By Robert Lee Beers
Gerald woke to a splitting headache. The inside of his mouth felt like it had been painted with the leavings of his tomcat’s litter box.
“Oh… God!” The words came out as a whimper. “ I should have never had that fifthLong Island.” He levered himself up to a sitting position, forcing his left eye open with his thumb and forefinger. The blinds were closed, allowing just a bit of the daylight into his flat, but right now even that was too bright for comfort. He struggled to stand up but after a couple of failed efforts he gave it up as a bad idea and collapsed back onto his bed.
“Maybe if I lay here long enough my body will do me a favor and die. If there’s any justice Sergio’s got it twice as bad, that wetback, beer guzzling…..”
He didn’t get any further in his recriminations of his best friend because the bedside phone chose that moment to imitate an indoor artillery barrage.
“What the hell do you want?”
“ Hey man, is that any way to talk to your drinking buddy?”
“My ‘drinking buddy’ is the reason I feel like this now.”
“You wound me Gere. You didn’t have to join me in my experiment.”
“Some experiment. ‘Hey man, let’s see if Long Island Ice Teas work as depth charges!’ I should come over there and puke all over your imitation zebra stripe bed spread.”
“Come on man. That was a gift from my mother.”
“Your mother needs to leave the 70’s where they belong, dead and buried. What’d you call at this ungodly hour for anyway?”
“Take a look outside man, it’s almostnoon.”
“Like I said…”
“OK, OK. I just wanted to know if you’d help me move my new cooler into the restaurant.”
“I’d be glad to except I’m planning to commit suicide after I hang up.”
“You got it bad, huh?”
“No, I enjoy the feeling of my brains draining out my ears.”
“Hey I know the feeling man.” Gerald could have strangled Sergio for the following chuckle. “I’d feel just like you do now if I hadn’t prepared for it when I got home last night.”
“What was that, man?”
“I said, ‘What – do – you – mean?”
“Oh, I just took a healthy dose of Sergio’s all American one-of-a-kind patented hangover cure before I went to bed.”
“Listen to me man, do I sound like you? The walking dead?”
“ You listen to me, man, I want some of that stuff and I want it now! Or I WILL come over there and puke all over your bed.”
“Hey, hey, hey. Chill, Gere. It’s Geritaid.”
“Man, you’re wide awake this morning. Geritaid. You know, like grandma’s vitamins?”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Cross my heart, etc., man. Remember that big do last summer?”
“Uh…..oh yeah. When you tried to get that big redhead drunk, and lost.”
“ Everybody’s allowed one. Anyway, the next morning I woke up and wished I hadn’t.”
“I know what you mean.”
“Yeah. So, I started scrambling. I couldn’t find anything man. No aspirin, no Tylenol, no nothing. You should have seen the mess, man. I had stuff tossed everywhere in that bathroom. Finally I looked under the sink and saw this old bottle of Geritaid.”
“The one I gave you when you turned thirty!”
“Yeah, funny guy. Anyway I drank half the bottle, took a chance.”
“You could have OD’d.”
“Didn’t though. I don’t know, maybe the alcohol offset the vitamins or something but after about a half hour I felt better. Much Better!”
“Get me some Geritaid, Sergio.”
“What am I? A delivery boy?”
“Get me some Geritaid, Sergio, and you’ll live.”
“OK, OK. I was just kidding. Be over in a flash.”
Gerald hung up the phone, lurched over to the shower, turned on the water and let it bounce off his head until he started to feel slightly human. As the spray was starting to cool down the doorbell rang. He toweled dry on the way to the door, tripped over a couch pillow on the floor and banged his head on the book shelf next to the jam.” Christ! What next God? Lightening bolts, or locusts?” He was sitting with his back to the door but he couldn’t get any rest because someone kept banging on it. “Go ‘way! Let me die in peace.”
“Open up man. It’s me Sergio. I got the stuff.”
“Ok, OK.” Gerald turned around and reached up to unlatch the deadbolt then opened the door. Sergio’s grinning face was almost too much to bear. “One word Serge. That’s all it’ll take. One word and you’re a dead man. Gimme the stuff!”
“Sure man, sure.” Sergio handed him a brown quart bottle of Geritaid tonic. “ Couldn’t find the size I normally get, but…”
“Gerald, you in? Hello?” Standing in the doorway was a vision in blue jeans and white men’s shirt, Gerald’s girl friend, Amy. “What in the world is going on?” This said due to the sight of Gerald grunting in frustration over a child-proof top. Sergio backed off a couple of steps.
“ Uh-oh, here it comes.”
Gerald looked up at Amy,” Uh…”
“Uh, nothing! You’re hung over again. Aren’t you?” She rounded on Sergio before Gerald could formulate the proper lie. “…And you did it to him again, didn’t you?”
“Well, you see…we….”
“Typical!” She knelt down and took the bottle from Gerald’s nearly nerveless fingers. “What’s this stuff?” She looked closer at the label.” Geritaid?? Why are you wrestling with a bottle of Geritaid?” Sergio cleared his throat.
