‘LIVING THE LIFE’ is a series of more short stories that take place in the year 2020 in a fictional State named Callisto located in the Northern part of the United States. In Callisto, life is the same, yet different, because no one outside the State really understands anything about what actually goes on here. Along with the location; the characters, events, and conversations, are completely made up and you’re not meant to find morals, or meanings, or signs; But neither I, nor anyone else, can tell you what you think. Here we meet our friends at the mansion; today is not a good day.
LIVING THE LIFE, CHAPTER 11: An Interlude, Part Two
All good things must come to an end; that was the saying, and today, a good thing was ending: Fox and Cedar had to return to HQ. They received the news just yesterday; General Forbes called Cedar and told her they’d been gone long enough, two weeks, and that Caine, the pilot, was coming to pick them up in the same place he dropped them off. He stressed that the tree, where they dropped the yellow substance from the vial, better be destroyed. That was the deal: when they were coerced to stay a while by O.J, they told General Forbes that it was because they wanted to learn more about this State named Callisto. Forbes said okay, as long as that tree was put down, and gave them two weeks. Over the fortnight they met new people, hung out in a mansion, pretended to be FBI agents, and robbed and kidnapped someone; that was, without a doubt, the most fun they’ve had in their lives; and, in regards to what they were actually supposed to do, which was kill the tree, they figured that nothing peculiar was happening so it was okay to tell General Forbes the truth: they killed it via poison. By the time he realized it was a lie, if he ever did, Forbes would see what they saw; nothing was wrong.
It was morning now; just after eight. They were in the kitchen, eating breakfast at the dining table with Jackson, Jonathan, and Alonzo. Caine, the pilot, was scheduled to pick them up at five in the afternoon.
“So,” began Alonzo, before taking a bite of his peanut butter Nutella sandwich; a light breakfast, which he usually had on days when he wasn’t in the mood to make a big breakfast. And also, not having gone on these missions with them, he felt a little left out. “What do you guys want to do for your last day in Callisto?”
Presently, in the same mood, they were all eating peanut butter Nutella sandwiches. Cedar and Fox were brooding. “Not sure, maybe we can just spend the time here until we’re ready to go?” Cedar said, in the form a question.
“That’d be time well spent,” Alonzo smiled. “But, I was thinking, how about we go for a nice drive, then just walk around the forest for a bit. It’d be nice.”
“I like that idea,” said Jonathan.
Jackson nodded in agreement, in the middle of trying to enjoy his sandwich.
“Let’s do it,” said Fox.
“Maybe we can pass by the boys’ place on the way; see what sort of schemes they’re planning. You can say bye, too.”
“You remember where they live?” Alonzo asked.
“Yeah,” said Jonathan. “Well, an idea; it should be around the area of the outskirts.”
“Perfect. We have our last day planned.”
“You know what,” said Alonzo. “Now I feel like having a big breakfast. What do you guys want? I’ll make it. We’ll eat, then be on our way.”
“Just make a pile of scrambled eggs, bacon, and put a few hash browns in the oven,” said Jonathan.
“I’ll cut up some fruits, it’ll be like a mini buffet,” added Fox.
And so they began; Alonzo took out an entire carton of eggs, and a whole pack of bacon from the fridge. Then he opened the freezer and grabbed the box of hash browns. While he was doing that Fox got a knife, some apples, kiwis, grapes, oranges, and a pineapple and began to dice them up like he was a natural; everyone stopped what they were doing to take in the art work. Alonzo then turned the oven on, greased up the frying pan, and put the heat on low before beginning to crack the eggs, and prepared to make breakfast.
As mentioned before, Fox and Cedar weren’t anxious to get back to HQ and start woking again on the 12th floor. Not only was it tedious work and long hours, but also, their coworkers weren’t people they liked to be around; they tolerated them up to this point, but being away from them for so long and meeting the people here in Callisto made them agitated just thinking about going back and seeing those rapscallions. If Fox and Cedar had to go back, they hoped they could at least go on assignment again like they were in 2018. They were glad that they were the best employees on the 12th floor and had a good relationship with General Steele, and an understanding with General Forbes, so maybe they could ask to go on assignment, or get promoted. General Steele was back at HQ now, though, so there probably wouldn’t be any available assignments but they hoped that something, anything, would come up.
