New Orleans East Hospital, 10/5/15, noon
“You’ve got a present!”
Malcolm looked up curiously at the nurse bearing a floral arrangement. His family and class had already contributed their own. He hadn’t expected any more.
He didn’t speak as the new flowers were added to the table beside his bed. After losing Trina, Gil, and Riley, he didn’t feel like talking. Nobody seemed to know the right thing to say, or they tried saying the right thing, but he could hear their conversations outside the door. Drugs. Bad trip. Psycho. Mania.
He couldn’t believe it. He’d been high, sure, but they’d gotten high hundreds of times. Never once did anyone raise a hand to someone else. None of them would have done it. They couldn’t. Hell, Riley could fall down from a stiff breeze, and Gil hyperventilated at the sight of blood.
They weren’t the kind of kids the police liked, but they weren’t some kind of monster.
The pain struck his skull again, flashes of horrible, dark things. Things more real than anything he’d experienced in his worst trips.
The goddamn cops were so smug about it. “Adulterated.” “Tainted.” Like the whole thing was their fault. Like they deserved to be tortured to death for wanting to take a break from their lives, and accidentally getting some bad stuff.
Except… he knew it wasn’t the stuff. His memories were so foggy, but not like when he came down from a trip. It was like someone kept moving things just out of his field of vision. Like, if he could just turn fast enough, he’d remember what really happened. Half of him was terrified of it: something had shattered his grasp of reality, of the foundations of his world. But the other half needed to know. He needed the truth, more than he needed a comfortable lie.
The nurse was gone. He gazed at the flowers, then reached for the enclosed notecard. Who felt like they needed to make a show of caring about him? What empty words were they offering?
One side simply bore his name. The other:
He reached for his smartphone.