A Pinstriped Finger's My Only Friend (5 page)

BOOK: A Pinstriped Finger's My Only Friend
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(I feel it because he throws his hands back to catch himself. I sink right in like a ball bearing into a cotton ball.)

Judd hangs there, pressed halfway into the cushiony ceiling, and breathes fast. "Holy crap!" Again, he's in a state of shock.

(Though, y'know, maybe he should've
expected
a little flotation after the way his puffball pa stayed airborne with the greatest of ease.)

"Push off," I tell him. "Aim for the pile of string down there."

He clamps his eyes shut. "But this doesn't make any
sense
!
None
of it does!" His heart's racing.

(I can feel his pulse--
our
pulse--push faster through my capillaries.)

"Dude!" I jab his palm hard. "Get a grip!" It's one of my favorite sayings.

(Of
course
it is! I'm part of a
hand
.)

I jab him again for good measure. "It doesn't
matter
if this makes sense, does it? You just have to
deal
with it!"

Judd eases his eyes part-way open. "But it's all
crazy
. Or
I'm
crazy."

"No duh, big brain!" I jab him again, digging in like a freakin'
snake fang
. When I strike, I hear him inhale sharply between his teeth.

(That'll learn ya!)

I think he's paying attention now, so I press the attack. "Here's a fact, Jack! You still gotta
get by
. Either that or
give up
. What's it gonna be?"

Judd's quiet for a moment. Then, I feel him tense up. "Can't believe I'm letting a
pinky
finger
tell me what to do."

(Where's my witty retort, you may ask? Oh, I've
got
one, and it's a
lulu
. Bet your ass the dude's ears are gonna be burnin'.)

(Except before I can let him have it, he distracts the
fudge
outta me by pushing off from the ceiling.)

The two of us sail downward, aiming straight for the pile of string. As we go, Judd flips himself around so we're coming in feet-first...

(Instead of
head
-first or even worse,
pinky
-first!)

...so maybe he's getting the hang of it somewhat after all.

(I credit my kick-butt pep talk! You
know
it
rocked
.)

The floor landing turns out to be just as soft as the ceiling one. We touch down in a spongy material with plenty of give, so the impact is zero.

"Okay, nice job." I say it grudgingly. "You get major props, dude."

"Thanks." Judd inhales deeply and nods. "I still smell lilac."

"Then answer the damn phone!" I jab him again.

He stands over the pile of string and gives it a good, long stare. "How am I supposed to do
that
?" He nudges it with his toe.

(Do I have to do
everything
for this guy?)

"Pick up a piece," I tell him. "Talk into it."

"Talk into the
string
?" Again, he nudges the pile.

And the pile nudges back.

(It does more than
that
, actually!)

Suddenly, a length of white string leaps off the pile and wraps itself around his foot...

(Fast! It moves really
fast
!)

...and then it keeps
going
, winding around his ankle, lower leg, upper leg...

(Why isn't it
stopping
?)

...then his abdomen, torso...

"
No
!" Judd's voice sounds panicky, falling-off-a-cliff hysterical. "Oh my God,
no
!"

(All my awesome pep-talking flies out the
window
.)

(But that's the
least
of my worries at this point!)

...then the string spins around his chest, his shoulders, up his
neck
, down his
arms
...

(No!!)

...heading straight for his hands...

(No, please, not the
fingers
!
Not the fingers, man!)

...and then we're both engulfed. Judd and I are wrapped head to toe...

(Finger! Make that head to
finger
!)

...in white string, wound up like mummies, one big, one little...

(Size doesn't
matter
and don't you
forget
it!)

...cut off from the outside world by this lilac-smelling shroud.

We wait there a moment in darkness, our movements restricted by the binding string. Judd's heart is beating incredibly fast, working overtime under the stress.

Then, all of a sudden, we are swept by a storm of sensory impressions. They wash over us from all directions, transmitted by the string, creating a mosaic of messages that rely on neither sound nor sight.

We feel/taste/smell her presence, the presence of Kaela coming through the line. We smell/feel/taste her intentions, and we understand instantly what she wants.

The smell of lilac perfume. The taste of sweet kisses. The touch of warm skin against puffballs.

She wants a
date
. She wants it
tonight
.

(Heck of an interesting date, if you ask me!)

The message isn't lost on Judd. The sensory mosaic gets through to him. "Not tonight!" He still sounds on the verge of panic. "I don't feel good!"

