Chapter 4-Route 259

I stirred awake in the backroom of the dusty peddler's shop, and was shocked to not see Mirio anywhere. I sat up under the quilt composed of interlinked hoops, and saw a note flutter to the severely worn black and maroon tiles underneath. I sighed as I retrieved the paper and read over Marcie's meticulous handwriting.

Dearest Mirio,

Good morning sleepyhead! Mister Braun and I headed out to Vincennes to get some errands done. We'll be going to my school on Monday, so if you don't mind, I would think it would be for the best if you posed as Mister Braun's distant cousin, AKA Mirio O. Braun. Breakfast on the table. There is an envelope with some petty cash. Get some lunch in town.

Love,

Your Marcie

I furrowed my brow as washed my face in the sink to wipe away the drowsiness. I then sat in the horrid swivel chair that possessed exposed metal coils digging into my back. I tucked into the scrambled eggs, bacon strips and a mug of hot tea as I pondered her message. She obviously had considerable knowledge of my life. After all, she had materialized in my cell when I was still a little miserable girl. I now realized it was some sort of magical projection, as I had been the only one to ever see her. I would have to pursue that line of inquiry to see if it could be used to send me…us into my own world. After all, she was all but hated and bullied here. Surely she would leap at my noble and beneficent offer to become my retainer. But I would not accept that her fevered stories defined my destiny. I had free will and had every intention to size my future with my own claws one I officially came of age. I would not-

Abruptly the overhead fixtures flickered and sputtered into life with a ghastly pale white light that made me flinch and yelp in astonishment and drop my fork onto the floor. There was also a gurgle and clang of water flowing through iron pipes that linked up to heavy black painted tanks adorned with numerous radiating fins distributed amidst the office, storage, garderobe and mercantile chambers. Once my heart resumed beating I glanced in annoyance at the six foot luminescent cylinders mounted into ceiling brackets. There were four in the office, four more in the adjacent goods storage space, and at least a dozen more traversing the length of derelict storefront from the shuttered front door all the way back to the corridor linking to the office and stockroom entrance. I walked into the abandoned shop and curiously glanced around the curiously still half stocked shelves. I couldn't identify what many of the items were, but many were apparently food items based on the stale smell clearly emanating out of them. Other containers had the scent of candy, soap, oil, or rubber. More goods still sat gathering dust in the overstock room ringed with crude shelves. If Mister Braun had shuttered the store, I was mildly surprised that he had not sold off the excess inventory considering the lamentable state of his finances. I examined the ceiling and admired the craft of the stamped dark green tin plates, and the warm wooden walls covered with shelving from the floor up to the ceiling. Steep ladders on casters gave access to the tops of the shelves fifteen feet up. I felt a mild wave of melancholy to see this family's once thriving business converted into a dusty ruin.

My ears perked up as I heard a rumbling sound pass outside by the side wall with that annoying beeping sound that I had remembered from last night. I quickly ducked into the office and hid under the bed as I heard men's voice outside the back door converse and joke as I heard a clanging sound followed by a hissing sound that somehow related to the bright silver tank situated directly outside the rear entrance. I softly drummed my fingers on the tile floor as I felt humiliated about the necessity of hiding from puny humans.

"Okay, Bill, let me get the pilot lights," a deep voice intoned as the door was pulled open. I remained motionless as a heavyset man smoking an a putrid cigar dressed in an ultramarine tunic and pants with thick black boots walked in and used a long-handled ignition stick to light a flame under what Marcie referenced as the hot water heater, and then repeated the process with a boxy mechanism in the other utility closet. I heard him sigh in satisfaction and walk over to stand directly in front of the bed. After holding my breath for a long moment at being discovered, I felt prickling annoyance as the serviceman crunched into my unwanted toast slices that had a blackberry scented jam that I had found distasteful, as the seeds tended to get trapped between my teeth. I was still irate that this commoner had the nerve to steal part of my breakfast! After he crossed the roomed and exited, the pair of humans finally got back into their rumbling iron cart and drove backwards out of hearing range. I stood up and noted that warmth was starting to seep into the space through the black heat radiators. I now could pick up the scent of controlled fire burning behind both utility closet doors. I surmised that the tank outside used some sort of combustible fuel to heat the storefront using a piped hot water delivery system.

