I See Me (Oracle 1): Chapter 3, Part 3 & 4
Begin reading here: Chapter 1, Part 1
I See Me (Oracle 1)
Part Three & Four
Driving in Vancouver in a twenty-one foot RV was way different from testing it out on the grid-straight roads of Richmond. Navigating to the highway and then heading downtown was totally fine, since it was four lanes wide. I stayed in the far right with the slow traffic. Rush hour had eased off, and technically had been going in the other direction anyway.
The downtown of Vancouver, even in the Downtown Eastside, was filled with alternating one-way streets as well as cars parked on either side of the road. I clutched the massive wheel in my lap — yes, it was one of those, like a bus — and just went slow and steady in as straight a line as I could manage. Driving an RV was a big step up for someone who was more accustomed to helping out busing the other kids around in the Residence’s minivan.
I managed to park the Brave in the alley behind the group home without any issue. Thankfully, I wouldn’t have to back up when I pulled out. The homeless people who drifted in and out of the area — and who sometimes slept in the alley — were currently spread out among the soup kitchens and church dinners. The garbage and delivery trucks were long gone for the evening. So I shouldn’t be bothering anyone. I also wasn’t planning on sticking around long.
I’d already said all the goodbyes I was planning to say, which were pretty much none at all. I didn’t want to rile anyone up when I wasn’t sure where I was going to be in a week — or even a month — from now. We only ever communicated via text message or online anyway. This wouldn’t be much different.
I might be back. Though I doubted it.
I had a key to the alley delivery door, and I used it. I’d tucked my portfolio, suitcases, and a couple of boxes behind the supervisor’s desk in her office, just off the communal kitchen. Trudy, who’d been the supervisor since the Residence opened, had been away this afternoon at a conference. She hadn’t planned on coming back tonight. That worked out just fine for me.
Some other foster kid a year or two from aging out would be sleeping in my bed by the end of the week. The Residence had a long waiting list, and only twenty individual rooms. I think Trudy was actively looking for funding to add four more. It wasn’t just about the physical space — the building had lots of rooms — staff and maintenance were pricey.
I was lucky that Trudy had gone to bat for me when I applied. The fact that I ran a somewhat successful Etsy store had impressed her. She’d admired one of my sketches and I’d given it to her for her last birthday. She had it framed and hanging in her office. It depicted the left side profile of the dark-suited man who haunted my delusions. I’d sharply edged the charcoal and then smudged it to carve out his razor-edged cheekbone and his mercilessly straight nose. A section of his amulet could be glimpsed at the edge of his stiff open collar. I never could quite render the markings on the chain exactly as I saw them in my head. It was as if they kept changing every time the dark-suited man appeared to me.
Trudy had mentioned that someone had tried to buy the piece from her last week, and a month before that as well. I told her she should ask an outrageous price and then take a vacation with the proceeds. She hadn’t found the idea amusing, though.
I didn’t even glance at the sketch as I grabbed my portfolio and suitcases. Once the images were out of my head, I liked to keep them that way.
It only took me two trips to load my stuff into the Brave. I’d organize it later, when I wasn’t blocking an entire alley.
I locked everything up behind me. I’d mail the key if I decided to not come back.
I took five art tubes I’d set aside, crossed out of the alley at the east side of the Residence onto West Hastings, and headed down the street to the pharmacy. The post office outlet there was open until 8:00 p.m., so if I hurried, I’d just make it. The tubes contained the latest sales from my Etsy store, Rochelle’s Recollections. This series of pictures had been captured throughout last fall, after the hallucinations had really ramped up and practically incapacitated me for those few days in the psych ward. I’d drawn feverishly — perhaps the most I ever had — in an attempt to reorder my mind and dull the delusions.
Some of these sketches featured my dark-suited imaginary friend. They almost always did, which was good in a silver-lining sort of way — as my shrink would point out — because they always sold well. I occasionally caught glimpses of other people. A few times I’d seen and sketched a gorgeous, strawberry blond woman and a stern granny-type with a long braid.
In this current series of sketches, the dark-haired man was facing off with the blond woman in a castle, similar to the echo I’d caught in the bus this afternoon. Despite his formal, but modern dress, the guy apparently liked to hang around medieval-looking places. Outside of movies and kid’s books, I’d never actually seen a castle. And I had no idea why I hallucinated that particular setting. I’d actually walked out of the first Lord of the Rings movie halfway through. I wasn’t a fantasy fan in general, but something about seeing castles on screen like that had made me seriously queasy.
In my mind — over the series of days that the images had held me captive — the blond with her flashing green knife had seemed to gain the upper hand over the dark-suited man. But then she’d walked away. It didn’t make much sense at the time, and still didn’t in the series I’d produced as a result. I simply deconstructed the scene into simple sketches — bite-sized pieces that I drew to get the pictures out of my head.
