is included with similar weird, short horror stories in Matthew Sawyer's second collection, entitled Cancerous Exodus
In this short story, Debbie Menon hopes to become a professional painter in Los Angeles. Her mural in a pizzeria catches the interest of a local screenwriter, who pays Debbie thousands of dollars to paint a pattern on his concrete patio floor. The writer tells Debbie the design is a portal
y fifteen foot long mural of an Italian picnic still looked pretty good. After finishing the painting, I came back to the 'Double Drabble' pizzeria in North Hollywood to fix holes in the canvas. Predictably, a kid poked my painting with a fork.
The height of the canvas stretched from beneath the top of the restaurant tables, which lined the wall, to the ceiling. I expressed concerns about the extending painting's dimensions, but Lou said artwork would be fine. The damage justified my original recommendation to keep the height of the work to only about six feet, but the cautious assessment made no difference now. There were holes to be patched.
Lou Drabble agreed to pay extra for the paint and the canvas, but he denied compensation for the extra time required for the work. Although, Lou and Vic, the cook, fed me every time I walked into the restaurant. The offer gave me a reason to come back periodically to say “Hello” and check the condition of my mural. As I walked into the long and narrow dining area this afternoon, I saw my punctured painting and a chubby Asian guy looking at it.
The Asian man turned to face me as I walked into the dining area. He smiled and slipped off his black overcoat, uncovering a wet, black button-up shirt. The warm, California day punished him for having overdressed. Experienced with the dry climate, I wore my sweat pants and a T-shirt today.
“Debbie Menon?” the man asked, “You need a picture next to your biography here on the wall.”
“I hate photographs of myself,” I honestly replied. “I'm the little girl on the picnic blanket, on the right side. Her hair is a lot darker than mine.”
“Yes,” the man said gazing at my painting. His eyes locked on the figure I pointed at. “You look Mexican.”
“No,” I said, gritting my teeth. “That's the way Lou wanted the faces.”
“You shouldn't have listened to him,” Vic said from behind me.
“He paid for it,” I reminded Vic.
“Change it back now. Between him and me, I'm the only one here looking at it.”
“No, its fine,” the Asian man insisted.
“Excuse me, who are you?” I politely asked the man. I suspected he was the screenwriter a friend of mine, Eddie, told me about earlier today.
The screenwriter asked Vic, who in turn asked my roommate, if he knew whether I was interested in doing book illustrations. As an unknown artist, I explored every opportunity.
The man grew a long, horribly uneven mustache on his upper lip. He combed the uneven hair over his lips. The hair on the man's scalp may have also been butchered, but impossible to determine. He slicked his hair back with shining oils.
“I should introduce myself,” the man stated. “I'm Nai KriangSak, you can call me Sak.”
“Hi, Sak, you know my name,” I smiled. “Are you the one Vic, here, told Gary to tell me about?”
“Well, I don't know,” Sak said shrugging his shoulders.
“Yep,” Vic said. “Debbie, meet Sak, and Sak please say hello to Debbie.”
“Hello, Debbie,” said Sak and smiled. The man had nice, white teeth. “I'm looking for an illustrator for my book.”
“Well, I can do illustration, but I want to paint stuff that interests me,” I told Sak. “Otherwise it gets boring and no fun.”
“But what you did for Double Drabble is acceptable,” Sak claimed. “I love it!”
“That's not really my style though. That's just for Lou,” I confessed to Sak.
I painted the first mural I had ever created in the restaurant in a desperate move to show off my talent. I compromised too much of myself. I did not begin to assert how I personally expressed myself until after my second mural, two cities away. The owner let me do whatever I wanted with images of sunflowers.
“Well, what is your style?” Sak asked with genuine curiosity.
“Like Georgia O'Keefe, but on a fractal level,” I said, anxious to talk about my artwork. “Other artists have done it before, but I make my own special dreamland in my paintings.”
“That doesn't matter,” Sak said immediately. “How about you come over to my house? I have a pattern to be painted, but I can't do it. I'm not an artist and I have poor eyesight.”
“Sure,” I instantly caved. Work still outweighed artistic expression. “I usually charge forty dollars an hour, and that doesn't include paint, canvas or if I need a new brush.”
“That's fine. I'll give you two hundred dollars an hour. You will be needed for a minimum of three,” Sak told me.
