(J02E08) Bad Trips/Manavi/Exit Wounds

J02E08

revenants in the mirror are closer than they appear

Bad Trips

Staggering wild-eyed through the same fucking hallway, armed with a nightstick and two scalpels, footsteps from the direction of the Doctor’s auction room, choice between staircase and another corridor turning inwards to

Bharadwaj! Where the fuck are you going?” But your friend already halfway to the first floor. Footsteps getting nearer, louder.

“Vrinda could be captive here,” his voice receding whap-whap up the stairs. “They had enough thugs to force our hand. Maybe they got her, too.”

“God, I fucking hope not,” you follow him, thinking of blue chords and the thumbs of the keyboardist. Up and then down. “Where’d they grab you?”

“Boxie’s boat. This morning.” The banister streaked red by the ruins of his left index. “Horrid bloody process, man. Bad, bad trip. Or rather: trips.”

“Whaddaya mean?” Surfacing with a burst of rapid blinks. A third-floor corridor. The lights brighter, the general decor a bit warmer.

More the sort of place people would go voluntarily.

“It comes and goes, man,” Bharadwaj stopping next to a large one-off room with Inventory printed on the door in block letters, “but the trip don’t stop. Some shit about concentration in the bloodstream.” Padlock protesting against nightstick. A dull crack. “The Doctor jerked off some medical jargon I didn’t understand. Crashed four times before you found me.”

“You mean four episodes?” He rummages through a large filing cabinet that says U-Z. You bust the lock on a makeshift walk-in closet. A hundred used scrubs and a wall-rack covered with scuffed shoes. You find your boots and toss him his.

“That how it works? I couldn’t even tell shit wasn’t real at first.” He overturns the cabinet and stands in the middle of room, panting. You spot your sooty trouser leg poking from a large bin. “I been here before, Jimmy. She kept asking if I was messing with harder stuff, and I never told her they’d tossed me around four rehabs before she found me. Told her to stay the fuck out of my shit, instead. Maybe I should be in prison.”

“Come on, man. Don’t be like that.” Your shirt shredded to strips. Your wallet missing cash and card and inner partition. “We’ll save her and clear your name. What are third acts for, anyway? Plus – I dunno – the stakes here seem more life and death than the coke. Which – let’s face it – wasn’t even yours, right?”

“Not what they caught me with.” He doesn’t meet your eye. “Met this dolled-up singing Goth m’fucker the week before. Was helping him score a giant bushel of weed. I think he mighta spiked my meds during the lead-up, somehow.”

You wonder if you have time for a long expositional give-and-take about campus myths and birdshit.

Footsteps in the corridor decide it for you.

“You should take this, man,” you try to give him the picture of Vrinda you stole from his landlord, “You need it more than I do.”

“Um, no offense, Jimmy,” he gives you a strange look while adjusting his grip on the nightstick, “But we ain’t giving up that easy.”

Then the footsteps reach the other end of the door and you raise both scalpels and he raises an eyebrow and you nod in unison and then he is running towards the door and you follow him to an almost certain

 

Manavi

Fading into an amble down a tree-lined avenue, next to Jimmy driving Gwen Stacy at an even 30km/h, helmetless, eyes cloudy but hands firm on handlebar.

Swaddled behind him in a makeshift sheet harness – Manavi. Weakened by chemo and almost wraithlike as she holds him.

You remember how her hands felt. Warm but frail, the wristbones smooth and pronounced as pebbles.

She slips her hand under his shirt at the next redlight. “You can go a bit faster, you know.”

“What, and end your wonderful run at second base?” Her hand engulfed whole by his, so much more easily than before. His eyes cloudier.

“Hey, Snivels McGee. Where we going?”

“The Ridge, ma’am.”

“And why are we going to the Ridge?”

“To conduct a fi- to conduct a walking tour of the spots we have desecrated over the years.”

“Yes,” her fingers tighten around his thumb. “And also to get through your dumb noggin that this is what young people do. Someday soon the world will hit us over the head with its games, and you will have to start worrying about the future. But not right now, Jimmy. Right now you go out there and you live and love and get your stupid heart broken again. There is still time.”

“If you’re breaking up with me I’m gonna have to ask you to disembark.”

They laugh. You laugh. They kiss. You laugh. Someone whistles. You laugh. An impromptu symphony of indignant honks. You laugh, and the horn section laughs, on the sly.

The evening sun drips like a blob of red paint at the edge of the sky.

Then just as the light turns green she stops trying to give him a hickie and says softly, almost to herself, “remember me as I was.”

Nobody laughs after that.

 

Exit Wounds – I

“Jimmy! Jimmy!!”

At the head of the stairs on the top floor, only one bloody scalpel left, throbbing new welt just above your ear.

The sound of Bharadwaj yelling your name somewhere below, over and over and

“Jimmy!”

“Up here!”

“Where?” A head pokes into the stairwell two floors below. “You okay, man?”

“I think so.” You look around for clues. There is a man lying facedown in a pool of blood by your feet. You toe him in the gut and he groans. “Got a bleeder here. Think we were fighting or something.”

“Got him good, then?” clop-clop-clop rising in decibels before Bharadwaj up the stairs with a flashlight, one eye swelling shut, nightstick replaced by a large pistol. “These fuckers were packing some serious-” his circle of illumination passes your welt and travels to the ceiling “-mother of fuck.”

You follow the light.

The door behind you is scarred with half a dozen bulletholes pointing to the brick roof in a jagged line.

You scramble to check yourself for unexpected exit wounds.

Bharadwaj trains the pistol on the thug and flips him over with his foot.

There is a scalpel lodged beneath his shoulderblade and an assault rifle tucked under his limp arm. You pluck the latter gingerly, like a rotting tomato.

“These are the worst fucking henchmen I have ever seen.”

“And we have two guns,” says Bharadwaj, “We should-”

“Not two,” you interrupt him, “just the one.”

You remove the magazine from the rifle and crack it underfoot.

“What the fuck, man-”

“We both know it is easier to kill with guns that spit faster.” You toss the bleeding thug his new paperweight. “Are we killers, Bharadwaj?”

“I- well- no.” He looks down at his gun and then at you. “No, Jimmy, we’re not.”

“Then let’s try and save the big gun for scare tactics, yeah? Was the Doctor downstairs?”

“Just these idiots.”

