Organic Food, the BIO label, ecologically grown produce…

Organic Food, the BIO label, ecologically grown produce…

To start off a disclaimer, I was raised in a family where food is for the most part stuff you grow yourself or you at least know where the cow was born and raised before you ate the steak. I still buy my flour from the miller down the street. 

The whole business of organic food, this strange phenomenon that you see in supermarkets and restaurants, it annoys me. A slogan and sticker parade backed up with all the sales talk you can stomach, 'free range', 'farm fresh',… It actually infuriates me to certain degree.

organicWhy, do you ask, does it annoy me so? It is all healthier and better for you and the environment, the animals actually get treated like animals and have a good diet. And my answer should be backed up with the message that, I am all for what organic, bio, eco food stands for. I think people shouldn't eat eggs from battery chickens that can't even stand on their own feet or water culture tasteless veg. But that does not take my rage away that I have about Organic food.

The horror one reads about the way producers deliver us food does make you feel a bit weak in the knees. So I understand why people will buy the more expensive labeled food. A few weeks ago I read the story about orange juice. You wonder orange juice, what can go wrong there? You take some oranges,  squeeze them until the juice comes out and bottle the juice, right? Nothing complicated about orange juice in my head until I read the following:

'Once the juice is squeezed and stored in gigantic vats, they start removing oxygen. Why? Because removing oxygen from the juice allows the liquid to keep for up to a year without spoiling. But! Removing that oxygen also removes the natural flavors of oranges. Yeah, it's all backwards. So in order to have OJ actually taste like oranges, drink companies hire flavor and fragrance companies, the same ones that make perfumes for Dior, to create these "flavor packs" to make juice taste like, well, juice again.'*

I was gobsmacked is this really the kind of thing that happens to our food? Further down in the article there was a reply from an orange juice producer saying they do not use artificial flavour packs but create flavour additions out of the peal and oils from the oranges itself. But still it is quite a stretch from a freshly juiced glass of orange juice, oxygen removed and afterwards injected with orange aroma. And this opened my eyes to a shift in food culture, this is where my dislike for the bio, eco, organic and other labels stems from. Why is the food that has been grown normally, the juice that is just juiced and the cow that was in a field not a box the stickered food? In my simple farm logic the 'normal' situation is still what you expect would have happened to your food. Let me try and make myself clear

When I step into a supermarket and get myself a veal steak, I will probably find a packet with veal steak and a bio/organic labeled packet of veal steak. Now in my logic we shouldn't need to be told this veal has had a normal life before we killed it to make this steak by labeling it 'Organic'. No, I think we should have a label that shows the abnormal way the other veal is treated, a big sticker saying 'cheaper and softer, because we grew it in a box'. You could find 'Orange juice' and 'long life juice' labeled 'Deoxygenated and reflavoured with orange peel for longer keeping'.

organicfoodIt would just seem more honest and more upholding to logic that you expect your food always to be treated normally as if you would grow it yourself. We should demand that our food is not treated by loads of chemicals and be aware that when you do want that stuff to last for ages it will have more chemicals in it. Fair enough that you make the decision to eat how you eat and budget has place in that decision. But let people make their choices from information and not from organic, bio labels that most of the time only make a packet look more posh. 

In my humble opinion, there shouldn't be a 'undefined' default version and a well-treated, organically grown version of food. We should be expecting the well-treated, organically grown/bred food as a default. Expect to be honestly told about the shortcuts and methods that are applied to the food we find in the supermarket. I find myself, more and more, relying on the family garden, a reared cow by a friendly farmer acquaintance and seasonal produce from farmers markets. But I am fully aware I am a lucky one, having access to these budget friendly means of getting healthy food on the table. The fact we have to pay through the nose for traditionally reared and grown ingredients is the cause of outrage and compelled me to write this blog post. If this isn't going to change soon are we going to be eating a mix of chemically preserved compounds soon rather than food grown from the heart?

*From Gizmodo – http://gizmodo.com/5825909/orange-juice-is-artificially-flavored-to-taste-like-oranges

I miss you.

I miss you.

I miss youI’ve been sorting through and organising my photos and videos, and suddenly, there they were. The last films I had of you. The quality was poor, they were taken on my mobile phone at a birthday party, but you were there. And I cried a little, as I always do when I think of you, and it didn’t really surprise me at all because there was something so cruel and horrible about the way you left us, so gut-wrenchingly painful, that I think your memory will always bring tears to my eyes.

And it’s not because we were so close, because we weren’t, not really. I wasn’t a very good friend at the time. I had my reasons for that, and you understood all too well, but it doesn’t really make things any better, does it?

It’s not as if death and I haven’t walked side by side for a long time. By the time I was 25, I’d been to the same number of funerals, and had probably missed out on the same amount. Mummy died from heart failure, I had friends who died young of cancer, immunodeficiency syndromes (there’s more than just HIV/AIDS, people) and there were oh-so-many stupid and unnecessary deaths. From the guy who was drunk and fell out of his window (on the 3rd floor) to the gal who was so desperately depressed (and there was nothing we could do to help her) and the 17-year old who walked into the sea and never stopped walking. There were suicides, drug overdoses, unfortunate accidents, cancer, murders, traffic accidents and old age.

I am extremely ambivalent when it comes to suicide. Theoretically, I find it to be one of the most selfish acts. In real life: I can understand the reasons behind every single suicide where I have lost a friend.

As I reached my early 30s, the ODs and stupid accidental deaths were replaced by cancer and organ failure. Watching people waste away to a disease that will kill them – having to watch them die – that sucks. As the years went on, I didn’t go to a lot of funerals – partly because I heard of them too late, and partly because I was sick and tired of death. My grandmother and my great-aunt died and I grieved – mostly for my loss, for losing the last two family members I felt close to – but only for a few days. They were old, and tired, and had lived long enough.

In the midst of it, I met people my own age that had never been to a funeral – or maybe they had lost a grandparent or some other relative but no one really close. And I didn’t envy them their lack of loss, why should I? My life had been spent among people who loved life and lived life to the fullest, and if you reach too high for the stars, you risk getting badly burned.

Then I became a widow. And I mourned for a long time – not for losing him (of that I rejoiced) – but of losing a life partner. In retrospect, I think much of my grievance was for all those I had lost more than for him.

And then I got the phone call that you were gone. The gut-wrenching pain was so extreme I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t stop crying. You were such a beautiful person – it wasn’t supposed to end like this. In many ways, it was the loss of innocence. I cried because of the injustice of it all, I cried for those who loved you and who had lost you, I felt so horribly guilty for not having been there for you and then I cried because I would never see you again.

So many times, I’ve cried – I don’t know why you had to die and I have to live. So bloody unfair.

I’m a better person for having known you – but the world is a worse place for having lost you.

Chapter 03: Ashes and Dust

Chapter 03: Ashes and Dust

"How'd they vanish?," asked Lara. Having neglected to answer the door due to his almost paralytic fixation of the old television show, Lara and June had entered by a kitchen window where the hinges were so rusty and worn they snapped right off and we were free to enter. Upon seating themselves next to Jonas he failed to react. He was for all intended purposes not in our world. He was in Boston. They snapped their fingers in front of his face, they yelled at him, stomped the floor and threw pillows at the bloke to no avail. His blank glassy expression never faltered even once although the girls had a fun time trying to get his attention. "One would think," commented June: "A guy like him did not have the privilege of ignoring two girls like us," to which Lara asked about her adopted British tone. "He does it better than me," said June with a smile. "Is he British?" "No. That's the sick part of it." Lara gave up her ninth attempt with a pillow and walked behind the television. Two cables ran from the old TV, one cable to the VCR and one to an electrical socket. She shot a smile at June as she pulled out both in one swift movement causing the pictures on the old screen to vanish in a white flash. Jonas immediately recovered from his trance and spotting Lara first he started to his feet upon the dusty couch yelling: "Who are you!? Get out! I have a gun!" "Calm down," remarked June forgetting that in heated situations the request for anyone to calm down will always with no doubt yield the exact opposite reaction than what was desired. "You! Stop sneaking up on me. Bloody hell, how did you get in and who the hell is that?," he roared at the tipsy June seated next to him. "This is my best friend, Lara," June snickered. "What's so funny?" "Dude," interrupted Lara: "You went from zombie to outraged in the blink of an eye." "You turned off my show!" "We had to. We're here to talk to you." "About your parents," explained June. "I don't wanna talk about it," replied Jonas with a pout.

