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Fractured: Chapter 5

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I am posting a chapter a week of the first book I completed as I revise and edit. For the beginning of the book, click here.

Chapter Five:

Amygdala – A part of the brain’s limbic system that attaches emotional significance to information and mediates both defensive and aggressive behavior.

 

The man was invisible, or nearly so. He shifted in the chair. Sergio gave up trying to see him. Technical and complicated problems about his physical structure made him camouflage with his surroundings. Special cells underneath a transparent skin would change color to match the surrounding environment. Currently the chameleon-man was a dull gray matching the shadows of the room.

“And how does that make you feel?” asked Sergio, trying to get his client to talk more.

Sergio was informed having a person like this visit was a rare experience. Not many chameleon people existed. Some preferred being called “the visible impaired.” There was still a certain queasiness to meeting people outside the normal living spectrum, but the past few weeks had taught Sergio immense information. He also no longer overreacted to clients, as he had done to Tammy.

Sergio tried to squint through the darkness to the chair across from his desk. The client was specific about the light being turned down. Light made him sick. His skin coded the light improperly, causing pain and a fair amount of swearing when exposed. To Sergio nothing but a shadow was in the chair.

“How do you think it makes me feel?” said the chameleon person. “I should have rights too. Why does my family have the right to sell off my place and leave me homeless? It’s just not right.”

“Putting a house in a will does not make it automatically yours, not when every one of your cousins believes you are dead. You have a place of your own and your parents did think they were haunted by the ghost of their son,” began Sergio.

“Would you turn down the light a little more,” interrupted the ghost.

Sergio sighed and turned his lamp down. The room turned sable dark. A soft division of shadow wisped around the outline of the person in the chair.

Sergio squinted as he looked down at his notepad. He continued to attempt writing a few more notes. The lines were beginning to fade in the darkness.

“I’ve been up to the place since they sold it you know.”

Sergio sighed. He had told him not to trespass during their last appointment.

“They ramble around all day, tearing the place apart. My trophy room turned into a den of dolls with long curly hair. Half the time the people just leave the light on wherever they go, leaving me stuck in a stuffy coat closet for hours.”

A light tap sounded on the office door.

“Come in,” said Sergio.

Mrs. McLendon poked her head inside, a bright smile on her face. She squinted into the darkness.

“A bit dark in here,” she said from the doorway.

“Yes, and you better keep it that way,” interjected the shadow in the chair.

“I didn’t realize you were still with a client. Some of the crew is getting together for lunch,” she said.

“Including your children Mrs. McLendon?” asked Sergio. He didn’t mind the children so much, but Eric could be unpredictable, and he had not brought an extra shirt to change into.

“Yes Kiera and Eric will both be there,” she said. She paused before adding, “I hear Tammy is coming as well.”

Sergio gave a pinched frown. Mrs. McLendon, he had since learned, was the resident match maker. She did not know about the knife “accident,” and if she had she might have been less subtle in her hints about Tammy.

“I’m about finished,” said Sergio. “I’ll be to your office soon.”

He looked down to his pad. The ink was probably being smeared together, and he was almost certain he had written on the same line twice. There was a soft thump as Sergio tried to place the pad on the table beside him and missed.

“Where were we?” asked Sergio.

***

After the interview, Sergio watched as the umbrella seemed to glide away from his office. If he blocked the overhead lights he could make out the shady figure of his client in the shadow of the large umbrella.

Sergio opened the office door next to his. Sprawled across the plush table was Kiera. Mrs. McLendon stood over her and pressed down on different areas of her back.

“Oh right there,” said Kiera. A loud crack echoed through the barren office. There was not much more than the table and chairs to wait. Kiera sat up and wiggled her spine before grabbing her coat.

“Feel better?” asked her mom.

“You are a miracle worker. You are by far the best chiropractor I’ve ever been to.”

Sergio smiled. From the office hallway he could hear running. He turned to the office door.

“It sounds like they are ready for lunch,” said Sergio. He turned to Mrs. McLendon and Keira, but was surprised to see Keira was no longer sprawled on the table. He continued to turn but could not see her anywhere.

Eric bounded through the door. Sergio jumped back when he noticed the toy gun in Eric’s hand.

“Where is she?” asked Eric.

“I haven’t got a clue,” said Sergio.

Both jumped as Kiera’s hand sprang from below the cushioned table and grabbed Eric’s leg.

