Entity MS: Chapter 14

Youre a fox,” she said.

Alvin was not familiar with the word fox being applied to a man, but nonetheless got the gist and was flattered. He had just walked through the door of his Thursday Night Bar, as he did every Thursday, and the first thing he encountered, standing near the bar at the front, just past the door, was this petite, really cute girl with a sweet smile say, “You’re a fox.” The surge to his ego was tempered, however, by a cynical presumption that she was a very drunk soul who had wandered away from her party, friends, or overseers, and was now exploring new horizons untethered, curious and courageous, like an accidentally freed farm animal now gravitating to the concept of going feral with the sudden awakening that the world was its oyster. Loaded, nuts, or both, Alvin wasn’t sure. But he assumed it was one of those things given that this greeting from an unfamiliar and pretty young woman was something one only encountered in Las Vegas as the opening to a business proposition, which he knew this wasn’t. This was a local bar and not hooker central. And given she was dressed like she was ready for a pickup softball game, she didn’t fit the type. But she seemed like a nice person.  

“Thank you.” He nodded politely then moved to the end of the bar, pleased at finding an available seat despite the large college-aged crowd that had the place filled, as they always did. The bartender put a Miller Genuine Draft and a shot of Jack Daniel’s in front of Alvin without Alvin having to say anything. This was after all, the Thursday night routine for when Alvin finished his late shift at the relay center for the deaf. The bar was only four blocks from home, which was convenient because he could park his car at home and then meander back on foot no matter how loopy he got, without having to worry about bumping into somebody and needing to exchange insurance information.

He put a dollars-worth of quarters on the lone pool table, as always. The table was a ratty little thing, just seven by three and half feet, with pool balls that hadn’t been washed since the Renaissance. Alvin preferred that, especially for the cue ball, since its layer of grime provided an excellent surface to dig into in order to make it run backwards three feet after contacting the object ball, given enough below-the-equator English, and provide a good lay for the next object ball that might be at the other end of the table. This was known as ‘Alvin’s Shot.’ And a third of the people in the bar were familiar with both it and him.

Alvin liked pool. He liked it a lot. In this particular room he had two advantages: One, he was a good amateur. Two, everybody else was already pretty drunk by the time he always showed up, and for the majority of the evening he was the only one who didn’t see more balls on the table than there actually were. He also swayed a lot less when shooting, but that goes back to the relatively sober thing.

Alvin watched all the games. The geometry was fascinating whether he was playing or not. As was often the case, the pool folk were playing doubles. Usually this was some guy and his girlfriend playing some other guy and his girlfriend, or some guy playing with his wingman or some other guy playing with his wingman.

Alvin liked the relaxed social dynamic involved here with couples and whatnot playing doubles—as opposed to the thirty-two table pool hall where there was always some Mexican who challenged him, insisted on playing for money, and then would beat his brains in because by comparison the guy really knew what he was doing. But, here, along with the social ambiance, he’d see somebody do something pretty neat as well—completely random, little more than a lucky shot, but neat all the same. The only thing that ever annoyed him was when somebody would decide to play nine ball instead of eight ball, which in the case of the former is only okay if you’re Willie Mosconi or Ewa Mataya since no inebriated amateur can finish a nine-ball game in under a week, despite what their ego says otherwise.

While intent on the games, he couldn’t help but notice that fox girl had taken up standing residence against the wall near the bathroom hall exit, a few yards away from the pool table. She seemed as interested in the pool play as he was. She had a can of beer in her hand, but was nursing it. Maybe she knew when to slow down. He still found it surprising, though, that none of her friends had lassoed her and walked her back to the safety of the barn table. What wasn’t surprising was the small yet obvious parade of males that found the best view of the ongoing pool game—which was not the Super Bowl, thus raising considerable question as to their need to stop and observe it in the first place—to be right beside her. Alvin was not within earshot of the conversations but did notice they were extraordinarily brief. Unbeknownst to him, this is how they went:

“Hi, I’m Steve.”

“Hi,” said petite fox girl in an attentive and friendly manner, looking a foot upward to him. “I’m married.”

“Ah.” He left.

“Do you like pool?” asked bachelor number two five minutes later.

She looked at him in the same pleasant manner as the other. “I’m gay,” she said.

“Oh,” he said. “That’s cool. I’m not, you know, whatever. Just watching the game.” He calculated how long he needed to stand there so as not to appear to be rude or the embodiment of a Neanderthal before walking away. This timed out at a long two minutes. “I gotta’ hit the can,” he said, even though he had just come out of the can three minutes ago. He exited.

