Carlos’ Black Box

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Volume I[edit | edit source]

Carlos’s Black Box… 
Why can’t a woman just accept that, when a man says he’s got a lot on his mind, he’s got a lot on his mind? There’s so much jacking with my head right now, sometimes it feels like it’ll explode.

Lopez died on my watch, because of me. My mom… grandmom—I don’t even want to think about it, much less talk about it. Everybody, just like my brother and all my boyz, are gone. Damali wants me to talk about it to get it all out, but truthfully, what is there to say? Women just don’t understand. Who is she now, Dr. Phil? You don’t get over no shit like this, you just learn to exist with it and go on to survive, ask any vet. Rider hit the nail on the head. He knows. He’s been there. Much respect to the older brother for finally just telling D that so she’d back off.

The thing that’s eating me up from the inside out is, I never did get that bastard, The Chairman, like I wanted to, or got a chance to cut out Lilith’s heart. It wasn’t a clean kill, like Nuit. Left unfinished business. Damali got in the middle of that shit and cut a deal. I’m trying to resolve myself to that.

She has no idea there’s a lot of shit I’ve had to let go. Never had that little conversation that I needed to have with Jose. I’ll let that rest in peace for the moment, though, ‘cause the man’s got issues of his own. But I still don’t like how he looks at my woman sometimes.

Been telling myself to squash it; we don’t need the team dissention right now. Not when things are raggedy. My boy Yonnie is all hooked up with Tara—that’s their business, but half of me is like, cool. Good for you, man. I can dig it, understand where you was at. I woulda done no less, and would have taken the sister to V-Point and fed, too. But by the same token, Rider… he and I are brothers.

Everybody thinks they know how Rider feels. Sheeit, they don’t know the half of it. I made Yonnie, he elevated Tara, and then Tara nicked Rider so hard the brother turned. I can feel that shit. Everything Rider is linked to, I’m linked to, still—and don’t know why. The Light didn’t burn it away. Every time the Master I made feeds, I can feel it. Every time he takes Tara to V-Point, I can feel it… so can her ex, Rider… and I can feel his agony in just knowing what’s going down. Just like I can feel Jose’s burn worse than ever now. I finally saw the fucking dream Lilith sent him on the plane. But some things you just gotta let go. I’ve gotta find that foul bitch and take her head off to clean my mental palate before my head blows up, and way before one day, when I’m tired of the madness, I step to Jose. I can’t rightfully go there, because in all honesty, how can I blame a line blood-brother for feining on Damali, especially when a succubus added topspin to the mix?

In the old days, I would have, though. I suppose that’s growth in The Light. Whatever. Can’t roll like that, so I’m told, as a Neteru. I’m trying to heed Shabazz’s advice, take the high road, and get some knowledge. But I’m so damned frustrated, people have no idea.

The thing that’s messing with me, too, added on top of everything else I’ve gotta be worried about, is Damali is acting funny. What’s up with that?

Then again, truth be told, I ain’t felt like getting with her, either. That worries me. I keep telling myself that it’ll pass. I’ll get over it. I’ll be able to squash that madness that went down between us in Philly… but she called me a punk in front of the team. Hell no, I still ain’t right with that!

But I’ve got more important things on my mind than dealing with her female drama, namely, I need to get my power right. Gotta get my resources realigned. Gotta be ready for when The Chairman comes at us again—no, correction, I have to get my shit straight and then take it to him. Right now, with his crazy ex, Lilith, on the loose and him out there somewhere, I know it’s just a matter of time, and we’re sitting ducks. Damali needs to get with the fact that, we’ve kicked up the dust on Level Seven. What about that ain’t clear?

I’ve got a lot on my mind.

Not to mention, we’ve got all these unseasoned new soldiers to get ready. Bobby don’t know nothin’ about a ride or die imperative. Krissy… oh, shit. And if Marjorie is in a firefight, she’ll be the first to go.

Inez, though, girlfriend can hang. That sister keeps me laughing just thinking about the expression that must have been on Mike’s face when she pulled a switchblade out of her purse and slashed an Amanthra in the subway. Probably saved his life with split-second timing. Straight gangsta. She didn’t even have to think about it, didn’t have time to—just reacted all-warrior.

The difference is, Inez is a mother from around the way, and was going out swinging just to be sure she could get back to her baby. Much respect. She, I ain’t worried about, and I can see why Inez and Damali are tight. I can also see why she’s got Big Mike all messed up jonesing for her—girlfriend is right up his alley with her big butt self, and can cook on top of that.

But, Juanita… damn. Talk about putting a brother between a rock and a hard place. Damali has got to chill. I may never get in Jose’s world about the things on his mind, but a conversation with Juanita is something that does have to happen one day soon.

I need to sit down with ‘Nita, talk to her, and make her understand that it’s over. Period. We had some good times; I appreciate all she did for my peeps. Her brother and me was soldiers in the same war, so to speak, and she was always a good woman… but it ain’t like that no more. Hasn’t been for a long time. Won’t be again. Which is the only reason I ain’t up in Jose’s face. I’m linked to him, too. Can feel his conflict. I guess if I was in his position, I’d feel the same way. However, there remains a line that he needs to recognize.

