this drought is no joke

gold fame

::REVIEW::

For anyone who has watched firestorms devour entire towns; who has watched farmland wither and die for want of water, who has wondered if our current lack of water is not just temporary, but indeed the Mother of All Droughts, Claire Vaye Watkins’ debut novel, Gold Fame Citrus is familiar territory.

In a hazy future, LA-born Luz lives in  “Laurelless Canyon” with her boyfriend Ray. They are squatters in a once-famous starlet’s once-elegant house where Luz spends her days dressing up in discarded ball gowns. Ray makes lists, scavenges for  gasoline, food, anything worth trading for something else.

“Your people came here looking for something better,” Ray tells Luz. “Gold, fame, citrus. Mirage. They were feckless, yeah? Schemers. That’s why no one wants them now. Mojavs.”

In Vaye Watkin’s future, California is a wasteland. The rivers are dry and the underground aquifers are dust. The sun blazes and when it does rain the air is so hot the water evaporates before it reaches the ground. The state is dry as death and anyone with any money at all has long since abandoned it.

Vaye Watkins’ prose is powerful, and her narrative true. The story is as real as it is terrifying, because in a place where water has become mythic, geography is all that’s left.

“They ate crackers and ration cola and told stories about the mountains, the valley, the canyon and the beach. The whole debris scene. Because they’d vowed to never talk about the gone water, they spoke instead of earth that moved like water.”

One night, Luz and Ray go down to the bonfires, a place where the climate refugees gather to drink, dance, forget. Down among the drifters and the druggies, the drinkers and the plain dangerous, Luz finds a strange toddler who whispers in her ear that her name is Ig, and she says “Don’t tell anyone. Don’t tell, okay?” The child appears to belong to a clutch of grifters, or to no one at all. Driven by instinct she doesn’t understand, Luz picks up the child and tells Ray they’re taking her home.

Luz and her family escape Los Angeles, heading east, seeking a place more hospitable, somewhere safer, somewhere with water. Their car breaks down in the midst of a borderless sand dune so vast it spreads and grows with all the desiccated bits of earth and stone and mountain that was once the Central Valley.

They join a band of misfits led by an enigmatic leader who is either a visionary or a madman, or both. The collective lives on the edges of the dune, surviving somehow as an outpost of civilization, moving their temporary desert city as the sand shifts and threatens to swallow them alive.

Gold Fame Citrus is a complex story of connection and belonging, of outcasts and survivors, of climate change to the extreme, and about the very small scrap of nature that humanity manages to cling to, in the most adverse conditions. Part science-fiction, part cautionary parable, it is a book worth reading if ecology means anything at all in the future of the West.

Cynthia Gregory is an award-winning author who lives and writes in the Bay Area with her rescue pup, Winston The Wonder Dog. Her new book, An Inspired Journal: the Art & Soul of Creative Nonfiction, on Green Tara Press, will be available in 2016.

a novel to die for

murder

::REVIEW::

Who knew publishing was such a dangerous and glamorous profession? Though A Murder of Magpies is journalist Judith Flanders first novel, her whip smart bravura and droll sense of humor make this Murder a fun read.

          “Oh, just kill me now!”  I didn’t shriek that out loud, just clenched my teeth more tightly. It was eight thirty, and already the day couldn’t get much worse. I’m always at my desk by eight not because I’m so wonderful, although I am, but because it’s the only time of day when no one asks me anything, when I can actually get on with some work, instead of solving other people’s problems.”

Meet snarky book editor, Samantha (Sam) Clair. Sam has managed a fine career in the publishing business, working with a stable of writers, several of whom churn out predictably good best sellers. San is a sensible kind of gal. She’s the type of no-nonsense person who, when a meeting is disrupted by an unexpected visitor, will deal with it in her own sensible way.

“It was probably a friend of a friend, or someone who’d got my name somehow and was trying to flog a manuscript, no doubt about how his mother had abused him, or proving that his great-great-grandfather was Jack the Ripper. We don’t have to deal with real live members of the public often, but every now and again, one sneaks under the radar.”

