He always looked both ways. Always, always, always, just like Gram said. It was her number one rule. But he was at the bottom of a hill just large enough to hide a car on the other side, and the sun was weird this late in the day. His favorite toy ambulance – one of eleven he had collected, flew from his hand and cracked the windshield of the Chevy Lumina that struck him. He felt only a snap of pain, but heard his own ribs cracking under the left front tire. He was asleep before the back tire hit.
Eric Williams was pronounced dead at 4:47 p.m. on October 10, 1997. He was five years old, and he would soon think of it as the best day of his life.
Welcome to Magic Weirdos — an audio fiction series about arcane goofballs and their many many problems. You’re listening to season one: Pockets.
Chapter 10: When Our Angels and Our Demons Drink Together.
Eric’s tiny body lay under a plastic sheet, in an ambulance that was no longer speeding. There were two emergency responders in the back with him. One was a young woman named Celia. The other was an older man named Hank. Hank had been an EMT for twenty-two years, and he had only seen one thing that upset him more than the sight of Eric’s body, although he’d never said it out loud for anyone to know it. After this, he would apologize to his estranged son and son-in-law. Eventually, he would have a relationship with his grandchild. Celia, however, had been in this line of work for six months, and this was her first time seeing a dead child. Later, she would call her clingy ex-boyfriend and ask him to come over and pet her head while she cried into his lap. She’d ask him to have sex. They would do so twice; the second time accidentally conceiving a baby girl. Celia would decide a quick chat about boundaries would be worth the discomfort, and her daughter would grow up in a home bursting at the eaves with love.
But these stories are tangential to Eric’s. Additional weaves of thread in his quilt that he’d never even know or wonder about – because he never saw Hank or Celia. When Eric came to in the back of that ambulance, what he saw was another child standing to the side of his gurney. She had brown skin and black hair that hung to her shoulders, and she wore blue scrubs.
“Hi, Eric,” she said. She smiled, but she looked like she might cry.
“Woah. Where am I?” Eric asked.
“That’s a bit more complicated than we have time for,” the girl said.
“Why do you talk like that?”
“I dunno. Like a grownup?”
“That’s… also a bit more complicated than we have time for.”
Eric sat up, and the girl handed him the toy ambulance that he’d run into the street to retrieve.
“Thanks. What’s your name?”
“What do you think my name is?”
“Florence,” Eric responded without thinking. He didn’t know why. She just… felt like Florence.
She smiled. “That means to flourish. It’s already my favorite name anyone has given me.”
Eric screwed his face up in confusion but didn’t ask her to elaborate. “Where’s my grandma?” he asked.
“I’m afraid she wasn’t allowed to ride with you. Eric…” she put a hand on his. “You’ve died, Eric.”
“Well that sucks a butt,” Eric said. He wiped a smudge of dried blood from his toy ambulance. He patted at his chest but didn’t feel any pain, or any bones protruding from places they shouldn’t be.
“I have a few questions for you, Eric.”
Eric shrugged and flicked the squeaky wheel of his ambulance. “I guess I got time.”
“What’s the last thing you remember?” Florence asked, sitting at his side.
“I was playing. My ambulance rolled into the street so I went to get it.”
“What were you playing?”
“Well, it’s complicated. My imaginary friend Jimbob accidentally ate a bunch of snake butthole poison so I had to get him to the hospital pronto.”
Florence covered her mouth in despair. “Snake butthole poison?”
“I know! If the poison from their teeth can kill you, then…”
[Both speaking at the same time] “Imagine what their butthole poison can do.”
Eric relished the excited flutter of blossoming friendship for the first time in his young life. “If I’m dead, are you dead too? Does that make you my new imaginary friend?”
Florence giggled. “I’m not imaginary.”
