Angsty. Sorry. Sometimes my mind leads me down dark paths over which I have no control, even when the episode itself was so damn funny. Apparently, also my holiday story; no clue how that happened.

Missing scene from Doc Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest

10K Fever

-- by 10K_fever

Murphy was here, hovering over him. Except he was blue all over. Was Murphy naked? That was something 10K never wanted to see, not ever. And Merch, she was there too, all in white with a pointy little cap on her head. This had to be a nightmare.

He prayed it was a nightmare when Merch steadied a sharp spike in front of his face.

“Pity we don’t have any anesthesia.”

Definitely a nightmare; but it felt so real.

Bi-kot-uh-mee. No, that was wrong. DI-CHOT-UH-MEE. A division; mutually exclusive.

His brain was dichotomized…or was it bichotomized? Hey, he’d made up some new words. Spiffy. Okay, never think ‘spiffy’ again, and don’t ever, ever actually say it.

Why couldn’t he focus? Probably the Murphy juice. Murphy didn’t want him to focus his thoughts, to try to override his control, to make sense of what was happening; Murphy only wanted him obedient. Murphy was the cue ball; 10K was the break, thoughts a scattered mess caroming around the table.

Doc would make him better. Hey, Doc, is that you? Watch out for Murphy. He’s a devious son of a bitch.

Then his world went really weird for a while. Someone shot him in the ass, and then he pretty much forgot about things. Later, Elvis helped him stand up and took him to Doc. Elvis? And not just any old Elvis, but the sparkly jump-suited, Vegas showman Elvis. Funny, he’d never known Elvis was black.

Talk. No, don’t talk. What the hell was Doc going on about? Did he tell Doc something about Murphy? That would really piss off the blue devil. Good.

There was a lot of rushing around after that. Loud voices. Danger. Doc in danger from Merch. Do something! But nothing came to mind. His body was tied up like a Thanksgiving turkey. He didn’t even like turkey. He saw a phrase written neatly on a blackboard: Don’t ask about Bob’s Crayons. Okay, that he could do.

Now Merch was dead, bleeding a very large amount of blood onto the floor. Strangers milled around, but Doc was okay and had taken charge. Where was Warren?

Then more hurrying, a roman candle – was it not Thanksgiving, but the 4th of July instead? Who celebrated holidays in the midst of the Apocalypse? Nut cases, that’s who. Was he a nutcase? He thought the fireworks were pretty awesome.

And finally: Outside. Air and sky and grass and trees.

Sleep.

*****

“Puppies and kittens. Come on. Come on, kid, wake up.” Hands, urging him to stand. “Come on, let’s go – “

More walking. He felt a little better after his rest, but Doc still had the chore of keeping him upright. The ground beneath them was rutted and hard to navigate, maybe a plowed field?

He tried to tell Doc important things that needed to be said, but Doc wasn’t paying attention. He only looked back every now and then, his face anxious. Each time he did, 10K felt his own balance waver. He wanted to stop; Doc wouldn’t let him. After awhile, when they were almost to the trees, Doc looked back again. “Shit. They found the gate.”

Who had found the gate? Oh, yeah, the puppies and kittens Doc had mentioned. You couldn’t trust them: Puppies had pointy little teeth, and kittens had sharp claws.

“Gotta move a little faster, kid.”

He wanted to, but his body kept trying to go sideways when he wanted it to go forward. And Doc was ignoring all the important stuff he was telling him. 10K didn’t blame him. Doc was clearly struggling under the burden of getting both of them safely across the awkward terrain.

After a bit, he gave up trying to tell Doc all the things he knew. He wanted to sleep some more. Why wouldn’t Doc let me keep the pillow?

*****

Doc knew he wasn’t as young as he used to be, but why the hell did he have to feel twenty years older now? 10K might be tall and skinny, but there was plenty of muscle on him, too. He wasn’t a light-weight, especially when his personal gyroscope was rocking all over the place. Keeping 10K upright was just as difficult as trying to propel him forward across the hardened furrows of the old field.

He was exhausted, ready to fall down himself, but the zombies trailing along behind them kept him going forward. Lie down and die. It was as simple and as complicated as that. They didn’t have any weapons, or food, or water. How long could they keep going?

