Chapter 22 – Sliding Beneath the Surface

April 14, 2013

Sliding - blogThe St. Augustine Trilogy: Book I

Young adult, paranormal/historical

22

Little Switches

Not knowing what to do, I just watched the cars and trucks heading directly towards me on Cathedral Place. The glare from all those headlights didn’t help any because they reminded me how so many absolutely crazy things had come charging my way since I first arrived at Lobo’s house. It was like all of that happened had somehow filled me up and pushed my old world right out the window.

OK, my old world wasn’t so perfect, but at that point I would have taken it back in a second.

“Up here is where your answer lies,” the Flagler College Lobo had said, tapping me between the eyes a short time before.

“Yeah, right!” I said standing there. With my brain so overloaded, I didn’t see how any answers or direction could come from it. Anyway, according to Lobo’s duplicate at Flagler College, I only had until the next day to figure it all out while he, well, both Lobos really, then upped and disappeared on me. “If I’m in so damn much danger here,” I grumbled to myself, “why didn’t at least one of you guys stick around?”

When I said those words though, I shook my head at how completely I seemed to have accepted the fact that Lobo could be in two or even in three places at one time. Then I thought about how I had seen myself outside of the Athena and gave up trying to figure it all out. While lost in my thoughts, some teenagers in an old green Chevy Lumina turned way too fast onto Cordova Street in front of me. The car’s tires screeched and its horn blared. Some guy in the back seat on my side of the road leaned out of his window and yelled, “Get a life zombie.”

“Screw you!” I shouted back and I shot him a bird.

“Zombie,” I snorted.

Breathe deeply. At first, I thought someone had spoken those two words, but I wasn’t really sure. Little pinpricks of sensation inside my head made me wonder if one of Lobo’s doubles had come back. A quick look around showed me that hadn’t happened. Even so, I found myself taking five full breaths and concentrating on them as much as I could. When I got done, I had to chuckle. While focusing on my breathing, I realized how truly stupid I must have looked standing there staring vacantly into the headlights of oncoming traffic. At that point, the zombie tag didn’t look far off the mark.

“Now hold on a minute,” I said to myself. I had also noticed how quickly my emotions changed during that encounter with the kids in the Lumina. From being lost and full of fear at the time, I had quickly became angry, very angry. It filled my mind. No room for anything else—an instant and complete shift in attitude. It was almost as if someone had flipped a little switch inside my head. Who was this someone? I asked myself. I wanted to pin it on the kid in the Lumina. Even so, down deep, I knew if I did blame that guy, I had actually let him do it.

For the first time in my life, I recognized how choice played a huge part in my reactions. As clear as could be, I sensed a whole bunch of those little switches in my head I had never noticed before. I could let people or situations into my brain to run wild with those switches, or I could … learn to decide … how best to flip them myself.

“So that’s what Lobo’s been trying to tell me,” I whispered. Why I whispered, I have no idea. With all that traffic noise, I could have shouted and no one would have heard me. “OK zombie,” I told myself, “it’s time for you to get your act together.” Taking it a couple of steps at a time, I decided to retrieve my bike and get to Lobo’s place as quickly as possible. Carla and the original Lobo were there and I needed to be with them. Beyond that, I wasn’t sure what to do, but Lobo would no doubt have some suggestions.

At the plaza, I found both Lyle and my bike gone. “Crap!” I startled two middle-aged women sitting on the bench where Lyle had been. Too bad. “Crap! Crap! Crap!” I didn’t want to believe Lyle had taken my bike, but it didn’t matter who the thief was, right then. I could sort that out later—if a later existed for me beyond December 28.

Not feeling like walking all the way back to Lobo’s place, a little fire of anger welled up in my stomach at whoever swiped my bike. The bastard! Yes, I remembered the switches in my head, and I even tried focusing on my breath, but it sure wasn’t easy. My switches felt then more like rusty, hard to turn dials. “This is going to take a hell of a lot of practice,” I muttered. After inhaling deeply a bunch of times and focusing on each breath, I calmed down a little, and found I really could think a little more clearly.