The doors to the ambulance opened and flooded the hold with buttery pinkish light from the setting sun. The second they did, the air in front of Eric quivered like ripples on a flat lake. Through the ripples, he saw his gurney moving, and felt himself and Florence moving with it. On the other side of the ripples there was a sense of heaviness. He closed his eyes and shook his head, as though he were blinking away sleep. The ripples faded, but the gurney continued to roll on its own, carrying Florence and himself through sliding doors and into the halls of an empty hospital.
Florence continued. “And you’re not really dead. At least, not for long.”
“Oh. Okay,” Eric nodded, but quickly saw a problem. “When I’m not dead, will you still be here?”
“That depends. Do you want me to be?”
Eric blushed. “Yes.”
“You have the soul of a true healer, Eric. You could help a lot of people.”
“I wanna be a doctor. Well. If I don’t die, anyways.”
Eric heard a drawer open, then felt himself being lifted and slid inside. A latch snapped. He lay in darkness.
Florence held out her hands. Through her wrists and palms, where veins should have been, soft blue light pulsed with her heartbeat, illuminating the underside of both of their faces. “I can give you something special that will make you the best doctor in the world. But I need you to make a promise.”
“I’m the best at keeping promises. And secrets.”
“Good, because this has to stay between you and me. I need you to promise that you’ll never hurt another human being on purpose. Can you do that?”
“OH! That’s easy,” Eric proclaimed. “I never wanna hurt anybody anyways. I thought you were gonna ask me not to poot when I sleep in Gram’s bed, and that’s not a promise I can keep.”
Florence giggled and bopped him on the nose. A tingle of warmth washed across his face, and, from nowhere, a diamond stud appeared in his nostril. The light from her hands faded, and Eric found himself sitting in the dark.
“It’s warm,” he said.
“It’s how you’ll know I’m with you.”
With a click and a swing, the darkness of the drawer Eric had been placed in was lit with a sterile florescence. He discovered, only now, that he was naked. He sat up and pulled the thin, stiff sheet to his chin.
Several strangers screamed. One man fell backwards across someone on a table who was much deader than Eric. Gram was there too, but she fell on the floor before he could say hi to her.
“Where’s my clothes?” he asked, shivering. “It’s colder than Christmas in here!” he said.
“FUCK!” Cooper yelled, as the tires roared over the warning grates etched into the pavement. Rubber burned and squealed as he swerved back onto the empty two-lane highway. “Sorry, team,” he gasped. “I think fourteen hours is nearing my personal driving limit for a single day.”
“So pull over,” Hazel said, not looking up from the pricing gun they’d stolen from Gillco. She’d managed to entertain herself with it for hours – plastering sixty-nine cent price labels on any flat surface in the van.
SFX: [Metallic tapping]
“She’s ready to come back in,” Hazel said, rolling down the window. She stuck her arm out into the cold breeze. When she pulled it back in, a golden owl was perched on her wrist. Giselle climbed over her shoulders and into the hold of the van before morphing back into her human form.
“Getting drowsy, are we?” She smirked, settling into a slouched pose against a stack of cardboard boxes.
“I wouldn’t mind a nap…”
“I can take over,” Eric said, eager to shift his focus.
SFX: [Paper noises]
“Hang on,” Giselle said, sifting through papers from the stolen Gillco file. “I just saw lights a few miles north. There’s no town on any map I’ve seen, but I feel like… huh.” Befuddled, she slid a sheet of paper to Eric, who read it from the backlight of his phone.
“Neutral zone?” he asked. “It’s fucking small. Only a couple of square miles.”
“Neautral from what?” Hazel asked.
“Seems like something we should find out while we’re in the area, no? Have you got a few more miles in you, Coop?”
Cooper didn’t respond. At least, not verbally. Everyone in the van jumped and covered their ears to no avail when the sound of a metal guitar solo penetrated their brains. The cabin was flushed with freezing wind from the windows and chilled air from the AC vent. “IF I HAVE TO STAY AWAKE, SO DO YOU.” Cooper yelled.
