Miracle Worker

by Joshua Allen

A black Honda Civic missing one of its hubcaps turned down the street that split two parking lots. Following the snow-covered arrows, the car navigated the empty lot. The Honda stopped with a jolt next to a glossier, newer black car with mag wheels. The car was a Toyota Camry. It belonged to Carol. The door opened. A man stepped out. His name was Andy Drake and today was his twenty-eighth birthday. Had someone asked him what he wanted for his birthday, he would have responded that he wanted his brother to stay dead forever. There likely would have been no followup question. Andy peeked in the back of the Camry. A gym back lounged on the back seat of the Camry. The Nike swoosh was partially hidden by the

folds in the bag, which slumped in a utilitarian pose in the back. The bag was used often and tossed without second thoughts. Carol worked out every day after work. She did this at a gym she hated the other gym was too far away. Carol had leased her Toyota Camry because she had leased a Toyota before and had a good experience. Carol owned a house and shared it with her husband. Carol lived in Josselet because it was halfway in between Haskell and Weinert. Carol lived in Iowa before Illinois. Carol had no children, nor did she want them. Carol enjoyed drinking on the weekends. She was a beer drinker. She could extol the advantages of both a heady import and a comforting domestic lager. She avoided hard alcohol except on special occasions. She enjoyed sweet red wine with Italian food. Andy did not actively accumulate the details of Carol's life. Andy remembered things well and always had. Carol was married. Andy couldn't say if she was happy or unhappy in her marriage. It would be rude to ask. Carol waved at Andy through the glass dividing their office from the building atrium. She sucked a lollipop. The lollipop stained her lips red. She returned her gaze to her computer. Even as he passed by, daring himself to attempt eye contact, she didn't look up. Andy closed his private office door. He breathed. "Andy my man," Travis said. Andy looked up from his miracle station. It lay inert before him. "I need a little miracle from you. I need a cross section of this bridge." He showed Andy the spec sheet. "Something similar is fine, but I need it to have these cross beams. Do you see?"

Andy saw. Andy's talent was seeing. Travis waited. Andy stared at the inert objects in front of him. He looked at Travis. "Actually, can you give me a few minutes. I just got in," Andy said. "The sooner the better on this. The Cincinnati project is going slow. Very slow. Our guys at CityBuild are starting to get nervous." "Half an hour, tops," Andy said. Travis left his office. As soon as he was gone, Andy assembled the objects into a Form. He brought his hands together in front and spread them. The world opened a little and he was looking into Next World. He launched several search gnomes, which he visualized as small blue points of light that disappeared into Next World and showed him where to go to find what he needed. A gnome reappeared and turned in circles, indicating a match. Andy followed it, retracing the entire path it had taken in an instant, which used to be the most disconcerting thing about the operation, but Andy had gotten used to it over the years. Andy entered an office and parted the door. He found himself staring at a bank of file cabinets. So long as none of them were an impenetrable material, he should be fine. Andy parted and entered the cabinet that the gnome was indicating. It parted for him. He hadn't really been expecting resistance, but it happened sometimes. Sometimes even a thin piece of steel had confounded him for hours on end. Inside, Andy quickly found

the document he needed. Andy squinted and examined the plans. They were perfect plans, written by some anonymous stranger in Next World. These were better than okay, actually. These were the specific plans for the actual bridge in Cincinnati, if the writing in the key was to be believed. Andy shrugged. Sometimes he got lucky. He dug his camera out of the desk drawer and snapped a few digital pictures. He smiled. The real miracle was this little camera. Andy put the camera down and listened for Travis's voice ringing through the office. Travis was not a quiet man. He bellowed and spoke so that the entire office could hear, even when he was talking about sensitive projects or telling personal stories. The fact that he was quiet most likely meant he was on the phone. Andy shifted perspective inside the tear in the world. He scrolled over and pulled back. He pushed in again and found Carol. He watched her. This wasn't the real Carol. She was a part of the real Carol, he supposed, on some philosophical level. The parts of us that exist in the Next World make up the whole of who we are, Andy had always been taught. But this was not the Carol he knew, who was married and played the role of secretary just outside his office. This was the Carol from the Next World. The Next World was where Andy got all his information. For instance, his digital camera was the result of a miracle worker taking it from the Next World. Some clever engineers had been able to reproduce it, with the help of a few dozen lookers. Even still, it was

