Fuck. I wake up, and my left hand is numb. I’m not saying my arm has never gone to sleep before. My hand, fingers, forearm even, yeah, it happens. But it’s only ever halfway asleep, you know? It’s the usual pins and needles when I sleep with it under my pillow or my girlfriend’s head for too long. This time it’s different. My hand is dead numb. I can’t feel it, and I can’t move it. As if someone cut it off from my wrist down while I slept.
I’m a welder by trade, so my work consists of holding a stinger above my head and welding for long hours. That’ll do it to you, but this, this is different. I wouldn’t say I like it.
“What in the wilds name?” I whisper, but there’s no need to be quiet since my girlfriend isn’t lying next to me. I often wake with her gone. She’d be off to work or the mall or just away. But right now, I think I hear her in the kitchen.
I try to lift myself, but my left hand won’t move. I pull the pillow away with my right hand and stare down at my left hand. I focus harder. I command in my head, hand move, but nothing happens. Talking in your mind isn’t easy because thoughts run faster than silent words. Trying to say one sentence, word by word, in my head doesn’t work well. My hand isn’t responding to my brain.
“Hell! Hand, pick your damn fingers up and move!” I curse. Shaking my head, maybe I’m still sleeping.
My hand stays glued to the bedsheet. As if willingly fighting against me. I sit up, and my arm comes with me. It’s limp and hangs next to my plaid pyjamas.
There are no pins and needles in my hand. Nothing is telling me that it’s starting to wake up. It’s numb from my elbow down, and I know this because I can feel my sleep shirt against my underarm. The cotton scratchy and warm, but I can’t feel it down to my wrist. Yes, I sleep in long-sleeved pyjamas that’s because I’m cheap and hate paying heat bills. My girlfriend complains all the time about the temperature of my apartment. I just tell her that maybe she wants to pay the bill if it’s a problem.
I glare at my left hand. I don’t recall a recent injury, although I’ve had a few accidents in my day. Hammers, molten metal, steel plates, these painful mediums have all drawn blood. The worst is when I pick a slug of metal from between my toes. That means the burning ball melted straight through my boot, my sock and rolled down the top of my foot to sit between delicate toes to sizzle.
But I heal well, so I must eat enough food to keep my system working. I have scars but no lingering pain. Some guys at the yard complain of old injuries.
I push through and don’t complain. But this numbness, this is strange.
My hand doesn’t move. It hardly feels like it’s mine. It’s like someone else’s arm has been attached to my body through a portal, and my arm is out there somewhere on the other side.
I stand and stretch my arms out. My right reaches and pops, but my left stays hanging. I shake my head and decide I need breakfast. Maybe my blood sugar is low, and I need a distraction. I walk to the door, and suddenly my left hand comes to life and smacks the wall without my consent, “ow, goddamn,” I yelp. I can see red marks swell on my knuckles already, but I don’t feel any pain.
“Babe?” Liz’s voice comes from the kitchen. I guess she is home. “you okay?” she asks, and I hear the stool screech against the floor.
Stepping into the kitchen, I smile at Liz, who’s halfway standing with a coffee mug in her hand.
“Good morning,” she says, “there’s an entire pot of coffee brewed, “stepping to me for a kiss, then makes a face and a joke about waiting until after toothpaste for kisses.
“I must have slept like a lump of bread,” I said.
“Why do you say that? You got a kink in your neck today or something, babe?” Liz asked.
“Yeah,” I reply and shift to stuff my left hand into my pyjama pocket. “a hard sleep, you know, where you wake up sore.”
“Hey, baby?” Liz interrupts my thoughts.
“Yeah,” I reply, dumping more sugar than usual in my coffee.
“You weren’t even listening,” Liz snarls. I’m pretty sure she hadn’t said anything aloud. She’s pulling a girl trick, “I said. My mom invited you for dinner tonight. I think it’s time you meet my parents.”
I roll the thought through my mind for a moment, but Liz snapped before I could respond. One moment is too long. She threw the newspaper on the kitchen island and said, never mind, in that snarky voice she can have. I grabbed my mug and spun to face her, “yeah, I do want to meet your parents, just not yet, and it’s too early in the morning for this conversation. I’m a little distracted.”
“Well, that’s nothing new,” Liz accused. I could hear the anger in her tone, so I put my mug down to embrace her. I don’t want my morning starting with a fight.
That’s when I found myself in a situation, my right hand resting on the small of her back, but my left lay sleeping in my pocket like dead meat from the refrigerator, which made the hug I gave Liz seem to be only half-hearted, and she snorted with irritation.
“Johnny, don’t hug me if you don’t want to,” she rolled her eyes.
“I wouldn’t,” I said and kissed her.
Liz pulled away from me, not noticing my left hand still in my pocket.
“By the way,” she said, walking away, “if you don’t want to meet my parents, be straight up about it. I get it, no commitment, no wedding, no babies. You just want to stay a free man.”
Liz went off the deep end in what she said. She often does. I held my breath for her last few steps out of the kitchen and exhaled when she closed the bedroom door. I guess this argument won’t have any makeup sex this time. When I heard the shower turn on, I snuck into our bedroom, dressed for work, brushed my teeth and left without saying goodbye.
My drive to work helped clear my head a little. Thank my luck that I am currently driving an automatic. Now, if I were still in my Nissan skyline, a left-hand shifter, I’d be screwed. I totalled that car a year ago, though.
Now, my 79 Skylark works well for me, it’s like driving a land boat, but it’s also sexy as hell. The heater had kicked out this winter, but the Lincoln Vantage machine and supplies take all my money, so I can’t afford a) a new vehicle or b) a heater.
When I arrive at work, the front desk girl smiles at me. I’m sure she likes me because I catch her puckering her lips on some mornings just as I arrive.
Her name is Carly. I think about striking up a conversation, but suddenly my stupid left-hand swats the lights off.
“Uh, Johnny, you okay today?” Carly asks, and embarrassment kicks my ass.
The shop mechanic walks in, Coal, and asks if I have a headache, flicks the lights back on and heads to the lunchroom. I growl and follow Coal. I don’t want to see the awkward face Carly is giving me.
“I bumped the lights by accident, no headache, I’m good,” I lie, but he didn’t seem to care anymore. Coal pulled two mugs out of the cupboard and poured us each a cup of bulletproof work coffee.
“Look, man, I don’t give a bird why you turned the lights off, maybe to pounce on that hot little thing. All I want to know is where the creamer is?” Coal asked, and I laughed. I grabbed my cup and sat at the table.
I’ve talked to Coal about problems with Liz or money and such before, and he’s a reliable ear to listen. As an old-timer, he’s got good advice for women and finances, and the two seem always to be intertwined.
I considered telling him I couldn’t move my hand or control it for that fact, but the words didn’t want to form, and my hand seemed to decide to show Coal itself.
