Chapter Eight – Part 3

January 27, 2012

Monday, October 25, 03:16 PM

Once the police and the crowd pushed him away from the scene, Elroy crossed the street to the McDonald’s parking lot across from the High School. He figured he had seen all the interesting stuff already. The flare of the girl’s aura still burned in his mind’s eye, brighter than the sun, way brighter than Charlie ever had been. Certainly brighter than Charlie was now.

When he reached the gray van, he could hear George yelling, “What the fuck happened?  Will someone just tell me what the fuck happened?”

Elroy slid the door opne and stepped outside. Mr. Jackson watched out the rear windows with a pair of binoculars.  The last ambulance had pulled away.  “Apparently, our Mr. Wilson wasn’t satisfied with threatening policemen.”

Jane sat at the consoles lining one side of the van, typing on a computer keyboard and listening through a set of headphones. She didn’t seem to notice Elroy had stepped into the van.  “Elroy identified the male as Charlie, and I’m picking up police traffic that confirm that.  Attempted rape, apparently.”

“What’s Charlie’s condition?” George asked.

“He’s hurt real bad,” Elroy said quietly.

Jane spun around to look at him, and he could see a sharp white flicker of surprise flicker across her aura. It didn’t reach her voice. “According to the Medic’s radio, our girl did something fairly drastic.  Severe lacerations, both femorals, crushed testicles—”

“Shit,” George whispered.

“—broken pelvis, severe internal hemorrhaging, pupils fixed and dilated.” Jane looked at George, who was visibly wincing. “Can’t say I blame her.”

“Shall we dispense with the editorializing?” Mr. Jackson said from the rear of the van, putting away his binoculars.  He turned around to face the rest of the occupants.  He looked at Elroy, “Did you sense anything about what happened?”

“See eye, not much.  Lots of cops. Lots of kids. Girl’s the same one I picked out of the yearbook, Allison Boyle.  The guy bleeding all over the place was Charlie.” He closed his eyes and remembered the sun-flare of power he had sensed through the concrete walls. “See head,” he whispered, I saw both of them do something pretty head-powerful.  But she’s way beyond him. Blew him out like a candle.”

“What did she do?” Jane asked.

Elroy opened his eyes and shrugged. “Nothing I saw before.”

That silenced the whole van for a few long moments.  After a while, Barney, who’d been silent in the driver’s seat, asked, “What now, boss?”

Mr. Jackson said, “This complicates things.”

“As if they weren’t complicated enough,” George said.  “We should have gone for the mother as soon as we ID’d the girl.  We could have pulled her out of school before—”

Mr. Jackson stared at George, “Doctor, your expertise is not in covert ops, and I am sick of your second-guessing.  I’m security.  You and Jane are the Ph.D’s and the baby-sitters. Remember that.”

“We should have talked to her mo—” George began, but before he could get the words out, Fred had slammed him into the wall of the van.

Mr. Jackson leaned in, calm demeanor dissolved into an angry scowl and glaring eyes.  “I will say this once, Doctor.  I will not jeopardize the Institute by confronting a subject’s parent on the strength of a drive-by sighting and a yearbook photo.  Snatching the wrong kid is much worse than losing the right one.”

“But losing this one—” George managed to croak.

“Is infinitely preferable to what I’ll have Barney do to you if you make one more contrary comment during this mission.  Understand?”

George nodded, slowly.

He released George, and turned to Jane.  “How’re the tails going?”

Jane sighed.  “They’ve followed both of them back to University Hospitals.  Everyone feels that we’re going around in circles.”

“Can’t be avoided,” Mr. Jackson said, maneuvering to ride shotgun in the front of the van.  “If anyone starts complaining too much, tell them what I told George.”

Great,” Jane whispered.

Elroy was a little afraid of Mr. Jackson, especially when his aura flared with red ripples of anger like it did right now. But he knew if he didn’t say something about what he saw now, Mr. Jackson would be that much angrier. He sucked in a breath and asked, “Mr. Jackson?”

“What is it Elroy?” The scarlet rage in his aura barely leaked into his voice, but at least it wasn’t directed at Elroy.

“It’s Charlie,” Elroy said.  “He’s gone.”

“He’s critical,” Jane said. “But if they lost him, I’d hear—”

“Breathing,” Elroy said.  “But gone. Elroy pointed to his forehead. “Blew him out like a candle,” he repeated, trying to make it clear what he’d seen.

Jane watched him for a minute, then shivered and returned to facing the console.

Fred shook his head.  “We counted him a loss anyway.  To the hospital.”

Barney peeled rubber out of the parking lot to belatedly follow the ambulances.

Chapter Eight – Part 2

January 25, 2012

Monday, October 25, Continued

Chuck had pulled her into the fire‑stairs.  The door next to them was thick steel, tagged with the sign, “Emergency Exit Only.”  The walls were dirty white-washed cinder-block, the floor damp gray concrete.  The stairs went down to the tunnels that connected the basement locker‑rooms to the pool and the gym.  The light came from a flickering, unadorned fluorescent tube set high in the ceiling.

Chuck looked bad.  His eyes were wide and bloodshot.  He wore a sleeveless flannel shirt, and his jeans were spotted with blood.

Chuck held her pinned to the wall with his left hand.  It wrapped around half of her face, crushing her lips to her teeth.  Salty blood was leaking into her mouth.  He leaned against her face with all his weight, pinning her and igniting the embers of another headache.