My hallucinations never did make any sense. If they hadn’t become so incapacitating as I grew older, my shrinks and doctors might have continued to brush them off as an overactive imagination. Early on, they’d encouraged my foster families to keep me active, signing me up for soccer and such.
Then came the pills.
Speaking of which, I had a double prescription to fill. I did pretty well on the clozapine, which I’d started when the hallucinations had ramped up so badly last fall. Once my system had gotten used to it, things really smoothed out. It had taken about three weeks to normalize. I hadn’t experienced any of the heavier-duty side effects — like seizures or dizziness — but the meds made me drowsy. That was cool, though, because if I took it before bed it helped me sleep. I also had to get my white blood count checked every week, but that was what medical clinics were there for — especially on a road trip.
Medical insurance was the second reason I’d gotten a BCAA membership — for the year’s worth of medical coverage in the States that I could buy through them. The first reason, rather obviously, was I’d just bought an RV more than two decades older than I was. Too bad BCAA didn’t do vehicle inspections on Class A motorhomes, but I trusted Gary’s mechanic. His checklist was really thorough, and Gary had been obsessive about the Brave’s upkeep. The engine certainly looked clean, and was a straightforward design when compared to the minivan. Not that I could identify a spark plug in either case, but I could check the oil.
The clozapine was an antipsychotic, meant to block certain receptors in my brain. I was in a maintenance phase now rather than acute — as I had been last fall — so I took only one of the orally disintegrating pills a day. Before today, it had been months since I’d had a spell like the one that hit me on the bus. I’d sort of tricked my doctor into writing an early refill — on the basis that I’d misplaced my current supply — so I had extra for my trip. Since I’d never lost a bottle before, he readily believed me and hadn’t bothered calling Carol. Again, I really wasn’t a huge fan of lying, but sometimes it was just the easier route. I wasn’t looking forward to filling an antipsychotic prescription in the middle of nowhere, so I figured I’d avoid that as much as possible.
The pharmacist didn’t bother to engage me in small talk, and neither did the post office clerk. They knew me and my routine well. The prescription just had to be paid for, and I already had the ‘Fragile’ stickers on the art tubes.
I still had to figure out how to fill orders from my Etsy shop on the road, but I was certain it wouldn’t be an issue. A prepaid cellphone paired with my second-hand laptop would make it easy enough to list new sketches and answer emails.
I was still refining a second grouping of sketches that had been part of my bad stretch last fall. Those hallucinations had been even heavier and more taxing than the first. This series featured — again inexplicably — the curly-haired blond with a samurai sword on a beach somewhere, but she definitely wasn’t on vacation.
Unless she found it restful to hang with demons.
Yeah, the beings that appeared in my last round of sketches — the ones the blond was fighting off with her sword — looked a hell of a lot like demons … big, doglike demons with five-inch claws.
Demons created by my broken brain, destroyed by a golden-haired girl in red leather pants with a deadly sharp katana, then revived in charcoal and paper. Of course, the pants were rendered in shades of black in my sketches, but I’d always remember the blur of red as the blond danced across the gray beach in the moonlight. I’d always remember the demon claws at her throat. The shock of blood on the dark, wet sand. Her falling, the demons swarming, and the pain in my chest when I thought she wouldn’t get up.
I’d thankfully only gotten glimpses of the demons, because that was more than enough.
I’d stopped questioning a long time ago why my mind showed me what it did, but I found the series difficult to work on … draining, dark, and edgy. They would sell like crazy if I ever finished them. And I had to finish soon, if only for grocery money. Plus, once they were sold, the hallucinations shouldn’t haunt my thoughts so much. But I could only handle working on refining the images for short periods of time.
I’d never seen anything as terrifying as what I saw in my mind those few days last fall. My broken brain had suddenly become adept at weaving complex, dark tales of demons, blood, and chaos. The hallucinations had never been as strong, before or since. Maybe I was wrong about my usual methods of exorcism being good enough to get me through the residual hauntings of the hallucinations. But the pills and the sketching were my only defenses, so they would have to do.
All of this, including the Brave and the new life I was seeking, would have to be enough, because I wasn’t letting anything hurt me any more than it already did.
I could handle this much.
I was in and out of the pharmacy in fifteen minutes. Doing errands at night had always been a comfortable routine for me. It meant that fewer people were around, so I could move through the mundane bits of life quickly and efficiently. My tinted glasses still garnered stares from those who didn’t know me, though.
What’s-his-name Hoyt was hanging outside the front entrance of the Residence. I actually stopped in my tracks at the northeast corner of Hastings and Carrall Street, though the walk light was urging me forward. The streets weren’t empty, but they were quiet. It was a Monday night, and Welfare Wednesday was over a week away. I stepped into the doorway of the empty store on the corner, careful to not disturb the nest of blankets and garbage there, and watched Hoyt across the street for a moment.
