Some people are scared o’ the dark; but as Lance Chamsby sat in his office, he realized there was a far eerier atmosphere: the unnatural middle ’tween soothing night darkness & morning light that was his golden chamber in the dingy late afternoon light.
That light was full o’ silence—silence, save the conversation cycling through his mind for the dozenth time:
“Chamsby, baby… I heard the hilarious joke you told the police. Truly got them by the chain…”
“I’m not in the mood to speak with terrorists,” replied Lance.
“There you go ’gain. Look, I know you love practical jokes & all, ¿but aren’t you worried ’bout how all o’ these tales might harm your reputation?”
Lance squeezed his phone so hard, he could feel its plastic sting gainst his fingers.
“¡You know this isn’t a practical joke you lying, traitorous scum bag!” he shouted.
“O, I know nothing. I know you have no proof o’ anything. Now, the way I see it, you have an easy way to go here: just say that that ugly thieving whore & her li’l pussy-whipped friend were just pulling a prank, pretending to be you to make us look like such fools…”
“¿& why should I lie on your behalf?” asked Lance.
“Not on mine—on yours.”
“¿How do I benefit?”
“You’ll be much safer.”
“¿Is that a threat?”
“It’s not a threat; it’s a friendly warning. No one—a’least, no one who can protect you—will believe whatever story you tell them.”
Lance smiled. “But I already told them, now, ¿didn’t I? E’en if I look like a fool now, no one would think so if I were to suddenly disappear, now, ¿would they? You’d only screw yourself o’er. Face it, your evil plan has failed. ¡Justice always prevails!”
He heard the crackling static o’ a drawn-out pause.
“Lance, O, naïve Lance. You don’t think I didn’t prepare for such an occasion, ¿did you? You may have told the police, but that doesn’t mean they let that info get anywhere. I specifically warned them that such a prank by your enemies might come ’bout—& now it has. They’ve already let the public know the true intent ’hind your call.”
Now ’twas Lance’s turn to be quiet.
Too much honesty won’t get you anywhere, Lance told himself. Remember: you’re a politician now—& much mo’ dangerous job than I’d imagined till now.
That wasn’t strictly true: Lance had imagined some whacked-out anarchist blowing him up with those cartoon black-ball bombs they’re always carrying round with them these days; but ne’er had he expected his trusty vizier to be the one.
“¿How long do I have to consider your proposal before I wake up @ the bottom o’ Lemon Lake with a copy o’ all 3 volumes o’ Das Kapital tied to my feet?”
“As long as you can wait before you need to communicate with anyone else.” O’Beefe’s voice became creamier. “Till then, you’ll need your rest after the terrorist attack they tried gainst you.”
& now here Lance sat, locked in his room—his mayoral room. No matter how much he throttled the doors, they wouldn’t budge; nor would the windows. O’Beefe had e’en managed to shut his phone service off.
Maybe I should… he felt saliva trickle down his throat. Maybe I should just go down with the ship—go down a hero. That’d let me keep my honor, ¿wouldn’t it?
His hands shook on the desk, causing his watch to repeatedly thunk gainst its wood.
Don’t be ridiculous: the highest form o’ being is life—& if you let them take you down, it’ll only trick people into thinking they’re powerful.
Still, e’en he had to admit that, in terms o’ material reality, the ability to blow up an entire room was unquestionably powerful. With that they wouldn’t need his own cooperation to do worse than torture him.
He stood & began pacing the room, his loafers emitting a snapping creak gainst the carpeting like the opening o’ a dungeon @ every step.
This isn’t how it’s s’posed to go. They’re not s’posed to be able to kill me. They should simply tell me in drawn-out monologues ’bout how evil they are & how they’re secretly ’fraid o’ me so I can do some symbolic act & cause everyone to either awe in wonder or lead themselves to disasters that I’m safe from.
Lance sat back down & gripped the sides o’ his face.
O, ¿who am I kidding? Nothing’s been working out like those stupid fairy tales. I knew ’twas stupid to go through all this. ¿Why bother? Should’ve let all o’ the cretins deal with an oppressive government themselves. Could’ve moved to the United States or some place.
