Eden, California

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Science and religion aren't quite meant for each other, but sometimes the clash is unavoidable...

Eden, California

BY LUKE ROUNDA

Flapping in the humid night air, the door repeatedly swatted my thigh as I lay there, almost inside my apartment, locusts buzzing on the balcony behind me. Next to my head, the bottle had managed to stay in its bag and not break on the linoleum from the fall.

Clearly, things were looking up.

I was just about to doze off again when the floor started vibrating so bad that I started hearing a ringing in my ears.

It took four, maybe five writhing, misery-filled sirens in a row before I discovered the source of the ringing in my pocket.

The number appeared to match some of the scrawls in magic marker on the bag.

My phone shook like a cancer throatbox when I stuck it to my ear. “Hey-y-y,” it growled, “this is Gene. Did someone at this number call earlier?”

My laughter hosed down the rug. “Yeah, I sure did.”

Well, about your start date…”

... We have a date?”

Can you start tonight?”

Umm—”

Great! You don’t need directions, do you?”

No, but I—”

Perfect! See you in an hour!”

Unghh…” Click.

Clearly, it was time to dress for my interview.

The golden halo of the stove lamp provided some light. I shanghaied some crumpled black jeans and a green guayabera shirt from the pile by the stove and complimented my selection with a black ballcap, netting as much of my hair as possible. The microwave clock flickered a blurry, blue-green 3:16. Beside it in my greasy reflection, a jagged zigzag of chest hair ran up where I’d buttoned the shirt crooked. I unscrewed the bottle and took a drink.

As I stumbled toward the door, my feet pretzeled under me. Liquid foamed out of the uncapped forty-ouncer, soaking the bag and the carpet. Without furniture to blame, I muttered “Fucking floor!”

Outside, the lot was wet with heat and new rain. Dodging people’s parked cars as I headed for the other side of the complex, my eyes trained on damp laundry swinging in the night air above the alley. To keep focus, I took a swallow, trying to read the address off the dark, beer-stained bag, but there wasn’t much left to drink.

I remember thinking, screw it, I have time. Interview’s in an hour! Gotta be at your best. Gotta be at your best. Gotta be at your best...

The bottle shattered against the lip of a dumpster situated at the end of the alley. I followed the cracks in the pavement with my steps. To my right, this week’s clever saying on the dimly backlit First Church of Eden sign was “For Sale.” I snorted and jogged across the empty street. The convenience store lights flared stark white, “open-twenty-four-hours” neon spokes smoldering in the barred windows.

Rutting my shoulder against the corrugated iron bars proved fruitless, so I tried pulling. Door bells jingled.

Inside, the corkboard hanging by the door looked like Kinko’s vomited. Little strips of paper curled up towards the ceiling in the humid air, with phone numbers and addresses etched on each piece in comic book fonts and typewriter face.

Hey-y-y!” I yelled, “I just wanna thank you so much!”

The girl at the counter sank a salvo of swamp-colored chew into her two liter spittoon. “You need help or something?”

Yeah! I wanna thank you for that,” I said with a half-spin and a thumb out behind me to indicate the board. “It’s gonna be the best job ever.”

Okay,” she said, chewing.

You ever let a guy thank you before?” I asked.

She stared blankly at me while her bubblegum lips chewed, then spit again. “Okay. You need help or something?”

Oh, uhh, this too,” I said, grabbing a new 40oz off the rack.

“’Kay,” she said, flapping open a new brown bag.

Just put it in here?” I asked, proffering the beer-soaked bag.

O-o-o-kaaay,” she said, and daintily slid the bottle home.

Clearly, I was ready for my interview.

It was too late for the bus so I waited for a taxi. Gene’s block was a jungle. Reminded me of nightclubs, all stale heat and electric buzz. The stench of trash lofted from unmowed lawns and stray dogs spread it all around the neighborhood, barking at everything. My taxi driver demanded his money with a series of animal grunts. I grunted back and paid him.

Gene’s fallout shed of a house hunched on a slight incline. Realtors call it rustic. A crown of radio antennas on his roof picketed a garden of weather vanes and rain gauges. I cocked my head at the half-lit strings of Christmas lights in the bushes on the way to the door. I thought it was August.

As I stepped up, the dull amber of the porch light clicked on. “It’s open!”

Gene, a few decades my senior, with long and entropic gray hair, shaggy eyebrows and purple contacts, splayed four different ways on the futon, smoking something. Alt-rock howled on his stereo.

Rainwater still leaked down from the attic, dripping into strategically-placed buckets on the floor. A lava lamp supported a pair of boxers—incubating and stiff as cardboard. The corpses of several dozen Chinese takeout cartons sprawled across the living room floor, alternately face down in the green shag carpet.

Clearly, Gene was a creature of habit.

Hey-y-y,” he said. He folded himself to the right to check the clock on the wall. “Right on time…”

Hey,” I said, “I just… I just wanna thank you for the opportunity… and may I just compliment you on the most badass stereo I have ever seen in my life.”

