picket fence

Evelyn had done Adam’s breathing for seventeen minutes before the paramedics arrived to take their turn.

"You saved his life, Lady," she was told en route to the hospital (its ER starting to feel like a second home).

Since then, a week had passed wherein hope gave way to a spate of mental anguish; damage to her husband’s brain would be irreparable.

"Here’s your turnip," Adam wisecracked, as his wheelchair crossed the lobby, wife and children awaiting the household head’s discharge.

"Daddy knows us, Mommy," Ann confirmed, with cautious optimism.

And so he did… initially… though his focus often wandered; eyes would glaze, chin drop, tongue loll, and he would drool for lengthy periods, then, once snapping back to ‘normalcy,’ crack a joke at his own expense, as if his wits, on-the-fritz, retained some shred of comprehension. This, of course, was a blessing for the twins; they still had Daddy. In point of fact, their father had become a full-time pal. Awarded disability, Adam’s home leave was "indefinite"—which, for Evelyn (unamused by her husband’s self-effacing quips) transformed a sorry situation into a farce, an out-and-out curse upon the invalid’s admitting:

"I did it on purpose."

They were seated at the kitchen table, ‘sharing’ morning coffee (meaning Adam gaped distraitly as his cup-o’-Joe turned cold), when, apropos of nothing, out popped his confession.

"You mean, you knew what you were doing," Evelyn asked, her tone incredulous?"

"Afraid so."

"WHY," she blurted out, with undisguised chagrin!

"I felt I couldn’t give it up; you know, the car. I mean I ‘should’ have; the world would be a better place without cars—ours and everyone's. But I found myself unwilling to make that sacrifice. Keep my Trans Am—screw the ozone—hell, I slaved to buy it, kept it spic and span and tuned and well within emission standards. So, I lay down near the exhaust and took deep breaths."

It was the nonchalance with which he spoke that rendered Evelyn speechless. Could he really have deserted her, his kids, for love of a car? Under what compulsion, other than some silly quirk of conscience? She saw red (red-orange, to be exact, her amber eyes turned livid). Idiotic! Irresponsible!

Evelyn’s inner tirade balked, its target vacant, of a sudden, unemployed as an empty briefcase. Adam (clothes disheveled, cheeks unshaven, hair an unbound hay bale) sat transfixed, again, his features frozen; slobber formed a globule… that his wife’s palm intercepted as it left his lower lip.

‘You’re alive,’ she rose and crossed to Adam’s side, ‘that’s all that matters,’ where she pressed his bristly face against the woof of her lamb’s wool sweater, breasts beneath it pricked to pathos by his apathetic beard.

 

Epidemic Update: The World Health Organization reports "Oculoamberchromia" a.k.a. "Owl-Eyes" has spread with such unprecedented rapidity that virtually nowhere on the globe remains uncontaminated. An international conference of specialists in the fields of ophthalmology, epidemiology, neurology, genetics, and others, has been scheduled in Geneva to pool resources, chart symptoms, and diagnose long term effects (if any) on those afflicted. Panic is unwarranted, officials maintain, many suggesting that the condition may run its course without serious consequences—though, unofficially, panic already is widespread. In the United States, where Owl-Eyes allegedly first broke out, a task force has been assigned to trace the earliest recorded cases (if only to dispel conspiracy theories). Suspected to be "viral in character," the agent of transmission continues to elude detection. It has been neither isolated nor grown in cultures, thus defies the classic methods for scientific analysis. To date, not a single case has been documented that links this ailment to morbidity (though complaints have ranged from headaches to hypertension); populations deemed contagious appear no more or less unhealthy than those whose irises retain non-amber hues. This latter group, however, is quickly disappearing, especially now that newborns are inflating the worldwide toll. "Typical," with respect to coloration of ones eyes, may very well, in future, be redefined.

Geezer, grown bolder since Adam first turned to stone in front of his computer screen (an hour having passed wherein nary a muscle twitched), crept a little closer, curious to see for himself what might have prompted so lingering a paralysis. Wary of the ‘statue’s’ field of vision, Geezer approached from behind, scampering in between hiding places like some cloak-and-dagger shamus. Finally, he scrambled up the chair-back abutting Adam’s shoulder blades, to a height that lent (if extended by tiptoe) an unobstructed view…

… of screen-saver fish, swimming in lackadaisical schools, across the monitor.

