Saturday, July 21, 2007

Reditio Soteri -6-

Bruce woke up early Sunday morning. Then again, he always woke up early on Sunday, because his mom and Stevie would never let him miss church.

Church for Bruce was an all-day affair at the Reformed Baptist Church of the Redeemed, which was a long way of saying the ministers were a bit different from anything you normally connected with a church. Well, they dressed the part, with fine suits and styled hair, and they talked the talk, with lots of emphasis whenever Jesus was mentioned, as if they went into mild delirium every time the Savior was mentioned – and they mentioned Him a lot. Jesus was summoned to pass blessing on pronouncements of every conceivable sort, from baptisms and confessions, to upcoming elections (which it seemed was the Devil trying to destroy the world by getting his minions elected, usually characters whose style of dress and speech was suspiciously similar to the good reverends), to corporations and evil forces luring around every corner. Bruce sometimes wondered if the church should stick the word ‘paranoid’ in its name somewhere.

He didn’t do well in the sword drills. Despite his mom’s confidence that it would be Deuteronomy this week, the class worked on 2nd Timothy. Stevie teased Bruce about it all day afterwards.

Lunch was chicken and salad. It was always chicken and salad et the Reformed Baptist Church of the Redeemed; maybe that thing Jesus did with the loaves and fishes in Israel, this church had worked out with old chicken and limp salad.

Bruce didn’t see much purpose in going to church all day on Sunday, but Stevie loved it, and it seemed to be the one thing his mom could depend on, so he toughed it out, even the mix of church ladies who either considered him an angel if he would just not talk so much, or a future hoodlum who needed a beating to get him set straight. That second group always included several of Bruce’s teachers.

Across the street from the church, the watcher peered intently at the congregation, as he nibbled on the body of a stray cat, taking care that the remains would look like the work of a dog.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Reditio Soteri –5-

Bruce woke up with a strange buzzing sound in his ears, and a feeling of unexplained guilt. Over by the window, he saw Stevie drawing.

“Sup, little man?” he asked.

“K”, answered Stevie, his attention focused on the strange dog he was drawing. Well, a dog or a pig or a well-fed ferret, Bruce couldn’t tell, but Stevie was working hard at it. Seemed like it was laughing at something. Maybe that meant Stevie was happy.

Bruce went to the kitchen, where his mom had left a note. She’d gone off to work, but left breakfast in the oven for Bruce and Stevie, along with a list of chores for Bruce to do. Bruce sighed, and started on the laundry.

As the laundry was going in the washer, Bruce scrubbed at the kitchen floor, wondering – again – how the floor got scuffed and dirty when neither he nor Stevie did anything to mess it up. Strangely, Bruce hardly hurt from yesterday’s beatings; maybe that meant he was getting tougher. And if he got tougher, maybe those jerks would start to leave him alone. Yeah right, and the laundry would start doing itself …

That evening, after his mom got back from work, she set Bruce and Stevie to Bible Study. Tomorrow was Church, and that meant Sword Drills in Sunday School. More Deuteronomy, but after he got his passages memorized, Bruce was allowed to read another part on his own. For some reason, Bruce found himself in the book of Job, and his eyes fell on Chapter 2:1 -

On another day the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him.

Something about that passage bothered Bruce, and he quickly closed the Bible, almost slamming it shut.

Bruce felt silly about that, and opened up the Bible again. This time it fell open to Numbers 22:26 –

Then the angel of the LORD moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left.

Again, Bruce felt a strange forboding and this time he did slam the Bible shut, earning a sharp look from his mother. Embarrassed, he opened the Bible yet again, and – as if someone else was turning the pages, it fell open to Exodus 23:20 –

See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared

This time, Bruce was strangely reassured, and he closed the Bible one last time for the evening, this time quietly and calmly.

Across the street, the watcher was annoyed. He felt prickly and itchy, as if he had touched something to which he was allergic.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Reditio Soteri -4-

The watcher sat unmoving across the street from Bruce’s apartment, oblivious to anything else until he sensed that Bruce had gone to sleep. A few moments sufficed to assure the watcher that the immediate area was secure, and the watcher loped off to satisfy a deep need.

The neighborhood was a bad one, so it was only after a few blocks that the watcher found what he wanted. A young man sat at a red light in his car, with the window down. Worse, the man was talking to someone on the phone, and so was paying no attention to his surroundings. But it was not that man who the watcher found interesting. The watcher peered intently at the other young man coming round the car from behind and the side, who raised his pistol and put a shot into the shoulder of the driver, before opening the car door and throwing him to the ground.

Stunned by the surprise and the hot pain in his shoulder and chest, the driver paled in fear as he saw the carjacker aim the pistol in his face to finish the job.

Then the driver saw the gunman stop, stand bolt upright with a look of terror at some unseen monster, then raise the gun to his own head.

