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Authors: Glen Krisch

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BOOK: Arkadium Rising
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Marcus rewrapped the flintknapped knife in the oiled cloth. He retraced his steps to his Chevy pickup and stowed the knife in the glove compartment. After starting the truck, he punched the accelerator, the Chevy's oversized tires following the river road down an S-curve that quickly brought him level with the floodplain. The homes of Concord spread out before him. The world was about to end. And begin again.




Jason sat shirtless and sweating in his parents' concrete driveway, motor grease worked under his fingernails, the knees of his pants covered in grass stains. He hadn't gotten more than two passes across the front yard before the lawnmower bit into a tree root, bending the blade almost ninety degrees from true. Now, with the mower overturned, the bent blade pointed at him like an accusing finger.
Fuck you, too
, he thought.

The bolt holding down the lawnmower blade wouldn't turn even after soaking it with an entire can of Rust-EEZ. Jason had been dickering around with it for over an hour. Leave it to his dad to think it was okay to store the mower outside all winter to make room for the tandem bike he'd bought the previous fall.

His parents played the opposite roles of typical couples, especially couples who were newly married in 1972. His dad had always been the one driven by emotion, and he spent a good amount of his energy seeking out activities to pull the family closer together. Camping, antique collecting, book clubs—one activity led to the next in an endless stream. His mother, on the other hand, was cold, distant, enervating. On weeknights, she was a four-beer drunk after coming home from her job as an office manager. Even with a good buzz going, her mood remained in the narrow spectrum between heartless and indifferent. The tandem bike was just one more attempt by his father to bring the two of them closer. Jason couldn't think of a more literal example.

After watching the to and fro of his parents' relationship over the years, Jason would put good money on the bike never leaving the garage. June Grant on a tandem bike? When hell freezes over.

He made up his mind. One more go at it, then he was throwing in the towel. His dad would just have to take the thing in for service or buy a new one. And as long as he had his dad's attention, he would resign his post as his parents' errand boy. He didn't mind returning home every once in a while to help around the house, but a local teen could keep up the yard just as well and enjoy making a few bucks in the process. Besides, Jason was busy at the
St. Louis Times
. His Wednesday deadline loomed and he had no real inspiration for this week's column.

"Okay, mower, it's you or me." Jason snatched the wrench from where he'd chucked it and attacked the bolt. "Come... on... you... piece of..." He grunted, putting his weight into it, his feet propped against the mower's housing, his back arching, his shoulders straining. "Shit!"

He felt the bolt move, or maybe even strip. At this point he didn't care, just so long as something fucking moved.

"Need a hand?" a woman's voice called out.

Jason looked toward the street, still fighting the bolt, and saw a petite girl leaning against the gnarled maple near the curb.

"Thanks, but I think I finally got it—"

He lost his grip on the wrench and his right hand slammed against the offending blade. Pain laced across the meat of his palm and he fell back, clutching it to himself.

"I'm so sorry! I shouldn't have snuck up on you like that!"

Blood pooled in his palm and trickled down his wrist, but he couldn't take his eyes off the girl as she hurried toward him. Not before he figured out how he knew her.

She wore a light-weight gray hoodie over a black tank top, black leggings and toeless flats. Her toes were painted bright red. As were her lips. Those full lips.

Of course
, he realized, still caught off balance. "Delaney?"

"Wow, look at you." She stood five feet away with her hands on her hips and gave him a once over. "I think I might've chosen the wrong brother."

He looked down at himself. Smudged with oil and dripping sweat. He couldn't help smiling.

Always beautiful, Delaney Innsberg no longer seemed to be trying to hide the fact. She no longer dressed like a goth chick. No longer sickly pale, her skin glowed with a spring break tan. Her dark hair billowed around her shoulders in a gust of humid wind. She blew a strand of hair from her eyes and looked at him expectantly. Jason's heart beat a little quicker.

"I dirty up pretty good, huh?" He laughed, grabbed his shirt, and draped it over his shoulder. He would've pulled it on, but he didn't want to get blood on it.

"Jason Grant, you didn't recognize me, did you?"

