Fiction and Drama
I’ve just unpacked the face when life begins
It’s Parm’s idea that I should build a beast.
Parm’s my best friend. No, we’ve never had sex. We’ve been tight since college and there’s been times in our friendship when we actually talked on the phone every single day — we’re that tight. Parm’s totally attractive. I would say she and I are in the same league, attraction-wise, and most people who know us don’t believe us when we say we’ve never done it. Why not? they ask. We usually joke that it’s because she’s brown and I’m white and her folks would freak — and you know what? That’s pretty much the truth. I mean, Parm’s parents love me, don’t get me wrong, but it would have been a different thing altogether if we’d started going out at any point. Mom and Pop Dhaliwal are old-school like that.
So I guess racism kept us apart, and in this case I gotta say Go racism, ’cause Parm’s my best friend and I seriously wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve never even really fantasized about her — at least, not since she had her first kid, which was almost four years ago, one year after she married a good brown boy. I was at her wedding of course and that was a weird day. No disrespect to Vik, but Parm could do way better. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t on board re: Vik for a long time. But whatever. It’s Parm’s choice and ultimately I respect that.
So anyway, there I am one day, standing in my kitchen, bitching on the phone to Parm. Bitching about my job. As always.
Parm says, “It’s really unpleasant to listen to you talk about work. It’s like pure negativity.”
Parm can say stuff to me where I’d get super defensive if anyone else said it, but with her I take it in stride.
I go, “I barely ever talk about work.”
Parm has this way of pronouncing my name when she’s annoyed at me, as if it had four syllables. Wes-uh-ley-uh!
Then she’s like, You always talk about work, and I’m like, No, I don’t, and she’s like, Oh yes, you do. And you’re always bitching away. Bitch, bitch, bitchy, bitch, bitch.
“Do I really complain about work that much?”
She doesn’t even answer, which means yes. I can hear her smirk. I swear to God I can hear it, like this tiny moist click. I know exactly what her face is doing right now.
“Take some time off.”
“I do take time off.”
“Take more time off.”
“How can I take more time off? I’m maxed out for vacation.”
“So make a beast.”
I’m like, really? She’s like, yeah.
“I don’t know, Parm. Doesn’t that seem super self-indulgent? I feel like it’s the wrong reason to bring a living thing into the world, just ’cause you want time off work.”
“Wesley.” I hear the moist click. “That’s practically the main reason I had the boys.”
Which sounds really horrible, and I tell her that.
Parm says, “Obviously your motivation changes as you go. But I’m saying at first.”
I can’t tell if she’s kidding or not, which usually means she half is and half isn’t. She keeps going, saying there’s no shame in it, that sometimes you just need a major life change to sort of restart your self-image. Parm can be very convincing when she knows she’s right.
So then and there I decide to build a beast.
I give it a lot of thought before I make the hard decisions. You don’t want to rush in, you know? There’s all kinds of ways to get a life going — unlike in the old days — so you should really weigh your options and figure out what’s right for you. I don’t want to hire a consultant. That just seems weird. Some decisions you really should make yourself, I really do believe that. So I spend a lot of time on the internet, learning what’s out there, reading testimonials. I find out pretty quickly that a lot of my preconceived notions are just plain wrong. Like, for instance, when is it OK to start telling people? In the old days, you never announced you were making a beast until you got an actual pulse going, but times have changed. Now that so many men go the digital route, the whole mind-set is different. Dudes start posting specs on their Tumblrs months before they boot anything up.
The first decision I have to make is bits or brawn, as they say. For me, that one’s a no-brainer. I decide right away I don’t want to go digital. I guess you could say I’m a traditional sort of guy in that respect. Plus, once I’d made up my mind to build, Parm gave me a copy of this book, Shop Class as Soulcraft, and it really got me thinking. I don’t want to just download a life. I want to build my man from the guts out, really get my hands bloody.
Once I decide to go with flesh, the first thing I have to do is settle on what kind of heart to use. The heart is the most important part to me. It’s symbolic. So I want to get it right. There’s these companies online that’ll actually grow a heart for you — on like a scaffold thing — and then once it’s formed they mail it out. It’s so weird. Apparently heart tissue just starts beating and contracting on its own, even without a blood supply or a brain or anything. But for some reason the lab-grown option feels too artificial to me. I’ve already decided to go with real live tissue — makes sense to try and stay as organic and free-range as possible.
Another option is hearts from dead children, which seemed 100 percent wrong to me at first, but then the more I thought about it and read up on it, the more it really started to make sense. These kids die from natural causes, and there’s a whole system in place to make sure the vendors are the actual parents — not just some random child-killer — so I feel like the checks and balances are there. And your payment goes to helping seriously disenfranchised people, so there’s even a humanitarian angle. Why kids? Why not old farts who are done with theirs? First of all, when it comes to hearts, the younger the better — it’s a wear-and-tear issue. Also, you want to avoid perverse incentives. The beneficiaries of the sale have got to be people who wouldn’t want the donor to die, and parents of young children are the only ones you can really trust in that regard. I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I truly do believe the system’s safe and legit. And I was reading this HuffPo article, and the guy’s point was like, It’s actually racist to think that Chinese parents would kill their own children just to sell their hearts to rich Westerners. And I was like, Yeah! It is! So I feel pretty comfortable about my decision.
OK, so I order the heart, and then I’m super anxious the whole time until it arrives. I’ve read some reviews on Amazon about spoiled hearts, and it’s really just a nightmare. There’s all kinds of regulations about sending human tissue in the mail. It’s not like some DVD or something. If your heart shows up rotten you can send it back but you don’t get a complete refund if you don’t follow all the procedures exactly — there’s all this paperwork to fill out. I guess it’s to discourage illegal trafficking, but man, what a pain in the ass. Needless to say, I want to avoid all that.
When the heart arrives in perfect cryonic stasis, I breathe a sigh of relief. I thaw it and call Parm.
“Is it beating inside the box?”
“Yeah — in its ‘nutrient medium.’ Here, I’ll show you. Hold on.”
I hold up my phone and take a video.
“I know. It’s awesome.”
So now I’ve got a pulse, and being the traditional guy I am, I’ve waited till now to announce. It’s crazy how nervous I am. What will people say? I mean, obviously everyone’ll be all, Congratulations, Wes, that’s great, Wes, rah, rah, rah. But what will they really think? It’s such a big step. And there’s still stigma attached: you know, a single guy going out on his own to make a beast.
But whatever. I’ve got a big place. I live way out in the sprawl — you’d be crazy not to, if you consider the economics. I could have a shoebox downtown or I could have this. And you know what? Even at the time I bought it I was thinking ahead, thinking about beasting. I was like, let’s say someday I want to build a beast. It’s seriously wrong to do that in the city, what with the density and everything. I mean, once the rampage starts — assuming a rampage starts — there’s way too much collateral damage. Out here in the exurbs, there’s tons of empty space. Even if your beast goes totally berserk, the amount of damage it can realistically do before the Squad takes it down is minor. So I really was thinking about that — even back then, it was a factor in my thinking.
