15: Whisper
by Wax Jism

Casey didn't lie to the cops: he really couldn't remember much. Now it's starting to drizzle back into his memory bit by bit. It's the concussion, the doctor had told his parents.

His father doesn't meet his eyes anymore. He looks past him, at the walls, at the desk, out the window, when he asks the same old questions: "Who?" and "How?" and "What did you do?"

"I don't remember," Casey lies and tries to stop thinking. If he stops thinking about his headache - which comes and goes like the tide, briefly staved off by codeine, then swelling again - he instead becomes too aware of the other aches: his mangled hand, his ribs, the gash on his cheek.

His father doesn't look like he believes anything Casey says. His father has gone into permanent denial mode, Casey thinks.

"You'll feel better when you're home," his mother said in the car on the way. Define 'better', Casey wanted to say. He'd been okay in the hospital, cut off from everything and floating in a grey haze of hospital food and painkillers and that familiar-strange pungent smell of disinfectant. His parents had forgotten to bring him clothes, so he'd had to walk to the car wearing the skimpy little nightie, paper slippers and his father's long coat. And he'd thought he'd been through the worst humiliation already.

He turns his head and stares at another wall instead. The pictures by his desk are gone. He'd added one of Zeke and Delilah smoking in Zeke's car, their eyes intent on something outside the windows, the smoke both separating and connecting them. Now there's just an empty wall, a few stray flecks of blu-tack. He suspects his father. "How could something like this happen?" his mother asks, wringing her hands, but his father scowls and asks, again, "Who was it? What were you fighting about?"

Still in denial. Not a word about the other things. Casey wonders if his father would be relieved or even angrier if he told him the whole truth.

Casey doesn't know the whole truth. Explaining the little bit of truth he knows is already too much. It has all bled together in his head. The woman who asked him questions was gentle and careful and misunderstood everything. He stopped even trying after a while, just said "No" to everything. The sedative was already starting to wear off, but his head was still heavy and there were grey areas in his field of vision, little blurs of nothingness.

"Can you tell me what happened?" No. "Are you sexually active?" No. "Do you have a girlfriend?" No. "Boyfriend?" No. "Have you had consensual anal sex in the last seventy-two hours?" No.

He wasn't lying. He doesn't think he remembered just then. He remembers now, though. In the morning. Zeke driving him to school after. Delilah smiling at him in the hall outside English class, secretly.

He misses the pictures. If they were there, he wouldn't have to stare at the empty wall to avoid looking at his parents. Maybe he wouldn't feel like crying. His father already thinks he's the pinnacle of pathetic, no need to rub it in, for fuck's sake, but the waterworks turn on without asking him. It's PTSD, he thinks and doesn't try to wipe his face. He keeps forgetting the cast on his hand. He's hit himself in the face a couple of times already.

"Oh, honey," his mom says. He thinks he'd like a hug. Mom. He could lean his face against her cardigan. It's been awhile. At some point, he got too old. She doesn't touch him much anymore.

"The cops will be back," his father says. "You start telling the truth now. We don't need anymore trouble." He looks like he wants to pace or maybe make angry gestures. Casey lies still, wet face and running nose.

"Don't be ashamed," his mother says. She's trying to smile reassuringly. "It's not your fault."

Casey chokes on laughter and coughs. It feels like his ribcage is tied up with forge-hot iron bands. He misses the hospital and the nurses who didn't care about him, just came in every hour to ask him stupid questions like his middle name and his address. He kept forgetting at first, but it wore off after a while. Nothing wrong with him now. He can remember a lot more than he'd like to.

They don't seem to be about to leave his room. He wants to sleep. His mother wants to comfort, but she's so bad at it. She's afraid to touch him, like she can see something dangerous and filthy in him. Maybe she thinks he doesn't want her to. His father wants answers.

Zeke and Delilah didn't ask him anything at all past, "how are you?" They stayed until the nurse caught on and told them to leave or she'd call the cops.

The strangest thing: when they first showed up, he didn't know who they were. He hadn't thought about them at all until then. Who were these people? Then Delilah bent over him and kissed him, and he almost heard the click when the memories fell into place.

