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Authors: Ted Krever

Mindbenders

BOOK: Mindbenders
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Mindbenders

by

Ted Krever

 

Kindle Edition

 

copyright 2011 Ted Krever

www.tedkrever.com

 

~~~~

 

 

To David, who wanted a superhero

 

~~~~

 

Cover photo by Jack Cowley

http://jackiepoos.deviantart.com/

 

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual places, events or persons, living or dead, is entirely fictitious.

 

 

~~~~

 

One

 

June 2008

 

The screams pulled me into the hall and through the open bathroom door, to where Uncle Dave lay in the tub dead; blank-faced, stupid-looking, lights-out-nobody’s-home dead.

The tinny screaming poured out of the tube on the counter by the window, where the Prime Minister of India was getting shot on CNN. The anchors scrambled to make sense of the pictures—the frantic crowd stampeding the exits, true believers moaning and pleading behind the podium, bodyguards taking down the gunman in a pile in the corner—everybody screaming, screams in bunches and too late, surely, hopeless, useless, for who, in that insane moment, was
listening
?

Only those of us across the world, on the far side of the room, where Uncle Dave’s head was lolling crazy, like a cup tipped on its side in a saucer, his tongue hanging, eyes open, bits of brain bobbing among the soapscum, the blood rolling down his cheek and fanning out in the water like spider veins. I reached out to touch his cracked forehead and then his eye, just to be sure, to
know
. A little hole nippled the glass of the window, cracks radiating like the blood in the water.

It was right in front of me but then, I wasn’t there anymore. I was receding fast, pulling away like a tortoise into its shell. It’s not like I could deny what was happening but I did anyway. That’s how I did everything in those days. I knew more than I understood, as Renn would tell me later; more than I could bear to understand.

If I’m going to tell this story, you have to know how I was back then, back when I could shut out a bullet through the brain, back before I knew what it was to
know
, back before I even knew him as Renn—back before everything, really.

I turned the TV off and suddenly the place felt too quiet, too empty, echoing-barn empty. Somebody should have been screaming for Uncle Dave, except there was nobody to scream for him but me and I was lost inside myself. The screams rang in my head, same as they had for a long time.

I wandered to the front door, looking away, way away. A little breeze rustled the willows and the long grass, not that it cooled anything off. If you could sell Florida air by the pound, you’d be richer than Gates. Someone was out there, surely not far off, staring back at me—someone with a gun.

Instead, I heard a fluttering and looked up at a pelican gliding overhead, working its heavy wings, pumping air like some wheezing arthritic climbing steps. It circled the house and the marsh full of vines and camellias, sassafrass and begonias, the hoots and hollers of a thousand birds, the hissing of the big snakes and gators and me and Uncle Dave’s body.

And then the back door opened and there came Mr. Dulles up off the porch, not real tall but way too skinny and looking like he hadn’t slept in a week like usual. He marched in with that clunky walk of his, just stopping off on his way someplace else, someplace maybe he’d forgot already. You live in the Everglades, nobody has someplace else to go, at least not someplace they can’t go tomorrow. Mr. Dulles didn’t look like tomorrow; he looked like
now
.

“Where’s your stuff?” he said.

I pointed to my room. I didn’t know him much but enough that he wouldn’t have expected more. Dave had guys in the house who stuttered, guys who put their fists through the wall and guys who didn’t know the difference between a wall and a window and a door. I was the one who didn’t talk.

“Get it together.” He didn’t even look me in the eye, just slipped by and away.

I didn’t really want to go to my room since it meant passing the bathroom, the smell setting in and all, but I went and pulled some clothes together and my toothbrush and a couple books. Not much for living in a man’s house for a year but I had nothing when I came and little or nothing left over once I put in for rent and food.

Mr. Dulles was in Uncle Dave’s room, tearing apart his bureau. The clothes were on the floor and he was pulling out the drawers when I came in.

I picked a drawer off the pile and shook it in his face. Dave kept them
locked
.

“Not anymore,” Mr. Dulles said, pulling out the middle one, inspecting the sides and back and tossing it on top of the others. The man was shifty, slippery; I never trusted him, not that I’d ever had need to.

He seemed to have known Uncle Dave a long time—together, they never had to finish a sentence. Dulles lived farther out in the glades, they said, someplace where he didn’t have to pay rent or talk to anybody for days at a time if he didn’t want to.

When he came over, he would sit in the corner while we watched TV or rooted for a game or played music. He never seemed to be doing what we were doing; it was more like he had a quota for being with people every once in a while.

He wouldn’t play cards. “It wouldn’t be fair,” he’d say and Uncle Dave would nod like that was obvious and no more about it. Shifty, like I say. Now he looked up and said, “You ready?”

I nodded. Maybe I shrugged. It was about the same thing; I didn’t know what I was doing anyhow.

He pulled the bottom drawer out, tilted it backward and upside down and then peered inside the bureau. “Ah!” he said and pulled out a taped-up bundle of cloth. He ripped it open to show me a piece of paper and a small key. “Let’s go,” he said, heading for the back door.

It threw me, him heading out that way and suddenly I heard my own voice: “You want to go
this
way? Nobody knows this way.”


You
do,” he said, like that was an answer.

The back was the water side. The weeds between the house and the water were like eight feet high and the path jumped around tree trunks and dipped under hanging willows but now Mr. Dulles led me straight down like somebody’d painted a yellow line through the swamp.

I didn’t like this. I had no interest in going anyplace with him. Of course, while I’m thinking this, he’s not slowing down, so we’re practically on the dock already.

