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Ade Patience has done what he was told he couldn’t. He’s broken the rules, used his powers to save a life. And no good deed goes unpunished. . . .
Senior year finds Ade and his girlfriend, Vauxhall, deeply in love, indulging themselves with wild dates and exploring their newly strengthened abilities. Only Ade isn’t as happy as he should be. He’s got an itch that he can’t seem to scratch and it has everything to do with his joining the Pandora Crew, a group of radical oracles ...
Ade Patience has done what he was told he couldn’t. He’s broken the rules, used his powers to save a life. And no good deed goes unpunished. . . .
Senior year finds Ade and his girlfriend, Vauxhall, deeply in love, indulging themselves with wild dates and exploring their newly strengthened abilities. Only Ade isn’t as happy as he should be. He’s got an itch that he can’t seem to scratch and it has everything to do with his joining the Pandora Crew, a group of radical oracles hell-bent on disturbing the peace, performing Jackass-style stunts, and spreading the mayhem.
When Ade realizes that his involvement with the Pandora Crew is due to his absorbing some of Jimi Ministry’s abusive childhood, he discovers that the only way to rid himself of the infectious memories is to erase his past. And it just so happens that the one guy who can do that lives a few blocks down the street.
The procedure works. The “Jimi cancer” is cleared out. But when Ade returns to his life, he finds that changing the past has changed the present. Vauxhall has no idea who he is and he has to woo her all over again. And it won’t be easy. There are three other people vying for Vauxhall’s attention. Three other guys he has to literally battle to win her back. The worst part: they’re all twisted versions of Ade.
Erasing the past has dramatically altered the present and Ade must join forces with his former rival to defeat . . . himself.
Awesome seeing you at the swim meet this past weekend. Can’t believe I almost came in third. No doubt that was due to some of the astral plane stuff you’ve been doing. Keep it up, brother! At this rate, what with all the lesser demon saliva and minor devil bones, I’ll make the city B finals this spring.
Anyways, I’m writing to get your advice. I’m in a major bind here.
Let me try and explain it up front, just give you the background, before I get to the actual problem. I’m hoping you’ll be sympathetic. Can’t imagine that most folks who become Satanists didn’t mess around with other forms of antisocial behavior as kids.
There’s this crew. They call themselves the Pandora Crew and really it’s just two dudes. Both of them are total morons. Both of them are like me, gifted, and yet neither of them does anything more than “foment revolution.” That’s their deal: chaos for the sake of chaos. Anyhow, I somehow wound up in Gordon’s and Jeremiah’s orbits. Actually, that’s not true. It wasn’t somehow. These guys used to hang with the LoDo Diviners. They were part of the scene like two years ago. Clean-cut and productive, though I still don’t know what abilities they actually have. Both were kicked out by Gilberto and that’s when I met them at a show at the Blue Bird. We got to talking. One thing led to another. Now I’m a part of the crew. Now I’m doing the most unbelievable stuff and it’s only getting worse. It has only slightly been illegal so far. No one’s gotten hurt, I mean.
But soon it’s going to cross a line. That line.
I can just tell.
Here’s the thing: The stuff we’re doing, it makes no sense. It’s just destructive and wild and fearless and, honestly, I’m loving every minute of it. It’s liberating and I don’t know why. This isn’t me, Heinz. I’m not this guy. Sure, when I was knocking myself out every other day, crashing cars and diving off roofs, that wasn’t the sanest business either. But I don’t do that anymore. I’m not that person. I’m stable. I’m sophisticated. And when I did that concussion stuff it was for a reason. It was for the future. This? This is just nihilism.
And I kind of like it. My abilities, now they’re boring in a way. Just touch someone and see their future, it sounds totally exciting. It sounds incredible. But it isn’t. Think about the people you know. The guy who checks your bags at the grocery store or the chick who drives your bus. The mall security guard. The ticket guy at the movie theater. None of these people have surprising futures. Bumping into them, the future you see is like spending a weekend watching the Home Shopping Network. Predictable. Dull. I’m longing, really, for a concussion. To see myself back in action and not everyone else.
Thing is: I’ve promised myself I wouldn’t. I promised Vauxhall.
The Buzz is gone so what’s the point, right?
That’s why there’s something about being out with the Pandora Crew that kick-starts my demon. A new Buzz. Something I’m calling the Delirium ’cause that’s honestly the way it feels. You know me; I’m not religious. But the feeling I’m getting when I do something so out of control that it hurts to even think about it is like nothing I’ve felt before.
I think I’m possessed, Heinz.
I need you to help me exorcize myself.
TWO I’m having a great evening.
And by great, I mean I’m with Vauxhall.
We have dinner at a steak place downtown.
Nice place. Nicer than kids our age, kids like us, should be allowed in.
That’s because it’s the first of the month.
Tonight, the steak house dinner scene, is Foolish Romance.
We’re both dressed up. Over-dressed up.
Vaux’s wearing this prom gown that she found at a yard sale. Orange and frilled and gaudy and all bejeweled. The story we made up is that this monstrosity was from the late ’70s and was worn by a faded starlet. Maybe her name was Marjorie. Or Babette. To fit the dress, Vaux has her hair curled. She’s also got makeup caked on.
Me, I’m wearing a sky-blue suit. Have my hair all slicked back. Also alligator-skin boots just to knock the look out of the ballpark.
Last Date Night we went to the art museum on a moped. Raced through traffic, screaming and hollering. We decided this particular Date Night should be called Head Over High Heels.
Me in a tux and her in a slinky red dress.
At the museum, on the third floor, we sipped from a flask I snuck in and sat and talked in front of a sculpture of an enormous duck that had a swastika on its side. Modern art, right? More people took cell pictures of the two of us than of the duck.
Month before it was the race to the airport.
We called it Heart of the Party.
Vaux was at the airport, sunglasses on and suitcases packed, and she was in line, ready to buy a ticket, when I came barreling down the concourse in one of those golf carts. I acted all panicked and the guy who was driving it, the employee, he jumped right out and just let me drive. He shouted after me, “Go get her!” And I did.
I drove that cart right up to the line she was standing in and jumped off it and ran over to her and we hugged and kissed like we thought we might both die and everyone around us just burst out into applause.
We ran off hand in hand, all the travelers hooting and hollering.
You see, this summer Vauxhall and I have decided that we’re going to live Hollywood. We’re going to live in a Romantic Comedy World.
She came up with the idea.
She said, “In all those terrible romantic comedies, there’s always this one scene, usually right before the big fight that happens at the eighty-minute mark, where the couple has some amazing, jet-setting date. Like they fly to Paris and sip wine beneath the Eiffel Tower or they go to San Francisco and hang glide to a picnic on a hill in the Mission district. They always look amazing, so happy and in love. That’s the Hollywood moment and you never, ever see it. Right? I mean, you’re never downtown and see one of those couples race past you, all decked out, on a Harley or in a biplane? Well, we’re going to be that couple this summer.”
So far, so good.
You should see the way people look at us on Date Night. It’s like we’ve flown in from another dimension. Like we’ve stepped off of the stage for a life among the audience. Demigods among the mortals. We are the story that people go home and tell. The story they try and finish.
For one night, we are the stars. We are the people no one really knows.
The people who, for the most part, don’t even exist.
Even better, we are the story they’ll tell tomorrow over breakfast.
The one they’ll post online.
The one they’ll sigh about when they’re lonely.
Tonight, Date Night number four, Foolish Romance, is going just swimmingly. Despite the getup, we’ve decided to keep the drama on the low end. Just us being dressed up and being out. Just us happy being in love. And eating.
We finish our crab wonton appetizers when Vauxhall leans forward and puts her hands on mine, smiles, and says, “You weren’t at Jimi’s birthday party this morning. I didn’t say anything to you but did you forget?”
“Shit!” I smack my forehead. Fake. Totally exaggerated but I do feel bad.
“Yeah, he was bummed.” Vauxhall pulls her hands back from mine.
“I forget a lot of things, Vaux. It’s kind of like my thing. You can’t just expect—”
“He’s your brother.”
“Yeah, exactly. My half-brother. The same half-brother who I didn’t know existed until four months ago. Same exact half-brother who not only stole my childhood but tried to make me kill him so I wouldn’t exist anymore.”
