The hissing had me a little concerned, mostly because it seemed to disappear the moment I tried to confirm that it was actually there, and then reappear the moment I tried to fall asleep. Figures, I thought, of course my head would try to do something like this to me.
But would it?
The hissing had stopped, but that didn't matter at the moment, not when this question preyed on any other thoughts. I sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the floor. I mean, yes, sometimes my thoughts seemed beyond my control, spewing weird "brain crack" (as my brother would call such odd but addictive thoughts) on a regular basis, but never anything quite as bad as nails on a chalkboard, or any of the awful sounds from last night. Sounds that were crystal clear to me that nobody else seemed to hear. Sounds that the Doc, therefore, concluded that only I heard because they were in my head.
"But that can't be right," I muttered. "It can't."
"What can't be right?"
I jumped, my skin shrinking about three sizes. My eyes darted around the room.
"Hello?" I chanced quietly.
"What can't be right?" the gruff voice repeated.
"You didn't hear me come in, then?"
"N-no…" No one came in, I could've sworn it; the hinges were quieter than church mice at a funeral, but I should've heard the door open at the very least. "Who's there, where are you?"
No answer. I was about to ask again when the door actually opened, with the older--and the more intimidating--Grimm brother.
"Doc wanted me to check in on you," he said roughly.
Something about his voice… didn't I hear it just recently? I gave him a long look.
"What?" he grunted.
"You weren't, y'know, just in here, were you?" I asked timidly.
"No. What makes you think that?"
I didn't answer right away. I could've sworn that was his voice I heard just moments before his arrival.
He raised an eyebrow at me. "Well?"
"N-no reason." I did my best not to squeak, although I'm not sure how successful I was.
Dwayne rolled his eyes and shook his head. "C'mon; Doc said you didn't get much sleep, but he doesn't want you skipping meals."
I nodded and followed him downstairs.
I didn't like the looks Dwayne kept giving me as we went.
Or was I imagining those, too?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
On the way back from dinner, I stopped to skim over the contents of a world-weary bookcase. I closed my eyes, picked a shelf, then grabbed the first book my hand could loose from its neighbors. I needed something, anything, to occupy my mind.
Back in my room I looked at my plucked selection, which sported a parabolically psychedelic cover. Introductions to Calculus, the academic typefaced cover read. I'd always liked playing with numbers, this was probably just the kind of mental distraction and stimulation I needed. I cracked the book open; it probably hailed from the Seventies, so its spine complained of disuse. I fanned the yellowing sheets and stuck my finger to catch a starting point. I looked at the page header: End Behavior.
I don't know what it was, but something about that header shook me a little. Funny how math can hit you like that.
I started skimming the section, stopping at the bit about Odd Functions. For positive odd functions, as the graph headed to infinity the line swooped up; as it backtracked to negative infinity it plummeted. Negative odd functions were mirror image, falling down as it came in from negative infinity, and continuing down into negative numbers as it ran towards infinity. I turned the page to find two graphs, one of y=x^3 to illustrate positive odd, the other of y=-x^3 to show negative odd.
I couldn't help but think: Time goes forward on the x-axis, so if I was indeed an odd function, and I'd started out at a lower point, presumably I should be improving, perhaps slowly at first but once I got past a turning point that improvement should be much quicker.
And yet I couldn't help but feel like I was heading downward, and heading down fast.
I looked at those two Egyptian dancer graphs for a while, one swooping up and the other sliding down, and swallowed. I could only hope the Doc was doing his best to keep me on that positive function.