“Great. I don’t think they know much. We could hit the other one until he spills something useful, but-”

“Yeah, he won’t be speaking anytime soon.” Bharadwaj scratches his head with the pistol. “I broke his hands with the nightstick. He’s pretty out of it.”

“See what I mean? Attention-deficit and brittle. It’s like these guys want to lose or something.”

“I sure hope the Doc feels like fighting.”

“He’s probably still downstairs trying to reassure a bunch of wannabe-terrorists they don’t know gunshots from popping corn.”

“Yeah, well,” he checks the magazine, “I got enough for a non-lethal demonstration.”

“Okay, look.” You stop leaning against the door for a moment. “My knees feel like they could go again at any moment. And I would like to believe there isn’t another badly-timed episode coming, but there is no way to tell.”

“Maybe run down and try to find the exit, man?”

“No. We leave together. And we take Vrinda if she happens to be here.” Up and then down. You resist the urge to puke on the heavy. “Just give me a moment to catch my breath, maybe save this arsewipe from bleeding out. Let me retrieve the other scalpel. Then we find out if the physician can heal his self.”

“Don’t get killed over Mr Can’t-Aim-Worth-Shit here.” He spares the bulletholes one last glance. “You’re a lucky bastich, Jimmy. See ya downstairs.”

You sink to your knees after he’s left. Your hands shake too damn much to hold the gun, let alone pull a blade from your leaky doormat.

There are no exit wounds on your body, but your mind insists on some sort of payment for dancing this close to the big sleep.

Funnily enough, you don’t mind.

So you drop the rifle.

“This could’ve been it, Manavi,” you whisper to no one. “We could’ve been done. This could’ve been it. I’m so sorry.”

The thug groans so you drop the carcass of the rifle on his head.

“All your fault,” you tell him.

He takes the hint and falls silent.

You take a few quick breaths, pull the scalpel, press his soiled kerchief into the gushing hole, and tie it with a strip of his shirttail before the shakes take you again.

You already know what the next flashback is going to tell you.

You also know you would rather jump off the roof than relive the worst fucking day of your life in the third person.

So you leave the silent thug in his pool of blood and stumble through the holey door, your knees knocking together but taking your weight, the night settling cold and windy around your shoulders like a frozen spiderweb.

There is a parapet at the edge but it barely grazes your shin.

It won’t prove an obstacle.

You wipe your eyes with the back of your hand, feel a thicker layer of blood replace the ordinary damp of your tears, and try to think of something apt to say before you return to not speaking for good.

“Nothing to be done,” you finally quote aloud.

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that, Jimmy,” the Doctor announces ominously from the writhing mess of shadows beside the doorway, “we still have a lot to – wait, are you fucking crying?”

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(J02E07) Bad Trips – IV (Frankenkeys/Bharadwaj)

Frankenkeys

Whitewashed corridor stretching away on both sides. Unbroken line of bolted doors, unmarked, square peepholes smashed or blacked out or painted the same unsettling green-and-rust as the doors.

Faint drip of blue chord in distance, slap of bare feet on concrete: whap-whap-whap, nearer to the disembodied music than your own body.

Chords slowing into a shrill cacophony of discordant notes as you round the bend. Bright lights flickering in time to the anti-music.

A large well-lit room, half a dozen laptops connected to weird-looking machines, tangle of wires vanishing behind an upright gurney holding the Reverend’s dead keyboardist, green bolts in his neck and his temple, skin the color of a gutted ashtray after a long weekend indoors.

“Observe,” the good Doctor addressing two webcams and a disinterested old man working a steadicam. “Brain-death sets in during the first hour despite our best efforts at deterrence. At this point the corpse has been sub-zero for thirty-six hours. Most of his memories are fishfood. It would take careful calibration just to retain motor function… but here, at M-Ward 4, we are careful enough to render death obsolete.”

No cranking of levers or harnessing of lightning or grotesque gargoyle assistants. Just an old man in a lab coat pressing a couple of buttons on a sleek black laptop.

Brief untimed flicker of light and then – simple as a power-surge – the dead keyboardist opening his eyes his filmed-over red and grey eyes twitching his shoulder and knees twitching his eyelid bulging vein in neck twitching

Low grunt from the undead keyboardist but no real motion.

“He might be reflexively pained by the botched melody, being by profession an eight-bit sessions musician in his lifetime. But he will do nothing to remedy the assault on his ears. He will… not… move a muscle unless expressly instructed.” The Doctor’s pauses punctuated by furious taps on the laptop’s tiny plastic keyboard.

Lights dimmed, music killed, cameras fixated on the dead keyboardist, a hideous lightshow of blinks and weird grunts that now marked his lost breaths, his thumbs up and down, up and down.

“The bidding, ladies and gentlemen, begins at a million dollars for each bio-neural interface. A further twenty for the control software.”

You creep into the room – maybe to free the dead keyboardist, maybe to slit the Doctor’s throat with your single bloody scalpel.

“The thinking cap is reapplicable if, by chance, your stiff happens to be overcome or otherwise… incapacitated. No reverse-engineering, though. Our security protocols are very thorough, as is the self-destruct mechanism.”

Your first step into the room reveals two burly guys with cattleprods and very large holsters just past the doorway.

“Also: we are not looking to trade for dirty bombs or local currency, so the gentlemen in black are advised not to return until their paisa-pinching overlords can pull their heads from their asses and procure dollar bills.”

The heavies are too fixated on Frankenkeys to see you. You creep back out before your luck changes.

“Do I hear the first bid?”

Running out into the corridor again, locked door upon locked door on either side, until you peer into the only open door before the next bend and see

 

Bharadwaj

Sobbing quietly chained to an upright gurney, Bharadwaj. Missing a third of his left index finger naked except for a filthy rag hair lank and neck an ugly bruise; Bharadwaj. Bleeding nose shaking his head slowly not looking up: Bharadwaj.

His sole watcher one of the two home-invaders still standing from Sunday. Engrossed in his smartphone. The fuck is up with these henchmen and technology, you think.

You clear your throat.

The thug reacts immediately. Bharadwaj doesn’t.

The thug sees the large scalpel tightly in your right hand, a little stained already with some of your own blood.

The thug doesn’t flinch. Neither does the scalpel.

You step a little closer. You press your bleeding trembling left hand a little deeper into your back.

The thug seems a little perturbed by whatever nasty surprise you might be hiding. You step a little closer.