One of Sam’s favorite writers, gorgeous Kit Lovell, is a reliably gorgeous writer. Kit covers fashion and can dish about the great design houses with the best of them. But this time, he’s written a potentially libelous biography of a fashion icon whose death appears to have been murder. While covering the human interest story about one of the largest and most respected fashion houses in Europe, Kit unintentionally uncovers an international money laundering ring. Big fashion is inextricably linked to big money and neither are pleased with Kit’s revelations.  

The manuscript proves incendiary. Before long, Sam finds herself embroiled in a hot mess. Kit vanishes, a copy of his manuscript is stolen, a courier is killed, and Sam’s flat is ransacked. This is quite a lot of excitement for a woman who spends her days reading books.

After the break in Sam begins to investigate her good friend and best author’s disappearance. Companions in her quest include her corporate lawyer mother, Helena–who is astonishingly adept at untangling the kinks of the criminal mind—and a hunky police detective, Jake Field.

As a single professional woman, Sam is aware of her options. She’s had relationships, and is currently satisfied with her quiet job, and her quiet flat, with its quiet upstairs neighbor, Mr. Ridigers. She tolerates her young coworkers with a thin layer of patience while plotting ways to get her authors placed on the best book club lists. A romantic entanglement with a cop isn’t exactly her cup of tea.

In the end, Sam and Helena and Jake solve the murder of Kit – and Helena uncovers hard evidence to corroborate Kit’s fashion house money laundering scheme. Sam takes Jake as a lover, much to Helena’s approval.

Murder of Magpies is a great, fun, smart read. Don’t miss it.

dream of me

Some books are slightly disturbing and others are downright chilling. Here’s a book to take to bed with you when you’re sure you’re not being watched.

 Anatomy of dreams

Fractal Time

Dragon_DNA_by_Firestorm333Fractal Time

          If you look up the word “time” in Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, you’ll see a list of fourteen definitions for time as a noun, eight as a colloquialism, five as a verb, eleven as an adjective, one as an adverb, and no less than forty-one words that start with the word time (time lapse, time-out, time immemorial, to name a few). Judging by the amount of “time” Webster’s devotes to the word, time appears to be as ubiquitous as air. No wonder we don’t understand it.  Read more here…

finalmente

 

zeropointOIL IN WATER

Pam Lazos

Chapter Eighty-Two

Four months later, Gil, Avery, Kori and Hart walked the perimeter of a building inside the Philadelphia Naval Business Center. After careful deliberation, Hart had decided not to use Akanabi’s existing plant, but to build fresh. Hart walked slowly, surveying the area, while the Tirabi children followed him like sheep behind the shepard.

“I’ve got the contractors lined up. We’ll start construction next week. We’ll have to sequester the blue prints. No one gets a full set. Just bits and pieces. Enough to keep them working on their part.”

“But we already have a patent,” Gil said.

“That we do,” Hart said. He winked at Avery who blushed. Avery’s endless hours at the library had paid off several days earlier with the arrival of the official seal of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

“We have affirmative rights,” Avery said to Gil. “but that doesn’t mean somebody couldn’t steal the idea, or maybe improve on it and get their own patent. Even if they incorporate it wholesale, we’d still have to sue them to get them to stop.”

Hart turned to Kori. “I’ll need Gil to take a little time off from school. He’ll have to be on the floor while we’re in the construction phase just to trouble shoot.”

Kori scowled at Hart, exuding denial.

“I’ll get him a tutor,” Hart said. He walked over and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “It’ll be alright. I promise.” Kori nodded and relaxed a bit.

“Can we have ice cream?” Gil asked.

Kori checked her watch. “It’s only 11:00 o’clock.”

“I know,” Gil said. “But I’m hungry.”

“Tell you what. Let’s go down to 9 th and Catherine. There’s a little deli called Sarcone’s . They make the best hoagies you ever ate. It’s all in the bread. They got a veggie one – spinach and roasted peppers.” Gil turned up his nose and looked the other way. “You gotta try it. If you don’t like it, we’ll go to Geno’s and get you a cheesesteak.”

“But I want ice cream,” Gil said.

“Ah, but you didn’t let me finish. Afterwards we’ll go to John’s and get the best water ice you ever tasted.”

“Like Rita’s Water Ice?

“Rita? Never heard of her. But I can assure you, Rita don’t know nothin’ about nothin’ when it comes to water ice. I’m tellin’ ya’. This is the stuff.”

