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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Karma

Jerry Patterson was a common man. He didn’t have a lot of money, nor did he have any special “it” factor like others in the world. He always wore a grey suit with a white shirt and a black tie. He drove a beige Volvo and he never had the radio turned on. Jerry was a person you would forget two seconds after you met him. He liked it that way. He needed it in fact because Jerry’s job was different then most other people who walked around him on a daily basis. Jerry was a Cleaner.


Jerry came into the business by sheer accident. How does a man become a Cleaner by accident? Simple. He needs a job. His resume’ included sharp shooter in the Army. After 10 years of faithful service, his psych evaluation said he could no longer serve. His old Sergeant used to say, “The dead man cometh, he cometh for you” just before they would go into battle. It was something that stuck, something that still repeats in his mind just before he cleans or when he feels danger coming.

Most people hear Cleaner and they think of the mob or some other nefarious crowd. The truth is Jerry was a Cleaner for the Lenron Corporation. It was his job to get rid of the bodies and dispose of the evidence. It was even his job to make sure anything that escaped was disposed of. He liked his job though, not just because of the money he made, but because it fulfilled another side of his personality.

Last week, a hybrid dog, if you could call it that, managed to get out. The thing looked like a dog, but it had a scorpion tail. On the back of the dog were quills filled with poison. Jerry knew he had to put it down hard and fast. He followed the tracking device to a townhouse complex. In the center of a complex, a group of children played in a little park. The dog laid in the shade under the slide. It didn’t attack or even growl, it just laid there. Jerry walked into the park and sat on a bench. He watched the kids play without a single care in the world. A few minutes later, the ‘dog’ walked to an empty back yard. Jerry hopped the fence to follow it. The ‘dog’s’ body was half in and half out of the house. Jerry stood still for a minute. Strange. Unexpected. Surreal. Jerry pulled a rope out of his bag. In one sweeping motion, he yanked on the rope, dragged the ‘dog’ out and stabbed it with his blade in the neck. He took a black plastic bag out of his bag, wrapped the ‘dog’ in it and carried it away. He did this without a single person noticing him. He tossed it in the beige Volvo’s trunk and drove away.

It was safe to say the things Jerry cleaned were different. He didn’t know how dangerous they were, but he wasn’t going to find out the hard way. Not if he could do something about it. Jerry had to take the ‘dog’s’ body back to the Lenron Corporation for one of the scientist named Max. In his own mind, Jerry called him Mad Max. He hated the guy. Max had an arrogant personality. He once told Jerry he didn’t lose. It wasn’t he didn’t ‘like’ to lose- he ’didn’t’ lose. He drove around the back to the door closest to the lab. He walked into the lab to drop off the body of the ‘dog’ when he saw a newborn, wearing a pink hat laying in a small basinet. He reached down and touched the hand of the tiny little girl. Wrapped her tiny fingers around his first finger, opened her eyes and looked at him. Jerry just smiled at her. “Who do you belong to little one?” he whispered. Though he didn’t know why, for a moment, he felt his mind relax. The baby closed her eyes and let go of his finger.

Eric walked into the lab with a piece of paper in his hand. “Got another one for you today,” he said. “Here’s the tracking number.”

Max walked into the lab and put a hand on Eric’s shoulder. Jerry didn’t know what it was about the two of them in the same room. He didn’t like the uncomfortable rush of feelings in the air when the two of them were in the same room.

“What’s that doing in here?” Max asked, pointing at the baby.

“I don’t know. I thought you brought it in here,” Eric said.

The term “it”, referring to the baby, struck Jerry wrong, he took the paper and left. He looked back at the baby girl with a little pity and guilt in his heart. He tracked the last job of the day to an alley deep in the heart of the city.

He walked down the alley, wearing his black overcoat, gloves and carrying a black bag. Half a million tears washed away the blood left in the cold wet alley, the mixture went down the alley to assault the drains in the street. A row of blue dumpsters sat undisturbed to the left. Two fire escape ladders were down. Jerry walked with caution through the alley. The annoying buzz of flies sounded from the sirens that screamed past him. Honking horns, yelling and music completed the melody of the city. The mind numbing noise didn’t seem to penetrate the alley. It was just Jerry.

A step before he reached the end of the row of dumpsters, he put his bag on the ground. Silence, an important aspect of his job, it took a special art form to walk without sound and even more to open a clasped bag and pull out a stake without attracting attention. The last of the puzzle came together for him. He enjoyed the hunt, the very moment he lived for laid in the middle of trash, piss and who knows what else. He flipped the lid to the dumpster up and jumped in. In a single motion, he brought down the stake, stabbing it through the heart of the beautiful young woman lying dead…well, undead. He didn’t know what Lenron did to her, nor did he want to know. He just knew he needed to clean her from existence. The woman let out a scream then burst into flames. The burst into flames was a new one. It was a quick death. , unsatisfying at best. Zero ichors splatter this time, unusual; but the job was finished and he went about his business. Unnoticed. Forgettable. Invisible. That was the important thing.

