He didn’t know where he was going. He never did when he wandered like this. Especially when he was this drunk. Looking around, he tried to get his bearings. He could have easily taken out his phone to use GPS, but why bother? It didn’t actually matter, so he randomly chose a direction and stumbled forward.
Then he saw it. An old, abandoned warehouse. Or maybe a factory? He had never wandered in this direction before, and this wasn’t a neighborhood he would visit intentionally. Eight years in this town and he hadn’t known this was here. Some of the brick was crumbled and worn, but for how ancient the building seemed, it wasn’t in terrible shape. It wouldn’t be collapsing any time soon.
He huffed out a bitter laugh. Abandoned and broken, but still standing.
Good for you, building. Doing better than me.
Holding the half-full whiskey bottle above his head, he nodded his respect, then took a large swig.
Or maybe I should check before congratulating you. Maybe half of you’s missing or something.
Feeling a little dizzy, he kept his gaze on his feet and headed to the corner to get a full view.
The point of getting drunk and wandering aimlessly was to NOT think, but now he was contemplating the existence of this stupid building. And himself. It wasn't how he wanted to waste his time.
Hitting the end of the sidewalk, he turned and looked up, ready to scowl in anger at this warehouse or factory or whatever it was that had ruined his vacant, apathetic mood. Instead, his eyes widened in surprise.
The building was longer than he expected, running almost the entire length of the block, and covering this edge was the beginnings of a two story mural. Definitely just the beginning, but what was there was already amazing.
Amazing, and dark. The bottom was a jumble of creatures, smoky and faded and huddled together. At closer inspection, the shapes became mangled people. They had no specific sex or gender, some grasping at the ground or air, some clawing at their faces, and some with palms pressed to their ears. Their forms blended and blurred as the image rose higher, then shifted to create new creatures. Smaller, less defined, but no less miserable.
Children, he thought, craning his neck up to stare. It wasn’t a pleasant sight, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away.
“Hey, old man,” called a voice from further down the sidewalk, and his attention immediately snapped in that direction.
His head was still in a haze, and between the alcohol and the twilight, his vision was distorted, but the sound had definitely come from a child.
“What the hell’re you doing out here, old man? You look pretty prissy. Don’tcha know this’s a bad neighborhood?”
He squinted to try and see the speaker more clearly. It wasn’t entirely a child’s voice, but not quite past puberty either. Probably male. And shorter than him, for sure.
“Seriously, what the fuck’re you doing?”
The figure was approaching and he wondered whether he should panic, then quickly decided it wasn’t worth it. What was the worst that could happen? He might get mugged? Stabbed? Shot? He supposed all of those things would be fine, so he stayed still and continued to stare.
By the time he could focus, the kid was only steps away. Thirteen? An underdeveloped fourteen, or maybe an overdeveloped twelve? He had never spent much time around children, so it was hard to tell. A bit of black had also begun to seep in from his periphery and that wasn’t helping any.
“Umm... Old man?”
The kid sounded the tiniest bit concerned now, and he wondered what kind of impression he gave. He hadn’t shaved in a week, but had never been able to properly grow facial hair, so now he just had spotty, random stubble covering his jaw and neck. Combine that with his permanent bedhead, his expensive dress shirt and slacks, and the bottle of whisky in his hand – it wasn’t his best look.
“Why do you keep calling me ‘old man?’” he finally coughed out. That was probably the least important thing right now, but his wreck of a brain had latched onto it. He frowned and lowered his brow, staring down at the kid. “I’m only thirty-eight, you know?”
The kid somehow looked confused, worried, and indifferent at the same time. He was fairly certain the last one was fake though. He was experienced with faking indifference and had a good idea of what it looked like.
“That’s old to me,” the kid answered slowly, then he tilted his head. “Are you... Are you okay? You look like you’re gonna-”
That was the last he heard before everything went black and he collapsed to the concrete with a thud. Just before completely passing out, he felt hands on his shoulders, shaking him, but they were gone in a second and he was finally engulfed in a silent, empty peace.