Now, I know there has been a shroud of mystery surrounding Fox and Cedar, and naturally, you must have questions about where HQ is, and what it is they actually do. At this point, here is all I can tell you: in the mid-eastern part of Pennsylvania, there is a small town named Houndstooth, which is where HQ can be found. The majority of residents who live in Houndstooth either work in the twenty-three story high-rise that is HQ, or at the one, and only, shopping center, or they attend the Elementary School, High School, or University; similar to the mall, there is only one of each. HQ contains the doctors office, dentists office, banks, and any other necessities one may need; but it is all owned by the same group: the twenty-first floor, where the Generals are.
Fox and Cedar were born in Houndstooth, and immediately after graduating from University they found work at HQ. Beginning as receptionists and file clerks, they worked hard, and never missed a day; that got them noticed by General Steele, who told them that they have talents beyond being ‘secretaries’, talents that can’t be taught, talents that he saw in himself at their age. So Fox and Cedar, with a recommendation from General Steele, applied to be promoted to Sergeants. They were interviewed and hired a week later, now they do research, trying to find places around the world that have yet to be discovered, then present their findings to the Generals; if they’re convinced, the Generals form a team of 20-25 members, travel to the location and set up camps, where they’ll be for months, trying to see what rare items they can dig up. That’s the most I can tell you for the time being, now let’s rejoin Fox and Cedar.
Before long, the kitchen was filled with the aromas from breakfast; crispy hash browns, nearly charred bacon, salty scrambled eggs; nothing was better. Alonzo removed five plates from the cupboard, delicately set them down on the dark marble counter top and served breakfast. They tried savouring each bite like this was the last breakfast they were ever going to eat, but it was exceedingly appetizing and therefore all the plates were left with crumbs in no time. They were also anxious to get their day started, so Jonathan, Jackson, Cedar, and Fox payed their compliments to the chef, Alonzo, and left the kitchen to get dressed and ready to go.
Fox and Cedar spent most of their time at the mansion wearing their uniform; orange and purple camouflage from top to bottom; those were the colors of Houndstooth, Pennsylvania. If they weren’t in their uniform it was because they had just woken up or were about to go to sleep; in that case, they just wore a plain white shirt and black sweatpants. With that being said, Fox and Cedar looked the exact same around the house for two weeks. Now, as they waited at the foyer for Jackson and Jonathan, with Alonzo, and their backpacks, they continued to match. Jackson and Jonathan finally met them in the foyer.
“Sorry. We went to get ready then got side tracked by a game of foosball,” Jonathan said. “I won.”
“It’s alright, we run on your time, we don’t mind standing up here waiting for you,” Alonzo said with a grin, sarcastically. “Can we get going now?”
“After you,” said Jackson.
With dejected faces, Fox and Cedar gazed around the foyer one last time and let out a sigh before opening the front door and making their way out. Barely after twelve thirty the sun was nearing its peak. It was another devilishly hot day, but they stalled in the front yard for a bit to, once again, take in their surroundings for a final time. Jonathan, Jackson, and Alonzo sat on the front steps, while Fox stood, and watched Cedar go over to the garden. She brought back a small bouquet of beautiful purple flowers, they were shaped like bulbs, but had petals and an orange stem inside the middle.
“These remind me of home; look how they match our uniforms, and they’re so pretty. Do you know what they’re called?” Cedar asked.
“Yes, in fact I do,” said Alonzo. “They’re Crocuses.” He paused to think. “That’s all I know.”
Cedar handed a Crocus to Alonzo. “Here, something to remember us by. When we stop by the boys’ place I’ll give them one, too.” She placed hers inside her uniform pocket. “Alright, I think I’m ready.”