I watched in horror as my fingers crawled like a creature across the table. I considered slapping my left hand down with my right, but a breath later, my left hand smacked Coal’s coffee cup across the room. The blue ceramic mug shattered and sprayed coffee all over the walls.
“Leafy glass Johnny! You hungover today or something, man? Tonka cycles, that’s hot coffee!” Coal snarled and jumped up from the steamy liquid which soaked his shirt. I grabbed towels and mumbled apologies as Coal continued his made-up curse words. I thought of making excuses, maybe ‘I was trying to grab the sugar’ or something stupid, but nothing came to mind. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my left-hand draw circles in the air like it was a bolt twisting off my wrist.
I left Coal and went to work, keeping my head down. I check the amps, stick the rod in and flip my lid down. The small pool glows in my helmet, like a star in perfect black. My right-hand pulled the puddle along as I try not to let it drop or run. My welder is running correctly, and it sounds like bacon sizzling in a pan. I ignore what my left hand is doing. I sometimes lead the steel with my left. Sometimes it even rests on my fingers, with a glove, but still. I’m MIG (Metal Inert Gas) welding, and I don’t need my left hand. It can pick the lint out of my belly button for all I care.
The perfect darkness of my shield allows me to see nothing except the spark, and the sound drowns out any voices talking smack about the hiccup at the beginning of my day.
I drop the stub in my bucket when I finish the weld and lift my helmet.
Excuse my language, but my fucking left hand had followed the rights lead perfectly. Hoovering a few inches behind the right hand, the left hand held a cold piece of aluminum drawing lines in my perfect weld.
I remove my helmet, and hulk smashes it to the ground. Coal clears his throat behind me.
“My friend, you need to go home. You have a condition there,” Coal said. I didn’t even hesitate. I walked away, and Coal yelled behind me, “yeah, I’ll tell boss guy for you. Okay, no problem.”
I avoided the front desk fox’s eyes as I walked out of the shop and booked it to my car. I was never embarrassed like this before. It made me feel nauseous. I sat in the driver’s seat, and my right hand suddenly threw up a protest, and neither hand moved. I dropped my forehead to the steering wheel, and I think I want to die. I want to disappear. I looked at my phone and wondered if Liz would be home still. If she is, I don’t think I want to be there.
Long minutes passed. I turned the ignition on and cranked the radio. I looked down to my left hand, with my right hand now resting on the steering wheel, and examine my left. The fingers looked normal, veins, tendons, fingernails (although dirty) everything appeared typical. There was a strange tint colour to my skin, but it was almost as if it were sunburnt. I get those often, too, from welding. It’s like a heat rash. But I can’t quite tell if that’s why my arm looks a shade darker, almost.
I swipe on my phone and open google, leaving the car running and the radio pounding Nirvana. Number one rule- do not google symptoms. I know this, but my hand is irritating me. It has gone past the point of being manageable. I type into the search bar;
Why’s my hand not working
The results are ALS, carpal tunnel, arthritis and stroke. I drop my phone.
My elbow is stationary, but my hand is tapping and moving along the door. I have a sensation that my arm is relaxing, but it’s most definitely not. Another google result said tendonitis and that the affected area should rest.
My fingers start to snap for my attention, as if in unison with my thoughts. I don’t think my left-hand likes what I’m planning since it’s dancing to a wacky party in the air. It’s going nuts. The movements speed up and make me look like I’m on drugs.
I reach over with my right hand and open the car door.
What better way to let my arm have its rest than to have it cast? And there’s only one way to get your left arm put into a cast.
Goosebumps crawl over my skin from the thought of what I’m planning. I grab my left hand with fierce determination, and I find I’m fighting with myself to push lefty toward the door. It’s rebelling. I must look crazy. Even if someone were running to my car, yelling, I wouldn’t hear how loud the radio was playing. I don’t dare check to see if my coworkers are watching from the shop windows.
I push hard with my right and overpower this outlandish creature of a left hand and push it into the open-door frame.
My shoulder strains against the hand, wanting to move. Lefty is quivering against the steel. I push my hand out the door, positioning the middle of my left arm against the door jam. The air cools around me, but the oxygen I’m breathing feels too hot. My left shrivels up in fear, and an involuntary jerk of my elbow screams for my action. I let go for a second to pull the door nearly closed, then I pin my arm back into the door jam with my right hand.
I will have to move quickly.
The second I move my right hand, my left-hand will dodge out of the way.
I twist in my chair. The bottom edge of the steering wheel is digging into my thigh. I grab hold of my breath, clench my teeth and cut through the air with my right hand.
In one snapping motion, I slam the door closed hard. Pain spikes, and I hear a crack. My head goes dizzy, and now I feel like I’m going to vomit. I cry more curse words than I want to admit. The numbness in my arm saves me but only a little bit. I still feel where it breaks.
I open the car door and see my left hand swollen with fresh blooming blood. The forearm didn’t break. My hand moved just in time to catch the full impact of the slamming door on my hand. My wrist has a large rubbery ‘u’ in the middle. I sway for a moment in the front seat, then realize my arm hardly hurts anymore. As if the pain was my brain screaming that it was wounded, and now it remembered my arm is not my own and no longer cares. I glance around to be sure no one watched my self-mutilation before putting my car into drive and turn towards the hospital.
The doctor glared at me the whole time as he set the finger bones and wrapped a cast around my palm and fingers, leaving my thumb free. I wondered how long until he would ask for a tox screen since I didn’t even blink when he set my fingers back straight. The crunching of my bones had filled the long silence. I can’t remember his name. It was something that started German and ended Indian.
He asked if I wanted pain medication, and I shrugged. I felt no pressure and no pain.
So apparently, the placement of my hand was the worst, or so said the doctor. He gave me quite a berating about paying attention to where my hand was before I slam the door. He didn’t like my story, I can tell, but it sounds stupid in my head too. But as my faithful readers know, I took no drugs.
When I slammed the door, I broke every carpal bone in my wrist. There are eight. I fractured all four fingers and chipped the bone on my thumb. The cast is three times larger than my hand. The doctor asked me four different times what’d I done. To try to trip me up, I guess.
Liz said I was lucky it was my left, and that was the extent of the conversation. It was almost as if she were mad at me for getting injured.
She did seem to warm up when I sat on the couch to watch tv. Most people on the outside looking in would say I was exhausted from the ordeal, but actually, I was just pissed. My hand was pinched in place by the cast, but I could still see it was shifting and trying to move.
“I still don’t understand how this happened. You’re never this klutzy.” Liz said during the commercial, trying to make conversation, but my thoughts were elsewhere. I replied with yes and grunts until she finally gave up.
Liz sat on my right on our overstuffed red couch. Her legs draped over mine. I couldn’t even wrap my head around what the problem was with my hand, so there was no way I could put it into words for Liz. No matter how it would sound crazy.
Maybe during this breakup time with my left hand, it would reset and decide to listen to me again. I glared at my cast.