She felt as if her heart had stopped beating.  Her insides had fallen away leaving a vacuum.

“Hi sweetcakes,” Chuck said.  His breath stank.  His hand stank.

“Remember this?”  Chuck held up his right hand.  Allison felt her eyes widen even as hysterical tears began filling them.  Half his right hand was covered with dirty white gauze.  His index and middle finger were discolored.

“You did this you little bitch— here, lemme give you a better view.”

Chuck grabbed part of the dressing in his teeth and pulled.

He’s crazy, Allison thought.  Her lungs burned, and her limbs seemed to have receded away from the rest of her body.  A fire burned behind her temples, flaring with every attempt to breathe.

The white gauze spiraled away from Chuck’s hand, revealing a purple bruise covering most of the palm.  The bruise darkened to black where a line of puckered flesh ran diagonally from the heel of the palm to the web between Chuck’s first two fingers.  The slice was knitted together by a line of black stitches.  Chuck flexed the hand and viscous black blood seeped between a few of the stitches.

Allison wanted to throw up.  She felt as if she was on a roller coaster, but there was no upward turn, just the downward curve, down, and down, and down. . .

“This hurt.”  Chuck balled his injured hand into a fist.  Allison could see his neck strain with the effort, and Allison was afraid he was going to punch her with it.

She pulled at the arm holding her, kicked at him, but Chuck barely noticed.  He held a trembling fist closed until beads of fresh red blood began to appear between his fingers.

“I should hurt you, Sweetcakes,” he said.  The way he said it made Allison stop struggling for a moment.

He reached into his pocket, smearing more blood on his jeans with his bad hand.  He withdrew something thin and glittering.  At first it looked like a pen, but then Allison saw the blade on the tip.

When Allison saw the scalpel, she redoubled her efforts at kicking and pulling herself free.  But it wasn’t just Chuck’s strength holding her captive.  He was leaning in, all his weight crushing against the hand on her face.

It was so damn hard to breathe.

Oh God, why doesn’t anyone hear this?  Didn’t anyone hear me?

The pain in her skull was beginning to fracture her vision.  Rainbows grew from the fluorescent tube above them.  The exit sign burned like a hot coal in the corner of her vision.

“I should cut you, like you did me.”  Allison tried to claw his face, but her nails were blunt.  She had always thought long nails got in the way.

Chuck laughed at her.

Laughed at her.

The sound made Allison curl up within herself.  As if all her fear meant nothing.

Allison felt the blade of the knife against her throat.  “Calm down, or I will cut you.”

Allison felt her arms drop.  She wasn’t getting enough air, and her vision was turning red around the edges.  Her head was on fire and she could feel her consciousness slipping.

It would be so easy just to stop fighting.

The hand fell away from her face, and for a moment she gasped for breath.  She had a few breaths as Chuck reached around behind him.  It took her a second to realize what he was pointing at her.

Her eyes widened as she realized that Chuck held a gun.

He’s going to kill me.

The blade in Chuck’s right hand traveled down the front of her blouse, taking buttons as it went.  “I don’t want to hurt you, Sweetcakes. I like you— really I do.”

The blade severed the front of her bra.

It wasn’t until Chuck had dropped the knife and was reaching for his own pants that Allison’s panic‑fogged mind registered what Chuck wanted to do.

Oh God no!  I never— and with him

The thought ignited such a pain within her skull that she thought she was going to die right there.

“NO!

Anger and pain balled up with in her, and erupted outward, toward Chuck.

NO!

All her panic and rage fed into that one word.  All she could think of was pushing him away.  She threw up her arms to defend herself and stared at Chuck’s right hand, still at his pants.  At that moment she felt the ball of pain shoot away.

She heard something.

It was a loud snap, something like a muffled rifle‑shot, or someone flicking God’s own wet towel.

As her vision cleared, she watched Chuck’s cheeks puff out as he violently exhaled.  His eyes widened.  He wheezed, as if he couldn’t catch his breath.

The gun fired into the wall, deafening Allison and spraying her with concrete shrapnel.  It fired again, into the floor, filling her nose with acrid gun-smoke.  Then it clattered to the ground.

Both of his hands shot to his groin as he doubled over.

He collapsed to the ground, next to the gun.

Allison froze against the wall as she watched bright red blood begin to leak from between his fingers.

Something had happened to his jeans.  It looked as if all the seams had given way.  Blood pooled under him.

Chuck screamed.  The sound brought Allison to her knees, knifing her with a pain in the temples that rivaled any headache she ever had.  She nearly passed out.

She was barely aware of people arriving.  From below, where the locker rooms were, a half‑naked teenager ran up the stairs, trunks still damp and eyes red with chlorine.  His gaze landed on Chuck’s prone form and he began yelling for help.  He whipped a towel from around his shoulders to put pressure on the spurting wound.  The swimmer kept crying and cursing because Chuck wouldn’t let go and every attempt to staunch the bleeding made Chuck scream even more—

Howling animal screams that tore into Allison’s skull like a band-saw.

The pain drove her away from everything.  She wasn’t really there, couldn’t really be seeing this.

The swimmer and Chuck screamed at each other.  Both unintelligible. The towel turned red.

More people up the stairs. The swimmer shouted them back.  Mr. Geraldi, the swim coach, carried one of the ubiquitous blue‑bottomed first‑aid kits.  Geraldi saw the blood and a look of hopelessness crossed his face.