"Please?," begged June with the most convincing smile she even pulled off. "I went to bed and they were there and when I woke up, they were not," replied Jonas reluctantly. "Did you hear anything during the night?," asked Lara. "Nothing." "Can I go take a look in the bedroom?" "No." "Why not?" "Because it is locked and I can't remember where the key is." Lara looked around at the piles of dust and trash scattered around. The key could easily be buried in the dust piles anywhere in the house. Slightly drunk as she were Lara made her way to the bedroom door and pulled the door handle once. Then again with more power. It did not come as a surprise to either June or Jonas that the door did not budge. As Lara took a few steps back to perform a routine June was all too familiar with, she quickly got up and grabbed her arm: "We already broke a window," but was interrupted by Jonas: "You what!?" "Do you want to do more damage?" "I just want to see what's in there," Lara said abandoning her idea of kicking down the door. "Can't you get a technician to do pick it?" "Only if there was something to investigate," replied Lara and Jonas immediately started to his feet: "Now I do declare, you two harlots get out of my house. Now!" The girls did not heed him, but looked curiously at the boy with a vile expression on his face. A moment passed before June burst into laughter and Lara likewise. "First you're a gentlemen and now you're a hillbilly. Are you on drugs?" "I said, get out!," yelled Jonas as he quickly dove behind the couch in a display of apelike agility. This quick and precise movement did nothing to remedy the roaring laughter of the two girls. The shotgun he held when he appeared from behind the couch did. "Holy crap, he's a nutter," remarked Lara as she swiftly rolled out the living room, but June was stunned with fear in a corner. "Now I is going to count to three. Then I blow your brains out, missy," remarked Jonas approaching the girl. She was visibly shaking.

"Jonas?," asked June with a faltering voice: "What are you doing?" "You two harlots burst into my residence and make me the bad guy. Pieces of work, you are. One," replied Jonas taking aim at June. "Now I wouldn't ever come back 'ere if I was your girlfriend, you know why?" "No," June replied with a sob. "Because if she ever comes near my farm again, she will remember what happened to this little harlot last time. Two." June was crying and attempting to get out of the corner, but Jonas kicked her in the chest and shoved her back up against the wall. Lara on the other hand tackled Jonas in a swift movement and he dropped the gun on the floor. Before he had a chance to get back on his feet Lara was holding the gun: "What the?," and with an accusing look at Jonas she loaded the shutdown and sprayed him with water. "Stop that!," he exclaimed in his usual voice once more and seated himself on the couch. Lara helped June to her feet and June took the gun. She did not fire it at Jonas, but swung it at his head in anger causing him to tumble from the couch onto the floor. Lara burst out laughing. Before he had a chance to react June dropped the gun and pulled him back to his feet holding both hands at his throat: "You sick, sick bastard!" "What?," he asked confused and furious. This did nothing to stop Lara's laughter. "You threatened me with a shotgun!" "I did? No I didn't," he replied even more confused then than before. "You on drugs?" asked Lara: "Look at me. Are you on drugs?" Jonas was squirming wildly, but his weak attempts failed to overpower Lara's might. Eventually he calmed down and looked her in the eyes. He had a wild angry expression in his eyes, but his pupils were not dilated. "You're not on drugs," commented Lara with surprise almost formulating her remark as a question. "No, I'm not. Starting to think you crazy bitches are." "Sure, talk like that to the girl with her hands around your throat," commented Lara. "Could we get back to the point?," asked June. "Lock smith'll take forever to get it done. Paperwork and all that," commented Lara and let go of the meek boy who resumed his position on the couch without hesitation. "So, we clean it," said June. "You're drunk," grinned Lara: "But you're not kidding?" "No." Lara sighed. "Oh, think of the fun of cleaning this dump," she commented overly dramatic: "This girl's got enough action for one night. We'll start tomorrow." "Agreed," commented June and both girls got up and headed for the door. Upon leaving the living room Lara quickly glanced at Jonas who was sitting on the couch unmoving and staring at the black screen. She quickly plugged in the VCR and power cords and the TV came back on. "See you tomorrow," commented Lara as she hurried to join an increasingly impatient June outside who was trying to hail a cab. Jonas did not reply.

What happened next was predictable enough. Early in the morning I met up with a slightly hung over June who asked to get the day off to go clean Jonas' house with Lara. As she did very little work around the office and this was one of the first times she had ever taken initiative to do domestic services I did not feel I should discourage her. Early in the morning, while Jonas was at work, June and Lara showed up at his house. June was surprised to find Lara and two cops there upon her arrival. "Some way you take days off," commented a burly cop at Lara as June approached the front door. The windows were wide open. "Yeah, leave it to you to find the saddest fucking place in the entire city when you don't have to do shit," remarked a second cop barely within earshot. His voice was deep and he talked slowly. Even through his profanity June felt comforted by the voice. "My friend found this," explained Lara. "How?," asked the burly cop. "Long story. She works with the guy who lives here." "Someone lives in this dump?," the cop continued. "Look Eli, he claims his parents have gone missing. Went to bed they were there. Got up and they were gone." "No notes?" "None." June opened the front door. "Was this a couple of year ago?," called the deep voice from the kitchen. "Two days ago," commented June. "Hi sweetie," called Lara and rushed to the entrance. Her burly cop colleague joined them swiftly: "Hey, you're the daughter of that ZenTech guy," he commented with a smile. "Oh, you know my father?" "Not as well as I would like to," grinned the cop and the deep voice joined in the brief laughter. The deep voice, an aged policeman joined them in the front hall: "We'll leave you girls to do the dirty job," and the burly cop quickly added: "That's sort of her specialty. Maybe you can get P to help." "His name is Pouncer," corrected Lara in a monotone. "Sorry, but there is no immediate indication of crime at play. Get the place cleaned up and we'll send a detective tomorrow." "Wait," commented June: "We have to do this in one day?" The aged cop looked around the house and nodded with a smile and a cool demeanor: "Yep. You got a raw deal. Call us if you can't make it, or you find anything." "Will do, Smoke," commented Lara as Smoke and Eli left the perimeter. "Smoke?," asked June after the cops had left the place. "Nickname," nodded Lara: "Let's get to it."

So the girls started cleaning the place. June quickly went to get supplies needed as they found the house ill equipped for sanitisation. No vacuum. No soap. No sponges. Not even a broom. Armed with industrial strength soap, rubber gloves and plenty of courage the two girls set out to have an entertaining and labourious day. What everyone failed to heed was the catastrophic ramifications of what Smoke had said. They wrote up a brief initial report on Jonas' case, but this triggered a reaction no one predicted. To flesh out the report June had been mentioned briefly in the report although not in an incriminating fashion at all. The detectives of the force worked often with lawyers and both parties tried their best in spite of the occasionally contradicting lines of work to maintain a healthy relationship towards one another. As soon as the detective Miller received the report and saw June's name, the harpy was alerted through her new hubby. Seeing June's name in a police report triggered just about the most predictable response from the harpy, a massive mental meltdown. After attempting to contact June by phone over 50 times with no luck due to a noisy vacuum she called for her chauffeur and went out to the house along with the lawyer lackey. June saw the car pull up through the window and immediately turned to Lara: "Uh oh. Trouble," "Your mom?" "Yes. With backup." Lara nodded and quickly made her way out the house through the kitchen window loosely replaced the night before. The thick plantation enabled her to keep well out of sight quite easily. "Are you sure this is the right place?" "Madam, have I ever steered you wrong?," replied the chauffeur. "You must have. She would never willingly set foot in a place like this. Oh God, what if she is kidnapped?" "Calm down," said the lawyer failing to grasp the understanding of his words as June the night before. "Easy for you to say when your daughter could be gagged, raped or chopped to pieces. I have to go in there," she replied frantically and got out. She immediately climbed back in and addressed her husband: "You do it?" "How about we both do it?" "No, you do it. My heels can not go through the bushes. I'll wait here." "Take them off then and put on your Soludos." "No, I can't do that." "Why not?" "I'm not poor. I shouldn't be in a place like this." June was hearing them clear as day inside the house and was trying her best not to burst out laughing. Snickering he kneeled before a window and looked out. She could barely make out the outline of the car through the onslaught of plants. With a frown the harpy and the lawyer left the car and took a few steps towards the house. "I can't do this," shrieked the harpy and turned around, but the lawyer grabbed her arm. She quickly twisted her arm free of his grasp and got in the car that then drove off in haste leaving behind the lonesome lawyer. He roared at the car: "Diane! Stop!" This had no effect on the acceleration of the vehicle that turned a corner and left his sight. "Damn that woman," muttered the man and started his battle against the bushes. "June," he called. "Yes?" "What are you doing here?" "Long story." "Your mom is worried sick about you." "Not enough to be here herself."

