RJ the Story Guy
On Sept. 29th, I posted my very first YouTube video, “RJ the Story Guy, Tower Prologue”! The following is a series of readings where I’ve incited rabid interest in Book I and the rest of the series. No spoilers and fairly family friendly, the readings will take you up to Chapter 41 from which I enourage you to read the rest of the story…
Here’s the rest of the current “Story Guy” links:
Now here are the teaser chapters to read:
Out on a lonely expanse of Seared Meadow that stretched across the mesa above Valle Abajo, Don stood in twilight, transfixed by the approach of an odd figure: a tall, lanky man leaning so far forward his head seemed to glide just above the ground, a wide toothless smile at once singular and voracious, with arms apparently clasped so tightly behind he appeared to be armless.
A voice behind Don exploded in a harsh whisper.
“Hey! Hey! What are you doing? Don’t just stand there staring at the Crotalmin, come on!” Sprouting hands in the semi-darkness, the voice grabbed Don, pulling him toward a hole in the ground.
“No!” Don cried, wrestling himself away. “I’m not going into some Nohmin hole again! I’m staying here. What’s the big deal anyway; this guy looks OK. Sort of.”
“That ‘guy’ is Sliktooth of the Crotalmin clan and he needs to feed,” Nersite hissed. “It’s into the hole or into his stomach—which would you prefer?”
Don peered at the hole. After the last time, he’d promised himself he would not willingly go again into the claustrophobic home of his new friend, Nersite. He raised his head and looked around. Sliktooth was approaching with surprising haste and the forest was too far away to make a run for it.
“Trust me you don’t want to engage Sliktooth in conversation,” Nersite whispered. “It will be short and it will be your last!”
Don stared into Nersite’s eyes. He seemed different since the last time Don had seen him. As best as he could see in the fading light, those beady little eyes held fear, anger, and total sincerity. He knew the essential battle within himself would not be resolved this evening so, for now, he would follow his instinct, trust the little guy, and go down into the hole.
Steeling his mind against rising panic, Don felt his shoulders brushing the sides of the tunnel. He wound his way, awkwardly following the sound of Nersite’s movement.
He could hear other Nohmin scurrying through the tunnels toward hiding places.
The downward slant leveled out forcing Don to bend almost double to avoid the lowered ceiling. They continued on, twisting left and right through countless junctions. At last he felt Nersite’s hand on the top of his downcast head.
“Stop,” Nersite whispered. “Reach out to your right. You will find a small hole in the wall, shoulder high.”
Don gingerly reached out to the wall, trying not to gain too much information in this cramped, humid tomb. He found the hole as its edges crumbled under his touch.
“Climb up in there,” Nersite said. “It’s too small for Sliktooth.”
“It’s too dammed small for me!” Don cried, suppressing a sob. Not again! How quickly can I get out of here? Can I even find my way out? I’m in too deep!
“Sliktooth will eat you! There is no option,” Nersite added.
“I’d rather be eaten and die than be alive down here,” Don mumbled. “At least it will all be over with quickly.”
“Not with a Crotalmin,” Nersite said. “It’s a slow death in his stomach. This place is like the wide open plains compared to his stifling poison.”
“Wouldn’t he kill me first?”
“No,” came the reply. Don could swear he heard Nersite’s brain whirring as he thought about what to say next. “You don’t want to know, it’s too horrible for me to say. This hole is far better; this part was originally a Loopohmin home, so it’s roomier. I will stay with you. Now be quiet.”
Nersite sounded so confident that Don began climbing into the hole, Nersite boosting his butt with a push. Don really didn’t want to be touched.
Nersite slipped in behind him.
Inside, by Don’s reckoning, the hole was about two feet high, maybe four feet wide, and eight feet deep. In spite of the soft earth of the passageway, the ground here was hard with fist-sized rocks that pushed painfully against his ribs.
“Move all the way back, away from the passageway,” Nersite said.
Don did his bidding, sobbing softly with each shallow breath.
Laying about three-quarters over on his face and stomach, he didn’t want to feel the wall or the ceiling. He could, of course, feel the constant rain of atoms and water vapor molecules as they piled upon him.
Nersite groped around, finding Don. Placing his hands gently on Don’s shoulders near his neck, he spoke calmly. “We’ll just relax here. Slow our breathing. You will hear him shuffling about as he passes in the tunnel. He will not be able to reach us.”
