by Tobacco Jones
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
14. Justin (Hasdrubal)
“Doctor Professor, we’re in the news!” comes the receptionist’s voice from the front of the clinic. Hasdrubal hears the Doctor Professor speaking with her in low tones.
Marco and Essay have just come in the back door, and they’re talking about how to find more patients.
“We’ll have to start asking around on the street,” says Marco.
“Prolly have to go inside some places,” says Essay. “I’m gonna need a gun, large caliber, maybe two. Extra clips. Can the Doctor Professor get guns?”
They notice Hasdrubal lurking in the hall and both stop talking.
“I can take Wong for his walk today, if you like,” says Hasdrubal. “He hasn’t been outside in a while.”
The Doctor Professor is still debating with the receptionist, some stress in his voice.
“I can take him for his walk,” says Marco. “We’ve got time.”
Marco goes in to get Wong while Essay looms, dissecting Hasdrubal with his eyes, not understanding him, disliking him.
Marco emerges from the exam room with Wong and leads him zombie-like down the hall, as the Doctor Professor arrives from the front. The Doctor Professor is holding the daily newspaper, folded in half. His jaw is clamped.
“Good morning, sir,” says Marco.
“We are in the paper,” says the Doctor Professor, thrusting it out for everyone to see. A headline reads: COMMUNITY MENTAL HEALTH CLINIC CURES DRUG ADDICTION.
Underneath the byline is a picture of the gum-chewing woman with the big jaw. She is a reporter.
Marco swears, and after a couple of seconds, Essay understands and starts to look pale.
“My office,” says the Doctor Professor. The three of them hasten away, once again leaving Wong in the tender care of Hasdrubal.
Hasdrubal knows there is no such power as luck, yet this turn of events has been positively uncanny. Clearly, it is his destiny to succeed. As soon as the door to the Doctor Professor’s office shuts, Hasdrubal takes Wong by the arm and walks him directly out the back door.
As the daylight strikes Wong, so does the Rapture. Wong collapses into Hasdrubal and makes many sounds.
Hasdrubal wants to hurry him along, but must be patient. Embodiment is a shocking and wonderful experience, and it takes time to absorb the functions of the body, language, basic understanding of the world, so forth. Hasdrubal waits and shuffles.
“What is your true name?” Hasdrubal asks, once Wong has settled down. “You can tell me. We are the same.”
Wong looks at Hasdrubal, then up, and around. He stares at a billboard over the highway for a moment. Hasdrubal is nervous that something has gone wrong.
“My name is Justin,” says Wong.
Hasdrubal understands that he is being mocked, and so tries another tack. He speaks audio to “Justin” in an alien code, forming the sounds with great difficulty with his imperfect mouth, lips, and tongue. Hasdrubal hopes he will be understood.
Instead, Justin laughs.
“Why did you bring me in?” says Justin, in English.
Hasdrubal is horrified, realizing that he has gotten something else, not what he wanted.
“I need your help,” Hasdrubal says, recovering. “I am confined to an impossible avatar, in which I can achieve little. It may even become deceased soon. I sought to bring in members of my own family, but I see that I have not succeeded. Nevertheless, I have provided you with an excellent avatar. We shall work together.”
“I don’t need you,” says Justin.
“You do need me,” says Hasdrubal. “You know nothing of this world, and I have already been here for days. I have gained the attention and trust of the man who makes the antennas, and I understand the making. You know nothing, and without me you will be revealed.”
“I have Wong’s memory,” says Justin. Then he fires off a barrage of Mandarin that Hasdrubal can’t possibly understand, but it sounds real enough.
“Then I have made a mistake,” says Hasdrubal. “And I shall have to undo it.”
“Undo it?” says Justin.
“I will destroy you.”
Justin laughs again, a high cackle this time, and it annoys Hasdrubal all the way through.
“You cannot destroy me,” says Justin. “For your avatar is decrepit, and mine is hale. You said yourself you may soon become deceased.”
“Your avatar is unskilled in physical conflict,” says Hasdrubal. “And you will not be able to make the antenna without me.”
“I already know how to make antenna,” says Justin, in a Chinese accent. “I am Wong.”
“You are not Wong, you are Justin,” says Hasdrubal. “I need your cooperation, and I shall have it.”
“You are powerless, for your avatar is decrepit and mine is hale,” says Justin.
“You misunderstand,” says Hasdrubal.
