ORIGINAL FICTION: "Climbers" (Chapter Seven)

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CHAPTER SEVEN- The elevator of life drops to the basement.

Just telling you that Ray Meadows couldn't sleep that night- not after seeing that thing- could be considered a strong candidate for Understatement of the Year. A six-pack of Jolt Cola would not have left him more wide awake. At least he was gracious enough in his nervous panic to not wake Barbara. He got out of bed quietly and made his way downstairs. Didn't bother with his flashlight. He could see everything in the house perfectly. Moonlight and adrenaline have that effect. First, a stop in the kitchen for a glass of water. His mouth felt like someone had put a wool sock in it. An old one. There were dust bunnies under his tongue. Ray got a glass out of the cupboard and went for the tap water to avoid opening the refrigerator door. Too much light in there. When he was done, he sat the empty water glass silently in the sink and wandered into the living room. The street lamps on Compton Road seemed unusually bright tonight. The world seemed unusually silent. Had he heard any noise at all in the last hour since he went to bed? Ray couldn't remember. Maybe seeing that thing made him deaf. Geez- there's a weird thought. Especially when he thought back to how it heard him, and he wasn't making any noise. Not that he could hear, anyway. Ok, Ray thought, so I'm deaf. Life goes on. No more background music. Deal with it. What's next?
No, Ray Meadows isn't deaf. But if that tree doesn't fall in the forest, how would you know if you could hear a sound? It was a very quiet night and Ray himself was going out of his way to not make any noise. So there was nothing to hear. May as well be deaf, Ray. One wide awake Ray Meadows sat down in the recliner in the living room, in the dark. He was in no mood to recline. He sat bolt upright, thinking. What should he do? Call the police? Sure, that would be interesting. What did he see? Don't know. What did it look like? Don't know. Where did it go? See above. Maybe don't call the police. How about tomorrow? What was the desk sergeant's name? Robins? Robinson? That's it. Ray decided to call her tomorrow. She should be working the same shift. He could catch her at work before lunch. OK, now what?
How about calling the neighbor- the one under that roof? Oh, sure, that should be good for a giggle. Ray thought about that one, and decided it wouldn't go as well as a call to the police: "Hi! I'm your next door neighbor and I just saw some weird animal or something go skipping across your roof. What? Well, yes, I know it's one a.m. What? No, I can't sleep. You see, this thing went- Hello? Are you there?" Ray went with the theory that if that thing made any noise itself, the neighbor would have heard it and got up to look. No lights on over there. Let's leave it that way.
The thought of going outside and looking for the Whatever It Was did occur to Ray. Several times, in fact. But every time it did, his mind played back that vivid scene in the bedroom not more than an hour before. It heard him raise up on one elbow in bed to get a better look. It heard him do that from the roof of the house next door. He didn't hear himself do that, and it did. Now, what are the odds of being able to sneak up on this thing? Just about zip-a-de-do-dah, and Ray knew it. So he stayed inside. Why bother?
By two o'clock in the morning, Ray was channel surfing on the TV with the sound turned off. The light from the screen seemed glaring, but he needed something to take his mind off the earlier events of the night. And that's what TV was made for. Slowly clicking the remote, he had realized by now that he wasn't deaf. The sound of the remote buttons clicking, and the hiss of the muted TV both told him all was not lost, sound-wise.
His hearing was fine. A stop at the weather channel for tomorrow's forecast. No rain, warming trend continues. That's nice. Another stop on CNN for the latest world calamity/media event. It's amazing how they can get camera crews to the action so fast. Were they invited ahead of time? Keep moving, don't even think about it. Home shopping- don't even stop to browse. How much cubic zirconia does the human race really need? Ah, here we go: An old black and white movie. Ray had seen this one before, and settled in to watch. How much of the dialogue could he remember in his head? Ray was doing pretty good filling in the words to the now-silent movie when he fell asleep. One minute the movie was in black and white, the next minute it was in color and the sound was there, but the plot was changing from what he remembered. Oh well, go with the flow. It was three-thirty in the morning and Ray Meadows was finally fast asleep. The troubles of the night were not his. For now. Sweet dreams, Little Buckaroo.
