Chapter 18 – Domestic Life
Though none of them admitted it out loud, they had become a family. Each had fallen into his or her chores informally. It had gotten to the point where assignments typically were not discussed. Adam voluntarily did whatever he could to help Jonathan, and by now he could anticipate the requests that would be made. Usually, it was no longer necessary to make them. The same was true about Evelyn’s efforts to assist Janice. The guests contributed a fair amount of their earnings to the increased expenses of maintaining the household, and they had long since followed the advice of their hosts by making regular deposits into their savings accounts. As yet another sign of stability, Eve also invested in a smart phone and learned how to use it. She could pay her bill on-line with regularity since she had a bank account, and she enjoyed the feeling of being connected.
A warm fall cooled into winter, and the Christmas decorations were put in place. Eve and Adam were still fascinated by this ritual. The previous holiday season was the only time they had participated in it. Jonathan purchased a larger tree than he had in the past, and he asked Adam to place the star at the top, ostensibly because he himself could not reach it. That he had deliberately bought a tree which would require this was not stated. Once the ornaments had been hung, the old watched with newfound fulfillment as the young sat down and admired the tree. To see such childlike satisfaction on the faces of two people in their twenties was a reward which was still novel to both of them.
Evelyn had a nightmare shortly before Christmas Eve. Within its confines, she was somewhere else, somewhere she had been before. She struggled to free herself, but she could barely move. In the darkness, unwanted weight pinned her to her bed, which consisted of a mattress on the floor. Where was her mother? The smell of alcohol and perspiration assailed her nostrils, and her attempts to shout were muffled by a hand over her mouth. She was locked in that dreadful moment preceding what was about to happen. This sequence looped repeatedly.
The voice was familiar. A hand was gently shaking her shoulder.
“Eve, wake up!”
She opened her eyes. Janice, wearing a housecoat over her nightgown and holding a glass of water, was seated on the edge of the bed.
“You didn’t touch me, did you?”
“Only through fabric. Are you producing?”
Evelyn felt her skin. It was slightly damp, but the poisonous sensation was absent.
“No,” she laughed with relief. “It’s only perspiration.”
“Even in your sleep, you can tell,” Janice said in admiration. “You must have had quite a nightmare. Here. Take a sip of this.”
“That was weird,” the young woman said after a few gulps. “I don’t normally dream. It was that first attack.”
Much as a mother would have, Janice stroked her forehead.
“It’s a normal response. I’m surprised it took this long for it to happen.”
“I’m not regressing, am I?”
“Signs of normality are not regression. Trust and practice what you’ve learned from our sessions. You can choose your response to a dream just as you can choose your responses to what happens when you’re awake. Based on what Jonathan told you before, this might not have come from you, anyway.”
“Why’s Adam outside my door? Was I that loud?”
There was no need to answer her question.
“How acute your senses must be. He was worried about you, but I told him not to come into your bedroom – house rules. You’re to be treated like a lady under our roof.”
Eve thought about her friend and the couch in the aftermath of her last attack. She decided not to say anything.
“Do you ever find such sensitivity distracting?”
“No more than a dog would – only I don’t bark… well, not literally. Did I wake Jonathan?”
“He’s been able to sleep through anything since the two of you came to live with us.”
“So he was unable to before that,” Eve murmured as she smiled and shook her head. “The good things you’ve said about him must be true.”
Janice patted her hands and stood to leave.
“Perhaps more than I realize. Now try to get some sleep.”
The next morning, Jonathan listened with interest as Eve recounted her dream.
“Do you think it means anything?” she asked when she was through.
“I think part of it could have been you, part of it something else. Do you dream very much?”
“I can’t remember. This might have been the first time.”
“Knowing what I do about your memory I’ll take that as a no. This pushes me toward thinking what happened to you last night was more than just a subconscious recollection.”
“I want you to explain what you meant by something else.”
“It’s possible that something made a strategic mistake last night. If so, it allowed you –allowed us – to become aware of its efforts to influence you. Things like this can be more cunning than smart.”
“What things are you talking about?”
“I don’t really know entirely, but I can sense them vaguely. I think many people can, whether they admit it or not. My only reassurance is that there must be something better and more
Jonathan felt as if a hand was pushing on his chest. He wanted to say more, but the words were not forming in his mind. It was too soon, and he would have to wait. She would not be ready to hear the rest until later.