Geraldi screamed at the students to call an ambulance.  Not a yell, but a scream, as if it was his own flesh torn and bleeding.  He dropped the first‑aid kit and knelt next to the swimmer.  Geraldi’s muscles knotted as he pried Chuck’s hands away, so he could get pressure on the wound.

Chuck’s screams finally died away, and that was the worst sound of all.

Then the door was open and there were police.

One of the cops had to drag her outside, away from the bloody chaos on the concrete landing.  Allison realized that her blouse hung open, and she folded her arms.

People— students— were everywhere.  Dozens of uniformed cops seemed to have arrived out of nowhere.  A cop car, flashers going, had driven into the courtyard.  Police kept the students and faculty back, away from the fire‑door and the path under the science wing.

Someone, it might have been Mr. Franklin, draped a jacket over her shoulders.

Paramedics she didn’t remember arriving carried out Chuck on a wheeled cart.  Their orange windbreakers were spattered with blood.

She was surrounded by cops when she thought she saw a twelve‑year‑old kid staring at her from the crowd.  The kid’s gaze seemed to pierce her, straight through what had just happened.  It was as if the kid saw everything, and didn’t care at all.

That was when she finally began to cry.

Chapter Eight – Part 1

December 13, 2011

Monday, October 25, 03:16 PM

Allison felt better than usual when the last bell rang on Monday.  Despite her preoccupation over the weekend, her obsessive streak had managed to pull some of her classes out of the gutter.  Even Mr. Franklin, her physics teacher, smiled at her as she filed out of his class.

She had thought physics was a lost cause.

Physics was the last class of the day.  Afterward, she went straight from the science wing to the school courtyard.

The original high school was an H-shaped building and the science wing had been built across the top of the H, turning it into a squared-off A.  Flanking the science wing were the south pool and the new gym, giving the top of the A much broader shoulders than the rest of the building.

The courtyard filled the top of the A and now that school was over it, in turn, was filled with students.

Allison came out into the courtyard as usual.  And, as usual, she walked past bike-racks and started under one of two short tunnels beneath the science wing.  After school she always met Macy at the McDonald’s across the street.

She swung her backpack, whistling something to herself.  Even the ominous echoes the tunnel threw back at her didn’t depress her. She hadn’t seen Chuck around all day, and that lifted her spirits more than anything.  After what she’d heard about the scene at the library, it was a good thing not to run into Chuck.

She walked along the left wall of the tunnel, whistles echoing around her, running her hand along the brick.  Bright sunlight filled both ends of the tunnel, cloaking the interior with shadow.  The noise from the courtyard behind, and the traffic-filled street beyond, seemed far away.

She stopped halfway to the street.  A kid with a iPod was standing at the head of the tunnel, and seemed to be staring at her.  The kid was too young to be in high school.  But there was something about the kid’s stare that seemed familiar—

Oh Jeez, the library.

The kid had been in the gray van that had nearly run over her.  It was the same sandy hair, and the same merciless gaze.  Allison almost said something but, just then, someone from behind sped past her on a skateboard.

She nearly dropped her backpack as she flattened herself against the wall.

“Sorry,” said the skateboarder without slowing down.

Allison clutched her backpack to her chest and exhaled.  Her heart was racing.  Little high strung today, aren’t we?

As she calmed down she suddenly became aware of two things; the kid with the iPod had vanished, leaving her alone in this dark tunnel; and she was leaning next to a brown-painted fire-door.

The door was open, slightly.

She’d barely had time to notice the door was ajar before Chuck reached out of it and grabbed her.  She was so shocked that she didn’t even think to scream.  Her backpack spilled on the ground as he pulled her inside the door.  She was frozen up until the time she heard the door chunk shut behind them.

Then she screamed.

Chuck slammed her against the cinder-block wall and covered her mouth.

The echoes of her aborted cry for help continued forever.

Chapter Seven – Part 4

December 9, 2011

Sunday, October 24, 11:23 AM

Elroy tried not to look like he was paying attention as the grown-ups bickered. He watched his iPod intently as he flung little cartoon birds at little cartoon pigs, but he kept watching them out of the corner of his eye. The way the colors shifted around them, especially when they became upset or angry, fascinated Elroy. He also knew that staring, in Barney’s words, “creeped people out.”

Everyone had gathered in a parking garage close by the hospital where they had taken Charlie. Elroy played Angry Birds leaning on the bumper of the grey van, while everyone else was by Mr. Jackson’s sedan, the dark blue one that looked like an unmarked police car. Barney, a blond man in jeans and cowboy boots, sat on the hood. He shone bright in Elroy’s vision, not like the girl, but he was all strong colors and coiled energy. George paced in front of Barney, running shaking hands through wispy white hair. His aura was faint, almost black and white. Tired.

“Calm down, George,” Barney said.  His voice had twang, like a real cowboy.

“Oh, ‘calm down’ he says,” George said.  “Great, Barney, I’ll remember that advice when you’re in charge of a kid that blows up and starts threatening the local cops.”

“You ain’t in charge of them ‘till we have them, George.  Now if Elroy started waving a gun, then I’d worry.”  Barney cocked a head toward Elroy, and Elroy studied the screen on his iPod as a small red bird flew way too far off the screen.

“I’m sure Elroy appreciates that.”

