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       John Gone, p.6

           Michael Kayatta

  Chapter 5

  John awoke more pleasantly than he had from his previous two journeys. Perhaps his body was growing accustomed to the travel, or perhaps it was the gentle swaying of the floor beneath him that comforted him, but regardless of reason, John’s reentry was smooth, quiet, and dreamy. Slowly, he opened his eyes.

  The room around him was dark but for a few thin bands of brash light shining through cracks in the door. As John leaned forward to stand and investigate, the room and the light tilted sharply left, knocking him back to his seat. The short relief he’d felt upon arrival was gone, already replaced by stress and worry. A moment later, the room was steady again, and he allowed himself to calm.

  John moved his hand low to touch where he was seated, expecting the cold, slick feel of a porcelain toilet. He found a toilet beneath him, however, this one felt as though it was made of polished wood, smooth to his touch and lacking a lid.

  He stood onto his feet and extended his arms. His fingertips connected sharply with smooth, wooden-planked walls closely surrounding him. He felt his way around the room with his hands and discovered the entire space to be just three feet deep.

  The floor shifted again, and John put his arms forward against the wall where the stripes of light broke though. He ran his fingers and palms across it for a doorknob. Soon, they touched a cold metal handle and pushed it down. The door opened easily, and the small wooden bathroom flooded with afternoon light.

  John carefully peered out from the door and found that he was standing at the end of a small hallway connecting to the deck of what seemed to be a large boat. Beyond the deck, John saw only the water, and above it, dark clouds swelling in the sky. There was a light drizzle coming from them, but not enough to force one indoors.

  “Excuse me, sir?” a voice asked impatiently from his side. The accent it carried held a slight twang. John turned to find a young man of about his age dressed as a waiter, holding a tray of champagne flutes sloppily splashing their contents as the boat swayed lightly from side to side. Behind the young man were double doors in the hallway, swinging lightly open and closed, intermittently revealing a kitchen behind them.

  “Sir?” the teenaged waiter asked pointedly once more, sounding his frustration at serving someone his own age. Without much thought, John accepted one of the drinks from the silver tray and nodded. The waiter shot one of his eyebrows up and walked back toward the main deck.

  John smelled the drink, then tasted it. Cool, he thought. Drinking alcohol was a first for John, champagne or otherwise. He enjoyed both the taste and the feeling of the bubbly brew as he swished it around his mouth with his tongue.

  John looked out toward the noisy deck by the water and ambled casually after it, flute in hand. After all, the waiter had thought he belonged here. Maybe he could get lucky with any others he encountered.

  “John,” a familiar voice called from his bag. “Can you hear me?”

  John stopped. Mouse, he thought. I completely forgot. John swiveled his messenger bag to his front and took Mouse out into his hands.

  “John!” it said. “You’re alright.”

  “For now.”

  “I just woke up. That was crazy-pants!” Mouse exclaimed.

  “What happened?” John asked the question quietly, knowing that any chance he had of blending in would soon be dashed if caught speaking with a pint-sized robot.

  “Just like you said, things got really blue really fast, and the next thing I remember, I woke up on the couch without you next to me. Dude!”

  “You’re okay?”

  “Fine! Where are we?”

  “A boat.”

  “Let me see,” Mouse said, pointing its arm upward. John lifted the small robot above his head and swiveled its body like a periscope around their surroundings.

  “Yeah. It’s a boat, alright. Maybe a yacht,” Mouse concluded.

  “Glad we agree.” John rolled his eyes.

  “If it’s still docked, I bet we can make a break for it and get back onto shore.”

  “Okay, good idea,” John said. “I’m going to put you back in the bag for a moment. Stay quiet while I sneak out there and see where we are.”

  “10-4, commander.”

  John lowered the robot into the front pocket of his bag. As he walked toward the deck, Mouse climbed to the edge of the pocket and lifted the cover-flap behind its head so it could see.

  John reached the yacht’s railing and followed it toward the back of the craft. They weren’t docked. In fact, John couldn’t so much as see shore in any direction around him. They were at sea, surrounded by endless blue, and too far from land to have an honest hope of docking anytime soon.

  “John,” Mouse called.

  “There are people ahead,” John said back, hushing it. “Stay quiet and hide.”

  Mouse pulled the pocket’s flap over its head like a hood.

  John traveled farther toward the back of the yacht and saw nearly a hundred people milling about, drinking drinks and picking from a well-decorated buffet table set up near the aft cabin entrance. A low-volume jazz track floated between their conversations.

  The women were in semi-formal attire, most wearing elegant sundresses and holding large, paper hand fans or parasols. The men were under suits and sport coats, mostly white in color, with some of the more rebellious among them sporting just a dress shirt with rolled up sleeves.