“That’s all I have,” he mumbled.
“Do you think this is what we talked about in your garage?”
“I’m not sure of that, either. But when a young woman who typically doesn’t dream actually has one like that, it could indicate the beginning of something more profound.”
In two more days it was Christmas morning, and the makeshift family exchanged gifts. Adam had scraped together enough money to buy some tools Jonathan needed from Walmart, and Eve had bought Janice some kitchen supplies at the same location. After being told that no withdrawals had been made to pay for their presents, the Andrews offered their gifts in return.
“I imagine you know that we usually don’t do this when we’re alone,” Janice explained. “We don’t really need anything, but we saw these and had to get them for you.”
After the tearing and crinkling of paper had ceased, Adam and Eve opened their small boxes and pulled out two wristwatches. They were engraved with their first names.
“Don’t worry,” Jonathan pleaded. “They weren’t as expensive as they look, but it’s a reliable brand. You should get several years out of them. I know those digital watches that do more than keep time have grown popular, but the two of you look like analog people to me.”
The big man grinned.
“Old school. That’s perfect.”
He frowned briefly, contemplatively.
“I’ve never owned a watch,” he added. “Thank you.”
“You’re both a bit anachronistic, I think. I had to get an extra long watchband for you, Adam. It should fit.”
The recipient tried it on, and it did. Evelyn was already admiring hers on her wrist. She regarded it as a piece of jewelry since she never wore any. More importantly, it was a gift of affection from two people she respected.
“Thank you so much,” was all she could manage.
“You didn’t really have enough money last time,” Janice elaborated. “You hadn’t started working, and we didn’t want you to feel obligated to reciprocate. That’s why we didn’t do this last year. We still might have refrained if you hadn’t talked us into it.”
Later on, the foursome sat around the dining room table for Christmas dinner and a typically lively discussion. Due perhaps to the ancient story behind the season, they revisited the topic of material and nonmaterial existence that Jonathan and Evelyn had discussed that October afternoon in the garage. Doctor Andrews expounded briefly on possible parallels between this subject and the concept of superposition from the field of quantum physics, but the consensus was that his example was more of an analogy. The philosophical and scientific ramifications were more than could be discussed in one sitting, and the enjoyment of food and socialization ultimately won out on that occasion.
On a night in January, a series of break-ins occurred at some homes and small businesses an hour north of Nevada in the town of Harrisonville. Money and food items were taken and, in one case, rounds of ammunition. There were no viable suspects and the crimes were never solved. As the investigations went nowhere, unseen eyes looked hungrily to the south.
Temperatures warmed and cooled repeatedly as February had trouble making up its mind. A cool, gray, and unusually precipitous March followed. The rains danced in, out, and in again throughout April, and there were reports of tornado warnings in the Four State area of southeastern Kansas, northeastern Oklahoma, northwestern Arkansas, and southwestern Missouri. As it most often did, the severe weather bypassed Nevada to the north and south.
Spring cleaning was initiated at the Andrews household in early May. With two extra pairs of hands available, the home received its most thorough going-over since its current owners had moved in. A number of small home improvement projects were also completed. The men spent time on ladders as they scraped and painted the trim on the outside of the brick home. Efforts at rehabilitating Adam and Eve had long since abated, and everyone focused on enjoying each other’s company during this respite.
Feeling confident that it had moved a safe distance from I-70, the monster lurked in the parking lot and observed the routine of its intended prey. It was well into May, and there had been no new victims for months. Now, after weeks of reconnaissance, it had made its selection. The circumstances were favorable. It hunted at night, and this was always when they appeared. She was the most attractive yet, and her escort could be eliminated. Inevitably, the predator was being drawn to the one target that could sever its connection with the organic biosphere.
Chapter 19 – Not Enough
Working at Walmart gave Adam and Eve a new perspective. He enjoyed the novelty of not expecting to break up a fight, she the relief of not planning to leave the community. People spoke to them for reasons that were pure. The customers were there to shop, and they needed to find things. Whether stocking shelves or working behind a counter, they were busy with tasks of common and functional significance. Money was supposed to change hands.
