Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chapter Twenty Five

Mr. B. told Thomas that he should really try to sleep, but Thomas was unable to even lie still for more than a minute at a stretch.  So, instead, he’d spent most of the night watching as Mr. B. turned a van full of stuff into a bomb powerful enough, apparently, to take out the Golden Gate Bridge.
Bomb-making, it turned out, was not terribly exciting to watch.  At least, not until the realization that if something went wrong they’d be blown into tiny little fragments before they knew what had happened.
Upon further reflection, when it came to dying, Thomas thought perhaps fast and messy might not be the worst way to go.
At some point exhaustion and boredom overtook him, and he fell asleep sitting up in a folding chair.  He had uneasy dreams about vaguely unpleasant things happening to him.
He woke up when Mr. B. poked him in the shoulder, not unkindly, and asked him if he wanted some coffee.  He declined, and wandered over to a window.  The sun had come up, and it looked like it was going to be a nice day.
At least, apart from the whole road trip in a van-bomb thing.
His neck and back were killing him.  He made a mental note to try and avoid sleeping in a folding chair ever again.
When turned away from the window, Mr. B. was waiting next to him with a cup of coffee and a bottle of aspirin.
“Here,” Mr. B. said. “I think you probably are going to want both of these.”
Thomas took the coffee and aspirin, and used one to wash down the other.
“Ordinarily, I’d ask where you were headed,” Mr. B said.  He’d apparently resumed fiddling with his toaster after he was done building the bomb, and was once again poking at the toaster’s innards with a screwdriver.  “But I suspect I don’t want to know about it.  At all.”
Mr. B. looked up at Thomas to make sure his last two words had sunk in.
“I hear you, loud and clear,” Thomas said.  “Hell, I wouldn’t want to know where I’m going.”
Mr. B. said nothing, and continued working on his toaster.  When Thomas had finished his coffee, he stretched a bit, then held out his hand to Mr. B.  
“I guess I might as well get on my way.  I figure I’ve got about a six hour drive today.  See you around,” Thomas said.
Mr. B. took his hand and shook it.  “I hope you don’t.  I’m hesitant to say good luck, but I hope things work out well for you.  Good bye, Thomas.”
“Good bye, Mr. B.”
The realization that he wasn’t just climbing into a van, but a bomb as well, terrified Thomas.  He worried about what might happen should he be rear-ended on his way to the Golden Gate Bridge.
His conscience was screaming at him to stop what he was doing.  The best thing to do would be to just blow it off and let Eris do what she was going to do.  But he couldn’t bring himself to stop the van and, for example, start hitchhiking east.  He couldn’t bear the idea of his family getting killed when he could do something, even a bad something, to stop it.
He stopped at a truck stop diner to have some breakfast before he’d been on the road for too long.  The waitress took one look at him, and said “I’ll get you some coffee right away,” just after she’d shown him to a table.  She had a ton of energy, and seemed like the kind of person who was enthusiastic about everything she encountered. He felt more tired than he’d ever felt in his life.  What he really wanted to do was leave the van in a field somewhere and find a place to curl up and sleep for a week or so.  
“This weather is the bomb, isn’t it?” she said to him when she brought his cup of coffee.
Thomas jumped a bit, and said, “Sorry, what?”
“This weather.  It’s perfect!” the waitress said.
“Oh.  Yeah.  I guess it’s pretty good,” Thomas said.  He ordered, and tried to calm down.  It was a wasted effort.
When his food arrived, he ate his breakfast with little enthusiasm.  He barely even tasted it.  As much as he wracked his brain, he couldn’t think of a way out of his situation.  He wished he had just thrown the binder Eris has left him away.  Or, hell, just left it where it was, to rot on the porch until the weather claimed it.
He paid his bill and left.  Soon he was headed north towards San Francisco once more.
Death stood along the side of a lonely northbound highway in California.  She had her stopwatch and her notepad ready.  All she had to do now was wait for the guest of honor to arrive.  She expected him practically any minute.
Thomas had been driving for a few hours, and if he’d been in the middle of nowhere before, he was in a place even more remote now.  He hadn’t seen another car on the road for probably twenty minutes.
He fiddled with the radio a bit, but couldn’t find anything he really wanted to listen to, so he just left it on the station that seemed the most likely to play some AC/DC.
When he looked up again, he saw someone standing on the side of the road, far ahead.  There was a low, black motorcycle parked nearby, and whoever it was up there was dressed all in black.  As he got closer and closer, he realized the biker was a woman.
When he was about fifty feet away, he saw she was simply standing there, looking directly at him.  Calm, direct and unmistakable.  She had a clipboard.  It was Death, come to collect him.