“Your surprise attack was a little less than surprising,” said Kiera. “I heard you coming a mile away.”

“Good. We’re ready to go,” said Mrs. McLendon as she walked to the group.

Sergio noticed Keira was staring at him and keeping close to her mother. At the same time, she was trying hard not to seem obvious in her quick glances.

“I’m starving,” said Eric with a moan.

The group headed out of the office. They were joined by several more people as they moved down the hallway and through the calling center. Sergio tried hard to remember all the names he had learned in the several weeks working with the company. He could remember a few. There was a Kade, who worked in the calling center and was tall with short spiky brown hair. There was also a Tawni who worked somewhere medical.

As the group reached the elevator, they cramped inside. He noticed Mrs. McLendon shuffle around the elevator for a moment until, mysteriously, Sergio was standing next to Tammy. Sergio remained silent as someone punched in the code.

The front room was cluttered. Sergio ignored the messiest parts of the room, like the chicken feed. He always thought it best to try to hold his breath and pass through the room as quick as possible.

The Chinese woman began to talk as the party approached. Sergio noticed another chicken walking around the front room. He ducked his head and looked away before he could be given the bird to carry around.

Tammy answered in Chinese. Sergio watched as they talked to one another. The woman bowed her head and sat down as they left the office building.

“You know Chinese?” asked Sergio.

“I only know a few phrases. Blaze taught me to say hello and good day,” said Tammy.

Sergio pictured Blaze different. He had not expected he knew Chinese. The more he was with the company, the more he saw Blaze handle all the situations. He had not seen him since his first day, but he knew he was running everything that took place within the building. He didn’t think he was the type to spend a lot of time with many in the company. It seemed Tammy was an exception. Sergio realized he had no idea what she did. As far as he knew, Tammy was as high in the organization as Blaze.

Sergio blinked back the bright light of the sun as they exited the building. They made their way down the narrow alley street. The main streets were lined with flags waving in the wind. Sergio was reminded of parades. He kept to the middle of the group as they walked down the sidewalk. Mrs. McLendon turned in to a restaurant smashed between a clothing shop and bakery. She held the door open

“I thought we would eat here today,” she said. The eatery was a tiny Chinese restaurant. A fish tank near the entrance gurgled, and contained a large goldfish swimming in circles. Mrs. McLendon looked to Sergio as if she had given him the best line of conversation to continue with Tammy. She gave an unabashed grin and hit him lightly with her elbow.

“You told me the front receptionist spoke Irish,” said Kade from the back of the group.

“Did I?” said Tammy smiling and moved more toward the front of the group.

The restaurant was quiet with only a few people sitting and keeping to themselves. A teenage boy with a black uniform shirt and torn jeans took them to their table. Sergio noticed Tammy take the corner seat in the booth. Sizzling sounded from the kitchen sporadically as waiters moved in and out of the kitchen. A potpourri of smells wafted through the restaurant.

“Hey look there’s a spot next to Tammy,” said Keira in a whisper to Sergio. He turned to her and raised an eyebrow. Keira looked away and pretended to be amazed by a wall hanging nearby.

Sergio took his place at the table and noticed the others around him. Kade wore a button up shirt open to show the T-shirt with a large dragon symbol twisting across the front. His hair tossed in every direction. Sergio noticed his flat hair reflecting from the metal menu holder in middle of the round table. He moved into the round single seat circling the table. Red printed menus and a wooden drinking glass filled with flimsy bamboo chopsticks held in tight paper wraps sat in the middle.

Tammy began poring over the day’s newspaper, which she had brought along. She was wearing a formal dark-blue suit top with matching skirt. He picked up the menu and decided to order the Italian chicken. It would be a new experience to eat Italian in a Chinese restaurant cooked by Americans.

Finished with what she was reading Tammy closed the newspaper and placed it beside her creating a little buffer between Sergio and herself. “I think I will grab everyone silverware while they decide what they want to order,” said Tammy.

“So how have you been enjoying working with the company?” asked Mrs. McLendon.

“I am finding it more rewarding than I would have thought,” said Sergio. “Although the clients have changed, the problems stay the same.”

“Nothing unique?” asked Tawni.

Sergio thought about some of the things he came across. “The situation they have is unique, but it boils down to the same feelings. The problems might stem from depression, aggression, or other normal and treatable symptoms.”

