Saturday, 29 July 2017

Chapter 17, Part Two: Invasion of the Body Snatchers,

Wrapping up chapter 17, the usual warnings apply. Thanks for reading!

Over the course of the next hour, the body slowly reanimated. At first, shivers travelled up and down the boy’s naked flesh and even more of the preservative was expelled and drained into a grate in the floor. This was followed by more powerful twitching of the large muscles of the arms, legs, and abdomen. A wet sounding inhalation followed a hacking cough that lasted for ten minutes was the next stage of the boy’s resurrection. Eventually, his arms and legs began to move in a way that was more than random neurons firing, and he began to make whining noises that eventually turned into weak groans. Rag dropped an old quilted furniture blanket over him and stood back again to wait.

It was another half an hour before the boy was able to speak, when he did, his first whispered word predictably was, “water.” This was always the first thing a newly-revived gin asked for. It was the articulation of the body’s desperate need to take on water and begin flushing out all the salts and chemicals that accumulated after months or years soaking in preservatives.

Rag had been ready for this. As she’d come in, she’d noticed a plastic paint bucket that had been left in a corner to collect dust. She’d filled the bucket with water and now brought it over to the struggling boy. Without dignity or hesitation, he plunged his face down into the bucket and began drinking the water as quickly as he was able. She watched as his neck worked to get the water down with muscles that were nearly dry and stiff as wood, the water long since forced out of them by the brine and alcohol.

He threw up once or twice, but each time he went back, doggedly keeping at the bucket until the water was gone and his belly was swollen. Then he curled up in a ball with the blanket wrapped around himself and shivered as his body began to slowly rehydrate. He would go through two more before he was done.

It would be at least another hour before he was on his feet, but Panacea was powerful stuff, and he would recover quickly—or he would have if it had just Panacea in her little green bottle.
Doctor Knox had made a few changes to the formula and what was in there now would do all the things Panacea did, and more besides. The extra features just took a bit more time to set in.
“Where am I,” the boy whispered.

“A warehouse,” Rag provided unhelpfully. “Judging from the date on your barrel you’ve been here for five years. You’re vintage gin,” she said it with a crooked smile. The joke was an old one, and even when it was new it wasn’t really all that clever.

In a fit of Romanticism, the alchemists who first discovered the process called their creations The Djinn. They were named after the old stories about magical creatures who lived in bottles or lamps. Since the lamps the alchemists used were barrels, and since the people who came out of them smelled worse than a drunk after a three-week bender, the name was simply shortened to Gin. A few of the more persnickety alchemists still referred to them as The Djinn, but to everyone else, they had simply become Gin.

“I don’t feel well,” the boy complained. Mister Bone snorted out a dark laugh. “You’ve been dead for five years and you stink worse than shit. I’d feel poorly if I were you as well.”

“Five years?” he whispered. “Are my mom and dad here?”

Madame Rag shot Bone a quelling look and hoisted the boy to his bare feet. Despite the coldness of the room, he felt hot even through the blanket.

“What’s your name, boy?” she asked, ignoring his question.

“J-Jacob,” he chattered.

“Well Jacob, it will take some time before you’re feeling shipshape and Bristol fashion again. In the meanwhile let’s get you into something warm and let you have a lie-down.” She felt his forehead, it felt hot as an oven door. Good.

She put an arm around him and helped him through a doorway with strips of thick clear plastic hanging down from the top, through a break room and into an office space that looked as though it had once housed cubicles. Nearly all the windows had been tagged with spray paint or permanent marker in the looping whorls of urban arcana; Mohinder1, John Cusack Shakur, John3, and Jherk. There was also the usual fare of Banksy wannabes, and on one large window, a happily dancing vulva.

There were darkened paths worn into the floor from years of use set out in a grid-like pattern over the high-traffic, low pile carpeting. Phone and Internet cables sprouted limply through the floor at regular intervals like an exposed kelp forest at low tide. Lighting fixtures hung from the ceiling, some still working, some flickering fitfully, most completely dark. All along the back wall were rows of folding cots and chemical toilets, one per cot.

Madame Rag led Jacob to a folding cot in the far corner. Jacob stumbled to the bed and sagged onto it, wrapping himself with the stiff quilted blanket and curling in on himself.

Madame Rag eyed him closely. It wouldn’t be long now. The boy’s bare feet clenched and unclenched and his whole body nearly vibrated with tension. His eyes snapped open and he whimpered. “Please, Dad, I need some tomatoes,” he gasped. “Some tomatoes from the garden.” He wasn’t seeing the room anymore and his breathing, which had been quick and shallow, now became ragged and panting.

It went on like this for another five minutes, delirious nonsense words coming from his mouth and writhing on the cot before the episode finally peaked. Bone paid the boy no heed but Rag always found this part of the procedure fascinating.

Jacob’s body seemed to slump like the bank of a stream undercut by a flood, finally succumbing to the current. His eyes grew dull and began to wander slowly across the abandoned office. The tightness drained out of his muscles and he settled more comfortably onto the cot. The change only took half a minute, and at the end of that time his face was composed and his hands were resting across his chest.

He looked over to where Madame Rag and Mister Bone stood watching. “I’m ready,” he said in a calm, steady, voice said in mature tones that had never belonged to Jacob. Rag nodded and Bone grunted noncommittally. The three left the office space and returned to the refrigerated warehouse to continue their business.

If Stirling had been there, he would have seen Jacob’s ghost slowly sitting up on the cot and looking around in confusion. He would have seen Jacob catch sight of the three as they made their way out of the room and lurch after them with a look of panic on his face. He might have seen all of these things, had he been there.

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