Yes, I know what means. Take care, Alfonso. I shall see you soon.
The phone clicked, indicating the call had been dropped.
“Thass good…” I garbled.
I passed out.
At first I saw nothing except an endless abyss. Okay, well, maybe not endless. Maybe just really deep, or really dark, or maybe it was just some kind of tunnel or loop instead of an abyss, it was really impossible to tell… It seemed like it was endless is what I’m trying to say. Jesus, leave me alone. I was high as a kite.
And then, there was a light. In a world without up or down, black or white or side to side, that one pinprick of blinding light finally gave some hint of direction, a sense of purpose. There was something just beyond it, something I knew I needed, instinctively, like I needed food or water or breath in my lungs. I moved towards it in any way I knew how, crawling, swimming, climbing and running just to reach it. The closer I got the more beautiful it became, but it felt like that fucking thing was only moving farther and farther away the more I tried to grasp the truth. What was it? What was that light and what was it hiding that I wasn’t supposed to see?
No, I decided. I wasn’t going to let it. I wasn’t going to let this get away from me. Not when I was so close. Not when I was finally seeing it for the first time. So I ran harder. I ran faster. I clawed and I climbed and I pushed, struggling for every step and every handhold as I navigated this invisible abyss to get to that one fucking point of light, that one tiny piece of brilliance shining its light in my face, taunting me with its spellbinding magnificence. And eventually, it started getting closer.
I paid for it, struggled for it every step of the way. I kept grasping and crawling until it felt like my skin would bleed away, and my fingers and toes were nothing but bloody stumps. My eyes felt like they were on fire the longer I looked at it, and my every sensation seemed to burn away with them. It was like trying to touch the sun. Eventually, inevitably, even my body turned to ash.
And then I could see it. I could finally fucking see it. Just the tiniest glimpse, an outline or a silhouette, like the single facet of a gem that was being obscured by its own brilliance. It was barely anything at all, but it was fucking beautiful. It was everything I’d ever wanted, and I didn’t even know what this thing was. It was just simple to me, plain, clear and evident. I needed it to complete me. This is what I was meant to have. This silent melody. This surface memory. A sound symphony that would become a part of me. Yes, a part of me. This is what I was meant to be. This was my missing piece.
Whatever was behind that light was mine, and I wanted it.
Then the gem turned, bouncing the light off itself and into my eyes, blinding me. I woke up.
“Al, are you okay?!” Annie said for the fifteenth time, shaking me awake. She was shaking me so hard my head was going back and forth, which was honestly getting kind of annoying on top of not helping with the whole barf situation.
“Urghkl…” I muttered, coughing. Well, the hallucinations seemed to have stopped. I wouldn’t be sober or totally lucid for at least another eight hours, but at least the waking night-terrors and the floppy, mountain-sized dicks had stopped being a thing for now. No idea if they’d come back though.
“Al!” my little sister shouted again. Oh my god Annie, please shut up. Your voice sounds like a bullhorn in stereo right now.
“Ahm fayne,” I said, telling her blatant lies she could never possibly fall for either because it was habit or because I was still trying to figure out the distinction between what’s up and what’s down. “Lemme goach-“
I choked on a little bit of throw-up that had found its way back into my throat and I spit it out on the floor. Annie held me down despite my limp flailing.
“Not until you tell me what you’ve been taking, Al,” she demanded. “Is it the cocaine again? How high are you right now? Jesus I’ve never seen you this bad before…”
She held up five fingers.
“Nah, jus sum yaggy-yag,” I slurred. “Iss fine, iss fine. Ah jus need afew minuteses.. seriousleh, ahm nawt haiiiii…”
I felt my stomach churn and then I grabbed Richard and puked all over his leaves. Apparently we were still doing this.
I coughed. “Okay, mebbe ahm a leetle high… maybe a lawt…”
“Don’t. Move,” Annie said. “I’ll be right back and see what I can find. There’s gotta be something on this train that can help you. Maybe some smelling salts…”
She propped me up against the wall and left, carefully jogging down the hall so she wouldn’t trip.
“Anneh wait…” I said stupidly. I was still worried about her, even now. Why hadn’t Felicity been here with her earlier? Could she make the trip herself? What if she went outside and got hit by the ejecta or something. Even when I could barely think or remember what worry was supposed to be, I feared the worst. I guess this is what you’d call the overprotectiveness of a big brother, huh?
Minutes passed. I don’t remember how many. It’s an odd situation for me of all people to be in, but time was irrelevant then. Even when I wasn’t flashing back or flashing forward anymore, minutes could still feel like hours and hours like minutes. Eventually, I heard a loud noise coming from the dining compartment. A deep thumping like a heartbeat on fast forward.
“Alright everybody, heads and hands on the ground! We don’t want to see anybody here get ‘accidentally’ shot, comprende?”
Gunfire. There was a person in there with a gun. No, people with guns. Were they looking for me? Were they looking for Annie? There was no one else important to the crims here right now. The better question was, in my state, which one of us was really more vulnerable?
