|Stormcastle: And Other Fun Games With Cards And Dice|
|A Fisherman's Guide to Bottomdwellers|
30 Day Dream Remedy
Smoke, gray and blue at once, spiraled from her mouth. She tightened her lips and flicked the cigarette off her thumb with the unvarnished nail of her finger. It sizzled and bounced, scattering sparks across the wet pavement.
“Don’t know why you smoke. Makes you stink like an ashtray,” I said.
“Don’t know why you bother to wash. You still reek of death.”
Sal could be like that, cutting yet benevolent. She knew how to draw blood and leave me feeling better at the same time. So I was dying. If she could be sarcastic, it was something manageable and not fatal.
Hiking her jeans up in the back, she walked ahead and toward the truck. The rain had stopped a while ago but the air was close and hot for all the washing it’d received. I waited only long enough to let her know I still stung from the jab and for her to snarl, “c’mon”. By the time I slammed the door, she was twisting the key and revving the engine.
It wasn’t a new truck by any means. Old, scarred and a powdery orange, it emitted the funk of cigarettes and dirty socks. The cloth seats were colorless and torn cotton hung from the corners. Shuddering, it coughed and sputtered, so she hit the gas until black smoke shot out the tailpipe. The truck was getting hungrier all the time, leaking oil and sucking gas. Sal worried it would quit us. With a grimace, she tightened her grip on the steering wheel.
“Okay, girl, you hang in there. I’ll get you fixed as soon as I can.”
She wasn’t a usual person, my sister. Having raised me on her own since I was three, she’d learned to cope with hunger of all types. These last years, though, seemed to make her angry. Glaring at me for no particular reason, she wrenched the clutch into gear and jerked ahead faster than expected. I had to slap both hands against the dash to save my face.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve told you to put your seat belt on.”
Silently I pulled it over my shoulder. The lock was gummed with age but I pressed until an ache bit my thumb and it snapped into place. I had a split second thought of never getting loose again and being stuck here until I died, which should be soon by all accounts. They said I’d go bald from the chemo. I snuck my arm up and ran a hand through my hair, thick and red-black like my mother’s. Never seen her in real life, and Sal told me the pictures didn’t do her justice, but she’d been pretty. The red of her hair, like mine, only showed in the sun.
I reached for the note Sal had stuck in the cup holder. She glanced at me then peered behind and out the side to see if anyone was in her blind spot before she yanked the wheel to the left only seconds before missing the turn altogether.
“It’s someone who might help.” She stared straight ahead.
“Thought you said there was nothing we could do other than radiation.”
“Well…I might’ve been wrong. This Dr. Veldi came highly recommended.”
I held the paper up to the dim, after-rain light of an early summer evening. I could make out the arrows and turns of the directions. “Is it far?”
“Not too. About an hour’s ride.” She patted the dash and hitched herself forward in the seat. Sal’s hair was a truer red than mine, long and braided down her back.
“How much is it going to cost?” I asked.
“I don’t know yet. They said it were to be reasonable.”
Most sisters would have tried to protect me from the realities of death, poverty and bill collectors but as I said, Sal wasn’t like others. She worked at the diner two shifts a day. We had nothing but each other and she took the best care of me she knew how. I used to go to school, but lately I mostly stayed home, walking to the diner before dark to help Sal close. Whatever food was left over and still edible, we took home at the end of the day. There was many a time I ate bread pudding made with stale donuts for dinner.
“Can I drive?”
Not bothering to look, she said, “No."
I sighed and stared out the window. You didn’t push Sal, not after a hard day on her feet. It was best if you accepted whatever said as engraved in stone. I’d been driving since I was 12 and now at 16, I figured I should do more of it. We passed our house, small and white, hunched behind the hedge.
“Hey! Where we going?”
“To see the great Doctor.”
“Now? Isn’t it late?” The sky was smoldering with dark clouds.
“Nope. Our appointment is for 8:00.”
She laughed and fumbled blindly into the backseat then tossed the grease spotted bag at me. “You’re always hungry.”
I wasn’t, but she liked to think so. All teenage boys were supposed to be hollow bellied. In the bag was a flattened egg sandwich, a mini tub of pudding, and a coke. I popped the can of coke and eyed the sandwich. Be best if I ate in a hurry, likely it was already getting cold. I wolfed it down and killed the aftertaste with soda. Didn’t know if I could stomach the pudding so I left it in the bag.
