Tag Archives: SFW

“Ma’am, step away from the bag” (Day 17)

Susannah Fontaine-Williams’ bag felt so warm on her lap that it woke her, and it was getting hotter by the second. She sniffed the top, not daring to open it, and the odor of smoke and dust came through. She could, in the dimmed cabin, see a tiny plume of smoke rising through the bag’s closure.

The cabin lights came on. The captain said, “Folks, we’re about an hour from our destination now. Bringing up the cabin lights so we can start our breakfast service. Weather in Copenhagen is about 62 degrees Fahrenheit, winds out of the southwest, about 7 mph…” Throughout the plane, passengers stretched.

“We’re looking at a pretty smooth flight the rest of the way, but please stay seated with the buckle fastened…” an alarm went off. The strange woman next to Susannah said, “Your bag is smoking.” Susannah opened it and the smoke turned to flames that reached the top of the cabin, singing her eyebrows and setting her hair afire. The woman pulled SFW out of the way and wrapped SFW’s head in a blanket, quickly putting out the hair fire. An instant later, two attendants with fire extinguishers rushed from the front service area.

“Ma’am, step away from the bag.”

SFW did as they said and the men shot foam at the bag, covering everything around in white. Though the bag spewed flame and sparks, it simultaneously sucked in the foam. The flames came out higher and hotter, and then the bag inhaled the fire back in. No one said a thing. Susannah peered over the top of her bag when it exploded, cracking open the airframe and sending people, extremities and debris into the sky. A second later, everything and everyone snapped back together with tremendous force and into the fiery bag and, like that, the plane and its contents were  gone from the sky over the North Sea.

On Canal Street, things had escalated quickly.  Natural gas leaking from the ruptured pipe expanded to fill the site of Walt’s lab, the building above, and the adjoining underground basements and passageways. Only the tiniest of sparks would ignite the mass of gas, and, what the hell, let’s put responsibility for the impending disaster on a cigarette smoker. A cigarette smoker who likes to put his hand on your shoulder when he talks to you.  Who mistreats anyone who tries to get close to him. Who cons trusting elderly people out of their life savings. Who had once kicked a puppy. Who at that moment was looking for a puppy to kick.

This abusive, smoking, puppy-kicking con man thought he smelled gas as he tossed his lit cigarette butt into a sewer opening. It was his last thought.

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The Canal Street Subway (day 17)

Real history: in the 1920s, the IRT, one of the subway companies operating in Manhattan, proposed an east-west Canal Street Line (CSL). Though the CSL spent many years in the preliminary phase, blueprints, endless city council meetings, budget discussions, announcements, pronouncements,  and denouncements, ultimately it never was built. The plans, blueprints, and proposals all were safely catalogued into the city’s extensive archive.

Left to itself, the basement on Canal Street functioned perfectly. The interior of Susannah Fontaine-Williams’ extra-dimensional bag stabilized itself. The ladies who ran the Excellent Bag House, the knock-off store upstairs, though they heard stray sounds from below, stayed away from the door SFW had long ago padlocked.  Understandably, the basement spooked them. Walt’s other projects, aside from Vax, the lone conscious nano-bot, remained in the state in which Walt had left them prior to his caninization.

As for Walt the big black dog, he had grown content in his role of protector of the Susannahs. Most of the time, that meant lounging on the sunny terrace, barking at odd sounds, and accompanying her on her rounds. In this particular moment, one Susannah was airborne. The other called, “Walt, let’s go for a run!”

On a subterranean shelf in Chinatown, Vax, self-appointed Lord of the Nanobots, discovered the sensation of loneliness. Without water, he would be forever alone and helpless, and he pondered  shutting down. Who wouldn’t?

On the adjoining block to the north, the empty building abutting the Excellent Bag House, absorbed the first tug of a wrecking claw, sending bricks, wood and glass crashing onto and through its floors. Vax felt the vibration, but lacking any context, could not so much as wonder what it was all about.

The company operating the wrecking claw used a set of blueprints provided by the city showing the location of buried electric lines, water mains, and most importantly, gas mains. However, a computer error mistakenly delivered the plans showing the location of where all of that infrastructure would be if the Canal Street Subway had  been built. As it was, of course, no subway line traverses Manhattan beneath Canal St.