He stared off @ the room & saw nothing. The bookshelves, desk, potted plants, & boarded window were nothing. He was certain the bed, other bookshelves, television, & everything else in the main room would be nothing, too. He might as well be sitting in an empty void for all that this trash could do him.
Finally, he told himself, If I can’t be a Roark, maybe I can settle for a Wynand…
He pressed the power button on his ambler-rambler—the 1 apparatus he was allowed in which to communicate with another human—& said into it, “¿O’Beefe? ¿You there?”
“I knew you’d recognize reality,” said the other voice.
Edgar sat scrunched on the couch, staring @ the blasting voices just in front o’ him.
“I’ll board up the fucking door. Just watch me,” Dawn said as she wagged her finger @ Autumn.
Autumn crossed her arms. “I’ll find a way to bust through—as will the Boskeopolean military.”
“You’ll be safer from them in here than right in the middle o’ the streets,” said Dawn.
“1st, I won’t be in the middle o’ the streets; I’ll spend most o’ my time in an abandoned storm drain that nobody else e’er goes in. 2nd, you won’t be safer in here with us round.”
“No, I won’t. If they know you’re here, then they won’t know whether you’ve left or not & will still come here. ¿You think they wouldn’t capture me & torture me to get info on your whereabouts or simply due to my involvement with you 2?”
“That’s why you call them & tell them that I ran off—so you look innocent in the whole deal.”
“’Cept I won’t do that.”
Autumn’s arms fell to her sides. She bit her lip as she stared off in concentration. To Edgar it felt like a reprieve from being electrocuted.
But he was delivered 1 last li’l shock when Autumn threw her arms out & said, “Whatever. Do what you like. It’s not my fault.”
Then she let her arms fall once mo’ & turned ’way from Dawn.
“Nobody said it was,” Dawn said in a softer tone as she walked toward Autumn.
“It still won’t be safe to stay here,” mumbled Autumn.
“¿So you’re fine with losing all your possessions as well as your home?”
“O, don’t be ridiculous: I have everything backed up on my dropbox, as well as 2 other online drives.”
When Autumn rolled her eyes, Dawn added, “That’s the benefit o’ living in a digital world.”
“Hey, guys,” Edgar said as he pointed to the TV.
They both turned to him.
“You may want to look @ this,” said Edgar.
They turned to the TV & saw Lance @ a table opposite a toupee. Dawn rushed for the remote & turned the volume up.
“…fine now.” Lance said before emitting a deep breath.
“¿& is it true that the perpetrators tried to frame Vizier Thursday O’Beefe by pretending to be you & calling the police ’bout such a story?”
Autumn smiled. “I can only assume who the true perpetrators are.”
Lance paused, his hands squirming gainst each other.
“That is what O’Beefe tells me. I don’t remember e’er sending a call out to anyone.”
“¿So you know you didn’t call the police & blame your run-in with death on Vizier O’Beefe?” asked the toupee.
Lance nodded solemnly.
“Vizier O’Beefe claims that he warned the police that such a thing would happen & that the perpetrators were able to make the assassination attempt by disguising themselves as you & 1 o’ your guards. ¿Is that right?”
“I don’t remember much ’bout the ordeal,” said Lance. “You’d have to ask him ’bout that.”
The toupee turned to the screen. “Well, Vizier O’Beefe was able to supply us with sketches o’ the perpetrators.”
’Hind them appeared the 2 sketches with Autumn & Edgar’s names ’bove.
“The B.A.D. warns you that these 2 are extremely dangerous terrorists & that if you see them, call the police immediately.”
While Edgar looked horrified, Autumn only laughed.
“Yes, watch your back for the stick figures with glasses bigger than their faces lurking ’bout,” said Autumn.
The toupee turned back to Lance & said, “Well, it’s good to see you’ve recovered already, Mayor, Sir.”
He held one o’ his hairy hands out. Lance slowly met it, & then quickly yanked his hand back as if too much exposure would harm it.
“Thank you,” Lance said in a low voice.
Seeing the screen shift to something different, Dawn turned the volume down ’gain.
