CHAPTER FIVE HUNDRED AND NINETY-EIGHT
Sunday morning — 6:04 a.m.
Mike jogged down the stairs from the second floor and into the main Castle kitchen. The kitchen was dark and quiet. No one had made coffee. No pot of tea sat under the tea cozy. Everything was exactly the same as he’d left it when he’d cleaned up last night.
“Oh Jake, when will you return to breathe life into this house?” Mike asked out loud.
He laughed at his joke. He switched on the drip coffee maker and set the kettle on the stove. No electric kettle for Mike Roper. He wanted his water slowly heated over a natural gas fire. Nodding to himself, he turned to go back upstairs. His kids were sleeping over with MJ and Honey’s daughter, Maggie. Valerie was sleeping in.
He looked at the kettle on the stove and wondered if he could hear the squeal from the kettle from upstairs. He did not want Jake to come home and find that Mike had burned down the Castle.
“Electric kettle it is,” Mike said.
He grinned at his brilliant pre-thinking, he turned off the stove, and clicked on the electric kettle. He was walking away when he realized that he’d forgotten to check to see if the electric kettle had water inside. He jogged back to the kettle and opened the lid.
“Oh shit,” Mike said.
The kettle was empty.
He filled the electric kettle with water and started back toward the stairs. He could cuddle with Valerie for at least another hour before the kids came back. Passing the windows to the garden, he glanced out the window into the backyard.
Delphie was pacing off the grass strip between the flagstone path and the fruit trees with one straight leg and then the other. She looked like a toy soldier or something out of the Christmas parade. Mike glanced up the stairs and then out the window again.
“Valerie’s asleep anyway,” Mike said.
He squinted as Delphie turned around on the grass. Delphie stopped short and stared at the grass. He looked up at the ceiling and groaned.
He couldn’t resist. He had to know what Delphie was doing.
He walked out of the kitchen and into the backyard. He was almost to Delphie before she looked up at him.
“What are you doing?” Mike asked.
“Nothing,” Delphie said.
“Nothing?” Mike asked.
“Standing here?” Delphie shrugged.
Mike stuck his leg straight out and did a straight legged marched along the stretch of grass.
“What’s it to you?” Delphie said, saucily with a hand on her hip.
Her attitude was simply too much for Mike. He laughed out loud. Delphie grinned with satisfaction.
Valerie opened the window from their apartment.
“Hey!” Valerie yelled. “Keep it down out there! Some people are trying to sleep.”
This caused Delphie to laugh. As if they’d heard the funniest joke, Delphie and Mike stood on the grass laughing.
Wearing only her dressing gown, Valerie appeared at the kitchen door. She ran across the deck and down the stairs.
“Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow,” Valerie said as her feet touched the frost hardened grass. Still laughing, Mike took a few steps and picked her up in his arms. He carried her back to Delphie.
“What are we doing?” Valerie asked.
“I was just asking Delphie that,” Mike said.
Valerie and Mike looked at Delphie. She grinned.
“I want to take out this stretch of grass,” Delphie said.
“I knew you would complain!” Delphie said. She raised her eyebrows. “I’ll just wait until Jake comes home.”
Mike shook his head at Delphie’s manipulation.
“Jake will do any thing for me,” Delphie said.
Mike gave her a firm look.
“Why exactly do you want to get rid of this lovely grass?” Mike asked. “Grass, I might add, that I’ve spent years busting my ass to grow and nurture. For you.”
“Oooh the big man and his grass,” Delphie said.
“Did you miss the ‘for you’ part?” Mike asked with mock indignation.
“Are you going to plant it here?” Valerie asked from her perch in Mike’s arms.
“I think so,” Delphie said to Valerie.
“No,” Mike said. “No. You cannot plant your pot plants here. No. I won’t take care of them. Jake will freak out. For heaven’s sake, the Castle is full of little kids! You elderly stoners are going to have to grow your plants somewhere else.”
Valerie and Delphie laughed.
“What?” Mike asked. “Why are you laughing?”
“She wants to plant a grain here,” Valerie said. “What’s it called?”
“Kernza,” Delphie said. “It creates deep roots. It’s perennial so we don’t have to replant every year. Captures carbon. Good for the climate and…”
“What does it taste like?” Mike asked.
“It’s great,” Valerie said at the same time that Delphie said, “It’s okay.”
“You have to mix Kernza flour with wheat flour,” Delphie said with a shrug. “I think it’s a good idea. And we have the space.”
“The kids like playing on the grass!” Mike said.
“We have plenty of grass,” Delphie gestured to the patches around the garden. “But the kids can’t play on them now because no one’s picked up after the dogs.”