Walt, with no real regard or understanding of how real estate boundaries worked below the surface of the earth, had built the lab and the bag pod well beyond the boundaries of the building above, and a significant part of it extended beneath the building facing demolition. With each yank of the wrecking claw, a little more weight of the building crashed onto the area above the pod. A single  brick nicked a gas line and natural gas began to leak and fill Walt’s vacant lab.

35,000 miles above the North Sea, Susannah Fontaine-Williams slept, clutching her bag while the strange woman in the seat next to her watched.

Jen’s crusade

Susannah Fontaine-Williams orders a martini, extra olives, and in a moment, the flight attendant brings it. SFW intercepts it as the flight attendant, a too tall man with a hard to place Scandanavian accent tries to place it on the tray table. She takes a big swallow, licks her lips, and says, “Oh, that’s good.” She downs the remainder in one gulp and pulls the olives out by their toothpick skewer. “Another, please,” she says, tucking the empty toothpick in the little square napkin.

“To Leibowitz,” she says, yesterday’s headline fresh in her mind. New Jersey Pharmacist may have had Connections with French Crime Family. In smaller print, Six, Including Alleged Mob Boss Freddie de Saveur, Die in Car Explosion at Beach Resort. A man she’d known less than 48 hours first saves her life and then sacrifices his for her sake? It makes no sense.

The flight attendant, Lars or Swen or something like that, has to stoop as he carries her drink down the aisle. He hands it to her and this time she places it on the side table. She twirls the glass by its stem and some spills over. She licks her hand and the outside of the glass.

“I’ll have one of those too, if it’s not too much trouble Jens,” a woman’s voice says. She pronounces it “Yens.” Susannah turns her gaze from the window and the jets lined up at their gates. The woman next to her, separated by the wide side tables of business first, smiles. SFW, her hair dyed black, hopes the woman does not recognize her. She turns to watch the idling jets belching black haze from their engines and listens for the thud of the door closing and the subtle slow movement of a very large airplane rolling back from the gate. She misses Bob.

Jen, energetic, passionate, persistent, had worn down SFW. SFW had recorded Jen herself far from the studio. On the show, a garbage special, Jen’s pixelated face and disguised voice describing the scene unfolding on the screen. A phone secured to a battery tucked into a plastic laundry bottle left in a household recycling bin. A pickup, a dropoff, then trucks filled with recycling going to a landfill. A camera on a cheap drone flying over a mountain of garbage. At night, illuminated by green night vision, the clomping of footfalls homing in on a strengthening phone signal. Then shovels and thickly gloved hands digging and pulling at the mixture of plastic, bottles and food waste, bagged dog poop, until zeroing in on the phone. The audience gasps, applauds, and then a commercial for laundry detergent.

“Funny coincidence,” Susannah says.

“What was?” the woman says. Susannah Fontaine-Williams looks at the woman with the copycat martini wearing a dark blue suit, a corporate get up. She thinks maybe she recognizes her and reflexively tucks her extra-dimensional bag under the arm farthest from the woman.

“It’s nothing. I must have been thinking out loud.”

They were such quirky cars in their day

What I’m trying to say is, I went to see Leibowitz the day he died as he sat half asleep in his car, a nice Saab convertible with 220,000 miles. It was one of the early ’90s models, in that deep Saab red and I tell you it looked as good as the day he drove it new off the lot. I knew he’d be there at the beach; who do you think put him there? I approached on the driver side, his face in the sideview mirrow, eyes obscured in the shade of his tweed bucket hat. He saw me. He said, “Muckross, this is a nice surprise.”

“Hey Leibowtiz,” I said. “what’s doing?”

“I’m waiting for some people.”

“OK. Hey, you want some crullers? I got coffee too”

“Oh, uh, you know, I had something already.” He coughed and spit a bloody glob onto the sand.

“Sorry about that,” he said. “I got a cold.”

“Seems serious. You should see a doctor.”

“Appointment next week.”

“That’s good.”

“Listen, I want to get a little shut eye before my meeting.”

“Sure. No problem. I’ll see you later.”

He pulled the brim back down over his eyes and raised an arm to dismiss me.