Hours later the heating system had warmed the space to a much more tolerable temperature. The heat made me a bit drowsy, so I lay on the bed to rest for a bit. After napping for a few hours I gently pushed the service door open and immediately met the eyes of a tired looking woman gazing out of one of the Braun homestead's front-facing windows. She broke into a weary smile as she beckoned at me to come into her domicile. With faint curses on my lips from having been detected this easily, I trod up onto the wooden porch and politely knocked. When no answer was forthcoming, I sighed and used the latch to open up the surprisingly unlocked dark blue door. I stepped inside and turned left into a sizable bedchamber piled up with books on nearly every conceivable surface and shelf. The dark grey wall paper with pink pastel roses was visibly starting to peel off from the wall in several spots. Mister Braun's obviously ill mother was sitting in a steel-framed wheeled chair facing out to the bright winter morning with a tattered thick book in her scrawny hands. She was in a sky blue night robe with a kerchief tied around her head. A clear tube extended from her nose into a nearby silver and green tank. She smiled gently at me with deep sorrow evident in her grey eyes that she shared with her son and spoke softly. "You must be Mirio then. Welcome to Braun manor."

I bowed politely to my host and respectfully spoke, "Mrs. Braun, thank you for your hospitality to me and especially Marcie. We are humbly in your debt."

She giggled before breaking into coughing fits. Once she had caught her breath she noted with amusement, "Jimmy said that you were the overly serious friend of Marcie. My, how observant my boy is."

I felt a twinge of irritation that apparently Mister Braun was taking a cue from Marcie to make sport of my prickly reputation. I exhaled softly and removed some of my host's books from a nearby armchair and sat down next to her. "Missus Braun, I can only say that I require more refinement in my people skills."

She smiled knowingly about her obvious infirmity, "My apologies for not getting up. Would you like a pop in the refrigerator, dear?"

I blinked in stark disbelief at her cheerful admission that she was stashing a body in the house. My eyes narrowed as I asked with a quiet intensity, "Who's father?"

She looked more confused than concerned, before she chuckled in amusement. "In the kitchen, there is a cold box with bottles of soda pop. Please have one if you like."

So it wasn't her dead husband apparently? I followed her directions, found the chilled storage container and located a cardboard carrier with six bottles labeled with red 'RC' calligraphy. I bemusedly took two bottles back to my hostess and offered her one of the cold bottles.

"Thanks sweetie." She used a flat metal tool to pry off the serrated disk-shaped cap and handed the now open bottle back to me. She uncapped the other bottle and drunk directly from the container.

I stared at the fizzing brown potion with a slightly perplexed expression. Why was the beverage producing foam when it clearly wasn't alcoholic in nature?

"It's not going to drink itself, Mirio," the human matron chided as she patted my arm with an emaciated hand.

"Ah. Yes, thank you for the potation." I took a drink with reluctance but I found the combination of citrus oils, cinnamon, vanilla, and sugar to be remarkably appealing. I realized that the combination of flavorings, and the entrapped gas bubbles made for an delicious and addictive combination. Now why couldn't we have this drink in my home world? I decided to repay my debt, so I summoned a romance novel that I favored from my inventory into my satchel. I placed the empty bottle down and handed the thick gilded book over. "I have to reconnoiter this hamlet. Your hospitality was most appreciated. I am feeling generous enough to lend this to you as thanks, Missus Braun."

She smiled in an honestly straightforward manner, "Thank you. I am most humbled by your thoughtful gift, Miss Mirio. Take care."

I bowed stiffly and then walked down Route 259 South towards the water tower, and drained the rest of the refreshing drink. I was feeling deeply unsettled by the sight of Mrs. Braun's terrible physical condition compounded by the gnawing feeling of being indebted to someone for their consideration of my unfavorable situation. I sighed out loud, "Miss Marcie, you little troublemaker; I will do my best to stand by your-" The gas filled RC drink unexpectedly forced me to rip out an undignified belch. I flushed slightly in embarrassment and decided that I maybe I shouldn't be drinking this potable any more.

