Monday, November 07, 2005

Chapter 4: I’d left right after that. And, regretted having taken a drink from the new glass of water they’d offered me during our conversation. They didn’t interfere with my departure, except for Chris warning me, “We’ll see you again, Polly. You’ve got too many questions not to want some answers.”

Spooked, I spent the next several days looking over my shoulder. Then one day, the darndest thing happened: I realized that I wanted to see them peeking around a corner, or over a low wall. I wanted to see them. Period. They were the only ones offering answers, though outlandish. And, the thing was, something rung true for me as they’d spoken—a sense of genuine care, hope, expectation on their parts.

It had been one of those beautiful summer days, the sun painting everything a shade of yellow. Even the burnt orange bricks felt warm against my fingertips as I’d idly glided them along the wall’s bumpy surface. The alleyway smelled worse than the first time I’d visited; the warmth stimulating the growth of things I didn’t want to think about. I’d stood in front of the door for a while, despite the stench. When I’d finished resigning myself to my fate, I raised my fist and my antenna, knocking on the door with the former. I’d wondered if I’d ever find out what aphrodisiac they’d put in that drink.

They’d welcomed me without a word, and had even picked up right where they’d left off those many days ago:

Death, the disease, was not ever meant to become a part of our existence. There was a time when life was abundant. But, then came the Volers—a foreign race of creatures so full of death that they were voracious for anything that would dull their pain. Our world wasn’t the first, or the last to be attacked; our lives stolen.

However, the thieves were not so uncivilized as to take every scrap of resource, leaving nothing to replenish itself. Instead, life was seeped out little by little. And, as this hungry race grew, grasping for more of what they did not have, our lifespans shrunk. And, would continue doing so until the inevitable end.

“The human lifespan has decreased by over one hundred years in the past few centuries,” Lukas had said. He’d been surprisingly civil throughout the story.

The sudden quiet prompted me to fill it. “But, how do you explain the shorter life spans that are documented decades, even centuries before now? I was never very good at history, but I remember that even royalty back in, like, the Victorian age rarely made it past middle age.”

“Volers are able to exhibit restraint when it suits their longterm plans. In our case, we know that they’d not had much success with finding other viable worlds; meaning a population with eternal life spans. They’d had to cut back.”

“Okay, so what about murders? Accidental deaths? If things were as you say they’re supposed to be, would these people be walking around with gun shot holes, with broken necks?”

They looked at one another. “We don’t know,” Chris answered.

Well, I hadn’t expected that response.

He continued with a shrug. “We don’t have all the answers, Polly. We just have the answers we need to do what needs to be done. I know that’s frustrating. Believe me, I know. But, it’s the truth. All of this is the truth.”

Chapter 3: That obviously was not the reaction I’d been expecting.

Before I knew it the door had swung inward and out shot a hand and arm that took hold of me, jerking me out of the alleyway and into someone’s firm embrace.

Light from outside was quickly doused as my only known escape was shut off with a thud and my fate sealed with the click of several locks. The sounds bounced off the wall, taunting me, daring me. As if I hadn’t left my bravado on the other side of that door.

I blinked, and seem to come to myself long enough to ready my lungs for a scream. Taking a sharp breath, I immediately expelled a series of harsh coughs and continued hacking uncontrollably for an eternity made up of several minutes.

By the time the racking coughs had subsided I was bent over, hands on knees and fighting to reassume a normal breathing pattern. A glass filled with clear liquid was offered at eye level.

“What is that?” I’d rasped.

“It’s not too quick on the draw, huh?” noted someone to the front and right of me.

Looking up, I saw a couple silhouettes that hadn’t been visible before. And, approaching from behind came the voice I’d come to know. “Remember our discussion about how you should never, you know, speak?” He took the glass and knelt before me, holding the drink beside his face. Clear eyes bored into mine for too long, the corners of his thin lips curled into a smile that, considering the circumstances, was disquieting in its allure.

“Water,” he said, reminding me of the question I’d forgotten. He took a sip before attempting to hand it to me. “Nothing more.”

When I hadn’t taken the glass he’d nodded at it, nudging it closer to me. “The smoke spreads everywhere, takes some getting used to. But, it helps to stay well hydrated.”

“I’m okay, thank you.” Standing, I wondered exactly how far the exit actually was.

“Don’t forget that it’s locked,” he commented as he, too, rose.

I swallowed the lump in my throat as I met the gaze of the man that towered over me. Deciding not to play dumb I answered, “I didn’t ask.”

