The first time I met Ada Klesco, she caught ahold of my hand and held it for a very long time. At first, I assumed that it was just a handshake, but there was no particular movement involved. We just stood there, in the living room of a house on Lago Street that our mutual group of friends tended to drift in and out of, palms warped inwards onto one another. I began to panic after a few seconds and attempted to retract my hand in a way that could still be interpreted as polite, but she strengthened her grip. I recall a feeling of resignation as I let my arm go limp. Everyone else was in one of the back bedrooms at the time, crowded around someone’s computer, watching a music video or something. Neither of us said a word. At some point, our hands just loosened and fell apart. I’m coming up blank about the rest of that night.
I happened to see her nearly every single day during the following three weeks. Ada would miraculously appear in the chip aisle while I tormented myself over whether I should buy aged cheddar chips with a waffle cut or go the kettle-cooked-salt-and-vinegar route, and she’d pluck a bag of chips from the shelves without so much as a glance towards the brand name or flavor. I would be with someone like Gary Leqat, or maybe Sylvan “Gorlop” Tidd, walking around Groever Plaza in the early afternoon; that person, whoever he was, would get a text from her, and the three of us would go to a restaurant and eat a meal together. She would always sit by herself on the other side of the table or booth. Now that I think of it, I can’t remember anything she said during this period of time. I used to come away from these lunches and dinners with a terrible headache, though, and the impression that she had had a shrill voice and had spoken incessantly. In any case, I made it a point to seem undisturbed whenever we would cross paths. Eventually, I got so used to perceiving her in my immediate environment that I began to forget she was there.
Then it was the 10th of October. I was back at the Lago Street house, sitting in a corner of its huge living room. Gary was there. He looked very pale and seemed to have some sort of ketchup stain at the corner of his mouth; his girlfriend, Janet Cund, had gone missing two nights before and his mental state was rapidly corroding. Kestor Philips was there that day, as well, wearing a new variation of his experimental saran-wrap clothing. He sat in the center of the bare hardwood floor near a clean space where there had once been an entertainment center and tapped on a small pair of bongo drums. And then there were two or three other people I didn’t know very well, all wearing jerseys, who were standing together in the doorway leading into the kitchen, talking about something idiotic, like maybe the World Cup.
It was about three in the afternoon and we had nothing to do. The day was unusually warm and bright. The wallpaper in the living room was curling up at the seams from the constant humidity and I was starting to feel somehow asthmatic. There seemed to be cake mix sprinkled all over the baseboard near where I sat. I closed my eyes for a long time once I’d noticed a pile of empty Corn Nuts bags crammed into the corner of a windowsill.
Twenty minutes must have passed before I opened my eyes again but, when I finally did, it was just in time to see Ada sidestepping through the front door with a bottle of cheap vodka nestled in the crook of her arm. Everyone in the room turned to look at her for a split-second, but no one said anything. She stepped over Kestor’s legs and pushed past the sports guys into the kitchen, where I heard her fixing a drink. She came back out with a cloudy tumbler full of nothing but the vodka and immediately sat next to me. I started to say hi, but gave up when she turned her head towards the rest of the room and swallowed half of what was in her glass. Gary was staring at her for some reason. I think his hands were trembling.
Then she turned around so fast that the tips of her pale green hair stung my corneas.
“Here, have some,” she said with the glass held out and sloshing under my nose.
I was suddenly relieved by the possibility of getting drunk while the sun was still out, so I finished her vodka in a single gulp. My chest blossomed with the wormy heat of the alcohol.
“Thanks,” I said, “that’s exactly what I needed.”
“Yeah, I know. That’s why I came,” she said.
Under other circumstances, I would have been frightened by such a response, but I was somehow already tipsy. I began to really pay attention to Ada in a way that my sobriety had deterred me from doing before, taking in everything she said and did with a drugged sense of humor. She sat there in front of me on that sagging corduroy couch for the next hour, telling things to me. I don’t know if they were anecdotes about herself or regurgitated news headlines. It could have been anything. I just don’t remember. Although, I do remember suddenly snapping into an intense focus halfway through something she had been telling me about broken piano wires and noticing for the first time that she always wore various shades of yellowing beige. She was wearing khakis and a puffed-up Members Only jacket with thick, finely woven cuffs. I studied her technically unattractive face, with its lunar surface of chicken pox scars and its rectilinear nose. She seemed to me the type of girl who was really quite mentally dangerous, who might be into some hellish secret hobby. I was beginning to see how she might be somewhat desirable in the right context.