  John slowly approached the party from its side, but stopped behind the back corner before continuing around it. He chose a small bench leaned against the outside of the yacht’s main cabin to sit down on.

  “Why did we stop? Go talk to someone and find out where we are,” Mouse urged.

  “We’re on the ocean?” John answered. “Why does it matter where we are?”

  “The more data we have, the better chance we have at solving this thing.”

  John looked left and right to make sure of their privacy. “I can’t go back there.”

  “Why not?”

  “Look,” he said, lifting Mouse around the corner and pointing it toward the crowd. “I’m in jeans and a T-shirt.”

  “Put me down.”

  “Why?” John asked suspiciously.

  “Just do it, man,” Mouse answered. “I’m helping.”

  John put Mouse down on the deck near his feet. As he let go of its body, the robot bent its knees slowly and tumbled clumsily onto its back, ending stiffly in a prone position on the deck. He quickly leaned down to lift it back to its feet, assuming the fall was accidental.

  Before John could reach it, Mouse rolled away from his hand like a small go-kart and raced around the corner using four small wheels on its backside. John stood up quickly and chased after the bot, but stopped suddenly at the corner, afraid to be seen by the mob of people on its opposite side.

  With Mouse gone, he sat back down on the bench and lowered his head into his hands.

  Maybe if I just sit here for twelve hours I’ll pop home again, he thought. Maybe this time I’ll appear in my own bathroom and come out to find Mom fretting over some tea in the kitchen. She’ll see me, get excited, and drop her mug on the ground as she runs over and hugs me. She doesn’t ask me anything, and we go to the police department where everything gets explained to them, and they have some sort of specialist who gets this watch off my arm. We find out that Virgil isn’t dead, just a bit injured, and Molly hears that I’m back and comes to the police station to meet me. She cries and tells me she’s sorry she ever accused me of--

  John’s fantasy stopped abruptly when he spied a white jacket sliding across the floor between the fingers of his hand. He raised his head and stared at the possessed jacket in confusion.

  “Take it,” the jacket said. John lifted the white coat to find Mouse underneath, standing back to its feet once the weight of the jacket was removed from its body.

  “Where did you get this?” John whispered loudly.

  “Put it on,” Mouse answered. “Get out there.”

sp; John sat defiantly.

  “Oh. My. Gosh. A bedroom in the cabin, okay? There were a bunch of jackets there. No one will miss it. Put it on!”

  John stood and put the jacket over his T-shirt. It fit, but had obviously been intended for a slightly taller man than he. The tails dipped low to his mid-thigh, and the sleeves extended past his wrists to his fingernails.

  “Good enough,” Mouse said, tugging on his pant leg. “Let’s roll.”

  John picked up the robot and placed it back into his bag’s pocket. With a deep breath he walked around the corner toward the party.

  “I look way more suspicious than before,” John said under his breath toward his bag. “This is a bad plan.”

  John made his way to the large buffet and looked at the amazing variety of food lying across it. Other than the vegetable and cheese platters, John was having trouble even recognizing the options. At least the caviar and escargot he knew from a show he’d once seen on the Food Channel. Most everything else on the table was an alien concoction to him, made of varying colors and smells with which he wasn’t familiar.

  “Snails!” Mouse shouted suddenly. It must have noticed the escargot at the end of the table

  “Excuse me?” replied a large, Southern-sounding female attendant on the other side of the buffet. John quickly grabbed at Mouse’s head and shoved it down to the bottom of his bag’s pocket.

  “Sorry, nothing,” John mumbled, grabbing a small plate from the side of the table.

  “You know,” the attendant said, leaning in toward John, “ya’ll’re paying for it, so if you want to keep stuffing it in your bag there, you don’t have to try and hide it from me. This ain’t the free breakfast bar at the Charleston church now, hear me?” She smiled mischievously.

  “Thanks,” John replied. “I’m just a little hungry,” he said, adding his own version of a Southern accent to the back half of the sentence. The woman looked at him suspiciously, perhaps deciding if he was trying to make fun of her.

  “And just who in the hell are you?” a man yelled from the party behind John. John’s heart raced, but he kept his attention rapt on the table ahead of him.

  “Don’t touch me,” the man yelled again loudly.

  “Now what in the hell’s going on back there?” the attendant asked, looking out past John.

  John turned to see two men in worn gray suits and thin leather gloves confronting a portly gentleman about twenty yards aft of the buffet. One had dark hair, the other had blond. Both wore a strange-looking, flat black bag across their chests. John thought they looked like diagonally seated fanny-packs, but wider and shallower.