“I misunderstand noth—”
Hasdrubal’s hands are on Justin’s throat and he is squeezing and shaking Justin’s head around. Justin may be hale, but Hasdrubal’s avatar has survived a life on the street, and has learned many things about pugilism that Wong never did.
Justin claws some of the blackened skin off of Hasdrubal’s hands and forearms, exposing running fluids but surprisingly little blood. Then they are on the ground, rolling, squishing through an old mud puddle.
“You have injured my avatar,” says Hasdrubal, outraged.
“You have caused me fear and panic, and you greatly restrict my breathing,” croaks Justin, continuing to claw.
“We must... cooperate,” says Hasdrubal. “You must yield.”
“I yield,” Justin begins to say, but just then Hasdrubal is lifted completely off of him and into the air by a thunderous kick from Essay. The pain is sharp, everywhere, sufficient to garner all of Hasdrubal’s attention, and now it is his own avatar that cannot breathe.
Essay and Marco are yelling and swearing as they stomp Hasdrubal into unconsciousness.
15. Temptation (Hasdrubal)
Hasdrubal awakens, realizes that he is not dead, and weeps. He is strapped tight to a gurney, and there is pain everywhere. Even the yearning for krokodil seems strong — but at least he is not dead.
Hasdrubal could not possibly bear being on the outside again, hungering in the cold for a million years more. He must make adjustments to his plan. He must not die. Hasdrubal lies in his reeking bed pan, and thinks.
It is Justin who checks on Hasdrubal, much later on, looking cleaned up and dapper aside from the fresh bruises around his neck. Essay stands with arms folded just outside the door, a few feet away.
“Oh, that was close one, eh?” says Justin in his fake Chinese accent. Hasdrubal doubts that Wong actually spoke this way, but doesn’t say anything about it.
“I can be useful to you,” says Hasdrubal. “You may take the lead.”
“Ohhh, I already have lead!” Justin cackles. “You set the table for me very nice, Hasdrubal, very nice. You convince Doctor Professor he can become demigod! Hah!”
“That was my work, yes. But he will know now that Wong is gone, that you are not the real Wong, that there is no Wong remaining. The Doctor Professor will not wish to lose his own soul.”
“He know no such thing, hah! In fact, you already convince him exact opposite! I not even have to try!”
“He will realize your accent is false.”
This stops Justin for a minute, and he thinks about it.
“How you know my accent, huh, krok-head?” says Justin. “Wong already lost his soulbean by the time you show up.”
“It sounds fake. And the Doctor Professor is very brilliant, for a worm. He will figure out that Wong’s original soulbean does not survive. He will understand the implications.”
“He could figure out he gonna lose his soulbean, sure, if he not obsessed with becoming demigod!” Justin shouts, then he stops and his face actually turns red. He starts to turn around to see if Essay is still standing there, hearing all this, but stops himself.
“Doctor Professor will make ideal avatar for one of my family,” Justin whispers.
“You need me,” says Hasdrubal.
“For what.” Statement.
“To be your common sense for you. To notice that your accent is not right. To be your assistant in all things. To support you as the only other being of your kind on this planet.”
“I’ll think about it,” says Justin. Then he walks out and closes the door without even cleaning up Hasdrubal’s bedpan or anything.
16. Can’t Trust ’Em (Marco)
“I don’t know what the hell they are saying, but it sounds bad,” says Essay, the next time he and Marco are in the back lot on break.
“That’s not Wong,” says Marco. “I don’t believe it.”
“How is that not Wong?” says Essay.
“Listen cuz, don’t like, think I’m insane, OK? You’re gonna think I’m insane.”
“There is an alien living in Wong.” There. It was out.
Essay looks at Marco for a while, dead serious.
“Listen, cuz, let’s just get the hell out of here,” says Essay. “The money is good, I know, but something is really wrong. Plus with Guzman and his thugs, right? I feel like I see them everywhere, following us.”
Marco is torn. On some level, he knows Essay is right.
“Listen, Essay,” Marco says, choking up. “I worked my whole life, you know? I worked my whole life, I put up with everything, just so I could get the hell out of there. I put up with so much. Mama kicked me out when I was a junior because I had to buy drugs off Guzman so he wouldn’t kick my ass. I lived on the street for a year and a half, cuz, back when you were locked up, and I still stayed in school. I know this whole thing is insane, but I can’t go back. I can’t go back.”
“All right,” says Essay. “I’ll stay with you, cuz.”