Jerry walked out of the alley. The bubble from the alley burst, welcoming in an array of mind numbing noises. He opened the back door on the driver’s side of the Volvo and put the bag back in the same place it always set. Jerry closed the door, then opened the driver’s door and climbed in. The car started with ease. Another reason he liked the car. ‘Volvos, they’re boxy but they’re safe.’ The small thought made him grin a little.

He drove home to his modest apartment and parked his car in the parking garage in the designated spot. The garage was dark as always. He liked that. Just a small amount of light from the exit sign shined. The garage smelled like oil and gas like it always did. The Marlin’s car was gone. Jerry was glad about that. He hated those people. They were loud and parked a little too close for his comfort.

‘The dead man cometh, he cometh for you.’

A lingering presence of something held onto his mind for a moment when he got out of the car. He didn’t bother to look around. He opened the door to the back and pulled out his bag. All the boxes of the checklist in his normal routine were mentally marked in his mind. With a small handkerchief, he wiped the door handles, as he always did, and turned towards the elevator.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end when he walked towards the elevator. He pushed the button without pausing to look around. The elevator dinged and Jerry stepped in. Without incident, the elevator closed and opened again when it reached his floor. The whole idea of the lingering presence that had him thinking before was now nothing more than a fleeting thought. Still, the hairs on his neck stood on end.

The dead man cometh, he cometh for you.

He walked down the hall to his apartment and placed the key in the lock. With a click and a turn of the key, he was back in his house. ‘Home safe.’ He thought. He put the black bag on the counter and took off his overcoat, hung it up and placed his gloves on the shelf above the coat.

Jerry walked into the kitchen. It was so small; it made him feel like a giant man. He could stand in the middle and use everything he needed to without moving. Comical as it was, he didn’t mind because he never entertained. Why would he? He was a killer, and he knew it. Try explaining that to a group of people at the dinner party.

He opened the fridge, careful not to hit his hand on the counter, and pulled out a pint of cold vegetable juice. He poured it into a bowl and put it in the microwave for a few seconds to take the chill off it. When the microwave dinged, he took the bowl out and walked down the hallway to the spare bedroom.

He opened the door just enough to step in. There was a bed, with a gold and red comforter on it along with a few pillows. Other than the old rug on the floor and the TV, there wasn’t anything else in the room except the young girl chained to the wall. She had long flowing red locks and pointed ears. She glared at him with her purple eyes when he put the bowl of vegetable juice on the floor.

Jerry pulled out a notebook and wrote down her apparent size. He received her number a few weeks ago; C-192 looked to be about 2 years old. Upon bringing her home, he treated her like a toddler. He held her and talked to her. He even read to her. He didn’t like chaining her to the wall; she grew too fast for him to figure anything else out. If he hadn’t seen it himself, he would swear the girl in front of him was a different child. She looked more like a teenager. The girl finished her food and tossed the bowl at him.

Jerry spoke in a soft calm voice as if he was talking to a rabid dog. “That wasn’t very nice,” he said. He bent over without taking his eyes off her and picked up the bowl.

“What’s your name? Do you understand me yet?” Jerry asked.

Weeks, he waited for her to formulate words. He wanted to understand her more. He needed to be sure she would understand him when he told her she had to stay in the room. Confined. Caged. Trapped. He hated the thought of her in there like that. At that point, there wasn’t another choice.

The girl looked up at him. Her glaring eyes had softened and had a green tint to them. She stood up, took a step towards him. “Karma,” she said.

“Why call yourself Karma?” Jerry asked.

“I heard it on that box,” Karma said. “Where am I?”

Jerry gave her a grin. “I was supposed to kill you. I just couldn’t. I tried, but something wouldn‘t let me,” he said in his ‘as a matter of fact’ voice.

“Why am I chained like a dog? Am I your pet?” Karma asked.

“Pet, hah. No. Science project maybe, but pet, no,” Jerry smirked.

He walked out of the room and shut the door. He waited in the empty hall for a moment to see if she would say anything else. The sound of loud jerking noises made him open the door again. Shocked. Stunned. Miracle. Karma had sprouted wings. The iridescent fluttering wings caused a breeze to flow past him. She looked like something out of a fairytale. Karma tugged with everything she had; still she couldn’t break free of the chains.

“You need to stop that. If people hear, there will be trouble,” he said.

Karma still hovered above him. “I’m thirsty. I want to go outside. You can’t keep me here!” she yelled.

“You don’t exist, so yes, I can keep you here. Now, settle down, and stop flying will ya, it‘s freaking me out,” Jerry said.

He walked away, mumbling incoherent to himself. “She’s gonna be trouble. Shoulda killed her when I got the assignment.’

Jerry didn’t like this at all. He was used to his quiet life. The possession of material things was of little importance to him. The flat screen TV was a 52 inch, with surround sound and when a new techie gadget came out, he had to have it. Other than that, his place was baron. There weren’t any photos on the walls nor were there trinkets hanging around on the coffee table. He did have one plant he called Leavey, who had grown almost a foot in the last few weeks.

