A Charming Nightmare: Chapter 3
I panic, it’s just a flicker but enough to make me bolt straight up abandoning any sort of dignity I had tried to preserve throughout the night. I was alone. My hands felt next to me confirming this. Still warm though, Twelve had left. At the end of our makeshift bedding were my clothes, stiff and heavy with the smell of smoke, filthy with wear, but they were dry and mostly whole.
Biting my lip I twisted and squeezed back into them. Every part of me screamed for mercy. The fire was out, replaced with something cold. I shoveled every last cold, sour morsel down my gullet and wiped my mouth with his shirt wishing for a toothbrush, a hairbrush, a shower, toilet paper (at which point I severely eyeballed the black t-shirt), or even five more minutes to convince my still sleeping legs that it was time to get up. My whole frame groaned when I stood, twisting my head in all directions. Run? My hand lifted to reposition the rat’s nest in the back of my head. Something yanked me back down making my knees sting from the collision with the ground. Kneeling I pulled my arm out in front of me. It jerked slightly back the further out I reached the more forced the tug became. Light gleamed off a puddle on the sheet. My hand reached back carefully, the puddle rippled. Water? I yanked, the liquid made a wave jerking back in one jolt I was scooted closer to it. Leaning back on my heels I grabbed my chained wrist with the free one and used my body weight to break the connection only to oomph landing forward on my stomach.
“You chose the way this is played out last night Aylin. Don’t look so surprised that you are still bound.” This is when he steps into view. He seemed at little on edge, more eager to get along with life.
“We need to move.” He carelessly slapped the back of his hand in the liquid. You’ll have to believe me when I say it became solid, in a splash that caressed his skin a winding a spider web of metal weaving in and out of his flesh. The markings on his arm shivered a ripple of maroon and the whole contraption seemed to fade into the background of these markings. In the same motion he claimed back the fabric I was using as a napkin covering anything else I might find to hit.
“We are not far from Tibbyon.” Nodding was all I could do, anything else was going to be shut down, my nose couldn’t handle another why can’t you be compliant smack.
I walked as quickly as I could without running, he grumbles annoyed slurs about my lack of urgency and tugs on the connection between us each time I pause to take in this place.
This is the part where I can tell you a little about me. Well, not me so much, I’m still boring. Average height, honey you’re too thin weight, boring knotted blond hair, and completely common green eye color. None of it real, none of it truly mine, my height (the one I had put on my driver’s license) was based off the cute pink Steve Madden’s I wore to the DMV, my weight is all the hard work or a trainer from hell, hired by Gavin, because I wasn’t a size four. I am now. Thanks dear. Hair Revlon number five that I swipe Gavin’s Mastercard every six weeks faithfully to have touched up, nails that’ll be $110.00, eyes, well, on any normal day their blue. The same shade Hitler used in his perfect human posters, my choice. My genetic greener shade reminds me of my mother, and trust me no one wants to think of her. Too bad I didn’t think to pack any saline solution along for this trip.
What does matter about me is that every sound in my current location reminded me of where I came from. Constant reminders of them, my home; every whisper the breeze carried sounded like Barrette’s laugh, or my father’s sigh when he sank into the recliner. Even the rustle of the pines made me think of Gavin and the bustle of his work through the phone or the rustle of the sheets when the calls ceased. The whip back and forth of saplings being mangled by Twelve or the crunch of blue fallen leaves under my feet reminded me of the streets in New York. That’s it. All you will ever need to know about me is them. How I ended up here, where I jumped from, the actions that led to me being in the right spot at the wrong moment, even any tidbits about my Facebook profile page isn’t worth the key strokes. As long as you know the streets of that city, its expectations, and people then you know me, inside and out.
Being dragged by his leash was shaky in spots, what spots? All of them, I may or may not have mentioned that somewhere between the church roof and falling into water I lost my shoes. It hurt, with every step I took the ground crunched under my toes. We had abandoned snow and ice a while back, this was underbrush, leaves, sticks, and rock. You get the idea, not the right color pallet of the whole thing (purple trees, blue underbrush) but you get the idea.
