Hallucigenia Sparsa

Pt. 1

"HALLUCIGENIA! HALLUCIGENIA SPARSA! IT'S A PART OF SOMETHING BIGGER – WAAAY BIGGER, HONEY!"

The Bentley nosed into one of the criminally tight parking spaces at the Madison Memorial Hospital and Edmund cut the motor, interrupting the Elton John CD in the midst of the chorus to "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." Edmund had never been a fan of Elton John, and now he only listened to that CD in memorial of Dante. Not memorial, he reminded himself. Dante was up there somewhere on the twenty-somethingth floor hooked up to an artificial breather, getting more sedative pumped into him by the minute to dull the pain he would otherwise feel from the long gash that split his face in two and the bullet casings embedded in his spine that the doctors hadn't bothered to take out - it was useless; he couldn't feel that part of his body anymore.

Yes, Dante had always been a fan of Elton John. There was a tape continuously playing in his room while Edmund wasn't there to fill the white silence that hung so densely in the bleached air, interrupted at intervals when the heart monitor chirped. It was only fitting that he had been singing an Elton John song as the horrible accident that had destroyed his life occurred. All his muted soul could hope for now was to escape from that constraining body, or so Edmund had been told by so many friends. Edmund had wanted to pull the plug, release Dante from what was intimated to him as torture, but his sister, Mercedes, had vehemently insisted that the only thing that could be done now was pray, and pray hard, and hope that God was willing to look upon such humble believers and say "You are worthy."

Edmund was an atheist, and Mercedes knew this. He had told her himself one night at a family reunion. It was the fourth of July, just before the fireworks went off, and the two of them were sitting on their parents' vast expanse of lawn, enjoying their franks and liberal amounts of beer when she had said, "Ed, why don't we got to church after the fireworks. Their doors are open 'til midnight tonight, and God knows why, 'cause he's the only one we've got to thank for our freedom." Edmund had snapped and gone off on a rant about all of the facts that proved that God didn't - nay, couldn't - exist; it just wasn't logical. Their relationship had been badly marred since that night, and Mercedes couldn't find it in her heart to completely forgive Edmund. "The only reason I'm giving you this advice," she said in reference to prayer, "is for Dante. Don't think that I would ever waste my prayers on someone as ignorant towards the Lord as you."

There was a crumple of tissue paper as Edmund grabbed the bouquet of roses and baby's breath from the passenger seat and slammed the driver's door of the Bentley. Even the pink and white roses that he'd picked out by hand seemed to be weeping for Dante, although Edmund didn't cry. He didn't do that anymore - not after the accident. Every tear he shed reminded him of the nights that he had spent in Dante's arms, crying, when their dog Red had gotten hit by a car, when his mother was diagnosed with colon cancer, when he had fought with Mercedes that Fourth of July. But even the clouds - or, as Mercedes would say, God - were crying now, dotting the grey pavement black. Edmund's head was bowed over the flowers as he crushed them to his chest and he thought, just this once.

By the time he had found his way to the lobby of the hospital, there was no way to differentiate between tears and rain on his face. The bouquet that he had been shielding with his jacket was flattened, but nonetheless dry. Ellen, the clerk, was gluing on a new set of fake nails (this week they were fuchsia), and waved to Edmund as he walked by, wondering aloud whether he could buy her a Snickers bar on the way back from seeing Dante. He pretended he didn't hear her as he waited for the elevator to reach floor G, the hand indicating that it was taking a break at level 16. His wristwatch told him it was 7:24, which gave him less than an hour to spend with Dante. He had promised himself, after the news of Dante's braindead state, that he would spend at least one hour with him every day, but he was getting busier and busier, trying to make up for the lost income, working a part-time job and a full-time job. His parents were sending him a monthly allowance, but it just wasn't enough to keep him going, and he couldn't afford to take days off for grief. By now the elevator had planted itself on ground-level and Edmund pressed the 27 button firmly, concentrating all of his bottled-up indignity and hatred into this motion. He slicked his thinning, blonde hair back with considerable force as the elevator slid up its tunnel with an excruciating slowness.

It continued at this speed for some time, although, to Edmund, it moved more slowly with every passing second. The lights flickered, and he cursed. When they re-lit, the elevator music had stopped, leaving his ears straining for some sound other than the screech of the elevator grinding against its metal tunnel. The lights died again, didn't come back on this time, and Edmund nearly pissed himself as he was consumed in darkness. The only sound now was the throbbing of his heart in his temples and squeaks of what sounded like rodents.

