Empty Sky Chapter 9 – Earl Pangiosi

Is it “evil” if it’s all you know how to do?

Read Empty Sky Chapter 8 – Joni and Honey Fitz


Earl Pangiosi sat in the Empire Builder‘s Superliner Snack Coach’s upper level, a pillow behind his head and a blanket covering his legs, peering through dark, wraparound sunglasses at people’s reflections in the round, full length domed windows. When someone nodded off, he’d dip down his glasses and peer at them briefly, purse his lips then shove the glasses back up his face. Once in a while he’d catch his own red-haired, high colored reflection as he followed people walking past.

Earl liked being around people so he could practice. He had his own car — disguised as two back-to-back LandSea containers on a flatcar and marked “US Mail” — further back in the train. It brought a brief smile, the change in rail regulations that allowed all trains to transport freight and passengers simultaneously. It made his private car’s subterfuge possible.

He tolerated the miasma of greasy hamburgers and soggy fries, of too strong coffee and unwashed bodies, of screaming children and louder screaming parents, and the occasional whiffs of diesel to indulge in a pastime he enjoyed since his childhood; watching people’s reflections in glass.

It was a early Fall night much like this one that he first noticed his gift.

Dad, suit and tie and freshly shaved and mustache neatly trimmed, drove their new, ’59 burgundy Lincoln Continental back to the old neighborhood. Mom sat opposite dad, wrapped in her furs, wearing her best clothes. Dad told her she wore clothes too tight sometimes but she told him to never mind, didn’t he want everybody to know what he had every night?

Mom and Dad left the old neighborhood a year before and never told Earl why. But once a month, maybe twice, he and Mom and Dad would get in the car and go back north to the old neighborhood with presents for everybody. Dad was in the meat business and he’d hand out steaks and chops and roasts and cutlets and hotdogs in summer and hamburger and ground pork if somebody wanted to make meatballs. Everybody was so grateful and Mom would smile and nod as she stood beside Dad, his hands reaching deep into the coolers in the dark of the trunk, coming back into daylight, his hands full of brown paper wrapped meats neatly tied with butcher’s twine. They asked questions about the new car and Dad would tell them it was a Lincoln and Mom would correct him with “Lincoln Continental.”

They drove home, the coolers empty and tucked in the trunk, heading south on a clear, moonless Sunday night. Earl saw the Rhode Island border sign. Soon Dad would slow for the Providence traffic and take the Federal Hill exit.

An only child, Earl had the entire backseat to himself. He could lie down and take naps if he wanted to. Now he sat hands folded and face pressed against the rear passenger’s window, his knees pulled together and tucked under him because he had to pee but Dad said they weren’t going to stop, they only had a little further to go and Earl was a big man and could hold it, couldn’t he?

Sure, Dad.

Except Earl really had to pee. The leather seat sent shivers of cold up through his bare knees and that didn’t help. He had bare knees because he wore shorts. Shorts, a winter jacket and a hat Mom made him wear even though his cousins all wore long pants.

They already laughed at him because he had different color eyes; the right brown, the left blue. Mom didn’t say much and his cousins and some aunts and uncles said that made him a freak. She made him wear dark sunglasses and told people Earl had sensitive eyes.

His cousins would dance around him. “Earl has sen-si-tive eye-yiis. Earl has sen-si-tive eye-yiis.”

He caught his reflection in the window as his exhalations frosted the glass. Mom’s and Dad’s reflections, too.

He’d never noticed them before. Maybe reflections were something you only got in a Lincoln Continental? The dashboard gave off so much light.

He watched his father’s profile as they drove. Mother said things and Dad occasionally winced on the side mom couldn’t see, like somebody was jabbing him with a little knife.

Mom would go ya ya ya and Dad’s nose would twitch and his mustache would rise a little then go back down. Mom would go da da da and Dad’s eye would wink shut quick and then back open to watch the cars on the road. Mom would go sa sa sa and Dad’s lips would move forward and back like he wanted to spit something out.

Earl watched his father and something happened in Earl’s head. His father stopped being a person and became a book, a map, a reference, something easily read. He tasted what his father felt. He did not know the word but he understood the emotion: despair.

“You don’t like what Mom’s saying, do you, Dad.”

