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#160

Sicklier Times



                 When his early 30s gave way to his late 30s and Roscoe’s lifelong struggle with his health took a dramatic turn for the better, the overall quality of his life took an even more dramatic turn for the worse. For one thing, he started having horrible nightmares that he nonetheless could not remember when he woke up sweating and trembling. For another thing, sometimes when he woke up, he wasn’t in his bed anymore; sometimes he was in the living room, either on the couch or face-down on the carpet, but usually he was in the entryway on his back on the hardwood floor. For yet another thing, most food had begun to taste weird, but not all the time. For a still further thing, Roscoe now found it difficult to trust anyone, and that included himself. For a fifth thing, sometimes when Roscoe was alone in his house and everything was quiet, he’d hear a soft beeping sound or a soft ticking sound or a very soft whirring sound and these all sounded like they were coming from inside his own body. And those five things weren’t even all of the things. Roscoe couldn’t keep track of all of the little things that kept happening to him that were all working together to contribute to his general feeling that his life had become much worse since he got healthy. Because in spite of all of these troubling things, Roscoe was physically healthy in the traditional sense.

                How Roscoe had finally become healthy was a mystery. His mom thought it was because his body chemistry had changed, but she didn’t know that the beginning of the improvement of his health had coincided with his acceptance that he would never be healthy and should therefore stop worrying, wishing, or hoping. Roscoe thought that maybe removing the pressure to be healthy had been the step that actually allowed it to happen.

                Throughout Roscoe’s youth and up into his early 30s, he had coughed and coughed, but now he rarely ever coughed. He had also had persistent headaches, but now he hadn’t had a headache in over three years. During most of Roscoe’s life, every flu bug or cold virus that popped up in some corner of Multioak and the surrounding area had felled him, sometimes confining him to his bed for a week or more, but now Roscoe’s immune system swatted these afflictions away like quick hands swat another familiar airborne pest, albeit a faintly-visible one: gnats. And while growing up, Roscoe had grown accustomed to strangers asking him if he was feeling OK every time he went out in public, but now it felt as if he was making strangers nervous about their own well-being whenever he went out in public, as if they thought he might accost them with misdirected vigor and ill-bestowed vitality. That was another thing: Roscoe got the impression that he wasn’t the only one who missed the sickly era of his life. For example, his mom had recently looked at him and said, “You were a lot happier when you were sick all the time. Everything was better. For all of us.” By “all of us,” Roscoe assumed she meant at least him, herself, and Roscoe’s dad, but it was possible she meant the entire town, county, state, country, or world for she was a woman who was not not in favor of outrageous hyperbole in certain circumstances.

                 

Roscoe’s dad wanted to split hairs, as usual, and he said that Roscoe wasn’t actually healthier now, he was just unwell in other ways. “Wellness,” said Roscoe’s dad, “should refer to one’s entire being, and that includes one’s mental state, one’s emotional state, and one’s spiritual state.”

                “But you know exactly what I mean,” said Roscoe. “I shouldn’t have to make that distinction to you every single time I say that I’m healthy now.”

                Roscoe’s dad accidentally slammed his own thumb in a cupboard door and didn’t react. It was eerie. “My concern is that because of your background and because you’re physically healthy now, that you won’t think of yourself as unwell and therefore you won’t do anything to get better.”

                “Look,” said Roscoe. “It’s like people who live in places where they don’t have enough food. They spend all their time trying to eat so they don’t have time to get inside their own heads and waste time on, like, existential stuff. Now that I’m healthy, I’m just now encountering that stuff at age 37.”

                Roscoe’s dad flung a drinking glass against the refrigerator and it broke it into two roughly equal-sized pieces. His expression didn’t change enough considering the violence of his outburst. It was eerie. “Come on, Roscoe! You’re hearing beeping coming from inside your own body! You think starving third-world people would hear beeping coming from inside their own bodies if they got three meals a day?”