The walk through the rest of downtown on my way back to Lobo’s place was kind of a blur. My mind kept firing off in so many directions that I couldn’t concentrate. Of course, still being a somewhat pissed off didn’t help either, no matter how hard I worked on turning it around. For some idiotic reason I decided to take St. George Street. Dumb! You might think with traffic not allowed on St. George there would be plenty of room. Ha! It seemed like all the tourists in the world were in my way.

During that whole time, I kept looking all around, afraid the Dade officer might put in another appearance. Never happened, luckily.

It took me about ten minutes until I neared the city gate at the end of St. George Street. The number of people in my way there thinned out, and I was able to move much faster. Once through the two old coquina columns that make up the gate, a break in traffic on both sides of South Castillo Drive allowed me to cross. On the other side of the road to my right, the Castillo itself, with its high coquina walls, stood out in the glare of floodlights. As I looked at it, my mind flashed back to the pyramid and touching its rough coquina surface. Not what I wanted to think about at all!

When I got to the sidewalk on the other side of the street, I started running. It’s what I do sometimes when my brain gets filled to overflowing—like what I did on my bike with Carla after being at the cemetery. It felt so good to concentrate on nothing but moving at full speed even though I had to slow up when a few tourists got in my way from time to time. Ahead in the near distance on my side of the street, the lights from Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum were getting closer.

You can’t miss those big old white globes. They’re about the size of bowling balls set on top of a white picket fence. They made perfect targets for me to keep my eyes on as I ran. When I got almost to the Ripley’s entrance, I stopped dead in my tracks. Behind the white fence stood Carla and Lobo.

I guess by then I should have known to expect anything from Lobo, but seeing both him and Carla there still startled me. After all, I had experienced that day, I didn’t think I could be surprised by anything else, but I was definitely wrong. Sucking in a few deep breaths, I walked over to the fence. When I got there, Carla wore an expression of worry mixed with irritation.

“Hi,” she said. “Lobo told me you had an even rougher time after I left. Sorry about your bike.”

I realized then that Lobo must have told her about everything that had gone on with me since Lyle transformed into a soldier including the doppelgangers. In the calm way she said what she did, I felt sure things like three Lobos weren’t unusual experiences for her. How she knew about me losing my bike though, I couldn’t figure out. OK, of course Lobo told her, but how did he know? Neither of the Lobo doubles was around when I found my bike gone.

“Uh … hi,” I replied, breathing hard from my run. “Yeah … it’s been … well … interesting since you left, that’s for sure. What are you all doing here?” I noticed this time Lobo wore a jacket, a grey one that looked pretty heavy. This time? Ha! For whatever reason, it had been his doubles who hadn’t worn jackets. Didn’t they feel the cold? I wondered. When I first met Lobo in his chilly workshop and at his house, he didn’t have a jacket. Did that mean I had been talking to one or more of his doubles from the beginning?

“You’re going to blow a mental fuse if you keep trying to figure out every little thing.” Lobo’s unblinking eyes flashed as usual when he spoke. “We thought you might need a ride.”

For some reason, his reference to my unspoken thoughts didn’t rattle me. It just didn’t seem to matter. “Sure,” I replied to his offer, giving up on trying to understand him and his doppelgangers. “Why not? Thanks.” It wasn’t a long way back to his place, but I figured riding, especially with Carla, wasn’t such a bad deal, you know?

“Come on,” he replied, waving me to the other side of the fence where he had parked his rusty old truck. “Let’s head back to my place like we planned and cook up some dinner.” When we got to the truck, I saw he had cleaned all of the crap out of the cab making room enough for the three of us. It was still a tight fit with big old Lobo taking up a huge amount of space. OK, I took up a good-sized piece of that seat as well. Poor Carla got scrunched in the middle. When Lobo started the engine, it ran very smoothly, pretty quiet, really. I had expected it to rumble as much as he did.

