Authors: George Donnelly
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2015 George Donnelly
Cover design by Alchemy Book Covers.
To the other me who lives in Universe B7839E: Please keep sending the completed manuscripts.
Ian Blake brought his generic white mug up to his mouth using a very efficient elbow movement and took a satisfying, but silent, sip of heavily-sugared near-coffee. He wanted it to be satisfying, but it wasn’t. He pretended it was anyway.
Ian steadied his eyes on the horizon and gritted his teeth. The dull rays of the morning sun struggled to emerge from behind the thick, gray haze of downtown Philadelphia. A few people still moved down the street. “It’s a beautiful day,” he whispered. “It will be.”
Behind him, the wafer-thin front door of the family apartment slammed shut with a hollow yelp. Ian turned and, at once, everything he was avoiding hit him.
“Michael, as long as you’re under my—” Ian started.
Michael stumbled into the kitchen and ripped open the refrigerator door. Empty glass tinkled against itself. Michael bent over, pulled the flashlight from the bottom shelf and shone it into the empty confines of the icebox.
“Hold that thought, Dad,” he said. He craned his neck, opened his mouth and let out a tremendous burp. It resonated into the living room.
Ian closed his eyes and took a stern breath.
This stops now.
He took a step forward and opened his mouth. His foot caught on something and he flew forward, the black near-coffee spilling out of his mug and flying across the small apartment. It splattered progressively starting on the cheap linoleum floor a meter in front of Ian and ending at the apartment’s front door, running down the door, desperately seeking a quick exit under it.
Ian pulled himself up. He still held the mug but half of it was littered in sharp slivers across the floor on top of the near-coffee. “My father gave that mug to me,” he said, and scowled.
Michael grabbed something from the refrigerator, tossed the flashlight back in without turning it off and slammed the door shut. He scampered unevenly deeper into the kitchen and turned left behind a wall and into his room. The wafer-thin door shut behind him.
“Now, Michael—” Ian started. He looked into the empty kitchen and sighed. Ian bent down to pick up whatever he had tripped on and found the thin leg of his wife. She lay on the floor at the foot of the sofa with the sofa cushions on top of her. He pulled them away to reveal a short-haired woman in a tattered pink robe, barefoot and without panties. An empty vodka bottle and tiny pieces of aluminum foil lay next to her.
Ian kicked her, his steel-toed black boot lightly making contact with the ball of her ankle. “Candy, get up! Candy!” he loud-whispered. He extended his left arm and brought his wrist deftly into position in front of his face. 6:22 AM.
Stacy and Jack need to be woken up and fed.
“Candy!” Ian kneeled down, grabbed her shoulders and shook. “Candy, you need to get the kids ready for school.”
Candy sat straight up, her eyes still closed and coughed.
The heavy stink of cheap vodka mixed with the foul stench of Vibricide reached Ian’s nose and he turned away. “I can—”
“No,” she said. “I’m up. Go to work.” Candy stood up. Her hair swirled up and out on one side of her head and was flat on the other. She took a step toward the kitchen, flinched, straightened her back, then continued.
“I can stay home if—” Ian started.
“No!” She said it too loudly. “You know what happens when you’re home.” She laughed in a haughty way. “You just bring home the bacon, and I will take care of the home front.”
Ian sighed and crossed his arms. “Is that what you call this? Taking care of a home? Passing out drunk and drugged on the floor with your… your vagina hanging out?”
She reached the kitchen, turned and faced him over the high bar. She jerked her head to one side in mock surprise. “Not used to seeing it anymore, huh, buster?” She pulled a cigarette out from somewhere Ian couldn’t see, lit it with a pink, plastic, single-use lighter and took a deep puff. Her hands shook.
Ian’s breathing slowed. The vivacious young woman he married was still there. It was just the drugs, the drink and the general hopelessness of life that dulled the picture. “Look, Candy. We’re going to clean up this family and that is that.” He looked at his watch. “Michael!” he yelled. “Michael!” He strode into the kitchen and toward the closed door of Michael’s room.
