Woooo! Ok, so sorry about how long it took to get that update out, everyone! So many things are happening in life right now that it's insane. So now the Wards and the Jacks have met up with one another, here's how this will go down. Go ahead and get involved and have yourselves a good old fashioned superhero brawl. If there are any disputes as to how something should go, any arguments to be had, etc., then I'll give my personal opinion and that is the final ruling. The Wards can make use of the three PRT troopers as extensions of their own characters, but occasionally I may throw a post of my own in there to direct or control additional details, so be on the watch for that. I would prefer that the Jacks be able to escape with their target obtained (though certainly not without taking some lumps), but I can improvise with any other end result. Last but certainly not least, please don't leave everyone else in the dust by having 2 or 3 of you posting repeatedly. Everyone should have a fair shot at being able to act and affect the battle. Have fun, and let's rock!
“Anyone who is familiar with the lessons we teach children, know that they are always mixed messages. You have villains who songs are often light and upbeat, always enjoying life. And hero songs about strife and having to go through personal growth to become a better person than the villain who seems to be enjoying life. We’re told don’t be like the bad guy. But when real people climb from strife, the bad guy wins and continues to sit in an ivory tower.”
Loyalty: Reflections - “Take a good hard look at yourself. Everyone is so scared of being the darkest part of themselves that they strive entirely for an imperfect vision of purity. They strive to be a hero or some sort of good person. Hard work on their back. They point to someone they determine is evil and go, well I’ll never be like that. But we’re all a little good and a little evil. And anyone is capable of being like that.”
Reflections was only a dream about a year ‘n half ago. Something designed and dreamt about after lengthy complex discussions constructed by individuals who were disillusioned by the current system. A lost sense of belonging and a dream to fix a current broken system with the gifts lended to them through tragedy. This was their strife, but not one to become heroes. Instead to become villains. Why? Maybe even the founder himself doesn’t really know.
Reflections was formed in Littleton, Colorado about a year ‘n half ago. Though the first year of activity was less activity and more like the construction of their desires, goals, and what this group was to achieve and accomplish. Arturo likes things in order and most of the first phases of Reflections was simple setup. Victor called these stages “Arturo’s Little Seminars”.
People are so brazen when you have a physical ailment, more so than they are brazen when confronting someone with a mental wound. Those with mental wounds tend to be shamed for their conditions or stunned into silence by surface advice. While people see those with physical ailments and feel they have the right to ask about another person’s personal life.
“I just have to ask, but what happened,”
“You’re so brave, I could never live like that,”
“Do you still...you...know, down there….can it….feel it”
Worse is you’re expected to entertain them with answers. Most of his youthful years were cut short due to an accident that left him marked with over 80% of his body burned. Though he likes to dodge as many questions as he can, what he can cover he does so with gloves, or long sleeve shirts. It’s a bother, but he prefers the stares to be the next sucker, in this urban jungle, to be their spectacle and not him. He’s is not to be spectated.
He doesn’t mind his face being seen though it always ends up getting more questions like;
“Are you burned anywhere else?”
“80%, did it….man I’d be so pissed if that happened to me”
Arturo seems more uncomfortable with the rest of his body being viewed than say his face. Though he doesn’t always like those looks either, but it is much easier to manage. He even tends to cover parts lower part of his face with something such as a scarf usually that matches the suit he has chosen to wear.
The only thing more noticeable than his burns is his ice gray blue irises, they often appear more gray or blue depending on the lighting he is in. And if people aren’t talking about his burns they are talking about his unique eyes. Which he sort of prefers more than exploiting his burns for their own entertainment.
Arturo himself stands at 5’8”, 172 cms, and weight 140 pounds, 63 kg. He tends to walk slowly a bit like a shuffle and Victor calls it his “zombie walk” which he greatly dismisses, usually. Most people think he has an aura of calm or serenity that surrounds him.
He speaks in a low tone, often with a calm cadence, he doesn’t speak very loudly and tends to have a rather husky voice. His voice can be middle range and doesn’t sound like a typical American voice, as there are hints of a ghosting accent from speaking another language at home.
“Sometimes I don’t know what to think. Sometimes I think I have lost my mind. Sometimes I think to myself that’s what death does to some people. Some become overtly religious and others lose interest in life. I wonder where I fit into those two categories. All well, now isn’t the time to concern myself with such a thought.”
He walks slowly in the dark, the so called aforementioned “zombie walk” does him an advantage, as he takes a step forward his footsteps are paved by the looks of what seem like flesh, the inside of an intense or something like it. Veiny, sinewy,muscle as he walks with an eerie step, doesn’t say anything, you watch as he steps on a piece of glass without even flinching, His face is covered by a mask of ivory, blackened eyes.
While he wears an unusual robe, with tattered and burned ends. He’s barefoot, and doesn’t seem to mind the chilly cold air. Not even a shiver or shake. In that moment you freeze, you’re unsure of his intentions. All he says to you is
“You will make a good world.”
Vague and eerie, his voice tends to be even lower register than when he’s not in the mask. An audible whisper, that creeps inside your eardrums like cold winter air, a voice that brushes across your cerebral understanding like mental cobwebs.
Motivations: A world of goodness. Though not necessarily a world where good and evil do not exist. But in Eastern philosophies, ying and yang is a balance. And Arturo believes it is a balance, but he doesn’t believe evil should win over good. He wants the right people where they belong and the people he sees need punishment where they belong. He wants to fix the world from the right and wrong he sees, to the one he envisions for the world.
Marital Status: Was Engaged, Single or it’s complicated really.
Trivia - Ever since he was a kid he use to collect odd bits of information about the world. These bits of knowledge became minor bits of trivia that he enjoyed sharing when he found it relevant. He still enjoys doing so. The thrill of learning something fascinating and holding onto is a little satisfaction of life.
Stamps - Another habit he had as a kid was to collect postage stamps from different eras and keep them in a yearbook. A habit born when he had a bit of a pen pal from Italy after his trip to his heritage land. From there he liked to collect stamps from different countries and different times. He’s not a fan of patriotic stamps though, he often likes unique stamps.
Politics - Seems to be the only person who actually might enjoy talking about politics with others. It’s fascinating concept to think how many people see the world. He doesn’t like to debate politics. More gather information about what other people think. If he wants to change the world’s model, he must see what is most important to everyone for equal fairness.
Eastern Philosophy - In his teen years of discovery, one of those discoveries and things he explored was religion. His family not being very religious allowed him the freedom to explore other religions on his own terms. From paganism to Christianity, to Judaism. But the one that resonated the most with him was most likely the Eastern philosophies, less a religion and more a collection of ideas about how to make peace with the world and others around it.
Litterbugs - Everyone was born on one Earth and their job should be to protect it, keep it clean and respect mother nature. While not generally a person who starts conflict, ironic consider his choice of villain, he will stop individuals who trash this beautiful Earth.
Disrespect - Just like you are born on one Earth. You are stuck with the individuals on this earth. You should treat others with respect. Be kind and courteous to others. Show them compassion. Everyone believes that another person’s life could not happen to them. But anyone could go bankrupt, anyone could lose their job or go homeless. So when you treat your neighbors with respect, they tend to remember that and will help you when you’re in a tight spot.
Talking Plush Toys - Now this might sound odd to anyone who is not him. But everyone has that one story that gives them an unusual dislike or healthy distance from something. In this case it’s talking plush toys, as a kid he had one of those talking plush, with the big eyes that stared into your soul. Story goes like all kids story go, about one night the talking toy going off. Just continue to speaking. Just to shut it up you reach for the batteries and realize there is none. Every kid has a story like that and that is why he prefers not to be near talking plush toys.
Spacing - Arturo never been a space case though it seems as of late that has become a habit. Where he could be in the middle of a conversation and completely space on what he is saying or where he is in a certain location. He often has these moments that feel almost out of body and seem loosely connected to his territoires.
Often having flashing or some kind of experience of being in one place and another at the same, and the other place he often is called to is his territories or experiences his territories when he is far away. And the greatness of this effect happens the further away he is away from something he has overrun.
Teacher Credentials - You wouldn’t have guessed or most people probably wouldn’t have guessed that at some point in his life Arturo had wanted to become a teacher. Graduating college in hopes to gain a teaching job in his respective field. People also probably wouldn’t have assumed that he was a great artist as well.
Except that extracurricular activities have been drastically cut from school systems, so it was difficult to desire an art teacher in a school with no art subjects to offer. He was also part of a few teacher groups to lobby for more extracurricular courses in schooling, signifying the importance of these activities to children. Trying to better the world and the education system through the law back then.
Painting - Arturo always been artistic, idealistic as well, but artistic. Drawn to unique imagery in postcards and stamps, that furthered his collections. When he was a kid he went through art classes, and greatly excelled in them. Especially in his efforts of landscape painting with acrylics and different types of watercolors. While a brilliant student he was drawn to the color and beauty of the world.
Intelligent - Arturo has always been intelligent. Not genius or savant, but intelligent nonetheless. His mind has always been critical and it has always worked on things that he wanted to see change in the world. He was a deeply thoughtful child and as an adult he was a deeply critical, and analytical individual. He wanted to help the world with his intelligence back then, that maybe if people just listen they can understand the importance of the manner. Appeal to them and their sensibilities. It was of course all in vain.
Anatomy - A more recent subject that Victor has been teaching him, about the human anatomy. It helps him construct the stuff he constructs in the meatspace territory that he controls.
Basic Combat Training - Small things like how to deflect a blow or how to block an attack. Or how to sweep someone if he has to. Most of his fighting though is about capture and release so it wasn’t to important that he learn anything than a few basics like how to defend oneself.
“That’s a terrible name”
“What should we call it then? Zombie Rot….hmmm you know that’s not that bad either,”
“We’ll keep Meatspace,”
Arturo has the ability of spreading an area with a parasitic flesh. That is somewhat sentient. The spread of flesh that surrounds him is often within a 10 cm circumference around him, that spreads at a rapid rate. Though generally has a will of its own.
But bits of Arturo can control or will some of the meatspace. More like encourage it to grow or spread further than what is inside his normal control. Though the more Arturo learns to use his capabilities the more him and his meat space seem connected.
In this territory of flesh Arturo’s capabilities come out. In his meat territory Arturo can;
Infect inorganic material with his meat flesh, which is often how the territory spreads in the first place.
When another person comes into contact with his meat territory or him, Arturo can encase them in meat, until they are “consumed” in a meat sack pod. These sack pods keep their victims alive, but it's the equivalent of keeping them on life support.
Yet to be discovered by Arturo is that he can essentially replicate an individual who was inside of his sack pods. They are completely linked to his will as a meat slave meant to carry out his will and motivational desires.
Veinacles “Please stop naming things”
With his limited control of his meatspace territory it can influence it to a few basic things, such as “creating” tentacles out of the veins of the walls. These tentacles are limited to whipping, slashing, or grabbing though. And they are limited in range, each branch at least 5 ft in length, but they cannot really stretch far being attached to walls.
He can also limit where things can go in his territory, at least where the territory has spread. So he can essentially have pods of his victims moved anywhere within the territory. Except he tends to have to focus on where he wants it to go visually and that’s a lot of work.
He can create external organs inside the meat territory, though he’s not quite sure the purpose of these yet. As he’s still getting to learn the dimensions of his own capabilities.
Yet to be discovered by Arturo is that if he dies in his meat territory, is that he can essentially create a copy of himself in his territory. This should not be mistaken for immortality, as Arturo can still die in the pod, he ages and gets sick, can die of illness.
Also this process is still rather slow, it’s not a “i died and I am back” type of deal. It’s like being recreated, and reborn and takes up to a couple of days. And even then it takes him a while to gain his sense of self back and can be a kind of disorientated experience.
As a last resort option it is possible for Arturo to actually infect the clothing he is wearing with his parasitic flesh. But he doesn't necessarily do it otherwise because he prefers not to have to wear clothes out of flesh.
Something Arturo has yet to discovered is the ability to morph or form meat minions, even further these meat monster minions could be made from the mind slaves he already has simply by pushing the mutation of his flesh mutation inside of them to the furtherest limits of its power.
The extent of Arturo’s capabilities is greatly impacted on how much meat territory he has. None of the things he can do is possible if he has say a strip of meat territory, a lot good that will do. Though his territory spreads quickly within the next 48 hours, that doesn’t necessarily mean he will have enough territory to do anything.
Also Arturo himself is greatly limited. He relies heavily on his territories and intelligence, because he was a man who was learning to become a teacher. He’s no soldier, had no interest in physical or combative sports. So Arturo himself is a sitting duck without his territories.
Beyond that it seems Arturo and his meat territory are highly susceptible to fire. His meat territory is flammable.
To some extent Arturo and his territory are connected and he can feel pain through his territory. If someone hurts a vein tentacle, then he can feel it in his own body.
He also has a habit of spacing out at moments, if he’s not within his territory.
It should be also noted that Arturo doesn't necessarily feel pain, he won't respond to minor to moderate injuries with much reaction. But often tends to ignore them because of it. These wounds when not taken care often lead to infections he could have otherwise avoided if he did take care of these minor scrapes. He also still can get things like hypothermia, it's simply that some parts of his body are dead to external stimuli.
Meat-Space Infected Knives - Inside his coat pocket, he keeps them hidden, but he has a few knives that he has infested with his territory. If anyone’s gets too close or if he has to infect them without getting hurt himself he can stab them with the knife in order to infect them.
Two-Way Radio - Arturo and Victor have the downgraded version of an earpiece communication device, as in two-way radios to hear each other and communicate over a distance.
Meat Car - Punky - It's less a car and more like a roaming puppy dog that comes out to play. It's the very first thing Arturo has overrun. Like a lost child it tails Arturo around and hangs out in any territory he has overrun.
His mother use to call him a “bundle of thanks” or “her bundle of thanks” born on a cold November day in Littleton Colorado in 1977 he did not come into this world alone. They still have the pictures of a hospital room filled to the brim with family. His older brother, his mother, his father, his grandparents, his aunts, and uncles.
All celebrating his coming into this world. His grandmother would tell him things like the snow blessed him and that’s why he has such icy eyes. He didn’t really know what any of that meant, but it was artistic and creative metaphors like that, that sparked his imagination fairly early.