The winter sun was feebly shining through the grey clouds as I spotted the barn that I had been held captive. The sign in front read Hazard Police and Fire Departments, 122 Main Street. After walking down the sidewalk I passed by a few mostly boarded up stores until I reached I reached a familiar site; the teal town water tower situated across from the local academy. Much to my surprise I saw several iron carts grouped around the base of the structure. I blinked in mild dismay as I walked past the black and white painted low slung self-propelled wagon. I saw a face I knew. A visibly annoyed Officer Bastian was tersely talking to a pair of individuals standing in front of a bulky cart adorned with a blue and white numeral '2' superimposed on the initials WTWO. The well-dressed lady speaking to him was holding a small cylinder in her hand topped with a reflective tiny mesh-gridded ball. A black cord ran from the device to the van behind her. The man with her was holding some sort of shoulder mounted device with a glass lens built into the front. It almost made it look if that mechanism was piercingly gazing at me.

The officer spoke with a stoic and guarded tone, "Look, Miss Waterson, The HPD cannot confirm your ridiculous so-called 'monster sighting' in Hazard. This a peaceful town where nothing that far-fetched could ever happen."

The woman replied, "So you contend that Mister Samuel Lewis is lying when he told us that he struck a giant black lizard when he wrecked his pickup two nights ago?"

Bastian noted caustically, "Based on the fact that he confessed to DUI, and failed a sobriety test, somehow it follows that his testimony is reliable? Wouldn't hitting a cow or deer make more logical sense?"

"Interesting. We will be sure to follow this story carefully about this mystery sighting and the accidental summoning of the Bloomington National Guard. Thank you for your time Officer Marin." She pivoted around to face the creepy glass-eyed machine. "The investigation continues. Diane Waterson reporting in Hazard; Channel Two news."

Her companion noted, "We got it Diane. Looks great."

I hid behind a tree as I watched Officer Bastian get into his vehicle and pull back out onto the main road, heading back north to his home base that I had recently been imprisoned in. Something about these storytelling bards made me edgy enough to casually walk back up the road to avoid them. Soon enough the white WTWO vehicle zipped past me and sped out towards the outskirts of town.

On my return walk I noted an open establishment that emitted scents that made me subconsciously drool. I walked into the Rte. 259 Diner and saw a restaurant that redefined the term 'hole-in-the-wall'. The oblong rectangular space with maroon tile floors had a set of booths lining one way, a long countertop made of some sort of incredibly cheap imitation of black marble, with a set of stools lined up in a neat row. Several woman wearing slate blue aprons labored to take orders and bring out giant platters of food out to the hungry patrons. After glancing around apprehensively, I took an unoccupied seat at the end of the counter.

One of the helpstaff approached me from the other side of the counter and inquired, "New in town or passing through?"

"I…I'm a newcomer. I'm staying with a friend for a few weeks."

The blond-haired server asked brightly, "Oh, is it someone I know?"

I debated being cagey or attempt to be cooperative with the local peasantry. After a short period of debate, I opted to be forthcoming…to an extent. "Yes, I'm a friend of Marcie Iverson."

"Oh, of course I know her! She's such a sweet kid. Whacha having?"

They seemed to be proud of their 'Special' burger platter as it was prominently displayed in red text on the menu board overhead adorned with inch high characters. I pointed to the special, and the lady beamed brightly, "Sounds great. Do you want a pop with that?"

I replied curtly, "Tea, thank you." I didn't trust that accursed fizzy concoction after my last humiliating encounter with 'RC'.

"Great, order up." She clipped a white and pale green slip onto a rotating stand so that the kitchen staff could read the new order.

"Is this seat taken," a voice dripping with sarcasm piped up behind me. I swiveled to face a tall blond athletic human dressed in blue trousers, a bulky red and white jacket, and new white leather decorated shoes adorned with black stripes. His sneering smile and his icy green eyes made me dislike him on sight.

"It is yours," I replied with a feral smirk.

Blondie took note of my unsettling expression, briefly glanced at his dark-haired toady, who was shorter and stouter, and then he plonked down on the stool to my right. His buddy sat down at my left. The blond boy chuckled and waved to the server and both juveniles ordered fried chicken.

Soon enough I received my order and blinked as I saw the entrée was a minced meat patter in between two halves of a sliced roll and adorned with lettuce, onions and a vinegary-smelling red sauce that I didn't recognize. On one side the ovoid plate were three lengths of pickled cucumbers; on the other sat a pile of golden brown fried cut tubers. I gave a brief prayer of thanks to the gods and just as I picked up my sandwich, the blond knave took a fistful of my side dish and stuffed it into his mouth. I took a bite of the meat sandwich and then sipped from my mug of tea and pointedly ignored his graceless manners. I asked bluntly, "What do require of me?"