Vauxhall says nothing. She’s so disappointed.
“Look … I’ll give him a call later, okay? I’m sure he’s not sobbing over it or anything, right?”
Vauxhall shrugs. That means that I don’t get it.
I try to change the subject, move us on. “Have you seen Paige this week?”
Vaux nods. “Yeah, of course.”
“Well I haven’t. I don’t know what it is but ever since she started dating, like really dating, it’s like she doesn’t have time for me anymore. Remember how we used to watch our shows and just—”
“No. I wasn’t there, Ade. Remember?”
Then she gets this serious look. Like a cloud passing over the sun.
“What’s going on?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know. You, you’re different. Ever since you started hanging out with Gordon and Jeremiah. What’s funny is that I’m used to you being forgetful, but this is different. This isn’t you forgetting things, it’s you purposely not remembering.”
“How can you purposely not remember something?”
I groan. “Why isn’t it okay for me to hang out with other people? I mean—”
“Don’t even. Don’t even start that. I’m not keeping you in a cage, Ade.”
And like that Date Night turns into Fight Night.
This had been happening lately. Neither of us wants to admit it, recognize it, but we’re starting to get all crabby. Me, mostly. It’s like we’re becoming an old married couple. Only in high school. Only when we’re not even eighteen yet.
“I know that, Vaux. It’s not like I really believe that.”
“Then why say it?”
“Ugh. Seriously? Listen, I’m sorry and I won’t ever open my mouth again. Can we just get back to having fun here? Whatever happened to having fun? It’s just—”
My foot-in-my-mouth, making-it-worse non-apology is interrupted by a goofy fool banging on the window at the front of the restaurant. This guy has a weird beard but he’s young. Googly-eyed and probably wasted.
Half the restaurant starts freaking out over the madman.
They drop their forks, make all sorts of kitchen clatter, and whisper and point at the mugging idiot at the window. This isn’t supposed to be happening at a fancy steak place like this one. Dudes like the fool at the window aren’t supposed to be here.
The riffraff is never invited.
Vauxhall, she just looks at me and shakes her head. “I thought this was Date Night.”
I throw my hands up, exasperated.
The moron at the window knocks on the glass, licks it, and laughs.
Problem is, I know the guy.
“You don’t think I invited him here, do you?” I ask.
“You gotta be kidding me.”
The retard outside yells my name. He yells it over and over. So loud.
Vauxhall’s eyes bug out. “Just one night, Ade. Why is that so hard?”
I huff and stand up and throw my napkin on the table all dramatically and walk out of the restaurant. What’s funny is that I’m kind of excited to be out of there. The guy at the window, the cretin, is Jeremiah. One half of the Pandora Crew.
Once I get outside he jumps up on me like a dog in heat.
“Holy shit, Ade! Wait til you see what we have planned for tonight!”
I push him off, look back at Vauxhall through the window.
Slowly I say, “Dude. You’re interrupting my Date Night with Vaux. This isn’t cool. You’re getting me in some major trouble here.”
Jeremiah waves to Vauxhall. Says, “Look across the street.”
Vaux waves back. Disgusted.
Jeremiah says, “Corner of Third and York. Check it, bro.”
I check it. There’s a gnarly van with smoked windows idling at the corner. This van, it has a pastoral scene airbrushed on the side. Waterfalls and lily pads. A unicorn with a rainbow sprouting from its back. The rainbow was in shades of gray. The unicorn, the thing, has fangs.
Jeremiah says, “The Shriek.”
“Nice name,” I say. Looking close at the van I notice the dude behind the wheel is none other than Gordon, the better half of the Pandora Crew. Only he’s rocking a fake mustache and massive mirrored sunglasses.
Jeremiah says, “Kiss Vaux good-bye for the night, player. Wait til you see what’s inside that bad boy.”
Still looking at the van, I say, “No can do. She’d kill me.”
Jeremiah goes, “Please. Don’t be such a pushover. You’re not even eighteen.”
I look back at Vauxhall. She’s paying the check, ignoring me.
Jeremiah says, “Give her a kiss and come out and play.”
I dutifully go inside and walk up to Vaux and kiss her on the forehead. She wipes my kiss away and gives me the finger. She says, “I’m beginning to understand why Paige hates you half the time.”
“Please, baby. I didn’t think this—”
“You never think anymore, Ade. Just forget it and go. Go on.”
And I give her a half smile before I bail.
THREE This whole Pandora Crew thing all started about three weeks ago.
I met them the way I seem to meet a lot of people: by vision.
I was at the Blue Bird after this one show and bumped into Gordon. Literally bumped into him on the sidewalk outside.
This has happened a whole lot.
With these newly enhanced abilities, I find I’m bumping into people all the time and flashing out into their future. Ninety-two percent of the time it’s boring as all hell. Ninety-two percent of the time it’s just watching someone get old and slow down.
But not Gordon.
Nah, with him I saw … Well, I can’t even describe exactly what it was.
I’ve never dropped acid. Never done shrooms.
But Gordon’s future was what I imagine I’d see if I ever did. It was all swirling colors and branching shapes that seemed to push and pull their way out from the background static. Really, can’t explain it.
So I stopped him.
No point in beating around the bush, I just came out and said it. “You’ve got a crazy future. Not like anything I’ve ever seen.”
He didn’t look at me like I was drunk.
He didn’t freak out.
That was the first sign.
“It’s not a future,” he said. “It’s the other side of reality. Like the flip side of this life. You know how you can kind of see through the pages of an old comic book, stuff printed on newssheet? Well, that’s what it is. It’s the other life bleeding through.”
I didn’t know how to take that. Looked at Vaux and she shrugged.
I could tell even then that she didn’t like Gordon.
She saw the danger in him.
We exchanged numbers and the next night, we hung out.
That’s when the switch was flipped.
I was at Gordon’s house and we drank and watched movies and didn’t talk about anything. Really. I didn’t ask him about his background and he didn’t ask mine. We didn’t talk school. We didn’t talk girlfriends. We didn’t talk.
There was just this knowing between us.
This simple understanding.
Kind of like the way little kids, kids who can’t talk, play together.
And then, somehow, we wound up in the backyard.
We smoked a few cigarettes. I coughed through all of them. And then Gordon motioned to the garage. He said, “You’re not going to believe the idea I just had.”
First thing I promised Vauxhall: I won’t jump off anything.
There really hasn’t been a reason for me to jump off anything because there hasn’t been a reason for me to knock myself out. No Buzz. No need.
This, however, was different.
This was about living.
Gordon said, “If ever there was a time to test the old hypothesis that teenagers think they’re invincible, it’s right now.”
We climbed up onto his roof and he pointed to a big fir tree across the yard, like a decent thirty feet away.
Gordon said, “We’re going to jump it. Land in the branches.”
“That tree is on the other side of the yard, dude.”
“That’s what makes it challenging. Yes.”
And he backed up, all the way across the roof to the far side, counted to fifteen, and then he booked, like he was running track, going for the freaking gold, and hit the gutter and, wham, he flew. Flew clear across the gap between the roof and the tree like in some slowed-down scene from an action movie.
He flew right into the fir tree.
It wasn’t pretty but he made it.
After he’d climbed down, his face all scratched up from fir needles, he stood on the lawn below me and said, “Show me what you got.”
“Nah, I think I’ll pass.”
“Oh no you didn’t. You didn’t just call it stupid. Stupid is you not doing this because you’re afraid or you’re worried about … I don’t know. What’s your problem, Ade?”
“Worst word in the English language. Recovering. Ade, you jump onto that tree and then we’ll talk. There’s something I need you to understand.”
I shook my head. “You’re an idiot.”
“Am I? Jump and find out.”
So I backed up, dug my heels in, and … paused.
Here’s the crazy part: It’d been five months since I jumped off anything higher than a sidewalk. And, as expected, I got this nutty kind of thrill just thinking about jumping. I was only seconds away from sending myself into the air and my heart was pounding in my chest like I was going to kiss Vauxhall for the first time in months. The Delirium. This feeling, the Buzz reaching back out from whatever dark recess I’d stuffed it down into. It was calling me. Pulling me back. What made it different, though, was that it felt different. This rush, honestly, it made me feel guilty.
