Trigger warning: This story is really messed up. Like, majorly depraved. But after rereading it for the first time since I handed it in to my Seminar in Creative Writing professor, I’m actually kind of proud of it. I don’t write short stories often, but this was the final assignment for a class where the professor kept hounding me to “make it weirder”. She said if I “insisted” on writing a horror story, I couldn’t do anything that was even remotely cliche. So, I challenged myself to write something that would make her sorry she asked for weird.
Four revisions, one all-nighter, and a six pack of Red Bull later, I produced “Deathseeker”: a story I’m particularly proud of, not only because I actually managed to creep her out, but because of the irony of it. She wanted less cliche, but this is probably the most cliche thing I’ve ever written. So many elements of the story were drawn from movies and other stories, but I twisted them enough and wrote in such an extreme way that she didn’t recognize anything it was derived from. I doubt she actually enjoyed the story, but she gave me an A- for it, so I guess I accomplished what I set out to do.
“Deathseeker” is long for a short story, but if you’ve a half hour or so this weekend, I hope it makes for a deliciously creepy Halloween treat. Enjoy. Or don’t.
“I couldn’t see much. The was rain flattened against the glass by the wind like sheets of tar, and I couldn’t tell the sky from the road, the road from the trees—they were all just shades of black against a backdrop of nothing. On the pavement, the high beams looked like two moons reflected on a rippling lake. Miles of obsidian highway stretched into an obsidian sky, flanked on either side by the obsidian lake below. He said to slow down—we’d crash into obsidian. But I didn’t hear him. The tires slid over the asphalt with a wet smacking sound, the rain like an applause cheering me on.
‘Laura?’ he said to me.
I squeezed the steering wheel tighter with my right hand to avoid squeezing the gun I carefully held with my left. I don’t really know how to use a gun; I was afraid that if I held it too tight it would blow. Can you squeeze a bullet from a gun like a glob of toothpaste from a tube? I don’t really know—but since the gun was pointed right at him, I didn’t want to push my luck. Or his.
‘Laura?’ he repeated.
‘I can speed and watch the road as best as I can,’ I said without looking at him, ‘or I can speed, and talk to you, and not watch the road.’ I knew already I was going to have to kill him, at some point, before the night was over. I didn’t want to, but he was in the way, and I knew I had to take him with me. I hope I’m not sounding cliché, that’s just how it was. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how often real life ends up looking cliché? You say ‘that would never really happen,’ but here it is: it’s real and it’s happening—don’t you think?”
Zep stares, the corners of his mouth quivering like he’s trying to wiggle a poppy-seed from between his teeth without being rude.
Zep is the orderly who’s been taking care of me since I got here. Three weeks. Four weeks? I don’t know. I’ve only been awake for a day. Two days? I don’t know that either. What they’ve told me is all I know: the car went off the cliff and I should have died. There’s still swelling in my brain (they need to operate again); my collarbone and my left arm are held together by screws and false metal bones. I feel like a Cyborg. I haven’t seen my face in the mirror, but I can feel it. It feels like a pumpkin turned inside out. It’s gooey, like I can mold the pulp into whatever I want, but beneath that layer it is hard and smooth. This is the shape I’m in when they tell me I’m ‘lucky’ to be alive. I haven’t heard anything about Dr. Lelio, and I haven’t asked.
Like I said, I can’t really make sense of anything. I remember that night perfectly, except those final moments. Then there was nothing, for a while. As I was sleeping. But after a while of nothing, I felt something. I was awake before I opened my eyes. From the depths of unconsciousness, I rose as if through water and hovered in blackness just beneath the surface. Cold: that’s the first thing I felt. But it was clean and it was dry. It was artificial: manufactured by chemicals and circulated through metal vents. It was a crisp cold that tugged at the hairs on my arms, raising my flesh in tiny bumps. It wasn’t rain. It wasn’t the night. It wasn’t death.
I knew I was not dead because of the second thing I felt: pain. Agony, actually, though it was muted. I felt the pain as I would feel the vibrations of loud music through a pane of glass: subdued, throbbing, but still trying to break through the barrier that held it at bay. The barrier, I realized, was a numbness that surged through me in a steady stream. It was a funny feeling—a fuzzy feeling: as if the inside of my blood vessels were lined with trillions of microscopic hairs that tingled as the blood brushed against them. Morphine: morphine was the glass that muted the pain but did not stop it.
