Tag Archives: Family

A retired super villain is caught in the middle of a bank heist with his 6 year old daughter

“Duck Sarah.” I told her, grabbing her by the arm and dragging her under one of the tables.

“Daddy.” She said, looking at the red cape gang as they surged through the crowd waving guns and grabbing bank employees by the collar. “Daddy you told me you were done with this.” She said. Looking at me, and then looking at the villains.

“I am done Sarah.” I try to tell her, but she’s not thinking clearly. She thinks I’m in on this. That I helped them out somehow.

“Daddy you said the men with capes wouldn’t come after you anymore since you helped them safe the city.” She accused me, and started to slowly slide away.

“W-what?” I asked, confused now. She thought that the red cape gang was here for me? Did she think they were the heroes. I’m so baffled by her misinterpretation of the events that I don’t stop her when she leaps up from under the table and runs to commander cape whose talking to captain cape about the silent alarm.

“Don’t hurt him!” She says. “He’s hiding over under that table, please don’t hurt him.” She begs.

There’s something special about daughters, especially young ones. They can know that you’re one of the scummiest most rotten people on the planet, and still believe in you. They can even try and protect you from the people they think are heroes. Sarah would sit up late at night watching the old news footage of the superheroes battling it out with the supervillains, and she always cheered for the superheroes, even when I was one of the villains. Now that I find out when it really came down to it. She chose her own father over her personal heroes.

It was a bit unfortunate that the people she had chosen as heroes were actually just villains in misleading costumes, but she didn’t figure that out until commander cape put a gun to her head and captain cape trained his gun on me.

“We see you old friend.” Commander cape called out. He used to be my sidekick. “Come out with your hands up.”

I come out with my hands up, but only after I’ve thrown the table I’m sitting under at them. They both duck and my daughter hits the ground and covers her head with her hands.

Captain cape gets winged by the table and goes down. Commander cape rolls and recovers, but I’m already on top of him when he brings his gun up. I kick it out of his hands and knock him unconscious with a single punch.

Sergeant cape and private cape coming bursting out of a backroom, but they’re no match for me and I quickly lay them both out with lighting speed and agility.

Just before private cape loses consciousness he asks. “We should’ve known your superpowers were too strong.”

“Didn’t commander cape ever tell you? I don’t have any superpowers. I just did what any father would have done when their child was in danger.”

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Double date!(real life story)

But not the kind of double date you’re thinking. This was another lunch date with the less fortunate members of society. What made this time unique was that I took a pair of sisters to lunch who were collecting money at a stoplight.

As I left the house to look for someone to take to lunch it felt somewhat routine. Like taking someone on a third date. There’s still excitement, but you have at least some semblance of an idea of what you’re doing. So I start checking intersections, and as before, saw someone that I had seen previously. It was at the intersection where I had taken someone out last time. Only it wasn’t the guy who came with me, it was the guy who had turned me down(John). This put me in a slightly odd situation as he was clearly in need(it was like 22 degrees farenheit), but I had already seen him, and he had turned me down. So I figured he probably would turn me down again.

Having made the decision to find someone else, I drove on, and a few intersections beyond him I saw what at first glance seemed to be two high schoolers collecting money for something on opposite sides of an intersection. They weren’t homeless, but if they were out here there was a decent chance they knew where the homeless were. So I pulled into a nearby parking lot and headed out to greet the first ‘high schooler’.

Upon approaching I saw that first of all, she was at least ten years older than me, and second, that her sign was about needing money, and not about collecting for a cause. So I quickly flipped my mental script from ‘hey, have you seen any homeless around here?’ to ‘Hey, I don’t have any cash on me, but do you want to get some food at that Panera?’. It became very obvious that she spoke virtually no english, so we had an amusing interchange where I used my horrible spanish to communicate my message to her, and she user her comparable skill with english to ask if her english speaking sister could join us, indicating the lady across the intersection. I said of course she could, and we set off to meet her sister(the two ladies in the photo are not them, just a random photo I find on photobucket).

We continued to have a funny ‘spanish 101’ conversation where we both talked about the weather. I took two semesters of spanish in college and it finally paid off! After a bit more awkward spanglish we met up with her sister and headed off to lunch.

As always, this is where things got interesting. Turns out they were both mothers. Their husbands were off looking for work, and both family units lived with the father of the two mothers. They moved from Spain to the US two years ago, because the economy got too rough and they lost their home. They talked a lot about how they’ve been making ends meet for their kids(both had kids under a year), and it made me think about all the married people I know. To these two sisters marriage is probably just as much about survival as it is about happiness. I have absolute confidence those familes will stick together because they have to. They don’t have the kind of resources to make it on their own. Even with five working adults they’re barely making ends meet. It’s making any relationship advice I get sound weird. Not necessarily bad or good, just weird. Like hearing advice about car maintenance after you’ve been hanging out with people who have to job everywhere. The advice is still valid, but seems odd in light of the fact that transportation means such different things to different people. Not that one is necessarily inherently better or worse, it’s just some people need to jog places, and some people need to drive places.

While not homeless(they lived with their father), these ladies were equally as desperate as the last person I shared a meal with. As before they were still very polite and considerate, asking me about myself, asking me if I was okay with every stop of the money spending process, being very respectful of boundaries. They also gave me a new perspective on my own position in life(again). The first gentlemen gave me a perspective on what it’s like to be out in the elements and without medical support. The second gentlemen reminded me how thin the line is that separated me and him. Now these two ladies have made me see relationships in a new light.

As always, I would love to hear about any experiences you guys might have had with the homeless.

Letters to my father part 5

“What do you mean run away? When did this happen?” I say in disbelieve.

“I mean he’s not here. I don’t know where he is, and I’m scared.” Her voice is shaking.

“Okay, what are the parents doing?” I ask, trying to wrap my head around what’s going on.

“The parents are on a plan to Ireland. They left this morning and won’t be on the ground for another. Brother, I’m scared.” She’s repeating herself. She’s freaked out.

“I know sis. Stay there, I’m coming over right now. Get our other younger brother and sit down in the down kitchen. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Sun down is in an hour. We will have to move quick to find him. I wish I had known about this before spending most of my time after I got home from my job working on dropping the lines.

I make the nearly one hour drive in thirty minutes, running several stop signs, red lights, and exceeding the speed limit by a very wide margin that has me dodging in and out of traffic. I probably wrack up a couple hundred dollars in tickets from red light cameras and speeding cameras, but by some miracle no cop pulls me over. I blaze into the driveway of my parent’s house and blitz inside.

My sister is red eyed with several used tissues in front of her. My brother is sitting across from her twiddling with his thumbs. Upon seeing me enter my sister runs over and hugs me.

“I don’t know where he went. I was making dinner, and wanted a hand chopping some vegetables up, so I called him, and he didn’t answer. I tried several times and he wouldn’t respond so I looked all through the house, thinking he had headphones on, and he wasn’t anywhere. I tried calling his phone and I find out he left it behind in his room.” He left his cell phone behind. He must really be trying to avoid us. “I called James, thinking he might be hanging out with him, but he said he hasn’t seen little Andy all day. I don’t know when he left or how long he’s been gone.”

“Did he say anything to you today? Has he been upset at you or someone else?” My sister pulls away from me and shakes her head. Her nose is starting to drip.

“I didn’t know anything. We don’t talk much, but he seemed perfectly happy.”

“Alright sis, it’s going to be okay. Come on, have a seat and we’re going to sort this thing out.” I pull her chair out for her, and then sit down next to her to talk.

“James.” I address my younger brother who hasn’t gotten himself lost. “Did you notice anything strange about Andy? Has he been complaining about something in particular, or talking about something excessively?” James shakes his head.

“I haven’t talked to him much recently either, but when I did he seemed perfectly happy. Maybe mom and dad said something to him that set him off.” This isn’t much help.

“Guys, I’m not around much. If I don’t know something about what’s going on I can’t be of any help. You’re telling me you have absolutely no reason why he would do this?” I ask.

“He complained about the food around here a few days ago.” James says. “That’s literally the last thing I remember him saying.”

“It wasn’t my cooking.” Grace said defensively.

“No one is making any accusations. We’re just trying to get the facts straight.” I tell Grace. “You guys really have no ide why this would happen?” They both shake their heads. Clearly our family has communication issues. No one knew what was going on with anyone else, even the people who lived in the same house together. I felt slightly better for not being involved in their lives. None of us were involved in each other’s lives.

“Alright, we’ve got to try and find him. Can either of you drive?” I feel like a horrible person for not even knowing if my own siblings can drive. They both shake their heads again.

“Okay, that’s going to make things harder. Grace, you stay here in case he comes back. You can also call people to try and get information. James, you come with me.”

“Who should I call?” Grace asks.

“Friends, neighbors, anyone, just call anyone who might know something or have seen him. Let them know we’re looking for him. At the very least having more eyes looking out for him is going to help.” Grace is still red eyed and drippy nosed.

“It’s going to be okay Grace.” I tell her, putting an arm around her shoulder. “We’re going to find him. If we don’t hear anything by sundown we will call the police and get them in on the search.” Grace nods her head.

“Okay.” She says. “Thank you for coming big brother.”

“Hey, anything for my siblings.” I say, ruffling her hair affectionately.

“We will be back to check in with you in an hour.” I pat her on the back and stand up. “Let’s go James.” I tell my remaining younger brother. The two of us head to my car and begin cruising the neighborhood.

“Do you know where he might go?” I ask James as we pull out.

“I don’t know man. He could be anywhere.” James dejectedly stares out his window.

“No he can’t.” I respond. “He’s got two legs, not much money, and no car. Does he have a bike? I ask.

“No.” James says.

“Then he could only go so far. Besides. He’s probably not just going to run randomly. He’s smart right?” I hate that I have to ask if my own brother is smart.

“Yes.” James replies.

“Then he’s got a plan. We just need to figure out what his plan is, and we can find him. Now, he might run to somewhere he’s familiar with. He’s got to be upset about something. Maybe he went to his ‘happy place’, so to speak. What I need from you, is where that might be.” James still looked out his window. He must be a big introvert.

“Come on James, I know you guys didn’t talk much, none of us did, but any information at all you can tell me about where he liked to go would help. Where were his stomping grounds? Where does he feel safe?” James pulls himself away from the window.

“I’ll start with the first one. He was good at school right? I see him posting about contests he’s won, teams he’s made it onto, and good grades he’s gotten.” The good grades was a little insensitive to be putting online, but I took it Andy had not yet mastered the social graces. “So let’s go to his school. You guys go to the same school don’t you? Can you show me how to get to it.”

“I’m in high school and he’s in middle school.” James says. Yet another instance of me not knowing anything about my brothers or sister. I want to give myself a by because I’m old enough that I don’t really remember how old high schoolers and middle schoolers are. I know how old he is, but I don’t remember what age equals what grade anymore. “But I know where his school is, make a left here.”

Our parents live several miles outside of town, it takes eight minutes of precious daylight to navigate to the school. I drop James off at the front.

“You wander through the grounds and see if you can find anything. I’m going to take a slow loop around the school in the car and see if I can spot him that way.” I start to pull away when James asks.

“What do I do if I see him.” I hadn’t thought that far in advance, and I think quickly to come up with the answer.

“He’s scared and maybe angry. As much as I hate to say this, treat him like a wild animal. He could bolt, or he could charge you. Approach him slowly, and in as non-threatening a way as you can. Then tell him it’s okay. Tell him he can come home.”

“Okay, I will, thanks big brother.” James calls as he hops a chain link fence onto the school grounds.

“Hurry!” I shout after him. I can see him start to bolt across the school as I pull away.

I can’t imagine what would cause a kid like Andy to run away. He had everything going for him. His scholastics were outstanding. He must have glowing support from the parents. At least, I think he did. He had run away right as they had left. Could it be something the parents said? Or could it be something else.

The parents had left, and then he had. Was it because he felt abandoned? But how could he feel abandoned. He had three great siblings. Grace had been cooking a meal for him. I remember Grace’s cooking. It was top notch. He was in for a treat. Then he had two brothers. James had been, well actually, I think James had been off somewhere else. The way Grace told the story it had sounded like she had been alone, and had to call James to her. Then there was me. I was never around. Could this be my fault? Had I so blotted out my family life that I had alienated my own sibling into doing something reckless and stupid?

I don’t see Andy anywhere. I finish my loop and meet James back in front of the school. He’s sweating hard. He must’ve been sprinting the whole time.

“Did you see him?” Andy isn’t with James, but maybe he had run off and was coming to get me so we could follow in the car.

“I didn’t see anything. If he’s here, I don’t know where he could be.”

“That’s okay. We still have a bit of daylight left. Get in. Have you thought of anywhere else he might go?” I ask James.

“Yeah actually.” James enters the shotgun seat. “Make a right up here.” We speed off.

“He used to go to the ice skating rink a lot.” James tells me.

“Ice skating?” I say in disbelief. “It’s the middle summer, where is he going to go ice skating?”

“At an indoor ice skating rink, it’s a left at the next light.” James says.

“We have an indoor ice skating rink?” I ask in disbelief. “When did we get one of those?”

“Four summers ago, after the winter Olympics.” James replies.

“I didn’t know Andy was an ice skater. How come he never posts about it.” James shrugs.

“I’m not really sure. Maybe because nobody knows he does it. I’ll bet when he goes there no one knows him for being really smart or popular, they just know him as a fellow ice skater. Andy gets a lot of attention, and I don’t think he likes it. He gets to escape all the people trying to talk to him here.”

I’m learning so much about my siblings on the drive. I pull into a parking space quick enough that James involuntarily slams his feet against the floor of the car in the hope that he will hit an imaginary brake pedal.

We both run inside to the front desk.

“Have you seen a little kid about so high.” I ask the lady at the desk, and hold up my hand to show my estimation of Andy’s height.

“More like this height.” James hold up a hand to contradict my own estimation. Andy has grown a lot since last I talked to him.

“Brown hair, he goes by Andy.” I add on to James’ statement.

“Oh yeah, Andy.” The lady says. We both get a glimmer of hope in our eyes. “I Haven’t seen him in three weeks. He normally doesn’t come here a lot during the summer. It’s too crowded he says.” I ball my hand into a fist and have to resist slamming it into the counter.

“Thank you.” I manage to get out, and grab James to leave.

“Anywhere else?” I ask. “We’ve got enough daylight to check maybe one more place. I’m going to make a loop around the parking lot, but I need to know where else he might go.”

“Yeah, yeah, of course.” James says as we both slide into the car. “There’s one more place. I don’t know if he still goes there, but Andy used to really like the local church. You know how the parents make us go? He sticks around a lot afterwards and just sits. I don’t know why, but he likes it.”

“The church with the stain glass window of the guy crossing a river with a lamb on his back?” I ask James as I complete my lap around the parking lot.

“Yeah, that’s the one.” James says.

“Great, hold on.” I run two red lights in order to get there before sundown, but I make it. James goes off running around the church to see if he’s sitting on one of the benches outside. I make my way inside.

Inside the church is empty, no Andy. I walk quickly to the back of the church to check the rooms behind the alter. I whisper Andy’s name into both of the rooms, no response. I should have run through and yelled his name, but somehow it didn’t feel right doing that in a church. It’s so quite and serene I don’t want to be the pebble that disturbs the pond, even if there’s no one there.

