ThundercloudMature

mDriving a car from the passenger’s seat is challenging in the best of times.  With Garith’s gloved hands holding the wheal stiff it was hard turn it and his creepy stillness made the silence in the vehicle eerie.  But she didn’t panic.  Seconds ticked by, feeling more like moments.  She wondered if she should try to get them off the road, but Garith’s foot was still steady on the gas.  He’d snap out of it—whatever it was, soon.  She hoped.  A car sped past in the other lane but otherwise the road was dark and empty. 

Suddenly Garith looked at her.  “What are you doing?” he asked.

She let go of the wheel and sat back into her seat.  Her hands were shaking a bit so she pressed them against her legs to still them.  “You were in some sort of trance.”

“A trance?  Please elaborate.”

“You just went still and silent, and I had to steer to keep us on the road.  You did it once before—in the parking lot.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” He was not looking at her, but the road.

“I wasn’t sure, I was… confused.”

“Maybe I’m just tiered.”  This seemed to indicate the end of the conversation, but Sandra ignored it.

“Maybe I should drive.”

“No.  We don’t have time to stop.”

There was a long silence in the vehicle.

“You said before that you needed some time to think.”

“Yes.”

“So where are we going?”

“I’m not sure.”

“I had suggested the new campground at Lake Eden.  They won’t expect you to go somewhere like that, will they?”

“I’m not sure anymore, what they will expect.  Which is part of the problem.  But that direction is as good as any other.”

They drove on in silence for an hour.  Sandra realized as she sat there just how exhausted she was.  She ached all over and her stomach throbbed painfully, reminding her constantly of the lies Garith had told her.  What was she doing driving out into the country side, alone, in a car with him?  And he had changed so much since she had known him.  And so had she.  She had to keep reminding herself that she had changed.

She wanted desperately just to close her eyes and go to sleep, but the image of Garith still and silent, driving them off the road, kept her awake and alert. 

They turned a steep bend, forcing Garith to slow down a little bit and a street sign lit up with blue and white reflected light.  It read “Tally-ho Swords”.  The name caught on a hook in her mind.  She’d been here before… but why?  Then she remembered.

“Garith, turn right at the next road.  I’ve thought of somewhere we can lie low for a little while, so you can think.  And maybe get some sleep.”

“Right?”

“A friend of mine lives there.  I did him a favour once, and he owes me.”

They turned right a few minutes later onto a gravel road called “Murphy’s Law”.  Not a very promising name for a road.  They climbed a steep hill that was littered with potholes and surrounded by young deciduous trees.  The gray light of predawn had crept around the bare winter trees.  As they crested the hill a tall house, windows glowing warm yellow, came into view.  Garith pulled up behind the black car in the driveway and they got out.

Sandra led the way towards the front door and a gray cat came out to meet them.  It brushed passed her legs, than Garith’s.  In a quick, smooth motion, Garith reached down and picked the cat up.  Sandra paused to watch.  She didn’t know that Garith liked cats.  To her surprise, he pulled up his sleeve a bit and rubbed his bare arm on the cat’s soft fur.  He then pulled his sleeve back and looked up at Sandra.

“How much does this friend of yours owe you?”

“A lot.”

“How much?”

“I saved his life.  Why?”

Garith shook his head but walked forward with an air of surrender.  He still held the gray cat in his arms as Sandra rang the doorbell.  They waited a moment is silence.  It got a little bit brighter outside.  Then the door opened and warm golden light flooded out.  Inside the house glowed a golden sepia colour and a tanned middle aged man stood in the doorway.  He wore a green plaid collared shirt which covered a bit of a potbelly.  He had a graying goatee and his part line was receding to reveal deep frown wrinkles on his forehead.  He looked first at Sandra, then Garith.

“Well, well, well,” he said in a loud deep voice.  “Welcome to my humble abode, Sandra, and you must be Garith.”

“You know him?” Sarda asked with surprise as she stepped inside in response to the man’s gesture. 

Garith did not move, but stood outside, stroking the cat with his black gloved hand.  The cat struggled to jump down, but Garith just gripped it tighter.

“What is your cat’s name, Dr. Malpus?” he asked.

“Thundercloud.”

