On the radio, which Mikey turned on to drown out the distant sound of sirens, Outkast is singing, "Like a thousand elephants or sliver-backed orangatangs, you can't stop this train. Weather man tells us it ain't gonna rain, so now we're sitting in a drop-top soaking wet." This strikes Jesus as funny, apparently, as he starts chortling.
The world outside the windows is all concreat and black as the three of your fly down the 405, getting distance between you and the hospital.
Maria spares a moment to look down at the boy in her lap, and probably for the first time since all this started, she smiles and tightens her arms around him. Exhaustion starts to set in, so she sits up straighter, glancing out the window before looking over at Mikey. "You think they're following us?"
For the first time you notice his tattoos, just at the edge of his neck, peeking out from under the collar of his shirt. Dark and spiraling, they look wet even in the dim light, a deep blue-black like the night sky over the ocean. His lean, hard face is tight, otter-clever eyes watching everything all at once as he weaves in and out of traffic at horrifying sharps and angles. As he accelerates past a truck that says, "Happy Buddha Towing -- We'll Keep Your Car From Nirvana" he replies, "No one is following us. Not for long anyway."
"Thanks again." Her voice is quiet as she looks away, back out the window. After a moment she adds, "Sorry you got dragged into this." Then there seems to be nothing to say, so she goes back to examining the miracle sitting in her lap.
Mikey doesn't say anything in return, he just keeps the truck careening through traffic. It doesn't matter that it's 2 in the morning -- this is the 405, and there is always enough congestion to drive like a maniac.
Jesus looks up at you from your lap, eyes brown and large. He smiles a little, then yawns and leans against you.
"Sleep, mi hermano," Maria murmurs to the boy, cradling him close. Now that she's stopped running actively, her mind tries to start thinking over the events of the evening -- not something she's quite sure she's ready to do. So as she holds still for her brother's sake, she casts about for something to talk about. "So, uh, what were you doin' sleepin' in a parking lot?"
Mikey's voice is ironic and laconic all at once, "Sleeping. You know, in a parking lot." He stretches a little, neck popping a dozen time in rapid succession as he slides across four lanes and into an exit lane. "It's something that people who live in their cars do, now and again." His words sound slightly distant, as the cabin is quite loud -- mostly from wind and noise pouring in through all the bullet holes.
"Yeah, I guess they do." She pauses, a little awkwardly. "I did." She goes back to listening to the wind, feeling it starting to blow through her heart as well. Maria is determined not to cry. There's no time for it and it doesn't solve anything. Still, her eyes sting as she lowers her face to the top of Jesus's head.
Going down the spiral of the exit ramp, one of the crazy kind that loops in and in and in on itself before reaching the street, where the whole way down you're passing taggers' renditions of Picasso and Monet till it seems like you're spiralling down through some gang-culture looking glass, Mikey asks. "Was the Crying Man really there? I heard the Stones talking about him."
If Maria is startled, she doesn't show it. "He was there." She watches the artwork outside the window. "He was there," she repeats. Reflexively, her arms tighten again, this time protectively.
He doesn't say anything else. You're in Culver City, you think, in the middle of the squat old buildings that used to be a real business district and now is a dumping ground for those not successful enough to make it in the real district downtown. A few minutes later Mikey pulls the truck into a parking garage, getting a stub and easily finding a parking spot near the exit.
"Are you gonna be able to go back and get your car?" Maria asks, unwilling for a moment to leave the relative security of the bullet-ridden truck for the unknown world beyond.
Mikey shuts down the truck, pulling the wires you'd twisted together apart. He shrugs, "Probably not. Doesn't matter, easy come, easy go." Taking a minute to look around the building, he finally opens his door and slides out. He's small enough that he has to hop out rather than just stepping.
Maria gathers a now probably sleeping Jesus in one arm, and uses the other arm to open the truck and slide out. She reaches back in for the gun she'd brought along, then puzzles for a moment how to carry child and weapon both.
While you're working on that, Mikey heads for the building-side exit. He pauses a minute at the door, then vanishes out into the night. A second later you hear something splatter wet and sharp against the ground, then again, and again.
That can't be a good thing. It just can't. Maria creeps toward the exit, keeping out of sight as much as possible while trying to find out what's splattering outside. She tucks Jesus close to her body, and works to balance the gun in her hand.