“I'm not going to argue,” I answered stunned. The generous pay staggered me. “All right, I'll take six hundred dollars for a few hours of work. Do you want me to come over to your place? When do you want to meet?”
“Let's go now,” Sak said.
The late hour made the invitation suspicious. I looked at Vic. He smiled and waved me out the door. I knew Vic well enough to know that he and I thought alike. I can handle myself, and six hundred dollars is a decent incentive to take some risk. But the rushed work had not allowed time to gather materials.
“The paint store is closed until tomorrow morning. I don't have any of my own right now,” I told Sak.
“We don't need your supplies,” Sak happily said, bowing and gesturing me toward the front door. “I have paint at my house. And you'll paint on the concrete of my patio.”
“Is it some kind of decorative pattern for the floor?” I asked a little confused.
“No,” Sak said. “A portal.”
“A portal, or door,” Sak ominously explained. “I need the Sumerian symbol on my floor.”
“Oh, a symbol?!” I shouted. “You want me to paint a symbol. That's no problem. I'll be done in a few minutes.”
“Yes, but you need to copy two symbols on the floor by hand, to make a new one,” Sak explained, complicating the work I expected to do.
The man did say he will pay me six hundred dollars. I supposed Sak expected me to exert my talent and training. I had to call my roommate before leaving the restaurant, just to let him know where I'm at. I no longer expected to get home before dawn. But, according to Sak's offer, the extra hours meant even more pay.
“Let me see the symbols,” I said. “Do you have copies?”
“No,” Sak replied in sudden angst. “The images won't photocopy. They are in a book; very old and precious.”
The job now sounded perilous, so I thought I knew why Sak offered so much money. Still, I wondered why he asked me if he would be better off hiring people who did things like art restorations. But he did and that fact made me happy. Sak gave me his address when I asked. He told me to follow him over to his house once I made my call.
On the answering machine at my shared apartment, I left a message to myself listing Sak's name and address. I then told Sak that I parked in back of the Drabble and will meet him on the street in front of the restaurant. Sak agreed and told me he drove a brand new black sports car. He went out the front while used the back door. Once I pulled my red subcompact out of the alley and around the block, I followed my eager patron back to his house.
He lived in a residential neighborhood a few blocks from the restaurant. Sak could have walked to the Drabble, if he braved the local street gang and the most dangerous intersection to pedestrians in the Valley. That fact about the intersection is the truth. On average, someone got killed walking across the Lankershim cross street every week. Granted, thousands of cars and people passed the intersection every day.
Sak lived in one of the endless, stuccoed single-story houses in the treeless neighborhood. I'm glad I followed him. I wouldd have gotten lost counting the numbers on the identical buildings as I looked for the house.
I parked on the street, behind Sak's sports car. I don't know how Sak managed avoid the vehicle being stolen or if he even worried about someone breaking into his car. I figured his vehicle is a bigger target, so I felt safe leaving my cheap junker behind his prize vehicle in this neighborhood at night.
Sak led me into his home. I saw lights in the windows as Sak and I walked up the short front walk. The door was unlocked, so Sak and I strolled straight inside. People were inside his house, although I only heard their echoed voices. Sak seemed unconcerned and shut the door behind me.
“I'll get the book,” Sak said as he poked his head into what appeared the kitchen.
I noted where the beige carpet of the room, in which I stood, came to an end. Uncomplimentary green linoleum began where the carpet ended. Though I only saw a sliver, the slick floor covering probably spread across the concealed room.
Sak said nothing when he gazed into the kitchen, but the talking stopped. He turned into a dark hallway, perpendicular to the entrance of the kitchen. A young girl walked from the kitchen, followed by two skinny boys.
“Hi,” the girl said to me. She did not introduce herself. Neither did the two boys. In fact, they said nothing at all, only stared.
“Hi,” I answered.
I think the three kids were old enough to be out of high school. After I graduated from college, distinguishing the age of people younger than me became a problem. Those signs that said IDs were checked for alcohol sales to anyone who appeared under thirty were specific instructions for me, if I ever got a job as a clerk at a convenience store. At my age, I only had three categories for how old a person is: too young, young or old. I didn't count dead as a category, but Eddie insisted the classification applicable.
All of the kids were taller than Sak and I. The pair of us were about the same height. I wondered who these Caucasian kids were, maybe groupies. I supposed screenwriters can have groupies. Although, I expect that would make entertainment news and I never heard of Sak before he introduced himself.