Maybe Kaela doesn't hear him, because she keeps on sending. If anything, the sensory impressions become stronger, more detailed.

(More
enticing
.)

(
Her
version of enticing, that is.)

"How do I tell the string I can't see her tonight?" Judd says it in the voice of a man who can't believe he's asking the question.

"
Think
it!" I have to shout through the layers of string between us. "Focus on being
sick
, on the way it makes you
feel
. Then push your feelings toward her with your mind."

"I don't want to see
anybody
right now! I'm
losing
it!"

"Then do what I said," I tell him. "Focus in and really
think
about your
feelings
. Imagine you're beaming them into her mind."

Kaela's sense messages keep coming, more potent than ever.

(She's makin' me
blush
!)

Then, Judd clenches his fists...

(That hurts! I'm part of the clench!)

...clenches his teeth, too, and does what I told him. Extreme concentration is the name of the game.

He focuses on sending her every sickness-related feeling he can dredge up. I know he's trying as hard as he can...

(Give the boy a hand!)

(A finger at least!)

...even though Kaela keeps sending out wave after wave of her own special feelings directed at him. The two conflicting forces clash, striving to overwhelm each other.

Then, finally, Kaela's signal disappears.

The string wrapped around Judd and me goes limp and falls to the floor. The big and little mummies stand revealed as a boy and his finger.

At which point, I can't resist saying it: "Does this mean we're not going out tonight?"

 

*****

 

Chapter 8

 

SIX AND A HALF
HOURS LATER:

 

When does a cool teenager...

(The coolest!)

...finally decide to talk it out with his own pinky finger?

When he's got no one else to talk to, that's when.

I guess that's why, after huddling on the bed for a while, lost in thought, Judd finally starts a conversation with me.

(Took him long enough!)

"What's happening to me?" His voice is quiet, very subdued, with what I'd say is a dark edge.

"You mean the weird stuff? The freak shows?"

"Yeah," says Judd. "Have I really lost my mind?"

I tap his palm. "Do
you
think you have?"

Judd raises his hand so we're face to face. "I don't know. I don't
feel
crazy. But I'm sitting here talking to
you
, aren't I?"

If I had eyes, I'd roll them. "Will you get
off
that?"

"I
must
be crazy," says Judd. "I don't know how else to
explain
this
insanity
."

I sigh...

(The finger equivalent, that is--leaning back as far as I can and flicking forward, bending at the second knuckle.)

...and then I say, "Me, neither."

Judd frowns. "I thought you'd
know
, since you're...well..." He shrugs. "Since you're part of the craziness."

"Not from where
I'm
sitting." Irritated, I cock myself to one side. "Who would you say has been more
level-headed
about all this, dude?"

"I thought it was because you were
in
on it. I thought you were another hallucination."

"I'm as real as
you
are." I point myself at him. "I
am
you.
Part
of you."

"That all of a sudden grew
blue stripes
and started to
talk
?" Judd nods sarcastically. "You couldn't
possibly
be a
hallucination
."

(Dude is
asking
for it. Doesn't he know who he's
dealing
with here?)

"Do I
feel
like a hallucination?" I give him a sharp jab in the palm.

"Cut it out!" He shakes his hand hard, which makes me dizzy. "You don't
feel
like one--but how would
I
know if I've lost my
mind
?"

I'm weaving a little when he holds me up again. "Good point."

(Another of my favorite sayings guess why!)

Judd blows out his breath and leans his head back against the wall. "I need to think this through. Why is it happening?"

"You're the one who's so sure he isn't a hallucination. You tell me." If I had arms, I'd fold them over my chest.

(If I had a chest.)

"I've been wondering if it's an
acid
trip
." Judd stares up at the drifting pastel-colored cloud streamers interspersed with a golden glow. "Except I don't take drugs." He raises his left hand and lets his fingers...

(including me)

...trail through a wispy bank of pale green mist. "Unless maybe somebody
dosed
me. Gave it to me when I wasn't looking."

The green mist feels cool against my pinstriped skin. "Do you know anyone who'd do that to you?"

"That's the thing." He brings me back down again. "I don't."

"Which doesn't mean they
didn't
."

"I guess not," says Judd. "I hope it
is
acid, because then it'll wear off soon, right?"

I nod...

