Sunday, December 13, 2015

Volume 3 - Chapter 8 - Kass

Hey guys, sorry for the late post. This was a hard section to write, and I ended up re-writing it a few times. No matter how I wrote it though, I kept coming to the same ending.

Anyways, SPOILERS- I have been hesitant to post this section for reasons that will be obvious when you finish reading it. Have patience and faith that your author will do his best to salvage the story. Don't hate me until the book is finished.

Also, thanks for the birthday wishes. My reader-base may be super small online these days, but I'm always happy to hear from your comments!


As soon as Kass logged out, she reached for her phone. It was more out of habit than any possible eagerness to accept Charles’s lucrative but rather shady offer. Ugh, why does the right thing always have the wrong impact on my checking account? If only being a good girl with a conscience paid as well as the deviousness I’m expected to produce, then I’d feel a lot less sick in the stomach about this, Kass grumbled. Alright, I suppose I need to call Dad first and then get the guy’s number from . . . Kass stopped as her thumbing down to find her dad’s number revealed that she somehow already had Charles's in her phone. That’s not creepy at all, Kass thought and frowned as she looked at the number. When did he even get my cell phone? Did he take it out of my pants pocket while I was asleep, crack my passcode and put his phone number in there? Kass started to feel a lot less comfortable about the decision she was making to work with him. Oh well, at least it’s convenient to call him, but still, ugh. Ew. This type of behavior outside of a 1980s romantic comedy is just downright creepy.
“Hello, this is Charles’s phone, how may I help you?” the voice answered.
Wait, when did I dial the number? she looked at the phone, forgetting that she had even hit the ‘call’ button in her confusion.
“Hello?” the voice, clearly not anyone she knew, kept responding.
His phone, does he actually have the technology to make a sentient, artificial intelligence system to answer his phone, or is it like a secretary that just took on the identity of a phone? she wondered for a moment, then panicked. Crap, I need to say something or she is going to hang up, “Umm, this is Kass, I’m calling to speak to Charles.”
“Ahh, Miss Kass, I’ve been expecting your call. You’ll have to forgive me, but I called your cell phone service provider and had them upload our contact information into your phone for you just in case no-one delivered it to you.”
Oh, that explains how . . . Yeah . . . That’s a lot less unsettling, Kass said to herself, mentally toning down her level of creeped-out as the voice apologized. “Well, I’m calling because there is something I need to talk to Charles about,” she pressed once more.
“That’s wonderful news. He is actually really close to you right now and told me to send a car to pick you up for lunch if you called in the next fifteen minutes.” The voice was rather perky and happy about the whole thing.
Too happy. Kass didn’t get it. How does someone who has to work for that guy stay so cheerful and upbeat. Do they have special schools on how to sound polite and happy for an entire day of answering phones for a weird boss? she wondered. She had experienced the phenomenon before when she called customer service, but it didn’t mean she had any real understanding of how it worked. If I had to sit on the phone for twelve hours a day listening to annoying customers complain about problems that were easier to fix than macaroni and cheese, I’d probably shoot myself, but they maintain that cheerful ‘all's right with the world’ attitude like you’re the only person who has called in a year, she marveled momentarily, still distracted and a bit wigged out by the stress of the whole situation, and completely forgot that she was on the phone.
“Miss, I’ll be sending a nearby car to your location. Can you be ready in five minutes?” the chipper secretary asked, wanting clarification.
“Five minutes? Umm, sure. Where is the lunch?” Kass asked, looking at the jeans and t-shirt she had thought would be all she’d need to wear for the rest of the day when she originally haphazardly threw them together, but now debated if she could change them to something fancier with only five minutes’ notice.
“It’s going to be at a hole-in-the-wall barbeque place ten minutes from your current location. Charles is eating alone, so I’m sure he’ll enjoy the company. The car will be there in five. Have a nice day!” With that, the voice finished and a click sound with a dial tone took its place.
