Author's note: This is a sort of prequel to “Kumiho”.
"Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me."
—Psalm 51:7-10 (King James Version)
Van Rivera turned off his television set and pulled up the bed sheet to cover his form. He looked at the clock radio and saw that it was just past two in the morning. He let out a sigh. It hadn’t been a good night so far, and he had the feeling it wasn’t going to improve all that much all that soon. He thought about how he used to spend his nights during the highlight of his playing career. He smiled as he reminisced, but within a few minutes a feeling of sadness and loss, and even a little guilt, came over him.
He turned onto his side. Critics had made an issue of the time he was found asleep in the clubhouse during a game. After his drug use came to light some speculated that his late-game nap was the result of that. Maybe a dose of something had worn off too early, they said, or maybe he had taken too much of something. The truth was he had experienced sleep problems before. There had been previous occasions in which he’d nodded off during a monotonous task. Most of the time falling asleep was merely embarrassing. However, there was that time that he’d nodded off while driving home one night. He didn’t like to think about that, about how he could have died that night. Last week, when Genie had given him the car keys and told him, “I trust you,” he became notably moved. She commented on this, but she didn’t know the full reason for his gratitude. He hadn’t told her about his accident years ago. He didn’t think she needed to know about it. He didn’t think anyone needed to know about it.
The last few weeks had been intense. The title Genie had given herself during their introduction was “chemist”, in this case meaning both an expert in chemistry and a British druggist. She had an innate skill in making medicines and other things. At first Van was unsure of her offer to treat his addiction with her experimental drug, but she had convinced him of her sincerity and concern. Within days of their first meeting Van began aversion therapy using her drug – the drug which caused adverse side-effects whenever he injected himself with his poison of choice. When he injected himself hours after receiving a half-dose of the medicine he became nauseous, washed-out, and delirious. It took him a full day to recover. When he injected himself hours after receiving the full dosage, he was in mid-sentence when he immediately found himself having to rush to the toilet to vomit as nausea hit him like a mallet. In addition to the vomiting, the drug also induced weakness and hallucinations. At times he imagined that evil spirits were tearing him apart, starting with his arms and moving on to his back and legs. At other times he imagined his body was falling apart or wasting away, atrophying as he watched in helplessness and horror. It took him four days to recover, his symptoms gradually easing each day. His last shot – the one he intended to be his very last shot – was over a fortnight ago. Though his muscles were sore from the withdrawal, he had regained his strength. His voice was no longer rough & strained, and his stomach & throat no longer burned like a hot grill.
The whole process had been nightmarish, but thankfully Genie was there to support him every step of the way. Occasionally he got irate and snapped at her, but she took it in stride. During those days in which it seemed all he could do was vomit into the toilet or a trash can, she had brought him cool, creamy nutrition drinks to provide relief and nourishment. In his weakened state he had struggled with the pull-tabs, but she had let him open the cans himself in respect for his pride. After the fits of vomiting had ebbed and he had wearily retreated to bed, she had applied analgesics to stem the flow of pain in his throat and stomach, and even spoon-fed him soothingly warm soup. During his recovery she had administered massage therapy in addition to developing a therapeutic bath which helped soothe his sore muscles. Genie had told Van that she wanted to hire him as a bodyguard after he recovered from his withdrawal period and was healthy again. However, it had become clear to Van that Genie’s motives weren’t simply business-related, nor were they self-serving. She did want him as a bodyguard, but she also cared about his well-being. Van had met a lot of people in his life, so he had become good at seeing people’s true characters and intentions, at knowing which people wanted to exploit him and which people genuinely supported him. He could tell that even if he couldn’t be of any use to her, Genie still would have approached him about helping him in his recovery.
He started reflecting on this. He bore her no malice because he could tell that this ordeal was painful for her, too. In fact, he thought he saw her close to tears one night. She wasn’t some creep who got off on making others suffer, nor was she an enabler who enjoyed lording over the sick. It was quite the opposite. She was only subjecting him to this torment so he could break free of his addiction and have a happy, healthy life in the future. The notion of causing suffering for future benefit reminded him of someone. At one point, as Genie took care of him in his delirium, Van watched her and experienced a flashback of his late mother. He had thought of his mother numerous times during this ordeal. He found himself thinking, “How would she feel if she could see what I’ve- ” before shelving that thought for the moment. He instead decided to focus on the present and future.