June let him in and fretting for his suit he picked up from the dry cleaner not two days earlier, June quickly cleaned the living room couch and he resumed his seat there. "I got a hint by detective Miller that your name came up in a police report," he said after a moment while June proceeded to wipe off dust. Without pause she kept cleaning. "What have you gotten yourself into?" "Didn't Miller show you the report?" "No. I just got a text." "I'm not involved in anything," she replied after a while still cleaning. "Don't lie to me, miss. Is that why you're cleaning? To cover up your tracks?" "No." "Stop lying to me." "I'm not!" "What is it? Drugs? Crime?" "Neither. Gosh, you're not listening to me." "Then how do you plea?" "How do I plea? What? Are we in court?" "Young miss, you are testing my patience." "A co-worker lives here." "Again with the lies. Nobody would live here." "He does." "He? Boys? Is that what this is? Prostitution to get back at your father?" "No! Damn it if you're not going to listen you know where the door is." "I'm not leaving here without you." "Then shut up!," June shrieked at him. Under wild protests of her tones he started rambling and she turned on the loud vacuum to drown him with noise. To great success. He got up from the couch, turned off the vacuum and started over resuming his seat. As soon as he sat down, the vacuum came on again. This dance repeated itself two times before he sighed at her: "Fine. Speak." "Co-worker lives here. Had a breakdown a few days ago." "And your father thinks he can–" "Shut it." A moment of silence passed before he spoke: "Sorry." "Nobody is forcing me to be here. He had a breakdown after his parents vanished. We think–" "Who is 'we'?" Before she could answer he called out: "Lara, you can come in now." She came in through the front door right away. "Well, my father would have said that this is indeed wholesome girl time, but knowing the two of you, what are you up to?" "I was getting to that," said June: "We're trying to get into the bedroom." "Why not break down the door?" "Someone lives here, you know," commented Lara. "Are you kidding me?" "No," replied June: "We're trying to find the key to the door, but as you can see it could be anywhere." "How does something as mundane as that end with a police report?" "I called in two colleagues to check for any traces of a crime." "And?" "They had a hard time with all the dust." "Incompetent fools." "Oy! That's my friends you're badmouthing dumbass," replied Lara with an annoyed frown: "They'll come back tomorrow and have another check." The lawyer turned to June: "A lady such as yourself should not be doing menial labour like this." "You should mind your own business." "Your mother will be thoroughly displeased that you do this sort of work." "You can tell her I found an hour of cleaning more rewarding than any acting class or photo shoot she even got me." "How can you say that?" "Because I can see I make a difference here for a poor sod, not just advertise the latest fashion shit to some high-minded upper-class snooty bastards with too little brain to see the commercialism that drives them like the slaves they are. And I look damn good doing it." "Did you call us slaves?," burst the lawyer. "I did. I'm sorry, that was a bit harsh." A car pulled up in front of the house and the harpy's voice rang through the air: "You can do this. You can do this." "That's my ride," said the lawyer and got up: "You're coming with me." June rejected his order and upon starting another rant she turned on the vacuum once more. Lara showed him the door and he left in silence. The car quickly drove off and the buck had been passed from June to me.

The lawyer brought Diane up to speed as they headed straight for the ZenTech headquarters. Diane did what she always did whenever June would not fall into line. She blamed me.

"Right this way, if you please," said an office worker as he showed Diane and her hubby into my office. "Do you want me to cancel to 2 o' clock?" "It's alright. They'll be out of here swiftly anyway." He nodded, smiled and left the room in a hurry. I looked at the two of them take their seats on the other side of my desk. "By all means have a seat," I remarked with a groan. "Do you have any idea what our baby girl has gotten herself into?" "I have some idea, yes." "Drugs. And kidnappings!" "I've a hard time imagining that." "It's true. She's under the thrall of some slumlord. No doubt a pimp." "I think you're overreacting," I remarked and as she scoffed over and over as the drama queen she was and is her hubby took the word, which by the way did nothing to improve the quality of the conversation: "I think my wife is experiencing some major emotional turmoil." "Swap the word 'wife' with 'client' and you sound like you're in a courtroom." "Could you at least attempt at taking this seriously?" "Sure, one second." I turned on the intercom: "Could you, please, send Jonas in here?" "Sure thing," came the reply. "Who's Jonas?" "So you didn't see the police report did you?" I did. Smoke forwarded it to me by fax as soon as it was written marked: "A favour for Lara." "What's your point?" Jonas entered and the harpy and the suit quickly rose from their seats and turned to the shabby looking bloke. "Who's this lowlife?," asked the harpy turning towards me: "This is Jonas, model employee here at ZenTech. You were at his house." "We were?" "I was," corrected the lawyer. "You were?," asked Jonas confused: "What's this about?" "Lara and June were with you last night, yes?," I asked. "Yes. They were acting crazy. Hit me with a water gun." "Wait," interrupted the harpy approaching the kid: "You're the one my daughter has been hanging around the last two days?" "I guess." "You know she missed a photo shoot with Gaga because of you!" He looked confused at me and I gave him a quick wink. With a smile he returned his gaze to Diane and replied: "I'm sorry. Who's your daughter?" "June! The fairest lady in this office." "Ah, the one who's always been cruel to me." "You should count yourself lucky she even sets her feet here." "Well, what she does is hardly my business," he replied: "Just like what she chooses not to do is not either." "Bums like you should stay out of her way in order not to distract her. Just because she has a career prospect that'll put her in the world's elite doesn't allow your sort, stuck behind a desk for the rest of your life, to ruin her." "So, you haven't spoken to June yourself," I broke in: "And you haven't read the police report." "So?," she shrieked. Her face had every hue of red painted across her otherwise pale face and she was breathing heavily. "So, anything you stated just now has been hysteria. Illogical uninformed hysteria. Sit yourself down and I'll explain the simple matter of it all," I said gesturing at her seat: "And Jonas, thank you, that'll be all."

Jonas left the room and the harpy and suit reluctantly sat down. I explained them the simple innocent state of affairs over and over again. After repeating everything for the third time the suit lost patience and they both got up to leave. One hour of my life I will never get back. Later accounts brought to my attention what was said in the car on their way home. The harpy had started the conversation: "I don't buy it. And I don't like it one bit." "Honey, we saw the report. Nothing incriminating." "Still, if the press hears about this, it'll be a setback for her career." "With the recent prospects of war in Africa, which news agency would care that June, of all the young aspiring models, has been tangentially involved in a case of disappearance of a colleague's parents. Who cares?" "But what if? And that rotten bastard's enjoying this all too much. She's spiting me, hence he covers for her." "Neither of them hate you as much as you think they do." "Sure they do. You could tell he contemplated strolling out the window as we entered the room." "You can read minds?" To this question the harpy shot a disapproving glance at her man: "Didn't you see his frown?" "I did." "And you think that's good behaviour?" "Not at all, but I see where he's coming from." "Look, we need to be a team about this and I need to be sure this case doesn't escalate. I would hate seeing June lose her career getting involved with criminals and crack whores." "I'll keep an eye out. Pull some strings at the station. I know this officer Eli quite well." "No, you don't get it. If the police finds out this is something bigger, it's too late." "What do you want me to do then?" "You figure it out. You're the big cheese lawyer." A moment of silence passed and eventually the suite spoke after some reasoning: "I might have a solution." "Good. If you don't you can make your bed on the couch tonight." "You're throwing me out of the bedroom?" "Yes. Unless you solve this for me." He whispered in her ears: "I'd like to see you try kicking me out." The conversation took a different direction altogether from there and no word spoken thereafter had any relevancy to this story. I will omit this part out of respect for their privacy.

Late in the afternoon the lawyer made a call to an old contact of his, a private eye. Their story went back quite far, but we will get into that later when it becomes relevant. They were good friends on the harpy's suit saved the investigator in court some years earlier. A series of unfortunate events on the political scene had forced this otherwise renowned and successful investigator in court and although the suit had him cleared of all charges and got him a nice settlement, the P. I., James, found his reputation and business in shambles regardless of the court's ruling. James and his son Ron had to leave the big city and move to the country and decided to follow the suit to out town. James and the suit had developed quite the friendship over the course of the trial and they spoke regularly when they golfed in the Summer. The move and the trial had taken its toll on James though, his flair for his work slowly went the way of the dodo as he took to the bottle and he found himself doing surveillance jobs for wealthy upper class wives convinced their husbands were cheating.

