Thor: Ragnarok – What I Missed (Part 1)

thor 6I had mixed feelings as I sat in my seat waiting for the outro at the end of the credits for Thor: Ragnarok. On the one hand, I was thoroughly entertained for over two hours. On the other, I was disappointed by what I hadn’t seen. I realize that appreciation can be colored by prior expectations, and I really expected a lot out of this movie (maybe too much). I’ll have to see it again to get a more balanced perspective.  I’ll divide my comments into three areas: what I liked, what I didn’t like, and (perhaps most importantly) what I missed.

To begin with, I loved the first part. The opening sequence was visually satisfying, and the dialogue and action were engaging.

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It is in this opening that we meet Surtur, the fire demon who is capably played by Clancy Brown.

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We also meet Skurge, the negligent interim keeper of the Bifrost, as played by Karl Urban.

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The segment with Doctor Strange might have been a bit incongruous, but it was visually effective and very interesting. I am very intrigued by this character.

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The first scene where Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) speak one last time with Odin (Anthony Hopkins) was beautifully done, and I liked seeing Odin portrayed as an old man in normal clothing. The idea of gods among us in the guise of mere mortals resonated with me.

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The set up and reveal of Hela was well-crafted and intriguingly done. She, like Loki, comes from Norse mythology, and (like Loki) she is a different kind of villain. I enjoyed the scenes in which she was depicted, and Cate Blanchett did a wonderful job portraying her.

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Up to this point, I was satisfied with the development of the mythological elements in the plot. Then came the middle. I’ve always liked how Marvel uses humor to diffuse the tension, but I felt that this time it almost smothered it.

The introduction of the deranged Grandmaster as played by Jeff Goldblum managed to add a humorous sense of dread before the jokes threatened to take over.

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There were good scenes and ideas throughout the rest of the movie, but I felt they were overly subordinated to the jokes. The contrast of dread followed by an instant of comic relief didn’t feel as if it had been given sufficient time to build. Also, I wonder if there was too much reliance on phrases and slapstick sequences from past movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The almost Shakespearian nobility of Thor is a great straight line for the punch lines which involve him. I was sorry to see that sense of nobility lessened as much as it was, partly because I thought it lessened the impact of the humor, which much of the time was genuinely funny. I’m all for evolving a character, but I’m also all for maintaining sufficient continuity to make that evolution more plausible.

Well, this is taking longer than I had anticipated, so I’d better continue this thread next week.

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Watch My Brother Again

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Thank you to those of you who tuned in/logged on to see my brother, Doug Jones, play Lt. Saru in the new Star Trek series. Now that you’re in the process of completing that assignment, let me direct you to go see The Shape of Water when it is released this December 8th.

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Directed by Guillermo del Toro, this is an interesting looking movie (warning: R-rated for language, violence, nudity, sexuality) which by its trailers looks like a science fiction, Cold War period piece,  art flick. I am reminded of Pan’s Labyrinth, in which Doug also worked with Guillermo.

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The cast is excellent, including Sally Hawkins (Godzilla) and Octavia Spencer (The Help, Hidden Figures)…

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… and a bunch of other good actors such as Michael Shannon (Man of Steel) …

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… Richard Jenkins…

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… and David Hewlett.

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It is the character of Elisa Esposito played by Hawkins who appears to be the focal point of the story. She is a mute cleaning lady who works in a lab facility and who forms a relationship with an aquatic, hominid creature imprisoned there.

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I’ll be interested to see where they take this. I expect it to be beautiful and possibly disturbing given its rating. Of course, living in a town as small as mine leaves me with no guarantee that the film will be showing in a local theater. I might have to wait until it comes out on video to review it. Until then…

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… watch Doug, or else.

Breaking The Color Barrier

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I grew up in the presence of superheroes. One was my father, another my mother. Then there were two of my father’s college friends, men with whom I became somewhat familiar. One was Bill Garrett, the first man to break the color barrier in Big Ten basketball. He is shown in the picture below, second from the right. You might recognize the next person to the left: Jesse Owens, whose four  gold medals in Track and Field at the 1936 Berlin Olympics put the lie to Hitler’s claims of a master race.

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The man I grew up knowing as Mr. Garrett was an All-American at Indiana University.

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Another friend of my father’s was Dr. James Roberson. He was on the track team with my father, and he placed fourth in the decathlon at the Olympic Trials, missing the team by just one spot. He was also one of only a few blacks admitted to the IU medical school when he graduated. He became a prominent ob-gyn on the eastern seaboard. My family spent the night at his house in Rochester, NY, and his at ours in Indianapolis, IN. His son – James Jr. – and I became friends while he was on the basketball team at IU, where I was in graduate school at the time.

Dad, Jim, and three other large fellows crammed themselves into a sedan and went to compete in the Penn Relays. It was during that road trip that my father received his first taste of how difficult it was for blacks to travel in America in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Finding establishments where three whites and two blacks could eat or sleep was problematic.

I think this constitutes an appropriate introduction to the topic of breaking the superhero color line, and Marvel Comics took the lead in this area. In a video interview, writer Stan Lee once mentioned some of the resistance he encountered when he introduced black characters into his stories.  He and artist Jack Kirby (who were both Jewish) created the first black superhero to appear in comics. He was T’Challa, prince of Wakanda. a.k.a. the Black Panther. He made his debut in July of 1966 in Fantastic Four #52.

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Falcon was the first African American superhero, a man named Sam Wilson. He first appeared in 1969 in Captain America #117.

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In 1972, Luke Cage appeared as a new category of superhero in Hero for Hire #1. This one interests me since he is so different: a former convict subjected to experiments in prison. The idea obviously draws from real life abuses that were once hidden from the public eye. Luke comes out of this mistreatment with super strength and unbreakable skin, and he works the grittier end of the Marvel spectrum.

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In 1975, Storm was introduced as the first black female superhero. Born Ororo Munroe in NYC to a Kenyan princess and an American photographer, she becomes an orphan when her parents are killed in Cairo, Egypt. She scratches out her survival as a thief in the streets of Cairo, is mistaken for a goddess, and is ultimately recruited by Professor Xavier to join the X-Men. As her name implies, she has the power to control weather. Her first appearance was in Giant-Size X-Men #1.

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As in the case of many superheroes, it is interesting to watch their evolution both conceptually and artistically in the hands of different writers and artists. The changes can be intriguing, exciting, upsetting, and controversial depending on one’s point of view, but their mere existence generated controversy at one time, making their creation of observable social and cultural significance.

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Alias Adam (Chapter 32-Epilogue)

Chapter 32 – An Opening Gate

Jonathan had purchased a widescreen television. He had also subscribed to the HD service offered by the local cable provider. He and Adam were talking while he fidgeted with the controls on the remote.

“Do you think it was worth it? I might have just assassinated my brain.”

“If you don’t like it, you can always cancel,” Adam suggested.

“Well, let’s at least go through the ritual of seeing if anything’s on.”

His thumb depressed the button for the channel changer on the remote.

“So this is channel surfing,” he announced with resignation. “I’ve joined the rhythm of the hive.”

“Wait,” Adam implored. “Can you go back?”

“Certainly. I’m holding the royal scepter of authority, and I wield ultimate power. What did you want to see?”

“That game – just for a few minutes.”

“I didn’t know you liked sports.”

“I don’t,” he grimaced, “but I’m curious.”

It was Sunday afternoon and one of the multiple NFL games was in progress. They both watched in silence. Neither of them was accustomed to what they were doing. Adam squinted and frowned as he made his mental observations. Presently, he rendered his judgment.

“I could do that. They make a lot of money, don’t they?”

“More than most – more than I did,” the physicist answered, “although their careers don’t last all that long.”

“Compared to what I’m making at Walmart, it’d have to be an improvement. Thanks. I think I’ll go read.”

Adam was chuckling to himself when Eve came into the little library upstairs. She was carrying an open laptop. The soft chair in which he was sitting was almost hidden by his bulk. In observation of etiquette, he stood when he saw her enter the room.

“Hey,” she smiled. “I thought I’d find you here. I want to show you something. She didn’t stop there.”

Although he was glad to see her, he looked down at her with a perturbed, quizzical expression on his face.

“Who and where?”

“The woman we helped in Joplin.”

It had been over a year since that particular assignment.

“What about her? Those guys were convicted, weren’t they?”

“Sure. You knew about that and about the other college women coming forward. The rapists weren’t students.”

“Anger-retaliation types from in town,” he mused. “At least that’s my guess – gender and class warfare.”

“But that’s not what I wanted to show you. Look.”

She showed him what was on the screen. It was an on-line article from the Joplin Globe.

“She’s gone public with her story. Recognize the picture?”

The woman featured in the article was a Missouri Southern student majoring in social work. The interview covered her ordeal, how she had stood her ground against the defense, and her ongoing recovery. She explained her plans to earn a master’s degree and work for an advocacy organization on behalf of victims of sexual assault. Their efforts included offering support services to victims and lobbying for better laws and improved police procedures.

“I do. That’s her, and it looks like she’s doing what you suggested.”

“And then some. I thought you’d be interested.”

“Does it help?”

“A little. She’ll make waves.”

“You know,” he began.

“Yeah?”

“We’ve caught more perpetrators than…”

“Don’t worry about saying it, Adam. We’ve caught more perpetrators than I’ve killed.”

“Even if you add mine to the list,” he confessed in an effort to take any pressure off of her. It was far from necessary, but she appreciated the gesture.

“Okay. Enough serious stuff. Let’s talk about something fun. What are you reading?”

Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck.”

“Why were you laughing?”

“Parts of it are funny.”

“I read that, but it was a long time ago – high school, I think. Maybe I wasn’t in a frame of mind back then to notice the humor.”

“It’s hidden in there, but I wouldn’t necessarily call this a funny story. There’s something about this piece that impresses me more. I’m far enough in that I’ve noticed how the incidents he describes paint a portrait of the community’s social structure. It’s ingenious, as usual. Sociology students should read this.”

“Yeah. That might beat reading a textbook for that subject. I didn’t find mine in college particularly riveting.”

She turned her laptop off and folded it up. Setting it on top of the bookcase, she faced him. She was standing even closer now.

“Know what? This feels good. Do you remember me falling asleep on you that last night I was attacked?”

A tear came to his eye, and he gulped silently and nodded.

“You said we should be in a coffeehouse somewhere, discussing great books.”

The tear slowly trickled down his cheek. His voice was a little unsteady as he reminisced and spoke.

“The next night, you asked where this was going.”

“Yes, I did.”

“Do you think we can still make it into paradise?”

Her reply was upbeat.

“Maybe we can.”

“So?”

“So,” Evelyn inquired back, “where do we find that coffeehouse?”

Adam’s face was an un-posed question of a different kind. He filled a substantial amount of the available space in the library, yet he was as timid as a small child. Cautiously, he reached his right hand out a little and lightly touched her left arm. Even with her enhanced sensitivity, she could barely feel the pressure of his fingertips. Her pupils dilated, and she smiled with genuine surprise.

“Oh my,” she whispered. “I had no idea you could be so gentle.”

She watched him expectantly, waiting for him to say something, but words failed him. In a relationship which consisted almost exclusively of conversation, this presented something of a problem. The silence grew awkward in its duration.

“Talk to me, silly. I just left the gate wide open. Don’t you have anything to say?”

He looked utterly helpless.

“Aardvark?”

Their laughter descended the stairs, and then the upstairs grew very quiet. Jonathan turned off the television and listened for a few seconds. Turning to Janice as she sat next to him on the couch, he spoke in a tone of satisfaction mixed with regret.

“I don’t think they’ll be staying here much longer,” he predicted.

Chapter 33 – Conviction

It was a sports bar in Kansas City. If a so-called typical male had been plopped into the middle of it by means of quantum teleportation without knowing in advance where he was being sent, he would have known what it was on sight. It was much like other sports bars in its sights and sounds. Huge, wide-screen television monitors dominated the walls. On this particular night, they were all tuned to the same program: a Thursday night NFL broadcast.

One among many, a man with ulterior motives watched the game. He smiled confidently at his date, and she smiled back. There was an ideal activity he had planned to conclude the evening. Maybe this time it would feel right. He had the place all picked out – nice and secluded. She might go for it, but he hoped she would struggle at least a little. It would heighten the sense of conquest.

If she said no or resisted, there would be no witnesses, her word against his. It was a matter of approach and timing. Too much time had elapsed since his last expedition. He had taken employment in a strange city, and tonight was the result of almost six months of preparation, six months of scouting, spending, and witty banter. He went back to watching the game.

“Wow,” she exclaimed as she squeezed his arm. “They’re so strong and athletic – and fast.”

He nursed his drink and ordered her another. She wasn’t keeping track. This was perfect. One way or another, she would give in. He drew a vicarious masculinity from the players on the screen. It was a close game. The Kansas City Chiefs were ahead by three points with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, and the Denver Broncos were driving. The contest was taking place at Mile High Stadium.

The bar suddenly erupted. A huge linebacker for the visiting team quickly closed the gap on an apparently open receiver in the flat and intercepted a pass at the Chiefs 35 yard line. He hurdled a smaller player who was trying to tackle him by his legs and then allowed himself to be run out of bounds near the 50 yard line. The man with the date felt his heart rate increase. The Broncos had only one time-out remaining. The Chiefs offense could run out the clock, and the game would be over soon. It was about time to top off the evening. The woman he was with was getting suitably tipsy.

He froze as a sideline camera zoomed in on the face of the linebacker resting on a bench. One brown eye and one blue eye glared out from the space between the faceguard and the brow of the man’s helmet. His mind went back to a frightening night outside of Springfield. Studying for the M. B. A. that landed him his current job, he had been a graduate student at Missouri State back then.

“You were caught tonight, and it could easily happen again.”

His hand was unsteady, and he set his drink on the bar after an unsuccessful attempt at taking a sip from it. He didn’t want to spill alcohol on himself. An involuntary shudder went down his spine, and he remembered two unyielding hands clamped on the sides of his head.

“No matter where you go, no matter what you do, remember what I tell you next. There is someone who knows the thoughts that squirm in your brain.”

Stealing a sidelong glance at his date, he quickly closed his eyes. His guilty thoughts were screaming so loudly that he looked around the crowded room to make sure he wasn’t being overheard.

“… you will be found out. You will pay.”

His date drained her glass and set it down a little clumsily.

“That was exciting. What was it you wanted to show me after the game?”

His mind was racing irrationally. This had to be a trap. Someone was watching. He nervously swept the room with his eyes. Maybe they were outside. Maybe he was being followed. Was the football player currently in Denver the masked man who had warned him in Springfield? Who else had eyes like that? Would that man know? Would he be hunted down when the Chiefs returned to Kansas City?

“We live a long way away, and we had no trouble finding you tonight.”

What if they no longer lived far away from him? Some fingers snapped carelessly in his face, and this annoyed and startled him. They sounded like guns going off.

“You still here? I asked you a question.”

“Awww,” he prevaricated, “I had something in mind, but it’s getting late. We both have to go to work in the morning. Let me drop you off at your place.”

He was not his usual, clever self during the drive back to her apartment building. In high spirits and full of expectation, he had been chatty and humorous on the way to the sports bar. Now he was non-communicative. His passenger was getting a little sleepy. Normally, this would have been to his liking, but now he felt paranoid. He kept checking his rearview mirror. He could not give up on the notion that he was being tailed until he turned onto a side street and noted that no headlights were behind him. He found her apartment building and stopped in front of the main entrance.

After his car had driven abruptly away, the attractive, somewhat inebriated woman listed to her right as she stood on the sidewalk and looked for her keys. What had come over this guy? He was almost completely shut off after the telecast. Where were those keys hiding? Her erratic train of thought returned to the confusing outcome of her evening out. What was it with him, anyway? Why did he spend money on her only to deposit her on the street? What made him lose interest? He had not kissed her goodbye or held the door open for her like he usually did. He had not even demonstrated the politeness of getting out of the car and walking with her to the door of her building. Unaware of how close she had come, she found and dropped her keys.

Epilogue

Jonathan and Janice Andrews were sitting in their living room. He read to her aloud from David Copperfield as she crocheted. This was one of their favorite routines, and they practiced it with great regularity. As it was well into December, some burning logs were crackling in the fireplace. The sound mixed pleasantly with that of the antique clock on the wall. It was a good day to read. Jonathan stopped for a moment. This was okay, because they mutually recognized reading together as a good conversation starter.

“I like some of these descriptions of friendships and families.”

Janice looked up from her work and watched him. She could tell from his tone of voice that more was coming.

“It reminds me of when the kids were here. I know this is for the best, but I still miss them.”

“They’ll be back,” she answered softly. “At our age, time passes quickly.”

“Is it okay if I stop reading? My voice is getting tired.”

“Certainly. You’ve been at it for over an hour.”

Jonathan closed the book and returned it to its place on one of the inset shelves in their living room. Sitting back down on the sofa, he thumbed through a scrapbook which was always kept on the coffee table. He and Janice now subscribed to the Kansas City Star in hard copy just so he could make that scrapbook. The clippings which he perused fell into three categories.

Some mentioned a particular linebacker, uncommonly large and mobile for that position, who played for the Kansas City Chiefs. His story was unusual in that he had tried out successfully at a rookie mini-camp one spring after never having played in a game. He could run the 40 yard dash in 4.4 seconds, and his vertical leap was 36 inches. Jonathan chuckled. He knew that this individual had held back to avoid drawing too much attention to himself.

That the talented athlete had initially been unfamiliar with the playbook never mattered, for he was quick on the uptake. On the field, he reacted quickly and showed an innate ability to shed blocks and to defend against the run and the short pass. Those who attempted to block him and those he successfully tackled were quoted as saying that he did not hit especially hard. In fact, they offered little recollection of the physical contact except to say that they invariably ended up on the ground. Remarkably, he had never injured an opposing player and had never been injured himself.

There was also a featured series about a uniquely effective home for abused children. The woman who served as its publicist and fundraiser was noted for her compassion and her uncanny perception, and she had a habit of quoting classic works of literature. Also the founder of this organization, it was she who had contacted the right professionals and persuaded them to work with the children, she who had engaged businessmen and civic leaders in the project. In one interview, she emphasized the effectiveness of addressing problems early before they could grow to larger proportions. She also acknowledged the aforementioned football player for supporting the home with sizeable contributions from his salary.

A few additional reports covered the occasional and clandestine exploits of two masked vigilantes, clad in black, who had a knack for catching sex offenders in their attempts and preventing them from completing their crimes. Both of the anonymous heroes were adept at disarming criminals who were carrying weapons. One was huge and amazingly quick. The other, a woman of slight build, allegedly had the ability to render opponents unconscious at the mere touch of a hand, but the only evidence of this came from accounts by people who had been rescued. Such tales were considered grateful exaggerations. The most recent of the reports on these unusual crime fighters was about five years old. As mysteriously as their activities had begun, they had just as mysteriously ceased.

There exist in the scientific literature various articles concerning the generation of chimeric mice by means of embryo fusion experiments. Such experiments were done by the micromanipulation of embryos which had not yet reached the blastocyst stage. The embryos used were composed of as few as eight, four, or two cells. For example, two mouse embryos, one destined to become albino and the other black, were fused to form a chimeric embryo which developed into a normal mouse after being implanted into a surrogate mother. Different segments of black and white fur could be observed in the offspring. Even the eyes were of different colors.

In another case, a chimeric female mouse was produced from the fusion of three embryos that would have developed separately into a black, a brown, and a white mouse. The result was a calico mouse. When mated to an albino male, this female gave birth to a litter of black, brown, and white offspring – meaning that her ovaries were composed of cells that were derived from all three of the embryos that had been fused to form her. There was no reason to believe that this phenomenon was limited by the sex of the chimera. In principle, a similarly chimeric male could have produced the same kinds of results in a reciprocal cross.

On the mantle above Janice and Jonathan’s fireplace stood a lone photograph in a frame. It was a family portrait in which Adam and Evelyn Smith – formerly known as Tommy and Angel – smiled with their arms around two young children: a boy and a girl. The son was blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and entirely Caucasian while his sister was biracial in appearance. Between the clippings in the scrapbook and that photograph on the mantle stood a great paradox, the theme of an ongoing story about two entangled souls. In the midst of combating monstrous evil, Adam and Eve had found their way into paradise.

 

Alias Adam (Chapters 30-31)

Chapter 30 – Predator

This was perfect. The club in Columbia was packed wall to wall with people, most of them his age and better than half of them women. A number were attractive. It was like a cafeteria in there. All he had to do was make his selection and wait. They were dancing, drinking, shouting to be heard. Nobody would pay any attention to him.

Quite a few of the coeds were intoxicated and unguarded, but most of them were with friends. He needed to find someone who was alone, someone who wouldn’t be missed. How should he do this – sidle up beside a target, slip the drug into her drink, and act like she was with him when she got groggy? That might do it. He passed over a few candidates. There was something in their manner that put him off.

