Larra Kowalska would have thought after their brief encounter, her lodger would have opened up and engaged himself in socialising. It had been many years since she had a proper friend. She was nothing more than a Hotspot; one of the dangers that the undeads told the children at night. They were supposed to be kept underground within the Council.
She thought she had escaped the Council, that she was free. The truth was they would never leave. Now she was nothing more than a guineapig in a drastic science experiment, and her Englishman was the mad and crazy scientist prodding her and pulling her strings and every time he did something she would react.
Was this another one of his experiments? Cutting off from all of civilisation and seeing what she does? Well whatever it was that he was doing, it was certainly making her anxious. She was beginning to crave the next time he would show his face and not just because it was good for the eyes. She wanted to know more about him and spend hours talking to him.
But to be completely frank, she wondered if maybe she had to intervene. At least he used to greet her of a morning when she woke up. He was always up early; standing in the kitchen with his hair neatly groomed back and a cup of black tea in his right hand. She assumed it was a British thing.
And now? Nothing. That bedroom door remained closed and he was shut off from the world. It was like he didn't even exist.
Maybe it was time to find out what was behind that door, what was in that room that was so interesting. She was just going to knock on his door, and if he responded, then she would know he was fine. If he didn't, then she'd have a little peak. One peak couldn't hurt.
Having spent her whole morning putting off the idea, becoming scared of the very idea of what she was going to do, and she didn't even know why. It was one guy and his room. What could be so terrifying about that?
She scowled at herself. Don't back out. He's your new friend and you're worried about his well-being. Go into his room.
It took her another ten minutes before she walked up to that door. Taking in a deep breath, she closed her eyes then hit her knuckles four times on the door.
She knocked again. Maybe he simply couldn't hear. After all, it couldn't hurt to knock a few more times? The uneasy silence wasn't helping. The door still remained shut, and not even the shuffling of shoes could be heard.
Hesitantly, she turned the door knob and pushed the door open, stepping into the room slowly. She couldn't help but gasp at the sight she saw.
What an absolute mess. Parchment sprawled everywhere; ink splattered and stained in the floorboards; a large hole in the wall that had been purposely broken into, and from it two copper wires came out, the ends attached to what seemed to be part of a large circuitry. His personal belongings, consisting mostly of clothes, were scattered all across in the room, sprawled out so little floor space was visible. But what was even worse was the alcohol. She knew he took drugs, but alcohol? The various bottles were everywhere, empty, broken, half-drunk and new. There were all shapes and sizes but she knew that the good majority of these were extremely strong, and she didn't need to have a strong knowledge of drink to work that out. She had the proof to see their side effects.
Collapsed in the centre of the room, the Englishman was curled up in a tight ball, shaking uncontrollably, and even worse, crying. Tears streamed down his face and the salt mixed with the scotch stain on his chin.
Except for his underwear, he was completely naked.
"Oh, God," her stomach lurched at the sight and she already felt herself beginning to stress. What was she supposed to do? "Christ, what have you done?" She knew it was pointless even asking. Would she get a decent or even mildly coherent reply from the man? Of course not. This was worse than drunk. This guy had OD'd in the extreme and she had a feeling it wasn't his prescriptions. At least, she thought he had OD'd. She prayed to God he hadn't. Did she have an adrenaline needle? No.
Without any further thought, she grabbed him by underneath his arms and picked him up, for once thanking God for her extra pair of arms. If not, trying to drag him onto his bed would have proved to be much harder. He fell onto it and she tried to straighten him out, struggling to remember basic techniques for someone OD'ing. The problem was, she hadn't actually met anyone who had done anything worse than the casual drag of opium. She had her own share but it was only recreational. His purpose of drugs seemed to be much more... extreme, to put it simply.
"Don't do this," she groaned, talking more to herself, "Please, just stop it."
She realised he was muttering small phrases, so quiet that she might have not noticed in the first place if not for his moving lips. Carefully, Larra leaned down to listen, catching only few words.
"Rosette... Yes, I love – I didn't mean – Catholic? – Rosette – gorgeous, you are..." his words began to fade away and the sound of his sobs took over, a fresh wave of tears staining his already blotchy cheeks.
Rosette. The girl named Rosette. She was the woman he had lost, or rather, the one that lost him. Was she the reason for all of his crimes? Were they madly in love and the pain of never seeing her again too much for him to bear, so he took out his anger and frustration on everyone else? She didn't know.
Staring at the Englishman, she realised she needed to do something that didn't involve staring at him in hopes that he would come to and reassure her that everything was going to be okay. It wasn't. Quickly, she ran out of the room and found a small handtowel, dunking half of it in the barrel of water in the kitchen. Letting it ring out once, she dashed back into the room, fearing something drastic and horrible could have happened to him in the few moments she left.
He was in the same position. Trying to keep her calm, she wiped his face with the damp cloth. She knew it wasn't much, but what other choice did she have? Was giving a guy prescriptions are really good idea when he was already inflicted from other drugs? Who knew what medicine could do when mixed with the harmful sort.
Frantically, she began to rifle through his belongings. She didn't even know what she was searching for, just something that might help. Something that might be there, that was purely for situations like these. Her hopes were beginning to fade quickly, though, when she quickly realised after not even a minute of scrimmaging that she was not going to find anything helpful. Groaning, she stood up and glanced over to the man. A string of spit dribbled down the corner of his lips and she winced. It was only now did she notice the scarring on his neck. His large collars usually concealed the most of his neck, hiding the red discolouration.
