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I had to try one time. Even though Dad was about to turn the car into my aunt and uncle’s driveway. Even though he and Mom had said “no” the hundred other times I’d already asked them. This was my last chance so I crossed my fingers on both hands and went for it. “Please please can I go to New York City with you guys?” I asked. “We could see the Statue of Liberty. I read all about it online. It’s 305 feet tall if you count the pedestal it stands on.” I knew they would like that I threw in the exact measurement. They always approved when I used my laptop for educational things instead of just playing video games. “I promise we’ll take you to see it another time, buddy. This is a business trip for us and we’re going to be busy the whole time we’re there,” Dad said, stopping the car in front of my aunt’s herb garden. “Aww, look how excited they are to have you stay with them.” Mom pointed to the porch. Great Uncle Theo held up a WELCOME JAKE! sign and Great Aunt Ducky took a handkerchief out of the pocket of her plaid dress to wave back and forth, her silver hair pinned in its usual neat bun. “Then can I at least have eight hours of screen time every day?" I asked. “And then two more after dinner? There isn’t anything else to do out here. I’m going to be so bored!” “You can have three hours a day,” Dad said. “That’ll leave you plenty of time to do other fun stuff out here in the country, like going fishing with your uncle. Or peach picking with your aunt.” “Except none of those things are as fun as playing Battle of the Zombie Dragons,” I muttered as Uncle Theo pulled open the car door. Right away I got a whiff of the just-blown-out birthday candle smoky smell that always blew around my aunt and uncle’s little brown house with its crooked green shutters. Uncle Theo ran his hand through my curly hair. “Well, I’m surprised you didn’t feel that crawling around your noggin!” He held up a plastic spider and grinned. “Good one, Uncle Theo,” I said politely like I did every time he played one of his practical jokes. When I was six, I couldn’t stop giggling at his endless pranks. Now that I was almost eleven, I thought they were more annoying than funny. “Wait until I show my new batch of fake dog poop. It fools your Aunt Ducky every time and we don’t even have a dog!” Uncle Theo burst out laughing. After they kissed me goodbye and reminded me to “be a good boy” and “don’t play your games all day, be outside in this nice fresh air!” Mom and Dad got back in the car. I stayed out on the porch for a few extra seconds in case they changed their mind and turned around to come back for me. But Dad tooted the horn a few times and Mom stuck her arm out the window for one last wave before they turned onto the road. I couldn’t help letting out a little groan and Uncle Theo nodded. “Yes, today is a scorcher,” he said. “Let’s take your things up to your room and we’ll head over to Dairy Queen after lunch. Nothing better in this heat than a strawberry sundae.” He picked up my duffel and took it inside. I leaned down to pick up my backpack. Two bright purple eyes peered at me from below the porch railing. “Whoa!” I said, leaping back so fast I knocked over one of the rocking chairs. Whoever or whatever it was took off towards to the woods that edged the back of the yard. It was galloping so fast all I could see was a dark blur. Maybe it was a bear? Not that I knew a lot about bears. Back home in Chicago I mostly saw pigeons and a few squirrels and once I saw two rats fighting over a piece of bread in the alley behind our apartment building. I ran into the house and up the stairs to the little guest room at the end of the hall. “Look at this Jake,” Uncle Theo said from the doorway. He held up a small spoon. He touched it and the whole spoon collapsed. “Isn’t that a hoot? I can’t wait to see the look on Aunt Ducky’s face when she tries to eat her banana split with it and the ice cream keeps falling right to the ground.” “Good one, Uncle Theo,” I said without even thinking. He leaned in and whispered. “You won’t believe what I’ve got up my sleeve for my next stunt. It’ll be the biggest one I’ve ever pulled off. You’ve never seen anything like it!” I followed him down to the kitchen for lunch, trying to figure out what his big practical joke could