Tuesday, December 17, 2013

natIVE

It was Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve was awesome.

I woke up before anyone else and put the tablet back where He'd left it. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and the twenty-sixth are a warm blur. Here's, basically, how it went:

  1. Christmas Eve
    1. Mrs. Swanson agreed to come over for Indian leftovers and eggnog
    2. Mrs. Swanson and Mom cooked two chickens, and mashed potatoes, and a cornucopia of other vegetables, and stuffing and this all ran into Christmas Day, too and 
    3. Mercedes, he, and I all gave each other gifts on Christmas Eve, so we wouldn't be so excited we couldn't sleep in on Christmas Day.
      1. I got him a dark grey Detroit D hooded sweater with a faux fur lining
      2. I got Mercedes a pair of shin-high boots with a thick, modified sole. When she walks in mud or snow with them, her foot prints looked like wolf prints. 
    4. Mom and Dad invited Mrs. Swanson to stay the night, and she protested, trying to claim that Skype was why she wasn't staying, but our spare bedroom has a computer, too, so Mrs. Swanson and Mercedes stayed for Christmas Eve through Christmas Day (Mercedes stayed for the twenty-sixth, too, but Mrs. Swanson volunteered at a soup kitchen.)
    5. We *all* cuddled onto Mom and Dad's gigantic, custom, bed and watched classic Christmas movies and ate popcorn and drank eggnog.
    6. Mrs. Swanson Skyped with Mr. Swanson for an hour and a half. 
    7. Dinner was delicious --turkey and ham and cheese sandwiches.
    8. The house smelled like homes should during the holidays (you know what I mean.)
    9. I think, but am not positive, I was the first one to fall asleep during our Christmas movie marathon
  2. Christmas Day
    1. We slept in (I woke up in my own bed) and I was, indeed, the first one to fall asleep.
    2. For breakfast, Dad served all of us champagne and thick, homemade and oven cooked toast. The toast was perfectly golden, with garlic butter Dad minced and prepared by himself. 
    3. Mom surprised us with (she called it an authentic) Pork Pie, and a mince meat pie, too. As she sliced it, Mom told us that the mince meat pie was actually not that authentic, as it was, in fact, vegan. No one believed her, but it was delicious either way.
    4. Mom gifted Dad a coat that matched mine.
    5. Dad gifted Mom a slinky, corseted black dress and a cardigan he promised her was very special, even though it didn't do any of the things our coats did.
    6. I gave Mrs. Swanson a card with a long, rambling letter about how sweet and awesome her daughter was.
    7. Mercedes got grounded for not calling the police during our down town mugging. 
    8. No one mentioned the part where we almost (and in his case did) got hit by cars.
    9. The grounding would start in the new year, and be for one week.
    10. Christmas Dinner.
      Christmas Dinner was amazing. There were too many of us and there was too much food for everything to fit on the weird obsidian table, so Mom and Mrs. Swanson improvised a buffet style serving by laying the food out on the center counter-top in the kitchen.

      We sat down to eat, and Mrs. Swanson said a lovely, not very religious, prayer about keeping us all safe and blessing us all, to keep us from harm's way.

      Dad said, "Amen to that." and He chuckled. And we all ate.

      For dessert Mom made an apple, then pecan pies appear, and Dad made us all mimosas and bloody mimosas with the rest of the champagne. It was amazing and delicious.
    11. We all fell asleep early again.
    12. I remember thinking how quiet the house was, as I stirred.
    13. I woke up on the couch, in a quiet house around 3:00AM and went sleepily back to my room, climbed onto the top bunk and passed out.
  3. The Twenty-sixth
    1. We had more toast and garlic butter and bloody mimosas and a few Bloody Mary drinks for breakfast. Mrs. Swanson joined us for breakfast, chatting happily before heading out.
    2. We agreed on a trilogy of trilogies and 
    3. Mercedes, him and I decided to run to the store, for more eggnog.
    4. I thought I saw a Jon, in the grocery store, but I wasn't fast enough, and lost sight of him, somewhere around the fish tanks.
    5. No one believed me when I told them what I'd seen.
    6. Dinner was turkey, cranberry, and garlic butter sandwiches on more of Dad's homemade, golden toast. Mercedes sliced Brussels sprouts and added them to her sandwich. I added gravy and mashed potatoes and carrots to mine. It was like a delicious, mini-pot pie.
    7. In the coziness of Mom and Dad's bed, I was, again, the first one to fall asleep.
4. The twenty-seventh.
I was the last one awake, when I stumbled, rubbing my eyes, into the kitchen. It was sunny and smelled of good, fresh coffee and crepes in the kitchen. Mercedes sat on the counter, swinging her legs and leaning into him. They were chatting about something, but stopped when I tripped over the first step. 

