Happy New year, Everyone!
Hey there, everyon… Woh!
Heh. Sorry about that. You caught me off guard. No offense intended here, but… you sure put on some weight over these last few weeks. (I barely recognized ya’!). I mean, you’re still dead sexy, Readers… My readers ARE the sexiest group of readers on the planet… but come on! Let’s get with it! It’s time to kick this thang off right!
Anywho, no matter really — we’re all allowed a bit of leeway around the holidays. In fact I believe I’ve missed two weekends worth of stories, myself.
And so, I thought I’d make up for it today.
This story needs little to no introduction, as I’ve written it, re-written it — and then deleted everything I had because it was crap and re-wrote it yet again!
And now I think I’ve finally got something of merit.
WARNING: For those of you that live with ADD (like myself) you may want to break this story up — it’s mostly why I add the pictures FYI… ‘Virtual Bookmarks’.
This story was inspired by three splinters that, despite how many times I’d removed them from my thumb over the course of a week, continued to appear. So, as inspiration goes, this was… queer… but I really had a lot of fun with what i came up with here, and believe I nailed the syllogism I was after in the end (if I do say so myself)…
Let’s see if you can catch it!
He felt it wake up…
He always did…
It wouldn’t be long now…
Hurriedly, abruptly, Hickey threw out excuses, ended conversations, and broke away from the gaggle of foreign nurses and technicians which had congregated around him.
It knew. It surged within him, flaring up from the nape of his neck and growing quickly around his shoulders to embrace his chest and ribs. His eyes watered, blurring his view, as he made his way, serpentine, toward the Janitor, entrusted today with keys that had never before been used.
“I’d like to be let in”, requested Hickey, meekly. His face down and his hands jammed far too deeply into his pockets — feeling more vulnerable than an assistant to a post op, carpel tunnel knife-thrower on a spin-wheel, he told himself.
Wait, what? Where did that come from, he wondered frantically…
Fanning the flames of his fear…
Unknowingly Feeding his demon…
Far too slowly, the Janitor raked a suspicious eye across Hickey from head to toe — it took hours. This is insane, he thought. It was calling again — of course it would, once awake it never stopped — and he didn’t know how much longer he’d be able to resist. He needed to get away. Now. It didn’t know what today was, and Hickey didn’t know what it was, to be fair… not for certain at least. But he simply couldn’t let his peers see him like this; in this sad, weakened state. No way he could let this ruin him. It was a cutthroat industry they worked in, and he remembered well what it had taken to get himself to the top — and he was now, undoubtedly, at the top. He’d arrived. The big dog, chosen alone for this special patient. Looking over toward the crowd of his contemporaries, Hickey thought, All they’d need is a little leverage, and all my life’s work…
“You alright, Dr. H.?” finally, the Janitor spoke, “Normally you’re the last one in the OR.”
The overly familiar tone hit a chord within Hickey, making him tic, cocking his head to the side ever so slightly… before something behind his eyes snapped. Suddenly, with deft, explosive speed, he reached out, seizing the man’s Adam’s apple in his fist — gripping it with tremendous force — before proceeding to tear his entire esophagus out through his throat with a violent jerk. He hoisted it then above his head, his slick and throbbing trophy, while letting its fresh, warm blood trickle freely down and across his wildly grinning visage.
It’s not real, Sam… It’s your imagination…
You know that it is…
He snapped back to reality, “I’m fine, thanks. Maybe it’s the locked door, George.” He said, selling the ersatz politeness like a veteran used car salesman, motioning toward the door. “It’s… unnerving. Would you mind?”
“Of course, Sam. Of course.” Said George, expertly fishing a weighty, triple-decker key-ring off his belt loop in a smooth and well-practiced motion, before beginning to rifle through the keys. “Hey, did you catch that Re-run of, “House” last night by any chance?”
“No, George” replied Hickey, far more edge to his voice than intended. “I’ve told you, I don’t watch T.V.”.
George tried a wide, bronzed key in the knob — no good. “I know what you say, Dr.H… but everybody watches T.V.”.
“Well… not me”, Hickey answered, saddened somewhat by the prospect of this simple normalcy which had always eluded him.