“Alvin, you’re up,” said Mike with a firm point in Alvin’s direction as he and his girlfriend stood by the table leaning on their stick weapons.

“Doubles, right?” confirmed Alvin as he moved to the table.

“Right,” said Mike.

Alvin looked to Mike’s group of friends, indicating the need for a partner. Anyone would do, but tonight there were no volunteers as they had engaged themselves in chat and such, and so responded to his entreaty with polite “No, I’m good” thank you’s.

“Nobody?” Alvin asked.

“We can just play against you, if you want, Alvin,” said Mike.

“Can I play?”

It was fox girl who asked. With an unsure yet hopeful tone to her question, she disengaged herself from the wall for the first time in a half an hour and stepped to the table.

“Absolutely,” Alvin said, though, his agreeability was an impulse caused by conforming to a social norm rather than actually being pleased by this volunteer.

She nodded, happy to have been accepted into the social troupe. She picked up the cue that had been left on the table, then came over to Alvin. “Hi again,” she said, holding out her hand, awkwardly high as it was pointed at his neck.

“How do you do,” he said, shaking her hand. “I’m Alvin.”

“Pleased to meet you, Alvin. I’m Cathy.”

Alvin’s initial break on the rack was poor. The balls huddled close together like round little cows expecting a storm of thunder and lightning. Mike with his first opportunity was unable to split them up. Cathy was next.

She scrutinized the confounding arrangement that left her nothing to shoot at. “Well, this is a boat load a’goats,” she said.

“A boat load of goats?” Alvin queried.

“Yeah.”

“And that means what?” he asked.

“I think the metaphor is obvious,” she contended.

“Oh, yeah, now I see it.”

In social barroom pool, especially when there’s just one table, the whole point in winning—aside from the fact that winning is generally better than losing—is the winner keeps the table, and so continues to play. Alvin did not initially have great hopes with this favorably panning out given that his partner was wandering feral fox girl. But he soon found that appearances can be deceiving. While her form was a little stiff, tending to jab at the cue ball rather than slide smoothly into it, she had a good eye and when she missed, she didn’t miss by much. Her ability to leave the cue ball in an opportune position left something to be desired, however, but that was pretty much what he expected from anybody who wasn’t him. Or Willie Mosconi or Ewa Mataya. Or the Mexican guy at the pool hall. She also didn’t sway at all when taking aim, which is usually a tipoff that the shooter is wasted. Alvin concluded she wasn’t at all as drunk as he initially thought. He assumed then she was just goofy.

“How am I doing?” she asked after they had won their first game.

“You’re doing great,” Alvin said, given that she had sunk three of their necessary seven preliminary balls, much to his pleasant surprise.

“Am I missing anything?”

“Well, when it’s not obvious what pocket you intend to drop your ball into, call it.”

“Call it what?”

“No, just call out the name of the pocket you intend to drop your ball in.”

“They have names?”

“No, they don’t have names, well, sort of they do, yeah—you’ve played before, haven’t you?”

“No, but I was watching earlier,” Cathy said. “So, I got the idea.”

“Ever. You never played pool before?”

“No, this is the first time, but I get it.”

“Well,” Alvin mumbled, half to her and half to himself, “you get it pretty good.”

“Thanks!”

“Anyway,” Alvin continued, “call your pocket where you intend the ball to go. Like, say side pocket, or corner pocket, or cross side pocket. Like that.”

“Ah, got it. Etiquette?”

“Yes.”

“Got it.”

In the second game, with new challengers, the eight ball was left for Alvin. He approached it with considerable thought.

“Alright, Alvin,” Cathy yelled from her barstool, and put her hands together to form a megaphone, “put another fish in the pantry.”

Alvin turned to his nearest opponent. “Could you hold a moment?” He walked over to Cathy. “Do what now?”

“Put another fish in the pantry.”

“Did you just make that up?”

“No, we say that all the time back home.”

“Home being where?”

“Ipanema.”

Alvin stood with his fist around the top of his cue, amused but analyzing, trying to get a handle on this person. A response was required but all he could come up with was, “Ah.”

Cathy gave one head nod in approval. She flicked a finger at the table and adopted an Hispanic accent. “You go now. Make black ball go in hole.”

