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The Matrix

Journal: Episode 13: The Lucky Number

Journal by Walmart Security

I settled into the therapeutic leather seat, watching the road as our vehicle pushed through the fog, soft blue low beams charging forth into the night. Off the cool concrete before us there lay an occasional abandoned farm, overgrown grass swaying softly in the darkness. In the moonlight, run-down trailer homes sat unoccupied, windows shattered and doors boarded. A harsh flicker as lightning struck far to the south.

A soft, synthesized female voice spoke to us as the navigation console suddenly came to life. "Left turn ahead," it said. I turned my head briefly to a sleeping Robert as I committed the turn. The screen returned to its overhead perspective. A red triangle set against a simulation of a map indicated our current position. I looked up, biting my tongue to avoid falling asleep, and watched carefully for deer.

My throat felt swollen as I thought of Paul Cryer, whose lifeless body was floating aimlessly in the black waters of Steinhagen Lake. My throat felt swollen, but I could never pity him. Nor could I afford to lament his demise. Hundreds like him were searching for me, searching for me in order to avenge his death.

The harsh railroad track shook Robert awake. "Where are we?" he asked, eyes half-shut. What seemed like a river of blood ran through one, perhaps the result of sleep deprivation. In that case, mine probably resembled cherries.

The navigation system instructed us to turn right onto a dirt road that led into a darkened alley. At the end of the road, two faint taillights beckoned. As we drove nearer, the car's well maintained jet-black paint glistened with the reflection of our headlights. My eyes were drawn to the silver three-pointed star attached to its trunk. A man dressed in an expensive suit approached our vehicle as we slowed.

He looked inside as I retracted the automatic window. "Are you Cryer?"

"Yes," I said, with a slight hesitation. "I am Cryer. That's me."

"All right," he said. "Blake told me not to give it to you tonight. Said he'd hold it until you saw him. I made an appointment for you. It's at 10:30. Be there tomorrow morning."

"Be where?"

"Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. I keep forgetting to give away the new address. It's the thirteenth location in two years. Guy's a nomad, man." He handed me a creased piece of plain copy paper, which I refolded promptly and placed on my lap.

The man then walked silently to his car. Robert and I sat together, alone and exhausted, watching as the lights became faint, then finally disappear altogether. "Peter," he said, "unfold the paper. I thought that I saw something. A logo, maybe."

As I opened the document, I shuddered with fright. I stared at the paper, and our corporate logo stared back into my eyes...

Lord of the Rings

Journal: Episode 12: Reciprocity

Journal by Walmart Security

And there I lay quietly on the rain-soaked concrete, stunned by the events that had just transpired before my eyes. I listened to the soft rain falling and the SUV speeding away, the sound of its engine fading away like an ascending space shuttle. I wanted to fall asleep, to believe that the bullets had indeed struck my chest, and that everything was lost - that my purpose in life had become forfeit.

"Peter," Robert's frantic voice echoed nearby, "I've called emergency. They'll be here soon. And, uh, this was supposed to be a surprise, but I bought a car for us. You know, a patrol car. I think that we can catch the filthy bastard. Get up!"

I stumbled to my feet with a renewed sense of purpose, brushing a stray hair aside.
"Where's Vickie?"

Robert moved closer. "She's in the back. Come on, follow me!"

We hurried through the empty parking lot, no longer illuminated by the massive stadium lighting erected above it, dodging fallen tree limbs and debris. Robert drew a key from his pocket and hastily opened a small passenger vehicle. A decal affixed to the trunk that read "Dodge Neon" presumably indicated the original paint color.

Robert slid into the driver seat and engaged the ignition. The engine roared to life with an exhaust note that utterly astonished me.

"This is an eight, isn't it, Robert?"

"No way," he replied, shifting our vehicle into reverse, "it's a four banger. I changed the muffler. Cool, huh?"

My protégé was an impressively resourceful automobile tuner. "Either way, it sounds like a beast," I said. "Let's catch the bad man!"

I scarcely blinked before we were traveling west on US 190 in pursuit of a hostile suspect.

* * *

A confident Robert smiled as our elite racing engine propelled us to 90 MPH. After a few minutes of driving, I spotted the SUV not far ahead, obscured slightly by night fog. Its taillight pattern, however, was entirely unmistakable. Robert glanced over. "We're gonna dispense us some good old-fashioned vigilante justice now, aren't we?" He accelerated and pulled alongside of the three-pointed menace.

"I'm going to roll down my window," I said, "and instruct him to pull over and surrender immediately via a hand signal. Watch this."

"No," said Robert, retracting my automatic window, "you stay back. I'll give him a signal." The man looked over as Robert extended his middle finger, rendering a hand signal that I was completely unfamiliar with. Perhaps this method of communication had been developed recently.

Over the strong wind came the roar of the man's engine as he began to steadily accelerate. "Keep on him," I implored Robert. "You keep on him!" We followed the man stealthily for around twenty minutes. We had just begun to cross the bridge when our final journey began. Suddenly, and without a discernable sound, the SUV came to a halt above a forebodingly foggy Steinhagen Lake. The man stepped out into a cool, reflective mist, and stood on the railing, making no apparent effort to secure himself.

Without even a word, the man fell silently to his watery grave. And, although Robert and I searched for him afterward, we could see nothing through the silver fog except an occasional light blue reflection. Perhaps the man's blinding headlights created it. Perhaps it was created by something else.

* * *

I watched solemnly as a lone fishing boat crossed the lake, its green and red navigation lights a little blurred and scarcely visible. I began returning to our patrol vehicle, but a faint glow emanating from the SUV seemed to catch my eye. It was some sort of television screen. "Robert," I said, "come take a look at this."

"Yeah, that's one of those navigation things," he said, joining me. "It probably knows where he was going before he stopped."

"Maybe he was heading to their headquarters," I suggested. "We should find out."

Robert stood outside of the vehicle as I acclimated myself with the driver position. "Peter, we can't just leave our patrol vehicle here, though!"

"We need to." And with that, Robert stepped inside. I shifted the SUV into "D" and sped away, our patrol car's hazard lights blinking rapidly behind us.

