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[personal profile] joegoda
I woke up at 5:58 am. I couldn't go back to sleep, so I bummed around for three hours. Then I sat down to write. I head to work in about an hour and I gotta tell you. I'm tired. Oh yeah.. so I can keep some sort of record, Word says I have 18770 words. Nano says otherwise. Here's the next bit.


John was shaken, his mind was awhirl and his stomach was flipping over and over. Thankful that he didn't have anything more than coffee, he stumbled down the household good row, and the colors hurt him to look at them. All the greens and yellows and blues mixed together to offend his senses and only enhance the confusion in his mind.

Lou. How could Lou be a bad guy? There were no signs, no warning telltales. They had to be talking about him, didn't they? John struggled to remember through the maelstrom in his head. Oh yes, there it was. 'John will need to be fired.' He was the only John working here, wasn't he?

He ran through all the names of the people he knew worked at the store. There was Lou, of course, and Debbie and Steve and Martin… was there another guy, who came in later than 6 pm? Someone else named John? He pictured the timeclock in his mind and the timecards sitting in the rack next to it. He scanned the names on the car and there was another name, Dennis. Not John, Dennis.

He was the only John. His heart was beating too fast, he was getting dizzy and a cold hard spot was forming in his belly. He felt he was going to pass out.

He stumbled to a spot near the garden center and crawled onto a bench. His vision was blurring and he could feel parts of it being torn away as if by heavy handed claws. The top of his head felt like it was covered with hot wire mesh and his breathing was coming in shallow gulps.

"You okay, man?" It was Steve, who had just come on shift. "You're pale and sweating like a pig. Maybe you should go home. I'll get Lou."

"No," John croaked, harshly. "I'll be fine in a second. I just had a shock, that's all. I… uh… I got a call that my mother had died. I'll finish my shift and then I'll go home. I may call in tomorrow."

"Dude," Steve said concerned, "if it was my mom, I'd be so outta here."

"Mine lives… lived in Indiana. She's not going anywhere." His vision was still broken up and his head felt like it was exploding, but John was getting himself under control. He quickly ran a mental checklist on his body. His breathing was still harsh, but reaching normal. Dizziness? Not so much. Knot in his stomach? He still felt like he might throw up, but he was getting better. His arms and legs felt like they each weighed a thousand pounds and his fingers felt numb. For Steve's benefit, he managed a weak smile. "See," he said weakly, "all better."

"Dude," Steve said, "you are one harsh dude."

Debbie rush over from the empty checkout, having just taken care of the lone customer in the store. "John! Are you all right?"

"His mother just died," Steve said.

Debbie raised her hands to cover her mouth and she inhaled largely. Her eyes grew huge. "Oh, John. I'm so, so sorry. Is there anything I can do? Do you need to leave? Are you all right?"

"Deb," Steve said, "The dude is whacked out! Look at him. He can barely stand. I think he should go home."

"I do too, John" agreed Debbie.

John stood, a bit shaky, and used the back of the bench for support. "It was a shock, that's all. Mom had been sick for a long time, so it's a blessing, really." The two stood and stared at him. "Look, I'm fine. Really. I'll finish my shift and take tomorrow off. Mom will wait, and the nursing home is in the process of… um… processing her. Tomorrow will be soon enough, okay? I'm fine, okay?"

Debbie looked dubious. "Well, if you say so. I still think you should go home, John. I have to take care of a customer." She moved away, saying "Welcome to Harl's! What can I help you find?"

Steve put his hands deep in his pockets. "Dude, really. I can handle it. Nobody hardly comes in here in the middle of the week, in the middle of the day. Go hooome, Dude!"

John shook his head. "No, but thanks, Steve. Work is what I need. Best therapy there is." Until tomorrow, that is, when Lou fires me. I wonder what M.E. will… "M.E.!"

Steve drew back. "What? Me?"

"No, M.E. A customer I was working with over in gardening. He was waiting for me."

Steve looked back towards the potting soil and the planters. "Dude, if there was someone there, there's nobody there now."

"Damn." John thanked Steve again and went back to where he had left M.E. As he got near the grow tubes, he saw a small posty note on the ground. There was writing on it.