But Liz’s voice caught my attention, and I realized that once again, she was talking while I was lost and that her thoughts had grown dark.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said, meaning the broken hand.
“Just like you don’t want to talk about meeting my parents? Is it me? Maybe you don’t want to be with me?” Liz rambled, and I planted my lips on hers, and she warmed up. I won every time. My right hand is slipping up her loose-knit sweater as I trailed my kisses down her neck.
“Listen, we need to talk,” Liz said, pulling back from me. Her tone changed quickly, and she moved away from my groping hand, glaring at me. “You can’t always use sex to fix our issues.”
“What issues, baby?” I ask.
“How about the fact that you asked me to move in, but you’re never home?” Liz asked.
“I work, babe, and look,” I hold up my hand, “now I’ll be home with you for a while,” I said.
“John, I feel like you did that on purpose.” Liz retorted.
“Why would I do it on purpose?” I asked. There was no way she knew, was there? Was it becoming that obvious so quickly that I had no control of my hand?
“I don’t know, maybe to spend more time with me. But then you don’t want to meet my parents, so why would you want to spend time with me? Or did you do this to get out of meeting my parents? Cause you’re afraid of commitment? Tell me, or I’m leaving. I can’t keep being played along like this.” The words spilled out of Liz fast. Her eyes welled with tears, and then I felt terrible. I didn’t want her to leave. I love her.
“I love you,” I reiterate aloud. Liz stood and crossed to the door. She was threatening to leave if I didn’t talk. I sighed. I had to tell her about my hand.
“Okay, baby, come sit beside me here,” I say, patting the couch.
“I want to know the truth, is there someone else, or you’re just not that into me?” Liz asked. Her brown eyes brimmed with tears from worries that swam in her mind. So, I tell her the truth.
“I don’t talk about this much. I’ve never told anyone.” I began my story.
“I’ve never been able to sleep through a whole night. As far back as I can remember,” which I can’t even say how old I was, I mean when do we start making memories? Seven, eight years old? “my parents tried to be supportive, in their way. Push the kid away and ignore the problem type of solution. But they’re upper-class folk that like to entertain. So it was easier to usher me to another room than to listen, out of sight, out of mind, type of thing.
“I don’t know why I never slept well. I remember laying in bed, listening to my parent’s dinner parties down the stairs. I’d hear the cars arrive, and sometimes I’d even hear them leave in the middle of the night. I would play trucks and stare at the ceiling. Some tough nights I would set up all my GI Joes into small wars around the room.” I told my beautiful girlfriend, who, of course, responded with the normal, ‘I’m sorry, although it was nowhere near her fault.
“They never wanted to be bothered with a child that couldn’t sleep, and when I was too tired to pay attention to do school work, they paid for a tutor and then I got stuck doing school all day and all night. It was like living in hell. A long and tiring hell I lived. It wasn’t until high school I mentioned it to a doctor, and they gave me sleeping pills. Oh, those pills knocked me out,” I said. I wasn’t even sure when my brain chose this story over the issue at hand. No pun intended.
Liz asked, “how could people be so cold to their child?” but deep down, I saw that same nasty edge that could be in Liz as well. Anything that inconvenienced her brought out an evil side.
I continued, “I used to go down to the house party. Or business dinner, whatever my parents wanted to call them. People were littered all over the house. They were talking, flirting, and always drinking. There was only soft music playing, but the talking was so loud you couldn’t hear the tunes. My father would lift me and parade me around as if I were a trophy, then pat me on the head and send me on my way when I complained that I couldn’t sleep. Even at two in the morning, they didn’t care. But then, by that time, they were so drunk, they probably hardly comprehended. I learnt quickly to stay away from their parties and fend for myself.”
“So,” Liz started. I could see her thoughts processing, “you don’t want to meet my parents because you’re afraid they’ll neglect you?”
“Uh, yes,” I said, that sounded good enough to stop the request to meet her parents. We embrace, then kiss, then make love half on, half off the couch. All while my left hand is trying to give me a thumbs up.
My follow-up x-ray showed broken bones, yet while I sat in the doctor’s office, my left hand was tapping on whatever it could reach. Making music on the door frame, the side of the chair, my leg. A ventriloquist was leading my hand. The doctor glared at me several times while discussing the ramifications for not allowing the bones to heal, I asked him again to cast it tighter this time, and he refused. Stating it was beyond help if I didn’t want to help myself. He wrote me a prescription for physiotherapy and sent me on my way.
Liz was beyond frustrated with my situation. After my hand healed, I didn’t return to work. My left hand was unpredictable to do meticulous welding, so I laid on the couch and watched tv. I hadn’t worked in nearly six months. And I was still able to dodge meeting Liz’s parents.
Liz had noticed my random hand movements, but she never said anything. It seemed not to bother her, but it was slowly driving me insane.
Sex became strange. Once, when my right hand was travelling down Liz’s flat stomach and slipped beneath her panties, it became awkward. Awkward in that my left hand decided to stick its finger in her ear.
That’s in the past, and Liz and I are making by just fine. But this physio thing? How am I possibly supposed to pull ropes and lift weights when I can’t even tell my hand when it’s time to scratch my face?
I need help, I decide. I need to tell someone. I grab my phone and wallet and head to the local gym. My buddy, Thom, works there.
I walk into the gym, opening the door with my right, dragging my car keys along the wall with my left. I use my right hand to rip the keys away from my left, and a small fight ensues. My right hand is smacking my left and playing tug a war with the keys. The battle with my limb isn’t very funny anymore.
What makes it worse is that Thom saw me fighting with myself and walked up to me laughing.
“Buddy guy! You have been hitting the bottle too hard, huh? Shits going sideways for you, man,” Thom punched me on the shoulder, and I would have cringed, but that punch made me realize the numbness had travelled up to my shoulder. So instead, I did the worse thing possible. I cried. I looked like a sissy, standing in front of my beefcake friend in the middle of the busy gym. Thom examined my face and said some commentary that I didn’t register and dragged me into his office.
“Holy guy, what’s going on? I’ve never seen you cry! Did I hit you that hard?” Thom asked, genuine concern lining his eyes. The short Australian gay man hit on women at bars to hide his attraction. It didn’t bother me, but I did feel sorry for the image he had to keep up. With just a few words, he would feel more sorry for me now.
“Sit down. This story is going to be a heavy one.” I said, and I began my story. I told the pressing one this time.
Thom’s eyes went large, and he seemed to chuckle a few times, but when my left hand began pulling my hair and flicking my forehead, he silently listened on.
“And then I tried to break my hand, thinking the cast would allow it to reset, I guess. Whatever nerve issue is happening would rest and come back to me. Or at least that’s what I hoped.” I said.
“Buddy,” Thom roared with laughter this time, “you could have come to me! I would have broken it for you.”
I smirked, “I bet you would have,” I suddenly notice the overdue bills and warning letters from collection agencies on Thom’s desk. He didn’t see me noticing the letters. Thom became fixated on watching my left arm act of its own free will. The hand is whirling and snapping and pointing to nothing in particular.
