Shaken: Part 1
// December 28th, 2010 // Blog
The funny and talented Adam Maxwell (@ISayItsAdam) recently called me a “serialatrix.” Why? Because I love writing serials. I’m a pantser—as in writing by the seat of my pants—through and through. So here I am with another serial, Shaken, written by my friend Ben and me.
Ben and I are role-playing geeks. He prefers gaming by instant messaging (IM). I’ve done tabletop, forum, and now IM games. Shaken is the IM game we started a few days ago. Since it’s a transcript of several IM conversations, the point of view bounces back and forth between characters. Ben’s posts are in black text. My posts are brown. As I copied and pasted I corrected any misspellings I’d noticed. This is effectively a first draft, so there will be typos and less than Nobel prize-winning writing. That said, Ben and I think it’s pretty entertaining, so we’re sharing it with the world.
Shaken is rated R for occasional language and adult themes. It’s probably NSFW, depending on how uptight your office is.
Shaken: Part 1
by Nancy Brauer and R. Benoni Bellen
Authors’ note: The characters Mitch and Nathan are loosely based on M. Jones‘ fantabulous 314 Crescent Manor, and are borrowed with her blessing. Thanks, Ms. Bagels!
Typical full moon clientele for a jam packed Friday night. For the nurses in the ER, he was nothing new. They had seen him come in before and would likely see him again. The boy was seventeen, eighteen in appearance. He didn’t have a name, any insurance, no case worker and the one time they’d tried to get him in the system, he disappeared right out. The child was homeless, a prostitute. He’d never been arrested despite the fact that he was well known on the strip. Every time he checked out, the same one armed man always paid his bill in full in cash. Tipped the nurses too. Some felt uneasy taking the bribe, others didn’t care and pocketed it while talking amongst themselves about ways to finagle more. Though the suited man didn’t seem the sort to be easily manipulated.
Tonight, the child was so high that he was almost dead. He’d been stuck and the samples sent down to Mitch to see what he could find. They didn’t want to make any rush judgments though he was always high on the same thing. Morphine was his drug of choice, though once, he’d been high on opium. Really odd choices for a kid on the street. He never tested positive for anything else. Mitch would find the first sample would include what he’d expect. Staggeringly high levels of morphine. Should have sent the kid into another world. But the second sample, well, that was the troubling one. The saturation had gone down, way down. It should have taken hours for that to occur but the boy had only been there a little over a half hour. Since the nurses were all scared their jobs would be on the line if anyone ever said anything about the kid, they’d stuck him on a stretcher in an unused room on the second floor. Hooked up to a monitor, tethered to the bed in case he got violent or wild. If Nathan wanted to ask questions about him, he’d have to find him. Or one of the nurses who had checked him in without formally registering him into the system.
Mitch checked his analyses of the patient’s blood samples for the fifth time. If John Doe’s chart hadn’t come with them, he’d have assumed that the first had come from a doped-up Thoroughbred, and the second from some other junkie. There was no way a 17-year-old should be breathing with those levels of morphine in his system.
Perhaps it was related to the odd morphology of his erythrocytes. It almost resembled sickle-cell anemia, but only on half of the cell. He’d never seen an asymmetric mutation before.
Whatever the cause, Mitch wanted to see this John Doe. So he took a deep breath, tried to remember the names of some of his coworkers, and left the blessed solitude of his lab.
Mitch quickened his pace as he strode past the nurses’ station. Bea was on duty, and if she noticed—
“Do my eyes deceive me? Is that MITCH?” she bellowed. How the birdlike black woman managed to bellow was beyond him.
Mitch winced and reluctantly came to a halt. “Hi, Bea. Yeah. I’m looking for our high-as-a-kite John Doe.”
Bea leaned across the laminate surface of the station toward him. “You know which John Doe he is, right?”
Mitch stared blankly. Better that than acknowledging the other nurses who’d heard Bea’s summons. The hen house was closing in on him.
