6047 words (24 minute read)

Chapter One

You could learn a lot about someone just by watching the way they move. My mentor taught me these words, and though they came in many different forms on many different occasions, they always ruminated from the same source. Now, as my years fade into dusk, I feel I must tell you the story of how this wisdom came to pass. Be warned, the tale is incredible, and with all that I will share, you may not trust me for more than a moment. But if you choose to spend the time, I promise to speak the whole truth, no more, and certainly no less. My mentor’s name was Lauro, and some knew him as the mentalist of Hammond Bay. Whatever you learn of him here, he was a fraud; of that, there can be no mistake.

In a bar in the year twenty-eighty-three, a woman subconsciously withdraws a cigarette. Perhaps deep inside she knows of the restrictions because there is a moment where it hangs absently from her lips. it is a moment and no more, as a match light brings its orange flash, and the reaction begins. She brings the smoke in and out before she realizes what she’s done. And as she comes about, she hesitates, if only for courtesy, and glances around the room. Her search makes eye contact with a woman two seats down. There is a look about the woman, something that should concern her, but the connection is short and whatever she sees, whatever guilt she feels if any, passes. She brings the smoke in again and settles back on her stool.

An automated bartender rolls past the smoker and pours a drink to Claudia, the woman two seats down. As it rolls, the movement of the air allows the smoke to invade her space. It hits her nose, tough, thick, sweet, and it gives her reason. Though the smoker is unaware, Claudia has watched her movements for over a week. She set an intricate path that led to this exact moment, a mouse trap. When the woman lifted her cigarette without a thought, Claudia knew it would happen. She could have set her watch to it.

You will have to trust me when I say that Claudia is the kind of person that you can never truly know. She is a survivor. I’ll tell you that much, but she can be many things when she wants to be. To all but the most trained ear, she will speak lies in the form of truth. To all but those who know the ways of the body, she will emote one way but feel another. To know one would betray knowing any other, and she is many. One learns her the same way one acquaints themselves with a hot shower. To move too quickly is to be burned.

 To the smoker, she is sympathetic, and it is all part of her plan, an escalation. She shifts over to touch the woman’s arm. The woman’s muscles twitch in shock and she looks at Claudia. There is fear in her eyes, as if she is about to witness her own execution.

“You cannot smoke in here,” says Claudia. She speaks innocently, pretends that it is not common knowledge. It’s all just a mistake.

Claudia's words are unexpected, and the woman relieved, curses under her breath. "Gods, you scared me so bad. What's the matter with you?"

Claudia is dressed strangely for her age. She appears to be in her thirties, but she resembles a war pilot, tightly pressed outfit, bomber jacket adorned with markings, yet the war's been over for five years. No planes fly in this area anymore. "What are you? Some kind of law-hound. You going to turn me in?"

Claudia sets her drink down and stands up to face the woman. “I've asked you nicely. Do the right thing.”

The change in tone and stance sets the woman back a bit. Claudia has revealed no weapon, but the woman feels a threat. Her observations of Claudia are changing. Claudia's age, the clothes, the way she moves, could she be from one of those gangs you see on the news or hear about in idle gossip? The kind that dress in uniforms and stalk the streets preying on bums and drunks after closing time? Will she be the next victim? It is the afternoon, surely she is safe.

A man enters and sits two seats down on the other side of the woman. He does not seem to be aware of the confrontation. The woman glances at his face and she recognizes him from the area, but she does not know him well enough. She wonders if this will be her end, brought down in a bar in the presence of a familiar stranger.

Claudia's lips turn a hint of a grin as she moves her hand forward, slow and deliberate. The woman breaks. She drops the cigarette as she scrambles for her belongings. Claudia has pushed the woman's resolve to the point where she is clay. She plans to take her now, quietly, somewhere dark where she can relieve her of her belongings. It is the way of the world, thinks Claudia. Only the strongest survive. She sees the man, but he is a mere complication. It is no matter. She can be skillful enough to whisk the woman away and look as no more than a concerned friend.

