This is actually all related, I think, and is going into the same story, I think. I’m letting it go it’s own way, because I don’t care if it’s good or not, all that matters is getting it out and having a horrible first draft of something.
The Doctor’s Office
In the doctor’s office the air smelled and tasted like mothballs. The room could have been a sepia photograph. It appeared to be the back office of an abandon library but for some oddities lying around: a stethoscope, a pair of latex gloves, a pair of pliers, a bottle of no-name liquor and two glasses. One of the glasses contained some of the liquor tinged pink and a tooth with a rotten hole in it. A ceiling fixture dangled and swayed from a chain, cast a yellow light on the room illuminating walls of mahogany bookshelves cornered with fake plants. The few tables and chairs were mahogany and supported stacks of yellow papers.
The doctor sat behind a stack of papers, partially shrouded in a cluster of potted plastic ferns. He was a wiry old man with crumbled paper skin. Time had deflated him and turned him into a puppet made of paper, clothes-hangers and tape.
On the other side of the room sat an unremarkable man. He wore second hand clothes that were too baggy, had hair that was unkempt between long and short, had no recognizable scars or tattoos, had expressionless brown eyes, and sat half-hunched, half-huddled, an inward-facing demeanor.
“Stop grinding your teeth.” Shannon stopped grinding his teeth. “What the hell are you doing here? I do amputations, extractions and therapy for the mentally disturbed. Which of these services do you need?”
The old man wasn’t joking. He stared at Shannon, waited for a response with a hard look in his eyes.
“Actually, it’s my, uh, testicles. Don’t laugh, I’m serious.”
The old man laughed asthmatically, then coughed asthmatically. He opened a vial sitting on a shelf and inhaled greedily, apparently abating the coughing fit. He uncapped the bottle of liquor and poured a double shot into the glass without a tooth.
“Come on, then. Show me your balls and tell me a story, you sorry louse. And know that I love you.”
The doctor was also a priest, but of what religion, Shannon couldn’t guess.
The doctor was not a bad man, no matter the impression that he gave. Shannon pulled down his pants and the doctor put on the rubber gloves. The doctor ooo-ed and winced at the bruises. Still not a day old, they were an artwork of purples, reds and blues, discolored with yellow. His testicles were swollen, but a lot of the damage had missed its mark and landed around his inner thighs and buttocks.
“Well, you, considering your current situation, don’t need any of my other services. You might piss blood, and I wouldn’t count on having children. Aside from that, you’re fine.” The doctor pulled off the gloves and threw them back onto the table exactly where they had been. “And damn, Shane, stop grinding your teeth.”
“I’m not!” Shannon denied.
“Shut up, I’m a doctor. And did you know I’m also a priest?” The doctor revealed a miniature fridge hidden underneath a table, prepared Shannon a bag of ice to lay across his naked lap. It was excruciatingly cold, but Shannon rocked and moaned until the area became numb and the ice was tolerable.
The doctor talked about his time as a member of The Faith, forgetting the story behind Shannon’s injuries. He worked as he spoke, drying Shannon’s lap as he told of the cathedrals deeper in the city, where what he called ‘organized humanities’ were still conducted.
“This far from The Center, all you see are disorganized inhumanities. It’s the lowest form of human life.” Shannon didn’t take offense to the slight insult to his home-section. I hate this city. Shannon listened intently, obediently allowing the doctor to wrap his under-half in gauze, just for good measure.
The doctor continued, “People came to The Center, to the cathedrals, to pray under The Faith, hoping for their wishes to climb the hierarchy and reach the top. No one ever got anything, of course. Some believed The Faith to be an organization without a figurehead, created by parties looking to control information. That or a front for a brothel. If you ask me, having worked under them for many, many years… I’d say, it’s both.”
“Is that why you left The Faith?” Shannon inquired.
“No, no. I wouldn’t have cared either way. I was at The Center, the center of it all. Obviously no one really knows, but they say it really is the center of the city. No, I left because, well, there at the center, it’s a different kind of beast. It’s condensed there. Just like this place,” he gestured widely, “is so loose and crumbling, there at the center it’s condensed.”
“It’s like the pressurized core of the city.”
“Yes, and that was too much for this old man.” He had finished packaging Shannon’s under-extremities. Shannon pulled his pants up, stuffing loose gauze into his underwear.
“Hey, Doc? Was The Faith ever part of The Estate?”
The doctor’s lips stretched in a wide, weary grimace. He poured another double-shot of clear, luminous vodka into the glass and sat down behind a plastic bush.
“If The Faith was ever part of The Estate, it would make sense why no one ever hears their prayers answered. Those people, they don’t ever come down from their towers. They’ve got bridges built across the highest towers in the city so they can leave us down here to rot. Plans working nicely.
“How’s Aisa, by the way? Are you two married yet?” The doctor’s question, out of the grey sky.
“Oh, we’re not there, yet. I should, I mean, I wouldn’t mind.” Shannon felt the possibilities well up in his chest, but he held them in.
“And what are you going to do with yourself, then? You should ask her, but are you really out of this whole business? Shooting people for money. You’re a damn good boy, and very, very stupid.”
The doctor didn’t season his words heavily. They came as close to the raw thought as his old tongue could muster.
“I’m going to be a writer. It’s decided.” Shannon puffed up with pride, rising from a slouch for the first time since the visit began. The doctor laughed, but controlled his chuckling to a few ho ho ho’s so as not to suffer another respiratory fit.
“And who will buy the crap you intend to write? The newspapers?” This sent the old man into a fit. He went to the vial, sniffed its remedy again and settled down again in his chair behind the loose junk and clutter.
There were no newspapers, here, in The Center, anywhere. Very few people cared enough about other peoples ideas to want to read anything of value, let alone drivel. Worse, with a school system full of standard mis-practices and a city full of extraordinary hindrances, a very large portion of the people could not read at all.
