A one-shot written by Carcinogeneticist for someone :)
I’m smoking in the bathtub, staring at the ceiling, when Marjane knocks on the door.
“Mr. Ullanger? I’m going home now?” she says it like I’m forcing her to stay here.
“Okay, Marji. See you tomorrow.”
Marji is without a doubt one of the best people I ever met. She’s the maid. Marji. And she knows what I do for a living, and I know she’s Iranian.
I could’ve killed her family members. I wouldn’t know.
(aim and fire Bambi)
Not one to ask questions, me. I take another drag, imagining my lungs lighting up like Christmas with little tumors. The water around me’s grey and cloudy, nothing new, and I blow up a smoke ring towards the ceiling.
“Mr. Ullanger?” she asks again through the door.
(stop staring at the ceiling Bambi not real not there easy)
“Yes?” I reply, letting my cigarette smolder between my fingers.
She wants to ask. I can tell. She knows about why I’m home alone. She’s cleaned my medals enough to know everything.
But she doesn’t ask the question I hate hearing and she slowly shuffles away without saying anything. My eyes wander back to the ceiling. There’s a girl standing on my ceiling, feet firmly fixed to the tiles. Her skin is bloated whitish-green, sagging on what used to be the smooth surface of her legs and face. Blonde hair is falling away from her scalp, exposing the patchy skin and yellowed bone of her skull.
Bath Girl is not real. She just lives in my bathroom but mostly in my head.
Her hand reaches forwards, pointing at me.
“No chance, honey,” I spit, throwing my cigarette into the grey bathwater. She hisses disapproval.
Two weeks, three days, and seven hours after that, I get an email. It’s different from the typical “I heard you were an F-14 man, do you know my husband” sort.
And it sucks. Can’t open it right away. Know I need the help, but admitting it might just give me the heart attack I’ve been waiting for.
(dont blame yourself Bambi buddy boy but we just can’t keep you)
My throat tightens when I swallow my pride whole and reply, telling them that going there would be okay yeah I’ll be there yeah one on one sounds nice.
It takes three busses and four cigarettes to get to Clearview. Can you believe it? Three busses, damn stupid city planning.
Clearview’s right up in the hippy-dippy part of the city, with the vegetarian burger places and the fair trade coffee. It’s grimy, but only grimy to the point of fashion.
I got referred to CV by my last therapist. Dr. Dorian. Outpatient clinic’s not supposed to be that bad
(especially since im crazy)
for people like me.
My new psychotherapist’s office is a study in green. Green walls, soft green carpeting, beanbag chairs, real chairs and a couch.
I am never sitting on that couch.
My new psychotherapist’s name is Dr. Jordin Chauncey. She’s black.
(like Notso just as dark)
She stands up behind her desk and waves me to a chair across from her. “Hello, Mr. Ullanger. Welcome to Clearview.”
“Likewise,” I tell her. For some odd reason, she finds that funny.
I get a form to fill out, and I lean on the edge of her desk to fill it out.
Name. Zacharie. Ullanger.
Occupation. Aerial. Pilot. USA. Military.
(not anymore Bambi buddy boy don’t blame yourself we just can’t keep you)
Height. 5. 7.
I hand it back in.
“You missed a bit here,” she says, tapping the section I left blank. I raise and lower one shoulder. Dr. Chauncey puts the form to the side, and emerges from behind the desk to sit in the chair across from me.
“Wanna talk today?” she asks.
It’s only my first day. First of thirty sessions. Play it small. You can do that.
Exhale. My lungs are dying for a cigarette.
“You can smoke in here,” says Dr. Chauncey.
Normally, that’s weird, but since my mouth tastes like my own fearful vomit I don’t ask questions. I just light up and start to talk.
“My name is Zacharie Ullanger. I previously worked as an aerial gunner for the United States of America air force. Honorably discharged. I am thirty years old. Skilled in weapons operations, weapon repair, night vision goggle use, and combat techniques.”
There’s a pause.
“I kind of suck at combat tech. But I passed, so.”
“That’s all?” asks Dr. Chauncey.
I take a drag.
“What more do you want?”
And she says the weirdest thing. She says, “Tell me a story about yourself.”
She’s beautiful, and right now she’s not a person to me, just another empty face at the end of a bar.
And I tell her, sure, I can tell you something.
When I was still an idiot, and just starting out in Afghanistan, I got my bed absolutely trashed by the senior airmen. They all did it to the newbies, but I was the only one who went crying to my senior officer, also known as Master Sargent Sir Yes Sir. My senior officer’s real name was Gus Trudle, which makes him sound like some sort of goddamn Keebler elf, but Sargent Trudle was roughly five-nine and maybe two hundred, spitballing here. And he had absolutely no room for listening to complaints from my pansy ass.
“Welcome to the air force, Bambi. I am not your mommy, and I sure as shit do not have to complaints from you or any other Basic Airman. People here do not like you. Hell, I don’t even like you. You are going to shoot at people, and you are not going to ask questions or complain. You understand me here, Bambi?”