“That Dr. House, he reminds me a lot of you. You know?” George continued as he tried a dull silver key in the handle to no avail — and as Hickey saw a flash of himself gutting him with all the subsequent wrong choices. “He never gives up, that House. And, like you,” he glanced back at Hickey, “He’d rather be good at what he does, than be healthy”. Finally, his third try, George got the right key. He stepped into the prep room, holding the door for Hickey, and used his custom key to flip the light switches on. ” You look like you need some sleep, Dr.H…”, he concluded.
“I’m fine”, said Hickey, abruptly — before slamming the door shut in George’s face.
Violently, without hesitation, Hickey clawed frantically at his neck, eventually quieting, for but a moment, the crippling familiar which now resided therein. How much longer can this possibly last, he wondered. What have I done to deserve this? Fuck that damned rat, he thought, punctuating each word in turn within his mind… before beginning to feel a familiar warmth radiate from his chest. Returned from their charge, and speedily en-route to engage their fresh one, his hands came back from behind his head contorted, crooked, and, to his great horror, bloodied — which stopped them dead in their tracks before awestruck eyes.
Just then the light in the adjacent OR flipped on, and through the semi-transparent waved glass, just beyond the gap between his stained, seized-up hands, he saw the silhouette of the mystery man, the man who was to be his patient, being wheeled into the room.
Running to the sink, his demon momentarily forgotten, Hickey flushed his hands under the cool water, liberating them from their red coat… only to unearth a brass substrate beneath.
No… It can’t be.
His demon laughed at this, and swelled.
Now, visible throughout the tips of each of his fingers, were tiny, filament like shards of browned steel. Most lay flat beneath his flesh, glimmering under the surface against the pulsating fluorescents above, but some jutted out straight, little daggers planted firmly in his skin — their tips sharp, foreboding, and now fairly obviously the reason behind all the blood. Without much thought, he jammed his fingers into his mouth, clamped his eyes shut, and felt about with his teeth and tongue for anything protruding… before yanking them out one by one as they were found, and spitting them into the basin.
Ting… Bing… Splat…
He had to hurry.
Ting… Bing… Splat…
They’d not be far behind…
His humanity was fading. This, perhaps, was the only bit of higher reasoning that remained with him — that he was losing his mind. Whatever he had been, prior to the Rat invasion only two weeks past, he now no longer was. Doctor, Leader, Boss, Friend… The best at what he does… These titles meant nothing to him now. Now, he was nothing but a rabid animal — cleansing himself with his teeth, and using the finished bits to slake away tiny increments of his primitive, senseless urge. God, did he itch! It was nary unbearable. But he had to hold out just a little bit longer. After all, he could always stop the bleeding on his neck, but he could never take the hue out from his scrubs. He just needed to finish the extractions, wash his hands, and put on the gloves. Then, none would be the wiser. Nobody would know. He could finish the surgery in half the time he’d quoted, rush off home to be alone, as he always was, and then calculate his next step.
Just one step at a time, he assured himself.
Just one thing, and then the next, and then… eventually…
…I’m sure you’ll get to the bottom of this.
Licking his fingertips once again reminded him of the devolved state he’d been forced to adapt, but also proved to him that he was now, finally, finished with his task. And as soon as this realization hit, like a green light after a year and a half of sitting at an intersection, he jammed on the gas, succumbed to his need, and worked himself into a tizzy — scratching this way and that, up and down, left and right, and turning about while contorting his shape in order to reach more and more exotic locations… feeling, all the while, like the Tasmanian Devil he’d loved so very much as a child.
What a stupid thing for a kid to idolize, he thought. A mindless, spinning, inexhaustible appetite with eyes. A creature of pure instinct, with no situational awareness whatsoever…
“Sam, what are you doing?” Demanded Ann in a whisper from behind his shoulder — shattering his thoughts, ceasing his motion, and causing him to leap from fear and land on the Moon. Her voice continued on then as an omnipresent echo, a hushed thunder that rang out all across the surface of the great cheese ball where now he stood, agape and staring up at a half-lit Earth, “You’re bleeding…”.
