G. L. Eikenberry
If we're not responsible for our own reality, who is?
"Forget it, Ray. You know I don't beg."
"Yeah, sure. You got a better idea, Einstein? We happen to be fresh out of mutual funds to sell off, so we either go hungry or we troll the mall for spare change."
"It's just a thing I have, okay? I'm kind of down-and-out right now, but I don't beg. Maybe I'll go down to Dorchester Street and see if I can scrounge some bottles I can cash in or something. I'll catch you later at Mercy House, okay?"
It's getting dark. The familiar beast is gnawing at his stomach again. Kind of looks like rain. Rotten luck. He's been bashing around for a long time and has just one small pop bottle and three beer bottles to show for it. He'll have to hitch back downtown if he's going to make the Mercy House soup line before they shut down for the night.
Red Firebird. Snob car number 37. Nobody stops for a bum. He might as well give up on Mercy House for tonight. At this rate he won't even make the 10 o'clock curfew for a cot in the old convent school gym. He's better off hiking over to the dry-cleaning plant. It's only a few blocks. He can sleep under a dryer vent if he can stand the smell.
One more car. Maybe he'll get lucky. Black Volvo. Hey, it's stopping!
"Rio. Come on, man. Get in."
"Ray? Hey, wait--no way I'm getting into a hot car."
"Aw, come on, man. I'll give you a lift down to the House. Come on. It's not hot, I swear to God. Honest, man, I didn't steal nothing. I was hanging around the mall, right? The rent-a-cop gave me the boot for loitering or soliciting or something. Jeez, I scored all of 85 cents, right? Come on, asshole, get in. It's starting to rain. So anyway--are you getting in or what? So anyway, I was hanging around outside the mall--like they kicked me out, so I figured I'd try the sidewalk. So I put the humble lean on this guy in trendy threads, and he says, 'Fresh out of change, pal, do you think you could settle for this?' So he hands me a bill, right? I mean Jesus Christ, it's a goddam twenty! Blow me right away, eh? So I go to stuff it in my pocket and get scarce before he realizes he's made a mistake and tries to take it back, and what do I find rolled up in the bill? A key, right? A goddam car key. I swear to God, Rio, a key to a Volvo. I checked it out--there was a Volvo parked right there in the handicap space, so I try the key and, hey, here I am. I mean, did this guy win the lottery or what?"
"He probably ripped it off. Or did you look in the trunk? It's probably full of dope or something."
"Where were you heading, anyway?"
"I was going over to the dry-cleaning plant. I figured a spot under a vent--"
"So we'll go together. I picked up a six of beer with the twenty."
REALITY ERROR: Abort, Retry, Fail? Fail"Forget it, Ray. I don't do malls, and I don't beg."
"Yeah, sure. You got a better idea, Rockefeller? In case you hadn't noticed, we're fresh out of blue-chip stocks and bearer bonds, so we either troll the mall for spare change or we go to bed hungry."
"It's just a thing I have, okay? I happen to be a little down-and-out, but I'll have to be a whole lot worse off before I beg. Maybe I'll go down to Dorchester Street and see if I can scrounge some bottles or something. I'll catch you later at Mercy House." The familiar beast is gnawing at his stomach again. A couple dozen beer bottles almost buys a burger.
It's getting dark. It looks like it could rain. Typical. He's been bashing around yuppie territory for two or three hours and all he has to show for it is one small pop bottle and a couple of beer bottles. Nothing. He'll have to hitch back downtown if he's going to have any chance to make the Mercy House soup line before they shut down for the night.
This is getting to be a real drag. Maroon Trans-Am goes by. Snob car number 38. Nobody stops for abandoned, drummed-out-of-business pharmacists cleverly disguised as middle-aged hippies. He might as well write off Mercy House for the night. At this rate he won't even make the ten o'clock curfew for a cot in the old convent school gym. A fluid, racking cough erupts from the depths of his chest. He'll hike to the dry-cleaning plant. It's only a few blocks. Sleeping under the dryer vents can't be too bad. It might even beat the human bacterial culture medium that is the hostel.
