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Authors: Glen Krisch

Arkadium Rising (3 page)

BOOK: Arkadium Rising
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Jason waited for a response, but no one acknowledged his line of thinking. Within ten minutes of his parents' arrival, he was driving away from their house, Delaney riding shotgun as he made his way over to his apartment to change clothes and pack a travel bag.



Chapter 2




Concord was little more than three hours away via a series of back roads that cut through near-desolate towns that missed out on the financial boon provided by the interstate highway exit ramp system. They were making good time, but Jason would soon have to pull over for gas. Since they couldn't agree on a radio station, most of the drive had been in silence.

Delaney stewed in the passenger seat. "We'd be there already if you'd have just taken the interstate."

"I like these old country roads. Besides, the interstate would've been an extra forty miles, even if it is faster. There's no direct route using highways. I checked."

"How can you drive around during the summer without air conditioning?" Sweat clung to Delaney's upper lip and her cheeks had turned rosy. Jason had to keep forcing himself to look away.

"The Freon's out."

"So get it fixed."

"I'm a busy guy. But don't worry. It's on my to-do list."

Delaney rolled her eyes and unclipped her seat belt.

"You're not thinking of jumping, are you?"

"That would make your day, wouldn't it?" She shrugged off first one sleeve of her hoodie, then the other. He glanced at her as she performed this maneuver, and did a double take when he noticed she was braless under her black tank top and that her left nipple was pierced.

"Jason, the road?" she said, tossing the hoodie to the backseat.

"Right. Keep it on the road. Good idea." He could feel his face flush and his groin stir.

"And keep it in your pants. That's an even better idea," she scolded, a hint of edgy playfulness in her voice.

During Delaney's time with Marcus, Jason had little interaction with her. She'd always seemed so aloof and brittle, a wilted flower in a neglected vase. He'd taken her persona as an act, a pretension he never quite understood. But she seemed so different now.

Still with her seatbelt off, Delaney leaned out the window, letting the hot breeze riffle through her hair. The humidity curled her dark hair, made it bob in thick curls around her ears and chin.

"That's a little better," she said, closing her eyes as she enjoyed the midday sun on her face.

Jason gazed at the skin of her lower back that had become exposed by her leisurely lean out the window. Intricate, yet delicate tattoos of layered feathers fanned out along her back, imbuing it in sepia-toned shades of red, blue and indigo.

The tires of his Honda Accord bit the gravel shoulder. He jerked the car straight and took a deep breath, adrenaline surging through him for a multitude of reasons.

"So, what do you think?" Delaney said, turning her head to face him, her curves accentuated by her languorous pose.

"About what?" he replied, then cleared his throat.

"My angel wings, silly." Delaney shifted again toward the window and lifted her tank top to her shoulder blades. The delicate feathers covered her back, disappearing under the slim fabric still covering her.

"They're... beautiful. A work of art, really."

"At least someone can appreciate them," she said, then pulled her shirt back down. "Marcus thinks they're hideous, that I've maimed myself. He said that I should know better."

"Know better, why?"

"I'm Jewish. Like that makes me preordained to hate any permanent inking of my skin."

"Like he has any grounds to talk? What about his tattoos?"

"They're gone."

"Gone? How's that possible?"

"He had them blacked out. He wanted to get them lasered off, but that costs a fortune, especially with how much work he'd had done."

They drove on in silence. Jason kept his eyes on the road, even as he sensed Delaney shifting again in her seat. He couldn't imagine his brother ever changing, but maybe he had. Blacking out his skin was even more permanent than the tattoos buried beneath.

"So, according to this Tyler Rasmus guy, Marcus is living in a town call Concord, Illinois? I've never heard of it."

"It's a farming town near the Mississippi."

"And you believe him when he says that Marcus is living in a little no-name town in the middle of nowhere? You don't think this is a wild goose chase?"

"He had no reason to lie. He didn't even want to take my phone number, but I forced it on him. I guess Marcus is doing custodial work for the city."

"If it's true, the work is fitting."

