Chapter 21

Every day Neil continued to be surprised at how quickly Tom was recovering. Day by day, machines disappeared, tubes were removed, the bandages being removed weren’t saturated with blood. Neil took this as a good sign.

Other than running back to Tom’s place to get a duffel bag full of clothes for himself, Neil had been staying at the hospital. Nurse Stephanie understood that Neil was pretty much family and she just left him stick around, visiting hours be damned.

Neil stared over at the duffel bag. He was going to need to go get more clothes soon, or at least hit a laundromat and wash those clothes. It was probably better to clean what he had, Tom would need clothes for whenever he was ready to get out.

Neil looked over at Tom, wondering how soon he would be ready to go home. Tom was sleeping. That was mostly all he did. Even when he wasn’t sleeping, he wasn’t exactly the life of the party with that tube in his mouth. Neil wondered when that would be removed. So far all Tom could do was listen, but Neil had so many questions to ask as well.

Neil had managed to dodge Malone’s follow up visit. And while Tom had that tube in his mouth, he wasn’t forthcoming with the answers. Neil had kind of walked Tom through the story to prepare for Malone anyway. Tom didn’t look too impressed, and Neil hoped that Tom was spending time concocting a good story while he couldn’t talk.

Other than keeping Tom company, Neil would frequently sit on the floor and meditate. At least, that’s what Neil told himself he was doing. There was nothing transcendent about it. He was mostly just paying attention to his breathing. Sometimes he’d watch TV whenever Tom would turn it on. Mostly, he was just killing time and protecting his friend. At that moment, Neil thought about meditating some more, so he slid out of his chair onto the floor. He had just settled in as the door opened. It was nurse Stephanie.

“Hey, Kevin, how’s our guy doing?”

With his eyes closed and his focus on his breathing, he hardly heard Stephanie. It took her a few tries to get his attention.

“Kevin, are you sleeping on the floor?”

Neil realized she was talking to him. She had been calling him Kevin the whole time. He still wasn’t used to that. He shook his head and hopped up.

“Stephanie! Sorry about that, I was completely out of it, I’d like to think I was meditating, but I was mostly half asleep on the floor, I guess.”

“Oh, no problem, I was just checking how Tom is doing. Oh, and I wanted to share some news. We’re going to remove the vent, to see if he can breathe on his own. I think he’s strong enough, but if he isn’t, we can’t keep him intubated like that without other major risks like pneumonia or even ulcers.”

Neil was concerned, both about Tom being off the machine and about how soon Malone would swoop in for that statement.

“I can see on your face that you’re concerned, Kevin” continued Stephanie, “Don’t worry, we know what we’re doing. Let’s play it by ear, if he’s able to breathe on his own, this is a big step and the best thing we can do for him at this stage. I know it’s hard to remember, because he seems like he’s making big progress, but his recovery is going to be a long haul. Listen, you shouldn’t be around for this anyway, why don’t you take that smelly duffel bag with you and get some new clothes while we take care of this.”

Neil did not like the idea of leaving his friend unattended. Last time he had left for clothing Malone brought a notepad to Tom. Thankfully Stephanie put a stop to that, but the thought of Malone gave Neil pause. Still, he knew that Stephanie wouldn’t let him stay. He could probably be there and back in about 30 minutes.

“How long will this process take?”

“It varies a lot. If it goes well, it could be minutes. If it doesn’t, it could be much longer.”

Neil couldn’t see how he could be out and back in minutes.

“I really don’t want to leave him alone, Stephanie. I get that I can’t be in the room while you’re working on him, but I’ll want to be here when he’s ready – whether that’s 10 minutes from now or a few hours.”

Stephanie nodded. “I don’t know what to say, Kevin – I honestly think you need to take a break and get out of the hospital, but, on the other hand I can’t say I’d do it any differently if it were me. You’re a good friend, but you need to take care of yourself too. Get some air.” Stephanie put her hand on Neil’s shoulder and withdrew it quickly. She frowned and continued. “Wow, lots of static in here. That’s not a good thing in a hospital. Not at all. Did you feel that?”

Neil looked at his feet. Was it static or is the stress starting to get to him? He shuffled from one foot to the other for a bit.

“Yeah, I felt that. That was pretty crazy.”

The doctor walked into the room. Neil looked back at Stephanie. “I guess that’s my cue to leave. Do you mind if I wait outside the room?”

Stephanie shook her head. “No, Neil, it’s against policy. The hallway needs to be clear – especially if Tom needs extra help in a rush. You’d just be in the way. Either the waiting room or the family room.”

The family room was closer. Neil nodded. “The family room then. That’s where I’ll be. Come get me when he’s ready?”

