level. If you lose and don’t pay on time, the collection agency is sent.”
“All right. Done.”
“Good,” Blake says, slips out a twenty from his pocket and puts it on the table, and continues, “that’s for your drink.” The bookie nods once and Blake slips out the door back onto the bustling city sidewalk. Sometimes Blake thinks living in the city is nothing more than living in a maze designed by a mad psychologist who wants to test the breaking point of human courtesy but not today.
That Blake is a special one with that insight. One of the reasons I tasked him to this grand experiment. And he is special. Not in the way that most humans think they’re special. That’s a self-love brought on by entitlement and socialization. Mostly, that’s just an undeserved sense of status that comes from a glitch of human consciousness and the primal instinct that lead humans to form groups for survival. Meaning-people feel special when they feel both included in a group, real or imagined, and feel that an achievement in status is secured. Remember though, it is all about feelings. These feeling reinforce cognitive biases, which start to form identity, and can be troublesome for the weak minded in the long term. Boy, there sure are a lot of them but that’s why I have such fun. Well, back to the tale and I’ll only chime in here or there with a few tidbits like that the bookie’s name is Gerald and was arrested for assault when he was fifteen.
Later that night, Blake locks the door to his apartment and heads down the hall. The scent of mold and what he thinks is ammonia rises from the worn green carpet. He reaches the vestibule by the entrance to his building and checks his mail. Nothing in his box so he steps outside and the scent of diesel fuel wafts over him from the passing box truck chugging down the street. A memory is conjured like a spell.
Blake remembers the time when is little sister Mercy, the oldest twin by twenty minutes, got her glasses taken by a group of punk boys down by the train tracks after school. He snuck up from behind and got the biggest boy in a head lock. Blake offered to not make them walk home naked if they gave the glasses back. They did and fled back to their elementary school lives on elementary school feet. He walked his sister home and they stopped to watch a freight train that seemed to go on forever haul coal towards Pittsburgh. Besides a fading rumble, the engine left behind a cloud of diesel exhaust as it pulled away into the hills and Blake swore to himself that one day he would leave his home town behind and make a mark on the world.
Blake’s first stop is the Rodeo Lounge and Tiki Bar a few blocks away. Sawdust covers the floor, crooked pictures of cowboys and celebrity patrons dot the walls, and a row of picnic benches lead to a pen where a broken mechanical bull rests. Outside the pen by the entrance to the Tiki Hut lounge, three college kids with NYU sweatshirts sit at a bench drinking a pitcher of beer. The only other person in the Rodeo section of the bar is the bartender Halston, a stallion of a man, who Blake met at a Beastie Boys concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom. Halston sees Blake scoot next to the Mega-Touch machine on the bar and points a finger as he walks up.
“Blake, hey brother, been a spell since I saw you here,” Halston says.
“Work. You know. Same old bullshit. Can I get a Sam Adams and have you seen any shows lately?” Blake asks and dishes a twenty on the bar.
“Sure and no. No shows for me. Just joined a new band and rehearsal takes up all my time besides here,” Halston says and extracts a frosty brown bottle from the cooler. He pops the top with the bottle opener attached to the bar and slides it down.
“Not a problem. So what’s up?”
“Fucking veils of illusion. One news network says one thing and the other another. Puppet masters pulling the money strings and we all dance. Man, I just wish I could see through the bullshit. You know, see behind the curtain where the wonderful wizard mans the smoke machine with his cock in his hand,” Blake says and takes a swig of his beer. The cold bubbles burn as they pop and fizz.
“I see we’ve been stewing again. Relax brother. Relax. And as the old saying goes be careful what you wish for. It might just come true.
“Yeah, you’re right. Hey Halston, could I get singles for the Mega-touch?”
“Sure Blake. Waste of money though. Hate those touch screen games,” Halston says as he moves to the cash register and the till opens with a few taps.
“Just something to do while I relax,” Blake says as Halston hands him the cash.
