* I was unprepared for this story.
Classes, exams, 2 weeks without a computer, as well as a particularly frustrating writer's block all contributed, and for those I will not apologize.
What I WILL apologize for, is that I have another story that I've been working on. A new one. 86 pages on a Pages document. Every minute that I spent writing this new story (which will be called Blue, Like the Shell of the World) Was a minute that I should have been working on Onus, and for that, I want to give you all my most sincere apologies.
To try and make it up to everyone, Blue wont be released until I am either finished, or within spitting distance of finished. (because 86 pages barely covers the first half) When I'm ready to begin releasing Blue, I will do so one chapter per week. Regular, reliable, episodic, and hopefully, insanely popular.
As another apology, I will try to have chapter five of Onus come before July. (kidding (I hope))
I will always finish what I start.
All characters are 18+*
I think that Sam did his very best to balance out the bad news.
While I tried to recover from the bad news, he brought up gifts by the boxload. Things that I had missed so badly during the lost years. Things that I had forgotten existed.
A brand new laptop. When I opened it, I saw that he had set it up. The desktop had an icon for the internet, as well as half a dozen video games that I had never heard of.
I shut the laptop as he came up with the next gift. A cardboard box full of books and DVDs. I ignored the DVDs for a moment and picked up a fat paperback. The edges of the paper were a soft aged yellow, the corners had been worn to wood-pulp fuzz. I sniffed, taking in that smell of old paper and glue. I caressed the cover, itching to peel it back. I had no desire to look through the other books to see if there was a title I wanted to read more. I had picked this book up first. I would read it first.
I looked at the cover. A rabbit was on the cover. The title of the book was 'Watership Down'.
After bringing up a bedside lamp that I could read by, Sam waited in the doorway of my room. I looked up at him from where I sat on the carpet.
"I know that you're scared." He murmured. "But you broke an important bone in your left foot. The calcaneus. It wont heal right without surgery, and otherwise you might not be able to walk again for years. I know one of the only anesthesiologists who has ever worked on Onus before. I know that I can call her in on a favor. And while we have the tools, we can remove the locking rings while you are under anesthesia."
I nodded slowly, and blinked rapidly. I tried to stop the tears. A fat wet tear got away from me. It slid down my cheek like a drop of oil. Suddenly I felt so tired.
I pressed my tongue to the edge of my upper front teeth. I wanted to say something. I wanted to release the cushion of air trapped above my tongue and say something. Say anything. But mostly, I wanted to say 'thank you'.
"Goodnight." Sam muttered. The word had an awkward quality to it. I realized that he had been about to try and say my name.
I wanted to speak up as he slowly closed the door, and locked it. I wanted to say, "Goodnight, Sam. My name is Shiloh." But even something that simple had been taken away from me.
I crawled to the mattress and turned on the personal book lamp. I crawled to the door and turned off the main light.
When I was in the little circle of warm white light, I started to read.
The next morning, Sam hovered as I scooted down two flights of stairs. I went very slow, careful keep my weight on my skinny buttocks. On one step, I accidentally pulled at one of the infected piercings and I had to bite my bony fist to stop the wretched groan.
I tightened my hand on the paperback book. A slim receipt marked my place, one third through. I had to force myself to think.
Not 'the' paperback. 'My' paperback.
Even after I forced myself to think that way, it still didn't feel right.
"Are you okay?" Sam murmured, anxiously. I craned my neck to look down the second flight of stairs. I had seven steps left to go. When I craned I could see through the front window, and see his sleek blue car. When I had first peeked out the window, my eyes still dim with sleep, the sleek blue car had been covered with soft white hedges of snow.
Now it wasn't. He had wiped and scraped the snow off, and he said that the heat was running. The inside of his sleek blue car would be warm for me.
I took a deep breath and slid down two more stairs, nodding.
I was okay.
I would be okay.
I wore a pair of his sweatpants without any underwear. He had given me underwear, but the cloth had snagged one of my piercings, so now I went without. I had thick woolen socks and slippers on my feet. I had a tee shirt and a huge baggy blue sweater that I practically drowned in. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, he gave me a multicolored wool scarf and a thick tweed coat. He tucked a hat around my ears. I was buried under warm winter clothing.