She glanced out of the corner of her eyes. “Full?”
“I’m not. Tired of doctors is all.” I laid my head on the back of the seat and watched the night close in around the truck as we sped down the highway.
Greta’s tires crunched on gravel as we turned into the drive. The house was lit by yellow globes of old lampposts and silently spooky, with gables and blank windows.
“Here? At his house? This guy isn’t an ax murderer or anything?”
Sal laughed in a short burst. “Nope, he’s legit. That nurse, Leanne, said he was amazing. People have been cured by this guy when there was no hope for it.”
“I ain’t holding my breath.”
“Me neither.” She slammed the door.
I got out more slowly. A cool wind had sprung up and swished leaves into soft scrapings against the walkway. A deep forest of trees surrounded the old house, adding to its creep factor.
“Worth a try though.” She pulled ahead. I followed, holding my breath.
The doorbell, when Sal thumbed it, was a normal “ding dong” and I let my breath out. A woman with short black hair knotted above her round face cracked open a space and poked her head out. “Yes?”
“We’ve an appointment,” Sal said, after a pause.
“Ah.” The woman backed away, taking the door with her and let us in. “You must be Taggart and Sarah.”
“I’ll let the Doctor know you’re here.” She left us alone in a dim room lit by single blue ceramic lamp in the back corner. The chairs were red with shiny goldfish painted on them and rugs instead of pictures were hung on the wall. The air felt dusty.
A big man with a balding, high domed head walked into the room. Shrugging into a white coat, he straightened the collar before stretching a hand out, first to Sal and then me. I met his eyes, light blue and slightly bulbous, as he introduced himself. He seemed ordinary until you heard his voice. It creaked, rustled, before cracking out in gasps as if he'd run out of air before he could finish a word.
“You can call me Tag.” I squeezed his hand and dropped it fast, avoiding his eyes. I’m not good with people.
Dr. Veldi gestured for us to sit, I did on the couch and Sal was restless on the cushion next to me. He stood until the squat lady, who’d opened the door, came back with a clinking pitcher of iced tea on a tray. She slid it onto the table.
“Thank you, Helen. I’ll pour,” he said, lifting the pitcher between both hands as if it would break.
The tall glasses sweated on the paper rounds that protected the table. I realized I was thirsty, but waited. Saluting us with his glass, Veldi drank a great sip and sighed, “ahh”.
Sal took a quick drink. I rubbed my hands on my knees and smiled nervously. The Doctor watched me above the rim as he took another sip.
“So, Dr. Veldi. You know of Tag’s condition. You received the paperwork? You need to run more tests?” Sal balanced a glass on her palm while scooting back in her seat.
“Advanced Pancreatic Carcinoma.” He capitalized each word with his rusty voice before he shifted his gaze from me to her. “And no, I don’t need to complete any tests. The hospital was quite thorough and I’ve the necessary information.”
Squinting, he continued, “I think I can cure you but I’m going to need you to trust me.”
“Why?” and at the same time Sal asked, “How?” We shared a glance.
"Er...we'd like to hear your proposal,” she amended.
Veldi leaned forward and met my eyes. A bubbling realization rose from my gut. I didn’t trust him. It felt as if the floor sank a few inches as I let go of my last thread of hope.
“I’ve been making progress in a new kind of therapy. It’s a way to get the body to recognize the illness and attack with its own defenses.”
“And how do you do that?” Sal voice had hit another octave by the last word.
“I put the subject to sleep.”
“You mean like hypnosis?” I’ve read a bit about it and even tried some myself. I didn’t believe in it.
Veldi seemed particularly happy with my question and leaned in further. “No. Actual sleep. Sleep is the time when the body does the most healing. When it has the total sum of available resources to recover from injuries gained throughout the day. Cells grow while the body re-energizes. The mind rewinds and renews. It’s the perfect time to initiate the natural defenses.”
Sal looked even more doubtful then I felt. “Have you had much success?”
“Here, I’ll show you.” He rose from his seat and scudded out the room, light on his feet for a thick man.
“I think we should leave this quack to his delusions.” I tried to get up but Sal reached out and put a hand onto my bony arm.
“We will hear him out.”
“What! You can’t be serious? Sleep, Sal, the stuff I do every night.” Shaking her off, I stood.