Editor’s note: And what Muckross knew in that instant was that in spite of everything – and everything is for spite, his favorite one had nothing to do. Perhaps something happened when she bifurcated and her benefactor became a dog. Perhaps the reboot just didn’t work and this fascination with the almost dead Leibowitz meant an unnecessary diversion from the blond talk show host. Still, almost dead Leibowitz, sitting in his almost classic car on a chilly summer morning, the fog of sunrise lifting from a story line going nowhere fast, held no interest for him. Meanwhile, another newly introduced only to be quickly abandoned character walked away with his crullers.

And what has Susannah Fontaine-Williams been up to all this time away from our scrutiny? Nothing really. Call it a funk. Witness this encounter with Jen, a suburban trash collector.

“Nice separating,” the garbage collector said. “You got your cardboards and papers together and your plastics, bottles and cans in another place. That’s the way to do it.”

“Well it’s important, isn’t it? Separating. ‘Reduce, reuse, recycle,’ as the saying goes.”

“Not really,” said Jen; that’s what the name on her blue jumper read. Jen. This was a Jen. Susannah Fontana-Williams adored Jens. “Lots of time this stuff just ends up in a landfill or on a barge floating out to sea.”

SFW tilted her head. This was going to be an interview.

“You know,” Jen said, “I saw that panel you had a few weeks ago.”

“What did you think?”

“Good stuff.”

“How do you know about where the recycling goes…where the trash goes?”

“I stuck a cheap phone in the recycling and tracked it online. I was curious. I had to find out whether any of this effort matters or if it’s just a token gesture to make us feel good about ourselves.”

“Good about ourselves?”

“For…well, you know, floating garbage islands, mass species die-offs, the Antarctic ice shelf sliding into the sea…”

“Mmmm hmmm.” Jen had guilt.

“So anyway, this stuff is supposed to go to be sorted out for distribution at the county waste recovery center.”

“Yes.”

“Well, it went there and stayed for a couple of days.”

“And then your battery died….”

“It didn’t. I had a suplemental charger connected and bound it all up in duct tape. I put it inside a plastic Tide package which I resealed with more duct tape. A few days later my package is on the move to Pennsylvania where it’s living out its days in a landfill.”

“Could have been a mistake,” Susannah said. “Maybe that particular load was put on the wrong truck.”

“I reran the experiment 7 more times and each time got the same result. But I need more info.”

“And are you going to do with all this info?”

“My friends and I follow the trucks to the sorting facility and follow the trucks that leave. It’s very sophisticated. One drops off, and another follows. You know the mob’s involved.”

SFW waved a hand to stop Jen and stared at the blue recycling container.

“You know,” Jen said, “you could do something like this on your program.”

It’s been done, SFW thought. It’s all been done before.

Sunrise in Cape May

The chilly Atlantic laps at Susannah Fontaine-Williams’s feet. The tide is coming in and soon the waves touch her knees then recede past her ankles, before the next one stretches to her thighs. She lay face down, her face turned to a side either asleep or unconscious; she doesn’t know yet.

The next wave ebbs, leaving her untouched, but the one behind it crashes over her back, thrusting her forward then  dragging her back toward the sea as it recedes. Water gets in her nose and she sputters and coughs like an old car that hasn’t been turned over for a long time. She starts to rise when another wave knocks her over and tries again to drag her out to sea. This time she pulls herself up to her feet, stretches, checks to make sure her bathing suit contains all of her parts, and walks toward the dry sand of Cape May, New Jersey.

From beyond the dunes a figure watches through binoculars Susannah’s wobbly walk to shore. A couple in sweatshirts walks by and says good morning to her. “You’re staring,” the woman says to her partner.

Why wouldn’t anyone stare? SFW emerges from the sea in a bikini, a dagger strapped to a leg backlit by the rising sun, waves crashing at her feet, reminding you of Ursula Andress in the famous beach scene from Dr. No.

“Sorry,” he says. “She looks so familiar.”

“Mmm, hmm,” she says.

Binoculars dangling from his neck, the watcher speaks into his mobile. “She’s alive. No. It should been strong enough to knock out a horse…Yes…I understand.”

A big black dog comes bounding down the beach, barking, tail furiously wagging. “Walt!” Susannah Fontaine-Williams calls out, and, now on dry sand, falls to her knees, arms out to welcome him.

The sun is now fully over the ocean’s undulating horizon. The man with the binoculars gets into his car and lights a cigarette. An instant later he goes into a coughing jag that leaves him wheezing. He pauses then spits out a hunk of viscous black goo onto the sandy parking lot before taking another puff.