Worse, I liked it.
And I ran, jumped, cleared the edge of the roof and crashed into the fir tree. The impact made the tree sway hard to the right. It cracked and threatened to break. I hung on, my skin being pinched by a thousand needles, and then climbed down.
Gordon gave me a pat on the back and then he pulled out a penlight and put it in my face, stared hard and long at my eyes. Then he laughed.
“You’ve got the bug.”
“How does it make you feel? When your pupils get all blasted out like that? When your heart is rushing and your skin is crawling with pleasure? It’s a high, isn’t it?”
“I don’t have a—”
“No. I can tell. Have a look, brother.”
And Gordon turned the light on himself. His eyes like blown-open craters in his head. The dude had the Buzz, hard. I’d never seen my pupils as big as his were. Thing is, he wasn’t shaking from it. He wasn’t sleepy. He didn’t seem doped up.
Not like me.
Not like how crazy and crackheaded I felt.
“You and me are cut from the same cloth,” Gordon said. “We’re freaks of the same brood, dude. You’ve got the bug. Tell me what happens with you, how it works.”
And so I told him. I told him how it used to work. I told him how I stopped. I said, “Nowadays, the Buzz is gone. I can touch someone and see. It’s simple.”
“But you miss the glory days, right?”
I didn’t want to tell him about this new sensation.
I didn’t want to tell him that the Buzz was back and a hundred times heavier.
Standing there, his penlight lighting up his jack-o’-lantern face, Gordon nodded knowingly. Sagely. It was obvious that he’d been waiting for this moment, his big reveal, for a very long time.
I pushed him on it. “How long have you known about me?”
“How’s it work for you?”
Gordon smiled. “Exactly the same.”
Back on the roof, with a bottle of Gordon’s mother’s wine, he lit up a cigarette and leaned back and laid it all out in a word. “Chaos. You see, for me it’s the amount of chaos present in the system at any given time. You up the chaos and the Thrill grows.”
“How? I don’t get—”
“I’m not like a physicist or anything but I’ve read some books. Talked to a few people. But the deal is simple: If everything’s chill, then I’m getting nothing. But the more I shake things up, the more revolutionary, more rebellious, I get, then the Thrill just goes through the roof. Especially if I’m the one creating the chaos. And lately, I’ve realized something massive. My whole show, it’s leading to one super big realization. The Ultimate Thrill.”
“And what’s that? What do you see?”
“You’ll find out later. But nah, I don’t see.”
Gordon snickered. “I’m not like you, Ade. Not like the others, those Diviner idiots. I’m just in this for the kicks, there is nothing else. Thrill or be Thrilled, amigo.”
“The Thrill? That’s what you call the high?”
“I called it the Buzz.”
I don’t mention the new sensation. The Delirium. The Buzz turned up to eleven.
“Why’d you quit? What happened?”
“I changed. My abilities, they got stronger. More powerful.”
Gordon chewed on that. “What’cha doing Tuesday?”
Second thing I promised Vaux was that I wouldn’t crash anything again.
Not a car, not a bike, not a skateboard, not even a toy car.
And that was cool. I didn’t miss it. Didn’t miss that destructive impulse, that was, until the next Tuesday at two in the morning when I met up again with Gordon at a construction site in Westminster behind the old mall.
I found Gordon leaning back on his car like some action-movie star. He was seriously wearing leather pants and a vest. Really. A vest. He was smoking again and he slicked his hair back when he saw me.
“What’s on tap tonight?” I asked, getting out of my car. “More jumping?”
I couldn’t tell why I was psyched to be there but I was. The adrenaline was starting to flow. I was practically salivating at the thought of doing something crazy. Something wrong.
Gordon slapped a hand down on my shoulder. Pointed at a bulldozer.
“What? In that?!”
“Dude, that’s stupid. What’re we going to do? Dig a ditch? Roll some crops?”
Gordon was disappointed. “You have a lot to learn, Ade. Thankfully I’m here to teach you a few things. Come on.”
I didn’t know you could hot-wire a bulldozer but Gordon could and did.
As I watched I could feel the Delirium soaring in my bloodstream.
Started to twitch like a damn junkie.
When the thing was running, chugging along so loud I was sure it would wake up the entire city, Gordon motioned for me to climb aboard. He turned on the lights and jerked the bulldozer into motion.
I had to yell over the rumbling of the engine. Loud. “What are we doing?”
Gordon, all grins, was like, “We’re liberating some toads.”
I just went with it and we took the bulldozer down a small neighborhood street, lights flicking on inside the houses as we went as though the bulldozer were magic. It was a bumpy ride. I’m guessing driving a bulldozer is difficult and Gordon wasn’t very good. He was spirited however. He was beaming, time-of-his-life smile plastered on his face.
Took almost fifteen minutes to get to the end of the street.
This is mostly because the bulldozer was going a top speed of six miles an hour.
The street dead-ended at a fence. Rickety old wooden fence. And beyond it was darkness. Just straight up matte-black darkness. A few pinholes of light in the sky from stars and a few passing cars on the interstate like a mile to the east.
Gordon pushed the dozer as fast as it would go though I didn’t notice any significant change in the speed. He shouted, “You might want to buckle up, dude!”
Of course there were no seat belts.
I just grabbed on to what I could. Pushed my ass as far back in the seat as it would go and I also half closed my eyelids, bracing for what I saw coming.
Gordon was going to take the fence.
It wasn’t like in an action movie where there’s some ridiculous chase scene and the main character drives a wonky construction truck through a wall and all sorts of shit goes flying into the air, atomized instantaneously. No, going through the fence in the bulldozer was like pushing over a clay wall. No drama. No action. The fence sort of buckled at first and then it just gave. Went down flat. No even a sound over the roar of the engine.
Halfway over the fence and Gordon shuts off the headlights.
“Seriously?!” I yelled in his ear.
Gordon said, “Prepare to dive!”
The Delirium sang like something out of Wagner.
And we dove. Actually, the bulldozer dove. Straight off what felt like a fifty-foot cliff but turned out to be a four-foot drop onto the slope of a hill. The bulldozer kicked up a ton of dust and I had thorny weeds springing up at me along with clods of beady dirt. The shock of the fall shook the dozer’s cab so heavily that I bit through my bottom lip. The metallic taste of blood filled my mouth as the dozer started to plow down the slope. Gordon turned the lights back on just in time for me to see the shovel front end of the bulldozer collide with a small retaining wall around a pond.
The impact sent me flying out of the cab.
Actually it was more like gliding for the few seconds I was airborne.
Behind me, somehow still in the cab, Gordon was cheering. Shouting.
Those few seconds in the air were blissful. The night was warm and there were crickets just going nuts in the bushes and I even recall the hum of dragonfly wings over the water. Also the moon was as full as I’d ever seen it. Just squatting there over the earth like the biggest, brightest smile you’d ever seen.
And then I landed in about two feet of pond water atop two feet of pond muck.
I skidded to a stop in a wicked stand of cattails. The smell, a summer’s worth of leaves rotting underwater, was the first thing I noticed. And then the silence. The bulldozer was finished. Engine kaput. I could see it wedged up against the retaining wall and Gordon was sitting, smoking inside the wreck of it.
He had a gash on his forehead, blood running down to his mouth, and he was just taking in the full extent of the destruction he’d caused. I couldn’t see it, but I was sure his pupils were dilated out the size of hubcaps.
I pulled myself up from the grime and stepped out of the weeds.
So many times the Buzz had me woozy but this, the Delirium, it made me feel like I’d downed a whole Costco-size bag of Peeps. Or I’d mainlined some Sour Patch candies. Crazy. Sickeningly good.
Gordon extricated himself from the wreckage, tossed his smoke, and then walked over to me, holding something fat and flabby in his hands. It was a toad. Big, brown, warty, with googly eyes and a grin. He put it down in the water in front of me and it just sat there, staring up glassy-eyed at the moon.
The water in the pond was going down. Every second another inch of it disappeared. And I noticed more toads. Tons more toads. They were everywhere, hopping all over my feet. Hopping all over the wrecked treads of the bulldozer.
“Liberated,” Gordon said, all bloody faced.