'John,' it read, 'I feel you got delayed and I couldn't wait. Call me with the deal, or if you need help. I think you may need a friend.' It was signed 'ME' but in lower case, 'me' and there was a phone number. He shoved the posty in his pants pocket.

"You're right, M.E.", John mused. "I do need a friend." Because, of all the people that he knew, of all the ones closest to him, he couldn't come up with one name that would back him up right now. There were close friends, yes, but this was… this was…

He didn't know what it was. There were bad guys who gave off bad vibes and they were probably Watchers or worse. Worse? What could be worse than Watchers? The mob? That's silly. Well, maybe not so silly. Lou did come from New York or New Jersey or something place north where they spoke as if they were from a bad movie.

He pulled out his pad and looked at it. 'Chowder head. Who calls anybody a chowder head? Rats in the walls?', John was confused, his memory already playing tricks on him, hiding itself away. The Van! Cultured voice! What was the next phase? What the hell. Watchers, of course!

"John?" Lou was standing behind him. John jumped at the voice, expecting something terrible, and his bowels worked hard to maintain his dignity.

"John," Lou continued. "Debbie told me about your mother. I'm so sorry."

"Um. Um." Say something! Don't panic! John panicked, grasping for something, anything to say. "It's all right, Lou. Um, I'm all right. I'll finish my shift."

"No," Lou said. "No you won't. There's nobody more important than your mother. Never forget that, John." The stout man looked John up and down. "You don't look so good and you had an episode, didn't you?" There was only a momentary pause because John didn't know what to say. "Didn't you, John?"

"Yes," John admitted weakly. It might as well be true. He certainly felt like it, all washed out and almost transparent.

"Then get your skinny ass out of here," Lou said gently. "Go home. Make arrangements. Your job will be here when you get back."

The last brought a shock to John. That Lou would so casually lie.

"You sure it's okay, Lou?"

"Steve can handle it until Martin gets here," Lou said. "We're never that busy this time of week. Get out of here. Take a couple of days off."

John nodded, and thanked Lou. He clocked out and left, after saying goodbye to Debbie. "I hope everything turns out for you and your mother," he said.

"Oh, John…," Debbie began, becoming tearful. "You… you just be careful, all right? If you need me, call me."

"I will," John saying, knowing it would never happen. He had never gotten Debbie's number. She had never offered. "Thanks."

Outside, the sun shone down, mockingly cheerful. John staggered to his car, and dropped inside. He sat there, behind the wheel, wondering what to do next. How could he face his wife? What could he tell her? That he had lost another job? Except that he hadn't exactly lost it, yet. He would lose it tomorrow. Except he wouldn't be at work tomorrow to lose it. He was told to take a couple of days off.

The world was so weird. It was bad enough when he thought he was being followed and watched. Now he had confirmation. He consulted his pad to see if there were notes, and found he didn't need it. The events were traumatic enough that he could hear it clearly.

"The subject." he muttered. "I'm the subject." He put his key in the ignition. "What is the next phase? What was the last phase?" He puzzled on this, thinking back, back to his past. "What was the last phase?"

He turned the ignition and started his crappy car. It didn't want to start, but gave up the fight and started anyway. As he was pulling out of the parking lot, he saw the black van in his rear view. It was puttering around the parking lot, as it had this morning. Once he was on the road, he saw the van pull into traffic, a few cars behind him.

"The last phase...," he repeated. In his mirror, he saw the van drop back a bit more, trying to hide itself in the traffic. He saw the turn into his neighborhood and took it, saw the van pass by and drive on.

"Hmm." John continued driving towards the house and saw a red car pull from a drive way behind him and follow along. "Ah." There you are. He drove a few more blocks and then said, "I think I need some new pants."

Suddenly taking a turn that led away from his house. The red car also took the turn, casually, as if that was what was intended all along. John drove a few hundred feet and then pulled into a driveway. He waited for the red car to pass, then pulled back onto the road, heading back the direction he came, away from the red car.

