All Sandie learned from her very expensive blood tests was that there was no reason for her to have paid for very expensive blood tests. She did not have leprosy, or hepatitis, or any of a number of different anemias. The news was a comfort, but the check was not.
Sandie bought a book of stamps and sent a stack of poems away to the offices of Lead Soldiers, thinking that a small royalty would at least begin to fill the dent that a new door and a medical bill had left in her bank account.
"Maybe you could take up a special collection for me," she told Mike as she got him a glass of water root beer was an unnecessary expense.
"Meh," he said. "Charitable though the cause may be, it doesn't really work that way."
"Shame. I'm going to start getting really sick of ramen in a week or two."
"You can always come share with me. For some reason, people are always bringing me leftover barbecue. Which is nice, don't get me wrong. But they must think I eat like a football team or something. I mean, a gallon of potato salad? Really?"
Sandie was silent. She picked at a moth hole in her tee shirt and crossed her legs, first one way and then the other, and said nothing.
Mike sat forward and put on his Confession face, the one that said he was ready to listen and would not, under any circumstances, laugh.
"What's the matter? You don't like potato salad?"
"There's a voice haunting me."
A car alarm went off, and the dogs next door set up an answering ruckus. Outside, someone started shouting for the world to just shut up.
"It's worse when I'm asleep or really tired, but it's gotten to where it's all the time, now. It started right after the break-in. And it's not really a voice, more like thoughts. Like tuning in to someone's mind. Sometimes it's aimed at me, like its talking to me, but most of the time it's just thinking about whatever, trying to figure things out. It's looking for something, but I don't think it knows what. It scares the shit out of me, but then it
I don't know. Like it sucks the fear out of me. Like it needs that. Does that make sense?"
Mike shut his eyes and opened them again very slowly. He set his glass of water on the end table, chewed his lip, laced his fingers, and took a preparatory breath.
"Have you considered seeing someone about this?" The light filtered blue through the sheet of plastic that sealed the door and fell across his face his Last Rites face.
"Yeah, but I'm broke. Plus, I'm not convinced that I'm crazy. I mean, it's looking pretty likely that I am, I admit, but I'm not actually that stressed, and the paramedics said I didn't hit my head that hard, and it just seems like one hell of a coincidence."
"You mean that you get attacked by a dead body, and now you're hearing voices, and you think that they're both real, and related."
"Yeah, pretty much. I like that better than the idea that I'm schizo. Only
"You don't think I'm possessed or anything, do you?"
There was a pause, long enough to make Sandie uncomfortable.
"At this point, I really couldn't say." He sat back again and folded his arms with a look of healthy skepticism, blue eyes narrowed in thought. "You know we have to rule out insanity before even looking into that. But if you're worried about it, frankly, that can't be doing your mental state any good."
There is someone else in my head. Being worried about it is pretty natural, I'd say. And if it's
gonna start getting worse, or
taking me over or something
Shit, I mean
Mike got up and crossed over to the couch, grabbing the tissue box in passing. He set the box on Sandie's knees and draped his arm across her shoulders, wincing as she jammed her head up under his chin.
"Baby," he said, "you are the toughest girl I know. If anyone has the guts to handle weirdness, it's you."
It was moving again as soon as Sandie got into bed. Slow, labored, starving, and determined. It dragged itself blind through suburbia to the sound of sprinklers until a late-night bicyclist hit a bump and went sprawling. There was blood and garbled plosives that were probably cursing. There was anger. Footsteps. More cursing. Then silence and horror.
damage. breach outer boundary understand easy repair. little effort. results inconsequential stimulus unknown cannot replicate. unsatisfactory. insufficient.
It absorbed the anger and the horror and moved on, leaving the cyclist behind, but it was not enough.
It found the freeway and followed a stream of frustration around the Loop, noisy and congested even in the wee hours. Dotted between the horns and brakes were flashes of road rage.
unsatisfactory. insufficient. inefficient. spontaneous unpredictable cannot be harnessed.
What are you looking for?
will recognize object when located.
What if you don't find it? And what do you need me for?
unknown. anticipate negative consequence. contact is a preventative measure.
Preventative of what?
It stopped thinking, then, and started listening hard. There was a sensation like stretching out, and Sandie found a familiar pattern. It was distorted by Someone Else's perception, filtering through a mind that had no idea what to make of it, but Sandie recognized a jazz band. The bass line pounded through her id with fierce abandon, and the entire universe resonated wildly to the frenetic strains of improv.
It hummed an answering harmony, stretching out even further to touch a whirl of elation. Wrapped up tight in the voice of a twelve-string, people were dancing, shouting, and radiating more feeling than Sandie could take in. They never missed a few stolen laughs, a couple of missed beats as It sucked everything in, soaked up droplets of joy like a vast metaphysical sponge. It was moving again, pressing closer, right up against the vibrating walls, and the movement was easier, more natural, and the vibration was in its hands as they knitted together, condensed into something whole, and there was a body, a connection, a solidity, and then eyes opened and saw bricks painted green, the outside of the bar
The adrenaline rush jarred Sandie awake, and she sat up in bed with a grunt, one hand pressed to her hammering head.
Instinctively, she reached for her cell phone on the night stand, eyes passing over the digital clock. Quarter to midnight. Mike would still be up. There was nothing to tell him, though at least, nothing she could explain. She set the phone back down and rolled onto her side, settling back onto the pillow. There was plenty of night left to find out what would happen next, get an idea of what was going on, like an addictive serial publication.
But when she closed her eyes, there was no one there.