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Fong’s Part VI

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on May 31, 2015 at 11:45 am

Penny Onehole was struck by those words, remembering for the first time in years how, once her feet had healed and her fever cleared, Fong had bought her new clothes and given her money to take a ferry across the bay. “Go and find your father,” he had said. “This is no place for you.”

With money for travel to Saint Raymond, she’d crossed the fog-wracked water on a day that she discovered, upon arrival at the other side, was warm and breezy. Breathing deep her freedom, she made her way from the docks at Oak Landing to the stagecoach office, sitting prim in the shade, watching the fresh horses being harnessed to the very coach that would take her to safety. At least the Mormons had been clean. When she had first arrived in Saint Raymond, with everyone so polite and smiling in that weird Mormon way, she had never expected to long to return to that place.

A voice spoke from behind her, saying, “Sweet thing like you, hard to forget,” and Penny turned to see a scraggly-bearded man leering at her through an open window. His face was familiar, and just as the memory surfaced – this was the man she’d knocked down on her flight from the flophouse where she’d awakened weeks before – she was yanked to her feet and came face-to-face with a well-dressed, short, pale man who smelled very good. His hair was slicked back, his thin moustache stuck out to the side in points like two long, thick rat whiskers. Penny had seen him before, watching him through peep holes at Fong’s as he’d threatened her protector on repeated visits, the threats diminishing in strength as the opium took hold.

“Rivard,” she breathed.

“I paid good money for your fiery little cunt,” he purred, caressing her face. She could feel that nobody was watching them. Rivard’s reputation was as pervasive as the fog that choked the city across the bay. His hand closed over her throat. “So lucky for me, the one day I step across the bay, to find you. I haven’t been here for years. Do you see that man holding my hat?”

With Rivard’s hand crushing her throat, Penny could only glance in that direction.

Fong’s Part V

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Writing on May 30, 2015 at 11:45 am

Knucklebrow looked ready to shit himself.

“Have no fear, Mr. Twosie,” said Fong. “You are among friends. Enjoy your whiskey, and cast your mind back to a time and place when you felt safe, loved and valued.”

Knucklebrow stared at Fong, frowning as he said, “You think I don’t feel safe? You think I’m not man enough to take care of myself?”

“I think you’re letting good whiskey go to waste, Mr. Twosie. I’m certain you can take care of yourself, and several others. I imagine you could take care of an entire brood. But what I think doesn’t matter. What matters is what I know. And I know you will enjoy that whiskey,” said Fong.

Knucklebrow sat still for a moment, like a volcano measuring the value of an impending eruption, then reached for his glass.

Fong murmured, “Double,” gesturing to Heifitz for a refill as Knucklebrow downed his whispey. Heifitz obliged.

Knucklebrow downed the double and wiped his mouth with the back of the hand holding the glass, his eyes focused on the frame of the mirror behind the bar, his soul focused on protecting the memory of someplace safe. A single drop threatened to fall onto Knucklebrow’s shirt front, but was caught by Fong on a tiny folded paper flower. Placing a cup of steaming coffee on the bar, Fong set the flower to float in the dark liquid and said, “Black mirror, white flower, show us now your ancient power: does this Twosie tell the truth? Or does he lie from heart uncouth? Dig beneath his lifelong sediment, thus uproot his speech impediment!”

Knucklebrow reeled back like he’d been beaned with a brickbat, then shook his head to clear it. He was winding up to lunge across the bar when Fong blew a pinch of white powder over the steam of the coffee.

The room slowed, the lights dimmed, and from the steam of the coffee a young girl’s voice said, “Petey, help me! I’m lost and I can’t find my way!”

Knucklebrow’s arm fell to his side, his face crumpled, he stared at the coffee. It spoke again:

“Petey, Papa’s gonna sell me! Please find me!”

Fong’s Part IV

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Writing on May 29, 2015 at 11:45 am

“Welcome, stranger. What’s your name?”

“Twosie,” he said.

“Twoseat what?” she said.

“No, Knupplebrow,” he said. Heifitz put a shot of whispey in front of him. Un-dosed, one notch above rotgut.