                Roscoe’s mom got a broom and swept the two halves of the glass into a dustpan. Then she dumped the broken glass-halves into the garbage can. She could have easily picked both of them up without cutting herself but she just had to use that broom. Maybe she’d been trying to make a point to Roscoe’s dad or Roscoe or both of them.

                Roscoe went through the drive-thru at a new fast food place called Grand Beede’s Chicken that had just opened up in Multioak. He ordered spicy tenders and mashed potatoes with spicy gravy, but when he got home and ate it, the food tasted weird. That night, he woke up from a nightmare shaking and sweating and found himself on his back on the couch in his living room. There was a new, unlit scented candle on the coffee table that had not been there when Roscoe had gone to bed. The scent was called “Sultry Cinnamon Soother.”

 

                The next morning, Roscoe got online and typed a few of his recent issues into a search engine. He didn’t bother mentioning the candle. It turned out that, according to a lot of people online, Roscoe was probably being abducted by aliens. This explanation seemed plausible to Roscoe. He had watched a lot of TV during the sickly period of his life and had seen many shows wherein people who seemed respectable said they’d seen UFOs. Some of these people also said they’d been abducted. Roscoe hadn’t really believed them but he’d never decided he disbelieved them either. And his symptoms, for lack of a better word, were similar to symptoms experienced by some of these alleged abductees. He did a little more poking around and found a lot of people saying that if he thought he may have been abducted by aliens, he should go to a hypnotist.

                “What good will a hypnotist do?” asked Roscoe’s friend Avery around the thermometer protruding from her lips. While she had also been sickly when she and Roscoe were younger, Avery hadn’t gotten healthy within the last few years. If anything, she was sicklier now than ever before.

                “The hypnotist will help me uncover repressed memories of what happens to me during my abductions,” said Roscoe. “That’s step one. And then I can process that information and deal with it and move on.”

                “Move on?” asked Avery. She pulled her afghan tighter around her shoulders. “Does that mean the abductions will stop?”

                “Well, no,” said Roscoe. “Probably not. But I’ll be better equipped to deal with it and move on.”

                “I feel like that would just freak me out more,” said Avery. “Unless some detail in one of the repressed memories gave me a clue about how to stop getting abducted.”

                “That’s not how psychology works,” said Roscoe.

                “You don’t know how psychology works,” said Avery, her words clanging with truth. “You need to go to a real psychologist. You need help from a real professional to deal with whatever’s going on with you.” She took the thermometer out of her mouth. “102 degrees,” she said. “Better!”

 

                “Well,” said Mr. Kaffty, the cheapest of the two hypnotists Roscoe had been able to find in Multioak. “That was interesting!”

                “It was?” said Roscoe, sitting up from the peach-colored yoga mat Mr. Kaffty had rolled out on his office floor. “What happened? Did I reveal some repressed memories?”

                “Oh, yes,” said Mr. Kaffty. “They were strange!” Mr. Kaffty seemed kind of giddy.

                “What were they?” asked Roscoe. He wasn’t sure if he was supposed to stand up now or not so he just stayed seated on the yoga mat.

                “Let me just check my notes here,” said Mr. Kaffty. He adjusted his spectacles too enthusiastically and they fell off of his face. He didn’t bother to pick them up. “My handwriting is a little difficult to read, but I remember a lot of it.” He cleared his throat which triggered a coughing fit, but he grinned while he coughed which was unnerving. “All right,” he finally said. “Where were we?”

                “You were going to tell me about the repressed memories I have about my abductions,” said Roscoe. “You said they were strange,” he added for further clarification.

                “Right!” said Mr. Kaffty. “So, OK, you said you remember a dingy space. You can’t move, you can’t even turn your head, but the room is not well-lit. Also, you said something about pipes? You see pipes? Up in the ceiling? Rusty pipes?” He paused as if Roscoe was supposed to confirm this.

                “I have no idea,” said Roscoe. “You’re supposed to be telling me what I said. I was hypnotized.”