About the time you're coming around the corner of the truck, Mikey comes darting back in. He's rubbing the back of his head like he'd been hit, and there is blood all over his shoulders. As soon as he's through the door he stops and turns back to the outside, watching with a slightly blank expression.
Maria nearly shoots him in her fear, but manages to keep her finger still. "Mikey," she hisses -- as much as one can hiss with no sibilants. She takes a step closer and tries to look out at whatever Mikey is looking at.
The splattering sound grows, louder and faster, like rain. When you look out the door you see why. Green and black spotted, large and small, tree frogs with padded hands and horned toads with thick brown skin -- are falling like rain. Some hit the ground and splatter like they were being thrown from an airplane. Others, however unbelievably, fall and land safely despite their speed. They hop about agitatedly, giving voice to a disgruntled croaking that grinds under the punctuation of their participation.
"What the hell?" Maria doesn't feel particularly threatened by a rain of frogs, although she is considerably puzzled. She doesn't have the clarity of thought to make any sort of connection to the Biblical nature of it all. "Mikey, you okay?" She stares at the frogs as well, some of the species exotic enough that she's never seen the like before.
Wiping blood off the back of his head Mikey grumbles, then looks up at the sky and yells, "Real fucking subtle, asshole!"
"Who are you yellin' at?" Maria doesn't go near to the door -- she just figured out where the blood came from, and she has no desire to get hit by a falling frog. Then her childhood teaching comes back to her, and she pauses. The understanding is sudden and apparent. "You don't think..."
He doesn't answer, just stalks away from the door still cursing and rubbing the back of his head. Jesus, meanwhile, looks at the frogs disinterestedly, then closes his eyes and turns his face into your shoulder.
Maria sighs, then looks outside again. No way in hell she's walking through that. She turns away and starts looking up the ramp of the parking garage for another ride. She glances over her shoulder, then starts walking up the ramp to the next level.
About halfway up the ramp to the next level you hear Mikey's footsteps following behind you.
Maria looks back at him over her shoulder. "You decide to stick around for a little while longer -- or you just have the same idea as me?"
Hands in his pockets and face drawn down, Mikey looks like a sullen 8 year old. A sullen 8 year old with tattoos and a knife that you've seen him kill a man with... but still. "Yea, God hates me."
Maria shakes her head. "Look, you ain't gotta do me any favors. Don't feel obligated or nothin'." Mikey isn't the only subtle one. The last thing Maria needs is a pissed off guy with a knife hanging around. No guarantee he'll stay on her side, right?
Mikey says "Oh yea, I think I'll leave right now. Then tomorrow I'll have boils and locusts and... whatever the hell the other plagues were." He kicks a loose chunk of concrete down to the lower level. "My mother was right, I should never have come to America. Your God is a bastard. All our Goddess ever did was... well nevermind about that."
Maria stops and looks at him. "What the hell are you talkin' about?"
Throwing up his arms he yells, "IT RAINED FUCKING FROGS ON ME!"
At that very moment Jesus starts to giggle.
Looking down at Jesus, Maria starts to chuckle as well. Looking at Mikey and grins, "Well yeah, and if I'd been the first out, it woulda rained frogs on me. What's your point? You think God singled you out and dropped frogs on your head?" She snorts and adds, "And shoulders." The tension and weirdness of it all finally gets to her, and she's soon giggling with the baby.
Wide eyed and pissed, Mikey looks back and forth between you and Jesus. Finally he drops his arms and rolls his eyes. "Right. Cause God can't change his mind about frogs depending on who goes out the door first." He kicks another loose chunk down, onto the roof of a Mercedes. "Do you honest to God think that it isn't a sign?"
Maria stops giggling. "A sign of what? Like God gives a shit what happens to you? To me? If He gave so much of a shit, how come He let the Crying Man kill Joe? How come I'm stuck runnin' off to who knows where with him and every damn gangbanger in LA on my ass? How come He let Jesus die in the first place?" There she says a little too much, but her own anger is starting to catch up with her. "You act like you think He still pays attention to what's goin' on down here. Fuckin' yeah right."
That just brings a shrug. "You tell me -- he's your God. Maybe he doesn't, hell -- maybe he doesn't exist anyplace other than in the head of Westerners. But the fact that it fucking rained frogs has to mean something -- doesn't it? I mean how many times in your life do you get within 15 feet of the Devil and then get rained on by frogs in the same day?"
