I. The Hospital.

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           He felt like he had not existed at all before this moment. He was in bed in a hospital room. The blank screen of a closed-circuit television set stared down at him, and sunlight was pouring in from a window to his right. He felt as if he had been there for a long time, but couldn't be sure.

           Crash! Someone swore, then a gurney guided by two male orderlies went by the foot of his bed and came up on his right side. His sheet was removed and he was manhandled onto the gurney, then they left the room and started down a corridor. He felt as if they were going very fast, racing, taking corners at breakneck speed, the gurney almost overturning, sparks flying, people he couldn't see were screaming, yelling, shouting in protest, then they slowed down and he was pushed onto an elevator. The door closed and they started going up.

           "Christ, am I horny," one of the orderlies groaned. "I'm so horny I could screw you right now, almost."

           "Oh, really?" the other orderly said, in an effeminate voice.

           "Yeah, really."

           "What's wrong, not getting enough?"

           "You never get enough, do you?"

           "Oh, I don't know. I do."

           "I bet."

           "Maybe you should start a club."

           "What club?"

           "A club for sex addicts. Then you could fuck each other all the time and be happy." The effeminate orderly giggled.

           "You're a big help, Carl. A real big help."

           The elevator halted. The door opened, he was pulled outside and they started down another corridor, this time at a leisurely pace. The only sound was the wheels of the gurney, until they stopped suddenly. "Good God," the first orderly moaned.


           "Didn't you see that?"


           "That woman who just went into that room. I've got to have her, right now."

           "Do you know her?"

           "No. I've never seen her before in my life."

           "You'll get fired," chimed Carl.

           "I don't care. It doesn't matter. You can handle this guy the rest of the way by yourself, can't you?"

           "I suppose. I could give you some quick relief, you know, probably a lot better than she could."

           "That's okay, pal. I'll see you later."

           "Poor boy, he doesn't know what he's missing," Carl sighed, and the gurney started moving again. They continued down the corridor, stopped once more, a door opened and the gurney was pulled backwards into a room. He was swung around and came to a stop against something.

           "Could you give me a hand?" asked Carl. Someone came over and helped Carl lift him to a flat, hard-cushioned surface. "Thanks."

           "Where's your partner?" a woman asked.

           "He had some pressing business to take care of. Good thing he didn't see you."


           "Nothing. Just call when you need me again!" Carl chirped.


           The gurney was taken out of the room. A woman in a lab coat smiled down at him. The crook of his right arm was swabbed, then something inserted into it.

           A man in a lab coat came over and stood on the other side of him. "This the college student they wanted us to test?"

           "Yeah, I guess so."

           "What's wrong with him?"

           "I don't know. It could be an accidental drug overdose, or a suicide attempt, or maybe he drank too much or was in a car accident or fell through a skylight, or maybe he's just had a nervous breakdown. If he's a college student, it could be any of those things. Are you ready?"

           "I'm all set. Do you think he can hear us?"

           "Probably. That's what we're supposed to find out, if he has any brain activity. Let's do it."

           The technicians left him. Nothing happened for awhile, then the bench he was lying on started moving and his head went inside the doughnut hole of a machine. The bench stopped, leaving him looking up at a curved, white vinyl surface; the machine started humming. He felt perfectly calm, as if nothing that was happening concerned him. He wondered if the machine was reading his mind, which felt completely blank and empty; perhaps instead the machine was trying to put thoughts into his head, some kind of memory, though if it was, he couldn't feel anything. He just laid there and began to feel as if he was part of the machine, a stream of electrons running through its circuits. He could see himself, a glowing current zizagging through darkness and closed his eyes, letting himself be absorbed.

           When he opened his eyes again, he was back in the hospital room. Had he just imagined everything? Maybe he was even imagining himself. Who was he? What was his name? He couldn't remember as if he didn't have one, not yet, anyway.

           A man in a lab coat came into the room, an older man. A doctor, he assumed. The doctor pulled over a chair and sat beside him. He had forgotten anyone was there when the doctor finally spoke.

           "I know what's wrong with you," the doctor said. "Don't worry, it's nothing serious. Just a minor setback. We'll have you back on your feet in no time, assuming that's what you want. You're just a little depressed, that's all, it's perfectly normal. Who wouldn't be in this world? It's a miracle any of us are still functioning."

           The doctor got up and started walking around. "Doesn't seem to matter, though. The world is crazy, always has been, but no one seems to mind. We just keep going, except you. You're the exception."

           The doctor stopped. "You don't know what I'm talking about, do you? Doesn't matter. I just hope you like electro-shock therapy and drugs with unpleasant side effects because that's what you can expect if you stay like this. A word to the wise, shall we say."

