Blood in my mouth; it’s not mine [01.04]

Mature | Horror/Mystery

When Andrew Pottarus first wakes he has amnesia. Then he’s told who he is; a survivor, a father, an agent. They help him back to his feet and keep his family safe – a promise he’d be with them again. But little by little the pieces start to fall away.

Until all he can taste is blood.

Content:
Psychological Horror, Body Horror, Graphic to Intense Violence, Graphic Gore,


“That … that’s enough,” Andrew starts. “I need some time.”

The soft slam of a binder off to his left, the screech of a side table on tile. Dr. Matthews lays a hand on his shoulder. “That’s fine. If you need anything, Ryan will be here to assist you.” Footsteps, the metal door closing with a loud click. The assistant, Ryan, was still somewhere in the room with him.

Take a deep breath, just focus on breathing, I tell myself. Tuning out the ambient beeps and huffs of the AC. Try to focus on something else.

Ryan taps at my shoulder and gently guides me back into a sitting position. No idea why, but I don’t mind. My name is Andrew Pottarus and I’ve been out for … five months and still in for longer. I might be a father, with a dead wife and two living daughters.

Hands move up from his bare neck to his scalp.

Multicolored skin comes from a skin-color project. Was part of a covert squad of some sort, with issued robotic arms and enhancement eyes. I might not have a jaw, and the mask is keeping me alive – how?

The hands cleared the spots of blood that surrounded the screws.

A harness keeps my head still and there are bolts that attach it to my skull – it was fractured. But how?

He doesn’t feel the hands taking his arm nor the fresh needle that sticks itself in. Andrew doesn’t move, staring at nothing in particular. A rush of air fills the mask and he breathes it in.

Sleep, I need more sleep.

It was Ryan.

And he’s there when I wake.

“Sorry for the induction, Andrew. There was an infection around one of the screws.” The harness was gone. In its place is a cloth wrap damp with blood. Andrew reaches up to touch it but Ryan stops him, pulling his hand back down to the bed. Ryan says nothing, and then leaves the room with a hand to his ear.

Silence.

I try again.

Andrew Pottarus, died three times and out for five months. Dead wife and two daughters. Born with unusual skin. Employed in a covert squad operation, maybe, and robotic eyes and arms were issued. No jaw, mask keeps me alive – somehow, need to ask. The harness is gone, healing fractures. Burned most of my body, broken bones, had rebar through the shoulder at one point – need to check that – and partly deaf. All because of a botched terrorist attack …

How many died?

50 something, plus injured people. How could it be botched, it blew up the first few floors and the building collapsed. Fire consumed it, I was found with the girls in a collapsed stairwell.

How could I speak without jaws? And with the mask?

“A E I O U.” its audible except for wheezes and coughs. I can talk.

“Sore. Skin. Arms. Month. Answers. Remember. Supposed. Family.” Andrew has no problems except for the wheezing, the coughing, and slight chokes on the tubes down his throat – he only feels a tightening around and inside his neck. “Flesh. Botched. Terrorist.” Have the doctors made a mistake?

“Enough,” Andrew sits up and pauses for his stomach to catch up, feeling a lurch from inside his chest. Looking down at his arms he can see that some of the skin strips were replace while he was under, the new ones are a different color than the previous ones, a faint bit darker than the base tone. The wrappings around his chest move and struggle, if the arms where mechanical, wouldn’t it be easy to break the wraps?

Need to remember these questions for later, ask the doctor when he sees him next time. I exhale, I didn’t notice I was holding my breath. It might be a few days, or a few weeks before I see that doctor again. I lay back with another exhale. I might as well sleep until then, and get used to the heart monitor beeping off on the side.

A week passes with only a few hours of sleep. Andrew starts catching himself staring off at nothing in the middle of the day or late at night. Every so often he’s knocked out again – another procedure here and there – in between them Andrew stares out the windows to the distant towers. More time he should be sleeping is spent sitting up watching the towers out the windows.

On one of those nights, Dr. Matthews walks in.