I tasted the scarf. I tasted clean wool and I smelled detergent. It smelled a little like him. But very faint. I spat and licked my lips when I got a strand of wool stuck on my tongue.
Now for the hard part.
I weakly got up, putting most of my weight on my left heel. According to Sam, I had six broken bones in my feet. But five of the breaks were old and mostly healed already. The break in my right heel was the worst, and it needed surgery.
He got next to me, and I slung an arm over his shoulders. I shivered.
"Alright, let's go."
The wind seemed to cut right to my bones.
He half-dragged me to the car. I minced, trying not to hurt my broken feet any more than I had to. I gratefully accepted his help. He bundled me into the front seat of the car and closed the door before going back to close and lock the house door.
The car was warm. I looked forlornly out at the snow. My time with the ordinary man had made me soft to the cold, on top of every other damned thing. I hated that.
Sam hopped into the driver's seat as rapidly as he could. I started to pull the seat belt into position. I felt hesitant, wondering if I would get carsick.
The car moved slowly through the long plowed driveway. Hot air blasted from the vents in the front, I slowly stopped shivering and just watched the gentle snowfall. It had never really stopped, only slowed.
We got on the road right behind a snowplow.
The windows kept me busy at first. Sam had turned the radio on, and I let the music and the passing landscape hypnotize me. It had been so long since I had been in a car and not in a trunk.
"We should have had breakfast this morning, I apologize. It's just that it's unwise to eat too soon before a surgery."
I glanced at him. I hadn't even realized. Thinking about it made my stomach twinge, but that was it, just a twinge. Compared to my time with the ordinary man, it was nothing. I shrugged, and went back to looking out the window.
It was mesmerizing. I was a fourth of the way through the book, but I didn't end up opening it once on the car ride to the hospital. Watching the land go by outside was just too interesting. It was so wide open. The car felt very small.
We started to pass more homes. More farms. I saw cows. We passed through two small towns that weren't big enough to have traffic lights.
A song finished playing on the radio. The announcer said that it was February sixteenth, and up next, more songs from the nineties, zeroes, teens, and today.
The date made me feel sick. Even more than the thought of surgery. I kept expecting to hear the year, kept being afraid to hear it.
It had been 2033 when my mother died, and I went out on the streets. Near the end of 2033 when I had been captured.
The buildings were becoming more and more frequent. We had moved onto a freeway. Cars all around us, bridges and department stores and office buildings. Not in a metropolis proper, but surrounded by people. Things suddenly felt more claustrophobic.
We moved off the freeway and stopped at a light. I was still looking out the car, and a woman in the next car looked back at me.
I flinched. She stared. Her eyes widened. She was very young. First it was surprise, then anger.
The anger on her face made me wish I was invisible. I wanted to tell her that I didn't mean it. That I didn't want to kill my mother. That the Onus man or woman who had killed her loved ones hadn't meant it either.
That none of us had meant it.
Almost every person on earth had lost a mother, a sister, or a daughter, to an Onus child. To the bewildering and nonsense sickness that claimed them.
Whether they had aborted the unwanted Onus or not.
The light turned green and she slammed on the gas. Revving hard and ahead. I stopped looking out the window. I wrapped the jacket tighter around me. I was sweating and toasty, but I felt small, and I wanted to gather it around me for the comfort.
I wished that I could believe him.
We reached the hospital, and drove around to a back entrance to one of the buildings. The hospital was set up like a campus, and it was huge.
My stomach felt sick and wobbly. I was glad that I hadn't had anything to eat this morning. A man in a heavy parka and scrub pants was smoking a cigarette and waiting by a wheelchair. He waved when he saw Sam's car.
"That's Oliver. I know him. He's going to help you into the wheelchair and bring you in while I park the car just over there." He pointed. He had a special spot all his own, a name plate and everything. It wasn't even very far. He was dropping me off so I wouldn't have to walk it. I was simultaneously grateful and wishing that he didn't have to go.
He drove right up to the icy sidewalk. There was a ramp leading up to the doorway. The man with the wheelchair, Oliver, rolled down to the car.
I unbuckled my seatbelt. The car beeped softly in protest. The orderly opened the door and I cringed from the burst of cold air. My teeth clenched and I did my best to inch to the edge, looking down at the icy sidewalk and dreading the first step, the weight it would put on my broken feet.