10K was talking at him with desperate earnestness, as if he had to understand some Supremely Important Things. Normally, it was difficult to get the kid to speak at all; he took monosyllabic sentences to a whole new level of brevity. But not today. Today, he was positively chatty. If only he would make sense.

Sometimes, words filtered through the gibberish:

Cassandra… hurts…there’s nothing…always in my head…mercy…can’t think…can’t get at it….

And the number 5 wove through the nonsense several times. He had no idea what it meant, or if it meant anything at all.

The only thing he knew for certain was that the words told him the kid was in torment, but trying to calm those chaotic thoughts would take breath Doc didn’t have to spare. The zombies were a long way back, but they weren’t falling farther behind, either. And zombies were persistent hunters. Like a pack of wolves, they’d stay on their prey until sheer exhaustion brought it down, and then, just like a pack of wolves, they killed and feasted.

Doc wasn’t going to let that happen, not if he could keep his old, shaky legs moving forward.

They finally reached the tree line, but instead of seeking shelter, Doc deliberately paralleled the woods for almost a quarter mile before he turned around and retraced their steps. 10K nearly fell at the abrupt change in direction, but he managed to stay on his feet. He gave Doc a dirty look.

“Relax, kid, it’s all part of the plan.”

10K smiled suddenly. “False trail. Smart.”

“You’re the one who taught it to me.”

The smile widened. “Very smart.”

When they’d retraced most of their steps, Doc made a sharp turn into the forest. Their pace grew slower as the trees thickened, forcing many detours to get around them. At least 10K seemed to no longer need so much of Doc’s support; instead, he used tree trunks to keep his balance. But he looked as exhausted as Doc felt.

The struggle finally took its toll. Their legs gave out almost simultaneously, and they fell to their knees in a haphazard embrace. It took Doc a moment to untangle himself, but he finally had both of them sitting more comfortably on the ground. Anything else was beyond his strength at the moment.

10K looked ready to fall asleep, or maybe just pass out, but he rallied and looked anxiously at Doc. “Have to tell you,” he said urgently. “Important stuff.”

Doc tried to hush him. “Time to be quiet now, kid,” he whispered. “We don’t want the zombies to find us.”

“What?” 10K sounded alarmed. “Zombies? We have to save the puppies and kittens! Okay, maybe not the kittens, but – “

“10K, be quiet,” Doc interrupted as sharply as he dared. He couldn’t see through the trees to tell if the Zs had continued to follow the false trail he had laid, or if they were now entering the woods behind them.

10K was not to be dissuaded from his urgent need to talk, but he lowered his voiced obligingly. “Murphy. He’ll find us. He’s naked, but he’ll find us.”

Naked? Doc pondered this impossibility for a moment, then made a tentative connection. “That wasn’t Murphy. That was Liddy. He was in blue.”

10K appeared to be concentrating very hard on Doc’s words. “What’s Liddy? Why is it blue? Is it like Murphy?” The idea seemed to appall him.

Doc lowered his voice to the barest whisper. “No, Liddy is on a bus bound for Las Vegas with Elvis, Winona, and the rest of the band. He can’t hurt you.” He gripped 10K’s shoulders. “Now, will you please shut up?”

“Can’t,” 10K insisted, a little too loudly for Doc’s liking. “Too much to tell you. About miles and….” He looked frustrated that he couldn’t seem to find the words. Then he murmured hopelessly, “Miles. Five.”

Doc sighed. “Ah, kid.” Abruptly, he drew 10K against him in an effort to quell the mindless prattle.

“Your shirt smells funny,” 10K mumbled against his chest.

“And you’re no rosebud yourself,” he whispered back. “Why don’t you get some sleep now?”

“Yes,” 10K agreed drowsily. “Sleep.”

*****

Dawn’s pale glow filtered down through the trees. Doc opened his eyes slowly, suddenly remembered where he was, and abruptly tried to straighten up. Movement was not a good idea, he realized, as pain shot through his back and into his shoulders. He was lying awkwardly on the ground, 10K draped over him like a half-discarded blanket.

“Hey, kid, you awake?”

There was a slight shifting of the weight on top of him, then a faint, sleepy voice filled with bewilderment. “What are we doing?”

“Waking up.”

There was a pause. “Together?”

