Of Mice and Men Ch. 02byGweall©
Ethan sighed as he dropped the milk into the fridge. It groaned and creaked as he closed the door. The apartment he had gotten when Chris had dumped him was only a step above a landfill. Everything was brown, except for the splattered of puke green paint that was strewn across the single bedroom single bathroom apartment. The previous tenant was lovely enough to decorate the place with the putrid color. He grabbed his cell phone, unplugging it from the only working wall socket in the apartment, and headed out.
It had been a week since he had started working with the infected, though he hadn't been given the same bunch as his first day. He shrugged off the flood of emotions that filled him when he thought about Carey. The little mouse hybrid had touched him somewhere in his heart, somewhere no one ever had before. Not even Chris. The meek mannerisms, soft spoken voice, nervous twitches, and small smiles all added to the perfect package. Ethan couldn't help but want to see the man again. But at the same time, next to the want, was that smoldering hatred that lurked just below the surface. It wasn't as furious with Carey as it was with other infected scum, but it was always there.
Trish greeted him at the front desk as usual, and handed him a stack of files. He had gotten used to the routine, and after a bit of small talk, headed off to the infected he would be seeing today. As he walked towards the elevator, he opened the first file. The first one in his hands, was Carey. His first day there, Trish had just held his files and told him where to go. But now he got to see them. The picture of Carey in the file looked like it had been taken right after he had transformed. He was lying in a bed, strapped down with brown leather padded straps, his ears pressed back against his head. Several track marks were running up his arms, where he had been injected with something. He wore a plain gray set of scrubs. Ethan looked up as the elevator door opened, and he stepped inside before turning his eyes back down to the file.
To the right of his picture was just general information. He was five foot three, he weighed 97 pounds, he had white fur, and black eyes. All of this Ethan already knew. He looked below the general info and found an interesting section. Medication. He scanned the small box filled with hand written notes. Xanax, Ambien, Zoloft. Ethan continued down, where there was a 'notes' section. In scribbled, uneven handwriting was written:
'Patient has severe Nosocomephobia, Latrophobia, and Trypanophobia.
Patient should have frequent contact with people and other infected, to aid in the recovery of severe social anxiety. '
Ethan quickly pulled out his phone and googled the phobias on the first line.
"Hospitals, doctors, and needles," he mumbled to himself. The doors opened and he found Carey's room quickly. He shoved his phone back into his pocket and closed the file, before knocking on the door.
"Come in," came the soft call from the other side of the door. Ethan opened it, and was greeted with the sight of Carey sitting on the couch. He held his tail in his hands, as he did before, squeezing it nervously. He looked the same as he did the first time Ethan had met him, only this time he wore a pair of sweat pants. "Oh. Hi, Ethan." Carey smiled and Ethan could have sworn he could see a soft pink blush under the thin white fur on his cheeks.
"Hey," Ethan smiled, he tried to ignore the softly glowing rage inside him. He sat down on the couch and there was a small silence that passed between them.
"How are you?" Carey asked, tugging at his tail.
"I'm alright, and you?" Ethan set the files down on the table.
"I'm okay... I guess... is it too dark in here for you? I can turn some lights on..." Carey said, in his soft but nervous voice. He spoke so fast Ethan almost couldn't keep up.
"No, it's fine, if you're more comfortable in the dark," Ethan said. It felt weird, asking if an infected was comfortable. Why did he care?
"... I am... actually. But it's okay if you want me to-"
"Carey, it's fine," Ethan chuckled. Carey blushed and sat back down, his white feet resting on the seat of the couch underneath him. He even sat like a mouse.
"Sorry... I just get nervous," he bit his lip, and pulled his tail closer to him. He hugged it like a child would hug a stuffed bear.
"Yeah, I saw in your file you have anxiety," Ethan said. Carey's ears laid flat against his head.
"You read my file?" he whined nervously.
"It's okay. That doesn't matter." Ethan dismissed it, he felt guilty that he had read the file now. Carey's eyes were glossy with unshed tears and he didn't want to see the small man cry.
"I just get embarrassed. I wasn't like this before I changed, you know," Carey said, playing with the tip of his tail.
"Really? I thought people's personalities didn't change that much when they got infected," Ethan asked.
"They don't, usually. But... well... I wasn't infected like most people," Carey said.
"What do you mean?" Ethan asked.
"Well, I wasn't infected by chance. I was infected on purpose, against my will," Carey admitted.
"What? How's that even possible? Nobody knows how people are infected, exactly," Ethan said.
"That's not true," Carey said, his soft voice suddenly growing louder. "That's just a lie. They know," he said, returning to his original meek self.
"Who knows?" Ethan asked.
"Everyone. I mean, not 'everyone' exactly. The government kept it hidden from the general public. But they have scientists, lots of them. People who know how it works, and they're studying it," Carey explained. Ethan was beginning to think Carey wasn't exactly right in the head.
"Right... and how would you know all of this?" Ethan asked. Carey bit his lip, before continuing.