“OK, fine, asshole,” Don whispered back. “Just don’t touch me.”
There was a long pause. Don tried to quiet his sobs and deepen his breathing.
Nersite added one more thing. “We must not talk or make any sound with voice or body.”
Don knew that was purposely misleading—as if Sliktooth would not know they were there even if they were quiet. Nersite was trying to give him hope.
Calming himself, Don brought back fond memories of playing as a boy in his big sunny backyard in Peralta: the towering sunflowers, bushes big enough to double for jungles in his childish playacting, with the over arching cottonwood spreading ancient branches almost as thick as its trunk as its cool shade fell in a dappled pattern of light and shadow across the spacious yard.
This calming reverie was rudely interrupted by a sound like dry cornhusks dragging across gravel. Sliktooth was coming down the tunnel!
He could hear the sound of slow breathing, not his or Nersite’s as both held their breath so deep inside, it would take a conscious effort to resume breathing, if the chance ever came.
Now the cornhusks were across from him, behind Nersite. Sliktooth must be testing the sides of the passageway. Don’s heart thundered in his chest, trying to pound its way out. Surely, Sliktooth could hear that.
Nersite patted his shoulders softly in reassurance.
I told you to NOT touch me! Don raged silently.
Just as Don’s lungs were about to burst, the sound of cornhusks began dragging away along the tunnel, loud without stealth. Sliktooth may have found the tight entrance to their hiding place too hard-packed to crumble.
Don let himself breathe, but with short little puffs almost silent in their exhale and inhale.
“He’s moving on,” Nersite whispered. “We must stay here for a while. A specially trained team of Nohmin will vacate him soon enough. They cannot kill him for Sliktooth is too big, but he will be appropriately discouraged. We will hear other Nohmin moving about once it’s safe.”
Don thought that through as they waited. OK,fine. But once I’m out of here…
[To continue adding early chapters of my book, I’m including the first chapter that takes us back to how this all started. RJ 10/1/12.]
Don lived in the Rio Grande Valley, in the city of Albuquerque, where nearly half the population of New Mexico resided.
His wife, Bess, made a great deal of money in real estate. She also couldn’t stand him. Don was an English instructor at the St. Jude University, a small private college downtown which meant Bess made over two-thirds of their income.
This was fine with Don because it took pressure off what he did. Or so he thought. But he developed a few problems: his fondness for the taste of beer, the dark security of little downtown bars, and losing track of time.
One night, after celebrating the beginning of spring break, he came home around midnight, twelve draft beers trying to burst his bladder, and found only darkness greeting him.
“Bess, are you still up?” he asked the entire upscale northeast heights neighborhood as he poured onto the ceramic tiled entryway and into the tomb-like living room hushed by acres of thickly padded carpet.
“Good. Then I can piss in the fireplace and have a little nightcap before I sleep in the hide-a-bed in my study knowing that Bess-Darling will have locked our bedroom door.”
He pissed, had a nightcap, and discussed the comparative merits of Whitman and Dickinson as the seminal poets of modern American Literature with the cat who had no opinion. Climbing the stairs he tried the bedroom door on the chance she hadn’t locked it.
No such luck. Oh well. She probably wouldn’t feel as romantic as he did, so he allowed the beer to pull its spongy blanket over his brain and stretched out on the couch, not bothering to pull out the hide-a-bed.
It wasn’t long until, through the pudding of his consciousness, he heard an unfamiliar step on the imported oriental hall runner. Somehow, with inbred male aggression guiding him, he got up— prepared to do battle with an intruder—when he heard a smacking, licking sound.
Opening the study door a crack, he peered toward dim candlelight coming from their bedroom at the other end of the hall. There was a man—no, it wasn’t just a man, it was that sleaze-ball office manager at Bess’s real estate office—trying to eat Bess. Don couldn’t recall Bess ever kissing him like that. The sleaze-ball must have been doing pretty good because he had already ingested all her clothing.
Sleaze-ball cast a furtive glance down the hall right at the study door. “Do you think he’ll hear me when I leave?”
Bess pressed her rather broad belly and large breasts against the sleaze-ball’s half-dressed body. “Are you kidding? We could do it again right on the floor next to him and he wouldn’t budge.”