Well, that doesn’t even give me a chance to respond, does it? Kass felt somewhat like a child being told when and where he or she was supposed to be. Okay, hole-in-the-wall barbeque with no notice. Screw it. I’m going to just . . . Kass’s eyes wandered to the dress crumpled up at the foot of her closet from the night before, the fancy one she had hoped would impress her crowd of hopefully soon-to-be fans. No, I wore that last night. I can’t wear the same dress twice in a row, can I? She thought about it for a moment more, but then a car honked outside. Crap, it hasn’t been five minutes yet, has it? She checked her phone. It has! What the heck? I’m spacing out way too much, she thought with a sigh and dashed down the flight of stairs and out the door while squeezing her phone, half afraid it would fall out, half feeling kind of depressed that it was essentially everything she needed to leave the house with. Well, everything but the pepper spray my dad always insists on me taking anytime I have a date. I don’t need it though, do I? Kass looked at the giant muscular bodyguard opening the door to the old-fashioned, tinted-windowed car. Nah, wouldn’t help me anyways.
“Watch your feet,” he said as Kass hopped in. He hadn’t even managed a ‘hello’ when she first walked outside, but making sure she knew how a car operated seemed to be important. I guess to most of Charles’s henchmen, I’m just the kid who passes out too easily, she mentally kicked herself.
The ride was smooth. Uneventful, but smooth. The whole ten minutes were filled with an awkward but permeating silence as she sat in the back of a vehicle with a blackened glass partition that didn’t let her see the front and forced her to awkwardly stare out the window as she realized her attempts to strike up conversation with the driver were either falling on deaf or uncaring ears. When they finally arrived at the destination, she found her car door was locked, and she was made to wait as he walked around and opened it for her. Too bad my prom date never had this type of manners, she laughed at the steroid-infused-looking suit as she climbed out of the car. “Watch your feet,” he said again as her tennis shoes scrambled to find solid footing as she escaped the high-sitting car.
You and the feet, she almost mumbled under her breath before catching herself. It probably wouldn’t be in her best interest to insult a man four times her size with some witty line about him and a hollywood director.
“Miss!” A perky lady holding a clipboard holding a yellow legal pad shouted from over at the entrance. “Miss! I’m glad you made it on time. The meal is about to be served.”
“What did I order?” Kass looked at the buoyantly bouncing blonde with the clipboard staring back at her. This is the girl from the phone, that voice. This is the girl from the phone, she realized, suddenly connecting the dots. Then she looked up at the sign above the restaurant: Lester’s Creepy Cuts. The food must be really good for this business to stay open.
“It’s kale with a few apples and lemon water,” she said.
“At a barbecue spot?” Kass found the entire idea of coming to a type of restaurant notorious for sugar-coated slabs of meat and ordering kale and apples to be ridiculous, but didn’t feel like pursuing the topic past the initial question.
“Yes, ma’am, Charles just doubled his order, so you’ll have to take up any bones you have to pick with him.”
Any bones I have to pick? I think the lack of those is the problem. She groaned at her own pun. “Alright, well, thank you for calling the car,” Kass gave the assistant or secretary or whatever she was a mini bow of the head, which felt rather silly, and walked in to see Charles sitting at a table by himself near the window decorated with two massive racks of ribs that Kass could smell all the way from the doorway. It was as if they were heaven.
“I thought we were eating kale?” Kass asked as she sat in the chair opposite to Charles.
“We are. Kale is the name of the pig that was used to make the ribs in front of you,” Charles replied with a grin. “The doctor said I needed to eat more kale, more spinach and more lettuce, so I talked to Lester and told him he needed to name some pigs Kale, Spinach and Lettuce for me. Now I can truthfully tell my doctor at the end of each month that I’ve been eating plenty of each.”
“You know, you could just actually eat the green, leafy things the doctor insists on, right?” Kass laughed as she eyed the rack of ribs in front of her. I think Lester and Charles have a good idea here. I need to start renaming my food so I won’t have to lie to my dad or diet either.
“Kass, don’t jest. We both know that a life without good food isn’t a life worth living, right? A hundred years would be too few to make up for the joy one would give up if he stuck to the diet the doctor deems necessary,” Charles scoffed and then, with a sort of grace that should never accompany ribs, dug into his meal. He was the first person Kass had ever seen eat ribs without getting a single bit of the sauce anywhere but on the tip of the fingers he was using to hold them.
“If you say so,” Kass said, and in a much less refined manner, picked up one of her ribs and started eating. Needless to say, napkin sales would triple overnight if even one sorority worth of girls ate the same way Kass was devouring the succulent flesh in front of her. Even a B-rated zombie movie didn’t have that much over-the-top tearing involved when the monsters tucked in to their fresh meaty delicacies.
Charles, likely noticing the way Kass was eating, scooted his chair back half an inch. “It’s not going to run away, you know?” he asked her with a scrunched-up, patronizing look.
