IGMS Issue 17

IGMS Issue 17 by IGMS Read Free Book Online

Book: IGMS Issue 17 by IGMS Read Free Book Online
Authors: IGMS
name twice in the same minute, flinging small talk at her just to watch her flinch.
    "We're living check to check as it is," Steve said. "I can't afford to slip up and lose this job. We'll wind up on the street, and no insurance."
    "A story," she said. "A story first, before you go . . . a true one."
    He pulled the corners of his mouth up in a grim mockery of a smile. "You know, I think I should just call it an early night and go to bed. Tomorrow, maybe. Night."
    "Steven," she said. "Steven, I need . . ." Had he given her his name? He must have, though he couldn't remember when. He had no idea what to call her, and was too angry even to guess.
    "Night," he repeated, neither good nor bad, promising nothing at all. He closed the window, feeling a spiteful satisfaction at the flash of anger in her eyes as he closed the curtain, knowing all the while that it was unfair, and probably cruel of him. He was in no mood to care. . He went off to bed with misery for company, but lay awake a long time, unable to rest while his mind churned over anger and guilt, a sick, hot sludge of unpleasant emotion that melded at some point with an ugly dream of Matt's birds stabbing at each other in a fierce, bloody battle over a crooked nest.

    In the small hours just before dawn, Matt's fever spiked, and Steve found him retching and gasping on the floor outside the bathroom, unable to catch his breath and shaking with chills. Matt didn't even resist when Steve bundled him into a blanket and threw him into the car, even though he hated the hospital and everything it represented.
    Steve drove like a madman all the way, and spent the day pacing the antiseptic-smelling halls in his pajamas, raincoat, and slippers. And all the while, the doctors ran test after test to see whether it was the old cancer, a reaction to the medicine, or some new demon, twisting through Matt's fragile body, trying to break it from within.
    Matt had no resistance any more. The drugs they gave him made him sleep, and the nurses sent Steve home to take a shower and change his clothes. There was nothing he could do, they said, but wait, and see what the test results showed in the morning.
    The weather had changed while he was inside the hospital. The storm was gone, and in its place, a vast and shifting fog seemed to have swallowed the world. It was as though he and his car were the only things left on the planet. Familiar streets looked strange. Buildings were no more than indistinct shadows, looming almost into view, and skulking away again when he turned to look them full on. The car's headlights barely cut through the gloom, and Steve drove home at twenty miles an hour, afraid of hitting something.
    By the time he got home, he had grown used to the nothingness and isolation. The bright lights in the lobby made everything seem surreal by comparison. He chalked it up to his own weariness. His whole body was a grinding exhaustion, which a shower did little to alleviate. He pulled on clean clothes and heated and ate some leftover soup without any real, conscious thought. They had a cot waiting for him in Matt's room at the hospital, and his plan was to bring a few of Matt's favorite toys and books back with him. But when he closed his eyes to rest them for a moment, and then opened them and found himself standing at the window to the fire escape in Matt's room, he wasn't surprised.
    She was waiting.
    He had known she would be.
    "No more games," he said. "I can't stay. Matt's in the hospital. He needs me. I should never have let you --"
    He choked on the words. It was one thing to suspect she had been using Matt as bait for nothing more than a handful of fairytales. It was another to say the words aloud.
    "I can cure him." She had no such reticence. She stood taller than he had ever seen her, her black coat changed for one of grey. It made her look even more sparrow-like. Though the fog was all around them and the air was dead calm, the clothes she wore and the strands of her

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