Come one, come all, if ye have dollars to spare, to our Grand Hotel of furs and pearls and opium teas, don’t mind the pools on the floor! And yet do not slip for you might crack your skull, crack your teeth, crack your chin on the diamond tiles, we are all accustomed to blood. I’ve mopped gallons of rubies, sometimes I deliver bags to the hospital next door. I pick through what’s left of them, I don’t tell my boss. I don’t want to be a scavenger, a leech, a thief, I am not. I wasn’t always this way, but neither was my world. Anyway they are dead and wasted and you’re no better than I am. I am guilty of nothing.

Our guests spill through the door onto the dining room floor to bloat themselves on Sunday specials: whale sashimi and imported ostrich eggs. We milk washed up treasures here, gone to the bones.

The silken tablecloths, soiled thick with wine and coffee and gummy egg yolks, they are never disturbed between breakfast and lunch, and anyway everyone has their own goddamn table, why shouldn’t the bastards dine on their own filth? There’s that fat one with his fat little dogs, all pleased with himself, never worked a day in his goddamn life and that one in the fox-tails at the next table over, don’t even get me started, reeks of pussy and perfume and hali-fuckin-tosis.

And these are our idols? Our so-called celebrities, the haves and one percenters and stinking well heeled loaded silk stockings? Eating off stained dishes and tablecloths with the sun shining in on their dimpled faces through large broken windows. I clean their toilets! Their toilets still filled with muck and scum and pissstains like yours and mine and ours!

“I’m allergic to whale,” says a weasely man near the hole, the hole where all the suckers go after the floods. I feel sorry for him, poor guy, worst seat in the house, smells real foul like rust and mold and butthole. But I think he’s sleeping with halitosis so maybe he doesn’t mind one bit, maybe he even likes it, sick guy he is.

Halitosis shrieks bloody murder wagging her finger at the hole. More screams, teacups shatter by feet frozen stuck facedown on the floor. No one gets up. A swollen blue-green torso glistens draping out from the dark, out of the hole. Eyes pulled open like a trout, wet seaweed hair dragging on the floor.

“Someone do something!” I guess Weasel is a doctor. Like my blood bags. I help him lift her, here’s a chair. Hold wrist, no thump. She’s dead. But the chest seems to move up and down, up and down. Light as a feather I tell him. Smoke and mirrors, he says back, but puts ear to mouth. She’s breathing. The fat one with the dogs runs over, dogs follow, casts his coat round her naked shoulders.

I think she might be some sort of angel, I want to keep her. Her eyelashes are long and wet and glued to her eyelids, she’s beautiful. I want to keep her, I want to keep her safe and give her a towel. But for now Weasel helps me with her feet and we carry her, her thick green hair plastered on my chest, to the hospital next door.

I was lying on my back. A metal snakelike rod, long and thin, wriggled around in the air inching towards my stomach. It suctioned stuck onto my skin right below the belly button and drank up. I was scared it would hurt like a bite, but it felt more like soft electrical buzzing.

The buzzing found me on the ground. Still on my back and now every inch of my skin was being pressed with other skin. The bodies and body parts of maybe 20 different people all squished together on top of me. They weren’t moving I don’t think but there was a pulsing current drumming through their skin into mine that was suffocating and terrifying and also quite erotic.

“Are you sure?” The sky asked me.

I was standing in a poppy field. It was warm but not too warm and there was a light breeze tickling at my nipples.

“Yes, I’m sure.”

While my half-dead body sucked into a hospital bed, my other body took the bus with 43 fellow hopefuls. I wasn’t particularly interested in making friends, and succeeded at keeping to myself for the first few hours of the ride. I was sitting at the front left, right behind the team leader and in my own seat. The bus was a little too hot, just enough that my back and thighs wetly glued to the pleather seat. It smelled like gasoline and plastic and armpit.

Around hour 3, a man twice my age creeped up the rows and sat next to me.

“Long ride, huh?”

I didn’t have anything in my hands to pretend I was doing.

“Yeah.”

“You’re quite young.”