”Don’t tell me…a new cure-all for what ails you, hmmm?”
“Well, as a matter of fact…”
“Stuff it Sergio! I want to hear it from Mr. Wonderful here.”
Gerald lifted his head, which now felt like it was about the size of theFujiblimp (Amy had been shouting, not whispering), and looked at her. God, she was beautiful, even now, when she was trying to kill him with volume. “He says it worked for him,” his voice came out like it was wrapped around sandpaper,”so I figured it couldn’t hurt to try.” He took the bottle from her and held it up to her cap first. “Help me?”
“Men!” Somehow Amy managed to consign all the sins of the universe to the sex in one syllable. “You’re so helpless. Here, let me open it for you.” She handed the open bottle back to Gerald. He grabbed it and downed the entire quart before Amy or Sergio could take it from him.
“Gerald!” If anything, Amy’s normally large voice increased exponentially. Sergio’s ‘Gere’ was almost lost in the background.
Gerald grabbed his head and fell back to the floor. Amy screamed once more, falling to his side and lifting his head in her arms. “Gerald.” This time she said it softly with concern. Gerald opened his eyes after about five minutes.
“Amy. You still here?”
“Of course I’m here. How do you feel?”
“Uh….” He rubbed his scalp, flexed his arms and toes, massaged his torso, ”I feel better. I feel better. Sergio! I feel better man! I really feel better!” He jumped up and began bouncing around the room, banging off the walls and head-butting the furniture, all the time yelling at the top of his lungs,” I feel better! I feel better!”
Halfway down the stairwell Amy whispered to Sergio,” Gerald worries me Sergio. In the three years we’ve gone together he’s never acted this way at all. I, mean, besides romance, the only energy he’s ever shown is cheering for the Forty Niners.”
“It’s the vitamins Ame”, Sergio replied while taking the steps two at a time trying to keep up with the bounding Gerald. “I’m afraid he overdid the dose.”
“Afraid he overdid!!??” Amy gasped out. The pace Gerald was keeping was starting to tell on her reserves.” He took enough for the whole ofSt. Petersburgwith some left over forFort Lauderdale!”
“Yeah, I think we’re going to have to get him to the Doctor. That is, if we don’t have to go first. Come on Gere! Give us a break. Slow down!”
They caught up with Gerald in the foyer of his brownstone. To their mutual disgust he wasn’t even breathing hard. His left toe tapping impatiently Gerald waited for them to get within reach He hooked his arms under each of theirs and bounded out to the street.
“Gere. What the hell are you doing, man?” Sergio dug his heels into the pavement. “You trying to get us run over? Those cars don’t think of us as pedestrians, they think of us as targets.”
“Lighten up Sergio.” The grin on Gerald’s face was blinding. “I feel so good right now, I just want to share it with everybody.”
“You’re going to share yourself right into the emergency room, you idiot!” Amy pulled Gerald and Sergio back up onto the sidewalk. “I’m taking you to the doctor right now.”
“But , Amy…”
“Don’t ‘But Amy me”, Gerald Webster. You could very well die from this hangover remedy of yours and I’m not going to let you.”
Gerald grabbed Amy by the shoulders.” Look Amy. I’ll go to the emergency room, the doctor’s office, or to where ever. I don’t want you to be ticked off at me. Just let me help Sergio and then I’ll go with you.” Amy gave Gerald a long look. Little furrows appeared above her nose and then she sighed as if giving in to the nineteenth plea from a three year old
”OK, Gerald, we’ll go over to Sergio’s, you can prove your masculinity and then we go see the doctor.”
Sergio’s restaurant occupied the third door on the left inside Opera alley. Across a quaint bricked drive into the parking area a group of transients shared a bottle of white port. One of them looked across the drive and watched Gerald skipping and singing his way into the restaurant. He winced, shook his head and handed the bottle to the stocky blonde to his right, “I want what that dude’s drinking.”
Inside the restaurant, Sergio moved over to the wall and switched on the light. “The cooler’s coming in through the storeroom. I’ll call and see how long the truck’s going to be.” He lifted the receiver and dialed. After a short wait he said, “Yo! Mike! Serge, here. Yea, when’s my cooler showing up? Uh huh…uh huh…ok, see you then. Caio baby.” He turned to Gerald and Amy while hanging up the phone, ” Cooler’ll be here in about 15 minutes. Want to see where it’s going to go?”
Gerald shrugged his shoulders, “Sure,Ames’s letting me help you. Might as well check out the plan first, lead on, McSanchez.”
Sergio looked at Amy. “You’re right, after this, straight to the doc’s office.”
Sergio and Amy spent the next 15 minutes watching Gerald pace nervously back and forth whistling bad renditions of old Beatles tunes. Amy was nearly to the point of throwing a cleaning rag at him when Sergio’s cooler arrived.
“Where d’ya want it put, Serge? ” Mike was your ideal freight worker. He massed about 375 pounds in a package that filled the doorway to the restaurant. His slightly battered face held a pleasantly vacant smile that held nearly all its original teeth. He was always Sergio’s first call when any heavy lifting needed to be done and heavy thinking would just get in the way.
