Awoken – Chapter IV

The Bakery

“Ah, Kevan, I’m so glad you stopped by today!”

This was the most welcoming greeting I’ve ever had walking into Mr. and Mrs. Kelsey’s Bakery. It was the most welcome I’ve ever felt from him or his wife – who are my neighbours. 

The standard demeanour of this short, plump and balding man was regularly pleasant and cordial, but never overtly warm.

“Good day Mr. Kelsey. You seem to be in a pleasant mood.”

He looks at me with a sly smile, lowers his spectacles and gives an awkward wink. Then he glances over at a couple who are debating whether to buy buns or baguettes for their dinner party.

I recognize them immediately. The Szabo’s were new to town and I had just sold them a bungalow a few blocks away from our neighbourhood. They claim to be semi-retired business attorneys turned consultants who can work from home, but I don’t quite believe them. 

Mr. and Mrs. Szabo have a certain don’t-mess-with-me aura about them; their eyes are cold and calculating. I’ve seen those before on killers I’ve arrested. I believe they’re government contractors who are here keeping an eye on things. It’s why I had already decided to avoid them at all costs once the real estate deal was done.

I make my voice loud, “Mr. Kelsey, do you have any of those amazing Cinnamon buns Keri and Johnny love so much?”

“Not quite yet, they’re still in the oven. It won’t take too long before they’re done. Do you want to wait or come back later?”

“I’ll wait. This was my last stop before going home to enjoy family time for the rest of the day.”

“Hello Kevin,” says Mr. Szabo. “Oh, hello Mr. Szabo … Mrs. Szabo. How is your new home?”

“Excellent, thank you for asking,” says Mrs. Szabo. Her husband adds: “We appreciate you helping us find it and at a good price as well.”

“It was my pleasure.”

They smile and then pay for their buns and baguettes. It was probably easier just to buy both than stay there deciding what to do. Or maybe they were listening in to see if there was anything untoward about me or Mr. Kelsey.

As soon as the Szabos are out the door, Mr. Kelsey begins regaling me with a hundred different theories he has about the laboratory experiments, the disappearance of so many longtime residents, the threat to our lives from hordes of two-headed snakes and the way he’s starting to gather evidence.

He finally stops talking at looks at me with pleading eyes, “you think I’m crazy don’t you.”

“I don’t think you’re crazy, but I do know you shouldn’t be talking about these theories to anyone else, because they might not be so understanding.”

I put a finger to my mouth in a shush motion and point to my ears. He nods in understanding: the government is listening. Then more motions – finger to eye, followed by a few taps of my head. I know.

Mr. Kelsey has a glint of nervous excitement in his eye, he puts the closed sign on his storefront, locks the door and motions for me to follow him. 

Although I’m not overly confident in doing so, I can’t help myself. Those damn detective instincts just won’t subside even after all these years.

We go into storage room and he opens the walk-in fridge door. We walk through and he hits a few buttons on the thermometer; the back wall slides open and reveals a small, but mighty laboratory. 

An extensive set-up with all the equipment necessary to research any manner of items. Several computers, microscopes, Petri dishes, stainless steel from head to toe, heat lamps, lab coats, masks, goggles: you name it and it was in there.

Then, I see why Mr. Kelsey was so happy to see me: three large aquariums housing amphisbaenas in a variety of sizes.

“When they get too big, I eliminate them,” says Mr. Kelsey matter-of-factly.

As if that was the only question I could possibly have. Whether it was my facial expression or simply his weird train of thought, the 60-year-old baker-turned-scientist goes on.

“I wasn’t always a baker you know. I’m a trained biologist and worked for a large pharmaceutical company before choosing to settle here.”

He then explains how he met his now wife at her family bakery in the city. He was nearly 40 years old and tiring of the lab life. They choose this small town due to its quiet and friendly lifestyle.

“Mrs. Kelsey has bad Arthritis in her hands, or she would be here helping more. But that would prevent me from doing my lab work. The less she knows, the safer she’ll be.”