Plus the dogs love the big yard. No way I’d get that downtown.
I make the announcement the same way I make all my announcements: I tell my mom, then she goes on Facebook, then everyone knows. It’s an OK conversation, when I tell her. Weird but OK. She’s supportive, in her way, which for Mom means asking if I need to borrow weapons or if I need money to buy weapons. That’s my mom, always looking on the negative side, always thinking about what might go wrong instead of what might go right.
I tell her I don’t want to do it that way.
“I thought I’d try it without weapons.”
“Oh, that’s what all the men say. But then the thing wakes up and at the last minute you’re out buying weapons.”
“I don’t know, Ma — I think I’d rather improvise.”
“All I’m saying is it doesn’t hurt to have some weapons on hand. If you don’t use them you don’t use them.”
“I just really think I’m saying no.”
My conversation with Ron is even weirder, when I go in to talk to him about leave. I assume he’ll get mad at me for taking so much time off, but that’s not what happens. At first he’s all jokey and annoying, as usual, but then he gets serious, reflective, starts talking about how it was different in his day. Back then, you thought of a beast more as an extra set of hands to help out with the yard work. And you never made your beast dangerous, not deliberately.
“I guess the philosophy’s different today. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, just different.”
He tells me how much pleasure he got from building his beast, and I think of that book, Shop Class as Soulcraft. I start trying to explain the ideas to him, but he seems bored, so I stop. I change the subject, ask how it all ended for him and his beast. He tells me the beast finally snapped one Saturday morning while they were out washing his car.
“Had to subdue it with the hose, right there in the driveway.” He mimes strangulation. “Then I run it over a few times, for good measure. I won’t kid ya. Hardest thing I ever done.”
Like I say, it’s a weird conversation. But good. I feel closer to Ron. He shakes my hand and wishes me well, tells me not to worry about taking the time off.
“Man’s gotta take the time sometime. How far along are you?”
“It’s just a heart so far.”
“Well, that’s how it starts. You gonna use weapons?”
“I was thinking no.”
It’s the first time I walk away from Ron not thinking what an asshole he is.
So yeah, the reactions vary. My sister’s like, What are you doing? She starts telling me all these horror stories and I’m like, Yeah, sis, we’ve all heard the horror stories. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ll be careful. My brother’s like, Just be sure to complete him. Otherwise it looks really bad. I know what he means. So many dudes lose control of their monsters when they’re only half-built. We’ve all seen the videos: one-armed beasts totaling convenience stores, partial skeleton beasts on the loose, beasts with no head running around, being all spastic. It’s like, really? Couldn’t even get the head on? Come on, guys. Try harder.
Which gets me thinking. The head. What should he look like?
I find this company that’ll print off a living scan of your face that you can graft on so your beast will look like you. How creepy is that? No way, dudes. I don’t even want my guy to necessarily look human. I find this other company that specializes in beast faces, all natural. It’s cool — they’ve got this whole gallery of different kinds of animals they can supply. I click through the most popular faces, the top-ranked ones, which are also the most obvious ones. Tigers, pumas, all the big cats. Mm. Naw. Pass. I’d like something really original. I drag the cursor down to the bottom of the gallery and click way far in, like image seventy, and there it is.
What the fuck is that?
It’s called a “babirusa,” and I guess it’s some sort of pig or something, but holy shit. That is one mean-looking motherfucker. All tusks and these crazy ferocious eyes. It’s like World of Warcraft, but real. I click on the price icon and it’s actually pretty reasonable. Huh. This just might be my guy.
For the upper body it’s straight chimpanzee. Easy to access, and cheap. The drug companies are just grateful there’s a market for this sort of industrial waste. It’s a nice thought, too, like a second life: these guys sacrificed themselves for medical science, and now they get to live again — or anyway, part of them does. I like the big broad pectorals, the long muscular arms. You can go mechanical for the chest and arms, but I like the look of an organic upper body. I just think it looks better, visually.
I go mechanical for the lower body. You pretty much gotta if you want your guy to walk upright. Sort of half-joking, I wonder if you can’t just buy some Chinese kid’s legs — then I check into it, and you can. But it looks wrong. Especially if you want to add junk, which of course I do. Oh, man, that’s a whole ’nother ball of sticky horrible wax. I ask Parm to do the research for me ’cause it feels just a leeet-tle bit gay, and she’s like, awright! Sign me up! Then she calls me about five minutes later and she’s all, I can’t do this, it’s too disturbing. I have a look at what’s on offer and she’s right. I mean, bulls, wolves, you name it. These endless dick galleries, all these weird scary shapes. I decide to go prosthetic for the manhood.
The components take a few weeks to arrive, but finally they do, and it’s time. On my last day at work my associates throw a party. Of course it’s Frankenstein-themed. Frankenstein paper plates, green plastic forks and knives, the green guy himself on a cake where the cake people have written in icing, CREATE A MONSTER, WES! And you know what? I have to say I’m actually pissed off about this. When Honario from accounting went on his leave, Ron sprang for rubber masks — full-head Frankenstein rubber masks for everyone on staff, and those things are not cheap. And we actually did the surprise thing, got to work early and hid behind the furniture and jumped out when Honario came in, the whole nine. He was pretty edgy at the time so his reaction was a bit weird, but the point is that time and effort were put in. And money. So, yeah, I’m a little pissed off at my crappy paper plates and this shitty cake. It doesn’t even look like Frankenstein. It looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger with green skin and a bowl cut. Were they training someone new? I don’t even eat my slice.
We all stand around for a while trying to get along, and suddenly everyone’s an expert on beasting. The IT guys come over and try to persuade me to go digital. I’m like, It’s too late dudes, decision’s made. They’re like, No, no, hear us out. They go on and on about why analog sucks, and I actually have a hard time defending my position, mainly ’cause I can’t outright say what I’m really thinking. Which is that they’re a bunch of pussies. Dudes, you seriously think a virtual bot could take the place of a real live beast? Y’all spend too much time pounding them keyboards. But I can’t outright say that. So instead I talk about how it’s more romantic to build a physical beast, and they’re like, What do you mean, “romantic”? And I’m like, You know, there’s the element of danger. And they’re like, Danger? Danger? You wanna talk about danger? Need we remind you of the 2009 Great Beast Crash, when practically the entire Eastern Seaboard was out of power for like forty-eight hours? How is that not dangerous?
Whatever. These dorks. I let them talk themselves out, which they eventually do. From my lack of pushback, I guess they think they’ve won me over — this guy named Brent gives me his personal email and tells me that if I need someone to walk me through some of the more technical aspects, he’d love to help. Yeah, I bet you would, Brent. But forget that. This is my time. This is my thing. I’m doing this for me. Far as I’m concerned, Brent can grow a pair and build his own beast.
