Jack’s Kitchen

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Jack glances at the screen and paces a full circle, “Really? I’ve gotta get the hell outta here.” He turns off the news as he downs the rest of his whisky and heads out the back porch, leaving the lights on as he grabs his coat.

Brown Shadow

Despite the faint glow of candlelight in her eyes. Conjunctivitis seeped up from her bone marrow. He could see traces of the disease flicker in the dimness, thriving. Her skin seemed to be melting as anxiety took over reason. Their plotting and light hearted musing diminishing with panic and fear. The bank probably does not even exist he thought. Maybe it was all a ruse set up by officials to entrap their minds only to discover a link to something to incriminate them.

“What the hell is going on?” she barely whispers, gripping the edge of the counter top between them as if dangling from a cliff.

“It’s ok. I think it’s ok.”

“ffuuuu” she could not finish the word that would otherwise so perfectly punctuate the moment as if it alone encapsulated everything between them.

“Listen. We need to stay calm and wait for a moment. Maybe no one is really at the door?”

“But I heard it loud and clear.” she replied with a voice trailing off and skipping lines between reality and obscurity. “I don’t know if I can stay put. This is not cool. Go find out what the hell.” she pleaded with drool pooling up in the corner of her mouth like the last drops of sanity holding on.

“Just wait.” He had not moved from his position for what seemed like hours, still crouching, frozen in place with his pistol gripped in one hand while the other steadied himself against the island. Low light might preserve their cover, but he heard the knocking too. Normally, he could tell when he might just be tripping, but this was either some outstanding shit or they were in deep.

The scented candles cast flickering shadows across the kitchen. Through the leaf window dark was setting in fast now and distant lights shimmered through the trees like tiny stars, or eyes peering up in the mountains and through the trees and across the window pane.. staring at him. The air was pungent with smoke causing things to move along the corners of the room like the house was coming alive, taking each one of his breathes. His thoughts pulled away and returned to the prospect of someone needing help, but he knew he was in no place for it. They would have to just leave. But the house creaked with opposition and brought to life fears that boiled deep in his gut, spreading through his arm and down through his bent hips that ached from crouching. Fear spawned spasms to curl through his body without control till his ankles and toes were cramped with indecision and paralysis.

“Jack?” her voice sounded harsh, afraid.

“Ssshhhh. Wait.” He could barely whisper, his throat parched as a corpse. He knew he had to  do something. He had to move somehow. He thought about turning the kitchen light back on but could swear something was lingering in the hallway just around the corner. What if he went for the light and something reached around and grabbed him and started tearing him apart? What if he could not react quick enough? Bugs were starting to crawl up his pants leg.

She suddenly gasped gripping the countertop with both hands. Her knuckles were glowing in the soft illumination, twisting with disproportionate mutation and contorted skin ripping. Rather than crying out, she marveled at the absurdity. “Look, Jack. Do you see it?” She lapsed from fear raising a hand up to better see it in the candlelight. “Holy shit. It doesn’t even hurt. What is going on? I am like a shape shifter. Maybe I can turn into a mouse and get in to the bank totally undetected?”

“What? The bank, are you serious? We are in deep shit here, Diana! Look at your hands, man. That is not normal. It’s like your hands are turning inside out. What the hell is happening?”

Diana just stared turning them in different angles.

Just then something smashed into the front door. This time it was like a gigantic fiery fist of hell plunging into their home with the hatred of a million souls sent to steal them.

The front room went pitch black. Kitchen candles flickered ominously. Diana grabbed at the counter again.. hands still turning. Jack fell back on his butt with a thud, legs sprawled out in front of him, hunched trying to see if he still held his pistol. He tried to make himself small, both unable to move, petrified, silent.

“We need to get out of here, Diana.” he was not sure if he actually spoke, but he could feel his lips forming the words that he was thinking.

“I can’t move. Oh my god, I can’t move.”

Sliding his knees under himself, Jack scooted around the back of the island away from the black chasm of space that led to another dimension where something waited. He got himself away and over to Diana. He began to slowly peel her fingers from the cliff edge. She painfully moved her head inches per hour, slowly as if not moving at all.