a miraculous little device. A few cleverly controlled electrons made it work. Andy was a looker, though he had never done anything quite as impressive as the digital camera. He was, despite his family legacy, inept, or at least unaccomplished, as a miracle worker. At least, that's what Brando had always said about him. Brando was his older brother. Andy rarely thought about him since he'd been executed years ago for working illegal miracles. Brando had always held his power over Andy's head. Andy never measured up. The truth was that Andy didn't care about measuring up. Sure, he had acted out of jealousy or the feeling of belittlement on ocassion back when Brando was alive. However, Andy had no real aspirations to do anything but look. Andy liked to look. If he had never developed skills in taking and molding, it was because he had no interest in shaping the Next World. The Next World was perfect. In the Next World, Andy was a writer, a famous storyteller. In the Next World, Andy's brother Brando was a criminal, but a relatively minor one, who got high on illegal drugs and ate too much, but never hurt anyone. In the Next World, Andy was married to Carol, and she loved him. Right now, Next World Carol laughed. She was overweight. They did not have children that Andy had seen as of yet, but she looked matronly. She and Next World Andy were eating and celebrating Andy's birthday, and Carol had a special surprise for him, dinner out, and then more, he hoped. He hoped Carol make love to Next World Andy later. Andy thought about what he and Carol did as making love. He had only seen it once so far. It had been a beautiful act. Andy wondered how Andy and Carol had met.

"Andy, did Travis talk to you already?" Carol asked. Andy let the open view into Next World snap closed, even though what he was seeing was not visible from Carol's side of his desk, and not to Carol at all, who had been told her whole life that she had no aptitude for miracles. If she had seen, she would have chided that looking was not for such purposes. Miracle workers were not to look at people, let alone themselves. They were to focus only on objects and inanimates. Andy knew this. What he didn't know was how closely he was monitored by the Miracle Worker's Association, but he guessed not much. Some said the MWA monitored everything all the time, but Andy had never received a sanction for what he was doing. After all, he was only a looker. He was nobody. He had pushed the envelope more and more over the years, until he finally decided the MWA did not really have the resources or concern to bother with him. Just recently, he had let himself simply be free and look at what he damned well pleased. "I did, yes, Carol," Andy said, realizing he hadn't yet answered her question. "I was busy with it now, actually." Carol was wearing her business suit. Today was not any special day, but Carol's outfit was. Andy wanted her to wear the suit every day. It had a feminine cut. Her hips swelled out to both sides. Her breasts were defined by two rigid seams on the sides. Her bare arms were cream colored and smooth. She leaned onto his desk, peering around the Form. "I wish I could see," she said. Her cheek was close to his. The way she bent over, he could see the clingy curve of her slacks and the luscious

mound of ass that swelled out from under the suit coat. "Sometimes I see the shapes on the dimension-vision, you know? The DV announcer says that even a small amount of aptitude can be developed." Andy backed up. "There really is nothing to see, just a bunch of dumb specs and plans." "Can you feel God when you look into that?" she asked. "Can you feel his almighty presence touching you every time." Andy shrugged. "Sometimes," he lied. "Amazing. My minister thinks I should try to take some classes at the university," she said. She waved her hands. "Sorry, as long as you got Travis's message. That was all I had." "Received," Andy replied. She left, and he was able to move back to his desk. He listened for the clicking of Carol's mouse as she resumed her activities on the computer. Andy exhaled and reopened the tear. But Andy and Carol were gone now. They had finished their meal. Time worked funny in Next World. It was dark already in Next World. Sometimes Andy found a moment in Next World he could stare at for hours and never get tired of the seeing, but the moment sped past. Sometimes moments never seemed to end, no matter how mundane and boring they were. One night he watched Andy and Carol sleep--just sleep for sixteen hours by his clock. They woke up at their and his dawn, but he had been watching them since the afternoon before. Next World Andy and Carol had gotten up, dressed and gone to work without so much as a kiss before leaving.