The suit pulled up to the residence of James and Ron late in the afternoon, left the car and the chauffeur drove off. It was a small average house in the middle class suburbs. It did not look neither new nor worn. Most of the house was built by bricks with cherry wood beams here and there to support the structure. Although it did not look impressive, actually that is the perfect way to describe the house; unimpressive, it looked homely. The car, old ride from James' glory days, rusty and dusty stood on a small driveway. The lawyer went up to the door and knocked. No reply. Knocked again. Again, no reply. He then rang the doorbell and Ron opened the door after a while. "Greetings, sir. How may I hel– you're that lawyer guy," the boy stated. "Indeed. Is James there?" "He's in no condition to have company." "Drunk," the lawyer nodded. "Well, drunk is a vague term," replied the boy: "Pissed, really." "Can I see him?" "If you insist," commented the boy as he swung the door wide open and gestured for the lawyer to enter. The home was as unremarkable on the inside as it was on the outside. "Cup of coffee?," asked the boy. "No, thank you." "Tea?" "No. It's fine." The boy led the lawyer to his father's bedroom where James was laying on his bed shouting at a television in the far end of the room: "Silly cowboys! Pass the ball! You couldn't pass a ball if your life depended on it!" "Dad?," asked Ron. He continued his yelling: "Sure you can drop the ball. Drop the ball, you sure can!" Ron walked and grabbed the remote, turned off the television and said: "Firstly, that was hockey. There was no ball–" "Don't you talk to your old guy like that." "Secondly, you got company." With a few grunts the P. I. propped himself up on his shoulders. "Hey. Good to see you again? Golf already?" "Maybe this weekend?," suggested the lawyer as he resumed his seat on the bed next to the drunk investigator. Ron left the room in a hurry. "Good kid," remarked the lawyer. "Disrespectful bother," replied the P. I. "How's life been treating you?" "I'm drunk off my arse and it's not even past dinnertime. How do you think it's going?" "Well, I wish to hire you." "What for?" "I've stumbled upon a case." At these words the private eye sprang to a seated position and with fire in his eyes said: "This has better not be another cheating spouse. I swear, I can't deal with another one of those. Seems like rich blokes think they can put it in anyo–" "No, no, nothing like that." "Then what?" "Two people disappeared. Out of thin air." "Probably eloped and got married." "I doubt it," grinned the lawyer. "What's the catch?" "The what?" "The catch? People vanishing is usually dealt with by the police as they got the fancy boats and choppers." "I need to now the truth of this case before the police does." "Why?" "It's complicated. It's a personal request from my wife." "You wife!? You got married?" "Yes." "Well, I'll be damned. I'll drink to that." James got off the bed and left the room swiftly only to return with two beers. He offered one to the lawyer. "I shouldn't," replied the suit. "That's not a 'no'. Here." James opened his beer and took a big swig: "I suppose I should be grateful you're off the meat market. Less competition, eh?" "You still don't have a chance," replied the lawyer with a grin: "Cheers." They both drank and after a brief solemn silence James said: "I'll do it. But the money had better be good." "The money'll be good. And I promise it won't end as badly as last time." After a burp James gathered his thoughts: "Can't get much worse, can it?". The two guys proceeded to have yet another beer over a hockey game before agreeing to start working on the case first thing in the morning.

It was indeed that morning when everything came together. James and Ron held a meeting with the lawyer and the harpy. Employing James for quite a salary to investigate the case, the harpy also employed the services of Ron to spy on both Lara, June and Jonas independently to get some more juicy intel. This arrangement was expensive as Ron was reluctant to take the job, but everyone has a price. Meanwhile, Eli and Smoke returned to the cleaned house to investigate whether a crime had taken place or not. Although the girls had worn themselves out thoroughly by cleaning the entire house, floor to roof, they found no traces of a key to the master bedroom. Smoke ordered a locksmith to come take a look at the door and luckily one was available after lunchtime. No traces or clues of a crime, or even a departure, could be found anywhere in the house. When James arrived at the house everyone had left and he started snooping around. He was an excellent private eye, but much like the police he failed to find any traces of crimes. He did note on a shelf in the living room a series of pictures of Jonas with his parents taken annually, but this trend ended five years earlier. He then went on to talk with the neighbors, but nobody knew Jonas even remotely and could tell nothing about his habits, or his parents for that matter. A curious detail was that the tenants who had lived next door to Jonas had been there for years and they had never seen the traces of the missing parents. They did see a shady character drop by twice or thrice each week and they could say with certainty this was not Jonas. Before accessing electronic databases to study Jonas's history, James decided to stake out and try to catch this shady character.

04 Before

04 Before

As I stare into the flames I can see how I am going to die. Watching the waves lick the crust makes me shutter as for how far a human being is able to push itself over a ledge. Are you so desperate to preserve yourself and your stupid beliefs?

…Ah fuck!

They made it my fault, my business to care. I was content in my little shack but no. They had to drag that… thing along and drop dead on my doorstep. You damn pricks! Sort out you shit yourselves; if anyone survives this crap. I brought the brat and I fucking delivered! Now what?

It hadn’t been more than a few weeks since that delegation of armored soup cans came stumbling across my driveway and out into my fields. I know I inherited this land from that old coot, but the leniency people were taking just grinded my gears. I remember that I was about to go talk with them when a large pickup came running alongside and stopped in front of me. I had never been threatened like this before. They didn’t say a word. They just aimed their rifles at me and stood still until the large convoy had long passed. Then they crawled back into the pickup and left the same way.

I didn’t care that much at the start. They were rude; there was no reason for them to threaten me like that. It took me a couple of days before the thought of the injustice had crawled under my skin. I took my rust bucket and set out to look for them. I threw a few lengths of rope, a mallet and some sticks so I could excuse it with a cattle count. I would fake a round up to check their health and have me a look around.

It was easy to follow the large track they had made across my fields. They had followed the road for a mile and broken off towards the hillside to the north. I didn’t have any cattle in that area but I slowly drove along the deep trench the hefty vehicles had made. As I reached the hills I saw a large area closed off to the public. Barbwire fence was running across the foot of the hills only displaying a sign by near the only entrance inside the parameter. [Military Zone – All entrance prohibited. Intruders will be shot!]

That is kind of harsh as it is my land still. I own the hills and the fields in front of it; I don’t think the government is allowed to take my fields just because they suddenly want too. There was no around as I walked along the fence for a while starring inside. There was a large parking lot just inside the carved mountainside. I had never seen that before and the large lit door was a dead giveaway. Where the hell did all that come from? Have the military secretly been digging in my backyard without my consent? Why have I never seen anyone or anything before now?

I plucked up the courage to open the gate. Nothing happened. I grabbed one of my stakes and open my holster. I had brought my old Smith and Wesson just in case. I don’t know what they will do to keep me away from this project or what the hell this building was. I crept towards the door looking at all the holes in the wall along the parking lot. Nothing stirred and no shots were fired. I gained a little courage walking closer to the door and leaned slowly against it listening for voices or movement… nothing?

Opening the door I didn’t think about the strange coincidence that it was unlocked before long after I broke that entry. There was a small room with a table and a chair by the entrance. Everything had been cleaned off down to the last paperclip. I didn’t see anything of interest in the room, there was a sign with an arrow and a metal door leading down into the darkness. Once more I stood still for minutes listening for any sign of life and again I wasted minutes for naught.

I hadn’t got a reason for pursuing the military into their lair, but they had broken an entry and I was angry that they had threatened me like that. I wanted answers! I wanted an apology! I want compensation for the fields they ripped a trench into! Well then I wanted to know what was down the hall anyway. Keeping to the shadows along the wall, the vague light leading down didn’t help me prepare for what to come, but it guided well enough for me to have an idea when I reached a turn or the path descended.

I felt a pressure at my ears as the path went downwards for a while; I was apparently beneath sea level at that point. I came to a large open room with no lights at all. I stayed at the halls end and waited to see if there was anything in the darkness that could guide me further. The lights stopped next to me and the room vaguely echoed my stifled breath. The air was dense and I remember the strange metallic smell that slowly overwhelmed the dank mossy odor I had grown accustom too. It took me a long time to notice the red lamp straight ahead. A tiny red dot was glowing in the darkness. There was no mechanical sound or any movement. It was completely static.

I stepped further inside the room. My heart in my throat I felt something beyond my control push me forward. My curiosity had conquered my sense and I had for the moment thrown caution to the wind. I drew my pistol silently and moved further towards the tiny light. A loud clank sound echoed in the room. Something like a rumble started and humming filled the room as several large lamps turned on at the same time.

Completely blinded I stood in the middle of a large underground room. It took me some time to get use to the lights and when I finally could see anything without my eyes burning and water filling my sight I saw the largest metal door I had ever seen. 209 stood with large yellow letters across the door or wall, depending on what it was suppose to be. A small computer panel stood in front of the giant door having a tiny red lamp on the display. I stepped backwards towards the tunnel and crouched down my pistol lifted; waiting for someone coming along to investigate.

Nobody came. I waited for minutes…nothing. I slowly crept back towards the panel again and stared down at the keyboard. Everything in there was dusty and when I saw that certain letters were easier to read than others I wrote the letters with my finger in the dusty panel. “wertio” was used on the top row. “ashkl” was used on second and “vm” on third. No numbers and only one set of prints on the spacebar. I turned on the screen on the red button and watched the loading screen. It was old and confusing, vomiting tons of information about its internal booting sequence. Finally it came to a halt asking for the password. I stared blankly at the keys trying to think. There was nothing that made sense and tapping in “Metal works” only made a 4 left counter appear. Maybe it wasn’t English? It could be something more in the line of Latin or Greek. If this was the government they would love something like Helios or Ashramites. Thinking about that last word gave me a sense of dread. What if they used the same words twice, I can’t see that. I doubt they used space more than once since the tiny dustless spot was perfectly intact, but the other letters were hard to guess. As a wild stab in the dark I wrote /help to see if that gave any pointers. To my surprise it not only took one guess away from me, but at the top it wrote “Even while going back to nature, America will never be in second place!”

