A FRIEND IN NEED ~ Part Two
“Waste Not . . .” by Tim Hemlin
Bear spotted the strangers traveling alongside Caballito. They hardly appeared dressed for the Wasteland, or the Rim for that matter, unless they represented something new in the old republic army. He didn’t think so.
“Buenos días, Oso,” said Caballito.
“Are these our amigos perdidos?” Bear asked. He took a good look at them. They appeared lost, all right. He only hoped they were friends.
“Jane Carmichael,” announced one of their guests, extending her hand.
“I am Bear.” He met her greeting.
“Does the name of every inhabitant of this alternate timeline derive from an animal?” the other visitor asked.
“Only the fortunate,” Bear replied with a wink.
“That’s Lex,” Jane said. “He’s very intelligent if somewhat far out.”
“Now when you say far out,” Bear began, “do you mean–”
“Coo, groovy, outta sight, or whatever you future people say,” she interrupted. “And when he says we’re from an alternate timeline, well, add a whole different reality to his. Comprende?
“No,” Bear and Caballito responded in unison, “No comprendo.”
“I’ll try to explain.”
“But first we must get you out of this heat,” Bear declared. “Wherever you’re from it’s quite obvious you’re not accustomed to our climate’s bloody brutality.”
“Yes, I have learned a twentieth century idiom customarily stated during such discussions of climate: ‘From my observation the extreme temperature appears to be optimal for the culinary preparation of a domestic fowl’s ova’,” LX stated.
Bear and Caballito stared at him then exchanged glances.
“Why don’t you just say it’s hot enough to fry an egg?” Jane told LX. “If there’s a long way of saying something,” she added to the other two, “leave it to Lex.”
“Marvelous,” Bear laughed. “Marvelous.”
“Oso,” Caballito said and pointed nervously. “Rim guards in the distance.”
“Members of our society’s security forces that are best avoided,” Bear told the newcomers. “Come, follow me.”
“Where are we going?” asked Jane.
“I hope crowds, loud music and alcohol don’t offend you,” he replied, “because we’re going to a pub owned by a friend of mine.”
“Jane Carmichael is agreeable to your proposition,” LX told him.
“Marvelous.” He started walking, beckoning them to join him. “There is a room in back,” he explained. “It’ll be safe to talk there.”
“Yes,” LX stated, “I have many questions. For instance, why is the land not fertile and productive?”
“Unfortunately, it’s a long story of denial and neglect,” Bear said sadly.
“La avaricia también,” added Caballito.
“Yes, greed, too,” Bear concurred.
“I believe greed transcends all timelines,” LX stated.
Maybe he’s not as odd as I’d first thought, Bear pondered. Foot traffic picked up as they hit the outskirts of the Houston Rim. Many artisans chose to live on the Rim, feeling uncomfortable in the conformity of the bubble. However, many homeless and poor also tried to scrape out a living there as well.
Examining the shops and people of the Rim, LX asked, “Is this a new type of feudal society?”
“You’re not far off, my friend. Here it all comes down to water, and whoever controls the water has the power.”
“Sounds like something Tricky Dick could dig,” Jane commented, then added, “Nixon.”
“Nixon?” Bear wondered.
“President in my time,” she told him.
Bear sympathized. “I see. Well, love, every age has their problematic leaders. However, our problem at hand is a little more immediate.”
When they reached the pub, Bear nodded at L.A. Bly, the owner and bartender, and took his entourage immediately to the room in the back. Two women awaited them. Bear naturally recognized Si-Ting, the time-witch. The other was more of a girl, actually. Pretty but young, someone he didn’t know.
“This is Calla,” Si-Ting introduced. “She’s also from an alternate timeline.”
“How in the worlds did this happen?” Jane asked.
“Fantasmas,” muttered Caballito.
“Ghosts?” Bear questioned incredulously. “You can’t be serious.”
