John gone, p.9
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       John Gone, p.9

           Michael Kayatta

  Chapter 8

  Ronika beamed as she opened the present she’d just found lying on her bed.

  “What’s this for?” she asked. “It’s not my birthday.”

  “No, it’s not,” a man answered.

  Ronika smiled and ripped the remaining pink paper from the gift in a single tear. Her eyes widened at the box beneath it. She jumped from her bed and ran to the man standing by her bedroom door.

  “This is for me?” she asked, staring up at him.

  “Yes,” he answered, lifting her into his arms.

  Ronika giggled. “For what?” she asked.

  “For being you,” he answered sweetly. His daughter closed her eyes and scrunched her face as he kissed her forehead. “Go ahead. Let’s hook it up.” He put her down and she ran back to the unopened computer on her bedspread. That’s where the memory ended.

  Ronika shook a tear from her cheek and drew her focus back to the long, dark road in front of her. The endless gleams of lane reflectors made it difficult to stay awake, and she blamed their entrancing, blurry pattern for the memories of her father.

  Ronika hadn’t been in that boat last night, at least not in person, but the experience had terrified her nonetheless. The guilt she felt from feeling scared was even worse.

  After all, John had been the one who’d actually lived through the night. She had eyes and ears there, but poor John had all five senses about him. John was the only one who’d actually smelled the burn of the bullet wound in Rodney’s neck, and the only one who’d felt the weight of the oars as they pushed stubbornly through the water, over and over and over again. It was John who’d tasted the salt of the ocean’s water on his tongue instead of the citrus in the energy drink Ronika had sitting next to her on the desk.

  Through the entire ordeal, she’d felt helpless to fix things, helpless to save John if the men had caught up. It reminded her of her father’s passing, and how little she could do but stand silently on the other side of a hospital window while he died.

  The cool wind of fast movement blew through Ronika’s hair. She leaned back slightly and pushed up against John’s body, slumped behind her on the scooter. He’d inexplicably appeared back in the warehouse just half an hour ago at 3:14, and Ronika had driven to him carefully, watching ardently for police all the while.

  He’d first wanted her to take him home, but finally relented that it wasn’t the best time to try and explain things to his mother. The summation of events had surely already felt like a long time for her, and he’d hoped that making her wait just a bit longer wouldn’t make too large a difference.

  Halfway back to Ronika’s apartment, John had begun to fall asleep uncontrollably. After almost slipping from the bike at thirty miles per hour, Ronika had pulled over and tied him to her with the strap of his messenger bag. It wasn’t the most elegant or comfortable solution, but it worked, and the warmth of his body, coupled with the weight of his resting hands around her waist, had served to calm her nerves.

  Ten minutes later, they were back at The Napoli. The pull of their turn into the complex forced John awake.

  “Hey, we’re here,” he said groggily.

  “Yeah,” she said.

  “Thanks for driving.”


  Ronika slowed the scooter as she pulled into an open parking space in front of her apartment block. She took the key from its ignition and unlatched the strap that attached her to her passenger. They stood from the scooter and faced each another.

  “And thanks for last night,” John said, swaying from exhaustion like a drunkard.

  “I didn’t do anything last night,” she replied, staring into the ground.

  John stepped forward and flopped his arms around her in a hug. He leaned his head on her shoulder and spoke quietly to her ear. “Yes you did.”

  Ronika lifted her arms to hug him as his slid slowly down to his sides.

  “John?” she said, still holding his body. He was asleep.

  Ronika sat in her recliner across from the sofa where John was sleeping and thought about her friend. She’d gotten him awake just long enough to get him into the apartment and down on the couch. She’d never seen someone so tired.

  She watched his pulsing lips and pumping chest as he breathed heavily in slumber. In, out. Up, down. She wondered about John’s future and the mysteries of the device attached to his arm.

  Ronika slunk from her chair and crawled across the floor. John’s left arm was draping from his body to the carpeting. She slowly approached the watch that rested there, like a fox to a henhouse, pausing and glaring at the infernal device as she snuck at it. The darkness of the room made the faint blue light of the watch’s humming wires appear stronger than usual. She looked closely as they shivered. There must be a pattern!

  She stared deeper and deeper through its weaving layers, searching, hoping, begging for an answer. When the wires remained stubborn, she eyed the band. Ronika carefully opened its metal latch and examined the cracked, brown leather around it. A line of small holes ran down one side, allowing wrists of different sizes to wear it comfortably. Three of the holes were cracked along their sides, proving use. She wondered if that was significant.

  Ronika reattached the latch and thought on John’s story. The facts played through her mind. She searched for the small detail that could grow into and answer.

  After ten minutes of eying and thinking, she rocked back from the timepiece suddenly as if it had bitten her. She smiled. She had an idea, a good one, but it could wait until morning.