Alvin returned to the table, and followed the directive. It was a snazzy shot, and Cathy got off her barstool with a “Yowser!” and came over and gave him a high five. While Alvin would not be inclined to initiate the touching of another human being in this manner, he was fine in reciprocating to the person that did initiate it, especially since the person in question was pretty cute and kind of hot and had already expressed her opinion that he was a fox. 

Game three started with a serious looking hombre shunting the quarters into the coin slot with an assertive and loud push. Alvin knew this guy and he knew his buddy. They’d played each other before and it was always a kind of tense, but cordial. “Good game” always came from the loser, even if they were pissed. There was never the threat of gunplay, but it was never a barrel of hoots and jocularity either. He didn’t know their names. He just knew them as ‘Those Two Guys.’ And they knew Alvin as ‘That One Guy.’ The bar catered to a college crowd, and the college crowd, when it came to pool, had chocolate coverings with cherry filling and were all individually wrapped. These guys weren’t like that. 

They were also very good. And as Cathy noticed, very assertive in their shooting. Every ball that went in the pocket went in with a loud crack as if coming out of a gun. It was intimidating to Cathy, though, not to Alvin, as he was familiar with the technique—the point being intimidation.

Cathy, however, took note of the technique, and its success with them, and started firing in a similar fashion. And she started missing. And Alvin noticed the pleasure of the competition slipping away from her.

When she was within arm’s reach, Alvin grabbed her shirt and tugged her over to him. “Don’t shoot so hard,” he said. “Just gentle and easy like you were doing before.”

She nodded. “Okay.”

But he knew she was still tense. And as she turned away to take her shot, Alvin grabbed her shirt again and brought her back.

“Just have fun,” he said. “It’s just a game.”

She smiled. “Got it,” she said. And she gave him a quick little rub on the arm.

Cathy studied the table. She was unsure of what to shoot at as nothing held obvious promise, each option posing difficulty. She looked at her opponents. Then she turned to Alvin. “What should I do?”

While Alvin had always recognized this as a golden opportunity for males in a bar to convey their superiority to females by telling the females what they should do, usually by surveying the situation from directly behind said female and way closer than necessary with a supportive hand on the female’s shoulder, so as to supposedly steady themselves better and gain a better visible perspective, he preferred to view his teammate—whatever they were—as an independent entity whose autonomy should be supported and encouraged, as opposed to seeing them as a chimpanzee needing to be shown how to ride a tricycle. He also understood this perspective had its less than productive aspects, romance-wise. But he was stuck in it, principle-wise. He also didn’t want to indicate that his partner was somehow subordinate, and thus less capable, in front of these two yahoos.

“Sink one of one our balls in one of the pockets,” he said, “and don’t sink one of their balls in one of the pockets.”

“Got it,” she said and returned to the table, then looked back to him and added, “That was so helpful. Thank you. You should write a book on this.” She approached the table and took aim at the five.

“Where are you going?” asked one of her male opponents.

“Orange ball in the left corner pocket,” she said, “unless you’re looking at the table from that end in which case it’s the right corner pocket, or pocket number five if starting from my left elbow and counting counterclockwise.” She fired and nailed it. Alvin tapped the cue in his hand on the floor as applause. Cathy looked back at him and wiggled her eyebrows up and down in prideful acknowledgement.

Cathy now had a straight-in shot on the four. As soon as she contacted the cue ball—before it ever contacted the four—she stood up and said, “Ach!” in disgust. As she expected, the four missed the pocket. She came back to Alvin and stood next to him, but still looking at the table like it had let her down.

“Sorry,” she said. “Right when I hit the white ball—

“The cue ball,” Alvin corrected.

“Cue ball. So, right when I hit the cue ball, I saw that the tip of the stick contacted a little off center and put too much twirly on it. I think that made the purple ball throw to the right.”

He was impressed with her ability to have figured that out since it was likely the case. “I know,” he said. “It annoys me when I do that.”

“Easy shot,” she said. “Should have had it, dagnabbit.”

Alvin looked down at her. “Dagnabbit? Who are you, Elmer Fudd?”

She looked up to him. “I don’t know who that is.”

“You know, Bugs Bunny?”

“Mmm, no, sorry. Maybe before my time.”

“Well, yeah, but still it’s Bugs Bunny. You never saw Bugs Bunny?”

“No.” She returned to her Hispanic accent. “I told you I was from Ipanema but you did not believe me. We know not of this Bugs Bunny nor Elmer Fudd person.”

“Oh, yeah. That’s right. Sorry. I shouldn’t have presumed.”

“It is okay.”

