Static Free (unfinished)

Snow, like a barrage of tiny, icy mortar shells, rained down onto the steaming night street. The mixture of the steam and snow glowed like dancing pixies underneath arcing street lamps. There was nothing unusual in this night's storm. It was a standard East Coast January.

Henry Wardson walked on the sidewalk alone. His meticulously-waxed boots crunched on the de-icing salt, which was always liberally applied on city streets. Henry was very conscientious about his boots: every morning, he would fire his wax and then slowly apply it to his twenty-three year old boots while sitting in his suspenders and waiting for his morning coffee to brew. For some reason, the ice on the sidewalks always left a ghost-white residue on his shoes and it never totally came off, no matter how hard he scrubbed. This bothered Henry. But, no matter.

After he waxed his shoes and drank his coffee, he would walk to work. He always walked, no matter the weather (unless, of course, it was ridiculous--which Boston could sometimes be). He had a car, but he never found a reason to use it. On average, he spent ten minutes a week in his car. He would sit inside and let the engine run so that it didn't lose its charge. For those weekly ten minute sits, he would read. He kept a small stash of books in a cardboard box. Whenever he was forced to use his car, he usually sat waiting in it more than driving it (such was the curse of being a nice man who offered to pick people up from the airport), so Henry thought of his car more like his reading den than his vehicle. In plus, the dull sound of the engine idling was comforting to Mr. Wardson. Some people preferred listening to rain or ocean sounds, but Henry preferred the sound of an engine, which was odd, considering he hated driving, mechanics, engineering, and everything related to engines. Something, though, was nice about it.

If Henry was a punctual man, he might hate sitting in a car and reading. However, he was a man who didn't really keep to a schedule, so he never spent too long worrying about whether he was wasting time reading while sitting a car. He was organized to the point where wasting time was a sin, but enjoying the moment was not. He had a certain elasticity in his morals and beliefs, and that helped him when he had to deal with Problems.

Do the right thing, he would say, but only so long as you can do it.

And he knew about Problems. He knew about Problems because he knew about sins. And, he knew about sins because he, Henry Wardson, worked--in his free hours--as a priest. Not the normal type of priest, oh no. He had no church, he didn't preside over weddings, and he didn't lead any congregations. He had a different role, and he wasn't always sure it was the right one, but he wasn't about to quit. His job made him feel okay. Sometimes, he felt closer to God when he did this little farcical priest gig. He wasn't a real priest, he had never even believed in God, in fact--oh, wait, a car just drove by and splashed a wave onto Henry. Henry wiped off his brown coat, sighing hard after he smelled his lapel. Yep, salty dirt, he thought. Gotta love the city.

Henry was carrying a brown paper bag, folded over and hunched in the crook of his elbow. He switched hands to get the bag away from the wet side of his jacket and then put his hands back in his pockets. He shuffled the contents of his pocket around and took a mental inventory. Pack of smokes, Zippo, phone, wallet, and watch. He took the small, brass-covered wind-it-up pocket watch out and checked the time. It was stuck on 12:47 A.M. He hadn't wound it up enough, but, it was probably only about 1:30 anyways, so it didn't matter. Another block, and he turned onto a small walkway. The path went up between two large buildings with ornamental architectural and a Gothic feel. He was technically on university grounds now, but half of the urban areas (outside of the business blocks) was university land. It's hard to escape it sometimes.

At least the university areas were well-lit.

Henry pulled out his cigarette pack and eyed the inside. Just one cigarette. He smiled and put it back. Just one cigarette, good.

Winding through the trim paths, he finally came to a stop in front of an imposing building. It had a large, academic-looking staircase leading up to a pair of grand wooden doors, locked tight for the night. Instead of going up the giant wooden doors, Henry walked to the side of the staircase and went down a small utility door into the basement. It was propped open with a stick of wood in between the door and its frame. He picked the piece of wood out and walked inside, letting the utility door shut behind him.

It was warm inside, so he quickly took off the wet, salty coat and unwrapped his scarf. There was a desk waiting near the door, obviously placed out in the open in anticipation for Henry. He put the soggy piece of wood on the desk without thinking too much about it. Next, he set his brown paper bag down and looked inside. Yep, he thought, they're still good. It'd be a waste if they were spoiled.

He was in a long white hall of a campus academic building. The ceiling was curved and the walls were flat and long. The walls were riddled with fliers and numbered brass plates that matched the tarnished brass door knobs (which jiggled just a bit too much when turned, but they fit the style of the rest of the building). The style of the building, to be overly symbolic, could be summed up by the glass on the doors leading into classrooms and offices: rippled glass. You know...the type of rippled glass that's on a private eye's door or on a doctor's personal office. Very 1940's.