I head back outside and meet James.

“Tell me you found him.” I say to James. He has to have found him. This is the last place we can afford to look. The sun is going down. Grace hasn’t called to tells us he returned home. We’ve got maybe two minutes of daylight left. He has to be here.

“Sorry.” James says. “I got nothing.” I do punch the door to the church. He was supposed to be here. It was the last place we could look. Why would he not be here? I want to punch the door again, but I have to pull it together for James.

“That’s okay. We will go home and get the professionals on this. If we can’t find him they can.” I say, but I should’ve been the one to find him. I’m his older brother. It’s my job to take care of him, and in failing to find him I’ve failed. I’m sure Sarah is watching, and it hurts that much more knowing I’ve disappointed her as well.

We pile into the car at a normal walking pace, and head home obeying all traffic laws.

“It’ll be okay.” I tell James again. He doesn’t say anything back.

It’s a full ten minute drive home, and the sunset punctuates are failure. The last rays are just fading in the distance, signaling that our attempt to find him as reached its end. We are forced to give in. Everything closes around here at dark, and the lack of daylight will prevent us from seeing him.

As I turn into our parent’s neighborhood, I see a kid walking up the side of the road with reflective tape all over his shirt. He looks about the same height as James had estimated Andy would be.

“James.” I say, keeping my voice calm as we pull alongside him. “Is that?”

“Andy!” James shouts, opening the car door. I slam on the brakes and put the car in park in the middle of the street.

We both ignore my advice to be deal with Andy cautiously, and rush out of the car to bear hug him before he can get away.

“He gu…” He gets out before I pick him up and crush his lungs, before handing him over to James to do the same.

I spot a plastic bag on the ground. It’s got food in it. He had been getting supplies. I pick up the bag and chuck it as far as I can throw it.

“It’s okay Andy.” I say while James still has him in a bear hug. “You won’t be needing supplies. We are going to take you home and feed you. Grace has been preparing a hero’s dinner at home. Whatever it is that made you run away. We can fix it. We are here for you now Andy.”

James puts Andy down, and it is at this point I see the highly confused and surprised look on Andy’s face.

“Run away?” He asks. “Who ran away?”

His question caught me off guard. “You did Andy.” I say. “You’ve been gone. Your sister is horribly worried, and you’ve picked up supplies for your escape.”

“Escape?” Andy says. James is starting to examine the blades of grass by the sidewalk in an attempt to distance himself from the conversation.

“I wasn’t trying to escape. Those ‘supplies’ were snacks the parents don’t let me eat.” I look in the back. It’s full of soda, chips, candy, and other stuff that parents try to avoid feeding to their kids.

“Well um, I guess it is. Hang on though, you left your cell phone behind. You left without telling anyone, and you were gone for hours.” I think he might be just trying to cover his tracks now that he knows he’s been caught.

“I left my cell phone because I hate people texting and calling me all the time.” Andy says.

“You could’ve just turned it off.” I suggest.

“It feels more liberating to leave it behind.” He says. “As for the leaving without telling and being gone for hours, I was only gone for two hours, because that’s how long it takes to walk to the store and back, and I didn’t tell anyone because none of you guys ever take an interest in what I do.” He says.

Those words hit home. I see James feel them too. Me and him are both in the same boat, Grace too. We are all his older siblings. It’s not his responsibility for him to keep up with us. It’s our responsibility to keep up with him.

“I think we’ve learned our lesson Andy.” I tell him. “We’ve been worried sick over you. Let’s all go home and sort this out.” It’s a silent car ride up the street to the parent’s.

Upon our arrival Andy calls out for Grace. She comes streaking into the room to give Andy his third attempted asphyxiation through hugging of the day. Andy handles it well.

“How did you find him? Where was he?” Grace asks.

“We’ve got to have a talk Grace.” I say. “Let’s meet in the dining room. There are some things we need to go over.” Grace catches the somber tone in my voice. She nods, thinking she understand what’s going on. She puts on arm around Andy.

Once we are all seated around the dining I start off.

“First things first, Grace, Andy didn’t run away. He was walking to the store to pick up some junk food now that the parents were gone.” I produce the bag, and Grace looks appropriately shocked. “We all over reacted. He wasn’t gone long, and we had no reason to believe he had run. That’s our fault. Thankfully we kept our heads enough that this will probably not get back to the parents. If they find out we are this badly coordinated and irresponsible it’ll be bad for you guys. I’m out of the house so there isn’t a lot they can do to me, but I’m sure you guys are going to get the world’s biggest grounding. To make sure it doesn’t get back, we are all going to go through our phones and call back everyone we told about this to let them know it’s okay, and Andy didn’t run away. It was all just a misunderstanding. Hopefully, that will be enough.” Grace looks crestfallen. I’m sure she made many calls, and will now have to make many more. It would be good for us. We needed a little negative reinforcement after what we had done.

“Second, Andy, we are sorry.” James knows why I’m apologizing, but Grace’s face is asking me why I’m apologizing. “All of us are sorry. You didn’t know we cared enough to check up on you, so you didn’t think it necessary to tell us where you were going or when you would be back. Ultimately, this whole episode is our fault. So Andy, I am very sorry that I haven’t been the big brother you deserve.” I pause and look at James.

“I’m sorry too Andy. I should’ve kept in touch better.” James says.

“Me too Andy, I’m sorry I haven’t been a good older sister.” Grace says.

“I’m sorry too.” Andy says. “I haven’t been an enthusiastic supportive younger brother either. I can’t blame you guys for not talking to me. I haven’t talked to you either.”

“It’s good of you to say that Andy.” I say. “That brings us to the third order of business, making sure this doesn’t happen again. I think we can all agree, and this event has made it perfectly clear, we have all been pretty awful siblings too each other. We don’t fight, but that’s only because we don’t interact enough to have a reason to fight. We need to resolve to keep in touch better, and to start us off, I’m going to take us on a little adventure. Brothers and sister, we are going rock climbing tomorrow.”

What follows is an eager exchange between the four of us as we go over every detail with fervor. They want to know where we are going and how we are going to do it. I enjoy sharing my new hobby with my siblings.

I take them back to my place for the night, and setup a campfire outside. We make use of the marshmallows and chocolate that Andy bought to make s’mores. I feel, right, like this is how things are supposed to be, my younger siblings are at my house, using the fire I made, sleeping outside with my gear. I can’t wait until tomorrow where I can get to teach them new stuff, but I love our conversation around the fire.

James finally opens up after being tight lipped all day.

“I just don’t get it.” He says. “None of the sophomore girls seem to take an interest in me. I’m smart. I’m funny. I have a lot going on for me at school, but that doesn’t seem to matter to them.” He addressed his statement to Grace. No doubt hoping she could volunteer some helpful information, but I answered for her.

“Little bro, you’ve come to the right place.” I start my older brother job of teaching the younger ones the ways of life a little sooner than I expected.

The next day I wake them up with surprise cinnamon rolls and chocolate milk that I slipped out of the house to buy. They are ecstatic at the unexpected treats, and I tell them to eat them on the way, we are heading out to the rocks immediately.

On the way out we play old car games like ‘I spy’ and ‘Twenty Questions’. Andy is annoyingly good at picking very specific species of animals that no one knows, and James goes for a bunch of older historical figures that I haven’t heard of, but Grace knows every last one. I am without a doubt the worst at the game, trying to select animals that I think are cool is a rather poor strategy it turns out.

When we get to the cliff I have them inspect the gear I’ve brought, making sure the ropes aren’t frayed, and none of the metal bits have tell tale scratches or dents on them. We have a safety talk about what we are about to do, and they help me set up the rope systems.

I’ve done trust falls before. They are a good group exercise where each person takes a turn falling into another person’s arm. I had thought it was good for group cohesion because there is genuine tension when you trust someone else to catch you. This is nothing compared to leaning backwards off of a cliff because someone told you too.

We spend the afternoon moving up and down the cliff face. During the intermissions between climbs I discuss college plans with Grace, date ideas with James, and book plots with Andy. When the sun sets we head back to my place to call the parents. They’re happy to see us hanging out together, and as we sit around the nights campfire we make plans to keep in touch. Come hell or high water at 5:00 on Sunday we will all be in front of a computer screen to have a skype chat.

The next day when I drop them off I realize I’ve hardly thought of Sarah in two days, and I’ve got five whole days before her next letter. I spend them with my family, insuring that the bond we have started to form becomes strong. It’s not only what Sarah would want me to do, it’s the right thing to do.

Five days later I find myself making my way to the attic to retrieve one of the final three letters. I hope it’s this letter. The next letter is three months off. The final letter is over three years off. I have plenty of things to occupy myself with, but I can’t help but wonder about my wife. She’s out there somewhere. Is she talking to guys and hanging out with family? Are there people making her life hard? I want to read her letters and compare them to my own. I open the box and pull out the sixteenth letter. Please tell me where she is.

07/10/2014

Hey dad, wow, that is so weird talking to you. I mean I haven’t talked to you in months and now here I am, communicating with my dad. Wow, I can communicate with you whenever I want now.” What? Was there some mix up, this letter sounded like it was the first time we had spoken. Had my daughter’s, until now, perfectly formed plan suddenly developed a hole? Had she gotten cocky and forgot to double check her work?

I know that this is going to be one of the last letters you read, but it’s the first one I’m writing.” That didn’t make any sense at all. Who would start an 18 letter series with the sixteenth letter? “I know that’s confusing, but it’s because I wanted to say this first. All of the other letters are going to be edited and sent countless times as I go back and time again and again to get everything just right for you and make you into the man I know you can be.”

                “That’s the reason I’m writing this letter first. I don’t want what I’m about to say to be tainted by knowledge of the future. I haven’t gone back in time to see you yet, and I have no proof for how these letters will change your life, so you know that what I’m about to say is based on faith, and faith alone.”

                “Thank you dad, it’s been a long journey for you. You have fought so hard for so long to change the things about you that are dead weight. You have ruthlessly cut out the part of you that damage your life, and carefully grown new parts that give life to you and all those around you. You have become a pillar of strength, the cornerstone of your siblings. You have taken charge of your life, and helped to guide the lives of those around you. You’ve made yourself into the person that mom and I need and desire. You have become a true prince charming that saves the princess and protects his kingdom from invaders. I am proud to call myself your daughter. I know in good times and in bad our family can rely on you. You make us safe, secure, and loved. Thank you for being who you are.”

Love always,

Sarah

The first letter, this was her first letter. This was written without the knowledge that multiple trips to the past provided. All of her other instructions had been based on her experience and what she had seen. She must’ve traveled back countless times to make all this happen. She had done all of this for me, and she had known I could do it. From the very start she had known that her father was a man capable of doing incredible things, and she had empowered me to do them. I owed her so much. I would have to spend a lifetime paying it back to her. This letter I do not put back in the box. I fold it carefully, and put in the back of my wallet.

During the next three months I read it often. I honor her by keeping to the habits she has taught me. I continue to broaden my outdoors knowledge, develop into even better shape, grow closer to my family, and become more and more confident with the opposite gender. I wait dutifully for the right time to open the second to last letter, with the letter in my wallet it’s easy to find the strength to hold off opening it.

What could the last two letters be? Clearly one is to setup a meeting with my future wife, but what of the other? She had finished with her purpose of making me into a better human being, what else was there to do besides meet my wife?

Was there some dark thing that would happen on one of those days? She had written letters before with the purpose of encouraging me, or steering me back onto the straight and narrow path when I strayed off it. Was I going to slip somehow? Would I meet someone else and begin dating a woman who wasn’t my wife? I begin to be anxious about the approaching final letter. One of them is going to be bear good news, but I begin to fear the second. What else could it be but bad news? And it would truly be a dark day. There were no more letters for me. This event must be the worst event in my life to be the only thing from now until my daughter began time traveling that was bad enough to warrant some outside support.

The day finally arrives. After seven months, this could be the end. This could be it. I could read my wife’s name, and begin to date her. We would finally meet after seven months of toil and strife. I could not wait to hear the trials she had endured.

Or, it could be my darkest day. I drive to work using back roads to avoid traffic and any potentially horrible accidents. I do nothing at work for four hours, afraid that my slightest action would somehow get me fired or cause permanent injury, and then I think they might fire me because I’m not doing anything. So I spend another four hours writing emails that don’t need to be written so it looks like I’m doing something.

I jump every time my cell phone goes off, afraid it could delivering bad news. I open every text message slowly, bracing myself for the worst. It’s time to leave work, and still nothing has happened. I practically tip toe out of the building, and for the first time in my life, drive below the speed limit on the back roads home.

At my home I make my dinner while carefully inspecting each and every item to insure it is still in good condition, and free of any mold or impurity that could potentially damage my health.

After dinner I don’t make a fire. I just set in my living room, with my largest kitchen knife in my lap. The TV is off. My phone is on, but I don’t use it, and all other electronic devices are off. I glance anxiously from door to door, waiting for someone to break in, or a fire to start, or a bomb to go off. I glance down at my cell phone every now and then to check for messages, but it’s silent the whole night.

When the clock reads 11:40, I decide to head up to the attic. I walk slowly through the house, checking every corner and frequently looking behind me to make sure nothing has gotten in and begun following me. I reach the attic after the slowest most agonizing walk through my house I have ever taken. It was worse than watching a horror movie by yourself, in the dark, and then walking around your house alone.

I scan the attic for anything out of place that could signal an intruder, and then locate the chest. It’s in tact, just the way I left it. I put my back to a wall and keep the attic entrance in the corner of my eye as I open the box and pull out the seventeenth letter.

I pray fervently as I open it. I’m not out of the woods yet. This letter could be instructions for how to survive a disaster that occurred immediately afterwards, or could describe a horrible situation as it unfolds. I open the letter and begin to read.

10/17/2014

Dear dad, her name is Angelica.”

letters to my father part 3

No, there was no way. She wouldn’t do something like this. This spoiled the mystery. This took all the fun out of the cat and mouse game we were playing. Would she? This was really playful and sneaky, which was like her.

“Hello?” The voice on the end said. “Is anybody there?”

“Uh, yes, I’m calling about a dance lesson.” I said.

“Right, I’ve been expecting you. You are looking into ballroom right?” She’s been expecting me!

“Sure, ballroom sounds good.” I said. She’s been expecting me huh? I’ll play along. “So how long have you been expecting me?” I asked.

“About an hour.” She responded. Only an hour? That couldn’t be right. I’d been reading the letters for about three months now.

“An hour?” I ask, hoping that I had misheard. I knew my hearing was just fine, but I wanted something to pick up my sinking spirits.

“Yeah, an hour.” She responded. “Your friend called about an hour ago to reserve you a spot in our upcoming class this Saturday. It’s a good thing to, because that class is filling up quickly.” My hopes shot back up.

“This friend, did she give a name? First and last please.” Wait, asking for first and last names was kind of creepy, even if this person was a friend. “Uh, I have trouble keeping my friends straight.” I added. It was true enough. I had a hard time keeping up with old friends.

