The Link

byDreamCloud©

"Are you going to save the world?" I asked Stinky. She grabbed my nose and gave it a tug, then turned her eyes back to the shelf. I moved her closer so she could get both hands around the can. It was too heavy for her to lift, so I helped. I got a breathless laugh for my efforts. We didn't need a can of spray starch, but I bought it anyway.

"Your nose is bleeding," Charlie told me. I reached up and wiped under my nostrils. My finger came back with a small amount of blood. I wiped again, and it came back clean.

"I think I hit the airbag pretty hard," I said, shrugging it off to the accident.

"What was that all about," Charlie asked, once we were on the road again. I was busy feeding Stinky some slightly chunky carrot concoction that didn't smell tasty. She acted like it was chocolate cake. I couldn't seem to spoon it fast enough. It was the first time I had seen her demanding side. She also insisted on trying to help which made matters worse.

"The kid was going to rob the store," I said, using my finger too quickly dam up some dripping carrot on Stinky's chin. I pushed it up and between her lips. She grunted excitedly, wanting more. "It was strange. You know how you can remember things and dredge things up from long ago?"

"Yeah," Charlie answered, glancing between me and the road. I dipped the plastic spoon back in the jar as Stinky strained at the chair straps to try and reach it herself.

"This time, I recognized the gun and knew how to take it apart. I could see the manual." I said as Stinky's carrot covered hands helped me pull the spoon into her mouth.

"So?"

"I've never really touched a gun. Never liked them," I said, scooping up the carrot mess on Stinky's chin. Only half the stuff was making it in her mouth on the first try. This feeding thing would take some serious practice. "I think I was seeing someone else's memory."

"Maybe you see what you need," Charlie added.

"Stop helping," I said laughing. Stinky ignored me, tugging at the spoon. If her teeth were in, she would have bit the spoon in half. I pulled the spoon back and refilled it. "It was tense there for a moment. I can't believe I confronted him with her in my arms. It was so logical at the time though now it seems idiotic."

"It was risky," Charlie agreed.

"You don't think about risk," I continued. I succeeded in getting the spoon into Stinky's mouth intact. She inhaled the carrots and opened her mouth for more. "It was like I knew the outcome before I started. I saw nothing but success." I set carrot jar down on my knee and looked at Charlie. "What if I was wrong?"

"She has to come first," Charlie analyzed. My thoughts exactly. Stinky grunted like a chimp and waved her hands excitedly. I smiled and went back to feeding. She seemed to be starving.

"I have to get her to her people," I said, "someone who knows what to do." Charlie nodded as I spooned more orange glop into the bottomless pit. "I was the wrong person to pick for this job."

"I think you were the only person," Charlie chuckled, "Besides, she likes you." He looked over at the ravenous beast.

"She does, doesn't she?" I agreed, prouder than I had been in a long time. I've known her for only half a day, but I knew I would protect her with everything I had. I let my finger linger on her chin, cleaning more spillage. I let the tingle grow, and I smiled at her. Love flooded me, her love. I would protect her with my life if I had too. An ugly orange smeared smile appeared, her hunger forgotten for a moment. She was very addictive.

Chapter 4 - Sam

I woke with a start. The lack of engine noise was overpowering as I wiped the drool off my face. I didn't remember falling asleep. The truck was pulled over at a well-lit gas station. I panicked seeing both Stinky and Charlie gone. Her car seat was still in the truck, but she and her bag were gone. I jumped from the truck, looked around quickly and decided to head toward the mini-mart attached to the station. I took off at a jog, the thought of losing Stinky was filling me with fear.

Charlie emerged from the mini-mart, Stinky smiling in his arm. He saw the relief in my face and shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry, you looked dead to the world. I thought you could use a bit more sleep," he apologized.

"No worries," I lied. My shoulders relaxed.

"Stinky is an apt name," Charlie smiled. I laughed, realizing why he stopped. He handed me Stinky's bag and held onto the girl. She seemed at home in his arms. Jealousy poked at me again, but I let it go. Everyone deserves some love after changing a diaper.

"Now that we're in Flagstaff, what's the plan?" Charlie asked.

"A place to sleep and I'll need to find some transportation," I said, thinking out loud, "maybe Amtrak." We started moving back to the truck.

