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I used to think a lot of silly things when I heard the word "lupus". Most of them were about wolves. Some of them were about the autoimmune disease itself. None of them would ever apply to me. If I heard somebody had been diagnosed with it, my heart would go out to them, as I had always heard Very Bad Things about it. Up until a few years ago, most of them were true and the prognosis rather grim. Nobody in my family had it (that I knew of), so last Thursday morning held an unpleasant surprise for me.
It is never a good sign when a doctor takes it upon his or herself to call you directly at 7:30 in the morning. Yet that is what happened last Thursday. One moment, you plan on sleeping in because the puppy woke you up at 3 a.m. again, and the next you're up and stumbling through the house wondering why and how the hell you ended up with not one but two "old people" illnesses. The lab called later to tell me that the Lyme test was negative. I'd rather have that than RA and ELS right now.
"Are you getting up?"
There's a brief moment of silence as the world goes dark again. Time passes, or at least it seems to. The darkness eventually gives way to dark red and a pungent smell before fading to a pale blue. The odor lingers, however. Words float through the air with no apparent direction or context in a colorless stream. I just let them pass by.
I can briefly understand one sentence. "Come on, it can't hurt that bad." My mouth would answer that it most certainly can- if I could find it.
I wonder what have I become?
Adams was still trying to get used to his new crew member while he descended into the bowels of the Yaxerti. The cruiser had once been part of an escort for a slave ship owned by the Innerspace Corporation, but three generations later it still had an aura of despair surrounding it.
"What is your function, robot?"
The pale android blinked her pink eyes once. "To answer stupid questions," she finally said.
"Your creators didn't do a good job of programming you, did they?"
"They gave me the ability to reason. I don't think they fully appreciated this aspect."
I have been told that I should give up certain foods in an effort to decrease the inflammation in my joints and lungs. I realized today that by "certain", the doc meant "most". No tomatoes, potatoes, nuts, seeds, dairy, wheat, or beans and legumes (among other foods). Eating lunches at work has become a fun exercise, as there is always at least two items from that list that the kitchen serves us every day. The good news is that the joints are feeling a little better. The bad news is that I'm tired and hungry all of the time.
Night has descended upon the clearing where the shell has fallen, cracked and oozing. It continues to emit a pungent odor, like fresh seaweed and burning sulfur. A brief glance might tell a less cautious set of eyes that it almost looked human. Two coyotes briefly consider stuffing themselves full on the remains before them, but the noisome smell overwhelms them as they draw closer. They snort repeatedly as they turn away and sprint back into the woods. They do not see the faint wet trail that leads away from the shell towards a slow-moving river to the south.
I rode for 15 miles today. I don't think I have ridden that long a distance since I rode in the Vermont woods twenty years ago. The horse is an auction survivor in somewhat rough shape; he has fresh scars on his shoulder and flanks. He has personality (he likes to stop merely to yawn when he's bored, and he likes to tell me his opinion when I tell him to neck-rein to the right) and a fair bit of speed. Fortunately, he also knows how to stop, which is good considering how I felt when we were done.
I have been watching the Bruins on the Versus channel tonight. Okay, I have been keeping it on that channel; I very much want to doze off. I was watching the Red Sox-Yankees game prior to that. When I changed channels, the Sox were safely winning. I didn't even finish my 750 words entry last night; the sedative knocked me out before I could even get to the halfway point. I think I can crank something out in the final intermission of the hockey game. I just have no idea what I will be writing about yet. We'll see.
I had thought that butcher shops were bygones, taken over long ago by supermarkets. I last set foot in one when I was about 6 or 7 with my grandmother. The place was tiny and the floor was dingy, sawdust-lined. I don't think it stayed in business much longer after I had set foot in it. Like everybody else, I grew up buying meat in the back of local stores. Today, however, I went to the town's new butcher shop. It's clean and brightly painted, but will local ranchers survive long enough to supply it with grass-fed meats?
The Groundskeeper got me up early this morning. "Hey there, Tom," Julie said as she poked her head in the door. "You ready to go?"
I had been packed up for the last two weeks, and knew I was leaving months before that. It was late spring, after all. Time to move on. I looked at my backpack and my canteen over in the corner where the couch had been. The previous tenant had left it for me when I took over the apartment complex two years ago. I tried not to think too much about her. My former wife.
