I have a small pile of story snippets that don’t fit within the main story of the series, It Really IS Rocket Science. One has become a short story about Kpau. It covers a period of time between the car accident that killed her family and her entering high school. I wrote it in one all-nighter (gah, I’m too old for all nighters any more. stupid brain). Some touch up needed. I think I am going to collect these and put them in a future IRIRS volume as a kind of “intermission”. This is a popular tactic in Japanese light novel series. Here we go, the latest revision of “Duck! Rabbit! Duck! — A Love Story” ( Brad H Branham © 2014 )
Rick and Jamie sat in the conference room of the rehab facility reviewing their paperwork for the fourth time. It was their first time to be foster parents. Both were nervous about the impending experience. Everything looked in order but Rick kept rereading the page describing the child to be put under their care for an indeterminate period.
He looked up at his wife. “I know I keep saying this, but you would think they wouldn’t start us out with something this serious.”
“It’s a she, not a something, darling. Maybe the other children are worse off. I understand what you’re feeling though. Just reading that section makes me cry. I can’t imagine the trauma she has to deal with.”
The door opened and Dr. Barrens walked in, taking a seat in front of them. He had been working with them for several months to prepare for their first ward.
“She’s almost ready. Still time to run away.”
“The little girl knows we’re here. I can only imagine that would be bad.”
“She’s resigned to the possibility. You’re the third set of parents we’ve tried since the last ones brought her back. Most balk at the description of her history.”
Rick flinched. “Ouch. That alone makes me want to stay.”
The monochromatic computer screen in front of the doctor flickered. “She’s on her way. Remember, you don’t have to FIX her, just take care of her until we figure out what to do with her.”
The door opened. A woman who Rick assumed was an aide worker led a young girl into the room. The waif quietly took a seat by the doctor. Rick’s first impression was of a slim darkly tanned girl with brilliant white hair. It looked artificial, like a Polynesian girl with dyed hair. The image was marred by burn scars, including a patch over one ear where the hair had grown back but mottling could still be seen. Her brown eyes were vacant. She clutched a small stuffed dragon and a small daypack. Rick was hypnotized by this real living person he and Jamie were going to have to keep safe.
Rick and Jamie had been informed that her burns would fade, that the surgeries had been quite successful. That was physical. Her emotional condition was another matter. Here was a little girl who had watched her parents and younger sister die violently in an automobile accident. She was alone. There was a grandfather but he was in Southern California and had a criminal record. He was trying to get custody of her but that might take years. In the meantime, she needed care and place to live.
Dr. Barrens spoke quietly. “Kpau? This is Rick and Jamie Bloom. They want to be your –“
“Don’t call them my parents.”
Rick woke up from his trance. “We’re not going to try to be, Kpau. We just want to help you go to school, eat, have a safe place to sleep.”
Kpau stared at him without blinking. “Nowhere is safe. It’s an illusion.”
Rick marveled at the assertion. “You’re right. Most people pretend they’re safe. But that doesn’t mean you don’t try or take precautions.”
The little girl’s shiny eyebrows crinkled. Rick felt like he was being deep scanned. “Thanks.”
“For what?” Rick smirked.
“For not spewing bullshit, mister.”
Jamie’s eyebrows rose. She drew a sharp breath. Kpau noticed. “Sorry, Mrs. Bloom. My parents cursed a lot when they fought. I’m still practicing to do it less.”
“No, Kpau. I’m sorry I over-reacted. You’ve had a lot happen. I’d be saying things, too.”
Dr. Barrens coughed. “So, Kpau. Are you okay with trying this out? It’s been a bit difficult as you know.”
The young girl nodded. “They stayed. I don’t get any bad vibes. I’m tired of being here.”
Rick wasn’t missing the monotone in her voice. She was still in a form of shock, emotionally shut down. Probably In self-defense — like some sort of Star Trek shields. He glanced at his wife, then at the doctor. “Can Jamie and I talk alone a moment? Are there other things Kpau has to get?”
Kpau shrugged. Empty eyes. “I understand. This is all I have left. My other stuff is gone. I’ll wait outside.”