The orderly stepped in and one hand was under my knees and the other under my shoulders. He hefted me up, dizzyingly fast, and suddenly I was down in the wheelchair, landing lightly, like a feather. So gently that it didn't hurt my bottom or genitals.
"I'll be right there!" Sam called from the car. "Thanks, Oliver." To the orderly. Oliver smelled like cigarette smoke and disinfectant. I was shriveling from cold in the wheelchair. We were gliding up the ramp and through the door.
It was warm in the hospital, but I was assaulted by light and noise and smells. I hunched up in my warm protective clothing, trying to hide the lightness of my skin and hair. My soulless black eyes. Trying to hide my lack of humanity.
I didn't know where this hospital was, but the hospital back in my old turf, it had been perfectly legal to turn away an Onus, no matter the injury or illness. They weren't allowed in the main areas, dining and gift shop and common rooms.
I was not welcome here.
The wheelchair squeaked under me and suddenly we were in an empty ward. Three beds in a row, each empty, each devoid of decoration or personal affects. It was quieter in here. The smell of disinfectant burned my nose, but the lights were dimmed, and easier on my eyes. I realized that I was breathing quickly and raggedly, hyperventilating.
I could hear a zipper behind me and I had to bite down on my tongue to stop a nervous scream. I bit down and looked behind me.
Oliver was just taking off his parka. I didn't stop watching him. He folded his parka and stuffed it in a basket hanging off the back of the wheelchair.
"Sam called me ahead of time. Told me what he knew and why he did it. I don't like my patients being afraid of me."
He knelt in front of the wheelchair, putting himself on my level. He was a big man, overweight. His skin was the color of coffee with cream, and lightly freckled. Probably three times my weight and a foot taller. His receding hairline gleamed in the white light from the window.
"I wont hurt you, buddy. I'm here to help protect you. We're going to get you safe to surgery, and then back here to rest for eight hours. Then Sam-the-man will take you back home, okay?"
The door opened and Sam rushed in. I couldn't hide the deep rush of relief I felt when I saw his patch-covered face. I felt safer with him here. Of course, my relief didn't last long.
His hand hovered over my shoulder before dropping back to his side. "I need to go and prepare the OR. I will be the leading surgeon. You are going to be in good hands. Oliver it going to disguise you and take you to the operating room.
He left, in a hurry. I was alone again.
Oliver had me look over some paperwork. "This surgery isn't officially sanctioned, but we're going to follow as much procedure as we can." That made me feel guilty. Worse than guilty. Sam could get in so much trouble for trying to help me.
The forms they were most concerned about were the consent forms. The anesthesiologist was in the room, getting my weight and height by having me stand shakily on a scale, gritting my teeth.
The anesthesiologist was a mousy woman barely five feet tall. She had a small pursed face and barely said a word.
Oliver and the anesthesiologist showed me a short slide show, showing me what the surgery was going to be. Two pins, putting the bone of my heel back together.
"Sam said that you also have a number of piercings with a locking mechanism. We will remove these during the surgery."
I felt a deep relief at that. I nodded, and signed the dotted line with the pen he gave me. I had to hold it gingerly in my hand, to avoid it touching the sensory patches on my fingertips. My signature was shaky and loopy. Shiloh Torres.
My name. That was my name. I hadn't thought to write it down. Sam didn't know my name, but he would know after the surgery. That felt wrong. I had wanted to tell him my name.
Oliver covered me with a blanket and a surgical mask and a woolen cap. He finished it off with a pair of thick black glasses that I could barely see through in the dim light.
I peered in the mirror. Most of my pale unpigmented skin and hair was hidden. The disguise wouldn't hold up under close inspection, but it was convincing enough.
"You ready?" Nod.
I didn't feel ready, but I just wanted to get it over with.
We went through the brightly lit hallways. I was thankful for the glasses. Mama had installed dimmer switches in the apartment where I grew up. Bright lights hurt my eyes, and as an Onus, I was more sensitive to bright lights and loud noises and strong smells.
I shrank smaller and smaller into the wheelchair as Oliver wheeled me through the maze. I felt like we were going deeper and deeper into a trap. My breath was whistling in my throat. The lights were intense and unwavering, I was surrounded by noise and turmoil like the bowels of an anthill. The strong smell of disinfectant was burning my nose.
