time crunch - #4
Updated: Jul 13, 2021
genre: contemporary romance/magical realism
word count: 808
Los Angeles, California
Carson doesn’t even have to open his eyes to know he’s not in Michigan anymore.
He’s not in his dorm, isn’t stripped down to his boxers and curled up on his lumpy narrow full twin XL whatever-the-fuck mattress—he’s on the floor, on an unforgiving hardwood floor that reeks of bleach and wax polish and, more oddly, the sharp, cloying, metallic tang of a well-used skate sharpener. He’s wearing what feels like a suit, itchy wool pants and a pair of suspenders—fucking suspenders—that are digging uncomfortably into the knobs of his shoulders.
He doesn’t really want to open his eyes.
Doesn’t really want to know where he is, or why he’s on the floor, or how, exactly, this is all going to lead him to another Not-Dougie because he finally sacked up and admitted he was relapsing and opened the Wikipedia articles for this interdimensional magic infection bullshit and—it’s Dougie. It’s always been Dougie.
Finding him here, in these weird-ass alternate universes, it feels inevitable.
It feels important.
Fuck that, for real, right?
It’s a hotel room.
He’s in a hotel room.
There’s no TV, but the lighting is electric and there’s a dingy black rotary phone on a little table by the window, so he figures he isn’t that far back, hasn’t traveled to a place that’s actually, truly dangerous—but then the heavy, ornately carved door slams open with a jarring thud, tarnished hinges rattling, the sheer force of the dented brass knob’s impact causing the drywall to crack and splinter.
And there’s Dougie.
Pale, frantic, alarmed Not-Dougie, dressed like some kind of jaded, chain-smoking private detective in one of those black-and-white gangster movies from the 40’s or 50’s; his fedora is tipped down, the collar of his trench coat is popped up, and a dense, red-brown five o’clock shadow is dusting his jawline.
There’s fucking blood on his fucking hands.
“Um,” Carson says, sitting up so quickly he goes dizzy with the movement, vision swimming, vertigo mounting. He wonders, again, why he woke up on the floor. Did he hit his head? Did he get hit in the head? “What’s—um. Hi?”
Not-Dougie shoots a panicked glare back over his shoulder, down the hallway, like he thinks he might’ve been followed.
“Good,” Not-Dougie says, chest heaving as he kicks the door shut behind him and fumbles with the lock. “You’re finally up.”
Carson hesitates, still staring at the blood—dried, mostly, spotty and streaky and flaking off in some spots—on Not-Dougie’s hands. “Yeah,” he agrees faintly. “Where did you—um. Yeah.”
“They found her,” Not-Dougie says, lowering his voice to a near-whisper. “Both—you know, both parts of her. Cops are everywhere, they’re—they’re swarming, you know, like—like the apocalypse bugs, what are they—”
“Locusts,” Carson interjects, a vaguely surreal bubble of anxiety beginning to form in the pit of his stomach, eerily reminiscent of when Dougie picked him up after dinner over Thanksgiving break and they hotboxed his dad’s stupid midlife crisis Camaro on the turnout for the boat-loading dock at the lake and there were, like, warning signs and danger signs and signs about drowning literally everywhere he looked. “Locusts are the apocalypse bugs.”
Not-Dougie licks his lips, yanking his fedora off and loosening the knot of his tie and raking his shaking—bloody, still fucking bloody—fingers through his pomade-greasy hair. “What are we gonna do?”
Carson reaches up to scratch at his chin, to fiddle with the straps of his ridiculous suspenders, to figure out where that fucking cold, sharp, metallic smell is coming from—only to see that there’s blood on his hands, too, rust-brown stains on the whorls of his fingerprints and the branched-out lines crisscrossing his palms.
“I don’t know,” he says blankly, with rapidly dawning hysteria. “I don’t know—I don’t know what we’re gonna do.”
Not-Dougie sighs, gaze darting from Carson to the stiff velvet curtains fluttering around the window. “We shouldn’t have moved her.”
“We should’ve—” Not-Dougie breaks off, pupils contracting. “They’re gonna think we did it, aren’t they?”
“At least they’ll probably arrest us together.”
“Yeah,” Not-Dougie says—more firmly, with more conviction, like he’s latched onto a thought or an idea that’s a legitimate fucking comfort to him during what Carson can only guess is, like, a post-stumbling-across-a-dead-body regret spiral. “Yeah. Me and you. Together. It’s how we—” Not-Dougie croaks out a suspiciously wet laugh. “It’s how we do everything else, right? Why not this?”
Carson opens his—dry, dry, dry—mouth, sweat beading along his forehead, and he isn’t sure how to respond, isn’t sure what to say, because this isn’t his Dougie, this is a stranger, a nobody, but—
There’s a brisk, official-sounding knock on the door.