Jen woke up feeling rather dazed and a little hungry, remembering as she tried to get up that her left leg was injured. She could not for the life of her remember how, but it hurt to move it. She compensated by using her arms and right leg more than normal, which worked out pretty well. There was a half-eaten bowl of rice on the floor, just out of reach from where she was sitting. Other than the futon pad she was sleeping on and the bowl of rice, the worn wooden floor was more or less empty and clean other than some clothes. Her friends had left her here, since she had said she needed a place to stay. That much she vaguely remembered. Why there was nobody here in the morning, or where here is, she could not piece together. She had been drinking last night, but not on a level that would induce this much amnesia. It was a regular thing for her though, not remembering stuff. She laid on her side towards the rice, so that her fingers could just weakly grasp the edge of the bowl. She dragged the bowl towards her slowly, like a crane arm in a hokey arcade game. It occurred to her that many things in her life reminded her of hokey arcade games. She ate the rice quite deliberately, thoroughly enjoying it. It looked to be about nine in the morning by the sun, and it was quite cold in the house. She wrapped the blankets around her to keep warm, each of which seemed to have been a piece of someone’s childhood. It seemed that the thing to do was to go back to sleep and wait for someone to arrive and inform her as to what the conditions of staying here were. ************** Someone was walking around the house. She could hear footsteps, although they were very slight, as if the person were trying to be sneaky. “Hello? I don’t know where I am, and I am injured. If you are scared of me, then you have nothing to fear,” she called out to the footsteps. Suddenly they were silent. She was now acutely aware of just how silent the house was, and she thought it remarkable that the birds outside were just barely audible through the antique rippled glass windows. All the blinds were open and it was quite bright in the house, with the abundance of large windows letting in tons of light. All that could be seen from where she was laying were the leaves of what looked like deciduous trees. “Hello? Hey, look, I’m pretty much disabled, and I am not in any condition to defend myself. You shouldn’t be afraid to talk to me.” Silence. Finally she heard a small cough, and a deep breath being drawn. “I’m not afraid of you, I just kinda snuck up on you. I didn’t want to scare you.” The young, male voice laughed quietly at his own bent logic. She was not, in fact scared. “Well, you kinda did surprise me. Startled, i would say, but not scared. Who are you?” “They call me Scott. Not my name, but they call me Scott. Couldn’t say why really. But yeah. This is sort of my house, although nobody pays rent here, not even me. I found it, you could say. Oddly enough, the landlord really doesn’t care about the house, and has no interest in selling it. We try to keep it in good shape anyway, though, in case she changes her mind.” He looked at her warmly. “You know dave and them, I assume?” “Yeah… they said I could stay here for awhile. That’s about all I remember. I have a bad memory.” She brushed her hair back and looked at him, trying to gauge his reaction to her presence. He looked surprisingly clean, and she got the overall impression that he was trustworthy. “My name’s Jen. Nice to meet you.” “Likewise. You are welcome here. I would try to give you a set of house rules or something, but I don’t think there really are any, besides the obvious — don’t bring rowdy assholes over, don’t have big parties, don’t fuck anything up. basically, don’t do anything stupid.” He chuckled a bit, and stood up from his crouching position to slowly walk away. It was interesting to watch him walk his stealthy walk, and she wondered if he always walked like that. “The neighbors are completely ok with us being here, by the way, so don’t worry about that. There’s an attic space up the stairs back here where people hang out sometimes. See you around.” He disappeared into what looked like it must be the kitchen, and he made so little noise that she wasn’t sure if he had just gone out a back door or up the stairs. Jen was rather pleased with her interaction with Scott. She yawned a dramatic, heartfelt yawn and curled back up in the thick pile of blankets. She was having a hard time believing that such a laid back living environment could be had, and reckoned that it must be a relatively new arrangement. Otherwise, one would think that this room would have five or six people crashed out in the corners, beer cans littered everywhere and lots of obnoxious drama all the time. Indeed, this was the polar opposite of what she would expect from such a situation. Minus furniture. She slowly drifted off again as she tried to reconcile what had happened the previous night. All she could remember was dave taking her backpack and telling her that it was a good idea and she should trust him. She was awakened again at what she figured must be sunrise, this time by a sharp, repetitive sound. It was rather loud, although volume is hard to gauge in such a quiet environment. Two and two were put together in her head to produce the conclusion that someone was knocking on the front door, which was just a few feet from where she was laying. She again had forgotten about her leg, but when she got up she found that the pain had lessened considerably, and walking was again possible. She toyed at being stealthy like Scott was, and crept over to the door and looked through the peephole (never good to just open the door in a house if you don’t know). Of course, it was Dave, with her pack. “Hey jen!” Big hug. “I’m in a hurry right now, but here’s your pack. I took out a couple of things you said were suspicious, and I gave them to one of my techie friends to look at. He’ll return them in about a week or so, provided that they check out. Oh, I almost forgot. Here’s a letter that should help explain some things. Wish i had more time to hang out, but I don’t right now. Errands and all. You need anything though?” “Food wouldn’t hurt if you got any ha ha. How the hell are you anyway? Also, what are you on about? What happened last