John gone, p.16
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       John Gone, p.16

           Michael Kayatta
 

  Chapter 13

  As John pulled into The Napoli, he looked at his watch. It was a little past two in the afternoon. He sighed. There was no time to tackle a conversation with his mother before his next jump.

  As he approached Ronika’s door, he looked down at her welcome mat before knocking. There’s no place like 127.0.0.1.

  The first thing I do is go home, he promised, the second I get back, if I get back at all.

  Ronika opened the door and stood in the doorway like a wall.

  “You’re back,” she said stonily.

  “I am,” he responded, not sure why they were having this conversation outside.

  Ronika lightly bobbed her head as if rolling a decision around the inside of it. Eventually, she rolled her eyes, shrugged and moved from the entry. John walked through, puzzled by the small encounter they’d just shared.

  “That was, like, eleven hours,” she said to him.

  “I--” he began.

  “He slept for almost all of the that,” Kala interjected quickly.

  Ronika’s body tensed.

  “Outside in the grass,” Kala clarified.

  “Why did you do that?” she asked.

  “I was more tired than I thought,” John explained.

  “Did you get some quality time with your girlfriend at least?” Ronika asked passively, sitting at her computer and resuming the video game his knock had apparently interrupted.

  “We broke up,” John said quietly. “We saw each other for five minutes and we broke up.” He took his place on the couch and looked up at her ceiling fan as it spun. He tried to follow one blade with his eyes, round and round, until he couldn’t. Feeling dizzy, he looked down to the carpeting.

  Ronika closed her game and swiveled her chair around to face him. Her eyes appeared sad, but the rest of her expression was more difficult to read.

  “I’m sorry, man,” she said plainly. “That sucks.”

  “Thanks,” he replied.

  “What about your mom?”

  “If I don’t have long enough to explain all of this, I’m afraid it’ll just make things worse,” he replied. “I’ll go next time.”

  “Sounds like I’m not going to see you much before--” she said, stopping before finishing the thought.

  “You’ll be with me the whole time,” John said, jumping into the silence she left. “Or Mouse will anyway, right?”

  “Not this time, John,” she said. “Mouse can’t go with you this time.”

  “Why not?” John asked, standing quickly from the couch.

  “He’s broken. I must have hit something when I was reattaching his arm. I can’t get Mouse to hold a charge for more than a second. I need a whole new power source,” she explained. “Then I need to replace some of the wires.”

  “Let’s go to Radio Shack or something!” John exclaimed. “Come on, we have time.”

  “No, John,” she said. “This is specialty stuff. I ordered it off the internet with the fastest shipping possible, but its still not here.”

  “You mean, I’m going alone?” he asked.

  “I’m sorry, John,” Ronika said sincerely, “I don’t know what else I can do. I don’t know how I broke it.” She began to cry.

  John was confused, but felt somehow guilty for the tears. He ran to her chair and bent down on his knees to hug her.

  “Ronika,” he said.

  “I just,” she managed between sniffles, “I don’t want you to go out there by yourself, but I can’t fix it. You might not even, I mean, this is the fourth. Things are getting worse.” She wiped her running nose with the back of her hand.

  “He won’t be alone,” Kala said. “I’ll be there with him.”

  John forced a smile and nodded in agreement with the hologram, trying to abate her fears. She looked at John’s face, then at Kala. She started crying again.

  An hour later, John woke on top of a wooden toilet seat without Mouse in his bag. He considered running his hand beneath him, but decided against it after remembering the unwelcome dampness of the public Port-a-Potty’s seat a day before. Instead, he sat patiently for a few minutes, then opened his eyes and looked around the room. Unsurprisingly, it was another bathroom.

  I’m in a house, John thought. And a really nice house by the look of things.

  He felt comforted by the normalcy of the location despite his run-in with Adam the last time he’d appeared in someone’s home. Regardless of what situation awaited him on the other side of that door, he knew he could deal with it better in a living room than on the deck of a boat, or seated precariously in the back of an open-bed truck.