“So, the doctor said physio now? I can set you up here,” Thom offered, pulling a scheduling book from the drawer. “How about Thursday with Chantelle? She’s a new grad, which makes her knowledge fresh, and she’s hot too.”
I thought it would make Liz jealous, and for some reason, I wanted to make her feel that way. I also thought my insurance might help Thom out a bit. It wouldn’t hurt, I figured.
“Okay, Chantelle, yeah, sounds great,” I replied.
“You don’t sound great,” Thom said.
“Thursday, fine, what time?” I retorted.
“Buddy guy, I won’t force anything. If you don’t want to,” Thom said, “you sound more than reluctant.”
“Look, I need my arm fixed, whatever in the world this is. I said yes, what more do you want?” I snapped, “you want me to be jumping up and down, celebrating? Like hell, I’m done. Thursday. Yes. Physio, let’s do this shit.”
“Woah, okay. Pocket that temper, man. I’ve pencilled you in for three, sharp. Don’t piss this chick off. She’s serious.” Thom said and closed his schedule book. I hung my head, feeling defeated. What would physio possibly do for me? I couldn’t even pull my socks on correctly. Not with my left-hand malfunctioning. And one-handed socking doesn’t work well, by the way.
I left the gym, feeling defeated as I walk home. I only realized outside of the gym that my insurance had lapsed a couple of months ago. I would just have to hope it worked. No wonder Liz was frustrated with me. I’m such a loser. And the cold walk home on the streets of the North in Fall did nothing for my mood.
By the time I get home, I’m freezing and miserable. The house is empty. There’s a note from Liz that I don’t bother reading. I pour myself a glass of milk and grab chips for food. I sit at the table, eating with my right while my left gouges out the wood knots.
A glance at the wooden knife block brought an idea. No, I don’t want to cut my throat. I want to kill the dead nerves that have taken over my hand. I lean over and pull a knife from the block—the swoosh of metal along wood echoes off the silent fridge and cold floors. The silence in the room beckons me to chop through the tendons, the crippled bones, the blood vessels. I want to sever this mutant hand from my body.
I sit at the kitchen island on my leather bar stool and stick the knife tip into the wood. I let go of the knife, leaving it standing and use my right to position the bad guy. I lift the blade, and my left-hand jumped off the table and smacked my face, causing me to drop the knife. I curse, slam my bad hand back down and ready the knife. The kitchen light catches the steel of the Japanese crafted blade. The swish through the air whistles in my ears as I swing downward.
My breath catches in my throat, and my heart stops the knife at the last minute. The edge resting just against my skin on my left hand, the sharp blade draws a slim red line in my flesh, but I can’t do it. My fingers crawl backward out from under the knife, and I find my left giving me the bird.
I place the knife down and head to the bedroom, no dinner for this weak soul tonight.
“Huh?” I’m groggy. A dream held me.
“Baby, wake up. Come on, open your eyes. You had a bad dream.” Her voice was like heaven in the dark until she started to shake my shoulders, her fingernails digging into my skin, then her voice was just that. Fingernails.
I open my eyes.
“Hey Hunny,” she kisses me, “you stole all the blankets again.” Liz pushed her arm under my pillow, bumping my head up, then rolled her warm body into mine.
“You’re so sweet,” I yawn, slight sarcasm in my voice. The dark window told me it was too early. “I don’t know what I would do without you.” Only a partial lie. I pull some blanket back from her. She’d stolen almost all of it off my body.
“Don’t fluff me,” she said, her voice sleepy, “you did just fine before I came along. Anyways, what are these disturbing dreams about?”
“I don’t remember, I never remember, only a feeling from the dream lingers,” I said. Like a sickness in my stomach, one that makes you feel just wrong. A feeling left behind by the first horror movie or real twisted show you’d seen. A dream that leaves a mark, like a hard feeling to explain.
“What are you feeling now?” Liz whispers. She’s almost in dreamland.
I smile, pinned my mischievous hand under my body and caressed Liz with my right hand. Slowly, she came back to me from her sleepy state, and we made love. She was successfully wiping away the lingering touch of my dream.
Much to my dismay, the conversation continued in the morning.
“Johnny, I think you need to talk to someone about these nightmares,” Liz said while making cloud eggs for breakfast. I could smell them in the oven from where I lay.
“It’s not a nightmare, though. And how am I supposed to talk to someone when I don’t even know what I dream about?” I replied.
“I don’t know, babe, but you cry out like you’re in pain. It’s haunting. It’s not normal.” Liz said, popping toast into the toaster. I loved my small apartment because I could watch her cook naked in the kitchen while I laid in bed with the door open. Now I just had to convince her to cook naked.
“You’re not normal. No one’s normal.” I said.
“Maybe it’s the meds you’re on?” Liz countered.
“I stopped taking those weeks ago. They made me piss red. Which was unnerving me more than staying up all hours. Sleep is for pussies anyway. I function just fine on the few hours I get.”
Liz sighed, “lack of sleep isn’t healthy. You’re getting bags under your eyes. When do you ever catch up on sleep? And why didn’t you tell me you stopped your meds?” Liz asked, putting bread in the toaster and checking on the eggs in the oven. I sneaked through the kitchen and grabbed a towel to get her attention away from that conversation. “I’m serious right now!” she swatted me away.
“So am I. It’s fine. I’m doing great, better than ever. Haven’t you noticed I’ve been getting more sleep? I think last night I got a solid six hours,” I defend myself.
“Yeah, why are you falling asleep so early now? I mean, it’s great, but it’s not like you sleep much longer. You just wake up and wander this place in the middle of the night.” Liz said. The toast popped, and she spread homemade jelly from the farmers market on the bread, pulled plates out of the cupboard.
“I want you to think about what I’ve said,” Liz replied, “dealing with insomnia and daily nightmares is too much for anyone.”
“Says you,” I said.
“Hey, that’s not fair. I’m trying to help you.” Liz said.
“I’m fine, I promise.”
“Would you tell me if you weren’t?” Liz asked.
“Yes.” I lied.
“Promise?” Liz pursued.
I sighed, “I don’t know. Honestly and I have a lot going on right now. I’m not working, my hand isn’t working, and I have a girlfriend that’s always pushing me to talk about feelings and meet her parents.” That shut Liz up quickly. She didn’t comment on the hand remark. I think she knows, but neither of us knows how to approach the topic. Breakfast became long and silent.
Liz had made the eggs to perfection; a bright orange yolk ran like a rainbow from the soft cloud onto my sweet strawberry toast. I ate without hardly breathing. It was so good. I cleaned the dishes while Liz went for a morning shower. Liz didn’t show herself for a substantial hour after our argument. It was a bit of a relief. I know she hates it when I end with a stab about meeting her parents, but it works every time. I know she wants to make our relationship more serious, and I’m not saying I don’t. I have to figure out my problem first.