Wait – there she was, and she was the most beautiful woman in the room. He pushed his way through the sweaty pandemonium to where she leaned with her back against the bar. Ordering a drink, he glanced at her profile out of the corner of his eye. Nice. Very nice. The bartender wasn’t looking, and neither was she. No one would notice. Leaning on his right elbow, he held the little bottle in his left hand and slipped it slowly between his arm and his body. He edged closer to her drink. Extending the bottle until it was just over her cup, he started to tilt it.

He felt a soft hand on his wrist and started sinking slowly toward the floor. The edge of the bar was receding above him. Strong hands were under his armpits lifting him. The throbbing music became more distant. Though propped up physically, he felt as if he were continuing to sink, and he became aware of something dark swirling about him in frustration. He fell the rest of the way into a tormented dream he would be unable to remember.

The first rays of the sun awakened him. He was outdoors and lying on a mowed path. Taller grasses on either side of this trail stirred in the early morning breeze, and it was chilly. Turning his head to the right, he suddenly closed his eyes. The woman he had attempted to drug was seated next to him with her knees drawn up to her chin and her arms wrapped around her legs. He groaned and rolled his face toward the sky. She spoke to him.

“Do you feel disoriented? Are you wondering what happened to you while you were out? That’s how your victims would feel.”

Save for an increase in his rate of breathing, there was no answer.

“Imagine being a woman – me, for instance – and waking up with the feeling that your clothes don’t quite fit.”

Although he did not know this, the effects of the organic anesthetic had been aggravated by the small amount of alcohol he had consumed, and this amplified the impact of her words.

“Where am I?”

“You’re in a very special place. This is Osage Village. In a way, I kind of found myself here. Do you really know who you are?”

Confused, he said nothing.

“You should give that some thought. Tell me your name, please.”

After what he had tried to do to her, this struck him as a reasonable request. He felt the outside of his pants pocket. His wallet was still there. She could have removed it and gotten the information she wanted. She could have robbed and abandoned him, but she had not. Neither had she turned him in.

“Uh, Ron. My name is Ronald Avery.”

“Are you a student at MU?”

The apparent incongruity of this question knocked him off balance and promoted further honesty.

“That’s right,” he said with a trace of sarcasm as he sat up woozily. “Go Tigers.”

“What are you majoring in?”

“Business.”

He hung his head. The reminder of academic responsibility intensified his shame. What if his parents found out?

“I graduated with a major in literature and a minor in philosophy. The study of ethics has a lot to say about our values and priorities. A course like that would be good for a business major like you, yeah?”

“I – I guess so.”

He was beginning to wonder if he was on the right planet.

“You may have gathered by now that I’m older than you. Do you have any sisters?”

“No.”

“That might have helped. Would you want someone to do to your mother what you wanted to do to me?”

The feeling was one of being vaccinated, and the needle kept going deeper.

“I, uh – I guess I hadn’t thought of it that way.”

“Ron, I’m going to ask you an important question, and you need to answer me honestly. Is this the first time you’ve tried this? I’ll be able to tell if you’re lying.”

“She will, Ron.”

This deeper voice startled him. For the first time since he had awakened, he looked up and to his left. About six feet away, a massive man of mottled complexion was standing with his back to him. The man’s head was facing sideways toward the southern horizon. Now he understood how he had gotten here. Again, he lowered his head.

“It was the first time. I was curious – and horny.”

“And insecure,” Evelyn Morris commented. “There are better ways to relate to women.”

“Well, I’m not too good at that.”

“You could try talking to us,” she offered.

“I can never figure out what to say.”

“That’s because you’re angling. Why not forget about that and just treat us like people? You can be nice and talk about normal topics. The right people respond well when someone takes a genuine interest in them.”

“And if they don’t?”

“Then just leave them alone, but eventually, someone will. Don’t obligate them with your attention. If someone doesn’t reciprocate, move on. A lot of people are lonely. You’re not unusual that way.”

The young man heard footsteps on the soft earth. He was aware of considerable bulk approaching then looming over him. He dared not look up.

“Look at me,” Adam commanded.

There was no coercion in the tone of this directive, so Ron looked compliantly, though reluctantly, at his imposing interrogator. Unmatched eyes seemingly burned downward from the center of that varied complexion.

“The woman you tried to drug is my best friend. Do you know what we do together?”

“None of my business,” he mumbled.

“Then why did you get in the way of it?”

The would-be predator began to shake uncontrollably. Adam bent over and placed a steadying hand on his shoulder.

“Let’s go back to my first question.”

“I – I don’t know.”

“We talk. She has a fascinating mind, and I love the sound of her voice.”

Eve’s cheeks and ears flushed, but she recovered quickly.

“We’re much more interesting as people than as sex objects,” she added.

“I’m Adam. Look at her, Ron.”

He blinked and resumed staring at the ground.

“I can’t.”

“That wasn’t a request.”

It wasn’t a threat, either. It was a moral imperative, and he obeyed again.

“It’s good to look at her if you do it in the right way. She’s a human being. See her with new eyes.”

Ronald Avery didn’t expect what came to him next. It was a childhood recollection of his mother, his aunts, other adult women, and how he had regarded them prior to the detrimental effects of acculturation and hormones. In this light, he saw Evelyn much as Adam had for the first time in the coffeehouse at Westport. She was beautiful and unspoiled. Who in his right mind would ever want to ruin that? Out of respect he stood up. She remained seated. Looking down on her didn’t feel right, so he kneeled.

“I’m sorry, Miss.”

“I have a name,” she said softly. “You told me yours. Mine’s Evelyn.”

She stood and extended your hand.

“It’s nice to meet you.”

He hesitated.

“It is?”

“Sure. You’re worth saving. We were, too. You know, I’ve read that rapists are never satisfied – not even when they succeed. Have you ever wondered why that is?”

“I didn’t get that far, so no.”

“It’s because forced penetration isn’t the same as intercourse with a willing, enthusiastic partner. Bodies respond differently in each circumstance, and I haven’t really said anything about the psychological effects of love.”

The resulting silence was uncomfortable, but the discomfort was appropriate. Eve allowed time for it to work.

“Can you promise us you’ll never do anything like this again?” she asked.

He stood again and took her hand, and she watched him intently. It was as if she could see inside of him, as if nothing could be hidden.

“I promise.”

Her inspection ended in a look of apparent satisfaction.

“I believe you. Ron, you’ll remember your decision and what we’ve talked about. You won’t remember me, and you won’t remember Adam.”

She touched his temples, and he was out. Powerful arms caught and lifted him.

“Wow,” Eve exclaimed. “I’m still amazed that all I have to do is think of the result, and then it happens when I touch somebody.”

When Ron came to, it was dark, and he was back in Columbia. He was seated in an alley with his legs extended and his back against a wall. The street beyond the mouth of the alley looked familiar. He was in the college town just off campus from the University of Missouri. The incidents of that morning were blurred, but key parts of his conversation with Evelyn remained with him. He vaguely understood that he had been somewhere else, that he was back, and that he had lost about twenty-four hours. He could not remember the people who had confronted him, but he remembered everything he and they had said. Three things had been implanted in his mind: an ideal of womanhood, an ideal of manhood, and an ideal of how women should be treated by men. Failure to experience or live up to those ideals did not invalidate them, but that did not matter. He had made up his mind, and he felt more human.

His eyes caught sight of the little bottle, still almost full, beside him on the pavement. They had left it with him. This was a test of his sincerity. He shakily got up and bent down to pick it up. Examining it, he felt revulsion toward himself and his former intentions. He wanted a clear conscience.  Thinking carefully, he scrutinized the wall on the opposite side of the alley. Something he could not identify, some oppressive presence, surrounded him. Seeking to restrain him from doing what he had to do, it had not completely taken over, but neither had it left. He hurled the bottle away in disgust. The monster disintegrated with the smashing of glass against the brick wall. As Ron walked toward the street, he did not notice the two figures which looked down on him from the overlooking rooftop of a store that had closed for the evening. The smaller of the two addressed the larger.

“Hey. We make a pretty good team, yeah? Are you in the mood for some jazz?”

Chapter 31 – Warrior

“We need to get a car of our own. Jonathan’s getting nervous about the amount of miles we’re putting on this one.”

“Yeah?”

“He hasn’t said anything, but I can tell.”

“Knowing him, he doesn’t want to discourage us, Adam. What do you think we should do?”

“We can’t afford a new car, but we can contribute more money to the house until we can.”

“Neither one of them will settle for that.”

He raised his eyebrows and drummed the steering wheel with his thick fingers. It was dark outside their vehicle, and they were both dressed in black. Eve had been right. The new fabric breathed. It also afforded greater freedom of movement.

“We’ll just have to be persistent. They’ll accept the new normal after a while.”

“What about your medical bills?”

“Medicaid picked up most of the cost, and I’ve made a sizeable dent in the rest. It won’t be much longer.”

She nodded thoughtfully.

“That should free up a fair amount of money. Maybe we could put it toward a used car.”

“If I save carefully…”

“And I could put some aside, too. After all, we’d both be using it.”

They were driving south along I-49. Adam turned on the right blinker when he saw the off ramp for State Road 171.

“Okay with you if I go this way?”

“You’re the navigator on this one,” she answered. “We wouldn’t even be doing this if it weren’t for another of your premonitions.”

The highway skimmed along the northern edge of Carthage. After a few more minutes, they entered Webb City and turned left at the intersection with Madison. The name of this street changed to Rangeline as they headed south into Joplin. Almost instinctively, Adam made a series of turns until they were closer to the downtown area.

“Better get your mask ready. We’re close.”

“These outfits work better, yeah?”

“Much.”

“Still black – but ventilated and form-fitting. The shoes, too. They’re lighter and they grip better.”

“Hmmm…”

His last response indicated that he was thinking of something else. She made no further attempt to engage him in conversation. They had been working together for long enough that she recognized this peculiar fade in his concentration from the immediate to the imminent. Suddenly, he pulled over and pointed to the entrance of an alley.

“There.”

With their masks on, they initially proceeded with caution. They did not know what to expect. Evelyn took the lead since her night vision was more accurate. They moved silently and quickly in the shadows of the alley. It was about when they reached the literal center of the block that Eve stood up straight and placed her hands on her hips.

“I think we’ve found her.”

An unconscious woman was slumped near a utility pole. As they moved closer, they could see that she was partially undressed and had sustained some bruises. Adam looked blankly at his partner. He was primed for action, but there was nothing for him to do. The adrenaline began to subside, and he felt uncharacteristically weak.

“Eve, no…”

“Adam, look away. She’ll feel better when I wake her if she’s fully dressed.”

Like a smoldering mountain, he did an about face. He understood. This scene was all too familiar. Eve went about her task and then called out softly.

“Okay. She’s more presentable.”

He remained with his back to her.

“Should I step away?”

“I don’t know yet.”

Compassionately, Eve touched her fingertips to the unconscious woman’s forehead. Her eyes blinked open, and she stared angrily at the slice of starlit sky peeking down from between the buildings on either side of the alley. Sitting up suddenly, she pounded the sides of her fists on the pavement in frustration. Adam was genuinely startled to hear her exclaim the very words he was thinking.

“No! Not again!”

He whipped around to see his friend vigorously waving him off. The victim had not yet caught sight of him. He stepped into the shadow of a back entryway. Eve took hold of her wrists in an effort to calm her and to keep her from damaging her hands.

“This has happened to me too – repeatedly. I’m here to help.”

“Who put my skirt back on?”

“I did. The last time this happened, did you report it?”

“No. It wouldn’t have done any good.”

It will tonight. We’re going to catch him.”

“You? Who are you?”

“I can’t identify myself, but I mean what I said.”

“Well, it’s not him. It’s them. There were two. What can you do?”

Her words had come between forceful breaths.

“Not just me – not anymore. I have a friend, a very capable friend, and we’re good at finding people. May I introduce you to him?”

She shuddered and hesitated.

“I don’t need to meet another man right now.”

“You might feel differently if you met this one. He helped me after the last time I was attacked.”

Curiosity was taking hold but not at the expense of her protective defiance.

“Suit yourself.”

This girl had some fight in her, but she had nowhere productive to direct what she was feeling. Adam stepped out of the shadows, and she gasped involuntarily.

“Please don’t be alarmed. I’m on your side.”

“Do you believe me, now?” Eve questioned.

“I – I guess so.”

Silent tears filled her eyes.

“I need to wash off.”

“That might not be the best idea,” Eve instructed. “Please think about calling this in and submitting to an examination. They’ll need forensic evidence because we’re going to catch these guys.”

“Did you know them?” asked Adam.

“No. They had knives. They threatened me not to scream, not to tell.”

“Cowards,” he muttered. “Can you describe them?”

She did, and Eve followed up with another question.

“Where did they come from?”

“I was in the bar around the corner. I didn’t even have that much to drink. They must have followed me out.”

“Is there anything else you can tell us, anything that might help?”

She drew her shoulders in for a second and a fearful look of recollection crossed her face. It was quickly replaced by one of outrage.

“Yes. There’s something else. Before they – before they…”

Eve touched her shoulder.

“You don’t have to say it.”

The woman’s eyes flashed in the dim, ambient light.

“I want to. Before they attacked me they bragged about almost having their quota for the evening.”

Adam clenched his fists.

“We’ve got them. They’re still at it, and they’ll be in custody before sunrise.”

Shocked by the forcefulness of his pronouncement, she looked up at him as Eve helped her to stand.

“We have to hurry, but only if you promise me you’ll do what I asked. The police will need evidence to match to the men who did this.”

“But… they used condoms.”

“Were you able to scratch them during the assault?”

She looked down at her hands, and her voice quavered.

“Each – each one held me by – by the wrists while the other held his knife to me and…”

Her speech was accelerating. Eve touched her on the side of her neck, and the released chemicals calmed her down. Eve repeated her question.

“Did you manage to scratch them?”

“I think so – both of them, mostly on their wrists. I twisted my hands around and dug in pretty hard. I don’t know if the first one noticed because he was laughing at me while he was holding me down for his friend, but the other one cursed at me and knocked me out when it was over.”

“Then you’ve got the evidence you need under your fingernails. Be sure not to wash your hands until after you’ve been examined, and make sure they check for signs of a concussion – that is, if you’re in.”

Feeling herself in a position of emerging strength, the assaulted woman nodded with resolve.

“I’ll do that,” she asserted.

“Are you sure? If you agree to this, you need to understand the ordeal isn’t over.”

“And it wouldn’t be if I did nothing. It wasn’t before.”

“You have a phone, yeah?”

“No. They smashed it, but I’ll go back to that bar and make the call.”

“We’d go with you, but we need to remain anonymous.”

“I wouldn’t let you, anyway. I want to do this by myself.”

“Where can we find you so you can identify them?”

She looked apprehensively at Adam and whispered her address in Evelyn’s ear.

“Don’t worry. He can be trusted. Do you need an escort?”

“No,” she answered in an effort to maintain what she could of her independence. “I’d rather walk. It’s not far.”

“Are you sure?”

She nodded again.

“Lightning won’t strike twice in one night.”

This was not a typical response, and it betrayed something unusual about the young woman’s character. Impressed by her courage and fierceness of spirit, Eve looked briefly at Adam.

“Then we’ll get started. We’ll have them for you by morning at the latest.”

They walked with her out of the alley. She turned left, and they turned right to go to their car.

“Do you have a fix on them?”

“Not yet. I need your help.”

“I know this town. They won’t work the same bar twice or even one nearby, but I doubt they’ll go too far away, either. They obviously target college girls, so that cuts the list of spots down even further. We can hit all of them. We’ve got good descriptions, and your radar might start working.”

Adam looked at her with admiration.

“So this is what you know how to do. You’re good. Let’s go hunting.”

She gave him a grim smile, and her pupils constricted.

“You know what?” he asked with a nervousness he could not conceal. “I’m glad we’re on the same side.”

It was after four in the morning when the victim heard the knock on her apartment door. Sleep had been impossible. The memory of being attacked, the perceived degradation of being examined by a man, it was all too fresh. She was too mad to sleep, and the fact that this had happened to her twice called her sense of reality into question. It was no longer possible for her to determine the rules by which the universe operated. She looked through the peep hole in the door and flinched then relaxed. The two masked figures looked threatening at first, but then she remembered them as the man and the woman who had come to her assistance in the alley. She opened her door to a sight which put her on the road to clarity. Her assailants were lying unconscious on the ground.

“They’ll be out for hours,” the female figure reassured her. “Do you recognize them?”

“It’s them,” she confirmed. “How did you…”

“That’s not important. Do you have a phone?”

“My roommate’s.”

“Please get it now.”

She closed the door. A few minutes later, she opened it.

“Dial 9-1-1,” Eve instructed. “I want to make sure you don’t do anything rash before we leave. These men are helpless, and they’re at your disposal. Don’t reduce yourself to what they are.”

“What should I say?”

“Only that the two men who attacked you tonight are passed out in front of your apartment door. It won’t be a lie, and the police might think your attackers were still stalking you. Please don’t mention us. It might interfere with our work.”

The call was made. After giving the information to the dispatcher, the young woman hung up. There was a calm urgency to Eve’s voice as they were preparing to leave.

“You know the trial’s going to be difficult. The defense attorney will try to paint you in the worst possible light. Getting them convicted won’t be the end of it, either. You’ll need professional counseling. I did, but I resisted doing it for years. When I finally gave in, it helped. And get in touch with an advocacy group. You’ll need someone in your corner to help you through the trial. All right?”

A curious expression lit her features, one of surprise, hope, and determination.

“Yes, and thank you. This is really going to happen this time, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.” Adam confirmed. “If you’re really up for this, you could do a lot of good by following through.”

“To others like us,” Eve added. “Too many of us have been putting up with this in isolation.”

Once they were out of sight, Eve buried her face in Adam’s shoulder and cried.

“Why couldn’t we get there in time? We came as soon as we found out. Why didn’t he…”

“Do you think we can blame him?”

“No. At least I don’t want to…”

She remembered the thoughts that had answered her questions at Osage Village. Those answers had not been easy. Nor had they been emotionally satisfying, but they had spoken of responsibilities that most human beings were unwilling to undertake. The efforts that she and her chimeric friend were making would never be enough by themselves.

“This could have been my fault,” Adam reasoned. “Maybe I should have sensed it sooner. Maybe I wasn’t receptive.”

She dropped her head and shook it back and forth against his arm.

“We can’t do this to ourselves. We’ll burn out.”

“Then we’d better not try to explain it. We’d be wrong, anyway.”

“So…”

“So we just keep going.”

“Yeah.”

“I just hope we didn’t push her too hard.”

Eve shook her head.

“Not this one, or I would have stopped. It might not help everyone, but it will help her.”

A thought occurred to Adam.

“I don’t know if this will make you feel any better…”

“But?”

“Did you see the look in her eyes?”

Eve drove home, as she usually did, and they rode in silence. Deflated and wishing to drive more slowly in less traffic, they had decided to take S. R. 43 instead of the interstate. The darkened fields passed by their windows in mute testimony of their disappointment. Shaken by their experience that night, neither of them felt like turning on the car radio.

 

 

Alias Adam (Chapters 28-29)

Chapter 28 – No More Ghosts

Janice and Jonathan had another argument. On this occasion, he was the one who needed convincing. His main objection centered around the indefinite nature of the assignment, and it fell upon his wife to point out its necessity in moving Evelyn toward the culmination of the counseling process. In the wake of this defense, his next objection fell like a domino. True, Adam and Eve had received nothing in the way of specific instructions, but they were merely applying what they had already learned. A compromise was struck. They would leave early in the morning, and they would not be gone for more than two nights. They were also to take an envelope from Janice to be opened when they reached St. Louis.

The trip took a little less than five hours. The two remarkable friends drove east on U. S. 54 and began dipping into the foothills of the Ozarks past Collins. The scenery was more interesting here than on the relatively flat Osage Plateau region they had left behind. They picked up U. S. 65 South at Preston for about fourteen miles and turned left on S. R. 64 East when they hit Lewisburg. After a while, the road began to wind before descending to Bennett Spring State Park. Passing this, they climbed and twisted some more and were soon in Lebanon. Here, they stopped for gas and then proceeded onto I-44 as it angled northeast toward St. Louis. When they reached the city limits, Adam looked over at Eve.

“What do you think is in it?”

“In what?” she asked playfully.

“You haven’t forgotten the envelope Janice gave us. I know you’re wondering about it as much as I am.”

“So?”

“So we’re here, aren’t we?”

“You read very well,” she complimented. “When we passed the sign, I wanted to see how long it would take you to ask.”

“Was it worth it?”

“Yes,” she smiled, drawing the envelope out of the glove box. “Three guesses.”

“Just one: money.”

She opened it.

“Well, look at you. Hey! It’s over four-hundred dollars, and there’s another piece of paper folded in here with it.”