I was tempted to write Bullhonky on the panel, but thought better of it as the cursor blinked at me menacingly. Two tries left and only more questions arose. The answer were in the riddle, I couldn’t think of any reason for it to be there if not. What did the riddle refer too? Was it something in the military or the government? We didn’t have a 100 presidents yet so that was out of the question, what about 209th largest city in the states? What was the 208th largest city in the state? I could never guess it, although Detroit came to mind and I couldn’t stop myself smirking at the misfortune that befell the riches city in 1960. So sad and yet the irony was blinding me like a mirror after a hangover. Wait a minute, second best? Was it referring to silver medals? Well it couldn’t be that as neither d was in it or all the letters used. Maybe they needed a second code to close the doors? Could it be silver hills? Fuck… 1 try left. Something patriotic maybe… a wild stab now or it could just go to hell. What about Silver hawk, no towerhawk… the lamps turned red as an alarm went off. Looking around me I looked for the exit tunnel and began walking when I saw the computer reset itself. I stopped to look at it as it wrote “Silver Tomahawk” making me feel retarded for writing towerhawk, there was no such thing. A second alarm went off as the large door began to slide to one side. Panic-stricken that I would be caught I launched myself at the door and jammed my barrel into the side it was sliding too and began pelting down the tunnel. I could hear the crunching sound. My trusty old six-shooter grinded the gears giving me seconds to get a head start. The weapons they had when they held me up were far too superior to my gun and wooden stick which I had left outside when I snuck through the first door.

I was half way up the tunnel when shots were fired. They had left the chamber and armed guards were pursuing me in the darkness. I had nearly reached the room upstairs when several rounds fired hit my thigh and I fell to the ground with a yell. Blinded by a searing pain in my face as I hit the floor face first, I heard the soldier reach me. I tried to get to my feet, but the right leg didn’t react and my feeble attempt to stand up was interrupted by a hard metal piece hitting the back of my head. Falling forward I barely felt the floor greeting me as the second blow to my neck knocked me unconscious.

A dark room came into sight. I was lying on a metal plank bolted to the wall. A flickering light interrupted my sleep. I must have been out for a long time, I don’t remember the bandages on my leg and head. Trying to sit up I looked out into a hallway. I couldn’t feel my body; maybe they had given me some painkillers to take the top off my post surgery pain. I got to my feet and began walking, but something was amiss. My right leg wasn’t responding well and dragged slowly along as I fought my way to the hall. The place looked like a prison, but the small rooms didn’t have any bars. Walking into the hallway I slowly slumped down the corridor of similar rooms. At the end a door stood ajar leading to a staircase. Taking one step outside the door I got the urge to turn around. I felt like someone was breathing down my neck. Whirling around I saw nothing out of the ordinary… at first. The last room on my current right was lit by a tiny petrol lamp. A book lay beside it reflecting the glow of the lamp in the shiny surface. I approached the book like a bomb. I had not seen a single object that wasn’t bolted to the floor or wall since I came here. That book and lamp was so out of place that I felt a surge of fear running down my spine. It felt like a mousetrap and I was biting the cheese. Kneeling down beside it I felt the wind brush my neck again. Looking around I found myself just as alone as I have ever been. I touched the black surface of the book and felt the stone like surface to be wet.

Opening the book was a breathtaking moment. The letters were following the book as it opened. Pushing the letters closer to it I saw how the long strange letters were moving in and out of the first page depending on how ajar the lid was. Amazed for a second I searched the pages for any language recognizable, but it was all signs to me. Turning to one of the center pages I reckoned I saw a small ink man run along the letters into the margin and closing the book didn’t bring him back. I turned around the book seeing that the letters and signs suddenly changed shape and size. Some of them formed new signs and other made diagrams and crude pictures. Completely ignoring the world around me I shuffled around the book making to look at it from all angles, although nothing remotely resembled English or anything western for that sake.

Finally when I had spun the book to the left twice and flickered through the pages I came across a page where it said “Have you ever felt the warmth of a harlot?” I starred strangely into the book not daring to move as I thought I had misread it. Reading it a few times I flipped the page and it continued…”Take a deep breath, you are not well. Can you stay for supper? She hasn’t seen you yet.”

What… the harlot? I don’t understand why the book is coming on to me. As I looked up I saw a bowl of soup. I still remember it clearly. Standing there fuming and suddenly emitting a fragrance of sweet tomatoes. I put down the book and crawled towards it. It was just close enough for me not to stand up first. Picking up the soup I noticed a pair of legs in front of me. “Beggars can’t be choosers!”  a cold voice said and a hand shot out of the bowl grabbing my throat pulling my head towards the floor. I felt a cracking sensation as it collided with the floor and I woke up with a startle on the metal plank again.

For a moment I didn’t know how I had end up there again, but lifting my head this time was beyond anything I had ever felt. The blow to the head was throbbing like insane and my leg was making me buckle. I was poorly bandaged I noticed and bloodstains had run down the leg. I keeled to the side as I sat up and had to lean against the wall, sitting in a blunt stupor as the room came into view for a second time.

Metal bars. Metal bars everywhere. Getting up I saw that all the rooms suddenly had thick metal bars. The small part of the hallway between the rooms I could see was littered with debris from the roof and everything was dead quiet. Calling for a guard gave a strange echo down the hall. Nothing stirred, not even rats were occupying this dark basement of an unknown place. Where was I?

This is not the same place I was in before. Walls of concrete and rusty bars filled this cold establishment? I yelled for at guard again and nothing happened. Waiting frustrated for an unknown amount of time I took the chair from the corner of the room and threw it at the bars with hard crash. The noise would wake the dead. As nothing stirred I began hammering on the bars with a leg and still nothing would react to the noise. Giving up I grabbed the bars in frustration and began shaking them, noticing they were loose in their sockets. I stared at the debris from the ceiling and then up at the cracked concrete running the length of my cell. Earthquake maybe, the whole place sudden felt like it could come down over my ears.

Oh well, I could either rot here or give it a push to see if I could loosen the bars enough to warp the frame a little. Standing in the middle I got the best vibration effect and began rustling the bars back and forth for ages. Concrete dust rained down as I stood for what felt like hours.

Exhausted and weakened from lack of food and medical attention I gave in and sat down on the bed again. My leg was throbbing and the muscles in my neck felt too short. Slumping to the side in the hope of being able to get a little sleep, barely closing my eyes I felt the wind on my face and everything went colder. My body gave a shiver and I looked up into the clear sky.

Sitting up slowly I found myself confused and slightly violated. I didn’t get here on my own! Looking around I saw that I was on my back on a bench in the middle of a park. It was dusk now, but what day was it?

Hoisting my legs to the ground I felt the right one buckle again, but it was manageable for now. Following the path along the dark park I noticed that some of the trees were slightly uprooted. They were swaying menacingly to one side and creaking wildly in the mild wind. Searching through branches for a walking stick I came across the first body since I had woken up. A torched body lay at the root of an oak tree. The grass around it was scorched and the body was curled up in a fetal position, beyond recognition.

Looking around the place I suddenly had the paranoid feeling that the trees had eyes. Was there a psycho loose with a flamethrower? I looked like someone had lit this poor person and left. I am surprised the grass got singed and not the remotest sign on a forest fire… or park fire if we are feeling semantic.

Walking away from that horrible spot I vaguely remembered the military delegation that came over my land. They had threatened me with rifles out of the blue, what would stop them from torching protesters… there were always protesters for some reason or another when the government was involved, they were easy targets for the ill-informed and unenlightened mobs of masturbatory hate reapers you see on television. How can angry people make me so angry over them being angry? It is a stupid paradox; I shouldn’t let myself get effected by their conflicts. They can go to hell if they want, who would miss them?

My head was throbbing and my vision was limited in the growing darkness. Stumbling around the edges of the park I kept finding the large wall that isolated the noise from the town, leaving the park rather serene on a summer day. I could recognize it now. It was the city park. The large red wall with the black streetlamps on top was a joy to see. I had been there many times before although never at night. I kept following the wall around waiting for a hole, but none came. Stumbling along I was getting tired again and the muscle pain was slowly overwhelming me. When I came to a point where the wall suddenly stopped I searched for a corner or something to guide me past. I was sure that it was a park closed off all the way around, the wall can’t just stop?

Starring into the moonlit darkness I saw something gleam pale in the fleeting light ahead. I nudged on my leg refusing to follow me and panting like I had run a marathon. As I came closer to the large object my heart began to throb violently and sank into my stomach when I reached what looked like a large chest. It couldn’t be a chest; I was seeing things, a bike? No it was larger than that… Coming up right behind it my heart skipped a beat as I saw it was just a bloody bench. I had been chasing the metal off a bench, what the hell is wrong with me? Sitting down on it for a moment to catch my breath I suddenly noticed that it was warm. The air was cold now and the sun had been gone for quite a while, nothing but something living could have heated this bench to such a lukewarm state.

Unsure if it was wise to call into the night, since my last attempt to come in contact with people left me crippled. I got up and strode into the darkness along the dust path. Trying to walk silently while dragging dead meat along with every second step was a task of greatest concentration and I finally collapsed completely fatigued next to a large tree. I sat down trying to listen to the sounds of the night. No hooting, no street noise, not even a cricket were stirring here anymore. The wind was eerie and my energy was gone. I waited for a sign or a sound but nothing came. Curled up in the grass, freezing I fell asleep for a tenth of a second.