Andy scanned for them, but he couldn't find them. They weren't home. He sighed and printed out the documents he had photographed for Travis to use. The specs would be used to build a bridge in Cincinnati, which was being reproduced to exacting specifications in Chicago's South Side for the Games. Andy didn't much like the Games. Too religious. Brando had been religious. He had told Andy once that the things he did, the sacrifices he called them, were for some higher purpose, for a god. The god's name was Sebek and took the form of a crocodile, sometimes, Brando had said. Brando told Andy that real miracles required sacrifice. Andy hadn't liked to hear such talk. It made all the rumors around his brother seem less like vicious talk and more like cold, hard reality. Andy wanted a reason to defend his brother during the trial, but Brando did not give him one. Not long after his talk about sacrifices, Brando had been fed to the crocodile in its tank on national DV. The croc was the same Brando had used to kill others. This was the punishment the victims' families had decided by vote. Andy had forced himself to watch. This is what happens to rogue miracle workers, he'd thought. This is what happens when you go too far. "Would you like lunch later?" Carol asked from his doorway. Andy jumped. Carol apologized for startling him. Her suit coat was opened a little. Andy could see the swell of her left breast, and just a hint of a lacy to of a bra. "Didn't mean to interrupt your work," she said.

"What, like a date?" Carol didn't laugh. Silence filled the space between them. "We're ordering Mexican, El Riable. Delivery," she said. "I brought a sandwich." Andy pointed at his lunch bag. "Whatever," Carol said. Then, she was gone, leaving a trace of her perfume: Essence. Andy remembered her business suit. Andy remembered the lace covering the top of her breast. Andy inhaled the last of her lingering scent, before it diffused away. He returned his attention to the Form. He couldn't use the gnomes for this. That would draw attention to him. He looked around manually, but had no luck. Well, he knew where Next World Brando was, at least. He scrolled to the prison. Next World Brando was still alive, but had been in prison for a long time because of his accumulation of several smaller crimes. He spent days and night writing stories. He read a lot too, even some books by Next World Andy. Secretly, Andy thought, Next World Brando envied Next World Andy. He wanted to be like Next World Andy, Andy believed. He looked up to his younger brother. He revered him. Andy smiled to see Brando toiling away. He could hear the Brando's pencil scratching on the paper resting on the desk built into the prison cell wall. Brando wrote on a blotter because prisoners had carved various runes and gang logos into the desk surface over the years, until every square inch of it was grooved. Andy zoomed into look at the latest of Brando's stories, but before he could Brando turned the pages over. He said something Andy

could not make out, then put the pages away in a box and started on some different pages, writing a new story about a dragon named Toth who burned the valley of love with his fire breath. Andy wanted to know what was inside the box. He spread the material of the box, but it was impenetrable. Andy tried other angles, but with no success. He sat up. It looked like aluminum. It might have a lead core. Lead was known to have a high instance of impenetrability. Andy doubted Brando would have access or need for a lead box. More likely, this was just one of those rare cases of especially stubborn steel or aluminum. Andy could get in; he just needed some time. "I'll see you tomorrow, Andy." Carol said from his doorway. Andy jolted out of Next World. He blinked. His eyes adjusted to the reality of fluorescent lights over him. Outside, night had fallen while he was buried in Next World. He looked at his clock and saw it was after five. The office was empty. Sometimes time was funny in the real world. When he looked back up at his door, Carol was gone. "Would you like to get a drink?" Andy asked. He stood and hurried toward the entrance, meaning to catch up with Carol. He nearly collided with her. She was standing near his door. Her coat covered her suit. Her blond hair was tied in a pony tail. She looked up at him, a funny grin on her face. Andy opened his mouth to tell her he was joking. "You seem kind of down today," she said. Her grin melted into concern. The look made Andy forget Next World completely. "It's my birthday," he said.

"Are you kidding?" Andy shook his head. Andy smiled. He was embarrassed to tell her this. It felt to him like he was asking for something. "Well, then you have to get the special Carol birthday treatment," she said. Carol turned away, thankfully. She couldn't see his blush. "Grab your coat. I'll drive," she said. Andy breathed the new car smell of Carol's new Camry. He stole a whiff of her hair as she reached in back to stow her purse. Carol was married to a lawyer. Law was one of the few disciplines that did not rely on looking or any miracles at all. It was pure, some said. Andy found it incredibly dull. Once, he had read a book of law, to try to see what Carol might have seen in her husband. It had put him to sleep several nights in a row before he gave up on it. Andy had met Carol's husband once, at an office Christmas party, though usually she came alone to such things. He seemed to Andy to be an alcoholic and a blowhard very much impressed with his station. He treated Carol like a trophy wife, a fucktoy, and nothing more. With a sinking feeling, it hit Andy that Carol might just enjoy the money and what it brought, like new cars, and nice suits that you could wear even when there was no good reason to. She might enjoy being treated like her husbands own personal penis sheath. He really had no idea. In Next World, Andy and Carol had little. They lived in an apartment. They didn't buy a lot of new cars or have a lot of things, except books. They had shelves and shelves of books. Andy liked to