“Sure, Kevin. We’ll see you soon.”

Neil leaned toward Stephanie. “Hey,” he whispered, “could you come get me and give me a few minutes before calling officer Malone? He doesn’t get it. Every single time he interacts with Tom, he winds up so worn out. If he needs to be strong after you pull out the breathing tube, having the police here won’t help.”

Stephanie nodded. “Yeah, that stunt with the notepad really pissed me off. I’ll make sure to take the long way around when I go to call him after.”

“Thanks Stephanie.”

“No problem, Kevin.”

Neil winced. Stephanie was such a good person he just wound up feeling more and more guilty about using a fake name. He stewed about it as he headed to the family room.

The family room was dark. Neil peeked in to make sure that nobody was napping before he flicked on the lights. The fluorescent lights blinked on for a while, revealing a room that time forgot. There was a giant tube-style TV sitting on a metal cart in the corner with a VCR and a bunch of old tapes. In the middle of the room was a table with a ton of old magazines with yellowed corners and wrinkled pages. None of them looked like they were made this decade. He flicked through the magazines. One of them had a picture of a diode and a sawtooth wave on it. That caught his attention. It was an old electronics magazine he had never heard of it before.

“Static Quarterly?” Neil stated aloud. The name was ridiculous. He opened up the magazine, copyright 1973. His curiosity got the best of him and he started flicking through the magazine. Not only was it obscure, Neil was pretty sure that the science in that magazine was wrong, even 40 years ago. He kind of snickered at it. He had gotten through about half of it before Stephanie barged in excitedly.

“He’s breathing on his own! He’s awake and asking for you!”

Neil jumped up and headed toward the door. Stephanie stood in front of him and blocked the entrance.

“Kevin, wait. Take a second to be excited now, but before you go back into the room, you need to calm down. If you’re too excited, he’ll get too excited and we want his breathing to be nice and calm. Also, he’s still going to be drugged up, so don’t be too shocked at his demeanor. OK?”

Neil nodded. He celebrated for a second and made a mental note to slow his pace down as he headed back to Tom’s room. He opened the door slowly and walked in to see Tom sitting with a huge smile on his face.

“Neil!” spoke Tom with a hoarse voice.

Neil tensed his hands and looked at Stephanie sheepishly. Apparently his prep sessions with Tom were all for naught.

“Don’t worry, Kevin,” whispered Stephanie, “the drugs he is on are quite strong. We see this kind of thing all the time. He’s probably got you confused with someone else. Don’t let it get you offended, he doesn’t mean any harm.”

Neil didn’t even have to fake a look of relief. He turned to Stephanie and asked, “Hey, can I have that moment with Tom while you go call Malone? There’s a lot of stuff to cover.”

Stephanie frowned and crossed her arms. Coldly, she replied, “I will only let you have a moment with him if you keep it light. The whole reason I’m keeping Malone away is because he’s just not ready for the stress. If you’re just going to stress him out then you’re missing the point.”

Neil nodded. “No, none of that. I don’t even want to know why or how, I just want to know how he’s feeling, what he needs. I’m just not sure if he’s going to be too proud to talk with you in the room. I swear I’ll keep it light.”

Stephanie seemed doubtful. She shifted awkwardly from foot to foot and fidgeted while she decided. “You promise?” she asked.

Neil nodded. “I promise.”

“Okay, I’m going to go take a few minutes, then I’m going to call Malone and then I’m sending you home to pick up fresh clothes while I do some follow up testing.”

“Thank you, Stephanie!”

Stephanie hesitated for another second and looked at Tom, then back to Neil. “You promise, right?”

Neil nodded again. Satisfied, she walked through the door and closed it.

Neil walked up to Tom.

“Tom, on a scale of 0 to Celebrity Rehab, just how high are you right now?”

“About a three,” muttered Tom hoarsely.

“Alright, so I’m going to go over everything quickly. I can tell that your throat hurts, so just listen and don’t cut in unless it’s important.”

“No, wait,” struggled Tom, “how are you not electrical anymore?”

“I’ve got it kind of controlled. Still, it’s best not to touch me. Let’s move on.”

“Controlled?”

“Meditation,” replied Neil, anxious to move the conversation forward, “but, since you forgot, let’s get the summary down. You were shot badly. I brought you here. You’ve been removed from the registration list for your safety. I’m here protecting you and they all think my name is Kevin.”

“Oh yeah, Kevin, cool name. I remember we talked about this, vaguely. I thought you named me Kevin. What name did you give me?”

“They’ve been calling you Tom. Clearly I didn’t give you a name.”