“I'm a painter. I did that mural at Double Drabble,” I listed. I didn't drop my name, but I felt compelled to somehow identify myself. The revelation seemed fair, because then I asked who the kids were. An awkward silence, after I told them what I did, insist we get to know each other.
“We're his coven,” the girl laughed, pointing down the dark hallway.
“Deema, don't be rude,” said the boy with a purple goatee and who wore a heavy metal T-shirt.
“Yeah,” said the clean-shaven boy. He sported a butch haircut.
“I'm Jonny, he's Tim, and the girl in the shirt with the cartoon pig is Deema,” Jonny said, pointing at the only other girl in the room. His goatee dipped into the loose collar of his T-Shirt as he spoke.
“I'm Debbie,” I said as Sak returned.
Sak carried a thick book with yellow pages. The book covers were wrapped in plastic. Sak wore pink, satin gloves. The fingers appeared shaped like those on gloves made for a woman. His thick fingers stretched the seams of the apparel. I remembered noticing that Sak had small, thick hands. The long ends of the glove's fingers looked crooked and lumpy, pushed partially full of air.
“Here,” Sak commanded my attention. “I'll hold it. When you copy the glyphs, I'll set the book on the table open to the pages. But, please, no touching.”
The request did not seem odd at all. Sak gave me a lot of money to copy pictures out of what appeared an ancient and fragile book. It must be valuable. I wondered if Sak himself wrapped the tome in plastic, which is fine by me. I certainly had no idea about preservation other than spreading varnish over something. I doubted the technique worked for books. Well, the outside would look good, permanently, but the pages will stick together.
“Ooh, I love the book,” Tim droned.
“You all go clear off the patio,” Sak ordered his coven, fans or minions. I still had no clue why the kids hung out here. Evidently, the two boys and girl served as on-hand furniture movers.
Sak opened the book directly to the first page he wanted to show me; close to the middle of the tome. I saw no book mark and I know his finger had not held the page. Sak turned right to the page he desired. The dry, yellow pages seemed to hold themselves together quite well. As Sak unintentionally demonstrated, they appeared extremely resilient to being pinched and bent.
The pattern was a circle, with curls flowing in opposite directions in and out of the circle. The design seemed simple enough to reproduce. I just needed to be sure to capture the correct number of swirls. Seven spirals swirled from the outside of the circle, six from the inside. They didn't completely curl in upon themselves, leaving wide, negative space around the ornate, geometric pattern.
The second pattern Sak showed me was a pentagram. Only the outside of the figure had been drawn, no pentagon formed the center of the star. The lines between the vertexes of the five points were broken. The pentagram appeared well ventilated. The drawing of this shape appeared significantly larger than the circle.
“I need this pentagram to fit inside the circle,” Sak said, as I expected he would.
“I suppose it will make a decent floor decoration,” I conjectured aloud. “It's little creepy, with the star and all.”
“So you can do it?” asked Sak.
“Yeah, no problem,” I said. “I want to get the final pattern on paper and show you before I paint it.”
Sak paused. He looked hesitant; maybe because the value of the book prohibited him from pulling it out again. Sak may be overanxious about the mysterious volume. He also might just want to have his painting completed. Coming to his place so late today supported the latter hypothesis. Maybe he had a party planned tomorrow. After I allowed Sak a quiet moment to resolve his indecision, he agreed.
“I'll need a paper and pencil,” I told Sak. “And, do you have chalk for the patio?”
“Yes, I've got all those things,” Sak said. “What else do you want, because I have it.”
I wanted to be an established artist with clients knocking on my door, but I don't think that is what Sak meant. All I needed for this particular job is something to make markings. Nothing beat a number two pencil as the fastest tool, but I will have to switch to something less lasting once my canvas became concrete.
“How about a place I can sit down and draw?” I asked. “Someplace with a lot of light.”
“Have a seat in the kitchen,” Sak said pointing toward the room with the linoleum floor. The precious book lay open, balanced on its spine, in the palm of one of Sak's hands. I gasped.
The book stayed glued flat on Sak's palm. My patron seemed unconcerned, or unaware, of his own reckless treatment of his book. Sak followed me into the kitchen and put the book down at the far end of the table, out of my reach from where I sat.