“What a cottonswabber,” Autumn said ’fore jabbing her thumb toward her open mouth repeatedly.
“¿Who? ¿The anchorman or Lance?” asked Dawn.
“Both. Actually, I do have to hand it to Lance: he perfectly crafted that horseshit so that only the biggest dopes—which, to be fair, is probably this show’s target audience—wouldn’t notice it’s obvious horse, while still allowing him plausible deniability if confronted ’bout it by O’Beefe.
“’Course, if he’s not dumb, he’d also realize O’Beefe’ll still try to have him vaporized.”
“So, ¿what now?” asked Dawn.
“We pack what we need & skip.” said Autumn.
The city blurred as Lance’s body & mind gasped from the running—running that ripped all energy from him. Ne’er had his muscles or lungs been pushed so hard.
All Lance knew was that he didn’t have time to hesitate. He could hear the footsteps bellow ’hind him.
He tried to see the buildings round him, tried to find a hiding place. None o’ them meant anything to him, like looking @ foreign words: he recognized that they were buildings, but nothing mo’.
But then his eyes caught something black ’hind the grass next to what looked like a convenience store. He put a flat hand o’er his eyes for a clearer look.
That looks like a hole.
It might not be. It might not be a safe place to try hiding.
¿What choice do I have? ¡They’re gaining!
He looked o’er his shoulder.
They’re right ’hind me. There’s no way they won’t see me.
Then he noticed the convenience store & had an idea.
He slowed his pace as he neared the doors & entered as if just a regular customer.
The cashier, who had been craning his neck to peek @ 2 fellows near the back, glanced @ Lance. Then his brows rose & he swung his head all the way in Lance’s direction. He continued to stare @ Lance as he walked to the back with a casual swagger. Lance avoided eye contact, though he could feel the eyes licking his neck.
I guess I didn’t think ’bout the people inside recognizing me as the fucking mayor.
He glanced up when he heard whispering & saw 2 women—the brunette whispering one in matching black shades, bowler, & trench coat, voice muffled by the pen in her mouth, & her associate in a business suit & glasses.
“¿You think they won’t be able to…?”
He noticed her eyes flick to him, & then back her associate.
“Uh… eat this. You know, uh, with them being… ¿what’s the word? Ah: ¡lactose intolerant!”
Atlee. ¿How am I going to hide with these bozos watching me?
Then he heard the door burst open, causing his heart to burst with it. But ’fore he could consider what to do, he felt an icy hand cover his mouth while the other arm latched him to its owner’s chest.
The woman whispered into his ear. “We’ll help you ’scape. Don’t struggle.”
She pushed him onto the ground & shoved him all the way back into 1 o’ the fridges. The 2 bent in front o’ it, almost completely blocking it from view, & began furiously piling yogurt cups in front o’ him from the top row.
“I’m telling you: the fabled black orange yogurt’s gotta be in here.”
“You’re negatively daft,” said her tuxedoed associate. “Everyone knows oranges are orange. You might as well search for the fabled white blue cheese yogurt.”
Lance compressed his body as tightly as he could, trying not to shiver & make noise.
After a few seconds o’ pretend searching, the top-hatted woman stood with gloved hands on her hips.
“Well, ¿how long shall this take?” She hugged herself. “I’m negatively frigid.”
“Ah, don’t drop your horse in a pit. I think I’ve almost found it.” The shades-wearing woman shifted a few cups round. “Tell you what: wander round the other aisles & see what else they got in this angle.”
“¿You see anything interesting?” the shades-wearing woman asked as she held her hand o’er 2 yogurt cups.
The shades-wearing woman stood & closed the door—also closing off all outside sound.
’Twasn’t just the gelid air that made Lance’s skin quiver.
I still don’t e’en know if these 2 are truly trying to help me or are just exploiting me just as much.
After a few minutes, the shades-wearing woman opened the door & quickly pulled Lance out. She stared o’er her shoulder @ the restroom doors, whose handle appeared wrapped in some rubber bands, & then pushed Lance into the middle aisle.
“Shit,” whispered the other woman.
