Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Mark of Ken

So lived the clansmen in cheer and revel
a winsome life, till one began
to fashion evils, that field of hell.
Grendel this monster grim was called,
march-riever mighty, in moorland living,
in fen and fastness; fief of the giants
the hapless wight a while had kept
since the Creator his exile doomed.
-- Beowulf

I think there is something in the water. On my way out of the hotel this morning I took the complimentary bottle with me and left it in the rental car. After the presentation I come out of that office, pumped up with excitement, and I need a drink, and even though it's warm by now I crack it open and down it almost all in one gulp. Then I'm sitting in the car, wondering if I should call Kate and tell her how well everything went, and suddenly I notice that an hour has gone by. I feel strange and a little bit dizzy, and I think I actually passed out. I sniff the bottle, but there's no smell. So I figure my blood sugar must be low and that what I really need is a good meal somewhere. By now it's late in the day, and the sun is setting. I keep thinking of Kate, but I keep pushing that thought out of my head, because I want to keep this good feeling going. Kate can wait. Ha.

I drive out of Hampton and over the bridge tunnel toward Norfolk, and just to get off my regular path I take the first exit onto Ocean View, a strange mix of freshly painted beach cottages and cheap motels with broken signs. Then dizziness comes back in waves. I am just about to pull off into a 7-11 parking lot and wait for it to pass when I realize I am flying towards a stopped car, way too fast, and I am about to hit it. I am practically standing on the brakes, and already I know it's not enough. I crumple the back end of the car in front of me, hard enough to fishtail it to one side. For a long moment I sit in my seat, wondering if I'm okay. Then I notice the driver of the other car has gray-white curly hair. She seems to be an old woman, and I feel terrible.

I get out of my car and run towards hers. She is staring straight ahead, gripping the wheel, but I can't see blood anywhere. I tap on her window.

"Are you alright?"
When she turns to me, her eyes are vague with shock at first. But she looks at me, and suddenly she's afraid. Terrified.
"Are you okay?"
She's shaking her head slowly, backing away from me and tangling herself in the seat belt. Maybe she's having some kind of breakdown, I think, and open the door. I don't notice her far hand reach into her purse. The pepper spray hits me off to one side, completely blinding my left eye and making my throat nearly close up. It's excruciating. I step back into the street hacking and shaking my head like a dog that tangled with a skunk. With my good eye I can see her exit the car from the passenger's side and run off, abandoning her car, her keys, and her purse. She's scared witless of me.
"Just... just lay down on the ground. Hands in the air!" I hear the cop shouting. He's got his handgun trained on me, and his hands are shaking. The radio on his shoulder crackles, and he's screaming for backup like he's facing an army. I ask him what's happening, and the hesitation is enough to make him fire three shots at me. The woman's car window shatters, and I feel one of the bullets clip past my shoulder with a sharp, tiny puff of blood. He will kill me if I don't run.
I run.
I pass a man walking with a package who scuttles out of my way and screams for the police. I pass a teenage couple walking with hands in each other's pockets -- the boy leaps into the air, and tries to take me down with a flying tackle, but somehow I slip away.
Within 30 seconds after that I am several blocks away, and I can hear sirens coming from all around. Within fifteen minutes I am hiding in a trash dumpster, and a helicopter spotlight is prowling through the dark corners of the city. A SWAT vehicle roars by. As the sounds of the search party fade into the distance I can hear a strange electronic beeping. Cautiously I examine it. It's coming from beneath a parked car. Down there in the gutter there is a walkie-talkie with a headset. A tinny voice is repeating itself like an incantation:
"Put me on. Put me on. Put me on."
When I comply the radio clicks, as if someone stopped a program and started another.
"Listen to me very carefully," the man on the other end says. "Run to the fire hydrant at the end, and cut through the alley. Then turn right, run four blocks, and wait behind the garbage cans until I tell you what to do."
"Who are you?" I ask.
"A friend," he says. "Your only friend. Listen, you've become a monster. People will hunt you, attack you on sight. You must follow my instructions if you want to live through the next twelve hours."

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