Beatbook: Phlegmy Undertaking




Muzic mumbled in his sleep, worried after Ra’chel, running, running down the alleys between Phlegethon Dr and 21st, why? She is sitting on a curb beside a collection of big, green garbage dumps, their cracked black lids sag on piles of mounds of trash and cardboard as flies hang over the pools of rancid ooze issuing tar-like flux from drainpipes and refuse into the depressions of the street. Nic floats overhead cross-legged, a pariah, straightening grainy lines on an aluminum sheet.

“Muzic, you have to wake up!”
“Muzic, come on!”

Suddenly he felt himself being jerked awake on the dirty, crumbly floor in Ra’chel’s bedroom, sheets ripped off him, her foot pestering his side. He snapped his eyes open, finding the shelves above decorated with all the amethysts and garnets, citrines and other familiar gemstones and Buddhist statuettes, then laden with dirty laundry, mail and DVDs. Ra’chel was almost walking on him.

“Wait, what Ra’chel…?”
“It’s almost three, you’re going to miss your class!”

Muzic grunted before rolling over on his stomach, squishing a mound of laundry on the floor beneath his face.

“Muzic don’t miss class again!”
“No, I won’t…” he said, fading.
She kicked him again, gently. “Can I have a cigarette?”
“Yeah, in my backpack…”

He heard her rumbling around in his backpack, his eyes closed. He was drifting off again when the Magician’s remix of “Rather Be” started playing from her speaker. The curtains opened suddenly, blasting the bedroom with harsh light and lifting the muffled sounds of traffic below.

“Don’t miss class!” she said again, after Muzic had rolled back on his back and put a sock over his eyes. “I’ll go with you.”

Muzic smiled. “Uh, this one’s a much smaller class. We all sit around in a circle, like me and fifteen people about.”

Ra’chel pulled open the sliding glass door. The noisy zip of cars below filled the bedroom. “Would they kick me out? What class is it?”

“Hm?… it’s like feminist Science Fiction writing.” He drew his knees up, noticing then that he had crashed in his sandals. His keys were in his back pocket, digging into his buttock uncomfortably. He reached lazily around him with his left hand; there should have been his Evan Williams somewhere near. There. He sat up slowly, the sock falling down his chest. He could smell himself after having napped on the floor a few hours under the ceiling fan which only barely worked. He smelled like sweat, food crumbs stuck to his shirt and down the back of his legs. Glancing up at Ra’chel, her hair looked equally dark and greasy.

Muzic grinned. “It could be fun though.” He took a swig from the halfway-killed bottle.
“Can I have some?” she asked.

He nodded. He was properly awake ten minutes later, after using the bathroom and splashing water in his face, and also being three of four more shots deep. Ra’chel took longer to get ready, she had to smoke a couple bowls in her resin-smeared bong; Muzic smoked a couple cigarettes outside on the balcony while he waited, flicking butts down at the traffic over the heads of students going up and down Phlegethon Dr. He was finally beginning to feel more comfortable not smoking pot when it was offered. He noticed some new tags in green paint the crazy Vibez had done by the glass door, maybe a week before?

“Who’s that guy again? Vibez? I saw he put some new shit on your wall outside.” Muzic and Ra’chel were just getting onto campus. They would be just late if they kept up the hustle.

“God, Nic’s friends are all fuckheads!” Ra’chel croaked. She was turning some heads in their direction, Muzic thought but wasn’t remotely troubled. She was playing Chairlift’s “Bruises” on her phone.

Muzic laughed. “Yeah, that other guy the other day was fucking weird. But Vibez cracks me up. I love his energy, he’s just completely full of enthusiasm for just, life y’know, like I’ve never ever met someone like that except maybe this cat Deirdre.”

“What guy is weird?”
“Um, Chris or something? Bald guy, looked like he was like fifty. He’s the guy who always nods out when I see him at least.”
“Kristo… Which building do we go to?”
“It’s up here.”
“Fuck, Socrates is gonna freak out when he sees Vibez’s tags on my wall! What kind of person fucking does that? I let him stay over!”

