Liz Bahti woke up curled on her side, with a noxious-smelling scale of dried puke crusting her lips and cheek. Her eyes didn’t want to open at first, because they were stuck closed by something that felt like Elmer’s glue dried on her face. She dragged a circulation-deprived hand from underneath herself to wipe her eyes, and every joint in her body howled in protest. Painful pins and needles raced down her arm, which seemed heavier than it was supposed to be. That was odd, because as far as she could tell she was naked. Grime from the floor clung to her skin.
After rubbing her face gingerly, as if her skull would crack like an egg if squeezed too hard, Liz opened her eyes. The first thing she saw was a brackish pool of elderly vomit staining the carpet in front of her. Oh, boy. Not an unfamiliar sight. She pushed herself up and away from it with a grimace. She was on the dismally grungy floor of an equally dingy bedroom. The carpet was worn smooth in places, shiny with accumulated alcohol and vomit spills.
It was dark outside, but a streetlight’s cold blue glow filtered through the torn blanket that served as a curtain. The bed, sitting askew in the middle of the room, was a bare mattress rife with stains and piled high with empty beer and wine bottles. She was cold, too–no wonder. Liz looked around for her clothes. As for the room, she didn’t recognize it.
She wasn’t alone, from the sound of it. She heard Patrick Stewart’s voice, Captain Picard, and then laughter a moment later. Someone was watching television close by. In the next room, it sounded like. The TV was too loud and it made her ears ache, even from here. “Thirteen six, nine eighteen,” Captain Picard seemed to say. The voices swelled in and out of intelligibility, battering at her throbbing head. Liz moaned, and Captain Picard seemed to say, “Holy shit, is she alive?”
So she’d passed out after a party. Nothing new. The thought that she really ought to quit drinking again flickered somewhere deep in her head. She shook her head to drive the thoughts of sobriety away, and another groan escaped her parched throat. It felt like her brain was rattling around loose in her skull.
Whose house was this? Liz tried to remember whose party she’d gone to, but it was no use. She couldn’t even remember who’d given her a ride. No, wait, that was wrong, it was Charlie. So this was the back bedroom of one of Charlie’s friends’ houses, and she’d slept the night away. Maybe the day after. No problem.
She tried to get up, but her legs wouldn’t hold her. They weren’t even strong enough to raise her to a kneeling position. But she had to move, had to get some water or something.
“Everyone to the lower deck,” Captain Picard called. “We’re not waiting around for I think I heard her moving in there.” Maybe it wasn’t just Picard talking. Whatever it was, it was in the other room and that made it too far away for her to think about. Liz crawled. The bathroom would be nice. She could curl up on the floor, or in the bathtub if it wasn’t too nasty or already occupied. Nice and cool. It would make her head feel better, if she could get there. When she moved her body felt like a heavy, water-filled skeleton.
The doorway opened out into a short hallway, and Liz could see the light of the television flickering bluish on the walls of the living room. She discovered that she could barely even crawl straight; her hips flopped to one side, nearly useless. The effort of crawling seven feet made her stomach turn over, and she retched in the hallway. The dry heaves expelled nothing but white foam that tasted of acid and, very faintly, of gin. Liz collapsed onto her belly and wiped her mouth on her arm. “Charlie?” she called. “Charlie, I’m sick.”
“Charlie, watashi kimochi warui wa,” a little, high-pitched voice echoed. What a fucking understatement. She couldn’t remember a hangover this bad.
A figure appeared at the lighted end of the hallway, blocking the TV’s light. A moment later the overhead light snapped on, and Liz’s head exploded.
No, it didn’t. But it felt like it had. She raised a protesting arm against the light’s assault. “Hey. Who’s that?” she asked.
“Dare?” the voice said.
“You’re right,” a man’s voice said with a laugh. “She is alive. She puked in the hall, guys.”
“Ah, shit,” came another voice from behind the first guy.
Liz looked up at them. Their sink-bleached hair and baggy castoffs tagged them as skateboarders. That was weird. Charlie didn’t know any skateboarders, that she knew of. She didn’t recognize either of them, but she tried to ask them where Charlie was anyway. She wasn’t sure she said anything at all that time.