think this was because Andy and Carol were special, but it was entirely possible that in Next World, people generally didn't buy as much as they did here. He knew there were more people in Next World. Everyone had a corresponding person in Next World, but it was not a one-to-one correspondence. Many, many people in Next World had no real world counterpart. With all those people, it was easy to believe that there simply weren't enough nice new cars to go around. However, whether by choice or circumstance, Andy and Carol seemed happy. Carol took a back road Andy didn't know. The university and the town whizzed by the window. Carol drove fast. She was reckless with lights and traffic signs. She drove like someone who didn't care if she lost control and smashed into a wall. Andy wondered what Carol would tell her husband. He didn't know their relationship, and he suspected that since Carol's husband was a lawyer, that there would be nothing to say because he would be working late. Carol's husband may have cheated on her, and she therefore never told him what she was doing or why she was late. She may have even taken Andy up on his offer as some kind of revenge. More likely, she would just lie. She would tell her husband she was at the gym. She would tell him the treadmills were full and that she had to wait for one. Andy rolled his window down a crack. His neck felt hot. "Working for Trav really drives me nuts," Carol said. She complained about Travis Kreskie's negativity, and his tendency to blame everyone else in the world for every single problem he encountered. She complained that she thought Travis was not very

spiritual, that he treated miracles in general and Andy in particular like nothing special. She complained that the others never stood up to Travis. She admitted that she never did either. Andy relaxed. He was a sounding board, not a man. Being a sounding board was easy. He relaxed. His neck returned to normal temperature. "So how old are you, today?" "The big three-oh," Andy said. "Shut up. How come you didn't tell anyone?" Andy shrugged. "I don't know. It's not really a big deal, you know? Thirty these days is nothing." "I guess so, old man," she said. "Do you have any family to visit later?" "No, my parents are dead. My brother too." "You're lucky," she said. He laughed. "Don't worry, you'll get the full Carol treatment tonight. Open up the console." Andy opened the console. "You're looking for the little tin box and the lighter." He brought both out. At the next red light, she tapped the box. She checked for other cars, but besides a few people walking away, toward the university, the streets were empty. Andy knew of traffic jams. He had looked at them because they were trying to recreate one for their Cincinnati exhibit in Chicago, and he needed to help them recreate a typical day of traffic in Next

World, but he couldn't believe them. They were like abstract art, just shape and color. The tin box opened. It contained five joints. Carol cocked her eyebrows up and down twice, then took a joint. She accepted the light Andy offered and sucked until the end glowed bright orange. She passed it to Andy. Andy had never smoked pot before. Brand, both the real and Next World ones, smoked pot and look where it had gotten them: ripped apart by a wild animal and in jail, respectively. However, Andy knew the basics as anyone who had ever seen the act depicted in film did. He inhaled the smoke. He held it as long as he could. Carol covered his hand with hers. "Hold it. One second longer." He did as she instructed. He exhaled. "Holy shit. Mind blowing, right?" she asked. He admitted that the words seemed apt. He felt light. He opened his eyes. They seemed to go extra wide, opening almost to their limits. "When I first started at Soilworks," Carol said, "Travis demanded I smoke a joint with him out back. He said he made all the employees do it." "That never came up with me." She smoked the joint. "I figured he was trying to get into my pants." She winked. "I did it." "You mean smoked with him, or let him into your pants?" "Wouldn't you like to know," she said.