With a toss of her head that flipped her braid into a whip, she grabbed the back of my shirt. “It can’t hurt to see what he has to offer.”
“It might,” I grumbled, but allowed myself to drawn back down.
She gave me a look. I shut up and rested one ankle on a knee and jiggled my foot while I waited. Veldi burst in with a handful of papers and a stack of CDs.
“You can take these home and study them. Bring them back tomorrow night. Same time, same place.” He grabbed her hand, gave a weird little bow over it and hurried us out. “Nice to meet both of you. We’ll need to be hasty, so I’ll have your decision then.” The door lock clicked behind us and we were left in a wash of lamplight listening to the wind scattered unseen leaves across the drive.
Once home, I watched the testimonial videos in disdain. These people were obviously brain washed by Veldi into thinking they’d been cured, something faith healers have been doing for centuries. Sal began to exclaim and show me the x-rays, then confirmations from other sources reporting illnesses lapsing into complete remission. I started believing. One wonder building on top of another, and I began shoving papers aside, looking for more information. Dr. Veldi might have the answer after all. I was afraid to allow the thought to rest in me for more than a second but it kept floating back and packing hope. That night I dreamed of stars falling from the sky and drums sounding in the hills while black things scrambled beneath the trees.
The drive back to Dr. Veldi’s house seemed twice as long as it had the night before. Helen answered the door without bothering to smile and left us in the room. Sal placed the paperwork and cd’s on the table then paced from wall to wall, eyeing the rugs. I settled into the couch and pretended to be cool.
Dr. Veldi smiled his way into the room and headed straight toward Sal. “That rug is 500 years old. From China, beautiful isn’t it?”
“Yes.” She moved away and gestured with a flat palm toward the table. “There’s your things. We found them informative.” Her voice had been as stiff as her back when she sat next to me.
Veldi rubbed his chin and took the chair opposite us. Wrinkling his brow, he stared at me.“What do you think?”
“It appears to work, mostly.”
“But there’s no mention of cost.” Sal leaned back into the sofa and crossed her legs.
Veldi’s eyes followed the movement before he answered. “The cost is infinitesimal compared to what can be accomplished. I do this for the discovery not the money, so I want nothing from you two excepting time and trust.” Looking at me, he grinned.
“But there is a cost?” I’d caught onto his little trip over the word.
“Other than time? He said, drawing out the word. “Not that I know of.”
Sal dropped a leg and sat forward. “Why do you say time that way?”
Dr.Veldi sighed, and picked a paper off the table, scanned it a moment before letting it sift back. “No. Actual sleep." He stood, turned and faced a window with his hands clasped behind him. “How long is a lifetime?”
We looked at each other, Sal and me. She raised her brows, I goggled at her and raised both hands in a “I give up” motion. Rolling her eyes, she said to Veldi’s back. “About 70 is average.”
“Correct!” He spun on his heel and faced us. “When I’ve used this treatment. Some have died, some have had their life span change.”
“What do you mean?” My voice cracked and I cleared my throat.
“Oh, don’t worry. It’s mostly longer than what the patient could expect to live with their disease. It can be less than average or greater in length than the norm.”
“By how much?” I asked.
“That is the question. I never know. I’ve had one patient live for 10 weeks and another, now 110 and going strong. None have died from the disease they were cured of.”
“How did they die?”
“Well…not all have been determined. Five have died. One was found in an alley, another in his home and the last was found hanging from the basement ceiling. That one we are sure was a suicide. Some people become so identified with death after a serious illness, they don’t know how to live beyond it, even if given a chance.”
“But there are more than ten people, still living, who've been totally cured. What are they doing?”
“Living.” He smiled and spread arms wide as if to encompass the room.
“What exactly do we do?” I asked. The details were still fuzzy.
“I give your body directions while you sleep. I have a special room and equipment. The treatment lasts approximately a month. If I can’t get you healed by then, well…”
“Can Sal stay with me?”
“I don’t see why not, she can have one of the rooms. But I ask that you both remain in them at night no matter what. Anything that disturbs your sleep is not a good idea. We want your room as quiet as possible. I, myself, will be giving you direction through tiny ear buds after the initial week.”
I looked at Sal. “What do you think?”
“What about you?” she answered, not moving her gaze from Veldi.
“I think it’s my last chance. The radiation will slow it down at best and if we’re lucky, I’ve got six months.”
“Do you trust him?”