A loud crash echoed and I woke up with a startle. The large hall echoed with the falling of a wooden ceiling cover. The dust sprung up like a wave and slowly landed feet away. I was sitting inside a large building… where was I? It looked so familiar. Pushing myself to my feet by forcing myself up the wall with my left leg in the ground, I felt like I had climbed a mountain. Staggering a little as I ventured down the long hallway; oblivious of other people there at all. My stomach was controlling me, the rumbling and churning felt like a punch in the gut, but it carried on dragging me along the hundreds of barricaded doors and windows.

Shopping mall? The shopping mall at the outskirts of town? I figured that someone must have taken pity upon me and dropped me off here so I could get some food. Walking down the deserted halls gave a muffled echo. I didn’t have any trouble finding my way around the large place… hey it was day again?

The light from the windows in the ceiling was sending light through the thick dust. It wasn’t sunrays, so it must be clouded then… maybe it will rain? I reached the main arc at the entrance. The doors outside was boarded up and the security metal bars were down making it impossible to leave by normal means.

Food, I need food… stomach rebelling, I guess it is enough to see that I am safe for now. How did I get inside? How did I get out of jail? Who cares, I need food… food is good!

Stumbling along I got to the grocery store at one of the side exits of the mall. Everything was either gone or rotten beyond consumption. I could nearly see the fumes coming off the cucumbers and garlic sending disgusted shivers down my spine. I never felt this way about food before, I am really getting desperate!

Pummeling the door to the grocery store to see if I could get inside I noticed something on the ground protruding just around the pillar dividing the shops. I ignored it as I shoulder-tackled the door, but nothing budged. Giving up my curiosity got the best of me and I began to walk towards the thing on the floor dreading that it was another corpse.

I just came down the hall from that way, how would it be possible to overlook such a large lump on the floor? I didn’t know if the shock of seeing the first torched corpse had steeled me against it, but this second corpse scorched beyond recognition didn’t have the same effect on me. Sure it was sad and he was missing a leg, but still… at least it wasn’t me. Imagine the pain of it all, getting stripped flesh from bone by roaring fire. How long would a mind stay conscious after such a paralyzing pain? Had they screamed?

Looking at the body I hitched up my courage to try another go at the grocery door. Turning around I saw a reflection in the broken glass on the opposite side. Was that me? Stepping up to the window display I could see the reflection of an old man. Unshaven and blood down my shirt I watched the uncanny expression of disgust I found every morning in the mirror at home. The old man staring back at me didn’t like what he saw. Well I didn’t like him either and his beard was getting grey… take that you old prick. I shook my head as I gave up trying to reason with the reflection, we are never going to agree on that mullet!

“You can stay there and look ugly… I am leaving you forever… goodbye nut job!” I said out loud turning around to face the grocery door again… it was open? There was no door? I just stood fighting that door a minute ago. It can’t be… I felt that door? Did I offend it? Maybe it left because I said it was ugly… but I was talking to my reflection? What a sensitive décor… insecure doors… I made a funny.

Walking towards the grocery store I felt sick again. The smell had returned and filled my lungs, creating a wall of odor. Fighting against it I reached the sacred insides of the mighty food chest that would be my savior.

What the hell is this? Absurd and morbid! The grocery store had been rearranged so the chest high shelves stood in large circles around a hung door. In a giant noose hung the front door like it had committed suicide while the shelves had watched it; cheering it on. I feel flabbergasted at the sight, how could it have misunderstood me like that. Maybe it was angry because I kept pushing it and fighting to get inside, have I hurt its feelings? I tore my eyes away from the abysmal sight and rummaged the shelves for some canned food. It could stay fresh for a long time; maybe I could get some peaches… I am in the country; we ought to have a lot of them. I found some pineapple and dried beef that looked edible and while I consumed it with ferocious greed I noticed a wall had replaced the hole where the door had been employed. I guess the other doors have their own jobs… was there more unemployment for walls these days? I guess you can’t keep the same job forever with a town falling apart. A spare wall has to earn a living.

After I had my gut full of this rather strange buffet, my wits came about and I remembered the food mart at the center of the building. It had glass doors, maybe they were broken too. It would be easier to get in and out when the doors didn’t put up a fight and then off themselves… what a… hang on there, what is that?

I found a small note carved into the bottom of the door dangling from the ceiling. “I guess it is not water!” the note said, nothing to elaborate. Well I won’t drink the water then. Let me see if the mart has something more hospitable to offer then. Oh yeah I am locked inside.

Leaning against the shelves as I looked around; I found a small office at the back of the store. Slowly turning the handle it opened up with a creek. “See, you are a great door… there is no reason for us to bicker. We both love the work you do, keep up the good fight!” I told the door as I looked inside. The table inside had been pushed to the wall behind the door and back again. I could see the scrapings on the floor and the blood on the table. Carefully shutting the door I noticed a ventilation shaft… Why hadn’t I thought about that before now?

Pushing the table the same way as someone had done before I don’t recollect me thinking how it had been pushed back again, would it matter? Crawling onto the table I could just reach the large cover and threw it to the floor with a crash. Nothing stirred and I waited for seconds to hear if anyone would react to the noise. Nothing!

Climbing into the shaft was painful and stupid. The zinc was warped and soft. I could feel every inch it buckled under my weight. I dragged myself along on my elbows trying to control my newly discovered fear of tiny spaces that could fall apart any second. It made a sharp right turn and saw light. Sweet grey daylight was taunting me like a fog light on a train. I really hated those lights. A strange glow in the fog and when you get closer the horn would make you shit yourself… not that I have ever bragged about that trip to anyone.

Moving closer the light seemed to grow in my vision. I felt like a rabbit trapped in the headlights of a truck, isolated and unable to divert from the path. I had kept a steady pace that didn’t change as I came closer. Even though horrible memories kept slapping my face like a 10 foot amber dildo with a running start, I knew that I couldn’t go back and the vent would buckle under me at any second. I reached the end and looked out at the hallway for a moment feeling relieved. The creaking noise behind was reminding me that I needed to get out of there as the screws were giving in. I pushed myself out ready to break the fall with my hands when my right leg didn’t bend as I wanted too and the searing pain made me turn halfway in the air and cry out in pain before I hit the ground on my left shoulder and rebounded my head against the tiles.

“Is he alive?” a voice came outside my head. It sounded alienated; it was so long since I had heard anyone speak to me. I opened my eyes to see two soldiers stand over me. It took me a few second to realize it was home in my bed. Everything hurt right now; I couldn’t speak and ended up making a grunting sound. Turning my head I saw that I had been placed fully dressed on my bed without any recollection on how I got there.

“Who is he?” one of them said walking closer. “He is the only one left here. Don’t go any closer; he has blood on his hands. He could be dangerous?”

They stared at me for a second and when I tried to move they drew their guns at me… not again?

“Does he fit description?” one of them said both with their rifles at my face.

“Don’t know… he looks old and mangy but not 95!” the other one said.

I was right there; ask me for fuck sake… what you want to know? I thought trying to elbow myself into a sitting position so I could gesture that I listened. In panic one of them lifted his rifle and pummeled my face with the shaft… fuck my life and everybody in it!

I woke up as somebody threw water at me. It was cold and wet. Now I was cold and wet… thank you property displacement. Why should I suffer just because water didn’t like to be that wet? It was not my choice. If I was king I would demand water to dry a little up, maybe get a tan… everyone loves coffee, it has a nice tan!

I was now in the middle of town. I could see the blurred outlines of the balto statue. People were moving around me as I sat on my knees. The pain was horrible as my leg throbbed worse than ever. I couldn’t take the pain anymore and slumped to the side feeling someone grab me around the neck and pulled me back on my knees. When I tumbled over again I got a kick in the back and rolled around on my stomach in pain. “Get to your feet civilian!” someone bellowed at me and when I didn’t react fast enough, I was pulled up by the arms by two large soldiers covered in camouflage gear. “Yeah you are not invisible…” I thought to myself as they thrashed me around for a bit. “You live at Bonaville Drive… are you A. Cier?” one of the men barked like a commando.

I shook my head twice and they shook me hard, my lolling head throbbed painfully and they caught me as I nearly buckled again. “Who are you?” he shouted. I shook my head again and he took it as a sign of uncooperative manners and hit me in the back with something hard.

“Last time… who are you and what are you doing here?” he yelled. I shrugged feeling more confused that he was. It couldn’t have been more clearly that he was about to punish me again, I heard him draw back ready to strike when I sidestepped in hope that the inevitable pain would wait for a few seconds. I staggered his comrade and the violent barker fell past me and landed face down on the grass. Grabbing the service pistol in his belt and reacted on instinct. I shot the staggered soldier up under the helmet and executed the soldier on the grass by pressing the gun against his throat and pulled the trigger without a second glance.

Yelling nearby made me wake up and dropping down next to the first shot soldier I hid my handcuffed hands behind him still holding the gun. Someone was running towards me from a large truck, they looked armed and livid. Pretending to be dead too I waited for the first one to bend down beside us before I pulled the trigger through his right eye and had to shoot the last man nine times before the holster was empty. He was lying on the ground choking as I crawled over to him. Leaning my hands on each side of his neck, I slowly choked him with the handcuffs until he stopped struggling.

