Categories > Original > Fantasy > Tradewinds 06 - "Falling"


by shadesmaclean 0 reviews

the Card, good times

Category: Fantasy - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Fantasy,Horror,Sci-fi - Published: 2008-12-03 - Updated: 2008-12-03 - 2236 words - Complete

It had felt like ages since Shades had the money to spare on new shoes, and he relished how much lighter his feet felt in them.

In fact, after being trapped in the same smelly clothes for days on end, wearing new clothes— ones he didn’t have to hide and sneak to obtain— never felt so good. Of course, he had gone and taken a shower before putting them on. Even the replacement for his beloved denim jacket, which was not only dirty, but also had been torn in a couple places out in the woods that night, had also been replaced.

One thing he had learned in the last two weeks was that there is such a thing as keeping too low a profile. The danger being that the guards here had a knack for lurking in whatever parts of the mall were empty for whatever reason. Useful places for reducing his face-time in public, but also the last place he wanted to confront them. Sometimes, as the old saying goes, the best place to hide is right out in the open. For the first time since he was in middle school, he had shown his face without his trademark shades, so that (ironically) no one would recognize him, though right now he wore a brand new pair. Much like the absence or concealment of his backpack, it made him feel naked, somehow.

What little he could do, at least until now, to change his appearance. Now, cleaned up and decked-out in his new wardrobe, he bore little resemblance to the ragged-out young man the guards chased around his first night. And it was all thanks to that mysterious card he found several days ago.

When he woke up late, after taking the card, he had been so sure it had all been a dream. Yet, when he dug in his pocket, there it was, along with that cryptic note. On some unknown impulse, he chose to hang on to it, but didn’t dare do anything with it.

It was only the day after that, when his luck finally seemed to run out, the random bounty of coinage drying up on him, that he at last had no choice but to use the card. Hungry, desperate, long past wits’ end, he experimented with a Bank of New Cali ATM. But of course it demanded a pin number, as he had feared. He had just decided to give up, break the damn thing and trash it to keep “them” from getting their hands on it, when he remembered that cryptic note. Remembering various spy movies he had seen, he tried using 4963 as his pin. When that didn’t work, he nearly despaired of using the card when the idea occurred to him to reverse it and try 3694.

And the rest was history.

Sometimes it felt almost too good to be true. Though his efforts had so far yielded no figures on how much money he was dealing with. So he paid for things directly with the card, as most places did credit with FMBNC, and made cash withdrawals at regular intervals, against the time when the card must surely run out. As well as to be on the safe side, just in case the guards somehow caught on to the card, at least cash was untraceable.

On the subject of cash, from time to time he had pondered why a mall in another dimension would take American currency anyway. His investigation revealed that they actually accepted several types of currency, none of which he had ever heard of. That, and they didn’t do Canadian.

In addition to hiding in bookstores and reading things no one else from his world had, he had also discovered something called mp3. With his newfound bounty, he decided to splurge and buy a device that was smaller than any of his old portables, yet could save thousands of songs. In several sectors, he found places where one could insert a card— like his— and upload entire albums. Again, that sense of seeing the next big thing before its time.

And not just the technology— John and Sandy and the others would kill to hear the things he had heard…

…As usual, Shades barely heard the phone ring over the din of guitars and drums.

He gave the kill sign as he reached for the handset. And Nowheresville fell silent in mid jam as he picked up. Even holding their breaths, and Sandy reached over to turn down the hum of his amp.

“You’ve reached the Nieberg residence,” Shades declared in a voice that hardly sounded like his own, “We are not currently home. At the beep, please leave…”

And the others stifled their giggles until Shades visibly relaxed, then busted out, as somewhere someone hung up in disgust.

And probably not for the first time this particular week. Of course, once Shades looked at his watch and noticed that it was after nine, he knew as well as they did what that call meant. Just about time to call it quits for the night; if they pressed their luck, they might be able to get away with about another twenty minutes or so before somebody called the cops.

At least until Vince succeeded in his longshot plan to save up egg containers to soundproof Sandy’s basement.

But, judging by the way Sandy had already unplugged his guitar, and Becky just turned off her bass amp, the show was over for the night. Even John reluctantly set aside his drumsticks; if nothing else, now that Shades thought about it, John’s parents were as militant about him being home by ten on school nights as Sandy Nieberg, Vince Stevahn and Becky Chandler were about their songwriting, and they would need to have John’s drum set loaded in the truck before then.

Along with fielding calls, Shades’ other chief job was instrument schlepping, a tradition dating back to carrying Arthur’s trombone case whenever he visited him in middle school. Sandy and the others sometimes called him
roadie, Vince and Becky sometimes jokingly called him groupie, but no one ever called him trendy. Though both Sandy and Vince had suggested that he try his hand at turntables, Shades had never picked up a musical instrument. Still, he was curious to try it, because even though he doubted his own aptitude, seeing how much fun his friends had playing made him feel so left out.

