Bad: A Memoir of Good & Evil
Couldn't Call It Unexpected
Cyn & Tangents
Lead Paint Double Date Set Diaries
Moving to Mars
New Roman Times
Saint Red
Suspension of Disbelief
What Fools


New Roman Times
Part 4 - Visiting Hours

By Deric McNish

Thursday night, chez moi: my psychotic mother flips out simultaneously in two entirely different directions.

First, she thinks I have the plague. I puked at school therefore I must be dying, and all the doctors in New Rome should be alerted and consulted. I’m forcibly thrown into bed (I protested but mom pulled out the big guns, insisting she’d have dad beat me with his belt if I didn’t lie down). I’m force-fed chicken soup, toxic amounts of vitamin-C, echinacea, herbal tea, Immodium A-D, and this God-awful, nasty drink made from club soda and bitters. She nearly made me swallow some three-year-old antibiotics she’d found in the dark recesses of our medicine cabinet, but I was saved from that by my dad, who pointed out the expiration date on the bottle.

Secondly, she’s freaking out that the school just let me go home on my own, discharging me without contacting a parent and making sure I had safe supervision. She left furious messages at the school’s office, at the chancellor’s office, and probably would’ve continued on up to the President of the United States if she hadn’t also been busy with the soup. I tried to mention that at fourteen years old I was quite capable of going from place to place in the daytime without an armed escort, but that fell on deaf ears.

So I went along for the ride, knowing that it was impossible to protest. All the while I insisted I felt fine, that it was probably something I ate. I didn’t quite know how to explain to my mother that, while sitting in earth science, I suddenly had a clear vision of the energies that make up the universe, and the overwhelming sensation was a bit much for me, so I popped my cork. Blegh. Or perhaps, "Hey, mom, chill out. Mr. Rabinowitz’s aura was a little funky, so I hurled. Big friggin deal."

It was at about 9:00PM when the buzzer sounded. The video feed to the front door was broken, but the audio still worked. My dad pressed the talk button. "What?" his courteous voice greeted the person down at the entrance to our apartment complex.

"May I speak to Mr. or Mrs. DeFeo please?" asked a woman with a familiar voice.

"Who are you?"

"Desiree Lowry. I’m from the High School. I’m here to speak to Gino’s parents."

I’d crept out of bed by this point and saw from my doorway that it was mom who crossed the room and buzzed in this unexpected visitor. Minutes later she arrived. Framed by the doorway she was the picture of smugness. With one hand thrust into her purse as if concealing a pistol, I recognized her immediately; it was that nasty bitch from New Rome Tomes.

"May I come in?" she asked, with the confident smarminess of a vampire about to eat a whole family of blood-swollen twits.

" Yes, come in, please," insisted my mother. "You’re here about those messages I left, of course, and I’m glad to have such a quick response."

"Well," replied Ms. Lowry, "Gino is typically such a good student. That’s why this all comes as such a surprise. The office decided to send me here to speak with you."

This is when my father decided to interject, "What? Good students don’t puke? Did I miss something?"

She laughed; her unnatural red hair shook and gave me the odd impression that she had a gaping head wound. Or perhaps that was wishful thinking. "Is that what he told you? Gino, is that what you told them?" she asked, spying me in my doorway across the hall.

"What are you doing here?" I asked. I turned to my mom. "She’s not from the school."

"How unfortunate," Desiree continued. "Lying is hurtful Gino. Your mother was angry with the school when she should have been angry with you for cutting class. Leaving school early without permission is wrong, Gino. It’s wrong, very wrong. You must’ve left school at about 10:30, didn’t you?"

I cried out, "This is Bullsh—"

"Shut the hell up!" my father interrupted with a voice as sharp as his glare.

"I understand that you’re upset. Please, don’t yell. If you’ll just allow me a moment alone with Gino, I think I can make him understand. I am a professional, after all."

"Yes, yes of course. Gino, get in your room. Ms. Lowry, please," my mom ushered this demon into my safety-zone and shut the door after her, sealing us in.

"What the hell are you doing?" I demanded.

"Oh chill out. Never had a girl in your room before?" She flopped herself down on my bed, picked up the soup on my nighttable, sniffed at it then wrinkled her nose. "Star Wars sheets?" she asked, sardonically. "How adorable. I bet they’re all crunchy, too. Or do you do it in the shower? Or in a sock?"

"Fuck you!"

"In your pillow?" she gasped, leaping from the bed and finally removing her hand from her purse. "Jesus, Gino, you could’ve warned me. That’s pretty nasty."

"What are you doing here? What do you want? Why are you trying to get me in trouble?"

"What I’m trying to do is to help you! Protect you. Maybe I’m getting motherly. Maybe it’s the way you stared at my tits that makes me want to protect you. Maybe," she said, finally looking directly at me, "maybe, I want to keep you alive long enough to be able to profit from your abilities."