In the night, these university buildings felt cold and dead. They were eerily quiet. Lights outside shone in on the dark corridors and the embossed names on doors caught like like tombstones. Rooms that were used to being filled with the sounds of philosophical discussion were dead and silent. Washed chalk boards that usually showed off fantastic algorithms or matrices were empty and clean, waiting to be vandalized with mathematics anew. Henry didn't want to stay long in this part of the building; it was just too creepy for him, like a picnic on an old battlefield, eating a sandwich where some man bled out from the gut.

While the white-stone staircase and wrought-iron railing led up to three more stories of long white halls and confetti-colored cork boards, Henry instead turned and went down a set of exit stairs. He moved down the narrow exit staircase where each step boomed in the empty building. He was heading down to the sub-basement.

Down in the sub-basement was where the sewage valves, fuse boxes, water heaters, and stuff-like-that resided. The ceiling was open with mazes of plumbing and wires running up into the walls. The floor was a blank concrete stained with all manners of black, oily freckles. The sound of some far off machine rattled rhythmically and everything was either metal or stone.

Henry neared the bottom and he saw the red light bulb hanging over the sub-basement door. It was shining bright. He came to the door, pressed the buzzer, and then waited for the lock to disengage. A rattling bzzzzt confirmed the door was open. As soon as the door cracked open, the sound of a strong, passionate voice resonated through the stairwell.

"That--that---that's, that can't--thatthathat's wrong, man. Just wrong. A zillion times wrong. Wrong as wrong gets and wrong can be. Just wrong, man. Wrong." Henry walked in and shut the door behind him. In front of him was a glass-paned sound room, only accessible from another corridor unseen. Behind the glass, a bearded, heavy-set man sat with his face buried into the foam of a craned, multi-arm microphone, hunched over a Lite-Brite-looking soundboard littered with dials, knobs, levels, and Post-It notes. To Henry's left was the CD stacks room and his right, the vinyl stacks room. They weren't just "rooms", no, they were more like libraries with dozens of metal bookshelves chocked so full that the shelves bent scarily inward and the aisles were hardly two feet apart. You could be suffocated and die under an avalanche of music if you accidentally knocked one of the towers over.

"You're willing to get here, on the air, in front of the entire nation and say sh--stuff like that? Say some government-brainwash stuff, feeding the monster, perpetuating the system, breeding the cycle? No, no, no, nonononono, you're wrong, man, I'm seeing the light, I know how it is out there, I spent seven years of my life on a nuclear sub in the middle of the Cold War doing things that never happened, okay? And I know what I saw out there and I know what it's like and you don't."

Henry walked to the glass and tapped it. The man looked up from his waffle mic. Henry held up the bag. The man's smile broke from beneath his explosive beard and he fiendishly smiled and nodded his head in a motion that could mean nothing other than "get your ass in here, you beautiful bastard". Then, instantly, he shot right back into his furious argument into the microphone.

"Good bye, good bye, sir, have a pleasant weekend, bye bye. You're wrong man, good bye. This is Conrad Blue, on the air for Air Freedom of America, or, as the wolves in the night like to say..." Conrad Blue hit his sound board and a raucous wolf call shot out, "ARF ARF ARF AROOOO!" and he howled along with the soundbite. "Keeping you awake and burning with talk and gossip about the state of our union when no one else but the true patriots are listening. We're gonna take a quick break to give you a word from our sponsors who are, lemme see, today our sponsors are," a quick pause as he shuffled through papers, "mayonnaise. Okay, yes, we are being funded by ...Treemount Farms Mayonnaise tonight. Yum yum." He paused and sighed. "Yes, that's right, we're brought to you tonight by Treemount Farm Mayonnaise. Yes, mayo. Aaaaand, here are some commercials."

Conrad Blue thumbed the commercial button and threw his over-sized headphones onto the sound board and popped out of his swivel chair to open the door to the sound room just as Henry was raising his hand to turn the knob.

"Henry," he said with a mock seriousness.

"Walt," Henry said back with a stern brow and a curt nod. They both grunted at each other like cave men, then Walt reached up and bashed his closed hand on Henry's shoulder. Henry wolloped his hand on Walt's shoulder right back. They both nodded and grunted again. Then Walt hit on Henry's shoulder. And Henry on Walt's. They did this back and forth like two monkeys bashing each other until they both broke into smiles and fell into the sound room calling each other a litany of mother-fuckers and sons-of-bitches.

Walt, or Conrad Blue as the listeners knew him, assumed his chair again and Henry sat on a chair in the corner on the opposite side of the soundboard. Walt swung a mic around to him and Henry plopped the bag on the soundboard.

"Not glazed, please, not glazed," Walt pleaded.

"Boston creme."

"Any jelly?"

"There was one, but I threw it out, I know how you hated those."

"Asshole," Walt said with a smile, grabbing out a donut and leaning back in his chair.


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