“M…” a whisper meets his ears. “M… wake up…”
He looks up, finding C standing in the doorway, holding two leather knife sheathes, each crafted to the dimensions of M’s and V’s knives, respectively. The moon is still present in the window.
“Hey, C… can’t sleep?”
“Not a wink…” she whispers. “When I close my eyes… I see V falling from a beam… or a baseball bat slamming into your face… The resonating crunch from each… is too much…” she whispers. “It’s not as late as it looks. The moon stays up here until the brink of morning. It’s 5:30 AM. Could you go to the cafeteria and eat some breakfast with me? I’m scared and I would love to sit with you.”
“Of course, C. I’m sorry you’ve been haunted by those images all night… Let’s change the subject. And let’s get some breakfast.”
“Oh,” she smiles, “and while I couldn’t sleep, I made you and V those sheathes,” she hands M his.
“Thank you, C,” he smiles kindly.
They spend the morning eating together, trying to talk about anything they can remember. C remembers she has two cats, but forgets their names. She admits she often wishes she could snuggle them.
M can only remember his old black car, a Honda Civic coupe, as well as the smell that always met his nose upon entering it, an amalgamation of cologne and the scent of fast food. He remembers that he lived in a hilly area, and that his parents loved him. He misses the life he can’t recall.
When the others wake up, they join them at the table, and C gives V his knife sheathe. A sits across from M, V on his left, C on his right. They converse casually. D, however, is late. Finally, J asks, “Ya’ll know where D is?”
“Perhaps one of us should check on her,” O suggests.
“V, let’s check,” M volunteers.
“Sure, man,” he nods.
“I’ll go too,” J sits up. “I want to make sure she’s all right.”
M notices J seems to be more concerned with D than the others. He talks to her much more frequently than anyone else, and she the same. He begins to wonder if he’s interested in her. When they get to her room, J knocks on the door. They wait. Then, to their shock, she dashes out of the room.
“What the hell!” she panics. “S**t!” she runs past the three of them, dashing over to the stairs.
“D!” J gasps, running after her up the stairs.
“Dude!” V stares at M.
M draws his knife nervously. “I want to investigate! You coming?”
“Hell yeah!” V dashes after him as they shoot up the stairs.
They reach the White Room, where J is panicking outside.
“She ran in there and hasn’t come back!”
“What is all the commotion?” O demands, reaching the top of the stairs.
“Is D okay?” C insists.
A waits for an answer.
“She disappeared in there…” J speaks gravely. “I…” he looks down, as if he knows something.
After about five minutes, D stumbles out of the White Room. She is sobbing softly and angrily. She falls onto J, holding onto him.
“D… D… what’s up?” he whispers as she hangs on him, her arms weakly around his neck.
Her pictures are in her hand, hardly clasped in her fingers.
“I… I’ve been feeling so much pain lately… in my chest…” Immediately M recalls her mentioning that her chest was violet in her reflection. He gets incredibly nervous, as does O. “I can’t… the pictures… they’re getting blurrier. Literally. Look…” she weakly falls off J, holding the pictures up.
The injection needle is rather easy to see, but the face of the man is nearly impossible to make out. The living room is blurry as well.
“D…” J sounds mortified. “How… How’d you know to come here?”
“I had this horrible dream…” she whispers. “I dreamed I… the couch… just, paralyzing… my lungs locking… my heart… stopping… so drunk…” she can barely speak. “I felt an instinct…”
“Dammit!” J yells. “Dammit! M!” he stares at him. “O! Aren’t you two supposed to have this all figured out? Help her or something!” he sounds far more scared and desperate than angry.
“Maybe O’s right… Maybe we haven’t died yet! And there’s still time. O, the Hall of Voices; I want answers, and that’s the only place I haven’t looked. You game? Or do you have any better ideas?”
“Let’s go.” He faces J. “You make sure D is okay. Lie her down and keep her calm. The rest of you, tend to any need she has. M, let’s go!”
The two dash up the stairs wildly, O in the lead. M thinks he hears other footsteps behind them, but he’s too focused to look back. When they reach the top, they’re standing before two large doors. O looks wrapped with trepidation.
“There is no use in us entering at the same time… Each person hears his own voices inside… Much like the White Room, both are transported to different places. We can try clasping hands, but the Hall of Voices is far more sinister than the White Room.”