The young girl got up with her things and left. Dr. Barrens sighed.
“She thinks you’re going to leave.”
Jamie and Rick both grimaced. Jamie answered. “Rick didn’t mean to give that impression. I think we are just overwhelmed in her presence. That’s a lot of pain in a little person. Of course we’ll have her.”
* * * ( Brad H Branham © 2014 )
Rick pulled the SUV into the driveway. Kpau was quiet but she was scanning her surroundings intensely.
“Wow. You have a front yard. Is there a backyard?”
“Yup. With a fence. And a nice bit of woods behind that. We take walks there a lot.”
Kpau unbuckled her seatbelt. “We didn’t have a yard. But there was a park down the street. I use to take Babble … my sis–.”
Rick and Jamie both jerked around to look. Kpau was furiously killing tears, her breathing had a rattle. She noticed them. Her face shifted back to that blank look.
“Sorry. I’m okay. I need to use the bathroom, please.” Shields up.
* * *
“Oh, Rick. She’s not okay. So much pain! I just want to hug her and make her monsters go away!”
“She refuses therapy. Barrens said she just stares at them. Won’t talk about the accident or anything. Barrens whispered to me that hearing that her parents fought was new information to him.”
Approaching soft footsteps silenced them.
“Thanks, mister.” Kpau managed to be looking towards them without actually making eye contact.
Rick took a breath and leaned against the counter. “Okay, little bug. Let’s get past formalities. I don’t want to be called ‘mister’ in my own house. You can call me Rick if you like.”
Kpau was solemn but one eyebrow arched. “Names are important. Even nicknames. I don’t have any aunts or uncles. Can I call you Uncle Rick and Aunt Jamie?”
Jamie brightened up considerably. “I’d love that! We don’t have any nieces! Rick? Why don’t you show Kpau her room and the rest of the house while I fix us dinner?”
“Will you be okay, Jamie?”
“Yes, darling. I’m fine! You two take the tour.”
* * *
Rick heard the quiet footsteps behind him. Kpau was standing closer to him now, evidently feeling better about being housed with strangers. “Laundry room by the garage under the stairs. Up here we have two bedrooms with baths. And this game room.”
Kpau’s face lit up slightly. Shields softening maybe?
“Do you have games?”
“As you can see, we have a Ping-Pong table and darts. But I sense you mean these. We have a Nintendo and one of the new Playstation consoles.”
Her eyes swept his gaming rig sets. “Cool. Do you play?”
“Both Jamie and I do. She’s not much on computer games but she likes the cooperative console games.”
Kpau’s eyes lit up. More shields down. “You have a computer?”
“Actually, we each have a computer. And we got one for you. Jamie writes and I do some of my programming work at home.” Rick grinned. “Come see yours!”
Rick didn’t have to coax her, she almost beat him there. But then she stopped at the door. Shields were back up. Blank face. Rick pressed on.
“Your room, Kpau.”
Kpau surveyed the room. It was very pink. Rick grimaced a little. When Jamie found out a girl was coming she had decorated. She focused on the computer on the desk but then smirked as she took in the entire view.
“It’s very pink. I like pink. Maybe not so much girly though. I’ll have to think. It’s not home.”
Rick decided she was mature enough for reflection. “You’re right. The only true place you can call home is the body you’re standing in. Connections with people you love or trust.”
Kpau stared at nothing momentarily. “Mist– … Unca Rick? Do you believe in a god?”
Rick began to spurt his usual noncommittal answer then realized she had said “a god”. Don’t lie with this little girl. Be straight with her.
“Um, no. Not really. My view is that the science doesn’t seem to require one.”
Kpau wasn’t smiling but clearly some load vanished from her shoulders. “Good. The first ones after the accident tried to FIX me with theirs. They told me I was going to hell where my family went.”
“Wow, that’s a load of shi—err, really bad!”
Kpau’s eyes sparkled. Just a little. “Yeah. It didn’t upset me like they thought it would. But I was done with them. I ran away. Dr. Barrens didn’t make me go back after I told him what they said.”