The party breaks up and I spend the rest of the day slacking the fuck off. I look at the card that everyone signed. Good luck! Don’t get killed! “Beast” wishes! Ron comes by for his obligatory long-winded sayonara, and then that’s it, I’m free. I walk out of there with the biggest grin on my face, call Parm before I’m even out of the lot. She doesn’t pick up so I leave a message.
“I’m free, baby! Six months of freedom! Just me and my beast, doin’ our thang.”
I’m so stoked. I put on Blink-182 and crank that shit. Six months . . . Now, this is sort of a thing for me — I sort of believe it’s discriminatory that men only get six months max to build a beast, whereas a woman can get a year for mat leave, or even more, depending on where she works. But hey, that is one discussion no man wants to have with the females in his life. So we take what we can get. Of course, only a tiny handful of dudes ever make it the full six months. Most beasts wake up before then — even if you go as slow as possible, really draw it out. That must be a real bitch, having your beast wake up after only a couple months. Not yet! Go back to sleep! I’m thinking I won’t plant the brain until at least month four. They say to plant early so the reflexes get a chance to tune up, but once you plant the brain . . . well, once you plant the brain, all bets are off.
I get home.
I’m genuinely not sure how to get started. I’ve got all the components, but something’s missing. It just doesn’t feel official, you know? I feel like I want to cut a ribbon or smash a bottle of champagne on a ship or something. I can’t just start. I call Parm.
“Have you started yet?”
“I can’t just start.”
“What are you talking about? Start!”
So I start a blog. I’m not really the blogging type, I have to say, but this whole thing just feels so . . . so . . . so momentous. I truly feel the need to document it in depth. It’s such a cliché for dudes to blog about their beast-building, but whatevs. I guess I’m a follower, when you get right down to it. So I take a bunch of pictures of all the components, make a little site. Man, setting up the blog takes me a long time. I want everything just right — but I don’t even know what I mean by that. I call Parm for help.
“Why are there so many backgrounds to choose from? Which one is good?”
“Wes, it’s up to you. Just pick one. No one even looks at the background.”
“How about Oriental? I sort of like that.”
“Oriental? Are you serious?”
“I don’t know, Parm!”
In the end we go with something really plain, black on white, sans serif (which Parm says is the hip choice). I do a few posts just talking about my feelings, how I came to all my decisions, where I ordered the components from. My posts get a bunch of likes — of course it’s all Parm and Mom and my sister. But this is a good start. This feels right. I think I’m ready to get down to business.
Choosing a room to work in is surprisingly hard. The garage seems like the obvious choice — it’s a two-car garage, so plenty of room with just my Mini in there. Plus all the tools are there. Plus it doesn’t matter what spills on the ground, and I’ll be working with plenty of gross fluids. But the dogs like to hang out in the garage (Lord knows why), and I sort of don’t want them around the beast too much. I consider the basement, which I only ever use in the summer. There’s a room down there with unfinished floors that I could convert to a workspace pretty easily. But that room feels too isolated. The nice thing about the garage is that it connects right to the kitchen, and it’s my understanding that a lot of the materials I’ll be using need to be boiled and microwaved, plus it’s nice to have the double sink right there. Upstairs is pretty much out, due to carpets — even though there’s a whole room I literally never use: the Nothing Room. I guess it’s supposed to be a spare bedroom, but I never have guests, and when I do it’s just my brother, and he’s happier on the foldout couch in the basement where there’s a TV and a private bathroom. So I never even bothered to furnish the Nothing Room. It’s just an empty room across from my bedroom . . . You know, people think it’s weird that I live out here all alone, just me and my dogs, but let me just say for the record that when I bought this place, Kate and I were still sort of seeing each other — I mean, we were on a break, but I was picking up clear signals, I thought, that we’d be getting back together soon. You know what’s funny? About buying a house? I think my decision was subconsciously influenced by the Discovery Channel. There was this show I saw once, with these birds, where the male builds this giant elaborate nest and the female comes by and she’s either like, Meh, or else she’s like, OK, yeah, you got the skills to pay the bills, and she comes in and lets him mate with her. For some reason that stuck in my head, and I think it factored hugely into my decision to buy. I remember walking into this house with the agent and thinking to myself, Kate would love this. It has a porch. Kate will want to move into this when she sees it. So I signed all the papers and the next thing I know I get that text from her.
You remember that guy I work with? James? You met him at the Christmas party when you went that year?
I’m like, Yeah, I remember James. I thought you two were awful friendly.
Well yeah about that . . .
It’s been five years. Five years, man. Half a decade. Ah, well. The past is the past, right? But the funny thing is, the decisions you made then are still the decisions you live with now, even if all your circumstances have totally changed. So, yeah. People say it’s strange for me to live alone in such a big house, but you know what? I truly do not care what people say. I make good money. I can afford my payments. And the value’s just going up. I really bought at the right time — it was fields all around back then. Now there’s houses as far as the eye can see, a school, a partly built mall. The dogs like it out here. Sadie and the Dude like a yard to romp around in. And I got all this space to build my beast in.
So, yeah. Whatever. The garage it is.
I get an Amazon package. It’s from Parm. A book. I don’t recognize the author’s name but I look at the cover and apparently this guy’s a pretty famous British comedian, and the book’s just all his tweets from when he was beasting, collected in one place. Oh, man, it’s hilarious. Like laugh-out-loud funny. Some of the British slang I don’t get but what I do get is gold. I finish the whole thing in one day.
I sort of feel bad about that, about wasting a day reading, but whatever. I got six months, right? This book is hi-larious. I keep putting it down, walking away, coming back, telling myself I’ll just read one more page and that’s it. Yeah, right. Next thing I know, I’m done. Wow. I don’t remember the last time I finished a whole book in one day. Maybe when I was a kid. Maybe Charlotte’s Web. Anyway, this book’s a hit. This British guy is too funny. I decide to blog about it, but when I sit down and look at my earlier posts, I actually get sort of depressed. I can’t help but compare myself with the British comedian. Wow — I’m boring. And what’s with all the exclamation points? It looks like a teenage girl wrote this. I’m so excited!!!
So I don’t bother with a blog post. In fact, I think I’m through with blogging. It’s maybe not the right format for me anyhow. Think I’ll stick to tweets.
OK. Focus. You got a beast to build.
I call Parm and thank her for the book, tell her I’m probably done with my blog. We say good night. Next morning I take the dogs for a huge long walk. They deserve it. Such good doggies. It’s nice that I get to spend real quality time with them now that I’m on beast leave. I make a vow to them: “I will walk you every day. I promise.” We go so far that I actually get lost — they’ve put in a whole new community since the last time I walked out this way. It’s confusing. All the street names start with the same letter. Oh, well. More exercise for the dogs, I guess. Where the hell am I?