Hi, Zeke. Hi, Delilah. Please take me home. He didn't ask.

"I'm going to the bathroom," he says and pushes himself up. His legs feel rubbery and weak but he can walk without bumping into things. His head is spinning just a little.

"Do you need--" his mother starts and frustration he didn't know he had boils up.

"I can take a fucking piss on my own," he snaps at her. She recoils. She's afraid of him. He's pretty sure his father hates him. Worthless foul-mouthed cry-baby fag.

He looks in the mirror and feels brave for doing it. He's still crying, even though he doesn't feel it. His eyes just water all on their own, blurry blue-black-purple-rimmed. When he's this pale, his eyes seem to grow until he looks like an anime cartoon of a boy, paper-white skin with bright purple blotches, too bright even to look like bruises, a crow's feet row of stitches on his cheek. "Hi, freak," he says to the mirror.

There's still blood in his piss and he fights the nausea desperately. Throwing up would be bad. Just breathing is bad enough; vomiting would be like having his guts torn out through his throat. He flips down the toilet lid and sits on it, dizzy.

"You're relatively well off," the doctor told him. "Nothing that won't go away. With luck, the cut on your face won't even scar visibly." Too bad, because he might look really badass with a scar. The only fun part of this shit. I went down fighting. Maybe, You should see the other guy.

The other guy's probably hanging out with his friends, bragging about scores and fucking Delilah. Eternal torment. Casey didn't even get in a good kick.

He might actually vomit now, so he slides to the floor and assumes the position. The wet-white porcelain and the faint smell of piss don't make him feel any better, but he holds it down.

Knock on the door. "Casey?" His mother, worried.

"Casey, open the door." His father, angry.

"Go away," he mutters. They can't hear him. More knocking. He spits in the bowl and gets up and opens the door. "I'm okay," he says.


Real cops talked to him in the morning. Not the nice nurse with her soft voice and questions he couldn't answer. These were cops through and through, detectives. O'Halloran and Merkel. O'Halloran had Irish red hair and small, sharp eyes. Merkel had a forehead permanently set in a frown. "Have you had trouble with the same student before?"

"No," Casey said, a lie even though he wasn't sure which student they meant. He kept missing the questions, though, like they were spoken in another room and he had to strain his ears to hear. It was easy to just drift.

"A name keeps coming up in our interviews. Zeke Tyler. Anything you can tell us?"


They repeated everything. They weren't letting him go. He was on his back, floating on painkillers and they kept asking and asking. He remembers feeling puzzled because they kept talking about Zeke. Zeke. Zeke Zeke. Zeke had been too late.

The next time they asked about Zeke, he said "No." He couldn't think of anything else. No, no, no. No trouble.

"Would you say you were raped?"


"Who was present in the shower room?"


"You have two cracked ribs, a broken finger, a concussion - don't you want who did this behind bars?"


He felt stupid and slow. Merkel frowned and O'Halloran's pale eyes were cold. They gave up after an hour. "We'll be back," they said and he giggled into his hands despite the pain in his chest.


His father gives him a disgusted look when he thinks Casey isn't looking and says, "I'm gonna watch the game." He doesn't close the door when he leaves.

His mother brings him a glass of milk. He can't make himself eat, but the milk is cool and sweet, soothing. She sits on the side of the bed, her hands folded on her lap. "I wish you'd talk to us, Casey," she says. "What's happening to you?"

He wants to, for a second. It's on the tip of his tongue. He wants to, and he wants to put his arms around her and cry into her collar for a while. He's tired. Mommy, mommy, mommy.

"The doctors talked to us - and the police..." She has something on the tip of her tongue too, he thinks and keeps his mouth closed around his words. His hand's warming the milk through the glass. His hand is cold and the milk is lukewarm. "That they suspect that. That you were..." He wonders if she can say it. He makes a bet with himself. Ten bucks says she won't. "...sexually assaulted," she bites out and he mentally hands over ten dollars to himself. At least she's still looking at him.

"I wasn't," he says. That was easy.