“Right on. I have to go over the bar tabs from last night. Just yell if you want anything,” Halston says and heads to the far end of the bar by a stack of receipts.
Blake plays trivia games on the bar-top machine. As he inserts his last single, four credits add to his account and a wave of heat rolls over him. He looks up to see if he’s under a vent but there is no duct.
“They’re after you,” says a boy’s voice. Blake looks right and left and sees no one there.
“They’re coming,” the voice says. Blake spins around in his seat and there is no one behind him.
“Hey Halston, you hear that?” Blake asks.
“What?” he asks from the end of the bar.
“A kid’s voice,” Blake says.
“Dude, kids aren’t allowed in here.”
“Oh right. Never mind,” Blake says and thinks I’m losing it.
Inside Blake’s pocket, his phone vibrates indicating a text message. He wrangles the phone free and taps the screen. A message from Dan O’Leary comes up. The message reads Meet me at Jango’s in Midtown. Got girls.
He replies OK and notices that his battery is low. He shrugs and packs it away in his interior jacket pocket but the sound of crunching paper escapes from the pouch. Blake rolls his eyes as he realizes that four thousand dollars in cash sit in his pocket but it’s too late to go home.
“Hey Halston. Going now. Thanks for the beers,” Blake says.
“Right on. See you later.”
On the subway, stuck between an old man who smells of Old Spice and a young woman who smells of blueberry muffins and shame, Blake hold his knees as the train rumbles along. Zoning out, looking at the floor, Blake moves with the rocking of the subway car.
“They’re coming,” a little girl’s voice says and Blake looks up. No little girls are sitting by him. His hands and feet go cold as sweat drips from his armpits. He thinks it’s nothing. Just the booze. He takes a deep breath, slowly exhales, and looks back down at the floor.
“They’re after you,” the little girl’s voice says in Blake’s ear. He snaps a look to his right and examines the row of people. His heart races and spikes of heat prick down his back. He looks to his left and the only little girl on the train is at the other end of the car.
Calm down. It’s just my imagination he thinks and takes a deep breath.
Jango’s, a dark hole in wall club three blocks from Grand Central Terminal, is packed wall to wall with people in black watching a Jazz guitarist improvise up on a corner riser. He speed notes along the neck of a pale green Gretsch double cut-away as round tones deflect off the awed faces pushed flat by the cycle of fifths. A single cone light hangs overhead casting the guitar player half in shadow and half in light. Blake sifts through the standing crowd and sees Dan O’Leary in a corner booth where two women with black silk scarves knotted around their necks huddle close to him. The flicker of a candle melting down on a tin plate illuminates the obsidian black tabletop with wobbling light.
Blake flips an upward nod and Dan replies in kind. The women, both in black, scoot closer to Dan as Blake slips into the booth.
“You made it Moxley. Fantastic. Just in time for the festivities. Got a bottle of absinthe coming. If you want anything else, it’s on me,” Dan says.
“Cool. Why so generous?” Blake asks.
“Dude I’m leaving Silverstein, Bach and Vogel. Took up with a hedge fund,” Dan says.
“Wow, congrats. Which one?” Blake asks.
“The Alchemy fund.”
“Damn, big time holdings,” Blake says and thinks holy shit that’s one of Mr. Guilder’s funds.
“Oops. Sorry ladies, this is Blake Moxley. The only guy I met at my old office building who is worth a damn. Blake, to my right is Faun, and to my left Bijou,” Dan says and winks at Blake.
“Hi,” Blake says.
“Hi,” Faun says.
“Hello,” Bijou says.
“So did you two work together?” Faun asks.
“No, our offices are on the same floor. Blake works for Milton Communications right down the hall. Actually, I’m not down the hall anymore,” Dan says. A waiter cloaked in shadow puts four small glass goblets with gold rims on the table and then a tall bottle of absinthe, la fee verte, is placed down next to a small pitcher of ice water.