And that’s probably why he had labels fairly early on in life. His family kept closely to their rich Italian heritage. His grandmother teaching him, his oldest brother Italian, like they had taught his father. While his mother tried at least to keep up with the family conversations.
There were never really the type of family to rush. He sat at the table watching his mother place lunches in their backpacks without breaking a sweat. They had enough time and he was staring at his older brother who was in the first grade.
“I get to go on more field trips now that I am in the first grade,” he bragged to no one really. Arturo always just thought he liked people to think he was cool.
“If I approve them,” their mother snapped back, she had blue irises and blond hair. The family always suspected he got partially his eye color from her.
“I know,” he said defensively, “But I graduated baby class.”
His mother snapped him a look. She looked over to Arturo, who took the leisurely atmosphere to color with crayons on the dining table.
“Aren’t you excited about your big day?” she tried to enthuse.
Reality was he was more nervous than excited. He knew other kids he was forced to play with were excited about today. Talking nonstop about it. But they didn’t have to live with his older brother Fabian. Who brought his big kid friends over to play sometimes and they often left him out of games. He shrugged.
“Will I make friends?” he mumbled instead.
“Honey of course,” she says, “You will make lots of friends because you are so wonderful. And all the other kids will see that.”
He believed her because she was his mother and she hadn’t steered him wrong yet. Or failed an expectation yet.
“Okay,” he said, “I made a picture.”
“Let’s see,” she said while handing Fabian his backpack and coming over to him to hand him his. Reaching for it, she stared at a waterfall he had began to draw. “Oh that’s lovely, it’s…”
“A waterfall,” he said.
“I see it now,” she says and kisses the top of his head, “Okay let’s get you boys to school.”
He got up and followed Fabian out the door, as their mother came from behind them with the house keys. Locking the door and then taking their hands, they began to walk down the little suburban neighborhood. It seemed today that the neighborhood had more kids than it did in the summer. They all came out of their houses, different ages, different sizes, some with parents, others without.
The closer they got to the school the more nervous he got. His mother was stopped by another mother, and they began to talk about something. Something mothers talk about that didn’t particular interest him. Just around the corner and Fabian slipped out of his mom’s grasp. He calls out to his friends, and begs to be released. His mother shoos him off with a hand gesture and blows a kiss at Fabian, his friends laugh at him.
One of the kids Samuel walks up to him, kid about his age, about to turn five this month, frizzy ginger hair and a lot of freckles smiles at him.
“Hi Art,” Samuel says.
He never understood why people called him Arty or Art.
“Hi Sam,” he smiled.
Sam looked at his mother who was talking to his and then just eased his way to standing next to him. Arturo looked at Sam.
“I got Mrs. Parson,” Sam told him.
“Me too,” Arturo responded.
Samuel nodded and that was about that for that conversation. Samuel was and wasn’t a friend. He was someone chosen for him by his mother, because she knew Samuel’s mother and Samuel’s older brother. And since his older brother played with Samuel’s then it must mean Samuel and him would get along. It wasn’t that they didn’t. It was just that he played differently than them.
They wanted to play superheroes, or firefighters, cops, or fight each other. He wanted to explore worlds. He wanted to design a story and work around characters. Other kids found this weird, that he setup a story. If Jonathan said they were superheroes, they were superheroes.
If Arturo was in the game, he wanted to create a world, and the creatures that inhabited it. He got made fun of about this a lot.
Finally making it to the school building he didn’t see how he was already going to make friends when kids already thought he was weird. It wasn’t like any of these kids were different than others. He followed quietly to the kindergarten classroom. Some kids were refusing to leave their parents side, while he just felt his mother let go of his hand.
He stared at her.
“Be good, okay?” she said.
“Okay,” he told her, she hugged him and kissed the top of his head again.
“Remember to meet Fabian in front of the school,” she told him.
“I’ll remember,” he told her.
“And you two will walk home together. Do not leave each other’s side.”
“Tell that to Fabian,” he mumbled.
She smiled at him once again, pushing back his dark brown hair out of his eyes for a second. He smiled back at her. Maybe she was right, he had no reason to doubt he wouldn’t make any friends. He was just more mature than other kids, he had to understand that. She walked off and he turned to address Samuel, but he was already walking into the classroom so Arturo did the same.
Mrs. Parsons a woman as old his grandmother stared at the both of them. She pointed to some cubbyholes behind them.
“Place your backpacks in the cubbyholes with the letter that matches your last name is, if you need help I’ll be more than willing to help,” Mrs. Parsons says in a sing song way, “And then you will sit at your respective desk with the letter your last name ends in.”
Samuel stood around waiting for Mrs. Parsons to direct him, while Arturo walked over to look for the cubby’s with K. Mrs. Parsons was already helping Samuel find the Ms, but turned her attention to him.
“Look at you so smart and prepared already,” she says in a delightful tone to him.
Arturo already felt signaled out. He wanted to disappear a little. He just looked for the desk with other kids with the last name with a K.
Sitting across several other kids, including a black one across from him, he just hoped that class would soon begin. It didn’t take long for the stragglers to arrive and with that Mrs. Parsons clapped her hands to gain the classes attention, she began to place sheets of white paper onto each cluster of desk they were sitting at. “ “Welcome class to your first day of Kindergarten,” Mrs. Parsons spoke awfully cheery, it was one of the reasons he didn’t like children’s television much any more, they all had this tone, like they were stupid, “I’m Mrs. Parsons and we’re all going to have a wonderful time together. Now I have set some pieces of paper on your desk. We are going to create nametags for the school year and that will be the nametag you have on your desk for the whole semester. Exciting.”
He wanted to roll his eyes. She paused for a second to scan the class.
“Now, if anyone needs helps with their letters, I am more than willing to help,” she says, “But this is more of a fun exercise. So I can see where you’re at. Then we’ll go around the room introducing ourselves. How does that sound.”
All the other kids looked and seemed excited. He just wanted to be doing what Fabian would be doing in first grade. With his times tables. All the kids hurriedly passed out pieces of blank pieces of paper, while they were given instructions of how to make their nametags point and stand up.
He watched some of the other kids struggling, their letters wobbly and he felt once again out of place as he began on big, boxy letters his brother taught him how to create. He began to color them in with different shades of blue.
One of the kids, who looked tan and had brown hair looked at him. All he did was sneer at him before going back to his wobbly letters. He didn’t know why he did. Mrs. Parsons passed by many of the desk, bending on her knees with a grimace on her face doing so, to help them with shaky hands, and show them how to do a letter they were struggling over.
She finally came to his end, seeing him color in a U in his name.
“Where did you learn how to do that?” she asked him.
“My brother is in first grade,” he replied.
He noticed glares from other students. Why?
“It’s very artistic, we have a real picasso in the class,” Mrs. Parsons says again with much force enthusiasm. Why did she carry herself that way? It was like baby talk without direct baby talk. He fiddled with his colored pencil. He felt out of place.
The feeling of never really belonging never went away. He felt more out of place every time he went to school. All the other kids thought he was a show off, and he never had fun at school because the teachers spent most of the time talking to the early grades as if they were dumb. He liked the books his brother brought home, about Huckleberry Finn, and Peter Pan. He didn’t like the books they made them read because to him they were baby books.
And he was starting to garner labels. From the other students it was show off, know it all, it was vague acknowledgement that he existed. While from the teachers it was smart, bright, and intelligent, and other teachers it was troublemaker, problem child, and poorly behaved.
When he was six his baby sister Kaylyn was born. Which just left him and Fabian to their own devices. They walked to school together, well reality was Fabian ditched him when they got close enough to the school.
Samuel after a while stopped being friends with him because Samuel was considered “cool” by some standard. Kids at school liked Samuel, well at least the ones with the same interest as Samuel. And Arturo made a few friends here and there, but nothing that stuck.
He was weird. He was too outside of the norm and after a while he was just alone. Unless someone wanted to pick on him.
But school always taught everyone they were special in their own way. They tried to make the abnormal seem normal, but that couldn’t be the case if he didn’t have any friends. While at home, a lot of his family believed if someone worked hard enough they would rise up from their troubles. He wanted to believe it too.
That’s why he never fought back.
And sometimes things felt like rewards for good behavior. Despite the negativeness from school, when he was twelve he was promise when he became thirteen that he’d be able to visit his other relatives in Italy. Something to look forward to, in a school system that felt more like a suffocating prison.
I don’t really want to be here. Sitting alone in the quad again while I watch other kids around me act like animals. Why can’t I be like them? Teachers and my parents always always tell me there’s something special about me.
That the other kids cannot see it yet. But I don’t think they are going to see anything. I get to my dad’s sister, my aunt, next year. I have been doing a lot of research on Italy. I am looking, no leaping towards a future because it sucks here.
My father says these growing pains are normal. That I only feel that way because I am twelve and about to hit puberty. That’s what he says, why can’t he just see I am tired of being pushed around by other kids? I am told that fighting back is a bad thing. But when I tell the teachers anything they don’t believe me. So I am a liar or a bad guy.
“Hey,” a voice broke through the meditative process of writing. Arturo looked up to see Sam. Sam hadn’t been a skinny kid, but he was an average kid, though now Sam was getting a little chubby. Still they hadn’t talked since grade school and even then that was just brief. He looked around for other kids, who might look like they were just about to experience a wet dream in public. But no one else was there to goad Sam on.
“Hi?” Arturo asked.
“We use to play a lot back in the day,” Sam sort of adds, as if that’s his offering of peace.
“I remember,” Arturo responded, guarded, but willing to listen.
“Yeah, um,” Sam looks at him nervously, “I’m just here to invite kids to a party for a friend. It’s their birthday tomorrow. Weird, right. We always use to make fun of what we’d feel like if we had a birthday every four years.”
Arturo laughs amusingly.
“Yeah,” Arturo nods accepting a piece of paper with an address on it, “I’ll show up.”
Sam just nods, “Cool. It’s tonight. Around 6pm.” Arturo nods, “I’ll try to convince my mom.”
He didn’t know if he should feel ecstatic about the situation or weirded out. It certainly wasn’t something he expected today. He looks back to his notebook;
Still this place sucks.
“It’s very last minute,” his mother says at 5:30, while his brother Fabian is play the NES in the living room.
Arturo looks away, “I know.” He tells her. Both him and his mother turn their head when they hear Fabian let out a shit.
Before his mother can get another word in the door opens. His father has just gotten home as well. Fabian and his father look awfully alike, broad shoulders, black hair, and chiseled chins. Kaylyn is sitting on the couch painting her nails while watching Fabian.
“Daddy!” she says excitedly jumping off the couch to give him a hug. Dad embraces her in a hug and then stares at the two of them standing in the middle of the kitchen.
“What am I missing out on?” he ask with a smile. His mother looks at their father, his olive skin in stark comparison with her vanilla colored skin.
“Arturo wants to go to a party,” she said.
Want was a strong word.
“I was invited,” Arturo corrected.
“Is it in the neighborhood?” Dad asked.
Mom looks at the residency on the card, “I believe so.”
“Let him go, they are twelve and if the neighborhood is full of responsible parents then I know they aren’t going to be going anywhere crazy or doing anything crazy,” Dad says, “I’ll take him.”
He wished they would have both just said no and disagreed with him. His mom hands his father the card with the residency on it.
“You ready?” Dad ask.
Arturo nods quietly. He follows his father out of the kitchen and through the front room. They leave the house and walk to his father’s car. Getting inside the passenger seat, his father starts the engine and begins to peel out of the driveway.
“School going any better?” Dad ask, “I mean you were invited to a party. See I told you it all work out.”
Arturo looks out the window.
“Not really,” Arturo tells him, “I still...am not normal.”
Dad just turns the wheel to Dutch Creek Drv.
“Kids can be cruel to someone who is as unique as you, but I think a party is a good sign,” dad pauses, “Don’t you.”
“Maybe, or maybe that’s just something we tell ourselves so we can cope with not being normal,” Arturo tells him.
Dad just laughs. Dad turns onto Larkdale drive and stops at a house. There’s no one there. No kids are going in and out. There’s no balloons. He thinks he sees his dad pull a face. It seems like disappointment, maybe. Dad waits a second more. No cars pull up. Dad bites his lip and then strums the steering wheel with his fingers.
“Well kiddo,” Dad says, “I don’t think there’s a party here.”
Arturo just rolls down the window and then rolls it back up. He should have known. He wondered what his dad would say now.
“They gave me a false address,” Arturo said.
“Well, I’ll tell you what,” Dad begins, “How about we see if there is a party, and then me and you can go get some ice cream afterward.”
He shrugs. There wasn’t any harm in it he supposed.
“Okay,” he said.
Dad turns onto Glenview Drv and begins to slowly look at each of the houses. He wonders why his father is taking the time to even do this. If there was no party it was just a terrible prank, that he fell for. If there was a party he was just the biggest loser. Heading onto Zenobia Ct, dad stops at a house with balloons and a birthday banner.
“Guess that’s the party, huh,” Dad said.
“Guess so,” Arturo says looking away from the house. What a lame prank. What a lame way of making him feel unwanted or unwelcomed. He hated that school and all the kids in it. Everyone made the fault out to be on him. That was the weird thing about calling him special or unique and no one understood. Is if he were so unique, so special. Why was he treated like such a bad kid? Why was he treated like he was the bad guy?
He was either a liar or a bad guy. Like when Micheal and his friends pants him in PE class. He told the teacher what happened. And six kids all said his pants just fell down. He got detention for lying and trying to tell on another student.
Dad puts a hand on his shoulder.
“Remember, we’re getting ice cream,” Dad told him, “You don’t need these kids approval. Remember you are special. Even if they cannot see it.”
“I don’t feel really special,” Arturo tells him, trying not to cry in front of his father. Dad starts to do a three point turn.
“My grandparents came to America,” Dad began, the same story he heard all the time. Because they thought there was something in America. Something special where everyone could complete their dreams. And that the Kittler family were here in America to make it big. To accomplish their dreams. He wondered then if they were here to accomplish their dreams, why did great grammie and pappy never accomplish what they wanted? Why did Dad’s parents never accomplish their dreams? Dad will say, well because they had a family.
But if this was such a great place. If this place was so magical. Then that wouldn’t matter. That wouldn’t be their excuse.
“Do you understand Arturo?” Dad asked him.
“I guess,” Arturo responds with a shrug of his shoulders.