“Oh…how about the middle of the floor right now, Mike. I haven’t made up my mind yet.”
“Uh…ok, Serge.” Mike turned around, disappeared to the side for a moment and the reappeared with a battered mostly white upright refrigerator that he wheeled through the storeroom door and set down in the middle of the floor. “That OK, Serge?”
“Please don’t tell me you paid money for that thing.” Amy looked at the fridge as if it was the victim of a ghastly accident.
“Hey! I got a great deal! I paid…”
“You got ripped off!”
“Like I said!”
“People, people. Can’t we just get along?” Gerald put both arms around Amy and Sergio while managing to place his body between a possible second Mexican -American War.
“Just what we need, a white Rodney King!”
“Amy, Amy. Settle down. It’s Sergio’s money. And if he wants to waste it…”
“It’s his business. But I don’t think he wasted it.”
“Sure. But right now you’d think Adolf Hitler could have been reformed the shape your in.”
“You mean he couldn’t?” Gerald ducked a respectable right cross and danced over to the appliance in question. “Just take a close look at this baby. It’s beautiful!”
“HUH?” Amy and Sergio in chorus.
“Sure. Why with a little elbow grease we can make this cooler an appliance to be proud of. C’mon let’s get started!” Gerald spit into his hands, causing Amy to retch, rolled up his shirtsleeves and opened the refrigerator’s door. One minute later, when the last bit of moldy rust had fallen from its interior, he turned to face his friends and said, “see, What did I tell you?”
“Whew!” Sergio wiped his forehead with the back of his sleeve. “He’s got to run down sooner or later”
“I know.” Amy unwrapped a hot dog from the vendor outside the pawnshop next door. “He’s got me worried Sergio. Did you see how he cleaned that junk cooler of yours? He looked like a silent film actor in fast forward. When he crashes he could wind up in emergency. Pass the mustard.”
“OK people! Let’s plug her in and turn her on. Heh Heh Heh.”
“Gerald! You’re a beast!”
“Want a bear hug? You’ll see I ain’t lion.”
Sergio stepped to the rear of the refrigerator, picked up the cord and handed it to Gerald. “Ok, m’man. Since you did the cleaning, you do the honors.” Gerald took the plug from Sergio, bowing at the waist with exaggerated formality.
“As you wish, my lord.”
“Yup, he’s gone.” Amy leaned against a window sill doing double duty as a fly graveyard and munched her hotdog in resignation. Sergio leaned over to her while Gerald fiddled behind the refrigerator.
“You distract him and I’ll drop a bag over his head. Whad’d’ya say?”
“And just how am I supposed to distract him in his condition? Do a strip tease?” “Sounds good to me…oophhh!”
Amy sunk her elbow into Sergio’s midriff while muttering something about finding a nice amazon tribe somewhere in the jungle. A loud ‘KZZAPP’ brought her back in time to see Gerald flying backwards across the restaurant in a low parabolic.
“Gerald!” All thoughts of the Brazilian jungle a distant memory, Amy raced over to where Gerald lay. She turned him over, cradling his head in her lap. He seemed impossibly still. She bent her head to his chest, nearly sobbing in relief when she heard his heartbeat.
Sergio knelt down with a glass of water in his hand. “Hey buddy! C’mon man! Speak to me! C’mon, Gere, open those baby blues….Oh, man. I should’ve checked out that piece of junk. I should’ve spent the money at a real store. I should’ve…”
“You should shut up.”
“Gere! Gerald!!” Sergio and Amy nearly smothered Gerald in a joint embrace.
“Hey! Come on. What’s going on here? What are you guys doing in my bedroom?”
“Huh?” Another chorus.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
“….and the next thing I know is I’m lying there in Sergio’s restaurant and he and Amy are treating me like I was some sort of accident victim.”
“You are a victim, of two accidents.”Amy crossed her arms and muttered, “One of ’em’s named Sergio.”`
“I heard that, man!”
“Can you hear this?”
“Hey man, you gonna let your girl do that to me?”
“I’ll do more than tha…”
“If you two don’t settle down you’ll have to leave the room…That’s better.” The emergency room doctor unhooked his Stethoscope, dropped it into the pocket of his coat, where it rattled against a half dozen other bits and pieces of medical paraphernalia. Some of them looked suspiciously like rather large needles, Gerald thought.
The doctor paced back and forth, in front of Gerald, while rubbing at the advanced five o’clock shadow on his chin. “So, Mr. Webster, what you are telling me, is that you got stinking drunk last night, woke up with a well deserved hangover, tried to poison yourself with an overdose of vitamins, and then topped off your little spree by plugging in an obviously dangerous appliance, thereby receiving a severe electric shock.” “Gee, if you’re going to put it in that light…”
“The only thing I can’t figure out is why you’re not dead. In fact,” he looked at Gerald’s chart for a few seconds,” you seem to be almost obscenely healthy.”
“Huh?” Sergio and Amy said it together.