“Why not? Also, I think I was wrong. Really, I might be about a 6 or 8 on the wasted scale.”

Neil rolled his eyes. It was a blessing in disguise that Tom was this baked, Malone wouldn’t be able to get anything from him either.

“Stephanie told me that they figured your name out when I dumped you here. It was pretty na├»ve to leave you in your car and hope you’d stay unidentified.”

“You dumped me here?”

“I was covered in your blood and wrapped in polyethylene sheeting. I hadn’t gotten things under control yet, I didn’t know what to do. I thought this was the best way. It turned out okay!”

“Oh hey, isn’t that Stephanie hot? She’s something man.”

Neil snickered. It was enjoyable to see Tom acting like this. He wondered how many conversations he had like this when he was the one under sedation.

The room door opened. Stephanie walked back in, cutting the conversation short. “Hey, sorry Kevin, the doctor wants some of the tests done immediately, I’m going to have to interrupt.”

“No problem,” replied Neil.

Tom leered at Stephanie and winked at Neil, subtle as a chainsaw.

“We’re going to talk about this later, buddy” said Tom as he smiled.

Neil shrugged. As Stephanie approached, Tom grabbed Neil’s arm.

“Ne – um, Kevin, I think nursey and I need a bit of time alone. Why don’t you go see if you can get my room phone activated and let the nurse do her thing, then just give me 20 minutes or so to just take it all in.”

“Stephanie,” the nurse corrected. “Just call me Stephanie. Not nursey or 'the nurse', please.”

“Ooh, Sassy,” replied Tom.

“Are you sure I should leave you alone, Stephanie?” Neil half-joked.

Stephanie turned back to Neil. “It’s OK. Tom’s harmless, and I can hold my own. He’s stoned. He’s happy-go-lucky. I’ve dealt with way worse. It’s all good.”

Neil nodded and walked out of the room. Tom’s phone was already activated, but he saw no point arguing. He decided to go back to the family room and read some more of that quirky old magazine.

As he walked up to the family room, there was a bit of a crowd waiting around it. A number of people were in and around the room in various states of disarray. Torn clothes, burns, abrasions and cuts. A vague smell of smoke. Neil walked up to one of the people and started talking.

“Hey,” asked Neil, “what’s going on?”

The man shrugged. “Explosion. There’s a lot worse than me out there. The doctor checked me over and sent me here with the rest of the overflow people who weren’t in critical condition.”

“Explosion?”

“Yeah, I heard some cops talking about it, they figure a few city blocks were detonated.”

Concerned, Neil kept pressing on with the questions. “Like an industrial accident? Were many people hurt?”

“Not Industrial. Residential. Tons of people hurt,” the man said grimly, “They think it was a bomb. Went off in Terrace Heights.”

Neil’s stomach started to turn. His house – his father was in Terrace Heights. This couldn’t be a coincidence. Neil pushed through the crowd and turned on the TV. Nothing but static. The TV wasn’t hooked to anything but the VCR. Excusing himself through the crowd, Neil walked back to Tom’s room and tentatively opened the door. Stephanie was not in the room anymore. Neil quietly called out to Tom.

“Tom, can I come in?”

“Not now, Neil, nurse Stephanie will be back any second.”

“Please, it’s important, I just have to check something on the TV.”

“Jesus Neil, you’re gonna blow my chances. Isn’t there a waiting room?”

“There’s a ton of people out there. Something big is happening. Please, Tom, it’s serious and I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t.”

“Fine,” said Tom as he crossed his arms, “come watch the stupid TV.”

Neil clicked on the TV and scrolled through the channels. He flicked it to the news channel in mid sentence.

“…in an extremely violent explosion. Investigators have been on the scene through the evening and it has been confirmed as deliberate, however there are no details at this time. If you are just joining us, there is an ongoing report from Terrace Heights. There has been a bombing and there are mixed reports of injuries and casualties at this point”

Neil hit mute and sat down stunned. On the TV was a picture of his house. At least what was left of it. Nobody would have survived that. He immediately knew that his father was dead. He knew that Conrad did this. He balled his fists. The TV screen went black as a wisp of smoke emanated from it.

Tom seemed to sober up instantly.

“Neil, I’m so sorry,” Tom offered, “I can’t imagine. I didn’t realize it was this important.”

“Just don’t touch me right now, Tom. I just blew up your TV and I have no idea what I’d do to someone.”

“Neil, don’t do anything rash. You told me we’re safe in here, so just keep laying low and make a plan. Conrad is trying to draw you out. You don’t need to react to him.”

