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ARG! After yesterday’s post I spoke with a friend of mine from Puerto Rico who told me peaches don’t grow in Puerto Rico. Ah well, #FirstDraftLiving. She did suggest that I could replace the peach tree metaphor with a ceiba tree which, she says, in Puerto Rico, is viewed as a very strong tree so I may switch the story to that in the next draft or sooner. Anyway, I’ve worked a “peach” reference into today’s writing so I can still quietly reference my phone conversation with Harlan Ellison, who passing was announced yesterday.
“Well if it isn’t Uncle Julio in the flesh,” Dot said just after we arrived in the middle of Jill’s lab at NH (Nowhere House). I exchanged a smile with Dr. Green who was looking up from a book she was reading on one of the couches outside of Jill’s circular lab. KJ, Kate, and I all exchanged hugs and then, as I was about to introduce Dr. Green, Dot, and Jim to Julio, Dot spoke again: “AS I WAS SAYING… WELL, if it isn’t, Uncle Julio, in the flesh.”
“I don’t think we’ve met,” Julio said, turning to look at Dot but then stopping and looking around at the greater library space. It was obvious he was impressed with what he saw. Dot didn’t let his distraction stop her from talking. “Well, my name’s Dot. And we’ve sort of met, but not really. My very good friend, Wise, well, he was told by a mutual acquaintance that you had in your possession a piece of technology that belonged to him.”
“This is an… incredible place, Jill!” Julio smiled. “You running away makes even more sense now, to me. With this place to come to!”
“So, did you hear me, Julio? You have something that belongs to my friend, Wise.”
“I don’t think I’ve met anyone named Wise. In fact, I’ve been working for the government for so long, I am not around many wise people, most of the time.” Julio smiled at his insult.
“Dot, please!” Jill interrupted her. “You can talk about that later. Right now we need to hear the rest of what he knows about the Strife.”
Yep, somehow we had picked up the term Dr. Green’s people were using for this cold war.
“First, you tell me about the security of this place,” Julio said. Jim cracked a grin spoke flatly.
“What’s to tell. The only way in or out is via a Fire Escape.”
“What about communications?” he asked next. Jim explained: “We are located at an undeterminable place and time. We are in between the trimension Earth exists in and the Fire Escape dimension. At least, that is the working theory. We really don’t have that much hard evidence to go on and, Dr. Rivera has requested I not investigate further.”
“So if there are any security holes, you have no idea where they are.” Julio had a good point but Jim also had a pretty reasonable response.
“That may be true, but Nowhere House has been a stable singularity, out of the Earth’s time stream, for several generations. At least five different generations of scientists have called this facility for much of their lifespans.”
“That is incredible! Julio. Julio Velasquez,” Julio said, approaching Jim, with his hand out, ready to be shaken. Jim held out his hand ready to shake Julio’s hand but, of course, Julio’s hand pasted right through Jim’s hologram hand, causing Julio to do a serious double take. Jim looked at him awkwardly. “Sorry, I keep forgetting.”
“There’s no need to be rude!” Jim smirked.
“What?” Julio smirked right back.
“Sir, I’m no less real than your smart phone and hella smarter.”
“OK, that was funny,” KJ said.
“Wow–that was extremely disorienting.”
“If you enjoyed that, you should try eating some hologramatic food sometime!”
Julio looked perplexed. His expression clearly looked like he was wondering just what drug we’d somehow dosed him with when he wasn’t looking.
“Hologramatic food?” Julio sounded baffled.
“It’s delicious. Tastes like peaches.” KJ was having fun. “You think you’re eating a steak but then it hits your tastebuds and you’re like–” KJ pantomimed a dry heave and then continued “–PEACHES! Wow. It’s life-changing, man.”
“Yo, so what’s the story?” Kate said, smiling and shaking her head at KJ.
PLEASE READ TO THE END FOR A SPECIAL NOTE. THANKS!
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“What do you mean?” I said, my voice sounded strange, deeper, somehow more full. My tongue felt weird in my mouth.
“You can still change into a… a…” Julio paused still regaining his breath.
“No. What ever it is you are… a monster or something.”