“Yeah I guess.”

He put his arm up on the seat head and scanned the rest of the bus behind him.

“Well you have more of a reason to go back than anyone else here.”

He decided to talk at me for the duration of the ride.

At our first rest stop, a concrete complex that looked like a cross between a prison and a spa, each of us was given a locker to hold our basics: towel, toothbrush, oversized T-shirt, elasticized pair of shorts, pool slides, pajamas and slippers so we might not lose our sense of humanity in case we make it back.

On that very first night the group leader broke into my locker and stole my towel. They were in the shape of a 35 year old woman, quite tall and muscular and blonde. I wasn’t sure if she was a demon or an angel or one of us who didn’t make the journey back, but she seemed bitter as hell to me. Of course she was nice to everyone else. She went by the name “Babs.”

When I went to the bathroom during the after dinner games I found an open closet with a stack of clean towels and swiped two.

We were woken at six to attend a seven am lecture. Breakfast like every other meal was a sparse buffet. Mealy apples, banana muffins with too many walnuts in them, coffee, milk, orange juice that tastes like vitamin powder.

The lecture was in a drab conference room and featured two guests. One who had chosen to return to our world and one who hadn’t. Neither was particularly convincing. To me.

12 others disappeared over the course of that morning.

At dinner they served fishsticks, rice and a sad looking salad. I optioned for rice and the sad salad.

I sat at a long table by myself and slowly began consuming the sweaty rice. A small plump woman in her 40’s approached, “Do you mind if I sit here?” She had a nice looking smile.

“No, not at all,” I said and she sat.

She began eating one of her fishsticks. Almost everyone else ate the fishsticks.

“It’s Rhonda by the way.” We shook hands and I told her my name, too.

“Maybe it’s not appropriate for me to ask but how did you get here? You’re so young.”

I told her about my accident and she told me about hers.

“Strange moment we’re in now isn’t it,” she said. “Thank god Babs is around to guide us. What an angel.”

I didn’t answer and maybe I made a face and so she asked me “You don’t like Babs?”

“Shh..” I whispered. I looked around to make sure no one was listening. “I think Babs is out to get me.”

“Oh no what made you think that?”

“She stole the towel out my locker.”

“Maybe it was a mistake?”

“Trust me I saw her do it.”

“I can’t see Babs doing that… But then again I’ve only known her for a day. You know I think you’re the same age as my son.”

“How old is he?”

“21, my Curtis. He’s just graduating from college, already got recruited to go work at Google, that boy is so smart I don’t know where he gets it from. Not me, of course. My smart Curtis. Oh I miss him so much,” then she started crying and dabbing at her eyes with her dirty napkin. “I’m mostly going back for him.”

“Wow, Google, that’s big. That’s great. You should be very proud… and I’m 28 actually. I would be 29 next…”

There was a long line for the showers after dinner and I waited in just my towel. 5 out of the 6 bathroom stalls were also in use, grotesque smells and noises bubbling through the shower steam. When I was only one person away from my turn, a woman whipped open her shower curtain, ran out the stall wet, grabbing her towel round her, diarrhea spilling fast out from under the towel in a messy trail, and beelined for the toilets.

The person in front of me didn’t move just stared at the empty shower. A pool of fishstick juice running down the drain.

Everyone got sick from the fishsticks.

13 more disappeared after this and so now we were just 18.

A day later we were on the bus again. This time I sat with Rhonda far away from Babs. I liked that we could sweat together and that we could laugh about it. I liked Rhonda. She sort of reminded me of one of my favorite teachers from high school. The drive was long and surrounded by flat fields reaching out to the end of nothing. We pulled up to a bus stop where 23 people were waiting.

Babs stood up at the front, “Can I Have Everyone’s Attention Please.” Every word that came out of Babs’ mouth sounded phony. I thought maybe she was mocking all of us. Waiting for us to drop.

“Drumrollllll,” she drummed with her hands on her thighs. The bus door opened and the 23 initiates started to pile in. “Please Make Way For Our New Friends… Thank You…”

After everyone was seated the bus chugged on.

