R.H. Dedmen Memorial Hospital.
Later that evening . . .
I didn’t eat much that night. My stomach was twisted in about a thousand knots. And when I finally sat down to look at the book, all I saw were scribbled pages, empty of anything I could understand. I tried looking at it in different colored lights. From different angles. Even got real close to it and breathed on it, giving the bottom of the first page a hot liquidy breath. Blank, nothing more than old, crinkled egg-white paper . . . with squiggles. I rented National Treasure I and II, but that didn’t even help.
The book looked old and valuable. And it had that musty old book smell. The odor of nostalgia and history. But what it didn’t seem to have were any words I could recognize. I tried squinting at it for a while, but that just gave me a headache. I even closed the book, and then reopened it, really fast. Like that would make a difference. Todd Steele doesn’t have any clever advice for magical old books . . . I checked.
So, I called young Ricky. He sounded like he was eating something when he answered the phone.
“Ricky, this is Jack.”
“Oh, hey man. What’s up? You talk to that psychic chick?”
“Uh . . . yeah,” I replied, “. . . she gave me this book and I—”
“Hmmm?” Ricky said.
“I said that she gave me a book. Like a voodoo book or something.”
“What’s it called?”
And that was a pretty good question, because I had never even thought to ask. “Not sure, hold on a second.” I reached across the bed and grabbed the dusty old thing, dragging it back across the bed. “This damn book is heavy,” I said as I flipped it back and forth, turning it over onto my thighs. “I don’t see a title.”
“What kind of book doesn’t have a title?” Ricky asked as he chewed on something that made his words bloated.
“She said that it would help me understand what’s happening to me.”
“You talking about all of those shadow thingies that you keep hallucinating?”
I sure hoped he was right. That would be wonderful if all of this was just me losing my mind. “Yes. Whatever it is I keep seeing. She says they will come more and more. Until I start seeing other things.”
“And the book will explain all of it?”
“I’ll be over in a few minutes,” Ricky said, between chews, “. . . I’m finishing up a little grudge match on-line. This guy from Germany has been talking big shit all week about how he will take me down in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. So I have to put his ass in check.”
“You’re playing a video game?” I asked, thinking that my little ′seeing the dead′ problem wasn’t very high on his list of interesting things.
“He’s stuck in this building, in the south of the city, right now. I’m going to sniper his bitch ass and then I’ll be on my way. Ten minutes, tops.”
And the line was dead. And my head still hurt. And my stomach felt like it had turned inside-out and was being pricked with a hot iron. And really, I’m not sure why I think that Ricky, a 22-year-old nurse who smokes more weed than Cheech-and-Chong is going to be able to help me. I hope I don’t eventually find out that he was my kid.
13 minutes later . . .
“Smoked his bitch ass!” Ricky says as he walks into my room. He was wearing baggy tan khakis and a long, red pin-striped sweater. He had a Texas Rangers baseball cap on, covering his shaved head. “Germans can’t fight.”
My place near the hospital is modest, but comfortable. Our tax dollars at work. Think of it like one of those hotel rooms where you can stay for weeks on end. Like where junkies and drug dealers stay so that the government can’t ever snatch them up. There’s a little kitchen nook. A bedroom, with a bathroom so small you can extend your arms and touch both walls.
The living area is in the few feet of space between the kitchen and the bed. Everything is either blue or brown. Blue Formica covers the table and counter tops. Blue carpet, and light blue floor tiles for both the kitchen and bathroom. Brown shelves and furniture. This would probably be like entering the seventh ring of Hell for an interior designer.
And I’ve got a small refrigerator that can hold little more than a meal at a time. It’s almost the same scale as a Barbie Refrigerator. But then, this is just temporary living, until I get on my feet and the hospital caseworker in charge considers me fit enough to have my own place in town.