“You can look, but don't touch,” Sak said smiling. He dropped his expression into a grimace. “Seriously, don't touch the pages with your bare hands. Here, put on my gloves.”
Sak took off his feminine gloves and handed them to me. After having been stretched out, the gloves fit loose around my knuckles. Sak waited for me to put them both on before he left to retrieve paper and a pencil. When Sak came back, I asked him a logistics question.
“When I'm done drawing a copy of the pentagram, will you turn the page back to the circle?”
“You've got the gloves now. You can turn the page,” Sak said.
“Which page is it,” I sheepishly asked. “I wasn't paying attention when you flipped through the book.”
“Just turn the page, you'll see it.”
The answer Sak gave implied I can thumb through the pages until I found the image I looked for. That suited me. I grew curious as to what the volume might be. The book appeared professionally bound. The plastic, in which Sak had wrapped the book covers, made ascertaining the material difficult. The black, visible sliver of binding looked like leather.
Not a lot of words appeared on the page with the pentagram. The text had been handwritten, not typeset. The language might be Latin; it looked foreign with dotted bars at the end of a lot of words. I hoped other pages in the book included translations or even a recognizable drawing. The book itself became a distraction and remained oblique.
I reminded myself of the late afternoon and my goal to be done in less than three hours. Now that I knew exactly what I needed to paint, I now anticipated finishing in less than two. But if I became fascinated with the book, I will get stuck here all night. I resolved myself to quickly copy the pictures and give the book back to Sak.
Copying the pentagram was easy. White space composed most of the image. I could not use a ruler to draw the visible pieces of the pentagram. The original artist bent the lines. Whether the crookedness was unintentional or not, I wanted to make certain I captured the image exactly. I meticulously copied what I saw. Sak periodically returned to the kitchen during the minutes I spent drawing the pentagram. He heaped on praise for my artistic abilities.
I told Sak that instead of copying the pentagram inside the circle, I will copy the circle around the pentagram. Sak thought the idea ingenious, rather than realizing I had simply drawn the broken pentagram first. I let him think I had inspirations of genius. The idea probably made him feel better about paying me so much money for the artwork.
When I turned back the page in the book, I instantly arrived at the image of the circle. I could have sworn when Sak showed me the two images, he turned a lump of pages at once. I turned around and asked him if I found the correct image. Sak looked at the page to which I had turned and nodded his head.
“There is only one Circle of Wind in the book,” Sak said.
“Circle of Wind?” I asked. “That sounds like a Kung-Fu move in an old movie.”
“It's a glyph,” Sak corrected me. “You just have to paint it.”
“Well, that's good,” I said.
Once I started copying the circle I suddenly needed to concentrated. For some reason, I could not draw the dimension of the circle on the same paper as the pentagram. The circle refused to stay round. I erased my light, preparatory scribbles. Drawing the circle on a separate piece of paper seemed to work smoothly. I even managed to approximate the size of the circle I will need.
I put my two drawings together. Looking at the images side by side made me dizzy. I instantly suspected I was growing tired.
“Hey, Sak, do you have any cola? I want to wake myself up,” I asked my host and patron.
“Oh, sure,” Sak said. He opened the glass sliding door from the kitchen to the patio.
I then noticed night had fallen. Time passed without my conscious awareness, although my body certainly knew. My neck, back and drawing hand ached.
I could not see or hear anything outside in the darkness, but remembered Sak had sent the kids to clear off his patio. Sak flipped on the exterior light, causing the two boys and girl to stare blindly into the glowing bulb. Deema was standing before Jonny and Tim, who stood side by side. They looked as if caught speaking to each other in secret. The trio blinked their eyes and stepped forward, wordless.
Sak waved a can of soda in front of the open patio door and then gave it to me. The three kids walked into the kitchen and each grabbed their own can from the fridge. Deema looked over my shoulder while Sak stepped out of the room.
“How's it going?” Deema asked about my progress. I showed her my copies.
“That is fast!” Tim exclaimed.
“I did this already,” Deema claimed. She shouted into the hall the lead from the living room. I presumed that is where Sak continually disappeared. “I drew these already, Sak!”
“But this is fast,” Jonny agreed with Tim.
Sak raced back into the kitchen.
“Yes,” Sak said to Deema. “But now Debbie will draw them, put together.”
“Good luck with that,” Deema said grudgingly. “I'm still working on it.”
