Before I get into Chapter 29 of Among Others, I wanted to share something that’s troubling me. It turns out that there is another novel, released 1 year ago this month with the exact same title as this novel: Among Others, by Jo Walton. It’s getting great reviews and she is speaking tonight at a local bookstore here in Albuquerque. I’m intending on going.
I’m not angry at her. She’s a great author and well respected. I’m just frustrated with the title. Do you think I have to change my title now? What are your thoughts?
The rest of the week passed with relative calm. Footage of what reporters dubbed the “botched mission at Helen Killer’s” played on a never ending loop. Political incumbents vying for those last few election poll points spoke out at great length about their leadership successes which, to them, included random checkpoints, regulations denying rights to Wretches, and brutal crackdowns on small homegrown terrorist groups, whether or not any truth to such accusations existed. The more outrageous the accusation, the more dangerous sounding the Wretch political leaders spoke ill of, the higher their poll numbers peaked. Opposition candidates spouted lack of action by way of pointing to the government’s attempt, but failure, to capture the Wretch leader behind the revolution taking place: Helen Killer. Collins managed to mute her heavy groans and sighs regarding her new nickname, but her rolling eyes were another story.
Nobody in the old man’s small one story ranch house spoke these last two days. Each knew the inevitable outcome, an outcome already in the mail. Everyone dealt with their choice differently.
The woman with knotted red hair had not eaten since their first meal at the old man’s house. She struggled to even swallow that small meal. She just sat in front of the box television watching news programs debate how close government was or was not to catching Helen Killer. Covered in an afghan blanket that once belonged to the old man’s wife, she sat curled in a giant warm ball in one corner of the couch. Not even when her roommates walked by or sat beside her did the woman with knotted red hair shift her attention away from television scenes and news debates.
The old man spent most of his time sitting at the much larger kitchen table than the one from Collins’ studio apartment. He rarely looked to the bellowing television. Collins wondered if the old man sat at his table when before all this happened or if he just had nothing better to do than ignore the world around him.
Occasionally, his and Collins’ eyes caught each other. They peered into each other’s mind briefly, but never questioned the other’s thoughts at that moment, or any other moment. He ate at the times the group had specified long before the fat man and the young man with the broken face went on their rampage. As old as he was, he managed to learn impending death did not necessitate discomfort or depression. Coming to grips with his mortality happened years before. Like a Franciscan Friar, the old man made his amends as best he could in his solitude, and waited for whatever came his direction.
Collins’ paced the Geissler home. Time passed painfully slow for her. When her eyes wandered away from her feet and the carpeted floor to catch the old man’s sunken but peaceful eyes, she remembered it was her fault that the old man and woman with knotted red hair were in the position they found themselves in now. Her remorse dropped her eyes back to the floor where she continued pacing. When she was not making a meal, eating, or cleaning up afterward, she paced. Sometimes she paced with her bowl cupped in one hand. Sporadically, she sat beside the woman with knotted red hair in hopes of convincing her to talk. She did not.
All three awaited their sentencing.
On the sixth day after the botched raid on Collins’ unoccupied studio apartment, she was sitting beside the woman with knotted hair. She looked at the old man’s television, to the woman staring blankly straight ahead, then back to the television.
“We at Channel 5 News at 9 have uncovered a significant lead. A lead police would not answer questions about.”
The reporter strolled away from the camera toward a strangely familiar backdrop, never taking her eyes off the camera lens.
“We have reason to believe that the woman in that now infamous cell phone video is none other than Helen Killer. A would be professor at the University.”
Would be? Am. I have a higher degree than you’ll ever hold.
“You may recall the botched raid on Helen’s apartment last week.”
Who the hell do you think you are calling me Helen. It’s Doctor Collins, you Normal.
“Sources within the federal government’s investigation of Helen’s apartment say that more than one person was living with her. This new information backs up the assumption that Helen Killer is in fact the mastermind behind the revolution now taking places across the country.”
It’s Doctor, you damn Normal.