be. Probably something he read in his favorite book, THE 100 BEST PRANKS TO PLAY ON YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY. I’d looked through it once and Uncle Theo had drawn little stars next to Number 39: Fill the cookie jar with ketchup and Number 67: Stuffing the whole freezer with ping pong balls. So that’s what I’d be doing the next ten days: Playing ZombieDragons, staying away from weird bears and watching out for Uncle Theo’s next big joke. Page Break Chapter 2 “I saw something weird today,” I said when we sat down at the table. “There was something looking me from the side of the porch.” “Probably our neighbor’s cat, Henry coming over for a visit,” Aunt Duckie said. “Don’t worry, he’s very friendly.” I shook my head. “No, this definitely wasn’t a cat. It ran to the back woods so fast it was hard to see anything. I even thought it could be a bear. But bears don’t have super bright purple eyes, do they?” Uncle Theo put down his egg salad sandwich. “You’re sure it had bright purple eyes?” I nodded. “That was not a bear.” He stood up. “Excuse me. I’m going to run downstairs to get some, uh, pickles from the pantry.” “There’s some right here, Uncle Theo.” I pointed to the plate in the middle of the table but he’d already hurried through the basement door. “What’s going on?” I asked Aunt Ducky. “He seemed really freaked out all of a sudden.” “Oh, uh, maybe he’s worried that we’re out of pickles,” Aunt Ducky untied her apron. “I’ll go help him find some. You stay here and finish your lunch.” She went down the stairs quickly too. I was gulping down the rest of my sandwich so I could get upstairs to start a new round of Zombie Dragons when a loud thump! on the back porch made the kitchen windows shake. I looked through the yellow curtains to see a box. At least I thought it was a box. I’d never seen one like this and it was my job on Saturdays to unpack all the cartons delivered to my family’s shoe store. This one looked like it was made of heavy black rubber. Bulging out on one side, it caved in on the other. I opened the door to read the writing etched into the rubber: 5 POUNDS OF CHUNKY BAT VOMIT FOR SPELLS NEEDING CHUNKY BAT VOMIT 5 POUNDS LIQUIDY BAT VOMIT FOR SPELLS REQURING LIQUIDY BAT VOMIT. DO NOT LEAVE OUTSIDE OR VOMIT WILL MELT. PUT IN COOL DARK PLACE RIGHT AWAY. This must be stuff for Uncle Theo’s prank. He probably ordered it from the same place as the fake dog poop. Despite the loud thump like someone had dropped a boulder on the porch, it was pretty light when I picked it up. The kitchen was sunny and warm so I carried the box down to the basement. My aunt and uncle weren’t in the little pantry stocked with Aunt Ducky’s jars of homemade jam and pickles, and they weren’t in the laundry room either. “Where are you guys?” I called. “You got a package delivered.” “I’m very sorry we sold you a jar of ant snot when you asked for worm snot,” Uncle Theo said. “Huh?” I said. “My spell was ruined by your stupid mistake. If things don’t improve around here, you will suffer my rage,” a raspy voice answered him. “This place will suffer the rage of all the witches!” another voice screeched. “We are tired of the way this store conducts business and we won’t put up with it much longer.” “I’m so sorry, I assure you it won’t happen again. Beltrane, please bring me a jar of our finest worm snot for Witch Hensel right away,” Uncle Theo said. The voices were coming from the far left side of the basement, always the shadiest, coolest part of it because of the big maple tree that grew in the yard above. “Uncle Theo, are you okay?” I leaned into the wall to press my ear against it when something pressed against my arm. It was a glass doorknob on a slim door tucked into the corner. How had I never noticed this door before? I used to spend hours down here playing with my train set, the tracks covering every inch of the floor. I twisted the knob and the door opened easily. I poked my head out before I went through the doorway. A few uneven steps dropped to a narrow tunnel lit by small torches flickering along a crumbling brick wall. I leaned forward to read something scratched into one of the bricks: NO WITCHES ALLOWED BEYOND THIS POINT My shoulders relaxed. I’d just found Uncle Theo’s next prank. He must be getting all of this ready for Halloween. It was only August, but