NaNoWriMo Day 18 (1577 words) Visions from the Coffee Cup

Markey’s new school was a large brick building not too far from their apartment building. Bushes lined the front of the building under the windows of the first floor. The lights were on in the rooms and the blinds were pulled open in some rooms and merely adjusted in the other rooms to let in the stripes and shadows of daylight without leaving too much glare on the boards and screens inside. There was a large set of cement stairs in the center of the building where the school children were being directed in through the large double doors by three different teachers who were stationed there to make sure the students didn’t congregate to talk and block the flow of the others who needed to get through.

Markey held on to Linda’s hand as they went up the stairs. He waved at the other kids and told them hello. Some of them stopped to ask his name and were scolded by the man at the top of the stairs. Linda asked him where the office was, and he pointed inside and to the left. He said, “It’s marked. You won’t miss it.”

Linda and Markey walked into the office, and she waited in front of the desk that was currently unmanned. A woman in the office in the back of the office popped her head through the door with a telephone on one ear. She pointed and said, “The substitute sign in sheet is right there. I will be out to tell you which room as soon as I finish up on the phone.”

Linda said, “I am here to enroll my son.”

The woman said, “Mrs. Suzan takes care off that. She will be back in a few minutes. She is leading a staff meeting.”

Markey said, “Mom, who do you think my teacher is going to be?”

Linda said, “That is what we are here to find out.”

Markey pulled on Linda’s skirt and then pointed to a lady in the hallway. He said, “I hope it is her. I think she looks nice.”

Linda said, “The kids going in there look a little too old.”

The school was old in the charming way. The classrooms seemed to have constructed as a renovation to the existing building some years back. The lower height and the square ceiling tiles didn’t match the decorative pillars and tall ceilings in the main hallway, but maintenance had been kept up and made to look modern while maintaining some of the appeal of the older style. And the teachers looked young. Linda remembered back to her days in the second grade she had always thought here teachers were pretty, but they had seemed unfathomably old. Linda wondered at the difference of perspective a decade and a half could have on the way she saw things. She hoped that Markey might still share in some of the magic of being a child that she remembered. He had grown up in much different circumstances than her. Linda said, “Markey, are you excited to meet your new teacher and all your new school friends?”

Markey said, “I know you said there aren’t monsters here, but I really hope that one of the other kids is a zombie. I really like zombies. Or he could be a wizard or a demon.”

A woman came walking down the hall alongside two of her colleagues. She had a folder with several pieces of paper in her hands, and she was discussing the best way to update the school fire evacuation plans in the wake of the catastrophe they had in their most recent citywide riots. She said, even though the riots didn’t make it to this side of town, getting the children back safely with their families had taken much too long and too many children had gotten misplaced in the confusion. Linda understood that misplaced was a necessary workplace euphemism, but she still wasn’t encouraged by the way the word made people’s children sound so much like inanimate objects. She had a golden nametag pinned to her shirt that said Mrs. Suzan Samaras Administrative Assistant. She had walked into the office in time to hear Markey mention zombies, wizards, and demons. She looked at Linda with an almost disapproving smirk. She said, “Children can be so imaginative.”

Linda had thought that maybe this was the woman that Raul had spoken to on the phone. She thought that a rain of cobras just might suit this woman’s attitude well. Linda told the woman she had come to finish up school enrollment for her son. Suzan looked at her computer, typed in Markey’s name, and clicked through a few things with the mouse. She said, “Mark Raul Botulin the third and you are Linda Henderson.” Linda showed Suzan her driver’s license. Suzan said, “All we need now is to make a copy of his birth certificate, shot records, and proof of address. If the address on your driver’s license is current, we will accept that.” Linda handed over the paperwork. Suzan ran it all through the copy machine and handed it back to her. She said, “If you want to meet his teacher you will have to sign here and let me hold on to your driver’s license until you are ready to leave.” Linda filled out her name and the time and handed Suzan her license again. She clipped a visitor’s badge to her shirt collar. Suzan said, “He is in room zero-four-seven with Mrs. Packwood.” She pointed to her left. “Down this hall then take the second hall to your right. It is about halfway down. I’ll buzz her on the intercom and let her know you are on your way.”

On the way to his new classroom, Markey was intrigued by one of the older children walking down the hallway. The boy’ pants were a little too long and they had worn away in the back where they rubbed against the floor. The boy’s hair was spiked up and he was staring at something that he was playing on his phone. Markey pointed. He said, “He doesn’t look like a zombie to me. Do you think I could make him do something?”

Linda said, “Be nice, Markey. He is just on his phone. That is how people are when they are on their phones.”

Markey slowed down to watch the older boy walk by. He said, “Mindless?”

Linda said, “Hush!” She squeezed his hand and pulled him along with her. She said, “I told you to be nice.”

Markey started to hum, and he raised his free hand toward the boy. Linda turned around to face her son. She said, “Stop that right now, son.” Markey ignored her. She said, “If you make him run off and bite one of the other children, I am going to pop your little butt right here in the school hallway.”

Markey pouted. He said, “Fine, mom. I’ll stop. I just thought it was funny.”

Linda said, “It’s not, little boy. I don’t want to hear about you pulling any stunts like that when I am gone either.”

Markey said, “Dad would let me. You’re mean.”

Linda said, “Your dad and I both agreed that you need to learn how to interact with children your own age. Part of that learning is not trying to control their actions especially when they have given away their freewill to their phones.”

Markey said, “But why is it ok for their phones to do it, but I can’t?”

Linda said, “Their mommies and daddies decided it was fine to give a young child a phone. They are allowed to make that decision for their own children. You are not.”

Markey said, “But Mom.”

Linda said, “Hush up, now. I think that is your classroom over there.” She pointed to the door two rooms up the hall.

Mrs. Packwood came to the door to meet them. She wore glasses and had her hair pulled back in a ponytail. She introduced herself to Linda and turned to Markey. She said, “You must be Mark.”

Linda said, “Markey.”

Markey said, “It’s ok, mom. I can be Mark at school. I am getting big.” He smiled at Linda, and she smiled back at him.

Mrs. Packwood put her hand on Markey’s back and led him into the room. She said, “Mark, we have been talking about different jobs that people can have. What does you dad do?”

Markey was proud to tell everyone about his dad. He spoke so they all could hear. He said, “My dad is the Emperor of Evil.”

Mrs. Packwood looked confused. She said, “Is that a real job title?” She looked at Linda who was still standing at the door.

Linda smiled at Mrs. Packwood. She said, “He is self-employed.” Mrs. Packwood smiled back at her as if Linda’s answer explained everything. Linda waved at Markey and said, “I’ll be her to pick you up after school.”

Linda stopped back at the office to retrieve her driver’s license from Mrs. Suzy. She was still there with her same annoying smirk, and Linda was tempted. She thought no one would notice just one cobra dropping out of the sky. It didn’t have to be a big one. In the end, Linda didn’t do it. She was through being the Empress of Evil. If she was going to make her son be good, she would be good, too.

NaNoWriMo Day 17 (2389 words) Visions from the Coffee Cup

(Note for the author: please remember to move this scene into the proper sequence and don’t forget that the door to Linda’s apartment had been kicked in) Not long before her conversation with Raul and just after she had engaged the safety chain and propped a bookcase against her door because it had been kicked open when she was last here, Linda’s phone buzzed a small arc on her kitchen table and lit up her darkened room. She had received several text messages which she had ignored. And one phone call that she had let ring. She it would go to voicemail or at least to the message that informed her callers that she had not yet set up her voicemail. It was Mr. Hutchinson from the editor’s desk of the newspaper, again. This time, she decided that she had to answer, or he was just going to keep calling. She picked up the phone and answered.

Mr. Hutchinson said, “Is everything ok, Mrs. Carla? You haven’t brought your next batch of horoscopes for the upcoming editions.”

Linda said, “I’ve had a rough couple of days.”

Mr. Hutchinson said, “Haven’t we all. Just this morning I had to fight off a zombie that was biting my wife. Don’t worry about her though. She probably still has antibodies from the last time something like this happened.”

Linda said, “What do you mean? Have you had zombies before?”

Mr. Hutchinson said, “Look, I’ve been working the editor’s desk a long time. If you can think of it, I bet you I have seen it.” He let his voice trail off a bit then he said, “Linda, do you have an electronic copy you can send? I don’t want to hold up the presses. I told you when you took the job the paper has been here before you and it will be here after you. I can count on one hand the amount of times that it has been held up, and mass riots and a few monster attacks are not enough to hold the presses. I told you to read the fine print on your employment contract.”

Linda said, “I am sorry, Mr. Hutchinson. I just haven’t had time to come up with any.”

Mr. Hutchinson said, “I’ll tell you what. You have your electronic backups from last week, right?” She agreed. He said, “Just make a few changes here and there and send them to me within an hour. No one will notice. It is the unofficial motto of this paper—It doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t have to be right. It just has to be on time.”

Linda said, “Ok, sir, I will. I promise.”

Mr. Hutchinson said, “You’ve been doing a good job for us, Mrs. Carla. Just make sure you get your articles done on time, ok? There are few worse things in the universe than an angry newspaper editor.”

Linda thanked him again and got to work on her horoscopes. She would have her time of silent contemplation of the people in her coffee cup after she got her work done. She seemed to have forgotten that even an all-powerful Empress of Evil had demands on her time and people she had to answer to. Linda finished up her horoscopes, emailed them to Mr. Hutchinson, and got out her coffee cup to pour herself a few hours of distraction.

(Now, cut to conversation with Raul.)