“We have reason to believe that Helen may be hiding out in this quaint cul-de-sac,” the newscaster said as he curled his nose, “Quick work by our research team here at Channel 5 has found out that this house has been foreclosed on. However, it’s likely that Helen and her band of rogue Wretches are squatting in this abandoned house.”
Collins realized why the small ranch house behind the newscaster looked vaguely familiar. It was the house of the Geissler family before the old man’s wife left him, and before the state took his house away from him because Wretches could no longer legally have property. It was where they were hiding at this very moment.
The time had come.
She turned to the woman with knotted red hair. No reaction. Like she was watching a boring movie seen dozens of times before, the woman just continued staring through the television screen.
“Damn it,” blurted from the television speakers. Returning her attention to the newscaster, she saw what caused such an irritated remark during a national live shoot.
Three squad cars, lights blinding, blocked the reporter from what was probably about to become a crowning achievement for him. An interview with the infamous Helen Killer. Ratings would certainly have spiked if he knocked on the door and Collins answered. It was clear to Collins that police departments also watched local and national news programming. The same thought had apparently not occurred to the reporter.
The reporter in the foreground tossed his angry hands in the air, nearly throwing his microphone off screen. A crisper voice chimed in, “Can you tell us what we’re seeing right now.”
The camera jostled somewhat to get a better view of the squad cars blocking the street and entrance to the short, one story ranch beyond them.
“Hey,” the voice echoed, “Can you hear me?”
“What,” the reporter asked, still visibly agitated by the monkey wrench just thrown into his gearbox. “What? Yes. I’m here.”
“What is going on over there,” asked the omniscient voice from somewhere off camera.
The reporter collected himself, brushed off some imaginary dust from his shirt front, “It appears, folks, that authorities were following a similar lead. It does not appear we will get the interview we had hoped for. But,” he spoke breathlessly, “we might get quite a show instead.”
The reporter walked away from his audience and toward the overly armed officers piling out of each police vehicle. One officer well-equipped but holding nothing in his hands pushed the reporter backward demanding everyone stay back.
“We’re with press, sir,” he spat.
“Doesn’t matter,” the armed officer reiterated, “Everyone back. That means you, too.”
“You can’t infringe on the press’s right to free speech.”
“Stay back,” the officer barked emphatically, “National security trumps your right to talk. And lose the camera, guys.”
“Not a chance,” the reporter looked into the camera, “Keep rolling or you’re fired.”
Returning his attention to the officer impeding his story, “How did you find out about this location, sir? Who is your informant?”
“Who’s your’s,” the officer asked with little care that the camera was even there.
“I don’t have to answer that. I’m with the press.”
“Well, neither do I. I’m with press, too. Now, if I repeat myself again, there will be arrests.”
The reporter blew several huffs before waving the camera to follow him away from where the officer kept an eye on the already growing crowd. His hollering to stand back and I’ll arrest you could be heard even if the officer was no longer in view of the camera.
Before the camera stopped wobbling enough to make out what was going on, he provided details, “It appears there is a team ready to raid this house as well.” With the camera steady again, the raiding party was confirmed to his audience. Nobody outside knew authorities had the right hideout this time. But it was clear the reporter hoped it was.
Turning back to the woman with knotted red hair beside her, Collins waved an open hand in front of the woman’s face. Still she did not move. All that suggested the woman was even alive was the single tear that collected and slithered down her blue spider-veined face. Unwilling to argue with the woman’s understanding of their dire situation, she left the woman to her own thoughts, whatever they were, and lurched from the couch. The speed of her movement caught the old man’s attention as she expected.
“It’s time,” she Signed.
The old man chewed the inside of his lip and nodded. He waved Collins to the closet across from the television, “Stand in there.” She fell into the old man hugging him with the force of a lover reunited. Trying to say she was sorry for everything, she just hissed into the old man’s ear. After she pulled away, the old man wished her luck, sat back in the kitchen chair, and folded his arms as if to say, “Bring it on, Death. You don’t scare me none.” It was clear to Collins, it did not scare the old man one iota.