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Prisoner 1827

*** ©2014-2016 betwixtthepages / Elizabeth Mathis; originally posted on deviantART.com***

“When she exploded, she left nothing behind.  Except she did.”  Trembling, his hands covered in Prisoner 1827’s last breath, Officer Daavie catches the Captain’s eye.  The man’s mouth is stern, cutting deep lines across his face.  This is the tenth time they’ve gone over Daavie’s story.  Not one detail has changed.  Not one detail makes sense.

“That… It just doesn’t add up, Officer.  People don’t just explode–do you see any brains or bones or other human debris splattered across the walls like paint?”

Daavie grimaces, reaching for a bottle of hand sanitizer on the Captain’s desk.  “No.  I know.  But she did.”  He depresses the plunger as he speaks.  Nothing.  After thirty tries, each more frantic than the last, Daavie flings the plastic to the floor and rakes his hands through his thinning hair.

“Okay.”  The Captain sighs, tapping the tip of his pen against yellowing, crooked teeth.  “Take a breath, Officer.  Let’s go over it again.”

Slumping in the hard-backed chair, Daavie glances at the fake Rolex on his wrist.  5:54 am.  They’ve been at this almost fifteen hours.  He takes a sip of coffee and grimaces again as the cold, congealed sludge slips over his tongue.  He should get a warm up.  “It started just like any other call…”

The man is perched almost on the lip of the sloped apartment roof, his bare feet giving him traction.  Officer Daavie and his partner–a rookie–watch from below, the first responders on scene.  A crowd of curious onlookers gather on the sidewalk across the street.  They snap pictures on their cellphones and whisper together, pointing toward the sky.  Pressing the button on his walkie, Daavie turns his head.  “Unit 974 to Dispatch, we’re on scene.  Backup may be needed for crowd control.”

“Copy 974.  Units 526 and 223 en route.”

Swiping a trickle of sweat from his brow, Daavie hooks his thumbs in his belt loops and raises his gaze back to the figure on the roof.  The man balances on one foot, his hands held as if in prayer just past his nose.  Ten stories down, it’s just possible to make out the guy’s strange attire.  “What in tarnations is he–”

“Is he wearing a loincloth?”  The rookie chortles, tugging on his goatee.  His still-crisp uniform is tight across his beer gut; he hasn’t washed it yet.  Just out of the Academy, amused intrigue is still bright in his eyes.  He hasn’t experienced the horrors of the world.  Of their job.  Daavie bites his tongue and tries to remember what it was like, being so innocent.

The wind shifts, a gust toward the south, and the man’s loincloth billows out of place.  The crowd on the sidewalk shrieks and whistles at his naked exposure.  The guy ignores them, wrapping one hand around his foot and stretching his leg further into the air.  The movement is slow and graceful.  Practiced.  “I think he’s doing yoga,” Daavie murmurs.  The rookie snorts.  Spittle glistens on his lips like chapstick.

“In a loincloth.  On a roof.  Idiot.”

Daavie grins, glancing at the yoga man once more.  “Dispatch, Unit 974 again.  Nevermind the backup.  Situation is under control.  False alarm.”

“What a damn waste of time,” the rookie spits, shaking his head.  The crowd across the street breaks.  Bored, the people go their separate ways.

Daavie is adjusting his belt and heading back to the cruiser when chaos erupts.  A woman in black–her hair pulled into a strict bun, errant strands held back by a cat ear headband–barrels out an alleyway.  Bullets tear through brick and glass before hitting her mark.  The man in the loincloth opens his eyes, pulls a hand through the air as if to catch a baseball, and then falls off the edge.

“She wasn’t hard to bring in,” Daavie says, rubbing at his aching eyes.  The pads of his fingers drag dirt and brick dust across the planes of his face.  He wipes them clean on his slacks, staring at the smears.  “Even threw the gun away.”