“We’ll try anyway.”
M sticks his hand out. O grasps it. M steps with him into the room, undaunted. The moment they make it inside, a horrible force blasts O out of his grasp, and he disappears into the light. M gasps but keeps going, assuming he’s now in his own version of the hall. When he’s fully inside, he hears almost nothing.
Except a whisper.
“That… whispering…” he ponders it.
His heart is blazing. The whispering sounds so passionate, so meaningful. He can’t understand a word of it, but the effect it has on him is overwhelming. He dashes down the hall, hearing the whispers get louder.
Then, to his awe, the whispers become a booming voice.
“I n—r m—- –i—s – g- —e –is! Da—- –rk! W— u-! –ea-e!”
He grabs his ears in horror. The cry is blood-curdling, despairing, hysterical. He feels as if his heart is going to explode as he grips his ears in awe of the sound.
“- —-n’t fuc—- m—- —–ng! It w– – ——g —-take! P—-e! I ca— f—– liv- –th— -o-!”
He doesn’t know what’s being said, but the feeling of all-consuming, all-encompassing, insurmountable grief devours him. He can’t take it anymore. Feeling as if he’s being eaten alive, he races out of the tunnel, crashing through the door and almost slamming into the wall of the stairs, though A grabs him powerfully, slowing him down.
He gasps, meeting her eyes.
“Shh…” she comforts, holding onto him. “It’s okay. We’ve all felt it.”
O steps out of the portal. He’s visibly shaken up.
“Did you find any answers, M? I found the same thing I’ve been finding: complete and utter despair.”
“I… found the same thing.”
They return to D’s room. She’s lying in bed, hardly conscious. To their horror, her pictures, which are now on her nightstand, are fading rapidly.
“Come on, D!” J screams desperately. “Please! Please!”
“J…” she whispers.
“Not like… not like Z!” he yells. “Not like Z! Get up!” he cries.
The group stares at J in shock.
“J… who is… Z?” O asks.
“J- what are you talking about, man?” V is taken aback.
Tears stain his eyes. He stares at A weakly. “A… You speak up, dammit… I can’t talk like this…”
They face A eagerly. She looks to be concealing emotion. “Z… and S. They were here before me. Before J. A boy and a girl… both lively individuals. S was a surfer… blonde dreadlocks with a tan. Ocean blue eyes. Z was a skateboarder… She had brown hair and bright eyes. They were both 18. One day… Z… started fading… like D is now. I had just gotten here a few days before this happened.”
“What happened to them? Did they literally… disappear?” M whispers.
“Not quite… she-”
“D!” J shrieks.
She gasps in horrible agony, gripping her chest. She starts choking manically, barely hanging on. M stares at her pictures.
All that remains is a black smear on each of them.
Her grey eyes widen as an indescribable pain begins to wrap her body.
“D!” J cries. “Please! Dammit, D! Come on!” he’s holding onto her.
She grabs his arm, staring into his eyes like a deer in headlights. Then, in an instant, her body begins to glow. The building shakes.
“Dammit, D!” J screeches. “Why wouldn’t you just go through the hall?!”
“We need to evacuate! The room is going to reset!” A announces.
“What?!” O faces A.
“The same happened with Z! We must leave! Come on, J!”
“I’m not leaving!” J cries, holding onto D.
“Get D outside!” O commands.
M, V and O sprint over to D, picking her up and carrying her out of her room into the hallway. Now she lies on the ground, J beside her, holding her tenderly. Her entire room is glowing white now.
“Please… D… don’t go…” J whispers. “Please… D…”
“J…” she barely whispers, her voice raspy and hoarse.
She pats his chest with all the strength she has left. J’s large hand cups hers. Then a vicious light beams from her body, and in seconds, she is gone. Everything related to her is gone. Every feature of the room is returned to the way it was before she arrived.
The card on the wall beside the room sports no letter.
“Dammit…” J whispers, his hand hanging limply where her hand used to be. “Don’t… leave, D… Don’t leave me… Please…”
“J…” C whispers, rubbing his shoulder. “It’s okay… It’s okay…”
“What… happened… Why…” he can barely speak.