She read the note and laughed.

“This is vintage Janice. She says it’s to cover the cost of two rooms for two nights. She doesn’t want us sleeping in the same room.”

“Well, we won’t, and we’re not spending one penny of that.”

“Of course we aren’t.”

Eve directed him to the housing project where she had grown up. Getting out of the sedan, they locked their doors and looked around. A beautiful sky was spread over the dismal monoliths of the project. There weren’t that many cars in the lot because most of the residents couldn’t afford them.

“Over there,” Eve said as she pointed. “That was my building. We were on the third floor.”

Despite the sunny day, the inside was dim. A number of ceiling lights were broken out, and the elevator wasn’t working. Evelyn guided them through a door under a smashed out electrical sign. The stairwell reeked of urine. She wrinkled her nose.

“The smell hasn’t changed. Some of the neighbors must have ripped their plumbing out and sold it. I wonder if they’re the same ones.”

Walking solemnly on the third floor, they stopped in front of a door about halfway down the hall. She took a deep breath.

“This is it? What do I say?”

She knocked repeatedly, but there was no answer. Her hands dropped to her sides, and she lowered her head and thought for several minutes. Her friend wisely said nothing. She looked up again and squinted at the number on the door. Her cheek muscles tightened.

“Adam, before we go any further, I need to clear my head. Janice and I couldn’t do this before because it was impractical, but now you and I are here. The first five assaults I suffered were what tipped me over the edge. The first three happened on the other side of that door, the fourth outside this building. Will you allow me to go over the details with you?”

“Do we really need to do this?”

“I know it’s uncomfortable for you, but it will help me.”

He pursed his lips and swallowed hard.

“Okay. Let’s get this over with.”

Adam actually benefited from Eve’s cognitive re-enactments. Due to his protective nature and their unique attachment, he, too, needed to be inoculated against the effects of her past. Hearing the details of each violation, he progressed rapidly through the stages of grief. His prior knowledge and experience had long since carried him past denial. Anger flared up, but he had learned more effective ways of dealing with this during his own counseling sessions. He was too street-wise, too intelligent to see any point in useless bargaining over circumstances which were firmly established. As things were decidedly looking up for both of them, there was no real basis for depression. He had, for the last couple of years, lingered between intellectual acceptance and emotional acceptance, the latter step being the most difficult to take owing to his feelings for his companion. As she blandly worked by rote through her narrative, he was able to surmount this longstanding obstacle. They went back outside, and she showed him where the fourth rape had occurred. In the parking lot, she stood on the place where she had lain as a victim: a faded, white line between two rusting automobiles.

“There were a couple of cars here then, too. This is where he dragged me. The building on the other side of the one behind us is where he died.”

They re-entered the high rise, mounted the stairs, and returned to the hallway outside her former apartment. It had been six years since she had last been there, and knocking on doors drew reactions ranging from indifference to hostility from those units where anyone happened to be home. Nobody remembered her mother, and Eve did not remember them having lived there when she had. Resolved to try every door if necessary, they moved up to the next floor and so eventually found themselves seated at the table of an elderly woman in a cramped dwelling space crawling with grandchildren.

“I don’t have the means or the room,” she explained with resignation, “but somebody’s got to raise them. Now who were you looking for?”

“Amber Morris,” Evelyn repeated. “She’s my mother.”

“Then you had a hard childhood – even for here. Say, I remember. You’re that little blonde girl of hers. I watched you grow up. Never understood how anyone could look so innocent living in that situation. My, my…”

“Do you know what happened to her? Does she still live here?”

“No, not here. She moved out some time ago. I’m sorry to say this, but word had it she was hooking to support her habit. Must have thought business was better elsewhere.”

This well-intentioned grandmother could offer no further assistance. She was burdened with a multitude of her own problems but wished them well. When they reached the parking lot, Adam spoke first.

“What do we do now? This is a pretty big city.”

“I could guess at some parts of town to search, but are you getting anything?”

“No. I’m drawing a blank.”

“No pull?”

“Nothing.”

“I wonder why he isn’t speaking?”

“He didn’t before we decided to come here, either. That was us. We didn’t come all this way by some miraculous revelation.”

“It was more of a natural thought process, a matter of conscience,” she agreed. “Who’s to say he wasn’t involved in that?”

“That makes more sense to me. He isn’t a trained animal act…”

“Or a cosmic butler…”

“He doesn’t have to speak on command. Maybe we’re supposed to do this the hard way.”

“Yeah. I guess so. I can see how it could help our character – you know perseverance…”

“… and trust,” he finished for her.”

She giggled.

“Do you hear the way we’re talking? It’s like he’s here without being here.”

Adam grinned.

“Now you’re sounding like Jonathan. Besides, maybe he’s here, and we just can’t tell.”

In a greater metropolitan area of nearly three million souls scattered through fifteen counties straddling the border between Missouri and Illinois, they had no choice but to turn to the streetwalkers in the more perilous parts of the city, and this necessitated conducting their investigation after dark. Operating on the hunch that Eve’s mother had stayed on the Missouri side of the line, they drove, stopped, questioned, and drove again. Eve knew some places where they could find working women, but none were forthcoming for the first few hours of their search. Twice, Adam had to stare down pimps foolish enough to attempt intimidating him. More often than that, he was obliged to turn down some pecuniary propositions.

They were ready to give up for the night when they found a lead. A woman using “Star” as her moniker knew of Amber. No, that particular hooker hadn’t been seen around there for at least a month. Star softened when she learned that Eve was Amber’s daughter, and she helped them narrow their search to a single neighborhood of last known activity.

“Slow business but not much competition,” was her assessment as she strolled off in search of customers.

It was decided that their best course of action would be to find somewhere to eat and then to get some sleep. Their quest would be resumed in the morning. Janice’s gift went unused after a very late dinner at a fast food place that was open all night. Unaccustomed to such unhealthy fare, they experienced indigestion and slept in the car in a somewhat safer part of town. Mid-morning found them trolling the streets of an unsavory locale that prostitutes occasionally worked as a fallback option.

“Do you think she’ll be out here at this time of day?”

“Mom? No. She’s somewhere sleeping it off, but we might find someone who can give us more information.  Keep to where the stores are. There isn’t enough activity on the residential streets.”

“It’s a long shot,” he sighed. “Why do I get the feeling this is actually going to work?”

“Wait – over there. I’ve seen that man before. He was one of my mother’s suppliers. He operated in the projects where we lived.”

“Has it struck you that all of this might be too coincidental?” he asked. “This is happening faster than we have a right to expect.”

Adam pulled over to the curb, and they got out of the car. Eve calmly walked up to the pusher and established eye contact.

“You dealt drugs to my mother.”

“Whoa, now… your mother? Who’s that?”

“Amber Morris.”

“Oh, yeah… I remember her. Been off her game, for the last year or so. You that little girl she used to drag around with her?”

He leered.

“You were a looker even then. Too bad your old lady couldn’t keep it together. Got looks too sorry for those project payments, now.”

“Project payments,” Eve repeated with contempt.

“You know how that works. She’d give me a little. I’d give her a little.”

The bait was not taken, and she betrayed no emotion as Adam walked up behind her.

“I need to know where she is. Will you help me?”

“That depends on what we can work out.”

Whether is it was an innuendo or a demand for payment, Adam didn’t like the implications. He leaned in menacingly.

“Just tell her.”

The dealer backed up and waved his hands nervously.

“Okay… okay. No trouble here. I don’t know where she’s holed up.”

“But you know her.”

“Yeah, she works this street sometimes. When she has what I want, I give her what she needs. Hold on, now. Let me ask.”

He called to some loiterers farther down the street.

“Any of you seen the hit lady?”

Eve was incensed by his manner. The men began sauntering over to them.

“Why did you call her that?”

The man shrugged as if it should have been obvious.

“Anyone can have her for a hit.”

“If you’re desperate,” one of the indigents taunted.

He looked critically at the chimera.

“You desperate?”

“Not at all.”

“I think you look desperate. Maybe I can tell you what you want to know if you let us in on the action with your girlfriend.”

Eve saw the shadows within them. She raised her hands to waist level.

“Not yet,” Adam whispered in her ear.

He fixed his eyes on the provocateur.

“So you know where the woman we’re looking for lives.”

The man seemed to shrivel a little.

“It’s no kind of house… abandoned… not too far from here. Hit lady hasn’t been this way for awhile.”

The more Adam stared at him, the more information he revealed. He gave them the address. The rest of the group began crowding around them. Their hands were concealed. Having a well-practiced eye for trouble, the dealer walked quickly away. Adam and Eve betrayed not the slightest sense of anxiety, and this made the encircling pack hesitate.

“I’ve seen this before,” Adam announced matter-of-factly. “You’re getting ready to come out of your pockets, but you’ll be down before you can use whatever you’re carrying. Are you sure that’s what you want?”

None of them answered. Each had adopted a flat affect.

“You should ask yourselves why we aren’t nervous,” Eve seconded.

“We take him out, we can take you down,” one of them postulated.

Adam followed up with some advice.

“You’re basing that on inaccurate information. It would be safer for you to show us your backs and walk away.”

They failed to heed his advice. There were six of them. Adam disarmed four, and Eve disarmed the other two while rendering them unconscious. Five knives, one gun, and six bodies fell to the pavement. The altercation lasted less than a minute.

“You should have taken the deal,” Adam lectured the four on the sidewalk who were still awake.

They were holding their ribs and breathing with difficulty as they rolled back and forth on the ground.

“Put your hands in your pockets, and hold still.”

This group was neither as determined nor as hardened as the gang they had apprehended in Gladstone. Adam’s instructions were followed with alacrity. Evelyn touched the forehead of each, and they quickly passed out.

“You’re okay with calling the police, yeah?”

“Completely. They might get useful forensic evidence. I mean, the culprits are lying right next to their weapons. Who knows what those have been used for in the past?”

She looked down at their vanquished adversaries.

“They look so peaceful – like little children.”

“Ironic, considering what they tried and what’s about to happen to them,” Adam reminded her. “It’s easy to be compassionate after we’ve won.”

An expression of worry passed over her face.

“They were children once. What happened?”

“I’m sure you’ve heard the explanations, Eve.”

“But those explanations apply to us, too. What happened to them?”

“It might be better to consider what happened to us.”

“Someone cared,” she thought aloud. “Someone intervened and took an interest.”

“Maybe things worked out because we were honestly searching for something better…”

A thought interrupted him, and he paused.

“… not that we necessarily deserved it.”

They fell silent for a moment.

“What is it with you?” she asked in mock astonishment as they walked back to the car. “Two dishonorable men told you the truth.”

He shrugged.

“Besides getting us involved in a fight, it got us your mom’s last known address. I hope this pans out. Oh… you brought your phone, didn’t you?”

“You didn’t bring yours?”

“Uh, no. It’s on the night stand by my bed. I don’t use it all that much.”

She giggled in amusement.

“Did you even leave it plugged in to the charger?”

“I don’t know. I forget that a lot.”

“What if I’d left mine, too? What if we’d had car trouble?”

“So I should start carrying it.”

“At least on road trips. Besides, what if I wanted to get hold of you when we’re in different places?”

Crouching down, Eve began going through the pockets of the fallen men.

“What are you doing?”

“Looking for another phone. Mine’s off to save the battery, and I don’t want my number traced. Ah… there we are.”

She dialed 9-1-1 and waited.

“Given our new hobby, we’d best remain anonymous.”

When there was an answer on the other end, she reported their location and what the police would find there.

“Uh, no,” he heard her say. “We don’t want to be identified.”

After she hung up, she wiped the phone off to remove her prints, and they returned to the car.

“We’d better get out of here. I don’t know the streets. Can you find the address?”

“Yeah. Not to dwell on my former vocation, but I’ve done reconnaissance in this neighborhood before. Turn left up here.”

Without hesitation, she guided him down some residential streets. Within minutes, they were parked in front of a row of dilapidated houses. The one for which they were looking no longer had a visible address on the front, but they identified it based on those of the houses on either side. It was two stories high, and most of its windows were broken or boarded up. White paint was peeling from the wood of its clapboard siding. Litter was strewn across the porch and into the meager front yard. When they reached the door, Eve hesitated.

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

“I have to, especially after the trouble we’ve gone through. It’s worse than what I was expecting, even worse than where we used to live. She must be in awfully bad shape.”

Adam followed her in. The first floor was deserted and devoid of furniture.

“Hello? Is anyone home?”

There was no reply. Cautiously, they started up the stairs. The second floor featured a rectangular area off of which a number of rooms opened. Most of the doors were off their hinges or missing altogether. They walked slowly around this space. Some of the rooms were occupied by people lying incapacitated on the floor with needles, bottles, and other paraphernalia. Others were empty. The sleepers were apparently incapable of waking from their stupor. They heard the sound of a person coughing and went to investigate. The occupant of the room from which the noise emanated was an old woman or at least a woman who looked old. She wore the lines of hard living on her face.

“Who are you?” she asked suspiciously. “Haven’t seen you here before.”

“I’m looking for Amber Morris.”

“Who?”

“Amber Morris. She’s my mother. I was told she lives here.”

“Don’t know anyone by that name. Get out of here. Leave me alone.”

“Some people called her the hit lady,” Adam interceded.

“Her? Yeah, she lived here. Your mother, you say?”

“Yes.”

“Not here any more. She OD’d n’ died. Some fool called 9-1-1 when the smell got too bad. Too high to know better. Police came with the ambulance, and took her out of here in a bag. Cleared all of us out, too, but me and some others, we came back.”

Eve couldn’t speak. Adam gently led her away by her shoulders.

“Sorry for the interruption. It’s your home, and we’re going.”

When they left the house and stepped into the sunlight, Eve stopped and gazed absently into the sky.

“No more ghosts,” she stated with finality.

“Do you want to find out where she’s buried?”

“No. She won’t be there. I forgive her.”

“You’re lucky. At least you know who to forgive.”

“She never talked about her parents, not even when I asked. I don’t know where they are or even if they’re alive. The only link to my past – it’s broken.”

“Is that such a bad thing?”

Her voice wavered.

“We’re rootless, Adam.”

“Not anymore. We have people, now.”

“The city must have a place where they bury homeless people,” she mused. “Before I left home for good, I asked her why she kept me. She said for the welfare payments. I never saw her after that, never spoke to her. She lived off of the government. I suppose it’s appropriate that she died off of them, too.”

She laughed briefly to keep from crying.

“You know, I daydreamed about saving her.”

He tried to console her.

“It was a good dream.”

“We’re alive and new, Adam. Isn’t it beautiful out here?

Surrounded by squalor, she stopped watching the clouds and faced him. Her expression was one of supplication.

“I don’t want to lead you on or anything, but could you hold my hand?”

He consented, and it struck him that she seemed to be steadying herself.

“Let’s get out of her,” she decided. “We both smell terrible.”

Chapter 29 – Pushy

“No… mmmph… stop.”

He wasn’t listening. His kisses didn’t feel passionate. They felt more like an attempt to keep her from speaking. His right forearm was across her shoulders and upper chest, pinning her back to the car seat, and he was nearly on top of her. A knee was poking painfully into her thigh. He groped her. She reached for the door handle, but he pulled her hand away. The pressure being exerted by his right forearm kept her from wiggling free. His left hand began fumbling with her belt buckle. She tried to push it away, but he squeezed her arm until it hurt. Suddenly, the weight was off of her, and she could take a deep breath. She saw his shoes disappearing through the driver’s side window.

This was a lovely spring evening which had grown progressively worse. He had driven her out of town and into the hills surrounding Springfield despite her requests to turn around and take her home. He had explained that there was a nice spot that he wanted to show her. Once they had arrived here, he had initiated what she thought was a typical “DTR” talk. Yes, she liked him, she had reassured. Then how about showing him, he had suggested. From there the conversation had turned progressively more uncomfortable until it became obvious that words alone would not defend her.

His head was thrust back into the car.

“Tell her you’re sorry.”

“She didn’t mind,” he protested.

“Yes, I did!” she answered with a loudness that surprised her.

“You heard that, right? When a woman thinks she’s being raped, she’s being raped.”

His head was pulled quickly out of the window. Through the blur of her emotions, she saw a huge figure, dressed entirely in black, carrying her date into the woods. She couldn’t hear her attacker saying anything. Maybe a hand was over his mouth. The light sounds of movement through the underbrush became indiscernible, and she was alone. As she cried softly, the night sounds failed to soothe her.

Back in the woods, the would-be perpetrator felt himself being tossed earthward. He was somewhat dazed as he sat up in the detritus covering the ground.

“Don’t try to get up.”

He tried and found himself having to sit up again.

“You don’t like being controlled, do you? Think about how she felt.”

“Look. I won’t do it again, okay? Just let me go.”

A second voice, this one feminine, made comment.

“Don’t. This one’s lying. He’s done this before, and he has no intention of stopping. I wish we could turn him in.”

“It’s no good. He hasn’t really done anything yet, at least not anything that could be proved. There isn’t enough evidence to arrest him.”

Petrified, the man remained quiet.

“What about his date?”

“It would be her word against his.”

“Maybe we could testify.”

“Do you think it would stand up in court? We can’t risk exposing ourselves.”

“Well, we can’t just let him go…”

“And we can’t kill him. Doggone it, that just wouldn’t be nice.”

“No, really. I’ll stop.”

“Who gave you permission to speak?” the woman scolded. “You’re interrupting.”

There was a pause.

“Do you believe him now?”

“Nope. Still lying. That surprises me. They normally tell the truth around you. He must be a hard case.”

“Then we’ll just have to give him a reason to quit. He might fess up later.”

“That depends,” the feminine voice speculated. “Did you read that article I gave you?”

“Oh, sure.”

“What type do you think he is?”

“Hmmm… I’ll go with power-reassurance?”

“Do you think he’s that inept?”

“I see what you mean. Probably not. How about power-assertive?”

“It’s hard to tell if he’s that violent.”

“He doesn’t seem all that athletic,” the masculine voice added. “Maybe he works out a little. He is dressed kind of macho.”

“And he obviously got to know her first. That’s rather typical.”

“About the violence thing… we did manage to get here before he got very far, and he was using a certain amount of force.”

“What about Gladstone?”

“Definitely anger-excitation – at least the leader. He was into inflicting mental anguish, but maybe the others were more of the anger-retaliation variety.”

“Yeah. Either way, this guy doesn’t look that sick.”

He looked upward. Both figures were dressed identically, right down to their black ski masks. The smaller one slapped her forehead with the heel of her palm.

“What are we doing?” she asked jokingly. “Those FBI profiles only apply to rapists who target strangers. Maybe he knew her better than that. Let’s ask him.”

“How long have you known her?” his male captor demanded.

“We’ve been dating a few months. We both go to Missouri State.”

“I’d say she looks younger than you. What is she, a freshman?”

His female interrogator took over.

“I’ll bet you met her in a bar.”

“Uh… yes,” he replied weakly.

“And you cultivated the relationship.”

Her companion broke in.

“But you had this in mind from the beginning.”

“Yes,” he admitted, although he didn’t know why.

“That’s better,” the masked woman said approvingly. “Maybe he’s finally wearing down. As to his type, he might be farther down on the continuum. About the only differences between him and a power-assertive that I can see are frequency and how well he gets to know his victims beforehand. Oh, and maybe a lesser degree of force. Well, I can’t stay any longer. Do what you think is best.”

The slight figure walked away. She reminded him of a phantom from some bad dream. The large man grabbed him by his shoulders, jerked him to his feet, and held his head between two gloved hands. Feeling the strength of this anatomical vice, the violator started hyperventilating. Had this masked terror changed his mind? Was he going to snap his neck?

“Look at me, and listen carefully.”

They were standing in a shaft of moonlight that penetrated the canopy of the trees. Desperately, hopefully, he beheld the eyes revealed by the slits in the mask. In the dim light, they didn’t seem to match. He found their intensity threatening.

“Please…”

“I said listen. A number of studies have been done on guys like you – anonymous surveys, mostly. College men who commit sexual assault number about one in ten. Still listening? Four out of five of those rapists think they’ve done nothing illegal. You might not consider yourself a rapist, but let’s get rid of this misunderstanding. Like I said back at the car, if a woman thinks she’s being raped, she is being raped. Got it?”

His captive vainly gripped Adam’s wrists in an effort to free his head.

“Sure,” he grunted. “Whatever you say.”

“I’m not convinced. You don’t seem to be intrinsically motivated to do the right thing, so here’s another piece of useful information. One study found that around one-fifth to one-third of college males would consider raping if they knew they wouldn’t get caught. Let me give you some extrinsic motivation. You were caught tonight, and it could easily happen again. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, remember what I tell you next. There is someone who knows the thoughts that squirm in your brain. Either you’re done, or you will be found out. You will pay. How’s that for extrinsic motivation?”

“Uh, pretty effective.”

