Giving Himself Up

“Explain it to me again,” said the policeman, “Like I’m seven years old.”

They were speaking across a high counter, so the policeman was looking down on Hubert.

“I have been using stories to influence people,” said Hubert, “And I finally made John Endebauer rob the bank. So I am an accessory.”

“What exactly did you give him? The guards’ schedule, the codes, keys to the back door?”

“No, I just gave him the role of the robber. Through the contracts, and the slips, and the letters, and the invoices we have been sending him. You see, I placed a single word which was out of place in each document. I would, for example, write ‘Please find attached once the monthly breakdown.’ Or in another thing ‘the balance of your upon checking account has been resolved,’ and so on. Until I spelled out ‘once upon a time’ and then the rest of the story. It took years and years, but the story lodged itself inside Mr. Endebauer’s brain.”

“Okay,” said the policeman hesitantly, “And how did that make him rob the bank?”

“Well, the story is centered around a prince who is the good guy, but he is also a timid and bland character, like a lot of princes are. The most interesting character is the villain who is a local highwayman. You see, through the trope of badassery, I paint the villain as the one worthy of emulating. People who read the story want to be like him.”

“So you think you caused him to rob the bank, huh?” mused the policeman, “Well, it’s a little hard to believe, but let’s say it’s the truth. Why turn yourself in?”

“I’ve been telling this story to many, many people over the years,” said Hubert, “But I was also telling another one. In the other one, the author becomes one of the characters when he turns out to be causing all the pain and suffering in the world. In this version of the story, the badass brigand rises up and kills the author. I think Edna Shaw who’s been reading this story will come after me soon. I need your protection. I need to be in prison before she can reach me.”

“Yeah?” the policeman smiled ironically, “And what happens in the story when the author gets whacked?” Hubert seemed really small down below, scrawny and weak, large glasses, messy hair, clothes too big. He looked like the incarnation of lack of power.

“The whole universe ceases to exist.”

Going Up

The old man climbed the rusty ladder and I followed, around us the night was windy and rainy. The ladder lead up a pylon that used to be yellow with black stripes or black with yellow stripes. It lead up to a clumpy structure that I could not really see in the dark. Above that was a black, black shaft shooting up into the sky.

We reached a ramp and he turned his flashlight on. The ramp led to a causeway of metal net with metal railings. There were more sets of stairs and ladders leading higher and higher. The man shone the light at me, then at himself, smiling tired from under his rain hat.

“The auxiliary elevator is busted,” he said, “So it’s a bit of a climb,” he pointed the light at the causeway, “But you can make it. The code is in the book that’s by the control panel. Good luck.” He gave me the light, “Leave that outside the door, there’s light inside. Good luck,” he repeated.

The climb took me almost half-an-hour and I slipped on the wet metal a few times, but I finally reached the launch platform. The elevator car was parked there. It looked like a bunker on vertical rails. The outside walls were painted black and yellow and I could barely make out the three-feet-tall letters that said Daedalus 13.

“Good thing I’m not superstitious,” I said and snickered.

I punched in the code and the elevator came to life with a whir or servo motors and the orange glare of emergency lights. The sturdy door opened and I went inside.

The interior smelled like mold and rust, it was really old, had not been used in decades. I turned off the flashlight and put it in my pocket, then I found the book and checked all the things in order: the pressure, oil levels, energy throughput, motor condition, and so on. It all looked good. I remember wondering how they built it so well that it lasted this many years without maintenance.

I finally sat down in front of the control panel and strapped myself in. I punched in the initiation code and the computer came to life. I tapped “START” and the whole bunker lifted off, up and up along its rails.

“Father, I am coming. Receive me,” I offered a short prayer.

Then I remembered I was supposed to leave the flashlight outside. Well, it was too late now.

Anyone There?

“Hello,” I said into the house, “Anyone there?” Particles of dust were floating in the hot air.

“In here,” a man growled.

“Hi, I’m looking for Elizabeth,” I said. I walked in slowly, without confidence, and for some reason I was trying not to make the floor creek.

“No Elizabeth here,” said the man, “You must have the wrong address.” He was lying on the couch, a scruffy looking man with an unkempt beard, wearing a dirty old lumberjack shirt and jeans. He was staring into a huge plasma TV that was showing a football game, no sound.

“Could I have a glass of water?”

“Oh, shiiit,” he said, as if saying “Now you make me get up and I gotta do it because I am a good host, a proper one, old school.” But in actuality he said, “Yep, I’ll get that for you.” And he swaggered slowly into the filthy kitchen area. “You really looking for Elizabeth?”