When Liz returned to the kitchen, I’m drinking my fifth cup of coffee. She set her laptop on the countertop, with the screen facing away from me.
“No clothing Wednesday or what?” Liz asked, with her wearing business casual and me in my trusty plaid pyjamas.
“Not like I have anywhere to go,” I reply.
“Well, maybe today you do.” With that, she turned the laptop screen to face me. A picture of a woman dressed smartly in a business suit stood in the middle of moon phases and tiny ‘z’s all over the screen.
“What’s this?” I ask.
“It’s a clinic that hypnotizes you to help work through reoccurring nightmares,” Liz said.
“I don’t have nightmares,” I said.
“Okay, dreams, whatever. Either way, these guys could help you. And I called, and they have an opening for today. Like it was meant to be. John, you need to do this. Please. Do it for us.” Liz asked, her eyes pleading with me. I did not argue. The home screen said covered by medical. I just hoped my insurance would hold out. Maybe this way, I would know before showing up at Thom’s gym with no money.
The clinic stinks. It reminds me of a dentist- all chemicals and bleach and pain. The smell is anything but comforting. The waiting room is full. Keeping my eyes down to avoid anyone else, I play out last night’s CSI episode in my mind. My left-hand plays along, having my finger tutting gun movements.
When an elderly lady beside me asked me to stop, I sat on my left hand. When you cannot grasp your hands together in awkward anticipation, I realized there was not much else to do with your hand. My leg pinched the hand down well enough that it didn’t act out. But my whole arm did its own thing now. The shoulder was slowly getting enough traction to pull the hand out. I struggled to control my hand position with my thigh muscle pushing down.
The lady got up and moved three chairs over. I finally gave up, and my left took the chance to start waving and snapping its fingers once free in the air. The clock ticked on for what seemed like forever.
Waiting became nearly my whole two-hour appointment. I watched the clock tick towards a time when I thought Liz might return early just to be here. The door still hadn’t opened. No one had moved out of the waiting room. I stood to leave just as the receptionist appeared and called my name.
I scowled, seriously thinking someone was watching and waiting for me to give up. That’s when, and only then, the receptionist opened the door for my turn.
I turned and followed the tall woman through two doors, a hallway and then another open doorway.
The room was an open concept with another door on the far wall and another smaller room to my left. It was an odd layout, and I felt a little lost in this backroom. I felt like I might get murdered back here.
Diagrams of the human brain line the walls, and in the centre of the room is a couch. I sit down and find it’s rock hard, like the ones you get stuck sitting on at your grandmother’s house—beautiful and velvet looking but stone hard and uncomfortable no matter how you sit.
There are no windows, no plants. The room is devoid of life.
The second door opens, and a man half my height walks in. I may carry extra weight on my belly, but this guy was the definition of too much visceral fat.
His glasses are round and brown leopard print.
“Mr. Bateman,” he said, not from over his glasses or through the middle but from underneath. The glasses sat just above his brow. “My name is Louis Dibias. I’m a certified mental health professional. Please do not confuse me as a doctor. I cannot prescribe you narcotics or any other medication you may or may not ask me for once the treatment is complete. A certified counsellor should follow up promptly with any lasting consequences of your hypnosis. I am here to absolutely and only help you learn whatever deeply hidden information is in your subconscious. That is my disclaimer.” He paused for a breath, then asked if I had any questions. I replied with a negative, but frankly, I had a million.
Louis Dibias sat on a leather stool, which rolled over to where I sat. He put his feet on the couch next to me.
“Mr. Bateman, the process is quite simple. It’s an enhanced state of sleep; there are no risks. It’s just like having a nice nap. Keep your mind open and willing. Believe in the process, and it works. So, we will begin now.” Louis Dibias said, folding his hands and leaning in toward me. He caught my eyes, and his shirt smelled of cigarettes.
I can’t blink. The man’s brown eyes seemed to sink a shade. I caught sight of beige sparkles in his irises, and the cornea became a hole. I spun through crevasses and mountains. They pulled me down, threw me up, tossed me around. I kicked off the grey edge before swimming in the sclera. I’m gone, but I’m here. I can hear his voice. I fall further. I think I’m sleeping, but I also think I’m thinking while I’m sleeping. Does that make sense? Further.
I woke on the couch, haphazardly laying with one leg off and Louis Dibias standing over me.
“We’re done, Mr. Bateman.” He said.
“Um,” I said, and I thought of so many following words to say, but nothing came out. They all got stuck as if they were rice pouring too fast from a jar.
My mouth feels like cotton, “what am I supposed to do now?” I ask.
“It’s already done,” he said.
“Did it work?” I ask.
“Oh, yes, it was very informative.” Louis Dibias removed his legs from the couch beside me. I stood, slightly confused. I understood Louis had just hypnotized me, but I had no lingering feeling of experiencing anything, unlike my dreams. The man stood and walked to the door.
“Your tape is in the camera,” he motioned to the setup I just noticed. I shook my head, more than slightly dazed.
“You won’t believe it. First, clients never remember what they said while hypnotized. And second, clients often don’t believe it’s them telling the story. So I record them. Please, take this tape home and study what you’ve said during our session. I hope it brings you the information you were looking for.” He said, and with that, Louis Dibias opened the door and left. My head spun for a moment, then I was up and collecting my tape.
Liz was sitting in the waiting room. I signed the papers for my insurance and gave her my cell number to call if any problems.
I pretended to sleep when I got home. I told Liz I had a headache, which is true, partially. But when she checked in on me a few times, I was sure to pretend I was sleeping. I didn’t want Liz to see the recording with me. I needed to watch it alone. I have a tv with the VCR built-in. It’s beside my flat screen, for Liz to watch her old VHS while I watched races. Anyway, I needed her to be gone long enough so I could watch the tape. Why didn’t I have a lock on my bedroom door?
Finally, I hear what sounds like her leaving. The front door opens and closes, and then it’s silent beyond silent. I listen to the clock ticking in the kitchen.
I climbed out of bed and went to grab the tape from my jacket. I turn the volume down to the lowest setting and watch myself talk on the screen.
I see myself sitting on the couch with my eyes closed while Louis Dabias asked the questions, and I answered them.
There was no swinging pocket watch. I did count backwards, but I don’t remember it now.
“and you fall further into slumber,” Louis Dabias said.
“your legs are heavy, your arms weighted to your belly,” he said
He said several more relaxation motions, including shaking sand from your fingertips. Then he simply said, “the sky is blue.”
“Yes,” I agreed, robotic-like. I watched myself sit, talk and snore, all with my eyes closed.
“Mr. Bateman. Tell me about these nightmares you’re having,” Louis asked.
“They aren’t nightmares. I’m never scared.” I said.
“Oh? Then they are dreams? Are they erotic?” He asked.
“No. These are dreams of the Others,” I said.