The Captain licks his lips, scratching at a spider bite on his arm.  “So, she shot the guy and then–”

“She just… Laid down.  I mean, it was weird, but it made things easy.”  A tic starts in the muscles of his right eye; the lid bobs and flutters across his vision, blurring the room.  He presses two fingers over the lid, holding it closed.  The itch is painful, more insistent.  It feels like gravel.  When he moves his fingers moments later, the tips are smeared with gray.

“Okay.”  He makes a note on his clipboard and sets the pen aside, cracking his knuckles.  “So then what?”

“Backup arrived.  We secured the scene, collected evidence, brought her down.  It wasn’t until we got here she even said anything.”  Daavie sighs and glances at his watch again.  6:07 am.  His wife will be up by now, getting ready for the day.  He can see her in the bathroom mirror, nimble fingers weaving a fishtail through her hair.  Is she missing him?  He runs a finger along the rim of his coffee cup, confused and weary.

“What did she say?”  The Captain asks, wrinkling bushy eyebrows peppered with silver threads.  His nose is pockmarked; the makings of a mustache shadow his upper lip.

“Didn’t say anything,” Daavie murmurs, steepling his fingers against his temples.  He imagines Prisoner 1827 as she was in the room down the hall, her shoulders quivering, bright blood trickling down her arm.  So normal a thing, to bleed.  So human.  “She screamed it.”

“They said, they said, they SAID!”  She’s struggling, the handcuffs chaining her to her chair cutting into sun-browned skin.  Getting her out of the cruiser took five men, three wrenches, and a bungee cord.  Getting her into interview room number 10 damn near killed them all.  Through the tinted glass, Daavie studies the freckles dotting the bridge of her nose.  One black bra strap slips out of place, looping a freckled shoulder like a noose.  “When Hercules falls from the sky, they said, it was MY time, and I shot him down. I shot him down.  I watched him fall, a fireball through space, and when I found him I shot him down so why am I still here?!”

Stepping into the room, Daavie brushes donut crumbs from his uniform and tosses a vending machine package on the table.  “Hungry?  Thirsty?”

The woman glares at him, smashing the crackers beneath her fist.  The noise bounces off the concrete walls, ringing through Daavie’s ears.  He grimaces, pulling out a chair and straddling it the wrong way.  It’s been almost six hours since the man in the loincloth was killed.  The lady’s been screaming for three;  her shrill voice crackles on every other word.  Daavie purses his lips, staring her down.  “Hercules?  Like the Disney movie?”

“Hercules.  The constellation.  Are you stupid or somethin’?”

“Ma’am,” Daavie sighs, “the man you shot was not Her–”

“He was, he was, he came from the sky, I saw it!  Last night!”

“Last night?”  Pulling a can of copenhagen from his back pocket, Daavie slips a wad beneath his lip.  The woman is agitated.  Her black knee highs tap against the floor.  Her eyes dart around the room.  She can’t–or won’t–hold his gaze for more than a few seconds.  Reaching up, she yanks the band from her bun.  Thick dark locks fall, just brushing her shoulders.  With a snark, she tugs–strands tangle around her fingers, pulled loose from her scalp.

“Yes.  I saw him.  A star shot through the clouds, bright and burning, and landed there, and Hercules was born, and Hercules was strong, and they called for his death and my will was strong.  He landed there.”

“Landed where?”  Daavie asks, drumming his fingers on the tabletop.  Psych should have been here an hour ago; he’d blame it on a busy day, if it wasn’t Sunday on a holiday weekend.

“On the roof.  He landed on that roof.  And Hercules fell and was made to guard the night, and they said he must be gone so I followed the star and now he is burned out, hollowed down, but there’s still no sign.”  She screams again, an inarticulate sound of frustration.  She’s pulling clumps of hair now, either ignoring the pain of her bleeding skin or not noticing it.  Daavie glances at the mirror, a question in the kink of his eyebrows.  What do I do?  “And they said he must be gone, and he IS, he IS…but he isn’t, Officer.  He isn’t.  He left something in my eye.”