“Do you, Elroy?”

“Sure,” Elroy said without looking up.

“Y’all know what’d happen if you waved a gun around?”  Barney asked him.

Elroy looked up at Barney’s frightening aura. He said, quietly, “You’d shoot me in the head and Mr. Jackson would dump the body in a storm sewer.”

Barney laughed and looked back at George. “Smart kid.”

George stopped pacing.  “His IQ is twice yours, Barney, and I’d like you to shut the fuck up.”

“Touchy,” said Barney, but he shut up.

“God,” George muttered, “of all the teams to be saddled with.  The boy was eighteen.  We should have snagged him the moment we found him.”

“The girl is better,” Elroy whispered.

“I know, and that’s what you’re here for. But—” George stared at Barney, “using someone as unstable a Charles Wilson to draw her out again was not the right way to do things.”

“Fuck you very much,” Barney said politely.

At that, the sliding door on the van shot open and the woman inside said, “Would you children stop bickering.”  She was pointedly looking at George and Barney, “Some people are trying to sleep.”

“Sorry Jane,” George said.

“He started it,” said Barney.

Jane ignored him.  “Is Jackson back yet?”

Three heads shook in unison.  George said, “He’s off with some local cops, but I don’t see the federal bit lasting much longer—” George stopped in mid-sentence, because a gray-haired man was walking toward them.

“Speak of the devil,” Jane said.

Fred Jackson walked up to the trio of vehicles.  He nodded toward George and Jane, “Doctors—”

“What’s the good word, boss?” Barney asked.

“The word is, Charlie Woodrow Wilson is no longer a concern of ours.”

“You’re kidding,” George said.

Fred shook his head.  “No.  We’re supposed to avoid local involvement, and waving firearms at policemen is pretty involved.  For what he is, Mr. Wilson isn’t worth the trouble of extracting from the criminal tangle he’s put himself in.”

“What a waste,” Jane said.

“It’s his own fault, Doctor.”

“What now?” George asked.

“Now we shift our attention to the powerful focus that Elroy drew our attention to.”

“The girl?” Barney asked.

“The girl.”

“I told you she was better.” Elroy smiled.

Chapter Seven – Part 3

December 7, 2011

Sunday, October 24, Continued

“I was discussing my career opportunities with Taz here, he thinks I might have a future as a cartoon.”  Allison unchained the door and let Macy in.  “Enjoy the movie?”

Macy shrugged.  “Just another of Ben’s action flicks.”

Allison sat on the sofa and perched Taz on the coffee table on top of an issue of The Economist.  “Why do you let him drag you to movies you don’t like?”

“Free popcorn?  Milk Duds?  Sitting up front to crick my neck?”  Macy sat down and leaned forward.  “You look better.”

“Huh?”  Allison felt her mind slip a gear.  “I do?”

“The color’s back in your cheeks, and you lost that crease.”  Macy tapped Allison’s forehead with a long ebony finger.

“I can’t think why. . .”  Allison’s befuddlement allowed it to dawn on her that she was feeling better.  She’d been so preoccupied to notice that, after that horror last night, a weight had lifted from her body.  It wasn’t until then she realized that, for weeks, the headaches had never quite left.  She had been living with a constant low level pain that she had learned not to notice.  It was as if, for two months, she’d been on the verge of a sneeze that had happened when she wasn’t paying attention.

“Hey,” Macy said, “you’re smiling.”

Allison supposed she was.

“What happened to the old grump?”

Allison shrugged and said, “Ask Taz.”

Macy picked up the stuffed animal and threw it at her.

Allison ducked and sat down, “Sorry I couldn’t join you guys.”

“It’s all right,”  Macy took up position on the couch.  “But I did want to talk to you, and you hung up rather abruptly last night.”

Allison felt a wave of embarrassment, “Sorry about that.”

“Like I said, no problem—” Macy leaned over and looked seriously at Allison, “But I hear you pulled a number on Chuck yesterday.”

Allison, who had been feeling free of her personal problems for the first time in weeks, came crashing to Earth. “What do you mean?”

“David went on about Chuck in the library, hollering and bleeding, cussing you to high heaven.  What happened, girl?”

Allison tried to think of a snappy comment to deflect the issue, but for once she couldn’t find one.  “I let him scare me too much.”

“How?”

“I saw him in the library, and I ran.”  Allison waved her hands toward the ceiling.  “I rushed, dropped one of my notebooks.  And there Chuck was, holding it out.  And he.  Wouldn’t.  Let.  Go.”  She had to stop because tears were welling up.  She grabbed a tissue from the box on the table and blew her nose.  “He wanted to apologize for what he did at David’s party.  No hard feelings he said.  No hard feelings!

She was breaking down now, tried to pull herself into a ball.  Macy came over and sat next to her.  Macy stroked her back and said.  “I’m sorry. I just wanted to know what happened.  Shh.”

It took Allison a few minutes to pull herself together.  She kept thinking about David’s costume party.  About her ruined costume.  She couldn’t even remember what he had said.  All she remembered was the crowding presence, the hands, and the alcohol smell of his breath.

“I want my tail back.” Allison muttered.

Macy chuckled.  “He does have a talent for slapstick.  Now tell me, girl.  What’d you do that pissed him so much at the library?”

Allison snuffed and sat up, getting another tissue to wipe her nose.  “He was baiting me with the notebook, and I ripped it out of his hand.”