He thinks his father looks sad then. Like he’s trying to help, but when did it get better? When did he feel like he had a voice? When did this feeling of loneliness and hopelessness go away?
During the winter holidays and just like he was promised, when he was thirteen he was able to visit Italy with his family. His father after the party incident seemed worried or concerned, but didn’t say anything he just looked it. While his mother must have heard the story over, but didn’t mention it. Fabian didn’t seem to care, in his own egocentric universe, and Kaylyn would be too young to understand anyway. His relatives were nice. All those lessons from his grandmother came in handy being able to communicate in Italy. Their poor mother lost, unless someone decided to speak English.
It was beautiful in Italy. It felt like an escape. Something away from all the damage in America. He never really wanted to leave, but was promised by his cousin Emilia that she would write to him. And that’s where his stamp collection really began to shine.
His family in Italy also brought something with them, that he could take back to America. Catholicism. His parents weren’t ever too big on religion. They brought up god from time to time. But in Italy, prayers, church on Christmas.
It ignited a curiosity in his teenager mind and so he went out to seek other forms of religion. Which his parents who were always big on independence and allowing their kids to experience the world firsthand allowed him.
Christian church on a Sunday, Paganism, Wicca, Judaism, and so and so forth. He suppose he was looking for a community. But the one philosophy that ever stuck with him was his general experience with Buddhism and Eastern philosophies. Finding inner peace. Not letting one be perturbed by desires and wants.
That the only way you can find peace within yourself is by letting go of the desirable. People wanted cars, wanted to be rich, wanted to be famous. They lived for themselves because that’s what individualistic what America’s secret formula was. But here was a thing, that told you kindness unto others. By accepting one’s self, you found an inner calm.
Though he wouldn’t at eighteen consider himself a Buddhist, he just took some of the philosophies for himself. Instead of wanting and desiring, he instead accepted, and gave to others. He volunteered for soup kitchens, volunteered for an animal shelter, even tried to volunteer for the red cross. It was then perhaps he sought a better world and for once believed the adults telling him it would get better.
It didn’t matter what happened in high school or middle school he was about to enter college and be a teacher. A mentor someone to guide other students. He got a lot of funny looks for blatantly telling people he wanted to be an art teacher. Don’t you know they are cutting those from a lot of schools. But he still wanted to try for something.
His parents might have also thought his choices were a little odd, at sixteen he gave up meat and began to go on this vegetarian diet. As it began to be talked about more. Did it get him to be made fun of more, absolutely. But he decided to kill them with kindness. He’d show them all the power of virtue.
His first entry into the adult world was a college student, he had a plan, a goal. To be a mentor or guide. Completing his schooling in 1999, but never really the type of person to be settled by a degree and always striving to learn something new. Knowledge was his passion and it saved off a lot of the defeatism in his early stages of life.
He never quite impressed schools that he was qualified for hire. Mainly because they all ended being schools he use to be a student at and their impression of him was less than stellar most of the time.
In the end he landed a small secretarial job in an office. Not quite art teacher, mentor, and more a modern job he wanted to avoid. There he met his future wife, well there still engaged at this point, Claudia.
“Appliance Press, how may I direct your call?” he spoke on the phone, though he was watching down the hall where Claudia had passed through for the second time today. She had black hair, and was of average built. But she was beautiful, like an office cat prowling around the copying machine. He probably shouldn’t use that line though, it was less than attractive.
“Oh hi, yes,” a nervous woman on the phone, she gives a laugh, “I am trying to get into contact with a Mr. Peterson. It’s about my refrigerator. Oh yes I have the number somewhere on a paper.”
“Ma’am, there is no need to rush we can take this as slow as you need. I need your name and your case number,” he ask.
There was a long pause. He waited a second. Another second.
Just dial tone. What was all that about? Claudia finally comes slinking over, she’s wearing a pencil tight skirt right at her knees, and red pumps. He stares at her for a mere second. She’s the only person here who has given him this much eye contact or attention.
“Hello,” he told her.
She smiles. He always gets flustered around her, but she also had flirted with him before.
“Was that anything exciting?” she ask pointing to his phone.
“No, a woman’s refrigerator and her phone dropped the call,” he paused, “She sounded frantic on the phone. I hope she’s still not talking without realizing what had happened.”
Claudia gives him a genuine warm look. Now was a good time as any. He was use to his expectations being dampened or changed.
“Claudia,” he pauses, “How do..you...want to get lunch with me, today?”
Claudia laughs, that was an embarrassing string of words.
“With you, I’d adore that,” she said.
“Oh uh that’s,” wait she was going to go get lunch with him, “great. I look forward to it.”
She just smiles and shakes her head. Why was socializing at this point so painful? Because most people ignored him the moment he got into any of his intense discussion. They just sort of stared at him like he were no interest of them. He rarely got this close to an actual conversation and it happened to be a rather awkward one. How long had he been working here? A year. He had known her for a year and he was failing at trying to make an impression.
“Where are you taking me to lunch?” she said sneaking up from behind him. He wasn’t expecting that so he turned around rather quickly.
“Okay I nearly had a heart attack before lunch,” he said, “Um, a cafe. If coffee and a...uh pastry sounds fine with you.”
She just smiles and he finds himself smiling back.
“That sounds wonderful, you lead the way,” she says.
“It’s not far from here, I was going to walk,” he tells her.
“Oh so you’re a true romantic,” she winks at him and teasingly laughs. He shrugs. He suppose so. But it didn’t make sense to him to hurt the environment further by driving his car somewhere literally a ten minute walk.
“Also trying to reduce my carbon footprint,” he tells her. She scrunches up her face in thought.
“You really believe that global stuff?” she ask him more seriously. Was that a terrible thing?
“Yes,” he said.
“You get quirkier by the minute,”
He believed about doing the best for the environment. What could he say? Was it a quirk? He wasn’t so sure. He just didn’t want any more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or people to throw their trash on the ground. This land is sacred. It should be cherished as sacred. Or at least what Eastern philosophy believed. Maybe she was right and he should be more Western in his views about the climate.
“We can drive,” he told her.
“No,” she said, “It’s cute. We wouldn’t want to increase your carbon footprint after all.”
He couldn’t tell if she was teasing him or not, but he simply began to lead the way. He wondered if he had done something wrong. He wondered if he should have done it better. He should have been more of a gentleman right? Taken her to his car. But he wasn’t sure she would be impressed by his 90s Ford when all these new 2000s cars were coming out.
Out in the urban air they began to walk on pavement.
“What about you?” he ask her.
“About the climate stuff?” she ask, she shrugs, “I find it a little silly. By the time we truly impact the earth’s climate we all be dead by then.”
He nods without saying a word. Guess there were some people who thought that as well. He wasn’t so sure what to believe on it. He just knew hurt the Earth was like hurting yourselves in the long run. Or so he believed.
“Makes sense,” he told her.
“So Mr. Environmental,” she says, “What else do you like to do beside save the earth?”
“Paint, collect information,” he tells her.
“Like?” she ask, “Collect information like?”
“Victor Gruen designed shopping malls here in America, they were meant to be like city squares, with living corridors and shopping malls. But America bastardized his project,” he told her, “Or that America is the only system that has a pure economy. Most other places have an economy that is blended.”
“I’ll probably forget all of that,” she tells him.
“Most people do,” he tells her.
Still it was nice though to have some human company. It has been a while since someone is actually giving him their time. But with the way he saw this going he didn’t know how long this would last.
They gave each other pieces that the other didn’t have or needed. Claudia helped Arturo come more out of his shell, experience new things. For their Winter Holiday on their first year anniversary they want logging in a log cabin. While she taught him how to engage with people more. He taught her how to look more in.
But that didn’t necessarily fix any of the problems Arturo had. He was still invisible to most people and they tended to often forget who he was. Or at least they pretended to pretend to forget who he was. He watched his colleagues in the same field as him get promoted. While the only promotion he ever got was taking calls in a cubicle than the secretary.
He made more money at least. But he wondered when his dreams would be realized. When other people’s dreams would be realized. Claudia was a successful cook, and baker, and her dream was to open up her own restaurant. Instead she was filing copies in the same office firm as he was. All about appliances. Broken down ovens, broken down refrigerators, ordering refrigerators from their website.
He tried not to let that bother him. He would remind himself that desires like that would never allow for clear, open mind. He tried to block it out. See the good. Give to others. One day, one day soon it would mean something.
They were sitting across from each other with candles flickering. A home cooked meal sat on the dining table and wine glasses were half full. He stared at her, she always looked dreamy in soft light. He had a habit of tracing her outline in his mind. What she’d look like on canvas. She called it his kink. He didn’t know about that.
“Um,” he began. She cocked her head to the side, black hair brushing across her shoulder, she was wearing a beautiful midnight blue cocktail dress.
“Um?” she laughs, “Boy do I miss your awkward attempt at romanticism. That or you’re breaking up on me, on our second year anniversary too.”
She pouts her lower lip. He frantically grabs her hand, no that wasn’t it. She gives him this look like she was teasing him.
“Sorry, I am not very good at this,” he tells her.
“You’re good when you’re not trying,” she tells him, and kisses his cheek, “So, was is it?”
“Well, I really like you,” he tells her, he scrunches up his face, “I mean I love you. And. I want to spend my life with you.”
He tries to grab a box off the table hidden behind the vase that he put her favorite orchids in. Instead he spilled a glass of wine on the table. At least it was white.
“Shit!” he says. She laughs.
“Relax, you’re cute when flustered,” she says taking a napkin and dabbing the liquid off the table.
“Claudia, will you marry me,” he ask her. She pauses at him.
“Yes,” she tells him without any hesitation.
Well that was a relief. He suddenly felt like he could relax. She shakes her head and kisses him on the forehead. He finally able to reach for the ring box and gives it to her. She grabs it placing her hands on his, and gives them a comforting rub before taking the box.
She opens it silently.
“You’re so modest,” she tells him, “I love it. Thank you.”
“Can I gather everyone around real quick?” McKellen the office gossip was trying to garner others attention. Claudia looked furious.
“Ellen, please,” she protest.
But now there is a crowd of individuals from the office gathered around. He couldn’t help, but have to sneak by the crowd. Making copies, but couldn’t help overhearing.
“I have some big news, our office fox is now engaged,” at first there were some disgruntled disappointments, “I am looking at the hottest office couple right now Claudia. And?” Ellen bends down to look at Claudia, “What’s his name again?”
Claudia crosses her arms across her chest.
“It’s Arturo,” she says, he thinks it’s because she was annoyed with the way everyone was reacting to the news. He felt some eyes on him. Oh please hurry up and copy he didn’t want to get into this. It shouldn’t have been spread as public knowledge until they were ready. He wasn’t upset with Claudia, except she probably shouldn’t have told McKellen.
One of the guys, Russell “Rusty” looked at him. Tall guy, chiseled jaw, like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast really.
“Arturo, wow you little weasel, you been with us for how long,” Russel looked around, it seemed it was an actual question, “a few months.”
“I have been working here for two years,” Arturo told him.
“I knew that,” Russell said sounding offended. Arturo just looked away embarrassingly. Their private moment turned into an exploitative moment. Of ridicule. He felt ridiculed.
“Well, uh thank you for the congratulations,” Arturo said trying not to start conflict. Russell just smiles at him and he looks away. They never had interactions before. Beside speaking lingo. Make a copy of this, print this out, can you check the receipt of this client, I need you to look over that fault refrigerator claim. This was the first time they ever had a conversation and it felt like conflict. But he tried to show that it didn’t bother him.
“Not a problem buddy,” Russell tells him, “This guy is a hard worker. He’s been with us for two years and he’s a great worker. In this...office. You know what he’s earned boys? A drink with us tonight. To celebrate this occassion.”
“Oh...uh,” Arturo scrunched up his face, “Thank you for the offer, but I don’t drink.”
“Nonsense,” Russell looks at Claudia, “Mind if we steal your boy toy for the night.”
“That’s his decision, not mine,” Claudia tells him, “Ellen, please.”
“Sorry, sorry it’s just so exciting,” Ellen tells her with a girlish squeal and jumps off the chair she was standing on. While he’s left to be eaten by the sharks. He seem weak otherwise right, not being able to fend of these guys. On the hunt.
He wondered if this was some kind of jealousy. He didn’t know how else to interpret this scenario. “So, what do you say Arty?” Russell asked, “Drink on me. With the boys. You earned it.”
“I will sit in the bar with you,” he tells Russell, that was a compromise he hoped they were willing to accept.
Russell just pats his shoulder.
“Why are you so tense buddy? I am just being a friend, we all work together,” Russell said. Except that a few minutes ago you didn’t know how long I had worked here. And hadn’t spoken to me outside of work until today.
“I doubt that,” he lets his inner thoughts slip out.
Russell looks insulted again or wounded.
“Ouch, come on no harm here, no harm, how about tonight after work? We’ll meet in the parking lot,” Russell, pauses, “Don’t be late.” he laughs and walks off. With that said the gang disperses and he has a rather uncomfortable feeling about the circumstance.
“You don’t have to,” Claudia told him.
“I know I don’t,” he told her, “I’ll entertain the idea at least.”
“I wish you’d talk more like that to them then to me, I know you’re capable of a lot,” she tells him.
“I wish I would to, but sometimes my brain freezes up and all the good comebacks are much later,” he laughs a little. She smiles.
They kiss briefly on the lips and he walks away from her towards the parking lot. He could never afford quite the newest car, he saw Russell, and his “friends”. There’s Timothy, he’s as tall as Russell, but really thin like looking at a walking skeleton with skin, then there’s Jake he’s muscular, and handsome with ebony skin.
“There’s the man of the hour,” Russell said, “I knew I could count on you.”
“Hello,” Arturo told them.
“You’re right Rusty, he’s quiet,” Timothy just smiles and looks at him as if he’s an adorable toy. It annoys him a little no one should look at him as if he’s a toy.
“Let’s just hit the town bar,” Russell says, “We’ll all take my car. Since you’re just sitting at the bar, be the designated driver then Arty. Won’t you?”
Please? No manners. And they were acting like he had to earn their respect. The machismo. He wasn’t in high school any more, none of them were.
“I’ll meet you there, in my car,” Arturo told them.
“Not cool man,” Jake told him, “You’re roughing it out with the big boys now.”