I just wish Juanita would go on back to him, be his woman, would chill, and would take the edge off his soul. That way, everything could stay peace between me and him. Girlfriend needs to stop playing with his head like she’s doing, though. Why do women play games like that?

Don’t she know that she ain’t making me jealous; she’s making me tired? Plus, by her acting like this, all she’s doing is prolonging the inevitable… making it harder for Damali to ease up and let me sit down and talk to her. Then, I get caught with the residue, like coming down from a bad high.

Every time Jose mentally crashes, I feel it. Just like when Rider crashes, I feel it. Line blood brothers always feel each others’ shit. Then when Damali’s salty, I have to contend with it. When Juanita gets all horny and tries to leave little hints, I don’t just feel it, I smell it on her, just like Jose does, and I know that just makes Rider remember a female in heat that he can’t have—which causes a crazy loop… like bad amplifier feedback that shatters everybody’s nerves.

There are days when the pheromones are so thick in the air, between all the women who are on rations, the noses—me, Rider, and Jose, are done. We literally have to go outside sometimes behind it all. Rider is trying to deaden his sensory with Marlboros and Jack Daniels; I know where he’s at. But Jose ain’t got those kinda vices, and the poor brother suffers so bad there are nights he’s got tears in his eyes—those are the nights I definitely have to go find something to do before I rip his heart out. Most the time, the tactical brothers can’t even pick up a cup of coffee without arcing a shock. Then when the females start arguing, or worse, when they drop their voices and speak all soft when they’re in the mood, Mike gotta go to the bar to keep his head right. Most times, me and Rider go with him. The young bucks have no suave at all… ain’t smooth and practically slobber on themselves. None of the old heads can even watch it, least of all me.

Too much testosterone and estrogen in the same space. Is The Light trying to be funny? Is this some kinda test? I’m saying! Why it gotta be all this? It’s only getting worse, too, from what I can tell.

I ain’t trying to be selfish, but half the time I can’t pull myself up to even smile, the brothers I’m directly linked to are so damned depressed. Then, the thing that I don’t even want to think about happens… Shit, because neither one of them can get off with the woman they love down to their cores, I can’t really seem to get my flow happening right. That ain’t EVEN me! I have got to stop trippin’.

But while I’m sitting here nursing a beer, I can’t stop thinking about how when I go to step to Damali, move in on a romantic vibe, all this sludge… like a thick, black cloud of smoke gets in my way. My mind gets divided, when I should be single focused and rocking her world. Can’t halfway bust a decent nut, behind all this bullshit, and it’s pissing me off along with so many other things.

My nerves are bad. A brother is stressed. The team is raggedy for a motherfucker. My powers are slow to take root. We ain’t got a decent fortress… and the plan is to move into some raggedy old house in Arizona? That’s insane! All of us? I ain’t feeling NONE of this. Then The Vatican calls Father Pat and crew back to headquarters for some urgent summit that he ain’t even discussing.

Aw’ight. I can dig it. They lost one of their own, and I can only imagine there’d be repercussions. I wish I could turned back the hands of time to spare that young brother… my deepest prayer is that he went into The Light. I can’t feel him from my old life, so maybe God heard that prayer? But that’s also working my nerves, because as a Neteru, I should have felt him pass up and out of this plane and into the next realms above us. I didn’t, though. Maybe that’s just because all my senses are off, are coming in slow. Who knows?

All I do know is this—I hate living like this. I was never one to live in a state of vulnerability for long. That ain’t NEVER been me.

‘Bazz says be patient. Yeah, right. But he’s schooling me blind… he’d better watch his own back—Kamal ain’t no joke, and is gunnin’ hard for Marlene. Then again, it ain’t my place to cause speculation or to stir the pot between folks who’ve been together longer than I’ve been alive. The man is grown, can handle his bizness as he sees fit. Still… that’s also my brother. We tight. I don’t like it. But it ain’t for me to step to Kamal. That’s something between men, between him, his competition, and his woman to resolve. I ain’t in it… although I am seriously concerned, and I know my brother ain’t thinking clearly, ain’t focused on training these newbies like he should be. I can’t blame him; if the same situation was going down with me, I wouldn’t be focused, either.

That’s the whole issue—ain’t nobody focused on the primary issues at hand. We’re all trippin’, in one way or another. I have to pull up outta that. It’s a negative spiral. Somebody has to be on point. Somebody has to have their eyes on a strategy. Right now, I guess, that somebody has to be me.

So, hell no, I can’t get all wrapped up in no unnecessary madness. The drama has to wait. Whatever is wrong with me and Damali will have to wait. Maybe that’s where her head is, too? But it bleeds me out, just knowing that the girl has this impenetrable black spot in her head these days. Where did that come from?

Baby girl was always wide open for me… would always let me see right down to her core. That was the most beautiful thing about her. That’s what I loved to touch with my mind when I was with her… just caress that pure essence of who she is. It filed me up, took me places that even I didn’t know I could go. She has no idea how much that shit hurts, watching that steel cage drop behind her eyes when I go to kiss her.

