Apollo’s limp body bounced off the floor of the cruiser as it crashed through a three-inch deep pot hole. The officers guarding him smoked their cigarettes, undisturbed by the shifting momentum of the vehicle. He whimpered, and the dream in which he walked shook around him.
He was a small boy again, spending another summer afternoon with his grandfather in the homesteads outside Rochester City. He found the unfolding stairs to the attic – at a time when people still had houses to have attics – and crept into the hidden room.
The dusty space above his grandfather’s modest home was a relic of a bygone era. The attic was stacked with brittle books on existentialism and Angkor Watt. There were bowed shelves devoted to sketch books and half-filled memoirs… photo albums of strangers preserved in fading color from behind plastic sleeves.
It was in a musty, cardboard box of knick-knacks, brickabrack and whosewhatsits. He dug through layers of old welding machinery, goggles, gears, knobs and things of no discernible purpose – just buttons with letters inscribed on them, levers and creaky metal joints. His fingers were raw and rust-stained, but he sifted through the whatchamacallits eagerly.
A wooden trunk full of moth eaten fatigues and woolen army blankets blocked the grimy window. He pushed it aside and wiped a decade’s worth of dust away to make room for the summer sunlight.
He unearthed a typewriter, for which there was no salvation, covered by a crackling leather sheath. Uninterested, he pushed it aside and rifled through a box stacked with cases of little black ribbons, scrolls of yellow paper.
Apollo’s grandfather entered quietly. The stairs groaned softly and when he sat down the old chair creaked under his slight frame. He wheezed, resting a hand on his swollen knee, which would require a cane in a few years, and reached for his pack of Silver Arches.
Apollo heard the match strike, dropped the scroll he’d been reading and turned. He tugged the heavy box of mechanisms closer and said,
“Pap, what’s a hanky-panky?”
“Ah, well, a hanky-panky looks something like this…” he sorted through the box and brought out a typewriter key. He brought it in the light and held it out for closer inspection as he gave a rambling explanation of its purpose.
“It’s not dirty – well, it is, but not that kind of dirty. Your dad wouldn’t scold you for using the term. Your mom might.”
Apollo’s dad had died in the last war before he’d gotten a chance to meet his only son, leaving him to be raised by his pap. He had been an instrument of death hated by the public, and so Apollo never mentioned him to schoolmates, choosing instead to live a double life in which his visits to the war memorial were done secretly.
Pap Warren had raised him through potty training, fevers and lost teeth. He had wrapped him in quilts when the power fluctuations made the winter chill unmanageable and given him hot totty when he couldn’t sleep. He’d explained the world to Apollo through books, not holostrips, and taught him how the world had become so unfair.
The night was black, but the prison’s lights kept darkness at bay. The officers drug Apollo’s body from the patrol car and heaved it on a gurney. The medics took over, strapping the young man down and placing monitors on his clammy skin to measure vitals.
“Could’ve given him a smaller dose,” one snapped. “We still have to explain it to the warden if he dies.” The digital readout was low, nearly nonexistent.
“He’s off the grid. No one will notice.”
The first medic nodded, but his assistant was uneasy. “He’s hypothermic, Roger. BP is dropping… we need to get him inside.”
He took a quick look at the readout and nodded. Without word, they rolled the gurney through the prison checkpoints toward the hospital ward.
Inside his dream, Apollo sat with his pap and learned about the world from an outdated globe, which had never been fair but sought equality. As he sat in the attic, he wondered if the tilted axis righted itself again or toppled into the wasteland.
And suddenly the dream itself toppled and went black.