"I hate goodbyes," Charlie said, moving slowly, "she makes it even harder." I could only nod. I would be in the same boat once I get to Portland. It was sad thinking about it. Though it hadn't been an entire day, Stinky made it seem an eternity.

"I think there's a Roadway Inn, a couple of blocks from the train station," Charlie continued, "It may not be the best, but it's cheap."

"Cheap is good," I agreed, "and all we're going to do is sleep. Can't believe I nodded out during the drive." Charlie lifted Stinky and put his lips to her forehead. He closed his eyes and held her there. I knew she was joining with him for the last time. His eyes flew open.

"They're coming," he said, handing me Stinky. He moved quickly to the truck. I followed trusting his words. "They're looking for the truck," He continued, as he opened the door and started to unhook the baby seat. "About four blocks away." He pointed to the southeast, diagonally across the street.

"Who's coming?" I asked, taking my overnight bag he thrust out behind him.

"Police, I think," Charlie answered as he removed the last of the car seat straps, "They're looking for her." His voice was as rushed as his movements.

"How did they know we are here?"

"I don't know, maybe my phone," Charlie responded shrugging his shoulders. He handed me the car seat. I shouldered the bags and took the seat. He looked at me with seriousness, "they want her. I don't know why, but I think we are in the way. They know of her and are wary of us."

"Shit," I sighed. My mind worked quickly, trying to figure out my next move. Leaving the truck was a given. "You have to stay with the truck," I said quickly. I thrust my left hip forward. "Take my phone out of my pocket and shove it between the seats. If they're tracking it, say I must have left it when you dropped me at the Motel 6 in Winslow." Charlie nodded and retrieved the phone.

"Go," Charlie said, "take care of her."

"Thank you, Charlie," I returned as I moved off quickly, my arms full of bags, seat, and baby. I moved behind the mini-mart toward a large metal dumpster. I was able to scoot behind, between it and the fence. I watched as Charlie hopped in the truck and started off down the road. Sirens and flashing lights followed only a few seconds later. I doubt if he made half a block.

One of the police cars pulled into the mini-mart and two officers got out. Both cops were wearing skin-tight blue gloves, most likely latex. One went directly into the store, the other stood watching whatever was happening down the street with Charlie. The store would have video, and I knew my time was limited. Whoever was after Stinky held enough power to track us down quickly. I thought about using Stinky, then shelved the idea. The cops had guns, and I might get too brave. The gloves meant they were aware of Stinky's gift, or under orders from someone who was. I needed a diversion.

The dumpster was full of cardboard, paper, and plastic. It would burn. I could be a block away before it was noticed. I assessed my supplies and decided against carrying the car seat. It was too bulky to make a getaway. The bags and baby were enough.

The cop moved toward the mini-mart following his partner and disappeared from my view. I prayed the clerk didn't have the ability to replay video, and they would have to wait for a manager or owner. I lifted the dumpster's plastic lid until it leaned against the fence. I put the car seat in the bin and lit a corner of a piece of paper on fire with my lighter. It started burning quickly. On a whim, I tossed in Stinky's can of starch and took off down the side road, away from where the action was.

I was a block and a half away when I heard the shouts of fire. I turned, moving between some bushes, and started walking through the backyards of modest homes. It was dark enough that I couldn't be seen from the road. A small tract of trees divided the properties on each side. I hugged the tree line, and moved as quickly as I could, trying to calculate my next step.

A loud explosion echoed off the houses. The can of starch had burst. I saw lights go on in some of the houses and rethought the wisdom of adding the can to the fire. I heard a sliding door open a few house behind me and another next to it. There was talk and interest in what was happening. Another door opened in front of me, and an old woman walked out onto a wooden deck.

"What's going on?" the woman called to me. In the dark, she probably thought me a neighbor. I was out of options and needed cover. I saw reflections of rotating blue and red lights coming from the street. I moved toward the woman.

"A problem at the mini-mart," I said as generically as possible. I didn't think her sight was that good or she would have questioned the bags and baby in my arms.

"I hope they aren't getting robbed again," the woman said, rising on her toes as if it would help her see more. The flashing lights from the road were raising my adrenaline and making me move faster. Thankfully, the lights were attracting the other neighbors eyes.

The woman was wearing a robe and slippers. As I neared, she became visibly startled when she recognized the burdens in my arms. She stepped backward toward her sliding glass door as I sped forward.

