Say Hello to My Little Grandmother

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“Life can be a strange beast, can it not?”

The strange animal on my shoulder spit out the words, “Only to those required to experience it.”

I exhaled loudly before I disappeared back into my thoughts.

You see, I have walked this earth for centuries and for every place I have stopped at long enough to become involved with someone, I have left family in my wake.  I have descendants from my first marriage over a thousand years ago up to the last woman I buried in the ground who died from the effects of time.

As if it could sense my thoughts, my odd companion groused, “You leave them because you tire of their chattering.”  It looked me in the eyes and I was caught in the deathless void that circled within their depths, “More like you grow tired of their jealousy as they see you never age while they eventually turn to dust.”

“Always so cruel, you are,” I muttered.  “But the truth is a harsh mistress.”

At my discomfort, a blustery laugh gurgled from the throat of the monkey thing until it segued into coughing.  I ignored it as it cleared its throat.  The two of us remained quiet as we continued our way through the northern woods.

While most of my progeny have made their way into the beyond, I still have many living grandchildren, great grandchildren, great-great grandchildren and more.  But I have only one living child and he had gone missing.  I had not heard from him in months, which was not all that surprising.  In fact, I only knew that he was missing because of the news.

Someone had broken into his home and murdered his husband.  The neighbors had reported hearing him yelling as something large bore him away into the darkness of the night.  At the first opportunity, I made my way there to find that the air stank of brimstone.  A demon must have taken him.

“How odd is it that a demon would take the only child of a demon hunter?” chattered my strange companion.  “These two facts would almost seem related, wouldn’t they?”

“Shush, you.”

But I do have other family that is not of my blood, not even of my species.  Little grandmother is one and she is who I am hoping to find in these dark woods.  She can be hard to track or easy to find.  Her home moves where she wants it, or so she says.  I think the house itself decides where it wants to go and she is born away with it.

The one eyed man I called grandfather had taken me to her when I had reached a particular age.  “You have work to do,” he had blustered.  “You owe a debt incurred by your mother, a debt to make the world right.  Your life is not your own to lead.”  He had grabbed me by the shoulder and pushed me out the door.  I could still hear his voice raised as the door swung shut in my face, “You are to hunt demons, child!  Find the mother and she will show you the ways… or eat you out of spite!”

I wandered for days through a forest not unlike this one and stumbled upon her house.  Little grandmother decided not to eat me and took me in.  She was a strange old lady and her home rang with a cacophony of voices.  I lived with her for many years, and in truth, I only left because I felt she wanted me to go.  She did have a habit of eating the unwary and it seemed as if she didn’t want to see me that way.

During my stay with her, I learned many an odd skill while helping out.  A guttural voiced quill taught me the forging of documents.  A quivering knife instructed me in the fine art of coin shaving.  A deck of cards with the shrillest of tones taught me card tricks and sleight of hand and an incredibly talkative wig taught me how to disguise myself into whatever or whoever I chose to be.  I was to learn later that each of those voices belonged to a soul that had been ensnared by her.  “Only deserving souls!” she had cried.  But I was never truly sure.  Perhaps her home was like the hanging tree of grandfather.

We came to a small clearing and in its center sat a shabby little shack.  No smoke rose from its single unstable chimney and no voices emanated from inside.  What hung for curtains flapped lazily in the light breeze.  While it had been ages since I had seen it up close, it was definitely her home.

“Grandmother?” I called out as I knocked on the door of rotted wood.

My fingers grasped the knob and twisted and I almost fell inside.  Dust lay thick on the table and the sills and no footprints had disturbed the dust on the floor.  I searched the three rooms of the small hut and it was like it had been before, the inside was far larger than the outside could possibly hold.  But the place was empty.

“Baba?  Are you home?” I called out.   “Baba Yaga?”

My diminutive companion giggled at the silence that replied.  I ignored it as I found pen and paper and jotted down a quick note.  Baba was not always home but she always made her way back and Baba could find me anywhere in the world if she desired to.

I stood there in contemplation, “Who else do you turn to for help when the mother of all monsters no longer heeds your call?”

