John gone, p.2
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       John Gone, p.2
 

           Michael Kayatta

  Chapter 2

  The sound began as a listless vibration buzzing past his eardrums. Soon, it grew to a muddled cacophony of tones: an air conditioner’s hum, what may have been the sound of rushing water, a voice. It was saying something John couldn’t understand.

  John straightened his back and forced open his heavy eyelids to a blur of lights and vague geometric shapes. His arm twitched; he could move again. He checked his wrist for the watch; it was still there. John lowered his arm, and his fingers touched a cold surface beneath his legs. Moving his hand against it revealed a shape and feel.

  How did I get on top of the toilet?

  It wasn’t long before John’s eyes could stay open without struggle. The oddity of his new surroundings was immediately apparent. The bathroom was completely different than it had been a moment ago. The décor had changed, and even stranger were the newfound fixtures, a large, curtained shower in front of him and a porcelain sink to his right.

  The shower was currently in use, and a wispy cloud of steam billowed from the opening at its top. The silhouette of a man cleaning himself stood behind its curtain, singing the refrain of a song John didn’t recognize. The stranger had a terrible voice for the song he was attempting--whatever it was--but that didn’t stop him from continuing on and on in forced falsetto.

  Acting as quietly as possible, John stood from the toilet and crept to his left where he spied a small window, closed but clear. He carefully approached it and stood on his toes to reach the glass. Just tall enough, he looked through the window and saw a fenced back yard, complete with a barbeque grill and child’s playhouse.

  The bathroom didn’t change, he suddenly realized. I’m just not there anymore.

  John looked behind him toward the bathroom door. A letter sat just beneath the fogged mirror hanging above the sink.

  This has got to be some sort of alien planet, he thought, taking soft, careful steps toward the letter. Or a parallel dimension where people eat Styrofoam and bugs run the post office. Or-- John paused his thoughts and picked up the envelope. The address of his location read clear across the front: Tallahassee, FL?

  John had never been to Tallahassee before. It was a solid 250 miles from Longboard. This new information had him more confused than ever.

  How long have I been out? he wondered. John looked at the watch: 3:15. Only a minute had passed since his collapse. That can’t be right.

  The door that led out of the bathroom had been left ajar, and John woefully decided it to be a better exit than the tiny window high on the wall. Timing his steps with the words of the showering man’s song, he crept to the door, taking a moment to pray that its hinges were well greased before summoning the courage to test them. One, two, three, and he opened the door just wide enough for his body to slink out into the connecting room.

  Safely on the other side, John swiftly returned the door to its original position and listened. The man in the bathroom was still singing. John smiled at his accomplishment. Ninja skills, he thought.

  Turning from the bathroom confidentially, John suddenly found himself face-to-face with an attractive woman sitting on the edge of a large bed. She was staring straight through him.

  “Adam?” she asked.

  John swept his eyes across the room.

  “What?” yelled the man in the bathroom, pausing his song to answer.

  “Oh, sorry,” she replied, “I heard the door. I thought you were coming out.”

  “I am,” he answered, turning off the shower. A few seconds later, the sink in the bathroom coughed to life.

  John stood petrified, not sure of what was happening. He was standing right before her; could she not see him? Am I invisible, too?

  He looked closely at the woman’s pale green eyes, still staring right through him, past him even. There was something about them that didn’t look right. Perhaps it was their shape, or maybe the slight scarring he thought he saw against the whites.

  Oh, he decided, she’s blind. John waved his hands in front of her eyes to make sure. He made a stupid face at her and danced with his arms to double check. With amazing reflex, the woman reached out and grabbed onto his right elbow.

  “There you are,” she said quietly.

  John jerked his arm from her grasp.

  “Oh, you want to play,” the woman cooed seductively.

  John looked toward the room’s exit to his right and longed to be there. He cautiously moved a foot toward it. The bottom of his shoe lightly brushed the carpet beneath its sole.

  “Can’t get away from me,” the woman said, purring the words. Her hand swiftly shot out at John once more, this time catching him between the legs.

  “You’re not Adam,” she said loudly.