“Okay, but I want half kiwi-strawberry, half mango.”

“You got four flavors. Chocolate, cherry, pineapple and lemon. They may have added one in the last twenty years, I don’t know, but if they did, it won’t be kiwi-strawberry,” Hart said.

Gil frowned. “Whatever. Can we go now? I’m starving.”

“Why am I not shocked,” Avery said, following Hart out.

Gil stole a last glance around the deserted floor and ran to catch up.

➣➣➣

Hart started the car and pulled out of the parking lot.

“Estimated time of arrival, sixteen minutes,” Hart said. Avery sat next to him in the front seat, Gil and Kori in the back.

“I don’t think I can wait sixteen minutes,” Gil said. “I’m so hungry, my stomach is soon going to eat the rest of me. I’m also thirsty.” Gil made notes in the blue folder on his lap, his head bowed in concentration.

“Why didn’t anyone remember to bring snacks and libations for this child?” Hart kidded Kori.

Kori rolled her eyes and rummaged around in her purse, coming up with an old, yet edible peppermint which she handed to Gil. Gil tried ripping the paper off, but it had melted on in sections and the job was too tedious. He handed the mint back to Kori who yanked it out of his hand.

“Can’t you do anything yourself?” she asked, picking lint and other sundries previously living in the bottom of her purse off the stale, hard candy. Gil shook his head. When the mint was wrapper-free, she handed it to Gil. He popped it in his mouth and crunched it to bits within seconds, then looked again at his sister.

“That was it. I don’t have anymore,” she said.

Gil went back to his notebook. Several minutes later, he raised his head, capped the pen and closed the folder. “Hey, Hart?” Gil said.

“Yo.”

“Did you ever hear about the Zero Point Field?”

“No, but I’m sure you’re going to fill me in,” Hart said. Gil smiled and looked at Avery before grabbing Kori’s purse.

“Hey, you little brat,” she said, but made no effort to retrieve it. Gil began routing around, looking for more candy.

“The Zero Point Field is a constant backdrop in all physics equations. The theory is well known,” Avery said, “but not in the way Gil is working on it. Because it’s a constant, it used to be something that physicists subtracted out of everything.”

Gil found another peppermint, this one more tattered than the first. He handed the peppermint to Kori and she peeled the plastic off in strips. He grabbed it from her outstretched hand, picked off the last few pieces of lint, and chomped it up as quickly as the first one.

“But for the last thirty or forty years, a few pioneers have been tinkering with the idea that there’s more to the Field than the need to remove it from a few equations,” Avery said. “Some of the brave ones have begun a series of experiments, mostly in isolation. Collectively, their work points to a phenomenal result. It turns out that the Zero Point Field, what used to be thought of as empty space, is this massive, cohesive unit of energy that runs through everything , not only on the planet, but in the entire universe.”

Gil licked the sticky peppermint off his fingers. “Anything can happen in the Field” he said. “That’s why sometimes they call it the Zero Point Field of All Possibility.”

“Sounds like science fiction,” Hart said.

“Yeah,” Gil said. “Did you ever see on Star Trek when they heal somebody without medicine and without surgery? They were tapping into the Field.” Hart laughed out loud and Gil blushed.

“He’s not kidding. The Field will make our ideas of modern medicine obsolete,” Avery said.

“If you get shot or a tiger bites your arm off and you want somebody to reattach it then you’ll still need a doctor,” Gil added.

“Yeah, but not for the stuff like cancer or arthritis or Alzheimer’s,” Avery said. “You won’t need to take drugs.”

“Yeah, because you can just go back in time to the “seed moment” and fix it before it gets to be a problem,” Gil said. He stuck his hand in Kori’s purse and fished around for more candy. She yanked it away.

“Enough,” she said.

“What’s a seed moment?” Hart asked.

“Well, these physicists who are studying the Field say it’s the time of the conception of a disease. Or actually, the exact moment before when all the pathways are coalescing to form what will become the disease.”

“And you’re saying you can go back in time and cure it even before it manifests itself just by accessing this mysterious Field,” Hart asked. Gil nodded.

Hart mulled this information over for a moment before speaking: “What if it wasn’t a disease, but an accident. Could you change it then?”