  The next day at noon, John woke to the tickle of fox ears on his nose. He sneezed.

  “Gross!” Ronika exclaimed, pulling her head back from his face.

  “What? What time is it?” he asked, sitting up.

  “Now I have to wash my hair,” she complained, patting at the top of her head.

  “What?” John asked, not sure of what was going on.

  “One minute!” she exclaimed, slinking back toward the bathroom.

  John stood from the couch. Soon, the sound of running water filled the apartment. He stretched his arms toward the living room’s vaulted ceiling and was immediately reminded of the swelling pain running through his chest and shoulders.

  There was a small notepad and pen on Ronika’s desk. He pulled off the top sheet--it was covered in symbols belonging either to a math equation or a video game cheat code--and took the pad back to her coffee table by the couch. He began to write as the sound of running water abruptly stopped.

  Things I Need To Do

  1. Explain to Mom

  2. Have Molly forgive me

  3. Get the watch off

  4. Avoid jail

  John became frustrated after writing the fourth item on his list. Each thing he’d written was exponentially harder and more complicated to do than the last, and the sudden realization of it struck him hard. He tore the list in half and slumped back into the couch.

  My phone, he thought suddenly.

  John quickly checked his pockets and found his cell. He opened it and jammed on the keys. It was dead.

  The water, he remembered.

  Ronika appeared soon after with a wet head, wearing the same clothes as before. The tips of her fox ears were dripping and John wondered if she’d showered in them.

  She walked over to the table and picked up half of his abandoned list. “Who’s Molly?” she asked.

  “Girlfriend,” he answered absently, lost in his thoughts.

  “Oh,” she answered, “that’s new.” Ronika swiftly discarded the torn note back to the floor. “You want something to eat?” she asked.

  John perked at the idea. “Would you mind?” he asked.

  Her face lit up. “Not at all.”

  “Can I help make it? We can both eat.”

  “Sure, come on. I don’t have much, though.”

  “Whatever, dude, I’m starving.”

  They walked to her kitchen where she opened the fridge.

bsp; “Cheese, mayonnaise, venison,” she said, pulling each item from the fridge as she mentioned it.

  “Venison?” John asked.

  “It’s deer meat,” she answered, moving a four-pack of energy drinks out of the way to the back of the fridge.

  “I know what it is,” he said, chuckling. “Why do you have it?”

  “Do you think that’s weird?” she asked.

  John shrugged. “I guess not. What else is in there?”

  “Potato chips,” she continued, “biscuits--”

  “In the fridge?” he asked.

  “It’s raw dough, dork,” she replied.

  “I meant the potato chips.”

  “Okay, so, pickles, milk, energy drinks, more energy drinks, and, uh, I think there’s an egg in here somewhere ... ” She trailed off, reaching into the back.

  “I think we can leave that one back there,” John said. “Let’s see.” He looked over the potential ingredients on the counter. “Alright, how about we make some venison, cheese, and potato chip biscuit sandwiches.”

  “Great,” she answered. “Those are really good. I’ll preheat the oven.” She bounced to the other side of the kitchen and set the oven’s temperature to 350 degrees. Twenty minutes later, eight small sandwiches were done and on paper plates. John and Ronika each took four and brought them to the coffee table where they happily began to eat.

  “So, John,” Ronika said between biscuits, “I have an idea about your watch problem.”

  “Really?” John spurted, dropping his sandwich to his plate.

  “Don’t get too excited,” she said, taking another bite. “It hasn’t worked yet.”

  “So what’s the plan?” he asked excitedly. “Do you think you could get it off?”

  “No, I don’t think so. It’s impossible to even try and think about how to do that without knowing what’s causing the attraction. Especially impossible if you consider that the last dude who guessed wrong is dead.”

  “Oh,” John said melancholically.

  “But!” Ronika exclaimed as she finished the last of her lunch. “But, but, but! I do have an idea, possibly ingenious in its simplicity. I don’t know why we haven’t thought of it yet.”

  “What is it?” John asked.

  “So what do we know? What do we really, really know about this thing? Let’s look at the data. At 3:14 P.M. the watch takes you from the warehouse and brings you to a Tallahassee bathroom.”

  “Right,” John agreed, mouth full.

  “Okay, now, at 3:14 A.M. that night, you’re sent back to the warehouse again. Then, at 3:14 P.M. you appear on a boat. Somewhere south, possibly Charleston, South Carolina based on the reference Rodney made at 3:32.”

  “I’m with you so far,” John said, not remembering any reference from 3:32.

  “So, what have we learned? One, you always appear in a bathroom. Conclusion? I have no idea. It’s pretty weird. Two, you always come back to Longboard during the A.M. jumps. Conclusion? Comforting to know, perhaps, but unexplainable just the same. Three, all jumps happen at some form of 3:14. Last night I noticed a knob on the side of the watch’s face,” she said happily.