At six a.m., the alarm clock went off. On Ray's side of the bed. Barbara ignored it. It was up to Ray to turn that thing off. Why didn't he? She reached out to poke Ray. No Ray. She half sat up, half rolled over and managed to hit the alarm on her way back down. Ah, sweet silence. But where's Ray? It's not like he just got up before the alarm. His side of the bed is cold. Barbara took things one at a time: Number one, no pun intended, was the bathroom. Downstairs, Ray Meadows was still snoozing in front of the tube. It was Friday morning.
By now, that old movie was long gone and the morning news was being mimed by an entirely too perky news team with killer smiles and big hair. Ray wouldn't have enjoyed it, had he been awake. Luckily, the sound was still off. They were a little over the top for this early in the morning. Barbara made her way downstairs, still looking for her husband. He wasn't in the bathroom and he didn't fall asleep upstairs by his computer. Not this time. She found him where he was: asleep on the recliner, which he had managed to recline at some time during the night. Just because you're nervous doesn't mean you can't be comfortable. Ray was comfortable, for now. That would end soon when Barbara woke him.
"Hey, good morning. You ok?"
Ray stirred a bit in the chair. One eye managed to open. The other was holding out for a better offer.
"Are you all right? You weren't down here all night, were you?"
Great. Hit the guy with a complex question after that last response. Ray tried to get his brain in gear, both eyes open and maybe some resemblance of upright in the chair. He settled for two out of three. Sitting up would have to wait. Maybe next week.
"Yeah, I'm ok. What time is it?"
"Just after six. Why are you down here?"
Hmm. Trick question. It was after six. It was- Friday? He was supposed to be up and ready for work. He was supposed to be down here. Well, maybe not right here in this chair, but- Then he remembered why he was down there. In that chair. All night.
"I saw it."
"Uh-huh. What channel?"
Ray was waking up, whether he liked it or not.
"No, no- last night. I saw it run across the Rosser's roof."
Now Barbara was wide awake. She understand what he meant by "it". She sat down on the couch, expecting the worst.
"What was it?"
"I don't know."
What a let down. She was ready for an answer. A name. A species. Something. She tried again.
"What did it look like?"
Ray waved his arms in the air. How could he describe it? He didn't know what it was and he wasn't sure what he saw. Barbara gave up and went in the kitchen.
"Ok, you think about it. I'm going to start the coffee."
Ray struggled to his feet. It took two tries. He made it to the kitchen table and he tried to answer her questions again.
"I don't know what it was, or exactly what it looked like. It was dark. It ran across the roof, stopped for maybe a minute, then ran on out of sight. It was- I don't know- maybe four feet tall?"
"It was some kid?"
"This was not some kid."
"Then what?"
"Ah- Some kind of monkey?"
"That's a mighty big monkey boy, Monkey-Boy.
"I remember it had an oddly shaped head for a monkey. I thought at first it was wearing a hat. But it had some sort of nose and muzzle like a dog. Like a bull terrier without ears."
Barbara sat a steaming cup of coffee in front of Ray. He looked at it like he'd never seen coffee before.
"It's called coffee. You drink it. Make you feel better. Ungowa"
Ray smiled and gave it a try. Yep, that's what he needed. Just a pot or two of this, and he'd be fine. Might even go to work. Barbara kept at it.
"So Spuds McKenzie is climbing on roofs now."
"No, no, no. It didn't look like that at all. Just the head. The body was kind of thin, but long. Long legs and long arms. If those were arms. Certainly didn't move like a dog."
"Did it stand up?"
"Well, sort of. But it seemed to run on all fours."
"When did all this happen?"
"I don't know. About half an hour after we went to bed? Maybe eleven? I couldn't sleep, and I was just looking out the window."
"So you saw it, but didn't hear it?"
"Never heard a thing. Matter of fact, I think it heard me."
"Say what?"
"Yeah. I propped myself up in the bed to get a better look, at the thing looked right at me. I don't think it could see me through the screen in the window, but it must have heard me move."
"Move in the bed of the house next door?"
"Sounds crazy, I know, but that's sure what it looked like."
"Ok, it heard you. Then what?"
"It sort of stood there- on its hind legs, holding on to the vent pipe. Then it looked around a bit and ran off."
"That's it?"
"That's it."
"Have some more coffee."