My heart sank. I tried to get at my phone but my fingers were too big for my pockets or my pockets had gotten too small. I looked at my legs and saw my jeans clinging to my legs like spandex and my feet several inches below the bottom of my pants. Even my sneakers looked tight on my feet.
Slowly Julio sat up and groaned again.
“Are you OK?” I asked, immediately frustrated with my voice still sounding weird. “WHY AREN’T I CHANGING BACK?!?”
“It’s OK, Jacob—your adrenaline is still racing through your system. Just take some deep breaths and relax. Remember Little Jacob. He’s still inside of you.”
I immediately felt something change.
I looked at my hands again and they seemed different from the last time I looked at them but I couldn’t tell you how. I stared at them to see if I could see them changing. Maybe I wasn’t waiting enough time because I was too anxious, I don’t know. I looked back to Julio, who had climbed to his feet and crouched down next to me. He put his hand to my face. “Jacob, I want to help you, but I need you to listen to me closely. Can you do that?”
“Thank you,” He steadying himself and took a deep breath.
“Fish. Worry. Touch. Remember.” Julio paused as those last four words echoed in my head as though I had heard them before–and I had. They were in the dreams I had after finding the worry stone when I went home for Dad’s funeral. Julio spoke again, repeating one word and adding another: “Remember yourself.”
For what seemed like a very long time, I got lost in those two words. I felt like I could see the sound waves that the words were made of. They were red colored but as the words completed in my mind, they turned slowly to purple, then to blue, then to black and then were gone.
“You see that? You’re fine,” Julio said. I looked at my hands and they looked bruised, but completely normal. Length, shape, even the shade of brown they were seemed right. I felt my face and the eyes were the normal size and shape.
“I’m fine…?” I looked at Julio. “How did you know how to do that?”
He helped me to my feet as he ‘explained’. “Saw it in that one Avengers movie, man. You never saw that movie?”
“No, come on, Hu. How did you know?” He tried to help me down the alley but I stopped him, pushing him away and barely keeping myself up without his support.
“You come on, Little Jacob–I need to get you back to your sister.”
“Nope. Tell me how you knew those words.”
He inhaled deeply and let it out slowly. Then he inhaled again and exhaled slowly again. Then he inhaled deeply AGAIN and I couldn’t take it anymore. “DAMN IT, JULIO! I COULD HAVE KILLED YOU!”
Julio looked at me surprised, as though the thought hadn’t occurred to him. I could see his jaw muscles clenching. I could see little wrinkles forming in his brow. “Let’s just go, Jake.”
Julio turned away from me and started to walk back to the street but quickly stopped.
“I can’t do this,” he said so softly I just barely heard it.
“Can’t do what, Julio?” Jill said from the opening of the alley. I shifted to my right and could see her, beyond Julio, on the sidewalk. She began walking toward him and after a few moments, he started to back toward me. After several steps he turned back in my direction and froze as he saw me. “Please. Don’t make me… I can’t… Jacob, you don’t understand what I’ve done, what I did, what I would do to keep you both safe. I’m in too deep with them. I’m in too deep with all of them.”
Jill spoke with a voice that was cold and piercing. “Julio. You have to tell us.”
He looked at the ground and then nodded as he sat down on in, like he was about to do some meditation or something. He immediately started chanting: “I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t…”
“YES YOU CAN!” I yelled, approaching him. Then I repeated myself, but crouched down next to him and said it softly. “Yes, you can.”
“I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t,” came his reply. Then Jill sat down next to him and spoke very softly.
“Yes, Julio, you can do this. You can do this–to keep us safe.”
I put my arms around him and hugged him tightly. He stopped chanting. Then Jill followed by doing the same. We stayed like that for a bit. For that time it felt so much like the old days. Like we were a family. As we finally ended our three-way hug, I dared think at that moment, that perhaps we could be a family, like we had been, again.
“I thought I could always keep you safe. Even after the massacre, I thought we’d manage to survive it mostly unscathed. I even left to Trade. Cut all ties, moved away from this city, convinced your parents to do the same, and left you both the hell alone. I thought that would be the best thing–the best thing for both of you–for me to no longer be a part of your life.”
I glanced over to Jill who looked more sad than I’d ever seen her. Julio was now sitting with his head hung low. I didn’t want to look at his face because I didn’t want to see him in such pain.