There was an additional benefit to all of this. A significant proportion of the town’s population passed through these doors and down the aisles. Adam and Eve began to know some of these people by sight, and much could be learned from casual conversation with customers and by observation in general. By becoming more involved in society, they were learning that their situations differed from those of others mainly by degree. Other people had been abused and neglected in various ways and for various reasons. Many were lonely. The world was potentially a dangerous place for anyone, and everyone faced the challenge of determining whom to trust.
It was almost June, and the night at work had been slow. The weather was balmy outside. These had been some of Adam’s favorite conditions in which to walk when he had lived in Kansas City, and he looked forward to a conversational stroll home beside Evelyn. She was stocking some last items on a shelf, so he waited for her farther down the aisle.
“I’ll be ready in a few minutes,” she shouted to him.
Balancing on one foot, he turned sideways, flexed his bicep, and flicked the fingers of his hand forward in a comical gesture to let her know the message had been received. The faint laughter coming from her end of the aisle told him he had achieved the desired effect.
“Is this as good as it gets for you?” she called back.
He shifted into a bodybuilder’s pose.
“There. That’s all you get. I’ll wait for you by the doors near the pharmacy.”
One advantage of walking was that they didn’t need to carry wallets or keys. They both liked the inexpensive independence. The time together was its own reward. Soon, she came up to him smiling with amusement.
“Are you ready, or is the show not over?”
The doors whisked open, and they went out into the parking lot. Adam looked up with a trace of disappointment on his face.
“I normally like this kind of weather because it’s moody. It’s actually too cloudy tonight. I want to see the moon and stars a little, but the clouds are in the way.”
They started off across the lot. It was well lit, but there were not as many cars due to the lateness of the hour. They walked about thirty yards.
“Okay. I’ll serve. You volley. What do you…”
She grabbed his forearm and squeezed.
“What’s the matter?”
Calmly and with as little extra movement as possible, she glanced quickly in all directions.
“Adam, this doesn’t feel right.”
“Relax,” he said with complete confidence. “You’re with me.”
He would reflect later that his momentary arrogance must have muted the connection he normally had with Eve. Her pupils constricted at the sounds of an engine starting and then of a vehicle moving slowly – too slowly – behind them. Its lights were still off. The path back to the store was blocked. A van sidled up, and she quickened their pace. She was fleetingly proud of the fact that she was actually trying to get away. The van lurched ahead of them and stopped. The side door slid open, and a wiry, rough-looking man jumped out. He was over six feet tall, and he waved a semi-automatic pistol at the couple. His tone was arrogant.
“Ladies first,” he sneered. “Your ride’s leaving.”
Evelyn froze. What she was feeling at that moment was unfamiliar and strangely liberating. It was fear, and it was born of the knowledge that she had something to lose. For all the refuse of humanity she had encountered, this man was beyond her sense of control. She could perceive a blank, insidious quality behind his forehead. Was this what Jonathan had meant when trying to explain the concept of simultaneous sight? It was obvious what the man intended to do, and that included killing her. Adam purposefully stepped forward, and the man pointed the pistol at him.
“You’re staying, freak.”
The assailant intended to shoot him, leaving no witnesses behind, but he nervously checked the parking lot for bystanders. None were present. Before he could think to pull the trigger, his target was no longer visible. It had only been a matter of one second at the most. His wrist and hand were pulverized by the time this fact registered, and the gun went skittering across the parking lot. Almost concurrently, a second blow crashed into the side of his head.
Adam felt the sickening sensation of a man’s skull collapsing beneath the force of his fist. He loomed over the fallen and unmoving body, and the horror of what he had done began to settle into his awareness. The threat had been eliminated, but he had taken a life. He had over-reacted. Eve heard the sound of movement coming from the van, and a rifle barrel supported by one hand extended from the window on the driver’s side. There was an accomplice, and he was more than the getaway driver.
The report of the rifle drowned out the final preposition of her warning. Her ears rang as her protector slumped to the pavement and collapsed. The gun had gone off about four feet from where she was standing, and she leaped forward to grab the hand that held it just as a second shot was fired. Misdirected by the forcefulness of her action, the bullet made a deep, plunking sound as it slammed into the side of a stationary pickup.
She was furious. Her left hand continued to grip the hand holding the barrel, and her right reached into the van through its open window to clasp the neck of the surprised shooter. There was a burning sensation in her palms.