Zep was the first person I saw. I didn’t tell the nurses I was awake because I was ashamed I was alive. I think I fell back to sleep, but I don’t remember. I know that when I woke up again, I spoke to the doctor until I passed out, and when I woke up again, Zep was there, replacing my corpse-blue blanket with another one.
Zep. He looks like you might imagine given his name. His name sounds like Zap, and he looks like a fly, zapping around my room. His eyes are enormous—like black tumors bulging from his sockets. And his hair, too: spiky. They’re his antennae: thousands of antennae.
He doesn’t speak much. He doesn’t ask to hear my story, but with Dr. Lelio gone, somebody has to. He doesn’t say no when I ask him to sit down. I wonder if he wants to have sex with me. I wonder if he did have sex with me, while I was unconscious. I wonder if I’m pregnant.
Whatever the reason he lets me talk to him, I love him for it.
“Don’t you, Zep?” I ask again. “Don’t you think life is a cliché?”
“So where was I?” I ask. “Oh, yeah…
“So I already knew I had to kill him. I don’t know why I cared so much about accidentally shooting him, but I guess I didn’t want him to die before he had to. He kept trying to talk, and I told him,
‘I can speed and watch the road as best as I can, or I can speed, and talk to you, and not watch the road.’
He sighed. ‘Or you don’t have to speed…and we can have a nice talk…or I can drive…’
I met his face for the first time since I pulled the gun on him. His eyes were like warped blue plastic: faded, not by the sun, but by the passage of time. He was so old he was probably already decaying on the inside.
I was going more than eighty miles an hour, he wasn’t wearing his seat-belt: he faced me directly, poised to pounce. He’d get shot in the stomach if he grabbed the wheel. Poor guy. I bet this was the last thing he expected when Uncle Keith called him at 2 in the morning to tell him I was missing.
‘Or you can stop fucking patronizing me,’ I said, ‘And stop pretending like you want to hear what I have to say.’
I didn’t really believe that; I just said it to hurt him. Dr. Lelio was different from the others. Somewhere beneath the camel-colored trench coat and the blue pajama shirt he rolled out of bed in, deeper even than the layers of his middle-aged body, there was a passion for his patients that most shrinks don’t have—and I do believe I’ve seen most shrinks. But just because he cared didn’t mean he believed me. None of them believed me, and that’s partly why I did it. You probably don’t believe me either, Zep, but that’s okay. I’m really not in a position to change your mind at the moment.
‘Laura, I really do want to hear what you have to say,’ he said, ‘If we can only reach some level of understanding…’
He was trying hard not to make any sudden movements that might make the gun go off. And this was very hard for him, because he’s Italian, and he liked to talk with his hands. His hands were frozen in front of him like he didn’t know where to put them.
By that point I hadn’t seen a sign in about ten miles, but I had to keep driving to get to the cliffs.
‘You’re never going to understand what I understand,’ I tried explaining, ‘because you haven’t what I’ve seen.’
‘But what have you seen?’
He might as well have asked me to describe how an ant sees the sun set, or to draw a map of the world on the fortune inside a cookie. He couldn’t appreciate what I’d accomplished. That’s because He chose me. I am His child.
‘You know what I’ve seen,’ I said. ‘You just don’t want to believe it.’
‘Make me believe, Laura, make me understand.’
‘You can’t though, that’s the thing,’ I explained, ‘Christ claimed to be God and they crucified Him. Joan of Arc sees God and they burn her at the stake. People like you have never understood people like me.’
By that point he was very angry. I had abducted him from the IHOP where he found me staring through the window at the booth that belonged to my mother and I for two hours every other Sunday during supervised visits. I was kidnapping him in his own car, and I was going to kill him. His consternation was understandable.
‘Can I have my candy corn, please?’ he asked. ‘They relax me.’
I told him yes, hoping the sugar would put him in a better mood, and watched him carefully as he popped open the glove compartment and pulled a plastic bag close to his chest. He shoveled the miniature traffic cones into his mouth by the handful, barely chewing one before he devoured the next.