  “What was that, sweetie?” Adam called from the bathroom. Less than a second later, the woman in front of John was screaming with a voice so shrill and shattering that his eyes squinted closed.

  “What the--” came Adam’s voice, rushing into the room with his body soon behind.

  “Let me explain,” John said to him frantically, not sure of how to address the man standing before him, angry, naked, and twice his size.

  “What are you doing to my wife?” the man yelled, pointing his finger down at John in righteous judgment.

  “Nothing!” John managed, “I was just--” Another of the woman’s screams soon cut him off.

  “He was trying to ... to ... touch me!” she yelled.

  “No! What? I wasn’t!” John stuttered, backing toward the exit.

  “He was what?” Adam yelled, charging headfirst at John. Bug-eyed and terrified, John quickly u-turned and ran for the bedroom door. The woman screamed again, her newest screech assaulting John’s ears even more harshly than the first.

  After dashing from the bedroom, John found himself at the end of a hallway. The walls on either side were lined in family photographs matching in size and brown wooden framing.

  Something sharp and forceful struck John between the shoulders. The impact sent him to his knees. Beside him on the ground was the projectile, one of the family portraits. In the picture, Adam was standing on a towel at the beach, his arm around a woman whom John recognized as the blind screamer from the bedroom. Between them was a small child. John smiled at the incredibly exaggerated grin the little one wore across her face. Then, another wooden frame collided with his leg.

  John looked back and saw Adam pursuing him, lumbering but determined, ripping pictures from the wall and flinging them forward as he ran. John leapt from the ground and continued running ahead, not sure of where to go.

  He decided to hook right at the hallway’s end, hoping to at least break vector with Adam’s missiles. Around the corner was a small kitchen, still dirty from breakfast.

  No, John thought quickly. Kitchen, bad. Kitchen has knives.

  He pivoted quickly on his heel, hoping to change course before becoming trapped by the man raging closely behind.

  As John turned, Adam leapt. The large man’s pounce earned him a quick grip on John’s left foot, and they both tumbled backward and tangled onto the carpeting below.

  John struggled to regain his footing, but was locked to the floor by Adam’s iron grip. The hold on John’s shoe became a hold on his leg, forcing him back down to the ground. The grip on his leg was soon a grip on his torso, and from his torso, his throat.

  Adam knelt on top of his trespasser and squeezed the boy’s neck.

  “I didn’t ... try ... to ... ” John coughed.

  “Save it!” Adam yelled, lifting his right hand from John’s throat. “Who takes advantage of a blind woman?” A moment later the hand returned as a fist, striking the side of John’s jaw with crushing impact. John had never been in a fight before, and easily decided that he wasn’t fond of it.

  John squinted his eyelids closed and open, closed and open, trying to recover from the blow. Adam lifted his hand once more to a striking position.

  With his arms pinned at the shoulders by Ada
m’s knees, John swiftly raised his right forearm and forced it past Adam’s leg, using the edge of the watch’s face to hew at the man’s skin. The resulting cut was trivial, but the surprise of it was enough to cause Adam to loosen his grip just long enough for John to break free from the pin and roll back onto his feet.

  “You’re a coward,” Adam taunted.

  “You’re the one throwing pictures of your family at the back of my head!” John retorted.

  Adam yelled incomprehensibly and jumped for John’s feet again. This time, the teen deftly jumped to the side, and used the small advantage to run from the kitchen into the family room nearby. He paused there and swung his head left and right, looking for an exit.

  Where’s the front door in this place? he wondered in exasperation. It was too late; Adam was already back on his feet, standing confidentially on the other side of the room in front of the house’s front door. Well, that answers that question.

  “Where’re you going?” the man asked snidely.

  “Let’s just calm down,” John tried. “You could put on some pants and we could talk about this. Something crazy happened to me. I don’t know how I got here.”

  Ignoring him, Adam slowly began to cross the room. John frantically looked around again, immediately taking notice of a large oval mirror hanging on the wall next to him. He lifted it from the nails mounting it and heaved it at the large wooden coffee table standing between his body and Adam’s. It shattered apart on impact.

