Here’s the first episode in the new blog-post series, FIRST CHAPTERS. It’s the first exciting chapters in each book in the Micah Reed series!
EVEN BEFORE he could open his eyes, streams of pain trickled throughout Micah’s body. Knees, chest, and back, mostly. But his hands also throbbed with a revolving ache, as if he’d been holding a hammer and batting at nails all day. Then, awareness blinked into his knuckles. Stinging like paper cuts appeared and he felt the crusty covering of dried blood in the knuckle grooves.
He settled into the world as his vision returned, and at first, saw only a crinkly beige fabric with stitched seams. Around that was darkness. Car. He was in a car, and the fabric was the deflated airbag protruding from the steering wheel and caressing his face.
He tried to turn his head and discovered two distinct sensations: a stretching yawn of pain throttling his neck, and also the jittery slowness of a deep drunk. He inhaled a lungful of air and the pain in his chest burned until he had to cough the breath out in jagged hitches.
So much didn’t make sense. He’d been in an accident, that was for sure. But finding himself behind the wheel of a car? No matter how many times he’d relapsed and ended up blacking out drunk, he would never get behind the wheel. Micah Reed may have had a long history of questionable morals, but drunk driving was not one of his sins.
Something grave had happened, but he couldn’t remember what it was.
He dug a hand into his pocket and experienced a moment of panic when he couldn’t find what he was looking for. Then, near the bottom, his fingers touched the tiny head of a Star Wars action figure. He took it out to examine the angular helmet and jagged plastic edges where the head had been severed from the body.
“Okay, Boba Fett,” he said, his voice sounding far away and tinny, “if you have any idea where we are, now’s the time to let me know. I seem to have put my car somewhere I didn’t mean to.” Micah could hear the slurring in his words.
“What do you think, Boba?”
Boba Fett had nothing to say.
With a sizable grunt, Micah grasped the door handle to push open the car door, and gravity made the door fly open and downward, and then bounce on its hinges. That was weird. The nose of the car wasn’t level. With the door open, he placed one wobbly foot on the ground and realized the angle was because his car was in a ditch.
Other details of consciousness came to him. The frigid late fall night air of Denver. The crunchy feeling of snow with a hard top layer collapsing under his shoe, and then wetness as his foot sank into the soft snow underneath. The sound of cars behind him. Highway, probably, judging by how the sounds came from far away, peaked, and then faded. He tried to crane his neck to look behind him, but the stinging pain kept his head forward.
Flashes of memory came to him, like a blip when changing channels. Running away while someone chased him. Headlights illuminating blowing snow that skittered like a mass of wriggling white snakes. The pulse of neon lights and loud music, maybe music from a dance club. Relentless, whirling bass so loud it had rumbled his stomach.
That one made zero sense. Micah was not the glow stick dance club type, and never had been.
With both feet now on the slippery ground, he took a step into the real world, and the weight of his injuries seized him. He stumbled, fell, then got back up, and spent a few seconds trying to stave off the intense desire to puke into the ditch. Saliva welled at the back of his mouth as he breathed through it.
He leaned against his car, drunkenly swaying as he tried to get his bearings. Why did he keep punishing his body like this? Why couldn’t he say no to alcohol?
Micah brought one of his hands close to his face and blinked several times to focus his weary eyes. The stinging paper cut sensations weren’t paper cuts. His knuckles were bruised.
He’d been punching someone.
* * *
Thirty-six hours later, Micah Reed found himself staring at a limp baloney sandwich and a smattering of potato chips on an orange plastic plate. Next to that sat an orange cup filled with apple juice.
He was wearing scrubs, which was the most embarrassing part of checking into a detox facility. His vomit-stained clothes had been bagged up when he’d entered, so he was wearing these paper-thin pieces of fabric, right down to the foam slippers and scratchy socks. Like prison garb, but somehow with less dignity.
“Oh, apple juice,” he whispered, “how did we end up here?”
He felt silly chatting with a glass of juice, but they’d confiscated Boba Fett and wouldn’t give him back until his 72 hour observation period was up, so who the hell else was he supposed to talk to?
