Want to win a free digital copy? Leave a comment below. When I get 50 comments (or more), I'll give away FIVE free digital copies. That's a one in ten chance of being a winner! I'll announce the winners here, so follow and check back.
I’m not dead. Yet.
It’s funny when Monty Python says it; not so funny when it’s true.
According to Amber, I’m not going to die, but I’m not sure I believe her. She’s a pretty convincing liar. I thought she liked me. I thought things were going just fine between the two of us. And then . . . she bit me.
Now I’m stuck here alone, paralyzed and in pain, and the only thing I can do is think. And the only thing I can think is Why me?
A few minutes ago, when she stepped into my room, Amber said, “This is . . . cozy.” She was being polite. My room isn’t cozy. It’s tiny. “You sure do have a lot of stuff.” That was an understatement.
“My Uncle Ian likes to buy me things to make up for the fact that my mother’s a bitch.”
Amber laughed. It was a nice laugh. I felt so relaxed, because she’s so beautiful. They say there’s no point in worrying about the things you can’t control, and I figured I didn’t have a chance in hell with her. Guess I was right, but not in the way I thought.
“You do realize that makes you a son of a bitch, right?”
I laughed nervously. “Can’t deny that.” She was quick. I’ll give her that. “Would you like to play a video game?”
“No, thanks.” She picked up a piece of one of the gaming systems that I’d taken apart, and she tilted her head. She seemed confused.
“I like to see what I can do to improve them,” I explained.
“Not taking them apart might be a good start.”
I considered telling her the modifications I’d made, but I figured that would only bore her.
Her eyes moved to the largest object on my tiny wall. It’s a little hard not to notice. “Wow, that is one big TV.”
“Did you want to watch something?”
I pointed through the open door in the direction of the kitchen. “Are you still hungry? Would you like a bite?” Looking back, I probably should have phrased that differently.
She stepped into my room and shut the door behind her. “No windows?”
I thought she meant it was convenient, because we had privacy. It was just the two of us, alone. Now I’m starting to realize she might have meant something else.
She took off the navy-blue jacket from my suit—the jacket I had lent her—and she hung it up on my ratty, old office chair. The bright red of her dress and the pink of her lipstick looked out of place in my mostly black, white and metallic-gray room.
I said, “I sometimes call this place ‘The Dungeon.’”
She said, “Because of all the dragons?”
All the dragons? It’s not like I have only dragons on my walls and ceiling. My tastes are eclectic. I have a ton of science-fiction, comic book, and video-game stuff, too, not to mention the posters of my hero, Albert Einstein. “No, I call it ‘The Dungeon’ because it’s a tiny room in a house as big as a castle, and it has no windows. Plus, it’s in the basement. My mother doesn’t like me to leave the servants’ quarters. Okay, maybe it has something to do with one particular dragon . . .”
Amber laughed again. It felt nice to make her laugh. It’s usually a good sign when I can make someone laugh, a sign they aren’t going to try to hurt me. Usually.
“I don’t want to talk anymore about your mother.” She sat on my bed and patted my vintage Star Wars sheets. “Sit next to me.”
“I don’t know . . .” I rubbed the back of my neck and looked at the closed door to my room. I felt . . . trapped. But I didn’t know why. I wish I had trusted my instincts.
“Don’t worry,” she said with a smile. “I won’t . . .”
Now I know why she didn’t finish that sentence.
But she was smiling at me, and she looked so beautiful and sweet, and I didn’t want to say no to her.
So I sat beside her on my bed. She took off my glasses, leaned in, and started to kiss me. I thought, This is not happening. I’m Gilbert Garfinkle, for God’s sake. Pretty girls don’t sit on my bed and kiss me, except in my dreams. Then another part of my brain said, Shut up, Gilbert, you think too much. So I stopped thinking and kissed her back. Yeah, it’s always a mistake when you stop thinking. I should have realized that before it was too late.