“Dare na no? Charlie wa doko?”
The guys looked at each other and laughed. “What the fuck was that?” the first one asked.
The second one, the one with the deeper voice, squatted in front of Liz. He grimaced a little when he got close, making an obvious effort not to recoil from the stink of her. “Hey. Can. You. Understand. Me?” he said slowly.
She tried to glare at his condescending tone, but she was too tired; the expression never made it to her face. “Cut it out,” she said, her voice fading to a gasp. “Where are my clothes?”
“Yamete yo. Watashi no fuku wa doko?” the voice squeaked, as if making fun of her. She wished it would stop.
The skater straightened and looked at his friend. “I dunno,” he said. “It sounds like Chinese or something.”
“Stop it,” she said.
“It’s not funny.”
“Joudan ja nai wa.” Liz tried to get up, but wasn’t strong enough to push herself upright. Who was making fun of her?
The skater and his friend laughed again. “That’s fuckin’ hilarious, man. You know anyone who speaks Chinese?”
It was her. The little squeaky voice was hers. Oh, Jesus, of course they didn’t understand, she was speaking Japanese, her mother’s native tongue. She’d grown up bilingual, and she was so sick she’d forgotten. Liz laughed at herself a little–until she realized that she couldn’t speak any English. “Where’s Charlie?” she tried to say again, but it came out in Japanese–“Charlie wa doko?” She could think in English, but the proper words wouldn’t come out of her mouth.
“Did she speak English the other day?”
“Far as I know. She didn’t have an accent or anything.”
Liz started to panic. Why couldn’t she talk? Who were these assholes? She rolled over onto her belly and began dragging herself toward the TV room. If Charlie was out there, he would have heard her and come, but maybe he was sleeping or something.
“Bathroom’s that way,” Skater said, and pointed to an open door across the hall. He made no move to help her, which wasn’t a huge surprise. Among guys like this, if you partied until you were sick, it was your problem. They preferred to stay out of the way and watch the fun. Liz dragged herself into the bathroom slowly, her arms beginning to shake with effort and her legs not even bothering to try. The bathroom would be good. She could lie in the tub, maybe. Run water over herself. Anything to get her body jump-started. Liz realized that she was hungry to the point of pain. Her throat and stomach felt as if she’d been eating coarsely ground glass.
She tried to say something to the skaters again, but couldn’t get the words to come out in the right language.
Holy shit, I’ve gone insane, she thought. The thought should have made her smile, but it only fed her paranoia. The thoughts began to spool along wildly: where am I, what have I been drinking, how did I get here, and finally, how long have I been here? It felt like she hadn’t eaten for days.
Liz reached the bathroom. She levered the door closed behind her and put her back against it, sitting on the floor. The lights were off, but she couldn’t reach the switch and didn’t care to for the moment.
Her stomach seized again, and she fought the spasm down with a grimace. She looked around the shadowy bathroom, which was just as nasty as the bedroom had been. She wouldn’t have leaned over the toilet to puke for fear of being grabbed and dragged in by some monster-bacteria that had spawned in it. A crumpled towel hung on the doorknob, and Liz pulled it down to cover herself. Reaching for it triggered another round of dry heaves, and she couldn’t stop them this time. She threw up about a tablespoon of maroon foam.
When she saw the blood she got scared for real. She called out to the skaters (at least one of whom was still outside the door, talking loudly), but she still couldn’t speak in English either.
“She wants carryout!” the guy outside the door laughed. “Call Wok and Go!”
Liz wanted to call him a hundred different foul names and beat him to a pulp, but she was too weak and he wouldn’t have understood her anyway. Another spasm shot through her stomach, and her arms and legs began to shake uncontrollably. Oh, my God, she thought. I’m dying. She opened her eyes and looked desperately at the ceiling.
“Iya yo,” she said, as much for her benefit as for the guys outside the door making fun of her. She was not going to die naked and alone in a filthy bathroom, and they needed to be told so, whether they understood or not. “Hitori de hadaka no mama de kono kitanai toilet no naka de shinitaku nai!”
