Hollowed Memories, chapter 4, part 3

August 24, 2014

The house was not large.  It had a single story, with a gently sloping roof, although it also extended underground.  Yarec grabbed most of their gear and waded through the scrub grass to the front door.  The walls were heavily reinforced, and the door had an elaborate seal.  He went through the rituals to disengage all the locks.  He was not sure how he managed to remember all the codes and gestures, but each element came back just as he needed it.

The thick door swung open, and he stumped inside.  He dropped most of what he was carrying in the hall, and then Mrissa followed him through to the den.  The car shut off, and the front door closed automatically.  There was no light now, except a faint green blinking from the ceiling of the room.  For a while, they just sat together in the blackness, grateful to be secure at the end of their journey.

Suddenly, there was moonlight, dribbling in through the fabric-draped window.  The light seemed to energize them, as if they were wicked creatures of the night, from some fabulist fairy tale.  They enjoyed a brief celebration of their safe arrival, then groped their way to the bedroom at the back of the house and tumbled to sleep.

Yarec woke up once more in the middle of that night.  Cloudy gray-green moonlight drifted through the round barred window.  Mrissa was lying facedown next to him, arms and legs splayed out awkwardly, as if she had fallen asleep before even finding the time to get comfortable.  The heavy steel fan mounted on the ceiling blew air across his sticky skin, making his extremities itch.  He found a green plastisilk sheet on the floor and draped it over Mrissa’s pale, vulnerable-looking body.  The breeze still tickled at the corners, but Mrissa looked much more peaceful with the slow rise and fall of her breathing protected underneath the fabric.

He walked down the hall to the small shower stall.  Yarec flipped the switch to start the water flowing and stepped underneath the icy trickle, not bothering to wait until the heater had generated enough warmth to reach a more comfortable temperature.  The water, pumped up from a deep well, spattered in the darkness against the skin of his face and back.  He raked fingernails across his flesh, scouring away the grimy sweat.  He shivered as the burning on his hand subsided into numbness.  Then, feeling refreshed and satisfied, he towelled himself dry and rejoined Ris in bed.

 

“Someone’s at the door,” Mrissa whispered.  It seemed too early for visitors.  The watered-down liquor Yarec had bought from a roadside vendor operating out of an armored truck was still in effect.  It thinned the blood, letting it pound freely around the temples.  With each knock at the door, there was a painful little thump in Yarec’s head.  And the knocks came rather quickly, one after another.  Word had apparently gotten around that Yarec had come home, and somebody wanted to see him.  The visitor’s rapping was not quite loud or rapid enough to actually seem rude, but under the circumstances, Yarec considered it quite unwelcome.

Mrissa elbowed him casually and hid her head under one of the analog pillows.  It was Yarec’s house, and he needed to deal with the disturbance.  He rolled off the bed and felt around on the floor for something to put on.  Bending over, he nearly lost his balance and had to steady himself against the laminated plastic bed frame.  After a few seconds rustling through travelling clothes and rumpled blankets, he decided there was nothing appropriate.  So he opened up his clothes chest.  He tapped the wall-mounted control lamina, and a square of plastic flooring rose up.  It moved jerkily at first, with a soft hiss as the pressure levels inside and outside the airtight container equalized.  It took a few moment for the mechanism, which had been dormant since a wintry mountain day many years before, to smooth itself out, but once it was warmed up, the square glided up effortlessly and stopped just shy of flush with the ceiling.  Underneath was a tiered rack, loaded with all the garments Yarec had left behind here.

He pulled down a gray tunic, with a cord to cinch it at the waist.  He wriggled it over his head and stuck his feet into his pair of high, hard boots.  Without socks, they chafed his heels a bit as he stomped down the hall to the front door.

There were three locks, one with a simple cylinder and deadbolt, the other two electromechanical.  Yarec jogged them open, one by one, and the knocking stopped, as whoever was waiting outside heard the latches snick free.  He cracked the door open and leaned his head out, making no attempt to hide his grizzled appearance.  The reddened light of the early morning accentuated his bloodshot eyes.  He had a scraggly growth of unkempt beard, and his sun-baked right arm was spotted pink with irritation.

Outside stood Marshall Kubiak.  There was no real doorstep, just a patch of bare sand in front of the narrow door.  Most of Yarec’s property was completely overgrown, with a mixture of native purple-flowered shrubs and various invasive plants that generations of foolhardy gardeners had introduced as ornamentals.  Kubiak had taken a couple steps back and was grinding his left boot restlessly in the sand.  He was a tall man and would have towered over Yarec if his patch of sand had not been ten centimeters lower than the doorsill.

A bonhomie grin spread across Kubiak’s weathered face as Yarec peered out, squinting.  Kubiak’s eyes flicked across Yarec’s scruffy new visage–noticing the shape of the eyes, following the sharp line of the jaw.  “Yarec, my boy!” Kubiak cried, satisfied with the family resemblance.  “So you’re back home.  Been a long time, huh?  Well, welcome back.”