‘You watch, Doc—you call me crazy for seeing God, but you watch. In a few decades, people will be performing miracles on the site where this car crashed.’
‘Laura,’ he groaned through the multicolored mush, ‘How long have you been off the med—?’
‘Why do you start every sentence with my name?’ I asked, ‘It doesn’t make you sound more human, and it doesn’t make me want to talk to you more.’
‘Because it keeps you human,’ he eased up on the candy corn long enough to swallow.
‘You forget that…in your fantasy…and I want you to remember who you are. You’re a person, Laura, with people who love you—.’
A flash of lightning, the first of the night, tore the sky open with an electric sizzle. For an instant, the entire highway lit up like a screen shot from an old noir film. At the sound of it he dropped the bag onto his lap and clutched his chest.
‘My mother’s dead, Doc. Nobody loves me.’”
Zep isn’t paying attention anymore. He’s ogling the tray between us. Like a fly to a picnic his twitchy eyes move from the cup of urine-colored apple juice to the open-faced turkey sandwich. The reheated cold cuts look like layers of dead skin drizzled with mucous for gravy.
“Do you love me, Zep?”
From the way he gazes at the fruit cocktail, he must love the discolored grapes and peaches in their syrup—the single cherry like a drop of blood.
“Take it,” I offer in exchange for his love, “I’m not finishing it.”
There are no pretenses as he snatches up the cup and a plastic spoon without looking at me. What is it about my story that makes men hungry? It’s whatever—I’ve kept him here until after the cocktail, at least. I’ll offer him the two cookies and apple juice if he gets restless. But not the sandwich. I wouldn’t wish that sandwich on anybody.
“We’d spoken about love before in our sessions. You see, my mother was all I had. She wasn’t very good at being a mother, but she was my mother. They say mother is God in the eyes of a child, so when mine died, another God came to me.”
“How’d she die?” Zep asks.
What do you know? He speaks.
“An overdose,” I explain, “When I was thirteen. She loved me a lot, but I think she loved the drugs more. I’d already been living with her sister, Aunt Gloria, for a year before that. Aunt Gloria’s married to Uncle Keith, in case you didn’t gather. They were really good to me, but they weren’t her. You know?”
Zep shrugs. I need to remember he’s not that deep. He oozes syrup as he drinks the dregs of the cocktail. He burps.
“I killed my mother,” he says. “I told her I was gay on her deathbed, and she just flat lined…right then and there.”
“That sounds like something a God would do,” I say. “Anyways…
“Things started to get heated whenever we talked about love. Dr. Lelio said that was my problem. Well, he never said it to me, but I read my file once. He said I didn’t love anybody—or, I was trying to not love anybody—because all I wanted was my mother.
‘What about Him?’ Dr. Lelio asked, ‘Does He love you?’
I squeezed the gun as hard as I could, my nails crushing against the metal until they bent inwards and cut into my fingertips: a sharp stinging sensation, the slick warmth of blood pooling around my cuticles.
‘Don’t you find it strange that He didn’t come to you until your mother died?’ he asked.
‘I think you felt abandoned by your mother. She couldn’t keep you because she wasn’t taking care of you. It was her fault. You realize that, don’t you, Laura?’
It started in the periphery of my hearing: a fluttering of whispers. Almost preternatural, not completely developed, the voices rushed from behind me and began to flap in my ear like wings. It was only one voice, though—His voice—but it spoke as though it was a thousand at once. I couldn’t understand it yet, but it was getting clearer with every word Dr. Lelio said (he was still talking), and I knew that when the whispers collapsed into a single voice, I’d understand what it was saying.
He piled more candy corn into his mouth.
‘Let it out,’ he urged. ‘You can’t think rationally with all this anger pent up inside of you.’
‘I am rational,’ I said. ‘I didn’t know He was with me until after they took me from her, but He always has been. He just couldn’t make Himself known until I was ready.’
Why was I explaining myself to him? Nobody believed Christ—nobody believed Joan. The bones of Dr. Lelio’s great-great grandchildren will be ashes before anybody believes me. Yours too, Zep—if you ever have any. But you won’t live to see me canonized.
‘But how did He know you were ready?’ he asked, ‘How did you know?’