“Relax, J…” V attempts to console him. “Try to stay calm…”
“I never told her I loved her…”
“It was so obvious she loved you, J…” C rubs his arm. “She stared into your eyes for every bit of that. I’m sure just looking at you took all the pain away. She died in your arms… holding your hand… The last thing she said was your name, J…”
He weakly stands up. Fury enveloping him, he whispers, “It’s… like Z… But… S… S…!” he trembles, now staring at the stairway in an ungodly determination.
“What about S? And Z?” M inquires.
J stares into M’s eyes. “I have a story to tell. I don’t have much time left. So, listen.”
No one is sure about what he means by this, but they wait for him to speak. He takes a long, deep breath. C is tenderly rubbing his arm all the while.
“When I came… I met S and Z…” he whispers, his mind trailing off. “They were… beautiful. Both had been here for a couple months… S just a little longer… I could tell so fast they were in love… When A arrived, she wasn’t like she is now…” he stared into her eyes. “So much more talkative… It was Z dying… that changed you,” he stares at her. “You only knew her a couple days… but you were already so close… like we are with you, M. And it’s only been two days.”
He slowly nods.
“One day… Z began to feel… pain. Lots of pain. And had a nightmare, that she was dying… just like how the pictures showed. The reason why I never shared any of this before… is because D’s been telling me she feels bad… like… she is… was…” he whimpers. “Dying. I knew from Z… that she was. I started telling her… to go into the light. The Hall of Voices. Make it to the other side… because… that’s what S did. He did that. When Z… faded away… he gave up. Reckless abandon, man. With everything he had left, he ran into the Hall of Voices… and he never came back. He… I think… he made it out of this place. Osmocate Manor.”
“You… you do?” V inquires.
“He never came back… His room disappeared, just like Z’s… but he wasn’t in pain. Not physical pain, anyway… I haven’t suggested this to anybody else, because of the duress it causes… I couldn’t imagine someone like C going through that… Hell, M, even you couldn’t get through it.”
M gets goosebumps as he remembers the disparaging, vociferous echoes.
“But if any of you started fading, like Z… like… D has been… I was prepared to tell you. That that was the way out. It has to be. D… didn’t listen… dammit… I’d have run her through the tunnel myself, but nobody can be in the same tunnel at the same time…”
M stares at J sorrowfully. J meets his eyes. Then he looks away coldly.
“It’s… enough. I can’t sit back here anymore… I need to be brave… and move on… before I fade away too…”
“What are you saying, J?” V stares at him.
“It’s been time… for me to be like S… I can’t just sit in here, waiting to die. I’ve been in here the longest. I’m running out of time. I need… to go…” he stares at the stairway.
“J…” M walks over to him.
“M…” he stares at him. “You five… I want to see you all again… so you better brave that hall someday and see me on the other side!” he cries.
He launches up the stairs, impossible to catch.
“J!” A calls, speeding behind him. “J!”
All five of them race up after him. However, by the time they reach the door to the portal, he’s gone. The five exchange glances. After heartfelt silence, they walk back down the stairs. Within the hour, another bright light appears.
Afterward, J’s bedroom is unmarked. The jazz room is gone.
M is wide awake, lying on his mattress. All he can do is think about J and D, their final moments together, and where each of them are now. Then S and Z come to mind.
“I… I don’t want to die here… The way out… the Hall of Voices… It seems so easy, right? Just run through it… But it’s not. It’s not easy… It’s… the hardest thing I’ve ever done, hearing the voices in that hall.”
Then, suddenly, he hears a knock on the door. He approaches it.
“Hello?” he asks.
“M…” a feminine voice meets his ears, but it isn’t C’s.
“May I… come in?”
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“I… I need to talk with you, M.” She steps into the room. Her eyes fix on him. “Like I told you, I’ve had a hard time trusting anyone here… But I don’t think you understood what I meant. I wasn’t doubting their trustworthiness… I was doubting… they’d survive. But… not you. When S ran into the Hall of Voices… that determination… I didn’t see it in anybody else. Not V, not C, not D, not O, not even J… It took D’s death to give him that strength. But… you… I could just see… from the moment you arrived… that you were different. You weren’t scared of facing the hideous truth. Of looking into the reflection and seeing your mangled body… Of saying aloud that we’re probably all dead… and so… I wasn’t scared to… want you… because I knew if it came down to it… you’d have what it takes… and I wouldn’t lose you…” she whispers, holding onto him softly.