Star Wars Prequels

Journal: Episode 11.3: Adversary

Journal by Walmart Security

To be honest, I had expected a storybook ending. In the end, I hoped desperately for one. I hadn't yet accepted that the man was dead. Perhaps I would never accept that his crimson blood stained the very ground that I stood upon. Yet I couldn't seem to resist embracing the truth. The truth satisfied me.

The car stood waiting in the darkness, light blue head beams reflecting the silver mist. As I walked slowly toward it, the star seemed to emit a soft glow. To be truthful, I do not quite recall what happened next. I do remember stepping inside and closing the door. Perhaps I had abandoned him. I had certainly abandoned the girl.

The truth had become clear to me. I shifted into drive and sped away, revved engine growling harshly. One hand clutched the loaded sawed-off shotgun, my grip tightening as I drove the SUV into the darkness that lay before me. I remembered his pathetic attempt to escape. And I laughed.

I settled into the leather seat and glanced skyward, admiring the vivid stars and perhaps my own arrogant insanity. Behind me there lay an orange inferno, the man, and the girl, and I had no inclination of what lay ahead. But I couldn't have ever anticipated what would happen next.

Star Wars Prequels

Journal: Episode Eleven: Blindsided (Part 2/3)

Journal by Walmart Security

The hail had worsened, and my entire body felt as though it were being slashed by a razorblade. I shivered with repulsion as the terror before me continued to edge closer. I watched as lightning flickered in the distance, and then turned to the creature.

âoeGet away,â I exclaimed, âoefor I have mace, and I donâ(TM)t want to use it!â I drew the canister from my pocket with great apprehension and began to spray. Shortly thereafter, I perceived a low growling sound of an indeterminate origin. I stepped cautiously toward the front door. And, after experiencing several moments of psychological entropy, I arrived there. During a power failure, however, the door requires anybody entering to insert a physical key. I reached hastily into my pocket expecting to locate a key, but was instead greeted by a few pennies. My stomach curled as they scraped together.

My hands trembled as I began to knock. Robert and Vickie, a night cashier, were apparently unable to render assistance. The hail, it seems, may have compromised their ability to hear my frantic knocking. There were other possibilities, of course, and I considered a number of them as I crouched near the building. Robert did, after all, often aspire to become a regular James Bond.

It was then that two lambent headlights appeared in the distance. Perhaps the driver of this car would annihilate the creature that had been stalking me. Or, I thought, perhaps it was in fact the creature. At that moment, however, I became hopeful. A man whom I almost certainly recognized stepped out. He wielded a sawed-off shotgun.

I looked toward the SUV. The luminous silver paint glistened as lightning struck overhead. I observed a shimmering object affixed to the car, too, and focused to examine it. I recoiled in horror; it was a three-pointed star!

âoePeter Geralds,â the man shouted above the thunderous rain, âoeI promise to donate at least two of your body parts to science!â

TO BE CONCLUDED

The Matrix

Journal: Episode Eleven: Blindsided 1

Journal by Walmart Security

There was a hint of lightning and a slight rumble of thunder in the distance. I turned from the horizon to face Robert, who was standing to my right. We stood before the luminous Wal-Mart banner. A noisy cluster of insects swarmed the fluorescent light nearby, their innumerable buzzing and clicks penetrating the silence.

âoeThere is a storm approaching,â I whispered to Robert. âoeWe should prepare the store for an emergency situation.â

He was apparently capable of sensing the urgency of my recommendation. âoeYes, sir,â said Robert, âoeIâ(TM)ll get right on it.â

As he returned to the inner confines of our beloved store, the silence that I had grown accustomed to abruptly ceased. The forest surrendered to the wind. Venerable pine trees swayed in the distance as their gray leaves began to litter the parking lot. Several cracked and fell swiftly to the ground. The lightning crackled overhead, and the air was laden with foreboding.

I stepped inside. Although the prodigious wind had been somewhat deadened by the building, I continued to perceive it. Robert had enabled the auxiliary lighting system. He stood near a corner, watching small hints of rain as they impacted the skylight. An occasional flicker of lightning penetrated the store. Tree limbs struck the roof.

âoeItâ(TM)s getting bad out there, isnâ(TM)t it?â Robert was concerned.

âoeIâ(TM)m afraid so,â I said, âoebut I promise you that weâ(TM)re going to vanquish. We always do.â

The lights dimmed for a moment and I was taken aback by our reflection in the skylight.

âoePeter,â said my colleague, âoewe didnâ(TM)t bring the fertilizer display inside!â

Robert was correct. Although I was admittedly hesitant to walk outside during a hailstorm, we couldnâ(TM)t permit it to obliterate company property. âoeYou stay here,â I said to him. As I approached the front door, I almost felt as though I were being watched. When I looked to the left, especially.

The automatic door opened and I stepped outside. I waded cautiously through the lake of water that covered the parking lot toward the display. The fluorescent lights overhead dimmed, then everything became dark. My face grimaced involuntarily as large hailstones continued to strike me. I glanced in both directions, but, with the exception of the devastating storm, could perceive nothing.

I turned to face the display, but I am unable to describe to you what lay before me. And it was moving closer.

Christmas Cheer

Journal: Episode Ten: Situation Report

Journal by Walmart Security

The aroma of premium Samâ(TM)s Choice coffee infiltrated my nose as I sipped a cup delicately. Robert would be arriving momentarily, and I would request a situation report. He and I are, of course, the guardians of a Walmart Supercenter located inside of the prosperous community of Jasper, Texas.

Weâ(TM)ve encountered Paul Cryer, who initiated litigation after his SUV impacted my elite patrol vehicle, and miscellaneous other members of the nefarious Three Pointed Conspiracy. Our integrity, however, is the origin of our strength. We will never abdicate our store. I digress.

âoePeter!â exclaimed Robert, emerging from the door leading to the lawn and garden center.

âoeRobert,â I smiled, âoeyouâ(TM)re fifty seconds late. I will not accept such unpunctual behavior. What if a situation occurred in your absence?â

My protégé said nothing, instead walking to the vending counter and drawing a cup of coffee. I wouldnâ(TM)t punish him this evening. âoeHow was your day?â I asked.

