Chapter 23 – Together
We awoke cuddled together at the foot of Chase’s bed, wrapped in his comforter. Chase was moaning.
“Too late,” he said, “too late.” I kissed him and ran to the kitchen for coffee. Caffeine and aspirin. When I came back he was holding his head.
“Bad one,” he said.
“Except we found her!” And I felt fine. I was beginning to see the psychic pain engendered by our flights was different according to what we went in with and how we could process what we learned. See? If there’s always progress, there’s always hope.
“Maybe Bex will loan me his gun,” moaned Chase.
I made him drink bitter instant coffee. Our roles were reversed from my “spontaneous combustion” at Hadleigh. As log as there were two of us, we could help each other through anything.
“W don’t need Bex for anything and we certainly don’t need guns,” I insisted.
Chase rolled coffee around his mouth as if was a fine wine; then ruined the effect by gargling. “Well then what the hell are we going to do?”
“Maybe we can’t get Corso for everything,” I asserted, acting brave for Chase’s benefit, “But we can make a start. The sex thing is bad. He’s involved with his students, so even if he tries to blame us, they’ll do something to him. Maybe they’ll lock him up.”
“You’re willing to have the world…see that?”
“I think the world may be already seeing it.” Although it would be just like Corso to play gatekeeper so he could make money. Off of us. Besides, we owed the others something; at the very least to make sure “dream lab” never happened again. “We’ll go to the Dean. Remember, he said dream lab was recorded. He has to show them something. ”
“He’ll just say the equipment malfunctioned,” sighed Chase, rubbing his jaw as if soul flight dislocated it. “How about this, I promise we’ll do whatever you think is right.”
“First, walk me back to my room so I can get my things.” It would only take moments to pack it up and never return to that “sick building”. I admitted the unmentionable. “I’m scared of Bex.”
“Let’s go.” He struggled to his feet, rolling a bit as we came together. Steadying each other. “And then I’ll fix that window.”
Darkness was just settling on an ordinary – to everyone else — Sunday afternoon. Students strolling, linking, hailing one another and hooking up. It looked safe. It looked as if all we had to fear was each other. That’s what the maze-master wants the mice to think.
“Let’s don’t wait until it gets too dark,” I angsted in full Foreboding Mode.
“I’m ready. Thanks for the “to go”. He flourished at me his plastic cup.
We crossed the quad without a problem, though I felt people looked at us strangely. Because we walked so close together, marching hip to thigh in a solitary unit? Inside Hadleigh, I allowed myself to unravel a bit as the hiss of automatic doors closed us in.
“One down,” I said aloud.
I might sigh with relief, but my inner bell was gonging, and I’ve learned to ignore that at my peril. Something was wrong but I couldn’t tell what. Still, here at Hadleigh we were surrounded by students; the night security guy had even taken over the desk. Phones in every room, cell phones in every pocket.
First warning: elevator out of order. That was the first bad thing. And the freight elevator was in service. We waited for it quite awhile.
“Eight floors is not so bad,” said Chase. “No pain, no gain.” Tossed his coffee cup into the trash.
He said that so lightly, then saw me wince.
“Sorry,” he apologized. “It’s just that we’re fighters now. Can’t afford to ditch training just when you’re approaching Final Contest. “ He took my hand. “Come on, I’ll race you.” As we chased up the stairwell he shouted. Facilis descensus averno!”
“You got that right,“ I puffed. Going up is so darn hard! It’s so much easier to let your muscles go limp and slide. But…better up than down.
At every floor the fire doors were propped open – illegally, but it lent me confidence. Heartening scraps of music could be heard at every floor; Snow Patrol, Hands Down, Vampire Weekend.
Speaking of Vampire Weekend, there were so many people around. Nothing can go wrong in a big crowd. Right? Unfortunately most of them were hollow-eyed revenants fleeing Saturday night crime scenes for parietals. With their piss- stained hair and their bile-stained clothing they were not good advertisements for the party-hearty lifestyle. Somehow we never get to see the “after” photos. Corso’s zombies. I imagined the mark of Corso on every forehead.
I believe they shuddered as much at the sight of us as we shuddered at the sight of them. Because we were going up, like fireman, while they fled the burning building? Maybe we are all just ghosts to each other anyway.
When I exercise I can’t talk. So I have to think. If shame is felt only by the haunted, that’s damned unfair. Gives the thin edge of the wedge to those like Dr. Corso who applaud a guiltless super-race. Confidence and entitlement – those most envied of attributes — shine out around him like a magical light. At least two corpses in his wake plus a genocidal wave of shame. And what of bodies unrecovered?
“We’re dead to him already,” I gasped aloud.
Chase knew exactly what I meant. “If so, he’s wrong,” said Chase, hardly showing the effects of an eight-storey climb, “I was dead but you brought me back to life.”
“He’s the dead one”, tolled my inner bell. I took off my shoes for the last three flights. I think now I can say I’ve officially had it with stiletto heels. It’s kitten heels from here on out, unless Chase begs. I wished I could say something light, to conceal the fact that I was puffing too hard, but I was puffing too hard.
“And I don’t even smoke,” I said, unlocking my door.
Chase proclaimed our new mantra “Facilis descensus–,”
“Avernum!” Corso finished triumphantly. He lay stretched at full length upon my bed, shirtless and exposing his perfect six-pack. “So glad you’ve been keeping up with your Virgil, Stevie. You’ve got to be careful to get the declensions right. Excuse me, I mean Chase, of course.”
How was he able to suck every scrap of power out of a room and use it to fuel his own personal generator? Reading glasses perched upon his nose and my laptop perched upon his thighs. He turned his shining face to me and said, “I must apologize for checking your work, Jazz but it did get a bit dull waiting for you. Unfortunately, there’s no work here. There are, however, lots of other interesting things. JazzOne makes a terrible password. How’s the chemistry going?”
No, no, don’t close the door; don’t lock us in with the monster. But these damned heavy, soundproof, fireproof doors – so unlike poor Miss Howk’s – close by themselves.
I was still holding my shoes; should Ithrow them at him as if he was a dartboard? I flushed; feeling him effortlessly read my every thought. I could flee down the stairs, but I’d never leave Chase alone to face the dragon. I saw his shoulders set in that familiar wrestling stance; but Corso wouldn’t crumble like Bex; this was real-time, and my room is deficient in vases to throw. And besides, if we marked him it put us further in the wrong. My brain seemed frozen. I was long past having clever things to say. All I managed was, “How did you get in?”