15 May, 2013

Aftereffects/The Next Day/Home Invasion

Ed. note: In apology for missing two days and being late today, I decided I would give you guys an extra long, almost triple-length, chunk of the story. Enjoy!

I sat through Dr. Mann explaining the severity of the burns patiently, trying not to lose hope in my plans for a modeling career. Maybe I could be like that guy who has the skull tattoo on his face, but is still a model. Apparently he was hired because he'll stand out in people's memories. Clever.

Anyway, the rest of my hospital stay was a blur. There was a physical therapy appointment scheduled for next week, how to care for the burned flesh until it fully healed instructions, and a whole bunch of other things I don't remember now.

The next fully clear memory I have is sitting in Diego's Jeep Wrangler with him and Sal. Since I wasn't Sloth-like in appearance, I apologized for threatening to kill him, but if his hex ever did bear fruit, I'd skin his face and wear it instead. He looked nervous after that, but now, he just sat in the back seat, sipping his Big Gulp.

It was our start-of-the-season ritual, getting the largest size of Big Gulps and running around on a sugar high. I was thankful for the cold drink, but didn't think I'd be doing any running around today. I looked at my giant plastic cup in the modified (to hold it) passenger-side cup holder, and just stared into the sugary goodness. It offered relief, so I picked it up and rested it between my forearms.

The chill was barely there, a sign of the nerve damage Dr. Mann told me about, but what little coldness seeped through took the edge off the (psychosomatic, the good doctor said) burning I still felt. It felt like my arms were incredibly warm, like I left only them in the sun for an extended period, but the Big Gulp helped somewhat.

Despite that, though, most of my thoughts kept returning to the lawn fire. The heat I felt when I ran between the two halves of the lawn, the nerve I didn't know I had to smash the window and reach into the fire to attach the hose. The utter destruction of my lawn that I had worked so hard and so long to make, wrapped in that fiery embrace that also held me for an unknown amount of time, I never asked.

Burning, burning, burning, burning, BURNI--

"Jim? You there? I'll call you James if it gets your attention, I swear it!" I hadn't noticed that Diego was calling my name. I jerked in the seat. We were home. Sal wasn't even in the Jeep anymore. Diego was standing next to me, outside his Jeep, with the door open.

"Wh-what? I'm here! What?" Diego twitched back in surprise as I almost screamed at him.

"Dude, are you okay?"

"Yes! No, I don't know. I think the fire fucked my brain up pretty bad." I rubbed my temples as I spoke. I felt like I was going to be sick.

"Don't say that too loudly. Mr. Marsailles wants to kick us out of our jobs due to mental incompetence."

"Fuck him, Diego! I was almost burned alive! Do you really want me to focus on the petty bullshit of some wrinkly old geezer who's going to bite it within two years at the most? Fuck! That!" I swung my feet out of the vehicle and brushed by him, storming across the charred remains of our lawn, up the front steps, and into the new front door.

I needed to cool down and rest. So I did. I went to bed at noon, and was perfectly okay with that. I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep almost instantly.

....

The next day, I woke up at ten in the morning. My twenty-two-hour nap did a lot to restore my sanity. I felt glorious until I noticed the bandage on my arms needed to be changed. Sighing, I meandered through the house towards the bathroom. Diego must have been working, as I couldn't find him anywhere.

"I'll find him in a bit. First thing's first," I muttered as I went into the bathroom, and filled up the tub to gingerly soak the bandages in warm water.

Once the water was set, I slowly submerged my arms to the elbows. It felt soothing, so I just sat there for almost an hour, until I noticed that the water temperature had gone down a little, so I began removing the bandages as gingerly as I could.

This was my first real look under the wrappings, and I was horrified. Scared to my very core about what sort of monster I'd become. I cannot afford skin grafts right now, so becoming hideous really doesn't work for me right now.

I pretty much had the bandages off completely before I opened my eyes to see the mess. It was plenty gross, without a doubt, but it was also kind of...hypnotic...in a way. I looked like I was made of melted plastic in that there were swirls and whorls and eddies in my skin. The patterns were, in a very sick sense, beautiful.

"Wow..." I gasped when I fully took in the sight by rotating my arms back and forth to see the whole picture. It was something unreal, the devastation to my arms, horrible and beautiful and strange all at the same time.

Burning, burning, BURNING!

Gasping in pain, I thrust my arms back into the water and it instantly became tinted pink around them, but it was also soothing, to a degree. I wondered how long these phantom burns were going to go on, and immediately feared they would never go away.

I kept my arms submerged for maybe half an hour, just thinking about what I would do from here on out. Maybe Tilly and I could retire someplace cold. That would be very nice. I never thought I'd want to live in the cold, but if this burning sensation continued, it might be the only option.