Yes Master Sargent Sir Yes Sir I Understand Sir.
“Good. Now get outta here. You got a room to clean.”
And that’s how I got my Call Sign. Bambi Ullanger. A Call Sign is the nickname that stays with you for the rest of your Air Force career, and usually it is based on one time that you managed to FUBAR a situation. I got laughed out of my senior officer’s tent, and I got laughed at by all the flyboys.
She found that funny, and I take a drag before stubbing her cigarette out on an ashtray on the edge of her desk.
Dr. Chauncey tells me that if the medications I’m on aren’t working, I shouldn’t stop taking them. Sweet, thanks, yeah, good to see you too.
(lying through your teeth Bambi)
Twenty minutes later, on the bus ride back home, I run into another familiar friend. Zipper Face is sort of like Bath Girl in the regard that I am not actually seeing him. He is a symptom of psychosis and he should be ignored. Zipper Face often rides the bus, and although he doesn’t sit next to me often, he’ll stand in the aisle and stare at me.
He’s one of those punks with the dyed hair and the toxic-colored clothes and the massive headphones that pump out bass beats like a far-off car alarm.
His lips are pulled into a permanent rictus grin, and his eyes follow me as a take my seat. Although he’s probably just an old lady or a teen girl or empty space, I shake my head at him and slouch enough to take up two seats.
It’s just psychosis, Ullanger
(PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER ULLANGER)
all in my head
(hope you understand Bambi old boy but we just cant keep you hope you understand Bambi old boy but we just cant keep you)
And I can’t sleep.
The next meeting with Dr. Chauncey, I’m early.
The lobby is a study in bland. I’m sharing the space with crown molding and a thirteen year old girl.
Really would like a smoke right now but since this stupid kid’s here I can’t. Only had one on the way here, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.
Thirteen year old girl’s arm is on my shoulder, shaking me awake.
“Ey, yo, you’re up, slugger,” is all she says around a massive wad of gum.
My eyes snap open.
My back slams into the linoleum. She looks like I just spat in her face.
Which isn’t smiling.
(get your head in check ullanger)
“I had an episode in your lobby,” is what I tell Dr. Chauncey.
She nods. “Wanna talk about it?”
Mouth dry. Throat kills. Fumble for a cigarette.
And I get completely honest.
Take a drag.
I had these friends in the army see, other flyboys like me.
Take a drag.
But shit happens. You’re in a dogfight, shit happens. Hit a mountain, get shot down, happens all the time.
But these guys were my friends. Alan Sharpe. He got put on kitchen duty and blew up a boiler trying to make stew. His callsign was Notso. Notso Sharpe. And damn if he wasn’t the darkest guy I ever met. Only black pilot in my division, ain’t that crazy?
On my twenty-fifth birthday, the same sonofabitch replaced all my shoes with left shoes. I had no right shoes and I threw every curse I knew at him on my way out to the tarmac.
Trudle thought we were all assholes anyway, so this didn’t really surprise him.
And then I stole Notso’s shoelaces to get even.
In addition to Alan, there was also Anna-Sophia DeLauren. Not a lot of women in with the flyboys, but Anna-Sophia was different. Anna-Sophia was built like a brick house. Her callsign was FISH.
Fuck Is She Huge!
FISH wanted to head back home after her time in Afghanistan and have a baby with that husband of hers back in green New Hampshire.
Take a drag exhale.
Routine mission. Scouting trip fire only if they shoot first.
And then waste them.
Flying tight in with Notso on flank.
Take a drag.
Alan Sharpe killed in action. Enemy fire due to break in formation. February 23rd 13:02.
Anna-Sophia DeLauren hit a bird while flying. Bird sucked into jet intake.
Plane crashes. Internal injuries body never recovered sent back the dog tags. To that husband instead of that baby.
Dr. Chauncey’s watching me, watching me like how the Greek chorus watched Oedipus at the end of the play, watching me rock and stutter and drop ash all over her carpet.
Not crying because I miss them. Everything went wrong after that.
Notso came back first. Black skin charred blacker but smile still in place. His teeth looked whiter than ever, like little squares of sugar-coated gum.
I remember waking up to that and running to the bathroom and throwing up.
Notso’s stiff hand on my shoulder, pulling me back to bed before Trudle could wake up.
And I started smoking. Not a cigarette at a time, but packs upon packs.
Shared some with Notso, too, but he often said he couldn’t taste them.
FISH came back too.
Is it okay if I don’t talk about that? I stopped sleeping soon after that, but everyone knew that Zacharie Ullanger had f--cking snapped.
Including Gus Trudle, who sat me down in his office one day.
I hated his smile, the way that it showed all his teeth, like the grins of every dead person who came back and stood in the corner of my room.
It was my thirtieth birthday.
“Senior Sargeant Ullanger. Thank you for meeting with me.”
I didn’t choose to meet with him. Every time I got a promotion, you got one too, you self-righteous son of a bitch.
“Callsign’s still Bambi?” he asked, skeleton grin stretching wider.