Dr. Matthews enters quietly, slowly closing the door and turns on one set of the rooms lights – the lights above the unoccupied bed. “Andrew, what are you doing up at this hour?” he asks on his way over to the bedside, pulling over the chair. Andrew doesn’t move while the chair screeches on the floor. Only after Dr. Matthews sit down does Andrew glance over at him, then back to the window.

“Just watching the lights.” One of the lights turns off on one of the towers.

“It’s not healthy to be awake all the time in your condition. You realize that, right?” Dr. Matthews shuffles with some papers.

“Doing nothing isn’t healthy either. How long will it be until I can move on my own?

“We’re worried about the head injury, Andrew. It’s still bleeding and the metal plates can’t be removed yet, the fissures aren’t completely healed over.”

“How long will it take.”

“Another few months, give or take. However if you are dead-set on moving around, I can talk into getting you a physical therapist at the very least.”

“Sounds nice.” Another light turns off in one of the towers. Dr. Matthews scrawls something into the paper clipped in front of him. Andrew doesn’t make a move to look back. “Are the windows locked?”

“Its stationary.”

“Tomorrow, if you can, could you bring the binder back in?”

“Sure, I can do that.” Dr Matthews pauses. “Do you need anything else?”

“No … I’m good for now. I’ll get myself to sleep soon.”

“Please do,” a few seconds later the door closes, Dr. Matthews has left.

Another cluster of lights go off in another tower, followed by more and more until there is only a few light sprinkled around the dark sky – no stars in sight. Andrew slowly eases himself down to the bed, laying for as long as it takes to fall asleep. When he wakes the heart monitor is still there and Dr. Matthews isn’t – but Ryan stands off by the window.

 

“Slept well I hope; any aches or pains?”

 

“Nothing beside the usual. Is there anything I should be aware of?”

 

“Nothing new, we’re watching those skin grafts for any issues. Some of your bones are still fusing, so you’re still required to remain in bed.” Ryan readjusts himself and shoves his right hand into his pocket.

 

“Dr. Matthews said he can –“

 

“A physical therapist, I’m aware. He doesn’t know when he can find someone suitable.” Ryan fiddles with his pockets, “just to clear up any possible misconceptions. Speaking of which, do you want me to call him up? Dr. Matthews.”

 

“Oh, uh, yeah. Can you remind him to bring the binder?” He leaves the room with a hand to his ear, watching me out of the corner of his eye. The door closes, clicks, and I slowly force myself to sit up and stare out of the window – my routine.

 

Andrew tunes out the heart monitor and the soft ticking of the wall clock.

 

I go over the questions I have for the doctor.

 

One; do I still have a jaw or a replacement.

 

Two; what is the function of the mask

 

Three; how was the terrorist attach botched.

 

Four; how mechanical are the arms.

 

I go over them again and again, figuring the best wording for each of time.

 

There is plenty of time. And in time Dr. Matthews does show up.

 

He enters the room with the binder stuck beneath one arm. “Good morning, Andrew.” He’s rubbing at his eyes; his hair is a mess, must’ve just woke up. The doctor takes his usual spot at the side of the bed and pulls over the side-table again, it screeches. He doesn’t open it yet, leaning forward and rubbing at his eyes again – and leans on to the table. Was he about to sleep again?

 

I push away the covers and force one leg over the side of the bed. It’s painful; blood travels down the side of my face and an ache crawls through my arms, a sharp pain in my leg. Of course I cringe, stopping when a hand holds my shoulder. It’s Dr. Matthews, he’s more awake now.

 

“No, Andrew.” He forces my leg back onto the bed and pulls the sheet up. “How much sleep have you been getting per night?”

 

“Six hours, I think? If I ever try to get some.” Fingers squeeze the sheets – the pain is still there.

 

“I can see if there is any way we can get you those hours you need.” He checks the grafts, the needles, the wrappings around my head. When he is finished he sits back down, the binder open in his lap to a section we went over before. “You said you had some more questions, or are they just elaborations?”

 

“Questions … mostly, maybe some elaborations,” The envelopes from last time are there too. “Can I see those again, the envelopes?” I motion to them, slightly sticking out of the binder near the back.

 

“Certainly,” he pulls them out and hands them to me. “What was the first question – or elaboration – you were wondering about?”

