When someone spends all their time on the Internet, they develop certain base reactions. For one, they instinctually do a google search whenever they're uncertain about something. They develop a certain turtle-like quality; their first instinct under stress is to withdraw into a hard outer shell.
Caroline wasn't any different. At first she was completely shell shocked. After all, last night was completely out of character for her. Sleeping with a guy she'd just met? Smoking pot? Sadomasochism? Maybe she needed the strong anchor of a computer to keep her out of trouble. Meanwhile, what she needed was facts.
When she heard about the way the passengers sounded, she could hear the screams from her dream all over again. In retrospect, it seemed so obvious. It was the dream that caused her to act out by hooking up with Todd. If she could disprove the dream, she'd be in control of her life again.
Some people will use any justification at all to dabble in their vices.
Two minutes after she heard about the screams, she was back in her car in front of the club. In the harsh light of day, she read the club's name for the first time. The club's name was "The Fool's Card."
Caroline didn't even turn on the radio on the drive home. It was 2:00 on a Saturday morning.
By 2:30, Caroline was already off the wagon. She had MSN news on one window, CNN in another, and the BBC up on a third. Pictures of the crash site matched the dream perfectly, right down the glittering stream that seemed so Eden-esque at the time.
She broke at 6:00 PM to eat a packet of ramen noodles. She didn't even notice her right hand going numb.
The Glass waited for her in the dark, shining. She had tried to escape, or rather; it had almost allowed her to escape. Now, however, she reassumed her favorite place.
There was a smooth transition from right to left. There was no struggle. The right became the submissive, the left the dominant. Balance was restored once more.
The eyes closed for twenty minutes before the Glass caught their attention, but only the attention of the eyes, not the mind. The body rose, and the left foot took the first step towards the blood.
The blood was important.
The left hand reached out, and grabbed a knife as sharp as broken glass out of its wooden rack. This was the only purpose this knife had ever been used for. The knife was laid carefully on the cutting board, the blade facing towards the wall on the other side of the counter at a perfect right angle.
The left hand reached up again, and just as ceremoniously extracted a clean, plain white plate. The plate was laid with the precision of a Swiss clock to the right of the knife.
It could smell the blood.
Inside a different, less permanent darkness, a light shone for the briefest possible instant. A round, lidded vessel four inches in diameter and three inches tall escaped into the room with the glass, the hand, the foot, the knife, the plate, and the eye.
The assembled convocation achieved their purpose. The glass could taste the blood once again.
In Caroline's dream, she walked through row after row of perfectly placed bushes. Each bush was adorned by dark, ripe berries, and each berry was either black or bright red. The sky was periwinkle blue and clear, and there was a faint hum in the background as if bees were busy making honey. She reached down to one of the bushes to taste its fruit, and she noticed each red berry was attached by the same stem to a black berry in an almost wishbone shaped configuration. She separated the two, and caught a spray of bright red juice disproportionate to the size of the tart fruit. She sucked the juice from the dripping red berry, and it tasted savory and slightly metallic, like the top of a weak nine-volt battery. It left the lingering aroma of old cast iron in the air.
Suddenly a trickle of stinging bees rose from under the bush on her right. They landed on the still fresh juice on her left hand and began sucking it up through their tiny proboscis. Frightened, she tried to brush them away, but this only agitated them. One stung her hand, and they began to swarm...
There are bad ways to wake up from a dream, and then there are worse ones. Caroline is about to experience the latter of the two.
Pain and stickiness preceded consciousness in Caroline's mind. Even with your eyes closed, it's pretty easy to tell if you've been stabbed. Although she'd never actually been stabbed before, Caroline knew one thing; she had been tonight
Snapping awake, her first thought was "PANIC!" The left sleeve of her pajamas was soaked in sticky drying blood from the wrist down, and her right hand held an Exacto knife in a white knuckled grip. She ran to the sink to wash off the blood instinctively.
The wound in her left hand was slender, but deep, and it fell just left of the vein in the space between the bones of her pinky and ring fingers. The blood on her hand was partially clotted, making it difficult to wash off without scrubbing. The cut's flow turned the sink's water pink at first, but once the scab had a chance to reform, the bleeding stopped.
