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Twist: Chapter 13

11/14/13

  12:27:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 2298 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 13

I locked the door behind myself. I hadn't seen any details of the things I thought had I'd seen following at the edges of the fog, but somehow, that only made my heart beat faster- only strengthened my resolve that they were real. I looked through the front door window, but there wasn't anything on the sidewalk, or beyond.

I slept fitfully- though I did feel safer after I dragged an old camping knife to bed with me. I'd lost track of how many days I'd worked in a row, but I knew it had to be my weekend, if not past it. I booted up my home computer to check. Or at least I tried. It hung up on the windows boot screen. I tried booting into Ubuntu, instead, but the monitor went black. After that, it wouldn't start at all.

Hanah and I didn't have cable. We kept odd enough hours that we just watched Netflix or Hulu or whatever streaming service seemed to have more stuff we wanted at any given moment. It meant I couldn't watch the news.

I tried using the radio on our alarm clock. I was fairly certain I wasn't going to get anything. We were just far enough past the suburbs that the only station we got was an AM station that played only a rotation of historical Billy Graham and Rush Limbaugh.

Next I attempted the TV, but got only static. I vaguely recalled something about broadcast channel moving to a digital signal- that it had required some kind of attachment- an attachment we skipped on buying, since it wasn't like we watched broadcast TV, anyway.

I called work, and put in Ben's extension. He didn't answer. He never did. So I left him a voicemail. I told him I was pretty sure I was up to my 40, so I was taking the day off- unless he needed me, and then I was happy to come in.

That left me with time on my hands. I knew I wanted to spend a little time on the car. Walking to work right now was kind of an inconvenience. But eventually it was going to get cold and wet enough that it wasn't really possible to walk anymore.

I remembered I still had my Uncle Alan's battery charger. He used it once every four or five years. I used it every few weeks, when the crackheads rotated back through this neighborhood, looking for anything that wasn't nailed down.

I went out to the car. The fog was thicker this morning, and made it tougher to even see my hands in front of me. I took a blue plastic briefcase full of cheap tools out to the car. Or at least, I took them to where the car was supposed to be.

It wasn't. I panicked. It was a piece of crap, and at least for the last week seemed almost determined not to work right. But I didn't know what I was going to do if my car had been stolen.

Then I remembered, it was parked down the street. The fog was heavy enough I couldn't see it, but it had to be there. After all, it wouldn't start. I was pretty sure car thieves didn't steal broken cars- and sure as hell didn't fix them to steal them.

I set the case down on the sidewalk, and crossed the street. I found my car where I'd left it- well, other than the driver's side door. That was ajar. ?Fucking crackheads,? I muttered. I put the car in neutral, and took off the emergency brake, then I pushed the car back to my side of the street, and got it to rest gently against the curb.

I put the ebrake on, and put it in park, then popped the hood.

Back on the sidewalk, I discovered the blue case had fallen over, and spilled open. One of the screwdrivers was missing. It was possible it hit the mild incline of the street, and rolled far enough away I couldn't see it. I didn't like leaving a potential weapon lying around behind me when I was going to be hunched over with my back turned, and an entire car slash home to loot. It made me paranoid. Then again, what didn't, these days?

I didn't need the screwdriver. The battery was bolted in, with nuts keeping the cables attached. I found that when I leaned in to loosen them, from the corner of my eye I could just barely see the leaf dumpster. It looked alien- not like extraterrestrial- but like it didn't belong there- like some artifact from some long-dead but mysteriously advanced culture. Just being near it made me uncomfortable.

I felt vulnerable with my head under the hood, and the dumpster provided a whole mess of hiding place. But this needed to get down, and fully aware of how much it was like burying my head in the sand, I leaned in with a wrench to loosen the cables.

?Your father was always very good with tools,? came a voice beside my face. I jumped so hard I smashed my head on the hood, and would have knocked it off the stand if the surprise of hitting my head didn't give me the momentary clarity to grab it. And then all at once the pain of the impact coalesced with the ever-present migraine, and I screamed out.

?Sorry,? Gram said. ?Didn't meant to startle you.?

?I suppose that puts us even, since I didn't mean to brain myself on my hood.?

She ignored me. ?But he was. Jim liked to puff out his chest, and pretend that he was a man in that John Wayne mold, capable of handling all the things in man's domain. But the tires so much as needed air, and he took our old Sidewinder to the mechanic. And around the house, I couldn't trust him to pound a nail in straight. Your dad taught himself- had to. Jim didn't know enough to teach, and was too damned disinterested to even if he'd been able. But your dad was handy. It was a shame you didn't get to spend more time with him. You would have liked him; he liked you.?

?I'd stopped crapping myself. Made me instantly more likable.?

?He loved you. But I think you two would have got along, as adults. If you'd gotten the chance.? She sighed. Losing dad had been hard on her- probably harder than it was on me. I was a young enough kid that by the time I could really get what had happened, the impact of it was gone; by then Jim and Effie had been my parents longer than my parents had.