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Empty Sky Chapter 8 – Joni and Honey Fitz

You didn’t do yourself any favors with the beer and pizza, Joni

Read Empty Sky Chapter 7 – Al and Doc Martin


Joni stood across Beacon Street from the Brookline Abortion Clinic staring at the sign’s red and gold lettering.

What betesticled marketing moron came up with those colors for an abortion clinic?

Two buses, one with a Boston’s Pro-Life Action Network banner and the other unloading Operation Rescue “sidewalk counselors”, formed a phalanx from the sidewalk to the clinic doors. Ever since John Salvi III opened fire here and at its sister clinic about a mile away, and now with most red states sending bus loads of safe sex refugees north, this stretch of Beacon Street became one of the safest most dangerous places in the greater Boston area. Police cars patrolled routinely. Male and female undercover cops chatted up anyone and everyone walking anywhere near the clinic.

The Supreme Court had created a safe zone for people wanting to enter and exit the clinics and this safe zone included quite a bit of the sidewalk and street surrounding the clinic. People on their way elsewhere learned to stay on the other side of the street, thus the only people nearing the clinic were those having business there.

Such as Joni, today.

Joni held a pencil in her hand as if it were a cigarette. She lifted it to her lips each time she felt her breakfast of barely thawed Brüdermann’s frozen pizza and cold Starbucks coffee coming back on her.

She belched. “Ugh. Morning sickness is one thing but you didn’t do yourself any favors here, Joni girl.” She checked her palm for escaping pieces of pizza. “I should never have given up smoking.”

She watched an obese woman with a video camera and two small children in tow from her safe haven of a sidewalk bench across the street from the clinic. The children orbited the woman more like satellites than offspring; the woman was large enough to warrant a small planetary system of her own.

All the other people, all the other protesters and contesters, all the police, all the counselors, all the passersby and traffic in between, evaporated until only this one woman, video camera in hand, her greater and lesser moons of Phobos and Deimos orbiting via unseen gravitational umbilicae, spun away from the others, walking and talking her way into a universe of her own.

She held vigil under an ash tree, a cat waiting for a specific bird to arrive. She kept telling her kids to stay there. At least it seemed she was. She might have been saying, “Stay here until I move five feet away. No more. Five feet, do you hear? Then come running after me. Scream for me. Clutch onto my skirt, climb onto my coat, pull me down into the earth with the weight of you. Make sure you’re loud and obscene enough for all others to see. We are here to show them what it means to be a mother.”

Joni’s hand went to her stomach. She couldn’t feel any life there yet. “Small comfort.” Instead she felt the pizza and coffee making plans for a violent escape. She wanted to be prepared.

How did the woman pick her targets? Did she only go for women like herself? Like herself in what way?

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Empty Sky Chapter 7 – Al and Doc Martin

Things come together when they’re suppose to

Read Empty Sky Chapter 6 – Jack Games


Al Carsons took off his shirt while Doc Martin read an official letter Tony sent to explain the situation. He placed the letter on top of Al’s folder and placed both folder and letter on the examing room table. Next he reached into his pocket and pulled out some Post-It notes.

“What are those, Doc?”

Doc Martin patted the examining room table. “Up.”

Al sat on the table. Doc Martin read the Post-It notes, nodding at each as he shuffled them, then put the bunch of them in the sink. “You smoke?”

“You know I don’t.”

“Wait here.”

He went to his office and came back with a small box of wooden matches, lit one and held it to the Post-It notes.

“Doc?”

“You would like to test for a Class 5 HazMat TT license. I am going to examine you to make sure there is nothing to suggest you shouldn’t test for that license, but which would not stop you from maintaining your Class 4 Construction Vehicle license. Do you understand what I told you?”

Al smiled. He and the Doc went way back. On his first visit, Al was a strapping, blonde haired, cowlicked buck fresh out of high school who’d just started working for the county and, in the middle of his union physical, confessed he’d just met a girl and wasn’t she pretty? Al remembered the Doc talking to him, confirming and denying things Al had heard about but never experienced, things about being “safe”.

Doc had been a tall, lean, man about fifteen years older than Al. Tall and lean and wiser than anybody Al ever knew.

Now Al had gotten a gut and what hair he had he cut close. Still thin but now not as tall, Doc seemed more like a pussywillow stick bent with the weight of the silvery puff on top. The Doc seemed to be getting thinner and more hunched these days.

