‘Numb,’ a Short Story

“I don’t know what’s wrong with my legs,” Larry Ingbert said on the phone to his colleague, Burt Lickert. “They’ve been feeling numb at the feet, and sore and stiff from the ankles, ever since yesterday evening, not too long after we had drinks in the Lucky Seven pub.”

“Wow, that’s too bad,” Burt said. “i hope you get better soon. Do you think you’ll be able to come to work tomorrow?”

“Only if my legs get better,” Larry said. “It’s a real effort just to stand, walk over to the kitchen for something to eat, or go to the bathroom to use the can. This soreness: it was only a little bad last night, but when I got up today, it was much worse. There’s been no sign of improvement.”

“You know, Birch Wass isn’t very patient with employees calling in sick and staying off work for a long time,” Burt said. “But I’ll say whatever I can to keep him from finding someone to replace you. I can’t promise anything, but I’ll try.”

“Thanks. While I’m gone, can you talk to the others in the office and get their opinions on my idea about forming a union? You told me you don’t agree with it, when we had drinks, but can you at least toss the idea around to them?”

“I don’t know, Larry. Maybe. As I told you then, Birch would replace us all in a second if we tried something like that. Why can’t you just be content with what you have?”

“Because we have far too little; you know that.”

“So? Work hard enough, impress Birch, and get a promotion. Boom! More pay. That’s what I’m hoping to do.”

“Yeah, just be a better wage slave, so Birch makes more money.”

“Larry, that kind of commie talk will get us all fired. Stop it. We don’t need to rock the boat.”

“Burt, if we don’t rock the boat, we’ll never…”

“Look, just get some rest, OK? Take a pill or two. I hope we see you in the office tomorrow.”

They hung up.

Larry rose to his feet slowly and with a loud grunt of effort. He plodded, groaning with each step, over to his bedroom and dropped his phone on the bed. Then, he turned with great effort and another loud groan, and plodded back to his living room, where his laptop sat on his coffee table.

I suppose that if I moved around a lot, this numbness and soreness would gradually go away, he thought. But it’s so damn uncomfortable. Resting feels so much better. He reached his sofa and turned on his computer.

He brought his ass down on the sofa with another groan of pain, the stiffness all the way from his feet to his waist. He checked his notifications on Facebook.

He picked up the laptop and put it on the flat, wide armrest on the left side of his sofa. That way, he could put his feet up on the coffee table. Raising his feet up like that always took the pressure off of them, and therefore he could get a rest from the soreness.

He scrolled down his Facebook home page and looked at all the memes. He clicked ‘like,’ ‘love,’ or ‘laugh’ on all the cute and funny memes, but he had an itchy ‘share’ finger for all the political ones.

The political memes that were of interest to Larry were naturally of a sort in keeping with his desire to set up a union at work. He shared memes opposing American plans for war with Russia and China, memes opposing telling poor people to stop buying ‘unnecessary’ items rather than paying poor people better wages, and articles about how to learn from history’s successful leftist revolutions. Apart from pushing to form a union at work, though, the sharing of such memes and articles as these were the bulk of Larry’s ‘activism.’

After a few hours of scrolling, ‘liking,’ and sharing more memes and articles, he felt it was time to pee. He took a deep breath and braced himself for what he know would be a great difficulty in getting up.

There was no more stiffness or soreness in his legs.

In fact, there was no feeling in them at all.

The stiffness and soreness were all in his back now, as well as nausea in his gut.

When he tried to rise to his feet, the lack of feeling in his legs meant he felt no power to control them. And putting the strength in his arms to move himself put great pain in that stiff, sore back of his.

He fell to the floor with a grunt of pain.

Now his heart was pounding fast.

I can’t move my legs, he thought. Except for my bladder, I can feel nothing from the waist down. I’m fucking paralyzed!

It took all of his strength to use his arms to pull his body weight across the floor to the bathroom. The pain in his back was awful, but the discomfort in his bladder was greater. Besides, what if he pissed his pants?

It was a good thing that he lifted weights regularly. His muscular upper half was strong enough to pull the weight of his whole body on the floor from his living room all the way to the bathroom.

He grunted with every pull his arms gave to his body. When he finally got into the bathroom, his head right by the toilet porcelain, he stopped to rest and take several deep breaths. Lifting himself up would be agony.