Something akin to an epilog

It turned out that Walt preferred being a dog, all instinct, and oh, don’t get him started about all the information coming in through that marvelous nose. It was as if he’d been living in a flat, soundless world suddenly endowed with dimension and orchestration. Sure, he missed his thumbs and the ability to grasp objects with something other than his mouth. He both missed speech and welcomed its absence. And he no longer had to waste his time selecting and wearing clothes. Freedom.

Susannah Fontaine-Williams and Walt bonded. His former owner, the very responsible, ethical and momentarily heartbroken Vanessa Schlage, heiress of the Schlage lock fortune, had neutered Walt when he was still her Vernon. Are you following this? And his attraction to SFW turned into something more canine and pure. Perhaps something like love even.

Walt often thought about what had become of the creature in whose body he’d materialized. Of course, living with a dog mind meant he really couldn’t think deeply about things, so distracted was he by smells, things flashing past, sounds near and distant, urges to lick himself, itches, and visions. All these and more would banish thoughts until something new gained his attention. Anyway, was Vernon lurking within, obedient, subservient, waiting for Walt to vacate the premises so he could bound home to Ms. Schlage?

Vanessa Schlage played her part and papered Manhattan and Brooklyn with pictures of Vernon/Walt and offered a respectable but not excessive reward. She fantasized about his return even after her best friend Ethan had presented her with twin puppies that closely resembled her lost companion. For weeks, though she spent hours staring at an unopened bottle of gin, she didn’t open it and remained sober, thank goodness. I don’t like writing about alcoholism.

Susannah had, with the help of Walt’s nods, facial expressions, and paw gestures, worked out what happened. Obviously (well, duh), the bag had dragged Walt in and spat out all that was Walt in the form of a tasty treat to be gobbled by a passing living thing. Once consumed, Walt’s essence took hold and that was that. They debated bringing Walt back to the bag’s storage pod entrance so he could be devoured by a human, but that had more serious ethical issues that neither wanted to address just then. Though he now aged seven times more quickly than she, they had time to work out an exit strategy.

Susannah, with the convenient advent of Second Susannah, enjoyed an even fuller life if you can imagine that. Second Susannah appeared when needed, performed her task as admirably as if she were the first Susannah, then drifted away like mist. Original Susannah absorbed her memories and experiences and after a few years passed stopped thinking about it, as if this were a perfectly natural and normal feature of human existence. It made shopping so much easier. Necessities were taken care of: a stocked fridge, public appearances when she’d rather binge-watch Deadwood or Breaking Bad, someone to look after Walt on those occasions that she could not bring him along.

Walt loved car rides and Susannah Fontaine-Williams bought a powder blue 1963 Corvette Stingray convertible for their Sunday road trips. Macallan, a classic car aficionado, helped her with the purchase and dutifully handled the Stingray’s maintenance. She would wear big sunglasses and a long, flowing head scarf and would outfit Walt with goggles, which he didn’t mind. It kept the grime and insects out of his eyes and he appreciated that.

She set up a limited liability corporation – to be on the safe side – and bought the building on Canal with Walt’s basement workshop, and kept the counterfeit bag store going and the employees employed. She put a gigantic lock on the door and rigged up some Dropcams so she could check in on the pod from time to time. She pounded out the nail on the twenty-seventh step so she wouldn’t step on it if she ever went back down there. It cost a medium fortune but proved to be a solid investment.

Susannah had a simple Steinway baby grand in her Manhattan apartment, and one in the shore house as well. (She once turned down a scholarship at Juilliard so she could train for the Olympics and backpack the Andes – you can’t do everything.) The piano initially caused Walt much distress as his lack of fingers and dexterity prevented his playing. Once, she found him standing on the piano bench, paws on the keyboard, clinking the keys and howling. He eventually took pleasure in curling up at her feet while she played.

One August Sunday, she’d been reading the Times and it referenced an exhibit of recently unearthed Egyptian artifacts. She wasn’t interested, but Walt’s eyes caught the photo of the mysterious knife with the ivory handle and the intricately carved ankh, the one she had used to defend herself against the serial killer in Delos. He leapt to his paws and barked and pointed. She stared at it. “I guess I’ll have to go over there and steal it, won’t I? Oh yes I will, won’t I, Walt! Won’t I!” She was talking in that enthusiastic way people talk to dogs sometimes. “Will you miss me? I won’t be long and besides, other me will be here with you. I bet you can’t tell the difference, can you? Can you, Waltie?”

