John gone, p.3
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       John Gone, p.3

           Michael Kayatta

  John looked out the window to his left and saw an illuminated bank sign poled high above the street. Its sharp, flashing red LED lights begged for attention as they burned against the night’s darkness: 87 degrees Fahrenheit, 3:08 a.m. Get $50.00 free when you open a new checking account at Commerce Bank!

  He shivered against the torn plastic of his seatback and struggled to fit underneath his messenger bag. He’d been trying to use it as a blanket against the cold now welling inside him. Normally, he’d think the bank’s signboard was wrong about the temperature--a typo from the controller, or a faulty thermometer--but for this time of year in Florida, it had to be right. So why, then, was he shivering? It had been like winter for him since the warming adrenaline of his encounter with Adam had worn off earlier that day.

  John considered the time displayed on the sign, and the truth of it saddened him. His underdeveloped plan of finding a bus home hadn’t been half as simple as he’d hoped. Once he’d been given directions to the station, there’d still been the long walk through an unknown city to get there. By the time he’d finally arrived, it was already midnight, and the next bus hadn’t been leaving for another hour still. Making matters even more stressful, his phone had died just minutes after the phone call with his mother. She’d probably called and called him in a panic since then, but John had no way of knowing nor answering if she had.

  He tightened his body into a ball on top of the seat and put his hands beneath his armpits for warmth. He could see his mother at their home on the beach; she was sitting wide-eyed on the couch, torn between waiting by the phone like they’d agreed and jumping into her car to gun for Tallahassee. He hated what he was putting her through.

  John removed his hands from under his arms and looked at the watch still attached to his wrist. He punched it with his left hand.

  “It’s all your fault,” he said, unsure if he was speaking to the watch or to himself. His mind fell back to Virgil’s horrified face, unwittingly frozen in time with the rest of his body on the cold, hard floor of that plain and dreary old office where he’d left him. He saw the arc of electricity that entered Virgil’s hand and heard the sound of the pop it had made as it killed him.

  John drew his wrist close to his face and examined the watch again, hoping to accidentally stumble upon its secrets. As he looked through the glass at the tiny humming wires beneath its hands, the bus drove over a large pothole in the road. The impact sent the watch sharply against his forehead. It stung.

  “Truce?” John asked the watch unemotionally, slipping his attention back to the world outside his window.

  He uncurled and sat slumped in his seat, trying to empty his mind of the day’s events. He didn’t want to think about any of it, not the watch, not Virgil, Molly, his mother, Adam, or his swollen and aching jaw.

  His mind finally quieted for but a moment before a familiar sensation overcame him. His heart began to pound strongly against his ribs. His limbs were quickly becoming limp, and the energy they seemed to lose was being funneled in pulse to his left arm, energizing it just as it had before. John slid uncontrollably downward into his seat, hoping he could keep from flopping to the floor and drawing unwanted attention from the other passengers.

  He lifted the watch to his tilted face and noted the time: 3:14. The watch’s hands sat in the same position they’d been sitting in when he’d been mysteriously brought to Tallahassee earlier that afternoon. His mind raced, fighting the unconsciousness that he knew was soon to follow.

  3:14 again. Is this going to happen every twelve hours? It was his final thought before blacking out.

  One minute later John was awake again. He waited patiently through the moments it took to regain movement in his body. While he waited for his vision and hearing to return, he slid his hand beneath his legs to the cold porcelain seat of an open toilet. He could hear the voice of a man speaking from outside the room, then another, more metallic, crackling through what sounded like a walkie-talkie. Soon, John was aware of many voices, all men, all serious in tone.

  Was he back in Tallahassee? Would he walk out of the bathroom once more to find Adam, calm, composed and clothed, telling the police about a young rapist who, as they would soon discover, was dumb enough to reenter the house? The idea chilled him.

  Gathering his courage, John opened his eyes and saw that he wasn’t in Adam’s bathroom at all. He was back in the bathroom from which his journey had started, the bathroom in the back of America Offline’s headquarters.

  Did I imagine all of that? He pondered for a moment before seeing the watch still on his wrist and feeling the swell of his jaw. No.

  Fully recovered from the travel’s side effects, John slowly rose from the toilet and crept to the door. It was open, though only slightly, and revealed just enough of the outside warehouse for him to see who was out there and just what was going on in the warehouse at this time of night.

  Peering through the crack, John saw that he was correct about the police presence in the building. Multiple officers were moving through the scene. Two were within his limited field of vision, but he could hear others milling about, just to the side of where his eyes could monitor.