“The others? Your friends, your family? People you dislike? Be more specific, Mr. Bateman. Tell me about your last dream.” Louis Dabias requested.
“My last dream. It was last night.” My voice didn’t sound like my own, but I watched silently as the videotaped version of me continued, “A party is happening. I’m ten. I left the house for fresh air. It’s raining, but only the light shower type of rain, and it’s warm but cool at the same time. I walk far. But the Others called me, so I went to report to them. They pull me by my arm. No matter how far I am, they find me, and they pull me. They don’t talk. I talk, but I don’t know if they understand me. They have no ears. Then I wake up, but still in my dream as a child, in my bed.”
“Mr. Bateman, this dream, is it reoccurring?” Louis asked.
“Is it always the same?” He asked.
“What changes?” Louis Dabias asked.
“The day, the time, the weather, my age, my parents, their parties, their friends, their music.”
“But they are just dreams,” Louis Dibias stated.
That’s when I opened my eyes.
My hands were shaking when I lifted my beer to my mouth. Both hands. Even lefty seemed entirely rocked by this news. Thom sat across from me at the local beer hole. The name escapes me right now, but he sat and listened, although he was drunk enough to pass out. I sipped my beer.
“Buddy guy, you’re telling me that aliens have been visiting you in your dreams?” Thom asked, partially slurring.
“No, I’m telling you my dreams are memories. I think aliens have abducted me. Thom, I think that’s why I’ve had insomnia my whole life. These aliens stealing my sleep and ruining my childhood, and these bastards did something to my arm. That’s how they control me. And now they’re taking over my body, slowing it’s seeping through my bloodstream. The unknown toxins are becoming stronger. Growing larger with my own body’s cells.” I said. The words are spilling out, and I felt sick, but Thom is laughing at me. Some strange, awkward laugh.
“Man, you think aliens abducted you? Do you hear yourself? Impossible. I know it’s weird what’s happening to your limb, guy. I feel for you, but come on, aliens? Really?” He finished his beer and ordered another. “Besides, your physio is booked for tomorrow. Maybe you should go home and get some sleep?”
I sipped my beer, “I can’t sleep. The aliens will get me.” I said seriously. I was worried about my life.
Thom stared at me. I couldn’t figure out the look he gave me. Thom is trying to discern if I’m pulling his leg, I think, but he also looks scared to be near me as if the unknown toxins would be contagious.
“You don’t believe that,” Thom said.
“Don’t I? What else am I supposed to believe?” I asked, my face hot, and I wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol or his comment, “am I to think my arm is dying and becoming useless to me? How about some nerves pinched in my neck that are making it act on its own? I have several holes punched in my walls now, thanks to my unruly hand. I don’t believe that’s a reaction from dying nerves. Do you, Thom? Huh? What brilliant diagnosis do you have for me this time, Thom?”
“Woah, buddy, I don’t know what’s with all this hatred. I never tried to diagnose you, John. I’m trying to help. You want another beer?” He spun in his chair and snapped for the waitress. I glared at his ignorant gesture and stood.
“No, I’m done,” I said and got up to leave. I could hear Thom yelling for me to stay the whole way out.
The cool night air did nothing to calm my temper that boiled through my blood. I was angry that aliens targeted me, furious at my parents for never listening to me as a child, and livid my left arm sits in my pocket like a heavy sack of useless beans.
My footsteps echoed down the silent streets. A few streetlights tried to flicker on, and the night crowd stood huddled in every corner in the downtown. My parents lived on the luxurious end in the city, and that’s precisely the place where I planned never to go back.
Something in my subconscious must have made that decision for me at a young age. I moved out at sixteen and have gone back less than a dozen times since then. I’m not old by any means, haven’t even hit thirty yet, but old enough to say I don’t ever visit my parents.
I’m confident their parties are enough to make them forget entirely about having a kid. Even if Liz wanted to meet my parents, she probably might never get the chance. The last time I visited, my parents were more than seven years ago. They are too engulfed with wine and cheese plates to concern themselves with the woes of their only son.
I kicked a rock, funnelling my internal frustrations into the small pebble. It ricocheted off a dumpster and caused a cascade of sounds. Too many to have come just from the garbage can echo. I stopped walking, “hello?” I called, but the streets replied with a deadpan silence. The light in the alley was out, but I thought I could see something glowing from behind the large green tin.
“Hello?” I say louder. I hear muffled words. My heart pounds, and I swallow hard before looking behind the can.
Two men stood squished between the tin can and the brick wall. A woman as well, with one of the man’s hands over her mouth.
“What the hell is going on?” I demanded, and my question answered when the men let go of the woman, and she ran away, screaming. Their intentions are clear, and my anger comes in handy. I swung hard with my strong right hook, connected a thick jaw and tried to counter with my left (which was always a successful try in the past) but failed. My left waved a negative connotation and hung lamely at my side.
I made the mistake of glancing down at my left hand to curse it, and that’s when the other guy’s fist connected with my face. Stars burst in my vision, long strings of white lights and I taste blood. Then a second hit to my guts. The punch brings up my measly one beer, and I vomit through the flashing lights in my eyes. The second guy jumps on me, and they kick until I curl into a ball and cry.
Yes, I cried. I think I’m doing that too often lately. And by the time those two men left, I wanted to die, but I didn’t. Instead, I lay and self-loathe for being beaten up. Cold and exhausted, I had no energy except to sleep. In a ball, on the filthy streets of Edmonton, in an alley, I slept.
In the morning, I dragged my sorry ass home. Liz was sleeping soundly in bed. I crept past her to the washroom. Closing the door, I turned the water on immediately to drown out any pitiful sounds I might emit. My reflection in the mirror was beyond miserable.
I can see my left arm is suffering from muscle wasting. The shoulder is slender, my bicep thinner, and my forearm thin, but that isn’t from my ass getting kicked.
The bruises blossomed into flower shapes on my face, neck and chest. My nose appeared straight but swollen, causing two black eyes to start in the corners. Dried blood covered my collar bone.
I am a mess.
The shower didn’t make me feel much better, and breakfast tasted bland. From there, I hurried off to physiotherapy, which I was beginning to feel was mere to show another person how much I couldn’t control my left hand.
Chantelle, my physiotherapist, thankfully met me at the gym entrance. Thom must be hiding in the back after the fight we had last night, but the beating made me forget any hard feelings I had against the guy. Yet, he still seemed to hide from me.
“Hi, you must be John Bateman,” Chantelle asked, holding her hand out for me, and I shook it energetically even though I looked like a bag of broken bones.
“Hi Chantelle, so nice to meet you.” I was slightly relieved that she wasn’t smoking hot. She was kind on the eyes and a sound body that she must work hard on, but I felt no natural pull toward her.
“Uh, are you sure you want to go ahead with this? You look like you had a rough night.” Chantelle remarked but walked toward the back anyway for me to follow.
“Yeah, I was a vigilante last night and got my ass kicked for it,” I replied.
