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J. C. Crumpton
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shortstoutbump.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2011

A SHORT, STOUT BUMP

 

J .C. Crumpton

 

Haiden didn’t remember the last time he woke up.  Not like all the other times.  Strange scenes out of some child-like nightmare seemed to go on and on without any chance of ending well.  It continued until he didn’t wake up at all.

The first time it happened, he waited in a line that stretched down the block and around the corner outside a Chicago nightclub.  The Underground, or something like that.  Crisp air bit at his skin, and he wondered why he had no coat.  And everyone looked at him as if they expected him to do something.

“So you’re Haiden,” a slender young woman with dark almond eyes said.

He looked around.  There had been more people between him and the door, but he couldn’t remember the line moving.  Eric stood beside him, but not the others that had come down from Waukegan with them.

“The only one,” he answered, wrinkling his brow slightly.  “You ready for this?”

She smiled, nodding, and replied, “We’ve been waiting way too long not be ready.  Are you?”

Haiden felt someone pulling at his arm, and he jerked awake.  Everything was different.  Eric let go of him and sat back.

“I was just trying to see the time,” his friend explained.  “You’ve been asleep for thirty minutes.  I guess your little strip show in the middle of the street took more out of you than you realized.”

Rubbing his eyes, Haiden pulled himself up in the booth and looked around.  “What?  Where are we?”

“The Wendy’s across from the train station,” Eric answered. “Nora’s pissed at you, buddy.”

He always took Nora’s side because she was Kim’s best friend.  Haiden hated that, sometimes feeling almost betrayed.

Shaking his head, he sniffed.  “What’s new?”

Even with the bright lights from the restaurant, everything outside the plate glass window was dark and without shape.  He looked around.  Empty.  But he heard movement behind the counter.  Then, he remembered that Eric wanted to know the time and glanced down at his watch.

“Haiden!” Nora shouted.  “Get back inside and roll up that fucking window.  It’s freezing!”

Icy wind blasted his face, scrubbing it almost like sandpaper and making it numb.  The inside of the cab felt warm and moist in contrast, and the air hissed angrily through the vents.

Yellow lights lit up the Art Institute as they rode along North Michigan, but the stone lions seemed dim and blurry.  Haiden squinted but could not see much detail further than around twenty feet.  He leaned back against the headrest.  Eric, Kim, and Nora carried on a quiet conversation in the back seat.  December was a great time to be in Chicago, but it was taking its toll on him.

When he opened his eyes, he saw a bare ceiling with no light fixture.  His heart raced in panic until he felt Nora beside him.  He rolled off the bed, careful not to disturb her.  Eric and Kim snored softly in the other bed.  A hotel room.  Pain flared in his right foot after he stubbed his toes against an empty Absolut bottle.  He made it to the bathroom and finally found the light switch after fumbling for a moment in the dark.  Turning on the cold water, he splashed some on his face, invigorating and refreshing him.  The towel felt almost comforting against his skin.

His eyes fluttered open.  The blaring of his alarm sounded like an air raid siren, reverberating between his ears and intensifying the pain behind his eyes to the point he could barely open them beyond slits.  Tunnel vision made his Armageddon-like hangover feel even worse, and his left hand felt wet.

He pulled it from between his head and the pillow but had to hold it directly in front of him before he could see the blood.  Lurching up, he looked at the bed.  Red stains and bits of congealed blood covered the white cotton pillowcase.  Gingerly touching the back of his head, he winced after feeling a sticky wetness.  The last thing he remembered was the hotel room.  Searching through the basket at the foot of the bed, he grabbed a hand towel and put it on the wound as he walked carefully to the bathroom.

Haiden reached to put the towel on the counter, but it was neatly folded.  His tunnel vision worsened to the point that all he could see was the table in front of him with several stacks of clothes set around it.  Stumbling from the confusion, he reached out and grabbed the table edge, watching as the towel slowly tumbled to the floor.

“Great,” he heard from behind him, but not laced with the disappointment he usually heard from Nora.  “Now we need to wash it again.”

He turned around.  A thin, Hispanic woman with coal-black eyes stared at him.  Her look of mild annoyance quickly changed to a concerned frown when their eyes met.

“Are you okay, Baby” she asked.  Soft voice.  He knew her.  Myriam.  They weren’t together that he could remember.  But her voice was comfortable, soothing.

Shaking his head, “I don’t think so.  Been having some pretty bad headaches lately.”

That puzzled him, because even though he knew it was January, he could not recall much of the month before.  Not even the holidays.

She put her arm around his shoulder and walked him over to the row of hard plastic chairs bolted to the wall.  Quarters clinked in her left hand.  “Have a seat here, Baby.”  She smelled just like fresh laundry, clean.

He sat down, quicker than he intended, in a short, stout bump.

“Be careful!” Nora shouted.

Haiden wrenched the wheel of the Bronco, and it skidded over the railroad tracks into the parking lot in front of their apartment.  Snow plunged out of the black sky in streaks, flashing as it dropped through the high beams.  He sat and watched the blizzard rage inside the narrow confines of the headlights.  Nothing beyond the narrow streams of light was visible.

“What are you doing?” Nora shrilled harshly when he opened the door.

“Going for a walk,” he called over his shoulder, not caring that he left the door open.

With his head lowered against the wind and the snow, Haiden headed east down Cluverius.  Moving was exactly what he needed to clear the turmoil that boiled through his mind.  He turned right onto Sampson, and a gust of wind ripped between the buildings and took his feet out from under him.  His head cracked against the sidewalk, and pain flared intense and white behind his eyes.

“Come on, Baby,” he heard.  Calming voice that set his heart to beating smoothly.  “Look at me.  You can do it.”

He responded, opening his eyes and looking straight into Myriam’s.  Her face peered out from a fur-lined hood, but he could see every feature because her flashlight beam reflected off the snow.  With one forearm firmly under his armpit, she tried to help him off the ground.

“We need to get you to the hospital,” she said.

Haiden nodded, but didn’t try to get to his feet.  He stared at her smooth skin and smiled, only wanting to go back to sleep.

 

 

JC Crumpton currently resides in Northwest Arkansas with his wife, daughter, and son, keeping the lights on and the mortgage paid by analyzing sales at the world's largest retailer. After nearly two decades of classes, he finally earned his BA in English with a Creative Writing Emphasis from the University of Arkansas.

His short stories have appeared in Alienskin Magazine, The Fringe Magazine, and 365 Tomorrows. His poetry can be found in Outer Darkness, Dark Lady Poetry, Beyond Centauri, Tainted Tea, and The Cynic Online Magazine. He also has a poem appearing in the June 2011 issue of Aiofe's Kiss.

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