At once, the room he’d forgotten came back into focus, and Hickey soon realized, much to his chagrin, that he’d been doing the ole’, “Hokey-Pokey-Tasmanian-Devil-Itchy-Dance” right before all his contemporaries while they washed in the sink and prepped for surgery — precisely what he’d been planning to avoid.
Well, you got your leverage, he thought morosely, closing his fists to hide his shame, now let’s see if you spineless invertebrates will do anything with it.
“Come here”, insisted Ann, her hand spinning him by the hip to face the crowd, hiding the blood behind his neck as she wiped it tenderly with a paper towel. “What did you do?”
He faltered. “I, uh. I had an itch…”
Gently she grabbed his wrist, as she simultaneously conducted her blind cleaning, saying softly, “Stop. Sam, we don’t have to do this. You look like shit. We don’t know any of these people. Hell, we don’t even know the patient! What are we doing?
“We’re doing the surgery, Ann.” He said plainly, noticing an eavesdropping technician over her shoulder, holding the door for the bulk of the flock as they migrated into the adjacent E.R.. His gaze darted as it met Hickeys, but he was sure he’d sensed a healthy modicum of self-pity in those eyes before they had. Likely trying to justify why it was Hickey and not him — or at least one of their own, this supposed celebrities’ entourage — chosen to perform the surgery.
Because he was the best, he assured himself.
Not anymore, came his unconscious response.
His demon cackled heartily.
“What, were you up all night working on your book again?” Ann inquired as the room finished clearing out, successfully fishing him from the void once more.
“No. I just…. I can’t sleep at all anymore. I actually finished all three a couple weeks ago.”
“Edits and all?”
“Edits and all.”
“So… What is it?” She inquired rather tenderly. “I am so proud of you by the way, Sam… I mean, Doctor Hickey. Truly.”
Her eyes penetrated him thoroughly, leaving him somewhat dumbfounded. Proud? Who was she to care about him? He returned her direct gaze with one of his own, and their eyes began a waltz, chaperoned by dueling smiles. “Well, actually, that night… the night I’d finished, that’s when this all started. I finished typing in the final edits, clicked save, stretched back into my chair — the most relaxed I’d felt in months, honestly — and that’s when I saw it. A rat. A big, brown, bulbous-assed rat, scurrying across my kitchen floor, right in my peripheral vision.”
“Sounds like you need a woman’s touch around there.” She teased.
“I maintain a VERY clean home, thank you” He defended, quickly staving off the worst of his demanding flesh as he rubbed hurriedly at his thigh, hoping not to be noticed.
The demon was starting to win.
He had to get this going.
…But, what of Ann?
“I meant no offense, Doctor.”
“Never fear.” He assured her, feeling her draw away some. He picked up the pace of the story now, to try and win her back. “Anyway, I did a bit of quick research and found a simple solution: Steel wool. So, I bought a few cheap boxes up the block, scoured my home for any tiny passages, and shoved a ball or two of the stuff into all the spaces.”
“I don’t understand. So… What happened to you, exactly?”
“That’s just it… I’m not really sure.” He distractedly scratched at his belly, “I woke up the next morning itchy, with a shard of steel sticking out of my thumb — so I figured it must’ve been the steel wool, right?”
“Only this shard… was brown. And also… there were more.”
“Yes. Many more… More buried in my palm. More stuck into my thighs, and my legs, and neck… and even certain… delicate areas. I mean, I did a bit of juggling at one point as I wandered about from room to room, stupid in hindsight, but this seemed… strange. Obviously. To say the least…”
“I’ll say, but…” She trailed off, noticing his balled hands held firm against his waist. “Wait, it’s happening right now, isn’t it?” Hickey didn’t answer, but his skittish countenance said all she needed to hear. She laced her fingers tenderly about his hands. “Sam, let me take a look…”
“No. It’s… it’s nothing. I’m fine. Let’s just head in and get this over with.”