“You seem very mature for a twelve year old. Here’s my pitch. I’ll treat you as grownup as you act. Sound good? It may drive Jamie crazy. She wants a child girl, little bug.”
“That would be a nice change from most grownups. But I am still a kid. I guess.” She stood silent momentarily. “I like you calling me Little Bug.”
Jamie’s voice drifted up from downstairs that dinner was ready. They both turned to go.
“Hey, mister, err, Unca Rick?” Rick turned to look down into a pair of earnest brown eyes. “Is Jamie all right? You seemed funny about leaving her alone to work on dinner.”
Wow, she is a sharp little bug.
“Jamie has been wonky lately. No big deal, just something to keep an eye on.”
Kpau seemed to shrink. “Oh.”
Shields back up. Damn. This is complicated.
* * *
The rain blasted the roof of the house. Texas thunderstorm. Jamie glared at the racing wall clock. They were going to be late getting Kpau to school. She guessed that was a really bad idea for the first week.
“Come on, Kpau! Now!” Jamie tried to avoid stressing out but she was frazzled. She could feel her head pounding and her chest tightening up.
“Snot! I am going as fast as I can! I couldn’t find the right shoes!” Kpau had on sandals.
Jamie lost her temper. “Oh my god! Kpau, you can’t wear those in this weather! Put on your hikers!”
“Don’t want to! I’m fine with this! Let’s go!” Kpau glared defiantly.
“What is WRONG with you this morning?! You’re going to get sick! You’re—.“ Jamie broke into a coughing spasm. Kpau swung wildly at the air in anger, accidently nicking a canister of flour. It flew, shattering on the floor. The young girl stared at it, a cauldron of unfocused fury.
Jamie struggled with her anger and slumped into a bar stool. “Little darling, I am TRYING to work with you! I know it is tough! I want you to like me! I want—“
“I AM AFRAID TO LIKE YOU! EVERYONE I LIKE DIES!” A terrible wheeze ripped out of Kpau’s throat, followed by horrible asthmatic sounds and horrid sobs. Jamie hurled herself out of the chair and caught the little girl as she stumbled. Both went down.
They sat on the floor, Jamie hugging Kpau while scrabbling in the girl’s purse for an inhaler. Jamie was still having trouble with her own coughing but got the inhaler to Kpau and fired two shots of mist in her mouth. As Kpau settled, the young girl grabbed the inhaler from Jamie. She held the woman’s face and popped a shot of mist into Jamie’s mouth. They sat hugging as each calmed down.
“Those aren’t for me, little darling, but thank you.”
“I get through my attacks without it. Don’t like using them. You sound like you need it more.”
“I just have some lung problems. The doctor is treating it, child.”
Kpau sat, her lungs still rattling softly. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry, Aunt Jamie. I just feel crazy today. I don’t know why! But … but! I really AM afraid to like anyone. It’s like I might be a bad hex on them.”
“Oh god, Kpau! Are you hurt?!”
“NO, I’M JUST FINE! What THE F–! Oh hell, what is that?! Am I cut?!”
“I think … I think you’re having your first period, little darling.” She hugged the wide-eyed girl. “Hey. Let’s just stay home today. I guess no one really covered this with you. Little girl is starting to grow up.”
* * * ( Brad H Branham © 2014 )
“You like autumn, Kpau?” Rick watched Kpau tearing through the piles of leaves in the woods behind their house.
“Yup! I like ALL the seasons! I like seeing each one come every year! Unca Rick? Leaf fight!” A cloud of leaves enveloped Rick. He smiled. Some of her shields were down for him.
“You Little Bug! I’m after you!” Kpau shrieked and scampered, weaving in and out of the trees with Rick in hot pursuit. As Ricked closed in for the capture, he heard an ominous crack above their heads. Kpau’s eyes jerked up. In a flash she jerked right and rolled. Rick instinctively jerked left and was buried in branches, leaves, and a few limbs big enough to hurt.
Rick sat up. It was quiet. “Kpau?! Oh god, Kpau are you–?”
“I’m okay, Unca Rick! But … not by much. Ducked it.” She was sitting next to a rather large limb that would have broken her if she had moved even slightly differently. Rick knew she had quick reflexes but that dodge and tumble had been impressive. Kpau had a goofy look as she gazed at him.