Garith wrapped his hand around the cat’s throat and the cat began to growl and struggle frantically.  “I’m surprised you let cats like this wander your property, Dr. Malpus.  Do they make good lookouts?  Is that it?”

“What are you doing?” Sandra asked.  “Don’t hurt it!”

Garith ignored her and tightened his grip, staring calmly at Dr. Malpus.  “Will your real cat die if this one does?”

Dr. Malpus looked from the cat, whose movements were slowing, to Garith whose eyes steadily met his, and then suddenly fiddled with the watch on his wrist and the cat in Garith’s arms vanished.  Garith let his arms fall to his side and Sandra stared at him, flabbergasted.

"How did you know it wasn't real?"

"No warmth.  Everything normal, except not warm to the touch."

Garith stepped into the house, closing the door behind him. He walked past Dr. Malpus into a large comfortable sitting room.  He took a seat in am antique wooded chair beside the stone fireplace.  Sandra and Dr. Malpus followed.  The room was just as Sandra remembered it—the gray-blue couch and sitting chair lit with four bright lamps that emanated warmth as well as light.  There were a number of large house plants in pots on the hardwood floor.  Garith’s behavior confused her.

“Before we begin, Dr. Malpus, I want to assure you that our friend Sandra here, brought me here unwittingly.  I was not previously aware of the location of your abode.  But she says that you owe her.”

Dr. Malpus sat down in the large sitting chair and Sandra settled nervously on the couch.

“Do as assume correctly, Dr. Malpus, that whatever debt you owe Sandra will not be enough to cover me?”

Dr. Malpus made no reply so Sandra jumped in.  “I saved you’re life, Malpus.  I came here for us to rest for a little while then to move on.  Your protection while in your house and your silence about the matter is not too much to ask in light of what I did for you.  Right?”

Still Dr. Malpus said nothing.

“Why would you hurt him, anyways?” Sandra asked.  Silence from both of them answered her.  “Will someone please explain what’s going on?”  She raised her voice and clenched her hands in frustration.

“It’s as I thought.”  Garith stood and went to the fireplace.  He leaned against it somewhat wearily and looked back at Dr. Malpus.  “So I have a proposition—a challenge.”

“Go on,” said Dr. Malpus.

“I need to know what is on the enemy’s mind.  You are the only one who can get me into his lair without me actually being there—without me actually being in danger.”

“Use my technology?  That will only lead back to me like a fingerprint in blood.”

Sandra watched and listened, clenching her jaw to restrain all her frustration and questions.

“And when it does, you will have the real me to hand over.”

“Forgive me if I sincerely doubt that you’d actually follow through with that suggestion.  You clearly think that you would be able to somehow escape while your double was off on this mission.  And even if I did have you to hand over… I’d still be in deep water.  Deeper than I can swim.”

“Dr. Malpus, you serve him only out of fear.  I know that you don’t care about the reward—you don’t have that hungry look in your eyes that other, lesser men might when they looked on me.  I used to serve him too.  And there is just as much fear on this side.  But at least I know I’m doing what is right.  At least I can hope that if I fight long enough, less people like you—like me, will have to live life so pathetically—in eternal tethers.”  As Garith spoke, his dark eyes pinned on Dr. Malpus, a gray cat, just like the one that had vanished, entered the room and found its seat on Dr. Maplus’s lap.  The aging man stroked the cat as he responded quietly to Garith’s strong words.

“You speak a dangerous rhetoric, Garith.  But I am an old man, and my decisions are made.  I don’t have energy for anything more.”

“You owe me your life!” Sandra interrupted after a long pause.  “Doesn’t that count for anything?”

“Sandra, if I do this thing you ask of me, I will only loose my life and your earlier assistance will be worthless.”

“Well, that’s a pathetically honourless way to look at it,” bitterness pinched her words.

Quiet returned to the room, broken only by the cat’s gentle purr.

“And all your inventions,” Garith said, “that you’ve poured your life into… this one,” he gestured at the cat, “have you ever even had the chance to try it on a human?”

Dr. Malpus did not respond. 

“As I thought.  This is your chance.  Maybe your only chance.”

Dr. Malpus stared for a long time at Garith with his hard blue-gray eyes.  Garith let him think.  At last Dr. Malpus stood up, and the cat jumped off his lap.  “Alright.”

The End

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