this one was definitely going to take a lot more work than putting fake dog poop down. Of course he had to start working on it early. This was like something in a movie. I started down the tunnel. It probably led to a room decorated with fake cobwebs and ghosts made out of old bedsheets. I’d find it, let Aunt Ducky and Uncle Theo yell “Boo!” at me and then get back to Dragons and hopefully we’d go to Dairy Queen for that strawberry sundae soon too. The sharp twists and turns of the tunnel reminded me of the cornfield maze my fourth-grade class visited last fall. After a few seconds, though, I couldn’t tell if I was going forwards or backwards, right or left. The torches gave off such little light that I kept stumbling into dark dead ends, scraping my nose against the bricks. Stairs led down one passageway only to go back up another a few seconds later. I felt like I was walking in circles. Scary, dark circles. I didn’t know what direction I was headed in and I certainly didn’t know how to get back to the basement. Hot tears filled my eyes and now I really couldn’t see where I was going. “Uncle Theo?” I called. “Aunt Ducky?” No one answered. I slumped against the wall to figure out what to do next.
Opening Chapter - En media res; Introduces the protagonist and antagonist; Inciting incident; There's also an idiot named Troy - everything you asked for. Thanks for reading! Bethesda Terrace, Central Park, NYC July, 2012 “He’s not dead. I know that much.” “Well, what do you think is wrong with him then, since apparently you’re a doctor now?” “I never said I was a doctor, Ralph. I said he wasn’t dead.” “Hey! What’s going over here? That guy dead? They found a dead guy over by Strawberry Fields last week. A jogger found him. I don’t know why they jog. Such a boring way to get around and the joggers are always the first to find the bodies.” “Come on, there’s people jogging in here nonstop and they find a dead person, what, once a season, at max?” Ralph answered the newcomer. “So, is he? If so, he’s not finishing that sandwich.” “The good Doctor Suzie over here says he’s not. Right Suzie?” “He’s not.” said not Doctor Suzie, “and stop calling me a doctor, Ralph. I do have two keen eyes and I can see that he’s breathing.” “Well, doctor or not, I know your eyes are as good as any in New York. If anyone can spot some bread on the pavement from on top of Central Park Tower it’s you, Suzie.” said Ralph, and he meant it. Suzie has eyes like an eagle, which is impressive considering… “Listen Ralph, Suzie, here me out. Alive or dead, he’s not eating that sandwich. I’m starving. I thought I had a whole bag of freshly trashed bagels, mostly Everything, my favorite, this morning outside H & H bagels…” “H & H? They’re OK. I prefer Ess-a-bagel myself. But H & H is good enough for you, Troy.” Ralph said. “That’s rich,” Troy continued, unamused “anyways, I had like twenty bagels all to myself and then I get in a fight with this huge rat and he wins because, well he’s a huge rat. What a waste, I don’t even think he liked Everything bagels. So, I’m going for it.” Troy is on the not dead guy’s lap in two short hops, standing on his light blue scrub pants, and starts tearing off as much of the sandwich as he can gulp down per bite. Which is substantial in spite of his small mouth. “It’s falafel! And not bad!” “Uh, Troy, you might want to get out of there…” Suzie said. Troy, undeterred, continues his feast, eating like an episcopalian in a buffet line “Is there a new Halal cart around here? I’m telling you this is good falafel. And I should know…” “Troy. Look up. Now.” Ralph gestured aggressively with his head. Troy did. Mouth agape, falafel spilling all over the not dead guy's now in no way clean for surgery scrubs, he looked up to see that the not dead guy was now also no longer unconscious and was staring down at Troy. “Ugh, what happened?” now alive and awake guy stammered, rubbing the back of his head with his right hand. His left remained dangerously close to Troy, in Ralph and Suzie’s estimation. Troy seemed unconcerned by his predicament and took another tear out of the falafel. Ralph hopped back a foot, “Troy, I think it’s time you got down from there.” Suzie rustled where she stood but couldn’t bring herself to leave, transfixed by Troy’s impending doom. “Yeah. He’s looking at you. He looks