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Authors: Peter Sargent

Unhaunting The Hours

BOOK: Unhaunting The Hours
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This is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual
events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely

Copyright © 2015 by Peter

All rights reserved. No part of this
publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any
form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other
electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written
permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses
permitted by copyright law.

Unhaunting The

When I was a boy, I had no father and I
lost my mother to a drug called Spectrum. She tried to kick it but
never could. When I got into the same shit myself I managed to
quit, but the cure was worse than the poison. I had to heal myself
of the cure, and the consequences dogged me still. The people who
pulled me out of Spectrum addiction were after me. I hadn’t seen
them in a long time, but I knew they were out there.

Mom used to haul me to this Salvation
Army church. A preacher called Major Tuck ran the place. Major Tuck
said you go through seven or eight stages when you’re trying to
quit, but the truth is more muddled to me. There’s one clear stage
at the beginning, when you’re so hopped up you don’t know jack
about your condition. Call that “denial” if you like. And there’s
one clear stage at the end, when after that long slog you finally
get your life in order. But in the middle, you oscillate between
one extreme and another. Some days, Mom was hopeful. She told me
once, “I just made a few bad choices when I was young. I got myself
into this, so I can get myself out.” Other days, she ranted about
powers beyond her control – the police, the EPA, whatever –
wrecking her struggle to get free. Near the end, she’d resigned
herself to believing that she was just born the way she was. “Some
people just have bad genes, George. Maybe Preacher was right, God’s
chosen some, before they were born, as the match sticks on which
the world burns.” She died fifteen years ago and Major Tuck
cremated her.

As for me, joy never came easy, but I
had it now – whether you want to believe it or not. I stood in the
back alley, trash bag hanging from one hand, shivering in the rain.
The real world, seen through unobstructed eyes, was a nasty brute.
But the touch of sleet and mud filled me with a euphoria I couldn’t
quite explain. I’d just come down the back steps and entered the
terrace, near the dumpsters. A lamp flickered and gave up. I was
left in the dark, save for the windows.

Then a sudden fear washed over me –
were they coming? Not the Salvation Army, but something worse that
I’d gotten myself into since then. They called themselves the
Abderans, and they weren’t nice to people like me. I looked down
the street at the patchwork of glowing windows, which climbed four
stories up brick walls and stopped at the little ones beneath the
eaves. I tried to calm myself, but there was a tiny man who lived
in my brain, who in my imagination looked like Major Tuck and spent
his time dishing up new ways to make me believe that I wasn’t
getting better and that I never would.

Then I saw a face full of

I stumbled, my fingers gripping the
rusty edge of the trash bin. The pictures weren’t real, but they
didn’t stop charging through my brain. That’s the way it was.
That’s the price you pay. So I stared at the puddles gathering by
my feet and drew deep breaths. In time, the episode passed. I was
happy again. I dropped the trash into the bin, and a soggy orange
cat jumped out. He perched on the rim and glared at me for a moment
before darting off, with a growl that told me he’d be back and I’d
better be ready. I smiled. I was soaked and chilled now, but dammit
all, freedom still feels good. No matter how small the pleasure, no
matter how often the panic attacks. Visions of my fears, like the
one I’d just experienced, were still better than the real thing.
And the Major could go to hell.

Facing the apartments, a tall berm cut
the horizon. I could hear the water roaring on the other side. I
crossed the street and climbed the steps up the wall’s slanted
side. On top there was a path which people could walk, although no
one did, and there was a railing. I leaned against the railing and
stared down into river’s water. It looked black without the moon.
Half a mile down, there was a dam and several smoke stacks blocking
out the stars. The river’s constant hum was always there, but
people in this neighborhood learned to ignore it. From time to time
I went to meet it, because it gave me a certain solace.

From the corner of my eye I saw
flashing in the street below. It was a red and blue cop light,
without the siren, and it was approaching. I wanted to run. That
was an instinct I’d never felt before. Yes, the Abderans were
likely after me. But what did I think? That they had a connection
with the police? But there I was, pressing my hand against my side
to keep my legs from moving. For Christ’s sake, what was wrong with

I backed away from the railing, and I
felt someone’s chest shoving me from behind. I turned and saw the
cop’s face, beneath the drizzle falling over the brim of his

I said, “Charlie?”

Charlie Healing had been in my Abdera
colony. I’d forgotten he was cop. He wasn’t a nice guy.

How are you,

My name is George. He was calling me by
my colony name. I sure as hell wasn’t going to call him by his. I
kept my mouth shut.

He said, “I haven’t seen you for a long

I’d made up a story, in case I ran into
anyone from the colony. It involved a dying aunt who wanted to know
about the rumors of Abdera, about preserving her mind in graphene
wire after her death. I figured they’d buy the notion that I’d left
their cult so I could bring someone new in. I’d rehearsed it, but
now all I could do was resist the itch of the 9 millimeter I’d
taped to the inside of my jacket. I had to tell myself – not now,
not here. Then the Major whispered – now or never.

I said, “Can I help you?”

You know about that
murdered woman? We found her body about a mile downstream from
here; it was pressed up against a storm grate. Parts of her were
severed; a clean job. Her lungs were filled with

Charlie pointed his chin at me. It was
an open secret that my neighborhood, the Berm, was one of the few
left with formaldehyde in the walls. It was a component of paint
and varnishes that were now illegal.

So.” He said. “She came
from around here.”