The lingering feeling came over him again. The intercom sounded. “Hello?” Jerry answered.

‘The dead man cometh, he cometh for you.’

“It’s Eric, let me in. We need to talk,” the voice said.

‘Son of a-’ It was never a good thing when Eric stopped by. The last time he came over, it turned out a Cleaner needed cleaned. Jerry didn’t mind killing the guy though. He was an asshole who talked too much. It was a pleasure for Jerry to shut him up.

“Ok, come on up,” Jerry said.

Eric was the only real boss Jerry had or knew about. His heart raced and his palms began to sweat. He gathered his thoughts and calmed his nerves. Karma was locked up in his spare bedroom and the slightest noise would cause an entire team of sweepers to descend on his apartment. He would be cleaned. That would be that. He walked to the spare room where Karma was still trying to fly away.

“For both our sakes, be quiet. Get it?” he asked.

She stopped flying and stood still. She studied him without a word then nodded her head in agreement. Jerry thought she could feel his inner thoughts for a moment. Perhaps that was the lingering feeling he had earlier. A knock sounded on the door. Jerry brought his finger to his mouth in a sh-shing motion.

‘She’s smart.’ Jerry noted in his mind.

His pace and heart quickened when he walked to the door. Just before he opened it, he took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his forehead then ran his fingers through his hair. A surprised sensation swept his body when he opened the door to see Eric in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, carrying a six-pack of beer and cigars. “Hey buddy. Long time no see,” he said with a huge smile on his face.

“Come on in,” Jerry said, playing along.

Eric dropped the act when the door shut behind him. “Listen, we have a problem. C-192’s still registering. It’s still alive somewhere. You were assigned to kill it. What the hell happened?” Eric asked.

‘Amateur mistake. I forgot the tracking device in her. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.’ Jerry thought.

“Right to it huh? Yeah, that’s the way I remember you. Remind me again what C-192 was. I’ve killed quite a few things in the last few weeks. What the hell are those guys doing to let so many things escape?” Jerry asked.

“It’s a learning program. That’s all I know. The ones who make it out are cleaned. Something about the data. Hell, I don’t know. I do know that the assholes upstairs came to my office today about this one and so here I am,” Eric said.

“I killed her. That’s all I know. She was dead when I stabbed her in the heart. I poured the acid on her and she melted away. Maybe a rat or something ate the tracker,” Jerry said.

A knot formed in his stomach and his pulse quickened. That’s what he was supposed to do that night. He meant to, he really did, he just couldn’t. He found Karma lying in a box, fast asleep like she didn’t have a care in the world. She curled up in a ball to keep warm. Unlike so many other things assigned to clean, C-192 now known as Karma, looked like a toddler. He pulled his knife out of his black bag, raised it over her head. Just before he brought it down, she shivered and let out a small whimper. He took his over coat off, wrapped her in it, and walked to his car without another thought. A panic-bomb exploded in his head when he started the car.

‘What the hell am I doing? They’ll clean me for sure.’ He looked down at the little girl’s small body, “The dead man cometh, he cometh for you,” he said to his reflection in the rearview mirror. His mind snapped back to the present issue-his boss.

“She. You called it-she. You’ve never done that. Where is it?” Eric asked.

“Did I? Sorry. I have a touch of the flu and I’m not feeling like myself,” Jerry said.

For the most part that was true. Always add a little truth to the lie to make it believable, he always said. This time he took his own advice. His stomach was in knots. A single sound from the spare room and he was cleaned. God knows what would happen to Karma.

“Look, I’ll find the tracker, but the thing is dead. What are they doing over there anyways? Why are all these things even in existence?” Jerry asked.

“I’ll tell you, but you have to keep it to yourself. Oh hell, no one would believe you anyways. If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I wouldn’t believe it,” Eric said.

Eric’s hands shook a little when he took a beer from the six-pack. He took a swig of it. “The way it started was an accident. Ya know, like champagne. Some fool was trying to open a bridge to another time. Instead, it opened to another realm. You know that hot shot prick, Mad Max?” Eric asked.

“Yeah, I know ‘em.” Jerry replied.

‘He always rubs his eyebrow when he’s thinking. He’s one I’d like to clean. Max acted too smart for his own good.’

“Well, he brought back a few eggs and a few other things. The eggs hatched and they were strange intelligent creatures. I don’t know what the bridge connected to. One of the things Max brought back was a giant blue-green rose. It glittered in the light. It didn’t look real to me. When the bud opened a couple days later, C-192 was laying in the heart of it, crying like a newborn baby. She was so adorable. Max took to her right away. She looked like a newborn; hell, she even acted like a human newborn baby. Who could blame him? The time came to put her out to perform some tests. She screamed in terror and the glass shattered. Max tried to gain control of it again, but dam it was fast. It was gone before we knew what to do. That’s why we sent you after it,” Eric said.

“Are you telling me that was an alien? All this time, I’ve been hunting aliens. That’s what you’re saying, right? They aren’t some science experiment gone astray?” Jerry asked.