We did stop. Three more nights to be exact, but I felt the sacrifice of time was worth it. Once the perimeter was secured and the the fire lit Twelve and I would live under the agreement that I didn’t need the cuffs. Okay he decided that, after the first night, not that first night, but the first night of the three.
“Does your nose still hurt?”
I nodded, I think.
“Remember that when I remove the bind. “
I nodded again, I think.
I watched him unclasp the x’s from his chest and remove the shirt underneath them.
“As you noted the other night, my jump here wasn’t graceful. I will admit I was a little proud of your skill to seize opportunity, you completely caught me off guard, and because of your antics I now have multiple broken ribs, not just one cracked one.”
“Oh.” Umm what sorry? No, not happening, my nose won’t let me apologize. The swollen left eye from my broken nose says fuck you.
“Actions like that will keep you alive in this world. These worlds, in fact it is my being impressed with you in those actions that keeps you alive from me.” He shrugged and groaned tapping his fingertips on various rainbows of skin tones, blue, purple, black, grey. It went perfectly with his eyes, those were bright yellow almost glow in the dark. Did I mention that yet? His burned their own sun at the moment when his metallic fingers grazed the dark spot leaving behind a sliced line down the kaleidoscopic of bruising. I swallowed, hard.
“Two ribs, when I say, your hand needs to slide in and with your palm push in and up with all you have.”
I cleared my throat. I stared. More. And then some. Bone and skin was a shattered vase of parts poking out where he had cut himself. I did that, go me.
“Full force in and up both ribs.” Breathe in and out. This is not the worst thing you have ever been asked to do. Hell, it’s not the worst thing you’ve been asked to do this week.
“At the same time?” I would rather watch you suffer I would rather smell the infection, watch black and blue turn green.
“If I have to go through this twice I am afraid your neck as lovely as it is will be snapped. Both when I say.”
This is the part where a whole mess of what the’s flew out of my mouth. What the fuck are you, what the hell is this place, what the, what the, what.
He leaned forward bracing both hands around the trunk of a pine and began counting down over anything that I was trying to shout out. On cue, and yes I will admit I did find a little enjoyment in causing him pain where he had caused me frustration, I punched through the jagged slash of skin and did as he instructed, throwing all my weight forward and up.
The feeling of flesh ripping and skin suctioning to your arm is something you will never ever forget. It is nothing like they tell you on the behind the scenes shows. It does not sound like a cantaloupe being tapped. Cantaloupes don’t snap and whip. It does not feel like mushed Jell-O, nope not even cherry Jell-O. Not unless you use too much powder and too little water and then freeze it for consistency, even that’s not right, it’s not slithery enough, even if it makes a great party favor. I am sorry but they never tell you that the smell alone of one’s insides is enough to make you second guess eating another meal, ever.
The only way you know you’ve done the deed is by the sound of your patient. The grunts will turn into short breathed cries building into a scream that hits harder than the smell. In my case it was followed with what I was sure would give children everywhere renewed faith in the boogeyman. This creature shrieked its mouth opening both in width and length in a precise line from the bottom lip to the base of his chin. A star fish of skin and teeth. I will mention here that after he fell at my feet silently limp, I got sick, and I screamed, crab crawled as far away from him as better judgment would let me, and I huddled hugging my legs, shaking and crying.
See also: Cobra a various species of venomous snakes, most of which when disturbed, can rear up and spread their necks in a characteristic threat display.
See also: The frill-necked lizard who when threatened gapes its mouth, exposing a bright pink or yellow lining; the frill flares out, displaying bright orange and red scales.
See also: Predator a fictional extraterrestrial species featured in the Predator science-fiction franchise of 1987, characterized by its piranha-like teeth on the upper jaw and dryer.