night?” “There’s food in the kitchen, of course. Scott said that since we’re friends you can consider yourself more than at home here. Me, well, uh… I’m doing fabulous, actually, just very busy. And as for last night, and your stuff, read the letter. I love you.” And with that, he messed up her hair with one hand, winked at her boyishly and closed the door behind him as he stepped back out of the doorway. Jen felt more than a little confounded by all this. Looking at the ground, she saw that he had dropped the letter at her feet for some reason. Picking it up helped her back realign. She took a slow, deep breath in, and let it out in a round, fluffy sigh as she picked up Dave’s note and opened it. Jen- Hey. Sorry we had to split up but _____ was kind of having an emergency. You seemed a little out of sorts, so we thought it was best to put you up somewhere for the night, seeing as you were pretty far from home. Also, you seemed to think it was a good idea at the time. Anyway. I hope all is well with you, you seemed very worried about certain items in your pack. You said that some of the electronics, as well as other items, may contain tracking devices or some type of sound or video recording equipment. While my initial reaction to this idea was that you were being paranoid and ridiculous, I decided to have the stuff looked at anyway, just to be sure. I know your sense of intuition to be pretty on-point, and I don’t ever want you to think that I don’t believe you when you tell me that there is something you need help with. As far as last night, I am thinking you will probably want a recap, since you usually don’t remember. We mostly just walked around and drank, hung out in that abandoned warehouse by olivia’s house for a while, then went to a party where you kissed some guy that seemed really into you. I think his name was Luke. I have his number for you if you want it. After the party, Ben (Sarah and Teddy were also with us) was freaking out for no good reason (mushrooms) so we decided to take him home. You seemed pretty dazed, and also didn’t want to come along, so we took you to the house you are in now. Feel free to eat whatever you want in the kitchen (assuming you already ate the rice we set out for you before you went to bed). love, Dave PS I should be back around later tonight if you’re still there, I would love to catch up with the people there– and you should too. She decided going back to sleep again was the only proper thing to do given the situation. Curling up in the blanket, which now seemed slightly damp and warm, she saw a bunch of orange blurry warm looking shapes. She awoke and realized it was dark, and there were candles lit around her in no particular pattern. after rubbing her eyes she became aware of just how many candles she was looking at. There were all shapes, sizes and colors of wax. An antique oil lamp*****WEATHER CONTROL SATTELITE OUTSIDE!!! WARNING!!!***** There in the corner was a TV blaring static, with those words. She blinked a few times and looked again, it said *****HI JEN***** She saw through the window that it was very dark for the most part, although there were some glowing lights close to the ground that seeemed to be pulsing slowly. She approached the window, careful not to light her flimsy pajamas on fire. They would go up like sunburnt hay in august. She shook her hair out of her eyes and peered out the window through fog that she slowly realized was actually a heavy downpour. There was a small sattelite, sure enough. Just sitting there on the lawn. It looked just like the corny nasa photos you see, in 80s science textbooks. One of it’s solar panel wings seemed to be broken or at least somewhat damaged. Somehow she didn’t react much to this at all, it just seemed natural to her. As if she had been warned.****************** When she actually woke up it was early morning, and she dimly recollected something about a bunch of candles and the rain. There was a strange metallic smell, which she assumed had something to do with the fact that it was audibly raining. She felt good now; content. It had not rained in weeks as far as she could remember, so it was kind of exciting. Also this new house was quite cozy. She lazily walked twenty feet to the kitchen and found some cold coffee in a cup that someone else had left roughly 3 hours ago, judging by the separation. She took the smallest sip, tasting it thoroughly. It was delightfully cold and refreshing. The kitchen window, which she had not paid much attention to yet, was bleary looking from all the rain and looked out on some strange broken concrete structures that had the appearance of being a crumbling ruin. There was thick moss growing on one side of it, and some ivy was growing over the lower parts of broken walls. There was a doorway that opened into the side of the hill, and she wondered if it was indeed what it appeared to be. It was tricky to not try to rationalize with herself somehow and qualify it as something else, even though she was fairly certain that it was just that- a door leading into a hill. There was a part of her that wanted to go outside and check it out, but the rain as well as not wanting to disturb anything left her feeling contentedly mysterious for even being in such a place. It was gorgeous in that moment, not knowing what anything was, why anything was the way it was. She was welcome here, and that was basically it. She drank the rest of the coffee, and decided that checking out the attic was the thing to do. She set the cup down very gently on the counter, although nobody seemed to be home. As she climbed the stairs she looked at all the strange things taped to the wall along the way, some of them rather large and heavy looking. There were all types of tape, and many objects that struck her as somehow generally out of place, dangerous, or just plain strange. There was some rusty barbed wire that had many small flecks of fabric from all the people who had lost a few threads on the way through the stairs, held to the wall with duct tape. There was a series of pictures of piles of trash that all looked more or less similar, and rather unremarkable at first glance. Then she saw that there were things strewn about in the piles that were sort of arranged, or at least looked as though they had been placed in such a way