Bea leaned closer and lowered her voice. “Morphine Joe. He’s got a pimp or a mob boss or something. If you’re here when the one-armed pimp comes to collect him, you’ll get your Christmas bonus early.”
Mitch blinked and took a step back. “What? That’s… unethical!”
“Which part?” Bea asked. “The pimp or the money?”
“This is Reno, honey. Get used to it.” A few of Bea’s hens snickered.
Mitch drew himself up to his full 5′ 10″. If this were a pissing contest with a guy, he’d be screwed. Surely he could intimidate a bunch of gossipy, bribe-accepting nurses. “Just tell me what room he’s in. The room number on his chart doesn’t make any sense.”
“In the storage room on the second floor.”
Mitch glowered. “Storage room? I should report you for this.”
Bea smirked in reply. She may have called his bluff, but he didn’t have to acknowledge it. So he stormed—not ran—off to the storage room to meet Morphine Joe.
Sometimes when he came down off it, he had that severe restlessness that made him terribly twitchy. When it was really bad, he kicked as sufferers from his addiction were wont to do. They hadn’t shackled him for their benefit but rather, his own. Though knowing what Mitch did about the bribing, he wouldn’t have been out of line to think they’d chained him up until payment came through the front doors.
Under the white sheet, the kid looked garish. His skin was pale, despite living in the desert and his hair a pale shade of platinum, as though he’d never grown out of it from childhood. He looked precious; he could have been beautiful in that boyish way if he wasn’t in such a bad state. As it stood, he was much too slender and his high cheek bones made him look drawn, malnourished. His pale eyes were a bluish gray and darted about anxiously.
Judging by the monitor, his heart rate was up. He took a moment before his head turned towards the door. He didn’t recognize Mitch and he didn’t say anything at first. Instead, he continued to look around. “Stop talking.” He whined finally. “Don’t talk to me, my head is killing me. I think I’m going to be sick.” He definitely didn’t sound like he was from there. He had a northern accent and because of the strain he was under, his voice was high pitched, shrill. Mitch could tell from how raw his wrists were that he’d been tugging a while at the restraints.
Morphine Joe looked dead. The talking and moving told Mitch otherwise. But seriously, he looked like a pasty, anorexic male model. Mitch had been expecting a typical smelly homeless person.
“I didn’t say anything,” Mitch said even though Joe was probably talking to a drug-induced hallucination. “If you’re cognizant, I’ll take off your restraints.”
“No, no.” He whined some but he stopped tugging on them. Chest heaving as he took in a shallow breath. “Take them off, take them off. I hate them. Get me out of here. Get me out before he comes back for me. I don’t want to.” He started to cry then. He may have been alert but he didn’t seem entirely functional.
His head rolled to the side and he stared at Mitch through the bars of the bed. “Nathan, Nathan, I want to go home.” He mewled with plaintive pitch. “I don’t want to be here. Take me home.” Repetition seemed to suit his fractured state. His thoughts were all across the board and barely congealed into something Mitch could follow.
“N-nathan?” Morphine Joe’s chart slipped out of Mitch’s hand and fluttered to the floor. How did he know his brother’s name?
“Don’ wanna. No! Back home, please!” Joe sobbed. The pitiful site brought Mitch back to his senses. Morphine Joe was still flying high from his titular drug, and Nathan was a common name. Coincidence.
Coincidence like the lizard that had killed Nathan? part of Mitch’s mind nagged.
He shoved the thought aside. “I’m sorry, Mr. Morph– er, Doe, but you’re clearly not cognizant yet, so the restraints will have to stay. For your own safety.”
“I’m here, we’re all here. We’re in this room, it’s always this room. And it’s always this night, these nights. It’s the same as always, I’m the same. You’re the same. You’re still dead and I’m almost dead, might as well be dead.” He gave a stale laugh and his eyes rolled back in his head as he tried to coil on the bed. But with his arms and legs stuck, he couldn’t do much. “We’re all wasting time here; he’ll be back soon.” He seemed pretty certain he was speaking with clarity.