No longer alone in his cell, Aiden alternated between staring and screaming for nearly a full minute. The small toy robot eventually sat cross-legged on the floor, patiently waiting for him to finish. Eventually, his voice cracked. He coughed to clear the rasp of screaming from his throat, but said nothing.
SFX: Robot “You okay, there, pal?” The robot asked.
“What did you say?” Aiden choked.
SFX: Robot “I said you’re in a real fuckin’ mess, aren’t you?”
Aiden dropped to his hands and knees, examining the thing like a botanist might study an unknown species of jungle flower. Only this discovery was wildly familiar. Every button, every hinge, every blinking light, every plastic scratch was a precise mirror of the toy robot he’d gotten for Christmas as a child.
“Robo-Quaintance?” He whispered.
SFX: Robot “The one and only!”
“You didn’t used to say ‘fuck’, though.”
SFX: Robot “Neither did you!”
“This is impossible. My older cousin zip-tied you to a drone and shot you out of the sky with a 12-gauge for his YouTube channel.”
SFX: Robot “Jesus CHRIST, kid, that’s brutal.”
“Yeah, I think he’s on a couple government watchlists now. But that ain’t the point. That was five years ago and in another dimension. What are you?”
SFX: Robot “Alright, kid, I’ll cut the schtick. I'm actually a banished demon lord here to exploit your power and offer you freedom! That make you feel better?”
Aiden shook his head. “Um… naw, not really.”
SFX: Robot “It's pretty straightforward. You're powerful as hell, but in a shitty situation! I've come to you as a figure from a simpler time in your life so you could never find me to be threatening! Is it working?”
Aiden shook his head. “Um… naw, not really.”
The robot smiled. Actually smiled. His eyes narrowed, and something like cheekbones raised into the sockets where blinking lights alternated red and white. The stickers for his shirt buttons and necktie were faded and peeling in all the same places they had been the last time Aiden had seen his old favorite toy. Robo-Quaintance waddled toward the plastic fixture that served as the cell’s toilet and climbed awkwardly onto the back of it, his legs dangling like a child climbing onto a playground platform.
SFX: Robot “That’s okay! Nobody ever says yes the first time. But you will.”
Aiden shook his head. “Naw I don’t… I don’t really think I will?”
With that, Robo-Quaintance leaped with the deft athleticism of a flying squirrel and affixed himself to Aiden’s shirt – which was still bloodied and ripped from his encounter with a desert chicken.
SFX: Robot Sure you will. Because as much as things suck for you now, the shit hasn't even remotely hit the fan. And just you wait until it does, because then? Then! Then I won’t seem quite so scary.”
By the time Aiden had worked up the courage to grab and throw the creature into the cell wall, Robo-Quaintance had blinked away to someplace else.
[MUSIC: unsettling, mysterious]
The Possums R Us van bounced over a pothole the size of a kitten’s grave, tipping over a tower of boxes as the paved road gave way to a dirt street. There was a wooden sign that read “New Tropeton: Neutral to them, new trails to us.”
There were no cars on the street. Squat buildings lined each side like an old west town, but with a record store and a donut shop. A single traffic light blinked red at the town’s only intersection, and a young woman in leggings and an open denim jacket played a flute and danced in rhythm with the light’s electric hum.
When she caught sight of the van, she stopped playing and sprinted alongside, shouting into the window as Cooper drove.
[SFX: Flute jam]
“Newcomers, here? Tonight of all nights? The New Tropeton Inn has enough to delight! Comfy beds for fuckin’ or sleepin’, Flahm and Frost’ll make drinks that keep you from weepin’!”
“I’m so sorry you’re really talented but I don’t have any cash!” Cooper shouted in her face as he sped away from her.
[SFX: Engine rev]
The van came to a stop in front of a log building that read “New Tropeton Inn”.
“Please don’t make me be awake anymore,” Cooper pleaded.