He was already moving to help John take down his drums, leaving the phone on the end table next to the couch that Sandy preferred as his bed. The whole basement, aside from the laundry room, was Sandy’s territory. His mom had let him have it after she decided that he was, in her own words,
old enough to listen to devil-music. Which suited Shades just fine; he never liked the feel of the upstairs of the house. Of unseen hands holding everything in place among devotional posters, crucifixes, and assorted other items that made any church he had seen look bare-walled and Spartan by comparison.

And of course, The Unseen Guest At Every Meal, the Unseen Listener to every conversation— Shades was profoundly relieved that Sandy had exorcised history’s original Big Brother from down here, at least.

Upstairs not withstanding, Shades liked the place. Sandy had free reign; ugly concrete walls mostly concealed under layers of posters, his own fridge and microwave, and the old toaster that spits green fire at everyone. Bedroom, office, kitchen, studio, all in one convenient package. The lucky bastard even had his own bathroom, complete with a wooden “no dumping” sign of dubious origin. At one point, he could’ve
sworn he had seen that exact same sign before in a field near here…

Then again, it was probably a trophy from one of their early Black Ops. Jokingly named as a reference from Shades’ old “GI Joe” days, several of them would go about playing weird practical jokes and such. Sometimes just playing around, but occasionally done for a purpose. Though he honestly didn’t remember one involving a “no dumping” sign.

He had been so busy thinking as he dismantled, he had missed whatever it was Sandy and Becky were talking about, just catching her saying, “…But it’s still not easy.”

“I know,” Sandy replied, shoving aside a mop of sandy blond hair that seemed to compliment his name as he bent over to close his case, “but you don’t want to end up sounding like just another pretty bird singing in a platinum cage, do you?”

“Yeah,” Vince piped up as he put away his keyboard. An item that still amused and confused Shades; not since Greg Graffin’s enthusiasm for them nearly killed Bad Religion had he heard of such a thing. Of course, he and Sandy had their own predictions, that was their game. “Think of it as a secret weapon. It’s not like you hear too many women who

“I know,” Becky sighed, brushing her auburn hair aside as she cased her bass. “It’s actually kinda fun to just cut loose, but I’m still not used to it.”

“Just take the tape,” Shades recommended. He had one of his own in his jacket pocked. “It’s lots of fun. Just let it all go. Blow off some steam when nobody’s home.”

And a big, empty house it could be; Becky’s dad was loaded, a successful accountant from California who owned a nice chunk of lakefront property. All of them had been out on the Chandler family cabin cruiser. Though she often complained about her father always asking
Why do you hang out with those punks? And Vince always told her it was never bad for your street cred when anything about you pissed off parents anywhere. Then again, he even considered Shades, and Vince— whose family was Southern Baptist, for Christ’s sake!— to be a bad influence.

Go figure.

“You’ll also get more of a feel for where I’m coming from lately.” Sandy had explained his theories more than once in the last year or so. Covers are good to cut your teeth on, but unless you’re a cover band, you’ve got to have original material for your fans. Among other things. And ever since he came back from LA last summer, he had been on about adding more of a hip hop vibe to their style. “Trust me, it’s the sound of the future. Rage proved it can be done as more than just a gimmick.”

“So did 311,” Vince pointed out, stuffing cables into his backpack. A semi- futuristic-looking thing made entirely from duct tape. Which he had worked on patiently, in his own eccentric fashion, only to reveal that this one was just a prototype for the
real one, which he had recently begun.

“Don’t worry about it,” Becky told them. “I’m just worn out from all those tests this week. God, sometimes I swear they do it like that on purpose.”

“Yeah, but remember that name,” Sandy told them, “you’ll be hearing it a lot…”

…Sandy, my man
, Shades thought as he ambled into the food court, if only you knew.

In his short time here, he had seen many of his and Vince’s predictions come to pass. He wondered of late if he hadn’t been hanging out in the presence of a visionary all those years. He couldn’t be entirely certain, but what dates he had seen on books and CDs and such suggested that, in some world or another, they had caught glimpses of the future.

Now he would have a bite to eat before he dropped by Bankshot. Sadly, the mp3’s they sold at the kiosks were of the “self-destructing” variety, but DJ had a program that could “disarm” them and convert them into the real thing. Not to mention their growing Music Exchange Program, swapping songs as he and his friends used to swap mix tapes back on Earth. DJ had all the good shit the Major Label kiosks don’t have and never will.

He stopped to wonder for a moment exactly why he had chosen Bankshot as his first place to ask for help when he first learned of the curse. After all, after losing the guards, he could have just left and tried someplace else. All he could come up with was that DJ’s joint was a place of light and song. That the Underground was never with the Establishment. That the sanctuary of Bankshot was a release from having to keep such a low profile everywhere else, from an atmosphere that had become entirely too oppressive now that he had glimpsed its true nature. That DJ seemed to maintain an aura here that seemed to keep the influence of the rest of this place at bay, a way to forget about the existential horror that surrounded him here for a while. This seemed to satisfy his curiosity as much as he suspected anything he would ever find out here was going to, and he let his headphones play.

This place may be a deathwatch, but it could tick all it wanted to; and until he found another way, he would drown it out with music.
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