Chocolate, tomatoes, eggs, even lactose and gluten flare me up. I cant even use my perfume, because my nose burns. The most debilitating symptom for me is burning mouth. Little bit of histamine, or something este I should not eat, and my mouth is on fire! I also have post covid subacute thyroiditis and my hypofuncion turned to hyperfunction of thyroid which my dr told me is so rare he cant believe it. But blood tests dont lie. I am on Prednisone and Propranonol now plus antihistaminics Fexofenadine. This is fkn hell. Do you think acupuncture can help it? Please tell me its not forever!
At wits end, maybe I’m overthinking and anxiety is getting best of me. I’m quite healthy, hyper aware of my body, intuitive, and pro active with my health.
4years ago I had what I assume was gastroenteritis as my gf had it, I had loose stools and urgency 6-8x a day for just over a week and lost weight. Scarred me to be honest. 1year later I somehow got hpylori when I noticed a lack of appetite and slight burning in stomach. Ran every other test and just hpylori was positive. Triple therapy eradicated it, tested negative. Negative via breath test 4 more times over the next 2 years for peace of mind.
Over the last 1-2years (2021+) I’ve noticed how regular I am. Once a day, in the morning before showering. Sometimes I skip a day once a week. I also notice or I’m just obsessing over the smallest things like stomach gurgling (when I skip meals or in the morning or just after eating), urge of a bowel movement feels almost “warm” in my anal cavity like I ate something spicy, lack of appetite especially with heightened anxiety or nerves, and slightly lower energy (I also have been very bad at exercise since COVID and before I used to exercise 4-5x a week).
I’ve seen 3 GI’s and finally found one that listens and is understanding and aware of SIBO even. Since February of 2022 I’ve done test like fecal elastase for malabsorption, hpylori, stool cultures, fecal inflammatory markers, fecal fat content, complete comprehensive blood labs as well as lipids, metabolic, more inflammatory markers, celiac, etc. everything was normal or negative. Wouldn’t SIBO affect one of those especially stool tests?
I’ve never officially tested for SIBO via TrioSmart because I’ve done extensive research and even discussed it with my GI about how inaccurate and hit or miss these results can be and typically the GI’s just prescribe Xifaxin or similar and see if it helps symptoms. Now, my symptoms don’t seem any different than normal.
I feel like holistic medicine with $300 appts and $$$$ supplements is just…not the play here. I’ve had my blood labs done 3-4x in the last year already even. GI Maps are also all over the place with their sensitivity. So what’s the move?
I don’t have pain, occasional bloat and gas if I eat foods that generally cause it like broccoli, onion, garlic, etc. I don’t drink dairy but I eat cheese. I eat gluten sparingly. I feel like I can be searching for something that isn’t there…I can drink beer and wine. Am I even a candidate?
Hey friends! Hows it going, post title spells it all so bottom line, I'm a busy, successful grad student pushing towards graduation in May, my birthday is at the end of March and I'm trying to get a little birthday sex/end of semester hooking up going. I had posts on and off the last few months because i'd been house sitting and had great success with pics/vids to prove it. But right now it's ideal if you can host because I have room mates so fill this inbox/DM if I seem like your type. Read below for details.
Here's my stats just so you can size me up: I'm 32, 6'0 tall, brown hair and eyes, 175lbs, fit but not jacked, think a dad bod, 7 inches and thick package, college educated, drink but don't smoke unless its 420 but mostly stick to edibles, have a car, have a job, easy to get a long with and have had successful meetups/hook ups from posting recently. Also tested and vaccinated with proof.
As far as hobbies and interests: I'm big into video games, I like to collect and learn about old and new projects and try out new games as much as I can. I also like following movies and shows. I'm also a big fan of new cooking recipes and traveling. If you're a fellow nerd we'll probably get along real well.
Work and career wise I work for small businesses as a media and digital comms consultant, usually helping them grow. Currently I'm with an electrician contractor and I help them manage projects and their digital media output (mostly advertising but how they do it on social media accounts) and I have my bachelors in communication, I'm also currently in grad school finish up so still on that education grind. I used teach music on the side but don't anymore because of how busy i am.
Now for YOU and what I'm looking for; I don't have major preferences stat wise. I'm dead open age range wise, 18-60 but would most likely get along and vibe better with more experienced partners, race/ethnicity I have zero preference but have noticed I tend to have white, latina and asian women find me most frequently attractive but I have no preference really, and as far as body type while I'm not picky, I tend to favor thickecurvieBBW women so thick thighs to the front of the line is guaranteed. Beyond that, you being able to host for the time being is a necessity because of my roommate situation (I moved back in with family when the pandemic started a few years ago and stayed for grad school, will be moving out again this summer when my masters is done but its my situation for now). Beyond that, being fellow nerds is a big plus.
Anyways, hope I didn't talk your ear off! Get at me if you think I'm your kind of guy. I'm in the So Cal. Los Angeles area in the South Bay would be down to meet or even get coffee first to see if everything clicks. I'm also COVID free and vaxxed. Your pic gets mine and we can swap other messaging apps if we seem interested. Talk soon! Looking forward to another round of LA are hook up fun
I work for a third party medical billing company and we were approached by a company that wants us to bill over the counter test kits to Medicare for them. This company is not a registered healthcare provider or other entity, they are a marketing company and below is the process they described to me:
1) they have a list of people that MAY be eligible to receive OTC Covid-19 Test Kits
2) they send these patients to an "eligibility company" to ensure they are eligible
3) they then call the patients and confirm if they want the OTC Covid-19 test kits
4) once they've confirmed the patient wants to receive the test kit they send the list of people to a medical supply company which sends the OTC COVID-19 test kits to the patients
5) they want us to bill under a provider and are telling me that the audio file they have (of a call center rep confirming the patient wants the test kit) is enough "medical record" documentation
My concern is that the doctor we are billing under is not documenting or signing off on this test kit. I'm quite confident that this is needed but was wondering if anyone on here had any idea? Also, I'm being told they may want us to bill under a pharmacy or Laboratory.. wouldn't similar medical record documentation be required?