“What was the point of that?” I asked.
“Of which? Freeing the toads from their cement cells or wrecking the dozer?”
Gordon tapped the side of his head, universal sign for thinking incredibly deep thoughts, and said, “There is no point. It was purely action and reaction. It was a thrill.”
“So, that’s it? We’re going to just wreck things? Break stuff?”
The thought of it had me quivering with anticipation.
Such a junkie.
“For starters,” Gordon said.
Gordon winked. “Remember I told you I was going to teach you a few things?”
“Well, I’m almost done. Soon we’ll bring in the big guns.”
“My partner in crime, of course. He doesn’t just meet with anybody.”
We met him at a rock concert, some jam band, in Boulder.
My ears were still ringing when Gordon brought him over to me. Guy was sweaty and stank of pot. His eyes were the reddest I’d ever seen. We went to a Village Inn and I had coffee while Jeremiah ate chicken-fried steak and eggs over easy and pancakes.
I assumed Jeremiah was the ringleader.
But when he ate like a wild man it was clear he wasn’t. Gordon was just setting me up again. Creating expectations that couldn’t be met. Twisting reality. His game. The same way a dictator says the people really rule.
Jeremiah belched and leaned back.
“Gordon tells me you’re like us,” he said.
“Yeah, I guess.”
“You are. I can see it in you.”
“What can you see?”
“You crave the insanity of living for the moment. Of throwing everything out.”
And that was it. He nodded to Gordon. They got up, threw down three dollars, and walked out of the restaurant. Left me with the bill.
I was super pissed but let it go.
See, already I was hooked.
The Delirium in my soul.
FOUR Tonight, on the way from the steak house, Gordon takes the highway south to Centennial and he swerves between cars, crosses lanes, like he’s on some European racetrack.
I’m in the back of the van and, well, it’s freaking incredible.
Gordon and Jeremiah have a couch in here. A black leather couch. Also there’s a disco ball and the whole thing is lit up by like fifteen black-light strips and on the blacked-out windows are old-school rock ’n’ roll psychedelic posters. Oh and there’s a bubble machine churning out a steady stream of bubbles that catch the purple light. Makes the whole tableau look like something in the deep ocean.
Jeremiah and I are sharing a joint.
He’s telling me about our plans for the evening. They sound complicated.
“… is when we hit the ramp at Lincoln and the shit will go flying.”
“You mean literally flying, right?” I ask.
Jeremiah takes this long drag, the burning red tip of the joint contrasting crazily with the purple light playing over his furry face. He says, being surprisingly serious, “I always mean it literally, bro. All these things we’re doing, it’s not like they’re just games for the sake of killing time. We’re a crew, dog. Pandora Crew. We’re opening up the lid of something that can’t never be closed.”
He hands me back the joint. Nods.
He says, “When I say flying, I mean flying.”
Gordon whips the van back and forth and back and forth. Up front he’s banging his head to something by Black Sabbath and then AC/DC. He hits the padded ceiling of the van with his fist. He barks like a drill sergeant.
In between drags of the joint I see Vauxhall’s disappointed face.
I imagine her driving home cursing my name. I imagine her lying in bed listening to really depressing music and writing and then crossing out my name in a journal like a thousand times.
I can’t get her out of my head.
Jeremiah cashes the joint and right when he drops the blackened stub into a half-finished can of Sprite, the van stops.
Gordon jumps out with a big pack on his back and swings open the doors.
He grins and shouts like he’s gone deaf, “Tiger’s in the bush, boys!”
Jeremiah throws me a black ski mask. I look at it in my hands, confused. He laughs and Gordon laughs and then Jeremiah says, “Dude, that whole plan I just told you about was all code. Don’t you ever read the texts we send you?”
“Well.” Jeremiah looks to Gordon. “This’ll be twice as thrilling then.”
I scoot myself out of the van and pull the hood down over my face and have a look at where we were at. It’s the Park Meadows Mall. Just this vast parking lot surrounding an outcropping of bland retail. And it’s late. The mall closed like two hours ago and the empty parking lot is pretty much a sea of lonely sodium lights. Whole empty solar systems of suburban space.
Jeremiah pulls binoculars out of nowhere and holds them up to his eyes. He scans the lot and then points. I follow the line of his finger to see a white speck moving across the lot about half a mile away.
Jeremiah says, “Security.”
Then he asks, “Gordon, what’s a 10-66?”
“Suspicious person,” Gordon says, reciting from memory.
Jeremiah asks, “10-70?”
Gordon says, “Suspicious vehicle.”
Gordon says, “Bomb threat.”
I ask, “So … We’re spying on the security guards on an empty lot because…”
Jeremiah pulls a heavy-duty walkie-talkie out of nowhere and flicks it on. Static and then voices. The security guards, maybe even the one in the speck of a golf cart across the lot, talk to each other. They aren’t talking in codes. Mostly they’re talking about how much their jobs suck.
Jeremiah looks to me. Smiles. “Get ready for business.”
Gordon says, “B and E, brother. B and E.”
And that’s when he pulls out the gun.
FIVE I haven’t seen many guns.
This one is big. Ugly. Snub-nosed.
I don’t even know what to say.
Gordon smiles, says, “You probably shouldn’t have let us in your house, bro.”
He’s talking about last week. When I let them meet my mom.
See my place.
Honestly, they just showed up last Thursday after swim practice.
Both super high.
I had just gotten home and was tossing my towel into the laundry basket at the bottom of the stairs when the doorbell rang. Mom was in the kitchen, making dinner, and she yelled out that she’d get it.
Then she was like, “Uh, I think it’s for you.”
Seeing them on my porch was like seeing ghosts.
I didn’t want to invite them in. Didn’t want to go where I knew they were likely to take it. And at the same time, something in me wanted to destroy stuff again. Something in me was excited about the thought of chaos. Craziness.
And let them in.
Despite herself, my mom made them finger sandwiches and gave them a purple-colored fruit drink that came from a big plastic gallon thing in the fridge that had a piece of blue painter tape on the front of it that said FRUIT DRINK.
These dudes both stank of pot. Gordon had leaves in his hair.
Like hip hoboes.
Gordon was the first to ask for a tour.
After he burped.
My mom obliged, showing Gordon and Jeremiah around my house and pointing out everything Jesus about it—the Jesus wall clock she got in Taos, the velvet Jesus on the pantry door, the ceramic Jesus holding sheep by her bed—but by the time she got to her bedroom, they were only interested in one thing.
“Holy shit,” Gordon said, seeing the wall of index cards. “I mean, sorry, holy cow. Is this what I think it is?”
My mom gave him a confused, sad look. “Ade,” she said, looking at Gordon but talking to me, “would you like to get your friend here a bar of soap to wash his mouth out?”
Jeremiah cracked up at that.
The scene was tense. Not good.
I did this uncomfortable laugh. “Gordon just comes from a bad family is all, Mom. He’s just not used to polite company and he’ll be sure to watch his language.”
Gordon chimed in, half snickering, “I’ll bite my tongue.”
“Good,” Mom said. “Proverbs 21:23.”
Then she looked to me, as if I should explain the walls.
“Uh,” I started, “this is basically where my mom recorded all of, uh, my—”
Mom cut in, elbowed me. “Don’t be shy.”
And then, stepping in with her eyes bright and her mouth all smiles, she told Gordon and Jeremiah all about the visions I had. She told them that the wall was my future and that it recorded everything I would do for the next seventy-plus years. She said, tussling my hair, “Ade can speak to Baby Jesus.”
Jeremiah took a seat on the edge of my mom’s bed, leaned in, the expression on his face mocking and yet fascinated. The way he looked was the way you look at someone who’s really, extraordinarily stupid. “Is that so, Ade? Can you talk to the Good Lord?”
I shot him a look. My look told him to fuck off.
He backed down. Retorted, “Awesome.”
Gordon was standing next to Mom, looking over the index cards and squinting down hard to make out all the fine print. I could tell right away he was totally stunned.
He pointed to a card dated May 14, 2054 and asked, “What’s the number for?”
That card, No. 39 in the 2054 series, was labeled VACATION TIME and the note on the card said, “Went to the mountains. Skied. Fairly relaxing. Boring even. Until collision with tree just after lunch. Rushed to ER, admitted to hospital but climbed out window before MRIs.”