I took small breaths through my mouth. The surgical mask felt damp against my face, like a hot sticky rag. I wanted to tear it off, it was suffocating me. But I couldn't, because I was surrounded by enemies.
So many people. Patients and doctors and nurses and orderlies and visitors. People were in wheelchairs, in gurneys, with clipboards, with IV stands squeaking their wheels and making me cringe. We passed a janitor and I flinched as my nose caught the stench of blood and shit. He had a huge plastic bucket that looked like my bucket from the Ordinary Man's basement.
The smell of disinfectant sharped in my nose. I was sweating and shivering under the blanket. I felt like I was about to go insane.
I flinched at a touch on my shoulder. Oliver was leaning down. "About halfway there, just be calm..."
I muffled a whimper in my throat. We had been going for miles. Aeons. How could we only be half-way there?
Suddenly, it was a little quieter. We had walked into an elevator, and miracle of miracles, we were alone.
I moved my hands up from under the blanket and tore the surgical mask down, breathing raggedly. The air felt cool and stale.
"I'm sorry." Oliver whispered as he put the surgical mask back on. The damp patch pressed against my face. "The upper hallways are quieter, less busy."
I was surrounded by humans. Men and women that had been attacked by my species. The men and women who had named my kind as a burden.
In the landmark 2016 case, 'Karkoff v. Isaacs', the supreme court ruled that the Hippocratic oath did not apply to non-human or half-human entities. And that while hospitals or clinics could let in Onus if they wished, they were not required to.
Across the world, the Onus had been just shy of two years old.
The elevator doors opened.
I smelled carpet cleaner. The wheels of my chair didn't squeak when they rolled on the blue-patterned industrial carpet. Arched ceiling windows were partially covered in snow, and letting in half-muted grey light that still felt way too bright. Even through the clouds and my dark glasses.
We were on an upper level, and I could see down to some kind of lobby area. A lot of shiny marble floors and a lot of incoming visitors to the desk. One wall was a big gaudy carving of the half-world monument. A copy of the 300 foot statue that had been built to commemorate the passing of the Onus victims.
We were on a walkway above the main desk below us. The rails were made of glass and bronze. I wondered if a fall down to the lobby would kill me. I wondered what the news would make of it.
We pulled into the operating room. The halls had been nearly empty.
"This wing of the hospital is scheduled to be demolished soon. A few of the rooms are still used for storage, so it's still open, but no one goes here."
Oliver was taking off my blanket. I pulled off the mask, hat, and glasses. The cold air felt good on my face and head. It was quiet in here.
He helped to lift me onto the table. "Can I see your arm?"
He took out a needle and I cringed in the chair. It seemed I would never be able to escape from men who wanted to poke needles into me.
Oliver sighed. "I have to get this catheter into your arm, for the anesthesia. It will sting a little. But after that you'll be asleep, and we can start the surgery."
I had a question for him. A question that couldn't be mimed out with hand gestures or facial expressions. I made a small rasping noise in the back of my throat as he tried to get closer with the needle. Trying to force my dead voice to come back.
"Esss... Ssss... Esssaa...?" I tried to speak. The noises that came out of me made no sense. Like the bleating of an animal. I mewed and jerked my arm away when he came at me with the hollow needle.
"Sssaa--aaam?" I finally managed to drag out. "Sammm?" Oliver sighed.
He pointed, and as I looked to follow his finger he took my wrist and started tapping the skin, coaxing a vein to the surface. I looked through a long wirehatched window and I saw Sam. A nurse was helping him to sterilize, putting on layers of scrubs and aprons. Taping the seams between his gloves and his sleeves.
I saw him turn away and pull off the black patch. I watched intently. I didn't even flinch when I felt the hollow needle going into my arm. I wanted to try and see.
He kept his back to me as the nurse helped him with a cap and a mask. He turned and there was nothing but his good eye. Most of his face was covered, and his bad eye was covered with a clean white dressing. Like it was a wound.
The nurse followed him into the room, and I was suddenly swimming. I looked groggily back to my right arm. The catheter was taped into my arm, and a bag of fluid was attached. The mousy anesthesiologist was slowly emptying a syringe into a joint where fluid dripped into a cord.