Muzic laughed. Ra’chel was really upset though.
“It’s not funny, Muzic!”
“Sorry, I know. He’s just like a big kid though, I think it’s awesome. And I’m sure Socrates already knows, he’s literally psychic.”
“I’m not gonna let him stay over anymore if he does that! That’s not respecting someone’s property that you’re a guest at! My mom raised me to know better than doing things like that.”
“I mean, yeah.”

They each took another swig from the bottle stashed in Muzic’ backpack when they were around the corner of the English department’s building. Muzic breathed a sigh of relief when they walked up the hall and he found the door to the classroom still ajar, with no one seated yet and his professor as yet absent. The desks were arranged in a circle facing the center of the room, as per usual. Muzic sat in a desk immediately left of the door.

Later Muzic and Ra’chel were kicking rocks around the upper part of the Phlegm (this being the newest colloquialism for the low end Phlegethon Dr where the bums camped) past the bars, he related the story of a favor he had done for Damian’s friend Deirdre, in which he had gone walking to some shaded burrow in west UX campus to her ex-boyfriend Amir’s technicolor nook where four acid-gazing college kids stared transfixed at the most psychedelic montage of vortexes ever conceived. He’d purchased an ounce of weed with Deirdre’s money and a hundred dollars’ worth of planks, which he had been agonizingly anxious carrying with him back across campus to Deirdre at Damian’s luncheonette, but she had thrown him twenty dollars at least.

“But see? I was worried for nothing,” he was saying to Ra’chel, holding up a prescription bottle of codeine. He had taken her with him to Amir’s just now. “And I got that connect now. Just, Damian has out for him I know, and he’s an ass and stalker towards Deirdre right now apparently. He’s super banned from anywhere near the frat house for some reason, so I thought it would be some psycho. But he seems chill for the most part, don’t you think? Basically as cool as that lime-haired dealer at twenty-first.”

“I guess,” Ra’chel answered. “They were watching Off the Air in there — but I’m pissed you know Dino, Muzic!”

“What, why?” Muzic stuffed the prescription bottle in a brown paper sack from the worn, netted thermos-holder on the side of his backpack.

“Because that’s who Nic gets his smack from!” she exclaimed. “And I will kill him if he ever, ever tries to get you into that!”

Muzic merely laughed as they were turning the corner of 26th to Lethe Lane. It was a broad, simmering day and students were everywhere doing their best to converse amongst themselves innocuously past ketamine-addled and sauntering shirtless sign-flyers. “Well one, I definitely didn’t know that. Damn. But two, I don’t care about that shit, Ra’chel, I swear.”

“I feel like you’re just saying that,” Ra’chel insisted. “Nic probably already got you to smoke it with him.”

“Ra’chel he didn’t, I promise,” Muzic said truthfully.

Two-dozen squatters and hobos were camped out in blankets and makeshift tents at the Make-Shit marketplace. As usual, Muzic kept an eye out for Mike-on-the-Bike, who was nowhere to be seen, which simultaneously aggravated and relieved him. He waved cheerfully at Pollux, who was jamming acoustic folk-punk with his guitar case laid open, a few dollars and coins were there. His girlfriend Siamese looked familiarly emaciated but smiled at Muzic and Ra’chel while she was fixing up the bandana around her panting dog’s neck. Mickey Blue, scruffy and mousy-looking, stood in a circle of some other bums but acknowledged Muzic with a nod.

The Undertaker sat hunched on his island at the front steps of the Queen X Baptist a couple blocks down, scowling and nursing some grudge. However, his expression brightened instantly as Muzic and Ra’chel approached.