 

I pick through the x-ray envelope first, looking for the one centered on the skull. “I am able to speak, right? I think I remember that it looked like I had none.” Each slide is held up in sunlight. “Do I got a jaw or not, or is there a replacement.” I find the one I was looking for; head on and profile, no jawbone in sight.

 

“Ah, that is … a bit difficult to explain.” He rearranges himself. “See, when you came to us, most of your lower jaw was gone in one way or another. We believe it might have been crushed in the incident with colliding with concrete.”

 

Head forced down, slam of jaw on stone. Scratching. Itching. There is two more slams. A rod on crooked teeth.

 

“But to answer your question; yes and no, some parts are still there while others have been replaced. Only a few of your teeth survived and the front most part of your jaw had been damaged beyond conventional repair. In a quick decision, it was offered that the front-most was to be replaced.

 

“That leads to the next question. What is the function of it, the mask?”

 

“That is also, a bit difficult … you see, the idea of metal with synthetic flesh originally was a great idea – but it’s not completely practical. Besides the front-most part of your jaw being shattered most of your respiratory system was compromised from smoke inhalation and other injuries. Almost all of it had to be replaced excluding a long. It’s not just a mask, but a system that allows for easy respiration.

 

“Why can I feel two, though?

 

“Because, it’s meant to feel that way. It’s not practical to leave an empty space in one’s chest cavity. Is there anything else you want to know?” I pull out the photo timeline of the building collapsing and rescue. The blast hole is large for starting underground, and the collapse takes place quickly and then it’s just a rubble pile. How many people died in it, both in the collapse and the fire? 60 or more?

 

“I want some more information on the terrorists, the anti-tech attack. I’m looking at the damage and it … it doesn’t seem like it’s botched.” I hand the images back to him, and he flips through them again and again.

 

“Yes. It does seem strange for it to be considered a botched attack, however I am pretty sure the counter-intelligence of the attack said that there would’ve been more casualties if it had arrived at its target destination, or behave like it was intended.”

 

“And it was … beneath the vehicle I borrowed? What would the target destination be.” I reach over for the photographs; he hands them back over.

 

“I am not privy to that information. All I was told that it would’ve been in a more populated part of the city, another amusement part or on the road – I am not sure. Your supervisions said it might be easier to pin down where if you start remembering again.”

 

“And what if I don’t?” He shrugs, I sigh. “Right. Last question.” I pat at the bandaging around my ribs and waist, right on top of the hidden arms. “How mechanical are these?”

 

“They aren’t made to break anything, if that what you’re asking. They are just for climbing assistance. But, you are wondering why they can’t just break through the bandaging, correct?” I not. “Well, it was one of the first things we secured when you first came in. Hard to help if there is arms flying everywhere.” A small smile, a laugh.

 

I only stare. “Wouldn’t it be easier to remove?”

 

“No, besides it’s easier to wrap them up now and remove later. We checked in with your superiors after we had you stabilized – about what would’ve happened if they were removed. They said it wasn’t viable, because of an internal fail-safe that would’ve shorted out the entire arm. We are thankful none of them were damaged.”

 

“So removing them would be impossible?”

 

“Correct, they are also attached to your circulatory system as well. Without professional care, it would’ve been possible for you to bleed out in a few minutes.” I hand the collection of photos back and turn to the clock, 10:05, and back to Dr. Matthews. I still have trouble trusting him, even if he’s honest.

 

“About the physical therapist, when could –“

 

“Next week. Don’t worry about Ryan. He’s a bit of a sour pot and wants everything to be followed to the letter. I think you can be well enough to start walking around and getting used to those arms again. Hell, you need it.” He pats my right shoulder once, twice, four times, and gets up with binder in hand. “I could try and get you some lunch later, talk more about what you missed and the past you’re missing. Do you want anything?”

 

I draw a blank.

 

“I could get a milk-shake or a slushie; anything would be better than the food here. How does that sound?” I nod, taken aback. “Actually, how about both, what flavors?”

 

“Uh, chocolate or … some red flavor?”

 

“Strawberry? Cherry? Those are the most common.”

