Prose Header


by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

Chapter 18
'Error' synopsis

One day, Jonas, who has recently migrated to the city, discovers that all his records — including his assets — have been erased somehow. No longer able to get work, buy anything on credit or sell his now legally non-existent car, his life becomes a unique adventure.

Jonas did not meet many cars on the way back into the city. Of course not: by now everybody would have arrived to wherever they had been going and would be going back tomorrow, Sunday.

Jonas thought briefly about his fuel situation and decided where it was best to take on fuel. He knew of a place that was relatively cheap, so he headed towards it. It would take him not far from where the woman lived that he was aiming to check on. He could drive there directly afterwards and have a brief look through her windows to see if she was gone.

It was beginning to get dark when Jonas arrived at the pumps. There was someone else there. Jonas parked behind the other car, and searched in his wallet for some bills. He figured he only needed ten litres for the time being. It was not as though he would be going very far in the next couple of days.

Jonas fed a bill into the machine, and it let him pump almost ten litres into his car. Jonas damned the price in silence and closed the fuel cap. He was lucky that he no longer had to insure his car or pay taxes on it — the only bright spots in an otherwise gruelling problem.

Jonas got back into his car, his fingers already frosted to the bone from holding the ice-cold pump in his hand. He took some time to warm himself up before he turned on the engine. He did not bother warming it this time; he assumed it was warm enough after all the recent travel and just rode off.

Jonas tried to orient himself. It had been very dark when he parked his car in front of the woman’s house. And he would be coming toward it from a different direction. Previously he had taken his time, reading all the signs, not really noticing where he was going.

But still he remembered the area well enough, and he was quick to find the place again. It was just as he had left it: the lights were off and there was no car in the driveway. Jonas parked his car where the other car would have been and went out to explore the site.

Jonas hoped no one was looking. He did not want to be bothered by the police, let alone anyone else, while looking in through someone’s windows. What would his mother say?

Jonas did not see anyone at home. There were some dishes in the sink though, indicating that they would not have gone away for very long. Jonas turned back to his car. He wondered how long it would take anyone to discover that they were all gone; everything but their names in the national archive.

Jonas backed out of the place, and decided not to think of this ever again. He knew that he had successfully had his vengeance. And he could never be blamed, even if he got his own identity back.

It had now gotten dark, and cars would be appearing on the streets again soon. Jonas calmly drove back to his neighbourhood. He figured that his enemies would most likely have gone away by this time. He parked his car in the parking lot next to his own, just to be on the safe side.

He slowly snuck into his own home lot and had a look around. The two mountain cars were gone. He carefully made his way to the door and went in. He stopped to listen. He heard only ordinary apartment sounds.

He went up the stairs until he came to his level, and there he stopped to listen again. It was a bit quiet, but not unexpectedly so. It was a weekend, after all, and people would have gone out to drink. He did not know his neighbours well enough to know how long they preferred to stay out or how soon they normally left, so he had nothing to go on.

But he still stood there for an extra long time, just listening.

He heard nothing out of the ordinary. But what would an ambush sound like? Jonas imagined a sort of Vietnam situation, where he would hear guys breathing in the bushes, AK-47’s rubbing against the undergrowth, loose items jingling...

Jonas was not in Nam. He was sort of happy about that. He did not need to worry about bugs in his current situation. But the thought that having an AK-47 would be kind of nice. He felt he needed one.

No AK in hand, Jonas decided to finally open his door. He was ready to sprint away as he inserted the key. He hesitated, trying to hear any noises generated from inside the apartment. Would the common criminal actually be so collected that he could sit quietly in an ambush for over two hours? Jonas had to wonder.

The door slid open to reveal his dark, empty apartment.

Jonas turned on the lights and looked around. He quickly saw that the apartment had been entered by some people who had not bothered to take off their shoes. He saw tread marks all over. They seemed to have waited for him for some time. They had even eaten all his cereal.

But they had not stolen anything. Probably because he had nothing worth stealing: the TV was five years old. His radio was just a year younger and cheap.

Jonas figured he would have to speak with his neighbours to check if they had seen anything. Maybe they could give him information regarding his unwanted house guests. He stepped out of his apartment and locked it.

