Occupational Hazard

Occupational Hazard

The tale of a boy, his unusual talent, and a rather unfortunate way to meet a girl.

In the beginning, there was nothingness. Then…

Urgh. Some vague form of consciousness rushed in on Bela, assaulting him with a variety of odd and mostly unpleasant sensations. The stabbing pains down both legs attacked first, followed by a general dull ache all over and a pounding in his head. An odd pressure on his crotch came to his attention, but was quickly superceded by a searing metaphorical knife to the abdomen. A million tiny papercuts seemed to settle into his back. What the hell did I do last night? he thought. It feels like I was hit by a truck.

The answer to that question slowly began to gather, in a fuzzy bad tv movie montage sort of way. Driving home from a practice at Caleb’s house, three in the morning, typically uncleared Philly streets, ice, a feeling of sliding, the headlights in his eyes… Fuck. Maybe I really was hit by a truck. He could feel, among all the pain, his hair tickling his cheeks, and tried to raise a hand to push it away. The air seemed to gain a resistance more common to Jello. As he forced his hand up, an unfamiliar voice took his attention.

“Jared! He’s moving. He’s waking up?” The voice leapt up a few notes at the end, questioning, and he tried to place it. Eyes aren’t opening. Feels like lead weights on them. Focus on what you can do, Bela. Voices are your thing. A girl, but no one he knew. Definitely too high-pitched to be either of his sisters- soprano most likely, but an odd kind of flatness in the tone. A vaguely southern-ish accent with an elision that was sort of local, but not quite. Maybe she was a nurse?

“I’m not sure. Maybe.” This voice was male, probably a tenor, smoother than the girl’s with a muddled English accent. Unfortunately, none of this accent wrangling was really helpful, as Bela didn’t know any British guys, current or former. “His finger moved.”

“We have to get somebody! Call a nurse or something.” Okay, not a nurse. Whoever she was, she sounded more frantic this time. Could he have met her? She seemed to know who he was, though he met an awful lot of people, most of them very briefly and often unwillingly. Mr. Unknown English Guy didn’t respond, at least not verbally. It was the kind of silence that you just knew without looking was accompanied by a cocked eyebrow and an unspoken question. “I can- We’ll- If we…?” With each failure to respond to her not-plans, she grew audibly more frustrated, until she yelled, “Oh, BELGIUM!”

A wave of exhaustion washed over Bela, and he only had a moment to wonder about her odd choice of profanity before unconsciousness followed in its wake.

The Jello had multiplied. Now it felt like he was swimming in it, the air resisting him. The pain came and went, sleep claiming him when it subsided. Vague echoes of voices came to him now and then, but they were so muffled as to obscure both words and speaker. He couldn’t pick out any one of the sensations- they all blended into a general mix of ohholyfuckouch. He had no idea how long the featureless Jello world lasted. Time lost all meaning as he drifted in the pain and confusion and general fuzziness. Whatever was wrong with him, it kept his eyes firmly shut. Occasionally, a faint antiseptic odor asserted itself, then faded into the background blur of sensations. He attempted to piece together the situation. Most likely, he really had been hit by a truck. Or something. He was obviously alive, hence the extreme hurting. Most likely he was in a hospital somewhere- the mystery girl had said something about waking up, so maybe a coma? He was… He didn’t know, and as the pain dulled again, sleep swallowed him before he could complete the thought. Some time later, another voice, much clearer, sounded.

Life must be continuing out there….

“Bela?” Definitely Sheb. His little brother’s voice was unmistakable. “So… uhh… yeah. Just got back. Just like I told you it would be.” If only he’d been conscious (so to speak) to hear what ‘it’ was. “Dirty looks and uncomfortable clothes and a hell of a lot of people I didn’t know. Finn was there and Irene and Maggie and Dad. Mom stayed with you. Least we could do, I think.” A pause, uncomfortable throat clearing over the beeps of the heart monitor. “You have no idea how weird it is to see you parted from that Bluetooth. It kinda broke in the crash. Well, it was fake anyway, but it actually, you know, looks all smashed. Into a million pieces. If you survive this, we’ll give you another hey-I’m-not-talking-to-thin-air device. I need you to wake up, man. I need you to survive this. Not that you wouldn’t get some kinda reception either way, knowing you, but we need you back. Just keep fighting…” The words grew fuzzy on the edges, like they were run through a bad tuner, and silence returned.