He turned and smiled at me. He said, "Hello, sleepy! I am making crepes." 

"Aren't crepes French?" 

"Aren't you clever?" He said and he and Mercedes laughed. 

I chuckled, too. "I will be after I drink some coffee," I said, "Then we'll word play tangle. Something something. Coffee. What goes on Crepes?"

Mercedes laughed. "Whatever you want to go in a crepe goes --whatever you want on a-- Anything, anything goes on crepes. I'm having Nutella on mine." 

"When will they be done?"

"These are the last two." 

He was still smiling, he poured and handed me a cup of coffee. 

"We're getting dinner at the Liu's place with Morgan at six. Is that okay with you?" Mercedes said. "I thought we might get Jennifer to talk to us, too. If she was there." 

"I like their noodles." he said. 

I stared out the window. The icicles were blinding, melting in the almost noon sun. "Cool." I said. "What are we gonna do before that?" I sipped from my coffee cup and swung a chair around, so I was facing them.

He turned back around and deftly flipped two crepes at once, one pan per hand. I clapped and Mercedes whistled. He took a bow and, using a towel, pulled a cookie sheet with more crepes from the oven.

He said, "I recommend them with sugar and lemon juice."

"Nutella for me." Mercedes said.

"I'll try two of both, if that's possible." I said. I sipped my coffee; it was delicious. I said, "So, today? I'm going to catch cabin fever if we don't go out."

"Cabin fever?" He looked at me. He said, "That is very serious. We must leave right after we eat. Where can we go?"

I said, "I haven't been to the DIA in a while. I'll see if they're open."

"On it!" Said Mercedes. She poked at her phone.

He prepared the crepes and set them, steaming, on the table, three plates with parallel. diagonal crepes, each set of crepes crossed with a fork. "Eat!" He said, and we did.

I finished first and scraped at the spilled Nutella with my fork. I licked the fork and drank some coffee. "That's good." I said, "That was all good."

Mercedes nodded. She patted his arm. She said, "The museum is open until 10pm tonight. I'll shower and get ready and we can go."

"I need to shower too." I said.

He sniffed. "Yes." He said, "You do."

Mercedes and I stared at him. He  managed to keep a straight face for a few moments, but buckled and laughed shortly. "It was not funny this time?" He asked.

I laughed. "Very funny." I said, "I'll go first."

"We could shower together, to save time." He said.

I blushed, instantly, I could feel my ears burning. I watched in disconnected horror as I said, "Uh, no. That wouldn't be quicker, and would be much, much harder. For me. To get clean. Um." I stood up, dropped but caught my coffee mug in shaking hands and fast walked into the bathroom, where I locked the door, turned on the shower and the fan, and sank to the floor. "Hah." I said. I said, "Seriously? Now? Belated Christmas Gift, much? Sheesh. And you turned him down. Mercedes is here. There'll be time later. Tonight. Bring it up tonight. Yeah. Cool." I nodded into my sweating palms. I breathed deep --I did smell boyishly dirty-- and stood up. The shower was hot when I got in and, eyes wide, I turned it down quickly and let the chill seep through me before I turned it to a manageable temperature. "Whew." I said.

I got dressed and Mercedes showered next.

While we were alone, he chatted with me about Germany, talking about his family and what school was like there, for him. How his dad had conscripted him early due to his size. "I am very strange in my family. My father is short like my mother, who died giving birth." He said. He sat on the bed, took his shirt off and brushed past me. He rummaged in his drawers in our dresser as I pulled my clothes on. I made sure whatever I wore, I would be able to get my new jacket on and still squeeze into my letter jacket. I chose dark blue jeans and a light grey t-shirt, since my new coat was so warm, and had a hood, I decided against a hooded sweater.