Hey fellow long haulers! This is my first post but I’ve been dealing with long COVID since my first infection in October 2022. I have two autoimmune diseases (ulcerative colitis and celiac) and I was not hospitalized for the initial COVID infection (thank you vaxes and boosters) but I got very sick with pneumonia just after, requiring two rounds of antibiotics as well as inhalers.
I am diagnosed with autism and ADHD, I think this could be important to mention since nicotine is a stimulant, and there also seems to be a lot of comorbidity with ADHD and long COVID.
My main long COVID issues so far have been POTS, PEM, and insane brain fog. I was a full time web developer running my own startup on grant up until I got sick, and because of my autoimmune diseases, I was on an extremely strict exercise and nutrition regiment. I miss intense exercise so much. I tried to return to intense exercise way too early in my recovery, like many others here. I regret it so much.
I also think I should mention, although I was in very good shape / eating healthy / in remission from ulcerative colitis for the four years leading up to catching COVID, before that I was an alcoholic and extremely unhealthy. I was a full time musician and being a night worker is really hard on your body, even without all the substance abuse. I was hospitalized for a liver injury in late 2018 and since then I have been sober and I admit I used exercise to replace my addiction. It’s been incredibly difficult to stop myself from exercising, I miss that dopamine!
I’ve been trying out different supplements suggested on this subreddit with some great results so far with magnesium glutamate and L-theanine when it comes to reducing anxiety, but I hadn’t found any relief for this insane brain fog. I decided to try nicotine patches. I’m in Canada and they are free, I’m using the 7mg 24 hour delivery kind.
I know nicotine is a stimulant, and stimulants can have very negative effects on POTS. I’m so desperate to get some brain function back that I decided it was worth the risk.
Day 1: I am usually around 80BPM sitting down and anywhere from 120-160BPM when standing for more than a few minutes. With the nicotine patch my BPM was stuck around 100-125 even sitting down. However, it only took about an hour to feel my brain fog beginning to lift. It felt as though my eyes grew wider, light was brighter, I felt chatty for the first time in half a year, and I was excited to try to do some work. I did feel some nausea around mid day, but eating took that away. I could not fall asleep so I took the patch off in order to sleep, which took about two hours after removing the patch.
Day 2: I still felt all the same positive effects, and my heart rate was lower while sitting (90-110). Still some nausea, but far less. I took the patch off earlier so I could have a better chance at sleeping. I tested out walking a bit to see how my POTS was doing and nothing has changed for me in the higher range. My heart rate still easily climbs up to 140-160BPM if I’m standing too long, especially if I’m warm. This is great news because my fear was that the patch would make my heart rate spike higher, but so far it’s only changed my resting heart rate.
Day 3: My resting heart rate is even lower (85-105), I feel really clear headed with zero nausea and less nervous energy. On the first two days, my energy was stronger but this is because of adjusting to the nicotine. The first two days I was knocking stuff over and dropping stuff by accident and by day three I’m feeling much more steady handed. Took the patch off two hours before bed and slept just fine.
Day 4: The same as day 3 really! I’m hoping my resting heart rate goes lower but it’s about the same, still no new all time highs for my heart spikes so that’s great. I didn’t sleep at all this night even though I took the patch off at the same time, but I’ve suffered from insomnia my entire life and I know this event was not related to the patch.
Day 5: Without enough sleep it’s hard to say which symptoms are stemming from the patch or lack of sleep. I still feel my brain fog improving like the past days, but the nausea is back and my POTS is way worse. My resting heart rate was back above 100BPM most of the day, but I still got lots of work done.
Day 6: I slept last night and my POTS is back to day 4 levels. I feel much more calm than the first few days, but the clarity and my energy in terms of capacity to sustain activity and hold conversations remains. I am still hoping to see my resting heart rate go lower.
Day 7: I had a bad sleep last night, I get night sweats really bad sometimes since getting COVID so this is not related to the patch, but once again my resting heart rate is way higher than I want it to be (95-110). All the clarity from the first days remains, with no nausea or nervous energy.
In conclusion: Before the patch, the most I could do was 1-2 hours of work without crashing hard. With the patch I’m getting 4-5 hours. I feel social for the first time since getting sick. I feel hopeful. My resting heart rate is higher than it was before, even when I remove the patch, my heart rate is higher than it was at night. I’m noticing that in the mornings before I even put the patch on, I’m feeling much more clear headed.
To the other POTS people, this is a risky trial but I can say with certainty that my heart rates did not spike any higher than before the patch, it’s my resting heart rate that’s scary. I know the trial is meant to be for 7 days, so I’m going to take a break now to see if my symptoms overall have reduced since this trial, but I’m honestly considering keeping these patches as an extra tool for challenging / mentally demanding days. Maybe just for weekdays. I mentioned earlier that I’m diagnosed with ADHD, and since nicotine is a stimulant, it can reduce ADHD symptoms, which means it’s entirely possible that the patches are only addressing my previously existing condition. Either way I’m really glad I tried it.
The other reason I think nicotine is helping so much is because it’s an immune suppressant. Because of my ulcerative colitis, I’m very aware of how much immune suppressants can help address inflammation hell, and I really feel like long COVID is causing autoimmunity.
I also want to say thank you to everyone here, there is so much valuable information in this group! As someone who’s been dealing with autoimmune diseases for over a decade, my number one tip is to only change one variable in your treatment at a time. If you want to test out the patches, make sure all your other variables are consistent so you can observe the changes as clearly as possible.
