City Intersection, Chapter Eight – Zero Dollars

Here we go, finally. I’ve really got to go to bed (I should’ve gone to bed a while ago), but got immersed in the final scene and didn’t want to stop until it was finished.

As for music, I just listened to this quite good (long) drone track. You can find it on Bandcamp here, you can either listen to it in-browser or actually download it for free.

The other thing… this weekend I worked on making a drone track of my own, the first I’ve ever made. I think it came out pretty well, you can check it out here:

Anyway, time for the story.

~

My vision. Hmm. It wasn’t quite the same. Not quite the same as either thing. That nasty place called “sobriety” and the dissociated haze of ketamine. It was somewhere inbetween. I could still see a minor black and white line overlay over reality, but it blended in more; there was less definition between the two, they blended and merged.
I was standing, I was walking – no, I was moving. My legs flailed back and forth in a pseudo-walking motion, but I definitely wasn’t the one who was making me move.
Ah, Hannah. She was dragging me along, supporting me with her shoulder. I was a good bit taller than her, but she seemed to be managing it quite well nonetheless.
“Thanks,” I said, though I wasn’t quite sure if it was audible. It was plenty loud in my own head, but once I heard it through my ears it seemed diminished.
“No problem,” she grunted, hiking me up higher onto her shoulder. She clearly wasn’t that happy about the situation.
We were approaching at what seemed a snail’s-crawl pace towards two double-doors to the right. I could see something sketched out in my line-vision beyond them. I lifted my arm – who the fuck put all these weights on my arm? – and pointed toward it. “We should… go through there.”
We were nearing the doors and I saw whatever thing or things that were beyond were approaching. I reached for the handle.
The doors flung open and tossed Hannah and I apart on opposite sides. She let out a small noise of pain, but I seemed to have landed on a very luxurious carpet. A deep carpet. Inches deep. I swam deeper. Feet deep, now. I was floating and drifting in this sea of fabric and yarn. They were so warm, so soft, so relaxing. I let my body go, I lifted out, swam in the fibers, the microscopic tower-seaweed of this heavenly ocean.
“This shit is good,” I heard someone in another world say, and I realized it was me. I hadn’t thought the words, but I had said them. How had I said them? I was here in my carpet-world, how was that me?
How had I gotten here? No, no, that was far too temporally cause-and-effect for me. I had always been here. This was my world. Was I God? No, no God. But this was my world.
The towers of yarn-seaweed parted, forming a sort of tunnel through the fibers. Down one end, a light. Down the other, another light. They were equal in brightness and tone, equal in ever aspect, yet they were not the same. I knew they were opposites. One was good, one was… Good. They were both good? Equal in every aspect.
I started being sucked towards one of them. I reached out to either side to grab the yarn for support, but couldn’t reach them. They were within my grasp, but slipped away from my hands whenever I clutched at them.
The other light, the one I was being pulled away from, suddenly got brighter. More painful, actually, but not in my eyes. On my cheek.
“Get the fuck up, Lawrence,” someone screamed from that side. Who was Lawrence? Was that me? Was that my title? I was the “Lawrence” of this world?
The light brightened to pain again, my other cheek now.
But no. This world, this world was an illusion. And as an illusion, I had control. Some control, at least. I willed the fibers to come to me and I grabbed them, pulling myself up handful after handful toward the other light. The light brightened again, I knew the pain would come, I pulled up and up and up, striving against the suction, until I reached the light, reached forward and touched it, and…
My fucking face. Nathan had just punched it.
“He’s up,” he yelled, pulling me to standing by my arm. “Let’s go!” he said, still gripping my arm and now pulling me forward with them.
Where had Nathan come from? Where was I? I could barely fucking see, the world was dim, now dominated by the line-vision. My head swung back – I’d say that I had turned to face behind me, but I know that’s a lie – and I saw that we were being pursued by skeletons. Or x-rays. Not actual x-rays, but x-rays of skeletons. People, I mean.
What?
I didn’t have much time to think about it, even if I had been able to, as we were still moving forward. I tried to get my legs and muscles organized in a way that I could manage to at least partially walk on my own, and only succeeded in part. It was a sort of stumbling, swaying walk, but Nathan helped steady me and pull me along faster than I could go myself.
“Sorry about your face,” Nathan said. “Hannah tried slapping you to wake you up but it didn’t work, so she asked me to try. What happened?”
“An overdose, I think,” I said.
“On what?”
In reply I simply held up the bag of morphine I had stuffed into my jacket pocket. He frowned for a moment, thinking, then said “Hey, did you lose a bag of some powder? And a briefcase?”
“Yeah. That’s what I’m looking for.”
“Same here, actually. We saw them take the bag off you when… they…” His eyes widened in horror and he looked back at me again as if to check that I was really there. “You died!”
“Yeah,” I said. He looked at me intensely, waiting for me to continue, but I kept silent.
“So?”
“Well, I’m not dead any more.”
He still looked at me, agape, waiting for more, still running ahead and pulling me with him. “That’s it?”
“There’s a bit more, but I don’t think right now is the, uh, best time,” I said, motioning with my head to the things – people, I guess – chasing us. He nodded and lunged ahead faster than before, pulling me and my semi-functioning legs with him.
I was coming out of the haze a bit now. I was still heavily affected, of course, but my vision was less impaired. I noticed that I was shaking internally, like after you’ve been in the cold for a long time. Why was I still here, exactly? I knew now that I had had far too much morphine for my nonexistent tolerance. What I had measured out had presumably been the normal dose for me when I was using it regularly, and tolerance builds fast.
When had I been using it regularly? Was it when I was training as a nurse? When was that? God, what had happened to my life? Where had it gone? Where had my memories of it gone? Was I only just now waking out of some sort of Rip Van Winkle sleep that had obscured several years of my past to me?
Where did I even live? I remembered getting in the car with Hannah to come here, but had she come to my house? I couldn’t remember where it had been, but I was certain it wasn’t. Where was it, then?
I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t remember anything. Was this the price I had paid for my drug use? Was there a reason I paid that price?
Was it worth it?