Three quick shots, and the gunmen fell to the ground, dead by his own hand. Writhing in his own pain, the driver did not stop to consider how strange it was that the gunman could shoot himself three times in the head.

The watcher smiled grimly at his game, and moved on to find more amusement. Before the sun came up, a would-be rapist would cut off his own genitals before a terrified young woman, a burglar would use the acetelyne torch he carried for breaking into a store on his own face, and an executive who had meant to carry out a perfect embezzlement of his company would wake to suddenly realize that he had instead e-mailed evidence of his plan to the CEO, the local newspaper, and the district attorney.

The watcher settled back to watching Bruce’s apartment with some satisfaction.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Reditio Soteri -3-

Bruce reached the door to the apartment as his lungs screamed at him to stop. Besides catching his breath, however, Bruce felt he had to stop and think. His mom was going to be furious with him for being so late, and he needed to come up with an excuse, but his mind was blank. Trying to get a sense of the mood, Bruce listened at the door, but all he heard were pots being moved in the kitchen. Suddenly, Bruce steeled his nerve and plunged in, deciding to brave whatever he had to face in the apartment.

But his mom was not home. Instead, Stevie was standing on a stool by the stove, and by the look of things he planned to cook his own dinner, with water heating in two pots and a box of Mac-n-Cheese nearby. Bruce smiled in spite of himself. For a seven-year-old, Stevie had a lot of confidence in his ability.

“Momma’s gonna tan you for turning on the stove, Stevie” said Bruce.

“Nuh uh” retorted Stevie. “Cuz if you tell her I turned on the stove, then I’ll tell her how late you are. Wazzup, anyway?”

“Same o” answered Bruce. “Ight, let’s make a deal. I’ll make you something to eat if you stay away from things that will get us both in trouble. Deal?”

“Deal” smiled Stevie, and he turned on the TV and sat down in front of it.

An hour later, Stevie was fed and washed, and Bruce had cleaned up the table and kitchen. But his mom was still not home, and that was bad. Bruce began to worry.

A while later, Bruce heard a commotion in the hall. It was his mom and someone else, a man, and drunk by the sound of him. His mom was saying something quietly, but with a sense of urgency. Bruce knew from experience not to stick his head out and see what was happening, because this often meant embarrassing his mom, and that always led to whippings for Bruce. A few minutes later, his mother entered, alone.

“Hey, babe” she said to Bruce. “Stevie asleep?”

“Yeah” answered Bruce. “You’re late.”

“I know, sorry” answered his mom. “I got a chance at some overtime, and God knows we need it.”

For some reason, Bruce didn’t want to talk about what had happened at school. Well, it never did any good to complain, and he’d seem like a total wuss if he admit he was freaked out by some strange sounds and a bad smell. So he let his mom take his mind off that by doing a half-hour of Bible Study, which was boring enough to make him sleepy. Bruce suspected his mom used Bible Study to get him to go straight to sleep, which seemed to be what the book of Deuteronomy was made to do.

Bruce fell asleep and dreamed of a cockroach uprising.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Reditio Soteri -2-

Then there was silence, long enough that Bruce started to think he had imagined the sounds.

Then that skittering came again, approaching the locker like an overgrown cockroach. Bruce heard something sniffing just outside the locker door, and a strong unwashed body odor, but with a sense of rot about it, and Bruce found himself trying hard not to vomit on himself.

Them with a loud clunk, the lock broke, almost as if someone had cut the lock with a bolt cutter. Bruce waited for the door to open, but there was nothing. No sound, no sense of presence, even the bad smell was fading away, like a fart passing through the ventilation system. Bruce pushed gently against the locker door, and it swung open.

Bruce crawled out and peered down the hall in both directions. There was no one there, though where the bullies had run there was a puddle of something on the ground, as if one of them had spilled a thick drink. Bruce stepped that way, careful not to step in the liquid, and he realized that it was blood. Not a huge amount, but more than you’d lose in a nosebleed, or come to that more than Bruce had lost in any of his beatings. Had the bullies turned on each other with something like a knife fight? Or whatever that bad-smelling animal had been, could it have been responsible? Bruce was almost immediately sure that wasn’t it. Whatever that thing was, it seemed small for taking on three apelike brutes. Then again, Bruce wasn’t sure what it was, and the combination of its smell, sounds, and strange behavior creeped him out a lot. The best idea seemed to be to just get out and get home. The halls were dark, dark enough that Bruce realized, with a groan, that he’d be in trouble when he got home. Again. No one ever believed him when he tried to explain what happened, so he’d given up trying to explain. Hanging his head in dismay, Bruce walked to the end of the hall towards the exit. He stopped when he realized that the janitor had already bolted and chained the exit door – Bruce wasn’t getting out this way. And that meant all the other doors were barred, as well. There was bound to be some way out, but Bruce was sure they would involve setting off an alarm or talking to an adult, which meant getting trouble with his mom. Bruce loved his mom, and he knew she worked hard to take care of him and Stevie, but she always got angry when Bruce got in trouble, and like everyone else she never understood it wasn’t his fault. He’d be yelled at and get punished for it, and it was just so wrong.