“Uh, could we make a stop at my place?” I asked right as Lobo started backing his truck out of the parking space. “I could really use a quick shower and a change of clothes.” I felt bad enough sitting next to Carla so sweaty and all, but I sure didn’t want to go through dinner that way as well. Lobo grunted in reply and off we went.

When we got to The Dump, as I call where I live, Lobo parked in front of the house and shut off the engine. The place was dark since mom wasn’t coming back until the next night. I was about to get out of the truck when I thought about Carla and Lobo having to sit there and wait for me. That didn’t seem too cool, but I had never invited anybody inside my house before.

I call it The Dump for a reason. The place is really small, old and everything we have is sort of ratty. I live in the same neighborhood as Carla and Lobo, but where I live, well, isn’t anywhere near as nice as Carla’s place on Water Street. That’s where the more expensive houses are located.

“You want to come in?” I asked them both, knowing I would regret it, but figuring I had no other choice. I suddenly remembered I hadn’t done the dishes, or picked stuff up in the living room and kitchen. Too late.

“Sure,” Carla said, and my heart sank. I really didn’t want her to see how I lived, but I couldn’t take the invitation back.

“Cool,” I lied, and popped open the passenger side door. If this has to happen, I thought as Lobo also opened his door, let’s get it over with. Lobo, if you’re reading my mind, have fun. He didn’t say anything back.

My front yard is tiny, only about six feet deep, so in no time we were on the little porch as I fumbled in the dark for my keys. Once I unlocked the door, it stuck as it does sometimes. With a good shove from my shoulder, the stupid thing opened all the way.

When I flipped the wall switch to the left of the door, the living room came to life in all its cruddy glory. A pile of laundry I hadn’t yet sorted lay in a heap on the couch, and a TV tray with my half-eaten breakfast stared me in the face. A slight odor of cooked bacon still hung in the air from that morning along with the smell of stale cigarette smoke. An ashtray overloaded with my mom’s partially used cancer sticks sat on the coffee table along with a couple of her empty beer cans.

All that mess and smell didn’t usually bother me much, but walking in there with Carla and Lobo made my house seem really nasty. I’m telling you, I wanted to bail out of there so bad. Of course, I couldn’t. I just had to suck it up, and try not to appear too embarrassed. On our left, The Ancestor, as I call him, stared at me as always. The eyes from my long lost relative in the old dark oil painting on that far wall seem to follow me everywhere.

I threw my keys into the brass bowl on the little table near the front door, quickly got rid of the laundry, and took my dishes into the kitchen. With room to sit down made available, I told Carla and Lobo to make themselves comfortable—while trying to hide my embarrassment. As Lobo sank into the old recliner and Carla sat on the overstuffed couch, I said, “I won’t be a minute,” and ran for the bathroom.

Once I got into the shower, I stood there for a little while, with my eyes closed letting the water splash me in the face and flow down my body. As memories from that day I wanted to forget edged their way back into my mind, I focused on my breath and tried imagining the rushing water washing them away. It helped, a little. Still, I hated thinking about Carla and Lobo sitting in the living room without me there, so I quickly finished showering, toweled off and put on some fresh clothes. I could hear conversation when I arrived back in the living room, but it stopped as I entered the room.

“I’m doing better now,” I announced, “thanks for waiting.” As usual, the Ancestor’s eyes seemed to look at me as I spoke. That time though, something seemed oddly familiar about him. As Carla started saying something to me, I really didn’t hear her because I was staring so intently at the old portrait, something I never do. That’s when I recognized the person in the old painting. “Lobo!” I shouted, pointing at The Ancestor. “He’s the, the …” I was so startled, I couldn’t get the words out.

“It’s about time you noticed,” Lobo said, shaking his head.

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Trilogy Graphic - blogFor a brief description of The St. Augustine Trilogy, click here.

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© 2011 by Doug Dillon. All rights reserved.

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