“She didn’t give a first and last name.” Great, now I was just going to have to wonder if it was my Sarah or not. “She just said if you asked for her name to call her ‘little stinker’. So you could say little is her first and stinker is her last.”

It was her! Sarah could travel back here, that meant she was probably out there right now, or she could be here right now watching me. Our game of hide and seek suddenly had new energy. She was here. She was actually here.

“Hello? Are you there? Sir, if there’s a better time for you to make this call we are open for a few more hours.” The patience of the lady who owned the dance studio was wearing thin.

“I’m sorry, no that is just fine. She plays these little games with me.”

“That’s adorable sir.” Said the studio owner in a voice that indicated she didn’t think anything about this conversation was adorable.

“She’s my little stinker.” She’s going to wonder where her nickname comes from when she’s a kid. It’ll be a great story to tell her. “Hey, did she sign up for the class? Or reserve an extra seat?

“No sir, it’ll just be you. You’ve just taken the last spot, and I happen to know the rest of the people taking the class. None of them answers to ‘little stinker’.” I guess it wouldn’t have been her style to show up herself. If she was going to she probably would have either said so in the letter, or given me no warning at all. Oh well, at least I know she’s here.

“Sir, are you signing up for the class or not?” The voice was now bordering on the impolite.

“Yes, yes, of course. When is it?” A few minutes later she had some credit card information, and I had information on when and where the class will be held.

During my nightly campfire I think about Sarah’s bait and switch with the dance studio. I wondered what I would do when we first met. If it was when she was a baby, when her mother gave her life, then it would probably me the ‘oh my gosh this is my kid’ stuff that other parents went through, but if we ran into each other now, when she was an adult, what would I do?

Could I ground her? She was putting me threw a loop, and I was still the parent, even if she had the upper hand, so I should be able to ground her. Did adult children ever get grounded? I guess once they moved out of the house you no longer had that power over them.

I take a pack of hot dogs and skewer a few, then prop up the skewers next to the fire. It took a while, but I think I had finally figured out the right distance from the fire and time to cook for hot dogs. I brought some buns, and munched on some baby carrots while I mused over my daughter. I couldn’t wait until I could read the next letter. When I was reading a letter from her, it was almost like talking to her.

I think when we meet I might do some sort of over the top ‘I can’t believe how much you’ve been yanking my chain’, but I’d probably calm down and want to talk about time travel instead. I hoped she managed it through some kind of future technology, and not through some sort of biological ability she had. I wanted to be able to come back with her. I could go see the coliseum in Rome, or the pyramids at Giza when they were actually being built.

We would have so much time to do things together, and I could be the one showing her how things work. Who knows, maybe I had taught her what she was now teaching me.

I take the hot dogs off the fire, put one in a bun, and take a bite. They are just right, and I’m saddened when I’ve eaten them all and my meal is at an end.

That reminds me of the letters. I’m halfway through, and the last two are going to be months or years apart. Will we just stop our cross temporal conversation when the letters end? What was going to happen during the long spaces in between the last two? I’m no longer as eager as I was to open the next letter, because it meant the end of our time together was drawing to a close.

I kick some dirt onto the fire to douse it, and slip into my tent. Unpleasant thoughts like that can wait until tomorrow.

Friday passed well for me, most days did. My relationship with my daughter was pleasant, sleeping outside made it a lot easier to go to bed at a reasonable hour, and my diet had become very manageable now that I had reached my target weight. My coworkers took notice of my much more friendly nature and good health. When it got out that I was going to start learning how to dance, some of my female coworkers even went so far as to mention that they had a few unattached female friends who simply loved dancing. I remembered my daughter’s plead about other women, and politely pretended not to understand what they were implying.

When I got home I ate and slept well, as usual, and set off for the dance lesson in good spirits when I woke up.

On the drive to the studio I thought about all the dance scenes I had witnessed in movies. Not the club scenes where there was no discernable reason or rhyme to the movements of the dancers, but the ordered dance scenes that were found in older movies. Great swathes of people executing choreographed and though out moves.

I understood ballroom wasn’t some spontaneous display of random movements, but it was more like a team sport where there practiced moves and plays that were executed in tandem. It was sort of a team sport where your partner was both a team mate and an opponent.

I arrived at the studio to find my grand thoughts of ball rooms dashed. In my head, the dancers had all been young men and women about my own age, all clad in gowns and suits. This was a foolish thought firstly because I was wearing a t shirt and jeans myself, and secondly because if I had thought about the matter more I would have realized everyone I knew who actually had some knowledge about dancing was much older than me. So I was rather shocked that the dance studio was filled with primarily older women. Any one of which could have been my mom’s mom, and all of which were as plainly dressed as me.

So this was my Sarah approved of this place, there was no way I could possibly get any of these ladies on a date. Once again amazed that my daughter had played a prank on me, and I had fallen for it, I signed in and joined the others.

The lesson started off with introductions from Sarah the instructor, who noted with some displeasure that I was present. It was awkward being at least twenty years younger than everyone else. Were all dance studios like this? How did young people learn to dance if they had no one there own age to dance with. No wonder my female coworkers had been so eager about me learning to dance, I must be the only person under fifty they had heard of who had knew how to do it.

The instructor split us off into two groups, male and female, and began teaching us a basic step. It was a simple step. You put one foot behind the other, lifted the front foot up, put it down, and then stepped in place with first your right foot, then your left foot. Back, front, left right, it was an easy sequence, but it took about half an hour to do it to a beat. You had to listen to the music and feel for the rhythm of the song. It wasn’t a hard task, and it showed how much of a beginner I was that it took me a half hour to do it. One of the few older gentlemen who had showed up told me not to worry about it, all young people had a lot of trouble finding the right beat in music.

I became somewhat envious of these older gentlemen as the teacher began to move the groups together and partner people up. There was an excess of women, so some of them had to wait their turn for a male partner. At this point the lesson became much more bearable. I wasn’t stepping on my feet anymore, and the older ladies were very appreciative of me.

“Oh don’t worry about it dear, just lift your hand a little higher, that’s it. See how easy that was?” One lady told me as we were learning how to spin our partners. She was by no means the exception either, the nice little old ladies were very enthusiastic about showing me lots of tips and tricks. Whenever I had got the hang of a move, and was waiting on the instructor to show us the next one, the ladies were kind enough to show me new moves of their own, or to practice some moves from earlier in the lesson. It was a wonder these women needed any lessons at all, they seemed to have already mastered everything the instructor showed us.

The whole session was about two hours long, and by the end of it, thanks to the wonderful ladies who took the time to educate a complete beginner, I could fumble my way through about thirty seconds of music without repeating a move. I also left with a new appreciation for the older generation. They knew some very useful stuff. The next time I was around an older relative I’d have to pick their mind and see what other knowledge I could benefit from.

It isn’t until I get home that I remember there’s something written on the back of the letter. After making myself a few BLT sandwhiches and grabbing an apple I pull it out and flip it over to read what’s on the back.

Are you always going to forget about your family like this?” I slap my forehead. Of course, I had forgotten about Grace. I had been so focused on learning to dance that she had completely slipped my mind.

I whip out my phone and dial her number.

“Hello?” She says. “Big brother is that you?” She calls me big brother like she’s missed hearing from me. It stings a little that she’s automatically fond of me.

“Hey Grace, how’s it going?” I ask, opting for a standard conversational question.

“Pretty good, what’s up?” She sounded perky.

“Not much, I just got back from a dance lesson and was wondering if you wanted to learn some basics with me.” Her response is rapid and strong.

“Absolutely! I love dancing, what kind are you learning?” She asks. I can imagine her crossing her fingers and hoping its ballroom.

“Ballroom, it’s pretty interesting, are you home today?” She doesn’t quite manage to hide the squeak in her voice. She sounds a lot like how I imagine my daughter sounds like.

“Yeah, are you coming over?” My family lives less than an hour’s drive from me. It won’t take long at all to hop in my car and drive.

“Sure am, I gotta take care of some things then I’ll be right over.”

“Awesome! Cya in a few big brother!” She hangs up the phone and I bolt down my meal before hopping in the shower. I had worked up a sweat learning to dance and was in need of a good rinsing down.

I have some time to think on the highways between our two houses. I use it to review everything I know about my younger sister. There isn’t much.

I think she’s interested in something artsy, maybe singing? I’m pretty sure she’s gotten into an out of state college, and I had a vague recollection of her having a boyfriend. I rack my brain for favorite movies, books, or TV shows, and come up with nothing.

When I pull into my parent’s driveway I’m nervous. This girl was just about a stranger to me, and she held me high regard. I felt like I was on a tall tower and that if I said the wrong word it could crush her. I resolve not to express any negative opinions until I know what she likes so that I avoid stepping on her feelings.

I ring the doorbell and then wring my hands. She answers it so fast that she must’ve been waiting next to the door.

“Hey big brother!” She exclaims, wrapping me in a forceful hug.

“Oh, hey sis.” I say, awkwardly hugging back. “You uh, ready to dance?” I ask.

“Totally! The parents moved a bunch of furniture out of the way in the living room so we can practice. Our two younger brothers won’t be back from softball practice for a few hours so we’ve got time. Come on in!” she leads me inside and downstairs to the living room. My parents are in the kitchen, I wave to them as we pass by. Not sure if I should stop and talk to them. They wave back, and them I’m past the kitchen and we’re in the living room.

“So, how does this work?” She asks. “I got a nice long skirt that’ll swish when you spin me.” She spins on her heel and her skirt arches outward, flowing gracefully around her. I make a mental note to ask about her boyfriend and make sure to threaten his life the next time I see him.

“Looks pretty sis. How’s um, Bryan?” I ask, trying to remember the kid’s name.

“Blake.” She responds, stopping her spin and looking somewhat deflated. “We broke up four months ago.”

“Oh.” I say. “Want to learn the basic step?” I ask.

“Sure!” She says, brightening back up. “How does it work?” I open a playlist on my phone of appropriate music to dance to, and we start off with the basic step.

She learns much more quickly than I did. In only about ten minutes she’s got it down, and can rapidly pick up the beat to any song I put on.

“That’s good sis, now let’s do some of those spins you were talking about.” She claps her hands, and I’m embarrassed with how easily she takes to spinning. It’s like she had come preprogrammed with dance knowledge. We work through every move I learned in half the time it took me to pick it up. This must be why there were so many more women than men at the dance class. Dancing seemed to come more naturally to women.

“I hate to say this sis, but that’s all I know.” I’m forced to say after about an hour. She pouts and says.

“Really, can we learn some more? There’s got to be stuff like this on youtube.” She has a point, and I do need to learn more moves. I can only go for about thirty seconds, and most songs I know last 3 or 4 minutes. I’d like to know at least one song’s worth of moves, if not several.

“That’s a good idea. I say.” Before I can even consent she pulls up a video on her phone.

“You were planning on learning new moves before I even showed up weren’t you?” I asked Grace. She blushed and nodded.

“I really want to learn this one.” She shows me the video on her phone, and that starts several hours of us learning new moves together. She takes to it like a fish to water, and by the time we finish she’s learning her part, and then teaching me my part. We master enough moves to go through one full song, and can do small changes to the moves to get through a second.

Our improvised dancing lesson turns into a ‘have you seen this ridiculous internet video’ contest. Our parents come in at some point and feed us dinner. The sun begins to set just as we start watching a spoof trailer for a movie that came out yesterday. I should get going. It’s going to be past dark by the time I get home as it is.

“Hey, I actually really want to see this. I think there’s a show in about an hour. Want to go check it out?” Grace asks. That’s an hour until the movie starts, two hours for the movie, and then an hour to get home and get settled. That’s four hours past dark, and it’s been a non-stop day.

“I don’t know Grace. It’ll be real late by the time I get home and I’m really tired.” Grace stops the video.

“Yeah, okay, I get it.” She says.

“We’ll go some other time.” I tell her. She nods again, but doesn’t open her mouth.

“When will I see you again?” She asks. I want to tell her tomorrow, but I’m going to need a day to relax before work, and then there was the next letter. There was no telling what Sarah was going to ask me to do in it. I couldn’t make plans before then.

“I don’t know.” She nodded again.

“Yeah sure, okay.” She says. No we’re just sitting around looking at a phone. It’s definitely time to leave.

“So, I’m going to head out. See you around?” She shrugs.

“I’m not so sure. I leave for college at the end of the summer.” That’s only two months away, and there were a lot of letters between now and then.

“Well, bye.” I say. Grace doesn’t respond.

I hadn’t done anything wrong. I tell myself when I get home. My daughter needed me to be ready for whatever she could throw at me. I needed to focus on her first, and then I could make some time for family. It wasn’t like Grace was going to drop off the face of the planet when she went to college. She would still have an internet connection and a phone. We would still keep up.

‘Like you’ve been keeping up the last six months?’ A little voice in my head points out. I can’t think of a response to that. Unlike Friday, Sunday is very long, and I replay the talk with my younger sister in my head many times.

When I walk up the stairs Monday to get Sarah’s next letter, I brace myself.

06/09/2014

Later, you’ll make this right. Now’s not the time to beat yourself up about it.” I breathe a sigh of relief. I still feel guilty, but I’m relieved Sarah isn’t holding it against me. “Now it’s time to put your skills to the test. You’ve been learning dancing, now you get to see if you can impress a girl you’re not related to with them. There’s a dance hall listed below that has girls your own age, go there, and put your training into action. I want you to stay there the whole night and make sure you have this skill nailed down.” It’s one of the shortest letters she writes me that still provides useful instruction.

I check their website and note that their next dance is the 11th . I stare at the screen, something is off about this one. I already know how to dance. I spent all of Saturday dancing with my younger sister to be sure. It’s too easy. I wanted to be harder, not only because I didn’t think Sarah would give me something to do that was easy, but because I wanted to make up for messing things up with Grace. I felt if I did something difficult that I would restore myself in my daughter’s eyes, and soothe my aching conscious at the same time.

There was something fishy going on here.

The night of the dance comes, and I head down to the hall in semi-formal clothes. The entrance fee is minimal, and I walk into the hall to take a look around. It’s the size of a basketball court, and it’s filled with young couples swirling around. Someone took my mental vision of what dancing should be and brought it to life.

I take a closer look at the couples dancing and see that just as the letter says these dancers are my own age, and not only that, they seem to be the crème of the crop in terms of appearance.

So that’s the catch. That’s why she told me to stay the whole night. This wasn’t about dancing. This was about loyalty. She had given me an in shape healthy body, taught me a rare skill that is rather attractive, and dropped me in the middle of a giant group of girls who wanted me to use this skill on them, but I’m not allowed to try and start something with any of them. My daughter had become my own personal devil.

I walk up to a gentlemen standing to one side and observing the dance.

“Excuse me.” I say. “How long does this dance last? The website didn’t say.”

“Four hours.” He tells me. “Don’t worry; they make sure everybody dances the pretty much the whole time. As soon as this song is done we’ll get into the mix. You get your money’s worth.”

“Great, thanks.” I say. Four hours, and I would be dancing with pretty girls the whole time. Fan. Tastic.

It occurs to me my daughter could very easily be one of the girls dancing. She could use a fake name and I’d never know. Not that it should matter. She seemed to know everything anyway. Still, I would have to be extra careful to be a model gentlemen and not pursue any lady.

