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Bulldog stared at a shaking Harry.

“I said,” Bulldog raised his voice to a yell. “Are. You. Dead?”

“Deaf, yes. Dead? I’ll tell you when my heart starts up again. I was just listening to the radio,” Harry explained between gasps. “It calms me.”

“I see.” Bulldog raised an eyebrow.

“To the static, I mean. Listening to the static. It calms me. The static does. And the sweeping back and forth. See?” He demonstrated for Bulldog, but the effect was lost with the radio off.

“You going inside,” Bulldog asked.


“It’s visiting hours now.” Bulldog watched Harry sit in his car. Harry dreaded the day. He pressed the up arrow then the down arrow, then the up arrow then the down arrow and imagined static.

“You going inside?”


“It’s visiting hours now.”

Harry gently, very gently, pushed against Bulldog’s face until it was back far enough to allow him to raise it. Harry turned off his car and removed his keys. He lifted the door handle and pushed it several times against Bulldog Gargoyle’s belly.

Harry put his mouth to the small opening between the door frame and the top of the door. “May I?”

Bulldog gave Harry just enough room to exit his car, but not enough to slam the door fully shut. Harry slithered out and pushed against the car door a few times, first with his arm, then his shoulders. He stopped pushing and left the door sticking out some. Bulldog accidentally rubbed against it and the door shut completely.

“No contraband this time,” Bulldog asked.

“Not this time. Promise.”

“Prove it.”

“Which pocket do you want to search first,” Harry asked. “Left or right?”

“I”m not falling for your tricks again. Last time I said right but you fooled me.”

“Then surprise me. Start with the left this time.”

“Would that surprise you?”

“Very much.”

“Then that’s what I will do,” Bulldog said. “Face me. Raise your hands. All of them.”

“Wait,” Harry said. “Is it my left, your right, or your left, my right?”

“Stop making me dizzy,” Bulldog said.

Harry held both fists high. Bulldog shoved his bear paws into Harry’s left and right pockets and found nothing..

“Crap. I mean you’re clean.”

“May I go in now?”

“I guess so. Have a nice day.”

“Bulldog,” Harry said. “Look. Up there. Drake Ridge.” Harry pointed to Drake Ridge, and to the observatory, and its eight massive, monolithic deep-sky probes where once there had been nine.

The reason there were eight and no nine is something that nobody likes to talk about, like how the ground around the concrete and steel foundation is still black, and why grass won’t grow, and how animals that walk through that area end up with sores and legions and have offspring with stunted growth. But nobody likes to talk about it.

“Huh?” Bulldog stared up so far that he almost staggered backwards.

“Up there?”


“Where number six was and now isn’t. Look harder.” Harry opened his fists and checked the contents. It’s all there, he thought. Harry held a tight roll of paper money held together by a red rubber band, a syringe and a small glass vial, and a chocolate bar. The bar was getting soft in Harry’s hand.

{NOTE: The original first line from yesterday read: “Harry checked his pockets. It was all there: a roll of bills held together by a red rubber band, a syringe, a small glass vial, and a chocolate bar.” I had no clue why I chose those items, or what part they would play in the story, if at all.}

Bulldog stood there, head tilted, back arched, eyes squinting from the sun’s reflection from new number six. Harry slipped the money and chocolate bar into one jacket pocket, and the syringe and vial into the other.

“You can stop looking. It was just the sun’s reflection.”

Bulldog rocked back and forth, trying to keep balance. Harry kicked the wedge holding the door out of the way. “Really, Bulldog, you can stop looking.”

Harry walked inside the Asylum and Crematoria. Just before the door closed, Harry saw Bulldog still looking up, shading his eyes and swaying.

Harry knew from experience that his first action was to check all areas immediately near the entrance for crazies. This included the mop closet. The last thing he needed today was to be cornered by a craze of inmates. He hurried down the hall. No crazies to be seen.

Harry felt convicted referring to inmates as crazies. He had labeled them as the other, but life had taught him that there was no such thing. Either that, or everybody was the other to the other.

Insanity was only sanity with an “in” in the front. Two small letters were all that separated the two conditions. Harry wondered if quirky and eccentric wasn’t really a type of insanity with a missing “i” or “n”. The problem was that when a lot of people with the “in” included all lived in one place (especially when that one place is your old high school) it’s tough.

No matter what label you assign to the people in the Asylum and Crematoria, Harry hoped that he wasn’t made to look at lingering bedsores again, and repeatedly called Daddy, and asked to kiss it to make it better. Not again.

Half way down the first floor hall, Harry heard the crackle of the intercom. For a second, he expected to hear Principal Evers from his teenage years say good morning and remind everybody about tomorrow’s class pictures. Instead, Harry heard a different voice, and a different type of announcement.

“Attention staff. Patient 117 chewed itself loose again. It was last seen crawling toward the gymnasium, but that was two hours ago. Put on your hazmat suits ASAP. If it makes skin-to-skin contact, on behalf of management, you have our deepest condolences.”