                “I just thought you might know something about the pipes,” said Mr. Kaffty.

                “Rusty pipes don’t sound like something that would be on an alien spacecraft,” said Roscoe.

                “Who knows?” said Mr. Kaffty. “Maybe some alien spacecrafts are a little run down. Aren’t some of our cars a little run down?”

                “Yes,” conceded Roscoe. His own car was pretty run down and Mr. Kaffty was probably aware of that since it was currently parked in Mr. Kaffty’s driveway which was in plain view out his office window.

                “Planes too,” said Mr. Kaffty. “Houses, appliances, toys. Everything becomes run down eventually. That’s the nature of the physical world. Everything gets run down. Even our bodies.”

                “Actually, I’m healthier now than I’ve ever been,” said Roscoe. He didn’t feel like getting lectured about decay and entropy and all that from a hypnotist who didn’t even have a doctorate and didn’t even bother to lie about having a doctorate. “Did I say anything else? Did I mention a candle?”

                “Hmm,” said Mr. Kaffty. “Let me think. I don’t think you mentioned a candle.” He wasn’t looking at his notes which made Roscoe suspicious about the content of the notes. Or maybe Mr. Kaffty needed his glasses but felt like he’d already missed his chance to pick them up without looking silly. Roscoe hoped he wasn’t getting a worse session for such a petty reason. “You said something about figures,” said Mr. Kaffty. “Figures standing around you. Shapes moving around in your peripheral vision.”

                “What kind of shapes?” asked Roscoe. “Aliens?”

                “You weren’t sure,” said Mr. Kaffty. “You were out of it.”

                “When?” asked Roscoe. “When I was abducted?”

                “Yeah,” said Mr. Kaffty. “And just now when you were telling me about it.”

                Roscoe wanted his money back, but did he want to have a confrontation with Mr. Kaffty over the money? He decided he did not want to have a confrontation. And then as he was backing out of Mr. Kaffty’s driveway, Roscoe ran into Mr. Kaffty’s mailbox on accident and destroyed it and Mr. Kaffty was very cool about it so Roscoe was glad he hadn’t made a scene by demanding his money back after all.

 

                That night when Roscoe went to bed, he used a dab of an adhesive left over from a Halloween costume to affix a note to his chest that read, Who are you? Why are you abducting me?

                Roscoe woke up the next morning in his bed. He’d had nightmares while he slept and, when he lay still in his bed and held his breath, he could hear the very soft whirring sound coming from within his own body, but he didn’t think he’d been abducted because he remembered his nightmares. They were about being abducted and variations on that general theme. The note was still affixed to Roscoe’s chest but it had gotten pretty crumpled during the night. He had probably rolled around on it while he was having his nightmares. He took the note off of his chest and tried to smooth it out before setting it on his bedside stand. He could use the same note the next time he slept. No need to waste paper.

                Roscoe’s eggs, toast, and cereal all tasted weird. He spent the day helping an acquaintance move. He teamed up with the acquaintance to get three loads of furniture down two flights of narrow apartment-building stairs and into the back of his truck, and make three separate trips to the acquaintance’s new house in Dalcette. For his trouble, Roscoe got a can of pop and two slices of pizza which were corrupted by the presence of olives.

                That night when Roscoe went to bed, he reaffixed the wrinkled note to his chest with the costume adhesive and also stuck a pen to his chest next to the note. Earlier in the day, while wrestling a dresser down the stairs and fighting to keep its empty drawers from sliding open and dinging the wall, Roscoe had realized that whoever was abducting him might not have a writing utensil on them while they were doing whatever it was they did to him, especially if they were aliens. An alien culture might not have pens at all. And if whoever was abducting him didn’t have a pen, they wouldn’t be able to write answers to his questions on the note.

                Roscoe hoped he wouldn’t accidentally dislodge the cap from the pen in the night, roll onto the pen, gouge himself, break the pen, and soak his sheets with a combination of blood and ink.

