I’ve only passed out once in my entire lifetime.
And it wasn’t a pleasant feeling.
It was right after one of the many times my father beat me, after he was done with my mother, and it was only for a second. But I can still remember his hand flying up… And then next thing I knew blackness had clamped around my sense, like a blindfold, only sliding away in what seemed to be a second, and strangely enough, an eternity later. When I asked my mother about it – yes, she had been in the room, broken and bleeding on the floor behind me – she said he had hit me and that I had gone down only to come to less than a second later. But that doesn’t change the fact that it wasn’t pleasant. …Doesn’t change the fact that whenever I think about it, I know that I’ll never know if it was the truth or not. If I did wake up right afterwards like my mother said… or if -he- came for her again in how ever much of my life is really lost in the cold darkness.
And I get the same feeling of missing time as the morning sun and the harshness of something that feels strangely similar to my Persian carpet assaults my eyelids.
Where am I? Am I in bed? In my office? In… on the ground? How did I get here? Why can’t I seem to move? Why don’t I -want- to move? What’s that bitter aftertaste in the back of my mouth? Coffee? No… not the right flavor. This is more like… death…?
Is that Harry? He sounds so far away. Like there’s an ocean or two between us. Or a wall of fog. Fog. How nice that would be right now. To just slip into the haze that’s floating in and out of my brain… To just let the warm, wet, comforting darkness claim me… To sleep. Forever. Soundly for once, instead of wracked by nightmares of her every night. Sleep.
“Dad? You alright?”
Vaguely, I feel his hands slide over my shoulders as he flips me over, and that action seems to force me out of my mental haze. Harry. Harry wants something, and I’ve always given him everything he wants. It keeps him happy. I can sleep later. I need to see what Harry wants.
Sliding my tongue against the inside of my mouth in a futile attempt to wipe the bitterness away, I gaze up at him tiredly. “Harry…?”
“What are you doing on the floor?”
What am I doing on the floor? Good question. What -am- I doing here? My brow creases almost by itself as I consider the question, or more precisely, as I consider what I was doing last night.
Dinner. I remember having dinner at a Chinese place I love. Stromm had suggested I eat something before the test. Test? Oh yes. The performance enhancers. The contract. General Slocum threatened to give my funding to Quest Aerodynamics if I couldn’t hand him a successful human test within two weeks. And I’m not the kind of person to wait around for a suitable test candidate falls into my lap. So I had decided to test them on myself…. after all, what was the worst that could have happened? But still… that didn’t explain what I was doing, drooling all over my Persian rug.
“I don’t know.”
The look on Harry’s face tells me that he doesn’t like that answer. And truthfully neither do I. So he presses me. “Have you been there all night?”
Running the back of my hand over my mouth, half in another useless attempt to get the bad taste in my throat to go away, I frown. Come on, Osborn! What happened next? What made you decide that the ground next to your desk chair was a good place to sleep, when your bed is only a few feet away.
Ok. The performance enhancers. Stromm and I were going to test them. I got to the lab, and started setting up, my colleague on my heels the entire time not doing anything productive – unless of course you can count trying to talk me out of it productive. I take the catalyst. I set the gas chamber up so that all Stromm has to do is push the big flashing button on the control panel. He straps me in. The machines slide me into the room. And I give him the signal to start the process. He does. Then… …then what? I can’t remember…
Damn it. It can’t be that big a mystery. It was a -controlled- experiment. So what’s the next logical step?
And then it hits me.
A wave of pain. A memory of trying to take a breath to clear my clouded mind only to find out that I can’t. I can’t. I can’t breathe! For a split second I get feel the need to claw at my throat. To find a way to breathe. And then I push it aside, as the memory fades. What the hell was that? I try to follow that train of thought, only to find its missing. Replaced by a black hole… just like the time my father hit me.
This isn’t good. But I can’t worry Harry, because if I worry him, he’ll tell someone. And they’ll tell someone. And all of a sudden, it’s a scandal. Oh my God. Norman Osborn’s dying. Norman Osborn’s fucking someone. Norman Osborn’s a closet drunk like his father. I think not. I don’t need that. Not now.
Besides… I’m a little afraid myself. What the hell did happen? Why the hell am I on the floor? Why can’t I remember?
“…I… don’t remember.”
My son opens his mouth to say something, but before he can, two of my assistants are standing in the room looking exactly how I feel.
“Sir, our investors are waiting in the foyer.”
Harry heads them off, and for a brief, fleeting moment, I’m glad he’s here. “Sorry, my father’s not feeling well…” And while that satisfies the elder of the two, the Chinese woman – what’s her name? Andrea something? – pushes right past him.
“Mr. Osborn. Doctor Stromm is dead.”
Cold, dead fear and suddenly I’m on my feet. “What?”
“They found his body this morning in the lab. He’s been murdered, sir.”
No. No this isn’t right. Murder? At Oscorp? No. Who would do such a thing? Who -could- do such a thing? Not me. Not Harry. Not the Chinese woman whose last name I can’t even remember who’s telling me this. So it can’t be true. It can’t. She’s lying. But to what end? What does she want?
I manage a half-hearted, “What are you talking about?”
She doesn’t hear me. I did say that out loud didn’t I? Yes. It sounded frightened, almost hollow on my own ears… but it was out loud. Why doesn’t she answer my question? Doesn’t she care? Who the hell does she think she is? I’m her boss. Why doesn’t she care?
No, I correct myself. She does care. But there’s more bad news.
“And the flightsuit and the glider?”
“What about them?”
She swallows thickly. “They’ve been stolen, sir.”
I refuse to believe it. I refuse. Who would have wanted to kill Doctor Stromm? Who would have wanted the glider and flightsuit? Why didn’t they try to kill me? And who the hell would have had security clearance high enough to do all of this? One of the other scientists… but why…?
I glance at Harry, whose look practically begs me to stay. “Get out. All of you. Tell the investors I’m ill – hell, tell them I’m dead if you have to.” That may be the truth soon enough, with Stromm dead, I add bitterly to myself. “And cancel my appointments for the day.”
No one moves, and I find myself irrationally angry. “Well? What are you all still doing here?” And with that they’re gone, leaving me all alone in my office.
I collapse into the welcoming, slightly worn embrace of my armchair. Stromm dead? Oscorp dying? My flightsuit and glider stolen? What’s next? I can only imagine. I don’t want to imagine. And for a brief second, I wish I had let myself stay in the blanket mental darkness I had wrapped myself in before Harry came.
At least then, I wouldn’t have to pursue this train of thought.