“Damnit, 10K, get off of me. I have cramps where I didn’t know I had muscles.”

10K rolled off him and flopped onto his back on the ground. “What happened?”

Doc moaned and groaned a bit as he straightened his crooked legs and tried to rearrange his body into a more comfortable position. “What do you remember?”

There was a much longer silence, until Doc thought 10K had fallen asleep again. Then, “Nothing. Weird stuff. None of it makes sense.” More silence followed before he added, “Story of my life lately.” He sounded resigned as he sat up.

Doc thought he looked worse than he had yesterday. “You look pretty whipped.”

“Feel worse.” 10K looked at him. “You?”

“If I feel this bad lying down, I’m afraid to try and sit up.”

10K struggled to his feet and swayed for a moment. “Okay,” he said once he’d found his balance. “Come on.” He held out his hands.

Doc looked at him for a moment, contemplating the wisdom of letting 10K help him. The odds were they’d both end up in a muddle on the ground. But he knew he had to get up sometime. They hadn’t been bothered by Zs during the night, thank goodness, but that didn’t mean they were out of danger. Movement was imperative. He accepted the offered help and stood up, although there was much grunting and pulling from both sides. A graceful rising it was not.

10K didn’t look inclined to move. “Now what? Where are we?”

“No idea,” Doc admitted. “We were both unconscious when we were taken to the asylum.”

An eyebrow rose fractionally. “Asylum?”

“For the criminally insane,” he finished. “Bunch of crazy people. The nurse got off on lobotomies.”

10K sighed. “Feel like I had one.”

“Well, you didn’t, and that’s the good news. You were unconscious and convulsing. I gave you some pretty heavy meds to try and help you.”

“Ah.” 10K wiggled a finger in front of his face. “That’s why there’s two of everything.”

“Probably, but we need to get moving.”

“Where?”

Doc shrugged. “West. You said Murphy’s in Spokane, so we’ll head that way and try to connect with Warren and the others.”

“Spokane,” 10K repeated dully. “I’ve been there.” He frowned. “I left. I can’t go back.”

Doc reached down and picked up the satchel 10K had been carrying. Now it also contained all the drugs Doc had scrounged from the Z Ward pharmacy at the asylum. He would have traded it all for a cup of coffee and a chance to sit down right about now. “I know, kid. Your head’s so messed up, you can’t even see straight. But we need to move, and Spokane is our best bet for finding Warren.” He placed a hand on 10K’s shoulder. “You up for this?”

10K nodded. “Let’s go.” He didn’t sound happy with the decision.

They put the rising sun to their backs and started walking.

*****

It was a long, hot, thirsty trek, and they were forced to stop several times to rest. Doc felt completely worn out from the day before, his whole body aching from supporting 10K so awkwardly. He noticed that 10K seemed to lose focus and check out occasionally, which he attributed to the drugs and whatever Murphy’s bite had done to him. It was hard to see him that way, without the energy and mental sharpness that were normal for him, as if he were a shadow of his former self.

Or maybe the kid was just thinking too damn much. Doc knew those disjointed verbal ramblings of the day before meant 10K’s head was not a fun place to be in right now.

During one of their rest stops, 10K suddenly said, “I can’t go to Spokane.”

“Can you tell me why not?” Doc kept his tone casual, but inside he was eager to learn anything he could about 10K’s condition and the strange hold Murphy had over him.

“You know why. This bite on my neck. He controls me.” 10K sounded more alert than he had all day. All the exercise must have been clearing the drugs out of his system.

“But how does it work?”

10K shook his head. “I don’t know. I fight him in my mind, and it hurts, but I still do whatever he tells me to do. I feel everything, but I can’t control what I do.”

Doc knew a lot about mind and brain interaction; he was, after all, a PhD in clinical psychology. He just hoped to hell he knew enough. “Give me an example.”

10K almost didn’t answer. Clearly, he was uncomfortable discussing something as personal as feelings. Then, finally, he said softly, “Murphy told me to kill someone. I got angry and told him I wouldn’t do it, and I kept telling him right up until I realized I was already pulling the trigger over and over again.” He looked Doc straight in the eye. “I’d go crazy inside my head trying to fight it, but I’d kill you if he told me to.”