Staring up at you suddenly with red, unseeing eyes – Bharadwaj.

“No,” he says to everyone and no-one, “Nononono. This isn’t happening. Wake me up wake me the fuck up.”

The thug eyes a large nightstick leaned up against the bed. It is the same distance from you both as the distance between you, forming a perfect equilateral triangle.

The hand on the scalpel beginning to lose feeling from the stiffness. The thug eyeing his nightstick. Swallowing.

You shake your head slowly. Your face as tired and impassive as the first time you knocked him on his ass.

The thug decides to go – wonder of wonders – for his common sense. He stands up with his arms raised, gives you a wide berth on his way out.

You run to Bharadwaj and start to scrabble at the chains.

“Bharadwaj! Fucking return to the land of the living, man!”

He groans, gags audibly, falls halfway as the chains on his torso loosen. You backhand him with your bloody left and instantly regret it. “Wake up, motherfucker!”

Finally snapping awake to grab you by the neck – Bharadwaj.

“Untie me you fucking runt!”

“Fuck, man, it’s Jimmy! Knock it off!”

“Those fuckers got you, too?” He lets go. You work the rest of the chains. He tests the ground with a heel before putting weight on it. “I just had me some fucking nightmare, Jimmy – saw Vrinda and… and they fucking sawed off-”

“You and me both, buddy.” You show him your missing nail. “Took a bigger chunk of you, though.”

“Yeah I told them there were no middle fingers big enough. Then I told ‘em they wouldn’t know their index finger from their arsehole. But the Doctor, Jimmy… Fuck!”

“Yeah, I know.” Flurry of footsteps in the corridor. “We need to go.”

(J02E06) Bad Trips – III

One More Time With Feeling

“Having trouble keeping up, old man?”

Her voice her fucking voice crisp and clear and undimmed by traffic and still alive.

You drop the frayed yellow paperback you were half-heartedly ruffling and run forward, run without second thought through a disinterested gaggle of tourists arguing over lunch in German.

Not push through or break through. Run through, quite literally, like they were a ghostly image projected upon the piles of old books stacked on the Daryaganj sidewalk.

You turn back to see Jimmy still dawdling over the paperback you had dropped, a single noncommittal grunt before he goes back to reading the back flap.

You know the book he is looking at.

The hideous irony will reveal itself presently.

Manavi standing at the mouth of the next alleyway, shielding her brow with a single slender hand, eyes crinkled against the sun beating down on her lime green shirt (formerly your lime green shirt), painted toes curling and uncurling over the lip of her sandals, other hand impatiently tap-tap-tapping a cloth bag with the day’s spoils pressed against her shin.

You stand as close to her as you possibly can, try to take in as many details as you possibly can, try to breathe in her perfume before getting a noseful of chlorine disinfectant.

A small voice in your head tries to remind you where you actually are and is shouted right the fuck down with the loudest yell your lungs can manage.

Nobody at the Sunday market gives a shit.

Manavi balances on one foot and scratches her ankle with a big toe, the gesture so familiar and unexpected you burst into tears.

A pigeon lands on the ground beneath your feet and idly pecks at something under your ankle.

“I’m sorry, I thought we were browsing, not sprinting,” Jimmy says, dirty looks from the Germans as he breaks through.

“Gesundheit,” he says to the nearest old lady, and Manavi stifles a giggle.

“Any luck?”

“Two Dilbert Principles.”

“You know full well that’s Scott Adams, not Douglas.”

They are gathering copies of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for their friends.

Jimmy has two of each and stole one from the other, but Manavi knows and loves dozens of people, and they pull Jimmy into their lives with the same graceful ease that pulled them into hers.

Jimmy assumes this to be an enrichment exercise for Manavi’s friends. You know now that it might have been the other way around, the girl in the faded jeans wiser than she had you believe.

“What you got there?”

“Oh, this thing? Well it’s-”

Drop it now you stupid shit drop it

“-Illness As Metaphor by Susan Sontag. Nice little book discrediting people’s tendency to associate debilitating diseases with suppressed personality flaws-”

He drones on and on and on.

You listen in, appalled by this longwinded declamation of twenty-four carat bullshit about a book he hasn’t read by an author he doesn’t completely understand.

Manavi listens in, too – listens with the same rapt slightly wide-eyed expression she adopts when trying to delay sarcasm.

You will her to change the outcome of this conversation, to say something sharp about Wikipedia and low attention spans, to kiss him or kick him or heft the bookbag at his head, to give you anything sweet and sudden and unanticipated to take back to the clusterfuck that is your life without her.

Instead she touches his elbow, gently, and says, “It sounds like a good point she is making, probably be a better point once we actually read the damn thing-”

Ha-ha! Take that, wankstain!

“-but everybody copes with grief differently, you know? And with something as soul-sapping as cancer people probably prefer to believe they have agency. How is it different from prayer? Or the greens you stupid baseheads keep whining to legalize?”

“Greens make for better lovin’ than prayer, for one,” Jimmy laughs, slipping an arm around her and dropping the tiny yellow paperback in the overstuffed bag she is lugging.

“Or they make you think your lovin’ is better,” she snorts. “Tumhe dawaon ki nahin, duaon ki zarurat hai, meri jaan.

You need blessings, not medicine, my love.

She walks down to the slightly upscale wooden stall at the corner, the fresher paperbacks making for a higher asking price.

Jimmy stands where he is, absently rubbing the spot where she touched him, unable to pull sparks the way she just did.

“I love you,” he mutters, almost to himself.

She didn’t hear you fuckhead say it louder

But he doesn’t hear you, doesn’t need to. That Sunday morning marks ten months of them living together. They have worn the novelty off the phrase.

Casual understatement looks cooler and makes for better callbacks.

Say it again please I beg you just one more time with feeling

He bends to sift through the haphazard stack beside the last alleyway, finds a copy of Douglas Adams’ final (unfinished) novel, straightens.

“Hey Manavi!” He bellows. “You wanna know what happened to Desmond?”

No!” she replaces the hefty Lawrence omnibus she was inspecting, mock glowers from the corner. “No Salmons of Doubt or I’m heading back to my parents’!”

They laugh at the bleak joke isolating them from the sea of browsers, laugh even as you start sobbing and look away, laugh until her eyes roll up into her head and she topples into the oversized column of hardbacks beside her.
Instruction Manual

Blinking – twice for good measure, thrice for luck – but no change.

