Amy did something very creepy, which was to hold up her stump and point to a spot in space where the last two fingers would be.
“And they did surgery again. And again. The pain was unbelievable. That and my back, and I was on these pills, pain pills every four hours and they made me sick constantly. So they’d lower my dosage but those would wear off and I’d spend the last two hours counting the minutes to pill time again. So I was having to live with either the pain or the puking and I kind of had to pick.”
Antidepressants. The thought of this girl actually being depressed made me want to grab the whole planet and throw it into the sun. Well, more than usual anyway.
“And I bit a teacher. So eventually my fingers went numb again, almost all of them, and I couldn’t grip anything. I was dropping things. They had me staying with Uncle Bill and Aunt Betty and they were in the process of splitting up and they didn’t want me there. One time I dropped this glass thing, this little figurine, and Bill freaked out. I mean it’s not his fault they didn’t want me but what could I do? He yelled, and anyway the doctors said we had one last shot, one last chance to get the hand to work because the nerve tissue was dying off.”
She looked down and picked something off her sock. “So they did the surgery and I woke up in the recovery room and I was half out of it and I was dreaming that my hand was gone and I woke up and there it was. Gone. Just an empty space, white sheets where my hand should be. It looked so weird. I cried and cried and cried. Just, bawling. For hours. They knew, David, they knew they’d have to take the hand off. And they didn’t say anything. And I was just lying there and I knew, all at once, that I’d never be able to blend into a room again. You know?”
“And, no matter what I did or what I said, it’d always be, ‘Amy, you know, the girl without a hand?’ Everywhere I went. And the worst part is when you, like, meet somebody new and they don’t notice the hand right away, they don’t see it and you sit there talking to them and you’re just waiting, anticipating that moment when they’re going to notice. That look in their eyes at the moment they see it. Like they’re embarrassed for me.”
She went quiet.
I said, “This world kind of sucks.”
“I left. I went and stayed with Jim after that. I can still feel the hand, you know. It’s true what they say about that, ghost feeling in the limb and all that.”
“What, it itches or something?”
“No, it’s, like, clenched. I can feel my hand clenching and I can’t release it. Isn’t that weird?” She held up her good hand, squeezed in a tight fist. “Like this. I can actually feel the fingernails digging into my palm, on the hand that isn’t there. All in my head, I guess, something with the nerves. And it’s like that all the time. If I really concentrate, I can make it let up a little but it goes right back that way a minute later. That little twinge of pain is always there, a couple of inches into space where my hand should be. I wake up with it.”
I thought about telling her my own tragic story of the scrotal candle- wax incident, but figured it wouldn’t impress her. She crossed her arms and rubbed the cold from them and I put my arm around her to help. The gun was on the floorboard.
I said, “You know I was confused when I first saw you, right? At the house? I didn’t know where your hand went—”
“Well, I still had it in school—”
“—but John knew.”
“Well, yeah,” she said. “He used to come by.”
“Let me tell you everything you need to know about John. The reason I was surprised by your hand was because John never once described you as, ‘the girl with the missing hand.’ ”
I don’t know what John did in the intervening time between when he left the mall and when he showed up at the Drain Rooter roofing site, but from past experiences with John I will extrapolate that he told a series of humorous stories about his penis, drank some sort of off- brand alcohol and then had sex with yet another girl who I secretly had a crush on but never got the courage to talk to. At some point he also changed into his roofing clothes, layers of flannel and cover-alls stained with tar.
The semi accident scene had been neatly cleared away by the time he passed it again, only a flat of tangled tire tracks as evidence. Steve the Roofing Guy was already at the rear of the building, talking to a security guard about roof access. This was one of the guards John saw at the trailer crash site. He didn’t know if the guy would recognize him or not, so he took a newspaper from the trash and held it in front of his face as he approached. Again, this is just what John told me, so, you know. Grain of salt. By six o’clock, thirteen men in Steve’s crew were swarming above and below the ragged roof hole, working as snow and ice runoff poured mini- waterfalls into the Drain Rooter break room. The drenched carpet and waterlogged candy bar machine were ruined.