Well, that was a disturbing thought, but Doc pushed it aside. “It doesn’t sound like some sort of hypnotic control. People can’t normally be forced to do something that violates their core beliefs. It has to be more than that.” He thought about it for a long time. “Sorry, kid, I got nothing. The worst thing I ever encountered in my practice was a fugue state – “

“What’s that?” 10K interrupted. He was clearly eager to assign a name to help define what was happening to him, because a problem known was a problem that could be solved. 10K was nothing if not a straightforward and pragmatic thinker.

“It’s a dissociative state, but it’s also very rare, and the person doesn’t usually remember his or her former self while in it. That’s not you.”

“I remember everything,” 10K admitted glumly.

“Yes, and that sounds like a particularly insidious, vicious type of torture.”

“That’s Murphy.”

Doc stretched to help loosen shoulder muscles that were tightening up again. They would have to start moving again soon, but he still had one last question. “You said he was raising an army. How do the others react to his control?”

10K scowled, his voice going flat. “Some probably don’t even know he’s controlling them. They think the vaccine makes them invisible to zombies. It makes them unafraid. They think they’d do anything for Murphy, but they don’t know that’s also how he controls them.”

“So it’s only when you try to fight his control that you’re in pain.”

“Yes.”

They sat silently for awhile, Doc desperately searching his memory for anything that might help 10K, but the kid needed more than a psychologist. He needed specialists in brain function, both physiologically and chemically. He needed some of those Nobel prize winners in physiology or medicine: the DNA decoders, the gene splicers, the visionaries who performed miracles at the molecular level. Maybe Merch could have done it; she’d created the original vaccine and the new blend variation Murphy needed to create his army of puppets. Maybe Sun Mei could figure it out, but it was well beyond his own scope of knowledge. Shit. He was useless. He’d always been useless. His most noteworthy achievements had been the Christmas cards he’s received from people he’d helped.

He looked down at the bag of meds at his feet. In there, he knew, were drugs that would help him forget all of his past failures, would boost his spirit, and lessen the guilt that sometimes engulfed him in a pit of dark loathing.

“We have to get moving, kid,” he said finally, tearing his eyes away from the source of his salvation.

10K looked at him, and Doc saw a hint of fear reflected in the gaze. “You can’t tell anyone about this. Just like you promised not to tell them about the bite.”

“10K – “

“No! It was the drugs you gave me, the drugs that made me tell you so much. You’re like my doctor, patient confidentiality stuff.” The kid dug into his pockets and pulled something out, offering it to him. “If I pay you, you can’t tell anyone what I said.”

Doc looked down at the pitiful offerings and felt his gut clench in sorrow. “I’m not your doctor, 10K. I’m your friend.”

10K continued to hold out his hand. Curiosity finally got the better of Doc, even though he understood he was deflecting his feelings, postponing having to deal with his own shortcomings. “Three paper clips, a dime, and a quarter. What’s with the change?”< /p>

“Screwdrivers, in a pinch.”

Of course. This was the 10K he knew and loved; the kid could see usefulness in even the most mundane of items. Sadly, he accepted the offered payment. “Okay, I’m your doctor.”

10K visibly relaxed. “Okay. Thanks.” After a moment, he added, “I know you’re my friend, too. I won’t forget that.”

“We still need to get going.” He started to climb painfully to his feet, then saw that 10K wasn’t making any move to get up. The fearful, haunted look hadn’t left his eyes. He relaxed again. “Something else?”

“Yes.”

He noticed 10K’s breathing had increased, could even see the pulse beating strongly in his neck. Stress, fight or flight, that last, desperate grasp at hope. He felt his own pulse spike. “What is it?”

“If the time comes, I want you to mercy me.”

There it was, a plea impossible for him to fulfill, the wall that could not be broken lest it destroy him. Dread, panic, sorrow, denial, and sympathy vied for dominance of his emotions. His had to take a deep breath before he could even speak. “I can’t do that.”

“I don’t want to know it’s coming,” 10K continued, not looking at him now but not willing to let it go. “And you have to do it, Doc. It has to be you.”

Doc closed his eyes and tried to summon some control over his raging emotions. He partially succeeded. “Why does it have to be me?” His tone was surprisingly calm. Probably shock. Or denial. You’ve always been good at denial. That sack of meds was looking better and better all the time.