His teeth grinned bowling alley blue in the blacklight. “Think so?”

He squirmed out of the futon’s grip and showed me over to the stereo wall. “This badass stereo has electrostatic tweeters powered by built-in vacuum tubes,” he shouted over the music, gleefully pointing out the glimmering glass bottles with the butt of his… cigarette. “Look at that glow. Just like Christmas, huh?”

Hell yeah,” I concurred.

He stubbed out his smoke on the back of a takeout carton. “If you think that’s cool, you should see the lab.”

His lab, the basement, was so bright it hurt my eyes. Pristine fluorescents covered the ceiling, sparkling the lab countertops, immaculate and sterile. A hospital-television-sized TV mounted in the corner played the end of A Fistful of Dollars. Wire cages on the walls kept in the monkeys, but not their jeers.

Shut up! Shut up, damn you! You never, ever shut up!” Gene hollered. The screeches and squawks died down a bit. Then, turning to me, he said, “We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”

In one cage sat a blue-furred monkey. In another, one glowed the color of Gene’s contacts. A third monkey continuously scratched its forehead. For a split second, an open third eye glanced over at me from between its fingers. When I looked back, it was scratching again.

I don’t know. It’s... pretty nice already,” I said.

Gene shrugged. With a disquieting array of hypodermics, Petri dishes, and what looked like hardware store paint shakers at his disposal, he started showing me the routine.

Watch this,” he said as he ran upstairs to crank the stereo up louder and louder until the sound of hand claps and electric guitar jangled the wire cages.

The sound of many howling monkeys was difficult to appreciate at first.

Gene explained: “It’s hitting the resonant frequency of the walls!”

What!?” I yelled, hands cupped over my ears.

His hands gestured freely toward the upstairs. “Nikola Tesla made an earthquake machine this way once! If you find its frequency, you can shake the world apart!”

Is this such a good idea!?” My voice sounded faint through my hands. “I don’t think they like it!”

Are you kidding!? They love this band!”

What!?”

The record ended right then, replaced with tinny surf guitar from the TV. Gene laughed and shrugged, then headed for the back of the room, instructing me: “Here’s what I need you to do. I’m going to be a bit busy with the experiment. So…”

Digging around in the stacks of wooden crates piled to eye level, he almost looked like a monkey himself. The broom he held when he spun around was blacker than the cashier girl’s hair.

Just take this around and make the floor shine, eh?” he said, grinning. “It’s so dirty down here. People won’t take you seriously if you don’t run a clean operation, you know.” He thrust the thing in my direction. “Psst… just a heads-up, FYI, for your information: they’re not going to help.”

With that, he began preparing syringes and flipping switches on the paint shakers. Muttering, I pushed the broom around the counters, brushing monkey hairballs and shit under the cages. Mounted on the walls like that, the monkeys glared down from their perches, scratching and rattling the cages.

I swept up to a big wide coop. Just below eye level, the namecard read “ABEL”—ironic, since he was beating his brother quite severely against the cage wall. Like a wrestling match gone too far off-script, Abel grabbed the limp monkey by the back of his neck and pounded his head into the wire mesh, howling directly in my face.

I'm sorry. Did I break your concentration? I didn't mean to do that. Please, continue. You were saying something about best intentions?”

Gene laughed, shaking his head as he looked back down at his notes. “Abel gets me every time.”

Clearly, Gene was somebody I could work with in the future.

They’re probably just hungry,” he said. “Open up one of those crates, would you?”

My broom traded for a prybar, boxes of “gorilla biscuits” started coming open. The biscuits, these little corn fritter cake things, filled the room with a smell.

Gene fanned his nose. “Ugh, rancid. Try the fruit.”

He went around the room, opening the simple lock on certain cages to administer shots to certain monkeys. It took me forever to sort through all the cartons to find the box marked “FRUIT,” but when I did, its wood split like a rice cake under the crowbar, and I tossed the splintered lid boards away. Despite their age, the Granny Smith apples inside were so green and perfect they seemed plastic.

Yeah, just pass those around to the specimens. Make sure you give him one,” Gene instructed, nodding up at Abel.

With a grunt, I set the crate on the counter for easy access. “An apple a day, eh?” I asked the specimens, handing out apples like safety pamphlets. They all screamed at me.

Apple cores began to pile up. The pissed off monkeys had no regard for cleanliness. Some of what ended up on the floor of the lab ricocheted there off my skull. I pushed my broom around, slick with apple juice, trying to keep up, but I couldn’t. The monkeys’ howls ricocheted through my skull.

Gene’s fist pounded the countertop. “Shut up, damn you!”

Then Abel’s cage began to rattle. His anemic monkey body convulsed, pumping his chest up off the floor of his cage. Spittle pooled in his chin fur.

Uhh, Gene…”

Shit,” Gene spat, dropping his notes. He flung open the cage door and scooped the monkey up. Depositing Abel on the countertop, Gene put an ear to his chest.

