RATS Excerpt #1

He woke without a sound, his bones knowing it was time. Both eyes scraped open, followed a crack across gray ceiling, seeing a lonely road through wilderness. His bare back registered a rumpled sheet below the left shoulder blade. Gold light glowed behind a green curtain; darkness was finally arriving in Alaska.

He had been awake less than ten seconds when his mind began projecting images of roadway slipping under a motorcycle wheel. Like an athlete visualizing ideal form he saw gravel for eight kilometers, asphalt for the next fifteen, mud for three…on and on south to the river. The road held many ways to fail.

He rolled and stood. Walked barefoot to the window anticipating what blogs would call Black Monday. He pushed the curtain aside with two fingers. Dusk lolled opposite the streaked pane. Clear air, black sapphire sky, road disappearing into land pockmarked with hundreds of small lakes as if a typhoon had followed a B-52 bombing run. Not frozen in July. Nothing moved. He heard only his own breathing.

He turned, passing his eyes swiftly over oil lamp, bed, clumps of mud. They came to rest on a large motorcycle standing in the room, its curvaceous blackness shimmering in the fading light of the Alaskan summer. A huge piston protruded from each side. He liked it near him in the one-room cabin, and away from prying eyes that might want to know what was in the bags.

He wished for more darkness.

He crossed the room to the bike, scanning for the unusual: a spider in hiding, a rat chewed hose. He knelt. Pressure in the big-knobbed race tires was correct. He flipped up the side case lids and counted the payload: two rows of ten on each side. The parts had arrived on schedule through seven separate channels. He had worried about the CH-4B, a controlled substance that might be traced. But a seal fisherman with an ocean kayak and an old woman on a bicycle had traversed the last crucial miles at modest cost.

He touched an upturned rod. Its yellow LED gleamed. He tapped thirty-nine more, covered and locked the right case.

His chronometer chirped. Colored crystal showed 12:07 am—sunset at 70 degrees North latitude. He imagined the Arctic Circle running beneath his bare toes. Poetic license, he was too far north, wouldn’t cross the Circle for hours.

He stepped past the bathroom door to stand over rust-streaked porcelain. His eyes roamed the tiny room for links to the name he had registered: Arthur Tresuniak. He turned to the sink, leaned forward and tossed icy water from the faucet onto his face. As he rose, a mirror that had been punched into a hundred fragments reflected nothing recognizable. He searched for his deep gray eyes—like your father’s his mother had said. In the reflected chaos her features mixed with his despite a three-day growth on wind-buffed skin. He thought of the scientist who suggested the Mona Lisa was a Da Vinci self-portrait: Leonardo in drag.

He studied the reflected expression. Oddly quiet, as if she knew there was work that needed to be done, but wished he wouldn’t do it. He reached across his body and outlined a tattoo with two fingers.

“Don’t delay,” he said to no one.

He reached for the cell phone lying beside a used bar of tan soap. When his fingers touched the anodized case his body tensed. He squeezed his eyes shut as his mind saw a bright white flash, felt her soft hand releasing his as they were thrown sideways. Weight on his back like a bag of sand. Falling sleet crackling to the ground. Time passing as he breathed hot air that smelled of earth.

He forced his eyes open and saw her in the mirror. He lowered his face. His hands were gripping the sides of the small pink sink, knuckles ice white, phone on the floor. With effort he unclenched his fingers, bent over, picked up the phone and touched the screen.

It rang once.