“I said what I said, and it stands,” Arturo told them. He didn’t need mom and dad to save him. Or Claudia. He could do it himself he just chose not to. He just wished this didn’t count towards his road of good behavior.
“Fine,” Russell said, “Meet us there.” He gave him a glare, but Arturo didn’t care. He’d humor them, it didn’t mean he had to be like them. It wasn’t a release for him. He didn’t need to unwind because he had found completeness. His completeness was understanding people defined themselves by their artificial wants and desires.
The bar is loud, but not crowded. He didn’t quite understand why the music was so loud then. Russell takes a swig of beer.
“You know I am going cut to the chase,” Russell suddenly says switching from laughing with the two other guys, and instead giving him a serious look, he turns back to Jake and Timothy, “I don’t get guys like you Arty.”
Arturo looks at him.
“You don’t know me so I assume you wouldn’t,” Arturo responds.
“Got bite,” Jake says as he takes a swig of his beer.
“You know I might not have gotten a college degree, but you Arty are a little bird,” Russell continues, “Did you know when the big birds go and fly off, the little male birds who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance with a female bird, go fuck the female birds behind their backs? You’re a little bird. You’ve never talked to any of us. You never came up to any of us in the office. And you go behind my back, the big bird and fuck Claudia.”
“We’re engaged,” Arturo corrects.
“Oh excuse me you fucked her then put a no other guy zone on her after you went behind the big birds back,” Russell told him, “Claudia was mine. You know that. I been eying that ass until the moment was right. And you had to go around the other guys back. This is why you don’t fit into that office. Because you do not know who to suck up to.”
“Low blow man, low blow,” does Jake just parrot everything Russell is saying.
Arturo continues to stare at Russell. They had this notion that he never came up to them. But why was he the one who was expected to initiate conversation with them? And whenever he did try himself they ended up walking off. Hooting about something with another individual. Talking about the game. Talking about shallow points of view.
“While an interesting view I do not care to humor,” Arturo told him, “I went no behind no one’s back. I did what you were too scared to do.”
Russell shook his head.
“That’s a shame, I was trying to help you, you’re going to regret not learning your place,” Russell told him. He turned back to the guys and points to some football team on the television, “Did you see the receive.”
“I know, it was awesome,” Jack said.
“Oh oh replay,” Timothy says pointing to the TV.
Arturo sat there for a moment. He never disturbed them. Never provoked them. He wasn’t like them, didn’t have the same interest as them, but what right did they have dictating what his actions were and weren’t? He got up and left wordlessly. There was nothing to say. A part of him fantasize about digging a pen into Russell’s neck, but that didn’t solve anything and didn’t bring peace to the world.
Life seemed oddly mundane. He achieved nothing like everyone else in the world achieved nothing. Marriage and work was the goal. But he was in a job that gave him no life or passion or direction. He was with the woman he loved, and appreciated that. He was glad for her in his life. Their families got along well enough and they got along well enough.
But where was this going? Bad people were still running the world. He never really feared Russell and his goons and they left him alone after that night in the bar. So he always assumed it to be drunken ramblings. He found himself experiencing fog from this world.
His paintings took him out of these surreal cages. But nothing he was ever told ever came true. Good people rarely won and when they did, the more genuine and honest you were the more you were questioned. While great liars were praised.
“Have you guys decided on a wedding date or year?” McKellen asked Claudia, while they were pouring coffee into some styrofoams cup in the business’ lobby.
“Sometime next year,” Claudia looked at him. He looked back and sort of nodded. McKellen smiled at him. He wouldn’t say they got along now, she just acknowledged him more because of their engagement. He didn’t mind, he didn’t really want to talk to her much anyway. “White?” McKellen asked.
“I am not really a virgin,” Claudia laughs a little.
“We all aren’t, but a wedding is like pretending you are again,” McKellen tells her. Claudia scoffs.
“You’re awful,” she tells her.
McKellen snicker snorts and continues to look at him. He sort of fidgets with the rim of his cup.
“Do you ever tell her dirty things in Italian?” McKellen ask him. He nearly chokes. He feels his face go hot. He looks away.
“Oh my I embarrassed him,” McKellen says.
“Ellen, please, this isn’t safe for work,” Claudia tells her.
“Oh so he does,” McKellen giggles.
Claudia looks embarrassed and squeals between her fingers.
“How do you say, you’re so sexy in Italian?” McKellen ask.
“Sei caldo,” Arturo mumbles in his coffee. Now McKellen is screaming like a schoolgirl. She looks at him with interest.
“Your dirty talk must be so hot, because that makes me melt,” McKellen said.
“Tame yourself,” Claudia tells her.
It was time for him to take his leave at this point. Or else she would have him spewing a whole lexicon of not for safe work words in Italian. Wouldn’t that be considered cheating in that case? He felt his heart racing. He walked out of the lobby holding his cup of coffee heading towards his desk. This he supposed was the dream.
You had to be grateful for the simple things in life. Next year he would be married to the woman he loved with decent families that got along. No crazy stories about how each family wanted to strangle each other. No crazy stories about his fiancee’s father trying to chase him out of their life.
It was nice and simple. He supposed that was harmony enough. Except it wasn’t what he wanted for people. It wasn’t about him, it was about seeing a world with a broken infrastructure and seeing how much it had failed people. He wanted better lives for the people he cared for and loved. He wish there was a way to get Claudia the things she dreamed of.
She recently went back to schooling to get her culinary degree. But she’d probably get a job as a waiter, getting low paying tips. She stay here in a dying company in Appliance Press. People didn’t need catalogs any more for kitchen appliances and machinery.
They could go to department stores these days. Even commission based sales door to door made more money than people who subscribed to a magazine and order. He started to believe their customer base was merely crazy old ladies these days.
Still he was supposed to be satisfied with simplicity. But life wanted to test that simplicity with complexity. Sitting at his office desk he would get to work on orders. And hopefully someone wouldn’t complain about a non complaints today. He’d only get good calls.
Great calls. That’s what he told himself as he began to log into his computer to file away his orders and send them out.
Someone puts a hand on his shoulder, he knows it is not Claudia’s hand. Her touch is much softer, much warmer, much more loving.
“Heya champ,” he knew that voice. Russell hadn’t much bothered him since last year, beside work. And an occasional side comments. Though he didn’t particularly figure Russell a threat. Just someone also lonely and in his surreal cages. But instead of striving for any meaning, he strived for desires, wants, temptations, shallow greed.
“Russell,” he replied, “Do you need something from me?”
“Overheard from Ellen and Claudia that you and the lady are planning to get married next year,” Russell said, “Doing it the traditional way and what not.”
“This is correct,” he responded dryly.
“So me and the boys have a little something set up for you,” Russell tells him.
“I am not really interested,” Arturo tells him, turning his chair back to his computer in front of him.
He’s still behind him, but it didn’t really bother him as he went to go back to work. Russell places his hands on the back of his office chair. Almost leaning it back with his forearms.
“Look if you’re still mad about what I said last year, get over it, I was drunk,” Russell tells him, “I am trying to be nice.”
Arturo wasn’t buying it and tried to ignore him. Continue to type away on his computer, hoping for a phone call to steal his time. Now those crazy cat ladies were going to be his savior.
“If it wasn’t clear, I am here to work, not play high school games,” Arturo told him.
“Why can’t you just ever fit in what is expected?” Russell ask him. Arturo simply shrugs and continues to stare at his computer screen. He feels someone tug at the back of his chair, “Guess we’ll have to do it the hard way groom to be.”
Russell spins the back of the chair to face him, without him having any time to brace him. Russell does a come here gesture to someone and Jack is walking over. The office has been slowly dwindling of people as it’s almost time for people to get off. He had another hour and he had to deal with this bullshit. Russell points.
“Take the lower half, I’ll take the upper half,” Russell says.
What? He didn’t take Russell to be some murderer, he barely felt threatened by his presence as is most of the time. But that was extremely vague. He went to get up, but Russell just pushed him back down. As he did so he nearly lost his balance which was the perfect opportunity for Jack to grab his legs.
“Hey,” Arturo called out.
“Sorry buddy, could have just done this the easy way,” Russell told him as he landed on the ground with a soft thud.
“I didn’t want to do it in the first place,” he told them, “We’re grown adults.” Russell picking him up by the upper body, he’s now being held like he’s a rolled carpet.
“Doesn’t mean we cannot have fun Arty,” Russell tells him, “Come on Connor didn’t protest this much when he got engaged or married.”
This was his least favorable moment at the workforce. He squirmed to free himself of their grip, but all he was getting was skin burn from twisting so much.
“Let go,” he demanded.
“Come on Arty,” Russell said, he looked to Jack.
“Arty in an art box,” Jack said in a singsong way as if that was suppose to some ease his reluctance, Arturo just tried to kick him to no avail. Jack’s arm nearly dropped, but he didn’t really have the strength to fight back. He tried to yank his arms out of Russell’s grip. He never saw Russell as a threat, but he also didn’t want to sit back and take what they had in store for him either. He continued to twist and squirm.
Trying to make the experience as unpleasant for them as two grown men carried him across a sea of cubicles until they entered the supply room. There he was dropped into a cabinet where they kept their empty manilla folders and envelopes.
With the doors wide open, he got up because he was no longer in their control. He tried to rush out of the cabinet, but Jack shoved him back down. He actually hitting the back of the cabinet with a thud. The doors quickly shut before he could try to get out again.
He hit one of the doors, “Fuck you! Get me out of here.”
“Just sit tight in there Arty, we’ll come back for you afterward,” he heard the key lock the cabinet doors. He banged on the door again.
“We’re grown adults! Fuck Russel get me out of here!” it was the first time he felt his heart begin to race. What if they didn’t come back for him?
“Jesus fucking christ Arty, don’t be a bitch, when we come back you’re going to be a man,” Russell told him.
“Fuck you! Get me out!”
“Should I get the wine?” he heard Jack in the distance.
“Yeah,” Russell said, “Just sit tight Arty”
“Get me out Russell!” it was the first time he had raised his voice at anyone before. Sure he had gotten annoyed with people before. But he felt his ears going hot, and his heart was beginning to race now. He had never felt such boiling rage before. Sure he might have been angry or sullen, but now he was just pissed. Wine? Like this was a game. It was dark in here. He didn’t really like it much, it was cramp, already getting hot, “Russell!” he heard footsteps, “Russell!” the office supply door close, but just before it closed all the well.
“Sit tight Arty, we’ll be back,” Russell whispers. Now he’s locked in a cabinet in an office supply room. It was dark. He slammed his fist on the door again and growled under his breath. Which surprised him because he normally was a sea of calm. But how the fuck could anyone be calm about this situation?
He leaned over the door a little again, his hand already hurt from pounding on the door. He rattled the double doors for a second. Come the fuck on. How was this thing so resilient? How the fuck did he get out of here? He didn’t care what Russell had planned for him? He didn’t like it in here. It reminded him too much of a coffin.
There wasn’t much peace and harmony and accepting your faith could do to make this situation better.
“Russell!” he called out. He couldn’t fucking hear him. To get wine and whatever else he was planning, probably a stripper, meant he have to go down the hall to the lobby. Jesus it was so cramp in here. Even with all the shelves removed, and the envelopes. He kicked at the door instead in hopes that would pop the door open.
Trying an awkward kneeling position he tried to fiddle with the latch in hopes he could break it open. How did he come up with that one? He was no superhero. He had no super strength to do that. Nor was he in a movie.
“Okay I am done having fun let me out!” he shouted.
They cannot hear you Arturo. He sighed and sat back for a second. Maybe Russell would just be right back. Have a little faith?
Have faith? Have faith? In Russell? They had never been friends. They spoke one time outside of work and that was because he wanted to berate him. And now he was behaving as if they were friends suddenly. What did they have planned? He hated this situation. He kicked the door of the cabinet again to no avail.
“Russell!” he felt like a small child again, like he was back in grade school, when the older kids use to push him around. That’s not how adults were suppose to feel. Life was supposed to feel mature, but right now it felt more like a prison. He tried hard to desperately get over that feeling. Like he was trapped. He was about to marry the woman he loved. He did love her. But neither of them were really where they wanted to be.
He didn’t want to feel like a child in this moment. That isn’t how it was suppose to be. To feel hopeless. Or this hopeless. Or more hopeless than he normally would.
No fuck that. Why should he give up? Moving forward again in the cramp corridors he tried to fiddle with the latch that kept the cabinet locked. Maybe there was some way he could hack through the lock. Maybe there was some way he could break it or pick it. He didn’t know, he didn’t have anything to crack it open.
“Hey!” he shouted at the doors. How many workers did they still have here in the office building? Someone should need office supplies soon right? Maybe they’d hear him. He began to rattle the door, most people left between now and six. Someone should hear him. Right? Someone.
Not that they ever had heard him before. He sat in the office and the only time they remembered him was when they were reminded of him. Even when Claudia got him to talk more, he just watched as everyone globbed together like sheep in their little social herds and just speak to the people they were most comfortable with. He was always the odd man out that floated through groups not really fitting in. Not really being remembered either.
Fuck. He wanted out of here. He was tired of the dark. He was tired of it being cramped. He was starting to get sore.
It was sort of putting him on edge. Like their office building was filled with ghost. It had never felt this quiet or this dead before. He rattles the door again. He pulls at the latch. He just wants out of this damn stupid cabinet.
“I am locked in a cabinet!” that’s an embarrassing statement he didn’t think he’d ever say in his life. Well how did you get in there Arturo? Russell and Jack. And you let them carry you? I tried to break free. Why didn’t you try harder?
He banged at the door.
“Please, someone!” he called out.
The only thing he could hear was his own breathing and his heartbeat. Racing. Racing. Watch when Russell and the others come back it will be only five minutes that had passed, but in here it felt like an eternity.
When was he going to give up? He was only going to make things worse upon reveal. He could imagine it now, him frantically trying to open the door, pounding, begging, calling out. Russell opening the door and him flying out. The sound of corks from the wine bottles popping off. And more than likely it was a stripper standing there seeing him at his most defeated.
Gah. This was frustrating. This negativity was not like him. This hopeless thought process was not something he entertained often. But when you can hear your frantic, nervous breaths and the sound of your own heartbeat drumming with quicken, frantic pace it only reinforces the idea that you’re an idiot.