“I don’t know what they are. You can call them aliens. The thing is they live in a world that looks like ours. They’re from the unseen dimension. You know, like heaven and hell. Some of the things Max brought back were ok. Others were like demons or something. C-192 was special. I don’t know how or even why. I think interfering with her lifecycle gave me my one way ticket to hell,” Eric said.

Jerry had never heard his boss sound so distraught. Against his better judgment, he reached over and took a beer from the six-pack. He opened it and took a long drink to try to gather his composure. He had a new angel in his spare bedroom.

“If what you say is true, then wouldn’t it have been better to let C-192 live? I mean it beats hell and damnation,” Jerry gave a hesitated laugh.

“Yeah, well. I don’t know. All I know is the bosses above me are pissed. See what you can dig up will ya?” Eric asked. “I’m going home. It’s been a helluva day.”

“I’ll get started on that tomorrow. Look, it’s dead. I’ll find the rat that swallowed the tracker and that’ll be the end of it,” Jerry said.

Eric went back into character when Jerry opened the door, “Yeah, I hafta go. The old lady’s at home and she’ll kill me if I stay out too late. C’mon over tomorrow?” Eric said.

“Sounds like a plan,” Jerry said.

Jerry pretended to close the door all the way and watched Eric pull out a cell phone. “Yeah, he has it. I’m sure of it,” Eric said.

Jerry rushed to the spare bedroom. “We have to get going or we’re both dead. They’d kill me quick, but you, well you’ll live you’re whole life being used like a guinea pig.”

Karma’s purple eyes changed color to black. She hated the thought of going back to that place. Small razors formed at the bottom of her wings. “I can fight,” she said.

“Oh, I know you can. The thing is we don’t have time to fight. We need to make a stand where we know we’ll win,” Jerry said.

“How do you know?” Karma asked.

“That’s my job. I’m a cleaner,” Jerry said.

He wrapped her in a blanket to hide her wings. Karma smiled at him. “You care about life, don’t you?” she asked.

“Not usually,” Jerry said.

She took hold of his first finger, sending a familiar feeling through Jerry. ’You’re the baby I saw at the lab.’ He thought. The realization warmed his soul. He understood why he was so protective of her. In that single moment, he connected the reason for everything he felt about Karma. They had bonded in that single moment.

They climbed through the window to the fire escape. Without his gloves on, the metal bars felt cold, almost foreign to his grasp. The two of them made their way down to the next window. He shattered the glass with his elbow then climbed through it. He turned to help Karma climb through but she had already flown past him. He stood there. Amazed. Shocked. Enamored. She had grown fast, and learned fast and even maneuvered faster than anything he had ever seen. She hovered down the hallway. A man stepped out of his apartment to see what was going on. He dropped the remote in his hand and crossed himself when Karma flew past him.

Jerry stopped at the elevator that moved up towards them. The panic bomb exploded again in his mind. The carotid artery in his neck pulsated. Jerry pulled the fire alarm.

“Get down here!” he said.

Karma obeyed without question. She stood next to him with the blanket around her once again. All the people from the apartment building began to scurry to get out. The man they passed in the hallway earlier walked up to them from behind. He tapped Jerry on the shoulder.

“This is for the angel,” he said. He handed her white coat long enough to cover her wings. “I don’t know what you’re running from, but if you are an angel, will you tell God I’m sorry for all I’ve done?” the man asked.

Karma gave the man a gentle smile, “Of course,” she said.

The two of them scattered out of the building along with the crowd. They walked down the street towards the nearest bus stop, climbed on with a few other people and sat down in the back. Karma stared at Jerry for a moment.

“You value life more than you know,” she said.

“What are you?” Jerry asked.

“I’m supposed to know that?” she replied. “Really?”

Jerry didn’t reply. In a way, he resented her for existing in his world. He missed his own sordid reality, such as it was. For the most part, his mind couldn’t understand why he had been able to kill so many things, including a man or two along the way. Yet, when he looked at her, all he knew was, he couldn’t be the one to do her in. To top it off, he couldn’t let anyone else do it either.

The bus came to the last stop on the line. Jerry didn’t notice until then most of the people had already stepped off. Another uncomfortable feeling strummed his spine. He was usually aware of what went on around him. His mind kept going over and over the events in his head.

“Shit. The tracking device. C’mon. We have to get it out of you,” Jerry said.

Karma fidgeted a little with her coat when she stepped off the bus. She began to take short breaths.

“What’s wrong?” Jerry asked.

“My wings feel tight. I’m having a hard time breathing. I need to take it off,” she said.

“Not here,” Jerry said. “C’mon. This way.”

There were two levels of the park. A sidewalk encompassed the pond on the lower level. In the center of the pond was a small island with a gaggle of geese along with a few ducks tossed in the mix. Oak trees lined the sidewalk. Just near one of the banks of the pond stood a small playground with a slide, swings, merry-go-round and half a basketball court. There were a couple picnic tables scattered here and there. Another path in the center of the park lead to the second level.