“Unca Rick?! It must be Duck Season.”
“No. It’s Rabbit Season.”
Kpau blinked. Then she winked at him with both eyes and blurted, “It’s Duck season!”
“No, it’s Duck Season!”
“You know very well it’s Rabbit Season!”
They finished together. “I say it’s Duck Season! Shoot him now! Shoot him now!”
Kpau rolled, giggling loudly in the near disaster of leaves and tree limbs. “You know the lines!”
“I have the VHS tapes buried in a closet. Want to watch LooneyToon cartoons tonight? Bugs? Daffy?”
Kpau stopped laughing. Back to the solemn face. “I used to watch them with my family.”
Rick grimaced but pressed on. “Will it upset you to watch them?”
“No. But … I might cry. Just warning you.”
* * *
It was the week before Christmas. Kpau leaped from one branch to the next. The branches were wet but she had gotten adept at tree climbing. Texas winter was being its usual self. Not cold enough for a coat but kind of drippy, dreary, and dark. Rick was at his workplace, Jamie was in her home office writing. Kpau had been reading in her room but decided she just needed to move around. She sat on a branch and gazed at the house she slept in. A squirrel warily eyed her from another branch.
“Welcome to Sherwood Forest, Friar Squirrel! Bleh, that doesn’t work. You live here.”
The platinum blonde glanced back at the house. “They’re trying really hard, Mr. Squirrel. I just can’t take the chance. If I were older, I might even be flirting with Unca Rick. He’s such a cool guy. Jamie needs him though. Don’t know what kind of sick she’s got but they’re even tighter-lipped than me about it. Hey! I’m talking to you, villain! Don’t wander off!”
Kpau moved towards the next branch towards the scampering creature. She suddenly found herself in free fall. She balled up and rolled as she hit the ground.
“Hah! My ninja skills are … ow!” She went down, clutching her knee. “What the fucking hell?”
Blood was blossoming around her knee, soaking through the now torn jeans she wore. She spotted a broken whiskey bottle. “God damned litter bugs! Shit! This is bad. First aid. Like Unca Rick taught me.”
She undid her scarf and fashioned a tourniquet. Nausea rose in her gut. Blood. Lots of blood.
“NO! NOT NOW! IT’S MY BLOOD, STUPID BODY! GET HOME! THROW UP LATER!” She threw up anyway.
“Okay. Faboo! Limp on it. Move. Move. Move. Get up! Move Faster! Oh, crud bunnies ….” She threw up again. Head spinning.
“Great. I smell wondrous now. Just a little farther. Come on! I can crawl.”
Two more Technicolor barfs and she dragged herself into the kitchen, covered in vomit, mud, leaves, and blood. “MOM!!! MOMMY!!” Her face froze in shock. “Shit! It isn’t her! Mommy isn’t here to answer.” Kpau burst into tears.
“OH MY GOD! KPAU!” Jamie rushed out of her office towards the young woman. “What happened?! Oh, lordy! You’re bleeding! Crap you are a mess! Come get in the guest shower! I can’t even see how you’re hurt! No, don’t stand on it! Lean on me!”
* * *
Two hours later, Kpau sat in the recovery room, staring at her new stitches on her knee. Jamie sat next to her as they waited to be released. She held Kpau’s hand.
“Yes, little darling.”
“I’m sorry about the way I am. You try really hard. But my shields keep me safe. I’m just afraid to like anyone. They all die. Every single one.”
Jamie’s heart hurt for Kpau.
“I heard you call for your mommy, little darling. Tore me up inside.”
Kpau made eye contact. It felt good to Jamie.
“I’m glad you came for me, Aunt Jamie. Made me realize. Maybe one day I will feel safe enough build a family of some kind. It might not be regular normal. I’ll have to think about it.”
“That would be a lovely way to cope with what life threw at you, little darling.”
“I’ve screwed up a little, though. I messed up. Kind of like you both.”
“We’ll yell at you more. Will that help?”