That shuts her up, because if the Crying Man wasn't the Devil then he was as close as she ever wants to get, tough talking agnosticism aside. "So what's it a sign of?" she asks, skepticism still present, but toned down. "That you're supposed to go with us? If you don't believe in God, why do you care?"
For the first time since you've met him you see him grin. "I don't believe in God, but I do believe in random, chaotic shit. Raining frogs is as good a reason as any to decide to flee the city with some crazy ganger and her kid."
Maria smiles, a little. "He's not my kid. He's my brother." She looks down at the baby with enough affection for a mother, though. "I gotta take him to the desert. Joe, that was our dad, he said so." A brief pause. "Before he died." She shrugs it off, once again. "I dunno what's going on, but if there's somewhere Jesus can be safe then I gotta take him there."
One hand rubs his face as he walks past you. "The kid's name is Jesus, and she says she doesn't think God is watching...." He shrugs it off then, and looks around the upper level, at the dozen or so cars parked there even at this hour. "Well, if you're going to the desert you need a car."
The full irony of it hits her and draws a rather rueful grin. "I better not tell you my name, then. But you might be right. On all counts." She starts car shopping as well, looking at the cars here with a practiced eye.
Most of the cars are probably too nice: Beamers and Lexi -- the kind that have alarms and tracking systems. The best bet, of all ironies, are the two SUVs parked near the door, one black and one white.
Maria points at the black SUV. "That one. If it ain't wired." She shoulders the gun and shifts Jesus on her hip, walking over to look through the window of the car.
While you check the car Mikey goes over to a vending machine near the stair-well and starts getting candybars and soda.
You check the black SUV, and it does have an alarm. It's one of the stupid kind, however, that have a switch so it can be turned off as soon as you get in the cabin -- and no tracking system.
Oh yea, and it has a Club on the wheel -- which is almost enough to make you laugh. A Club. Really.
It doesn't make her laugh, but it does make her smirk. "Oh no, Mikey. We can't take this one. It has a Club." She grins even as she sets down Jesus, telling him to stay right there, and goes to work on the door.
You know you'll have to trip the alarm, the issue is having the door open -- or almost open, by the time it goes off. That way it does not have time to draw attention. That means it's a matter of going smooth and slow, and you're looking for a wire or screwdriver to use when you notice that the back door isn't locked. One of the first things you learned to check for, back in the day. People always lock their driver door -- but forget that the back doors actually work.
Maria grins to herself, almost absurdly happy to be back doing what part of her was meant to do. Stepping around Jesus, she opens the back door and hops in to silence the alarm before it can do much more than chirp.
After that it's a matter of popping the hood and starting the engine. You can't do it from the inside on this model -- their steering column is to well theft-proofed. Which, of course, means that you just have to look elsewhere. It takes a little under 2 minutes before you're slamming the hood closed with the SUV purring like a kitten.
She scoops up Jesus and resettles him on her hip, looking for Mikey. "You ready to go?" She doesn't get in yet -- after seeing the drive on the way here, she's more than willing to get Mikey do the driving.
He's walking back from the vending machine, holding the bottom of his shirt to make a pouch that is hanging heavy with several cans of soda, chips, candy bars, and pretzels. "I guess so." He goes to the driver's side and tosses all the food in, then climbs up into the cab.
A moment later Maria is swinging into the passenger side, gun at her feet and Jesus in her lap. "Come on, it's not that bad. Who knows," she adds dryly, "you might get mentioned someday as a wise man."
As you climb in you have to move a large stack of magazines -- and while you're pushing them aside you realize they are all various porno rags. You comment brings a snort as Mikey whips out and heads down the ramp to the exit. "Right. The discordian wiseman."
"Okay, wiseass, then." Maria looks down at the magazines and rolls her eyes, tossing them into the backseat while turning Jesus to look the other way.
The Wiseass gets a glance at the magazines as you toss them, "Wow, "Bull Sucking Sluts" You didn't seem the type." It's hard to tell if he's talking to you or to the SUV. "What the fuck is this world coming to anyway?"
Considering that she's still got the gun, it better be the SUV. "You're asking the wrong person. Until today, I thought I didn't care, as long as it left me alone."
Mikey snorts at that as he stops and considerately pays the SUV's tab, waiting for the automated guard to raise before continuing on. It takes all of 5 minutes to be back on the freeway and flying along in the carpool lane. "No way Josie, no variable in the entropic system is allowed to approach singularity, the enfolding relativity of the supersystem will not allow it."
