Monday, November 15, 2004

Chapter Two - 2

Harry was halfway down the hall before he realized he didn't have his shoes. A shrill scream brought his head up in time to see the terrified face of an elderly woman peering out into the hallway. She ducked back into her apartment and slammed the door shut, fumbling frantically with the chain on the inside as she tried to throw the bolt.

He looked down at the gun he still held in his hand.

"Great, just great!" Harry shook his head, pissed off at himself. He tucked the gun away in his jacket holster. Now he could hear sirens in the distance . He swore and punched viciously at the elevator button three times with his middle knuckle.


The street below was filling with a small group of curious people as he stepped out of the apartment. They slowly cleared a space for him as he descended the steps to the street. Every eye seemed to follow his footseps intently as he walked through the crowd. Some kid had a boom box with the sub-sonics dialed up way too loud, the bass thumping hard off the concrete apartment walls behind him.

Harry had to yell: "All right everybody, there's nothing to be alarmed about, just move back now, I'm a police officer - move back there please!"

He looked down to see what the crowd were staring at so damn intently and groaned inwardly as he saw Christine's hot pink smart socks flashing on and off on his feet, keeping perfect time with the kick drum ricocheting of the building and back down the dark street.

Officer Henry "Higgins" Bartholomew stood at the 24 hour order window of Ye Olde English Fish and Fries Shoppe next to the government wharf in Deep Cove. It was a cold night, and a thick wet fog sweeping down off Indian Arm was beginning to obscure the end of the wharf.

Henry liked things that were old, that had a sense of history about them. He liked the diner because it had been there for as long as anyone could remember. It had a faded look to it, like an old postcard. Even the little rectangular hologram of the British Union Jack that hung, flickering over the doorway was old. The red and blue of the flag dissolved at its failing edges into a thin pink halo and the painted backup flag on the wall behind it was peeling and flaking.

"Fish and chips , please," Henry said. "Cod - and plenty of ketchup."

"I'm sorry sir, but I don't think we have anything called chips here."

Henry pointed at the picture of fries on the menu he was holding. "The proper English name for them was chips, young lady. How many times have I told the staff here - it just seems to fall on deaf ears."

Henry liked words as well. Not the words of the wrap channels that were forging the new mass culture he disdained so much. Not the words of the hundreds of specialty langauges that had evolved to deal with all the dedicated Net applications in the workplace. Not the cool young chat of the school hallways or the swaggering, bravado lingo of the mall gangs. But the older words that people weren't using much anymore.

You could still find them waiting patiently to be discovered again in the dictionary if you ran your finger up or down an entry or two off the beaten track. That is if you had a dictionary at all.

"UNIT TWELVE - RESPOND TO GUNSHOT AT HARBOURVIEW APARTMENTS AT 326 SEA SHELL LANE!" The squawk box bawled the message out across the parking lot from the open window of the police cruiser.

"I'm afraid I'll have to cancel that order, my dear." He sighed and rolled his eyes in mock exasperation.

"You'd think they'd be kind enough to wait until I finished my meal now, wouldn't you? Nothing ruffles an officer of the peace more than being denied his dinner. I'll be thin as a leaf if this sort of thing continues on much longer."

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Henry Bartholomew was a fat man. Mysteriously fat, as only some fat men can be. In fact, Henry Bartholomew was as mysteriously fat as any fat man could be. No one ever saw Henry eat much. He was always the picture of restraint when it came to dining.

"Higgs, help yourself. Have some more."

"No thank you, no more please, I couldn't possibly. I'm quite stuffed thank you very much, appetite of a bird tonight," Henry would always say whenever Norm Stern, his shift partner, invited him for dinner. Norm and his wife Sally would both glance suspiciously at Henry's bulging waistline as he passed the dish on.

He hadn't always been fat. In fact, in high school Henry had been a reed thin, pimply-faced kid who had needed all the help he could get just to be noticed in the great cruel crush of adolescent society. At that age, it seemed the qualities most respected were physical attributes, all of which Henry lacked in abundance. He needed something to set him apart from the crowd. Something to make him special in at least one way.

He stumbled upon it one day quite by accident when he found his grandfather's collection of books and letters. They had been stuffed into trunks in his parent's attic after his grandfather died and had been forgotten about - until the day Henry had sneaked up there with a screw driver and pried the lock on the big old blue trunk. What Henry had opened was a door into another world.

Henry had never held a real book in his hands before and he fell in love with their dusty perfume and the heftiness of them. He understood most of the 20th century English, but some books were even older and were difficult to comprehend. There were also some books there in languages Henry could not understand at all.

He soon noticed that the Encyclopedia Britannica available on the electronic-pages of any good virtual library was very different than his grandfather's edition. The articles in his grandfather's edition seemed more informative and the maps, especially of his home state, caught his attention. The e-pages of the virtual edition seemed smoother on the coastline and a lot of the little towns, rivers and lakes were missing. There were also some big islands missing off the west coast called the Queen Charlottes.