I handed Julie the keys and left everything else behind except for my gun. I wasn't sure why. Habit, maybe. I certainly wouldn't be needing it for much longer though. I didn't look her in the eye when I shrugged and moved towards the door. "That's it?" she asked, her voice barely above a whisper. "That's all you're bringing?"
"Leave it for the next lucky bastard," I said as I fumbled with my ID. "Who knows, they might be able to keep the job longer than me."
She shook her head sadly. "They wouldn't do a better job than you."
I didn't agree with what Julie said, mostly because I knew that being the Landlord of this place just meant you got more attention at feeding time. There weren't any so-called "perks" to go along with this job. You just made sure the other tenants followed the rules and stayed the hell indoors after sundown. At least, that's what I told myself that was all that the job involved. The ghost that stood in the corner of the stairwell that watched me walk past was little more than a shadow now, but she reminded me what I really did.
I still feel like a sledgehammer is being taken to my body. The diet meant to calm the inflammation down just makes me feel like hell. I'm at the point where I honestly cannot tell the difference. I have to wait until July to see the rheumatologist and see what meds he intends to throw me on. I honestly wonder if I can wait that long. I am barely getting anything done. Yesterday, I almost caused a wreck because I could not wake up while driving- and I had already had caffeine. I'm downright sick of this and wonder if....
Thunderstorms abound tonight, and I have totally forgotten what I was going to write for this entry as a result. I don't feel as bad as I have in recent days, so at least there is that. I made bread today (something I am not supposed to have anymore, but the ingredients were there and it seems rather wasteful to just dump it into the trash bin when I have already bagged up so much food that I can no longer eat). I figure it will be the last loaf that I will get to enjoy for... ever, I guess.
Julie and I set foot on the front step of the apartment building, and I looked out at the weeds poking through old concrete and burned out cars. The night before last, I had dreamed about snow and ice when I had been taken down past the Hunting Ground. I used to think it would be better to leave my post at that time of year, until I saw Marla leave hers over two years ago. Her face, frozen in a scream, stared out at passersby for three months until spring finally came back around. The stench lasted far longer.
We turned left towards the town green without another sound. Those who were being Evicted were to do all of their talking behind closed doors before being escorted from their buildings. People used to line up and watch the procession, but now they hid their kids and themselves away on Moving Day. Better for the younger ones not to see or to know, they would tell themselves, but there was always one kid or two who always seemed to know, to have it figured out better than the adults. Those were the ones who disappeared at night during hunting season.
I knew that we were being watched as we walked towards the old parking lot, then to the abandoned playground. Old swings and picnic benches had been torn down and reassembled to mark uneven rows of graves for our pets. The local officials told us that hastily burying or burning the bodies as soon as they died would be the best way to prevent the disease (and that was all they ever called it) from spreading. There were a lot of tears shed in those days. Some of those in the woods may have even joined us in our grief.
I thought back to when I walked into those woods alone for the last time. The news outlets were all parading various experts around who all said the same thing: the disease wasn't affecting humans, just the animals. That was small consolation for people who thought of their animals as more than mere housepets like Marla and I. We had just buried our old dog Charlie when I set out on the old footpath near our apartment when I listened to the birds. Those that survived still chirped and squawked, yet there was something not quite right about the noises.
I had taken maybe fifty steps on the leaf-laden trail when I finally listened to the birdsong around me. The pitch of a crow changed as I walked closer. I thought it was merely annoyed at my presence, until saw what it was warning in a clearing to my right. In that moment, I began to understand why our pets were buried and so many wild animals seemed to have escaped unscathed. It would be years before I knew the full truth, but I knew enough to back up slowly and begin to imitate the crow's shouts: "'Ware! 'Ware!"
Would somebody please inform the puppy that she does not need to bark at Reflection Puppy, the Howling Wind, the neighbor's dogs, or passing vehicles at 10 o'clock at night (and later)? Better yet, will the corgi please instruct her on how not to chew on persons or their belongings just to get attention? Or stop rummaging through the recycling bin one more time, just in case something tasty managed to fall in when she wasn't looking? I have tried to tell her all of this repeatedly, and yet I swear she has moments, maybe even hours, of selective hearing.