I finally break down and ask a jogging mom for directions. Man, if looks could kill, my dogs would just keel over right there. Sadie’s a rottweiler and the Dude’s an American Staffordshire terrier — and they’re the gentlest, sweetest animals you could ever imagine. But there is stigma. This mom actually recoils. She angles her jogging-mom baby chariot away from the dogs and she won’t take her eyes off of them, especially the Dude. Like he’s gonna lunge in there and eat her infant. Really? Is that really what you think? He wears the muzzle because he has social issues with other male dogs if they come sniffing around Sadie. But he loves kids. I mean, come on, people! Talk about discrimination. Anyway, she tells me where I am and bounces off in her Lululemons . . . Dang. Who designs these Lululemons? Moms have never looked so good.
Anyway, I get home. The dogs do that thing where they flop on their sides and smile. So cute. I head to the garage, where I’ve assembled all the components. Roll up my sleeves. OK. Let’s do this.
So I get to it.
I unpack everything and lay it all out, and the bigness of the job hits me. This is a big job. I mean, to create a life. I’ve set up an old ping-pong table to build my guy on. I spread a plastic drop cloth over it, and suddenly, for the first time, I feel like I’m really doing this thing. I find the cylinder with the spinal column in it. I press a button and the cylinder opens. Wow. I pull out the spine and lay it on the table. The first piece. The first building block. It comes from the factory with all these contact points already attached, like these little plastic sockets. Smells like chilled meat — like uncooked chicken. Should I be wearing gloves? Hm. That’s a good question.
I take five and get my tablet, hit the couch, do some googling. There’s all kinds of instructional sites on how to build a beast. It’s sort of hard to know which one to use. I find this guy with a whole YouTube channel devoted to beasting, and his videos have like 100,000 views, which is pretty good for some random guy with no production values. He’s cool. Funny. Not on purpose. He’s like super dorky and awkward, but that’s what makes him fun to watch. And he’s good with his explanations. He has this soft, sort of gurgly, very patient voice. I spend the rest of the day watching.
Well, there goes another day. I get off the couch and head for the garage and boy am I just in time. Looks like Sadie’s mistaken my beast spine for a chew treat. I freak on her — more than I should, I know. I’ve never hit either dog but they’re well socialized, I can sure put the fear of God in ’em. I’m definitely the alpha around here. Sadie hasn’t taken a bite or anything, but she’s sniffing around like she intends to, so I pull her away and push her to the ground and bark in her face. Her legs go up in the air and I can see the whites of her eyes. She’s limp. This is how you train dogs. They respond to the pack dynamic, and you gotta put ’em in their place. Which is why little dogs are such pricks — no one takes them seriously, so no one ever pins them down and barks in their faces, so they get the idea that they’re in charge. With big dogs, you have no option but to discipline. They’re too much trouble otherwise. So I enforce a strict pack hierarchy.
The Dude watches from the kitchen steps. He’s a smart boy. That spine is a no-no.
I get off Sadie and check the spine. No damage done. I point at the table and growl at the dogs, who bow their heads and slink off to the kitchen. Better close the door to the garage tonight. Usually I leave all the doors open, and the nightly routine goes like this: the dogs lie around wherever I am (usually in the bedroom, watching TV), and when I fall asleep they head to the garage and lie around there. Then at around 6 AM they come upstairs and flop in my bed on either side of me and sigh their dog sighs. Then they stare at me until I get up and feed them.
But tonight we start a new routine. Tonight the door to the garage stays shut.
. . . Which it does, until about three in the morning, when I wake up to the most desperate whining you ever did hear. I go downstairs and Sadie and the Dude are sitting there, staring at the door, and they look over their shoulders with a look that says, Master, what the fuck? They stare at me with their puppy-doggest stares, trying to melt my heart. Hey, nice try. But I’m the alpha here. Door stays closed. I growl at them and go back to bed.
Half an hour later and it’s whine-central once again. For Christ’s sake. Shut up. I go down and growl at them, come back to bed. Fifteen minutes later, same thing. Same reaction from me. I hold out until about four o’clock, when I finally give in and open the door. I lay some plastic over the spine and say No! a bunch of times, then I climb back up to bed and try not to look at the clock. Fuck this. I am going to be so tired tomorrow. And I get grouchy when I’m tired. I’ll take someone’s head off. Like that fucking intern. What’s his name? Gene? Gene had better watch out tomorrow is all I can say. He’d better not make coffee without putting the filter in again is all I can say. ’Cause if he does —
Oh, hey. Wait a minute. I don’t have to work tomorrow. Ha! I don’t have to work! Not for six — count ’em — six months! I’m on beast leave, bitches!
The feeling that floods my brain in the next seconds is truly something to savor. I almost want to cry. It’s beautiful. It’s so beautiful. I grab my phone and tweet about it, it’s that beautiful. Then I nestle into my oh-so-soft pillow and fall blissfully to sleep.
So, day five of beast leave and dude sleeps in till two in the afternoon. OK. So? So what? It’s a victimless crime.
I get up and check my phone and Parm’s sent me about ten zillion texts. I call her but she’s not picking up — probably in a meeting or some fucking thing. Ha! I see she’s retweeted my tweet from 4:16 AM. She’s all like, bff @wezzlicious on #beastleave, just realizes it at 4:16 AM. must be nice.
I tweet: just woke up! 2:32 PM. #beastleave rules!
Then I make pancakes. I tweet about that.
The dogs are slinking around, on affection strike. Yeah, that’s right. I’m pissed at you two. No walkies today. I feed them, they eat, then immediately they both go up to the Nothing Room and lie in a corner. Those two, I tell ya. Champion sulkers. Now, how’s my spine doing this fine afternoon?
I peek under the plastic. Everything looks OK here. And all those videos I watched yesterday really were helpful. I’m pretty sure I know where to start.
So I start. It’s slow going, and, I have to say, pretty frustrating at times. There’s all these nerves you gotta connect just right. I attach the organ bundle. The bundle’s all artificial and idiot-proof enough, but the heart gives me a hard time. Finally I get it fixed in. I haul out the chimp torso and I’m really disappointed to see that the arms come unattached. I guess it’s easier to ship that way, but, like, really? What a pain in the ass. So I pull up the video on how to connect the arms, watch that, and by the time I feel like I’ve got everything figured out, it’s already nine o’clock. The dogs sit at the door, watching me from the kitchen. Oh, decided to get up, did you?
I feed them. I feed myself. I hang around in the kitchen. Call Parm.
“It’s going good. I’ve already got the viscera mostly hooked up to the spine.”
“Are there reflexes?”
“Not yet. But I don’t think there should be yet.”
“Really? Why not? Maybe you’re doing something wrong.”
“I’m not. I watched a video about it.”
“Well, take it slow is all I’m saying. You don’t want to rush this part.”
“Thank you, Mom. Look, I know what I’m doing.”
“Wesley. No one expects you to be an expert right off the bat. You learn as you go.”
“Yeah. I know.”
“I know you know.” I hear her smirk. “How were the pancakes?”
We say good night and I debate whether or not to close the door to the garage. It probably wouldn’t hurt to leave it open. The dogs understand they’re not supposed to touch anything, right? But at the same time, I’m the alpha, I set the rules. So I close the door.