What, is he dead!?” I asked.

Not yet. His heartbeat is all over the place. Shit! I don’t have a first aid kit in here. Kid, I need you to run out and see if there’s one in the garage!”

The other monkeys screeched and yowled. “Where’s the garage!?” I yelled. Gene hurried me up the stairs, carrying Abel’s prone body like a football. He pointed me out the door and to the right, then sped off down the hallway to the bathroom.

Finding the side door to the garage padlocked, I huffed around to the front and forced the sheet metal pane up into the ceiling. A massive collection of rusted bicycles and paint cans blocked my way to the shelves in the back.

Gene’s bathroom light was on. His top half paced past the open window while I dug through all the drawers. Coins, strips of electrical wire, rusted pliers and hammers and screwdrivers. No first aid kit.

Hey, I don’t see anything, man! Where’d you put it!?” I shouted toward the hollow garage window. No answer. Slamming the last drawer shut, I ran back to the house.

Voices wandered out from the hallway. Gene stood just outside the bathroom, hands raised in surrender, Hawaiian print shirts fluttering out from the open doorway to his bedroom.

Look, man,” Gene said, “we weren’t trying to step on anyone’s toes here.”

A voice in his bedroom answered, “Gene, I’ve got a question for you. Do you know what the FDA is?”

Do I know what—”

Maybe you didn’t hear me,” the voice said. “I wanted to know if you know what the FDA is.”

Yes, but—”

The FDA is the Food and Drug Administration. Do you know what they do, Gene?”

Of course I—”

They review what might be safe to eat and what might not. Okay, next question: do you know what’s in here?”

Bullets,” Gene murmured.

Well look at the big brain on you, Gene. That’s right, guns have bullets in them. How about this? Do you know what’s in here?”

An apple bounced off Gene’s chin at a vicious angle. Gene sputtered, “I—”

No, of course you don’t, Gene! The FDA reviews the food, so why should you bother to review the FDA!? I mean it’s only life and death we’re experimenting about with here! Why bother with real fruit? The other kind is so much better, right!?”

Gene’s eyes flicked over at me, then back to the open doorway. A shirt flew into his face and he reached to pull it off.

Uh-uh-uh,” the voice said. “Leave it. Hands where I can see ‘em.”

Gene raised his hands back on either side of the fruity shirt. “Look, man, what do you want from me?”

Abel waltzed through the open door wearing one of Gene’s shirts and carrying a snub-nose .38. The shirt dragged on the ground like a piece of formalwear. I don’t think he saw me.

I want you to understand, maaan,” he said to Gene, “what it is that you’ve done.”

He swatted at flies with the gun while he talked. “I want you to understand how important it is to consider the fruits of your labor.” The Granny Smith he polished against Gene’s shirt already had a bite out of it. “I swear, these things taste like poison. The world will hear how you have raped and pillaged my basic rights.”

I scratched my forehead. “What the—”

With a pop louder than his stereo, Gene stumbled backwards into the bathroom. The door snapped from its hinges, flapping against the wall. Sliced from the wall by Gene’s foot, the shower rod’s descent wrapped his abdomen in the clear shower curtain. His Hawaiian shirt fluttered to the floor. The hallway smelled like the Fourth of July.

Abel stared at me. I stared back.

You’re going to need to make a phone call,” he said, gesturing back into Gene’s bedroom. “I can’t reach.”

The police arrived just before sunrise to take our statements. They ribboned the entire house with yellow tape, stepping through the knee-high lawn, people taking pictures of everything. Later, a crew loaded the bodybag into an ambulance.

At first, the cops planned to arrest me for fraud. Then the interrogators separated us. After that, they walked around in total silence. And Abel walked around freely, because no one wanted to handcuff a monkey.

When the sun came up, even- and odd-numbered news channels set up shop and dug in their heels within the police barricades. Gene’s platoon of maltreated animals with furrowed brows surrounding us on the front lawn, Abel perched on my shoulder, arms crossed. I stared at my bag, still wet from last night. I took a drink.

Do you have any words for the press, Mr. Abel?” a reporter asked him, her hair like golden straw in the morning light. Her producer grinned over the cameraman’s shoulder.

Abel told the camera, “In spite of my broken dreams, I came to California with the hope that the scientific minds of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But yet again, I have been disappointed.”

The reporter’s producer clenched his fist and pulled it down, mouthing words of silent victory. He grinned over at me, nodding furiously. I took a drink.

Everyone wanted a piece. By afternoon, the block was a warzone.

It wasn’t noon before the churchfolk showed up. They surrounded the house, holding up picket signs. “God Hates Monkeys,” they said.

I said, “That was fast.”

These things can evolve pretty quickly sometimes,” the producer said.


Submitted: August 29, 2008

© Copyright 2022 LukeRounda. All rights reserved.

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tonant

Awesome, I think the best story I've read on here to date.

Sat, August 30th, 2008 2:14am

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