intentionally. These pictures were held up quite haphazardly by the cheapest, yellowest scotch tape she had ever seen. She opened the door to the room in the attic without knocking for some reason, even though she was telling herself as she did it that it was a terrible idea. *********************************************************************************************** There was a large cactus in the corner, the type with the thick ridges that will make your leg hurt for a few days after a brush with it. The light coming through the window was almost a solid thing; it overpowered the specks of dust caught in it. Everyone sitting in this room seemed to have a habit of accumulating things from their environment and incorporating them into their dress. There was a blanket made of cashmere woven over fresh green branches. One girl was looking straight at her calmly, while a group of guys sat in the corner, deeply engrossed in a game of chess. Their clothes were covered with sewn on toys, thin sheets of metal, circuit boards, wires. The guys playing chess did not so much as turn in her direction, let alone look at her once. “This isn’t a good time. Make yourself at home downstairs though.” The girl said it plainly, and very nicely; with a smile, but under the circumstances Jen could not help but feel that the words had great significance and yawning, eternal weight. She stood up from her crouch, turned around and headed back towards the stairs, and said over her shoulder “well i hope it is soon, you seem like nice people.” She felt she had made it more awkward by trying to be nice. Jen felt a little bewildered by the experience, but chose to ignore it. Somehow she couldn’t make herself comfortable in the house again just now, and decided to explore the cave door ruins. It was decidedly blustery outside, with wishywashy winds blowing things every which way, and a light rain coming down from a blasted gray sky. The porch was in serious disrepair, as was the entire outside of the house. It seemed odd to her, since the inside was so flawlessly preserved. There was white paint flaking off of everything. There were various rusting metal objects in the yard, most of which were covered in blackberries. The ruins she had seen from the kitchen window now seemed darker than she had remembered, and almost as though a few years had elapsed since she looked at them from the window. As she watched nothing happen, she realized that the building, or what was left of it, was actually crumbling before her eyes. Every so often a small rock from the concrete would tumble on to the ground and a small amount of concrete that had been holding it in place would just blow away like sand in the wind. The door was being gradually blocked by the pile of rubble accumulating from the archway above. As she crossed the yard on the old, broken cement walkway that had once been something like a legitimate sidewalk, she saw that the ruins were perhaps not as disused as she had thought. Small things, such as a pile of rotting phonebooks, alerted her to this fact. The thought that someone had lived here within the last few years was truly inspiring. A gust of cold, biting wind made her fingers feel even more frozen. As she turned the ancient brass knob, it occurred to her that perhaps she should have knocked, or asked. Or something. ******************************************************************* Inside, she could not see past about five feet in front of her. There were piles of old piantings that looked valuable, if only because they were clearly antique. Mostly they were portraits of royalty, or dramatic scenes of tall sailing ships at sea in stormy weather. There was an unfinished wooden coat rack, a dusty cowboy hat and a bow and arrow. Nothing looked like it was newer than perhaps eighty years old, except for a small, crudely hand-carved soapstone ashtray. She did not usually smoke, but there was a cigarette sitting in the ashtray that seemed like just the thing. There was an old box of matches with an advertisement for a pie shop that she had never heard of sitting next to the ashtray, and she used one of four to light the cigarette. Now there were only three left. The cigarette was wonderfully dry, and it crackled in an exaggerated manner as she took a drag. She walked back out through the crumbling doorway into the sun to smoke there. The morning sunlight felt really nice on her skin, and although it was perhaps 40 degrees outside, she felt that it was warmer here than inside the house. Perhaps it was, she mused, considering that the house didn’t seem to have any insulation to speak of. She slowly stubbed out the cigarette, making sure that all traces of smoke were gone before turning back inside and replacing the ashtray next to the door. There was a candle sitting next to the matches that she had not noticed earlier, which she lit with one of the remaining three matches. It was difficult to see much inside the cave without it. She sat in the only piece of furniture, a divan in the corner that looked as though perhaps less than twenty people had ever sat on it. There was a smell of something like mildew, and she thought she could hear a faint dripping sound from behind the faded red door in the corner that she had been afraid to open. Opening the door revealed a back room that was rife with spiderwebs, and had a great many paintings all stacked up, as well as about a dozen old windows that looked bulletproof, old as they were. Some of them looked as though they had actually deflected bullets, and she did not doubt that this was the case. There was certainly a story here, but she did not care to unravel it just now. She closed the red door, and reclined on the divan with one of those gestures that fair ladies used to make when they felt faint. She did, in fact, feel a bit faint, and was aware that if she didn’t get up soon, she would be asleep again. *************************************
Bio: Zach is a pretend criminal mastermind, world class short trip low life traveler, budgeter extraordinaire. He wears many hats, sometimes several at once — and his writing reflects mostly the grotesque perversions going on in his brain that complicate his life but make these works possible. Don’t get all judge Judy, enjoy the show, shout out to breathing and drinking water.