“I know you’re saying what you think I want to hear, so I’m going to give you time to come to your senses. If I catch you walking out of these woods before sunrise, you’ll be sorry. We live a long way away, and we had no trouble finding you tonight. There’s nowhere to hide. Now keep staring at the ground, and think.”

He obeyed more out of fear than sincerity. When he finally looked around, he was by himself. That massive shadow could be lurking nearby, and his only guarantee of safety was to wait until morning before returning to his car.

His intended victim was walking down the road when she reached an intersection. She had almost driven away in his car, but she did not want to be accused of stealing it. For as long as she had been walking, she must have been farther out of town than she originally thought. Which way should she go? Hearing the sound of a vehicle approaching from behind, she flinched. The car stopped beside her. Its windows were down.

“Can I give you a ride?” the driver asked.

Relieved to hear another female voice, the college student nodded. The driver, dressed in shorts, a tee shirt, and black running shoes, was in her late twenties, but she looked younger.

“I don’t really know where I’m going. I need to get to my apartment in Springfield.”

“How did you get all the way out here?”

“My date. I thought he was okay, but he brought me out here and tried to rape me.”

She started to cry.

“Get in. I know how to get to town. Once we’re there, you can guide me wherever you need to go.”

As they rode back toward Springfield, the driver tried to make conversation.

“There are some tissues in the glove compartment if you need them. You said he tried to rape you. What stopped him?

“Some guy pulled him off of me. I didn’t get a good look at him, but he was huge.”

“You should be thankful. I’ve been assaulted before when no one was around to help me.”

This information caused a change in the passenger’s expression.

“How did you meet this jerk?”

Emboldened by the knowledge that she was in the presence of a fellow veteran, the co-ed kept talking.

“Where else? In a bar.”

“Not the best place to meet Mister Right…”

“Whatever. Everybody goes out.”

“So he got your number and started calling, yeah?”

“How did you know?”

“Well you were with him, tonight. Besides, they’re pretty predictable, aren’t they?”

“Sure are,” she agreed to avoid appearing naïve. “He called a lot – even showed up at my campus job once or twice. I thought it was by accident.”

“It wasn’t by accident. Let me fill in the blanks. He asked you out, and you said yes.”

“He seemed nice.”

“And after a while he tried to monopolize your time and isolate you from your friends. If you got into a disagreement, he would grab your hand or squeeze or twist your arm a little.”

“That’s just normal.”

“Is it? Should it be? So you dated for what…”

“Almost three months.”

“He made most of the decisions, and he usually got his way, didn’t he? If someone held a gun to my head – and, believe me, it’s happened before – I’d say tonight was a pre-arranged date.”

“Yes…”

“Don’t tell me. He took you drinking, and then he brought you here. That’s not much of a date.”

“How do you know all this?”

“Remember what I said about this type being predictable. You don’t have to settle. You can insist on better.”

After playing the role of chauffeur, Eve went back and found Adam walking along the same road. Except for wearing gloves, he was dressed much as she was, and he carried a black ski mask in his right hand. Black sweatpants and a matching sweatshirt were draped over his left forearm. Their discussion in front of the perpetrator had been somewhat staged, but they had ad-libbed nicely. It was uncanny how they could anticipate each other’s thoughts. She slowed to a stop.

“You’re cute. Want a ride?”

“Nah, I’ve only got a hundred miles or more to go.”

“You’re sweating,” she laughed as he got into the car.

“It’s warm out, and this outfit was hot,” he said as he flipped his mask and sweats into the back.

“Don’t look at me. You did the shopping for both of us.”

“Well, these worked better in colder weather. Do they have spring lines for superhero costumes?”

“It’s called athletic wear, Adam. Some fabrics breathe. We can look into it.”

“As long as it’s on-line. I’ve had enough of shopping in person. Mission accomplished?”

“She’s home, safe and sound. I don’t know how much anything I said sunk in, though.”

“Me neither. At least we tried. You still good to drive?”

“For now. I’ll let you know if I get tired. Since we’re near a college town, maybe you can find us some jazz.”

He couldn’t, so they settled for rock. As they went west along I-44 to Joplin, the signal faded. It was country music for a while after that. Near Joplin, Adam found something more to their liking. It stayed with them all the way on I-49 North to Nevada.

 

 

The Modern Pantheon: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

 

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When reviewing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017, Disney Marvel), I suppose one must mention Baby Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel.  From the opening to the closing credits, he adds an emotional,  humorous, and heroic facet to the story.

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In addition to some of the personnel mentioned last week, some new cast members join the party: Kurt Russell as Ego, Pom Klementief as Mantis, Sylvester Stallone As Stakar Ogord (the head Ravager who reveals some of Yondu’s backstory), and Elizabeth Debecki as Ayesha (a ranking member of the snobbish Sovereign).

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This entertaining and somewhat adolescent movie (no offense intended from one who regards himself an overgrown teenager) employs a number of themes from ancient mythology: patricide, the seduction (or worse) of women by gods, and gods as planets. My unanswered question about Peter Quill’s father is addressed early on. He was sired by Ego, a Celestial (or god, “small ‘g’, son”) whose powerful but self-absorbed mind has generated his physical form and the planet he calls home.

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The planet itself is alive, a concept from Greco Roman mythology. I was reminded of Plato’s Timmaeus. Humans and gods were considered animals because they moved (i.e. were animated), and this applied to planets as well, which were often associated with various gods. The surface of Ego’s planet is a kind of Candy Land on hallucinatory steroids (my invented term).

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I liked how Ego’s planet is, at one point, shown as having a face when viewed from outer space.

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It’s elaborate interior is likened to a nervous system emanating from Ego’s brain.

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Mantis is Ego’s fearful assistant. She identifies herself as an Empath, an alien who can detect emotions through physical contact with the person feeling them.

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The story has a persistent theme of reconciliation – for example, between sisters Gamora and Nebula…

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… and between Quill and Yondu (as well as between Yondu and the Ravagers).

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In an outro mingled with the closing credits, Ayesha…

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Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) Ph: Film Frame ©Marvel Studios 2017

 

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…  reveals the technological chrysalis that will usher Adam Warlock into the MCU.

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In the comics, Adam is repeatedly killed and resurrected, so his cinematic inclusion should be of mythological interest. Another outro (as well as a screen shot) provides a humorous scene of Stan Lee telling stories to the Watchers.

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His own creation, they are observers who show up at events of cosmic importance in the comics. Given the rate at which these movies are being made, Marvel Studios should never run out of characters.

 

 

Alias Adam (Chapters 25-27)

Chapter 25 – Training

Fear gripped greater Kansas City. There had been a string of home invasions which were troubling enough in themselves, but it was the brutal nature of these crimes that was generating so much alarm. They were always carried out at night but not at any particular time. There was no predictable frequency to their occurrence, no characteristic interval between incidents. Seemingly at random, different communities in the metropolitan area had been hit. There was no apparent racial or physical preference of victim.

Young couples were being targeted in middle class and upper class neighborhoods. After binding and gagging the occupants, five armed and masked men would search a house and take items of value. Once this was accomplished, they would gang rape the wife, shoot her husband in the head, and leave her alive. Semen samples and other forms of evidence had yielded no clues as to their identities. Their fingerprints and DNA were not in any law enforcement data bases. That they took no precautions against leaving specimens behind belied either foolish carelessness or the thrill of taking risks. In light of their deliberate cruelty, the latter was deemed more likely.

Adam and Eve had made remarkably rapid progress in their Tae Kwan Do and self defense studies, so much so that their instructor was both baffled and challenged. His pupils had such exceptional physical and mental ability that to hear something explained was to understand, and to see a motion demonstrated was to be able to perform it. He was astounded at their coordination and kinesthetic awareness. As an experiment, he had them go through some of their basic moves with their eyes closed, a task which they completed unerringly. Unsuccessfully, he tried to persuade them to consider competing in tournaments.

They explained to him that they didn’t care about ranks and belts of different colors, that they simply wanted to learn as much as they could in order to protect themselves and others should the need arise. Knowing of Adam’s involvement in the Walmart incident, he was honest in explaining to them his concerns. If they progressed in their physical skills too quickly, they might not learn the necessary discipline and restraint. He did not want to be responsible for turning them into weapons that were not properly under control. Their reassurances that fear of harming someone was one of their driving motivations for taking lessons convinced him to promise that he would teach them what he could. It was agreed that they should take private lessons after the students from the various age group classes had cleared out.

The facility, or Dojang, in which they trained was a converted storefront with a large mat covering its floor. The door and front wall were of glass and, in effect, constituted one, big window looking onto the sidewalk and the street. White, plastic chairs were lined up along the front edge of the mat so that parents could watch during classes for their children. Pictures and a few posters were on the side walls, and the back wall had a shelf with numerous trophies.

The curriculum to which they were subjected consisted of forms, sparring, and the breaking of boards. Adam especially was interested in learning the correct forms, for in this he saw a way to safeguard against unnecessary violence. Eve, too, enjoyed these but more for their elegance and beauty of position and motion. The philosophy of the martial art they were learning placed more emphasis on speed than on mass. She found this to her liking, and she developed some formidable skills. Adam’s quickness and power were deliberately subdued, especially during sparring sessions with Eve or his instructor. He used this type of practice to concentrate on the application of technique at what for him was reduced speed. Given his strength, breaking boards was unimportant in itself. What did matter was breaking them properly, and this enabled him to hone his mental focus and physical precision. For her part, Eve loved this activity.

The high school dropout and the college graduate alike were impressed with the structure of their curriculum. Stationary positions laid the foundation for slow movements which could be accelerated into spins, punches, and aerial kicks. Along with blocks and other countermeasures, the strikes were incorporated into live sparring. But there was much more. They engaged in stretching and relaxation methods, and they studied the ethics and discipline of Tae Kwan Do. Great emphasis was placed on respect, courtesy, and justice. Though they were not trying to achieve ranks, they took various written and practical tests, and they took a vow not to misuse their skills.

In addition, Adam and Eve learned how to deal with an armed attacker. They went through some simulation exercises in disarming a man wielding a knife. Adam rehearsed these moves at full speed and at night in the back yard of the Andrews house. He estimated that his unrestrained quickness would enable him to get guns away from multiple felons, and this made him wonder. Why was he thinking like this? He was aware of something, and so was Eve. He could tell by certain expressions on her face that they often thought synchronously without communicating aloud.

Their martial arts training complemented the benefits of therapy, but their transformative experiences on two different hills were of primary importance. Inquiries into the nature and character of the responsible entity became the most common topic of conversation with Janice and Jonathan around the dinner table. Exhaustive comparisons were made between those simultaneous incidents, Jonathan’s dreams, and Janice’s forbearance. The efforts of the retired counselor were a type of moral and social glue which held all of these things together in their perception.

On a gloomy morning in February, Adam and Eve found themselves alone on the living room sofa. Janice and Jonathan had recently left to go shopping in Joplin for whole grains and other items not available in town. They had also decided to eat out, and they would be gone for most of the day. Though they were adults, the young couple felt like teenagers who had been left in charge for the first time.

“This feels funny,” Eve mentioned. “This is where they normally sit.”

“They must trust us,” Adam concluded.

She chuckled.

“It’s not like we’ll burn down the house. We don’t play with matches.”

“And they don’t have to worry about us making out.”

It bothered him that he felt a trace of insincerity as he said this.

“Definitely not,” she laughed.

Despite her casual manner, she seemed to stiffen a little, and he regretted having said anything at all. It grew awkwardly silent.

“I’m sorry. That came out wrong.”

“Okay,” she conceded. “I wouldn’t want to ruin anything.”

“Would you care to go for a walk?”

“Maybe later.”

She was obviously thinking about something. One minute passed, then two.

“Adam, can you do me a favor?”

“What kind of favor?”

“You don’t have to if it makes you uncomfortable.”

“So what is it?”

“I need to practice. If you say yes, I’ll have to put you out. I want to know how long the effects last.”

Now it was his turn to think. It didn’t take him long. Other than reviewing what he had learned from his counseling sessions and his martial arts lessons, he had no definite plans for the day. They weren’t scheduled to work that night.

“Go ahead. Have at it.”

His words and the touch of her hand were the last things he remembered. When he came to, Eve was leaning against him and reading the Chickering translation of Beowulf.

“Welcome back, sleepyhead. It’s a little slow, but I’ve been enjoying the imagery of this poem.”

He felt no after effects.

“It looks like you’ve gotten pretty far.”

“Yeah. I’m about done.”

She looked at the number of pages remaining.

“Well, maybe not.”

“How long have I been out?”

“At least four hours. I got bored after the first two and went up to the library to get this so I’d have something to do.”

“Are we done, then?”

“That depends.”

“On what?”

“If it’s alright with you, I need to try this one more time. Only now, I need to try waking you back up.”

“Do you think you can?”

“I don’t know, but I can’t help feeling that I can do more than this.”

“Well, it doesn’t hurt, and I’m not groggy. I guess it couldn’t do any harm. Do you promise not to walk off and leave me if this doesn’t work?”

“Deal.”

Still leaning against him, she reached across her body and a put a hand on his arm. He was instantly gone. She touched him again in an attempt to summon him back to consciousness. He did not respond. As a test, she tried the conventional method of shaking him but to no avail. Then she shouted.

“Adam! Wake up!”

He slumbered on, and this was telling. He was normally so attuned to her and to his environment that agitation in her voice could summon him from the deepest sleep. She didn’t like having this connection with him broken, and her sense of thoughtfulness and responsibility reminded her that she had already cost him over four hours. Touching him again, she concentrated on waking him up but soon stopped. The strain of this effort was all wrong. She remembered the former stress of the mental state that had rendered her toxic, and a better idea occurred to her. Keeping her hand on his forehead, she relaxed and simply thought of Adam awake, and his eyes opened. Her musical giggle greeted him.

Their training continued. They exhausted the store of skill and knowledge possessed by their Tae Kwan Do instructor, and their lessons came to an end. This freed up more money for household expenses and for paying down Adam’s medical bills. Under mild persuasion, Adam volunteered for some lost evenings so that Eve could develop her proficiencies in anesthesia and analeptic stimulation. The only side effect at first was a shortened perception of the passage of time, but she was able to add yet another wrinkle. Adam allowed her to make him suffer selective memory loss as long as she would then inform him of exactly what he had forgotten. The lost items consisted of nonsense syllables strung together in humorous fashion, and Eve showed herself adept at creating these. Adam received the benefit of laughing at them twice and remembering them once. As the weather improved the chimera and his feminine friend also spent hours on the back porch and simply watched and listened. Taken together, these various disciplines were for more than protecting themselves from others and others from themselves. Intuitively, they still knew that they were preparing for something as yet undefined, and they waited.

Jonathan took out a digital subscription to the Kansas City Star. Though he had chosen to live in a small town, he preferred big city newspapers. He had made his subscription available to the entire household, but he alone perused the articles with any regularity. That changed on an otherwise dull afternoon in April. Adam and Eve had reached a lull in their conversation. Having practiced their forms and basic moves, they found the prospect of further exercise unappealing. They were mentally restless but not in the mood to tackle the more challenging intellectual fare in the upstairs library, so they retired to their respective rooms. Independently, separately, and simultaneously, they were drawn into reading the on-line Star. They found a very disturbing article and systematically worked backward to previous issues to find related accounts. Fingers fidgeted. Toes tapped. The tempo of these movements increased. A mottled forehead frowned, and a pair of distinctively colored irises contracted.

Chapter 26 – First Date

“Uh, Jonathan – can we borrow your car for the night? We’ll make sure the tank is full when we get back.”

He stopped reading and looked up quizzically.

“What for? You’re not working tonight.”

It was mid-March and still a bit on the cool side, but this had not discouraged their routine in the past.

“You and Eve normally like to go walking in weather like this,” he continued, “and I know you’re not planning to go see a movie. The Century 6 is just past Walmart and the interstate, but you mentioned filling the gas tank.”

“Well… it’s like – oh, I might as well say it. I can’t lie to you. We’re going to go catch the gang that’s responsible for those home invasions up in Kansas City.”

“Those aren’t just burglaries, Adam.”

“I know. We’ve been reading about it in the Kansas City Star.”

“On your phones.”

“Well, sure. You gave us your password so we could read it.”

“That I did,” the physicist sighed.

“So we found out about the rapes and murders. I talked it over with Eve, and she agrees. We’ve got to stop them.”

“Why tonight?”

“Because that’s when they’re planning to strike next.”

“Don’t tell me. You just know.”

“Yes.”

“Have you gotten any specific instructions?”

“No,” Eve blurted, “but we know we’re supposed to go.”

She had been standing by silently until then.

“Great,” Jonathan muttered. “I get to defy common sense by saying yes because, in a way, I helped set you up for this kind of thing.”

“What did you just say?”

Janice had been sitting next to her husband on the couch, silently crocheting. Now she was standing. He followed suit.

“You weren’t objecting. I thought it would be alright.”

“Alright? I was trusting you to handle this.”

“And I did.”

She hadn’t raised her voice, but its tone bore the force of a distant storm.

“Eve, could you and Adam take a long walk? Jonathan and I need to have an argument.”

The younger couple was genuinely awed, and they vacated quickly. Once they were suitably alone, the older couple braced for an activity at which they had become quite proficient. In their many years of marriage, they had learned how to fight. It was a skill poorly practiced by novices, but they were familiar with the rules: no name-calling, no personal criticisms, respect for the opinion of the one with whom having a disagreement, no shouting, no coercion, and, lastly, confining one’s comments to the issue at hand.

“They aren’t ready for this. They’ll get in over their heads.”

“Janice, they’re more prepared than they’ve ever been.”

“But is that enough? Intellectually, they’re adults, Jonathan, but, emotionally, they’re still teenagers. He was fueled by rage and she by revenge for so many years that it locked part of each one of them in adolescence. They haven’t had adequate time to re-condition their nervous systems. Substance abusers face a similar problem, especially if they began in their teens.”

“Granted,” Jonathan admitted, “but how do they get unlocked? Can it all take place in a therapist’s office? They’re responding to a higher voice.”

“I’ve come to expect better from a Ph. D. in physics, dear. You’ll need to try something more effective than that.”

“Didn’t you say some time ago that maybe they need to find out for themselves?”

“Don’t use my words against me. It isn’t fair.”

“It wasn’t a trick. I meant what I said.”

“Sometimes I marvel at their maturity,” she persisted. “In other instances, they remind me of children.”

“Have you ever wondered if we bring out a residual immaturity in them?”

“Yes, I have, though I hate to admit it. We’re the closest thing they have to parents.”

“Shouldn’t we encourage their initiative? We don’t want them to be dependent on us, do we? They survived hardship remarkably well for twenty-five years on their own.”

The retired counselor was struggling with a relatively new set of emotions. Childless, she still hadn’t fully adapted to maternal cares.

“They were so damaged in spite of that.”

“And we – especially you – helped them. Wouldn’t it be healthy for them to apply what they’ve learned?”

“Their physical powers,” Janice moaned as she put a hand to her forehead. “Adam’s a superman, and Evelyn is a force of nature.”

She dropped her shoulders in resignation.

“And we’re about to loan them our car so they can range through Kansas City as vigilantes.”

Her husband gently laid his palm against her cheek.

“They already have. Remember? We’ve trusted this process so far, and it’s working out. I think this is the next step. They don’t belong to us, and neither of us is in charge.”

She exhaled loudly.

“This has to be the most logical, the most asinine debate we’ve ever had. I can’t believe I’m agreeing with you. Thank you for letting me vent.”

He bowed.

“My darling, you are, as ever, a worthy opponent.”

When Adam and Eve returned from an atypical walk without words, they stepped cautiously through the front door and hesitated. Janice and Jonathan were seated on the couch, and only their backs could be seen from the arch between the front hall and the living room. Each had an arm around the other, and their heads were together. Dr. Andrews raised his free hand without looking behind him and tossed the keys over his shoulder to Adam.

“Pray for them,” his wife directed after they were gone. “They’re in more danger than they realize.”

He nodded pensively.

“So are five very bad men.”

Chapter 27 – A Dance on the Precipice

It was night. The car’s occupants became progressively more irritable and tense as they passed Harrisonville and then Belton. Odd and unpleasant memories came back for both of them as they approached Grandview. They hadn’t been in the metropolitan area for roughly three years. This was the scene of conflicts addressed in retrospect, but they were surprised by solid reminders of things past. Eve fell into her tracking mindset.

“We’re not going to be on some mat with an instructor,” Adam cautioned. “This situation’s going to be fluid, unpredictable.”

“Don’t worry about me,” Eve said somewhat testily. “I’ve done this before. Remember?”

“Sure, but it’s not the same.”

“I know that. Who do you think you’re talking to?”

“I’m just saying we’ll need to improvise.”

“So we’ll improvise. I didn’t suddenly turn into a dummy.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You were talking down to me.”