“¿What?” She peeked back into the back aisle & then cursed herself.
She turned to Lance & whispered right into his ear. “Change o’ plan. You’ll have to hide in the back o’ my coat.” Then she turned ’way from him & waited.
“¿What?” Lance whispered back in shock.
“I’m wearing something ’neath; don’t worry,” she whispered. “Just hurry. We don’t have a choice.”
So Lance lifted the back o’ her robe & squeezed in ’hind. They began to walk, only for Lance to variously bump into her & fall too far ’hind.
“Hold on, I might do better if I have a better grip,” she said.
Lance took the hint & wrapped his arms round the woman’s stomach.
I better not get in trouble for sexual harassment, Lance thought as he tried regulating his breathing to a normal level. He could smell a mix o’ sweat & gunpowder & was disgusted to realize he liked it.
He could hear the woman say, “Here, let me take those.”
The other woman said, “¿Are you negatively positive?”
They walked a few mo’ steps, & then turned & walked backward. Soon after, Lance felt himself push into hard plastic, which opened ’way from him.
¿Is this silly plan actually succeeding? he thought.
Suddenly, the woman stopped on a plot o’ grass.
She must know ’bout the secret hole, too.
She bent down, taking Lance down with her. Next he heard her whisper, “Climb down into the hole just ’hind us.”
So Lance crawled backward, feeling his knees fall from the edge o’ the ground. He gleaned only a second’s glimpse o’ the outside world ’tween the darkness o’ under her robe & the darkness o’ the hole.
As he sat gainst the wall, ’way from the hole, he heard the 2 women climb down, & then the sound o’ plastic objects clapping gainst cement.
“Oops,” whispered the voice o’ the top-hatted woman.
The voice o’ the shades-wearing woman neared Lance: “We’ve gotta to stay down here for a while, Sir Mayor.”
Lance cleared his throat & whispered back, “Thank you. It’s good to see there’s still some loyal citizens round.”
“Don’t worry, sir: we know these cottonswabbers are trying to do you in. As if we’re s’posed to believe that some li’l street rat & her Halloween-costumed friend could blow up an entire building while a large government team were there & just so happened to have you in a room separate from them all, where you had no reason to be.”
Lance thought, I wonder how she thinks ’bout my lie on O’Beefe’s behalf…
’Stead he said, “Uh, you know an awful lot ’bout what happened,” summarily wondering if ’twas smart to possibly rile up his possible protectors.
“That’s ’cause I look up on these things, androgyn. Unlike most o’ the orcs that stumble round these parts, I check the facts. I know the government’s into some twisted shit.”
Lance could faintly hear snickering in the background.
“You must forgive my imaginative acquaintance, my dear mayor,” said the other woman; “she has a veritable affinity for conspiracy theories.”
“You can’t deny what’s goin’ on right now. This is fascism happening right now. I always told you it could happen, & just look.”
“That reminds me: we are so truly rude. Please forgive us, Mayor, Sir. We ne’er properly introduced ourselves. My name is Madame Enola Cannoli, & my fine acquaintance here is Madame Arsène Carpaccio.”
“Uh… ¿so what should we do now?” asked Lance.
“We know a guy who’s gonna help us ’scape to the United States, where they don’t tolerate this kind o’ fascism.”
“Why, Carpaccio, ¿do I not hear you constantly deride those despicable Democrats as the harbingers for fascism? ¿Remember how you ranted @ them for conspiring gainst your best friend, Trump, 4 years ago?”
“Well, they don’t tolerate this extreme level o’ fascism. Not all fascist totalitarianism is the same—some are less fascist than others. I found this brilliant rubric that compares all o’ the varieties on Infowars, which I think you should check out sometime, Cannoli. It just kills me. Fucking kills me.”
¿Is this woman real? thought Lance, still frowning @ Cannoli’s positive words given to that embarassingly socialistic Republican candidate. She seems mo’ like some ignorant right-wing stereotype those Hollywood looters always love pushing round. I, o’ anyone, have been round some dumb right-wingers; but they’re not that dumb.
“Perhaps @ a safer moment, my dear,” said Cannoli.
