I am overwhelmed by an odd tingling sensation caressing my body. My eyes open slowly and I am greeted by the same sight I remember from before being placed in my coma for the transfer. Lights and wires. A sudden warmth fills my veins as my motor skills are returned to me. There is nothing else of note except the slow beep of a monitoring system placed within this miniature cabin as my only companion.
After a long wait, a loud hiss occurs above my head and the hatch opens. My restraints are loosened and I move my arms slowly, feeling the atrophy of years of immobility through every muscle. I slowly pull myself up and look upon my new home.
I find only a harsh bleak desert in all directions. Seems a fitting location for my enemies to have deserted me. I grip the handrails and lift myself out of my harness.
Although I may have been exiled, it is good to know I have been allowed my freedom. If only they knew how free I truly am.
The warden of my captivity stands in front of me with an especially proud grin. I cannot wait to wipe it from existence.
“It ain’t much, but it’s home!” he exclaims cheerfully.
I brush him off and walk to the other side of our immobile transportation. He follows jovially.
How can he be so insufferably happy? Does he not realize that as my eternal imprisoner he too shares my fate?
Given his mental faculties, I suppose not.
“You know,” he begins, “I know we’re mortal enemies and all, but it wouldn’t hurt to show a little kindness.”
My life has felt nothing but ‘hurt’ since he entered it. That thought brings a smile to my face as I begin to enact my plan. I turn my back to my over-sized jailor and close my eyes. The expected footfalls come quickly, their provider hidden only by a nearby hill.
“I thought Red said this here planet was supposed to be uninhabited,” he says as he rushes off to inspect the noise. I saunter after him slowly.
The beast appears from behind the pile of dust, but does not bring even a moment’s pause in my infantile incarcerator. He plods forward, ready for whatever may arise.
The beast sees this hulking mammoth of a man and raises its head in a booming roar. My smile grows.
The custodian of my confinement looks to me, presumably to assure I am unharmed. I flash him a grin before he leaps into action. The beast provides the distraction I need.
I raise my hands to the air and the ground beneath me trembles. Enormous flames fill the sky as the planet burns with my rage. Within seconds, I feel the ground give way beneath me, leading to the explosion of its central core. The events occurring below escalate swiftly and suddenly we are airborne. The force with which we are expelled from the planet’s crust is incredible.
I give a short glance to the simple-minded man who had been left to guard me as we rocket skyward. His confusion gives way to rage as he becomes aware of my actions. He struggles to direct his momentum toward me. I laugh as I enact the second phase of my scheme.
As quickly as I think it, my surroundings change to something more familiar. A sense of comfort returns as I succeed where all were certain I would fail.
An irresistible calm washes over me as I enter the atmosphere of the world that rejected me. I close my eyes and listen to the roaring wind around my frame, feeling the burning air as it hits my body. A scent fills my nostrils. The scent of the damned.
My return brings an eager energy to my body. I tingle with the anticipation of the coming days. Long have I awaited this precise moment.
The world reacts violently to my presence, as if it knows what destruction my return entails. No longer shall my prayers go unanswered. Today marks the beginning of my glory. Today, vengeance is mine.
I open my eyes, see the ground nearing, and grin.
Buddy woke with a start. The pain rang through his skull like a jackhammer as the world suddenly came rushing in around him. He struggled not to cry out in agony. He had become accustomed to his morning hangovers. This was not one of them.
He rubbed his eyes, not sure which was worse, the migraine which had suddenly formed in his brain or the fact that he was now in the midst of yet another morning. Buddy had a long-standing feud with mornings.
He looked around the room and found himself lying on the cot Maggie left reserved for him in the back of her diner. This meant he had once again been dragged from his bar stool to the dry storage room. If he wasn’t careful, he might end up calling this place his home.
The room was a mess. Buddy laughed to himself, envisioning the fight which must have occurred here as his sister tried to convince him to rest. He kicked a few cans of beans off the cot and returned his head to his pillow.
His head continued pounding as though his brain was punching at the walls, trying to escape the torture he insisted on putting it through these last five years. He considered a change in his nightly beverage choices, yet just as he neared a resolution on the matter, there was a knock at the door and the idea floated away. Maggie entered the room with a cup of coffee in one hand and a danish in the other.
“Hey Buddy,” Maggie said. She used her shoulder to turn on the light. The sudden shift in brightness caused Buddy to groan in pain and roll over to hide from the day. “Ah, come on kid, it’s a new day. Gotta wake up.”
Buddy groaned again.
Maggie placed his breakfast on the floor and sat down next to her brother. He tightened his cotton cocoon around himself, pulling his head under the sleeping bag as he did so.
“Awww. Is da poor wittle baby too hung-ovah dis morning?” Maggie joked as she poked at Buddy’s side. “Did he have a few too many cocktails before he went beddy-bye?” He responded by curling himself further into a ball.
“Alright, kid,” she said as she bent over and picked up the mug of coffee, “if you want to do this the hard way.” Maggie lifted the mug over Buddy’s head and began slowly tipping it. Buddy turned his head to see what his sister was up to just as a single drop fell from the cup narrowly missing his barely exposed eye.
