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Fractured: Chapter 2

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Chapter Two:

Analysis of Variance – An inferential statistical procedure used to test whether or not the means of two or more sets of data are equal to each other.

 

“Maybe I am insane,” muttered Sergio. The money bunched in his pocket, and he kept a protective hand over it to prevent any cash escaping. He grabbed his coat off the hat rack and, stopping, walked back to the desk to pick up the phone.  The dial tone buzzed as the catch released. “Odd that the phone starts working the moment Blaze leaves,” he muttered. His fingers rubbed gently against the riches. At least he was 90% sure the money was real.

He passed the empty receptionist desk on his way out. The door handle had to be unlocked before getting back outside. The secure door lent credence to Blaze’s breaking and entering story and Sergio found it disturbing.  “Unless a secretary had let him in, then left, locking the door behind her,” he reasoned. Perhaps an upgraded security system would be a valuable suggestion for the practice.

Cold, night air blasted down his neck. Sergio flipped up the collar of his long brown trench coat. Sergio’s fingers fiddled again with the paper in his pocket. Dark clouds overhead clustered, making the early evening dull. He picked up his pace and turned left, toward Brook Street. He made an immediate turn through the first narrow alley and turned near an adjoining alley. Again he made a fast turn at the second exit from the alley putting him on North Junction Road. He waited a moment in the shadow for anything to move. A warm night air blew bits of garbage around the gutters. The clustered roads at this side of town made escape from anyone tailing him easy.

He was paranoid he knew, but vigilance was a smart idea whenever coming to this side of town. He stayed alert for uniformed police, and anyone else that might follow him. Gangs and thugs often made agreements in this part of town, usually by whoever had the bigger fists. These streets were painted maroon at times, compliments of the losing team. All he wanted was to leave as soon as possible.

The first time he had come the narrow space between the apartment buildings had taken near twenty minutes to find. He hated going in. Inside the space there was only one way out, the way he had entered. He went to the dark end of the alley, and sat on a splintered apple crate.

He sat watching out of his hideaway toward the night lamps. A few shadows passed and once a car zoomed by with the radio blasting. A noise at the entrance of the alley made him tense. Perhaps the sound of a can knocking across the concrete, he thought. In one of the apartment rooms above, with windows facing the alley wall, someone turned on a light. The spare light illuminated almost nothing except the opposite wall.

Sergio squinted toward the darkness trying to push his sight past the limit. A white flash jumped from one wall to the other passing for an instant just on the edge of the illuminated section. Sergio stumbled and fell to one side sending his crate careening into a dark corner. The wood crashed and groaned. A glass bottle in the corner clinked and rolled away.

Sergio clasped his hair with his sweaty fingers and tried to cry out, but his voice came out in a squeak. His mouth gaped. Fear grasped at his heart. He turned and clutched at the first object he could find, another glass bottle. He let his eyes dart between the buildings. Only the walls and brown stains that covered the bricks in splotches were visible. A sound at the opening of the hideaway made him swing around.

“Serg? That you?” called a voice at the mouth of the alley.

Sergio struggled with the words for a moment. “Yes,” he gasped. “It’s me.” For the first time, he was happy to see the dealer.

The figure approached and flipped on a lighter. The thin beam of firelight rested on his face. His dark hair was disheveled and dirt clung on his nose. Sergio could just make out his ratty coat and boots. A slight stench of booze wafted from the man.

“I want triple my usual order,” said Sergio. The feeling of being in a box with mentally diseased individuals still stood out in his mind. He was ashamed he had already judged most of the people, and that he was frightened of someone in need of mental help. But it was one thing to try to treat a patient, and another to be at their mercy.

The figure laughed. “Look Serg, I don’t got that. It’s not like Trifloride—”

“Trifluoperazine,” corrected Sergio automatically.

“Whatever. It’s not my usual merchandise. I got the usual, but if you want something with a little more flava I can get that, something that will make all the ghosts disappear for a while.”

“No thanks, my usual order then.”

“I read up on this stuff. Your last supply should have lasted two or three times what it did.”

“Lucky for you I am abnormal about my medicine,” said Sergio.

“Not lucky,” said the man. A pinprick of red glow came from the end of his cigarette for a moment and a white puff of smoke blew into the air, adding to the stench of booze and filth. “You don’t know what it takes for me to get this, and this time it was a rush order.”

“I pay over double the costs,” said Sergio trying to mask the bitterness dripping on his tongue.

“Yah? Well, you see, that was for normal, but now you want it rushed and more quickly than is healthy. That’s gonna be a $100 surcharge.”

Sergio rubbed his temples and looked up. He glanced around the walls above him. This place was creeping him out. His heart had calmed slightly, but he continued to look at where the white streak had passed. He ignored his racing thoughts of what it could have been. The thoughts could only lead to one place, and he didn’t want to think about it. That road led only to depression or madness.