“Music Man!” he exclaimed in his nasal southern drawl, jumping to his feet. “Boy am I glad to see you, that motherfucker with the guitar down there said something that right pissed me off, if I see him come over, you know what I’m gonna do to ‘im, or his motherfucking junky bitch — say, Muzic, you gotta a couple smokes on you? I could really use ‘em—”

“I don’t, Gary,” Muzic lied.
“Aw, well, you gotta dollar, Music man?” Gary said, frowning. Then he noticed the brown bag in Muzic’ hand. “Whaddya got in the bag?”

“It’s none of your business!” Ra’chel said angrily. “Stop bumming off him all the time!”

“Hey fuck you bitch,” Gary snapped, his grizzly face contorting in a snarl. “Hey Muzic she’s your friend but she’s gonna fuck with the wrong goddamn guy.”

“Fuck you,” Ra’chel snapped back and stepped around Muzic as he was trying to lead them away. “I’m actually his friend, I don’t bother him asking for a dollar every time I see him. Why don’t you get off your ass and go make your own money?”

Even though the Undertaker wasn’t tall, he still towered over Ra’chel, tiny and scrawny as a woodland sprite. Gary’s teeth bared, his fists balled. “How about I knock your teeth out, you stupid fucking cunt!”

“Hey fuck you!” Muzic spat at him, turning to block Ra’chel out of the way. He had his arm pushing against her back towards the Woo, though she resisted. “Ra’chel, come on.”

“Run away bitch,” Gary growled.
Ra’chel pirouetted away from Muzic. “I’ll fucking kick your bum ass.”
“Ra’chel stop —”

“I’ll fucking kill you, bitch,” Gary snarled, his eyes manic and looking utterly bestial, “f’I see you again, hear that Muzic, you better make sure your bitch doesn’t come around if she doesn’t wanna get her whore-mouth broken, come fuck with the double-u-double-u-eee!”

Muzic insistently led Ra’chel past the church courtyard as she screamed a retort at Gary, who vowed to kill her again. Ra’chel stormed behind Muzic into the foyer of the Wooten. Socrates looked up from his office desk as Ra’chel yelled expletives around everywhere.

“That miserable hobo motherfucker,” Ra’chel exclaimed furiously.
“I know, Ra’chel, he’s a gigantic fucking piece of shit nothing!” Muzic yelled, shaking with anger and fear. “But all that was so fucking completely unnecessary! Goddamn.”

“Muzic you’re just gonna keep letting him walk all over you!” Ra’chel retorted.
“No I’m not!” Muzic shouted. “I’ll kill him if he ever talks like that to you again. Fuck!”

Ra’chel was going downtown to Dirty that night with friends from the coast, something Muzic felt he was too drunkenly weary and frustrated to participate in. When Muzic left the Woo in the evening, he exited quietly out the backdoor and rounded Teji’s and the Thai restaurant to cross over to UX campus. Gerard was solving a new 8×8 Rubik’s Cube and had flipped the television to American Dad when Muzic entered the dorm and related his day. Gerard reacted mostly with disinterest to the Undertaker’s threats, so Muzic retreated to his own anxieties and the bottles of codeine and Evan Williams, which he sipped on the fire escape’s cement stairway while chain-smoking cigarettes until his head swam luxuriously. Then he could more properly enjoy Seth McFarlane’s gags.

Other people he messaged the following morning expressed a great deal more alarm about what had happened. Abigail urged him and Ra’chel to completely ditch the Phlegm for a while. Muzic found he was almost equally annoyed with anyone fretting too much as Gerard’s mitigated concern, and he drained the last minute puddle of whiskey and buried into the reading for his Vampiric Literature class he hadn’t attended for more than a week.

His computer dinged, and Muzic switched tabs to Facebook. There Breezy’s head was floating within a rectangle of pitch-dark blackness and looking quizzically at him through a pair of overlarge Mr. Potato Head glasses above a mighty handlebar moustache. Muzic burst out in laughter. Breezy messaged him beneath her photo: “if you need to borrow my disguise to the Weave Rave tonite”

He messaged back: “It’s no matter, I shall simply install a zip-line from the top of X Tower to the Weave Rave and thereby avoid the Phlegm entirely. I am however extraordinarily awed by your new Orwellian aesthetic.”