His hand rattled a little as he reached for the cup of high fructose corn syrup, but not as bad as it had yesterday. The shaking wasn’t as persistent as the ache. He hurt in many places, but the benevolent fascists running this detox weren’t willing to part with the serious pain meds. He was on a few different pills for alcohol withdrawal, but since he had no broken bones or severe internal bleeding, he was riding the Ibuprofen train for his various aches and pains.
The television droned on in the background of the 1970s-themed common room at this particular detox. Patterned wallpaper, bulbous lamps, pastel furniture. Stacks of tattered board games and donated DVDs lining the shelves on the walls.
Some of the patients would eat their lunches in the dining room, but Micah found them to be whiny and full of self pity. Barking about how the system had wronged them. He couldn’t claim injustice, because the events of the night before last were a terrible blur. No one to blame for his downfall. But he knew that a few weeks ago, he’d relapsed yet again after stringing together a few months of sobriety, and that first drink had been the mistake that set everything else in motion.
The sound of heels clacked along the painted concrete behind him. “Micah,” said a syrupy female voice.
He lifted his head, because responding to the name Micah had become second nature to him. Micah wasn’t the name he’d been born with—that had been Michael—but enough time had passed since he’d been forced to change it that his fake name almost felt like home.
The same way he’d been pretending that Denver was his home.
“Yes?” he said to the nurse standing over him. She wore horn-rimmed glasses, making her seem like another piece of 1970s furniture to complete the set.
“There’s a phone free if you’d like to use it. You’ll have to be quick, though, because Group starts soon.”
“Thank you,” he said as he rose from the chair and abandoned his baloney sandwich. He might come back to claim it, but if someone else took it, he could live with that.
Micah followed the nurse down a pale blue hallway to a semi-private booth, and she pointed at the solitary phone hanging from the wall.
“Make it quick,” she said. “You’re allowed one phone call per day, and a maximum of five minutes.”
After a humbling call to his boss and AA sponsor Frank, Micah said his goodbyes and slipped the phone back into the cradle. A tear formed in the corner of his eye, but he wiped it away before it could dribble down his cheek.
On the way back to the common room, he stopped for a moment to watch a man sitting in the corner. He was old enough to be Micah’s dad, with thinning gray hair and red blotchy skin. Micah’s dad had been in much better health the last time they’d talked, but he and this man shared the same hazy blue eyes, and now a different sense of guilt struck. The fact that his parents had no idea where he was and he couldn’t tell them. He couldn’t let them know that he was alive and staying in Denver.
Would he want to tell them, though? How would they handle finding out he was still alive, let alone being in detox?
The man in the corner sat with his knees close to his bloated chest, and he was shaking as sweat dribbled down his face. His hand gripped a can of orange juice, with a straw poking out. The straw jittered along with the man’s vibrations.
Micah kneeled in front of him. “You feeling okay?”
The man looked up at Micah, his eyes drooping and bleary. “I’m cold,” he said in a mucus-filled rasp.
The same nurse from before poked her head into the common room. “Everyone in classroom B for Group now, please. We’re starting in two minutes.”
The drunk in the corner turned his pleading eyes to Micah. “I don’t know if I can stand up. I think I peed myself.”
Micah put a hand on the man’s shoulder. He did smell the faint odor of piss, but he tried his best not to sniff in an obvious way. “Don’t worry about it. You stay here.”
Micah got his feet and groaned as his body told him not to work it so hard. Shut up, body. You do what I tell you because I’m in charge here.
He went back through the hallway and ducked into the room he shared with two other detox patients, then lifted the extra blanket folded across his cot.
He returned to the man and placed the blanket around his shoulders. Up close, Micah could definitely smell the sweat and piss stink wafting around him like a tornado.
The man started to blubber. “Thank you. Can you help me up so I can go to Group?”
Micah patted the man’s hand. “You stay here. I’ll tell them you can’t go to Group today.”
The man tried to speak through his blubbering, but no words came out. Then he gazed down at Micah’s hand, at his bruised knuckles, and a moment of fear passed over his face.
Micah wanted to tell him he had nothing to be afraid of, but he couldn’t say that. He had no idea who or what he’d punched so violently to turn his hands into these testaments of rage.