Kill or be killed apparently… what is going on here, they were not local troops. Why have they sought to execute me? How did they know my residence and the old man I bought the place from? It was nearly impossible to get on my feet, the leg was killing me and I think the head trauma is slowly crippling me. I took a rifle from the strangled soldier and used it as a cane. It was hard to keep it steady but at least I could walk again… sort off.

I looked into the van for supplies when I spotted a child? A small… “Are you a boy or a girl?” I asked to the cowering child sitting at the far end of the truck hiding its head.

“Where are the soldiers?” the kid asked with a trembling voice.

“On a picnic!” I heard myself reply instantly.

The child looked terrified as it looked through its fingers. I guess that a wild man appearing after a gunfight would freak me out too. “Why have they taken you?” I asked stepping a little back from the truck to show that I was not cornering it. For a minute or so the kid stayed back in the trailer looking out at me without moving at all. “Are you coming out anytime soon?” I asked again feeling more stupid than ever. Shouldn’t I focus on my own survival than someone who didn’t look like they wanted to be around?

“You know what… I am going home. Cya kid!” I said shrugging as I turned around and left the truck. There wasn’t more than ten minutes walk from this place and home to my shack. This was getting insane, or was I getting accustomed to an ultra sanity… there is no such thing… I am just growing old and senile.

Doesn’t my old age allow me to make up my own words or… not yet…

Looking down the streets I see the dirt gathered along the roads and sidewalks. I don’t feel much like searching for other people right now. I was just reaching the end of a street when my house came in sight. Limping towards my habitat I felt the cold wind rustle my hair. I guess autumn is coming. The kid ought to find shelter somewhere.

I climbed up my porch and got inside just as the wind brushed the side of the house. My door was partially unhinged, but why should I care? There were no one left to steal my food and furniture. Getting inside I saw to my annoyance that someone had stolen my food and furniture. All my chairs were gone and tables were destroyed. Half of my kitchen was torn apart leaving nothing but scattered cutlery everywhere. They had even stolen my dishes… those savages; I will kill you all and then punch you in the face… in that order.

I went upstairs to see how much they had touched of my bed and bathrooms? Partially intact I sought the mirror over my sink. There was no reflection left. Nothing stared back at me as hung half dead over the sink trying to get the pipes to work. A gurgling defiance let me know that it wasn’t broken and finally brown water came gushing out of the tap. I waited for the water to turn clearer and slowly began drinking like I had never taste something that sweet. It felt like rain upon my face and my dried body began to sway from the ecstasy that was clean water… or was it water? The door had warned me about it not being water? It can’t be this water; it must have meant the water it guarded in the mall.

It tasted wonderful and bathing my head in it gave a rush of adrenaline that woke my addled senses. I stared into the mirror for a long time without anything to look at. I just hate when my reflection is late… maybe it left after I said it was ugly? Why is everyone so picky?

I wanted to sleep. Looking into my bedroom I saw how the soldiers had manhandled my bed after they found me. Why were they after me and the kid? How had the kid survived this? Well at least it was small and not mangled by the military. What gender was it? Short hair and white clothes… must be a boy; no one in their right mind would wear white after Labor Day! Uh, a fasionista are we now? Well fuck you brain, I want to sleep.

Putting the rifle next to my half ruined bed, I crawled into the sheets and leaned back slowly hissing as my throbbing head touched the pillow. A long sleep and no interruptions tomorrow… I just want to be left alone. Too much excitement for an old man to comprehend!

I had only touched the pillow when a loud thud sounded like someone closing a book. Opening my eyes I lay on the floor in a large dark room. Sitting up I found myself in the local library. The shelves and chairs all standing perfectly aligned down the wide corridor. It couldn’t be anywhere else… fucking hell I want to sleep. Every fucking time I try to sleep I wake up somewhere completely stupid feeling even worse than before. No people threatened me this time but this is still bullshit. “BULLSHIT” I yelled in frustration as I got up pulling myself up the shelves.

When I got halfway to my feet I saw it… or them… the book, or books? All the books in the shelves had a black and wet cover. I got to my feet in a hurry and stumbled backwards, looking around at the other dimly lit shelves. They were all black and the shelves were dripping with water. A terrifying image resurfaced as I looked at the books, about a hand inside it grabbing me.

This is impossible. There are nobody left in this town, who would have changed all the books to this dreadful copy and why would they even consider storing so much captivating literature at the same place… I made a funny… why am I not laughing. I can hear a hollow snort coming from my nose, but I didn’t feel it. I usually reach my stomach when I laugh. Maybe my funnybone’s broken?

Thuds from behind made me twirl on the spot. I saw the kid again standing like a torch amidst the piles of black books on the table. “Get away from them… they are violent and incoherent!” I said without making an impact on the child. “We have spoken before, I know you aren’t mute!” I said but the kid ignored me.

I stepped up just in front of the kid and stared right into her face as it looked up. “You must be a girl… those eyes… are you a girl?”

The kid didn’t say anything, just staring into my eyes and then back at the book. I tried to get its attention for a minute before I noticed something being scribbled down on a parchment next to the books being opened. The page was littered with 209. In several colors and every direction I saw the number 209 stand like an unanswered question.

“WHO ARE YOU” I yelled in frustration at the kid. It wasn’t deaf and did not react to me approaching. Bullshit, this is just insane and ridicules bullshit. No one have told me anything for the last couple of days or hours or years and minutes or centuries or second… have I been sleeping when I lay down, have they kidnapped me every time I looked away? My reflection stuck out for better weather, so I can’t even see if I have grown older by now! Where the hell is everybody and how come I never heard anything after the military rode across my land? I bet those bastards took all worth saving and ran away leaving me and the kid. “WHY DID THEY LEAVE YOU…? YOU DON’T EVEN LOOK LIKE YOU BELONG HERE!” I yelled and still the kid just ignored me and read on in the hazardous tomes spread around the table.

The military had a purpose taking people away; they were clearing out the place for What? Why? When? Whoop? Wool? Wonky? Wupperdahl? Wallop? And Whip cream!

My forehead is burning and all these questions are making me sick. Leaning against the table I stare opposite the girl and see that the book itself wrote 209 in large letters. The kid looked up at me and then at the book. Pointing at the tome for a second and I nodded and it turned the book around… my name… the 209 had changed like it had with the other one in that dark place. Shifting like small building bricks the 209 changed into my name and address. Not the old owner which they had asked about, but mine?

The kid stared at the book from the other side and let out a great squeal that left no doubt that it was a girl with an ugly boy haircut. ”двести девять” she said pointing at the book.

“What?” I said completely thrown back at the sound of her voice. “двести девять” she repeated closing the book and picked it up. I took the book away from her knowing it would harm her in a minute and she yelled at me in an incomprehensible language. I threw the book over the shelves into the darkness and she was about to follow it when a crash made the room shiver. It couldn’t be that book! It was of stone but I could throw it so it wouldn’t make the floor tremble?

A light flickered in the direction I threw the book and quickly grew steadily into a red glow casting its dancing shadows along the ceiling and far walls. “Fire, get out now!” I yelled to her but she kept saying “двести девять” over and over like she was afraid to forget it.

We exited the library before we were burned alive and stood watching the flames run across the walls and onto the roof. We had not been watching the flames for long before the fire was beyond control and the more it burned the higher the flame rose, turning grey… I rubbed my eyes for a moment but they were grey now. The warmth had faded and the noise vanished like the wind. The girl tugged in my shirt as I leaned against her to save my leg the agony of my weight. “двести девять” she said staring into my eyes again.

“What are you saying? I cannot understand you little ugly haircut girl! You are speaking in tongues are you sure you are not retarded and lost from the group?” I asked completely ignorant of the level of insult I just hammered into the face of a child.

She blinked but didn’t reply at first. She looked around for something to write on, but when nothing had presented itself she pulled up her sleeve on her left arm and revealed the number “209” written as a scar into her skin. “двести девять” she repeated pointing at the scar.

“Do you want to find something with 209 written on it little retarded haircut?” I asked watching her point and nod at the scar. “209?” I said pointing at the scar obviously brightening her day. “You are really something aren’t you?” Poor girl… completely bonkers and nobody to put her out of her misery!

Where the hell had I seen that before? A thousand things had happened to me recently, would I ever remember the stupid number. It wasn’t my house number although she had somehow found it in the book. Did we see the same thing when we read the book? She recognized the 209 but if she can’t speak English, what makes her able to understand the writing?

Well numbers are a universal language… maybe I should sing a lullaby to her in binary while I put a bag over her ugly hair and all the way down over the neck and wait for this stupid problem to go away. No that would be a waste of my time… and hers I guess. “Would you mind if I choked you with a bag because you’re ugly?” I asked but she ignored me darting around the street to search for something that could lead us on our way… or an escape route from someone as horrible as me… or a weapon to pummel me with… or maybe she was looking for a bag I could use. You should never underestimate the friendliness of a stranger in need.

