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Jim saw a man staring at him who was almost as wide as the hallway.

He may have been one of the men who shot at him and Gary. Jim couldn’t be sure given the intensity of the situation. He gestured to Jim with his index finger and folded his arms.

“Which way?” he asked, walking ahead of the man down the hall.

“Elevator.” The man had a voice as deep as a well. Jim pushed the up button and was shoved against the wall. “Funny business.”

He was relatively certain the man meant no funny business and thought his clipped speech meant he wasn’t kept around for his brains. Or his looks. The guy was hideous. He had a face like a bouquet of hemorrhoids. Jim would have to be careful with how he tested him.

The man thumbed the down button, and they let the first elevator pass as it was going up.

“See anybody, play nice. Or somebody gets hurt.”

“Original. I like that in a villain.” When the man didn’t respond, Jim was certain he was being delivered to someone. Probably whoever was in Mrs. K’s apartment.

A second elevator came, and they got on. Luckily or unluckily, they were alone and got off one floor down. Jim was herded to the right, the man’s sausage fingers prodding him in the back. The man finally clasped a hand on him that felt like it could easily crush his collarbone, and they stopped.

This was her apartment. But Gary wasn’t there. Jim felt a flutter of hope and restrained himself from looking around. Any moment now his best friend would pop out from somewhere and rescue him.

A fist that looked as hard as a stone rapped on the door three times, and then the man stepped back.

“It’s open,” somebody called from inside. The man prodded Jim in the back, and he opened the door. The first thing Jim noticed when he stepped inside was the overwhelmingly prevalent smell of weed. This was definitely the right place.

It was thick and heavy in the air, like stepping into a big, warm coat made of marijuana smoke and buttoning up. It was saturating him and everything he had on.

The room itself was plainly furnished, a brown couch in the center of the room behind a glass coffee table. There was an old television on a small table in a corner, and a big window in the far wall, with cream curtains drawn.

A man was on all fours by the window, his head down like he’d been throwing up. He looked up at Jim, gray eyes like old diamonds twinkling in his head.

“Hello,” the man said. It wasn’t the voice of the person who’d told them to enter.

“Hey,” Jim said, not knowing what to expect, but hoping Gary would still come leaping out of the shadows.

“Bring the other.” He didn’t break eye contact with Jim, but someone in the next room moved. Another big man came in, dragging a hands-tied Gary with him.

“Wassup?”

“Gary!” Jim realized he had no right to be, but he was disappointed. He’d been captured just the same, but that left no means of rescue unless Mrs. K was hiding somewhere.

The man on his hands and knees slowly stood, brushing imaginary lint off his suit. It almost matched the curtains, Jim noted. He was a little shorter than Jim, very slender, bronze-skinned, with hands that looked like they’d never seen a day of manual labor. He looked manufactured.

“I won’t waste your time, gentlemen. You have an item that belongs to us.” He reached into his suit jacket and pulled out a black pill pinched between his index finger and thumb. “There should have been five of these, but the empty container I’m supposing this used to be in only had four slots. Which means you meant to cheat us from the start, and then you decided to keep them all to yourselves.”

“I . . . we don’t know anything about that,” Jim said.

The man’s eyebrows raised. “Ah. So neither of you consumed the Bloom?” Jim’s eyes bugged, and he realized he had given them away. “That is what I thought. I’m curious, was it one or both of you?” Jim’s eyes bugged again.

Dammit, eyes!

The man nodded. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Sebastian Fyukis. We are Adjacent.”

“Adjacent to what?” Gary asked.

“No, you don’t understand. We are . . . Adjacent. You know, like you would say you’re Christian.”

“How did you know I’m Christian?”

“I don’t know you’re Christian.”

“You just said I was.”

“I meant that only as an example.”

“Then you should’ve said that. You should’ve said, ‘We are Parallel, just as others call themselves Christian.’”

“Adjacent. We are Adjacent. Not Parallel. Those guys are weirdos.”

“Point taken,” Gary said. “Adjacent to what now?”

“I don’t know if I feel like telling you now.”

“Come on.”

“No.”

“Don’t be like that. Please?”

Fyukis folded his arms.

“Would a sorry help?” Gary said.

“Maybe.”

“Well then in the best interest of us all getting along, I’m sorry. Okay?”

“Okay,” Fyukis said. He looked around the room as if not knowing where to start. Gary had thrown off his rhythm, something Jim was very familiar with.

“Bring the crone!”

A raven-haired woman walked in the room with her arm wrapped around the thin shoulders of a sixtyish woman. She had to be Mrs. K. The two women were about the same height, although the older woman was slightly stooped at the shoulder.

“You must know that you are infinitely more valuable to me than this person. Please know that I will not hesitate to hurt her.” He looked back and forth between Gary and Jim.