âoeIt was fine,â said Robert, âoebut you need to listen to this. There was a situation today at the restaurant!â You see, Robert is also employed by the prestigious Catfish Diner restaurant, which is regarded by many as the most elegant dining establishment in Jasper! Their all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, although expensive, is quite exquisite. I recommend it. Once again, however, I digress.

I turned to Robert. âoeWhat was the situation?â

âoeWell, this man came in,â he said, âoea man from Houston. It was strange, though, as the emblem on his car wasnâ(TM)tâ â" Robert paused â" âoeI mean, he didnâ(TM)t seem to be a member of the Three Pointed Conspiracy. But, as we both know from experience, such terrible people are unable to conceal their true nature!â

âoeWhat happened?â I inquired, attempting to suppress my concern. Robertâ(TM)s safety was of an imperative nature.

âoeWell, it didnâ(TM)t become physical,â he said, âoeso I didnâ(TM)t need to thrash him. People were obviously intimidated, though. I walked to his table.

âoeâWhat would you like this evening, sir?â(TM) I asked.

âoeâLook, man, is there any way you can get me some Starbucks coffee?â(TM)

âoeâStarbucks coffee? I donâ(TM)t believe we serve that, sir. Would you like some Community Coffee instead?â(TM)

âoeâI donâ(TM)t drink anything that gives me running diarrhea!â(TM) he said, raising his voice as if he were insulted. âI guess Iâ(TM)ll have some Coke. Anything to keep me awake so that I can get out of this anus of a city tonight.â(TM)

âoeI must admit that he was beginning to offend me. However, like an experienced waiter, I suppressed my anger. âYes, sir,â(TM) I said, and returned with his drink.

âoeâLook, man, Iâ(TM)m sure that all of your food sucks anyway, and you only serve a buffet. Itâ(TM)s probably something that I wouldnâ(TM)t even feed my dogs, but Iâ(TM)m desperate. So, Iâ(TM)ll have that.â(TM)

âoeâYes, sir,â(TM) I responded, âbut our food is excellent. In fact, it is superlative. Our seafood is delivered fresh once every week!â(TM)

âoeâThatâ(TM)s great,â(TM) he said, laughing, âbut tell your master chef not to screw me over too badly, aâ(TM)ight?â(TM)

âoeI must concede that I ignored the manâ(TM)s request. I returned with a plate and some silverware, which he snatched promptly from my hands. Fifteen minutes later, I returned with his tab. âHere, sir,â(TM) I said, âthank you for dining with us this evening.â(TM)

âoeâMy displeasure,â(TM) said the man, handing me a car key, âthis food was terrible, by the way. If this happened at any other restaurant, I would probably shoot the chef. My Lexus is parked outside. Bring it to the front door, please, and donâ(TM)t forget: there are two towels inside of the glove box. Use the smaller one to grip the steering wheel. Place the larger towel between yourself and the seat. I wouldnâ(TM)t want some incompetent like you to contaminate my vehicle.â(TM)

âoeQuite desperately, I stepped outside and located the manâ(TM)s automobile. I drove it to the front door. I was just being hospitable, you know. Then he stepped outside.

âoeâI see the grease on my steering wheel from here, you little bastard!â(TM) he exclaimed. I began to anticipate a quarrel. âYou didnâ(TM)t use the towels, did you?â(TM)

âoeâNo,â(TM) I quipped, âI didnâ(TM)t use the towels. Where are you from, anyway?â(TM)

âoeâIâ(TM)m from Houston,â(TM) the man replied as he entered the vehicle, âan excellent city, where everybody is just like me!â(TM)â

Encryption

Journal: Episode Nine: The Two Madnesses

Journal by Walmart Security

Walmart Security
Chapter 9: The Two Madnesses

Robert sat nearby on one of the visitor chairs, his face decorated lightly with bandages. The chair was but a silhouette against the fulgent morning sun.

"I dreamt," he said, his eyes narrowing, "of thousands of unchained rabid monkeys." Robert sunk lower into the well-cushioned chair.

"Doing what?" I replied.

"Chasing me down like an animal! My dreams were terrible, Peter." The vertically opposed nurse entered the room. "Oh, and they were singing."

I squinted. "Singing?"

"Barbra Streisand, I think," said Robert; his alarmed eyes reflected his distress.

The nurse, of course, was willing to express her opinion. "Wow, son. Sounds to me like you took a trip to hell."

Perhaps he did, I thought, or perhaps he was one of many visitors to the nefarious underground facilities of the Three Pointed Conspiracy. I scrutinized every word emitted to me by Robert, desperately searching for inconsistencies or errors in continuity. If my young assistant were indeed a member of the Conspiracy, I would reveal him to the world. Every word of every story, however, could be designed specifically to lead me further astray. It was imperative that I not allow Robert to influence my quest for the truth.

Of course, there also existed the matter of my dreams. They were like clouds beneath a night sky, simultaneously obfuscating and revealing the truth. I decided to drive once again with Robert to Houston. The truth, I concluded, if it existed, almost certainly was to be discovered there.

For the moment, however, I would be dedicating my attention to more important events. After all, the Jasper community would soon begin preparing for the annual Motorized Shopping Cart Rally.

Star Wars Prequels

Journal: Episode Eight: Return of the King

Journal by Walmart Security

Walmart Security
Chapter 8: Return of the King

I awoke lying in a hospital bed facing a slightly open window. It must've been early in the morning, as the birds were chirping; yet the sun hadn't begun to rise. A dark forest stretched to the horizon, a well-maintained lawn preceding it. Aside from a table reflecting soft fluorescent light, the hospital room was pleasantly cool and dark. My lips, however, were utterly parched. I stepped from the warm bed to the almost metallic floor, stopped for a moment to stretch, and then continued walking to the sink.

I shivered as I drew the water into a cup, occasionally glancing around the Spartan room in the process. As I walked past the two visitor chairs inside of the room, I noticed a leather jacket sitting on one. It was Robert's jacket. The obscure memories returned in a flood to my conscious mind, now relics from what was merely an intense dream.

