Half Minus One

Sequencing was the job of Harper Sigma, and getting him to shut up was more difficult than Splitting. So, we brought him along only when we needed him. Of course, hindsight’s 20-20, and now I was staring at a rotary dial phone with an ornate cathead receiver and a noose for a cord.
843, I try.
8.4.3, I try again.
The line was dead as far as I could tell; the only response I got was a single, unconvincing tone, but it was all just the same. His mind was a steel trap. Quite literally.
“What we got, Alpha?” Tau startled me.
“We got… squat,” I mutter.
Tau holds his hand up to his face to block the filtered sunlight that bounded through the broken windows and crumbling parapets. “You think he’s in there?”
Robert Cutcheons. Man made of money. Man made of fame. Man made of death.
“Yes,” I say, the gravity in my voice making me sound more confident than I felt. Beta sidles up next to us and reaches around my shoulders, hugging me reassuringly. He was kind that way. Kinder than I was.
“That’s messed up,” Tau snorts.
“What was in the box?”
I hold the box up to Tau and gently shake it.
“There was a note,” I admit.
He gestures for it, and I hand it over. “Phase one?”
“We’re getting close.”
“And, then the number?”
“May as well be in Greek.”
“We read Greek.”
I tilt the box into the sun and squint into it one last time, then turn it over.
I jump backward, nearly toppling over Tau, drop the box, and fall flat on my back. A golden retriever leaps on to my chest and starts licking my face.
“Woah, woah!” I swat the dog away, and it jumps up on Tau. “What the?”
“It’s a dog!” squeals Beta, a kid again. We had a golden growing up. I bet Robert knew that.
The dog stoops down and barks, ready for play, then bites at my pants legs, pulling me toward the house. “Hey,” I shout, then I hear something roll out of the box. I glance back as Beta picks up a spool of thread with a needle. He scrunches his eyebrows together, shrugs, picks up the box, then we follow the dog into the abandoned building.
It’s more than a building. As we get closer, I notice the rusted tricycle. I see the swing set with only the chains, the deflated soccer ball, the uncut grass and derelict garden bed. We were walking into his home. We were about to touch ground in his Cortex.
A third item frothed out of the box, and soon we are accompanied by flitting transparent bubbles that stuck to our shirts and hair. They engulfed us as we pushed through the door and into the salon. The dog lets my pant leg go, and runs off out the back of the house. 
“Hello,” asks Beta, his voice bouncing off the stairwell and walls.
We listen for several breaths, the only sound being the click-click-click of the languidly spinning fan.
“Huh,” coughs Tau. “No one’s home.”
“Guys?” whispers Beta. “What’s in the box?”
We turn around as Beta drops the box to the ground and backs away. He looks up, ashen, shaking his head. “No, no, that’s not normal.”
The sound of a beating heart, the disruption between each beat, the empty thrusting of its valves against the plush interior of the box…
“Hello?” a small voice drifts down the stairs. “I followed the bubbles. You brought back my dog.”
We turn, and at the top of the stairs a child stands, gripping the front of his shirt, blood oozing onto it and dripping to the ground. “Have you found my heart?”
Beta falls to his knees. “Oh God, I wasn’t ready for this. I wasn’t ready for this. I wasn’t ready for this,” he repeats over and over again.
I step forward. “Robert?”
He nods.
“Robert, hey, I think we found your heart.”
He descends the stairs. “Can you put it back?”
Beta looks up at me, then to Tau.
“Sure, buddy,” I say. “Sure we can. Can you come to us?”
His eyes are locked on Beta, and Beta begins to sob silently. “I can help you, Robert.”
Robert winds his way past us, looking up at us as he does, and sits down in front of Beta and the box. “My heart,” he sighs. “My dog told me you would come. I heard his barks.”
“That’s a good dog,” Beta’s words are flightless and torn as he lifts Robert’s heart from the box. “I’ll put it back in very gently, then I’ll sew you up, okay?”
Robert nods again, and then lays back on the floor.
“Robert?” I reach out for his name. “Robert, where’re your parents?”
Beta lowers his heart into his chest and takes out the needle and thread.
“My parents?” he asks.
“Yes, Robert, Buck and Georgina. Your dad and mom?”
He winces with each new stitch. “They’re dead,” he says flatly. “I had to kill them.”
Beta cuts the thread, and Robert sits straight up, thrusts his hand into the box, and pulls out a mask, the same mask he wore when he slit Francis Deacon’s throat, when he gutted Darren Wonaky, when he laughed at Col. Gabriel Strong. “Now, Mr Travis, you know the half of it. Time to go.”
There’s a concussion behind us, and we’re showered with the molding crumbling debris of an exploded wall. The wind tears at our clothes. The PONoR rends this reality in half, casting an infinite number of reflections through the Turning Point.
“That’s all you get, Harper!” he shouts. “That’s all I’m going to let you have!”
I back up, grabbing Tau’s shirt as I retreat, and shout, “I’m going to get all of it!”
“Not likely!” He strongarms Beta, forcing him to the ground and putting him in a headlock. “My price, Harper. You’re out one, and I’m coming for the rest of you,” he screams.
We feel the concussion shake our bodies. We are blown backward and through the TransPo.
He has the Beta me, part of me, and I didn’t know where it would end. Where he would end.
-JR Simmang


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