“Louche effect or straight up?” the waiter asks.
“Louche first then we’ll see,” Dan says.
“Thanks,” Blake says to the waiter who smirks as he brings out slotted spoon. The waiter lines up the goblets and then leaves for a moment. He returns with four sugar cubes in his hand and then pours the green spirit into the four glasses. The slotted spoon is placed on the rim of the first goblet and then a sugar cube. The group looks on as if they were children at a puppet show. The waiter picks up the pitcher and slowly pours the ice water over the ice cube. The cube doesn’t dissolve quickly at first as the cool water cascades down into the liquor and a transformation begins. The clear green liquor swirls and begins to become opaque, a thin milk. Faun and Bijou clap. The steps are repeated until each person has a proper drink in front of them. The waiter bows and steps back into the crowd dissolving like the sugar in the absinthe.
“People use to think absinthe made you hallucinate. That’s not true but with a little help it can,” Dan says and pulls out a little paper square from his shirt pocket. The women’s faces perk up.
“What is that? Coke?” Blake asks.
“No dude, Ecstasy. You in?”
“Sure, but only a little.”
After making sure the coast is clear, Dan doses the drinks with the fine powder and the girls sip first followed by Dan. Blake lifts his glass and swirls the spiked liquor. He smells the glass and hints of herbs, anise and licorice tickle his senses.
“Cheers and good luck at you new job O’Leary,” Blake says and swigs down the drink in one gulp.
The bottle gets low after a few rounds and the drug begins to take effect. Bijou and Dan begin to caress each other in the concealing darkness until the Jazz guitarist takes a break. Dan looks at Bijou and then to Blake.
“Be back in a bit,” Dan says and then gets up with Bijou. Faun and Blake follow them with their eyes as they walk through the crowd towards the bathrooms. Faun taps the rim of her glass.
“Didn’t think they’d go fuck so soon. Oh well. Blake tell me about yourself,” she says, puts her elbow on the table, and then rest her chin in her hand.
“Not much to tell. Small town kid. Went to college in New England. Moved to the city after few years of figuring out what I want to do,” Blake says and takes a small slug of absinthe from his glass. The taste of black licorice candy twinkles around his tongue and falls down his throat.
“Small town kid who moved to the big city. Are you Superman? Because you look like Clark Kent,” Faun says as her eyelids droop and her smile bows.
“Thanks, I think, but I’m hardly Superman. I mean would Superman do Ecstasy?”
“If he wanted to fuck me he would,” Faun says and the rhythm of Blake’s heart hits a hard upbeat.
“Oh, so tell me about yourself,” Blake says.
“No. This is your tryout. What do you want in life?” she asks as the Jazz guitar player tunes his guitar and the crowd noise crackles like static electricity.
“Freedom. I want to be free of all the people telling me to do dumb things at work. I want to be free to travel and not be stuck here because I have to work all the time. I want free time so I can share it with someone,” Blake says and lops back the rest of his absinthe.
“Good answer. You’re much more interesting than I thought one of Dan’s friends could be,” Faun says and slips closer to Blake.
A tremble courses through Blake’s hands and a spike of heat stabs his neck. Pressure from his kidneys hits the urgent signal in Blake’s brain. He has to urinate. Bad.
“Excuse me Faun. I’ll be right back,” Blake says. He slides out into the crowd and weaves through the standing bodies until he reaches the bathroom. He pushes the door expecting to see a line. There’s no one there. Only one stall and one urinal occupy the space. Fruits flies buzz by a corner trash can where the sink above drips city water into a city bathroom with ancient wall tiles stained with cigarette smoke from before the ban.
The dull light coming from above the sink’s mirror fizzles as Blake uses the urinal but as he finishes a flash of green light fills the room and a buzzing sound fills his ears. His breath quickens and his hair tingles as he thinks about the voice he heard earlier. A quick look to the right and left confirms no one else is there. Smoldering heat radiates from Blake’s skin as he shakes and then zips up.