 

“Either sounds good.”

 

“Alright, I’ll see you then.” He closes the door, I stare back out the window.

 

Three hours later Dr. Matthews returns with the drinks. Two small ones for Andrew, a strawberry milkshake and a cherry slushie, and a tall soda for himself. He also brings back the binder.

 

Over the proceeding hours he brings help jog Andrew’s memory; dates, current tech, Andrew’s past and some of his occupation – referencing the binder a few times here and there. He also apologizes for the other doctor’s behavior in the past few months. When Andrew asks for specifics Dr. Matthew responds with “hard to explain, because I need permission from your superiors and the government officials. I am not completely sure what your job meant you did; but it was with a squad, you needed the arms and eyes, and that is pretty much all I know.”

 

Dr. Matthews leaves soon after, telling Andrew he’ll have more sleep medication issued for him – to help him sleep at night. A new person comes in later, placing an unlabeled pill bottle on the side table.

 

Andrew’s sleeping habits get better; he doesn’t find himself wake in the middle of the night anymore. And in the mornings, when a group of nurses and doctors come in, he’s still groggy when they pump a paste straight to his system. The occasional milkshakes or slushies breaks off the stale taste – Dr. Matthews brings them every couple days for their ‘consoling sessions’.

 

On one of those days there’s a knock at the door.

 

“Come in,” Dr. Matthews closes the binder on the paper he was showing me. Walking in was a small man; with neat cornrows and a scar going from ear to ear – barely visible on his dark skin. The man also has six arms.

 

“Andrew, this is your physical therapist, Trent Summers. Trent, this is Andrew Pottarus. I assume you are up to date?” The small man’s smile is crooked, a few teeth missing in the front.

 

“Hello Andrew,” his voice slurs, “how are you?” Trent’s crooked smile bends the scar. His upper arms are free, the bottom right holds a binder, bottom left holds a box. His middles are behind his back – all matching skin tone. “Oh, wondering how I got these?” I nod. “I got some connections, it makes it easier to assist my patients.”

 

“Ah,” my arms beneath the wraps shove, and I force myself to sit up. Trent drops the box at the foot of the bed, the binder beside it. Dr. Matthews packs his things away; putting stuff back into brown envelopes, putting loose papers into the binder, clicking the rings open and close. Soon he’s out of the room, and Trent opens up his box.

 

“How long has it been since you walked around, or used your arms extensively?” He pulls out a pair of scissors from the box, then a larger pair.

 

“I’ve not walked yet, and I’ve only slightly been using my arms – not for too much.” Trent nods as he goes through his box. “Since I’m bed bound and most of my arms have been – well – wrapped up.” They budge for further the point.

 

“Ah. I see.” Trent walks around the end of the bed, with the smaller scissors in one hand and the larger one in another. He walks around the right side of the bed – the bed shifts and there are hands digging at the wraps. One snip and a part of the wrap comes loose, Trent pulling them off with a following few series of snips. He works fast to remove them, throwing the material in bundles onto the foot of the bed. “Oh, now that just makes things over complicated.” He huffs.

 

I look down. Each of the four arms are pulled to their opposing sides and held flat against my body – feeling bindings around the wrists. Pulling one side pulls the other; the doctors were real thorough.

 

“Hold on,” Trent says, and I feel a sharp tug on the four tied arms. He drops the smaller scissors beside the bundled material. Which are soon followed by the larger set. “I need another solution.” The bed shifts and he pulls the box over to the right side of the bed, picking through for something. He pulls out a razor. “Here we go!” He chirps, vanishing behind me again and pulls at the binding of the second set taut. For a while, I only feel the occasional jolt from whatever solution he conjured up.

 

Sometime later the binding is loose enough the second pair is freed, and a time after the thirds. The leather that held them hanging off. At least I can see them now – same colors as the first pair. Excluding the wrists which are worn down with skin damage from the restraints.