“Anyway, I hope you’re not lactose intolerant, ’cause all we got so far is yogurt—though we could sneak back up for mo’ if needed,” said Carpaccio.
“I s’pose it’s safe to emit some miniscule illumination, ¿you’d agree, Carpaccio?”
Lance heard a few clicks & saw a small flame appear near him. Then he saw it grow into a widen ball o’ light, the flame itself surrounded by a gothic lantern.
He saw the hand holding it set it down next to a colony o’ yogurt packs & followed the hand to its owner, now sitting back gainst the brick wall, her impenetrable shades & frown staring down @ the yogurt pack she opened like a beer can. The pen continued to hang down her mouth like a lit cigarette.
Lance turned ’way, grabbed a pack himself, & opened it. Then he stared down @ the goopy substance inside as if ’twere an unsolvable mathematical equation.
Lance saw Carpaccio’s hand holding a spoon appear before him. He lightly grabbed the top, ’fraid to touch the hand, & muttered, “Thanks.”
“You don’t need to worry ’bout us: we’ve been rooting for you since the beginning. You’re the only cat out there that’s been fighting for individuality.”
“Er, thank you, Madame,” Lance said to his shaking spoon full o’ goop.
“No, I mean it. I know you probably think we’re dangerous wackos”—she turned to Cannoli—“I know that’s what they say ’bout me ’hind my back”—she turned back to Lance—“but you can a’least trust we’ll get you to safety.”
She continued, “’Course, don’t get it into your head that I’m some crazy fanatic or anything. I just love Rand. Read all o’ her books. ’Tween the superstition right & collectivist left, she’s the only one who understood that man should fight for man, & you’re the only 1 o’ those cats who fight for that.”
“Er… thank you,” said Lance, still frowning @ his yogurt.
“No problem, man. Just promise to keep up the good fight in the U.S.A.”
Then they ate in silence. After a few minutes, Lance glanced @ Carpaccio & saw her frown down @ the emptied yogurt carton sitting lifeless in her lap.
“There’s mo’ yogurt, you know,” said Cannoli.
“Yeah,” grunted Carpaccio.
“¿Are you fretting o’er your precious guns ’gain?”
Carpaccio looked up @ Cannoli & then turned back to her yogurt cup with an amused smile.
“Yeah. I know you think I’m crazy, but I tell you, I heard a story ’bout the government: they’re working on a patch to replace the whole gun item with flowers—fucking flowers. Just wait till the civil war comes &, bam”—she clapped her hands—“my bazooka’s suddenly a petunia. We ne’er should’ve let those politicians get their greasy hands on that source code.”
“Well, it might ease your mind if you go check them,” Cannoli said as she readjusted her glasses.
“Yeah, I’ll go do that.”
& so Lance saw Carpaccio get up & walk o’er to 1 o’ the backpacks sitting gainst the wall. She unzipped it & put her hand inside while she whispered into it, “Shh, don’t speak. Everything’s going fine. We shouldn’t have to wait long. Sorry ’bout this.”
Lance stared @ Cannoli. She shrugged with a smile.
Carpaccio returned to her seat, her frown now mo’ neutral, her chest rising & falling in much heavier waves.
Lance swung his head ’way ’gain & drew his knees in mo’ tightly.
¿What are you, Dominique? Either court or ignore.
She’s crazy, though.
¿So? ¿Why shouldn’t she be in a world like this? ¿It’s the magnificent 1% who are “crazy” after all.
¿& what am I s’posed to say? Hey, you look… ¿See? That’s idiotic.
You don’t say anything—you do. You’re the mayor, for god’s sake. She’s probably secretly wishing you’d kiss her, but doesn’t dare ask.
Lance took a deep breath & then turned & leaned into Carpaccio & pressed his lips into her. This lasted a nanosecond ’fore Carpaccio tightly grasped his collar & pushed him back.
“Whoa, buddy. That’s a bit mo’ gratitude than I expected.”
Lance only blinked @ her in horrified confusion. From ’hind Carpaccio, Lance could see Cannoli barely blocking laughter ’hind her fist, eyes crinkling with tears.