He walks. The rain has started. He quickens his pace. One foot lifted, swung forward on the double fulcrum of knee and hip a short distance through immediate space--a momentary, subconscious defiance of the laws of gravity, but a minor one--a mere misdemeanor--levitation--a strobing through space and perhaps even time--steps--miracles--strung together--propelling him toward warmth.
Black Volvo. Snob car number 39. It brakes out of its more disciplined trajectory, skids, lurches, insinuates mastery over its driver's intentions, sweeps broadside toward the shell that has relabelled itself Rio.
A somewhat longer step--a wider swing--a full fledged felony against the laws of space and time. Oblivious to how he may or may not have arrived there, he gathers himself into the hot air blowing down from the dryer vent. There are worse ways to spend a night.
REALITY ERROR: Abort, Retry, Fail? Retry"Forget it, Ray. I realize that--at least according to the self-righteous bitch that threw me out on the street--I am the lowest of the low, but there are two things I refuse to do. I don't beg, and I don't set foot inside shopping malls."
"Yeah, sure, Socrates--you've got a more fulfilling idea? Check your pockets. I don't know about you, but I'm fresh out of oil wells, yachts and VCRs, so it's either troll the mall or learn to live with hunger."
"Suit yourself. It's a thing I have, okay? I may be in a low-liquidity mode right now, but I'll have to be a whole lot worse off before I resort to begging. I think I'll head down to Dorchester Street to see if I can scare up a few empties I can cash in for some edibles. Mercy House gruel is beginning to wear a little thin. I'll catch you later in the bedtime lineup."
What he really wants is a pizza, but he'll be lucky if scrounging bottles turns up enough for a greasy burger.
It's getting dark. It looks and feels like the rain's going to start any minute. Just his luck. He's been bashing around yuppie-land for half an eternity and all he has to show for it is a beat-up grocery bag with a couple of dirty pop bottles rattling around inside. They might earn a bag of chips, but that won't feed the beast in his belly. Better hitch back downtown and try to make the Mercy House soup line before they shut down for the night.
Okay--42nd time lucky, right? Brown Jaguar. Face full of exhaust number 42. Nobody stops for an involuntarily-retired designer-drug entrepreneur, declared persona non grata by any friends once worth knowing. Must be the clever over-the-hill hippie disguise. At this rate he won't even make the 10 o'clock curfew for a pissy cot in Mercy House's old convent school gym. A fluid, racking cough erupts from the depths of his chest, asserting his vulnerability. He'll hike to the dry-cleaning plant. It's not far--maybe four or five blocks. Those with more experience in this sort of thing claimed that sleeping under a dryer vent was almost tolerable on a chilly, wet night. It might even be a welcome change from the human compost-heap of the Mercy House hostel.
He walks. The rain has started. The shock waves from another spasm of coughing reach his brain. He's not dressed for this. He's going to have to do something pretty fast--some money, some clothes, a place to go. She wouldn't let him in even if he did go back. But he won't go back. Anyway, she'd probably follow through on her threat to turn him in. Talk about a self-righteous bitch. She never had any problem spending the money when she thought he was the best paid assistant pharmacist in the Western World. What about the Mediterranean holiday they almost took? He was supposed to pick up the tickets the day the phone rang.
It's pouring now. He ought to get to the plant before he's completely soaked. He lengthens out his stride. Left foot lifts, swings forward on the double fulcrum of knee and hip--a miracle of practical physics propels him a short distance through immediate space, suspended from his center of gravity--a momentary, subconscious defiance of the laws of gravity, but a minor infraction--a mere misdemeanor--levitation--they'll never catch him--strobing through space--through time--long, floating steps--minor miracles--strung together--propelling him towards warmth.