“Wow. Thank you, A… I’m flattered. I’m sorry you had to lose your friends…”
“It’s… it’s… okay. I… I think we should leave. We should run through the hall… just go… I know I have what it takes.”
“But… A… I… I don’t know… I tried it today… It was overwhelming. I-”
She presses her soft lips against his. Holding his hands lovingly, he breathes in her perfume, her toned, athletic body inches from his. When she pulls back, she whispers, “Go with me.”
He is mystified. “But… I can’t… We can only go into the hall by ourselves…”
“We’ll both go… and when we get out… we’ll see each other, on the other side. Don’t you think… it’s worth a try?”
“What about the others? I don’t just want to leave them behind… How about we all go? Together? We can be with J again. We can all leave this place. Today.”
“I want that so badly… But I just don’t think they’ll do it.”
“No… After seeing D… There’s no way. It’s life or death now. V’s too strong to sit back and accept death, and O’s too smart to stay here. And C- maybe she doesn’t have the strength to do it on her own, but she cares so much about the rest of us. When she realizes how much it will hurt us all to see her die, she’ll have the strength to do it. Not for her own sake, but for ours.”
A slowly nodded.
“Perhaps… you’re right.”
“It’s late… We’ll wait until morning. C will need time to contemplate this.”
“That sounds reasonable,” she whispers, holding onto him. She stares deep into his eyes. “M?”
“Yes? What is it?”
She smiles mysteriously as she takes his hand. She lays him down in his bed, shushing him as he goes to say something. Now they’re both lying underneath the covers, their bodies pressed against each other.
“I don’t know what will happen when we leave this place… Maybe we die in that hall… I don’t know. I don’t know if we’ll ever see each other again. So, tonight… I want to lie with you… to hold you… and sleep in your arms. This may be our only chance.”
“Okay… That sounds… amazing.”
“I know… this may sound silly,” she sighs. “I… I just never felt like this before. I think, when I was on Earth, I used to be very serious. I think I valued gymnastics over everything else. Over my own life, evidently… That’s all I can really remember. When I woke up here, I regretted being so closed off my whole life… And I let my guard down for the first time. And two days later, I instantly learned my lesson. When Z died, I felt so much pain. More than I’d ever felt before. And I attributed that to caring about someone.”
“A…” M whispers.
“I don’t know what unearthly circumstance brought me to this place… but I know that since I arrived, I’ve never felt hope. Until my eyes met yours. You were hope… You didn’t give in to this façade, this setup. You didn’t ignore it, like the rest of the group, or reject it, like me. You faced it. And I tried so hard to keep my distance from you, and from everyone else. But I can’t keep my distance from you anymore. I don’t know what happens at the end of that hall, M. And I don’t want to face it regretting that I never told you how I feel, because I’m scared of getting hurt, and unfamiliar with opening up around people.”
Her enchanting emerald eyes meet his, their heads resting on the pillow, her light brown hair draping her shoulders like a blanket. M is silent in limerence.
He tenderly kisses her.
A knock awakes them. When his eyes open, he meets the bright green irises of A.
“Good morning…” she whispers sweetly.
“Morning, A…” he smiles.
The knock sounds again.
“Oh!” he sits up. He walks over to the door, opening it. He meet O’s eyes. His look is grave.
“M… I have it all figured out.”
“May I come in?”
“Uh… totally,” he steps out of the way.
O’s surprised to see A. She waves at him.
“Well, you two,” O speaks with great certainty, “I’ve reached a conclusion.”
“What is it, O?” A asks as O sits down at the desk, A sitting beside M on the bed, her warm hand softly holding onto his.
“This place… We are all… in a comatose. Osmocate Manor… the word rearranged is Comatose Manor. That’s where we are. In a comatose. Somehow, a linked one. All of us were grievously wounded, and ended up like this… We’re likely side by side in hospital gurneys…”
“Dude… that’s… brilliant…! We need to go, O. We need to get out of here. We need to brave the hall. Today. While we’re all still here. I refuse to lose a single one of you left. C’s gonna’ take some convincing, so we need to tell her soon. Do the others know about this yet?”
“Not yet. I came to you first. And, A,” he smiles at her. “Now, we-”
“M…” a soft voice meets his ears, and they turn and see C in the doorway. “My… lungs…”
“No!” M gasps. “We need to go! Now!”
“Go where?” C gasps weakly.
