MY SHIFT WITH JEFF
by E.C. McMullen Jr.
“You can stop now.” Jeff said, words hissing between clenched teeth.
“I’m sorry,” I said and meant it.
“You say you’re sorry, but if you really were you’d shut up about it already. You and everyone else.”
“I don’t mean anything by it,” I demurred. “But if you could see it from my-”
“I can see a fucking mirror, Eddie!” Jeff snapped. “I fucked up! I know I fucked up! And I’m the one who has to live with it!”
If the spidery legs jutting from the top of Jeff’s head were a reflection of his state of mind, you wouldn’t know it. The six moved calm and detached, as if each blindly searched the air for a web to walk upon.
Six legs, not eight. Jeff had five black spider eyes, not four or six. We shut off the machine before it could finish. By some miracle, Jeff seemed to retain his mental state and a functioning memory, and that brain was able to communicate through his deformed mouth: Another miracle.
At first there was the nausea and vomiting, until Jeff’s brain found a state of equilibrium and balance to his new form. Which meant his hippocampus wasn’t damaged by the alteration.
But the woefully malformed head didn’t sit upon his vertebrae quite right. The opposing tissues didn’t fully knit, and uniformity with the rest of his body was angled all wrong. Jeff had to wear a neck collar, shoulder straps, and a harness to keep his new head from severing his spinal cord.
It was amazing that he could still hear; that his inner ears could still offer some semblance of equity.
A spider’s heart is more like a sump than a pump, and to maintain the differential blood pressure of two opposing animal kingdoms, Jeff now needed a heart exhausting rate of beats and blood pressure just to maintain consciousness.
Harder problem than it would seem, as we couldn’t find the right blend of drugs that could work both on the part that was Jeff and the part that wasn’t.
So to augment the only drug that did work, the universality of caffeine, it was my job to keep him in an agitated state: keep him awake during my shift. We both knew this, but it didn’t make the situation any easier.
While the rest of the team frantically worked on the machine to restore Jeff, he could only wait, hoping his heart wouldn’t pop. He hadn’t slept for more than eleven hours in the past week, and it was all taking its toll.
He teetered a bit, grabbed a chair to steady himself, sat down for only a second, then, fully aware that he couldn’t risk rest, shot out of it as if electrified. He began to twirl and I rushed forward to catch him. I forced his hands to the back of the chair for support.
“It’s okay,” he gasped. “Presyncope.”
I tried to hold him until he was steady, but one of the legs brushed my cheek and I cringed back despite myself, slapping the memory from my face.
“Whew. Still no BPPV,” he mumbled. Then louder, “Eddie. It’s just another dizzy spell. Quick! Piss me off about something. Anything!”
“What the hell were you, thinking?” I demanded. “Using yourself as a guinea pig?”
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I walked barefoot to take the trash out last night. The bag bumped up against the plastic garbage barrel and, before I could react, a snake whipped out from beneath the barrel, right across both bare feet, and off into the dark.
Now I realize how most people would react to this. I know how a lot of people would respond to reading this. And it’s not because I’m brave or anything that I responded the way I did.
The thing is…
I didn’t realize it was a snake until it had passed and I saw it slithering off, out of the porch light and into the night.
I didn’t even have time to do the little dance*, it was so fast.
It Happened! It was Over! It was Gone!
Which left me standing there, holding my bag of garbage, realizing only the history of what just happened, so that all that was left for me to do was say,
*Come on, you know that “little dance” we do when we get surprised by a spider or snake or a bee in the ear. We all have our own little dance: it’s what makes us unique.