Her eyes finally came to see him, but he was not alone.

Yellow Fever

Red Sky deepens in the vast horizon of Monday. He could not stop thinking about her. She left in the middle of the night, desperate to escape a life on the run. They had gone through a lot together; connecting on abusive past lives and deeper questions about what it all meant. Drugs intertwined and sometimes they would just laugh all night long. But there was a darker side where things were not always what they seemed.

It was first realized at House Elmore one night,  a place they rented up in the hills overlooking the valley. It was an old weathered craftsman with large decks surrounded by tall firs and pine. The kitchen had a large wood hearth in the center with a chopping block and overhanging utensils. There was one particular window, odd-shaped like a giant leaf, that faced off to the west with a horseshoe view of the vast world beyond. This is where they sat with the sunsets and into the late night, dreaming and plotting their future.

In time, bills piled up and desperation set in.  The schemes got a little crazier. Jack once worked at a bank running mortgage paper and soon it seemed logical to rob a bank, like Robin Hood. They had it all planned complete with disguises, words rehearsed, timing, even a get away car and how they would ditch it for another and head south. They were getting close to working out the final details. They wanted to be sure not to get caught. Maybe they would simply retreat to their home going about their life as natural as anyone?

One evening and two bottles of wine later, there came an unexpected knock on the front door.

“Did you hear that?” Diana whispered.

“I did.” Jack replied with a hushed voice.

“Someone’s at the door.” She fidgeted and started to stand then sat back down. “Were you expecting someone? Who would come way out here?”

“Wait. Shhhh” he raised his finger to his lips and glanced toward the hall that led into the living room.

Another knock came. The brass knocker rapped the front door. The sound reverberated with a wave of slow bands, like ripples of doubt moving down a hall of shadows…menacing.

Diana could only stare, frozen with stoned paranoia. “Jack? What do we do?”

Jack shuffled around the kitchen island and pulled a pistol from the drawer.  “It could be nothing. Still just sit tight and stay quiet for a minute.” He thought maybe they would leave. A small mood light barely illuminated in the darkness of the front room. But they might see the kitchen light reflecting somehow. Carefully, he moved in a crouch to turn off the light, leaving only a few scented candles to burn. Maybe someone needed help, were broke down or something?

He remembered the look, a little girl scared and alone in the dark. There was a faint glow of candlelight in her eyes.

Suspicious Counterparts

Rain pounded like nails into rooftops and wind whipped a typical day into a tattered mess. Fallen trees and a swollen Cascade River blocked the only route out of town into the lower valley. The mountain pass had already closed for the winter from too much snow. Several residents that remained all gathered at the local watering hole to numb their anxieties that blew in off the Sound.

According to weather reports picked up on the satalite radio, the region was slapped with a Pineapple Express that brought hurricane force winds and about a half a foot of rain which forced many of the rivers to crest nearly 25 feet above flood stage, leaving the area devastated. Tens of thousands are expected to be without power and clean water as evacuation missions are underway. Governor Thompson has declared a state of emergency and his teams are working very hard to get ahead of the situation.

An old brown box with an antenna and wires tacked to the wall was only a disguise for the real receiver placed on a shelf below the bar. Speakers were hidden throughout the old rustic room and like everything else, the original exterior was mostly for show as the entire place underwent complete restoration when Bill bought it several years back. Anyway, he liked his sound system and spent pretty money on having it all wired and properly installed with a satelite uplink that fed both his stereo and widescreen. It came in handy at times like this when most everything else was shut down. The old lodge had become a sort of refuge during harsh storms and the deep of winter. The few patrons just sat quietly listening to the weather report.

“The good news for many is that there is a strong high pressure system pushing in from Alaska that will give the area a short break as the winds from the south die down overnight. However, this is a massive system moving in from the north and temperatures are expected to drop below freezing by Wednesday night and keep sliding down into the teens through the weekend. This is going to bring a deep freeze to the rescue and clean up operations as we are expecting to see snow begin to fall by Thursday night.  This is not good news for the Red Cross as thousands have already been forced into over crowded shelters.”

