My head hurt. The beeping didn’t stop even after I talked to Beth with it. Then the door wanted something. It kept banging at me. I told it to shut up but it wouldn’t listen.
“Alex! Open this fucking door right now or I swear I am going to…” The last part was muffled cursing.
Beth was here! That was good, because Beth was here. But it was bad, because Beth was here. Here wasn’t a Beth place.
I crawled to the door to let her in, because she was Beth. She was mad with me leaving her outside.
“Jesus Alex, oh god it stinks in here.” She coughed and covered her hand with her mouth. Or the other way round. “You look like death…”
She kneeled next to me and brushed the hair off my forehead. It was stuck down with sweat. I tried to tell her over the phone. “I don’t think I’m very well.”
“How long have you been like this?” She asked.
I didn’t know that, silly. She was shaking me. “Alex!”
I’d been asleep… I had no idea how long for. “What day is it?”
“Monday.” She said.
Then I… I couldn’t work it out. “Day?” I tried. Maybe.
“Are you bleeding? Is that your blood?” I looked down. Shit, I didn’t have a top on… When had that happened? I squeaked and tried to cover myself. “Alex!”
I was dizzy… it was getting dark.
* * *
“Drink it you little… argh. I hate you, I hate you I hate you I hate you.”
* * *
“Alex, no I’m trying to help, don’t… FUCK! Ouch, my nose. Stay still goddamit!”
* * *
“Alex, is this… what’s this scar on your back? It doesn’t look very old.” I twisted to look at her. “You’re awake at last. Keep still! Stop wriggling.”
“Uh.” My head hurt, it was throbbing behind my temples. I was sitting up, wrapped in blankets. They were clean blankets. Nice blankets. Newer blankets than I’d ever had. How did Beth know about that scar?
I looked down.
Ah, yes. I forgot about that. I pulled them up a little bit trying not to blush. Never try not to blush.
“Alex, do you know who I am?” She said. Did she think I had brain damage or something?
“Beth.” My voice came out as a croak, my throat hurt.
“Good. Do you know who you are?” She said.
“Yeah. That’s a stupid question.” My throat grated as I spoke, like it was filled with sharp wires.
“You didn’t seem to earlier… You said some strange things.” There’s nothing like telling someone they said some ‘strange things’ that they have no idea about to generate an awkward silence. “Do you feel better?”
“Yeah, just… hot.” I coughed. It was far too hot in here.
Then, unexpectedly something was attacking my face. It was wet and cold and I immediately tried to grab it and get it off… I had flashbacks of giant slugs trying to eat my brain. I threw the offending brain slug at the wall, it squelched and slid down leaving a trail of whatever horrible juices it secreted.
Breathing heavily, but panic over – brain slug death being successfully evaded I span round to see if one had gotten Beth.
She was kneeling behind me looking confused, holding a bowl of water in one hand and her other, wet, outstretched towards my head.
I double-checked the brain-slug.
Oh, it was a sponge. I think I’d been having some strange nightmares.
“Are you sure you are feeling better?” she said, sounding dubious.
I nodded. “Yeah, sorry, you just took me by surprise. What the hell are you doing?”
She blushed. “Well, you were pretty… stinky. Besides, you had septicaemia. I had to make sure I cleaned that cut on your arm properly. Oh, and a fever. I needed to keep you cool.”
I wasn’t sure what to think of it… There were proper Medical Reasons. Still… It was Beth. I looked at my arm. It was bandaged. A little crudely. Not as good as Mz Gregory, but securely. The three swollen fingers were taped together. “Uh. Thanks.”
“You really should take better care of yourself. I was really worried about you,” she said.
She was worried about me. She tried to ring me. She came to find me.
“Beth.” I turned to her, “Mike… he…”
“I know. He called me, explained what happened.” Her voice was calmer, soothing.
I groaned and rubbed my eyes. I had been asleep for days. I think. Why was I so tired?
“What day is it?” I asked, and then thoughts crashed together into something else, “How did you find me?”
“Tuesday.” She answered. Three days I had been out of it. I hardly ever got ill. I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d had a cold, and when mom got flu I nursed her and I didn’t catch it. I guess bacterial infection was different.
My arm hurt, my fingers hurt, my head hurt. Oh and my throat felt like it bled every time I spoke. Everything ached. “I missed school. Again,” I said, lamely.
“I know. So did I.” She said.