I think my brain somehow broadcasted this thought to the women present, and they took it as a challenge. The entire night women are impressed by my dancing skills and try to lay claim to me for repeated dances. I politely decline, not wanting to spend too much time to any girl lest I become attached, and bounce around to different partners, all of whom are amazed at my dancing prowess. Evidently I’m one of the few men present that it took it upon themselves to actually learn how to dance before going to a dance hall.

I consider dancing badly to avoid unwanted attention, but I just know Sarah is going to hold that against me somehow, so I grit my teeth and dip, spin, toss, and twirl girls for all four hours until the last song is over. I hastily make my way to the exit, staring at the floor as I go to avoid any possible eye contact.

Five numbers. Even with all the rush and hurry of dancing, five separate girls give me their numbers. I walk up to the attic and lay them down in front of the chest like some kind of sacrificial offering.

I had wanted some sort of difficult task to prove to myself and to Sarah I was still dad material. I had got my money’s worth. There were five pretty girls out there waiting for me to call them, and instead of spending the evening chatting with one or more of them, I curl up into my sleeping bag, and try to convince myself that I had merely imagined them giving me their numbers.

The next day I take out my pent up frustration on my job, and once again have a most productive day. I storm into the attic after work, brush aside the numbers, and open the chest. I extract the letter and am amazed at its length. It’s certainly the longest letter to date by a large margin.

06/12/2014

Thank you daddy. I know how hard it was waiting for that one girl to call you, and now you had to restrain yourself from calling five. Thank you. I want you to know I wasn’t being mean. This had a purpose.” I had thought the purpose was to be mean. “You see, you’re about halfway to being ready for mom. You now have a healthy body, and a healthy social with fun hobbies. You have two more things to fix before meeting mom, and the first of those two things, is how to get a girl.” As I had done so many times before, I put the letter down. I was going to learn how to talk to girls, from my daughter, a girl whom I was supposed to eventually teach about boys. I couldn’t decide if I should feel emasculated or embarrassed. I decided to feel both.

Oh stop it. It won’t be that bad. I know what I’m doing.” That was hardly the problem. “So you see you had to learn to restrain yourself when it came to girls. You’re about to learn how to get a number. You needed to learn some restraint not to call them, and yesterday was a perfect time. You felt the need to prove yourself, so now you have, and now that we both know you won’t call a girl, I teach you how to get a number.” This was not a skill I ever thought I would put effort into learning.

I always thought that when you met the right person things just worked. Like in books or movies, if you really were compatible with each other then you shouldn’t need a bunch of tricks. “Because you know books and movies do such a good job of representing how things work in real life. That’s why we go to movies, to see how things work in real life.” She had a point, but still, I wasn’t going to be one of those guys who took advantage of girls, and I would’ve thought a girl would understand that. Love should be enough.

So love means never making an effort?” That’s not what I had thought, and did she have a mind reading device? Even if she could travel back in time, how could she possibly know what went on inside my head this well? “You’re an engineer. You believe in hard solid facts. Believe this, just going with the flow and letting your personalities mesh ends with you divorcing mom. Clearly, your way of doing things is wrong. Now, I’m not saying this is the only way, and that other people need to learn how to do this. I am saying if you don’t learn this, you might as well burn the rest of the letters because it won’t fix things.” Trust, so much trust, I should be a master at that fall backwards into somebody’s arm drill they did at team building events.

I know I ask a lot of you dad, and I know this is going to get weird, and I want you to know it’s because I know you can take it. I know you are a strong man who can handle this, and I wouldn’t ask it of you if I knew you couldn’t do it. You can do this dad.” She always knows just the right words to say to me.

Now, I’m going to get started. I’ll talk about this more in future letters. This is going to take a while to master, and I’ll feed you knowledge as you need it. I want you to just focus on what I’m going to say here. There’s a lot to this and I don’t want you to get overwhelmed.” She doesn’t want me to get overwhelmed, it’s a little late for that. I was very far down the rabbit hole at this point.

So, let’s start from the beginning. You walk into somewhere, let’s say a coffee shop. You see a girl sitting down at a table and you want to get her on a date, that’s the goal. You’ve never seen her before in your life. You didn’t know you were going to run into a girl here, what’s the first thing you say? I want you to think about it first before I give you the answer.” It was a silly question. Normal people said hi when they wanted to start a conversation. “Okay, you’ve said hi. She says hi back. She is wondering who this random person is whose talking to her and you have not made any positive impression on her. Now what?” That was a pretty rough assessment. Well, I guess I’d ask her what she’s drinking. “She tells you it’s hot chocolate and wonders why you’re asking about her drink. She is now wondering when you’re going to leave and the battle is lost. Dad, if that kind of thing, everyone would have game.” Just once, I wanted her to be wrong, like dead wrong about something.

I’m not being mean to you dad. I’m just showing you that there’s a better way to do this. Girls have really high expectations. She wants you to be funny, smart, confident, create a conversation that has a charge and romantic bent while still maintaining a comfortable conversational atmosphere that makes her feel safe around you. Also she thinks this should all just ‘come naturally’ so if she thinks you’re doing something you’ve been taught she’s going to bolt.” That didn’t seem fair. All those girls last night had handed out numbers without too much trouble. I shouldn’t have difficulty doing that again.

Dad, the ugliest, creepiest, and foulest smelling man in the world can get girls at his own rock concert. You can get a girl at a dance, great. What are you going to do once you’re off the dance floor? Look dad, you can debate this more with yourself later. Right now, you need to read what I’m telling you, and trust me that you need to know this stuff for mom. Sure you two will get together without this, but you need to put magic into the relationship, and knowing this stuff is the key to learning that magic. It’s a bridge into a beautiful. You may not like the way the bridge looks, but it’s going to take you where you want to go.” I resigned myself. She had me beat. I would think on this later and see if I could find some hole in her logic, but for now, she had won.

Good, now we’re going to talk about what you’re going to say to her, and how you’re going to build up to a kiss, because the road to the first kiss starts when you say hi.” I was barely halfway through the letter. This was going to be a long read.

I don’t know how my daughter knew all this, but her insight into this matter was extensive. She explained that there are several ways to start a conversation with a girl. There are practiced lines that you can use anywhere like ‘Hey, did you study interior design? That’s funny because as soon as I saw you the whole room became beautiful.’ These were not very effective, but they required the smallest amount of effort, and therefore the smallest amount of courage. She recommended using these only as an exercise for getting over any fear of talking to girls that I still had.

After practiced lines there were compliments. You had to pay the compliment in a certain way. Girls put a lot of effort into their appearance, my daughter told me, so compliment on something she’s done. Jewelry was ideal. Positive feedback about her dress or skirt was good. Hair styling was okay, and you could resort to stuff like fingernails if you had to. I thought it was creepy to start calling a girl pretty from the get go, but my daughter informed me that this did in fact work. They weren’t the best option, but they were a good back up.

Then there was the more effective method that she recommended, commenting on the situation. If you are in the same environment as someone it makes sense for you to comment on that environment. If you’re in a sandwhich shop it’s perfectly natural to ask what someone’s favorite sandwhich is. It’s the hardest to do because you have to make it specific to the situation. The more specific the better it would work. Instead of asking about her favorite sandwich, it would be better to point out that all of the in house specialty sandwiches would probably give a farm animal PTSD from all the meat and cheese on them. The less generic, the more she’ll like it.

That portion of the letter I understand. The next portion is far more….unorthodox. It starts with a question. “How do you go from never having touched someone before in your life, to kissing them?” It was a difficult question. I thought the answer was a mixture of blink luck and large amounts of courage. My daughter informed me this was not the case, and then proceeded to outline a very detailed method for progressing from no contact to kiss.

She said it was all about getting her more and more comfortable with you touching her. You started with the upper arm. It was surprisingly the least personal part of the human body. You would tap her on the upper arm, and point something out. You could do this a few more times, letting your touch linger a bit more each time. Then you went to the shoulders and the hands. Surprisingly she recommended playing a thumb war as a good way to get her comfortable with you holding her hands.

After she discusses the hands she ends the lesson. “So, that’s the easy part. You now know what you’re going to say, and how you’re going to start getting comfortable with physical contact. Next letter we’ll discuss a bit more about having a conversation, for now, here’s your mission.” I braced myself. “You’re going to practice using this stuff until the next letter, but first, there’s the problem of your shyness. On the back of this letter I’ve written ten of the cheesiest pick up lines I know of. You have to use all of them on girls before you can progress. One last thing before you flip it though. Remember, none of these girls will be my mom, but they will be somebody’s mom. Treat them with respect, and leave them with a smile on their face. You are here to learn, don’t do it at other people’s expense.” I flip the letter over.

Hey, can I take your picture so I can prove to all my friends that angels exist? This one doesn’t count unless you get the photo.”

“Are you religious? Because you’re the answer to all my prayers.”

“Introduce yourself and ask her what her name is, after she tells you say it followed by your last name.”

“Hey do you have a band aid? Because I just scraped my knee falling for you.”

“Come on give it back, give it back(what?) my heart.”

“You already know the interior decorator line.”

“Do you know what my shirt is made of? Boyfriend material.”

“Hey, didn’t we take a class together? That’s weird, because I could’ve sworn we had chemistry.”

“You’re so beautiful that you made me forget my pick up line.”

“Now for the kicker dad, if you can ask this then you will have truly conquered any fear of talking to girls. After you use all nine other lines, look for a girl with her phone on it. Walk up to her and ask for it to call someone. When she gives it to you, her mom, and tell her that you’ve just met her daughter and want her to know that she’s one of the most beautiful girls you’ve ever seen. You have one week dad.”

Thanks for reading letters to my father part 3! Part four is going to take a little longer, and should be out in about four days. Once again, thank you guys for all of the fantastic messages. I’ve read every one of them and they really do mean a lot to me. Consider this update a thank you.

How much do my parents love me?

Abortion is legal until the age of 18, a kid who’s still a month away from his 18th birthday faces a difficult choice.

“Good night dear, we love you.” My parents called.

“Love you too.” I called back. Love me, that’s what they said. They didn’t know what I’d done today.

All my life my parents had raised me to be a great doctor. They had given me extravagant gifts and much praise whenever I brought home a 4.0 GPA, and I had brought home a 4.0 GPA every semester of my life.

I had been a part of all the right extracurricular activities and volunteer groups. Until today my chances of getting into the right school had been 100%.

Today had been the SAT. I had practiced for months, read every book on the subject, and taken every necessary class. My preparation had been ideal, and every sign indicated I should score in the top 5%.

I scored in the fifth percentile alright, just not the upper fifth. I hadn’t told my parents my score. Most students received their scores a week after testing. I didn’t know you could receive your scores the same day until today. After I had completed my exam, one of the proctors pulled me aside and told me that I had scored in the bottom five percent.

Before I could cry out that such a score wasn’t possible for me he had hastily told me that I wasn’t supposed to know, but parents had been known to abort their children when they scored low.

“It isn’t super common.” He had said. “But it happens.”

“My parents would never do that to me!” I had shouted. Thankfully he had pulled me into an empty soundproof room to have this discussion.

“Is it?” He asked. “You know who gets the pre-birth abortions right? Kids without futures” I didn’t respond. “Think about it kid, think of all those children with birth defects who get the axe.”

“But I’m not defective.” I said, still reeling from what I was hearing.

“I know that.” He responded. “I didn’t say you were, but to them, they’ve put a lot of money, time, and energy into your success, and after today, well, not saying anything about your future kid, but that kind of a score doesn’t look good.”

I thought about all the vacations my parents had taken me on, all the money on tutors, private schools, summer school, vacations to educational places, and all of it in their eyes was now wasted.

I could retest of course, but not until after my birthday, and a retest wasn’t a clean slate. I still had community colleges, night school, trade school, apprenticeships, but medical school was all but gone for me.

To them, I might as well have just plastered ‘boomerang generation’ on my forehead. My outlook on life did not look good.

I had jokingly told my friend that my parents would kill me if I scored low. Could it be true?

“How old are your parents kid?” The man asked me.

“Late thirties early forties.” I said.

“Still young enough to start over.” He told me. “Adoption agencies are eager to give kids to parents with practice.”

‘We love you’. My parents had told me before I went to bed. Was I willing to stake my life on that?

Unhooked part five

“You guys are some very scary people.” I say upon walking into the house. Thomas had setup a little demonstration of what we would look like. He had two pistols on shoulder holsters, and a third on his hip. There was a rifle on his lap, and another rifle slung across his back. He had a bandoleer of high caliber rounds and to top it all off, he was in all black tactical clothing with a black mask over this face.

“That’s the idea right?” He replies, standing up and shoulder his rifle.

“It’s a little ridiculous though isn’t it?” I ask. “I mean you need two hands to operate a pistol, and you have three. Those two rifles you have are the same rifle so there’s no possible reason for having both, and that bandoleer doesn’t have ammunition for any of your weapons.”

“You’re forgetting.” Jess is at my side, and she seems to approve of the setup. “We aren’t going for practical. He shouldn’t have to fire a single round, and everyone in that factory probably knows the same amount about weapons as you do. To say nothing of the fact that they’re probably going to be way too scared to count. Besides, all we have to do is intimidate one person. So we ditch logical, and just go for shock factor. You remember that feeling of danger that just magically radiated from the gun before you learned how to fire it? The more guns we bring the more we emphasize that feeling, and at the end of the day any rational person will realize it only takes one to get the job done, so even if they have their wits about them they should still comply.”

“About not firing a round.” Thomas says. “That’s not entirely accurate.” Jess rounds on him.

“Thomas, you better not have gotten any ideas.” Thomas picks up a bottle in front of him. I hadn’t noticed them before, but there are several bottles in front of him filled with a bluish solid.

“I haven’t, just did my prep work for demolition. See these?” He lifted the bottle. “Napalm, burns at almost 2000 degrees, way hotter than any wood fire, and hot enough to ignite some metals.”

“Metals burn?” I ask.

“Everything burns if you get it hot enough.” Thomas says. I don’t know if I believe him, but probably enough things in that factory will burn to shut it down permanently.

“I’m gonna place these around the factory, and hit them with incendiary rounds. It’s the quickest way I could think of to set off as many fires as possible as quick as possible.” I notice there are about a dozen bottles that all look to be a liter or more. “I would like to mix in some explosives, but we used the last of it a week ago.” I turned to Jess.

“Jess, you said you used these things for hunting. What kind of animals require incendiary rounds and explosives to hunt?” Jess practically giggled.

“I didn’t say we only used them for hunting. Ever put an ounce of an explosive binary compound in a watermelon and hit it with a sniper rifle round? You should, you haven’t really lived until you have.”

“I’m starting to have some second thoughts about who I spend my time with.” I say, only half joking.

“Don’t knock it ‘til you try it.” Thomas says. I suppose I will have to try it at some point, but I find myself wondering what other supplies the siblings have squirreled away. The rounds on Thomas’ bandoleer were fired by a very large gun. I wouldn’t put it past them to have a tank hidden in the woods somewhere.

“Alright you two.” Thomas says. “You can see I’ve done my part, what have you two come up with? We kind of left it at destroy this facility. I’ve got the supplies to break in and burn, but don’t we need more intel than that first?”