“Hot in here,” he says and pushes the handle. The urinal doesn’t flush.
Blake wonders where Dan and Bijou went to have sex in a place like this and gets back to the booth. Faun runs her fingers along the edge of the black table and looks at Blake.
“This table top is really really smooth,” she says.
“Sure is,” he says and pours the last of the absinthe.
With slow backward tilt, Blake gulps down the liquor and the candle light penetrates the bottom of the rocks glass in scattered spots of cracked rainbow. He stares through the bottom for a second and then lowers it. Across the table, Faun is surrounded by a quivering aura of yellow light as if she were a candle wick and the aura the flame. Blake pushes back on the table and then freezes. The urge to run spins through his head.
What the fuck? Wait. Calm down. It’s just the drug. Calm down Blake thinks. He closes his eyes and shakes his head twice. Eyelids open to reveal nothing. Faun’s aura vanished and she runs her fingers along the rim of her glass.
“Smooth. Not like the table but smooth,” she says.
Sweat rolls down Blake’s arms and his hands tremble.
“Excuse me Faun, going to have a smoke,” Blake says. She looks up, eyelids sagging shut, and rolls a wave good bye with her fingers.
On the curb, Blake puffs a cloud of smoke that is dispersed by the wind funneled down to the street by the skyscrapers. Night bleeds down from where the spires stab the skyline above. He bounces on the balls of his feet as foot traffic and trailing conversations pass between him and the club’s entrance.
Calm down dude. Nothing to it. Just your imagination he thinks. The dead cigarette is flicked into the street where a cab runs it over sending sparks into the air. At that moment, the city noise gets sharp. Honking horns, the roll of tires, and the intelligible chatter from pedestrians gets louder in Blake’s ears. A spike of heat jams the back of his neck and a cascade of sharp pricks runs down his back to his legs.
“Got to call Carlton and get out of here,” he says and pulls out his phone.
Just then, across the street in a dark slit of an alley, an orb of light appears. Blake freezes. He doesn’t breath and doesn’t blink. He just stares. And then, it pops. Gone from existence in a flash.
I’m losing my mind. Can’t call Carlton. Got to call dad. He’ll know what to do Blake thinks. He pulls out his phone and sees the touch screen is black.
“Battery’s dead. You know? That’s good. That’s good. I can handle this. Better I didn’t call him,” Blake says and recalls the time when his father put him in the car after a Cub Scouts meeting and drove to Pittsburgh where they visited his father’s colleague in a mental health facility or as the called it back then an asylum. In a white hall, Blake and his father walked to the waiting room. An elderly woman in a dirty gown was being led down the hall by two orderlies when she saw the young Blake and broke free from her guards. She clung to Blake as her greasy hair draped over his elementary school boy face and he was too scared to scream or move. It took five minutes for the nurse to talk the woman into letting him go. Blake shakes his head to banish the memory.
“It’s just the drugs. Calm down,” he says and heads back into Jango’s.
Back at the table, Dan and Bijou sit rubbing each others arms and Faun caresses her cheeks in slow circles. Blake slips in.
“Having fun?” Dan asks.
“That shit is strong,” Blake says.
“Not really. I only gave you a quarter hit. So another bottle?” Dan asks.
“Definitely,” Bijou says and Dan lifts his hand. The waiter slinks over from the computerized cash register.
“Another bottle and Blake you want a beer?” Dan asks.
“Yeah, a Stella please,” Blake says and the waiter slips off into the thickening crowd.
Dan and Bijou lock eyes and are trapped by each other’s stare that begins at the back of their dilated pupils. Everyone else is shut out of their combined gaze. The flick of the tip of Faun’s scarf gets Blake’s attention as she amuses herself like a bored kitten with a string. She flicks the black scarf at Blake. She smiles a cute smile.
“Having fun?” Blake asks her. She nods and goes back to flicking the scarf below her chin. He folds his hands on the table and looks through the crowd to see if the waiter is coming with his beer.