Kpau chuckled then turned serious. “I see why Rick married you. I should tell you. I kind of have a crush on Rick. If I were older, I wouldn’t mind marrying him. Be good to him, okay?”
“You have good taste in men, darling. I will do my best.”
* * *
“Hey! What’s this, Unca Rick?”
Kpau and Rick were sorting through the game room closet. Kpau held up a box marked “Bloom County”.
“Oh! I had forgotten I had those. It was a comic strip I grew up with in the ‘80s. Very funny. Lots of political humor. They’re even signed by the author.”
Kpau had it open already. “Oh! I recognize the penguin and the cat! There was a funny tv Christmas special they were in. I thought I was going to wet myself it was so funny! Can I read these?”
“Why don’t we read them together? They’re collectible, rather expensive. I’d feel safer.”
“Got it. Got it. I’ll be careful! Wait. Are you going to bedtime story me? I’m thirteen years old!”
“I won’t tell your school buddies.”
“Sounds a bit lecherous to me …” Kpau stopped abruptly at Rick’s expression. “Whoa! That was a joke! Not serious! I feel nothing but safe with you!”
“Do me a favor and don’t joke like that around Jamie or around our case worker. Jamie would just get a little insecure but the case worker would snatch you out of here so fast we’d have to mail you your stuff.”
“Roger, roger, Unca Rick. Yeah, Ms. Official Person is a real thorny one. No comedy there. Blech!”
* * *
Kpau was coughing and tearing up in laughter as she lay in bed. Rick lay curled up next to her. He was reading the comic strips out loud. Rick looked baffled.
“Wait?! How do you even GET that one? It’s late ‘70s political humor! Over thirty years ago!”
“Oh! I read your entire encyclopedia set when I first moved in. All about Nixon, Vietnam, Watergate, Soviets, Cold War! They don’t teach anything like that in school. Actually, I’m bored to tears in school most of the time.”
“Ah, yeah. Jamie reports that she and the principal have regular talks. You’re never in deep trouble, just bobbling on the edges. Right. Time for bed, Little Bug.”
“Night, Unca Rick.” Kpau stared up at her ceiling. “Thanks.”
“Eh? For what?”
“Just … thanks.”
* * * ( Brad H Branham © 2014 )
Kpau dropped her books and bag in the hallway after school. She scrambled for the kitchen and leaped at the refrigerator.
“Hah! Pizza still here! Yum!” She tore into a slice. “Hey, Aunt Jamie! I’m home! Hey! Oh. A note.”
The note said Jamie had to make a trip to the doctor, no worries, pizza in the fridge.
“Righteous. Sounds like she’s okay. Her writing isn’t weak looking like it is sometimes.”
Kpau headed up to her room and sat at her computer.
“What to do? Hmmm, nah. Maybe? Meh, boring.”
Her mind flipped through a dozen projects and hobbies in a flash. Nothing grabbed her. It was quiet. She turned on her desk radio. Loud.
“I could read?” Her mind drifted to Opus and Bill. Bloom County.
“Not supposed to touch those. Eh, I’ll be careful.”
A few minutes later she was sitting in front of the closet in the game room deeply engrossed and laughing as she read each strip in the book. She heard the phone ring downstairs and jumped up with the intention of answering it.
There was a ripping sound.
Kpau stared white-faced at the half-page of comic she held in her hand.
“Oh my god! No! I didn’t pull that hard! Freaking old paper! Oh god, he’s going to kill me! Worse, he’s going to cry! Augh!”
She frantically put the rest of the books up and closed the closet, holding the damaged book and the shred of paper in her hands. Total panic.
A few minutes later, she was in the woods curled up next to a large oak.
“What do I do? Oh god, what do I do? I like these people! I don’t want to go back!” Tears ran down her cheeks as she gazed at the damaged book. “I don’t know … what to do. I don’t –“
“Little Bug! Are you okay?! God! I got home and was frantic! You were gone, the patio door was open! I was going to call the police!”
“Augh! Unca Rick! I’m sorry! Don’t send me back! I don’t know how to fix it! I tore … I want … need …”
She was swooped up by a pair of arms into a big hug. Nice hands stroking the back of her head, patting her back. Being rocked. Kissed on the forehead.