“Huh?”

Allison shrugged.  “I must have been even angrier than I thought.  I tugged a few times, and then it just— well— came loose.”

“He let go?”

Allison shook her head.  “No, he was holding on for dear life.  Let me show you.”  She ran up and got her trigonometry notebook and came downstairs with it.  She placed it in Macy’s hand.

“No, palm up.  Now the binding is here.”  She aligned the cover so the straightened wire was parallel with Macy’s outstretched arm.  “You see that hole?  That’s where the thumb goes.”

“He was holding tight enough to tear the cover?”

“And the pages underneath.  Now see?”  Allison slowly drew the book over Macy’s palm.  The wire drew across slowly.  “The corner of the binding hooked in his palm, cut him a little.”

Macy sighed.

“What?” Allison asked.

“Wasn’t a little.”  Macy took the notebook and looked at the wire.  The end of it was hooked and it bobbed like a sheaf of metallic wheat.  “David told us Chuck sprayed blood all over.  Called an ambulance.  David thought you knifed him.”

“Me?  A knife?”

“All David heard was Chuck screaming ‘the bitch slashed me.’ What would you think?”

Allison looked at her trigonometry notebook with a little more respect.  “I didn’t mean to do anything like that. . .”

Macy smiled and shook her head.  “I know, girl.  Chuck’s such trash that no one’d care if you did knife him— ‘cept maybe the cops and his folks.  Then only because they have to.”

“How badly did I hurt him?”

“David overheard one of the medics say something like two-dozen stitches an a lot of blood loss.  He also said that Chuck keeled over before the medics showed.”

Allison winced even though she thought Chuck deserved it.

“Hey,” Macy said.  “David’s probably just exaggerating to make a good story.  You know how he is.”

“Too well.”

“Want some advice?” Macy asked.

“What?”

“Go to the kitchen, right now.”  Macy tapped the cover of the notebook.  “Put this here thing in a baggie and keep it safe.”

“Huh, why?”

Macy sighed.  “Think, girl.  Chuck’s pissed.  He might be too he-man to call the cops on a girl who bit him.  But he might not be.  He might figure the embarrassment’s worth it.”

“But. . .”

“This proves your story.  Don’t lose it.  Especially his bloodstains.”

“Ok, ok.”  Allison felt really silly, but she went in the kitchen to package the “evidence.”  She couldn’t find a Ziplock bag that’d fit her notebook, so she put it in a Hefty trash bag and put it up in her room.

Allison came downstairs and Macy assured her that she’d done the right thing.

Chapter Seven – Part 2

December 5, 2011

Sunday, October 24, Continued

As she put her room back in order, she thought, maybe that was it.  The worst for last. She hoped that was right.  The headaches, up to last night, had been growing less frequent.  Maybe they would finally come to a stop.You’re kidding yourself, Allison thought.  Things are not going to be all right.  Not the way this is leading.  She had to break it to Mom, that she’d been hiding the headaches no matter what kind of weirdness it would cause.  She wasn’t ready to go through another night like this, even if she had to get someone to sedate her to the gills to stop it.  Another night like this would probably kill her. . .

Fortunately, the only fatality of this evening was the light bulb in her table lamp.

As she started to put Taz up next to the TV, she heard Mom wake up.  Allison froze, as if she was doing something wrong and was about to be caught.  Is it now?  Do I just run out and spill everything while Mom’s still hung-over?

She’ll just say it’s nothing, it’s stress, it’ll go away. . . and she’s keeping things from me. . . and. . .   and. . .

“I don’t want to find out something’s wrong with me.”  Allison whispered, trying not to cry.

“Allie, you awake?”  Mom’s voice came from the hall, sounding half asleep.  The sound made Allison feel watery inside.  Mom never drank heavily, never alone.

“Yes, Mom.” Allison could hear the catch in her own voice.

She heard her mother fussing in the bathroom.  “We’re going to have to do the laundry.  Who’s turn is it?”

Allison thought of the stained sheets in the hamper and lied, “My turn.”  Tell her.

There was a pause, and Allison thought her mother was going to correct her.  “Ok, hon.  Do it sometime today.”  Then Allison heard the bathroom door close.

“Yeah,” Allison said.

The shower started.

You can’t bring yourself to tell your mother that something’s seriously wrong inside your head.

Allison stayed there, staring at Taz in her hand.  Taz stared back with a goofy fabric smile.  “What if I’m dying?” she asked in a whisper.  “Is that what Mom is afraid of?  Is everyone just lying because it’s hopeless, inoperable, or what?”

She clutched the stuffed animal to her chest and whispered, “The doctor said there was nothing wrong with me.  Nothing. Nothing.” Allison repeated the word until she realized how much she sounded like her mother.

#

Mom: “Calling here again.”

John: “I deserve the chance to talk to her.”

Mom: “You have some nerve.  Good‑bye, John.”

John: “Tell her.  You owe her that.”

Mom: “Don’t tell me how to treat my daughter.”

John: “If they look they’ll find out the doctor’s appointments.”

Mom: (goes off on the fact my headaches weren’t anything to worry about.)  “They cleared up after the visit.  Nothing, nothing, nothing!”

John: “Did the doctor know the other possibility. . . If she’s a teak(teek?), they’ll—”

Mom: “Leave us alone.  I don’t believe any of this.  They’re stone insane.  You’re insane.  Call and I drag you into court.  Touch my daughter and I’ll kill you.”