“I’m not—” Mitch bit off his retort. There was no point in arguing with a junkie. He scooped up Morphine Joe’s chart to distract himself from the kid’s morbid rambling. “At the rate you’re going, you’ll have metabolized the rest of the morphine in an hour or so. I’ll be sure that one of the nurses checks on you. Good evening.” He headed for the door to let himself out.
The kid shrieked like a banshee when his fingers touched the door handle. “Let me out, let me out!” The sounds of it died away against the tiled walls only to be replaced with his sobs. The tears poured down his cheeks; the exertion of it staining them splotchy pink. He tried to nuzzle his face into the sheet to blot them but it was next to impossible, he lacked the coordination to do anything like that. He would likely be even worse when he came down. “N-Na-a-athan.” Half stuttered, half whined. “Don’t leave me in here, it’s too noisy. I can’t stand it. My head hurts. Please get me out before he comes. He’s coming for me. He’ll kill me for sure.”
Mitch yanked his hand from the doorknob as if it had shrieked. Situations like these are why he didn’t become a physician. No one screamed nonsense at you in a lab. Cells smeared on glass slides were nice, quiet puzzles to be solved. Morphine Joe, on the other hand, was a mess.
“He’ll kill me,” Joe sobbed. “He’ll kill me, and then we’ll hunt down the lizard. Just shut up!”
The word lizard made Mitch flinch. He couldn’t… Mitch willed himself to Joe’s bedside. “What lizard?” he whispered.
“Monster,” he gasped. “Fetid breath. Laying in wait. BASTARD!”
Before he realized what he was doing, Mitch had clapped a hand over Joe’s mouth. It was foolish and possibly dangerous. He could be bitten, and what if Joe had AIDS? But between the kid’s rambling about lizards, Nathan, and monsters, Mitch was shaking. He didn’t want his colleagues to see him like this. He was a profess—
The world tilted on its axis. Nathan, pale as death, stood on the other side of the bed. He leaned over Joe, apparently screaming something, but Mitch didn’t hear his voice.
“N-nathan?” Mitch whispered. But it couldn’t have been Nathan. His brother was dead and buried back in St. George. And this… thing before him didn’t even look like Nathan anymore. Neither Mitch nor Nathan were linebackers, but the creature’s shoulders were too narrow and jaw too soft. The eyes were similar, though, and its poorly cut black hair. Nathan thought it looked bohemian, but to Mitch it was just sloppy.
Then not-Nathan’s head snapped up, and Mitch’s eyes met the creature’s rheumy ones. It smiled and mouthed something. He could almost make it out, but the world tilted again and spun and spun…
With the hand clamped over his mouth, Ghost couldn’t do much but watch. He looked back and forth between them. Mitch’s hand was warm and it felt oddly nice against his skin. The tears halted for now, though a few clung to his icicle lashes. His legs still bounced but the rest of him was as still as it could be given the circumstances. The exchange between siblings was confusing to him. But the understanding would be short lived.
The tremble didn’t start within himself. Rather, the foundation seemed to react to that minute vibration, the lights flickered before it became a full out jolt. Movements of the earth weren’t too common out here. And that one had been enough to knock a few items off the shelves in the room. The shatter of glass, the crash of plastic… the boy jumped under Mitch’s hand.
Everything was moving. Although he was loathe to take his eyes off of not-Nathan, he squeezed his eyes shut to try to regain his balance. Somehow his hands found the hospital bed’s rails. They were cool and solid—reassuring considering the impossibilities around him.
Gradually the world stopped spinning. Mitch stood up straight and peeked through half-shut eyes. Not-Nathan was gone. Morphine Joe remained. “Um… I’m sorry.” His voice sounded different, but surely it was just stress from whatever the hell had just happened. “You were screaming. Don’t scream, please?”