These days Alonzo rarely left the mansion. Being anxious about his Mercedes not being put to good use, he told them that he would drive. Strolling along the interlocked driveway, he reached inside his pocket and took out his keys. Jonathan called shotgun; there were no objections but he noted that he also remembered where the boys live. Fox, Cedar, and Jackson crammed into the backseat. Alonzo started the car, pressing down on the gas to rev it up and hear the sound of that crisp engine, then proceeded to drive towards the gates and out of 23 Galaxy Avenue.
The view they saw while cruising down the winding road that was Galaxy Avenue was exceptional: the sun shone through the thick green leaves from the nearly fully grown trees on both sides, forming stunning designs on the road. The music Jonathan was playing relaxed them while they looked through their windows and daydreamed.
Cedar, sitting in the middle, didn’t have a window to look out so she laid her head back and shut her eyes. After waking up this morning feeling unsettled about it being their last day, she now had the feeling of suspense knowing that by the end of the day they’d be back home, standing in front of the generals, with questions to answer. She imagined herself, with Fox, taking the elevator up to the 21st floor and being sent down practically right away with their bags packed. She greatly valued her job, and position, and now she admitted to herself that she made a mistake in releasing a drop of the yellow substance into Callisto. Sometimes, though, curiosity got the best of her, which is what led her to disobey General Steeles’ orders, but people are curious beings and the only way to get your answer is to ask the question. However, Cedar wasn’t sweating with suspense, they just had to stick to the plan and everything would be okay.
She switched her thoughts to the last site her and Fox went to; the site where they first found the yellow substance two years ago. They both had an equal part in finding the location but they always tried giving the other more credit. That place was the first area they found that the generals accepted; it wasn’t easy to have a site accepted. The generals, naturally, didn’t have time to waste so they had to feel sure that going would be worthwhile. Cedar and Fox put together two rejected presentations before the successful third one. Cedar remembered the incredible emotions she and Fox felt that came with accomplishment and achieving goals, she remembered walking up the steps of the private plane owned by HQ and being treated royally by the flight attendants for the whole ride there, and she remembered the blazing heat that welcomed them when they got off the plane and arrived at the desert. Cedar vowed that they’d find a new undiscovered region as soon as possible, instead of allowing herself to be distracted by her absurd curiosities.
Save for the music playing quietly, the car was silent. Alonzo was calmly driving and thinking. He was reflecting on this past year, how his life changed so drastically in one night; he could scarcely recall who he was before all this happened and he was glad, and he told himself that he’d make the same decision again, even with knowing that he’d have to kill someone. That made Alonzo shudder; he murdered someone; burned him alive. He wasn’t going to allow himself to feel guilty, though, it’s too late, and, after all, the man he killed brought his fiery fate onto himself, betraying his own family the way he did.
Lavish trees, creating dark forests, and monstrous mountains took up both sides of the highway they were travelling on. They’d been driving for an hour, coasting down the free, open road. Occasionally they were passed by other vehicles but they were out of sight as fast as they appeared. Al though the backseats had enough space to feel somewhat comfortable, tired of day dreaming, Fox instinctively became restless.
“How much time do we have till we’re there?” Fox asked. “The boys live this far out of the city?”
“Yeah, they do. But they live close to where you’re being picked up, too,” explained Jackson.
“We have about another hour to go,” said Jonathan.
Fox sighed. “That’s not too bad.” He continued to look out the window.
“Alright, Alonzo. Get in the right lane and take this exit coming up, and then take a right,” said Jonathan, alertly sitting up.
Alonzo listened to Jonathan’s direction and proceeded to get off the highway. There were no more mountains surrounding them, the woods were all they could see; woods and fields of crops. From the road, practically the edge of the forest, a person couldn’t see much inside, even though the sun was glaring down on everything. On the outside, the woods didn’t seem very welcoming, but they weren’t heading in there now.
“Keep driving straight,” Jonathan said. “We’re almost there.”
“These guys really live in the middle of nowhere, huh,” said Alonzo. “I thought, at least, there was going to be a McDonalds close by, if not other houses.”
“I wonder what they do to pass the time,” said Cedar. “Seems like a nice area, but how can you not go crazy living so secluded.”
“Based on how they were when they came over to help, I’m sure they don’t have problems killing time.”