Jerry looked around the park to make sure it was empty then turned to Karma, “Take the coat off now. It should be safe for a minute.”

Karma removed the coat and took a deep breath in. No longer confined, she fluttered her wings with excitement. She lifted a couple feet off the ground. The leaves on the trees began to grow right in front of him. She giggled uncontrollable joy when a bush next to her sprouted flowers. Miracles. Growth. Rebirth. All of it surrounded him. He thought back a little about his plant, Leavy. The single explanation to all he witnessed was so ridiculous it almost seemed unreasonable.

“You’re a fairy,” Jerry said. “Oh shit, the tracking device. Give me your arm.”

Karma graced the ground with ease. She walked over to Jerry and lifted her arm. With a little pressure, he felt both her arms. He found a tiny hard bump on her upper arm just above her elbow. He lifted her arm in the air and saw a small flashing light. Jerry pulled out his pocketknife. Karma yanked her arm out of his grasp.

“This has to be done. I’m sorry, but if that thing stays in your arm, you will be found,” he said, just above a whisper.

Hesitation formed on his face in every line and wrinkle, especially around his eyes. The thought of doing any cutting on such a miracle made him think of what Eric said. ‘It’s my one way ticket to hell.’

‘He’s probably right.’ Jerry thought.

She raised her arm slow, with a large amount of uncertainty of the situation. Jerry brought the knife to her skin. “Hold still,” he said.

She cried out in pain when the knife penetrated her skin. Her blood glowed against the nights twinkling sky. Jerry used the knife to maneuver the tracking device to the surface. With his thumb and first finger acting like a pair of tweezers, he pulled the tracking device out of her arm. His first instinct was to throw it on the ground and smash it; instead, he threw it into the pond. The tears on her face twinkled from her now yellow-brown eyes. Jerry tore a piece of his shirt and bandaged her arm.

Karma hugged him when it was over. Jerry felt a peace he had never felt before. He sat down on the bench and let her lay her head on his lap for a little rest. When she fell asleep, he covered her with the long white coat to keep her warm. For the first time in his life, he loved something other than himself. He felt like a father. Protective. Caring. Warm.

‘The dead man cometh, he cometh for you.’

The cold end of a gun barrel woke him up. He tapped Karma on her shoulder, when she opened her eyes; she curled up in a ball on his lap. The coat still covered her body, allowing her to hide her wings. Ten men wearing Kevlar vests, dressed in swat team uniforms surrounded the two of them. Jerry stood up, putting Karma behind him. A laser from each of the guns shined against his shirt.

‘That’s a little over kill Eric.’ Jerry thought.

Karma tugged on his shirt, “We can take ’em,” she said.

“Are you sure?” Jerry asked. He decided after the rapid growth of the plants around them last night, he wasn’t going to underestimate Karma. She seemed to have a good grasp on the way her powers worked.

Eric and Mad Max walked over to them. Both dressed in funeral attire, black suits with black shirts and a black tie. They could pass as twins...almost. Max’s hard eyes softened when he looked at Karma.

He noticed the bandage on her arm and the amount of growth she had gone through. “What did you do to her?” he asked.

“I stopped her from being killed by the likes of you,” Jerry said.

“Come on Jerry, you knew we would find out what happened,” Eric said.

Eric walked over and landed a right hook on Jerry’s face. Jerry looked at him with contempt. The same contempt he felt for most of the people of the world. He hated the way people took what they wanted without thought or reason. Of course, he had been doing the same thing by cleaning the creatures. He had been taking lives.

Karma dropped the coat, and fluttered her wings. She hovered above the ground. The world moved in slow motion. The sound of sharpening knives sounded from the end of her wings; razor blades tipped them. She twirled in the air like a ballerina, flinging the blades from her wings, hitting all her targets. The men fell to the ground. She raised one of her hands and commanded the trees. A branch wrapped itself around Eric. It held him in the air. Karma looked up at Jerry, waiting for the go-ahead.

Max fell to the ground. “She has so much power. We have to study you. It’s the only way we learn,” he said.

Enraged at the thought of anything cutting her again, Karma’s eyes turned shades of red. Weeds grew up from the ground and cocooned Max. She turned to Jerry. “I want to go home!” she yelled.

“I know baby girl. I know,” he said. Jerry looked up at Eric who was still hanging from the tree. “Put him down. He can help us.”

Karma flicked her wrist and the branch released Eric. Unharmed but shaken, he landed on the ground with a thud. He picked himself off the ground and dusted himself off.

“Look, I don’t know if I can send you home. I need Max,” Eric said.

“None of them are dead. They’re just knocked out. If I let Max go, will you send me home?” Karma asked.

“Yeah, ok. Fine,” Eric said. “I didn’t like bringing you guys over anyways. It felt wrong.”

Karma walked over to the cocoon Max was in and ran her hand along the center of it. He took a deep breath when the tangled mess released him. Eric helped him stand up. “We have to send her home,” he said to Max.

