Illustration by Idiots’Books
He wasn’t ready to leave the hospital. For starters, he couldn’t walk yet, and there were still times when he could barely remember where he was, and there was the problem of the catheter. But the insurance company and the hospital had concurred that he’d had all the treatment he needed—even if his doctor hadn’t been able to look him in the eye when this was explained—and it was time for him to go home. Go away. Go anywhere.
He’d put it all in his LJ, the conversation as best as he could remember it, the way it made him feel. The conversation he’d had with Perry and the idea he’d had for pwning Disney-in-a-Box. He didn’t even know if his apartment was still there—he hadn’t been back in weeks and the rent was overdue.
And the comments came flooding in. First a couple dozen from his friends, then hundreds, then thousands. Raging fights—some people accused him of being a fakester sock-puppet aimed at gathering sympathy or donations (!)—side-conversations, philosophical arguments.
Buried in there, offers from real world and online friends to meet him at the hospital, to get him home, to take care of him. It was unbelievable. There was a small fortune—half-a-year’s wages at his old job—waiting in his paypal, and if this was all to be believed, there was a cadre of people waiting just outside that door to meet him.
The nurse who came to get him looked rattled. “Your friends are here,” she said in her Boris-and-Natasha accent, and gave him a disapproving look as she disconnected his hoses and pipes so swiftly he didn’t have time to register the pain he felt. She pulled on a pair of Salvation Army underpants—the first pair he’d worn in weeks—and a pair of new, dark blue-jeans and a Rotary picnic t-shirt dated three years before. The shirt was a small and it still hung from him like a tent.
“You will use canes?” she asked. He’d had some physiotherapy that week and he could take one or two doddering steps on crutches, but canes? No way.
“I can’t,” he said, picturing himself sprawled on the polished concrete floor, with what was left of his face bashed in from the fall.
“Wheelchair,” she said to someone in the hall, and an orderly came in pushing a chair with a squeaky wheel—though the chair itself was a pretty good one, at least as good as the ones they rented at Disney, which were nearly indestructible. He let the nurse transfer him to it with her strong hands in his armpits and under his knees. A bag containing his laptop and a few cards and things that had shown up at the hospital was dumped into his lap and he clutched it to himself as he was wheeled to the end of the corridor and around the corner, where the nurse’s station, the elevators, the common area and his fans were.
They weren’t just his pals, though there were a few of them there, but also a big crowd of people he’d never met, didn’t recognize. There were goths, skinny and pale and draped in black, but they were outnumbered by the subculture civilians, normal-looking, slightly hippieish, old and young. When he hove into sight, they burst into a wild cheer. The orderly stopped pushing his chair and the nurse rushed forward to shush them sternly, but it barely dampened the calls. There were wolf whistles, cheers, calls, disorganized chants, and then two very pretty girls—he hadn’t thought about “pretty” anything in a long, long time—unfurled a banner that said DEATH WAITS in glittery hand-drawn letters, with a little skull dotting the I in WAITS.
The nurse read the banner and reached to tear it out of their hands, but they folded it back. She came to him and hissed in his ear, something about getting security to get rid of these people if they were bothering him, and he realized that she thought DEATH WAITS was a threat and that made him laugh so hard he choked, and she flounced off in a deeply Slavic huff.
And then he was among his welcoming party, and it was a party—there were cake and clove cigarettes in smoke-savers and cans of licorice coffee, and everyone wanted to talk with him and take their pictures with him, and the two pretty girls took turns making up his face, highlighting his scars to make him fit for a Bela Lugosi role. The were called Lacey and Tracey, and they were sisters who went to the ride every day, they said breathlessly, and they’d seen the story he’d described, seen it with their own eyes, and it was something that was as personal as the twin language they’d developed to communicate with one another when they were little girls.
His old friends surrounded him: guys who marveled at his recovery, girls who kissed his cheek and messed up Tracey and Lacey’s makeup. Some of them had new tattoos to show him—one girl had gotten a full-leg piece showing scenes from the ride, and she slyly pulled her skirt all the way up, all the way up, to show him where it all started.
Security showed up and threw them all out into the street, where the heat was oppressive and wet, but the air was fresh and full of smells that weren’t sickness or medicine, which made Death Waits feel like he could get up and dance. Effervescent citrus and biodiesel fumes, moist vegetation and the hum of lazy high noon bugs.
“Now, it’s all arranged,” one of the straight-looking ones told him. He’d figured out that these were the pure story people, who’d read his descriptions and concluded that he’d seen something more than anyone else. They all wanted a chance to talk to him, but didn’t seem too put out that he was spending most of his time with his old mates. “Don’t worry about a thing.” Car after car appeared, taking away more of the party. “Here you go.”
Another car pulled up, an all-electric kneeling number with a huge cargo space. They wheeled the chair right into it, and then two of the story-hippies helped him transfer into the seat. “My mom was in a wheelchair for ten years before she passed,” a hippie told him. He was older and looked like an English teacher Death Waits had quite liked in grade ten. He strapped Death Waits in like a pro and off they went.
They were ten minutes into Melbourne traffic—Death marveling at buildings, signs, people, in every color, without the oppressive white-and-gore colors of everything in the hospital—when the English teacher dude looked shyly at Death.
“You think it’s real—the Story, I mean—don’t you?”
Death thought about this for a second. He’d been very focused on the Park-in-a-Box printers for the past week, which felt like an eternity to him, but he remembered his obsession with the story fondly. It required a kind of floaty non-concentration to really see it, a meditative state he’d found easy to attain with all the painkillers.