“In a manner of speaking, Little Horse isn’t that far off,” Si-Ting responded. “You see,” she explained to the others, “in my world, the past, present and future are all intertwined. The distinction is only like a thread on a blanket. The thread may be from the past but the blanket is the whole of it all.
“Sometimes,” she continued, “there is a disturbance in time, a vortex, and anyone caught at that moment can be pulled away from his or her thread of time. I’ve created such disturbances–bent time, so to speak–but not on the scale that has happened to you.”
LX stirred. “I do not understand how this relates to imaginary phantasmagorical beings that primarily exist in stories told at night around an open fire with the intention of eliciting fear.”
“Okay, you don’t believe in ghost stories,” Jane told him. “Let her go on.”
“In order to bend time back to where it was,” Si-Ting continued, “I’m going to need help.”
Jane and LX met each other’s eyes.
“From her,” the time-witch added, indicating Calla.
“First I must find Valcas,” she responded.
“Who’s Valcas?” asked Jane.
Calla paused a moment before saying, “He’s kind of like the guy your mother always warned you about but who your father secretly wanted to be.”
“So a Marlon Brando-James Dean ‘dangerous’ type?” she suggested, raising her eyebrows and catching Calla’s eye.
LX looked at her. “I did not believe you were the type of female who would be enticed by males who exhibit antisocial behavior.”
“And you would be right, Lex. I don’t go for bad boys.”
LX appeared skeptical.
“Oh, Valcas isn’t that bad,” Calla said. “I think I’ve given you the wrong impression.”
“Regardless,” said Si-Ting. “We need to move on this quickly. I believe I can set things right. However, as I said, I’m going to need help.”
She turned again to Calla. “Tell them about the travel glasses.”
* * *
To Be Continued . . .
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“My granddaddy was a gravedigger,” the old man said, shuffling a deck of cards, “at least for a short time during his youth. Maybe that’s the best time to dig graves, when you’re the furthest from crawling into one. What do you boys think?”
The two young men fronted each other, both stiff as tombstones, hands balled into fists, neither knowing the other would be at the lake house. A single light glared over the table. Blackness darkened the windows. The smell of wood smoke from the Franklin stove. Grit on the wooden floor.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” the old man continued as he dealt each of them five cards. “Anyway, he used to talk about the different types of soil. Complained most about the clay, what a bitch it was to get through. And heavy. Funny, but the big rusty moon we’re supposed to get tonight reminds me of that, though when clay first comes out of the ground the red don’t exactly jump out at you.” He leaned back in his chair, the two boys staring so hard at each other they didn’t notice the .45 until he thumped it on the table.
“Shoot, Mr. Simon–”
Julius Simon cut him off. “Not yet, Josh, but you boys figure on a pissing contest I might just change my mind and open fire. Sit.”
“Yes, sir,” replied Josh, and he sat to the old man’s right.
Simon looked at the other boy. “Holden, that’s all the invite you’re going to get.”
Slowly Holden lowered himself to a chair, though he asked, “What’s he doing here?”
Both boys were about twenty, tall and lean, cut from the same cloth as far as their temperaments went, the old man thought. Physically, Josh had black curly hair and dark eyes, almost the Latin lover type. The old man could see why Kelly loved him. Holden, on the other hand, was fair-skinned and blond: the All-American boy, which was why his daughter was torn.
“You could ask that,” Simon told Holden, “and Josh no doubt wonders the same of you. Thing is, I asked you both here for a reason. First, pick up your cards. I do my best thinking when I keep my hands busy.”
“What are we playing?” Josh asked.
“Poker, of course. Five card draw. Deuces wild.”
Simon picked up his hand. He’d already seen it in his mind and knew it was crap, but he went through the motions just the same. “How many cards?” he asked Holden.
The boy discarded. “Two, sir.”
The old man slid two off the top of the deck. “Josh?”
“Oh, the boy either has something, is praying for something, or bluffing.” Simon dealt him a card. “And the dealer takes three.” He discarded and drew three new cards. From crap to a full house. Ironic, he thought. Yet his hand didn’t matter.