“Why, sure, Doc, I understand, but — ”

“Good.” Doc reached into a drawer and came back with a reflex hammer. He whacked Al square on the forehead hard enough to open the big man’s eyes.

“Hey!”

“This test confirms you should not test for the Class 5 HazMat TT license.” Doc Martin raised the reflex hammer again.

“Doc!” Al lifted his arms and turned his face away.

“That’s what you should have done the first time.” He made a note on the letter then put it inside Al’s folder. “Now, what’s Tony talking about?”

Al kept his eyes on the hammer still in the Doc’s hand. “You talking about my sleeping in the truck cabs?”

“Are you just a damned fool or do you think there’s a sane reason for that?” Al hesitated and the Doc raised the hammer again. “You’re too damn old to have the cat get your tongue so tell me what the hell’s going on, Albert Carsons.”

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Empty Sky Chapter 1 – The Cabin

Sometimes we find our friends in the dark

(been doing some rewriting that I will explain in future posts. for now, this is the new opening.
Also edited the previous posts/chapters for those following along. Enjoy. Or let me know if you’re not and why.)

Jamie, delicate and flaxen-haired, felt Shem’s tail thumping the blanket. The big golden sat on their bed staring out the cabin window, his coat glistening in the moonlight.

Jamie whispered, “What is it, boy?” He looked past his dog to the oak, elm, pine, and ash of the Upper Peninsula Michigan forest. The Moon, full and bright, illuminated the trees and the small, one-room cabin at their center.

Shem scratched at the door to go out.

“Do you have to pee?”

Shem whined softly.

“Shh.” Jamie glanced at his parents, Ellie and Tom, asleep on the other side of the cabin. You want to wake mom and dad?” He crawled out from under the covers and tip-toed to the door where he stood on a chair, drew back the bolt, and lifted the latch.

Cool winds rustled treetops, turning them into brooms sweeping low-hung clouds from late September skies. Dust devils spun up mists where night air met day-warmed rocks. Owls and loons, peepers and crickets, hooted and chirped. Trees bowed to the rising Moon.

Shem walked into the night. Jamie followed.

The Moon continued her ascent. The woods fell silent.

Silent.

Ellie sat up in bed, her hands clenching the blanket, holding it tight against her. A cold, dank wind swirled through the cabin, lifting things slightly, inspecting them, putting them down, drawing a musk of old earths in its wake.

Moonlight entered the cabin’s single room.

Her eyes fixed on Jamie’s empty bed.

“Jamie! Shem!”

Tom rose and put his boots on in one motion. “Where are they?”

Ellie pointed at the open door.

Tom threw her coat to her. “They must be together. Shem won’t let Jamie out of his sight.”

“Something’s got them. Some wild animal.”

“Calm down, Ellie. There’s no blood anywhere. Shem’d raise hell if something got in the cabin or near Jamie.” He grabbed an iron poker from the woodstove.

Ellie stopped at the door, a silhouette against the night. “Shh.”

“What the…”

“Shh!”

Tom whispered, “What are they doing?”

“It looks like they’re playing.”

“With whom?”

Jamie and Shem romped in a grassy clearing twenty feet from the cabin. Moonlight cast long shadows everywhere as they danced about, the sole performers under a celestial spotlight.

Tom looked to the rutted dirt road that served as the camp’s driveway. No cars but theirs. He scanned the shadows.

Ellie whispered, “Can you hear that?”

“He’s laughing?”

Jamie danced in circles, laughing as if being tickled, his arms up as if waiting to be lifted, little hands grasping, little fingers curling.

“Shem’s bowing.”

“Isn’t that dog for ‘Let’s play’, bowing? He’s not facing Jamie. Who’s he playing with?”

Beside Jamie, Shem, bigger than Jamie and the boy’s perfect playmate, jumped up and bowed and ran around as if someone was throwing his Frisbee to him.

The Moon cleared the trees, lighting the clearing from above. Jamie’s and Shem’s shadows crept underneath them. The wind stilled.

Ellie grabbed Tom’s arm. “Do you see that?”

Other shadows entered the clearing, some Jamie’s size, some slightly larger. Shadows with nothing to cast them. Shadows where there shouldn’t be shadows. Shadows standing upright, not cast on the ground.

Jamie danced with them and they danced around Jamie. Shem ran among them, played tag with them. Jamie laughed. Shem barked.