Being struck by the SUV did feel quite authentic, however, a thought confirmed by recoiling in pain after touching a bruise on my arm. I sat on the bed and returned to my thoughts. It was then that the door burst open, flooding the room with soft fluorescent light. It was the light of evil.

"Good morning, Mr. Geralds," said a feminine voice, "I'm glad to see you're awake now." The vertically opposed nurse began to organize a plethora of large pills.

"Where am I? What are those for? Where are the conspiracy men and flying bunnies with small yet menacing teeth?" I asked urgently.

"All excellent questions," she said, pausing for a moment, "with the exception of the last one, which I have no understanding of. But I think that I can answer the first two." She paused again and sighed lethargically. "You're at Jasper Memorial Hospital and these are your pills. You'll need to take them in a minute."

"Are they large and repulsive?"

"Yes, quite so," she responded pragmatically, "but nonetheless you need to take them."

"And if I don't?"

"If you don't, we may need to resort to an injection, and that would be even less pleasant."

I decided not to resist, for I abhorred needles. The mere thought of an injection provoked a shiver. "Right, then, nurse," I quipped softly.

Ingesting the pills, a process that involved copious gagging, is one that I will describe no further here. As the nurse stepped out of the room and into the lighted hallway, a pin attached to her shirt caught my eye. "I love my nurse," it said in white letters above the image of a heart.

It was probable and perhaps obvious, I concluded, that she was an operative of the Three Pointed Conspiracy, and therefore must be interrogated. Unfortunately, I fell asleep.

Quickies

Journal: Episode Seven: Deviation 1

Journal by Walmart Security

"This world isn't yours," the man told Peter, his animosity emphatic. "We've taken it from you. Even the police fear us now, though they'd never tell you." Soft fluorescent lights illuminated the warehouse, exposing hundreds of ambiguously marked cardboard boxes and one car.

"Very soon now, we'll overthrow them and restore anarchy." Peter was shivering; he couldn't defend the world from this threat. The man's black eyes pierced his own. "You are quite intimidated, obviously. I was never your protégé, old man. You're shivering; I can see it from here." He stepped closer.

"Why, Robert?" Peter asked, his voice rising. "My Wal-Mart provided nothing to you or your organization! It never has and it never will."

"At first, my assignment was to infiltrate EZSECURE and terminate the company president. That was until I met you, of course." He stepped closer and tapped Peter's shoulder.

"No, don't hurt me!" he recoiled. "Please-"

"Scream in my face again and I'll kill you," the man cautioned. "I'll kill you slowly. Anyway, nobody would even believe your story if I did release you. You'd be guarding the mental institution. You see, when I met you, my objective became more personal. The original plan was to dispatch you with the SUV. However, I decided it'd be more impressive to confirm your beliefs and then watch the agony on your face as-"

With a deafening crash, the fluorescent lights shattered. Robert covered his ears and fell to the floor as two people descended from above. Their black clothing and automatic rifles intimidated Peter, who had retreated to the nearest corner. Spotlights illuminated the room, revealing a trail of blood that led to a closed door.

"Units fourteen and fifteen have commenced operation six-two," a man radioed as he landed. "Objective has been located; we're taking him through the roof. Rendezvous at location alpha."

"Who are you?" questioned Peter as they drew closer. The men remained silent.

Peter desperately clutched a cable hanging from the ceiling. As they ascended, shots rang out from below.

"Returning fire," radioed the soldier as he removed a grenade from his belt. "Fire in the hole!" With a click of the pin, he tossed the grenade. It erupted into a ball of flames, engulfing the contents of the warehouse. Peter looked down from far above, observing a burnt table, hundreds of boxes, and one scorched body that continued to burn...

Privacy

Journal: Episode Six: Houston (preliminary draft) 3

Journal by Walmart Security

I

Office buildings towered above us. Both Robert and I were filled with excitement and anticipation. The rumors, we'd concluded, weren't false. Radiant city lights illuminated the heavy clouds overhead; it was as though night would never occur here. Robert became still as we entered a bridge. The slums below were dark and foreboding.

"Hey, Peter, may I drive?" The question had been inevitable. I was apprehensive about my trainee driving on such a densely crowded interstate; however, the experience, provided we survived, would prove to be invaluable.

"Yes," I replied. "After we eat something."

"No," said Robert emphatically. "I want to drive now."

Insubordination was atypical of Robert. As a general rule, my trainee was quite agreeable. I decided to compromise; after all, fatigue was setting in. It'd be safer for both of us.

"Fair enough, Robert. I'll pull off here."

I parked the car near a Chevron station after exiting the freeway and handed the keys to Robert. I emerged from the car.

"Get back in," he told me softly as he motioned to the gasoline pumps. "It isn't safe for us here."

I obeyed him, although nothing around us seemed to pose a threat. Robert stared into my eyes. I sensed a change; something was different about his voice and mannerisms. This wasn't the young man I'd met in Jasper. "Close your eyes," he commanded authoritatively. I refused to submit.

"Alright then," he added. He unlocked the glovebox and produced a hypodermic needle. "I'll close them for you, ignorant old man." It entered my arm slowly, the pain becoming tolerable as he injected the solution. For the first time since the SUV incident, I was genuinely frightened. I made no effort to resist. The feeling that spread throughout my body was soothing. I was oblivious and almost euphoric as the world around me faded away...

II

A dimly lit man stood before me. From what little I could discern, he may have been wearing a businessman's suit. I coughed involuntarily. The man's cigar smoke disgusted me.

A synthesized voice greeted me. "Welcome back," it said. I instantly scrambled to my feet and began to run through the darkness. "Come back, Peter," the voice seemed to plead. "You're an old man. Our health insurance is quite lackluster. Now, turn around."

I collided painfully with a concrete wall. "Stop," I begged as the cold pain radiated throughout my body. "Let me out!" I collapsed on the floor, my heart sinking. I was admittedly desperate. "I'll do anything!"

But then the room became light. Although my vision was still somewhat of a blur, I could identify several items: a dark, wooden table, a tray full of needles, and a car parked in the corner near a large door. I must've been in a small warehouse. I looked to my right. The man stepped forward.

It was Robert.