Some days in the future, Linda and Allen had made up, Markey had arrived for his first visit the night before. He had arrived late, so they hadn’t unpacked his luggage, and Linda was digging through his luggage while Markey was in the bathroom talking to his dad through the mirror above the bathroom sink. Markey said, “It was so much fun, dad. I never had a real sleep over before. They even put sheets over the top of the couch and sleep in it like my very own tent.”

Raul said, “Did they let you practice raising zombies last night?” Markey stood there with his mouth shut tight. Raul said, “You know you need to practice raising the dead every day, or you will get out of practice.” Raul turned his evil visage toward the bathroom door. He said loudly, “Linda, you need to make sure Markey practices raising the dead every day. He needs to manipulate the flames of hell as well. And at least once or twice a week he needs to visit the fiery plane of Tartarus to keep his fluency in the many demonic tongues.”

Allen paced back and forth outside of the bathroom. He said, “Hurry up, Markey. You can call your dad and tell him about all about your trip later today. I need to need the bathroom bad.”

Markey looked at Allen. He said, “Number one or number two?”

Allen said, “Number one.”

Markey said, “Just go. Boys can pee together.”

Allen turned to Linda in the living room. He said, “I’m about to take a leak in the kitchen sink.”

She said, “You better not. I wash dishes in that sink.” Linda walked past Allen and poked her head in the bathroom. She said, “Raul, are you sure you packed his birth certificate and social security card? I need to get him enrolled in school. You have had his transcripts sent to the New Heaven School District offices, haven’t you?”

Raul said, “The inside pocket of the red suitcase, Linda. And the transcripts were sent last Friday. I know they got them because they called me and asked if studies of the Tibetan Book of the Dead was English, History, or Foreign Language. I told them it was a little of each. I don’t think they liked that answer. Do you even know how hard it was for me not to send down a hail of poisonous snakes on their location when I heard the lady’s passive aggressive sigh? Cobras, Linda. King cobras. That was the kind of mood I was in.”

Linda said, “You promised you wouldn’t do anything that would bias them against our son, Raul.” Allen was still pacing. Linda said, “Just go, Allen. He and you are the same person. It is not like it is anything either of you has never seen before.”

Raul and Allen both protested at the same time. They each said something to the effect of “Not after all this time” or “Just because I saw it once.”

Raul said, “Linda just let me know if you can find his birth certificate and what not. You know I have no arms or legs. I had the zombies do it. They make mistakes sometimes, but they never lie.”

Linda was on her knees looking through the pockets of the red suitcase. She pulled out a folder and found the paperwork inside. She turned her head and spoke over her shoulder. “I got it, Raul.”

Raul said, “Good deal.” He looked at his son. “Alright Markey, daddy’s got to go.”

Markey said, “No, dad. I miss you.”

Raul said, “I love you, Markey. I am hanging up before Allen pees his pants.”

Markey said, “Bye dad. I love you.”

Raul said, “I love you too, son.” The image in the mirror faded away.

Allen ran into the bathroom. He said, “Please close the door behind you, Markey.” Markey closed the door and the latch snapped shut to the sound of violent urination. Allen said, “Oh, thank god.”

In a singsong voice, Markey said, “Mom! Allen said a bad word. He said the G word.”

Through the bathroom door, Allen said, “It is not a bad word. It is only profaning the name of the lord.”

Markey said, “Mom! Allen is telling me that is good to say bad words.”

Allen washed his hands and came out of the bathroom. Linda saw him. She said, “Allen don’t confuse Markey. He is only a small child.”

Allen said, “Thank God isn’t a bad word.”

Markey said, “Mom! He said it again.”

Linda said, “It’s ok, Markey. I’ll explain it to you later. We have to get moving if we are going to get you registered for school.”

Markey said, “Is it like ‘the birds and the bees?’ My dad said he would explain that one to me later, too. He never did.”

Linda said, “Your father and I will have that talk with you when you are older. He was right to wait on that one. You are still too young.”

They walked out the door and Allen could hear Markey saying please all the way down the hallway.

Allen got dressed in his expensive suit and the new tie that Linda had bought him for this occasion. He had two job interviews lined up, one that morning and another one lined up later that day. The first one was for an office temp agency and the other one was as a waiter at a chain restaurant. The agency was the one that expected people to dress up the restaurant was going to get the dress clothes as ‘collateral handsome’ or at least that is what Linda had told him.

The temp agency supplied office workers for the businesses downtown. This was the way Linda said Mr. Hutchinson told her that people with no experience with office work and no college degree could get a decent job that is if they learned fast and impressed the office managers for a year or two. The temp agency was on the second floor of a small office building two blocks off the skyscrapers of downtown. Allen took the elevator up because he did not want sweat stains in his good suit. It was dry-clean only and that was an expense he was hoping to avoid at least until after his first pay check or two.

The waiting room was surprising large for the few chairs that were spread out along three walls of the waiting room. There was a mural on the front wall of the waiting room that showed rows upon rows of cubicles and nondescript workers with blank faces. In bold letters over the top of the mural was the name of the business and their business motto: Temps Anonymous: In an expendable world, you can be the replacement, or you can be replaced. There was a woman sitting at the front desk with a smile on her face and a clipboard in her hand. She said, “Fill this out and bring it back to me. You did remember to bring two forms of identification and proof of residency, right?”

Allen said, “It took me countless hours all over town getting replacements for all of that since I had all of that stollen when I was mugged.”

She said, “You must be new in town if you were dumb enough to keep it all where a mugger could find it. Come back when you have that all filled out.” He filled out all the paperwork, handed it back to her, and sat back down to wait for someone to call his name. Allen was lead past several glass walled offices with floor length blinds drawn. The lights were on each of these offices, but it was easy to tell that none of them were occupied. This wasn’t the most expensive real estate in town, but Allen still had to wonder how exactly they were able to keep the rent paid with as few applicants as they seemed to be able to process at one time.

The woman led him to an office at the back of the hall. It was the only one with the blinds drawn and the door propped open. She offered him a seat and then she sat down on the other side of the desk. She looked over at the computer screen and then down at Allen’s application, resume, and cover letter that he had emailed to them, and she had printed out for this interview. The woman stuck out her hand for him to shake. She said, “Nice to meet you Alen. You can call me Ophelia.” They shook hands. She looked again at his application, flipped one page then another. It says you worked two years at fast food. Oh! In the suburbs. You must find life in the city quite stimulating.” She didn’t raise the tone of her voice or even look up from his application. Allen mumbled the sound of assent and waited for her to go on. She said, “Before that you worked several years as an Emperor of Evil.” She did look up at him after that. She said, “You said that your duties included world domination and mass-genocide. That must have been exciting work. Why did you quit that?”

Allen said, “It almost feels like that happened in another life to another person. I guess my heart wasn’t in it anymore.”

She said, “Well I guess that is good because we don’t have much call for plagues of locusts and hordes of roving banshees. Those are the skills you put were required for that job.” It didn’t sound like a question to him, but he answered with a yes anyway. She said, “Right now we only have an opening for a data entry assistant. I can put you in for this job if you like, and I can call you with any more interesting jobs that fit your skillset as they arise.”

Allen said, “That sounds great.”

She said, “We still need to wait for your fingerprints and background check to come back, but I have been in touch with Mr. Hutchinson over at the paper and he has assured me that you would make a great new worker for my talent pool. I should get back with you by the end of the week with an address and a time for you to meet your new employer.” They shook hands again. “It was nice meeting you, Allen. I hope you have nice rest of the day and tell those poachers at Pancake Express that they can go jump in a lake because we got you first.”

Allen said, “Yes ma’am. I will do that.” He walked out of that office building feeling much better about himself, and he couldn’t wait to tell Linda and Markey about his new job.”

NaNoWriMo Day 16 (2003 words) Visions from the Coffee Cup

Linda looked out at the crowd that had gathered in the street. She said, “I think I finally get it. It doesn’t matter. None of it matters.” She raised her hands and watched the people in the crowd follow them with their eyes. She said, “By right of birth and marriage, I am Mistress Carla Empress of Evil. I command all of you to disperse and destroy the city.

The people in the crow started to move away. Someone found a loose brick in a planter across the street and threw it through the nearest window. Another person pulled a lighter out of his pocket and started a nearby trashcan on fire. There was shouting and the sounds of breaking glass. Linda said, “Not here you idiots. Go down the road somewhere. I don’t want to hear it. I am tired of it all.”

Allen said, “Linda, why are you doing this?”

Linda said, “Weren’t you here to do the same thing, Raul.”

Allen said, “Don’t call me that.”

Mr. Branzino said, “This is all your fault, Allen. You have gone and broken her.”

Allen said, “I didn’t break her. She pulled me away from that woman in there. She got me thinking right.”

Linda said, “Allen, Mr. Branzino whoever you are whatever you both are. Consider yourselves absolved from any and all duties you feel you owe me. And if Judy and Hector are not gone destroying the city like all the rest of the mindless rabble, you tell them they are free as well.” She turned to walk away from them.

Allen said, “Linda, you don’t have that power.”

Linda said, “Don’t I? Am I not an all-powerful goddess of destruction?”

Mr. Branzino said, “No Linda.”

Allen said, “That is not all that you are.”

Linda said, “I used to think so, Allen. I tried so hard to keep things down to hide them from myself, but they just keep coming back. There is no absolution, Allen. What’s done is done.”

Allen walked up to her and tried to put his hand on hers. She pulled away. He said, “What about our son, Linda?”

Linda said, “What about him, Allen? What kind of a life is that? We raised him to kill and destroy.”

Allen said, “Don’t give up on our son. There is good in him.”

Linda said, “We raised him to be evil. He controls the powers of hell. He is only eight years old. He doesn’t understand what it means to be cut off from everlasting paradise. He has no chance at redemption. Allen, we did that to him. We don’t deserve him.”