“$100 bucks is pure robbery.”

“No, that is business. You can find it someplace else for all I care,” said the dealer.

Sergio shoved his hand into his pocket and pulled out the cash. He thrust the money into the dealer’s awaiting hands.

“Fine. Next time I want two bottles, and I am telling you now so it won’t be a rush order.”

“Sure. Sure,” said the dealer before chuckling. He took a last drag of the cigarette and flicked it at Sergio’s feet. “See you around Sergio, and let me know when you want something beside the sissy pills. Remember the first one is free.” The dealer handed over the burgundy container and walked away.

Sergio waited for a few moments for the back of the man to disappear around the end of the alley. Again, he looked up to the walls. He had seen something, right? A streak of white leaping between the buildings. Sergio opened the pill bottle and shot one into his mouth, and grimaced at the bitter flavor. Once he was sure that the dealer was long gone, he sprinted from the alley and away from the place.

***

He rushed home with his body just getting the required oxygen, checking over his shoulder ever few seconds for anything behind him. Sergio arrived drenched in sweat. He rushed inside and dead bolted the door. He leaned his back to the wood and allowed himself to sink to the floor in a crumpled mess. The empty house was silent. Several lamps in the corners illuminated the living room. Two books lay on the glass coffee table in front of the old couch of his parents. He sighed.

He tried to push his mind in another direction, the alley and the flash of white continued to dance across his mind. Everything had been quick and his nerves drained in the alley. Besides, he hadn’t gotten a good look at the object, if there had been an object. The flash almost looked like bones. Sergio cursed himself for even allowing himself to think it.

“Quit thinking about human skeletons,” muttered Sergio. He regretted saying it aloud. That was twice in one day he had spoken to himself. He breathed deep several times and smiled at the amiable floral smell of the automatic air freshener in his apartment. It beat the smell of garbage from the alley, or the smell of filth and liquor of his pill provider.

He picked himself off the floor and threw his trench coat over the arm of the loveseat in his front room. He flipped on the television, kicked off his shoes, and put his feet on the glass table. He took the pills from his pocket and shook them with a satisfied expression.

He had run across the dealer by accident, but now the man was a lifeline to keeping him supplied with the needed pills to fight off whatever he was dealing with and keeping his reputation. A bit ironic that he could refer patients to competent psychiatrists and doctors who prescribed these pills, but he hid in alleys to acquire them himself.

He looked at the lone picture on the wall of him and his parents when he was ten. The picture documented one of the last times his father had made sense. Not long after talk of skeletons and curses began to dominate his father’s conversations. A huddled mass locked away in a study for days hardly stopping to eat or sleep is how Sergio remembered his father. The sickness started with the mind. Soon the body was deteriorating as a result until the day his father had passed away, found dead of heart failure in the front yard. His eclectic talk of living skeletons continued until the day he died. Sergio’s mom held no desire to live in the home once he passed away and moved leaving Sergio with the home, including the heaping pile of things in the attic.

Just as thoughts of skeletons were abstained from, the attic was also avoided. Although the attic held nothing sinister, all the papers, drawings, and books his father had collected while dealing with his mental infirmary were placed in the attic. The place reminded him of everything his father had gone through, and now what Sergio was afraid he might have to one day deal with.

Sergio kept his focus on the television, but continued to glance at the confined entrance hatch to the attic. After the alley, it was the only thing he could think about. At last he sat up and headed for the hatch. Sergio knew the sickness was growing inside himself, and his father held the key to understanding the consequences. At least Sergio hoped the words would help enough to confront the past again. The shaky fold-up ladder squeaked as he moved up to the attic. The air sat limp and dry. Sergio groped for the pull string light overhead and the bulb flashed to life. The attic was cramped with bookcases, boxes, rolled up paper, pictures, and cobwebs. Dust blanketed the entire collection.

Sergio pushed several boxes aside to make a path to the back of the attic, where most of his father’s things were stored. The dusty smell tickled his noise and made him want to sneeze. He made it to the back and laughed. A framed magic eye poster leaned against the nearest bookshelf, a relic long forgotten from his father’s study wall. He crossed his eyes and tried to compel the image to pop into a 3-D shape. After some time, a shape came and Sergio stared for a moment. It was a Chinese phrase. Sergio put the poster down. His father had been a Chinese instructor at the university, but the language had always remained a mystery to Sergio.

The poster had been a present to him, but they had framed it together and hung it in the office. Sergio had been convinced by his father that it was the perfect place for the poster. He realized now he was persuaded to put it there because his mother thought it was hideous. But with Sergio so proud of the poster, his dad got to keep it up in the study.

