Lovely Weather In Long Brooke, by C.M. Humphries

Lovely Weather In Long Brooke, by C.M. Humphries

From the minute I stepped into my office building, I knew something changed.  Or maybe changed wasn’t the best way to describe what happened.

It should’ve started like any other day at the office: filing papers, calling customers, meeting with bosses who didn’t even know my name—nothing that could’ve ever interested me.  Work was money; that’s all.  Having that lackluster notion in mind, I strolled along the sidewalk of Long Brooke’s downtown strip on my way to work.

Long Brooke was a decent sized metropolis at the heart of Chase County.  In a way, it represented the twenty-first century in comparison to its neighbors that remained a couple hundred years behind.  Tall glass edifices testing time and proving the progress of mankind all at once.  Small coffee shop between expensive jewelers and tailors.  It wasn’t a town for American Eagles, Starbucks, or Wal-Marts.  I enjoyed ambling throughout town just because of the blend of big enterprise, mom-and-pop business, and everything in-between.

And like most work days, my walk took longer than usual and I found myself a few minutes late before I decided to even head to work.  I wished I would’ve taken even longer.

I raced to work, making it there sooner than I realized.  Rushing up an enormous staircase, turning the corner, and jogging down the hall, I made it to my office just ten minutes late, which was quite impressive compared to my track record.  Lungs on fire, legs throbbing, I slipped in front of my office door and pulled the keys out of my pocket.  To my surprise, when I stuck the keys in the lock, the door swung open and strange fragrance of vanilla and coffee poured out, like a gallon of milk tipped too quickly.

Then: “Who the hell are you?” a man sitting behind my expensive oak desk asked.

Who the hell was I?  Who the hell was he?  “What are you doing here?” I asked the stranger, a hint of dangling fear in my voice.  “Can I help you?”

“I think you’ve got this all backwards, son.”  He showed off his squared, well-aligned teeth.  They screamed money.  “You must have the wrong office.  I’m very busy and I have no appointments today.”

“What are you talking about?  You’re in my office.”  I hurried to the desk and flipped around a gold picture frame.  “See, this is my family and me . . .”

My family and him.  The same frame.  The same smiles.  The same poses.  But I wasn’t in the picture; this asshole was.  “What have you done to my picture?”

Your picture?” he asked.  His smile faded, and soon his eyes narrowed, sharp like machetes.  “Son, you better get out of my office.  I don’t want to call security.”

Swiping the picture, I turned from the desk and chucked it at the far wall.  No sound came from the collision, although I could clearly see the glass shatter.  I stepped over to the wrecked frame picked it up.  The photo remained intact, even the stranger’s face.  On the ground, I found a small cut out of my face covered by the glass.  I tossed the frame on top of it.

“What have you done?” the man asked.  He pressed the intercom on the desk and at once, security scurried to the glass office doors.

Their stomping resonated across the office, like a stampede through a vast, empty plain. My head pulsated at the clutter.

“Men,” I said, “take this man—”

–A bull of a guard charged at me, his shoulder crashing into my rips like an SUV into a moped.  Felt like a knife to my lungs.  I’m pretty sure I tried to scream, but only warm chunks of air ricocheted between the walls of my throat.

The guards all came at me, grabbing my limbs, dragging me along.

Down the stairs, letting the back of my feet slam against the hardwood steps.  Out into the street.  My forehead into the pavement.

I stumbled to my feet, ready to curse at the guards and make impossible threats.  But a quick honking scared me straight up. A truck.  I knew then what “like a deer in the headlights” really meant.

Racing wheels unable to stop.

My sore legs unable to move.

The truck screeched, but the space wasn’t enough for braking. Metal near my side.

I stepped over and tripped on a drain below the sidewalk.  Trying to regain my balance, I teetered before falling onto a small produce stand.  Tomatoes, cantaloupes, apples, and various produce scattered across the sidewalk. The merchant, a small ratty man, tired to collect his product and demanded my assistance.  But I remained focused on the truck as it zoomed by, the driver hollering some gibberish at me, waving his fist out of the window.

For hours, I strolled around the center of Long Brooke, searching for that one thing that would take my mind off of what happened in my office.  Whatever did happen in my office?  No matter how much I thought about it, nothing made sense.  And it seemed particularly off for such a beautiful day.  A sky like a blue geode.  Sun bright and yellow like fresh daisies.

I didn’t care much to compare the weather to work, however.  For the most part, I meandered around the city wondering what the hell I would say to my wife and boy.  “Sorry, honey, but someone stole my job, literally, and a bunch of guards kicked my ass.  Oh, and I almost got hit by an oversized truck.”  Oh yeah, that would work.

Nonetheless, I made my way home by late afternoon.

I gazed at my house, fond of its clean brick foundation and alpine white color.  Three cars sat in the driveway: my Chevy Cobalt and my wife’s blue Toyota Prius.  Wait a minute, three cars?

I scrambled up the driveway, onto the stone path, and onto my porch.  My hand raced for the door knocker and pounded the brass handle until the door opened on its own.  Just like the office.  I stepped inside the home.

The sweet smell of something in the oven—teriyaki chicken?  The sound of my son playing with Hot Wheels in the upstairs bedroom.  I tossed my coat on the staircase railing and continued my way into the kitchen.

I glanced at all the photographs as I passed by.  After the office incident, I looked forward to seeing my own face.

