The Test (cont.) • Daath the Angel • The House on Burkhardt Street
Note: This story is being pubbed in serial form. You should probably start with EPISODE 1.
The Test (cont.)
When I got home, the TV was on low and Ronnie was pacing the kitchen, gushing enthusiastically to someone the phone. He hadn’t sounded this excited about anything in years. As I passed him on the way to the bedroom, I caught bits of the conversation. “Can you believe it? I know! I’m wearing a tie. I don’t care, I’m going the whole nine yards.”
Who are you? I thought, tossing my backpack onto the bed and shedding my I’d make a great employee! ensemble in favor of cutoffs and an ancient Metallica T-shirt. I hadn’t heard this much enthusiasm out of him since before we moved in together. As I slid into my old leather sandals, I heard him ending the call.
In the background, I recognized the voice of Jim Cantore from The Weather Channel on the TV. “Folks, if this thing had touched down, it would’ve pulverized everything for miles, leaving nothing in its wake, this entire city would’ve been wiped off the map in a matter of seconds, as well as all the surrounding…” I went into the living room, suddenly on edge. Jim Cantore—aka “the John Wayne of Weather”—was here? On the TV screen was a wide shot of Westgate Boulevard. There was DownHome Kitchen, and Skeeter’s Pub, just around the corner. In the foreground, big as life, stood Jim Cantore with his microphone in one hand, gesturing behind him with the other. “In addition to the abnormal formation of a monster mesocyclone engulfing Lincoln, Nebraska, we have it confirmed by the Weather Forecast Office up in Valley—this restaurant sits on the very site of the most powerful lightning strike ever recorded!”
I held my breath, glued to the screen. What else did they have from the good old WFO?
“And just like that—” Cantore snapped his fingers. “The threat was gone. A monster storm of gargantuan proportions, the like of which has never been seen before…” Cantore was replaced by a speeded-up satellite radar clip of the towering moat of storm clouds encircling Lincoln before breaking up… “just dissipated, like nothing ever happened.” On the screen, the outline of a massive head, elongated jaws gnashing, emerged for barely a second in the magenta hook echo of the vortex signature.
“Pretty cool, huh,” Ronnie said from the kitchen. “We’re on national TV. Free press.”
“Yeah, pretty cool,” I muttered, mouth dry.
“By the way, someone left you a message.” My heart leapt painfully. I didn’t trust myself to speak. Could the WFO have ratted me out to the press? But Andy—Andy would never have done that.
Steadying myself, I walked into the kitchen and pressed PLAY on the answering machine. “Miss Tori Marshall.” At the silken voice purring out of the speaker, I finally exhaled, realizing I had not breathed in quite some time. It was the nurse. I’d only left the clinic twenty minutes ago; did I leave something there? “I am calling to inform you your test has come back negative.” I frowned at her consoling tone. “Better luck next time.” The message ended.
“Did you take some kind of test?”
“Drug test. For a job.” I opened the fridge and got a beer. I took a swig, watching Ronnie scribble on the glossy pamphlet, his bangs falling into his face, ignoring the small pang this caused in my chest.
“Why’re they calling you about it? Aren’t they supposed to give the results straight to the employer?”
I shrugged. The only other job I’d ever applied for was the one from which I’d just been canned. “How should I know?” Ronnie bent back to his scribbling. “Ronnie…about Saturday night, we—I—had a lot to drink.”
“So…should I move out? Or did you want to? I’m fine, either way.”
He made a few more notes. At last, he looked up. “Tor—let’s not make any fast decisions. We can talk after I get back from Kansas City.”
I was thrown for a moment. Not only by his words, but by the strange look in his eyes. “Talk about what?” Not just strange. Giddy. “And what’s this deal going on in KC?”
He sighed, straightening at last. “Talk about what you and I really want. As opposed to whatever my father wants.” He gave a weird laugh, making a sudden obscene gesture. “Fuck whatever he wants.”
“Ronnie—are you okay?”
“Better than okay! What’s in KC is the Young Restaurateurs Symposium. Chris and I, we’ve been talking.”
“Chris Donnel?” Chris Donnel was night manager at the DownHome Kitchen in Omaha.
“I know you don’t like him, but he’s a good guy. He’s hot shit in the kitchen, went to culinary school and everything. He’s been talking about opening a little gourmet joint, but he needs a partner. I’ve been thinking about it for a couple years. But you leaving DHK…finally escaping that place…I just feel like there’s got to be more to life.”