I’d never kissed a girl before, not a romantic kiss, but I’ve been studying it. My mother’s maid, Olivia, leaves her women’s magazines in the kitchen, and they’re full of tips about what girls do and don’t like. Most women apparently don’t like wet, sloppy kisses with probing tongues. Most prefer dry but firm kisses with slightly parted lips. Most guys don’t realize they could learn a lot from women’s magazines. I know I have. I take kissing seriously. I take everything I care about seriously, even things I once thought I could only dream of.
Amber pulled her soft lips away for a moment, tilted her head, scrunched up her eyes, and smiled at me again. “You’re a good kisser.”
“You don’t have to sound so surprised.”
She pulled me by the shirt collar closer and kissed me harder. I started to wonder how long it normally takes a couple to move past kissing on the lips to something else, and it was making me nervous again. Amber continued to kiss me. She moved from my lips to my cheek. Such sweet, little, soft kisses, like feather strokes. Kiss, kiss, kiss . . . I could still smell the pizza on her breath, but her lips tasted of sweet, strawberry lip gloss. She slowly inched her way down from my cheek to my neck. Kiss, kiss, kiss . . . It felt really good, and I was starting to relax, until . . .
She licked my neck.
I guess that was the first sign something weird was going on, and my brain started screaming, Danger, Will Robinson! Danger! Is that normal for your brain to quote old movies or TV shows all the time, or is it just me because of my eidetic memory? Guess I’ll never know.
She paused for a second and looked up at me. She smiled a closed-lipped smile.
I said, “Amber, what are you . . . ?”
Then I saw these two sharp things suddenly extend out of her mouth. I tried to pull back, but she held my shoulders firmly in her hands and sank those horrible things into my neck.
I felt an unbearable, burning, stabbing pain that quickly spread from my neck through my entire body, and I was suddenly paralyzed. I’ve never wanted to scream more in my life. My mouth was open, gasping for air, but I couldn’t control it, couldn’t make a sound. I tried to lift my hands to push her away, but they wouldn’t budge from the sheets. I could hear her breathing in my ear, and I heard and felt her gulping my blood. It burned, and even though I was breathing rapidly, I felt like I was suffocating. It probably only took a couple of minutes, but it felt like hours, and it felt like I was dying.
I guess what they say is true: there really are no atheists in a foxhole. I’m not the most religious guy, but I still silently told God I didn’t want to die, and then I silently begged him to make it quick. Neither prayer was answered.
When Amber was through, she retracted her . . . those two sharp pointy things. She was panting, her chest heaving until she stopped to take in and let out a deep breath. She moaned softly, pushed me onto my back, wiped blood—my blood—from her lips with the back of her hand, and ran her tongue over her teeth to lick them clean. She leaned over me, examined my neck, and once again smiled. “Already starting to heal.”
I tried to pull away again, but I still couldn’t move. She held my chin in her hand and looked into my eyes. The only thing I could do was tremble in pain and fear, gasp for air, and look at her looking at me.
“Now listen carefully,” she said. “You’re not going to die. I only drank two pints. Three tops. You taste very good, by the way, it was so hard not to stop.” Now there’s a comforting thought. “I know you’re in a lot of pain right now.” No kidding? Really? I had no idea until you mentioned it. “But it will pass. You’re going to be stuck like this until sunrise, and when morning comes you’re going to fall asleep. If I know what I’m doing . . .” What did she mean, ‘if’?! “. . . you should be mostly fine tomorrow night. I’m going to wait for you at Bucky Bee’s. Don’t forget.”
She started to leave, but then she turned and picked the jacket up from my office chair. “I hope you don’t mind my borrowing this again. It’s kind of chilly out.” She slipped it on. It still looked a hell of a lot better on her than it did on me. “I had an amazing time tonight.” That makes one of us. She leaned over and kissed my cheek one more time. I couldn’t even flinch. “I know you probably don’t believe this now, but you’ll see: your life is about to get a whole lot better.” Then she switched off the lights, left, and closed the door behind her.