Carpaccio continued, “You should ne’er kiss a woman when you don’t truly know who she is—or how she’ll respond. The consequences aren’t always so rosy.”
Lance only nodded silently. He felt the hand loosen round his collar & return to its owner. Lance sat back down, a few mo’ centimeters ’way from Carpaccio, eyes gazing @ the ground.
¿Why do I suddenly worry so much ’bout this other person’s reaction? ¿Why am I ’fraid o’ this person—o’ so many people so lately?
’Cause they’re dangerous. ’Cause these 2 can turn you in @ any second & neither money nor status can protect you from them—from them all.
¿But how did this happen? ¡Not that long ago I was @ my greatest! ¡I was almost John Galt incarnate! & now so suddenly I’m Cherryl Brooks tied down to the street, waiting for 1 o’ the many cars out there to run me down. ¿How can this happen so quickly?
If I don’t do what they say—if I don’t be their reliant slave—I’m dead; but if I do, ¿what does that say ’bout me as an individual? ¿How can anyone truly be an individual in such a circumstance?
“It’d be safer if I go, good chap,” Cannoli said just ’fore holding a gloved hand to her chest. “I’m not as notorious as you are, you crazy bean. ’Sides, I wouldn’t want to keep you 2 from anything.” Cannoli winked.
Carpaccio’s frown deepened. But she merely replied, “But I know the streets mo’. I’m less likely to be caught.”
“No, you are not, ’cause I shall not be caught. None know who I am; alas, I am a nobody.”
“Don’t count on it. D’you e’en got any cash on you.”
“I told you—I withdrew all o’ it.”
“Yeah,” Carpaccio said with a somber frown, only for that to so suddenly transform into a smile.
“¿What, may I ask, is so hilarious, my friend?” asked Cannoli.
“I just ne’er thought… he, o’ all people, would benefit from our paltry—a’least, paltry compared to his—earnings. What a world we’re living in when people like him are robbed o’ their riches.”
“O, surely he was robbed o’ e’en mo’ than that,”
“Why, I dare say that Sir O’Beefe has, indeed, proven himself to be the world’s greatest thief.”
Cannoli smiled. “Yes. Most interesting times we’re living in, ¿wouldn’t you agree?”
Carpaccio paused in seeming reflection, & then looked back up @ Cannoli & said, “Well, if you insist on going, go on; but hurry. I’d like to start our ship ’fore nightfall. The longer we wait, the harder their dogs’ll be sniffin’.”
Cannoli adjusted her glasses.
“I shan’t fail.”
& with that, she climbed up to the surface & disappeared.
Carpaccio was silent ’gain for a minute, only to then say ’loud to no one in particular, “You know, I probably should’ve demanded I go, ’stead. I was thinking we need to stock up on mo’ food, anyway.”
She turned to the opening & rubbed her chin. Then she turned to Lance for 1 second to ask, “¿You want anything?”
“I don’t know what kind o’ food convenience stores hold; but so long as it’s edible, anything’s fine.”
Carpaccio nodded & said, “Stay here. I’ll be right back,” ’fore snuffing out the lantern.
The last thing Lance heard were footsteps & scraping cloth gainst cement. He looked up & saw the thin light peeping in from the opening blocked off by a strange black shape for a second.
Then he was left in silence once mo’, the bright but dreary morn a contrast to the creaky black basement.
Throughout, the same question cycled through his brain: ¿How did this come ’bout so suddenly, & yet with so much peace?
He continued to gaze @ the thin blades o’ grass covering the mouth o’ his cave like teeth. I’m the mayor & I’ve been deposed, & yet the world is just as peaceful as e’er.
You know, they’re both gone. This would be the perfect chance to ’scape.
¿What would be the point? I’m safer with them than without.
’Sides, I might as well a’least wait till they disguise me 1st. Then I’ll no longer need their help.
I wonder if I asked her 1st, ¿would she be gladder that I respected her individuality or ashamed @ my weakness? She did say, “when you don’t know who it is,” so maybe she just wants to wait or something.