“Like what?” I ask.

“You are such a zombie.” Thomas says. “Like what, like whose the person we’re going to find to get everyone to leave. Where does this person work, when do they work. How are we going to get to them without getting seen by anybody else? What kind of security does the base have. Did you just expect to walk through the door looking like this.” He gestures to himself. “And expect nothing would happen? Isn’t this plan supposed to be subtle?”

“Alright, alright, I get it.” I say. “Clearly I need to do some more research, here hand me my laptop.” Thomas had apparently been counting on this, and had turned my laptop on, stupid me for leaving it unlocked, then opened it to the page about the site we were going to hit. I had already printed out maps on how to get there, so at least that much was taken care of.

I sit down while Jess and Thomas anxiously inspect the weapons. While I hastily click through websites they’re loading magazines, attaching ammunition to tactical vests, and discussing which knives would look the most intimidating. I wondered if I could make new friends once people got unhooked from the pill.

The site has a personnel page. I open it expecting to just use whoever is the top person on the page. Unfortunately they all looked like business personnel who didn’t look they stepped foot in the lab or would have access to the security system. That wouldn’t do, it didn’t matter if they were important if they didn’t have access to the security system. Halfway down there’s a man in a lab coat whose title is director of process developmnet. Director sounded like a high rank, and process development sounded like a lab job.

“Got our man.” I announce. “Damian Winters.” I say, turning my laptop around for them to get a good look. “Director of process development.” The two look up and study his face, memorizing it so they can recognize him

“Okay.” Thomas says. “How do we get to him?”

“Working on that.” I say.

“Let us know when you have something.” Thomas replies, turning back to bottle of napalm he’s inspecting.

I open up Damian’s page and look around for something. Contact information, having his office phone might be a good idea. I copy and paste that info into a word processer for later use. He’s got a bio about drug design, and commitment to quality. That’s useless. Ah, office hours perfect. Monday through Friday 8-5. The guy must be unhooked to pull that kind of schedule. That turned my stomach. He knew what he was depriving people of, and yet he continued to perpetuate the process.

So now I had a time for us to grab him, now I needed a place and a way to get to it. I looked around his bio and didn’t find any more information. Dead end, several more internet searches showed nothing, and even some illegal use of assets from my job couldn’t find anything.

I pull his company page back up and look it over again, hoping something jumps out. Still nothing, maybe the answer isn’t found on a computer, maybe we have to improvise. I write the office phone number down on a piece of paper I have nearby and turn to Thomas.

“Hey Thomas, do you guys have a hunting rifle with a laser sight?” Thomas scoffed.

“What self-respecting gun owner wouldn’t own a hunting rifle with a laser sight?” Maybe having gun nut friends had some advantages.

We park the car a good two miles away from the factory to make sure our getaway vehicle isn’t spotted at the scene of the crime. The factory is in the middle of the woods, with no neighboring buildings nearby, so we naturally have to walk through the woods ourselves. It’s for the best really. If we walked on the sidewalk then people would get suspicious. We had all our gear stored in several heavy backpacks and duffle bags, but we didn’t want to attract any more attention than we had to.

It was a long walk, plenty of time to fully understand what you’re doing. When I had just woken up I was coursing with almost every emotion there was. Now I had time to cool off and project my energy into other things. Now things were real. That word, real, so many meanings over the last day. It had meant pain, fear, surprise, elation, sadness depression, and shock. Now I could add one more meaning to the list, resolution.

I knew what this meant, or I at least thought I did. We were breaking the law, in a big way, and even putting some people’s lives in a small degree of danger. Tonight there was the very real possibility we would be in jail or worse.

My head began to fill with all the possible scenarios. We could get pinned down and shot at by police. We could be in metal cells staring at blank walls for the rest of our lives and eating bland food. They might even put us back on the pill for what we did, to keep us sedated.

That thought sent a shiver down my spine. It was worse than the other two. At least in jail or under fire we would be in the real world, fighting to make a difference. Under the pill we are almost worse than dead. I shudder to think that mere hours ago I had been under the pills myself, and shuddered again to think of all the people still under the pill.

“Hey, you look a little worried.” Jess says. “Not having any second thoughts are you?” I snap out of it.

“No, just determined to put end this.” This seems to be the right thing to say.

When we get closer Thomas walks us through his part of the plan more thoroughly. I had already covered my part earlier.

“So safeties off and fingers off the trigger. We’re keeping bullets in our magazines like we discussed. In case we need to fire the guns to intimidate anyone, or if heaven forbid we get into a firefight we’ll need to fire rounds into the air in order to escape. But, we don’t want to have to use to them, so be mindful where your gun is pointing, and keep your finger off the trigger. We don’t want any accidental discharges. Once you guys have our man covered I’ll get him to tell me where their explosive or flammable chemicals are and set my charges. You all will then clear the building and I’ll blow them. We’ll ditch the man, and head for the woods. Remember, we don’t want him to identify us, so keep talking to a minimum, and use your voice changers.”

“Got it.” Me and Jess say. The building becomes just barely visible through the tree line.

“Alright, we’re here.” Thomas says. “Everybody knows what to do, let’s get to it.”

The building is large, probably as big as my entire cul de sac, and looks very plain. There is no outward sign of the turmoil the products of this building create. We stay back in the treeline as we walk around the building. Jess and I use some of the binoculars we bring to look into the windows until we can locate our target.

“There he is.” I spot him first. “Third window from the right.” Luckily he had been facing the window, observing the nice scenery no doubt.

“Got it.” Jess confirms with her goggles. Now it’s go time. We fall back so we’re out of sight of the building and open our duffle bags. There are metallic clacking sounds, zippers being done up, and the click of buckles being fastened and adjusted. In a few minutes we transform from a normal twenty something trio out for a walk into three heavily armed individuals that look like a cross between terrorists and SWAT team members. There is hardly an inch of flesh visible beneath layers of leather, cloth, and bullet proof fabric. Between the three of us we have 10 pistols, 7 large tactical knives, and five rifles. Thomas had wanted grenades, but apparently the arsenal of the siblings had its limits.

When we were fully dressed for the operation we stood a moment looking for someone to say something significant. Thomas and Jess looked to me.

“There’s nothing to say.” I tell them. “This has to be done. That’s all there is to it.” This seems appropriate. People in real life didn’t give speeches before they did something significant. They just did it. I was not going to indulge in fantasies before taking down an entity that preyed on the fantasies of people to make money. Thomas and Jess understand that. This isn’t some feel good mission of mercy. We’re pretty much the bad guys using guns to scare people into getting a what we want so we can burn down their place of work and put them out of jobs. I wasn’t going to sugarcoat it. This was ugly, but it was necessary. “Let’s go.”

Thomas sets up underneath a both, taking a minute to disguise his position. Jess and I setup on either side of him. Jess pulls out a rifle with a high powered scope on top. I grab my binoculars and focus on Damian. Thomas pulls out the hunting rifle with the laser sight and gets a bead on the office. He taps me on the shoulder to let me know he’s ready. Jess also draws a bead on the office and reaches over to tap me to signal her readiness.

Sniper in position, spotter in position, it was time to make the call. I pull out the office number for Damian, press in the numbers, and call. It had taken three hours to disguise my phone. It would show up on any phone as a randomly generated series of 10 numbers. This was after it was so thoroughly encrypted that the heat death of the universe would occur before someone could crack it.

“Hello? This is Damian Winters. With whom am I speaking?” A slightly British accent says on the other end of the line.

I tap Thomas on the shoulder and he flips on his sight. His rifle is zeroed so that if the laser is point at Damian, the actual rifle is actually pointed several feet to his left. It took a while to convince Thomas to point a gun so close to a human being, even when the safety on and the scope zeroed to throw off his aim . I activate the voice changer on my phone.

“You have a sniper zeroed in on your chest, any sudden movements and he repaints your desk.” Damian straightens up and looks to his office door.

“I’m impressed, most prank calls aren’t this sophisticated. The voice changer really pulls it together. How did you randomize your number?” There’s no fear in his voice, not yet anyway.

I put the phone next to the hunting rifle and Thomas chambers around. The metal on metal sound is loud and clear.

“Nice sound effects.” He says confidently, but he had hesitated.

“Damian, look down at your chest.” He looks down. And moves behind his desk.

“Damian, come to the window, before my friend gives you a third lung.” Damian looks to the door, clearly weighing his options of running for help. He makes the wise decision to not try and outrun a bullet, and walks to the window.

“Look to the tree line Damian.” When I see he has complied I tap Thomas and he and Jess stand up. Two shadowy figures with rifle and lots of intimidating dear.

“Heaven save me.” Damian whispers. It sounds subconscious.

“Damian, if you play this smart no one is going to heaven today. We don’t want to hurt anyone. So don’t do anything without specific instructions from us or we’ll have to demonstrate we mean business.”

“What did I ever do to you?” Damian asks. “Can’t you find someone else to do whatever it is you want? Surely there’s someone more important or richer you could be doing this to.”

“No Damian, you don’t know what we want. If you did you would know you’re the perfect candidate. No more remarks. You’re going to do what we want, and if you do it quick and fast you’ll get to go home tonight.” I leave no room for compromise in my voice. “Remember, we’re the ones with the weapons, and you’re the one with the exposed office with a view of the lovely cover these trees provide.” I don’t leave time for him to respond. I jump right into it.

“You’re going to issue a warning that there’s been a chemical spill. It’s highly toxic and the building needs to be cleared. All personnel are to leave the office immediately and maintain a distance of 1,000 feet. Do it now. I’ll stay on the line. As soon as you’ve issued the command hide under your desk so no one sees you’re still inside. Do it now.” I order. He looks at the phone like he can’t believe what he’s hearing. He looks back out the window. He can’t see Jess or Thomas anymore. He’s wondering if he really saw what he thinks he saw.

I put my hand over the microphoneon the speaker and lean over to Thomas.

“Put the laser onto his phone.” Thomas makes an almost imperceptibly small motion. It has the desired affect. Damian jumps back, bumping into his office chair and almost falling over.

“We’re getting impatient Damian.” Damian pushes a button on the desk and Thomas tenses. He doesn’t put his finger on the chamber or toggle the safety to on, but you could tell he thought about it. If Damian is going to call for help, he’s going to do it now.

“This is Damian Winters, director of process development.” I can hear the echo of a PA system over the phone. “There’s been a chemical spill. The chemicals have aerosolized and are a carcinogenic, flammable, severe irritant. We must evacuate quickly and calmly. Exit the building in an orderly fashion and maintain a distance of at least 1,000 feet between yourselves and the building.” He takes his hand off the button and cowers under his desk.

“Good Damian, you’re doing good. That desk won’t stop a bullet in case you were wondering.” A little carrot to reward him for compliance, and then the stick to keep him in line.

“Aren’t they going to notice I’m gone?” He asks. “I just made an announcement so they know I’m here.”

“It doesn’t matter.” I say. We had anticipated this question. “There are over 100 people in that building. Everyone will have evacuated before they notice one missing. They’ll hopefully think you went to the hospital, but even if they don’t a rescue mission is impossible. The building you’re in has purportedly suffered a dangerous chemical leak. No one could come back even if they wanted to.” It also explained why there would be a fire shortly after the evacuation.

“We’re going to monitor the evacuation, stay on the line, and after everyone is out we’re going to come to you. You’re going to show us where to set our charges.”

“Charges? Like explosive charges?” Damian whispers sharply, careful not to speak too loud and reveal to people walking by his office that he’s still inside. “I thought you guys were robbing us or stealing company secrets. Why do you have charges?” Damian’s voice was pretty calm for a guy being held hostage. I guess he had figured out we weren’t going to shoot him, at least he probably thought it wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.

“We’re going to burn that abominable place down. There aren’t going to be any more pills manufactured here.” I tell him. “So we need you to show us where to lay the incendiary devices in order to cause the most damage.” I expected Damian to say something like ‘you’re never going to get away with this’ or ‘the police will find you’, instead he just says.

“Okay.” And calmly waits for the evacuation to finish. To the credit of the people working in the building they filed it very calmly out the doors, and only began to jog once they were clear of the building. The only open area for them to job to was on the opposite side of the building from us, so whenever they exited they turned away from us and walked around the building. We would be hidden from view when we exited our cover and approached the building. We had been lucky that Damian’s office was on this side of the building. It made entry to the building much easier.

There are several tense moments while the building clears. Right now, we’re almost entirely risk free. There’s no chance of someone sneaking up on us from our position, and Damian is too far away and too trapped to do anything. Right now, everything is going fine. In a few minutes we’re going to enter the building, and then things will get dangerous again. There could be more coworkers inside who could panic and do something stupid like rush us. Damian could try and disarm us when we get closer, or tear off one of our masks. The charges could work too well and take down the building while we are still inside it. Any number of unexpected factors could get introduced.

It’s been thirty seconds since the last time I’ve seen someone exit the building. I reach over and tap Jess.

“The building looks clear Damian, walk over to the window and throw out your key fob. We’re coming to you.” Jess and I stand up and with weapons out, but pointed down, we head quickly toward the building. Thomas had wanted to set off the charges himself, but someone had to keep the laser on Damian, and Thomas insisted that if someone was going to be pointing a gun near a person, it was going to be him. So me and Jess arrived at the back entrance to the building with me wearing a backpack full of napalm. Damian throws out his key fob as we get close.

Jess and I stack up on the door. She’s got her rifle out, and so do I. I hold the key fob up for both of us to see. This is it, after we go in this door we leave the safety of the sniper hide, and enter an unknown building that could be crawling with people who hadn’t made it out yet. There could even be security guards. Damian had acted awfully calm earlier. Had he managed to signal security that there was about to be a breakin? Only one way to find out. I tap the fob to the security panel, and open the door. We’re in.

There’s a security desk to our left, but thankfully no guard. Jess points to the desk. We had agreed to keep talking to a minimum and that I would be the only to speak, because I had the voice changer. This would keep the chances of someone identifying our voices low. I nod, indicating that I notice the guard isn’t there. She raises a hand palm up to ask where he went. I shrug. I hadn’t seen him leave. Jess clearly hadn’t either.

“Maybe he went out another way.” I say in a voice so quite it is almost just a breath. Jess doesn’t like this. She points to the safety on her rifle. They are currently on, and they’re the only thing preventing a trigger pull from sending a bullet flying out at lethal speeds. Jess wants to be ready in case the guard is still around.

I shake my head and point down, indicating I still want our rifles pointed down. She shakes her head back at me, but keeps her safety off and her gun down.

I point to a staircase. Damian’s office was on the second floor, and somewhere to our right. We move to the door. I open it, she moves through first. She looks up and down the stairwell. She flashes me an okay sign and holds still. She’s listening to hear if anyone is waiting at the top. I listen outside and keep my eyes on the hallway that leads away from the security desk.

I feel that same sensation I did when I fell back off the mountain. This moment we were in free fall, and at any moment we were waiting for the rope to catch us and secure us in place. My brain was firing on all cylinders, and everything seemed to take three times as long.

Jess finally nods, and we move up the stairway, carefully closing the door at the bottom to avoid any unwanted noise.

