The Door of Air.
Author's notes. It's been a long time since I sat my butt down and put something out there. I gotta admit, I'm enjoying this sudden creative wellspring. The following story was written in the course of a weekend. It's not done yet, but I hit a snag in my original story line. Had to refurbish the ending. But I'm going to be honest, I'm way to happy with how this turned out so far, so I'm going to go ahead and put what I do have finished up as a part one type thing. Look forward to part two soon!
Another thing to note, this is in fact a crossover. The book I'm mixing into Kim Possible is Clive Barker's "The Hellbound Heart". This was the novella that inspired Hellraiser. I'd thought about listing this as a Hellraiser crossover, but I just found too many differences between the written work and the film. This piece draws heavily, very heavily, on the written work. If you see aspects of the cenobites here that you didn't see in the movies and find that interesting, than by all means track down the original like I did. It really is a whole new level.
I collapsed onto my bed, face down on my pillow, my own scent filling my nose as I breathed deeply in a sigh. I was splayed out on my bed and the one hand still holding my backpack eased its grip open, letting the case fall to the floor with an audible 'thunk'. The top, unbound and unzipped hit the ground and I could hear the tumble and rustle as the books and papers held within spilled out in a mini multicolored avalanche of scholastic origin. Homework unfinished, books unread, and assignments incomplete painted a picture of apathy and disregard, and I savored the mental image of it as it played out in my head. How perfectly appropriate.
I turned my head so that my sight was no longer concealed in my pillow, and turned it to the side so that I could look around my room. The loft was in disrepair, my belongings every bit as cluttered and lost as my schoolwork. I remember a saying I heard once. Its origins escape me. "The body reflects the soul, as the soul reflects the body." I pondered the metaphor, expanding it, reshaping it to fit my needs. If possessions are a reflection of my body, then couldn't it be said that the clamor and chaos around me reflected my life equally well? I should think it does.
Three weeks ago, everything had been perfect in the life of Ron Stoppable. I had been dating Kim Possible, my lifelong friend and most treasured associate. We had been together since pre-kindergarten, inseparable friends, more life-mates than most couples could ever dream of being. There were no secrets between us, no doubts. Our friendship had more intimacy, more history, than marriages that have lasted for five or six decades. Bonds of camaraderie, bonds of learning, bonds of danger, they had all been there. Tried and tested and true, they had endured more than most people could ever begin to comprehend.
And then those bonds had been severed, severed when my perfect, most wonderful KP had found me rutting with Bonnie like a dog in heat.
There had been such hurt in her eyes, such pain in the gasp that escaped her lips when she had found the scene in front of her. The sheer disbelief that had echoed through the windows or her soul, the horror that had crept onto the expression on her face at my betrayal echoed through my memory. She had come to the gym, thinking she'd find nothing more than a forgotten belonging, and instead had found her boyfriend and long time high school nemesis and rival wrapped around each other, our gasps and moans echoing through the darkened gym, the sweat from our bodies glistening in the dying light that filtered from the sunset through the frosted glass that adorned the top of our schools gymnasium, and the bittersweet smell of our sweat and pheromones. I was seated on one of the bleachers, Bonnie astride me, her back to the door that I faced. Bonnie didn't see her supposed nemesis enter, but when I opened my eyes, closed in savoring the experience of coitus, I did. I don't know how long my girlfriend had been standing there, watching us, and my own eyes widened in shock at the realization struck me. I had frozen, even as Bonnie kept the motion, unable to move, and as I felt guilt rise up in me, my own expression began to mirror the horror in Kim's.
She had fled then. There was none of the redhead fire that she so usually displays. No fight was in her at that moment, just shock. The fight would come later; the anger would ignite once she came to grip with what she had seen, with what had happened right before her,
And the fight that came later would show true just how hot her anger was when she finally acknowledges the true depth of the betrayal I had doled out to her. It burned. After all, another timeless adage is "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned". When others learned what I had done, that I had cheated on my BFGF I was turned on. Kim was well loved at the school. People had flocked to support her, to degrade me, to render me pariah, the unclean and untouchable. Monique shared her rage as only a best friend could, the black girl's ire every bit as great as the redheads. Felix had stormed up, well, rolled up, demanding answers, hoping it was a lie, that I was being slandered. When I admitted my shame, wallowed in my guilt in response to his interrogation he too left me side. He had been so desperate to prove that I was innocent, that it was all a bad dream, that the truth drove his back to me. The football team, that had once accepted me as their running back, still kept me on, but the attitude that had once been warm was now cool. My skills were too great an asset to the Mad Dogg's game, but the person was no longer welcome. Everyone, high and low, no matter their place on food chain, knew that I wasn't someone they wanted to be seen with. Wade too had contacted me, demanding explanations, expressing his shock. I couldn't bear to face him, told him the truth, and then disconnected my battery from my communicator.
My family had heard the news, no doubt from Kim's family. I understand that Dr P was already planning my deep space probe in order to avenge his daughter's honor. My 'rents were certainly stern and disapproving, their lectures harsh and loud. Even Rufus was mad at me, refusing to ride in my pants, chattering at me in disappointment, giving me sharp bites on occasion.
My life is in shambles, my reputation ruined.
Despite myself, I begin to grin. Perfect. It had worked out perfectly. Who would have thought that engineering your own downfall would be so easy?
I push myself up, rolling over so I could face the ceiling. My eyes track to my window affirming the darkness outside, before they tracked to the clock on the side of my bed. The green digital lights glowed in the shade of my loft, telling me that it was quickly approaching the witching hour. Midnight was a few short minutes away. I sit up, slouching on the ruffled sheets of my bed and pushing my bangs out of my face. High School drama: so predictable, so effortless. In a few weeks, things would die down, and then it'll be about the next poor schmuk who stumbled into the same situation I had planned out, my actions will be laughed about as time dulled the aches that I had caused. Some will forgive me, some won't, but things would quickly repair themselves if not into the same as they were before then into something similar enough for everyone involved to be comfortable with. But in that window between then and now, no one will notice my absence, no one would care that I wasn't around except for having been denied the right to get their lumps in on me while it was still popular. Even those who will care that I'm gone will simple attribute it to me running away in shame, hiding myself in some kind of haze of recrimation and self-pity. By the time anyone would care I'll be long gone. By the time anyone worries my tracks will be cold. By the time panic comes in, I will be unreachable.
I shift my gaze to the little cage where Rufus rested. The wire and plastic cage has been expanded into a veritable labyrinth of tunnels and wheels, a utopia for any rodent to wander. The little naked mole rat is asleep in his den. He'd been scorning the bed for the last few days, preferring a blanket to my company. I give him a small smile, and stand up quietly. I pace over to him, and kneel by his cage, wrapping my arms around my knees and just watch him for a bit. He looks peaceful.
"Bye little buddy," I whisper to him, my voice so soft it barely reaches my ears. Even still, he shifts slightly in his sleep, the finality in my farewell reaching his sleeping ear and causing discomfort to fester. Standing, I turn from him and go to a floor board in the corner of my loft. Quietly, I pry up the loose board there. Inside is the usual stash you'd find in a teenager's secret squirrel spot: candy, booze, porn, a few miscellaneous knickknacks and keepsakes. And there, nestled in the back, innocuous in its stature, is a small puzzle box, of the most unremarkable lacquered black and seamless lines.
It is called the Lemarchand Configuration.
"Hello old friend," I whisper back to it, as I pick it up from its resting place, the heavier than it appeared weight in my hand an old and paradoxically comforting feeling. I take a moment as my eyes devour the sight of the horror that now rests in my hand. My gaze flicks over it, tracing the invisible lines that crossed and crisscrossed the box, my mind already going over its pieces, the memory of its deconstruction having been etched into my mind's eye over five years ago. Turning soundlessly, I make my way out of the room.
Before I left the house, I did two more things. I stopped at my sister's room, and looked in on her sleeping form. She looked young and beautiful as only a baby can be. I lean over her and kiss her forehead. Her eyes shoot open, proving again the potential that rests in her is every bit as potent as the potential that rests in me. Her somber gaze meets mine, and drifts down to the object in my hand, and her little face screws up with instinctual displeasure.
"I know," I whisper back. "But you know as well that sometimes this is just the way things have to be." She lets loose a displeased gurgle, and reaches out her hands pawing in the air at me. I reach down with my own, the one not holding the atrocity, and let her take my fingers in her tiny palms. She pulls my fingers to her mouth and proceeds to slobber all over my index finger, even as she holds my thumb and pinky tightly. I wrinkle my nose at her and stick out my tongue. "Ewww! That's gross, you little intruder!" She giggles in response. Then she rolls over and goes back to sleep.
The second thing I do is write a note to my parents. It is simple and appropriately dramatic and angst filled in a teenage way. I'm sorry for what I've done. I need to get away for a bit, to put my head on straight. I'll just be gone for a few days. I love you both, Mom and Dad. Love Ron.
I don't turn back for a last glance when I walk out the door and into the night.
The clock on my watch is reading one of those hours that are either ridiculously late or incredibly early. There had been a few more preparations to make, just in case scenarios that I had planned for, just in case.
I had chosen this place for a reason. Many reasons actually. Just as I had chosen this course of actions for a reason. Many reasons actually. Not many would be able to understand them. Few people have had experience with that which is alien enough to understand the convoluted reasons that drew me here. If I believed for an instance in a kind or merciful deific power, I would thank it for that mercy of that ignorance.
