Sarah Anne Steckel: A Vintage Affair

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A Vintage Affair

By Sarah Anne Steckel

Newo had fallen asleep in Vortex’s arms as he walked the long city blocks to the motel they were staying at. Clutching her body tightly to his chest with one arm, he used his free hand to search for the keys in his pocket and unlocked the door. Gracefully he carried her over the threshold and placed her gently on the bed, but when he turned around to close the door, he found an unwanted bystander in the door frame.

Vortex sighed loudly, and unknowingly to the other person, rolled his solid black eyes. “Oh, of course. You always show up when it’s the most inconvenient, don’t you?”

“It’s only inconvenient for you,” Calamity snorted as he laughed, and walked into the center of the ratty motel room. He glanced over at the sleeping Newo, pulled his flask out of his pocket and shook hits contents gently, then shot Vortex a conniving grin. “She’s always safe and secure with big brother Vortex around, hm?”

“Definitely not her brother,” Vortex quipped as he closed the door. He watched Calamity carefully, as a frown formed on his face. “But I’m yours.”

Calamity smiled, and silently opened his flask and took a large gulp. As he put it back in whatever pocket it had come from, his smile managed to grow even larger. “Sure are, brother.”

An uncomfortable silence filled the room. Calamity’s gaze was glued to Newo, and Vortex couldn’t help but stare at him as he stared at Newo. He watched as Calamity idly began to drum his fingers against his thigh, and as soon as he began to bounce one of his legs, Vortex sighed loudly and groaned. “Why do you still do this?”

“It’s my mission,” Calamity promptly replied, as if he knew Vortex was going to ask it. “I have to complete it to please the Elders.”

“Do you really think they’re still up there, Cal?”

“Why wouldn’t they be? They created us, sent us down here to do a job, why wouldn’t they want us back?”

Vortex raised his left hand up and pinched the space between his browline with his thumb and index finger. He withheld a sigh that he wanted to express, and wound up shaking his head from side to side instead. “I don’t think you’ve realized how long it’s been since you last made contact, why would they wait around for you this long? They didn’t wait this long to send me, or you! I think once you went AWOL, they would have sent a fourth! They’ve given up… You need to take the hint and give your mission up. You won’t get to her — it’ll never happen as long as I’m around.”

Calamity raised his gaze to the sleeping Newo and clenched his jaw tightly as he said through gritted teeth, “Of course, always safe with big brother Vortex…”

The stone that struck Newo’s windowpane was barely audible, even in the still of night, and failed to rouse her from her light slumber. The second and third strikes were much louder and caused her to stir from her bed and stumble over to her window and open it. Down on the ground below stood a tall man wearing a dark cloak and a wide-brimmed hat. With swiftness, he lifted up a jug that was hidden at his side and shook the contents inside and whispered loudly, “Newo, I stole this jug of bourbon! Sneak outta the house and come drink it with me!”

“It’s best that I don’t, my husband—”

“It’s Vortex!” Calamity hissed loudly. “Don’t give me that bullocks, Newo! Come on!”

She glanced over her shoulder to catch a glance of the sleeping Vortex; his feet were sticking partially off the bed due to his long frame. Closing the window she spun around and placed a soft kiss on his forehead before exiting the room. Grabbing a cloak, she quietly opened the front door and silently slipped from the house. She turned to face Calamity and excitedly giggled at him before she wrapped her arm around his elbow and took off alongside of him in a brisk walk.

“Where are we going?”

“This abandoned house I found,” Calamity replied. He drew the arm that Newo was clutching tighter to his body, in turn pulling Newo closer to him. As the trail they were walking on eroded away, he pulled his arm from her grasp and wrapped it around her shoulders nonchalantly. The treeline began to grow denser, and soon enough Newo only saw the moon’s light through the scattered gaps between the jack pines as they continued to walk. Up on the hill in front of them, there was a bright yellow light that seemed to be floating in the sky, a beacon of light that was guiding their way, but as she marched closer she realized that it was only a lantern in the second-story window of a small farmhouse.

“It’s up here.”

“I thought you said that it was abandoned…” Newo motioned to the light.

“I put it there before I came to get you. Don’t wanna be wandering around the woods all night, when we could be up there drinkin’.”

The empty first floor was completely dark, but the light from the lantern on the second floor illuminated the stairway, and with ease, she walked over to them. Following Calamity’s lead, she tip-toed up the stairwell to an open second floor. In the corner of the room, by the window the lantern was perched in, lay a large straw mattress that he flopped onto. As he opened the jug of alcohol, he patted the spot beside him. “Come, sit.”

She glanced around the walls of the empty room, perhaps a bit nervously, before she walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. “I apologize again that I didn’t recognize you at first. It’s strange because I always recognize Vortex…”

Calamity shrugged, took a swig from the jug, then handed it to her. “We hadn’t seen one another in a long time… Since the temple fell, right? You see Vort a lot more, don’t you?”

“Almost every lifetime.” Newo smiled warmly and took a small sip.