“Oh, well, good thing you fired me, then.”
“Yeah…” Ronnie was staring off into space, a soft light in his eyes that reminded me of happier times. “Anyhow, I need a—a little break, and it’ll be a chance to learn more about marketing and finance and technology. Some world-famous chefs will be there—and Chris is competing in the Culinary Cook-Off! If we did go into business,” he went on, forgetting me altogether, “there’s this huge, vintage oak bar for sale, with brass and ceramic fixtures. Maybe we could find some antique tables and restore them…”
“Your one true love,” I said softly, and his eyes snapped to me, suddenly dark. I shrugged. “Still furniture.”
“I’ve got to get to work.” He grabbed his wallet and keys off the counter and headed for the door.
“Ronnie, if you really want to escape, then why settle for this? Darrell’s still out there somewhere.”
“And if he wanted to be found, I’d have found him by now.”
“Well, maybe you’re not really trying.”
“That’s rich, coming from you. Oh, I forgot. You had to give up your dreams because your field of study doesn’t actually exist.”
I wasn’t going to bite this time. “What is it your dad wants, Ronnie?”
He sighed, the last of the weird energy from earlier finally ebbing out of him. “I’m not going to inherit the business. Not unless I break it off with you.”
“Do you still want to be with me?”
“They threatened to sue us.”
“Who, the Snack Pack?”
“Your customers, Tor. They backed off when Dad personally handed them a hundred-dollar gift certificate.”
“Ronnie…I know we weren’t on the best of terms Saturday night, but those assholes were way out of line. You should’ve had my back.”
“That’s right, it’s my fault you decided to assault a customer.”
“’Assault’? You call that assault? What about what he did to me? I tried to tell you—”
“I was overwhelmed!” He looked away. “I couldn’t just leave my post, with all those people crowding in. You should’ve…” He threw his hands up. “You know what? Doesn’t matter.”
“Tor, I’ve got a lot on my mind. And you need to think about what you’re going to do for a job.” He headed towards the door again. “I have to leave now, since I still have one. A job, that is.”
The phone rang. I picked it up, listened, said “Okay,” and slowly hung up. I looked at Ronnie. “Found one,” I said. “A job, that is.”
Daath the Angel
As I might have mentioned earlier, Your magic don’t show up no way, no how, in no lab, be it by blood or by piss.
You can thank the Makers for that, whatever they may be, as is written in the Book of Bethenos. Something had to write that Book, and it certainly wasn’t the poor, illiterate woman whose hand made the letters.
Yeah, our memories are long, but even we cannot recall our origins. We only know that out of all the angels watching over World Three (and causing all those beautifully violent storms that rage across its surface), we four were sent here to watch over Your world, for it is the only thing standing between perfect Darphina and damned Robadu.
So, we’ve been stuck here all these aeons, dying of boredom. The only relief being that one of us, thankfully, can appreciate a good joke. (For instance, there are centuries’ worth of legends and scientific theories attempting to explain those strange whispers supposedly emitted by the Northern Lights. So far, it hasn’t occurred to anyone to play them backwards.)
But—now, things appear to be heating up. First, we almost had to destroy half of Nebraska, until Damballah put the whole universe at risk to save You with that one-to-a-million strike. Then, it turns out the mighty Doomsday is indeed still alive (tried to tell the others this for years, but for some reason my word is apparently not credible)—mightier than ever, in fact—and she appears to have amassed a small army. And now…now! The walls of the NFMA expand in a shiver of anticipation at Your imminent arrival. Those who work there will not immediately recognize You. And when they do, not all will welcome You.
But now, after wasting most of Your tiny life dreaming and fantasizing, You are being handed a chance to fulfill Your birthright—via a very backward route, but beggars can’t be choosers. Time to step up, Speaker of the Sky, and get Your ass in gear.
The House on Burkhardt Street
The garden shed was a few shingles short, I noticed, as I pulled up outside the garage next to the house where I’d grown up, a few blocks over from Marissa’s house on Burkhardt Street. “Let me help you with that,” I said to Dad as he came around the corner of the house with a wheelbarrow full of broken tree limbs. I took the handles from him and labored across the backyard to the pile of damp firewood in the southeast corner.
The cornstalks rustled, and then Jake’s long, gray muzzle was pressing into my palm. I stopped to kneel in the damp grass and give him a hug, and he wrapped his front legs around me, resting his head against mine, his tail swishing across the ground like a silver banner.