And I’ve been lying here in total darkness, paralyzed and in unbelievable pain ever since.
Pain, pain, pain. There’s nothing but pain. I can’t close my eyes. I mean, I can, but I’m afraid if I do, I won’t open them again. Ever. The place on my neck where she bit me is throbbing. My mouth is throbbing with pain, too, particularly my gums and the roof of my mouth. What’s that about? My breathing is shallow, and I’m worried I might stop breathing altogether. I don’t know if I’m going to make it through the night.
And then there’s the other thing I’m trying really hard not to think about . . . the possibility that dying might not be the worst thing that happens to me tonight.
I don’t want to fall asleep and never wake up, but I really don’t want to become a . . .
No, as Mister Spock would say, that’s “highly illogical.” I am nothing if not logical. The truth is I don’t really know what’s going to happen. Oh, God, I really, really don’t know, but either way I am so screwed.
Stop thinking about that. I need to concentrate on here and now. I have to keep talking in my head to distract myself from this awful pain.
Why did Amber do this to me? I’m a nice guy. And I’m not exactly sexy. I’m pretty much the opposite of that. It can’t be because she’s attracted to me. So really, why me?
And it’s not just illogical on a personal level. I love fantasy and science fiction as much as the next geek, but I know the difference between them and reality. For what I think just happened to have happened . . . Well, either the universe has gone insane or I have, and either possibility is unacceptable. The universe has to make sense. I need it to make sense.
Okay, Gilbert, you’re a scientist, sort of, so try thinking like a scientist. When confronted with an unexpected result, a scientist would start his experiment over again to figure out what went wrong. I just need to go back in my mind to the last time the universe made sense on all levels and then slowly work my way forward to my current situation. Like anything that needs fixing, I first need to take it apart and figure it out. I just . . .
Ow, ow, ow! Go away, pain! Focus. When did the universe stop making sense?
Yesterday, right before lunch.
Here I am, in twelfth grade, the final scene in a really bad but necessary prequel to a great movie series. I almost made it too. In a few months I should have been leaving my mother and the hell that is high school behind for MIT, where my real education—and my real life—were going to begin. Jenny Chen was going, too, and maybe . . . I don’t know, but maybe we could have had something. The two of us together would have been unstoppable. My future was going to be amazing, and I know that, because I was going to invent it myself. I was going to invent so many things. I was going to fix the world. That was always the plan.
But yesterday right before lunch, Delilah Jones left her little coven of teenage bitches and backed me into the lockers in the corner of the hall, and that was when the logic of the universe began to unravel.
“Is it true your father is a bazillionaire, Barftinkle?” she asked.
Her friends giggled in the background. They say sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but I think it’s insulting puns based on a person’s name. How much intelligence does it take to turn Garfinkle into Barftinkle? Sarcasm, however, is a fine art. I should know: I’m the Leonardo da Vinci of sarcasm.
“That’s Garfinkle,” I said, “and my father is dead. The only things I inherited were his eyes.” That’s my standard joke answer whenever anyone mentions how rich he was.
The truth is I also inherited my father’s mind . . . and now looking back on it, apparently his unfortunate luck with beautiful but dangerous women, and by that I mean Amber. They say a guy usually ends up with a girl who’s like his mother. My mother is a gorgeous, blood-sucking leech, metaphorically speaking; Amber is a gorgeous, blood-sucking . . . something, literally speaking.
I’m smart. You think I would have seen that coming.
Delilah towered over me. I know I’m short, but that girl is a freaking Amazon. “Listen up, Garfinkle, ‘cause this is the way it’s going down.” She likes to talk and act like she’s some tough girl from the hood, even though I know she lives in an apartment building four blocks away from me in Chelsea. “Tomorrow is Saturday night, and you are going to take me out. You’re going to pick me up in a big, fancy car. You’re going to take me to a big, fancy restaurant. You’re going to buy me a big, fancy dinner. And when it’s over, you are going to thank me, because I . . .“ She licked her lips. I think she was trying to be seductive, but it was just plain scary. “. . . I am going to make a man out of you. Do you understand me?”