First there was a faint beeping close by, then fainter, muffled mumbling. Next came feeling, moving from his extremities, through his body, and stopping at his head, which began to throb in pain. Then taste returned, a bitter, salty, metallic flavor that stuck to his dry tongue and throat. Finally, sight, as he squinted his equally dry eyes open to glimpse at his surroundings.
At initial glance, it was all just a collection of whites and greys. Everything blurred together and the brightness of the florescent lights blinded him, making his eyes water. Wiping away a few tears, he opened further, recognizing the shape of a counter, covered in bandages, various bottles of liquid, boxes of gloves, and a small sink on the end. His gaze drifted beside him, to the large IV pole, holding a bag of what he assumed was the normal saline solution and a compact vitals machine blinking violently. Moving again, his eyes landed on his lap, haphazardly covered in a stiff, white sheet, with a light blanket strewn at his feet.
Yet another night in the ER, he thought to himself. It wasn’t a surprise, which only made the whole thing worse. He knew he needed to pull himself together, but he wasn’t entirely sure why.
“Mr. Williams?” came a voice from somewhere ahead. Looking up, he saw a twenty-something young woman in nursing scrubs approach. “You’re awake. How are you feeling?”
“My head is about to explode, but otherwise I’m fine.”
The woman nodded, walking over to check his IV drip and jot down his vitals. “That’s from the dehydration. I’ll get you some water to sip.”
He just nodded his thanks and slouched forward a bit. She fixed his pillow and used the bed controls to lift the back so he could sit and relax.
“My name is Megan-“ She pointed to the whiteboard in the corner of the room that listed the names of his attending staff. “-and if you need anything, just hit the nurse button to call me.”
After handing him the remote connected to the bed, she smiled warmly and pointed to the TV. “You can watch something if you want. I’ll be back with some water. Would you like ice?”
He shook his head and she nodded, then headed out. Sparing the remote in his hand the briefest glance, he tossed it aside. It was the same script he heard every time, just with different names, and with a low groan, he collapsed back into the pillow. He had just woken up, but sleep would be a welcome thing right now.
“Jesus, Danny. I’m getting really sick of these late night phone calls, man.”
So much for sleep.
“Seriously, you need to take me off your emergency contact list if you’re going to keep doing this shit.” Jay was his best friend, but that didn’t make him less of an asshole, and he groaned again.
“I’m going to take you off just so I don’t have to listen to you bitch,” he said, low and strained, his throat still dry and his head pounding at every word. “Shut the hell up. My head is killing me.”
Jay pulled a chair bedside, legs scrapping along the waxed floor as he did, then flashed him a stupid grin. He was always grinning like an idiot.
“No surprise there, jackass. You downed enough whiskey and God knows what else for five people.” His friend’s volume faded as he spoke, along with the grin. “You really need to stop doing this shit.”
Danny was well aware he needed to stop. Stop drinking, stop wandering, stop passing out in the street, and most of all, stop living his life trapped with this crushing depression. Easier said than done.
“How did I get here?” he asked, not wanting to dwell on his uncontrollable spiral into hell.
Jay’s grin was back and he leaned into his chair. “Some kid called nine-one-one. You’re even scaring children now.”
“Scaring?” He kind of remembered the twelve-year-old or fourteen-year-old, though the image was pretty foggy. And he distinctly remembered being called an old man. “He was scared?
“Shit, yeah. He ran away when the paramedics showed up, though. Couldn’t get any information out of him.”
Danny tried to remember more, vaguely recalling the hint of concern in the kid’s voice and being shaken after he fell, but otherwise that stranger seemed like a punk. Why would he be frightened of some ‘old man’ passing out on the street?
“Anyway, doc said you can go once your drip finishes.” Jay glanced at the bag of fluid, then sighed and slouched a bit more. “I already called Larry and told him you wouldn’t be in tomorrow.”
Danny huffed out a laugh, then turned to his friend and met his grin with the smallest smile. “Thanks. For putting up with me.”
“You should thank me. You owe me.” Jay wasn’t kidding, but his worry was also obviously genuine, and Danny’s smile grew slightly. “You can at least buy me dinner or something.”
“Sure,” he replied. “It’s a date.”
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