“Oh thank God,” Thomas said to himself as the van rushed past her.  A few seconds later, a loose wire in the detonator Mr. B. had built caused a spark, and the explosives ignited.  The van exploded in an orange and black fireball that would have singed any nearby trees.  Thankfully, he was in an open plain.  The bits of the van that survived the explosion rolled off the road, in a couple of different directions, before coming to a stop.
Thomas’s remains would not be identified because, frankly, there weren’t many.  Dental records aren’t especially useful when all the detectives could find was one flawless tooth.  His family and friends would not mourn him, because they thought he was already dead.  But that would be in the coming days.
Right now, Thomas’s soul stood next to Death on the side of the road.  He smiled at her in an embarrassed kind of way.
“Hi.  I’m Thomas Swinton,” he said.
“I know,” Death said.  She smiled at him, and asked him to take her hand.
He did.
“You’re not mad at me, are you?” Thomas asked.
“No.  I just got to blow you up.  We’re good.”
After dropping Thomas off at the gateway, Death decided it would be an excellent idea to visit Ares and see if he might know how to find Eris.
She arrived at Ares’s house to find him in the living room, keeping an eye on Eris, who he’d handcuffed to a chair.  Eris seemed rather thrilled until she noticed Death.
“What the fuck is she doing here?” Eris demanded.  Ares ignored her.
“Hey Death!” Ares said.  “Hep and Scroat will be back in just a minute.  They went to get beer.”
“Great!” Death said.  “So, uh, I see you’ve got Eris handcuffed to a chair.”
“Yeah!” Ares said, “Hep and Scroat caught her skulking around while they were guarding that lady and her kid.  Somehow they managed to catch her...” 
Ares paused and asked Eris, “How exactly did they catch you again?”
“Fuck you,” Eris said.
Ares continued talking to Death. “Yeah, they caught her somehow or other, and figured they’d bring her here so we could all keep an eye on her.  Man, was I shocked when Hep, Scroat and Eris showed up in my living room, apparently having a group hug.  Then Hep collapsed groaning about his head, and Scroat was left to wrestle Eris.  She was winning, too, until I stepped in to help him out.”
“Wow, sounds like things have been exciting around here,” Death said.
“Nah.  Not any more than usual,” Ares said.  “What have you been up to?”
“Well, I just caught Thomas Swinton driving a van full of explosives, so I blew him up,” Death said.
Eris slumped in her chair a bit.  
Ares, looked disappointed.  “You blew him up?  And you didn’t invite me?”
“Sorry.  It was a spur of the moment kind of thing.  Weird that he’d never done anything like that before, yet somehow he decided to blow up the Golden Gate Bridge for no real reason.”
“That is weird,” Ares said. “But, you know... People.”
“He told me he was coerced in to it.  He was actually relieved I caught him, if you can believe it.”
“Crazy,” Ares said.  He looked like he was losing interest in the story already.
Hep and Scroat came into the house then, carrying a couple cases of beer.
“Hi Death!” Hep said.  “You want a beer?”
“No, thanks.  I actually came to see if you guys could help me track down Eris, but, well, here she is.”
“Yeah!” Hep said. “It was nuts!  We were watching Sandy and Junior and Eris just kind of showed up looking ticked off.  I don’t think she even realized she was standing right next to us.  So we grabbed her, and then we thought Ares might know how to keep her subdued so we came here.”
“Awesome,” Death said.
“Yeah, I know,” Hep said.
“So...” Ares said.
“So?” Death said.
“Well, what do you want to do about Eris?  I mean, she made a hell of a mess of things for you.  If I was you, I’d probably want to kill her, her family,”
Death interrupted, “And anyone who looked at you funny along the way, yeah.  No, I don’t think I’ll kill her.  I figured out that this was all over you, Ares.  Eris seems to be a little jealous of me.”
Eris spat on the floor.
“Now, that’s just fucking rude,” Scroat said. “Don’t you have any class?”
Ares tried to pretend he had no idea what Death was talking about.
“So, I think I’m just going to make her invisible.  To you.” Death said.
“Wait, what? No! Wait!” Eris said, shortly before vanishing.
“Why can’t I see her?” Hep said.
“Consider it a favor to all of us,” Death said.  “She’s hidden from us, and she won’t be able to bother us again.  Well, not until she figures it out.”
Ares looked a little freaked out.  “So, uh, is she still here in my house, only invisible?”
“Nope,” Death said.  “I sent her to North Dakota.  She should have a good time there.”
“So what now?” Hep said.
“I don’t know,” Death said.
“Want to get a pizza?” Ares said.
Death looked at him, and said, “You keep talking like that and I might just fall for you.”
Ares smiled and said, “You know what? Let’s just be friends.” 
The End.

[Author's note: Woo hoo! 50,273 words in one month.  Catch you next November, all you Holy Rollers.]