The wide-eyed calm of shock gave way to relief as Caroline realized she didn't have to drive herself to the hospital or call 911. Flower shops aren't famous for their medical benefits, after all, and bleeding to death in an ER waiting room was definitely not the way Caroline had planned on dying.
The pajamas, however, were done for.
Desperate. Lonely. Scared. Jaleesa. It really was that simple. Jaleesa could get shot and not lose her head. Jaleesa was like a rock; if anyone could talk Caroline down at this point, it would be her. Caroline's hands were shaking so badly it took her three tries to dial the number right.
Too bad the wrong voice answered.
"Hello?" said a voice she'd never heard before.
"Jaleesa?" quavered Caroline.
The second it took the strange voice to answer seemed like an eternity.
"Oh, she's right here. May I ask who's calling?"
"Caroline," she said to the strange voice.
"Ok, let me get her."
Caroline couldn't even breathe.
"Caroline?" said that familiar honeyed voice.
Caroline actually felt her pulse slow. Jaleesa got her through Valentine's Day. She could get her through this.
"I.... I... I... bled..." she stammered.
People like Caroline go into shock for a reason. Their normal mind just can't handle stress. Now that she felt safe, she finally broke down in tears.
Jaleesa didn't even ask what was wrong.
"I'm bringing a friend over. We'll be there soon."
Hope like hell if you stab yourself, you have a friend like Jaleesa Jones.
Caroline was still crying when Jaleesa and her friend showed up with a white diaper bag full of bandages, antibiotic, alcohol swabs, and a fully loaded semi-automatic pistol.
"Open the door, Caroline. It's me and Berry," Jaleesa said in a voice that could have been used to say "Open Sesame."
Jaleesa's voice had a power only granted to single mothers. It had a natural harmonic that said without words that it was to be obeyed first, and understood second.
Caroline was weak willed to start with, but her fear and uncertainty had no chance against Jaleesa's maternal power. She opened the door and fell into Jaleesa's arms, still naked from the waist up after having taken off her silken nightshirt to wash her arm.
The cut on her hand was barely noticeable.
For once in her life, Berry was speechless. Just thirty minutes ago she was watching a movie with her sister in law, and now she was in a stranger's living room carrying a pistol. A hot stranger. Naked. And crying. She had heard there were knives and blood involved. Somewhere inside Berry's sick mind, something clicked.
While Jaleesa comforted Caroline, Berry wandered into the apartment. In the kitchenette, she saw a single plate and knife in the dish drainer. She continued looking from left to right in the main area of the efficiency, and her eyes stumbled across the first few droplets. Following the trail of red splatters in the carpet from the open bathroom door, she saw they led like ants toward candy to a sheet laying over an office chair and what appeared to be a small computer desk. The left corner of the sheet was splotched with drying blood.
Of course Berry looked under the sheet. She's one of those "types."
A computer mouse covered with blood stained fingerprints sounds cool in your head, but in actuality it has the same shock value as one covered in ketchup. No severed fingers, no disembodied eyes, just sort of a big, difficult to clean up mess. There's nothing mysterious or mythological about it, unless you count the efficacy of solvent based cleaning products to remove it.
Berry? Clean? NO.
Jaleesa's ministrations soon had Caroline fully dressed, cleaned up, and laughing about how big of a fuss she'd made over such a tiny cut. Jaleesa knew, though, that it would only take another peep at the bloodstains to send Caroline back into histrionics. Someone had to clean, and someone had to watch Caroline. Jaleesa could work wonders in an argument, but convincing Berry to clean Caroline's apartment while they went back to her place and had a cup of hot cocoa was out of the question.
STEP 1: Get Caroline out of the apartment before she freaks out again.
Jaleesa looked over Caroline's should to try and get Berry's attention. Berry, as usual, was snooping through the main room looking for something macabre. Before she could say something, Berry lifted the sheet off the computer desk. It was an impressive amount of blood for such a small cut, almost as if Caroline had lain there unconscious and still bleeding for quite a while.
"Caroline, have you met Berry? She's the one who gave me that flyer for "The Fool's Card," prompted Jaleesa.
Berry dropped the sheet almost guiltily back on top of the bloody mess. Berry had a kitten-like ability to be distracted, especially when it meant someone was about to give her attention. Years of club girl instinct kicked in at this point.