The page sat there, on top of all her homework, christened by a few drops of Chuck’s blood.  Allison stared at it, knowing that it meant her headaches were something evil.

If it wasn’t for that third person plural pronoun— They. Them.

Allison was beginning to hate that word.  If it wasn’t for that reference to “they” then all of it would make sense.  If not for these unnamed third parties, and their implied activity bearing on her, the conversation was simple.

John thought she was in danger from these migraines, and Mom didn’t.  Or at least Mom very much didn’t want to see things that way.  Allison couldn’t blame her mother for acting as she did.  Allison managed to hold up more than half of the fiction that she felt all right.

Allison wondered who “they” were.  Could they be relatives she didn’t know about?  Maybe someone on her father’s side would want to fight for custody, declaring her mother unfit for ignoring her daughter’s medical problems-

“But she hasn’t.  I was at a doctor the same day I mentioned the first headache.  Two visits, scads of tests. . .”

No, that didn’t seem likely.

She sat cross‑legged on her bed, hugging Taz, her homework stacked in front of her.  She was surrounded by cats offering their feline brand of comfort.  Scarlett was draped over her left leg, purring into the crook of her knee, while Rhett was intermittently stalking her hair.  Meowrie had even come in, to curl up next to the radiator.

Allison right now wished she was a cat.  Cats managed to understand things without having a too complex existence.

Maybe “they” were some foreign government whose exiled royalty had a genetic predisposition for adolescent migraines.

Maybe she’d been half asleep and misunderstood the entire conversation.

As she mused, the doorbell rang.  Mom had left after her shower with a, “love you, be back soon,” so Allison was the only one in the house— except for the cats, who stubbornly refused to go answer the door.  The doorbell rang again.

Allison sighed and closed the cover of her notebook, marveling again at the straightened wire binding and the thumb-shaped tear.  She got up, scattering cats, and went downstairs.  Some latent paranoia made her keep the chain on when she opened the door.

Standing on the porch, waving at her, was Macy Washington.  “Hi, girl, let me in?  Or are you too busy reverting to infancy?”

Allison looked down and saw that she was still carrying Taz.

Chapter Seven – Part 1

November 25, 2011

Sunday, October 24, 07:52 AM

Allison woke with the hazy memory of agony and the dull ache of faded cramps in her arms.  She didn’t to move, or open her eyes— she barely breathed, for fear of triggering the pain again.

Eventually the need to be clean again won over the fear.

The sheets were drenched with sweat.  The clothes she’d slept in adhered to her body in the most grotesque way.  She could smell the fact that her bladder— and worse— had given way while her mind had abdicated.

She was sick with embarrassment.  The last time she had wet the bed was when she was six.  Upon opening her eyes, she saw a puddle of vomit next to her head. She bolted upright-

Bad idea.

The sudden movement overwhelmed her with a tidal-wave of dizziness.  She clamped her eyes shut until she was certain that she wasn’t going to throw up again.  She took several deep shuddering breaths, trying not to gag on the sour taste in her mouth.

When her brain stopped spinning, she opened her eyes.  When she finally saw her room, she almost threw up anyway.

“Oh my. . .”

First she thought that she was in the wrong place, but the feeling passed. . .

It was her room, but it was a godawful mess.  Her bedding, and some of the clothes she’d slept in, had been thrown to the walls.   Her bed‑stand had been upended, spilling lamp, phone, and alarm‑clock.  Something must have hit her bureau because stuffed animals were everywhere and the TV was blind, silent, and face down on the throw rug between the bed and the dresser.  Frozen in shafts of dawn light, her homework lay in drifts like an academic blizzard.

At the foot of her bed, on top of the naked mattress, a stuffed Tasmanian Devil sat a little cockeyed on top of Allison’s history textbook, as if it had planned all this.

I must have been delirious, Allison thought.  Delirious and violent. She was frightened by the fact that she remembered none of it.  She couldn’t remember moving at all.

Where was Mom?

There had to have been a hell of a racket, at least when the TV upended.  Why didn’t her mother come to check her out?

Scared in more ways she could name, Allison got out of bed and walked the length of the hall to her mother’s bedroom.  She had to hold on to the wall to stay upright.  Her perception felt off in odd directions that she couldn’t fathom.  Her arms and legs didn’t occupy the right spaces.  She had to think about simple motions like walking.

It reminded her of the one time she’d been drunk.  Except her vision was so oddly sharp. She felt she actually saw more of the world than she should.  When she thought about it, her eyes hurt.

Allison reached her mom’s bedroom door, the last one at the end of the hallway, and knocked on it softly.  “Mom?”

She heard breathing beyond, and pushed gently on the door.

Scarlett’s striped‑orange form bolted out of the room, between Allison’s legs.  She had to hold on to the door‑frame to keep from falling over.

The first thing Allison saw was the empty bed.  Her breath caught in her throat.  But when she turned away from the bed, she saw Mom, asleep on a recliner in the corner.

Across Mom’s lap was a photo album Allison had never seen before.  Yellowed newsprint stuck out the edges of the book, and it was open to a picture of a uniformed man posing in front of the American flag.  The pose was familiar.  Macy’s oldest brother, Jason, had sent home a picture just like that when he joined the marines.

On the floor, by Mom’s dangling right hand, was a half‑full tumbler of amber liquid, and a nearly empty bottle of Jim Beam.