“Yeah, they strike me as people who can entertain themselves.”
Having been the ones who delivered the guns and explosives to the boys, and from the secrecy of being told to not ask questions, Jackson and Jonathan were well aware that the boys were the ones who committed the massacre at Galaxy. At first, Jackson and Jonathan were ashamed, they were just as responsible as the boys were, but seeing all the money they made quickly helped them get over it. They weren’t sure how Fox and Cedar would react to knowing that everyone in the mansion was involved in major crime so when the boys arrived, that day they came to help get the shotgun man, Jackson and Jonathan didn’t bring anything up and it wasn’t in their plans to do so now.
The boys’ place was within sight, they saw the wooden bungalow standing alone in the middle of the field, it looked like it had been there for a century, radiating uncanniness, and mystery. But the row of thin spruces leading up to it, and the rusty, blue mailbox, with 70823 painted in red, made it look a little more modern. Alonzo made a left into the man made pathway to the back of the boys’ abandoned house. There was something satisfying about the sound of stones and dirt crunching underneath wheels, then they came to a stop. Alonzo parked behind their glossy red Tesla. There was another, larger, vehicle covered up by a dark veil. Alonzo put his Mercedes in park.
“Let’s go surprise these guys,” exclaimed Alonzo. “I can’t wait to see their faces.”
“You were right about this drive, Alonzo,” said Cedar. “It was fantastic. Now let’s get out, I need to stretch my legs.”
At once, they opened the car doors and left. They hadn’t felt that heat for a whole two hours, they hoped the boys’ place had A.C. Jackson led the way towards the door. They could hear voices over the music playing, but as soon as he knocked, the music stopped and now they heard whispers, shuffling around, and drawers closing. Then footsteps came up to the door and it opened.
“Hey, Weston,” Jackson said with a smile on his face. “Hope we didn’t interrupt. We thought we’d pay y’all a visit.”
“Oh, no, you didn’t interrupt anything. We don’t expect any visitors so we were just being cautious. But come in.” Weston got out of the doorway to let everyone in. “Wow, you’re really here.”
The remaining of the houses occupants rose up to greet Jackson, Jonathan, Alonzo, Fox, and Cedar; they were just as excited as Weston was, once they realized who was at the door. Their small bungalow, which never had more than four people inside, now had nine; there was hardly space for all of them to sit on couches, which they only had two of to begin with, so Fox, Jonathan, Jeremy, and Weston sat on the floor.
Now that, out of nowhere, there was a soiree going on, Bryce tried to be a gracious host, offering his guests some refreshments and, of course, their special herbs. Seeing as drug use was banned at HQ, and knowing they were due for a random test, Fox and Cedar had to decline the herbs, but they gladly accepted a tall glass of ice cold lemonade with a taste of strong white rum. It didn’t take them long to notice there was no A.C so their drinks were immensely satisfying. Fox and Cedar’s denial didn’t deter everyone else, though; not wanting to share one joint between seven people, after all the drinks were served, James began to prepare a few joints for their enjoyment.
Over the duration of the next couple of hours, they were engaged in eye opening discussions; talking about memories, goals, plans for the future, and therefore, most information about everyone was disclosed: Fox and Cedar explained to the boys, like I explained to you at breakfast, where they’re from, what they do, why they were in Callisto in the first place. That left the boys in awe, they asked a tonne of questions about where else Fox and Cedar have been. That I cannot divulge. Anyways, Jonathan and Jackson weren’t positive about whether or not they could share their stories, because O.J. had an important part in it, but who would Fox and Cedar tell? Jackson gave a brief account of his history, telling them how he was adopted, and not treated well, and that his foster parents died in a plane crash. After the gasps, Jonathan recounted how his house was broken into, and that he lost all his possessions. However, he informed them that everything he lost was only material, and over time he appreciated non-material things, like friends and experiences. He told them he was down on life before all this happened. Finally, Alonzo nervously revealed what he did, betting twenty thousand on the Super Bowl. Everyone laughed at first, mostly because Alonzo had faith in the Rams. It got more serious, though, when Alonzo said he almost lost his life. He took a deep breath and described the madness he did to keep his life. The crowd was shocked, but they couldn’t fault him; unsure themselves if they’d be able to do it, they knew Alonzo had to take care of his business. It should be noted that all these conversations took place while they played countless games of ‘Connect 4’, drank, and smoked weed. That must’ve been why they were so open.