“I have decided to metamorphose into either Groucho Marx or Gene Shalit. Will update with progress” she messaged back before signing offline. Muzic beamed at her message and reread it several times. As Gerard snored quietly in his turquoise bed across the gray, shuttered room, Muzic sat at his desk and indulged in rereading some of the short stories he had created from his half of some fantastical correspondences with Breezy the summer before he had moved to Updowntown.


I assure… ou… …continue to exist. Unfortunately, I took your advice to smack Doug in the head while we were operating in low levels of interstellar medium, which caused a small puncture in his helmet upon impact with my fist. The subsequent deficiency in his oxygen intake before I was able to support him back to the ship likely caused slight brain damage, which contributed to his forgetting to refuel the ship when we stopped for gas. When we encountered the gravitational field around the planetoid C-43X2 several months later in our voyage, we had no means of escaping its influence and crash landed on the planet. Doug perished in the landing. I had to temporarily abandon my mission and assimilate into the alien society on the small planetoid, in which time I fell in love with a green-tentacled beauty named Cilqdreqrt. Within months we were engaged to be wed, until I caught her in the middle of one of her many affairs she had been having. She subsequently robbed me and left me penniless. I am now alone and destitute, living in a back alley while I attempt to repair the fragments of both my ship and my broken heart. I just received the bubblegum toothpaste and the whisk, which serve as bittersweet reminders of the home I may never be able to return to.

Also, while I am flattered by your assumption that I am an intergalactic traveler, I have so far traveled exclusively on an intragalactic capacity and am not yet licensed to operate beyond that.

[broadcast interrupted]


…pologies, I am currently (sic) interruptions in my efforts… my …mitting responses. As the planetoid moves (sic) western quadrature in its orbit, the pathway of our correspondence… this …binary system’s stars their greatest propensity to interfere through solar activity…

[broadcast interrupted]

…is a shame about the wedding. I had booked the Wambarg Zarbooglers, the best neo tentacle-metal band this side of planetoid C-43X2, with special guest Juq’wus Ni’a’alqi, who of course requires no introduction. When Juq’wus heard about my engagement going sour, he invited me backstage… BZZZZZZZT …concerts (sic) even pulled me on-stage to join him in a duet. My thoughts were still on my beloved Cilqdreqrt, and I wept bitterly throughout the song, but it turns out that the noise of incoherent crying and drunken shouting is what the majority of mainstream radio airplay resembles on planetoid C-43X2. My transformation from heartbroken vagrant to swaggering rockstar occurred overnight – literally, for night lasts several weeks on the planetoid. My first three albums each went 60x platinum. Critics hailed me as a virtuoso in unintelligible sobbing. Unfortunately, with the fame came my first ventures into alcohol and drug abuse, prostitution, and soon after that widely publicized confrontations with the press, with other bands, ex-spouses, and my friends. At the apex of a particularly raucous party I had held at my mansion, I hurled the very toaster you had sent me as a wedding gift at my dearest friend Juq’wus, who was struck in the head. Weeping, Juq’wus picked up the toaster with one tentacle and stared at me, crying, “Look at your life! Is this really what you want, Euripides? Is this what you want?” And he slammed the toaster on the granite floor. The toaster broke, so I am unable to return it to you in its current state nor can I be considered responsible for the damage it has sustained, but if you are agreeable I can provide you with an address that you can reach Juq’wus at.

[broadcast interrupted]

…deeply aggrieved to hear about the misfortunates you have encountered in your efforts to rescue me… BZZZZZT …regards to your vanishing message, I perfectly understand the need for secrecy. The umbrella was more appreciated than you know, although a previous package of yours unfortunately has had disastrous consequences for me: the bubblegum toothpaste, which I used as an additive to one of the dishes I served at a dinner in my manor with the Drurhiic ambassador to planetoid C-4X32. What I did not know at the time was that the ambassador was a crucial figure in preventing a fragile alliance of multiple planets in the system from destabilizing into war. I also was not aware that Drurhiians are mortally allergic to bubblegum.