Before her hands touch the woman, the man reaches out, grabs the woman's arm and begins to lead her away. He is quick to act. In his movements, there is force, yet his touch is so gentle that she shifts with him effortlessly, like water bends in a pipe. Claudia recognizes these movements, the man is familiar to her too, and to her he is more than just a stranger.

The man speaks to Claudia without any sense of familiarity. “Leave this woman be,” he says. "Can't you see she is in no conditioned to be bothered. Go on!"

The actions give Claudia limited options. She backs off and signs a gesture of no harm as she returns to her seat. She will have her chance.

The man gestures to a line of booths against the wall. “Come, join me.” He leads her to one of the booths and they sit on opposite sides. He is a professional and the silence does not stay for long before he gets to work.

"May I?" He places her hand, palm facing up on the table and examines the lines. “You’re strong,” he says. “You are the load-bearing wall of your family... but there is something else. Something is causing you worry.” He speaks the words and it sounds like a revelation.

The woman is shaking. Her nerves are fragile from the encounter.

“You must relax. You have much on your mind, and you must be calm so I can help you. Go on, have a cigarette. I won't tell anyone.”

Uncertain, the woman reaches into her purse and brings another cigarette to her lips. She lights it, and the comfort of the thing brings her calm.

The woman listens, and he can tell that in this short moment she already feels that he knows her. That he can see into her soul and all her secrets are his. She must give information willingly to him. There is no other way.

“Your name. No. Don’t tell me.” says the man. “I want you to keep in in your mind. Just bring it up and repeat it over and over.” The man concentrates on her face. “It is Natalie."

"It is."

"My name is Lauro, and I have come here because I sensed you needed my help."

“Lauro.” She stumbles on the words, still feeling fragile. “It is nice to meet you.”

Lauro looks into her eyes. He focuses on her pupils, the dilation. He watches the subtle movements in the muscles of her face. “I can help you, but if you feel uncomfortable, I want you to know that you can leave at any time.” He pauses for a moment. He is always pausing, giving space to his words, inviting responses.

"Let's continue," says Natalie.

Lauro appears to examine Natalie's palm again, but he is looking at so much more. Her fingernails. The color of her skin and the whites of her eyes. Involuntary body movements. Her breathing. “I see you've had a health scare?”

Natalie nods.



“But everything is alright now?”

“Yes.” Natalie is consumed by the conversation. Now there is no room, no bar, just her and Lauro.

“This health scare has you thinking about someone. Someone you lost.” He watches her face. “No, not someone dead. Someone still living. Think about your relationship to this person. Your brother.”

He is right again. Natalie nods. “He is missing.”


Lauro nails every question, every statement with ease. He feels confident. How long since he has felt this sure? Months? Years? Yet, something comes to break his concentration. It moves in the corner of his eye and causes him to falter. It skitters in the shadows, just beyond the edge of his vision, and then he sees them. Rats. There is a big one on the edge of the booth. He scans upward without alerting Natalie. There are tens in the rafters. He knows they are coming for him. He knows Natalie can not see them. They are his alone, but when they reach her flesh, in his eyes, he will see them tear it, and then they will come to him. It is their trick to play.

Lauro continues. “I’m sensing a number. Seven. Yes, Seven. A date maybe? Something of significance?” Natalie's face twitches and Lauro knows he has a hit. “You know the significance of this number.”

The rats all seem to be coming down to where they sit. Lauro sees them in the corners of his vision.

“Seventy-First. He served with the Seventy-First platform, but he’s gone missing. We don’t know what happened to him.”

“Yes! Your brother is missing. What if someone could find him? What would that be worth to you?”

The possibility excites Natalie. Lauro sees the hope in her eyes. “Oh, everything. I’d giving what’s left of my savings to see him again.”