“Come on, sleepy boy,” Hazel said, scritching his hair like a dog. “Let’s lay that weary head to rest.”
As Giselle pulled open the door to the Inn, Eric stopped it. “Let’s not forget… Gillco had this place on file for a reason. We have to stay low. No magic, no healing, nothing. We have to stay invisible.”
“We know, Dad, God.” Hazel said, shoving the door open.
On the other side of the threshold sat a scene unlike anything any of them could have imagined. Booths and tables full of people were scattered throughout a saloon-style bar. A man in overalls lit a cigar with a flame from his throat. Two women sat in midair at a floating table, arm wrestling. Two bartenders – a one with a bright red pixie cut and another with a cool blue mullet, eyebrows, and goatee, mixed drinks using blasts of fire and ice from their hands. A talking parrot swinging from a light fixture sang “Peaches”, punctuating each line with a loud squawk.
“Invisible,” Hazel repeated. “Got it.”
Giselle felt eyes on them as they walked toward the bar. “I don’t know about you all… but I have questions about this ‘neutral zone’ we’ve found ourselves in.”
SFX: Crossbow click
A bolt from a crossbow sailed from the back corner of the tavern, directly toward Hazel’s head. As quickly as he could, Cooper lifted a hand. The bolt pierced the flesh and bone of his palm and the arrow – covered in gore – stopped a milimeter from Hazel’s left eye.
SFX: Piercing flesh
Cooper examined the wound. “Ow…” he said, before fainting in a heap. The commotion in the bar ceased altogether, and every patron arose and surrounded them.
SFX: Wooden footsteps
The man with the crossbow forced his way through the crowd. He was pale white, in his mid fifties. He had a curly grey ponytail and wore leather gloves. He slung his weapon across his back, and pulled off a glove. He then bit a chunk of skin off of his own finger, pinched it, and watched with slow pleasure as a droplet of blood grew. He smeared it into the opposite palm, like a gruesome painter’s palette. “I think, maybe, the four of you don’t know where you are. Strangers aren’t safe… not for us. But don’t worry. Next thing you know, you’ll be back on the road. His hand won’t have a scratch, and you’ll be looking for the next Best Western, just like you were before.”
The man knelt by Cooper and smeared a stripe of blood across his forehead. Eric, in a fit of defense and rage, shoved the man over, drew on his vape pen, and breathed a healing cloud onto Cooper. The mob jolted, attempting to restrain him.
“Wait,” said the man with leather gloves.
Cooper’s flesh closed with enough force to snap the crossbow bolt in half, forcing it out like white cells on a virus. His eyes fluttered. “Whoever did that… I forgive you,” he groaned.
“A lot less of a stranger than I thought,” the man with the gloves said. He snapped his fingers, and the self-inflicted bite would healed in a pulse of blue. “Who taught you about verbanum? Why not just do it the easy way?”
Eric helped Cooper to his feet, wrapped an arm around his shoulder, and walked with him to the bar, shoving the man out of the way. The rest of the group followed.
“Easy way stopped being easy a long fucking time ago,” he grunted.
“Agh!” Gram said, dropping the knife and clutching her right hand, the palm of which she had just slashed open. “Eric?” She called into the next room, where he was watching cartoons. “Can you bring me the medicine box?”
“What happened?” He asked, rushing to her side. His fingers were covered in cheese dust from a tub of puff balls the size of his torso. “Were you cutting potatoes the dangerous way again?”
“As I say,” Gram said with a wince and a smirk. “Not as I do.”
“Here,” said Eric, extending his smudgy hands to hers.
“Stop it, sweetheart, you’ll get blood on your school clothes.”
But before she was able to pull away from him, a soft blue glow touched her skin, like the beam of a flashlight shining through cartilage. A sharp breath caught somewhere between her chest and her throat. When he removed his hands, there was no blood. No light. No gash. Just cheese dust and grease. She shuffled to the kitchen table and pulled a chair out, but only leaned on it.