The voice didn’t want me to talk anymore. He didn’t like when I questioned Him, and He was getting angry that Dr. Lelio was questioning me. The voices were one now.
‘No more questions, please,’ I begged.
‘Laura, I’m just trying to help.’
The blood from my nail beds crusted around my fingers—bone-white and numb.
‘You want to help?’ I asked.
He nodded, and I smashed the gun into his face. It sounded like crushing a roach under your shoes when the metal smashed into his nose. I felt the pop of skin splitting. I felt the crunch of bone reverberating down the barrel. I felt new blood—his blood—spurting onto my hand and dripping down my arm. I guess it took him a second to realize his nose was broken, because his scream was delayed. Streams of hot tears, snot, and blood mixed together in goo that oozed onto his shirt. And he grabbed his face with both hands, rocking himself back and forth as though the movement dulled the pain.
‘There, there,’ I said as gently as I could manage, ‘you’re alright.’
His breathing was heavy. He glared at me from behind his fingers. I thought I could hear a hint of laughter in the whispering voice that continued to circle me—.”
“You broke his nose because he was trying to help you?” Zep asks.
I don’t know what they’ve told him about me, but it seems he didn’t expect this story to get nasty. Does he really think I was in a car accident? “He was out of control,” I tell him. “I had no choice.”
“You’re a messed up dude, you know that?” he chuckles as he wipes syrup from his chin.
“He wouldn’t stop talking and I needed him to listen,” I say, “You’re a good listener, Zep, do you know that?”
He snatches up the cookie, and as he does, the flab of his forearm grazes the gravy; a trail of snail slime he doesn’t notice. “You talk a lot,” he says.
“What do you know about me, Zep?” I ask. “What have they told you?”
The cookie crumbles on his lap as he breaks a chunk off. “They don’t tell me anything,” he says. “I’m like the tooth fairy. Kids don’t ask how the money gets under their pillow, and the doctors don’t ask how the shit gets emptied from the bedpans.”
“Have you cleaned my shit?” I ask.
He blushes. “But I hear things,” he says. “I hear you tried to kill yourself.”
“Do you know why?”
He finishes the cookie and smears his gravy-streaked forearm across his thigh. “They call you the Deathseeker,” he says cautiously.
I have a name. Deathseeker.
“Deathseeker,” I smile, “I like that.”
“Do you get a thrill out of it or something?”
Oh, Zep. Good old stupid Zep. I try to prop myself up, but I can’t. My torso is held in place by plaster vice.
“Not exactly,” I explain, “The only reason I’ve had to do it so many times is because I can’t get it right. I’ve slit my wrists in the wrong direction; I’ve made a noose too loose. I can’t even crash a car the right way.”
“They why do you keep trying?”
“I’m a prophet, don’t you see?”
Of course he doesn’t, but it’s okay. I love him anyway.
“I need to be a martyr, it’s what my God demands.” I say, “I don’t know why I can’t do it right. Maybe it’s like purification—like I’m getting closer each time I fail. Maybe next time, it’ll work.”
“You’re going to try again?”
“Of course,” I smile, “I’m the Deathseeker.”
“I think I should be going, I’ve—.”
“Shut up and keep listening, I’m not done.”
“ ‘Laura, please,’ Dr. Lelio groaned, ‘please stop this.’
He said ‘Laura’ as if he really wanted to say ‘you crazy bitch,’ and he didn’t take his eyes off me as he reached into his coat and pulled out a white handkerchief that immediately soaked through as he pressed it to his face.
‘Just let me take you home,’ he said through the bloody cloth. His nose looked like a squashed plum.
I looked out the tar-streaked window, seeing what I could through the ink of the night. We were close. The road was smoother now, thinner, and it rose to an incline as we started to curve around a mountain. To my right: a wall of rock. I needed only to veer right at this speed to pulverize us. To my left: nothing. A steel guard rail was all that separated us from obsidian oblivion. All I needed was a tiny jerk of the steering wheel to drive us off the mountain.”
“Wait, wait, wait—.”
“Goddamnit, Zep, what?”
I can’t help but love him for his simplicity. He looks like he’s intrigued by my story, but he doesn’t understand any of it. It’s the making of a great religion. My apple juice is gone too—I didn’t see him drink it.