Annie, I decided. Even if I’m the one who’s weaker than her, the answer is still always Annie.
Plus, I remembered something important just then. I knew karate.
I stumbled out of the doorway and into the hallway, where I saw a bunch of armed thugs wearing white suits and red scarves over their faces. Crosses jangled around their necks in shades of gold. I would later recognize this as the signature uniform of an undercover Vitali hit squad. But right then, my brain knew one thing and one thing only.
“Hey buddy, hands on the fucking ground-“
“Hwachaaaaaa!” I screamed and punched the bozo right in the face. It was lunch hour at Cafe Alfonso, and all I knew how to make were knuckle sandwiches.
The mook fell over clutching his face and his bloody nose. Of course, I doubt I actually know karate. I could check but that’d take too much time, walking through that much of the brain palace. Point is, my stupid, drug-addled brain thought I did, and that’s all that mattered.
“Why you shitty fuckin’ little weasel… You think you’re such hot shit you fuckin’ wiseguy?”
The other guys with Tommies brought their machine guns up to aim them at me.
“Fire!” the guy in the back giving the orders yelled. “Kill this shithead!”
These dudes weren’t fucking around.
“Rising Tiger!” I said, calling out the name of some move I remembered from a kung-fu talky before slamming the palm of my hand into the barrel of the gun closest to me. The guy fired, sending the butt of the gun smashing into his face with the recoil.
“What the fu-“
“Charging Tortoise! Headbutting Ram!”
I did a bunch of weird shit then jabbed my elbow straight into the guy’s gut, tossing him straight back into his buddies. I turned around to whip my arm at the guy standing next to me, dumbstruck.
“Limp Soba Noodle! Soggy Wonton! Stupid Broken Fortune Cookie! I-am-totally-running-out-of-names-for-these Attack! Why-is-coming-up-with-names-so hard Fist!”
Flailing like a drunken madman I managed to knock out or disable at least three of them and then took some of their guns and opened fire. I didn’t hit shit, but it was enough to scare them into hiding.
“You scared o’ me? Huh? Ish that it? You scared ‘o me you fucking pussies?!” I screamed, firing my guns into the air. It was stupid of me to do that, but I felt so overwhelmed. So this is what they meant by drunken mastery.
Then both of my drums ran dry and I got dogpiled by two goons wearing each other’s farts for hats.
“We got him, Boss Sylvester!” they said as I struggled beneath them.
“Good!” the guy in the back said. “Bout time you fuckin’ faggots did something right. Now let me get a better look at this fuckin’ piece of shit.”
He kneeled down to look at me, this spindly, bug-eyed, cockroach-looking asshole who looked like he did his hair with grease and animal fat instead of brylcreem.
“How’s it goin’ down there, tough guy?” he said mockingly. He spat in my face, which was… oh god it was so gross. I’m so glad I was high, otherwise I might’ve started hyperventilating.
I grinned, flinching when he spat at me. “You’re one ugly mother-“
He kicked me in the face.
“Don’t you say that to me. Don’t you ever fucking say that shit to me, you fucking cocksucker!”
He kicked me in the face again and again and again until my nose was bent out of shape and blood was pouring down my face, dribbling. Finally when it looked like he was done, he unsheathed a shortsword. More like an elongated dagger than a true sword, a red cross was emblazoned on the circular nub at the bottom of the grip. A creed was inscribed on the base of the blade:
Non Nobis, Domine, Non Nobis, Sed Nomini Tuo Da Glorium
A crusader’s sword. This guy was gonna kill me with a suped up museum piece.
“Boss Romeo says we can’t use our usual pig-stickers on account of all this fucking cloak and dagger bullshit, but this should be good enough for a fucking heathen like you, don’t you think shortshit? Or should I say ‘shitstuff’? Ah, who cares!”
I closed my eyes. I had no prayers to say. After facing down death so many times in these last couple of months, I really had nothing new to contribute to my eulogy. Plus y’know, I was still super fucking blitzed and couldn’t really think of anything to say if I wanted to. Don’t know how many times that bears repeating.
“Konnichiwa and sayonara, you fucking cocksucker! Time to die!”
“Yes. Yes it is.”
There was a deep, sharp ripping sound as bone was plied apart from bone and a huge knife emerged from the bug-man’s chest. He looked down in abject horror.
“Muh… Mommy!” he screamed before he was silenced by another knife entering the back of his skull. In one smooth motion the knives moved up and down his body parallel to each other, and split his upper body apart lengthwise, peeling him into two pieces like a banana. Everything was quiet.
“Honestly, you make such a show about how you’re going to protect me and then you can’t even protect yourself from a bunch of amateur thugs,” a familiar velvety voice said as she pulled the knives out of the man’s partially quadrisected corpse.. “How am I supposed to trust a savior like that for anything?”
My eyes widened like everyone else’s, but unlike them, so did my smile.