Fiction by the Vancouver-based writer and psychologist
He hadn’t been in a good mood for days. Slouching, crabby, just not his usual self. On Sunday, my day off, I asked him over for a drink, but he snarled, no thanks. Neighbours need to know when to keep to themselves, if you know what I mean. I try to be friendly but if you show me your sulky face, I know to leave you be.
I was home working on a project. Got some beautiful pieces of wood laminate free from a guy at my job. So there I was in my living room, concentrating on laying down the pieces. Minding my own business.
But damn, loud groans and swearing just kept coming from next door. Maybe he was doing more reps than usual. Heavier weights? An hour felt like forever. Then it got quiet. Like, really sudden. Now that was weird. I put down what I was doing, and went outside to our common corridor.
That was when I saw him. Lying face flat down outside his apartment. A pool of blood growing by the second. And when I traced the blood to where it came from, I saw it. That crude, jagged place where his right hand should have been, Fuck, oh fuck.
Ran over to him. Took his pulse on the neck. God, he was alive. How long had he been lying there? I called the police and the ambulance. Then I made myself go inside his apartment. A trail of blood led all the way to the kitchen. On the cutting board was the hand. Next to it, a medium sized knife, the kind you use to slice vegetables.
Don’t know why I didn’t faint. I’ve seen some serious injuries in the construction business. Not even two weeks into my first job, a guy fell from the roof and bashed his brains out. Talk about a mess.
But this—wow, way crazier, ’cause I didn’t see what really happened.
I rushed back to my place and grabbed some clean rags. Wrapped them tight around his wrist, right above where someone had cut off the hand.
The invasion was happening. Never seen anything like it.
Vermin crawled up through the floorboards. Those f-ing Kill Billies below. Poison always goes from the lowest level to the highest, from Hell all the way up to Heaven.
Beasties got hold of my right hand, and started to feast. They were starving. I broke out all over in a sweat, then my skin burned and itched like crazy. That’s when I grabbed the knife to defend myself. Can’t remember how long it took, but I fought them off.
Air. I was suffocating. Needed to get some air. I opened the door, took a few steps before my legs buckled from under me. Couldn’t move. Saw some lights coming toward me. A voice. Carl. Then dark. Other voices. Couldn’t move. Then I floated right off the ground.
Caught sight of the bottle of pills on his couch before the ambulance arrived. Talk about evidence. That’s when I put two and two together. He must have done it to himself.
Flushed the pills down the toilet and stuffed the empty bottle into my back pocket. Put on kitchen gloves and combed the apartment for evidence. Anything that might land me in trouble. Saw his cellphone on the bed—there’d be all those texts between us. Into my other pocket.
Next, the bathroom cabinet. Found his medications. Two bottles of Wellbutrin and one of Seroquel. Talk about shit—those psychotropics will do it to you. Send out to the Tropics and back, all mangled up and nowhere good to go. Left those on the shelf, nothing to do with me. Went back out to the corridor when I heard someone coming up the back stairs. I stood over Tim’s body, and held onto the railing, feeling faint. Ken our neighbour appeared. Don’t say anything, I warned.
Okay, okay. He placed his hand over his heart, and stumbled back a couple of steps. He turned a couple of shades paler. What happened, his voice was all trembly-like. I just couldn’t say anything back.
The sound of sirens. Louder and louder. Then cut. Next thing, someone buzzed me, and I let them in without asking who. Three paramedics and a stretcher, two police officers. Some neighbours from downstairs heard the noise, and showed up in the courtyard below. I sort of remember them asking. That’s when I found my voice. Accident. It’s Tim, he’s alive.
Our building is sort of interesting—1960s, sturdy build, with a sky well. Six apartments upstairs, six down. Everyone can see what you’re up to, if they’re standing outside their apartment.
Told the police I was pretty sure Tim did it to himself. Heard him groaning for an hour, before I found him. That was all the facts I was going to share. Then the next bits I had to make up on the fly, told them I knew he’d been taking some kind of medication, ‘cause he told me, but I didn’t know what. Wasn’t long before one of the officers retrieved the bottles from the bathroom with his gloved hands, and placed the evidence in a Ziploc bag.
I let them know I would call our landlord. Officers said it was okay to clean up the place—that sure was a relief to me.
I was shaking for hours after they’d taken Tim away. They took his hand too, said they would to try to save it. At least I feel good about that.
All that blood. I was sick to my stomach, but I had to do it. A couple of hours later, after three beers, I called our landlord.
Darren arrived, looking like hell. Sure—a tenant in your building cuts off his hand and the police and ambulance had been there and left, and it’s still a fucking mess. Told him not to worry, I’d get the place all cleaned up.
I spent five more hours that night working on it. Hosed down the corridor. I wondered what that ugly creeping ivy in the square planter on the second floor thought about having to drink up that fresh smoothie of blood, water and soap detergent.
Actually to be honest, I don’t give a shit if plants have feelings. All I kept saying to myself was, I always get the job done.
Around 1 am, when I was sitting on my couch with my fifth beer, Ken came over to see how I was doing. Couldn’t look him in the eye. Go away, don’t bug me.
Tim’s a good guy. Wasn’t fair that happened. Can’t be sure it was those drugs I gave him. Maybe he mixed it with some other stuff. How was I supposed to know? He didn’t tell me about those other medications. Like I said before, psychotropics always complicate things, you know?
Couldn’t go to sleep that night. Took an Atavan but it didn’t help any. Must have fallen asleep, around six. Had a nightmare and woke up, soaked with sweat.
