Channel Zero

Channel Zero

by G. H. Thomason

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Product Details

BN ID: 2940011486425
Publisher: G. H. Thomason
Publication date: 08/26/2011
Sold by: Smashwords
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 654 KB

About the Author

G. H. Thomason was born in Lawton, Oklahoma. He graduated from Cameron University with degrees in English and creative writing.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

    Charlie Rivers woke up needing a bath. He lay on his back in bed, his arms flung out away from him, one leg hopelessly wrapped and twisted with his blue cotton sheet while the other dangled lifelessly off the edge, hovering over a large wet spot next to a tipped beer bottle on the dull blue bedroom carpet. A toe peeped through the end of the dingy white sock covering his hanging foot. His face felt oily as he rubbed at his three-day stubble, and a lick over his teeth convinced him that they could stand a cleaning too. He tried to get up too quickly and his head began to spin, so he lay back down in the same spot, flung his arms out away from him and tried to shut his eyes again. Sunlight was breaking through the opened cracks in the blinds, imprisoning the room behind horizontal bars of tainted yellow. One of the bars ran right across Charlie's eyelids, filtering a pinkish glow into that familiar blackness of sleep and making it impossible for him to doze back off. He turned his head from side to side to escape the light, but no matter which way he turned it was there. He could have gotten up to close the blinds completely, and actually thought about it once. Instead, he pulled the pillow over his face and breathed out his mouth.

    The phone rang. Carefully this time, he sat up, the pillow falling onto his lap, scratched his head aimlessly with his left hand and reached for the receiver with his right. He noticed the yellow bands of light crossing his body as he said hello.

    "Happy birthday, Charlie."

    "Huh?" His mouth was dry.

    "Happy birthday," Linda said again. Her voice was shaky and unsure. "How's it feel to be thirty?"

    "Oh." He smelled his shirt, the same shirt he'd been wearing since Tuesday, no, Wednesday. He'd only been wearing it since Wednesday. It reeked of smoke and stale beer and needed to be washed. There was a spaghetti sauce stain in the middle of his chest. "Don't remind me."

    "Don't be like that, Charlie." Her voice was becoming more assertive now, more secure. "I bought you a present."

    "What?" The phone had a short or something and had a lot of static sometimes.

    "I said I got you something." She said it louder and slower this time, pronouncing each word carefully.

    "You didn't have to."

    "I know, but I wanted to." She paused. "Do you think it'd be all right if I came over later? You know, to give you your present. If you aren't gonna be too busy."

    In the background Charlie heard Linda's mother yelling at her father in Korean. Her father was a big black man from Mississippi, and Charlie wondered if he could understand what she was saying. He wondered if she could understand what she was saying herself.

    "Hold on for a second, OK?" Linda put the phone down and yelled at her mother to be quiet, that she was on the phone, that she was wishing Charlie a happy birthday and she needed it to be quiet.

    She was staying with her parents until Charlie could figure out how to get his act together, she said, until he could decide what it was that he really wanted to do with his life. She said it was time for him to grow up after he was fired three weeks ago from his contracting job for showing up late almost every day. He pissed in his foreman's coffee thermos before he left, so there was no way for him to get the job back even if he tried. Charlie said he didn't like doing dry-wall anyway. Linda told him she didn't like supporting his lazy ass and that she needed him to be more stable. They said all this last week after he came home from Lucky's at two in the morning, drunk again. When he came through the back door Linda was sitting at the kitchen table with an empty glass in her hand. There was a half empty bottle of Seagram's on the table, and the cap had fallen on the floor. He said she was drunk. She said so was he. He told her she was acting just like her mother. That was when she left, and this was the first time they'd spoken since then.

    "Hah-pee buh-day, Cha-ree." Her mother had picked up the phone while Linda was yelling. Her voice was high and loud. He could hear Linda begging her for the phone back.