But none of the family portraits seemed familiar.  They’d been replaced by individual pictures, which seemed all right to me.  One of my son.  One of my beautiful should’ve-been-a-model wife.  Yet, I couldn’t find a picture of me, which seemed to make sense, because I never had a picture taken of just me.

More relieving was the lack of a picture of the man from the office.  It seemed silly of me to think that he would take over my home life, too.  I moved on.

“Hey, babe,” I greeted my wife as I stepped into the kitchen.

Instead of responding with her usual, “Hey, handsome.  How was work?”, she remained still with a puzzled  on her face and a steak knife at her side.

“Whatcha cooking?” I asked, although the smell ruined the surprise.

“What are you doing in my house?” she asked, her tone sincere and shaky.

“You won’t believe what happened at work today—What?”

“Please, just get out.”

“Honey—”

“—Just get out.  Don’t make me call my husband.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“Get out, get out, get out!”  She charged at me with the puny knife in hand, shoving it up my chest.

Blood trickled down my chest, soaking my sky blue dress shirt red.  Only a superficial wound, though.

“What’s going on, Mommy?” a tiny voice said from behind me.

I twisted around and spotted my son entering the kitchen, toy car still in hand.

“Go to your room,” my wife warned.

“Who’s this man?” he asked.

A plastic explosive went off under my ribcage. Fighting the sting of the laceration, I leaned down on one knee and said to him, “Daniel, you know who I am.  Please, just say my name.”

“Go to your room,” my wife repeated.

Daniel cocked his head to the side and squinted his eyes, as though he began searching the catacombs of his young memory.  “But I don’t know your name,” he said.

No.  “Please don’t say that, Danny.  C’mon, I’m your daddy.  I’m your father.”

“My daddy’s at work,” he said.

My wife stepped between us and scooted Daniel towards the staircase, saying, “Go on.  Go upstairs and play with you toys.  This man shouldn’t be here.”

I wanted to rip my own eyes out.  What the hell was happening?

“You,” my wife said, turning around to look me in the eye.  “I don’t know who you are, or what kind of sick shit you’re trying to pull here, but get the hell out of my house.  Our neighbor’s—”

“—Captain Brown of the Long Brooke Police Department.  I know,” I said, holding my chest again.

Her eyes grew wide and her arm hoisted the flimsy steak knife above her waist, pointing at me.  “Get the hell out of here, you sick pervert!  Get the hell out!”

I didn’t know what else to do, so I ran for the front porch, swiping the pictures off the wall as I passed by.

“Don’t you dare!” my wife screamed at me.

Too late.  I already made it outside.

She followed. “Randy!” she screamed, popping her head out of the door.  Randy Brown, the cop.

As if he’d been waiting for this moment the entire day, Captain Brown sprinted out of his doorway, across the small yard separating out houses.  He was well into his late forties with a belly that giggled as he ran, but he dashed to my house quicker than I could have myself.

“What’s the problem here?” he asked without showing any sign of being winded.

“Randy,” I said, “something’s wrong and I—”

“—I’m not asking you,” he interrupted. He pointed at my wife.  “I’m asking her.”

“I dunno,” she spat out.  “He came into the house swearing I knew him and that he was my son’s father.  He stole the pictures!”  The steak knife pin-pointed the photos in my right hand.

I couldn’t let the portraits slip from my fingers, despite Captain Brown starting them down.

He stepped forward and reached for my arms.  I swung back.

He hopped over the small staircase and removed his nightstick and began swinging wildly.

A hit to the chest.  One to the shoulder. Two to the neck.  It became impossible to dodge them.   The next blow—one to the back of the head—acquainted my face with the porch.  I struggled back to my feet, and through my dizzy haze, spotted a glock materialize in Brown’s hand. I couldn’t remember seeing him pull it out of the holster, which was very likely due to my newfound blurred vision.

Something cold rushed over me, like a winter wind.  Slumping my head down, I spotted a well of blood instead of a small part of my abdomen.  All strength left me.

I plummeted onto the wood, the pictures escaping from my grasp.  Bone-chilling handcuffs locked my arms behind my back.

“Get up!” Brown demanded while he tried to yank me up by my locked wrists.

Was he kidding?  However, with a little effort on my part and more on his, I made it to my feet.  I wobbled as he pushed me forward.  At any point I could’ve fallen down, but that wasn’t my main concern.  As a matter of fact, I didn’t know what I was concerned about at all.  You can’t discover the answer before knowing question, right?

“Randy,” I said, the words ripping like thin paper, “you know me.  Damn it.  Just say my name.”

“I’m gonna find out who the hell you are, that’s for sure,” he replied.  He jabbed my back with the handgun.

I tried to turn around, but Brown wouldn’t let me, so I settled for turning my head to the side. My mind seemed to be combusting inside out as I was taken away.

Daniel stepped out of the door and grabbed my wife’s hands.  I shaped his name with my lips, but he didn’t so much as utter mine.

“Who was the man?” I heard him ask her.

She just shook his head and replied, “Just someone who couldn’t take the pressure.”

Once we reached Brown’s Dodge Charger, I could no longer hear their voices.  I just observed the weather.  It was truly a lovely day.  A cool breeze.  A mild temperature.  Perfect little sky, the kind that wipes depression away.  It was just one of those days you could really lose yourself in, I figured as Brown slammed the backdoor closed.

Christopher Humphries

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