G pressed the button for the eighth floor. "Lift going up. Mind the doors, please." They had just gone past the fifth floor when the lift shuddered, the lights went out, and they stopped between floors.
"Oh great," It was pitch black. G pulled out his phone and tapped the torch app. It cast a gloomy orange-yellow light in the lift, barely enough to see the control panel. "Not my idea of a torch. Remind me to write a review because it's definitely 'not ideal for all emergency situations'."
G pressed the alarm button. "An emergency operator will be with you shortly. Please remain calm."
A real voice emerged from the speaker and told G that an engineer would be dispatched immediately to investigate….they would be released very soon… they weren't in any danger….they should remain calm… they should make sure that any children were – "Yeah, we get the idea, thanks. Bye."
Sam sat down on the floor. G remained standing and phoned Eric with their news, then sat down opposite him so he could stretch out his legs. He closed the phone and put it back in his pocket. "Now, what?"
"We wait for the engineer. Why don't you tell me that long story you've been promising me for years?"
"Which one's that?" he asked, knowing exactly what Sam meant.
"The needles, G."
"Oh, yeah. Needles," even in the darkness he could tell that G had flinched at the word. He'd ask him about it each time his friend's fear surfaced, but G would always brush him aside, "It's really not that interesting. Don't you want to talk about the Lakers game last night?"
He hadn't told anybody the story before. It lived in the room. The room inside his head where he stored the red boxes. Each box was labelled and secured with an ornate silver padlock. Sometimes a box would leak and require a larger padlock. Once or twice a box had left, but usually they only came in. So far this year he'd added two.
Even Nate wasn't aware of the "Needles" box; the nearest one he knew about was on the shelf above, four spaces to the right, marked "Margaret Atkins".
He couldn't remember the last time he'd chosen to open a box, because opening boxes always had consequences. But not being able to see Sam's face made it a little easier to consider telling the story
"Yeah, sorry, I was just thinking," He took a deep breath, not sure what he was going to tell Sam:
Some of it?
All of it?
None of it?
"… It was when I was about seven. The orphanage decided it would be good for us if we went camping in the summer holidays. So, we were packed off to Kentucky. It rained all the time. But I kinda liked it because I could sneak out of the tent at night to explore the woods. One night I'd gone out to watch the bats and they must have got spooked because one of them flew straight at me and bit me on the arm."
"Over the next couple of days I pretended that it had been a vampire bat, and that I would suck all the blood out of the other kids at night if they didn't do exactly what I said."
Sam smiled and nodded. "That figures. So, where do the needles come in?"
"The ranger in charge of the site found out. He'd heard about a rabies case in the state and was convinced the bat could've been carrying it," he sneered, "so the idiot drove me to the hospital and convinced the doctor, too."
G paused. The volume of his voice dropped a little. "Do you have any idea what they do to you if they think you have rabies?"
"First they takes some skin samples from the wound and scrub it clean. Then they take some spinal fluid for testing. Then they start injecting you with the vaccine at the wound site. Then they inject you with more vaccine in your butt. Then they take some more spinal fluid. And they carry on like this for twenty-one days. And all this time they don't even know if you've got it."
"I had no idea,"
G stopped. He'd given him the facts and should close the lid, knowing that Sam wouldn't push him further. But a small part of him wanted to tell the rest of it, the important stuff.
"You okay, bro?"
"It was the worst three weeks of my life. These huge needles would come at me just about every day. I was locked in the isolation room so that I couldn't run away. Most of the time nobody came to see me unless it was to jab me or feed me. The doctors and nurses were all gowned up so I couldn't see their faces," he hesitated for a moment, "I dreamt about those needles... still do… sometimes."
"Wow. I'm sorry."
"Yeah, well, now you know why I hate needles."
They sat in silence for a few seconds until Sam reached out into the darkness and lightly touched his leg. "Thanks for sharing, G."
He breathed out, his voice returning to normal. "You know what's weird, though? I've never had anything against bats."
It was 02.13 the following morning and he couldn't sleep.
He'd been in bed for over an hour, and had to pick up Sam at 06.00, but he was no nearer sleep. Maybe, subconsciously, he knew that they would return tonight. Maybe telling Sam had been a very bad idea. Maybe he needed a bigger padlock.
No, wait. That wasn't it.
He realised at that moment that he'd found solace in telling Sam. He couldn't be sure yet, but maybe the box would move a couple of spaces nearer the door. He flicked off the light and locked the room behind him. He turned over to face the opposite wall and waited for sleep to come.