In the nightmare, there was a loud knock at my door. When I opened up, there it was, a Godzilla-sized version of his bloodied hand, floating in mid-air, right in front of my eyes. I closed my hands over my mouth just to time to catch the vomit.
They tell me it was a month ago today.
They re-attached my hand. It’s a miracle. Surgeons are amazing, right? But nerves being what they are, going to take some time. Might be another year of rehab before I regain enough strength and sensation. I’ll never get my old hand back, though. It just isn’t the same anymore.
Medical folks here at the hospital still ask me questions about what happened, and I just shake my head and say, I don’t know. They’re calling it a psychotic break. When I first got to the hospital, they’d ask if I had been taking drugs. I said I was drinking beer that afternoon, and popped my last two Oxycontin pills. Kind of a half-truth, but I wasn’t going to tell them my pills were from the street.
The doctors nodded. “Sometimes that happens. Hallucinations.”
I wasn’t going to share any additional info. They’re the experts, after all. Sometimes they act so damn knowledgeable. But they didn’t get around to checking if there were other drugs in my system, did they? Or they’d have found something like Fentanyl or god-knows-what-else in my blood. I’m not stupid. I’ve had lots of time here in hospital to think about how it all happened.
This city. Ever since I came here from Prince George, Vancouver’s been driving me crazy. I miss the open spaces, the wilderness. Mostly, I was happy being a helicopter pilot. I helped fight forest fires, I flew people up to mountains for heli-skiing.
Then the accident. I guess I wasn’t used to the new helibuckets, and the smooth glassy surface at the pool tricked me about the depth of the water. My chopper was tilted by a sudden gust of wind, and it dropped height rapidly. Too fast for me to gain control. My chopper was flung into some trees and then we hit the ground.
Before that accident, I had five great years of flying without a single mishap. But all it takes is one single freak accident, to change your whole life. Just think: one! That’s some crazy shit. Everyone was telling me, it’s a miracle you made it out alive. Had my helmet on, Got pulled out in the nick of time.
People try to be helpful but they have no idea. My life as I knew it, all gone. Months being stuck in hospital, at first not walking, then walking with legs that didn’t always obey me.
That’s why I decided I had to get away from Prince George. Just too many reminders. I thought maybe Vancouver was worth a try.
Something about this city. Greed coming at you from every direction. People walking the streets, hungry and desperate. Looking for quick money. Like my neighbours downstairs. the Kill Billies. Ex cons— the permanent stink of prison coming off their skin. Bowing and scraping, modern day Fagins. Ass-licking polite, but they’d stab you in the back for a couple hundred.
Jobs here were pretty boring compared to what I’d done. I worked odd jobs. Started out living in a dive on East Hastings near Main. Drank too much. Couldn’t sleep. Those nightmares about the helicopter accident just wouldn’t let go of me.
My supply of Oxycontin was running low. Tried to get some more the legit way. But the doctor at the walk-in clinic refused to give me a prescription. What an asswad. I bet he’s never had to deal with pain before. He took one look at me, and gave me a referral to a shrink. Took a month before I could see that guy and what did he do? Wrote out a prescription for Seroquel and Wellbutrin.
I don’t know what the medications did. Maybe they helped with the nightmares, because I had fewer of them. But I also felt more out of it in the daytime. The pain, though, didn’t go away.
Had to do something. Got some Oxycontin on the street. That’s how I met Carl. He told me about a vacancy in his apartment building. Nice guy. Smart. Really appreciated his kindness. He didn’t have to do that. Guess he knew I wouldn’t be giving him any trouble. Plus he had a steady source of income next door to him.
Didn’t take too long for us to hang out some evenings after work. A beer, a bit of weed. Then I opened up, told him about my life up north and the accident that changed my life.
I lived with pain for so long—it would always be there, simmering away in the background. The street Oxycontin was working—though I couldn’t really say why it felt different than the legit stuff. When the effects wore off, the pain would sneak up on me and grab me by the balls. Every fucking cell in my body burned. Might as well have died.
But I had to. Oxycontin made life bearable. I had no choice.
Man, did I heave a big sigh of relief when Tim gave me his passcode for the phone. I deleted all our texts.
He looked pretty calm, back to his usual mellow self, sitting up on his hospital bed. The right hand all bandaged up. They’ve put him on a different anti-depressant, switched his other medications. They wouldn’t want him to have any more weird trips.
They’re letting me out in a few more weeks, he said. When the nurse left the room, he whispered, Hey, it’s not your fault. Besides, you rescued me. Saved my right hand.
I put my face real close to his ear. What do I know about that shit? Dope’s dope. Then I pulled back, put my hand on his shoulder. He smiled at me and I smiled back.
I walked out of the hospital, feeling the oncoming winter chill nip at my neck. I zipped up my jacket, and pulled the hoodie up to cover my head. It would take me maybe forty-five minutes but the long walk back would settle me down.
I deal, I’m just the middleman. Those guys in the factories wherever, in those foreign countries—blame them. They’re the ones mixing the shit. So that folks like me can make a living.
It was pretty late by the time I got home. I switched on the TV and opened up a bottle of beer.
I’m glad Tim’s going to be okay. Lucky I found him in time. Everyone in the apartment building’s all shook up, even though they didn’t get to see the blood and gore. Except Ken. But he saw so little, compared to me.
Like I said, the neighbours can see and hear everything if they’re out in the corridor on our floor, or in the courtyard below. I have to be careful. You never know who’s paying attention, spotting it when my customers arrive to pick up their junk.
The nice thing, though—everyone’s been saying that I’m a hero for saving Tim’s life. Yeah, I say, I was only doing what I had to do.