“Thanks, Marshall.”  Was “Marshall” his given name, or some kind of antiquated military title?  Yarec could not remember.  “It’s good to see you too.”  He made an exaggerated sidelong gesture toward the sun with his eyes, then added, “Although I didn’t expect to see you so soon.”

“Yeah, well, I wanted to let you know as soon as possible.  I only just heard last night that you were back, so I came right over this morning.”  Kubiak paused for a moment and licked his lips, then said, “We’re having a big get-together tomorrow, at our place out by Bloch Creek.  We’d love you to come.”

“Oh, thank you,” Yarec mumbled.

“It’s not too formal.  It’s just nice for the whole neighborhood to get together once in a while.  You know, there should be a lot of us old-timers there.”  Kubiak rubbed a large hand through his thin, graying hair as he spoke.  “I’m sure there’s plenty of folks who’d love to see you again.  And probably plenty more who want to meet you.  You’re a bit of a living legend.”

“Gosh, I hope not,” Yarec said, a bit chagrined that any of his exploits could have become part of the local folklore.

Kubiak chuckled and explained, “You’re the local boy who hit it big.  That means people will talk, about whatever they think you’ve gotten up to.”  He nodded sagaciously.  Marshall Kubiak was rich enough to have travelled and experienced enough to know that whatever his neighbor did during his extended absences, it was not going to be an appropriate conversation topic for a grange supper.  “There certainly will be some new faces you’ll want to meet.  I forget—” Kubiak said, “how long have you been away?”

“Uh… maybe four years?”  Yarec tried to reckon backwards, although he did not usually care much about the passage of time.

“Yeah, it’s been a while,” Kubiak agreed.  “Oh, I nearly forgot,” he added, reaching into the pocket of his open overcoat.  “Made you an invitation.”  He held out a folded card—rough stock for old-fashioned printing.  In a digital simulation of spidery handwriting, it gave the date, time, and location, along with some other pertinent information.  “As I said, it’s not super formal, and you’re welcome to bring along any foks who’re in town with you.”

This jogged Yarec’s memories of social niceties, and he asked, “How is your wife doing, by the way?”

Kubiak’s grin contracted a little, but his voice was a genial as ever.  “Miss Vikki had to have a couple of operations, but she’s doing good now.  We had to go down to Camp Thackry for the surgery, and it took her a couple weeks down there to recuperate.  But the docs did a really good job, and her liver is like new.”

Camp Thackry was not the kind of place Yarec would go for medical treatment, but he assumed that it had a competently functioning hospital.  He nodded politely and said, “Give her my regards.”

“Of course I will,” Kubiak said, “and you should tell her yourself tomorrow.”

“I’ll try to make it,” Yarec said.  He scratched around his eyes.  “I really do have a lot to take care of around here though, and I’m still pretty zonked out from the long trip back.  I’d like to come by, but I don’t know how long I can stay.”

“Well, we’d love to see you,” Kubiak reiterated, “and anybody else you want to bring along.”

“Thanks, thanks,” Yarec mumbled.  He waved awkwardly and pulled back through the door, which he discovered he had been leaning on awkwardly through most of the conversation.  Marshall Kubiak returned his wave and kicked off toward his motorcycle.  Yarec shut the door and clomped back to the master bedroom.

Mrissa was sitting up.  She raised her eyebrows as he kicked off the boots and fumbled with with the belt of his tunic.  “Who was that?”

“Guy from a few kilometers down the road is throwing a party because he wants to meet you,”  Yarec yawned.  “He and his wife want us to come over to their ranch tomorrow.  Big shindig.  Everybody from the area will probably be there.”  He ignored the open chest and dumped the tunic on the floor.  “The guy out there—Marshall—I used to know him and his wife pretty well, a long time ago.”

“Are they relatives of yours?” Mrissa asked.

“I don’t think so,” Yarec said.  “They could be distant blood relations.  Out here, halfway to nowhere, everyone knew everyone else.  When there was a big gathering, everyone was invited, and if somebody didn’t come, there would be talk.”

“Are you saying that we need to attend, or otherwise there’ll be gossip?”  She kissed him on the side of the neck as he laid back down on the bed.

“Oh, the gossip is unavoidable,” Yarec said, as he fumbled with the covers.  “I’ve been away for I don’t know how long, and you’re new.”

Mrissa frowned.  “I’m going to be on display then?  The local marms will be snickering behind their hands, at what you’ve brought back from the city.”  She sighed and added, “If it’s inevitable, I might as well face it and get it over with.”

Yarec hurried to distance himself from such resignation.  “No,” he said, “on the contrary, I want to hurry up and show off my hot new lady friend.”

“Aw,” she said.  “You’re sweet, even if you’re probably a liar.”  She touched his hair and gave him a sidelong grin.  Yarec laid back against the lumpy pillow, and she curled up across him, stretching her arm across the smooth, hairy muscles of his chest, crooking her bare leg over his body, and listening as he whispered softly about how beautiful her eyes were.

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