The rats are near. Lauro brings her in close to seal the deal. “Just as I knew your name, I know that you will see him again. That is if you trust me.”

“Yes! I trust you!”

“I can start out right away, but I need to cover my expenses of course.”

"Of course." Natalie begins to rummage in her purse and removes a credit stick. “I would not eat for a week so I could see my brother again.” She slides the stick forward. “Please help me.”

Lauro takes out his stick, and with a tone, money is transferred. “I accept.” He glances up and there is a rat reaching for Natalie’s shoulder. He is so close. He cannot afford to fail now. He springs from the booth and leads her with him. Her body is turned so that she can only see the exit. “Alright! Now listen carefully. There is a bad omen in this place. I sensed it when I walked in and it is getting stronger. I’m going to help you find your brother, but to do that, I need you to stay safe. This is important. There is a darkness coming for you. Do not turn around. Don’t look back. I need you to get out of here and do not return. Go home. Take care of yourself. I will find your brother, and I will bring him back to you. Do you understand?”

“I forgot my purse.”

“Do not turn around! You are in danger!” Lauro reaches back and feels fur. He shoves a rat off of Natalie's purse, brings it around, and places it into her hands. “Go now! Hurry! I will be in touch.”

Natalie nods, he is frightening her, but she heeds the words. She hurries out of the and is gone with a door chime.

Behind Lauro, there is a writhing sea of gray. It moves closer, threatening to consume him. He pockets his credit stick and he too is gone, out of the building, onto the streets.

Several of the rats follow Lauro outside. They are trailing him and now bats screech overhead and raccoons are near, giving him the eyes. Lauro picks up to a slight jog while the raccoons follow and Lauro thinks, little raccoon doesn’t care nothing about the advances of men, we could wipe ourselves off the face of the earth and it wouldn’t matter for you except the junk we leave behind. We could take you to space, put you on another planet and you wouldn’t say otherwise. He is a man, shouting at raccoons now, ones that only he can see.

He is brought on task by a lukewarm breeze. It is June after a long winter and the delayed spring is still trying to play catch-up. It affects the people too. They walk the street still trying to shake off the weight of hibernation, still wearing too many layers of clothes. Lauro tries, but he can barely remember last summer. It must have been a bad one. He goes like this, in and out. He follows the rhythm.

The animals are crowding him and now the bugs have joined chase.

Lauro tries his best to not attract any attention. He peeks down an alley. He often sees bears in the alleys, but this one is clear. He begins to move quicker. The faster he moves, rats, bats, raccoons, bugs, they all move with him. They keep pace and he knows if he doesn’t move faster they will overtake him. What season will it be then? Will he remember any of the summer? The cut down the alley brings him closer to his target. He moves sharply and bumps a woman on the shoulder. She staggers and he keeps moving. They critters are so close that they will have overtaken her by now. She does not know this, but Lauro cannot afford the distraction. The target is in sight and he is in full sprint. A black metal kiosk with bronze filigree is straight ahead.

He stops at the machine and the animals, the bugs, they all keep a distance. The machine is repellant to them. Lauro enters his credit stick and selects the words SIRAPINE from a list. The machine chimes to signify a complete transaction and a small white and blue inhaler drops into a tray. Within a moment, Lauro has it in his mouth. He takes it in and feels an immediate rush and watches as the rats, bats, raccoons, and bugs, all begin to disintegrate.

As the medicine works into his system, he feels a complacent haze wrap his body. He sees Claudia approach and flashes a dull smile in her direction. “Well, Hello! Good seeing you again.”

“Don’t give me good seeing you again! That was my mark!”

“Oh come on. Look at you. How long has it been? You didn’t look like you needed it.”

“Oh, I needed it alright. I’d been following her for a week, just waiting for my chance! I had her all rattled and ready to bust and you come in with all that mind-reader bullshit. You needed it? You don’t deserve it. You’ve been gone for a year. You call me in the morning, and next thing I see you taking my mark.”