Two months later, the old C-4X32 republic finally toppled, and the revolutionaries had strong political motivation to have me assassinated.

All day and all night the C-4X32 government forces rained hellfire on my remote manor, reducing it to rubble while I remained burrowed in the bomb shelter dozens of feet below. In the morning I resurfaced and made my trek across the desert of Neimghod, with your umbrella my single cover from the acidic rain that descends in that region. The soles of my boots dissolved beneath my feet, and I bled profusely over the caustic sand dunes, but still I struggled on with my sights on the pillar of smoke on the horizon. My vision blurred, my head swam, my legs screamed, and the scarlet trail behind me evaporated in the heat of the two suns with a sinister crackle.


Eventually he shut his laptop and left the dormitory.

At the Woo, Muzic was bewildered to find Ra’chel’s door locked for the first time in memory. He knocked for a moment before shrugging to himself and turning back to the elevator before he heard booming laughter suddenly from Ra’chel’s next-door neighbor’s room, then scratching sounds. The door opened and Beaver stepped out, lazy-eyed with his askew smile as his long ginger hair fell to his waist. After him Raja the burly carob-furred bulldog was dragging the equally rotund Blind Ben out into the hall.

“Hey Ben,” Muzic said, announcing his presence.
Ben had been in the middle of a sentence but looked over unseeing and weighed Muzic’ voice a moment, mouth agape. “The singer — no, Muzic! Ra’chel’s friend.”

“That’s me,” Muzic confirmed pleasantly. “What’re y’all up to?”
“We’re hitting the Ague Dive,” Ben said buoyantly as Raja tugged at her leash. “Come with if you want.”
Muzic hmmm’d, considering a second.

“Y’know you’re welcome to even ‘thout an ID, ’m buyin’ pitchers off happy hour,” Beaver mumbled in his southern accent which was always excruciatingly difficult for Muzic to understand.

“Cool, yeah,” Muzic replied, mostly guessing whatever Beaver had said. “I’m nineteen but I know everyone there anyways.” It was even mostly true. The first time he had been to the Ague Dive in February, Ra’chel and Danicoa had accompanied him, Danny having let him borrow his driver’s license.

“Dude, I’m not even remotely Hispanic looking,” Muzic had laughed, eyeing Danny’s photo. Danny was using a paper ID from the DMV which used the exact same photo, further fueling Muzic’ doubts.

“Muzic don’t worry about it!” Danny had said.
“Let’s just try, they’re not going to check it,” Ra’chel agreed. And astoundingly, she was right. The tatted, prematurely gray-haired bartender had scrutinized their IDs for all of two seconds and poured them a pitcher, then they had gotten rounds of cocktails and another pitcher or three — this was how Muzic began using leftovers of his scholarship money in addition to discovering how to use the student currency on Marlboros at the bodega off the Make-Shit Market — until they floated back to the Woo for the night.

Afterwards he had formed a covert mission to become familiar with the rest of the staff whenever paired with this tatted bartender and never need Danny’s ID, doubting nevertheless that their trick could work more than once. He had also gotten the idea to get a temporary paper ID from the DMV and use the document as a template for forging his own for Logan Harken, freshly twenty-one, Pisces, who perpetually awaited his plastic license in the mail. When Socrates was out on lunch break one afternoon, Muzic booked the Woo’s computer lounge and discretely printed out his creation. The russet-haired RA had never looked up from his desk. The ID got him in virtually anywhere down Phlegethon Dr or downtown that he had tried, the only exception being the drag-themed bingo night event he had dressed up with Danny one night to go. At a 7-11 the cashier had regarded the paper suspiciously and insisted on entering the registration number which Muzic had made up, causing him to nervously consider running out of the store, but miraculously no red flags had been raised on whatever system the cashier had used. Muzic wondered if it had been a bluff or if he had inadvertently chosen some magic number. Offhandedly he chalked it up to natal Jupiter in Sagittarius, having recently purchased Isabel M. Hickey’s Astrology: A Cosmic Science at Book People.