“What are we betting?” Holden asked.
“Slow down, boy,” Simon told him. He put his cards face down and picked up the .45. “My granddaddy also had another talent. He didn’t talk about it much, and probably wouldn’t have said anything to me either if it hadn’t been passed on.” He paused. “To me.”
“You knew what your cards were before you looked,” Josh stated.
“Why do you say that?” the old man asked, eying him carefully.
Josh averted his gaze. “I don’t know.”
“That’s stupid,” Holden said.
The old man sighed. “No, it’s not stupid. I see things. An easy thing to see is that you both love my daughter. Or you both think you do. And one of you will marry her. The hard thing to see is that if it’s the wrong man, he’ll kill her.”
“Kill her? No, sir!” Holden exclaimed.
“I love her,” pleaded Josh at the same time, adding, “I’d never harm her.”
“Yeah, you both protest now,” Simon replied, “but do you see my dilemma? If I allow her to marry the wrong man, she’ll die.” He pointed the gun from Holden to Josh and back. “My first reaction was to kill you both. But if she ever found out I killed her true love she’d never forgive me.”
The old man leaned across the table and stared into Holden’s eyes. “So guess what the stakes of the game are?”
“You can’t be serious?” Holden asked. “We’re supposed to bet with our lives because you had some sort of vision or something?”
“Are you in, or are you out?”
“I’m in,” Josh stated.
“This is stupid,” Holden declared, standing. “I love your daughter. I’d never hurt her. If I hurt anyone it’s going to be him.”
“Look at the anger,” Josh told the old man.
“Some people might call it passion,” Holden responded.
“As in a crime of passion?” provoked Josh.
Before Holden lunged, the old man tapped the butt of the gun on the table like a judge rapping his gavel. “Sit down,” he ordered.
Holden hesitated but as Simon nodded toward the chair, the boy sat.
“Why don’t we see what our hands are?” the old man asked. “Holden, are you in or out?”
“You do what you think you need to do for Kelly,” he replied. “I’m out.”
“Very well. Josh?”
“You already know what I have,” he said, “and you also know that I beat you.”
The old man sighed and glanced up at the ceiling, the I-beam barely visible in the dim light. “Josh, what I know is that you don’t have the sight. You’re trying to play me.”
“No, sir,” Josh protested, “I have the gift.”
Holden snickered. “Gift? It’s not a gift. It’s a curse. You see things, but you only see parts of things and then you make the wrong goddamn decisions because you’re afraid of causing what you fear to come true.”
Josh said nothing.
“You only have two pair,” the old man told Josh. He turned his own cards over. “Full house.” Then he pointed the .45 at the boy and shot him twice in the chest. The sound was deafening. Josh fell from the chair, his cards slipping from his hand.
Holden drew a sharp breath.
“The people who call it a curse are the ones who have the gift,” the old man told him. “I been suspecting you for a while, but it seems you don’t like it much.”
“I don’t always like what I see,” the boy responded.
“Even people without the sight feel that way.” He scratched the stubble on his face with the gun barrel and leaned forward. “You can’t run from it forever, and I can help. But that’s not why I’m sparing you. You said to do what I need to do for Kelly. Well, boy, that’s love.”
“Oh, I love her something awful,” Holden declared.
Abruptly the old man stood.
“Then don’t feel guilty. If you let everything you see get to you, it’ll drive you insane.” He tucked the gun in his belt and turned toward a couple of shovels resting in a dark corner. He didn’t see the boy’s eyes widen with fear and understanding.
Holden stood as if he were the old man.
Julius Simon held out one of the shovels but resisted letting go when the boy grabbed it. “You had four tens.”
“I didn’t want to win your daughter in a card game.”
The old man cackled and released the shovel. “Of course you didn’t.” When his chortle slowed he added, “You’ve got a lot to learn, son, but first I’m going to show you how to dig a grave. Just like granddaddy did.”
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