After a brief muffled discussion, the announcement continued. “I have just been informed that the risk of a law suit is negligible, because its family never visits it  anymore; therefore, guards are encouraged to use lethal force. As always, an Ammo Conservation Medal will be awarded to anyone with a verifiable one-shot kill. Good luck to all.”

Harry wished for military experience, or a hazmat suit and the knowledge to properly seal one, or the ability to transport to another world. He had none of those. Harry made it to the end of the hall without being bitten. He climbed the stairwell next to the gymnasium entrance. He tip-toed up the stairs.

He ran into twin girls who were almost triplets. Harry smiled and waved at the stair dwellers. They smiled and waved back. Harry looked without looking, and simultaneously preparing to run down the steps and up them. One twin was eating peppermint candy out of an urn. The other twin recited Shakespeare, the same line over and over, without pausing commas or periods, or for dramatic effect.

“Welcome back,” said the girl eating out of the urn. Her lips and fingers were stained with red dye # 3.

“Thank you,” Harry said, hoping that she meant since his last visit to the Asylum asylum, and not from when he was a student at the Asylum school, which would have been thirty years ago and moderately creepy. The almost-triplet removed a finger from her nose and reached it toward Harry.

“No thanks. I’m good.”

She persisted, as if saying with her eyes and outstretched finger, “No really, you can have it. It’s a gift.”

“You first,” Harry said. “Go ahead. You eat it. Be a good girl and eat it all.”

She shook her head. She tried to flick it at him but it stuck. The girls stood so close to each other, that Harry wondered if they were sewn together. If so, their dress would not be off-the-shelf, he thought.

Harry reached the top of the stairs to find the room he knew as the old school Asylum cafeteria, only it was the new Asylum and Crematoria cafeteria. That’s where he was to meet an inmate called Sled.

Harry was the first to arrive. He chose a small table in the middle of the room, draped his jacket over the back of the purple chair next to him, sat down in a little orange chair, and scooted it in. His knees lifted the table off the off the floor. Harry had to sit with his legs spread extra wide so the table legs could touch the tile.

Then Harry remembered reading in the Absentia Told-You-So that, after his graduation, high school budget cuts had forced a downsizing. For some reason, Harry had pictured something different than smaller furniture. The good news was that the Asylum and Crematoria could feed more inmates at one time, as long as they sit with knees spread.

Harry reviewed Sled’s bio. They had “worked together” before, but Harry tried not to remember. Sled was a recent transfer, and one of the most dangerous and respected inmates anywhere.

Sled’s first arrest was for charges of crimes so heinous, that he had been sentenced to death by simultaneous quintuple execution (the first ever): hanging, lethal injection, electric chair, firing squad and baseball bat. Sled’s judge was given the new nickname of the hanging, lethal injection, electric chair, firing squad, and baseball bat judge.

How did Sled get out of the first ever quintuple execution? A technicality. The Execution Oversight Committee was deadlocked on the best practical application of the sentence. How to hang someone without throwing off the firing squad aim? The lethal injector had no experience injecting a swinging spinning target. And what if the batter got tangled up in the electrical cables and pulled a hamstring?

It was just too hard to kill Sled in the manner in which he deserved. The Powers swooped in and slapped Sled with the High-Value Resource label, and secretly moved him to the Asylum and Crematoria in the freezer of an ice cream truck.

Turns out Sled had Electromagnetic Interference Hypersensitivity Disorder. Here in Absentia, with the prohibition on electromagnetic transmissions, Sled would have more clarity, more insight. He would be more able to help when showed images and videos and images. That’s why Harry came today.

Harry pulled a thin folder out of a slit in his jacket lining. He chose to hide it from people like Bulldog, not because it was contraband, but because he didn’t want Bulldog, or anyone else except Sled for that matter, to view the contents. The images were for people like Sled.

Harry opened the folder and flipped through the 8×10 color prints, and wondered if Sled wold prefer them spread across the table, or to be shown one-by-one. Sled’s preference mattered.

Someone kicked open the swinging door from the kitchen in the back. Shackles and chains slid on worn pale tile. Sled was brought to a chair opposite Harry. It was olive green with a square hole in the back. The guards secured Sled’s upper body with chains wrapped underneath the seat and behind the chair’s back, then locked them with padlocks.

Harry didn’t look up. He didn’t wish to make eye contact. Sled leaned forward as far as a man could when chained to a child’s olive green cafeteria chair. The chair tilted forward, as did the person chained to it. The guards grabbed chains and forced the chair legs down.

Sled stretched enough to maneuver his head under Harry’s down-turned face, and looked up with a grin. Harry smelled vomit filtered through a Tic Tac breath mint.


Harry heard the tiny mint rattle against what teeth Sled still had.


Harry returned the greeting but fought to keep his gaze on the folder on the table in front of him.

“Welcome back, Harry. Long time no crime?”

“Actually,” Harry opened the folder.

“Don’t you have something for me first? And don’t lie to me.”

Harry reached into one of his pockets.

(next time, Harry interviews Sled)

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