My Serial Novella: The Judgment Store, Part 5
The Judgment Store
After her father’s death, Uriel gets a job at a store that is much more than it seems.
I cut school on Friday, too, and that afternoon go back to The R&P.
“Just in time,” Mr. Ianus says when I come in.
“Please tell me what’s going on,” I say.
“Not now, Uriel, you have a customer.” On that cue, Gabby steps out of the dressing room, wearing a dress very similar to the one Ella tried on the other day. That thought alone starts to bring the hysteria back. But Gabby’s gown is an unflattering marigold color: unflattering because it brings out her jaundiced complexion.
“Gabby?” She looks worse than she did when I saw her last, frailer, more tired. I wonder why she’s here shopping when she should be home resting after her procedure. There’s a manic look to her expression, though.
“What do you think? How do I look?” she asks, twirling slowly, as if she’s about to fall down. I rush toward her and clutch her arm, worried she may do just that.
“How are you? Did you have the biopsy? Did you get your results?” I pound her with questions. She sways still more on her feet, so I guide her over to the settée.
“Haven’t gotten the results yet,” she says, and she talks through a thick tongue, as if she’s been drugged. Maybe she is on drugs – painkillers for the cancer.
“What are you doing here? You should be resting,” I say.
“Nonsense,” Mr. Ianus interrupts, gazing at us. “Retail therapy is just what Miss Mitchell needs.”
I look at him sharply. “How do you figure? She’s sick. Gabby, let’s get you home.”
“But I love this dress,” she protests in an almost robotic but feeble voice. “It’s so beautiful.”
“Always give the customer what she wants, Uriel.” Mr. Ianus’ chimes push their way into my brain.
“And what will happen to her if I do?” I think-ask him.
He raises a bemused eyebrow. “I see that you begin to learn the game. Good for you. Moira A. wasn’t sure you would.”
“Cut the crap. What will happen to her?”
“What do you see happening?” he throws my question back.
I focus inward, and instantly the itch rises from my feet all the way up my body until it hits my brain. Maybe it’s triggered by the power of the store, as a locus, like Moira said; I slip right into a precognizant vision . . .
Gabby, hair coiffed perfectly, face painted on like a wax sculpture, clad in this vomitous shade of yellow, laid out in her white coffin. I am so effing sick of coffins. I stand over her, looking down into her dead face.
She’s not buying this dress for homecoming. She’s buying it for her funeral.
Time stops. The dust particles in the air hang suspended. The resonance and vibrations of the surfaces of the store still – a frozen eternity. Gabby sits there pale, sickly, yellow – the aura of death so clearly surrounds her, and it makes me feel completely enraged, knowing that her life, so young, is not going to last much longer.
Only Mr. Ianus and I can move, can speak, can think in this perfect stillness. “It can’t be the dress that causes this. How can it be the dress?”
He doesn’t answer.
“If the green dress and the corsage that Sam is going to buy her cause Ella to have a severe allergic reaction and die . . . and Sam dies rushing to the hospital behind her . . . and Mr. Frank gets beat up by the football team because they find out he’s gay . . .”
“Well, actually, the football team will beat him because they find out he’s Coach Adamson’s lover. I believe they’ll beat him too,” Mr. Ianus pronounces.
“Because of the ring? And this yellow dress becomes Gabby’s funeral shroud . . .” I break off. I slam the door of my mind shut. I refuse to believe this. “That sounds like fatalism to me.”
“Of course it is,” he answers. “The R&P, my dear. Haven’t you wondered what it stands for?”
I frown at him.
“Reward and Punishment. These items you sell them are the catalysts of their fate.”
I get up in his face and nearly scream: “What are you talking about? How is any of it areward? Or a punishment? What did Gabby do to deserve it? What did Sam do?”
He smiles. Actually, only one of his faces smiles. The other one, for I can see now, in this paused moment, that he has two faces. What I had perceived as a blur before was really two faces on either side of his head. One of them smiles with satisfaction. The other purses its lips in disapproval. In my continually mounting hysteria, I almost giggle: I wonder if he is often in disagreement with himself? “What are you?”
“I see you didn’t mention the terrible fate of Miss Maloney,” he doesn’t answer my question. “Perhaps you think she deserves to die, for bullying you for years, for stealing your man?”
“No,” I pause. “No one deserves to die. Not like that.”