¿How did father handle courting mother? ¿Did he do as Roark or d’Anconia? ¿Or did he… get the same results as me?
Considering she left him, I s’pose it doesn’t matter, anyway.
He took a deep breath.
It’d be better not to mess round with such silliness. I have a coup to stop.
Carpaccio returned a few minutes later with 3 bags o’ chips, 2 water bottles, & a bottle with some bright-colored liquid inside.
“Don’t know if you like chips or what kind o’ flavor you prefer. Wasabi’s, duh… Cannoli’s favorite, so I got 2, ’long with 1 barbecue, & I don’t care, so pick whichever you want.”
“I’ll take barbecue,” said Lance.
“Got it,” Carpaccio said as she tossed 1 to him.
“I also wasn’t sure if you preferred any particular drink, so I got us both waters.”
“That’s fine,” said Lance; though in the back o’ his head, he kept telling himself, Look @ how far you’ve fallen.
Have patience. You’ll get your chance back @ the top.
A few hours later, Cannoli finally returned with hands full o’ plastic bags.
“I thought casual jeans & a T-shirt would fit him the least—¿wouldn’t you agree, Arsène?” said Cannoli.
“Good ’nough as anything else,” said Carpaccio.
She turned & stared @ Lance while rubbing her chin. Lance tried averting his eyes.
“¿What should we do ’bout his skin?” asked Carpaccio.
Lance’s screwed in horrified confusion.
“Uh… ¿Do we need to change his skin color?” asked Cannoli.
“He’s practically an albino. ¿How many o’ them are running round? We might as well tan him a li’l.”
“Well, I have nary an idea o’ how you might darken his skin, ’less you happen to possess a portable sun lamp & sunscreen on your person.”
“We’ll fret ’bout it later,” Carpaccio said as she got up & went toward the opening.
Cannoli left the bags ’long the wall & looked @ Lance.
“Change into these & do not leave any o’ your regular clothes or any objects that might identify you on you. Ne’er trust that you might not be frisked.”
With that, she turned & followed Carpaccio outside.
This is the perfect opportunity to ’scape.
He stood & scanned through the bags. Cannoli didn’t leave a single garment unaccounted. He quickly changed, keeping a sharp eye on the opening to ensure no one was peeping on him. The instant he finished, he picked up the lantern & walked farther ’way from the opening to see how big this cavern was.
He noticed the ground end & ducked closer to the edge to see that ’twas a lower step. He climbed down & continued.
From far ’hind he could faintly hear Carpaccio’s voice say, “’Ey, ¿you done in there, yet?”
Lance quickened his pace, constantly vacillating his attention ’tween in front & ’hind.
“’Ey, ¿did you hear me in there? Shit.”
Lance broke into a run, the darkness being pushed farther & farther back by the lantern light.
But he didn’t know how far ’twould go back ’fore he reached the end.
¿What’ll they do to me if they catch me? They’ll probably just assure me mo’ fervently that they’re trying to help me & do what they were already planning to do.
’Course, the other problem was his wind running out on him ’gain, only a few hours after he’d already ran his cylinders dry.
Quit whining. Put yourself into it. We don’t have a choice.
No, I have a choice: I’ve just decided that struggling to survive is better than—¡oof!
He sat up & picked up his lantern to see bars rusted brown. It took a second for him to realize what it meant, after which he wasted no time climbing. Though he cringed @ the greasiness o’ the bars & the clumsy way his lantern kept bonking the bars as he held it with a climbing hand, the fear o’ being caught o’erran these qualms.
His eyes had gotten so used to the darkness that they winced @ the sudden sunlight, the sun’s climax just before plummeting under the horizon.
He didn’t let this stall him, though. He quickly squeezed out, making sure to close the lid ’gain to cover his tracks, & then ran off for the nearest alleyway, only to see ’twas a dead end. So ’stead he sufficed with taking the 1st turn @ the end o’ the block, & then the next turn, & then mo’, trying to make his path as winding as possible.
Huh. Ne’er thought my unfortunate acquaintance with that ponytailed looter would offer some benefits.