John got on the roof and immediately saw that the hole was no ice collapse. Everything was flung upward, debris and boards and tile scattered on the roof like something blew out from inside. Tyler Schultz, a big blond Nazi Youth– looking kid who had jammed with John’s band off and on, made the same observation and said wasn’t that some weird shit. John told Tyler that frequently during sudden cold spells the warm air inside a heated building will expand, causing a building to partially explode for much the same reason balloons will burst if you fill them with warm air rather than cool. Tyler asked John if he was making that shit up and John said that he could look it up, knowing he wouldn’t.
John then took the stairs down to the wet break room, tape strewn across the hallways to keep employees from wandering in. The first thing he noticed was that the break room snack machine looked like it had been hit by a car, glass smashed in and shreds of candy wrappers all over the ground. While the guys were stomping around above him, getting a tarp set up and shoveling snow away from the ceiling wound, John wandered around and noticed a section of hallway that had been blocked off with the same black- and- yellow DANGER tape he saw earlier.
For the second time that day John ducked casually across some DO NOT DUCK CASUALLY ACROSS THIS TAPE tape and saw another hole, one in the wall, again like something blew through it. Something the size of a car or a giant crab with a monkey strapped to the back of it. And at the edges of the hole, there were scars in the drywall like scratches. Claw marks. John leaned in and peered through the jagged tear in the wall.
He saw a room that was clearly not on the floor plan. It was small, maybe the size of an average living room, and had absolutely no features. Four bare walls. Then John turned away from it and, as he did, saw a perfectly round hole in the floor as wide as the room, going down. Way down. John said it was the kind of chasm thing they have in all of the space stations in the Star Wars movies, for some reason. The ones crisscrossed with catwalks with no handrails.
When he looked directly at it, it was not there. A tiled floor. Just like at the mall. So the crab beast escaped from here, but the crew of guys sent to take it down returned to the abandoned mall. Everything came back to the mall, didn’t it? John thought about Robert Marley, the soy sauce Patient Zero who had squatted in the food court, and about Danny Wexler ranting about invisible doors. John decided this whole thing required a shitload of further investigation.
I SPLASHED WATER over my face and studied my own bloodshot eyes in the mirror. Glad to be back home, back in my bathroom. I pulled off my shirt and felt something catch back there. Something itchy. I turned to the side and looked into the mirror at my back. My breath caught in my throat.
There was something elongated, maybe a half inch long, protruding from my shoulder blade. Thin, like a needle. Pink.
A knock at the door.
I leaned in close to the mirror, examining the growth and reaching back with my fingers, afraid to touch it. A shiver of revulsion twitched through my body.
A muffled voice, at the door.
John’s voice. What was he doing here?
Thump thump thump.
“Hold on,” I said, pulling up a hand mirror from the drawer in the vanity. “I’ll be out in a minute. I’m, uh, shaving my balls.”
I held up the mirror, angled it to see the thing on my back, and almost screamed. The little protrusion on my back was a stalk that ended in an eye. A tiny black slug’s eye that twitched as the stalk began curling this way and that, as if getting a look around—
I JOLTED AWAKE.
I was cold. A searing pain in my neck. I smelled the sweet but artificial chemical smell of strawberry shampoo flavoring. Come to think of it, strawberries don’t have a smell. They just smell wet like grass.
I felt something like a steel cable around my chest. I couldn’t move, a weight holding me flat. I pulled my eyelids apart, saw a set of eyes peering down at me through frosted glass. I blinked, looked down and saw copper red. A head full of red hair on my chest. An arm was around me, squeezing, a fist full of my shirt, twisting it.
I was lying with my head against the door of the Bronco, window roller pressing into my back, feet splayed across the bench seats, boot resting against the door across from me. Amy, however, looked rather comfortable since she had me to use as a self- warming mattress. She was curled up on top of me, breathing erratically, her eyelids twitching. Nightmares.
Get used to it, kid.
I craned my head and saw the blurred shape of John’s face through a hole he had wiped clean of snow. He waved at me, standing there in full work gear. My watch:
My truck had died at some point because the engine and the heat were off. Amy and I untangled ourselves and I pushed out of the door, standing up in the refrigerated air, joints feeling lined with thick steel wire. I glanced back into the truck and saw Molly fast asleep in the back, paws twitching as she dreamed of clawing somebody to death, probably me.
John said, “It’s your first date and you make the girl camp out at the doughnut shop with you? You know they don’t open for three months, right?”