It was barely past noon as Muzic and the two men and Raja walked the Phlegm, students crowded the plaza and sidewalks between the west mall and the pizzeria below the Ague Dive, but it being Tuesday there were almost all the street youth Muzic had ever seen collected near the Broke Works drop-in beneath the lancet windows of the Congregational Church of Updowntown, hanging around for the four o’clock meal. Muzic had gone once with Ra’chel, and thereby met the most memorable characters among the kids: Jerm, who had an angular weasel-face but tightly wound arms and a myriad of colored coats and cloths worn like a skirt; Dallas Day, darkly tanned and mustachioed above his boyish grin; Zack Grotsky, supremely hairy and carrying an ubiquitous reek of sweat, but also very soft-spoken and kindly.

Muzic held the door at the pizzeria open for Ben, Raja and Beaver. Upstairs he recognized both of the bartenders and relaxed while Beaver ordered a pitcher of Fireman’s 4.

“’Member I really jus’ drink th’ hard stuff anymore, not beer, but pitchers ‘ere cheap as a motherfucker,” Beaver said lowly to Muzic, depositing the overflowing pitcher and four chilled glasses on the center of the tall round table they were seated at. Even Raja was sat across from Muzic, perched perfectly comfortably, drool leaking slightly from the corner of her yap. Then it was clear why Ben had requested the fourth glass when he filled it halfway and gingerly tipped it into Raja’s mouth. She lapped it up with a wet noise and smacked her lips.

“That’s the most hilarious thing I’ve ever seen,” Muzic said, incredulous.

Blind Ben laughed thunderously and lifted his own glass, staring blankly ahead. “Cheers! Oh, no hold on…” he added, feeling around for Raja’s glass too and holding it up. Beaver poured himself and Muzic ale and they clanked glasses.

“I could have been working here actually, or almost,” Muzic said in an undertone, continuing with explaining his process of how he warmed up to the staff. “And so the big-chested, tattooed girl um — Desiree, I like her a lot, she’s fucking cool — and the bartender there now, Anthony, were like ‘you should apply here! Whats-his-face is on the way out, y’know.’ And the manager talked to me too and everything, happened to be in.”

“Yea, jus’ one problem ‘m seein’ from my perspective,” Beaver muttered, amused, “seein’ as yeh look like yeh can’t even shave.”

“Well exactly, as soon as I ever put in the application I couldn’t come back. Obviously,” Muzic said smiling and downing some beer. It was pleasantly hoppy. “It’d be way better than when I was at Cane’s though. Sucks trying to go to school and working ‘til five in the morning. I was busting out Adderalls pretty mad to make it work, sort of — kinda burnt out on classes by that point — but I usually just went to Ra’chel’s after, there was usually a movie playing even when everyone who was living there any random night was crashed out.”

“Constantly, I heard through the wall,” Ben agreed, though the jovial expression never left his face. “Oh yep, me and Chel weren’t gelling at all, you and — well not you Singer — but I did give Socrates a heads up once she was bringing those homeless couples and their dogs over. They were sleeping on my balcony! They woke up Raja every night, and I even went outside to kick them back to Chel’s, and you know where Raja found them sleeping the next night?”

“I’m sure,” Muzic conceded.
“But that’s just Ra’chel,” Ben said amiably, pausing to drink. “She’s got a heart of gold, and a meth-addicted mother and a brother in prison, and well, I think she just can’t help herself from trying to help others. And… well, I love her.” His mouth twitched.

“Even if she is a crazy junkie bitch sometimes,” Beaver added.
“We’ve all done that with her too,” said Ben.
“I still haven’t so far.” Muzic looked between the two older men. “I didn’t know either of y’all had smoked it.”