"Shower's free!" Mercedes said from the top of the stairs. She shouted, "I'll be down as soon as I've done something with my hair!"

He tossed some jeans, a t-shirt, and the hooded sweater I gifted him on his bed. "I will shower now." He said. He disappeared and I was left to futz on my phone while my friends readied themselves. I smiled. I was excited to go out during the day, for more normal things. "No killing! No Jons!" I swore to myself.

Mercedes drove us to the DIA. We chatted about the trilogies we'd watched, and what sort of sequels and prequels we would like to see, given the chance. He was adamant that such things were a bad idea, and Mercedes and I swore we would prove to him otherwise, but it didn't happen on the drive to the museum.

It was strikingly warm, and thus wet, as we walked the block or so from our free parking ("Why wouldn't I park on a street?" --Mercedes) space to the Museum entrance. Just like at the mall, we linked arms and swung and dance kicked our way into the museum, laughing and catching each other as we went. The sun danced with clouds, occasionally bouncing off the puddles, blinding us.

We bought tickets to the special exhibit, since entrance for us was free. We laughed until we were shushed, and then we giggled quietly all the way through the modern art section. We stared at the fire exit until an exasperated guard walked over to us. She said, "It's an exit." Then she quickly added, "But not for you three."

Mercedes and I said, "Amazing."

"It's not art." Said the guard.

He didn't stop staring at the door. "Isn't it?" He said. "Look at the opposed wood grains of the two sides of the door.. Look how they only sometimes line up, in the center that isn't actually the center of the piece."

"It is a fire exit." Said the security guard. She turned on a heel and walked off, arms crossed.

We howled, silently, with laughter.

Mercedes and him got into a long, terse discussion about politics in the Rivera atrium mural. I tuned them out and stared at the drinking fountain. I looked right and caught the same security guard shaking her head at me, one cheek dimpled.

We locked arms and tromped quickly through the colonial portraits section. We laughed, quietly, our way through the puppet exhibit.

We walked reverently, hand in hand in hand, through the Native American section.

The sun set as we sipped coffees in gigantic leather chairs and played footsie with each other somewhere between thumb wrestling with feet and

"Hey, we should get going soon if we're going to get dinner with Morgan an Jennifer at six." said Mercedes.

I stood up and brushed imaginary crumbs from myself. I said, "I'll bus our mugs." and swept the other to --clink clink-- into my left hand.

The wind was sharp on my bare hands and cheeks as we dashed silently back to the car. The drive to the interstate was full of gouting, gusting steam from the sewer lids and storm drains. A bus full of tired looking people passed us, its interior lights acidic in the dusk.

We arrived before Morgan, tinkling through the door into the low, cozy restaurant.

Jennifer was pulling our usual table away from the wall; she set it next to another in the center of the restaurant, even though they weren't exactly the same height. She stood up straight, still tiny, and stretched her arms above, then behind, her head. "There." She said, and smiled. "Hi you guys! Happy, err, twenty-seventh!"

"Thank-you!" I said. I took my letter jacket off and slung it over the back of a chair. I asked, "Can I help with anything?"

"Is this your restaurant?" Jennifer asked. She stared at me. "Seriously. Is this yours?" She said.

I stared back at her. "No?" I said.

Jennifer said, "Then sit!" She giggled. "Be right back, with tea!" She said, and slipped through the saloon doors, painted purple now, with a small swoosh.

He was already sat, folding and refolding a napkin.

Mercedes looked around then sat too, on the far side (right side) of him.

I moved my coat and sat on his right side, with a hard swallow. I said, "I'm thirsty."

"Good timing then!" Mrs. Liu shot through the saloon doors with a ridiculously tall, dangerously wobbling stack of tea cups in one hand and a gigantic, metal tea pot in the other. "Just finished steeping. Fresh as you like!" She said, "I'm so excited to have you all here! I'll get the soup ready shortly. No appetizers for you today!" And with a bang she was gone; there were seven cups in total, all filled with tea; not a wasted drop.

