The Object: a free serial novel
Episode Two: “On Our Own”
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Three old men in yellow Polo t-shirts stood on the tee box below the balcony of Barry Schafer’s top floor condo. Out on the fairway, a Jr. Pro barreled towards the men at full speed, driver yelling something inaudible, passenger clinging to the roll cage.
Barry sipped a glass of scotch and watched the runaway golf cart tear up the grass as it hit a bump, cut a donut, and finally came to a stop near the tee box, at which point its occupants fled the cart as though it were rigged with explosives, joining their fellow yellow-shirted golf buddies to piss themselves marveling over the big rock in the sky.
“Honey it’s on the news,” Whitney said from inside. Barry hardly heard her. He was thinking about that skinny black drunk he’d accosted earlier, wondering what he made of this object in the sky.
Two things were now certain. One, it would be a different kind of world around here now, at least until this thing disappeared. Two, he would run into that drunk again.
“They’re saying–honey, they’re saying they don’t know what it is.”
“No shit,” Barry called back.
He took out his cell phone and sent a text to Jason, the groundskeeper, whom he had once caught smoking pot in the media room downstairs, and who since then had been his one-stop supplier of weed, coke, and pills. The text he sent read: MEET IN 10 MINS.
Down on the golf course one of the old men took a knee, clutching his chest. Two of his friends helped lay him flat on the grass while the other two started waving their arms and calling up to Barry.
Barry finished off his scotch and stepped through the open balcony door, into the kitchen, where Whitney stood rinsing asparagus in the sink and watching the news on a small flat screen. She wore a white apron over her short khaki shorts and tank top, blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. A slave to the tanning salon but with optimum results. For now, anyway. In ten years she’d probably look like a boot.
Her hands were shaking.
As Barry passed her he pulled on the apron string tied in a bow behind her back, unraveling it.
He smiled and pulled a bottle of scotch from the cabinet.
“I gotta run to the store,” he said. “You need anything?”
“I need Hayden to come home.”
He turned to her and leaned against the counter. “Where is he?”
“I don’t know. I called him and of course he didn’t answer.”
Barry shook his head and drank. “I told him. Didn’t I tell him?”
“I told him he keeps pulling this shit, that car pops up in the classifieds.”
“I hope he’s okay. The traffic today, my goodness.”
“You can worry about him when he gets home. I’m gonna tan his ass.”
“Barry. He’s probably somewhere watching that . . . thing. Speaking of which, I really think we should go to Sarah’s.”
“I’ve already made my ruling,” Barry said.
“Well this isn’t a courtroom, and you’re not a judge.”
“Not yet.” He stepped past her and pulled on her apron string again, which she’d retied, and when she swatted at him he grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her to him. “I’m going out for a few minutes. Stay inside. People are losing it out there.” He kissed her and ran his hand up the back of her thigh. She pushed him away.
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“How long will you be gone?” she asked.
He smacked her on the butt and then went to the bedroom and took his .9mm handgun from the nightstand, checking to make sure it had a round in the chamber before returning to the living room and heading out the door.
“I’m bleeding everywhere,” Mike cried. “I’m dying. Am I dying?”
Meredith had to drag him to her car. She’d tried dispatch several times but no one had responded. The radio was cluttered with reports and requests for backup from all over town. Car accidents, assault, looting, missing persons, and even a few suicides.
Meanwhile, Mike the Stalker was bleeding to death. She’d shot him in his lower abdomen, likely through something vital–a kidney or the liver.
When she’d had no luck with dispatch, she’d even used Mike’s cell phone to dial 911, though she’d known better. A busy signal. You wouldn’t get through till midnight at the least.
With her options whittled down to two–leave him to die or drive him to the hospital–Meredith knew she didn’t really have any options. She couldn’t leave him to squirm and cry and bleed out in the weeds. No matter what his intentions for that little girl, who’d run off to God knows where–hopefully home.
What a mess Day Three had turned out to be.
Hefting Mike across the lot proved difficult. In his agony he went limp, legs dragging the ground, arms flopping. He was a small guy with a beer gut and at least a pint of blood missing already, and although Meredith was taller than Mike, she was regarded often by friends and especially her new co-workers as “too skinny.”
Just yesterday, in fact, she’d overheard two fat patrolmen who worked in the Okolona area talking about her, the first saying, “Man I’d make them bones rattle.”
“Too skinny for me,” said the other. “Bang her, you’re liable to start a fire.”
Then they’d chuckled and continued chewing on cheeseburgers.
“I don’t wanna die,” Mike murmured.
“Then you shouldn’t have attacked me.”
