Chapter Seven: Into the Hidden Lair

Chapter Seven: Into the Hidden Lair

Ollie and Toby stare at Olivia. She doesn’t blink. She chews on the muffin, taking slow and determined bites. She kicks the Fluffy Muffin bag under the coffee table.

–– Olive? You there?

She blinks.

–– Try them.

Toby and Ollie both bite into the muffin. They wince.

She stares at the television screen.

–– It’s ok. You don’t have to eat it. Honey, why don’t you go to your room?

She pats him on the knee. Toby leaves the game on pause and pushes the blanket to the side. He looks at the screen, at Ollie.

–– We won’t turn it off.

Toby hands Olivia his muffin and runs upstairs. She sets it next to the abandoned video game controller.

They stare at the zombie massacre. Toby’s door closes.

–– I used salt instead of sugar.
–– You what?
–– Salt. Instead of sugar.
–– Oh.

Ollie finishes off the muffin. No wincing.

–– I think they’re pretty good. Maybe you’re onto something. Anyhow, they’re both white powders. It’s ok. It happens. I remember I had dinner at this Chinaman’s place once. Orange chicken was like cake batter.
–– Crystalline solid.
–– What?
–– Crystalline solid. Salt and sugar are both crystalline solids. We’re going to lose the house.

Olivia leans over into Ollie. His eyes glisten. He strokes her hair.

–– We’ll figure something out. We always do.
–– I’m going to lose the house. Toby’s seizure – I’m not –
–– No you’re not. I’m going to take care of it. And Toby’s fine.
––Dad.

Ollie stares through Olivia. He bites his lip in gritty determination.

–– Dad? You there?

Smiling, Ollie pulls the robot claw from under the cushion. He pinches Olivia’s shoulder with the robot claw. She laughs.

–– Always leaves his stuff around.
–– Don’t you worry about a thing.

He kisses her on the forehead and heads for his room.

She chews the muffin and stares at zombies.

 

• • •

Ollie pulls the “Toby’s College Fund” box from under the bed. He places it on the desk beside the typewriter and opens the lid. He stares at the two Foxhole chips. One dollar apiece. He sits down on the green chair and leans back.

Up to bat
The tireless figure
Family needs you
Greg’s an asshole
Going to work

He spins the Decoder Ring and clenches his fist. Relaxing, he hits the carriage return and makes space for the next panel. He closes his eyes. The memories of panel two race back in a flurry of halftones.

2.
Inside a house – wealthy family – a HUSBAND is smacking his WIFE around.
HUSBAND – THIS’LL TEACH YOU!!!
WIFE – NO!

Panel Three. Four.

The kid hides under his own linen forcefield as the mother pleads for help.

The Sentinel SMASHES through the wall.

THERE’LL BE NO MORE OF THAT.

He hurls the abusive husband across the room.

THAT SHOULD STOP YOU!

Ollie stops.

He stares at the page, covered in words that will right his contract with Billy. Words that will save Olivia’s house. Words that will save Toby’s future. He exhales and spins in the chair.

Page one. Done.

He grabs the robot claw and taps the laundry chute. He pinches the page into the claw and extends his arm up through the chute, his legs wobbly as he stands on his bed. He feels the paper plucked from the claw. He retracts the empty claw and paces around the bed.

Back and forth.

The chute door creaks and open. A slip of paper falls to the bed. He unrolls it.

TKKJ HXOYZUR HUGXJ. GJJ VGTKR HKZZKX LRUC.

He stares at the note and scribbles a response on the back.

TU! NGY ZU HK KDGIZ!

Robot claw up the laundry chute.

He sits down at his desk. Rolls in another piece of paper. Page Two. Carriage return. He stares at the college fund box.

He closes his eyes.

The Sentinel extends his hand and says…

He presses his fingers into his throbbing temple. He wipes his hand across his face, the stubble gritty against his palm.

The Sentinel extends his hand…

The laundry chute opens. Ollie jumps from the chair as the note lights on the bed.

HKZZKX LRUC HKZZKX MXGJK. TKKJ HXOYZUR HUGXJ.

Ollie shakes his head. He sweats. Scribbles.

HAS TO BE EXACT!

Robot claw up the laundry chute.

10 minutes pass. Nothing. Not a sound. Ollie paces in front of the typewriter.

The Sentinel extends his hand…

Finally, the door creaks and opens. The script to page one falls to the bed. Ollie stares at the note on top.

DON’T WANT TO WORK TOGETHER NOW.

 

• • •

–– Buddy, come on. I need you on this.

Toby says nothing as his chainsaw-wielding video game avatar slices the head off a screeching zombie. Ollie sits next to him.

–– Look, I’m sorry. But it… it has to be exact.

A throng of zombies descends on Toby. He depresses three buttons in quick succession. Zombie heads hit the blood-soaked ground.

–– Why? You always told me that we should try to make things better than they are.
–– I know buddy. It’s just ––

A trash bag on top of a box pushes through the door, followed by a pair of exposed, hairy legs adorned with white socks and black military boots.

Asshole.

–– Hey guys, guess what? I’m ––

Olivia rushes up and kisses Greg on the cheek. She takes the bag from the top of the box and sets it on the floor. He sets the box next to it. She grips his hand. Deep breath.

–– Boys, we have an announcement to make.

Toby pauses the game. Ollie crosses his arms. Olivia smiles at Greg.

–– I’ve asked Greg to move in.

Toby stares at the floor. Greg smirks at Ollie. Olivia beams.

–– Isn’t that great, Dad?

Ollie looks at Toby. He looks at Olivia. At Greg’s hairy legs and boots.

He smiles. Nods.

Toby glares at Ollie. He unpauses the game and slices off a zombie leg.