“Oh sure,” Ben said frankly, “I smoked with Chel and Nic and two or three of their friends in my place once. I enjoyed it. Didn’t need to try it again, but I suppose it’s not that easy for those two.”

“Jus’ a matter of not letting a fuckin’ substance you put in your body have control over you, jus’ straight up, and givin’ ‘nough of a fuck about yerself to quit f’you beginnin’ to get fucked up all the time,” Beaver drawled matter-of-factly. He poured a second round of drinks for everyone.

Once his glass was empty again, Muzic ordered a Jack and coke from Anthony at the bar. When he returned to the table, Blind Ben was barreling through a story of his friend who had crashed a stolen car into a Buffalo Billiards in South Updown ten years before. Ben said his friend had tried to reverse out of the debris, smashed into concrete and stalled, and abandoned the whole chaotic mess. He claimed the incident had been on the front page of the Updown & Upagain Statesman, but the authorities never identified Ben’s friend.

Beaver was telling a mumbled, indecipherable story of something like having cooked meth in his twenties and abandoned the operation a week before police raided the place. Ben listened raptly then boomed with laughter again. As they talked, Muzic’ stomach grumbled. He considered ordering from the pizzeria as Beaver brought back a second pitcher, but thought better about getting hammered at 1pm for a change. Instead he slid off his seat and said goodbye before heading downstairs.

Making fuzzily towards the Make-Shit, Muzic sucked in his breath noticing the Undertaker wringing his gnarled hands at a patio table off the Phlegm. Gary scowled familiarly but brightened when he recognized Muzic walking past. “Muzic!” he called nasally.

Muzic kept walking and gave Gary the finger.
Amidst a throng of students and professors Muzic stood at the corner waiting for the walk signal when something jabbed him in shoulder. Muzic twisted and met Gary’s wild eyes; the Undertaker, for all his savage shaggy mane and beard and that frightening visage, looked simply perplexed at Muzic. “What’s up Muzic? Did you just flip me off?” His jaw twitched.

The signal started blinking, beeping frantically, and the crowd of dozens of people began crossing the street both ways. “Yeah, I did, you called my friend a bitch and threatened her, so don’t talk to me,” Muzic said coldly and turned to leave.

A sudden force launched Muzic forward, causing him to collide into the backs of students. Several people screamed. Muzic balanced himself, jumped back and spun. Gary stood glowering in the crosswalk, looking livid, and approached a foot before Muzic shoved the Undertaker backwards with all his strength into the telephone pole while a couple frat bros dodged away. Several students scattered into the street. Gary rebounded off the metal pole and stumbled before twisting around again.

“You wanna get in the ring with the Undertaker, mother fucker!” Gary sneered, teeth bared. His miniature body was suddenly alive with ferocity, he swung his crooked fists at Muzic’ head with blinding speed. Muzic barely dodged, and began stepping away. Gary yelled furiously. “I said you better not mess with the double-u-double-u-eee, now I’ll break your fuckin’ nose, want me to break your fuckin’ nose Music man?” Muzic was frozen in the street, transfixed as the two frat bros shoved Gary backwards and shielded him. Gary tried to swing around them, and his fury was such that students careened out of the way. Cars were honking, very nearby somewhere a police siren sounded.

Muzic numbly approached Gary with his hands raised. The Undertaker spat and swung again, colliding with Muzic’ upraised arms. His left fist jetted out of nowhere and smashed into Muzic’ nose with a horrible crunch. He heard several people scream. Blood gushed from his nostrils and poured into his gaping mouth, soaked his shirt in seconds, his face echoed with waves of pain as he stumbled backwards blindly. The frat bros shouted curses and lunged towards Gary, who danced away from them and bolted down the strip, knocking students out of his way.

Strangers’ hands grasped Muzic’s arms and shoulders, he couldn’t see whose. In a moment, policemen stood in front of him while students dispersed from the street.