Perhaps surprisingly, Maria doesn't react with a 'huh?' Working in a bookstore pays off. "Well, maybe. That, and the fact that my dad's name was Joseph, my name is Maria, and my brother Jesus seems to have come back from the dead. That kinda goes against the idea of entropy, a little." Saying it out loud seems to flip a switch. She leans back against the upholstery and sags a little. "Maybe the frogs weren't a freak of nature after all."
Mikey says, "God is a freak of nature, frogs are a freak of nature -- everything is part of it, and the only reason things happen is because of entropy." With that he turns on the radio, and the Lizard King starts to sing, "You know the day destroys the night, night divides the day. Try to run, try to hide...."
Break on through to the other side, sure. The question is what's /on/ the other side. "You weren't kidding about the discordian thing, were you. How do you fit into all this?"
That brings a laugh, but he opens up a Snickers and takes a bite of it before he answers. "Nothing fits into anything. It's all completely random shit."
"Fine, okay." Maria drops the subject, frowning thoughtfully. "'The desert' is pretty damn vague. You don't know anything about a king out in the desert, do you?"
"Other than Burger King, not really. I know plenty of Queens that live in Vegas though." He opens a coke, then tosses one to you. "Eat something, you're pale." With that he drives on, not really looking to pursue the conversation. His eyes, though sharp on the road, seem to be a million miles away.
Maria obediently opens the Coke, then a bag of pretzels, suddenly realizing she hasn't eaten anything in well over 12 hours. Another realization, and she looks over the collection of junk food for something suitable for Jesus.
Well, he's already got a package of gummy bears and is trying to gnaw through it.
With a small smile, Maria opens the package and gives it back to him. She promptly bursts into tears but ignores them, resolutely drinking her soda while tears fall unacknowledged down her cheeks.
You drive for maybe 30 minutes like that, Jesus slowly gnawing on gummy bears and looking out the window, Mikey settling into a long smooth drive, and you dealing with exhaustion and post-traumatic stress.
You're just coming over a long rise when Mikey says, "Welcome to California's beautiful..."
He never gets a chance to finish the statement. A semi, one of the kind with a trailer carrying a dozen cars on the back, suddenly swerves out of its lane, directly in front of you. Mikey screams something about "grab the kid!" and slams on the brakes hard.
Maria grabs Jesus and curls her body around him, turning slightly sideways in her seat to try and shield him.
Mikey must have been a racer at some point, because he turns, brakes, and cuts out so fast that the mammoth-SUV makes a turn that most people couldn't pull in a Porche. The maneuver slams you hard into the side of the cab, knocking the wind out of you.
It's then, and you'll always remember it, that you saw into the cabin of the semi, saw the driver look back at you, and very deliberately pull a lever.
The truck, a Dodge extended cab, on the rear of the semi, falls off the back and lands square on the front of your SUV with an explosion of glass and steel.
There is pain, and you can see blood everywhere, over your eyes, taste it in your mouth. You're aware of Jesus screaming, and the SUV rolling.
All during the roll, Maria still works to keep Jesus protected, somehow, someway, despite the pain. She prays as she has not prayed since she was a little girl, praying that the blood is all hers and not Jesus's.
The roll takes an eternity of its own, the tumble slow and fast as the spinning of the world on its axis. In your head you can hear Sister Alanis, the old nun at your childhood church, saying, "The sacrament is Jesus' blood. He shed it for you -- what right had you to pour it all over the pavement like that?"
You stay curled up into a ball, and you can feel Jesus against your ribs, against your stomach, like he was inside you, like he was your baby unborn.
The rolling stops, but before you can focus the SUV is spun around with a horrid lurching slam as someone hits you from the side. The door flies open, and you spill out of the cab, onto the cement.
Although common sense tells her she should get up, get out of harm's way, make sure that Jesus is safe, for a moment or two she is unable to move, stunned and aching.
It's more than a moment. You realize that you can't move at all, that the blood around you is starting to spread. Several cars swerve, barely avoiding running over your head.
Your feet are still inside the SUV, and you feel Mikey tugging at your feet, feebly and with one arm.
The Semi has stopped in front of you, and the driver, with a smile on his face, is walking towards you.
Everything spins, goes red, goes black, unfocuses, and then you pass out in the middle of the freeway.
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