“Sure you did.” Holding up a hand to stall my response, he continued. “Listen, we’re not going to hurt you. As a matter of fact, we’re here for just the opposite. Allow us a few minutes to explain, and I promise you’ll be free to leave, if you still want to.”

Having used up my reserve of rebellion, I acquiesced.

He smiled and introduced me to our audience.

What, I wondered, had I gotten myself into?

“We’ll start with the resident loudmouth, who you’ve met. Lukas.”

It was difficult making out features in the dark. Lukas seemed to be made up of dirty blond, spiked hair, strong cheek bones, and an adolescent’s lanky body whose stance reeked petulance. He nodded, his eyes darting to the man beside me before determinably pressing his lips together.
Beside him was “Threes.” A full-figured girl whose soft smile and imperceptible nod gave off an air of quiet confidence. I wondered at the nickname, but was in no position to interrogate anyone.

“My name is Chris.”

Chris’ pale yellow hair hung in a bob that ended in a natural curl at either side of his face. It swung slightly as he gestured toward himself, then to me. “And, your name?”

“Polly,” I lied.

He paused, searching my face before continuing. “Alright…Polly. I’m sorry that this is all so abrupt for you. But, we’ve been waiting for you for a very long time. Unfortunately, we’re not the only ones. So, I hope you’ll come to forgive our sense of urgency.”

He cleared his throat, and I noted that the other two had disappeared once again. “But, first,” he said, before coughing into his hand, “let’s get out of this smoke. Even we can’t stand it for too long.”

“Are we going outside?” I asked, though I knew better.

He smiled again, and instead of an answer, he offered his arm.

Even more disturbing is the fact that I accepted it.

~*~

“The ‘Cave’s’ kind of a mess, but we’re working on it,” Chris explained.

The “cave” was the inside of a warehouse whose windows had been spray painted to hide the light that would otherwise show from within. Other than that, the used curtains, carpet and furniture managed to project an incongruous sense of warmth and comfort.

Chris led me to a large armchair that sat on a spacious shag rug along with two small loveseats. Lukas opted for the loveseat closest to me, while the other two sat cross-legged on the furry carpet.

My throat seemed suddenly very dry, and I tried wetting it with the little saliva I could produce.

Chris asked me if I was ready for that water.

“I’m fine.”

“Suit yourself.”

“I mean, I’m sure you’re great folks, what with you snatching me off the street, so you’ll have to excuse my suspicion.”
I looked over at the glass that now sat by my feet. “How do I know there’s not any extra surprise in there?” I murmured half to myself.

Lukas sneered. “Okay, how abouts you think for just a second. Why would we need to put anything in your water?”

“Well, I’m certainly not going to offer any ideas.”

“Obviously, you’ve allowed a few too many movies to warp your mind.”

“Right. My suspicion is purely the work of my imagination. And, has nothing to do with the false stoner and his band of friends holed up in a smoky den found only at the end of an abandoned alleyway. Not to mention the whole snatching me off the street deal.”

“What Lukas means,” Chris cut in, effectively heading off the boy’s retort. “Is that it’s a little late in the game to play the logic card, Polly. But, if that’s what you want, here’re the hairy facts: One,” he said, extending his thumb, “You’re surrounded, alone and, probably unaccounted for as far as your whereabouts are concerned. Do you really think we’d need drugs of any kind to do whatever vile, creative things we might have in mind? And, two,” he said, unfolding his forefinger. “We know what those are.” And, he nodded towards my head.

Even though I’d kept them hidden, I felt the buds of my antenna glow. Were they blushing?!

Chris continued, “And, we know why they are. So, I suggest you drink up, because you’re gonna need it.”

He held my gaze until I diverted my eyes to rest on the glass below me.

“Well, I don’t drink after other people, either.”

At that, Lukas snorted and threw up his hands. “Oh, great! It’s a diva, too!”

They took turns explaining it to me.

They called themselves, “Seekers,” and there’s was just one of many such clans that were scattered throughout this and—to my surprise—other worlds. I was told that this specific group consisted of more than twenty members of various backgrounds, ages, experiences. But each Seeker determined to play their role for one shared purpose: to save the world.

At that, I’d laughed without thinking, but their deadpan expressions sobered me quickly.

“It’s alright,” said Three’s in a quiet, assured voice. “I laughed, too. At first.”

She continued where Chris had left off. And, I learned about a disease.

“We’re all born with it. It works like some ticking time bomb.”

“What disease? Are you telling me that that’s why I have these things?” I asked, gently touching the top of my head.

“What you have developed is related to our topic. However, it is not a symptom of it. Actually, everyone will suffer from it; some sooner than others,” Three’s told me.