“Okay,” Jim said. “We get it. So what next?”

The unreserved recklessness that had been slowly unleashing in Jim suddenly choked off. There was someone he was being made to feel responsible for, and the feeling was unpleasant, like a pebble in his shoe.

“The lie would be that you give me the Bloom, and I let you all live. You have to have figured by now that that is not a possibility.”

“No, we didn’t. We have every hope that we will walk out of this totally unscathed.” Gary smiled.

Fyukis nodded to his man standing next to Gary. This man was leaner than the one Jim had come in with, but taller. He grasped the neck of Gary’s shirt and tore it open, exposing Gary’s torso down to his navel. The man stepped aside so everyone could see the three bullet holes.

“You’re going to pay for that.” Gary looked at Jim. “I always wanted to say that. Oh my gosh, I always wanted to say, ‘I always wanted to say that’!”

“Are you in any pain?” Fyukis asked.

“Agony. Why don’t you come suck my cock and take my mind off it?”

“Vile.” The man pulled a disgusted face.

“He . . . smells,” the taller man said.

“You bet I do. I got three bullet holes in me. Is somebody calling a doctor? Better yet, take me to the hospital. I could drop dead any minute.”

“I know, Tim. That’s the Bloom you smell. It has saturated his blood.”

“I’m surprised you can smell anything past the weed,” Jim said.

Mrs. K looked sheepish. “I thought they were the cops,” she said. “I was burning the evidence.”

“Don’t worry, Mrs. K,” Gary said. “We’ll have you out of here in a little bit.”

“I don’t know how you expect to get anything back,” Jim said. “We swallowed those pills hours ago.”

“We can shit in his hand. I got one almost charged up if you can wait five minutes.”

Fyukis smirked. “The Bloom cannot be digested. It is not filtered by liver, thinned in blood, broken down into baser parts by small and large intestine. If the Bloom is in you and you are alive, then it is only a matter of time before it leaves you and you are no longer alive.”

“The Bloom,” Jim said. “Gary, do you remember eating any flowers? I don’t.”

“Uh-uh.”

“I get it. You believe that your false bravado will somehow save you at the last moment. That your bravery in the very face of death will somehow betray our cowardice or some other flaw for you to exploit and effect an escape.”

“Kinda,” Gary said.

“Tim, decapitate him.”

The tall man slid out a long knife with a wide blade. Maybe it was a machete—Jim wasn’t sure.

“Oh.” That was the extent to which Gary acknowledged the weapon in the man’s hand. “Aren’t you going to tell us what this is all about? I’m sure cutting my head off isn’t going to get your flower back. Who’s the other person? The woman back there.” Gary nodded toward the room the two women had come out of.

Fyukis lifted one eyebrow. “Mr. Gary, how very astute of you.” He turned toward the door. “Mary, if you would come in here, please.”

A moment later a tall, thin woman came into the room. Jim immediately recognized her as the woman outside in the belly shirt. She’d been gone when they came back, but of course that meant she was already up here.

With whatever that thing in her hands was.

It was an ornately designed box, carved out of some sort of dark wood, or perhaps it was stained. The two sides Jim could see had what appeared to be legless, coily dragons with their tongues flicked out.

“What is that, Pandora’s box?” Gary asked. “I knew it! You guys are Pandorans.”

Fyukis didn’t react, taking Gary’s comment for the distraction it had been meant to be. Jim watched with waxing interest. Something bad was in there, and it was meant for them.

“Hold it, big guy,” Jim said. Tim had the knife to Gary’s throat and was about to begin sawing. “If he really wanted you to saw my friend’s head off, then he wouldn’t be interested in getting this Bloom thing back.”

Tim looked at Fyukis. The other man gave a slight shake of his head.

“What do you mean?” Fyukis asked.

“If my guess is right, the Bloom has some sort of religious importance to you. You had Dr. K whip it up in his lab, and you intended to use it for some sort of ceremony. Right?”

Fyukis nodded.

“Well, as far as you know, we are the Bloom now. I’m imagining that this compound is rare, hasn’t been on Earth in a long time, or is completely new. Which means you don’t entirely know how it works. You may have already irrevocably damaged it by shooting my friend, and after you killed Dr. K—”

“My Benny?” Mrs. K said. Damn, he’d forgotten all about her. At least he’d avoided the initial awkward part. “He’s . . . dead?”

“After Dr. K’s untimely demise, you don’t have anyone on hand who can produce more for you. Sorry,” Jim said, looking at the new widow. He was doing a lot of guessing and hoped he’d struck at least a couple of notes.

“As I said,” Fyukis said, “the Testimony states that the Bloom cannot be digested. It can only be held for a brief period of time. Two days.”

“You mean three days,” Gary said.

“No. Two. Like when Jesus rose from the dead after two days.”

