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11.10.06 4:05 p.m.

I'm a road man for the lords of karma.  

-Hunter S. Thompson


Previously in Xenology: Xen was a nice sort most of the time.


I see the green paper under a neighboring table and ask Emily to excuse me for a moment. Glancing at the man's stuffed wallet on the table, I say, "Excuse me, sir, but you seem to have a hundred dollar bill under your table."

The man confirms that this is indeed his - who would say that it wasn't? - and I return to finish my dinner with Emily. It is only after I share the exact denomination that it occurs to me how helpful $100 would be right now. I try to argue with Emily that I wasn't a good person, merely aware that I couldn't covertly pick up the bill, but it rings hollow. I acted without question or much forethought. I would always tell him because I would want to be told in his position (and have not been in the past) and I couldn't enjoy the money knowing who lost it.

Before the check comes, the waitress tells us that some man chased her down and gave her money so we could get dessert. We are understandably thrilled at the machinations of karma, especially sugary machinations. We order a tower of ice cream, only discovering when the bill comes that the man expected dessert to be $20.

Tasty karma covered in caramel.

Far from Woodstock
So lifelike...

Emily and I didn't even get out of our development before our plans for the day change. My phone rings and Conor says he needs a two-hour moratorium on our intended Woodstock trip.

We cannot reach Conor by phone later, so we arrive to his house to find only his mother Elizabeth, who tells us that he was running late because he arrived at his car in Poughkeepsie only to discover that he had mislaid his keys at some point in his day. He was therefore returning to Flynn's to search, which was akin to looking for a hay colored needle.

I wonder then if I had made a bad choice. We had been invited to a surprise party for Zack in New Paltz, and I had nixed this as it involved hiking and would thus preclude Emily, whom I just don't see enough lately. She was freshly home from Nationals, where she earned a bronze medal instead of silver or gold only because the girl she was fighting kicked Emily in the throat hard enough to knock the wind out of her and fracture her trachea. I was unaware cartilage could be fractured but these lessons are one of the many reasons we keep Emily around. M is musing retirement, but cannot stand the idea that someone will steal her potential accomplishment. Suffice it to say, a mountain trek was verboten until she heals.

We wait for a while with Elizabeth, until Conor calls back and says that he is having absolutely no luck finding the keys. M, being an adventuresome sort, suggests that we will drive to Pawling (far from Woodstock) and deliver the spare set of keys to Conor. I squint at her, but she insists correctly that this is the only way we will actually get to do anything with anyone today.

Getting to Pawling is no problem, but entering Flynn's property proves intimidating. For reasons best not discussed here, Flynn lives in a gated compound. The gates swing open before us, causing Emily to remark how much this is like a horror movie. I have failed that girl if she still utters such ominous statements, since they are always the harbingers of axe wielding maniacs. Such self-referential comments are practically the mating call of supernaturally empowered serial killers.

We pull up to the first house (house in the sense that it is made of walls and a roof, just like you could legally call the Dalai Lama a spiritual guy). We knock on the door and hear nothing stirring. The killer had already been here. There is no one around and we are far too frightened of Flynn's mother Ceci to yell. In fact, all fear of killers vanishes immediately; she will have long since dispatched anyone attempting to accost Flynn.

I stick my finger in the mouth of one of the life sized stone lions, feeling for the inevitable button that will open the secret passage way. Emily threatens my life and immortal soul should I feel the need to wander or, I assume, should I accidentally set in motion a Rube Goldberg trap. The house suggests theatricality, Gothic turrets rising against the clouds and a stone facade that emptied a quarry. When I fantasize about the home in which I will live should I get fabulously rich from my writing, my house still isn't this nice.

It is hard to resist the urge to wander the grounds. It has been seven or eight years since I have seen much more than the outside of Flynn's house, impressive though that plainly is. In the distance, I can see and hear an artificial waterfall trickling into a pond and miles of road that traverse the property. When I spent the night years ago, Flynn drove us around in a Hummer, despite that he was fifteen at the time. He shrugged off my concern about his competence, since he didn't need a license on roads his parents owned.

We knock and knock on the red door and still no one answers.

Eventually, Emily and I found the kitchen door and Ceci, who let us in and was nothing but sweetly maternal. She is actually an entirely pleasant woman; we just all have an inborn fear of her and a mortal disinclination to ever cross her for any reason. In speaking with her on the phone, Emily still allows herself the title of "Conor's friend" to explain that she does not now nor does she intend to have romantic designs on Flynn and so should continue to be allowed to draw breath.

We stole Conor away and tried to convince Flynn to come with us, but he was otherwise occupied cleaning the house and doing schoolwork and a glance from Ceci confirmed we would be wise to leave him behind with a hug.

We bring Conor to his car, though he seemed baffled as to where it is and we have to drive around Poughkeepsie for a dozen minutes before we end up near the right dentist office. He unlocks his car and, dangling from the ignition, he finds his keys.

There have been less satisfying adventures.

Soon in Xenology: Pete Seeger, pink dreads, gratitude.

last watched: Reefer Madness: The Musical
reading: Book of Dreams
listening: Tidal

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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