Poor Blake, so close to getting laid but he has no clue. There was no way that was going to happen though. Here comes the second stage. Time to get weird, or I should say weirder, but in no way close to his final transformation.
The air around Blake begins to vibrate and hum as he sits watching the crowd that becomes a blur of motion, a stream of trailing bodies, around stalled columns of dim light. Minutes begin to pass between the blinks of Blake’s eyes. After one blink, his eyes open to see Bijou and Dan dancing, grinding, on the table to music being played at a high speed tempo like circus music in fast forward. After another blink, Blake notices that a stand up bass player joined the jam session with the jazz guitarist. Another blink and Faun is no longer around as Dan and Bijou make out next to him. With a slow and paused blink, the bar is almost empty, the others are gone, and the brown leather bill folder sits in front of him on the table stuffed with cash. Blake blinks again.
The next morning Blake wakes up in his bed and taps the rhythm of his heartbeat on the tip of his nose. Everything seems normal except that he is wearing the shirt from the night before and his loafers are on his feet.
“Fucking scary,” he says and looks to the floor where his jeans lay on top of a strange pork pie hat. He leans over and picks up the jeans and hat.
“This isn’t mine,” he says himself and then pulls out his wallet, keys and phone.
The envelope containing his winnings is gone. He would have been able to afford to pay the bookie four thousand if he lost the bet, but not a full eight.
Time is relative and slips so subtly away for the unfocused. Now for the introductions.
In the downtown offices of Milton Communications, Blake Moxley scratches his scalp and thinks about what he’s going to say to his supervisor. The meeting he set up is at 10:00 AM sharp and the time on his computer screen reads 9:59 AM. He steps out of his cubicle and flattens the front of his pinstripe jacket as he heads down the aisle toward Mr. Chen’s office. To his left, rows of customer service operators type away on plastic keyboards and on his right account managers are burrowed behind low cubicle walls. On both sides, the phones never stop ringing.
The floor to ceiling window, right outside the corner office, draws Blake in and he stares down to the Manhattan streets. Forty stories below, yellow cabs zip through red lights, dots of humanity cluster at the intersections, and box trucks gush out diesel exhaust into the thin autumn air. Outside it is a city of windows, each window an eye to a new world, and the eyes are the window to the soul. Some call it the city that never sleeps but it is full of daydreams and sleepwalkers. The scent of coffee drifts by Blake’s nose.
“Moxley, get in here,” Mr. Chen says through the cracked door.
“One moment Mr. Chen,” Blake says and adjusts his tie. A small bottle of generic hand sanitizer is plucked from his pocket and he blasts a few streams of clear jelly on his palm. He rubs his hands together as if trying to start a fire with a stick. A splash of gel jumps to his lapel and soaks in.
Blake enters Mr. Chen’s office and stands before a steel desk.
“Mr. Moxley have a seat.”
Blake grabs the chair next to the door, a spare from one of the empty cubicles, and scoots it under him. The loose plastic wheels spin and squeak to a stop. Mr. Chen keeps his focus on the computer monitor as he watches the stock market plummet and the volatility index rise twenty percent.
“So Blake, why did you want to see me?”
“I wanted to inquire about potential openings and advancement.”
“You want a new job?”
“Don’t get me wrong, I like my current position but I’m ready to take on more responsibility.”
“Why should I do this for you?”
“I work late. I work Saturdays.”
“So does everyone else. But setting up this meeting shows ambition. I’ll let you know if anything suitable comes along. Like the proactive behavior, keep it up.”
“Is there anything I can do to stand out?”
“Do you want to?”
“Okay, be here Sunday at ten. I’ll be here to get you started.”
“Yes Mr. Chen. I’ll be here.”
“You don’t sound so sure.”
“No I’m sure. I just wanted to go to a hockey game. That’s all.”
