The Fallowing – The Fourth, Part IV

by Steppen Sawicki

Novel: Occult Adventure

Sam woke with a start, bathed in sweat.  He had been tossing fitfully in his sleep, and even as he woke he threw his arms in the air and his eyes flew open wide.

I put a hand on his shoulder and he jerked at the touch before grimacing.  His hands went to the bandages layered across his chest.  He tried to sit up and I stopped him, so he rolled onto his side, facing me, though I tried to stop that too.  He grimaced again as he got himself settled.

“Am I okay?” he asked me.

“You lost a lot of blood but you’ll be fine.  So long as you quit moving around.”

“I remember a car came along.”

“Claire came along, and she went out in the street and stopped a car.”  I remembered how Sam had looked, staring at his blood-stained hands, not pain on his face but fear.  He had looked at me and there was so much terror in his eyes my throat closed and I couldn’t breathe.  His hands were shaking so hard I thought he might be going into shock.

And that fucking couple just hurried around and past us, murmuring to each other and staring with round eyes before quickly looking away and rushing down the street.

Well maybe they were a little bit in shock themselves, what with us magically appearing on the sidewalk in front of them.  But fuck them anyway.

It felt like minutes before someone did stop, did run to us instead of away.  I was pressing the wounds with my scarf when Claire was suddenly beside me, calmly appraising the situation.  Then she ran into the road and the truck she stepped in front of nearly hit her as it skidded in the packed snow.  And angry as the driver was she somehow convinced him to drive us all to her house.

Her uncle was a doctor, and he lived above his own clinic.  Score.

At some point during the ride, Sam passed out from pain, loss of blood, terror, or some combination of the three.  Only once they were pulling the bullets out of him did I think about the likely possibility that Atsel was trailing us with little stops of his watch.

“I’m so stupid.”

I blinked at Sam.  I’d never heard him berate himself like that before.

“I thought I could sneak up on him,” he continued.  “But he was waiting for us.  I expected him to have run around using his abilities like a maniac, but he didn’t.  He didn’t and he waited for us in just another place where he hadn’t used his watch.”

I shrugged.  “And so what?  We’ve been in this situation before.  We’ll just – ”

“It’s not the same,” he interrupted.  He wasn’t angry; he sounded almost helpless, his eyes cast down to his pillow.  “You can’t catch Atsel by surprise.  Not if he’s already following you.”

“Like hell.”  I stood, nearly knocking over my chair as I did so.  “Someone got that watch from him.  Otherwise you wouldn’t have had it.  We can get it from him too.”

He looked up at me drowsily.  “Sometimes your enthusiasm is a bit misplaced.”

“Good.  If things were left up to you we’d have been dead long ago.”

He closed his eyes and sighed.

Claire appeared in the doorway, a tray of steaming bowl and cup in her hands.  “I heard you two talking and I’ll bet Sam is hungry,” she said.

“He’s not one to admit it,” I said, “but I’m sure he is.”

He was already struggling into a sitting position, but this time I helped him.  He stopped when he noticed my hand on his arm and my clothes.

“Why haven’t you washed the blood off yet?” he said.

“She wouldn’t leave you long enough to,” answered Claire before I could.  “I even brought her a bowl of water here but she ignored it no matter how many times I told her you’d be fine.”

I looked down at my hands as if seeing the blood for the first time.  “I wasn’t sure if…” I mumbled and cut off, not sure what I was trying to say.  Sam looked at me as if in alarm and just as quickly looked away, clearing his throat.

“Well,” he said, “I am fine, so you should clean yourself up now.”

“I’ll show you the upstairs bathroom,” Claire offered, wheeling a table with the food over to Sam.  “It’s better than the one down here for people to pee in cups.”

“You do tests on stuff like that?” I marveled, suddenly forgetting my schoolgirl bashfulness.

“Rush Labs over on Congress,” she said with a hint of pride.  “Diagnostics on urine and blood.”

Damn, this place was light years ahead of anywhere else I had passed by.

We left Sam to eat and exited the clinic by a door in the back.  The sterile white of the clinic opened onto dark wallpaper and wooden banister and a vase of flowers (fake of course) at the base of the stairs.  I marveled at the decor as we climbed the steps and walked through the living area – stuffed chairs and matching sofa, a spotless rug, a stereo that was probably tuned to some radio program that announced the news, a television (“It doesn’t work,” Claire said.  “Uncle Taylor doesn’t want us to get addicted, but he felt a living room needs a t.v.”), bookshelves filled with medical tomes and a copy of Candide.  I found myself jealous of the people living here.

Claire had handed me a clean sweater back when I was watching Sam in the clinic, and in the bathroom I unfolded it and saw how thick it was instead of worn thin.  Whole instead of patched-up.  As I stripped off my own blood-caked shirt and scrubbed the blood from my hands I chided myself.  I could have washed and changed clothes once Sam was out of surgery.  Instead I had sat next to him worried nearly to numbness.  I thought back to that terror on his face when he had looked up from the blood pouring from his body.  It was as if that terror had passed to me once he fell unconscious.

I looked up into the mirror above the sink and noticed how disheveled my hair was, sticking out like strangled wire.  I picked up a brush from the counter and went at it, wanting to get lost in primping myself.  But I could only brush mechanically, scalp to tips, scalp to tips.

Was I actually afraid?

I set the brush back down and left the bathroom.  In the hallway I could hear Claire speaking quietly, and then a child answering.  They were just two doors down the hall.  I went there and peered into the room.

It was dim, with the curtains drawn tight and only a single lamp lighting the space.  I saw Claire, sitting on a bed where the child lay.  He was maybe seven years and his voice was pale and shaky.  As I looked in he coughed and Claire stroked his hair until it subsided.

There was a movement in the other bed in the room and another child spoke.  Claire spun around and saw me.

“Ah, sorry,” I said.  “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“No, it’s fine.”  Claire kissed the forehead of first the boy and then the girl, tucking them in.  The sheer maternalness of the scene made me turn away.

Claire smiled apologetically as she shut the door behind her, as if she had been the one spying.  “Let’s get you back to Sam.”

“Sure,” I said.  “Your kids?”

“Yes.”  Looking at me, she could see that I was dying to ask more, so she answered before I could say anything.  “Berend’s disease, both of them.”

I felt guilty as if I had asked aloud.  “I’m sorry.  Surely there’s treatment here?”

She shook her head.  “Treatment, but no cure.  It’s not something the medical community has gotten around to.  Just not common enough.  So of course they both have it.”  She laughed bitterly.

“I’m sure with your uncle, you’ll figure something out.”

“It’s nice to be positive, but…”  She pushed open the door to the clinic, and she smiled sadly as she looked over her shoulder at me.  “I’m just taking what time we have left.”