“Good to meet you, Twoseat No-Nipplebrow,” she said. “I’m Penny Onehole.”

“No, not Twoseat No-Nipplebrow. it’s Knupplebrow. Knupplebrow Twosie,” he said.

“Ooo, I like your name, honey, but say it again, real slow. I’ve mixed it up in my head. Too much opium in my popium, if you know what I mean,” she smiled, leaning forward to expose cleavage not yet spotted and leathery like old Laughin’ Sal.

“Name’s Knupplebrow. Twosie.” Frustration edged his voice like a rusty blade. “Knupples, you know, lipe – ” and he cracked his knuckles loud enough to stop Bimps at the piano, everyone in Fong’s front room turning to look.

“Ooh, right. Knuckles. Knucklebrow. Yes. Well, tell me, Knucklebrow Twosie, what brings you to Fong’s?” Penny smiled again, hoping to smooth away his rising anger with the hint of sexual intrigue.

“I’m looping for a girl,” he said.

“Ain’t we all?” Penny laughed, Heifitz and Bimps following suit, the laugh making its round through Fong’s front room with the same contagious, hazy release as a yawn.

A gong sounded, deep in one of the back rooms – or below the floor, it was hard to tell – and Fong arose in a cloud of smoke behind the bar. No matter how many times he’d done it, no matter that he’d shown her the mechanics of the trap and the smoke, it gave Penny the chills. Fong called it his Mystical Chinese Devil trick, saying it was just what Westerners expect of the proprietor of a back alley opium den.

Wreathed in smoke and staring right though Knucklebrow Twosie, Fong said, “You seek a girl, she is your sister, but you cannot find her because no matter how close you get – your anger leads you astray.”

Fong’s Part III

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Writing on May 28, 2015 at 11:45 am

Fong had spotted her right away.

Thinking back now, she saw the parallel: here she lounged on a stool at the bar, watching the door and seeing this squat brute with the thick wrists walk in. Just as Fong had spotted her all those years ago, from behind the bar where he had been explaining the finer points of Chinese Alchemy to the bartender, Krauty Frankle. Krauty hadn’t been in favor of alchemical additions to the drinks; not because he objected to doping the customers, but because he objected in principle to all Chinese philosophies. “Inefficient,” he would grumble.

Fong had been concerned for Penny, seeing at once her bleeding feet and torn nightgown. He whisked her into a back room where he spent hours personally removing glass from her feet and cleaning the wounds. He gave her bitter, disgusting, teas to drink. When Rivard’s men had come looking for her, nobody at Fong’s had seen a red-haired, green-eyed thirteen year old girl. Fong ran a tight ship. His teas and herbal medicines brought Penny to full health, even as the complimentary (at first) opium he gifted Rivard sank its hooks into the pimp.

Knucklebrow Twosie arrived at the bar and Penny Onehole’s reverie burst like an overripe pomegranate, which is to say it crunched and appeared to bleed.

“Whispey,” Knucklebrow said.

“Beg pardon?” said the new bartender, Heifitz McNabb. (Krauty Frankle had died two years before, the victim of a sudden and mystifying alchemical explosion in the sub-sub basement, an accident Fong described as, “Entirely un-Chinese.”)

“Whispey, neat,” said Knucklebrow.

A split second passed before Heifitz nodded, smiling, the perfect curls of his moustache betraying nothing of his inner amusement. Penny knew they’d chuckle about it later, but for now she fixed her eyes on the newcomer and said, “Welcome, stranger. What’s your name?”

Fong’s Part II

In Fantasy, Fiction, Writing on May 27, 2015 at 11:45 am

Penny was lost when she found Fong’s fifteen years ago.

Her drunken father had decided that dragging her out here to the untamed West was a good idea, on account of the huge Mormon settlement in the valleys to the East of the Bay. He wanted more than one wife, he’d confided to Penny. She hadn’t bothered to ask what was wrong with the one they’d left behind.

Upon arrival, he’d decided he wanted one less daughter. Selling her had been a simple matter of a meeting in a tavern near the docks in Oak Landing, and soon Penny awoke in a dingy room that stank of piss and gin, being tarted up by a girl not much older than herself who said, “Rivard’s got the calamity. If you don’t want it, better take it in the ass so you don’t get pregnant.”