Walt hadn’t really thought about it ’til then. She scratched him behind the ears and he rolled over onto his back so she could rub his belly.

Susannah and the gummy treat

Susannah Fontaine-Williams searched Walt’s lab, looking for Walt, or at least a note. Walt would expect her and if he was out, would leave a note. That’s just the way he was. However, Walt was in a most decided state of not being there. She spied her bag on the table under the cold glare of fluorescent light. Why, she asked herself, hasn’t my brilliant Walt invented something better, a cool, energy efficient lightbulb that didn’t make everything look so sterile? She picked up the bag and petted its sides as if it was a small dog. The bag felt a static chill and involuntarily gave SFW a mild shock like the kind you get when you walk on carpet wearing socks in the winter.

Without really thinking, she grabbed several tubes of nano-bots and dropped them in the bag. “Maybe I shouldn”t have done that,” she said. “But I suppose it’s too late…the cat’s in the bag.” She laughed.

She walked over to the unopened door to her pod, remembering to place the bag at what she thought would be a safe distance away, and turned the handle. It wouldn’t budge. She put her face to the window, but couldn’t see through whatever had coated it on the inside…some kind of blue-red condensation. The door was a little warm to the touch and vibrated almost imperceptibly.

Sad. There were things to talk about that she could talk about only with him: massive electric shocks, hallucinated families, second Susannahs skillfully hosting panel discussions, what to do about her hair, which once dried, had returned to the look and feel of steel wool.

She jotted a note and left it on the work bench, “Call me. -SFW” and walked up the stairs and out onto Canal.

Walt thought he might be dying. The puncture in his foot was oozing something yellow and his foot was turning black and blue. He lay on the floor after the salvo of electrostatic charges the bag had directed at him, a few feet from the open door to the pod. He tried to rise, and the bag sent a bolt that knocked him back, closer to the door.

He pointed a weak finger at the bag on the work bench that glowed under the light. “I know what you’re up to, clever bag.” He realized that the bench light was off, and that light was coming from inside the bag. The bag hummed as if recharging, and the lights in the lab dimmed, and then the bag fired another bolt of energy Walt’s way. It lifted him from the floor and threw him headfirst through the pod door. He smacked his head on the way in. “I know what you’re doing,” he said. The pod door slammed shut. Moments later Susannah Fontaine-Williams came bounding down the steps.

Out on the sidewalk, Susannah Fontaine-Williams, decided to walk at least part of the way home. After no more than a few blocks, three at most, the bag started to expand like a puffer fish sensing a threat, then it made a metallic sounding belch and spit out a tiny object that flew a few feet through the air and stuck to the back of a stop sign. It looked like a gummy bear. She peeled it from the sign and, by golly, didn’t it look kind of like Walt. A gummy Walt with a surprised look on its gummy face.

A dog, a beautiful black and white retriever mix, sniffed at her hand then slurped the Walt gummy and swallowed it. “Sorry!” the owner, a tiny woman in spandex leggings and tank top, said. “He’s always snurfling his nose into something. Bad boy!” They continued on the other way. Susannah, already with much on her talk show mind, continued uptown, a little dazed.

About a minute later the retriever mix wobbled and fell on its side, panting heavily. He convulsed once or twice, then seemed to stop breathing for a moment while his owner got to her knees and pushed on his chest. Someone said, “Give it mouth-to-mouth.” So, she tried to, putting her lips on his big mouth and blowing. The dog sprang to his feet, looked around, and dashed uptown trailing his leash behind.

Susannah, still dazed, signaled a cab, and got in. Before she could close the door, the retriever mix bounded in after her and began licking her face uncontrollably, swishing his tail wildly and whimpering with excitement. The door closed. “No dogs,” the driver said.

The dog stopped his excited theatrics at that and gave her what she thought was a solemn and desperate look. She could hear the owner’s voice getting closer. The dog licked her face.

“I’ll give you an extra hundred, but you’ve gotta get us out of here now!” The car sped away and the dog sat next to Susannah and they stared at each other on this unusually cool, dry August day. Though meteorologists are saying this is actually normal August weather, but the last twenty or so Augusts have been so blast-furnace hot, it just feels cool. So, it’s all relative, isn’t it?