It is what it is. Maybe, like all this other shit, it’ll pass one day… maybe one night. I keep hoping that one night, when it’s just me and her, and her gorgeous eyes are staring back at me, I’ll see her silver, will see all her colors swirling… will hear her the way I used to. Fuck a condom, too. She’s got me going there, like I’m some brother she just met. I don’t understand it. Didn’t the Queens give her some sorta protection that didn’t require all that? Why all of a sudden… Hey, I can’t even begin to try to work through that question—because then I know me well enough to know that, I’ll get suspicious, will start digging into things I probably oughta let alone. The one thing I’ve lived long enough to learn is, never ask a question that you don’t wanna know the answer to.

For now, I’ll accept her explanation that the Queens’ healing and protection was temporary, and she isn’t sure to what extent it will last. All right. Makes sense. One thing for sure, though, I know neither one of us is ready for a baby with all this drama going on. Much as I want to get her pregnant, not under these circumstances. Besides, she ain’t wrong about the fact that, my silver hasn’t burned since we were together in New York… I’m not even sure it came on when we was in Philly.

She’d pissed me off so bad, then. I still get mad just thinking about it. Never thought D would take me there, and never in my wildest dreams ever thought I’d do her outside a warehouse like that—pissed the fuck off. Blind rage… while with her?

Damn. What’s happening to us, to this family… to this team? Something definitely ain’t right, and I can’t put my finger on it… and there’s nobody to talk to. The issues are just too deep and too personal to discuss.

Only thing to do right through here is, keep my eyes open, stay sharp, be observant, get a strategy on lock, get us somewhere that has a solid prayer barrier that my boy, Yonnie, and his woman can cross in an emergency, and train the young bucks… gain knowledge… say a prayer at night, and hope I’m wrong about it all.

Knowing that, I have to go along with moving into the house. I hate not having options. Call me suspicious, but I feel like we’re all about to get played. I have to stop thinking about all of this, stop going into my own head so deep any more.

Doesn’t Damali know how much I love her? She’s my wife. Not being to sync with her righteous is tearing me up. It’s wearing me out. That woman is my heart, my soul, is the flesh of my flesh… but I ain’t gonna ever let her see me hesitate in battle again. She don’t even have to worry about seeing me weep in her arms again, no matter how good it is, because I will never have her call me a punk to my face again. In fact, no more entries into my little black box for now. I’m done. I cool. I’m over it. Everything is smooth.

All I need is another beer.

Volume II[edit | edit source]

I am not  believing this shit! Shabazz got me out here this afternoon, right after breakfast, digging shallow trenches for another salt perimeter, when we already got one. Damn! This ain’t nothing but pure busy-work.

I’m screwed for real, obviously. Messed up big time. Aw’ight, I admit it. Whatever. But what I can’t figure out is how in the hell I got myself into a position like this in the first place—me? How did the master of smooth get caught in a damned laundry room with his woman, like I was some kid? I’m beyond slipping. That shit was sloppy. Period. And we didn’t even get to finish what we’d started, for all this aftermath bull. 

But that was weeks  ago, and Shabazz is still kicking my ass like I’m a newbie! I’m at the point now where I’m like, fuck it. If I’ma do the time, might as well do the crime—make it grand theft auto and joy ride hard, a felony, for real. Then, I gotta get to a calm place in my head, too, ‘cause I know me and ‘Bazz are cool beneath it all… and yeah, yeah, yeah, I gotta chill for the sake of the newbies so they can come into their owns and not get their hearts snatched one night. But shit…

This house in Arizona is a pure curse. They can’t build the new compound fast enough. Yeah, I’m training the newbies righteous with the senior squad. Finally gave into that reality. No problem. I got that on-lock. Doing what I’m supposed to be doing as a Neteru. Cool. But I’m bouncing off the fucking walls.

Can’t leave the Reservation. Can’t go clubbin’. Can’t pollute my system and get tore down in a bar. Seen every possible movie I ever wanted to see three times, if it was on cable or available for rent. There ain’t no beaches. I’m bored out of my skull. Been reading esoteric bullshit just to keep my mind occupied. But after sitting on a Vamp Council throne, how much is in the books that a brother ain’t already seen?

Been doing chores till my eyes are about to glaze over. How many ways can you scrub a bathroom sink or swab a kitchen floor with a mop? And since everybody’s got something smart to say about my chili, then hey. Cook your damned selves, then! Ain’t my problem they can’t hang with the jalapenos and spices. Gotta do something to make up for the no meat version Marlene said I had to make on my KP shift, while everybody’s in training. I don’t wanna see another deck of cards, or dominoes, or checkers, or chess—I can’t take it. Where’s the fun when you can whip everybody’s ass in the house?

Talking ain’t an option for mental diversion. I’m not sitting around the camp fire telling another kid about Hell, or the seductive side of vampire night life. It’s beginning to become depressing. I understand why Rider won’t submit to it, either. Sounds like the old war stories of an old man, and I’m anything but that. Playa, yes. Old playa, never. 