Penny ran from the room, bouncing down the hall and stairs like a frightened jack rabbit – knocking a scraggly-bearded man ass over teakettle – into streets choked with mud, horseshit and worse. This place looked nothing like the pleasant village of Saint Raymond where she’d fallen asleep the night before: gone were the blue skies over golden brown hills dotted with Oak and Bay Laurel. In their place were a mix of shanties and palaces in a stinking, choking smog.

Shouting men were chasing her. She ran and ran, her bare feet aching and bleeding from a bad stub and a twisted ankle, then broken glass. Unclear thinking and desperate terror sent her in search of the docks: stow away on a boat … or drown herself. Not knowing her way and hearing her pursuers gain on her, Penny dashed toward the masts she could see in the distance — but found herself trapped in a blind alley. Turning to retrace her steps, she saw a sign that hadn’t been there when she’d run in:

FONG’S
Opium Dreams Come True Ladies For You

Punctuation could have helped a great deal, but then Penny might not have stepped inside.

Fong’s

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's on May 26, 2015 at 9:17 pm

Knucklebrow Twosie had never been seen in Fong’s before.

Not that there was any great whispering when he walked in. Most of the clientele were in a state of hazy mental undress, too deep in their cups or pipes or kinks to notice. Because, after all, Knucklebrow Twosie was as new to Fong’s as he was to the street, the city and the Republic itself. There was no reason for anyone to take much note of him.

The one person in the room who did see him clearly was Penny Onehole, whose name, while ultimately misleading, nevertheless held enough mystery to keep drunkards coming back for another crack. Penny didn’t like drink, on account of her father. She didn’t like opium, on account of her pimp, Rivard, now deceased, whom she blamed for getting her stuck in this fog-wracked hell. Penny didn’t like that other smoke, on account of it got her fatter than she should be at age twenty-seven, ahem. She had a lot of tricks to make the Johns think she was three sheets to the wind, and not a drop of liquor had passed her lips in fifteen years.

What she saw when Knucklebrow Twosie walked in was a man of a bout five feet, four inches in height, his cap pulled down to his eyebrows. Those thick wrists might mean a thick cock, but she didn’t much care either way. He looked like everyone else who came into Fong’s: lost.

But … something about his jaw, the angle of his head, looked familiar. Penny Onehole suppressed a shiver and smiled at him through the smoke. There was a quota to fill, after all. He looked like he’d do nicely.

Skyfire Part V

In Fiction, Sci-Fi, Skyfire on May 25, 2015 at 6:45 pm

That first year, most of you remember, we didn’t venture far. When we found the connection to the mines, we didn’t know what to make of it. Was it luck? Probably. I don’t know. Was it Maxwell, leading us to safety? I like to think so. Ten years later, you all know how I feel about him. He was a member of our family, even if only for a time. We, all of us in camp, were his pack. He could never replace Tony, but he made that loss easier to bear. Some of you joke that Maxwell is my Totem animal. That may be.

But what matters now, is us. Standing here and looking out over the Central Valley, I can tell you that I believe we’ll make it. In spite of the fireballs, the storms, in spite of those people with the glowsticks around their necks, I believe we’ll all make it. You can stay here in the mines if you want. Our parents set everything up nicely. We’re pretty safe, and we could thrive. For a time. But I think that it will be safer across the valley, in the mountains. It’s more than the text from Mr. Amberson, it’s more than Maxwell.

I know you’re scared. So am I. But we have to try.

We owe it to Anselm, we owe it to our parents. We owe it to Tony.

I don’t know if we’ll ever find Maxwell again.

But I have hope.

I do.

