The boys leaping to their feet and all talking at once immediately broke the silence following Simon’s suggestion. After a moment he put up his hands. “I don’t think he has it,” Simon said, “but he might know where it is or what’s in it.”
Four pairs of teenaged eyes were aimed like high beam lasers at him. Simon was calm.
“He works with the Army on geological projects sometimes. They might’ve consulted him or something. I can probably find out.” He cracked his knuckles. “I’ll ask after dinner.”
Simon’s father had kept everything over the years and that made a mess of the files in his office. Simon had been through nearly every cabinet in the room when he finally noticed the bookshelf. The graphic novel was the only one of its kind there. Very stylistically drawn, it seemed to tell a story of two people entwined in some sort of deception. Simon muttered as he flipped the pages, “Norwegian, maybe?” The author’s name was familiar, though: Russia Owens.
He stopped about halfway through and studied a two-page spread, turning to the sunlight pouring through the south windows. “Odd,” he said out loud and continued dflipping pages until the house phone rang.
Twenty minutes later, Alex stepped up onto the porch of Simon’s parents’ house. “Been a long time, old man.” They embraced and slapped each other on the back. “Good to see you.”
“You, too, Alex,” Simon said. “Come on in. I’ve got coffee on.”
Cups in hand, they sat in the living room. “Sorry about your dad, Si.”
“Thanks. He had a good long run. Ninety-three. Died in his sleep. Peaceful.”
Both men studied their coffee cups and nodded.
Alex said, “I suppose it’s enough that we acknowledge the years?”
“Yeah,” Simon said. “Yeah it is. I miss him. Mom, too.”
“What you going to do with the old place here?”
“I don’t know yet. There’s some ends to tie up.”
“You know what I mean,” Simon said. “The cylinder, torpedo-thing, whatever it is.”
“You’re still convinced your father had something to do with it?”
“I know he did. Hold on.” Simon put his coffee down, left the room and Alex puzzled. When he came back he was carrying the graphic novel, flipping back and forth. “I only found it just before you called. Check this.” Simon handed the open book to his friend.
“It’s a comic book.” He scanned the left page. “Norwegian or Scandinavian or something.”
“Anyone look familiar?”
“There, in the center of the page.”
“Shit,” Alex said. “That could be Luke, couldn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Simon said. “You kept track of us. Where’s he at now?”
“He’s out of prison. He’s got a good enough job at Kresge’s and he’s making his child support payments. He’ll probably be back in prison in a couple of months. He never stays out too long.”
“Jesus,” Simon said. “I didn’t know.”
“No big deal. I run into his mother every so often at the grocery store. She looks so sad all the time, never talks about his brother or sister, only him.
“Kurt, on the other hand, manages to stay out of prison because of his family connections.”
Simon raised an eyebrow. He made a gun with his thumb and forefinger. “Family?”
“Yep,” Alex said. “You know he was betting on football, then baseball, and basketball. Well, he made too much money. He moved to Chicago and kept using the same bookies. That kind of ‘luck’ gets noticed eventually. The folks whose money he was taking brought him into the fold. He called me, oh, a couple of years ago and was scared, confessed to me. Last time we spoke he was better, but wouldn’t talk about it. That was middle of last year. Right around his birthday.”
“Wow,” Simon said. “That’s --- I don’t know what it is. Amazing. Crazy.”
“Yeah, it’s a lot of things. It’s a trap for him, same way it is for Mark.”
“Don’t you mean Luke?”
Alex shook his head. “Nope. Mark’s a recluse in New Mexico, has a nice family and works on cars for a living. Lives a quiet, normal life.”
“You’re normal, I’m normal,” Simon said. “Aren’t we?”
Alex sat back, looked at the ceiling before laughing and said to his friend: “You hit the lottery, man. You’re wealthy and getting wealthier every minute no matter how the economy’s doing, right?”
Simon and his father were sitting on the deck his father had built the summer before. The boys had graduated the week before and Simon was getting ready to move away to college. The songs of early June were thick in the early evening air and his father sighed.
“You need to be your own man, Si,” his father said. “Don’t be fooled by your friends or professors or the guy who shows you the one thing you never knew you needed to know. Take all those ideas and make them yours. Don’t be a follower.” He looked out towards the cornfield beyond the row of hedge trees that marked the back of the property.
“You’re probably going to hear things about your old man.”
A chorus of treefrogs, grasshoppers and robins stretched time before Simon spoke. “What would I hear about you?”
His father closed his eyes, scratched his chin. “I work with the government sometimes, son, you know that. What you need to know is that no matter what anyone says, I stick to what I believe, okay?” He shifted and looked at Simon.
“Remember that falling star that crashed over near the lake when you were in, what, eighth grade? The one you asked me about?”
“Well, it wasn’t quite what we thought it was.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know.” Simon’s father shrugged. “That’s the hell of it.” The old man stood and leaned to put his hands on the deck’s rail. “It definitely was from earth, but it wasn’t anything anyone had seen before. That’s why they called me.”
“What was it, Dad?”
Simon’s dad clenched the wood under his hands, his shoulders squared.
“Something far ahead of anything I’ve seen, before or since. It affected people’s minds, Simon. It made them see things that weren’t there. We’re not sure if it’s a weapon or something else.”
“What could it have been?”
His father changed then, suddenly and completely. He turned and smiled at Simon and smacked the flat of his hand on the rail. “Got a little off-track there, didn’t I? I wanted to tell you that you have to be your own man, that even though you may be influenced by others, you’re still responsible for everything you do. No one can take that from you and you should never give it up. Always be responsible. Especially with women, son. You need to remember that.”
Simon’s father clapped his hands together. Simon looked up at him: the gray hair, the lines around the eyes. He’d dropped some weight in the last couple of years, too. He looked old for the first time to Simon. They’d been nearer to an answer for Simon than ever before, but now it was gone.
“Dad,” Simon said, “If we’d found that thing when it crashed, what would have happened to us?”
“I’m just glad you didn’t, Simon.”
“I’m wealthy enough, Alex,” Simon said. “What does that have to do with how normal I am?”
“You make choices that aren’t even considerations for the vast majority of people because you’re wealthy, Si.” He put the graphic novel down. “You probably don’t even think about them any more.”
“What’re you getting at, Alex?”
“Sorry,” Simon’s friend said. “You used your ability to hit the lottery, didn’t you?”
“Yeah. We all did something like that.”
“Would you have gotten rich if you hadn’t used your power? Would you have married Emily if she hadn’t gotten pregnant? Did you see that before it happened? What would you be doing if you hadn’t hit the lottery?”
“I don’t know, Alex. That night changed everything for all of us, not just me.”
Alex looked around and frowned. “Where’s Marlon? I thought you said he was here?”
“Out back. You want to see him?”
“Yeah, but I want to say this first: you profited from that night, the only one who managed well enough to. Luke’s crazy, Kurt’s a gangster and Mark’s a hermit.”
“You’re okay, I’m okay.”
“Okay is relative.”
“Are you saying I shouldn’t’ve done what I did?”
“Not at all. I’m saying that there are possibilities that we never explore,” Alex said, “and never think about.” He leaned forward. “Responsibilities.”
The screen door creaked open and slammed shut behind them. Marlon came slowly into the room.
“There he is!” Simon put a hand on his son’s shoulder. “Marlon, you remember Alex, don’t you?”
“Sure. Hi, Alex.” The boy dropped his eyes.
“Everything okay?” Simon looked at his son. The boy was shaking noticeably. “Marlon?”
“We found something in the shed.”
©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
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