Avery looked at Gil who shrugged.

“Does it involve more than one person?” Gil asked.

“Yeah,” said Hart.

Gil thumbed through his folder and rubbed his chin just like his father used to do. After a minute he closed the folder. “Too many variables,” Gil said. “You can talk to God, but you can’t have his job.”

Hart’s expression sank as he exited the highway. Gil caught Hart’s eye in the rear view mirror and smiled, forcing Hart to do the same. Hart shrugged.

“Anyway….” Gil handed Kori the blue folder. On the cover, in large type it read: “Plans to Solve the World’s Health and Energy Problems Using the Zero Point Field, ” by Gil Tirabi. At the bottom of the page in smaller type it read: “ I give this five stars.”

Kori read the cover and turned to stare at her brother. “You – are kidding me. You never gave anything five stars.” Kori flipped through the folder. “What? Did you prove the existence of God or something?”

“Something,” Gil agreed. He fidgeted in his seat and made a goofy face, one that belied the intelligence lurking beneath.

Kori dropped the folder on the seat next to Hart who at present was maneuvering deftly around a car double-parked in the driving lane. He cast his eyes down to the folder lying next to him and read the title. He looked at Gil in the rearview mirror.

“Are you serious? Because if this is true, Gil, we better hire some better security, and pronto.”       

“Well,” Gil said, “maybe you should start interviewing.” 

THE END

 

coming up for air

old growth

Close your eyes. Take a deep, slow breath. Feel your lungs swell with air. Notice how your chest expands gently and as you exhale, sense the relaxation of your body. Your lungs pump oxygen into the bloodstream, which flows faithfully throughout the body and when that sweet rush of oxygen reaches the brain, you are instantly calmer, more relaxed. Most days, we don’t think about the breath. And still, a breath, consciously observed, has the power to regulate the temperature of the body. It brings clarity of the mind. It releases tension, It quiets the ego.  Some would even say that it is not you or me doing the breathing, but the act of taking in and releasing air, is God breathing Us.

THE WOOD FOR THE TREES (2)

Some of the oldest living organisms on earth are trees. Giant sequoias, for example, can live as long as 2,500 years while some bristlecone pines can live up to 5,000 years. The numbers vary, but let’s just say for simplicity’s sake that a mature tree, i.e., older than a mid-range teenager, consumes about 48 lbs of CO2/yr. (Some accounts are much higher for you skeptics.) The key to this is mature since a prepubescent tree simply doesn’t carry its weight. It’s simple math. CO2 in, oxygen out, but cut 18 million acres off the face of the earth and the numbers skew, the math gets wonky. Saplings start out perky enough, sucking in a bit of CO2, letting out a bit of oxygen, a tree’s waste product (who said it wasn’t a symbiotic world), but it’s not until the tree reaches 100 or 125 that it really hits its stride, exhaling wads of the life-giving stuff each year, chowing down on carbon dioxide like it was candy. The fact is, older trees outperform younger trees by an incredibly wide margin and the older the tree, the more CO2 it can take in because this is one instance where size does matter. So while it’s all cool and hip to plant a tree every time you cut one down, don’t expect the payoff to be that meaningful for awhile. (Please don’t read this and have your take away message be that we shouldn’t be planting trees. We absolutely should and must be, but keep in mind the delayed rate of return.)

Only about half of the world’s tropical forests are still standing. While trees as a whole give the world a great big oxygen boost, the destruction of the same trees to make way for crops — think slash and burn of swaths — doesn’t just deprive us of that oxygen, but contributes to greenhouse gasses because: a) we’re burning them, and b) they’re releasing the carbon they were holding. All tolled, it’s somewhere in the range of a 12-17% carbon increase. Something else trees do is hold water in their roots and then slowly release it into the atmosphere, contributing to the amount of water vapor in the air much like your houseplants release moisture into your home during the dry winter. Amazingly, in the Amazon Basin, about half of the water in the ecosystem is held within the plant life. Without trees, we have deserts.