We didn’t reach our next location until dark. The new spot wasn’t much different from the old one. Also concrete. Same basics and lockers and shower stalls.

Rhonda and I chose top bunks next to each other so that we could whisper before bed. The mattresses were plasticy and thin and made plasticy noises when you shifted around. Babs scolded us when we whispered too loud, though she didn’t stop the man a few bunks over from masturbating.

In the morning, after breakfast, we did a workshop where we were separated into two groups. Babs separated Rhonda and I of course.

That weekend I went back to my apartment. I had some things I needed to collect. Or perhaps I didn’t need them but I wanted them. Anyway I had to check the mail.

There was that book I wanted, a cookbook, too, some clothes that better fit the weather, oven mitts, a full bear of honey. There were other things that I don’t remember now and I didn’t remember then either. Within one minute of entering my apartment I used my list to kill a cockroach and tossed it away.

To be honest I don’t remember leaving the place such a wreck. Vegetables rotting in the garbage, recycling piled by the door, tea leaves molding in the pot, dirty sheets on the bed. The whole place had marinated in a foul sort of warm sour smell and on top of that I had left all the windows shut.

After running around a while and not accomplishing anything I decided I should strip the bed. I stripped and stripped all the way down to the mattress pad, reminding myself of the moment when I took too much allergy medicine and drank too much wine and didn’t eat dinner and peed the bed. The pinkish yellow stain laughing at me in a large misshapen O.

I rummaged around the bedroom grabbing shorts and tank tops and dresses now that the weather was warm. I grabbed all my cash and my grandmother’s ring, a four leaf clover of jade and gold. I grabbed my pearl necklace.

After stuffing the dirty sheets, mattress pad, towels into a fat green laundry bag I stopped. I smelled oil cooking in a pan. I figured it must be my neighbors. My neighbors directly below me always cooked with their front door wide open and I could smell all kinds of things all the time. One time the apartment building smelled of rotting fish for a whole week. But then I remembered my neighbors below me had left, too. I wasn’t sure who was left in the building.

I carried the heavy bag into the living room and there, in the kitchen, was a middle aged woman with graying hair at the roots and a young girl, maybe 8. They had the apartment next door, but in the 3 months they had lived there I had never spoken to them. Well then again I had barely been there in that time.

“Hi… What are you doing?”

The woman was hunched over a pan frying something. I could see the thick oil spitting out of the pan onto my stove and the side of my refrigerator. The daughter was cutting up some onions on my cutting board with my knife. I don’t eat onions. Neither of them looked up. The frying was loud I guess.

“Hi.. What are you doing in my kitchen?”

I remembered two months ago, when I was still here, seeing odd items in the garbage. Vegetables I had never bought. Cheese I didn’t like. The garbage was filling up faster than it ever had, but I just started to bring it downstairs more and more.

The woman didn’t look up. She shifted things around with a spatula in the hot oil. “Well, yours came renovated much nicer than ours and has better appliances.”

“Ok, but-”

“You’re not here much anyway.”

The daughter stopped cutting and looked at me with glassy eyes.

“I know,” I said. “But it’s still my kitchen...”

The daughter kept her eyes on me. The knife in her hand. She was as still as wood.

“Look,” I said. “I’ll let you keep using my kitchen for right now. But you have to pitch in with the cleaning. It’s not enough for you to just clean your own dishes.”

“We aren’t much trouble.”

“Yes but you must clean the stove.”

“Fine.”

“And the countertop.”

“Ok.”

“And the oven.”

“I don’t touch the oven.”

“Fine, not the oven. But you must clean any bits and bobs that fall to the floor and occasionally clean out the sink.”

She kept on frying and her girl began cutting again. I grabbed the grocery bag with the mail, that book I wanted, a cookbook, some clothes that better fit the weather, oven mitts, honey. I squeezed the bag of recycling into the same hand and lumped the green laundry bag over the other shoulder.

Before I left I said, “Everything you need is under the sink.”

And as I opened the door, “Don’t forget the garbage.”

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