Faceless voices in ceaseless darkness…

“…so I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel with you.” Vaguely southern mystery girl again. “Jared’s all anyone else would be all rarr right now and I’m all I’m not like that and I just keep coming back here and I don’t know why, because I don’t want to be like that. And it’s ridiculous, really, that he’s all well, there’s this guy that can help and then it turns out that that guy is you and all things considered that’s really gorram awkward, isn’t it? God, I’m babbling like a maniac, and you’re all unconscious and not listening anyway. Maybe things make more sense for you, wherever you are right now. It’s all crazy euphemisms and funny phrases and I keep saying things and then realizing they don’t make sense and trying really hard not to think about it and my inner Scully is screaming.” A pause. “Good thing you’re not listening. None of that makes sense even to me, and I’m the one who’s frelling saying it…” Through his cocoon, Bela realized that for some reason her insane rant made a strange sort of sense. He got as far as realizing she was babbling out of shock when she faded into fuzzy reverb, then silence.

Memories drifting in the anesthetic haze…

“It’s Tuesday now, Bela. I was thinking about the day I first held you last night. That was a Tuesday too. Remember how you used to ask me about it? How you’d say, Mommy, tell me about when you got me? How it was a Tuesday morning, and it was so cold in Budapest, and how the lady at the orphanage put you in my hands and I cried happy tears…” Her voice cracked, then she sniffled. Those were the exact words of the story she’d told him as a child, from the day they had taken him home from Hungary. She must be devastated. He had to wake up for his mother- had to. “You were my baby then, Bela. Stay with me, baby. Stay with Mommy…”

The Jello atmosphere descended once more, reducing his mother’s voice to an unintelligible murmur.

This must be how a metamorphosing butterfly feels, cocooned from all it knew…

“…so Jorge the Justice Llama is pretty much on hold right now. We all gave the mike a try, but none of us can handle it like you can. Caleb damn near made my ears bleed. Guess that’s why he’s the drummer.” Finn this time. His slightly older brother let out a sharp, humorless bark of laughter before continuing. “That band name has you written all over it, dude-well, that makes sense. It is based on your misadventure. If anyone in this family was going to be kicked out of Peru, it would be you. Probably a good thing we’re not an on tour kinda band, I think. Travel is not your friend. At some point we’d have to be at some historical site. We always made quite a sight on Mom and Dad’s history pilgrimages. They were always all crazy about the historical grounds and listening all raptly to the tour guides and there you are with your sunglasses and hood up shaking your head and whispering that history isn’t that clean or pretty or linear and trying your hardest not to make eye contact with anybody.” He paused. “For all the trouble you get out of it, you’ve done a hell of a lot of good for them. If…” A sharp breath as if to steady himself, then “If things… go south, at least I know you won’t be alone. I couldn’t deal with that after all you’ve done. But you’re strong. The doctors swear you’re holding your own…” Fuzz out to Jello again.

Dead sailors had their eyes dressed with dimes. Feels like his are dressed with sandbags.

“Morgan said she’s praying for you.” Irene now. “I could tell she was trying to show off her piety. It wasn’t very smart of her to bring it up while I was fitting her pants. I might have stabbed her a little, totally accidentally of course. She always was a sanctimonious attention whore, though I say that in the nicest way. Honestly, you two broke up months ago, and now she’s trying to use you to get attention from us after she made up that idiotic schizophrenia rumor? You’re not a pawn.” An increase in pressure on his hand made him aware that he still possessed hands. “You’re my little brother, and she is getting nowhere near you. So anyway, I could have sworn there was a reenactment of the Battle of Gallipoli in the hallway this morning. Knowing our house, it’s probably not that far off the mark. Woke up to a lot of noise, thought ‘Bela can handle them.’ and then remembered you were here. Had to yell in, well, someone’s general direction. On the subject of attention whores, I think Crazy History Channel Guy might be getting stir crazy without you around to needle. It’s always weird noises or something. Can’t imagine what it’s like to actually see him. Must be interesting. Last night I swear I heard someone proclaiming the Crusades in the kitchen…”

Irene’s voice stayed in focus longer than the others, but it too faded into the background. He could think more clearly now. She must be staying with their parents to be closer to him- she’d moved out several years ago. Not very shocking about Crazy History Channel Guy- he’d been known to stumble into the man dressed as centurions, knights, and any number of pseudo-historical getups. Until he’d caught on to the whole “One crazy dead guy in a lot of costumes” aspect, he’d been beside himself over attracting the whole of Western history to his house. There was definitely a reason for saying he didn’t talk to the ghosts so much as become a harrassment target.