“Home? We can’t send her home. She’s too valuable to everything we’re working on here. I mean you saw what she can do and she’s only a couple months old,” Max said.

Karma fluttered her wings, and then fell to the ground. “I can’t survive here. There isn’t enough green. Do you want me to die?” she asked.

Max looked at Jerry who still stood guard by her. He could see Max thinking about all the different possibilities and angles. His eyes showed a defeated man who was about to lose the biggest discovery since electricity was made.

“No, I don’t want that,” Max said.

The cleaner, the scientist and the boss-all wrapped up in a trinity of the modern age. The cleaner never had a choice when it came to protecting her. The boss needed redemption for all he had done in the past. Perhaps in saving her life, his one-way ticket to hell would burn. The scientist, the person who had treated her like his own from the moment she was born. All of them had their reason. When they weren’t looking, Jerry took a handgun off the closest ‘swat team’ person to him. He tucked it in his jacket. Reasons or not, he didn’t trust them.

‘The dead man cometh, he cometh for you’

The four of them climbed into one of the black SUVs, Jerry and Karma climbed in the back while Eric drove and Max sat in the front passenger. The leather interior felt soft against his body. Exhausted from the last twenty-four hours, Jerry wanted to allow his being to melt into the interior, but the panic-bomb exploded again. ‘Mad Max is lying. He’s obsessed with her. He’ll never let her go.’ The single thought popped repeatedly in his head like a rope of blackjacks. He watched while Mad Max nonchalantly looked back at her in the mirror more than once. She faded off to dreamland with her head on his shoulder.

“Stop looking at her,” Jerry said.

“I just don’t get it. I was the one who held her when she was a newborn. How is it she trusts you over me?” Max asked.

“I was sent to kill her and couldn’t. You abandoned her when she needed you most. That’s how,” Jerry responded.

“Do you even understand what you have next to you?” Max asked.

“I may not understand all of it, but I know this, if we don’t send her home she dies. She isn’t suppose to be here. Look at her. She’s an innocent freethinking being from somewhere else. Now I might not get all the science behind the bridge, but I know you made a mistake. Now, you’re going to make it right.” Jerry said.

“What are you after? Redemption? Money? We can pay you more,” Mad Max said.

The single question felt like an annoying mosquito sucking the blood from his heart. He sat quiet for a second or two. The uncomfortable itch from his statement irritated his brain. He pictured cleaning Mad Max. He even liked the thought of putting the gun to his head and pulling the trigger. He wanted to splatter his grey matter. He smirked a little at the thought. ‘Splatter his matter. I’m a poet and didn’t know it.’ Jerry wiped the smirk off his face.

“I’ve killed too many creatures for you over the years. I’m not looking for blackmail, or for redemption. I just love her, that’s all,” Jerry said. “Now, stop looking at her, and get it out of your head about keeping her here.”

Max turned towards the front. His brought his hand up to his eyebrow.

The SUV pulled into the front of the Lenron building. It was an architectural structure of beauty. There was a circular drive had a large fountain with a marble statue in the shape of hands holding the world. A square hedge wrapped around the fountain and a brick path went from the center to the front doors of the building. The building itself had a terrarium attached to both sides of it. The rest of the building was made of thick mirror glass.

Twelve-foot heavy glass doors lead to Lenron’s lobby where a security guard sat at a desk. The elevators and stairwells had two guards dressed in black. Both guards had guns bulging from the suits. Mad Max and Eric walked right past the guard. Max brought his hand to his eyebrow when he looked at the guard.

“How’s it going today Mr. Pampas?” the guard asked.

“Good, we’re just going to the lab,” Mad Max said.

‘Pampas? No wonder the guy was called Mad Max.’ Jerry smirked to himself.

“Ok. Who’s the girl?” the guard asked.

“My niece. She’s visiting. I thought I would show her around the building,” Max said.

“Well, you guys have fun,” the guard replied.

The elevator dinged. Mad Max walked in first. Jerry saw the gears in his mind working. He was good at that little trick. Reading people when they don’t know it. He had to be. He was the cleaner. Max opened a panel and put a key in, then scanned his retina. The elevator went down. Jerry watched Max look at Karma again. A panic bomb went off in his mind again. ‘He isn’t used to losing.’

“Don’t do it,” Jerry said.

Eric looked at Max then to Jerry. “What’s going on?” Eric asked.

“Nothing. He wants to keep her and experiment on her. I can see it on his face,” Jerry said.

“You know, while we have a moment, I have a question. Why in hell did you let them escape? I mean really, we wouldn’t be in this mess if they hadn’t been allowed to escape,” Eric asked.

“What? Let them escape. We didn’t let them escape. They were all so much smarter then we expected. You cleaned the dog right?” Max asked Jerry.

“Yes, what of it?” Jerry asked.

“That dog, if you can call it that…had the ability to walk through walls. The woman, she was able to get into your head and control you. We didn’t let them escape. The creatures you hunted and cleaned, they aren’t hybrids of anything. That is how they were born. We took them from across the bridge. When the girl escaped, she really just vanished,” Max said.