Allen said, “He wanted me to warn you. He didn’t want you to break anything.”

Linda said, “I think I was better off broken.”

Linda said, “I am going back to my apartment. I am going to pour myself a cup of coffee and I am going to sit back and watch the places where I don’t exist. This world can burn down around my ears as long as I am left alone.”

Linda walked home alone in the city streets in the middle of the day. The light came down in a strange muted red and ash was falling from the buildings burning in the outskirts of the city. The ash came down in big flakes like falling snow and it drifted down the street swirling in the breeze. She had never remembered the city so silent or destruction so empty. She walked up the stairs wondering if she would ever see the man from downstairs again. If she would ever pass him on the stairs and smile. She wondered if she had it in her to ever smile again. Or how she had ever been so broken that she could feel simple joy in the first place. She didn’t know what else she could. Death was supposed to be the end, wasn’t it?

When she got to her apartment, she closed the curtains and turned off the lights. The only thing left on was the red light from the coffeemaker on her kitchen table and the smell of coffee in the air. This time she waited until the coffee pot was full before she poured her cup of coffee. She could almost see by the red light of the coffeemaker. He simple white coffee cup shone in a light red glimmer on one side. Then the red was replaced be a deep and ominous green that was coming from the bathroom. She had forgotten to close the door. There was a sound coming from in the bathroom. It was a low humming then a sound like fingers tapping on a microphone. A voice came from inside of the bathroom. The voice said, “Mistress Carla, are you there?”

It was the voice of Raul, her husband. Linda said, “What do you want? Can’t you tell I am trying to be alone?”

Raul said, “Would please come in here so we could talk face to face?”

Linda said, “I have seen quite enough of you already.”

Raul said, “I’ve been thinking about what you said about our son.”

Linda said, “I haven’t spoken to you.”

Raul said, “Fine. You want to pretend that Allen and I are not the same person now.”

Linda said, “You aren’t. He can be sweet, gentle, and empathetic. All you are is evil.”

Raul said, “Is that how you see me Linda. Is it ok if I call you Linda? You let Allen do it.”

Linda said, “Fine. If you are going to continue to talk to me, the least I can do is do you the courtesy of letting you see my face.” She got up, went into the bathroom, and flipped the light switch. She had thought that he would look comical in the bathroom mirror above the sink, but it was actually somewhat more personal and friendly to see him at a relatively normal size. She had only ever seen him project himself through the finely decorated full length mirror in the throne room of their floating castle. She said, “How is life? Are you still living in The Burning Hammer?” She had never thought abought how silly it was to name the castle let alone name it something as absurd as ‘The Burning Hammer,’ but now the thought was on her mind.

Raul said, “I am still living there. Well, residing might be a better way of putting it.” He stopped for a second to regard her through the mirror. He said, “You look good, Linda. I like what you have done with your hair.”

Linda said, “Thank you Raul. How have you been?” They seemed to fall into their normal rhythm despite the awkwardness of their situation.

Raul said, “Things have been better. I’m afraid I have let myself go. After you died, I spent so much time in my mirror looking for ways to bring you back that I seemed to let my body wither up and die. Our son is turning out to be a talented little necromancer himself. He was able to affix my soul to the throne room mirror. Linda, you would be proud of him.”

Linda said, “I am proud of him, Raul, but he needs more than we are capable of giving to him.”

Raul said, “I don’t think so, Linda. You seem to have found something there. And I have found it, too. I think we could build a life there. A real life. A regular life. We don’t have to be Emperor and Empress of Evil. We can raise little Markey like a regular child. I think you and Allen could teach him more than murder and darkness and world domination. Not that those aren’t worthy goals to achieve.”

Linda said, “Markey loves you so much. I can tell. I could never take him away from you. And even you Raul. I can’t imagine what kind of devil you would become without Markey there to guide you.”

Raul said, “But he loves you so much. How about this? He can come and live with you and Allen half of the time, and you and he come and live here with me the other half of the time.”

Linda said, “I am sorry Raul, but I can’t agree to that arrangement. I have grown beyond that stage in my life. I may be an Empress of Evil and I may never be able to escape everything that comes along with that, but I want to move on with my life.”

Raul said, “I think you are right. You would never be happy here, and I would never be happy there. I have gone too far toward the darkness, and I think there is nothing left but my love for my boy.”

Linda said, “We have that settled then. Markey stays with me half of the year, and you the other half.”

Raul said, “Yes, but you better make sure he writes and gives me a call once in a while. I am never farther away than the nearest mirror.”

Linda said, “Speaking of that, maybe you should have set times when you decide to call. We don’t need you scaring the bejesus our of any friends that Markey has over.”

Raul said, “Do you think, Markey will have friends?”

Linda said, “Of course he will. I plan on getting him enrolled in school as soon as possible. I am not sure that literary studies of the Necronomicon are highly prized classes where I am living right now.”

Raul said, “You never know when you may need to raise a three headed hellhound.”

Linda said, “I hope he never has any need for that here.”

Raul said, “Me too.”

Linda said, “One more thing before you go. Markey said you were building some kind of machine.”

Raul said, “Oh yes. The Portal of Souls. I should probably turn that thing off. You turned out to be much more reasonable than I had imagined. I was going to use it to tear the universes apart and bring you to me in eternal fiery destruction, but I don’t think that will be necessary now.” There was a series of beeps and a slow whirring sound that slowly came to a stop. “Things should go back to normal now. I am sure there were a few deaths and burned buildings. It is possible that several monsters have been set loose, but it is nothing that people across the multiverse won’t forget in a few days. People are easy that way.”

Linda said, “How soon are you planning to send Markey? I think I need some time to apologize to Allen. I said some really harsh things to him when I left.”

Raul said, “I think I will forgive you. You did hurt my feelings, but that wasn’t nearly as painful as finding out that you died just to get away from me. If Allen can get over that, he will get over you absolving him of his duties. As offenses go, that is probably not the worst.”

Linda said, “Still I have to apologize to him, Mr. Branzino, Judy, and Hector.”

Raul said, “I guess you really have changed. There was a time you didn’t care about anybody’s feelings but those of your family.”

Linda said, “Have you never felt there could be more to life?”

Raul said, “Every day, Linda. Every day. Thank you for letting me provide that for my son, Linda. You may not be as evil as you once were, but you are still a good mom. Oh, and before I forget, you should find a safe place to put the toy boat, the note, the hairbrush, and any other aspects of the portal of souls you may find. I am sure you wouldn’t want anyone to restart the machine now that it is at full power.” The evil face in the mirror faded until the only thing that was left was Linda’s own reflection.

NaNoWriMo Day 15 (1400 words) Visions from the Coffee Cup

After Markey had gone, Allen was still on the floor playing with the toy car. Linda went into the room where Tracy was still lying on the ground. The woman was looking at Linda in terror. She said, “I didn’t mean it Mrs. Carla. I didn’t know what I was doing. Please don’t kill me.”

Linda looked at Tracy. She said, “Where is the boat?” Linda caught a glimpse of herself in the bathroom mirror. She didn’t like what she saw. There was a strange look in her eyes and her facial features looked somehow hardened. There was something strange about the mirror in the bathroom. It seemed too dark like the glass reflecting darkness and projecting it into the room. And she felt it too. She was angry at Tracy. She wanted to punish her. She didn’t like the way all of this felt.

Tracy said, “It’s over there.” She pointed to her purse. It had been on the nightstand before Tracy had rummaged through it when she had been going by Linda’s other name. Now, the purse was laying open on the floor with half its contents spread out on the floor. Linda almost didn’t need to see the boat to know that it was there. She reached in and pulled it from the purse. What Allen had told Stacy wasn’t exactly right. The GoFundMe account may have reached its fund-raising goals, but the boat was pulsing with power. The toy boat was just finished with Stacy. Linda put the toy boat in her pocket. She didn’t think it would be a good idea to let Allen see it. Especially after the way he reacted to the toy car. She thought maybe he shouldn’t have that one either, but it had calmed him and gotten him to listen to her.

Allen was still on the ground playing with the car and making sound effects as he played. Linda reached down to help Allen back to his feet. As soon as she touched him, he broke out of the spell. He held on to her hand and used his other hand against the wall to help her get him up. He slipped the car into his pocket without even seeming to notice that he had it. He said, “Linda, where are we? I want to say that this is the apartment building where I was beaten by those men, but it didn’t look like this.”

Allen was right. Linda hadn’t even noticed the changes before he had mentioned that things had changed. The dirty and peeling hallway linoleum had been replaced in places by what looked like pieces of hand cut stone blocks set with mortar. The floor was strewn with fragrant clippings of dried heather. There were other things too. The ceilings were, taller and the windows were taller and rounded on the top. Linda said, “Markey told me I need to get you out of here as soon as I can.”

Allen said, “Markey was here? He had something I was supposed to tell you only I never got the chance.”

They descended the stairs that went down in a spiral when they had been flights of stairs on her way up. The lobby of the building now had an old iron chandelier hanging from the ceiling and the broken-down elevator was a grand staircase that led up to and terminated at the ceiling. There was a crowd of people gathered on the street looking in confusion at the building. Linda thought that the changes that had taken place had only been unnoticeable to her.

Mr. Branzino flagged them down from the crowd of people. He said, “There have been strange things happening in the time since you have been gone. I saw it on the television in the ER waiting room. Buildings have changed all over the city and a cathedral appeared in the heart of downtown.”

Allen said, “I know you. You are the Man from the deli.”

Mr. Branzino eyed him up and down. He said, “Your shoes match your suit. What name are you using young man?”

Linda said, “He is Allen, Mr. Branzino.”