“Sam Hickey,” she began, in a tone which mirrored that of his mothers when he was in trouble as a boy, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but you choose me… correction, you fought this celebrity douchebag tooth and nail to have one of your own in the room with you, and you made that person me… and you don’t trust me?” Verily, heartily, Ann was offended. “I trust you…”
Gazing into her thoughtful, deep emerald eyes Hickey felt an immense sense of guilt wash over him. He desperately wanted to relent, but the urge was reaching critical mass within him. Besides, this issue was no simple matter, not that she knew that, or even could know — and time was of the essence. At once, he broke away and crossed the room, headed over toward the box of sterile blue gloves, saying simply over his shoulder for closure, “After surgery”.
The other side of the room fell cripplingly silent.
She hates me… He thought.
Well… What else is new?
Without looking back, Sam Hickey threw on his gloves, entered the OR, and left Ann behind in the prep room… as she silently began to weep.
In the room, everything was prepared. The patient was drugged, unconscious and entubated, and the impromptu staff had taken their proper places around the patient’s table. The head laparoscopic assisting technician was extending a scalpel in his direction, and Hickey could sense the sneer aimed at him even through the surgical mask.
Well no matter…
Let’s get this done with…
Time to begin.
Looking back over his shoulder, hoping that the soul vestige of his team would soon be at his side, Hickey saw the shadow of Ann grow through the dense and waved glass. Slowly it moved toward the OR door, placing a tentative a hand on it’s flat face, before hesitating, and then slowly retreating back away from it… eventually leaving the prep room entirely to head back out toward the hall. He sighed, and, after a long beat of hesitation, reluctantly accepted the scalpel… just as the sole of his right foot began to flare.
This surgery was going to be a test of will he wasn’t sure he’d pass…
His foot, engulfed in flame, beckoned him…
The demon was growing inpatient.
In his distraction, he never noticed the patient sit up, nor plunge the needle into his neck.
Before he could react, the group of strangers leapt at him, arresting his limbs.
He suddenly grew tired…
His demon assuaged…
Then… Reality grew dark.
Hickey slumped to the floor.
The next thing he knew, Hickey was strapped to a massive, upright rotary sander, the pad wildly spinning, wobbling off axis, and making him vomitous. Across from him, on a belt sander, stood Ann, chucking scalpels at him underhand in a windmill softball fashion and missing repeatedly by mere millimeters. Then the queer, detached, markedly unenthused voice of a Man neatly broke his stupor, saying levelly, “Sam? Sam are you there? Wake up, my friend. there is much to discuss.”
Hickey’s eyes cracked open in a flash, his illusion neatly rippling into reality while fear slowly washed over him — as he soon realized that he recognized nothing of his surroundings. He sat limp, exhausted, and cotton-mouthed on an ultra modern, cloyingly adorned, white chaise lounge, amidst an expensive, well furnished, wood finished office, and just before an impossibly wide, somewhat garish, highly polished oak and birch trimmed desk. Behind the desk sat the man who he was scheduled to operate on, a man who had only gone only by the pseudonym, ‘Bojangles’.
“Oh, good. You’re awake.” spoke the mystery man from behind his small fortress. “How are you feeling?”
Groggily, he pushed himself up easy on the sofa, and then swung his legs off to the side to sit upright — and he couldn’t help but notice that his palms hadn’t stuck to the lounger as they sought comfort to lie in his lap. Turning over his palms confirmed his suspicion: there, at the end of his wrist, was bone, blood, dermis, epidermis, nails and knuckles and hair… but no steel. Not one single fiber... He shot a wary, frightened look across the room to the man behind the imposingly wide desk.
“We’ve given you a drug that can stave off the metamorphosis, but only for a little while. You’ll likely need more soon.”
“metamorphosis?” Said Hickey weakly, with a voice around three pitches below the one he was accustom to.
“Yes. Congratulations, Sam Hickey. You’re evolving. And, very likely — if you’re anything like the others — dying. Rather painfully, I’d imagine. I’m so sorry.”
Hickey’s brow knotted.
Hickey was at a loss. What was he to make of all this? Could he trust this man? This imposter, who’d drugged him, and kidnapped him, and brought him… here. Wherever the hell here was.