Ray did have some more coffee. On the third cup, he made a mad dash around the house, honestly trying to get ready for work. He took the fourth cup with him, and knew he was going to be late. The expressway could be empty and he'd be late. Oh, well. Halfway to work, up on that six lane speedway that ran through the city, Ray took a random exit and went for the surface streets. At the first gas station, he pulled up to the pay phone and called in sick. He had spent too much time thinking this morning. Now he needed time to act. Next stop? Time to visit his old friend, the public library.
When Ray was a kid, he went to the library the way some kids went to the movies, or just went outside to play. He lived there in the summers to get away from the heat and depended on it in the winter to keep him warm on the weekends. The librarians use to joke about Ray getting his mail there. At one point, he even asked if he could. But it was just a joke. Sort of. He knew them all back, and still knew most of them now. With the advent of the computer- and especially the Internet- Ray could go to the library at home. And there was no charge for overdue books. But he missed the library. He missed the immense silence and the smell of the books. Each department had its own particular scent. He knew fiction from non-fiction- it was easy. More of a sweaty smell in non-fiction. More students working hard on reports. Fiction had that perfume and after-shave smell of leisurely reading by retirees. The children’s section smelled like fast food, and Ray never could figure out why. No food allowed in the library. And yet, there it was: burgers and fries. The reference department smelled of new magazines and the outdoor air of the season. Neither the people nor the periodicals stayed there long. Ray found a parking space and went in. He knew right where he was headed: that sweaty non-fiction section. Zoology. Primates.
Walking down those long aisles on that Friday morning, Ray had the library to himself. He had met several librarians he knew, and chatted briefly with each, but even they could see he was intent on getting down to the business at hand: reading. He picked out two books on mammals in general and two on primates. That's a start. He found a seat near the aisle and went to work. Each book, each page. Over the years Ray had developed a knack for speed scanning. He didn't actually read the pages when he was trying to find something, just look for key words that would stop him. In this case, it was even easier. Since he didn't know what it was called, he had to find a picture. He was on optical fast-forward. And he was headed down a dead end road.
After the first four books- and no likely animals- he broadened his search to animals of the world. Three different books. No luck. Nothing like it. A couple of things came close. One in South America and one on the South Pacific jungle islands. But nope, not quite it. Ray had exhausted the library's supply of animal books by noon, to no avail. He had made notes of the animals that were close, but knew they weren't close enough. His next stop was one he knew he had to make, but he wasn't looking forward to it: the police station and Desk Sergeant Patricia Robinson.
He had the slow trip across downtown to figure out what he was going to say to Sergeant Robinson. His initial nervous panic had melted to abject determination. He would figure out what that thing was. It was something. In the visitors' parking garage at the police station, Ray had his plan: Basically, throw himself at her mercy. But he wouldn't beg. No sir, he had his pride. He wouldn't beg. Not yet, anyway. He walked into the station and almost walked back out. Must be the wrong place. What a loony bin. The only thing missing from this circus was a ringmaster. And it needed one.
Any police station can be a busy place. One in the heart of a major metropolitan downtown can be hectic any time, any day. It gets worse later in the week, and this was about as late in the week as it gets. This central station was built back when crimes were simple, and criminals had motives. The only thing random then was the raffle at the policemen's ball. Now things are a bit different. Motive? We don't need no stinking motive. And they don't, either. "Just Do It" became more than a commercial slogan for a running shoe. It was a lifestyle: Just do it. You won't be caught. Just do it. If you are caught, it's no big deal. You won't be convicted. All your friends are there anyway if you are. Now here was Ray Meadows, an average kind of guy, surrounded by all these people that just did it. And these were just the ones dumb enough to get caught.
Uniformed officers and plainclothes detectives were hustling in and out. Some with prisoners in tow, some with paperwork, evidence or just a sour look on their face. There were no happy days downtown. Ray found his way to the information desk and asked for Sergeant Robinson. Which one? They had three. He explained that he wanted the female officer that was yesterday morning's desk sergeant. Easy enough, that was Patricia. She's at lunch. Be back in about half an hour. Have a seat. Oh, joy. Oh, rapture. Oh, nuts. Ray sat down and was forced to watch the parade.
In the forty minutes that lapsed between sitting down and having Sergeant Robinson walk up and introduce herself, Ray Meadows got to see a wonderous cross section of humanity. Of course, it was a slice off the bottom. Juvenile car thieves, drunk business men, punks with longer records than Iron Butterfly, senior citizen shoplifters and underdressed women to whom "free sample" was only something they got in the mail. Ain't nothing free here, honey. But you can get your money's worth if you shop around. Ray was absolutely dizzy from this fashion runway of the weird when Sergeant Robinson showed up. By then, he considered her an old and trusted friend.