My (25f) Boyfriend (27m) of almost 2 Years missed my birthday after attending another party the week prior and catching covid.
My boyfriend really wanted to attend another friend's birthday party, but we both have been sick just recently and I told him I didn't want to go because I had invited my whole family for my birthday and didn't want to potentially get sick. I told him that he should probably stay home too. (my birthday and my brother's birthday are 1 day apart so it was a bigger event)
3 days after going to his friends birthday party he got sick and tested positive for covid. I was so heartbroken, because my birthday is a very sensitive time for me. (see previous post from 2 years ago) [ because I struggle with my self worth and my birthday is not really 'mine' alone. Because of dietary restrictions I don't even get a birthday cake.. My whole familywas so busy to the point that my mom even forgot my birthday present..also my cat died in November so I felt really lonely and anxious for awhile]
I told my boyfriend multiple times over the years that my birthday is a sensitive time and that I need him to be there to support me. He came to deliver me his presents at midnight, but I was so sad that we couldn't kiss and that he wouldn't stay. The gifts are beautiful, but I just really needed him there.
Well my birthday ended up being a disaster, I burned my hand with hot oil, very few of my friends remembered and I felt very lonely the whole time. The party came and when it was already late a family member asked me how my cat (she died a few months ago ) was doing and I had panic attack because Im still very distraught about it.
It's a few days later now, my boyfriend has recovered but he didn't make a plan to making it up to me. He did not really care that I was so upset the past few days and always just tells me that he didn't plan on being sick.. I get that he didn't do it intentionally but I'm still very disappointed and upset. I can't seem to let it go.. It bothers me that he acts like everything's alright.
How do I get rid of these negative feelings? And How do I communicate what my expectations are without blaming him?
Hey all. I tried to find instructions in Chinese Martial Arts during the winter. COVID unfortunately put the hunt on hold. "Recovery" (as in a negative COVID test) was swift but, I still have days where breathing and energy are not the best. Thus, I have decided I want to train in Xin Yi Liu He Quan (XYLHQ) due to its descriptions on Plum Publishing. Are there any schools that teach that Martial Art in Queens, New York? If the answer cannot be found on this subreddit, which are also good ones for the subject of Xin Yi Liu He Quan?
The grow I'm working with is being held up on a state requirement to test the growing medium once a year, and it doesn't seem like the testing labs for flower don't handle this sort of testing. We found a lab, but the state failed our testing submission without providing an explanation (the results look fine).
I hadn't seen this sort of testing at my previous grows. My instinct is to find a lab that has worked with other operators in the state. Anyone have a lab they like working with?
Bonjour à tous désolé pour ce post un peu étrange mais je pense que les gens de ce sub sont plus à même de savoir que faire dans ma situation.
TL,DR: comment faire passer 30 k USD en liquide depuis l'Argentine vers la France en avion (2 adultes, 2 enfants) et comment changer ces dollars en euros sans payer trop de frais ?
Précision: l'argent n'a aucune origine douteuse ni illégale voir prochain paragraphe.
Pour résumé je suis actuellement en Argentine (pays de naissance de ma femme) comme certains le savent il est interdit de sortir des pesos du pays et le pesos argentin n'a vraiment aucune valeur sur le long terme (100% d'inflation sur l'année 2022). Les gens changent donc leurs pesos en dollars pour épargner, ma femme ayant des affaires là bas elle fait la même chose, ses frères lui changent ses pesos en dollars et normalement on rentre avec 2 ou 3000 dollars par an qu'on fout dans nos poches dans l'avion
Sauf que là, COVID et 2 gosses oblige on y est pas allé depuis 2019 et les affaires ont été très bonnes pour nous, on se retrouve donc avec près de 30 000 dollars à rapatrier sans trop savoir comment procéder autre que farcir la couche de mon gamin d'un an avant de prendre l'avion (ce qu'on aimerai éviter)
J'en profite pour être sur ce sub pour savoir si vous conseilleriez de garder ces dollars ou de les changer directement en Euros? Pas d'option crytpo svp puisqu'on va déjà passer pas cette option pour transférer le reste de pesos que nous avons ici.
End of November I started having chest pain and issues breathing. I later found out I got Covid and honestly I’m assuming it’s why I’m having this issue . But In honestly I cheiefed joint everyday multiple times a day durning that entire time . I also would purposely hold it in and not cough like an idiot wanting to look cool . Anyway , I used it heavily for my mental health but mostly my psychical health I have many problems a huge one includes food issues and intense nausea . For a month or two I didn’t use any cannabis products now I’ve strayed to use edibles more regularly. But I’m missing the act of smoking so Insanly it almost hurts . The feeling of a deep breath inhaling and the relief all over your body and your appetite was beyond healing for me . Having to actually eat and swallow edibles is difficult for me . I think maybe tinctures and drinks and infused tea maybe would be better . I also find just doing deep breathing kind of mimics smoking for me . But I’m really struggling . I can’t get the psychical relief I once had and I even have dreams where I am smoking . At the same time I know inhaling anything smoke wise isn’t good in the long run but even now I wish I could just dry herb vape once and awhile Bht I’m too scared . My pulmonologist did a pft and it was normal he wanted to do other tests but I didn’t follow up . Any advice from anyone ? I’m Starting to went to just try it despite the chest pain and the issues breathing and keep the weird inhaler they gave me ona whim incase something happens . The doctors didn’t have much insight about me smoking at all which was weird they seemed to think only cigarette smoke would be bad for me . But psychically I can feel that my chest and lungs are in pain and maybe can’t handle it . I’m also thinking well what if I just had someone hotnox and I just sit in the room with them would anything bad or good happen ? Should I keep following up about the chest discomfort ? How do I find relief how to injest thc better how do I do this ? Does it get better it’s been 3 months and a week or two since I acatualtl smoked
A slave-driving murderer had just publicly declared war on us. The cheering and applause of the people standing around us was an eerie and ominous accompaniment to the feeling of dread swelling in my chest and radiating down to my stomach. He'd captured all
of them thus far. I swallowed and dropped my gaze down to the pavement as it dawned on me that all of those people had tasted freedom, and were then immediately and mercilessly hunted down and dragged back to hell.