Mom explained, “The number refers to the vision. That’s vision thirty-nine for that year.”
“He’s had thirty-nine visions of that single year?”
“No.” Mom pointed to the card as if it would clarify for Gordon. “See, in 2054 he has thirty-nine visions. Thirty-nine concussions.”
Then she looked at me and smiled. Her boy.
Gordon walked around, eyeing all of the cards, taking it all in. Then he turned to me and said, “Do you know what this means?”
“No,” I said. “What?”
Jeremiah joined in. “Huh?”
He didn’t say anything more until after Mom had gone to bed and Gordon and Jeremiah and I were on the back porch staring up at the moon and watching Gordon blow smoke rings around it. His rings were pretty good; the moon looked like it was wearing a smoke coat for the few seconds before the smoke became clouds and the clouds vanished.
We were waiting for Gordon to tell us what his idea was.
What leapfrog meant.
He dragged it out.
“We’re going to see just how far Ade can go,” Gordon finally said. “You think your mom’s asleep yet?”
I shrugged. “Probably. Why?”
“Hang on a sec.”
He got up, pulled his lighter from his pocket, flicked it a few times, and then said, “I’ll be back in just a minute.”
He wasn’t back in just one minute.
Jeremiah and I waited, the two of us just staring up at the now naked moon. Both of us sitting there wondering just what the hell was happening and probably Jeremiah sitting there wondering why I wasn’t in the house checking up.
“He’s not stealing anything, is he?” I asked, my voice kind of cracking.
“He better not be stealing anything.”
“Probably he’s lighting something on fire,” Jeremiah said.
“Yeah. He’s a total firebug.”
I jumped up when Gordon came walking back out. Whistling. He sat between Jeremiah and me and then spread out five index cards on the grass in front of him and then lit his lighter to show us.
In the grass: five of my visions. All from different future years. All of them occurring on the very same future day.
Gordon pointed to the first one. “Monday, March twenty-sixth and you’re twenty-seven. You ride a motorcycle across a salt flat into the side of a mountain.”
Gordon pointed to the second one: “Saturday, March twenty-sixth and you’re thirty-three. This one you jump off a bridge into, uh, it says…” He held the lighter closer. “Oh, right, dangerously shallow water.”
He pointed to the third one. “Thursday, March twenty-sixth. You’re fifty-six. You’re downtown and you decide to crash your Land Rover into a street lamp.”
The fourth one, the flame guttering, making crazy shadows on the card. “Wednesday, March twenty-sixth. Seventy-one. You roll your wheelchair down the stairs.”
And last. “Monday, March twenty-sixth. You are eighty-six years old and you’re old, got bad Alzheimer’s, and you actually hit yourself over the head with another nursing home resident’s bowling trophy. Nice move.”
Gordon let the flame go out. We were sucked back into the darkness.
Our eyes adjusting to the light, Gordon asked, “What day is next Thursday?”
Jeremiah didn’t get that Gordon was being rhetorical and said, “The twenty-sixth.”
Gordon lit a clove cigarette and leaned back on the porch and then blew out a big ring of smoke and said, “These things all happen on the same day just separated by like decades. The thing is, if Ade is able to focus enough to kind of match up all the times. You know, an afternoon here, a morning there. If he can push down hard and pull the timelines together, I’m guessing you can piggyback all those concussions, dude.”
“I thought you said leapfrog?” I asked.
Gordon smiled. “Right. You’re going to piggyback these concussions together so that you go from one to the next and then you’re going to leapfrog into what comes next. You’ll jump from the future you see in one vision to the future you see in the next. Get it?”
Jeremiah didn’t get it. “Huh?”
“Simple physics, bro.” Gordon blew some smoke at Jeremiah and said, “It’s like those things you see on the desks of businessmen. You know, the things with the little silver balls that knock back and forth and back and forth. The motion of one gets the others moving, right?”
Jeremiah was still lost. “Just explain it is all.”
“Our next big project is Ade. We’re going to help our buddy here go where no one has gone before and come back to talk about it.”
I got a queasy feeling. Told myself I didn’t want to hear where Gordon was going. I told myself that whatever he was planning, I really didn’t have to participate in it. I said to myself, just kick these guys out, go back in the house, curl up in bed, and dream about Vaux. Only I don’t do it. Only I don’t move an inch.
Gordon blew another fucking ring and said, “Ade’s going to die.”
“Hell no I’m not,” I said, shaking my head violently. “Not a chance.”
Gordon chuckled. “The high, dude, it’ll pretty much be better than anything you have ever experienced.”
“And how would you even know that, Gordon?”
Gordon stubbed his cigarette out on the porch. “Because I know someone who’s done it.”
He let that sink in before he added, “What happens next is the culmination of everything, Ade. You’ll put the last puzzle piece in the big picture. You’re the one who’s going to make the ultimate thrill really mean something. I’m about to show you the wizard behind the curtain, bro.”
He added, “The ball starts rolling this instant.”
Tonight, staring at the gun in his hand, I almost think I know what he meant.
He can tell.
Gordon’s good at noticing the little things.
He said, “You laid out the path, Ade. This is what happens next.”
I told him I’m not down with it. Not anymore.
“Not much of a choice at this point, bro.” Gordon smiled. “That’s pretty much like you asking God or whatever not to push the button and start the Big Bang. You can’t rewind yourself out of this. And the point is simple: Once you start something rolling, it never stops. Not even if you stop it.”
And he cocked the gun.
SIX That click tells me everything.
The hammer of the gun going back, it’s surprisingly loud. And it lets me know that this has officially gotten out of control. This is officially fucked.
I look all confused at Jeremiah.
“I just help him work the magic,” he says.
“Well, this is sucky ass magic.”
Gordon laughs and looks at his cell. “We’ve got twenty-three minutes.”
“I’m not shooting anything,” I say.
“Neither am I,” Gordon adds. “Lighten up, Mr. Grouchy.”
Gordon gives a thumbs-up and away we go. I don’t know why I follow them. Could just turn around and run the other way. Could but I don’t.
Already the adrenaline is rushing.
The Delirium coming around the bend.
Hiking up the mountain toward me.
We run down a little embankment and through the parking lot weaving between the cars as though we’re soldiers. More like children playing soldier. Only Gordon does have a gun so maybe it’s children playing maniacs.
We barrel over bushes by the entrance to Macy’s and hole up against the stone wall there, crouching like bums, Gordon leans on his backpack, his walkie-talkie all fired up with static though none of the mall cops’re talking about three kids in ski masks.
Gordon gives the old three fingers …
Two fingers …
One finger …
And then he whispers, “Go.”
Jeremiah jumps up first and runs over to the door to Macy’s and whips a little handheld gizmo out. He waves it around the front doors, pushes a few buttons on the thing’s keypad.
Still crouched beside me, Gordon whispers, “He got it off eBay.”
I just nod.
“It unlocks the doors, some sort of cat-burglar technology developed in Europe.”
Again, I just nod.
“Pretty sweet stuff, he’s been dying to use it.”
“What are we doing, Gordon?”
“I’m not even going to answer that.”
And then the doors of the store click and Jeremiah pushes them open and gives us a thumbs-up. Gordon jumps up first and again I follow. We dash inside, no alarms going off, and play the running, weaving game among the headless mannequins.
Then we reach the next set of doors.
Jeremiah waves his magic thief box and I stomp my feet impatiently. “Okay, so we didn’t come to the mall to steal popular summer wear. What exactly are we doing?”
Gordon puts a hand on Jeremiah’s shoulder and whispers something to him.
Jeremiah laughs. “Totally, dude.”
And then the next set of doors click and we’re in the mall.
Gordon’s walkie-talkie’s blowing up. The conversations are hard to hear but one of the mall cops totally loves fried chicken and the other mall cop really prefers it baked. With southwestern-style corn.
We make our way down to the Urban Outfitters first.
Jeremiah pulls out his black box deal and starts his work but he isn’t at it long before there’s a tremendous bang and the glass doors of the place just shatter, huge chunks of glass falling like frozen waterfalls, and the alarm starts wailing.
Gordon stands behind us, gun smoking in his hands.