           The doctor put the chair back, and stood at the foot of his bed. "It's been a pleasure talking to you, one-sided as our conversation has been. Perhaps that's why it was such a pleasure, because it was a monologue. I doubt we'll have this opportunity again. I bid you good day, and good luck."

           He closed his eyes when the doctor left, but when he opened them, he was still in the hospital room. Maybe it was real, then. Maybe he was real, too. He wondered if he could move. He didn't feel as if there was anything physically wrong with him or holding him down, he simply didn't feel capable of doing anything besides just lie there, as if some vital spark of life was missing.

           A family came into the room and gathered around his bed, a mother, father, and teenage daughter. They were an attractive looking family, the father tall and handsome, just a touch of grey in his hair, wearing a suit and tie as if he was about to deliver the evening news. The mother and daughter were both blonde and beautiful, as if they had just stepped out of a television commercial. Somehow he knew this wasn't his real family, but couldn't remember who his real family was, or even if he had any.

           "Poor Blake," the mother said, after a couple seconds. "I should have known something like this was going to happen. He wasn't the same the last time we saw him."

           "He had changed," agreed the father. "He wasn't the same fun-loving, happy-go-lucky kid we used to know. I wonder what happened. Maybe something at school. A college education isn't for everyone."

           "Maybe it's the clap," the mother suggested.

           "This isn't the clap."

           "How would you know?"

           "I, uh, well...because dammit, Mother, you don't fall into a coma from the clap. That's ridiculous. Unless it hasn't been treated and you're about to die from the disease, which certainly isn't the case here."

           "I'm pregnant," the daughter announced matter of factly. "I suppose this is as good a time as any to tell you."

           "You little tramp," the mother said. "I might have known. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, does it?"

           "What's that supposed to mean?" demanded the father. "Is that a dig? Because you're certainly not referring to yourself, are you?"

           "If the shoe fits, wear it, loverboy. I can't tell you how many times I thought of cutting it off while you were sleeping next to me, no doubt dreaming of your next conquest."

           The father snorted derisively. "You have everything else, you might as well have that, too. It's never brought me anything but trouble. Like you."

           "Poor boy."

           "Don't worry, Mother, Daddy isn't the father," the daughter said, combing her hair. "Not that he couldn't be. I remember the first time, when I was five---or was I six?"

           "Now, now, Princess," the father interrupted. "Remember what the psychiatrist said about making up stories. Besides, no one believes in repressed memories any more. That doctrine has been largely discredited."

           "I was just going to say that Blake is the father," huffed the daughter. "He is the only man in my life, and the only one who ever will be. He is my one true love."

           "Sweet Jesus Christ," the mother said. "Where's a mad-dog killer when you need one? A loser with a grudge against the world armed with a semi-automatic rifle, where's someone like that when you need them?"

           As if on cue, the whole room seemed to explode. Sheets of flame surrounded his bed, then they subsided and everything was as it was before, except the family was gone. He wondered who they had been, if he hadn't imagined them. Perhaps they had been hospital personnel sent in to try and pretend to be his family to rouse him from his lethargy, or perhaps they had been a real family who had accidentally wandered into his room and somehow mistaken him for their son\brother. At least they had given him a name; Blake. He liked it.

           He repeated the name several times to himself in his head trying to get used to it, then a nurse came into the room. She fluffed his pillow, sticking an ample, white-uniformed chest in his face before backing away.

           "You'd like some of this, wouldn't you?" the nurse inquired, cupping her breasts and jiggling them. "Later. Tonight."

           The nurse left. Blake wondered if all the other patients in the hospital were just like him, lying in bed helpless, frozen, either unable or unwilling to move or speak. Somehow it seemed possible, even likely. Maybe he was part of some general, long overdue breakdown. He almost felt like he was dead, though he didn't think he was.

           He dozed off. When he woke up, it was dark. Nothing else had changed. He tried to remember who he was, what had happened to him, but he couldn't. While he searched his mind, someone came in the room and stood alongside him. There were sounds of clothes being removed, then the person got in bed with him and sat on his stomach. Two large, pendulous objects slapped his face.

           "Meet Rose and Marie, my two best friends," the nurse said. "They're not completely real, but they're still every man's dream. Go ahead, touch them, feel them. You have my permission."

           Blake felt no desire to touch or grab anything. He couldn't see anything except the nurse's dark outline.

           "Playing hard to get, huh? Maybe you're not a breast man, though I find that hard to believe. Perhaps there are other parts of my anatomy that might interest you."

