OIL IN WATER
At dinnertime, Avery walked out to the barn, but Gil wouldn’t open the door. After a few minutes, he walked away. He came back with a loaded tray and a bowl of dog food for Max which he left on top of a fifty-five gallon drum next to the door. Back inside the house, he checked the window every few minutes to see if the tray was still there.
“Would you stop. You’re making me nervous,” Kori said.
“Why won’t he come in?”
“Because he’s pissed at me.
“Well, let’s see. I broke up with Jack so he’s blaming me for Jack not coming around. I told Chris he could write the article about the TDU based on his suggestion that getting things out in the open would actually make it safer for us.”
Avery cocked a single eyebrow, a technique he knew annoyed Kori because she couldn’t master it.
“I didn’t think it was bad to do that. I mean, he did have his “revelation” after Aunt Stella read his cards. I’m not making him do anything he doesn’t want to do.”
“Kori, don’t you think we have enough to handle. The minute that article is printed every guy with an engineering degree is going to be calling. And that’s the legit ones. What about the scammers? We’re paving the way for every kind of miscreant to show up.”
“Oh, stop. You’re just pissed because Gil thinks he needs more help than you can give him.”
“That is so not true and you know it,” Avery said. “I want this thing built as much as anyone.” Avery checked the window to find Gil’s tray gone. “ Finalmente .” He loaded his plate from the pan of baked ziti sitting on top of the stove, grabbed a piece of garlic bread and took a bite before he even sat down. “Mmmmm.” He turned and grabbed another piece. “So he’s happy about the article then?”
Kori loaded her own plate and sat down. “No, actually. He’s mad because I gave Chris his school picture for the article.”
“The ultimate geek picture?” Avery asked.
“No wonder he’s pissed. I’d be.”
Kori tossed the salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. “I didn’t have another head shot. They specifically needed a head shot.” She ground pepper over the salad.
“Let’s just open up the lame file and plop that little excuse in,” Avery said.
Kori shot him an arsenic-laced stare, but Avery didn’t relent.
“You could have taken another picture. We do have a digital camera, for Godsakes.”
“Alright, I’m sorry. I panicked. Chris needed it right away and Gil was at school.” Kori forked a bit of ziti into her mouth.
“He’ll get over it, I guess.”
“You think so?” she said, mouth full of pasta. “I don’t know. He’s very one-dimensional emotionally.”
Avery shrugged, ground some pepper onto his pasta. “Like you’re deep.”
Kori frowned, but didn’t respond. “What’s he doing out there anyway,” she asked, nodding in the direction of the barn.
“Getting the TDU ready for when “the man” comes.”
“I thought there was only a few hours of work left? He’s been out there for three days.”
“He’s going over the entire machine, every nut and bolt. After Aunt Stella’s reading, he thinks someone’s going to be along any second. Have I mentioned lately what a good cook I am?” Avery took a bite and rolled his eyes dreamily, enthralled by his own culinary talents. “He even gave me the final specs for the patent. I sent it off this morning.”
“Well, somebody might call,” Kori said. She wiped her mouth and put her half-filled plate in the sink. She pulled her coat off the peg and put her shoes on.
“Where you going?”
“Who do you think?”
“You never went out this many nights in a row with Jack. Is it just the idea of dating a journalist that’s appealing?”
“Yes I did go out with Jack this much. In the beginning. Don’t you remember when he and Robbie had that fight?”
A shadow fell across Avery’s face.
“What do you have against him, anyway? Other than he’s not Jack.”
“I don’t know. He’s like a bowl of alphabet soup with all the a’s missing.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Kori threw her coat over her arm, grabbed her purse and opened the door.
“It means that he’s not working with a full alphabet, what do you think? And a journalist, no less.”
Kori rolled her eyes. “Now who’s lame?”
Avery shook his head. “So is Jack completely out of the picture?”
Kori smiled big at Avery, raised her eyebrows, shrugged her shoulders and left.
Avery shook his head at the empty space. “Women.”
Avery threw on a light jacket and bolted out the back door, tripping the motion sensor and flooding the deck with light. The night was balmy, unseasonably so for the second half of winter. He inhaled deeply, identifying various scents including the smell of new growth that predates the arrival of spring, as well as wet decaying leaves and cat piss. About a hundred yards from the house, the light from the motion sensor dropped off and with the moonless sky, Avery found himself walking in darkness. Gil worked by oil lamp this evening and the barn threw off only the barest illumination. Avery tripped over a half-exposed tree root and went sprawling to the ground.