Plus, how much general conversation can be had until that wears you out, too? Even though there’s probably several very interesting private conversations I still need to have, timing is everything. Can’t say nothing to Juanita, right through here, since it’ll break her training focus and could start some real bullshit in the house… and me and Jose just finally got cool—so there’s no need to say shit to him. As men, we didn’t have to go into no long discussion drama. One day the vibe just passed on its own and it was squashed. All peace. 

He got a woman, I got a woman, no man crossed the invisible territorial marker, and neither one of us can get with our woman again till this mad-crazy training sex curfew is lifted. So there’s no more cause for beef between men. Besides, like I told Jose, if I was ever taken out, and before Juanita was a factor for my brother—I told him, straight up,  stand in for me, man. But since I’m alive, that agreement is null and void. That shoulda been patently understood from the door, hombre.

The only reason me and him initially had some minor beef was because, for a minute, till ‘Nita tightened him up, he was having issues getting that understanding straight. Me and Jose just had to get clear about that. Now that we are, it’s cool. An appreciative sideline glance toward a fine woman every now and then ain’t worth messing up a brotherhood. Can’t fault a man for a natural reflex reaction, as long as it’s done with respect and nobody tries to cross the line. I ain’t mad at the brother. Damali will mess up anybody that’s got five senses, even brothers beyond the grave. Me and Jose are all right. Both share the same taste in woman. As long as he don’t try to touch mine, and I don’t go after his—not that I’d ever go there, it’s all good.

Why can’t women be smooth like that? Just let the shit go. But if I step to Juanita for a one-on-one just to make Damali feel better, now I’ve crossed over into Jose’s yard. Big time disrespect. Damali doesn’t understand that it isn’t as simple as she put it; “Just man-up and tell her what time it is.” Shit. I am  manning up, but being respectful of my brother. There are just certain codes of male conduct that a woman don’t understand, and as a man, I ain’t trying to explain like I’m some punk that’s gotta get permission from his Momma about how to handle his bizness. She called me a punk one time, and that was one time too many. I meant what I said when I told her, neva again.

She doesn’t understand how the male mind works. The more Damali yangs me about it, the less inclined I am to talk to anybody about shit—that’s what she needs to get with. I told her to let me handle it my way. Meant what I said, and ain’t telling D twice. 

Juanita may be giving her ‘tude from time to time, but what can the girl really do to D? I ain’t going nowhere and I ain’t crazy. This is just an adjustment phase of communal living. I’m a Scorp, and don’t deal with force-fed demands well at all. Either we’re gonna co-lead this team as equals, or we’re not. Damali needs to get clear; she’s messing with a brother who’s seriously on the edge these days.

Plus, I got other valid reasons beyond any power-struggle nonsense with D for taking my time. I’ll speak on it when and if the time is right. On my schedule and in a way that keeps things cool with my brother. To do otherwise would be like rubbing Jose’s nose in my past with his lady—same as saying that, after Jose got with ‘Nita, she’s still on me, and since he can’t seem to handle his business to keep ‘Nita in check, which is making my lady uncomfortable, then I had to go back over my old territory and set ‘Nita straight for him. Not done. 

Jose would be within his rights to draw a crossbow over some bullshit like that, just like I would. Talk about chaos… If it was me, I’d be like, what motherfucker? You had to talk to her ‘cuz why? Aw, hell to the no. So, not speaking on it is best. Lettin’ it ride. That’s smooth. Ultimate respect—which I extend to my posse. Soon as the house ban is lifted, and Jose has some working room… hey. ‘Nita’ll be all right. Everybody’s salty these days, tempers flaring. That’s just lack-a-wanna talking. That, too, will pass… just like ‘Nita’s getting more respectful of D daily, as she sees how serious my lady’s program is as a Neteru. Why Damali can’t see that is making me wonder… maybe everybody’s game is fraying at the edges. 

Truly, this ain’t like Damali to be trippin’ about something this petty. My lady is worrying this whole issue like a dog worries a bone. The hopeful thought is that Damali is just so horny and jacked up, too, that she ain’t thinking clearly about nothing. That I can thoroughly identify with. Lift the ban, baby… it’ll do us both some good.

But she ain’t taking my mental SOS calls. Got a brother locked out. Blocked out. Fuckin’ turned out, feining. Can’t talk to my woman about it one-on-one, though, because every time I get close to her in a private situation, she gets all nervous and jets… but then puts me in a raggedy position when she wants to hug up and chill and watch TV.

I ain’t trying to do that. Hug up. Chill? How? Just sit together quiet-like, lying on the sofa or stretched out together on porch furniture relaxing. No. Relax? Even I know me better than that. ‘Cause that leads my mind down paths it don’t need to go—not up in here. Women just don’t get it. What starving brother in his right mind wants to taste just a little bit of dinner, after smelling it slow cook all day… hearing it sizzle in the pan, then just be able touch the edge of the plate but only look at it on the table and not be able to really bust a grub? Crazy. I don’t have that much discipline, when it comes to D.

Damn straight I’m in a foul mood. Digging ditches. Hell no I don’t want newbies in my face asking me nothing beyond the necessary. What is there to say or talk about?