“It’s okay, Little Bug. It’s just a piece of paper. You’re more important than anything.”
“But … but … it’s your special book!” Her face was getting sticky from tears and snot.
“Come back with me. We’ll fix it. It won’t be pristine but it’ll be just fine.”
A half hour later they sat looking at the results. Rick had shown her how to use a special paper glue for restoration. They had carefully re-assembled the page and set up it with a support rig so the page could dry without touching the other pages.
“It won’t be perfect.”
“It’ll be a memory of you.”
Kpau broke into sobs and hugged him. She settled back down quickly and stared at their work. “I liked building the rig. It was kind of like writing and fixing software but touchable.”
“You like building things I think. Maybe we could do some projects together. Some fun stuff. Help me with stuff around the house. The sink needs a new faucet.”
“Yeah! I’d like that. I admit it. School bores the crap out of me. I get all my homework done before I get home. Fixing stuff with you sounds more fun.”
* * *
“Okay, Boss Rick! Can I turn the faucet now?” Kpau had her hand on the faucet.
Rick was on the other end of the long set of trenches tightening the last of the new sprinkler heads they were installing. He looked up. For a split of an instant he saw a gorgeous young woman with brilliant white blonde hair and a magnificent tan, sexy in her knotted up shirt, bare waist, and tight jean shorts. Then his brain adjusted the image back to the young girl he called Little Bug. So much change in such a short time. Less than two years.
“Wait! Wait! Not quite–!” She drenched him. He could hear her giggling as he wiped his face.
“Sorry, Unca Rick! I couldn’t resist! I just—!” Rick’s turn. He had the hose that ran from the other side of the house and he sprayed her. Very satisfying girlish shrieks. Then he regretted his horseplay. Kpau’s shirt was now transparent now as she laughed and ran up for a hug. A tight hug.
“Uhhhh, Little Bug? Probably ought to go change shirts!”
“What? Oh, Holy Frito-Lay! You ARE a naughty … oh, no, won’t do that joke.” She winked. “Right, Unca Rick!” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Covering myself to protect your eyes. Be right back!” A string of delightful giggles were left in her wake. Growing up so fast.
* * *
“I think I like it with you two. I wish I could stay.”
“My heart aches, Little Bug. But my company says I have to go to Florida and I have no other place to work here. The economy is busted. I can’t take you. Damn state won’t let me. If I stay I lose my job and I lose you anyway. God, this hurts inside.”
“Yeah. We’ll make do. Nothing is forever, Unca Rick. I just wish it was a little longer.”
“Your grandpa is trying to get you to him but—“
“I’m paying attention.” She smirked. “Gramps screwed up a lot a long time ago and some stupid ‘nice lady’ thinks he’s bad for me. He’s not a bad guy.”
“I’ll try to help. Maybe a lawyer.”
“That might help. He can’t afford one.”
“Do you want to go to California?”
Kpau stared at her coffee. “I’ve never been to California. But then maybe I wouldn’t have to keep changing families. College is in just a few years anyway. Don’t really care about high school.”
Rick looked at Kpau in some despair as they sat in the hospital café. Jamie was booked for several days of testing after a collapse while she and Kpau were bike riding.
“I’ll get that lawyer. We’ll get you to your Gramps.”
* * *
“I wish they’d let us go to the gate together.” Rick stared angrily at the new security checkpoints.
“It will be okay, Unca Rick. I can do it.”
Rick appraised the beautiful platinum blonde young woman. Fourteen and going on twenty.
“Little Bug? I’ve never seen you really smile. The whole time. You laugh and giggle. No smile.”
“They’re fake. You wear them like a mask.”
Kpau winked at him with both eyes. “You’re good. That’s why I like you, Unca Rick. I’m going to miss you and Jamie. Just like everyone else. The way it goes. Eventually everyone vanishes.”
“We’ll keep in touch. If you want?”
“That’s okay. You take care of Jamie. I’ll find you if I need to talk. Internet after all.”
Rick pulled a folder out of his day pack. “I want you to have this.”