“You know what you could do? Get a job like me,” the doctor offered. He downed his double shot of fiery vodka, twisted his face into a confused look of bemused disgust and spit a tooth with a rotten hole onto the table.
“Ahhh, oops. That’s the second time I spit that tooth out just like that.” He smiled and Shannon noticed a mouth not quite full of yellow teeth.
Good Morning, Hell
Floating through the din of silence, unawareness far past dumbness, numb to the point of bodilessness. Internally tossed and swayed, swept upward into the sky of thought, then downward into the caverns of sleep. No shapes or edges, nor colors or depth. Only the idea of sensory input, the imitation of colors and sounds and smells experienced through imagination and remembering. Everything through a dulling film, nullifying all input to a dreamlike vagueness.
Warm food, smiling, voices and conversations. Where and how? There was nothing further from my mind. A line repeated in my head: Gaze no more in the bitter glass, for there a fatal image grows. Shakespeare? No. Yeats?
Someone used to read poetry back home… back home? When had the movement begun? Constant clattering and squeaking, steady crunching as though stones were being ground into dust. Images rose and fell, waves of dimly perceived imaginings. All was an incorporeal tide poured over my incorporeal, shapeless body. I floated, black-washed by the night-tide. Gaze no more in the bitter glass…
Still, occasionally I spoke in a mumble and imagined someone would come and serve me warm food, like potatoes, carrots and cabbage that had been boiled soft in one pot. I remembered things like warm broth and vegetables and smiled without a face. All like a dream, and I wondered if I had fled my body. For there a fatal image grows…
Fled? What am I fleeing from? Dim lights flickered along corridors, but no answers came. Where wouldn’t a wolf run? What am I fleeing from? Jaws, something stabbing my arm, sinking in, releasing poison, a snake, a devil latched to my arm, god, get it off, wrapped, my neck, snake, claw, scratching, tearing, my arm, oh my god I can feel my body, everything, everything, everything, there is a devil inside of me and it’s tearing me apart.
The old woman held the boy down as he thrashed in his bed. The cart wheels squeaked, ground the gritty dirt of the tunnel floor into a finer grit.
The two donkeys drawing the cart were named Boris and Wink, but were indistinguishable from each other so that their names were interchangeable. Their hooves clicked and clacked over concrete, train tracks and loose gritty earth that spilled from the ceiling and walls.
Once the tunnels had been clean and operational. These days, they weren’t. Trains had stop[ running out of the city long ago, but with a sturdy cart drawn by the right pair of stubborn animals, it was possible.
The boy would hurt himself if he kept flinging himself about, the old woman knew. His wounds were sewn and bandaged, but oozing blotches of reddish-brown continued to spread across the gauze. The old woman pulled a pouch from a shelf, chewed some of the bright red shredded herb inside and spit it into the boy’s mouth. She held his head as he thrashed and made him swallow. Shortly after, her laying across him, pinning him down, the boy fell asleep again.
After returning to the driver’s seat and correcting their course, the old woman closed her eyes. “Gaze not into the bitter glass, for there a bitter image grows. Oh, Boris, Wink, Dan in going to be so angry with me.”
The donkeys hey-hawed in unison.
“But, you know, I’ll knock that old man right across his eccentric, grey-haired head if he gets angry with me.” She would, too, she knew. Never did she kid herself, unless it was truly in jest, and never did she leave a wounded animal behind.
The two donkeys, named Boris and Wink after joining the family, had both been rescued from abandonment and certain death. They had been tethered to a plow in the middle of a field far off from the farm in Caber Valley, apparently stranded after the plow’s operator and their master had died at that moment in the fields.
His body had been picked at by carrion birds, but the donkeys were still kicking at the winged death-eaters when the old woman had arrived.
“That’s because you’ve got some fight in you, isn’t it?” she asked the donkey’s affectionately. They pulled the miniature caravan up slanted roadways where the tunnels had collapsed, occasionally through sewer tunnels when the train tracks disappeared under an impassable avalanche of rubble.
The tunnels were a maze, but the old woman had studied at the farm as a cartographer, as well as navigation by the position of the stars and sun, and the use of the natural instincts of animals in navigation. She had begun drawing maps of the city’s underworld since her very first excursion through the labyrinth. She followed these maps now, caring for the boy when he awoke and keeping in mind to watch the tunnels behind her, just in case something had crawled out of the city to follow her.
Underneath the old woman’s seat slept a large black dog, a shaggy mutt who looked friendly and unintelligent, but had the body structure of a more fierce and agile animal. She knew that this animal was not for pulling carts. In a pinch, Pirate the dog would protect her with just as much ferocity as she would protect Pirate, the boy, the donkeys and the cart.
All of these things were precious to her, even if she had just met the boy. Not much of a meeting, she thought. She knew there was an even more imposing meeting looming over her, ready to crash down when the boy finally awoke with his senses. There was that, and Dan Mnitt, that damn man’s reaction to her bringing home another wounded animal.
But this one’s a boy…
She knew she was causing an awful lot of trouble. She kept the donkeys at a steady pace forward anyway, keeping an eye behind her. The old woman reached behind her, underneath the tarp where the boy slept fitfully, down underneath the crates and bags of odd supplies and pulled out an old shotgun with a wooden stock.
It was greased and loaded for the trip, reload ammo in a box taped to the stock, enough to correct your aim if you happen to miss with the first slug. That was unlikely, considering the old woman’s meticulous practice on the firing range on the farm. The barrel reminded her of a cannon on a pirate ship.
“That’s why we named you Pirate,” the old woman says to the dog underneath her seat, who raises her head wearily with sleepy dog eyes. “Because we’re pirates.”