He checked the lock. It looked OK at first, but on closer inspection certain markings could be seen. The lock had been drilled. The guys must not have had a lock-picker with them. Lock-picking is a dying art, Jonas thought, seeing what had happened to his lock. But still, how nice of them not to break in with a crowbar. That would have been irritating.

He knocked at the door next to his. There was no answer. His neighbour was probably not at home. Jonas looked at his wristwatch. She should be coming any time. He seemed to remember her as being a single mother with two children, one barely walking; the other about five.

Jonas knocked again, and again, no answer. He put his ear against the door and listened. Not a sound. Strange, maybe she was visiting someone.

Jonas did not bother with the other door. The hallway was too silent for anyone to be at home. Somebody would have turned on a TV already, to be ready for the news.

Jonas sat down in the stairwell. Now he had a lot of time on his hands and nothing to do. Perhaps he ought to go back to his apartment and watch TV. He thought better of it. His enemies might be on the prowl, and he did not want them to know that he was in. Then what could he do?

Jonas sat in the stairs for some time, just letting his mind drift. It was getting harder and harder for him to stay awake. He knew he could not go to sleep now. He would be found, and then he would have trouble.

Suddenly he remembered the pills that Frank gave him. He checked his pocket. They were still there. He took one of them, and swallowed it. Now he needed a drink. He stood up and walked out the door. There was a small shop there near by. He could go there and get a bottle of Coke to wash down his speed.

When he got to the shop he was already feeling perkier. He bought a bottle of Coke and had a drink while thinking of ways to pass the time. Jogging around the neighbourhood seemed to be a better and better idea every second that passed.

He decided against running. He would stand out and be noticed if he ran. Nobody runs. Jonas finished his drink, and left the bottle on the counter. He went out the door and had himself a nice, brisk walk in the hill above the neighbourhood. It was sufficiently grown with trees, so nobody would notice him from the road. The hill might be swarming with pedestrians in the evening, even the day, and the normal driver would not notice. He would be busy letting his mind drift while his sub-conscious mind drove the car.

After exploring the trees in the dark for a while, Jonas decided to return to civilization. He stumbled down the hill until he came to the asphalt, walked across the tarmac to the walkway on the other side and entered a random driveway into a parking lot. It was not the lot he had parked in but one situated near it. He had to walk past a building to get to the one his car was in.

Jonas found his car where he had left it. It still looked messed up. Nobody seemed to have bothered to repair it while he was away. Jonas cursed their lazy asses for not improving his vehicle as he unlocked the door.

It was a futile gesture, as the side window was still stuck inside the door. Anyone could just reach in with their hand, unlock the door and open it without any bother at all. But Jonas did not believe it would be a good thing to get used to not locking the door. Some day he might get a new car.

The car took some time to start, and emitted strange noises while doing it. Something was about to break, he imagined. But the car still worked, and once started it purred loudly.

On with the radio again: the noise was so loud that it hurt his ears, but it was better than the sound of the engine. People would have woken from their beds by the noise had they been at sleep.

Jonas drove out of the lot and headed downtown. He knew he was too early yet, but this way he would have time for a couple of beers first. He just hoped the guys had not forgotten their promise to help him. That would be bad. That would force him to go and do it all by himself. As much fun as that might be, he doubted he could handle the security alone. He did not have an AK-47.

Jonas went the scenic route, all the way to Morgue Hill. He drove up to the church on the top of the hill and spun circles in the loose gravel on the lot in front just for the fun of it.

The Morgue Hill church was a strange-looking building, a cross between an Indian tent and the Sidney opera. The roof was a few slanting diamond shapes, and it went from about human height to the top, perhaps 15 to 20 meters. Jonas could not say. He was bad at guessing sizes.

Jonas stopped playing when he saw he was being eyed by a couple of old women. He grinned at them and drove away quickly. He figured it was best to just park somewhere now, go to the bar and wait.

How long could it be? Two beers? Three? It did not matter anymore. Jonas was doing this, drunk or sober, with or without company. All he needed was his hammer. Everything else would be a bonus.

He parked his car where he had parked before, between two less beaten-up cars. Jonas did not feel envy. He was really a bit happier, now that it did not matter any more whether somebody slammed a door against the side of his car or not. The paint job was the least of his worries.

To be continued...

Copyright © 2010 by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

To Challenge 430...

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