“Okay, okay,” he said, as he struggled to unwrap the sleeping bag from around him. “You win already, enough with the coffee-boarding.”
Maggie returned to her feet. “That was an impressive binge you pulled off last night. I don’t think I’ve ever had to drag you back here before closing.” She smiled as she spoke. Maggie could say anything with a smile. This morning, like most, it said, “I wish I knew why you did this to yourself.”
Buddy struggled to roll off the bed in a dignified manner. “Well, we were celebrating, you know? Had to make sure we did it right.” He found that as his body became rounder, it became increasingly impossible to roll onto his side in the morning, or at any time of day.
“Who was celebrating? You and Sal? You do realize Sal doesn’t drink anything except non-alcoholic beer, right? Plus, why would that old coot care how long you’ve worked at FSS?”
It was even more difficult to swing his legs over the side of the bed to sit up. He finally managed to do so, letting out a loud groan as if his body needed to release the air from inside before allowing him to attain a position other than lying. He sat up, put his hands to his face and continued to wipe away the remnants of the previous evening.
“Everyone was celebrating, sis. Me, Sal, you. . . that guy with the whatchamawhosit that kept doing that thing.”
“Right, that guy,” she humored. “How could I have forgotten him? Remind me, how long have you worked for Flores now?”
“Six months, Maggie. That’s a Buddy Jackson world record.”
“Right, congrats,” she laughed and handed him the coffee and pastry from beneath her, “I got you something. I hope you like it.”
“The Official Maggie Jackson Hangover Treatment? It’s just what I wanted!” Buddy laughed.
“So, you doing alright this morning, champ? Or am I gonna have to take you in to get your stomach pumped?”
“Better than ever, sis,” he lied as he took the dishes out of Maggie’s hands and sat them on the cot. “Thanks.” He picked up the coffee mug and took a sip. “You have a good night?”
“As good as could be expected, considering,” she replied. “Anything else I can get you?”
“Nope, I’m fine, sis. You do too much for me as it is.”
“Alright. Well, I’ve gotta head up front and start cleaning the mess. I know you’ve got to go to work today, but I could really use some help getting things back in order when you have the time.” Maggie left the room.
“What’d I break this time?” he yelled after her. Maggie laughed and continued on her way through the kitchen.
Buddy smiled as he took a bite of his danish. He knew he would have given up on this world long ago if it weren’t for his sister. She was the only person he could think of that he truly cared for. That was probably due to the fact that she was the only person who had never given up on him.
Although she never mentioned it, Buddy knew she had dedicated most of her life to playing the role of mother for him. At the age of 38, Maggie didn’t look a day over 25. Her long, black, curly hair framed her face and contrasted perfectly with her fair skin. She never had a shortage of men around trying to gain her attention. Yet, Buddy couldn’t think of the last time she actually went out on a date.
Although she would, no doubt, blame it all on how busy she was with her restaurant, Buddy knew he was a big part of the problem with the lack of romance in her life. At the same time, it never appeared she was all that interested in such entanglements, so Buddy didn’t allow himself to feel too guilty about it.
He took the last bite of the cheesy pastry and stood; stretching his back and hearing the cracks stretch all the way down his spine. He picked up the mug of coffee and took one extended swig before placing it on one of the shelves and stepping out into the kitchen.
The kitchen was also not as orderly as Maggie usually left it. Buddy began to feel sorry for the mess he must have created. Although the only damage he could see were a few pans out of their designated spot and a stack of plates which had found their way to the floor, he knew he must have been even more dramatic than usual when being put down for the night.
Although Maggie would have already opened her doors to the public, it was generally pretty quiet at this time of day. Yet, Buddy couldn’t help noticing that it seemed even more quiet than usual. He quickly shrugged off the thought and worked his way to the back of the kitchen to the employee restroom to check out the damage and freshen up.
‘Freshening up’ on days like today generally consisted of splashing cold water on his face and smearing some of the bathroom’s hand soap beneath his armpits. On mornings where he woke up between the cans of sliced carrots and sauerkraut he knew he wouldn’t have the time to stop at his apartment before heading to work. So, even if it only served to add the smell of bathroom soap to his increasingly unpleasant odor, he went through the routine. It had now been seven days since his last shower.
The final part of Buddy’s ritual was to stare at his face in the mirror and remove any unseemly blemishes which had managed to surface over night. This always ended with him staring at the bags under his eyes and noticing their growing rate of enlargement due to his record breaking streak of less than adequate sleep. He wondered why he looked so much older than a 30 year-old man should. He noticed his portly frame and sighed. He could still see the faint signs of the muscular man he once was, but those signs were fading fast. Under his scruffy, unshaven face he could almost see the man he had once been. The stretched and faded scars of his younger years reminded him of days long passed.
After pausing on that thought for several moments, he shook his head as though physically removing the awful thoughts from his mind. He left the bathroom and directed himself through the kitchen to the front of the diner to see what cleaning tasks Maggie had in store for him.