The blankness was taking on more focus now, the overall ouch fading out to specific areas, his back stinging somewhat less. The pressure on his head felt less pronounced, though he still couldn’t pinpoint the unknown sensation somewhat lower on his body. Bolts of sharp pain still coursed down both his legs, but he was more aware of having a body with specific parts rather than a vague shape traced out of pain. If only the Jello atmosphere would release him and let him out…

Ironically, just before driving home, he’d commented that he needed to catch up his sleep…

“So… Ummm… just need to talk to you, let you know I am so sorry, as I… wait, doesn’t work.” Bela identified Mystery Girl’s voice again, lamented the fact that he knew the name of her compatriot Jared, but not her own. “Idioms suck. Anywho, really want you to wake up. So does your family. Don’t know how much of this you can hear, if any. Seeing you like this hurts. Please, for both our sakes. Wake up.” Apparently, in the intervening time she had forgotten how to construct sentences (not forgotten, a voice inside him whispered. Withheld.) Something about her speech pattern struck him as familiar. Before he could make a connection, the blackness descended, leaving her identity as mysterious as ever.

Floating… indistinct… lost.

Some undetermined amount of time later, a change came over the atmosphere. The pressure on his skin lifted, the Jello becoming more watery. He was reminded of the air at the start of a long-due thunderstorm, the expectant release. His eyelids still felt weighed down by sandbags, but much lighter ones. The monotonous beep of what he assumed was a heart monitor met his ears, the whoosh of an air vent, the bleach smell of disinfectant. Taking a deep breath, he rallied his strength and forced his eyes open for the first time in ages.

The light burned his eyes, forcing them to a squint as they adjusted. Through the tiny gap, a blurry mass of colors shone- pumpkin orange and violently unnatural red against bland beige, the bright mass shifting position. The astringent ammoniac scent of the air was matched by an acrid taste in the back of his mouth, a sort of morning breath from the ninth level of Hades. The echoes of aches and pains forced through the fuzzy sea of chemicals, tracing out a blurry map of his physical complaints. All thoughts he had experienced faded to a blank where am I? A different blur in the corner of his eye caused the orange and red blur to shift backwards suddenly. For reasons he couldn’t quite place, he lifted a hand, slapped at something. His hand met empty air and flopped down onto something cold and hard, then slipped back to his side. The less bright blur had thier hands on him, pressing into various parts of his body, then moving a fuzzy face to his eye level. “Can you hear me?” asked a male voice.

This was not home. Not his bed, not his room, not home. He forced his eyes open wider, now that they had adjusted, but was met with a wider view of myopic blur. Realizing dimly that he had been asked a question, he nodded slowly, wincing as the motion set off a twinge of pain in his temples. Attempting to open his mouth and speak met with very little success. The desert in his throat refused to permit the question to escape his mouth. Lifting his hands with some difficulty, he placed them at his throat, hoping to get his point across.

“He wants water.” a voice was saying in the room. “Get him some water!”

Another motion blur, and something smooth was in his mouth. It took a moment for him to realize what it was, then he began to suck the cool water down voraciously. The fire in his throat now quenched, he tried to assemble what little he knew. He was… somewhere. He hurt. He was weak. He couldn’t move that much. He could see, but not that well. How he had got there was a mystery, even a great deal of who he was. For sure, he knew he was a man. He knew his name was Bela. The rest lay in an immense fogbank that blanked out most of his memory. The room was beige, metallic glints lay everywhere, the blue blur of the man who was poking him by the bed, the orange and red blur- okay, person- by the wall. A nagging thought along the lines of Don’t I ever get a vacation? crossed his mind at the sight of them. It making absolutely no sense to him, he dismissed it.

“Where-?” he managed to rasp. His voice was slow, unfamiliar.

“You’re in a hospital.” The male voice returned. “You were in a car accident. You’ve been unconscious for ten days.”

Huh? He didn’t remember a car accident or anything like that. Last he knew, he’d been practicing a cover of Moondance at his friend’s house. They’d had an anniversary party gig coming up. Then… he was here. Struggling to say this to the not-well-seen man. It suddenly occurred to him that he may be able to fix that. “Glasses?” he whispered.

“Yours were broken in the crash. I’ll have your parents bring a pair.” The man’s tone was soothing now, less anxious. “Do you know who you are?”

“Bela. Bela- something.” His last name eluded him. “My family?”

“They’re on their way. It is three in the morning. Not an hour most people see.” His tone was lighthearted, calculated to relax.

Some hidden part of Bela deep inside him disagreed with that statement, but he couldn’t for the life of him figure out why. New information, then: He apparently was very used to being up at insane hours.