His mirror told him that the red car had braked and was stopped at a stop sign a few blocks behind. John took a sharp turn to the left and headed a block then a sharp turn to the right. This road led straight for a half mile, then circled back to cross itself. John accelerated until he was worried someone would call the cops on him.

A white sedan pulled behind him from somewhere, just as John turned right. He checked his mirror and the car was behind him, sure enough. He drove on, not quite at madman speed, but close. He entered the sharp curve of the beginning of the circle and suddenly pulled into an tree covered alley. He turned off his engine, stepped out of the car and waited.

The sedan drove past, quickly. The driver was an older man, white hair and glasses, peering through his windshield for wherever John had gone.
From his hiding place, John saw the old man turn back left and stop in the middle of the intersection. The white sedan waited there for a long minute, while the driver tried to decide which way to go.

John grew impatient with watching and turned away, leaving his car where it was. The alley led down to a drainage culvert that ran the length of the neighborhood. It ended at a small park that was sat behind one of the strip malls nearby.

John walked the length of the culvert, carefully stepping where the rocks were and avoiding the dank water than ran in a little stream. He came to a tree trunk that had fallen across the stream and sat on it, thinking.

"The last phase…," he pondered. If, judging by what he suspected, that the Watchers were observing his reactions to life as it was handed to him, then the last phase would be something that had happened to him, something which had had a large effect on him.

It wasn't the last job he was fired from. Not the hardware store. That hadn't even happened yet. No, the last job was one where he was very happy, where he felt incredibly useful and content. It was like it was his home.

On second thought, perhaps that was the last large thing that had happened to him. He still harbored quite a bit of bitterness and anger toward the people that had fired him. He still missed the people there and the camaraderie they shared. When his brother had died, when he was alone in the world, when his whole world, in fact, had shattered around him, they held him up. They kept him sane, when nothing else would.

Perhaps, it was his mother actually dying. No, that wasn't it. Though sad, it wasn't particularly traumatic. Far more traumatic was his baby brother dying, and that coincided so closely to his hiring at his old job, the one before the hardware store, that his brother's passing was not the last phase.

Then again, perhaps it was the passing of his ex-wife, who he had known since childhood. That had occurred after the firing, after he was 'terminated'. He still missed her, and there was a part of him that still loved her very much. She was a light that brought laughter and knowledge into his life, and taught him more about himself than anyone. It was she that, after they were divorced, figured out about his memory problem and gave the suggestion of writing things down. It was she that had given him the idea of verbally acknowledging when he did things.

Oddly, though he couldn't remember everything about her, it wasn't as if his memory was just gone. He could remember, at will, wonderful time and horrible fights during his marriage to her. He could remember her face, her voice, what her hair smelled like, how she laughed and how she cheated at cards. She was one of the few people he trusted explicitly. One of the few he knew was NOT one of the Watchers.

Why did he divorce her? Oh yes… because he was trapped and his life had turned into something stagnant and imperfect and broken. His ex-wife was at the center of the circle of his world, and he couldn't keep the center because it was full of lies, of deceit and of sadness that beat all the happiness out of his life.

There were good times, and there were horrible times. And when she died, she died without him saying goodbye, so that to this day he still couldn't believe she was dead.

"Now that," John nodded to himself, "is something traumatic. That would be a fitting 'last phase'. See how I react, indeed. I'll give them something to Watch. I'm tired of this game."

His stomach rumbled. He was hungry, and he didn't want to go home. If he did, he would just have the Watchers waiting for him and doing exactly what they expected. So, it was time to do something unexpected.

The tree he was sitting on had a view of his car, and past the car, the road. The white sedan had circled a few times, slowing down as it passed the alley where the crappy car was stashed. It was the single time that John could remember being thankful for its low to the ground profile. The trees and bushes hid it from prying eyes, and he was certain he could leave it there for a few hours unmolested.

He hopped off the tree, and started down the culvert, away from his car. He started to whistle a tune, something that had just popped into his head. A few feet further, he realized it was the only song his ex-wife could sing and carry the tune. Amazing Grace.

Her passing was the last phase, he was sure of it now. He decided he would go look her up and say goodbye.

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