The boy hadn’t screamed even when the man let go of him and grabbed the railing. His hands twisted in the restraints but he couldn’t reach Mitch to touch him. “I won’t scream if you wont leave me alone in here.” He said of it and he watched him steadily now. “I don’t feel very good.” He had been saying that since Mitch first arrived. “The nurses usually give me something. They didn’t give me anything tonight. She said she was too busy. And that I should just stay in here until he comes for me. I don’t like being in here.”
“I’m not a nurse. I, uh…” Okay, he definitely sounded different. Must be getting sick, he supposed. “Did you see someone else here?”
“They’re still here.” He said of it with a shrug. “They’re always here. I cant stand hospitals. The noise is overwhelming for me.” He would have avoided coming if he hadn’t been on death’s door himself. And well, he hadn’t come willingly. He’d been brought. The worst part about coming down was the anxiety. He felt it topped even the excruciating pain. “Take me home, put me in your car. I’ll pay you. I mean, I don’t have much. But I’ll pay you, sleep with you, whatever.”
“I can’t—” He cleared his throat. Since when did he yelp? “I can’t take you home with me, and I certainly don’t want to sleep with you!” Mitch ran one hand through his hair, but the nervous gesture only made things worse. He felt… off. What was going on? “You’re better off here. It sounds like you’re having paranoid delusions from the morphine. I’ll get a nurse.” Joe’s eyes went wide, and he opened his mouth.
Mitch threw his hands up. They looked wrong, but he was too preoccupied with Joe to pay them much notice. “Don’t scream! If you can walk, I’ll take you to one of the nurses, okay?”
“They won’t do anything to help me. He pays them. They do what he wants. They don’t care what I want.” He said of the nurses and he sighed. Resigning himself to the fact that he wasn’t going to get any lucky breaks today. “I thought you might be different.”
Mitch studied Joe for a long moment. Focusing on Joe meant that Mitch didn’t have to think about how his stance was off, his shirt and slacks fit differently, and how he’d been staring at his dead brother a few minutes ago. “Who’s ‘he’? The man offering the bribes?”
“Yes.” He whined a little. His pale eyes beseeching. “He’s the reason I’m here, that I’m like this. I used to be something else before him but I cant remember anymore. I cant remember much except I think I liked school.” He was rambling. “I really want to go home. If I come down off this here, they’ll just keep me from shooting up again.”
This was the problem with junkies. *Not* shooting up again was the correct course of action, but they were too messed up to see it.
Mitch sighed. “If you can walk and keep quiet, you can come back to my lab. It’s in the basement. No one else is there since it’s the night shift. I’ll have to think of something to tell Bea, though.”
He hesitated when he was asked if he could walk. But finally, he nodded. “Maybe.” He wasn’t sure but he’d try. If Mitch was willing to loosen the cords, then he was willing to stumble along. It meant getting out of the room, possibly out of the hospital. He tried not to jitter and tremble as he tugged on the restraints again. “H-Hurry.” He didn’t know when they’d come back.
Morphine Joe tugged at his restraints. The fact that Mitch had forgotten about them said a lot about his mental state.
He ripped the closer of the two Velcro wrist restraints free, then leaned over the bed to reach the far one. It was okay that his button-down shirt pulled taut against his… pecs. Yes, pecs. Thanks to the shock of hallucinating his dead brother, his senses were misreporting reality. That was the only explanation. So even though his heart was hammering in his chest, Mitch loosened the other wrist restraint.
After freeing Joe’s ankles, Mitch helped the kid sit up. “Lean on me. If necessary, we’ll get a wheelchair.”
He didn’t smell like he’d been on the street. He was freshly washed, his clothing freshly laundered and not even wrinkly. He smelled heavily of what seemed to be perfumed incense. They hadn’t cut him out of his clothes or put a gown on him. He was still in his things. As he sat up, his head lulled back and for a moment, it seemed like he might go out. But he managed to nestle against Mitch as his legs were urged off the table. It seemed like he was falling, though it was likely the euphoria. He had grabbed Mitch tightly until his feet were solidly on the ground. “Walk.” He said either to himself or Mitch or maybe it was just a reaffirmation of the act. There was black smudged all over his wrists and Mitch would have noticed it on his ankles as well. No shoes.