There was a stirring at the door, another figure, and the orange and red blur sped out of the door-shaped blur without saying a word. A number of figures followed and crowded around the bed, murmuring excitedly.

“Knew you’d make it, dude.”

“My baby. You’re alive.”

This was his family, he realized as the memories rushed back. This was the beginning of a long road back.

February 18

To most eyes, the part was empty. During the summer months, it was a lively place, flea markets and Shakespeare in the Park and the general craziness of a city park. Now, with the last vestiges of February predawn cold shaking the denuded trees, even the homeless had found better sheltered areas to sleep. A certain type of person, however, would have noticed the two young adults sitting on the bench near the entrance, hanging around a park in the middle of the night in winter simply because it was something to do.

The woman pulled her pumpkin orange coat tighter around her, despite not feeling the cold. All the little automatic motions were holding up her sanity, keeping back the million and eight internal repetitions of How is this happening? Why is this happening? Who is asking this question?

“Spectacular cop-out on my part.” She said, focusing on the tiny snowflakes drifting over the ceramic cupcake set into the cement. She didn’t at all feel like answering the ‘Hi, how are you?’ sign attached to it.

“At least he’s awake, Lucy.” Jared said, laying a hand on her shoulder. “He’ll get better, and then you can talk to him.”

She sat up straighter, let her arms fly free as she spoke. Some things needed to be said in more than one language. “It’s just… I can’t. What… what to say? Right now, his life sucks enough without me making him feel all guilty.”

“Hmm.” Jared thought a moment. “I thought you were the one feeling guilty.”

“If he knows, he is too.” Her bald assertion was followed with “You think they’re telling him?” She wanted to say more, but there was no way to say it in a way that wouldn’t get her thinking.

With a sympathetic look, Jared thought of how to phrase it. Using the past tense around a newbie like Lucy was a verbal minefield. She’d been chopping her sentences into increasingly bizarre chunks to avoid straying from the denial-safe present tense. “I think he does have to find out eventually. Especially with him being what he is. If his family knows about the psychic thing, they might assume you’re planning to say something.”

“They know. Everything they say to him proves it. His brothers, at… well, you know where, they… seem to speculate. A lot. I’m… part of the speculation.” The pauses were less hesitant than they had been a few days ago. It wasn’t exactly proper denial anymore- she intellectually knew what had happened to her, but if she didn’t use the words, she didn’t have to think about it. He understood completely- he’d been the same way after his own untimely demise.

Jared nodded, one hand brushing the top of her unnaturally red hair (In a moment of inconsequential chatter, she’d admitted the word ‘nuclear’ was in the dye shade’s name) while the other played with the sleeve of his t-shirt. He had long since surpassed the need to look season-appropriate. Besides, the past few weeks in this city had proven to be a veritable parade of a nonsequential historical clusterfuck. It was a mix of styles not unlike silent film attempts to do a period piece. He’d seen worse, of course- this country had a very skewed definition of “old”, not to mention “history”. London, he would be likely to run into someone still talking of the plague. (Okay, so there was that guy talking about yellow fever a few days back…) It wasn’t the leftovers of history that were so weird, but the place in general. Philadelphia possessed an atmosphere of oddity surpassed only by south Florida. He would gladly take off for somewhere else at a moment’s notice.

He realized that option was taken off the table with witnessing that crash. There had been the wild honking of the car’s horn, and then the skidding on the ice, and the horrible twisting metal, and then there she was, standing beside the wreckage all brand new and terrified and in shock, and what kind of man would he be if he didn’t help a distressed woman? He may have done some seriously stupid shit in his life and afterward, but he did not abandon newbies. Not even the ones whose first reaction was to scream in his face, then assume they were dreaming. “Not surprised. Not many like him in the world, but being in close proximity to one of them… you can tell. They’re born that way- it’s like being in a job by birthright, really. Just one that never pays you.”

Lucy waited for him to stop speaking before formulating her response. True, technically she didn’t need to read lips anymore, but the routine was comforting. The sounds assaulting her had been an omnipresent reminder of her implausible situation, and she found it all deeply unsettling. “So you’re saying that there’s one of these guys in some ridiculous amount of miles and he might be brain damaged because of me? Gorram, I’m talented at screwing things up.” She forced her hands to stay still. To Jared, the signing just came off as slightly insane gesticulating. Not that he wasn’t aware of the whole formerly deaf thing. Hi first words to her had, in fact, been met with her clapping hands over her ears and screaming in shock. In her defense, the shock was a natural reaction to the sudden lifting of that 14-year-long veil of silence.

