Prose Header

Colorblind Chameleon

by Ada Fetters

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3


I’m just setting my laptop on the long, low snack-table when someone knocks. I assume it is Leona, here early. Why she is knocking at the back door, I do not know, but I guess she can come in any way she wants.

As soon as I turn the lock, the doorknob twists in my hand, then the door jerks open. If I had been standing any closer, it would have caught my face. Glare spikes up from the hardwood floor. Someone plants his hand against my chest and shoves me back.

The guy keeps coming, his salami-onion breath blasting down into my face, until I lose my balance. He catches my throat and a fistful of my shirt and drives me backward until my knees hit the snack-table. He lets me go as my legs fold. The table tips sideways and dumps me to the floor in an awkward mess of records and tools and laptop.

“Hello, Emery.” This voice is an amplified whisper, like something has gone wrong with his throat.

The glare cuts off abruptly when the door swings closed. Two men I have never seen before are in my living room, and I am sprawled on the floor looking up at them. The one who manhandled me is tall, with uneven shoulders and a spectacularly ugly collection of features. I get an impression of an angular face, moon-crater skin and a skull that is wider at the jaw than at the cranium, before he fades out of my field of vision.

They drove here, I think. They smell like hot car upholstery. They drove in their car down my street to break in here. They stopped to pick up lunch, and the car probably smells like baking mayonnaise and greasy paper. And now they are in my home.

Click. Click. Click. Bright trapezoids overlap on the hallway floor, lain down one by one as Moon-Face scouts the other rooms. Thank God that Leona isn’t here. Sleep in, Leona. Take a long shower. Run some errands. Get stuck in the longest checkout line in history. Get carded.

“Why have you got red light in here?” Another man swims into focus above me. His belly hangs over his belt. His hair is shimmery-pale. His moustache is waxed to points. His face, neck and forearms are several shades darker than the rest of his visible skin.

I try to lever myself up. Moustache plants his boot on my chest and pushes me onto my back, so I speak from the floor. “Um, the ceiling light is—”

“I don’t want to know about your goddamn ceiling light, Emery.” Moustache’s eyes are heavy-lidded, disdainful. He reaches out and tears the curtains down. Daylight floods over the back of the couch behind me, illuminating him against a dark background: raiolight.

Moon-Face arrives. My home is not large. I think I said that before.

“You might be wondering what’s going to happen now,” Moustache begins. “Why, we’re paying you a visit.”

I am indeed pondering those questions.

“We have a mutual acquaintance. He likes to play hacker. Boss gave him an easy job to do, break into some files.” Moustache’s tone makes it clear that he has no respect for this kind of work. “But the kid runs away at the first sign of trouble. Told the boss that you got a good look at him in the parking lot. Is any of this ringing a bell?” Moustache puts weight on my chest until I nod. He doesn’t ease up but at least he doesn’t add any more weight to my ribs.

“You aren’t any better, though,” says Moustache, meditatively. “Just had to chase after him and get an eyeful.”

Moon sweeps my monitor off the desk. The screen flares and dies.

“Our acquaintance was afraid that if anyone asks, you might be able to place him there right around the time somebody messed with the computers. So he went running to his boss. Our boss. He sends us to keep people like you from making stupid mistakes.”

Moon rips my CPU out of its web of wires and carries it toward me. I struggle as he approaches but I can’t get any leverage. Moon stands over me. My reflective M sticker flashes from the side of the tower. Moon hoists the tower over his head. Wires still dangle from some of the jacks. Both he and Moustache look about as interested as luggage-porters do in the bags they’re loading.

Moon lets the tower go. My eyes are closed and my arms crossed over my head so I hear rather than see it crash through the window behind me. There is a metallic thanngg when it lands in the yard.

Relief at not having a CPU dropped on my face makes me lightheaded. The story will be great, after I am done dealing with the property damage. Despite the stress that makes my vision blur, the deep-down part of me that appreciates the rhythm of destruction and the street-cred therein is actually pleased. I rate as the object of someone’s anger. Someone went to the trouble of paying these people to throw a scare into me.

“It’d be inconvenient for this man if you make a big deal out of what you saw. Inconvenient for him means bad for you.”

There is a blur of motion. I hear the sound of a cello dying against the wall. That... is going to be harder to replace...

“You stood out against the other people in that building, Emery. It wasn’t hard to pin the sisterboy who thinks he’s a vampire,” the whispery voice goes on. “It wouldn’t be hard to catch up to you in that parking lot.”

On cue, the sounds of shattered glass and ripping paper come from the darkness beyond the raiolight. Ah, the poster from my first real show. The guys I graduated with framed it for me.