“Oh, well, that’s a good reason. Hopefully, the other guy looks worse,” Chantelle said, tying her long red hair into a bun. The back room was small, stuffy and had a simple physician-looking bed with the same stool Louis Dibias had. Her immense frame was triangular, like she should have been a bodybuilder rather than a physiotherapist.
“It would have been better if my left arm worked,” I said and sat awkwardly on the lifted white mattress bed. “Then I would have kicked those guy’s asses instead of the other way around.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. About your arm, though, Thom filled me in a bit. Did you ever sustain an injury to your left shoulder, elbow or forearm that I should know about before we start? I read your intake paperwork, and there was no mention, but I will need to know.” Chantelle said, and that’s when I noticed she had the same deep brown eyes Liz had, but hers sparkled with something. Maybe passion for her work.
I considered her question and was unsure how to say- I recently was led to believe aliens have been injecting me with mind control chemicals through my arm. So I told her no.
“I’ve never had an injury to my arm,” I replied, and on queue, my left hand began crawling its fingers along my leg. It neared Chantelle, and she watched it like a hairy spider.
“Um, John, I have to tell you this will be a completely platonic relationship between us,” she said.
“Yes, I know,” I said and smiled, but then my left hand reached across and caressed her cheek. She allowed it for a split second, then moved away.
“I’ll be back,” she said and left the room.
I hung my head in shame and smacked my left hand.
I sat in silence and dared not look up when the door opened again.
“Buddy guy,” Thom’s voice broke my sorrow, “we need to talk.”
I refused to look up. I heard the squeal of the tiny stool that had easily held Chantelle’s tree of a physique but strained under Thom’s boulder of a body.
“I get it, I do, you’re under a lot of pressure, and maybe the hypnotherapy didn’t help,” Thom began. That’s where I interrupted him.
“It did help, sure as hell helped, now I know what’s happening,” I said.
“Don’t you think an alien abduction might be far-fetched?” Thom asked, inspecting my battle wounds but not mentioning them. He didn’t even look hungover. I had one beer, and I looked unrecognizable.
“Don’t you think the way my arm is acting is a little far-fetched?” I yelled in retaliation, throwing my limp left arm in his direction. It laid there like a sad puppy from its swat, but that didn’t make my arm listen or respond to me. I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt the world was suddenly against me.
“Maybe it’s all in your mind. The brain plays tricks,” Thom said. He looked at me like I was crazy. My left hand swung through the air like it was swimming. “Just stop it already,” he said.
“I can’t, don’t you get it? I thought you were listening to me last night,” I snarled. Anger bubbled up my throat, and it tasted like indigestion.
Thom began saying things like I should check in to the hospital and get some help, which was when I lost it. I didn’t need to hear this. My frustration increased. I doubt physio would work if I can’t control my hand. I leave the room.
I ran out, and I ran all the way home. Upon arriving home, I found Liz out front cleaning the community flower beds. She didn’t even look up at me.
Liz had a pot in her hands that she set down carefully on the wooden flower boxes she was cleaning up. Liz had told me of this before. It was her way of feeling she paid back to the building we lived in by doing the fall clean-up of weeds. And the best way to kill weeds, she’d told me, was with boiling water.
And if this arm wasn’t going to start co-operating, maybe I had to kill it off in the first reasonable way possible.
I didn’t reply to Liz when she finally looked up and gaped in horror at my appearance and when I lifted the pot of boiling water, her face twisted into a scream as I dumped it over my left arm.
I felt dampness, then heat, but that was about it.
“Oh my god, Johnny! What are you doing? What the hell is going on?” Liz began screaming questions. I ignored her and went into my apartment building.
On the elevator ride upstairs, I could feel some of the water stripping the skin away under my shirt. Small splashes on my neck began to sting, but I felt nothing on my arm.
In my apartment, I tore my shirt off, and some skin came with it. The flesh looked like putty melting off the bone. My forearm was bright red, and yellow blisters began to pop up.
Liz entered the apartment while I sat on the toilet, pants on, shirt dripping wet in a pile on the floor. I examined my arm and looked up to see a troop pile into the kitchen. Liz walked in silently, followed by two paramedics, three police officers and a woman in a business suit who looked like Scully from the X Files.
“Johnny,” Liz began, but I turned away from her.
“Mr. Bateman,” Scully said, “My name is Lucille Walik, and I’m a social worker. Your wife,”
“Girlfriend,” I mumbled, but she took no note.
“She called me with concern for your well-being. We’re apprehending you under the mental health act. Please, come to the hospital to be treated for your injuries. This self-destructive behaviour stops here.” Lucille stated and held her hand out to help me up. I didn’t move.
“They weren’t self-induced. This arm isn’t even my arm.” I said and stood. I’ve seen enough COPS shows to know that not listening will only get me more battle wounds.
One paramedic immediately slathered my arm with cream, and the second held my right arm to direct me out of the apartment. The police looked like they dealt with this every day.
Lucille berated me with questions on our way out of the apartment and into the ambulance. I answered as any good little crazy patient should.
“If this arm doesn’t belong to you, who’s is it?” Lucille asked.
“It’s an alien arm,” I replied.
“Why would an alien give you his arm?” Lucille asked. I could hear her scribbling the responses down as the ambulance began to move. I stared at the roof. The paramedic is setting up an IV and the police office cuffing my right hand to the stretcher. I felt the rush of pain medications and gratefully accepted what I didn’t need. Maybe it’ll take the burden of my thoughts away.
Maybe they would numb the emotional pain I was feeling.
“I don’t know,” I continued answering her questions. I was becoming more lethargic as the drugs sunk further into my blood. By the time we reached the hospital, I was smiling at Lucille and asking her why she’d come all this way to visit little old me.
The lights in the hospital are too bright. I slept, then woke, then slept again.
I wake and immediately realize there are no more pain meds in my system. I can feel the sting of minor burns above my shoulder, and I see my bandaged left arm is tapping its still partially broken fingers. The cream is squeezing out the corners of the gauze.
I ponder the idea that I might be hungry, and I push the call button on the wall above my head. A moment later, a nurse pops in, and I request my free hospital food.
She returns with a small cardboard box with an even smaller and more cardboard-type sandwich inside. I’m eating it when the doctor enters.
“Good morning John.” The doctor was old, not like super old, but my parent’s age-old, so I decided almost right away that I don’t like him. His demeanour and the way he walked said he knew his shit, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. “I’m Dr. Branke. The good news is you won’t need skin graphs for your arm. You’re in soft restraints for your safety as well as ours. You’re lucky the nurse isn’t going to press charges. You threw her a good left hook.” Dr. Branke frowned as my left hand flipped the middle finger.
I noticed he was wearing cowboy boots with jeans and a white lab coat.
“I reviewed the notes from your apprehension as well as the accident that brought you here,” the doctor continued, “and you have a condition, son.” I realized at that moment this doctor might help me. Maybe he ran bloodwork and found the alien poison and was already administering antivirals or some other antidote that would save my left arm.