“Dammit.” He brushed himself off and blinked several times, willing his rods – or was it his cones? – to become more cat-like, vowing to bring a flashlight next time.
He reached the barn and rapped on the door three times. It was quiet inside and unless Gil had earplugs in, there was no way he didn’t hear the knocking. “Gil. Open up. It’s been like four days already. You’re starting to stink. I can smell you from out here.” Avery thumbed some paint peeling off the barn door. “How much more do you have to go?” He peeled off a few strips waiting for an answer. “Don’t you think it’s time to return to civilization?”
“No,” came the monosyllabic reply. Avery smiled. That he answered the question meant that Gil was probably desperate for a shower.
“It would feel really nice, the water running all through your hair and down your back. Really, really hot water. You could stand in there so long there wouldn’t be a steam-free inch of wall space.” Avery heard some shuffling inside, but the occupants didn’t emerge.
“Hey, The Matrix is on Bravo tonight. You can stay up and watch the whole thing,” Avery said to the door. Nothing. “Well at least come inside and sleep in your own bed. Kori’s out for the night and I want to go to sleep. I’d feel better if you were inside.” He rested his head on the doorjamb and waited. “C’mon, Gil.”
Avery waited so long for an answer that he dozed off, eyes popping wide when his head hit the barn door. He made one last attempt: “Well don’t come running to me if the boogie man comes after you.” The lock clicked open, but not the door. Avery waited, but after a minute, it clicked shut, the moment lost. He rolled his eyes and walked back into the house.
Avery left the kitchen light on in case Gil decided to come in during the night, and closed the door, but didn’t lock it. He also turned the back yard’s motion sensor to the full “on” position so Gil would have a light to follow toward the house. Fixing your eyes on the outside light helped incrementally with the dark parts. He left the front porch lights on for when Kori came home, then cast an uneasy glance around the perimeter of the house, lit up like a stadium for a nighttime game. He wished everyone would come home and go to bed already, then went upstairs to his room.
At 2 o’clock, Avery’s eyes flew open and he jerked up in bed. He touched his arm, still feeling the distinct sensation of someone shaking him awake. “Hello?” He looked around, but saw nothing in the shadows. “Mom?” As soon as he said his mother’s name, a chill ran the length of his spine and his whole body shuddered. He shook his head to clear it, then tentatively stepped out of bed. He peered out the window toward the barn.
A green phosphorescent light, barely visible, swept back and forth across the length of the structure. After several sweeps the light moved around to the other side. “What the…” Another chill ran through him and he found himself pulling on his pants and shoes without any conscious effort. The light stopped, fixated on the door to the barn. Avery grabbed a sweatshirt off the chair and bolted from his bedroom.
He was down two flights of stairs and in the basement in twelve seconds flat, running to the cedar closet. He pushed through the off-season clothes hanging there: summer dresses and shorts, bathing suits, and Robbie’s one-piece surfing suit clanged noisily on their hangers as he shoved them to the side. He lunged to the back of the closet where Robbie stored his gun cabinet. Avery tried the combination lock twice and failed. “Goddamn it!” He banged on the cabinet, took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “Please.” Avery tried a third time and the lock clicked open. He grabbed the biggest shotgun without even stopping to load it. He reached the top of the stairs about the same time the roar of Gil’s ATV and sound of Max’s harsh barks flooded the silent night.
He made it outside in time to see the green light of the flashlight flick wildly across the copse and then burrow into the woods, disappearing into the blackness. Gil roared into the same abyss, Max running after him.
“Gil!” Avery ran, his heart pumping wild with fear. Again, no flashlight. “Gil!!” He stumbled and cursed, found the trail and blindly followed the sound of engine, propelled by instinct not eyesight. Until he heard the sounds that made his legs buckle.
He couldn’t distinguish one from the other at the time. It was only in recollection the sounds became clear: the creaking of a tree, the swish of dead leaves, the breaking glass, the crunching metal. Max’s fanatical barking; and the most sickening sound, a dull thud, that of a body hitting the ground. “Gil!!” The tree rebounded, its sleeping branches swatting at the empty air.
The ATV lay on its back, it’s wheels spinning into infinity, the motor grinding on and on, while its tires searched for the missing earth.
to be continued . . .
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