Frustrated, he stopped talking. They were both on edge.

“The last home they invaded was in Overland Park. Take I-435 West.”

“No,” he disagreed. “That’s the wrong direction.”

“How do you know that?”

“I can tell. I can feel it. Alright?”

The car passed the exit and continued northward toward the heart of the city. They rode in ominous silence for some minutes. I-49 ended. U. S. 71, which had merged with the interstate through more than the southern half of Missouri, continued and was now a divided road with a combination of off ramps as well as intersections marked by stoplights. They passed under some interestingly designed and decorated bridges.

“So it was the wrong way, huh?”

“Yes it was.”

“Sure it was. Men know best. Is that what you’re saying?”

“What’s gotten into you?”

“You say you’re right, and I have to shut up and accept that while you drive wherever you good and well please.”

“Look, Eve. Let’s not do this. I know I’m right about this. Okay?”

“Aren’t you the arrogant one.”

“Will you trust me and let me drive?”

“Stop trying to control me!” she shouted.

Shocked by her outburst, he took the first off ramp he came to and turned down some streets he remembered. It was irrational, and he didn’t think about where he was going. He’d never been this flustered, and he wasn’t used to feeling pointlessly out of control. This was the angriest he had been since going through counseling. He impulsively turned down one street and then another.

“Do you even know where you’re going?” she demanded.

He didn’t answer but stared intently through the windshield while gripping the steering wheel tightly. Eve felt a sudden panic. Her friend was acting out of character and behaving erratically. He had assumed a command he was unwilling to relinquish, and she was trapped in his unexplained opinions. The air inside the car was restrictive, suffocating.

“Adam, stop the car and let me out!”

Alarmed by the sound of her voice, he pulled the car over and took the key from the ignition. The street was nearly empty. They were in a bad part of town.

“What’s wrong with…”

Not giving him a chance to finish, she opened the door, jumped out, and ran.

“Eve! What are you doing? Come back here!”

He sprang out of the car, and started after her. At first, she didn’t know why she was running. A proverbial nerve had been struck, and the impulse was almost reflexive. She knew only that she wanted to get away from him. He was too fast, and she could hear him gaining on her. Out of respect, he was actually holding back. Turning right abruptly, she darted into an alley, and he followed. She was surprisingly fast, but he quickly caught up with her and placed a hand on her shoulder in an effort to make her stop. Batting it away, she wheeled around and confronted him.

“Is this what you do? Is this what you all do? Are you polite until you don’t get your way?”

This outburst reminded him of what she used to be – but in somewhat distorted form.

“Angel – Eve, I don’t understand.”

“You – you wouldn’t listen to me. I was trapped in the car, and you weren’t doing what I asked. Your way was the only way.”

“You weren’t asking,” he protested. “You were ordering. Besides, you can knock me out at will.”

“Not while you were driving and only if you let me. You’re too quick. You used force to stop me when I ran.”

Her voice sounded genuinely wounded. The exchange had gotten out of hand, and an unseen pit was opening beneath them. Sensing this despite their anger, they stopped and looked around. Evelyn was aghast because she had momentarily lost track of her surroundings. She couldn’t remember this having happened before. The place where they were standing was alarmingly familiar to both of them.

They were in the alley where Adam had found her. They hadn’t known this at first because they had entered it from the opposite direction as before. She was standing on the exact spot where she had lain, but that wasn’t all. Silent and invisible, something hideous was there with them. It was so powerful that it clouded their reason. The first suggestion registered in Adam’s mind.

How long have you been putting up with her attitude? She’s a tease. Just grab her.

“She’s not the type,” he mumbled in confusion.

Every woman’s the type. All it takes is the right approach. Look at her. Who wouldn’t take that? Go ahead. She’ll give in.

In a more rational state, he would have known instantly that nothing could have been further from the truth, but the presence was dominating. He tried to sort out the jumble of thoughts and emotions skirmishing in his head. Was this the same, silent voice he had heard before? No, it was too forceful, too insistent, and it did not wait for him to ask questions. Despite their harmful intent, the sensual appeal of its demands fascinated and disturbed him. Evelyn saw the darkness settle on him, and she became aware of something overshadowing her as well.

You’ve become weak. Men always think they’re in charge. Take control. Seduce him, and get it over with.

The thought of subduing such a strong man with his desire for her body agitated her with a giddy thrill. She could use his passions to manipulate his strength. If he tried to control her physically, she could turn that to her advantage and control him mentally. Trembling, she almost succumbed but then rallied. Aside from the fact that all of this was a lie, the philosophy minor was remembering her ethics. She was better than this.

“No,” she whispered, assuming a half crouch. “Love should be good. This is perversion.”

Of what?

“A good design.”

And you want to copy it. Where’s the creativity in that?

Her encounter on the hill at Osage Village came back to her.

“Above me and above you.”

Another blow landed in Adam’s mind.

Teach her a lesson. You can easily overpower her.

He, too, weakened but recovered. He stepped forward menacingly and clenched his fists, but there was nothing to hit. His outstanding prowess was useless, for what he faced wasn’t physical. He flashed back to the wooded hillside above Radio Spring Lake. Abdominal urges were arrested by the knowledge of something more honorable.

“I’m not a monster,” he stated in a low, even voice.

From their relative postures, they looked like a victim and her assailant. A desperate suggestion forced itself on Eve’s awareness, and her pupils constricted.

Hurry. He’s going to assault you. Change back to what you were. Eliminate him, and get on with your work.

This was a new consideration. Having transformed, she could revert. The possibility of that was more frightening than all of the neglect and abuse she had endured at the hands of violent men. Now she recognized what was happening. This was the monster she had struggled against her entire life. Her whispered argument continued.

“That would destroy everything. He’s my best friend.”

Would you give away your purpose for friendship? Better the curse you choose than the blessing you don’t deserve.

There it was: the accusation following a nihilistic appeal to independence. As absurd as the obligation seemed now, it was the same trap into which she had repeatedly fallen, a vain attempt to fend off emotional trauma. Her sessions with Janice had rendered this tactic impotent.

“It’s not working. You’re out of moves.”

And so it was. She had spoken the truth, for there were no recriminations, no further questions. Eve had won. Straightening herself, she saw the shadow lift off of Adam as she felt it withdraw from her. Relaxing his hands, he dropped them to his sides and stood erect. What had countered these mental attacks for both of them was not a voice but a memory, a recollection of what it felt like to be clean.

They stared at each other with uncertainty. Though it had mimicked their own thoughts, the onslaught had not come from either of them. They had faltered, but they had survived the test. For a few minutes, they did not speak. He was as unnerved by the way she had been looking at him as she was by the way he had been looking at her. Ashamed and embarrassed, they were both frightened by how close they had come. They spoke the same words in unison.

“Forgive me.”

Adam looked at Eve as he had formerly, and he remembered their walks and conversations together. Her irises relaxed. This felt better.

“Janice and Jonathan have a copy of Paradise Lost in their library,” he offered weakly.

“Milton,” Eve nodded. “I’ve read it.”

“I’d be surprised if you hadn’t.”

“He also wrote Paradise Regain’d,” she added hopefully.

“They have that upstairs, too. Those poems are quite a workout.”

“Great dialectic, yeah?”

He pondered this for a few seconds.

“Dialectic…. We both had to do that a few minutes ago, didn’t we?”

She didn’t answer right away. Instead, she gazed wistfully at him for a few seconds.

“I think we might have just had our first dose of real in vivo exposure.”

“Real world practice.”

Other world practice.”

“That, too.”

They looked at each other and their apprehensions faded. This kind of exchange, this was them.

“Before our fight really cranked up, you told me to trust you. Do you trust me?”

His expression became pained.

“You know I do. I’ve been in awe of you since the night I found you here.”

“Good. Raise your hands.”

He knew better than to question her or to refuse. She reached around his torso, clasped her hands behind his back, and buried her forehead in his chest.

“May I hold you back?”

“Not yet, Adam. I’m sorry. Please keep your hands up.”

The urgency overtook him again.

“With you, I was too late. I don’t want that to happen again. Other people are in danger. I know you can track, but when I feel that pull, it can get us there faster. It’s what helped me locate you when you were attacked.”

She let go and looked unblinkingly into his eyes.

“And you’re feeling it now?”

“I’m feeling it again.”

“Another of your latent gifts,” she said with amused resolution. “Then we’d better hurry – and put your hands down. You look silly standing there like that.”

In their right minds once again, they ran back to the car and drove away. As they continued on their way, Adam apologized.

“I’m sorry. I knew what I was doing – following that sense of someone pulling, I mean – but I didn’t communicate it to you properly.”

“You knew it would happen tonight,” she reasoned with newfound respect, “and I was just trying to pick up their trail.”

“But that’s no excuse for how I treated you. I wasn’t aware of how I was making you feel. Knowing what we were here to do got me agitated. I was only thinking about myself and what I would do, and I forgot all about those calming techniques I’d learned… and the need to listen to that common voice that’s been guiding us.”

“Me, too,” Eve admitted in return. “I didn’t know all that animosity was still in there. I must have been storing it up for years. Even though it’s different this time, being on a hunt again must have kicked in some bad instincts, and it broke our connection.”

“But we’re better together than apart, right?”

“Definitely.”

“What do you think set us off?”

They thought for a few seconds. The same notion struck both of them.

“We were played,” they announced simultaneously.

“I was honestly getting a sense of direction,” Adam explained in a low voice, “but I reverted to taking care of things by myself. I didn’t know that habit would be so hard to break.”

“There’s something else,” she informed him. “After all we’d been through, we didn’t trust each other. You could have expressed yourself better, but my first inclination was to doubt you. I knew you’d been hearing things like I had, but I didn’t like the idea of you knowing something I didn’t when I was supposed to be the one who was good at tracking.”

He sounded very contrite in what he said next.

“We can’t afford to get sucked into a debate over our respective roles. That episode back there cost us some time. I hope we’re not…”

He tried to go on but found himself unable to choke out the remaining words. She reached over and gave his shoulder a firm squeeze.

“I don’t want to go back to being Tommy and Angel. We should be able to figure this out.”

“I’m afraid that has to happen quickly. We don’t really know what we’re doing, and we’re about to confront five armed men. I don’t want to get shot again.”

“And I don’t want to get assaulted. When I was at Osage Village, he told me we had to take care of each other.”

He. Without asking why, they had taken to identifying their invisible benefactor solely by that personal pronoun.

“Let me know if he tells you anything else.”

She smiled for the first time since they’d left Nevada.

“Has that ever been a problem?”

Following Adam’s internal compass, they ended up in the Gladstone area north of the Missouri River. They were driving through a residential neighborhood. It was hilly, and the car had just crested a rise. The street in front of them was fairly level.

“Adam, stop.”

“What is it?”

“Do you see that third house on the left?”

“What about it?”

“Does it look darker than the others?”

“Not particularly.”

“It does to me. Pull over.”

This was more like it. They were cooperating now.

“It’s definitely in the right direction,” Adam stated as they got out of the car. “What we need now is your advanced…”

“Quiet,” Eve instructed, “and be careful closing your door. They’re in there. I don’t want them to hear us coming.”

He reached into the car and pulled a couple of items out of his duffle bag. They included two black ski masks.

“Here put this on,” he whispered.

“Are you kidding?” she whispered back.

“Do you want to be recognized? We’re pretty distinctive.”

As she donned her mask, he retrieved something else and carefully closed the door.

“Okay, but why the gloves?”

“For me, not you. The patterns on my hands…”

“You’re forgetting that I can cause selective memory loss.”

“Won’t that be more complicated? Anyone we save will have to press charges and testify.”

“Right. Are we nuts, or what? Maybe we should call the police.”

“They might not get here in time,’ he reasoned while pulling on his disguise. “If they do, it could turn into a standoff with hostages.”

For a second or two, they were in the clinch of uncertainty. Their eyes locked. Eve touched her partner’s masked face.

“We can take them, Adam.”

They moved into the deeper shadows beneath some trees on the property line and surveyed the house. Eve saw the house, and she saw through the house. It wasn’t X-ray or infrared vision. She simply saw the nonphysical within the physical, detected its movement.

“It’s darkest downstairs near the back. That’s where they are.”

Adam pointed.

“The side door – it’s a covered entrance, and the window above is open. We can climb the columns. If we try to go in on the first floor, they might hear us before we can get to them.”

They crept swiftly across the lawn, and he put his weight carefully against a column. His whisper was so soft he could barely hear it. He knew Eve could without difficulty.

“It’ll hold. Ready?”

She tapped his forearm. Despite his weight, he ascended noiselessly by bracing his palms against the back of the column and the balls of his shoes against the front. Eve also proved herself an adept climber. She was light but strong. Adam stepped carefully over the railing and gradually tried to place his weight on the roof of the overhang. It creaked slightly, and he slowed his movement. He meticulously worked the screen loose once he was close enough to the window. Supporting himself as much as he could on the windowsill, he slipped a foot through the open window then extended his hands and nodded to Eve. She took them and leaped adroitly into his arms. At the instant she landed, he lifted his one foot from the roof outside, shifted his weight to the foot inside, and pulled her in after him as he slipped through the window. His steps landed as lightly as a cat’s on the carpet, and he set her down. Given his size and that of the window, it had been a precise, athletic maneuver, one accomplished with a smoothness of motion and a bare minimum of sound. Mentally and physically, they were completely in synch.

Even with her acute hearing, Eve was surprised by how silently he moved. It was extremely slow going. Each footfall had to be tested, and their centers of gravity had to be shifted slowly in case the floor might creak. Fortunately, the floor was hardwood, extremely solid, and covered with plush carpet. They slipped out of the bedroom by which they had entered the house and then moved along the upstairs hallway. Their sternest test was the stairs. Adam continued to lead the way. One step started to complain almost imperceptibly, and he backed up cautiously. Skipping this step, he pointed to it until Evelyn nodded.

The floor in the front hall was terrazzo, as was that of the kitchen, and they traversed these quickly. The kitchen opened into a carpeted dining room with arches at either end. One arch led to the living room by the front hall, the other to the family room at the back of the house. The lights were off downstairs except for a shaded lamp in one corner of the family room. Keeping to the shadows, Adam and Eve moved to where they could see what was happening. Due to their black attire, they were virtually invisible.

Two people, apparently husband and wife, were bound and gagged on the floor. The woman’s sobs were partially muted, and the man struggled against his bonds. His efforts drew derisive laughter from five men. Like Adam and Eve, they were attired in black and wearing masks.

“Forget the T.V. It’s too big. Just take the Blu-ray player and anything portable that looks like it’s worth something. We haven’t hit the second story yet.”

Four men were carrying out the speaker’s orders and stuffing various items into bags. He turned and spoke sharply to the distraught woman.

“Hey! Stop crying. We’ll get to you after we find what we’re after. Hubby gets to watch before we cap him.”

Her pleas were muffled by the gag in her mouth.

“Do you want to know why? I’ll tell you. We’re going to do it for the looks on your faces when you know you can’t stop us.”

Adam and Eve knew then that the words of the speaker – delivered in the first person plural – meant more than he’d intended, that an entity was infusing his voice with its own. These men were moving willfully within an oppressive shadow that only Evelyn could see. This had nothing to do with physical gratification. It was about the sick thrill of domination, and the dark motive was eating away at them, defiling them as it stripped away their humanity. Eve pulled on Adam’s neck to bring his ear within range.

“I’ll distract them,” she whispered. “When they hear my voice, they won’t shoot.”

She walked through the archway and into the middle of the room. The terrified couple was at her feet. Confused by the unexpected presence of another masked figure, the assailants didn’t react immediately.

“Come on guys,” she scolded teasingly. “You’ve got to stop.”

“How about that?” the one whose voice they had heard, said sarcastically. “A burglar with a conscience. Babe, you picked the wrong house. Tie her…”

Before the man – apparently their leader – could finish his sentence, each invader saw a large, black blur in his peripheral vision. It moved too quickly for them to defend themselves, and there was a series of soft thumps as guns hit the carpeted floor. Bodies followed in a matter of seconds. Unwilling to risk killing again, the chimera resorted to using only body blows, uppercuts to the stomach that incapacitated four of his targets.

For all his athleticism, he had a limitation. He was quick enough to handle four violent men. He was unable to reach the fifth, who was standing apart from the others. This one aimed his firearm as his comrades landed and lay gasping for breath on the carpet. In his panic, he had forgotten Eve, and she quickly reached for him and shoved his arm upward. The surprised hoodlum swung at her head with his other arm, but she dodged the blow and took hold of his wrist with her bare hand. The gun went off, but the bullet lodged harmlessly in the ceiling. All of this happened in the space of three seconds or less, and her martial arts training had paid off. As she swung him to his knees, the man was rendered almost instantly unconscious by her touch.

“Stay down,” Adam thundered to the rest, “or I’ll unload on you.”

“He can’t stop all of us!” one of them shouted. “Get the guns!”

It was like playing whack-a-mole with the exception that all the moles were getting whacked. Each of the four received a square blow to his back which further knocked the wind out of him. They had hardly gotten off the floor, and now they were finding it even more difficult to get a breath. Their captor pinned two beneath his knees and the other two with his unyielding hands. Eve dispatched one of them simply by touching his forehead as he reached for a nearby revolver.

“Could you do that to the rest?” Adam requested.

She knelt down and put a hand each on the necks of the nearest two. This action triggered the memory of killing the man who had shot her friend, and she shuddered. The last offender, who was still conscious, took advantage of the pause to look defiantly into her masked face.

“Are you going to kill me, too?”

“They’re not dead,” she answered. “They’re asleep, and you’ll all be alive to stand trial.”

He snickered.

“We’ll get out sooner or later. Then maybe we’ll pay you a visit.”

Either it was bluster, or he knew something he shouldn’t be capable of knowing.

“I doubt you’ll ever be released. If you ever do, how do you know we won’t be tracking you like we did tonight?”

The prisoner’s façade changed from arrogance to fear. In this, Eve hoped for an opening, a chance to reason with a receptive human being.

“Haven’t you learned anything from what just happened? Why would you want to keep living like this?”

His whole demeanor became different, and his vocal inflections altered as if another personality had taken over.

“Why did you want to? What makes them so different? They’ll go to prison while you remain free.”

This was but another variation of a familiar strategy. Instead of a call to physiological violence, it was a summons to remain trapped within the guilt of past mistakes. She narrowed her eyes at the darkness interlaced with the man on the floor.

“We did this already. I was wrong, but at least I was trying to help others.”

“It’s futile,” he sneered. “There are more of us. Lock these away. Kill them. It won’t matter. We’ll come back. We always come back. Someone will choose to let us in.”

Adam broke in.

“That’s enough dialectic for one day. Put him out.”

She did, and Adam removed the masks and wallets from the five offenders with his gloved hands. Eve commented on the appearance of the unconscious men.

“They’re younger than we are.”

“Just past college age,” he concurred as he looked at their driver’s licenses. “They didn’t think they’d get caught, or they wouldn’t have been carrying these.”

“And now their lives are over,” Eve murmured.

They untied the bound and gagged couple.

“Don’t worry,” Eve reassured. “They won’t wake up for hours.”

“Are you willing to press charges?” Adam asked them.

Visibly shaken, they nodded.

“Call the police, and tell them exactly what happened. We can’t be here when they arrive. Will you do that?”

They nodded again, and Adam and Eve helped the husband and his wife to their feet. The woman found her phone in one of the bags the criminals had been using, but she was trembling too much to tap in the number. Adam called 9-1-1 and held the phone to her spouse’s ear. The husband had trouble talking, but, somehow, he managed to relay the information. Adam handed him the phone, and he and Eve led them out the front door. They left them crying together on the lawn. The couple would remember later that they had forgotten to say thank you.

Before long, there was the sound of sirens. Parked a couple of houses down the block, Adam Smith and Evelyn Morris watched to make sure that the perpetrators were in custody. Flashing lights faintly illuminated their faces from a distance as five unconscious men, now in handcuffs, were loaded into patrol cars. In addition to ballistics tests on their weapons, there would be plenty of evidence to link them to the other crimes now that their identities were known. Stolen items from the various break-ins would later be recovered from their places of residence.

Neighbors were coming out of their homes to ascertain the nature of the commotion, and rumors began to spread that those responsible for the brutal series of home invasions had been apprehended. Police would confirm this to the press on the following morning. As they maintained their vigil, Eve squeezed Adam’s arm enthusiastically.

“That was so cool.”

She could feel him shaking.

“What’s wrong?”

“We almost didn’t make it.”

“But it turned out right.”

He shook his head.

“They were too far along.”

“Look, Adam. We both made mistakes, but they were covered.”

“It was so ugly – like finding you, like the parking lot after we got off work.”

“It didn’t get that far.”

“But it could have. We almost didn’t…”

He was interrupted by the pressure of her hand on his chest.

“Adam, you’re looping, and you need to stop.”