Cathy took note that somebody had taken occupancy of the barstool beside Alvin that she’d been sitting on. “Somebody took my chair,” she said to him, in her normal midwestern American voice, but with a displeased pout.

“Oh,” Alvin said.

Beer number three plus the opening shot of sour mash were now in charge of the Rocket of Romance as Alvin chose to relinquish his previous Captain Queeg-like rigid command. He gently turned her about with a hand on either of her shoulders and brought her into him. “Lean on me,” he said. “When you’re not strong.”

She rested her behind on his thigh and continued watching the game.

“Is this alright?” he asked.

“Yep,” she said firmly.

Still clutching his cue, as she did hers, both watching the opponents shoot, Alvin pressed the ball of his  left hand against her left side and put his right hand gently on the right side of her hip, tucking her in further with suggestion rather than assertiveness yet at the same time conveying the message to any other males in the bar that ‘This belongs to me.’

There were no balls left on the table except the eight. It lay in the middle of the table against the far cushion. The cue ball was straight on, also in the middle of the table, and four feet away.

It was Alvin’s turn. He stood at the end of the table contemplating. Cathy had shut down her cheerleading mode during the entirety of this particular game, and waited silently. She leaned forward on Alvin’s barstool and clutched her hands together. She squeezed them. She tapped their conjoined fist nervously against her thigh, up and down and up and down.

“Eight in the corner by me,” Alvin said and pointed left. He lowered to the table and aimed, then calculated: Right side English, a quarter of an inch off center of the cue, medium firm delivery, hit the eight between dead-on and the right edge. He fired. The eight bounced off the cushion, and Alvin immediately stood up to watch it because he knew it was going in, and it did.

Cathy wanted to jump out of her seat with a mighty “Yes!” for she had just seen something really amazing, but she sucked it in, and instead, with very wide eyes just looked at Alvin and gave him a thumbs up. Alvin raised his eyebrows in return to her with a coded, “How about them apples, eh?”  

They won the next game as well. Granted, the next pair of opponents were so loaded Cathy and Alvin could have beaten them at pool and stolen their wallets without having been suspected, but a win is a win. In short, they did well. They won four games in a row. They were the pool king and queen of the night.

After that final win, there were no more quarters on the table, no more challengers. Conveniently, both wondering what to do next, Cathy spotted a foursome abandoning their table, and she lit upon it like having discovered the secret doorway to Tut’s tomb, exclaiming, “Ooh, there!” She grabbed his hand without taking a vote on the occupying of the table, and Alvin followed. They secured it.

“You shoot pool really good,” Alvin said.

“No, you shoot pool really good. I shoot pool just okay. I hope I didn’t mess you up.”

“No, I thought you were great.”

“We were a good team,” she said.

“Absolutely. Do you want another beer?” he asked, as they were both dry.

“Yes, thank you.”

“What are you drinking?” Alvin asked, but he took her bottle and examined it for the name. “Highlinger Oatmeal Grapefruit Stout? What the hell is that?”

“I don’t know,” Cathy said. “I said I wanted a beer. And they said what kind. And I said anything is fine. And they gave me that. It’s good.”

“I wouldn’t have guessed that. So, do you want another one of these?”

“Yes, please.”

Alvin returned with beers in hand. He laid the dollar bills and coins from the change he had received from the bar down on the table.

“Are  you a student here?” he asked.

“Oh, no.” she said. “No.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m a waitress.”

“Oh yeah? Where do you work?”

Cathy took note of the coins laying on the table by Alvin’s beer, then after a pause looked back to him. “Nickel’s,” she said.

“I don’t think I’ve heard of that.”

She made a far-off gesture with her finger. “It’s way on the other side of town.”

“Is that like a restaurant?”

“Uh huh. And a bar. Mostly like a bar. It’s a bar. Pretty much.”

“Oh. Do you like that? Waitressing?”

“Mm hm,” she said with an agreeable and wide-eyed nod.

Another round of beers came and went. They took turns going to the bathroom so that one of them was always guarding the nest, the table. When Cindy Lauper’s Time After Time came on the jukebox, Cathy grabbed Alvin’s hand saying, “Come dance with me,” again without taking a vote. They were the only ones in the bar dancing, pretty much just staying in a two-foot by two-foot area since there was no actual dance floor, swaying back and forth against each other’s bodies. He held her very close. And he thought of how he had never experienced such a sense of peace before.

The song ended. She clutched his hand in hers and they went back to the table. Alvin polished off the end of his beer. Cathy immediately did likewise even though what remained in her can was considerably more.