I kneel in the center of the room with the Lemarchand configuration on the ground for me, the lacquer somehow shining despite the shadows and darkness around me, reflecting light only it could find. As I sit I take a moment and my mind flits over things, past and present and future. Other options I could have taken, other paths that I could have walked. What could have been. What should have been. What would have been. It is not hesitation that pauses me, but regret for all those lost options. This could very well damn me. My life, so full of happiness and joy might never recover to what it had once been.
I think of Kim, and how much I love her. That's the thing I regret most about this. She didn't deserve to have this happen to her. But the consequences of what could happen if she didn't hate me at this very moment….
I finish my regret and pick up the box. There is no hesitation. I have long since moved past that.
I honestly don't think I can even feel it anymore.
There are a lot of things I can't feel anymore.
Most who attempt to open the box fight with it. They struggle, batter their will and intellect against the trickery that keeps it locked to most. My first time had been like that. The box is as much a trip as it is a map. The desire necessary to open it is not often manifested by those who seek what is within it. This however is the second time I've opened it, and the first time had burned the memory into my very neurons, seared into every synapse within me. As each piece is maneuvered away, and depression and pressure plate matched effortlessly by my questing fingers, the music of the box began to chime. Every segment I completed added yet another note to the tune, another layer to the melody.
The bell began to toll almost instantly.
It reverberated through me, coming from within me, from around me, from the very room itself. The floor, the ceiling, the walls themselves, creaked and groaned around me, twisting under an unimaginable pressure, warping from the forces working through them, around them, between them and under them. I closed my eyes, letting the darkness of my eyelids conceal the light which reflected off the dark outside of the Lemarchand configuration, and from the mother of pearl shine of the inside of the box. There reaches a point when nearly all who open the box realize that something within them is shrieking in fear over some unrecognized recognition of what is about to happen: a dawning horror that they cannot even admit to themselves before they can no longer stop themselves and they complete the puzzle without any control over themselves.
Horror and fear are two more things I can no longer feel.
And as I finish the box it does what it has always done. It opened the Door of Air to me, the passage to The Realm Which Lies Behind the Walls. And through that door, and from that realm, they came. The Cenobites. I open my eyes to meet their approach, unflinching.
The eastern wall began to disintegrate piece by piece. The paint and paneling peeled away, organic in motion, like watching skin being flayed from flesh, leaving the bricks beneath pulsating like organs. One by one they unsubstantiated themselves, and then blew away as though crumpling under the pressure of an enormous wind. Behind it lay an eye assaulting chaos. Great black shapes, like birds sown together, undead horrific avian beasts that raise and fall and rise and drop and ascend again just to plummet once more. Between them and amongst them and through them four shapes walked. When they cross the threshold into this world from that world the wall behind them closes, the process like watching decomposition rendered in reverse through still frame photography. And in the darkness they began to glow with the phosphorescence of eldritch deep-sea creatures.
A strong scent of vanilla washed over me and another scent too, beneath it: the scent of rot.
"What city is this?" the first one asked. All four of them bore wounds and scars of differentiated severity and healing. Only one of them had more than a square inch of flesh unmarked, and the horror of her wounds were so vast and carefully cultivated that it seemed to render the untouched part of her even more blasphemous in comparison. The one who spoke had hooks rendered into its eyelids. The chains attached to the ocular barbs slithered through flesh and skin and bald bone to attach to its lips. Every blink, every word spoken caused a mechanical violation of its face, a constant motion of wedded steel and flesh.
"Middleton," I answer, knowing the custom of this meeting, despite distaining the usual gravity it deserves.
"Do you know who we are?" the second asked then. Unlike the first, whose voice had been guttural, nearly masculine, this one's voice was high, the kind of falsetto that marked either a woman or a eunuch. Either was an option, as its clothes were all concealing, except for where it revealed horrific wounds, usually by having been woven through the wounds themselves. Its head was a latticework of scars and tattoos with jeweled pins driven through each intersection. Not even the tongue had been spared this work. Only for a second, I had the irrelevant thought that it would have been much more impressive a sight if it had a deeper more dramatic and somber tone, but I let the strange and inappropriate thought pass without a second glance.
"You are the Hierophants of the Order of the Gash, the cenobites," I answer.
"Yes. And what is it you desire of us?" the third speaker asked. This scarification on its face was so massive, so teased, so well cared for, that it had no other features besides a mouth and wreckage. Its voice was so garbled by the effort of producing sound through the damage that it was barely comprehensible.
"For the moment? To cut the bull and get down to brass nacos," I snap at them.
"Brass nacos?" the fourth one spoke, humor strange and alien in her voice. And this one was recognizable in gender at least. The open robe it wore bore its body to the air. A body that might have been attractive if not for exactly what had been done to exactly where it might have mattered. The scarification to all parts that would have been sacred and precious to an actual woman made a mockery of her sexuality, a horror of what might have been sensuality. The female cenobite had more in common with Kali than Aphrodite. Her promise was violence and terror more than pleasure. "You have grown, Ronald Stoppable, grown in interesting ways since we have last met."
"Since you escaped us," the grid work one spoke, its words lilting. The four monstrosities had advanced on me, separated and surrounded me as the conversation had unfolded. "Such a thing is unusual, to find one who has slipped our grasp."
"And never has one who has vanished from our care deliberately sought us back again." The movement of chain through bone grated, a rasping background to the speaker. "All those who manage to escape us for a time are brought back, but none willingly."
"And even when I first called you, I was of a different sort than your usual fare," I remind them.
"True. You were always….unique," the female agreed. She stood behind me, and I haven't moved since they arrived. Her voice came from beside my ear, the scent of rot and sex on her breath mingled with the vanilla, recalling many things to me. Scent has always been one of the strongest scents for memory evocation, and now it was no different.
"Enough conversation. Now, it is time for negotiations." I speak without moving again, and I feel her presence settle behind me, kneeling as I am, the cold of her body inches from mine.
"Negotiations? We do not negotiate. What is is. We will take you, without that the schism between worlds cannot be closed."
"True. You will take me. But then what? I have escaped you before. Don't think for a second that I can't again," I remind them. I speak directly to the one before me, the featureless one. At my left and right, at the very edges of my peripheral vision I catch glimpses of steel in the two creatures that are also nearing me. The vanilla in the air grows even more overpowering, almost succeeding in covering the corruption beneath.
"And what will you negotiate for, Ron?" the voice of the female is so close to my ear that her teeth prick and pluck at the hairs surrounding my ears.
I feel no discomfort at her proximity. I don't feel discomfort any more either.
"Bring forth the Engineer." I say nothing more, but none of the cenobites take offense at my imperative. They don't feel anger at being snubbed so bluntly, or curiosity at my request.
They feel even less than I do.
"I am here." The voice that comes from behind the scarred one is soft, and the light that emits from the entity known as the Engineer silhouettes the figure of the hierophant before me. The sound of those syllables echoes through me, vibrating me like a tuning fork disturbs the water it is dipped into. 'Booyah,' I think to myself, and begin my pitch.
"What I want is simple: relinquish your claim on me." I remain still, though my gaze focuses on where the Engineer's head would have been, if it hadn't been concealed from me by the cenobite in front of me. "Forfeit any attempt to reclaim me, forsake all holds on me." I thought about adding something like, "give me back my soul you ugly son of a bitch," but honestly, I could never be sure if that was the right gender, so I left it out. It was mostly an attempt at being dramatic anyway.
I don't believe in souls.
At my left and right, the glint of steel is so much closer, as close as the cenobite at my back. I am hemmed in, enclosed on three sides by horrors beyond human comprehension, beyond human endurance, beyond human sanity.
I feel nothing at their proximity. Not horror, not fear, not discomfort, not hesitation.
"And what will you offer to equal such a prize?" The voice of the Engineer is a whisper. It's different from the other cenobites. When they speak their tones echo with hunger: inhuman hunger, aches and desires so savage and so refined yet so deep and desperate as to shake the very air around them. When the Engineer speaks, the air stills around it. Sound is the expression of motion through the air, motion that vibrates the inner ear hairs, which the brain then interprets appropriately. When the Engineer speaks, it is as though the opposite is occurring. As though a wave of silence and stillness has passed through the air, and the brain aches at the wrongness of interpreting this new sensation.
I smile, and present my offer.
And around me, I can feel the interest, the satisfaction, and the curiosity that echoes from these alien things as they too smile, in anticipation.
Alright, I know that he did something stupid. I know that everyone and their mother is angry as hell about it. I know that he probably doesn't deserve to be forgiven, to be worried about, and should probably just be forgotten so he can suffer in whatever hole he had crawled into.
But like it or not, it's been two weeks, no one, not even his parents or Rufus, know where he is, and like it or not, the whole situation with him and Bonnie is just too akweird, to scripted to make sense.
I'm getting worried, and like it or not, I'm going to make Kim get off the warpath and focus on just how freaking weird this whole sitch is, no matter what it takes.
The hum of my chair is soothing. I've been in it for my whole life. I've never known any other way, so I've never regretted it or felt bitter about it. My chair is as much a part of me as anyone else's limbs or body part, and I wield it just as anyone else would handle balancing on one foot as I weave my way through the masses, the jumbled population of Middleton High making decent effort at parting before me as I do.
Meh. It's not quite Moses and the Red Sea, but still, I manage.