Strangers… the convoy… strangers invading my privacy. My fields… the mountain! That is where I saw that stupid number. “Are you going to the mountain too; little mentally challenged kid?” I asked her. She clearly didn’t understand what the hell I was talking about but the tone in my voice had caught her attention and she followed me out down the street towards my home. We reached my porch at night time. The walk through town had been rough and long. I had no further motivation to follow her to the mountain and stepped out next to my residence and pointed towards the mountain. I pointed at her arm and at the mountain a few times before she understood that she was to go that way. She started trotting into the field when I turned on the porch and went back inside. I was thinking about my sink again and walked with some difficulty into the kitchen. Opening the tap I watched the brown water turn clear before I drank. The gulps of cold water were like jolts down my body giving me a wild urge to take a piss. Standing up I turned around to find the girl stare at me. The girlish scream I let out wasn’t one of my finer moments but I regained my format quickly and urged the girl outside. I pointed at the mountains again and walked inside but that little brat followed me. I couldn’t shut her out since my door was on the brink of retirement and I couldn’t get myself to slam it so it fell off. There were only unemployed walls in the city and I needed that hole in the wall to get outside.

“Are you afraid of the dark little ghoul? Well just take a flashlight with your and keep lighting your face and it will be day about ten feet down the path.” I said throwing her a flashlight. She turned it on and off a few times and looked at me impatiently. “Yeah I am not going with you into the darkness, I think I would die of fright if you turned around and accidently lit your own face!”

On the second hand, I think I have a hunting rifle hidden in the rafters upstairs, maybe if we walked into the night I could make the world a prettier place… well here’s for hoping!

I walked upstairs to get my double barreled and a pocket of slugs. “I would reckon about 77 point blank shots would make you the prettiest little darling in all of Alaska.” This isn’t saying much for the previous population… damn!

I followed her into the fields and took the lead towards those pesky mountains again. This time I would be ready for them. These slugs would rip a cow from ass to nose; I would like to see them get out of these unharmed, those bureaucratic bastards and stuffed up imbeciles. You are going to regret taking a chunk out of my leg and hammering me on my head. You will regret kidnapping me and pulling around the town… you will… hey we are here?

This trip went faster than last time, and I was on foot? Had I really been arguing with myself for that long? We came to the fence again and walked inside by the caution sign, ignoring every sense of stealth as I blew the door handle off, nearly ripping the door off its hinges. Pushing inside the girl behind me, I hope… I really don’t want to turn around to find her lighting her own face. We ventured down the hallway and into the depth of the mountain. When we came to the large door it stood ajar. A hole large enough to push an elephant through was open and everything inside was covered in the familiar dust. At least dust gets to see the world… rather well traveled for a budget of more dust than the traveling dust.

I beckoned the girl inside first, hoping that she would be targeted first if we ever met with any people. Walking down a set of stairs we came to a large atrium. It was completely empty but from a few tables and turned over chairs. The girl steppes into the room with the flashlight and began to search the corners and tables for information, but came back to me empty handed. I was more curious about the lack of triggers and bludgeoning. Nobody seemed to have lived here for ages, but it wasn’t more than a few days ago… or a day ago I got shot in the hallway. Have the desertion something with my gun jamming the door? Have I rendered this place inhospitable? It seems so… but what could have made them so afraid that they had to be here and then leave when such a small detail had interrupted their plans?

I had been staring at the girl for a while when she came back pointing the flashlight into the hallway beyond the atrium. We walked down the hall discovering that the place had several levels. A large sign at the stairway showed five levels to move about, and we were on the fourth. A letter was pinned to the sign marked “To whom this must concern.”

Picking up the letter I got my cowlicked connoisseur to shed some light on the paper. “Two whom this must concern. He is locked up in the basement. This place is evil. We haven’t been here for two days and half the people are already gone missing. I fear that we have been lured into a trap. Get out while you can, he is locked up in the basement.”

Well it wasn’t that enlightening and no matter who they had placed in the basement I had 77 slugs to fill him with. If he could walk after that he ought to have the chance to catch me. I have survived for this long, why not until tomorrow too?

Packing up the note I walked down the stairs one step at a time. The girl had sudden gone stiff. “We are alone here, nothing is going to harm you… can you hear anything other than my voice? Your haircut is the worst thing hiding in this place anyways…”

A thud like the books from the library rang from the lower levels and we both froze in our tracks. Two steps up I grabbed her arm and pulled her with me down the stairs and backed up in a corner carefully examining everything I could get the cone to illuminate. Nothing stirred anymore and I drew up the courage to go further down into the lower levels. I had a hard time dragging the girl along as I was trying to hold my gun in the left hand while dragging her lighting arms along with the right while she struggled against me.

Down we went from level to level until we came to a subbasement. I got the feeling that we were under the advertised schematics but the letter had clearly stated that he was in the basement. If I could find him I would have someone who could tell me something and if he was armed I would have a little satisfying target practice. As we descended the last couple of stairs it all became dangerously familiar.

I wasn’t sure that I hadn’t set foot in this place before and instincts told me to look to my right as we came into the long hallway of various open rooms. In the back of the room a body lie on the floor, face down… or face off? Walking closer we noticed that the head was missing? It felt weird, the body was torched beyond recognition but it was clearly missing a head. Nothing else was visible at that point. The girl was clearly in panic now, as something had killed off a person and decapitated it… maybe not in that order.

I stumbled backwards as the memory came back to me. It had felt like a bad dream, but at this spot with a book… with THAT book!

I let go of her without noticing and started searching around for the book. I took the flashlight from her and she began screaming incoherently trying to get it back. The noise echoed down the hall and I had to shake her to snap her out of it. I pointed at her arm again but she shook her head and crossed her arms. Sitting down on the bed at the wall she hid her face in her hands and tried to breathe slowly while I shed light into every corner of the room for that retched tome of moving letters.

I heard her calming down as her breathing became more controlled. I turned bed sheets and table drawers to see if the book had been moved… nothing there.

I was about to walk into the next cell to see if there was something when a tiny beep came from her. Like a digital watch something beeped over and over emitting a red light from her back. Looking at her with the light she tried to hide her face from me and I thanked her for that, but that sound was menacing. Walking closer to her I saw how her entire jacket was glowing red and I fought her for a moment unzipping the jacket to see what was causing the strange noise. Pulling it up over her head I saw to my disgust that a metal box had been surgically placed halfway inside her backside. A red lamp was blinking slowly and the box emitted a beep that increase in pace for every second I went on. Pushing myself away from her I was sure she had a bomb inside her. I leapt away from her and ran around the corner into the next room waiting for the bomb to go off. Nothing again…

I listened as the beep turned to a long flat line only broken by her muffled sobs still entangled in her jacket. I threw a glance down the hall to see the countless rooms that could have the book hidden. Getting slowly back to my feet I heard her untangle herself getting to her feet and the intake of air as something like a compression rumbled in the hall for a second. A scream sounded from the room beside me, frantic and long it ripped the air… but it was muffled. Getting back into the hall I was caught by surprise by a wall where the large hole into the room had been. The girl was still inside hammering on the wall screaming in panic. I hammered back but the bricks were hard and the cement had dried, leaving the wall impenetrable without heavy machinery. I tried to calm her down knowing she couldn’t understand me when her scream became a pitch higher, piercingly shrilled for a moment until a throat choking sound made her stop abrupt and was finished by the spine curling sound of something like many twigs being cracked or a egg being crushed… a very large egg.

Everything went dead silent for a moment. I turned around and leaned against the wall silently praying for her wellbeing, I never meant anything by the things I said. She was a good girl… she did what she was told. I stopped in the track of my thoughts as I noticed that all the rooms along the hall were now bricked up like the one I leaned against. This was getting impossible… they appeared out of nothing, not even a tiny noise and boom they were just there?

A thundering rumble made the floor shake. It sounded like something was trying to push out of the rooms or cells… I am not staying here for this. Crawling up the stairs I ignored the continued rumblings that made debris fall from the walls and the dust fly from the surfaces. I pushed my way through the atrium and back upstairs, limping as fast as my leg would allow me.

As I ascended the hall and came up to the small outhouse in the mountain I pushed myself outside in the heavy wind. The sky was red as long white drops rained from the sky like water. I stood for a minute staring at them closer to earth now, the flashing light finally came. A mushroom grew in the horizon as everything dawned on me. A transmitter… she was sent to locate the facility. No one would intentionally question or harm a small girl for no reason…

I looked at the mushrooms rise next to each other in the distance. Looking down I noticed the black book in my hand. Had I always been clamping onto that?

Throwing it on the ground I looked up… would I scream?

 The book had opened on the last page as it hit the ground. Looking down I could read the thick crude lines written for no one’s amusement…

“As I stare into the flames I can see how I am going to die. Watching the waves lick the crust makes me shutter as for how far a human being is able to push itself over a ledge. Are you so desperate to preserve yourself and your stupid beliefs?”

…Ah fuck!

It was my fault, my business. I was content in my little shack. They had to drag me along and drop dead at my feet. You damn pricks! I sorted out your shit; if anyone survives that! I brought the brat and I fucking delivered! Now what?

I guess I just have to wait. In the end what have I believed in? At least the dead door had not lied to me. I guess I owe it the courtesy of not screaming…