“What do you mean, he–”

She reaches up, then, a jerk of her hand and a flick of her wrist, and rubs at her eye.  Daavie notices small crescents of blood on her palms and wonders how long she’s been fighting the itch of her eyes.  It must have been a while, now.  Her fingers swipe across her eyelashes and for a moment, Daavie imagines the scrape of skin across concrete.  He shudders, then shakes his head.  “He left something, he fell from the sky and he smoldered in a heap and when his light went out, it didn’t GO OUT, he left it behind and it was blown across the breeze and it landed, it landed, it LANDED IN ME!”

“Ma’am, I think you need to just calm do–”

“It hurts, Officer.  Like rocks scraping knees, like dragging your hand across unfinished wood and coming away splintered.  It hurts, make it stop.  Please, make it stop.”  One tear–just one–slips down her cheek and Daavie frowns, following its trail.  It’s off-color.  Thick and oozing, it glows a gray-silver on the brown of her skin.  For a moment, he thinks makeup and cheap parlor tricks, but then she smears it with her fingers and a light flares from behind her pupils.  Daavie goes blind.

He shifts in his chair, tugging at the bunched material of his pants.  Between his shoulders, a dull ache throbs and creeps; he rolls his head, trying to loosen muscles knotted and stiff from sitting in a hard chair for so long.  A whisper keeps rhythm with his pulse, the voice low-pitched and sinister.  It threatens, it snarls, it burdens; with each breath, it takes a little more control.  “When the light faded, Prisoner 1827 was gone.”

“What do you mean, gone, Officer?”  The Captain peers at him, desperation wrinkling his forehead and hollowing his cheeks.

“I mean,” Daavie says, taking a breath.  The air whistles through a gap in his front teeth.  The sound bounces around the room and settles, a phantom, into silence.  The whispers in his veins grow louder.  Feed me.  Be with me.  See me.  “She was gone.  Just gone.  Except she wasn’t.”

“But how?  How does a person just disappear?  How do you explode without leaving a mess behind?”

“It wasn’t a mess, Captain.”  Feed me.  Be with me.  See me.  Daavie rubs his eyes again.  When he pulls his hands away, the ridges of his fingers are caked with black sludge and white specks.  He stares, intrigued.  The white specks churn and dance on his skin.  They turn blue.  Red.  White again.  A purple cloud sweeps across the black abyss and Daavie finally understands.  “She left something behind.”

“But you just said she di–”

“She left space in my eye.”

0

Desert Phoenix

A setting sun peeks through lacy clouds, silhouetting the raised feather scars ridging my skin in blood-orange light.  I peer down at the sharp lines, the harsh slope of my brow humped above the bridge of my nose.  The breeze whispers, catching at the rumble of my empty stomach.  It’s been days since I was banished to this hellish play at “being human”–I expected it to be more fantastic.  Chipmunks and rattlesnakes won’t sustain me for long, and I don’t dare take on bigger game.  Not that I’ve seen any–the land is bone dry and crowded with tumbleweeds.  Despite the day scorching the soles of my bare feet, I shiver.  I miss the lush tropics of home.  Perhaps I should have learned obedience.  Perhaps I should have begged.  Perhaps…

but no matter now.  The Council is steadfast in their decisions, especially when wrong.

Sighing, I slip long-nails beneath the neckline of my tank and trace my punishment.  To remind me of my sins, the Council left the hole they tore my heart through seeping and unhealed.  Two fingertips come away stained with the fires I can no longer call forward.  My chained feathers shriek, agony shifting across my skin before settling into mourning.  I purse my lips.  They’re going to need to come to terms with this new life.  Without a heart, my body is a prison.

“Wicked ink!”

Startled, I whirl.  Caught up in pity, I missed his approach.  He jostles in his saddle, the long strands of the creature’s white hair tangling across his fingers.  I squint, eyeing the animal warily.  It’s shorter than a camel, shoulders reaching just above my head.  The lack of a hump concerns me.  In this dry heat, where does this mutant keep water?  I frown, puzzled, before realizing the stranger expects an answer.

