To be clear, if you’ve actually seen a ghost, that doesn’t make you like us. A ghost sighting is usually nothing more than your brain trying to put a familiar face on something that does not have a face at all.
John and I, on the other hand, can see what most of you can only sense. We’re not special, it’s just the result of some drugs we took. Just for future reference, if you’re ever at a party and a Rastafarian offers you a syringe full of a slimy black substance that crawls around on its own like The Blob, don’t take it. And don’t call us, either. We get enough bullshit from strangers as it is.
25 Hours Prior to Outbreak
English should have a word for that feeling you get when you first wake up in a strange room and have no freaking idea where you are.
I was cold, and every inch of my body was in pain. I heard a crunching, like the jaws of a predator grinding through bone. I pulled open my eyes. I saw a dragon standing proudly atop a hill before me.
The dragon was on a TV screen, beneath it was a video game console with a tangle of cords snaking across green carpet. I blinked, squinted at the sun burning in through a cracked window. I turned, hearing my neck creak as I did, and saw John sitting at a computer desk in the corner, staring into the monitor and holding a bottle full of a clear liquid that I’m sure you wouldn’t want to try to put out a fire with. I sat up, realizing I had been covered up with something in my sleep. I thought for a moment John had thrown a blanket over me but closer inspection revealed it to be a beach towel.
John glanced back at me from his computer chair and said, “Sorry, I used my spare blanket when I got that leak in my car.”
I looked around for the source of that animal crunching noise. I found Molly laying behind the couch, with her head crammed inside an open box of Cap’n Crunch cereal. She was eating as fast as she could, trying to use her paws to keep the box in place.
“You’re letting her do that?”
“Oh, yeah. Cereal is stale anyway. I don’t have any dog food here.”
The dragon sat frozen on the television, the intro screen for a video game John had apparently been playing while I slept on his couch.
“What time is it?”
I stood and felt my head swim. I rubbed my eyes and almost screamed in pain from the wound there. My shoulder felt like it had taken a bullet and it seemed like a pair of elves were trying to escape my skull through my temples using tiny pickaxes. It wasn’t the first time I had woken up at John’s place feeling like this.
My phone screamed. The display read, AMY. I closed my eyes, sighed and answered.
“Hi! David! I’m watching the news! What happened?”
“Shouldn’t you be in class?” Amy had failed a pretty basic English class last semester because it was a morning class and she kept sleeping through it.
She said, “They cancelled it. Oh, it’s on again. Turn to CNN.”
I talked around the phone to John, told him to switch over the TV. He did, and watched as an early morning shot of the chaos at the hospital filled the screen. The name of the city was displayed along the bottom. National news.
John turned up the sound and we heard a female reporter say, “… No history of drug use or mental illness. Frank Burgess had been with the department for three years. Authorities are combing the area for Burgess but police say the number of wounds he sustained in the standoff make his turning up alive, quote, ‘highly unlikely.’ Meanwhile, the hospital remains under quarantine due to unspecified infection risks that have only added to the anxiety in this shell-shocked community.”
They cut to a shot of our enormously fat chief of police, giving a sound bite in front of a bank of microphones.
To Amy I said, “Man, our chief of police is getting huge.”
Amy said, “They said thirteen people were hurt and I think three people died but there could be more. Did you guys hear about this last night? When it was all going on?”
A pause on my end. Too long. Finally I said, “We heard about it, yeah.”
“David, were you there? Were you guys in on this?”
“What? No, no. Of course not. Why would you think that?”
“No, no. It was nothing. Guy just went crazy, that’s all.”
“Are you lying?”
“No, no. No.”
She said nothing. She and the therapist knew the same trick. Filling the silence, I said, “I mean, we were there but we weren’t really involved…”
“I knew it! I’m coming down.”
“No, Amy. It’s nothing, really. It’s over. We just happened to be in the area.”
I heard John say, “Hey! It’s me!” I turned to the television.
Sure enough, John’s face filled the screen. The reporter’s voice-over covered the audio, saying, “… But for every hour Burgess remains at large, fear and paranoia are bound to keep growing in this small city.”