“Quite frankly, Mr. Webster, if you didn’t have that little electrical burn on your index finger, I’d be inclined to think this was all some sort of fraternity stunt. As it is, and after listening to you and your friends…I do believe you would actually pull something this stupid.”
“Now wait a minute! I don’t have to…”
“What I’m going to do,” the doctor overrode Gerald’s protests,” is give you an injection to counteract your overdose, just in case. Drop your pants.”
“Eloquent, aren’t we.” A rather evil grin spread across the doctor’s face. “This might hurt a bit.”
“Wait, wait, uh…what about my arm?”
“What about your arm?”
“Why can’t you give me the shot there?”
The doctor’s grin grew broader. “You got into your fix the old fashioned way; we take care of it the old fashioned way. Now, like I said…drop ’em!”
Gerald gulped and complied, trying to ignore Sergio’s snide chuckles and Amy’s sotto voice wolf whistle. He felt the needle just begin to prick his right buttock, as a sharp zap! Sounded and the doctor suddenly cursed and dropped the syringe.
“What happened Doc?” Gerald quickly pulled up his pants and looked around. The doctor stood there, gripping his right hand with his left, staring at the syringe lying on the exam room floor. The top half was melted as if it had been stuck into the flame of a cutting torch. Amy and Sergio were busy mimicking a pair of gold fish out of water. Amy had her eyes fastened on his rear.
“Will somebody tell me what is going on?”
“You tell me, man. You’re the one with the electric ass.”
“What’s happened to you Gerald?” Amy’s breath came out in a half-sob, as she reached out to take his arm.
“What the hell are you two talking about?”
Sergio took a deep breath.” Look Gere. You know me. I kid around a lot, but whenever the chips have been down, I never lied to you, and I’m not lying now when I tell you that you are a walking science fiction story here. Let me finish. Doc here, was starting to stick you, and well, you…uh… you see, it…”
“You sparked!” Amy pointed at his rear. “You just up and sparked like lightning, Zap!”
“She’s not kidding, Gerald.” Gerald knew something had to be serious. Sergio never used his real name this often.
Sergio bent and picked up the syringe. “Check it out man, your ass melted this sucker.”
“Extraordinary!” The doctor straightened up, and, rubbing his hands together, began a running monologue, while pacing back and forth in the exam room. “Unbelievable, but think of the articles. No, no one would ever believe it. But what if they do? No, never in a thousand life times. Geraldo? Montel? Maybe, just maybe…”
He spun around and thrust a forefinger at Gerald’s face,” You, young man, have some explaining to do!”
“Explain what!?” Gerald batted the finger away like an annoying insect.” How the hell do I explain something like this?” He grabbed the melted syringe out of Sergio’s hand and waved it under the doctors nose. ” Look Doc, this isn’t some comic book and I’m no super hero. You’re the one with the hundred-thousand dollar education. You tell me what’s going on.”
Amy tightened her hold on Gerald’s arm and looked at the doctor. With all of his faults Gerald was still hers and she didn’t want to lose him. If he was in any danger she wanted to know.
Sergio moved to Gerald’s other side. All the joking was forgotten now. Something weird was going on and besides he owed him. Gere had been there for him when it got down to the short and curlies. He damn sure wasn’t going to let him down now.
The three of them faced the doctor waiting for an answer. He looked at them and sighed. All he saw was three kids caught in an unbelievable situation looking for some explanation of what was happening to them. Sometimes you got lucky and the patient didn’t blame you for what happened to them. It appeared that this was one of those times. He opened his mouth to tell Gerald.
Sergio slapped his hand to his forehead, interrupting the doctor’s answer. “Dummy! She said it! That’s got to be the answer.” He started to laugh, ” This is a comic book, Gere. And, you’re the super hero.”
“What did I say? Oh God!” Amy felt everyone’s eyes on her. It was a distinctly uncomfortable feeling. Like being center stage and forgetting your opening line.
“You said it sister. You said it.”
“Said what?! “Amy’s yell coming from a vicinity of about 1mm from Sergio’s ear blew him back against the exam room’s door.
“…Zap…”Sergio managed to squeak it out with his bellybutton back against his spine.
“Come again?” Amy, Gerald and the doctor chorused.
“Zap. Like in the funnies. Remember back when we were kids, Gere? We used to sneak our comics up into that tree house your dad built and pretend we were one of the heroes? You know, you’d be Spider man and I’d be The Flash.”
“What does that have to do with this?”
“Don’t you see, man? You’re Lightening Lad.”
Gerald turned to the doctor.” Can’t you give him something, Doc? He’s raving.” “Actually, he’s not far off.”
“I don’t believe this!”
The doctor poked the syringe Gerald still clutched in his hand, emphasizing each word with a jab.” Do…jab…you…jab… believe…jab…this?”
Gerald looked at the syringe. The melted end seeming to zoom in until it filled the screen.” Uh…”
“Eloquent as ever, hmmm? Sorry. This is no time for snide comments.” The doctor drew in a deep breath, letting it out slowly. Believe it or not I read comics in a tree house myself. And….I still keep up with a few of my favorites. When I said your friend here,” he indicated Sergio with a wave of his hand,” was not far off, I was thinking of some of the more believable superhero origins postulated in some of the recent storylines.”