“Jesus rose after three days,” Gary said vehemently. “Three.”

“No. Two.” Fyukis counted off on his fingers. “Saturday . . . Sunday.”

“You have to count Friday, though. You can’t skip Friday.”

“No. Friday was the day he died. One day after is Saturday. One day after that is Sunday. One plus one is two.”

“Okay, I’m Friday, Jim is Saturday, you’re Sunday. One plus one plus one is three.”

“That’s not how that works. You count between the days.”

“You can’t count between days. What comes between Friday and Saturday?”

“One day.”

“How many days are Friday and Saturday?”

“Two.”

“And Sunday makes three!”

“Tim, hit him.”

The tall man reared back and smashed Gary’s face with a massive fist. Gary’s head snapped back, and he stumbled back a few steps but kept his feet.

“Ohhh, two days,” Gary said.

“There are several mistruths in your Christian Bible,” Fyukis said. “One of which is that God is your father.” Gary made an angry, confused face but said nothing. “This mistruth is simply a continuation of the same one perpetuated in the Torah. God is not your father, but rather your brother.”

“What?”

“The Adjacent are the holders of the True Word as revealed to the Ancestor. He passed it along to me before rejoining Brother by his side.”

“I’m sensing a lot of capitalized words here,” Jim said.

“I have carried the Testimony for seventy-five years, collecting brothers and sisters into the Congregation along the way.”

“Are there more of you?”

“No.” Fyukis smiled. “Our number is small, intentionally so. See, in your Father’s house there may have been many apartments, but we intend to sit with Brother in His room for alway.”

“A lot of capitalized words,” Gary said. “Blasphemer.”

“So you’re saying you’re what, a hundred or so years old?” Jim asked.

“I am one hundred and ten. When the Ancient found me when I was thirty-five, he bestowed the Testimony upon me and the knowledge to understand it.”

“Where is this book?” Gary said. “I’d like to piss on it.”

“Ah, a doubter.” Fyukis walked closer and began to pace in front of Gary. “I’m sure you are familiar with John 3:16? ‘For He so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son’ and blah blah blah. I submit to you that this is wrong and not just intentionally wrong. It is wrong with a purpose. There is a significance to the numbers 3 and 1 and 6, in that order, and in their sum total.”

“You didn’t provide any evidence it’s wrong.” Gary scowled.

“Of course I didn’t. I need to provide evidence that something that is unprovable is incorrect? The Testimony is not faith. It is knowledge.”

“So you lean to your own understanding?”

“No. My brother’s. When the Adjacent partakes of the Bloom, only then shall we be transcendent over death and join Him in His room.”

“That room is in somebody’s basement.”

Fyukis smiled broadly. “Perhaps. But we shall be together.”

“If you’re so knowledgeable, who created your brother?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. And neither does Brother. The point is once we are together, we may explore that answer for ourselves. Let me ask you a question—who created God?”

“God.”

“So your creator created himself? Is that not a nonsensical answer? The Adjacent acknowledge that there was one who came before. But that entity has never set foot in this universe. No one knows that entity. Including you.”

“Oh, I’m going to pray for you. So hard.

“Feel free in the little time you have left. Your simple death will be as forgotten as the grains of sand on a beach.”

“So let me get this straight,” Jim said. “This Bloom thing, you guys want it so you can all commit suicide?”

“I support you killing yourself,” Gary said, nodding. “That’s a good idea.”

“If you need to oversimplify it, yes. We will kill ourselves using the Bloom and rejoin Brother.”

“Who gets all your stuff?” Gary asked.

“You said rejoin,” Jim said. “Does that mean you were already with him?

“Either by will or by some other force—we cannot say—but in the beginning there was one spirit, a Holy Spirit. It created the heavens and the earth. At some point the spirit was cleaved in two. The smaller portion settled over the earth and was perceived as dust. The larger portion breathed upon the earth, attempting to blow the dust off its surface. But the dust became life, each granule taking human form.”

“That sounds stupid,” Gary said.

“No dumber than a God who gathered the dust of the earth and breathed life into it to create one lone person. Brother fostered this new life, encouraged its growth. But He immediately saw the torn nature of mankind. He began coaxing the spirit away from many of these violent ones, slowly over time coalescing it into a few bodies.” Fyukis raised his hands, gesturing to the people around the room.

“What, the five of you?” Jim asked. “Sorry, I have to agree with Gary on this one.”

“Jim, from across the room, air five,” Gary said.

“Received. Say hello to the Heaven’s Gaters on the way out.”

“And your name rhymes with mucous.”

Fyukis’s face reddened. “Fiel, do it.” The tall woman stepped forward, smiling broadly. Jim noted she was pretty, beautiful even, but overly so. Like she wasn’t real. She threw open the top of the box in front of Gary. He flinched and shielded himself, and Jim cried out.

