Free Lunch Sneak Peek

They say that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but I’ve learned the lunch you eat at someone else’s expense is just as good. We’re all rats in a maze, you know. Except there’s nothing at the end and there certainly isn’t any cheese waiting for anybody. Nobody makes it out of this maze alive, so you’ve got to run as long as you can. Running is all there is, so fuck everything and everybody else!

So, yeah, if someone offers up a lunch along the way? Hell yes, you should take it! Eat it up! You take everything that fool offers you!

Do that enough and you’ll find out the best ingredient in any meal is someone else’s time and effort. Blood, sweat and tears are the finest spices because they’re the spices of life and that makes them the only ones that count. If a stolen lunch isn’t free, it sure as hell tastes free and taste is all that matters. You take what’s offered and don’t worry about where it came from.

That’s right! You know it, girl!

The best thing I ever took in my life was the apartment.

It’s Apartment 96 of the Pollux Building in the Gemini Apartment Complex. Weird name maybe for Tokyo, but there was a time during reconstruction when cross-cultural names and shit like that were a big deal. MacArthur loved it all, of course. Got all kinds pats on the back from both sides of the ocean when the natives here learned to play baseball. Some deal where everyone was all excited about trying to patch old wounds and exchanging cultures like we should all just forget we murdered each other. So, they built the Gemini and my life has never been the same.

That apartment is the ultimate free lunch. The best part it is that everything I get, I get at the expense of the poor S.O.B. in Apartment 69 of the Castor Building. And no, our relationship isn’t mutual. Har har, ha ha, 69, whatever. You fucking kids act like you invented curse-words. If that’s the limit of your imagination, then that poor S.O.B. got fucked harder than you can even imagine when he signed the lease for that deathtrap.

Sometimes, I wonder how many years the apartments have worked this way and if I was the only person who ever noticed. The building is older than the war, but nobody fucking knows how old or what it was before. There was something there before the Great Kanto Earthquake. Something. That’s about all you can find out. All I know for sure, is that about a year and change after VJ Day, the place was renovated, re-branded, and that if anyone else ever noticed how good it is to live in my apartment they would never have given it up willingly.

Find me another place where you sleep like the dead every night. Find me a place where it’s guaranteed that every morning you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and invigorated. Every day is a good day, here. Every last fucking one. All it costs is that the S.O.B. in the other apartment doesn’t sleep a wink, can barely keep his eyes open, and hardly has the will to dress himself to get out the door.

I lived here for three months before I noticed. If I came home sick, I’d be well a few minutes after I got through the door. If I was tired, I’d feel refreshed. You get the picture. What it comes down to is that living in Apartment 96 of Pollux is heaven and it’s because living in Apartment 69 of Castor is hell.

Most nights, I eat a hot fudge Sundae and a bacon cheeseburger with a side of steak fries. The fry sauce is mayonnaise, ketchup and paprika. Sometimes I eat a garden salad, sure, for the hell of it but never because I have to. Whatever I want, I eat it, and I don’t gain a fucking pound.

Only part is sometimes I’ve got to time my meals just right. I’ve got a little screen on my TV, hooked up to a surveillance camera outside the door to Apartment 69 of Castor, and I always shovel in the last few bits of food when I see the S.O.B leaving.

I’ve had lots of ‘em in and out of there over the years. Most recent long-termer was poor old Junko. Fella ran every night after he moved into the place. He was one of those serial dater types that always has to be in shape. Poor S.O.B. couldn’t for the life of him figure out why he couldn’t keep the weight off. He ran three miles a night and he still gained a couple pounds a week. My only regret is that I wish he wouldn’t run in the apartment, so I’d get the benefit instead, but I suppose beggars can’t be choosers.

Couple years back, a yoga instructor lived in Apartment 69 and she exercised maybe three or four hours a day in the apartment. I’d never been in better shape in my whole life. Could bend myself up like a pretzel, no sweat. Before that, it was a college student who slept all the time and I hardly needed to close my eyes to feel rested. Learned all sorts of new things too, though I suppose he probably flunked all his classes.

Apartment 69 gobbles up all the good things in its tenants lives, and Apartment 96 feeds all of it over to me. Best Free Lunch there is. Way I figure it, I’m not the vampire, the room is.

What?

Yeah, it gave my conscience pangs at first, but almost no one stays in Apartment 69 more than a few months and the benefits I get are pretty mild when you think about it. Yeah it sounds good, but all I get really is bad eating and good sleeping and what’s the cost? Somebody has a little bit of a slump for a couple months. Nobody but poor old Junko ever stayed longer than that. Everybody goes through a slump at some point. I’m always well rested, I never have to watch what I eat and…

Huh, you figured that out?

Jesus you’re quick. You sure you’re just a dancer?

Well yeah, I guess I don’t age. Not while we’re both in our apartments at least.

I’m ninety-five but I’d bet you’d say that I don’t look a day over forty. Oh, you’re not good at telling how old black folks are? Really, that’s what trips you up after all your other guessing? And here I thought you had it all figured out.

Well, you caught me. Maybe I am a vampire, after all.

Nowhere near as bad as you, though, am I? Won’t even deny it, will you? It takes one to know one, sister. Something is off about you. Why else am I babbling like this? And don’t try to fool me with that coy smile. I know a demon when I see one.

Hey, I need some sleep.

How about I meet you here for breakfast tomorrow? You ought to know I’m not going anywhere. At least not far. I’d die before I left that room.

Plus, I don’t think you’d let me.

***

I’m 96 next month, which I guess makes me feel imperiled. Like this is the payback year. The year it will flip around and I’ll be the one living double seconds and having my sleep stolen, sheep by counted sheep, and having my gut filled with someone else’s garbage. It’d be fair, sure. Symmetrical, even. Except I don’t think the magic cares.