“We now have twelve minutes.”
“For what?!” I shout back in his face. My ears ringing.
His walkie-talkie isn’t squawking about food anymore. They heard the shot.
Gordon says nothing, just walks into the store and walks back out with two pairs of rubber leggings. In my mind I’m thinking: Seriously?
He points with the gun at the escalator.
“Up,” he says.
We go up.
On the second floor we race down to the food court.
Behind us, the alarm’s still screaming and we can hear the crash of boots, the mall cops on the case. My heart’s racing. Just pounding away. And that’s when the surge of adrenaline hits me.
It’s like everything just sped up.
My vision gets shaky. The Delirium in full force.
My hands twitching like a tweaker.
This massive smile breaks out across my face.
Damn, why does this feel so right?
We’re about fifty feet from the entrance to the food court and I’m going to explode in some sort of wild dance, just that much energy running through my body, when we see the first mall cop.
He’s young, maybe twenty, and he’s standing there with his hands out, palms up, and his hat pulled down low over his eyes like a cowboy.
“Stop there!” he shouts.
And we do.
Then Gordon shows the dude the gun and the dude drops to the floor. Hands over his head, he’s shouting into the carpet. “Don’t! Please. Please. Please.”
Gordon smiles, says, “Don’t stress, homes. It’s all good.”
The guy looks up, lips quivering.
Gordon says, “We’re not here to kill anyone. Won’t even get a scratch. Just keep your ass on the floor and make sure you get all the glass out of your hair.”
“The glass?” the guy asks.
And that’s when Gordon opens up with the gun. He shoots out the windows of the atrium above us and the glass comes raining down into the artificial pond below like flat icicles falling from a fake sky.
Kid mall cop screams.
The glass makes the sound of one of those rainsticks and when it’s over there are at least five more alarms blaring in the mall like the chirps of crickets from hell. Down on the first level we can see five more mall cops running. All of them with tasers drawn.
“Why the hell’d you do that?” I ask Gordon.
Gordon, all grins, says, “Because none of this is real.”
My heart has pretty much gotten a dose of nitro by this point.
It’s racing so fast that it’s practically unbuckling from the tendons or whatever that hold it in my rib cage. I can see Jeremiah has the same thing going. Only Gordon is cool-headed. He motions us to follow him into the food court.
We run past the McDonald’s and he shoots the sign on that.
“Not real,” he says.
Also he blasts a hole in the deep fryer at the one Mexican place.
And takes out a chunk of the ceiling in the smoothie joint.
Then he runs us down the hallway to the bathroom. And as we pass one of those AEDs, those automatic defibrillator things you see on hospital shows that restart someone’s heart, Gordon doesn’t even slow, just reaches out and rips it off the wall and throws it under his arm like he’s a running back going for the touchdown.
In the bathroom, he closes the door behind us and takes off his backpack.
Then he throws it down on the floor and pulls out this massive magnet. Not the kind you see in the cartoons that are horseshoe-shaped and have red ends but just this thing the size of a dictionary and dusty black.
“Every bit of success is planning,” he says. “Even chaos needs to be scheduled.”
He brings the giant magnet up near the door and the magnet flies out of his hands onto the metal lining the knob and the doorframe. The sound it makes is best described as cacophonous. Car-accident loud.
“We’re locked in, boys,” Gordon says.
Then he looks down at his cell and smiles. “And we have two minutes to spare.”
I’m almost jumping out of my skin with chemical excitement.
“That was insane!” I shout. “What the hell are we doing next?”
Gordon looks at himself in a mirror, splashes some water on his face.
“So here’s the big idea, boys: There are scientists who study reality. Kind of like physicists but more philosophical. They think that in the future it’ll be possible to totally re-create reality inside a computer. You know, make a world that you can’t distinguish from this one. A digital world that seems totally real. Like on Star Trek.”
Gordon pauses, checks his teeth. Then: “Thing is, they say that if such a creation is possible then the most logical next thought is that we’re living in a re-creation right now. This world isn’t real but just a digital copy. What they say is that right now we’re in the future and this, this is all an illusion.”
Then he turns around to both me and Jeremiah, the two of us giddy like preschoolers hopped up on sugar dust, and says, “J-dogg, you’re going to test the hypothesis first. And Ade, you’re going to take it to the next level with your skills.”
Jeremiah immediately takes his shirt off and sits down on the tile floor.
Gordon pulls his own pants off and pulls on the rubber leggings. They’re tight and not a good sight. He sits down on the floor across from Jeremiah with his rubber legs crossed. Then looks over at me and says, “Get me the AED.”
I hand him the case.
He opens it, starts attaching electrodes to Jeremiah’s hairy chest.
“The rubber leggings keep me from getting as zapped,” he says.
“That will kill him, you know,” I say, almost too matter of factly.
“Of course it will. That’s the point,” Gordon says. “But it will also bring him back to life. Amazing how technology works these days, right? Besides, everything we’ve done, everything the Pandora Crew stands for is leading up to this very moment. We’re testing the fabric of reality here, man. We’re all dying tonight.”
My jaw drops open, my heart starts to slow.
Gordon, sensing it, picks up the gun and points it at me.
My heart races again.
The Delirium the only thing keeping me sane right now.
He says, “You need to keep those endorphins flowing. That adrenaline pumping. Otherwise this isn’t going to work.”
Jeremiah chimes in, “Dude. The rush is key.”
And that’s when Gordon presses the button on the front of the AED and it starts to charge up and Jeremiah begins panting like some foul monkey at the zoo and then the AED beeps that it’s ready and says something, in an electro voice, about getting clear of the machine and I back way the hell up and then Gordon pushes the button.
And Jeremiah dies.
Right in front of me.
SEVEN So here we are.
This very microsecond between me being alive and me being dead.
Gordon, gun still in his hand, turns to me and says, “Now it’s your turn, brother.”
I tell him to go to hell.
But really, the Delirium wants me to say right on. Let’s do this.
He laughs. Chambers a round in the gun. He says, “You have jumped off roofs, you’ve crashed cars, you’ve been beaten up like a thousand times. This is no different. Only this time, you’re out for a little bit longer.”
The AED beeps, telling us it’s ready.
Gordon says, “You have thirty seconds to get your ass on the floor here or you’re going to miss out on the most amazing experience you’ll ever have.”
And, amazingly, I sit.
The Delirium holding me in place.
It has me panting like a dog.
Gordon looks at his cell counting down and the AED wired up and ready to go. His finger hovers over the button.
And then he nods his head, says, “Enjoy the ride.”
And he presses the button.
What I feel is brief, maybe only a tenth of a second, but it seems to last an entire afternoon. I think the best way to describe it is being roasted alive over a gas fireplace. The metallic taste in my mouth is like I’ve eaten an entire cutlery set and my fingernails are blackening, charring. And right when I think I can’t take it any longer, wham! I find myself spinning down the outer-space tunnel into the future.
The pain is gone.
The searing has stopped.
I open my eyes and I’m maybe in my late twenties.
And I’m on a motorcycle cruising across a desert. Maybe this is still Colorado or maybe it’s Utah or Nevada but it’s desolate. It’s barren. Just the wide blue sky and the hard pale ground and me on the bike.
I’m wearing leathers and I’ve got a helmet on. Gloves even.
I kick it up a gear and we’re really zooming.
Odometer says I’m doing something like sixty.
And that’s when I notice the rock. It’s like this pyramidal thing sticking out of the crusted top of the sand a few hundred yards away. I’m headed straight for it, speeding up to seventy miles an hour.
The rock is the only thing out here. I’m guessing it was put there by someone, maybe me. And it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that I’m going to hit it. It will, however, probably take a brain surgeon to put my brain back in my head after I do. Colliding with this thing, at this speed, it’s going to be nasty.
I speed up even more, now doing seventy-five.
From here I can see the surface of the rock. It’s all pockmarked and weathered and it looks like it’s been collided with many times over. Thing is jacked.
Also there is an X painted in red on the top half of it.
I know why that is there.
Closer and closer, the bike raging under me, busting up the silence of this place, I look down at my wrist at a high-tech watch that I’m wearing. Despite the pretty colors and the fact that the thing is as thin as a piece of paper, it’s doing your standard countdown. It’s at twenty.