His lip twitched…
No. He had to get away. Surely his life was in danger. He shot a glance behind him, discovering the door, and sprang to his feet to dash toward it, quickly finding the floor — which was a surprising outcome…
Speaking relaxed and unhurried from behind him, the man said, “Try again in about ten minutes, the drug is an intense muscle relaxer. You’ll only hurt yourself otherwise.”
Though he couldn’t move to look, Hickey heard the voice of the man grow, and visualized his approach from behind the desk. Soon there was an easy hand snaking its way under his shoulders, which then helped him back up and into the comfort of the Chaise lounge. The man dragged a simple steel folding chair over from the corner of the room, and set it up to sit next to Hickey now.
“Here’s the deal,” Began Bojangles, an older, silver-eyed, bald-headed man, with liver spots and tired sunk-down eyes, wearing a sad, simple smile, “You can never go back to the world.”
Hickey’s eyes went wide, quavering.
“Now you’re a doctor, so I’m going to explain this under the assumption that you know the terms I’m about to use. Have you any questions, let me know at the end, and I will answer them with complete candor. I want you to know, that I am on your side. Alright?”
Hickey eased some, and nodded — knowing that without motor function, he didn’t have much other choice.
At least my mystery has a solution, he thought, …or at least an explanation.
“Very well.” Began Mr.Bojangles, before pausing to clear his throat from what sounded like a golf ball-sized lump of phlegm — which Hickey then involuntarily visualized kicking clear out of his mouth to land a Hole-In-One out the window, which didn’t exist, on a golf course he didn’t know was there.
It had awakened…
The demon yet lived…
It was merely coping with the soporific drug’s effects, itself…
Bojangles continued, wholly ignorant to his own death and rebirth that had just transpired in the last second, “Lamarckism is true, and it stacks with Epigenetics. Your father, Ron, was a very hard worker, indeed… as was your mother, Diane. As a matter of fact, we followed your genealogy back to the middle ages, and found mostly scholars along the way. Long story short, you’ve tripped an evolutionary trigger. Something you did recently, I’d say about a week ago, maybe more, filled your RNA to capacity. The reaction you’re experiencing is your body’s response to a need for more storage space. An updating of the brain, as it were, which seems to uniformly take place in its oldest region: the Medulla Oblongata.”
Hickey just stared in awe, rapt at attention.
Feeling it was OK to proceed, Bojangles forged on ahead. “Psychologically speaking, who you are is not a single entity. You are the manifestation of three — well, mostly three — distinct personalities: each arising in the major regions of the brain. This happens in any sufficiently interconnected system, given enough time and exposure to the world; consciousness forms. Here is where the problem arises. Feeling itself falling into a death spiral… The brain stem has begun fighting back. The effects can normally be felt as psychotic hallucinations, paranoia, withdrawal from society, and extreme discomfort. Without fail, these symptoms will continue to get worse, and worse, until one day you will snap… and likely go on a killing spree. This is why we must remove you from society.”
Hickey blinked… Then blinked again. Nodding then, ever so slightly, for the man to continue.
Here, Bojangles took a deep breath. To Hickey, he seemed redolent to dive into this next bit. He steeled his mind as best he could to accept what was to come…
Bojangles went on, holding out his fist, “Here’s the deal.” slowly, he upturned his palm and opened his fingers in turn to reveal a tiny purple pill in his hand. “This is the medication we gave to you. It has the power to stop the changes. But there’s a catch. Ultimately, it’ll be your decision whether or not to take it.”
Summoning the whole of his lungs volume to formulate his words, Hickey took the bait, “What’s the catch?”.
“The medication will insure your sanity, granting you the ability to exist without all the pain and mental torture you’ve endured as of late. However, the way it does this is by attacking the culprit at the source… it will erode your Brain stem.”
“Meaning my heart…” Hickey ran short of breath.