“Well,” she said, “I think it’s getting kind of late.”

“Yeah, maybe so,” Alvin said, wondering what his next line was supposed to be.

“Would you like to walk me home?” she asked. “Have a nightcap? I have beer.”

Alvin was relieved that he didn’t have to come up with the next line since she just did. “Yes, I would. Where do you live?” Alvin knew it was an irrelevant question, and just a matter of form, since if she lived in Honduras he still would have agreed to walk her home.

“Well, I live in a truck camper so pretty much wherever I feel like, but the truck is a couple blocks away.” She screwed up her face in a disapproving countenance. “It’s hard to find parking around here, you know?”

“Yeah, I do. You live in a truck?”

“I live in the little house on top of it, but yeah.”

“Really. That’s interesting.”

“Yeah, I like it.”

“Cool. So, are you ready to go?”

“Yep.”

They walked the two blocks to Cathy’s truck.

“Holy moly,” Alvin said as they approached it and Cathy pulled the keys from her pants pocket. This was not a hippie or hobo’s rolling residence, which is what he was expecting.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Alvin said. “It’s gorgeous. You own this?”

“Yeah. You like it?”

“Anybody would like it. You said you’re a waitress, right?”

“Uh huh. Why?”

“Nothing, it just looks really expensive.”

“Yeah, I guess it is. I won it, in a big car dealership sweepstakes. Ain’t that a hoot?”

“It ain’t a boat load a’goats.”

They both got in the cab. Cathy put on her seat belt. Then she checked the left and right-side mirrors. She started the engine and put her flasher on to indicate she was moving into the street even though there wasn’t a moving car that could be seen anywhere.

“Where are we going?” Alvin asked.

“On an adventure!” she said.

“Does the adventure conclude with a beer?”

“Yes it does.”

“Reasonably soon?”

“Reasonably soon is subjective but I’ll commit to a yes. Is your seatbelt on?”

“T’is,” said Alvin.

As given to whimsy as he had seen demonstrated in the bar, as they drove along Alvin found it an interesting contradiction that Cathy was an extraordinary adherent to the directives one encounters in Driver’s Education class. She had her hands at ten o’clock and two o’clock on the wheel; she gave routine glances to the left and right mirrors; when they hit the highway she moved left away from merging traffic, always signaling first; she adhered strictly to the speed limit even though nobody else in Wisconsin ever did, and she quickly checked her speedometer as routinely as she did the left and right mirrors; there was no radio music; and she wasn’t talking. It was like she learned how to drive yesterday and didn’t want to screw anything up. Alvin attributed this unusually rigid—and seemingly tense—attention to driving protocols in part because she could just barely see over the steering wheel.

“What kind of a truck is this?” Alvin asked.

“Big-ass truck,” she said, not diverting her attention from the road.

“No, I mean what’s the make? It looks like a Ford 250.”

“Okay.”

Alvin paused a moment trying to comprehend the response. Still curious, and not simply wanting to make small talk, he asked, “What kind of mileage do you get, you know, with the camper and–?”

“Shushy!”

Alvin shut up.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” Cathy said as she glanced ever so quickly back at Alvin before returning her attention to the road. “I’m sorry. That was rude. That was rude. I’m sorry.”

“No, I understand,” he said.

“I get a little tense when I’m driving and don’t like anything that might distract me. Sorry. Just a me thing.” Still looking forward she reached her arm over and gave the top of his thigh a brief, friendly scratch. “Sorry.”

“All good,” Alvin said.

They’d left the city limits. Ten minutes down the highway Cathy turned off. Alvin had no idea where she was going but was confident she did. And she did.

The forest preserve welcomed them in. There was a full moon. Cathy found a spot off the side of the road by the little, still lake. She parked there and turned off the truck. The moon glinted off the lake, and she looked at it and the surrounding trees as if mesmerized. “This is so beautiful,” she said. “I could live here forever.” Then as a quiet afterthought she added, “Literally. Literally forever.”

She came out of her trance. “Want a beer?” she asked brightly.

Alvin followed her through the back door of the camper. Then he stopped and took in the interior.

“Oh my God,” he said. This is so, so neat.”

It was neat—not only in the figurative sense, but in the literal sense as there wasn’t a thing out of place—not a dirty cup in the sink, nor a breadcrumb on the counter. It looked like something in a showroom.

“You keep a really nice, um, house,” Alvin said. “Everything’s so clean, and tidy.”