angry.” Troy grabbed one last bite, he had to - what was the secret to this tahini? Amazing… “Come on Troy, if you don’t get out of there, we won’t be talking about the not dead guy, but rather one very dead pigeon.” “What kind of stupid name for a pigeon is Troy?” alive, awake and apparently rude guy asked to himself, in what he thought was the privacy of his own head. He had not thought, recovering from a concussion as he was, hey, how do I even know this pigeon’s name is Troy? That would have been a good question. All three pigeons - Troy, Ralph and Suzie stopped their head bobbing and stared up at him. A moment passed. It seemed like an eternity to pigeons and human alike. Finally, Troy looked up at the guy and down and Ralph and Suzie and, seeing no progress being made, had one more bite of falafel. It was a good bite - the perfect ratio of falafel, tahini and pita - no salad. Suzie broke the silence. “Wait. You can hear us?” “Yes.” the man thought and looked directly at Suzie. He added “I must still be asleep. Or dead? Is this a dream?” “Nope. You’re awake. This is real. And this is real good pita. Usually the pita is an afterthought, just a falafel wrapper but, man, this stuff is a revelation. They must have the middle eastern Daniel Boulud working in whatever Halal cart you got this from. Or is it a brick-and-mortar place? When’s their trash day? That would be some good information.” Troy dropped a spot of tahini on the man’s crotch and looked at it, thinking better of pecking it up. “He’s answering me when I didn’t say anything? What kind of hallucination is this? Did Andrei spike my falafel sandwich with something? What kind of oral drugs would make a human hallucinate? Mushrooms? Which ones? They did not cover that in veterinary pharmacology. At least not at Texas A&M.” the man thought. “You’re not hallucinating.” Suzie said. “No one’s ever been able to speak with us before.” Ralph said. Troy, after swallowing yet another bite, said “No mushrooms in here. I’d know. I can recognize shiitake and portobello and oyster, which don’t taste like oysters…” “Troy!” Suzie and Ralph spoke in unison. “Not now, Troy. This is huge. He can understand us.” Suzie added. “That’s it. I’ve finally lost it. About to be fired. Maybe even killed. A sleeper…” the man stared in disbelief at Troy in his lap and Ralph and Suzie at his feet. “He might be right. He may be crazy. The only other person who I think can understand us is Crazy Carl in Columbus Circle but I think he just nods a lot and some of the timing of the nodding just makes it seem like he hears us.” “Troy. Shut up.” Ralph hopped closer and swiveled his pigeon head to look the man in the eye. “We can hear you and you can hear us. This is real life, for us at least.” “OK, I heard that. But your mouth isn’t moving.” the man thought in Ralph's direction. “Telepathy. All animals communicate by it. You had to know we do. You see birds fly together. Fish swim together. Rats, doing horrible rat stuff - we hate rats.” Ralph explained. “But…you know it’s called telepathy?” “I read stuff.” “Well, of course. I’m totally willing to accept that. Also, you do know people call pigeons flying rats, right?” “I feel like that’s more of an insult for seagulls, but yeah.” Ralph answered. “No human has ever been able to communicate with us via telepathy. Not that I’ve ever heard of.” Suzie said. “So, we’re ruling out Crazy Carl?” “Really Troy, not now. You want the rest of my sandwich? Mind if I move it off my lap?” The Man looked down at Troy and pushed the sandwich aside and onto the park bench. “We’re sorry about Troy.” “Don’t be, reminds me of someone I know.” “No human ever has been able to hear animals.” Suzie repeated. “This is amazing. Your shirt says you work at a veterinary clinic. Are you a veterinarian?” “Yeah, but not a very good one. I’ve been in New York working for two years and I think I am about to get fired.” “I hate vets.” “Thanks, Troy. I think a lot of my patients agree with you. But you’re a wild pigeon, have you ever been to the vet?” “No, but I read stuff, too.” Ralph and Suzie shook their heads quickly in a negative fashion. “Really?” “No, but word gets around.” “So, you’re telling me all animals communicate with all other animals by telepathy all the time?” “Yes. All animals. We talk to dogs on walks, giraffes at the zoo, fish