His state, he knew, had once been a province of Canada called British Columbia; that was before the union. Now it was a Virtual Nation's state called Northern Columbia.

Henry was fascinated by his grandfather's letters as well. He had never seen a letter before, except in movies, and was shocked not only to find that his grandfather had a mistress, but by the fact that the letters had survived with their messages intact for so long and in such good condition. He wondered who the woman with the beautiful handwriting had been. There were no pictures, but a hint of some sweet scent still lingered within the folds of the pages and Henry's poor heart ached for a taste of what his grandfather had obviously enjoyed to the fullest.

These things became his constant companions throughout the loneliness of his adolescence, and Henry parlayed them into a currency of sorts: a small cult of outcasts surrounded him, eager to share his unique findings, giving Henry back a small society over which he was the undisputed governor.

"HIGG'S! Get your ASS moving!" Norm was leaning out the window of the police cruiser waving him back.

Henry put his head down and did his best impersonation of an Olympian, targeting the patrol car across the lot. He was most of the way there when he decided it wise to begin braking. Henry's massive backside had other plans; the inertia built up in there was now greater than the capacity of Henry's legs to stop in time. His ass swung passed him like a great moon freed of its orbit and carried on towards the car, Henry now being pulled along backwards by the weight of the thing. He slammed into the side of the patrol car right on target, still going full out, shrieking as the air was vented from him.

From his new vantage point on the pavement he could make out the fresh dent in the door of the cruiser and above that, Norm's head hanging out the window, peering down at him in amazement.

"Get in the car, Henry," Norm whispered in shock.

The cruiser was accelerating before Henry could get his door closed. Red and blues flashing, they came down hard off a speed bump as they gathered speed, fishtailing out onto Dollarton Highway before the tires grabbed, chirping. The powerful engine startled the quiet neighborhood as they roared off down the winding highway into the early morning darkness, siren silent.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Chapter Two - 1

The trouble with Harry's feet...

Harry grabbed at the bed sheets in desperation. He was pointed straight down, feet first, and could do nothing to stop himself from sliding down the shiny stainless steel incline that stretched out in front of him.

He was gathering speed now, but instead of the sandy pit that should have been at the bottom of the slide he saw a blazing rectangle of white-hot light; a door opening to a fission furnace of splitting protons and spinning clock spring quarks.

Words appeared now out of the lights; he struggled to understand them but they remained obstinately indecipherable as they rushed by. His feet entered the fiery maw of the oven first and he thought it odd that they should feel so cold at the door to hell's atomic kitchen. A long silent scream caught in his throat as he slid into the final baked oblivion.

"STOP!" A terrible voice thundered and the giant hand attached to it grabbed the opposite end of the slide and began to shake it back and forth violently, spilling Harry in a tangle of sheets onto the ground in front of the open furnace door. It seemed colder now than ever.

Harry lifted his head up and looked at the lights again. Now he could see words emerging from the dazzling pinwheel sworl of shapes and letters.

“What is voice-activated, gesture sensitive, mood recognizant, and gender balanced? The NEW Dark Wing Headwrap from Sony of course... who else?

For three-d enhanced super-consciousness, complete with infinite sound, and superb masking filters for rebuilding your own personal landscapes.... the choice is obvious.

From the people at Sony.... they’ll make you believe the Sony promise.”

Harry blinked his eyes open, suddenly awake.

The words were painted in light on the pane of the sliding patio door across the room. It had been left partially open, and the winter wind whipped up the curtains in front of it and blew cold kisses onto the soles of his bare feet. Harry was lying in a bed.

He tried to remember how he had got here - wherever here was. As his eyes began to adjust to the darkness of the room he saw the sleeping form of a woman with her back to him emerge from the wrecked bed clothes. The bed was huge; she was on the far side of it, long dark hair flowing across her pillow towards him.

He pulled the blankets back around him, shivering now from fear as well as the cold. He hadn't had a dream like that one in years. Nowadays they seemed to happen only when he was at his worst. This one must have been brought on by the toxic-shock syndrome he had inherited from the party the night before.

"Christine...." Harry moaned inwardly, starting to remember.

The voice started again inside his head, only this time it was one of pain. A howling drill bit of a scream tearing into the bone of his right temple. Just as the last rev's began to whine away to a tolerable level, his stomach took a ten story drop on the old Otis freeway.

"Christ A'mighty, I'll never drink again!"

He could hear Paul's voice now from last night, egging him on. "Have 'nother scotch, Harry. I brought this all the way from 'ngland and 'm not takin' this bottle back home with me!"

"Ooooohhhhh..." He had to get up. He couldn't lie here like this. Harry squinted over at the digital clock display on the table next to the bed. 4:36 am.

He lay back again, his head pounding.

