You scrabble through the dvd stacks with exactly zero grace and something exceeding one hundred percent urgency. The discs and cases bounce and splinter through your numb fingers, and you’re painfully aware that you’re drooling on yourself. Half your face is utterly fucked.
“Come on,” you slur. “Come on, come on!”
Your leg’s on fire, your head’s a buzzing mess. You think you might be crying in addition to the gimp-slobber, and, worse, you can’t reach that certain state you need to be in, you can’t concentrate. There’s no sense of communion, rightness, righteousness, but at this point you know you’ve only got one shot to get it right. You lay the cases out in a lumpish fan, then a celtic cross, then the poison dances up your spine and you drop to the carpet like a decidedly unappealing puppet.
“Fuck,” you sob, giving in to blind luck, and just grab the closest open disc. It takes three humiliating tries to get the player open, and another precious few minutes to fit the disc into the tray, shove it closed, reset the play conditions and raise the volume.
A choir of fucking angels could not play a more welcome tune than the obnoxious tweedle-hiss-chirp-static of your Bro’s moive menuew.
Then, of course, you have to get the remote. The apartment spins sickeningly around your feet, not just twirling but making nasty, abortive feints left and right. Your foot drags across the threadbare carpet, caches on the slubs and nicks that never normally present a problem. You find yourself utterly befoxed by the presence of two identical remotes, and spend entirely too long patting at them to determine which one’s the hallucination. It transpires that the one that doesn’t taste like computer keyboard is probably realer.
Back on Derse, your dreamself is starting to free-float, and the spastic thump of your head against your bedroom ceiling is degrading precious braincells and distracting you from the noose of computer cords your waking pre-cadaver has gotten snared in. You apportion a precious, risky minute to cinch yourself to the bed by way of a length of bedsheet, then another few minutes of paranoia to try and make it look like you just happened to have gotten knotted down via sleep... knot-tying. It might work.
You get the remote and you punch in the complicated, circuitous series of buttons that’ll take you to the hidden commentary. Up, down, play, pause, fast-forward, rewind, un-pause... you have to do it twice. Your right arm’s gone totally numb. But you get it right the second time, and the bright colors and blaring chimes of the menuew fade into quietness.
There’s a dark room, and a soft spotlight, and your brother, your progenitor, sitting in a plain chair with a microphone and a few sheets of computer paper. You haven’t seen this one before. You have no idea what he’s going to say, and apprehension adds another layer of nausea.
Dave Strider taps the microphone, checking to see if it’s on, and then he announces, “Barf.”
You really, really hope you didn’t just hallucinate that.
“I’ve been vomiting,” you snap.
“Not enough,” he says, simply. Then he settles back into his chair, crosses his arms. Implacable. Waiting for you.
This is the right dvd. The relief is almost enough to outweigh the irritation.
He’s got a point though. You threw up in the ocean, and again on the roof, but you’ve been trying to hold it in now that you’ve made it into your base of operations. These carpets are degraded enough without a layer of stomach lining to try and peel off the ancient fibers.
You haul your sickly ass off to the closest window, gag some more, wriggle an index down your throat. Nothing comes up for a while but thin bile, then, to your horror, something catches, something tears, and out comes a string of pearly, mucus-sticky eggs. You scream and spit and claw at your mouth, cram your fingers far down your throat, almost fall out of the window. You’re thrashing in your Derse bedroom, clawing at your virgin unscarred dreamstomach, chanting no no no, at as far a remote from the screwed-up dying rind of your waking self as you can possibly get. In this purple room, you’re safe, you are whole and untouched and nothing’s laid eggs down your gullet, shot you full of venom and squidlets and horror. Nothing’s going to.
The ocean is very far beneath you, and you sink back against the clean satin pillows. This room is only as old as you are, practically new, richly furnished and immaculate. Completely yours.
The only thing you have to worry about in this remote spire is everything else.
“Come back,” Dave says patiently. “Dirk. Bro, come back. Man the fuck up and deal with this shit.”
You slide back into your body.