“The three of us could have a long talk there, where nobody can hear. Do we understand each other, Emery?”

Before I can reply, Moustache takes his boot off of my chest, grabs my shirt and introduces his fist to my eye, nose and mouth. The after-image of his hairy knuckles and wedding ring remain on my retinas a half-second after my eyes close, so to me it looks like his hand is a foot away each time the catorast flares from inside my skull. One. Two. Three. I feel so slow at times like this.

I am still trying to blink the afterimages from my eyes when Moustache’s motorcycle boot connects with my stomach. I curl into myself with stars swimming in front of me. They are not real stars. They are spastic illusions produced by lack of oxygen.

Moustache waits for me to stop retching so I can hear him. “Do we understand each other?”

I stammer something that seems to satisfy him.

“We’ll be in touch.” He drops me and walks away. They don’t bother to close the door after them. Their shadows trail after them along the path of daylight, then slither down the back steps. Back to their car, parked somewhere nearby, which probably smells like bad mayonnaise by now because there is no shade on this block at this time of day for them to park in.

* * *

It would be a good idea to pick up the place before Leona arrives. It’d also be good to change out of my bloody, ripped-up shirt. Clean up my face. Put up the curtain. At the very least the door requires closing. That’s the plan until I lever myself up to my couch.

After that, little things keep snagging my attention, like the peculiar sliver of brightness at the edge of a piece of broken glass or the voices of Kate and the Wizard in their driveway. I can’t make out words but I hear my neighbors’ pleasure at arriving home.

I do not realize that the seashell sound of cars on the street has lulled me into a stupor until something clicks in my head and the room snaps back into focus. The performance of the goons is reduced to its components: repetitive, alternating messages of their dominance and my helplessness.

Push your victim off-balance. Start with an attention-getter, a CPU through the window. Underline each statement by targeting other loved items; a warm musical instrument, as opposed to my other equipment, which looks utilitarian, and a unique poster. Create enough havoc to ensure he will be dealing with the aftermath long after you are gone.

After imparting the message, ask the victim a question. The answer he gives is irrelevant except as a tool to make him feel as if he brought the following on himself: you give him a few bruises to let him know what a real beating might be. Give him enough to make him remember you were there but not enough to send him to the hospital. The whole point of this is to avoid attention.

The fact that the elements can so easily become obvious to someone who has never done this before makes it cheap. It is formulaic. After all, I do not rate being thrown into a shiny car to go meet the man. He will not take time out of his busy schedule to see me. He does not care who I am.

Last night I interrupted a scared kid who was sent to my building to steal some payroll data or bank account numbers. The kid was afraid that I’d ID him, so his boss probably rolled his eyes and said he’d take care of it.

So what exactly do I rate? Two goons making a house-call to silence the guy working late. What was distressing for me was routine for them. I put my elbows on my knees and rest my forehead on my knuckles.

“Em?” Leona’s voice comes from the open door.

I can’t begin to explain. I literally cannot. Aside from the fact that I am still trying to breathe around what feels like a sharp chunk of rock in my stomach, this is just better left unsaid. A twisted thing can become beautiful, do you see, Leona? This was a perfunctory task. The fact that Moustache and friends will resurface if I talk comes in a distant third.

The pressure of the couch cushion changes when Leona sits down beside me. She has retrieved my glasses from my bedside table. She’s never been in my bedroom before. I pull myself together and thank her. Of all the things for them not to break, my glasses are the most immediately useful. They filter out the harassing high-frequency light-waves as soon as I put them on. That makes me feel much better.

So I’m not going to talk about it. It would hurt in more ways than one. That is perfunctory, too, by the way, not a result of some mysterious trauma. MDUSA may appear to be an unfiltered wild man, or a matted collection of mental scars, or even a manifestation of the id, I guess, if you’re into that. In the light of day that blinds me from above, he is the most carefully-crafted persona I have.

MDUSA is trying to express something real. The scars that created him are also real. I take real pleasure from him but no, he is not an unfiltered or random expression any more than his music is. Now you see the tired man behind his show. I hope it isn’t ruined for you.

Leona takes my hands. That lifts me out of my stupor and I realize that my silence is abysmally selfish. All this time she’s been trying to find out if Emery of the bloody nose and broken cello still functions. I haven’t given her an answer and she is beginning to assume the worst.

“Em. Please talk. Are you okay?”

I smile at her and say yes. Of all the lives I could be living and people I could have become, this one is good.

Copyright © 2015 by Ada Fetters

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