  Feeling daring, John inched the door open just a little more, giving him a better view of the main warehouse. He saw a large, black plastic bag, zipped closed upon a metal table with wheels on the bottom of its legs.

  That must be Virgil, he thought.

  Two men next to the bag were having a conversation. “And the janitor who called this in?” one of them said. “He saw nothing? He telling the truth?”

  “Nothing. And we still can’t find anything here that could have caused an electrical burn like this.”

  “Well, if nothing’s here then someone took it with them. Means they probably also brought it with them when they came. Sorry to say, it’s looking more like homicide after all.”

  “We interviewed a few ladies who were here earlier today. They said there was some young kid lurking around with a ‘sinister look.’”

  The other man laughed. “‘Sinister look?’ I love it.”

  “I still can’t believe it, though. Longboard Key ... who would’ve thought.”

  “I know. This is the first major crime scene here since I’ve been on the force.”

  A third man entered the conversation. “We just got an ID on the kid, one John Popielarski. Goes to high school right across the water. We’re pulling the address now.”

  John stood in horror as he heard the man say his name.

  “Used to be teenagers just broke windows with fly balls. I’ll send Charlie over there to pick him up.”

  Maybe it was homicide, John thought, even if it was an accident.

  John quietly, but quickly, paced back and forth behind the door. I need to get home, he thought. I have to tell Mom what’s happening before the police show up and freak her out even more. He knew there wasn’t much time to do it. Looking out into the warehouse once more, he saw the small team of officers who’d been speaking walk back toward Virgil’s office.

  John pushed the bathroom door open slowly, but despite his best efforts, a loud squeak escaped from its upper hinge. Not waiting to see if anyone had heard it, he rushed from the room and moved back toward the ell where Virgil had left the scooter. He was relieved not to hear the sound of frantic footsteps racing to catch him as he ran.

  John approached the corner, and on blind faith, whipped around it recklessly, hoping no lingering officers awaited him on the other side. There were none.

  Thank God, he thought. The silver scooter sat against opposite wall, alone and unmoved.

  John took it by the front handles and quietly rolled it toward the back door. He decided not to press his luck further by starting its engine while still inside the warehouse.

  As soon as the back door closed behind him, John mounted the scooter and jammed his key into its ignition. He’d never driven a scooter before, but took to it easily. After slowly piloting the ma
chine in a circle twice, John decided that he was ready for Longboard Key’s twenty-miles-per-hour road. Without another thought, he sped across the lot, down the curb, and into the street, hoping he could make it home before the police found his address.

  Ten minutes later, John’s house appeared ahead of him in the distance. A car was pulling out from the driveway. It was too dark outside to determine the make or color, and at first he thought he was too late, that the law had beaten him there. He imagined them driving away with his mother to question her about birthing and harboring a known murderer. He sped up.

  Drawing closer, John was surprised to make the car in front of him as his mother’s own blue sedan, picking up speed and roaring down the road away from him.

  He raised his left arm to wave as he called out to her. “Hey!” he yelled. “Hey, Mom! Come back!” Without his left hand to help steer the scooter, its front wheel pulled sharply to the right, sending John tumbling from his seat to the asphalt below.

  He quickly rolled back onto his feet and looked out at the empty street in front of him. It was too late to hail the fast moving car, now a mile away from him down Longboard Road.

  John sighed and lifted the scooter upright. As he wheeled the vehicle toward his house, he noticed that the front door had been left open. Curious and worried, he dropped the scooter in the grass of his front lawn and ran inside.

  The house was empty, but not quiet. His mother had left the television on in the living room in front of a still-steaming mug of tea. He looked around the area perplexed, wondering what could have caused her to leave with such haste. A news report blaring out from the television gave the answer.

  Authorities in Clearwater, FL have reported twelve dead and twelve more injured after a bus headed from Tallahassee fell off an elevated road and crashed to the ground approximately thirty feet below. Police say the bus was carrying two-dozen people and crashed when the driver and passengers were simultaneously stricken unconscious by an unknown cause. With the driver asleep behind the wheel, the bus drifted off the road and eventually down to this drainage ditch below, as you can see here in the accident’s aftermath. Authorities say the injured are being treated at a nearby hospital and that most survivors are not in serious condition.

  The feed changed to a man lying in a hospital bed with a bandaged eye. John recognized him immediately as the man who’d been sitting across from him on the bus.