Well, no matter. Geezer could log on later, search the Net for pertinent information. He was still concerned about troupe members coming to light so close to base. If the Lab, itself, had been unearthed, ramifications could result in catastrophe! Unless whoever surfaced had done so by design. To what end, however? Certainly none of the ‘Geniuses’ were among those discovered. Drones like he was more likely, a comparative oaf who could barely BLINK himself a few measly meters—from under a cup to an adjacent lampshade, for example. (Nearly apprehended by a five-year-old pip-squeak; oh, the shame of it!) Pitifully non-proficient, Geezer had only the foggiest notion how he had accomplished even that. BLINKing himself back to China was a feat far beyond his capabilities. And rescue, judging from the length of time he loitered (left to rot!), was evidently not in the troupe’s best interest. He remained the fall guy, consigned to take the wrap for Mankind’s ‘rectification’—which was moving right along, if this dribbling-dolt-of-a-Dad cum half-wit-Hubby was any indication, mesmerized, as he was, by the ersatz aquarium, his fume-fed, bifurcated intellect gone awry—or, from the Simian standpoint, ‘aright’—irreversibly. Not that Geezer wished misfortune on the dimwitted father; he bore Humanity, in general, no ill will whatsoever, including that numskull Proto—regardless the midget’s polluting his Test-Subject veins.

Besides, Proto had been inducted, "kicking and screaming," to hear him tell it, lassoed, tip to toe, while taking a nap, "minding my very own business," he would recite over and over from the adjoining cubicle, insisting that life was "more better" as a sideshow freak, Geezer privy to every torturous indignity his next-door neighbor suffered (for weeks, months, over a year), entertained, in between, by Proto’s repertoire of gargoyle-like faces, double-jointed body postures, and simpleminded tricks involving sleight-of-hand. He could pinch off his nose, for instance, then eat it (or ‘appear’ to do so, the illusion founded on a cleverly substituted thumb). He could tie his limbs into knots, turn his eyelids inside out, wiggle independently each of his rubbery ears, make his chin merge into his neck, distend his lips to mimic a Ubangi’s, and roll his bugged out eyes as deftly as any chameleon. A likable human, was Proto—the only human Geezer had seen at closer than telescopic range. Yet, distance notwithstanding, he was easily the oddest; none of those few folks penetrating the "extinct" monkeys’ habitat bore more than a passing resemblance to the misshapen dwarf—with his dromedary’s hump, oversize cranium, and undersize appendages (poor devil), chosen, as far as Geezer could gather, for the very fact of these multiple aberrations… something to do with the recessive quality of Proto’s irregular genes. Whatever the criteria, he must have fit the Genius’s bill to a T; they went at him morning, noon, and night like crazed cosmeticians (not that Proto looked one jot less ugly for all their concentrated effort). Often, in the aftermath of procedures done on him, he would press his bulbous forehead against the wall and miserably weep. Other times he would sit as if lost in some brain-benumbing funk…

… similar to the one immobilizing Adam, which Geezer did not trust, leastwise not enough to risk dismissing the make-believe fish—luckily, since, no sooner had the temptation urged, than "click," Epidemic Update reappeared on the monitor—Geezer’s beeline from the backrest caught as an unidentified ‘blip’ at the corner of Mr. Smith’s revivified vision.

Back to full awareness (albeit reduced in overall scope), Adam glanced from left to right, but not underneath his chair (where Geezer—crouched on a leg support—plotted his path to safety).

Troublesome though these lapses were, Adam was seldom distraught when his wits ceased to function, perhaps because the loss of cogitation was not entire. It was more like passing in and out of a soupy fog. The perimeters of his senses seemed to shrink, but feelings (and thoughts, to a lesser degree) persisted, their properties turned internal, more self-contained. Not self-concerned, however. Instead, his psyche appeared to lose itself in some boundary-free emulsion wherein Each, with all things Else, felt equally distributed, wholly intermixed… quite pleasant, once unmindful of its probable instigation—namely "acute carbon monoxide poisoning." Odd, that pride in ones automobile should ‘backfire,’ so to speak, transport him down some miscellaneous byway, carry him into a realm of strange sensibilities… from which, truth be told, he did not seek diversion, so peaceful was its aura of primal integration.