  “You made it,” Kala said, his hologram seated on an unseen chair. His arms were crossed over his chest and his face wore a tired smirk.

  “What do you mean?” John asked, sniffing a nearby bowl of colorful potpourri.

  “As I told you, we have no idea how far the watch will take you with each jump. If it goes too far, it will kill you,” Kala said plainly. “I was, therefore, merely pointing out that I am glad it did not.”

  John decided against engaging in that particular discussion. “So,” he said instead, “what do your remarkable powers of deduction tell you about where we are?”

  “Judging by the room, its architecture, design, and contents,” Kala answered austerely, “I can confidently conclude that we are squarely in the middle of a restroom of some kind.”

  “Yeah, but where?” John asked.

  “I have no idea. I’m not a magician, Mr. Popielarski,” Kala said. “Why don’t you pop your head out there and find out for yourself.”

  “Fine,” John said, sighing. “Just you and me this time, huh?”

  “I’m afraid so.”

  John walked to the door and slowly turned its golden knob. After briefly peering out from its side, he stepped past it into the long, well-furnished corridor outside. The hallway was empty, but the sounds of muffled voices held faint in the distance. He looked to his feet, and found them standing on a red carpet adorned with golden-colored inserts along its sides.

  Framed portrait paintings of important-looking men were patterned along the wall in front of him, some with small animals in their laps sitting as austerely as their owners. Between the frames were ornate candelabra jutting from ornate golden fixtures. Each candelabrum held three sticks, and each stick supported a small, controlled flame.

  John approached one of the candles and blew it out. “More snobs,” he commented. “Like the boat.”

  “Either that or we’ve time traveled to the Victorian era,” Kala responded. John froze in place, terrified. “Oh, don’t be so absurd. I was joking,” Kala said, “That would be impossible ... ”

  John shook his head in annoyance and followed the hallway to his right.

  “ ... with your current equipment,” Kala finished quietly.

  As John walked further down the corridor he passed seven other doors, each closed shut with a golden-colored doorknob. The sound of voices was getting louder, though he was still having trouble understanding anything specific.

  He reached the top of a circling staircase and spied a man with a thin mustache working his way to the top.

  “Lights out,” John said.

  “Roger,” Kala responded, turning off his visualization.

  The man in the mustache reached the top of the stairs and stopped in front of John. John stood silent, waiting for him to speak. The man with the mustache did the same.

  After a few moments of awkward silence, the man was starting to look impatient and spoke. “Puis-je vous aider?” he asked.

  John’s eyes grew wide. After a few moments, he replied the best he could. “No?” he asked, unsure of what the man had said.

  The mustachioed man shrugged and continued past John down the hallway. Once gone from earshot, John spoke quietly to Kala.

  “France. I’m in France,” he said.

  “Yes, I think that’s a fair assumption,” Kala responded, invisible.

&
nbsp; “Just great,” John said, meaning the opposite. He walked slowly down the long, circling staircase. “You know,” he said smugly, “Ronika speaks fluent French.”

  “As do I,” Kala responded casually. “As well as other languages common to the area, Bourguignon-Morvandiau, Lorrain, Champenois, and Walloon. Well, much of Walloon, anyway.”

  “Seriously?” John exclaimed. “How am I the only one who doesn’t speak French?”

  Kala didn’t respond.

  “Well, you’ll have to translate for me.”

  “Yes, that will go over very well,” Kala said. “Nothing better to keep you incognito than an English-speaking watch hologram.”

  “Shhh,” John said, “there are people ahead.”

  “Exactly my point.”

  “Shhh.”

  John walked downstairs into a large foyer. A massive crystal chandelier hung above from the ceiling. A few people were hastily walking in and out of the area, most moving toward somewhere farther back in the house.

  Suddenly, a young giggling boy crashed into John and hid briefly behind his legs. Another man, worried and tired-faced, walked swiftly toward the boy while repeating “Arrête!” between heavy breaths. The small boy let go of John’s pants and ran toward the back of the room. The worried man followed begrudgingly.

  John kept moving at the door near the back he’d seen the others funneling toward. He put his hand over the handle, looked left and right quickly, and walked inside.