Fox and Cedar lost track of time and Alonzo had to remind them that they had to go. So, just before four in the afternoon, they said their goodbyes.
We pick up only five minutes later; Alonzo was turning out of the boys’ man-made drive way and got back on the main road towards the part of the woods where Fox and Cedar were to be picked up. Then the sky darkened, and the clouds thickened, and looked swollen, like they were holding in floods and couldn’t keep it in any longer. A short while after, the downpour started. It hadn’t rained in Callisto in nearly a month, so they were relieved and excited to see it. But the weather turned practically in an instant, that’s what threw them off.
“What’s this? Are we supposed to be preparing for the flood?” Said Jonathan.
“I hope your helicopter can hold more than just you two,” said Jackson.
That made Fox and Cedar laugh. “It has more space than this back seat, that’s for sure,” said Fox.
“Goddam, I can barely see. This is ridiculous,” Alonzo said, shifting his head to try and get a good look through the windshield. He had his wipers going full speed. “Good thing we don’t have far to go.” He sighed loudly.
“Is your ride going to be able to pick you up in this weather?” Asked Jackson.
“It shouldn’t be a problem, the helicopters built to withstand conditions,” Cedar answered.
Just then, as if the gods were having a lively debate, causing Zeus to become furious, thunder roared loudly and powerfully across the sky. Everyone present inside the car flinched. Was this the result of having no rain for weeks? The biggest storm in Callisto’s history seemed to be upon them. Alonzo pulled over to the side of the muddy road and turned the ignition off.
“Well,” he began. “We’re here.”
“Are you kidding me, we’re going to have to get out and walk in this weather?” Said Fox.
“Once we get inside the forest it wont be raining that hard on us. The trees will be our shield,” said Jonathan.
“But look inside,” said Cedar. “It’s so dark.”
Everyone turned towards the forest and gulped; they couldn’t see anything past two feet. All of them felt the same ungodly tension staring at it, resembling forests one would enter to dance with witches or find the devil way back in 19th century Salem.
“Stop being chickens, y’all.” Someone had to say it, so Jonathan did. “We need to go. Time waits for no man and your ride is probably almost here.”
“Alright, lets go,” said Fox. “We’ll have to sprint.”
With that, he opened his door, the side closest to the road, and started running, shutting the door behind him. Before long everyone else was up and running, splashing mud all over themselves as they tumbled into the woods. The thunder boomed once again, but Jonathan was right, the rain was still coming down violently but it felt like only a drizzle inside the forest. Of course, they could see a little better, too; it wasn’t pitch black anymore.
“It smells atrocious in here,” said Fox. “Or is it just me?”
“You’re right, it doesn’t usually smell like this. Must be the rain.”
They began walking deeper, and eventually got to the creak, which meant they were close to their point, but they noticed that the smell was, without a doubt, getting worse. Seemingly out of nowhere, they began to hear the sounds of helicopter blades propelling in their direction. At once they all looked up.
“Looks like Caine is going to beat us there,” said Cedar. “We’re gonna hear about it.”
“We need to hurry. This is giving me the creeps,” said Fox.
A few yards away, Jackson called out to them in an uneasy tone, covering his face so he couldn’t smell. “Hold on, guys. You’re going to want to see this.”
Confused, Fox and Cedar, along with Jonathan and Alonzo, went over to see what Jackson was looking at. Soaked, and soggy, and with the rain still pounding on the leaves, and the sound of water rushing down the creak, and the threat of imminent thunder, the exhausted travellers were very uncomfortable. When they got to Jackson, faces now also covered from the wretched stench, he pointed at something a few feet down the creak. It wasn’t clear at first but then Cedar gasped. Stuck, swaying back and forth, between boulders and branches from trees bent over the waves, was a hellacious sight; a decaying body.