  The blond-haired man grabbed the portly gentleman’s arm violently, thrusting the sleeve of his jacket up and off his wrist.

  “The rest of you line up over here,” the dark-haired man stated loudly to the crowd.

  “I do say!” the portly man responded gruffly. He shook out the sleeves of his tussled jacket and approached the blond-haired man. “Explain yourself this instant!” he demanded.

  The blond-haired man pulled a small gun from the inside of his coat and fired it into the air above his head. The portly gentleman stumbled backward onto his rump and scrambled away from the armed man like a frazzled crab.

  The dark-haired man then revealed that he too had a gun and moved it slowly across the party. The sweep of his weapon created a wave of ducking and whimpering across the crowd that matched its lateral motion above them.

  “Everybody needs to listen very clearly to what I say next and do exactly as I tell you,” he commanded. “In a moment, my friend over here is going to check each of your arms for something that belongs to us. The sooner we find it, the sooner we leave.”

  The blond-haired man coughed loudly.

  John dropped to the ground and rolled under the white-clothed buffet table. The maneuver tangled him with his messenger bag, and he awkwardly tried to disentangle himself from it without drawing the attention of the two armed men.

  “You almost crushed me!” exclaimed Mouse.

  “Who in the twelve hells said that?” asked the buffet attendant, her whisper strained. John looked to his left and saw the woman suddenly lying a few feet from him underneath the same table, her hair now frazzled as if she’d been rubbing it wildly with her large meaty hands. Apparently, she and John had shared the same idea about where to hide from the frightening commotion at the party.

  “What are you doing down here?” he exclaimed quietly. “Get your own hiding place!”

  “Don’t make me jack-slap you, boy; I don’t work for nobody when I’m in a crisis situation,” she said.

  “Okay, okay,” John whispered. “Let’s just both shut up so they don’t hear us.”

  “Name’s Rodney,” she said quietly.

  “Rodney?” John replied on reflex. “That’s a weird name for a woman.”

  “Boy, I’m fixing to--” she started.

  “Okay, okay, I’m sorry I said anything. I love your name. Just be quiet.”

  “You don’t get to tell me--”

  John rolled out from under the table to behind it. He slowly peered over its surface and watched as the two men systematically checked the passenger’s wrists.

  “They must be looking for the watch,” John said quietly.

  “Who are they?” Mouse asked at a low volume from his bag.

  “I don’t know.”

  “What are we going to do?”

  “I don’t know that either. I’m still new at this, remember? All I know is that we need to get out of here.”

  “Lifeboats,” Mouse suggested. “I saw some on the side rail by the bench.”

  “Oh, I saw those,” John said. “Good idea. Five points.” Points were something John and Ronika arbitrarily assigned one another when they did something well that the other noticed. The points never added up to anything and weren’t recorded anywhere, but both John and Ronika were convinced of their lead over the other.

  John hunched down and slowly steeped forward. Before he could move, one of Rodney’s large callused hands reached out from underneath the table and latched onto his ankle.

  “You ain’t leaving me here to die!” Her whisper was so loud that John thought she may as well have just spoken in regular tone. He shook off her grip and stumbled toward the corner of the cabin.

  John found the pulley for the lifeboat tied off on the railing and slowly undid its knot without taking his eyes off the two men on the back deck. The gunmen still hadn’t noticed him, but from the look of things, were almost done with their check of the deck crowd.

  The knot came loose suddenly in John’s hands, and the weight of the lifeboat pulled the rope supporting it rapidly through the metal hub of the pulley. He grasped at the rope to stop it, but the speed of its movement burned his hands. Suddenly, a large hand appeared above his, and quickly squeezed the rope to a halt. John immediately recognized the goliath hand as Rodney’s.

  “Boy, you sure don’t know nothin’ about nothin’. We need to get in the boat first. How were you planning on getting down there? Jump yonder on your little chicken legs, I suppose.” She easily raised the boat back up to the railing’s edge.

  “Thanks,” John responded begrudgingly, knowing she was right.

  “Get in,” she said.

  John slowly climbed over the rail and moved into the boat. “Don’t drop me,” he said.

  Rodney shook her head in frustration. “Hold this rope with me now.” She handed him the end of the rope while maintaining her own grip a few inches above his and awkwardly entered the small lifeboat. It tipped heavily to the side she sat on.

  Her large hands began to move quickly, one over the other, lowering the boat to the water below. John watched the movements and tried to get the timing of his hands to match hers. Soon, they touched down quietly on the water’s surface.

  John felt something wet splash against the top of his head. He looked up and another drop broke against his nose. It was starting to rain.
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