“I can’t forget this lesson, Eve.”

“You won’t. Adam, you’ve earned my trust. Have I earned yours?”

He nodded, but his shivering intensified. He was going into mild shock.

“Then let me help you.”

She held her hand in front of his face.

“May I?”

He nodded again.

“You have a sensitive conscience. You’re a good man.”

Eve placed her palm on his forehead, and he fell into a deep, relaxing sleep. When he regained consciousness, it was still dark. She was beside him, and the car had not moved.

“How long was I out?”

“About fifteen minutes.”

“Was that all?”

“Think of it as a power nap. I touched you again and woke you up. I’m starting to get the hang of how this works.”

Adam was concerned about his momentary instability. He had exhibited weakness.

“Eve, you know I trust you, but why was that necessary?”

“Did it make you feel better?”

“Sure, but I want to know why.”

“You were in the process of establishing a bad neural circuit. Counselors have methods of their own for interfering with that. Mine helped me do some rewiring during our sessions. I just saved you hours of therapy, and it was free of charge.”

“Hmmm.”

He scratched his chin and thought a bit. They stayed at their post until the police left. Now that the show was over, the street cleared as the neighbors headed back inside. Two, apparently friends, stayed behind and spoke with the intended victims. They ended up accompanying them into their house. The neighborhood would have little success in getting to sleep that night. A number of the younger couples would receive additions to their families in another nine months.

Instead of turning the keys in the ignition, Adam looked whimsically at Eve and opened his door.

“Where are you going?”

“Come on, and trade me places. I think you’d better drive.”

Later, as they rode south on I-49, Eve fidgeted with her hands on the wheel. She was deciding whether or not to say what she was thinking.

“Okay,” her friend prodded. “What is it?”

She waited a bit and then went ahead.

“I know we already apologized and all that, but we’ve never indulged in drama before. I feel foolish. Let’s not go there again.”

“No argument here,” Adam agreed, “but it’s easy to say that now. Do we need a safe word or something?”

She picked up on his attempt at humor.

“It’d have to be funny,” she suggested. “You know – something to break the tension.”

“How about ‘rutabaga’?”

They were able to laugh at themselves.

“I don’t think so. I’ve always been partial to ‘aardvark’.”

“Why?”

“I’ve always wanted to poke my long snout into an ant hill and lick up the ants.”

“Then ‘aardvark’ it is,” he conceded facetiously.

“Can you find a good radio station? That might make it easier for us to stay awake.”

“What are you in the mood for?”

“I don’t know. Neither one of us has listened to much in the way of music. Let’s try until we find something we like.”

He worked the tuner, and they settled on a jazz station because it interfered less with their conversation. They both found the complex rhythms and melodies interesting as the instrumentals established a distinctive mood in the car. The lights of Grandview and Belton were behind them, and those of Harrisonville approached and then faded in the rearview mirror. They were traveling on in darkness. Adam sighed contentedly. What had threatened to become disastrous had turned into a pretty good date, albeit an unorthodox one. Once again, they had grown comfortable in each other’s presence and felt no need to talk just then. After a good fifteen minutes, Evelyn turned the volume down so she could ask a question.

“Adam, do you think Janice and Jonathan would let us borrow their car again?”

“After this afternoon and tonight, we’d need a good reason. Why do you ask?”

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“I have a ghost to banish. I need to find my mother.”

 

 

Alias Adam (Chapters 23-24)

Chapter 23 – Two Hills   

Dr. Andrews had another dream. It was his first in years. Unlike the others, which were graphic and dreadful, this one was encouraging. He was walking a trail at Osage Village in the northeastern quadrant of Vernon County, and something good but undefined was about to happen. He awoke with an unmistakable understanding of what he was supposed to do. A strong imperative had taken up residence in his thoughts, and he announced his intentions at breakfast.

“Evelyn, I’d like to take you for a ride this afternoon.”

“Okay. Where?”

“Out in the country. I’d like to keep it a surprise.”

She was familiar enough with his eccentricities that she let it go at that. Janice helped explain.

“Whatever he has in mind, he doesn’t want to spoil the effect. I deal with this all the time. Adam, while they’re gone, you might like to take a walk. Have you been to Radio Spring?”

“Just around the lake,” he said between mouthfuls.

“I recommend exploring the woods up the hill. It’s rather secluded, and the scenery might surprise you.”

“Any particular reason?”

“Just a hunch. I get them, too, you know.”

It was a crisp morning in late October, but the temperature would warm into the fifties by early afternoon. Adam spent the morning working with Jonathan, Eve with Janice. After lunch, the men cleared the table and cleaned the dishes while the women crocheted and talked about nothing in particular. The car keys jingled in the physicist’s hand.

“That’s your cue,” Janice hinted, and Eve followed him outside.

“Thank you for agreeing so readily. I know I have a flare for the mysterious.  I’m trying to avoid unnecessary embellishments.”

“That important, yeah?”

“It is, but I don’t know why.”

“So you had another dream.”

He smiled and nodded.

“It was a good one this time – good but incomplete. Would you care to drive?”

“No thanks. This is your party, Jonathan.”

“Actually, it’s yours,” he said as they got in and fastened their seatbelts.

He jockeyed the car out of his neighborhood and turned east onto Austin, which was the main drag as well as the path for U.S. 54 through much of the town. At the intersection with Centennial, a sign indicated that 54 East went to the left down that street. This was where Jonathan turned. They were going to the North now. Signs for “Life Church” and “54 Café A Fine Family Restaurant” passed by on the left, and the Vernon County Fairgrounds were on the right. They proceeded under the I-49 overpass, and the road made a gradual right curve, passed the Nevada Municipal Airport, and eventually made another curve to the right until they were driving almost straight east. Not quite six miles past the overpass for the interstate, they turned left onto a county road called “C highway” by the locals.

“This intersection is known as Walker Corner,” Jonathan announced.

“Why?”

“It’s where you turn to go to Walker.”

“Is that where you’re taking me?”

“No, but it’s on the way.”

After a little more than two miles, they came to a sign delineating the city limits of Walker, Missouri, population 270. To the right was a small park next to some railroad tracks and across a side street from a short line of one and two story buildings. No moving cars or pedestrians could be seen as they drove by.

“That’s the business district, such as it is,” Jonathan explained.

The road continued north for another two miles or so until it went into an S-curve at the junction with County Road OO. Coming out of the turn, their car was once again heading to the east. They saw a brown sign with white lettering after less than a mile. It indicated that Osage Village State Historic Site was 3 miles to the left. Following the sign, they turned north onto a gravel road. The gravel pelted the underside of the vehicle in which they were riding, and the physicist slowed their speed to just under twenty miles per hour.

“I need to save this low suspension,” he explained. “I’m not sure my car was intended for roads like this.”

“The historic site… is that where we’re going?”

Jonathan nodded as they passed some reclaimed gravel pits. Evelyn admired the artificial mounds, now overgrown with trees, which lined the branches of the small body of water.

“What for?”

“I don’t really know. You’ll find out before I will.”

For a few minutes, they rode in silence, undulating over some hills. In some of the fields, cattle were grazing. Patches of woodland dotted the countryside and humbly displayed their faint, fall colors.

“It’s kind of plain out here,” Evelyn observed, “but pretty.”

He gave her an amused look.

“You’ve never been this far into the country before, have you?”

“Only on interstates,” she answered. “The land doesn’t look this hilly from a bus.”

“It’s funny how much more you can see when you get off of the main roads,” he agreed. “The highest points in the county are north of Walker. You don’t really see them until you’re there.”

They eventually came to the parking area for Osage Village on their right. Except for a paved spot for handicapped parking, it, too, consisted of gravel. Their car pulled into the small lot and came to a stop.

“Okay,” Jonathan announced. “This is it.”

Evelyn opened the door on her side and got out. Her driver remained in his seat and rolled down his window. Confused, she walked around the back of the car and stooped to look in.

“Aren’t you getting out?”

“I’m to wait in the car. Go ahead without me. It’s safe.”

“What’s supposed to happen next?”

“I have no idea. This is your moment, not mine.”

“Does it have anything to do with what we’ve talked about before?”

“Most probably. Why don’t you find out?”

She was in strange surroundings, and her eyes darted about nervously. The site was surrounded by farms. This produced an impression of remoteness and overexposure in one accustomed to urban areas.

“Where should I go?”

“Follow the path. You shouldn’t have trouble with ticks at this time of year if you stay out of the high grass.”

She straightened and looked over the roof of the car. A gravel path from the parking lot led through an informational kiosk and then to a small, wooden footbridge over a low spot in the ground. Water stood there now to a depth of a couple of inches. She took a deep breath and proceeded as she had been instructed. Her feet scuffed over the gravel then made a pleasing sound on the wooden planks of the bridge. Some distance past this was a second footbridge, and then the trail turned to mown grass.

Following the slightly winding path, Angel started up a small hill. She was surprised at how short her breath became as she walked the incline. It was deceptively steep. She had become unaware of the car and the parking lot behind her even though they were still easily within sight.  This was a calming environment which at the same time created a sense of anticipation. She stopped momentarily to drink in her surroundings.

Wind animated the high grass on either side of the trail. Trees and clusters of sumac bushes – their leaves turned to scarlet – dotted the landscape at irregular intervals. As she started upward again, her view to the side was infused with an almost surreal sense of depth, and the small hillside seemed to breathe. The overall effect was of being in an expansive, sunlit interior. To the immediate north, a few vultures circled and floated on invisible currents of air, their wings held aloft in V-shaped postures and the long, outstretched feathers at their wingtips resembling the fingers of reaching hands.

At the top of the hill, the trail branched in front of another informational kiosk. It was a loop through the former location of a settlement of the Osage people. Nothing in the way of artifacts remained, and numbered posts along the path indicated points of interest. Instinctively, she took the right branch, the one leading farther away from the county road by which she and Jonathan had arrived. She wanted to go further into this mystical atmosphere. The path snaked to the east through prairie and then curved north. Looking across the field where she walked, she could see a small forest. The trail took a turn to the west, and she was greeted by some larger, scattered trees with thick, characteristically-shaped trunks. By now, the parking lot and the car were completely out of sight. Then it happened.

Her manner of perception changed almost subliminally, and she realized that she was not alone. Nobody else was visible or audible, but someone was there. The atmosphere reminded her of being with Tommy, and she remembered him saying that something surrounded them when they were together.  This sense of presence was distilled and concentrated beyond any former experience of it, and its appeal pressed gently upon her. A conversation, alternately whispered and silent, ensued.

“Are you what I’ve been looking for?”

I am.

“Who are you – an alien?”

To some. Are you?

Her eyes went vacant for a few seconds as she moved through her memories.

“I’ve felt that way most of my life.”

There were so many questions, and she felt she would explode if she could not get them all out. One overshadowed the others. For years, it had been in the hidden recesses of her mind, waiting for the slightest clue to provoke its emergence.

“Do you intervene?”

I do.

“How?”

Within the turbulence of chaos.

This wasn’t spooky at all. It felt like thinking, but the ideas which came to her were more persistent than ordinary thoughts. A poorly understood lesson in Chaos Theory from her college days came back to her.

“Is this about randomness?”

Nothing is as random as it seems.

“Then why didn’t you intervene sooner?”

Did I not?

She thought of her abilities and the circumstances of her conception and birth. She thought of Adam, Jonathan, and Janice.

“I don’t mean any disrespect, but couldn’t you have saved me before any of this happened?”

I could not save myself.

“From what?”

I have battled monstrous forces in this world. So have you.

Somehow, this being – this intelligence – knew. She drifted through incidents in her past and extrapolated them onto the world at large.

“All those people… so many of them innocent and hurt.”

Have I committed such abominations?

“No,” she admitted sadly. “Human beings do these things to each other.”

Should wickedness remain unexposed?

She bit her lip.

“Absolutely not.”

Are those of your kind who do nothing any less responsible? What of those whose neglect leaves the weak unprotected? Should their guilt remain hidden?

Eve thought of her mother. She remembered articles, news reports, and documentaries which recounted the cowardice and lack of involvement of others who should have known better. Child abuse and neglect, assault and battery, murder, molestation, rape, and other kinds of criminal offenses had, under various circumstances and in different instances, gone unreported. Sometimes, the witnesses were many, but collective inaction was merely an expression of the fear and callousness expressed by each individual.

“No. Sin by omission should be brought to light.”

What would become of your kind if all monstrosities were prevented?

This question appealed to her educational background in philosophy. She made the next logical connection.

“With no demonstration of the consequences of evil, we’d grow worse.”

Yes. To prevent all is to restrain all, to violate all.

The gears were turning.

“And the other option…”

To destroy all.

“Would you?”

Did you care for those you destroyed?

“Not then, but it bothers me now.”

I care for all. I must destroy some. There is a balance.

“Whom to destroy,” she pondered, “whom to save, and when – it must be a difficult decision.”

It is a terrible decision. The price of vengeance is too high for you to pay.

Eve could not avoid the logical consequence of this statement.

“What happened to me… what got me started… it wasn’t my fault.”

Of course not.

She knew the answer to her next question in advance, but she asked it anyway.

“Was I wrong to respond the way I did?”

It was done in ignorance. You meant well, and you suffered for others.

“Should I turn myself in?”

To whom? You have broken no laws.

“But I was wrong. Men have died. I killed one deliberately.”

You killed them all deliberately. Is this a matter for terrestrial authority?

She thought deeply for a moment.

“I suppose not. Can you make the faces go away?”

Do you want me to obliterate your memory?

“No,” she sighed, “but what can I do?”

Direct your attention to something better.

“How?”

Do you want my assistance?

She closed her eyes and felt the breeze on her face.

“Please.”

Eve lapsed into silence once again, feeling the presence but receiving no additional thoughts. At length, something else came to her. It was mixed with a shared pain.

Matter and energy are different forms of the same substance. I control energy. I can change matter. Will you trust me?

Her breathing grew rapid and shallow.

“Definitely,” she answered. “You’ve suffered.”

The first thing she felt after saying this was an absence. Despite her efforts at self control, despite the wholesomeness of her outward appearance, emotional distress and a desire for revenge had been her companions since childhood. Now that they were gone, she could tell they had been there for as long as she could remember. What she noticed next was a prickly sensation throughout her skin, and then heat radiated from her entire body. The memory of regenerating next to Adam on the couch in her former apartment became vivid.

Your touch no longer kills. You have new abilities.

Her grateful thoughts turned to Adam.

“Will you help my friend?”

Even as you speak.

Though she did not fully understand what this meant, she went on to make what she thought was the next logical connection.

“So we’ll finally be sufficient?”

No. You will be more effective.

“But how will we take care of ourselves?”

Do you wish to be alone?

“No. I like having friends.”

Then take care of each other.

This last impression seemed to come from farther away.

“Wait – please. Where are you going?”

I am not bound by time and space. There are things even one such as you cannot see.

“May I come back here?”

The effect of increasing distance was becoming more pronounced.

What is your definition of here? You have confused effect with cause.

Her mind switched modes back to her physical environment. The mysterious presence had not departed, but it was less palpable. She remained on the hill and communed in silence for several minutes. All was in motion. All was calm. Clouds, brightly outlined, briefly covered the sun before withdrawing. Stirred by the wind, the surrounding grasses waved back and forth. It was as if time had stood still or no longer mattered.

While Eve was conversing with the entity at Osage Village, Adam was taking a contemplative walk. His PTSD treatments were recently concluded, but troubling notions remained in his mind. The familiar rage was a beast. Had it been tamed or merely confined? Would he ever be truly free of it? He had taken Janice’s suggestion. To clear his head in peaceful surroundings, he was following a trail that ascended from near the lake at Radio Spring Park. Wide and somewhat overgrown, it rose past some houses on the right. Nothing but woods could be seen to the left.  Many leaves had fallen, but many still clung stubbornly to the branches of the trees. At its peak, the trail turned left and descended gradually. Undulating, it was almost level.

He moved deeper into the wooded area. His path pitched down from a large, exposed rock, and he could see that he was on the lip of a small ravine. Exposed boulders on the near and facing sides extended down toward the bottom. A small creek, partially full of water, trickled through this depression. The ground he walked over was covered with moss and lichen and was soft as a carpet. The deep green provided an almost magical contrast to the grays and browns of sticks and fallen leaves. Life was continuing to spring up beneath death.

Adam stopped suddenly, aware that he had entered something unseen. He recognized it. This was the same urgency that had led him to where the woman he knew then as Angel had lain beaten and unconscious. What had seemed to pull from within his chest on that occasion now surrounded him as well, but instead of dread, he felt a deep calm. The dynamic tension between peace and anticipation, between repose and urgency, arrested his attention. A silent voice called out from the center of his brain and spoke to him in impressions which would not allow themselves to be ignored. Perhaps because he was a man, the exchange was direct and concise. He did not whisper in response to the mental prods. Rather, he spoke as he normally did when talking to real people.

“You led me to her.”

I did.

“You’ve been with us the whole time.”

I have.

In light of this revelation, he realized something that no longer made sense.

“Since before I met her, I thought it was up to me.”

You were not enough.

The point was obvious to its recipient. He had admitted it out loud when he was near the point of death. No attempt at self-justification was made or even considered.

“I know I messed up. Before I passed out, you asked me why.”

Yes.

“What should I do?”

More than you are capable of doing.

He thought again of Eve. She was never far from his conscious deliberations.

“Is she alright?”

Are you?

He lowered his head.

“I don’t think so.”

That is enough.

There was an itching sensation, like the healing of wounds, in various spots on his body, and the air surrounding where he stood vibrated oddly for a second.

You are more than you were. Pay careful attention. Your greatest abilities are beyond your physical strength.

“What are they?”

What you must find. Listen.

That was it. He knew that the audience was over. Feeling simultaneously powerful, weak, and disoriented, he lost track of time. He must have wandered, for he was walking on an unfamiliar street when he came to. The sun had gone down.  The mottled man eventually crossed an intersection he recognized and got his bearings. Dazed, he staggered back toward the address that had become his refuge.

They were waiting dinner for him when he arrived. There must have been an obvious difference in the way he looked, for they were all staring at him oddly. As he took his place at the table, Eve watched him carefully. Her brain made the modal transition, toggling between the material and the immaterial, and her vision expanded. She could still see everything – including Adam – in her physical environment, but this perception was overlaid with that of another dimension. She could see into the man sitting next to her – not anatomically but in a way far more real. A faint light, the ember of a sheltered fire, was glowing inside him. Her friend was going to be alright.

Using his fork, Adam aimlessly pushed around the considerable amount of food on his plate. No one had uttered a word since he had entered the room.

“Thank you for waiting on me,” he began. “I was delayed by something – uh, someone amazing. Eve, look.”

He scooted his chair back, stood up and removed his shirt. She already knew he was large and strong, but she had never seen the near perfect muscularity of his physique. Janice and Jonathan exchanged knowing glances as they watched her face.

“Adam,” she protested, “stop showing off, and put your shirt on.”

“Aren’t you missing something?” he suggested. “Take a closer look.”

“I don’t want to. We’re at the table.”

‘Just inspect my mid-section,” he conceded as he pulled his shirt over his head and shoulders. “You should see a difference.”

Her mouth dropped open.

“No scars,” he emphasized as he pulled the fabric back over his skin. “Remember the ones I showed you when we were talking that second time in Kansas City? What about my surgery? They’re all gone.”

Her eyes went blank with recollection.

“He did say he could change matter…”

Momentarily astonished, Adam stopped and looked at Eve. Their thoughts began to meld.

“You heard it, too. When did this happen?”

“I’m not sure, I think…”

She stole a glance at her wrist.

“Hey! My watch stopped.”

He looked down to check his own and then showed it to her.

“Mine, too. Three in the afternoon, right?”

“Yeah. Three in the afternoon.”

Their hosts had been following this exchange, the husband with a bit more clarity than his wife.

“The batteries were new when we gave you those watches. You’ve both experienced what I waited years to discover. Those wretched dreams weren’t for me. They were for you.”

Adam looked quizzically at Eve.

“Were we communicating with the same personality at the same time in two different places?”

Jonathan muttered to himself so quietly that only Eve heard him.

“I don’t have to see for myself. This is enough. Thank you.”

Janice sought to re-establish some semblance of normalcy.

“Shall we eat?”

“Oh, sure,” the chimera agreed. “Now that I’m thinking of it, I’m awfully hungry.”

“Oh, why fight it,” Jonathan said with exasperation. “I was going to wait, but I’ve decided not to delay gratification. I want to be able to sleep tonight. Owing to the amount of sleep I lost for over twenty years, I think I’m within my rights to ask both of you more about what you heard.”

The food on everyone’s plates grew cold as Adam and Eve told of their encounters and answered questions when clarification was needed. They were articulate, and they did a commendable job of explaining what many would have found difficult to grasp. At the end of their accounts, the former professor slipped into a lecturing frame of mind. Thinking better of it, he opted for the Socratic Method.