“What? Why?” I asked. She really shouldn’t be skipping lessons. You needed top grades to be a pilot. You needed a decent attendance mark.
“To look after you silly, I couldn’t leave you. I checked on the web. It’s treatable at home but if it gets worse you can kind of have organ failure. I didn’t know if you were going to react badly to the antibiotics and I wanted to be able to rush you to hospital if things started getting worse.” I shuddered involuntarily at the mention of hospital.
“Thanks, I really appreciate it,” I said. And I did. What would have happened if I had not met Beth?
“I didn’t even get badly hurt this time… I thought I’d be ok.” I sighed, I wasn’t very good at this at all, maybe I should reconsider this whole thing.
“Didn’t get badly hurt?” Beth said before hitting me in the shoulder. “You stupid idiot, you nearly got killed.”
“Yeah, from an infection.” I said.
“An infection from a… a flipping bullet wound!” She was shouting.
“Shh!” I said. She was making a really big deal out of a little nick in the arm. “I didn’t get anything like that from the last one and that was much worse.”
“I knew it was something like that.” She started hitting me again. She wasn’t very good at it. “You did get shot! When the hell did that happen? Was that your week off?”
“Oh my back? Yeah. I only kind of got shot.” I said, trying to grab her hand and restrain her, a little at least.
“Kind of!? How can you ‘kind of get shot’? You… I wish I’d never met you! You’re mental.”
“Hey, I saw a doctor that time! I mean I wasn’t really that conscious, but he gave me a scan and everything. It wasn’t so bad. The vest stopped it, mostly. That’s the kind of.” She was really blowing this out of proportion. “Ms Gregory was really nice to me,” I said like it was a defence. Like she should follow her example.
I ran out of things to say, and Beth didn’t fill the gap. I felt was tired, and sitting up was awkward, so I lay back down, pulling the blankets up.
I closed my eyes.
“Thanks Beth, for everything I mean.” I said.
“Don’t worry about it.” She said, quietly, and put her hand on my shoulder. It didn’t even make me jump.
“I’ll pay you back for the stuff, the antibiotics.” The blankets, but I felt stupid saying that. “I just need some time… I’ll get a job or something.”
“Alex, you don’t need to. It was like a week’s allowance from my parents.” Her voice seemed distant. Man I was tired. “You’re sleeping on the floor of a garage, I can’t make you pay me for anything.”
But… I gave up arguing, it wasn’t hard.
* * *
I wish this room had a window. Ok, no I don’t – I’d be paranoid someone could get in if it did.
Actually, maybe it would be an advantage, another way to escape in times of… emergency?
Fuck that. I’d be paranoid if it had a window, and I am now it doesn’t. I can’t win. Stupid brain.
There was something heavy across my chest.
I picked it up. Limp, floppy, and arm shaped.
I let out a slow measured breath. My dreams had been pretty… grim, recently. Usually corpses. That or me dying. I was kind of familiar with dying now, or at least what my head imagined it to be like.
I wish I could control my heartbeat. Slow it down.
I tried to convince myself that this arm was not dead. There was only one reasonable explanation for having an arm on top of me.
I checked. Yes, it was still attached to Beth. She had a little frown on her face, curled up next to me, with her arm…
Fuck. I needed to get a t-shirt. Goddamn being incapacitated! Why hadn’t I put one on earlier? I scooted sideways to get away from her. Argh. I was stressing out. I sat up and tried to control my breathing. Gotta calm down. Need t-shirt.
When I had managed to regulate my bodily functions to something more manageable, and much less likely to cause me to pass out, I started looking for clothes. Why didn’t I have anything nice? Everything I owned was so crappy. I picked my best; it didn’t have any holes in – even if it was a bit faded. I threw it on before Beth woke up.
Ok, Beth’s over. She’s sleeping over.
I’d kind of imagined this would be under different circumstances. I’d imagined it better. Not here. Here was embarrassing. Fuck, she knew I wasn’t living at home anymore.
I wasn’t lying to her. This was me. She knew everything. I stood, even though my legs felt like they could hardly support my weight, and paced the room. Thinking. Can’t think, need the toilet. I’d not gone for ages, I hadn’t drunk anything for a while until Beth got here, but she made me drink lots – I remember that much. I opened the door slowly and peered out into the concrete corridor. Taking a deep breath I stepped out. It felt strange, being out of that room.
I’d grabbed my phone, just in case. I might… who the fuck knows, I’d probably end up getting stuck and need Beth’s help. The most embarrassing thing imaginable.