Joe felt like a rag doll. His head lolled back like one, which distracted Mitch from the fact that the black gunk on Joe’s wrists was getting all over his dress shirt. “Whoa, hold on. You with me?” Joe snuggled close. It wasn’t the response Mitch had hoped for, but better than the kid passing out. “I’ll take that as a yes. Let’s go. One step at a time.”
He more or less dragged Joe out of the room and down the hall. He’d had the presence of mind to shove Joe’s chart between them, so if Bea sent one of her harpies to check on him there wouldn’t be a big red arrow pointing to Mitch’s lab. Nevertheless, they took the long route to avoid the second floor nurses’ station. Mitch and Carol got along well, but he had no desire to explain why he was hauling a half-conscious patient to his lab. He wasn’t sure what he’d say anyway.
Five minutes later Mitch wheeled Joe into his home away from home. After catching his blurry reflection in the scratched steel doors of the elevator, he was shaking almost as much as the kid. But he won’t freak out until Joe was settled and resting.
The lab was quiet. There were specimens here, parts of people. But they were not people. He was able to relax as he was given room to sit, his legs still twitchy though he stayed upright. It took two tries to smear the back of his hand across his cheek enough to wipe away the tears. He did still look around but his attentions didn’t seem as diverted. The worst of the noise had died away. And he felt thankful of that, very glad to be here and no longer there. “What is this place?”
Mitch chewed on his lip as Joe got as comfortable in a fiberglass chair as a junkie coming off of a massive morphine high could get. The imperfect reflection the elevator doors had given him made the reports from his other senses impossible to ignore. Somehow, in the span of a few seconds, Mitch had exchanged wide shoulders and external genitalia for hips, breasts, and a distinct absence of anything between his legs. Yet Joe hadn’t batted an eye. Was he hallucinating?
After wiping his eyes dry, Joe asked, “What is this place?” He seemed more grounded than he had upstairs.
Mitch plucked a tissue from the dispenser on Rob’s desk. It quivered from his shaking hand as he offered it to Joe. “Pathology lab.” Mitch gulped. His voice was an octave too high. He made himself continue. “We’re in the basement. My fellow lab rats and I analyze tissue and blood samples here.”
“Oh.” He said of it and he took the tissue. He blotted his cheeks first and then he rubbed at the spot on his right wrist. He was left handed. “Am I a sample here? Can you tell me what my name is?” Maybe this one knew it. He’d been trying to remember his name forever so that he could find his way back home. A shudder passed through him and he paused with the tissue for a moment. But eventually, he rubbed so much that it just about disintegrated.
Mitch balled his hands into fists to try to get them to stop trembling. The kid thought he was a sample? The notion repulsed Mitch, which in itself was odd. He studied people—parts of them—every day.
Shaking his head, Mitch replied, “I don’t know. You were admitted as a John Doe. Apparently you’re here a lot, because the nurses gave you a nickname: Morphine Joe. But don’t worry. Once your head clears, you’ll remember your name.”
“No, I haven’t known my name for a long time. I’m a ghost. I’m Ghost.” He said of it. “That’s what he calls me. I think he knows my name but he wont ever tell me it. He doesn’t want me to go. If I went away from him, I might be able to get myself clean. I wouldn’t have to sleep in a box then.” He yawned big and he scratched at his raw, red wrist now. “You have a name, don’t you? Why’d Nathan look so much like you? I thought you were the same person but then I got confused and now I don’t know who you are.”
Mitch blinked at Ghost for a few seconds. His… pimp? made him sleep in a box? What had he gotten himself into?
Ghost’s last few statements thoroughly rattled Mitch. “I don’t either,” he half-giggled, which only freaked him out more. He raced to the door, locked it, then rolled one of the vinyl lab chairs in front of the kid and plopped down in it. “My name is Mitch. Mitch Visser. You saw him too, my brother Nathan?” The words came out in a breathless rush. Keeping his intense gaze on Ghost, he swatted the kid’s hand away from his wrist.
