We’d been running with a sense of urgency all day long. There was to be no respite in the invisible chase scene played out in our minds. We had become our own prisoners quickly. Stepping across town, we’d been given reason to believe we were in danger. Since reason is often a liar, we went back home to rest…to no avail. The teardrops began on the other side of the room as Eliza tried bravely to smile against the imminent storm of emotions…again, to no avail. I chimed in with my share of the melancholy, hard-pressed for exemption from pulling my own weight in this household with the alternating chores of happiness and woe, dragging out the old, well-used, blue-checkered handkerchief from my upper vest pocket to dam up the weeping.
“Crying! Crying? Why are you crying?” I said in my usual, awkward way.
There was no answer other than the sounds of sobbing. I’d get nothing back but a wet handkerchief at the end of the day, as usual. What clues could I glean from her condition when she was being so completely…unhelpful?
I rolled my eyes (away from her view, of course) and embraced her in consolation. The door buzzer buzzed and I jumped, startled. Her tear faucets shut off instantly as I got up to go answer the caller.
To my “hello,” the gravel-voiced person at the other end of the speaker replied, “you’ve been to the Dalmatian-sitter’s again, haven’t you, Mr. Lopez?”
Oh, great. Satan, again.
This time, I rolled my eyes and didn’t care who saw me do it. It was time to make an exit, which is why I always kept the fire escape ready for action.
“Well, Eliza, it’s back to running. Are you done with your crying for now?” I said, not as unkindly as it looks.
“Yes, let’s go. I’m ready, Lopez.” She said, her lovely dark brown eyes looking up at me, puddles that were quickly drying up. She even managed a somewhat spirited smile, which I returned in a manner I hoped would convey my confidence in escaping from our current problem.
It was, after all, only a current problem. There’d be others to look forward to tomorrow, just as there had been all the days of last week and the days of the months that had come before. We dealt with it. It became a game. While others made do with worrying about mundane troubles like bill collectors and presidential elections, we were on the run from devilish super-entities. THIS was exciting!
Okay, no. No. It was crap, but it was life. What to do but make do?
I threw my suitcase down five flights where it clattered noisily to the pothole-laden alley below. Without my fingers having been crossed, it would’ve opened halfway down. This is fact. Eliza’s cello wasn’t as lucky. It splintered into tiny fragments upon striking the first of many gargoyles on its messy journey towards the Earth. I offered a meek smile that suggested, “we’ll get you a new one…soon?” She gritted her teeth and squeezed her eyes tightly shut instead of watching her varnished childhood friend disintegrate into a billion matchsticks.
I grabbed her hand and put my first foot on the windowsill. I was wearing my most favorite bowling shoes, which worked great for bowling. When I was on the run from diabolic forces, however.
My foot slipped, bringing the rest of my attached body with it, along with Eliza, whose hand was firmly gripped by my own. We landed in a heap on the next flight down, tiny slivers of ex-cello and autumn leaves covering our hair, our clothes. In the recently vacated apartment above, we heard the entry door being battered, curses thrown in for emphasis on its eventual downfall and the demise of those within (us, namely. I doubt the goldfish were included as recipients of Satan’s wrath in the shower of threats). I could feel Hell’s hot breath blowing in my ear, which probably accounts for the speed with which I was able to whisk us down the remainder of the fire escape to the waiting alleyway. I hailed a cab by throwing my hastily retrieved suitcase through its windshield. Oops.
“Taxi!” I shouted rather redundantly.
The old-style juggernaut of yellow chrome and steel came to an abrupt halt. It was then that I noticed the smoked windows and ever-so-faint odor of sulfur emanating from the exhaust pipe (which looked to be carved from ivory or, perhaps, bone).
I clenched my teeth and weighed the option of public transportation over eternal punishment in an unforgiving inferno by cloven-hoofed imps and ex-politicians. It can be argued by some that I chose the greater of two punishments. I won’t disagree.
We boarded the bus as soon as the doors cracked open. At forty feet away, the taxicab was suddenly enveloped in flames, and the voices of a thousand damned souls cried out in agony. I slapped a few hundred-dollar bills in the bus driver’s hand and very clearly, very calmly said:
“Drive, yes? GOOD!”
He looked at the cab, looked at me, and understanding washed over his face in an instant. That understanding was steeped in pure and utter fear, primal and unchecked, as if every terrible tale used to scare any child and given the years of adulthood to settle in a sticky syrup of unconscious dread at the bottom of his psyche had been roused from stagnation to become (this was the worst part) REAL.
From the freeway (not part of the regularly-scheduled route, I was guessing), about 30 seconds and a mile from the scene of our boarding, we could see billowing smoke and the giant, gnarled image of a tortured, horn-framed face crying against the sky and dissipating behind us. No fire trucks would get there in time, and no police would be called to investigate-if they did, they’d only find a trail of vapor and a small pile of ashes which would soon scatter to the winds of the storm that would follow. A storm always followed. By the time we hit the next town, we would have at least sixty-six (point six, but keeping such close tabs on time was, as I’d been told, “pushing it”) hours ’til the hounds of Hell would be angrily sniffing our trail, again.
It was then that I realized everything we owned had been stuffed in the devil-seeking briefcase which was currently being consumed in fire and, if one imagines just a little bit further, brimstone. Eliza looked at me and, for the first time in days, laughed!
I shrugged and cracked a thin grin.
“What to do but make do?” It wasn’t the first time I’d said that this week. It was becoming our little mantra. I kissed the top of her head and pulled her to rest against me.
The bus, as buses do, continued on.
[Photo by Seth Anderson]