But there was an interesting caveat there. He called us by the names O'Malley had erroneously wrote down in his ledger. The men that were chasing us that day had picked up our actual
fake aliases, but then we'd killed them at the inn. It seemed that knowledge died with them– a drop of good luck in a raging downpour it seemed.
"William," I said just loud enough to catch his attention.
He turned and eyed me. "Huh? Were you talking to me?"
I lifted an eyebrow. "Yeah. Who else would I be calling William?"
He narrowed his eyes, "It's Tovin
, you spaz."
I glanced around nervously. Nobody appeared to have been listening to us. I took him by the shoulder and led him away from the crowd gathered around the picture boxes. "What are you doing?" I hissed.
"What am I
doing?" he scoffed. "What are you
doing? You know my name. What, are you playing a game right now?"
"Our aliases," I said through my teeth. "We're using fake names, remember?"
His expression changed from annoyed and confused to forlorn and somber. He swallowed and looked away. "... I'm losing it again, aren't I?" he asked.
I remained silent. I didn't know what to say. I didn't want him to feel worse about it, but that would have been a dangerous slip-up in front of the wrong person. Before now, I was starting to think that Tovin back home had overblown how quickly the mental decline would be.
"Don't worry about it," I said finally, passing him on the sidewalk further into the city. "Come on. We need to find a way to make some money."
"And fast," he added, trailing behind me. "We need food, clothes, and a couple of beds. And more cigarettes, too. I've only got a few left and I'm trying to make them last."
We walked the mazelike streets of Bronzegirder looking for work. I wasn't used to Diesel society yet and often found myself hung up on storefront windows that marketed all kinds of gadgets and technology. I would do my best not to stare when people walked by wearing metallic pieces on their persons.
Some wore gadgets on their forearms, some on their wrists, and others in various other areas. I wondered what purpose they served, where they were sold, and how expensive they could be. And it wasn't just the gadgets. There were far more dark-skinned people here than we had in Galgia. It was something I had read about but never experienced. They ranged from light tan all the way to almost black, and it just added to the culture shock.
There appeared to be people living in the buildings above the storefronts. The tall towers we had seen in the far distance earlier served as housing as well as business space. Diesillians stood on their balconies, some hanging wet laundry, others leaning over their railing while they enjoyed a drink or a smoke. We passed so many things I would have wanted to stop and look at were we not being hunted. DuPonte seemed awfully sure of himself when he said he'd find us, but for the life of me, I couldn't imagine how one would find antything
they were looking for in this city.
"I'm totally lost," I admitted. "We need a map or something."
He remained quiet. I turned to speak to him more directly only to find that he wasn't behind me anymore. My stomach dropped as I looked around at the sea of people.
"William?" I called out. "William!"
It was no good. I'd have to literally scream if I wanted to breach the drone of the crowd, and I couldn't afford to draw too much attention to myself. There was also the possibility that he'd forgotten his name again anyway. I adjusted the straps of my backpack and sighed deeply before doubling back. He couldn't have wandered too
far away, and he'd be easy to spot against the horde of people in more modern clothing.
I kept close to the storefronts as I picked up my pace. I began to peer into each store as I passed them. The longer I searched, the more I worried. He wasn't in his right mind. He'd get himself noticed and captured if he let too much slip, or pulled down his hood. I came to the turn we had taken after we'd left the picture boxes. He was with me at this point, I was sure of it. I turned around and swallowed as I scanned the crowd.
This was really, really, bad.
"William?" I tried again. I decided to cross the street and nearly got run over by one of their vehicles. It screeched to a stop and when I lowered my arms, I found the front of the metallic machine inches from my face.
"Git the fuck oudda da road!" shouted the pilot, shaking his fist in the air. I quickly scurried onto the opposite sidewalk and made my way down the street with the flow of the crowd. I kept my eyes peeled as I walked. It was difficult to see over everyone's shoulders. Diesillians were a good deal taller than Galgians as a rule, and it made it a nightmare for an average-sized guy like myself. Just when I was about to start asking around, something caught my ear.
Something I never expected to hear– music.
I stopped in my tracks and the public parted around me like a river around a boulder. I turned toward the sound and followed my ears to a large silver pavilion nestled between two tall buildings. It looked like an empty lot that had been designed for another tall building but instead served as some sort of inner-city courtyard where live entertainment performed.
I slowly approached as a woman stood in front of a mic stand singing while a band performed with shining metallic instruments behind her. She had black hair styled in a way I'd never seen hair styled. It was pulled up and around under a hat and shined the same as her red lipstick did. But what awed me the most was that she was singing
No danger; no combat; no sign of beasts being summoned forth. She sang beautifully, adding something to music that I had never in my life once considered because in Galgia, to sing was to slaughter. Music was a tool of war and forbidden entirely outside of such circumstances, for if one of us were even to hum, anything could come crawling out of the resulting portal.
But here she was, singing what I presumed were the words to a poem in perfect rhythm and harmony with the band that played behind her.
"You're my machine, my heart's ignition. The gears that keep my love in motion. You're the engine that never tires– the pistons set my soul on fire."