It's lunch time, and the senior table is bustling with a variety of overly smug and happy late teens. Conversation ranges from cars, to classes, to dates, to disasters: the usual smorgasbord of life and conversation that occurs when you smash together a couple hundred incredibly dissimilar people in order to carve something resembling edumacation into their young noggins.
I have to admit, I love school life. I love seeing the way people who would normally have nothing to do with each other are forced to interact, to deal with each other. I love seeing the interplay between the factions, the awkward interaction between dissimilar people. Sometimes it ends up with hurt feelings and bodies usually do to the general misanthropy of some gorilla headed uber-jock. Sometimes it ends up as the most spectacularly unexpected friendships. There are two hundred people in our senior class. Each person has a chance to interact with each other person in the sample set. That's 200! different interactions, each one different, each one unique. Maybe it's a bit geeky to think of it like that but I do come from a family of mechanical super geniuses. I guess geeky might be in the blood a bit.
I spot my prey, though it feels a little awkweird in a sexual predator kind of way to refer to two good looking girls as prey, sitting together at a corner of the senior table. Monique had a magazine out, Club Banana if my eyes don't deceive me, and was talking animatedly to Kim. Kim was responding in kind.
Despite my intention to march up there, all right, roll up there, and say some harsh things, I can't help but pause for a second. Kim was looking animated, gesturing with her hands while her eyes were lit up. This was good actually. Kim hadn't taken the sitch with Ron very well. Not very well at all. The two had been close. Very close. Like atomic bonding close. But after what happened, well Kim hadn't taken it very well. She'd oscillated between wilting like a flower and burning like a stake after the incident. Half the time she was about to break open a skull, snapping with anger at anyone and everyone about anything, the other half she was meek, docile, apologetic. The puppy dog pout that was so infamous amongst her friends had become nearly permanent, only more so. The kicked puppy pout. It was brutal to watch, seeing someone so happy and confident like that. I can't help but curse Ron again, but without much heat behind it. My suspicions, so deep for so long, have become too great for me to ignore any longer. Stupid herd mentality. If I was right, then there's a very good chance that we'd all been used, and used hard. If I was right, then I think there was going to be a whole new heartache to deal with.
Steeling myself, I move in. Like it or not, this had to be taken care of, and it had to be taken care of now.
"Kim, Monique, we have to talk."
"Heya Felix! How you been doing, good looking?" Monique leered at me. I couldn't stop myself from grinning back momentarily, before setting my 'resolve face' back in. Head in the game Felix!
"Look," I say back, interrupting whatever it is Kim was about to add in. Kim had picked up on me and Monique, and looked like she was about to reinforce her good mood by joining in on teasing me with her BGF. I had to cut that out now. "We need to talk, we need to talk now, and we need to be serious while we talk." I can see that my insistence had caught their attention. I would have like to build up into this, but quite frankly, I think it's time that someone slap Kim upside the back of her head, pull her out of the funk, and make sure she took notice of a few very important facts.
"About what Felix?" aforementioned redhead asked, settling herself in and putting on her own 'resolve face'. Good girl. Get mission mode, get analytical. Maybe that'll shake you loose of a few misconceptions.
"Yeah BF, what's got your wheels crossed?" Monique threw in.
"You both need to shut up and listen up. I'm about to say a few things that are gonna piss both of you off, and I need both of you to listen to me to the end. And if I have to use these babies," mechanical hands extend from my wheels and snap dramatically, "to keep you here to listen, then I'm gonna. Capiche? "
"Wow, amp down BF! So NTD!" Monique seemed amused by my insistence, but Kim seemed to be a little more perceptive. I just said I was going to say something that will piss her off, and right about now, there's only one thing guaranteed to piss her off. I speak up before she has a chance to collect herself. The redhead is stubborn, and if she has a second to dig her heels in, than she's gonna be harder to move than a mule.
"Ron," I say, confirming Kim's suspicions, and drawing a dawning look of half comprehension and half anger before I plow on. "Look, I don't want to rehash old ground with you two, but don't you think that what happened was more than a little wrong-sick? Why would Ron, who's absolutely crazy about Kim go off and do something like that?"
I have to pause for breath, and this is where Monique finds the pause she had been waiting for, to break in and give her own arguments. I don't hold it against her. Honestly. Monique is a passionate soul, and a loyal friend. God knows I'm crazy for her. Which is why I know almost at the same time she speaks that this is gonna get ugly for all three of us.
"Because he was just trying to get some of that player action going with a cheap floozy who just wants to get a rag at my GF!" This is an old argument for her. It's the kind of supportive and emotionally driven affirmations of her own worth that Kim has needed, and even I've been supplying recently. If it wasn't for the fact that my worry for one friend has over whelmed the worry I have for another, I'd still be giving it. So interrupt.
"Then why not Tara? That girl still has a flame for Ron, and at least Ron knew about it now! Why not that Japanese chick from that one time, what's her face? Either one would have been good if that was just what Ron was after. Why Bonnie? Ron couldn't stand Bonnie! They've known each other almost as long as you two knew each other," I nod at Kim while I continue, leaning forward and talking quietly. Our conversation has grown heated and animated, and people around us are paying attention, taking head of our argument and leaning in to try and make out what was being said while trying to be inconspicuous. "Those two snipe at each other like opposite teams in a Zombie Mayhem marathon! Don't you think it's a little weird that they're suddenly doing…."I falter briefly trying to supply an appropriate euphemism for what the two HAD been doing, "that?" I finish a little lamely in my eye.
"Well, they obviously must have had something going on," this time Kim is the one who responds, and those green eyes of her are flashing fit to make me shake, but I stand firm. "It was probably all just a cover. 'Oh, look at me! You're such a loser! Wanna meet up at five instead of six this time for our daily booty call?'" Kim nearly snarled at me, leaning in too, though more out of intensity then any desire for privacy. Her hands are gripping the table hard, her knuckles white and the table nearly creaks from the pressure she's putting on it. Yipes. I really, really, REALLY, hope those hands don't come at me by the time I'm done….
"Yeah, like the time you two had something going on at the Middleton festival?" I challenge, not backing down despite my nervousness. I really hope I'm concealing the nervousness by the way. "The time when you had some weird chip on your head that was making you pass flowery notes to him and cooing in study hall?"
"That was different!" Kim hissed at me, her jaw clamping tight and her teeth grinding as she did so. I spare a glance at Monique, and this time I see something other than blind support and empathic sympathy. There's surprise there. I feel some relief at that. Monique is different from me and Ron and Kim. She's never had to face adversity like we have. She's never been somewhere horrible or desperate. She's, for lack of a better word, normal.
Me, Kim and Ron aren't. My weird might be a bit different from theirs but weird is still weird. We know that sometimes you have to look outside the box, to find an alternative in order to overcome. God bless her, I really do like Monique, but that doesn't change the fact that her biggest concern is fall fashion and school grades. She's never had to worry about what would happen if the batteries on her mobility were to suddenly fail, or if the death ray aimed at her would really work this time.
"Yeah, it was." I acknowledge, "but that doesn't change the fact that this is just to awkweird-wrong-sick to be everything it looks like. Hell!" I think this is the first time the two have ever heard me swear, but I'm on a roll right now, "I confronted him about it! He admitted it, he was almost crying when it happened! But when has screwing up ever kept him down? Ron's always got back on the horse and tried to make things right. No matter how bad it was, he always tried to make things right! Why isn't he here, trying to make it right? Why isn't he trying to apologize, to explain, to get forgiveness?" I press my point, matching Kim's glare with my desperate honest stare. Christ in a cab, but thatgirl is scary…
"Well why don't you ask him!" she growled, loudly. She's reaching full head of steam now. Half the cafeteria is looking at us now. The other half is ignoring us pointedly. By now everyone has already gotten the scoop on the Ron/Kim/Bonnie situation. It's old news. Everyone's more interested in the Mankey/Brick situation (which I have to admit, I find strangely compelling myself. If I didn't have better things to do I'd be trying to figure out just how THAT had happened….)
"Because he's missing! No one knows where he is! Not his parents, not Rufus, not the Police, not Wade, and not you!" I shout back. There's a moment of shock in her eyes, and this time there's definitely something in Monique's gaze. She's beginning to catch on to just how worried I am. I'll be the first to admit I'm a laid back guy. I've had to deal with enough adversity that I can handle most of what the world can throw at me with a raised eyebrow and a laugh. I can't really remember the last time I got this worked up. With Kim's gaze on me, about to set fire to my Zombie Mayhem IV shirt with its heat, I'm hoping that me worked up is something half as impressive as that girl's.
Kim is momentarily taken aback by this, even her head of rage punctured by this revelation. "What?" she nearly stuttered out, her shock apparent.
"He's been gone, for nearly two weeks now. I called after he was gone for a few days, and his parents said he had run away. Something about getting his head on straight. But that was a week and a half ago, and they'd already called the police by the time I called back." I see Kim wavering, and press on. I have to get this through her head. However righteous she might feel right now in her anger, there's a chance that this is so not what it seems. This isn't about drama right now; this is about something that felt wrong, something that could be very, very dangerous, something that could be happening to one of my best friends.
I'm used to being marginalized. Used to being given fake smiles and nervous, insincere concern. Ron had never, ever, done that to me. Where others see my wheel chair as a horrific reminder of how freakish I am, Ron never even glanced at it. Ron tries to win whenever we play basketball, or kill zombies on our consoles. Ron was, IS, one of my best friends. And if I have to kick his other best friends in the face to make them realize how freaking wrong-sick this situation is, than I swear to God that I'm going to force my legs to work just to make sure I do!