"Wait, I remember you now, you were that girl that left with Todd the other night," Berry said. Caroline got a chance to get a good look at Berry for the first time. Berry was wearing a crimson skirt and jacket, with her shoes and hair matching the crimson motif. Only her undershirt and hose were black, as if she were only dark on the inside.
"Raz was talking about what you did to Todd. So's Todd, for that matter. He really wants to see you again," Berry continued.
Jaleesa couldn't believe her luck. For once in her life, her brother's wife's sister might actually help out for a change.
"Hey, Berry, why don't you drive Caroline down to Todd's? The LAST thing she needs is to brood in this apartment on the Internet all night," Jaleesa had the ball, she might as well go for the full court press. "Go on! Get out of here before I catch honky!"
STEP 2: Do all the hard work while everyone else has fun.
If Caroline didn't basically do half Jaleesa's work and help keep management off her ass, she'd never put up with this shit...
Berry + Vulnerable Girl + Todd's House = Berry is going to be a bad girl.
Caroline liked Berry. She was smart. She was funny. She had style. She had a lot of friends. Caroline didn't understand why Jaleesa was giving those dirty looks. Was there something she didn't know?
"Me and Raz go way back, you know," said Berry.
"Really? I thought he was after some girl named Butterfly," replied Caroline
"Don't tell me, you came in the door with Todd, and then Raz immediately asked if there was a friend of his at the club?" asked Berry.
"Yeah, pretty much. How did you know?" said Caroline.
"Hah, that's standard 'Do you need me to leave so you can get lucky?' code. There's no girl named Butterfly that I know of down at "The Fool's Card," and I know EVERYONE that hangs out there," explained Berry.
"You make that place sound like some sort of machine, Berry," replied Caroline.
"In a way, it is. Freaks are pretty rare in this town; we have to huddle together for warmth. Speaking of which, gimme your keys," said Berry.
Caroline handed over her keys and followed Berry out to the parking lot. The second Berry stepped out of the dingy stairwell and into the lot, she hit the automatic lock button and followed the lights to Caroline's car wordlessly. Berry walked quickly to the driver's side with a certain kind of brisk determination. Caroline climbed into the passenger's side with the same attitude as a seven year old on the way to school.
"This is a pretty nice car. These days when I get to drive it's normally just some beater," commented Berry to Caroline as she backed out of the sandy blacktop.
Caroline began to notice Berry had a mechanical, almost marionette-like way of driving. Her elbows almost always hung down, as if strings at the shoulder and wrist supported her arms.
Caroline continued to withdraw as she rode along with Berry. In a box with glass sides, Caroline couldn't help but feel like she was some sort of fuzzy prize in a fifty-cent grappling hook game. The more she thought about it, the more she couldn't help but feeling that Berry wasn't another prize, but rather she was the hook.
Caroline followed Berry up the wooden staircase to Todd's apartment like a sheep following a judas goat into a charnel house. Berry knocked a complicated pattern on Todd's door, like a short version of "Wipe Out." Ten seconds later, Raz slowly opened the door with thick smoke still pouring from his mouth and nose, as if his face were some kind of giant, living incense burner.
Berry climbed into Raz's arms with the grace of a joey climbing into a kangaroo's pouch. Raz smiled warmly over Berry's shoulder and pulled her backwards into the room so Caroline had room to slip into the cramped apartment.
Todd lounged on the couch in a half-buttoned silk shirt with the sleeves still open, his smile warm and inviting. When he saw Caroline, he reared up from his couch like a stretching cat as Raz and Berry came back deeper into the room.
"Hey Carl," said Todd softly, comfortably close to Caroline's face. Caroline noticed Todd smelled like pot and jasmine, with a soft touch of the scent of leather.
All of a sudden, Caroline began remembering the events of the first night she and Todd had met. Not just the events she could admit to, but the other side of what had happened. The taste of his blood, the sound of his hiss of pain as she cut him, his visceral reaction to her; as if he was some form of escape for her.
You'd think with passion like that, they'd all have found something better to do than sitting around watching Betty Boop cartoons on DVD until they passed out in a stoned, drunken stupor a few hours later.