"Oh nothing much. So you know the 'dirty dyke' Marcie?" His pitiless eyes bore into me.

I sucked in my breath and my red-brown eyes widened as realization set in. I hissed softly, "Oh yes, I know her…Mister Rod Cooper."

He taunted, "Ohh, I'm so scared that you know my name. I'm quivering in my shoes."

I desperately wanted to break this human's neck, but for Marcie's sake, I refrained. I had to inquire as I met his sneering gaze, "What has she ever done to you?"

He shrugged and laughed. "She's damned her eternal soul unless she gets the help, that poor mousy lesbo. I'm doing her a favor, ya'know by letting her classmates in on her filthy secret. It better that she deal with her sickness sooner than later." He giggled nastily, "She was drooling over Tiff and I couldn't let that babe suffer from Marcie's ogling in the locker room."

I daintily polished off my burger and dropped a green cloth bill on the table as payment. My eye twitched as I asked in remarkably calm voice considering my heart was consumed by a firestorm of ire, "Rod, may I speak with you outside? It will only take up a moment of your time."

"Sure thing babe." He squeezed my shoulder and then helped himself to more of my meal.

Despite the peasant food being quite savory and flavorful despite being very salty, I wasn't hungry anymore. I walked outside and waited for the hateful boy to exit with me. His peon followed suit with a wide grin, as he scoffed down one of the pickles from my meal.

"How did you find out?"

He reached into a leather shoulder satchel and took out a spiral-bound record book. Neatly scribed across the bright yellow cover was the title, Pandemonium notebook #54. "I stole it out of her backback. It was quite the disgusting read, about some crazy dragon bitch who slept around with men and women. But it was the picture that she drew of Tiffany made me want to puke. That bitch has no right to lust after my babe." He shrugged indifferently. "So of course I had to tell my friends about this. She ran out school crying, the moron. Whadda expect from a fucking lesbian?"

I coldly noted that no one was in our vicinity. This would make this transaction over far more quickly, and make my satisfaction that much greater. I icily remarked, "Your selfish actions caused her mother to throw her out of her home and her worldly possessions into the mud. I consider your actions eternally unforgivable. However, if you promise to leave her alone from now on, and return what you stole, than I may magnanimously consider you to be an insect beneath my notice henceforth."

I saw his green eyes widen for a moment at my sheer audacity, but then his arrogant veneer reasserted itself. "What the fuck are you, a fuckin' thesaurus? If that dyke dares show her face to Hazard High tomorrow, I promise you that she'll-"

By this point I had delicately seized his right wrist in my hand, and started to squeeze…and squeeze.

"…she'll…oww! Let go you fucking whore!" He tugged mightily on his entrapped arm but the 'whore' half his size held his arm in an ironclad grip.

I calmly plucked the notebook out of his grasp and tucked it into my own shoulder bag. A quick order later and Marcie's latest notebook was securely stored as magical data. "That's favor number one. For favor number two…"

Rod's accomplice took a viscous swing at me with his right fist which I deftly caught with my free hand. One quick tug later and the stocky fool toppled roughly onto the stone sidewalk.

Still with my eyes locked at the now pale Rod, I continued my orders. "…for favor number two, you will not ever harass Marcie Iverson ever again. Not you, nor anyone in your circle of acquaintances. Are we clear?"

Rod Cooper, despite being in immense pain, spat in my face. "Fuck you! You're a fucking lesbo just like her, aren't ya?"

I dialed up the pressure, as his wrist bones started to creak in protest. He tried to punch me in the face but I nimbly swatted his fist away with enough force to make it hurt. Finally his knees buckled as his face contorted in agony. "Alright you bitch! Leggo! My arm's about to snap. Marcie will be left alone, I swear."

"Thank you for your cooperation," I released his arm, and he tried to shake some feeling back into his numbed extremity. I saw unfiltered hatred in his eyes, as I knew too well that he would not keep his word. I replied with a smug grin. I allowed the bastard to see my draconic, luminescent crimson slit eyes for a brief second, before my illusion of my human appearance was restored. "Good day." I stepped around him and walked north up Route 259 as I started to hum to myself.

Rod ranted, "Bitch! Dyke! Asshole! You'll pay you fucking whore!"

I already knew that a viper like this nasty little boy would inevitably push his luck and attempt to inflict further harm to Marcie and I. The little shite would simply have to learn his place.