“Evelyn,” he chuckled and momentarily lost his train of thought. “I’m sorry. It still feels strange calling you by a different name, but I’m getting used to it. Getting back to what I wanted to say, my background in physics picked up on what you said about nothing being as random as it seems. Have either of you really considered the circumstances of your conception and birth?”

“Sure,” Adam answered. “I wanted to know how I happened. You know I looked it all up.”

“You told me while we were working on the car once, but I’m referring to more. Yes, you know the details. Have you thought about what the details mean?”

“Someone screwed up, and my parents didn’t want to live with the results.”

“There’s a deeper significance,” the physicist emphasized. “What was the probability of all the details of your creation occurring in a fertility clinic equipped with safeguards to prevent it? And what was the likelihood of the embryo fusion that occurred in your, uhm, half-mother’s womb?”

“Not very high for either,” the chimera confessed.

“Extremely low would be more accurate.”

“Okay. You’re right. Do you think life begins at conception?”

“When else would it begin?”

“I know you think we have souls. So do I, but am I two souls combined into one? If that fusion hadn’t occurred, I’d be two different people.”

“It’s impossible to determine the origin of a nonmaterial soul, Adam. Nobody knows at what stage of development that’s established in a human embryo. If that fusion hadn’t taken place, you wouldn’t be at all. Two different people would be instead. I find that significant.”

“With all the drugs my mother did before, during, and after my conception, it’s a wonder I wasn’t born with serious physical problems,” Eve stated. “She told me once that she never stopped using, not even when she was pregnant with me.”

“Do you remember our conversation in the garage – the first one?”

“Yeah.”

“Of course you do,” he reminded himself. “Your memory is incredible. You said you were loaded with mutations.”

“That’s right.”

“And I said they must have been good ones, but most mutations are deleterious or neutral. Yours are beneficial adaptations, ones that helped you survive.”

“And the voice told me at least one of those got fixed,” she reminded him.

“Or altered. You might have a new or emerging physiological ability. It’ll be interesting to find out.”

“Well, I guess I’m free to explore that, especially now,” she concluded. “I’d like to know what it is.”

“You know that the odds of conception are low under normal circumstances,” Jonathan expounded further. “That’s why so many sperm are released during one ejaculation. Conception can happen at any time, but, statistically, it takes several efforts, whether intentional or not. The probability of a particular sperm fertilizing an egg is significantly lower. Throw in the probability of surviving the chemical insults you endured while in your mother, and you’re a walking miracle. You’re both miracles.”

“So the odds were against us,” Adam admitted.

“In more ways than one and for a long time. Yet here both of you are, physically healthy and gifted beyond credibility, and I have a hunch you’ve both been holding out on us. Could it be that some higher intelligence had a hand in all this?”

“That brings us back to Aristotle’s source,” Adam lamented. “I still don’t understand that book, and it won’t let go of me.”

“There’s a flip side to that coin,” Jonathan said with a grave tone. “Something sinister has been aiming at both of you since before you were born.”

None of them said anything for a long moment. Janice took it upon herself to break the silence.

“That does it. This has been interesting, but we still haven’t eaten. After the work I put in on this meal, you’re all going to consume it. Give me your plates, and I’ll warm them up in the microwave.”

Much later, Adam lay awake in his darkened room. He peeked briefly at the clock on the nightstand next to his bed then stared at the ceiling. It was three in the morning, but he was nowhere near falling asleep. He had been instructed to pay careful attention. What would he learn and when? Save for the memory of his encounter on the hill, nothing out of the ordinary impressed itself upon his consciousness.

His distracted reverie was interrupted by insistent tapping, and he got out of bed. He was clad in sweat pants and an old T-shirt as he opened his door. With bare feet, and wearing a flannel nightgown that Janice had made for her, Eve was standing in front of him. She looked groggy.

“Tommy?”

“No, not Tommy. I’m Adam, now. Remember? You’re not fully awake.”

She giggled softly.

“Yeah… and I’m not Angel, anymore.”

She rested her forehead on his chest. In doing so, she reminded him of the child she should have been allowed to be when younger.

“Adam,” she repeated belatedly, “what happened to us today?”

“I’m not sure. Something we couldn’t have done ourselves – only it was yesterday. Whatever it was, it had to be good.”

“Yeah. I’m not toxic.”

She tugged at his T-shirt and raised it. Oddly enough, this was an innocent action, and he allowed it. She traced the fingertips of one hand across his torso and smiled sleepily.

“No more scars,” she whispered as she lowered the shirt. “Good night, Adam. It’s late – I mean, early.”

She hugged him briefly. Not knowing what to do, he held his arms out from his sides until she released him. Then, like some beatific spirit, Evelyn glided down the hall and back up the stairs. Confused, Adam stood in his doorway for a few minutes until he remembered that he could go back to bed. Lying down again, he noticed that his thoughts were starting to scramble. Ideas made sense, and then they didn’t. He gave up trying, and he was gone.

Chapter 24 – Gifts  

The world had changed for Eve. She was no more sensitive to stimuli than before, but the sensate young woman now interpreted her physical and social environment from an enhanced perspective. She and Adam were extreme examples of everybody else. Each person she saw when working at Walmart, every individual seen walking or driving along the streets of Nevada, was a story in motion. They were all actors in a drama of cosmic importance.

Right now, her role was to re-stock some shelves in the sporting goods section. Adam was doing likewise over in electronics. Steadily applying themselves to these mundane assignments, they were working their shift at Walmart. The hour was late and the supercenter’s population had thinned out. Suddenly, the tedium of Eve’s routine was punctuated with alarm. A shadow in her periphery was moving down the aisle. It encased a man in its morbidity.

Watching out of the side of her eye, she continued with her task. The shadow was passing her when she felt the sharp pressure on her rear end. She did not have to put up with this. Quickly, she reached back and grabbed the offending fingers before the hand to which they were attached could completely withdraw. She completed this movement with a twisting motion she had been taught in her martial arts sessions as she spun around to confront the masher.

“Just what do you think you’re…”

There was no need to finish her sentence, for the man had fallen into a dead faint.

“Not again, not ever,” she whispered to a hidden personality. “He can’t die. You promised.”

Adam went looking for her when he was finished in electronics. He often did this between jobs just to say hello, make a comment, or tell a joke. She enjoyed this, and these expected surprises helped their shift go by faster. He liked knowing that, no matter how tedious work became, she was always somewhere under the same roof. He found her brooding over the prostrate man.

“What happened?”

“He pinched me,” she answered with determination.

Adam knew that tone of voice.

“Bad idea,” he commented. “Is he alive?”

“Yeah. I can hear him breathing. If you watch, you can see his stomach moving.”

Adam stood there, examining the boor impassively.

“Serves him right. Any idea when he’ll wake up?”

“I haven’t a clue. It’s not like I’ve done this before.”

“Good. I’m relieved to know that you’re not in the habit of passing out strange men.”

She punched him lightly on his bare forearm. He looked at the imaginary wound and then at her.

“I hope whatever your skin produced doesn’t do to me what it did to him.”

Eve smirked competitively.

“Well, we’ll just have to wait and find out, won’t we?”

Her quiet laughter drifted down the aisle as she resumed stocking the shelf.

“Whatever it is, it’s fast-acting, and it doesn’t leave a residue on my skin. It must evaporate quickly. You’re clear, but watch your step in the future.”

She laughed again.

“So,” he said with mock chagrin, “it looks like you’ve discovered your new capability.”

“As suggested…”

Something occurred to her, and she chuckled.

“… and as promised. I hadn’t considered that. So what about you?”

“Me? I need to go back to the mall.”

“The Northpark Mall in Joplin? You hate shopping. Why do you want to go there?”

“To find my hidden ability,” he said pensively.

“Are you serious?”

“At least half. You don’t forget much of anything, so I know you remember what happened to me. It’s what I was told to do in those woods on the hill. I was also told to pay attention. I have for the last three days, and all I’ve gotten so far is that I need to go to the mall.”

“Do you know when?”

“I think by early afternoon this Saturday, so I’m going to say one.”

Eve shook her head with that characteristic giggle.

“You in a mall. I’d blow the afternoon just to go along and watch.”

The fallen offender began to snore loudly. Adam looked down at him with comic disdain.

“What do you think we should do – draw a chalk line around him?”

“Leave him. I’m done here, and we both have more work to do. Someone else can find him. Maybe he’ll be embarrassed when he wakes up.”

“Oh, I’ll make sure of that. You go ahead.”

He went back to the counter in the electronics section and procured a piece of paper and a pen. He wrote a note and then went into the back section behind the store to find some packing tape. Once everything he needed was in hand, he returned to the slumbering body and affixed the note to its forehead. It read as follows:

The next time you think about molesting a woman, remember how you were found. It could happen again.

Had somebody found him, it could have created a stir, but the man woke up after a few more minutes. Groggy, he sat up, peeled the tape off of his forehead, and read the note. He looked around nervously and struggled to his feet. Then he hurried down the aisle, past the checkout lanes, and into the parking lot.

That Saturday, Adam stood amid the bustling but languid flow of humanity. He watched as they drifted in and out of stores beneath the artificial lighting of this enclosed space. Some walked with purpose. Others drifted as if pulled along by some hidden magnet. He was entirely out of his element, whatever that was, so he was effectively lost despite knowing exactly how he had gotten there.

“Well, here I am,” he announced under his breath.

His eyes drifted to an unoccupied bench.

Sit down and wait.

At least an hour passed. Faithful to his instructions, he remained sitting even though he wanted to get up and move around. He was bored into numbness, and he was feeling stiff and restless. After maybe another quarter of an hour, a man in his forties sat down next to him. This in itself was unusual. When one male saw another sitting on a two-person bench, he would normally opt to leave the other seat vacant. Then there was the matter of Adam’s unusual appearance. The newcomer was pale and perspiring visibly. He wore a wedding ring. Adam glanced at him briefly.

“Are you okay?”

“I just saw a ghost.”

So this was why he was here.

“Where?”

“Over by J. C. Penney. I haven’t seen her in over twenty years. She’s gained a little weight, but it had to be her. What’s she doing here?”

“I’m afraid you’ve got me. Who are you talking about?”

“The girl I raped in college.”

In an extreme example, this middle-aged man had unburdened himself as many Americans were prone to doing. It was, to foreigners, a baffling characteristic. More than a few citizens of the United States were in the habit of divulging personal details – divorces, medical conditions, past sins, and so on – to complete strangers. Such people felt the need to tell someone, so it was an emotional release. It was also a false intimacy, something approaching an anonymous outlet without the obligation or accountability of friendship.

But this was especially unusual. Adam wasn’t just another stranger. He was a huge, strangely distinctive man, and he had just heard a damning confession with legal implications. Was this his new gift? Would people feel comfortable enough around him to open up like this, or would they do it by compulsion of conscience? Neither option had to be mutually exclusive. As he considered this, both explanations struck him as consistent with what had happened to him on the wooded hill above Radio Spring Lake.

“She didn’t recognize me,” the married man continued. “How could she? I found her passed out in a room at a frat party. No one else was in there.”

His listener watched him calmly, taking pains neither to interrupt nor prod him on.

“So I took advantage of the situation.”

“Why’d you do it?”

“The way I saw it then, that’s what girls were for. Over and over again, I heard they were just playing hard to get when they said no. Getting them to say yes was just a matter of perseverance and skill. I saw a chance to skip the preliminaries, that’s all.”

He burst out in a quiet, bitter laugh.

“I didn’t even enjoy it. She was just low-hanging fruit, an empty conquest. She never knew it was me.”

“But she knew?”

“She had to. I was in too big a hurry to leave her dressed. I was afraid of getting caught.”

They fell silent for a few minutes. Adam noticed that the man’s gaze settled on an attractive blonde standing by a kiosk some twenty to thirty feet away. Given their conversational topic, this struck him as rather seamy. The impression was made worse by the fact that this was an older man checking out a younger woman. The ring on the speaker’s finger glistened in accusation.

“The weird thing is… you think you change after so many years. Right now, I don’t feel like I have. I was a coward then, and I’m a coward now. I felt guilty then. I feel guilty now. I did the same thing again – got out of there like a scared rabbit. She was with some guy – husband, boyfriend, whatever.”

“So the question is what do you do about it?”

The man buried his face in his hands then sat up straight and stared at the distant ceiling.

“I don’t know. Is the woman married? Would apologizing help?”

“It might.”

“Would she even want to have that dragged back up? What if she tells the authorities? I could go to prison, lose my wife, my reputation – lose everything. It was over twenty years ago. I was just a kid.”

“Does that lessen your responsibility?”

No answer was forthcoming. Why didn’t this man get up and walk away? In light of all that he’d said, his obsession with himself and his feelings was annoying Adam.

“From what you’ve said, I take it your wife doesn’t know.”

The other man held his hands up helplessly.

“I’ve been lying to my family without saying a word. How am I supposed to go on living with this?”

Adam adopted a respectful manner to mitigate the bluntness of his reply.

“Perhaps it’s not about you, sir.”

“Take my advice,” the man snapped back. “Keep your hands to yourself, and keep your pants zipped. If you ever get married, you don’t want the baggage I’m carrying.”

However far his penitence went, it evidently fell short of meaningful action. He stood up and waved. Still far enough away that they couldn’t hear what he was saying, a trim, well-dressed woman with two teenage sons was walking toward him. Adopting an outwardly calmer demeanor, he made one last entreaty to no one in particular.

“What am I going to do now?”

Looking as if this wrenching conversation had never taken place, the conflicted husband and father sauntered away and joined his family. After they had wandered out of sight, the attractive blonde came and sat next to Adam on the bench.

“Pretty interesting, yeah?”

He spoke with a sense of mild wonder in his voice.

“That guy told me everything.”

“I heard.”

“I figured you were listening. Did this turn out to be more entertaining than you’d expected?”

“I wasn’t really expecting anything in particular. It was worth it, coming with you. I’d say you’ve found your hidden ability.”

“I’m not certain of that yet.”

“Look. You just said he told you everything. So did I when I didn’t really know you, and I had never done that before. Up until then, I’d made a conscious decision not to, but out it spilled. Don’t you see? Adam, the truth just happens around you.”

He frowned and nodded.

“Almost like it has to, like water running down a slope.”

“I found a new gift,” Eve expounded. “Yours is older.”

“But people avoided me. Every now and then some woman would proposition me, but I never had a revealing conversation until I met you.”

“Did those women ever fool you?”

He snorted.

“No, but sometimes I gave in just for something to do.”

“You don’t need to say that. You’ve told me before. What matters is that their motives were revealed, and you could tell. The truth happened. People avoided you in all other circumstances until we came across Jonathan, but today a total stranger sat down next to you and opened up. That gift of yours is developing.”

She slipped her hand through his arm.

“Get it?”

“Yes, ma’ am.”

“That’s enough sarcasm. Take me home, Adam.”

“Gladly – only, could we walk around outside somewhere for awhile? I don’t like the air in here.”

She thought for a minute.

“That sounds good. You know something? This is okay. I should go shopping with you more often.”

 

 

Alias Adam (Chapter 21-22)

Chapter 21 – Recovery

It was later in the week, and Adam was listed as being in stable condition. They were together again, all of them in one room, for the first time in days.

“How are you feeling?” Janice asked the unusual patient.

“Like I’m not myself – like I’m watching some weird, sick movie. I don’t get it.”

“Don’t be too hard on yourself, Adam. You’ve been shot. There’s a certain sense of violation in that.”

He grimaced and turned his head to the wall.

“That’s not the worst part, Janice.”

The gentle woman placed her hand on his.

“Tell me.”

“It’s knowing that I crushed a man’s head like an eggshell.”

He closed his eyes and shuddered.

“Emergency surgery, a stay in the hospital – this had to be expensive.”

“Your coverage through Medicaid should at least take care of the bulk of it,” Jonathan commented. “I’m glad you took my advice and registered.”

“Eve told me that you found my wallet while she was cleaning off after…”

“It was in your room,” Jonathan verified quickly. “On the night you were shot, I came here to inquire about your condition. The person behind the counter told me you were covered. If there are any expenses, Janice and I are prepared to help with the payments.”

Eve was mortified.

“Oh, no, Jonathan. You’re on a fixed income.”

“We’re doing better than you think. We were both professional people, and we have some pretty good retirement investments – that and a fair chunk of change I inherited from my parents.”

“But still…”

“I can’t let you help me,” Tommy insisted.

“They said they’ll work out some type of payment plan, if necessary. I anticipated the answer you just gave me.”

Over the next days, weeks, and months, the facts would be pieced together. The articles of clothing from the van, mostly undergarments, belonged to victims from three different states. All the bodies were of females in their teens and twenties. All of the young women had disappeared at night, many from mall parking lots where they worked evenings. Each of the latter had last been seen by coworkers at the end of a shift. Some of the victims simply had shared in the misfortune of walking alone in a small town on the wrong night. A few had worked in convenience stores. All were from communities near I-70.

DNA samples from hair and dried blood on the head of the sledgehammer matched that of some of the victims. Due to the number of the dead, twenty-three in all, the hammer and the back of the van were a forensics nightmare. Assistance from the state police and the FBI would be required to sort it out. Eve’s name was on the statement she gave the police, but it was kept from the press at her insistence. Due to the shooting incident and his subsequent hospitalization, it was impossible for Adam to remain anonymous. His name made brief appearances in the Nevada Daily Mail, the Kansas City Star, and various forms of national coverage, but it was mentioned more in passing and was soon overshadowed by the perpetual cycle of news. Attention was focused instead on the activities of the serial killers as more details came to light.

The events in question also led investigators and the district attorney to regard Adam’s actions as justifiable self-defense. He was regarded more as a victim than a hero, and Evelyn’s statement to the police was never publicized. With the perpetrators dead, there was no need for a trial or for testimony. The city of Nevada was like a pond into which a big rock had been thrown. After the initial splash, subsequent ripples smoothed over, and the surface showed no signs of disturbance.

To this day, few urban dwellers understand the power of a small town’s equilibrium. People may talk about each other’s business, often behind each other’s backs, but they also stay out of it. When someone wants to be left alone, that desire is at least grudgingly honored. Local conversation once again lapsed back into the mundane, and Adam and Eve resumed their jobs at Walmart. They kept to themselves as much as they could, which discouraged fellow employees from asking them questions about what had happened. The irresistible force of national attention had been brought to bear on rural culture, and that immovable object had held firm.

On the day that Adam came home from the hospital, Eve gave him a “get well” present. He suspiciously removed the wrapping paper and stared dumbly, first at the smart phone in his hand and then at his friend.

“It’s a phone,” she giggled. “You use it to talk.”

“Does it do things on the internet?”

“Yes, silly, but don’t worry. Neither one of us has a data plan. That would have been too expensive, so we can only use the internet when we’re somewhere with Wi-Fi, like here with Janice and Jonathan. Don’t be concerned about the price, either. I got us a cheap carrier. We have different numbers, but we’ll be on the same bill. It’s less than I was paying, and I needed a new phone since I burned my old one.”

“I’ll try to…”

“Help out? Absolutely not. You concentrate on paying your medical bills. It’s worth it to me. I want to be able to talk to you when we’re not together.”

Adam shrugged. Normally, they were almost always together, at home and at work or just walking around. Eve continued her pitch.

And it has some nice features. You can take pictures, make short videos, record conversations – lots of neat stuff. I’ll show you how. Here’s your charger. It fits into your phone like this. See? Now go plug it in. There’s a socket behind the end table next to your bed.”

“Janice actually let you go in there?”

“Under no circumstances, but she told me where it is when I explained what I wanted to do.”

“Okay. I just had to make sure I hadn’t fallen into an alternate dimension.”

As time passed, Adam healed. The stitches from his surgery were removed, leaving yet another scar, this one bigger than all the others. His appetite came back, and he regained the weight he had lost. He also began to exercise and recover his full strength. In his walks with Evelyn, he discovered an old military tank on the corner of Prewitt and Cherry in front of the National Guard Armory. Knowing that he was strong, but not knowing how strong, he was stimulated by the sight of this armored weapon to engage in a bit of speculation which nobody else would have considered. He decided one night to find out and left the sidewalk to approach the tank.

“What are you doing?” his friend demanded. “You’re not going to lift that …”

Her mouth remained open as the realization hit her.

“You’re going to lift that tank.”

“Not the whole thing,” he assured her. “I doubt I could do that. I just want to see if I can lift the front.”

It was far from easy. He could not recall ever having to strain his muscles that much. His arms bulged with the effort, and his body shook. His face tightened into a grimace. He flexed his knees and bent into his task.

“Keep your back flat.”

Slowly, inexorably, the front end of the armored vehicle was raised from the ground. One foot… two feet… three. Slowly and carefully he lowered it back to its original resting place. Despite the effort, he had been able to control the tonnage. Awed by what he had done, he turned to her, and she could see the look of confident astonishment on his face.

