The Billion Dreams of God

By D. Krauss

 

The girl was hiding in a straw hut somewhere on the circus grounds. To reach her, Karl had to cross a lot of traffic. A lot. Flat out suicide. Nonetheless…

He gauged the speed of the oncoming cars and flung himself across the road, somehow spinning his way through the swerving, horn-blowing crazy people and scrambling up the opposite berm until he got purchase on some kudzu growing there. He clung to the sheer red clay wall bordering the road as cars flew past barely three feet from his backside. There was a curb below him but not much of one–barely wide enough for him to drop onto and balance-walk his way to the circus gates.

Steady, steady…now!

Miraculously, he landed square on the curb and kept upright. Whew. Okay, let’s do this before you (a) fall, or (b) a big truck with overhanging mirrors knocks you off. Karl danced along the curb like a Wallenda, somehow not getting clipped whenever he pinwheeled his arms to keep his balance. Seemed like every car edged closer to the curb as he did so. Karl was about to lose it when the curb opened into a driveway and he jumped, landing ungracefully on his knees and hands and braced for tire-crushing impact but was far enough away to avoid getting squished.

He looked up. The circus gate was right there.

He stood up and brushed off asphalt and gravel. The gate was fifteen-by-thirty feet of wrought iron with a Bozo-like clown face on top, big red hair sticking out of the sides and an almost-terrifying smile. Almost. Clowns had never frightened Karl. They were too silly. There was an opening in the middle of the gate and several huts and wagons scattered along a path leading away from it. Karl knew which hut–the second one on the right.

He strode through the gate and kicked the flimsy door open. “I’m here to get you out.”

The hut was dim with candlelight and draperies. The girl was standing in the middle, still dressed in her performance tunic, a green brocade of some type, her long blonde hair falling to either side and giving her an enchantress look.

“About time,” she said and hopped on his back. Karl trundled out the hut and back towards the road.

High school reunion.

“He got killed in Vietnam,” the guy said, referring to another guy. Karl didn’t know the guy talking, or the guy who died in Vietnam, or a third guy standing next to the first guy and nodding in confirmation of the death in Vietnam of the guy Karl didn’t know. Didn’t matter; what mattered is that it happened after graduation. “That’s too bad,” Karl said, “he was a good guy.” Karl knew guys who’d died in Vietnam, and they were good guys, so it was a legitimate response. The two guys, standing behind the bar, nodded in agreement, and one of them offered Karl a beer, which he gratefully accepted.

Karl turned and admired the ballroom of this hotel. Wooden floors and paneling and chandeliers and stained glass windows and white cloth-covered tables made it a nice place for a get-together. No one else was here except the two unknown guys and him, but someone was coming through the two sets of doubles doors separating the room from the lobby. A girl…well, after forty years, a woman now, but one who still retained the girlish shape and sexiness of high school. Karl did not know her, either, but it didn’t matter, she was every cute girl he had crushed on or dated or thought he was going to marry forty years ago. The girl’s hand was on the last door and she was looking at him through the glass and Karl warmed.

Karl was walking down one of the concourses at Narita airport when a man dressed in a rather elegant black silk suit emerged from one of the double doors of a private lounge, said, “Here you go,” in an elegant British accent and handed him something. Karl looked at it–a small, rubber-covered device with bumps and a couple of switches. It looked like a high-tech hearing aid. “What is it?” Karl asked.

The man smiled. “That’s for you to figure out.” He wheeled and passed back through the double doors.

Karl studied the hearing aid, fiddled with the buttons, but nothing happened. He shrugged and entered.

The lounge was tasteful, with beige carpeting and expensive chairs and sofas arranged in islands around glass-and-iron coffee tables. One side had a long mahogany bar tended by a Japanese man wearing a white tuxedo. The elegant British man was sitting at one of the coffee tables on the opposite side, next to a beautiful Japanese woman dressed in a rose-colored gown.

Karl walked over and took a seat across from the couple, holding up the hearing aid as he did so.

“Don’t take it apart,” the British man said. “It belonged to my Dad.”

“Where did he get it?”

“The war.”