    He didn't like talking to her mom on the phone. She couldn't speak English very well and he couldn't understand hardly anything she said. In person he could at least read her facial expressions to try and figure out what she was talking about. If she smiled when she told him something he'd smile back at her as his reply, and if she frowned or sounded angry he'd just shake his head back and forth and look at the ground. He couldn't do that now, so he just pretended he didn't hear her.

    There was a fumbling noise, then a voice again. "Charlie?"

    "I'm still here, baby." More static.

    "What? Oh, sorry about that." She sounded short of breath. "So what d'you say?"

    Charlie twisted the yellow wedding band around his finger with his thumb. "About what?"

    "About me coming over later. To give you your present."

    "Yeah, sure."

    "When would be best?"

    "I don't care."

    "How about around four?"


    "Around four." Again she pronounced the words slowly, meticulously.

    "That'll be fine." He looked at the blank digital alarm clock next to the phone on the night stand. He'd unplugged it when it went off at seven A.M. yesterday morning, or maybe it was Thursday morning, he wasn't sure. He couldn't remember why he'd set the damn thing in the first place. "What time is it now, anyway?"

    "Eleven forty-five."

    "Eleven forty-five," he repeated. "Four'll be just fine."

    "Great. I'll see you then, Charlie."

    He thought he could still hear her on the line when he hung up, but thought it must've been more static. Sooner or later he'd have to get around to buying a new phone. He untangled his leg from the blue sheet that was twisted around it, swung around and put his feet on the wet spot in the carpet.

    "Goddamn dog," he mumbled. Then he remembered the dog died a month or so ago after drinking a puddle of antifreeze that had leaked from the radiator of Charlie's Pacer. Poor bastard.

    He took his now-wet socks off and tossed them into the corner by the window. The light from outside beat against the blinds, forcing its way into the room, and Charlie felt it getting brighter. He stood up and stuck his hand in his underwear to scratch himself. As he approached the window the bars that shone across his body became wider and broader. The light, he thought, was trying to submerge him somehow. Looking through the blinds, he saw three children playing house across the street. There was a boy and two girls. The bigger girl was busy cooking plastic food on a plastic stove. The water really worked in the plastic sink. The boy tried to make the smaller girl hold a plastic baby, but she wouldn't take it. Charlie shut the blinds.

    He walked into the bathroom that was connected to the bedroom and took a piss. His mouth was dry and when he finished he put his head under the faucet and got a drink of water. Then he put on a pair of shorts and decided to clean up a little bit before Linda got there. There was no use in letting her think he hadn't done anything while she was gone. Actually, he hadn't done a whole helluva lot except hang out with his friends, but there was no use in her knowing that.

    All the dishes he gathered from around the house just fit in the dishwasher. It hadn't worked for a while, but at least the kitchen looked good. He piled his dirty clothes neatly into the corner of the bathroom and picked up the empty bottles and cardboard boxes that were scattered throughout the house. Once the house looked decent he took a shower and shaved.

    Standing in front of the door-length mirror, he pulled his arms through the warm fabric of the only shirt he owned with a collar. He didn't have time to wash and dry it, so he sprayed some cologne on it and tossed it into the dryer for a few minutes. Couldn't tell the difference. His faded jeans fit tight around his waist because he'd gained a few pounds since he'd been out of work, but when he looked in the mirror at his ass he was pleased with the shape it had assumed and left them on. He ran his fingers through his short, thick brown hair. It was longer than he liked over his ears, but he couldn't spare the eight bucks to get it cut. He rubbed at his smooth chin and over his high cheekbones with the tips of his fingers to check for stubble he might have missed with the disposable razor. Above his green eyes he ran a moistened fingertip across his dark eyebrows to smooth them out. The woman on the radio said it was three-thirty, that there had been a wreck on the freeway and something else Charlie didn't listen to. He quickly slipped his shoes on and thought he'd better take out the trash before Linda showed up. She had a funny habit of being early.