Understand her? Hell, no, I didn’t understand her.
I mean, I know how Delilah works. High school might just be a prequel to me, but this is the last showing for her. Next year she’ll be serving up fries at the Golden Arches and wondering how she went from queen bee to queen used-to-be. Everything is about power with her. There are the boys she hooks up with to work her way up the high-school social ladder, horizontally: the jocks, the popular good-looking guys, and the gang leaders. Then there are girls, who fall into two categories: the ones she can manipulate to her advantage, and the ones she can bully or manipulate other girls into bullying. Geeks like me, on the other hand, have no place in her world. We don’t offer anything she wants. In fact, we’re her social Kryptonite. Merely being in our proximity reduces her power.
Of course, it made sense that she had decided to move on to the rich guys after having used up all her other options in the sleep-her-way-to-the-top department. But there are plenty of rich schmucks at our school who flaunt their wealth with expensive haircuts, expensive clothes, and expensive cars, guys who brag about summering in Belize. I’m not one of them. The last time I had a haircut was at least half a year ago, and it only cost me about fifteen bucks. I wear cargoes, hoodies, and t-shirts from ThinkGeek and Woot to school, not over-priced designer clothes. In a logical, sane universe, no girl would want to go out with me, least of all Delilah Jones.
I started to tell her, “I don’t—”
“I said . . .” She narrowed her eyes and growled. “. . . ‘Do you understand me?’” From high school star athletes to lowly tech geek, I thought, my, how the slutty have fallen.
And that’s when Dylan turned to Delilah and said, “He’ll be there.”
I’m sure he never means to, but Dylan has an uncanny knack for getting me into trouble. What are best friends for, right?
Of course, the irony here is that Dylan had very little to do with the jam I’m in now. I have over a dozen scars to remind me of all the totally awesome times I’ve had when Dylan taught me everything from rollerblading to snowboarding. If anyone was going to get me killed, it should have been him. At least that way it would have been fun, and it would have been my choice. Now I know what Dorothy meant when she told the Scarecrow, “I think I’m going to miss you most of all.” If I don’t make it through the night, big dude, I am so going to miss you.
Delilah pulled a piece of paper out of her purse, wrote something on it, and handed it to me. “My address. Be there tomorrow night at seven and dress appropriately.” Dress appropriately for what, I thought, my funeral? Wish I’d known at the time how much closer to reality that would turn out to be.
She went back to her friends, and they high-fived her. I don’t know what was going on between them. The only thing I did know is that I was so screwed.
“Well, alright,” Dylan said with a grin. “Looks like someone is going to get some action on Saturday night!” He picked up his hand to high-five me, but I ignored it.
“Are you out of your mind?” I replied. “That’s Delilah Jones.” Dylan raised his eyebrows behind that swoop of dirty-blonde hair that covers a third of his face. “Don’t you remember fourth grade?” He shrugged. I sighed. “She used to knock everyone down in the schoolyard during recess? One time she sat on you and made you eat a bug?”
Dylan laughed. “No, little dude, that was Karen Jones.”
“Karen changed her name to Delilah during our freshman year.”
“Oh.” He paused. Then his eyes opened wide, and his voice deepened. “Oh! Dude, that’s not good.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
“Wish I could.” He grinned. I love it when he says that. “Still, you can’t back out now. If you do, she’ll tell everyone in school you’re gay.”
“It’s high school,” I reminded him, even though that fact couldn’t have been more painfully obvious. “The Neanderthals here call every guy they don’t understand gay, and as Neanderthals they’re too stupid to understand anyone.”
Dylan should know this. He gets picked on more than anyone because of his shaggy hair and how sweet he is to girls. He gives them flowers and poems, and they treat him like he’s some sort of lanky puppy they have to jump up to pet. Bullies view him as the competition, which of course means he needs to be punished—and punished often.