I couldn’t believe she asked it out loud, just like that in front of him. I met his eyes and answered her just as honestly. “Not yet. But I believe I could, in time.”
He smiled and clapped his hands together as if it was all settled. “Alright! Let’s get down to business. I’ve some papers for you to sign.” Seeing my surprise he hurried on. “No no, nothing too complex. Just to verify all your information.”
I looked over the papers a second before Sal ripped them from hands. She skimmed them and handed them back. “Sign. It’s all accurate.”
“Thanks for your help, Oh Wise One.”
She ignored me and spoke to Veldi. “I’d like to see the room.” And stood, following him out the door and leaving me with the papers. The last one was releasing Dr. Veldi of all responsibility if anything should go awry. I began wondering what could go wrong while you slept. Then realized there were lots of things. You heard of people who fell in their dreams and died upon landing. Some never woke, while others had heart attacks. I got a little spooked but signed on the dotted line anyway. This was the only ray of sunshine I’d found in the last year, and I was about to hold onto it with my teeth, if necessary.
Sal and Dr. Veldi came back just as I stood.
“Let’s go,“ she said. “The room's all ready.”
“Are you sleepy? If not, I’ve something that will help,” Dr. Veldi said.
“No…it’s just." I took a breath. "Seems to me as if we’re jumping into this kinda quick.”
“Is that a problem?” She cocked an eyebrow at me.
I shrugged and walked out the door. The hallway was as gloomy as the rest of the house but the room we entered was nothing but white. It had one window, a bed and coat rack. A huge machine, complete with wires, took up most of the floor space. Dr. Veldi saw me staring at it and laughed. “You won’t have to wear the wires for the first couple of sessions, not until we get deeper into the program. You’ll need to wear the PJ’s though so you’ll be comfortable.”
It took three days for me to get comfortable and two weeks before the dreams started. Every night we came to Veldi’s house and I slept in the white room while Sal slept in the one down the hall. At first they were only fragments of dreams. Skeletal cities, armies of soldiers on the move. Then came one I remembered:
I was walking down a foggy street. White swirls of sold mist were shivering like pale ghosts that shredded as I stepped through them. The ground beneath me moaned as I planted each foot. A thought that this was odd budded in my mind but then something ran across my path and startled me. Small and dark with blue lightning sparking off its body, it slithered around the corner, and waited. I knew it was there with that weird sixth sense you get in dreams.
Standing with the ghosts, I thought about going back the way I’d come but heard a stomping and rattle from behind. I turned to see a gun coming at me. Square nosed and rolling on what looked like a pair of wagon wheels, it was slow but steady. Old trucks with canvas covers appeared behind it and alongside them were soldiers. Some were cavalry officers, while others were on foot. Because of the fog I couldn’t make out details, though I could feel the beat of their boots coming closer in my feet.
I pivoted and ran, wincing as I passed the corner, and sure enough, the sparking black thing came for me. Smacking into my legs, it sent me flying and flopping like a rag doll, over and over. Blue fire was licking up my legs and there was nothing I could do but let it. I blocked my face from the ground with my arms. On fire and screaming I woke. Leaping out of bed, I brushed myself down all the while jumping and yelling.
Sal burst into the room. “What? What’s wrong?” She grabbed my arms and held on until I'd calmed, then sat on the floor, wheezing. “Well? What the hell is the matter with you? You scared the crap out of me!”
“I dunno. A bad dream I guess.”
“Yeah.” I absently straightened the pajama bottoms, which is all I was wearing in the too warm room.
Her hair was half unwound from the braid, and standing up around her head as she squinted at me a moment before gently punching my shoulder. “Are you okay?”
I nodded and crawled back into bed. She left the door ajar and walked away. I didn’t dream the rest of the night, mostly because I didn’t sleep much.
The next night I walked in the same fog with the dark creature slipping in and out of sight beside me. Little feelers of lightning tickled my skin as they touched and zapped everywhere they could reach. I felt no fear for it had saved my life, I was sure, the night before. Then soldiers in oddly brimmed hard hats and uniforms that cinched at the waist surrounded me. Each dipped a shoulder, slid their rifles into their hands and aimed into the fog.