"Can you just tone down the bitterness a little bit? It's a long drive."

"It was a longer twenty-plus years with Marcus in my life."

"Really, what the hell did he ever do to you?"

"Every highlight of my life has been pissed on by my brother."

"Every one? Sounds like Jason didn't get enough hugs as a kid."

"That's not what this is about."

"You know, you sound kind of defensive. I think I might be on to something."

"Fine, I'll give you an example. I started running track my freshman year. I was pretty slow at the beginning, but I worked my ass off every day after I joined the team. By the following year, I earned my varsity letter. On the day Coach Ellis told me I'd made varsity, Marcus was arrested for burning down a synagogue."

"So you think he burned down a synagogue to ruin your good news? Are you really that self-centered?" Delaney sighed and leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes, effectively ending any further discussion on the subject.

He remembered standing in the police station with his parents as they inquired about Marcus's release. As they waited, Jason had brought up his good news, hoping it would cheer them up. His mother had given him a look like he'd said something offensive, then ignored him the rest of the day. His dad's reaction was little better. He'd clapped Jason on the back and gave him a brief, distracted smile before turning away to ring the bell to get one of the milling police officers' attention. Maybe he was self-centered, but at least he tried to live an honest, hardworking life.

Jason pulled off the road and coasted into the gas pump island at a place called Happy's Qwik Serve.

"We there yet?" Delaney said, opening her eyes.

Jason laughed. "No, just need gas."




"I'm going to find a slushie if it kills me," Delaney said as she left Jason to finish filling the tank. He doubted she would have any luck. It looked like Happy's hadn't been upgraded in about forty years. The numbers on the gas pump were the old-fashioned scroll variety. She'd be lucky to find a refrigerator with sodas that weren't out-of-date.

"That sounds good, get me one while you're at it."

Delaney looked over her shoulder as she walked. She flicked him her middle finger and glared at him through a sweaty smile. She turned away, knowing he was watching her. He could tell by the way she swayed her hips as she moved; it was a show, a slight exaggeration of real life, a performance for an audience of one. He smiled and topped off the tank. She was a slim girl, but curvy, no longer withered to a rail-thin shadow by drugs.

As he pulled up the hinged wiper blades to wash the windshield, he tried thinking of something to take his mind off his brother's ex-girlfriend.

His Wednesday deadline loomed, but no one would notice if it passed without him turning in a story. His official position at
The St. Louis Times
was as a stringer, reporter on local city council meetings, and agate writer for the sports page. Basically, he did whatever entry-level task his boss could think up. After six months without any prospects of advancement, Jason had begun to wonder if Ralph Sheridan was trying to get him to quit. That's when he decided to start writing unsolicited feature-length columns and casually turning them in on Sheridan's desk every Wednesday morning. He'd known the paper was looking to tap the flagging younger demo, so Jason had decided to write columns for the Lifestyle Section that detailed the hottest new clubs and the city's dating scene.

His efforts had gotten little reaction from Sheridan. It was like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in the bottom. The only progress he ever saw was that Sheridan now knew his name. Everything else at the office carried on as it always had, but now he had created this self-imposed deadline to meet in order to try to get his boss to notice him. Would it ever work? Would Sheridan notice if he missed a week's unsolicited copy?

Jason looked down at the windshield after losing himself in his thoughts. The glass hadn't shined like that since he bought the car secondhand three years ago. He chuckled, happy to have distracted himself for at least a few minutes from where he was and who he was traveling with. He tossed the squeegee back into its trough and went inside to pay.

The gas station's interior smelled of spent cigarettes, used motor oil, and the passage of time. An old man sat on a stool in the middle of the cash register island. He seemed as permanent a fixture as the overpriced merchandise surrounding him, and just as dusty.

"So, you must be Happy?"

The man didn't comment, but his dour expression said plenty. Either Jason had made a terrible mistake or Happy was one of those ironic nicknames.

Jason handed him his credit card. "Do you happen to have a slushie machine?"

"God damn slushies," the old man barked. "Everyone from not from around here comes in and wants a slushie."