“Mom?” Allison repeated, softly.

A grumble and a slight stirring, but no other reaction. Allison looked at the tumbler, and the scrapbook, and knew that this was a scene she wasn’t supposed to see.  She closed her mother’s door and walked back to her room trying not to think of how far away the floor seemed, or the thought that her questions about Dad had driven Mom so deep into a bottle that she couldn’t hear it when she was tearing her room apart in some sort of delerium.

She grabbed all the bedding that had scattered to the points of the compass, pulled her white fluffy bathrobe out of the closet, and went to the bathroom.  The bedding, and her clothes, went into the laundry hamper, filling it.  She managed to confirm, to her disgust, that all her bodily functions had let go in the night.

She let her underwear soak in the sink while she tried to shower off the filth.  The hot shower was the best thing she’d felt in quite a long while.

Chapter Six – Part 4

November 23, 2011

Sunday October 24, Continued

The sky was just lightening by the time Chuck walked out on to the streets of Little Italy.  He had gotten himself thoroughly lost within the boundaries of University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University.  In a way, that was good, since three minutes after he’d found his way out of the University Hospital ER building, cops were everywhere, looking for him.  If he didn’t know where he was going, the cops certainly didn’t.

The only real touchy part was avoiding all the damn security cameras.  That had meant no well‑lighted thoroughfares, and, consequently, no visibility on a overcast night. He’d nearly broken his ankle twice, running where he couldn’t see.  Eventually, after dodging cop‑cars with spotlights, and hiding in dumpsters, he had stumbled down to a set of train‑tracks and had followed them up to Little Italy.

Through the night he had managed to ditch the lab coat that he’d stolen from the doctor, as well as everything from the doctor’s, the nurse’s, and the cop’s wallets, except for the cash.  Chuck felt he was owed that much, since the hospital had taken his wallet, his knife and his keys, everything but the loose change in his pockets.

Everything else from the hospital was stashed in a plastic bag he’d found fluttering by the Food Co‑Op when he’d climbed down from the tracks.  Even the gun was in the bag.  With his bloody, shredded shirt, a gun in the belt or a pocket would be an invitation saying, “shoot me!”

All the shops down here were dark and closed at this time of night, except for a donut shop he passed.  Fortunately, no cops.

Chuck kept an eye out for cop cars, but he didn’t see any.  But he was worried about going up into the Heights area.  The place was crawling with police, especially at night.  All he had to do was walk in front of the wrong speed trap.

He needed a friend.

His cell phone was presumably with his wallet, but he managed to find an anachronistic payphone in a part of Little Italy that probably hadn’t changed since the Seventies. It took him a few moments to tease from his memory the phone number of one of the more available girls he knew, and it took him the last two quarters to make the call. It almost dropped into voice-mail, but she answered at the last second. The answering voice was slow and slurred, and if it wasn’t for the fact he knew her, and the blaring techno music in the background, he would have worried about waking her up.

He bent over the phone and nodded a lot, “Yeah, I know. . . sound’s like a party Gigi. . . I know, always a party there. . . yeah, was wondering if I could come crash. . . uh‑huh I got something for you. . . yeah, you’ll like it. . . no, the couch is fine, just if anyone’s looking for me. . . you got it— could you send someone down here to pick me up?. . . Little Italy, in front of Presti’s donuts. . . don’t ask. . . yes, I have some for him too. . .  and if anyone asks for me. . . yep. . . see you.”

Chuck hung up the phone and picked up his little plastic bag of contraband.  He faded into a shadowy part of an alley, where he could watch for his ride without being observed, and he fished through all the stuff he’d liberated from the hospital.

The bag held the cop’s gun, gauze for his hand, and what had mounted to impulse theft on Chuck’s part.  He’d swiped a half‑dozen hypodermic needles and syringes, rubber hoses, a scalpel that was still wrapped in plastic, and a dozen small vials filled with various medications.

He was glad he’d thought of it while he had a doctor at gunpoint.  Gigi was about to have quite a party.

Chapter Six – Part 3

November 22, 2011

Sunday October 24, Continued

Chuck turned to see the cop at the other end of the corridor, a cup of machine coffee in his hand, arms held wide.  “It’s all right, Charlie.”  Said the cop in what was supposed to be a reassuring voice.

Chuck looked back, and saw the nurse looking at the cop.  No voices played in his mind— thank God— but Chuck could see in her face the event change from a mess on the floor to psycho on the loose.

He was trapped.  He knew if he ran toward the nurse, the cop would shoot him.  That was the way cops thought.  Chuck was frozen, his hands out in a parody of the cop, trying to think of what to do.  Fear was tearing through him like a pack of dogs gnawing at his gut.

“Look, you had a scare.  That’s all right.  You had a bad time at the library, but everything’s all right now.”

Chuck knew that voice, it was how cops talked to crazy people.  The bastard was going to grab him and someone would shoot a needle in his arm, and he’d wake up in a little cell, padded or unpadded, with no way to escape the voices in his head.

His temple began to throb and. . .

«view of himself, standing befuddled.  “Everything’s all right Chuck just a little bit closer and I can grab him.”»

Chuck turned to face the cop.  The cop was almost to him now.  Behind the cop, he saw a nervous‑looking doctor inching toward the intercom.  Fuck, what did I ever do to deserve this?