Gerald nodded. Amy and Sergio murmured sounds of acknowledgment. “Go on, Doc.”
“Well…this is only speculation, now.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Geritaid’s chief nutritional ingredient is iron. Iron is somewhat reactive to electrical energy. I think the shock you received reacted with the iron in the overdose you took and the end result is this.” He poked the syringe again. “Of course we won’t know for sure until we run some tests.”
Gerald began backing away. “Oh, no! No tests! I don’t do well on tests.”
Amy made a long arm and dragged him back. ” Now you listen to me, Gerald Bartholomew Webster!”
The doctor looked at Sergio.” Bartholomew?”
Amy placed her nose microns away from Gerald’s. “You will take any test he gives you. You have put me through hell today, and I’m not going to lose you because you’re afraid of a few tests!”
Gerald’s reply was all but inaudible.
“What did you say?”
Amy turn toward the doctor, beaming.” We’re ready for your testing, doctor.”
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
“…This is just simply amazing!” The matronly MRI tech looked up at the doctor to see the reason for his exclamation.
“What’s amazing, doctor?”
The wall in front of the doctor housed one of the new holographic diagnostic displays. The display was contained on a flat screen monitor with a 37″ viewing area. Using the ubiquitous computer mouse, he was able to control nearly every facet of the unit’s vast array of functions.
“Look at this!” He moved the mouse, zooming in on what looked like a fast moving stream of gummy Lifesavers with filled in centers. “See those points of light?”
The tech looked. Then looked again. To her surprise each one of those shapes, which were actually individual red blood cells, had small points of light flowing in and around them.” It looks like something out of a science fiction film.”
“That’s about what I was thinking. It looks like every cell in his bloodstream has been charged with electrical energy. No wonder the syringe melted.”
“Never mind. I want this recorded. All of it.”
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Gerald felt like the stuffing inside a sausage casing. The imaging chamber of the holographic MRI system had just enough room to allow his body passage. He heard nothing except the beating of his heart. Was it is imagination, or were those walls getting closer? No. Yes… they definitely seemed to be getting closer. He was going to be crushed! It just wasn’t fair. He had survived hangover, overdose, and electrical shock, merely to be done in by a hospital and their infernal tests. Why did he let Amy bully him into this? Why…?”
“Ok, Mr. Webster. That’s it.”
“That’s it. No more tests. The doctor and your friends are waiting for you through that door.” The nurse pointed off to his left. Gerald busied himself with replacing the items he had put into the little plastic tray prior to laying down on what still looked to him like the slab of a morticians’ storage locker. He wasn’t quite sure why, but he wanted to hold off seeing his friends and the Doc for a bit.” Let’s see now…. my dad’s old watch, left wrist…keys, right pocket, they never feel right in the left, now, the belt. What an ungodly battery of tests! He’d never had a more thorough going over in his life. That prostate exam…Gerald shuddered. At least they weren’t able to use any needles on him. They all wound up like that first one. There was thing was particularly funny, though. The way that ratty looking nurses aide kept looking at him every time they passed by his station…No. that’s just nerves. Who wouldn’t have a good solid case of them after this nightmare? He finished putting himself back together and pushed through the double doors to where they were waiting for him.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
“…..and that’s the situation, Mr. Webster. The shock you received, ionized the iron molecules in your blood stream. I believe the balance of the overdose you took was somehow drawn into that reaction. There’s no other explanation as to why you have no trace of it in your digestive system.”
Gerald looked down at his feet then back up at the doctor. “So, what else did you find?”
The doctor began pacing back and forth. Sergio had an idea that if you tied his feet together he would not be able to talk. “Before I go into this any further, I need to ask you a question. How long have you been here today?”
“Uhhhhhhh……..” Gerald looked at his watch. “Wow! It’s been ten hours!”
“Uh… why, no, no, I’m not!”
Sergio and Amy crowded around him. “What do you mean, ‘I’m not hungry’? Sergio and I have been surviving on hospital food, while you’ve been under their microscope!”
“I…I’m just not hungry.”
“I don’t believe it!”
“You’re yankin’ our chains, man!”
The doctor stepped in.” If I’m reading these tests right, he’s not ‘yanking your chains'”.
Sergio and Amy nearly succeeded in combining ‘what?’ “why?’ and ‘how?’ into a chorus of one word. Then they proceeded to bombard the doctor with an unending string of rapidfire questions. After several seconds of unsuccessful attempts to break in politely, he blew their hair back with a bellowed, “Silence!”
“Thank you. Now, as I was saying, these tests seem to indicate that Mr. Webster’s…”
“Doc? Could you please just call me, ‘Gerald’?”
“Certainly, that Gerald’s experience caused more than the storage of electrical energy in his bloodstream.”
Amy gasped. “He…he’s not going to die. Is he?”
