Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

Ashton, VA, every Wednesday

Once a week, Dyson Cieslewicz goes to Hell.

He learned real quick not to go on Saturdays, because Saturdays in Hell are like a comic strip about Auschwitz--you don't know whether to laugh or start screaming, and he'd actually ended up doing both once, sitting in the rusted maroon '88 Honda Accord that he'd bought and learned to drive the same week he moved down here. Can't take the bus to Hell.

So he doesn't go on weekends anymore. It's okay. He works nights, like he always has, and actually Idlewood is a really nice kind of Hell and the staff will bend over backwards to help out if you're coming to visit a patient. They always call them "patients," never "freaks" or "monsters" or "homicidal fruitcakes," and Dice is even grateful for that, and how pathetic is that, Cieslewicz, that you're grateful to people for not calling your brother what he is?

Never mind. Just never mind.

So he's got a routine. A ritual, even, and maybe that's how it should be. Wednesday is his day, and he gets up at noon, which is early for him, and eats something--because he's learned that he won't be hungry afterwards--and takes the ugly-ass Accord to the nearest gas station to make sure he has a full tank, because Idlewood is out there in the ass crack of nowhere, and he's seen Deliverance, thanks. Also, he's read The Crow, and never mind that that was Detroit. D.C.'s the Murder Capital, and Dice figures he's come about as close to being a statistic as you can get and still walk away. He is so not into pushing his luck. And while the Honda's gulping down half his paycheck, he goes into the little tiny convenience store and buys a big bag of peanut M & Ms, a 2-liter bottle of Barq's, and as many packs of Nicorette as they've got. They won't give you matches in Hell, and Eddie was a pack-a-day man. He'll probably live longer, now that he can't have his cancer sticks, and Dice even knows the word for that. The word is fucking irony, and sometimes he almost wants to find Mrs. Kaplanski, his high school English teacher, and tell her he can use that word in a sentence now, and it's not nearly as fun as you'd think.

So he pays for his stuff--offerings, like to Kali in the second Indiana Jones movie--and gets back in the car and heads off into the wilderness--everything is wilderness here, the fucking air doesn't even smell right, and he dreams about Chicago, he misses it so much--and drives and drives and drives. It's not actually all that far, but it feels like forever.

It feels even longer on the way back.

He has to admit, Eddie's Hell is beautiful. Rolling hills just like in a postcard, and the landscapers must get paid a fortune, because the grass is green and perfect, and there are flowers and trees, and if it wasn't for the big-ass electric fence with the barbed wire and everything, you might think this was a hospital for very rich people, instead of for very crazy people.

The guys who work security on Wednesdays all know him, but they go through the ritual anyway. Every time, he sets off the metal detector, and every time, they wand him apologetically, and every time, he ends up in the little room off to the side with Leon Hicks. Leon was a high school football star, went on to play for the University of Tennessee until his knee blew out. He'd make two of Dice, with enough Leon left over to keep doing his job. He's deeply impressed with Dice's piercings, especially the apadravya; every Wednesday, Dice thinks he's going to ask, Man, didn't that HURT? and every Wednesday, Leon chickens out at the last second.

Ain't that bad, Dice would tell him. Or maybe, if he's been watching too much Clint Eastwood that week, I've had worse.

But they talk about Leon's little girl instead, of whom Leon is proud enough to bust. Leon showed Dice a picture once, little girl with bright-beaded cornrows grinning ear to ear from her perch on Leon's enormous shoulders, and Leon said, She can play basketball if she wants, but she gonna get into college on her brains. Dice said, She must take after her mom, then, and Leon laughed so hard the other security guys came to see what was going on.

And then he's past that station--and he really needs not to think of this like the stations of the cross, but sometimes he can't help it--and onto the elevator. In the elevator, you just pray that nobody gets on with you, because other visitors try to talk to you and the doctors and nurses always look at you sideways, like they're sizing you up for one of their strait-jackets.

So up to the third floor, the men's ward. Down the hallway to the left, and the nurses' station, where every Wednesday he signs in and hands over the M & Ms, the Barq's, and the Nicorette. The visitors' room is like something out of a cop show: plexiglass and telephones. No touching.

Dice would never admit that he's glad. Never.

The nurse on duty is always either Sharon or Katy. Sharon's his mom's age, and he likes her. Katy's younger, round and cheerful, and he likes her, too. He wants to ask them how they can stand their job, but like Leon with the apadravya, he always loses his nerve. And then he's in the visitors' room, slouching down in the uncomfortable chair, waiting for Eddie to come in.

And if Hell is being stuck doing the thing you hate and fear the most, over and over and over again, then Dice knows where he'll be for eternity. The third-floor visitors' room at Idlewood, waiting for the door to open.

Eddie's a lot calmer now--and there's some more of Mrs. Kaplanski's irony. Dice doesn't know what all they've got him on. He does know that Eddie has persistently refused a prosthesis; his left arm just ends in a stump. Unlike Dice with his own bad hand, Eddie never forgets. That left arm never even twitches.

They talk about sports and movies and music. The doctors say to keep away from anything that might get Eddie "agitated," so they don't talk about politics. They don't talk about Mom and Dad--not that there'd be anything to say, since Dice hasn't heard word one from them since he moved. They don't talk about why Eddie's here, except once when Eddie asked, and Dice said, yeah, he was doing PT for the hand, and it was getting better. Dice tells Eddie about the crazy people at the bar where he works and about his neighbors in his slummy apartment building. Isabella-in-2C's boyfriend can take up fifteen minutes all by himself, thank you Jesus for Bella's shitty taste in men.

He leaves out the part where the name on Isabella's driver's license is Raoul. That'd get Eddie "agitated" for sure.

Dice makes himself stay for an hour, every time. That's part of the ritual, too, because he knows that once he start letting himself leave early--five minutes, ten minutes--pretty soon he'd talk himself out of coming at all. Even as it is, it's all he can do not to bolt for the door as soon as that hour's up. He says it calmly: Well, I'd better get going, and Eddie says, Yeah. You wanna get home before dark. You working tonight?

And Dice always lies and says, Yeah.

Because he doesn't work Wednesday nights, after he's closed the door of the visitors' room behind him, said good-bye to Sharon or Katy at the desk, stared at the elevator buttons down to the first floor, said See you next week to Leon and Sam and Troy at the front door, crossed the parking lot with the sound of his own footsteps for company and nothing more, gotten in the rust-bucket Honda, and driven all the way back from Ashton, Virginia, and its own little pocket of Hell. Sometimes, when he pulls into his parking space behind the apartment building, it takes him a full minute to let go of the steering wheel, and both hands hurt, not just the bad one.

No, he doesn't work after that. He goes up to his studio apartment, takes the longest, hottest shower he can stand, gets dressed up--leather, eyeliner, the whole nine yards, even if it is like putting ribbons on a pig--and goes to a nightclub called, no joke, The Infernal. The Infernal has red lights and a disco ball and plays weird Euro/goth/techno/whatthefuckever, and the dance floor is jammed, and you don't have to be dancing with anybody to dance until you're dripping with sweat and wobbly in the knees. You don't have to tell anybody your name and you don't have to make conversation, and if you need a fast, ugly fuck, you can find one without looking too hard. He makes sure he's carrying rubbers when he goes to The Infernal, and he makes sure the other guy uses 'em, too.

He's already carrying all the Hell he needs.