‘Quit,’ he instructed the computer, then switched the fool thing off; Mr. Smith’s days of surfing the Net, by his own estimation, were numbered, preferring to humor his children. Theirs was an outlook on life he wholeheartedly shared, the immediacy of it, the inseparable nature of being and belonging in the real-live world—as compared to telecom wonders with their trifling simulations.

‘Where were those two, anyway?’ Adam tried to imagine the duo’s location. Inside? Outside the house? Lately, he found himself homing right in on Ann’s and Ian’s whereabouts (the latter more easily, for some reason), horsing around with the twins become Dad’s favorite pastime.

 

Ann, never one to initiate baths, could not help noticing her family had begun to stink—Ian in particular. Sharing a bedroom with her unsanitary brother had always been odious; the last few weeks, however, had proven insufferable. He did pee-pee, sometimes even poop, in his upper bunk—which "the skunk" now re-inhabited, his blindfold off, his amber-eyed squint restored. The laundry, too, was not getting done with anywhere near its former frequency. Folks, in point of fact, seemed loathe to change their clothes: Mom’s lamb’s wool sweater stank like a gamy second skin; Daddy’s pinstripe suits had been exchanged for sweat-stained pajamas; while Brother Ian (when he bothered to dress at all) wore the same stale jeans and grimy T-shirt, day after day after day.

"Pugh-wee!" Ann objected, often, to no avail, her budding sense of hygiene starting to bloom midst the abject squalor. So, rounding up a washcloth, sponge, and requisite rubber ducky, she padded off to scrub-a-dub-dub herself.

 

Drain plugged, both taps opened and adjusted to a lukewarm torrent (the better to activate bath salts, added in fistfuls, for suds aplenty), Ann (much altered) took her first un-chaperoned plunge…

… said bubbly baptism witnessed by none other than the still-at-large ape (who, on exiting Adam’s den, undetected, had headed for the toilet to slake his thirst).

"You again," Ann addressed the intruder, confirming, with a scowl, the monkey’s rude attendance.

Geezer leaped from bathroom tile to ‘watering hole’ to towel rack, then squatted, pompous as a potentate, ogling Ann from on High… safely out of reach… unless she managed his toppling with a well-timed maneuver… a scheme that Geezer, ordinarily, would have apprehended, had he not been so distracted by the toddler’s modified shape, her figure too mature for a kindergartner, certainly more developed than when last he had seen her nude (weeks earlier, observing the pear-shaped twins through their bedroom window), and though speedier maturation was, indeed, a foreseen symptom, it would only show in those whom the Dis-ease claimed; Ann, to date, had exhibited nary…

A towel-pulled-out-from-under-him tug cut short the voyeur’s ogling; Geezer back-flipped, parted a cloud of foam, and splashed down in the tub… his entry making a hole through which he sputtered on emerging, doggy-paddling madly midst the porcelain panorama.

"Gotcha!"

The nubile hand that scooped him out, its grip too tight for comfort, apt to squash (without a sharp deterrent) Geezer’s soggy self (best not bite yet, his think-fast calculation, death by suffocation a reprieve, of sorts, from death by drowning), held him up for scrutiny, as the teeth he bared on impulse affected a toothsome smile.

Ann, her blue eyes glaring with a glee all too malevolent, brought the prisoner face-to-face, so close her nostrils flared like caves—through which a dragon’s snort escaped to blow-dry Geezer’s whiskers.

‘Uncle,’ the monkey broadcast, making a sorry stab at levity, hoping Ann, despite her ire, might prove receptive.

"You are not," she said out loud, mistaking Geezer’s truce for insult, for some lame attempt to curry kinship’s favor.

PLUNK! She dunked him.

"Serves you right," she hauled him out, "I’m not a monkey’s uncle."

Gasping, Geezer cleared his lungs of sudsy bilge.

‘I meant to say, I give."

"You gived us Owl-Eyes? Why’d you do that?"

‘Sorry.’

"Don’t tell me you’re sorry! Tell me why; right now!"

Again Ann made to dunk him.

Geezer BLINKed…

… and found his person once removed to a carousel of toothbrushes.

Empty-handed, Ann could only ape the agile ape’s astonishment.

"How’d you do that?"

Ah, if only Geezer knew, he might be Home now, he reflected, not matching mother wits with a munchkin, shipwrecked, lost, marooned, his fur awash in oily scum—which he licked, then spat.