“That sound. Please stop it.” An alien creature ranked Twelve does not pass out; he only pauses, for a second, or two, or thirty three, but who’s counting. I was shaking, quivering against what I just saw in his jawline. By the time he squatted in front of me the whole display was nothing more than an erased pencil line down his chin. I asked what that was. I think I asked anyways with the way he spoke cooing me in sonnet about evolution.
“Not everyone looks or acts like you do. Close, very close, but even close is just an almost meaning still different. When evolution takes over it is not always to make you pretty.” You know those chords that we women are always striking in men, they sound like middle C on the piano. For the first time, including when he had a gun under my chin, not excluding when he had me pinned face first in the dirt I was scared of him. Truly terrified. This annoyed him, hurt him rather, I think, I really do believe that it annoyed him how hurt he was by my reaction.
By the second night he gave in, anything if it meant I wouldn’t shy away when he reached out to help me over a barefoot troublesome area, or flinch when he spoke, or follow exactly two steps behind his pace. Every time I closed my eyes all I could see was that jawline splitting open enough to rip my face clean off. I could hear it too, the sound tearing flesh would make. My steak dinner never made a sound like that.
On the second night he unclasped gear, pulling off his boots and setting them very carefully in front of me.
“There are far too many things out there that will frighten you Aylin my genetic makeup should never be one of them.” Frozen I watched him put his boots on my feet and latch every strap. Too big, I can step out of this big.
“Go. Not too far…please.”
It took about five apprehensive minutes before I was happy to be a free captive. If there is such a thing, it felt great to move where I wanted to when I wanted to, with no one around to comment on my lacking of anything, no puppet string pulling me this way or that. Twelve never came to find me, no matter how long I was gone, he said the boots made enough noise for him to keep track of me at all times. It also helped that my better judgment kept me just out of eye sight, by five paces in each direction that is all nothing more. For three nights we shared a makeshift bed, me laying in it, watching the stars twinkle into sunrise, him squatting a breath away watching sounds. This place is filled with them, sounds, noises, things that go bump, you name it its here. Outside of the conifers, underbrush, and the scattered fragments rusting into soil we never saw any sound though. I did see him, for two nights, talking out to the wilderness about the Never Never Land he was so desperate to get back to.
“What?” By our third morning he learned that if he sat real still I would get over my fear of his evolutionary features enough to dress his wounds. Excessive contact is what I was told when I first suggested he sit tight. Yes, well, Earth humanity thrives off of unnecessary interaction, sit. I ripped the tulle off my dress in long strips covering areas that were festering. I was getting exactly what I asked for that first night. Infection was turning his skin a jaundice shade of yellow.
“Catch what?” His fingers grabbed my wrist pulling me away from padding his side to his line of sight.
“I don’t know.”
“Then why say that?” Did I offend him? No the word wasn’t an s, or d word, I’m pretty sure he had used the f predecessor a couple times since we met.
“I just do. Always had. Every morning when I wake up.”
“Before I wake up?”
“I’m asleep.” I frowned it’s my ‘who’s the idiot?’ expression.
“What do you dream about?” He rolled his eyes to counter my frown.
“I don’t know.”
“But you say that every time?”
“Yes?” My cheeks flushed, burning red, spreading the shade from them to my ears, through my lips.
“I don’t know, I’m pissed off most mornings and say that.”
“And you don’t recall anything of when you were asleep, what set off your anger.”
“Most people don’t.” Lie. I remember. Each and every dream.
I shook my head adjusting the knot I had tied around his torso.
“All I know is that when I wake up I’m pissed off, I feel behind, frustrated and completely fuck it all.” That’s the truth, honest to god truth, I can’t make it fast enough down the tunnel, I can’t get the door open in time, I can’t figure it out, find a way out, see it, I can’t catch anything, fucking catch, catch it, all his fault, catch who? Catch what? Those I don’t know the answers to.