The writer Aldous Huxley said facts don’t cease to exist simply because we ignore them. About 18 million acres of forest are lost each year to logging for firewood, or pulp and paper, for raising beef cattle, and for growing cash rich crops such as soy, palm oil, and coffee, the latter three of which leave behind poor soil conditions since none of their root systems holds the ground well. All of this results in increased erosion, flooding and a decline in local water quality due to runoff. It takes about 2,000 gallons of water to raise a single pound of beef plus acres of cleared forests to make way for pastureland. Beef is neither ecologically nor agriculturally efficient, and too much is bad for your heart, so why are we eating so much? (Notice I didn’t say “it”, but “much.”) Should we continue cutting down old growth forests to make amazingly beautiful furniture, continue to eat large quantities of beef, continue to grow crops such as soy or palm oil (not the good fat, BTW) to use in our unending supply of processed foods, shampoos (sodium laureth sulfate and stearic acid are derived from palm oil), and cleaning products, continue to log forests for paper, and sadly, firewood, or should we check ourselves and stop living in what is probably the most unsustainable manner since the ruling class of ancient Rome, unless you’re a Kardashian or had a hand in constructing just about anything in Dubai. Shall we ignore the facts?

Approximately 70% of the world’s species, plants and animals alike, live in forests. What happens to those species when the forests are all gone. I think it’s more than speculation to say they’ll go the way of the dinosaur and man as a species will be right behind them. Where I live in Central Pennsylvania, the richest unirrigated farmland in the country is being plowed under for brand new, upper-end housing developments. We all need a place to live, yes, but couldn’t it be a revitalized brownfield instead of the rich, fertile farmland that gave my part of the world its acclaim? I wonder about all the critters living in and around the edges of those farm fields, in the small patches of woods, in the little nooks and crannies and burrows. Where will those little guys go when the tractors arrive? It’s not like they can call a realtor and get a trade-in on read the rest here

she’s a heavy sleeper

praying mantisOIL IN WATER

Pam Lazos

Chapter Seventy-Nine

Bicky moaned and squeezed his leg above the wound.

“But you said he killed her,” Gil said.

“He did,” Jerry replied. “He just wasn’t in the room at the time.

“He’s already lost a lot of blood, Jerry. If he dies…” Hart stood up. Jerry fired the gun into the floor near his feet. Hart started then froze in place.

“Sit down and don’t ask me again. Sit down and let me finish my story,” Jerry said, waving the gun at Hart. “Sit down!” Hart sat.

“I was about to cross the street to my own car. I wasn’t really comfortable spying on Sonia.” Bicky snorted and Jerry fixed him with a vaporizing glare. “I had to jump back behind the house when the other car came. This one belonged to your mother-in-law.”

“What? Did the whole world visit that night?” Hart said sarcastically.

Jerry’s impatience released itself in a huff. “May I continue – please?!” Hart snorted and looked away.

“Pay attention,” Jerry said. “Because you never get a second chance.”

Hart rubbed his face as if deciding something, and turned back to Jerry.

“I went back to the kitchen window. Good thing your neighbors aren’t close by, because the girls were screaming at each other. Seems Kitty also wanted that report.”

Hart chuckled once, then twice.

“Go ahead, laugh,” Jerry said. “It’s ridiculous, right? Everyone running around like chickens for a few inches of paper. But it’s true.”

Bicky moaned in pain and passed out, his head hitting the floor with a thud.

“Oh! Can’t have that.” Jerry walked over and kicked Bicky in the injured right leg.

Bicky roused, bellowing.

“This is the best part, Boss. Don’t fall asleep now.”

Tears streamed down Bicky’s cheeks. With great effort, he propped himself up on one elbow. His head lolled against the cool stainless steel siding of the TDU.

Jerry knelt down and patted Bicky on the cheek. He grabbed Bicky under the chin and rolled his face from side to side. “It’ll all be over soon, Boss. Don’t worry. I promise.” He gave Bicky another smug pat and returned to his seat.

“He’s fading,” Jerry said. “We better jump to the end.”

Bicky sputtered and began convulsing as if freezing.

“Jerry, please…” Hart said, watching his father-in-law.

“Hey kid, that machine throws off a lot of heat, right?” Jerry asked. Gil nodded.

“Go open the door. It’ll be better than a blanket.”

Gil grabbed his water bottle, walked over and held it to Bicky s lips. Bicky tried to drink, but with his shaking, spilled half a swallow out the sides of his mouth.