Back in chains for the time being.

Face wet, beard damp, but no Doctor standing over you with cattle prod or brass knuckles. No one else in sight but tie-dye-headphones-Jeremy turned away from you, tapping disinterestedly on a touchscreen the size of his torso.

“The m-monitor changes its rhythm when you.. emerge,” he doesn’t look up. “The fact that you stopped bawling is also a good sign.”

You close your eyes and keep ’em shut. You concentrate on breathing deep, on the wet jolts of pain coursing from the freshly cut meat of your finger.

No point falling back into nightmares just because you were playing dead too long.

“You in some kind of limbo between states, dude?” hot breath on your cheek. Onions, cinnamon, vodka standing too close to whisper: “See a bathroom in your dream? Go to it, Jimmy. Ain’t no trap. Go p-pee you sonuvabitch.”

Finger twitching involuntarily.

“Well, that’s a sign.”

Good sign or bad? Breath caught in your throat.

Footsteps shuffling away across the tiles.

Think of the next part in terms of an instruction manual. Not happening to you. Not there in your cage. Not anywhere.

First: open your eyes. See the harmless little fuck absently resume pecking at his oversized toy.

Second: concentrate every thought every feeling all the panic rising like bile in your throat. Concentrate every single pickled brain cell still at your disposal on the length of bone between your left shoulder and elbow. Concentrate on moving this limb gradually across the width of the limited arc available to it.

Concentrate on the bone, because thinking about the ball-and-socket joint above the bone will leave you nowhere.

When you are ready: jerk your arm down, down, down beyond its natural limit.

Do not scream. Do not yell. Do not grunt. Think of the bone itself, white and intact below the shoulder you just dislocated. Think of the chains going slack down your left side.

Your poor maltreated arm will do most of the rest itself. Let it fumble for the chains still on your right shoulder and arm.

Your silence is only necessary until the first loop falls free.

That is all the margin you will need.

Hoist up your right arm as the chains fall away entirely. Enjoy the sight of Jeremy’s tie-dyed shoulders suddenly scrunching up as he hears the clank of chains on tile.

Stop stalling like a PowerPoint Detective in some flashy TV show and rush the pipsqueak, flailing your dislocated arm as a distraction. Then, as he raises both hands to shield his face, grab his tablet with your good arm and smash him over the head.

Watch him sprawl awkwardly over his battered old folding chair.

Wait for some sign of consciousness like he originally should have.

Then – after relieving him of his phone, walkie-talkie, wallet, Netflix membership card, garish hospital gown (his trousers too tight for your organs of generation) – bind him to the chair with a single loop of the purple bike-chain that held you.

Tell yourself you wouldn’t, under any circumstances, listen to the small voice inside your head snarling for you to strangle him with the purple-bike-chains.

No, hide that small voice someplace deep, someplace special, for your new best friend the Doctor.

(J02E05) Bad Trips – II

In Chains

Startled awake on an upright gurney before Jeremy in tie-dyed scrubs.

“S-subject returning to consciousness,” his voice muffled by a surgical mask with skull-and-crossbones motif, “in the loosest possible sense of the word.”

“Nice dis, Jer. Did the Rev write it for ya?” Trying to move. Prevented by an industrial-grade chain in hideous purple tubing. “Real nice, the whole animal-on-short-leash motif.”

“Y-you sure took some putting down. Remember that dude you almost killed? The Doctor says he’ll never walk again.”

“That just broke your little hearts, didn’t it? Untie me and I’ll make a broken leg look like a picn-”

“Hello, what seems to be the problem?” older gent cutting in before introducing your thigh to an electric cattleprod. “We ready to play nicer, now?”

Snarling thrashing yanking at chains. Teeth bared.

“I guess not.” Light glinting off older gent’s spectacles, crispy white labcoat too white making eyes hurt. “You remember that whole bit in Tom and Zerry with with Ispike chained to the doghouse?”

“It’s called a fucking kennel.” Temporary quiet as Doctor’s hands rush back into focus: left hand grabs your right ear and right hand swings across field of view with brass knuckles shiny on fingers.

Vision snapping hard from left to right, blinding light, red.

“Nobody likes a smartass,” voice of Doctor receding into fog.

Silence.
Project P

Coming back with bed slightly reclined. Connected to a bunch of machinery beeping steady and sharp just like an actual hospital. Heartbeat faster as vision clears.

Afraid for the first time.

“Now,” Doctor coming forward with clipboard, “Your bloodwork shows an eventful few days in your immediate past. Pity about that. Would have made a better subject if the tox was clean.”

“Then again, I’m pretty sure sober-me would take one look at your face and throw up.”

“Still wisecracking. Interesting! Humour suggests brain is intact, and the heartbeat confirms a healthy fear mechanism. We will need both for Project P.”

Low-hanging joke. Almost too easy. Keep mouth shut and avoid compounding misery.

“Project Pee? Seriously? Pee? All this trouble for a golden fucking shower!”

Vein twitching in Doctor’s forehead. Composing himself before continuing slower.

“There are meny ways to break a mind,” taking more pleasure as he goes on, “You seen Betmen Baggins? Fear toxin used by Iscarecrow on everyone? That is easy. We know how fear works. Poke around the amygdala, amplify using specific pheromones and boom! You are iscared.”

“Pisces, actually, but thanks for noticing.”

“Haha yes, continue humour. We are not getting enough in subjects. Best way to break mind is to unlock its particular fears. And you know what we use as keys?”

“Long speeches about pissing on people?”

This time he laughs along for real.  “I like how you are thinking, Jimmy! Is funny because not far off the mark! We study your response to a generic fight-or-flight situation – in most cases, a standard issue electric shock – and then ease off until we can isolate the human impulse from rat bastard one. Your own DNA in the cocktail ensures full absorption into bloodstream and… shall we say, some very specific effects on brain.”

“Wait, so you want me to piss on you? Could’ve just asked, you sicko!”

“Usual procedure is to use urine sample, yes. But you are right. Too diffuse. Maybe that is why others broke before we were able to observe full force of the mechanism. We will try something more immediate.”

“Aren’t that many lines to do with blood. Gimme something to work with, man!”

“No, blood is less diffuse but not much. Let us try something more tangible.”

Small wrench in his right hand closing over your left brief grunt of effort and then something pink and bloody held up to the light.

No pain. No pain.

Fucking terrified.