Three in the morning, whine-central, I open the door. I will kill you both at dawn.
Next day, I attach the torso. This takes all day. All day. And I work straight through, only taking the odd break to eat and feed the dogs, tweet a little, and go to the bathroom. I can’t tell you how satisfied I am when I step back and it’s attached. I’m getting pretty good at sutures, too. You can actually tell which ones I did in the morning, which ones I did in the afternoon, and which ones I did in the evening — there’s that much of a difference in the quality. I’m a quick study, what can I say. I pull out my brand-new vitaMeter and hold it over the torso. A few of the little bars light up faint orange. Hm. Is that normal? I mean, the heart’s alive, right? I take the vitaMeter into the yard and wave it over Sadie. The bars light up bright green, all of them. As an experiment, I hold the meter over a dandelion, and the bars light up green for that, too. This dandelion is more alive than my beast torso? Hm. Why are there even dandelions here? Is that weed stuff not working?
I spend some time online and find a lot of long discussion threads about vitaMeter readings, what to expect, what’s normal. Long threads about when exactly life begins. Some dude is like, I held the vitaMeter over my spooge and all I got were some weak yellow bars. How can that be? Oh, man, this thread goes on. I look at the time and it’s past midnight. I send Parm an email about the guy who vitaMetered his spooge, complete with a link, and then turn in.
A month goes by. I attach the arms and the neck region. These attachments take time. There’s so much matching of blood vessels and nerves, and you have to get the muscles all fastened together right. Parm sends me The Anatomy Coloring Book, which seems super cheesy at first, but I swear to God it saves my life. Once the arms are on I discover this cool trick. You poke a finger into the top of the spinal cord and the arms jiggle. That’s called reflex, ladies and gentlemen.
“He’s got reflexes!”
“Here, let me show you.”
I video myself diddling the spine.
“Omigod, that is so freaky. That is — agh!”
She screams and laughs. Her laugh makes me laugh. Always has.
The war with the dogs continues. They actually let me sleep through the night one night, though the next morning they don’t join me in bed like they usually do. I go downstairs and find them piled up by the closed door, looking betrayed. Who’s the alpha! Then that night they go at it extra hard, yelping at me until I crack. I open the door and watch them climb down the steps and flop on the concrete floor. Why? Why must you sleep on this cold concrete floor? What’s the draw?
More weeks come and go, and I get the mechanical pelvis attached. This mechanical stuff takes a whole new set of skills. Just when I was getting the hang of skin and bone, too. A lot of drilling involved, and a lot of wiring. I get the legs on. He’s really taking shape, this guy.
But the vitaMeter still reads orange. Why, why, why?
I go online and soon find the answer, or anyway a bunch of long discussion threads about the question. There’s a whole range of opinion, but it all centers around the brain. I knew this would come up. What I take away from the whole discussion is that the brain is key. I do a bit more research — man, there’s a lot of opinion. People have literally written books on this topic. So I download one. It’s by a brain scientist. I send Parm a text: Wesley just bought his first book! But then I find out the author’s got a TED talk, and I watch that instead. Five minutes in, I am convinced. And I feel bad about it, to tell you the truth. This scientist guy’s like, We do our beasts a grave disservice if we do not plant the brain in the very early stages of building. The point is that the body is an integrated system, and the brain is just this crucial component, so to leave it out really stunts your guy’s development. Yeah, I hadn’t thought of that. Sorry, guy. I haven’t attached the skull yet, haven’t even peeked at the babirusa face — I wanted to wait until the body was complete before I took a look at him, don’t know why, sort of like leaving the biggest Christmas present till last or something. I’ve avoided everything above the neck. But now it’s time.
So the next day, I attach the brain to the spinal cord. Lots of blood vessels, lots of nerves. The brain’s just a bulb at this stage, real small, and I have a heck of a time working at that scale. But I get the thing connected. Brain sourcing is the most controversial aspect of the beast industry, the part where you see the most protests and anger. But it seems to me that if you really want to do justice to the memory of a fetus — like if you really think it’s a person and deserving of dignity and all that — then giving its brain a chance to flourish in a beast is much better than just flushing it. People make arguments, saying you should go with the brains of executed prisoners or whatever. Yeah, right. ’Cause that’s just what I want to implant in my beast — some serial killer’s used brain. No. You want a blank slate. So the fetus is really perfect. Some people will never see eye to eye with me on this, and I respect their right to their opinion, but that’s how I see it. End of discussion.
I inject the brain with growth serum. Wipe my hands. I’m sort of shaking as I wave the vitaMeter over my brain-equipped beast. I guess I expect pure green, all the bars. Nope. Just faint orange. To say I’m disappointed would be a huge understatement. I call Parm.
“Maybe I’m doing something wrong!”
“You’re probably not. I think this is normal.”
“I don’t think it is!”
“Well, every beast is different, right? So what does ‘normal’ even mean? Every beast has its own developmental path.”
“I’m just afraid I’m doing something wrong.”
“I know. But we both know how careful you are when you put your mind to something. I’m sure it’s fine. Just give it some time.”
“Wesley. Do you want me to come over?”
“Naw. Why, just to watch me mope?”
“The boys are in bed. Vik’s here. Why don’t I come over?”
“It’s OK, Parm. You’re right. I gotta give it time, that’s all. Gotta give it time.”
I’ve just unpacked the face when life begins.
I’m crouched on the floor, staring for the first time at the frozen pig flesh, when I hear the vitaMeter hum. I’m instantly on my feet. I’ve left the meter by the body, just carelessly placed by an elbow, and at first I can’t find it. Then I see the green. All bars. Bright green.
I cannot resist.
“It’s — it’s alive!”
The dogs come bounding in like I’ve called them, but they see I’m not wearing my walkies and they slink back off to the yard. I brace myself against the ping-pong table. Between my feet, the horrible babirusa face sleeps under the frosty window of its cryobox.
Look at you down there. My baby.
I kneel and admire the huge tusks, the folds of bristly gray skin, the giant flared nostrils. I lift the cryobox and cradle it in my arms. The body looks the same as it did just a few minutes ago, when I finally got the skull locked in place and told myself that now, at last, after all this time, I’m allowed to peek at the face — it looks the same, but I know it’s different. The spark’s there. I feel happy, excited, relieved. The spark’s there.
I spend the next week attaching the face. It’s harder than I thought it would be. There’s this gloop they sell in buckets that you paint onto the skull, layer by layer, and it turns into muscle tissue. So I have to do all this research and follow this instructional video that the animal-face company sent me a link to. Oh, man. The musculature takes forever. But they’re like, If you want your guy to snarl realistically and all that, you gotta get the muscles right. So I get the muscles right. My consolation in all this is waving the vitaMeter over my beast and seeing those green bars light right up. It’s been two and a half months. I’ve worked hard on this thing. And it’s coming along as well as I’d hoped it would.