“I called you this morning?”

“Yes, you called me! How off are you? Did you even check the name on the stick, or did your mind just tell you who the woman was.”

Lauro pulls his stick and reviews the recent transfers. “Natalie Rachmaninoff. Well, I’ve hit high above my class today.”

“What is the matter with you?” Claudia looks Lauro in the eyes and sees the wear of his body. Bloodshot. Skin aged beyond his years. Sickness. “The gods, what the hell happened to you?”

“I’ve been traveling, I think.”

“Some travels.” Claudia pauses for a moment. She is processing. “Listen, it’s clear you do need something. Give me half.”


“I bated the hook. I deserve half.”

“You can forget about that.”

“Give me half, and we’ll call it even. Look, I can tell you are sick, but that reminds me of another lead I’ve been working. Come with me and we can talk about it.” 

“I can tell you later. When was the last time you ate?”

“I don’t know. Dinner maybe?”

“Alright, let’s get something to eat, and then we can talk.” Claudia comes close to Lauro. “Come on. Let’s be friends again?” She nears and slides her stick past his. A soft vibration signifies success. Check. Dinner is on her tonight.

They walk for a bit and end at a diner. Above the entrance, there is an old sign of a smiling sun, and on each point of the sun there a light bulb. Three of the bulbs have been smashed. Outside a group is arguing. It looks uneven. A man in and a woman in shabby clothing against a man in a bright red suit. Lauro thinks, maybe it is even, if not for body count then in resolve, but as he walks past, he focuses on their faces, the way they move. He tries to get a read for the conversation even though he cannot hear the words. Lauro and Claudia enter the diner and he makes sure to sit where he can still see them. Claudia’s back is turned. Lauro orders a hamburger and Claudia orders eggs.

“Arguments like that are a common sight lately,” says Claudia. “It has been tense. Some are saying there will be another war.”

Lauro continues to watch the bodies. “No. No way. No one wants to do that again. The last one didn’t solve anything, just more poor, still less jobs, still more machines doing the jobs that are available. Fighting isn’t going to solve all that, not while we have the government sending us credits ever other week.”

“Not enough credits, and people rather work. People don’t like laying about all day dreaming of jobs. They are restless. People want to work hard and get more, not survive with no chance of getting ahead.”

“It’s better than starving.”

“It’s not good enough. You and I know that. It is why we do what we do.”

“And you suddenly care about the people? That’s why you spend your days cleaning out accounts.”

“I have my reasons, what about you?”

“You’re looking at my reasons.”

Claudia looks down at the table, rather than see Lauro’s face any longer. They have known each other for so long and she remembers when the times were more kind. “Alright. Listen. I need someone who’s willing to go the distance on this one, and I think I have a good reason for you. I’ve have lead, but it is going to take some capital and luck. Have you heard anything about the city of the west?”

“Not really?”

“No one has. I heard that they are keeping it that way. That there is a big wall where they are keeping people out. But on the other side of that wall, there is a good reason, jobs, medical care, housing. It’s some kind of experiment designed to see if people can live like they used to live. They keep the ratio so if a person needs a job, a machine will not do it. Equilibrium.”

“Even if that’s real, I bet there’s security on that wall. What do you think they’d do to people that try to sneak in?”

“I’m still working on that part, but there is something in it for you. You look sick as hell.”


“Well, it’s true, but that’s the reason you might want to come along with me, aside from the obvious.” Claudia opens a bag slung down her side, pulls a wrinkled paper, and hands it to Lauro.

Lauro reads aloud, “Dr. Schwartz’s Medical Magica. I’ve heard of him. The doctor can cure any ailment. You don’t see ads for this guy anymore. He probably got sacked in the war.”

“No, look at that address. That would put him right where we want to go. It’s real.” Claudia leans in. “Listen, you look worse than the last time I saw you. You need help and that drug you are taking isn’t going to last forever. What happens when the world swallows you up? Where are you going to be? Who are you going to hurt?”