Only person I got anything to say anything to is maybe Rider. That brother is suffering at a level that even I don’t know nothin’ about first hand. Dan is cool with me, too—because you talk about a man on the edge. Brother walks around with an iPod twenty-four-seven blasting sad-ass love songs, trying to fend off the vibe. I can dig it. Whatever works. But if I hear Seal’s, Kiss from a Rose, one more time… I’ma tell the man to his face to just give it a rest—it’s only making his situation worse. As it is, he gets all fucked up with the ‘my power, my pleasure, my pain’ line in the cut, so why he’s beating his own ass is beyond me.

It’s a double-edged blade that Dan’s got pressed against his windpipe. The music, for tacticals, staunches the pain to a degree—but put on the wrong cut and you’re screwed… ask me how I know. Only made that mistake once in here. All tacticals can pick up those sound wave vibrations in the cut they’re listening to, tune into the song, in order to drown out whatever else is messing with ‘em. Feel the bass line, the guitars, drums, whatever’s prominent and concentrate on that, if they focus hard enough. That’s why a man has to choose wisely, pick something that makes no reference whatsoever to his situation. 

Same with Big Mike. As long as Inez don’t come out there bopping and bouncing to the cut to put a visual on the music, he’s good ta go. He can blast other sounds, put on some ride-or-die music, and rock some Luda, Kanye, Ying Yang Twins featuring Pit Bull, anything to take his head somewhere totally different than where it is. But, me, I can’t listen to a damned thing Damali ever made. Not right through here. I don’t even go near Usher, or nothing crazy that’ll blow my cool.

Wish a Neteru could do that, just block out the burn with pure non-suggestive sound. The noses can’t, that’s for sure. If it’s in the air or on the wind, we’re messed up. That’s another reason I ain’t mad at my boy, Jose. The seers got a special way of sending themselves peaceful images, I guess. I’m working on that. Could use a crash course today, no lie.

I tried what Marlene discreetly told me to do. The old girl is smooth… subtle. She was talking out loud to Krissy when Marj and Berkfield weren’t around, but really speaking to me indirectly. Did it low key with style. Marlene made sure I heard the advice to visualize something serene, non-sensual, and focus on white light, clear the mind, and step into a peaceful environment devoid of tension. 

Yeah, right. Didn’t work, much as I wanted it to. The mental images I got of Damali are too strong and overlap all of that. I see a peaceful place, like a beach or a garden, and me and D have already had the most spectacular sex there—and then it all slams back. St. Lucia, pick an island in paradise. Shit. That’s where I used to take my wife… somewhere peaceful, beautiful, serene, lush—like her… then I’d go to wurk… and it would be anything but peaceful and quiet. And, yeah, there’d be white light, but more like a supernova at V-point. Relax… yeah, right…

Music only makes me remember Damali’s fantastic performances… takes my mind in concert with her, visualizing it till I’m seeing her sweat, hearing her singing her heart out, watching her dancing like a she-demon possessed, my baby working the stage down to the bone, siphoning out its marrow, wearing something too sexy to name, then the image overlays what I’m hearing. LA, Brazil, Sydney, at the clubs, private audiences in my old lairs. I don’t care what I’m listening to. I remember the range of her voice in every octave, notes on fire. Registers and harmonics ripping me to shreds. Sharps making me tilt my head, flats making me breathe hard. Uh uh. That don’t do neither one of us any good. Scratch music as an option. I’m too plugged in to her sound.

What I can’t tell nobody is, stress from this bullshit is probably making me sick. Got fucking headaches all the time—like something in the back of my skull trying to pry it open with a pick axe. But I ain’t trying to go to Shabazz with nothin’ like that. I’ll deal with it my way. Just suck it up. 

But I ain’t gonna lie; it’s starting to worry me that I got light-sensitivity now during the day. I might have to actually start wearing shades, ‘cause it’s getting worse. Can’t figure that part out. I keep telling myself it has to be the new eyes… the silver thing. Something organic is just probably messing with my daylight sight because of the silver night vision and my eyes are just maybe slow adjusting. Daylight is staring to send what feels like a stab wound into my temples when I first wake up. It was never like that before. 

Maybe the Arizona sun is just too bright. I don’t know, and I hate not knowing. Knowledge is power. But like what am I gonna tell ‘Bazz—that I really might be going blind from not getting some on the regular? Be serious. After he shook his head, he’d probably say something smart, like, “Go take a walk and jerk off somewhere, man, and pull your shit together.” Then, see, he and I would have to come to blows; it would be a matter of principle… because I’d be so fucking pissed off that he told me something like that, I’d flip. I know me.

For real, though, my system is messed up. Same deal with food. My appetite ain’t what it should be. I smell it, want it, then take two bites, and I’m done. I gotta force myself to scarf it down and fight to keep it down, ‘cause I can’t be losing no weight. One thing I know is that whatever we face one night is gonna be battle-bulked like a motherfucker—so it ain’t about losing muscle mass because my stomach is acting funny. It’s gotta be nerves… which is totally unacceptable, in any case. This shit has me turned around so bad that a brother can’t eat? What the fuck? 