“Fuck you,” you croak, levering off the window. Your throat’s trying desperately to secede from the united republic of your neck, and you’re not enjoying the sound of another human being as much as you might be. “You go tango with a frisky hellsquid and see how you like it.”
“It’s all in the technique,” Dave says. “Romance the bitch first. Flowers, poetry, a few dead fish, and then maybe she’ll give you film rights to her book series after she’s knocked you up. Go get a pail.”
“And you think I’m the one who could use some lessons on romance,” you grunt.
“Now, bro. Fill it with seawater and wash your leg.”
You haul your sorry ass off to the bathroom. The bucket’s behind the sink -- you use it mostly to catch leaks during monsoon season. You lie on the floor for a while, collecting your breath, and then throw up a fifth time in the shower. Nothing but bile. You think you’re clear. You hope you’re clear. You go to rinse your mouth out with shower-water-- go to run the spray over your burning leg--
“What did I just say,” Dave snaps from the workroom. You freeze. He continues, reading carefully, “‘Freshwater will agitate the toxin.’ Underlined twice. Then-- something about the ph balance, I can’t read your fucking chickenscratch, kid, as your legal guardian I command you to start pulling higher grades in basic english as opposed to -- what is this, daedric xenobotanty? There’s diagrams, shitting hell on a toadstool, are you a weird one. I’m going to auction this script to NASA, watch ‘em cream their jumpsuits. Get saltwater. Nuke saltwater. Rinse the poison out.”
“Fuck,” you say, and your voice cracks. You claw halfway upright-- half of you’s locked up stiff and numb, and the other half is a jellied, spastic mess. You clamp the bucket’s handle between your teeth and scrabble like a seaslug up to the bathroom window.
A rope. You need-- string, something to drop the bucket and bring it back up. You cast around-- a spare marionette hangs in the corner. One of your old projects to inspire you while you cogitate in your ablutions. The head is a really good rendition of Snoop Lion -- you call him Snoopp Dawwgg, he made Roxy laugh, you filmed a whole music video with him and Sass Beonycey for her wiggling day and she laughed and laughed-- the brittle clay face crushes under your twitching ham-fisted efforts to just get the string out. You’ll. You’ll fix it. You’ll fix it. You’re muttering apologies to a handful of dust. You have to get a hold of yourself.
“Come on, bro,” Dave is saying patiently. “You have to get the venom out. You’re only going to get sicker if you lump around like some candyass pampered prince, I’m sure as hell not going to come and wait on you hand and foot. Come on.”
You get the string tied together, tied to the handle. Decently sturdy. You drop the pail, get your seawater, haul it up, drop it a few times. Get it up. It’s so heavy, water is so heavy, water is amazing. It’s sparkling. You lean over, dry heave in the vague direction of the shower.
You take it to the kitchen. You have a sterilization gun. Why can’t you just use it on yourself? Why-- it would kill you, is why. It kills organic material. Shoot it at your leg and no more leg, you’d cut yourself right in half. You shoot the pail instead, watch the water seethe and ripple as the microbes and plankton and whateverelse gets explosively dematerialized. Finally it goes still again, it’s safe, it’s clean.
You gulp a few handfuls, swish the salt in your mouth, suck it gratefully --wincingly-- down your throat. The ph balance, it won’t agitate the toxin already in your system but it will dilute it-- doesn’t seem right. Doesn’t seem like that would work. You’ll research it later, figure out why this was the right thing to do, write a paper. Make those NASA twinks take your long hard science boner, yeah. You scrabble on to the counter with the pail, stick your long bony chicken legs over the sink. You used to be able to sit right in it, you’d curl up in the smooth square brushed-steel sink, you loved the small space, the tight fit of the walls pressing against you when you tensed your arms. You’d lay a blanket over the little space and pretend to be an oyster, you’d practice holding perfectly still.
You were a weird kid by anyone’s metric. Are. Will always be.
The first slosh of seawater over your welted leg burns worse than the poison. You make an awful noise like “Hn-hunnnhh,” and find yourself embarrassed, like your bro could hear you. He’s not making much more noise than rustling paper, the scratch of fabric.
