I went to high school with Sandra Perlmann. She was one of those people who had it all. She was hot, popular, and managed to get good enough grades, but she was a total bitch.
One time at a party, there was this girl who was there through a friend of a friend or something like that. She wasn’t the type to be there at all. I’m sure she had debated about whether or not to come right up until the last moment, finally just deciding to go just to see what it was like.
For some reason, Sandra picked her out as the target of her latest pointless cruelty.
“Oh my God,” she shouted after engaging the girl in conversation for about a minute, “You’re a drug addict?”
First of all, this was obviously untrue. Second of all, it was a completely random thing to say, and third of all nobody even cared. Hell, quite a few people at the party were easily on their way to drug addiction themselves. We went to a pretty rich school, it wasn’t uncommon for people to do blow at parties.
But none of that mattered to the poor girl, of course. She had come hoping to just blend in and try to have a good time, but instead Sandra had picked her out and shamed her in front of everyone. She ran out of the party crying.
I didn’t say anything, of course. I never did. I was good-looking enough and had decent enough social skills that I was never a target. Why rock the boat?
Since graduation, Sandra has moved to New York, become the editor of a fashion magazine, and gotten engaged to a successful lawyer.
One day I was sitting in a bar after work. A group of three very loud women were in the corner, apparently celebrating the fact that one of them had gotten pregnant. Although, of course, it the other two were doing most the celebrating. The proud mother-to-be just sat quietly, smiling, drinking a coke. Suddenly, she lurched out of her chair, her face a mask of panic. She tried to open her mouth to speak, but it was stuck shut.
“Oh my God!” one of the other women shouted, “Someone put rubber cement in her drink!”
Something snapped inside me. I don’t know if I was drunk off of the half a beer I’d had, or if I’d just had a really bad day at work. All I knew was, I was sick of assholes. I’d been sitting quietly for too long, letting them get away with their bullshit, but I wasn’t going to let them get away with it this time.
“Who the hell did that?” I shouted.
An old man sitting next to me pointed towards the door. I caught a glimpse of a very large man walking out with a woman on his arm.
“Why didn’t you do anything?” I growled at him.
He just glared at me.
Tossing some money on the counter, ran towards the door and stepped outside. “Hey!” I called after the hulking mass, “You’re an asshole.”
He stopped, turned around and looked at me. “What’d you say to me?”
My body immediately told me to run, I’d just made a terrible mistake.
“You the one put rubber cement in that pregnant woman’s drink? You’re an asshole.”
He slowly walked up to me and stood just inches away. We’d have been face-to-face if he wasn’t two inches taller than me. My heart was pounding out of my chest, my mouth was dry but my skin was wetter than it’d ever been. I knew what I was doing was stupid, but I was fed up. I wasn’t going to run, I wasn’t going to let them win this time.
“I’m not gonna hit you,” I said, “I weigh a hundred and forty pounds. But go ahead and hit me if it’ll make you feel better.”
I was on the ground with the first punch.
I stood back up and grinned. That’s about all I remember until the emergency room.
Two days later I walked into work, my face a mass of swollen bruises and my teeth loose.
My boss took one look at me and asked, “What the hell happened to you?”
“Some guy put rubber cement in a pregnant lady’s drink. I called him an asshole, he did this to me.”
“Jesus Christ,” he said, shaking his head, “I expected better of you. Go home, take some time off.”
“I didn’t hit him,” I said, “I’m not stupid.”
“Go home,” he said, still shaking his head.
“I didn’t hit him,” I repeated. “I’m not violent. I’ve never even been in a fight before.”
“Go home,” he said.
I turned around and headed out the door.
Did he think I was less of a man for not fighting back? Did he even believe me? I didn’t know. Was he going to fire me? I didn’t know that, either, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. They say the meek will inherit the Earth, but it seems to me like God’s helping out the assholes.
We were on our way to see someone Todd called the Eyeball Kid. I don’t know how he found these people. While most of us were cowering in fear at the nightmare we’d seen the world become, Todd seemed to thrive on it. It’s like Freak had only confirmed what he already knew about the world, and now he’d thrown himself full-heartedly into the weirdness.
We pulled up to an apartment complex. A pretty shitty one, too. Todd led me to room 27 and knocked on the door, which opened immediately, still on the chain.
“Who is it?” a voice called out.
“It’s me, Todd,” he said, smiling.
The door shut, then reopened, revealing a haggard-looking young woman, early twenties at most. Her sunken, tired eyes told me that she, too, was a Freak user. She glanced at me suspiciously.
“It’s alright,” Todd said. He pulled a bottle of pills out of his pocket and handed them to her.
“He’s in the den,” she said, wearily, stepping back into the shadows to let us pass.
“What was that?” I hissed at Todd. “Did you just give her Freak?”
“No,” he said, “There’s no way she’ll ever take Freak again after what happened to her kid. They’re sleeping pills. She has a hard time sleeping, understandably.”
“What happened to her…” I began, then stopped, gasping. We’d entered the den. Sitting at the table was a young boy, about 6 years old. What shocked me was his eyes. They were too big for his face, bulging out so far his eyelids couldn’t even completely shut around them when he blinked.
