See Jack Die

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Chapter 18

Jack’s apartment.

Saturday evening . . .

A lot of very intense things are floating around in my head. Questions were starting to stack on top of other questions. The more we learned about this book, the less we really knew.

What we all assumed—Ricky, Rupert, and I—was that this book was going to cause us problems. So far, only Rupert had been queried as to the whereabouts of the Book of Sighs, but it wouldn’t take long for our names to come up on somebody’s list. One thing I had going for me was the obscurity of my name.

I’m guessing there aren’t that many Jack Pagans in the phone book. I checked, there weren’t any in the greater Dallas/Ft. Worth area. And since my name was gifted to me by the hospital and their band of lawsuit-conscious lawyers, I think I’m not on the grid, yet.

My theory is that the doctors and caseworkers want to make sure that I don’t end up naked, in a shopping mall, all lazy-eyed, with a loaded shotgun. If that doesn’t happen, they’ll take credit for my miraculous recovery.

If I do lose my shit and gun-down half of North Dallas, the hospital will use the whole affair to green-light a bigger budget for the under-funded programs that failed me.

Right now, this very second, the Book of Sighs is in the refrigerator. There are reasons for this. The first is that, I thought that the refrigerator might be the only place that the people who might bust down my door, and kick my teeth in, might not look. People like that—paid thugs and the like—they’re not the sharpest tools in the shed.

Then again, I’m getting my street smarts from a three-year-old Todd Steele Detective novel, and re-runs of CSI: Miami.

The other reason I have the most valuable book in the universe in my refrigerator is because Ricky got me a bunch of frozen pizzas and I had to use the book to carry them all in without having to make two trips. They all got squeezed into my refrigerator, and I had to use the bathroom . . . really bad. I know that makes me a monumentally lazy, short-sighted jerk, but when you have to go . . . you have to go!

I’m on the way back to the fridge, right now. We need to protect the book at all costs, so Ricky’s bringing me a safe he had at his place. He told me he was using it to keep, “. . . weed and stuff in,” and that it looks, “just like a bookshelf.”

With a devilish grin he added, “Cops can search your place and they don’t even know what they’re looking at.” I’m guessing that he’s talking from experience.

When I asked him why he would be willing to lend it to me, he said that since all of this started he wasn’t smoking any Columbian Red. Now, you don’t even have to know what he’s talking about; but with a name like that you just know it’s illegal.

“I want to have complete control of my faculties for all of this,” he said. “. . . Keep my game face on to fight the undead and shit!”

For the record, I said, we shouldn’t assume or ascribe any supernatural side to all of this.

And then he looks at me, narrowing his eyes, “You’re the kid who told the rest of us that Santa wasn’t real.” He shakes his head, “Wake-up, Jack! Open your mind to what’s going on around you. This is for real.”

I reach into the fridge and pry the book out from under the DiGiorno’s Pepperoni pizzas. They didn’t have them with pepperonis and mushrooms the way I’d prefer, so I had to buy just the plain old pepperoni kind. Life is about compromise, Ricky said, like he’s some wise sage.

I told him there is a huge demographic that the frozen pizza industry is missing by not offering both the pepperonis and mushrooms on the same pizza, but he said I was obsessing. I told him I wasn’t obsessing, seven times in a row.

Oh, I so hope that I wasn’t a pizza deliveryman in my forgotten past. That would really be the letdown of the century.

I probably shouldn’t be so negligent and careless about how I handle the book, but so far it’s been a useless pain in the butt. This Ms. Josephine, I imagine her just rolling on the floor, laughing at my gullible ass as I jump through hoop after hoop.

As I head back to the living room—which might actually be only three-square-feet—I notice that we’re back between dogs and wolves. The color of shark tanks. The glow of the haunting place of my living nightmares. I expect the spooks to come crawling around shortly.

And maybe . . . her.

The girl from last night. The dead girl. I don’t know when I’ll see her again. I wish . . . I wish I hadn’t closed my eyes and prayed for her to disappear. Part of me—the adventuresome, Todd Steele side—wants to know why she seemed so familiar. Who was she? What did she want to tell me? And why me?

Is she part of my degenerative brain disorder?

Just some intangible construct of my tumor?

Memories burnt into my retinas?

The other part of me—that wants to run from all of these things—it’s wrestling with my body’s response system. I’m in a perpetual state of both Fight and Flight.

Run and stay.

Stare and look away.

This is clearly something that I need to resolve before I become a quivering pile of indecisiveness. All that’ll be left of me, if I don’t figure this out, is some guy with bubble gum in his hair, wearing flip-flops, who pisses his pants every time he hears a loud noise. I don’t want to be that guy.

That grown-up in the back of the school bus licking the windows . . . not him, not me.

Man up, or back down! Words of wisdom from my imaginary hero to deal with my invisible monsters. The only reality I have is fiction by comparison.

I toss the cold book onto my bed and climb up, using the edge of the mattress to scrape off my shoes. My socks smell like over-cooked meatloaf, so that’s probably not a good sign. In my Personal Hygiene class they say to wash your clothes after every use, even if they don’t seem soiled. I’m already at two days with this pair of socks, so I’m pushing it. I think I saw a fly with flashlights in his hands warning off other flies from approaching.

The book just sits there, almost leering at me. This thing, over the past few days, has managed to garner itself a personality. Instead of me watching it, the Book of Sighs is watching me. It’s the entity, and I’m the object. We’ve switched places.

I cross my legs, Indian-style, in front of the book. Just us staring at each other. My eyes focus somewhere past the book, through it, like I’m gazing off into the clouds, or blankly focusing out into the murky water. Not really looking at anything in particular.

Knowing it won’t make any sense, I lift the cover to the first page, which . . . da-da! It still looks like nonsense. They should call this the book of Letdowns. Maybe she gave me the wrong book, that Ms. Josephine. I mean, it was dark in that shop of hers, maybe she gave me the book next to the Book of Sighs. Honest mistake.

Or, what if there were a couple different versions of similar looking books?

What if the book I got was a knock-off, and I accidentally got the one stamped, ‘Made in China.’

My eyes relax and I stare numbly at the dots, squiggles, slashes, and other cute little marks that I have probably seen painted on the sides of circus tents, cheap shirts, and ice-cream trucks. And out of nowhere the deep hum returns. It slowly gains volume—this loud, low roar. I can feel it in my chest, all the way out to my fingers.

All the crazy marks on the first page of the book, they start shaking as if they’re not attached to the physical page at all. Like they were all just held there by weak gravity. And as they shake and vibrate, they start to skip around on the page, rearranging themselves into letters I can read.

While these symbols are falling into letters and words all over the page, my tumor is shrinking a bit more.

At the very moment that the impossible is very clearly going on in front of my disbelieving eyes, and the humming has subsided, my degenerative brain disease just lost a little steam.

My advanced schizophrenia . . . it’s drying up as we speak.

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