20. February 2013
The Morning After
The morning broke like a borrowed china plate – or at least that’s what Nick’s head felt like. Cold pavement stretched and slithered in to his left; the sky throbbed to his right, but he couldn’t see any skittering pieces of his head. Slowly, he righted the world. The pavement fell away, the set itself under his bare feet. Sirens wailed in the distance – his feet leapt forward to run, but he stumbled and crashed into a green garbage bin. Glass chimed as the bin rolled forward. Nick gripped it to steady himself, then blinked hard. The wails passed by the end of the alley like black and white banshees. The pavement twitched once more then died and lay flat.
Nick held a hand against his head. His eyes traced down the sleeves – but… there were no sleeves. In fact, his feet weren’t just bare, all of him was. One thought crawled across his brain, which he was sure would leak out his ears at any moment, and the thought was this: “What the hell happened last night?”
Nick turned around, and he saw someone else lying in the alley, but they were fully clothed in a red hoodie – wait. That was his hoodie! He walked over and poked the guy with his toe. “Hey!” Poke. “Hey, chum, that’s my hoodie.” His next poke was arrested by a sudden realization: those were his jeans, too, or at least his belt. When he leaned forward to rummage through the pockets, his hand brushed against the man’s face. The skin was cold, and come to think of it, the lips had a blue tinge to them.
Nick shouted, “Hey, hey somebody! This guy’s dead back here! He’s dead, and he’s wearing…” Nick stopped. He was going to say, “wearing my clothes,” but he considered that might be suspicious. “I mean, here I am, naked as the day I was born –”
AND NAKED YOU SHALL RETURN.
“–and this… this stiff is wearing my clothes. What will the police make of that?” Nick was sure what the psychiatrist would make of it: something Freudian no doubt about that. It was then he decided that he needed to get out of there – and fast. Without pausing to consider the odds of a naked white boy getting across town without being noticed, Nick charged out of the alley – and spilled into a black horse drawn carriage. The door closed behind him, and the carriage lumbered forward. Nick pounded on the upholstered door, causing the lantern to swing wildly. Each time his fist hit the door, a bell sounded in the distance, reverberating like a hammer hitting a nail.
STOP HITTING THE DOOR, NICK.
Nick planted his feet on the other door and slammed his shoulder against the upholstery. The door flew open, leaving Nick half-hanging out of the carriage – by virtue of his flailing hand catching the door rail – Chicago falling away beneath him, further and further. His arm groaned, his fingers ached. Sweat slicked his grip on the brass rail. The carriage turned, Nick spilled out the door. He was going to fall!
Suddenly, something grabbed him by the back of the neck. The fingers felt rough, like fine sand paper.
YOU CANNOT GO BACK.
Nick turned to look at what grabbed him, but he just saw a flash of black cloak, then he was shoved back into the lantern-lit carriage and the door slammed shut. On his back, panting, two words caught his attention. There were etched into the dark wooden roof with some silvery metal. “Death Express.”