“Not. Your. Fault.” He said vehemently. “Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is not a crime, and I really don’t see why you need to feel so bloody guilty.” This was hard enough on her without her taking the blame on herself. (Maybe the ice had caused the skid, but it had unequivocally been his car doing the damage.) Less than two weeks in was no time to make yourself feel worse. “Look at me, Lucy Sky.” She already was, always did when speaking to him, but it got her attention. “This absolutely sucks, I know. I’ve been where you are, and it won’t be easy to adjust. Please stop making yourself more upset. Let things calm down and wait. We’ll see about it when he’s well enough to talk to.”

She nodded. “I’ll try. And don’t call me Lucy Sky.”

“It’s your name.”

Lucy shot him a glare. “They had to print my middle name. You just find it amusing that I’m named after a Beatles song.” If teasing about her name was the worst he does, then she might as well stick around. Being that he was her only source of experienced advice, she’d best listen to him. All she had to do was wait. Maybe by then she’d feel up to it.

March 14- And time yet for a hundred indecisions

“You will not say a word, Irene Philomena.” Marjorie Drusse crossed her arms and sent her sternest glare at her oldest child. “You may be an adult but I am your mother, and I say you will not say a word to your little brother.”

“But Mom-” Irene’s protest was cut off abruptly as her mother tightened her fists and yelled back.

“NO. Bela manages to get himself worked up with guilt under relatively normal circumstances. I will not have you jeopardizing his recovery by telling him he was responsible for that woman’s death.He has a difficult enough road ahead of him without worrying about that.” She paused, panting.

Her family stared at her, somewhat frightened of the wild-eyed persona she was presenting. Finally, her husband spoke up. “Jory, he does have to find out some time. It wouldn’t be fair to him to find out from… anyone else. Now that he’s lucid, that we know he isn’t brain damaged, we ought to treat him like an adult and let him deal with this.”

Her lips pressed into the thinnest of lines. “He won’t find out from us, Gabe. Or anyone else. Not till he’s completely recovered. Any of you speak up, you will regret it.” She turned her glare on the youngest and most gregarious of her children, invoking the dreaded full names just to show how serious she was. “You hear me, Sebastian Richard? Magdalena Esther? Not a word.” Jory turned on her heel and exited down the hallway at a near-run, her husband in pursuit.

Only when the doors to the ward had swung to a close did anyone dare to speak. Sheb shuddered, wrapped his arms around himself. “She’s serious. She only calls me Sebastian when she really would kill me.”

Maggie, nervously fingering her school bag, turned from the spot where her mother had flounced off. “He will feel guilty, but he’s gonna find out.” She declared with a tone of resignation. “Even if we don’t say a word, and trust me I wouldn’t, not with Mom like that…”

“There’s no guarantee that she’ll keep quiet.” Sheb finished.

“If she’s even here.” Finn added. “We can’t know for sure. Only he can, and he only just remembered he was psychic. Besides, it’s gotta take a while to be able to say it. If it were you, could you walk up to somebody and casually say, ‘Hey, you sorta kinda killed me, dude?’” He lowered his voice at the end to avoid a strange look from a passerby.

“Either way, if we say anything now, Mom will make sure we end up on his counseling schedule.” Irene said, standing as straight as she could with one hand on her bulging abdomen. Her comment caused the four siblings to shudder slightly at the thought of their mother with her ire raised. “Mom’s wound way too tight as it is and she’s half right- he’s barely out of the woods yet. At this point, he’s not in any shape to deal with it. So… we wait. If we tell him, or Mom does, or if it does end up that Lucy Aroway has to do it herself- hopefully not, poor kid… there’s no need to rush it. He’s in a seriously screwy position, but he doesn’t need to worry about it yet.”

“So…” Maggie concluded. “He does get told, but later.” She let her backpack hit the floor and slumped down against the wall. This was heavy stuff for a sixteen year old- a brother just escaping brain damage who didn’t know that he had committed vehicular manslaughter was beyond her, not to mention the thought that the victim might very well be the one to let him know. "When he feels stronger.

“Agreed?” Finn spoke up, in a tone that suggested it wasn’t an option.

“Agreed.” The Drusse siblings said in unison.