While this was going on, the house began to fill up with people. I found it hard to pay attention to what they were doing. I vaguely recall that someone started bickering with Kestor about how loudly he was playing his bongos. Someone else brought in an old CRT television and began to hook up a Nintendo 64; later I heard the muffled clank of the giant mechanical fish in that one level of Banjo Kazooie, swimming around in the abyss.
After about two more tumblers full of the cheap, silty vodka, Ada stood up and asked me if I wanted to walk to a cool place that she had found out in the industrial developments by the mall. The heat in the living room had grown extreme as more people flooded in; I agreed with almost no hesitation. When the slightly cooler air from outside hit me on the doorstep, I realized that my clothes were entirely saturated with sweat.
Out on the curb by the mailbox, I saw Gary sitting with his head in his hands, leaning against the crushed bumper of a white Corolla. He was very still. In fact, looking back, it was almost like he wasn’t breathing, but I hardly registered any of that. We set off down the street, the legs of our pants catching seedlings from the bobbing yellow weeds poking up through cracks in the asphalt.
We must have walked for hours—this is another span of time that seems to be completely erased. My memory comes back in at the point where we were standing in front of a towering warehouse that I had never seen before. Its outer walls were dizzying expanses of corrugated aluminum that could have been miles wide. The sun was setting and dyed the sky purple and orange as it sunk below the horizon. There were narrow windows that formed unbroken vertical lines up the several floors of the building, starting at the junction between the narrow lawn and the concrete foundation and ending at the very edge of the diagonal roof. Bright white lights were on inside. I could see people in pressed work shirts and suspenders, weaving past each other, carrying manila folders and coffee mugs.
“My dad works here, actually,” Ada said.
“What? I thought you had just found this place.”
“I mean I found out about it. But, come on, we should go inside. It’s fucking nuts in there.”
At this point, I was still tipsy, but I was suddenly starting to feel very unwell. I figured that it was probably the vodka roiling in the empty pouch of my stomach, but I think now that it must have been some suppressed instinct to sprint away from the place at top speed. Instead, I took great care not to upset myself further as I followed her up a long incline of concrete stairs. We reached the entrance, which was a set of glass doors that led into a long dark brick hallway with a funky carpet, whose pattern hadn’t been changed since perhaps the early 90s, complete with abstract polygons and renegade yellow corkscrew designs on a deep purple background.
Ada took one of my hands in hers and wove her fingers through mine. With her other hand, she pulled on the chrome door handle, which gave with a ratcheting screech as if it had not been used in a long time. When we began to walk down the hallway, I realized that there were no lights on at all, at least not on that floor of the building.
“Hey, do you even know where you’re going?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s pretty easy to figure out. We just need to go into the big room. It’s like an indoor courtyard. You’re not going to believe this.”
“Believe what? Is there something you haven’t told me?”
The tone of Ada’s voice shifted in her response; she had caught on to my growing unease.
“I’m just doing that thing people do when they want to sound like they’re saying something exciting. Let’s just keep going. This is a fun adventure.”
Eventually, I lost visibility altogether as Ada dragged me along at a kind of terrifying pace through the blind chaos of the muted halls. We would suddenly turn a corner as if she could see in the dark. We never even came close to clipping the walls or anything. Along the way, her hand was beginning to tighten and hurt me a little bit, but I was still inebriated enough to ignore the discomfort.
We went along that way for a long time, maybe a half-hour or even more. My legs became very sore and began to lose feeling. Towards the end of this mystifying passage, the toe of my sneaker slammed into something hard, which shattered, permitting my foot to collapse into the interior of whatever it was I had accidentally kicked. It seemed to be a conglomerate of plastic and metal on the outside, because I could hear its angry clattering against the bald carpet. Based on its dimensions around my foot, I would guess it was some sort of computer monitor. Only there was another texture I became aware of as I thrashed around trying to free myself. Something cold, stringy, wet, spongy, sticky. Like a cadaverous organ that had chilled on the coroner’s table. I somehow decided that laughter was the best response, but the understated bark that shot out of my mouth was a pathetic lie, and Ada saw through my pose. Her grip clamped down on my hand, harder than ever before. I thought I felt something prick my skin for a moment.