Announcements

Journal: Episode 4: Mist 1

Journal by Walmart Security

I

I'd always been incredulous of the rumors surrounding the metropolis. Surely it was no more a prodigious city than Jasper! In a matter of hours, I would determine the validity of the hyperbole that others had shared with me.

"Hey, Peter!" exclaimed Robert, pointing at a modernly painted car. "It's over here. Come check it out!" It was obvious that the luxurious pink car was a rental, for a label was affixed to its rear, near the words "Dodge Neon." I approached the passenger side door.

"It's unlocked. Get in!" Robert was certainly enthusiastic about his acquisition of such an immaculate automobile. Despite his enthusiasm, I was somewhat apprehensive about driving with him. After all, his patrol cart accident had resulted in a somewhat undesirable trip to the hospital for both of us! As I began to enter the car, I was startled by a sound that resembled a click. I hadn't a moment to lose. During my descent to the ground, the clicking noise was followed by an enormous roar. At that point I realized that my protege was merely starting the car.

"Listen to this bad boy," he said as he revved the Neon's engine, producing a recurring shrill that may have emanated from an engine belt. "Hah! Almost a sportscar!" Once again, I felt as though I was a simpleton instead of a sophisticated, elaborately trained guardsman. But I had been in the hospital, so perhaps my sense of danger wasn't as accurate as it had been prior to the accident. I felt it important to remember an axiom that had been shared with me on numerous occasions: Time heals everything.

According to my road map, we would encounter many different cities en route, including Livingston, Cleveland, and New Caney. Two of them were surrounded by hyperbole similar to that of Houston. "The nightlife in Cleveland is invigorating," was among intelligence shared with me by an accented, travelling man. "Lake Livingston is more beautiful than Aruba," a native had said. Aside from New Caney, I possessed valid intelligence about our primary route. If we weren't fulfilling a mission, I would have attempted to confirm it all personally.

"Robert, we may have to drive for hours," I said, settling into the fabric seat of the Neon and anticipating the exciting perils of the journey ahead. "Can you handle it?" I strongly considered fretting when my trainee responded with a smile reminiscent of the one he exhibited shortly before our collision with the SUV. However, I remained calm, for I hadn't yet observed the negative augury that was a reflective, silver star.

As we exited the parking lot, I observed that the blue sky overhead was entering a transition to darkness. Clouds were beginning to appear on the horizon. Robert drove expeditiously, occasionally nearing speeds of forty-five miles per hour. The precision with which he drove indicated his adeptness and experience. While I was genuinely impressed by my protege, I didn't understand why the other drivers insisted on inundating us with an unnerving blast of their horn as they passed. These occurances became more frequent after we entered a road that had been assigned the name US 190. It was here that our bizarre journey truly began.

II

"I've never driven in these conditions," said Robert, as light rain began to cover the windshield of our luxury car. "Um, uh... Oh, yeah, here's the wiper switch." Instead of the mundane sound of the wipers' rubber removing water from glass, we were greeted by a sound similar to that of fingernails being driven into a chalkboard. The temptation existed for me to cover my ears, but I realized that my protege required assistance.

"Turn them off!" I yelled frantically.

Robert pressed the switch almost instantaneously, disabling the malfunctioning wipers. "Maybe I turned on the windshield cleaning mode?"

"No, no," I informed him. "There aren't any wiper blades! We're being sabotaged!" Our ability to see was hampered by scratches that had appeared in the windshield. The rapidly degrading weather conditions outside weren't of any assistance, either. It was absolutely imperative that we exit the road. At that moment, I spotted a Dairy Queen sign on an adjacent street.

"Robert, turn left. Quick!" I commanded my protege, who complied without hesitation. As I watched him correct the car's direction, I realized that something was surely amiss. Our automobile was skidding!

"Peter, help me. I can't stop it!" My trainee had emitted a distress call. I was required to respond immediately and effectively! In a heroic manner, I seized control of the steering wheel and used all of my strength to turn the car in the direction of the skid. Miraculously, the car became motionless less than a moment later.

"Robert, are you okay?" I queried. He continued to the Dairy Queen's parking lot cautiously. Not once did he utter a word.

Emerging from the vehicle with a shirt shielding my head from the drizzle, my keen sense of smell observed that the road had become aromatic with the smells of rain, oil, and asphalt. The humid conditions and darkened sky overhead, illuminated occasionally by a strike of lightning, only heightened our sense of foreboding. We rushed quickly to the more pleasant confines of Woodville's Dairy Queen.

"Bad weather out there, huh friends?" the accented cashier greeted us with a chuckle. "Yeah, we had us a tornader out there just last week, huh. See that toppled tree right over there? Well, anyway, name's Thomas. What's yours?"

An elderly oak tree, possibly existent for a century, had been uprooted near the road. Neither Robert nor myself had been aware of its presence until Thomas had pointed it out. "My name is Peter," I replied, pointing a finger. "And that's Robert. Do you mind if we stay here until this storm is over?"

"Naw, naw. Not at all!" Thomas was around forty-five, perhaps as much as fifty years of age. Thin gray strands were becoming interspersed throughout his jet black hair. He was a relatively small man, only five feet and four inches in stature. My approximation was derived from the fact that he was somewhat shorter than myself, a man of five and a half feet.

I conversed casually with him, as I had the hospital nurse, about trivial matters such as ice cream and old trucks. As I glanced outside, I was aghast at the sight of a most frightening image: a car with the notoriously iconic silver star affixed to both its front and its rear passed by the Dairy Queen, apparently oblivious to or unaffected by the weather outside. I'd observed a most negative omen. As hail began to relentlessly pelt the tin roof of the restaurant, Robert, Thomas, and I realized silently that we would be at the mercy of whatever followed it...

III

"I saw it too," whispered Robert, noticing my face. It'd been rendered a shade or two more pale by the sighting.

"Saw what, man? What was I 'sposed to see?" It was evident that our newly discovered friend hadn't yet been informed of the dangers we faced as a result of our vision. I proceeded to enlighten him.

"Whenever you see a three-pointed star affixed to a vehicle, it's a bad omen. You see, Robert and I discovered this while patrolling."