The old man returned his card and slid the receipt across for him to sign. "I'll take that as a no."


Jason ignored Happy's crabbiness. "Where's your restroom?"

"Down the center aisle and on your left."

"Thank you kindly," Jason said and tipped an imaginary cap. The old man waved him away as if he were shooing a fly.

When Jason was leaving the restroom, Delaney was leaning over an old porcelain drinking fountain. He stepped close, getting a good view of the lower portion of her angel wings.

"No slushies," he said, almost a whisper.

Delaney turned around quickly. She stood staring up at him with her big brown eyes. Without thinking, he brushed a water droplet from her lip with the index finger of his good hand.

He didn't know what she would do, or even why he would touch her in such an intimate way.

"No slushies," she agreed. Her eyes took on a smoldering cast, more alive than he'd ever seen. She grabbed his hand in both of hers. She licked the wetness from his finger, then slipped the finger in her mouth and sucked on it.

"Wha... whoa..." he stammered.” Hold on a second."

Delaney dragged him by the arm back past the bathrooms and shoved him inside the tiny janitor's closet.

"Delaney... what are you doing?"

"Whatever you want."

The room was dark and thick with the mingling odors of cleaning solvents and musty mops. With her back to him, she reached back and grabbed the growing bulge in his jeans with both hands.

"Oh, wow." Feeling his body's reaction to her, she let out a throaty laugh that was closer to a purr. His hands roamed her body, from her hips then higher, under the fabric of her tank top. She sighed when he squeezed her taut breasts and fingered her nipple ring.

As his hands worked, she pulled down her leggings, wiggling them to her knees. His eyes danced with the phosphorescent outlines of her angel wings.

"Your wings, they glow in the dark?" His words came out between panting breaths.

"The better so you don't lose me."

He unzipped his fly and leaned Delaney over a utility sink.

He bit her neck and licked the sweat from her nape. She gave off a low growl and pushed back against him, wanting to move faster. She took hold of his left hand and pressed it between her legs. Cleaning supplies rattled all around them. Delaney writhed through a climax, her legs quivering against his and Jason quickly followed suit.

The tiny room spun as the blood thrummed through his ears. Besides the crack beneath the door, the only light came from the luminous outlines of her tattoo. He leaned forward, his cheek resting against the glowing feathers on her back, his legs shaking, his breathing raspy in his throat.

They didn't speak. After catching their breath, he took her cue and they both got dressed. Delaney left the janitor's closet first, her head kept low as she hurried out to the car.

When Jason followed her out, Happy offered him a non-ironic smile.

"Find the restroom all right?" Happy asked.

"Wiseass," Jason said, and closed the door behind him.



Chapter 3




By the end of their second morning of work, the Arkadium had secured most of the town. Marcus sat on a lawn chair on the back deck of a house off one of the quiet main roads through town, the aptly named Sleepy Drive. He took a drag off his cigarette and wondered if he would miss one of his last remaining vices.

Austin Collins opened the sliding door and leaned out. "Marcus, this house is done."

"How many?"

"We got 'em all. Husband, wife, two sons."

"I'll be right in."

Austin slid the door shut.

A family of four, a set of parents and two boys. Just like his family. His old family.

Marcus knew the exact moment he'd lost his brother. Through all of Marcus's mistakes, Jason had always stood by him, even when it was to his own detriment. But one day, his mother-of-all-screw-ups just so happened to coincide with Jason being notified about his full-ride scholarship to Washington University. The fact that Marcus had died that day had little bearing on his brother's decision to ruthlessly cut him from his life.

Marcus not only remembered the giddy rush of anticipation when he used to tie off his arm, but he missed that feeling like nothing else. That anticipation was richer in detail and savory with memory than even his most wildly memorable moments in the sack. And then the pinnacle, the moment of unparalleled euphoria when the needle pierced his flesh, the slight sting as he pressed the plunger and released the toxic succor into his bloodstream. Those fleeting moments felt like immortality.

BOOK: Arkadium Rising
5.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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