17. Endgame (Hasdrubal)
Justin shows Hasdrubal the Taser weapon, right up close in his face, before letting him up.
“I heard the last krokodil addict they hit with one of these didn’t fare so well,” says Justin, close to Hasdrubal’s ear. “Stay in my sight and don’t touch anything, don’t do anything, unless I tell you to.”
With that, Justin unstraps Hasdrubal.
“Is it OK if I use the bathroom?” asks Hasdrubal. He has been holding it since the last time Marco cleaned him up, early the previous day.
After the bathroom, Justin brings Hasdrubal into the treatment room, behind the wired glass, where the Doctor Professor is lying on a gurney. There is a band-aid over his temple.
“Are you ready?” Justin asks the Doctor Professor.
“I am ready,” says the Doctor Professor. The Doctor Professor is smiling and rocking his head up and down in anticipation.
Hasdrubal realizes that Justin has already given the Doctor Professor the antenna, and they just need to go out into the daylight to activate it.
“Today, Earth will receive its first demigod,” declares Justin. “Today, we create a planetary king!”
Then they have to speak of more mundane things, as Marco and Essay arrive to wheel out the gurney. Both look uncomfortable with the task, and neither of them bother to harass the newly freed Hasdrubal.
Then they are out the back door, and the light hits the Doctor Professor, and something new comes in and replaces his soul. The creature that used to be the Doctor Professor is making many sounds.
“This is how it is done,” says Justin to Hasdrubal, under his voice. He is totally confident.
“Doctor Professor!” shouts Marco. “Get him inside!”
Gunfire rings out and cracks into the brick all around them, and Justin falls straight down onto his face. Marco steals the gurney and rushes it back into the building, Hasdrubal close on his heels. Then the door is closed and the shooting seems to stop, and they are running down the hall, and the door reopens and sounds of chaos follow.
Hasdrubal feels an impact in his back, then he is on the floor with decreased motor control. Large men rush past and overturn the gurney, knocking the former Doctor Professor to the floor. Two of them fire bullets into the Doctor Professor, as another beats Marco relentlessly with his fists. Marco sometimes shouts for help in between blows, but none arrives.
“Cure drug addiction?” asks an ugly man as he strides down the hall. “Put me out of business? I don’t think so. Burn it down. Burn this place to the ground.”
Hasdrubal smells the gasoline and hears it slosh and glug, then he hears someone shooting the receptionist in the front. Her screams begin and end abruptly.
Hasdrubal’s vision begins to tunnel, goes black and white. He can’t believe he has failed. He, Justin, the Doctor Professor, the clinic — all hope of alien entry to this world, extinguished by a jealous worm, over a misunderstanding. Hasdrubal must hang on, or he will hunger again for an eternity. He can’t go back out.
18. Epilogue (Marco)
Marco is back on the street, wandering the bad places. All he has left in this world are the clothes on his back, plus a needle and some krokodil that Guzman left him. All of his money and possessions are gone, right down to his empty wallet and ID. They had set fire to his apartment, too, burned up the whole building, and Marco doesn’t want to go back there.
Marco can’t get Essay’s face out of his mind now, how it looked when Marco found him sitting against the brick wall out back of the clinic, looking up at the sky in puzzlement. A bullet hole was right next to his nose.
Marco pulls out his grimy little bag of drugs and looks at it for the hundredth time, squeezes it and feels its texture. He runs his tongue around the top and bottom of his mouth where all his front teeth used to be, trying to get used to the new feeling of it. He can’t breathe through his nose anymore.
The place on Marco’s arm where Guzman gave him his first shot is not even black. Just a little purple mark, like a cigarette burn. Marco fights the urge to do it again.
It’s the only time Marco can remember feeling good, truly good, perhaps since he was a young child. It was like the weight of the world was off him. He hadn’t known yet about Essay, but it was abundantly clear that they had killed the Doctor Professor, and the place was in flames. And after they had beat Marco’s face in, then Guzman had stuck him with the needle, and left it with him, and some extra krokodil for good measure. And then Marco felt good.
Marco looks at the dirty baggie of krokodil in his hand, and he’s got the needle in his other hand, and he is sitting in a doorway. He thinks about Mama, and what she would think. She already thinks he’s on drugs, and she’s wrong about that, but now she’s right, or she could be right, maybe. He could throw the stuff away and go back to Mama and maybe she would believe him and maybe she could make everything all right. Marco looks at his filthy little baggie and thinks about Mama.
Copyright © 2014 by Tobacco Jones