The doctor’s face twitched in a little half smile. “No…no, I don’t think he’ll die. At least not in my lifetime.”
Sergio threw up his hands. “Jesus, Joseph, and Mary! Now he’s the Highlander, as well as Lightening Lad?”
The doctor looked at Sergio for a second.” Oh! You mean that movie with the immortals? No, you misunderstood. He is far from being immortal.”
Gerald turned toward Amy.” See. I’m just your average guy.”
Amy snorted.” Oh, yeah! Your average guy always has days like this one.”
The Doctor raised his voice slightly.” If, I may? Good. Notice, please, the playback on this monitor.” He pointed toward a large flat screen set into the wall off to his left and clicked a remote.” If you will look closely, you will see small flecks of light moving in and out of the red blood cells. Now I’m going to insert a split screen of another similar test we ran on a college athlete last week. Now to zoom in on both…” he tapped a couple of controls on his remote,”…there! See those small particles moving in the bloodstream of the other test subject?”
“Those particles are bacteria. We all have them in our blood to some degree or another.” He glanced at Gerald. “Well…it used to be all.”
Gerald sat up straighter.” You mean I don’t have ANY bugs in my blood?”
Amy murmured,” bacteria, Gerald. The bugs are in your brain.”
Gerald ignored her.” Go on Doc.”
The doctor sighed.” As far as I can tell, you have no bacteria in your system at all. And,” He paused for emphasis,” NO viruses.”
Instead of the vocal explosion he expected, this statement was greeted by absolute stillness. He waited. “Well? Anyone?”
Sergio leaned back against the wall. His face screwed up as if in intense concentration. His arms crossed over his chest and the middle and fore fingers of his right hand tapping out a random beat against his left shoulder. ” You mean …there’s nothing in his blood…except blood?”
“That’s not exactly true.”
“But you just said…”
“There’s nothing in there except blood, AND electricity.”
Amy brought her hands down from face.” What does this have to do with him not being hungry?”
The doctor smiled. ” We DID get a little sidetracked, didn’t we? I’ll see if I can answer both questions at the same time. As to the hunger part, I believe that is being taken care of by the immense amount of energy presently stored in his blood. You see, basically our body is nothing more than a chemical engine. We ingest fuel, (food), break it down by digestion into it’s chemical components, to feed our body the energy it needs to continue to function. The greater the workload that is put onto the body, the greater the need for fuel. That need is expressed by appetite. In other words, hunger. In Gerald’s case, he presently has energy to burn. So to speak.”
Gerald gave the doctor a sour look.
“What I don’t know is how long it will last. Eventually, Gerald, you should begin to feel hunger again.”
“I believe so. I have just one more small test concerning that.” He hurried on when Gerald winced at the word ‘test’.” But, we’ll leave that till later. As to the ‘bugs’ question.” He glanced at Sergio. “Were you aware that in order to lead a normally healthy life we have to have some bacteria in our systems? No? Well, we do. Our bodies are designed to be carriers of millions of tiny ‘helpers’, as it were. Their functions are myriad, and I will not bore you now with what exactly each of them does. Suffice it to say that in most cases,” a meaningful look at Gerald,” they ARE needed.”
Gerald ran his hands over his chest as if checking to see if he was carrying any passengers.” So, I don’t have any?”
“Not a one. And, from what I can tell, you don’t need them. To the best of my ability to read this,” He tapped on the monitor’s screen,” Your system is now an electrical engine, NOT a chemical one.”
“What’s this got to do with my not dying?”
The doctor sighed as if expelling math to a particularly dense 12 year old.” I never said you wouldn’t die.” He held up a hand. ” Please. No more interruptions. Thank you. What I did say was that you most likely would not die in my lifetime. As I’m nearing 60, I’m not making much of a prophecy. Apparently the electrical energy you absorbed wiped your system clean of ALL microbes, the bad along with the good. Remember, I said we couldn’t even find any viruses. As far as I can tell, Gerald, you will never experience another sick day in your life. Not even a cold.”
Sergio leaned over to Amy.” I’m gonna find me some Geritaid and a light socket.”
“That would be extremely stupid!” The doctor was glaring at Sergio. ” Do you gamble? Use the slots in casinos?”
“Hey, no way man! Those odds are for suckers.”
“I see. If memory serves me right, the odds of a jackpot are about ten thousand to one. What would you say if I told you that the odds of repeating Gerald’s results were at about one trillion to one, if not higher?”
“I… don’t I want to try it now.”
“I didn’t think so. I don’t believe we’ll ever really discover how this happened. We just know it did. The other thing we don’t know, is how long the human body can live totally free of disease. Barring accident of course.”
Amy muttered,” that leaves Gerald out.”
The doctor continued,” so, if Gerald can keep himself from getting run over by a bus, there is no telling just how long he will live. Of course, this depends on keeping himself nourished. Which brings me to that little test I mentioned.”
Gerald started looking at the doctor as if he had suddenly turned into a very large, very viscous guard dog, and he was in its back yard. The doctor looked at Gerald and chuckled softly,” don’t be nervous. All I want you to do is take this,” he held out a nine volt battery. “Here.”