March 27- Forty-seven

There were 47 tiles in the ceiling of his room. He knew this because there was nothing else to do but count them. His schedule was jam-packed with exciting events- Wake up, get poked and prodded, take yet more antibiotics for the seemingly endlessly recurring infection in a place where a man should not have an infection, deal with having a tube shoved in a place where no man should have a tube (seriously, the urban legend about those Amazonian fish that swim up your you-know what? Probably inspired by catheters), get tortured by the physical therapist, count the ceiling tiles, sleep, attempt to play his guitar until the nurse confiscates it, eat bland awful food (which is an improvement over the previous alternative), attempt to read but be knocked silly by drugs, lather rinse repeat. It was enough to make him climb the walls, if he could manage to walk more than ten steps at a time. Apparently, the drive shift to the abdomen had… messed with a few things. When he had inquired about the possibility of putting a stop to the UTI by taking out the damn tube, the response had been roughly along the lines of “we don’t exactly have many alternatives on that front”, which was seriously not good news when you happened to be twenty freakin’ years old. (They had brought up the alternatives. With visual aids. He had reacted much like Dracula to sunlight. No. Damn. Way. What did they think he was, two years old?)

On top of it, everyone was being weirder than usual. His family was usually really open with him, which made sense because he was the weird I-talk-to-dead-people-or-more-precisely-they-talk-to-me one. But now they were being a lot more evasive than usual. Irene seemed to pull it off somewhat smoothly when she came in to visit, deflecting him to topics such as the antics in the city or the occasional manifestations of Crazy History Channel Guy (they had agreed long ago that he was completely nuts, but harmless, which is why he hadn’t been kicked out years ago). Sheb and Maggie, on the other hand, had the uncomfortable air of that kid in junior high who knows a huge secret but was told not to tell. Sheb was talking around questions at a mile a minute, while the usually gregarious Maggie was barely talking and looking over her shoulder nervously. And when any of them were with Mom, they seemed to choose their words very, very carefully. His guess was there was some implication of his injuries they were afraid would get him down. (Like he hadn’t heard the worst already).

At least the word had gotten out that he was fully out of commission. Being caught talking to himself in a building that had a psych ward would be seriously stupid. Mostly, they’d left him alone to recover. It was bizarre not waking up at three in the morning to someone wailing about an unsolved crime or uncared-for cat or unsigned will or something that would require him to do semi-illegal things. Apparently, all he had to do to get them to leave him alone was be grievously injured. So he could still think, was left alone to do it, and had found that laying there and thinking was exceedingly boring. Maybe he’d get Finn to bring back the guitar. The one nurse usually didn’t take it as long as he played Smoke on the Water…

April 3- To wonder do I dare?

“Is that what I think it is?” Lucy asked, gazing at the two waistcoat-clad men at the corner of 2nd and Spruce.

Jared shrugged. “Maybe. What do you think it is?” He took in the scene with a sense of wry amusement. The taller of the men gave a smug smile as his sword edged the other’s away.

“Hmmmm.” Lucy paused, then added, “If I said it looked like two Benjamin Franklin impersonators having a sword fight on a street corner, would that sound insane?” A thought occurred to her. “They’re good impersonators. Really good. Errrmmm… Jared?”

“Yes?”

“What if one of them isn’t an impersonator?” As soon as the words left her mouth, she mentally castigated herself for thinking something so non-rational. That was followed by a rebuke of Like anything else in the last two months has made any sense.

“You wouldn’t be able to prove it.” Jared said casually. “I met a few Napoleon Bonapartes in France. If one of them was really him, I couldn’t tell. Things are more… malleable now than they were when you were living. Reality here is like Play-doh. If these guys think they’re Franklin, they might very well be indistinguishable from the real thing.”

Her eyes widened. “So what you’re saying is if I were insane enough, I could become Marie Antoinette or something like that. Except for the whole not speaking French thing, but this is hypothetical anyway. I could, like change my appearance and all?” Sometimes, when things like this popped up, she still wondered in some tiny part of her mind whether this really wasn’t an increasingly bizarre dream. True, she had driven Jared nuts with the whole five days of “You are a figment of my subconscious because impossible things only happen in dreams.”, but there was still some bit of her waiting to wake the hell up. The rest of her realized the hardest part of this whole afterlife thing: she had been wrong. And despite the general view of science, sometimes astrophysicists-in-training really hate being wrong.

The card-carrying member of the American Skeptics Society becomes a ghost: heads up, Alanis Morrissette, that was irony. It was also the lead-in to a serious reconsidering of her belief system. No, she had not expected pearly gates or fire and brimstone or even some Kafka-esque celestial DMV. In general, she had not expected to be, well, anywhere. Certainly she could be forgiven a little shock or screaming at the gods she didn’t believe in. All her scientific training aside, some preconceptions are really hard to set aside. Yes, even when one’s own existence was the proof of its falsehood.