“Eric?” She said. “Tell me the truth. When you got hit by that ambulance, where did you go?”
“I think I was still here,” he said. “Just kinda sideways, like I was dreaming.”
“Did you come back to me as an angel?”
“Nope!” he responded. He sprinted back to his cheese balls. “I think I may have met one, though.”
“I’ll bet you did…” whispered gram, rubbing her palm. “Have you seen an angel since?”
Eric shot a questioning glance to Florence, who lay on her belly beside him with her head cradled in her hands, giggling with Eric at the antics of Yakko, Whacko and Dot. She shook her head.
“No,” he said. “Not since I was in the ambulance.” Florence nodded her approval, then grabbed a handful of cheese balls for herself.
For nearly twenty years, Florence and Eric were nigh inseparable. She never was away from him for more than a few hours at a time. Gram and his teachers stayed in a state of perplexion at how a boy with no friends could be so content – so well-adjusted. The pair quickly adapted systems to keep their secret friendship safe. He never spoke of her, and he was always cautious to not be heard speaking to her.
All the while, she grew stronger as he did. What started with a kitchen accident and gram’s palm quickly escalated. Eric was always nearby any time there was an accident or a fight at school. At first he was afraid that someone he healed would ask too many questions to keep up the secret. When he mentioned this to Florence, she narrowed her eyes in the way she always did when she was about to say something more grownup than she looked.
“I saved your life. Are you eager to tell on me?”
“No way,” he recoiled. “You’re my best friend.”
“Try not to expect the worst in people. When you do, they’ll soon get the worst from you.”
Then a small giggle, and she became a child once more. “And you’re my best friend, too.”
Florence grew with him, both in strength and in age. Or, at least, in apparent age. Childhood and playground accidents evolved into adolescence. With it came the power to heal broken bones instead of black eyes. Internal bleeding instead of chipped teeth. As soon as Eric was old enough to legally do so, he joined the volunteer fire department. There, he began to see the true chaos and cruelty of life. Car accidents, illness, domestic violence and even murder. Any time he found himself overwhelmed… any time his abilities weren’t enough… he felt a hand on his shoulder and the warmth of the diamond in his nose.
As the years went on, his strength only grew, as did the connection between them. At some point around seventeen, on one of a million nights just like it when they sat alone together with the TV, he found himself with the strong desire to kiss her. She knew. He knew she knew. But she made him ask.
Eventually, he did.
And they did.
During college and pre-med, Gram’s memory started to waver. It quickly progressed beyond missed appointments and misspoken names. It came to a head one day, in the span of four truly terrible hours. Eric got a call from a stranger – the caretaker at the cemetery where Gramps was buried. She’d gotten lost and had become hysterical. That afternoon, she would fail a dementia test, and Eric would fail the organic chemistry midterm that would keep him out of medical school.
That night, he wept into Florence’s lap. Heaving, violent sobs that shook the walls. She stroked his head and wiped his tears. After two wordless hours, he looked up at her. “We’re forever, at least. Right?” he asked pitifully. It felt like an odd thing to say, but it was the only way he could think of to speak what was on his mind.
“Would you like us to be?” she asked.
“It’s all I want,” he cried.
There, on the tear-stained sheets of a dorm room twin bed, they surrendered to each other completely. Until sunrise, the god and the healer worshipped each other. Kissing and praying to never let go. Crying and laughing in euphoric awkwardness. Giving. Taking. Tasting. Holding. Clutching. Cherishing one another until at last they slept with their limbs still tangled. With Eric still inside her temple.
In lieu of a PhD, Eric quickly finished a nursing program and began working nights. This didn’t bother him in the least. As a matter of fact, it was preferable, as it allowed him to spend precious hours of lucidity with Gram. Her confusion got worse at night. Inevitably, toward the end of each visit, her eyes would gloss over behind her glasses. She’d look at Eric and stammer. “Darryl?” She’d say with a quivering lip. “Is that you?”