Jiang Xue sat on the bed in her chamber. She held a bronze weapon, roughly a cylinder in shape yet with a recessed part at one end to hold easier. It was hollowed out one the other end, and into this she dropped a small bundle of gunpowder, followed by a small lead ball.
She had attended a Yi Jing ceremony with her family including her father, the governor of the province. Each member had their fortunes told separately, and hers had been less than comforting. Alarming, even.
And she knew what it meant. She had heard faint rumors of the man she now feared. And she knew why he would come after her. Well, she knew the reason. She still didn’t exactly know why.
She tamped down the lead ball to make sure the gunpowder was packed beneath it.
Under ordinary circumstances, she would’ve told her father, and he would’ve set up guards to keep her safe. But not now. Not under these circumstances. He didn’t know – no one did – and she didn’t want that to change. It would just be taken as an assassination of the governor’s daughter, nothing more. They would search for the killer, but wouldn’t find him. Even if they somehow did… They wouldn’t be able to take him in.
Not that she had much more chance. But this, she figured, looking at the hand cannon sitting on her silk dress, was probably her best chance. Not much of one, but still her best.
She sat on her bed the rest of the day into the night. He would come tonight. She knew. The Yi Jing had told her.
She closed her eyes and focused on only two of her senses; hearing and touch. If she felt the slightest movement of air, the tiniest scuff of feet on the floor, she would sense them and be ready.
She stayed in this state for quite some time, taking sips of ginseng oolong tea, now cold from sitting out for hours, every once in a while to help her stay awake.
Then it happened. The faintest whistle of air over a blade, the slightest motion of air, and she rolled over to her right, coming down to kneel by the side of her bed. The throwing knife clattered harmlessly against the wall behind her. She lit the match, held it out to get a better view, then brought it back near the hand cannon. The moon let in just a glimmer of light, and now she shifted her senses to include vision as well, searching for movement of any kind. Someone darted across the wall, she tracked them with her cannon, felt a slight shift in the air behind her, turned to face it, and was caught in a headlock from behind.
“Well done, Jiang Xue,” Frederick Simmons – though not known by that name at that time – said from behind her. “You’re the first who has predicted my coming. And with a weapon, as well! What is this?” He gripped her wrist and pulled the hand cannon up to look at it. She threw her other hand up to light the gunpowder from the breach, the powder sizzled and exploded near enough to his face that it might just…
She felt an impact in her chest. It wasn’t a knife, it was a lead ball. She saw that Frederick had twisted her wrist around at the last moment to face her instead.
He let go of her and she fell to the floor, clutching her chest. “A terrible wound, no doubt,” he said above her, looking down, “but unfortunately, for me, as it happens, people like us aren’t able to commit suicide. I’m sure Newlyn Brynmor began wishing that weren’t the case before he finally died. But that means that I must provide the finishing blow. Good try, Jiang. I’m sure your father would be proud. That is, if he knew what you are and who I am. But I doubt he does. How, exactly, did you expect to keep that a secret? You’re the daughter of a well-known governor. Poorly thought out on your part to stay here. Anyway, enough talk.”
He grabbed her by the hair and slit both sides of her neck just under the jaw. Blood immediately began pouring forth, and in a moment she had gone limp. He let go of her and she fell into the still-growing pool of blood.
Frederick bent down and picked up the bronze hand cannon, wiping off a small splatter of blood. He tucked it into his pocket and left the way he had come.

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