Dry laughter wheezed from the small demon that sported an animal skin on my shoulder, “When no one hears your call, only you can answer it!”  Its rows of pointy teeth grinned at me, “Now, quit being a muttonhead and whatnot!  There’s hunting to do!”

Late Night Diary – October 2018

Day 1

I am feeling run down but I’m not sure why.  Hopefully I’ll get past this soon.  I have a busy month ahead of me.

Day 3

I can’t figure it out.  Every morning I wake up more exhausted than the last.  On top of that, breathing is a hassle, like it seems strained and I can’t get a full breath.

Day 6

I am so tired.  The only thing keeping me up is coffee and it’s definitely taking a toll on me.  I woke up and every inch of my body aches.  I know there is a storm front blowing in, but the body aches have never been like this before.

Day 8

Every morning is worse than the last, every breath feels more labored.  Worst of all, I have a giant bruise that runs from my left shoulder down to my left knee and I don’t know where it came from!  I haven’t left the house in the past two days and I don’t remember falling down.

Day 10

I think I almost died last night.

I don’t really know what happened but I woke up gasping for breath.  As hard as I tried, I couldn’t get any air in.  I struggled to get to the bathroom to at least see if there was something physically wrong with me to explain it.

But there was nothing wrong that I could see except for the strain of choking e on my reddened face and the tears that streaked down relentlessly.  I ended up falling on the floor and prayed that I wouldn’t die.

With the last shuddering stretch, a tiny sip of air made its way in.  I gurgled as I tried to repeat this.  Eventually, I could breathe again.  The rest of the night was spent cleaning up the spittle that had dribbled out of me and showering the fear sweat off.

Day 11

I was hoping it might be a one-time thing, but it happened again!  I am going to the doctor to see what can be done about this.  I don’t want to die on the bathroom floor!

Day 12

Another evening of almost dying while gasping for air.  I seriously feel like a fish out of water.  I did make my appointment but the Doctor wasn’t much help.  She said I might have a cold and I’ll just have to wait it out.  If this keeps happening, I don’t know if I can live long enough to wait it out.

The whiskey is helping me relax.

Day 17

How many nights has it been now?  I feel so run down, like my soul is being slowly drained from me.  Strangely, it only seems to happen at night, so I’ve taken to trying to sleep in the daytime.  This too is taking its toll on me as I still have to go to work.

Day 20

I did make it through the night without almost dying, so there is some light at the end of the tunnel.  And I am beginning to feel better, not so run down.  But I keep catching myself falling asleep in the most inopportune places.  Hopefully I won’t have to keep this up for much longer.

Day 21

Damn it, I failed.  I couldn’t make it through the early morning and woke up strangling on my own saliva.  But I saw something odd right as I woke up.  I swear I saw what looked like the shadow of a man dart into the wall mirror.  But since I haven’t been sleeping well, I’ll chalk it up to sleep deprivation.  There isn’t a realistic answer for it besides that, right?

Day 23

Good God, do I feel terrible this morning.

I saw the shadow man again.

Weird side thought, I’ve learned that if I don’t panic while I can’t breathe that the throat muscles relax I can eventually get a breath in.

Back to whatever the hell it was; it resembled a full sized, man-shaped shadow and it ran directly into the big mirror.  I don’t think I would’ve seen him if I hadn’t stopped panicking.

Day 24

Another night and it was there.  It was right against my face when I woke up choking on something cold.  I tried telling my family what I saw, but no one believes me.  Even my job told me to take the week off involuntarily.

To be honest, I didn’t react well to this and I’ve taken to drinking more.  I’ll need to curb this before it becomes a problem.

Day 25

I tried to stay up all night in the bedroom so I could see where it came from and I almost missed it.  Some sixth sense stirred me and I was able to catch sight of the shadow come out of the small mirror on the wall and move to the edge of the bed.

Its eyes!  Frosty, sparkling pits that stared hatefully at me while a sense of urgent hunger permeated the room.  It flitted past and strode through the larger mirror against the far wall.  Even though I have never been so scared in my life, I kept my eyes on it the entire time.

Day 26

I came up with a plan but it didn’t work.  I flipped the small mirror toward the wall and threw a sheet over the big one.  I figured if it couldn’t see in, it wouldn’t come in.  But I was wrong, so wrong.