Don flung open the door, emboldened by a rush of adrenaline mixed with gallons of beer. “Hear you? You sonuvabitch, I can smell your stinking ass from here!”
“Oh shit!” sleaze-ball cried as he hid behind Bess.
Naked as a Greek athlete, she strode down the hall, right up to Don, and kicked him between the legs with her hard bare foot. “Now that you know why I can go without your infrequent and indifferent love-making, get the hell out! I’m sick and tired of supporting you, your stupid little teaching job, and half the bars in Albuquerque.
“He stays, you go!” she pointed down the stairs.
Don didn’t leave that very minute. As a result of the alcohol, the shock of Bess’s still active libido, and the kick in the balls, Don passed out on the study floor.
It wasn’t easy getting down the stairs the next morning, finding a pitcher of orange juice, and sitting, after a fashion, on one of the bar stools next to the dishwasher. Knowing his morning-after habits, he saw a note from Bess on the juice pitcher, held by a rubber band.
That jogged Don’s memory of what had happened the night before. Bess’s infidelity was only disturbing in its unexpectedness, but sex with that sleaze-ball was an insult to what was left of Don’s manhood after years of personal, financial, and occupational inferiority.
He took a slug of juice to brace himself for the note written in Bess’s precise printing.
It read, “Don, …”
Well, that’s an improvement over “Dear Asshole,” Don thought.
“I’m at the office closing the deal on the El Cabron apartments and will be finished by 1 pm. I expect to find you and whatever personal shit you take with you gone.”
Don smirked with the knowing English teacher smile that had driven a generation of students insane. She may have great penmanship, but she still couldn’t write coherently.
“If you want, you can spend everything in our joint account. Most of my money is in the business account anyway. The business is already in my name, and I’ll pay you one-fourth the value of this house because that’s all you ever put towards its cost and upkeep anyway. You can keep the Fairmont since it’s paid for. I’m keeping the Navigator and the Lexus…”
“Yeah, right, bitch,” Don scathed at the notepaper. “Let me keep the thirty-year-old car while you have the ones we bought in the last two years. Fine. Those damned gas hogs are too expensive.”
But the note, like Bess, wasn’t done yet. “Since you invested your savings in all the barley growers and brew masters of the Free World, the savings accounts are all mine, too. Sign the attached cards to cancel your name as joint owner. My lawyer, Ben Herrera, will be working out all the details in the divorce papers. If you don’t act like your usual whining asshole self…”
“Enough adjectives, already!” Don railed at Bess’s precise printing.
“I will have Ben grant you a $20,000 cash settlement from my money market account at the Denver bank. If you think you deserve one-half of everything—that’s in both our names—not what’s always been in only my name—right down the middle, you’ll have to get your own lawyer which will cost you more than what your share is worth. I do not want to see you until we sign the final papers in Ben’s office. And that will be the last time I want to see you. Try to be sober then. Bess”
“Fine. That’s just fucking fine! Who wants all your damned property and bullshit possessions anyway? I sure as hell don’t!”
Don started for the refrigerator to trade the juice for a longneck Coors when it all became a little too real. His knees buckled, the plastic pitcher bounced and leaked on the cobalt blue Mexican tile, and he cried like the time his pet dog of fifteen years had died on the day he graduated from high school.
It wasn’t Bess so much, as it was the idea of her when they had first met. Thirty-five pounds lighter, a classmate in Math 201 at the university, and a nineteen-year-old virgin. She’d had a sense of humor, had helped him up the dorm steps after a few too many in the middle of the soccer field on a Wednesday night, and was happy to have someone literate correct her rough drafts before she handed them in.
Being with her had made Don feel ten feet tall. And even when she quit teaching elementary school after only one frustrating year and got her real estate license, she had still been fun.
What was it that went first? Was it the laughs, the incredible lovemaking or the mutual admiration? Whatever was lost was replaced by a growing drive to earn more, sell more, to manage, control, and disapprove.
Maybe Don did drink a little too much, but it was only on special occasions or with friends. He had outgrown the college student’s obsessiveness measured in gallons, not pints, but his recovery time had become increasingly worse. For a while, Don quit drinking entirely, but that was before the change in their relationship.