Lucky for him, he’s got me, though I try to make sure he doesn’t know that I’ve been looking out for him. Lucky for me, I don’t have his problem. My hair is kind of long, but it’s dark and curly, and together with my glasses and bad complexion, I look more like a young mad scientist than an adorable puppy. It’s an image I’ve chosen to cultivate.
“They don’t call you gay,” Dylan said, “not since you kicked Coleman’s ass with your karate moves in ninth grade.” He did a weak imitation of a karate kick and screamed, “Haiah!” It almost knocked his glasses off.
A girl passing by giggled. He pushed his glasses back onto his nose and grinned at her. She grinned back. I don’t know why, but girls seem to find everything he does adorable, at least until he tries to take it to the next level. Then they tell him he’s cute, but they don’t really see him that way. And yet he perseveres. Got to admire that.
“It wasn’t karate,” I pointed out. “It was aikido, which means that technically that schmuck kicked his own ass. I just helped him.”
The memory of what had happened that day made me smile. Coleman had tried to punch me in the face. I twisted to the side and pulled his wrist forward, using his own momentum to propel him over my shoulder and into a wall. It was a basic aikido move, but after Coleman hit the floor, he looked up at me stunned, like I had just teleported him from a world where he was king of our high school to one where he couldn’t even intimidate a short geek like me. For weeks people talked about my Jedi moves and called me Neo. Good times.
Dylan said, “It’s different when girls are saying it, though.”
“How is it different? It’s not like they’re lining up to date me now.”
“Yeah, but if they think you’re gay, they might want you to be their gay best friend. You know, they’ll want to talk to you about hairstyles, fashion, how all men are jerks . . .”
“Oh.” I hadn’t thought about it that way.
“On the bright side, Gilbert Garfinkle sounds like a great name for a hairdresser.”
I shuddered. “Don’t even joke about that.”
I used one of the lock picks I keep in my sneakers to open my locker. The locker came with a combination lock in the door, but I didn’t like it, so I tricked it out in September. It still looks like all the other lockers, but I put a keyhole where no one would see it. If it were up to me, school lockers would work with magnetic keys, thumbprint scanners, or voice recognition. The world in general would probably make a lot more sense if I were in charge. I’d fix so many things. I was going to fix so many things . . .
I put my books from my last class away and took out my bagged lunch, a corned beef on rye sandwich I’d made that morning.
“Cheer up,” he said. “At least you’re going to get laid.”
“Riiiight. Because there’s no place in New York City where a guy could get an STD for less money and with fewer complications.”
“You don’t know Delilah has an STD.”
“Apparently you haven’t read the writing on the stall.”
Dylan didn’t laugh, but I did get a smirk out of him. “Have you seen the one really high above the mirror?”
“If it’s really high, how would I have seen it?”
“It says, ‘The only difference between Delilah Jones and a city bus is you have to pay to ride the bus.’”
He laughed, but I didn’t find it that funny. “In case you haven’t noticed, she made it clear that, ride or no ride, I am going to pay big time.”
“Okay, forget about that. At least this might put an end to the rumors about you.”
“Rumors?” I’ve been trying to fly under the radar lately, so I was surprised to hear that anyone was talking about me. “What rumors?”
“They’ve voted you ‘Most Likely to Lose His Virginity to a Robot.’”
I paused to think it over. “Okay, yeah, I can see that.”
Girls are scary; robots I understand. I can take a robot apart and figure out how it works. But I can’t take a girl apart, and I will never figure one out.
“Go out with her,” Dylan said. “What harm could it do?” What harm could it do? The famous last words of Darwin Award winners everywhere.
I tried to think of a way out of it, and then I realized . . . Delilah had made some very specific demands. A big, fancy car? Where was I going to get a big, fancy car? All I had to do was ask my mother. She’d say no, and that would be the end of it.
Or at least that’s the way it would have ended if the logic of the universe hadn’t continued to unravel.