“Thank you.”  My voice is hard caramel, the melody of a phoenix turned to gravel and dust.  I cough and start again.  “So, your… Um…”  The beast’s name alludes me, so I gesture at it instead.

“Oh, you mean Sabah, my horse!”  He says, bobbing his head and crooning under his breath.

“Of course.  I knew that.  Horse.”  Except I didn’t.  Horses are creatures of myth where I come from, strange four-legged slaves of man.  I grew up hearing the tales:  Black Beauty, Flicka, Seabiscuit.  All doomed to a life of grueling labor and terrible treatment.  Their names flitter through my thoughts, a rapid fire succession of sound, and I cringe.  According to legend, horses died out mere months before humans.  I narrow my eyes, studying the pair.

Close-shaven, his dirty blonde hair grows like prickly weeds across his head.  His skin is sun-rough but smooth, no discernible sign of family heirlooms or magical curses.  His gaze is steady and unnerving, the color of his irises akin to that of pine trees in late fall.  I blink, and his aura comes into focus:  moss green center, a haze of gray around the edges.  For a higher being, nothing about him screams special apart from the black flakes floating around his head.  There’s something cruel lurking beneath his skin, a monster needing chained.  I toss a grin his way, slipping the tip of my tongue across my lips.  “And you…?”

“Wallace,” he says.  “Wallace Balkerson.”

He thrusts his hand toward me, palm flat and fingers open.  I wrack my brain, but the greeting customs I learned in my youth don’t tell me how to proceed.  A funny niggling pushes at the back of my neck; I swat at the spot, chewing on my lip, and ignore his gesture.  He has the skin of a forest nymph, the eyes of a mermaid, and the name of nothing I’ve ever come across.  Confused, I try again.  “Wallace.  Right.  So…where are we, again?”

He half-turns in his seat, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, to gape at me.  “You mean you don’t know?  Didjer boyfriend boot you out the car and leave you stranded, darlin’?”  He chuckles, a different glint stealing across the gaze he roves over my white scars, my bare feet, my low-cut shirt.  None of his words make sense to me.  His actions, on the other hand, speak loudly.  A faint flush steals across his cheeks; I can hear his heart pounding against the cage of his ribs.  It strikes an off-balance beat with his steed’s hooves.  I ignore his question, scooping my long white hair from my shoulders and balling it above the nape of my neck.  “Right.  What’d you say yer name was?”

“Opal,” I purr, reaching the stroke the horse that should not exist.  It’s beginning to dawn on me that the lessons set by the Council are not strictly facts.  Perhaps the Council lied–and not just about the crime I was supposed to have committed.  I glance again at the guy:  chin peppered with stubble, sunburn callusing his arms, flat eyes and erratic aura.  For all I know, he’s a master of disguise–a rogue djinn, or a well-crafted golem.  But that niggling at my skin says he’s something different.  Something evil.

“That’s a pretty name,” he murmurs.  His voice is deeper, a dark and seedy desire leaching over his tongue.  I imagine the circles his thoughts are racing in.  I can almost see the number of young, impressionable women destroyed and bleeding at his feet–a heap of savagery and ugly violence.  This guy is a beast of a different nature–the kind with a penchant for pretty words and cruel fists.  My stomach rumbles again–a loud, angry mewling.  “You sound hungry, siren eyes.”

I wonder if it’s time for me to forge my own path; I’ve been banished to a world that’s no longer supposed to exist, after all.  I might as well make the most of it, right?  I grin, sliding my tongue across my sharp, pointed teeth.  I wonder if the demon running rampant through this man’s veins flavors the flesh.  “Yes.  Yes, I guess I am.”

As night falls across Wyoming, his screams remain unheard.

***copyright Elizabeth Mathis, 2015***