Lauro and Claudia’s food comes across on a conveyor belt. They take the trays. Lauro is still looking at the group outside. It seems to be heating up.

“Hey, something about that woman from earlier,” says Lauro. “She was looking for a brother. Said he was part of the Seventy-First platform. Have you ever heard of anything like that?”

“Seventy-First? I didn’t think they went that high. Highest I ever saw was the Fifty-Fourth.”

“Huh. She said he’d gone missing since the war and she was looking for him. She had a lot more on that stick than anyone should have and she said she’d pay a lot more to find him. You think there is anything to that?”

“Hard to say. Do you think she just got that number wrong?”

“I’d say no. I had her pretty loose. She was dumping all kinds of information on me.”

“So you’re thinking about actually helping someone out?”

“Well, I don’t know about that, but if it is a simple find and return that could keep me, us, set for a good while. You could deal with your reasons, whatever.”

“I could send out some feelers, but I’ve never heard of anything like that. I suppose it’s worth a look, but what do you say? Do you want to help me find a way past that wall?”

“If there is a wall? Sure. What do I have to lose?”

The argument outside begins to get physical. Lauro focuses on the the group and Claudia notices his focus.

“Don’t go out there. That’s not your fight. Nothing good is going to come from that.”

Lauro continues to look. There is something in the shabby woman’s hand. Lauro gets up from the table and is outside in moments. “Look out!” he yells and the woman reveals a hidden blade and thrusts it at the man in the red suit. Lauro’s warning gives him enough chance to dodge. Lauro kicks the shabby man into the woman and her blade is sent out into the street. The attention on him gives the man in the red suit time to hide. Claudia exits the doors behind him and runs.

“Hey!” Lauro yells to Claudia. “Where are you going?”

The shabby man and woman close in and begin punching and kicking Lauro. The woman yells, “What do you care about the life of an upper-class slime.”

“Middle-class,” says the main in the suit.

“Shut up!” says the woman. The two continue to focus on Lauro. He tries to defend, but cannot counter the blows. A clean shot hits him in the ribs and rattles him. He falls to the ground.

An alarm sounds and the shabby couple relent. The woman spits on Lauro. “You should be ashamed of your actions.” The man kicks Lauro in the stomach one more time and they flee. The alarm is ringing, the loud buzz rattles Lauro’s head in bursts. Buzz. Pause. Buzz. It is a heartbeat. It is disorienting. The man in the suit grabs the discarded knife from the street and then helps Lauro up. Seconds later Claudia is there behind the wheel of a white-silver hatchback. She reaches over and pushes the door open. “You two. Get in.”

Lauro and the man hurry into the car. Lauro takes the front seat and the man takes the back. The doors are closed and Claudia is off. For several turns they are silent as they speed away from the scene. Claudia speaks a command into the dashboard and takes her hand off the wheel. The wheel descends into the dash and the chairs rotate to face the back. It is a self driver.

Claudia turns to Lauro, “What the hell is wrong with you getting involved like that?”

The man chimes in. “I would personally like to thank him for stepping in. If not for him, I think my suit would be ruined with the stains of blood.”

Claudia gives the man a look. “We could have all been killed back there. You don’t know the situation.”

Lauro is sweating and sore. “I could read the situation. They were scared. I made the right choice.” He looks around. “Where did you get this car from?”

“That’s not for you to know.” Claudia turns to the man. “What’s your name?”

“I am Cicero. I am only visiting for business and I didn’t expect for the citizens to be so hostile.”

“Where are you from that you don’t know people to behave like this? You can just walk down the street in a suit and not expect to be hassled.”

“I’m from the north.”

“He’s lying,” says Lauro. “He’s from the west.”

“The west? Like the city of the west, west?” asks Claudia.

“No! I said the north.”

“That’s not what your eyes told me,” said Lauro. “You are a liar and after I took a beating for you.”