I drew back to stroke Jake’s white, flowing beard. “You’re looking more like Santa Claus every day, you know that?”
“Wulf,” said Jake.
You’d think a dog of twenty-six years might’ve learned to speak at least a word or two of English by now. “I suppose this means I owe you lasagna.”
I glanced over my shoulder at Dad, standing there in his galoshes and old leather gloves. “Only if it will make you feel better.”
On the radio, various voices were arguing about what really happened Saturday night. Across the table, I could see my father wanting to ask me if I’d sensed anything about the terrifying storm, the radar image of which was by now on every major news channel across the globe. Yesterday, a team from NOAA had arrived, armed with motion data and wind height measurements from geostationary satellites. Scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab were comparing these stats with those from their multi-angle imaging SpectroRadiometer. Tomorrow, representatives from the Royal Meteorological Society were due to arrive.
“Seems like a veritable Woodstock of meteorologists,” Dad finally said. “Going over to the University to rub shoulders?”
“More like the Monsters of Rock, Dad.” We laughed. Of course, I yearned to be in the company of all those brilliant scientists. But, having nearly been struck by the monster lightning in question, then outing myself to the WFO and subsequently being accused of, uh, hocus-pocus…I didn’t think this was a good time to risk attracting any more attention. I reached for the cheese bread, trying to think of an excuse. But then Dad let me off the hook.
“So…are you planning to tell me what’s been on your mind all night?”
I sighed, dropping the cheese bread back on the tray. “I got fired.”
I shook my head. “It doesn’t matter. It was just time to go.”
“And Ronnie, was he there?”
“Yeah. It’s complicated.” I couldn’t even begin to explain our bizarre non-breakup this afternoon, so I didn’t try.
“Well…” Dad lifted his glass of iced tea. “Congratulations, sweetheart.”
His calm, matter-of-fact voice was exactly what I needed. We clinked glasses and I said, “I’ve already got another job, though.”
“Oh? Where at?”
“The NFMA. Production assembly. I start Wednesday.”
The silence that followed was strange—even awkward, which was unheard of in this house. I looked up at Dad and saw his head was bowed over his plate, his forehead resting against his clasped hands. “Dad? Did you hear what I said?”
At last he sat back, and though his face looked somehow older now, he managed a smile. “Is that right? Well, maybe you’ll finally solve the mystery of what they do over there.” He picked up the last piece of garlic bread, tore it in two, handed me half. Whatever had been troubling him seemed to have passed. “I hope you’ll be able to tell me without having to kill me afterward.” He looked at me more closely. “There’s something else going on. What is it?”
There had been something else for approximately twenty-eight years and counting.
My mother’s name was Megan. I’d never troubled him about the night of my birth, with the questions that lived inside me—about why I could remember my own zeroth birthday, including the giant, orange sunrise. Because in the time it had taken me to enter this world, my mother had left it. I’d never told anyone but Marissa what I saw that night.
I drew a shaky breath, feeling that dark ledge before me, that ocean of unasked questions yawning below. My birth was a subject that had been discussed exactly one time in this household, once I was old enough to truly understand. Since then, I’d refused to celebrate, discuss, or even acknowledge my birthdays. “Dad?”
“What is it?” Jake’s claws tapped softly on the wooden floor as he came into the room and then stopped, looking at us.
“The night I was born, was there a big fire outside the hospital?”
I saw the sorrow at the edges of my father’s eyes, and instantly regretted asking. “No. No fire. There was a big thunderstorm. The electricity was lost, and the hospital had to go on backup power…sweetheart, are you crying?”
“I’m sorry…I’m so sorry, Dad.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for, sweetheart. You know that.” He held my hands in his until I got myself back under control. Then we cleared the dishes and Jake watched us from underneath the table.
As we cleaned the kitchen, and chatted about roof shingles and Nebraska earthquakes, I wanted a thousand times to pull out the newspaper scrap that was flattened in a sandwich baggie in my backpack (so it wouldn’t stick to anything) and show it to him, tell him the news Marissa was somewhere, that maybe I was close to finding her.
But a thousand times, an instinct, soft but urgent, told me: Not yet. Not yet.
It was only as I was walking out to my car that it occurred to me his congratulations had come after I told him about getting fired—but before I told him about the new job.
[to be continued]
Copyright © 2018 by Shoshana Sumrall Frerking
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead, or otherwise, is purely coincidental.