“I am told that they were born with legs, even if Lester fixed the problem, so you can never be too certain,” Kass retorted before taking another bite. She was positive she was being judged, but the way the flavors exploded like firecrackers of savory goodness in her mouth left her unable to muster up enough concern to curtail her embarrassing behavior.
“I am not entirely sure the pigs have been irradiated enough to worry about rapid regrowth. They weren’t slaughtered straight out of a comic book or anything,” Charles chuckled and then, after a moment of condescension, went back to his own meal.
It took Kass less than five minutes to fully consume the lunch, and, when she finally finished, she leaned back in her chair, wishing all the while she had a belt to loosen as her stomach assaulted the button tenuously fastening her jeans. “I thought about it, and I’ll take the job,” she said, watching Charles elegantly work his way up and down the rack of ribs.  
“Mmmm,” Charles replied with only a sound, which didn’t come off as agreement, acknowledgement or even disapproval, without ever looking up from his course. Then, after waiting a minute, he signaled one of the guards. “Get her a beer to wash down the meal.”
“Is it okay to be . . .” she almost asked out of politeness, but then scrapped the question for fear it might end up being misunderstood and rob her of an ice-cold refreshment. “Thank you,” she said instead, lowering her head ever so slightly again.
“It’s only polite,” Charles said, leaning back like Kass after having cleared his own plate. “So do you read a lot?”
“Occasionally. I’m told I should do it more, but games eat a lot of my book time,” Kass replied with a shrug.
“That’s good Reading is good. It’s one of the few ways we can cram all the important parts of a lifetime’s journey into a midday afternoon and exercise the imagination at the same time,” Charles complimented her, his patronizing look all but gone as he grinned.
“So I take it you read a lot?” Kass inferred.
“Occasionally, but I tell myself I should do it more,” he mimicked her first answer down to the tone. “In fact, the other day I was reading a story about a man who did the right thing and was punished for it.”
“Hmm?” Kass cringed. Why does it feel like I’m not going to like this topic? “If he did the right thing, surely there was a happy ending, right?”
“You’d think, but this particular man wasn’t the protagonist. In fact, throughout the history of our books, our religions and our stories, multitudes suffer for no other crime than they weren’t the protagonist. The author wasn’t in love with them like he was their main character, and as a result they pay,” Charles sighed as he looked at the bottom of his clear glass of water. “To this day I haven’t ever seen a hero in a sci-fi or action story, in a religious text or fantasy book or even in the news that didn’t leave a trail of destruction the reader is supposed to just gloss over and ignore. It’s like it’s saying, ‘Don’t mind these people. Don’t mind their lives, their wives, their children. They don’t matter because they aren’t the protagonist.’ So we don’t We gloss over it and ignore the family that was destroyed for some random trinket the protagonist wanted.” Charles flicked the glass like it was a paper football and the water at the top splashed off it onto the table. “It’s actually rather a shame the way things are, the way we have to treat people like pieces on a chessboard.”
“Like pawns?” Kass tried to join the conversation by making the analogy more precise.
“No, just pieces. Every piece but the King, in fact, because, even if the queen, dies it doesn’t matter as long as the King is still intact, as long as the protagonist, the player, makes it to the end.” Charles sighed again. “Is your beer good?”
“Yes, it’s delicious. But . . .” Kass paused. She wasn’t sure of what to make of Charles’s impromptu little speech “But are you feeling like a side character?”
Charles looked at Kass and shook his head. “No Kass, that’s not my issue at all. My problem is that I still have a shred of humanity left. I’m not entirely immersed into the story like a reader, like someone who can overlook the soldier’s life, but I am interested in seeing the story progress and the protagonist get his trinket.”
Cold. There was no other way to describe the twisting feeling that struck her gut. It was cold, violently so, as her senses flared and the feeling of danger pressed against her like a sheet of wet metal on a chilly day. “What do you mean?” she asked, her eyes darting around the room. What is going on?
“I do hope you enjoyed the meal, but I can’t have you working for me anymore. You’re unreliable. When you were avaricious, it was comforting. Your acquisitive nature gave you a price tag complete with purchase instructions so visible and marketed that even cable television companies couldn’t push a product better.” Charles stood up.