  “What if we change the time?” John blurted out, leaping onto his feet.

  “Oh. My. Gosh, John. Seriously? I just went through that whole thing and you totally stole my thunder.”

  “Sorry,” John said, sitting back down. “Please continue.”

  “Thank you,” she said. “Okay, so what if we change the time on the watch? It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t get it off, but if you always change it before it hits 3:14 then at least you stop teleporting everywhere.”

  “You’re a genius!”

  “Oh, I know,” she replied with comical confidence, flicking the hair from her face.

  “But, wait,” John said. “What if one of us tries to pull out the knob to change the time and the thing freaks out like last time? I don’t think it likes it when we try and screw with it.”

  “It’s not a magical creature, John, it’s science. But you do have a point.” She paused a moment. “Okay, I’ll have Mouse do it,” she decided.

  “But won’t Mouse explode or something if an arc shoots out at it?”

  “Yeah, probably. But weren’t you the guy who was ready to let that happen by having it do something you knew would cause the arc last time you were here?”

  John smiled. “Yeah, but Mouse and I weren’t friends then,” he said.

  “Oh, shut up and come over to my workstation.”

  John walked over to the worktable standing underneath the math-problem clock and sat in the small, wooden chair by its side. Ronika sat at her desk and equipped the rainbow-colored arm-length gloves that controlled Mouse’s movements.

  “Why is this chair so uncomfortable?” John asked, trying to find a way to sit that evenly supported his weight.

  “Keeps me focused while working,” she answered dismissively. “Put Mouse on the tabletop, please.” Ronika turned on her webcam and calibrated her gloves with the software running on her screen. Soon, Mouse was accurately mimicking her actions.

  “How do you make it walk if you only wear the gloves?” John asked.

  “Jeez, you’re so inquisitive,” she answered. “There are gestures I can do with my fingers that are mapped to physical responses other than its arms. Mouse doesn’t have fully articulated hands and fingers, just clamps like you’ve seen, so that frees my middle, ring, and pinky fingers for customized gestures. My pointers and thumbs control the clamps, while I alternate touching my middle fingers to the inside of my palms for foot movement. My pinky fingers dictate horizontal direction, while my rings control vertical movements such as bending. The arms are, of course, completely articulate, and match x, y, and z-axes to my actual arm movement. Does that answer your question?”

  “Yeah, that pretty much answers it,” he said, sorry he’d asked. John sat quietly for the remaining thirty seconds Ronika needed to finalize her setup.

  “Ready?” she asked quietly.

  “Yeah, I guess so,” he answered. John had an odd sensation swelling up through his stomach. It reminded him of the time he’d gotten his gallbladder removed and the butterflies that he’d felt while being wheeled into the operating room.

  “Okay,” Ronika said from her desk. Mouse walked slowly over to John’s wrist and extended its arms. “Can you lift it a little?”

  “Like this?”

  “Yeah, now just turn it slightly ... yeah, right there. Hold it still.”


  “I hope this works, man.”

  John closed his eyes and nodded in agreement. The plan seemed solid, but that didn’t stop him worrying about any new interactions with the bizarre machine stuck to his body.

  He watched Mouse move slowly toward him like a bomb technician deep in the field. Time slowed as the robot carefully placed its right hand over the watch’s knob and clamped to it. Across the room, Ronika took a deep breath. She moved her hand, and Mouse pulled the knob.

  A loud pop, like a microphone being pulled quickly from its amp, shot loudly from the watch. John tumbled backward to the carpeting as Ronika swallowed a scream.

  He opened his eyes and looked up past the table’s edge in front of him. Mouse was perfectly intact. Next, he looked at Ronika, also intact, but staring wide-eyed past his face toward his wrist.

  John quickly followed her gaze to a blue cone of light projecting out from the watch’s face. The light was rife with static, but slowly forming into a shape.

  “What’s happening?” John exclaimed.

  “I ... I don’t know,” Ronika answered. She melted from her seat and crawled across the floor to John. After sniffing and blowing at it, she poked at the light with her fingertip. “It’s light, not energy,” she said. “Well, light is energy; I meant electricity. You know what I mean.”

  The projection finished taking shape, and soon the image of a tall man with glasses was standing on top of the watch’s face.

bsp; “Not a magical creature, huh?” John said without taking his eyes from the man.

  “I think it’s a hologram. Maybe a recording,” she replied, bringing her face closer.

  “Karen? Is that you? Where’s Karen?” the hologram demanded.

  “It’s got to be some sort of recording,” John said. “I saw this in Star Wars.”

  “I’m not a God damned recording,” the hologram retorted. “Now where the hell is Karen?”

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