 

I forget that Trent is there, until he grabs a wrist worn down by the restraints. He lets go when I hiss in pain, “Sorry.” He grabs the mesh mitt on the same hand instead. “I am sorry about the doctors. They could have done a lot better. Can you hold out your hands?” The lower two sets struggle to keep held up, but are helped by Trent’s own lower two sets – he sat across from me on the bed. He takes his time carefully removing the thick leather bindings and the mitts, dropping them off to his side. “Can you hold your arms out like this – as much as you can without pain.” His arms go up and out, almost straight.

 

Even with stiff wrists and arms I manage some of it before pain sears through the shoulders, elbows, and wrists of the second and thirds. Trent nods and carefully grabs the left middle, holding it towards him. A thumb runs against the muscles. “Tell me where it hurts.” He starts from the wrist, moving up and around the arm. Except for exchanges of ‘there’ and nods, there’s nothing else more to discuss.

 

Trent breaks the silence after a while. “Andrew, I am a friend. Is there anything you want to speak about?”

 

“No, no. I’m just still getting used to them.”

 

“Ah, yes. The arms, the arms. They need a lot of work; stretching, rotations. You’ll work on them when I’m not here, right?”

 

“Yeah. I can do that.”

 

“Good. Do you need some time alone?”

 

“I’d like some peace, yes…”

 

“Well,” he huffs, “someone wants to meet your first before you get some alone time, Andrew. A friend of yours, not a doctor. I think.”

 

What?

 

A person shoves the door close with a dull thud, “hey.” A man that dwarfs Trent walks over as he takes off his jacket, setting his things down on an opposing table. Trent packs his things away quietly, taking a glance at the new person. Barely out of Andrew’s sight, Trent frowns. “How’ve you been Andrew? Been a long time since I last seen you.”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“It’s me, Jacob. Don’t you –“ he takes a pause, watching Trent leave the room, “you got amnesia, huh?”

 

“I guess,” Andrew stretches his second and thirds as well as he can, his first two sets leaning back against the bed holding him up. “Would be nice to know more; what I missed and such.” The second and thirds grab their opposing rights and stretch. Jacob drops a bag onto the bed, as well as his jacket before settling himself in the pulled up seat.

 

“Geez, how should I start.” He takes a moment. “I’m Jacob Astregael. I worked in your squad a few years ago, got the same tech issued to me. Though I recently had them removed as of last month, partly because I’m retiring.” Jacob lifts his graphic tee to expose circular shaped scars around his ribs, around the same location Andrew’s are. Andrew checks his own, mostly with upper set of arms by squeezing his fingers between the joints. To him they feel the same – but his chest muscles seem odd, with very little difference between his body and the arms. Jacob gets up from the chair and makes room for himself on the bed. “Matthews doesn’t know a whole lot about them.” Andrew can see a faint scar across Jacob’s forehead.

 

“He has told me a lot of things. I only believe a few.” Andrew lifts himself from leaning on his top set, letting them lie against his legs while the bottom four spread against the bed. “These aren’t included – much.” His arms move in various stretches; some pop. Jacob dumps the items onto the floor beside the bed.

 

“Okay, so, first off. Functionality; they are almost the exact same as regular arms with only a few things that indicate they’re mechanical. The straps around the chest and look like muscle? False, it keeps them in place, along with internal mountings which are attached to the ribs. Could’ve been why it took so long to fix it all from the looks of it.” Andrew remembers what Dr. Matthews said about them being too secure, that they had a failsafe, and were impossible to remove.

 

“A question, when they are – uh – issued? How are they put in and how do they stay in?

 

“They’re issued for assignments in the special group, you were part of the first formation; they’re pretty damn impressive with them in once they got fitted and everything healed over. Uh,” Jacob opens his mouth to continue, pauses, and starts again “let me thing how they got put on – it’s easier to remember how they get removed that’s for damn sure.” He scoffs. “See these?” He motions to the circular scars on his sides, lifting his shirt again. “I had the arms here until about a month ago. I was under for most of the procedure, but I made sure there was plenty of photos taken. I was interested in how they looked coming out, since I didn’t see how they go in.