I was completely taken in. It was therefore no surprise to me that here in the crowd, I spotted Tovin watching her with equal admiration from the edge of the stage. I weaved through the crowd as politely as I was able and then stopped next to him. He glanced at me before quickly returning his eyes back to the stage. I didn't say anything to him; no words needed said so long as she was singing.
"You, my dear, a love machine, the one that keeps my bearings clean– I'm addicted to your engine's roar, your power's what I'm living for."
I wasn't a hundred
percent sure what she was talking about, but it was clearly a love song written for one lucky guy. When the song was finished, she ever so slightly lifted her ruby-red dress from the sides and took a bow. The crowd clapped, a few whistles coming from somewhere behind us.
"Thank you," she said softly into the mic. "It's important to remember that love conquers all," she said, passing her deep black eyes over us. "Hatred fades over time, but love lasts; it endures. This next song is about a long lost love and reconnection."
We stayed and listened to a couple more songs before she left the stage, and the band with her. She disappeared on promises of returning tomorrow for a second show. Of all the things thus far I had seen in the land of our enemy, something so sweet as non-weaponized music ranked among the most surprising and awe-inspiring.
As the crowd began to disperse back onto the main street, I turned to Tovin. "Hey, do me a favor and don't disappear like that. I didn't know where you were and we've got
to stick together."
"Can we come back here tomorrow?" he asked, completely ignoring what I'd said. He stared at me with hopeful eyes, a small smile on his face. It still felt strange of him to ask me permission for anything, but I couldn't deny that it was a pretty magical performance.
"Only if we live that long," I answered with a heaping helping of snark. "We need money so we can get off these streets tonight. Come on, we're losing daylight."
He looked past my shoulder and suddenly pointed. "What about that?"
I turned to see a bulletin board posted on the side of a building not far from us. On it were several posts, but one of them specifically read, "200 Octim Sign-On Bonus." The two of us walked up the board and looked over the job.
"There's a sign-on bonus," Tovin said as his eyes moved down the paper. "The Empress needs you. Galgian dogs sent monsters to run amok in our fair empire. Officials are spread thin amidst heightened tensions with Galgia's military. Find and kill monsters for bounties. Seek employment at the Hunters' Barracks at 443 Alloy Avenue on the north side of town. Look for the men in uniform."
"Monsters?" I asked. "There aren't any monsters in Galgia. None in all of Aurii if our textbooks are accurate."
"You want to at least check it out?" he asked.
"I think we'd be wasting our time," I said dismissively. "We hiked through a bunch of wilderness closer to the Galgian border and we didn't see anything all night."
He folded his arms. "Then let's get our sign-on bonus and leave
That was such a fantastic point that I pushed my palm against my forehead and visibly cringed. "Oof. Why am I so dumb?
" I whined.
"I don't think you're dumb,
" Tovin said as he moved down the bulletin board to look at other flyers. "I think you're just honest to a fault. It never would have occurred to you to do something so underhanded."
I would never get used to compliments from Tovin. It was like watching a different person wear his body and speak with his voice. Had life at ENU really been such a drag on him?
"None of these other jobs are offering money upfront," he added, turning to face me. "Let's head to the north side of town and see if we can find Alloy Avenue."
x - - x - - x - - ★ - - x - - x - - x
The walk was long and difficult– not because it was too far, but because we had to pass so much delicious-smelling food along the way. I hadn't been sure before if Tovin was as hungry as I was, but the north side of Bronzegirder was quiet enough to hear both of our stomachs growling in concert with one another. The buildings were made of brick in the district we wandered through, and the walkways were closer to cobblestone like the kind we had back home. The roads were three times as wide, there were benches along the walkways, and they had planted trees caged in black iron gates at the trunks. The few people that strolled the sidewalks on Alloy Avenue were well-to-do, dressed in expensive-looking suits and wearing high hats with wide brims.
"I like this side of town better," Tovin said as we looked for building addresses. "Though I have to say, I'm surprised to see trees in the collossity."
"Goes a little against what we were taught doesn't it?" I asked.
"I don't recall being taught anything," he grumbled. "It's just another thing I somehow know."
I cast him a sympathetic glance and he didn't seem to like it. He scowled at me, "Don't you pity me."
"I'm not," I rolled my eyes. "I'd never
feel bad for you
Tovin, not in a thousand years."
"Just shut up," he snapped. "We're here."
He stopped in front of a brick building with an impressive stone staircase that had bronze handrails running up the length of them. At the top were two men in uniform just as the flyer had indicated. He was the first to start up the steps and I quickly followed behind him. As we passed them I took a good look at their uniforms. I could have sworn that I'd seen them somewhere before. We walked up to the glass doors and pulled them open.
A blast of warm air blew over us as we entered the building and it was a welcome reprieve from the cold. Inside was smaller than I had anticipated. I was expecting high ceilings, murals, metal artwork, and all kinds of stuff from how nice the outside looked. Instead, we found ourselves standing in a dirty lobby about the size of a headmaster's office. There were several rows of chairs dotted with people filling out forms on clipboards. At the back of the lobby was a little window with a man sitting on the other side. He was dark-skinned, had a shaved head, and bore a grisly pink scar across his cheek. He waved us forward when he noticed us.
"Let me do the talking," I whispered to Tovin, taking the lead in front of him as we made our way over; he didn't protest.
"Afternoon, gentlemen," he spoke into a microphone that relayed his voice to us through a little black device on the window. "Thinking about joining up?"
Before I could even speak, Tovin leaned onto the counter. "So when you say monsters," he adopted a skeptical look. "You mean like the ones that don't exist?"
The man behind the counter rolled his eyes. "Oh, great, another conspiracy theorist."
"What did you call me?" Tovin shot back.