"I'm Sergeant Robinson."
Ray stood up. They saw eye to eye. If anything, she was a little taller.
"I'm Ray Meadows. We spoke on the phone last week about night crimes in the Compton Road area?"
"Ahhhhh- vaguely. It's been a busy week and getting busier. What can I do for you, Mister Meadows?"
Ray looked around the swarming scum of humanity. His problems were starting to seem petty, if not ridiculous.
"Is there someplace we can talk?"
"Sure, but it's not much better than this. Come on."
Sergeant Robinson led Ray back to the remains of an ancient wooden desk. One leg had been replaced by a two by four, another was gone entirely with that corner propped up by a brick. Looked like only one drawer was intact and functional, two were jammed in at angles and the other missing its front. Great desk. The top was cluttered with just the sort of debris you'd expect on a police desk- forty years ago. And it hadn't been cleaned since. Two name plates were on the desk. It was a shared experience. If this desk had a name, it would be "Lucky". The sergeant sat down on a wooden swivel chair that threatened to swivel her to the floor. She motioned for Ray to try one of the two folding chairs on the other side of the desk. Tough choice, but he had insurance. The noise level and general commotion were only slightly lower here. But it was better.
"Now then, how's this?"
"Much better. Do you remember our conversation last week? I had called about hearing things in our quiet neighborhood. We talked about the possibility of loose animals?"
"Yeah, sort of. To tell you the truth, Mr. Meadows, with no crime committed, there wasn't much to be done about it."
"I understand that, Sergeant, but the situation has changed. I think."
"How's that?"
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, it was Patricia Robinson's turn to feel like a fool. She thought she sounded like a bad impersonation of Joe Friday, and she hated it. She wasn't even a detective. Turned down the opportunity twice already. Stay in uniform. Stay in the action on the front line. Try not to sound like a Fifties detective show. It wasn't working. The only thing missing was Bill Gannon going "Uh-huh" and nodding his head every once in a while.
"I saw something last night. Something that ran across our neighbor's roof."
Ok, Patricia, she thought, here's your chance to not sound stupid. Don't blow it. Be articulate.
"I hope you're going to tell me it was an extra large raccoon. Then I can refer you to Animal Control and we can both be done with it."
"I wish I could tell you what it was. I've spent the entire morning in the library, looking through every book I could find on exotic animals. It was not a raccoon."
"And you didn't find any animal like you saw?"
"No, Ma'am. A couple were close, but definitely not it."
"Ok, what are we looking for here? Would you describe it for me?"
At this point, Sergeant Patricia Robinson knew that she and the police force were going to have to make all of this official. She was going to have to fill out some sort of report. But what is there to report? It might be a loose exotic animal. It still might be a kid. For now, she decided to write everything down on a yellow legal pad. She'd figure out what to do with it later.
"Well, it looked about four feet tall, but skinny- kind of wiry and muscular. Long arms and legs-"
"Arms and legs- So you think it was some kid on your neighbor's roof?"
"No way. I've never seen a kid that could move like that: Fast and silent. It almost flew across that roof. Stopped in a heartbeat. Very sure-footed on top of an old two-story house."
"Stopped? What did it do?"
"It just stopped at one of those vent pipes coming out of the roof. Held on to it with one hand- or paw or whatever- and looked around."
"What do you think it was looking for?"
"I don't know. For a minute there, I think it was looking at me."
"And where were you?"
"In my bedroom in the house next door. In my bed, looking out the window. I shifted to get a better look and it looked right at me. Like it heard me."
"You say this thing was on the roof next door- outside- and you think it heard you move in your bed inside another house?"
"Well, yes. I can't explain it, but it turned its head just after I moved so as to look right toward me. It was a very quiet night. I don't know what else it could have been doing."
"What time of night was it?"
"Oh, not yet twelve. Eleven-thirty maybe."
"So you were looking out your window and saw this thing on the neighbor's roof. Were they up, your neighbors? Did they hear it?"
"I don't think so. There was nothing to hear. It didn't make any noise that I could hear. Their lights were off and stayed off. If they were home, they didn't hear it on their roof."