“Damn,” Calamity snorted. “And you’re not sick of him yet?” He took the jug back and took a second drink, gulping the bourbon down this time.

“No, I—”

“Tell me,” Calamity interrupted her, ignoring the vague look of annoyance on her face. “Do you remember everything from the last time we saw one another?”

“I…” Newo closed her eyes and tried to dredge the memories up from the bottom of her memory. “You two were in the same army platoon… You were staying at the temple I was at for sanctuary. I saw you both talking to the monks, then Vortex approached me like he always did. And you…”

“I sat and observed, I listened to you two as you caught up, watched as you embraced. I ate alongside you in silence; it was hours before you inquired as to who I was.”

The open bourbon jug was pushed into her side, and this time she was more carefree with the gulps she drank down. Sputtering liquor as she fought back a laugh she ashed, “Calamity… were you jealous?”

“I… I, uh…” His gaze dropped to his lap and he sighed.

His mind wandered to his own memories, the feelings of captive enchantment he felt when he looked upon Newo for the very first time; she was the walking embodiment of the sun, her tawny skin and bright pink hair caused him to feel butterflies flapping around in his stomach. The first time she turned to him and smiled, he recalled a feeling of overwhelming exuberance. Then the oppressive feeling of dread overcame him as he realized that it was his mission to eliminate her. In that very moment, Calamity was dreadfully torn between a growing lust, a gleaming hope that there was someone else on this planet who was like him, someone who had similar experiences as him… or to his sworn duty, the only obligation he was required to complete so he could return to his creators and make his name as the only successful experiment.

“Hey Newo…” He broke the silence with a change of subject. “Tell me a story.”

“A story?” She watched as he nodded his head, and she couldn’t help but see him as an excited child right in that moment. “Oh, well I suppose. Let’s make ourselves comfortable, and I will.”

She leaned up against the wall, and as soon as she was situated, Calamity crawled over next to her and placed his head in her lap. She began to protest, but he rolled on to his back and closed his eyes, as if not seeing her face was his way of ignoring her. Newo only sighed, shook her head, and tried her best to think up something creative.

“At the beginning of time there was a lonely planet; it brimmed with the essentials of life but it had no creatures inhabiting it. The planet cried to God, ‘give me life!’ And so God gave it hairy bipedal creatures. The creatures fared not well, dying of famine and sickness quite quickly. Again, the planet cried out to God, ‘you gave me life, but it knows not what to do with my gifts of food or water, please, help them, teach them!’ And again, God complied. Black rain fell upon the planet and coated the dimwitted bipedal creatures; although they became sick, those that survived grew stronger and began to advance. The planet grew quiet, quite content with its slowly thriving life.”

Newo found herself running her fingers idly through Calamity’s dark hair; she could hear him softly breathing and softly smiled.

“What next?” he asked in a whisper.

“God grew curious about how the planet and its creatures were doing, so it sent a newly created experiment down with the sole directive to observe. At first, the experiment was more than happy to be useful, and do its duty. But as she observed the bipeds and their growth, their love of community and communication, she began to grow lonely. Her mission complete, she attempted to return home to no avail. God forbid her back, in fear that she would contaminate heaven. Lonely beyond belief, God’s experiment began to learn a new directive, to want. A want to feel included with the growing people, to live amongst them and perhaps try to even be one of them.”

She looked down at Calamity’s relaxed face and pulled her fingers gently from his hair. In a low voice, she mumbled, “And there was a newly formed guilt that resided there, as well…”

Calamity broke his transfixed stare of the sleeping Newo and walked over to the small folding table set by the window and sat down. The light from the streetlamps in the parking lot flooded in between the small blind slats, drenching him in a zebra-striped light pattern across his face and torso. Instead of a flask, Calamity pulled a pack of cigarettes out from his pocket and lit one. As he exhaled a plume of smoke he asked, “Why’d you do it?”

“Do what?” Vortex furrowed his brows and wrinkled his nose.

“Let me rephrase, why didn’t you do it? Your job? What made you turn against your programming?”

“When I met Newo she was completely deranged, the people she had longed to be with had shunned her; she was unable to return home. Through a few lifetimes, I watched her regain her sanity and want to go on living once more. I was unable to tear that away. And…” Vortex’s gaze wavered between Calamity and Newo, before settling on Calamity and saying with an obvious tone, “Well, I fell in love.”

“Huh.” Calamity took another drag from his cigarette, snickered, then exhaled. He stood up from the chair and walked over to the front door, turning the knob all the way before turning back to look at Vortex. “Something that sounds so trivial, strong enough to make you go against your only prerogative… A crazy thing, love.”

With the door now partially opened, Calamity stared through the crack between the door and the frame. He lingered there for several long seconds as if he were thinking of something witty or melodramatic to say, but instead all he was able to muster was a “Well… good night, then, brother,” before he slipped out of the door. Vortex stood in the silent room for several long quiet seconds before he sat down in the chair that Calamity was formerly sitting in, and sighed deeply.

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