At the top it’s Jess’ turn to hold the door as I go through. I’m in the middle of a hallway with offices on both sides that stretches the length of the building. I rapidly glance left and right, it’s empty. I flash an okay symbol back to Jess, and we both listen again, still nothing. I count ten breaths to keep track of the time, and then move down the hall to the right, where Damian’s office is. Jess closes the stairway door quietly and moves after me.

I estimated it had been six minutes since the alarm sounded, and two since the building had clear. Our fear was beginning to dissipate and be replaced by an urgency to move quickly. We didn’t know how long it would be before someone called the police or fire department themselves. We probably had at least five minutes, and maybe as much as half an hour, but we couldn’t be sure.

Damian’s office door is closer. I put my hand flat on the pane of glass on the door so Thomas knows it’s me coming in. I hold my hand there for another three breaths to make sure he sees it, then I nod to Jess. She opens the door, and I move in.

It’s just like I saw it from the sniper hide. I wave to Thomas to indicate everything is okay. He has no way of responding since we decided radios would be too loud, and too easy for some passing local law enforcement to listen in on. It would be one more thing that could get us caught, so we had left them behind.

“Damian Winters.” I say. “Stand up.” Damian had been well hidden behind his desk. I hadn’t seen him at all.

“I’m here.” He says, again his voice is too calm. I want to stick my head back out into the hallway to make sure it’s still clear, but I don’t want to look nervous or unsure in front of the man I’m supposed to be scaring into collaborating with the destruction of his workplace.

“Show us where to plant the charges.” I tell him, getting right to the point.

“Yes of course.” He says. “But first, if I may ask, why do you want to burn down this research facility?”

“Research facility?” I ask, the voice changer failing to hide my confusion. “I thought this was manufacturing facility?”

“It is.” Damian says, calmly siting down in his desk chair. “We manufacture the material for clinical trials, which are conducted with the population of this facility, but it is still research. We modify the batches and work on the next generation of pills. When we think we’ve got something we get permission from the government and begin testing the new pill on the local population.” This isn’t good. This won’t interrupt the supply. I don’t know why they’re researching a better pill, but if the current one already has the world lying down and giving up, I hate to think what the new one will do.

“But destroying this place will meet your goals I think.” Damian says. He’s got his fingers folded on the desk in front of him, and his look is utterly confident. What is he up to?

“What do you know about our goals?” We’re wasting time. We may just have to throw the bag in the hallway and shoot it on our way out if this conversation takes too long, but Damian knows something, and I can’t leaving before discovering what it is.

“To destroy the pill obviously. You haven’t expressed any interest in taking anything of monetary value from this facility. Considering how valuable some of the intellectual knowledge is here, in addition to the rare chemicals used in the manufacturing process, that is a pretty big flag that this isn’t a smash and grab from another company. You are here because you hate what the pill does. You perhaps were abandoned by family, or suffered severe depression from the lack of social interaction in your lives.” He’s got us figured out.

“How would you know about that?” I ask.

“Because I saw it happen countless times. I watched as the world gave up on itself. There was this cure for so many sleep disorders. The over half of adults with sleeping disorders could rest easy with a sleeping pill that the body did not develop a tolerance to. They hold the key to a restful night that will let them take life by the horns. Instead I watched them lay down and give up on the world. I watched parents forget about children, and children forget about parents. I saw so many leave a rotting civilization for the wilderness to escape the pestilence of constant sleep I had caused.”

“You made the pill.” I say, flipping the safety off on my rifle.

“Yes, I made the pill.” He says. I point the gun at his chest. Jess had been monitoring the hallway, she looks in and sees my gun up, then see my safety off.

“No Ryan! Don’t do it!” She shouts. I use one hand to tell her to stay back. She freezes. She knows if she moves forward I could reflexively pull the trigger and end this man, turning arson into murder.

Damian tenses, expecting any moment to be knocked backward by a gunshot.

“Before I put a bullet in your heart you are going to tell me why you did it. Why did you hook the entire world?” Damian looks confused.

“Hook?” Damian says. “Do you mean to imply that I or the people I work for are somehow keeping people on the pill?” I nod, putting my finger on the trigger. Just a little tug, that’s all it would take.

“So you think we are forcing people to take it?” He actually has the gall to look surprised and insulted. I nod again.

“Either by making the pill addictive or coercing them into it.” I say. Damian looks at the barrel of my gun.

“Son no one is forcing people to take the pill. They want to.” I almost do it. I almost pull the trigger. I take my finger off the trigger to prevent myself from doing it by accident, but I keep the gun pointed right at his heart.

“Explain.” I manage to say.

“There’s nothing to explain son.” He says. “The pill isn’t addictive. I know. I designed it, and I can’t believe you think we would somehow threaten that many people. You’re pretty clearly not taking the pill. Has anyone forced you? As for addictive agents, have you felt a need to take it? Did that need come fr” He has a point.

“You’re lying.” I say.

“Really, I’m telling a man with a gun pointed at me something that obviously upsets him. Wouldn’t someone lie to improve their chances of survival? I know you’re hurting or else you wouldn’t be doing something as stupid, dangerous, and kind of wrong, but you can’t shoot me. I’m the only one who can tell you what you need to do in order to stop all this.”

“Seems to me we can stop all this with a little movement of my pointed finger.” I tell him.

“Killing me will do the exact opposite of what you intend.” He says. He doesn’t sound like a man whose pleading. “You deserve to shoot me for what I’ve done, but I oversee all research on the next generation pill, pill that will keep man under for twenty-four hours. The company has been working with some robotics institutes, and they’re going to go global with a way to keep humanity permanently unconscious. “ Permanently unconscious, truly this would create the living dead.

“So tell me why I shouldn’t stop you from doing this?” I ask.

“Because if you shoot me they’ll hire someone who hasn’t been secretly sabotaging the experiments. I give them just enough information to keep them from firing me. I have dragged this process out for decades, when it should’ve just taken a few years. You shoot me, and this is going to get a lot worse.” This is beginning to sound a little too elaborate to be a lie made up on the spot with a gun unexpectedly pointed at you.

“Tell me, what were you going to do after taking this facility out? Seems like there’s only two or three of you, or else you would have brought a much larger group. Did you think the remaining eleven facilities wouldn’t beef up security to anticipate another move like this? Not to mention even if you by some miracle managed to pull this off eleven more times without being caught. You would still have to deal with our hundreds of international locations.” I point the gun down and flip the safety off. I hear Jess give a sigh of relief.

“You’ve thought this out.” I say.

“Yes.” He says. “And I also know how to stop this place for good. You won’t need your incendiaries, and I’ll make sure it looks like an accident. We use methane in the manufacturing process. I’ll leave a Bunsen burner on in one lab, and open the methane then run. When I get to the crowd of people outside I’ll say that I smelt the methane and tried to contain it, but it was too late. If police investigate they’ll confirm what I’ve said. It will destroy their research so they can’t finish making the 24 hour pill.” He didn’t relax at all when I lowered my gun. I think he really did want me to shoot him.

“That doesn’t take care of their manufacturing capabilities.” I say. “We appreciate what you’re saying and will trust you to do it, but what about the hundreds of facilities you’ve mentioned?”

“I’ll send them false plans.” He says. “One of the pills greatest strengths is unlike most medicines, your body won’t generate a tolerance to it. With other sleeping pills you eventually need to increase the dosage to keep the same affect. Not with my pills, my pills will always put you under with just one dose no matter how long you’ve been taking them. During my research I stumbled upon a way to make the pill, and remove this affect. I’ll send this pill that the body eventually rejects to our headquarters and claim it works. I’ve been the world’s drug dealer for decades. They will take me at my word, and with this building destroyed their won’t be any evidence to prove me wrong. The world will slowly wake up when the pills stop working.”

“Won’t the company find out and just ship out the old pills?” I ask.

“They won’t keep a stockpile, and even if they did, they’ll need new equipment to make the new pill, and will have to throw out the old equipment. They won’t be able to make any old pills, at least not for several weeks while the new equipment gets made, shipped, and installed. Besides, by the time they find out it’s the pill’s problem, and I’ll do my best to see that they don’t, people will already awake.” He really has spent a lot of time planning this. So why hasn’t he done this before people with guns showed up.

“Why would you just sit on this plan? You don’t need us. You already figured out how to sabotage the pill, and burn down this facility. Why have you just been sitting on your thumbs?”

“Because I didn’t know people like you existed.” He said. “Everyone always went into the wild after they unhooked. No one has ever made this effort to help unhook people before. I can’t take the pill down permanently. We’ll get at most a few months of people being awake. Humanity rejected the real world once, I had every reason to believe they would do it again.”

“That’s why you’ve been so calm during this process.” I say. “You haven’t been afraid. You’ve been hopeful.”

“Yes.” He says. “Finally people are unhooking themselves and going out into the bright light of day. I believe if people like you exist, then there is hope for humanity.” I sling my gun onto my back. Clearly the security guard is gone, and this man is no threat. He proves it by not lunging at me when I put my gun away. I display one more act of trust, and disable my voice changer.

“Meet us in the sniper perch after you’re done explaining to the police and the fire department.” I tell him. “Let’s go Jess.” I say, and without another word, we depart.

When we get back to the sniper perch Thomas practically yells at us.

“What are you doing? Did you use any of the charges? Why did you just let him go? Did you come all this way for nothing?” He has been dutifully watching the whole exchange through his scope.

“No Thomas, I just decided to have a little faith.” I lay down next to him and take out my binoculars. “We’ll see in a moment if my faith was misplaced.”

“If I don’t see an explosion in the next minute. I’m going to stab you.” Thomas says. He’s joking of course, but not by a lot.

“If you don’t see an explosion in the next minute.” I say. “I’ll let you.” Thomas scoffs and returns to examining the building. About the time we finish our conversation Damian runs out the other side of the building waving and shouting at the people in the crowd forming a thousand feet from the building. When he’s about halfway to them a giant pressure wave hits us as a large section of the building is blown up and away. Windows are blown out all across the building and fires can be seen rapidly spreading.

“I guess I get to live to fight another day.” I say to Thomas. For an answer, Thomas starts putting the rifle away.

“Not yet, we’ve got to wait on Damian. I told him to meet us here.” It’s a much longer wait than I had planned. Damian only leaves after the police have come and interviewed people, and the firemen have tried and failed to put out the fires, helped along by their terrible response time. They must’ve been amateur volunteers who slept in their own homes then drove to the station during an alarm. They had taken almost a half hour to show up and had done a very sloppy job putting out the fire. Good thing I never had to call emergency services.

When Damian finally joins us there is only an hour or two of daylight left.

“Thank you.” He says. “Thank you for making me believe in humanity again. What you did was stupid, reckless, dangerous, and could’ve hurt a lot of innocent people. I forgive you for pointing a rifle at my head, but I can’t condone it. Still, it is my fault. I should’ve done this years ago. Thank you for waking me from my stupor to do what needed to be done.” With that he shakes our hands and departs. He tells us we’re never going to see him again, and we never do.

Two months later we’re sitting with Frank in the sibling’s house, playing cards.

“Are you sure he wasn’t just saving his own skin?” Frank said. We had this argument a dozen times, and he still didn’t believe us. “What if he just set off the methane to keep you from shooting him afterwards?” None of us reply. There’s nothing to say. We’ve all had this conversation before.

“I mean it’s been two months. Why haven’t we seen anyone else outside?” He asks. I give up on ignoring him. It won’t help, but I can’t just let him berate us again.

“Maybe because they decided to stay indoors, or maybe because it takes longer than we thought for the body to build a tolerance.” I respond, Frank doesn’t even notice he’s playing all the wrong cards and we’re sweeping the floor with him in the game.

“Or maybe he fooled all of you. Maybe he didn’t decide to help you destroy his life’s work. Honestly I don’t know why you trusted him.” Frank says.

“Why do you care Frank?” I ask. “I seem to recall you left us on our own for the mission.” I know it’s because he regrets leaving, not that he will ever admit it. Before he can get a chance to make up an excuse, the doorbell rings. That’s funny, nobody ever rings the doorbell.

“I’ll get it.” I say, and make for the door. When I open it Teddy is waiting with a smile at the door.

“Hey Ryan, Jess and Thomas came and told me you had a cliff that you wanted to climb. Can we go today?” He’s eager. He’s smiling, and he walked a half mile to get to me. I look back at Jess and Thomas, they wave to me. Then I turn to Teddy, my little brother. My little brother who had forgotten me and left me for dead. I should be mad. I should yell at him for choosing a stupid dream over me, but in that moment, I can’t find a single ma thought in my head. All I can think is my brother was dead, and now he’s alive.

“Of course little brother.” I say. “There’s nothing else I’d rather do more than go climb a mountain with you.”

Epilogue

“Woohoo!” Teddy shouts as he rappels down the cliff. Jess came with me to help setup the ropes.

“He’s a great little brother.” Jess tells me. She stays up top and talks to me while Teddy descends.

“Yeah.” I say. “It’s so amazing to hear him shout with joy like that.”

“I’m surprised you aren’t angry with him.” She comments. “I heard from Thomas what happened when you went back to your family, and it sounded like his rejection put you over the edge.”

“It did.” I say, the memory stinging a little, but Teddy shouts again and the sting goes away. “But it wasn’t his fault. He was just a kid. He’s still just a kid. He was doing the only thing he ever knew how to do. I can’t hold him accountable for his actions. My parents are to blame for putting him on the pill.” Jess nods approvingly.

“That’s very mature of you.” She said. “Do you know how to dance?” She asks out of the blue.

“What?” I say. It’s a good thing Teddy has reached the bottom because I might’ve dropped him otherwise.

“Dancing, do you know how to do it?” She asks again. I have no idea where this is coming from and think very carefully about my answer. I don’t want to say something completely stupid like I did before.

“No.” I say. “Why?

“Oh that’s a shame.” She says. “Everybody should know how to dance. Here, let me show you how.” She takes my left hand, and puts hers in it. Her hands are soft, so very soft, nothing like my rough callused hands. They’re delicate too. She takes my right hand and puts it on her left shoulder blade. There isn’t more than a foot of space between us, and I feel as if I’m holding her. I feel scared to move because I don’t want to make a mistake and drive her away.

“What’s going on up there?” Teddy calls. “Can I start climbing.” I raise my voice so he can hear me, but keep my eyes fixed on Jess.

“Sorry Teddy, I’ve got to sort something out.” Jess laughs softly and says in a voice too quiet to hear.

“You know, typically there are a few steps you go through before proposing. You might try one or two.” A lion roars in my chest. I no longer feel awkward at all. I feel empowered. I feel like she trusts me to dance will with her. My brother has come back to life, and the best girl in the world, the one who supported and followed me even when she thought I was being a complete idiot or a jerk had just given me permission to try again.

I had spent so much time asleep, letting my mind create the wildest fantasies imaginable. Now here I was, in the forest, with my brother, and my girl, and couldn’t imagine ever wanting anything else.