No. I ain’t going out like that.

Plus, if I get real honest, my dreams have been whack. I should, from all this time being away from my lady, be dreaming about getting busy with her the minute I close my eyes. But I’m not—not like I was when this abstinence bullshit began. Yeah, then, sheeeit. That’s all I could think about. Getting with D so hard I’d wake up in a cold sweat. Weird thing was, I’d always wake up just at the moment of truth, and be really messed up for the rest of the day. Even my own dreams would leave me hanging.

Now… the shit I’m dreaming is real strange. Old dynasties? Roman wars? Shape-shifting into a huge black serpent and mixing it up on the Amanthra Level—me? Tangled up in a mating ball with however many female vipers? Uh uh. No self-respecting ex-vampire would go there. If I’d turn into anything while dreaming, it would be all panther. That’s me, that’s my style… well, it used to be. Still, what’s running through my head in REM-state don’t make no sense. What’s even worse is, I never dreamed of getting with anybody but Damali, or any other entity, for that matter.

So, no, right through here, I ain’t trying to do a hard mind-lock with D. Not until I get this whack shit under control. My lady don’t need to see all that. What’s busting my head wide open needs to stay in my personal black box.

A coupla times, early on, when it was ridiculous and got real bad, I thought about astral traveling to get it on with my baby there… but she backed off. That was cold. Don’t know why she did, but it’s like she’s afraid of letting me into her mind for some reason. Hey, who knows, she’s been at this Neteru thing longer than me… maybe she senses what’s under layers of my thoughts ain’t exactly cool—so I can’t blame her. On the outside, she’s peace. But on the inside, I can’t put my finger on it, but she tenses up. Aw’ight, I have to deal with that, too. Later.

Truthfully, I don’t even know why I’m thinking about this shit right now while digging these stupid salt trenches. Usually, during the day, if I get real honest with myself, I don’t even know if I’d feel like being with her if she’d let me. Most days, all I wanna do is sleep. Talk about making a brother worried… damn. Then the minute the sun goes down and hits the horizon, I’m like a new man. Hungry, ready to go hunting, need to kick some ass in the worst way… and just seeing Damali starts a serious jones.

I did sorta tell her a little bit, couldn’t help it, needed to know… I ain’t give up all the tapes, though. Just said, offhandedly that, my biorhythms were set on night. Peaked at midnight. Her reaction and explanation was logical, made sense. We’re supposed to be night hunters. Okay. That made me feel better. I just hope she’s right. That was the one decent, private convo me and her had while passing each other on the porch a week or so back. 

She was cool enough to keep that between us, and not start a whole house alert about me feeling a little off-center. Damali said everything about me was going through power shifts and changes down to the cellular level. True. She didn’t have to tell me that, I can feel it. But the confirmation was appreciated. D said the temporary apex flux when we went up against Lilith and The Chairman was evidence of that. Aw’ight. Maybe that’s all it is, my body clock trying to reset itself to sync with the reverse of what a normal human’s would be. But a little hit of her would straighten a brother out, for real, though.

If Damali was going through a Neteru ripening, I damned sure wouldn’t treat girlfriend this way. Just turn off the master switch and go cold on the sister. If I did her like that, she’d be mad as hell, too. And she wonders why I’m in a perpetual bad mood.

Like how would that seem… knowing she was trippin’, needing some so bad she couldn’t hardly breathe? Then she’s making my condition worse, walking around here all fine and gorgeous, and wonders why I got an attitude. I have to keep an attitude . That’s how I stay sane. I have to stay mad at her so one night I just don’t flat-out lose it and yank her across the dinner table and cause a sho’ nuff scene. Don’t she know? 

Right about through here, that’s possible—a full body snatch, regardless of who’s looking. I don’t wanna talk. Her voice messes me up. Her smile twists my stomach in knots. The old-heads gotta sense that and been giving a brother plenty of space as a result. My jaw has been locked so tight about this madness that I’m about to chip a tooth.

Got my ass out here in the late afternoon sun digging trenches to work this shit off. Even Shabazz has been cool, given the circumstances. He knows the deal, and me and him got real peace about the laundry room. We ain’t even have to talk about it; it was simply understood between men. It wasn’t about disrespect for his word, or nothing like that. It didn’t have nothing to do with him at all. It was all situational, my woman is fine, and I ain’t been with her in as long as I can remember.The next day all he said was, “You cool?” I said, “As much as can be expected.” 

He nodded and said, “I was your age once, and ain’t mad. This, too, shall pass.” 

Then it was squashed. But he’s still got me working like a dog. Just like today when he handed me a shovel to lay another salt ring barrier around the house that don’t need one. 

’Bazz said, “Got somethin’ for you to do.” Then he was real cool and said. “It ain’t punishment. It’s an energy burner.” 

We both finally laughed, and I was down—‘cause I needed that. Sho’ you right. That old-head is wise, no doubt. I guess ten years in the joint for a crime you ain’t commit would bring a level of wisdom that I can’t fathom. Ten years without Damali over a bullshit rap, some crime I ain’t do… they’d have to shoot me. Put a bullet in my head. And ‘Bazz went in when he was like seventeen or eighteen and they tried him for murder as an adult? Fucked up. 