"That's why I was infected. I worked in a lab, as a scientist. When people began getting infected, it was our job to study it. Of course that was hard since we couldn't test on humans. After awhile, we figured out that it wasn't a virus or a bacteria or anything like that." Carey was growing excited as he spoke about his previous work. He scooted closer to Ethan and said in an excited whisper, "It's a parasite. A symbiotic relationship, actually," he added as an after thought.
"A what?" Ethan frowned. He wasn't exactly the star science student back in high school.
"It's like a parasite. Except they need each other. See, with a parasite and host, one always hurts the other. Parasites take from the host, harming it in the process. But with a symbiotic relationship, they need each other to survive. If one dies, so does the other," Carey said. "This was a major breakthrough. We knew what caused it, we could study it." Carey sighed. "But it wasn't enough. The government threatened to cut our funding if we didn't have something 'real' to show them," Carey rolled his eyes. "God damn politicians didn't know what the hell they were talking about," he mumbled, before snapping back to his story. "Anyways... they needed something 'real' to show for our work, otherwise it would all be over. So they were going to have to study an actual infected person, except that was illegal. But not if somebody volunteered," Carey said.
"But you didn't volunteer," Ethan frowned.
"They faked my signature. I 'signed' a contract saying that I agreed to anything they would do to me," Carey's voice was quiet and bitter. "They found a lab mouse that had the parasite, and kept us in the same room for a few weeks. The parasite lives in an animal host until it's old enough to find a permanent host. Then it moves to a human and attaches itself. After they're joined they can never be separated," Carey continued. "But they insisted that they would try to separate the two once they were joined."
"What do you mean?" Ethan frowned.
"Lets just say I wasn't the first person to 'volunteer'." Carey stared at Ethan silently for a moment, letting it sink in. "It only took them four times to realize that what they wanted was impossible. So they turned to trying different drugs and chemicals, seeing how they would an affect someone who was infected. That's what I went through," Carey said, his eyes glazed over as he went back in time. "I lost four years of my life in that lab. I never even got an apology." Carey's ears drooped and he looked at his tail. Ethan was quiet. The only sound in the room was the sound of Carey occasionally sniffing or wiping the tears off his cheeks.
"I'm sorry, Carey," Ethan said. Carey looked up at him, black eyes still leaking tears.
"You don't have anything to be sorry for." Carey shook his head.
"I'm sorry that you had to go through that. I don't think you deserved it," Ethan said, and was surprised to see that it was the truth. He meant what he said. He didn't think Carey deserved to suffer.
"Thank you." Carey gave a small smiled. He raised his left hand, which still held his tail, and wiped away the tears with the back of his hand. Carey took a deep breath, and let it out with a sigh. "Sorry." He laughed nervously as he dried the last of his tears.
"It's okay," Ethan smiled.
"So I told you my sob story, now what about yours?" Carey asked, in his mousey voice.
"I don't have one," Ethan shook his head.
"Oh come on." Carey laughed, as if he knew it was a lie. "You're a court appointed worker, aren't you? What did you do to get in here?" he asked, hugging his tail again.
"Well... uh... it was an attempted murder charge," Ethan said.
"Really? You don't look like a murderer," Carey said thoughtfully. Ethan looked at the ground. "Why did they send you here? Shouldn't you be in jail? No offense..." Carey said, his ears lying back against his head as he dipped his head down in embarrassment.
"Yeah, I should be. But the judge didn't think it would help me. He wants me to change."
"So he sent you here? I still don't get it..." Carey shook his head.
"The attempted murder was against an infected guy," Ethan confessed. Carey's ears fell back again.
"Oh..." he mumbled.
"And... I've assaulted two other infected," Ethan added. Carey stared at him for a second.
"Oh..." he repeated. There was an awkward silence as they thought about what Ethan had just said. The clock chimed on the half hour, and Ethan's time was up. He looked up at it before standing, he hadn't realized how long they had been talking.
"I should go. I'll see you later, Carey." Ethan stood.
"Bye, Ethan." Carey watched him leave, holding his tail and turning his head with curiosity as the man shut the door.
Ethan spent the rest of his time there thinking about Carey. Sure, he had other infected to go see... he was with a child who was a crocodile hybrid, and an old man who was a hyena hybrid. But his mind was only focused on Carey. The story that the mouse hybrid had told him was a sad one. It made him think about what he had done to the ram boy, and Anthony, and even Alex. He had done horrible things, he had just never thought about them as being horrible before. He pretended to listen as he visited with the people, but he just couldn't focus. That look on Carey's face when Ethan told him why he was there. He couldn't tell if it was fear or what. No, it wasn't fear. It was something else. Concern?
When Ethan was allowed to leave , he headed towards the elevator. Before he pushed the button, he stopped. He bit his lip and headed back the way he came. He stood in the plain looking hallway, lined with doors. But the only one he was focused on was Carey's. He hesitated, raising his hand to knock on the wooden door with the number 213 on it. He held his raised hand there for a moment, before letting it drop, and walking away. On the other side of the door, Carey's ears fell down to his head with sadness. With his tail in hand, he headed back to his couch to wait for Ethan's next visit.