“Hey Teddy,” Todd said, pulling a piece of paper and a box of crayons from his pocket. “It’s me, Todd. You remember me, right? Want to draw a picture for me?”
The kid nodded, grasping blindly in the air in front of him until Todd put the crayons and paper into his hands.
“Don’t worry,” Todd said, stepping back and standing next to me, “They’re fake eyes.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“His mom used Freak when she was pregnant. He was born without eyes. Just empty sockets.”
“And you wouldn’t believe how expensive kid-sized glass eyes are,” Todd said, shaking his head, “You have to get ’em custom made.”
“Why are we here, Todd?” I asked.
“Turns out Freak’s got some literary sensibilities,” he grinned bitterly. “It took the kid’s eyes, but he can see the future. And if you bring him a piece of paper and some crayons he’ll draw it for you.”
“Todd,” I said, “If he was born without eyes, how does he know what a nod means?”
“I try not to think about it,” he said.
By now, the kid had finished drawing. He waved the paper in the air to get our attention. Todd stepped forward to take it.
“Thanks, Teddy,” he said. “You can keep the crayons.”
The kid smiled at him, showing a full mouth of very sharp teeth.
Todd stepped back and glanced at the picture. I craned my neck to see, but he held it away from me.
“Come on,” he said, “What if I’m having sex in it or something?”
It would have had to have been some really messed up sex, though, because as he looked over the picture, all the color drained from Todd’s face. Wordlessly, he passed it to me, and I could immediately see why.
This happened a few years back. I was flying back to the states and my plane had a layover in Amsterdam. It was supposed to last only a few minutes, but unfortunately due to laws that had just passed earlier that week after the Netherlands’ government caved into the demands of the terrorist group “Mothers Against Drunk Flying,” our pilot wasn’t allowed to take off until the next day.
I had never been to Amsterdam, but I’d heard good things about their coffeeshops. Being somewhat of a connoisseur of the bean, I decided to see what they had. The experience was totally miserable. First of all, the place was full of smoke! It was a nice day outside and there were windows, but apparently the shop insisted on keeping them closed. Next, the man at the counter tried to tell me they didn’t serve coffee! When I sarcastically asked what they did serve, he asked me if I wanna marry him, which was just plain bizarre. Finally I got fed up and just ordered a pastry.
I don’t really remember what happened after that.
I don’t sleep anymore.
It started out innocently enough; I was experimenting with modafinil. You’ve heard of it, right? That stuff they give to fighter pilots to keep ’em awake for 40 hours? I thought I’d get myself some and try it out, see just how long I could last.
At first it was fine. I stayed up all night for a few days, wasn’t tired at all. Sure I started having these weird periods of disorientation and times where I’d black out for a few minutes but it was worth it for all the extra free time I had.
But then I started seeing the shadows. You know those shadows you sometimes see out of the corner of your eye but when you turn your head they’re gone? Yeah well, they don’t go away when you’ve been up for three weeks straight. They didn’t really act like they noticed me or anything, though, they were just doing their own thing. I couldn’t really figure out what they were, until that night.
It was about 5 AM or so and I was taking a stroll to watch the sun come up over the city. I passed by this bum asleep in an alley and for some reason he caught my eye. When I looked back at him I noticed those shadow things were all around him…and not just all around him, all over him. When he woke up screaming I realized what they are.
They’re fuckin’ nightmares.
Since then I’ve figured out I can sort of control them, sort of bring them to me by thinking negative thoughts. So that’s what I do at night now. I keep the nightmares away from people by drawing them to me. There’s an orphanage near my house and I usually hang around there keeping them away from the kids.
The only problem is that they don’t actually go away. I can keep them away from people, but then they just hang around me. And they’re angry. They can’t do anything to me when I’m awake, but…
I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I haven’t slept in four months, and now the back alley doc I used to buy the modafinil from got arrested. I’ve only got a few days’ worth now. I don’t want to think about what happens when I run out.
Todd had a problem. He was addicted to pills.
He wasn’t addicted to pills in the way that you might think. He wasn’t addicted to painkillers or sleeping pills or antidepressants or anything specific like that, he was just addicted to pills. Didn’t matter what it was, if he saw one he had to take it. Couldn’t help himself.
It had gotten him into trouble in high school when he started taking his sister’s birth control pills and he had to get breast-reduction surgery. His parents put him in rehab and it worked for awhile, until one day his dad left his Viagra on the counter.
He’d been to rehab a number of times, tried detox, psychotherapy, nothing worked. A therapist once told him it was phallic. For Todd, the pills represented testicles and his obsession revealed his repressed homosexual tendencies.
“Fuck it,” Todd told him, “If you’re gonna tell me shit like that I’ll stick with the pills.”
After that, he gave up trying to find a cure.
I always gave Todd the pills my psychiatrist gave me. Antidepressants, antipsychotics, antibiotics, antihistamines, you name it. They didn’t ever work for me, and Todd enjoyed taking them. Plus, I knew eventually my doctor was going to get tired of me and decide to write me a prescription for something deadly. I felt a little guilty every time I gave Todd my newest prescription, but I figured that he’d probably OD one day anyway so it’s not like it’d really be my fault.
Plus he kind of got on my nerves.