"Which neighbor was this, Mr. Meadows?"
"The Rossers. Harry and Mel."
"Melanie. Sorry, it's not what you think. Nice couple."
"Ok. No problem. What did it do after you think it heard you?"
"It just stood there for a few seconds. I don't know- not very long- then ran off over the roof away from me."
"Then, you didn't see it actually leave the roof?"
"No. And I don't know how it got up there, either."
"You're married, aren't you, Mr. Meadows?"
"Yes, I am."
"Did your wife see this thing?"
"No, she was asleep."
"And you didn't wake her?"
"No, I guess I sort of froze when it looked at me. I didn't want to make any noise."
"I see."
Geez Louise, there it was again. Joe Friday Talk. Say "Uh-huh", Bill. Now nod your head. Sergeant Robinson tried hard to make all her questions nice long friendly sentences. And she'd been doing pretty well at it. Now this. Nuts. Of course, Ray never noticed. This little battle was between Patricia and Patricia, raging in her head.
"I know now I should have woken her up. But the thing was gone so fast, I don't think she would have seen it."
"What did it look like- I mean, any color to it? Was it dressed in something?"
"No, I don't know, exactly. It had some sort of pattern on it, but I couldn't tell if it was clothes- like a leotard or something- or it was fur or whatever." Kind of mottled. Like a giraffe's pattern, but all dark."
"Were there any distinguishing features? What makes you so sure it wasn't any animal you saw in the library today?
"I guess it was the combination of that skinny body, the long arms and legs and that weird head."
"What about the head? I don't believe you've mentioned that."
"Nothing spectacular. It just looked like maybe a bull terrier's head- you know, like Spuds McKenzie- but no ears."
Sergeant Patricia Robinson, nine years on the force, was busy writing. She hadn't looked right at Ray Meadows for some time. Just ask questions and write answers. She wrote for a long time after he had finished. Now she was done, and had to look up. She found it hard not to laugh, or at least grin like one idiot facing another idiot. But she held it back. She kept her Cop Face. They must go to a class for this and here comes the Cop Face final exam. I'd fail it.
"Ok, Mister Meadows, let's see what we have here: About eleven thirty last night, you saw something go across your neighbor's- the Rosser’s- roof. It was about four feet tall, skinny with long arms and legs, colored like a dark giraffe and the head of a bull terrier. It didn't make any noise, but it heard you shift your weight in your bed inside another house. You saw it for what? Less than a minute? And you're sure it's like no other animal in any book in the public library. You don't know how it got up there, where it went, and your neighbors, whose roof it was on, never woke up. Did I get everything?"
By now, Ray Meadows was face down on the remains of the desk, his head buried in his folded arms. He looked up with the grin of one complete idiot. He never took the Cop Face class.
"Left off one thing. That Ray Meadows must be a complete buffoon. It all sounds so, so… stupid."
Sergeant Robinson looked down the sheet of paper, trying to find a better word for it. It was tough. Lucky for both of them she had a big vocabulary.
"No, not stupid, Mr. Meadows. It's intriguing. Very intriguing."
She liked that. Very Not Joe Friday.
"Ok, I'll tell you what, Mr. Meadows: I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this. I was hoping we could figure it out. Determine whether it was a loose animal or some kid. I don't think we can. Not yet, anyway. So how about this: Here's my card. If you see any thing- any thing at all- you call me. You can call anytime, day or night. There's an answering machine on this number, so you don't have to worry about waking me up or anything. Just call, and tell me what you see, when you see it and where it was. If there's someone or something out there prowling around your neighborhood, they'll show up again. And you'll see them again. Just call. We'll find it."
She felt pretty good about that speech. Not bad. Ray looked a little less sheepish. Even took the card she offered and put it in his wallet. She saw his employee I.D. card: Granville Corporation. Hmmm. A company man. Maybe not a complete nut case. Did she know anyone that worked there? Maybe. Now Ray was standing up, so this meeting must be over. She stood, they shook hands, and he asked for the way out. She offered to take him, since getting lost in the police station may not be the best way to spend an afternoon. You could fall in with the wrong crowd. Literally. Five minutes later, Ray Meadows was sitting safe in his own car, trying to remember how to get out of the parking garage. He had no idea what to do next, but he was feeling much better now.

To Be Continued...

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Copyright 1996,2011, Chip Haynes