You dump another bit of seawater and it feels better. Another and it feels good, it hurts so good. Hurts like clean. You’re going to be okay. You can see the jelly-lumps of the stingers wobble and diminish under each scoop of water, dissolving off. You’re worried about how fast you’re spending the seawater you got, but you run out of stingers before you run out of water. You sluice the final few handfuls over raw, puckered, blistering, clean skin.
When you slide off the counters your knees almost buckle. But they don’t. From there getting clean bandages is a cinch, you keep medical supplies everywhere. Your head’s pounding, you’re thirsty. Your stomach is itchy and weird-hollow with just bile and saltwater in it. You feel-- you feel like shit. But better. You wrap your legs up loosely, just to keep them clean, and you collapse in your computer chair backwards, so you can rest your head on your arms on the armrest. You’re exhausted. Clean. Safe.
“Did it, old man,” you enunciate carefully. “Strider vs Strider, score one for the hometeam.”
“I’m proud of you.”
You startle, look back up at the screen. He stares right back at you, his shades like two black pits in the universe.
“Horseshit,” you blurt out. You’re drooling on yourself, still you slur, “Y’don’ even--”
“No, really,” he says. “I’m proud of you, bro, for real. I know you’re probably sitting there thinking ‘why did I tell the old alma matter to spout that load of bullcrap?’ but check me out. I’m for real, here.”
He waves the script at the camera. There’s a blank spot right in the middle of the page that just reads ‘Free verse.’
Your mouth make a nasty noise, all to itself, a “Nnnnuh.”
Dave leans forward. You can see a camera reflected in his shades, in the high-rez screen, you can see his own face peering out of the camera in his shades, his reflection reflecting itself into infinity. Not you. You’re not there -- he’s not here.
He says, “This isn’t in any of the scripts and I don’t know why, but maybe this, here, now, is why. Listen:
“Ontological paradoxes are by definition endless and by supposition sourceless. They don’t start anywhere, they don’t end anywhere, they’re a perfect loop because they spin straight out from our hearts. They’re reality distilled. They’re what happens because it has to happen because we couldn’t do anything else. So, no, I don’t know you, kid, that’s probably what you’re thinking, how does he know enough of what I’ve done to ever be proud of a damn thing I got around to taking care of? I don’t. I don’t think I’ll ever get the chance. All I got are these scripts you wrote for me, this game you’re playing with me, and I can’t say that’s enough, but that’s something. You’re smart and you’re strong and you have some serious fucking balls to be pulling my strings across four hundred years, and I’d love you if I could, and I’d miss you even if I couldn’t. I’m proud of you and I’m glad I got the chance to play whatever part in your story you let me.”
He checks the paper, frowns.
“Though I gotta say, bro,” he adds, “the horse fetish is kind of tacky.”
He holds the paper up to the camera and points at the text. “You wrote that line for me, I will add. If you’re developing a taste for auto-erogenous humiliation, please leave me the fuck out of it. I’m not kink shaming or anything here, but goddamn do I not even want to think about the consent issues involved.”
“I will,” you croak. Your mouth’s a sloppy traitor, you wipe it with the back of your hand. You wipe your eyes with the back of your hand. You say, very carefully, “Sorry.”
He glances at the paper. The corner of his lip quirks up, very subtly.
“Don’t be sorry, be smarter,” he says. Then he gives you a little salute. “Okay, you should be out of the worst of the danger. Drink as much water as will stay down -- salt for at least another two hours, then some fresh -- stay out of more trouble than you can handle, and watch the actual movie for once, it says this one’s your least favorite but fuck you, your taste is shit. We did the noodle incident with my own blood, I said it was beet juice in the director’s cut but actually Lalonde opened a door on me at the wrong time and we didn’t want a whole soap dispenser of premium type-O to go to waste, so we snuck it into the bathroom at the last minute. Is that irony or what?”
You’re laughing. It hurts, but it’s a good laugh.
“Yeah, yeah, laugh at your old man. Kids these days, no respect.” Dave stands up from the chair. Goes to turn the camera off.
“Enjoy the show, punk,” is the last thing he says before you’re shunted back to the menuew.
So you do.