He was being rather silly, it probably hadn’t been that long in here. But it felt like an eternity already and he just wanted nothing to do with this cabinet any more.
Smoke began to creep through the crack of the cabinet. He had at first given up sitting in the cabinet waiting to hear footsteps. He gave a feeble cough as he breathed in. Sitting up, what was going on? How long had it been? Smoke? It couldn’t be.
“Is anyone there!” he called out, “I am in here!”
He begins to rattle the door a little. Someone surely would have to hear him. Except they hadn’t heard him before. He gives another cough as he inhales some smoke.
“What’s going on out there!” This was starting to feel like a dumb series of call outs. He coughed again. The smoke like a lazy phantom kept coming into the cracks. And he was beginning to feel on edge. His skin was beginning to crawl with goosebumps, his heart was racing in the try not to panic, but you will olympics.
Pounding on the doors of the cabinet. What was going out there? He coughed. He tried to break the lock this time more frantically. How long had he been in here? He tried to peek through the tightly shut “crack” of the cabinet but he couldn’t see anything out of it in the first place.
“I…” he coughed a mouthful of smoke, “In...a cabinet. Please!”
Please what hear him? The cabinets doors were starting to become hot to the touch. It’s then he knew. Why him? He frantically pounds on the door despite it being hot and getting hotter. He needed out of here. He needed to get outside of this cabinet. Then what? If the doors opened anyway he would be engulfed in the heat. He coughed.
Why hadn’t anyone heard him? Why hadn’t anyone come back to get him? Why him? Why not Russell who shoves people in locked cabinets in the first place? Why not someone else who has hurt people without provocation? Why him?
Fuck this cabinet! Get him out of this cabinet. He coughs again. This time inhaling a lot more smoke as the cabinet began to fill with it. It was getting hot in here. Actually hot. He coughed.
Everything you’re ever told is be good to your neighbors. Be kind to people. Be good and don’t disagree with people. So, why was he the one locked in a cabinet? Why was he the one here right now?
“Let me out!” he yelled out.
No one is here Arturo. But, why? He didn’t want to die. He shouldn’t die. Anything anyone ever told you is if you were good, you were untouchable by the forces of evil. Really? Because he was beginning to choke for air. He didn’t want to die.
What did he do wrong? Did he not try to achieve his dreams hard enough? Did he not help enough? He tried to help the poor, give to those less fortunate, donate as much as he could, help as much as he could volunteer for this and that. So, why him?
Why him? He was suppose to be….he was suppose to be good. He didn’t want to die. He try harder next time then. He try harder this time, just...he wasn’t. He shouldn’t be here. Get him out of this stupid fucking coffin. It wasn’t a cabinet any more it was a coffin. At this point it was a coffin.
A sudden rush, a sensation of frustration overwhelmed him, his coughing surrounded him as much as the smoke did. He didn’t care how hot the door was at this point as he frantically hit the door one more time, “Open! Let me out!”
“I don’t want to die here!”
“I don’t want to die in this way!”
“I promise” he coughs, “I promise. Whoever is listening I promise to” he goes into a coughing fit, as he gasp for some more air, “I promise to dedicate myself to others better.” Please. He would cry, but he couldn’t even feel himself sweat that it was hot in this box. He just continued to bang on the door.
“Please! Please I am begging. I am begging!”
He didn’t want to die here. He didn’t want to die here. Not in this work. He’d try harder. Go back to school. Be the teacher anyway he could. He would would marry Claudia and give her the dreams she desired. Get her that restaurant she wanted. Anything anyone wanted, he’d give it to them. He’d give them more.
He screamed out. The side of his knuckle at this point was hurting. His hands were hot. He could barely touch the door, but somehow his own frustration allowed him to ignore that. All he could was scream helplessly.
Please he didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to die. Not here. Not now. Please. Please. Let him out!
“LET” he gasped and coughed, when he couldn’t hit the door any more with his hands, he kicked at it, “I want…” he was coughing and crying and in hysterics. He didn’t care. He didn’t care. He didn’t want to die here. He had done everything anyone had ever told him for a successful life. And if he wasn’t trapped. He could achieve what he wanted. He could get out of this cabinet.
He screamed one more final time, through gasp, just a single scream of frustration.
“FUCK YOU!” he didn’t know who he was shouting at this point, he could barely say it without getting a lung full of black smoke.
Just fuck you. He did everything that was ever asked. He did everything ever told to be a virtuous person. Just fuck you. Fuck you.
There was a white light in his eyes. It created spectacular halos in his vision. There were figures. Shadows. Illuminated by the rings of light.
“Can you hear me?”
Someone was calling.
“Can you find a name tag?”
The beams of light created beautiful fractals of debris in the air. Dazzling gleams. For a second it felt the closest euphoric touch to the universe.
“If you can hear me, please squeeze my hand,”
“What’s his name?”
“I cannot find an ID,”
“It’s going to be okay, we’re going to get you help, do you understand?”
Fade to black, a tunnel, the light is closing. The voices continue. A surrealist reality. Between the cosmos, and between reality. Being lifted up. Were these last memories? Or were he recalling memories? Were these happening now? Or was he dreaming in the cabinet?
“Stay with us,”
“You’re on the way to the hospital,”
“Can he hear us?”
“Even if he is, he won’t remember most of it,”
“Don’t give up,”
“He’s going into shock,”
“Come on, you got this,”
“Stay with us,”
“It’s touch and go from here, we’ve nearly lost him a couple times. He might not make it. His burns are extensive, but I am more surprised he even managed to live how much smoke he inhaled,”
“Can he hear us?”
“He might, he might not. But he probably won’t remember what was said,”
“Can we see him?”
“Of course. Fair warning the damage is graphic,”
“So was giving birth to three children,”
“Arturo, honey it’s your mother,”
“And your father,”
“If you can hear us, please just don’t give up. Come back to us,”
“You’re one resilient kid, I know what you have been through is trying. But I have faith in you son, I have faith,”
“We’ll be praying for you. But you have to want to fight,”
“Please be strong, be the strong young man I know you can be,”
“Fight,” ………… ……………………………………… ………………………………….
“Is he going to die?”
“We don’t really know yet, he’s been in and out.”
“He can hear us right?”
“Maybe, maybe not,”
“I can see him and talk to him,”
“We’d prefer immediate family,”
“Please just let me see him,”
“Very well, I can see it’s very important to you,”
“Hey Arturo, hope I said that right,”
“Look man, I may have been an asshole. But you have to believe me when I say I didn’t set that fire. That wasn’t the plan. I ordered a pizza. That asshole was taking forever. That’s beside the point. I might have thought….you were weird and quiet. Everyone thought you thought you were better than them. With your holier than thou attitude, but I….the printer went on the fritz. They say it was an electrical fire. But I don’t want you to die…..I never wanted you dead. We should have never….left you in there. I hope that heart of yours is still golden,” -clears throat-
“So...when you wake up, I can…..beg for your forgiveness, please forgive me Arturo. We should have never,”
“Right now we’re just trying to keep him stable. He’s not really out of the woods yet. That’s a discussion for later, perhaps.”
“I need you to get through this, please, for us,”
“We…..I am sorry, I should have stayed at the office. I should have been there….to”
“....why did this happen to us,”
There were bands of light in his eyes. Staring up at white lights. He had seen this skyscape before. Rings of light. Prisms of light that reflected different bands of color in his ocular vision. Bands, beautiful bands. There had been voices for a while, but he doesn’t really remember what any of them said. It just sounded like distance words in the depths, like trying to hear what people had to say underwater while they were surfaced.
Figures had lapsed before him. In and out. Like drifting clouds. You just had to figure out what shape they were. People or angels. The light in his eyes didn’t help him figure that out. Someone is moving around, but he’s trying to gain a sense of awareness.
A sense of self.
He couldn’t speak even if he tried. Something was in his way. He just end up trying to reach for one of the clouds that drifted away so many times. He saw them move towards him.
“Do you need something?” they asked, “You can’t talk because we had to intubate you.”
They spoke like this was a conversation they had before. Except he doesn’t remember it. He just wanted to know where he was. He stared at the individual with confusion. They took in a deep breath and slowly exhaled before saying, “You’re in the hospital. You’ve been in the hospital.”
The hospital. What has happened over time wasn’t clicking. He found himself drifting again.
Figures surrounded by radiant rings of light. He stared at them. Though their details came out more clearly to him. A bit more recognizable, his mother had the same pensive, narrow facial features he had, and his father still chiseled as ever. They had the family genetics that made them look younger than their actual age.
“Dear,” his mother said hitting his father’s shoulder lightly, Dad looks alert and catches his gaze. He tried to talk, forgetting again about the obstruction. Immediately his father looked concerned.
“You’re awake,” his dad said.
“You have a tube in your throat, you cannot speak right now,” his mother reassured him by trying to grab his hand.
“It’s just good to see you,” his dad told him, “Do you know who we are?”
He shook his head yes instead.
“You’re in the hospital,” his mother told him, “No need to be alarmed. You made it.”
His mother smiles, but he’s not sure if he’s smiling. Grateful to be alive. Maybe ashamed that he cursed out a higher power as his possible last words. He wanted to say something, ask a question, but he couldn’t. He ended up just coughing on the obstruction.
“You’ll have plenty of chance,” his dad told him, “Claudia’s been worried. It’s good to bring her some good news. You’ll start waking up and talking more. And everything will be fine.”
Was the reassurance for him or his father, he wondered. He just shook his head in whatever response they would interpret it as.
“It’s good to have you back,” his mother said.
He just responded with a grunt or that’s the way it came out. Or a groan. He just felt the grip of exhaustion hit him. Fatigue set in again.
Painkillers didn’t make pain magically go away. He could still feel the burns even when he was asleep. He was tired, but also in an odd state of alertness. And more awareness of his surroundings. He wished he hadn’t, he was cold, but they told him that was because of the burns. He felt the pain no matter what he did to ignore it.
“You’re up,” his mother said walking in. He just stared at the wall for a second. He nodded for a moment.
“Mhm,” he responded quietly.
“How are you feeling?” she asked him.
“Tired,” he replied dryly.
“Oh honey,” she said, “But you’re very strong.”
That’s what they say to make themselves feel better. Because they cannot stomach the person they love suffering. It’s just a way to deflect their concern and worry. If they hide their tears, their pain about the situation then surely it helps him, right? It doesn’t because he can see them trying to hide it. She’ll go home and cry to his father after this.
He sees Kaylyn and Fabian walking behind his mother. Kaylyn is wearing a flowing summer dress. They are the only ones who come here in with a smile. And probably get berated by their mother, probably telling them things like they were being insensitive. He didn’t mind it. Fabian would bring a Gameboy Advance SP and they’d play Pokemon together.
He prefered that.
“Hey crispy,” Fabian said giving him a salute.
He smiled, but he was an asshole.
“Fabian!” his mother exasperated.
“What?” Fabian asked.
“It’s fine,” he responded, he had to take a second before saying, “it’s kind of true.”
“You’re burnt in more places than mom’s french toast,” Kaylyn teased. And his mother just shook her head and rolled her eyes. He smiled and sort of laughed.
“That is very true,” he told her.
“You’re suppose to be here supporting your brother,” their mother told them.
By being depressing about it? Telling him how she was very proud about him. He wanted to forget about the pain, not be reminded of it. Anything to lessen it and distract himself.
“I am supporting him,” Kaylyn told him, “Now he knows cannibals won’t try to eat him. He’s too well done.” she began to crack up. Kaylyn face did this thing where it would scrunch up, and she’d start to snort as she lost control when she laughed. She looked like a mixture of their parents, for a woman she had their father’s strong jaw, but she was trying to be a model. She had rebelled against everything their family had taught them. She wouldn’t strive just for good enough. She wanted the best.
She had an ambitious drive. And worked hard to get where she wanted to be. She didn’t take no for an answer. Sometimes she didn’t wait for the right door to open, she shoved her whole foot through the door and barge it open. He admired that about her.
While Fabian was just naturally likeable. He seemed to have no real aspirations. He worked at an insurance firm, but didn’t really strive to climb up the ladder. Usually display a relaxed, “if I get there I get there, if I don’t well then I don’t. I see too many assholes with type A personality with heart disease to know that I am going to avoid all the divorce, children stress” mentally about it all.
“Are the treatments helping?” Fabian ask as he takes a seat next to his bedside, though he’s wearing a smile on his face as Kaylyn lost control of herself.
“I am sure,” he takes a second, “they will over time. Right now it feels more like a string of torture techniques disguised as recovery.”
“Has Claudia visited?” his mother asked.
When she thought he was asleep, but he couldn’t really well sleep. There were times when he was sobbing to nurses, embarrassingly, because of the pain. They tell him all the patients go through it, and they have seen their fair share of patients crying out for help. He wanted to know when that pain would go away.
Sometimes he’d just keep his eyes closed when Claudia came in. To hear her voice. But she sounded like she had burdened herself with the situation.
“Now and then,” he replied. “You two can still have a beautiful wedding,” his mother says. Was that suppose to be reassurance? Had they spoken?
“Has Claudia visited you?” he asked her.
“She’s part of the family,” his mother told him. Which wasn’t a direct yes or no. But it frustrated him nonetheless.
“What did she tell you?” he asked her.
His mother smiled at him, at least it wasn’t too terrible.
“She just wants to know how you’re doing, how the recovering is doing,” she tells him, “She’ll come. I promise she’ll come.”
She couldn’t make promises for another person. He knew she was trying, but he...couldn’t help feeling like he was missing something. Like he was still in that cabinet.
A Few Days Later
If the burns weren’t a problem then the debridement of the wounds was. Sometimes it was more pain than the actual burns themselves. And all he could think of is Claudia coming through that door any day. Any moment. He just wanted to see her. He wouldn’t fault her if she didn’t want to be engaged to him any more. He wouldn’t fault her for leaving him, he just wanted to see her again and hear her voice one last time.
So, when someone walked into his treatment room he was expecting it to be her. Instead he felt his heart sink and a pit in his stomach develop. There before him was Russell. Holding an orange envelope. It been better if he had never seen him again. It had been better if Russell never came, but Arturo would humor him. Again.
“I heard you were up more,” Russell said, “So I came to give you a get well card.”