“The Hall of Voices! It’s the only way out!”
“I… I can’t!”
“I’m not leaving without you! Come on, dammit! O, help me!” he tries to pick her up with O’s help, and holds her in a bridal carry.
C says nothing as M carries her. When they get to V’s room, he slams on the door. V whirls it open, grasping his paring knife and aiming it at M.
“What’s up?” he gasps as he notices C in M’s arms.
“C’s dying! We need to leave! Before any more of us are killed! O figured it out! We’re in a comatose! Those injuries we experienced are all real, but we’re not dead! Not yet! We need to leave! It’s Comatose Manor! That’s the name rearranged!”
V’s eyes widen in shock. “C!” he screams.
“I’m… my lungs…” she whispers.
“We’re getting out of this!” V cries. “We’re not losing you, C! Come on!”
He dashes up the stairs. As they run up, O calls, “I theorize the Hall of Voices… It’s a mental recording of all the things our families and friends have been screaming at our unconscious bodies! And the pain they’re feeling… that’s what we’re sensing! So, we need to get through it! Because on the other side is life!”
When they make it to the door, O stares at C.
“I believe in you, C… it’s not too late…”
M grasps C firmly by the shoulders. “Do you think you can make it to the end of the hall?”
“I… I will…” she weakly stares into the portal. “For… for D… for J… for all of you… For never giving up on me… Like J… I’ll be strong… I won’t… make you all lose me,” she stands to her feet. “No… no…! This is my time! I was spared of death…!” she grips her lungs. “Ouch!”
“C!” A comforts.
“I’m… fine…” she grits her teeth. “I… will… see you all on the other side…!”
She trudges into the portal. Next, O faces the group. “A temporary goodbye, my friends. I will see you in the light.”
He launches into the portal resolutely.
“I’ll see you outside, M…” A stares into M’s eyes. She kisses him passionately and lovingly, then stares at the portal. She runs inside, holding nothing back.
Now M and V face the portal.
“Nice going,” he chuckles, patting M’s shoulder. “M… I want you to know… that no matter what happens on the other side of this thing… I’ll never forget you. Ever. You’re my bro. And you always will be.”
“You too, brother. Hey, V?”
“Sorry for pushing you in the pool, man. Couldn’t resist.”
“You b***h,” he chuckles, shoving M. “But I got you back with that bucket.”
“You sure did,” he throws his arms over V brotherly. “See you soon, V. On the other side!” he darts into the portal.
“Hell yeah, M!” he sprints into the portal after him, holding nothing back.
M steps through the bright white hall. All he can hear is a whisper now, but he knows soon, it will be deafening. He pushes through the whispers, largely ignoring them. Then he hears it. That booming voice.
He grabs his ears in agony. He continues onward, refusing to stop moving. The screams get louder and louder but he jams his fingers into his ear canals, so tight he thinks he might puncture his eardrums.
“Mark!” a voice breaks through the silence. “I didn’t mean it! I didn’t mean it! Please, come back! Please! I’m so sorry!” his voice falls apart as he cries his heart out.
“Mark…!” he gasps. “My… name…! And that voice… Ashton!” he cries. “Ashton! I’m coming!”
He runs with all the strength that he has left.
“Come back to us!” his mother’s voice vociferates. “We need you, Mark! We need you…!” she’s sobbing uncontrollably.
“I’m so proud of you, my son…” the voice of his father paralyzes him. “So proud… I know you’ll survive this… I know you will, my son… My… crazy, stubborn son!” he laughs and cries at the same time. “Come on, Mark! Push! Get out! Please! I…! You’re my only son… Please…!”
“I’m coming, Dad! I’m coming!” he races with every bit of strength he can retain.
“Keep going!” a familiar voice appears. “You’re almost there! I believe in you, M!”
“That’s… J!” he shrieks. “J! Man, I’m coming!” he feels like he’s about to collapse, but keeps running.
The light gets too bright.
He slams his eyes shut.
A different voice appears.
Many different voices appear.
His bright russet eyes study the ceiling of a hospital.
“Hurry! They’re all waking up!” a gasp covers him in shivers.
“Cassie! She’s back! Her heart is beating again! She’s back!” a voice is enamored.
“Vince’s eyes are opened!”
The doctor runs around the room, yelling, “Everybody in here, now! It’s an anomaly! A medical anomaly!”