           Suddenly, the nurse jumped off him and scrambled under the bed. Not more than a second or two later, the dark figure of a very large man pushing a wheelchair went by the foot of his bed and came up beside him. His bedsheet was thrown off and without any difficulty he was picked up and put in the wheelchair. They started moving and left the room, traveling a short distance straight across a corridor through an open door onto a landing, where he was turned around and eased down a flight of stairs. He wondered if this was part of some kind of therapy, as perhaps the ersatz family had been, which would explain a few things. Perhaps everything that had happened so far was an unorthodox treatment for his condition, a desperate attempt to break him out of his lethargy when all other measures had failed, because who knew how long he had been like this? Perhaps the doctor who had talked to him earlier was a psychiatrist, responsible for his care. That made sense.

           After going down four flights of stairs, bump, bump, bump, he was pulled backwards through a doorway into a basement corridor, judging from the yellow cinderblock walls and sounds of a furnace. He wondered where he was being taken; to some subterranean section of the hospital that only a few knew existed? He was pushed down the corridor to a swinging door with an overhead exit sign and the man behind him pushed it open, causing an alarm to go off, and then he was outside, being pushed down a sidewalk to a parking lot. It was warm out and smelled damp, like it had just rained. His wheelchair was turned in alongside a white van, its side door opened, and he was picked up and laid down inside on an air mattress. A blanket was thrown over his legs, the wheelchair brought inside and the side door shut. The man went up front, started the van, and they drove off. It wasn't long before they were on the open road, traveling at a good clip.

           He almost felt like he was being punished in some way, but what had he done wrong? He guessed that he was being moved to another hospital, that seemed the most logical explanation.

           The van rumbled along. He found it soothing to listen to the sounds of the road, the wheels, the motor, constant, steady, with the occasional vehicle passing by in the opposite direction, briefly illuminating the ceiling over his head with a flash of light. He was going for a ride, that was all, an old-fashioned Sunday drive, except it was night, he didn't know who his driver was, and it probably wasn't Sunday. No matter; he imagined they were passing by neighborhoods, darkened houses, going through blinking traffic lights on rain slicked streets, a full moon staring down like the unblinking eye of a cat. For whatever reason he didn't really care where he was going; he supposed he would know soon enough once he got there.

* * * * *


           It was the sound of a gas station bell. You didn't hear those any more; was this the last of the old-time independent stations? Blake imagined the van pulling up to a single pump, illuminated by a flood light attached to the peaked roof of a humble one room building, that perhaps had a garage attached.

           "Fill 'er up?" a man outside asked.

           "Yeah, fill her up," the driver said.

           Outside a hatch opened, a nozzle went in and gas started flowing. The sound made him feel liquid.

           The driver got out of the van. "What a world we live in, eh?"

           "If you say so," replied the attendant.

           "And here we are, stuck in the middle of it. You know what I think? I think money buys happiness. I think it can buy love and anything else you might need, if you know how to handle it. Can't have the romance without the finance, right? What do you think?"

           "You'll get no argument from me. I never have enough. That's why I'm working here."

           "What would you do with a million dollars?"

           The attendant laughed. "I'd spend it. Why, do you have a million dollars you can give me?"

           "As a matter of fact, I do." The driver's door opened, there were sounds of rummaging, then the door closed. "Here you go," the driver said.

            The gas stopped flowing. "Is this for real?" the attendant asked.

           "As real as can be."

           "Why are you doing this?"

           "I want to give you a chance to do something with your life, to be happy. If I had the money, I'd give everybody a million dollars, but I don't. This is just your lucky night."

           "Holy shit. I mean, holy fucking shit. Is this some kind of joke? Am I on tv or something? Where's the camera, in the van?"

           "No camera. You're not on tv. At least, not as far as I know."

           "Holy shit. There's got to be something wrong with this. What's the catch?"

           "No catch, besides the money itself. If you don't want it, just give it back to me."

           "No, that's okay. Uh, thanks, pal. I don't know what to say."

           "No problem. I'll finish pumping the gas, no reason you have to do it any more. Go inside and count your money, make sure it's not counterfeit. I think there's a million there, more or less."

           "Yeah, sure. Thanks. I mean, thanks!"

           "My pleasure. Have a nice life."

           The gas resumed its flow and continued for a very long time before stopping again. The hose was put away, the hatch shut, the driver got back in the van and they drove off.

           Blake wondered what he would do with a million dollars. Buy himself a new mattress? He had no idea why he had just thought that. He imagined they were out in the country now, driving by empty, moonlit fields and forests. He also had a feeling that they were going to an isolated, abandoned farmhouse, a decrepit structure with a dirt driveway and a tree with a tire swing in the front yard. He could see it in his mind's eye as if it was waiting for him.

           "How ya doin' back there, buddy, you okay?" the driver called back. "We're almost home. Just hold on and enjoy the ride."

           Home? He still didn't even know what his real name was, Blake was just something he had acquired by default. Maybe he didn't have a real name, then. A number, perhaps? At least he hadn't lost his sense of humor. Suddenly he felt like he was falling, the ground rushing up, then there was nothing.

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