He's not going to explain. He puts the half-empty glass on the table and lies down. "I'm tired," he says.


He might have had nightmares, but he can't remember them when he wakes up. The room looks wrong somehow, everything in the wrong place. He crawls out of bed and goes to the window. It's clear and moon-bright, a beautiful night with frost silver on the ground.

He gnaws on his knuckles and stares at the street below. After a while, he pushes up the window and takes in deep breaths of the cold, crisp air. It hurts to breathe, but the air in his room was suffocating him, making his stomach turn.

He leaves the window open and goes back to sit on the bed. It's a quarter past one in the morning. He takes one of the horsepills they gave him for the pain and finds a pair of clean jeans. It's hard to put on pants with only one good hand.

He stuffs the bottle of painkillers in his pocket. Sneakers are also tricky with the broken index finger jutting in the way. Bending over hurts, and he has to straighten up between shoes to breathe slowly and wait for the dark spots to stop dancing in front of his eyes. He listens for sounds in the house. Nothing. His parents are asleep.

When he's done getting dressed, the painkillers have kicked in and it's easier to move. They make him a little dizzy and slow, like his head has been stuffed with cotton, but it's not so bad that he can't deal.

When he has one leg outside the window, he stops for a second and looks down. The fall is a good eight feet into sharp-branched bushes. He hums a bar or two of Living On The Edge, tunelessly and mirthlessly, and lifts his other foot onto the roof.

He has to stop every three breaths or so because his head spins faster when he moves and the sky is too high up above and the ground is too far down below. Spin, spin, spin, the world goes round in circles, like an eagle hovering, although he's not sure if he's the eagle or maybe the world. Not much of an eagle if that's what he is. He doesn't think he can fly, definitely doesn't want to try. The bad hand protests being used at all and with every move, the effect of the painkiller wears off. The good effects, of course. The dizziness stays.

Look, ma, no hands. He has to lean onto his battered ribcage to find the trellis with his feet and the world darkens threateningly, darkens around the edges and then shrinks quickly to a single pinpoint of fresh white starlight somewhere far off. Really far away. It feels like he's falling already. The world tilts backwards and he waits for the impact.

His feet find purchase and the darkness falls back when he shifts his weight off his chest.

It's not until he's on the ground, taking slow, agonising breaths to stop the dizziness, that he realises he wasn't afraid for a second up there, just tired and sick. He must be stupid - his bed is up there, clean sheets and soft pillow and the blanket to pull over if he's cold. Instead, he's down here with no way of getting up. It's cold.

He looks up at the sky and thinks he sees a bat fly over, a noiseless black spot of fluttering movement.

He walks.

The street seems to have become a curvy, narrow road since he last walked down it. He keeps ending up in the gutter, stumbling over the curb, the sound of his sneakers shuffling over asphalt turning into the muted crackle of brittle-frozen grass.

He runs out of breath and leans against a tree and closes his eyes. He pictures his bed, soft and inviting, pictures lying down in it and he could just sleep, once he learns how to breathe again. He woke up curled around his pillow.

He opens his eyes and walks on. After a few blocks, he realises that he forgot to put on a proper shirt. He's in his sleeping tee under the jacket, and it's not quite warm enough for an Ohio winter's night. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Bad planning. He's dragging his feet, not by choice. He can't seem to lift them very high. He stops for a while and feels his kneecaps shake. His calves are burning. He forgot his watch too, so he doesn't know how long he's been walking, but it feels like ages. The streets all look the same around here, only the names on the mailboxes change. He's not on his own street anymore, at least. He looks around. There's a large oak on his left. He doesn't remember it.

He must have taken a wrong turn, walking with his eyes half shut, just listening to the zombie shuffle of his steps and the tired rustling of the wind in the naked trees.

He starts walking again, and it's almost like sleepwalking now, everything fading around him, until it's just this step and the next and the one after that. He can't get lost in his own neighbourhood. The thought is ridiculous and he'd laugh if his chest didn't hurt so.

He's walking in the middle of the street. He has a sneaking suspicion that he's ended up in some kind of fucked up timewarp and he's walking up the same street over and over. That would explain how tired he is, how his legs ache and his lungs burn.