She crossed the intersection when the light turned green. Downtown was comprised mainly of a few stores and about three bars. Andy had seen them all in passing, but had never been in one. Brando, both real Brando and Next World Brando, liked to spend time in bars. Both Brandos liked to have sex with random women. Both preferred the underage variety. "So I've been wanting to ask you about the miracle thing. I just think it is the coolest thing ever." "Shoot," Andy said. "I feel stupid asking this, but are you actually touching the Almighty?" "I don't really like to talk about the god part. I think it's something each individual miracle worker has to decide for him or herself," Andy said. He quickly filled the silence with, "I write poetry too." "Really?" She asked as she passed him the joint. "Anything good?" Andy noticed they were going around the block. He decided it was so they could finish the joint. "A few have been published, but there's no money in it." "Congratulations. That's amazing. A miracle worker and a writer. What do you write about?" Andy struggled to recall a few of Next World Andy's poems. "I write about nature and art: birds, architecture, wolves and crocodiles." "Nothing about people? My favorite poems are about people."

"No," Andy said. "I don't really know people." He didn't know if this was of Next World Andy or not. He suspected it was. Isn't that what they said, that the core personalities of your Next World self was the same as the real you? Not that anyone knew for sure. You weren't supposed to look at people. It was all academic. "Travis got a speeding ticket yesterday!" Carol said. Her voice became exuberant. She put her hand on Andy's for the second time. He decided the gesture was innocent. "He got back from his direct-meeting with CityBuild and his face was beet red. He started ranting and bitching. Talking about the cops had a speed trap set up, and they always come after him even though he is a good citizen. It was highlarious." On that note, Carol took the last drag off her joint and pitched it out the window. Her hand was no longer touching his. "He's kind of an idiot," Andy said. "I'm sorry, I didn't want to just talk about work, you know." "We're just blowing off steam," Andy said. "That's all." "That's all?" she asked. Carol parked her car near the bars. Two or three other cars stood on the sides of the street. A couple dozen more people had car-pooled or walked in. It was unusual to see downtown this busy. "Come on," Carol said, "Let's walk to Remus from here. I love walking in the cold when I'm fucked up. Have you been to Remus yet?" "Wherever you like is fine," Andy said.

Andy slipped his gloves on. His door swung open. Carol leaned in. "Are you going to stay in there?" she asked. "Because the red-hot blond requests the pleasure of your company." Andy noticed she wasn't wearing gloves. He offered her his, but she turned him down. "I'll just stick my hands in your pockets." On the curb before they crossed the street, she hugged his arm, burying her hands between his arm and his side, hunching over so that she was more level with him. She leaned in close. He could smell her hair again. He could feel the puffs of air from her mouth against his cheek as she said, "Just one drink, though. And no work talk." Remus was a nice little place. It felt modern to Andy. It looked like the kind of place Next World Andy and Carol might go, where they might laugh. Or would have in their younger days, before the kid. Did they have a kid? Andy liked to think they did. After all, why else would Carol have put on all that weight? The real Carol sat near him and talked just above the volume of the music, which was at just the right volume, the way Andy would have liked, if he'd had his say. He looked at Carol. She had picked this place as though she had looked directly into his mind. "Don't be so quiet." Carol said. "I just don't know what to say." "How do you feel about turning thirty?" she asked. "It's another day." Andy said. "Really, thirty isn't even that old these days, right? I mean my parents were in their forties before I was born." "What were your parents like? Were they miracle workers?"

"Yes, they were. They were quite religious." "Is that how you got into religion? They introduced you to God?" Andy shrugged. "There's that clam snapping shut again," she said. "How about this: you can ask me any question you want to. I'll answer honestly, no matter what it is. Deal?" An arm split the narrow space between them. The waitress took their empty bottles. Carol ordered two fresh drinks, their third each. Andy didn't answer the question. Carol laughed. "No deal? Not many women make that kind of an offer. Hey, you're not still upset about Trav getting all full of himself at that meeting yesterday, are you?" "I'm used to that. I've been working with him forever." "I forgot. I don't know how you stand it. If I didn't want to fuck him so bad, I would have quit years ago." She covered her mouth quickly with both hands. She burst out laughing. "Sorry, have to learn to keep my mouth closed," she said. "No, that's okay. He's an attractive man, I guess." "So are you," she said. He shrugged. "You're not jealous, are you?" Andy's neck was on fire. "We should probably get going," Andy said. "We've already passed the maximum drink level." "And we talked about work," Carol pointed out. "But I started it, and so I will pay the bill."