“I itch.” He said but he wasn’t deterred. It had given him pause for a moment but he was back to scratching again. “I don’t usually see them very often. I hear them typically.” Though on occasion, when he was like this, he did have visual cues as well. “They’re always so loud here. There’s too many of them and they all want whatever it is they want.” He glanced up, those pale eyes unfocused, pupils a bit too dilated. “Everybody dies eventually but not all of them get stuck. Why’s he so stuck? Maybe he just wanted you to know he’s ok. Some of them are sentimental at first, though they all end up warped after a while.”
Mitch considered not asking any more questions. He didn’t like Ghost’s answers. Supposedly Ghost saw ghosts—how appropriate!—and ghosts went bad eventually. So he was being haunted by his brother, who’d go all poltergeist at some point?
“Stop scratching your wrist. It’ll get infected,” Mitch muttered as he scrubbed his hands over his stubble-free face. “God, this is screwed up.” Then he took a deep breath and met Ghost’s dilated eyes. “I’d say that I don’t believe in ghosts, but I don’t know what I believe anymore. But, um, what do I look like to you?”
“You’re alive.” He said when Mitch asked him that. “I mean, you’re definitely alive.” He reached out and pushed Mitch’s shoulder a bit too hard. But then, his motor skills weren’t the best. “If it gets infected, it wont kill me.” He said of it. “Don’t you have anything to make it stop itching? Put a Band-Aid on it. You’re a doctor.”
“I’m not a doctor!” That came out far more shrilly than he’d intended. After lowering his voice, Mitch got the junkie a Band-Aid and kept talking. “I’m a lab technician. A *male* lab tech.” He shoved the Band-Aid at Ghost and sat down again.
After a moment’s hesitation Mitch sat up straight. His shirt was a little baggy now except around his chest. Although he didn’t dare look, he was sure that his undershirt did nothing to hide his nipples, which stood at attention thanks to overzealous air conditioning. If he really was female, surely Ghost would notice. If he didn’t, then Mitch was hallucinating. So he forced the question out of his mouth: “Do I look male or not?”
“Are you hitting on me?” He was confused when Mitch asked him that off the wall question. “Because I don’t really think I’m in the mood, I mean, I did say I’d sleep with you. I swear I will but cant we wait a little while? I don’t feel all that great right now.” He nearly ripped the bandage in half getting the paper off but he put it on his wrist. And picked at it instead.
“No! I mean, I don’t—” Mitch jumped up and paced the length of the lab. Once he was sure he wouldn’t shout, he said, “Ghost, I swear to God that I don’t want to sleep with you.” Every step reminded him (her?) that it would be a novel experience, which made him more nervous. “Everything in this town revolves around sex, gambling, and drugs. I wish I’d never moved here!”
Pacing clearly wasn’t doing him any good, so Mitch returned to his chair. “Tell me about ghosts. Why can you see them?”
“I told you, I don’t see them. I usually hear them. And what’s wrong with me? Don’t I look good enough for you?” He was more hung up on the fact that Mitch didn’t want to screw him than he was about Mitch’s bizarre behavior. “You are sort of right about that though, maybe I was brought here to this town because of that. I hate working the streets but it’s better than working in a brothel or something. I mean, you cant come and go there. And they always expect you to work. I like being able to take a night off.” He picked the Band-Aid corner up and smoothed it back down only to pick again. “I always take these nights off. It’s always the same night.” He had said something like that back in the room.
Mitch rolled his chair back a few inches. “Jesus, you’re a prostitute too?” Ghost’s face screwed up like he was going to cry. The sight tugged at Mitch’s heartstrings, which made the situation even more confusing. Guys don’t cry. He didn’t pity guys who did cry, even cute ones like—
That train of thought was abruptly and deliberately derailed. “There’s nothing wrong with you except for being underweight,” Mitch half-lied. Being a junkie, prostitute, and supposed medium certainly counted for “wrong.”