“Enough with the riddles…just tell me,” I pleaded. “I need to know what’s going on.”

“You do know…you know the disease we’re talking about,” Lukas offered, with a look of mischief that I already found foreboding, “It goes by nicknames like ‘passing away,’ or ‘kicking the bucket.’ ”

“ ‘Dying?’ ” I prompted in disbelief.

“Bingo! Hey, your deductive reasoning skills are improving already! There’s hope, yet.”

Ignoring the court fool, I looked from Chris to Three’s then back again. I didn’t laugh this time.

“Are you calling ‘death,’ a disease? Death…as in that fact of life that most sane people learn to cope with?”

And, they all had the nerve to nod.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Chpt 2: I’d always known that my home would be made somewhere other than the city of my birth. Of course, I’d figured it’d be within the same world. But, that was before the extra headgear came into play.

It was weeks before I returned to school. Three, to be exact. One week to learn how to control my new limbs. And, two preceding weeks to come out of my room.

The real challenge with antennas is not controlling them, I learned. But, rather, subduing my own temperament. Hard to do when nurtured by a family known for expressing themselves.

But, eventually, I learned to think before I reacted, and finished my high school years with only a couple vaguely excused incidents.

After graduation, college held no allure. What? And, spend four more years practicing the same level of paranoia I’d barely mastered? No. I decided to seek some place where my differences weren’t so noticeable.

There was this rumor among all the students about there existing a small, elusive community of nomads made up of unicorn people and other weirdos. Of course, the rumor was also thought to have been rooted in drug induced hallucinations.

Well, drugs weren’t part of my vocabulary. But, this little band of misfits, this community calling themselves Spago, soon would be. First, I had to make sure I wasn’t chasing a cloud.

It’s amazing who you’ll find yourself in deep conversation with, if the topic is right.

Sheila Resive was a grade “A” student. And, an equally accomplished stoner. How she managed the two past times, none of us could figure out. Not that we would have ever learned the secret from her, since she never appeared in the hallways, and would only walk into class just as the bell ended.

Under normal circumstances, graduation day would have been the last I’d see of her. And, I wouldn’t have found myself taking a walk down a certain alleyway that I’d viewed her ducking into one normal day.

I wouldn’t have found myself at the end of the cramped corridor, my knuckles raising, hesitating, then soundly rapping on a drab metal door with more confidence than I felt. After my third attempt with no answer my frustration became my confidence. My hand became a fist, my raps became thuds until, finally, I could feel my hair part as my little mood limbs responded in kind. Both hands pummeled the door, now. The noise drowned out the approaching footsteps that I sensed, rather than heard. My antenna stiffened, and I ceased my solitary attack on the door.

There was barely enough time to calm myself before someone on the other side of the door revealed a little square opening in the metal barrier.

“Yeah?” came the sluggish male voice, emitted from a seemingly disembodied mouth.

I unexpectedly inhaled the majority of the smoke that’d erupted from that small portal. When I attempted to speak the fear and fumes mutated my voice into a hoarse, high-pitched version of itself. I cleared my throat and tried again.

“Looking for Sheila Resive.”

“Sorry. Wrong number,” he said, the smirk in his voice failing to translate to lips that formed a perpetual “oh”.

The humor might have been funny had it happened to someone else. But, he really didn’t have to add insult to it by slamming shut the mini window!

No he didn’t! More then my hackles raised, and I didn’t care.

“Hey!” I yelled, and resumed my pounding. “Hey!!”

No answer. But I could sense his presence not far, not moving.

I turned around, searching for something less painful to use than my own flesh.

Two bottles, one aluminum pan, and two karate kicks later I felt his return. And, this time I would make sure to raise him out of his stupor.

When the small window slid open I snatched the thin, cherry red upper lip as soon as it made its appearance, and pulled the attached face down until a dull pair of green eyes came into view. It was the grossest thing I’ve ever done.

“Aye…Stoph!”

“Look at me…” I said.

I wasn’t sure he’d see me through the thick glaze that covered his eyes. And, the sea of smoke in which he lived couldn’t be helping matters. So, it took a minute for him to register what he was perceiving. But, in that instant his gaze sharpened, his eyes widened as his focus found my two little friends.

“Oh, aye gawd!” he yelped. “It’s youh!” He snatched his lip back, craning his neck in order to yell into the darkness behind him. “It’s here,” he declared in a surprisingly commanding tone. A lazy chuckle escaped him. “And, it’s a ‘she’!”