“She wants General Tso’s chicken! The large order!”
Liz clenched her teeth and kept staring at the ceiling. She took a deep breath, smelling a fetid smorgasbord of sweat, puke, and stale water. She took another breath in spite of it. Liz focused on the ceiling. She had quit practicing aikido at some point and couldn’t remember exactly when, but she could still center herself. And there she was. Staring at the ceiling. Wood door at her back. Liz thought beyond the weakness and pain and sickness, focused only on standing up. She was not going to die in here, not in a dirty bathroom where she’d drunk herself to death. No.
She took one more deep breath, filling her lungs and gazing at the ceiling until she could almost see the joists and ducting above it.. She held it for a heartbeat. Two. When she exhaled she pushed, legs and heels bracing against the floor, and the ceiling came down toward her and just like that, she was up, on legs that wouldn’t fail her.
Liz didn’t think about throwing up any more–a cramp offered the option, and she ignored it. She opened the door. In the wash of light from the hallway she saw herself in the mirror. Her hair had grown almost four inches since the last time she’d dyed it; the result was shoulder-length chartreuse with black roots. It stuck up and out in unruly directions. Her face was her mother’s except her hazel eyes which were too round for her to pass as full-blooded. Her father’s Croatian influence was mainly in her height and temper. Her face in the mirror was filthy, with dirt and vomit. She guessed that the gritty paste gluing hair and dust to her cheeks and forehead was a mixture of dried cum and sweat. Lovely. The towel fell away from her, and she could see that she’d lost a lot of weight as well. She could see her ribs. She looked like a crack whore.
Liz didn’t try to retrieve the towel; she started walking. The skater outside was three inches shorter than she was, and he grinned with lecherous familiarity. So she’d fucked him at some point, too. Or he’d done it after she had passed out. But he wouldn’t help her. The amusement in his smile said that, as did the way he looked her nude body up and down.
Liz spat a wad of bloody foam at his feet and walked past him. She stayed focused on the hall past him, and the front door beyond that. She ignored the weakness and imagined a line of force pulling her to the door, pulling her hand to the knob and urging her outside. And it worked. Liz walked with surprising, fluid purpose down the short hall, in front of the television, and out the door without a glance at the rest of the skaters. There were hoots and catcalls followed by confusion; she ignored all of it.
It wasn’t Charlie’s house. Liz was in an unfamiliar part of Los Angeles. The small, square houses could have belonged to any of twelve neighborhoods she knew, and of hundreds she didn’t. But she needed help, and she couldn’t call 911 if she couldn’t remember how to speak in English, which meant that she was crazy, and if she was crazy, then it was okay to walk naked down the street in the middle of the night and hope that help found her before a pack of would-be rapists did.
Focusing her chi got her out onto the sidewalk. Then the shakes came back. Liz bit her lip and forced herself to stay upright. On step after the other, that was all it took. There was a traffic light at the end of the block, and cars. A video store. It spilled yellow and blue light onto the sidewalk–still open. Help. The sidewalk hurt her bare feet. A dog barked at her from a fenced-in backyard as she passed the darkened, sleeping houses. A few more houses to the light. A fresh spasm brought tears to her eyes. Liz didn’t throw up, although it felt like her stomach had turned to glass and shattered. One leg, then the other. She didn’t look down at them. Mustn’t look away from her goal. The traffic light. Just turning green. She stepped on a broken bottle, gasping in pain. Kept walking. Fists clenched at her sides. The light turned yellow, then red. She was at the video store, could see cashiers and customers. Help. Help me. Liz couldn’t tell if she was vocalizing that or not, and in what language if she was. The pounding in her head had progressed from a hangover headache to a physical thing beating on the insides of her skull and drowning everything else out.
Liz drew her arm back and slapped her hand against the tall window. Again. Her arm wouldn’t lift a third time, but they were looking now. She was sliding down. The warm glass rubbed and pulled her skin in uncomfortable directions and there were spots in her vision.
She was sitting on the ground again, but she wasn’t alone now. Someone took her hand gently, said, “it’s going to be okay.” Here was okay. She could die here.
Liz let herself go. Faded out.