“What have you done?” she screamed. “What have you done?”
In a panic, the driver released his weapon, and batted her hands away. She fell backward, the rifle clattering down on top of her. The van screeched past a smattering of unoccupied vehicles on its way toward the parking lot exit. Evelyn rolled to her knees and crawled frantically over to Adam. He was losing blood, but she dared not touch him. Her skin had produced its toxin.
“Eve,” he mumbled almost incoherently, “I wasn’t enough.”
His consciousness faded, muffling her cries for help as she punched “9-1-1” into her phone. In his delirium, countless points of light appeared against a black background. This galactic expanse rotated, and a question thundered silently in his mind.
The stars flickered and faded. Then everything went black.
Chapter 20 – Suffocation
The monster was frustrated. The strength of the resistance it had encountered was unanticipated and baffling. One vessel was no longer accessible, and it was losing its grip on the other. More resources were needed: money, food, air. The van sped along a county road a few miles south of Nevada. Spying a rather isolated farmhouse, the driver made a hasty decision. The lights were out, and the residents of the house would be asleep. He would do alone what he and his partner had done together, but now he was without a weapon. It was necessary to rely solely on his skills as a burglar. Once this job was done, he needed to get out of this county and change direction. Wheezing, he killed the lights and coasted to a stop past the house.
He had to hurry. Trying the front door, he found it to be locked. His tools for picking a lock had been forgotten in the van, and he started back to get them. It was getting harder to breathe. Suddenly, he collapsed. Sheer terror overwhelmed him. He could not move, and he could not inhale. His muscles were not responding to the commands sent by his brain. His desperate mind had no means of expression.
Enraged, the monster felt through its dying vessel, but it could no longer act. It began to lose physical sensation. Sight blurred, dimmed, and darkened. Hearing faded to silence as the entity was forced back into the malicious emptiness of itself. Succumbing, it released its hold and retreated back into oblivion.
Eve’s memory was an atypical blur of impressions: a man running from the store, the musical beep of his phone as he redundantly pressed three numbers, sirens, flashing lights, officers and paramedics, questions, Tommy being loaded into an ambulance, the man who had drawn the handgun lying facedown on the pavement, the shape of his head distorted. She had stayed behind to give her statement to the police. Her remarkable memory and awareness were still working on at least one level, for she had managed to remember the license plate of the retreating van.
Her voice had sounded like that of a stranger during her fabricated account of the incident. It was accurate in that one man had drawn a gun on Adam, who in turn had reacted with force before being shot by a second man. The attempted abduction had been conveniently left out, as had her hand in diverting the second rifle shot, and she had assumed the diminished role of a bystander. Who would have believed that she could kill through her skin? There were no other witnesses to refute her. Considering her state of near hysteria, the story she had concocted to satisfy the police had involved quick thinking. She remembered declining medical attention, repeating her address, and refusing a ride home, ostensibly because she had transportation of her own.
Now she was walking. Her legs felt weak, and she stumbled occasionally. Almost without thinking, she navigated the darkened streets until the house was in view. A light was on, but she couldn’t see anyone through the front windows. She walked up the driveway and around to the back porch where she stood at the foot of the steps. Afraid to knock on the door or even to set foot on the porch, she started crying. She hyperventilated but felt as if she couldn’t get enough air. This must have made more noise than she realized, for one silhouette, then another, appeared in the back door window. Janice and Jonathan hurried onto the porch.
“Eve, what’s wrong? Where’s Adam?”
She couldn’t answer. They both started down the steps, and this broke the psychological spell.
“Don’t touch me! I’m not safe. I killed a man, and I couldn’t get in the police car.”
“Tell us what you need,” Janice instructed in a firm but gentle voice.
She recited her customary list: household bleach, a plastic trash bag, a change of clothes, and a clear path to the downstairs bath. They waited in the hallway while she showered. Her meticulous cleaning of the bathtub and everything else she touched took well over an hour. The smell of bleach escaped under the door and permeated that part of the downstairs. Janice finally opened the door and went in.
“That’s enough, Evelyn. You’re not going to harm us.”
“Is she dressed?”
“Yes, dear. You can come in.”
They stood in the doorway and carefully watched her.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I can leave. I…”
“You’ll stay right here,” Jonathan ordered. “We’re not turning you out. Tell us what happened.”
