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Double Helix

"I knew I'd find you here," said the girl with the short red hair. "My aunt can tell the future."

Lia was four years old the first time she fell in love. Joey was five. He lived in the apartment above hers.
Joey believed he could fly. No, Joey knew he could fly. Of course, no one believed him. So he was set to prove it.

Jack was twenty-two when he had his epiphany. Doctors, lawyers and friends called it a nervous break-
down or, “Jack’s episode,” but Jack saw it as a blessing. He could see things clearly now.

Lia got on the eastbound train at 12:07, same as any other Tuesday or Thursday afternoon, going to visit her aunt Delilah. The asylum was strict about
visiting hours. If Lia missed the 12:07, she might as well not make the trip at all.

"You don't get it? Vaccines are a good start, sure." Jack, a tall boy with a red and blue double
helix encircling his left bicep, lit a cigarette with an impossibly pink lighter. "But they're just
that, a start."

Lia loved Joey the moment he told her his plan. She loved him as he stood on the balcony of the third floor. She loved him as he climbed up onto
the railing; as he bent his knees and pushed off.

Jack had this thing. Some might call it an issue. Others might prefer problem. Hanging out with smokers, several trends had become apparent to him. There were the kids who threw butts in ashtrays like they were throwing socks in the laundry. Kids who smashed every last dying ember out of even the thought of existence.
They'd eye the ashtray suspiciously for a few moments, waiting for something to relight, waiting for betrayal.
Kids who smoked half a fag and went home. Kids who chain smoked unfiltered Luckies from tip to butt,
day to night.

She loved him as he crashed into the concrete four, maybe five feet in front of her, shivering,
blood pooling around his head. It wasn't long till Jack met That Guy. That Guy exists as a result of a problem in the smokers' world. It's a universal problem. Anywhere you find smokers, you'll find that lighters are always in short supply and high demand.
People forget them at home or in the car. They lose them. They're too cheap to buy one in the first place.
Whatever the case, lighter theft is a common problem in the life of a smoker.

A heartbroken Lia, age five, unimpressed by psychologists and psychiatrists, hugged her teddy
and wandered into the kitchen of her aunt's apartment. Her Aunt Delilah was magic. She could tell the future. Lia knew it. Delilah always knew when the cookies would be done, when school would let out, when it would get cold. So Lia, spotting the first opportune moment, took a deep breath. She had a question.

"You have to be a little sick to be healthy," and Jack knew it, and Jack was going to prove it. "Germs and virii, see? They're food for your macrophages. They
feed your immune system," he raved to Lia with her Guinness and her bobbed red hair. "You gotta
start small, though. Your immune system, it's starving. It's like giving a concentration camp victim a slab
of steak. Just doesn't work."

Lia didn't go on dates. Every time a guy asked her out, she could hear Joey screaming, "GERONIMO!" followed by a short, sharp, wet smack.

On his twenty-fourth birthday, Jack's friends threw him a party that he hadn't expected and didn't particularly want. He was well on his way to a drunken stupor in the
parking lot when something hit him. He was knocked back a couple of steps, still trying to figure out
who spun the world the other way, when he heard a voice from the ground. A tangled lump of girl and skateboard
had landed at his feet.

Lia was eight when Delilah was committed.

That Guy carries a pink lighter. Why? "Cuz nobody steals a pink lighter, man!" That Guy invariably
thinks he's the funniest man alive.

Maybe the idea shouldn't have bothered her so much.
Her friends told her to get over it. After all, what are the odds that every boy you fall in love
with turns out criminally insane?

A man in his mid-twenties, wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, with a double helix tattooed on his left arm
was seen to be walking into the front lobby of the CDC in Atlanta.

No one took much time to explain why Delilah had to go
away, or why they could only visit her on Tuesdays and
Thursdays for such a short time. Lia asked, but she didn't get much in the way of answers, just a lot
of talk about wrists and voices.

Jack stole pink lighters. Why? Because Jack hated That Guy.

Her friends had a point, maybe. But none of them had ever seen a boy fly. None of them knew the sound of blood splattering on a four year-old's Keds.

"Oh shit... Sorry about that," the red-head mumbled,
cupping one hand under a bleeding elbow and picking her deck up with the other. "I'm Li... Hey, I know you. You’ve got a thing about lighters.”

Two weeks after a party that left her more scraped than sloshed, Lia was boarding to class. As she rolled up to her building and dismounted, she heard a voice behind her. "Hey, Lia, right? How's the elbow?" The lighter boy (his name was Jack) appeared in front of her. "Nice memory." She looked down. The fluttery feeling in her stomach was an unpleasant one. "and you're..."
she knew his name, but she paused anyway. "Jack, right?"

"You think the pharmaceutical companies stay in business by curing people? Sure. Everyone's heard that. They're willing to believe that some corporate bastard's wiping his ass with the cure for AIDS, but
it's really simpler than that. There's no cure for AIDS or cancer or T.B. or anything because there doesn't need to be. They keep our bodies sterile, keep our
immune systems starving. Our macrophages stay small and weak. The doctors get rich off the 'medicine'
that keeps us sick. I'm going to... Hey, you alright? You look a little pale."
Lia looked at her shoes and swallowed, then looked back at him. "Yeah... I'm fine. You just sound like someone I used to know."

Walking down the hall to Delilah's room, Lia caught herself thinking about him. She tried not to say
his name in her head, tried to keep him in her thoughts as nothing more or less than the lighter kid. Maybe if she didn't think it, it wouldn't happen. She wished she hadn't given him her phone number. She wished she hadn't wanted to. She thought to worry that this could
only end badly, but stopped. Laughing to herself, she remembered Delilah's prophecy.

Jack rubbed his wrists together as the balding man across from him droned on about fresh air, a nice
view, recuperation. Handcuffs chafed. So did condescension.

As Lia entered Delilah's room, the older woman, silhouetted by the window, turned and smiled.
"It's such a beautiful day, little bird. Let's take tea in the garden."

"Don't you worry, child." Delilah took tearful little Lia in her arms and wiped her face with a napkin. "A man'd have to be mad trying to keep up with your flights, little bird. If you ever find yourself in need of a husband, you'd best go looking in the asylum."

Across the garden, Lia caught sight of a flash of hot pink disappearing into a pocket and a familiar tattoo on a boy's left bicep. " Pardon me, j-just a moment, Delilah," she stammered, getting up from the lawn chair she'd been sitting in and walking across the

He was smoking a cigarette and looking
back at her, slightly chagrined, as she approached.

"I knew I'd find you here," she said softly. "My aunt can tell the future."

Wow, that's cool. I cut and

Wow, that's cool. I cut and pasted just to see the formatting you mention, and it did add something. Not much to say, just a "hey wow i like that" kind of thing.

Nicely done. Cut-up

Nicely done. Cut-up narratives are always a challenge, but I think you manage the flow from one thread to another well enough that a reader won't lose track.

It did take me a couple of readings to figure out how some of the scenes fit within the story as a whole--for example, the two(?) parts of the skateboard scene. Perhaps some more work is needed on finding the best order? And the timeline from Jack's appearance in the CDC to his presence in the asylum (assuming they happen in that order) might be made clearer with an additional scene to link them.

But overall, I thought this worked well.

Thanks so much for the

Thanks so much for the comments. I realized after reading DH in this form how much I was relying on its formatting to clarify the story (in its print edition, every other block of text is right justified to simulate a double helix)...

It's an older story, and I think I've come a ways since writing it, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't go back and see if I can bring it up to date.

Thanks again!