A brief break of static as an invisible anchor interupts. “We will have complete coverage from our news team and the status of the rescue operations coming right up. But Sam, it sounds like we should expect snow.”

“Yes, that’s right. With temperatures hanging around 20 degrees, most of the region should expect about 4-8″ of snowfall at sea level and, get this, we are going to see around 5 feet of snow dump in the Cascades over the next few days. Folks, we are not expecting the mercury to bump above freezing through our forecast for next week. Talk about a turn around. This weather script reads like two mighty titans battling for winter; the Pineapple Express and the Alaskan Gulf Stream. We are witnessing a rare series of storm activity that only few old timers could recall stories of a similar nature. I will continue to monitor this storm and have updates throughout the day as this thing starts to take shape over the next few days.”  Sam Smith reporting with the weather channel.

“These guys bug the hell out of me! Just look out yer window and you’ll get yer weather report.” Jasper slumped against the far wall fingering a cigarette and another beer. He moved into town a few years back as a transient – one of the last real loggers moving around the mountains looking for work, according to him anyway. But Jasper was harmless enough and Bill the bartender let him clean up an old shack behind the lodge where he first landed and would likely stay no matter what anyone said anyway. So Bill helped him rather than attempt to run him off and it worked out pretty good in the end. Jasper was a good hand to have around and was reliable when we wasn’t drinking too much. Frank just tolerated him.

“Hey Bill, I’m glad you decided to stick around this season. I think we would’ve had to break in the door otherwise.” Bill was a husky man with large broad shoulders and a gnarled red beard who stood just about six feet with a presence who would make the largest of men take a second thought on anything improper.

“Thanks Frank. Yeah I never did mind the winters around here, but it looks like we’re off to a pretty wild start – early in the season, too. Anyway, what can I getcha?” Bill glances up to the exposed rafters and silently hopes that the old lodge will hold up as another gust pounds like a sledge hammer trying to gain entrance.

“For sure. Yup – let’s have a bottle of the Black Label. We can pretend we’re in Flagstaff with Jim and Betty for the season.” Frank smiles as he says this remembering how his neighbors tried to convince him to spend the winter with him down there. They went every year, and since Frank’s wife had died, asked him to come along. But he knew that they counted on him to watch over their place while they were gone.

“Oh yeah – those two are loving it about now, I’m sure. Too hot for me though.” Bill lets out a low rumbling noise of displeasure at the thought of being stuck in the hot desert then pours himself a glass and sits back against a barrel behind the bar. “I’d rather shovel the five feet of snow for the winter.”

“What would I have to do then?” Jasper slurs from the corner.

“What you always do Jbird, drink and keep the fire going.” Frank poked back. Jbird was his nickname for Jasper because his guess was that Jasper had done some time before landing in Cedar Point.

“Actually, we had better all make sure wood is stocked because it sounds like we are in for a long winter. Someone should check on Lucy over on Timberline also. She is going to be alone over there this season.” Bill said pointing to Frank.

“No problem – I live closest to her anyway and I have to look in on Jim and Betty’s place also. I’ll need to shut the water down so nothing breaks over there. In fact, maybe Lucy can look after their dog Tumor? At least she would have company and something to do. Tumor is a good dog.” Frank replies

“That’s actually a pretty good idea, Frank.” Bill pours himself another shot of Black Label and looks for the receiver. The satelite helps them feel like they are not as isolated as they really are and offers some perspective on the rest of the world. But their reality is remote and can be treacherous, even in a modern world with some of the technology available to them. Wood is still the most reliable source for heat and they still need to split it with an axe and many of the houses up in the high country are still on the grid, which can become very unstable at times. Of course, one of the renovation projects that Bill made when he bought the old lodge was to take it completely off grid using solar, hydro and other sustainable tricks to keep all the modern luxuries available and functional throughout the year. He figured it was how the place would pay for itself and it did. More than once someone from the lower valley had come up to profile the lodge in some magazine or newspaper. Of course, no one was going to get up there for several weeks at this point. Too many people from other parts were in trouble and Cedar Point was not going to be in the radar.