“See?” Sak said. “Debbie went to school.”
“Then send me school, Sak,” Deema demanded. She sounded threatening.
“That will take too long,” Sak protested. “Debbie is a proven professional.”
“Well, I don't know about proven,” I said. “You saw my first mural.”
“Yes,” Sak validated. “It's good and you're fast.”
“I work better without people looking over my shoulder,” I hinted to Sak. I especially did not appreciate Deema's criticism, even though she told the truth. She sounded jealous.
“All right, everyone,” Sak said, gathering his servants. “Go watch TV or read my stories.”
“Let's watch TV,” Jonny voted.
The kids took their soda with them. Sak followed the three into the living room. I failed to recognize the sound of the movie they found on television. Although, even if I did remember the movie, I would not know its name. Nor would I be able to elaborate on the story beyond the dialog. Whenever I sat in front of the television, I became inattentive while I doodled in my sketchbook.
I tapped my drawings together, intending to trace the image that shown from beneath the paper. I saw nothing. When I stacked sheets of paper, and put them against the light, I still did not see an image bleed through. I even switched the sheet I placed on top and only saw the image immediately in front of me.
Light bled through the paper. The top sheet glowed white when held against the illumination. I should have at least seen a shadow of the image. I heavily marked an empty corner of a single sheet of paper before again testing the transparency of the paper against the light. My scratches were plainly visible through the top sheet of paper.
I thought about going into the living room and telling Sak I'll probably need more time to figure out how to trace the image, but then I did not want to provoke Deema. She would instantly proclaim my higher education for nothing. That won't happen. I resolved to tackle the problem without disruption.
I will manually scribe one image over the other. With a deep breath, I put myself to the task. I shut the book before starting work again.
I placed my drawn images side by side again. My dizziness instantly returned, until I partially concealed one image with the paper of another. The strange reaction perplexed me. The cola did not seem to help, but when I wasn't looking at my drawings side by side, I felt fine.
I started copying the pentagram inside the circle in earnest. As long as I kept a little piece of the pentagram concealed, I worked strong and steady. The combined images must create some sort of optical illusion. Making everyone sick is a horrible idea for a backyard grill party. Although, Sak may be crafting a special trap for people infringing on his copyrights. My fantasy only reminded me how late the hour must have become. The time flew by.
My stomach suddenly dropped when I realized my stupid mistake. I never asked how Sak wanted the swirls on the inside of the circle to intersect with the pentagram. Do the swirls join the severed ends of the pentagram? If that detail did not matter, I can finish in ten minutes. Sak had to make the call.
I was getting tired and only wanted to go home. If I needed to start over, I probably had to see the pentagram again. The work will also have to wait until I finished the week at my full-time job.
I put on the gloves and brought the book with me into the living room. My nearly finished drawing came, along pinned to my side, beneath my left elbow. Sak watched me enter the room from his overstuffed chair. Jonny looked up from the television.
“Here's the book back, Sak,” I said.
“Put it down and give me the gloves,” Sak said anxiously.
“I don't know how you want the images to overlap,” I confessed in front of Deema as I put the book on the coffee table and lay the pink gloves on top. “But I'm almost done.”
“You're almost done?” Sak asked excited. He bounced from his chair.
I took the drawing from beneath my arm to show Sak. Jonny still watched me whereas Tim and Deema seemed enthralled by some late-night talent competition. I held my drawing out in front of me. When I showed Sak, Jonny vomited unto the carpet; in front of the couch he sat upon with his friends.
“It is finished!” Sak shouted, overjoyed.
“Dammit, Jonny!” Deema shouted. The three kids maneuvered from Jonny's splattered expulsion.
“I didn't think it was finished,” I honestly said to Sak and looked at my drawing again. At second glance, the image did indeed appear complete. That's funny, I swore when I stopped drawing the image was obviously incomplete. I could easily pick up the drawing where I left off. “No, Sak. Let me check the pentagram drawing again. I'm sure I left out a couple lines.”
Even though only a few lines comprised the drawing of the pentagram, something felt missing. True replications are betrayed by amateur mistakes. For the sake of my own integrity, the pattern needed to be perfect.
“You got it done?” Deema suddenly interjected herself. “Let me see.”