He looked at Linda. He hadn’t noticed at first, but she had changed. She was standing taller and looked more confident and maybe something else he couldn’t quite articulate. He said, “Tell me young lady, what name are you using?”

Linda said, “I didn’t do any of this if that what you are asking me.”

Mr. Branzino said, “Nothing. Nothing, Linda. It will all be fine. I think Hector should be checked out of the hospital by now. I told Judy how to get to my place and left her the keys. And it was good that I had sent them there because I have had several calls telling me that my store is on fire.”

Linda said, “Mr. Branzino, I think you are just going to have to disregard much of what is happening today.”

Mr. Branzino said, “What? Why?”

Allen said, “Yes, Linda. I would like to know why too.”

Linda said, “I am pretty sure the writer of this story has run out of ideas and is simply trying to meet some silly daily word goal.”

Mr. Branzino said, “It sure does sound like it. I mean taking a look at the craziness going on all over the city I might think that the writer is simply behind on words and trying to write whatever he or she possibly can in order to catch up.”

Allen said, “Honestly, that is what it has felt like the whole time. I mean what is next is there going to be some kind of zombie apocalypse or some other kind of lazy writing trope like that.”

Mr. Branzino said, “Hold on I am going to hail a cab. We really should get back to my apartment and meet with Judy and Hector because it doesn’t seem like any of the strangers on the street are going to step forward to help with plot advancement.” He turned around slowly to get a good look at the crowd. He say a man wearing a buffalo hair loincloth and a Viking helmet on his head. He was carrying around a toy spear and he had a sign across his chest that written in lipstick that said, Go Packers. There was a man wearing a gasmask carrying around several zip ties in his hands like he was planning on taking people hostage. The streets were full of people. Mr. Branzino said, “I don’t know none of these people look important at all.”

Linda said, “I wouldn’t think so. It is really too far into the plot to be introducing new characters.”

Allen said, “True and isn’t there already so many locations that have been previously introduced. Maybe we shouldn’t be headed to your place, Mr. Branzino. It just seems like none of these places even matter. They are all interchangeable, aren’t they?”

Mr. Branzino said, “Look son I never said anything like that about where you live have I. I know that each apartment looks pretty much the same as the next when you are talking about the floorplan, but do you think that individual’s personal tastes in decoration are not enough to differentiate one place from another.”

Linda said, “Wait a minute, Mr. Branzino. I don’t think Allen meant any offense to you or to your decorating style. But you did just say you wanted to signal for a cab when the street is full of people. There is no possible way that would even be able to happen.”

Mr. Branzino said, “Give me a break after the day I have had anybody could be expected to overlook something like that. Are you telling me you never miss anything simple?”

Allen said, “I was the one that made fun of your decorating skills. Why are you taking it out on her?”

Mr. Branzino said, “I don’t know. Things are just really confusing right about now because the plot has dragged to a halt simply because it started to look like it had an actual direction.”

Linda said, “That is right. Nothing would look more simple, stupid, and unbelievable in our story than a simple plotline.”

Allen said, “I agree with you, Linda. If something makes sense it doesn’t belong in our story. There must be something seriously wrong here.”

NaNoWriMo Day 14 (1412 words) Visions from the Coffee Cup

Linda walked into the lobby, and she expected to see a check in desk and a bored hotel manager swatting at flies with a rolled-up newspaper. But there was only graffiti scrawled on the wall saying to ring the bell for service. In pencil, someone had written that checkout time was eleven a.m. Someone else had used a pen to write that the pool closes at sunset, but it was obvious that there was no pool. At the end of the lobby was an elevator with a handwritten sign that said, out of service. The elevator door was cracked open, and the florescent light inside blinked on and off. There was an arrow pointing to the stairs. Above the doorway to the stairs there was red graffiti painted in red. It said, No lifeguard on duty: Swim at your own risk.

Whispers carried up the stairs and down the halls disappearing into the rooms. The room was at the end of the hall on the third floor. Linda tried the door handle, but it was locked. She knocked, and she heard Allen’s voice through the door. He said, “Go away Linda. You are already in here with me.”

Linda said, “Come out here and talk to me, Allen.”

Allen said, “I am not coming out there until you call me by my real name.”

Linda said, “Your real name is Allen.”

Allen said, “If you won’t call me by my name, I will get Stacy to do it.”

She heard Stacy’s voice in the room as if it was coming from her own mouth. She said, “Raul.” It was only a whisper, but she could feel flesh of his ear against her lips and the cheap linen against her skin as if she were in there with him. She felt like she could just leave her body standing out in the hallway.

Linda said, “This isn’t real, Allen.”

Allen said, “What is real, Linda? When you left me, was that real? It was real to me.”

Linda said, “I didn’t leave you, Allen. You left with that woman.”

Allen said, “You can’t say my name. You can’t say your name, and you can’t even admit that you left me alone when you died. Or are you going to tell me that wasn’t real either?”

Linda said, “I am not dead. I am standing out in the hallway. All you have to do is open the door to see that.”

Allen opened the door just a crack. He left the security chain engaged. He saw Linda in the hallway. Linda could see Stacy pulling Allen by the arm. Allen said, “It’s really you.” Allen pulled his arm away. “Stop it. Can’t you see I’m talking to Linda.”

Linda said, “Come out here in the hallway and talk to me for real.”

Allen said, “Linda, you left me there with our son. He showed me that you weren’t really dead. He said you would come back, but you never did.”

Linda said, “I am here now, Allen. I am not dead. None of that has even happened.”

Allen said, “Not yet. But it will. It doesn’t matter what order it happens in. You left us and you are not coming back.”

Linda said, “Is that right? I am here right now with you. The order doesn’t matter, right? Then I’ve lived and I’ve died, and I’ve come back.”

Allen said, “Listen to yourself, Linda. None of that makes any sense and you know that.”

Linda said, “Tell me, Allen. When has life ever made sense?” She slammed her fist against the door. “You want to know what doesn’t make sense, Allen? It’s you being in that room by yourself being deluded by that toy boat you made and that woman that never existed.”

Allen said, “No, Linda, you gave me that boat. You painted it and you gave it to me.”

Linda said, “When did I do that Allen? Was it in your memory? Did I give it to you, or did you make it for yourself?”

Allen said, “I am not going to let you confuse me, Linda. I know what I know. You are not going to convince me that my memories didn’t happen. You did this to us, and you are going to have to live with it.”

Linda said, “So that’s it? You are just going to give up on us?”

Allen said, “There is no us, Linda. It is only you out in that hallway. You want me to believe that we were never married, it is not you in this room with me, our son was never born, and you never died. If that is all true, it is only you out there in that hallway. There is no us.”

Linda said, “There is an us, Allen. There is you, and me, and our son, Markey. He wants you to come out here and talk to me. He wants to protect us from his father. He wanted me to give you this.” She pulled the toy car out of her pocket.

Allen said, “I am his father. And he is not out in that hallway. He doesn’t exist here. You told me yourself he hasn’t been born.”

Linda said, “He isn’t out here, but he did he give me this. He said you gave it to him.”

Allen said, “When he wouldn’t stop crying.” Allen closed the door the room.

Stacy’s voice came through the door. She said, “Don’t unlock that door, Raul.”

Allen said, “That’s not my name.” He unlocked the safety chain and opened the door. He reached out his hand. “Can I see that car?”

Linda said, “Come out into the hallway and talk to me. If you do that much, I will let you hold the car.”

Stacy ran across the room to grab her purse where she kept the toy boat. She dug through her purse. She said, “Where is it, Raul. I have the little boat. Where is the business card?”

Allen said, “Don’t you understand anything, Stacy. The GoFundMe account has reached its fundraising goals. It has no more power to give you. I thought the mother of my child would have known that.”

Stacy said, “You can’t go out there. I made you who you are.” Stacy was still rummaging through her purse. She found the folding knife that she had kept in her purse to keep her safe back when she was only a single woman living in the bad part of town. She snaped the blade open and walked toward the door.

Allen said, “No, Stacy. I am not even sure that you are real.” He stepped out into the hallway. “Now, Linda, she might be real.” Allen grabbed the car and pulled it out of Linda’s hands. “That’s mine. Give it to me.”

Stacy ran over and jabbed the knife into his ribs. She said, “I will show you who is real.”

Linda pushed Stacy. She said, “What have you done?” The second she touched her she felt something like a jolt of electricity and Stacy was once again the woman who had come to Linda for her losing lottery numbers. She no longer looked like a Stacy. Her name must have been Tracy in the first place.

Linda looked back at Allen. He had fallen to his hands and knees and was bleeding from the knife in his ribs. He was holding onto the car that Markey had given, her and he was rolling it along the floor making vroom vroom sounds just like he was a little kid. She wasn’t surprised to see that Markey was kneeling alongside him playing cars as well. Markey said, “Don’t worry about him Linda. He is going to be fine. I told him before he is the weirdest zombie I have ever seen. Markey pulled the knife from Allen’s ribs and burned the would shut with the touch of a finger. Markey said, “You really should get out of here before my dad can get hold of Allen again. He has got his machine working, and he is going to be coming after you. Linda, I really wish you were my mother because then you would know what to do.”

Linda said, “Markey I really am your mother. And I am starting to think your dad isn’t your dad.”

Marky said, “I hope you are right. He hasn’t been acting like himself.” Then, Markey was gone.