10K looked at him now, his expression as neutral as a pebble on the ground. Doc knew that look, knew what it meant. The less emotion 10K showed, the more intense were his feelings. When those feelings reached his voice, the emotional balance had been tipped, and 10K was at his most vulnerable, afraid and alone and utterly helpless. And 10K’s voice sounded as if his words were pulled from the depths of hell itself. “Because I know if you do it, it’ll be the absolute only thing left to do. It won’t be about Murphy, or the mission, or anything else. It’ll be because you know there’s nothing that you or anyone else can do to save me.”

Shit. Doc could feel his eyes brimming with tears, but he didn’t look away from 10K’s shattered despair. Maybe the kid’s right. When everything else is gone, even hope, maybe mercy has to be the final answer. It took him a long time to work up the courage to speak. “Okay, kid, I promise. When there’s no hope left, I’ll do it. But I have to be the one to decide when that time comes.”

10K clearly didn’t like the caveat, but he finally nodded. “Deal.”

“Deal.” Doc climbed wearily to his feet. It was amazing how so much raw emotion could sap what little strength he had left. He picked up the satchel and swung the strap over his shoulder. “Come on.”

Obediently, 10K struggled up and followed him through the forest.

*****

Within a few hundred yards, they came to a paved two-lane. Intersecting it at a shallow angle meant they’d been practically paralleling it for several miles. Well, at least they’d been heading west; the sun was in front of them now, shining straight down the road into their eyes.

“At least walking will be easier,” Doc commented, trying to find something positive about a day that had been filled with nothing but turmoil.

10K didn’t even answer. He looked ready to drop from exhaustion, both mental and physical.

“Just a little more, kid,” Doc encouraged him. “We’ll stop again in awhile.” It would be the second night they spent without food or water, and by tomorrow it would all catch up to them; in twenty-four hours, give or take, they’d just lie down and die by the side of the road. The human body could take only so much punishment before shutting down. All the will-power in the world wouldn’t be able to sustain them if they didn’t find water soon.

Coulda happened sooner. All those heart-rung confessions and promises won’t be worth the 35-cents in my pocket by tomorrow. Why go through it if we only come to this?

A faint glimmer of something metallic shone several yards ahead. Something on the side of the road, off in a shallow ditch.

As always, Doc let curiosity override his dark thoughts. He just had to look.

The shiny bit turned out to be sun reflecting off an old shopping cart. It was dented and rusty in spots, but it was in one piece. Even more amazing, it had a small umbrella fastened to it. The umbrella was closed so that it had avoided most of the damage caused by tipping into the ditch. Maybe it still worked.

‘Maybe’ was all Doc needed. He climbed into the ditch and pulled the cart upright. It stayed in one piece. With more energy than he thought he had, he hauled it up onto the road and gave it a tentative push. One of the wheels was wonky, but it moved.

“Hey, 10K, come ‘ere,” he called enthusiastically. “We got ourselves some wheels.”

10K slowly walked over and eyed the cart suspiciously. “Wheels?”

“Yeah. Your limo awaits. Climb in.”

“I won’t fit.”

Doc’s good mood wouldn’t be dampened. “I’ll help you. You’re about done. You need some rest.”

“So do you,” 10K pointed out with relentless logic.

“True, but I have my second wind now. You can take over when you’re feeling better.” Not completely true, he knew, but a little lie for a good cause could be justified. He was still exhausted, but buoyed now with optimism, and 10K wouldn’t be feeling better any time soon. But what the hell, it was something.

It was awkward getting 10K’s lanky form into the shopping cart, and they almost tipped it over a time or two, but finally he was tucked inside, safe but most likely very uncomfortable. It didn’t stop him from dropping off to sleep almost immediately.

Doc opened the umbrella to see if it still worked. It flopped to one side. Part of the handle shaft was nearly broken through. Without hesitation, he reached into his pocket, produced the paper clips, unfolded them, and then used them to fasten the undamaged part of the handle to the side of the cart. He opened the umbrella again, and it stayed in place. With a grin, he angled it so shade covered most of his passenger’s face.

Then, he took a deep breath and looked down the long, empty road stretching ahead of him. If this wasn’t hope, he didn’t need a better definition of the word.

He began to push.

The End

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