in the Hudson.” Suzie relieved Troy the burden of both answering and eating. “What about insects?” “Don’t be ridiculous.” Suzie shot Ralph a glance with a pigeon eye roll. “Yeah, now he’s just making stuff up. Insects! Ha. Yeah, them and plants and fungi and rocks and the clouds are all talking to each other via telephone all the time, maybe he is crazy?” “Troy, I think he said it’s Telepathy. Listen, you guys have been very nice. But I have just received a large blow to the head. At least I think I did. I think that is why I was passed out on the bench. So, I am currently post-concussion and, in addition to my mushroom toxicity ignorance, learned very little about concussions in veterinary school - since animals are too smart to play football - I think I am probably hallucinating or maybe bleeding in my skull or I’m dead and in a very strange purgatory, so,” The man really looked around for the first time since coming to, what with having been distracted by the talking pigeons. “I think I am going to get up, walk over there, dunk my head in the fountain, scream under water in a very dramatic way, and then come back over here. If y’all are still here and still telepathizing when I get back, I guess we’ll go from there.” The man got up, dusted the sandwich crumbs off his scrubs, smearing in Troy’s tahini across his crotch to make an embarrassing stain, like he was leaking pus or something worse from his crotch, and stumbled across the terrace, weaving through tourists and New Yorkers on lunch break. He pushed past a small blonde boy being scolded by a Jamaican woman for getting his clothes wet and stared up at the winged statue at the top of the fountain. Maybe if he could grow wings he could fly away from all this. Made about as much sense hearing animal’s thoughts. “Wings are great and all, but you can’t fly away from your problems, is what my mother always said. I think. I was real young when I fell out of the nest.” The Vet looked down to see Troy had followed him over to the fountain and said, out loud, “I bet you were pushed.” He tried to shoo Toy away with a subtle kick. People are always kicking at pigeons and they shouldn’t – pigeons are among the most sensitive of birds. “Whoa, what? I wanted to see if I could hear you scream underwater. I have a very inquiring mind. I want to know…” Troy started to explain. The man kneeled beside the fountain and without further hesitation dunked his entire head under the water and left it there submerged. He didn’t scream. He had forgotten to suck in enough air to scream. He just held his head there and looked at the bottom of the fountain. “Look,” he thought, “two quarters. You should grab them you’ll need the money once you are fired.” He felt tapping on his elbow and pulled his head out saying, “Not now Troy,” He was eye to eye with a bored looking Central Park Police Officer. “You’re allowed in the fountain. But usually, people just put their feet in.” He scanned the man up and down and focused on his monogrammed scrub top. “You work at UES Veterinary hospital Dr., ugh,” he squinted so he could read the cursive script below the logo “Dr. Mike Novak?” “Yes.” the not dead man, now known as Mike, answered. “You OK?” “Just clearing my head a little.” “OK. Well, while I got you, my wife’s chihuahua won’t stop dragging its butt on my carpet, what do you think that’s about?” “Hell if I know.” Mike thought. “Based on my first two years of work, I wouldn’t know even if I examined him. I’m the worst veterinarian ever. A fake. A fraud. I mean I really am, if you only knew.” Troy interrupted his thoughts. “You could just ask the dog. ‘Hey, you little dome headed mutt, why are you dragging your butt on this poor guy's carpet? You know he can’t get paid much to be a Central Park cop and can’t afford a new carpet if it gets all Chihuahua butted up.’” “Troy, you’re a genius.” “I get that a lot.” “Well, sir,” Mike said to the officer, “it could be a number of things. If you can swing him by the clinic one day this week I can have a look.” “You think I can pay UES Vet prices? They're crazy. You’re crazy.” “I know.” Mike agreed with both statements. “We see Dr. Posey in Hollis, you know her? She’s the best.” “No, I do not know Dr. Posey or where in the hell Hollis is. All veterinarians in the world do not know one another, in spite of the popular