“If I can do that,” he reasoned, “I really have to be careful when I’m around people.”

“We both do,” she murmured.

At Janice’s urging, Adam and Eve agreed to seek counseling. After what they had been through, they were finally receptive to receiving more formal help. There was enough money in their savings accounts for what insurance failed to cover. While submitting to this process was beneficial, however, it could not solve the entire problem.

In their respective sessions, there were things they couldn’t tell their counselors. Had they made the attempt, they would have appeared delusional. It was best to omit their unusual abilities, Jonathan’s dreams, and the metaphysical connection between them. Eve could not expect a professional therapist to believe the sheer number of rapes she had endured, let alone their final outcomes. She limited her conversations to the first five during her appointments. When asked if she knew who her attackers were or where they were now, she truthfully answered yes and that she did not know. Dead did not necessarily mean they were not somewhere else. Beyond that, she mentioned the general circumstances of her upbringing: the unknown identity of her biological father, her mother’s substance abuse, and the danger of life in the projects. Similarly, Adam confined his comments to his unusual conception, the abuse he suffered while in foster care, his history of fighting in school, his former profession as a bouncer, and getting shot in the Walmart parking lot.

Due to her prior work with Janice, Eve progressed more rapidly than did Adam. Much of what she did was review in a less informal setting, which actually helped. The additional structure required more of her. Janice had avoided using technical terminology with her in an effort to keep her more relaxed, but now she was ready for the full approach. Evelyn refrained from revealing anything about her somewhat unorthodox therapy at the Andrews house. Rules had been broken, and she did not want to jeopardize the reputation of her retired friend. Through the instruction she received, she was able to figure out that most of what they had done together initially had been a combination of two out of the three most successful methods of treating PTSD: cognitive processing and prolonged exposure. The cognitive processing had helped her understand her feelings and how to restructure them in more positive ways. It had also made her aware that trauma had resulted in the erroneous change in her beliefs: her deduction that she had been designed to suffer repeated abuse on behalf of other women.

Through skillful questioning, her counselor rather quickly identified that she had already processed her feelings to the extent that she was no longer interpreting her experiences inaccurately. Prolonged exposure therapy was also shown to be of little additional benefit, but not until another wrinkle had been added. Evelyn was required to record the details of her first five assaults on her smart phone, and she was given the homework assignment of playing them back regularly. As part of this therapeutic approach, in vivo exposure was suggested and tried, but it was soon established that this was ineffective since Eve was not afraid to go into real world situations that were deemed safe. She had certainly not practiced avoidance, and she only allowed her therapist to see the tip of the iceberg.

The treatment that ended up being of the most use to her was eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. During these EMDR sessions, Eve would visually follow her counselor’s hand back and forth through a brief series of movements while being asked to explain her feelings, especially those of anger, which she had been forthright in identifying as her major concern. She also learned to recognize other bodily sensations associated with difficult memories. This EMDR therapy, the third method effective in the treatment of PTSD, helped her to consider her former trauma more calmly and to quiet her emotional reflexes.

The hardest memories for her to deal with were the faces. She remembered them all, but she could mention only five. They were still there, hovering in the periphery of her attention. Some were cruel and leering. Some mocked. Others looked dull and subhuman, as if they and their urges were being controlled by something else. Ultimately, every face was lifeless and staring, open-mouthed and wide-eyed with the same empty expression of fear. She had never known how to articulate this to Janice. She told her therapist about the images of the living, and the techniques she had learned were applied with some success. She could not mention the images of the dead.

Adam responded with considerably more difficulty, and the duration of his treatments was correspondingly longer. His condition required weekly appointments for four months. His main symptom was hyperarousal, but it was expressed in a different way that took his therapist a while to recognize. He had become more aware of his surroundings, which was typical, but this was not the main manifestation. He freely confessed that he was worried most about the lack of control that could be triggered within him as a response to witnessing the mistreatment of others. He regarded his inability to identify this when it was happening as particularly dangerous. Prolonged exposure therapy was prescribed. The breath retraining aspect of this approach helped him manage his emotions as he recounted various incidents, especially the ones which got him expelled from high school and which resulted in him being shot. His cognitive re-enactments were executed repetitiously and in detail, and he was also required to use his phone to record his accounts during these sessions. Like Evelyn, he was given the homework of listening to them repeatedly.

It was late August, and he was leaving one of his weekly appointments when he found Evelyn waiting for him. She was leaning with her back and the sole of one foot propped against the brick wall outside the door. Standing on one leg with the other bent at the knee, she had her hands in her pockets. This was a pleasant surprise, and Adam looked forward to their conversation. She gave him a slight toss of her head.

“How’s it going?”

“Pretty well, I think.”

“So you think it’s working?”

“Sure – for some things.”

“Like what?”

A teenage boy leaned out of the window of a passing car and yelled out.

“Hey, baby! What’re you doing there with Speckles?”

The car raced off, and Eve could hear Adam change his breathing pattern.

“Don’t pay attention to them.”

“It had to happen some time,” he reflected. “I’ve been on a pretty long roll when you think about it, but I’m glad he did that. It gave me a chance to practice that breath retraining technique in a real setting. The method works.”

“I guess that answers my question.”

“Well, kind of, but not entirely. The methods I’m learning help me tamp down the intensity of my emotional responses, but…”

“It’s still there,” she finished.

“Right. I don’t want to manage the rage. I want it gone.”

She slipped her hand through his arm, and they started walking.

“You’re not the only one. Can I give you a ride?”

“You bet.”

“Where to?” she asked playfully.

“With you, anywhere.”

“I was thinking about something,” she began.

“What’s that?”

He was always interested when she said something like this. When Eve had been thinking about something to the point of wanting to discuss it, whatever she had in mind was substantial.

“Well, we’re training our minds, but what about our bodies?”

“So you think we should exercise, lift weights…”

“Maybe, but I was thinking more about learning how to use our bodies more effectively.”

“You mean martial arts, self defense training.”

“That’s it exactly. I could learn how to defend myself better, and you could learn how to control that awful strength. That way, you could be less apprehensive about hurting somebody, and we could both benefit from knowing how to disarm an attacker.”

“Knowing how you plan ahead, you’ve already looked into this. Am I right?”

She patted him on the arm with her free hand.

“Very good. I’ll have to buy you an ice cream cone – that is, if you say yes.”

“With sprinkles?”

She giggled. How he loved that sound.

“What’s your answer?”

“I’ll do anything for sprinkles,” he deadpanned.

“Excellent. There’s a Tae Kwan Do place over on Walnut. Our first lesson starts in less than an hour. We’ll have just enough time to change.”

“Do I have to wear some funny, white outfit?”

“Yes, and it’s called a dobok. I ordered one for each of us on-line. Your size wasn’t easy to find.”

“Eve, you shouldn’t…”

“I already did, so you’re wearing it. Don’t worry. You’ll look cute.”

“At least let me pay you back.”

“No. The dobok and the ice cream cone are on me.”

They had reached the car, and she held the door open for him. Playing along, he bowed and climbed in. She patted him on the head.

“Now fasten your seat belt. If you’re a good boy, I’ll take you to Dairy Queen when this is over.”

Chapter 22 – A Better Explanation

It was early September, and the temperatures at night had become tolerable. Dr. and Mrs. Andrews were preparing to have tea on their back porch while Adam and Eve were at work. Janice lit the citronella candles to keep the mosquitoes at bay as the sun moved out of sight behind the houses of their neighbors. The clouds were turning crimson, and the sky was preparing to make its transition to gray and then black. They sat down and poured their tea.

“The kids seem to be doing well,” Jonathan commented.

“Not well enough, dear. They’re better, but I’m still concerned.”

“You’ve noticed something?”

“Nothing I can specifically identify. I just have this strong impression of something beneath the surface. They still seem troubled.”

“Do you think they’re hiding anything?”

“No. We agreed that they shouldn’t talk to me about their counseling. I don’t want to undercut their therapists.”

“Well, they look fine to me. Are you sure you’re not imagining this?”

The look she gave him made him instantly regret what he had said.

“They share an extraordinary nature, Dr. Andrews, and that magnifies their problems.”

“Plato’s Republic,” he stated with authority.

“Yes, Professor. It’s written there and I don’t care where else. That doesn’t change the fact that either one of them is too much for the best of counselors. Therapy can only get them part of the way. After what you’ve told me all these years, you surely know there are greater forces at play.”

He blew on his tea.

“I can’t deny that.”

“Jonathan, they need to know what you know.”

“But I don’t know all of it, yet.”

“And you never will. Maybe the rest is for them to find out. This isn’t about either of us.”

Suddenly, he saw the obvious.

“I’ve been a fool,” he confessed, “an over-calculating fool too clever for his own good or the good of others. I got those kids hurt.”

“Don’t say that. You couldn’t have known what was going to happen.”

“But I could have known this.”

“What?”

“What I just realized. It seems so simple, now.”

“You’re not going to tell me, are you?”

“I will. I promise, but I need to clear my head and cement this down. I’m going out to the sanctuary. Please send them out when they get home.”

“You haven’t had a sip of your tea. Can’t this wait until morning?”

“Not for me. I want to be able to sleep tonight.”

“What about them?”

“They always stay up when they get off work. You can ask them if they’d rather wait, but you know what they’ll say.”

Adam and Eve took their customary walk home after the end of their shift. A cloud of sorts hung over their conversation as they unsuccessfully reasoned together and tried to find answers that no therapist could provide. They had been born into a zone that few, if any, lived in, and the most skilled counseling could only work the margins. Upon arriving home, they walked in the front door, received the message Janice relayed, and walked out the back. They had the pleasingly disoriented feeling of having stepped out of Nevada – off of the earth, actually – as they passed through the garage door. Jonathan was staring at the far wall, and Eve tapped him on the shoulder.

“How long have you been out here?”

“I don’t know. What time is it?”

They looked at their wristwatches, still their preferred method of timekeeping, and told him.

“Then it’s been quite a while.”

In the relativistic world of Jonathan’s sanctuary, that was as definite an answer as they were going to get. Rotating like some ponderous planet, he slowly faced them.

“Janice said you had something to tell us,” Adam prompted.

Eve took a couple of logical steps.

“And if you’ve been standing here for as long as you have, you were trying to find the best way to tell us. That means you don’t know how or where to start. Maybe this will help. I’ve been curious about something since you first said it.”

The physicist looked down and absent-mindedly kicked at his left front car tire.

“I think I can guess.”

“How were you able to see what happened to us, and why did your dreams stop?”
“Your second question is the easiest to answer. I think I was being spared. I needed some time to recover before I met you. Understand that I didn’t have the option of looking away. Those visions invaded my sleep, and I couldn’t stay awake indefinitely. If I had seen what happened during those three years of blankness, I don’t know if I could have handled it.”

She patted him affectionately on the shoulder.

“You’re such a sweet man. Don’t make me cry.”

“Don’t worry,” he joked back. “I wouldn’t think of it. Now about how I knew – I was being shown, and I didn’t know how or why. Keep in mind the social environment of my institution and my field. That’ll give you a sense of context for when all this started. I was an unquestioning reductionist, GUT and ToE all the way.”

“What?”

“G-U-T means the Grand Unified Theory. It came about as a result of applying quantum field theory to unifying the weak, strong, and electromagnetic forces. The force of gravity as explained by general relativity didn’t fit the equations, though. T-o-E stands for the elusive Theory of Everything that would bring in that last force. There must be some kind of unifying factor, some constant we aren’t seeing. Solving this puzzle is an ongoing pursuit of physicists such as myself.”

Adam repeated some of the professor’s words.

“Theory of Everything… I saw something about it on television once or twice at the hotel where I used to live in Kansas City.”

He caught Jonathan’s inquisitive look.

“The place was a dump – right in my price range. The set was always on in the lobby, and I watched it sometimes when I ran out of things to read. The manager liked watching the nature and science shows, if you can believe that.”

Jonathan became more animated.

“Incongruity can pop up in the most unexpected places. Getting back to the subject at hand, what if there’s an option that isn’t really being considered? What if the unifying factor is nonphysical? It would underlie the four fundamental forces. Unlike them, it would be immeasurable, undetectable by instrumentation. In that case, physics would only be investigating reverberations – the physical aftershocks.”

This discussion was intriguing Adam.

“Aristotle’s source,” he muttered. “That could be your underlying factor?”

“I don’t know how he envisioned it – physical, nonphysical, whatever.”

“Jonathan,” Eve insisted, “tell him what you told me before he was shot. I’d like to hear it again, too. The way things turned out later, I obviously didn’t have enough of a grasp on it.”  “Neither did I,” the physicist said penitently. “I doubt I have a sufficient grasp now. I’m sorry. If I could have articulated it better, maybe you wouldn’t have had to go through what you did. My intellect gets in the way sometimes. I was thinking of these phenomena in terms of what I could discover. I had taken to calling that effort my project, but I was inept when it came to telling you what you really needed to know. I could have – should have – had the presence of mind to say more and to say it clearly.”

“Don’t be so sure we’d have understood,” said Adam. “I really think this was what it took to get me to listen. I saw myself as capable of handling anything…”

Jonathan sighed.

“Maybe it wasn’t time. Maybe our lack of readiness is what renders us ready.”

“And maybe your explanation…” Eve began.

“… had to be incomplete to be completed,” he finished.

“So what’s the complete explanation?”

“That’s where I was going. Please allow me to get there in my own way. I don’t want to leave anything out this time. As I’ve said, I began leaning toward the admission that nonmaterial reality underlies material reality. There’s a modern tendency to reject anything which cannot be quantified and put into an equation. This goes back at least to when the world was seen as operating by the principles of Newtonian physics. Even then, there was an inclination toward the appeal of simplicity, of mathematical elegance. Myths and superstitions were considered too messy, too unpredictable. Educated minds developed distaste for what could not be explained and controlled. Men began to believe they could explain, and therefore control, everything.”

He looked carefully at the faces of his young friends to make sure they were still following him. They seemed to be tracking with what he had said.

“Then Einstein and his theory of relativity happened, and the job of the reductionists got harder. His musings about the space-time continuum and the speed of light were counterintuitive. Beyond that, clinging to a strictly material universe is illusory when we don’t really understand the structure of matter, let alone the true nature of energy. We’ve discovered a bizarre zoo of subatomic particles, and they can behave in the strangest ways. Energy and matter can interconvert under extreme circumstances. Radiant energy exists as photons, wavelengths, or both at once. Our assumptions are a heavy pair of boots worn to protect us as we walk along a floor that’s about to collapse.”

Evelyn winced.

“Ouch, Jonathan – metaphor.”

“It was a little over the top,” he admitted sheepishly.

He had gotten so carried away that he was rambling, and he had stopped checking in with his audience. They were rather unsuccessfully trying to convince themselves that they were following the gist of his narrative. Receiving no further signals to wait, he plunged ahead.

“So any concept of reality had to fit the equations, but the equations didn’t fit reality, at least not as it was being defined. Simplicity collided with inexplicable complexity, and we ended up with the multiple dimensions of String Theory: a violation of Occam’s razor.”

“I’ve heard that term somewhere,” Eve stated, “but I don’t know what it means.”

“It means that when considering hypotheses,” Jonathan began, “one should pick the one that makes the fewest assumptions. In other words, the simplest, the most elegant explanation is usually best.”

“And what you’re saying,” Adam reasoned, “is that this isn’t what happened.”

“Essentially. The equations grew more complicated, the explanations more abstract. Mathematics is a system of symbolic logic, and the logic has become more convoluted – almost theological. Reality viewed from that perspective is an unsolvable equation in search of a missing constant. As I read the work of others and pursued a solution to this problem myself, I began to suspect the existence of a constant that we could never find, one that will remain intractable to scientific analysis for the simple reason that it is, in its very essence, something which lies outside the limitations of science. There are things that existed long before the development of scientific opinion, things that don’t bow to its dictates. Our technology and our methods of thinking have yet to catch up.

“I’m talking about a nonmaterial dimension in which we live simultaneously with this one. If it exists – and I think that it does – we’ve become deadened to it. Maybe the ancients could see into it. Maybe humanity lost this ability over generations of increasing distraction and unfamiliarity. Sometimes our available senses might indirectly make us aware of activity in this dimension, but our minds must be misinterpreting the information.”

This last bit resonated with his hearers on not only an intellectual but also an emotional level. Adam lightly placed a hand on Jonathan’s shoulder.

“Wait. You said activity. Of what?”

“Of who would be more appropriate. This invisible landscape is inhabited by entities, by personalities.”

This last statement distressed Eve. She was feeling something she could not yet understand, but its implications were alarming.

How do they act?”

“Much as we do,” Jonathan answered. “Whenever we pay undue attention to illicit things, whenever we speak them or act them out, these entities feed.”

“On us,” she shuddered.

“They feed on our minds and even on our bodies,” he continued. “Our brains are altered by what we do and by what happens to us, and our nervous systems influence every other organ system in our bodies. Think of all the places nerves lead.”

“And with my nervous system,” Eve muttered.

“Imagine the effect as a spiral leading up or down. In that sense, we’re always moving as our neurons form new synapses and lose old ones. The circuitry in a brain is one of dynamic plasticity, and that organ is continually modifying its microscopic structure. To resist ascending takes us down. When we become obsessed with the hideous, a bottomless pit opens beneath us.”

Evelyn dropped her shoulders and nodded slowly.

“Janice said pretty much the same thing in a different way. It helped convince me to go through counseling with her.”

Jonathan grinned.

“She’s good, isn’t she?”

“But what activities were you talking about?” Tommy inquired.

“By your own experience, you’re aware of how the words and behavior of other people can agitate us.”

“Sure. Until we landed here, it was the story of my life.”

“So it is with these activities. Thoughts can disturb us even though we may not understand their origins, and they can stir us to say and do bad things. Many times these expressions fall into the realm of what we consider normal human behavior because we’ve allowed ourselves to become desensitized. If enough people do something frequently enough for long enough, it has a way of becoming acceptable, and we surrender our reasoning to the inevitability of its occurrence. When these same motives and actions are amplified, this horrifies us. Mob behavior is a good example: riots, gang rapes, public executions…”

He caught himself.

“I’m sorry, Eve. Tact isn’t always one of my stronger qualities.”

He smiled weakly, and she smiled back at him.

“You don’t need to worry. I’m not that fragile. What you said is true, and it’s not just the physical violence. What bothered me most were the words and attitudes of the men who attacked me.”

Adam shook his head.

“This discussion doesn’t speak well for my history of fighting…”

He paused painfully.

“… or caving a man’s head in.”

“About what Eve just said, though,” Jonathan interjected. “She’s right. Physical injury is never good, but the extent of its psychic damage depends on context. If you break your arm, it hurts, but if someone were to break your arm deliberately and then laugh…”

She looked pensively into her secret space.

“Yeah.”

“I tried to shut bullies up with my fists,” Adam added, “but it’s not working. Their voices keep going off in my head, and now I’ve taken it to the worst extreme.”

“Not the worst,” his elder corrected. “You might have gone too far, but you were trying to protect someone you cared about.”

“I could have done that without killing him. I just want to use the remote and change channels. Where is it?”

The physicist looked curiously absent. He was staring through his own imaginary window.

“That’s the problem,” he almost whispered, “– finding the remote. Until then, flesh turns against flesh, and more bodies get poured into the cosmic meat grinder.”

He paused after saying this, head cocked slightly back and mouth slightly open as if he was about to continue speaking. His younger friends waited respectfully for him to go on.

“I’m sorry. I got sidetracked on the negative side of all this. It must be because of those awful dreams I kept having, but this dimension can be incredibly good, too. Even seeing the bad of it can be beneficial. It depends on your perspective. Did either of you ever have a hunch – a premonition?”

“I’m not sure,” Eve answered first. “Thinking back, I guess I sort of knew how things were going to work out. I could tell when I was going to be attacked, except for the first few times. From the beginning, though, I somehow knew that those men were going to die, that they weren’t going to get away with it.”

Her variegated friend wrestled with the memory of finding her unconscious in an alley, of feeling that sense of urgency and dread beforehand, of knowing where she would be.

“Hunches,” he muttered. “Sometimes they come true.”

“I can certainly attest to that. How do you account for that sense of recognition without prior information?”

They both looked at Jonathan and then at each other. He gave them a moment to process this.

“We’ve all heard or read about claims of clairvoyance and extrasensory perception. Some believe. Some scoff. Some scientists attribute it to ignorance of the collective properties of neurons. Well, they’ve all got it wrong – explanations after the fact. Now can you see what this adds up to?”

Adam and Eve looked at each other and then at their friend. Evidently satisfied that his informal students were sufficiently engaged, Jonathan Andrews, Professor Emeritus of Physics, concluded his lecture.

“Somebody’s talking. We’re just not very good at listening.”

 

 

ROBERT LAMBERT JONES III