“Fuck, that hurts. What is that, a thumbtack or something?” I asked.
“Sorry,” she said. She didn’t say anything else.
We kept going and, a little bit further down that last stretch of hallway, we stopped in front of what turned out to be a set of wide plexiglass doors. I could see a blue glow on the other side through the scuffed translucent material. Then Ada was suddenly behind me. She pushed me into what she had earlier referred to as the “big room.”
This is the part of the story that I have the most trouble remembering as a coherent whole, but I have managed to retain certain mental snapshots of what followed:
1) An indoor chamber that is at least one square mile in area, with a ceiling that seems to go up several floors higher than the exterior of the building would let on.
2) The blue glow coming from old computer screens with rounded corners, which are embedded in a jagged spire rooted in the center of the big room. The base of the spire is at least 300 meters in diameter, choked in a tangle of what at first seem to be tree roots, but are not; are instead thick bundles of grey electrical wire.
3) Ada standing within the perimeter of this glow. Her eyes seem to have a light all their own. She’s holding both of my hands in this snapshot. But her hands are not really hands anymore. They’re hard and blocky with glinting shelves of metal poking out of what used to be her knuckles.
4) A blurred struggle. Glaring white lights have come on in the room. I may be falling to the floor because Ada is looking down at me. My hand is in front of my face. There is a neat rhomboidal grid of fifty holes that has been punched clean through the meat and bone
5) Almost a mile away across the room, humanoid figures with harsh angles in their shoulders and heads that almost blend into the white interior of the room, except their outer shells are a little bit dimmer, almost yellowed, as if they’ve been in an airtight room full of cigarette smoke since George Bush Sr. was in office.
6) I’m back in the dark hallway in this one, but I can see ahead of me since there are several sources of the blue glow at my back, throwing my shadow in a hundred different angles across the awful pattern in the carpet. Almost out of range of this glow is the thing I think I had kicked going in the other direction. It really does seem to be a computer monitor of some sort, but it’s got an odd fluted curve followed by a swooping bulge in its side that is oddly reminiscent of a skull. These contours flow seamlessly into a laser-cut fan vent. A thick maroon liquid has hemorrhaged from this vent.
7) Back outside of the warehouse. I’m near the side of the building, passing closeby one of the windows on the first floor. In the melee of my escape, something has collided with it, creating a radial pattern of cracks in what turns out to be an LED screen of astronomical resolution. The bustling businessmen are frozen in the middle of their tasks, stuttering between two frames of the video feed where the pixels haven’t gone dead.
8) I’ve rounded a corner of the building and am looking over my shoulder. I see Ada clearing the corner as I struggle to get away. One of her arms has swung out in front of her. At the end of it is the reinforced plastic base of a computer cable of some type. Her hand has become some sort of pronged interface port. It is covered in drying blood. I presume it is my blood.
9) This is the final snapshot—something shiny and plastic hurtling toward my face. I can’t determine what this object is, and it almost dominates the entire mental picture, but I can see just below its blurred outline scores of beige plastic feet, some of which are covered in mud and clumps of grass.
That’s all I have left of the experience, really. That and a huge hospital bill to look forward to. As I type this account into my laptop, I’m lying in a bed in the Groever Life Center. The doctors say I have suffered a subarachnoid skull fracture and that I’m lucky that I even know who I am anymore. Oddly, they’ve said nothing about the holes in my hand, even though the nurses appear to be cleaning it and replacing the bandages while I’m asleep.
I’m starting to notice something kind of troubling, though. Even though I’m pretty sure the things I remember from that warehouse are probably just confusions caused by my head injury, the holes in my hand are definitely there. And now the veins in my forearm are starting to straighten out and form right angles where they branch off.
I’m not sure who I should talk to about this.