  He found himself suddenly in a kitchen, mammoth in size and scope. Its scale was so immediately impressive that he turned his watch around the room so Kala could see it for himself. The doctor counted ten burners, two large ovens, two very large ovens, four identical toasters next to two identical toaster ovens, three different blocks of expensive-looking knifes, four of each size of pot and pan, two refrigerators, one massive stand-alone freezer that opened from the top, one small microwave in the corner, two commercial-grade dishwashers, six sinks, and an incalculable number of wine glasses in a variety of shapes and sizes seated in low-hanging wooden blocks above the countertops.

  There were a number of younger people in the room as well, dressed in stark black and white grab, preparing foods and taking them through the back door on large silver serving trays.

  John slipped through the kitchen unnoticed, shadowing a server all the way through to the back door. The exit led him outside to a flat, grassy field. He was surprised for a moment by the star-littered sky above it before remembering the change in time zone. A wide white tent stood twenty yards in front of him housing what must have been 150 people, each lit well by the many bright paper lanterns hanging from the structure’s edges. Most of the people sat in groups of eight around square wooden tables dressed in white tablecloths. Servers buzzed between groups delivering food, clearing plates, serving wine, emptying crystal ashtrays, and refilling the pitchers of ice water and lemon slices that sat center of each table.

  John was pleased to see people his own age dressed somewhat similarly to his own attire, allowing him to walk safely disregarded into the party. He moved toward the left end of the tent where the attendees were fewer and looked for a place to sit, maybe eat, and hopefully remain anonymous.

  Two cool fingers lightly touched the side of his neck from behind. John jumped at the touch and whirled around to find a girl of similar age standing behind him in a plain yellow sundress that whipped against her body in the light breeze moving through the tent. Her hair was brown and full, bouncing in large rings against her shoulders as she cocked her head to the side. He decided immediately that she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen.

  “Bonjour. Qui êtes-vous?” she asked, smiling.

  Knowing he couldn’t answer anyway, John took advantage of the few moments he had of the girl’s attention and looked alternately between her eyes and mouth. Her eyes were wide and friendly, circled in a dark black liner. Her mouth was small, made from raspberry lips. John wished that she would speak again so he could watch them move.

  “I don’t know you,” she said in a thick, but warm French accent.

  He was surprised, but happy to hear the familiar words. “I’m John,” he answered. “You speak English?”

  She smiled. “A little, yes,” she answered. “You are family?”

  “I have a family,” he answered, trying to determine the meaning of her question.

  She chuckled at his response. “Yes,” she said, “but not this one?”

  “Oh, these people?” John pointed his finger across the occupants of the tent. “No, I don’t have any family here.”

  “Then why are you here?” she asked, taking a distinct step closer to him.

  “I’m just visiting,” he answered.

  “But this is a family, eh ... together. Where the family comes together.”

  “A reunion?” John asked. “A family reunion?”

  The girl shrugged.

  “Yeah, it’s a family get-together. I understand,” he said.

  “So, no French?” she asked.

  “No, sorry.”

  “But this is France?”

  “I know.”

  She looked puzzled. “So, who are you?”

  “John,” he answered.

  “America?”

  “Florida.”

  “Okay, Funny, come sit,” she said. The girl took him lightly by the arm and led him to a table nearby where two other teens were already seated. They glanced at John as he sat, but only for a moment before quickly losing interest and returning to their conversation. The girl in the yellow sundress sat down next to him.

  “My name is Amandine,” she spoke to his ear. He loved the way she said her name. “That is my father,” she continued.

  “Who?” John asked.

  Amandine pointed to a thin man in a light jacket at the other end of the tent. He was standing from his chair with a wineglass in hand.

  “This is his house,” she said.

  “It’s a nice house.”

  She nodded in agreement. “How did you get here?” she asked.

  Amandine’s father tapped his fork against the side of his glass loudly. Once the crowd quieted, he began to speak.

  “What’s he saying?” John whispered.

  “Thanks to all the Abercrombies for coming and sharing food,” she said, tilting an ear to her father’s words.