The door tinkled and we turned, waved hello to Morgan, who shuddered and shook her auburn hair out and adjusted her red and black eye patch. "Hello! Happy twenty-seventh!" She said. Morgan sat her fur lined aviator hat at her end of the table and shrugged out of her puffy black winter coat. She dabbed at her good eye with a tiny, shiny, cloth before sitting. She was wearing a denim dress and two or three (I couldn't tell) layers of tights; untied brown winter boots with rubber feet and fur tufts and incongruous thick black laces. "Oh! Tea!" She said, and took her finger-less gloves off, and wrapped her hands around one of the cups of tea.

Jennifer came back in, looking somewhat glum, and pulled the shades down. "Drafty." said Jennifer as she sat across from us. "So," She said, slowly turning a cup of tea gently with her thumbs. "Here we are."

Mercedes said, "Let's just --"

"Take a tour of the kitchen, right? I remember Will grousing that he didn't get a tour of the kitchen last time, or the time before? Didn't you Will?" Before I could respond, Jennifer continued, "You wanted a tour, and were mad that he got one and you didn't. Well. What do you say? Tour?"

"If I won't be in the way!" I said. I smiled. "Awesome!" I stood up.

Jennifer made ushering gestures at me, "You first, around the counter." she said.

I unzipped my coat and walked around the corner; there was a distinct, delicious smell coming from the kitchen as I pushed through the (surprisingly heavy) saloon doors.

Ahead, on the left, Mr. Liu looked up from a chopping board, cleaver in hand. "Oh." he said.

I smiled and waved and said hello and kept walking, making sure everyone would fit in the narrow but incredibly efficient kitchen. On the immediate right were the deep fryer and a eight burner stove --all immaculately clean. Pots ranging from gigantic down to minuscule hung from thin, dull, chains in the middle, like a reverse metal forest, obscuring the rest of the kitchen. Somewhere behind Mr. Liu, a heavy refrigerator door swung open. Mrs. Liu came out, she had one of the Huge Pots hoisted with both hands, balanced on her apron knot. "Oh." She said and carefully set the pot on the closest burner. "We not going to eat first, then?" Mrs. Liu asked.

"Apparently it's tour first, then eat." I said.

"Hah." Jennifer said.

"Hah." he said. He brushed against me and I jolted.

I don't know why. I just moved. I barged through the pots and grabbed and pushed Mrs. Liu out of the way, my chest heaving. I turned. Everyone was staring at me.

"Jumpy much, William?" Said Mercedes.

They were all staring at me. Mercedes chuckled, but it rang hollow and I frowned at her.

A pale blue knife clattered to the floor at his feet.

"What is this?" I said.

The floor was slippery with condensation and the pots clanged against each other while my question hung in the air.

"You killed so many kids, Metzger." Morgan said, "You killed so, so, many kids."

"What? You were there!"I shouted, "You watched Jon shoot Jay with his cane gun thing! Then the anonymous all attacked us and --"

Jennifer cut me off, "And then what, Metzger? What happened next?"

He crouched and picked up the blade. He handed it to Mercedes, who pocketed it, without taking her eyes off me. Mercedes said, "We've talked about it. We pieced it all together over the last three days, William."

"Oh, not you too, Mercedes!" I said. My chin shook when I tried to speak, so I just shut it instead.

Mr. and Mrs. Liu had snuck through the swinging pots and stood, dwarfed by Him and Mercedes.

"It's not like we want to do this." Morgan said. She put her deformed hand to her eye patch. "Sort of. You did good by Jay, and you've got good intentions."

"Sort of." He said.

"Sort of." Jennifer said.

Morgan said, "But near as we can tell, you're like a, a bomb, and you don't know how to set yourself off, and you don't know how to stop yourself from going off."

"And when you do." Mercedes said. She rubbed her ruined head with her wrecked hand. "And when you do go off."

"He does!" I said. I pointed at him. "He can stop me! He can teach me! When we were exploring the house the first time, I felt myself slipping, like, twice, and he stopped me from exploding, or seeing red, or whatever. He stopped me! I didn't go off, not once. And I don't think I've done it since!"

Everyone turned and looked at him.

He snorted. "You need me? That is worse than a bomb."

"Who are you anyway?" I asked. "One minute you're one thing, the next you're another. It's." I stopped and thought. I said, after a moment. "It's horrible, really. Its worse now. This is your doing isn't it?"

