Chapter 8 of The Empty City

By Andrew Looney

At five minutes after nine, The Four opened the door to the Asylum and walked in. In the kitchen, they found Pauline. She was sitting on a chair in the corner, eating. A cat perched on her shoulders, looking hungrily down at the food being eaten. The cat's name was Krypton, and it was one of six cats that lived at the Asylum. The cats were named for the rare gases; the other five were Argon, Neon, Radon, Xenon, and Helium.

"What are you eating?" said Bert with no small amazement.

"Communion wafers," answered Pauline. "I did this painting for a church down the street, but all they could pay me with was a big box of these things. Said they'd accidentally bought 500 boxes instead of 50."

Peter and Paul had their clipboards out, and they were taking notes. Peter listened intently to the conversation, writing down key things he heard, and Paul was walking all around the kitchen, opening up cupboards and cabinets, and writing down notes about his findings.

Pauline continued talking about the communion wafers. "They're pretty bland," she said, "But they're OK with Cheeze Whiz." She spread Cheeze Whiz onto one of the small, round wafers, and placed a second wafer on top of it, making a little communion-wafer-and-Cheeze-Whiz sandwich. "Want some?"

"Are you kidding?" asked Bert. "Isn't there anything else?"

"No one's filled up the refrigerator in a long time."

"But isn't it sacrilegious to make a meal out of communion wafers?" asked Dave.

"I don't know. Maybe. But I feel really good after eating them. They make me feel pure."

"Shouldn't you be drinking wine with those?"

"Probably, but all we have is Cranberry Juice Cocktail."

No one spoke then for several minutes. They all watched silently as Pauline made and consumed several more communion wafer sandwiches.

"Um, is Bill here?" said Dave.

"No, he's at work."

"How about Jim?"

"Yeah, I think he's upstairs."

They found Jim upstairs. He was sitting on the floor by the telephone. He was startled by The Four, and stood up quickly.

"Oh, hi guys, how's it going?" He seemed nervous, and quickly busied himself with picking up some dirty shirts that were on the floor.

"Hi, Jim." said Dave. "Did those three guys give you a hard time?"

"Um, no, it wasn't too bad." Jim's eyes were bloodshot and his face was dirty. He looked as if he'd been crying.

"What's wrong, Jim?" said Peter.

"Nothing. Look, um, I'll see you guys later, OK?"

"Yeah, all right," said Dave. "Take care of yourself, OK?"

"Sure," said Jim.

The Four went back downstairs, and then outside. "What's with Jim?" muttered Bert as they walked down the street.

Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney.

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