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08.07.05 8:54 p.m.

The toughest time... in anyone's life... is when you have to kill a loved one just because they're the devil.  

-Emo Phillips


Previously in Xenology: Xen and Emily moved into a new apartment. Stevehen left for Hull. Emily tended to work herself sick.

House Warming

I watched the living room fill past capacity for at least the third time and wondered if this party would end.

Emily and I ascribe to the notion that, love us though they may, our friends will not come to our parties. This is not outright pessimism, but the jaded sentiment that comes from splitting a bowl full of salsa and five bags of chips between three people, Emily and me included, on more than one occasion. We have thrown a great many parties that, for reason that are wholly forgivable individually but tacky en masse, are skipped or forgotten by a majority of the guest list. As such, we are in the practice of inviting guests in bulk, understanding that no more than five percent will be join our festivities.

There is comfort in anticipating disappointment, which can easily be shattered when people make good on their RSVPs. There were the predictable last minute calls because grandmothers were dying or busses back to Philly left too soon. We had planned for these and had waited until there were a few guests before breaking out any food requiring more effort than opening a bag. Our handful of intimates was there, more or less. Dives Dives backed out because she was off making beautiful music with Chrysater and Conor was teaching children how to be half elf cyborg dragons. Sarah is still lost to the ether, though she was vicariously invited. Oh, and Melissa and Keilaina could not arrive until four hours after the party began, but certainly some were there. Okay, so Zack was there. But Stevehen had returned from Hull, Massachusetts just to be with us at our party (and because his life there didn't work out and we missed him terribly, but mostly for the party). Stevehen seemed no different than before, which was precisely as we would like to have him. He reclined on our futon with Tina for most of the party when he was not tossing off sarcasm like bits of surly dandruff. If the past months-sleeping with either Tina or Melissa depending on the weekend-had marred him, I could not tell.

These dear friends were sprinkled in a crowd of twenty-five that came and went with the breeze. The largest gust came when much of Emily's clan arrived in one large van which must have been packed at thick as a clown car. They left two busy hours after arriving to terrify a prospective member of the clan at a diner.

It is not that I hold anything against Emily's clan; I like them (though, as I've said, not enough to hold anything against them, despite what rumors you may have heard). They did arrive bearing gifts of a sexually explicit nature and we cannot begrudge guests bearing scented massage oils espousing properties that border on the supernatural. Emily sees her clan as more than goodly enough to commit to and-previous boyfriends aside (which is something I am constitutionally required to say as the current)-she is wise in to whom and what she commits herself.

With the addition of a van-load of heathens, we went from having a small get-together with a lot of fond referential conversation, save for two premature members of the clan who did not yet know anyone, to a massive party wherein individual strands of conversation were lost like a hyperactive toddler on amphetamine. They were a firmly-bonded, inside-joking cliché that overwhelmed the inward-focus of the cliché to which I was a part. There were many more of them than there were of us, so a rivalry was ill-advised at best.

It is my firmly held belief that parties are best when they are composed of fewer members than a professional soccer game. Otherwise, it breaks up into several miniature parties, each vaguely discomfited by the others. We humans are pack animals and tend to establish territory hastily and bristle at intrusion. Such seemed the case here, as Emily's clan and my friends did little commingling. In later conversations, it began clear that some members of the clan thought my friends would be in some way made uncomfortable about being in a room full of Pagans. Given that my friends indulge or birthed by fetish for poking the paranormal or emulating great dead writers, I found this unlikely. I can't get behind the idea that my dear kith would be even slightly uncomfortable with any social group this side of adult babies or Scientologists. Such an attitude expects the worst of the people I like best.

In the midst of a late party conversation Keilaina and Dan asked me if I would be in their wedding party. I was not certain given that I had no comprehension of what this could entail. I am a watcher of weddings, not a participant. Always the bride's seat filler, never the bridesmaid, to abuse a phrase.