"I didn’t look at your… I don’t have any… This is fucking crazy. I’m going to get the police to haul your ass out of here for… impersonating a… for trying to molest me."

Again, she laughed. "Don’t flatter yourself, sweety, that’s definitely not in the cards. I don’t go in for prepubescents, even cute little ones like you. Okay, fine, I’ll cut to the chase. That book I gave you today contains a lot of useful information. Give it to me, I want to show you something."

Although I was determined not to cooperate, I glanced over to my bookbag. She grabbed it, unzipped it, and pulled out the musty tome. She layed it on my bed and opened it up, releasing a cloud of dust that settled on my sheets. Pointing to a page in the middle of the book, she said, "This book contains a lot of useful information that will help you figure out what’s going on. It’ll help you interpret the things you’re seeing. Take it all with a grain of salt, of course. This is all a translation anyway, and things are always lost in translation, or filtered through the mind of the translator. But I want you to start reading here, right here."


"Damnit, Gino, because I have nothing better to do with my time than to argue with you! Just do what I say or when I leave this room I’ll tell your dad that you got fresh with me, got it?"

Actually, I missed what she was saying at that point because when she leaned over the book, the neckline of her shirt lowered a little and her arms pressed her boobs together and… damn!

"Gino!" she cried, snapping her fingers in front of my eyes. "This is the most important part. This is the part that could keep you alive long enough to be of some use to me. Read it tonight. Here," she said, reaching into her bag and pulling something out, "read it by candlelight. It’s more appropriate. A book like this needs ambience. Do you like patchouli?"

"No." Patchouli smells like old-woman ass.

"I do," she said, lighting the candle and making my entire room reek.

"Fine. I’ll start reading there. Are you done now? What are you going to tell my parents."

"Ugh…" she pondered for a moment. "I’ll tell them that this might be a misunderstanding. I’ll tell them it’s possible the nurse might’ve discharged you without informing the office, that I’ll look into it and get back to them tomorrow."

"Gee, thanks."

" Gino, this is why I’m here tonight: don’t tell anybody about what’s been happening to you."

" I haven’t told anybody. Except my parents, but they took me to the eye doctor."

"Did you tell the eye doctor?" she asked.

"Yea, but he thought I was nuts."

"Just be careful. Don’t go in any bookstores looking for facts, don’t go to any doctors, don’t go to any meetings, any chat-rooms, any anything. Keep this to yourself or you won’t live to grow pubic hair."

"I’ve already got…" She left before I could complete the thought.

I shut out my lights and climbed into bed before my parents could give me any more crap. Apparently, Desiree had been true to her word. My mom didn’t know whether to yell at me or coddle me, so instead she just left me alone. The events of the day and the perfumed candle made me drowsy so I fell asleep before I could make any progress on the book.

I bolted out of the house the next morning. I spent the time usually alotted for my federally sponsored cafeteria breakfast skimming a few pages in the book while sitting in the hallway outside my first period class. I must’ve looked pretty weird cramped on the floor with a huge leatherbound tome on my lap, but luckily no one ever notices me anyway, and I had no friends to wonder what I was doing. Ah, the benefits of solitude are many!

I started where that lady told me to, in a chapter I probably would’ve skipped if she hadn’t mentioned it. It seemed like a bunch of historical garbage, not the more meaty interpretive stuff elsewhere in the book. It started out describing the work of some alchemist named Torath-Gol who, "in the year of our lord, yadda yadda yadda, while working under the patronage of his majesty King something-or-other, examining the captured artifacts and scrolls from the Kingdom of wherever, and employing the talents of the thrice-tortured heathen kidnapped from the cabals of the Orange Hand, etc., etc., etc…" Basically, this guy Torath-Gol believed that the talent of a medium resided in a particular spot just behind the eyeballs that could be extracted by entering through the nape of the neck and approaching it from behind, through the brain. This was a technique, it seems, that nearly always led to the unfortunate demise of the poor medium. It was also a technique that was practiced upon hundreds of people who had made the very ill advised decision to make public their abilities. As well as upon those who hadn’t, because apparently the abilities of some of the more powerful mediums manifested alongside other more visible traits, ranging from albinism to—oh, surprise!—projectile vomiting! The King’s soldiers scoured the country and brought every medium to this alchemist’s rusty medieval scalpel. The results were twofold. The alchemist was able to create, or so the book said, a method for building an aura-devining device using parts from actual mediums. The second was that for centuries to come every known medium was butchered and their parts were harvested for these machines.