NaNoWriMo Day 13 (1718 Words) Visions from the Coffee Cup

Hector was in a room about halfway down the row. At least it is what doubled for a room in a busy hospital like this one that needed as many places to put people as possible and at as little cost as possible. The room was a space along a back wall big enough for a sink a few electrical outlets and single adjustable bed. The other three walls were created by a single reddish-brown curtain that started at the back wall and then curved around until it came into contact with the next rooms curtain wall. It wasn’t entirely clear how often these curtains would get cleaned and how often accidently wiped with dripping blood or bored people’s boogers. The part of the curtain the doctors and nurses used to gain entry to the room was slicker and darker brown from the oils on people’s hands. Linda was happy for the sink on the back wall where she could wash her hands after touching the cross contamination of the curtain’s edge.

Hector was in the bed hooked up to the IV drip with a butterfly needle to the back of the hand. The nurse said all his veins had been used up and they had to stick him several times before they decided to try a small needle on the back of the hand. Hector looked weak and pale in the emergency room light, but she could tell how much better he was feeling. Hector said, “They tell me it’s dehydration and they will be checking me out of here before long.” He held up several pieces of paper folded in half. “They gave me a phone number and an address of a clinic in the city that offers sliding payment scales that I can go to for help getting clean as well as a definition of opiate withdrawal. I already know what my symptoms are. I don’t know what good most of these papers are going to be.”

Linda put her hand against his arm trying not to snag the IV tube coming off his arm. She said, “It’s fine Hector. We will be here to help you recover.”

Hector shook his head. He said, “I know you would. But you know you’ve got something more important you need to be doing.”

Linda said, “You are my priority right now.”

Hector said, “And how does that work with people hunting you down to snatch you?”

Linda said, “I think I have come to an understanding with those people.” She didn’t think Hector was in the condition to hear whatever explanation she could give that is if she even understood well enough to explain it in the first place.

Hector said, “No, Linda, I don’t think you have. I have seen things through flashes of dream. This hospital is like the cathedral downtown only a little different.”

Linda said, “I thought you had forgotten the church.”

Hector said, “I dreamed of it. It is hidden somehow, and this place is just the opposite. It is bringing things forward. I don’t really understand, but I have seen the building at the address on the paper. And you are already there but there is something wrong. I think you need to be there.”

Linda said, “Allen explained it all to me in his way. Stacy is an aspect of me. All I have to do is concentrate and she will go away. You notice she has been leaving us alone since we have been here.”

Hector said, “I don’t think you have that right. I think all of this is intrusions from the coffee. I think you are simply the conduit and not the cause.”

Linda said, “If that is the case, what good would I do to go to the address.”

Hector said, “I think you need to break the connection. The boat, the paper, the hairbrush they are not evil they are not good. They are just aspects of whatever it is that is intruding. You need to send them back. Stacy and Judy and Allen too. They all need to go.”

Linda said, “No, Hector, I can’t do that. If it is not me, I can’t do any of that. And if it is me causing it, sending Judy back hurts both her and you. She has found some kind of stability and she is bringing it to you, too.”

Hector said, “If it is you, you are the one that caused all this trouble. Judy’s terrible life of addiction the things that don’t belong it is all your fault. It is up to you to send it all back and make things right. And yourself too. Send yourself back to the darkness of hell that you came from.”

Linda felt far away again, Markey was at her side holding her hand. He looked at Hector the way he had looked at Allen in the past. He said, “Don’t pay too much attention to what he is saying. I think my dad has found a way to tell people what to do. It turns out he is stronger than I thought.”

Linda said, “I just spoke to your dad. He didn’t act like this.”

Markey said, “Allen in not my dad. He looks like him. And I don’t think you are my mom either. I was wrong.”

Linda said, “Allen came to me here and told me about our life and I remembered. I gave birth to you.”

Markey said, “I know it is confusing, but you just can’t remember something that never happened.”

Linda said, “Allen came here, and he spoke to me.”

Markey said, “Linda, which Allen. It wasn’t your Allen. It wasn’t my dad. It wasn’t Raul.”

Linda said, “How can some be more than one person and not be the same person?”

Markey said, “I don’t know, mom.” He looked at the floor and started to whimper. “I mean Linda. I’m only eighty years old. I don’t know everything. If you were my mom, you could tell me the answers.”

Linda said, “You are right I don’t have the answers.”

Markey said, “Dad had a hard time when you died. I wanted to tell him that it was ok. I had seen you here and there, and I told my dad. I thought you were my mom. I did, but I was wrong.” He started to cry.

Linda put her arms around him. She said, “Come here my little boy. Don’t cry.”

Markey said, “You look just like her. You smell just like her. You feel just like her when you hug me.”

Linda said, “And you feel just like my little Markey Monkey.”

He stopped crying and only had a little shakiness in his voice. Markey said, “I showed him you. It isn’t like the way you see. It is blurry, but you are there doing things. He wanted to see you all the time. It changed him.” He pressed his face into her again but didn’t cry.

She put her hand against the back of his head. Linda said, “You didn’t do anything wrong little boy.”

Markey said, “I did. I told him you were mom. I told him he could get you back. I was so sad. I missed you so much. I wanted you back. I didn’t know he would build that machine. I didn’t know what he would go through to get you back.”

Linda said, “It is ok, Markey. An eight year old isn’t responsible for the things his father does.”

Markey said, “And the things I did.”

Linda said, “You are not at fault. You are just a little boy.”

Markey said, “I started taking pieces from his machine and hiding them where you could find them. I thought you were my mom. I thought you would know what to do with them. I was wrong. They just made things worse. Everything is messed up and confused and it is all my fault.”

Linda said, “Markey, you didn’t do anything wrong.”

Markey said, “I did do something wrong. It is all my fault. Now, he can see you without my help. He can find you.”

Linda said, “I won’t let you take the blame for something your father did. He is in the wrong not you.”

Markey said, “I really wish you were my mom, Linda. You always knew how to make him be good. He was happy with you. I really wish I could see him happy again.”

Linda said, “You will see him happy again, son.”

Markey said, “I wish you really were my mom.” Markey faded away, and Linda was in the waiting room again telling Judy and Mr. Branzino how much better Hector was doing. She told them that he was happy that they were going to check him out of the hospital. And she tried to come up with a believable reason why she had to leave them there. Judy just sat there quietly with a haunted look on her face. Linda knew that Hector must have told Judy exactly what he was going to tell her.

Mr. Branzino reached out to touch her hand. He said, “Don’t let him break you.”

Linda said, “I don’t know Mr. Branzino. I am already feeling pretty broken.”

The apartment building that bore the address was a strange combination of this city’s cluttered aesthetic and bits and pieces of her memory. At least, they seemed like memories even if they never actually happened. The building had the same sign emblazoned across the top of the building. In here memory, it had been The Circle Arms Hotel, red letters with black shadow on a white sign splotched and faded from the years in the sun. This was The Circle Arms Residences, the same red letters with black shadow on the same splotched, white background. This was the kind of neighborhood Linda had been never to go to alone, but it was broad daylight and certainly unusual circumstances. There was an intercom system to buzz up to the apartment of anyone who might be expecting you, but the door was propped open almost as if she had been expected to come. Linda felt a strangeness coming from this building something closer and more broken than the other faraway feelings she had felt.

NaNoWriMo Day 12 (1743 words) Visions from the Coffee Cup

When Linda and Mr. Branzino arrived, they found Judy in the Emergency waiting room. It was a bright day outside, but Linda felt the lights seemed brighter somehow when she entered through the sliding double doors of the Emergency room. They had arrived to see an ambulance leaving the Emergency roundabout. Linda had assumed that this was the same ambulance that had brought Judy and Hector, but the sun came off the windshield in a glare and she could not see through to the paramedics in the front. None of this mattered to her as long as Hector had made there and was able to receive the medical care that her, Judy, and Mr. Branzino weren’t equipped to give.

The Emergency room was packed with families tending to their sick and injured loved ones. There was a teenaged boy with his father. The boy was holding blood-soaked paper towels to his shin. His father was holding a long scroll of paper towel that he had gotten in the bathroom, and he was trying to get the boy to swap them out with the new ones. The father told his son the paper towels were about to drip. The son said that they were stuck to his wound and removing them would hurt.

A mother had brought in her three young children, two boys too young for kindergarten and a girl still in diapers. The little girl’s face had gone pail, and she was having trouble breathing. The girl stood in front of her mother and held onto the hem of the mother’s skirt. The youngest boy had been playing peek a boo with a young girl with the sniffles two rows over. He started off toward her and his mother grabbed him by the back of the elastic waistband of his pants and pulled him back. She told him to go sit with his brother. He climbed up and sat side by side in the same chair with his older brother who was playing a game on his mother’s phone. The little boy whined for his mother to give him a toy. She said she would look in her purse for something she had forgotten from the last time they were at church.

An old man in a painter’s uniform was standing in front of his younger apprentice who was holding a bandage to the top of his head. The younger man’s hair was matted with dried blood and the older man was on his phone giving the hospital address to the younger man’s wife. And there was a very pregnant woman sitting in a wheelchair, and her husband was pacing back and forth in front of the other annoyed people in their row of waiting room chairs. Judy had been standing at the edge of the waiting area looking toward the entrance doors waiting for Linda and Mr. Branzino to arrive.

Judy said, “The nurse at the intake desk asked what drugs he had taken. I told her that he had taken none. She didn’t seem like she believed me. I told her I thought it had been at least twenty-four hours.”

Mr. branzino said, “You did fine, Judy. The doctors have him now.”

Judy said, “They wouldn’t let me back there. They said family only.”

Mr. Branzino pulled back his head and shoulders to get as tall as he could and looked around the waiting room. He said, “Let’s see if there are any open chairs. You look exhausted. It looks like a long wait.”

Judy said, “I heard some people complain when they took Hector right away. There’s no room out here to keep a man on a stretcher. What do people think, they’re the only one that matters?”