Eric would shake his head and put his hand on hers. “No gram. It’s me. Gramps has been gone for awhile, now.” A glow of blue. A blink. A frown of remembrance. Then they would mourn together before Gram asked to be helped into bed.
When Gram had to move into a nursing facility, he tried to no avail to get a job at her new home. He worked from midnight to noon, stayed with her until after dinner, then spent a few hours with a police scanner to lend his aid. After a few years with four hours of sleep – of mourning in real time – the call came that he’d been dreading. The “I’m-so-sorry-she’s-comfortable-it’s-only-a matter-of-time-now,” call.
He rushed to her bedside and grabbed her hand. She stared at the blue glow, blanky. “Darryl? What’s wrong with your hands?” she asked.
“Gram… it’s me,” Eric said. “It’s Eric.”
Oh, that’s right. Eric. Eric,” she nodded. “And whose boy are you, again?”
Eric closed his eyes to stop the tears. “Just rest, Gram,” he choked. “Just rest.” He crammed her hand and his under her bedsheet, where no one could see the constant glow.
“Eric…” Florence said, gently. “I think you know what this means.”
He only shook his head.
“I can only help you heal mortals. But they’re still… mortal.”
“Now’s not the time for a fucking sermon,” he snapped. “I’m sorry. Just… I’m not ready to let go yet.” He brushed a curly grey lock from Gram’s face. When he turned his head, Florence’s physical body was gone. But the stud in his nose was warm, as was the light pulsing from his hands.
He stayed at her bedside for forty-two hours, clenching her hand and hiding the glow from the nurses that came and went. He only left to use the restroom a handful of times. Each time he did, the heart rate monitor beeped more slowly than it had before.
SFX: Heart rate monitor
The nurses begged him to step outside so they could change and bathe her, but he refused… going as far as to shout at them more than once.
Eventually, a doctor and two nurses, all male, entered the room. The doctor was a tall, skinny man in his fifties. The nurses were brawny and looming like bouncers, arms bulging under their scrubs from years of lifting uncooperative bodies. The doctor spoke with sternness. “Mr. Williams,” he said. “I understand what you’re going through, but you have to let us change her.”
“You don’t have any fucking clue what I’m going through,” Eric whispered.
“I’m afraid we have to insist.” As the doctor spoke, the nurses swooped down in on him like vultures. They clenched his arms on either side and pulled him back. He thrashed and kicked at them, holding to her hand for dear life and watching helplessly as her IV tube dangled. He felt her hand slip from his.
SFX: Heart rate monitor flatlining
“NO!” he shouted, writhing his way out of the nurses’ grasp, and rushed to her side. “GRAM! GRAM!” He grabbed her face, extending his power outward to her, like a lifeguard’s hand to a drowning child. She didn’t take it. The blue glow bounced off her skin.
His breath sharp and hot with rage, he turned on the doctor.
“YOU FUCKING KILLED HER!” he shouted, punching the man square in the mouth.
A blue glare filled the room as Eric’s fist made contact with lips and teeth. The doctor stumbled backward and slammed into the television stand, sending it to the floor with a crash. The light was gone as quickly as a camera flash, and an overwhelming coldness settled in Eric’s veins.
“I’m so sorry…” he said, offering his hand to the doctor. “My God, I’m so sorry.”
The Doctor grabbed Eric’s hand. But when he did, there was no blue glow. His lips still bled. His eyes still watered.
“No. No no no no,” said Eric, looking between his hands and the cooling body of his dead grandmother. “She’s gone.”
This concludes chapter 10 of Pockets. Thank you for listening. Magic Weirdos is an independent production with limited resources, so word of mouth is essential to the show’s success. If you like what you hear, please consider sharing the show with your friends and family.
Thanks again. And stay weird. The world depends on it.