A Parting Gift

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No Place Like Home

“Hey!” It was the voice of the cab driver that jolted him back to awareness. He glared, heart beating wildly as he struggled to comprehend his current situation. No dream this time, glad that shit’s over. He thought.

“Sorry, but I said your name three times.” The cabbie apologized, and then added, “You were snoring.” At this Brian began to exit the cab when the driver made an exaggerated coughing sound. He looked back to see the cabbie was wearing a look of expectation. He was sure the ride had been paid for by the hospital, insurance or something. Then it dawned on him. The driver wanted a tip. Maybe it was the Loritab, but he was in a giving mood. With no small effort, he removed the wallet from his pocket again, opened it and gave the cabbie a Lincoln. The driver frowned at the bill and without another glance in Brian’s direction, made a shooing gesture with his hand. Brian stumbled out, falling into a sitting position on the sidewalk. The cabbie pulled closed the door and sped off before could even he stand up. It occurred to him that he had no idea how far away the hospital was, since he passed out in transit. Perhaps the fiver had been an insult to the man. Sympathy for the departing cabbie was cut short when Brian noticed his neighborhood people staring at him. The dirty kids on the steps up to his apartment scooted out of his way as he approached. One snickered.

The Loritab was definitely kicking in as he attempted the steps up to his apartment. Struggling up the stairs, the concrete incline quickly became a daunting task. Ever thankful for the handrail, he was nearly crawling towards the end.

“Can I have some?” one kid asked him, while the others giggled. They were all jeering shapes to Brian, dwarfish, shadowy tricksters, the lot of them. Fumbling with his keys and his balance for the better half of a minute, he finally found a firm grasp on both. Focusing, he located the key for the lock. With a practiced stab and twist, he unlocked the door. A lazy turn of the handle and the door was open. Brian stumbled casually through the threshold, turned and closed the door behind him, discarding his unwelcomed stairway critics with a flip of the wrist. His lucid, energized moment dissipated like smoke in a gale when the door shut behind him. Brian dropped to his hands and knees, head spinning, deep, dull throbs of pain rising from his wounds. He began to push himself up and the sudden agony in his left forearm cut through the Loritab haze like a rotor blade through mulch. A wave of nausea went through him. He felt cheated. Aren’t the drugs supposed to lessen the pain and bring on the fun? Brian shifted his weight away, groggily buckling onto his good forearm, leaving him propped and panting and about to hurl. With great effort, he propped himself up to a sitting position and remained there, eyes closed, breathing evenly. The dizziness was intense. It was beyond any drunkenness he’d ever endured. For that matter, he pondered why he’d been released from the hospital in this condition in the first place. Just as suddenly, his train of thought derailed and he vomited. His agonized heaving, however, produced little more than bile, saliva and stomach acid.

At that moment the phone began to ring. Gasping for breath, a string of drool stretching from his lip to the carpet, he glared up at the desk where, after five increasingly annoying brays, the answering machine finally took the caller’s message. It was his sister, Carrie.

“Brian, it’s me again. It’s been a couple of days and you haven’t called me back about Skyler’s birthday. Do you want to chip in for the princess castle playground or are you just sending a gift certificate again? Let us know.” With that, she hung up.

“Sorry sis,” He said to the answering machine, “I was on vacation.”

Taking it slow, Brian eased his way up to the kitchen counter and spilled the medication containers onto it. He read each label as best he could; one for pain, one for infection. He took the warning to avoid consuming alcohol with the pills as a challenge. Toxicity risk or no, he hadn’t had a drink for days and after that ordeal, he deserved one. He opened the freezer and removed the Smirnoff, staring with disappointment at the bottom of the bottle, where only a finger’s width remained. He opened the fridge for a mixer and his frown deepened at the choices. He sighed with resignation.

“Straight up!” He announced decidedly to the bottle, which he emptied in a single gulp.

Brian had skimmed over the pharmaceutical instructions labeled on the little orange cylinders that the hospital had sent him home with. He recalled they had read something to the effect of, one or two of these, two or three of those, every few hours, etc., etc. He supposed, when in doubt, too much might be better than not enough. The “suggestion” to avoid drinking alcoholic beverages, he assumed, was probably meant for kids and old folks. With a determined nod to himself, he popped three of each and chased the pills with his “martini”. He could deal with the specifics in a few hours. He had just got home after all. The “have to”s could wait awhile. He considered plopping down in front of the TV, but questioned his own attention span in regards to the channel surfing process. In fact, as his body and mind entered “kick-back mode” his attention span regressed to such a simpleton state of awareness, that only porn would do. With that epiphany, he began stripping down to his boxers and wife-beater. He stumbled over to the computer and switched it on, trying to kick his pants free of his left foot.

After the familiar song and dance boot up noises and Window’s cheerful welcome, Brian’s eyes found the browser icon on the desktop. He leaned forward eagerly and winced as his left hand reached up to seize the mouse. Carefully putting it back down, he cursed his stupidity and attempted the task again with his right hand. At first, the movement of the cursor on the screen, relative to his off-hand moving the mouse below was awkward and frustrating, but within a minute or two, he was getting the hang of it. He moved the arrow towards the internet browser and stopped when he rolled over the “My Computer” icon. Before he could ask himself why, he double-clicked the mouse button. A new window opened to display the drives, four of which claimed to be empty. That was when he remembered the flash drive.

“U-S-B.” He heard himself say aloud. He searched through the crumpled up pants and felt the gum pack sized shape inside one of the pockets. The song; the secret. He fished around for the object until his fingers touched the plastic. He removed it and examined at it again, gauging the size and shape of the interface part of it. Then he looked at the front of the computer. It didn’t take long to see where it might connect. His first attempt raised some doubts, but when he turned it the other way, it went right in and the pessimism was extinguished. A satisfactory beep indicated that something happened and Brian looked up, eyes searching the desktop. Another window popped up displaying options, among them, he saw “Open”, pertaining to an executable file. He knew this because it ended with “.exe”. In his experience, files that ended in that combination of letters usually did most of the thinking for you.

“Hmmph.” He mused and double-clicked on it. There was a second or two of blackness while it loaded and then the video opened to a full screen display of an exquisitely animated psychedelic mandala accompanied by wind instruments and percussions. It was all very catchy and hypnotic. It suddenly occurred to him that this might be one of those “digital drugs” that FOX News had warned him about. He leaned forward, to gaze into the kaleidoscope maelstrom, marveling at the detail of the graphics, when white text began scrolling along the bottom of the screen. A chorus of far away chanting grew slowly louder. They were nonsense words to Brian, streaming right to left at the bottom of the screen. It reminded him of Karaoke. He had always liked Karaoke, even though he sucked. But wasn’t that the point? He watched the words. The spelling was a bit strange, but he caught on quickly.

Kauneer Lu Kaleor Ayea Kauneer Nur Kaelu Ayea Neusecrah. . . and on and on. It even had a little white dot that bounced from syllable to syllable, in time with the catchy rhythms. He couldn’t resist. When the chorus came back around, Brian joined in. The moment he began singing along with the subtitles, the vortex of imagery seemed to stretch out towards him, beyond the limits of the monitor. The chanting and the music came to him in surround sound. Alarmed, he tried to get up, look away, anything at all but sit there bug eyed and chanting along. He was stuck in a loop he could not break out of. In that moment the mandala, the music, the apartment and everything in his world, disappeared. Everything was black, silent, weightless and cold.
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