That would have to make a man either very philosophical or completely insane, but cool as shit even about a situation as ready to blow, like that thing with Kamal. I confess, I can’t wrap my brain around it. Bottom line is, when it comes to discipline and abstinence, as well as putting the team’s welfare first, I give Shabazz his props. 

Aw’ight, I’m learning some new type of shit I ain’t seen before. All I wanna know one day, when I’m stable, is where did the man go in his head for ten freakin’ years without a woman, and not lose his grip on reality? And from his aura, I can see he ain’t compromise, neither. Didn’t let nobody make him no jailhouse bitch, and didn’t make nobody one. Was just cool. Stayed inside his own head. Much respect. One night, over a mano-y-mano drink, I’ma have to break down and ask ‘Bazz that serious question. That’s beyond deep. 

From the shit I heard on the streets, holding it together without a squad in the joint is damned near impossible. Whoever schooled him had to be a bad motherfucker, too. Scary calm… and all I know is, Kamal might be able to beat ‘Bazz in a physical match-up, but I don’t know if he can beat him mentally, which is the real test of strength. Core.

So I can’t really complain that the team philosopher got me doing all kinds of mind-centering, crazy Kung Fu madness like chopping wood—not that we need it for anything beyond stakes. Got me out back sharpening blades, not that we’ve seen any demon action that could use ‘em lately. Got me doing anything he can around here that can burn up excess energy—and that’s a very good thing. All right.

Like I said, I ain’t really mad at the brother. I just don’t feel like digging trenches today. He’s putting everybody on task, though, if I really think about it. Just like he put Mike’s ornery ass in the yard lifting fifty gallon steel drums filled with rock salt to fortify the house, and lifting tractor tires for the obstacles course, and all sorts of crazy shit to make that brother drop and go right to sleep after his shift is over. Inez is banned from the kitchen until further notice. Can’t fault nobody at this point. Every man’s will power is jacked. Suspect.

Guess I ain’t the only one coping, come to think about it. Dan gets sent to town everyday to hit the post office and pick up big packages sent by The Covenant. They got that man driving back and forth and away from the house like he’s setting up a military commissary. They done put so much technology in front of J.L. to try to rig the house that, in order to focus, he’s gotta devote a hundred percent of his brain to the task. Good way to chill a man out. 

I just hope Jose don’t blow himself up. He ain’t our explosives expert—and ‘Bazz got hombre working on bombs and C4 and shit… so while he’s on task, Jose is more focused on survival than booty—which has a certain classic wisdom to it. The only one that’s exempt is Rider, on account of the fact that he can self-manage his own shit, right through here. Jack Daniels will take the edge off a lotta things when a man is out cold. All they gotta do is make Bobby run laps and he’s done. So, all in all, I gotta hand it to Marlene and Shabazz. My mind is jumping all over the place, which also ain’t me. Focus is history. 

But it’s hot as hell out here, and the sun feels like its breathing fire. Today is not a good day, I can tell. Tonight is gonna be a real mother. ‘Cause I should be exhausted by now… but even if Shabazz had told me to put a rope around the house and drag it a hundred yards, I wouldn’t be tired. I’m sure the older brother picked that up, too, or else I wouldn’t be standing here with a shovel in my hand, digging like I’m trying to find a Hell cavern on Level One, instead of making shallow trenches for this damned salt. Guess I wasn’t paying attention to what I was supposed to be doing. Again, sloppy. Salt trenches are only supposed to be six inches deep around the foundation of the house, but what I just dug looks like a four-foot deep grave. Shit!

I ain’t trying to feel like this, ain’t trying to be all jacked around in my head today or tonight. Ain’t trying to play no fucking cards. I need to call my boy, Yonnie, and get outta here for a little while. But, see, if I do that tonight—anything is liable to kick off. He’d come around, trailing Tara’s sex scent and her lavender on him, Rider would flip, and then the shit would be on. So, I can’t even get out of Dodge without putting a team member at risk. This is entrapment. Oughta be against the law.

Why am I standing out here talking to myself like a lunatic! 

I was cool, earlier, thought I had the jones beat, the Damali habit under control. I swear that woman is pure narcotic. Got me out here in the sun hallucinating, thinking about all kinds of acid-trips… or like I took a hit of Ecstasy. I’m zooming.

When I got up this morning, I had my focus. Then it all started unraveling when I saw Damali drag a heavy duffle bag into the laundry room. I couldn’t even concentrate on eating breakfast. I was done. Soon as I heard the water running and the washing machine go on, a brother was messed up. I have to laugh. The shit is pitiful. It’s been so long that I’m starting to fantasize about getting with my woman on top of mundane appliances… literally got a nervous tick from the smell of laundry detergent, like it was her signature scent of Shea Butter. 

Por Dios, help me. I gotta laugh to keep from crying. My damn hands was shaking when Damali set the dryer—it was the sound of the top slamming and the thud of wet clothes that brought it all back. That’s when Shabazz got up from the table and said to follow him outside. I had so much wood I almost couldn’t move.

