Another late night flight out of Johannesburg; home to Cape Town and my wild, crazy family. It was absolutely freezing that evening up in Johannesburg. The cold front that I’d flown out of on Monday morning had finally arrived in the northern interior and temperatures had plummeted.
I sat in the Departures hall of ORTIA, wearing both my jackets, hood pulled over my shaved head, shivering, patiently waiting for boarding time.
The flight was completely full again. Thirty-one rows, six seats per row, all occupied. But we left on time, and we arrived on time, into a strong, biting Southeasterly wind.
There was a queue at the car rental agency but Jordan had prepared all the paperwork beforehand, and she walked over and handed it to me before I’d even stepped into line.
“Good evening Mr. Vallis. I’ve been waiting for you. Everything is done, ready, and I gave you an upgrade again.”
I smiled. “Thanks. As usual, I appreciate all your trouble.”
“It’s my last day tomorrow. Next week, I start working for myself. I wanted to let you know.”
“That’s fantastic news,” I said, slightly envious. How I would love to be working for myself again; setting my own hours; putting the kids to bed every night; being my own man. “I wish you every success, and if your customer service stays as good as it has been, I know you’ll do incredibly well.”
“Thank you Mr. Vallis. Have a good evening.” We parted, heads bowed into the wind.
As promised, she’d upgraded me to a nice, big, family hatchback and I was soon on the freeway, headed towards the mountain. Just before the Duinefontein Road off-ramp, there were S.A.P.S vehicles on both sides of the road, roof-bar lights flashing blue, officers frantically waving their flashlights up and down, trying to get drivers to slow down.
At Vanguard Drive the fast lane had been cordoned off with neon orange bollards. A body lay prone, behind the bollards, just meters away from the central, dividing barrier. He was partially naked and pale as a ghost. There was enough viscera and brain matter spread across the tarmac around him to convince anyone that he was dead.
A pedestrian had obviously tried to run across the freeway and had been struck by a car, tearing his clothes from him, breaking his bones and exploding his internal organs. MVA with pedestrian we called it on the ambulance. I’d been to lots of similar calls during my years with the ambulance service. Capetonians don’t drive particularly fast as a rule but on that section of the freeway, 100 km/hours was about the standard, and at that speed, the result – as in this case – was usually fatal for the pedestrian.
On the left side of the road stood a private ambulance, red lights flashing off the roof-bar. They’d obviously seen enough of the patient to have already declared him dead.
Bastards! I thought to myself, they could have at least covered him, not left him exposed to every vehicle that drove past. That’s the least we’d have done in a similar situation, potential crime scene or not.
On the one hand, it upset me; on the other hand, I wanted to be back in service, on the ambulance, helping people, making a difference.
I arrived upstairs a few minutes later. The apartment was unusually quiet. Miki usually waited up for me when she knew I was getting in late. Not tonight, tonight everything was dark and quiet. I gently put my bag down and slipped off my noisy boots. Padding over to the kids, I made sure that Zee and Ryder were warmly tucked into their duvets.
I went into the kitchen for a drink before I went to bed. All I could find was Raspberry Jive. Horrible stuff, I preferred Tab or Coke Zero, but I poured myself just enough to take some Panado’s.
Miki wondered in. “Hi. What happened?” She asked groggily.
“What do you mean, what happened?”
“Why was I asleep?”
“I’m not sure. Why were you asleep?” I replied feeling like this was the start of a Monty Python skit.
“I just lay down for a few minutes, next to Kai,” she said.
“So, you fell asleep. No big deal.” I shrugged. “It’s late anyway, you didn’t need to stay up for me.”
“But, I always do,” she insisted, plaintively. She turned around, opened the fridge door, and pulled out the butter and a slice of cheese. She rummaged around in the cupboard and pulled out two slices of bread. She sniffed and kneaded them, undecided whether they were fresh enough or not. Having decided they were edible she started to slather butter on them. She stopped and looked down at her hands. She seemed confused, unsure of what she was doing.
“You were making yourself a cheese sandwich.” I prompted quietly.
“Oh, okay.” She resumed buttering her bread and then applied the slice of cheese. She wandered over to the window, staring out at the city lights.
“Brett, I don’t know who I am. I’m trying to keep the Alters in. They’re not presenting but they’re acting and talking through me. I can sometimes see myself, as though I’m looking at myself from outside of my body, and I can watch an Alter moving me around, talking through me.”
I took her shoulders and turned her to face me. Erin, Emma and Mistress Bitch all flashed briefly inside her eyes, looking out at me. I recognized each one for a split-second before another took its place.
She lifted her hand, and looked surprised to see that she was holding a sandwich. She gingerly bit into it and started chewing. “Why am I eating a sandwich?” She looked quizzically at me.
“You made it for yourself.”
“I don’t want a sandwich.” She put her hand down but it immediately came back up to her mouth and she bit back into her cheese sandwich. She started to bounce on her feet, gently at first, then quite vigorously, until she was jumping up and down.
“I don’t know what’s happening to me.” She started to whine, lent back against the fridge next to the window and continued to jump up and down frantically.
“It’s OK. Just relax.” I tried to calm her down, gently touching her on the shoulder.
She looked at me and started to eat again. Her gaze drifted back towards the window.
She stood up straight. “Good evening Brett. Welcome home.” Emma spoke crisply and clearly.
Before I had time to reply, she’d slipped off again, slumping against the fridge, ripping into her sandwich like a wild animal.
It was like watching big, ocean swells breaking over a half-submerged shipwreck. Every time a swell came in, the ship would be completely covered by water, but as the swell broke over the wreck and drained away, different parts of the wreck were exposed. One moment, there was just the sea; still, rising up, the next moment, there were waves crashing and cascading around an exposed, barnacled, broken hull. Each time the wreck emerged, the eyes noticed a different feature: a life-buoy still tethered to the side of the ship; sunlight glinting off a broken shard of glass; or water rushing through a hole in the hull.
“What the fuck?” She exclaimed, gagging on her cheese sandwich. She spat it out and threw it all in the bin.
“I think it’s time we went back to bed.” I gently took her arm and led her through the darkened apartment towards the bedroom. She stopped halfway to the bedroom and started to scratch herself. She was scratching up and down her arms, scratching at her neck and chest.
“My skin’s crawling. It’s itching. I need a shower.” She was tearing at her skin.
“It’s late, my darling, after midnight. Come, climb into bed with me. We’ll cuddle and get nice and warm.” I led her through the bedroom doorway.
I changed for bed and climbed in next to Kai. Miki was fiddling with her clothes on the shelf. I thought she was looking for sleepwear.
“Come on, sweetie.” I tried to gently coax her into coming to bed.
“Fuck you Old Man, I’m going for a shower.” The Dragon said, and left the room, pulling the door closed behind her.
I lay back, drew a deep breath, and let it gently slide out. I snuggled closer to Kai and started to drift off to sleep.
Buzz, buzz, a message came through on my phone about ten minutes later. It said: why am I in the shower?
I smiled to myself – she’d find her way to bed sooner or later.