“Look man, I just want to go home.”  Chuck could hear the note of hysteria in his own voice.

“We’ll talk about it, but why don’t you sit back down.”  The cop was within six feet of him now.

Chuck glanced at the stretcher where he’d been strapped down.  He saw the cop’s feet move.  Chuck didn’t know if the cop was grabbing for him, but that was what he was expecting, so he lashed out.  His hand was useless, but the doctors had left his steel‑toed boots on, so he kicked as hard as he could.

Chuck caught the cop in the stomach.  Coffee sprayed the wall as the cop’s hand clutched on the cup he was holding.  The cop’s eyes widened in a single moment of lucid fury, and his other hand started moving to his belt.  Chuck never knew if it was for the baton or the gun.  Chuck kicked again, near the kidney.

The cop folded as if he had taken a bullet.

The next kick took the cop in the side of the head, and the cop dropped.  Before the bastard had time to recover, Chuck wrestled the gun out of the cop’s holster.  Chuck looked to either end of the corridor and neither the doctor or the nurse had moved.

Boy, are we in trouble now.

He pointed the gun, left‑handed, at the cop on the floor.  I’m not going to jail or a nuthouse, period and excla‑fucking‑mation point.

“You two,” he said to the nurse and the doctor.  “Get over here or I waste the fucking pig.”

After a brief hesitation, both came.  For the first time Chuck thought he might actually get out of this hospital.

Chapter Six – Part 2

November 4, 2011

Sunday October 24, Continued

Chuck saw the cop’s hat and thought, Fuck and double fuck.

Whoever the Eagle dude was, the bastard had to be the fed the cop was talking about.  And if Chuck didn’t want to meet up with the guy, he had to get off this stretcher before the cop came back.

Chuck, quietly tried all the restraints.  For a few seconds it seemed hopeless.  Then he realized that the cuff holding his right hand was looser than the one on his left, to accommodate the bandages and his injury.

Listening to the cop’s voice, just down the corridor, made Chuck desperate. He folded his right thumb over the palm to make his hand as small as possible.  The effort reminded Chuck that it was his hand that put him in the hospital.  His thumb barely moved before he felt the cut in his palm.  As he kept closing it across his palm, his hand burned.  It felt he was splitting his hand in half along the seams of his wound.

Somehow he managed to touch his thumb to the base of his pinkie with only a grunt.  He held his hand like that for a few moments, letting the pain recede to a dull ache.  To his surprise, the white bandages didn’t erupt into a blossom of arterial blood.

The cop was still talking to the doctor.

Now comes the hard part.

This was where he had a chance to undo everything the doctors had done.  He took a deep breath, and pulled his arm back, pulling his hand through the cuff.  It felt as if he was trying to tear his hand off.  First the bandages caught on the edge of the cuff, then they began to rip and peel off his hand.  The tape holding the gauze felt as if it was made of tiny metal hooks embedded in his skin.  He clenched his teeth and stopped breathing to keep from crying out.  His eyes watered, and tears streamed down his cheeks.

He didn’t stop pulling.  The worst thing that could happen was to get his injured hand caught inside the cuff.

The half minute he pulled his hand felt like half an hour.  Pain shot up his arm so bad that it caused his bicep to vibrate.  Sweat broke out on his arm and forehead, and blood began seeping through the folds in his palm.  Between the blood and the sweat, his hand finally slipped free of the cuff, the bandages were left on the other side like shed skin.

For a few long seconds, all Chuck could do was lay back and breathe.  The cop was still talking, but any second he could turn the corner.  There was no way he could afford to stop now.

What he saw of his hand was an ugly mass of black bruising and stitches. He didn’t look too closely.  He lay back, breathing heavily, as he fumbled with the strap on his chest.  Every movement hurt his hand, but nothing like what he’d just gone through.  The main problem was the fact that he had to work with only his last two fingers and his thumb.  He couldn’t move his index or middle finger at all.

The strap fell away and Chuck sat up.  When he did, he had to make a panicked grab for the chart, which had escaped to slide to ground.  Chuck grabbed it, leaning so far over that he thought the stretcher would tip over.  He clasped the chart between his thumb and little finger.  The pressure he exerted felt as if it was dislocating his pinkie.  It wasn’t enough.  The chart slowly slipped though his fingers, sliding on the blood and sweat covering his hand.

The chart slid out of his grasp and fell the remaining foot to the ground.  Chuck’s heart stopped as the chart fell, the sound seemed to echo in the corridor forever.  He waited for the cop to come running around the corridor.

He waited.

Around the corridor he heard the cop say, “So, you going to catch the playoffs?”

“Eh?”

Chuck could breathe again.  They hadn’t heard, or hadn’t noticed.  Once he was relaxed a bit he felt the tension of the tube pulled taut in his arm.  He leaned back into a sitting position and realized that the place where the needle fed his arm hurt like hell now.  Nothing like his hand, but pretty nasty.

He pulled the needle out of his arm, gripped between his thumb and pinkie.  After slipping three times, on the forth it came out with a sickening sliding pressure.

Once he got his other wrist free, the remaining straps were loosed in short order.  He had just taken his first unsteady step off of the stretcher when he heard a gasp and a crash from behind him.  He turned to see a nurse.  She had dropped a tray full of test tubes on the floor, and blood samples went everywhere.

She took a step back, more from the blood than from him.  He heard her say, “shit” just before the cop came around the corner.