Kass tried to do the same, but the terror had somehow shaken her legs and left her still sitting as he smugly walked over to the cash register and threw down a few hundred dollar bills. “I . . . I didn’t have a price! I wasn’t some greedy woman trying to sell out my friends! I wouldn’t have even done the interview if I had thought for one minute Darwin would’ve been hurt by it,” Kass protested, finding in her anger the vigor needed to regain command of her motor functions as she not only stood up, but stamped her feet.
“Hmmm, a misunderstanding on my part,” Charles said with a shrug. “That just means you were always unusable. You could have also believed in our goal. That would have been helpful too, but sadly you think Darwin is the protagonist--not me.”
“What are you going to do?” Kass asked, watching as everyone had left the room but two guards. There were no other customers, the blinds had been pulled down, and, whoever or wherever a Lester and staff were, it wasn’t at their restaurant. It was just a big empty room with tables, two bodyguards, Charles and Kass, a fact that made Kass really regret not bringing her pepper spray. Well, not that it would have helped me here. Kass began searching for a way out of the building.
“Do you need to ask? You’re a liability, a side character, and, as unfortunate as it is, I am going to have to dispose of you. There really isn’t another way around it,” Charles replied, cooly.
“How . . . How did you know?” Kass asked. Were we monitored through game developers? Did he personally watch the character? If that’s the case, why would he have needed me at all? What tipped him off? Kass’s feet pressed against the wall, and she reached out for the blinds, opening them so that street passers would have a view. It wasn’t the best method of protection, but she couldn’t think of anything else.
“You really don’t think anything through, do you? I suppose explaining anything would be a waste. I hope you enjoyed your last meal. I know my plate was delicious. Later.” Charles patted the shoulder of one of the guards who then proceeded to pull out a pistol and point it at Kass.
“Wait, wait just a--” The guard interrupted Kass’s plea with three well-placed bullets in her abdomen. It was a sharp, fiery pain that Kass had never felt before, but, as soon as it hit, it didn’t just hurt--it pushed. It pushed her away, out of her body as if the first thing it meant to kill was reality. She was still watching the world through her own eyes, but it was more of a first-person shooter where she wasn’t in control, but was only watching and feeling the empty pit in her stomach grow as her hand moved on its own to hold one of the wounds. Then the guard that had shot her turned around and left too.
“You shot her in the stomach, didn’t you?” Charles asked the guard without even looking at Kass to confirm. “Can you never just shoot them in the head?”
“I’m sorry, boss. It’s too messy that way. Have to leave something for the casket,” he apologized. “I’m really sorry, boss,” the murderer lamented again as he turned for a brief moment to admire his handy work before leaving with Charles.
As soon as the door closed behind the three men, Stephanie appeared from behind the counter and jumped over it. “Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh, dear, look what they’ve done,” she said as she grabbed Kass and controlled her inevitable fall to the ground. “Look what he’s done to you. That monster . . . That monster did this to you,” she said as she held the now-lying Kass’s head in her lap and kept fiddling around with a hand Kass couldn’t see.
The whole thing was still too surreal for Kass. She couldn’t even say the words on her mind as the cold spread from the wounds in her belly to her legs, as it moved up and started circling her heart. She couldn’t quite fully believe yet that she was dying as she stared at Stephanie, but then just looking at the now-black-haired woman felt a bit silly. She had expected a regal queen who never shook her composure a moment when she thought of Stephanie, but here she was with a panicked and distraught face, bloodshot eyes and flailing hair as her hand kept searching for something. What is she looking for? Kass wondered.
“Am I going to die?” Kass finally got out the question. She couldn’t see the wounds, but she knew the feeling. It hadn’t happened to her before--she hadn’t remembered dying before at least--but it was still an unmistakable sensation that her body knew without question, without having to be asked. Kass only bothered asking because while her body knew, she still didn’t want to accept it. “Is this it?”
“Well . . .” Stephanie stroked Kass’s hair. At any other time, Kass would have reeled from having Stephanie, the girl who had taken Darwin from her, stroking her hair gently like a mother caressing a daughter, but this time it felt nice. It was comforting and warm in a way that she needed. “The good news is you’re not dead yet. The bad news is the gunman wasn’t an amateur. The bullets are very well placed. I can’t think of a single human who could live through the injuries you’ve got. I mean, at this rate . . .” Stephanie kept talking, but Kass couldn’t hear. She had closed her eyes for just a moment, but now they felt too heavy to open again. Even breathing felt difficult as she lay on Stephanie’s lap. I just need a little rest. It’s okay if I rest a little. Just a little r--

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