Because there’s something I found, today, that I want to read to you. I found it here, under this rock, near the entrance. You can see that it’s got some reflective plastic ribbon taped to it. I don’t think I would have found it if I’d been here at any other time. Seeing sunlight in the mine is what brought me here, and the angle of the sunrise hit the ribbon just so. I’m not saying it’s significant. I’m saying it’s lucky. Anyway, it’s dated October 4, 2012, and here’s what it says:

“Dear Veronica,

You’re standing at a crossroads, not merely in time, but also in reality. The fissure in this mountainside leads into a place very much like that from which we come, but slightly altered. If you find this note, stay here. I’ve left a cache of supplies that should keep you comfortable for quite some time. They’re outside the fissure, in an oil can buried next to the coyote bush to the left. Ration carefully, please.

There are two reasons you should stay here. The first is that there is a group of kids coming through the mines. They’re coming from that other place, and they’ve been living in the mines for at least a decade. It’s imperative that they reach a specific set of lakes in the Sierras. They will need a strong guide when they reach this point in their journey. If you’ve reached this spot, I believe you are the ideal candidate. They need your help, and you need people to nurture. We both know this about you.

The second reason you should stay is because he will get here before they do. I know you lost him after the battle at the dairy farm. Slippages in time have sent him on several different paths. I’ve almost caught up to him three times, but that motherfucker Reinblatt with his damned rhyming notes is determined to keep us apart. Maxwell, however, is touched by myth: he has your scent, you saw what he did to Mayberry. And he misses his Mommy.

I dream of him, sometimes, when I can sleep in this place. In my dreams, he is calling to you. He is telling you, ‘Mommy Good Boy Stay, I am Max, I am coming to you. I love you. I love you. I am Max. I keep you safe. I love you. Stay.’

Max and I feel the same way. But I hear my pursuers and I have to divert them so that they do not find this spot. They’ve been altering my notes and moving them, helping Reinblatt obscure the way.

Wait for Max. Wait for the kids. Go to the mountains. With luck, we’ll meet again.

Much love,

Edward”

Okay, so I don’t know who these people are. But they know Maxwell. And outside the fissure, near that coyote bush he mentions, there’s a campsite. It’s been abandoned for a while. The oil can is there, and it’s still got a few useful things in it. I don’t know what he means, all this alternate reality and time stuff. But he knew we were coming. And, look: there, outside the fissure. See them? Those look like Maxwell’s prints. I think he was here. Recently.

There’s a handwritten addition to the note, and in different writing than Edward’s signature. I’ll read it to you before I pass it around. It says, “Hey — I’ve been here for a month. Something large is prowling around my campsite at night. I’ve got friends who can help us, so I’m headed out to get them. I don’t feel safe here, alone. No sign of Maxwell yet. I’d like to wait for him, but if I don’t Good Boy Bounce, I think I might end up Good Boy Dead. If I’m not back in a week, go without me. Give Maxwell kisses when you see him, and tell him I love him.”

It’s signed, Veronica. And the date is May 25, 2015. I think that something happened in their world, maybe on a different timeline from ours, and I think it was pretty big. Like the fireballs, but different. Because look, out there — there’s something weird about the valley: see that shimmering? I don’t think that’s a heat mirage.

I think it’s water. I don’t see an end to it to the north or south. It looks to me like the Central Valley is flooded. Completely.

I’m headed to the Sierras, where we all would have gone if I’d remembered to give my mom Mr. Amberson’s message. We’ve got what we need to make it, and we can follow Maxwell’s tracks. Might be as easy as finding a boat, but I doubt it. So. You can stay if you want to. I’m not going to force anyone to come along. This is my path, and there’s only one thing I know for certain:

It’s time to Good Boy Go.

Skyfire Part IV

In Fiction, Sci-Fi, Skyfire, Writing on May 24, 2015 at 2:12 pm

It’s weird how things happen at the same time. It makes them seem significant. I don’t know if it means anything, but I got the idea to try the number on Maxwell’s tag again, with our area code, 415, as we were running back to camp. I thought we should tell the owner that we had lost him. So while Anselm was telling his mom and dad about the cave, I took my Mom’s cell phone from the solar charger in the main camper and dialed the number I had memorized over those summer months.

Most of you know I tried the number. What I’m going to tell you now is something I only ever told one person: Anselm, after his slip last year, before he died. I told him because I wanted him to live. And I’m telling you now for the same reasons.