The first year their joint tax return showed that Bess had earned more than he, was when Don started drinking again, somewhat moderately. The richer Bess got, the more Don drank, though eventually he had become better at maintaining his composure before, during, and after.
So now, wallowing in tears, saliva, and orange juice, Don knew it was too late. He couldn’t wish back the past no matter how many sobs he wretched out. Going on the wagon wouldn’t do it either because it wasn’t him. It was going to bed no telling how many times with that sleazy office manager that truly told him it was over.
For all his drinking and leering at hookers in the bars, he had never cheated on Bess. Get drunk enough and one can feel more amorous than a rock star, but can’t do a thing about it. It was safer that way. No regrets, no venereal disease, no paternity suits.
Don couldn’t remember the last time he had made love to Bess. He would just remember the old days and let it go. All liquids evacuated from his body, he sat up and surveyed his mess.
He could leave now or clean it up. He decided he wouldn’t give Bess the satisfaction of finding his drunken mess, so he set to work. Going up stairs, he cleaned dried drool off the study couch. Then he decided he would clean every little thing that could possibly be his responsibility.
There would be no evidence he had ever lived in this house. What clothes and personal items he didn’t need he would pack and leave at the Goodwill. He would cease to exist in this house and her life.
He forgot that determination when he found how she had left their bedroom.
Clearly, unmistakable evidence of her and sleaze-ball’s night of lovemaking was all over the bed, the floor, on the wall near the master bathroom, and in the tub! Sleaze-ball had brought out a side of Bess Don had forgotten, and she had purposely left the mess to impress that on his mind.
“If I had torn those precious sheets of hers like that, she would have—God, what am I saying? She punished me like a wayward teenager and I took it. No wonder…”
The hall clock showed ten minutes before one when he dropped his door key along with the Lincoln and Lexus keys on the table by the front door. Slamming the locked door shut, he left himself no way to get back inside.
Bess occasionally worked with a hell of a nice guy by the name of Bill Williams in Rio Luna, twenty miles south of Albuquerque. Don decided to look him up and see if he could get a cheap place around there. That way he could avoid any possibility of running into Bess as he went back and forth to work.
“Don, I’m real sorry to hear about you and Bess.” Bill said, seeming all concern and no faking. “Is there anything I can do?”
“There’s no way you can help us work things out because there’s nothing to work out,” Don replied. “It’s over. I’ll pretend it was another lifetime that’s dead and gone. But what you can do…”
It turned out there was this place north of Rio Luna near the border of the Isleta Indian Reservation between Rio Luna and the city: a small adobe house on ten acres of land two miles from the paved road.
“I can’t afford to buy, Bill.”
“That’s OK. The owner lives in Santa Fe and, frankly, he’s tired of having it on the market. He thought some developer would want to subdivide it, but every time someone looked at it, they lost enthusiasm. I can’t figure it. The property is what’s left of an investment his parents made about fifteen years ago. Anyway, I can rent it to you for just enough to cover the owner’s mortgage payments and taxes.”
“How much will that be?
“Hmm, let’s say seven-fifty a month due on the fifth.”
“Make it the seventh, after payday, and you’ve got a deal.”
“No problem. Let me take you out there.”
It wasn’t bad. An old cottonwood stood at the east side of the two room adobe house. Since it was early spring, the fields all around showed just the faintest hint of new growth tinting the relentless brown marking the desolation of the place.
Bill led Don around the house to the south wall and showed him what looked like the beginnings of construction on an addition.
“The present owner was all set to add on another five rooms including studio, greenhouse, a central enclosed patio, the whole nine yards when he up and quit. Damnedest thing. He was an artist, so he figured Santa Fe was more in tune with his sensibilities.”
He took Don inside. The place was a study in New Mexico dust collection.
“How long has he been gone?”
“Almost two years. Look, I know it’s not much, but I can get him to agree to forget the first and last month’s rent and damage deposit if you clean up the place yourself.”
Don looked around at the amateur job of 1970s kitchen appliance installation with a diminutive avocado green stove and a short harvest gold refrigerator. A door near the kitchen stove lead to what promised to be an equally depressing bathroom with partially exposed pipes and electrical wiring.
In the southwest corner of the twelve by twenty-four-foot room was a couch and a dusty bed frame with a stained mattress. At the center of the south wall stood a full-length glass door of a vintage that seemed original to the little adobe house. Through the glass, Don could see the unplastered adobes of the south wall.