"Ahhh, ha ha," I called out loudly, pulling Tovin back by his shoulder. "My brother is better at fighting than talking," I covered quickly. "Just talk to me from here on in."
He cast me a disinterested glance before handing us both clipboards with forms attached. "Whatever. Just read the whole thing and sign the liability waiver at the bottom. He's free to deny their existence while they're chewing his face off, but the empire
won't be responsible for it."
I took both of the clipboards and passed one to Tovin. The two of us sat down and began going through them– and immediately, we faced a problem. They wanted first and last names, home addresses, medical history, and something called landline numbers. Tovin and I exchanged glances; this wasn't going to work.
I stood up and slowly walked back up to the counter as I looked over the document. Every time I looked, it seemed more and more ridiculous. Blood type? Social security number? Insurance provider? I didn't know what any of this meant. It might as well have been in an entirely different language.
"Did you have a question?" asked the man behind the counter.
"Yeah, I don't have most
of this information," I said, setting the clipboard down on the counter. "Sorry, but we're gonna have to just go."
"Well, hang on now," he said, reaching under the little pass-through window and retrieving the clipboard. "I take it you boys are homeless then?" he asked.
"Uhh... Yeah," I answered tentatively. Did they really have such a homeless problem that he was able to jump to that conclusion so quickly? "We don't know how to answer these questions, so thanks anyways."
"I said hang on, dammit," he called through the mic before swiveling around in his chair and pulling some kind of lever underneath it that caused it to sink lower to the floor. He opened a cabinet and began rifling through it. I peered through the window at his chair– it was on some kind of ball axis that allowed him to spin in it freely. I felt like every couple of minutes I was seeing something I'd never seen before. He swiveled back around and lifted his chair back up before he handing me a new form. It was more like a strip of paper with three questions on it.
Shirt size, shoe size, and pant size.
There was a second slip of paper underneath it. I looked back up at the window attendant as Tovin appeared next to me. I handed him the slip of paper and we exchanged glances.
"The empire isn't being picky right now," spoke the man through the speaker. "You'll be assigned a number, a gun, and a uniform. You won't be eligible for emergency care, and you can't be assigned to a party. It'll be just the two of you. If you're still interested, we need all the help we can get."
I shrugged at Tovin, and he got to work filling out the information. I leaned on the counter and jotted down my uniform size before signing the waiver and handing everything back. He took both of the documents and then nodded toward the door on his right. "Come on back."
He reached under the table and did something that caused the door to make a whirring sound. It popped open on its own, and he thumbed us over to it. "Close it on your way in. Walk straight down the hall and through the third door on your left. Your hunter number is 27B and his is 28B."
We walked down the hallway and found the designated door already opened and with a sign on the inside that read, "Uniforms HERE" with an arrow pointing into the room. We were met by a portly woman with bouncy curls that hung down to her shoulders. She sat behind a desk absolutely surrounded by hanging uniforms, all kept in clear covering. She sized us up with a retractable ruler– the coolest ruler I had ever
seen. After she took our measurements, she began sifting through uniforms.
"Why did they ask us for our sizes if they were going to measure us?" Tovin grumbled.
"I don't know," I whispered. "Just be quiet."
"Don't tell me to be quiet," he shot back, elbowing me in the ribs.
She turned around holding two suits by the hangers, one in each hand. "Your uniforms will come out of your first bounty collected," she announced. "No money needed upfront. Change into them and make sure they fit." We took them from her and she breezed past us. "Holler out here when you're changed." She closed the door behind her.
We turned away from one another and began getting dressed. I pulled back the crinkly clear material and looked down at the uniform. Now that I was seeing it closer, it was actually an extremely dark shade of blue, rather than black as I had thought prior. I looked down at the hat and held it in my hands. I had seen it before. Then, all at once, it came rushing back to me.
These were the uniforms of the men that had come to the mine. They had come carrying guns to inspect the worksite after what had happened to Hammer. Skully must have thought a monster had gotten to him based on the state of his body. I stared down at the uniform in disbelief. Could monsters really be running around in Diesel territory?
"You better not be looking over here," Tovin warned.
They had mistaken what Tovin had done for a monster attack. Skully's "fonekall" wasn't a pilgrimage. It was some form of long-distance communication. She reached out to the capital to request aid from someone, and they sent these guys. I began to wonder if I was making a mistake. If we could be dispatched like that, then we could feasibly be sent back to the camp.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. We were only in it for the sign-on bonus. Once we had that in our hands, we'd be outta here. We could even jump to the next town. They knew nothing about us other than our clothing size. We could be dust in the wind by tomorrow morning.
I shoved those thoughts to the back of my mind and quickly got dressed. The uniform fit perfectly, it was comfortable, and best of all had been designed with a high collar. It covered our neck markings perfectly. I turned to see Tovin with the hat on already. He looked like a classic Diesel villain from a comic book I had read as a kid.
"It fits nice," he said, testing the range of motion he had in his arms. "I think this will work."
"Yeah," I nodded. "Let's get our money and get the hell out."
"Speaking my language," he smirked.
He moved for the door and leaned out, calling for the attendant. I looked at myself in the full-body mirror and did a quick turnaround. I had to admit, I looked pretty darn stylish. The white gloves, belt, and hat looked pretty good against the dark blue and gold buttons.
The woman returned and smiled at both of us, her curls bouncing as she tossed her gaze cartoonishly left and right between us. "You two look good!"
"Thanks," I smiled back. "When do we get our sign-on bonus?"
"Oh, don't worry about that just yet," she said, moving back to her desk. "Do you boys know how to shoot?" she asked as she sat down.
"Shoot?" Tovin asked.
"A gun," she clarified, her smile fading. "Have either of you shot a gun?"