Linda watched from far away, and Allen was there with her. He said, “Do you remember when we had Markey? We were here. Well, not here exactly, but we parked out in the parking lot, and I helped walk you up to the door. You were breathing hard and had to stop several times.”

She said, “The nurses got mad at us because you had not pushed me through the door in a wheelchair. I told her I could walk, and she scowled at you anyway.”

He said, “I think she quoted something about the insurance protocols.”

She said, “You invited your whole family to watch me give birth.”

He said, “We were having my baby boy. And they weren’t in the room when you gave birth. They were all corralled in a waiting room around the corner. You know, I expected them to take him away like they do in the movies. I wanted to look through the window and try to pick him out among all the other babies. But it wasn’t like that.”

She said, “No, they seem to think it’s better to keep the child with their mother these days.”  She turned and put her head against his chest. She noticed how old he looked. The lines in his face and the thinning of his hairline. She said, “Allen, what are you doing?”

He said, “I’m talking to you.”

She said, “No. Why did you leave with that other woman? What is it you want with that toy boat?”

He said, “That’s not another woman, Linda. You gave me that boat. You ordered it through the mail and painted it for me.”

She said, “I felt bad because I had only wanted a little girl until we saw his little thingy on the sonagram.”

He said, “Is that why you did it? I thought you just loved me. I put that boat up with all the model cars I built when I was a kid. I still keep it with them. Only, I have a whole cabinet for them now. I started building them again.”

She said, “What are you building, Allen? Markey told me about some kind of machine.”

He said, “I’m not building anything, Linda. I’m sure he told you how hard your death was on him. It was hard on me, too.”

She said, “He didn’t tell me anything about that at all.”

He said, “I don’t know. Maybe he has forgotten.”

Mr. Branzino had found a place for Linda and Judy to sit. A nurse had called a woman in to be seen, and a man had followed her in. Allen stood in front of her next to Mr. Branzino. He said, “I am glad you have found yourself some friends. I know that none of us have been ourselves lately. I am glad you are letting yourself have a life.”

She said, “And you. How is your life? You’ve started building your models again but what else?”

He said, “I don’t know… business… our son. You would be so proud to see him growing into such a little man. I see him talking with the lady on the school bus just smiling and happy. Nodding at all the right places in the conversation. I mean, I can’t hear what they are saying, but she just nods back and then tells him something else.”

She said, “He does seem pretty smart for an eight-year-old. Really emotionally mature for that age.”

He said, “Wouldn’t it be great if he was frozen at that age forever? You know, before you got sick. Back when we were all happy together.”

She said, “Was that real, Allen? Were we really happy together?”

He said, “We were, Linda. Why would you even question that?”

She said, “Because of you. I mean look at you. You are with that other woman doing who knows what.”

He said, “You mean Stacy.”

She said, “Yes.”

He said, “She’s not another woman.”

She said, “Yes, Allen. Is there any other way to break down the language? You are with that woman. That woman is not me. You are with another woman.”

He said, “Do you remember that night at the costume party when we were first together? We decided we were going to go all out. You rented the red dress and the sunglasses.”

She said, “And you rented the expensive suit.”

He said, “But I forgot to rent any shoes for it. At the party you decided to call yourself Stacy and you slipped the address for that fleabag hotel into my pocket.”

She said, “And I grabbed your cock, and said come and find me.”

He said, “You were waiting for me there.”

She said, “And that night you told me to call you Raul.”

Allen took a step back. He seemed hurt. He said, “Look, Linda I didn’t say anything like that about you.”

She said, “What are you talking about?”

He said, “I’m just trying to be nice, Linda. I didn’t bring anything like that about you.” He stalked off down the aisle of the Emergency waiting room.

She said, “Wait Allen. Just come back and talk to me some more.”

He said, “No, Linda. You’ve gotten me upset, and I am not going to stay here and listen to you talk to me like that.”

Linda no longer had that far away feeling, and Allen was gone. He was in the room with Stacy, the room that somehow had the same address of that fleabag hotel. She was in the middle of light conversation with Judy and Mr. Branzino. In fact, that is what she had been doing the whole time. It almost felt as if she hadn’t even had the conversation with Allen in the first place. Although, she knew that she did.

After another short while one of the nurses came to the Emergency room door held it open and called out Judy’s name. Judy went and spoke to her and came back. Judy said, “They say he is responsive now. They put him on an IV drip of fluids and no narcotics the way I told them he wanted. The nurse said we can come see him but only one person at a time. I’ll be back.” After some time, Judy came back into the waiting room. She said, “Linda, Hector told me that I owe you an apology. He said the boat and the paper, and the other things are not evil. He said some other things, too, but I think you are going to need to talk to him in person.”

Linda went into the emergency room and the nurse directed Linda which way to go to find Hector.

NaNoWriMo Day 11 (1674 words) Visions from the Coffee Cup

Linda knocked on the bathroom door. Judy opened the door and Hector was on his knees next to the toilet. He wiped beads of sweat from his forehead. “It’s good I haven’t eaten. Nothing is coming up.”

Judy said, “He needs to drink something. Can you bring some water?”

Hector said, “Please, no. I don’t think I can handle it.”

Mr. Branzino brought a glass of water and a packet of salt. He said, “Put this in the water. He is going to need to keep up his electrolytes.”

Judy said, “Thank you.” She put the glass down on the lip of the sink and ripped the top off the salt packet.

Mr. Branzino put his arm on Linda’s shoulder. He said, “Now is the right time.”

Linda said, “Judy, you know what this is. Hector needs to be in a doctor’s care.”

Judy said, “Doctors…” She shook her head. She knew what she was about to say was wrong. “Or more Junk.” She turned to Hector. “Are you sure you don’t have any.”

Hector said, “What are you saying, Judy?! Of course, I don’t. I would have used it.” Tears started to build up in the corner of his eyes. “And I don’t want to. Don’t you see that?”

Judy said, “Well it doesn’t matter anyway. We seemed to be followed everywhere we go.” Judy tried to stir the salt into the water with her finger.

Linda said, “I am pretty sure they are only after me. Judy, you can take him.”

Judy said, “And you do what, Linda? You walk right up to this address without me to back you up?”

Linda said, “And do what exactly? Drive me away? We don’t even have a car anymore, and that was Hector’s car. Tell me Judy, what exactly is it that you can do against men who may or may not have guns?”

Mr. Branzino said, “You are being too hard on her, Linda.”

Judy put up her hand to Mr. Branzino. She said, “No, let her talk. Let her hear the lies she needs to tell herself to keep her going down the same self-destructive path.” She looked at Linda. “Do you see what you are doing? You are pushing away your only support group.”

Linda said, “I’m not pushing you away. I need to go, and you need to get Hector some help. Can’t you see what is happening here, Judy?”

Mr. Branzino said, “No, Linda maybe she’s right. You need someone with you. I’ll take Hector.”

Hector got up to his feet. He said, “I’m not leaving, Judy. I’ve only made it this far with her help. All they doctors have is pills. They put you on pills, they get you hooked, and they take them away.” Hector lowered his voice and spoke directly to Judy. He said, “I’m not putting the blame on them. Not this time. I own my addiction, and I am going to own my recovery. It’s going to be me and not some pill. Judy, you’re not taking their methadone or suboxone. Judy, I will be here for you if you let me. I follow you. You walk blindly and selflessly to help Linda. I do, too.”

Judy said, “And I don’t think we do anymore. Linda, what are we all doing here?”

Linda said, “I am going to this address.” She reached into her pocket to find the address. She felt it sitting there against the car.

Judy said, “What about that piece of paper? Isn’t it too convenient?”

Linda said, “What are you talking about?”

Judy said, “You just want to use it, don’t you?”

Linda said, “I need to save Allen.”

Judy said, “I think that paper is evil.”

Linda said, “Judy, you are crazy.”

Judy said, “No, Linda. It’s evil. You want to use it, don’t you? You want to give your power over to it. The paper is evil. It just starts small. It does something silly, something strange, something magical. Then it wants more. You just want to use it.”

Linda said, “No, I don’t. I want to save Allen.”

Judy said, “Then why don’t you bring him here? You did it before. You did it to me.”

Linda said, “I can’t, Judy. I can’t see anything in the coffee.”

Judy said, “Yeah, you said that before. That was a lie then wasn’t it.”

Linda said, “I saw Allen. I saw what he becomes.”

Judy said, “And you are lying now, too. Aren’t you?”

Linda said, “No.”

Judy said, “You did. You saw something.”

Linda said, “I saw nothing. I only saw my own reflection.”

Judy said, “That’s not nothing.”

Linda said, “It’s not a vision.”

Judy said, “Isn’t it?”

Linda said, “I can’t pull him through if I can only see myself.”

Judy said, “You don’t need to bring him through the coffee, Linda. I came to The City with Hector. We came in a car. Mr. Branzino was waiting here, and we came to him.”

Linda said, “And Allen is waiting for me at this address.”

Judy said, “Linda, we came here without an address. Linda, this is life you wander your way from one point to another. Things are not plotted out like some poorly written television show. I’m telling you that note is evil. It is like my hairbrush, like Allen’s toy boat, like that little car in your pocket. They are all evil.”

Linda said, “It’s not evil. The car is not evil. It belonged to our son. Allen gave it to him one day when the boy couldn’t stop crying. Allen told Markey that he could play with the toy whenever he thought about me. He was too young. Eight years is old enough for some things. You can grasp certain ideas but they don’t make sense, not really. Not a diagnosis like that. Not seeing your mother poked and prodded with needles, being given medicine that makes her sicker. And then hospice. What the hell can a child understand about that. He was there. He watched. Allen made him watch. Markey didn’t understand. He thought I could come back. I can’t do it. I can’t.”