“Is that where the artist was going to open up a doorway into his ‘addition’?” Don asked.
“I don’t think so because that’s been there ever since I can remember. Odd to see an old door with a single pane of glass that large, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, fascinating as hell,” Don said, showing no interest whatsoever. “Anyway, I can use the exercise and I need to save money, so yeah, I’ll clean it up. I’ve recently had practice. And, well, there’s something strangely appealing about this place.”
Bill put his hand on Don’s shoulder and squeezed sympathetically. “Yeah, buddy. Let’s get you back. Draw up some papers and you can move in this evening unless you have a place for tonight.”
“I don’t have shit. Let’s go.”
It was twilight by the time they finished signing the papers. Bill insisted on dragging Don home for supper with his family and wanted Don to let him, his wife, and two kids come along to help settle him in. But Don countered that they didn’t need to bother. He finally found himself alone in his Fairmont as it rocked over the long, dirt driveway to his new abode.
Suddenly, as he passed under the massive cottonwood hovering over a front yard covered with weeds, everything went black. The Fairmont dropped in a chug hole, the engine died, and the driver’s side door flew open. Don’s seat-belt kept him in the vehicle, but he slid down under it enough that his left foot flew painfully out the door. At the same time, his right hand was jammed into the dashboard and bent back double.
“Shit! What happened to the lights?” he asked.
Pitch dark pushed against his face threatening to crush him to the thinness of atoms like a hapless victim of an overhead bridge collapse. Flailing his arms to fight off claustrophobia, he succeeded in beating both hands against the steering wheel and windshield. That did the fresh sprain in Don’s right wrist even more good.
With his foot dangling from the door and arms hugging his chest, he heard the sound of leather wings flapping in this tunnel of blackness. He pulled himself upright.
Then, like the fade-in of a movie, the light came back on.
“Great start on my new life of independence! Dammit!”
He got his foot back in the car and started it up. Good thing it hadn’t kept rolling, he thought, or he would have crashed into the looming cottonwood.
It was odd; the blackness had come before the sudden stop.
That was when Don realized he had to try to stay sober no matter how lonely and depressed he got.
At least the electricity still worked. With new age music playing on a Santa Fe station on his stereo, Don dusted off the top layer of the mattress. He then realized two, no three things.
First, there was probably another fifteen pounds of dust soaked into the mattress beyond any chance of removal.
Second, there were obvious stains on it from a rain leak matching stain patterns on the bare sheetrock ceiling directly above. “Good thing the summer ‘monsoons’ haven’t started,” Don told the mattress and ceiling.
Third, he had always theorized he was allergic to pedigreed New Mexico dust. Several quick sneezes and a runny nose confirmed it.
Actually, there was a fourth thing he realized. He hadn’t packed any sheets or blankets in his effort to erase his existence from Bess’s house.
It took about a dozen shirts to cover the naked mattress, plus a treasured Mexican poncho, bought in his college days on a trip to Juarez, to serve as a somewhat heavy top sheet.
The water pump seemed to work though it coughed and spurted bouillon-looking liquid for at least ten minutes before he could drink. It tasted like warm rocks, but that was typical of Rio Luna well water. Once he washed up with a bit of old soap the artist had left behind, he realized his towels were with the sheets and blankets.
At least he found comfort when he remembered a Walmart had opened up west of Rio Luna a year or so earlier. Tomorrow he would cheaply obtain the forgotten supplies.
He couldn’t concentrate enough to read, so about midnight he turned off the light knowing full well he would lie there for about three hours before sleep could sneak up on him.
Sleaze-balls and naked Besses pulsated through his brain until he screamed profanities no one could hear since he was over a quarter of a mile from any human beings.
“Dammit, brain, shut off! Forget it!”
More profanities, some newly created for the occasion.
Finally, he got up and wandered around trying to find his way outside while bumping into possessions that hadn’t found a home yet and the odd piece of furniture he hadn’t placed to his personal preference. There was no moon, so long shafts of feeble starlight revealed the windows and door.
Outside, it wasn’t much better. The cottonwood dominated the sky, each leaf holding its breath so not a single ripple betrayed its presence. The sound of rustling leaves in a breeze might have allowed Don to drift off to sleep, but no such luck tonight.