“To ease your guilt,” Arturo told him.
“Sheesh just lay it on like that, I guess, it was suppose to be an apology,” Russell told him. But an apology was another way of saying, try to absolve my guilt.
“Thank you, leave it, and don’t talk to me again,” Arturo told him.
“I guess I deserve that,” Russell said, “Honestly I didn’t want it to happen that way….I didn’t...Arturo….”
“I do not want to hear your confession riddled guilt, save it for a chapel and a priest,” he told him, “And live with it. That’s the only forgiveness I can give you.”
Russell looked down at the floor. Arturo looked away. Who knew nearly suffocating to death from smoke inhalation and trapped in a cabinet would do for not caring about another person’s problems. Specifically the person who trapped him in there. He didn’t care how guilty Russell felt. He wasn’t harmed. He ran off, like a coward.
And considering he was not in jail right now or his parents didn’t press charges, meant he’d get away. Not even a charge of negligence that led him here. How broken was this system. A prank gone wrong.
“Just get better,” Russell said waving his hand and walking out of the room.
As Russell left another person walked in Dr. Warren. He was not in charge of his treatment with his burns, but had been involved in his treatment since he came. Well according to Warren, a tall, towering man, with blond hair. He was ripped, for a doctor, and had quite the chiseled jaw. He looked like the type of man carved from Ancient Greek marble and be the idealistic view of what masculinity would be for ages to come.
“Who was he?” Warren asked.
“The reason I am here,” he replied.
“That guy looks like a tool,” Warren said, “How are you feeling today?”
“Off and on,” he replies.
“Like a light switch,” Warren laughs, but Arturo gives him a side glance.
“Your sense of humor surprises not to land with others?” Arturo asked. Warren just smiles.
“Probably not,” Warren tells him, “You’re the only person who has actually talked to me right afterward.”
“Why have you been talking to me?” Arturo ask him. A twinge of curiosity had been struck.
“I wanted to know if we were similar or not,” Warren told him.
Arturo just gave him a confused look, but Warren just smiled. Warren placed a hand on the nightstand next to his bed.
“Similar or not?” Arturo asked.
“You’ll just have this feeling,” Warren told him cryptically, “Anyway, that’s a story for another time. I’ll let you rest.”
Have a feeling? That was certainly an odd conversation, but then again everything seemed out of balance these days didn’t it? When he got out of here, what would he do? It wasn’t a question about what he could, everyone in his family had the ability to show drive. It was, what he would do.
She was wearing a purple dress, it complimented her well and at first he thought she were a dream. He hadn’t seen her in a while that her appearance almost felt like that of a coming mirage. He didn’t dream or believe he would physically see her.
“Hi,” she said softly, her lower lip quivered.
“Claudia,” he said dryly, trying not to sound desperate, but he needed her. Wanted her warmth. Her voice. Her touch. It had been something he had missed the most.
“Arturo,” she paused, “How are you?”
“They say it’s a miracle I made it to this stage,” he pauses, “Suppose they are right. I missed you.” A lot. Was it something he could confess to her so easily? She stares at him sadly.
“Me too,” she said.
There was something hollow about this interaction. Distant maybe. The distance had caused a riff, but she was struggling with a conflict he could see it. Perhaps sense it.
“You look lovely,” he said, though there was still a small hope as he saw she was still wearing the simple white gold engagement band he gave her.
She smiles and blushes a little, “Thank you. It’s the dress you liked.”
“I know,” he told her with a pause.
She nervously looks away and stares at the floor. He stares at the blankets. Things felt different, though he wasn’t entirely sure what it was. With him, with her, or with them. Or if this experience wasn’t even related to this one. He felt his heart racing with the same nervousness he must have felt before he’d ask her out on a date.
“Does it hurt?” she asked him.
“Sometimes, especially when they change the dressing or remove the dead skin,” Arturo pauses and smiles a little, “The number of times I have cried to nurses I barely know, in the same way I intimately know my family or you, is far too embarrassing to count or admit to.”
She sort of gives him a nervous laugh.
“You know I love you, right?” she ask him.
The question made his heart sink. He should have expected this. That there was no way to avoid it. That it would eventually come up.
“I know,” he told her.
“There wasn’t going to be a good time to do this,” she told him, “I didn’t want to stress you out too much. I want to marry you. But I am also going to take some time away from you. When they discharge you, I’ll be staying out our place. But I ask that you stay with your parents until I am ready.”
It was hard to swallow, but he nodded calmly without expressing a single emotion.
“Okay,” he said dryly, “Keep in touch. Please.”
“Of course,” she told him, “I just. I need time to process, this.”
She had months. She had time. Why did she need time to process it? She wasn’t the one living with it. She wasn’t the one experiencing it. He wanted to call her request selfish, but he tried to pass it off as if it were entirely reasonable. He watched her walk away and he wished it were a dream. He wished that vision of her was a dream.
When she was completely gone he broke down into hysterics. Why were the effects continual? Why couldn’t it just have been a singular event? Instead it moved liked dominoes. Was this the price he paid asking for the assistance of a higher being back then?
Like the movies, where a lover loses his love for an individual to keep them alive. He wasn’t sure. But he felt more alone at this current moment in time than he had in others. He was physically out of his prison, but he was still living in a cage.
“Who was the woman in the dress?” Victor asked him. He picked at the sheets, as Victor sat on a chair across from him.
“My fiancee,” Arturo paused, “Maybe. It’s complicated I suppose.”
Victor raises a blond brow.
“And that means?” Victor asked.
Who was Dr. Victor Warren? Why had he spent so much time speaking with him? Arturo looked at Victor. He tried to study the chiseled man for a second.
“She asked for me to live with my parents when I am discharged,” he told him, “She says she wants to marry me, but needs time.”
“Huh,” Victor says.
“Can I ask a question?”
“That is a question,” Victor tells him, and Arturo gives him a look, “Sure. But I was just making sure you knew that was a question.” Victor smiles. His type of humor wasn’t very charming or humorous to him.
“Do you believe in karma?” Arturo ask, “In Eastern Philosophy good and evil is in balance with each other. You cannot have one without the other. And there is a little good in someone evil, and there is a little evil in someone or something good. Everyone is connected to this cycle in some way or another. There is also this belief that if you do the world good, good things will happen to you. And if you do bad in the world, it will eventually catch back up to you and something bad will happen to you.”
Victor leans back for a second.
“The funny thing is I think that only works in Eastern worlds,” Victor tells him, “I think the Western world is a whole entire different beast. I seen more than enough scum in this world getting treatment they don’t deserve. While we sit here cutting education, or cutting that seems far more important than wasting our time on the scum of this earth. I seen people step on the little people, manipulating people get into the positions they are in today. Because they used people. And everyone is okay with that.”
Arturo looks at Victor his eyes widen.
“That’s exactly how I feel about the world,” Arturo pauses, “I mean I see rich people who haven’t worked a hard day's labor for their money get away with crimes because they have the money to pay. While people who may be entirely innocent persuaded by the police to confess to a crime they didn’t commit. And no one would believe them anyway, because why would you confess to something you didn’t do.”
“Exactly,” Victor said, “I think Good and Evil are arbitrary concepts, and if you want a Good world you have to make the world Good.”
“I never seen it that way,” Arturo told Victor, “I barely even know how you’d force the world to be good.”
“Well I mean, we can go with the whole Ying yang thing right,” Victor says taking out a pen and drawing on a pad he kept in his pocket, “Right this little white part has a little black dot. That little black dot is the darkness that resides in something good. And this little white dot in the big black dot is the good that resides in something dark. So, I mean its feasible for something to force Good, while still being good, but tapping into the dark part.”
“They are taiji,” Arturo corrected, “And that is an interesting concept. I never saw it that way, but you bring up an interesting point. May I ask how you came to this conclusion?”
Victor just smiled.
“If I gave you the answer it mean I’d have to trust you,” Victor told him, “I like our little talks, but can I trust you?”
“Trust is a concept that is as subjective as good and evil,” Arturo responded, and Victor just laughed.
“You see, I been through trauma, maybe, well clearly not locked in a hot box and left to melt like candle wax,” Victor replied, “But I been through a life changing experience. Key is, you have to know or feel like something is inside of you before I can tell you anything. Do you feel like something inside of you is different? Is there something you know or something you’ve gained the knowledge about after your event? You were on a lot of drugs, but think about it before I give the rest away.”
Arturo stared at Victor. There was that question again. It seemed though Victor was the only person he could really talk about the things burning away in his mind. Arturo looks away from Victor and looks at his bedsheets. Something different or felt like something was different. Problem is, that it’s hard to go that far back in his memory.
His siblings would recall memories of their childhood that he couldn’t quite recall and he certainly couldn’t remember how he felt after the fire. He barely remembers getting here in the hospital, but was told he had been in and out. He should have died from smoke inhalation, in all tense and purposes he was half dead at their gurney step.
“I don’t know,” Arturo told him, “That’s hard to remember what exactly happened afterwards. Victor. I’m going to say something and it’s going to sound a little crazy.”
“Go ahead, I have time and you’re still up,” Victor told him.
“Or egotistical however you want to put it,” Arturo paused, “When I was in the cabinet, I thought to myself a lot, of why this was happening to me. I ask about Karma, because I wonder what I did to deserve such punishment. Whether karma or divinity even exist. I didn’t do anyone wrong, I hope. I wanted a good place. For people. I wanted the world to be a good place.” He had to take a second because his eye caught something at the corner of it dust. Victor patiently waited for him to finish.
“And I thought….by actions alone, that if one person systematically models a behavior of good, that other people would see the good it does. And then one person does something, good, then another, and another. We could show the world wasn’t as cruel and callous as we thought it was.” he pauses just to clear his throat and continues, “That people, could be good to each other because it is the right thing to do. So, then why? Why did all of this happen? How do you make the world good, when every time you do something good, the world punishes you for it? Give a homeless man five dollars, loose five hundred dollars. Treat everyone with kindness and compassion because they deserve it, people deserve being treated like they matter. Get locked in a cabinet and be told through an action that you do not matter.”
Victor says nothing at first. He feels like he might have given away too much and just like everybody else, when he does open up, leaves.
“Arturo why do you make me like you,” Victor tells him, “I guess you earned enough to know a little.” Victor cracks his knuckles.
“When I was younger I was dumb and idiotic,” Victor tells him, “All the doctor shows tell you a doctor’s job is to save the lives of others. They don’t tell you the stories about doctors who want to chuck themselves out of windows because this job is both horrifying and amazing at the same time. You see the most amazing things and the most horrible things. And then they are just ordinary days that balance out the extreme days. I use to think being a doctor meant making the world a better place. And just between me and you there’s a lot of bullshit and politics. And people who are higher rank than me that didn’t deserve that job. Just they paid more into the hospital and kissed the right people’s rings.”
Victor pauses making sure he’s following along. He is, but he isn’t sure where this is going.
“Me? I am a hardworking man. I appreciate getting where I am getting to with hard work,” Victor tells him, “Something happened to me, a year ago. That changed the dynamic of my whole entire life. Why play into this game or this system, when I have the capability of something so outside of it.”
“What changed?” Arturo asked.
“A story, I’ll tell you a bit later,” Victor told him, “It’s better to show, than tell. You never know who’s listening in. That guy, Russell. He’s the one who locked you in a cabinet.”
“Yes, but I do not see how he fits into this conversation, nor do I want to interact with him,” Arturo responds.
“Well after this little demonstration you won’t have to,” Victor tells him, “He drinks, right?”
“Yes,” Arturo responds.
“Heavily?” Victor ask. Arturo shrugs.
“I suppose, I don’t know him very well,” Arturo responds, “But I do not want revenge on him. He has to live the rest of his life with the guilt. That’s condemning enough.”
Victor makes a face.
“You’re not thinking far enough yet Arturo,” Victor tells him, “Just call him over. It will change the course of your whole life Arturo. I know what I am talking about.”
“I do not have his number, we really weren’t that good in standing with each other,” he tells him.
“It’s all right then, I’ll find a way to bring him over,” Victor tells him. Arturo gives Victor a look.
“I rather not, he doesn’t deserve whatever you want to show me,” Arturo tells him, “I want his heart to die of guilt.”
Victor looks at him, “That’s dark. I’ll respect your wishes. I’ll tell you the story another time.”
He didn’t like Victor’s little teases about a story he was so eager to share. And yet just dangled it over him like a carrot. It was the first person that he felt in a long time he could connect to in some way and he had something he wanted. Perhaps a key to the question of what he would do after all this.
Fabian, “Do you want to use the Master Ball on Lugia?”
“A what?” Arturo asked.
“It’s the Master Ball it let’s you capture a Pokemon without fail,” Fabian tells him, “You were suppose to pay attention when I explained these things to you. Granted you were on drugs when we started this endeavor.”
“I guess,” he told Fabian, “What do you suggest?” Fabian’s the one holding the handhold, while he’s sitting watching the screen.
“Using the Master Ball,” Fabian told him, “Heard you been going for walks with a strapping blonde doctor Nurse’s words, not mine.”
“Victor Warren, yes,” Arturo responded, “Is mom going to let me stay with her when I am discharged?”
Fabian smiles, “Of course. You’re her baby after all.”
Fabian cheers as the sound of the captured Pokemon tune has played. He didn’t know why he was cheering when the Master Ball was a ball that allowed him to capture something without fail. It wasn’t like he had to struggle for the Pokemon.
“You sir now have a legendary pokemon,” Fabian tells him.
“Is that different from any other Pokemon?” Arturo asked.
“Yes, they are Legendary. Rare, often there is only one of them in existence,” Fabian pauses, “Fun fact though Lugia has been showing to have babies in the movie.”
“Then it isn’t really rare is it?” Arturo asked.
“Just enjoy it, you got a super powerful Pokemon now,” Fabian tells him.
“Do you think I am a good person Fabian?” Arturo ask him. Fabian lowers the handhold and looks at Arturo.
“The walk back is going to be littered with zubats,” Fabian told him, “But yeah Arturo. You were never really a disappointment. You’ve always done the right thing and that’s what has made me proud watching you grow. You’ve always taken the higher road. I don’t know anyone who would label you otherwise.”
“Thank you for your answer,” Arturo tells him.