Then girlfriend has the nerve to be looking extra good today… maybe it’s just me. She knows red is my color. Why she gotta wear one of them little tank tops that show her belly with no bra and painted-on jeans—today? I’m just glad she took her beautiful ass around the front of the house and went outside. 

If she’d stayed in that laundry room much longer, with Shabazz monitoring the back door like a walking electronic security system, I’d be trying to do an old school break-and-entry through the kitchen window to get to her. I do know myself that well. 

But her being outside, even in the front while I’m in the back, has its drawbacks. Her scent is on the wind… probably only a hundred parts per billion, or a little less, and yet I can still smell her. Just like I can imagine what the sun is doing to her skin. Like I can almost hear her slow, steady breaths of meditation… I wanna climb into her mind right now so bad, I can’t even think about it. Same way I can feel her vibe making the hair stand up on my arms. Just like I wanna get inside her so hard that this steel shovel ain’t got nothing on me. 

The way her mouth moved while she was eating breakfast is what really started it. I didn’t even realize I was watching her mouth that serious until she licked her lips and almost made me spill my coffee. It was like being in a fucking trance. Me, an ex-vampire, trance-zapped in broad daylight at the breakfast table. Don’t make no sense. 

Then, tonight, she’ll wanna talk. Sit close. Ask me about my day. And I’ll have to listen to her fantastic voice, hear her laugh—feel it run all through me like a slow shudder… low, rumbling thunder in my balls and beating my ass. If she really laughs hard, it’ll feel like lightening striking my rod. I… will be… no… good. She’ll be all sweaty from whatever she had to do today under the desert heat, and her scent will slaughter my ass, too. Her shirt will be sticking to her. Her naked torso showing her navel, damned near giving me an I-can’t-stand-it heart attack. I’ll have to ball up my fists just not to touch her and I won’t be able to concentrate on a thing she has to say. Compasion. Damn!

Then when I get up and walk away from her mid-sentence, she’ll get pissy and wonder why I have an attitude. Why I’m not listening. Why I’m aloof, as she calls it, and don’t wanna vibe with the family. Why I don’t wanna cuddle and just chill. 

It’ll be impossible not to watch her body move under that little tank top. See her nipples get hard under it when the temperature drops. See her lift those soft locks up off her lovely neck… see her jugular sweet spot. See her strut into the kitchen to get some ices tea, her ass swaying… whew… then have to suffer as I watch her drink it in slow-motion. Yeah, I might be a Neteru, but I’m only human—so they tell me. Last I checked, I was also very male… and it’s been months, plural, por favor.

What ‘Bazz don’t realize is, I’d have to dig the Grand Canyon to get this monkey off my back. If my Neteru powers are coming in strong, and locking in hard, there ain’t really shit I can do about it but suffer. And here the newbies are all starry-eyed thinking being a Neteru is a grand and glorious thing. They have no idea. No concept. Under these conditions, even a regular male would be messed up. Add some super cosmic topspin, and you’re ass is a goner. But I’m supposed to set an example of discipline—yeah right. Remain platonic, unaffected, oblivious, and cool. I’m doing the best I can. None of them have any frame of reference to what it’s like being with D.

All right, ya estoy harto! Enough. I ain’t thinking about this shit no more. This too shall pass. Self-torture is stupid. With this tricked-up Neteru physiology, if I get myself off, it’ll only make the burn for her worse. Gotta accept that I can’t make love to her any time soon, and I’m not gonna lose my mind about it. I’m going to find that quiet mental place. Visualize Zen. Gonna focus on the task. Dig the trench. I am one with the shovel. Shake it off.

Be smooth, embody smooth, dig the trenches, put down the salt, be smooth… you are the embodiment of cool… dig the trenches. You are smoother than all this, man. It’s only temporary. The erection will fade as your mind once again becomes laser control. You will not be a slave to sensory stimuli. You are on a desert island and must survive by digging trenches. The female species does not exist. It’s just you and the elements—man against nature. 

You are Adam… the female species has not been created yet. You don’t even know what one would be like. You have no foreknowledge, so not being with one ain’t no thing. The love of your life ain’t even been born yet. You have no memory to draw from—there is only a void of knowledge. Sweat is running down your body from hard work, from digging trenches. You breathe slowly to pace yourself and remain focused. You put your back into it, and your shoulder into it, as you get the task done. Bend at the knees… just use your legs for the heavy lifting and leverage. 

Oh… shit… just like being with her! Who am I fooling? I can’t get this shit outta my mind. I gotta switch with Jose and do yard patrol tonight. Fresh air. Sleep is gonna be out of the question, especially with Damali anywhere in the house. Maybe I can ride into town later with Dan. I gotta put some distance between me and D for a little while. Shit! Forget the trenches. I’ll dig ‘em when I get back. Maybe make one deep enough to hurl myself into a shallow grave and beg somebody with a heart to just cover me up. Anything beats this.

Truth be told, on days like today, being a Neteru with all this extrasensory awareness sucks. At least, when I was a vamp I could sleep.