And that rock is getting bigger and bigger the closer I’m getting to it.
The bike is at eighty miles an hour.
The plume of dust behind me is a freaking thunderstorm it’s so huge.
What’s weird is the countdown’s started too early. Even at this speed, even from this close distance, I can tell the watch’ll hit zero before the front wheel even comes within an inch of the rock.
So that means something else is happening.
The watch is at ten when I realize what it is.
Eighty-seven miles an hour.
The rock only fifty feet away.
And, both my hands snapping down hard like the jaws of sharks, I hit the brakes. This doesn’t slow down the motorcycle so much as it just fucks it up completely. I go flying off, over the handlebar. The bike flips. It tumbles. I see parts of it, a wheel here, muffler there, spinning out into the sky. It’s breaking apart.
I shoot forward, straight at the rock.
Before I close my eyes, I see the X getting bigger and bigger.
The rock is as large as the side of a bus and then it’s a mountain, and right before I crash into it, head on, I hear the watch on my wrist beeping.
Smash and I’m out, spinning again into space.
Down the tunnel through time like speeding through a city on a rocket.
And then black.
When the black clears up, I’m downtown.
And this time: I’m fifty-something years old. Being in an older body, I can immediately feel the difference. The weight on my bones distributes differently and I can feel myself breathing. Every breath. In and out. This is new.
I’m downtown and it’s Denver and I’m on the 16th Street Mall.
I’m wearing a suit. Nothing flashy. It’s navy and has gold buttons and I’ve even got an ascot on. All I can think is it’s Date Night with Vauxhall but this isn’t a costume. This is seriously me dressed up to do something.
It’s late afternoon; the shadows off the buildings are long.
There is a cold wind blowing through the city and it’s got to be a Sunday in the fall because the tourists aren’t stomping around and there are no businesspeople talking loudly and sipping from coffee cups.
I’m standing on a corner, watching cars pass, then lean out and look to my right and seem really psyched to see a bus coming. It’s a mall bus. Doesn’t go very fast and stops at every intersection but it’s coming.
This massive smile breaks across my face.
I look down at my wrist and there’s another watch there.
This one is even more high-tech than the last one. It’s so thin it’s practically part of my skin, maybe even embedded in it, and the display is 3-D. Just hovering there over my wrist and spinning around. It says 5 SECONDS.
The bus is only a block away.
I crack my neck.
Roll up my sleeves.
The rush of adrenaline going through my body tells me that it’s been a while since I’ve done anything really exciting. It’s been a while since I’ve let my body loose like this.
And the watch sings this little electro song.
That’s the signal.
The bus is only ten feet from me when I close my eyes and step off the corner right in front of it. The driver slams on the horn. I can only imagine the expression on her face. Here it is Sunday and she’s thinking she’s killing an older dude just before her shift is over. What a thing.
The bus hits me. Slams me.
This old body of mine, it gets tossed like a rag doll. I purposely let my limbs go limp. Purposely just let myself fall wherever. I don’t even open my eyes when my head bounces off the pavement.
This is because I’m already concussed.
I’m already in the outer-space tunnel.
The lights flash.
The tunnel closes in.
And when I open my eyes this time I’m in a wheelchair.
It’s not like the last time I saw myself in a wheelchair. I’m not a drooling mental case this time. I’m not looking at myself in the mirror. I’m not seeing Jimi and Vauxhall making out outside my window.
No, this time, I’m just a super-old dude.
Just looking down at my wrinkled hands, the veins all distended and purple and running under the skin like the roots of some sickly tree, I’m guessing I’m like eighty-nine years old. Maybe even older.
I’m sitting in this chair at the top of a staircase.
I’m wearing a patchwork quilt over my legs. Each square, each patch, is a photograph printed on the fabric of it. The photo that’s closest are of people in their fifties. I’m guessing my kids because I’m in the pictures too. Two women. Vauxhall is there. We seem such the big happy family. And in the other photos, farther out down where my knees start, are pictures of young people. Twenty-somethings first. Probably the grandkids. Three women and three men. And then, almost disappearing at my feet, the very edge of my old-man vision, I can see photos of great-grandchildren. Like ten of them. I can’t even make out the sexes but just see bursts of blond hair and smiles and rosy cheeks. Almost like something you’d see in a really cheeseball Christmas postcard.
This is me at the end of the line.
I wonder where Vauxhall is?
And then, with my hands shaking, I wheel myself right to the edge of the top step.
This time I don’t have to look down at my wrist to see the countdown. I just think about the time, just think about numbers, and they appear right there in my line of vision. A little off center, to the left, and totally see-through. Like the numbers are made out of glass. Another win for technology.
What I see now is THREE SECONDS.
And then, probably the very last time I’ll give a huge grin, I push myself down the stairs. It’s about as ugly a scene as you can imagine. I get all caught up in the wheels. The chair slams me every other step. On step three I dislocate my shoulder. Step five I fracture one of my hips. Finally, step seven, right when the pain is reaching its I-want-to-scream-my-freaking-head-off limit, I hit my skull, hear a crack like a bite into a stuffed taco, and I’m out.
Again with the space tunnel.
Again with the endless stream of lights.
Only this time, when I open my eyes, I’m not anywhere.
Like honestly not in any place. I’m in a void. Just blackness.
And in this no-place I feel incredibly comfortable. Fact is: The comfort I’m feeling here is exactly the same as a memory of comfort from my childhood. It was when I was six, lying in bed by the hot-air vent, and only half awake. Winter, and I had my long underwear on. I was buried under blankets but the window was open. Outside it was snowing and the moon was sitting low on the horizon, so motherly. That feeling, me under those covers and snug with the cold wind whistling against my face, is exactly how I feel here. Calm. Peaceful. Not too hot. Not too cold.
Pretty obvious it’s death.
Pretty obvious this is what happens next. The eventual.
I’m just cuddled up in this blackness when I feel the water. There isn’t just darkness here but warm water all around me. I’m lying on my back in black water and it’s moving slowly. Waves breaking the surface in stop-motion and me just drifting on the surface.
The lights appear next.
They’re tiny. Like stars twinkling above me. But not nearly as distant. These stars are maybe only a few inches away from my face. If I wanted to, I could probably grab them. But I don’t want to. Somehow, I know that I shouldn’t. The lights are colored. There is a red one, very faint, to my right. A blue one behind it. Green. Yellow. Purple. All these little Xmas lights above this dark molasses sea.
In this place, nothing else matters.
It’s pure, animal. I’m only alive. Not thinking. Not worrying.
Damn, does it feel good.
I don’t want to think about Gordon. About whether this is reality or a re-creation of something. Of course it’s real. It has to be. But still I’m doubting.
What if it isn’t real?
What if nothing is?
The lights hovering closer to my face seem to grow slowly, larger and larger. They lose their focus the same way like when you zoom a camera in on distant lights. Just become these pixelated blobs. The lights sit right on top of my eyes, indistinct and heavy with color. And I want to let the boundaries of myself go.
Drift particle by particle into the shallow sea.
Become one with it.
Become one with the lights that—
And just like that, like being pushed out of a womb at a million pulsing miles an hour, I am back in the outer-space tunnel bombarded with bright white light. Going backward for the very first time, it feels like falling up into the sky. Like gravity losing its hold.
Then searing pain.
Being burned with an entire pack of cigarettes.
It gets so intense I open my eyes and scream.
Wouldn’t you know it, I’m back in the bathroom, sitting straight up like a zombie sprung back to life, and Jeremiah is clapping like one of those toy monkeys in the corner and Gordon is just grinning ear to ear.
On my chest, the electrodes from the AED.
My singed chest hair sends off little curlicues of smoke.
The cops are battering down the door.
The Delirium is rampaging through me like a Viking berserker.
Sirens are screaming. People are shouting. Chaos basically.
The Delirium is singing a rock opera in my head.
Thank God Vauxhall isn’t here to see the fact that I’m laughing like a child. That is until I notice that Gordon and Jeremiah are gone.
The Delirium has me shaking in fits.
It’s slapping me silly like a bad parent.
It’s cracking me over the head with a clown’s rubber hammer.