“You told me she-” Max interrupted Eric.

“I know what you were told. I made it up. All of it. We couldn’t let people know what we’re doing here. I couldn’t let you know. You would have hated me for it. Think about what would happen if someone saw C-192,” Max said. He cupped Eric’s face as a lover would.

“She has a name. It’s Karma,” Jerry said.

“Karma, fitting name. We may all pay for it before time takes us,” Max said.

“Why did you bring them here? Why not study them in their own environment?” Jerry asked.

“The cost of keeping the bridge open was too high. This was the compromise we made in order to learn all we could. It wasn’t my choice, believe me,” Max said.

Karma fluttered her wings in excitement. “We’re almost there. I’m going home,” she beamed.

‘The dead man cometh, he cometh for you.’

The elevator came to a stop. Max stuck his badge and a key into a separate compartment causing the elevator to move sideways. Jerry’s eyes widened at the feel of it. “Elevators aren’t suppose to do that. Where are we?” Jerry asked.

“We’re heading to the bridge. The elevator is part of the bridge. We needed a way to keep people safe while they crossed it. The elevator will open to the other dimension like it would any other floor. We also needed to disguise it until the patent went through. It’s the only one of its kind. Due to the size of the span between the two worlds should a person leave the elevator mid trip, their molecules would be spread across several light years,” Max said. “A special plating lines the panels. We had it designed to withstand the heat and cold along with the pressure created by spanning the bridge it’s the lightest stuff we’ve ever made we call it Impervium ,”

He beamed with pride while he talked about the ingenious way the elevator worked. Max brought his hand to his eyebrow again when he looked at Karma. The panic bomb crackled louder in Jerry’s mind.

‘The dead man cometh, he cometh for you.’

The elevator’s quick stop jolted the four of them forward when Max pressed the emergency stop button. Karma fluttered her wings; she hovered above the rest of them. Leaning against the wall, Max pressed an emergency hatch button. Jerry pulled out the gun he had hidden in his jacket. Eric punched Jerry in the face. Max lunged at him, he pinned him against the door. Karma kicked Max in the face making him hit the floor. Her wings slowed down bringing her down to the elevator floor. Eric still tried to wrestle the gun from Jerry who brought his empty fist down on his jaw more than once. Eric let go of Jerry’s wrist. Tripping over Karma’s foot, Max lunged towards Jerry and missed. His body fell out of the elevator. Jerry looked outside to see a black wasteland of nothing out the elevator. Eric tried again to take the gun from Jerry. Without warning, the gun went off. The bullet ricocheted off the elevator wall and grazed Karma. She let out a shriek of pain. The distraction of Karma’s shriek gave Jerry enough time to knock him out with the gun but.

He rushed to Karma’s side. The cut from the bullet wasn’t deep, but it hit the right spot. Her glowing blue blood spurted out of her body. Jerry took off his coat and shirt. He wrapped the wound in his shirt and tightened his belt around it. “Apply the pressure by pulling on the belt here. Will you be ok if I get you to your home?” Jerry asked.

In a weak voice she replied, “I want to go home.”

“Ok baby girl, we’re going,” he said.

Jerry took a deep breath to hold the tears back from the fear. He picked her up off the floor and pushed the button on the elevator. The elevator doors opened to a beautiful live painting. A soft hue of light shined in the distance. Trees covered the landscape. Flower petals flowed through the air like rain from the sky. Thunder followed a herd of wild stallions racing across the turquoise sky. It really was a gateway into heaven, or at least how Jerry pictured heaven. “Look Karma, you’re home,” he said in a weak voice.

Jerry stepped out of the elevator with her frail body in his arms. The elevator door closed behind them and disappeared. The air in Jerry’s chest felt heavy and wet. He heard water flow somewhere to the right. He needed to clean her wound. He walked as fast as he could to the water, but his legs felt heavy.

With tears streaming down his face, he fell to his knees upon reaching the water. Jerry’s mind swirled in circles. His strength failed him with every breath. He pulled a leaf from a plant and filled it with water then put it to her mouth. When she didn’t open her mouth for it, he cried.

“God, I’m so sorry. Please help me save her. She should never have been taken from this place,” Jerry cried.

The silent echoes of his tears falling to the ground called to the land around him. A whimsical rainbow colored bird called causing a bright blinding light to float up from the river. When the light faded, a seahorse waded in the water next to them. The animal looked at Jerry’s heart then to the small frail girl he held in his arms. The seahorse brought its head down on Karma’s wound, healing it. She opened her eyes, and smiled at the gentle creature. For the first time in his life, tears of joy touched his heart. He loved the little girl as if she was his daughter.

A foreign sound made the seahorse scurry back into the water from where it came. It was the all too familiar sound of the elevator. The elevator ding rang for miles. Jerry covered Karma with some loose brush and put his finger to his mouth in a sh-shing motion. Once again, she was in danger from those in his world who thought it was better to take- damn the consequences.