“Will eventually stop, yes. And you will perish…. Years from now, though. Probably twenty, maybe more… I don’t know. It’s different for everyone.” He paused here, letting the last bit catch up fully, before moving on. “Moreover, and if I’ve extrapolated properly from your case file, the bit you’ll find most pertinent… because the drug is engineered to pass the blood brain barrier, the other regions of your brain will be subject to the same fate. Basically, your brain will deteriorate. You’ll be alive, yes, but you wont be yourself. We’ll take care of you, we’ll feed you, house you, clothe you, clean you — permit you endless entertainment — but what you must know before agreeing to taking this pill, is that you will cease being who you presently are. But, from what I can gather, this option is far preferable to the alternative; remaining who you are, yes, but being all the while trapped in your mind, as your reptile brain tries to take over, and you journey along the hellfire on a spiraling journey to certain madness…”
Again, all Hickey could do was blink. This was unacceptable. Inconceivable. How could he, or anyone for that matter, willingly give up their humanity just… to be alive. Some lump on a couch with a TV… All that had ever mattered to him was improving himself, and helping others — he’d never even invested the time in someone else to have a meaningful relationship — his brain had always taken precedence… and here he sat, numb, lost, and facing nothing but a choice to give all that up… Meanwhile, in this perspective, he still had so much living to do.
He’d left so much undone in his life…
Ann’s beautiful face flashed before his eyes…
A single tear rolled toward the tip of her attractive, aquiline nose…
His ire at the prospect gave him the strength to speak, “You said I had a choice. This… this is no choice. Nobody would take that offer.”
Bojangles looked to the floor, rubbing at the back of his head with his free hand, “Everyone has taken the offer. Give it time… The pain will return, and you’ll remember why it is that you’re here, speaking with me.”
And it was true. Even as the air passed his lips, a meager flare-up, no larger than a pimple, was forming at the base of Hickey’s skull. Already he could feel it grow. Had all the others actually chosen mental suicide, he wondered? It seemed rather hard to believe, being that these individuals, like him, had reached this end due to a generationally passed down passion for knowledge. Could he really take the comfort of death, over the pain of living?
His mind was made up.
He reached out for Bojangles, lithe, arthritic hand…
And closed the man’s delicate fingers back around the pill.
“I refuse” Said Hickey plainly. “I choose knowledge. I choose myself over some lifeless husk. Even if that means constant torture…”
Bojangles looked up from the floor, and searched throughout Hickey’s eyes for even the briefest glimmer of doubt –smiling broadly when he found that none existed.
“We’ll have to cut you off from the world — you know that don’t you? If you continue learning, you’ll only accelerate the process.”
“All I require is paper, and pen” Explained Hickey, “I will make it to the other side of this… if even that place exists.”
“There is no evidence to that fact…” Explained Bojangles, the hope in his eyes and inflection to his voice mismatched to the words implication.
“Regardless… I want you to observe me. I believe that, over time, being that I now know what it is that ails me, I can conquer this…” And, as he made the claim, almost as a test, a fresh hallucination was unfolding before his eyes — Bojangles made for a very uncomfortable trench-coat, as it turned out… however, Hickey moved on. “I will do my best to document my experience, and I hope, over time, you may come to trust me enough to permit me back into society.”
Now it was Bojangles who could only blink… And with the heavy crease at his eyes, it was nary unnoticeable. Eventually, he said “Very well. The choice is yours, after all.”. Suddenly light poured in from the now open portal behind them, and two imposing men carrying shackles came to stand behind them. “You’re a braver man than me, Sam Hickey. You may always change your mind…”
“I’d like that option to be taken off the table.” Said, Hickey, cutting him off. “Who knows what I’ll say under duress?”
Bojangles looked him over, saying eventually, “Fine. That’s fine. Of course you’d say that. It’s not protocol, but… I’ll make certain that it’s so.” The both of them stood, and embraced, like old friends, before the security detail began to gently bind Hickey’s limbs.
“Thanks” he said, while being escorted out the door. Adding, beyond Bojangles sight, while walking down the hall and toward a padded cell. “It’ll never win you friends — but somebody’s always got to be the first, before anything can ever move forward.”
Bojangles wished for something to say, something that may carry this brave man through the harrowing years that were sure to come, but failed before the sheer intimidation of what this all represented. Instead, here merely fell to his hands and knees, knowing this to be all too true.
He whispered, “Thank you”, just before hearing the bolt of Sam’s cell drive home.
Thanks for your time, everyone.
Hope you enjoyed the read.
Opinions are relished.
Have a great day.