“You were serious, weren’t you?” he asks stupidly. “You were really going to kill yourself?”
One of my eyes is bandaged, the other is swollen almost shut, but I roll them anyway. It feels like thumbs pressing into my sockets. “I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Wow…what does God look like?”
“Like the Devil,” I say, “I think maybe they’re the same person.”
“Obviously, if He’s trying to kill you.”
I wonder if he can see my smile through the swelling. It’s moments like this that make me think I can build a life with this man.
“Do you want to hear about it?” I ask. “The first time I met Him?”
He looks over his shoulder at the door. “Umm…”
“I’ll let you leave right now if you kiss me,” I say.
He looks back at me and turns a little green.
“Didn’t think so,” I say. “I was about thirteen, and it was just a little while after my mom died. It was my birthday, December 1st. It was three a.m.: I awoke. I remember waking up so clearly, because it felt as though I’d never gone to sleep. I didn’t toss or turn—I didn’t even blink. I just lay down at a quarter to ten, and a moment later it was three a.m. I remember it was snowing in my room, but I didn’t think it was strange. It had to be zero degrees that night; I could see my breath. And my eyelashes were crusty. I think I had been crying because when I rubbed my eyes, little crystals clung to my fingers. It was so cold that the air had a light to it: a bluish tint that moved like the spots you see in front of your eyes after looking at the sun for too long. And they lit up the whole room, these cold lights. It was all blue, even the snow.
“That’s when I realized it wasn’t snow: it was ash. I looked at the ceiling for ash clouds, but there weren’t any. Flakes of dead powder were just accumulating out of nothing and falling to the ground. I caught one with my tongue to see what it was, and it was bitter. I remember thinking the apartment was burning. I started to panic, but as I moved to get up, I heard a voice.
‘Do not be afraid.’
“And I wasn’t. It just spoke the words and I wasn’t. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. It was everywhere and it was nowhere. It ricocheted off the walls, the entire room shook with it, but at the same time it felt like it was coming from within me. It sounded like a thousand voices speaking at once. But it was only a whisper in my brain. I looked again, and that’s when I saw Him standing in the center of the room. I knew the voice was His, and yet it was impossible because He had no mouth—literally no mouth. And I call it a Him, mind you, only because the voice was deep, and don’t you think a deep voice would belong to a man?”
“But androgyny would be a better way to describe Him. He was over seven feet tall, impossibly thin, and He wore a skirt that curled around the floor at His feet. It was black and it caught the bluish light in the fabric so that it seemed like He was wearing the night sky. He wore a leather corset, all buckles and straps and zippers. It cinched His waist so tightly that his chest looked robust. He had sleeves and a collar, but the chest was bare. I’ll get to the chest in a minute, it’s important, but first let me tell you about His face.
“The head was smaller than it should have been, but it was perfectly smooth: a skull with skin stretched tightly around it. The dome of His head was large and round, and His face was almost triangular: high cheekbones, a narrow chin. But as I said, He had no mouth. And His eyes…His eyes were completely black. No pupils: just two solid orbs of black glass.
“He told me not to be afraid, and I wasn’t. The voice was His, but it didn’t come from Him—it surrounded Him, kind of like the bluish light. I think His voice might have actually been inside the light. That night He told me my destiny. He told me,
‘Laura, I know you have suffered. I know your life has been a portrait rendered in blood, a tale told in tears. You are nothing, because you have nothing. But I am here to give you everything, I am here to release you from—.’”
“Your destiny is to kill yourself?” Zep asks.
“Yes,” I say, “And I’m supposed to kill myself through Him. You see, every time I try to kill myself, He comes to me. He comes to feed me His blood—.”
“Like the wine at church?”
“You’re not that smart, Zep, stop trying to participate in the story.”
The corner of his mouth twitches and his eyebrows meet in a V on his forehead.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I love you.”
He blushes but stays quiet. That’s okay, though—I know he feels it.
“So there’s two holes in His chest,” I explain, “Instead of muscle, each side of His chest is just hollow, like somebody carved Him open. And the holes are bleeding. That night, He told me the blood would set me free. It was poisoned, He said, and drinking it would be the hardest thing I’d ever have to do. He said it would burn me from the inside out, and that as soon as it touched my lips, I’d want to stop. But I mustn’t. I must push through the pain and drink to the point of death.