Because it came anyway.  Its cold, clammy hands gripped my cheeks while its icy lips pressed against mine.  I could feel myself growing weaker as this… this demon sucked the life out of me.  I could sense its mockery as it released my face and left me fighting for breath.

I had to think of something to survive this.

Day 28

I rented a motel room across town but it still found me.  I don’t know how much more I can take of this.

Day 29

I received a notification that my job had let me go; too many sick days.  As if I missed work for something fun.  Bastards.  I got so mad I ended up shattering the bathroom mirror with an empty bottle.

Maybe this was the way to deal with it?  Smash all the mirrors so it can’t get to me?  I won’t know until the morning.

Day 30

BLANK ENTRY

Day 31

BLANK ENTRY

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Bad Opening Moves

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(image courtesy of Ryan McGuire of http://www.gratisography.com/)

Once the lecture was over, he caught sight of her leaving through the double doors that led out to the hallway.  His books jostled as he ran to catch up to her.  Out of breath he sputtered out, “Uh, excuse me?”

The young woman stopped and turned slowly, confusion evident in her eyes, “Yes?”

A light smile danced gracefully across his lips before he shifted the pile of books in his arms.  It took a moment for him to catch his breath, “Thanks for slowing down.  I… I really need to talk to you.”

Becky slid the moderately chewed pen out of her jeans pocket and twirled it slowly between her fingers, “Okay?”

He just stared at her for a split second before a pulled a folded sheet of paper free from the top book.  She watched blankly as he mouthed the words silently he read to commit them to memory.

Becky spied her friend, Amanda, coming down the hall and threw a quick wave to her.

She jerked in surprise as he suddenly began speaking in a loudly hushed tone, “I just wanted you to know that you make me feel… a certain way.  Now, I don’t know much about love.  It wasn’t something that I was brought up with.  Sadness and anger?  Sure.  Fear and doubt?  Of course.  And weirdly, duty.  But love?  No, not really.”

He was quiet as he gave that some serious thought, “And this is why I needed to talk to you.  You make me feel… odd and I find it uncomfortable.  Frankly, it’s off-putting.”

“That’s why I have resolved that I can’t see you anymore and I needed to let you know that it’s not you, it’s me.”  The young man held up his left hand like a blinder and quickly turned aside.  Then he crab-stepped away from her before disappearing down a side hallway.

“What was that about?” Amanda asked as she sidled up next to her.

Becky shrugged in response, “Got me.”

“Do you know that guy?”

She nibbled absentmindedly on the end of her pen, “Not sure.  I think we’re in the same physics class?”

Amanda smirked, “Huh.  With those moves, I would’ve figured it for biology.”

Tempus Automata – six

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The whole of my vision went hazy before it all pixelated into a monochromatic gloom.  At the same time, the surprised intake of breath from the inventor filled my ears as he grabbed for my shoulder.   My systems struggled to make sense of what had just happened, but just as suddenly, the colors of the world rushed back into focus.

The grip on my shoulder lessened once my creator realized where we were.   Across a neighborhood street laid the place of my creation.   A vintage Oldsmobile with rocket fins drove past us as the inventor tried to see through his own window.  Abruptly, he stood up and ran to the sidewalk.  He stood there and scratched at his head before he made his way back to me.

“What did you do?” he asked.

With my limited vocabulary, I tried to explain what I had seen and done, “I… I plucked the time string that ran behind me…”

“Hmm, the time string?”  He rubbed at his forehead as he pondered at my meaning before he asked, “Explain to me what you saw before you plucked it.”

“Before my eyes lay a single string that stretched into the far distance while what lay in front of me were many that branched outward.  When I attempted to touch those that were in front of me, they moved away of their own accord.  But I could grasp the long one that stretched off behind me.”

“And you called them time strings?”

I nodded in the affirmative, but I couldn’t think of a way to articulate why I had said that.  He was quiet for a long period before he asked, “How far did we travel?”

I replied, “Four hundred and forty one feet.”

His eyes lit up as he wiggled in place, “By my calculations, we traveled one second backwards… in time!  Ha, ha!   How wondrous!”