To his credit, Jared had so far refrained from slapping her silly (not that she’d feel it anyway). Even after 5 days of being accused of being in her dream, after having to explain the most basic things, after a million repetitions of the same conversation ( “How does that work?” “Hell if I know”), he was still playing guru to her. He didn’t even seem to have issues with her poking random things to see if she could touch them. (Non-living things had this invisible barrier around them, so it was like touching except that she couldn’t really move them. Living things went right through her. Jared, and other ghosts, she could touch. It really was the most bizarre use of the experimental method she had ever encountered, not to mention that it raised the uncomfortable question of just what the hell she was made of.) When asked why he was still hanging around the annoying newbie, he had simply replied that he did this alone, and he wouldn’t wish that on his worst enemy. Aside from the whole post-life guru thing, his background remained largely mysterious. She knew he had once been in a moderately successful but obscure band, knew how to play the guitar and bass, was twenty-seven years old by his reckoning, was from a middle-class English family, and had no sense of direction. (He referred to this as the metaphysical Dirk Gently navigational system, which had gotten him a good deal of respect for the Douglas Adams reference.) The topic of what had gotten Jared in this situation to begin with was something she wondered about but refused to ask, guessing the question was kind of a faux pas. He, of course, knew her story by having witnessed it.

In a sad twist, it seemed the other person involved in her… situation… was still completely unaware of the full story. While Bela Drusse had been recovering, his mother had basically threatened the rest of the family into lying about it. When he had finally been able to ask, they had told him his car had slid into a telephone pole. He had been in no shape to deal with it at that time, true, but the lie persisted even though he was mostly recovered enough to leave the hospital. It was almost like the lie was that comforting myth that people cling to so easily. The longer this charade went on, the more trouble the eventual reveal would cause.

It was also true that his mother’s threat didn’t really extend to her. One of his siblings had made an observation much like that when the original lie was crafted, and she had been ruminating on it ever since. Could she be the one to tell him? Certainly, his family wasn’t taking up that role, and his friends were all kinds of uncomfortable about the whole situation and refused to bring it up. It had taken a few months to get to the point where she could even talk about this with Jared plainly as well- could she manage to actually get through the conversation without a) breaking down, b) turning her speech into a mess of tortured euphemisms, or c) chickening out? So far, she had refused to let him see her, as Jared had explained that his type of psychic (yet another thing that persisted in existing despite her past convictions) was exceedingly rare and nobody wanted to risk him getting locked up in an asylum. Having a conversation like that one would be guaranteed to attract… medical attention.

But he’d be released in a few days, at which point the only real excuse not to say anything would fall away. Ethically, Lucy realized, she didn’t have much of a choice. Someone had to do it before he found out from a newspaper article. With his family so comfortable with their particular myth (not to mention terrified of their mother’s retribution threat), that left… her. That conversation would be completely frelling awkward, but, she realized, it had to be done. Once he was home.

Turning her attention back to the Franklin vs. Franklin drama (oh, how her eyes had been opened to the amount of history Philadelphia held), she sized them up. “I call the short Franklin.”

Jared nodded. “I win, you take me on a tour of the city?”

“Deal. I win, you take me somewhere other than the city so I can see how this not-teleporting thing works.” (She did technically have money- the hundred and twelve in small bills that had been stuffed into her bra that night- but it wasn’t like he could do anything with it. And no, she would not refer to what he and she by association could do as teleporting. Not even the quantum kind.)

“Deal. You do realize I travel mostly by random chance, right?”

“Whatever. We can take a plane back.” The two settled in to watch the outcome of the sword fight.

April 14- Let us be true to one another

It was with a sense of exultation that he had bid goodbye forever to the room and its 47 tiles, its fire alarm that blinked every 16 seconds, the nurses and their hatred of “disruptions”. Okay, so he hadn’t exactly been a model patient. The cursing out of that nurse over the end result of the UTI dramas might have been a little rude. On a related note, he hadn’t really meant to imply anything about the ancestry of the physical therapist or repeatedly cause disruption on the ward by cruelly insisting on playing his guitar (come the hell on! It was acoustic!) At least his parents, whose house was his home until he could manage better by himself, were used to him.