“And I wasn’t ready that night. I crawled to Him and He knelt down so that my mouth was level with His chest. There was no heart—just the blood oozing like coagulated paint. It was everything He said it would be and worse. He held my head to His chest and tried to force the blood into my mouth, but I resisted. It tasted like tar, and it felt like acid. I’ve never known pain like that before. I tried though. To make Him proud, I tried. I took Him into my mouth until I was full and the blood was spilling down my chin. I drank until He released me, leaving me on the floor like a flopping fish to spit it all back up. I tried to eat the blood I had vomited, but He told me to stop. I wasn’t ready, He said. But He told me He’d be back, the next time I was ready to die, and the next, and the next, until I was ready to drain him to that final drop.”
As much as I love Zep, I wish my confession were to somebody smart enough to write it down. It’d make quite a story, wouldn’t it? Tim Burton would turn it into a movie. It would be taught in universities, and once it amassed a large enough cult, some fanatic would found a religion on it. But Zep doesn’t have it in him. He is a simple man, and founding a religion is above his pay grade. I’ll have to tell it again to the next shrink they assign to me. Or maybe to a nurse.
“A year later, I tried it again. He wasn’t coming back, so I slit my wrists to let Him know I was ready, and we tried it again …again, I pulled away before that final moment. I still wasn’t ready. But I kept trying, and I have been trying ever since—are you sure you don’t want to write any of this down?”
“I’m sure,” he said.
“I don’t have any.”
“When I get out of here, we can try to make some—even if you’re gay.”
Some of the things I say make him uncomfortable. But he’s warming up to me. I can tell. “I’m almost done,” I assure him, “and then you can go home and think about me when you’re making love to your boyfriend—.”
“It’s okay, I won’t tell.” I attempt a wink. “So where was I?”
“You were going to crash the car off the cliff.”
“Oh, right—and then I did. That’s about it, actually. I let him finish his candy corn in peace before I told him I wasn’t going home with him. I knew that would piss him off, and I thought ‘let the guy have his candy first.’ Blood dripped from his nose like those stubborn drops of water from a faucet you can’t quite turn off all the way, and there was exhaustion in his face—finality. Then I told him I wasn’t going home with him, and he said it might not even be a question of going home with him. He’d been talking with Aunt Gloria and Uncle Keith for a while about putting me in a hospital. I’d stayed in hospitals on and off, but they were trying to keep me out of one.
‘You stole your uncle’s gun,’ he said. ‘A gun he’s not even licensed to have. You kidnapped me—you stole my car. These are crimes. My hands are tied—.’
And then everything went black. I just let go of the wheel, and I don’t remember a single thing until I woke up here.”
“Did He come to you again?”
“He must have,” I say, “He always does, but I’ve never tried so violently before, so I don’t remember. I guess I’m still not ready…”
Silence. His jaw slackens as he gawks at me, and a little pool of drool forms in the pocket between his lower lip and his gums. There’s some peach caught in his teeth. His eyes are blank, but it doesn’t matter. My story’s been told, and suddenly I don’t love him anymore. I don’t even want him to kiss me goodbye.
“You can go now,” I tell him. “You can take the sandwich with you if you’d like.”
“No thank you,” he says.
“You don’t have to write me in the asylum, if you don’t want to,” I say. “What we had today was special, but it doesn’t have to go any farther.”
“I’ll remember that.” He stands up to leave: the fly gorged on a meal of words.
“And remember me, too?” I ask.
“Oh, I will…” and like that, he’s gone. Without a backwards glance, he’s gone from this slate-gray cube of a hospital room, his white scrubs like a ghost’s skin drifting away.
So long, Zep. I hope we won’t meet again.
Dr. Saperstein is waiting for Zep when he leaves the patient’s room. He’s been listening for almost the full hour Zep was in there. Normally, he’d object to this sort of inappropriate conduct by an orderly, but the patient hasn’t spoken to anyone yet. The bug-eyed little creep is trembling as he closes the patient’s door. He almost screams as he bumps into Dr. Saperstein.