“We’ve received reports of your erratic behaviour. Don’t worry, Bambi, old boy, we’ll get you set up with some good doctors back home. You’re not the first to come down with the PTSD.”
I hated the way he said that, like I’d just been irresponsible and gone out and gotten chlamydia.
He pushed an empty cardboard box towards me.
“Hope you understand, Bambi old boy, but we just can’t keep you.”
Dr. Chauncey tells me to keep taking my psychosis meds and that maybe keeping a journal of anything that could be vaguely regarded as worrying.
Slowly, bit by bit, I start feeling better. Bath Girl and Zipper Face stop coming around as much. And I honestly tried to cut down on the cigarettes too, mostly because I wanted my food to taste like real food again instead of like boots. Everything seemed to be going really well for me. It was a nice change.
Until Dr. Dorian sends me an email, wondering why I’ve missed out on the last month of therapy. My stomach shifts sideways, and I phone Dorian.
“John, hey, it’s Zacharie. How’ve you been?” I ask, leaning on my kitchen table. Marji’s hovering in the doorway between the kitchen and the mudroom, dark eyes wide.
“Zacharie! Thought you’d gone and died on me!” rasps Dr. Dorian, and laughs. He doesn’t laugh like a normal person. It’s the kind of laugh that you never get used to hearing, a kind that makes you laugh too. HREH-AH-HEH-HEH-HAR!
“Nah, John, you referred me, remember?” I tell him, drumming my fingers on the edge of the table. He has to remember.
(he doesnt Bambi you)
There’s a brief pause, and then Dorian says, “No, Zacharie. I never referred you anywhere. You just stopped showing up.”
The jaded tone is hard to miss, but my ears seem to be buzzing. Hang up the phone.
He never referred me? Then who sent me that email?
Why was Dr. Chauncey so willing to meet with me if I’d never booked. What the hell is this. I need to smoke.
“Mr. Ullanger?” Marji asks from the bottom of a well.
(you know exactly)
Her hand’s on my shoulder.
Words come choking out of my throat. “I have to go.”
Clearview Rehabilitation Centre looks a lot different from when I first arrived. When I first showed up, it was a grey brick building with a black roof. There was a skylight in the middle of it. Columns and other architecture stuff.
The thing that hits you first is the smell. Y’know when you’ve opened your vegetable drawer in your fridge, and something’s rotted right through, that sticky-sweet gag-in-your-mouth taste rising in the back of your throat? It smells like that, the trademark of urban decay.
My vision’s clashing with the thoughts in my head, what I saw then mixing with what I see now.
Tall grass crumbling outside that leans to the left like a dog with a bad leg
(NO WRONG stands tall stands straight and vision free Bambi buddy old sport)
Pushing my way through the double doors into the lobby, patterned marble--no, cracked marble floor ingrained with the decay of a thousand leaves. The front desk is gray. Green. Grey? Moss. Definitely moss. The rotten vegetable smell is stronger in here, and although everything I learned in the army is telling me to turn back, I know I can’t, not yet.
The lobby is a study in
entropy. The walls are speckled with brackish mold,
(see the crown molding, Bambi?)
crown molding mouldering, and paint bubbling with trapped air and water all along the wall like unpopped zits.
There’s a few quick electronic beeps, and an even quicker, “Aww, yeah!”
(you dont wanna look Ullanger trust me on this)
Pivoting towards the sound, I spy the thirteen year old girl sitting on a chair that’s been thoroughly chewed. Her blonde hair is parted evenly over her shoulders, cascading over the shoulders of her frayed-collar sweatshirt. She’s faced away, and I can hear the tappings of some stupid handheld electronic gizmo. All I can see of her is the back of her sweatshirt and head. I can also see the back of her neck, which in the weak light is colored yellow
(cigarette smoker yellow highlighter yellow liver failure yellow)
and accented by the bumps of her spinal cord.
She reaches a hand back, and scratches at the spinal bump. The skin shifts over to the side that she scratches, and then stays that way, bunched over to one side like chicken skin.
I feel like I’m gonna blow chunks.
What is this, a joke? Hysterical laughter bubbles in the pit of my stomach like coffee or tar. A joke. I’ve been tripping out the whole time.
(“Can I tell you something? I see dead people.”)
My feet are moving towards Dr. Chauncey’s office.
(!!AND THE RED DEATH HELD SWAY OVER ALL!!)
My hands close around the doorknob, slick and greasy from years of disuse.
(“Walking around like regular people.”)
Dr. Chauncey’s head rotates towards the sound of my footsteps.
(They don’t know they’re dead)
Her office is a study in green mold. The rotten vegetable smell is so bad my eyes start leaking tears. Mold covers the walls and furrs across the floor. Bags of garbage are strewn across the floor, grime coating the desk and chairs.
Dr. Chauncey smiles wide, like her face is stuck.
“Zacharie. Why don’t you have a seat.”
(sorry Bambi buddy old boy but we just can’t keep you.)
[A/N] - This was a story for lolhai :)