I’m not too sure about that, but I don’t want to add stress to the situation, so I keep quiet and nod gently.

He goes on, “a few weeks after the incident with Mr. Anderson, I was cleaning up my backyard when I noticed one of these two-headed snakes …”

“Amphisbaena. Apparently in Greek mythology, one came to life from a drop of blood after Medusa’s head was severed by Perseus. The name comes from the Greek words amphi, meaning both ways, and bainein, which means to go.”

“Oh, you know the legend. Good for you. So, anyways, I see one near the forest at the back of our property and start to follow it.”

Mr. Kelsey explains how he found a small nest with about 30 of the serpents crawling all over each other. He decided this was more than a coincidence and collected them all for further study.

“Before you ask, the lab was set up when I first purchased the bakery 20 years ago. I still had a thirst for knowledge, but I wanted it to be on my terms. Over the years, I used it to study local flora and fauna as well as monitoring water supplies.”

For the first time since meeting Mr. Kelsey around 12 years ago, I’m impressed with the man. His desire to explore and discover facts is on par with many forensic experts I worked with over the years.

“They don’t have reproductive organs as far as I can tell,” Mr. Kelsey says. “So, I started wondering, why are there so many of them?”

Sure enough, there are about 100 in the aquariums. But he said he only captured 30. 

Watch this he says and proceeds to cut the head off one of the serpentine creatures in the middle tank.

The blood drips into the writhing pile and immediately a feeding frenzy occurs; they devour their cousin’s body in seconds.

“Now, we wait.”

About ten minutes pass and we stare at the tank in complete silence. Then the sounds of aggravating hissing begin. The over 30 snakes in the tank begin to convulse violently, eventually vomiting up what look like little balls – until they begin moving and a little head can be seen at each end.

“Oh, my goodness, they’re puking up babies,” I say aloud. “Is that even possible?”

“Well, it shouldn’t be. But apparently it is. When I first discovered this, I thought to myself the legends of Medusa must be true, the blood is somehow magically creating new life.”

However, Mr. Kelsey’s keen scientific mind quickly dismissed that idea. He began a series of blood tests and found that the amphisbaenas’ strange DNA allowed them to reproduce in this manner.

“Self-replication of a reptilian species shouldn’t exist, but it occurs inside these creatures, who shouldn’t exist either. It’s an amped up version of replacing a tail or a leg.”

He believes whatever they’re developing at the government lab is the culprit and is determined to get to the bottom of it. 

“Afterall, this is a genuine threat to all of us. I’m bringing this to you because I know you were a detective and from what I’ve been told, you were a darn good one.”  

All I can do is agree to help. I tell Mr. Kelsey to keep this information between us and I promise to keep my eyes and ears open.

As I’m leaving the store, I bump into the Szabos. Apparently, they weren’t in a rush to get home from the bakery. Mrs. Szabo looks me up and down, “forget something?”

“Uhm, not that I’m aware of.”

“Your cinnamon buns. That is what you were visiting the bakery for, isn’t it?”

Rookie mistake by me. “Oh, Keri texted and changed her mind. She’s going to try baking some herself instead.”

“That was an awfully long time you spent chatting with Mr. Kelsey,” opines Mr. Szabo. “What in the world could you be talking about? And, why would he need to close the shop while you two were chatting?”

“For a retired couple who claim to be business attorneys, you’re acting a lot like investigative reporters right now.”

They both smile and expose the concealed nine-millimeter pistols from under their jackets. 

“I guess we’re taking a little trip together then.”

They motion to their car and I get in. There is no choice at this point, better to go along and figure out what’s going on than test their mettle on the street.

Mrs. Szabo sits beside me and jabs her gun into my ribs. It hurt, but I don’t show it.

“No questions. No remarks. No sounds. Just silence.”

The car pulls out and we start driving out of town. I know this route; we’re going to the laboratory. Well, no matter what happens to me, at least I’ll have some answers.

 

This excerpt is from Random Words, Random Stories. A collection of short fiction by Christopher Occhiuzzi. With Artwork by Anwyn Westgarth.

 

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