Briareus the Hundred-Handed

for Bronwyn, who requested it, and can explain it

They are talking just outside his door.

“…from the tree,” his mother says, her voice high and eerie sounding. He scarcely recognizes it through the haze of morphine.

He has blanked out.

“…right on his shoulder,” she says. “I heard him screaming from the kitchen. I’ve told him, again and again, not… not…” Her voice catches, like a ladybug thumping against a window.

He thinks about ladybugs until he feels them crawling over his skin. He wants to brush them away but his arms are so very far away.

“…seen anything like it in fifty years,” says a man he doesn’t know. The doctor? He thinks he remembers a man in white with a mirror and a syringe but he isn’t sure. The lights are so bright, so cool… “Both arms are perfectly healthy, as far as we can tell. His pulse is steady, considering the shock he’s had.”

His father asks a question, but he loses it where the sheet rubs against his belly. It is cool, rough linen, and goes scrape, scrape against his skin.

“No, he wasn’t in any pain, we don’t think,” the doctor replies. “But he kept thrashing around. One of the technicians was beaten quite thoroughly and had to be sent home. For the fright he took, if nothing else…”

Someone is tickling his palm. He laughs, weakly and long, and swats at the tickling. Three miles away a man in a white lab coat desperately needs a drink.