I didn’t get an out-of-service message, like I told you guys back then. Someone answered the phone. A … male. On the third ring.

He said, “Hello Marie. I love you. The cave is good. Be in the cave. Sniff out the cave. Stay. Stay. Marie Good Boy Stay.”

I said, “Who is this?”

What I heard was a snuffling, sniffing noise. It sounded like laughter. Then he said, “I love you. I am Good Boy Go. I go. You stay. I love you. I love you. Be safe. Stay.”

You guys remember what it was like when Anselm told them about the cave. The camp was erupting with excitement and discussion, people were running around grabbing things. I didn’t understand – none of us kids understood then – how much danger we were in. There I was, in the middle of all of that movement, frozen to the spot. Because I knew. Sure as I knew the smell of the top of his head, sure as I knew the sound of his snores in our tent at night.

“Maxwell?” I said.

“Marie Good Boy Stay. Be safe.” he said.

“Maxwell, where are you? I’m scared and I want you here,” I said. “Please come back.”

“I love you. I love you. I love you,” he said.

That’s when the line went dead.

A text came in, the last text any of our parents ever received. I stood there with my mom’s phone in my hands, staring at that message. I thought it was from Maxwell, at first. But it was from George Amberson. Our neighbor. The first to leave. It read, simply, “Safe. Come soon. We have room. Use the cave.”

That’s when I remembered, months too late, what I was supposed to tell my mom.

She was nice, she hugged me and thanked me and went to tell the other parents.

It was only later, when she thought I was asleep, that I heard her breathing funny and realized she was sobbing.

[Author’s note: this post was originally the end of Part III, but I moved it to stand alone. Apologies if this skews your experience, but I had to re-structure slightly. Thanks for reading, and I welcome your comments.]

Skyfire Part III

In Fiction, Sci-Fi, Skyfire, Writing on May 23, 2015 at 4:26 am

We found the cave by accident.

So many people on the freeways, the streets, so many accidents from people watching the fireballs instead of the road. Mom had given up calling the FBI to find what had happened to Tony. She said we had to get out, and she would call once we got settled. Something in her eyes told me I’d better not ask more questions just then. She packed us up like we were going camping, making room for Maxwell next to me in the back seat, heading toward Tesla Pass to get to Tracy and beyond. This seemed to be in alignment with what Mr. Amberson had told me, and I assumed he had texted my mom. I thought we were on the right path.

We weren’t the only people trying to avoid the gridlock on the freeways, though. We got stuck in traffic on Tesla before we ever got to the pass. Mom turned onto Mines Road out of frustration, saying there was another way to the Central Valley. A military roadblock stopped us from reaching the alternate route, so we just headed up to Lake Del Valle, thinking we’d wait it out. It was packed — the main parking lots looked like a flea market — but Mom knew a fire road that went back behind some stables. Text messages still worked, then. She let a couple friends know about it. Pretty soon, we had three extended families sharing our camp. All of the adults were people with knowledge: engineers, physicists, architects. Mom was very selective. We’re pretty lucky she made that choice, I think.

I had taken it upon myself to ‘train’ Maxwell, and I was overjoyed to be able to explore what I thought of as wilderness with him. I would make him sit down all the time, telling him, “I love you. Be safe. Stay.” Positive reinforcement, you see.

Meanwhile, what we thought would be a few days became weeks, then months. And being in camp was so much fun. It felt like a long, nervous Memorial Day Weekend, in the beginning. While I played with Maxwell and my friends, our parents were making forays out onto the various fire roads to find another way around the roadblock that prevented us from getting out. They learned that there were roadblocks on every road leading out of the Bay Area; it was rumored that these fireballs were only hitting this region, but there was no way to make certain. The media were unreliable. But our parents filtered as much of this as they could. It was a vacation.

Maxwell wanted to play all the time. He loved everyone. Back on the day of the first fireball, we had called the number on his tag, but the operator said there was no 925 area code. Not here, in the Bay Area. Not anywhere else in the world. So we had kept him with us and posted fliers in the days before the agents took my brother. No one ever called, no one ever came for him. Maxwell became my dog. He might be the best thing that ever happened to us. To me, at least.