Candy raced to block his path. She got in front of Ian and spread her stick-like arms out to the sides. Her robe untied itself.
Ian stared at her oversized though taut breasts. The surgery had worked, very well indeed. Her washboard abs were holding up well, too, though the edges of the insert jutted out to the sides just a little below her ribs. “You need to keep up your weight.”
Candy twisted her head to one side and grimaced. “Just leave Michael alone,” she said without looking at him.
Ian hesitated. He remembered the loving family they used to be. Candy was so young and excited. Michael was a happy baby, then Stacy… Ian shook his head imperceptibly. Ian looked at Candy again, then took a step forward.
She tightened, her robe still open.
“Michael,” Ian said in a stern voice, “we’re going to have a chat when I get home from work tonight. This cannot—”
“Good morning, Daddy!”
Candy closed her robe and snuck past Ian into the kitchen.
Ian would recognize that Mickey-Mouse-like voice anywhere. He whirled around, a giant smile on his face and picked up the little boy in his oversized hand-me-down footed Star Invaders pajamas. “There you are!” Ian said in a loud and genuinely enthusiastic voice. “My little Jack is up.” Ian grabbed at his youngest son’s belly with mock-clawing fingers.
Jack curled up in his arms and giggled, his thin frame grinding into Ian’s chest and ribs. “No tickling!” he yelled and giggled again.
Ian stopped and looked into his light blue eyes. Sincere eyes. Good eyes. Ian relaxed.
Something good will come from this. This one will turn out alright. I won’t fail with him.
He set the boy down. “Okay, buster, time to get dressed and—”
“You two were fighting again, weren’t you?” Jack narrowed his eyes in mock disapproval.
“Parents have—” Ian started.
“It stops now. Got it?” Jack hardened his face. “That’s it, kiddo. No more.”
“That’s my line!” Ian yelled.
What a kid.
He shook his head, bent down and hugged him. He looked at his watch. “Well, buddy, I gotta get to—”
“No, wait,” Jack said, “I just got some new levels on Star Invaders. It’s time to save the world!” The boy said the last part with his right index finger extended, arm held high and in a dramatic voice. “Come on, it’ll be fun.” Jack grabbed his dad’s hand, turned and pulled.
Ian refused to move.
Jack turned around. His face pleaded with his father. “Dad, no. Come on.” His shoulders flopped forward and a pathetic look crossed his face.
“I got assigned to Saturdays.” Ian shrugged. He turned to the fridge and thought about opening it to look for some breakfast, then thought better of it. He opened a cabinet instead. A box of fraspberry-banana Pop-Tarts. His spirit jumped. He grabbed the box. It was empty. He turned it over and shook it. An empty foil wrapper floated out and see-sawed to the floor.
He dropped the box to the floor and glared at the back of Candy’s head. “Any plans to go food shopping, I wonder?”
Candy stood at the stove, a slight fidget shaking her body. She did not move.
Jack sighed. “You have to play with me tonight then, Dad. You have to. You understand me, mister?”
Ian tapped his heavy boot into the peeling linoleum floor.
It’s not worth it. Not in front of Jack.
He turned to the boy and produced a thin smile for him. “Okay, tonight we play. But on the TV, not that VR stuff. It gives me a headache.”
“Ma’am, is that yours?” Ian stood on the rough, grubby platform of the Philadelphia El. A bald man in a cheap suit pushed past him, knocking him square in the shoulder. Ian twitched his mustache, righted his cap and took his position again. He scanned the platform. All clear.
The young woman stood with her back to him. The tasseled ends of an overlong red knitted scarf hung down her back. Bright yellow headphones covered her ears.
Ian looked back at the car she exited from. There was a package there, on the faded orange and black seat. And it was moving.
