I estimate one thousand degrees, give or take.
My rear-view mirror sags in the heat, and as I drive I see only my hand gripping the gear stick. My car has become a death trap–-every inch a study in the surface temperature of Mercury.
I look at the empty pill bottle in the only cupholder not filled with Dum-Dum wrappers, and momentarily I notice the brain-zaps starting again.
The clearance section is a wasteland of garbage. I hate romance. I hate historical fiction and self-help books. I despise cheap fiction, loose sci-fi, vague fantasy–-these shelves are overflowing with the discarded volumes that fit the bill of “shit I wouldn’t waste time touching”.
The aisle is cramped. There are fat people crowding me, pawing at Crichton for a dollar, Brown for three quarters, Sperry’s magical Texas gardening phantasmagoria for your soul, a three dollar copy of Gray’s which I find neither descriptive nor surgical.
I notice to my own personal horror that I’ve absently selected the Sorrows of Young Werther, a collection of Walter Miller Jr. shorts, and Fear in Loathing in Las Vegas from elsewhere in the store.
The brain-zaps ripple over my consciousness.
The Miller book reminds me to check my squid, still pulsating its wicked tentacles in my back seat. It looks like spaghetti with thick sauce extending from a square–the drive that still holds the voice. The terminal ends of the myriad of nanowire connectors twitch, seeking neural pathways, desiring to machete through brain matter towards takeover in the name of therapy.
The black market surgeon I’ve hired to remove the therapeutic intelligence drive from the base of my skull has done a good job. I finger the bandages and feel the slight sting of the open wound.
The voice has stopped.
On the toilet, I read until my ass is dead, and then I notice something has fallen out from the pages of the Miller collection I’m enjoying.
My former T.I. would have noticed this immediately and informed me to pick it up–I’m running on me time now, though.
I reluctantly find a stopping point in the science fiction I adore, and pull up my pants. I don’t bother to wipe. I came here to read, not defecate.
I two-finger the yellowed and folded paper that I’ve dislodged from its home between the pages of Miller and open it.
It’s a list, typewritten on an old manual typewriter it seems. It reads:
1. Buy a smart shirt.
2. Sort through old shoes and dispose obsolete footwear.
3. Organize and label Doctor Who VHS tapes.
4. Make Mix Tape for anger sessions.
5. Bring about the fall of the Gant Family.
My open wound itches as I ponder the pile of old shoes at the bottom of my city-supplied plastic trash bin.
The summer stench is retch-inducing. Some neighbor has an ill-timed sense of disposal–I smell old food, aged longer than a week, discarded well before the weekly pick-up.
I find it inconsiderate.
As I’m returning to my front door, I take sudden notice of the phone book I’ve left on the porch for several months, still in its abusively bright yellow plastic bag.
I thumb through it briefly. Attempting to find the listing for “Gant” among white pages.
The page I seek is missing.
In the heat of the Texas Summer, my brain-zaps start again.
“I would like you to come in as soon as possible,” my doctor says. “It’s highly unusual for the uploads to have stopped coming to us, and for the T.I. not to have informed you.”
I tell the doctor I am on my way.
I am not.
I sit in my Festiva and wait for the air conditioning to turn the oven off. As the bass booms from the mix tape in the deck, the rear-view mirror slow sags.
I hit eject and notice the tape’s label reads: anger. Lowercase and in black Sharpie.
Under the seat, I dig for a piece of crumpled paper.
My fingers find purchase and pull the missing white page from the phonebook out of its hiding place. I verify the address and roll backwards out of my driveway.
Running, I try to minimize the moves necessary to scale the wooden fence, not counting on its weakness against my weight.
The fence collapses, splintering and spilling me into the next lawn. Blood is smeared over the slats and I take a moment to adjust the latex rabbit mask I’m wearing so that I can make sure I haven’t dropped any evidence in my spill.
Satisfied, I run some more.
To my own personal delight, the piano recital has been called off, but I attempt to attend anyway, pretending to be a disappointed and uninformed distant relative. I carry a backpack with the well-preserved hands of a ten-year-old hidden inside.