 

“First thing they do is put me under, of course, I had to be stable for half an hour before they went on to take them off. There was a shit ton of blood; they had to cut the faux skin from the arm first and enable the disconnection as well as preventing the Bleed-Out affect, then they get to removing the actual arm – it’s not pretty, for damn sure. Beneath the arm and the chest secures it looks a lot like muscles, but with a pipe coming up from the ribs where the connectors and the Killswitch Valve sit. That’s where most of the blood comes from. Honestly, I think the scientists that came up with it just wanted to be a dick and pretend it was a feature, something about it keeps the arm-owner from being tortured for too long.

 

“I like to think of them as being arms-dealers; they hold your life in their hands and give you ones as well. Funny, right?” Andrew can’t decide if it was a genuine attempt at a joke. The second right itches around the bulge of flesh and feels for the scars – tracing them and tuning out Jacob. One of the faint scars go from his collar bone to an upper part of his stomach, with trails that go along and over the sides between the shoulders. He wonders, what else differentiates them? “Hey, stop feeling yourself up,” Jacob snaps his fingers.

 

Andrew returns his second and thirds to his front, leaning them against the bed while his upper two rest just on top of them, wrists crossed. “What else makes them different?”

 

Andrew waits while Jacob thinks, fiddling with the bag he brought in. “They’re more resilient than regular arms, don’t tire out because, well, surprise surprise they are mechanical. From my experience they don’t feel the same as actual arms – when it comes to what they’re suppose to help do.”

 

“Tell me, what did we exactly do? Dr. Matthews doesn’t know much about what I did before – this.”

 

“Before the arms?”

 

“Being in the hospital.”

 

“Oh, yeah, that. It’s mostly just sort of hush-hush and such. Give me a moment.” He starts digging into the bag. “What we were, or what you still are and I’m not, is and infiltration unit. What I remember is it’s for counter-terrorism. But you know how the government is, afraid of any potential invading forces they’re still unaware of the shit going on in it’s own soil. I digress, but yeah. Counter-terrorism infiltration that can climb anything. Sort of like rock-climbing but way more extreme and with guns.” Jacob wrestles with a packet of papers. “Ah, here we go,” and he hands them to Andrew – his bottom left grabs the papers. “Your ‘employer’ wanted you to have these. It’s information on what you did, how to reprep if you want to stick with it – else you’re pretty much fucked in places to go. If I heard right, if you take up the job again it lets you provide for your girls again.” Jacob starts pulling more shit out of the bag. A laptop, a radio, a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, and two cords. “Here, a few things I got for you. I don’t remember if you smoke or not, thought I’d get you one if you wanted them.” Jacob smiles. “I’ll leave everything here for you, I hope the next time we talk it’d be somewhere not here.” He forces himself up and walks out of the room, leaving all the items scattered on the bed for Andrew to deal with.

 

Andrew groans.

 

All I want to do is sleep, but there is too many things on the bed. Can I even stand?

 

He sits there in silence.

 

Fuck it, I’ll try.

 

The leather bindings, wraps, and mesh mittens are still on the bed, thankfully. But the trash bin is located on the far side of the room – right by the door. A groan. I scoop them up with my middle set.

 

Muscles scream and bones ache as I push myself off the bed, barely able to stand before falling back to the bed. The bottom set of arms struggle to push me to a standing position; they’re still weak on their own without my body’s weight on them. It takes a couple minutes before I can stand on my own.

 

The trip to the trash bin is long, limping along with half-drowsy legs that feel like walking on pins. In a single motion I drop the things in and catch myself against the wall, where my forehead rests. With how long the two new people spent it feels like they drained me more than a few hours with the doctors. Or that’s the pain speaking, flaring in each small motion.

 

I tap my head against the wall twice and limp back to the bed, grabbing for the jacket before falling back to the bed. Bad move. Again I just wait the pain out, thinking about anything besides the small tearing. When it eventually subsides I feel around the pockets of the jacket for anything else. There is a phone with a note.

 

Here Andrew,
        One phone, one jacket. They’re both yours
        Call if you need anything –

 

There was no name or number written down.

 

Perfect.

 

I drag everything Jacob laid out on the bed into the bag he left, including the phone and the jacket. When everything is stuffed in I toss it over the right side of the bed and lay back down in bed. I pull the sheet up only to my waist, letting the six arms spread out against the bed, all free. I drift to sleep.

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