The waitress set their drinks on the table. Carol winked. She downed her drink. Andy did the same. She paid the tab. Andy didn't object. Carol could afford to pay the tab. Carol's husband was a lawyer. She worked as a secretary to stave off boredom. She worked as a secretary because she wanted to fuck her boss. Maybe she already had. These facts went into the database in Andy's mind. He collected them as he had many others. They were just facts. He was at peace. Carol held onto Andy outside again, warming her hands in the folds of his coat. They walked back to her car. "I'll drive," she said when they got there. Inside, Carol started the car and then shivered. She put her hands under her thighs. "If I don't let it warm up, Bill will chew my ass." "You know what would warm you up? A little." Andy put his pinched fingers to his lips. "You're just trying to get me all hot and bothered, aren't you?" She asked as she pulled out the tin can. "Does pot do that to you?" Andy asked. "Very much so," she said. She looked at the joint she had extracted. "Well, it is your birthday right? Big three-oh. It would be wrong to deny a birthday boy his heart's desire." Carol lit another joint. She sucked end. She giggled as the smoke spilled out. "Oh my God that's good," she said. She passed the joint to Andy. She slapped the steering wheel. Andy put his lips where her lips had been.

"Does that stuff help you feel closer to God or what?" Carol asked. Andy agreed that it certainly did. She touched him on the stomach. He looked at her, then took another hit. He passed her the joint. She leaned in and took it with her lips rather than fingers. Her hand slipped down his stomach when she did this and brushed his crotch. She inhaled. Her eyes rolled back in her head. "God," she said. "Wow." She looked at him. "Being this close to a miracle worker must be what's making the high that much better." Andy shrugged. "I'm nobody, really. I'm a guy who forgot his keys in the office." "No way! Okay, well, I have mine, so I'll let you in to grab them. Your car key or your apartment key too?" "The whole kit and kaboodle," Andy said. He let the words roll of his tongue. They were wet. They were delicious, like raisins in his mouth. Carol said, "You're fucked up. We didn't eve have that much." She laughed. Then, she started her car and drove back to the office. Carol stood near her desk in the darkened office. The atrium outside the glass barricade was lit by two soft lights. The building was otherwise dark. "One sec," Andy said. He started toward his office, but she stopped him before he got more than a few steps. Carol turned him around and kissed him. She was a basketball player in college, All-College Team, but not one of the

huge ones. She was, however, six inches taller than Andy, and had to pull him up and squat slightly to connect the kiss. He kissed. She leaned back against her desk and pulled him. She ripped his shirt out of his waistband and scratched her nails lightly along his flanks. She broke the kiss, but then went back in and licked his lips lightly. "You want to hear something funny?" she asked. Andy stood between her thighs. He tried to catch his breath, but could not. Carol tipped her head back. Her blond hair spilled out and down almost to the desk. The ponytail holder was long gone. Her hair was long and curled just so and perfect. She made a throaty sound that might have been a laugh. "Well, it's not really funny, I guess," she said. She him straight in the eye. "But I was thinking that if you wanted to, I'd let you take me back to your apartment, lay me out on your big bed, peel my clothes off . . ." "Yeah?" "Well, if--and I mean if," she put her finger on his lips, "you treated me just right, I might even let you fuck me." Andy's reaction was to attempt to swallow the bubble in his throat, but it was a stubborn bubble and wouldn't budge. Almost as stubborn as the swelling in his pants, which made any attempt coyness from him laughable. "Go get your keys. Before I change my mind," she said. Andy hurried into his office, doing his best not to run.

He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out his keys. They were in the same place they had been all night. She might even have noticed them when she squeezed him in her thighs. If she had, she chose to ignore it. Or, maybe, she knew why he really wanted to come here. He just needed a peak at Carol and Andy, the Next World ones. Or, thought Andy, maybe they are the real ones. After all, it was the people from his world who peaked in and stole their creations and their ideas. This was not a new theory. It was, in fact one of the first theories that Andy had ever heard on the art of Miracle working that seemed to make sense. Brando had told him the theory, when they were much younger, but he had not conceived it anymore than had Andy. Brando had read it and liked it. Andy knew the truth now, of course. The truth was it did not matter who was Real and who was Next. They were one in the same. That was why he knew looking was not a big deal. Looking into Next World was no different then looking out the window, seeing a happy couple pass by and wishing you were them. Andy pulled up the Next World. He just needed a quick glimpse of Next World Andy and Carol. He needed to see them. He needed to know what Carol liked. This was his once chance to prove himself to her, and Andy was inexperienced in the ways of love. He would fail, and she would wake up disappointed that she had spent even fifteen minutes with him. He had seen some last time, but he needed to see just a little more. He needed one good thing that would make him seem like a mind reader. He did not want to fail.

