Rose Among The Randoms
Philo cut off the external speakers, made a left turn, and pulled into a driveway. The Carstle rolled slowly across a concrete apron and up to the warehouse. It was covered with murals, painted in shades of red, black, and yellow, that declared it the home of a local artists’ collective called the Industrial Arts Community. The murals, though, were out of date. The IAC had relocated south to Oakland two years previously.
He pressed the horn button, and one bar of Carmina Burana played over the external speakers at high volume.
With a rumbling noise, a rolling steel door on one wall opened up. Axel, to the left of the door, stood like a stone as the whooshing and grumbling of the Carstle’s motor and double-muffled exhaust went by, then released the chain. The door rumbled closed as Alex, on the right, turned on the lights.
Inside the building, J.D. and Tom were waiting. J.D. was wearing a three piece suit, and Tom was in thrift store casual. Philo got out of the Carstle, walked around to the back, and undid the catches. The entire rear end above the narrow plastic moat pivoted out, hinged at the top. Inside the Carstle was a huge cardboard refrigerator box on a shipping pallet.
Indra lithely jumped out the rear end, undoing the ropes that held the box in place as Axel and Alex came over. Then all of them grabbed the box and heaved, setting it down on the floor.
Now that the refrigerator box was out of the Carstle, the incongruous wood-framed door on the front end gave away the lie of its construction. Muffled thumping noises came from the box, but its sturdy three-inch thick walls weren’t coming open anytime soon.
Philo swung the door shut and fastened the latches again, then looked around at the others. “She might be the Hook and she might not be. She’s way strong, though. And we didn’t get no cuffs on her, so be ready.”
“Well…” said Indra. “I don’t know how it’s gonna work, but do we still all want to do this?”
There was a murmur of assent and a shuffling of feet. Nobody was very happy about it. But nobody was backing out either. On the left and right, Axel and Alex cocked shotguns and nodded. Axel was wearing a duster covered with feathers and beads, and had a purple embroidered tea cozy on his head. Alex was dressed in Renaissance Faire garb, and had two ancient, handmade katanas crossed on his back. But they all knew none of it would be much more protection than Joe had had with his library books. Philo had a pistol in his pocket, but he didn’t want to take it out right now — he might be wrong.
“I’m the strongest here, so I guess I’m taking point,” said Indra. She sat down opposite the door of the box. Philo stood behind her. Axel and Alex took up positions to her left and right. Tom and J.D nervously took up places beside the box. A silence fell over the group.
Finally Philo muttered, “Drinks are on me after this is over,” and nudged Indra. Indra leaned forward and took the padlock off the door.
Rose blinked into the light. “Hi,” she said. “What’s this about?” She knew that the one facing her was Indra. The one standing behind her seemed familiar, but he was too far away for her to get his name from inside the box. She felt fear, and quickly realized that all of them were feeling it. She looked back at Indra, trying hard not to be scared nor scary.
It was a big old warehouse. They were in a crane bay. Murals of people with hammers and torches and welders and anvils, of gods of the forge working amid the fires belching forth from their furnaces and makers and builders, loomed above them on every wall. Weird creatures formed of welded rebar and scrap metal hung from every rafter, staring down at them like a hundred misformed monkeys or furtive, angular spirits. An art-car built into a castle stood behind the two facing her.
Indra’s face was dominated by ‘Wild Things’ tattoos across her forehead and the double sunburst on the right side. On the left, there was a snarling kitten that had the look of an Edward Gorey illustration on her cheek.
“It’s about this,” Indra said, pushing an iron ring forward on the floor between them. “You’re connected to this somehow, and we want to know why.” The entire group tensed, wary and waiting for Rose to lash out in panic or in anger.
“I’ve never seen that before in my life,” said Rose, staring at the Ring. It was true, but there was something about it, something familiar and disturbing. She leaned forward, through the doorway, and a little more clear of the box. Then she gasped, with panic and revulsion fighting inside her as she understood what the ring had been.