The end

Thanks for reading Unhooked! I’m working on another longer project that’s been siting in my back pocket for a while, but if you can’t wait for that check out Letters To My Father https://samgalimore.com/2014/11/05/new-book-project/ .Or one of the shorter novellas https://samgalimore.com/2014/10/12/for-use-in-the-apocaypse-novella-version/ https://samgalimore.com/2014/10/04/man-out-of-time/

Until the next journey,

Sam

Unhooked part four

What to do first? So many possibilities, and no rush I’ve got plenty of time. Let’s start this dream out the same way this day started out, in a forest. My dream space suddenly becomes one endless sea of green. I’m sitting on a large tree branch well above the ground, but well below the canopy. I lean back against the trunk and breathe deep. I feel a breeze work it’s way through the many different towering wooden giants.

This is how things were supposed to be. The breeze doesn’t feel exactly like it should, but I don’t have a real clear memory of the breeze, so it’s okay. I also make sure not to look at the leaves too closely, because I know they won’t seem detailed enough. It’s okay though. Those are the small details, the unimportant details. The important thing is I’m here.

I decide to make things adventurous and start swinging around. I roll off the branch and fall several feet before grabbing another branch to execute a powerful swing that propels me several yards to grab the next branch and start monkey barring my way through the tree tops.

I can see why Thomas enjoyed this so much. You feel so strong and powerful, not to mention agile and quick. ‘But you’re not that strong or quick’, a voice in the back of my head tells me. I force the thought down and try and think about the sensation of rapid movement that swinging should bring, but it’s no good. The trance has been broken.

I pull myself up onto a branch and think for a moment. It’s okay that this is spoiled there’s plenty of other stuff I’d love to do. What had we done next Run into the siblings? It still hurt to think of them, not yet. That didn’t sound good. How about jogging. No that didn’t fit either. It hadn’t been an enjoyable experience at the time. Playing cards meant playing with the siblings, unless my parents wanted to play. The siblings had mentioned they played three played hearts before they’d met him. You just took out one card and passed differently. I could totally play cards with my parents.

As soon as I think it I’m in my own house, sitting at the dining room table with my parents.

“Hello Ryan. Nice place you’ve got here, seems you tidied up a bit since we were last here.” My dad says. They’re both happy as can be, as if nothing has happened.

“Thanks, I’ve looked into getting some paintings from the walls. They’re a bit bare at the moment.” I start dealing out the cards, this feels good. It’s like I’ve been wearing clothes that were too tight, and now they’ve been replaced with loose ones. I can breath easy now. This game, with may parents, in my house, with the small talk, it just feels right. This is how things should be.

“Yes I think you should.” My mom agrees. “I find some natural photography, and a few family portraits would go quite well.” Family portraits, that thought tickles my subconscious.

“You know dear.” My mom continues. “Why don’t we invite a fourth?”

“A fourth?” I say. “Sure, who could we invite.” I try to think of my siblings, but my mom speaks first before any of their names surface to my mind.

“How about Brendan, I think he’s on vacation from the presidency at the moment.” I don’t have a brother named Brendan, and he isn’t the president of anything.

A young man who looks almost exactly like me, but in a business suit pops into the fourth spot at the table.

“No!” I shout. Brendan disappears. It’s alright, just a little slip. Everything is going to be okay.

“Oh dearie.” My mom continues. “Why did you send your brother away? He’s so much like you. You two normally get along so well.”

“I don’t have a brother named Brendan!” I shout at her. “He’s not real. You made him up to replace me!” Why is this happening? This is my dream? Why can’t I control my own dream?

“Because you know that’s not how we really think about you.” My mother continues. Of course, in my head they replaced me. So when I went inside my own I still knew that they would replace me. Well that’s alright, I’ll just have to forget they replaced me.

“Mom.” I say. “Brendan isn’t here. He doesn’t exist. Now pick up your cards. We are passing to the left to start. Let’s have a nice friendly game as a friendly.”

“Of course dear.” My mother says. She’s still smiling. She’s still pretending nothing went wrong. “We can pretend Brendan isn’t real for a while if it will make you feel better.” They still think he’s real, but that’s okay. It’ll all fade in a moment. This is just inside my head, so if I just keep telling myself it’ll happen, then it’ll happen.

“Thank you, dad, I’m passing these three cards to you.” I slide the cards and look at the ones mom gave me. Maybe if I focus on the game then I’ll forget all about Brendan. I heard a trick once that if you want to stop thinking about something you should try and recite something long and complicated from memory. It was all about filling your brain with other things, so I would just fill my brain with strategy and memorizing cards, and I wouldn’t think about Brendan.

“Pink elephants.” My father says, playing his first card.

“What?” I asked. Confused, but glad that it’s distracting me from thinking about Brendan.

“Once someone tells you not to think about pink elephants, you immediately think about pink elephants.” He says.

“What’s your point?” I ask.

“My point is you’re still thinking about Brendan, and you are trying too hard to not think about him so of course you’ll just keep finding yourself thinking about Brendan. “ I throw my cards on the table.

“Oh dear you shouldn’t have done that.” My mom said. “I had the most dreadful hand. You surely would have come out on top of that.”

“Enough talk about Brendan!” I shout again. I can’t keep raising my voice. This is isn’t good for me.

“Can we please just stop talking about Brendan?” I beg my mother. “You’re here. You’re with your son. Isn’t that enough? Isn’t that what parents want?”

My mother a sympathetic look. It was the look she used to give me if I got a bad grade on an important exam at school. She reached across the table, and in a very maternal nurturing voice said.

“But sweetie. We can’t stop thinking about Brendan because he’s better than you.” She started patting my hand and I felt the need to throw it away, but she wasn’t done talking. “Didn’t you see him? He looks just like you because we replaced you with him.” I started to choke up and shake.

“You know that, you saw how we’ve forgotten about you. Didn’t you see how we didn’t follow you out the door when you left in the real world? We could see you were hurt, we just didn’t care sweetie.” I close my eyes. I can’t take this anymore. I slam my fist down on the table, and everything fragments like shattered glass. The table, my parents, my house, the cards, all of it shatters and disappears, except for my chair. I sit on my chair in a white void shaking.

“How could they do that? How could they do that to one of their own children.” I clench and unclench my fists. I want to hit something, but there’s nothing around. “That’s okay. There are other people. It doesn’t have to be my parents. I can still be happy here. I can still move on.”

I’m on the top of the cliffs I had rappelled down in real life. There is a rope system already setup. Teddy is on one side of the rope, ready to rappel down the mountain, and I’m on the other ready to lower him down.

“Are you ready Teddy?” I ask. He looks over the side.

“Are there any taller ones?” He asks.

“No Teddy, not anywhere near here.” I respond.

“I want something taller.” He demands sitting down and crossing his arms to emphasize his rebellion.

“It’s not the height that matters Teddy. It’s just that you’re here with me right?”

“I want something taller.” Teddy says again. Not Teddy too, not my own brother. This idea that he doesn’t want me either can’t be buried that deep in my head.

“Come on Teddy, it’s me. All that matters is that I’m here right?”

“I want something taller.” Teddy says again. I bite my lip.

“Teddy please, I made this for you. I went through all this work and came back for you so you do this.”

“I want something taller.” He says. I starting clenching my fists. What if I take him to Everest or to Mars? It’s my own dream, I can totally take him there, or even make my own mountain that’s even taller.

“I still won’t be there for you.” Teddy says. “I just want mountains. I don’t care about you. I can’t take it. I turn and punch a tree. If it were real I would’ve broken a few fingers, but instead everything just shatters again, leaving me floating in a white landscape again.

“I have to find something good.” I tell myself. “I have to find something that isn’t going to cast me out.” I can feel anger starting to turn to sadness, and I need to be angry for a little while yet. I need the energy to find something good.

“What hasn’t turned me away? What doesn’t think of me as just some tool in their imagination to twist and change until it’s not me anymore.” I think of the siblings. “Of course, they are the ones that showed me another way. Each one of them showed me compassion and a willingness to lead me out of the dream. I left them for this, but they could still care about me at least a little.” I’m in the lake with all three of the siblings, swimming around in waste deep water.

“Oh thank goodness.” I say. “At least you guys can be here.” Frank is looking serious, Thomas has a ridiculous clown’s grin, and Jess looks like she’s just seen something beautiful. It’s absurd for them to be wearing those expressions while swimming, and they seem fixed in place, even when they start talking their expressions don’t change.

“Of course we’re here.” Frank says. “You darn well brought us here so of course here we will be.”

“Yeah dude.” Thomas says while flipping onto his back and swimming circles around me. “We have no control. You’ve taken our free will man, we will be whatever you want us to be.”

“Yeah babe.” Jess says, slowly and deliberately swimming towards me. “We’ll be whatever you want us to be. We’re just clay to you. You can shape us into whatever you want.” No, no, Jess isn’t clay.

“No you’re not! You’re a human being Jess. You’re smart and funny and nobody can tell you what to do.” She’s within an arm’s reach now. She straightens up in the water, and glides in closer.

“No we’re not.” She says. “We’re puppets. You’ve destroyed what we were because we didn’t do exactly what we wanted.” She’s only a foot away now, and she’s looking at my lips, and she’s closed her eyes. “We’ll be whatever you want Ryan.”

“No, no, no, no, no.” I just repeat. How can I do this to them? What’s wrong with me? I have to stop, but I can’t stop because I want this too much. Jess is so close I can feel her breath. I can’t do this to her, not to her. I’ll never forgive myself.

Her eyes shoot open and her face suddenly changes to a bland expression. “Wake up Ryan.” She says.

My eyes, my real eyes shoot open and I sit bolt upright sweating a storm and gasping. Sitting on the bed next to me is jess, and behind her, watching me with expressions full of concern, are Frank and Thomas.

Without think about what I’m doing I pull Jess down into a bear hug so tight her back cracks.

“I’m so sorry Jess.” I say in a hoarse whisper. “I’m so sorry.” She rubs my back in slow circles.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay. We’re here. You didn’t do anything.” Her voice is soft and reassuring.

“Well, nothing significant anyway.” Thomas says. Frank elbows him.

“Yes I did.” I croak out. They don’t know what I had been doing in the dream. To them, this group of such supporting people. “I was in the dream, and all of you were there with me. We were at..”

“Stop.” Jess says. “It was a lucid dream right?” She feels me nod my head.

“Then you knew it was a dream. So you knew what you were doing you weren’t really doing to us. You still knew who we were, and judging by how much you’re shaking you know that those people in your dream weren’t us. You made a decision Ryan. You made a decision to come back to us.” She says, still rubbing my back.

“You chose us man.” Thomas says. I am forced to laugh a little. Everyone else in my dream seemed exaggerated, but Thomas was still pretty much the same.

“What about the whole proposal thing?” I ask.

“You mean you running out the door while we were still stunned and overwhelmed?” Frank says. “Yeah we were still stunned and overwhelmed. Specifically, Jess had to deal with the memory of her family, the recent loss of yours, and now this incredibly unexpected and poorly executed display of affection. Thomas Had just had to witness what your family did, and he doesn’t do well with social pressure, and I was mad at the world that everyone I cared about had their lives made more difficult.”

“We would’ve gotten here sooner but you were kind of hard to find.” Jess tells me. I feel better enough that I push her off and we sit on the side of the bed together.

“You never told us where you Ryan.” Thomas says. “And I only have been to your parents once. We had to retrace my footsteps to your parents, get them to tell us where you live. We then had to try and make sense of their bad directions because they don’t come by very often. Lastly we had to figure out which house was yours by just knocking on a bunch of different doors because your parents didn’t even give us an address. I mean we would’ve taken even longer if that one pane of glass by your door hadn’t allowed us to unlock it so easily.” I am grateful that my rage led to something productive.

“In the end.” Frank says. “You were recently unhooked. You are still figuring out how the world works. Your actions today were childish, but in a lot ways you still are a child. A child who was recently thrown out by his parents, so understandably you’ve made some bad decisions.”

“Thank you.” I say.

“Look, we aren’t perfect either.” Frank says. “All of us have slipped up from time to time. The idea of a world where you have total control is tempting, and we all slip up. What we’ve learned to do is move on. You’re awake with us now, so whatever happened before we’re going to forget.” I’m eager to forget the past hour or so, so moving on should be easy.

“I wish it wasn’t like this.” I say. “The pills. They seem to tear apart everything.”

“I know.” Thomas says. “As long as there are pills, we’re gonna fight like this. People are going to hook back in, and people who unhook are going to have to realize a lot of painful truths.”

“What if there weren’t pills?” I asked.

“It would be nice.” Jess said. “If only the things had never been invented.” I looked at the bottle of pills still on the night stand. It was amazing how such little things could have such far reaching consequences.

“We can’t uninvent them, but we can destroy them.” I say, grabbing the bottle.

“That’s a good idea.” Jess says. “If you destroy your supply you shouldn’t be tempted anymore.”

“I didn’t mean these pills.” I said. “I meant all the pills. I want to take down the corporation that manufactures these abominations.” I walk to my bathroom and empty the vial into the sink, flushing the poison down the drain.

“That’s…. extreme.” Frank said.

“It’s what I’ve been getting at for year Franks.” Thomas counters. “They have to be stopped. The government is keeping us under with these pills, and if we don’t stop our fellow human beings they’ll sleep their lives away.”

“That’s their choice.” Franks says.

“Yeah right, you really think virtually 100% of the population decides to do one thing? How come we only have about one person every six months unhook in this town? And when they do they shortly move somewhere else? Doesn’t that seem like a bit of a coincidence to you?” I lean on the frame of the bathroom door and watch the exchange.

I knew Thomas would be in. After the talk he had there was no doubt. Frank and Jess I wasn’t so sure about. Jess could come because of how bad the pills had damaged her life. Frank might come just to protect us.

“They moved because they wanted to live in the wild away from civilization.” Frank counters. “We gave them camping and hunting gear so they could survive in a place where they wouldn’t be tempted to take pills anymore.” Their voices are rising. I can tell this is a an old argument that’s been brought up several times.

“And none of them ever make it back to tell us how that goes?” Thomas asks.

“They probably get lost. We don’t really have much in the way of maps or navigational gear, and even if we did they’d probably lose it, break it, or just flat out wouldn’t be able to use it.” Frank counters.

“Frank, you can justify and explain it as much as you want.” I step in. “But at the end of the day if these pills are gone everyone gets their parents, brothers, sisters, and friends back.” Frank turns on me, and holds my gaze. It’s like staring down a lion. He doesn’t blink. He doesn’t say anything, until I glance at Jess just to avoid meeting his gaze.

“Did you know the earth was running out of resources Ryan?” He asks me. His tone is cool. He’s not angry. He’s stating hard facts. This isn’t easy for him.

“Many scientists were predicting that in the next hundred years or so we’d run out of natural resources and people would start starving to death. Our technology would run out of fuel, and our medicine would fail because of it. Humanity would fall in one gigantic plague ridden pile.” He points to the sink.

“Those pills saved us.” Jess gets up and comes to stand by me. I thought we would have to have a protracted argument to sway Jess. With those words, Frank did it for us. Jess may not have been for something as aggressive as I was proposing, but she couldn’t support someone who said the pills saved us.

“Did they save mom and dad?” Jess asks quietly. “What about John, Rosie, and Robert? Did the pills save them Frank.” This remark hits Frank hard. He looks down and turns to give his next argument to Thomas.