She eased towards him and titled his head upwards, having a good look at the markings. There was definitely no disagreement about the peculiar circular scar, very similar to rope burn: this man had been hanged. Being hanged, she knew, was not an uncommon occurrence. Simple commoners were hanged for stealing a loaf of bread, but this man was no commoner. He already confirmed he came from a family that could be considered royalty. His crime must have been much worse than petty thievery.
Murder? It had to be more complex than that.
The red scarring around his neck wasn't his only scar, though. A small arch, no longer than two inches, curved underneath his navel. It was a much more prominent shade of red than his neck and was raised above his skin. The result of a stab wound, no doubt. His last scar – or at least, the only other scar visible – ran down his inner thigh. It looked like it had been made not too long ago, a year or two at the most. Despite its apparent freshness, its shade was the closest to his natural skin tone; pathetically pale.
He was doing the twitching and the talking again. He looked cold but it could have just been the muscle tremors. Was he cold? She didn't know. He wasn't wearing anything, so maybe putting some pants onto him would calm him down. It probably wouldn't, but it was worth a shot.
Not mentioning the fact that his crotch was becoming increasingly distracting. The man was well-endowed. Okay, she hadn't meant to think that.
Instead, she searched among his clothes, trying to tell the difference between clean and dirty but was finding it hard. Apparently, utilising the drawers provided weren't his style, but throwing everything on the floor in a mess was. Giving up on caring about clean, she picked up the first pair of pants she could find and started wriggling them up his stupidly long legs.
She couldn't have been past his knees when he started coughing. She widened her eyes and before she even saw the lumpy dribble, smelled a foul odour of strong alcohol and a strange concoction of drugs that she couldn't quite pick out. She let out a squeak and gave up on the pants, running back to the top of the bed. She knew at this point she had to do something but didn't know what.
As fast as she could, she bolted towards the kitchen to find a wooden bucket, returning back to his bedroom. More of the vomit was dripping down the side of his mouth and she struggled to not vomit herself. Propping the bucket on his lap, she pulled his torso up so he was in a position where the vomit would fall into the bucket, rather than manifest inside his mouth and block his airways. Dammit, he didn't even need to breathe. Still, having a mucous-like liquid stuck inside him wouldn't be any better, either. Better out than in, or something along those lines.
The vomit spilled into the bucket and she had to look away, disgusted. It was only a few seconds when she realised he had come back to consciousness – but only barely. He was crying and shaking.
Another few minutes, and finally the hacking and the coughing and the vomiting ceased. Despite having gotten him to throw up into the bucket, it somehow managed to get down his front and stray specks had flown onto the bed. Poking out her tongue, she hauled the bucket off his lap and placed it on the ground, deciding that cleaning up the man was a better choice than the bucket. That could wait. She was afraid of leaving his side, in case he were to suddenly have a seizure or something worse and what was left of his life would slip away from her hands.
Then no one would ever know who he was.
She took him from underneath his shoulders and dragged him along the floor, heading for the bathroom as quick as she could. Turning on the faucet, she clumsily heaved him off the ground and rolled him over the rim of the tub and he dropped in ungracefully, landing on his stomach. Her stomach rolling over, she quickly rolled him over so he was on his back.
She waited for the water to fill the bathtub.
It was extremely fortunate that her house was fit with a water system. If she had to carry buckets from a well to fill up the bath, like most poor souls had to, then she'd simply give up. The time she would waste on fetching water could ultimately be the death of her new-found friend. She could return and he'd be lying dead from one simple drug overdose that she couldn't prevent.
The water filled the basin and the bile washed off his skin. He was dizzy and his eyes were puffed out and very red, but at least he was beginning to come to. Maybe it was the cold water. He relapsed and tried to make sense of the situation, his wide eyes showing nothing more than pure fear. She had never seen him so scared in his life.
"...d-die?" was all she managed to hear, but she knew what he meant.
"You're not going to die," she informed him gently, genuinely worried for his mental well-being. Was this going to be a long-term problem? She had absolutely no idea. She had never met anyone who carried so much pain upon their shoulders, and she knew his was predominately guilt.
He was regaining consciousness properly and his lazy eyes slowly scanned the bathtub, the water's contents clean except for the particles of drug and alcohol induced bile floating around the basin. It was disgusting but she couldn't do anything about that.
With a sigh, she picked up the bar of soap and held his jaw in one of her hands, "Look at me," she ordered gingerly, and slowly she began to scrub the grime around his lips. The blue hue began to fade and life returned – or what little life was left in him. She scrubbed his underarms and torso, where the vomit had dribbled down, and then washed his hair for it looked like it needed a good wash judging by the stringy ends.
Much like a young child whose dependency relied on others, he allowed Larra to lift him out of the bathtub and dry him, lifting his arms and legs when necessary. He remained quiet, watching her with wide and frightened eyes yet never questioning. Once he was dry, she helped him stand on his own two feet and his knees knocked together, legs shaking uncontrollably. Just as he was about to collapse she grabbed him by his waist and underarms, "I've got you," she murmured softly, helping him out of the bathroom, "You can sleep in my bed tonight, okay? I'll clean your room for you and change the sheets."
He whimpered, "S-sorry."
"Apologise when you're feeling better," she told him, lifting him up onto her mattress. She pulled the covers over him and propped him up on his side, sticking a pillow behind his back so he wouldn't roll back down on his back. She feared if he did so, then he would start vomiting again and he'd choke to death while she slept on the couch in the living room. She wouldn't let that happen.
Just as she was about to leave she heard him repeat her name. Frowning, she returned and leaned down, cocking her ear towards his lips in order to hear what he was trying to say.
"It's Ben," he wheezed out, "Benjamin. That's my name."
With that, his eyelids slid over his eyes and he fell into a deep sleep.
Benjamin. His name was Benjamin.
And what a lovely name it was.