idol prize fight | week ten | 1840 words
I might have been dead once.
I wasn't sure for how long. Things had happened, and I didn't remember them. Maybe I wasn't there? It was the only thing that made sense…
I woke up in a basement, with no idea why. I was—well honestly, it was gross. I wasn't in great shape. Things were kind of moldy, and not just my clothes.
I got out of there as fast as I could, stumbling up the stairs through the abandoned house and out the door. The glare of daylight was blinding.
I had no idea where I was—the middle of nowhere? There were no major roads, no other houses. I started walking through the trees near the driveway, in case someone came along who wanted to put me back in that basement.
After a couple of hours, I came across a few cabins and let myself into one that seemed empty.
God, I was hungry. I ate my way through the pantry, and drank so much water my stomach sloshed. I was glad the owners hadn't shut off the electricity, and hoped it didn't mean someone might be coming home soon.
I was ridiculously cold. I took a nice, warm bath, feeling the heat go all the way to my bones. The water was filthy after just ten minutes, so I drained the tub and started again. I shampooed my hair twice and soaped my skin until it had some color.
My clothes were a disgrace in comparison, so I helped myself to replacements from one of the bedrooms—probably belonging to a teen-aged son. He dressed about the same as me.
The mirror… I caught a glimpse of myself, and then I couldn't stop staring. I'd known something was 'off' back in the basement, but this was a whole new creep-show of weird. I couldn't begin to explain what was I was seeing, and honestly, I was sorry I'd looked.
Not dead, but dead-ish? Maybe? Kind of gray and like I'd started to turn, like meat you'd left in the fridge too long that had you thinking, This looks iffy. I'd better throw it out.
Except science-wise, I didn't think that was an actual thing. Not for people.
I may or may not have freaked out for a while. Then I got mad. Who did this to me? And why don't I remember?
I mean, was this some kind of evil-scientist shit? Or a serial killer? Or a would-be serial killer who screwed up and didn't fully finish the job?
Whichever it was, what an asshole.
I stormed around the house, stress-eating whatever was still available, and do you know what I finally decided?
I had things to do.
I made myself presentable, mostly by hiding as much skin as possible. Then I went back outside and started walking again, hoping torches and pitchforks weren't in my future.
A couple of hours later I finally came to a main road, and got a couple of rides from people who were either super nice or didn't have very good eyesight. It turned out I was only about two hundred miles from home, which still didn't help me remember how I wound up in that basement.
I faked my way through some awkward conversation about was I a student (Yes), on vacation now (Sure?), and how had finals gone?
Damn it! Was I really going to have to take second-semester Physics again?
We hit the edge of town by late afternoon, and I walked the last few blocks to my house. Nobody was home when I got there, but I used the key over the garage door to get in. It looked like my stuff was still in my room, so that was something. I'd have a long road ahead in piecing my life back together.
Here's how you find out who your true friends are: they're the people who stick by you after catastrophic weirdness takes over your life.
Also, the ones you can tell the truth about that catastrophic weirdness to.
People would ask me, "Hey Jake, man, where've you been?"
I'd say, "I dunno, what timeframe are we talking about?" They'd tell me that wasn't funny, but I meant it. I needed some context, because I didn't remember the basement, and clearly there was a chunk of time I couldn't remember before that either. If somebody else did, maybe they could help me out?
Steve was different. He'd known me since high school, and when he saw me he said, "Dude, you don't look so good. What the hell happened to you?"
"I think I got kidnapped and murdered," I blurted out, "and then dumped in a basement in some podunk corner of Ohio."
"That's messed up," he said, but I knew he meant the situation. He didn't mean me.
Steve helped me scam up a doctor's note for a horrible illness that had kept me hospitalized for a couple of months, and I persuaded my professors to let me take my finals late. It wasn't that big a stretch from what had actually happened, though the truth would have been much too interesting. I definitely looked the part.
I got a job at the college computer lab. People looked at me a little funny, but what could I do? Even in my own head, I tiptoed around the issue. It was hard to accept. Steve started referring to my state as 'differently existent,' not that anyone but the two of us knew about it.
"It's not so bad," he said once. "I mean, you could look deader…" Which, pathetic as it sounded, was kind of a relief. That's how desperate I was.