Not a warning, not an alarm.

Recognition.

Something twinkled in the shadows, prisms breaking the intense moonlight into bright rainbows.

On the edge of the clearing, in the dark where the trees stood in ancient vigil, eyes gathered in the moonlight.

Ellie woke, the covers clenched in her hands.

She looked across the cabin. Jamie and Shem, sleeping together as always, in their bed.

She let out a breath. She shook her head. It was a dream. The full moon’s light came in through a cabin window. It must have disturbed her, wakened her, worried her in her sleep.

She rolled over, away from Tom to give him a little more room.

And saw dew-laden toddler-sized footprints and paw prints on the floor.

She sat up as the cabin door closed.

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Empty Sky Chapter 6 – Jack Games

Best Friends. Forever.

Read Empty Sky Chapter 5 – Joni Levis


Jack Games leaned against Room 343’s window. 343 was the largest private patient’s room in his clinic and the only one with a picture window overlooking the University of Chicago Medical Center’s quad. He watched some med students play hackeysac on the lawn while others sat on benches soaking up the sun. The quad was surrounded on all sides by the Medical Center’s white, gray and tan facades. The university hospital stood just out of sight off to the side.

“What are we going to do, Tom?”

Tom McPherson snored, a gentle hnnh sound.

Thirty PhDs, MDs, DScis and related specialists worked for Dr. Jackson Arthur Games. He chaired the University of Chicago’s Neurosciences Department, co-chaired the Center for Narcolepsy Research at the University of Illinois, Chicago, was on the board of the Defense and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, unofficially owned the third floor of the Brain Research Institute, sat on the board of the BRF Center for Molecular Neurobiology, and on Monday afternoons held an online, invitation-only Sleep Disorders Specialty Clinic.

None of which meant shit right now. Jackson Arthur Games had come a long way from DC’s Prospero House, the largest orphans’ home in the tri-state area, and most of it with the McPherson family’s financial backing.

“Smart investment, eh, Tom? You spent how much money on my education and I can’t do a frickin’ thing for you now?”

Tom hnnhed. Tom hnnhed in his sleep for as long as Jack knew him.

He remembered one day when he and Tom were in Jack’s college dorm room. Jack got dressed while Tom sat on the bed, watching Jack’s silhouette against a not quite as large window.

“Holy shit, Jack. You’re black.”

“All the way down and for most of my life, smart ass.”

“No, I mean, I’ve always known you were a ‘black man’, but I never noticed your skin. It’s black. Darker than mine anyway. Wow. That’s neat.”

Jack held up his hand as if to check Tom’s statement then caught himself. Tom’s sincerity was both stupifyied and contagious. But Tom had always been innocent and naive in ways Jack couldn’t quite fathom.

“You are truly color blind, my friend.”

Their bond cemented a year later in their junior year.

Tom was packing his car for Christmas break and Jack blocked his path. “Hey, fuckhead.”

“What?”

“How come you never ask me home? What’s the matter, you a closet racist? You got something against orphans? Did you think I had someplace to go?”

Tom made no comment. He picked up a laundry bag and put it in his trunk. “None of that’s true, Jack. You know that.”

“Well, you never ask me home. What’s the prob? You got a crazy uncle locked in the attic?”

Tom stopped mid way to his trunk with a box of books in his hands. “No. Go get your things. I’d love to have you with me for the holidays.”

They drove two-hundred highway miles in silence. They exited the highway and traveled some low mountain country roads until they came to a old village built along a river.

Jack said, “Is that a waterpowered mill?”

“Yes. Still operational. Doesn’t power anything, just something to look at and remember.”

Jack looked at the company store turned country store, the hitching posts, rail guides, and water troughs still prevalent along Main Street. “Wow, what a sense of history.”

“History. You got that right.”

They rode another twenty minutes in silence. Tom turned up a gravel drive hidden in trees at the far side of town. The drive stopped at an ivy covered mansion buried in a copse of oak, ash and pine.

“Tom, I’m sorry. This was a stupid idea. I’ll head back to town and hitch back to school.”

“Why?”

“I’ve been here before, Tom. I’ve made friends before whose family thought the darker the skin the more ignorant the man. I don’t need to be your proof that desegregation doesn’t work.”

“You think that’s why I never asked you home?”

“Well?”

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