"It's your hair. It's no longer purple. Or pink. Or spiked, or shaved."

"And you're bleeding." She kneeled next to him and took hold of his hand, inspecting the wound. She smelled like spring rain and vanilla.

"I guess I am." The bleeding had slowed. The gash opened a little as she inspected it, but he didn't think he needed stitches.

"All because of me." Even feeling guilty, she had a sensuality about her. It was her mouth. The tilt of her head.

"Don't worry. Me, working with tools? It was bound to happen. There was going to be blood, it was just a matter of when."

"Let's get you cleaned up." Delaney stood and grabbed him by the arm to help him to his feet. Her hand lingered on his bicep a second longer than needed.

As they stood in his parents' driveway, an awkward silence grew between them. He realized why he hadn't recognized her at first. It wasn't just her hair color, her tan, or the conservative style of dress. Her eyes were alive. She didn't look sickly. Delaney was clean.

"Shall we?" He motioned toward the house.

She followed him through the open garage and into the bathroom next to the kitchen. Jason held his hand under the cold tap while Delaney checked the medicine cabinet for first aid supplies.

"Here we go." Delaney found some gauze, alcohol wipes and medical tape. "Let's see the damage."

He turned off the tap and shook the water from his hand.

Delaney brought his hand close to her face so that she reminded him of a fortuneteller.

"So what does my future hold?"

"You'll live a long life if you make the right decisions." She opened the package of gauze and set it aside.

"Isn't that true for anyone?"

"You more so than most." Her eyes met his and she smiled. "Hmm... this is going to sting." She pressed a disinfectant wipe into his palm, then traced the cool wetness the full length of the wound. It hurt, but with Delaney caring for him, he also found a certain part of himself enjoying it.

"Delaney," he said and waited for her to look up, "why are you here? You know Marcus isn't around. I haven't seen him in years. Neither have my parents. Hell, we don't know where he is or if he's even alive."

She didn't say anything, just went back to working on his hand. She wrapped it in gauze and secured it with medical tape. "He's alive," she finally said, her smile turning sad. "And he needs help."

Delaney let go of his hand and gathered up the triage debris and tossed it into the garbage can by the toilet. The room felt much smaller than it did just seconds ago.

"I'll tell you what I told Marcus the last time I saw him:
I have no brother

"Jason, please—"

"I don't think you understand the pain he's caused my family."

"I have a pretty good guess. I was with Marcus for five years. Want to compare scars?"

"You know him. You know how he is. I just don't get it."

"Don't get what?"

"Why you would bother." Jason left the bathroom and pulled on his t-shirt. After toiling in the heat for the last hour, his skin had broken out in gooseflesh now that he was exposed to the air conditioning.

"Just give me a minute to explain," she said as she followed close behind.

"Thanks for the help with this." He held up his bandaged hand. "I'd love to chat, but I have a lot of work to do."

Jason walked to the door to escort her out, but she remained in the kitchen, her arms crossed in front of her. Her eyes darkened and her lips pulled into an angry pout.

If looks could kill, Jason, you'd be dead,
he thought.

"Can I ask you a question?" He stepped away from the door and leaned his elbows against the kitchen island. He sighed, doubting not only if, but why, he should ask the question on his mind.

"What is it?"

"Are you clean?"

"Why, does it look like it to you?"

"Actually, yes."

"Thank you. I've been sober for six months. That's why I came to see you. I dried out at a clinic in St. Louis where I met a lifelong doper named Tyler Rasmus. He knew Marcus. That's how I found out where he is. I didn't ask how he knew him, but when I finished detox, I left him my number in case he ever heard where he might be."


"He called me yesterday."

"I think your minute is up. Thanks for stopping by."

"You're an asshole."

"No, I just know Marcus. So, where is he? Shooting heroin in some back alley? Cooking meth out in the boonies? Somewhere in between doing something just as horrible?"

"Rasmus, he told me Marcus is clean, too. That he's found God."

Jason laughed sardonically; Marcus and God spoken in the same sentence? Not without a strong reference to eternal damnation.

"I'm serious, Jason."