 

                Roscoe awoke in the night from horrible nightmares, shaking and sweating. He was lying on his back in the middle of his bed with the blankets pulled up to his waist. He looked down at his chest and saw that the note was there but the pen was gone. Then Roscoe noticed that the note was now affixed to his chest with the writing facing his body. He plucked the note off of his chest and examined it. Someone had responded.

                “Someone or something,” Roscoe said aloud, but actually the writing in the response was pretty standard English-language handwriting so “someone” was probably more accurate.

                In response to Roscoe’s first question – Who are you? – the abductors had written, PLEASE don’t worry about it with “please” in all-caps. In response to Roscoe’s second question – Why are you abducting me? – the abductors had written, Please stop stressing about this, please take care of yourself, and note that we now return you to your bed as a courtesy. In that sentence, neither instance of the word “please” was in all-caps.

 

                “I told you the hypnotist would be a bust,” said Avery through a tissue she was holding to her nose. She blew her nose into the tissue.

                “But it wasn’t a total bust,” said Roscoe. “That’s what I’m saying. I got confirmation that I’m being abducted and that gave me the idea for the note and then that lead to even more definitive confirmation.”

                Avery heaved a congested, wheezy sigh. “But how does any of this help you?” she asked. “Where does all this confirmation get you?”

                “I’ve got more information to work with,” said Roscoe. “I’ve got a clearer picture of what’s happening to me.”

                “And that’s going to help you put a stop to it?”

                “Yes!” said Roscoe. “I hope so!”

                “But how?” asked Avery. “More notes on your body?”

                “We started a dialogue,” said Roscoe. “That’s step one.”

                “I thought uncovering the repressed memories was step one,” said Avery.

                “Then starting the dialogue is step two,” said Roscoe. “I’m further along, even better.”

                “But how many steps are there?” asked Avery. “I thought you were just going to process the information and move on.”

                “You’re such a naysayer,” said Roscoe. “Last time I was here, you were the one saying uncovering the repressed memories was only worthwhile if it led to finding a way to actually stop getting abducted.”

                “That wasn’t my point,” said Avery. She coughed into the front of her pajama shirt. “My point was that you should go to a real psychologist. I’m sorry if I seem like a naysayer, I just envy your good health and sometimes I feel like you’re squandering it.”

                “I have been squandering it,” said Roscoe. “But now I know it hasn’t been my fault and I’m doing something about it.”

                “I guess,” said Avery with a sickly smile. “I just don’t think you’re going to do a good job.”

                Roscoe smiled back and his smile was just as sickly as Avery’s but without the excuse of him actually being sickly.

               

 

                That night, Roscoe had a weird-tasting grilled cheese sandwich and went to bed early with a new note and a pen affixed to his chest. Hours later, he woke up shaking and sweating in his bed. He was lying on the left side of his bed, his normal spot. The covers were pulled up to his shoulders as they had been when he’d gone to bed. Roscoe turned on the lamp on his bedside stand and sat up. The note and pen were still stuck to his chest. He peeled the note from his skin and looked it over. His request – Will you please stop abducting me? – had not been answered. Roscoe was puzzled. The nightmares and the unpleasant wake-up were all consistent with one of his abductions, but here he was exactly as he’d been when he’d fallen asleep. Were some of the symptoms starting to manifest themselves even when he wasn’t abducted? That would be an awful development. Roscoe looked at the note again and noticed something he hadn’t seen the first time he’d examined it: a small, brown stain in the bottom right corner. Roscoe sniffed the stain. It smelled like chocolate syrup. And Roscoe had not had chocolate syrup in the house ever. Roscoe didn’t know if he was more disturbed by the fact that the abductors were getting trickier or the fact that they were either making chocolate milk or eating ice cream sundaes during their abductions of him. And then, for the first time in over three years, Roscoe got a headache.

 

                “I’m coming down with something,” said Roscoe. His dad had put him on speaker phone so his mom could talk to him too.