  Adam covered his face and jumped back from the table. Once landed, he looked first at the broken mirror, then up to John. He laughed. “You either need better aim or bigger muscles.”

  John smiled. “There’s glass everywhere. You’ve got bare feet.”

  Adam looked down and saw that John was right. Small jagged shards of the mirror were scattered across the floor between them, with more almost certainly hiding in the carpet’s thick shag unseen.

  John offered Adam another smug smirk, earning a moment more to further survey the room. There were a set of stairs to his right that climbed to the second floor, equally far from him and Adam. It’s either up or out, he thought, and Adam’s still at the door.

  John’s thoughts were interrupted by a plastic CD case flying closely past his ear and crashing into the wall behind him. He turned back to the large naked man across the room and saw him pulling more jewel cases from a tall vertical rack beside him next to the room’s entertainment center.

  Soon a second and third disc flew at John’s chest, neither missing target. The hard, sharp plastic corners of their cases stung and cut as they made contact with the thin t-shirt protecting him. John successfully swatted the fourth case from the air before it could connect, but could do nothing to stop number five or six as one struck his knee and the other, his side. Two more sailed past John’s head, one just narrowly missing his nose.

  The blind woman ran into the room behind Adam and screamed again. A young girl, looking to be four or five-years-old, appeared at the top of the stairs to John’s right.

  “Daddy?” she asked.

  “Go back to your room!” Adam yelled in reply. “It’s not safe here right now!” The young girl toddled back out of view.

  John counted fourteen CDs that had hit him thus far, while seeing just three or four that he’d been able to deflect. Not good odds, he thought.

  Using the short pause in Adam’s assault, he ran forward to the large wooden coffee table he’d used to break the mirror. Careful of any shards on its surface, he lifted the table in front of him and ducked behind the wood just moments before the next wave of projectiles launched. Hard plastic shattered against the table as three new CDs broke against the surface of Johns improvised shield.

  “You’re a coward!” Adam called out again.

  Faced with either taking the initiative or standing indefinitely behind a heavily assaulted piece of furniture, John took the table’s legs over his shoulders and charged forward across the room at his assailant. He and the table crashed into Adam and the rack of CDs in one clunky blow, landing both John and his shield awkwardly on top of both. Slightly dazed, he quickly rolled off the upturned table, stood, turned, and ran for the stairs.

  Once safe on the second floor, John fled into the first room he saw. Inside, he closed the door behind him and took a moment to catch his breath, leaning his elbow on the golden-painted doorknob. A tiny hand tugged on his shirt as he panted.

  “Um, who are you?” a small voice asked. John moved his downturned face toward the tug and spied the young girl from earlier looking up at him with an accusing expression. She shook a large, well-worn pink stuffed rabbit at him as she asked, “Are you a bad guy?”

  “No,” John answered immediately. He forced a smile and gently knelt to face her directly. “Your daddy is sort of mad at me. Does he ever get mad at you?”

  “Uh huh,” she answered with puffy, reddening cheeks. “I don’t like it sometimes.”

  “Me neither,” John replied quietly. “So, we can be friends, right?”

  “Um, okay,” she agreed.

  “So, when your daddy comes up here--”

  “Who are you?”

  “I’m John.”

  “My name is spelled like this: c, a, l--” she began, making the shapes of the letters with her hands as she slowly spoke them. Past the room’s door, the sound of carefully placed footsteps began to creak up the stairs.

  “Alright, whatever,” John interrupted, gently lowering the girl’s hands to her sides. “I don’t actually care what your name is.”

  The girl scowled in reply and a second later began to cry. The footsteps on the stairs sped to a run and, before John could think, the door to the bedroom flew open. Adam stood in its frame like an enraged naked superhero, legs shoulder-width apart, arms bent and planted firmly on his hips.

  He looked at John, then to his daughter. His anger had grown to the point of quieting him. “Step away from her and into the hallway.”

  “You don’t understand; this is a big mistake.”

  “I said,” Adam repeated calmly, “step away from her and into the hallway.”