On TV, John’s voice faded in: “… And then we saw a small creature crawl into his mouth. I wasn’t two feet away, I saw it clearly. The thing wasn’t from this world. I don’t mean alien, I mean probably interdimensional in nature. I think it’s obvious from what happened tonight that this being possessed some powers of mind control.”
I closed my eyes again and groaned.
Amy said, “I’m coming down. I’ll take the bus.”
“Forget it, your classes are more important. If you fail English again I think they can kick you out of the country. I think it’s in the Patriot Act.”
“Gotta go, honey. I’m late for class.”
“You said you didn’t—”
“We’ll talk about it later. Bye-bye.”
I killed the phone and looked for my shoes.
“You goin’ back home?”
“I can’t stay here, John.”
“Yeah. But, you know. You had that thing in your house.”
“You think there’s another one?”
“I don’t know, but—”
“What do you want me to do, have the place sprayed?”
“No, I’m just sayin’. That thing, it crawled inside Franky and seemed to take him over. Well, that thing turned up in your bed. Are you assuming that’s an accident? Because maybe we should consider that it was there for you.”
I can always trust John to think of things like this.
“It don’t matter. Okay? Your couch isn’t long enough. It kills my neck on the armrest. So, it’s moot.”
“Well, you’re not gettin’ the bed.”
I took away Molly’s cereal box, which was now just empty cardboard bent in the shape of a dog head. I said, “You sounded crazy on the news, by the way. I hope you know that.”
“What? I was tellin’ the truth.”
“To what purpose, exactly? The only people who’ll be convinced by that are people who’re already nuts. I can see you’ve got your blog up right now. For what? So you can tell the whole nonsense story and be one more nutjob ranting on the Internet? It doesn’t do anybody any good. It just makes you look crazy. It makes both of us look crazy.”
“Hey, aren’t you going to be late for your court-mandated therapist appointment?”
I glanced at my watch. He was right.
The drive through town was surreal. I had to go past the hospital (okay, I didn’t have to but curiosity got the better of me) and it had the air of a natural disaster. News vans were parked outside of barriers that were blocking the street. Cops were at a checkpoint, directing traffic away from the parking garage entrance. Three blocks later I had to wait at an intersection for five minutes while a row of green trucks rumbled past. Military. I suddenly wanted to get far away from there.
I had half hoped I would find the psychiatrist’s office closed today, as if the aftermath of a shooting rampage would be treated like a national holiday. No such luck. People got to make a paycheck I guess.
I barged in before I realized there was somebody else in the waiting room. Should have looked in through the window or something, I would have waited outside if I’d known, since the potential for really awkward conversation seems pretty high in the waiting room of a psychiatrist’s office. I tried to think of a plausible excuse for turning around and leaving. The best I came up with was to grab the potted plant in the corner and just walk out, as if it was a rental I was repossessing. I decided not to.
The lady in the waiting room didn’t even turn to me when I came in, she was transfixed by a television in the corner tuned to Fox News, covering the shooting. Jesus, slow news day. People get shot all the time, right? I found a chair as far away from her as possible. I grabbed a magazine and held it in front of my face. Seemed to be a lot of articles about wedding dresses.
“It’s happening all over, you know,” said the woman from the other side of the room. She was probably forty-five or so, hair a desperate shade of blonde.
I said, “What’s that?”
“Demon possession. All over the world. You see news from the Middle East and such and you can see it spreading like wildfire.”
“It’s easier now, now that all the souls are gone.”
“Hmm.” I flipped the page in my bridal magazine, acting engrossed in the ads. The only thing worse than always being the craziest person in the room is when suddenly you’re alone with someone crazier. She was still talking.
“Did you know the Rapture happened already? In 1961. The Lord called all the souls up to Heaven. But the bodies were left behind. That’s why the people walking around today don’t seem to have souls. It’s because they don’t. You see that story last week, the man who was being chased by the police in a stolen car? There was a newborn baby in the backseat? He just threw it out the window. A baby! People these days are just common animals. Because their human souls are gone, see.”