Stratus Fear

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Chapter Seventeen

Buckley Grover awoke with a start and forced his rheumy eyes to peer beyond his glass tomb. He could barely move, his arms pinned on each side and riddled with needles and tubes. He wanted to open his mouth and scream, but every breath seared his lungs and his throat had become dry and leathery. His heart seemed only a beat away from death, and his mind was all that Bucky had left, such as it was. He still remembered things, could still process what was going on around him. For instance, on several occasions when he woke and remained lucid, he observed the drone orderlies coming in and out of his intensive care unit every fifteen minutes to check on his vital signs.

Now he expected one any minute, and that meant he could try and signal the shithead to help him, give him something to drink or even eat. Besides a burning thirst, his stomach felt worse than empty, all bloated and cramping. He wanted to get out of here. He wanted Simbi to visit him more than ever, and when she came he would beg her to take him home. If he had to die, then so be it, but Bucky wanted to be near his family.

No, no! He wasn’t going to die, not if he could help it! He still had too much living to do, and he couldn’t leave Simbi and the kids, not like this, a shriveled old broken man. No, he was still twenty-eight, and he knew it and felt it now, too. In fact, his heart just sputtered and revved, pumping his blood faster and harder, bringing life back to his numb limbs and torso. Now if he could just lift his head and put his face up to the glass…then he could set off the sensor with his nose or his tongue, or both.

When he saw a flash of white and then another, Buckley knew help had arrived. Slowly, excruciatingly slow and painful, he tried to lift his head, but his spine had since shriveled to a thin, dry stalk, barely able to support him. His shoulders, too, and the rest of his upper body suffered from severe emancipation, his skin translucent. Hell, he probably looked a hundred a fifty by now, and would feel it, too, if he let it happen. But he knew somebody had the cure, to fix him and bring him back to his former self. There had to be a cure, an antidote just for him. They owed him that much, the bastards.

And once he felt normal and whole again, he planned to pay them back, every last one of them!

Now he managed to raise his head off the silicone and mesh pad, and then lift it just a little bit more, a little higher. Yes, yes, almost there, almost miraculous! And as he continued in his Herculean effort to reach the glass, Bucky tried to focus his gaze on the swatches of white coming towards him, closer and closer. Come on, assholes, come closer!

Hey, hey he was almost there, almost to the glass! But suddenly he gasped and fell back, his heart quickly pounding against his paper-thin chest and his mind reeling with terror. The two who now crept up to Bucky’s tube were not the orderlies or nurses or doctors…but the two people who had done this to him, the man and the woman who had given him that drug they swore would make him high, a bonus for his services above and beyond the money. But they had lied to him, made him suffer. Now the duo began to check the machinery hooked up to Bucky, the monitors, tubes and wires, and all with a sure and calm purpose. Occasionally, they slipped the patient slat-eyed glances from above the surgery masks they wore. But Bucky knew them, knew them all too well. And now through the fog and the terror, he saw and understood the intent in their eyes, a dark burning desire. They weren’t here to give him that antidote or even try to save him.

They were here to kill him, pure and simple, to make sure he would never tell another living soul what happened. That police woman! Bucky remembered seeing her hanging around, and he knew she belonged to the cops because she had come close enough to the tube so he could read the official ID badge on her jacket. Everyone thought that he had been sleeping, but he had been checking out the hot cop babe instead. Libby Farah from LAPD. But Bucky hadn’t seen her today…

Now the man pulled something out of the pocket of his white lab coat, and then held it up to make sure Bucky saw it, a glass phial filled with a blue liquid. The woman began to unhook Bucky’s IV unit, her slim fingers working fast and dexterously, her hands sheathed in tight Latex gloves just like her partner. With horror, he watched her open the glucose bag and step aside while the man took hold of the bag and emptied the phial fluid inside. The liquid in the bag quickly turned a pale blue and began to flow along the slender plastic tubes attached to Bucky’s body, to enter and spread throughout his insides. Bucky shuddered as it entered, cold and hideous, quickly engulfing his body, up his neck, along his limbs and down to the extremities, a seep of death, a poisonous flow. He imagined how it would work now, blasting apart his organs, strangling his heart and squeezing his brain until it became a gray oatmeal mush—until, finally and mercifully, shutting him down for good.

But the spasms came first, the uncontrollable jerking of his limbs and torso, a rapid ticking of his facial muscles. The spasms turned to a full body quake and then into a series of seizures. In between, Buckley tried to scream, raise his hands to smash against the glass, but he was too far gone now as the liquid turned hot and deadly. He was in agony and on fire, a thousand sharp pins pricking him without mercy, every spasm like a time bomb explosion, ripping and shredding his insides.

And when the IV needles began to pop out of his arms, blood spurted everywhere, filling his tube. Buckley tried to writhe but his body remained immobile, his vocal chords no longer allowing him to scream in terror, his breathing down to the barest wheeze. In fact, he could hear a horrible gurgling sound as liquid replaced air in his lungs, could hear it above the slosh of the blood around him. He was going to drown in his own juices, phlegm and stomach acid and blood. Then a bright light suddenly hit him in the face, searing his already scarred eyes. At least the light felt warm, warm and even inviting; and in that instant Buckley knew to let go, slip into the enticing warmth and numbness of death. It felt so good, especially now as his skin began to bubble and puss and then melt away to expose the muscle and bone beneath.

If the two murderers outside the tube had been listening they would have heard the simple statement that sailed over Buckley Grover’s dissolving lips before he expired, not a fond farewell to his wife and children as expected, but a chastising diatribe to each and everyone who had ever double crossed him and treated him like shit, just two little words of admonishment, a final if not fitting accompaniment on his journey from life to death.

Fuck you!

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