One last try with the old magic thumb. Hell, it always used to work in his student days. Black Volvo. Snob car number 43. It brakes, departs from its planned, more disciplined trajectory, skids, lurches, insinuates mastery over its driver, sweeps broadside toward the impenetrable collection of molecules that never quite worked out as Brian--that aren't doing a hell of a lot better as Rio.
A longer step--a wider, more radical swing--more than a simple mid-course adjustment along a space/time continuum. A bona fide felony. This is no minor deviation from the laws of physics. This is the real thing. Violations of this magnitude can carry a heavy penalty.
Brian basks in the sun's warmth. When he first becomes aware of the sound, he is tugging absentmindedly at the hair in his left ear, trying to discern meaningful patterns in the waves of the receding tide.
Margaret rolls over, wrapping herself tightly in her robe. "Did you hear that? It sounded like something ripping." She searches up and down the beach. "Brian, it's getting chilly. Let's go back to the hotel."
"Aw, this is our last day. We can sit inside back home."
The sound again. It snags on the sculpted sandstone above them. Margaret looks towards the cliff, but sees nothing to explain it. She looks back over to Brian, but he doesn't seem to notice.
To him it sounds more like a muffled pop followed by sand shifting with preordained precision, perhaps under carefully placed feet. He sends his gaze up and down the beach, but there is nothing out of the ordinary to see.
The improbable beast approaches with surprising stealth for a minotaur. It studies the man carefully. He is tall and thin, not particularly muscular even by modern standards--not likely to pose any threat to a mythical beast. The man's otherwise evenly tanned skin glows slightly red from too much sun. His face is not visible.
The woman is not so easy to discern. She is wrapped in a white robe. Her hair shimmers, long and dark. The sun has given it an enticing sheen. And the backs of her calves and the soles of her feet are precisely and delicately rounded, cast from a mold tracing back to another age.
A great aching swells in the beast's groin. Although it sees nothing to suggest significant resistance, something more visceral than sight or smell tells him the ache will grow before it can be relieved.
The creature positions itself a short distance behind them. It announces its presence with a contemptuous snort.
The skinny male scrambles to his feet. He motions backwards with his left hand as if to push his mate back, away from whatever is about to happen.
She either doesn't notice or chooses to ignore him. She rises, with one arm extended, to face the creature squarely. The white robe falls open, but as she feels the eyes of the beast upon her she gathers it in tightly and clutches her arms across her breasts.
The minotaur grows in stature. The man would probably surrender the woman without a struggle but it's better if she is won.
Three quick steps take the minotaur to the flimsy male. It stoops and thrashes its head, lifts him on its horns with ease. It flings him far out into the surf.
The man hurts, gasps for air--but he refuses to cry out. He swims--forever he swims against the receding tide until he heaves his exhausted body onto the beach.
His heart lurches against his rib cage, plotting frantic escape. The sun pours molten rays over him, joining forces with his fatigue, bakes fate into a hard, impenetrable ceramic shell.
And yet he must coalesce the vestiges of his will, he must defy the fatigue, the sun, the pain, the impossibility. He must rise to accept the truth of this monstrosity just long enough to vanquish it.
REALITY ERROR: Abort, Retry, Fail? Abort"Forget it, Ray. There are some things I just can't--just won't do--"
"You got a better idea, Schrö dinger? No way out, Rio, my man--if you don't mend the tear in the continuum, who will?"
G. L. Eikenberry (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a frequent InterText contributor who works as a freelance information systems and communications consultant in Canada. He's been writing fiction for more than twenty years. His work has been published in a wide (often obscure and mostly Canadian) variety of hard-copy publications as well as in electronic media.
InterText stories written by G. L. Eikenberry: "Eddie's Blues" (v3n5), "Reality Error" (v4n2), "The Loneliness of the Late-Night Donut Shop" (v4n4), "River" (v5n1), "Oak, Ax and Raven" (v6n2), "Schrödinger's Keys" (v7n1).
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 4, Number 2 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1994 G. L. Eikenberry.