I can’t help

Sometimes, people repress
memories.” Here came the Abdera bullshit. “We can see if you’ve got
some memories that you’ve forgotten.”

The vision came back: a face full of
blood. The mouth opened, but it wasn’t able to scream. I pushed it

Charlie said, “We can do it back at the
colony, with people you trust. We could just see.”

There’s nothing to see,

He began to turn back to the steps and
his cruiser. “I’m just giving you options.”

I left him there. I returned to my
apartment and flipped on the TV just to hear the noise. I went to
the bathroom, closing the door enough to reduce the voices to
mumbles. I stripped my wet clothes and stood at the mirror. I ran
my fingers through the damp hair behind my ear, pulling it away and
revealing a metal ring imbedded in my skin. There were scratches on
it from the many times I’d inserted a cable that had connected me
to the Abdera Cipher. Running my finger along the skin of my spine,
I felt the imbedded IV nub. To get the full effect from an Abdera
connection, you’ve got to take in a neuromuscular blocker that
paralyzes your muscles. I figured it was a good idea to put the IV
where it’s hard to get at. But it had been months since I’d last
used the jack or the IV. I’d considered removing them, but I’d have
to go under for that. And while I was under, the docs, might
discover what happened to me in Abdera. Even I didn’t remember that
anymore, and I wasn’t thrilled about being the last to know.
Besides, I didn’t have the cash.

But I still had that residue of joy. I
could no longer see all my ribs, and the bluish bags around my eyes
were disappearing. Soon, I hoped, the visions would go with them.
Someday, this would all be ten years ago.

I opened the cabinet and pulled a baby
blue cardboard box off the shelf. I held it over my palm and caught
a few plastic packets filled with gel. Spectrum drops. I popped
these as a kid, up until the day I first plugged in with Abdera.
Abdera cured me, because its high was so much better than the
Spectrum. And it was all natural, they used to tell me. I
shuddered. The day I left the colony, I picked up the Spectrum
habit again, right where I’d left off. I needed it to make the
shakes and nightmares stop. But I’d had it kicked for weeks now.
That’s the joy. That’s the euphoria I’m trying explain. Freedom, do
you see? And I did it by myself this time.

People I tell say they get it (and
George, stop talking about it), but it’s hard to find people who
haven’t done it and who can take it seriously. In all my years on
drugs and in wire cults, I’d been to places I can’t describe. But
there I was in the rain, beneath a dead light and holding the
garbage, and it was the happiest moment of my life. If you can’t
understand what that means to me, then you might as well leave me
alone and pretend we never met.

So what was I doing with the Spectrum
in my palm now? Was it Healing?

I said to myself, “George, if you can’t
win this simple battle, you’re going nowhere.”

So I tossed the last drops in the
toilet and flushed them.

I showered and when I got out, I
stopped. Something was missing. I fumbled through the back of my
brain and then I realized there was no Mrs. Brown. She lived above
me and liked to move the furniture around her apartment. Last week
I’d found her sputtering on the ground outside. I called the
ambulance, and the medic said the strangest thing. “You’re out of
your wooly mind, but you’re lucky.” Would he have me leave her
there? I know I’m supposed to be a tough city boy, but I have to
admit that it does get me down when a medic calls me stupid because
I’d risk my own life waiting in an alley. Folks in the Berm aren’t
worth it. I know.

The ER fixed her up and I told them to
take her to the shelter. You have to understand, the ER’s stacked
full and there’s no one around here to take care of her. I can’t do
it. I’d have to go to the shelter later and check on

I opened an ice cream carton and went
to the TV. Since I was off Spectrum and Abdera together, I’d
developed an all-consuming appetite. That was fine. I needed the
weight back. The late news was on. The police had found a body in a
dairy freezer, in the back room of a grocery store nearby. It was
in pieces. It was bad enough that bodies were turning up in the
Berm, but it was worse that Healing must have known about this
second murder before he came to me. He was looking for me to slip
up. I knew that Abderans had this reputation of tormenting
defectors – but this? Healing must’ve sunk deeper than I’d thought,
or – to be realistic – he had something else going on.

That thought was for tomorrow. I
flipped the channels and slept on the couch.

* * * *

Three hours later, it was time for
class. I stood on a concrete train platform, a couple stories above
street level. Dull glass office fronts faced the tracks on either
side, up to the place where the rails met the sky at a point. The
sky was still full of stars, but there was a milky rim just
widening at the horizon. The train rattled in, tin colored and
covered in graffiti. Three AM. I was the only one in my car, but
through the door at the end I could see into the next one. It also
carried a single passenger, a man with a red beard and a green cap.
He was dressed in combat pants and a ratty black T-shirt and he
wore a green military cap. He hung from a ceiling handle, limp as
though sleeping. Then he lifted his head and turned to me. He
didn’t take his eyes from me.

I got off a stop early and hoofed it to
State U. The lecture building was an imposing granite square
between the usual office blocks. I walked between the two copper
lampposts standing guard out front and went up to the fifth floor,
where they’d scheduled the third shift lectures. I was poor; that’
why I did third shift. Taking classes during the day was a premium
service, and even second shift classes were beyond my means. But so
what? This hour was quiet. I couldn’t imagine what it was like
during the day, when all the lecture rooms on every floor were
jammed full. I’d bet you couldn’t even take a piss without queuing

BOOK: Unhaunting The Hours
10.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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