“Oh, thank you.” She looked around so as to get a better handle on his perspective. “Mm hm,” she said. “I like cleaning. It’s cathartic.”

“Everyone should be so lucky, to find cleaning cathartic. Martina Navratilova likes to vacuum. I read that somewhere. I think that’s an excellent activity to be cathartical about, cleaning or vacuuming.”

“Is cathartical a word?”

“It is now.”

“What do you find cathartic, or cathartical?”

“Drinking,” Alvin said.

“Oh. Do you drink a lot?”

“Probably more than most. Not as much as others.”

“Why?”

“It allows me to be a human being.”

Cathy had no immediate response to that. She let it go without any further psychoanalytical questions, and instead just put on a bright face. “Well, there’s catharticalness in the refrigerator, if you want.”

“Excellent.”

“I have to check my phone,” she said.

“Okey doke.”

Cathy walked away to the far end of the camper, crawled over the queen-sized bed and grabbed her phone from beside it. As she knelt on the bed, she made a point of turning back toward Alvin so as to be aware of exactly where he was, second by second, as she started typing.

Alvin opened the door to the refrigerator. Inside was a six-pack of beer, and nothing else. Not even an errant food stain or remnant of a piece of lettuce. Just a six-pack of beer sitting all by itself on the top shelf. He pulled one out of its plastic ring, then studied the remaining five, and the sterile emptiness that surrounded them. He tried to piece together a scenario of how this might be considered normal, but nothing was forthcoming.

Cathy tapped out a text on her phone with one finger. It said “Vie oc stetta.” Then she sent it. She waited thirty seconds for the response. The response was simply, “Lae hont.” She closed the phone.

“You don’t have any food,” Alvin said, as Cathy came out of the bedroom.

“Oh gosh, I know, I’m sorry. Did you want something to eat? I’m sorry, I know I need to go to the grocery store.”

“No, I’m fine,” Alvin said. “I just couldn’t help noticing you have no food.”

“I usually just go to McDonalds or something.”

Cathy sat down in the little dining area. She patted the table. “Come sit,” she said.

He joined her on the other side of the table.

“We did great tonight,” Alvin said. He wanted to say ‘Do you want to go to bed now’ but thought that might be jumping the gun, and so opted for socially acceptable trite discourse that—like locks gradually lifting a boat ever upward—would eventually lead to the desired plateau. 

“We did,” Cathy replied.

“Did you want a beer?”

“No, I’m good,” Cathy said. “Had my limit.”

“Have you been to that bar before?”

“No, that was the first time.”

“I like it. It’s a good bar. Good local bar,” Alvin said.

“It is nice,” she said. “I can see why you go there every Thursday. It’s fun.”

Alvin nodded agreeably. He took a sip of his beer and put the can back on the table. Then gave her a challenging stare. “How do you know that?”

“What?”

“That I go there every Thursday.”

Cathy felt no impulse to defend or deflect, and instead offered a gentle and confident smile, saying, “Because I do.”

She knew he might implode if he thought about that too long, and so she reached her hands across the table and took his. “We have to talk. And it’s okay. Everything’s okay.”

He started to pull his hands away from her but she wouldn’t allow it. She tightened her grip, but it was not to threaten, but rather to firmly embrace, secure and assure. “Alvin,” she said, “how are you feeling since your episode?”

“What episode?”

“You blacked out recently, didn’t you. Something happened that you can’t explain. No one knew what it was, but they observed it. And they were very worried about you. Do you feel okay now?”

“Who? Who was worried? How do you know what happened to me! Who are you!”

She let go of her grip and patted his hands. “Deep breaths. Deep breaths.” She smiled. “I said I was going to take you on an adventure.” She pointed to the windows, indicating the woods outside. “This isn’t it.”

Cathy got up and opened a panel in the wall. It displayed a myriad of controls and lights and little screens. She threw a toggle, then another, then turned a knob, pushed a button, then four more buttons, then turned back to Alvin. A whir ensued. Then it got louder.

“You asked me who I am,” she said. “I’m the person who’s bringing you home. That’s who I am.” And she gave him a genuine and sweet, innocent smile. “It’s time to go home now, Alvin.”

The outside became flooded with light. The small night creatures that had been encamped around the lone pickup truck, thinking themselves safe and invisible, now bolted from both the increasing brightness and noise. The interior lights came up to their maximum strength creating a blinding white inside. The whir became piercing.

And the truck vanished.

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