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ParaV:Chapter 1 - Meeting Miss Doolittle (polish phase)

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Vance Coreman wakes after an assassination attempt without his memory in a bathtub full of ice water and a strange woman standing over him. Trapped in a version of the 1940s inhabited by angels and demons, Coreman is driven to action by events set in motion prior to his memory loss. Plagued with strange visions, Coreman sets off across the dual city seeking clues to his past and who wants him dead. (e)

Warning: This is a work in progress. -- Fritz.

Chapter 1 — Meeting Miss Doolittle

I fumbled to awareness shivering. Ringing filled the lightless abyss of my existence. The sound grew closer until I realized it had been inside me all along.

It’s cold. drifted through my mind for an age before it collided with It’s dark. Locked together, they both sank into the depths.

I willed my eyes to open. A red glare seemed to singe its way along my optic nerves to flood my brain with acid fire. I squeezed them shut with a moan.

As if the burning red light had melted the layer of ice that locked my mind away from my body, feeling flooded in. I tried to sort through it all. My skin and all my muscles clamored for relief from the cold.

Something methodical in me sorted through and cataloged the perceptions clamoring for my attention. The ringing in my ears continued. Uncontrollable shivering shook my limbs. My muscles ached as quivering waves of pain crawled up my back.

I shuffled through the sensory reports looking for meaning.

I was fully clothed and floating face up in water to my chin. Ice cubes jostled my cheeks and lips. I drew in a lungful of moist air, pungent with a complex chemical reek. Some clinical part of my mind decided it was a mixture of sulfur, ozone, with a hint of smoke.

I groped around with fingers swollen and water logged, muscles trembling. I felt a ceramic surface several inches below me. I traced it outward in both directions. The cold ceramic started to curve upward, and I deduced that I was in a large tub of some kind.

A woman’s voice drifted down from somewhere above me. It slipped through the ringing and insinuate itself into my awareness. “Are you going to laze around in there all day, Mr. Coreman?”

It took too much effort to answer, so I ignored her and hoped that she, like the pounding in my skull, would go away and leave me alone to shiver in silence.

As I floated, chill in the hazy embrace of pain, the sound of water pouring down onto a hard surface and the distant gurgling of drain filled a space in the ringing that the woman’s voice had left. The sides of the tub pressed against my hands, and I realized that it was shrinking. The leaden fatigue filling my limbs extinguished the spark of curiosity even before my back settled onto the bottom and my knees breached the surface of the water. I was thankful when the sound of splashing stopped, easing the pain of my throbbing headache. It seemed that the tub was no longer shrinking.

Only the slowly fading ringing filled my ears for an indeterminately long moment and I began to hope that the irritating presence of the woman was gone.

I was disappointed when I heard an exasperated sound halfway between a sigh and a tsk. “Really, Mr. Coreman, I have been more than patient with you. There are things you need to do.”

I refused to open my eyes or acknowledge her presence. Despite my best effort at trying to think of nothing, after a second or two, my mind began to grope, like my fingers, swollen and clumsy from the pain, trying to find the shape of who I was and how I had come to be there.

“Mr. Coreman,” she said, her voice clearer as the ringing continued to diminish. “This is beyond your usual games. Get out of that bathtub.”

Was she talking to me? Was I this Mr. Coreman that irritated her so? How many people could there be in tubs? I tried to remember my name, but nothing came to me. Everything before the darkness and chill water of the tub was gone. I knew something should be there, inside the hollow—no, empty chasm that was my past.

I cracked my eyes open again, the pain in my skull only incrementally increased with the glare of red light. After a moment I saw that, sure enough, I was floating fully clothed almost entirely submerged in a bathtub full of water, a slim layer of dying ice cubes jostled on the surface like the lonely remains of a gin and tonic.

“Mrs. Grimnir is scheduled to arrive for a consultation at 3:30. That’s in thirty-eight minutes,” the woman said.

My eyes focused on the figure seated on the edge of the tub near where my knees rose above the surface of the icy water. She was dressed in a black and white—at least I think it was black and white, as it was difficult to distinguish what the real colors were in the red light—striped pant suit, the jacket tightly cinched at her waist by a black belt with a large, plain rectangular silver buckle. To top it off, perched on her head was a black and white striped hat shaped like a paper boat. It had a matching black band and silver buckle. The hair under the flaring hat was long, black, and wavy. Her face was pale in the red light, lips pursed in obvious frustration. I blinked to make sure, but yes, there seemed to be two small horns poking through the hair sweeping over her forehead.

“Are you talking to me?” I said, still hoping we were both mistaken. My voice was a barely legible croak.

She made the exasperated tsking sound again. I thought I saw something long and thin flick through the air behind her. Did she have a tail? “Of course I’m talking to you, Mr. Coreman. Do you see anyone else in this shabby excuse for a bathroom?”

“Oh,” I said. The pain in my head seemed to be receding from the enthusiasm of a road crew with a fondness for jackhammers to a more manageable buzzing of a disturbed bee hive.

“‘Oh’?” she echoed. “I would ask you if you were feeling up to seeing Mrs. Grimnir, but since you are already several months behind in your rent, not to mention my salary, I don’t think you have any choice in the matter.”

She seemed certain of my identity. “Fine,” I said, wishing I knew something, anything, that would help me argue her into allowing me a few more minutes of repose.

She uncrossed her legs and stood as I stirred, preparing myself for the effort of climbing out of the tub. “Wait,” I said fearing she was going to leave me, “Miss—?”

A look of mild puzzlement crossed her face. “Doolittle,” she said. “Audrey Doolittle.”

“Miss Doolittle,” I said, trying it out. “Audrey Doolittle.” There wasn’t a hint or echo in my mind to accompany the name.

“Yes, Mr. Coreman?”

“It’s nice to meet you,” I said. “I’m...” I stopped, not knowing how to continue.

“Really, Mr. Coreman,” Miss Doolittle said. “Is this some sort of joke? I’ve been your secretary for the past fifteen years.”

“Well,” I said, wondering as I spoke why I was being so candid with this woman. “I hate to break it to you, Miss Audrey Doolittle, but I don’t remember the past fifteen years, or, for that matter—” With an effort, I waved in an attempt to encompass the room and emphasize my point, but only managed to splash the water and ice about a bit. “—anything before waking up here.”

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