I sighed, withdrawing the devastation that was the lower halves of my arms, and ever so gently patted them down with a fresh towel. It stung, but I couldn't just sit here forever. Could I? No, I can't start thinking like that! Maybe there was a way around the pain.

"Oh, that would be lovely, wouldn't it, Jim? Just take the easy way out again," I muttered to myself as I rebandaged my atrocities. This was a nightmare, and I wanted out. That's never how it works, though, is it? Right up to the moment before impact, we're left screaming and crying and shitting our pants, a moment of abject humiliation before waking. Thank all that is that it's in the privacy of our own minds.

I eventually made my way downstairs, absorbed in my own thoughts, to make myself brunch. Breakfast burrito? Nah. Pancakes? Nah. Oh! I could use some eggs. I don't know why, but I'm really craving some eggs. I open the fridge to check out our egg situation, but I instead get white hot pain in my forearms that is intense enough to make me lose consciousness for just long enough to fall to the floor.

I pick myself up with just my legs and shuffled over to the island, hopping on top of it. My head was spinning, and I was reeling. My stomach and my brain had no idea whether they wanted to swap places or just perform a contents dump, so I just curled up on the island, and just waited for the cool metal to lower my internal body temperature to something a bit more manageable.

...

The next thing I knew, there was a scream from somewhere far away. I jolted back awake. Sitting up, the microwave clock told me only ten minutes had passed, but I felt like I had slept for decades. I was so very rested, and my body felt as though I were under a vent of cool air, as it started at the top of my head, and there was a slight rippling sensation down my body. The feeling was incredible!

I hopped down from the island, and went toward what I thought was the source of the scream. As I passed into the front of the house I noticed that it was untouched by the flames. How peculiar. I wonder if any of the facade survived the burning. As I passed the main sitting room, I took a couple seconds to stare at the boarded-up window, and I flashed back to launching a chair through it.

"Heh, epic," I chuckled to myself, and turned toward the door, only to have it burst open to let Diego, Sal, and about ten thousand of my hated enemies inside. For the six seconds the door was open, I sneezed four times. Pollen? What?

"JIM! JIM! Oh, thank Christ you're awake!" Saying Sal looked panicked didn't give justice to the look on his face. He made people on submarines taking on water look serene. The three of us had been part of riots more calm than he was right now.

"What's going on, you guys? What was that scream, and where did all of this pollen come from?"

"Dude, look outside. Just look, man. We're so screwed. We're so screwed." Diego was pacing back and forth. Whatever was going on, it had both of them spooked pretty good. I gingerly pulled back a curtain and reflex sneezed before letting out a cry of my own.

"Our...our lawn! It's overrun by weeds! Look at that; I've never seen thistle so large and gangly! How did this happen in a goddamn DAY?" Each word in my question grew in volume until I practically barked out the last one. I don't think I had ever been this furious. Even when Diego slept with my girlfriend did I manage to keep my cool, and again when Sal slept with her, but this...this was too much. I lost my arms, I lost my lawn, after this, I'd probably lose my job and my home.

"Diego! Sal! What the FUCK DID I MISS?" Sal stepped forward. "Tread carefully, as the state I'm in will allow me to snap your neck like a twig."

"Well, Jim, after you were taken to the hospital, and the fire was put out, the fire chief looked over the lawn, and after deliberating with some of the other firemen, they unanimously declared this an arson, but no one in the community would fess up." I felt my fists clench. "So Diego and I decided to go on a strike until someone came clean."

"And let me guess, no one's owning up to it?" I asked through teeth so tightly clenched, I was, for a few moments, afraid they would crumble.

"No, boss." Diego had just been nodding the whole time, or adding in corroborative 'Yeah's where necessary. He looked as pissed as I felt. I wondered if I looked as pissed as I felt.

"Get me my fumigation mask!" I barked at Sal, who scampered off to the basement. When he came back, he had not only my mask, but a look of terror on his face.

"Th...there's a mass of vines and thistle down there that burst in through the cellar wall!" Diego and I just stared at him, then at each other, and finally back at him.

"Everybody out!" someone yelled, and the three of us bounded for the front door, screaming bloody murder. Diego plowed through the door and stopped on the stoop as a thorny whip of thistle and poison ivy leaves slapped at the house.

Sal bumped into his back, and I bumped into Sal. The vines pushed on the cellar door until it exploded into splinters, a process taking no more than 30 seconds, start to finish, and began racing for the front door. These weeds were more than just alive, they possessed a malevolent sentience.

"Keep going, you morons! Just run through! Get to the street!" Apparently my words were useless, as they stood rooted (heh) to the spot. Irony of ironies. I began pushing against the slender youth, and Diego began pushing back.

The vines were closing in....

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