Gerald took the battery. “What am I supposed to do with this?”
Sergio looked at Amy. “You thinkin’ what I’m thinkin”?
“Could be. Ninth grade?”
“What the hell are you two going on about now?”
“Chill, Gere. Don’t you remember ninth grade. When we all got those pocket radios?”
“…and they all used nine volt batteries.” Amy tapped the one in Gerald’s hand.
Gerald looked at the doctor in horror.” Doc. You don’t want me to…”
“Put it on your tongue?” The doctor smiled. A little too pleased, Gerald thought. “That’s exactly what I want you to do.”
“Yo, Gere!” Sergio crowed.” Is Lightening Lad afraid of a little battery?” Gerald glared sideways at Sergio. The tease wasn’t nearly as bad as Amy’s chuckle.
“Come on Gerald.” Amy gave her hair a flip. “You know it certainly can’t hurt you.”
Gerald looked at the battery. All of his memories of those days flooded in. No, his logic told him there was no danger in what the doctor had asked him to do. So why did facing down a gang of inner city types seem so much more appealing? Because, back in those days he was the one afraid to do it, then, and right now, he was 14 all over again, looking at a $1.50 death machine with all of his friends calling him chicken. He took a deep breath. Focus, Gerald Bartholomew Webster, focus. Another deep breath…Ok,
What did the Doc say? …Think. Yeah! No longer a chemical engine but an electrical one. That’s it. So…this battery isn’t a death machine. It’s a jelly bean. An after dinner mint. Yeah…so why wasn’t it in his mouth? Still scared. Well Gerald it’s time to prove that you’re a man and not a mouse. Well… maybe a real tough mouse. He moved the battery toward his mouth. Time seemed to slow down. The battery came closer, his tongue stretched out to meet the battery contacts.
“It was like nothing I have ever tasted in my life. The finest champagne was like alkali dust compared to it. It was as if every taste bud on my tongue was competing to outdo the next one.”
“Man, oh, man.” Sergio shook his head. “You’re going to be some sight, man. Doin’ your grocery shopping at Radio Shack.”
Amy looked at the doctor, her eyes wide. “I won’t be able to cook for him anymore?”
“Oh, don’t worry about that.” The doctor placed the nine volt into a small tester. “He’s still able to enjoy solid food. He just doesn’t need it like before. Hmmmmm… ah!” He adjusted a dial on the tester. “As I thought. Completely drained.”
Gerald stood up.” That one touch? Drained it? But…but… Sergio used to play with one of those for a week!”
“Sergio didn’t have your system.” The doctor turned away from his notes, put his pen back into his coat pocket and sat down across from them,. He leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees with his hands loosely clasped together. ” We have got some choices to make here. Serious choices. Now, I don’t want you to say anything until I’m through, No matter how much you want to.” He looked each one of them in the eye; the patriarch demanding respect and fully expecting it. “Understand? Good. ” He leaned back, looking up at the ceiling. “My choice is whether or not to write a paper on this whole, unparalleled, experience. ” He leaned forward again, gazing off into something far away. “I would probably be nominated for a number of very prestigious awards. But…” He looked down at his feet. ” I’d prefer to have photos of my grandchildren on my mantel. You see…” his gaze locked back onto them. “I’d rather not ruin your lives, especially Gerald’s, here, just so I could have a few moments in the sun.” He held up a hand. “Remember, let me finish, if I released a paper. Even within a select scientific community. It would eventually filter out into the media at large. At the very least you would grace the cover of every tabloid in existence. At the worst you would become a ward of the government. To put it politely, subject to every test they could think of, possibly even vivisection.”
Amy gave a small scream, Sergio growled something under his breath and Gerald’s face went white.
“What do I do, Doc?”
“YOU…do nothing. Me, I’m going to forget I ever saw you and destroy the evidence of every test I took here today. Some of the techs may talk but they don’t have PhD’s. It will become just another hospital story, similar to ghosts in the attic. You just live your life as normally as possible.” His mouth gave a sour twist. “Well…you know what I mean. There is one thing, though.”
“I’d invest in a good supply of bug repellent.”
The Doctor smiled. “Don’t repeat yourself, it gives people an impression of low intelligence. I’m quite serious in this, you do want to keep this thing a secret, don’t you?”
“Good, because there is a small problem I nearly overlooked, mosquitoes.”
“They’re those small flying insects that feed off the blood of other animals?”
Gerald looked disgusted. “I know what mosquitoes are Doc.”
“Then, tell me what they do.”
Sergio looked like he was about to burst. Amy’s forehead sported a small frown between her eyebrows.
Gerald looked puzzled.
“Go on, tell me,” the Doctor urged.
Sergio could stand it no longer. “They’re flying needles, man! Don’t you get it? You walk into a cloud of those suckers and you’ll light up like my dad’s bugzapper.”
There was an extended silence as Gerald digested this bit of information. “Oh.”
Amy covered her mouth. “Oh, my god. Think of where we live.”