I’ve actually got a meeting with my caseworker, Dr. Smith, in a couple of days. I’m supposed to talk to him about how I’m coping. And how my job hunt is going. I probably won’t mention any of this other stuff to him. Something tells me that it would probably set back my progress . . . at least, in his eyes.
“Is that the book?” Ricky says as he drags his feet across the carpet, leaving little Ricky trails in his wake.
I nod, lifting the thing towards him. He reached out and took it, and his skinny arms almost buckled. “Geez! What’s this made out of . . . lead?”
I laughed, “That’s what I said.”
He sat down on a small brown stool that might actually be a coffee table, we’re still not certain. He laid the book on his thighs and opened it delicately, using just the tips of his fingers to lift the cover.
The book was covered in a dark, leathery material. “Think this is, like, dried human flesh or something like that?” He lowered his head and studied the inside of the cover. “What language is it written in? It looks kind of like Arabic.”
He looked up, “I took a course in Middle-eastern studies. This could be some old terrorist propaganda. They do that, you know.”
I shrugged. “Ms. Josephine said that I would be able to read it soon enough. But I’ve been staring at the first page for over an hour and it still looks like nonsense.”
“Maybe there’s a key,” Ricky said, slowly turning the pages. “Lot’s of old books have keys.”
I pointed to the bottom of the page, “Ms. Josephine told me that it’s read from the bottom up, and from the right to the left.”
“That makes sense, I guess.”
“What part of any of that makes sense?” I said as I frowned.
He closed the book. “It’s something that they don’t want people reading. Whatever it says, the people who wrote it thought it was a secret. Thus the absence of a title, and any other instructions about its use.”
He handed the book to me, almost struggling, and leaned his head back. “You know, maybe it’s music. Do you know anything about music?”
I know that I like some of it, and hate most of it, I told him. Country music makes me feel like taking prescription medicine until I can’t see straight. Rap makes me want to do a drive-by. All the other stuff they call rock, I’m not even sure about that. I like jazz. Just jazz.
Ricky smiled, his eyes lighting up, “I took a class on music appreciation. And sheet music follows a system, just like the written word.”
“I’ve lost my memory, Ricky. I’m not retarded.”
“Yeah, yeah. But listen . . . not all people write music in the same way. Think about tribes in the jungles of Africa, or South America. They don’t read sheet music, so they find other ways to record their music, like dots and squiggles and shit. Maybe this is that.”
I sighed, “You think my magical, no-name book is musical notes?”
Ricky crossed his arms, “Look, Jack, I’m just trying to think this all through. Like an investigator would. I’d think you would be a tad bit more open-minded about all of this. You did just wake-up with your memory erased. You’re the one seeing ghosts and shit. Anything is possible.”
I crossed my arms, realizing that he was right. I was getting frustrated and it was clouding my judgment. “Okay. So, if I can’t read it, and we can’t find what language it’s written in, well . . . then what?”
“The Morgue,” Ricky said, his eyes wide as he nodded slowly.
I squinted at him. “What in the hell are we going to learn at the morgue?”
He stood up and walked to my balcony door, peering out into the night. “That’s where the dead people go. So, if we go there, there should be a shitload of spirits floating around, or whatever. Maybe the book would work there.”
He turned back toward me, holding his hospital ID in his left hand, fanning it back and forth, “And . . . I can get us in. Probably wouldn’t even be that busy right now.”
That was the most ridiculous idea that he had come-up with yet. This was quickly deteriorating into an epic waste of time. For sure, we would both be less capable adults when all of this was over. What was next?
Dungeons and Dragons?
Japanese Animal Pornography?
Finger painting with mustard?
No, all of this was getting too creepy. Sane people don’t engage in this kind of behavior. I should know, I’ve been taking a class on Integration with Society. I’m going to end up one of those losers who works in a comic book shop, instructing teenagers on what issue of Super-Mutant Fish is the best.
“So,” Ricky pressed, “. . . what do you think?”
I’ll get my jacket.