Cicero relents. “Fine! You’ve got me. I am from the west. It is the least I can say. I came her as a salesman. I sell wine. Just let me get out of this terrible place!”

“No. You’re going to help us get to the west,” says Claudia.

“I cannot!”

“How else do you expect to get back there? There are no trains that will take you. No one even knows what the west is like here. Do you think you can get transport? How did you get here?”

“I was flown!”

“Trust me. I know. Planes don’t fly out of here. If you want to get out of here you find a monorail or you get a car, and neither is going to happen with the way you are dressed. Whoever sent you on this trip intended it to be one-way.”


“It is true, but we could help you get back. Show us where it is and we will take you.”

Cicero slumps his shoulders and looks to the ground. “Is this true? Mario, you bastard.” Cicero looks at the two. “My brother. He sent me here. He wants to have the wine all to himself. I know it. Greedy. You want into the west. Two enter two gotta leave. You’re going to help me get Mario removed. Give him a taste of his own medicine and then you can take his place.”

“That’s only one person,” says Lauro.

“I can find another. Don’t you worry. You want in to the city of the west. I’ll get you in and then I’ll have my revenge.”

They drive for several minutes through the city. Lauro looks out the window and sees people standing in line for food. Lauro gestures to it. “This is the way it was when I was a kid, only people stood in line for work. Now there are no jobs. Only machines doing jobs while the world is hungry. Do you see how it is out here. This is why people on the street are angry.”

“But, I am not much different from you. I just come from a different place.”

“They don’t know that. The west, the way you live. It is a myth to them. This is all they know.”

They drive in silence. Cicero stares out the window. The car pulls up to a small house and the three get out. Behind the house a field stretches to a vast overgrown forest.

“This is my home. It was built on top of the home of my grandfather.”

“What is with the forest in the back?” says Cicero. “I thought all of this area had been taken by development?”

“That is a preserve. Twenty years ago, this whole neighborhood burned down. That area was undeveloped then and where everything burned that was all that was left. Now it remains untouched.”

The three enter the house and Claudia begins to pack some essentials for the trip.

Cicero stands at the doorway. “Will we be leaving soon?”

“No. It’s going to get dark soon and we don’t want to travel when it is dark.”

“What will I do? I left most of my things at the hotel.”

“You’re going to have to get used to wearing that suit tonight. We can get your things on the way out of town. Do you have any money?”


“Alright, you’re going to need it for the ride. I’m not taking care of you. And you might want to keep the coat off when you are outside, maybe rough your shirt and pants up a little bit, unless you want to attract more unwanted attention.”

Cicero sighs. “Alright, my new unlikely friends. I did not think that my day would end like this, but without you it could have been much worse. I’ve kept this one case by my side and I feel I must share. As I told you before. I am a seller of wine and I have some of the best right here with me. I am hungry and if you provide the food I will share with you some of the most delicious drink you have ever tasted.”

Lauro is already making himself home in the kitchen when he hears this. “Claudia! Everything is just as I remembered it here. You really don’t change much. I will prepare the meal and then we will drink the wine.”

“Don’t be a fool, Lauro,” says Claudia. The device in the corner will prepare whatever we want to eat, just let it do its job.”

“Nonsense, where we go there may not be these luxuries! And besides, the food will taste much better if I cook it.”

Lauro takes chicken, potatoes, and butter from the refrigerator and grabs a pot and a knife from storage. Cuts the chicken and potatoes into thin slices and throws the butter in the pan. He fries the potatoes and chicken together adding spice and tasting the potatoes along the way. When he is done he serves three plates and it does not taste better than a device-prepared dinner.

“What do you think?” says Lauro.

Claudia tries to chew the tough meat. “It’s bad.”

“And I think now is a good time to break out the wine!” says Cicero. “I can pair this nicely.” Cicero opens his case which contains four bottles of wine bound securely. He looks at the four and says, “Ah yes. Here is the one for us, Twenty-Sixty-Three.”