  “Like the clothes?” John asked.

  “Clothes?” she repeated.

  “Never mind.”

  “He says that it is important to be together. That we should not need events to be together.” She listened to another few sentences. “He’s just being boring now.” She giggled.

  A loud clang sounded from the kitchen. It was the noise of pots and pans colliding, possibly with the floor or each other. The sound interrupted Amandine’s father, who turned and looked toward the door. John tensed. The man turned back and continued speaking to the crowd.

  “What did he say?” John asked frantically.

  “A joke that meat was fighting back with the chefs. I am sorry, I do not know how to tell it well in English,” she explained.

  “No, I know what that sound is,” John said quickly. “I know exactly what that sound is. You need to come with me. We have to go. Now.”

  “Please, slow down,” she urged.

  Two men appeared from the kitchen door, one with dark hair, the other with blond. John grabbed Amandine’s arm.

  “Those men, they’re killers. They’ll kill you, me, and everyone here. You have to show me the best place out of here. We have to run. Hide. Both,” John whispered, slinking down in his chair.

  “They what?” the girl asked, pulling her arm sharply from his grasp.

  “Those two people,” John said slowly, “are going to kill your family.” He made the shape of gun with his hands and performed a shooting motion into the crowd.

  “Are you telling the truth?” she asked, shocked by his words.

  “Yes!” John exclaimed.
“You don’t recognize them as family do you?”

  “I don’t recognize you as family either,” she answered sharply.

  “Trust me.”

  Suddenly, the girl stood and screamed something in French at the top of her lungs. Her father turned and looked at the men approaching his tent. He asked them something in a demanding voice. The dark-haired man didn’t reply. The blond-haired man coughed briefly before looking to the dark-haired man for instructions. Amandine yelled something else to her father.

  “I don’t speak French!” John exclaimed.

  “She’s not talking to you,” Kala said. “Anyhow, she’s simply repeating what you told her to her father and the crowd. I’m predicting a fantastic diversion for you to make your escape through momentarily. I suggest you take it with haste.”

  The doctor’s prediction was accurate, and the large French family stood panicked in near-unison upon hearing Amandine’s worried announcement. Frightened squeals and angry yelling consumed the air within the tent. People began moving hurriedly from their tables. The frightened ones moved out from the sides as the angry ones rushed forward toward the men in grey suits. The sound of glass breaking took John’s attention to someone’s table tipping over in front of him.

  “Please trust me and come with me,” John said to the girl. It was his final attempt to save her. If she didn’t come now, he knew he’d have to go alone.

  Before she could answer, the loud rattle of automatic gunfire overshadowed the commotion. Short, controlled spurts of bullets shot into the crowd, downing the first wave of men who’d stepped forward. High-pitched screaming competed with the sound of gunfire through the massacre.

  “And now they have machine guns,” John said. “I have to go, with or without you. Last chance.”

  Amandine stood still, watching more members of her extended family drop to the ground dead or wounded. She eyed one woman in particular, hit in the arm and struggling on the ground crying and squirming. As Amandine moved a foot forward, a well-placed spray of bullets entered the lady’s chest and silenced her instantly. Amandine’s stunned trance died with the woman in front of her. She grabbed firmly onto John’s arm and pulled him away from the tent.

  “Okay, come with me now,” she said.

  John didn’t argue and let her pull guide his run.

  What was I doing even sitting down with this girl? John thought. I knew those men were coming. What was I doing sitting down at all? More people dead because of me. This whole family, dead because of me. Generations of possible Abercrombies dead because of me.

  The sound of gunfire continued behind them, but grew fainter as John and Amandine gained more distance from the tent.

  He berated himself frantically as they ran. And now I’ve endangered this girl who’s been nothing but nice to me. Maybe I should just go underground to the lab. It’s not just me; it’s all of these people. All of these lives on my shoulders.

  “Thank you,” Amandine said suddenly, a tear flying from her face in the wind as she ran. “Maybe some could get away, like we do now.”

  John said nothing.

  “And you saved my life, too.”

 
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