It all started with veins.
Shaw Martin sat in his stuffy college Calc 101 class, staring in horror at the inside of his wrist. He traced the spidery, indigo lines that ran up his pasty arm. Why hadn’t he noticed them before? God, they were terrifying. Well, not the veins themselves, but the thought of them. Carrying blood round and round our body, through our heart, pumping it back out. Jesus, what a chore, huh? How does the whole thing not go terribly wrong?
Terribly wrong. Shaw suddenly felt trapped. His sandy curls grew dark with sweat. People began to glance at him as he tried, unsuccessfully, to quietly gather his belongings and make his way to the door.
“Sorry,” he whispered to the gawkers. “So sorry.”
Four days later, he had almost gotten used to ignoring the veins when the bones started making themselves known. He went and got his eyes checked. Something had to be terribly wrong.
* * * *
“You’ve got 20/25 vision.”
“Yeah, but I’m not seeing things right.” Shaw tried to look the doctor in the eye, but kept getting distracted by the sight of his bones.
“No. Too clear.”
Shaw watched, fascinated as the bones gripped a pen and notepad.
He left with a reference to a psychiatrist.
It rained that evening which only made the air thicker. Footsteps followed him as he trudged to Scales & Suds on campus. He could hear shoes squeak on the wet concrete right behind him but he didn’t dare turn around. Slipping inside, he pressed himself against the wall and glanced back out the door. Thankfully, they were gone.
What’s going on? He tried to think but the others were so loud, trying to talk over the music. It beat in rhythm with his pulse. Distraction.
Shaw stood at the bar waiting for his order, feeling the crush and bump of the crowd and beginning to shake. Something had to be terribly wrong. A stiff shoulder pressed up against him. He glanced. Stared. The human body really was fascinating. Humerus. Clavical. Shaw squinted. Hmm.
“How’d you break your collar bone?” Shaw asked, trying to start a conversation.
The guy stared hard at Shaw. “What the fuck, man?” he finally said. “How do you know that?”
Luckily, the waitress came out and handed Shaw his Styrofoam box of greasy fried cod and fries with a smile.
“Freak,” the guy threw at him.
He thanked her and hurried back outside. It was drizzling again.
Two days later, he was still at the park, soaked and sipping cold coffee someone had left beside their car. He had tried to go back to the little cracker box house his parents left him, but the squeaky shoes had followed him. He heard them on the kitchen linoleum and ducked out without locking the door. Why bother? They were already inside.
His gift. To see inside human bodies. Inside was a tree with branches and organs growing on the branches. There were two kidneys, like giant lima beans , two lungs like overgrown fish gills-filling and deflating, filling and deflating, intestines and the heart. Pump pump squish pump pump squish.
“Your heart is beautiful,” he said to a lady pushing her toddler on a swing.
The police came and he finally got to see a doctor that understood him.
“So, you have x-ray vision,” Dr. Mulligan said. She didn’t laugh. In fact, she nodded and looked very serious, a wrinkle forming between her brows, like Shaw’s mother used to do.
“Yes, exactly. I can’t see inside the skull though. Why do you think that is?”
“Shaw, let’s talk about your parents.”
“They died fourteen months ago. Both of them on Highway 65. It was an accident.”
“Yes. I know, Shaw. And that’s a very difficult thing, to lose your parents. You’ve been doing very well, though.” She flipped through her notes. “Attending college. I’m sure they would be very proud of you.”
“They wanted me to be a doctor.”
“And what do you want to do?”
“Well, I do want to help people.” He glanced at her to see if he could trust her with his secret. She nodded, her chin resting on the bones of her hand. “Okay. I want to be a super hero. I’ve wanted to be a super hero since I was nine. I’ve designed a cape and everything.”
“I see,” she said and stared at Shaw for a moment longer. “Okay then. I’m going to write you a prescription, Shaw, for a medicine called Haldol. It is very important that you take it every day.”
“Will it help me to become more of a super hero?”
“Well,” she said, seeming to weigh something and then sighed. “No, Shaw. It will help you to stay in society, to be a part of it and to have a more normal life.”
* * * * *
Did it ever stop raining in this town? Shaw came to a corner, where a homeless guy was sitting under a garbage bag, a brown cardboard mush of a sign clutched in the bones of his hand. The sky groaned and lit up.
“You all right, Kid?”
“I don’t know,” Shaw answered. “I’m not sure. I think something must be terribly wrong.”
“Ha,” he groaned like the sky. “You’re the smartest person I’ve met yet. Have a seat, Kid.”
“All right.” Shaw said, lowering himself onto the wet sidewalk. Water rushed by in the gutter, fell from the sky, cleansed the world.
He reached a wet hand in his jacket and took the first pill.