“And Sam? Did you feel angry with him for choosing Ella over you? Just a little bit angry, Uriel? Better be careful. Your power is strong but not honed. One little wish . . . one little flash of desire . . . and you cause someone’s fate to be sealed.”
Mr. Ianus’ faces both sober for a second and then merge into one. “Everyone, at some point in his life, asks himself why things happen. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do good things happen to bad people? You, Uriel, happen to be blessed with the ability to decide which it will be: Good or bad things. Don’t bother asking how or why. It is as it is. You are the arbiter of fate. An angel of doom.”
None of this can be real, can it? “But if it’s fate, how can I have any control over it?”
“There is always a higher power determining things. Otherwise chaos reigns.” And with that Mr. Ianus melodramatically snaps his fingers – hitting the play button on the remote control of reality, and time resumes.
Gabby inhales. “So you really don’t like the dress?” she asks me.
“I really don’t, sorry.” I try to speak normally for Gabby’s sake, but I still can’t wrap my head around any of it. “But there’s a new shipment of merchandise coming soon. Isn’t there, Mr. Ianus?” I look warningly at him. “I’ll let you know if something is just right for you,” I assure her.
She gets unsteadily to her feet, “Okay. Can you help me get unzipped?”
As I help her in the changing room, I wonder if I’ve managed to thwart her fate just now, if getting her not to purchase the dress means I’ve somehow postponed her fate – or simply caused it to morph into something else?
After work I join Mom in the greenhouse and sit on the rickety stool behind the counter, watching her putter and clip and water growing things. I wonder how to ask her why or if she’s contemplating killing herself, and if she thinks that orphaning me is somehow the best thing – to get the life insurance money, or something. Eventually she becomes unnerved from my watching her so intently, I guess, since I’m usually boarded up in my room or otherwise making myself scarce. “Your friend Sam came by right before you got home,” she says
“What did he want?” I can muster no surprise, happiness, or even dismay at this news.
“He bought a corsage.”
I feel a surge of bile and have to swallow it convulsively.
“I have never made one out of Hellebores before,” she goes on, oblivious to my reaction, “But that’s what he wanted. Said it was just the perfect shade of bright green to match his date’s homecoming gown. He seems like a nice boy. Who is he taking to the dance?”
“Ella Maloney,” I nearly choke on the name, no longer because I’m insanely jealous of her, but because now I’m terribly afraid for her. I cast about for a change of subject when I notice she’s trimming the stems of a bunch of red carnations. “Mom? Why the red carnations at Dad’s funeral. He really didn’t like them.”
She sighs and puts down her shears. “Did he tell you he didn’t like them?”
I consider, then frown. “Well, no. He just said that he didn’t like getting them for you . . . for Valentine’s day and anniversaries and stuff.”
She smiles a sad, faint smile. “It’s not that he didn’t like them. He just thought they were cheap, too common. When we were dating, he couldn’t afford roses, so he always bought me cheap red carnations from the corner drug store. I always told him that I loved them, that they were my favorite flower. But he seemed to think I was just saying that to make him feel better. He always said I deserved red roses. The thing is, we talked about it while you were in school last week . . . not long before he died . . . and I told him, honestly, that they really were my favorite, that I wasn’t joking. They smell so much better, sweeter, than roses. He told me that . . .” and here she pauses to wipe her eye and clear her throat, “He told me that they had always been his favorite too.”
But I can’t respond to this explanation, because there is an explosion of sirens that tear down our street, shrills from ambulances, honks and whirs from police cars and fire trucks. My heart explodes in my chest, as I know . . . I know with every subatomic particle in my being, with a certainty granted to me by some obscene power, and by the itch that suddenly tingles ferociously all over my body, that fate has arrived.
I run outside. Our street is on the straight shot from the high school to the hospital. I run in the direction of the emergency vehicles – towards the school.
We only have two news channels, but each of them has sent a broadcast van. There are pockets of people everywhere. I approach the nearest one; it contains freshmen –boys in crisp white dress shirts, girls in spaghetti strap dresses shivering even with their dates’ jackets gallantly draped over them. “What’s going on?” I ask.
“Football team went ballistic!” says the tallest boy who is all elbows and knees. “They beat the shit out of Coach Adamson and Mr. Frank,” he says, “I saw one of the paramedics shaking his head. Don’t think either of them will make it.”