“I can’t get a normal job.” On account of being a junkie. “And I can’t afford to live anywhere if I don’t work.” So he was homeless and an occasional prostitute to support himself. “There’s a lot wrong with me.” He shrugged some. “I cant fix it. There’s no use.” No real hope that he could see. “What do you want me to be, like you? You don’t even know if you’re a man or a woman. You had to ask me.”
Mitch ran both of his hands through his hair. A hopped-up prostitute was no help when one was having an identity crisis. “I don’t want you to be like anything. Just be you!” He took a deep breath and tried again. “Ten minutes ago I would have said I’m a man and thought you were crazy to ask. Ever since seeing Nathan my senses tell me I’m… female. It’s not possible. I’m hallucinating.” Maybe if he said it enough he’d believe it.
“Whatever, I don’t see why you have to be either. I work with girls who are way prettier than either of us’ll ever be. And they have huge cocks. I mean, I’ve totally seen it all. Bodies are just bodies. They don’t matter, I think. I mean, everyone has what they’re into and what they like. But it matters more what sort of a person you are. I am the sort of person that hears dead people. You’re the sort of person that… does… samples and stuff like a rat.” Or whatever it was Mitch had said about himself and his work here.
Mitch stared wordlessly. He didn’t want to know about pretty girls with huge cocks. Bodies were very important, and they should be set up correctly and in a not-confusing manner. Janine hadn’t been confusing… until she went off the deep end. But he didn’t need to think about that now.
“I don’t stuff rats,” he said finally with his female voice. After staring at the too-pretty boy for a little longer, he threw his hands into the air. “You know what? I don’t care that I’m supposed to be here until 6:00. I’m going home. I’m going to drink a lot of vodka, and then I’m going to sleep. And when I wake up everything will be okay.” Ghost gave him pitiful puppy-dog eyes. “You can come too. And I’m still not sleeping with you. No offense.”
“That’s fine. I don’t want to sleep with you anyways. Can I have some Cherry Coke? Vodka gives me a headache. But I never get soda because it costs too much but I really want some tonight. It’ll help once I start throwing up.” And all that. “You should probably tie me up to the bedpost or something. Or I’ll probably run away when the pain gets too bad. I hope you don’t have neighbors.”
“I have neighbors. No Cherry Coke. We’ll get some.” The whole situation felt surreal, which actually was welcome. He was bringing a strung-out male prostitute who heard ghosts back to his condo and would tie him to the bedpost. What a lovely way to spend a Friday night in Reno!
Thanks to it being 3 a.m., Mitch and Ghost made it to the hospital parking garage with a minimum of witnesses. The few orderlies and janitors were too busy with their own work (or avoiding it) to pay them much notice.
Ghost leaned on Mitch as he pushed the button on his keychain remote. The locks of his gray 2002 Accord clicked open. The car was nothing fancy, but got him to work and back.
Mitch pulled the passenger side door open. “Hop in.”
“Mitch?” He said in question but by the time Mitch got around to his own side of the car and got in, Ghost didn’t remember what he was going to ask anymore. So he didn’t. He was burning up but once Mitch had the AC on, he was freezing. Sweat dampened the hair all about his hairline. And by the time they were down the road, he was pouring sweat. “Ugh.” He whined some. He felt like hell. “Don’t drive so fast.” He whined but two minutes later, he was whining that Mitch was taking too long. Ridiculous.
Thank God his condo was only 10 minutes from the hospital, and that a 7-Eleven was around the corner. Mitch kept his car spotlessly clean, so he had nothing to give the kid to use as a barf bag. He prayed that Ghost could keep the contents of his stomach contained for a little longer. He’d never had to scrub vomit from a car’s upholstery and didn’t want to start now.
“Cherry Coke,” Mitch said with one foot already on the 7-Eleven’s parking lot. “Warm, right?”
“Yeah,” Ghost said. His sweat-damp blond hair had made a dark halo on the headrest. That grossed Mitch out a little.