A roar shook the world as if whatever was out there felt their guns point and hold. The ghost fog shuddered and split down the middle. A carpet of glossy red poppies was spread from our feet and onto the field before us. The tall, spider hearted flowers flowed with the breeze in soothing waves, until, behind a dewed wall of barbed wire, I saw something move. Made of what looked like clear gelatin with tubes of blue, green, and yellow liquid arching around the head, it raised an arm and reached for me.
The arm and hand grew closer and closer. I could see the clear fingernails dripping liquid onto the poppies in bright bubbles that drizzled off and into the dirt with a life of their own. The little blackness next to me shot forward spitting blue zigs of electricity. Stumbling backwards, I fell and kept falling. I woke and was startled to find Dr. Veldi watching me from the chair by my bed.
“Bad dream?” He asked in his whispery voice.
“What are you doing in here?”
“I guide your sleep.”
“Which you usually do from the other room.”
He held up the clipboard that had been sitting in his lap and stood. “I need to do hands on as well, sometimes it takes an extra push from me to keep things moving. You having nightmares?”
I held my breath a moment before I answered, “Yes, I am. I’ve been having some for awhile now.”
“Good, that means it's working. Your body is fighting the disease.” He smacked the clipboard against his hip and walked out the door, closing it behind him.
The fog was gone in the next dream:
Slap, slap, slap went the soldiers’ feet as they marched past with their rifles against their shoulders. Their heads jutted forward, hats on top at a perfect angle, all in a row like windup toys. Little black zap was spitting blue zingers up and down my legs as he stood beside me. I realized he looked like a huge bumblebee, one without stripes, fuzzy black and buzzing.
When I glanced again, I saw a battlefield beyond a smeary field of flowers, bodies half in huge runnels cut out of the blasted earth. The crenulated rows spotted with the helmets of soldiers. A bomb thundered and kicked up a plume on the far side. The men scattered, leapt into the first trench they came to. I spun and ran the other way. Slipping, rolling over sandbags and into another trench, I landed on something soft and yielding. It turned out to be a soldier with half his face gone, though his helmet was still stuck to the back of his head.
Gingerly I climbed off him and into the goo. It was dark mud with yellowish streaks and white moldy pieces that clotted onto my jeans. A rat ran over my foot and I screamed like a girl. Zap sent out an electric line and touched it but didn’t seem bothered as the naked pink tail disappeared under another body, instead he scuttled closer and a halo of blue closed around me. Every hair on my body rose and a sheen of rainbows slicked past my face.
A thudding and grunting came from behind me and I turned to see six soldiers tumble in. One of them met my eyes briefly before proceeding to make his way over the bodies to the other side of the trench. His buddies were right behind him and inched their heads over the slimy traversed wall. Then ducking and resting their backs against it, they checked and reloaded their repeaters. Someone gave a shout and glowing bullets ripped past the trench. I followed the trajectory with my eyes, as did the soldiers, freezing in mid motion.
When the colored tubes appeared over the wall, I knew him and who he was after. Zap bristled and zipped in front of me, a spider web of feelers crawling the air around him. The soldiers started shooting and tube guy flickered but kept coming.
“Merde!” one of them said. He flipped out of the trench and started running. Two of the others followed. The last one, he grabbed my arm.
“Come on.” Tugging me with him, he moved. I allowed myself to be dragged from the trench before jerking free and bolting. I could hear the thump of our boots against the ground, my breath getting rougher and loud in my ears. He pulled ahead and I focused on his back, watching the pack bump with the slam of his feet. Still running, he swiveled his head, glanced beyond and behind me while I scanned his face for information, resisting the urge to look back as well.
Fumbling with the buckles he managed to unhook the pack without losing ground. The same couldn't be said for me, I was tiring, my legs getting heavier and harder to lift. I watched him pull ahead and urged my feet faster but they slowed instead and began to trip against the ground. I could feel Zap behind me and noticed the blue shield he'd held around me was gone right before I fell and kept falling.
Always the dreams were of war, with Zap beside me. The one soldier would recognize me. Then it would end with liquid dripping gelatin man reaching for me. Usually I’d wake to an empty room. Though one night, I woke to find my bed surrounded by the blue shield. I lay very still and watched the rainbows shimmer and listened to it sizzle the air. I heard the doorknob turn and glanced at it. That’s when I saw Zap with his electric feelers woven across the door. Someone was there twisting the knob and pressing against it. I watched the force field yield and then resist each push. The hum in the room increased as Zap grew more snapping and fluttering zigs of energy around him like a small yet furious storm. The glow brightened so I raised my hand against it. The hairs on my head and arms lifted and shifted with the waves in the field around me. Then came a knock.