“What’s going on?” Fabian asked, while focusing his eyes on walking back out of the cave. A hideous purple creature with wings, that Fabian kept mentioning was a zubat popped every few seconds here and there.
He wasn’t sure what was going on. He didn’t feel like him any more. The him everyone saw him as at least. His conversations with Victor were interesting bits of information. They were deep. And explore an ideal world that they might like to lead and live in.
He didn’t know if he could go back to the life before so easily.
“I was just gathering answers,” Arturo told him.
“Why?” Fabian pressed.
“Because I don’t want to disappoint any of you or worry any of you,” Arturo paused, “But I also have to change the course of who I am. And how I live. Not because of the burns, but because of what happened. It’s a bit different. I don’t like some of the course of direction I was going and I want a new change. I want something better.”
Fabian made a face at the screen.
“I am not going to lie and say we have had many brotherly sit downs,” Fabian replied, “But you are fine. The way you are. You don’t need to change anything. You just got caught up in something unfortunate.”
Easy for him to say. It was easier to rationalize it that way. Then to say perhaps something he had done was the reason that had happened to him. Fabian would probably rolls his eyes or scoff at the idea that he saw this as some kind of forewarning.
“I wonder if that was true,” Arturo told Fabian.
“Damn it!” Fabian just huffed with frustration, “Arturo, you are great. You have never broken a law. Never had a run in with the police. You help homeless. Donate clothes. And you do it because the world has to be a better place. You do it because you’re kind. What happened to you should have never happened. It’s suppose to happen to assholes who take advantage of young woman and sexually harass them because they are in positions of power. Not people like you. It’s nothing you did. Okay! It’s….because this world….has a bunch of dicks. And those dicks….those assholes...do things that hurt the lives of the not assholes because of their own negligent behavior.”
Arturo stares at his brother.
“That’s a very specific example,” Arturo told him.
“Yeah well,” Fabian shrugs, “The insurance firm I am working for is under some hot water because our manager allegedly had female workers have sex with him. Quid pro quo shit.”
“Oh,” Arturo replied, “I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize, tell the asshole I work for not touch woman’s butts because he wants to,” Fabian tells him.
“I’ll pass it along,” Arturo responds.
“You ready to get out of here?” Fabian ask him changing the course of the conversation.
Arturo sort of gives a lazy shrug.
“It won’t change much,” Arturo tells him, “Changing the coat of paint in a prison doesn’t make it any less a prison.”
Fabian raises a brow. He doesn’t say anything. It’s probably the first time he let him in on a little insight of how he felt. Internally he was still screaming to be let out. That freedom Victor so teased about. The story he kept conjuring up.
But Arturo still wanted nothing to do with his old life. He didn’t want to just be Arturo any more. The one who was quiet and just sat, passively observing the lives of others. Putting the effort into making the world a better place like some martyr.
He wanted to have the confidence that Victor seemed to display, the confidence that said he could change fate. Live more boldly, be more bold, and he was starting to feel or think he might actually have the power to do so. It was like a calling or something of that sort.
Over the years Arturo felt imprisoned in his life. There were things that people could or should accomplish and doors were often closed in front of them. Perhaps he should have taken more cues from his sister Kaylyn who had never taken No to mean No. She forced doors open, she made opportunities happen for herself, she worked hard to get where she wanted to be, so much so that she may have been considered to have selfish desires from others.
His little he was proud of doing the things to better her life, then be stuck in a life that people would constantly reassure you is a good thing or they would tell you things would get better as a way to reassure that this is a milestone everyone has to pass. But there are plenty of people stuck at that milestone later in their lives.
His relationships with his co workers never really panned out. Something about people seeing someone behave in a genuine manner of compassion always sparked their insecurities of their own selves, which placed labels of a self righteous, uptight individual, who thinks he’s better than everyone else. When the truth was far from it.
Claudia and him spent time together, eventually they moved in together and eventually they were engaged and that felt like a good milestone to pass. It felt good. And he felt connected to an individual, something difficult for him when other people avoided him.
In April of 2003, Appliance Press burned down to an electrical fire. The building built in the 80s was not up to current code and lit fast before the fireteam could reach. Just like his metaphoric prison Arturo was locked in a physical prison, a true symbol of his imprisonment in this world. And the struggle of being able to get out of the prison created for him by societal expectations.
In all tense and purposes Arturo was near dead on arrival to the hospital. A lung full of smoke inhalation and secondary drowning nearly killed him before the flames reached him. Though 80% of his body was also burned during the process as well. He was in and out of conscious and struggled to live for a while, until he miraculously returned.
People will always paint those circumstance and that event like a miracle because there is no other way for them to explain it. No other science, no other medicine could tell you why he survived when he shouldn’t have.
He spent months recovering in the hospital. His family trying to keep his hopes up with hopeful conversations. Hopeful to them perhaps, about getting discharged, going back to a world that he didn’t know if he could touch. He didn’t care so much about the burns, but going back to a life that did not make him happy.
Further he was isolated from the only woman in his life that he had truly loved. She had rejected him for some underlying reasons. And he as forced to move back in with his parents with no other options. But the hospital did bring something. A connection with another individual, one Victor Warren. Who would become a door to a whole another world, one that could be a new future for him and others.
But before that door could open, Arturo would fall helplessly and deeply into depression. His family trying to force every option they could down his throat as “support”. Telling him about jobs hiring. Telling him about looking towards his recovering and re-entering the world. The medical professionals would tell him depression about his burns was common. But that what the fire symbolize to Arturo.
It was the symbol that his old life was going to kill him. It was a symbol that meant something more. And there was an instinct that bothered him. Sometimes after his therapy he would visit Victor and they would discuss lengthy conversations.
But no conversation would ever be more freeing than the one they would have about Parahumans. As Arturo’s frustrations with Victor’s leading never went anywhere because he kept teasing the answer. Finally Victor decided to reveal the story. It was the most liberating conversation he had and sparked a new life focus in him than before.
“My insurance doesn’t want to cover more,” he says nonchalantly in passing, “They said I missed the employment renewal date and only covered me due to the nature of the tragedy and that it happened at the building.” Victor is sitting next to him. This has been a new development, he use to sit across from him and now he was sitting next to him on a bench outside of the hospital. Arturo didn’t really care so much about the mundane topic. He was certain Victor didn’t care much about that either.
“The clinic is going to be busy tonight,” Victor told him, “Once costume freaks come out, we’ll see some wild stuff. Guess you don’t need a costume any more. Shame, insurance companies are always too greedy to cut off payment for those that need it.”
Arturo smiles, “I’m sure I can pass out candy today.”
Victor laughs, but gives him a genuine look of concern.
“Are you doing well?” Victor asked him.
Arturo just stares at the hospital parking lot. He was just here to visit Victor.
“I’m fine,” Arturo says after a long pause. Victor leans back and stretches. Arturo stares at a bush now, “When you nearly die life looks different. It doesn’t feel the same any more. I feel just as isolated as I did before the incident, now, but even more. I feel disconnected and distanced from everything. I do not want my old life back. I do not want to live in hell.”
Victor nods thoughtfully.
“I didn’t just call you here today to visit,” Victor said, “I love a good thematic conversation and I feel like I can trust you. And we can help each other in some way. I don’t like watching people fall into depression and I can tell how cut off you are. So I think now is a good time than any.” Victor looks around, and gets up. He ushers Arturo to follow him and so he does. To a black 2002 Cadillac Eldorado. He gets into the passenger side and Victor gets into the driver side.
Arturo stares at Victor, Victor just smiles.
“I can’t leave, but it’s safer in here than out there,” Victor tells him, “I much rather demonstrate, so it makes it more believable. But I suppose I just have to say, huh.”
Arturo wasn’t following.
“I suppose,” Arturo told him.
“I told in the beginning that I been through something harrowing myself,” Victor says cracking his knuckles and undoing the buttons of his wrist cuffs. Rolling them down, he shows him a raised scar on his arm. It goes down from the wrist to halfway on the forearm, “Last year.” he says, “We get a call this convict, Jack Smiles is suppose to come in. He needs medical treatment for some condition. He gets there and they have shackled to the bed, and I am thinking this guy is the Smiley Killer.” He pauses, “Use to draw smiling faces on his victims after mortem. Kind of a dumb theme now that you reflect on it.”
Victor pauses to make sure he’s following. He is.
“The treatment goes well,” Victor said, “I am in the room checking on his vitals. And I guess me and him were thinking the same thing. I am just thinking to myself how in the hell does this guy get to live and be in prison. Should have just left him to die in the cell.” Victor pauses, “One of the nurses had gotten careless and left a pen on the nightstand, she also didn’t lock the handcuffs as well as she could have. Jack grabs the knife and tries to stab me with it, funny thought I know.” Victor raises his hand, “I raise my hand up. Hopes it will stop it. Asshole manages to break skin with a pen, a pen. He’s dragging down and we’re wrestling. And all I am thinking to myself is I don’t want to lose this fight with this guy, I don’t want to die. Why am I being the one attacked, when I am the not shit head. I manage to wrestle him off of me, he comes in again, trying to stab me with the needle I had in my hand that fell out. We’re scraping on the floor, till security comes in and some other doctors. They help wrestle him off of me. And I am just like, holy shit that happened. I wanted in some way to kill him. I wanted a way for that to never happen.”
Victor pauses hoping he’s still following. Arturo nods for him to continue on. Interested in what he has to say.
“I just get this feeling a few days later that maybe I can get rid of guys like that,” Victor says, “It’s just a passing thought. Day in and day out you see the worse of the worse, best of the best, then it just dies down. So one day, this guy, real fat cat, paid big bills to the hospital, he’s harassing a woman, she’s a nice lady, with three kids about her kids. He needs open heart surgery, she too needs open heart surgery. Her kids are playing loud and he’s just barking, I have to sleep, get those kids to shut up.”
Victor cracks his knuckles again.
“He thinks he has some right because he pays this hospital and knows the board of directors, and I think to myself that’s not right,” Victor pauses, “So I am thinking to myself about people, the way blood flows, and I don’t know something in me told me he could die. So I touch him, tell that everything is okay. But in my mind I am thinking no one would care if he dies of a heart attack. I am imagining what that looks like from the videos we use to watch in med school. Not even minutes later he is dead from a fatal heart attack.”
Arturo looks at him a string of coincidences. Victor laughs.
“You’re thinking it’s just a coincidence,” Victor pauses, “What if I told you that it happened again to me. Several times. It's an instinct. And instinct I been trying to get you to see if you too felt. And if you don’t, well than this conversation is over and I am going to have to kill you too.”
An instinct? What was he suppose to feel? Like he had some power that could be an opportunity? Like a new door opening. Maybe. Sometimes. But it was so drowned out in his own fatigue and the growing rift inside of him. But he also believed Victor because he had the confidence, and sharpness in his eyes that told him he would kill him.
“I don’t know how that’s supposed to feel,” Arturo told him.
Victor just hits the steering wheel for a second and gives him a sharp look. Arturo leans away.
“Damn it, why did I waste all my time,” Victor says to himself, “Surely you have had had to have something. Why else did you live? You shouldn’t have never lived in the state you were. You were half dead. Barely breathing. But you lived. And I thought that meant something.”
Arturo wasn’t sure what his instinct should be in this circumstance, but he did believe Victor about dying with a touch. Victor had always been vague, but always straightly honest. It occurred to him that this was just another place he was locked into staring death in the face. Bits of the night in the cabinet came back to him. Flashes. How hot his hands were on the cabinet doors. He knew he shouldn't’ have been touching them. But he also knew he no longer wanted to be trapped by another individual again. Placing his hand on the car door as Victor reached for him, he meant to open the door. But Victor paused. Arturo kept his hand on the door. Victor was looking at his hand though.
Arturo continued to stare at Victor who just laughed.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Victor asked, “Didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“Tell you what,” Arturo asked.
Victor only eyed his hand. Arturo looked only to see what looked like muscular tissue, pink, healthy, it was warm to the touch on the handle of the car door. He was either losing his mind or this was that instinct Victor was talking about.
“I didn’t know,” Arturo told him, “I did this though. I know that.”
“It’s a little different,” Victor teased, “But it’s cute, whatever it is.”
48 Hours Later
Sitting at home he was thinking about what happened the other day with the growth of flesh. From his touch? He prefered the isolation, and to be left alone. His parents grew concerned about this behavior and threw every number of every therapist there was at him.
They begged him to get help, seek help, and told him he was only going to make himself worse with his actions. Except he had no real motivation to do any of that. Be a part of a community that ostracized him and shamed him for what he was.
His phone began to rang, he wondered who that could have been. Sometimes Claudia called, and those conversations were strained. Victor rarely called him, too busy working and yet his number was showing up. There it was 6 in the morning and he hadn’t slept much last night anyway. He answered the call groggily.
“Hello,” Arturo replied.
“It’s not cute any more,” Victor told him, “It took over my car.”
“What took over your car?” Arturo asked.
“The stuff from the other day,” Victor replied.
The muscle growth?
“What do you want me to do about it?” Arturo asked.
“Get over here and help me fix this before I have to explain why there is a meat car in the hospital parking garage,” Victor replied.
“You didn’t drive it?” Arturo asked.
“No!” Victor shouted, “Are you fucking crazy? When I got out of the clinic the other day one of the walls was entirely flesh. I am staring directly at a meat car. It’s got windows and everything, but it's covered entirely in flesh.”
“I’ll see if I can somehow get there,” Arturo said.
He somehow convinced his mother he forgot his wallet at the hospital and needed his keys to drive. They had been so worried that he was out to kill himself they put it upon themselves to keep his keys from him. Getting to the hospital parking garage, Victor had been lucky that where his car was parked was not filled up. The bottom row was already piling up with cars, and the parking lot itself was filling up.
And indeed there it was a meat car. It had retained the physical shape of a car, it had the wheels, but those were now fleshy tumors, it had window frames, but those were veins. The seats were fleshed, sinewy bits of muscle, pink, red, and thick veins all surrounded what was once a 2002 Eldorado.
“Ah, it is indeed a meat car,” Arturo replied.
“Ah, is not the word I would choose for this circumstance,” Victor told him, “It’s not something cute to admire. It’s a meat car in public and people are coming to work. We need it out of here before they do.”
“I wonder if it's even driveable, the wheels are,” Arturo frowns at them, “Tumor sacks.”