“In a way they did. Without the pills maybe our parents would not have had enough to feed us growing up. When we are only awake 4 hours a day you hardly need anything to eat or drink. You don’t need a lot of space to play around, and you need way less to entertain you. Jess.” He says, gathering up the courage to face her. “You’re the third child. Without the pills our parents might not have had you.” Jess doesn’t blink.

“Frank, they didn’t have me. I have no parents.” That comment finishes Frank. He turns to leave.

“You do what you must. I won’t stop you, but I won’t help you either.” He leaves the bedroom and makes his way to my front door. “I’m grabbing some supplies for a three day camping trip. If you’re not done with what you’re going to do in three days.” He fiddles with the door knob. “I’ll be back in three days.” And with that, Frank is gone.

Thomas and I look to Jess. Neither of us expected her to get on our side so quickly. Jess looks back to me with a challenge in her eyes.

“I just watched by big brother who always looks out for me even when my parents wouldn’t walk out the door and leave me to my devices. What are we going to do?” She demands.

“Well.” I say, now a little deflated after all the emotion that has been dominating my life. “Uh, you guys have guns right?” Now Thomas is looking a little worried.

“Oh come on Thomas. What did you think we were going to do?” I ask.

“I’m not going to kill anyone Ryan. I hate that so many people are hooked just as much as you, but I’m sure most of the people involved with the pills is innocent. Certainly anyone we are going to get access to is going to be oblivious to what’s going on.” He says.

“That’s not what I’m proposing.” I say. “The guns are just to give us authority, to scare the people who we are going to uh, talk to.”

“Talk to?” Jess asks.

“I haven’t exactly planned it out yet.” I admit. “I work with information technology. We can use some of the systems at my disposal to gather intel, and then we can act on it.” Jess and Thomas have been through a lot together. They have learned to read each other very well. One glance at each other and they know they are both thinking the same thing.

“Alright, tell us what to do.” Jess says.

“Good, great, here’s what we’re going to do. Go back to your place and brings plenty of ropes, guns, binoculars, pepper spray if you got it, and anything that you can use to cause explosions or mayhem.” Thomas and Jess looked unsure of themselves. It was so different from when I had first met them. They had been so full of self-confidence and energy, now they looked more like I had when we had first met. Not certain what was going to happen, and afraid it was not going to turn out for the better.

“What are you going to do?” Jess asks.

“I’m going to stay here and start on the intel. My laptop is attached to some security protocols that will only let me into certain systems if I log in from this physical location. It’s GPS security, and if I move my laptop it won’t work” It was actually pretty sensitive. The GPS range was smaller than that of my Wi-Fi, so if I went too far outback it would cut out.

“Okay.” Thomas says. “I’ll need a little extra time to prepare some things, but Jess should be back with some guns to train you on.”

“Hang on, we’re not going to be shooting any people. Can’t you just leave my gun off?” Thomas looks like I’ve just suggested he just stop breathing for a few minutes because the noise is bothering me.

“Leave the gun off? You must’ve never watched any action movies. We aren’t going to be shooting any people, but that’s the point. You need to know how to operate these things safely, and if heaven forbid you have to pull the trigger. Well, you should know how to do that too. Come on Jess.” The two depart, and I’m left alone.

“Okay, time to take down an international corporation with just a few friends some guns, and without shooting anyone. Cool.” I turn on my laptop and setup my connection so it’s nearly impossible for someone to trace whose making these searches. When I’ve covered my tracks, I fire up a search engine. First, basic information, I look through the company website, and their Wikipedia pages to try and find out how the company works. I find a list of their locations and see there’s a manufacturing facility nearby.

There are about twelve manufacturing facilities in my country. So taking this one down won’t put much of a dent in overall production, but it should at least interrupt supplies for a few days. I’m sure they’ve got some emergency backups in case a facility goes down, but probably not many. The world is pretty efficient since it’s run largely automated and most of the people in it are knocked out so there isn’t a lot of need for things like emergency supplies. Still, I look at their other facilities, and even if we only get a few days, that should be enough to force at least some people to unhook. Not to mention in the long run there may be intermittent shortages until they can build another factory, which should take months. Their supplies probably don’t count on a facility being destroyed.

Now I know what we’re doing, eliminating one of their factories, but I still need to figure out how. At that point Jess came in.

“Hey, I’ve got some basic rifles and pistols. Let’s head down to the forest and get you shooting.” She hefts a bag that looks full of all sorts of tools of destruction.

“In a minute Jess, first I’d like your input on something, can you come in here for a miunte?”

“Sure.” She says, and sits down next to me. I have the image of the facility on my screen.

“See this?” I ask indicating the screen.

“Yeah.” She says.

“That’s our target. This is one of the twelve manufacturing facilities for the pill. We’re going to destroy it.” I fully expect this to shock Jess and I’m prepared to defend my decision.

“Sounds good, we’ll clear out the workers first right?” she asks.

“Um yeah, yeah we will.” I say, confused that she’s taking this so well. “You seem pretty okay with the idea of blowing up a building.”

“Me and Thomas guessed you were going to suggest something like this. He’s preparing some stuff to take a building down.” She says.

“Preparing some stuff to take a building down? Do you guys just have that kind of stuff lying around?” I ask. I note how many guns she’s brought, and feel very glad that these people are on my side.

“You’d be surprised what you can make with household supplies. I think I know what he’s making, and I saw the stuff you could use to put it together on the walk over. It’s not hard if you know what you’re doing.” I’m really really glad I’m on their side.

“Well then, um, anyway, my question was I’ve still got two problems. How do we clear the people out of the building? I mean, if we’re going to burn it down we can’t exactly pull the fire alarm, and I really would prefer not to risk going in their with guns blazing telling everyone to get out. We get just one person who panics or makes a dumb decision under stress, and well, I don’t want to think about it.” Jess picks up a pistol from the bag and looks it over.

“Can we just break in at night?” I ask.

“Two problems with that. First, twenty-four hour shifts, as far this place is concerned, there is no night. Second, this place has got to be rigged with alarms, so if we break in we’re going to get the police. Unless you two know how to disable or sneak past industrial grade security systems?” Jess shakes her head. “I thought not.”

Jess puts down the pistol and looks carefully at the screen. “Did you ever watch any videos about how sort of factory work happens?” She asks.

“No.” I respond.

“Well, I’ve seen one or two. We thought about working in some a while back. Anyway, any kind of industrial production place like this is going to have a lot of safety mechanisms in place. They probably work with very large volumes of stuff that’s capable of burning, corroding, poisoning, or just crushing you. So there’s always a very well established safety network in the inevitable event that something bad happens.”

“What does all this have to do with getting everyone out of the facility?” I ask.

“Everyone is taught to cooperate with safety, so all we have to do is get someone with authority to report something that will get the facility shut down for a while, plant our charges, and get out.” She says.

“Which means we are going to have to find someone with authority and threaten them with guns.” I say. Jess looks uncomfortable when I say the word threaten.

“I really don’t want to bring other people into this at all, but I don’t see any other way. We could try reporting a gas leak, but that’ll get the fire department called. We could make a bomb threat or something, but that would get the police. Anything that’s an outside threat big enough to cause a building evacuation is going to attract either the police or the fire department. The only option the way I see it, is to get someone inside the building to convince anyone else to leave.” She picks up a rifle slowly, holding it in her lap. “I don’t like it Ryan, but we’re going to have to threaten someone to make this happen.” She picks up the rifle and looks down the sights. “Besides, someone in authority might be in on whatever system they’re using to keep people on the pills. I don’t know if it’s something they’re adding to make them addictive, or just pressure form the government but we’ll find out, and then we can maybe expose them or use the information to better take them down.” Someone’s going to have a gun pointed at them before too much longer. I have had several dreams where I used guns, but now it would be for real. For real, that phrase, this was the first time since I had been unhooked that I had used it in a negative way.

“Come on Ryan. Let’s get going to the forest. The sooner we get you trained. The sooner we can get this over with.” Jess says. She hefts the bag, and we’re off.

“I want to say one thing.” I tell Jess. “I won’t shoot anyone. When I was put under by the pill this last time.” She looks at me, concern on her face.

“You don’t have to tell me Ryan. Whatever it was, I know you didn’t mean it, and I forgive you.” She says, touching my shoulder. “Really, it’s okay.”

“Thank you, but this is relevant. When I was put under by the pill this last time I did what my family did to me. I made you into different people. I felt like I had destroyed you in my mind, and it felt horrible to destroy someone psychologically like that, or to even consider doing it. I can’t imagine how much more horrible it would be to destroy someone physically. I don’t think I could live with myself.”

“I couldn’t either.” She tells me. “You’ll see in a minute that a lot of training to use guns for private use means training to not use them on people. It’s pretty deeply ingrained. I won’t shoot anyone over this. I’ll turn myself in first. These.” She taps the bag. “Are just for show. We’ll prepare them in such a way that they won’t be ‘turned on’ so to speak.” Good, I wasn’t prepared to become a murderer over this.

“Well, since it’s going to take a minute for us to get far enough away from civilization so that no one can hear us. Let me give you a basic run down on gun operation.” She pulls a pistol out of her bag.

“This is a 40 caliber pistol. For you that means if you hit someone in the chest with it they’re probably done. They might not know it yet, but they’re done.” I made myself not draw a mental image of what that would look like.

“This is the barrel, you do not point this at something you do not intend to shoot, ever, under any circumstances.” She says.

“Okay.” I respond.

“I mean ever, seriously, first rule of guns, even when it’s unloaded like this one. You never point this at something you aren’t willing to shoot. I’ve never pointed a gun at myself or my brothers, ever.” She says.

“Okay, understood, never, ever, under any circumstances point a gun at something you won’t shoot, even an unloaded gun.” I repeat dutifully.

“Good, that brings us to the next basic point, always treat a gun like it’s loaded. I know you can see the chamber is open and the gun lock is place, but you never assume that’s the case. As far as you’re concerned, this has a bullet in it at all times, and it could go off.” She points to several parts of the pistol as she says this.

“What’s a gun lock?” I ask She points to an orange thing visible on the middle of the gun.

“This goes in the chamber, oh shoot you probably don’t know any names of gun parts do you?” She asks.

“They have barrels right?” I ask. I wish I could say I was being sarcastic, but I really wasn’t sure.

“Funny.” She says. “Here, let me use a rifle. It’s bigger and I’m a little more familiar with them.” She puts down the bag we’re carrying the guns in, and takes out a rifle. She does something to it to take out the orange thing, leaving one long, black, sleek looking weapon. As she begins to run through naming parts and functions I have time to reflect that this is the first time I’ve seen a gun. They featured prominently in several of my dreams, but I had never so much as held on. It looked about the same I would imagine, and it had an aura about it. It felt dangerous. In books and movies guns were only present when people got hurt or killed. That was their purpose, to hurt or kill. I had to remind myself these were just for show.

“Okay, bullet.” She pulls a small brass thing the size of her pinkie out of the bag. I’m shocked they aren’t bigger. I find it hard to believe that thing can cause damage, but I know that I can’t underestimate this thing. “This is what the gun shoots. It goes in the magazine.” She pulls a black cartridge out of her bag that’s about the size of her hand. “Don’t call it a clip. We haven’t used clips in a hundred years. Anyway, magazine goes in the gun.” She loads it into a slot in the gun. “Release the bolt catch to chamber a round.” She presses a switch on the side of the gun and the gun makes a loud clacking sound that makes me jump a little. “You flip the safety to off.” She indicates a lever on the side of the gun, and flips it. “And you’re ready to fire.”

“It’s more complicated than I had imagined.” I say.

“Yeah, most people think that guns practically shoot themselves. If I just hadn’t you bullets, a rifle, and a magazine, it would like you quite a while to figure out how to put them all together right. Especially if the gun isn’t stored the way this one is. I didn’t even talking about locking the bolt back or clearing a jam, or anything.” I can tell it’s going to be a long day.

About thirty minutes later we’re laying down beside a lake, and I’ve setup my gun one some rocks to balance it. I’ve got the stock of the gun pressed into my shoulder and am looking down the sights into the lake. It’s a pretty big target, but Jess says since we aren’t going to shoot anyone, all I need to know is how to operate one, and the lake will make sure the bullets don’t ricochet anywhere and hurt someone. I then ask why I have shoot it at all, and she just tells me that I’ll understand better once I’ve fired it. Until I actually pull the trigger it’s just some magic thing that hurts people who are far away. Once you have actually shot, it becomes a tool.

“Besides.” She says. “You’re probably going to come hunting with us, so you might as well learn the right way to use these things now.”

The gun feels like a bomb. Part of me thinks it can kill someone just by being near it, like some vengeful spirit inhabits the gun. It feels wrong to be holding it too. I half expect any minute for some police officers to come running out of the woods to arrest us.

She teaches me a breathing exercise. She says it’s for when I actually fire the gun, and that may be true, but I think she can see I’m a little shaken and need to calm down.” Breath in, breath out, breath in, breath out, hold your breath, then squeeze the trigger.” She makes me practice with my finger off the trigger several times, and then she lets me put my finger on the trigger. She gives me some final instructions

“Now two last things. First, it’s going to kick, not very hard, because this gun only first one fairly small round, and only fires one gun per trigger pull, but be prepared for it to hit you in the shoulder. Second, it’s going to be loud. We’re outside so the sound will dissipate a good bit, but it’s still going to be one of the louder things you’ve heard in your life. Okay, whenever you’re ready, pull the trigger.” I start her breathing exercise.

Breath in, breath out, breath in, breath out, hold, and slowly my finger depresses the trigger. ‘Blam!’The sound is so shocking my finger leaves the trigger and I almost drop the gun. She had said it would be loud, but it was like someone had just yelled in my ear. I barely notice a piece of brass that goes flying out of the gun and lands a foot or two away. I don’t see at all where the bullet goes. The thing had come alive with motion too. It had kicked back into my shoulder, and the barrel had kicked up. It was like the thing was trying to jump out of my hands.

“Ow!” I say. Jess laughs and punches my shoulder.

“I told you it was going to be loud. No one ever believes just how loud it’s going to be until they see it. Bet you’ll think twice next time you see an action movie won’t you?” She teases. “Alright, we’re going to finish the ammo in your magazine first.”

“Do I have to?” I jokingly ask. This was a fairly frightening experience.

“Yeah you big baby, now come on. This time, watch where the bullet hits the water.” I shake my head and sight down the barrel again. Okay, this time I’m ready. It takes two full clips before I can fire shots with anything like regularity or accuracy. My body just flinches from the shot every time.

“Nice shooting.” Jess finally says after about the sixtieth bullet. “It’s different now isn’t it?” She asks. At first I don’t know what she’s talking about. Them I start to feel it. The gun doesn’t seem like some unknown entity that just hurts people for no reason. It takes a deliberate set of actions to make it hurt someone, and it takes a deliberate person who wants to hurt someone. I understand now. I haven’t been handed a magical killing device. It’s just like a knife, or a brick. It still takes intent to cause suffering. I still feel fear towards it, but it’s not a childlike fear of a ghost. It’s an adult fear of causing permanent irreparable damage to your fellow man.

“Yes. It is. It’s different.” I say. I start taking the gun apart and storing it without instruction from her.

“Let’s get this done.” I tell her.