                “Healthy people get sick sometimes too,” said his dad. “It doesn’t necessarily mean anything.”

                “But it might mean things are going back to normal,” said his mom. Her voice was hopeful and more distant.

                “It isn’t normal to be sick all the time,” said Roscoe’s dad.

                “It is for him,” said Roscoe’s mom. “It’s the hand he was dealt.”

                Roscoe felt dizzy and weak. It made him feel 14 years old and 22 years old and 30 years old and, well, 3 years old, for that matter. “I think I’m gonna try to sleep it off,” said Roscoe. “Bye, Mom. Bye, Dad.”

                “Feel better,” said his dad.

                “We love you,” said his mom. “It’s OK to be sick again!”

                Roscoe hung up and collapsed into his bed. He lay there completely still in the silence of his bedroom. He held his breath. The only sound he heard coming from within his own body was the feeble beating of his heart.

 

                Roscoe awoke shaking but not sweating from nightmares that he half-remembered to find himself looking up at dirty, rusty pipes twisted together on a dingy ceiling. He was naked and he could feel a rough, wooden surface beneath his back.

                “He woke up,” Roscoe heard someone say. “He woke up!” The voice sounded alarmed.

                “What? When?”

                “Now! He’s awake right now!”

                “He is?”

                “Yes, look! His eyes are open!”

                “They’re always open. He’s in a stupor. It’s fine.”

                “No! They’re moving around and blinking!”

                Roscoe heard some swearing and scrambling sounds.

                “Put this on! Don’t let him see your face!”

                “How did he wake up?”

                “I told you! I told you it was gonna stop working soon! I told you he was getting worse!”

                Roscoe sat up and swung his legs over the side of what he realized was a rustic table. He shook his head, trying to clear the fog. He was dimly aware of some male screaming happening nearby. Then a door slammed and the voices were muffled. He hopped down off of the table and almost fell over. His legs were wobbly. He held onto the table for support and wished he were wearing some clothes, even a hospital gown would be preferable to nothing.

                Roscoe looked around the room. It was small and shabby. The table was in the middle of the room and the walls were covered by metal shelves overflowing with what looked like scientific and medical stuff, although some of it looked more like general electronic stuff. There was also a beige metal door squeezed in between the shelving and, opposite that, a green metal desk with an old computer on it. The monitor was bulky and the screen was just blue text on a hazy black background. Roscoe lurched over to the computer and leaned forward with his hands on the desk to examine the monitor.

                Roscoe heard the door open behind him but before he could turn to see who it was, the door slammed again and he heard a panicked voice outside the room shouting, “He’s up! He’s up! He’s looking at the computer!”

                Roscoe turned back to the computer. He squinted at it. If whoever had kidnapped him didn’t want him to see what was on the computer, then he thought it must have some important, informative stuff on it. Unfortunately he could not decipher it. He was tempted to give up on the computer and just look for his clothes. So tempted, in fact, that he gave in to that temptation. But it didn’t take him long to realize that his clothes were not in the room. The desk didn’t have any drawers and the shelves contained only what they had appeared to contain at first glance: medical stuff, scientific stuff, general electronic stuff, and much of it seemed to be in disrepair. Also, Roscoe’s stomach felt awful. He was queasy and lightheaded. It was time to get out of here. He walked over to the door and leaned against it as he tried the handle. The door was locked from the outside. Roscoe pounded on the door with his fist and called, “Hello? Where are my clothes? I’m leaving!”

                “Oh no!” came a voice from the other side of the door. “He wants his clothes! He says he’s leaving!”

                “I’m standing right here,” said a second voice. “I can hear everything you can hear.”

                “Listen to me,” said Roscoe. “I’m feeling really sick. I need to go home.”

                “Right, OK,” said one of the voices through the door. Roscoe couldn’t tell them apart. “See, that’s the problem. If you were healthy, we could sedate you again and take you home with no problem. Actually, if you were healthy, you wouldn’t even be awake right now and there wouldn’t be any problem at all.”