Eventually I get the face on. I’ve done a good job with the musculature and the face fits snug, all the contact points connect. I spritz it with this special chemical and the skin begins to “innervate.” That’s a new word that’s really become part of my vocabulary this past little while. I’ve learned lots of new words. Sometimes I’ll drop one in a conversation and Parm always seems really impressed. I know she’s proud of herself for suggesting that I do this. I think she thinks it’s a huge positive step for me, and I’d agree with her on that. She’s never been anything but positive and supportive about it. Good ol’ Parm.
Now that the face is on, my whole feeling about my beast changes. There’s still months of work to do — he’s rough around the edges and needs lots of trimming and musculature touch-ups, plus I want to add hair and tattoos and all kinds of detailing — but it really is a dude in there, lying on that table. Up till now, he’s felt sort of abstract . . . I guess that’s why I held off on looking at the face. The face makes him real. Makes him a man.
Well, except for one thing. There’s still the tackle, which I haven’t attached yet. I just didn’t want it lying around all exposed like that — I dunno, man, you can guess why. But now that my guy’s fully formed, I figure it’s time to give him a reason for living. I unpack the cylinder with the manhood in it. Wow. Ha-ha. Whew!
OK, so, yeah, maybe I went overboard on size. This was the one decision that Parm just would not let go of. I mean, she got serious mileage out of it, making-fun-of-me-wise. I’ll be honest: she got under my skin. I just didn’t want to talk about it — but Parm did. She thought the whole thing was a gas.
“But why sixteen? That’s not even sort of realistic.”
“There’s dudes with sixteen inches.”
“Wesley. I’m not saying there’s not. I’m just saying it’s absurd.”
“Well, what am I gonna do? Go small?”
But I kept my temper. Now that I’ve popped this cylinder, all I can think is, Parm was right. This is absurd. Realistic-looking too, veins and all. Actually pretty gross. I’m gonna have to buy pants for my guy — he can’t be swinging this thing around with every step he takes. Why didn’t I think this through? I should call Parm. Tell her she was right.
Amazingly, just at that second, she calls. Women, right? Sixth sense.
“How’s it coming along?”
“It’s OK. I just unpacked the manhood.”
“Ha! Sorry. That sounded funny. How . . . uh . . . does it look?”
She cracks up. This entire conversation is just a gold mine for Parm.
“I think you were right.”
We both crack up. I go to the kitchen where the reception’s better, and we have a really good talk. It’s so weird, right? Apologizing? Somehow when you apologize to someone that you know really well, it sort of opens up these emotional floodgates. The apology itself can be about something stupid — just something minor — but it has this power, just saying you’re sorry. I guess it’s like acknowledging that you’re imperfect and that you know it’s OK, like it’ll be received OK, like you trust the other person to receive your imperfection OK. That’s friendship, man.
So we’re just shooting the shit, she’s talking about Vik and how he’s always so stressed about work, how maybe Vik should make another beast, when the Dude runs by with a trophy in his jaws.
“Yeah — no — it’s the Dude! The Dude’s got the manhood! I gotta go!”
I’ve left the back door open so the dogs can come and go as they please, and he’s out like a flash. And I’m out after him.
“No! Bad Dude! Drop it!”
He runs to the far corner of the yard, turns, faces me, does his growl. Shit, I know where this is going. He whips his head around like crazy and the manhood slaps his ears. Damn. He’s in play mode. I usually don’t buy a lot of chew toys for the Dude, since he goes through them like crazy. I really can’t give him anything that isn’t industrial strength, ’cause he just chews it up in a few minutes and then gets diarrhea. This schlong’s made of — what, silicone? It doesn’t stand a chance.
I do my mad voice: “Dude!”
I do my I’m-not-kidding voice: “Duuuuude.”
But he puts his butt in the air and looks at me with those play eyes. Oh, God.
I lunge at him and he dodges, zips out of the way, zips back so that I can grab the dick. I tug, he tugs, growling through his clamped teeth. Sadie comes bounding out of nowhere, jumping around, barking. Oh, yeah, really great fun! I yank on the manhood. Now we’re doing that thing where I twirl and the Dude levitates. I swing him around for a few minutes, but there’s no point. Once the Dude’s got his jaws clamped on something, he will not let go. You’d have to shoot him in the head, which part of me wants to do, not that I own a gun.
So I let go. Dick’s all torn up anyway.
The Dude carries it to a corner and starts chowing down. You know what? Fine. Eat it. A responsible owner would try harder to take it away — maybe bring out the hose — but I decide to let him get diarrhea instead. That will be his punishment. He’ll have to sleep in the yard tonight.
I turn around and walk back to the house, but I pause on the deck when I notice my neighbor glaring at me through his window. I shrug. This guy hates me. I don’t even know his name. I tried to talk to him once when we were both out hosing off our driveways, and he just ignored me. Like a total prick. So from then on, nada. We just glare at each other sometimes. I don’t know what his problem is — I mean, I know what it is. He’s a dad. And he hates my dogs. Again, discrimination. It’s not like I didn’t fence in the entire yard when I got them. And not some shit chain link either. Seven foot tall, wood, dog-impervious. Costly. But still. He glares at me from that window. You just know he fantasizes about his daughters running in with their faces mauled. Has he ever come over to pet Sadie? To pet the Dude? I would let his girls come over and play with my dogs, and he would see how gentle and sweet they are, that they love kids. But no. He’d rather be a prick about it. Fine. You know what? Glare away! In fact, I hope one of your precious daughters looks out the window right this second to behold my killer dog eating a giant cock. That’s what I hope.
“He ate it.”
“Oh, Wes.” She can’t help herself. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t laugh.”
“It’s OK. It’s obviously funny.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know, man. Maybe nothing. It’s sort of weird to attach a dick anyway. Right?”
She doesn’t need to answer that, and she doesn’t. Good ol’ Parm.
So it’s just before eleven when the yowling begins. Sorry, my little man, welcome to diarrhea city. Population: one bad little doggy. I turn up the TV. But I can hear him over the TV. I get out of bed, go into the Nothing Room and look out the window. It’s a full moon night, and I can see the Dude as clear as anything. He’s groaning, scooting around the yard on his ass. Sadie’s up too, like on vigil or something. I feel bad — but hey, man, I’m the alpha. I go back to bed.
OK, so now it’s past midnight, and they’re barking. Well, Sadie’s barking — the Dude’s producing ungodly werewolf moans. It sort of sounds like Sadie’s egging him on, which she does sometimes. I picture my neighbor in his bed, lying there, glaring at the ceiling, thinking about how he’s gonna burn my house down tomorrow. I gotta do something. Let them in, I guess. Shit, I should’ve thought this through. Usually if I know the Dude’s eaten something wrong I go out and grab an armful of newspapers and cover the living-room carpet. But now it’s too late. I have to drive so far to get newspapers — there’s nothing in my community. I have to drive about three communities over, where there’s a supermarket, and pick up a stack of those free real-estate-listing things. That is a massive pain in the ass. Hm. Except, hold on. I’ve got yards of drop cloth in the garage. Hey, perfect!