“Good, get back to work and by the way don’t drink on the job. Even if it’s a little.”
“But I don’t sir.”
“I can smell it. Now get out.”
Blake nods and then exits while thinking I didn’t get a new job and now I’m working Sundays. Shit. What’s with the booze comment?
Mr. Chen lifts his cell phone, taps the touch screen twice and puts it to his ear.
“Mr. Garew, we have a new one. I sense a lot in this kid. The others must watch him,” Mr. Chen says and leans back while watching Blake walking away through his window.
Blake makes his way back down the aisle thinking if I didn’t owe the fucking bookie I wouldn’t have to grovel. If I make one good bet, I can clear my debt and never do it again. At his desk, he plops down into his chair and moves his mouse to activate the screen.
Out of the corner of his eye, just as he is about to input his password, Blake sees a bright indigo light. He turns to see a FedEx deliveryman standing by the break room door surrounded by a pulsing blue aura. A spike of heat stabs his neck and a hot flash burns his skin and muscles. He can’t move but his heart pounds so hard he can hear it.
No fucking way. No fucking way. No fucking way he thinks. I’m losing my mind. Going to end up like that old women. No, calm down Blake. Just your imagination.
Blake closes his eyes and shakes his head hoping to rattle the image from his mind. It worked before when he saw the flame yellow aura around Faun. His eyes open and the FedEx guy is gone. I’m not going crazy he thinks. He takes a deep breath and goes to the bathroom to wash his face with cool water.
In the afternoon, the office enlivens with activity as markets plummet to record lows for the quarter and bells toll for many of the company’s clients. Sweat pours down executive faces and furious phones calls are made. Blake avoids a couple account-executives running down the aisle and looks to his watch but a small discolored patch of gray on his lapel gets his attention. He lifts the lapel and takes a whiff. The blot smells like rotgut booze from the generic hand sanitizer.
“Shit, that’s why,” Blake says as his coworker Juli Cesare, who smells of jasmine year round, slips by. Her hair like woven honey glows under the over head lights.
“Excuse me?” she asks.
“Oh no, it’s nothing. Not about you,” he says, bites his lip and rushes away with his arms crossed.
Juli intimidates Blake. He knows she’s a city girl born in Brooklyn and raised in Manhattan. The fact that she was in a few print campaigns for Macys as a teenager, Blake saw some photos online, makes her seem one step out of reach to him. She never shared with her coworkers that she was rejected by every high powered modeling agency because they said she was only fit for bikini work so she left that world behind.
Blake picks up a piece of discarded paper from his wire trash can and plops into his office chair. He scribbles: Next, I get rid of debt, I move, and then I ask Juli out.
He crams the paper into his pocket and thinks I tried to get a promotion and now I’m working Sundays. Fuck. How am I going to pay the bookie?
The office continues to buzz with activity through the afternoon and the phones never stop ringing while outside the sun begins a slow creep over the city skyline. Blake finalizes his spreadsheet and hits save. Though unhappy about coming in on the weekend, he resigns to the task because it is the only path he can conjure that will allow him to move up the corporate ladder and then move out of his apartment. He can’t stand the smells of his apartment building anymore and thinks the chemicals in the old paint and carpets are giving him headaches.
Blake has part of it right. Something is giving him headaches but it’s not his sick building. A change deep in his cells is taking place. A dormant gene begins to express caused by exposure to an epigenetic compound. His brain, body and senses are transforming.
Blake yawns a yawn that has been building for years and checks his email. No messages from the bookie. He cracks his neck and then straightens his tie. The image of Faun surrounded by the yellow aura pops to the forefront of his thoughts. A hot flash burns under his skin and makes him sweat. A bead of perspiration runs from his swooping hairline and he wipes it away with his sleeve.
“Have to figure out what causes those auras. Don’t want to have a stroke,” he says to himself and logs out of his computer.
The plan to come in on the weekend is set and he hopes the bookie will give him time to find the money to pay up.
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