The aversion therapy helped cement Van’s determination to get and stay clean. He looked forward to this new chapter in his life, but he also knew there’d be challenges. He was already feeling the physical and psychological effects of the withdrawal. He had been experiencing insomnia as a result of his anxiousness. He had a collection of videotapes of his old games, as well as a couple DVD collections of highlights from the championship teams he’d been a part of, on the television shelf. Recently he had spent many nights watching them, watching moments from his glory days. He’d stretch out on his bed and stare as though entranced at the images of his former self – images which now seemed like shadows. In addition he had been experiencing vivid dreams lately. He didn’t know if they were due to the anxiety as well or to residual effects of the medication. It was unsettling what he saw in some of his dreams, and what they brought to mind. In some dreams he imagined going about his daily routine and suddenly discovering that he was missing body parts, or he saw his muscles falling off his body like a hot pat of butter sliding off a roasted ear of corn. In others he imagined glaring eyes, mocking voices, and figures stalking him. He could understand what these dreams represented, so he just tried to acknowledge them, shake them off, and move ahead. He reflected some more before finally drifting off.
Sometime later his mind regained consciousness. He could see a younger version of himself sitting on a bed in what appeared to be a small clinic. He recognized the scene from the previous times he had experienced this nightmare, but he could do nothing to stop it. He might as well have been tied to a chair with his eyes propped open. A figure entered the room. Van thought he looked familiar, but his features were warped into a demonic appearance. He gave Van a wicked grin filled with shark-like teeth. He started toward him with a large, sinister-looking hypodermic needle. Van began to have frightening hallucinations of what the mysterious poison in the syringe might do to him. “Get away from me with that!” he cried as roughly as he could, hoping to drive the fiend away.
It was to no avail. Two more demonic-looking creatures suddenly appeared before Van could get off the bed. They too resembled people he had known. They grabbed his arms and violently shoved them down onto the bed. This forced Van’s whole upper body to go down as well, and he hit the back of his head hard enough that he saw stars. Before Van could offer any resistance they strapped him to the bed. The younger fiend grinned at Van with a mouth filled with jackal-like fangs. The older one simply looked at him coldly.
The two assistant fiends stood back to watch the proceedings as the fiend with the needle came to Van’s side. A trickle of blood came from both corners of his mouth as he asked, “This is what you wanted, isn’t it?”
“No! I didn’t want any of this!”
Despite Van’s protests, the fiend made a small mark on Van’s otherwise unblemished body. There was an aching in Van’s chest as feelings of dread and despair intensified. His breathing and heart rate increased rapidly. As tears started to flow down his cheeks he felt his heart, liver, and kidneys turn into melted wax and flow through his system. The fiend dramatically raised the needle high before forcibly thrusting it down into Van’s body.
The climax of the nightmare jolted Van awake. For a minute or two he lay still in bed, almost if paralyzed. Then he got up and walked around to try to clear his head. He was more unsettled by this dream than the others. It wasn’t because of the content, but because of what the dream brought to mind. Every time he had this dream it forced him to think about his past. In the dream the drugs were injected into his system against his will, but in reality he had brought them into his life willingly. True, the pusher had offered, but Van had accepted his offer with little hesitation. He willingly became a user, and then later he introduced others to the drugs as well. He couldn’t blame his coaches, his teammates, or even his dealers because none of them had forced him to do what he had done. He could only blame himself. There was no changing that fact.
Instead of walking in a circle or pacing back and forth he came to the wall and stopped. He placed his arm up against the wall to brace himself, not because he was feeling weak or in despair, but because he wanted to gather his thoughts and steel his resolve. He had gotten himself into this, but he wasn’t going to give up. He was going to keep moving forward. If Genie didn’t believe he could do it, she wouldn’t have approached him in the first place, and more importantly, he wouldn’t have accepted her offer if he didn’t believe he could do it. He had already done better than his critics would have expected, and he was determined to keep on defying expectations. He smirked as he thought how disappointed his critics would be when they saw him well and healthy. Tomorrow he would tell Genie about these nightmares, get it out of his system so it wouldn’t be an issue anymore. From then on, nothing in the past, present, or future was going to get in his way.
A lot of recovering addicts have to get used to life without the drugs (or whatever their addiction is), and they have to overcome their fears and doubts about the future. You have to have compassion and understanding. I wanted to show the fear Van was experiencing while still making it clear that he was going to overcome this thing.
Written by Raidra
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