Friday, January 4, 2008

Chapter 7: Back to Work, Part VI

He started the machine and stared at the plastic sheet suspended above the form while the infrared heaters started. Alexis had liked pink. She'd always wanted her room painted hot pink, but Vernon wouldn't do it. He found so much of the color nauseating. Should have done it anyway. When he brought them back, he'd even paint her closet. If it worked, of course...

"Watch out!" Charles' nasal voice blared through his thoughts.

Vernon had leaned forward, nearly underneath overheated plastic drooping away from the heaters. It had softened to the point that it tore away in places and flopped down onto the swimming pool form. Stupid! He thumped a fist on the machine. Now he'd have to find another sheet and start over. He struck it once more.

"Do that again," Charles said.

Startled, Vernon looked at him. The intern's head had tilted back, staring at the heaters. He thumped the machine and glanced up, trying to see what had so enthralled him. The bank of glowing red looked normal to him. He hit it again, and several elements buzzed and went black. He blinked. Two more strikes, and they returned to normal.

"How about that?" Vernon said. He gave Charles a thumbs up and flipped the system off.

He left the intern to clean the plastic away once it cooled and traveled through the shop back to Ethan's office. He hoped his friend was in; he wanted to head home and start getting ready for tonight. I got to go get Ray. And fix dinner. And give him a bath. His head spun. So much to remember. He'd never really appreciated how much is wife did. Even when he was out of work, she took care of most of the household duties so he could go look for work or take the occasional odd job that might pop up. But now he was alone and had to take up the slack. Perhaps not for much longer. His pace quickened.

Ethan was indeed in his office, still pouring over paperwork. Paris Plastics had to run through a small forest every week to keep up with all of it. He looked up at Vernon's knock and nodded for him to enter. Ethan tossed his pen on the desk. Leaning back in his chair, he sighed and rubbed his eyes. "What you got?"

"Bad heating elements." Vernon sat down.

Frowning, Ethan rifled through the pages on his desk for several moments before pulling one free. "Says here we had those checked out, and they were all fine."

"Looks to be intermittent, perhaps a short or something. What's with the wiring around here?"

"What do you mean?"

"First the press, then the vacuum form, not to mention the house..." Vernon's jaw snapped shut.

"Something wrong at the house?"

"I didn't want to bother you with it, but the wiring's not the greatest in the world. I think it's just old, but if you leave the refrigerator open, it tries to kill the lights. Cheryl turned on the air conditioner and..." His voice cracked and faltered. He blinked back tears and swallowed past a lump in his throat.

Ethan leaned forward. "Did something happen to her?" he asked softly.

Nodding, Vernon took a long, ragged breath and whispered: "She's gone. Alexis, too."

"Gone? They're dead?" His friend jumped out of his seat and leaned over the desk.

"No, not dead. Just...gone."

"Don't do that to me, Vern." Ethan collapsed back into his chair and ran a hand through his hair. "She left and took your little girl?"

Vernon opened his mouth, then shut it. They're still there in Jennings Grove, you idiot! The night took them, and it's all your fault. Why couldn't you warn us about that place? The words threatened to spill out past his clenched jaw. He gripped the arms of his chair and tried to still his trembling. He wanted to get it out in the open. He wanted to let Ethan know what he had done to his family. But what good would it do? It wouldn't bring them back, and the personal consequences would be astronomical. At best, Vernon would strain a friendship and threaten his job. At worst, Ethan might well have him committed "for observation," as they said on TV. Neither outcome sounded particularly pleasant. "Yeah," he muttered.

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"Yeah, well, you know how it is. We've had a hard row to hoe these last few months. I guess she just couldn't take it anymore." Vernon shook his head. "Look, I need to go pick up Ray. They got a girl watching him, but she's got to go to class tonight."

Ethan looked at his watch a moment, then shrugged and nodded. "Do what you have to. Just give me a call later, OK? I think we need to talk."

"Sure thing." He shook Ethan's hand and hurried from the office. He barely paused to wave at Rose on his way out the door. Digging his keys from his pocket, he jogged through the parking lot and got in his car. Time to get ready for the coming night and the visitors he hoped to have.

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Part I of Chapter 8 coming Monday!


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