“Yeah I got that when I stared at it this morning,” Victor told him, “You could have chosen to be more discrete.”
“I had no idea that this would happen,” Arturo makes a noise of discovery, “Look it’s attaching itself to the tarmac of the parking lot.”
Arturo smiles and Victor frowns.
“This is not a misbehaved child, stop taking it in with such delight,” Victor told him.
Arturo looks at Victor.
“Oh I don’t know someone called it cute yesterday,” Arturo says placing his hand on the meat car. There was a familiarity with it. Like it calling to him. Was this the calling he experienced when he was in the hospital before?
“The other day, but that’s beside the point,” Victor told him, “Don’t pet it! Why are you petting it?”
“It’s a curious texture,” Arturo told him, “Besides I am getting you back for the other day.” Arturo stared at the car. He felt connected to it somehow. Like they were linked in some way, he wanted to try something. Leaning in close he decided to try and talk to it, “This is not the place for you. If they find you, you will put a lot of people, including myself and Victor in trouble. Do you understand?” He felt like he was scolding an inanimate object, but it felt alive.
“Great you’re lecturing the meat car now,” Victor said raising his hands in defeat, “We’re going to get the PMR on our asses. Because-”
Before he could finish his sentence, the sound of smacking gum could be heard as the headlights of the meatcar opened a thin layer of meat. Light poured out of translucent skin. He watched the tumor sack wheels begin to spin.
Both of them sat in silence as the car drove off by itself. Victor just stares at him and Arturo stares at Victor.
“The…..fuck….was that?” Victor asked.
“I do not know,” Arturo told him, “Whatever happened, it’s out of the parking garage now.” he smiles.
“You know I liked you better when you didn’t know about your powers,” Victor told him, “Be careful what you wish for I guess. Guess it’s that Karma thing you’ve talked about. Talking about Karma, you owe me a new car now.”
“I guess talking to it like a parent works,” Arturo said, “I’ll keep that in mind.”
This was that door. That opportunity he was waiting to see. This changed everything. He stared at Victor with revelation in his expression. Victor stares at him.
“What?” Victor asked.
“This changes everything,” Arturo tells him.
“Vague and I am not really in the mood to care, my car became a meat car, then drove off on its own when you scolded it like a parent. I am still processing that,” Victor told him, “And I definitely do not want to see a world of flesh. Changes things for the ugly.”
Arturo rest his hand on his chin in thought.
“Isn’t it, what do you call it Victor? Instinct,” Arturo replied, he stared at the leftover particles of meat in the parking lot.
“What do we do about the part that doesn’t drive on its own?” Victor asked, “Burn it?” Arturo looks at Victor with a stern look.
“Not near me,” Arturo tells him.
Taking out a lighter he heard Victor’s zippo, he didn’t smoke, he said he liked to collect them. Arturo looked away from the flickering of the flames. He had never seen the flames that nearly took him afterward. But he could feel them. When the flames touched the meat, he felt it in him. The burning sensation. Arturo could feel the heat and his own body prickling with pain. Victor looked up at him. “You okay?” Victor asked.
“I feel its pain, I suppose too,” Arturo told.
“Oh,” Victor told him, “Sorry.”
“I can handle it,”
Rediscovering his instinct and the awakening of his powers was a liberation for Arturo. He saw a door, an opportunity before him and he decided to follow in the footsteps of his sister this time and open that door. He no longer wanted to be trapped in a surreal cage. Instead he would make a new reality.
He began to grow even more distant from his family when they felt that he was becoming unstable, is how they worded it. They begged him to see therapist. His mother desperately wanting the Arturo before the fire, even set him up a few appointments. He was not inclined to listen because they did not understand or know what he was now capable of.
His powers would take practice and even today, he barely has a handle of what he can and cannot do. Still discovering new additions to his capabilities. The theory Victor came up with, which sounds the most plausible is that his instinct never kicked in because the first time it did he was already half dead. The second time it did, he was on so many drugs and in and out of conscious he might have forgotten.
Still Arturo was set on changing the world. With Victor at his helm. Thus created Reflections. His parents frustration with his lack of concern for his mental health eventually had given him an ultimatum. He either gets the help he needs or find someone who else would take him in. Believing that he had no one else in his life.
Using his lack of social contact with others beside Claudia, who grew more distant from him. Something unattainable to him, despite loving her so much, as a weapon to get him to be the way they wanted him to be. Back to normal. Back to the person he was. But the person he was had no voice. Had no presence. Had no one in his life. The person he was arguably naive. Maybe that’s what they liked about him, his innocent naivety. The one that kept him docile and tame.
But like Kaylyn he supposed when you saw a truth and wanted something else you grabbed at it. Instead of grasping at straws because life was quoted to be unfair. Life didn’t have to be fair. It just had to be unfair to the people who truly deserved it, not the people who did not. Life is unfair was is a model for the weak who thought they deserved punishment for their hard work.
Not to Arturo. No hard work would truly be praiseworthy. Instead of begging to Claudia to come home, he called Victor about his dilemma. Asked him if he could set him up somewhere. Victor being Victor told him, why don’t you just live with me.
“You don’t find this odd?” Arturo asked, boxes were scattered all over Victor’s living room. Victor just smiles at him.
“Not in the least bit,” Victor told him, “We have to look out for each other.”
“Well I have a plan,” Arturo told him, “This makes planning easier at least.”
“For?” Victor asked.
“Reflections,” Arturo told him.
Victor raised a brow.
“Reflections, is that the name we’re going with?” Victor asked.
“You have a problem with it?” Arturo asked scrunching up his face a little in frustration. He had spent a week working on this.
“No it’s good, but I get to name your ability then,” Victor told him.
Arturo gave him a side eye, he knew better than to let Victor do that. He sighed, he did let him live with him.
“Very well,” Arturo told him.
“Meat Space,” Victor wore a proud smile, he had been thinking about this for a while. Hadn’t he? Arturo sighed. He had a distaste for the name.
“No,” Arturo told him.
“Well Zombie Rot was going to be the second choice,” Victor told him. Arturo pressed the bridge of his nose.
“We’ll go with Meat Space,”
Victor did a victory cheering in silence and Arturo just stared at all his boxes in his living room. He frowned at them. He knew their contents. Albums. Pictures of his family. He also had his clothes and necessities. But he had a distaste of the sentimental stuff. He didn’t like his old life any more, he didn’t want to be reminded of it either. Victor watched him closely. Waiting for him to speak.
“Let’s burn my stuff,” Arturo told him, “Beside the needs.”
“Really, coming from you?” Victor asked.
Arturo gave him a glance, “I am not that person any more evidently.”
“Yeah you lost Life Cherry last year,” Victor told him with a laugh, “So, what are we burning exactly?”
“Family photos, pictures of myself, sentimental value,” Arturo told him, “I’ll keep my clothes, but I don’t want to look at it any more. Less be reminded of it.”
“Sounds good to me,” Victor said with a shrug, “Need a change. I get that.”
“Thank you Victor for everything, now let’s change the world for the better,” Arturo told him.
Victor just smiles.
“Well it’s because I like you Arturo, like another brother,” Victor pauses, “About brothers. There is one thing you need to know. I have a brother. You know me, I don’t talk about what’s personal to me unless I trust someone. Jamie means a lot to me. So treat him well.”
Arturo gives him another side eye.
“You just invite me to stay over at your place, and don’t tell me you live with your brother until I am at your doorstep,” Arturo sighs, “It sounds just like you.”
“Now you’re catching on,”
Later that Evening
Glittering orange halos were the last things he was reminded of. Like those beautiful cosmic bands he saw a long time ago. There was something peaceful about watching the rest of his old life burn. The only thing he held onto was a photo of Claudia. He couldn’t let it go. It was the one thing that chained him to his old life. Staring at the phone, Victor had wandered off to work. The door to the apartment opened, but he knew it was not Victor.
Instead he saw a kid, tall, and willowy. Young, twenty, twenty-one. With shaggy blonde hair that needed a cut, his pants had holes in them, and the canvas shoes he wore looked rather worn. His shirt fit loose on him and the kid’s eyes did a wide eyed surprise to see him. He did a 180 turn towards the door, but then turned back to “look at him” honestly his gaze was focused on the arm of the couch he was leaning on.
“Your brother told you about me I hope,” Arturo told him sitting on the couch, “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Don’t worry your brother didn’t tell me anything about you.”
There was a silent smile on his face and he just nodded. He immediately dashed off to the bedroom he presumed was his. What an odd conversation. Or lack thereof. But it didn’t bother him. He supposed he should get things in order than shouldn’t he?
Talking about what they were going to do and actually doing something was entirely different. Still there was a pain in his heart. Picking up the phone he called her number. It rang. Rang. She wasn’t going to answer. She didn’t know this number. He was about to give up, but then there was a, “Hello” on the other line.
“Hello, who is this?” she asked.
“It’s me,” Arturo told her.
“Arturo,” she says in surprise, “This isn’t your number. Where are you calling from?”
“A friends,” Arturo told her, “I just got unpacking.”
“That’s good,” she says.
“How are you?” they ask at the same time. And it hurts to do so. She clears her throat, tries to laugh, but it comes off nervous.
“You answer first,” he tells her.
Claudia does this thing where she breaths in and then exhales, he can hear a slight smile on her end, but it’s conflicted from the amount of distance forming.
“I got a new job, nothing glamorous,” she told him, “But it works for me. I mean as much as working for an appliance company that still sells appliance from a magazine ever could work for me. What about you? Have you found work?”
He missed her voice. Just to hear talk. Hear each word the way she laid it out. He missed her. He wanted her. Did she still love him he wondered?
“That’s good,” he said, “I am currently not working. I am fine. Claudia, can I ask you something?”
“Go ahead,” she said.
“Will you ever be ready?” he asked her. There’s silence on the receiver. It’s like a cold breeze passes through and kills the conversation.They sit in a phantom conversation for a while. No one starting. No one stopping.
“Maybe,” she said, “Arturo I have to go. You caught me in the middle of something. I’ll call you later. I have your number.”
She hangs up. And he’s left to sit with heartbreak. Cracks beginning to form on the beauty that he once loved. Melting away like hot metal in a flame. What was he missing to have her come back? Had she stopped loving him? Then why did she entertain the idea that someday they would get married? Why did she mention it and then keep holding it in the distance like some future goal? She was just like the rest of them. That saw a part of his naivety die and gave up on him because he wanted to change.
Reflections started on the age of the internet. It was an easier and cautious way to start a movement, than something loud and boisterous that could get them caught. Videos did no one harm, especially when they only questioned viewpoints. They didn’t influence or tell someone to do something.
“Good evening ladies and gentleman,” Affliction said sitting at a desk in a blanketed room, besides the meat walls covering it, “And what an evening it is. When the dead rise to walk among the living. A fitting theme for this video then.”
The video flickers.
“Do you feel like the dead walking around the living?” Affliction ask, “Does your job make you feel like you could have accomplished a number of goals that will not be? Does your life make you feel trapped in a cage? Do you feel hollow with your life?”
The video flickers again. The cracked, ivory mask stares directly into the camera. It’s hollow and empty. With a blank expression.
“You know what tonight is? It’s not only the night of treats, it can be a night of tricks,” Affliction said, “You could be more than the sum of your parts. We are Reflection. We reflect the opposite of the mirror this society paints. I am this societies Affliction. A disease created by a society that finds you.”
Flashes on the screen.
Flashes on the screen.
Flashes on the screen.
“You can continue to be all of those things they say you are, think you are,” Affliction pauses, “Or you can take matters into your hands. To take back the power they robbed from you. To have a voice. Tonight is not only a night of treats. It can be one of tricks as well.”
The video flickers again. The last words to linger on the screen; Think for Yourselves. And Rise.
The videos have been widely successful, though some criticize that it sounds like a bunch of crazy conspiracy nuts. Though it has lead to some people claiming they have felt strength from the videos and have committed a series of pranks based on the videos. Since the users do not really suggest actions the videos have been kept up and gain daily traction.
The trio has recently moved to Denver in the last few months. And are looking to gain more traction now that the videos have seemed to gain wild success.
Arturo has also recently landed a job in a Middle School as an art teacher.
Woooo! You really had me going there! Challenged my speed reading skills. Alright, so you already know my gripe about changing the CS format, so we won't go over that and I'll just remind you, not a problem this time since you weren't aware it's important to me, but in the future please stick to the code provided. So as far as critiquing the actual character himself, I personally love Arturo and just about everything related to him. It may have been a taxing read, but I particularly enjoyed the scene of Victor playing shoulder devil to Arturo in his most critical moment. And believe it or not, this doesn't even remotely come close to the longest CS I've ever had to review (Which had to be separated into 3 separate posts due to the sheer length).
So bottom line? Arturo, and thus his villain team Reflections, is fully approved. Move him on over to the character tab. @Eklispe if you wouldn't mind updating the Character 0th post as per usual, I'll greatly appreciate it.
@TheRedWatcher Alright, so you already know that Victor is approved via Discord, excellent. So now on to Jamie. His classifications are missing, so you need to make sure to put those in. Then I need a little more detail on his drawing powers and their limitations. We know he can bring just about anything to life, and said object is as durable as paper so his creations can be described as glass cannons: very powerful with the right design, but easily destroyed. Something we need to know is permanence. Are they permanent until destroyed? Do they have a time limit? If so what is that limit? Can he control and direct his creations himself, by thought? If so, can he see through their senses? Do they follow verbal orders? Etc. Once these are clarified, I think he's good to go. Potentially very very powerful, but also limited in his autism. I like that as a balancing factor.
Alright, a few days late, but here's out soft-warning callouts for the main team players. @BCTheEntity@solokolos@Lugubrious let's try to get something up shortly if you can. I'm not pulling a hard warning this time, at least for a while, due to my own inability to properly keep schedule for the time being, but I think now that the Wards and Jacks are in a position to meet and fight for the first time that we shouldn't want anybody to be held up on the excitement. :)
Ok everyone, glad I finally got that Inkscape interlude up! I'll try to get an update out for the Minutemen by tomorrow. In the meantime, the Wards and the Jacks can continue to have their first meeting/battle, and a new poll is opening up for the next NPC you'd like to see an interlude story for! Any NPC you want, pick one, and I'll update the vote counter in the first page 0th post!