"Get your head in the game, Possible," I grit out, whispering so that the others, who have now given up all pretence of ignoring us, can't hear us. "Maybe this is just a guy in a moment of weakness. Maybe this is something else. You're the one who can do the impossible. I can't, and it's freaking the crap out of me. Can't you feel it? There's something wrong here."
"I…" Kim stuttered, and now I can see it: the gears behind her eyes working, as she begins to realize that there's more going on here than her hurt feelings. That maybe, just maybe, there's a reason for what's going on, and that if she doesn't get her act together and make sure that this wasn't just high school evil and not actual evil, that something very, very bad might happen.
It's the same thing I've been feeling, ever since it happened. Why? Why is it setting my teeth on edge? My grip on the armrest of my chair is now matching Kim's in the whiteness of knuckle department.
"I don't care about that cheating jerk!" Kim finally manages to grind out, and storms away from the table, head high, hair flapping, and lunch and belongings forgotten. I grit my teeth and move to follow, when something stops me. Monique's hand is on my arm, and when I try to shake it off so I can follow my target, I catch sight of Monique's face. She looks cautious, she looks worried.
"Let her go, sugah. That ain't the 'I'm too good for that jerk' walk. That's the 'why the hell didn't I see it earlier?' walk."
I'm nearly shaking with the emotion I'd just spent. I don't get this worked up often, and the adrenaline is coursing through me hard right now. Finally, I nod, a swift jerk of my head, and pull up to the table. I'm shaking now, feeling the lack of biological stimulant in me, and finally I collapse onto my arms on the table. Something touches me gingerly, and when I glance over, Monique is rubbing my shoulder gently.
"Well sweetie, you were right about one thing." My eyebrow raises and Monique continues with the ghost of a smile on her own suddenly worried face. "What you said sure did piss us off!"
I can't help myself. I throw my head back and laugh out loud, long and hard.
Why can't I shake the feeling that that was hysteria shining through?
The rest of school passed by in a blur. I had spent myself completely at lunch. Actually, in retrospect, I might have to do that more often. Time just seemed to fly by, and it didn't even bother to take a crap on me as it passed. If only pigeons were so considerate. The next thing I know, it's closing time for Middleton high, and I'm shutting my locker and preparing to roll out, pardon the pun, when my closing locker revealed the face of someone I was almost as nervous to see as I was glad.
"We need to talk," Kim said to me, her face tight. This wasn't the tight face of someone who was about to launch a one man pity party over being screwed over by an ex. This was the kind of tight that said, 'I might have just been screwed over, but the jerk who did it at least left a condom behind, and now I'm gonna track them down using their DNA and feed them what they left behind plus interest'.
Man, this girl is scary when she gets on her groove. I stifle a shudder that occurs when I consider what it must have been like for Ron during that special time of the month while the two were dating.
There are some things just too horrific for thoughts.
"Is this going to be you chewing me out for sticking your face in something unpleasant, or you telling me that the unpleasant thing might have been a bit closer to home than you thought?" I ventured, half nervous, half anticipating the response.
"The second," she admits. She glances around, trying to appear furtive, but only coming off as nervous. This was different. This meant things have changed, but considering that she's not appearing happier, and is in fact appearing even more tweaked than before, it meant things might just have changed in a very bad manner.
I'm all ears. "What's the sitch?"
Kim gives me a quick half smile at my willingness to throw in, and pulls out that sleek blue compact she carries with her. The Kimmunicator. The screen fizzles with static, and then an image appears on it. Wade is there, in all his big, black, geeky glory. If he had been here in person, I'd have kissed him. Christ in a cab, it means that the two of them are seriously looking for Ron.
Kim speaks up, informing me of just what the situation is. "I talked to Bonnie," she admits, and there's nothing subtle about my flinch and back peddling. Literally. I had peddled myself nearly four feet away before I caught my initial reaction and brought myself back. Kim and Bonnie? In the same room? Dear God, please don't let this be a request for me to help my friend bury a body. I don't think I could handle having to lug a corpse around on my hover wheels. Kim catches my knee jerk reaction, and her smile is almost as proud as it is apologetic. "It's not what you think. We did some talking, about what happened…"
I interrupt. "Kim, I can't alibi you. I was in class. No one would buy it that you were with me when they find the corpse," I try to explain, and now I'm seriously considering saying screw the dignity, full speed out of here.
"I didn't kill her!" Kim exclaims, looking flush with embarrassment. On the Kimmunicator, Wade seems almost as amused as Kim seems embarrassed, before rescuing his partner and speaking up.
"No, she didn't. And if she had, she had been with me the entire time," the genius computer whiz spoke, before taking a slurp from his ever present soft drink. I really think the kid had used some of his no doubt massive funds to install a fountain dispenser in his room. Wouldn't be the only monstrously awesome gizmo he had. "Instead, she found some interesting information from her."
"You didn't break anything, did you?" I hesitantly interject. Kim's face is almost as red as her hair now, and Wade is really trying to hold his humor at the situation back. Then the gravity of the situation seemed to reflect back at him, and the young genius got serious.
"We found out from Bonnie that something had been strange about Ron the day of the incident," Wade admitted. Kim didn't say anything, but her flush became more heated and less embarrassed when 'the incident' was mentioned. Wade pressed on gamely. "We double checked a few of the facts, and we think you might be on to something with your theory."
"My theory?" I hazard. I didn't have a theory. Just a worry. There's a difference.
"That there might have been someone or something manipulating Ron on that day. I don't know why I didn't think of it myself," Wade admitted, and his eyes shifted downward as he adjusted himself uncomfortably. "I contacted him myself, not to long after…the incident. There was definitely something wrong with his actions then. He just seemed…." Here he paused to try and find a proper word to describe the wrongness of the situation, "…off somehow. Like he was in despair. Like he didn't think anything he could do would fix it."
Wade paused and took a moment to type something quickly on one of his many consoles. The screen flashed and a map took up the rest of the screen. Kim piped up.
"We've managed to track his location at the moment to this area here." I focused on the map harder than I had earlier. It looked like a place nearby. My eyes widened as I recognized it.
"The Middleton Bus Station?" I hazard, not quite sure if my navigation skills were up to reading what I was seeing.
"Exactly," Kim nodded, but then continued. "The thing is, when Wade checked the data, it looks as though Ron has been there for nearly two weeks without moving! It's almost as though he's been captured, or imprisoned, or…." Kim trailed off, and now her face was red from something besides embarrassment or anger. This was the red of shame, of worry. Of fear.
My own face tightens. It would take an hour to walk over there. Thirty minutes to drive. I press a button, and the wheels on my chair render themselves perpendicular to the ground. The hum of my chair raises, and the fancy high tech gizmos my mother installed make themselves known. Kim looks up at me, hovering three feet off the ground, and gives me a small smile. It's like the sun coming from behind a cloud, and I return it.
"Need a ride?" I ask, and extend my arm to her. Her smile becomes even wider.
"Please and Thank you!" She jumps on, settling daintily in my lap. As we speed out of Highschool, with the sound of Berkins' voice echoing behind us, I can't stop myself from asking.
"So how did you find all this out so fast? Do you like have a tracking chip in Ron or something?"
Kim's face became every bit as red as it had been earlier.
It takes us fifteen minutes to make it there. There might have been a traffic law violation or two, but what's that between friends. As we pace through, or roll as the case might be, the station, Kim has her Kimmunicator out, and is regarding it with the fierceness I've come to recognize from her. More than fierceness though. As I follow her, I think I recognize something else. Something I haven't seen in a while. Hope.
Hope that maybe this all hadn't been some sick joke on her. Hope that maybe all her rage and betrayal issues had been misled. Hope that when it came down to it, she'd be able to smack down the dickweed who had driven a wedge between her and her man, her best friend, her closest person in the whole world, her family, the person who had mattered the most to her the longest.
And hope that she'd be able to be with that person again. Kim, well she hadn't been kind to Ron after the incident. None of us had. But Kim had been hurting so much more than the rest of us, and she had lashed out. Ron had taken the brunt of it, without complaint, without hesitation. I can't help but wonder what would happen when we found him, when we unveiled this terrible plan, when she could go back to him. And she would go back to him. She'd been wanting him since almost the moment it happened. Missing him like she was missing a piece of herself. He'd been blaming himself too, that was obvious. The guilt that had hung about him was nearly miasmic in its heaviness. Had Ron spent the entire time telling himself it was all his fault, that he had screwed up too badly, not even knowing himself that some mad villain was responsible, trying to drive a wedge between the two? God, I hopped that was the case. I hoped that when it came down to it, the two would have a heartfelt confession, that both their guilt, his for having failed her, hers for having let something come between them wrongfully, would be alleviated.
Honestly, if it wasn't Ron's fault, after the fury Kim had unleashed on him, my boy was going to get laid so hard it isn't even funny. It would be half apology, half affirmation, and all passion. Booyah for makeup sex.
I gave some serious thought to what kind of flower I'd get the boy if the experience ended up being too much to him, and he died of either sheer joy or sheer exhaustion from the way the two of them were going to be making up for this.
From the tightness in Kim's eyes and the eagerness in her pace, I think she was looking forward to this even more than I was. All she needed is an excuse, and the two of them were back in business.
I let a half smile cross my face, and sped up my pace to keep up with her.