  John stood frozen, looking at the man before him. Adam’s face twisted and crunched, growing ever more impatient and turbulent as the long seconds passed. It was a face that no longer knew of restraint, if it ever had. John turned his own face slightly and eyed the large window behind him. It wasn’t ideal, but it was the only way down.

  Adam took two careful steps toward John, placing his hand on the long, white wicker dresser to his side as he walked. John’s eyes followed the motion of the man’s hand, worried about what he might do with it.

  A thick, rounded snow globe sat a foot away from Adam’s hand on the dresser. John locked his eyes to it and heard Adam’s now-sandaled foot take another aggressive step forward. John snuck his hand toward the globe, creeping his fingers toward it from behind to camouflage the action. Adam took another step, almost to him now.

  It was the small girl who broke the tension. “Daddy, you’re naked!” she exclaimed.

  In a flash, John clutched the snow globe from the dresser. Adam reached for his daughter with equal speed and spun her deftly behind his body to safety. John covered his face, closed his eyes, and threw the globe through the window behind him, smashing the glass apart.

  Without looking back, John followed the snow globe he’d thrown, jumping through the broken window after it to the thick grass one story below. He landed sorely, but uninjured. Adam was quick to the window frame.

  “Coward!”

  “Stop calling me that!” John yelled back. “That was pretty awesome just now, actually. And listen, I didn’t try anything with your wife, okay?”

  “Come back up here!”

  “No thanks,” John replied casually. He looked around. He was standing in Adam’s front yard. It was one of many in what appeared to be a large a suburban neighborhood. The street in front of him ran in two directions, neither of which led somewhere with which
John was familiar. He decided to run right, figuring it as good a direction as any.

  Two blocks away, he turned and looked behind him. Adam was nowhere to be seen. I guess he didn’t want to run outside naked, chasing down a teenaged boy, he thought.

  John took a moment to catch his breath. He felt his jaw where Adam had hit him minutes earlier. It was starting to swell, but the pain was subsiding. He spun his messenger bag around to the front of his body and cleaned it of the small pieces of broken glass lodged in its thin front flap.

  My phone, John thought suddenly. He patted the sides of his pants and smiled in relief at the lump in his right pocket.

  John opened his cell and frantically dialed his home number. It rang seven times before switching over to the answering machine.

  “You’ve reached the Popielarski residence. Please leave a message.” John cringed when he heard his last name play on the machine. He hated it. John hung up and dialed again. “You’ve reached the Popielarski residence. Please leave a message.”

  This time John waited for the beep. “Mom! Are you there? Pick up the phone. I really, really need to talk to you.” He waited for a few moments. “Mom, why don’t just have a cell phone like normal people?” He heard a small click.

  “Because it’s too expensive just paying for yours!” his mother suddenly responded. “What is it, John, and you’d better be on fire. I’m missing my show.”

  “You want me to be on fire?”

  “Speak, speak!” she said. “I’ve got four minutes of commercials, max.”

  “Okay, listen, and try not to freak out. I’m in Tallahassee.”

  “What? Try not to freak out? What are you doing in Tallahassee? Virgil said you were only going to be working on the island. I would have never allowed you to go all the way up there on a dinky scooter! I’m going to kill him!”

  “It’s too late for that, Mom. He’s already dead.”

  “What?” she yelled, doubling in volume. “John, what on Earth is going on?”

  “I don’t know.” A quiet beep played in John’s ear over the conversation. He looked down at the phone’s screen and saw that Molly was calling on the other line. “Mom, can I put you on hold for a second?”

  “Absolutely not!”

  “Just a second,” he said, switching to Molly.

  “Hey, Molly, listen,” he began.

  “Johnny!” she exclaimed. “I’m so excited about tonight. I decided to call my aunt over to do my hair and nails. She’s over here now.”

  “Your aunt?”

  “Yeah, but she was wondering, how are we going out tonight? Are you borrowing your mom’s car?”

  “Molly, listen--”

  “I was going to say that I could borrow my dad’s, but I think that you should drive, right? Boys are supposed to drive the girls.”

  “Molly--”

  “I guess I can borrow my dad’s car, then you can drive it. Does that still count like you picked me up?”

  “Molly, I can’t go out with you tonight.” The statement was followed by silence, then a quiet response.