(Meaning I bob up and down.)

"Then you'll know."

"But if it
isn't
..." Judd reaches up with his right hand and rubs his eyes. "This is
so
messed
up
. I don't know what's
what
anymore."

Just then, a thought rears up in its stall...

(Which I don't think is gonna go over real big.)

...and I let it out of the barn. "So what?"

Judd scowls at me. "So
what
?" The scowl becomes a sneer. "So I don't know the difference between what's
real
and what
isn't
. How's
that
for so what?"

I let the sarcasm roll off my back. "But does it matter?
Does
it?"

Judd squints.

"I mean, here we are, right?" I twirl in a little circle. "Every time we wake up, it's a different world. We don't know why, and we can't break free of it--yet--so what choice does that leave us?" I duck down, then spring back up. "We do what it takes to survive. We
play the game
."

"How do we play the game if the
rules
keep
changing
? If
everything
keeps changing?"

"We watch out for each other. We watch each other's backs."

Judd snorts. "Gee, I feel so much better now. My left pinky has my
back
."

"Damn skippy!" I lunge down and jab his palm again. "You couldn't
ask
for more hardcore backup! Why do you think they call me
Killdigit
?"

"Oww!" Judd shakes off the pain, flapping his hand back and forth...and then he smirks. "Did you say
Killdigit
?"

(No, I said "Kill
midget
," fool!)

"That's my name! You better not
dis
it!"

"Okay, okay." For the first time since the craziness started, Judd actually smiles a little.

(Which makes me happy, even though it's at my expense.)

"I'm bad news, dude!" I tell him. "Just get me
close
enough, and I'll poke
any
sucker's
eye
out!"

Judd's little smile gets bigger. "'Killdigit?' Seriously?"

"Serious as a
heart attack
!" I stand up straight, trying to look intimidating. "Just wait till the
spit
hits the fan! You'll see!"

I'm not trying to crack him up, but Judd's about to laugh...

(I
swear
it!)

...which what the heck is still a great result, at least he's not screaming or practically catatonic...

(neither one a major turn-on in a madness situation)

...but then we're interrupted by a
smell
at the door.

It hits us both at once, a super-strong aroma like burning rubber and daffodils. It wafts over us in a wave we can't ignore, unmistakably flowing from the direction of the glittery pink velvet door-thing.

"Whoa!" Judd wrinkles his nose and flaps his hands in front of his face. "What
is
that?"

Suddenly, a voice speaks up from the other side of the door. It sounds an awful lot like Judd's mom. "Judd? Honey? Are you sure you don't want supper? Your father made your favorite, muffin-free muffins, plus insensitive custard with extra beaks for dessert."

Judd stops flapping and whispers my way. "I don't want to go out there."

I whisper back. "You've gotta eat sooner or later."

"Who knows what surprises they've got in store for me?"

"This place is pretty tame," I whisper. "Compared to the last one, it's easy street. Your chances of getting attacked by walking barbed wire or a cyclops are pretty slim."

"I'm staying right here," he whispers, and then he calls out to the door-thing: "I'm still not feeling good. I think I'll just get some more rest."

"Suit yourself, honey," says Mom's voice. "I'll come back soon to check on you."

"Not necessary!" says Judd, but there's no reply. Mom...

(or whoever or whatever she is)

...has moved on, at least for now.

Judd whooshes out a super-heavy sigh and rolls over on his side, facing away from the door-thing. "I just want things back to normal."

"True dat, bro," I tell him.

(But the
real
truth is that I don't
want
things to go back the way they were. Not
all the way
, anyway. Total dangerous craziness ain't cool, but do I really
want
to go back to being a silent partner 24/7? Plus lose my
pinstripes
?)

(
Negatory
, good buddy.)

But my immediate concern is just helping Judd keep from falling apart. He clenches his fists against his chest, and I wriggle my way free and pop up to stare at him. "So we're on the same page?" I ask. "We'll get through this together?"

Judd closes his eyes and doesn't answer.

I wait a moment, and the silence continues. "Dude? You awake?"

He doesn't open his eyes, but he does talk. "Of course I am. There's no freakin' way I'm going to
sleep
tonight."

"What?" I frown, which involves scrunching up the skin on my tip so I look like a striped prune. "Why?"

He opens his eyes and stares at the wall. "Because everything changes every time I wake up. And you said it yourself, this current version is pretty tame. What if the next one's a thousand times
worse
? A
million
times worse?"