“Hey, Florence Nightingale, I didn’t say do that.”

Gil set the bottle down next to Bicky, pushed back the outside grate, and slid open the door of the TDU. A blast of heat burst up and out and Gil recoiled from it. He walked back to his seat and threw an impetuous glare at Jerry as he did so.

“Ah, whatever. I guess it’s good to show a little compassion to your enemies now and again. Keep ‘em close. That’s what I say. You’re a good kid.” Gil held Jerry’s eye, but said nothing.

“Okay, where was I? Oh yeah. Kitty wanted the report, too. To bargain with him,” Jerry nodded toward Bicky, “for her freedom. That night, she finally told Sonia the truth. It was a secret she’d kept for thirty-two years. Nobody knew. Not even me. I got it all after the fact these last few months,” he said to Hart, “or I probably would’ve told her.” Jerry nodded as if in agreement with himself. “She didn’t believe it. Called Kitty a liar. I gotta think it wasn’t because of me, per say, but just the shock of it.”

Jerry furrowed his brow and stared at the back wall of the barn, his voice taking on a somnambulistic quality: “I should have walked in then and stopped it… all that pent up emotion flying out like machine gun fire. Kitty hit her. She didn’t mean to. I just don’t think she realized the toll all those years had taken on her. On them. I mean, if she wouldn’t have had Sonia, she would’ve never stayed in the first place. I would’ve seen to that.”

Jerry cleared his throat as if to dislodge the memory. He shook his head. “Sonia went nuts. I never saw her like that. She threw her tea cup at her mother. Kitty put her arm up – it was still steaming – and it broke all over the floor. Tea and shards of glass everywhere.” Jerry snorted defiantly. “She got a couple nice second degree burns on her arm because of it. Next thing I know she’s running from the house and I’m running after her.”

“What about Sonia?” Hart’s voice was cracked and tinny.

“I didn’t see her fall. Cause if I did, I would’ve gone back. She was crazy with rage. I think she slipped on the wet floor, maybe banged her head on the counter. I heard a noise, but I thought she just threw something else.

“You didn’t go back to see if she was okay?” Hart was on his feet.

“I couldn’t. I had to go after Kitty.”

Hart lunged for Jerry who was unprepared for the attack. He toppled Jerry from the stool and the gun clattered to the floor. Gil reached to pick it up, but Jerry’s foot kicked it away along with Gil’s hand in the process. Gil winced and dropped to the floor holding one hand in another.

The two men struggled, punching, kicking, biting, clawing, rolling up, around and over each other. Bicky crawled toward the center of the floor toward the gun, a painful, slow propulsion. With each inch forward he risked being trampled by the fighters, first a finger, then an arm, and finally his leg, the last of which caused him to lose consciousness for half a minute, passing out where he lay. Gil watched the fight in relative safety from his position in the corner, holding his injured hand, his body following every punch and kick.

Hart’s pent up anger launched him like a heat-seeking missile and he pounded Jerry inexorably with the full fury of it, but anger is not a thrifty shopper and after spewing it all over the room, Hart spent himself, leaving Jerry with the edge. Several minutes later, Hart sat in a heap in front of the TDU, with a black eye, blood dripping from his nose, and a variety of scrapes and gashes that would be telling their story for days to come. Jerry emerged with a gash over his right eyebrow which bled profusely, a broken pinky finger, jutting out in an unnatural position, and the gun. Both men had given and received more than a few blows to the stomach and now prodded their tender mid-sections. Jerry spat out some blood, turned to Hart, and pulled the trigger. It grazed Hart’s elbow. Hart howled and cradled the injured arm.

“Now you sit,” Jerry said to Hart. Blood oozed from the cut above his eyebrow, dripping into his eye. He blinked it away, but it was pervasive.

“I am sitting,” Hart spat back. Jerry raised the gun again, but Gil grabbed a rag and shoved it in his free hand. The gesture grounded Jerry who retreated by lowering his gun. He wiped at the wound before nodding at Gil to take his seat on the hammock, then walked over and dropped the bloodstained rag in front of Hart.

Hart ignored it, ripped off a sleeve of his shirt, and bandaged his elbow. He was sweating, given his injury, and that the temperature in the barn had risen considerably since the door to the TDU had been opened.