“I didn’t do anything!”
Meredith’s back hit the side of the cruiser. She let Mike slide down to the pavement, opened the door, pulled on him again.
“Get in the car,” she said, pulling and fumbling with his limp body. Mike was no help. He just cried like a baby with his eyes clenched shut. “Put your feet on the ground,” Meredith said. “If you don’t help me out I’ll leave you here.”
“No, no please,” he said, suddenly calmer–and lighter, as he grabbed hold of the door and stood on at least one foot.
Meredith used this as an opportunity to squeeze out from between him and the car. Then she shoved him inside. He screamed loud and high enough to shatter wine glasses. Meredith grappled with his kicking feet to get them clear of the door and finally slammed it shut.
It was then she noticed the warmth and wetness of the blood soaking through her uniform. For a moment she gazed up at the object, dark and silent, as if waiting. Then she got in the car and drove away, Mike the Stalker thrashing and sobbing in the back seat.
Sherman jogged past the spectators, some mingling around the splattered remains of the jumper, others wandering aimlessly, necks craned, gawking at the sky, others still running full on for their vehicles or homes.
When he heard the first storefront window shatter, he ran across Sixth Street to a parking lot and then through a brick alleyway. Fifth and Fourth were the same. People behaving erratically, some shouting prayers, others fleeing. Down at Fourth Street Live a riot had begun.
He didn’t stop until he reached 2nd Street, where a bus idled at the corner Tarc stop. The doors were closing and the bus lurched forward. Sherman caught up to it and banged twice on the door, then veered right to avoid smacking into a light pole. He smacked the door again and called out, “Come on, man, let me on! Please! Please!”
The bus picked up speed, pulling ahead. Sherman slowed to a jog, then stopped completely.
“Ain’t we all in this together?” he shouted at the bus.
Then he heard the squeal of the brakes. The driver was still making his route and the next Tarc stop was only a block away.
He reached the door just as it pulled open.
“Whew, thanks man,” he said, gasping. “It’s a circus out there. People’s scared.”
“Can’t stop nowhere but the designated spots, bub,” the driver said.
“It’s all good,” Sherman said. “I appreciate it, I do.” He pulled out a five dollar bill.
“No change. It’s all automated now.”
Sherman nodded, still panting, and inserted the bill into the acceptor. The driver ripped off a ticket and handed it to him, and Sherman plopped down in the first seat. The bus was otherwise empty.
“I can’t believe you’re still driving.”
“I said you gotta be the only bus still makin’ its route.”
“Yes sir, this city could be crawling with aliens any minute.”
“They just let you out of Our Lady of Peace?”
Sherman laughed. “Nah, man, the thing–wait, ain’t you looked outside lately?”
“I’m lookin’ outside right now, bub,” the driver said.
“You ain’t looked up, though.”
“Looked up at what?”
The driver grunted. “They ought to have put it it my job description,” he mumbled. “Once a day, every day, see a new kinda crazy.”
Sherman stood and moved up next to the driver, crouched forward, pointing up at the sky. “Just look, man–look at that thing.”
“Hey, sit down, bub.”
“I said sit down you damn fruit–oh shit!”
The driver slammed on the brakes, but it was too late. Sherman was thrown forward into the panel and had just enough time to make out a set of wide eyes before the bus overtook an elderly woman in a flowery yellow dress.
Danny stood at the door of Cafe 360 until the remaining employees were all in the back. Then he slipped inside and moved around the tables to the ladies bathroom. Lucky for him it was empty, so he stepped inside, pulled the squeaky door closed, and set the hook in the eyelet to lock it. Then he shut off the light, sat down on the toilet, and waited for the place to evacuate completely. In the meantime, he had his own evacuating to do.
Lillia made them each a tuna sandwich, sliced them diagonally, and put them on a single plate. She grabbed a bag of potato chips from the cabinet, a 2-liter from atop the refrigerator, and three plastic cups.
As she passed through the door to the living room, she shut off the kitchen light, then thought better of it and flipped it back on. Outside the streets sounded like a war zone. Several times she’d heard glass shattering, and once what she was certain was a fight breaking out. Two men shouting and cursing at one another, women screaming on the sidelines.
She checked the deadbolt on the front door to make sure it was locked, as she had done when she first came downstairs.
Despite the prattle of chaos outside, the house was eerily quiet. She could hear the pops and squeals of the walls contracting as the air cooled in the shadow of the object. She could even hear the mice in the walls, the whisper of conversation between Drake and Kate upstairs.
“I wonder if they look like people,” Kate said.