The first floor guest bedroom was serving as his location for now, and had been outfitted to deal with a frustrated part-invalid such as himself. Despite his mother’s insistence that he was no inconvenience, he really couldn’t meet her eyes properly since they had become party to a whole new category of dependence that really didn’t bear thinking about. He had to admit the urologist had been right- it no longer felt as though a piranha was attempting to savage his no longer so private parts. That didn’t exactly help him feel okay over the damn diaper issue.

Of all the side effects to not heal, for the love of Bast why that? Yes, he knew about nerves and how they work- he wasn’t a complete biology moron. But when you’re twenty years old, you tend to be a bit pissed off at Fate when that particular need comes up. Possibly permanently.

At least he’d been amply distracted with a regular stream of visitors. They’d mostly understood that some of their requests would have to wait, but a series of untraceable e-mails containing the location of wills or personal effects had been sent out. The Humane Society had received a few calls about cats and dogs that had found themselves ownerless. The complicated stuff would have to wait until he was actually capable of running around and doing things on his own.

Despite the presence of the Internet, a huge Itunes collection, and Finn dropping off a regular rotation of library books, he had lots of time to think. Largely, he had been wondering just what it was that was making his family all awkward. A lot of his mom he was putting down to their relationship reset to the toddler level, but the others were still a mystery. Irene had stayed around as long as she could, at least until her doctor started freaking out over her being out of reach while incredibly pregnant. She’d been more inconsequential than usual, smoothly steering conversations away from anything with any import whatsoever. The others were not quite so smooth as her, and were definitely not acting normal in any way.

“So my family’s gone nuts. I wonder why?” he mused out loud to himself. He hadn’t exactly been expecting an answer, but one came anyway.

“That was a rhetorical question, right?” The vaguely southern-ish female voice piped up behind him. He spun the computer chair around abruptly to welcome his visitor, the only indication of his surprise a blossoming a warmth at his crotch and an internal sigh (oh, when he could manage this without his mother’s help, it would be a happy day). His hand semi-automatically adjusted his t-shirt so the hem hung lower- ghost or not, this was a girl.

“Isn’t a rhetorical question one that doesn’t have an answer?” he asked back, looking over the redhaired young woman standing at the door. She was wearing an orange winter coat on an unseasonably warm April day, so she was obviously new enough to not have figured out how to switch clothing yet. Hopefully just a message case.

She thought a moment, then replied with arms gesticulating madly, “Or a question that has an answer, but not an answer you want to know. That last question. Rhetorical, right?”

“Guess so. Not like I can read their minds- not my particular talent.” He scooted forward, sat up straighter. “So, anything I can do for you? I’m about half out of commission at the moment, but I’ll do what I can.”

“It’s… complicated.” She sat on the bed facing him. “On the topic of rhetorical questions, how would you feel if I said I could answer that one?” She cast her eyes down as she spoke this time, her heeled boots swinging like a pendulum.

“I… I’d appreciate it, I guess.” He looked for more clues in her appearance. A watch on her left wrist spiderwebbed with cracks- something sudden did her in, then. Sometime in the winter. Most likely this winter. “And you may have to wait a bit before I can handle complicated matters.” Something occurred to him. “How would you know the answer? Been spying on us?”

She started the wild arm motions again. “Sorry. I’ve been wanting to talk to you, but you haven’t really been in a position to talk lately.”

“It’s okay.” He quickly inserted. “I don’t get offended at spying, really. Figure there’s little else to do. But seriously miss-” he paused, realizing he never had gotten her name.

“It’s Lucy.” she replied. “Lucy Aroway. And I have been following your family a bit lately. When I said it was complicated, I didn’t mean just my situation.”

Confused, he asked, “So… for who else then?”

She bit her lower lip, then drew up her shoulders and forced herself to look into his eyes. “Bela, your family has been lying to you.”

A cold sliver of fear began to grow in Bela’s stomach. “How?”

Lucy jumped up, began pacing as she spoke. Combined with the gesticulating, the effect was almost vertiginous. “It wasn’t a telephone pole you ran into.” She said quickly. “It was another car.”

“Wha-”

His shocked statement was cut off when she turned, faced him squarely, and said in a voice of forced determination, “It was another car. Mine.”

Re: Occupational Hazard

Well, I must say that I like what you have written so far. I hope that you are going to continue with it.

It is an unusual writing style, but I feel it does get the point accross.

Re: Occupational Hazard

Wow, i’m extremly impressed here. I must say I look forward to more of this…alot more! Thanks for not just diving right in and actually building up the characters, suspense and well, just writing a really good story, diaper related or not!

Re: Occupational Hazard

THIS IS GOOD. Really.

Re: Occupational Hazard

Great story Please continue