The smile slipped when the beeping of the homing device Kim was carrying led her to a locker. Just a simple long term locker, the kind you'd find in any transit station in any city in any part of the world. I felt my good mood evaporate. The only way someone would fit into that is if they had been put through a blender.
All my good feelings were gone as that thought hit me. Ron had enemies the likes of which wouldn't hesitate to put him through a blender. I honestly think I remember hearing about Kim herself having a near experience with one a while back. Kim apparently had come to a similar conclusion.
The oath that came from her lips isn't appropriate to repeat, and the desperate fumbling she did in her bag to find the laser lipstick she needed to open the ominous locker made my heart freeze. When she had finally opened the fearfully ominous locker door before her, we found two things. Only one of which I recognize.
"Is that a DVD?" I hazarded, but it was the other thing that had Kim's eyes. Her wide, fearful, desperate eyes. It was small, black and metallic looking. Its sheen was dimmed by a dull matte of red. I stared uncomprehending at it, unable and unwilling to make the connection as to what that sheen was.
"It's covered in blood…."Kim whispered, and then there was no hiding from the truth. "It's his tracking chip, and it's covered in blood…." The horror in her voice echoed my own. I was right. There was something horribly, horribly wrong here. And it might already be too late to stop it. It might even be too late to fix it….
My shock over the situation must have shorted out a fuse between my brain and my lips, because the next thing I said was, "So you really did have him chipped?"
Kim didn't even acknowledge my non-sequitar. The Kimmunicator was out and she was talking to Wade so in a fast tight voice that bordered on being all business and all hysteria. "Wade, scan, now!"
The genius's fingers were flying over the buttons of his vast computer rig so fast they were a blur and his eyes also had a serious edge to them that rivaled ours. "It's his chip all right. Whoever removed it didn't damage it, and considering how delicate it is they must have known exactly where it is from the start. I don't see any traps in there, and it looks like the DVD is just that, a DVD. You can pop it in your Kimmunicator," and there was a pause as he pushed a button a bit away from the others, which caused a cradle and reading laser to pop out the top of the blue hand held before finishing his statement, "now."
Kim didn't fumble with the DVD as she smoothly inserted it. I don't know how she managed to keep her hands steady. The sick worry that had been festering in me had bloomed into nearly full blown panic by now, and my hands were shaking. What the hell had happened here? Who the hell would have the malice to deliberately shatter Ron's reputation, hurt his relation with Kim, and then apparently kidnap him and operate on him so that they could steal him away and keep him away for nearly two weeks without anyone even suspecting enough to go looking for him?
The answer we found was even more shocking than the blood covered chip which still lay in the empty dusty locker as we watched transfixed at the message.
The image that came up to gave us that answer, was none other than Ron himself.
I was at school the next day, though Kim wasn't. She had a whole list of things she had planned out, and most of them involved international travel and bad guy stomping/interrogation. I didn't quite have the experience needed to go with, though I had volunteered my help the moment the words, "I'm going to find him," had passed her lips. In fact, I think that after she visited some place in Japan, she was coming back to pick me up. Apparently, the first on her list of go to spots wasn't really hostile, just kind of reclusive. Kim had been a bit secretive of the whole thing.
Personally, I had my own first course of action planned. When Ron came back, if he came back, than I felt the least I could do is try to smooth over some of the bumps he had left behind. That and question a few people in the know. Someone here, someone who knew Ron must have some idea just what the bloody hell is going on.
"Hey there BF. WTS?" a voice pulls me out of my thoughts, and we pull to a stop in order to give them a chance to catch up. It's Monique. She looks cheerful, and that irritates me for a second, before I remind myself that being irritated is irrational. She doesn't know what me and Kim had discovered.
"Hey Monique," I respond, and start wheeling towards homeroom as she walks beside me. "You know I can't figure out that acronym stuff. Tell it to me straight, won't you beautiful?"
She grins and gives me a peck on the cheek before explaining herself. "What's the sitch?"
My smile fades. "Seriously whack. After school Kim and I went looking around, digging into the whole Ron situation. Looks like things aren't as cut and dry as they appeared. Actually, it looks like things might be genuinely FUBAR."
The news sobers her up fast, but she spares a grin at my last bit. "FUBAR? I thought you hate my text speak! What's that one stand for?"
"It's not text speak, it's a military term," I respond to the levity as best I can. "And it means fucked up beyond all repair. When we tried to find him, all we found is a tracking chip and a DVD."
"What's a tracking chip have to do with anything? Was it stolen tech or something? One of those big bads my GF is always smacking down pull something and now Ron is pants down and boxer deep in the middle of it?" she tried to alleviate the mood. I crush that effort out of hand.
"No. Apparently it's more 'partner insurance device' than stolen tech. Kim and Wade had it in Ron for a while. Apparently it's been handy in more than a few 'Pants down and boxer deep' sitches before. And when we found it, apparently someone had cut it out of him. Literally. It hadn't even been cleaned. The blood was all dried up on it…" I trail off, keeping myself from saying more, though my worry had loosened my tongue and I already had said more than I should have. Monique gasped and put her hands up to cover her mouth, finally understanding how serious this is.
It's one thing to be willing to give the benefit of the doubt on the off chance that the doubt could help Kim, save Ron's rep, and get those two back together like they belong. Monique would have been all over that in a sec. She's every bit as close with Ron as I am. Those two bond over their crazy wrestling just as much as she bonds with Kim over bargain hunting and fashion.
"Oh Jesus," she whispered, sounding sick. "Where's Kim? What happened?"
"We found something else too, a DVD. It's…"I hesitate, trying to find the right word to describe the situation, "…strange. There's something going on and I don't think any of us have ever seen anything like this before."
"Well what was on it? Demands, taunting? Oh god, please tell me it was Ronnie being tortured…." she whimpered. I shake my head instantly.
"No, its…Look, I have a copy of the DVD. I'll show it to you at lunch, okay?" The bell for homeroom was about to begin, and neither one of us cared to be late. In fact I was looking forward to it. I think a little normal is just what the doctor ordered, something routine so I can get my head back on straight. Monique hesitates than nods.
"Okay BF. But you better TTML, got it?"
"TTML?" I asked. I really can't get these darn acronyms. Who comes up with that crap?
"Talk to me later," she sighs, and a ghost of a smile twitches her lips, tinged with affectionate exasperation at my lack of ability to recognize entire sentences from their first letters alone. As though I'm the weird one in that regard!
Class swings by and soon enough the two of us are once more meeting up. Instead of going to the cafeteria and putting up with the masses, I lead us to an empty classroom, locking the door behind us. I pull the DVD out of my back pack, and hit a button on my wheels. When an entire tv/dvd/vcr combo swings out Monique laughs at loud.
"What else you got in there? A blender?" she giggles.
"No, but there is a microwave on this side here, and a toaster on the other," I say with a straight face, prepping the TV and inserting the DVD?
"A toaster? WTF?" Even I know that one.
"In case I want toast, of course. Now here, you have to watch this." The screen blued out, the HDTV humming lightly as it powered up, and then the DVD began to play.
It opened onto a picture of Ron himself. He was in a darkened room, the background an indistinguishable mass of shadows. His face was bleak but determined. That usual goofy smile is gone, and there's no sign of Rufus anywhere. He begins to speak.
"Yo. If you're watching this, then you're probably KP, and you're probably either really pissed or really confused. Now that I think of it, probably both," he gave a little snort of humor, before continuing, every bit as serious as he was before. "If things have gone like they're supposed too, right now the entire school should be either pissed at me, or moving on from being pissed at me. All my friends should be ignoring me, and KP, well you must be really, really upset. If that's the way things are, than good, that's the way I had hoped it would go down."
"Hoped it would go down?" Monique whispered, wondering what the Ron-man was talking about. I shake my head and keep my eyes on the screen.
"If everything goes right, no one will ever find this DVD. Either I really did it, and you'll never forgive me or want to see me again, KP, or by the time you start wondering about everything I'll already be back, and no one will ever know that I was gone." He shifts rolling his shoulders uncomfortably before continuing. "I doubt the second one, considering what I'm about to do, but there's a good chance the first one will happen too. If that's the case, I come back to the locker I'm planning on leaving this in, I get that chip back in me, and I'm burning this DVD myself. After that I can see about begging, apologizing, doing whatever the hell it is I'm gonna need to to smooth this whole thing over. It might not work, and things probably won't go back to the way things are, but I'm okay with that."
He leans forward and looks the camera dead on. "But if someone else is watching this DVD, and that someone is probably KP or Wade, then that means you guys must have started to doubt, or maybe you two are just angry and looking for me to demand an explanation, or maybe even someone has just put mission in about me and you're determined to be professional about this. If one of those is the case, well then this is the point where I come clean, explain what I did and why I did, and then tell you, that above all else, DON'T TRY TO FIND ME!" The emphasis on the last was clear, as Ron enunciated each word very carefully. Monique raised her eyebrows, shocked. I can understand that. I didn't get what he was saying the first time I saw it either. It's like Ron was admitting that he had set himself up for social suicide himself. Why the hell would he do that?