“I am a bit diseppointed, personally, Jimmy,” Tiny splash over a small beaker filled with clear purple liquid. Viscous white tendrils emerging from the spot where your nail hits bottom. Beaker cloudy. “You were first bookish mongrel we acquired as subject. Thought you would appreciate where P comes from.”

“Seriously, man? It’s like you can’t hear the words coming from your mouth!” Still no feeling. Somebody else’s finger tracing crimson patches on white sheet.

“Curious why no pain? That comes later. You read Herry Potter books, Jimmy?”

“It’s pronounced Hairy, actually, and can you fucking stop with the pop culture?”

“Soon, soon. You remember stone memory basin Dumbledoors was keeping in his office?”

“The Pensieve?” you offer, in spite of yourself. You see where this is headed. You see exactly where the fuck

“Twenty points to Greffindor! Or Hufflepuff, come to think about. Yes, Jimmy, The Pensieve. That’s where we got the idea for the name.” Beaker held up to light busy with indistinct formless grey motion within. “This is your cocktel, Jimmy. Yours and nobody else’s. What you find at bottom will also be yours. Nobody else’s. What you think you will find in there?”

No. Nononono

“Probably these ten minutes of my life that I’m never getting back.”

“Wisecracking to the last. Very good! Now, the painkiller will recede just as the P hits your brain. See? Now we are both making jokes!”

Cloudy solution transferred to tinier glass container. Held overhead for last brief moment. Attached to a hypodermic.

Knowing what comes next you are sorry you turned up to collect Saturday’s result, sorry you offered to help Bharadwaj, sorry you ever came to this fucking city, finger tapping SOS in bloodied Morse

“Don’t worry about that hangnail, Jimmy,” syringe plunging into arm, “You will feel it soon enough.”

Then after maybe a dozen seconds you do.

(J02E04) Bad Trips, OR The Death of Gwen Stacy

Break on Through

Big multi-storey carpark near Kamla Nagar that they’ve been building for a couple years.

Work starts and stops once a month. You are no expert but the terms dihaadi and living wages seem to stand in direct opposition, the lean tanned workforce a stream instead of a lake.

It is the perfect spot to stage a rendezvous: witnesses will be harder to track down than actual parties involved.

The deep thrum of a bassline from somewhere underfoot, keeping decent time but still rough around the edges.

A tin drum swings a miss.

A bang. Then a hiss.

“Sonofabitch!” You stop near a makeshift wooden ramp and examine your wheels as the players try a few more variations.

Three nails jut from the rear tire.

A handful of rusty pointed ends still scattered over the path of your approach.

“Jimmy!” A voice nearly as deep as the bass calls from the darkness. “Break on through, man! We’re almost done here.”

You park the wounded Gwen gingerly beside the ramp, half expecting a murder of crows to fly out and hit you in the face; but the air inside is cool is and dry and empty.

The bassist finally picks a no-nonsense line and sticks to it.

You walk through a wooden doorframe, down a concrete stairwell, into the basement proper.

The basement is cooler, unfinished and slightly damp.

The darkness is near-total, sole light hung beyond a large blue sheet of tarpaulin in the far corner.

Up close the bass is joined by an acoustic guitar. The tin drum becomes a metal canister being thumped rhythmically.

“Take it from the top,” the Crow says on his mic, “and for fuck’s sake let’s stop sounding like death by rickets.”

It is an old, sprightly Bollywood tune made seething and funereal.

A dirge for a time and place that wouldn’t know subtlety from a sex montage.

You lean on the brickwork and let the serrated rendition replace all thoughts of a gyrating Mithun.

This will soon be your last happy memory.

The music drops.

The Crow dials back his wordless crooning and then stops.

You walk up to the tarp just as he emerges from beyond – same shirt as before, eyes a little more bloodshot, but otherwise the same slightly-larger-than-life myth who fluttered down the rafters before your big fight scene.

“Is this where the magic is made?”

“Oh yeah. Another week or four and they build over our corner. Nice impromptu deadline.”

“Going for a full-length album, then?”

“Depends on who’s asking.” He flicks his cigarette butt into the darkness. The orange light traces a near-perfect semi-circle as it goes out. “Got anything greener on you?”

You pull one of the Reverend’s joints from behind your ear. A corner of his mouth creaks upward.

“Fuckin’ A.”

 

To The Other Side

“So how many dudes you fight that day?”

“Whaddaya mean, ‘that day’? It was yesterday, man!” The smoke dissipating in plumes from his nostrils. “Two hired brawlers and a knife enthusiast. Could’ve stuck around to help, you know. Saved my last pair of uncut jeans.”

“Lover not a fighter, Jimbo.” He passes the J. The roach is a little wet. “Plus I had to know if you minded gettin’ your knuckles bloody. Had to know you were up for it.”

“Just tell me what the job is.”

“Ok, look. So most of the equipment I work with ain’t too fancy, right? We aim for sound jagged enough to cut your fingers picking up.”

“Ergo all the cassette demos in an era of lossless audio?”

He nods. “Most of it is analog, because that’s us. That’s our sound. But I also got a digital voicebox and amps. Good if you want your harmonies worth a shit. Cost roughly six figures. And some jerkwad nicked ‘em before soundcheck on Friday. If it weren’t for the crowd’s weird megaphone fetish we’d be thrashed senseless or worse: booed off.”

“Uh huh.” You have nearly finished your lap of the basement. The band has stopped completely. The lightbulb beyond the blue tarpaulin is nothing but a blurry afterimage on your retinas. “And where was this gig, exactly?”

“This rooftop bar off campus. Secret midnight show. We were previewing new material.” Something about the Crow’s speech pattern rankles. You don’t know what or why. His gaze leaves you and follows the patter of feet leaving the basement. “Better’ve picked up your leaky ghee can, mister!”

“W-why don’t you make me, birdbrain?” calls a thin voice from the very edge of your vision, halfway up the staircase, skinny jeans and sneakers framed in some fresh, warm, flickery lightsource beyond the wooden doorframe.

You squint hard but cannot see the other side.

“Say. Was that the mousy headphones guy who spoke in class today?”

“Sessions musicians can be a pain,” the Crow says, only half to you, and you realize that his words are no response to your words, are a smoother variant of your patter when talking down a drunk friend or Bharadwaj wrangling irate cops. “We had a killer percussionist. Did eye-popping things with them sticks. Kept yawning like it was kid stuff. Can’t pay for that sorta style.”

