Plugs

Rose looked all around the little meadow and listened intently. It was safe, for the moment. She sat in the grass among the roots of a big oak and held out her hands to her two little girls.

“All right, my little bunnies,” she said, wrapping one arm around each of them as they came to her. “What story do you want today?”

“The one about the lady in the garden who could never find the rabbits!” said the elder girl, squirming close. The younger pushed the hair out of her face and copied the squirm. “About the lady and the garden!” she confirmed.

“Again?”

The girls nodded, grinning.

“All right. Well, once there was a lady gardener who grew the most beautiful lettuces anyone had ever tasted. The spinach in her garden–”

There was a noise. She stopped, listening. The girls froze in place. The sound came closer: footsteps

*

Old Mike pushed through pine branches to step out into the meadow. He was sure he’d heard a woman’s voice again, though there wasn’t another house around for a dozen miles.  Over by the big oak, the grass shuddered as a little group of rabbits bolted away.

A farm house. Weathered pine boards, joists and rafters spaced haphazardly, nothing level. Completely ordinary in its eccentricity. Only its location was unusual.

Snow and Jenkins were first inside. He was the commander; she was the best shot. Eight rooms, and not a stick of furniture. Pull-down ladder to the attic (nothing up there), just nothing. Carman and Uriyev got pretty antsy during the 20 minutes or so the others were inside.

The mission planners had them continue the planetary survey, but kept them away from the house. When they got back home they were sequestered for months. Rumors flew. Snow was dying of some aggressive new cancer. Carman had gone crazy and killed the other three. Jenkins was pregnant. The haunted house on Mars. Eventually, the astronauts were let out. Everything was back to normal, but no second ship was launched.

The house showed up on Earth. Anyone could walk right in, wherever the house appeared. In a parking lot, on a baseball diamond, in one of those sad developments from 2008 where nothing had ever been built. It could show up in your front yard, or squeezed between two buildings that, you could have sworn, were not 10 feet apart the day before. But you went in and it was full of people. Websites were devoted to following the thing. One, a global real-time map, showed the house appearing simultaneously in dozens of places. Then hundreds. People flooded in wherever it was, mad to be a part of the phenomenon. Kids were fascinated. You could walk in the front door in Tucson and climb out the back window in Kuala Lumpur. Some people tried to destroy it, some practically worshiped it; thrill seekers took their chances with it.

Then, suddenly, there was only one house again. No one came out, no one at all. If you dared to enter, you heard voices. All those people who’d been in the houses when they collapsed to one, it sounded like them. You might listen for somebody, maybe your kid sister, who got away from you when the house manifested by the animal clock in the D.C. Zoo, and eventually you’d hear her. You’d hear her, but she’d never hear you.

End

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following is the third chapter of an ongoing flash serial, “Connected.”  Search for the tag “Connected” to find other chapters.  Subscribe to the Daily Cabal RSS feed for a new chapter every 2 weeks.

Police work is minutia, is cataloging detail upon detail, is studying lacunae—building images from what’s absent.  It is dull and tedious.

But there is another police work—as old as Cain policing Abel.

Morello’s  feed is being monitored by internal affairs.   They connected as soon as Morello requested his meatsack be the one to chase the lead.  Because someone took Morello’s son.  Someone disconnected Caul from his tribe and put him in a terror coma.  And even reconnected, Caul remains a phantom limb, a pain that cannot be eased.

The shop is an old religious place. Hard copy bibles, crosses, rosary beads.  Software overlays the walls with glory—gold and colored light.  NYPD AI hacks through, reveals the squalor beneath.  The store owner’s ‘sack is middle-aged, skin worn thin by an ache that bleeds out around his eyes.

“Can I help you?”  A bright voice mismatched to the body, the expression.  Morello guesses the store’s visual overlay doesn’t just cover the walls.

He throws an elbow into the ‘sacks throat.  Pin him against a wall.  Cuffs him.

“Careful.”  His partner, Chambers also riding shotgun in his head.  Chamber’s voice emanates from where his conscience should be.  IA remains quiet.

“Hack him,” Morello tells Chambers.  “Find his tribe, his feeds.”

Chambers works.  Morello searches.  Just one thing to connect this guy to the disconnections, to the ‘sacks severed from the network, from the minds of friends and family.  But nothing.