                “Please,” said Roscoe. “I just want to go to bed.”

                “You’re too sick!” said one of the voices. “Our sedation device won’t work on you unless you’re a healthy specimen! Your stupid sickness has ruined everything! Do you know how long we waited for you to get healthy? Delays, delays, delays! Decades of delays! Our leaders died waiting for you to get healthy!”

                Roscoe thought he might faint if he didn’t sit down so, rather than faint, he sat down on the floor with his right side against the door, leaning his hot head against the cold metal. Who were these people? Or were they aliens? Why was he so important to them? Who had their leaders been? These were just a few of the many questions Roscoe didn’t care to ask because he was entirely focused on getting home to bed. That’s what being sickly was like. It was a familiar feeling, Roscoe remembered it so well. The way everything else took a back seat to making minor improvements to his physical comfort, the way interesting things became uninteresting and important things became things that required too much energy to address.

                “Then don’t sedate me,” said Roscoe. “Just take me home awake. Or put a bag over my head if you don’t want me to see anything. I honestly don’t care.”

                “That won’t work,” said a voice, possibly a new, third voice. “You need our specific means of sedation to get out of here. Even we have to be sedated to pass through the portal as we come or go. So you see that we’re at a bit of an impasse. You were just barely healthy enough to be sedated on your way in but you are currently not healthy enough to be sedated so we can get you out.

                “So,” said Roscoe. “So…so…I can’t leave unless I get healthy again?” He slid down until he was lying on his back, looking up at the rusty pipes from four feet farther away than before.

                “That’s correct,” said the voice. “And I should note that we acknowledge our role in your current sickly state and we acknowledge the irony in not being able to utilize you for our purposes until you weren’t sickly anymore and then making you sickly again through the emotional damage caused by that very utilization of you for our purposes.”

                “I’m stuck here,” said Roscoe, and then he nearly coughed up a lung, and if he had coughed up a lung, it didn’t feel like it would have come out in one piece.

When the coughing subsided, one of the voices spoke again. “Perhaps you won’t be stuck here. We certainly don’t want you here if you’re sickly. We very much want you to get healthy again. And to that end, we have something here to help with that process. I’m going to open the door briefly. Please don’t cough on me or try to touch me. Agreed?”

                “Agreed,” said Roscoe, and he scooted himself away from the door. “Go ahead,” he called.

                The door’s lock clicked and the door opened a crack. A gloved hand appeared. The hand appeared to be abnormal. The hand deposited a scented candle on the floor, then disappeared. The door closed and the lock clicked back into place. The scent of the candle was “Holistic Honeysuckle.”

                Then Roscoe heard a voice on the other side of the door say, “Oops,” the lock clicked again, the door opened a crack, and someone tossed a book of matches into the room.

 

                Roscoe wasn’t keeping track of time, but a while later, someone threw a blanket and a pillow into the room too. Roscoe wasn’t cold, but it would feel good to cover up, it would feel good to rest his head on something soft. He had lit the candle and the room smelled like honeysuckle, if the label on the candle was to be believed. Roscoe didn’t know what honeysuckle was supposed to smell like, but he didn’t have the strength to doubt a candle. He was too sickly. Roscoe turned off the electric light in the room and used the flickering light of the candle to find his way back over to the table. With trembling limbs, Roscoe climbed up onto the table, covered himself from his neck to his feet with the blanket, and let his head sink into the pillow. He felt feeble and fragile and frail. He felt like himself. There was no way he was going to get healthy. He would be stuck here with the aliens until he died. But that wasn’t so bad. Roscoe knew that not much matters when you’re sickly. Soon, his nose was so congested that he couldn’t smell the scent from the candle at all.