“Oh, Goddess…. This is connected with that poor girl who was driving that truck!” The memories came unbidden, pouring out of her in a wave.
I Have To Crash The Truck /Ohmigod, she did it /Did not /Did too /My Skin was gone /JEEZUS! /It hurts so much /Crazy /We weren’t ready /GodDAMN she’s too strong for us /She’s going to kill us all /The white car had cops in it /Mitch, steering to hit /Laura steering to hit /I am Rose /I must obey, Hook has the ring /Wait, can’t be her /Was her, she knows this! /that ring? /I have worth /We’ve got to stop her /I need to die /she wants to die /NO! /I want to live /If I crash the truck I can just die /Not-Rose cranking the wheel over /Rose retching in the gutter /The Hook in Laura’s Mind /vision dimming /passing out /she took out J.D., take her down NOW /not an attack damnit, not deliberate /panic /fear /can’t take this /she’s the Hook /Shotgun can end the pain /she’s not the Hook /No. I am Rose. I am Rose. I am Rose. I am Rose….
When Rose finally got her head under control, Axel and Alex were clutching their stomachs and trying not to retch. Philo had retched. Indra was staring back at her in shock and alarm. J.D., who had been standing to the left, had passed out. There was a long agonizing moment when none of them knew what had to happen next, and the twins raised their guns again.
Finally, straightening up from where he’d left a steaming puddle of vomit on the concrete, Philo spoke. “Put the guns down, you two. It ain’t her.” Reluctantly, Axel and Alex lowered the muzzles of their shotguns and thumbed on the safeties. Addressing Tom, who’d knelt next to the J.D, he said, “Tom, is J.D. gonna be okay?”
Tom was already sitting beside her on the floor, taking her pulse. “She’s gonna be okay,” he said, “but she needs the box right now. Rose, could you get out of the way so we can put her inside?”
“Oh. Oh. Oh crap, I’m sorry about that,” said Rose, flatly, hollowly, as she realized what she’d done to J.D and how close to death she’d come. She crawled out of the box and stood up. Axel mumbled a vague, awkward apology in the language that was known only to himself and his brother, as he helped gently lift J.D. into the box. Rose had the weird impression, at first, that someone was missing, or that one of the people facing her was dead, then realized that at first she hadn’t been able to tell these two apart.
“Issum bambo Hook,” said Alex.
“Uh, yeah,” Rose said. “Hook was what the girl in the truck called him.”
Philo decided to make the best of a bad situation and stuck out his hand. “Hi, I’m Philo, and I guess you’ve already met Indra. These folks are the Randoms, and they’re our family, sort of. Sorry about the chilly reception. We thought you might be somebody you weren’t.”
“The Hook,” said Rose. “I’m not him.”
“You know it’s a he?” Indra said.
Rose shrugged. “Laura – the girl in the truck – thought of him as ‘he’. I figure she’d know.”
“So that’s the connection, you were in her head – there at the end?” Philo frowned.
“This ring, it was the key to her,” Rose said flatly. “She thought of it as why it was she had to obey whatever the Hook said – ’cause he had the ring.”
“I found it,” said Indra. “I was out looking for good stuff and there was this car crash on Cali street and this was in a trash can on the corner. ”
Rose got down on her knees and looked at the ring because she didn’t want to touch it. A tiny photograph looked out at her from behind a cut glass stone. Indra was watching, and spoke now. “I think this picture must be what the girl in the truck looked like — before, I mean.”
A pretty Asian girl in a high-school prom dress smiled happily back at her. Rose’s memory stretched and tore and the same pretty brown eyes stared at her in the rear-view mirror of the truck, out of a few remaining bits of the same face, a mask of blood and pain. Rose closed her eyes and wept.
This is one chapter of The Hook, a novel which is being published serially on this site. This page links to all chapters so far serialized.
The complete novel is available from Amazon.