With a gunshot of thunder, more of the bleak cliff slid into the devouring ocean, and another piece of Carrie’s childhood home perched atop was lost. The sea, made red by unnatural dusk, screamed against an eroding shore, each wave claiming another one of Carrie’s memories.

Carrie lit a cigarette, leaning on the lone, old Maple he’d always read under, watching the spectacle. A cold wind from the sea tore his dyed bangs apart. This new world would demolish everything—it was undeniable. The only thing he would be sad to see go was the tree. Mostly dead, misplaced and disfigured by nature, yet miraculously sturdy enough to hold up a tire swing for as long as he could remember. The tree was a sanctuary of sorts.

It too would be destroyed.

Carrie wished that the next thing the barreling storm claimed would be his name. Given to him by a mother he never knew. Intended for a nice little girl. Moms are always supposed to know, but she didn’t. She had no idea a bastard boy was hiding behind her darling Carrie in every sonogram.

For a moment, to live without that name—to just be someone other than the sick joke Carrie—he felt would be worth his current predicament.

The house was completely separated now, layers of rat corpses he had always heard scurrying about were out in the open. It was a relief to see they were real; at least his initial intentions for purchasing the rat poison were pure. Drinking the entire bottle was not what the Northgate psychiatrists called a “suicide gesture.” Carrie was told he’d made an attempt, and even two years after Northgate, this wasn’t something he remembered doing.

“But it all doesn’t matter now.”

This chaotic world of vivid abstracts he’d seen before. It, either mental or metaphysical, was a symptom of the poison. Carrie had seen a similar sight during his first incident, but all of those spirals downward eventually surfaced onto a hospital bed. He was either drooling on the kitchen floor or dead already now.

This time, too, he could not recall what had made him put the bottle to his lips—the days were all hard, but he and the Maple had always persevered together, and today had been no more challenging than any other. In fact, good things had been on the horizon; College acceptance letters. A visit with Aunt Jane.

Carrie stared off at the wooded winding road that had moments before lead to so many other possibilities. What had made him take the plunge?

Something was coming up the road. Carrie strained his eyes against the rising wind to make out an ambulance—of sorts; the usual red and blue color scheme of emergency lights were replaced with slow fading colors of vomit green and putrid yellow. Tinted windows hid the driver.

Carrie stood up straight with intrigue as he made out the Northgate logo on the side of the odd vehicle. It rolled up as close as the road would take it to the tree, and when no more road was left, it kept rolling until crawling to a stop only a few feet away.

The door flung open and the driver revealed himself to be an unshaven grinning man with bad teeth. He wore a doctor’s coat, a patrol officer’s uniform and a tin foil hat. Although his current attire–aside from the hat—and transportation were unfamiliar, Carrie knew this man as his Northgate roommate.

“Hugo?” He asked, to be sure.

“You’re late,” Hugo replied in his usual gruff bark.

“Nineteen is late? Was I supposed to be stillborn too, then?”

“Kid, asking questions like that could be what got you here.” Hugo flung open the back of the ambulance and wheeled out a stretcher.

Carrie flicked his cigarette. “You weren’t given any answers when you died? You didn’t want to know things?”

“Shut up and get on, kid. We’ll talk on the way.”

“You’re going to take me away to paradise?” Carrie mocked, hopping on the bed. “Are you and that hat going to blow my mind?”

“No plans for paradise. But maybe if you shut up and play ball, we can figure out why you’re wearing that stupid dress.”

Carrie started to ask just what that meant, but a quick look at his current wardrobe choice revealed that he was, in fact, wearing a pleated blue party dress, complete with tied bow in the back. Pure shock was the only thing that delayed white hot blood from rushing to his cheeks.

Hugo wheeled the stretcher into the ambulance. “Yeah kid, me and this tin foil hat are going to blow your fucking mind.”

The car seemed to drive itself while Hugo tended to Carrie in the back, pretending to read charts. The silence made Carrie focus on the anticipation of what would happen when the ride ended. Thoughts too stabbing to think about made Carrie strike up conversation—something he had learned one should never do with Hugo.

“What’s up with the uniforms?”

“They give me authority to go where my investigations take me.”

“Was it your investigation that took you out the second story window when the microwave beeped?”

Hugo leaned in over his patient. “You seem to be showing all the signs of glass house-ism.”

“The hell does that mean?”

“You attach value to everything; observe the hall of dramatic mirrors in which we now find ourselves. I’ve got more than a few screws loose, but at least I can tell when my check-engine light is on.”

“Now.”

Hugo nodded, as if saying touché before consulting his clipboard again. “Your chart says that poison is traditionally used by women. That could explain the dress.”

“No, it couldn’t. Mom’s been putting me in everything but a literal one for years.”

“Ah, I see that now; you’ve got a serious case of Acute Identity Displacement?”

“Acute Identity Displacement?”

“Don’t be obtuse. You know what I mean, and we both know the status of your wardrobe comes in second to the criminal investigation at hand. Where were you on the night of the twenty-fifth?”

“Being less cliché than that question.”

“So you deny you bought the poison? Receipts show someone bought it last night.”

“I forgot lots of things last time.”

“Including common sense. Where were you on the night of the–”

“Twenty-fifth, I get it. Mom was out shopping, so I had Rachel over and–”

“And how did you buy the poison, then?”

“I guess I couldn’t have.” Carrie felt hot flashes at his own answer. The ambulance took a more violent turn before he could analyze his reaction further. The road began to climb so sharply that Carrie fell off his stretcher. “Slow the hell down. Aren’t you thinking about what’ll happen after we go over the top?”

Hugo gave a toothy grin. “Yes. Have you? Hands and feet inside at all times. It only gets rougher from here.”

This was a ride Carrie finally realized he did not want to be on. One he never wanted to be on. So, why was he on it? They were nearing the precipice now. Carrie could feel it coming. Something at the bottom of the cliff they were ascending would shatter him.

Hugo pulled a lime green bottle with a skull and crossbones. “Watch as your unwanted pests disappear!” He read the marketing like a line of Hamlet. “Do you consider yourself an unwanted pest, Carrie?”

“No, doctor. I don’t think I do.”

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Samantha Henry

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