Kpau’s mouth dropped. “Your signed Bloom County book! The one I ripped! But! But–!”
“That way you won’t forget me.”
Kpau’s shields crumbled. Tears, dripping nose, snot, drool. He hugged her, stroking her back gently.
She recomposed herself, wiping her face on his jacket. “I can never ever forget you, Unca Rick. Thank you. Apologize to Aunt Jamie for me. I was never really very nice to her no matter how hard she tried.” She inhaled sharply to clear her nose and stifled more tears.
“She understands. She wanted to come but the hospital wouldn’t let her out. Jamie thinks you’re very resourceful and resilient. She admires the way you cope with life. She hopes you finally feel safe enough to let people you trust into those shields of yours one day.”
“Time to go, B’bye, Unca Rick. Take care of Aunt Jamie.”
“Bye, Little Bug. Gonna miss you.”
* * *
Kpau sat in the living room of her band’s condo opening a box she had forgotten to unpack from when she and Tsika had been down to Los Angeles retrieving their deep storage items. The big moose Blar was off shopping with the little vampire princess. Kpau’s space alien buddy Glycerin was doing god-knows-what that smelled delicious in the kitchen.
She stared into dusty box. This was really old stuff. A bit of color caught her eye. In a plastic bag was a very old edition of a Bloom County collection, comic strips from an older decade. Her breath caught as she unsealed the zip lock. On the first page, under the author’s signature was another note. “For my Little Bug, Uncle Rick.”
Kpau’s cheeks were wet before she turned to the repaired page, ripped a decade before. She carefully replaced the book resealed the bag, then headed to her laptop.
A few minutes of tracking and she had what she thought might be a good phone number.
“Hey, Glyc? I’m going up to the roof for a while. You going to be okay alone?”
“Yes, little dove. Thanks f-for asking. Enjoy the sun. We’ll have s-some snacks ready in a little while!”
A few minutes later, Kpau sat on the rooftop of the condo building, listening to a dial tone ring on her smartphone.
“Hello? Who is this?”
“It’s … it’s me, Unca Rick. Do you remember me?”
“I can never ever forget you, Little Bug. How are you doing?”
“I’m fine! I graduated from high school! I got into USC, and majored in music, and I play drums, and I have some friends, and we formed a band, and then we moved to Portland, Oregon, and we found a great guy to jump start our band with, and we all live together, and I’m doing good!”
“Wow, that’s great! Will I—“
“How’s Aunt Jamie, Unca Rick?”
“Ah, Little Bug. She finally … she died a few years ago. About the time you started college.”
“Don’t cry, Little Bug. She really felt awful towards the end. It’s all good.”
“But I wanted! I wanted to tell her how I was doing! She … she vanished. Like the others!”
“We knew you were doing okay. Your grandfather kept us posted, though he stopped after we heard you been accepted into USC.”
“Gramps. He died my freshman year. I think he hung on just long enough to get me launched.”
Kpau took several ragged breaths to stabilize. “Okay. Stabilizing. Shields.”
“Still have shields, Little Bug?”
“Yup. But … they’re different. I have a family, Unca Rick. People I love. They’re inside my shields. I got a whole lot better recently. Our band is lots of fun.”
Kpau gazed to the east at Mt. Hood, a hundred miles away peeking out of a cloud bank.
“Can I come see you, Unca Rick? You’re back in Texas now I see.”
“I’m not living in the same town. Too many memories. But how about this? I’m headed that way in a couple of weeks. Up to Seattle for a project. Got time for me to stop on the way back?”
“Fuck, yeah! I want to see you! I want you to meet my family! They’re weird, but I think you could kind of guess they would be. You’ll like them though. They’re good. Like you are. Let me give you all the Internet stuff on us and you can study up before you get here! Watch our music videos!”
Kpau rattled off the domain names and addresses. She listened to Rick read them back.
“Okay, Little Bug. I’m at work so I’ll sign off now. So what triggered this?”
“I … I … I love you, Unca Rick.”
“Thank you, Kpau. I know that was hard. I love you, too.”
* * * ( Brad H Branham © 2014 )