Luckily for our confusion, Ron went on to explain just what he meant. "KP, Wade. I guess the best way to put this is that we're all different people. Kinda trite, yeah, I know, but true. KP, you're a woman of action, ya know? You go in, you kick butt, you take names, in an incredibly good looking fashion I might add," and Ron chuckles a bit, rubbing the back of his head in embarrassment at his confession of enjoying the sight of KP in action. I can only imagine. Seeing a girl in a belly shirt and tight in the waste pants jumping around and high kicking? Yeah, I'd noticed that too the few times I ended up getting sucked into the middle of their world. Ron continues, "And Wade, you're a man of science. You got the whole world wired, the insider info on everything that has circuits and wires. You're obviously multiple degrees, super genius, the whole nine yards."
Here Ron paused, his face growing contemplative. "And here comes the fun part. Sounds kind of like a confession if I think about it, but I'm a man of the occult." He give a small little grin. "You know about the mystic monkey power and all, right? Well, since I'm being totally honest here, that's not the only strange thing I've been involved in. It's just the only one I couldn't really hide. Too many people had their hands in on it, so the only thing I could do was try to down play it and hope no one ever thought too deeply about it. I know you two don't understand what I'm saying, but trust me on this one. When someone's been exposed to the occult, they keep getting exposed. It's like that thing we did in that one science class? Ya know, where we had that magnet and we had to drag it through the sand and all? People who walk through the weird side attract others who do the same." Ron's eyes were dead serious, and his posture was aggressive. He was talking with such absolute assuredness in what he was saying that it was really hard just to dismiss this whole thing as crazy or a prank. Monique was captivated by it, leaning in herself so she can get every word.
And maybe it's just because I'd seen it before, or maybe it's cause I'm a bad friend, or maybe it's just that I'm a hormonal teenager, but I can't help but notice just how close she is, and just what parts of her are leaning on me that she doesn't notice at that second. Booyah!
"Now that you got the basics of it, here's the specifics. Getting your foot into the occult is hard. Not many people can. It's not like science where all the chemicals react the same no matter how many times it does it. Not like math where one plus one always equals two no matter what. The occult is different for everyone, it's almost organic. Like, no matter how hard you try to duplicate it two flowers grown in the exact same conditions aren't going to be identical, no matter how hard you try. And there's no one there to explain the rules to it either. When you're getting into it, you're on your own. Because of that, well," and here Ron sighed pausing, "because of that whenever you first get into it, it's almost guaranteed you're going to make mistakes. Most of those times those mistakes are, well, kinda permanent." His eyes are distant, he was remembering something, and from the twist of his lips it's not pleasant. "That's why there aren't more people like me out there. Most don't make it past point one."
His eyes are back though, and he looks dead into the camera again. "I did. Not only did I make it in those circles, but I'm actually something of a bad-ass there. But that doesn't change the fact that when I was just starting up, I racked up some debts. Some pretty impressive ones actually." He gives a half grin. "Whoops. Anyway, after I got some clout, I paid back most of them. Hell, I've already paid back a whole lot of them. Only one big one left."
He grins, and settles back. His face and posture is so animated, so Ron, that it's impossible to think that this was some kind of joke, or that Ron was just being crazy. "I know what you're thinking, both of you. You're thinking that this occult thing is just crazy talk, that I'm just trying to justify myself, to make some weird twisted sense of what I've not doubt did. It's not, and I'm not. Looks KP, I mean, did you really think that a cheerleader could be out there saving the world, kicking butt and saving the world and still make it back in time for club meetings?" And then Ron leaned in, deadly serious. "Well, you can! I might have been in the back, pulling strings and making things go right, but don't think for a second that I was carrying this team. YOU were, KP. Hell, I didn't think this whole mission thing would go anywhere! That after a few times you'd swear it all off, and we'd go back to being just normal teens. But you were so good at it! In the beginning, I was pulling strings left and right, but that wasn't 'cause you were bad at it. It was just you're world saving cherry being popped. Once you got some experience in there, stopped making the little inexperienced mistakes, I was more along for the ride than any need to protect you! Sure, every once in the while I'd have to do something to keep you out of serious trouble, but that was more because of an accident than lack of skill. You know, the whole Murphy's Law: if it can go wrong it will. Most of the stuff I did wasn't even to save your life! Just to keep you from getting injured because of blind chance!"
Ron's grin was ear to ear at this. His obvious pride in Kim's accomplishment, his joy in her success, his absolute belief in her awesomeness was inspiring itself. Monique's eyes were shining when she heard his confession, his praise. When Kim had heard it the first time, her eyes were more than just shining. She had tears of pride flowing down her face, and her smile was radiant. That kind of affirmation had done more for Kim than any amount of flattery me and Monique had been able to supply.
Ron continued, and his grin was downright infectious now. "Heh. Remember when GJ was going on about 'The Ron Factor'? If only they knew." He shook his head, and his shoulders shook with constrained mirth for a second. Finally he grew serious again, and the smile slipped from his face. "But now I suppose it's time for me to tell you just what's going on.
"KP, I told you that I racked up some Karmic debt from all my little weird stuff deals. I've got them all paid off. All but one. And Kimberly," the use of her full name was very soft, but very firm, "this one is the big one. This one…" his eyes closed and he paused before opening his eyes and continuing. "This one I'm not sure I'm going to walk away from."
This simple declaration caused chills up and down my spine. There wasn't something intensely unnerving about it, the absolute surety from Ron, the god of optimism and confidence, that he might be in over his head that stirred dread in my belly like you wouldn't believe. Monique seemed to feel it too. She shivered and unconsciously drew closer to me.
"And because this is the big one, the one that could go more wrong then you can imagine, I had to make sure I didn't drag you down with me. I'm the one who stepped in this one, Kim. I'm the one who knew the risks, took the chance, and now I'm the one who has to pay the piper. I couldn't ask this of you Kim. You're not ready for what this ones gonna be like. It's not like when we're saving the world and I trip in the wrong place and need you to swing down and pull my butt out of the fire in that bon-diggity way you do. I know, without a second doubt that if I asked you too, heck even if you suspected it, you'd be there like the cavalry without waiting a second. It's because of that that I had to do what I did, Kim."
Ron looks down and with eyes closed and voice filled with resignation he came to his conclusion. "I had to hurt you Kim. I had to hurt you bad enough that you wouldn't come for me, that you wouldn't put yourself in this for me. I'm sorry Kim, I had to drive you away so fiercely that you there's a chance you'll never forgive me for it." He looks up, eyes honest and resigned. "I had to break your heart Kim."
Monique gasped at that, and I think she's beginning to see just what had happened, the whole shape of this strange twisted puzzle. Ron brushed his hair away from his forehead again, settling back. He continued.
"There wasn't any other way to keep you away long enough for me to do this. You've been there for me KP, been there for me at my worst, ya know? No matter how bad I've gotten in the past, no matter how hard I screwed the pooch, you were there. Just like I was there for you, no matter how dangerous it was. And don't think just 'cause I know a few tricks that there wasn't danger. No one's perfect and I don't think I'd of made it through a lot of those situations we were in without help. I think that's what makes what I'm going to do so much worse. What we have between us," he waved his hand between him and the camera, "most people can't dream of something this good. It's been the best thing that ever happened to me, no matter what: that day we met in pre-k. I love you Kim, and I couldn't let you go through what I'm going to go throw, so I had to make you hate me."
The expression on Kim's face when we had watched this the first time…It had hurt. I don't know how to describe how much it had hurt to see her reaction to this confession.
"I had thought about it, and the only way I could think to make that happen, well, by now you already know." Ron shifted his eyes to the side while he continued, his voice laden with guilt. "I had to think it through, and consider who I'd betray you with, to plan the whole thing out. Hell," he gave a humorless grunt, "I even had to try and figure out who it would hurt you worse to catch me with! I'd even thought about Shego! Shego of all people! Man was that a wrong-sick thought." He shuddered.
Not that I can blame him. I mean, yeah, Shego was hot. But there are some things you just don't do. Not if there's any kind of God out there.
"I don't expect forgiveness for this, Kimberly," Ron said, serious and heartfelt. "But I don't regret this. Not for a second. If making you hate me is the only way to keep you safe, if making sure that my friends loathe me is the only way to keep them away, then that's just what I'm gonna do. I knew there would be a price for what I did, and I knew that when the time came I'd have to pay it. I wish it could have been you, that I was with then, but then there would be no force on earth that would keep you away when I did what I had to do."
He shuddered, and then he continued, driving the nail even deeper. "And I want to say that I won't enjoy it, but since I'm being honest, I'll have to tell you it all. I will enjoy Kim. Even if it's being done to hurt you, I'm going to enjoy doing it."
Monique's eyes widened in shock, just like Kim's had widened in betrayal at this part. Ron continued, and as much as the last part hurt, the part that came after hurt even worse.
"I'm going to enjoy it, because there's nothing more life affirming than sex. I'm going to think about it, and then I'm going to think about you while I'm going through this. I'll need that kind of hope in me. Kim, there are three ways this is going to end."
He held up a finger, eyes locked on the screen. There's no humor in his voice, no emotion at all. "The first, I make it through untouched. I come back happy, healthy, and whole and I move on with my life, try to put everything back together.
"That, unfortunately is not very likely Kim."
He raised a second finger. "The second, is that I fail. If I do, then I'm not coming back at all Kim. There won't be anything left of me to come back. If that happens Kim, move on. I hope very hard, that you never forgive me if that's what happens. That you never find out, and can heal over what I did to you, move on and be the awesomeness that you are."
Still without any emotion he raised a third finger and continued. "Kim, the third one might be the worse. There's a chance that I will come back, but if I do, well, I might not be who I am any more. I might be changed by this Kim. There might be nothing of my essential Ronness left."