It was indeed agony, but he managed it. He got his numb ass on the seat and didn’t even crack the plastic. The piss came out with a groan of relief from his frowning mouth.

When he was finished, he flushed and leaned towards the open doorway, and he fell to the floor with a thud and a grunt of pain. Wait, he thought as he pulled up his pants. If I’m gonna continue to feel this way, I’d better get my phone from my bedroom. Fuck! He crawled back there. Luckily, when he’d put his phone on his bed, it was sitting right at the edge, so he could just reach up and get it will minimal difficulty.

Then he pulled his body around to point towards the bedroom door, and crawled back, groaning the whole time, to the living room and to his laptop. He brought it down from the sofa’s armrest and lay it on the floor in front of him, right beside his phone.

There was an instant message from a colleague, one of the few he’d talked to about forming a union.

“Alright!” Larry said, then clicked the message to read it. Would the colleague agree to the union idea?

Not.

“Sorry, Larry,” the message said. “As beneficial as a union would be for us, I don’t want to risk Birch firing me. You know how he is. If you can get enough of the rest of the staff to agree, though, I might change my mind.”

Larry sighed and typed “OK” in reply to the message.

Then, exhausted from all that crawling and pulling himself, he fell asleep on the floor for a few hours.

When he woke up, he felt soreness and stiffness from the neck down to his chest…and from there down, only numbness.

“Oh, my God!” he gasped.

His cellphone rang. He picked it up.

“Hello?” he said weakly.

“Larry?” Burt said. “You sound awful!”

“It’s gotten worse, Burt,” Larry said. “I feel nothing…from the chest down, and all soreness…from my neck…to my chest.”

“Holy shit!” Burt said. “You need to see a doctor.”

“No doctors! I hate them. Undressing me…and feeling me up.”

“Look, I’m busy at the moment, but I can come over in a couple of hours, OK? You shouldn’t be left alone the way you are now. Do you have any other symptoms?”

“No, just like I feel…like I wanna…sleep all the time.”

“I’ll come over in two or three hours,” Burt said. “But wait: you won’t be able to get to the door, will you?”

“It’s unlocked,” Larry moaned. “Just walk in.”

“OK, but that isn’t very safe, man. A thief could come in and rob you while you’re all helpless like that.”

“I have…greater worries at the moment. In a few hours.”

“Yeah, see you then.” Burt hung up.

Larry put his phone back by his laptop. He resumed scrolling through Facebook. He found memes on the conflict between Russia and Ukraine; he shared those that opposed the Azov Battalion. He also shared memes of Nadezhda Krupskaya, Che Guevara, Patrice Lumumba, and Thomas Sankara.

Then he got drowsy and fell asleep again.

A few hours later, he felt a hand shaking his head. He opened his eyes and saw no one in front of him. Since he was still lying on the floor, he figured he’d at least see feet by his face, but no one was there. I must have imagined the hand on my head while I was dreaming, he thought.

Then he tried moving, to get himself off the floor.

He couldn’t.

Now he felt nothing from the neck down.

The pain and discomfort were in his head.

“Oh, God. No!” he grunted, his head fidgeting and only giving himself a worse headache. “I’m a…fucking…quadriplegic!”

He heard tittering from behind him.

Someone had shook his head after all.

Was this a thief, someone Burt had warned him about because of his unlocked door?

“How ya doing, Larry?” a familiar voice asked. “Not that I need to ask you that.” He snickered.

No, it wasn’t someone Burt had warned him about, it was Burt himself.

Should he have been warned about Burt?

“Burt!” Larry said. “You gotta…help me. I can’t…move.”

“I know,” Burt said, without any emotion.

“Yeah, you can see…I can’t move. Please…help!”

“I know you can’t move because I put a pill in your drink when we got together yesterday in Lucky Seven,” Burt said, then got up from the sofa, walked around the coffee table, and squatted down before Larry so he could see him. “I dropped the pill in when you weren’t looking. Remember how chemistry is my hobby, synthesizing drugs in the lab of my basement?”

“Yeah, but why would you…do this to me? We’re friends! I never did…anything…to piss you off, did I?”

“Not to piss me off, but there is that union idea of yours that I had to stop before it could materialize.”

“You didn’t have…to kill me, though, did you, Burt? I mean…this is gonna…kill, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is, Larry. Sorry, but you see, I hate commies.”