Jerry walked over and peered inside to the wide, gaping mouth of the giant stainless steel tank below. “How far down’s that thing go?”

“About two stories,” Gil said.

“Probably what hell looks like.” Jerry took a step back and wiped at his brow. “You can’t build this machine. It’ll ruin the only good thing we got left to us.”       

“What are you talking about?” Hart said.

“It’ll kill the oil industry. Akanabi’s stock price’ll go way down and my money’ll be worthless.” Jerry whirled around to face Hart. “Kitty left me all her money, you know.” Jerry smiled sardonically at Bicky who was trying to stand up.

Bicky grabbed the stool for balance, but fell back down with a sickening “oaaaaw.”

“And you know what I’m doing with it, Boss? Huh? Turning a profit, you say? Noooo. I’m giving it all to the environment just like she wanted. And it’ll be in our names. Together on the same legal document. Like a marriage license. Together forever in history.”

“I didn’t care what she did with her money, Jerry. I never did.”

“Hhmph,” Jerry grunted.

“I just wanted…” Bicky’s voice splintered like wood . . .“her.” Bicky took a faltering step up, his weight bearing on one leg, his arm leaning on the stool for support. “And the baby.”

“My baby,” Jerry growled. “Did you know that, Boss? That Sonia was my baby?” Jerry wiped at the dripping blood now mixed with tears that cascaded down the side of his face. “We may not have always known it, but we belonged to each other,” Jerry gushed.

A strange gurgling noise arose from deep in Bicky’s throat. He doubled over, first coughing, then hacking, then vomiting. When he was finished he stood taller.

As the fire in the TDU diminished the available oxygen in the room, Bicky began a slow march toward Jerry, stopping intermittently to suck in a raspy, labored breath. He leaned against one of the barn’s dozen posts for support. “I don’t know…what I knew. I just wanted…” Bicky grabbed his stomach and started hacking again. His pant leg, now a dark, saturated red, was plastered against him, the pain drawing him down from the inside. Bicky leaned against a post while gravity, always one to side with a downward spiral, forced him to crumple.

“Kitty said she had always been petrified you’d find out who it was. That’s why she never told me.”

“This is a bunch of crap,” Hart barked in disgust. “Bicky, set him straight, please.”

“Doesn’t he wish. Tell him, Boss. Tell him how you tried and tried to get her pregnant.”

“Shut up.” Bicky said. He pulled himself up by inches. He grabbed the post with both hands and pushed off, a ship leaving port.

“Finally went and got checked out by a fertility doc a few years after Sonia was born. Check the records for Mason Coleman.”

“Shut up!” Bicky hollered.

“It was Bicky’s brother’s name. The one that died. He used it as an alias. Didn’t want the highbrow Houstonians finding out that the great Bicky Coleman’s sperm don’t swim too well. When d’you figure it out, boss? When she left me all the money?”

“Shut…Up!” Bicky roared. He collapsed in a spasm, clutching his leg.

Hart rolled to the side, ready to stand, but Jerry motioned him back with a wave of the gun. Hart ignored him, pulling himself up into a crouching position.

Jerry fired a bullet inches from Hart’s face. There was barely a sound, just the friction in the air as it passed, and Hart fell onto his haunches. With one big breath, Gil sucked in his fear and covered his mouth.

“She wanted you to believe it was yours, but after awhile you knew better, right. You just didn’t know who, huh? Well, me neither.” Jerry grunted and shined his gun on his pant leg.

Bicky crawled to the next post and laid his head against it, catching his breath.

“You coming after me, Boss?” Jerry said, humor mixed with malice. “Well come on then. I promise not to shoot you.”

Bicky rose and took a slow, halting step, and then another, his face contorting in pain with each one. “This machine…will….be…built. With or… without you,” he wheezed. “It’s time…has come. You won’t…stop it.” He cleared the debris from his throat and spit on the ground.

“Watch me.” Jerry’s face contorted and he raised the gun to Bicky’s chest; Bicky continued his funeral march.