So I go down there, pat my beast on the forehead, gather up the roll of drop cloth, spread a plastic cover over the entire living room, and open the back door. The dogs come charging in. Sadie runs to the garage but the Dude heads for the living room. He always does this. Only time I ever see him in the living room is when he’s got diarrhea. I guess it feels good to drag his fiery anus all over the carpet. Well, not tonight buster. ’Cause I’ve condomized the place.
I go to bed. I actually fall asleep. They’re quiet for half an hour, then it’s yelp time again. I swear I want to throttle them. But then I think of hernias. I have this irrational fear of my dogs getting hernias, especially the Dude, especially when he’s scooting around the living room with diarrhea. I don’t really know what a hernia is — I think it’s like a hemorrhoid. I don’t really know what a hemorrhoid is either, but a hernia is ugly and it involves the rear end and apparently it can kill you. I worked with a guy whose dog got a hernia and died. So I’m paranoid. Not that I’d know what to do if the Dude had a hernia or even what one looks like. Anyway, I get out of bed and go downstairs.
Before I can flip the light switch, the Dude slams into me and knocks me to the ground. I mean slams — we fly together halfway across the living room. I grab him out of shock and his face is all wet. Only it’s not water or slobber. It’s a mess, it’s gore. Then I realize his whole lower jaw is missing and he’s fucking dead.
I scream and push the body away, scramble to my feet. I can see dark smears all over the drop cloth like someone’s dragged a big blood-soaked paintbrush around. I hear a snort and I look up and there’s a person standing on the kitchen island with a sack under his arm. The guy squeals and I know it’s him. It’s my guy. Oh, shit. It’s alive.
The beast swings out his arms and I see that the sack he’s holding is Sadie, and she’s obviously dead too. Then he starts spinning, spinning around holding Sadie by the hind legs, using her as a sort of counterweight. He slams her into the fridge. He slams her into the stove. He spins and spins, spinning Sadie over his head, takes out the spice rack and the spider plant Parm gave me and the shelf of Jamie Oliver books Parm also gave me. Then he whacks Sadie against the counter a few times, squeals again, and charges upstairs. He drags Sadie along like a kid with a blankie.
Holy shit. I listen to his footsteps. Holy fuck. The beast is in the bedroom. I run to the garage and slam the door.
OK. Holy fuck. OK. I tell myself to calm down. Calm down. What do you do? Shit — where’s my phone? It’s in the bedroom! Oh, fuck, I should be tweeting this shit out. Wonder how dangerous he is. He killed the dogs. Shit, he killed the dogs. Poor good dogs.
I need a weapon. I consider the power drill, which would be good for close range, but I know how long my guy’s arms are. By the time I got close enough to drill him, we’d be practically hugging. Plus he’d have to sit still for it, which I’m thinking he’s not gonna want to do. How about the shovel? That’s a good weapon. You can use it as a bludgeon, and then if you turn it edge-on, it’s an ax. Wish I had a real ax. But this was how I wanted to do it, no weapons. Improv only. Shit. I’m not ready. Like, psychologically. I thought I’d have more time. It’s only been a couple months. I wish this hadn’t happened this way. Why did it have to happen this way?
OK — stop. It happened, so deal. Your beast awoke prematurely. It’s not the end of the world. Make the best of a bad situation. You can still salvage this. You can still come out on top. Shovel will do.
Here’s the plan: get upstairs, get into the bedroom, subdue the beast if you can. If you can’t, grab the phone and run to the Nothing Room, barricade yourself in, and tweet this shit out. That’s good TV. The civilian is trapped in an upstairs room, beast is in the next room over. We can’t go in guns blazing, as we might injure or kill our civilian. We’ll have to be precise. Surgical. Maybe bring in a helicopter.
Dude, that’s good TV.
So I crack the door and peek out. No beast. I creep around the island, get to the stairs. Shit. This staircase. You can’t see what’s coming. It’s stairs halfway up, then a landing where you turn, then stairs in the opposite direction. When I round the corner at the landing, he might be right there. I should’ve put a mirror in the landing. Should’ve beast-proofed this place. Hey, that’s actually a great business idea. Beast-proof your home! I could do consulting. If I survive.
I creep up the first half of the stairs, shovel raised over my head. I round the corner swinging. No beast. I creep up the second half of the stairs. Now I’m on the second floor, in the open area between the bedroom and the Nothing Room. There’s a skylight in the open area. That’s good. They can dangle a guy from a helicopter and crash through the skylight. That’s good.
I creep to the bedroom door. Oh, man, I can hear him snuffling around. Didn’t get a great look at him in the kitchen, what with the lights off, but the bedroom light is on. Moment of truth, man. Face-to-face. OK. Let’s do this thing. Stop thinking about it. Just do it.
I round the corner and there he is, on the ground, on all fours, like a giant spider. He’s facing away — he hears me come in, looks over his shoulder. Aw, shit! Holy shit!
I’m outta there. I run to the Nothing Room and slam the door. Omigod. Omigod. I’ve created a monster. I try to stop panting, hold my breath, listen. I lie on the carpet and try to see under the door . . . shit! He’s right there. I can see his feet. The tip of his slimy nose pushes under. He’s sniffing me out. He sniffs around for a bit, then sneezes. I haven’t breathed. I’m pressed against the wall, my shovel raised. The tip disappears and I hear him stomp off. Oh. My. God. This is insane.
I look around the Nothing Room. No furniture to even improvise with. Maybe I could rip up the carpet and roll him up in it, smother him. Yeah, right. I swear I almost crapped my pants when he looked at me. Holy Christ. That is one ugly mother. Those tusks, man. And what’s with the eyes? They’re like pure white except for this one black dot. Christ.
I lie on my back. I’m safe enough, for the moment. I’ll hear him coming. I don’t think he wants to kill me. I made him, after all. OK, I gotta just try to calm down, regroup . . . Huh. Haven’t really looked at the Nothing Room in years. Maybe I should rent it out. But then I’d have a total stranger sleeping right across from me. Maybe I should move. Why the hell do I live all alone out here? It’s the rising property value, right? This house is an investment. Five years, man. Half a decade. Ever since Kate. How many girlfriends has it been? Five. One per year. There was Anjali, and what’s-her-face, and Aliya, and Faiza, and then Kareena. Oh, Kareena. That long black hair. What’s wrong with me? I should sell this place. Don’t need a yard anymore — the dogs are dead. The dogs! My poor little dogs! Wish I had my phone. Wish I could call Parm. She’d want to hear all about this, be with me through it. I remember when Vik made a beast. That was before they married, when she wasn’t sure yet. You know, they say men come to resemble their beasts. Vik’s was this spindly daddy-longlegs thing — Vik isn’t spindly, but I thought the beast looked like him anyway. It came alive while Parm was over and Vik beat it to death with a Cuisinart. That sealed it for Parm. He risked his life. I thought it was pretty brave too — until now. Really? A Cuisinart? My beast would eat that shit for breakfast. I saw what he did to the Dude. That is some serious fucked-up shit.