Deema jumped over the creamy yellow puddle that seeped into the carpet. I showed my newfound nemesis my drawing. Deema also vomited, just like Jonny. I whipped the drawing out of the path of sick and retreated to the kitchen. Sak followed right behind me.
“Can you paint it tonight?” Sak asked turning the patio lights back on.
“I don't know,” I said. “I'm tired and I have to go to work tomorrow afternoon.”
“I'll give you two thousand dollars on top of what your total hours will give you. I'll pay all of it tonight, when you finish, in cash.”
“You owe me sixteen hundred dollars already,” I reminded Sak. I felt guilty about asking for so much money without having lain a single brush stroke. But, Sak did say two hundred dollars an hour.
“Yes, that's fine,” Sak said. “You'll have it all in cash when you finish.”
Thirty-six hundred dollars is more money than I make in a month at my full-time job. I felt like Sak paid me like a real artist should be paid, despite how little I accomplished. My tired giddiness with earning such a wild wage chased away any guilt. I set aside all caution and hesitation, and agreed to paint my composite image immediately.
Sak and I went onto the patio. The kids let us go alone. No one appeared in the kitchen while Sak showed me the quart of lidless black paint on the patio, against the wall. The can had no label either. A fat rubber band held a plastic wrap over the open end of the container. I don't know why the paint was in the unlabeled can, maybe poured from a larger can, but the color is definitely black. Brand new, small and medium sized brushes lay on the concrete behind the can. Sak really had prepared.
“The top of the pentagram has to point to the north,” Sak said pointing at the block wall just beyond his patio.
“Now is that the Satanic pentagram where the goat's ears and nuzzle make up the star? Because the points representing the horns, they're on the top. In your book, it looked like it's the other way around. I don't know what that is called.”
Sak thought for a moment. After gazing at my drawing again, right-side up, he asked me to confirm his observation. “This is how it is in the book?”
“Mmm-hmm,” I hummed.
“Then paint it like it is in the book,” Sak decided.
“All right, I'll get started,” I said, finding the chalk that rolled against the house. “This may take a little while. I don't know why I'm taking so long.”
“No,” Sak objected. “You're fast! Deema has tried since last year.”
“Maybe you're right about the education,” I agreed with Sak.
I finished tracing the drawing on the concrete with chalk. The task took no time at all. I expected the painting to go just as easily. The temporary lines only needed to be filled in with paint. As I painted, I felt nauseous.
“Hey, Sak,” I called up from kneeling on the floor. By the time I finished, I'm sure I'll be lying down. “Do you have ginger ale or something to calm a stomach?”
“Yes, sure. I've got antacids, too,” Sak volunteered.
“That will be great,” I answered thankful. “I'll take both.”
I faced the patio door as I painted and saw into Sak's home. He went back into the house, but stayed in the kitchen. Sak knew exactly which cupboard he kept his antacids. He brought the half-full plastic container to me with the ginger ale. I was grateful.
I started to feel like Deema and Jonny, yet to lose the contents of my stomach. A fast-acting flu bug must have victimized me. The speed of the virus and the number of sick people made me wonder if we suffered from food poisoning. The only thing I shared with Deema and Jonny is the cola, in our own, individual cans. The soda might have all come from a bad batch.
While working, and feeling better, that nagging thought about the unfinished glyph returned. I wanted to look at the book again and asked Sak.
“No,” Sak said. “The drawing is fine. It's almost dawn.”
“Dawn, really?” I asked surprised. Time had really flown, and I was almost done. I knew exactly where I had stopped on this painting. Despite the chalk lines, I made a point of laying a pebble down in the spot where paint still needed to go.
“I didn't anticipate the time, but it's actually perfect,” Sak insisted. I guess he stood looking over my shoulder for hours. His vigilance made me self-conscious.
“But it might not be perfect with the images in the book,” I stated, not wanting to give up my artistic integrity.
“Okay,” Sak instantly agreed. “I'll get the book, but you, continue painting. You can add in what you've missed, right?”
“Yeah, I suppose,” I answered, not completely satisfied to wait and see if my mistake was really just a missing piece. Two things convinced me to follow Sak's direction; I was tired and felt sick again.
After painting a few more seconds after answering Sak, I talked to him again. “Hey, Sak, can I have another ginger ale and some more antacids?”
“Sure,” Sak said going into his house. “The antacids are still there on the floor, next to you.”