“Tag? It’s Dr. Veldi. Why is your door locked?”
Spinning in a complete circle, Zap whirled and stared at me. His eyes were the electric blue of his feelers. Suddenly I completely understood, he didn’t want Dr. Veldi in the room, I held my breath and didn’t answer.
“Tag?” Another couple of raps came. I kept my silence and Zap continued to watch me while his net of light fought the door.
“Tag! Came Sal’s voice. “I’ll break this door down in a minute if you don’t answer.”
With a collapsing whoosh of sound, all light disappeared and Zap was gone. Dr. Veldi opened the door and my sister stood behind him. I pretended to only now wake and rubbed my eyes. “What’s all the racket?”
“You sleep like a log! What was wrong with your door? She stalked past Veldi and looked around the dark room.
“Nothing.” I scratched my head and sat up. “I don’t know. I was sleeping. Why’d you wake me?”
Sal came to the side of my bed, tugged the blankets straight then eyed me. “You okay?”
“Yeah. Dreaming is all.” I saw Dr. Vedli watching me expressionlessly. “I’d like to go back to sleep now.”
With an exaggerated sigh, Sal shrugged, turned and walked out the door. Veldi closed it quietly behind them. The last thing I wanted to do was sleep. I had too many questions swimming in my head. Could I have been dreaming? If so, what held the door closed and why? I never did go back to sleep that night but I closed my eyes and pretended because the observation window felt watchful.
A few more nights passed and I remembered only vague snips of my dreams until the last one:
I was on the battlefield, it was early evening, smoke and a fire on the horizon had turned the ground crimson. When I stepped forward, I realized most of the red was blood. I wanted to pull back but the mud sucked at my boots. Lone figures, dark against the angry sky, shuffled between bodies, taking and tossing the shoes, before pulling the dead across the ground by their legs and heaving them into the trenches.
“Why do you keep coming back?" The soldier from before stood there with a rifle at ready.
“I don’t know.”
He adjusted his belt with one hand and looked at the sky. “I wouldn’t be here if I could leave.”
“I wouldn’t be here if I had a choice.”
Nodding as if he knew what I'd meant, he slipped another rifle from his shoulder and held it out to me. “Take it.”
I found myself reaching for the gun. It was heavier than it had appeared, and while the barrel was cold, the stock was wood and warm from contact with his body.
At the sound of marching, I looked up and I saw a broken road of men and cavalry, laden with supplies filing past. Then a stutter of machine gun fire chopped though them. In a slow crumpling, the line of men caved while the unhurt leaped and scattered like pebbles bouncing downhill. Abruptly, the soldier next to me smashed his boot into my back and I flew onto the bloody ground. He kicked and shoved a couple of bodies on top of each other, shored them with a leaking bag of sand and fell in beside me.
“Get your weapon ready.” He adjusted his barrel over our makeshift blockade of dead men. It was only then I saw his hands, scraped knuckled and well scabbed, but covered with a fine mesh of blue electric fire. Zap! He’d somehow managed to become part of the soldier. I adjusted to this change with the flexibility of dreams and readied my gun, copying him carefully.
“My name. Call me Zed.”
“Oh, okay. Mine’s Tag.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance.” He sighted along the barrel past the curved bayonet. I did the same, though I couldn’t see anything to aim at. A bombed wasteland of ditches, fallen soldiers and horses were spread out before me. From the trench off to the left, I caught a motion. The glowing tubes of colored liquid cast a radiant light around a bald head, as it turned to meet my gaze.
“That’s where you aim. At his head.” Zed shifted his barrel and sighted. The gun bucked against his shoulder, a flash and a haze of smoke momentarily blocked my vision. When it cleared, I saw tube guy reach toward the sky and stretch into giant sized. He stepped out of the trench that was now a pothole in comparison. The ground beneath me quaked with each step as he walked toward us. I squeezed the trigger and the gun didn’t go off. In a panic, I pressed and convulsed all my fingers, still nothing.
Without a word, Zed pushed his rifle at me and took mine from the clutch of my hands. He fiddled with it, and turned to face the giant. Bringing it to his shoulder, he fired. I did the same and this time the gun bucked and spat out light. Flash floated in front of my eyes in a violet white patch. Once I could see past it, I noticed a hole had opened up in the giants shoulder, spilling muddy yellow liquid in a stream.