He's forgotten something. Apart from a sweater and his watch and socks.

A payphone appears - magically! his brain supplies - around the next corner. Dust-red neon light around it, a jolt after the clean white lamplight everywhere else. He thinks he makes a little sound, a sob of relief or something like that. He wipes his face and his hand comes away wet.

Inside the booth, he leans against the glass and presses his face flat against its dirt-streaked surface. He lets his mind drift, allows it this time, as opposed to those other times when it just drifted into nothingness all on its own.

He doesn't have his guard up, it seems, because he drifts to places he'd like to stay out of. Shower rooms, for example. No need to relive that, once was enough.

He thinks Gabe should have slammed his head a little harder against the wall and closed off the memory forever. Or killed him. He considers that possibility for a while. He can see himself dead. Not a good way to die, naked on the grungy floor, but what way is good, other than in your own bed at ninety-two? He can see himself dead, his open eyes filling with water from the showers. All of them recoiling when they realise.

More painful if Zeke and Delilah come to find him dead; he wouldn't wish that on them, but if he can wish himself dead, he can wish them away. In this universe where Casey is dead, Zeke and Delilah have run off together in Zeke's car. Like Mickey and Mallory, free and wild.

That hurts, and he brings them back. Not without me, his dead self begs.

Something pinches him in the side and he jerks upright. His ribs protesting as he was sinking into crouched-backed sleep against the glass. Really sleeping on his feet, shivering cold and his brain won't come back from the drifting expedition. He can't quite catch his train of thought. He's picked up the receiver. It lies heavy and plastic-black in his hand. He stares at it and tries to blink it into focus.

He has no change. He digs through his pockets and knows he'll cry, too tired not to cry over no change, lost, lonely, hurt, poor Casey, poor Casey. His fingers close around a - magical! - quarter half-buried in lint and he cries with gratitude instead. God wants me to call, he thinks, dazed, and pushes the lint-fuzzy quarter through the slot.

Dial tone. Says dial. Not just the quarter that's fuzzy, there's some serious fucking fuzziness happening otherwhere...otherwise. In other places. He doesn't remember the number. He stares at his hand on the dial. It's supposed to know what to do. He's drifting again, he thinks, but he can't stop it. Hospital bed, pleasant to think about now, and Delilah's mouth with the sharp little tick of the stitched lip. Zeke's mouth.

He blinks and knows he knows Zeke's number. He's called it before. Many times. He's punched in the numbers at home, on his own phone, on the phone in the living room; dialed them on the school payphone, he's had the digits written down on a piece of paper. It's still in his wallet, for fuck's sake and why didn't he take his wallet? Money might have been a good idea, stupid stupid stupid. He's crying with stupidity now. Back to wishing he couldn't remember anything if he had to forget the important stuff anyway. And he can almost feel the number, it's just covered with a lot of lint in some giant pocket in his brain.

He's sobbing out loud now, frustrated sounds. He's trying to hold it back because all that sobbing and crying hurts. It hurts more to fight it but he can't let it go or he'll never get out of here. He'll be stuck crying like a baby in this fucking phone booth till morning, till the garbage men come and knock and ask him what the hell he's doing.

He shakes his head and it bounces off the glass. Brief, white pain shoots a splinter through the left side of his skull, cracks a whip over his face and he's suddenly, brightly, awake.

He dials Zeke's number. The crying has abated, dried up. The pain sinks back to a low murmur.

"Hmmmh?" He starts crying again, helplessly. He's tired, too tired to explain. He'll stop crying when he's not exhausted. "What? Casey?" Zeke says with sleep in his voice.

His almost-sharp brain finds him the bit of info he needs, even though he doesn't quite remember acquiring it. Did he look up to see a street sign? Has he been here before? "Pritchard Avenue," he says into the receiver.

"Okay," Zeke says, "coming." He hangs up. Zeke was never one for smalltalk on the phone. So Zeke. Thank God for Zeke.

He stays inside the booth, crouched on the floor, and falls asleep before Zeke shows up.