It doesn’t, does it?

Thought so.

I’m old enough to have an old mind, despite the apartment, so I’m not some young kid who thinks the universe cares. Living through a World War will do that to you. Growing up during Jim Crow will do that to you. I carried bodies after the bombs, y’know. The big ones. Fat Man and Little Boy. That’s how the fuck I ended up over here, really. I had the bad luck to island hop all the way here in time for the Apocalypse. Ended up hauling cart loads of radioactive skeleton husks over by Hiroshima. Gave them what burial we could. Then I took residence in a magic apartment.

Typical life.

If you think God cares about anything, try walking through a wasteland full of skeletons and shadows where even the dust is poison.

Lonely world out there. I tell you, ever since Junko moved out I can hardly stand it. He stayed on for two years, poor bastard, but I got to sort of feeling like I knew him. Like I could taste the way his energy felt.

There’s somebody new in the apartment and they don’t hardly do anything but sleep there. Moved in last week and I haven’t caught hide nor hair of them. I’ve had to move all of my bad eating over to nights and it’s leaving a big pit in my stomach. Maybe I sort of like it, though. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt really hungry.

Way back, I used to leave the apartment long enough to get really tired and really hungry just so I’d appreciate it more when I wasn’t. Last time I did that was the seventies, come to think of it. Maybe that’s why I’m so willing to talk. I haven’t had any real danger in a long while.

You need a little danger, you know. Keep you alive. Keep you on your toes.

Since they’re gone so much, I’ve been taking the opportunity to go out for walks. Like little adventures. That’s how I found your cabaret. It’s good to get out and breathe the city air, even though it’s not as clean as it used to be. And the streets are crowded and the food isn’t as good. Dirtier than it was during the war, in my opinion.

Or maybe I’m just the last piece left of a jigsaw puzzle and I don’t quite fit anywhere. Live long enough, time will do that to you.

Feels strange, now, to be outside the apartment. You know in seventy years, I never even had a near miss with choking on something? Not even once. Scares me a bit just to eat this bacon. The way the fat is all stringy. Or I could walk across the street and get hit by a car. Or I could… it doesn’t matter. Whole world is dangerous.

I don’t leave hardly at all these days. The way things have been going, I’ll be able to get groceries delivered in a few years but I’m not there yet. I still need my little treats, so I go out and grab them as quick as I can. Little adventures, like I said.

A dragon doesn’t leave its hoard of gold, and I guess I’m the same way. Some dumb kid from Kansas left the farm, killed a bunch of men, went to Nippon and became a goddamn dragon. Pulling me out of that apartment is like pulling a tooth from a dragon’s mouth.

Oh? Bigger adventures? Yeah, sure. I’ve had some. You’re still the biggest, though.

Over the years, I’ve had several scares with employment. Two of them serious enough I almost couldn’t make rent. I started life as draftsman, you see. First negro draftsman in the Pacific Theater. That’s how I got to stay here long as I did, during reconstruction. You know I met MacArthur about half a dozen times? Shook his hand, too. He said I was a source of pride to the American Armed Forces.

Suppose he would have shot me if he’d known what I really was.

He was like you, I’ve heard. Like he enjoyed getting dressed up in lady’s clothes? Oh, don’t give me that look. You know what I mean. Didn’t know demons took offense.

Wait, you serious?

Hahaha, what kind of world are we coming to where the forces of hell can’t be politically incorrect? You know what we both are, right? What we both do? Am I gonna turn on the tube later tonight and find out Satan’s been fired from hell for making insensitive remarks? Jesus Christ-

Don’t look at me that way.

Fuck, I was only having a laugh.

Not everyday a fella meets a demon.

Yeah, yeah. Well, drafting went to shit in the late 80’s when CAD programs came out. You wouldn’t think something as simple as a computer art program could fuck with your vampire lifestyle, but it can, and that’s why I’m sure the magic doesn’t care about me personally. The magic just dumps from one room into another.

After the draftsman career dried up I started to find jobs I could do from home. Right now, I do online customer service. Had to learn to use a computer and type. It went better for me than most seniors, though. All it took was the computer aptitude of some kid renting out the apartment. It’s not much but since I’ve started to draw on my social security and army pension it’s enough to get by. I ain’t no dummy. I waited for full benefits. I intend to draw on them for a good long while. Figure when I hit around a hundred and fifteen I’m going to have to fake my death and make a living at something again.

Can’t make too many waves, or leave too many questions.

You know what was good, though? Best adventure I’ve had in some time. I smiled at some women I walked by this morning. They put their little hands over their mouths and giggled same as when I was twenty. God, made my heart pound.

I got to thinking how good it would feel to grab one of them and plant a big smooch on her lips. Right on her kisser and press her tight against me. Not the way it works though, anymore, is it? Times have moved on.

Not that anybody would be a good fit for me, anyway.

I think sometimes about getting attached, you know, but there’s no way I could fit a woman in with my lifestyle. Who knows what she’d say when she found out? I’ve never tested it out, but I don’t want risk only pulling half of the draw. I want it all. I’ve got to keep going forward. See what’s coming down the pipeline. The future is strange but it’s still a hell of a thing.

You’re talking to a guy who used to take a horse and buggy to school and grew his own food, then lived to see a man put on the moon. Science has come a long way. Maybe I’ll live another few decades until you can just go to your local hospital to get an immortality shot. Like a death vaccine. Then I’ll move out and no one will be the wiser.

That’s my whole plan, as much as I have one. Stay in the apartment until the whole world is as safe as the apartment. Figure it’s got to happen one day.

That what you wanted to know?

Yeah, sure I’ll come back tomorrow. Not like I have a lot of people to talk to.

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