Despite his age, he bounced and skipped around and each step seemed to buoy up the energy inside him.  A huge grin plastered itself across his face as he turned back to me, “We must hurry back and run another test!  Come along my friend!”

He hopped off in a hurry.  By the time he made it back to the sidewalk, he turned back to see me in the same spot.  He made his way back and looked down at where my torso ended and what existed of my unfinished legs jutted outward.

He smiled, “Looks like I’ll have to carry you back, Grigori.”

Tempus Automata – five

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The rough edge of a large cardboard box pressed against the back of my skull, but that wasn’t quite right.  It was more a perception of sensory input from the mix of plastics and metal that formed our… my outer shell.  The caress of hands brushed against the edge of the cavity in my chest and each time a connection was made, it sent a shock through me.

My eyes blinked open and I could make out curly gray hair thinly scattered on the head of the inventor, my creator.  I looked on in wonder but the colors looked muted, separated by a thin tracking line that was constantly moving across my vision, “I… I see you.”

“And I see you, my friend,” he replied jovially.  “Bear with me just a little longer.  I am almost done getting this contraption plugged into you.”

I was conscious of his fingers as they rummaged around the inside of my chassis until there was a final satisfying click.  My systems struggled to process everything as new strings of data filled the passageways of my mind.  Strange new vistas opened up before my mechanical eyes.  Overlaying what was solidly in front of me were ghostly lines that segued into multiple directions forward but only a single glowing line behind.

“Power read outs are stable.”  The corners of my creator’s eyes crinkled, “It’s amazing what a bit of plutonium can do, isn’t it?  Now, hopefully no one will ever question how we got our hands on it.”

“What is… this?” I asked in wonder.

The inventor chuckled dryly, “Now that, my friend, is a mighty good question. “

He stared at something below my field of vision for a moment before he grabbed a dusty tome from inside the box that had held the mechanism; the mechanism that was now inside me.

“Excellent! This is a log of… oh my.”  Bemusement colored his words, “Well, it looks like we’ve experimented with this device numerous times before and many of those have ended in failure.”

But I ignored him.  I stared in wonder at the flickering lines that hovered in my vision.  Slowly, my hand extended out to touch them, but the ones that splintered outward wavered away from my fingertips.  When I brought my hand down in consternation, the long single one that continued behind me slid into my grasp.  As I reached out and held onto my creator, my fingers slid down the ghostly line just shy of where the branches split outward and I plucked.

Tempus Automata – four

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Once the vision dissipated, I leapt up and looked to my companion, but she only stared at the being with a sense of absolute disbelief.  My expression could only mirror hers as my hands clenched and unclenched while my mind went over the little that had been spoken.

But before I could summon a word to my lips, my companion shouted, “That’s preposterous!”

I nodded in agreement as she stumbled to her feet and continued, “How could your… your maker have received something from his past and have no memory of sending it!  That doesn’t make sense!”  As she continued on incredulously, her hands slid into fists.

In response, the being’s lips split into what could only be interpreted as a smile, but a smile from something that hadn’t used those muscles in years.   The entity waited until my traveling partner’s words dwindled down to a trickle before its voice boomed into the ether of this dead planet, “I have been present since before your forebears unearthed the spheres that laid waste to this world.  I have been alone for longer than you have lived and I have existed at times as more than a single entity…”

“That doesn’t belay the fact that what you say is impossible!” she shouted back.

“… and yet you trifle with me over a concept you cannot grasp.  Would you prefer me to continue my tale that you have traveled so far to hear or would you rather question me as to the reality of my existence?”

As she sucked in a breath to utter her response, I quickly interjected, “Susan, I for one, would like to hear the rest of the story.” At her angry look, I muttered abashedly, “I mean, we came all this way… and this individual must be the Watcher, right?”

The strange little monkey creature chittered loudly as my words faded into the deathly quiet, which only set me on edge.

Slightly mollified, Susan crossed her arms and dropped down to sit next to me.  I felt her body shift ever so slightly away before her toes began to tap against the pebbles that littered the ground around us.

The being’s empty eyes pulled at me.  I gazed into the twin voids and I sensed them tugging at my soul.  Strangely, I could feel Susan’s presence next to me grow closer until I felt entwined with her.  She must have felt it too, because her breathing escalated into short, rushed bursts.