  We were just sitting there, you know, and all of a sudden there was this like, blue light, but, uh, I only remember seeing it for about a second. That’s all I remember. I couldn’t really tell where it was coming from, but I think it was inside the bus.

  The camera returned again to the attractive young newscaster, who stood out starkly against the smoking wreckage behind her. The right half of the bus was almost unrecognizable, a twisted nest of metal and plastic caused by its impact with the ground.

  What you just heard is the story told by most of the survivors: a strange blue light, and after, everyone on the bus, including the driver, unconscious. Here’s Jordan Ford speaking with Detective Irving Meller who will attempt to speculate on what’s happened here tonight. Detective Meller, what do--

  The story continued, but John could no longer hear it. Twelve dead, he thought. Did I do this? His head spun as his mind remembered each of the faces he’d seen on the bus earlier that night. Who were they, and where were they headed so late? Did some of them have families? Children? Which of them survived and which are now crushed in that smoking wreckage he saw on TV?

  John dropped to the couch in front of his mother’s mug. Four used tea bags were strewn across the coffee table next to it. So this is why Mom left. She must have seen something about the crash on the news. What’s going to happen when she doesn’t find me in the hospital? Damn it, Mom, why don’t you have a cell phone like normal people!

  John heard a car pull up outside of the house. That must be the policeman they were sending over, he realized, jolting from his seat. He turned and saw the front door still open behind him. A cruiser with its lights off was sitting in the driveway, driver still inside. Further news on the accident drew his attention back to the television.

  We’ve just had an update on the bus crash in Clearwater that happened only half an hour ago. This footage was pulled from the bus’ interior camera and clearly shows the light that many of the victims reported. It seems to have come from this man, who has not yet been found among the survivors or the deceased.

  John looked at the screen and was surprised to see a low-quality, black-and-white video recording of himself on the bus and a bright light beetling out from his arm. As the light faded, the bus’s twenty-two passengers were motionless, and he was gone.

  The policeman’s voice called from just outside the front door. “Hello? Is anyone in there?”

  John lowered to the floor and swiftly crawled his way across the carpet to his mother’s bedroom. Softly, he closed the door behind him.

  Making his way to the back door, John stopped and looked at the top of his mother’s dresser. A dark-blue eyeliner pencil rested against other small containers of assorted make-up.

  He lifted a tissue from the nearby box and quickly wrote: I’m fine. I promise. Don’t believe anything you see or hear about me. I’ll explain. I love you.

  John carefully set the note on top of her dresser and turned his attention back to escaping the officer in the living room. Quietly, he opened the sliding glass door at the back of her room and stepped out into the night. He could hear the policeman inside his living room only a few feet away, offering the house cautious “hello”s and “is anyone here”s. John climbed off the porch and into the tall grass by the side of his house.

  After making his way to the front, John found the scooter he’d abandoned on its side in the lawn near to squad car in the driveway. He considered driving off with it now; the officer would notice it missing from when he’d arrived and the whole island would soon be buzzing with police, each hoping to be the one to snare the fugitive trying to flee justice on a silver scooter.

  It doesn’t matter, he thought. I just need to get somewhere close, that isn’t here, fast.

  With no one he knew or trusted on the island other than his mother, his hideout would need to be somewhere on the mainland. John lifted the scooter and quietly walked it a block, careening between the harsh spotlights of the lampposts as he went. Once far enough from his home, he turned on the engine and raced toward the island’s bridge.

  John racked his mind for a place to go. There were those few friends from school that he joked with between classes, but he’d never visited them at their homes across the water. He did know where to find Molly’s house--she’d made him memorize the address--but had never actually been there. And even if he had been, now was not the best time to appear uninvited. John sighed, realizing where he realized he’d been driving since mounting the scooter: Ronika’s small apartment by the park.

  John slowed to a stop at a yellow traffic light hazing through the light fog above him. He wondered how Ronika was going to handle seeing him again. In his mind, the situation couldn’t be worse.

  Even if she opens the door this late, the last time we saw each other in person was years ago. Now, here I come with some insane story that only a insane person would believe, my face all over the news, and, oh yeah, the police after me for murder. Maybe this is a bad idea.

  The light turned green. John gripped the right handlebar of his scooter and accelerated past the intersection.

  No, it’s definitely a bad idea, he concluded.

  Unable to think of anywhere else, he resolved to keep driving toward the girl’s apartment. But, he told himself, just until he could come up with a better plan.

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