"Patrollin'? What'chu patrol?" He'd grown more inquisitive, his eyes reduced to mere slits. Perhaps Thomas hadn't ever encountered two elite security guards before.

"Oh, we're security guards. We've saved the world numerous times. But you see, a man crashed into our security patrol vehicle during a routine mission to protect automobiles from rogue shopping carts. Attached to his car was a star that we've observed to be a negative omen on many occasions. Always avoid it. Always. It could save you the expense of your life."

"What a load of boohickey!" Thomas retorted. Apparently, he had decided not to heed our stern warning. He began laughing incessantly. "Good story, though. Huh! You both deserve a Blizzard for that!"

I'd once before sampled a "Blizzard" in a Jasper Dairy Queen. It was a ubiquitous fact that they most likely contained a depressant similar to alcohol. His attempt to serve me such a "frozen treat" led me to believe that he could be part of what I now call the Three Pointed Conspiracy. It was imperative that I not accept any of his offers and shield Robert from his evil.

I denied his offer with a simple "No, thank you."

"Fair 'nuff," he said. "Just thought I'd offer ya one." A member of the Three Pointed Conspiracy, it was certainly possible that he was attempting to lull me into a sense of complacency. I couldn't lower my guard.

Robert, however, was more susceptible to his attack. "Hey, I'll take one of those!" he exclaimed. As Robert glanced in my direction, I shook my head in a stern, horizontal manner. Upon consuming even a fraction of the Blizzard, he would grow more delusional and less aware of the conspiracy around him. Since my head shake had gone unacknowledged, the fact that we needed to vacate the Dairy Queen prematurely became more distinct. After a moment of consideration, I grabbed his arm and began to run for the door. Hopefully Thomas (if that wasn't a pseudonym assigned by the Conspiracy) wouldn't consider our departure abnormal.

"Oh, look, the sky. It's clearing. Robert, we must depart!" I shouted, attempting to confuse the cashier and delay his inevitable, hostile reaction.

"Where are we going, Peter?" Robert questioned me almost inaudibly as we ran to the Neon through the downpour of rain.

"We must leave here, Robert. That man is an agent of a conspiracy with a scale of which has never been seen!" I urgently informed him. He tossed me the keys to the Neon. As I unlocked my door, another bolt of lightning crackled overhead. It must have been nearing sunset, for the strike was more brilliant than any of the others that day.

After starting the engine, I unlocked Robert's door. "I'm cold," he said, shivering and eyeing the air conditioner vent as he fastened his seat belt. "Do you mind?"

"No, not at all," I replied. I'd become uncomfortably chilled as well. Thomas, apparently, wasn't making any effort to pursue us. We entered the rain covered US 190, once again bound for Houston.

IV

It'd been years since I'd last driven an automobile aside from our elite patrol vehicle. If it weren't possible that members of the Three Pointed Conspiracy were following us, I would've considered detouring once the storm was over, for no reason other than to enjoy the feeling.

After a few moments, the road around us became dark. The thick storm clouds overhead obscured any moonlight. If not for our luxury car's headlights, we would have been completely unable to see. US 190 was deserted; there wasn't another car in sight. Moderate rain continued to strike the roof of our car in a manner that was almost relaxing. I glanced quickly over at Robert, who'd been silent for the past few minutes. He had fallen asleep.

The moderate to heavy rain that we'd experienced since Woodville was replaced by a light mist as we entered Livingston. Although the weather here had improved noticeably, fallen trees and a power line lying close to the road indicated that the storm had recently passed through. I nudged Robert with my elbow, who responded with a groan.

After many fruitless attempts, he finally awoke, responding in a groggy voice. "Yeah, Peter?"

He would've been furious if I'd been his subordinate instead of his commander, but I was pleased by his lack of hostility. "Would you mind checking the roadmap for directions?"

"Uh, sure. Actually, can we stop here first?" He pointed at an Exxon gasoline station.

"Are you sick?" I asked with concern.

"Um, no," he replied. "I want a snack."

His request was reasonable, I decided. Besides, the car would soon require a fuel replinishment and I was becoming somewhat uncomfortable from driving. "Go inside and buy whatever you want," I instructed him as I handed him a fifty dollar bill. "But be sure to pay for twenty-five dollars worth of gas."

"Okay," he replied as I positioned the car alongside a gasoline pump.

"On second thought," I told him, "I'll go with you."

He handed the fifty dollar bill back to me. The store itself was ancient, but seemed to have been well maintained. I followed Robert as he selected a Sprite and a bag of potato chips, then to the cashier's register.

"You guys are the first customers I've had all night," the woman said. "You must be on pump four. Heh, you haven't pumped any gas yet. Prepayin'?"

I stepped up. "Yes, twenty-five dollars."

She began scanning the products' barcodes. "Alright then, I'll ring this stuff up. Heh, bad storm here earlier. Was a twister that tore two houses down, news said. You boys didn't drive through it?"

"Yes, we did," I replied solemnly.

"Heh, brave. Well, your total's forty even." I relinquished the fifty. "Ten dollars change, then. Here ya go."

As I pumped the gasoline, I watched the gnats swarm the flourescent light overhead. Once I'd finished returning the pumping device to its holder, our trip resumed. "So, where do we go from here?" I asked Robert as I reassumed my seat behind the wheel.

"Interstate 59," he replied while chewing on a potato chip. "It should take us all the way into Houston."

"Right," I replied, the car's engine sputtering lightly as it started.

Christmas Cheer

Journal: Episode 3.75: An Esoteric Name

Journal by Walmart Security

The sun hadn't yet risen when I first awoke; instead, the sky was beginning to subtly allude that sunrise was inevitable. Astonishing shades of red and orange illuminated the uncurtained hospital window. With the majority of the staff absent and the patients unconscious, the darkened hospital was absolutely and uncharacteristically silent. My desiccated lips craved water; unfortunately, it was scarce during these hours, as nurses were assigned more imperative tasks than waiting on a heroic officer such as myself. My thirst didn't warrant kvetching. The hospital bed, while tolerable, was becoming somewhat uncomfortable. The linen, which hadn't been cleansed in nearly a week, was developing an unpleasant aroma. Ultimately, these minute issues were irrelevant, for I would be released in a matter of hours. Even minutes, perhaps.