Or maybe it was my own.  I could no longer tell us apart.

Tempus Automata – three

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“I can tell you of my existence… “

Its voice no longer spoke into the wind, but only grew louder within the mind.  The peculiar monkey creature seemed to snicker as both my companion and I pressed our hands to our ears and cried out in pain.

“…if that is what you truly wish.”

Papers flew haphazardly through the air of an archaic laboratory before they settled like leaflets on the ground during a revolution in full swing.  The dull eyes of what appeared to be a life sized doll stared blankly at the crazed man in the center of the room as he pulled at his hair.

“Oh, if I could go back in time!” cried the wizened inventor.  “If only to study with the master Pierre Jacquet-Droz and to finally grasp at the analog straws of memory and its relation to output.  To learn at the feet of Jacques de Vaucanson and in the fine construction of his pieces.”

With a huff, the inventor knelt and slowly gathered the loose sheaf of papers which now littered the floor.   He carefully laid the sheets down on his overburdened desk before his hands clenched the edge fiercely, “But why stop there?  Why not travel back to meet with Ben Franklin and his wondrous Philadelphia Man?  Why not go back to help Leonardo da Vinci build his mechanical knight?”

Another sigh escaped him as he stared at his creation, but the unresponsive camera lenses in the expressionless face only reflected his image back.   Sadness etched its way into the inventor’s cheeks as he turned away and settled back into the beaten leather chair at his desk.

A slight grin colored his lips, “If all of time was an option, why settle for only those?”  He sprung out of his chair and grabbed the hands of the doll, “We could go to Ancient Zhou and see how the great artificer Yan Shi made his dancing man.  We could even ask Jabir in Hayyan the secrets of the Book of Stones!”

The inventor spun back to his table and rifled through his old notebooks.  Pages were violently flipped through before a book would be launched over his shoulder or dropped to the floor.  His movements grew more frantic until his eyes spied the unopened box near the window.

“When did this one come in?” he muttered while he checked the delivery date.  “Last week, eh?  How did I miss it?”  A sardonic laugh burst from him, “How can I question mail sent to me by me but from long ago?  Oh, the eccentricities of life!”

His small pocketknife sawed at the fibrous tape that kept the box closed until he was able to rip the lid in two.    Glee lit his eyes as he withdrew a brass and copper instrument.  Gears clicked as he tripped the small levers.  The multiple readings across the face of the device indicated the time, placement in the galaxy and height above sea level.  He kept at it, but nothing seemed to happen.

Perturbed, he reached into the box and pulled out a handwritten note;

   The mechanism requires a power source. 

   Perhaps the project’s will do?

The inventor chortled as he brought the mechanism over and proceeded to install it inside the open cavity in the chest of his doll.  A wire was connected into the housing before the cover was replaced.

The eyes on the doll lit up and began to scan the laboratory before they settled on the inventor, “Creator.  How may I be of service?”

“Let’s see what wondrous things we can do, my friend.”

Tempus Automata – two

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My companion had ground to a complete stop before me and I had nearly walked right over her.  But when I looked at what held her eyes, I too stepped back in shock.

The being before us was like a man and yet unlike one.  It was sexless.  Its hide was run through with small fissures where it had dried under the harsh winds.  In some spots it had blackened with age.  Its hands loosely rested on the exposed rock that somehow resembled a chair; no a throne.  The skin over the fingers was cracked at the joints and metal, though pitted, shone through.  Its head hung forward and its eyes were closed.

Was this the Watcher?  What did it see with its eyes closed?  Did it still live or was it dead?

“Has our journey been a waste?” cried my companion.  “Was all this just to find another carcass among many?  Was it all for naught?”

My hand reached out to touch her shoulder, but I held back.  A small, simian-like creature had arrayed itself across the being’s shoulder and glared at us.  My companion moved away as the thing chittered at her in annoyance.  The strange little eyes of the ape spoke with a dark intellect as they bored into mine.  One of its hands rapped a repeating pattern against the large head of the being until the eyelids of it split open.