Sergio dusted off a few paperweights scattered along the bookshelf. He up righted a few books that had fallen flat on the shelves. His fingers danced over the titles as he searched. Sergio stopped at the last book on the middle shelf and pulled it off. Bright gold letters emblazoned on the front read “The Personal Memoirs of Richard Enger.” The journal was a gift from his wife on his birthday; she had picked out the fancy cover inscription herself.

Sergio passed his dad’s journal from hand to hand. Dust fell from the spine and disappeared among other grime on the floor. There was no reason to leave the book on the shelf. He had to know what to expect, however grim it was or how much it made him relive the darker past with his father. Sergio frowned and hurried back to the entrance of the attic, clicked off the light, and hurried back down the ladder with the journal folded under his arm.

Sergio placed the book on the coffee table and ran his hands through his hair. As he paced around the couch, he couldn’t keep his eyes from the book. He was certain of one thing. Reading the journal was going to be difficult. His father’s entire downward spiral into the dark madness that overtook him would be splashed on the pages. The book would contain not only his father’s struggle, but could bring into sharper focus what Sergio might soon be dealing with in his life. Did he want to know? With a light touch he cracked open the journal and flipped until just after his father had made the discovery of his career, and the darkness had begun.

 

The Tome of Noctilucent has had a profound impact on history, and will one day perhaps have a further story to tell in the analogues of time.

 

Sergio shuddered. The Tome of Noctilucent was disturbing. He thought back to the time that his father had muttered this phrase intermittently for days with his eyes unfocused on anything around him. This was not the only experience of his father talking nonsense, but Sergio remembered the vacant eyes and how disturbing they had been when he was a child. His mother had tried to hide it from Sergio, but his father had begun during a bedtime story.

Sergio tried to shake his feeling off and look at the manuscript professionally. He reread the line and rolled his eyes. His father liked to explain everything, even in his journals. The explanation of how fascinated his father was with the page and all the things he thought the page was for would go on for pages. Sergio debated with himself. He was reading the journal because he wanted to understand the progression of the sickness, not because hearing about the page interested him. He decided to skim through the sections to look for patterns. He continued until he noticed a phrase that his father had used three times already.

 

There must be more to the page, if I only knew where to look. The sheet I found is in perfect condition, but strange it should be found alone. History has always claimed the page is part of a major work of ancient writing. If I only knew where to look. The writing indicated the piece originated in the Yuan dynasty or perhaps even earlier. There is some clue to what the book was based on the characters. Possible the manuscript is one giant cookbook, there is a list of ingredients on the page, but that seems unlikely based upon the items called for. Wormroot, gold dust, and petals from a magnolia are included in the list. This could be cleared up if I only knew where to look for the rest of the book.

 

Sergio pulled out his red pen and marked on a notepad “if I only knew where to look.” His father continued to use the phrase. Ruminating thoughts that circled and went nowhere, wrote Sergio in the margin. He wondered if he were guilty of this.

The passages in the journal went on for pages, and he continued to study late into the night. Sergio could feel his eyelids begin to drop. He yawned and looked back down at the pages. The writing was beginning to get harder to read, getting caught up in a sleepy blur.

***

Sergio lifted his eyes from the faded ink. Something fell in the kitchen.

“Hello?” Sergio called out. He closed the book, being careful with the spine, and making sure none of the pages crinkled or folded. As the kitchen light turned on, he swept his eyes across the room. Nothing was misplaced in the kitchen, but the side door leading to the front yard was open a few inches.

Outside the home, night had come. He wondered how long he had been reading the journal. The kitchen tile was chilly underneath his bare feet. The door handle was locked, but the door was not closed all the way. Sergio opened his mouth in a wide yawn and pushed the door closed.

A voice spoke from the darkness behind him. “Where is the page of Noctilucent?” The sound was like that of a house settling and letting out a mournful moan, but given words to speak.

The lock resisted opening again. Sergio wrenched at the doorknob refusing to look over his shoulder. The windows on the door rattled, and Sergio looked over his shoulder. The kitchen remained empty. The door lock gave way and Sergio burst from the house trying to scream, but finding no air to breath.

“Where is the page of Noctilucent?” The voice was sharper and seemed closer. Sergio ran for the edge of the yard where the trees would better hide him from his pursuers.

Before he could reach the edge of the yard, a figure stepped from behind the trees. In horror Sergio realized the person was a skeleton, which lunged forward and grasped his neck in the bony fingers.

“The page!” growled the skeleton.

Sergio screamed.

Sergio woke, the journal crashing to the floor. The cold dampness of his sweat caused goose-bumps to form along his arms. He forced himself up, to move and make it to the bedroom. He flopped onto the covers of the bed and pulled them on top of him without bothering to crawl inside. He pulled the top sheet over his head, and refused to cry. Why did it have to be skeletons?

Without peeking from under his covers, he reached out and found the pills on the bedside table.

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