Jerry pulled the gun out of his coat pocket once again. Staying low to the ground, he crawled through the foreign dirt towards the elevator. Eric stood at the entrance to the world he had only heard about. He fell to his knees in awe and wander.

“Jerry, can you hear me?” Eric said. “We have to destroy the bridge. If we don’t, this place will be strip mined for all its resources. The thing is, I can’t do it alone,” Eric said.

Jerry’s mind felt dizzy. There wasn’t enough oxygen in the air for his body to function properly. “How do I know I can trust you?” Jerry said.

His voice slurred when he spoke. Gun in hand, Jerry staggered towards Eric. The gun felt heavier in his hand, so much so, he had a hard time lifting his arm. Eric held his hands in the air. “I don’t want a one way ticket to hell. I’m lucky to have had a ticket to the show,” Eric said.

“I have to tell Karma,” Jerry said.

He turned back towards the river where he left her lying under a bit of brush. In his heart, he knew he couldn’t stay. He leaned in and kissed her on the forehead. “I have to go. You’re going to be ok. I have to go back and make sure no one comes here again,” Jerry said.

His heart heavy, Jerry, in a dizzy state made his way back to Eric. Together, they walked into the elevator and pressed the button. Eric turned the key Max left in the panel. The air in the elevator leveled out when the elevator doors shut. Jerry felt his mind begin to return. He turned to Eric, “How are we going to destroy the bridge?” he asked.

“There’s a fail-safe code. Max and I are the only people who have it. It has always been my job to make sure our world was kept safe from what Lenron was up to. I wasn’t privy to all of the science, but my job required knowing that,” Eric said.

Eric turned the key on the panel causing the elevator to stop at the computer lab. Jerry walked into a fantasyland for scientist. The transparent touch computer screens hovered above the glass desks with art deco chairs. The floor was a single white sheet of marble. Along the walls were inlays of small workstations. Jerry put his hand in one of the holes. His hand, covered by a shield, could feel all the items he touched. He had never heard of, let alone seen anything like it in the world.

“How long did it take to build this place?” Jerry asked.

“Twenty years, give or take. I planned each section with meticulous precision.” Eric said.

“You…planned?” Jerry asked.

“Eric Lenron. Owner of the Lenron Corporation. I’m surprised you didn’t put it together sooner,” Eric said.

He put his hand on the main wall panel. The wall opened up. Eric stepped in. Jerry watched him, curious about what was about to happen. “What are you doing?” Jerry asked.

“The code requires a person to stand here and enter different sections of it at different points,” he said.

Jerry was a forgettable man. He knew this. He liked it, even relished in it. All the killing and all the blood on his hands made this a necessary way to live his life. The words Karma spoke on the bus echoed in his mind.

‘You value life, don’t you?’ She had said. In fact, he didn’t…not until she came along. She touched his heart in a way no other being, person or otherwise had. She changed him, made him whole and now she was too far away to watch over. He loved her like a daughter. The thought of being alone again was just too much.

‘The dead man cometh, he cometh for you.’

“He cometh for me,” Jerry said.

“What was that?” Eric asked.

“I’m staying here. I deserve to blow up with the rest of this place,” Jerry said.

“I know you do,” Eric said.

He raised a gun towards Jerry. “Did you really think I would blow this place up? It’s taken me 20 years to build this place. Look around! We have things here no one else has. There are patents still pending on most the shit in this place. I had to get you back here to this world. I need you to pay for killing Max. Mad Max was my friend. He was my lover and he was the one with all the brains of this operation,” Eric said.

Jerry didn’t dive down to miss the bullet. He took it in the stomach the way he thought he should. He pulled his gun out of his coat again. “You didn’t think I still had this, did you?” Jerry asked.

He lifted the gun at Eric and fired. The shot bounced around his brain before he knew what hit him. Eric fell to the floor. Jerry fought to get off the floor. Blood oozed out of his stomach. Jerry mused at his end; fitting really, that his life would end with a bullet. He was a cleaner. Exasperated, he made his way to the panel. A panel in the shape of a hand was labeled, “Self destruct.” He dragged Eric’s body to the panel and placed his hand on it. Alarms sounded and red lights went off.

“This building will self destruct in 1 minute,” the computer voice sounded.

Jerry lay on the floor, waiting for death to take him. He pictured his life. Regret filled all of it except the last couple of days. He thought about Karma. How surprised he was when she sprouted wings. He pictured her smile-how her laughter filled the air. He thought about how happy she was when she was almost home. She was the one good thing he had done in his life…the only good thing. Jerry was a common man who drove a beige Volvo. He wasn’t special in any way. In fact, most forget about him two seconds after they meet him. He would be remembered by one single fairy whose life and world he saved.

“The dead man cometh, he cometh for me,” Jerry said just when the building exploded.

2 comments:

Jeanne Sampson said...

Great story, Joann. Very creative scenario! I love Karma & Jerry.....

Jeanne Sampson said...

Joann, this is one of my favorite stories so far. Hope there will be a sequel :-))

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