Chapter Two: Detox to Retox
Home resides in a twenty tier skyscraper, tentatively named 'The Spa', since there is no air conditioning in any of the floors, making it a cesspool of angry, bitter humans trapped together against their will by the guardians of the facility.
Dandies are Wormwood's final nail in the coffin of apocalyptic proportions; they are the dead brought back to life. Soulless. Expressionless. Rotting. They appeared out of the blue shortly after the Rage set in. Earning their name simply by the dapper, three-piece suits they wear, to which no one knew how they acquired, they politely collect the dead inside the larger populations of the world.
Freckles can always tell how old a Dandy is by measuring how much skin is pulled back against their teeth, or how far their eyes sink into their skulls. They decay slower than the regular dead; a mystery to those with beating hearts. The vast population of the living assumes it has something to do with Wormwood, but no one dares ever get close enough to one to find out. They are merciless, cold shadows of humans who serve but one assumed purpose: to herd the living like cattle to slaughter.
Facilities, like 'The Spa', sprung up in months following the first Wormwood outbreak. Dandies worked until their arms fell off, or jaws unhinged, or there wasn't a shred of a body left for them to move as they scraped together monumental skyscrapers. And they did it all without blueprints. It was rumored the facilities were built on the bones of Dandies, smashed into the foundation while new Dandies worked in their place.. It was all, tragically, morbid, and it would have explained the constant stench.
Home begins at floor eleven: Detox. Since Namaste rests between floors six through ten, Detox gives all humans coming down from their Rage time to acclimate—it's an infirmary wing. Volunteers run this floor; some are doctors from their past lives, others veterinarians, and a few carry simple medical training from their home economics class. The only Dandies on this floor guard the elevators leading to the upper and lower floors, serving as monitors while carrying large machetes. The living tend to the living, and the dead tend to the dead. That's just the way it works around here.
Meryl and Freckles arrive out of Namaste's elevator shaft and step directly into the smell of blood, sweat, and shit. She thinks she would be used to the smell by now, but, unfortunately, she never is. Freckles looks at the white-linen hospital cots, the sheets still stained with drops of blood too saturated to wash out, and thanks her lucky stars they aren't extensively injured. Meryl doesn't like others tending to him, so they never stay in Detox long—just long enough to grab a few bottles of water and clean up.
There are showers in a room directly left of the elevators, and that's where Meryl heads first, Freckles on his heels. She stops to discard her pipe into the container by the elevators. The Spa's inhabitants are only allotted one weapon from this floor up, meant only for when things get out of hand with a Rager upstairs. Despite the struggle below, above is meant for peace. Freckles decides to keep the blade in hopes of trading it in The Bazaar.
She also grabs a nearby medical kit, two bottles of fresh water, and some homemade beef jerky left out on the honor system: one apiece, free to anyone.
There are large showerheads set up in stalls separated by opaque, eggshell colored shower curtains. Meryl chooses one at the end and draws the curtains around them, leaving a ten by ten square of room for them to collapse onto the tiles and rest.
Freckles methodically unclasps the medical pack tin and begins to sift through, looking for something to treat a cut at the corner of Meryl's left eyebrow. Droplets of blood seep leisurely down the side of his face. He says nothing as he leans against the wall, arms at his sides as he continues to grip his bat while closing his eyes. His breathing is measured and purposeful; he feels the loss of Wormwood's high just like she does. Carefully, she rips the tab off of an antiseptic wipe and scoots across the floor to sit beside him; jerky, water, and the medical kit cradled in her lap. She places a bottle of water by his side, brings the jerky up to his lips, and demands, "Chew." Meryl peeks out of the left slit of his eye, simultaneously opening his mouth and biting into the dried meat. Freckles smiles, and the two exchange unspoken words of apologies. She presses the wipe to his cut and begins to pat it gently, removing the excess blood.
Meryl's eyes sweep across her face as he eats the jerky, taking in the details like the freckles that dust across the bridge of her nose and her small, pointed features. It's been one of his pastimes, as of late: watching her like she's a painting he's trying to decipher. But Meryl isn't so cultured, so Freckles knows he's only observing her physical features. It's flattering, but also... unnerving. She can't shake the feeling he'd rather know what the rest of her looks like beyond her clothing. He didn't use to be this way. When did his friendship turn into something else?
After she’s done tending to his wound, Freckles reaches for her bottle of water and downs it in one sitting. It's hot, just like the rest of 'The Spa', but she doesn't care. Water is water. Wiping the corners of her mouth, she shuts the first-aid kit, scoots it outside of the showers, and pushes herself up to stand, her jerky in hand. Meryl eyes her inquisitively, so she explains, "You smell. You need a shower."
He laughs dryly and licks his peeling lips. "You don't smell so peachy-keen yerself, short stack. 'Course, it's hard to do that when yer covered head to toe in someone else's blood, innit?" His face falls into a resting smirk, and his eyes drift down to the baseball bat, amused. "How many swings you think I've gotten outta ol' Justine?" His fingers stroke down to the bit of wood, almost as if he is petting a stray, feral dog.
"I dunno," Freckles shrugs.
Meryl's face lights up even more. "God, it felt good, you know? When that kid came through that door -and pow!" He pretends to swing the bat as his lips curl up in an even livelier grin. But, as Freckles has always been aware, a smile never sits right on his face. He looks like he's grimacing more than anything else. "Did you see the way he twitched, Freckles? I mean… damn. Kid just couldn't make up his mind whether he was gonna live or die."
She internally cringes and averts her eyes elsewhere. Anywhere but on him. The memories are just too painful to take on right now; every time she closes her eyes, they start up like a roll of film to a projector.
But Meryl doesn't take the hint. "Do you think that lady we killed back there—do you think she felt it? I mean, I smacked her up pretty good upside the head—but you. Yeah… you did a number on her, didn't you? You and that lil' scalpel you found... Amazing how a girl yer size could take her on the way you did. I'm impressed. Really."
Freckles narrows her eyes and steps back. Flashes of the scalpel flicker in between blinks. She doesn't want to remember what she did with it; where she left it inside that woman… "Meryl," she snaps, his name hanging dangerously off the tip of her tongue, "Cut it out."
"Was only joshin'." The smile on his face falters. "You know that. S'what we always do. What's the point in rememberin' if we can't talk about it? Geez, you used to laugh at my jokes. What happened?"
Because it's wrong to joke about the dead. Because she doesn't want to think about it, or muse over it, the way he does. Because it makes her stomach tie in knots. Freckles turns away, her cheeks burning, and draws back the curtains. "I'll see you in Atonement, alright?" She looks down to her bit of jerky, all appetite lost, and turns back around long enough to toss the dried meat and hit him square in the chest with it. "Eat it."
"I'm not hungry, okay?" She whips back around, heart racing and arms shaking.
Meryl shifts uncomfortably in his spot on the floor. "Yeah. Alright, Frecks. Whatever ya say."