“I’ll drop you at the VA,” he said, stepping into my boat like that was his, too, “on the way through town. Okay?” He held out his hand for my bag but I didn’t offer it.

“I live
here
.” It was weird hearing my voice—it had been a long time. I couldn’t feel my mouth moving but there were the words so I was talking.

“Nobody lives here anymore,” he said, pulling the bag off my shoulder and throwing it in the boat. I didn’t see his mouth moving either.

What does that
—? was as far as I got before the air flashed white-hot all around and blew me off the dock. Mr. Dulles grabbed my shirt in mid-air and dragged me down onto the floor of the boat. I scrambled onto the bow seat as he pulled a couple hard strokes away on the oars—the bow line was gone, burnt from the blast; he didn’t even have to cast off. The whole curtain of eight-foot weeds was blazing all around us.

I could see where the house was—where it had been. A fireball curled out of the black smoke, crackling burning itself out as it sucked up into the sky overhead. It looked like the oil blasts outside Fallujah. I think it was Fallujah—I have trouble keeping places straight.

Mr. Dulles rowed up under a stand of low trees, put up the oars and held a finger to his mouth to warn me, not that I needed warning.

The breeze wasn’t much but it began to part the smoke and we could make out the men around the house and hear their voices, if not what they were saying.  They gave the once-over to the wreckage and started uphill, back toward the road.

Mr. Dulles was hunched on his seat, watching, humming to himself. His hands were on his thighs, palms up, fingers curled inward, meditation-style. Every once in a while, his eyes would flicker with the pupils up under the lids. It was gross, actually.

When I heard their car engines starting up the hill, I got upset—I teared up, to tell the truth. I hadn’t heard them coming, when it might’ve done some good. You never hear what you really need to.

Mr. Dulles opened his eyes and put the oars back in the water. He made a few quick strong pulls and brought us over to the bank on the other side. He grabbed onto a tree and held the boat steady, waiting for me to get out. “C’mon,” he said. “We should get moving.”

“What just happened?” I burst.

“What do you mean?”

“What do I mean? The house blew up!” Whoa! Now I
felt
the words, my throat vibrating and the rumble in my chest.

He
shrugged
. “Gas main?” he offered.

“In a
swamp
? They blew it up!”

“Who?”

“Who?
Them
!!” I was pointing and yelling. Suddenly I knew I had a larynx because it hurt like hell. If I felt it
now
, why didn’t I before? “Shot Uncle Dave! Getting away!
Now
!!”

“Gregor, you don’t see things clear sometimes.”

“I’m disabled, not stupid,” I blurted. Every syllable was an explosion inside. A thought is just a spark; words need muscles flexing, tendons stretching. “And I’m Greg, not Gregor.”

“You know Gregor Samsa?” he asked with his cockeyed smile. And somehow I did.

“Cockroach guy?”

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s you, the cockroach guy.” And he stepped off up the hill. “C’mon—I’ll drop you at the VA.”

“Not going to the VA.” I never thought arguing with somebody was the way to make sure they’d follow you around but it seemed to be working for him. “Got to do something!”

“I will.”

“When?”

“Soon.”

“They’re gone.”

“I know where they are.”

“How?”

“I know.” Before I could yell at him some more, he held up his hand. “If I do something about it, will you let me drop you at the VA?”

I nodded. I didn’t want to talk; all that came out was bad Tarzan dialogue.
Cheetah—get Boy
! I felt a whole lot smarter when I only heard the voice in my head.

We came up on top of the hill now, where his car was stashed in the weeds off the road—a ‘67 Camaro. I don’t remember lots about my past but I can tell I paid a lot of attention to cars. We gunned it out the back road to the highway.

“Call the cops?” I barked. Literally—the way I was forcing words, I sounded like a dog.

“Not yet,” he said. It was unnerving that none of this seemed to be throwing him—people getting shot and houses blown up. Maybe that was why he lived in a swamp and never talked to anybody.

No AC in that old car of his—didn’t look like it ever had it, but driving around in Florida with no AC in June, you might as well just stick your head in an oven.

When we got to town, he took the back way off the main drag, past corrugated warehouses, the old frame houses falling apart behind neon gardens of wildflowers ten feet deep off the street. Small town South Florida. Finally he pulled onto a sidestreet half a block from Uncle Dave’s store.

Uncle Dave had a gift shop—all of us, all the vets who lived in his house, made crafty things for the store. Once we finished them, he would stomp on them and grind them into the dirt and tell people they were from the Indian digs to the west of town. I don’t think anyone really believed him but we made some money out of the place.  

“Wait here,” Mr. Dulles said. “I’ll be a few minutes.”

“Not waiting,” I said, following him out of the car. First I didn’t want to go with him; now I wasn’t letting him go without me. Both answers came from the same place, the same doubts in my mind—I just didn’t trust the man. If he was going into Dave’s store, I was going with him.

“There’s something there that Dave left for me,” he said.

“Guys that killed him. Take care of them.”

“I will.”

“Where?”

He pointed up the block.

“Coming here?”

“They’re here already,” he said, tilting his head back like he could smell them in the air. He wasn’t shifty—he was flat-out strange. “I’ve got to get what Dave left me.”


Mine
,” I yelled now and he groaned. “I’m last guy in Dave’s house. Like next of kin.” This was like the Gettysburg Address, coming from me but I wasn’t done. “Dave said, ‘
What’s mine is yours—what’s yours is mine
.’”

This was flat-out weird from the first second I heard it coming out of my mouth. I didn’t know what it meant and I didn’t really even remember Dave saying it, to tell the truth. But as soon as I finished, Mr. Dulles shot me a look with those hawkeyes of his that burned right through my skull—I mean
really
burned; it felt like somebody had shoved the back of my head against a skillet.

BOOK: Mindbenders
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