My ears observed a metallic door close; the hospital staff members were beginning to arrive. Perhaps I would be permitted to satisfy my thirst, which was continuing to escalate in severity. "Good morning, Dave," a soft, alacritous voice emanating from the room nearest the nurses' station said. It was of Jennifer Hutchkins, a young nurse assigned to the morning shift. Jennifer, who was short, thin, ambitious, and quite capable, had become a registered nurse not even six months prior. Every morning, she would invariably greet me, offer a plate of food, and then converse with me for a brief moment. Of course, it'd be awhile before she arrived at my room, so I closed my eyes once again.

"Peter!" exclaimed Robert, using a voice infused with enthusiasm. "Are you almost ready to go?" I must have once again fallen asleep, for I had been oblivious to the entries of Jennifer and Robert.

Almost immediately afterward, a red haired man dressed in doctor's attire carefully entered the room behind Robert. He quickly scratched his face and then began to speak without even the slightest inkling of an accent. "Mr. Geralds?"

"Yes?" I replied, anxious to escape the confines of the hospital campus.

"You're free to leave. Just take it easy for a few days, alright? No strenuous activity. Aside from that, you seem to be well."

I emerged apprehensively from the hospital bed and began to navigate toward the hospital's exit. "I've arranged a car, Peter," Robert said. "Also, I've scheduled an appointment with Thorslen for you tomorrow at eight in Houston. Uh, it's the only time he could see you." I had never before visited Houston, although I'd been informed numerous times that the drivers were courteous and the citizens respectful. In fact, one could argue that Jasper must be a microcosm of it!

The fulgent sun overhead warmed my skin as I exited the hospital. It was a beautiful Sunday; not a cloud was present in the sky and not a car was present on the road. Surely our journey would be pleasant. It would begin shortly.

Announcements

Journal: Ambition (Episode 3.5) 2

Journal by Walmart Security

Upon hearing those words, the world began to completely exhibit its infinite amount of austerity. I had dedicated everything to protecting others, only to be removed from my chosen profession. Numerous times I had risked my life, oblivious to any possible consequence, to rescue automobiles from rogue shopping carts, crying children from abandonment, and old men from a certain type of narcissistic paranoia. Feeling a cool sensation on my face, I realized that I was doing something that no hardened warrior such as myself should never do, no matter how comforting it may seem. For the first time since they had erected the Walmart, I was crying. Perhaps, after all of the years that I had served my beloved cause, I was no longer able to effectively defend it. As the hospital pillow warmed my face that fateful evening, I decided that my legacy would be to educate Robert about SWD (an acronym for "Strategic Walmart Defense") and, eventually, relinquish my privileges as a security guard.

"Robert?" My voice hadn't completely returned; instead, it sounded quite emotional, similar to that of a brave warrior's final, futile cry during battle. "Would you mind finding EZSECURE's corporate phone number for me? Oh, and a pen and piece of paper as well."

"No, of course not," he replied, in a vain but ambitious attempt to calm me, as he produced a pen from his shirt pocket and retrieved a pad of paper from the table nearest the hallway door. "Get some rest, will you? I'll bring you the number tomorrow morning, as soon as I wake up." I relayed my gratitude to Robert as he exited the desolate hospital room. He wouldn't enter it again until the next morning.

It was absolutely imperative that I schedule an appointment with EZSECURE's CEO, Thorslen Edwards, to convince him of my superlativeness as a security guard; perhaps he would permit me to return to my duties and fulfill my recently finalized plan. Grasping the plastic "Bic" pen, I began to compose my speech.

"Dear Mr. Edwards," I wrote. No, the word "dear" was unprofessional. In fact, an introductory statement wasn't proper, for I intended to deliver the speech personally. When my hand began to ache from inserting text onto paper, I decided to speak to Edwards extemporaneously. After all, I couldn't anticipate any of the questions that could be lurking inside of this accomplished man's mind. It would be both more efficient and more impressive to exercise my extensive tactical knowledge during the appointment.

The hospital began to quiet as the clock approached midnight. If it had been eight in the morning, the ardent sun beginning to illuminate Jasper, I would certainly be comfortable enough to engage in a restful night's sleep. For the moment, however, a nap would suffice.

Censorship

Journal: Exile [draft] 3

Journal by Walmart Security

It was late, nearly seven in the morning. The sun was rising; it crept through my window, seemingly in defiance of the darkness that was beginning to elude it. Its effluence of light had proven itself to be more beautiful every day. A mere twenty years of age, I'd not yet experienced a job in which people trusted you, especially with their well-being. Searching futily for the cable that connected the remote control to the new Zenith television that I'd purchased from my parents, I realized that my appointment was only an hour away. I hadn't any time to leisurely brew coffee and catch up on the country's events. As I stepped out of bed, I cringed slightly. The tile floor always seemed gelid to my bare feet during the winter, especially after one of those egregiously arctic nights when it seemed as though the season would never enter the transition to spring.

According to popular rumor, William Robinson, the man who would later interview me, was facilely impressed by somebody who wore fashionable clothing. I had purchased a pink polo shirt and dress pants a week prior from the Sears catalog. Today I would exhibit them as I attempted to become a security assistant. I stepped into the five year old maroon, 1947 Plymouth that I'd inherited from my grandfather. It operated immaculately. The bleak, uneventful drive to Robinson's office seemed like an eternity; I was quite eager to commence my interview.

"So you're Peter Geralds," a stocky man greeted me. He pointed at a chair. "Come, sit. May I offer you something to drink? Water? Coffee?"

"No, thank you." I replied with all of the calmness that I could muster.

He chuckled. "A martini?"

I had anticipated that William would be a businesslike, humorless man. What a pleasant surprise it was to meet somebody in an executive position that was so laid-back. "So, you want to be a security..." He flipped through my application. "... assistant, do you?"

"Why yes sir, I do." I hadn't been in a mood as pleasant as this for months, perhaps even years.