"Please," I said, holding Stinky high on my chest, "I need to borrow your phone." The woman looked at me and back at the lights behind the trees. I could see she was connecting me to them since we were both out of place. I moved quicker when I saw her reach for the door handle.

"Please," I said desperately, dropping my bags and laying my hand on her arm. My other hand snuck up under Stinky's top, gracing the skin on her belly.

"Don't hurt..." the woman's panic drifted away as Stinky invaded both our minds. I could sense the woman's loneliness. I saw an image of man and experienced the loss she felt, still strong though I knew it was years ago. I watched as her confusion changed to determination and a smile graced her lips. "Inside, quickly," she said.

I sensed the police and their desire to find Stinky. I squatted, picking up the bags and followed the woman into her house. As soon as I entered, she closed the door, the drapes, and pointed to a small couch. I dropped the bags in front of the couch and sat down heavily. Stinky bounced in my lap and smiled. Reality returned. I let my breath slow back down to normal.

"Who is she?" the woman asked. Her eyes were kind, almost grandmother like as she examined Stinky. I could see we had disturbed her sleep. Her curled gray hairs were askew, and her face was devoid of any makeup.

"I don't know," I replied, knowing I couldn't lie. She had felt Stinky.

"You have the same name as my late husband, Sam" the woman said. My eyes widened. Stinky had shown her what she needed to see.

"I saw him," I admitted, "he was tall with gray sideburns and his eyes formed deep crinkles when he smiled." The woman smiled lovingly. The smile was for her husband, not for me.

"She's special," the woman said, sitting down next to me. Stinky reached out to the woman, and I helped her change laps.

"Very special," I added.

"I'm Rose," the woman said as she held Stinky.

"I'm Sam, as you know, and that's Stinky," I said. Stinky smiled at her name.

"Stinky? What an awful name for such a beautiful child," Rose said as she lightly bounced Stinky on her lap. Stinky gave Rose one of her breathless laughs.

"I don't know her real name," I said, "the first time I met her, she pooped and was...well stinky. It kind of stuck." Stinky smiled when I said her name again. "See, she likes it." Rose laughed. I could see it had been a long time since she had laughed. It made me feel good to be part of it. Strange, I never cared for the feelings of old ladies in the past.

"Would you like something to eat, Sam?" Rose asked. I was hungry, but would have said yes either way. I could tell she wanted to feed me. That it would make her feel good to watch me eat. I liked the idea of her feeling good. Stinky was changing me.

"That would be wonderful," I replied. Rose smiled in a grandmotherly way and handed Stinky back to me. I followed her into the kitchen.

"I always make a few meals at a time when I cook," Rose said as she pulled out a deep dish from the refrigerator, "decided to make fried chicken today. I hope you like chicken."

"Yes, very much," I answered. I sat down with Stinky at the kitchen table. It was a small kitchen. The table was pushed against the corner with three chairs, two on one side and one at the end. I watched as she moved two fried breasts from the dish onto a pan and placed it in the oven.

"Green beans okay?"

"Perfect," I replied. My mouth was starting to water. I was hungrier than I thought.

"Why are they after her?" Rose asked as she pulled a bowl of green beans out of the fridge. I explained everything I knew. Rose listened intently while she warmed everything up. I could again sense her joy in preparing the meal for me. I was company and Stinky had convinced her I was safe company. Rose needed company.

"Aren't you going to join me?" I asked when she set the food in front of me.

"I already ate," Rose replied as she took Stinky from my arms, "I have to watch my girlish figure." I tried not to laugh, but her smile made me. She sat down next to me and watched me eat. The chicken, even re-warmed, was excellent.

"I believe your thinking is sound," Rose said, as I rudely licked my fingers. She handed me a napkin without comment. "you should take Stinky to Portland." The seasoning on the chicken was tasty and I hated to waste it, but I resisted licking my fingers again, and used the napkin. Rose frowned on bad manners and subconsciously created a desire in me to comply.

Stinky started grunting and leaning toward my green beans. I could see the hunger in her eyes. I teased her by picking up one of the beans and putting it my mouth. She hooted like a chimp and waved her arms up and down. I laughed.

"Don't tease her," Rose chastised.

"I have some baby food in the bags," I said, chuckling as I stood. I retrieved some green bean mash so we could share the same flavor.

"May I?" Rose asked. I could see the desire in her eyes.