“When the Department contacted me, they made it sound like I was there only hope. They said they’d taken the taken the technology as far as they could and that there were lives in danger. They said terrorists were in play and we needed to stop them. That was enough to get me to say yes. My dad always hated me for not volunteering, so I thought this was my chance to do something for my country. But it didn’t take me long to discover I was in over my head. Even with my years of experience with exo-tech and hyper-tech, back in the day, I couldn’t solve these guys’ problems. They were going to kick me off of the project unless I made progress. I told them I couldn’t and they told me I had to because getting kicked off the project meant more than just getting fired. That’s when I contacted your sister.”
“So, they threatened your life,” Jill said.
“So you risked m-m-mine.”
“I thought I could protect you from them. Believe me, Jill! I thought I could. Hell, I thought I could up until a couple of weeks ago!”
“How long have you known about our friends from another dimension?” Jill asked.
“I found out after we brought you in. Just after. I tried to tell you, but you were too in love with the tech. It felt like I’d just given a recovering addict a lifetime supply of hits. I couldn’t get you out by then, mainly because I knew you, Jill. I knew you would never let me get you out.”
Jill wiped a tear from her eye but was otherwise unemotional, which is her way.
“Then, I guess, you found out about our friends and bailed anyway. Damn it, Jill! I was so afraid they’d go after you!”
“I tried to find you on my own, but, by then, I was working for both sides by then and was feeling pulled pretty thin. I should have known you could take care of yourself. You and Jacob were always so strong. You are what my grandfather would have called El Durazno.”
“What the hell does that mean?” I asked.
“Doesn’t it m-mean p-peach in Spanish?”
“He told me that, as a child in Puerto Rico, there was this peach tree in his backyard. One day, there was a very bad storm. It took most of his neighborhood apart, but the peach tree was still there and even grew more peaches. Ever since then he called people who could withstand anything El Durazno!” He put his arms around us and pulled us tight. “You two are like that to me. Any storm that comes your way, you can survive it!”
I couldn’t help but tear up and even start sobbing a bit.
“Then, when I saw Little Jacob back in the picture, I thought things could change. I thought he would lead me to you and then we could work things out. But then… then…”
“Then things got complicated with the Double-O factions and then my people at the Department started to disagree and then…”. Julio stopped talking, shoved both of us away from him and stood up.
“We can’t talk about this here. Take me to your hideout.”
“Our ‘hideout’?” Jill asked getting to her feet.
“Yeah, your HQ,” he said. “Where you guys plan things. Your B.O.O.”
“Our B.O.O.?” I asked climbing to my feet, as well.
“Your Base Of Operations.”
Minutes later we were in a secluded area on the far-westside, almost to the Hudson, under overpasses and aside highways. Jill motioned for us to stand by a wall and then pulled out her smart phone. She held it up like a torch in some old monster movie (or in a modern-day Nazi rally, I guess) and, as the display on her phone started flashing like a strobe light, she stepped toward a CCTV camera that was aimed away from us. She was moving the strobing from her phone just close enough so the camera could see it. Then, right by us, we saw a blue flash and KJ was standing there with the Accessory in his hands. “S’up guys! Everything go ok–?”
He realized that Julio was with us as we approached him. “Are we kidnapping your guys’ uncle?”
“No, he’s c-c-coming with us.”
KJ leaned toward Jill and spoke. “Is that a good idea?”
“It is. He’s willing to talk and the only way in or out of NH is with an Accessory and even with one, you need to know the c-c-coordinates of NH.”
“NH? OH yeah. N.H. Got it. Well, reach out, touch me!” he said. Jill touch his left forearm, Julio his right and I grabbed him from behind by the shoulders and massaged said shoulders. “Oh, yeah, that’s nice,” he said as we disappeared in a flash of blue.