“Oh yeah?” You stroll towards the peeled-back tarpaulin, away from the warm flicker upstairs that’s becoming brighter by the moment. You flick the smoldering roach into the Crow’s studio. The wobbly orange arc lights a battered dalda tin and dies on the concrete. “Why isn’t he here, then?”  

“Oh, he fudged his graduation again.” His words sincere as a Styrofoam sandwich.

Or rusted nails scattered before an entranceway.

“Currently getting bombed with his other no-good junkie friends. Some marathon.” The Crow sniggers. “I mean who even cares that much about academics?”

A delaying tactic.

“Say, Jimbo, is that your I-get-it-now face or are you suddenly constipated?”

You do not respond. You do not have time for a response.

You turn and run back up the stairs.

“Thanks for the greens, man!” he calls casually after you, and you don’t need to know what’s coming next to wish him dead.

 

The Death of Gwen Stacy

Stop. Take a deep breath.

What is coming next has happened before. It had happened before even when it was happening for the first time. It will happen again in your head, will keep happening, regardless of whether you care to recount it.

It will happen whether in the first person or the second. It will happen.

And now you have said ‘happen’ too many times and it doesn’t seem like a real word.

Happ-pen…

Happen.

Half pen.

Had pen. Pierced scab.

Puns are ok. Puns are good.

Let’s say you aren’t weeping right now.

*

“What the fuck.” It isn’t a question you are asking. It isn’t even an observation. It’s the absence of a response. The warm flicker beyond the frame grows into a brow singeing sweat vaporizing fire.

And Gwen Stacy blazes like a wooden effigy rather than a twelve-year-old scooter.

“Who did this, man?” Honest question this time. “Who killed my fucking scooter?”

“Me,” says the asshole with the knife from Sunday, standing just beyond the pyre that was Gwen, a taser in his left hand and a plaster on his right. “Who’s the one armed bandit now, bitch?”

“Still you, man. Except I’ll be killing you now.”

You step around Gwen and within punching range. He points the taser, waits the split second it needs to charge, sees something in your expression, raises the plaster to defend his face.

That is the only mistake he needs to make.

Your first touch breaks some toes. A hard whack on the plaster cracks his nose like a leaky faucet.

“Those wheels-”
you kick aside the taser
“-were worth-”
introduce your heel to his gut
“-a hundred shitheels like you!”
are about to kick him onto Gwen when

“Chill out, Johnny boy,” the Crow murmurs in your ear, and a thousand volts wrap around your spine and rock you to sleep.

 

(The second volume of Bloody Thursday, Bad Trips (J02E01-10), drops tomorrow).

Scooter? Check? Greenery? Check. Blurry camerawork? Fuckin' A. That's a wrap, people. Man do we need a better artist.

(J02E03) Gwen and Mary, OR Off the Record

“You’ve put on weight,” the beardo driving the scooter said.

“That or your goddamn engine has made peace with this life,” the short man riding pillion responded. “Weren’t kidding about Mary Jane, were you? Smell like a fucking greenhouse.”

“I told you to ditch the lackeys.”

“Do you even read the news, man? Whole fucking city’s got lackeys right now.”

“Yeah, I know. With us, for us, always, that crap.”

“This is off the record, Jimmy, but there’s a crackdown coming. And it’s gonna be swift and severe. Should I worry for you?”

“Let’s save the grilling for drinks, yeah? Where to?”

“Dunno. The old place still standing?”

“Define ‘still standing’.”

*

“Well, fuck,” Mandy said, a little later. “The fuck happened here?”

“Told you,” Jimmy said.

The flea circus carpet store and plywood warehouse were gone, as were the dozing smackheads.

The three-storey den of garbage and bloodstains that used to be the opposite of a landmark now stood clean and renovated and painted a hideous orange.

The old, rusted __BILE_ HALL sign had been replaced by a brand new black-and-gold  JUBILEE THEATER billboard.

A parking lot to the left and glitzy eateries to the right completed the façade.

“All this renovation and they kept that fucking font,” Mandy said.

“Let’s save the indignation for drinks, yeah? Come on.”

“Back in my day we had to wade through three miles of shit just to reach the alley.”

“And yet: here we are.”

“…Well, fuck.”

*

“Look, Mandy! A monogrammed bar menu!”

“Fuck that, dude! They’re serving food! … is that a fucking pitcher?”

The young boy fetching their beer knew a cop when he saw one. He grinned nervously and fucked off into the shadows.

Jimmy and Mandy filled their mugs and started in without toasting anyone or anything.

Around them the newly-christened Jubilee Street went about its noisy business.

*

“Are we going the reevaluation and re-exam route again?”

“Not sure, man. Not yet, at least. This friend needs my help. You still chasing arsonists through political rallies?”

“No such luck, man. They subbed me back into Narcotics. Old powder trail just turned fresh again. Got any friends who enjoy nosebleeds?”

“Not since last year, I’d say. Plus they preferred horse tranquilizers anyway.”

“Ketamine mohabbat hai?” They stewed in the horrid pun as Jimmy refilled their mugs. “Don’t get caught with any hard shit right now, okay? The guys we’re tracking are professionals. Any failure will bring the heat down on clueless college kids.”

“God knows we got enough of those,” Jimmy said. Slash lit the fuse on a familiar riff. A gaggle of kids two tables over clapped and whooped. “Can’t believe I’m old enough to be doing this, but – Hey! Yes, you! Keep it down, man! The fuck is wrong with you kids?”

Their second mugs were downed in silence.

“Well,” Jimmy said after Axl had stopped wondering where to go now, “We could go outside and fire up a J.”

“Don’t tell me they sealed off the rotbox!”

“Um.” Jimmy couldn’t meet his eye. “There’s a proper basement now. No stag entry.”

“Alright, that’s it.” Mandy walked over to the bar. The kid who’d been whispering to the bartender scampered off again. “Hey, man, what’s with the fucking march of progress over here, huh? What’s this fucking LCD? Why are there eight speakers instead of one homecooked amp? And why the fuck do you look like you’ve had a bath this week?”

“It is you,” said the bartender.

“With the fucking clean tables and the- what did you say?”

“It is you,” repeated the bartender. “The guy who sold me the place said you’d be back, sooner or later.”

“Where is that old wanker?”