Then his smile turned to a rather maniacal glare. "You won't live long enough to be one." He hastily produced a Smith and Wesson revolver from his desk drawer and fired twice. I screamed as the bullets penetrated my chest. The man then walked over to my chair and pushed me to the floor. After a moment, I was drowning in my own warm blood, unable to think of anything but the searing pain... ... "Yeah, yeah. No, patient two-four-seven isn't conscious. Yeah, I want a cheeseburger. With mayo. Go get them, Rhonda. Now!" A man said commandingly.

"Fine, you anal-retentive... Ugh." The second voice was that of a woman; she seemed to be unwilling to comply.

  I opened my eyes attenuately. Unbearable pain indicated that I hadn't utilized them for days. My unfocused eyes created a vision of a white blur overhead. Perhaps I'd entered the afterlife. "Are you an angel?" I queried.

Whoever was standing over me began laughing feverishly. "I'm Thomas, your doctor. You certainly have a good sense of humor for somebody who has been unconscious for two days." His voice increased in intensity. "Hey Rhonda, before you leave, mark two-four-seven as conscious!"

"Where am I? Where's Robert? What happened?!" I was fretting. After all, he was my direct responsibility. If he had died, I promised myself that I would leave the security business permanently both in mourning and to prevent another tragedy occuring on my watch.

"You're at Christus Jasper Memorial. I'm afraid to say that Robert Arishima..." I interrupted the doctor in mid-sentence. "No!" I screamed, on the edge of tears. "He can't be dead! Not Robert! Why not me?"

Thomas placed his hand on my shoulder, comforting me. "I'm afraid to say that Mr. Arishima was released without injury two days ago, so you can't see him presently. Would you like me to call him?"

I felt as though I was a simpleton. How humiliating. Hopefully the doctor would practice a lot of discretion with both his peers and other patients, as well as Robert. "Yes, if it isn't bothersome."

"No, not at all," he replied. "Also, I have your incident report here, would you like to read it?"

Predictably, I responded with one word: "yes." Maybe it would shed light on the accident that Robert and I were involved in. My eyes, fortunately, were now focused. I grasped the paper as Thomas handed it to me and began reading the hastily constructed, rather inaccurate report:

"Incident report submitted by Harris on 3 April at 4 AM.

Two security attendants at Jasper Walmart Supercenter (Robert Arishima, Peter Geralds; blue EZSECURE golf cart, 1992) involved in vehicular collision with Paul Cryer (silver Mercedes-Benz SUV, 2001). Cryer reports that an unprovoked altercation (Arishima and Geralds being the aggressors) between the three preceded the accident..."

"Hey, Peter?" It was Robert! I ceased reading as he entered the room. "I've got bad news. You've um, been suspended as a security guard until EZSECURE investigates what happened. I'm sorry... Are you okay?"

The Almighty Buck

Journal: The SUV Encounter [rough draft]

Journal by Walmart Security
I smelled the air, ridden with the smell of garbage, as I eased my way into the EZSECURE golf cart with Robert, careful not to spill the hot coffee that I'd obtained at the McDonald's only minutes earlier. "This is my first time driving one of these things," he said with a slight hint of nervousness in his voice. "It's okay, Robert," I assured him. "These aren't much different than a car. Make it quick, I want to get away from this dumpster." Unfortunately for my coffee and I, my new recruit had never obtained a driver's license nor driven anything other than a bicycle. I had just made one of the most critical errors in the business: misinterpreting a potential threat to the well-being of Walmart's patrons as benign!

Just as Robert was attempting to enable the golf cart's electric motor, we received an urgent message via our walkie-talkie. "Peter! Somebody just left and didn't pay! Stop them!" It was the distress call of Vickie, the night cashier for register five. There wasn't a moment to lose. Our entire livelihood was at stake! I leapt into action without hesitation; this is what I was trained to do. "Robert, get in on the other side!" I exclaimed. The trainee, realizing that our situation was urgent, quickly transferred to the opposite side of the golf cart. In no time flat, we were dashing to the front door of our beloved Walmart. When we arrived, a man, presumably the suspect, was walking rapidly to his car. As we pulled along side of him, I estimated that he was approximately 6'1" and 280 pounds. A bit chubby, but most likely capable of violence. "Stop, criminal!" I exited the golf cart and drew a can of mace instantaneously. The astonished thief quickly put his hands up and he dropped the bag containing the stolen goods. He knew that he'd been caught in the act. There was nothing he could do in order to gain the advantage in this situation.

The man spoke without any resemblance of a native Jasper citizen's accent. "I'm not a criminal, you old fogey." Sure you aren't, I thought to myself. I'd heard this line hundreds of times prior to this incident. He exhibited a glare that would have intimidated less seasoned veterans into submission. "I was buying DVDs for my son, moron. We're on our way to Louisiana and he was becoming restless, so I thought I'd surprise him with some movies when he awoke from his nap." As the thief futilely attempted to share his alibi, Vickie ran out of the store. Struggling to find her breath, she explained, "It's okay, Peter. Sandra forgot to deactivate the Checkpoint tags. Uh, he's fine... Let him go..." Her cheeks had been rendered a bright shade of red by the embarassment. She'd just dispatched an elite squadron of trained officers to apprehend an innocent man. "Um, I apologize for the inconvenience," I said as I looked in his direction. "What is your name, if I may ask?"

"Screw you," he retorted. "You inept, dollar an hour morons just ruined my vacation. I'll be leaving in a moment, once I eat the rest of my Quarter Pounder with Cheese." The three of us then went our opposite ways. Robert and I walked back to the golf cart; he recommended that I teach him how to properly manuever our patrol cruiser. He started the golf cart and began driving it rather skillfully. "You're doing well," I complimented. He looked over at me, smiling proudly. As he began to focus on driving again, an automobile's headlights blinded both of us. My hand instinctually grabbed the EZSECURE golf cart's hand rail. All I could hear was the twisting and tearing of metal; all I could see was an emblem resembling a silver star (one I'd never before observed), apparently lit by the reflection of the front parking lot's stadium lighting, as everything faded to the darkest of ebony...

% APL is a natural extension of assembler language programming; ...and is best for educational purposes. -- A. Perlis

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