I didn't seem to be getting worse, though I wasn't getting better, either. I didn't think my hair was growing anymore. I became super paranoid about where that was headed if I was still shedding like most people did.
Mainly, I just worked and hung out with Steve after hours. I hadn't been to see my family yet. I wasn't sure what they'd think.
"Hey, do you ever think about, like, devouring me in my sleep?" Steve asked one weekend.
"No. Why would you even say that?"
"I'm just asking. I don't know the rules…"
"Still not a cannibal, Steve. I'm not sure what I am, but I'm definitely not that."
It felt kind of good to joke about it, though, because otherwise it was a complete tragedy. Someone had stolen my life from me, and I had no idea who or why.
Summer came to an end, and school started again. That was when something interesting finally happened.
I was rushing through the Science building, late for class, when I came face-to-face with one of the biology professors, Dr. Weckler. I knew his name, but that was all—I'd never taken a class from him. I was sure he had no idea who I was.
And yet, he looked utterly shocked to see me.
Did he have something to do with my disappearance? When he darted past me and ran down the hall, I was convinced of it. I couldn't wait to tell Steve.
We met up later that night, and I laid it out for him. "I think we should follow him," I said.
"He could be dangerous, though, and then what?"
"He already killed me once, or tried to. I've been dead. How much worse could it get?"
"You could be permanently dead," Steve said. "That would suck."
"But worse than now? Because I'm not sure there's a future living like this."
"Well, I'd miss you."
"Thanks," I said. "But I can't help thinking he might do this to someone else. And who'd believe a story like that? It has to be us."
Thus, our little spy club was born.
Within a few days, we knew Dr. Weckler's class schedule, and where he lived and shopped. I dug around on the Internet for more information, and discovered he'd also taught summer courses at a community college near the part of Ohio where I'd been dumped. Or experimented on. Or whatever he'd been up to.
I hoped we'd find incriminating papers in his trash, like nefarious drawings with, "Mwah-ha-ha!" scrawled across them, but no. Still, I had no doubts about his part in my own horrible experience.
We traded off keeping an eye on him from a distance. "What's our plan if we actually catch him, like, doing something?" I asked one night. "Call the cops? They'll think we're nuts."
Steve hadn't thought that far ahead. "I guess we'll wing it?"
I groaned. "What could possibly go wrong?"
"I've got a cousin on the police force," Steve said. "I guess we could give him a heads-up."
"No way. I'm not talking to anyone else about this. People think I'm weird enough already…"
"Yeah, but you could be a weird hero. You'd be Jake-tastic!"
"Hah," I said. "Definitely No."
Our homework load increased as we got farther into the semester, and it became harder to keep track of the professor. But one night, I got a call from Steve.
"I lost him for a few hours, but he's at the grocery store now, and something's different. He's buying a bunch of jerky and snacks, like he's going on a long trip. I think he's making a move."
"I'll be right there," I said.
But the parking lot was lit up by police cars when I showed up. Steve was talking to one of the cops, who left a minute later. Steve waved me over.
"Steve, what did you do?" I hissed. "I said I didn't want to tell anyone about this."
"And you didn't," he said. "I did it myself, last week. But they couldn't do anything without probable cause."
"Suspicious grocery purchases are probable cause now?" I said.
"No, just the sounds from the girl locked in the trunk. I guess Dr. Whacko didn't dope her enough—she woke up."
"Oh, god. That's awful!"
"Yeah," Steve nodded. "But when you think about it, this is actually the happy ending."
No one wanted to interview me that night, so I left while Steve finished giving his statement. I didn't see him until the next day.
"They found all kinds of creepy stuff at Weckler's house," he said. "So now you don't have to worry about him coming by to finish the job."
"Well, I hadn't until you said that, so thanks."
He elbowed me. "Hey, what are friends for? But seriously, we can get on with our lives now instead of spying on Dr. Whacko."
"You're welcome. So dude," Steve said, "I hear Night of the Living Dead is playing at the drive-in this weekend. Want to go see it?"
"That's not funny, Steve."
"I figured one of us was going to say it," he grinned. "I thought I'd beat you to it."
"God, you're never going to let this go now, are you?"
"Are you kidding?" Steve said. "Oh hell, no.
"Not on your not-a-cannibal differently-existing unlife!"
If you enjoyed this story, you can vote for it along with many other fine entries here.