And I’m alone with probably a million furious cops charging into the room in about ten seconds.
EIGHT Here’s the freakiest part.
When the cops come busting in with all of their guns out and mouths open in rage, I don’t back down. I actually stand up, shirtless and probably still steaming, and say words that make no sense coming out of my mouth.
I say, “What’s your problem, pigs?”
This is the Delirium speaking.
It’s using me like a ventriloquist’s dummy.
The cops shout for me to get down.
Hands behind my head.
On my knees.
I don’t budge. The Delirium has taken my voice, it’s kicked my personality into a corner and come out all blustery and chest puffed up. It’s acting like a goddamned maniac.
“Do you mind?!” I shout to the officers. “I’m doing something here.”
They don’t see the humor in it.
Calmly, one of the cops repeats himself.
Hands behind my head.
On my knees.
For a split second I’m able to get past the Delirium, squeeze past it, and in a totally weak and ineffectual child voice I say, “It’s not me. Help me.”
Yup. Instant psych ward stuff.
I’ve been there once when they thought the concussions had done me in. When they assumed my healing abilities, however unguided they are, weren’t going to pull me through. It wasn’t fun.
The cops move closer.
Guns not shaking in their hands.
Mouths not closing.
Eyes getting narrower and narrower.
The one who spoke to me before tells me that this is the very last time. He repeats his steely-toned mantra about me getting my hands behind my head and getting down on the floor. And he adds a useful nugget about something bad happening if I don’t.
The usual me trapped behind the Delirium.
I can’t figure out what’s going on.
Don’t know how to explain it.
And right before the cops taser me while I fight them off with all my strength, shouting horrible things that only the Delirium would say, I think: It’s not just that I’m being possessed. I’m being taken over.
That or I’ve lost my mind.
NINE She is, of course, the first to visit me in jail.
The way Vauxhall walks in, I’ve seen this sort of thing in movies. Her head all hung and it’s like she’s embarrassed to see me. Like she’s embarrassed to be seen visiting me. This failed boyfriend of hers. This newly minted reprobate.
This isn’t a movie and I’m not in maximum security so there’s no big to-do with guards taking Vaux through like ten levels of security, all the doors whooshing open and the gates locking behind her. Also we don’t talk on cheap telephones through a bulletproof plastic window.
No. Vaux and I meet in a cheerily decorated lounge. There are copies of Newsweek and Tiger Beat and ESPN that are eighteen months old. The furniture is all donated. All of it covered with various shades of cat hair.
I sit in a plastic chair and Vaux sits across from me on a pleather couch.
The guard, Stan, is outside the door. He’s fat but he’s got a rad mustache.
“Paige told me you’re being charged as a terrorist,” Vaux says.
“That’s what Paige says.”
“Jesus. That’s not even—”
Vaux has a notebook on her lap. She reminds me of my mom when she opens it up and starts taking notes. Looks up at me every few seconds. Takes a few more notes.
“Can’t you at least give me a kiss?” I ask from my plastic chair.
I even lean in.
Vaux rolls her eyes, gets up off the couch, walks over to me, and matter-of-factly kisses me on the forehead, totally avoiding my already pursed lips.
Then she goes and sits back down.
And then she goes and writes again in her notebook.
“Seriously?” I ask, crossing my arms.
“What?” Vaux looks up, feigning like she didn’t hear me.
“Do you think I’m a terrorist or something?”
I make a noise that I’ve heard girls make when they’re in fights. A noise that’s like something a mammal that normally lives underwater makes. All irritated. All bitchy.
Vaux writes in her notebook.
“Will you chill for a minute with the freaking notebook? Christ. What are you writing in there anyway?”
Vauxhall gets up off the couch and walks over to me and opens the notebook.
I take it from her and she stands, waiting.
It’s drawings of me. This sort of comic book of me. And what’s crazy is how good the thing looks for her having only finished thirty seconds ago.
Panel one, drawn in this sort of funky locker room, Fantagraphics style is me sitting across from her and I’ve got fangs and devil horns and I’m cradling a severed human head in my lap.
Panel two, this one has me carrying all sorts of out-of-control weapons and blowing up buildings left and right. I’m a one-man army and I’ve even got Stallone-style biceps.
Panel three, last one, shows Vauxhall—she looks all cute and anime style—kneeling and crying in front of a gravestone that reads: HERE LIES ADE PATIENCE. DUDE, DID HE MESS HIS LIFE UP AND RUIN EVERYTHING HE HAD WITH THE BEST GIRL EVER.
I close the notebook and look up at Vaux and say, “I love you.”
Then she leans over and gives me a kiss.
A real kiss.
A passionate kiss.
And then she goes back to her seat with her notebook.
“Are Gordon and Jeremiah here?”
Vaux shakes her head.
“What happened, Ade? The doctors said you were burned.”
I take a deep breath, then I tell her how the evening started. I tell her about the Pandora Crew’s crazy scheme and about how it all seemed so nonsensical at first. Then I say, “But it was all planned out. The whole thing was for me to push beyond, well, beyond everything.”
For the first time this evening Vauxhall actually seems interested in what I’m telling her. She can see the fascination in my eyes.
“What do you mean?”
And I get up and spread my arms all dramatic. “He had this thing figured out in order to let me see beyond my own lifetime. It was all timed down to the second. When the shock hit, I went into the future but then piggybacked those visions and kind of leapfrogged into the…”
“Into the what?”
“What are you saying, Ade? Are you okay?”
I sit down next to her. My eyes say it all. But still I continue. “I saw myself as a old dude. An ancient dude. And even then, like seventy years from now, I’m pushing myself down a flight of stairs to the future.”
“Not the Buzz?”
“No. No. That wasn’t part of it at all. This is different.”
“So why, then?”
I can’t bring myself to tell her about the Delirium.
I just can’t.
Instead I say, “I don’t know. But after I went down the stairs and hit my head, I leapt into this place that was incredible. It was amazing, Vaux. It was just darkness but there was water too. And these lights. These little pops of color. So beautiful, it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. And I think it was real!”
Vauxhall doesn’t know what to make of it.
The look on her face tells me she’s freaked out. Scared.
“What do you—”
“I saw into heaven. Or the afterlife. Whatever you want to call it, Vaux.”
I swallow hard. Nod.
With that she stands up. She’s already crying, tears rushing down her face, and she says nothing to me when she knocks on the door. The guard outside opens it, lets her out. Locks it behind her. She doesn’t even wave good-bye.
I sit back down and grab a ten-month-old copy of Us magazine.
But I don’t really read it. I don’t even fake-read it. I flip through the mag, look through the photos though what I’m really seeing is Vauxhall. Every word on the magazine’s pages is about how Vauxhall no longer trusts me. Everything I’m thinking is splashed out on the pages. Seems like every headline starts with “Distrust” or “Gone Crazy.”
Late last night I broke into a mall, ran around with a guy with a gun.
Shots were fired.
Property was destroyed.
I died. Saw into the future.
The whole time my body was on fire with the Delirium.
And it’s only now that I’m locked up, kept alone, my chest still burning, that I realize what I’ve done. I throw the magazine down and run my fingers through my hair.
What am I doing?
What does it mean?
Copyright © 2011 by K. Ryer Breese
Posted November 2, 2011
In his senior year, Ade no longer uses concussions to achieve the Buzz and see the future as he has found love with Vauxhall (see Future Imperfect). Still he feels something is missing since he stopped knocking his head so he joins the Pandora Crew oracles who use Delirium to cause chaos.
Ade remains discontented and believes mostly this is because he absorbed the abusive memories of Jimi. He needs them deleted so he turns to the Glove who can alter the past. When Ade emerges from the Glove's successful treatment, he learns his beloved Vauxhall does not know him. Feeling he will win her affection, Ade is shocked to find rivals competing for the love of his life; all are him.
This is an action-packed high school age science fiction thriller that grips the audience from start to finish in which reality proves fleeting. Fast-paced, this is Ade's tale as he seeks the metaphysical future and changes his past. Vauxhall, the other Ade personas, the Pandora Crew, the Glove and others enhance his actions. Although the science behind the time travel and changing of the past is basically ignored, fans will appreciate Ade's awesome adventures in the past, two presents and the future.
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