Several moments passed, and Edmund found himself lying on the floor, murmuring words that were indistinguishable, even to himself. At length he heard a crackling noise that he attributed to someone come to rescue him. At this thought, his mind pointed neon signs at Dante, whose destroyed body would once again fail to function without the artificial breather and the heart-rate monitor. He cried out in anguish once, before banging his fists against the elevator door. He paced the length of the elevator and threw himself against the walls. In the far corner of the space, a rat scurried up the wall and looked at Edmund briefly before resuming its climb. Another rat dropped from the ceiling onto Edmund's shoulder. He shrieked and shook it off, sending it flying against the elevator to slam into the floor before he stomped on it and snatched Dante's bouquet, cradling it in his arms. The rat's skull had cracked open in a way that made Edmund think of Dante, and part of its brain was visible, still pulsing weakly. It made a few desperate attempts at standing up, stubby limbs flailing, but the fact that its spine had been severed just below its tiny shoulder-blades proved the effort wasted. "Dante!" Edmund screamed, voice breaking like it hadn't since high school, as he clawed at the metal door. The roses had turned to bubbles of blood and burst against Edmund's chest. He threw what remained of the bouquet at the dying rat, who now lay in a manner quite like Dante, and its body stained the pastel tissue paper red.

At length, the lights flickered back on to reveal Edmund, pressed into the corner of the vessel in a fetal position, cradling his head in his hands. The bouquet remained some distance away, stems of the flowers broken nearly in half. He looked up. There was no rat. The jazzy elevator music resumed. It was with shaking hands that Edmund grasped the flowers, wincing as the crumpling of tissue paper and plastic sent bullets through his head. The steel doors slid open with a cheery ding. A surgeon stood on the other side; Edmund couldn't intimate why, as Dante was one of the only patients on this level, but he did his best to look pleasant - his lips may have even twitched a bit at the edges - and excused himself as he walked past the doctor.

"Hold up," the doctor said and grabbed Edmund's jacket sleeve. "Sir, I need to talk to you about Mr. Friedman-" Mr. Friedman being, of course, Dante. "-I don't normally advocate taking my patients off of life support, but keeping him alive is costing you hundreds of dollars a day. I know all about your situation, and, frankly, I think that's the best option for you right now." Edmund yanked his arm away from the man. Indignant rage welled, bubbling, inside of him. "I'll do what I think is best," he replied curtly and, with a nod, continued down the hallway to room 245.

The lights were dim inside, and there was a nurse watching Spanish soap operas on the bed parallel to Dante's. When Edmund entered, she bolted upright and, with a flush that was quite becoming to her, said in accented English, "Excuse me! I thought you wasn't coming today since you got here so late!" As she rose to leave, Edmund grabbed her loosely by the arm. "When the power went out. . .was he okay?" The nurse looked over her shoulder at Dante and said, "Doctor thought we was gonna lose 'im for a little bit, but all of a sudden, he just got back to normal! He just left here. . .Didn't 'e talk to you?" Edmund frowned, and the nurse took this as her cue to leave.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Edmund realized how much this inactivity had affected Dante's body. His unintelligent eyes swam around and had a greyish tint that reminded Edmund of black pearls rolling around raw oysters, and they only stayed fixed on Edmund for a matter of seconds before darting toward the ceiling, the TV, the cassette player. Through his once-muscular chest, his ribcage protruded, and his arms had become as skinny as they were when Dante and Edmund had met in 9th grade, collarbone prominent. With a shudder, Edmund realized he could see Dante's hipbones through the starched white sheets, and he could trace the tubes sticking out of his veins to the various liquids they provided.

Once, Edmund had been in the hospital. Dante had been driving and they had both had a lot to drink that night and there was no designated driver. At a red light, Dante had leaned over to kiss Edmund, but his foot had slammed down on the gas pedal and he lost control of the wheel. The adjacent street wasn't busy, but the car had planted itself headlong into a telephone pole and Dante was able to get out unwounded, but Edmund's head had been thrust into the windshield. The engine was in flames and Dante had to jump in and save Edmund although the proper authorities had already shown up, and he had to be restrained before he hurt himself or Edmund. The latter had been carried out on a stretcher, with Dante in drunken hysterics planning the funeral pyre as Edmund was loaded into an ambulance, sirens wailing, complete with police escort. Dante swore he could remember every detail from that night, and Edmund didn't doubt that for a second, because every time Dante had to go to the hospital he went into hysterics similar to those of that infamous night. Tragic, thought Edmund, a hand stroking Dante's thick, black hair, that he should have to spend the rest of his life in one.