“Orville’s awake! Orville’s awake!”
“Annabelle!” a voice gasps.
Mark stares at the doctors teaming around him, some so shocked they’re pale white. Then a black male dashes to his side, grabbing his arm.
“That’s it, Mark! Get up! It’s me, Jeremiah! J!”
“Jeremiah…” He whispers, trying to speak as he can’t help but smile.
His head is throbbing. A moment later, his vision fades again, and he’s unconscious.
But nowhere near Osmocate Manor.
“Mark…” a voice pulls him from his slumber finally.
His blurry eyes fix on a face. He has messy orange hair and bright green eyes. His eyes are tearstained.
“A… Ashton…” he whispers, remembering it all.
“Can you ever… Can you ever forgive me…” he is barely holding together. “I didn’t aim… for your face… I was so f*****g stupid… Please, Mark…” he’s barely able to talk. “Dammit… You know I would never do that to you… You know I’d never want to hurt you…! It was all a f*****g accident!”
Immediately, he remembers it all: his best friend, Ashton Kramer. His friend since fourth grade. He remembers years of playing baseball together, and their shock when both of them got accepted to Maynard High School, the most prestigious private school in the county, with the best varsity baseball team in the region. He remembers when Ashton’s grades slipped, and he talked with Mark on the phone about how stressed he was that he might not get to finish his senior year on the baseball team at Maynard, if his grades sank below B’s. He recalls him crying his eyes out on the phone, whimpering, “It’s too hard! I’m not like you! I can’t just go to school and pass!”
Mark remembers him transferring to Oakwood High to finish his senior year, where he could play on the baseball team regardless. He remembers surpassing Ashton in skill after his dismissal. And he remembers the game where it all happened: the bottom of the eighth. He had one strike and three balls. Ashton, the opposing team’s pitcher, was about to really lose it all to him. After all his horrified realizations that Mark was better than him, a better student, a better baseball player, and destined to have a better life, he realized that if he didn’t strike him out, he’d be responsible for Maynard’s lead, and they’d never catch up in the ninth inning.
It would be his fault.
And Mark’s win.
And he lost it. He pegged the ball right at him in pent-up, unbridled rage.
And it missed.
It didn’t hit his arm.
It hit his face.
He fell to the earth, unconscious in an instant, blood gushing from his forehead. His screams of absolute terror were the very next sound audible in the deathly silent stadium as he charged over to Mark, grabbing him in his arms as the tears began to spill down his face, and the life-long, unbearable guilt and loss set in.
Mark stares into Ashton’s eyes. Tears stain his face as their eyes lock.
“Of course… I forgive you…” he whispers through teary chokes.
Ashton leans over, grabbing Mark in a hug. “I’m… so glad you’re awake!” he cries his eyes out, grabbing onto him. “I thought I lost you!” he was bawling. Mark is crying uncontrollably too.
“It’s… just baffling!” the female news reporter laughs joyously. “Six of the seven patients: Jeremiah Lincoln, Vincent Petrone, Cassie Davenport, Orville Williamson, Annabelle Truscott, and Mark Haygood, woke up, Jeremiah first, and the other five within two minutes of each other! It’s just crazy! Not to mention Sean Mendelson’s precipitous revival from comatose in the same hospital room two months ago!”
“And to the parents of Daria Klein… we will never forget her, and we’re sorry for your loss. She was the last of the patients, who, chillingly enough, died minutes before Jeremiah mysteriously revived. Oh, and this shout-out of recognition goes to Zoey Cartwright, too, who was lost in the same hospital room in a comatose two months ago.”
They all nod in respectful silence.
“Now, get ready for their story… It’s just… It’s just a beyond reality. But we’ll let them tell you. We have here with us, what the media has been calling, the “Osmocate Survivors!”
They all step out onto the show, Sean in front, Jeremiah behind him. Jeremiah is followed by Cassie, and Orville steps just behind her. Next comes Mark, pushing Vince in his wheelchair. Annabelle walks beside Mark. They all sit down in the chairs, clearly well-acquainted.
As the questions begin, Mark can’t help but stare at the group, shocked they’re all really together. It blows his mind to think about what happened. It blew the minds of the world.
“Hey, M…” Vince whispers to Mark. “I mean, Mark,” he chuckles.
He extends his knuckle. Mark bumps it.