"No, ma'am," I answered. "Our parents didn't let us near them growing up."
"That's no problem," she said, lifting her hands. "We're happy to teach you the basics. You'll just exit the room and go left down to the very end of the hallway. I'll buzz you through the double doors at the end, and Old Mitchell will take you from there."
Tovin audibly groaned, and I took him by the arm, leading him out of the room. We walked down the hallway as he bellyached about what a waste of time it was. It was unlike him to turn his nose up at the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of a new weapon. In fact, he'd been acting weirdly childish lately. I didn't like it. It beat dealing with Tovin-Classic, but it was still a hassle. As we neared the end of the hallway, we began hearing the sound of guns being fired one by one.
The doors buckled and hummed the same as the first door had, and we pushed them open. We passed into a large room with Diesillians shooting at targets a good distance away. This was why the building was so large and the lobby was so small. The brick walls were covered in informational and safety posters, as well as what appeared to be schematics for the weapons themselves.
I looked across the large room to see a man striding toward us. He was wearing shiny black boots that were laced tightly to his calves. His pants and jacket were hunter green, and he bore perhaps the silliest mustache I'd ever seen; It was long and curled at the tips. I had to be careful not to snicker– his eyes were hidden behind dark sunglasses, and I couldn't tell if he was watching me.
"New recruits?" he called out to us from entirely too far away.
"Yes sir," I called back. "My brother and I just signed up."
"Brothers!" he exclaimed. "I love it, dammit!" He stopped in front of us. He was chewing on something and was being as obnoxious as he possibly could about it. He was wearing perhaps the stupidest hat I had seen of the Diesel yet. It had no visible brim and was high on one side while sloping down toward the other. For the life of me, I couldn't discern the purpose of it.
"You boys know how to shoot?" he asked.
"No sir," I shook my head. "We're new at this."
"Good," he smiled widely. "That means you haven't formed any bad habits yet. I love newbies," he said before waving for us to follow him. "Come on, let's get you your rifles. I'm Mitch, but folks around here call me Old Mitchell."
"James," I said as I followed after him. "This is my brother William." It was difficult to talk over the noise of the weapons. I occasionally jumped when someone shot their gun nearby– a reflex I couldn't wait to be rid of. He led us to a small room; so small that it might as well have been a glorified safe. He disappeared inside and came back out holding two guns. The same long metal tubes Tovin and I had been attacked with at O'Malley's inn.
We each took one and promptly inspected it. Suddenly, Old Mitchell stepped forward and grabbed both of our guns by the barrel, lifting them so they were pointed at the ceiling.
"You boys ever even held
one of these?" he barked. "Careful where you aim. Never
point one of these at anything or anyone that you're not prepared to destroy."
"They sweep you, Mitch?" asked a man as he passed behind us.
"Pointed 'em right at me," he called back with a laugh. "We'll get 'em straightened out, don't you worry about that." He looked at us both, chewing aggressively. "Now I'm gonna let these rifles go. You keep 'em pointed up, you understand?"
"Yes, sir," I answered.
"Sure," Tovin said in a disinterested tone.
He let go of our rifles and we kept them pointed at the ceiling as we were told. I looked up and down the length of the tube before turning it over and inspecting the area under the barrel. It was split underneath with what looked like some kind of spring running along the length of the tube.
"They're not loaded," Mitch said, waving for us to follow him to the other side of the room. "But you will always treat them like they are. I'm going to show you how to load them over here. Set them down on the desk, I'm gonna stand between the two of you so I can watch you both."
I set my gun down in front of me and looked to my right. There was a box of what I presumed to be bullets. I expected them to be round pellet-like projectiles, but they were tubular with roughly textured heads on them.
"Turn your weapon over. You'll notice you can see a spring inside the bottom of the barrel. Close to the other end of your gun, you'll find a little round tab there. Take that tab and push it with your thumb all the way up toward the tip of the barrel. You'll then pop it out to the side there."
I did as he asked, and sure enough, the barrel popped out to the left at the tip of the weapon. I glanced over at Tovin who was struggling with the spring. Old Mitchell moved over and helped him with it. "Sometimes they get stuck," he muttered as he got Tovin to the same step I was at.
"Now," he shouted. "Take your ammunition right there in the box next to you, and begin placing the rounds into the underside of the barrel, flat side first. Then, you'll load more bullets into the gun overlapping one another. Be careful not to let the rounds collide with one another too heavily, or you could have a little accident."
I loaded the bullets carefully one after another until the barrel was about full. He checked on Tovin's rifle, and then inspected mine.
"Good. Now realign the barrel, there and come with me to the bay," he said, starting toward the practice range. I carefully lifted the weapon and rested it against my shoulder, turning with Tovin to follow him. When we stopped at the range, he motioned for Tovin first. "Come on, Will, we're gonna start with you."
"Pass," he said nonchalantly.
Old Mitchell blinked twice. "What?"
"I want to see Gill do it first," he said, stepping out of my way.
"It's a nickname," I said quickly, stepping up to the range. "Anyways, I'll go first, I don't mind, what do I do here?"
Mitch remained silent for a couple of seconds before clapping his hands once. "Okay! Well, go ahead and pull the hammer back."
I looked down at the weapon and then back up at him. Sensing my confusion, he carefully reached forward and pulled back a little tiny lever on the top of the rifle until it clicked. "That's called pulling the hammer back," he said. "Will, you watching this?"
He didn't wait for a response. "Next thing you're gonna do is pull that lever out underneath the gun. That's going to load the weapon with a fresh cartridge. You're gonna do that between every shot, now. Lift it up against your shoulder like this; get it snug in there." He pulled it against my shoulder. "Look down the iron sight there at the tip of the rifle and line it up against your target. Your weapon is primed and ready to fire. You're good for fifteen shots before you've got to reload. You can always flip it over to see how many bullets are left. Go ahead and aim carefully, and try and hit that target paper down there."