"Okay, so if you know where Marcus is and he's not only clean, but that he's found God, why the hell do you need my help?"

"Because when I find him—and believe me, I
find him—I don't know if I'll hug him or kill him."

Jason paced the kitchen and pulled his fingers through his hair. This was the last thing he needed. His life had been so much simpler without his brother around to insert his own brand of chaos into the works. It was so much easier when he pretended to be an only child. He didn't think his parents would admit it aloud, but he knew they felt the same.

"I'd suggest the latter. If I can offer any help, the phone directory is on the counter next to the refrigerator. Guns are found under

"You know there's good in Marcus. He can be sweet. He has a big heart, underneath it all."

"Sure, but it's all that digging to find it I can't stand."

"Damn you..." Delaney said, her voice breaking. She covered her face with her hands and started crying. A hint of the fragility of her former gothgirl persona. He found himself attracted to her even more despite her pain.

"Listen, Delaney, I understand what you're going through, believe me, but I just can't open myself to—"

The side door opened and his parents entered the kitchen. Jason was surprised into silence at seeing them. It was usually his goal to have the lawn finished so he could leave before he saw them. He didn't want to be roped into dinner or have to turn down his dad's offer of a movie and popcorn afterward. Avoidance made for stronger ties when dealing with his parents.

"Mom, Dad, you're home early." He checked his watch. "Like, really early."

It was only after Jason noticed his dad's arm around his mom's shoulders and the stark, unabashed misery on her face that he realized something was wrong.

His mom looked at him, then Delaney. Both women had tears in their eyes. Jason couldn't remember ever seeing his mom cry. His dad, certainly; he cried at the slightest emotional trauma. His mom left the kitchen without a word, retreating to the living room. The sounds of her crying and blowing her nose were quite audible even as she tried to muffle them.

"Jason, I have some bad news..." his dad said, then seemed to notice Delaney for the first time. His eyes had been glassy and distant, but they lit up with recognition. "Delaney?"

"Hi, Mr. Grant. Long time no see."

"Um... can you excuse us? We have some family business to discuss."

"Actually, I'm here about family, too. I was just asking Jason to come with me to get Marcus."

"Is he... is he dead?"

"No, God, no. He's fine. More than fine. From what I've heard, he has his life turned around. He's sober. He's found religion."

"Really?" He seemed to believe the news as much as if he'd been told by the head of NASA that the moon really was made out of cheese.

"Yes, it's true. And your pain-in-the-ass son won't come with me to bring him home."



"You go," his mom cut him off, her voice brittle. She appeared around the corner, dabbing a tissue at her eyes. "Bring Marcus home. If he's found the right path, family will only make him stronger."

"Mom... after everything he's done... the violence, the police knocking at all hours, and don't forget those pleasant jail visitations."

"I want you to go. And you will. Bring him home. I need to see him."


"Jason, I'm sick."

"We just got back from the doctor's," his dad said, taking over when she stopped to wipe away a fresh set of tears. "When your mother wasn't feeling well the last month, Dr. Phelps ordered a bunch of tests. X-rays showed a shadow in your mother's left lung. She's scheduled for a biopsy on Monday of next week."

"Oh, Mom," Jason said.

She shook her head, her face wrought with pain. Tears fell down her cheeks. Without thinking, he hugged her hard, and though at first reluctant, she soon returned his affection.

"Do this for me," she whispered, her voice more fragile than he could ever remember.

Jason continued to hug his mother. Either he didn't want the embrace to end because he didn't want to continue to fight, or he'd finally found a softness to her he never knew existed. Either way, he hugged her until she pulled away.

"Please, Jason?"

He looked from his teary-eyed mom, to his stoic dad, to Delaney. The girl's tears were gone, and if Jason wasn't reading too much into it, he would've sworn he saw a flash of victory in her eyes.

"Okay, let's say it's all true: Marcus is clean, he's living a respectable life, he's found God... you know, maybe, just maybe, he's finally in a good place, both physically and mentally. What if it's better where he is, living his new life on the straight and narrow? If we owe him anything, don't you think we should just... I don't know, leave him be?"

BOOK: Arkadium Rising
12.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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