I think about it, and I can't deny he's right. Who
knows
what nightmares could engulf us on the next wakeup...
kill
us, even? "But you've gotta sleep sooner or later, don't you?"

"Maybe not." Judd shrugs. "Everything else keeps changing, right? Maybe
anything's
possible."

I hook myself over the next finger in line, considering the idea. "Okay." I tap his palm twice, approvingly. "It's worth a shot. I'll do what I can to keep you awake."

"No more
jabbing
."

"Only in emergencies." I angle myself forty-five degrees, pointing up at his face. "So what do you wanna talk about?"

He gives me a cold stare. "I'm not feeling talkative."

"Well how
else
do you plan to stay
awake
all night?" Something occurs to me, and I snap myself back away from him. "Wait, you're not thinking of..."

"Shh!" Judd cocks his head, listening. "What's that?"

I hear it, too--a loud hissing sound. "Beats me, man."

Judd rolls over to face the door-thing, and we both see the source of the noise. The center section of the glittering pink velvet covering has dissolved to reveal a pale yellow puffball creature, its red maw gaping as if in a yawn.

But that sure ain't no ordinary, everyday yawn. Clouds of sparkling silver mist are wafting out of the creature's mouth and into the room, drifting toward us.

(What
now
? I thought this place was supposed to be
Easy Street
.)

Judd wrinkles his nose. "Smells like
candy
...like
chocolate
...mixed with
farts
?"

(Got it in one, bruh!)

"Maybe now's a good time to get outta here, dude." I watch as the mist keeps coming, one big puff after another. "Getting
gassed
is not usually a
good sign
."

Judd coughs and swings his legs off the bed. He starts flapping his hands in front of his face...

(Have I mentioned how much I am
not
a big fan of that?)

...but that doesn't do much to dispel the sparkling mist. It just keeps clinging and building up around us.

"Get its attention, dude!" I shout out the words between hand-flaps. "Maybe you can get it to stop!"

Judd does what I say.

(Just like that! Can you say
Killdigit dominates
?)

"Hey!" He keeps flapping as he calls out to the puffball creature. "Cut it out!"

Voilà
.
No sooner does he say it than the mist-puffer stops its bombardment. The red maw clamps shut, leaving a pastel yellow head-puff with black dot eyes staring in at us.

"What
is
this stuff?" Judd coughs hard. "It's so
thick
."

The creature's head puff squeezes inward along the left-right axis, making some kind of expression I don't understand. Then it unsqueezes and talks in Judd's mom's voice. "It will help you sleep, honey."

As soon as she says it, Judd yawns. Little wisps of sparkling mist trickle out of his mouth; he's full of it.

"Don't worry," says puffball Mom. "It's the same sleepy steam I give you every night. Your favorite."

Judd yawns again, then coughs. He covers his mouth with his hand, his
left
hand...

(So I get
cough slobber
all over me, thanks a
spitload!
)

...and then he shakes his head hard. "I have a favorite
sleepy steam
?"

"Of course you do, honey." Mom rearranges her puffballs so her body forms the shape of a heart. "It's our very special nightly together time."

"Our special time of you
drugging
me?" Judd yawns, then coughs, then yawns. He tries to get up from the bed but only falls back down on it.

By this time, the tranquilizer mist has worked its way through Judd's system, and I'm feeling pretty sleepy myself. I get seriously droopy, slouching at the first knuckle, then slumping at the second.

(So much...)

I start to drift off, then wake as Judd coughs all over me again. But it doesn't last.

(So much for staying...)

I try to force myself to stay conscious, but I can't do it. I try to jab Judd to keep
him
awake, but I don't have the strength.

(So much for staying up all night.)

"See you..." I drift off and have to jar myself awake. "See you on the other side, Judd."

He mumbles something that I can't make out, and then he's down for the count. I know I'm only seconds behind.

Still, I struggle to resist. Maybe, if one of us can stay awake, we can hold on to this place, which is weird but not a nightmare.

(So far, anyway.)

Maybe we can avoid waking up to some true hell on Earth, overrun by serial killer clowns or human bombs or flying sharks with acid saliva. Maybe we can stand our ground just long enough to figure out how to stop this insane cycle.

BOOK: A Pinstriped Finger's My Only Friend
10.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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