misconception we do.” Mike thought and instead said “I think I might. Well, good luck.” and walked off. Troy followed behind. “I couldn’t hear you scream. Did you at least get the quarters?” Mike ignored Troy and sat down next to his falafel sandwich. Troy hopped up and resumed eating. “Well?” Ralph asked. “I don’t think he screamed. Experiment inconclusive.” Troy ignored Ralph’s icey pigeon glare. “What are you going to do?” Suzie asked. Mike thought about it. “I could check myself into a psychiatry ward. My health insurance at UES is terrible so after my eight thousand dollar deductible, damn, I can’t afford that. Or, I could go with it. What’s one more crazy person on the streets of New York? What if I am not crazy? What if I am a veterinarian who can speak to animals? A real Dr. Doolittle? Everything could change for me. Well, not everything.” “What do you mean, not everything? You’ll be the best vet in town. You’ll be famous, loved, wealthy enough to pay your deductible.” Suzie asked. Suzie seemed to be the wisest among the triumvirate. “It’s frustrating to work through things when you guys can hear all of my thoughts.” “There are ways to just think to oneself and not communicate everything. It’ll take some practice. You are basically thinking out loud now, but you get the hang of it, probably. I don’t know if humans can do that too, since you're the first one with animal telepathy - Dr. Doolittle is obviously fiction - but us animals can. Otherwise, life would be one continuous din of telepathic communication. Can you imagine?” “Like Twitter?” “Yeah, like Twitter.” “Well, hopefully that will happen for me soon.” Mike said. “So, what do you mean not everything, you got lady problems?” Ralph asked. Ralph could be blunt. Mike sighed and looked from Ralph to Suzie to Troy to the sky. “I can’t believe I am going to tell you this. But I also can’t believe I am talking to pigeons via telepathy so here goes - I am not just a mediocre veterinarian, I am a Russian spy and a sleeper agent.” Troy didn’t stop eating but did look up at Mike. Suzie and Ralph stared at each other. “You’re what?” Suzie’s beak was agape in surprise. “A spy. Sort of. An unwillingly and useless one, but, still, a spy. I have an FSB agent who handles me, Andrei. It was Andrei who knocked me out today.” “Andrei sounds like a made-up Russian name. He’s lying. Although he could be a sleeper agent. We did find him sleeping. Is that what that means?” Troy resumed pulling at the pita and interjected. “Why would I lie to you? No offense, but I don't have anything to gain from fooling three pigeons.” “He has a point.” agreed Ralph. Suzie looked at Mike with as much pity as a pigeon could muster, which is a lot. Pigeons are among the most sensitive of birds. “That’s a lot to handle.” “Well, as you can see, I am not handling it well. Bad at my job. Beat up by my handler. I guess that makes me bad at two jobs. I’m not sure I want either of them. I know I don’t want to be a sleeper agent. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a good vet, but I know I am not a good sleeper agent. I have been in America for twenty years and I don’t think I have done one thing to benefit either country besides racking up a truly tremendous amount of student debt” “Don’t be too hard on yourself, for one thing, you know where to find the best falafel in New York. This is amazing.” Troy knew a good falafel and a sad guy when he saw one. Why not throw him a bone. “You must have some story.” Suzie said. “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.” “If you’re willing to continue believing you are having a telepathic conversation with three pigeons, we are willing to believe you are a Russian spy. I, for one, would like to hear how you got here.” Ralph said. “Me, too.” Suzie added and tilted her pigeon head kindly. “I’ll hang out as long as this sandwich lasts.” said Troy. “I thought you had an inquiring mind?” “I’m more of a scientific bent. Can you hear screams underwater, where you can get the best pizza slice in New York - that sort of question really drives me. I don’t go in much for back stories. I have no idea who Ralph and Suzie are, for example.” “We’re your brother and sister, Troy.” Ralph said. “See. Just doesn’t interest me.” “Well, we are interested, let's hear it.” THE ODESSA CONNECTION; Chapter One.docx