Mr. Branzino said, “But this isn’t a metaphor, Linda. This isn’t The Wizard of Oz. You are not going to wake up and find out that I am the Scarecrow, and he is the Tin Man. You told me yourself that the Linda in the coffee pot was real. The people you see in the coffee are real.”

Linda said, “They are real.”

Judy said, “Mr. Branzino, she brought me through the coffee, and I can assure you that I am real. None of us are simply waking out of existence.”

Linda said, “What do we do? Do we just wait here? Judy, you came to me. If we wait, is Allen going to come to meet us here?” Judy opened her mouth to say something, but she didn’t know what to say.

Mr. Branzino said, “It makes sense. He came here before. It could be like a criminal returning to the scene of a crime.” He thought. Then, he shook his head. “But there wasn’t no crime here. I gave him a sandwich and a coffee. And he showed me that note. I told him how to get there, and I told him it wasn’t safe. He said he wouldn’t go. But he did, didn’t he?”

Linda said, “I don’t understand. Does that mean I have to go there? Or do I have to stay here?”

There was a loud sound of breaking glass. Hector had been trying to hold down the salty water. He would take a small sip and hold it in his mouth until the urge to through up had gone away. Then he would allow himself to swallow a little. He had lost track of the conversation. Their voices were soothing like a warm buzzing, and he felt the glass slip from his hand. There was a sound and a feeling like falling that seemed to last way too long. He felt himself come to rest but he didn’t feel himself hit the floor. There were the voices again like the soft pulsing of a faraway engine lulling him to sleep. He felt hands on him and thought he could see the blurry color of people standing over him fading to black and grey.

He had dropped the glass of water. He took a step forward and fell to the floor and convulsed. Judy dropped to her knees and cradled his head in her arms. She was praying for God to keep him safe.

Linda said, “That settles it. Judy, you and Mr. Branzino get Hector to the hospital. I am going to the apartment to get Allen back.”

Mr. Branzino grabbed her by the arm. He didn’t squeeze, but he wouldn’t let her walk past either. He said, “Linda, you listen to me. You are not going to that address.” He pointed to Hector. “This man is your friend, and he needs you now as much as you need us. He is going to the hospital, and you are coming with us. Do I need to keep blocking your way while I call 911?”

She said, “No.” And he pulled a phone out of his pocket and got on the phone with the emergency operator. By the time the ambulance got there, Hector was finished convulsing and he was laying on the floor. He was in and out of consciousness and mumbling from time to time. Whatever he was trying to say, Linda was relieved that he was not asking for a toy boat. The ambulance had taken him across town. At first, the paramedics refused to allow Judy to ride along with him because she was not family, but she cussed the man a blue streak and he relented. He said, “I’m going to mark you down as the wife.” Mr. Branzino called a cab and he and Linda arrived at the hospital a short time later.

NaNoWriMo Day 10 (1813 words) Visions from the Coffee Cup

The old man said, “Everybody calls me Mr. B. You can if you want, but that coffee pot kept saying my whole name. It said, Mr. Branzino do this. Mr. Branzino do that.” He shook his head. “Don’t think too much into that Linda. I know your dad took that name, but I’ve always told you it doesn’t mean nothing.” Linda began to feel the far off feeling again but not exactly the same as before. She looked around and saw that she wasn’t the only one to hear what he had said.

He brought everyone coffee and a bagel. Linda ate her bagel and when she looked into the coffee all she could see was her own reflection. Judy just nibbled at her food and sipped at the coffee. Hector didn’t touch his at all. He was sweating and had one hand over his stomach and the other over his mouth, and Judy was more interested in if he was going to be ok than her food. Linda said, “I don’t know you. I don’t think I’ve ever been in this deli before.”

Judy looked at Linda and Mr. Branzino. She said, “Come on Hector. I think you should be near the bathroom after all.” She gave him a hand up and they walked across the dining room hoping not to be seen.

The deli had a counter in front where a few customers could sit and eat while they watched Mr. Branzino serve up toasted bagels with your choice of toppings for breakfast, or his specialty chopped beef hoagie sliders for lunch on the grill. Behind the counter was a drink machine and of course the coffee pot. It didn’t seem to be talking to Judy, but Mr. Branzino seemed convinced. The dining room had a few small tables, and the back wall had a few shelves selling jars of olives, artichoke hearts and brown mustard and other products. They walked behind the shelves to be less noticeable from the street.

By now, the sidewalks were full of people walking and more than a few seemed put off by the sign and the locked door. Judy figured Mr. B’s Deli must do pretty good business despite the lack of seating. Hector put his hand up to her when she tried to follow him into the bathroom. She said, “I’m only there incase you need some help.” He relented and she closed the door behind them. Hector kneeled over the toilet and proceeded to dry heave several times.

Hector said, “I swear Judy. I am going to quit for good this time.” Judy wadded up some toilet paper and wiped the water out of his eyes.

She said, “Hush, Hector.” She didn’t even think about calling him a liar.

Mr. Branzino looked at Linda. He said, “That coffee pot has been talking to me for years since my wife died. It was always your voice. We’d have conversations in the mornings when I was prepping the herbs, jams, and spreads for the morning rush.”

She said, “You saw me? I thought only I could do that.”

He shook his head and stuck his hand in his pocket. He said, “I only heard. At first, I thought I was going to have to call out the Ghostbusters especially when this paper started ending up in my pocket.” He handed the paper to Linda. It was a scrap of notebook paper with a street address and apartment number written in a woman’s handwriting.  He said, “I threw it away several times, but it kept ending up back in my pocket.” Linda folded up the note and put it in her pocket. She felt the car in her pocket, but it was that far away feeling again, and it passed back out of her mind.

He said, “I wondered about that piece of paper. It’s the address to a ratty apartment building in a part of town I would never go except with a couple of other people looking for my cousin back before he had really lost it all to the drugs. But last year, when he handed me the exact same paper, I knew he was bad news.” He looked her for a second as if to get her approval. He said, “That was him, right? The young man with the shoes that didn’t match his expensive suit. He said his name was Raul.” Linda sat there while Mr. Branzino collected his thoughts.

She said, “That wasn’t his name.”

He said, “What was that quote about roses and names?” He looked at her looking at him. He said, “Oh well, it doesn’t matter.”

She said, “His name was Allen Parkins.”

He said, “Look, we’ve gotten to be pretty good friends over the years, me and the coffee pot, so I’ll tell you, Linda. That young man was confused. You always told me that I could see through people, and I never believed you, but I saw through him. I felt sorry for him like I feel sorry for everyone who is making the wrong choices, and I saw that he was ready to make a great deal of wrong choices.”

She said, “You are right he is confused, but he is a good man. He just needs a little help. I can help him figure things out.” She put her hand on the lump in her pocket where here leg had felt like it had chafed some during their long walk through the night.

He flashed her a resigned smile. He said, “I know you don’t believe me. You never would listen when I gave you advice about him.”

She said, “Are you sure I even heard what you were telling me.”

He said, “I am not even sure you hear what I am telling you now. Look, I just figured you were my own imagination, me talking to a coffee pot and all. But I felt I had the right to give you advice. And I still feel like it now. I know you, and you know that I know you, or you wouldn’t have come here.”

She said, “And I told you all this about Allen.”

He said, “No you didn’t but you did say that young man is not like you and me. He’s got something broken inside of him. You didn’t tell me this, but I am afraid he has the power to break you, too.”

Linda said, “You are sure this was me talking to you?”

He sat down next to her. “I tried to hide us talking. I think people don’t like to eat food made by someone who talks to his coffeepot.” He stopped for a moment and took a deep breath. “Really, it began before my wife died. You knew it was going to happen and you talked me through it. My wife began to suspect another woman at first. She thought I was on the phone when she heard me talking. She was already sick when she saw what was really happening. The doctor told her it was just my coping strategy. I let her believe that. Hell, I believed it myself.”

Linda said, “I am not saying that what you had wasn’t real. I have been seeing things my entire life. I watch people’s lives play out in the coffee, but I can’t talk to people through it. It’s like television. After a while, they start to feel like friends or part of the family. And you feel like you know them, but they’re not here. Allen was something else. He was here in this city.”

He smiled and said, “We have talked about this before, you know. I can’t resolve your issues any more than you could mine. In the end, I had to deal with my wife’s death like everyone else. You just offered me time to think about things and anticipate it. Maybe I understood her death better. Maybe I didn’t. But in the end, I had to except that she was going to die. I had to feel the pain. I had to go through the loss. By turning me crazy, by making me talk to that coffee pot. You helped me. Now, I am just trying to return the favor.”

She said, “Are you telling me that I should just give him up as lost? I don’t think I can accept that.” She put her hand in the pocket and grabbed a hold of the car. She said, “I think I can help him. I really do.”

He said, “I know you are going to go to the address, and I know you are going to find him there.” He put his hand on her arm by the elbow. “Just don’t let him break you the way that he’s been broken. I don’t think I could stand to lose a friend like you even if you are only a stained coffee pot.”

She reached over and put her hand on his on her elbow. She said, “I had always felt so lonely in this city. I wish I had known I was your friend. Maybe we could have known each other for real.”

He said, “I know you and the coffee pot aren’t the same person, but you are the same to me. And you think I can see through people. And I think I can see through you right now. And I see you are stuck with no way out. Just promise me that you will come back the same as you left.” He looked off to the shelves of bread flower and cooking utensils. He said, “I don’t know. Maybe he is not the same Allen that I saw. And maybe you are right about what I can and can’t see.”

He stopped and thought for a moment or two. “I’ll tell you what I do see. That man, Hector, is it? He’s not going to be as alright as he thinks he’s going to be. Maybe your friend Judy will listen to you if you tell her to take him to the hospital. I know she won’t listen to me.”