“I got zip,”  Chambers says.  “Can’t find him.  Like he’s not even connected.”

“Everyone’s connected.”  Morello can’t keep the frustration out.

Everyone’s connected except the bodies.  Except the dead men.  Except his son.  And there’s no reason for the crime.  Indiscriminate terrorism.  Unless… Morello stares at the paraphernalia of belief in the store, and sees the disconnections not as a threat or a demand, but as a mandate.  Men and women committed to disconnection.  Men and women who wouldn’t be connected.

He looks at the store owner sweating it out.  He sees Caul’s sack lying in the hospital bed.  He feels IA riding shotgun in his head.

“Careful…”  Chambers can feel the rage boiling out of Morello’s feed.  No-one is disconnected.  But there are two types of police work, and one must be done alone.

Morello drops the connection.  Drops all connections.  Everything noise to the signal of his rage.  Alone he sets to work.

So the Michelin Man, Mr. Clean, and the Quaker Oats Pilgrim finally get kicked out of the Luscious Lady Roadside Trip and Strip and literally stumble down the steps to the dusty Nevada parking lot.

Pilgrim falls and lands in gravel. At his age, it shouldn’t be funny, but he gets to his knees, laughing, and puts his dirty hat on backward.

“Did you see the _sidewalls_ on that blond?” Bibendum, the Michelin Man, shakes his head. “Unbelievable.” He leans his white treads against Pilgrim’s Mustang and takes a swig of beer. “Cheers. Now is the time to drink!”

“Hey, Veritably,” Pilgrim says, “did I do anything I shouldn’t have?”

“Of course,” Clean says. “And some things even I wouldn’t.”

Pilgrim, hurt, says, “I have my image to uphold.”

“Didn’t you experiment on kids?” Bib drops his empty, lights up a joint. He takes a drag.

“I had nothing to do with that.”

Clean says, “You paid for the Willy Wonka movie, so I forgive you.”

“And your oatmeal rocks,” Bib says.

“True, Bibelobis,” Clean says. “You’re looking good. Company must be rocking.”

“Company, sure,” Bib says. “But me? I mean, look at me.”

“You look awesome,” Clean says.

“Stopped smoking decades ago.” He takes another drag. “Cigars, I mean. Started running, trimmed down. Got a puppy.”

“I like the puppy,” Pilgrim says.

“Fuck the puppy. Wasn’t my idea. None of that was my idea, you get it? I used to be mean, smart, erudite. They used to know me for my ‘wit without vulgarity.’ You fucking believe that shit?”

“Times change, man,” Clean says.

“Easy for you to say.”

“Me? I’ve got an earring, everyone thinks I’m a pirate. Or a genie. I’m a goddamn sailor from Pensacola. Yeah, I hate dirt, but who am I? A mysterious man to MILFs? Most people think I’m gay.”

“Are you?” Bib says.

“If you’re made of tires, why aren’t you black?”

“I hate that question,” Bib says. “Touché. I used to be a ladies’ man, now I help stranded families and give them parts of my body. I have to keep my hands in sight at all times in public after that Disney groping lawsuit. That ain’t right.”

Pilgrim shrugs. “Wear this get up for 130 years and see how you like it.”

“I’m made of fucking tires. I’ll trade you.”

“Let’s just go,” Clean says.

“Fine, I’ll drive,” Bib says.

“No way,” Pilgrim says. “It’s my car, and I’m going to drive it. End of discussion.”

“My ass,” says the Michelin Man. He pulls a revolver and pumps two rounds into the car’s right front tire. “I ever tell you how much is riding on your tires? No one ever fucking listens to the fat guy.”

He puts the pistol back between two low profiles and stalks off toward Vegas.

Pilgrim slumps against the car. “I’ll get the jack and the spare.”

“Jack?” Clean says. “Who needs a jack? I’m Mr. Clean!” He tries to lift the front bumper of the car. “Yeah, get the jack.”

They look down the road but Bib is already gone.

“He’ll be back,” Clean says. “With a champagne goblet full of nails and broken glass, grabbing tits, smoking weed, living life as only he can.”

“Guess you’re right,” Pilgrim says.

“Times change,” Clean says. “For some of us.”

#

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