“When you are foul you yell at my name.” He chuckled, shaking his head, he muttered too, something about some things never change.
“What never changes?”
“How did you come by knowledge of my name?”
“Asshole?” His fingers dug into my arms shaking enough that I involuntarily nodded yes as his reply. I was no longer amusing, you can see it flicker over his face, yes its cute, okay now it’s annoying, okay fine please stop, hey…wait a minute…
“You don’t have a name, you have a military status.”
“I was named when-it was given to me early in childhood. Please don’t use that word again.”
“What word? Your name is fuck?”
“No that’s me.”
“Catch. Why can’t I call you by your name?” This is new. I like new. New is a paper cut, or a sliver, a thorn. It’s a thorn in Catch’s side.
“I was never to have one.” Each of his answers only woke a thousand more questions.
“You weren’t supposed to be named?”
“No. The woman who was in charge of my earlier years decided that until my status was determined she would not call me as all other Madyre’s do.” He growled. I ignored the threat handing him back his shirt.
“Why? Madyre is that like a mother?” He frowned still fixated to the sky, I was judging by the frown his whole face turned into he was deciding on how much say. It looked like he was reading some invisible agreement, his eyes moved back and forth scanning over invisible pages of something. The fine print, he’s reading the fine print on judgment, better judgment, I can see it.
“A Madyre is assigned to you when you are-when you are an infant. They will care for many of us at a time until we are old enough to-until it is determined on where we are in line, in ranking. We are considered acolytes until we are selected.”
“So you are taken from your family? And given to what? An orphanage? Selected for what?”
“No, we have no parents to begin with. Selected for what and where in life we will be.”
“Everyone has parents, whether they know them or not.”
I thought of my parents Engels and Joy. Not a perfect pair in anyone’s eyes, including their own. The best thing they ever did for each other was when I was nine and my mother finally slammed the front door, and Engels did nothing to stop her, how could he? I was the only one home, alone, at the age of nine, for days. Three of them if you care about specifics.
“Not us. Not anymo-ready?” Nope, nowhere close.
“Why shouldn’t it have been?”
“It individualizes me.”
“You’re not an individual?”
“No Aylin, I am not, I am one part of a collective.” He motioned up, as in time to get to getting.
“A collective of what?”
“I became an Anlox. A direct server and guard to our Father.”
“Father as in a God?”
Catch glanced over his shoulder shaking his head not understanding.
“Religion? The bible?”
This time the head shaking had a frown added in the mix.
His head moved sideways, curiosity meet Catch. I think he may have more lives than even you.
“Jesus Christ Superstar?”
“Church, you know up, down, up, peace be with you, down, kneel, jazz hands.”
The little v in between his eyebrows formed.
“Father, son, and the Holy Ghost?” I was grabbing at straws, how do you explain to a flesh and blood superior being about a superficial being we are all told is…in a nut shell…it’s sort of like…because I said so now shut up.
“Our Father has no son.”
“Who art in heaven?”
“We have no ghosts either.”
“Hallow be thy name?”
“I thought you knew Earth humanities.”
“Is he red and large?”
“Who is that?”
Who was that? Ooooh.
“Leprechauns or aliens.” I tapped the tip of his nose.
“God, religion is someone, someplace we go to when we don’t know the answer. He gives us them, in faith.” Catch was listing off holidays based on their characters, and then some. I wouldn’t drop it, I was trying to make a supreme being with a face understand and put a face with something we didn’t have one for.
“Buddha, no wait he’s the fat rub my belly one, Vishnu?”
“Your era has too many fictional characters. How do you keep them straight? We have all our answers. We don’t need his help. So no I am not a servant for your God. Our father is living, breathing, and very much explainable.”
“You serve a man then.”
“I serve a man, a home, a planet, and others who might require my services. I do whatever is needed of me for the survival of our people.”
“Be all you can be? Military.”
