I’m publishing my science fiction novel Pareidolia in slow motion. A new chapter will be published every week. The premise is available here.
Northwest Philadelphia | July, 2000
There isn’t any moisture left in my head but somehow I’m still crying. Vicky, a neighbor two doors down, dragged me into her house and now we’re ducking under a living room window in case there are more shots fired and keeping an eye on whatever’s happening outside. Her son is in the kitchen, about to call the cops. I explain that under no circumstances should the police be involved, but I’m having trouble speaking. I’m trying to get it out between sobs that Dad’d never actually shoot anyone, and that anyway the gun was full of blanks. Vicky doesn’t understand me, or she does and she still isn’t going to risk it, and so we crouch between a La-Z-Boy and an end table. The trail into the woods is barely visible across the street and off to the left. Vicky is hugging me to her body. Her son has hung up the phone and is crab-walking back to the window.
Vicki wants to know if I’m all right. Every muscle in my body is straining to bolt. I’m like seconds away from tearing through their door and running outside and down that path to not only find Dad but kick the ever loving shit out of Marcus and his friend with the stupid name. That they’d put Dad through this right now. I’m fine. I couldn’t be finer. Look at me: not a scratch. Just minus one watch, and I guess the mystery computer part. So I’m not crying about that—I’m crying because of what these dick holes are putting Dad through. Like he has to chase them off into the wilderness just to protect me. And with the chemo, which just zaps his energy. OK and I guess I’m also crying because I’m a little shaken up from Marcus’s extreme freakout in my bedroom. At first I thought he saw a giant spider or something, because BOOM! his head is punching a hole in my ceiling and his foot’s through my upside-down table and he might as well have just thrown himself through my window he was in such a hurry.
It’s ten minutes later and I’m on my way home (over the most strenuous objections of the Corbuzzis, who still refuse to come outside) when I see a figure collapse behind a tree directly across the street from our house. It’s Dad. I run over. He’s in worse shape than I was at the Corbuzzis, spitting and coughing half words. Can’t talk. Can he walk? He can walk. It’s a push to get him to the car but I do, and we’re going to the hospital, I don’t care what he says. Dad sounds drunk, but of course he’s not: he’s either having a stroke or he bumped his head or who knows what the hell.
We’re just backing out into the street in Dad’s car when I see a winded Marcus lurch out from the trees in my rear view mirror. He’s hunched over, looking at me, red in my break lights, gulping for air. Starts to walk towards the car, and is that a limp? I look at Dad. He’s wheezing you’re my angel I love you. He’s clawing at my arm. Everything’s OK sweetie. Marcus yells something about where is he? Says it more to the trees than to anyone else.
I click on the hazards, put the car in park, and check Dad for blood. I know there’s no reason to, but I do it anyway. I feel around. No blood. There’s some goo, but it’s, I don’t know, it’s tree sap maybe. Dad’s barely conscious. Pressing charges is tempting but tabled. I want to drill Marcus but every minute spent not getting Dad to the ER is a knife in my stomach, so to the ER we go. Plus I’m pretty sure the Corbuzzis have given into temptation and called the police by now, and, just no—I’m not dealing with any of that.
I forget to turn off the hazards until we get to the hospital. He’s taken in by stretcher, right from the car door at the main entrance, straight to the head of the line because maybe it’s a stroke. I park and come inside and fill out paperwork. In the waiting room I sit and close my eyes and try to imagine what the Marcus is doing right now. For whatever reason I see him swinging through the trees like a monkey, wearing my watch.