    Before he stepped outside Charlie made sure he had his sunglasses on. He read somewhere that green eyes were the most sensitive to light, and after that he could hardly stand to be out in the daytime without wearing his sunglasses. He walked past his brick red Pacer carrying a large white trash bag in one hand and a paper grocery sack stuffed full of empty beer bottles in the other. The grocery sack was leaking from the bottom, and his arm began to hurt from holding the sack out away from his body as he walked down the driveway toward the curb. He dropped the sack into the metal trash can, then the trash bag, and put the lid back on. The can was dented on the side where Charlie ran into it once. There was a large rust spot on the lid.

    He turned to walk back up the driveway, wiping away the sweat that already formed on his forehead.

    "Hey, mister!" a voice cried out.

    Charlie turned around. It was the boy who was playing house earlier, but now he was alone. He was standing in the middle of a sprinkler in the lawn across the street. "Hey, mister. What happened to your mailbox?"

    Charlie looked where his mailbox used to be by the curb. The two thin iron bars that held it were broken off halfway, planted in the ground and standing there like two black snakes staring at the sky. The mailbox was lying in the road, next to the curb, a few feet away.

    "Looks like somebody ran over your mailbox." The boy had crossed the road and stood next to Charlie, water dripping from his bright blond hair and posing just like Charlie with his hands on hips. Charlie thought the kid's blue eyes looked too big for his face.

    "That's what it looks like, huh, kid?" He tried to remember if he'd hit it coming home last night, but there wasn't too much of last night he could remember. The Pacer didn't look damaged. You could hit that car with a sledgehammer, though, he thought, and it wouldn't hurt it. "Go get me that mailbox, will ya, kid?"

    He pointed to where it lay in the street. "That one?"

    "Yeah," Charlie said. "That one."

    The boy walked quickly over and picked up the mailbox. He had a hard time lifting it, and once he got it up he held it awkwardly in both arms. Stretching his neck over the top to see, the boy walked slowly back. Charlie went up the driveway and opened the lime green driver's side door on his car. He pushed the seat forward and dug around in the fast food wrappers and old newspapers crammed together in the floor until he found a roll of gray duct tape he used on a wiring job a few months back. The boy was just getting back to the driveway when Charlie shut the door.

    "You ever fix a mailbox, kid?"

    "I don't think so."

    Charlie tossed the roll of tape into the air and caught it before it hit the ground. "I'm gonna show you how to fix something," he said, smiling at the boy. "So pay attention." The boy's blond hair was almost white, and Charlie thought the reflection off his hair would probably be enough to blind a green-eyed man without sunglasses.

    Charlie tore off a long strip of the gray tape. "You watching?"

    The boy nodded eagerly, his blue eyes studying Charlie.

    "Just making sure." Charlie placed the mailbox back together where the break had occurred, then wrapped the tape tightly around it. It needed more tape, but he couldn't take his hands away without it falling. "I need some more."

    The boy picked up the roll and offered it to Charlie.

    "No, tear it off for me."

    Straining, the boy tore the tape free from the roll and Charlie wrapped it over the first strip. After that, he used both hands to apply a thick layer of tape around the break, using almost the entire roll. He gently pulled his hands away, easing back and watching for it to fall. The red metal flag on the mailbox pointed up. Painted on both sides was The Rivers in crooked white letters. "What'd I tell you?"

    "That's not gonna work, mister." The boy had his hands on hips just like before. His eyes were large and appeared to stare through everything.

    "Sure it will."

    "I don't think so."

    Charlie looked back at the mailbox. "What d'you know?"

    "I know lots." The boy seemed upset at Charlie's accusation. "I'm in king-er-garden. I know that tape won't hold when a storm comes."

    The mailbox leaned a little toward them. "Go play house or something, kid."

    "I told you so," the boy said. The heat had dried his hair.

    "It's still standing, isn't it?"

    He laughed. "Barely."

    "Yeah, well," Charlie said. "It's good enough for now." Down the street he saw Linda's Mustang turn the corner and roar toward them. She honked when she saw them, and waving in her hand was a bottle wrapped in shiny green paper. There was a silver ribbon tied around the neck of the bottle.

    "But it won't hold long." The boy turned his large eyes from the approaching car and stared through Charlie. "You need some glue."

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