“A man tried to abduct me at gunpoint, and Adam hit him so hard that he died. Then another man shot Adam, and I grabbed him by the neck. He drove away, but he’s dead by now. I lied to the police. I didn’t think they’d believe the truth.”
Eve was slowly settling down. The physicist and his counselor wife led her to the couch in the living room and had her go over the details of the incident. Once they were sufficiently apprised, Jonathan asked Janice to put Eve to bed and sit with her. Then he took his keys, left the house, and drove to the Nevada Regional Medical Center to check on Adam’s status.
It took some convincing, but he eventually persuaded the woman behind the counter that he and his wife were the closest thing to a family that Adam had. Eventually, a doctor came out to consult with him. Miraculously, the bullet had missed the vital organs, but it had nicked a blood vessel. The patient had lost a lot of blood and had received a transfusion. This exceptionally powerful but wounded man had come through his surgery and was recovering. The extent and density of his muscle mass were credited with limiting the damage.
Just before sunrise, Janice went out the back door to check on Evelyn. The older woman had fallen asleep during what was left of the night, and her younger charge had slipped quietly out of bed. She had been outside for a long time. Something was in flames on the ground.
“I had a feeling you’d be out here. What are you doing, dear?”
“Burning my clothes and my phone. They were contaminated with toxin. I burned the trash bag, too. I know I’m putting fumes in the air, but I can’t think of anything else to do. I didn’t want to risk using your washer. I know I could have cleaned it, but it didn’t feel right.”
“But that’s not all, is it?”
“Those were the clothes I was wearing when I… when I did what I did. I wouldn’t have wanted to wear them anymore – ever.”
“I don’t have any answers prepared for you, no sage advice. Please promise me you won’t turn away from us.”
“We were doing so well – and then this. Will we ever be normal?”
“No. I don’t see how you could, even without this, but you can be healthy. Come inside. We want to have breakfast with you.”
Eve’s description to the police had been complete. That morning, a disgruntled farmer had awakened to find a body sprawled on the grass halfway between his house and the road. Responding to his call, a county sheriff’s deputy found the van. The keys were still in the ignition. In the back seat, there were various articles of women’s clothing and a sledgehammer. The report was shared with the city police, and the vehicle was identified as the one involved in the shooting incident at Walmart. Both guns had been recovered the night before and handled with gloved hands.
During visiting hours later that morning, Eve was waiting by Adam’s hospital bed. An IV tube was in his left arm, and he was connected to a monitor. Her mind, clearer now than in the immediate aftermath of the confrontation, was still a jumble of emotions and fragmented reconstructions. She trembled lightly beneath her calm demeanor. Despite all the trauma of her past, she was undone by the condition of her friend. There was an unsettling reassurance in this confusion. Maybe this was how normal people reacted. She leaned forward in her chair and rested her head on the bedrail.
“Please,” she muttered under her breath, “no more scars.”
Though an undefined presence seemed to be in the room, her plea was to no one in particular. Adam stirred slightly and, with great effort, opened his eyes. He tried to focus on her, gave up, and lowered his eyelids. The pain medication had rendered him drowsy.
“Eve,” he murmured softly. “I’m not a virgin anymore.”
All too painfully, she understood his metaphor. Her voice faltered.
“I – neither am I, Adam.”
“The folks – do they know?”
“I told them. They’re down in the lobby. You can only have one visitor at a time, and they gave me the first turn.”
“Tell them not to worry,” he whispered.
“Like that’d do any good?”
She squeezed his hand. It was unresponsive. Even in this state, he trusted her judgment. He did not ask why she was touching him.
“Can we even go back?”
His answer was weakly emphatic.
“We have to.”
“I thought I was finally out of purgatory,” she lamented. “Is this hell?”
Neither of them could think of anything to say after that. Up until that moment, they had tried to convince themselves that they were good people pushed to extremes by their circumstances. No charges would be brought against them, for they hadn’t broken any laws. Still, the conclusion was inescapable. They had transgressed a boundary that their standards of honesty would not allow them to explain away. Fully aware of their capabilities, they had killed with deliberate intent.
4 thoughts on “Alias Adam (Chapters 18-20)”
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Thank you. It will take some turns along the way if you can stay with it.
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I like the moral dimension.
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