Andy opened the Form, but it was not focused on Carol and Andy, as he had hoped. It was still focused on the last place he had left it. It was focused on the small desk built into Brando's cell. Andy could not see Brando, but he could see his writing. His blood ran cold. The words were a description of two people named Andy and Carol. It was nothing more than filthy pornography, graphically describing the sex act. The story was not describing the two people making love, either. The prose was all asses and tits and cocks. It was no more than a masturbation aid Brando had written before going to sleep on his bunk. Andy raised his hands to zoom out when he heard a voice. "Andy." Andy nearly jumped. He looked up, but the doorway was clear. He could hear Carol shuffling around. He knew the window was starting to close for him. He scrolled over. Brando was sitting in his bunk, staring right at him. "Andy. I thought I could smell you." Brando smiled. His teeth were not regular teeth, but smaller and sharper. They are like crocodile teeth, Andy thought, but he couldn't look away. "I wanted to get your attention, Andy. I wanted to tell you what I discovered, in the belly of Sebek." Sebek was the name Brando had given to his crocodile. Andy had learned this detail from the news outlets along with everyone else. It had been big news. The DV newspeople had also told the world that Sebek was a god in Next World, in a place called Africa. Rumor was

that they had other continents in Next World. Some claimed to have seen them, these continents, these cities. Andy had never much cared for such things. "I wrote it down, but I wanted you to wait to see it until after it was done. You can read it now if you want." Brando held up the box that contained the pages he had been trying to read earlier. "You'll like it Andy." Brando opened the box and showed Andy the pages. Andy glanced up at his doorway. He looked through the Form. he zoomed in. The first sentence read: "This document contains instructions on how to come to Next World." "Think about it Andy. You can fuck Carol whenever you want. It doesn't just have to be one night." "You aren't Next World Brando," Andy said. "That's all bullshit, anyway. I tried to tell you that," Brando said. "You wanted to be eaten?" Andy asked, but it wasn't really a question. "Of course. It's the only way, brother. Too bad for me Next World Brando was such a fuckup right? I needed more time to get him out. But now I'm stuck. But you have the perfect life. You could help me." "I have to go." "Go and do what? Screw her one time? Get a glimpse of what your life could be? Come hard two seconds after you start? Or you can read

what I've written. You can become Next World Andy. You can have it all, brother." Andy closed the Form. Carol was standing at his doorway. "Working?" She asked. She looked amused. "I needed to check something. Time works funny in Next World, sometimes. I wasn't sure I'd get another chance." She came around the desk and stuck her lip out. "You closed it. Someday you have to show me how to do that. I would love to be able to have that, like, direct communication to God." Andy stood up. He kissed Carol. She eased into it, slowly letting him take control. "You want to know something?" he asked. She nodded. "There is no God. What I do isn't that hard. I bet anyone could learn it. I bet you could learn it. I bet you could do anything in the Next World that I can." "You're a rebel, then, I guess? You don't need rules?" The wheels turned in his mind. He tried to imagine what Brando was offering. He tried not to remember Brando's row of razor sharp teeth. "What would I have to do for the privilege of learning this guarded secret?" she asked, pointing her finger at his chest. "Well, I could tell you, but it would be easier to show you." "Back in your apartment?"

That's right, Andy heard a voice say. It was coming from his Form, even though he had shut the Form down. "That's right," Andy said. "Got your keys?" Right here. "Right here." He showed them to her. She led him out the door, and held his hand as he led her to his own car, where he would drive. Drive, Andy, the voice told him. He should not still be able to hear it, and yet he could. Drive her home. Let me show the both of you what the Next World really is. Andy drove. Carol touched him as he went. Let her. Reassure her. Whatever you do next, Andy, you better not let her escape. Andy smiled at Carol. He wouldn't.

THE END

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