Ian grabbed his shoulder radio and held the red button. “Larry, hold the train manually. Lady left something behind.”
Ian walked purposefully up behind the lady and tapped her on the shoulder. She looked up at him, her eyes wide but unfocused. She stank of sour milk. “What did you do with my baby?” she asked him. “Where is she?” She grabbed the front of his spotless gray uniform and shook him.
“Your baby?” Ian asked.
Oh, it’s her baby. Glad we got that settled.
“No problem, ma’am, I’ll get your baby back.” Ian turned but the woman did not let go.
“Do you promise?” she asked. Her eyes focused on nothing. But the pain in her voice was obvious.
Ian smiled. “Of course. You just left her over—”
“Oh, thank God. Thank you, sir. I— I thought…” Her head hung forward and she leaned against a metal beam. “I mean, I was really…”
I can’t tell if she’s on drugs or just blind. Maybe both.
Ian shook his head and stepped toward the train. The doors closed and the familiar whine of the electric engine signaled the train’s acceleration out of the station.
Ian looked for the baby. There she was, still on the seat, wrapped in a purple blanket. The blanket opened and the baby’s pudgy arms and legs broke out in all directions.
“Larry, stop the train,” Ian said into his shoulder mic. “There’s a baby on the train, repeat a baby alone on the train. Stop the train, now.”
The train accelerated. Ian ran alongside it and got the carriage number: 30954. The train hit that bump they refused to fix and the baby teetered on the edge of the seat.
He could fall. He could smother himself in the blanket. Jesus, these people and their drugs.
“Larry! Jesus, Larry, stop the damned train!” Ian yelled it out loud this time, not bothering with his radio. He ran past the stairs to street level and towards the control booth. It was empty. The control board was off. Ian stared at it for a moment, dumbfounded.
This is the control booth. There has to be someone here at all times
Ian looked down the platform, then turned the opposite way and looked up.
Larry. You did it this time.
He grabbed his shoulder mic. “Emergency, track 7. Larry! Where are you?”
The mother wandered towards the edge of the platform. “Did you find her? Sir?”
“Stay where you are, ma’am. We will get your daughter back. Don’t worry.” Ian put his hands on his hips.
Do I abandon my post to go find Larry? Or do I wait here and pretend like nothing is happening?
The mother took another step towards the faint yellow line that marked the border between getting on a train and dying underneath one. A train arrived on the other side of the platform and people piled out. A crowd came up the stairs and collided with the arriving people. The platform filled and Ian lost sight of the mother.
Ian remembered the time he got stuck in that public bathroom with mom. She sent him to the bathroom by myself and someone locked the door, from the outside. He shivered.
That almost… No, don’t go there. If it wasn’t for that janitor…
He shook his head.
Ian found the woman again and ran to her. He pulled her away from the edge and guided her over to the wall next to the steps. “Just stay here— What is your name?”
Her eyes wandered. “Lorelai. That’s her. Is she okay? Where is she?”
“Lorelai… Wait, what’s your— Never mind. Just stay here.” Ian put his hands on her shoulders and pushed down. “Stay here, no matter what. Stay here and wait. I will bring Lorelai back to you if you just stay right here. Do you understand?” Ian took one more look at the crowds on the platform. Distracted, VR-implanted, drug-addled people get stuck in doors. They fall off the tracks. It happens all the time.
But the baby. Ian ran down the pockmarked cement stairs, turned right at the bottom and burst through the rickety, blue door.
The room was empty.
Ian turned left and pushed through a freshly painted, red and considerably more solid door. On the other side was the new control room. It was small, smaller now that the new automation was installed. The old system of levers and switch sensors was replaced with just a computer terminal.
Ian sat down, punched in his access code and brought up carriage 30954. It was part of train xa42 and headed for maintenance at the depot. There it would sit in the hot sun for a day or week among dozens of others waiting to be cleaned, lubed and maybe even repainted.