Yup, that’s about when my first period class began. First period was Health Class, and wouldn’t you know it, we were going to take an upclose look at that most troublesome of organs, the penis. After a lot of giggling at words like testes, scrotum, flaccid and erect, I was back in Earth Science. Mr. Rabinowitz was kind enough to ask me if I was feeling better. I wished I had taken some time to find out what his withered aura meant. Before long his droning carried me away and I started to fall into the same thing that happened the day before. Utterly bored with what I was hearing, I started to fade into a state where the solid images became more ephemeral, and the hazy colored auras became almost tangible to me. I stared up at Mr. Rabinowitz, feeling the same nausea as yesterday but gripping the side of my desk and fighting it off with all my strength. I examined him, determined to overcome the feeling. His aura was ashen, withered, fading. But I noticed that all the gray spread like a disease from one spot. His physical body was as translucent to me as the colors in his aura, and right in the center of his chest, where his heart was beating, I could see an almost mesmerizing dance of pink and gray, as if that organ was radiating sickness. I pushed myself from my desk and staggered across the room, clenching my fists and holding my breath in an attempt to fight the nausea. I felt cold sweat tricking down my face and I knew I was white as a ghost. I also knew, without referring to the book, the meaning of what I saw. I went right up to Mr. Rabinowitz and whispered into his ear, "It’s your heart. You’ve got to get to the hospital. You’re going to die."

I couldn’t stand looking at him anymore, so I turned away and found myself in front of the entire class, leaning backwards against the teacher’s desk and trying to steady myself with deep breaths. Everyone’s auras were retreating back into their bodies, and I was beginning to see with clarity again. Some kids were laughing, others looked concerned. Mr. Rabinowitz had gotten up and put a hand on my shoulder. I could hear talking but it seemed to be coming from very far away. Then, from what I recall, it seemed almost as if I had a thought I couldn’t get a hold of, something on the tip of my tongue, that feeling when you walk into a room and you’ve already forgotten what you came to get.

That’s the last thing I remember. The nurse at the New Rome University Hospital told me everything that happened after that. It actually sounded kind of cool. I wish I could remember it. In the first tremor, I bit my tongue so hard that blood started spraying out of my mouth. Then I started shaking so much I lost my balance and smacked my head against the desk on the way down. I didn’t pass out though until I’d had the chance to knock away a bunch of desks with my flailing feet and scare the shit out of everybody in my class. A couple of them tried to hold me down, and one guy in particular, whom I’m told has been suspended because of his poor judgement, thought he was helping by punching me in the face in order to knock me out. I was still delirious when I woke up at the hospital and it was at that point that I apparently started puking. When the nurse asked me if I knew where I came from, she said that I replied, "I come from congress." I don’t really know what I meant. Maybe I should consult the book.

But it was a couple hours before I was lucid enough to look around me. I was on a brown vinyl cot, in a small room with three walls and a curtain. I was still in the emergency department, hooked up to an IV drip, which was covered by clear tape so you could actually see where the needle poked into my vein. The EKG monitor was flatlining behind me, but that was because they’d disconnected the wires leading to the pads stuck on my arms and chest. Besides that, the room had a sink, a cabinet packed with supplies, a single chair beside my cot, and a bunch of plastic disposable bedpans. I’d been dying to go to the bathroom for a while, but refused to go in a plastic cup, so I was holding it in until they agreed to let me leave. They’d taken off my shirt and I was wearing one of those hospital gowns, but luckily they’d left my pants alone. At least I didn’t have one of those gay orderlies that touch you while you’re under (oh yes, they do). Actually, the nurse was pretty hot, and really nice, too, but I wasn’t in any condition to go wooing. With my black-eye, swollen tongue, bandaged head, and bladder full to bursting, I felt just shy of a Don Juan.

The only odd thing was the conspicious lack of my parents. In a situation like this I would’ve expected my mom at least to be bawling like a maniac, but she wasn’t even there. I asked the nurse about it and she said, "Your dad was here while you were still conked out, but I think he went out for a smoke. I’m sure he’ll be back soon."

My dad doesn’t smoke. He probably went to play the lottery. Or to look at our insurance plan and see how much this is going to cost him. I asked her where my things were, particularly my bookbag, and she told me that my dad had picked them up, probably to put them in the car. I didn’t like the idea of him running around with my bag, especially when it had that book in it, but what could I do?

Just then both my mom and my dad burst into the room in a flurry of activity. My mom began yapping before the curtain closed behind her. "I’m so sorry honey, my baby, but they didn’t call us at work! I only happened to check the answering machine at home fifteen minutes ago because I was expecting a call and that’s when I found out! I can’t believe they didn’t have our work numbers as emergency contact. That’s absolutely ridiculous!"

The nurse looked flustered and confused when she asked, "You’re Gino’s dad?"

"Yeah," he replied, "please, tell me, how is he?"

"Well," the nurse said hesitantly, "he’s fine, really, stable now. But… see… someone was here twenty minutes ago claiming to be Gino’s father. He didn’t look anything like you."

Go to Part 5