“I’b fine, I’b fine,” was the first thing Muzic said hoarsely after his shock waned, waving away the policemen’s questions. Other passersby described the fight for them, including the frat bros and some sophomore girls.

“Are you okay?” one of the policemen asked him again as Muzic nodded fervently.
“Do you wanna press charges?”
“No! No, I don’t,” Muzic insisted, plugging his nose with napkins someone had run into Einstein’s to give him. “I don’t, no charges. And ‘e ran away.”

Some other guys helped him trudge inside the Noodles & Company’s bathroom (“’Danks,” he muttered), where he washed his face in the ensanguined sink until his nose finally stopped bleeding. Gazing at his reflection, his nose was swollen and possibly crooked. His head still pounded and the maroon down his shirt was sickeningly weighted against his torso even as the blood began congealing. He exited through Einstein’s and treaded down the alley behind Phlegethon Dr with some trepidation back towards the Woo. He maintained doggedly past the homeless campsite at 23rd, ignoring Pollux and Siamese calling his name.

Ra’chel’s door was ajar when he arrived on her floor, her characteristically sulky voice carrying out into the hall as Muzic approached.

“…’s what I’m saying! Zora you just have to watch me again, you see, look — see, it’s how I bend my back and I’m using my hips to push the, the momentum out and swing around and around like — like that! See what I’m saying?”

“No I do, I was talking about the slow curvy arc backwards, you have to actually correctly know how to pose your legs as you’re going through, I know because I’ve seen it done so many times really sloppily.” The voice was delicate but possessed a natural finality.

“Hey, Ra’chel,” Muzic called, noticing upon entering several unfamiliar baskets of laundry in the antechamber-ish wardrobe space that opened into Ra’chel’s bedroom. Above the shelves in front of him the video of Ra’chel pole dancing played on her TV, while she and a strange elfish girl sat on her bed watching and smoked cigarettes.

“Muzic!” Ra’chel cried, jumping from the bed. “What’s that on your shirt? Why… did you get in a fight? You’re bleeding!”

“Yeah, fucking Gary,” he replied bitterly, touching his nose and finding it still swollen and now trickling with blood again, “I’m wondering if my nose is actually broken or not. Think Nic would know if he’s around?”

“Wait, Gary punched you? That fuckhead — I’m getting Nic or Vibez to go whoop his ass, or anyone of those guys over there to do it — wait, I feel so bad, he attacked you after what happened yesterday! I don’t think your nose is broken, Muzic,” she added, scrutinizing Muzic’ face up close, feeling the bridge of his nose above the Kleenex he was pressing against himself. Ra’chel traced the swelling. “Nic’s in Bastrop still… but it’s not broken.”

“Here, I can heal you,” the elf girl said, leaping up suddenly and putting her hands on Muzic’ temples. Muzic stared bemused at her all the while. She was tall and skinny, with seemingly extraterrestrial cat eyes of startling pewter, dark brown hair swept over her head, which was shaved on her left side. She had a medusa above her frowning lips, which tightened as she shut her eyes and moved her fingers across Muzic’ forehead and cheekbones.

In a moment, the pain began to entirely evaporate from his nose; his headache vanished instantly. Muzic stared at her in utter disbelief as she stepped back and exhaled quietly.

“Did… did that work?” Ra’chel asked, entranced.
“It… yeah, completely,” he murmured.
“Nuh uh! No it didn’t!” Ra’chel said, unbelieving, staring at Muzic.

The girl fell back into the bed and folded her twig-like legs in a pretzel. “I told you, I’m a Healer, Ra’chel. That’s what I do for people.”

“Muzic, this is… hey I forgot how you say your name again,” Ra’chel admitted.
“Zor-oh-ass-tree-uh,” she said flatly.

“Zoroastria,” Muzic echoed, cracking into a smile. “I love it. I can’t believe you just did that.”