Restless, he looked south and noticed a few pinpoints of light marking scattered farm homes. One of those lights belonged to a cousin and her family. He had fond memories of her eleven-year-old daughter with whom he had felt an attachment much like the child he’d never had. But he couldn’t deal with that. He didn’t want involvement with anyone right now, especially family.
Escaping the oppression of the cottonwood and old memories, Don looked up and sucked in his breath.
“My God, the stars!” he said aloud. How long have I been prisoner of streetlight-soaked nights? There are so many, it must be an illusion of dust particles floating in my eyes!”
He found this all very therapeutic. No Bess, no thoughts of finances, no dusty adobe house, no need for a beer, no feeling of pointlessness. Just wonder at how much there was in creation, the universe, the heavens; and here he was looking at it feeling not infinitesimal, but a part of the All of Existence.
It could have been two minutes or two hours, even two lifetimes, but at some point Don-no-longer-just-Don was pushed by the beginnings of a soft breeze back into the house, into bed, under the no longer heavy poncho, and into a welcome unconsciousness that lasted until the sun was up in the midmorning sky.
At some point in the night, he had taken off his shorts and, so, emerged from the bed newly-born ready to put on the clothes of a new life. It was Sunday, so he had the day to put the little adobe hut (which he had decided in his euphoric mood to call his “Casita”) to rights.
“I can either piss on the walls to make it mine, or redecorate.”
Choosing the latter, he adorned his Casita with the rock concert and poetry reading posters of his past while setting up the shelves of books he never read anymore, but were the required library of an English instructor. The stereo, unloaded the night before, was better positioned, and clothes were stuffed into the oddly square-shaped closet. Then, in a flurry of activity, everything that was a part of the hut was dusted, cleaned, or thrown out. There was no garbage service, just a rusted fifty-five gallon barrel to periodically cart off to the landfill west of Rio Luna. Meanwhile, Don started a growing list of items to be purchased at the local Smith’s grocery store and aforementioned Walmart.
“Bess’s going to shit green weenies when she sees the checks I’m writing,” he thought. “This money should last a couple of months before I have to resort to my own meager earnings. Ah, the check-to-check existence! Keeping closer to reality, the edge of bankruptcy, cutting corners, it’s like being young again!”
Don hadn’t talked to himself much before and it was great rediscovering his little unknown personal quirks and predilections. Things hidden under orders of silence around Bess, things drowned in booze, things denied even to himself in the dark hours before dawn when waking up with thoughts that he would die one day and then who would give a shit whether he had lived or not? Maybe he wouldn’t even give a shit. But he wanted to give a shit, always and forever.
Some of that was unsettling to him, but somehow acceptable because all he had to do was say, “Hey, it’s OK, Don, I understand. Even if no one else cares, I do and maybe even God cares. I mean look at the show that goes on up there every night in creation. I mean ‘Creation.’”
Now that was a novelty. Don hadn’t thought about or said “God” and really meant God, in a long time. It was just a word he said when something startled him. That view of one little corner of Creation had startled him the night before and he thought “God” and really meant it. But now, making up his shopping list, it struck him consciously. Last night was a bonding with the All, no comment or language needed.
Daylight needed language. The shopping list required simple concrete nouns, the realities of life. And God was a part of that, too. The old-time religion. It was Sunday and that had always meant church when he was a kid.
“I’ve been harping on being young again, so I guess I’d better get ready and do my shopping after church.”
Driving into town, he stopped at the first church he saw, which turned out to be a small nondenominational congregation, housed in an old converted saloon. They welcomed him as if they had known him all his life. The preaching was a bit fundamental, but the parallels to the previous night’s sky experience kept Don entranced.
Once he had wiggled out of offers for Sunday lunch of fried chicken, he made his shopping rounds.
The day came to an end all too quickly. And only upon turning off the light did Don remember he had classes tomorrow morning. It seemed centuries since he had left the school Friday afternoon.
Finally remembering the term had just ended and he had about a week before the grind started all over again, he relaxed and drifted off to sleep.
Had it been only twenty minutes, or was it now around 4 am?
There was the sound he had heard in the darkness when he’d nearly crashed into the cottonwood tree. Yet it was now silent.
Still half asleep, he started to drift off once more. Then it came again, and now he could identify it.