“Retired,” said the bartender. “Moved to Jaipur. Or Jodhpur. Somewhere in Rajasthan, anyway. Follow me.”

“The fuck?” inquired Mandy as the bartender switched places with the kid and led them in the direction of the washrooms.

“The fuck?” echoed Jimmy, bringing their final mugs. “Didn’t know there was a time limit on beer rentals.”

“The previous owner said change was necessary to surviving this city,” the bartender said, unlocking what looked like a broom closet with a stick figure in a wheelchair stenciled unto the door, “But he also said change didn’t have to be absolute.”

“Never saw him string together a complete sentence myself.”

“If we get mugged, Mandy, you should probably quit the force.”

The western-style lavatory jammed against the back wall looked like a cardboard prop. The bartender took a key from his pocket, felt around in a crack beneath the murky mirror, and then swung his wrist.

There was a click.

“Well,” he said, stepping aside so the two men could look into a long, poorly-lit room behind the recessed doorway,  “Here you go.”

“Oh, momma,Johnny Jimmy said. “What a lovely day!”

Mandy stood looking into the secret hallway. He saw a dingy makeshift table with cigarette holes and two overflowing ashtrays, an old man in the far corner cradling his bottle, man and bottle looking like they’d keel over at any moment.

There was a long stretch of silence.

The barman left after checking the old man’s pulse. Jimmy Page laid down the opening licks of Kashmir. His namesake wiped a solitary tear on the shoulder of his trenchcoat.

“I am home,” Mandy finally said.

*

“Anyway,” Jimmy said eight and a half minutes later, “Speaking of my friend. Is there any way to find out who framed him?”

“Depends on the charges,” Mandy said. “Small cases like mugging or petty larceny, it’s usually local dimwits who figure my turf just because they ain’t been caught yet. Violent charges are harder. Case needs to shut like a well-oiled mousetrap before anyone sees the clink. What they in for?”

“Was. Trumped-up drug charges.”

“Uh. Mary Jane?”

“No,” said Jimmy, blowing a thin plume out of his nose. “Coquina.”

“The Caribbean mollusk?”

“No, man, The white stuff Tony Montana was motorboating into Miami. And his face.”

“Hmm.” Mandy thought long and hard as the old man exhaled into his beard.

The grey smoke rising from his snowbank was too cool not to look at. They paused their conversation a while. “That looks fucking beautiful, Reuben.”

“…Aksai Chin…”

“His name is Reuben?”

“That was the only word I caught when we last met. Or maybe he said Rubaiyat. How much coke we talking?”

“Half a kilo. Taped to the inside of his gas-tank.”

Mandy turned so fast he knocked an ashtray over.

“This friend of yours. Would he happen to be a dim oversized nutter who pops pills to stay coherent and goes by Big Moose or Malay?”

“Uh, he don’t like either of those. We call ‘im Bharadwaj.”

“Jesus, Jimmy, I thought I told you how serious this was.”

“…Longewala…”

“Thank you, Reuben. What the fuck are you talking about, man?”

“This right here,” said Mandy. “This fucking case brought me back to Dilli, Jimmy. Big-ass haul of misplaced coke. Five bricks total. The package they recovered from your friend was half a brick. I brought in one. A task force at Hauz Khas got another half. You any good at math? Did Malay tell you anything?”

“Uh, Bharadwaj. And just that he was no fucking dealer, man.”

“And you believe him.”

“Fuck, what I can’t believe is how many times I’m having to go over this. Yes.

“With what proof, apart from your gut?”

“Come on. He is not dumb, man. Had too much to lose. Wouldn’t get involved in shady bullshit like this.”

Mandy smiled mirthlessly. “You know why we’re friends, Jimmy?”

“Because I don’t judge you for being a hypocrite?”

“…Redcliffe Line…”

“Touché, Reuben. We are friends, Jimmy, because you are usually a rational man. Even when the world you inhabit is a rabid cuckoo’s nest of batshit.”

“You think I am going soft because I claim my friend’s innocence.”

“No, Jimmy, I think you are ignoring what your brain is pointing out to you. Why is he out right now? Why do I bring up impending crackdowns? Why am I here, Jimmy?”

“I… Uh…” And the single bulb in the room was dirty, and Reuben’s beard was not literally luminous, but Jimmy finally saw light. “He is bait.”

“Bingo was his name-o.”

“You assholes are gonna get him killed. And pardon me for asking your help, man, I know it’s only a matter of time before those cogs of yours turn a bit further and you take me in as accessory.”

It was a stupid line, and he regretted saying it almost instantly.

Mandy’s eyes narrowed to slits. It wasn’t a healthy look. “Accessory to what, Jimmy?”

“Nothing, man.”

“I’m serious, man. What’s on your mind?”

“A puh-packed schedule, for one,” Jimmy said, and thankfully there was an honest-to-God anonymous message with an address in Kamla Nagar buzzing up his phone. “You should dial it back, Mandy.”

“Speaking of which… You seem awfully calm for a man who lost ten months of sobriety days ago,” Inspector Doshi said. “Too calm, almost. What are you not telling me?”

“I’m not telling you to trust me, Mandy, because they taught us to cut out needless clichés. Back me up here, Reuben.”

“…Youm-e-Takbir…”

“Hey no need to get defensive, dude, I’m just trying to.. Wait, are you leaving?”

“The only thing worse than a DUI is a DUI with a drunk ossifer behind me,” Jimmy said, making for the door. “Kids have smuh- smargh- cameraphones these days. Can’t be too careful.”

“You were my ride, asshole! What sort of fucking welcome is this?”

“Don’t take it personally dawg,” Jimmy said. “Don’t even trip. You just need change of puh-perspective. Life getting you down? Thuh-third person, baby! Shift to second if it gets worse! Derp-deepuh-depersonalalization helps cop! I mean cope!”

“Puns were my thing, man,” Mandy muttered, “and so was this bottle.” Reuben glared at him darkly. “Fucking leave then, Jimmy, you piece of shit. I don’t need you!”

“Love you too, Mandy.”

“Fucking don’t call me that!”

“…Barrackpore…”

“I am sharing, Reuben, I just wanted that asshole outta my face.”

*

And so at roughly 2PM on Monday you stumble out the alley, flip the bird to JUBILEE THEATER, and ride Gwen across the Yamuna for the last time.

(J02E02) Incognito Mode

There was a time when the hilly uneven bough known as the Ridge circled the city. Old-timers insist you could go clear around Delhi without stepping from the shade once.