A door behind me slammed shut and suddenly I was in a headlock; meaty arms pinching my shoulders to my ears. "I see I missed dinner," Said a Jon, unmistakably, his breath hot in my ear.

Then, things started to slow. It was parabolic, and different, but still also red. Jon shouted as I turned in place, his arms came with me as I turned, they tore out and he fell on his knees, screaming, I think. Jon's mouth was open.

All I could hear was an oceanic roar. Everything was a flood of red and white.

My turn back took twice as long as my turn toward Jon. I started to raise my scabbed hands, plaintively, and watched as a bullet rippled, black waves from a white tip. The white bullet charging me from a gun in His hand, through the bloody chain forest.

It took minutes for me to open my jaw to shout and by the time my mouth was open, everything was moving as if through thick jello.

The bullet slowed to a snail's pace, feet from my face. Everyone else was caught mid dash, posed dynamic and useless, trying to run toward me as I tried to lift my hands.

Then, like a breaking rubber band, the roar was gone and I could move normally. I frowned.

Everything was still red and white, but silent now.

I reached out and touched the bullet, experimentally, and screamed as it blew my finger apart and THUCK'd with a whizz into the far wall. My blood slowed to a crawl half a second after I vaporized my own finger. Held my own hand and pushed at the stump. The blood stopped flowing.

I breathed in. I pocketed the gun.

I touched him from behind. I flicked the back of his head and he slammed clumsily through the pots and pans and crashed into Jon's falling-through-mid-air arm, steadied himself on it.

He stood and turned. "You are in over your head, William. You need to let us help you."

"Kill me, you mean." I said.

"Maybe." He said with a short nod. "Probably. Do you know --have you figured out how this works? The longer we are in here, the more they are going to be rubbed. In about two minutes, they're going to be suffering from more than  --"

My bullet shattered his chest and knocked him back.

I closed my eyes and popped my ears and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed my fists.

I opened my eyes and everything was still frozen and red. He hung face down and un-moving on the hunched crumple of an albino Jon.

I fled with his body.

I tossed his gigantic, limp body across my shoulders and barreled out the back door and tossed his body over the low scab colored wall. I hopped the scab colored wall and dashed, steaming black, carrying him with me through a dozen blood red backyards.  After I lost count of the fences, of tossing his corpse, and panting, picking him up and throwing him again and again over the blood or scab colored fences and walls I stopped.

The snow hung frozen and motionless in the air as far as I could see.

I tossed him then hopped over a high chain link fence and tossed him and climbed the beige brick wall protecting the back of a gigantic department store --the cuffs of my coat gripped the bricks easily and I was over in moments.

He was still dead.

I kept shuffling along, crunching snow under his weight until I could hear nothing but my heart's roar in my ears. My legs gave out in the pylon field a few miles from the Liu's restaurant.

I flopped face first into the vibrant red snow, buried under him. I scrunched my eyes closed against the cold.

I pulled my hood up and flopped out from under him, onto my back. Orange sky and white snow greeted me, when I opened my eyes. For a while, I watched clouds roll across the sky, not far from the power lines.

There was a puff and, in fast-forward, he caught fire, smoldered, and burned to ash in the snow.

My missing finger started to throb and i jammed it into the snow, then retched in horror --the snow was mixed with his ash. The ash and snow darkened and rivulet'd around my stub.

My phone buzzed. It was Mercedes, asking where I was. I threw my phone as far as I could, stood and took two steps and fell to my knees. I stood and stumbled and fell over and over and over until I reached a road. The dirt shoulder bit my knees, sent shocks knees-to-scalp through me when I fell down.

A blue truck sped by; it's horn dopplered.

I huffed a single, painful laugh and toppled over. I closed my eyes.

Mom said, "Wake up sleepyhead."

It was cold and the sky was pink.

I opened my eyes. Mom peered at me, cheeks streaked with makeup. She sniffed. "I knew it. You're okay." She said.

I threw up all over myself. "Sort of." I said.

Mom laughed. She held her hands out and we struggled me to my feet, then leaned against her car. "Just let me." She said, opening the passenger door. Mom helped me into the seat, reached under me and tossed Dad's mobile into the back. "Don't need that any more!" Mom said.

I closed my eyes and rubbed my head.