At the end of the range, there was a piece of paper with a silhouette of a human head, shoulders, and torso. I closed one eye for better aim and held the gun tightly as I lined up my shot.
the trigger," Mitch advised in my left ear. "Squeeze it. Squeeze the trigger until it doesn't move easily anymore. Then when you're sure about your aim, squeeze with just that little bit of extra strength you need."
I did as he said, and felt what he was referring to. With my target in sight, my hand steady, and my aim as true as I could hope for, I fired the weapon. The shot rang out right in my ear, but interestingly enough, it wasn't so bad when I was the one firing. I was ready for it, and expecting it.
"Holy smokes!" exclaimed Mitch. "You put one right between the eyes!"
"Beginners's luck," said a man from behind me. "I did the same thing first time I shot, and never did it again."
"Let's prove him wrong, James," Old Mitchell laughed. "Now use that lever under the gun to eject the casing and load a fresh bullet."
I pulled the lever and the shiny little bullet casing popped out the top and flew over my shoulder. It was a really satisfying feeling.
"Do I pull the hammer again? I asked.
"Nope, it'll pop back down. You'll only pull that hammer back the first time. Go ahead and fire again, only this time, aim for the neck."
"Alright," I said, closing my eye and tightening my focus. I squeezed the trigger just as I had the first time and shot a hole straight through the center of the target's neck. I lifted my head and smiled. "I hit it!"
"No way," said the man behind me. "Ain't never shot before, my ass. He's taking you for a ride, Mitch."
"You're sure you're new at this, son?" Old Mitchell asked, one eye half shut. "That's really impressive, kid. Seriously, if this is your first time holding a rifle, you might be cut out for the military. Had a staff sergeant with worse aim than you."
"Alright, alright," Tovin pushed me aside. "My turn. Let me show you something you'll never forget."
The two of us took turns shooting for hours. We hadn't even noticed the time going by. For once, it seemed Tovin had found something he wasn't naturally amazing at, and it was infuriating him to no end.
Conversely, I found something I was really, really
good at. I hit my target almost every time, and to be honest, I couldn't figure out what was so difficult about it. A crowd had gathered to watch me shoot. I got really swift with the lever, and could shoot out both of a target's eyes, and put one in its forehead in a matter of seconds.
Tovin wasn't a bad shot, but I knew how he felt. If he wasn't first, he was last as far as he was concerned, and at one point he about threw his rifle. Old Mitchell had to talk to him about how some things come naturally to others, and how he shouldn't be discouraged from coming to the range and practicing.
It was rich hearing Tovin get that talk of all people. The natural genius that outshined everyone, struggling with something for the very first time. I almost couldn't believe I was better than him at something, and of course, it just had
to be the thing that we'd never do again once we found our friends and went back home.
We were wasting time here. "Hey, Mitchel," I turned toward him. "When do we get our sign-on bonus? It was supposed to be something like 200 octims."
"You get your sign-on bonus when you bring back your first bounty," he responded quickly.
"What?" Tovin shouted. "That's not fair! We signed on, now where's our money?"
I was equally upset. We were lied to. But it made sense that they couldn't just hand us uniforms, cash, and a gun, and let us go. They wanted to make sure we at least killed a monster.
"It's fine," I said with a sigh. "Where can we find bounties?"
"It's not fine," Tovin protested.
I yanked him by the collar of his shirt and looked him in the eyes. "It's fine," I said slowly and firmly. "We'll run out, bag a monster, and be back before dark."
He held eye contact with me for several seconds before shrugging me off of him and walking away. He stormed across the bay and left through the double doors at the other end of the room.
"My brother was the same way," said Mitch. "Hard-headed. Stubborn as a mule. Loyal as anyone you'd ever meet though."
He had no idea. Tovin wasn't just difficult, but he was turning into a walking liability. I didn't know how much longer I could take him acting like this. Suddenly, Mitch extended his arm, pointing to a door adjacent to where he'd gotten our guns from.
"Bounty board is in there. Come on, I'll show you."
It was a medium-sized room with several corkboards wall to wall filled with bounties. Every monster was named and almost all of them were sketched to a professional degree. You could find how much money the monster was going for, which hunters it had killed, where it was last seen, as well as whether or not there were hunters currently after it.
They had a system where you would notate which monster you were going after, and if you didn't return, they'd add your name under the list of hunters that died searching for it. There were so many monsters I couldn't believe it, and according to Old Mitchell, these were only the monsters within a five-mile radius of Bronzegirder.
I learned the process of choosing a bounty and chose a smaller monster with no names under its fatality list. Mitch agreed it was a good monster for beginners, and offered a few pointers for tracking it. I submitted the bounty request and got it approved before leaving the bay and heading down the hall in search of Tovin. I entered the lobby and didn't see him. I left the building and found him at the top of the steps staring out into the street where a couple of vehicles were hauling something massive together under a tarp.
Several uniformed hunters were walking slowly next to the vehicles. Their uniforms were tattered and bloodstained, and a few of them walked with a limp. We watched as the exhausted men passed the building on their way down the road. Two of them were sobbing silently, but we could tell by their exposed teeth and wrinkled expressions that they'd lost someone.
From beneath the tarp, a scaly limb fell off the side of the vehicle and dangled lifelessly. It was a reptilian-looking arm with an open wound, and the shredded remnants of a uniform hanging from its claws.
"Gill," Tovin said quietly. "Is that..."
"Yeah," I answered.
"That's definitely a monster." Writing Prompt
Submitted by u/My-Last-Hope