“I doubt it,” Drake replied. “I bet they have scales and tentacles.”
“Are they gonna eat us?”
“No, they’ll probably just blow us up.”
Kate began to cry and Lillia hurried up the steps.
“Drake!” she said as she entered the room, but Drake was hugging Kate and apologizing.
“I’m sorry,” he said. He turned back to Kate. “I was only kidding. I promise.”
Lillia set the food before them, poured drinks, and handed Kate half a sandwich. They sat cross-legged and ate.
“What’re we gonna do?” Drake asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think we’ll have school Monday?”
“I don’t know, Drake. It depends on what happens. We need a TV.”
“Timmy has a TV.”
“Yeah but he lives too far away.”
Kate tugged at Lillia’s skirt and said, “Can I go to the bathroom?”
“Yeah, go ahead.”
“Want me to go with you?”
Lillia stood and led Kate across the hall and Drake followed. Kate went into the bathroom alone, and with the door shut, Drake said, “We could borrow a TV from one of the neighbors. Everybody’s leaving.”
“That’s stealing,” Lillia said. “And breaking and entering.”
“We wouldn’t even know who’s home and who isn’t.”
“The people across the street left. I saw them. They had suitcases and everything.”
“It’s not an option,” Lillia said.
“But you said–“
“No, Drake. We’ll figure something out. Right now we need to wait till things settle down. And we need to stay inside.”
The toilet flushed and the faucet gurgled and spat. You had to count to ten before using the sink. Otherwise you’d come out with the stench of sulfur on your hands.
“Where did Mrs. Wilkins go?” Drake asked.
Lillia shook her head. “Wherever she went, I don’t think she’s coming back–not until it’s gone.”
“What if it never leaves?”
“If it keeps her away, I guess that makes us lucky.”
Drake smiled. “This is really neat.”
“You’re not scared?”
“You shouldn’t be,” he said. “I don’t think it wants to hurt us.”
“Oh yeah? What makes you think that?”
“Quiet,” Lillia said, shooting a finger up between them. She moved over to the top of the staircase and peered down. The door handle was jiggling.
“Back in the bedroom,” she whispered, pushing him. She opened the bathroom door and told Kate to be really quiet. She shut off the faucet and led her back to the bedroom. She closed the door just as the front door burst open downstairs.
“This is bullshit, man,” Jason said. “Wally’s gonna be pissed. What am I supposed to say? ‘Hey, bro, what’s up? Have you met my friend, District Attorney Barry Schafer?’ He’ll probably shoot us both.”
They were parked outside a dingy apartment building on 28th Street. Every window was boarded up. At one corner a section of brick had collapsed from the wall. Two men stood in the shadows on the left side of the building, smoking cigarettes, watching them.
“Let’s go,” Barry said.
“What the hell are we even doing here?”
“You’ll find out.”
“Dude,” said Jason. “This ain’t cool. I don’t just pop in on Wally. It don’t work like that.”
“It does today,” Barry said.
He stepped out of the car and came around to the sidewalk. Then he pointed his locking device and waited until Jason finally slumped out, shaking his head. The car beeped twice and the parking lights flashed.
“We don’t need to be here, man.”
“Go,” Barry said.
Jason sighed, put his hands in the pockets of his hoody, and headed up to the front entrance. Barry glanced over at the men to his left. How strange he must appear to them in this neighborhood. A detective, maybe. Definitely bad news.
The stairs creaked as they ascended to the second, third, and finally the fourth floor, where a rat darted past a crackhead sleeping propped up against the wall. The air reeked of mildew and the smoke of various narcotics.
Jason led him down the hall to the last door on the right. Before he could submit further protest, Barry rapped sharply on the door.
Jason jumped back a step. “Shit, dude, damn. You don’t knock like that. Wally’s a high-strung mother–“
From the other side of the door came a series of rattling and thudding noises as a number of locks and chains were released, intermixed with frantic cursing. Jason backed down the hall, mumbling his own curses.
The door flew open and Barry raised his handgun and fired three times in quick succession.
“Holy shit!” Jason cried, falling backwards and landing on his ass. “Dude!”
Wally collapsed in the doorway, falling face-first. Barry pointed his gun and fired one more shot through the young man’s head. Then he turned his gun to Jason.
“Off your ass,” he said. “Drugs, money, cell phone. I’ll guard the door.”
“Dude,” Jason said, panting, casting his eyes back and forth between Barry and Wally. “Why did you do that, man? Wally was good people.”
“This city is being robbed and looted,” Barry said, “and I’m gonna get my share. Next stop: Wally’s boss.”
To be continued . . .
Read Episode Three