All that remains now is scraggly patches where the land folded too sharply to build upon, jagged chunks melded into North and South Campus for curious students and shelterless lovers and disaffected slummers to congregate, fornicate, defecate.

College administrations and planning departments commission walls as and when they see fit; the Ridge simply lingers, like any forest in a fairytale.

Don’t believe me? Ask your other no-good city-dwelling friends.

They will all have at least one story beginning in college and ending on the Ridge with no discernible transition.

*

Somewhere along the Northern Ridge runs a road where you can watch the dense, beautiful, haphazard trees of the Ridge give way to the dense, beautiful, haphazard sprawl of old Delhi.

Somewhere along that road stood the black, unmarked RV whose plates and coordinates I had been texted earlier.

I parked Gwen next to the van, won an awkward staredown with the occupants of the nearby Police Control Booth, and popped into a bubble of cool air and fluorescent light.

“Nice of you to rendezvous beneath the comforting gaze of law enforcement.”

“Don’t flatter yourself, Jimbo.” The Reverend was putting final touches on her idea of incognito mode – scuffed leather jacket, grey shirt and trousers, faded green running shoes. “There’s been a cop car trailing me 24/7 for months. I just… did them the courtesy of stopping at an outpost. Told ’em to get breakfast, maybe go home and change.”

“Awful nice of you.” I walked to the nearest window. Her assistant stood smoking outside, oversized headphones and clipboard replaced by bluetooth headset and styrofoam cup of chai. I kept an eye on him. He was probably returning the favor. “They trust you not to skedaddle?”

“Yeah.” She put on a peaked cap and oversized shades. “Especially since I volunteered our keys at the outpost.”

“You know, Rev… I don’t get you, man. Seem to have your shit together. It intimidates me, a little. Why don’t you tell me what the fuck happened to Vrinda so I don’t have to aggravate you any longer?”

Aggravate me? Couldn’t get a rise at a nympho convention, doofus.”

“Don’t go by that name anymore, Rev. Nice burn, though.”

“Let’s make it simpler. You’re lovin’ this hardboiled-private-eye bullshit, right? Gimme a snappy aside about decay or innocence lost. Ready? Go!”

You ever gone to a stand-up special, waited until a lull in the set, then yelled Now make a joke!’ ?

Yeah, me neither.

We stood in silence for fifteen billion years a few seconds. Her mousy assistant strolled away from the window, towards the outpost.

“You’re smarter than the average talking head on TV,” I finally said. “Obviously a good enough judge of the human condition to acquire a cult. But this character you picked? This prolonged fucking dead-man-walking tribute? Too hyperbolic, man. Too over-the-top, even for a talking head on TV. Nobody over thirty will take you seriously.”

“Full marks for effort, but you’re gonna talk over-the-top to me, manchild? With your fucking exclusionist male circlejerk? Your routine privileging of bros over the women who pay for knowing you by being branded ho’s? Maybe it’s more subtle to bond with strangers over a hot piece of ass. And ain’t nothing wrong with playing slut-finder general for an abusive pusher fresh outta Tihar, right?”

“Hey man, nobody called her a-”

“Wrong answer. Tell me why your jailbird so badly needs to know what became of his ‘wimmin’. Or try another fucking tautology! Men will be men, how’s that for taste? I shudder to think what passive-aggressive reptiles you lot will become by thirty.”

I opened my mouth to interrupt.

“-if you hit thirty, I know. Fucking idiot.”

You ever burst into tears in the midst of a failed interrogation?

Yeah, me neither.

“Vrinda wanted out, Jimmy. Don’t have to agree with her reasons, but trust me when I say: you can’t help her. And you sure as shit can’t help Bharadwaj. He has brought reckoning unto himself. You would make unfortunate collateral, manly tears notwithstanding.”

“You, uh, mind if I do a J in here?”

“Knock yourself out.” She pulled the fancy gilded case from her sleeve and offered it to me.

“These roaches look clean,” I said, picking one of the three blunts. “Wish I could say the same of the box.”

“Yeah. I was gonna gift it to a friend but-”

“Stolen goods don’t go as far as they used to?”

“Look who grew a tongue.” She pulled a long drag and filled the van with sweet smoke deja vu. “That shaker you filched yesterday was a five year sentence. How far will two J’s of sativa get you?”

“Uh. Does the city of Nagpur ring any bells?”

“Crack wise about oranges, Jimmy, go on. I don’t mind feeding you your walnuts.”

There was a sharp rap on the window. I jumped through the smoke like a fogbound periscope.

The mousy assistant gave a brief thumbs-up and vanished from sight again.

“We’re done here,” the Reverend said. “What the hell, Jimmy. Keep the case. Maybe you’ll be better off looking for the guy who gave it to you.”

“You heading out?”

“Well. Another minute and our cover detail will be late from breakfast. Jerry will then gun the throttle and get me the fuck out of dodge.”

“Is his name really Jerry?”

“Jeremy, actually, but you seen those ridiculous headphones?”

Seemed a harmless little fuck,” I quoted, eyes red and throat parched. The Reverend gave a brief snort that sounded halfway like mirth. “You hotwired your van?”

“No, Jimmy. Always good to carry spare keys. Now skedaddle.”

“Um.” I reached into my inner pocket. She stiffened. My hand emerged with the last bent J with letters on the roach. “The heart is a dumb pump, Rev. It doesn’t make the best calls. Maybe my friend’s arrest seemed critical to your friend’s well-being. But Bharadwaj would never hurt Vrinda. You can’t know him and believe otherwise. Here’s your card.”

She took the J from me. In the smoky fluorescent light she suddenly looked a hundred years older.

“… Safe passage, Jimmy.”

“Fare thee well, Ma’am.”

That was the last I saw of her.

*

I walked out into the reheated remains of the morning.

Jeremy approached from the PCR van beside the outpost, clutching a battered Dalda tin larger than his torso.

“You always miss the important bits, Jerry.”

“At least I don’t s-snort ‘em.”

“Look who grew a tongue!”

“Y-you know the difference between gasoline and water?”

“I’d say… four minutes, judging by your time.”

“Or f-five years, judging by yours.”

He gave a nasty smile. I raised a bleary grin.

Then I saw the cops from the outpost passed out on their bench, a single blanket spread over their knees like an elderly married couple, and legged it to Gwen doubletime.