“It’s real,” he said.
The English teacher and two of his friends seemed to relax a little. “We think so too.”
They pulled up to his condo—how’d they know where he lived?—and parked right next to his car! He could see where the tow had kind of fucked-up the rear bumper, but other than that, it was just as he remembered it, and it looked like someone had given it a wash, too. The English teacher put his car in park and came around to open his door just as the rest of the welcoming party came out of his building, pushing—
A stair-climbing wheelchair, the same kind that they used in the ride. Death laughed aloud with delight when he saw it rolling toward him, handling the curb easily, hardly a bump, and the two pretty girls, Tracey and Lacey, transferred him into it, and both contrived to brush their breasts and jasmine-scented hair across his cheeks as they did so, and he felt the first stirrings in his ruined groin that he’d felt since before his beating.
He laughed like a wild-man, and they all laughed with him and someone put a clove cigarette between his lips and he drew on it, coughed a little, and then had another drag before he rolled into the elevator.
The girls put him to bed hours later. His apartment had been spotless and he had every confidence that it would be spotless again come night-time. The party had spent the rest of the day and most of the night talking about the story that they’d seen in the ride, where they’d seen it, what it meant. There was a lot of debate about whether they had any business rating things now that the story had shown itself to them. The story was the product of unconscious effort, and it should be left to unconscious effort.
But the counter-argument was that they had a duty to garden the story, or possibly to sharpen its telling, or to protect it from people who couldn’t see it or wouldn’t see it.
At first Death didn’t know what to make of all this talk. At first he found it funny and more than a little weird to be taking the story this seriously. It was beautiful, but it was an accidental beauty. The ride was the important thing, the story was its effect.
But these people convinced him that they were right, that the story had to be important. After all, it had inspired all of them, hadn’t it? The ride was just technology—the story was what the ride was for.
His head swam with it.
“We’ve got to protect it,” he said finally, after listening to the argument, after eating the food with which they’d filled his fridge, after talking intensely with Tracey (or possibly Lacey) about their parents’ unthinking blandness, after letting the English teacher guy (whose name was Jim) take him to the toilet, after letting his old goth pals play some music some mutual friends had just mixed.
“We’ve got to protect it and sharpen it. The story wants to get out and there will be those who can’t see it.” He didn’t care that his speech was mangled by his fucked-up face. He’d seen his face in the mirror and Tracey and Lacey had done a nice job in making it up—he looked like a latter-day Marilyn Manson, his twisted mouth a ghoulish smear. The doctors had talked about giving him another series of surgeries to fix his lip, a set of implanted dentures to replace the missing teeth, had even mentioned that there were specialist clinics where he could get a new set budded and grown right out of his own gums. That had been back when the mysterious forces of the lawsuit and the ride were paying his bills.
Now he contemplated his face in the mirror and told himself he’d get used to this, he’d come to like it, it would be a trademark. It would make him gothier than goth, for life, always an outsider, always one of the weird ones, like the old-timers who’d come to Disney with their teenaged, eye-rolling kids. Goths’ kids were never goths, it seemed—more like bang-bangers or jocky-looking peak-performance types, or hippies or gippies or dippies or tippies or whatever. But their parents were still proudly flying their freak-flags, weird to the grave.
“We’ll let everyone know about it,” he said, thinking not of everyone but of all the cool subculture kids he’d grown up with and worshipped and been rejected by and dated and loved and hated—”and we’ll make it part of everyone’s story. We’ll protect it, guys. Of course we’ll protect it.”
That settled the argument. Death hadn’t expected that. Since when did he get the last word on any subject? Since now. They were following his lead.
And then the girls put him to bed, shyly helping him undress, each of them leaning over him to kiss him good night. Tracey’s kiss was sisterly, on the cheek, her spicy perfume and her jet-black hair caressing him. Lacey’s kiss was anything but sisterly. She mashed her breasts to his chest and thrust her tongue into his mouth, keeping her silver eyes open and staring deep into his, her fingers working busily in his hair.
She broke the kiss off with a gasp and a giggle. She traced the ruin of his mouth with a fingertip, breathing heavily, and let it slide lower, down his chest. He found himself actually hard, the first pleasurable sensation he’d had in his dick since that fateful night. From the corridor came an impatient cough—Tracey, waiting for Lacey to get going.
Lacey rolled her eyes and giggled again and then slid her hand the rest of the way down, briefly holding his dick and then encircling his balls with her fingers before kissing him again on the twist of his lips and backing out of the room, whispering, “Sleep well, see you in the morning.”
Death lay awake and staring at the ceiling for a long time after they had gone. The English teacher dude had left him with a bedpan for the night and many of them had promised to return in rotations indefinitely during the days, helping him out with dressing and shopping and getting him in and out of his marvelous chair.
He stared and stared at that ceiling, and then he reached for his laptop, there beside the bed, the same place it had lived when he was in the hospital. He fired it up and went straight to today’s fly-throughs of the ride and ran through them from different angles—facing backward and sideways, looking down and looking up, noting all the elements that felt like story and all the ones that didn’t, wishing he had his plus-one/minus-one joystick with him to carve out the story he was seeing.
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As part of the ongoing project of crafting Tor.com’s electronic edition of Makers, the author would like for readers to chime in with their favorite booksellers and stories about them in the comments sections for each piece of Makers, for consideration as a possible addition to a future edition of the novel.