Late in the afternoon at the old complex, me and Stevie liked to play our own version of street hockey. We'd play on the deserted fifth floor, and had to use a plastic bottle as a hockey puck. A dirty red handkerchief was hung in the space where a door had once been as a makeshift goal net. Since the windows were boarded up, we thought we were safe from whatever was taking place outside.
On one sunny October day, however, a stray bullet came into our lives and knocked Stevie down. He crumpled like a note and stayed still.
I don't know what I want. Something maybe to flush out all kinds of pain. Losing you took its toll and hell if you aren't still in my system fucking me up and making me jaded to all that goes on around me. What's the point of reaching out of the heart's only gonna get speared and filleted because assholes like you keep walking in and out of doors I try to keep the deadbolts secured with every day and night? Nothing works, not like it should. I'm just good at using brute force to keep it all working sometimes.
I wonder how it is that somebody who does not shop for clothes more than once a year still has an entire closet full of clothes and shoes? They're almost like oversized lint bunnies that multiply and take over when you shut the lights off at night. I had to wrangle three bags' full of shoes and clothes to the local donation station this afternoon. There were a couple of dresses and shirts that I don't even remember owning, much less buying. Maybe it's a ploy of the Tribe of Lost Socks, replacing socks with old shirts and torn jeans.
"Turn left at the Shadow Foundry," a voice hisses in my ear.
"The wha?" I want to ask, but I see a member of the city guard and have to pretend to be sober for a moment. I don't remember how I met the woman walking behind me. I don't even fully recall the message on the tavern wall that I read aloud that drew her immediate attention- something about "breathing earth, walk on water"? But she's shoving me onward around the main thoroughfares and over to the old Smithy Corner. I try to shrug off her guiding hand when
I suddenly find myself in impenetrable darkness, and I find it difficult to breathe. I try to move my left leg, but it feels stuck. Frozen. I am losing my ability to think straight fast and just when I feel myself start to fall forward, the darkness recedes just enough to appear as thick smoke. My nose and lungs burn, as though I am breathing in sulfur. I fight my body's urge to inhale anything resembling normal air when I hear a loud slapping noise in my right ear. It takes me a moment before I realize that I landed
in another part of town with what feels like wet cobbestones. I'm too stunned to realize that this is impossible; it hasn't rained here in years. My hands feel as though they've been slapped, so it takes me a moment to pull my head off of the stone. I blink a few times until I stop seeing double and look around. There's no dust here, no encroaching red sand taking over the city. I don't understand. Where am I?
"Welcome, Tassaden, to your future." A cloaked figure emerges from behind a torn orange tent flap and approaches with a limp.
I am pulled to my feet and get a better look around me as my eyes adjusts to the dim light. There are several merchant tents around us, at least four of them, but they don't appear to be selling anything. "Who are you? How did I get here?" I try to get the words out, but the sight of this water takes my breath away.
"Do you not yet recognize your handiwork in the return of water to your people?" a frail man in a dingy yellow robe asked, a finger pointing to the metalwork I squinted at.
None of what I see around me makes any sense. I am the son of a merchant with no mechanical skill, much less magical. I can't even claim to have seen any of this in my dreams. The pipes are plain metal, hinged in some places. I shake my head slowly. They must have me confused with somebody else. "It can't be..." I say slowly. "It can't be me."
"Oh, it is," the woman I met at the tavern says from behind. "You built this, all of it."
I think a future descendant must have done this. But when?
"I have hours, days maybe, before I lose little control that I have left over my own body. I don't want to be inside my own head the day that I am no longer... whatever it was I used to be. Con-woman. Anarchist. A failed mother..." Her voice trailed off. So many failures. The only thing that she ever got right was bringing down the regime that helped make her what she was, and now the government that was taking over seemed even worse than its predecessor.
'What is success anyway?' she would have asked herself, but no time.
Her middle knuckle throbbed as a reminder of her body's frailty. She tried not to think about what else was hurting. Maybe it was better this way, losing control once again to the program that was rebuilding in her circuitry. She could have sworn that she heard a snicker in the back of her mind then. The half- burned memory... all those people... pieces... the images sprinted across her optic nerves. Could she wake up a second time and live with those memories again, plus whatever new ones were created before that day?
She scowled. It had to end somehow.
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