Saturday, November 5, 2011
It's November, which means it's National Novel Writing Month! I tried to participate in NaNoWriMo last year and did pretty well. I wrote nearly 20,000 words, which (while less than half the 50k "goal" that NaNo'ers shoot for) was more than I'd written in a single month, and is still my 30-day best.
This year I'm going to make a resolution not to write more content but to do more to make my name known to agents and publishers; push my blog a little harder (as well as update it a little more often), write more agent letters, tweet with more connected people.
In that spirit, this story is a sort-of sequel to the entry I wrote for last June called "Awake" which you can read here (new window). While it's not totally necessary to read it first, it might make this story a little easier to follow. It's a working idea that I'd like to develop into a novel one of these days, as soon as I flesh out an actual story from it. Enjoy!
"Who?" (1700ish words)
November 5th, 2011
Aaron Matthew Smith
My eyes flew open and I was again blinded by white light.
My stomach did a sudden flip and I leaned over the edge of the bed and puked all over the floor. Which was how I found out I was in a bed. I felt a hand on my shoulder as I coughed and spat.
“Easy, easy. Take a breath,” a woman’s voice said, and then shouted, “Orderly!”
“I’m okay,” I said, leaning back up, my paper hospital gown crinkling as I moved. Someone pressed a cool glass into my hands, and I took a drink. Whatever was in it tasted like orange Tang, but I managed to keep it down. I looked up to see a pair of almond-shaped eyes.
“You’ve been asleep for nearly two days,” the woman said. “Are you feeling better?”
“Better than what?” I sipped the drink. It was too sour.
She shrugged. “My name’s Sandra Casey. Do you remember me?”
I nearly said no but caught myself. Something about her eyes was familiar. “Maybe,” I decided.
“I was there when we found you. Do you remember that?”
I tried to focus, but it felt like I was trying to remember a particularly raucous bachelor party the morning after. “I remember being cold, and then all this light. And then the puking.”
Sandra Casey shook her head. “I was afraid of that.” She touched a pin on the lapel of her suit jacket. It made a tiny chirp noise. She whispered, “This is Casey, we’re going to need someone from psychology for the John Doe we brought in the other day. Send to my current location.”
“John Doe?” I said. Cold truth hit me like a sock in the gut a second later. I tried to recall my name, or what kind of car I drove, or my wife’s name. Hell, whether I was married or not.
“Why can’t I…” I said, the panic in me threatening to boil over like an unwatched kettle.
“We’re not sure,” Sandra said, holding her hands up in what I suppose she thought was a comforting gesture. “We’re still examining the equipment.”
“The canister that we found you in.”
I laughed. I actually laughed. “Canister? What’re you talking about, like a sardine or something?”
She made a confused face, then her eyebrows rose. “They still sold them in cans back then.”
“What’re you talking about?” I said.
“Sir… do you know what year it is?”
“Listen, I heard you call your shrink a minute ago, but I’m not totally cracked.” I wrinkled my nose, the smell of bile reaching me. “I’m sorry, but can we get someone to clean this up?” I pointed at the recent paint job I’d given the floor.
Suddenly a tinny buzzing reached my ears from the door to the room. Something like a doggie dog flopped up at the bottom, and a little thing that looked like a halved soccer ball slipped into the room. I watched mesmerized as it sniffed out the pile of vomit on the floor, a tiny red light on top of the white object going nuts. It glided across the puddle, leaving sparkling white floor beneath it until the job was done. There was a ding! like someone’s microwave dinner was finished. The little light on top turned blue and the thing let itself out the way it had come.
I turned to look at Sandra Casey, pointing at the doggie door.
“That was an orderly,” she said calmly.
“That was a Roomba, and I’ve seen one before.” I sniffed, a sharp scent now present in the room.
“That small is nitrogen,” Casey said. “That thing sublimated the puke.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes,” she said. “It’s a sublimating maid.”
“No, I mean are you seriously going on with this?” I said. “It was sort of cute at first, the whole reanimator thing, but it’s getting old. Who set you up to this? Did someone drug me and pay you to freak me out when I woke up?”
“Sir, I know this is hard to understand, but according to the machine where we found you, you’ve been asleep since 2010.”
“Look, I’ve had enough. I’m calling the nurse.” She seemed nice enough, but this was serious; I couldn’t even remember my own name, for crying out loud. Whoever was pulling a fast one on me had done a good job. I looked to each side of the bed for the nurse call button, but didn’t see it. In fact, the metallic hospital bed didn’t have any controls on it at all.