 

                And then Roscoe awoke from a nightmare. He was neither sweating nor shaking. He still felt sickly, but he remembered his nightmare. The nightmare had been a third-person view of his exact current circumstances. He had seen his sickly self sleeping on the rustic table beneath a blanket with his head on a pillow and the Holistic Honeysuckle candle burning on the floor nearby. And that had been the entire dream. But whereas his circumstances had felt perversely comforting as he had drifted into his sickly sleep, when those same circumstances were viewed through the lens of his nightmare, they filled Roscoe with dread, with desperation, with panic. He threw the blanket off of himself and sat up. He felt dizzy and weak as he climbed off of the table again. How to improve his condition? He stooped, almost toppling as he did so, and picked up the blanket, which he wrapped around his waist like a skirt. Now he was only half-naked, which made him feel a little better. Not just emotionally better, but physically better, like he’d be less likely to faint. He walked over to the door and knocked on it again. “Hello?”

                Roscoe heard shuffling on the other side of the door. “He’s up again! He’s knocking!”

                “Hello?” said Roscoe. “Could I have a different scent of candle? I think a candle with a good scent will help me relax enough to be healthy again, but not this scent. I’ve always associated honeysuckle with death because of something that happened in my childhood.”

                “What scent would you prefer?” came a voice from the other side of the door, possibly a completely new one.

                “Anything except honeysuckle,” said Roscoe. “That’s the only scent I associate with death.”

                “How about ‘Deep Dusk?’” asked the voice.

                “Sure,” said Roscoe. “That sounds very relaxing.”

                “OK, stay back from the door,” said the voice.

                “I know,” said Roscoe. “I will.” But he did not step back from the door, and when it cracked open, Roscoe grabbed its edge with both hands and with the all the paltry strength he could muster, he wrenched it open, which fortunately did not require much strength because whoever had cracked the door had not expected Roscoe to do anything except wait passively for the candle to be delivered. In fact, Roscoe almost fell backward because the door swung open much more easily than he had thought it would. But when he had regained his balance, Roscoe stepped to the threshold of the room and looked out into a dingy, poorly-lit hallway where six man-sized, humanoid beings stood frozen. Their faces were entirely concealed by filthy masks, but their posture communicated their shock. One of them had a glass of what appeared to be chocolate milk in its hand.

                Then one of the beings shouted. Roscoe still couldn’t tell which since their faces were covered. “What are you doing? You’re sickly! Get back in the room! You’re supposed to be quarantined until you’re healthy enough to sedate!”

                “I’m leaving now,” said Roscoe, and with that, he twirled through the midst of the beings, coughing in all directions, his blanket-skirt whirling around him. The beings scattered, their similar voices crying out in similar anguish and similar fear. With each revolution, Roscoe felt stronger and more robust. Yes, he still felt dizzy, but that was because of the spinning, not because of sickliness, that was clear. When he came to a stop, Roscoe saw that he was alone. The beings had disappeared behind the other doors that lined the hallway. The glass that had once contained the chocolate milk lay empty on its side as a bold splash of chocolate milk ran down the dingy wall. Roscoe took a moment to steady himself, but the dizziness soon passed and he felt great. Fully half of his coughing during his whirling maneuver had been fake.

Roscoe hurried down the hall and found that his only option was to turn right, which he did. There were no doors along the walls of this dingy hallway, but there was one door at the very end, a door of a different size and color than the others. It was taller, narrower, and red. Roscoe strode up to it with his blanket-skirt flowing behind him and opened the door without knocking. The room he found on the other side was larger than the one he’d come from but no less dingy. This room also had a rustic table in the middle and walls lined with shelves full of equipment, although this equipment seemed to be of a different variety. Roscoe couldn’t think of a word with which to categorize it. And this room had two computers on its desk rather than one, a blue door on the opposite wall to which Roscoe felt attracted, and a man standing in it, or rather a being that very much appeared to be a man but could have been an alien in disguise or possibly an alien-human hybrid whose alien features were concealed beneath its formal clothing. When Roscoe entered the room, the man looked startled but did not panic as the other beings had. Maybe he really was a man.