For a long moment, everyone was still. The big man behind Jim had his hands locked on him, and Jim eventually sagged in his grip.

“I don’t think your little box worked,” Mrs. K said. Before Fyukis could respond, Gary snatched the knife away from Tim and plunged it into the crotch of Fyukis’s pants. He shoved him into the window by the throat, the glass cracking.

“I cannot die by any conventional means. The Adjacent are perimortal. Plunge your knife into me. I will not die, and the others will pull you to pieces. We will have the Bloom—all of it—one way or another.” Fyukis’s voice was high and constrained, his eyes wide.

“Then I guess you’re okay not making the trip to see your big bro intact.” Gary gave the handle of the knife a slight twitch, and Fyukis’s eyes went wide. “Way I see it, it’ll be even. Three boys and three girls.”

“No!” Fyukis waved Tim back, and the big one who’d been holding Jim. “Stay back!” The black-haired woman remained mute by the old woman’s side, while the tall blonde seemed keenly interested. She’d retained her look of constant amusement as if nothing had changed.

“I’m a Jedi,” Gary said, his eyes big. “Want to see me use the Force?” He inched the knife upward. “All the blasphemous motherfuckers shall leave the room.”

“Everybody get out!” Fyukis shouted. “Now!” Everyone hesitated, and Gary twitched the knife again. “Now!”

The big man by the door turned around and walked out first. He was followed closely by the one named Tim, then the brunette, and lastly the tall blonde Fyukis had called Fiel. Jim did his best to commit the two names to memory. He was certain they would be seeing them again. Probably as soon as they left the apartment.

Before she left, Fiel turned around and said, “You’re all going to die. Soon.” She smiled widely and almost skipped out the door.

“Now, what are we going to do with you?” Gary asked.

“If you believe you can kill me, do it.” Fyukis flashed a daring smile. “I have lived more than a hundred years. The spirit dwells within me, and I will return.”

“So you believe death is only a layover?” Jim asked.

Fyukis’s eyes turned on him. He licked his lips. Jim noted there was a certain degree of bravado in the man, but he was nervous. “You won’t have long,” he said. “One way or another, my people will get to me. They’re probably waiting outside the door. If you harm me—”

“You’ll just do all the stuff to us you were planning on doing anyway,” Gary said.

“So it appears we are at a stalemate.”

“Not exactly. You’re alive. Jim, I think it’s time we called 911 and reported two murders. Make sure you give a real good description of our friend here.”

Jim narrowed his eyes, not sure where Gary was going.

“Trust me.” He looked at Mrs. K and asked, “Do you have any rope?”

“I’m sure I have some in a closet.”

“Tie her up, Jim.”

“I don’t get it,” Jim said. “Why?”

“It’s a surefire way to throw suspicion off her when the police come and discover us dead. The others will clear out, and Fyukis here will be arrested.”

The man didn’t appear to have a reaction. Jim decided to toss in an explanation just to be sure. And to twist the knife a little.

“That Bloom of yours had an effect on us you probably didn’t anticipate. We don’t respirate or have a pulse. As far as anyone can tell, we’re dead.”

Fyukis looked at Jim. “There’s a problem with your thinking,” he said.

“Oh yeah?” Gary asked, giving the knife’s edge one more jab into his crotch. Fyukis grimaced. He managed to return to a blank expression.

“I won’t tell you a thing. You’ll see for yourself.”

Jim pulled out his cell and dialed 911. A moment later the call was placed, and the operator told him that a vehicle would be dispatched immediately. Mrs. K returned with the rope, and Jim did his best to tie her hands.

“Put her in the bathroom,” Gary said. Jim followed her to the bathroom and shut the door behind her. The three of them waited in silence until they heard footsteps coming down the hall.

“You lose,” Gary said before tossing the knife and slumping onto the floor. Jim looked at him, shrugged, and did the same. He felt Fyukis looking down at them, but Jim had fallen so that he was looking at Gary, who had the worst death rictus on his face.

“You gotta stop,” Jim said. “You’re gonna make me laugh.”

Someone pounded on the door, and that was when Gary did some sort of death gurgle, loud enough that they had to have heard.

“Southfield Police, we’re coming inside!” There was a pounding at the door.

“No, you lose,” Fyukis said. A moment later, Jim heard glass shatter and felt a cool breeze coming from outside.

“Dih he yust yucking yump out the window?” Gary said without closing his mouth.

“Uh-huh.”

Yastard.”

 

 

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Gerald Parsons is on his way up. He’s a talented executive in line for a major promotion and married to a beautiful woman. But a chance encounter that may not be coincidence with a stranger who claims to know him begins to unravel his happy life. After a co-worker is killed and another has his career sabotaged, the stranger shows up at his home, ready to party with his own special news, leaving Gerald to ponder if he is next.