He said, “Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe you can’t stop being broken. Maybe all I can do is help you accept things the way you did for me with the death of my wife. Maybe you have to hurt. Maybe you have to grieve. Maybe what is broken can heal. Maybe it can’t. Maybe what is broken will grow back stronger. What do you think Linda? Or am I just lying to myself about that, too?”

She said, “It sounds like the Linda you know in the coffee pot understands a lot more about the world than I do. I hope she really is inside me somewhere.”

He said, “I am sure she is. I can see her strength hiding behind your eyes.”

NaNoWriMo Day 9 (2,156 words) Visions from the Coffee Cup

Judy hesitated, looked up one end of the long downtown block, and down the other. She took one step and stopped. Hector put his hand on Judy’s shoulder.

He said, “If you don’t buy a lottery ticket, stick a fork in an unplugged toaster, and wait for a lightning strike, nothing will ever happen.”

Judy said, “You’ve never given me a proper explanation for that saying.”

He said, “It doesn’t matter where we go. We will find Allen, or Stacy will find us. Isn’t it the same either way?”

Linda said, “All things considered, I’d rather it be on our terms and not theirs.” Judy started walking and they followed her.

The moon was full that night, and it reached out with long shadows from the tall glass and steel buildings. Each window seemed a cosmos to itself sprinkling them with thin chiming bits of scattered moonlight. Night off glass was so bright that the streetlights were more set dressing than necessary sources of navigation through the darkness. Judy would lead them down one street and then up the next. It felt like they had been going in circles, and it felt like they kept being passed by the same five cars despite their inability to see anything past the headlights blinding in their eyes, or maybe because of their inability to see. The moon dimmed with the first traces of morning on the eastern skyline, and they started to see the silhouette of trees over the open space of The City’s biggest park.

Leucothea Memorial Park had been planted with ornamental trees that required regular watering to keep them green in the springtime and a crew of groundskeepers to clean up the beautifully colored leaves in the fall. There was a large pond toward the eastern side of the park that had been dug to provide the citizens with a place they could come and simply enjoy the view or cast a line in the water to catch the small trout that grew up and lived in the old irrigation ditches that had been widened to provide the pond with water.

The man-made canal was said to meet up with a natural river that emptied out into the ocean. The city didn’t allow people to swim in the pond and there had grown a local legend that a bull shark had swam up the river from the ocean and made a home in the pond. People would say the shark would eat any fish that grew to a descent size. They claimed this was why no one ever caught big fish from this pond. The more likely reason was that city runoff caused the fish to get sick and die before they could reach any notable size. That and legend because people did catch large fish in the pond. In fact, they held a small fishing tournament every year.

You had to pay some exorbitant amount of money to enter the tournament, but the money they earned was used by the parks department to help fund many of the smaller parks throughout the rest of the city. And they had signs at many of the entrances to the park that had pictures of past year’s winners holding up their prize winning catch. But this park was the crown jewel of The City and people from all over would come here and set up their cameras hoping to catch a picture of a shark’s fin sticking out of the water. Many of the best pictures of shark fins came at sunrise when the angle of the sun came off of the water washing out all color and contrast from the photos. Few people believed these were actual sharks being captured in the photos. The photos were always grainy and lacking anything to show scale. The photos were likely capturing a piece of garbage floating on the water, and some of them were obviously foam rubber fins floating in the pond that were either planted for the photo or dropped by a child. Many of the shops throughout the city sold exactly such shark fins in a clear plastic tub right next to the cash register along with other small pieces of memorabilia designed to catch a child’s eye while being cheap enough to add to a bill without breaking the bank of the unsuspecting parent subject to the whines and whims of a young child.

Despite the sound of the increasing traffic on the street, they could hear the photographers setting up their cameras along the boardwalk hoping to catch a picture of something on the water. Judy pointed to the park. She said, “I think we have to go through there.” Judy walked over to the next crosswalk and hit the button and waited for the signal so they could cross safely.

Linda had been bothered most of the night by something in her pocket rubbing against her leg. She reached in her pocket and found the toy car the boy had given her, but she had forgotten that she had it. She pulled it out of her pocket and held it out to look at. It was just an old matchbox car. It had been used. There was dirt in the crevices and a small scratch on the plastic of the windshield. And it looked like the molded black plastic seats held onto tiny amount of pocket fuzz by static cling or some other unseen force. She said, “Have either of you seen Allen with this?”

Hector looked at the car in her hand. He said, “I haven’t seen one of those in years. Do kids still buy them?”

Judy reached out her hand. She said, “Can I have that?”

Linda drew her hand back a little. She said, “I think it belongs to Allen.”

Judy put her hand on Linda’s and held it touching the toy car. “Please. I just want to look at it.” She started to close her fingers around it to pry it from Linda’s hand.

Hector said, “The light.” He tugged lightly against Judy’s elbow. “Come on let’s go.” Judy let go of the car. Linda put it back in her pocket. Judy led them across the street only she had picked up the pace and she was slowly getting ahead of them.

They followed her into the park past the sign with the pictures of people with their fish. Linda was about to ask Judy to slow down. Hector could see it on her face. He said, “It’s fine. Why don’t we just let her walk ahead some. She is a big girl. She can take care of herself.” Hector walked next to Linda and slowed down just slightly causing Linda to match his pace. When Judy was far enough ahead, he said, “Is that one of those things?”

Linda had again forgotten about the car in her pocket. Hector said, “I saw the way that Judy looked at that car. Maybe you should just keep that in your pocket and not show it to anyone else.” They walked down a flight of steps and onto the paved running path that loops through several of the prime viewing locations in the park. Judy was up ahead of them walking toward some joggers who were using the bench of one of the many picnic pavilions to prop their legs up and stretch before their morning run. Hector frowned and then he said, “Maybe don’t even show that to Allen. Isn’t something like that what caused him to leave with Stacy in the first place? Judy wants it the same as she wants that hairbrush of hers. Whatever that thing does, I don’t want to find out, so please just keep it out of sight.”

An older man with a curled cowboy mustache and a bolo tie. Had set up his camera along the side of the path to catch the reflection of the steadily rising sun. He was definitely a tourist from out of town. He said, “Y’all mind stopping so’s I could snap a picture. Ya look mighty pretty with the sun on the winders of yonder buildings shining like pearls cast out to swine.” They ignored him, and he snapped their picture anyway. He said, “Mighty kind of you.” He walked up next to them and said, “I suspect y’all would really like to see this picture.”

Hector didn’t even look at him. He said, “We don’t got any money. We’re not buying your picture.”

The man said, “Don’t look behind you, but y’all are being followed by two fellers that look like they ain’t here to shake your hand. I’ll try to distract em while you two get your friend and sneak off somewhere unless y’all really don’t mind getting robbed.” They made around the grove of trees when they heard the man say, “Now, don’t y’all fellers look pretty with the sun behind ya like that?” They had made it to Judy when they heard him say, “Now, I think I owe you an apology for you bumping into me like that.” They snuck off down one of the other paths back to the street when they heard the man’s voice fading as they left him in the distance. “Don’t leave yet. I’ve got a story to tell y’all about just how clumsy I can be.” Linda thought there was something just too familiar about that man’s voice especially as it trailed off in the distance. Something about it reminded her just a little too much of Elmer, the man from the coffee, whom she had only ever seen through his eyes. She was wrong of course. That trick only ever worked when she was watching through the coffee.

The path they took brought them out onto the street across from a deli. The old man inside looked to be getting things ready for the busy part of the morning. They could smell bagels cooking and he looked like he was measuring out the grounds for a pot of coffee. Linda said, “I know you two are hungry. Let’s get in off the street.” They ran across the street dodging the cars and screeching horns. She thought it’s a good thing those are the normal sounds of a city morning. The door was still locked, and they stood out on the street not too far from a forty-year-old television sitting on the corner. The man unlocked the door and let them in. He locked the door behind them. He said, “I didn’t think you was real. Hurry up back here.” He took them behind the counter and into his kitchen pantry. He said, “I bet you is hungry. I’ll bring you bagels and coffee.”

There were three folding chairs set up and waiting for them. The old man grabbed a paper and a black marker. He said, “I can’t afford to do this, but it’s not everyday that your coffee pot starts talking to you and it turns out that you are not crazy.” He taped the paper sign to the window and turned out the lights to the dining room. The old man stood in the doorway to the pantry. The room wasn’t big, and Hector, Judy, and Linda sat there with their knees touching each other. Hector was rocking back and forth in his chair. He was rubbing at his neck with the palm of his hand. It was everything he had not to scratch with his nails. He knew that he would keep scratching even if it made him bleed. He was able to keep himself from noticing how sick he was when they were out on the street and still moving. He didn’t want to worry Judy. She was having a rough enough time without having to worry about him, too.

The old man looked at Hector. He said, “Sorry son. The strongest thing I got is coffee.” He pointed to the other side of the store. “I’ve got a bathroom if you think you need it.”

Hector said, “No thank you. I’ve been cutting back.” Judy opened her mouth to say something, but she stopped when she got a good look at Hector. Hector began to blush.

The Old man said, “No need to be ashamed. My cousin was hooked on that stuff I think worse than you. If you have help, there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Judy said, “Oh, Jesus, Hector. Where has my mind been at? How could I not have seen?”

He said, “I promise you, Judy. I really have been cutting back. Just enough to keep off sick. I promise, I won’t have another seizure. I won’t die on you.” He smiled and sat up straight. He said, “I’ll even stop scratching. See.” He held both of his hands together in his lap.

She put her hand on his. She said, “It’s alright, Hector. I’ve been through it myself.”