Bradley tucked a canister under Jack’s head like he used to do for his mother. His green face was like a Christmas wreathe, and Bradley though it would look nice with bell earrings.
“I’ll hold on to Feepin as long as I can,” said Jack. “But one of you has to take him soon.”
“No way I’m putting a freaking slug in my ear,” said Tim.
“He doesn’t go in your ear,” Jack rasped.
Nate winced and frowned.
Bradley, having been the secretary to the assistant ambassador for extraterrestrial nations when he was on earth, took the opening. “I’ll take him for you.” He breathed on his glasses and wiped them with his shirt. “I once smuggled a hedgehog in my pants.”
“That explains a lot,” said Tim.
“It was the royal hedgehog of Urvitania, and Princess Amalia left it behind during the coup.”
“You been watching Jonny Quest reruns again?” Jack asked.
Nate shook his head. “I was going to take it, but I guess I’ll let Bradley. You better give it to him soon. You’re nearly black.”
“Don’t swallow,” said Jack. “Let him go where he needs to. I think he goes into your sinuses.”
“Shit,” said Tim.
Bradley tensed his jowls, but forced himself to step up. “Ready.”
Jack’s head twitched and turned until he swung his head up in a silent howl. The slug slithered out of his mouth and squirmed in little curls as if searching for something. Bradley stared at it.
“If you’re going to do it, do it,” said Tim.
Bradley picked up the wormy thing and plopped it in his mouth. Just like the goldfish swallowing contests they used to do in college, except—wait. He wasn’t supposed to swallow. He relaxed his throat, the slug tickling the back of it, half swallowed. He resisted choking. He resisted gagging. He resisted telling an anecdote about the best escargot on the Riviera. The creature worked up the back of his throat, almost back to the mouth, and then Bradley lost track of it. He thought he could feel it, but wasn’t sure where.
—Thank you for hosting me.—
Pleasure’s all mine.
—This reminds me of the time you took care of you mother’s cat.—
“How we doing?” asked Nate.
“Doing fine,” said Bradley.
—I’m a long way from my emperor of the universe days.—
Perhaps my father will adopt you. Then you will be a descendent of earth royalty.
—Wait. Why did I say I was emperor? I have little of my own thoughts, but I am relatively certain that never happened.—
I think you’d get along well with Peachy II, my mother’s cat.
—No! I see your memories. It’s a vicious thing. And what are all these crazy notions?—
Ah. That. Those are the thoughts of a fully lived life.
—But… they don’t add up. You could not have lived all these things—but they’re so vivid. What is real? What isn’t? Why can’t I leave the building?—
Hey! I don’t usually mess with that part of my brain. Please keep out of it.
“We seem to be getting along fine,” said Bradley. “How’s my color?”
“Good,” said Nate.
Jack had turned back to a light olive green.
“Nice,” said Bradley.
—I can’t keep a straight thought in here. The world is in pieces, reassembled all wrong. It fragments my mind and… and…—
Don’t worry. You get used to it.
“I’m going to play I Spy with him,” said Bradley. “And then we’ll reminisce about my glory days in Rome, and after that we can make alien taxonomy cards.” Giddiness tickled up Bradley’s back.
“Whatever gets you through the day,” said Tim.
Bradley’s arms started waving frantically. “No! No! I can’t stay in here, my mind will go to ruin! Please move me, please. Please.”
Tim punched Nate in the shoulder. “Your turn.”