As Keilaina knows a bevy of girls and Dan knows very few boys in the area (which was how I was in line for this honor), there was no room for Emily in the bridal party. Emily said nothing about this to them, just insisted that I should be in the wedding party. I definitely couldn't say no to Kei, and I didn't.

Later, as we reclined in bed alone and psychologically detoxified from playing host, Emily confessed that she is disappointed that she cannot be a part of the wedding. Despite having existed in our group of friends longer and more closely than any love interest I have had before, she still feels like an outsider among outright-knit and incestuous ranks. I assured her that she was obviously drinking the crazy juice; she is very much a part of the group and I was confident would have many friends even if she broke my heart. It might take a good long while before I was one of them, but I am sure she would find the support of Zack at the very least.

"Kei said she wanted you in the wedding party, she just happens to know an insane amount of females and has numerous sisters," I persisted. Keilaina had said precisely this and with the due gravitas, but my logic could not sway her sadness, as logic never has power over emotion.

To ER Is Human

"We need to go to the emergency room," coughed M from the bedroom.

"Okay, seems reasonable." I grabbed a can of soda and a jar of peanuts from the kitchen. It was already one thirty AM and would be two when we got there. After that, I did not know when next I would see the bed. Provisions were therefore needed.
M, sick  
She was like this for days. I poked her to make sure she breathed.

Emily had been sick since the night of the party and didn't seem to be getting better. White dots had appeared in her already constricted throat. She had no energy. She was running fevers upwards of 104 degrees, which was the reason we were going to the hospital now. I had sponged her off with lukewarm (though to her, freezing) water earlier, an experience distinctly less erotic when fearing her brainpan could fry my breakfast. She could eat very little and even the act of drinking was becoming difficult to her. I diagnosed her with mononucleosis, the malady that in all seriousness very nearly killed me my freshman year of high school. I tried to coerce her into taking the prescription medication that healed me, but she refused, stating that we had no idea what it would do to her and couldn't risk her bad reaction. I did not like this and didn't want to see her go through the agony of sickness I experienced, but there was no way I could convince her.

Emily was admitted to the hospital and put in a bed by the time I managed to park the car. The only person I could find was a Spanish speaking woman breastfeeding her baby in the waiting room. She was not helpful in finding Emily and seemed annoyed that I was bothering her while she had her breast exposed.

I wandered around the grounds until someone found me, a nurse in baby blue who asked if I was looking for Emily. She had a bright purple stethoscope and a mantle of teddy bears and building blocks. I hoped I was not being led to a toddler who shared my love's name.

I found my Emily wrapped like a burrito in her purple velour blanket on an emergency room bed, surrounded by letters of the alphabet with pictorial explanations.

"They insisted that I was in pediatrics," Emily said. "They kept asking me, 'who is your pediatrician?' I don't think they believed I was twenty-five. But they let me keep my blanket." She smiled broadly as she said this last bit, which made her cough and grimace. The blanket, incidentally, had been her closest friend through this weeklong sickness. She would wrap it around herself as a cloak whenever she got up to go to the bathroom, my malarial Jedi. She couldn't stand how cold all the air had become, even in the midst of humid summer nights.

The nurses extracted blood from her and shoved a stick down her throat, both as a means to diagnosis. Then the nurses left us for hours. I kept Emily entertained and distracted away from noting that she had an IV in her right arm by reading her poems and the tentative next section of Deaths Worse than Fate.

The nurses let us go without a definite diagnosis just was dawn was graying the blackness of night. Emily was a wreck, as she would have to be. However, aside from her weakened body (now full of salinated water from the IV and several kinds of pain killers), she had realized that there was very little chance that she would be able to lead her clan's Lammas ritual the next night. Emily had spent much of the past few weeks memorizing the ritual and timing certain events to coincide with celestial happenings. She felt honored to have been chosen after so long with her group and now a tenacious virus would be laying her up.