                “I’m leaving,” said Roscoe. The man did not look as if he intended to block Roscoe’s path to the blue door but Roscoe hesitated anyway.

                “You can’t until you’ve been sedated,” said the man. He had thinning black hair and glasses that made his eyes look sad. “Are you healthy enough to be sedated now?”

                Roscoe knew he was, but he also knew that he was through with those nightmares that he couldn’t remember, through with the noises coming from within his own body, through with the paranoia that rendered his good health undesirable and made his stupid sickly brain yearn for the return of his stupid sickly body.

                “What did they do to me?” asked Roscoe. “While I was sedated, I mean.”

                “They studied the effects of the sedation,” said the man.

                “Why?” asked Roscoe.

                “To improve the sedation method.”

                “Why?”

                “To make it easier to abduct you.”

                “But why me?”

                “Because you were finally healthy.”

                “But why me in the first place? Why did they wait so long instead of just abducting other people?”

                “Oh, you’d have to ask their leaders,” said the man. “But they’re all dead, so I guess you can’t.”

                “Why don’t you leave?” asked Roscoe.

                “Because I can’t sedate myself and pass myself through the portal and they won’t do it for me.”

                “But how do they sedate me at my house if you’re always in here?”

                “They have an external sedater too. I’m the internal sedater.”

                Roscoe had one more question he had to ask. “Are they aliens?”

                “No,” said the man. This made Roscoe wonder if he could trust anything the man had said. Disgusted, Roscoe walked to the blue door, opened it, and walked through it into a dark hallway with a dirt floor. The door swung closed behind him and Roscoe was alone in the dark. Keeping his right hand on the wall, Roscoe made his cautious way down the tunnel until he bumped into a hard surface. Had he missed a left-handed turn that he hadn’t known was there since he was hugging the right side of the hallway? But no, he felt air moving somewhere down by his feet. Roscoe knelt and he felt his blanket-skirt pooling around him. He reached out his hands and felt a plastic flap tacked over a floor-level opening just large enough for him to wriggle through on his stomach. And so he did, he wriggled through it, losing the blanket skirt in the process, and when he came out the other side, he found himself on a stretcher lying on the floor of a bare, cement room with a ramp leading up to a hatch in its low ceiling. Four men sat on chairs – two on either side of the stretcher – and gaped down at Roscoe.

                “You’re not sedated,” said one.

                “No,” said Roscoe, rising naked and healthy to his feet. “I don’t need sedation to leave. I can’t be sedated anymore.” As Roscoe said it, he knew it was true.

                “But you don’t seem sickly,” said one of the men. He was probably the external sedater.

                “I’m not too sickly to sedate,” said Roscoe. “I’m too healthy to sedate.” He made hand motions meant to encompass his entire self, even the abstract parts. Especially the abstract parts. Roscoe crouched near the portal and reached back into the dark tunnel, grabbing the blanket, pulling it through the portal, and affixing it around his waist like a skirt. Then he marched up the ramp, pushed the hatch open, and stepped out into a cold Fall night somewhere, he assumed, in the general vicinity of Multioak. 




Discussion Questions

  • Do you think mankind will ever discover a cure for common sickliness?



  • What’s an example of a time in your life when, looking back, you now realize that you were abducted?



  • Are you so painfully naïve that you don’t factor emotional health into personal assessments of your overall wellness?



  • Have you ever wished for a return to a time in your life that, while you were in it, you wished to leave? What is it about you that makes you such an uninspired wisher?



  • What’s your hottest take on this story? This is the best Discussion Question. Hot takes are hilarious as is all discussion thereof.



  • Does alien stuff count as Halloween stuff? If not, what about sickliness? If not, what about nightmares? If not, what about abductions by mysterious organizations with dingy facilities? If not, what about questionable, alternative sedation methods? If not, what about a “costume” made out of a blanket worn as a skirt?