The Residence was housed in a revitalized section of the Downtown Eastside. An entire block of old brick buildings had been stripped back — only the facades were salvageable — and renovated into a bunch of expensive lofts and shops. The developer had been forced by the city to provide some lower-income housing, and had opted to lease this twenty-four-room apartment building to the ministry to help house older kids. I gathered it was a massive tax write-off. Or something like that. I didn’t know or care about all the particulars.
Anyway, the point was, this was not really a neighborhood where people casually hung out smoking cigarettes with kids five or more years younger than them. Not that Hoyt appeared to be smoking anything, and the kids weren’t just smoking cigarettes. Like I said, it was the supervisor’s day off. But still, coming in smelling like pot was just asking to get kicked out. Most of us worked our asses off to get a room in the Residence. It seriously pissed me off that Jack, Elise, and Tim were risking their placements.
I quashed the impulse to stride across the street and tell them so, just as I always did. Keeping my mouth shut was my best defense against life.
A couple of twenty-somethings crossed by me, Starbucks coffees in hand and massive gray Gap knit cowls coiled around their necks.
Simon Fraser University housed its downtown campus two blocks west on the north side of West Hastings. The campus had been a part of the new development of the old Woodward’s building a few years ago. The university ran a ton of night classes. I’d looked at the brochures more than once but had no idea what I should take after high school. I’d opted for the Brave instead.
Hoyt might be a university student, though he looked a bit old for it. That would totally explain him being here now and at the pizza place two days ago. Seeing him on West Broadway was probably just a weird coincidence. Maybe he worked around there. I was just being all weird and paranoid.
Still, ignoring the flashing red ‘Don’t Walk’ signal, I jogged across the street and ducked into the alley without him noticing. Maybe the guy liked hanging out with underprivileged kids for some reason. He wouldn’t be the first. He hadn’t tried to preach to me about anything, but he might just have a long warm up.
I climbed into the Brave and locked the door behind me. I paused to push my boxes and suitcases farther back, until they were all tucked underneath the lime-green table of the dinette. I slid my portfolio on a slight angle between the table and the bench seat, though I wasn’t too worried about anything moving around. I wasn’t exactly a speed demon in this rig.
I climbed into the driver’s seat and reached down to start the engine.
Someone rapped at my window.
I shrieked, and then bit my tongue attempting to tamp down on my extreme reaction.
Hoyt was standing next to the driver’s-side window.
He smiled, chagrined. “Sorry about that.” His voice was muffled by the window. “Didn’t mean to scare you. Just wanted to say hi … again.”
He made a rolling motion with his hand, indicating that I should lower the window.
I could taste blood. Not taking my eyes off Hoyt, I lifted my hand to my mouth. My fingers came away clean, so I hadn’t bitten my lip badly enough to bleed. Just my tongue.
“Nice rig,” Hoyt said, as if we were having a conversation and he hadn’t just freaked me out in an empty dark alley. Well, I guess the delivery door of the Residence and its windows were well lit.
Even with the window and the entire metal-and-plastic side of the Brave technically between us, he was standing way, way too close to me. Gary had stood closer. He’d leaned right into the window, gestured past me toward the muffins in the passenger seat, and I hadn’t even noticed his proximity.
There was something off about Hoyt, though.
“Thanks,” I said. My heart was hammering in my chest, but I hoped it wasn’t noticeable in my voice or face as I turned the key in the ignition.
“Going camping?” Hoyt asked over the sound of the engine.
“Nope,” I answered.
I put the Brave in drive and rolled forward. I didn’t want to run over his toes, but I wasn’t interested in whatever he had going on.
He backed off, called something like “Have fun” after me, and thumped on the side of the RV as I pulled away.
As I paused to turn onto the street, I looked back at him through my sideview mirror.
Hoyt had moved to the center of the alley. He was holding his phone up as if he might be checking it for signal or texting … or like he was taking a picture of the back of the Brave.
I looked away, turned onto the street, and headed south for the border.
The jerk could try to recruit me long distance. Most likely he’d just focus on the easier targets at the Residence. He was probably some religious fanatic collecting brownie points for every soul he converted for his God.
Not that I had a problem with religion. Many people found comfort in it. I just had the feeling that most seriously religious people would stay far, far away if they knew I had two bottles of antipsychotics in my bag and another in my suitcase.
I shook off the residual creeps over Hoyt’s alley ambush and forced my eyes to focus on the street ahead. The city was quiet as I cut through it back the way I’d already come. Only one more bridge, a tunnel, and an hour long stretch of highway and I’d be at the border.-
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