“Yeah,” Sergio nodded, “Those little vampires are everywhere, come spring.”
The Doctor held up a forefinger. “Bug repellent. Remember that.”
The three of them left the hospital. Sergio seemed to be the only one in high spirits. Amy kept a wary eye, and ear, out for any sign of mosquitoes, and Gerald felt like he had a large red target pasted tightly to the middle of his back.
“Hey, Gere, buck up m’man. Why the face?” Sergio nudged him in the shoulder.
Gerald just grimaced and continued walking.
“Something wrong, Gerald?” Amy discontinued her aerial search and turned toward him.
“It’s probably nothing,” Gerald muttered.
Amy stepped in front of him and placed a hand on his chest, bring Gerald to a full stop. “Don’t you pull that ‘it’s nothing’ crap on me, Gerald Webster!”
At least she didn’t use his full tripartite name.
“You tell us what’s wrong, right now. Shut up, Sergio.” She shot a quick look in Sergio’s direction and then refocused on Gerald.
“Well, it could be nothing,” Gerald replied. “Should be nothing.”
“What!” Amy and Sergio chorused.
Gerald walked over to the retaining wall paralleling the sidewalk and sat. “Either of you catch sight of that guy at the nurses’ station as we left the hospital?”
“The one that looked like his dad was a rat?” Sergio chuckled.
Amy chewed her lower lip. “I don’t think… oh, yes, I know the one. What about him?”
“He kept looking at me after that thing with the needle. You know, when it…” Gerald waved a hand vaguely in the air.
“So?” Sergio said cheerily. “Heck, I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t be looking at the guy with the electric ass.” Sergio gave the title an ALL CAPS emphasis. “ My eyes’d be on you like… oh.”
“Yes, ‘oh’, taco-brain!” Amy rounded on Sergio like a she bear protecting her cub. “Remember what the doctor said? ‘…Subject to every test they could think of, possibly even vivisection.’ You want to see your drinking buddy stretched out on a laboratory table?”
Gerald blanched. “Oh god. Oh god. Oh, my god!” He sat there holding his head in his hand and rocking back and forth.
“Gerald! What’s wrong?”
“Hey bud! You ok, man?”
Gerald waved off the ministering hands coming in from either side and stood up. “That aide! He was on the phone, talking in a whisper when we walked past his station. He had his eye on me the whole time. I’ll bet you a million to one he’s turned me in to someone, the feds, tabloids, or even something worse.”
“I ain’t takin’ that bet,” Sergio muttered, and then he too stood. “Yo, Gere, we got to get you outta Dodge, quick!”
Amy said, “We’ve got to calm down. Maybe it isn’t as bad as we think.”
Gerald had both hands crossed over his head. “No, it’s worse,” he muttered.
“No, really,” Amy continued. “There was something else the Doctor said, remember? …I’m going to destroy every trace of evidence… Now he didn’t seem the type of man to tell you one thing, and then do another. Did he?”
Sergio’s head was bobbing up and down rapidly. “Yeah… yeah, that’s right. Gere, ol’ bud, mi amigo, compadre, you’re in the clear, man. No worries. Let’s go have some Mexican, my treat.”
Amy raised her eyebrows. “Are you doing the cooking?” she asked, warily.
“Don’t you guys get it!?” Gerald’s shout forestalled the developing argument. “I checked in, or at least you checked me in.” He fumbled into his wallet and ripped out a small laminated card and waved it in the air. “This thing has all the information they need to track me down. Everything’s here, my social security number, name, address… everything! There could be guys in trench coats camped out on my doorstep right now.”
Sergio sat down again and covered his eyes, “Oh god!”
Amy joined him, “Amen.”
Nobody said anything for a long while. In the small park on the other side of the wall, a songbird trilled and the sound of children on the playground drifted through the trees.
Finally, Sergio stood and slapped his arms at his sides. “Well, I’m hungry. You guys want to join me or not?”
Gerald shook his head. Amy just looked at Sergio and scowled
He stepped over to Gerald and slapped him on the shoulder. “Hey buddy, it’s gonna be ok, you’ll see.” He straightened, “later,” and ambled on down the street, disappearing around the next corner.
Amy stood next and tugged on Gerald’s arm. “Come on, we’ve got to go too. I don’t like the idea of you being in sight of that hospital’s front door.”
“What for?” he mumbled into the sidewalk. “They’re just going to track me down and turn me into some weird experiment. There he is General; Electroman, the human bugzapper! Stick an extension cord into his mouth and he’ll light your house for months.”
“Gerald, get a hold of yourself!” Amy said, forcefully, as she tugged all the harder. “Just because that aide looked at you funny doesn’t mean he knows anything about what the doctor found out. He could be the type that looks at everyone that way. I’ve seen it in other people, and in most cases it doesn’t mean a thing.”
“In most cases,” he pointed out, “that’s the operative clause.”
…and that is where I’ve stopped. If anyone has an idea as to where I can go, please let me know. If it’s an idea I use, you get listed on the cover as a contributer.