Mitch strode inside, trying to ignore his new… endowments. Just a hallucination, he reassured himself as he grabbed a two-liter bottle of Cherry Coke. On impulse he stopped at the crazily overpriced medicine section. The economy-sized Pepto Bismol bottle seemed like a wise purchase.
Mitch approached the Latino guy at the checkout counter somewhat reluctantly. With his headlights leading the way, the man’s reaction could confirm or repeal Mitch’s hallucination theory. Chewing his lip, he plunked the bottles of soda and pink stuff on the grimy counter.
The clerk didn’t even look up. “Anything else?” he muttered.
The transaction took 30 seconds. Mitch swiped his debit card, so the clerk didn’t have to make any change. “Haveagoodday,” the clerk mumbled.
Mitch was dismayed by the lack of data. “Thanks,” he said absently, returning his debit card to his wallet. Something on its shiny surface caught his eye:
He—she giggled. She giggled the whole way back to her car.
Michelle Visser, she thought. Fuck me.
By the time they reached the apartment, it didn’t take long. Ghost opened the door and he was barfing. Nothing much in his stomach but he continued to wretch anyways. Mitch practically had to look his hands under Ghost’s armpits to hoist him up. And he stumbled along but once inside, he just asked to sit in the bath tub. He figured he couldn’t make a huge mess in there. Right now, he was back to wanting to feel warm. The water might help the cramping. He knew it’d be hell tonight. “Help me take a bath please. I’m freezing. You have a tub, don’t you?” He would sit at the bottom of the shower if Mitch didn’t help out. “I’m sorry I get like this.” He said aware enough that he was an inconvenience for Mitch.
Mitch—Michelle—whoever was happy to let Ghost retch outside. Let hi— her neighbors get an eyeful. She was probably crazy anyway. Grey Goose would make everything better.
Michelle did not want to bathe Ghost. She did, however, draw a bath for him. “It’s all right,” she lied when he apologized. “One sec,” she said and left him sitting half-naked on her bathroom floor.
The two shots of Grey Goose she slammed in her kitchen didn’t make everything better. In a few minutes she wouldn’t care as much, though.
She returned to the bathroom to help Ghost into the bathtub if necessary. He could bathe his own damned self.
Hell, she didn’t even have to help him peel off his shirt. He managed that himself. His back and his chest were covered with black marks. They were smeared across his skin though a few remained relatively untouched. They looked like sigils. Odd shapes and forms. He pushed his pants down and wore nothing underneath to cover his skinny ass. But as Mitch held his arm, he was able to crawl into the tub. His teeth chattered as he sank in up to his shoulders. Knees to his chest, he curled up so that Mitch wouldn’t see him naked. He was ashamed of his body anyways.
Michelle managed to not see anything she’d regret in the morning. Male or female, she wasn’t attracted to Ghost one bit. The poor kid was so *skinny*, and the black symbols on him downright creepy. “What’s with the body paint?”
“Huh?” He said as he looked up, then down at himself. “Oh yeah, that. Josiah marks me up so that it works better. It bothers him when it doesn’t work. Lately, it hasn’t worked as well. It’s harder to pick up on them. Though I’m not sure why.” He said as though it were clear as day what he was babbling about. He slouched so that he could press his cheek to the rim of it.
Michelle didn’t follow half of what Ghost said, but picked up on one thing. “Josiah’s your… boss?”
“He’s not the boss of me.” He said with a giggle but then he was shifting again. Unable to stay still. “He’s the one that does this to me. He’ll probably be here tomorrow night to pick me up. He wont like that I’m here but it’s alright, I’m sure he’ll pay you and you’ll just take it like everyone else. And nothing’ll change.” He sighed out. “You seem nice though. You remind me of someone I used to know but I can’t remember now.”
Michelle did not like the thought of Ghost’s pimp showing up on her doorstep. “Don’t worry. No one at the hospital will think that I took you home. He has no way of knowing you’re here.”
That’s all we’ve written so far. More soon!