Today’s writing is dedicated to Harlan Ellison who passed away in his sleep last night but is immortal through his work and influence on all the artists who have been and who ever will be exposed to it. I’ve always counted Ellison’s work as an influence on me. I had the luck of having a telephone conversation with him many years ago, in which I made him laugh. That would have been enough for me, but before the conversation was finished, he called me a peach. 🙂
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It was the sound of what I immediately thought was Julio’s death rattle that seemed to trigger the street lights to rise back up to allow my peripheral vision to see more than just my uncle’s face and my hands around his neck. My body felt strange—awkward, uncomfortable. I let my hands loose of Julio’s throat and stood up quickly. As I did I felt a bit of vertigo. I looked down at his body, which seemed so small or maybe just far away. I looked at my hands and saw they were distorted—elongated, almost monstrous. I took a step back from Julio’s body and put my hand to my mouth in utter confusion.
I changed again but I had no reason to. I was not in any danger. I wasn’t even afraid. It was like my heart started racing as I got emotional and ran after him. I looked up at the street lights and decided they hadn’t gotten dim at all. My vision became restricted somehow while I morphed. Had my eyes changed? I put my hands to my eyes and while they did feel different, I could not tell how. So, maybe it was something else? Had I somehow generated the darkness? Like those guys that Wise said has shadow generators.
But I don’t have a shadow generator.
I didn’t even bring the Accessory with me.
Finally, my concerns returned to Julio. I looked down and just as I saw his head move and heard a groan come from his throat, I noticed people walking past the alley I realized I was in the middle of. Was I still different? Was I still a Conva? I dashed behind a dumpster to hide from anyone walking by, but I was still in view of Julio on the ground. His eyes opened and he looked over at me and smiled weakly.
“Oh man, I thought you were cured…”
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“You always ask the impossible questions, Jill.”
“Just tell me what you kn-know!”
“Do you have a day or two? Well, if I tell you everything about all this you should at least go take a leak before I get started.”
“Spill it n-n-now before I—“ Jill was already clenching her jaw tightly when she suddenly stopped speaking and slapped Julio across the face.”
His whole head turned away from us and when it turned back, his face was a mix of utter shock and utter anger.
“I think I just lost my appetite.” With that, he got up and stormed out of the restaurant.
“What are you doing?” I yelled.
“Stay here—I’ll go get him back!”
I dashed out the door after him. I saw him down the sidewalk, looking back at me. He saw me and immediately ran for it. I raced after him. He turned a corner and before I turned the same corner, I noticed the street lights in the area started to dim.
I turned the corner and saw Julio almost at the end of the next block the street lights dimmed even more until all I could see was Julio’s face looking back at me in utter terror. At that point his face filled most of my view. It was so big that it more felt like I was right in front of me. Then he spoke to me with the most raspy of voices—like he couldn’t even breathe.
Then I noticed my hands were around his throat and he was on his back and I was trying to strangle him to death.
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Just when I was pretty sure his eyes couldn’t go any wider, he smiled warmly at us. “Wow—family reunion!”
Jill and I mirrored each others’ awkward silence. I think we both realized that all of the sudden, we really didn’t want to talk to Julio. We knew we needed to, of course, but that didn’t mean we needed to rush, either.
“So, uh, are you guys eating because I’m here for dinner.” A waitress approached and asked if we needed menus. I suddenly felt my stomach growl. “I uh, am a little hungry.”
Jill immediately hit me in my arm with the back of her hand.
“Ow! What? I could eat! I’m sorry!”
“We didn’t come here to eat, Jacob!”
“OK!” I said, trying to avoid the controversy.
“You guys! Eat if you want,” Julio said, half-smiling. “On me. It’s cool.”
“See that? He’s OK with it.”
“But we’re not,” Jill said, declaratively.
I smirked, looking away from either of them but then back to Julio who was now smiling warmly again. “You two never change.”
“Let’s just get this over with,” Jill said.
“I’m going to order then,” Julio said, turning to the waitress quickly and telling her what he wanted.
“So, no menus for you two, then?” She said holding two menus out to us.
“No, they’re lonely and bitter. They’ll probably go home to their hole in the ground and eat quietly in separate caves.”
The waitress awkwardly withdrew as Jill began talking.”
“What’s the suit for, Julio? You just back from a job interview or something? Or maybe a funeral?”
Julio pursed his lips and then smiled again. “What do you want, Little Jill?”
“I want to know what you know, once and for all. Things are getting a little tense between the Double-O factions and the factions on this side of the dimensional rift.”