A foot square area of the wall just above Casey’s head blinked to life suddenly, like a hidden TV screen. A woman’s face appeared.
“What can I do for you?” She asked.
I blinked. “Uh.”
“Nothing right now, thank you.” Casey said. The screen blinked off. “Be careful, it’s voice activated.”
“…where am I?”
“Roosevelt Hospital, New York City.”
I shook my head. “I don’t remember much, but I remember that building’s old. This place looks like the damn space station.”
“That’s what I’m saying,” Casey whispered. Her brow furrowed, her mouth set in a tiny frown. She wasn’t letting up.
I stood up from the bed, making sure the gown covered my kibbles and bits and crossed to the window. Sunlight filtered in through frosted glass. I leaned in, trying to make out some of the shapes on the other side. As my fingers touched the cold glass it suddenly changed transparent, filling the room with direct sunlight.
The first thing I noticed was how blue the sky was. I’d never seen a sky that beautiful before. Building rose like glittering arms into the sky, each trying to reach a little farther than the others. Each of the buildings was covered in scales that reflected the sunlight like fish scales, making the whole city look like some gaudy piece of rhinestone jewelry. There were no telephone or power lines, no clouds of smog clogging the air, no constant railing of car horns drifting up to the window.
I blinked twice. Then I leaned one way, then the other, watching the perspective from the window change as I moved. It wasn’t a picture, and if it was a fake it was the most amazing special effects I’d ever seen.
I looked at Casey. “How’re you doing that?”
“…and get psych up here right now,” she was whispering into her lapel again.
“No, no. You tell me right now what’s going on!” I stuck my finger in her face, my patience completely gone. “I can’t remember my own damn name and you’re playing movie magic? This is serious!”
The door to my room opened suddenly, and I screamed.
The little floor cleaning robot was back, except it was bigger, and flying. And this time it had a woman’s face on it, stretched out of the white surface like it was made of latex and a women behind it was trying to press her way out with her face. It’s non-eyebrows moved in a horrible mockery of concern.
“It something the matter, sir?” It said, formless mouth moving as it spoke. And I lost it.
I dove past Casey for the door, knocking the white levitating head for a loop as I shoved past it into the hallway. I hung a left and charged down the completely empty hall. Which distantly struck me as odd- weren’t hospitals usually full of people running all over the place?
The hall ended at a sort of hub with a reception desk and three other passages branching off. Another levitating head stationed behind the desk turned to look at me as I approached. My bare feet slipped on the tile floor as I slid to a halt.
“Something wrong, sir?” It said in a maddeningly human voice.
No time to hesitate; I took another left as I heard footsteps pounding down the hall behind me. Casey’s voice shouted “Police! Stop that man!” but it was too late. I was already down the next hallway, its antiseptic white surfaces identical to the last.
Something sprang suddenly from the floor; I barely had time to throw my hands up to shield my face before I crashed into it. The thing gave with my weight and sprang back like a semi-transparent trampoline. A expected to hit the tile floor but the crash never came. Another of the membranes had appeared behind me, and no sooner had I hit it than I felt the first clinging to my back. In seconds I was sandwiched between the two resilient surfaces, its soft surface pressing against my face. Through it I could see Casey jogging down the hall toward me.
Oh god, I thought. They’re going to cut off my face and turn me into one of those horrible floating things.
Someone turned the corner behind her and ran up to meet Casey. He wore a white lab coat and looked like he’d just jogged up thirty flights of stairs.
“Is something the matter, sir?” I heard the floating face call after him.
“About time,” Casey said as the guy came up next to her. Her voice came to my muffled, like my head was stuck under a pillow. “He just went ballistic.”
What was I supposed to do? I struggled, but it felt like I was held in a bear hug by a particularly impassioned professional wrestler. I was completely helpless. Through the murky skin I stared at Casey’s almond-shaped eyes. Was she really going to let them do whatever it was they were going to do to me?
“Help me,” I said, as loud as I could manage.
She came within inches of my face. Her brow might have been furrowed. Or it might have been the gummy film holding me like fly paper.
“Don’t worry,” she said finally. “We’ll find out what happened to you.”
Even if I would’ve noticed the syringe in the other guy’s hand, I couldn’t have done anything about it. He plunged the needle right through the binding and into my shoulder. I barely felt the prick, and a moment later I didn’t feel anything at all.