?Why are you here?? I asked, more harshly than I intended. I was interested in the existential answer, but I was still a little sore- literally- from her scaring me like that.

?I thought you might need me.?

?What I need is for the car to start,? I said, and finally finished with the last of the nuts. I put them in my pocket with my wrenches, and lifted the battery out of its cradle.

?So you can leave?? she asked knowingly.

I ignored her, and shut the hood. I closed up the blue case, and walked in a long arc around the street corner, trying not to let on that I was looking for something. I didn't want to talk to my dead grandmother about how paranoid I was getting.

I got the battery on the charger, and decided to to cook something. I knew I should make something quick. If Ben called he was likely to be pissed off. He didn't like being told anything- so the fact that I left him a message telling him what I was going to do, rather than asking him if I could take the day off- was going to set him off. Presuming he even got the message anytime soon.

I couldn't muster enough of a response to care, and charging the battery was going to take a while, so I decided to make some potatoes in a beer-flavored cheese sauce. It was a long, and involved enough process that if Ben did call, I was going to have to tell him it would be a while before I could make it in. It was a recipe Hanah taught me. Its name sounded like a cartoon hillbilly saying ?rabbit,? like, ?I'm goin' catch me a rarebit, and boil me up a rarebit stew.?

?Smells delicious,? Gram said, walking in from the front room.

?It's the beer,? I told her.

?Hmm,? she said. She had a complicated relationship with beer. She loved it for herself; she met Grampa Jim when they were both working at a bar in Wyoming. But beer had also made her husband abusive- or extra abusive, and more prone to violence. I think she wanted some of my potatoes- though I had no idea if she could actually eat. And I was reluctant to get into a Slimer situation- I didn't want to have to clean potatoes off the floor if they fell right through her.

So I took my food over to the couch. The DVD player seemed to still be able to connect to Netflix, so I watched old episodes of Regular Show.

Then I took the battery off the charger, and carried it outside. I got into my pocket for the wrenches, before I thought better. I didn't want to secure it in place, only to find out it was dead. It was an older battery- came with the car when I bought it used. And I knew that constantly being run down by inconsiderate crackheads put extra stresses on it- there was a chance that the battery was toasted.

So I climbed inside, and put the key into the ignition. I closed my eyes, not exactly to pray, but to focus any hope I had towards this working. I turned the key. The engine growled, but didn't turn over. I tried again, pumping the gas pedal. Nothing. ?Damnit.?

There were two parts likely to keep a car from starting like that. One was a dead battery. My uncle's charger was a cheap one, so it didn't have a gauge to tell you whether or not the battery was charging- so that was definitely a possibility. The other was the starter. But you couldn't just pick up a starter at your local big box- those you had to get from an auto supply store- and since the only one of those I knew about within walking distance had closed, I opted to try the battery first.

Not that the big box was strictly within walking distance. It was nearly an hour on foot- probably more when hauling a battery back. I knew you could get a small discount for turning in your old battery for recycling, but there was no way I'd make it there and back carrying a battery by hand. I figured once I got the car started, I could drive the old battery back.

It was slow going getting there, because the fog made it impossible to tell if I was going the right way. Several times I thought I was lost, and wandered in a spiral for several blocks, only to end up back in the same spot, convinced I'd been going the right way the first time.

Stranger, I didn't pass a single car. This was a busy road, four lanes, two going each direction. But I didn't see a single car. I didn't see a single human being walking around the liberal arts campus- though if classes were in session at that moment it maybe made sense.

When I finally reached the store I was shivering. I went to the men's wear section, and picked out a heavier jacket for the walk back- a cheap little thing, probably stitched together in China for what it would have cost in gas to drive here to pick it up.

Then I headed over to the auto section. I didn't see a single employee on my way, and the counter was empty. That didn't shock me. More times than I could count I remembered passing of a store's employees gathered in some far-flung corner of a big box, having a meeting. It made more sense than the derelict auto parts store, anyway.

With a little difficulty, I managed to find the right battery. Stupidly, I hadn't thought to grab a cart, so I hefted it all the way to the front. The registers were all closed, save for a single one in the self-service aisles. I knew they were supposed to have an attendant there, to make sure customers were scanning everything, and to help them if they got stuck. I remembered to scan the jacket, then the battery, paid, and left.

My stomach gurgled as soon as I hit the nearly empty parking lot. I remembered there was a Pizza place, a cheap little mom and pop. I was hungry enough that I ignored the logistics of trying to carry a pizza box and a battery. The fog was thick enough that I couldn't make it out, even though it was just across the street. So I crossed over.

Halfway through the intersection, I noticed the windows were bare- none of the stickers or painted on pizza slices. And I as I got closer, I could tell they'd gone out of business, too. I swore. I could practically taste their pizza- but I never would again.

I turned back towards home. I had to stop every couple of blocks to rest. Hauling the battery was taking more out of me than I'd realized.

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