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Chpt. 1: It started with the landmines on my head; two humble, yet painful little nubs spread equidistantly across my crown.

Mom had initially put some salve on the red buds. Still, they’d continued to grow, rounding out to become two glowing globes the size of silver dollars, connected to the head by a bit of skin that remained hidden beneath the swollen intruders.

Thankfully, my hair was thick enough that I could tease my set of twins into invisibility. The pain that this routine caused was worth it. Still I constantly wondered if the others could see my strangeness. Maybe the student that sat behind me during my classes was silently contemplating who he should tell first about my head pom-poms.

I prayed that it was just some weird hormonal reaction. Maybe a prelude to my first period, which was long overdue. Maybe the genes had gotten temporarily mixed up, mistaking my head for my chest. Or worse! Maybe I was a boy.

But, the doctors didn’t agree with my theory, despite having none of their own to proffer, much less a cure for me. Oh sure, there were pills to help me deal with the depression, anxiety and paranoia. Just nothing that would help address the roots of the problems.

It was time to take matters into my own hands. Searching on the internet, in libraries and literary journals yielded no clues. Finally, at my wits end I gingerly held one tender bulb between thumb and forefingers, as my other hand approached with a pair of sterilized scissors I’d placed nearby.

Though unable to see the blades, the metal taste seemed to fill my mouth, the glint of the light off of its surface flashed in my mind. Most disturbingly, they shivered. These round mounds of flesh shook. Or, perhaps that was my hand, or my whole body.

Either way resulted in me waking up on my side, my view of the world limited by a dark frame which gradually dissipated as I came to my senses. My cheek had lain on the corner of the bed for so long that when I rose I could feel the deep indentation caused by the weight of my head.

The same thing happened two more times, ‘cause I’m a hard learner.

Finally, I entreated my mom to do what I could not. She refused under the excuse that she couldn’t hurt her baby like that. That I was still her daughter. “You’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen. And, you’re certainly not the first to develop…uhm...birth marks,” she said, with all sincerity.

I didn’t bother pointing out that I’d never seen birthmarks of the “uhm…” variety.

For only a moment did I consider asking one of my friends. Fortunately, I wasn’t socially suicidal, yet.

Finally, I decided that these nubs would not dictate my outlook. And, had finally resigned myself to a life with these odd growths.

I woke up the next morning, stretching my arms wide over my head, as usual, when an unexpected smooth surface brushed my inner arm, causing me to yelp and jerk my arms down and my head up.

I was prepared to come face to hairy face with a giant arachnid or a kidnapper. What I didn’t expect was the glimpse of some things just before they whipped out of view, nor did I appreciate the tug at my scalp or the dull thud of two small objects as they pounded against my shoulder blades.

Tears sprung to my eyes as my hand slowly rose past my temple and the fingers descended gently onto the two sore spots I’d come to hate. What impressed me first was its warmth and its strength. The long sprout, rooted in my head, felt like a skin covered cord. My fingers rode the slight ridges of muscle that made up the fleshy length which, when relaxed, reached to my shoulders where it ended in an all too familiar bulb.

Pain seared my lip, blood leaked into my mouth and I realized I’d bitten a bitter tear in my full lip. The acrid taste blended with the realization that this was not a dream, producing a sickening concoction that my stomach could not stomach.

It’s probably the only thing that kept me from going catatonic, having to make a mad dash to the bathroom.

Which brings me to what I love about living on my own: your own private bathroom; something I lacked at the time, being that I was still, technically, a child that lived at home with a bathroom that was private only when no one else was around.

Which was never.

As a result, my sprint to the toilet found me running past my parents’ bedroom door, as well as that of my great-aunt’s and over the heads of visiting family who stayed in the guest room (read: living room sofa-bed) below. And, I realized how unbelievably hard it is to make quiet mad dashes.

Soon enough Mom and Dad were pounding on the door as I sat on top of the toilet seat, wailing. During gasping breaks used to catch my breath, I heard my dear aunt shrilly voicing her opinion on the calamities of catering to a spoiled child such as myself, and as accompaniment our visiting family ascended the stairs, asking to be updated on the cause behind all the raucous.

There really had been no need for me to scream at them all to go away, “I’m horrible!”

But, I was 17. A late bloomer. And, an mutant.

You can’t get much more dramatic than that.

It didn’t help that the wiry tentacles that had thoughtfully stayed out of the way during this self-incarceration stiffened as I yelled, and when I stopped to resume my mourning of any normal life, the two antennas drooped right with me, its bulbous tips falling directly in front of each eye.

And this, I now know, served as my proper introduction to my new bizarro world.