That stupid moppy headed brat. I blame his as much as anything else. If I had only been stronger for the next few hours and more confident in myself. It wouldn't have happened.
I am getting ahead of myself.
Once, as a kid, I found this enormous praying mantis. I was repelled and fascinated at the same time. I was a cowardly litle kid and afraid of bugs and snakes and worms. But there is something so unworldly about a mantis, and I've never seen one so fat before. In my mind I can still see the mantis's abdomen expanding and contracting. This revolting memory comes to me now as I think of the rudeness of that acne-scarred child whose ability to interact with the world was limitted by the speed of his thumbs. We shared a universal contempt made tolerable only by isolation. But isolation was itself intolerable. I can not deal with another person. It is too much like looking myself in the mirror. I don't want that. Adam and Eve were naked before the fall and ashamed and clothed afterward. I must put on a character in a fantasy game. Only then am I free.
I have heard that love pierces to the heart. There is a dream of love out there for everyone, no doubt, but its a dream built on a false idea. The love I want is a kind of passion that excuses reason. I want a love, like the poets talk about. I want a passionate love like a worm that will burrow its way through my skin and into my heart and kill me, so I don't actually have to love. Even if that love we all wait for exists we are all too bent on self-preservation to ever allow such a parasite to conquer us. I told Father Kindly all these horrific thoughts of mind, and he preached something different. If what he preached was love - like he said it was - then I knew nothing of it then, and I only have a faint glimmer of it now.
I returned to my apartment. Into the living area, a room dominated by the plasma TV, and through to the small kitchen. I opened the apartment size refridgerator and took out an Amsel Light, went back through the living area, flipping on the tv, and then into the small study. I sat down in front of the screen. I Read news on news sites and sports on sports sites and I drank.
There was a knock on the door.
This stunned me. People did not visit me. Once, the lady next door asked me to feed her cat while she was away. She said I looked honest and she could always spot honest people. She died and some Chinese couple had moved in. They hardly spoke english. I would nod if I passed them in the hall. Ocassionaly they screamed at each other and I could hear them through the wall in the study. I almost never saw the man across the hall who worked a night shift and went up state on the weekends. There was a tenants association but they had given up on asking me to do anything a long time ago. No children allowed here. No solicitors. For me, no visitors.
I went to the door and peered through the spy hole. There was a man outside who I did not recognize.
New Yorkers are a wary and suspicious race. We pride ourselves on the fact that we are not fools, but we also don't like to appear lacking in self assurance. I could have ignored him, but that would have been timid. I could have opened the door part way with the chain still fastened and asked him what he wanted. But as we know, a good swift to the door and the chain is broken. There really was no particular fear. It was only eight o'clock or so and the building was secure with cameras in every hall. So I opened the door, intending to face the newcomer head on. He had stepped into my apartment before I had a chance to step out of the way.
"Good evening, Mr. MacLeinn." He said as he brushed by me. "Close the door if you don't mind."
Strangely enough that's exactly what I did. "Who the hell are you?" I said at his back. He had swept right through the living room and into the kitchen and opened my fridge as if he was mimicking my own entrance several hours earlier. He pulled out a jar of mayonaise, a jar of mustard, and a jar of olives. He turned his attention to the pantry and pulled out a jar of peanut butter, took a bowl down from the cabinet and a spoon from the drawer.
"I trust you don't mind. I am in a hurry and if I had to wait for politeness we'd probably not get down to business." He was mixing the contents of all the jars together in the bowl
"What the hell are you doing?"
"I'm about ready to eat something, if you don't mind." He slathered the concoction on a bagel. He was tall, taller than me, at least six four, with curly black hair and a goatee and a very ruddy complexion. He wore a loose long sleeve black shirt with no collar and black pants with a satin band down the side like military dress. He had black laceless shoes which seemed to conform closely to his feet. On his back was a very small pack, almost like a woman's purse, but without accent or trim. A cell phone was strapped to his gray belt.
I pointed at the door. "Get the hell out of here!"
"I'm here," he said with his mouth full, "because you called me. I assume you are interested in an adventure."
"No, I am not. I don't know who the hell you are, but get the hell out now or I am calling the porters to haul you out."
He ripped a large chunk out of the bagel, breathing heavily through his nose. He looked at me for a moment as he chewed and swallowed "Don't be stupid friend, listen to what I have to say. Opportunities like this don't come around very often. Not once in a lifetime, but once in a thousand lifetimes. Its practically unique."
I suddenly had the dreadful thought that this was Satan incarnate, coming here to make a baragain for my soul. And in the light of his meteoric entrance, features, clothing and strange behavior, it seemed the most reasonable explanation.
"Do you know how many people are on this earth?" He asked.
"You know how many people have ever, ever been asked to join the EARA?"
"Fifteen. You'd make sixteen."
"I don't care. I'm not interested. I have a good job."
"If you had a good job you wouldn't have called. I'm betting you have a pretty lame job, friend." He was in my fridge again. "What's with the water-downed beer? You have a girlfriend or something."
"I don't like a lot of alcohol. Look I don't know who you are..."
"I'm Bud Holligan, EARA recruiter and ST Division Head. We have to wear more than one hat sometimes friend." He had one of my beers in his hand. It was already open. "Actually, you might as well know, won't hurt to tell you, I'm recruiting in my spare time. We don't normally recruit here in the States."
"Look, I don't know why I dialed your number, but this is just a misunderstanding. Whatever it is you do, I'm not interested."
He stuffed some more of the bagel in his mouth, then chewed. "Look, I'm not offering you a job."
"Then why are you here?"
"I'm not offering you a job yet. You have to take this personality test first. It's a screening tool really. If you pass it, then we can interview you and I can tell you a little about what we do."
"I'm not interested." I said, but unfortunately, my curiosity was beginning to grow.
"You don't know that yet. Besides, its a lot of fun." He pulled his pack off one shoulder and swung it around to his side. It was like a duffle bag as he just pulled at the opening and reached in. Out came a little device which he folded out into a panel about four inches by six inches. "All it is, I'm just going to ask you a few questions. None of them personal at all. No bank account numbers, social security numbers, Mother's maiden names... Just a few situational problems, I'd like you to answer as best you can. There's no right answer or wrong answer, just answers, and if they match up with our profile, than we'll want to bring you in."
I had the oddest sensation that I was playing AlternateLife. I looked at my computer screen in the study, but it was blank except for the screen saver. I looked at my hands. No keyboard or mouse in sight.
"Shall we begin?"