* * *
Micah sat on the steps in front of Arapahoe house with a trash bag full of the clothes he’d worn coming into detox three days earlier. The donated clothes he was wearing were too baggy, but he was glad to have them. He’d probably need to throw away the jeans and shirt from the bag, or send them out to be cleaned.
Boba Fett rode shotgun in his pocket, and the familiar bump made Micah feel a little better.
Frank Mueller’s old Chevy circled the parking lot and stopped in front of the steps. Micah didn’t want to look at his boss, but he knew he was going to have to at some point. Frank was twice Micah’s age, and with just the right fatherly expression on his face. Difficult to endure sometimes.
Micah slipped into the passenger seat as he tossed the bag into the back. “Thank you. I know you had to take time out of your day.”
“It’s no trouble. I’ve been picked up from places like this more times than I care to mention. Not once in the twenty-plus years since I’ve been sober, mind you, but plenty of times before that.”
The hazy day blurred the outline of the mountains to the west. Micah cleared his throat. “Do you ever feel like an interloper?”
Frank ran a hand through his thinning hair. “I don’t know what the hell that word means, but if you’re asking me if I ever felt like an outsider, then yeah, all the time when I was drinking. Now, tell me how you got that shiner.”
Micah ran a finger over the tender spot next to his left eye. “No idea.”
“Sounds like you had yourself quite an adventure.”
“I guess you could say that, but I don’t remember what happened.” He shifted in the seat. “Did you find my car?”
“I sure did. It’s at an impound lot in Arvada.”
Micah stared out the window at this city that had been his adopted home for the last year as Frank pulled out of the parking lot. “Are they going to arrest me when I show up to get it?”
Frank laughed, which turned into a hacking cough. “That’s the thing. I talked to a buddy of mine on the force. If you’d stayed in the car, they would have tagged you for DUI. But you’re only going to get a ticket for unlawfully abandoning a vehicle.”
Micah sucked in an involuntary breath. Part of him felt grateful not to be in serious trouble, but part of him thought he deserved a DUI. What could have spurred him to drive in that state?
“I thought you’d be happy,” Frank said, “given your… privacy situation.”
Micah considered Frank’s statement, and he was right. “I try to avoid contact with the cops whenever I can. If one of them gets a bug up his ass about my ID and does too much digging, arrests me on suspicion of something, then that mug shot makes it online… that opens me up to all kinds of problems. Especially since now I’ve dropped out of the program, the Feds won’t be able to help me out if things get sticky.”
They spent the next twenty minutes in silence, listening to the oldies station on the radio as Frank drove Micah to the impound. When they pulled into the gravel lot, kicking up dust behind the car, Frank parked and put a hand on Micah’s shoulder. “I can’t take you to a meeting now. I have things I need to do.”
“I’ll go to one anyway,” Micah said.
“You coming into work tomorrow? I have a task for you. Not just research, this is in-the-field stuff.”
“Of course, I’ll be there. Thank you, Frank. I’m sorry I let you down.”
Frank nodded. “It’s okay, kid. If you feel like you’re going to take a drink, give me a call first. Don’t try to white-knuckle it.”
Micah thanked Frank again, then made his way into the office to speak with the impound attendant. After the man had assured Micah his car was not too damaged to drive, he wrote a painfully large check to have it released, then they walked to his car.
Micah examined the back and sides and found no damage. The front, however, had crumpled, the right front fender was missing, and the headlight was hanging from its socket.
“You’re going to want to get that light fixed,” the impound man said. Then to further state the obvious, he waggled a finger at the broken hunk. “You could get pulled over for that.”
After signing the release form, Micah waited until the man had gone back to his office. He sat down on the concrete in front of his car and traced a finger along the grill of his battered Honda Accord.
He jammed the headlight back into place and picked at a strip of severed plastic jutting at him like a shiny knife. The plastic caught the light, and he noticed something dangling from underneath the bumper. A piece of torn hose, possibly, or a string. He lowered to the ground and wrapped his hands around it to tug it loose. It wasn’t string, but a shoelace.
He pulled on the shoelace, and as the bumper squeaked and cried, it gave way, then he found himself holding a black and white women’s Adidas track shoe.