Monique shuddered, and so did I. I don't know what he meant by that, I really didn't want to know what he meant by that, and I hope I never find out what he meant by that.
"If that happens, I guess there's two options. I might never recover. If that happens Kim, then just think of me as dead. Don't stay around me anymore. Whatever I am then, there's a good chance that it won't think twice about hurting you. There's the option though, that I might be salvaged. I'm not exactly laying this to chance here. I used some of my dad's mad actuary skill, and I know the possibility of this happening, so I'm making plans for it. I can't tell you, I can't put it in any kind of recording, or it might backfire horribly. But if I do come back as something else, Kim, listen to me carefully here, then bring me the flower! I can't tell you any clearer than that Kim. You'll have to figure out what I mean yourself, alright? Bring me the flower and you might be able to save me, no matter how far gone I am. And if that doesn't work, than write me off Kim. For both our good, but yours especially."
Ron glanced away and then back at the camera and opened his mouth to say something more, than stopped and shook his head. He looked like he was preparing himself.
"It's time Kim. I have to go break your heart now. Bye, KP."
He didn't say anything else, and for that I'm glad. Everything he had said so far was disturbing enough. Ron reached over and flipped off the camera. The screen on my wheels went dark, and with the lights dimmed in the classroom for when we watched it, the whole room suddenly felt very large, very frightening. It seemed to re-affirm everything Ron had said, about how there were things in the world that we had no idea about, that were different and organic and strange and that apparently they weren't friendly and wouldn't feel anything to crush us, destroy us completely with the unfeeling cruelty of a kid with a magnifying class hovering over ants.
Monique didn't seem to know what to say after that. Her hand crept into mind, clutching for comfort. I tried to give what little I could.
"Kim will find him. You'll see. She can do anything, and that includes finding Ron and brining his sorry butt back here, and making everything right."
"Yeah," she whispered back.
Except she didn't. Even when she came back with that Japanese chick I saw a few times, whose name I finally learned was Yori, even with Wade scouring every computer in the world, forsaking sleep to do so, even with every favor from every client from every corner of the world working on it, she didn't. Whatever Ron had done, well I guess he had bought enough time to do it. He was gone.
And he stayed gone for another six weeks. Then he came back. And he had been right. He wasn't Ron anymore.
We were with Drakken and Shego at the time. Even with Ron gone, even with Kim tearing the world apart to find him, missions still happened. I don't think even Drakken knew what his plot was this time; it was so freaking inane and stupid. Without Ron there, Kim had apparently taken into consideration what he had said about how he had backed her up, and decided that in order to keep herself safe so she could keep on looking for the Ron-man she'd keep back up around. Wade stepped up a lot in that regard. I think the field work was good for him. He had lost some weight, grown more confident in the world outside the room he usually locked himself in. But sometimes Wade was just better off in the center of his digital hive. He was just able to do more for Kim that way, finding info, hacking, taking care of things behind the scenes every bit as well as he had before Ron disappeared. But that meant that someone had to step up to give Kim that little edge in the field that Ron had always provided. Rufus was there, and the little naked mole rat was proving as useful as he always had, though he was a bit more grim now. Nowadays me and Monique would come along some times. We'd do our best to keep out of trouble, try to be the one who hit the self destruct button while Kim took care of everything else, and then we'd all high tail it out of there amidst explosions and aplomb. Let me tell you something, my respect for Ron had jumped up like a billion points after a few of those sitchs. Finding self destruct buttons were a lot harder than he made it look!
The DVD of Ron had by now made its rounds through all the appropriate circles. Kim had spread it from person to person, trying to find someone who knew anything about what Ron had been talking about, about what he could be into. That Yori chick apparently was a big help there. I'm not sure what the story is but apparently she was connected to the weird in the same way Ron had apparently been. It lent a lot of credence to his explanation, but it was still so vague that nobody was really able to figure out precisely what it was that he was going to do. The 'rents, both Possible and Stoppable, had seen it by now too. The Stoppables had been unnerved by it, and now their disapproval had vanished, transforming into outright worry for their missing boy. The Possibles, well that was a mixed bag. There were still harsh feelings for the heartache involved, mostly from Ms Dr P, and mostly in support of her daughter. But Mr. Dr P seemed relieved. He had always worried about his daughter, and too find out that not only had Ron been stepping up more than everyone had possibly imagined to keep her safe, and had stepped up even further in order to make sure she stayed safe, well, I think he might have scrapped the one man black hole mission completely.
Kim had been busting head left and right, in her circles. I don't think a plot foiled went without some kind of interrogation around Ron somewhere in there. Most of the super villains didn't even know who she was talking about. Ron had apparently been really good at keeping his head below eye level. Heck, the Seniors had even stepped up to help. Senior Senior Senior had really liked the kid, seeing as Ron had been the one to give him the idea for his new super villain hobby, and was just so unshakably polite and refined that he considered it his gentlemen's duty to help. Senior Senior Junior, well, while shallow had did his part as well. Mostly useless, but tried anyway. That had earned them major brownie points from Kim, but not even all the money in the world seemed able to snoop out the missing member of Team Possible.
I think the only one who had taken this nearly as hard as Kim had was Rufus. He was not at all proud of himself for having been taken in by Ron's ruse. The idea that the naked mole rat hadn't known his owner and friend as well as he had thought had made him morose. I think that if he had hair, it might be falling out now. It wasn't an infrequent sight now to see Rufus and Kim at Bueno Nacho, splitting nacos in memory of their lost friend. As though somehow if they bought one then the missing Ron himself would waltz through the door, nose in the air like a mouse scenting cheese and sit down next to them like nothing had happened.
School had moved on too. Barely anyone remembers the Bonnie/Ron/Kim drama. Heck, even the Mankey/Brick drama was passé now. Now it's the Bonnie/Tara drama that's in high demand. And no, I do not find myself occasionally pausing and drooling at the thought! No matter what Monique might be trying to imply. I'm completely loyal and with eyes only on my Moni! Seriously!
Whatever the case, Kim and I were out in the middle of the Mediterranean and had destroyed the doomsday machine whose purpose I am still unclear about, and had actually managed to accomplish it without destroying the base. We even had Drakken and Shego tied up, and were getting ready to call Global Justice for pickup, when we got the call that we'd been waiting for.
When the Kimmunicator went off, Kim was glowing with pride over a job well done, and I was hovering near by grinning like a loon for having successfully taken down a great number of henchmen. When Kim answered it, she only made it half way through her customary, "Hey Wade, what's the sitch," when she was interrupted.
"It's Ron! They found him!"
If we hadn't already taken care of them, the two villains could probably at this point just gone ahead and taken over the world. Kim and I had more important things to worry about as of right this second.
"They have?! Where is he? How is he? Where's are ride? How quick can I get there? What's he…" Kim snapped all this out so fast that even if Wade could have answered it he'd have been cut off. Her fingers were wrapped around the Kimmunicator so hard they were turning white, and the casing was beginning to creak and groan at the pressure. Wade was typing fast even as he spoke to us. He interrupted her just as quickly as he had before.
"It's a hit on the facial recognition software I had looped into all the major hospitals security systems! It's a ninety eight percent chance of being him! I'm looping the system to my computer now for confirmation, just a sec…" he trailed off and hit a button. I was crowding Kim now so I could see it too, and that's why I was able to see Wade freeze, and his eyes widen. Then his face went white. The kind of white that matched Kim's fingers, as all the blood seemed to leave his face. Then his face tinged, went green, all the while him sitting there, not doing anything. Kim noticed it too, and spoke up immediately.
"Wade? Wade!? What is it? What's going…."
Wade was really on a roll. For the third time he interrupted Kim. This time, he did it without words. He spun around, turned to the side, and then we heard him vomit. Oh no. This isn't good. This really isn't good.
Draken and Shego had taken notice, and were staying still. I think they were maybe trying to figure out some way to escape while we were distracted, though it might have been curiosity too. They saw enough of Kim and Ron that even they had been curious about what had happened to the "Buffoon" and "the sidekick whose name escapes me".
Finally Wade stopped being sick, and brought his face up to the screen. His excitement was gone, now grim, but his work was every bit as fast as it was before. Faster even. More driven.
"Wade? Wade what is it?" Kim had gone quiet. The excitement that had driven her before had been replaced with chilly dread. Something was wrong. That much was obvious.
"Its…its him." Wade finally managed to work out. "He's in bad shape, but it's definitely him.
"Bad?" Kim said that in a voice that was perfectly controlled and perfectly calm. She had gone completely still. I can't tell if she was preparing for the worst, or simply too shocked to feel anything.
Oh god, I prayed. He knew this could happen. Whatever had happened to him, Ron had known. He had said so himself. He'd warned us, though we didn't know it at the time. He'd known something like this was going to happen. For a while there, I had thought that maybe he'd been over reacting when he said that he absolutely had to keep Kim away from him. Oh god, I don't want to know, I don't want to know what happened to him. If it had Wade retch at the sight then I don't want to know….
"He'd been standing there for fifteen minutes before anyone talked to him. He looks… They must have thought it was a prank. Nobody can look like that and still be walking…." Wade was murmuring, and his fingers were flying over the board. Drakken and Shego were showing remarkable self preservation skills and staying absolutely still. They both knew how Kim could get when Ron came up these days. They didn't want whatever was about to be unleashed to come down on them. "The initial medical report is coming in." Wades eyes kept darting left and right as spoke, obviously reading it and summarizing. His voice had gone analytical, unemotional. Like he was trying to shield himself from what he saw, reduce it to just facts, to de-humanize it. "Trauma spanning seventy eight percent of body. Lacerations, punctures, avulsions, evidence of evisceration, evidence of flaying…."