"Drink this." Said Mom. She put a large water bottle in my lap. She said, "It's water. You'll need it."

"Are we going home now?" I asked.

Mom said, "Yes, sweetie. Yes we are."

The drive home wasn't full of talking. Mom just drove. She turned the heat all the way up and shrugged out of her winter coat.

I said, "Mom, I'm fine. I'm wearing my good coat. See?"

Mom said, "Your feet, though, and your hands are blue. I can see them. They're blue. You need to warm them up. Do I need to take you to the E.R.?" She slapped my hands and I yelped. Mom said, "Okay, you can feel and oh my god you're missing a finger why aren't you bleeding more? We're going to the E.R."

I said, "Can't Mrs. Swanson fix it?"

"Oh honey." Mom said, "Mrs. Swanson and I couldn't stay friends. They're." Mom drove the rest of the way to the E.R. in silence.

It was bright, and empty, and they cauterized my stub and didn't ask questions and gave me some medicine that Mom and I both took when we got home and fell asleep.

I woke up to a gray, wet, day. I shuffled down to my bedroom and flopped onto the bottom bunk.

I knew I was actually dreaming, when I woke up, because I was in Mercedes's room. Mercedes was sitting at her computer desk, typing away. I coughed politely and her hands stopped moving.

She turned around. She wasn't wearing her eye patch. She said, "I wasn't expecting you so soon. Can I get you some tea?"

I said, "I'm glad you're okay. I thought I might've screwed up and set the restaurant on fire, but he sort of tipped me off a bit. I think. I'm getting the hang of these powers."

"It doesn't matter." Mercedes said. Her blind eye was all red; a tiny, red, oval stuffed in her eye socket. "So many kids died this year, and we didn't help at all. We could have --"

"How could we have helped?"

"We helped last year! This year we could've gone to the police, to the FBI. Instead some guy from Germany showed up, and instead of helping, you killed him."

"He was going to kill me!"

"Maybe you should've let him!" Mercedes cackled, a strange, rasp from somewhere in her lungs that turned into a cough. When her coughing stopped, Mercedes said, "Besides, if you'd helped him, he wouldn't have wanted to kill you. And, since you asked. I've met one person who wanted." Mercedes said. "And."

"And what?" I said, "I saw you kill that Jon. I was there. That Jon wanted to die, so fine. Why did it run? Maybe it was scared? It was happy to die. But I'm not that person. I don't want to die. And indiscriminate killing is wrong." I said.

"Well, if you ever do want to die, let me know. Send me a text, I'll see what I can do." Mercedes said. She continued, "Now. I'm going to ask you to leave."

I said, "But, listen. Aren't --can't we --"

Mercedes pointedly reached up and dropped an immaculate finger on her mouse button.

I woke up as if struck by lightning. I looked around my room. It was dark. The sheets smelled faintly of him, and my best friend had just threatened to kill me. Sort of.

I sat there for a minute. Staring into the darkness. I kept staring, but nothing materialized.

The door burst open, Mom came in, backlit with far away stairway light. "Sweetie!" She shouted. "Sweetie! What's wrong? Why are you screaming?"

I was screaming?

I was screaming.

"Oh." I said.

I stopped screaming.

Mom came and sat down next to me on the bed. She slowly rubbed my back, circles and circles. After a while she turned and hugged me, pushed my head down onto her shoulder and let me cry.

I sniffed and apologized for the snot on her shirt.

Mom said, "It's okay."

I smiled, in the dim room. I said, "Can I go back to sleep?"

"Why don't you sleep on the top bunk, hey?" said Mom.

I nodded. I climbed, stiffly, unto the top bunk and let Mom shuffle and tug the covers aside. She tucked me, kissed my forehead and said goodnight.

"Is it night?" I asked.

Mom said, "It is, sweetie. It is. You sleep well, okay? We'll start sorting this all out in the morning."

"Okay. Thank-you."

"Oh sweetie." Mom hiccuped, just once. "You're welcome. Sweet dreams."

"You too."

Mom hopped off the bed and closed the door behind her. I lay there, staring into the darkness for a while. I closed my eyes and chased the shapes that bubbled up on my eyelids and in so doing lulled myself to sleep.


(End Part 1)