“It’s uncanny how they’ve run into such bad luck lately,” an elder of their church says to me. “The Gants haven’t missed a Sunday service in five years, and now this tragedy with their youngest on top of that unfortunate business with the father’s company.”
Unfortunate, I think to myself. I may have said it out loud, too. I begin to nervously consider that the smell from my backpack is noticeable.
I know the Gant girl isn’t on any sort of birth control, so I befriend her and her overly amorous boyfriend.
The time is ten o’clock and into the nineties–a reprieve from the hundred degree plus weather of the daylight hours. Young adults sweat on the trendy patios of a line of flash-fad sushi bars, cocktail lounges, and tap rooms.
They find me charmingly aloof. Surprised at my knowledge of their dead-tomorrow pop culture obsessions, they hang on my every word. They don’t notice the pills I feed their drinks, and though the dosage is low, they continue to order beyond their limits.
I offer to drive them to a party where I ensure the amorous youth occupying the typical male slot in the relationship is sufficiently excited into accidentally impregnating the Gant family’s prize offspring.
I don’t watch. I’m not a pervert.
The brain-zaps subside with a heavy tidal wave of rum. The bandage is off, though the wound refuses to close. The hot Texas Summer air is doing it good, I believe.
The cuffs click home and I sigh. My face cooks against the metal table on my patio and I imagine its diamond pattern top permanently ironed onto my cheek. Looking through my window I can see my beautifully organized Doctor Who videos.
I’m wearing my smart shirt, light orange and crisp with starch.
The more important officers are digging up an obvious location in my backyard. They expect to find ten-year-old Will Gant’s hands there. Instead, they find my dead squid.
“It won’t tell you anything,” I explain to the heavy pressing down on me. “I had it removed weeks ago.”
The cicadas are screaming, creating a vicious counter-rhythm to the intermittent chatter of an old metal sprinkler. This could be the last Texas Summer I bake in for a while.
It is a dark room, sound-proof and oppressive in its silence.
My doctor sits opposite me, flipping through his folder of truths.
“Tell me about this list,” he says.
I don’t like that he doesn’t ask.
“It’s not mine. I found it in a book I purchased at a used book store,” I say, wincing at the itch of the newly installed squid in the back of my neck. The squid is working for them now. I cannot refuse to answer.
The doctor smiles.
“Interesting,” he states.
He knows you are lying, the T.I. says in my head.
I tell the squid that I’m not lying, and I think I mean it.
“The detectives say that the typewriter we found on the premises of your house is the same typewriter used to type out this list.”
I must admit confusion – the squid is confused, too. I feel it probing, saturating me with veritable truth serums, seeking answers it doesn’t understand near as well as its predecessor.
“Not only that,” the doctor continues, “the records from the book store show you sold that very copy of the Miller collection to them only a few days before all this started.”
“I just felt like following the list,” I explain. “I didn’t write it.”
“I don’t remember writing it.”
The Ulysses employee runs a diagnostic on the squid I had removed. He doesn’t seemed surprised at what he has seen.
I want to ask why I’m here.
“I would call it a success, then,” a man named Rolo says to another man I cannot see.
The silence is oppressing as I wait for the answer.
“We won’t ever know,” another voice says. “Just trust that our instructions were for the greater good.”
“They didn’t seem that influential,” Rolo says, toying with another dead squid on the table before me.
“Who knows what havoc the Gants may have wreaked against the paradox,” the other voice rhetorically muses.
My vision fades and the brain-zaps have stopped.
“Nice touch,” Rolo says. “Having the squid tell him to remove it itself–that’s the second one I’ve seen take a dive on its own. I never thought they’d be so–”
In the hesitation, the other voice answers, “Noble?”
I roll a pill bug between my fingers, but don’t press hard enough to crack the delicate carapace.
The Texas sun beats down on the small garden at the hospital I now call home.
I see a young man walk by, itching a bandage over his newly installed squid.
I wonder what instructions he’ll be given for the greater good.
I turn my face upward, feeling the heat of a Texas Summer bearing down on spot away from the shade of elder oaks and runaway Ligustrums.
I wish they had let me keep my rabbit mask.