Bruce didn’t care who saw him now; he fell to the ground and cried.

Time passed, Bruce neither knew nor cared how long, but he started when he smelled it again. That same unwashed-and-rotting smell, and he heard that same skittering sound, coming towards him. Bruce was mildly curious, but at the same time he felt a strong impulse to not be there when whatever it was arrived. Bruce ran for the nearest classroom and threw himself under the teacher’s desk.

Once again, the sound and smell suddenly vanished, and again Bruce began to wonder if he had imagined it. Bruce began to worry that the bad smell was his own body; had he smelled his panic and fear? Bruce resolved to take a shower when he got home.

Then a heavy sound fell in the hallway, something metal. Bruce waited a few minutes, but heard nothing more, and curiosity moved him to see what had happened.

Not only had the chains holding the door shut been chewed into pieces, the push-bar itself lay on the floor, the door slightly open, the night breeze blowing in. Feeling a surge of emotion, a mix of hope and fear, Bruce took his chance and plunged into the night, running the three miles home without once stopping, ignoring the stabbing pain in his side from the lack of oxygen as he ran pell-mell to the only place he considered safe.

Running headlong as he did, Bruce never saw the companion who followed him home, easily keeping pace while remaining just out of sight, setting up camp just across the street from the haggard building Bruce and his family called home.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Reditio Soteri - 1

Bruce sat quietly inside the locker, hoping his pursuers had lost his trail. As he sat, he reflected on an article he had read somewhere, which claimed that the body did not remember pain. Reflecting on past encounters with these boys who were looking for him, Bruce was pretty sure that the writer of that article did not know what he was talking about.

He had done nothing to get his tormentors angry at him, Bruce was sure. It just seemed that just being there was enough to make him a target – that and the fact that everyone knew Bruce was a perfect victim, he never fought back, not very well at least, and he never told on his attackers. In return, they only bruised him and left him a bit bloody; they had never broken a bone – yet. Musing to himself as he waited, Bruce wondered why they never seemed to change their routine. Surely they would get bored of this?

At that moment, the locker down flew open and Bruce started with the shock of once again being found. The same three brutes who always made sport of his pain leered down at him, and Bruce silently cursed himself for choosing such a vulnerable place to hide. Without a word, but smiling grimly to each other, they set to punching and kicking Bruce, but seemed to tire after only a couple minutes, and they laughed at each other as they slammed the door on Bruce. Bruce could hardly believe his luck. He was hurting, but already the pain was receding a bit, though his mouth was bleeding and his ears rang from blows. Then Bruce heard, with dismay, a padlock being placed on the locker, and the brutes walked away, laughing and clapping at each other, Bruce realized that as this was Friday, he’d likely be locked for days before anyone knew where to find him. Bruce groaned as his attackers walked away, delighted with their cleverness.

As he sat alone in the dark, Bruce felt like he needed to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come. He couldn’t decide if this was because he was afraid the bullies would hear him, or that he was just too used to this treatment for it to have the same pull on his emotions. He was tired, hungry, hurting in various places and furious at himself, yet again, for not doing something to have stopped what happened, not that there was ever much hope of escape, let alone victory.

Then a sound caught his ear.

Long practice at evading his enemies had trained Bruce to keenly sense any sound out of place, and he realized that the three boys who had locked him in the locker had indeed hung around to see how he would deal with the situation. But something has changed. Bruce heard gasps of surprise, yells and a curse, as if they had been attacked by someone or something. There was a yell as in pain, and another curse shouted, and then the unmistakable sound of flight – the brutes had come across something they couldn’t scare or defeat. Bruce was intensely curious to know who or what that was.

Or was he? It suddenly occurred to Bruce, that whatever had chased away the brutes might, in fact, be worse than they were, and in that case it was very bad for Bruce to be locked where he could not get away, as he began to sense might indeed be very necessary.

Whatever it was began to approach the locker. Bruce heard it approach, almost a skittering kind of step, though the steps seemed strangely to grow softer as they came closer.

Then, just outside the locker, something chuckled quietly, as if at some private joke.

A Bit of a Change

Hopefully, this won't turn off too many readers, not that I have all that many, but I am going to start writing some fiction here. It should be obvious which articles are the fiction, but in any case, just read what you like and ignore the rest.

Finals for Summer semester in 2 weeks, and then hopefully I will be back to a more normal schedule.