"Sure," I responded as I traded her the baby-food jar for Stinky. I sat Stinky on my lap and let Rose feed her. Stinky was no less a pig with green beans than she was with carrots. Her whole body would get involved as she struggled to get as much as she could as fast as she could. Rose was having the time of her life trying to keep Stinky from swallowing the spoon.

"I remember feeding Natalie when she was this small," Rose said with a smile, "always so excited. Always trying to help. Just like this one."

"Natalie?"

"She's my daughter," Rose said as she dodged Stinky's food coated fingers with the spoon, "she lives in Phoenix now. A bigshot lawyer." Rose laughed when Stinky caught the spoon and tried to stick more than necessary in her mouth. Stinky seemed so pleased she got control and kicked with her legs to let us all know her success.

"Do you see her often?"

"Thanksgiving and Christmas," Rose said as she reloaded the spoon, "If she ever gets married, I suspect I will see even less." I saw the hurt in her face even while she smiled for Stinky. I thought of my mother and wondered what she was doing at that moment. I hadn't seen her in years and wasn't planning too. Of course, she was rarely motherly or sober, unlike Rose. Never knew my father and hadn't seen any of my extended family since I was a child.

"You could visit her," I suggested. I don't know where it came from, but I felt I needed to provide an option. I wanted to help.

"Yes," Rose replied, "I suppose I could." Rose fought through Stinky's grabby hands to put another spoonful of beans in Stinky's mouth. I think there was more on Stinky's face then had found its way into her tummy. Rose competently corralled the mess around Stinky's face with the spoon and fed it back to her as if it was normal to eat food off one's face. I watched and learned.

"You don't like your life," Rose said, matter-of-factly, as she reloaded the spoon. Stinky was grunting with excitement, her eyes following the spoon intently. Stinky must have shown Rose a lot about me.

"I'm not..." I stuttered, then decided to change to past tense, "I wasn't a good person." Rose chuckled. I wasn't sure if it was because of Stinky or the change in my words.

"None of us are always good," Rose said, fighting Stinky for control of the spoon, "I flattened my husband's tire just to make him notice me. Well, he wasn't my husband yet, but I was determined." This time, I chuckled.

"I'm surprised he would speak to you after that," I said.

"Oh, he never knew it was me, and I never told him." Rose was smiling as the memory came back to her. "He ran a delivery route at the time, and I would order things just to get him to the house. My mother would get so angry at all money I wasted." Rose continued slowly feeding Stinky, ignoring Stinky's grunts demanding she speed up. "One day, I figured I would get him to stay longer. Sam was delivering to the front door, and I ran from the back yard and stabbed his tire with a knife." Rose looked up at me. "It's a lot harder than your think to stab a tire. It had taken a few tries before I heard the air escaping."

"You have a devious mind, Rose," I said with a smile.

"It worked," Rose shrugged, "he had to borrow the phone to call for a repair truck. I got an uninterrupted two hours with him. I had a date by the time he left." Rose's smile grew as more memories I wouldn't hear emerged.

"That was for a good cause," I said, ashamed at my past, "I have done selfish things. Hurt people just because I wanted things."

"Stabbing Sam's tire was selfish," Rose added, "I wasn't thinking of what was best for him. I was only thinking of myself." She refilled the spoon, gathering what little green goop was left in the jar. "That we ended up in love, was luck."

"Or fate," I said. Stinky lurched forward and I firmed up my grip around her waist. Stinky's gooey hand covered mine, and my mind expanded. I saw something in Rose. Something bad I didn't want to see. I've known Rose for less than an hour, and the pain of it surged through me.

"Fate - Luck. They're just terms for the same thing." Rose said as she fed Stinky the last spoonful.

"Did you ever regret it?" I asked. I knew a tear was leaking. I tried not to think about what I had seen. She wouldn't want me to know. It was the first time I regretted bonding with Stinky. It wasn't something I needed, but it was the only thing I saw.

"Never...what's wrong?" Rose said as she saw my face. I couldn't help it. Tears backed up and flooded from my eyes. I never felt so weak in my life.

"I don't want you to die," I said slowly. Rose watched Stinky let go of my hand. The tears didn't stop. Rose smiled and raised her hand to my cheek.

Chapter 5 - Sam

"Your tears are more lovely than you know," Rose whispered. The loneliness I felt in her made more sense. "the cancer is just more of my luck," she quipped. I tried to smile though it must have looked strange mixed with watery eyes.

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