There’s blood. I taste it when I swallow, metallic and unmistakable, like the tip of a battery on my tongue, and when I try to cough it up a hand touches mine and something bleeps.
‘You all right there, Danny?’
The voice is unfamiliar. Not Martin’s. A woman.
She leans over me, and at first I think, ‘police,’ then I see the pale blue of a nurse’s tunic.
I want to ask her where Martin is, but nothing comes out. There’s just the taste of blood.
‘You okay?’ she asks me.
I shake my head and try again to speak but the sound that comes out is little more than a grunt. It hurts.
‘You took some beating,’ she says.
‘Yeah,’ she says. ‘You did.’
She has a story for me. Some fantasy or other because it can’t be true. Martin’s in it, running amok and doing damage. And I wonder about that. With very word she says, I wonder about it.
‘Beat you to a pulp so he did. It’s amazing you came round. He could’ve killed you.’
And I think, ‘That’s not Martin,’ and want to tell her about him. How he’s the guy who looks out for me. Always has. Always will. Some people don’t get him. But I do. Just as he gets me.
Then I remember.
Martin at my door, grinning and waving little packages of something under my nose.
‘You all right there, Danny? Ready for something new?’
He’d got a taste for it inside, said he liked the way it made the walls expand and bend. Spice. Black Mamba.
‘Made the place feel bigger you know?’
No, I didn’t.
‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘I’ll show you what I mean. Danny, it’s time to spice up your life!’
A sinew of smoke had slithered and weaved before me and I’d watched it dance while the window melted and let in the sky. Limitless and vast and sweet, oh so sweet.
Until the Black Mamba lunged.
But it didn’t bite. It kicked. It punched. It roared. Then nothing.
The nurse fills in the gaps while I lie there. Tells me how he’d run up and down the street, screaming. Sent people scurrying. Left kids crying. It took three men to hold him down. Then another hour before they found me on the floor bloodied and bruised.
I mumble a question, thick tongued and barely comprehensible.
She stares at me, aghast and I can tell she thinks I’m a fool.
She’s thinking: ‘Him? Why would you want to see him?’
And I want to explain. ‘Because we saw the walls fall away, saw the sky open up, felt it lift us up.’
But I feel my bruises and finally I understand. None of that matters any more. Martin doesn’t matter.
Visiting time and I’ve come prepared. I’m all smiles and good cheer. Pleased to see him. That’s what I want him to think.
‘You all right there, Martin?’ I ask him.
He relaxes, glad to see I’m not angry with him.
‘I wasn’t sure you’d come,’ he says.
I shrug, ‘yeah, well.’
We sit facing one other and I pick the stitches of my pocket, open up the fold and feel the packet. Sneak a wink at him.
He sees it, a ‘whoa,’ right there on his lips, which he catches just in time and sucks back in as I slip the packet to him under the table, checking the angles of the security cameras to make sure they don’t catch it.
We talk, but never mention the hospital, what he did to me. We’re just two friends again, chatting and laughing until then the bell calls time.
‘Well, see you on the other side,’ I say. ‘And hey,’ I whisper. ‘Enjoy!’
He nods at me and winks. He doesn’t understand.
But I do. I understand. This is the reckoning.
Alone in his cell the Black Mamba will rise up twice as strong. It will flick its tongue then lunge, the last thing he feels, a bite, potent and deadly as it pierces his skin, as he slips into the vortex, and then into emptiness.