My companion and I crumpled under the strange gaze.  Its machine eyes measured us and we felt small in comparison.  It was hard not to look away, but we had come to this forsaken planet for this very meeting.  My companion fell to her knees and I joined her.  We clasped hands and whispered our request.

The being’s voice stuttered out from long disuse, “You wish to ask of me questions?”

We both nodded, though mine was with the slightest hesitation.

“You traveled all this way for that?  What would you ask of me that you couldn’t find elsewhere?”

The voice of my companion echoed out into the wind of this dead planet, “What are you?”

Tempus Automata – one

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The earth below us was broken.  Shards of stone jutted out into a sky as black as a cave.  But there was light.  The very cracks in the ground seemed to glow with it.

We had left the ruins of the city behind and followed this ancient trail out into the fractured peaks that lay on the western edge.   Strange weeds struggled to grow underfoot, but our steps turned them into dust.

Were the weeds truly alive?  Was anything on this Gods forsaken planet?

The stories of this world were whispered of in the darkest corners of the universe and they were believed to be the tales of madmen.

“There is no Earth to be found!” cried the naysayers.  “No Sol System on any star chart.”

Where the rumors say it hung in the night sky was a spot of blackness, blacker than the darkest night.  But one day, that fleck of blackness had faded and an ancient star system had lain in its center.

My companion and I had come to this ancient birthplace of the human species and we had come in search of answers.

“Answers to what?” you might ask.

What had happened here?  What had brought the denizens of the darkest domain back to this moribund sphere?  Where had they gone?  The answer would always be knowledge, be it forbidden or dangerous.

Time was of the essence as the days left for it to circle its dying star grew short.  Its magnetic field had begun to weaken and the atmosphere was dissipating into space.  The oceans had lost much of their moisture, but the waves continued to slap the lonely shores.

It was with a shock of surprise that we actually found our quarry seated amongst the bones of this corpse world.  We had believed it to be myth and fairytale, but our deepest hopes had been that there still lay a grain of truth in the legend, that the Watcher was real.

And it was.

The Mysteries of Waking

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The dry rasp of his eyes opening dispelled the dust that had accumulated in the grooves of his skin.  His sudden indrawn breath created motes in the dim light of the early dawn.

His body jerked violently upward and a wretched cry burst from his lips as gravity pulled him to the dry, rotted floorboards.  Thin slivers of wood punctured his skin while he lay there panting.

It was a matter of moments before he pieced together that the slick wetness his hands and head lay in glittered with a crimson sheen.  The surface of the pool was broken as he struggled to push himself away from it.

Wildness radiated from his large eyes as his hands searched his body for the source of the blood.  Streaks of it ran up the walls and glistened against the filthy popcorn ceiling.  Horror ruled the curves of his face as he spied the body draped unceremoniously over the small chest in the corner.

Tears cut runnels through the scarlet splashed across his face as his body shook, “How long have I been here?  How many days?  How many months?  Each morning it’s the same.  More blood on my hands and a new body somewhere in here.”

His eyes lit upon the long piece of cool metal that rested forlornly under the saggy and broken bed frame.  Greedily, his fingers reached for it.  It was cold to the touch, much colder than the room would allow.

“Why is this happening?” he cursed against the four walls of his prison.  “How many times have I tried to leave and yet I always find myself here,” his eyes lit upon the form on the chest, “with only the company of a corpse.”

The slide of the M1911 pulled back to frame an empty chamber before it slipped back with a violent click.  The magazine clattered against the floor, but he could tell from the sound that it was empty.

The pistol fell loosely from his grip before he looked skyward, “Why is it always a different body?  Where do they come from?  Where do they go?”  His bloodied hands clutched at the skin stretched over his skull, “Am I going mad?”

A woman watched as he pulled himself under the bed from the tiny monitor bolted to the desk.  Her lips curled of their own accord as she grabbed the handset of the old rotary phone and her long, painted nail dialed 0, 1, and 0.

The buzz and click sounded loud in the confines of the security station, but she remained languid until the voice came through.  “Yes sir, I believe this one is almost ready.  Only another day or two.  Thank you, sir.”

The phone clacked against the ancient plastic of its body.  Her fingers steepled as she continued to watch him through the monitor, “Only another day or two…”