Buddy pushed open the swinging door and found a sight much different from what he had expected. The bar still ran the length of the wall farthest from the door. The red swiveling bar stools were still in their place along it. The rest of the restaurant, however, looked as though it had been tossed on its side by some unseen resident of a nearby beanstalk.
Every single one of the circular chest-high tables that littered the main floor were knocked to their side, many were irreparably damaged. Most of the glassware behind the bar had also made its way to the floor, few looking as though they would ever hold one of Buddy’s favorite beverages again.
Buddy happily noticed that most of the liquor bottles still appeared in good condition. He congratulated himself for being the one who had purchased the industrial strength bottle display, which had contraptions in place to hold each bottle individually.
“Holy crap, Mags, you can’t possibly be trying to say this is all my fault, can you?” Maggie was currently inspecting what was left of the giant street-side window. She was formulating a plan on how best to remove the remnant shards of glass still attached to the window frame.
“Unless you caused the earthquake last night, no one is blaming you,” she responded. As she talked, she noticed a broom on the floor. She picked it up and swung it a few times in the air, obviously testing the weight.
“Well, no one’s not blaming me. Seriously, what happened last night?”
Maggie swung the broom down upon the offending pieces of glass. As the glass shattered around her feet, her smile transformed into a grin which threatened to overtake her face. She turned to look at Buddy, hoping for validation of her destructive feat. Her grin faded as she realized Buddy was expecting an explanation.
“Are you saying you really don’t know? Guess I should have cut you off even sooner than I did last night. The whole town’s a mess from the quake.” Maggie returned her focus to completing what the earthquake had started.
“Come on, Maggie, you really expect me to believe that? There’s never been an earthquake anywhere near Sun City. Ever.” Buddy carefully removed the remote control to the television from its hiding place under a pile of broken bar glasses. The TV came to life with its all too familiar:
“zaap. . . working around the clock today in an attempt to rescue ten workers trapped within the Sun City coal mine. The entrance to the mine collapsed during last night’s earthquake, leaving the workers helpless although only a few hundred feet below ground level. City officials are astounded by the amazing combination of events which occurred at 10:14 last night. The earthquake happened at the same time as a torrential thunderstorm bringing about extreme mudslides in the area.
A spokesperson for the mine stated earlier today that they are developing a course of action on how best to get around the seemingly impenetrable tomb created by last night’s tragic natural disasters. Movement has been slow as they must ensure that any digging performed does not further encase the miners below the surface. Every step made so far has been a step backward as mud continues to fill the area surrounding the– zaap.”
“Jeez, now I know I should have come down here to check on you. I tried calling, but, well, you know, phones are down. And I–”
“Mags, don’t worry about it, I’m fine. Maybe it wasn’t as bad on this side of town.”
“I can’t believe you slept through all of that,” she said. “The entire city was out in the street last night. It was quite the sight.”
Buddy stepped out the front door and looked down Barber Street. Laid out as far as he could see was rubble, glass, and other general items of destruction. The sidewalks were covered with people working to clean the mess. A group of men was moving quickly around a fire engine a few blocks away in an attempt to put out a fire that looked as though it had already claimed three buildings.
Outside of those claimed by the fire, there didn’t appear to be much structural damage to the buildings in the area, only broken windows and minor wall damage. Police cars blocked the streets to avoid any road traffic distracting the clean up process. Off in the distance, Buddy saw a giant plume of smoke rising into the sky.
It made him sad to see Barber Street in this condition. Maybe it was because he felt a connection to the area. It, like himself, seemed to have been lost in the process of progress.
Barber Street harkened back to a simpler time. As opposed to the imposing super-structures commonplace throughout the rest of Sun City, there were no buildings on Barber Street taller than three stories. It was the original downtown of Sun City. As the population, and infrastructure, of the city grew, Barber Street remained the same due to its popularity as a shopping district.
In recent years, however, that popularity decreased and Buddy couldn’t help but think the destruction he saw around him was yet another nail in the coffin for his favorite part of his hometown. He stared wistfully into the distance.
Maggie finished removing the excess glass and stepped through the open area she had created. She stood next to Buddy and surveyed the damage with him.
“Tell you the truth, you’re lucky you slept through it, Buddy. It was frightening. After a quick look outside to make sure the world wasn’t coming to an end, I spent the whole night huddled under my kitchen table just in case there were any aftershocks.”
“I have a hard time believing anything could scare you, Mags.”
Buddy looked at the clock on the bank building across the street and noticed it was already 8:30. With all the activity going on and his inability to travel by car, he realized he had less time to get to work than he had previously thought.
“I’m sorry, Mags, but I’ve gotta get going if I’m going to make it to work anywhere near on time.” Buddy walked inside to retrieve his jacket from under the bar. He picked it up and shook off the pile of glass fragments it had accumulated. Maggie followed him inside with a smile expressing exactly what her mouth said next.
“Alright, but if you’re not back to help me clean this up after you get done, don’t expect to sleep on my cot again tonight.”
Buddy leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “You’re too good to me, you know that Maggie?”
“Of course I do. You better not forget it.”
Go to Chapter Two