“Jake!” Mike said. He raised a fist and shook it at the sky.
The women laughed. He gave Delphie a nod and turned in place. Still carrying Valerie, he walked across the yard. He’d just reached the door when Delphie yelled, “You’re going to help me, right?”
“Let’s wait for Jake,” Mike said, wrenching open the kitchen door. “I have something else to take care of this morning.”
Delphie grinned at them and began pacing off the space again. Valerie laughed. He carried her up the stairs and back to bed.
Sunday mid-day — 11:25 a.m.
“Oh hey, you’re home,” Mike said, coming out into the driveway. “There’s some dog poop for you to pick up in the backyard.”
Jacob’s eyebrow lowered in exaggerated irritation at Mike. He opened the back door to the SUV and Sarah jumped out. Sarah ran passed Mike and barked at something about a foot behind Mike. His eyes following Sarah, Mike turned to find a wall made out of individual pieces of dog excrement.
Mike squeaked with surprise. Jacob laughed. Mike’s eyes moved to Jake and back to the wall. Mike pointed to the wall. Jacob gave a simple nod. Mike began to laugh until he was bent over laughing.
Sam came out from the backyard to see what was going on. When he saw the wall of excrement, he grabbed the trash bin and dragged it under the wall.
Sam cleared his throat.
Jacob looked over at his father. Mike stopped laughing.
Sam gave Jacob the Universal “You’re in trouble” fatherly look. He opened the trash bin lid. Sam pointed into the trashcan.
Jacob made the poop drop into the trash bin. The poop made a loud drumming sound as each individual piece hit the bin.
When the poop was done, Sam nodded his head. Sam dragged the bin back to its place and walked back to the backyard without ever saying a word.
Jacob and Mike burst out laughing again. Jacob gave Mike two heavy suitcase bags. Mike took them and started toward the house.
“Good to have you back, man,” Mike said. Just before he got to the door, he turned around and said, “Hockey today at two.”
“Hockey?” Jacob asked.
“We’re in the big leagues now,” Mike yelled as he opened the side door.
Sarah slipped into the Castle in front of Mike.
“Why?” Jacob asked.
The door closed before Mike responded. Shaking his head, Jacob pulled out the rest of the gear from SUV and piled it in the driveway.
Jill came out of the Castle by the side door.
“They don’t have any either,” Jill said to Jacob.
“I can carry this stuff in,” Jill said. She winced. “Can you get some baby wipes?”
“Do we need a case or just some for the night?” Jacob said.
“Some,” Jill said. “Heather’s going to the bulk store tomorrow.”
“Rotisserie Chicken?” Jacob asked with a smile.
Jill grinned at him as she waited for him to agree to go get the baby wipes.
“I can always go,” Jill said mildly.
“Go?” Jacob scowled as he placed the last bag on the stack.
“Baby wipes?” Jill said, her irritation rise.
He shook his head.
“I’ll go,” Jacob said. “Sorry, I thought that was a given. Are you okay with the convenience store?”
He gestured to the 7-11 at the end of the block.
“The Sev is fine,” Jill said. “Just get a bunch because we’re all out.”
“Got it,” Jacob said.
“I can carry this stuff inside,” Jill said.
Jacob clapped his hands and the bags disappeared.
“What? Where…?” Jill asked.
“Inside,” Jacob said. “Dirty laundry downstairs. What can be put away is put away.”
“Oh,” Jill said. “Nice hat trick?”
“I do not want my bride to worry herself over such trivialities,” Jacob said. “I, Knight Jacob, will slay the dragon and get the baby wipes.”
“And be home in time for hockey?” Jill asked.
“I have no idea what Mike is talking about,” Jacob said.
Jill raised her eyebrows.
“I will figure it out when I get back,” Jacob said.
He closed the SUV door and tucked the keys into his pocket.
“When do we pick up Katy?” Jacob asked.
“Five,” Jill said. “While you’re at hockey.”
She turned in place and walked toward the door.
“Do I have no free will?” Jacob asked.
“No,” Jill said, turning around.
Laughing, she went inside the Castle. He grinned at her back and went through the front gate. He walked to the end of the block where he went inside the convenience store.
The clerk turned to look at him when he came in the door. The man had two heads. Well, not two heads exactly. The creature had one transparent head that hung two inches to the creature’s left side and another human looking head.
“Hello, Demon,” Jacob said.
The creature gave Jacob a Halloweenish horrifying smile.
“Hello, Jacob Marlowe,” the demon said. “Come to give me your soul.”
“Nah,” Jacob said. “I just need baby wipes.”