“Have you met anyone unique at the office?” asked Mrs. McLendon.

Sergio understood what she meant, and decided to ignore her. He was sure Mrs. McLendon would have persisted, but Tammy returned carrying a stack of silverware she distributed to the group. Sergio looked down at his silverware. The fork and spoon shined back in the light, but his knife was pure white. He picked it up and examined it. The knife was plastic. He looked up and thought he could see a small smile on Tammy’s face as she pretended nothing was unusual about the silverware.

“So are we sticking around next week?” asked Eric to his mother.

The waiter came and passed out the food. Sergio looked down at his plate of Italian chicken, then around the table. Only half the plates were of Chinese origin. Chinese food must be a relative term here, Sergio decided.

“Yes I think we will be here next week, but don’t think that you are going to be leaving the office much,” said Mrs. McLendon.

“What is happening next week?” asked Sergio.

“The Summer Solstice,” replied Tammy. She stabbed at her rare meat and picked up her knife to cut the piece in one solid stroke.

Sergio picked up his plastic knife and began to saw into his piece of chicken. He took a bite. The chicken tasted like most Italian restaurants dishes.

“Want to borrow my knife?” said Tammy with a smile.

“No. I’m fine,” said Sergio flashing back a large grin of his own. He continued to pretend there was nothing unusual with his silverware.

“So what is so important about the Summer Solstice?” asked Sergio.

“Last year nothing,” said Eric disappointed, his head rested on his hands. He stabbed at his food.

“It’s a good thing when nothing happens. The summer solstice itself isn’t anything special,” said Tammy. “It is, however, a time a lot of people get ideas something special should happen. And people like me get to work overtime. It’s always the summer and winter solstice.”

“What is it you do?” asked Sergio.

“One of my main jobs, the one requiring the overtime, is keeping us hidden from the normal population. Everyone wants to destroy anything unusual. Imagine the nightmare if the general population knew about the world of werewolves, chameleon people, and those things,” she said pointing her fork to Eric. Eric looked up startled with noodles pouring out of his mouth like octopus tentacles. Chow Mein flapped from his stuffed mouth around his face leaving soy sauce streaks. Eric looked behind his back as if he were figuring out what she was pointing at.

“Yah, but last year nothing happened and we just stayed inside all night,” said Eric through his food. He poked at his dish and leaned on his hand as he chewed.

“That is fine by me,” said Keira. “I would rather stay inside then become part of some demonic festival.”

“Demonic festival?” asked Sergio.

“Yea, sometimes there are sacrifices, bonfires, and everyone goes out and gets these really cool tattoos,” said Eric.

“People believe certain things are more possible during solstice season. They claim a connection to magic, demons, and a slew of other things. The solstice means they are going to try whatever crazy idea they get in their heads, and I clean up the mess,” said Tammy.

“And we never get to see any of it,” said Eric. “I don’t know why. Usually it just turns out to be a few people who get drunk and light their trailer on fire or something like that.”

“Well let’s hope that is all that happens this year. I’m hoping for another break to the usual running around I do,” said Tammy. “Don’t worry, if you stay inside the office then nothing unusual should happen. There is only a remote chance anything different would happen even if you were away from the office.”

“I still want one of the cool tattoos all those people got a few years ago,” muttered Eric.

Sergio could feel the nausea hit moments before the coughing started. His body rocked in heavy spasms. He clutched at his chest as his lungs expelled giant gulps of air. Soon he could feel the metallic taste in his mouth. He dabbed his fingers to his mouth. As he pulled away he could see bright-red coat the tip of his fingers.

“Great,” Sergio mumbled to himself.

He looked up and was taken in shock. Across the restaurant at a corner table sat a man in a long trench coat and a large fedora hat. He had his head down and his coat buttoned up. Sergio, however, was looking at his hand. For an instant, he noticed the fingers grasping the drink in front of the man was not right. The man’s hand was a skeleton’s hand.

Another cough seized his chest. He stood. The blood trickled thick in his mouth.

Sergio would have raced across the restaurant to the man at the table, but he never got a chance. Instead, he was struck in the side of the head by something hard. His head snapped forward onto the hard table sending his drinking glass flying forward and spraying water everywhere. He turned, his head buzzing, and saw Tammy over him with her lips pulled back in a snarl. The buzzing increased and he blacked out.

***

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