Karl did not have to ask which war; given their respective ages, the British man’s Dad was in WWII. Karl turned to the woman, who had that particular beauty of a 40-year-old Japanese woman, her hair done up in almost a beehive fashion set off by her diamond teardrop earrings. “Hajimemashite. Doozo yoroshiku. Karl desu ka. Onamae wa?”

Her eyebrows raised. “Nihongo hanashimas ka?”

He shrugged. “Here, I do.”

She smiled. “Keiko,” and held out a bejeweled hand. Karl politely shook it, then turned to the man and held out the hearing aid. “It’s something from Hitler’s V2 program, isn’t it?”

The Britisher nodded, impressed. “It is. An experimental guidance system, in fact. How did you know?”

“Your Dad was obviously an officer because, look at you.” Here the Britisher bowed in his chair. “And this is obviously very advanced tech. The only advanced programs running back then were German.”

Both the Britisher and Keiko applauded politely. The man took the hearing aid back from Karl and squirreled it into a shirt pocket. “Now,” Keiko said, “figure out who we are.”

Karl studied them. “Did you meet here?”

“No,” Keiko said.

“London?” he asked the Britisher, who shook his head no.

“Switzerland, then.”

Both looked surprised and pleased.

“You are both royalty,” Karl said. He pointed at the Britisher. “You, lesser ranked, viscount or a baron.” The man flourished an acknowledging hand. “But you.” Karl turned to her. “You’re a princess.”

She dimpled. “How did you know?”

“Your clothes. Your manners. Your jewelry. Two people from such different cultures would have met in boarding schools, the best being in Switzerland, which cater primarily to royalty. And you are both interested in high-tech investments, so you both have the education and resources to pursue it.”

Both applauded politely again, and Keiko ordered martinis all around. They drank and discussed the latest in space technologies until Karl’s flight was

Karl stood on the porch and frowned. There were now four zombies across the street, one of them in a military uniform, which meant the local Guard unit had been overrun. They were aimless and stumbling but heading in his direction so, obviously, the opposition was gathering strength. Karl held up his palms and mixed the rain with a bit of sun and formed a ball of lightning, and he pitched it across the street and watched the zombies evaporate. That should do for now. There was something immediately on his head, and he reached up and pulled off a Redskins ball cap. He chuckled. Magic always had consequences.

He walked back in the house and up to the table where Fred, Zippo, and Kennedy were filling out forms and taking phone calls. “Look what I got,” Karl said as he flourished the cap. The three of them laughed. “Serves you right,” Kennedy said.

“Gotta warn you guys, there were four this time.”

“Hmm.” Zippo was grim. “They’re getting stronger.”

“Yep.” Karl pitched the cap onto a nearby couch. “How’s the sign-ups going?”

“Pretty good,” Kennedy said as he entered another name on the list. “We’ve got most of the East Coast on board and good noises from some of the factions in the south.”

Karl made an appreciative noise. “You guys rock.”

They beamed at him, Fred literally, and ended up with a Ravens cap on his head. “Pffht,” Karl snorted and they all laughed.

“If you were a fan of a real football team, you wouldn’t have these problems,” Zippo said.

“Somebody has to be.” This got appreciative chuckles from the others. “When the rest call in, tell them about the new zombies. That should get the undecideds to break for us.”

“Not so sure about the Southrons,” Kennedy said in a wry voice. “They might like having slaves again.” He turned his already black skin five shades darker, and got a Giants cap.

“Pish, and would you guys stop it? If I switch teams, y’all will end up with Eagles caps!” Which elicited howls of derision and rejoinders like: “God, no, I hate cheesesteaks!” “Lose ten IQ points if that happens!” “Please, do! I’ve always wanted to look stupid!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Karl said, then looked at Kennedy. “I’m pretty sure all those old racists time traveled, Ken. They’re sipping mint juleps and shooting at Fort Sumter even as we speak. Shouldn’t be an issue.”

“Whatever you say, boss man!” Kennedy became Rochester, voice and eyes and all, and there was a Dallas cap.

Karl tsked and spun on his heels and lurched into the living room, howls of laughter behind him.

 

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