“I just,” I said, “I was in the neighborhood and I though she might be here. She does this sometimes. I found here in this place before. The house is very old-looking. Like from the sixties. I like the feel.”

“Yeah? I ain’t got no money to make it modern, so I just stuck with the way my daddy made it,” he said, handing me a tumbler glass of tap water. “I appreciate you noticing.” He wiped his mouth on his sleeve.

I gulped the water down quick, half the glass in a few seconds. “Thanks, I needed that.”

“You wanna sit down and watch the game a little? The audio is busted and I ain’t got the money to get it fixed, but football is football and you can make out what’s happening.”

“No, thanks, I gotta get going,” I said. I put the glass on the counter and turned around.

“Wait,” he said, “Elizabeth. She’s here. In the… upstairs.”

“Huh,” I nodded, “I knew it.”

“I’m sorry I lied to you,” he said, “I thought you were one of them bad folks, but you ain’t got that… Confidence?”

“Yeah, I get that a lot,” I said, nodding. “So, where is she?”

“Upstairs, second door on the right. She was sleeping about… about an hour ago.”

I climbed the stairs slowly, again trying to make no sound, and at the same time I wondered what made me be so quiet. Finally, I reached the room. The door was ajar. She was in bed, among dirty sheets, wearing just a top and panties. She was sleeping on her back with her mouth wide open, her hair all over the pillow in sweaty clumps. She looked like she had suffocated in the hot air and I hoped she had, so I did not have to go through this again.

“Elizabeth, baby,” I said, “It’s time to come back home again.”

She woke up with a grunt.

Non-standard Sound

The best sound effects guy in town was called in. As he arrived, the director was pacing back and forth between his office window and his Zen garden. All around stood a host of concerned minions. The director lifted his head only for a second to acknowledge the legendary soundsman.

“Good, you’re here. It’s about my invasion movie.”

The Invasion of Los Angeles,” the assistant director said helpfully.

“I’ve heard about the project,” said the soundsman, “How’s it coming along.”

The director frowned in disapproval at the question, and then muttered: “I need a sound that will indicate a terrible, murderous creature is coming. The hunter of souls. The ravager of hope. The destroyer of worlds.”

“Like a roar?”

“No, not a roar,” the director roared, “Something more noble and refined. A machine sound.”

“Like a transformers noise?” the soundsman took his phone out to play some samples.

“No! Something new.”

“I have just the thing,” said the soundsman and was just about to add something when a terrible screech filled everything, like the sound of brakes as the car is rolling over an infant’s head. Just a heartbeat and it was gone, but everyone felt sick to their stomachs.

“That’s it, that’s perfect,” said the director.

“I did not make the sound,” said the soundsman and they all turned to the window to see what was blocking the sun.

A Long Journey for a Small Box

“This box,” said Weathers, “Made its way here all the way from Marakesh.” He was blowing grey smoke and the ribs of the window blinds showed in it. It was hot in his office.

“Really,” I said, humoring him, and then I focused on the smart-looking yellow¬†letters. “What’s Ediblo,” I asked.

“When you hear Marakesh,” he deflected, “What do you think about?”

“I dunno, carpets?”

He tsk-tsk’d me. “How about William Boroughs. The Beat Generation. Naked Lunch. Any of that ring a bell?”

“Yeah, kind of,” I lied.

“Well, Ediblo is a brand from Naked Lunch.”

“Remind me what naked lunch is again,” I said.

“It’s a novel about a bunch of junkies crossing the boundaries of reality. It’s funny how somebody made a box for a fictional brand. It’s like it crossed a boundary to get here as well.”

“Yeah,” I nodded.

Weathers was barely visible in the cloud of cigarette smoke he had conjured up. Was there no ventilation in the office?

“So what do you want me to do about it?” I asked, “Find out who made it?”

“No, but you can help me find out what it is that’s inside.” He pushed the box across the desk to me. The whole box was blue cardboard and it was pretty weathered.¬†I picked it up and opened the lid, it was filled with a solid brownish-black substance. It smelled like bug spray and licorice.

Just outside his office, I started formulating a plan, and I hardly noticed his secretary. “Leaving so soon, Mr. Benson?” she asked. Strands of her hair were glued to her face with sweat, it was so hot in there.

“Yes, see you around,” I said. Had she been there when I came in? Frankly, I could not remember how I got into Weather’s office in the first place.