“That was a hell of a year,” says Claudia with food in her mouth.

Lauro nods as he tries to swallow. “Seems to run in a cycle like that.”

“I don’t understand,” says Cicero.

“That’s not important to someone from the west. This city has a funny thing about years that end in threes. Twenty-Sixty-Three was the year this neighborhood burned down.”

“Twenty-Seventy-Three was the start of the civil war, not far from where we met you.”

“I see,” says Cicero. “So do you think that opening this bottle will bring good tidings or bad?”

“I say you open in and we find out,” says Lauro.

So Cicero opens the bottle and they drink. It seems to be a larger bottle than either Lauro or Claudia are used to because the drinks continue to flow through the night. The food, though tough, disappears and they all get very drunk. Before long, Cicero is singing a song he learned and spilling too much information about the city in the west.

“—And we come upon this field my brother and I and these machines are setting to it. These machines are making the wine and selling it. Big complicated things. And so I tell my brother. You and I. We should be selling this wine. We should be owning this wine and in the west if you want a job and a machine has it. You take it. So we take the fields and we begin to sell the wine. My brother watches the books and I travel and sell the wine. We’re still working for the man that owns it but he knows that we can sell better than a machine ever could. A machine cannot travel, cannot relate, and he says ‘I am getting too old for this, show me you can sell to the east show me how far you can build the empire and I will take my cut and retire. You two will own all of the wine.’ We do this. I have been traveling since there and back, always edging closer to where I am now. And now I see my brother the bastard he keeps telling me, ‘Go! Go! Go to the east Cicero and we will be rich!’” Cicero hangs his head low and tears begin to form. “You bastard Mario. You’ve played me as a fool. I will show you who is the better brother!” And Cicero stands up and flashes the blade that he stole from the shabby woman. “I will cut him!”

The sudden outburst from the man that was a stranger shocks Claudia and Lauro.

“Whoa! Whoa!” says Claudia. “Put the knife away Cicero. Now is not the time to flash weapons! Lauro, I thought you had an eye for things like that.”

“I am too drunk!” proclaims Lauro loudly.

Cicero shifts the blade and hands it to Claudia, handle first. “I am sorry. I am out of line and I am a guest in your house. Take the blade as a sign of trust.”

Claudia takes the blade and puts it away. “That’s fine, but give us some kind of sign before you pull a knife on someone, alright.”

Cicero tries to nod. It is more of a bob as his eyes flutter and then he begins to sing a song at the top of his lungs. “The west is the best! The land I call home—”

Lauro leans over to Claudia. “Are you going to be ok with this guy. I need to step out for a minute.”

“I’ll be fine. I’ve survived just fine without your help. You forget where I’ve come from. Go on. He’s too drunk to be a threat anyway.”

“And you?”

“I’m fine. You are the drunk one.”

Confident, Lauro steps out of the room, down the hallway and to the bathroom where he urinates for what feels like a very long time. There is a mirror where he can see his face the whole time and the looks at the image and thinks, I look drunk. Gods look at my face. What a mess I am. Do I think drunk? Maybe I do, but would I be too drunk to know? He sways a bit and he is certain he missed the toilet for some of that exchange. He tries to grab some toilet paper and clean the mess on the floor. He is dizzy and he is uncertain if he has done a good job. He knows he has done a job, but that is all. He checks his credit stick. The balance is near zero and he laughs. Claudia has him. 

I should get some fresh air, he thinks, and he stumbles out the bathroom, down the hall and out the backdoor. The forest looks nice at this time of night. I wonder if I’ll find any raccoons. He wanders forward past the large tree in the backyard, past an old fire pit, down the way away from the house, down a path, through a field, until he reaches the entrance to the forest. He feels determined and then he says in a voice too loud for its intentions, “This will be a good adventure,” as he stumbles forward into the dark.