"Oh snap," Drakken said and now he was looking pale, and sick as well.
"Umm, what? What does all that mean?" Shego murmured. I didn't know either. The terms sounded bad, they sounded medical and horrible and bad, like they happened in the lairs of monsters. Oh god, I kept praying, I don't want to know, I don't want to know. God, don't do this…
Kim was looking at Drakken, and Wade had trailed off, his fingers still flying and his eyes still darting. Drakken shrank under that look, before turning his head to the side and shuddering.
"Lacerations are cuts, punctures are holes…"he finally ground out. Each word was stab in my ear, each sound a violation of my faith. "Avulsions are when things that should be there aren't," he continued, "evisceration is when things that should be on the inside are on the outside….Flaying is when the parts that should be holding things in aren't there anymore…."
"Whoa," Shego got out. She looked green, but she always looks green. Rather than look sick, she looked more impressed. Kim seemed to think so too, and she had gone still. Shego hadn't noticed, and seemed lost in introspection. The next words out of her mouth probably saved her life, and she didn't even realize it. "And you said he walked into the hospital himself? I guess the buffoon is tougher than I thought."
This brought a new horror to my eyes, like the layer of some evil onion that was being peeled back piece by piece. He was walking. With wounds so bad that even the doctors thought it was a joke at first, he was walking. This meant he was conscious, which meant he was feeling….
God, why did you have to tell me?
"Wade, how long till I can be there?" Kim said.
Wades eyes shot up. "I'm calling in the big favors. Two hours."
"Please and thanks," she said. Her voice still had no emotion in it.
Wade had one more bit to add. "Kim, since he's still conscious, they've been questioning him over what happened. The only reason we found him was because of the recognition program. The doctors think that its trauma induced amnesia. He doesn't even know his own name right now."
Oh god. The words from the DVD came back to me. What was it he had said? "I might be changed by this Kim. There might be nothing of my essential Ronness left."
Damn you God. I didn't want to know this.
The flight back was quiet. Wade hadn't joked about the big favors. I don't know whose arm he twisted, but the flight that picked us up probably legally didn't exist. I didn't know we even had things capable of going mach two while still carrying people in it without the g-force pulping the flesh organs of those within. The ones who picked us up tried to be cheerful. They obviously looked at Kim fondly, but it didn't take much before they picked up that this Kim was different from the one they were used too. There were no smiles or cheer. No conversation or small talk. There weren't even any please or thank yous. When we arrived Kim didn't thank them for the ride, just departed the plane at a dead run, her face still expressionless. This put off the pilots pretty bad, but I think the combination of her actions, the destination, and the fact that I wasn't expressionless might have clued them in on just how serious this was for her. My expression might have helped the most. The pale sick looking kid sweating with fear and worry probably helped them figure out how bad this is by a lot. I was off the plane just as fast as Kim.
At sometime during the course of our flight, Wade must have contacted others. If Ron didn't even know his own name right now, than the only ones who knew who he really is were probably me, Kim, Wade, Drakken, and Shego. However when we both raced in to the hospital, we found both Ms Possible and Mr. Stoppable there waiting for us. Both were white as sheets. It seemed to be a common condition for those who cared for Ron.
Though I'm sure Kim had been intending to race past them and to Ron's side, but her mother stepped into her path and wrapped both arms around her daughter. Kim seemed to struggle for a second before acquiescing to the embrace, though her own arms didn't rise to return it. Her impatience to go to the side of her best friend vibrated through her, like the electric hum through a converter box.
"Kimmie," Dr Possible whispered. She held her daughter like a lifeline clutching Kim to her chest hard. I could almost feel her thoughts, almost see the train they followed from across room. I could tell that Dr Possible was also recalling the DVD and most likely one particular segment of it. When Ron had said that everything he did was to keep Kim away from his fate. Dr Possible wasn't hugging Kim to try to provide her support. She was hugging her to affirm that it wasn't HER daughter in there, looking like that, having gone through that. I think Kim new that too, because she finally pushed her mother aside completely, her face still collected.
"Mom," Kim said. "Where is he?"
Mr. Stoppable spoke up. He was sitting down, and had his face cupped in his hands. He looked old, and tired, and scared. He looked broken.
"Down the hall, Kimberly. Third door on the left." Before she could dart off, he spoke up again, stopping her. "Kim….Kim it's bad. He won't allow the doctors to sedate him, or treat his wounds. Despite everything, he won't let them near him. The only thing he'd accept is a pair of pants and some sutures and now he's just standing there, in the room they gave him by the window in the dark. He didn't recognize me or your mother." His voice tightened, and Kim's eyes finally showed something besides resolve to be at her BF's side. They tightened too in sympathy. "How can I let his mother and sister see him like this? I tried to call my wife and tell her not to come, but she won't believe me. She can't see him like this…."
He trailed off, sounding lost. Dr. Possible spoke up. "Kim, you shouldn't go in there…" she began, and Kim spun on her, her eyes showing something besides the ice they'd held for the last two hours.
Kim had found her fire again, and she let it out on her mother. "Don't you dare, Mom! Don't you dare!" Before her mother had a chance to even try to stop her or speak up, she spun and fled down the hall towards the door Mr. Stoppable had pointed at. I followed, my pace slower, as my dread over what I was about to see nearly caused my breath to stop in my throat. But I couldn't stop. Ron was my friend. It didn't matter what he looked like now, what he acted like. He had never held my own deformities against me, had always welcomed me with un-shadowed eyes. I had to see if I could do the same for him. I pulled up behind Kim at the door. Her hand was on the knob, clenched, but for some reason it wouldn't turn. The expression on her face showed her resolve, but also her fear. I too heard once again the words, "There might be nothing left," and then I reached out and put my hand on hers. She started, glancing to see me, and I give her my 'resolve face' and turn our hands. She nodded, and together we pushed the door open.
The room wasn't dark, though the lights were off nonetheless. The window was facing south, and the sunlight of the spring afternoon drifted in easily. The first thing that struck me was the smell. It was coppery, the smell of blood, of clean and un-festered wounds. But there was something else there, a sweet scent that almost took me a second to place. Is that vanilla?
He was standing opposite us, at the window like his father had said. He held one of his arms in front of him, and the other was moving around it in a steady delicate fashion. I caught a glimpse of a needle, and the flicker of some suture thread that swayed out of the shadow of his body as he moved the needle. Oh God. Is he sewing himself back up? By himself, without any anesthetic or medication? The action was so bizarre, so morbid, that both Kim and eye stood frozen in the doorway, no more than two feet in from the door. The tableau held. So many things raced through my head. Apologies, consolations, encouraging words, questions; none of them seemed appropriate when faced with his new appearance.
His hair was gone. For some reason that was the first descriptive sentence I could think of. It must have been out of sheer self preservation that that was the only thing I could think to point out. Everything else about him had been ruined.
It looked as though he had walked through a carwash. But instead of the round spinning cloths that you see, there had been spinning blades and needles instead. His body was a map of horror. I tried to find one specific one to point out, to attribute to something, but nothing in my mind could possibly account for this. And then it struck me. For all the wounds that covered him, all the gaping holes in his body, none were bleeding. All of them were gaping and fresh looking, not a scab anywhere. But no red liquid dripped out of them. It was as though the veins had all been missed, or he was wearing some bizarre body suit, a tasteless Halloween costume. It was suddenly easy to see why no one had come rushing to his aid the moment he had stepped foot in here. It was just too violent, yet too clean to actually be real. His skin looked pale, the kind of pale that is nearly translucent, like the white of the too thin belly of some kind of cave dwelling fish. Even his pants, which were ironically the only thing that he was wearing, were white. He looked like an apparition. He looked like he was already dead.
"What city is this?" he asked us, his voice a whisper in the air.
"What?" Kim stuttered. She too had been transfixed by the sight before her. Everything we had heard of his condition, all the imagining we did about what we would find on the way here, nothing had prepared us for the truth.
"What city is this?" he repeated.
"Middleton," I answer, Kim still seeming taken aback by this new Ron.
"Do you know who I am?" Ron asked us.
This time Kim jumped in, taking a step forward, her voice shaky but clear. "You're Ron Stoppable, my oldest friend and recent boyfriend." There's no doubt in her voice at the last part. None of the pain in her heart that his betrayal had placed there could stand in the face of what had happened here. There was no comparing the two.
"Ah," he whispered again. He didn't say anything else for a moment. I'm not sure if Kim was expecting her confession and her presence to spark something in him, to make him remember her. It didn't. Ron spoke again, this time turning to face us. "What is it you desire of me?"
It was his eyes. They weren't brown any more. I'd find out later that they had achieved a state of hyper dilation. That the pupils had simple expanded to the point that the iris was completely covered by it. That in that state his eyes must have been receiving light so fiercely that it must have caused agony in the lighted places, and allowed for perfect vision in the dark. But the only thing I could think, seeing the flesh of his face break and stretch, his wounds puckering with each motion of the muscles beneath his skin, with those eyes, completely black except for the pale of the sclera around them, was that all my life, I had been wrong.
There is no God. Not if something like this could exist