April 27th, 2016
“What the hell happened to you?” my sister and I said to each other.
Her neck was bruised, covered in hickeys. Me? Well, when I last saw her I had two whole ears, two whole hands and a generally unblemished face. This was Saturday, and most of gruesome appearances was still very fresh.
“You go first,” we both said. It wasn’t one of those funny things, either, where you say “1-2-3, jinx! You owe me a coke!” It was one of those things where, for two minutes, you try to get the other person to forget about their concerns and just start talking. Which is also how I respond to “jinx”.
I broke first and told her everything that had happened over the last month. Things I’ve told you, and haven’t. Things I’ll probably tell you later. She pulled it out of me, though, things I didn’t want to talk about. She was worried.
She wanted to meet at a food court. Instead we met not far from where we’d met last time, looking out over the Pacific. She took it as an excuse to bundle up, despite how hot it was in the days preceding. She’d even wrapped a scarf around herself, though it did little to cover how high the bruises climbed.
For my part, I’d brought a six pack that likely did little to cover my own fears about… well, everything, I guess. I probably shouldn’t have her one but in the time I have left I guess I want her to feel like I see her as an adult. Especially when she has so much of her own that she’s carrying on her shoulders.
“Have you spoken to Rebecca lately?”
“What makes you ask?”
“You used to talk about her a lot. Now…”
“I saw her. It was… awkward.”
“You mean when she called her boyfriend? You only say so much in your texts.”
“No, not that night. After.”
“You’ve seen her since then? I thought you swore you were never going to talk to her again.”
“If you believed that, why did you ask?”
“Why did you tell me you were never going to talk to her again?”
“Because I did believe it,” I said raising the bottle to my lips. It was an IPA, one of the many that saturate the San Diego market, and the bitter-citric flavor not only passed over my tongue but seemed to linger in the air with the salty ocean breeze.
“People at school say they’re going to catch you soon,” she said, looking down at the grass as it rolled down to the cliffside. “They say on the news there are too many new cases of Ratfanger’s Disease. They say so many people are looking for you, they expect to find you before summer starts.”
I placed the empty bottle in the crate and grabbed another. I placed the bottlecap adjacent to the edge of the stone wall we were sitting on and popped the top with a quick striking motion. The cap sprung off but took the top of the bottle with it, a foamy explosion hiding broken glass. “Holy shit! What happened there?” my sister exclaimed and nearly shrieked as I began pouring the froth into my mouth. “Jesus! Is that safe?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “You shouldn’t do it.”
“But you should?”
“What do I care? They’re going to catch me before summer.” The sudsy explosion subdued, lowered and revealed jagged peaks of brown glass.
“What happens then?” she asked me.
“When they catch me?” I repeated back to her staring at the peaks. “They won’t catch me,” is what I wanted to say but another shrug was all I could muster.
“They’re killing you, Andy.” Her eyes were unwavering and fixed upon me. “What’s that going to do to me when you’re gone? What will that do to Mom?”
“Mom doesn’t give a shit. I’m already dead to Mom.”
“That’s not true. When Dad’s not around, I can see this is killing her. Hearing about this on the news, hearing people talk about you like you’re a wild animal. Andy, it’s killing all of us.”
“If Mom can only manage some emotion when her husband is not around then she may as well feel nothing. I’m sorry, but your Dad-”
“I know my Dad’s shortcomings. I do. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t genuinely loved by people who just want to see all this work out for you.”
“There’s no… ‘working out’ for me,” I said softly. “After those… people found out where I lived and burned my apartment down… I decided to turn myself into the pharmaceutical group that’s offering the incentive. They’re actually fifteen minutes north of here. I figured with $70,000 I could get a new place to live, I wouldn’t have to worry about paying off school. So I did. I turned myself in. They had me for three days. And in the course of those three days, I noticed something-“
“Wait, are you fucking serious? You turned yourself in? Then why are they still looking for you?” I shrugged my shoulders again, poured the broken bottle over my face so that the beer would run into my mouth, splattering a bit on my cheeks. “If they could find a cure-“
“Quite honestly, I got the impression that a cure wasn’t going to be hard to find. If they can find one, my guess is they already have it.”
“Are they still looking for me?” I used my arm hair to brush away the beer, but some of it ran into the fresh laceration on my chin. I pulled up my shirt tail to try and blot it dry, but witnessing it made my sister visibly uncomfortable. “I escaped after a few days. They had me sedated, drained a lot of fluids. It became really clear to me I wasn’t going to get out of there. I went in and thought they’d be taking a few blood samples, keep me over night for a few weeks. But they immediately started draining me, like stomping on a Capri-Sun bag to get out every drop. Nobody was talking about me as though I had a future. So I ran. I think… maybe… I think maybe they if I’m a cure, or I am a resource for a cure, they don’t want anyone else getting me and making another.”
She looked out the ocean, where the horizon had been when we first sat down, now a flat, black union between clouds and water. “Can you hide?”
“I’ve been hiding. I’ve been hiding.”
“Somewhere outside the city.”
“It’s a national story. It’s an internet… thing, I don’t know the word. But this all started getting out of control on social media. There’s nowhere I could where people won’t be looking for me. I could try some place else, some other city where I don’t even have the advantage of knowing my way around.”
“‘Why haven’t they released it?’ is what I was going to say.”
“Like you said, there are more cases all the time. Once I’m gone… no one will know how to cure it. Once I’m gone, they just give it a bit and start selling the cure at a premium.”
“Have you seen the…” she choked, put her hand to the bottom of her throat and washed whatever it was down with a drink. “Have you seen this Blackbeard guy?”
“Is that, uh… I’m sorry, is that like a sex thing? I’ve never heard of it.”
“He’s a bounty-hunter. He’s at the top of all the #EatADick feeds.”
“Well, that’s… weird. Probably the strangest thing I’ve heard all year. No, I’ve not heard of any of this. I don’t follow that topic.”
“I looked him up. He’s been saying he’s going to catch my brother, you know? I just wanted to see if he was for real. I guess he used to have a reality show. They canceled it because the network got sued after he got too rough with more than a few of the people he was after.”
“How rough? Wait, no. No, thank you. I don’t want to know.” It was frustrating to me that she would inject that idea into my head. “That’s a person who’s doing a little self-promotion by inserting themselves into a trending topic. Don’t let it bother you.”
“He choked a dude and broke his neck.”
“Yes, thank you for that. I’m good, thank you.” My hand to start to sting and itch, as though the topic of unnecessary roughness had called it by name. I pulled away the bandage to let the bone and torn muscle fibers breathe a bit. “Now, listen, I want you to be honest with me. I’ve just been immensely honest with you and need you to do the same for me. What happened to your neck? Did your boyfriend do that to you?”
She looked down and began to cry.