Across the room from the foot of the bed the floor to ceiling patio door looked from North Vancouver out across the dark waters of Burrard Inlet to Burnaby and the Sony Holiday Inn. The glass door was filled with the display of the holographic projector that lit up one whole side of the hotel with its colossul advertisements. Travellers incoming from the moon at night could watch the brilliant beacon pulsating with images far below them, a gigantic sorcerer's stone set in a sea of lesser stones, as they passed over Vancouver towards the spaceport at LA South.

He pulled the blankets tighter around his feet, still cold from the draught.

Harry Monday had always had trouble with his feet.

Since he was a kid in the orphanage in New York City he could remember having those dreams. They didn't happen in his head like most of his dreams; they seemed to pop right out of thin air around his feet. If he let himself go too far, they would just get more and more real. The voices he heard got louder and the pictures he saw began to take on shape. Soon he would see his little feet start to walk right into the widening dream hole at the end of his bed. His feet seemed to get even smaller then, and sometimes he swore he felt an icy wind blow over them. In horror he would close his eyes and with all his might will the thing to go away.

Once he felt his bare feet actually start to walk the gravel of a back woods road that led down hill to what appeared to be a small cove filled with a little fleet of white fishboats. He’d let it go on a little too long that time, until his legs started getting involved. Overcome with the terror of being sucked right out into another world, he had shaken himself violently, until at last, daring to open his eyes again, the fishboats and the road to them were gone.

The ad changed, catching his eye. The holograms were hard to ignore - especially when they were thirty story trailers for the latest red-hot wrap channel releases.

"You could ski down those tits, Harry."

Christine was facing him, raised on one elbow. "That stuff do anything for you? It does to me."

She pulled her long black hair back from her face and let the covers fall from her breasts.

Harry stared, transfixed by them.

"Jesus Christine” he whispered. Harry shook his head in wonder then regretted it almost right away. “I can't do this right now. I'm gonna puke all over your floor if I stay here any longer."

"Why are you always running away from me, Harry? We could have some real good times together, just like on the hot channels. We could do all that stuff, Harry, only it’d be so much better. We'd have the real thing." She slid her fingers down across the white curve of her belly stopping at the tight dark knot between her legs.

Harry was moving now, slowly, toward the lump of clothes on the floor. "Listen Christine, no offence, but I've got to get out of here. I'm not doing too well. I've got to make it home and get some sleep. Shift this afternoon, you know?"

"Don't give me that crap, Harry. I've heard that one before. You just wanted to come over here and fuck me and forget me, isn't that right? You were after my ass all night and got what you wanted. Now you think you're just going to pack up your goddamn badge and sneak out of here don't you?"

"Do me a favour and forget it, Christine. I told you I'm not feeling good, and that's all there is to it. O.K?"

She was sitting up now, arching her back, giving Harry a real show.

"Harry, be nice to me...." She was licking her fingers now and gently rubbing them up and down between her thighs, her eyes widening as they burned into his.

He could feel his loins start to smolder. She was really beginning to make things move down there.

"Oh... shit!" The elevator dropped another ten floors and Harry had to fight back the waves of cold nausea that were threatening to wash up all over the thick pile carpet beneath his feet.

"Gotta... go, Christine!" He started to try to untangle the dark knot of clothes on the floor, finally slipping a leg into his pants. Somewhere between the crotch and knee he caught a bra between his toes. He fell back out of his pants with the thing caught on the end of his foot, grabbing it with one lucky swipe of his hand. Harry stood there naked and smiling foolishly, holding it up like a prize fish.

"You lousy fuck, Harry. I oughta shoot your balls off!"

Harry turned towards her and began to realize that Christine wasn't herself at all. Christine was really quite upset about something. She'd had her fill of a variety of abusive substances last night, some of them illegal, so who could blame her for being a little edgy? But he didn't like that look in her eyes at all.

He finally managed to get most of his clothes positioned in the right places. Now all he needed were his shoes.

"Where the hell did I put my gun?" Harry put his head down sideways on the floor, one eye closed, the other scanning for bumps.

"Is this what you're looking for?" Christine held up Harry's police issue Barretta revolver. She made one fine picture, sitting there like that.

The gun was small bore, plastic - but deadly.

"Give me the gun, Christine. Just give me the gun, please."

Harry began to move carefully toward her but Christine had other plans. With a lopsided smile she waved the revolver towards Harry in a barely controlled motion that freaked him enough to dive to the floor. The little gun exploded in a blinding flash followed by a deafening crash as the patio door sailed out towards the harbour in a million pieces.

He was on her before she could get another shot off and grabbed the gun out of her hand. "You could have killed me, you crazy bitch!"

He looked down on her, all anger and adrenalin. Christine was out cold on the bed, her naked form now wasted on Harry who stood, shaking, over her.

"..could a' killed me..."

The wind blew up through the open patio door in cold gusts now. Harry turned, his eyes watering from the shock of it. The big sign still blazed across the inlet, clearer now in the cold and with no glass between.

He didn't like it at all.

Grabbing the blankets, he pulled them up over Christine and tucked them around her so she would stay warm.

"Life is strange," he said.

Harry grabbed his coat and left, the door locking behind him.