“Nice shot!” Zed clapped me on the back. “Now aim for his head.”
Without bothering to explain I had been, I took aim again. Shooting in a rapid succession, it appeared as if I’d missed him completely for he kept coming. Zed popped off a few and looked puzzled.
“I can’t seem to hit him. I’m a good shot and get what’s in my sight.” He took the gun from me and reloaded before handing it back. Silently he worked on his own then stopped and stared at me a moment.
“I’m going over the top.” Swinging up and around, he jumped out the trench and ran straight for tube guy. Thin blue streams spiked off the bayonet and sent lines out around the giant’s legs. Zed jerked his gun back and over his head like a fly rod and the giant toppled as the electric ropes tugged his knees forward. I felt the dirt, mud and blood beneath me roll at his impact.
Stabbing forward, Zed impaled him through the heart with the light engulfed blade of his gun. A flare of white and the giant collapsed forward. Leaping sideways, Zed managed to escape being smashed underneath. Holding his rifle above his head with both hands, he saluted it with a jerk while looking my way. I held my rifle high in answer, freezing once I saw the bald head lift from the ground and the flash of fist as it knocked Zed full in the side. Thrown backwards, he bent in at the waist, arms still raised and rifle flying out of his hands.
Instinctively, I jammed the butt of the gun into my shoulder and squeezed the trigger. The bullet blazed alongside the giant’s scalp. One of the tubes was clipped and spurting green liquid. Wobbling to his feet, the giant shrank to normal size, then wavered once more before stepping forward and straight for unconscious Zed. I climbed out of the trench and bolted forward. Thrusting with my rifle, I buried the blade into his stomach. The impact rocked my whole body. He shrieked and tore at the rifle, knocking it loose. I grabbed Zed's boot and dragged his limp body out of harm’s way before turning to face my enemy.
Thickening colors were streaming from his injuries and he swayed and almost fell. But his eyes were focused, and they'd found me. He lurched forward. Adrenaline surged, and I crouched with my arms spread wide, waiting. Mud runneled with sweat coated his cheeks and forehead. The eyes were a bronzed orange I’d only seen before in cats. Something twisted in my belly and my hands spasmed. About ten feet away, he began to wander sideways and more colored goo pumped from his wounds. I knew it was my chance, so I rushed forward with my hands outstretched, belly slammed him, and locked them around his throat. As he toppled, I stayed with him, digging both thumbs into the softness at the front of his neck.
Prying at both my hands, his nails marking and biting into his own skin, he tried to dislodge my fingers. A vibration began to build within my shoulders and arms. I squeezed tighter and watched a wave of red, then white spread from the center of his face. Drool was beginning to brim at the corners of his mouth. It opened and closed, gasping like a fish, then his eyes widened until little red webs bloomed in the white that encircled the iris.
He shoved his arms between my wrists and tried to force them apart. Then giving in to panic, he scrabbled at my face. I turned my head and roared at the top of my lungs while an ache built through my shoulders and arms. I willed my fingers into iron, crawled on top of his bucking body, tightened my knees around his waist, and put all my weight onto my hands. I kept the pressure on, bellowing at the top of my lungs. Time slowed, until, arms flopping to the sides, his contortions quieted into shudders before faltering and subsiding altogether. My yell became one of triumph.
I woke to find the room bright and still echoing from my last bellow. Sal was standing in the doorway with her fingers on the light switch. Helen was behind her, face carved with horror. Feeling something slack, heavy and soft, in my hands, I looked down into Veldi’s blue face with its swollen tongue thrust between still wet lips and screamed as blackness swallowed me.
Being I was only sixteen and had witnesses of my temporarily insanity, the sentence was shortened and to be carried out in an institution. I spend my days reading and waiting for my time to end. Could’ve run I suppose, Sal would have gone with, but I hadn’t it in me. When the police arrived, I went quietly. I was tired and time served wouldn’t be long. That’s what I thought until the test results revealed I was cancer free. Dr Veldi’s dream cure had worked. I have 6 years left on the inside and for the first time since I can remember, an unknown number of them on the outside.
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Enjoyable read. I really liked zap. Some clarification of what the doctor's true intentions would have been nice.
The doctor was the disease? Interesting tale.
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