She was still on the edge of braving the drive and the rigors of ritual, if only to prove to her clan how dedicatedly stubborn she was. I defusing this urge as best I could by pointing out that there would be other rituals and they would understand that recovering from a potentially lethal virus (I was still confident that it was mono and her doctor would confirm my suspicions days later) took precedent over honoring the gods.

Sundae, Bloody Sundae

The chunk of ice left my hand far too quickly. It was to be an underhand throw, something light, not a missile.

Dan, Kei, Emily and I had been endeavoring to make sport of three blocks of ice for an activity called - what else? - ice blocking. The goal is simple, invert the sledding dynamic of a dry surface on frozen water, and Dan insists it is insanely popular in the Pacific Northwest, the land of Sasquatch and lumberjacks. Dan could be feeding us a line; we would not know different and certainly wouldn't care much.

In the course of our sledding down a somewhat steep hill at high speeds, the first of the ice blocks broke. Dan made quick use of this in an improvisational one-person Olympic montage, throwing and flinging it until it broke into much smaller pieces and he could free the rope that served as handles.

It was one of these pieces I was using to play ice baseball with Emily, a sport consisting entirely of hitting a smaller bit of ice with a much larger triangle. Only the ice left my hand long before I intended it too - I was pretending to wind up my pitch as though I had the slightest idea what I was doing. Ice is slick and it zipped out of my hand far faster than I could have done had I tried. I saw it hit her square in the forehead and I watched Emily kneel over, clutching her head.

Oh holy god, what had I done? What sort of an idiot boy thinks throwing bits of ice is a good idea, especially at dear loved ones? I have spent six years of my life in college, one would think I would know better.

I ran over to where she crouched and tried holding her. She growled for me to, in no uncertain terms, get the hell off of her. I expected she had a large bump. She is sensitive to head injuries, her skin naturally tender. She looked up and removed her hand. Blood streamed over her nose and fell in droplets to her shirt and on the jeans Keilaina had lent Emily for the task of sliding down hills. It dripped from blades of parched grass onto the ground.
Dan the Olympian  
Dan the Olympian

"What's wrong? Is she bleeding?" asked Keilaina from behind us, where she had been playing a similar game with Dan.

"There may be some blood," I understated, not wanting to arouse Emily to her true predicament but silently panicking and flagellating myself.

"Get me a towel," Emily demanded. Towels had been the intermediaries between our pants and the ice blocks and so were readily available.
Emily wounded because I suck so much  
Beautiful girl I wounded with inset of injury

Emily staunched the bleeding as I looked at the blood dripping from my hand onto the ground. My right hand was covered. She had bled so much so quickly.

"It's not a big deal," she insisted. "Head wounds bleed a lot. I'm okay." These last words were meant to make me feel better, but there was the edge of a question. Was she okay? Did this need stitches, she seem to silently ask.

The three of us looked at her forehead in the wake of all that blood. The cut was small and, it seemed, superficial. None of this abjured my responsibility, though she self-deprecated that it was her fault for being a bad ninja and not ducking out of the way of oncoming projectiles.

Still looking at the ground, anywhere but at her kind eyes, I murmured, "No, it is my fault. You have fire powers and thus are weak against ice attacks." This wasn't said as a joke, wasn't supposed to lighten the mood. I had to say something, because she was starting to pity me for how badly I felt about doing her harm. I didn't deserve her pity.

We went to a drug store and bought liquid bandages with which to patch up her head, then I bought her greasy food. I did not feel any less guilty for having done this. I do not think that in the four year of knowing her, I have ever done anything that has physically hurt her this much. So, so much blood. I'm sure she would insist that the accumulated emotional damage I have done to her, particularly in the beginning of our relationship, hurt worse but I didn't see her bleed from that.

It's the blood that makes things count.

Soon in Xenology: Lake George

last watched: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
reading: Influence
listening: Real Gone

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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