OK, shut up. Focus. Stop it. The phone. Gotta get the phone.
OK, here’s the plan. Open the window. OK. That’s a long drop. If I aim for the bush, though, I should be fine. So. Go back into the bedroom. Use the shovel if you have to, but get that phone. It’s right there on the bedside table. If the beast chases you, run and jump out the window. If not, get back in here, close the door, call Parm, then tweet this shit out until the Containment Squad arrives. So it was premature? It’s not the end of the world. There’s still good TV in this.
So I open the door. The beast has retreated to the bedroom — I can just see a sliver of him. He’s bent over something. Sadie, I guess. Is he eating? This is awful. I creep to the bedroom door. There’s the phone, right on the bedside table. Just a few feet away. Oh, shit, he heard me.
Beast gets up slow, looks me right in the eye. Oh, crap. He comes toward me. I take a step back but he’s advancing fast — OK, that’s too close, buddy. I swing. He slaps the shovel. I swing again — he’s slapping the shovel, like it does not hurt, like he does not feel it. Didn’t I wire up the nerves properly? I’m using all my strength and he’s just slapping the blows away. For fuck’s sake! I raise the shovel over my head and bring it down as hard as I can right between his eyes. And you know what happens? Shovel splinters. The top part breaks right off. On dude’s forehead. He doesn’t bat an eyelash. I don’t know if babirusas have eyelashes, but what I’m saying is, dude is UNFAZED. Oh — except that now he’s pissed. He opens his mouth and shrieks this bloodcurdling, ear-raping shriek, and I scream too, and then I am out of there.
I run for the window. I can hear him galloping behind me. Oh, no. No, no. Please, God, not like this. I dive — right through the frame. Midway down I realize what’s about to happen, and I turn a somersault, trying to not land on my head, and the pain when my feet touch down is out of control. My shins break off and ram into my kneecaps, which explode. Oh. My. God. I now have a new standard that all sensations will get judged against. My body goes sort of quiet for a second, and I hope what they say is true, about how when you’re grievously wounded your brain sort of shuts off the pain response, fills your body with happy chemicals. Yeah, that happens. For about five seconds. Then the pain comes back like Terminator.
Just before it does, I have the presence of mind to look up and get a read on the situation. My guy’s leaning out the window, looking down at me. He snuffs, snorts, and goes back in. I fully expect him to charge downstairs and run out here to finish me off, but he doesn’t. Instead, I hear him smashing shit. Great. There goes the house. The pain returns and now it’s just me and the pain and the lawn and the moonlight. I gotta get safe. Gotta get outta here. Gotta call the Containment Squad. No one even knows this is happening! I didn’t get a single tweet out!
It takes me literally ten minutes to crawl the twenty feet to the gate. I heave myself up, flip the latch, and butt the gate open. This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. I’m so alone. Apparently no one has heard my screams of terror or my howls of agony. I almost give up right there in the gravel — the thought of having to crawl across my neighbor’s lawn, up his back steps, up to his door, knock on his door, somehow wake him up, somehow persuade him to take pity on me . . . it’s almost too much. But then I tell myself, don’t give up. I think of Parm and that’s all I think of, and that’s what keeps me going. Believe it or not.
I pull myself through the gate and around the fence, crawl across my neighbor’s property line. I hear a window slide open. And there’s my bullshit neighbor. Standing at his window, all lit by the moon.
He says, “I called 9-1-1 half an hour ago. I don’t know why they’re not here yet.”
I’m like, really? Thanks for running out to help, you fucking prick. But I don’t say it out loud. Because I can’t speak. I just flop forward and puke and pass out.
Next thing I know, it’s flashing red lights. The ambulance is parked and there’s a medic working on my legs. The Containment Squad car pulls up and the Containment guys get out. Their camera crew tapes the arrival. I try to look heroic, toughing out the pain, but let’s be real. Look at me. Yep. I’m that guy. Beast woke up prematurely and I guess both my legs are broken. It’s someone else’s problem now. Hi, Mom!
The Squad goes in, followed by the cameras. More vehicles arrive: cop cars and a fire truck. The medic guys lift me onto a stretcher. I fight hard not to cry.
“No, don’t take me away. I can’t leave yet. I can’t leave until it’s over.”
Before I’m even done speaking, there’s this pop. Like a firecracker.
One of the medic guys says, “It’s over,” and they lift me into the ambulance.
“Wait! My phone!”
The medics seem pissed off. There’s this cop standing nearby.
Cop goes, “Do you know where it is?”
“Yeah. It’s in the bedroom. Upstairs. On the bedside table. Please, I need it.”
Cop looks at a medic, who says, “He’s stable.”
“OK. The beast is neutralized. We’ll send someone in.”
I try to thank them but my voice is gone. I get very sleepy, then that’s it. It’s over.
I wake up in a hospital bed, all walled off with curtains. My legs are locked in weird machinery — I look like a Transformer. I hear people around me, other patients and their loved ones. After a while an attendant comes in, checks my vitals, seems annoyed. Then a doctor comes in and seems annoyed. He leaves and the attendant comes back with a bunch of pills and a glass of water. Apparently I’ve been in surgery for an ungodly number of hours. The hospital’s notified my parents, who didn’t get the message until this morning, but who are on their way, and who I’m guessing have notified my sister, who’ll also be on her way once she gets the kids to school. I wouldn’t be surprised if my brother flies in too, if he can carve out some time. Oh, man, I do not want to see them. Not in this condition.
I ask about my phone and the attendant points to this little shelf.
“But you’re not allowed to make cell phone calls in here. There’s a pay phone in the lobby.”
The attendant leaves. I call Parm, tell her what happened.
“I’m not supposed to use my phone, so if I have to hang up that’s why.”
“I’m just so glad you’re OK. How are you feeling?”
“I don’t know. Pretty disappointed.”
“I’m sorry. I know you were hoping for something different.”
“Yeah. I probably won’t even make it onto Containment Squad.”
“Not a whole episode, though.”
“Maybe during the credits. They always do a bunch of clips.”
“Oh, my poor baby, though. How are your legs? Both broken?”
“It’s ugly, Parm.”
“Will you walk again?”
“Yeah, yeah. You’d be amazed — they’ve got all this bionic stuff. The doctor says I’ll be just fine.”
“How long will it take to recover?”
“Well, the bones have to heal and your nervous system has to mesh with the interface. Doctor says nine months.”
“Yeah. At least.”
I hear that moist click. Parm’s smirking.
She says, “But that means . . .”
“Omigod, Wes, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t be laughing about” — she cracks up — “your tragedy — ”
But I’m laughing too, we’re both laughing, we can’t help ourselves. And that’s how it ends. Not how I’d wanted it to, but hey, what does, right? At least we have a good laugh over it, me and Parm.
Yep. That’s friendship, man. That’s friendship.