“I’m not…a communist. I’m a…moderate leftist.”

“Larry, I’ve seen the extremist shit you post on Facebook. Moderate, my ass. Besides, moderate, extreme. Pinkos are pinkos. They’re all the same to me. They want to force intrusive, oppressive government on us all. Oh, it starts moderate, but then when they see how their system doesn’t work, and people start resisting their utopia, they get all totalitarian, killing people. So by killing you, Larry, I’m saving a lot o’ lives.”

Larry moaned in disgust at Burt’s simplistic overgeneralizing. Burt may have been a bit of a genius at chemistry, but he was a moron at just about everything else. Surely, the police were going to link him with Larry’s death.

“Burt, it’s a union, not…Stalin.”

“Unions lead to Stalin, buddy, every time. Besides, if I can get Birch to know I stopped the forming of a union at his business, he’ll be so happy with my loyalty to him that–who knows?–maybe I’ll get that promotion I’ve been aching for.”

“And you’ll betray…your fellow workers…and your friends…to do that, Burt?”

“Yes, I will. Whatever it takes. And it serves you right for betraying the free market. Now, I gotta go. I’m hoping to hear good things in Birch’s office tomorrow, when he announces who will be the junior manager. The odds should be especially in my favour when I tell him I stopped your union idea. A few coworkers liked your idea. I might have to drop a pill or two in their drinks. Anyway, gotta run. Goodbye.”

He walked out of the apartment and closed the door without locking it.

Bastard, Larry thought. The pain in his head was so bad that he couldn’t even try to move it.

He just lay there with his eyes half-open. After all this time, he should have felt a need to go to the bathroom again, but he felt no discomfort in his bowels or bladder. If he pissed or crapped his pants, he wouldn’t feel it. In a few hours’ time, at the rate things were going, he wouldn’t smell it, either.

Similarly, he should have been starving hungry by now. Again, he felt no pangs of hunger because he couldn’t feel his stomach. If he were to starve to death, he wouldn’t know it.

He couldn’t feel his heart beating…was it? Presumably.

He barely felt the breath going in and out of his nostrils. He couldn’t feel his lungs filling up with air.

Instead of feeling his body, there was a vague, vibrating feeling everywhere except his achy head. The vibrating was now creeping up his neck.

I’m gonna die, he thought. Soon.

His computer screen showed a few people giving ‘likes’ to his recent posts. A few seconds later, the screen went to black.

He was alone…in every conceivable sense.

The numbness was all the way up his neck now. It was reaching his chin. The headache was abating.

It felt good to feel nothing.

With his eyes half-open, half-closed, he saw only a blur. That blur began to ripple in waves like the vibrations he sensed everywhere.

He could still hear alright, though he’d been lying there so long, he had no sense of how much time had passed by. Must have been hours, at least. He heard the door open, then approaching steps.

“Can you believe it?” said what sounded like the angry voice of Burt. “I received a message from that ingrate fucker, Birch, after having messaged him that I’d stopped your union insurgency.” He squatted down to look Larry in the eye.

Larry looked no better than a dead man, though he still could hear.

“That fucker gave the promotion, my promotion, to that bitch, Cecilia Barnes!” Burt said. “Birch said he wanted ‘to break the glass ceiling.’ Fuck! That’s the reward I get for loyalty. I tell you, Larry, there’s no justice in the world.”

Larry mumbled, “Good,” with what little articulation he could muster. Drool came out of his mouth.

“Good, did you say?” Burt said with newly-inflamed anger. “So, you’re still a little alive, eh?” He rose to his feet, then lifted his right leg back. “Well, I guess you would say that.” He kicked Larry hard in the head, though Larry in his growing numbness barely felt anything. “So long, pal.”

Burt left.

Larry barely heard Burt’s footsteps or the closing of the door. When Burt had squatted, though, he touched Larry’s laptop, bringing the screen back on. There was a message from Cecilia, who said, “Hi, Larry. I like your idea about forming a union. I’ll have to be careful who I talk to about it, though. You know how Birch is. I’m having drinks with Burt tomorrow night, after work. He says he’s interested. See you at work tomorrow, if you’re better by then, in which case I can talk with you about it. I heard you’re sick. Hope you get better soon.”

Larry couldn’t read any of the message. He saw only vibrations.

He felt only vibrations.

He heard only vibrations.

Then there was only black.

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