"Unfair!" Ann spoke aloud once more, though sensed it was superfluous—putting thoughts to words as tedious as reciting A, B, Cs. She felt inferior.

Geezer dodged; the rubber ducky almost beaned him.

‘Simmer down, young Miss.’

"Why should I! You’s a dirty rotten booger, and, the next time that I catch you, krrrrrch!" She slit her throat in mime—a gesture Geezer disregarded with impunity.

‘What’s a booger?’

Ann was not to be distracted.

"Why’d you do that?"

‘I was drowning.’

"No; I mean about my fam’ly. Why’d you make them act so weird? I’ll bet you made my brother spritz hisself with bug spray, didn’t you? Didn’t you!? And my Daddy sniffed those car fumes ’cause o’ you. He almost died! You gived them something like the measles, only worser."

‘How astute. But it was they who felt compelled to harm themselves, in lieu of others. That’s The Cure, for you and yours, Miss Smith. Your Race has run amok, hence it is high time…’

"What’s a muck?"

‘Gone nuts. Gone absolutely bonkers. Is it my fault Humans lack the common sense to co-exist?’

Ann tried to separate terms she knew from those that sounded unfamiliar, fathom points beyond approximations (actual things not words) as she extrapolated meaning from the monkey’s speechless discourse, which was fast, at a speed befitting Ann whose own acceleration made her family’s retrogression, by comparison, more pronounced. Because, as Mom and Dad and Ian had reverted, Ann raced forward. Once a bright child, she was growing gifted.

Proto’s ‘plasmic’ influence? Had the midget’s tainted serum turned the tide in Ann, as well? Was she Dis-eased, though pointed ‘opposite’? Had the primate potion boomeranged, sent this titty toddler pell-mell toward some genus un-predicted…

should she manage to survive the phase,

endure her transformation,

bridge the Life-on-Earth-past-tense to reach the Life-on-Earth-restored,

elude the larger, quicker, top-of-the-food-chain predators,

brave the elements,

find sufficient food and water to fulfill her daily needs,

secure safe shelter (sans electric power, gas heat, or indoor plumbing),

treat disorders using remedies far removed from a drugstore shelf,

then,

—when the final gasp of butane leaked from the last disposable lighter,

and a worldwide search could turn up not a solitary un-struck match—

allow the marvel Fire to cast its spell on all eyes blue or amber,

and remind Mankind Life’s spark owes breath to a Sphere?

Was this impish ape a soothsayer who envisaged things to come, or had these thoughts occurred to Ann herself? Her head filled up with pictures:

She saw giant animals.

Buffalo.

Hundreds.

Thousands!

Heard their thunder.

Felt the ground begin to shake as they stampeded.

Spooked by what?

The dust their hooves stirred into rust-red haze obscured whatever chased them.

Dogs, she guessed, having caught a flitting glimpse.

But bigger.

Swifter.

Sturdier.

Able to snatch a galloping flank with jaws whose clamp proved so unshakable that its victim slowed to a sluggish lope…

… a trot…

… a stagger…

… a standstill…

… resignation and adrenaline serving to block appalling agony from a second set of savage teeth…

… a third…

… a fourth, fifth, sixth…

… each adding weight and gore to hind-parts past the point of mutilation; chunks already fed impatient bellies…

… death too slow in coming to this hard-won meal…

… at last collapsed…

… exhausted from resisting that which instinct taught both pack and prey to honor once foregone.

The wolves, no longer in a hurry, poked their muzzles into entrails still aquiver with an ebbing pulse, still vital, albeit weakened.

Groans, less frequent from the buffalo’s windpipe, reached its regrouped comrades, stances stolid, in the post-kill climate, panted snorts subsiding with the fear that one of them would fall in place of she who had, her throes pathetic in their hapless thrashing, wounds a graphic warning of the plight ahead for each and every member of the herd:

if not from fang and claw, then famine;

if not drought, then epidemic;

if not injury or mistakes of youth, then ills brought on by age;

one creature’s loss another’s benefit,

each demise a new beginning,

both essential for the Planet’s pirouette.

 

Overcome by white, the moving pictures ceased, then cleanly vanished; Ann beheld ceramic tile, was all (plus dingy bath tub rings), their bleached out brilliance like ones exit from a Sunday matinee…

‘Hey… where’s that monkey?’

… the feature film’s projectionist nowhere to be found.

 

Time/space...

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