I reached for the bottle, now only a quarter full. No wonder I felt bloated and queasy. Ironically, the bloated feeling was the lesser of the two evils. I ate another couple of tablets. Sak returned with the drowsy looking kids and my ginger ale.
A hot wind suddenly blew up. I turned away from the blast, feeling the rising temperature on my back. I wondered if the wind is the Santa Ana's I experienced last year. I could not remember the season, the weather could have been like this last summer. The wind would not dissuade me from completing my work before dawn, but I needed to work fast. I saw the eastern horizon glow neon blue over the Verdugo Hills.
“You're almost finished,” Sak said as I slowly stood, aching.
“I said that,” I snapped at Sak. I should be happy, being so close to earning so much money. Instead, exhaustion made me bitchy. “Are you going to get the book?”
I drank the ginger ale Sak handed me before he went back inside. The kids stayed outside with me. Nobody looked at my painting.
“I couldn't do that,” Deema told me.
“It kinda makes you sick looking at it, doesn't it?” Tim asked Jonny.
“Yeah, but that's how you know its got real power,” Jonny answered.
“What are you two talking about?” I asked the boys.
“Your circle,” Jonny told me. “Deema worked at it for a long time. Man, you're fast!”
“Christ, Jonny!” Deema shouted.
“That's the point, Deema,” Jonny stated. “There isn't one, so we gotta summon our own.”
“What are you guys talking about?” I asked draining the last of my ginger ale. I felt better again, maybe I stopped painting the image. I crawled down on the concrete and started again, because I wanted to finish by the break of day.
The wind seemed to come in gusts. The heat and the blowing sand wasn't so bad while I stayed close to the ground. I listened to the kids answer my question as I worked.
“You've got to read Sak's writing,” Deema said, speaking over whatever Jonny babbled. “The man is like a prophet.”
The impression I missed something in my drawing still nagged me. I desperately wanted to look at the book again, but Sak had not returned. I don't know what took him so long, the book lay on a chair in the dining room. I was tempted just to look myself. Except, Sak returned wearing the pink gloves and carrying the tome.
“Which one did you want to see, the circle or the pentagram?” Sak asked.
“The pentagram,” I answered. The image is so simple, especially with its abundance of empty spaces. I saw the image as perfectly whole when I looked at my drawing, but I knew that is where my mistake lay. It's funny I knew the unfinished corner before Sak proclaimed my drawing finished, but I then lost the spot when he made his announcement.
“I'll find it, you keep painting,” Sak said as he turned the pages.
The first rays of light cut into the fog of morning. Bands of golden clouds, between the black earth and starless sky, looked like they perhaps formed a bridge to heaven. The foot of the bridge never touched the earth. I wonder how any soul left this world.
I brushed the last thick line of black paint on the concrete. Dust and sand, blowing in the wind, became embedded in the drying paint. I lay on my right side. My back and left thigh felt hot in the light of dawn, as if I lay under a summertime sun at noon.
The band of golden clouds widened and tilted toward the ground. The fresh blue skies were visible through the fog, but Sak's backyard remained entrenched in shadows.
“Thank you,” Sak said as he turned around and went back inside.
I jumped up and caught Sak in his living room. “What time is it?”
“It's six AM,” Sak answered. Thank you again, Debbie.”
I thought about how much Sak owed me. The amount of money is insane, but the tired and rotten way I felt right now made the sum seem justified.
“You owe me forty-four hundred dollars,” I told Sak, delivering my invoice for cash upon completion.
“Of course, and thank you again,” Sak said handing the money to me in wrapped stacks of one hundred dollar bills.
“So what is the design for anyway?” I had to ask.
A lot of hassle went into getting this job done. Something supernatural seemed to complicate my otherwise straight forward path. Whatever stalled me fell versus my perseverance. I think I deserved to know the future of the product of my sacrifice.
“A gateway,” Sak said. “I thought the nearest I would ever get to the afterlife is Hell. But you beat the start of the equinox.”
I honestly did not know how to reply to Sak. I understood he stayed awake all night and probably felt just as loopy as me. Sak probably tried to screw around with my head and got himself confused as he told his tall tale. I knew a lot of people in Wisconsin like that. I decided to entertain him.
“If it's supposed to be the bridge to heaven, why is it so hot?”
“I don't know,” Sak said looking disappointed.
- END -
The Cancerous Exodus
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