  “What did you say?”

  “I’m in Tallahassee.”

  “What are you doing in Tallahassee? Are you standing me up?”

  “It’s not actually standing you up if I tell you about it.”

  “Don’t talk to me about the rules of dating, John Popielarski!” she yelled.

  “Can you hold for a second?”

  “No!”

  John clicked back over to his mother.

  “Mom?”

  “John, damn it, don’t put me on hold when we’re having an important conversation. Who was that, Virgil?”

  “No, Mom, Virgil’s dead.”

  “What? And what are you doing in Tallahassee? You need to start making sense!”

  “That’s asking way too much of me at the moment. Can you hold on a second?”

  “John, I swear, if you put me on hold again, I’ll--”

  “Mom, it’s Molly.”

  “That’s who you put me on hold for? Damn it John, don’t you put me on--”

  “Just a second,” he interrupted, clicking the call back to his girlfriend.

  “Molly?”

  “Did you just put me on hold?”

  “Yes, listen, I’m really sorry that I can’t go out tonight.”

  “I can’t believe you put me on hold.”

  “There’s this watch, and--”

  “What? You have to watch something? That’s what’s so important?”

  “No, I found this watch and now I’m in Tallahassee or something. I don’t actually know what’s going on.”

  “Are you drunk?”

  “No!”

  “I can’t believe you’re doing this to me. You have no idea what I’ve gone through today for you and this dumb date of yours!”

  “Well, we can go tomorrow,” John tried. The quiet noise of his call waiting started beeping between his words. He looked down at the screen. It was his mother calling back. “Molly, someone’s on the other line. I have to take this.”

  “No, you don’t,” she replied defiantly.

  “No, really, I do,” he answered quickly, looking at his phone flashing “Mamasama” across its screen.

  “John, if you take that call ... ” she started. There was moment of silence before she continued. “You know what, John? Take it.” She hung up.

  “Molly? Molly?” John clicked quickly over to his mother.

  “This isn’t acceptable behavior, Jonathon,” she said in a chilling voice.

  “Mom, I’m sorry. I should have thought about how to explain this a bit more before calling you. I’m really weirded out and I just need your help right now.”

  “Okay,” his mother replied, calming. “Explain to me what’s going on.”

  “If you knew what was going on, then you’d know why you wouldn’t know what was going on even if I tried to tell you what was going on,” he answered.

  “What?”

  “Okay, short version: You know that watch I found? It won’t come off. Virgil tried to take it off. That’s when it electrocuted him. Then I passed out and woke up in Tallahassee where some guy thought I was trying to have my way with his blind wife.”

  “Wait, what?” she exclaimed. “Is Virgil alright?”

  “No, Mom, for the last time, Virgil is dead. He has stopped breathing, seeing, tasting, hearing, touching, and smelling. He’s no longer alive. Dead. Okay? The man is deceased.”

  “Oh, my God,” she answered. “Are you okay?”

  “No!” he yelled back. “I’m in Tallahassee!”

  “How did you even get up there? Tallahassee is at least five hours away by car, and you’re on a scooter!”

  “I’m not on the scooter. I just sort of woke up here.”

  “John, you’re making me seriously worried.”

  John heard a quiet beep invading his conversation again, but this time when he looked at the screen, he saw that it came from his dying battery, not Molly calling to make-up with him as he’d hoped.

  “Mom, my battery is dying. I’ll explain everything when we meet up. I don’t know where I am in the city, so I’m just going to find a bus or something heading back toward Longboard. I’m going to call you when I get there and you can pick me up from the station and drive me back to the island, okay?” Nothing. “Okay?” he repeated. Soon he heard soft sniffling. “Mom, don’t cry, I’m fine, okay? I’ll call you when I get there. I have to save my remaining battery life and get off the phone now.”

  “Okay,” she replied slowly. “Be safe. Call me the second you get back.”

  “I will. I love you. And don’t worry, everything is fine. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

  “Alright,” she answered. “I love you, too.”

  “Make some tea or something. Try not to worry.”

  “Yeah,” she answered.

  They hung up their phones.

 
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