Leather wings flapping.
Solid whapping—not the wheezy, whistling sound of feathers. Leather. Skin.
Fully awake, Don reached too far for the lamp and knocked it off the table.
He rolled off the bed onto the floor and desperately felt around. Finding the lamp behind the table, he fumbled for the switch. It came on driving a thousand needles of light into his rapidly dilating eyes.
“Damn! Stupid shit!”
He squeezed his eyelids closed, turning away from the lamp, and slowly opened them allowing his lazy irises to contract.
It was quiet now.
Using the lamp like a searchlight, he pointed the open top of its shade around the seemingly cavern-like room. There, up in the far corner by the outside door, was a black mass. He could see it quiver and then noted the fine black fur on the back of a thumb-sized head, large pointed ears, and little claws holding onto the rough dirt plaster of the wall.
“You little sonuvabitch! Who the hell let you in? I’m no flying mammal fan, little buddy, so you’ll have to get the hell out of here.”
He cautiously approached the door, opened it, propped open the saggy screen door, and backed up against his bed.
“Now get the hell out. Those grasshoppers are out there just waiting for your eating pleasure.”
The bat didn’t move but continued trembling, evidently trying to become invisible.
“OK, bat. Let me turn out the light.”
A bit of silence, then the leather wings flapping. Don hit the floor not wanting to be in its flight path. “Stupid! His sonar is not going to let him run into something as big and brainless as me.”
The whapping quickly receded and then—quiet.
“Bon appetit,” Don wished his former houseguest.
He got up, closed the doors and lay down to the same disturbing thoughts that had prevented sleep the night before.
Then a voice, sibilant, slightly husky broke the uneasy silence.
“So, human, do you want to hear my proposal?”
Don screamed in a most humiliating manner, whirling in bed, which pulled apart his carefully constructed bedding. (He hadn’t gotten around to making it with his new Walmart sheets.)
After whacking his ears and trying to control his breathing (a small compensation since he had lost some control of his bladder, but—thank God—maintained an iffy authority over his bowels), he could concentrate on listening for the slightest sound.
There was something. Like maybe fleas crawling over fine bat fur.
Since he’d lost his dignity, Don decided to speak.
“All right, who’s there? I’m not a violent person; I’m unarmed, so if you want to steal my wallet, go right ahead. There’s nothing else of value here, and I’ll keep the lights off so I can’t see or identify you.
One or two more fleas scurried over a bat ear, but, otherwise, there was an unnatural silence. Even the breeze outdoors held its breath.
“OK, so I dreamed that creepy voice, and I’m just here by myself talking to the bedbugs, right?”
“Well, no, not quite,” said the sibilant voice.
“Oh—shit!” was Don’s highly intellectual response.
“Please, no more theatrics. I’m not here to do you harm or to take anything. Quite the opposite. I’m here to offer you an opportunity to travel, to see great wonders, and give you a chance to do something useful. To save lives. In fact, to save a whole way of life.”
“What is this? Some missionary recruitment ploy from that church I went to this morning? I think if you’ll look at the visitor’s card I filled out, I said nothing about volunteering to—”
“No, no, no. This has nothing to do with the church; although, I must admit, it did speak well of your intention to turn your life around.”
“I haven’t much of a life to turn around.”
“Actually, this is perfect. You now have nothing to prevent you, nothing holding you back from accepting my proposal. Unless you are afraid. Or lazy.”
“Does uninformed count? What the hell are you talking about?”
“Basically, you are needed to help some easy-going laid-back peop—uh, folks get organized to deal with something that could not only end their way of life, but end their lives, period.”
“And you want me to do something about it? You don’t know how laid-back I can be. Could you be more specific?”
“To do that will take a while, requiring me to provide vital background. Do you really want to hear this?”
“Look, you scared the piss out of me. I’m not a bit sleepy, so I would consider it the least you could do.”
“What is the most I could do?”
“Let me turn on the light so I can see who’s talking because I feel odd sitting here in the dark having a conversation with a total stranger.”
“I think you might prefer to feel odd for a while, so let’s just keep the lights off.”
Don sighed. “This is only my Casita, but go ahead. Be my guest.”
“Good. Now, lie back down and I’ll tell you a story.”
“Hopefully, I won’t go to sleep.”