It was while we were playing hide and seek with Maxwell, beyond the confines of our secret camp at the far southern end of Lake Del Valle, that we found the cave.

It went like this: we would make him lie down and we would sneak away. Once we were all hidden, he would follow our scents and find us one by one. He loved this game, and he kissed us all every time he found us. Stinky breath dog kisses. Then he would lead us back to camp and we would play again until our moms made us do chores or something. One day, though, Maxwell nosed and herded us in camp until we all sat down in a circle. Then he barked at us once and walked toward the edge of camp.

He stopped and looked back. At us.

At me.

I got that pain in my forehead again, that dizzy feeling. And I knew. “He wants us to count to one hundred,” I said.

The other kids played along.

When we followed, we saw him walking far ahead, following a cow path that lead up over a distant hillside, farther than we’d ever explored. We ran after him.

He stopped and looked back, in the same posture he’d used at the edge of camp. He barked once, then ran. We chased, laughing, but when we caught up to where he had been there was no sign of him. We searched for hours, but he was nowhere to be found. We started to get scared, and Anselm wasn’t looking where he was going. He tripped, falling into some wild sage. When he didn’t get up right away, I asked him what he was doing. He said, “The air is cold here.”

In some mud near the entrance to the cave was one paw print. Maxwell had been there.

Skyfire Part II

In Fiction, Sci-Fi, Writing on May 22, 2015 at 10:45 am

Local Weathermen were saying that the fireballs were all just debris from a recent meteor shower.

NASA scientists confirmed it: natural phenomena.

Tony’s WeTube video got a million hits in the first day alone, with a lot of people laughing about my mom saying I’d peed my pants, and a lot of other people saying his ‘cinematography’ was too slick, that it looked like Hollywoodland production values. But Tony was an amateur filmmaker, and a brilliant photographer. All anyone had to do was look at his other work, right there on his channel, and they would see how good he was. I got so mad when I read those comments that I stopped feeling embarrassed about peeing my pants. Now I see how funny it was, the way my mom’s voice trailed off.

When a fireball hit the Labs and destroyed a bunch of administrative buildings, everything changed. My mom worked there, her friends worked there. A lot of people died that day. There was a guy who started posting comments on Tony’s page, that day, right after the fireball hit. The comments said that Tony was part of the attack, that the ‘fireballs’ were actually debris of alien spacecraft shot down by the International Space Station. It also said that all of the recent push to colonize Mars was the White House backpedaling as they tried to keep the lid on what was, “ … an all-out alien invasion.”

I think it was those comments that brought the FBI to talk to Tony.

When the neighbors saw the agents coming to our house, they panicked. It was smart panic, quiet panic, but it was panic. Just like those dreams I used to have about an earthquake up 680 into the Bay, flooding all the way down to Dublinton and Altamont, people began packing and leaving.

The Ambersons did it first, and I think they might have actually gotten out before the quarantine. Mr. Amberson was a geologist at the Lab. He was standing there, watering his lawn when the car pulled up. He smiled and waved at the agents, watching them until my mom let them into the house. When the door was closed, he waved me over, and knelt down to talk to me, pointing at a dandelion on the edge of his lawn.

“Marie, honey, do you know those men?” he said.

“Nope, but I heard them say FBI to my mom. They asked for Tony,” I said.

“Okay,” he said. “I think it’s time for a family vacation. You want to come with us, Marie.”

“I have a dance recital,” I said. Ballet was really important to me back then. I was determined not to piss my tutu for a third time.

“I know that, honey, but you should tell you mom, as soon as those men leave, that we’re headed up to the Lakes, in the mountains. She knows the way. Tell her I said, just like we talked about. Can you do that, honey? Say, George says, ‘Just like you talked about.’

George says, ‘Just like you talked about.

“Good. And if they ask, I was telling you about dandelions. And how they spread on the wind. To take root far, far away.”

Mr. Amberson got his family together like they were going on a picnic. In under twenty minutes.

He drove away slow, waving and smiling, but his eyes were serious.

Mrs. Amberson was staring straight ahead, tears streaming down her face.

I forgot to tell my mom.