I look toward the bloody pulps on twin gurneys being shoved into twin ambulances. I can tell which one is Coach Adamson and which is Mr. Frank only by their shoes: Coach only ever wears athletic shoes; Mr. Frank wears brown loafers. I feel a stab of sadness that they can’t even die together in the same ambulance, but since I doubt that either is conscious, I don’t suppose it really matters.
One of the news crews starts broadcasting right beside us. Their bright lights lend an even harsher quality to the scene. “This is Channel 8 News. Almost half the football team is being taken into police custody right now.” To underscore the reporter’s words, the camera zooms in on a dozen hulking teenage boys, fresh from their homecoming game win, covered in blood, hands zip-tied behind them, being hauled into two waiting police vans. “This appears to be the biggest hate crime our nation has seen in years. Witnesses say that these football players, as a group, went into some sort of extreme homophobic rage when they saw their coach and his lover kissing . . .”
“All of them?” I ask, still not believing it.
“Pretty much,” says the lanky freshman.
The dance had only just started, coming on the heels of the game. I’m sure it’s going to be canceled, but I can’t see the principal or the assistant principal anywhere. Everyone is just standing around.
And then, all the way across the parking lot, I see Sam and Ella. Even though I’m very far away I can see that he’s carrying a clear plastic box, which I know contains the unusual green corsage. He hasn’t given it to Ella yet. Maybe I can stop it from . . .
But now he is opening it. She’s reaching inside and pulling it out, drawing it up to her nose for a deep inhale.
“No,” I hear myself whisper. Then, “NO!” I scream, but in all the pandemonium, and across all the people, and the entire expanse of asphalt, Sam and Ella certainly don’t hear me.
I would take off running, but all I can really do is push and shove my way towards them.
He’s pinning it on her chest right over her heart. She’s bending down and inhaling some more.
The thing about anaphylaxis is that it is extreme, and it is fast. I can tell, even as I struggle to reach them, that something is already wrong with Ella. My vision tunnels until all I can see is her, grasping her throat, her skin blotching and puffing, her lips turning blue.
Finally I reach her. Where is my cell phone? But Sam’s already dialing 911, and shouting, screaming. But there are no more ambulances here. They’ve already gone with the dead or dying Mr. Frank and Coach Adamson. It’ll take the paramedics a while to get back in here, to reach us, and by that time . . .
Ella sinks first to her knees, convulses, then falls flat on her face, and blood, probably from a smashed nose, slowly seeps out under her hair. The corsage is still attached to her dress. I bend over hurriedly, put my hands under her, push her over onto her back, and rip the damn thing off of her. “It’s the flower, Sam. I think she’s allergic.”
Sam is with me, beside me, but we’re helpless and hopeless. We can’t do CPR. Her throat is swollen shut. People are pushing around us from all sides.
I feel it start vaguely. It’s hard to concentrate on my own extremities while I’m watching someone die right in front of me, but eventually I notice the itching. I close my eyes and block out all the sounds and shoves. I concentrate. I did this once before, didn’t I? Back when Mr. Frank had thought I’d cheated on my Faust paper. When I hadn’t realized I did it, or could do it. I could change things. So I concentrate on the itching. Let it have its way. I feel myself trembling, like my skin is going to crawl right off my body.
Then that shock of static electricity, enough to make a bzzzz, and my hair lifts off of the back of my neck, off of my arms.
And the world stops. I open my eyes at the three dimensional portrait of chaos. Ella is nearly dead beneath me. Sam is sitting back on his feet, numb with shock. Hands are reached out all around us. People are stuck mid-push, mid-shove, mid-shout, mid-gasp.
I haven’t saved Ella. I’ve only paused fate for who-knows-how-long.
But for now, that fate is frozen.
I stand, wobbling slightly, and wend my way around live mannequins knowing where I have to go.
Posted on March 5, 2014, in Science Fiction & Fantasy, Writing and tagged ambulances, cancer, carnations, caskets, choices, dresses, emergencies, fantasy, fatalism, fate, fates, fiction, florists, flowers, football, funerals, greek mythology, hellebores, homecoming, homophobia, janus, judgment, juvenile cancer, magical realism, novellas, science fiction, short stories, suicide, teenagers, the moirae, two-faced god, urban fantasy, violence. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.