Luckily nothing happened. When I got back she was still asleep. I didn’t know whether to wake her up or not. I filled the kettle. Need tea. My mouth tasted fuzzy. I really needed to brush my teeth.
I checked my phone, no idea what time it was. Phones were really useful.
5:12 am Wednesday
School. We need to get ready for school. I shouldn’t be responsible for Beth being absent. I thought about checking the news, see if anything had been reported but decided against it. I really just didn’t want to know.
I brushed my teeth, and then made my tea. I should probably have done it the other way round, because it made it taste funny.
I made one for Beth as well. Kneeling beside her, I gave her a gentle shake.
“Beth.” I said. I hated waking up. Usually it’s explosively after some stupid nightmare. Especially if something caused me to wake up rather than it just happening naturally like today. I was ready for her to lash out or something, mindful that I had a mug of near-boiling water in my hand. But she didn’t. She opened her eyes and just looked straight at me.
“Isamorning?” she mumbled.
“Yeah,” I answered, mentally translating.
“Awww. Sleep.” She turned over and pulled the covers around herself.
“No, Beth, we need to get up.” I gave her another shake but she just grumbled at me. “I made tea?”
It took me about five minutes to get her to sit up and drink it. She screwed up her face. “Urgh, that’s awful! It’s all bitter. No wonder it wakes you up. Needs sugar. Where sugar?”
“Hey, it’s nice!” I said, feeling offended. “And I don’t have any sugar.”
“What time is it anyway?” she asked, finally awake enough to start thinking.
“Half five,” I approximated.
“What? Oh no. No, no, no. That is too early. That time shouldn’t even exist. I’m going back to sleep.” She shoved the mug back into my hand and lay back down.
“But it takes two hours to get to school.” I said, and that was on a good day. I didn’t think I’d manage a good day. I ached all over.
“Two hours? Jesus.” She sat up again groaning. “Did I tell you I hate you? It’s easy for you. You’ve been asleep for the past three days.”
I didn’t mention that I kind of got up at this time every day. Or ill. She was just being stubborn.
“Fine! I’m getting up. Give me a minute, oh crap you don’t have a shower here do you? How the hell do you manage without a shower! Mornings can’t happen without a shower…”
I’m not a very good host. “There’s a sink.” I suggested hopefully. “It’s got hot water.”
She sighed. “Alright. I can manage with that. I brought a change of clothes.”
I stood outside, kicking the floor and keeping an eye out for people. I’d only ever seen a few around. They occasionally came in and out of the garages with boxes, or actually used them to keep their cars in. I figured a lot of people had them for storage – it wasn’t cheap though, the rent. I guessed the owner could afford to keep some of them empty.
After a few cold and nervous minutes Beth opened the door looking a bit more refreshed. She even washed her hair, a pain in a sink. We swapped places and she did the same for me.
I couldn’t find my knife. The one I had left anyway. She’d clearly tidied up while I was out of it, so after letting her back in I asked if she’d spotted it.
“Oh, I err put all that stuff in the corner over there.” She gestured to a heap of vests and half-sewn together experiments along with some of the boxes and bags the equipment had arrived in. “You were acting kind of strange so I wanted to hide it.”
That was probably a good idea.
I went and picked off the junk she’d piled on top, leaving a rather lethal heap of weapons. I should have done this earlier. I needed to keep track of all this stuff.
I managed to come back with my two batons, which was good. My ankle knife was unused. I strapped it back on my leg. The belt knife sheath was here, but I’d had to leave that behind. I shuddered a little.
New stuff consisted of two pistols, they weren’t identical looking but I had no idea if there was any substantial difference in function. I emptied the magazines and made sure the safety was on. I had no idea if I should do anything else to make them safe so I decided not to touch them. I could ask Jim later. I’d only shot one bullet out of one of them.
I had five loose clips I’d collected from other people and pocketed. After a quick check I found two didn’t fit either gun, but the actual bullets all looked the same. I placed them all carefully in a neat row.
The last thing was that awful flashy flick knife. I hadn’t wanted it. I was probably going to throw it away, but for now I put it back with the rest. I hadn’t used my Tasers, it hadn’t even crossed my mind I had them in my backpack. I should put them on my belt or something, closer to hand. I could have used them. I should have. I was stupid for not thinking of it earlier.
“Done?” Beth called out from behind me, frowning.
“Yeah.” I said.