Jerry growled and squeezed the trigger. The bullet lodged in Bicky’s forearm. A shot of blood squirted out. Bicky grunted, more than screamed – as if all the screams already had previous engagements – and stood, eyes closed, swaying in the middle of the room. He pitched forward, but latched onto a beam forestalling the crash. He panted like a dog, trying to steady himself before walking, slow and stiff toward his nemesis, a plane locked on auto pilot, unable to alter its course. Jerry may have had the gun, but Bicky had the upper hand.

“Why didn’t you let her go?” Jerry said, the years of anger and longing, bubbling up to the surface like a spring.

Bicky stood within inches of Jerry now. The two men glowered at each other, breathing in rage, breathing out hate.

“I did. She didn’t want to.”

“You lying sack of….” Jerry raised the gun to Bicky’s heart, but Bicky just smiled, unsteady on his feet, yet undeterred, his ragged breath flowing more easily as adrenaline started a quick trot through his body.

“She said you wouldn’t let her go. That you’d disown Sonia if she left you. She didn’t want her daughter to grow up with no father and no money.”

Bicky shook his head. “You were her father. You had money. Not as much as me, granted, but you could have provided for…”

“But I didn’t know!” Jerry screamed.

“Stop it. Just stop it!” Gil yelled, and covered his ears. Jerry whirled to face the boy, raised his gun and shot him. The bullet hit him in the shoulder and came out the other side. Gil hit the floor without uttering a sound; his eyes rolled back in his head and his lids fluttered.

“Noooo!” Bicky grabbed onto Jerry for balance and the two men began an awkward choreography. “Damn you,” Bicky yelled, a strangled curse. He tried striking Jerry with his fist, but Jerry deflected the hit. Each held fast to the other’s arm, pushing, pulling, a scant few feet from the miracle machine, as exhaustion and heat coaxed the sweat from their pores.

“You could have let us go?” Jerry sobbed. “Why didn’t you…?”

Bicky glanced over at Gil who was lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood. Hart crawled to him and checked his vital signs. Jerry and Bicky struggled, edging ever closer to the open door of the TDU. Inside, the fire raged without apology at thirteen hundred degrees Farenheit.

“Gil,” Hart said. “Gil. Can you hear me?”

“Maybe the time just wasn’t right, Jerry. Unlike now.”

Bicky broke free of Jerry’s grip, and with all the force remaining in his battered body, shoved him.

Gravity stepped in again, bolstered by its cousin, Entropy, and Jerry started to fall. But like a magnet, or a mirror that reflects what we truly are, Jerry pulled to him that which was most like him: Jerry and Bicky plunged over the small lip of the TDU together. Jerry only had time to scream once, falling as he was at a rate of thirty-two feet per second per second, an angst-ridden, shrilly noise that reverberated in the barn even after the men had bottomed out.

Hart shuddered. The flames danced, then roared, eating all the remaining sound in the room until there was nothing left but silence.

➣➣➣

“Gil? Are you alright?” Hart squeezed Gil’s hand. “Gil?”

Gil opened his eyes and blinked at Hart. “Am I dead?”

“No, but once the shock wears off, you’ll wish you were.” He knelt down at Gil’s side and wrapped his good arm around Gil’s boyish, angular shoulders.

Gil hid, rabbit-like in the crook of Hart’s arm, scanning the room, assessing the casualties. “One hundred and two,” he said, a muffled observation.

“One hundred and two what?” Hart asked.

“One hundred and two uses.”

Hart laughed once and squeezed Gil, crushing him to his chest. He tore off the remaining sleeve of his shirt and wrapped Gil’s shoulder.

Gil flinched. Sweat had plastered his hair to his scalp so that he looked like a preformed plastic Ken doll. His complexion was the color of ash. Tears fell in careless, random fashion down Gil’s cheeks and Hart felt the steel grip on his heart loosen. He squeezed Gil again and brushed back his hair. Hart staggered over to the TDU, slid the door closed, but didn’t look inside.

“Kori can take us to the hospital,” Gil said.

“I’m surprised she hasn’t been out her yet, with all the noise.” Hart said, helping Gil up.

“She’s a heavy sleeper,” Gil said.

Hart laughed for real this time and threw his good arm around Gil’s good shoulder.        “Can you walk?” Hart asked. They breathed in tandem, heavy and erratic. Gil nodded and they walked to the door, a pair of contestants in a three-legged race.

to be continued. . .

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copyright 2013