Neil focused on how smooth Tom’s voice was starting to get. Most of the rasp was gone at this point. He focused on that for a second. Loosening his fists, Neil held the tension for a second before releasing his hands and breathing out simultaneously. He thought about his father’s ailing mental health and tried to reconcile the situation by thinking how he was no longer trapped in his decaying mind. It brought little comfort, but some comfort nonetheless.

“I’m going to kill him, Tom. I’m going to kill Conrad, I’m going to kill Scott.”

“Neil, calm down. If you go electric in a hospital there’s no telling what will happen.”

“Aren’t you going to talk me out of revenge?”

“Hell no, man. They shot me, they blew up your dad. I think you were on the right track all along. But you can’t just go face them. Let’s make a plan and wait this out.”

Talking about this with Tom started to calm down Neil. Tom was right. He had time to plan this out. He couldn’t just attack a place that makes weapons. It’s practically a fortress. He didn’t know how much he could regenerate. Bullet holes were one thing, but what about explosions? They build shrapnel bombs and frags. Clearly Conrad was luring him out. He couldn’t walk into a trap.

“Yeah, you’re right Tom. I needed to think it through a bit. I’m not happy about this, but I think we’ll be safe as long as we continue to lay low.”

The hospital phone rang, cutting off Neil’s train of thought.

“Oh, hey, you got the phone hooked up. Would you mind grabbing that for me? Do you have things under control?”

Neil nodded. “I think so, yeah.” he stood up and picked up the phone.

“Hello?”

“I’ve been waiting to hear your voice, Neil,” spoke Conrad on the other line. “I was hoping that the explosion would ferret you out some way or another. I just didn’t realize that it would be a fluke like this. One of my guys were injured in the blast – occupational hazard, you know – but he managed to see you duck into a hospital room and got the number to me.”

Neil couldn’t force out any words. He was dumbstruck. Conrad continued. “I was really hoping you were hiding at your father’s place. I was really hoping the three of you would be dead by now. I didn’t realize you had gone to a hospital. I mean, I called all the hospitals, even the morgue. I used considerable resources. You did a good job hiding. I’m impressed.”

Neil gulped down hard and finally spoke.

“What do you want, Conrad?”

Tom turned to Neil with a frown on his face. Any color his face did have drained immediately. Neil regretted saying his name in Tom’s presence.

“I called to gloat. And to offer you a deal. I’ve managed to recover a significant amount of footage from the night you were made. I’ve seen you heal and I’ve heard rumors about the electrical man who roamed downtown. I have a good idea of what’s going on. I just want to dissect you to learn how to replicate this discovery. I haven’t had a successful test yet, that’s a lot of death on your hands.”

“You’re insane, Conrad.”

“Maybe, but you’re not the only person who deserved to be healed. Fuck it. I’m going to lay the cards down on the table. I’m dying.”

“Good,” threw in Neil.

“Not for me, and not for you. I’m desperate. Better yet, I know where you are. I promise you this. If I have to come get you, Tom will die. If you come here, he will be safe.”

“We’ve made deals before and they always go wrong. There’s no possible way I’ll trust you.”

“I am a man of considerable resources. You’ll never be able to trust another doctor or nurse in there. Every syringe, every medication – you’ll be a prisoner in that room while you and Tom refuse valid care and he dies painfully, succumbing to his wounds and possibly infection.”

“You’re a sick man, Conrad.”

“You have no idea how sick or how desperate.”

Trap or not, Neil contemplated how this might work out. Conrad was basically giving him a way in. A chance to get close to him. Maybe he’d die, but maybe he could take Conrad with him. It was compelling. It was one of the better options on the table. Reluctantly, he replied to Conrad.

“I’m going to accept your terms, but how do I know that Tom will be safe?”

“You have my word.”

“That’s been worthless in the past Conrad, I need something more.”

“Well, it’s all you’re going to get from me, Neil. Are you in or are you out?”

Neil balanced the options. He could stay and ignore Conrad, but that would mean that he couldn’t trust anyone, or worse yet, Conrad would retaliate and he would have to defend Tom with his untested, uncontrolled abilities. The idea of potentially frying Tom and everyone else in the hospital sent shivers down his spine.

“Neil? I’m waiting.” Barked Conrad impatiently.

“To hell with it. I’ll be there shortly,” replied Neil. He could practically hear Conrad smirking.

“Great. See you soon.”


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Comments

1 comment:

Richard Belzile said...

The tone of this chapter was so hard to manage that I ended up revising it after posting it and having it reviewed by a reader. I haven't had to amend any chapters since and changed my publishing process as a result.

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I am Sinewave: Spark

Written by Richard Belzile

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