I met his gaze but said nothing.
“John, you have a condition called Dr. Strangelove Syndrome.” Dr. Branke sat on a chair next to the bed. I vaguely remembered Liz posing in the same chair through my pain killer-induced stupor. Secretly I wanted the pain meds turned back on.
This bed isn’t comfortable, and I don’t know what time it is. My head is spinning from this information. Those are the pains I’m suffering.
“John,” the doctor placed a hand on my right shoulder, “are you listening to me? It’s not treatable. It’s a neurological condition. Your brain is not letting your hand function.” Dr. Branke said matter of fact, and then I wanted to vomit with the realization that Thom might have been right. I am going crazy.
“But I did a hypnotherapy, and the cause is aliens,” the words fell out of my mouth before I realized what I was saying. The change in features on the doctor’s face made me realize how silly it sounded. Great, now I’m that guy that aliens abducted. I dropped my eyes away from the doctor. He must think I’m crazy. I look at my left arm and decide I want to cut it off. But now, for a different reason.
“Do you want to speak to the hospital’s psychiatrist?” Dr. Branke’s voice had compassion in it, but I’m now too embarrassed to talk. I’m also apparently too crazy to speak.
When I didn’t answer, the doctor scribbled on the chart. I could hear the pen scratch way too many words for something simple like- bring the guy some pain meds. I listened to the chair slide as he stood, and I swallowed hard before I spoke, “thank you, doc.” My voice sounds like I smoked a pack of cigarettes last night. I heard the door open, and he said in response, “I’ll send your girlfriend in.”
The following person in the room was a nurse, grumbling about how she had just set all four restraints when the doctor rewrote the order to be a two-point restraint. A nurse freed my legs, but the constraints stayed on both arms.
Liz finally walked in, and she laid her body across mine to hug me. I couldn’t embrace her.
Liz scrunched up her face with worry. Her eyes ringed with old tears and sunk with stress. How had I not noticed?
Her eyes spoke to me while my thoughts took me elsewhere of how horrible I’d been to my friends, my girlfriend, my work.
“Babe, I got to tell you something,” I said. Liz allowed her eyes to soften and told me she already knew. Then she kissed me and said the doctor told her.
“Oh, that makes it easy.” I said, then thought for a minute, “but is he allowed to?”
“Well,” Liz said, “I’ve decided I won’t harass you about meeting my parents anymore.”
I felt a weight lift off my right shoulder with that, “you’ll still love me if I don’t meet your parents?” I asked, to be sure.
“Yes, baby,” Liz said and kissed my forehead, my neck, my hand.
“You’ll still love me if I’m crazy?” I asked, and she kissed my lips at that time. Her lips are soft and damp enough to make for a hot kiss.
“Yes, baby,” she said. “But that’s the thing. You just met my dad.”
“Dr. Branke?” I said, “but your last name,”
“Isn’t the same,” she smiled, and I knew then Liz won. She had me.
Johnny is six years old. He loves colouring, playing with trains and painting his paper-covered wall. It’s only one wall, but this was an impressive wall his mom made for him. She would rip the paper off and pull down a new wall-sized sheet. Johnny also loved his moms’ mac and cheese, made fresh every Sunday.
Johnny enjoyed school enough, he supposed, but he liked being home better. Sometimes they would have dinner at the large marble table. Even though no one talked, it was the one time they all sat together. However, it didn’t happen often.
If you asked Johnny what his favourite time of day is, he would tell you it was bedtime. Johnny was sent to bed after dinner so his parents could get ready for company. It happened almost every night, and Johnny didn’t enjoy that many people in his house. So, he stayed in his room and played. He liked playing after his mom and dad said it was bedtime because they wouldn’t interrupt him the rest of the night.
Johnny didn’t sleep well. He sat up playing with his toys or drawing until early in the morning. Most adults thought funny of that comment, saying things to his mother like, “that’s so cute, it should be on that show.” “Yeah, you know the one, Kids Say the Darndest Things?” They would say to his mom. Crackling laughter chased Johnny out of the room.
He stayed away from their parties and said he liked bedtime.
When the moon was high in the sky, it looked like a cheese circle to Johnny and enticed him out of the house. Then young Johnny would tend to walk. He didn’t know better, and no one ever saw him. They were too busy conversing. Johnny would silently slip out the front door and walk into the night.
Second by second, heartbeat by beat, Johnny walked on with his socks growing damp and the road stretching out in front of him. He walked until the houses stopped, and then he walked, blindly following an invisible string.
Johnny would find himself standing in the middle of the woods. To be more specific, a perfectly circular clearing in the woods. Confused, Johnny would stay waiting. Like a puppy who lost his master.
A twig snapped, and Johnny’s eyes teared up from fear. He called out, but not a person answered.
An owl screeched, and something bites Johnny’s arm. The boy looked down to where the pain was and thought he saw a flash of red for a split second, and then the skin seemed to crawl back on its own as bumpy grey squares crawled into the flap of skin and disappeared. Then the skin replaced itself and stitched closed neatly, and another blink later, Johnny couldn’t remember where on his arm he had been looking. It was clean.
Johnny ran. Deeper into the woods, further from his home. He didn’t know how to get back, and suddenly, a snap on the invisible thread yanked him backward on his bottom. Then it dragged him through the woods until he appeared at the same clearing.
Johnny screamed and ran again, this time faster. He pushed his legs until he thought they would break. His breathing was too quick, and his lungs constricted.
The thread suddenly turned into a rough rope that cut into his arm as it pulled him to a stop. Johnny screamed out in pain, but his arm looked fine. He gave up when he found himself back at the clearing.
This time, the sounds were all around him. Sticks cracking, trampled bushes, a screech and ticks that were not normal for a forest. Johnny stood crying. His thin baby Yoda pyjama set was ruined from twigs ripping in as he had run.
A coldness on his shoulder made him jump. Johnny slowly turned around to see the Other.
The creature was short, his face the same height as Johnny’s, but his body was so vast it took up the space of two trees. Behind the alien’s head was a hump, like he’d lost some height from old age. Ash grey skin covered in lumps that appeared to move when the Other moved. His large glossy eyes reflected Johnny’s silent scream.
The Other’s mouth was open, a black hole that absorbed all the sounds, feelings and thoughts of the area and even looking upon Johnny for a few moments, it knew his day, his adventures. The Other wanted more.
The Other lifted his gnarly hand and flicked Johnny away, and the thread the Other had implanted via micro arrow implant the first time Johnny had run through the clearing sent Johnny sailing back over the woods all the way home and to his bed.
Johnny woke with a sense he’d had a dream.
The Others pulled that string whenever they were curious. Then they would absorb all of Johnny’s memories. They were leaving Johnny, a little bit stripped of himself.
Hope you enjoyed that tale
by Norma Rrae