“Evening, Zep,” the Dotor says.
“Doctor.” Zep mumbles, “I’m—I’m—I’m sorry. I didn’t—didn’t—didn’t—.”
“It’s alright, Zep,” the Doctor pats his shoulder, “Come. Walk with me.”
Dr. Saperstein is an epically sized man, with ruddy skin and white hair that circles his head like the peak of a mountain jabbing into a nimbus cloud. At full height, Zep reaches his orangutan breasts, but Zep never stands at full height. As the Doctor leads him down the hallway, Zep walks with his head bowed, watching the reflection of the light yoyo-ing off the floor with each step he takes.
“How has your evening been?” Dr. Saperstein asks.
“Like a nightmare,” Zep replies.
“Like a real-life cliché?” Dr. Saperstein raises a caterpillar eyebrow on his forehead and the folds of his skin move like tectonic plates as he smiles.
“You were listening…” Zep says.
They come to a stop in front of the elevator, and Dr. Saperstein presses the ‘down’ arrow. “Please don’t be alarmed, you’re not in trouble,” he chuckles, “I haven’t been able to get a story out of that one since he woke up.”
Zep sighs. In his mind he sees it all: things he couldn’t possibly see because he wasn’t there to see them. Things nobody could possibly see because they’re not possible. Something cold creeps into the cartilage between his vertebrae, and he wonders if it’s an androgynous god coming to feed him black blood. “I don’t think it’s much of a story, Doctor,” Zep says, “It doesn’t make sense.”
The ancient Mr. Parsnicky creeps past them, dragging his oxygen behind him like a mechanical dog. Zep wants to stop talking, but Mr. Parsnicky is going to take years to cross the hallway.
“It makes perfect sense to him,” Dr. Saperstein says.
“Does he really think he’s a seventeen-year-old girl?” Zep asks.
Dr. Saperstein shrugs. “Apparently he does,” he says, “We really don’t know anything about him except that he’s a psychiatrist named Richard Lelio and that six weeks ago he drove his car off a cliff.”
“So that part was real?”
“Yep, a witness confirmed it.”
Zep shakes his head angrily. How can a middle-aged man think he’s a seventeen-year-old girl? Didn’t he ever get a boner? Didn’t he ever wonder why he has a beard? Zep met a patient once who thought she was the Pope. She was ninety-seven and dying of bacterial pneumonia, and she thought she could bless her piss. She used to sprinkle him with urine to baptize him for his sins. After today, he kind of missed her.
The elevator finally comes, and as the door opens, Dr. Saperstein puts his foot in the way to keep it open. A Chinese nurse, a new doctor with a Nazi bowl-cut, and the intern who is probably sleeping with the new doctor all wait for Dr. Saperstein to let the doors close.
“If I had to put my money on it, I’d say Laura was probably a patient of his, at some point,” he says. “A patient he lost.”
“Wait…” Zep says. “She wasn’t even in the car with him?”
“Nope, he was alone.” Dr. Saperstein says, “I don’t think we’ll ever find out what happened in that car, because as soon as he makes his recovery, he’s off to State Hospital.”
“Is she even real—?”
The Chinese nurse clears her throat, and Dr. Saperstein mumbles his apologies as he enters the elevator.
“Hello, Elizabeth,” he says to the intern sleeping with the Nazi-doctor. “I need to see you in my office when you’ve got fifteen minutes to spare.”
As the elevator doors close in slow motion, leaving Zep alone in the hallway with Mr. Parsnicky, his insides commence to tremble in a symphony of bodily functions. His heart trembles with the horror of it all: of Dr. Lelio. Laura. Dr. Laura. Whoever it is.
Zep knows who it is. Zep knows that whoever it is isn’t bound to that raw hamburger of flesh on that hospital bed. The ground beef face, the scarecrow of body parts popping from the casts.
It’s the mind.
The mind is where it is, and in that mind Laura exists, and that single impossibility is the beat that sets his insides in motion. The heart is the drum that reverberates off the aorta, which, like a plucked harpsichord, radiates down through his bowels. His intestines are the wires along which the buzzing travels until his stomach is shaking in rhythm with the rest. His stomach rumbles, and he wishes he had taken the turkey sandwich.