Jacob pointed to where he knew the wipes were usually shelved. Ignoring the demon, Jacob walked to wipes. His hand was on the packages when the demon appeared in all of his terrifying form. The creature stood at least ten feet tall. He had a shell like deep-red skin similar to a lobster or a beetle. His face was human-like with large round eyes in sunken sockets and long pointed teeth. Its hands were huge but human-like. He had two legs that extended to large feet.
“Why are you here, Jacob Marlowe?” the demon asked.
“Baby wipes?” Jacob asked as he slid the entire stack of packages of wipes into his hand.
“On this planet!” the demon’s voice rose in irritation. “Why are you here on this planet?”
“Good question,” Jacob said. “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
The demon leaned forward and exhaled a stream of fire. Jacob held up his free hand. A shield of energy repelled the fire back at the demon.
“You’re melting the chocolate,” Jacob said, gesturing to a wilting display of chocolate candy.
The demon stared at Jacob for a long moment. The sound of dripping chocolate could be heard over the smooth jazz playing on the store speakers.
“Turn,” Jacob leaned forward, “Off. The. Flame.”
The demon screamed with rage at Jacob.
“Are we having a bar-be-que?” Mike asked from the door of the store.
The demon turned toward Mike. It took a deep breath and blew fire in Mike’s direction.
“Be gone,” Mike said.
Mike waved his hand dismissively and the demon exploded. Bits of demons blew all over the store. Jacob quickly ducked but the bulk of it blew all over a shocked Mike.
“Wha… Wha… Wha…” Mike said.
Grinning at Mike, Jacob dropped the money for the baby wipes on the counter and walked toward the door.
“What just happened?” Mike asked.
“You blew up a demon,” Jacob said.
Mike followed Jacob out of the store.
“But…” Mike said. “You’re sure you didn’t…”
“It wasn’t me,” Jacob said with a shake of her head.
They started walking down the sidewalk. They were almost at the Castle when Mike shook himself from head to toe.
“How?” Mike asked.
“I think you’ve found your Titan skill,” Jacob said. He patted Mike on the shoulder. “You are, after all, the eldest son of the Titan of Destruction. Congratulations. May it serve you well.”
Laughing, Jacob went through the gate leaving Mike on the other side. Jill met Jacob at the door. She took the stack of baby wipes from Jacob. She picked a piece of red shell off Jacob’s shoulder.
“Lobster?” Jill asked.
“Demon,” Jacob said.
“I killed a demon!” Mike said with great pride in his voice.
Jill slapped a package of baby wipes into his arms.
“Val’s waiting for you, demon slayer,” Jill said.
“I,” Mike put his hand on his chest, “killed an actual demon! Blew him apart!”
“Good for you,” Jill said.
“I have to tell Val,” Mike said. “She’ll freak!”
Mike pushed passed them to head through the side door. Jill and Jacob laughed.
“Do you think he knows that he’s covered in red muck?” Jill asked as they head into the Castle.
“I don’t think he cares,” Jacob said.
Jill laughed. They’d reached the landing of the long stairway when Jill turned.
“A demon?” Jill asked.
“Annoying,” Jacob said. “He melted all of the chocolate in the 7-11.”
“Asshole,” Jill said.
“That’s got to be a sin,” Jacob said.
She stared up the rest of the stairwell and looked back at Jacob.
“You weren’t afraid?” Jill asked. “I think I would be terrified.”
“One thing I learned from Levi Johanssen…” Jacob said.
“Delphie’s abuser?” Jill asked. “The one who tried to kill her?”
“I learned from Johanssen is these kinds of creatures only care about power. What they want is power over you,” Jacob said. “By being afraid or angry, you give them power over you. You give up your time on this earth to read about them, think about them, or even worry about them. What you focus on grows. Nothing annoys the power hungry more than ignoring them. It’s the best way to hold onto your own power.”
“I seemed to irritate this one,” Jacob said.
Jill gave him a slight nod and headed up the stairs.
“Did he want your soul?” Jill asked as she entered the loft.
“It’s what he said, but how likely is that?” Jacob asked, with a snort.
They laughed as they entered the loft.
“We have them!” Jill said.
Heather and Tanesha laughed and cheered. Jill passed a package to Jacob.
“Since you’re already a mess,” Jill said.
Laughing, Jacob went into the twin’s room to find all of the toddlers in need of a change. Blane came in after him.
“You’re not ready for Hockey!” Blane exclaimed.
“After he finished up,” Jill said.
Heather and Tanesha laughed. Jacob gave Blane a package of wipes and they got started. They finished in almost no time.
“I need to shower,” Jacob said.
“Well make it fast!” Blane said. “We’re almost late.”
“Will do,” Jacob said
He went to the shower wondering what else could possibly happen on this silly day.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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