However, this only lasted for a few blocks, as the stitch in his side became intolerable after its 10th minute o’ nonstop growth. That was when he saw a bus stop & decided to sit for a rest, figuring his tiredness would be chocked up to punctual anxiety.
As he sat there, recompensing his oxygen deprivation as one with dehydration guzzles water, he let the rest o’ the city fade from attention while his mind puzzled o’er the question, ¿What’s my next plan?
“It’d be safest if we return; we won’t find him,” Autumn whispered as she & Dawn stood @ the end o’ the block like a wind petered out, bangs finally allowed to lay in disarray after such a bustle.
She turned & retraced her steps, Dawn following.
“¿You sure he’ll be all right?” asked Dawn.
“Clearly he hasn’t considered the issue closely; ¿why should we? We told him we’re trying to help him; he won’t believe us. I tried buttering him up with that bullshit ’bout Ayn Rand, but all that earned me was random sexual harassment. ¿What else should we do: tie him down?”
“I guess you’re right,” Dawn replied as she stuffed hands into pockets & gazed solemnly @ her feet.
“Don’t take this with offense—’specially since I’m also a benefactor—but you stress too much ’bout other people,” said Autumn. “You can’t help everyone @ once.”
“Why, I have nothing but gratitude for your splendid advice, my dear chap; I shall be utmost in my employment thereof.”
“Just don’t expect me to keep up the act as Raoul Duke & Alex Jones’s lovechild,” said Autumn.
“O, but you did such a splendid job o’ it.”
As sundown melted into twilight, Lance still felt the tight sensation in his stomach, only for it to grumble.
Owen. ¿Now how am I s’posed to get food? I certainly can’t just pop into the bank & ask for withdrawals.
But then he rubbed his chin & screwed his eyes.
Though I s’pose if I were stealthy or if I wrote myself a check from myself…
Then he grasped his head as if he were ’bout to crush it.
¡Augh! That’s right: I left all o’ my possessions @ those 2 nutjobs’ hideout to avoid being identified.
I bet they only used this as a ruse to steal my credit cards so they can pilfer me o’ everything I have.
In the corner o’ his eye he glimpsed a bus heading toward him & panicked.
Well, I obviously can’t get on, having no money—as if I’d want to get on such a retched hive—but if I just get up & leave without getting on, that’d look suspicious.
Then ’gain, bums are always incoherent idiots, anyway.
So he stood & walked ’way, his face trying to emulate the most slobbish stoic frown he could.
¿How long must I pretend to be the average dope—such an unbearable living?
Well, to play the role I’ve been forced into better… I might as well sponge off some government welfare place. There ought to be homeless shelters all o’er this city, considering the way the parliament’s been running things.
So he wandered through the streetlamp-lit streets in the swagger o’ some punk he’d seen on some MTV reality show, pointing his eyes @ every sign he crossed.
Unfortunately, he’d spent a half hour o’ nonstop walking ’fore he found it, & became so tired that he had no choice but to sit on the curb & rest.
It’s no fair. Someone like me who wasn’t brought up in the ways o’ the sponge can’t now be expected to know where they keep all o’ their freebies.
No use complaining. That’s the 1 advantage I have, after all: I have the resolve the survive while the multitude o’ sponges barely have the will to peel themselves off their park benches.
With this optimistic thought, he stood ’gain & continued his search for a homeless shelter.
He finally found 1 an hour later, only to be informed when he came up to the front desk that there was no room.
“¿What? ¿Do you know who I am?” said Lance.
The receptionist blinked @ him in confusion.
“Um, no. No, I’m sorry, Sir. ¿Are you here for charity work or something?”
“Err… No. No, I mean… Look @ me. Obviously I’m homeless.”
The receptionist nodded @ him sympathetically.
“We’re terribly sorry, Sir; but we just don’t have any mo’ room. Funding cuts have been devastating. We had to sell off half our space or risk going bankrupt.”
Hmmph. Shouldn’t be surprised that the welfare industries would be bad @ business.
He turned & left, only to linger on the curb, staring off @ the dimming sky. Though his face was creased with the same ol’ bitterness, it now had an added element: fear.
¿Now what am I s’posed to do?