“Military humph.” Even with his back to me I could hear his sarcastic grin spread.
My question blew out, a puff, a what then? puff of air.
“More like guardians. Peacekeepers.”
“How many Add-lux are there?”
“Annn locks. One thousand.”
“Out a thousand you’re twelve.”
“Yes, for now.”
“You started out as number one thousand?”
“No. Four twenty six.”
“Shouldn’t you have been number one thousand?”
“I was raised in a home with twenty other acolytes. My home of twenty was one out six other homes of the same amount. Add to that the seven hundred and sixty already in service at that time.”
He smiled tapping my nose with his finger.
“Take in life math, retiring from servitude math, how I excelled at certain things, and other infinitesimal factors, like speed, strength, intelligence level, qualifications, understandings, willingness and you are placed in line where you should be, when compared to the others. So take your eight eighty and subtract four fifty four.”
“Four twenty six, so you’re average, plain Jane un special.” He was bragging at his placement, I poked that bubble by just offhandedly mentioning how there were four hundred and twenty five better soldiers out there. This time when his temper flared out from the jaw I forced myself to stare it down. I forced myself further reaching out to cup my hand over his revolutionized jawline. This shocked the hell out of both of us.
“How do you get to number one?”
“With each death of an Anlox we are shifted and repositioned to a lower number, more responsibility, and more status.”
“I hope they pay well.”
“Money is a rarity for our kind.”
“Really?” I tried to picture a world with no money, no quarters or pennies to toss around and jangle in the bottom of my purse. No dollars torn and scribbled on with follow George at www antics. How would they get everything they needed? Food, electricity, and yes in my own vanity at that moment a ninety dollar swipe of my Visa manicure and Evo’s.
“We still have a system in place. Bartering for instance is very common in our universe. But no, I have almost no need for money. Everything is provided in my title. My space, food, anything I feel is necessary in order to better serve the ones I am assigned to. If you require my services then you will for the most part take on my needs as well as the needs or goods discussed before I am hired, for the greater.” He had a knack for saying just enough to keep my mind one step ahead to the next assault of questioning. Catch smiled unnecessary interaction. It keeps me moving. Catch was talking, answering and turning my fish tale into a whale hunt.
“So you can be rented?”
“Yes, no-not so much anymore.” His smile from a plan that finally agrees with both of us turned to something of a disapproving grimace. I had offended.
“But you were hired to collect me.” I added in the sarcastic drawl.
“Yes.” He paused scanning the area before making a right turn. In all my dealings with life turning right is never ever ever a good way to go. I took no note of our change in course, I was on a role, and I promise you from now on I always note a right turn.
“A little more specific? The ‘Father’?” and yes I did in fact make the quotations in the air and add bold italics to my voice when I said father, he didn’t catch my cynicism the first go around, let’s try it again this time with more oomph.
“Yes, him and Vintage head of science, and your sponsors, my sponsors, anyone who knew of the project. Whether you survive it or not is not my issue. I was sent to collect you that is all end of discussion.”
“I’m a project? Like part of a science fair? Doesn’t your type usually beam up cows for that probing shit?” I was trying to keep the heat in my tone to a minimum. Those chords we hit in men so easily, they sound like middle C on the piano its mate in sound when a man hits that same chord in a woman is a flat B. He ignored my irritation by making another sharp right.
“Catch,” I used his no name in vain, as often as I could from that moment on.
“I am a person. First you drug me. Then you bring me to a garbage dump, with nothing to eat or drink, I don’t even have shoes! Now you’re telling me that I am some sort of you’ll probably die experiment? Worthless, expendable. You can’t ignore that you can’t just end of discussion that!” I rambled further until I was on the brink of screaming which by the way the brink of screaming is squawking. And mind you it is raised in pitch and more annoying than chalkboard scrapping to everyone including the one in the act. Catch wheeled around strutting in heavy even steps to me his face scrunched in a scowl, his voice came out the color red as heated as his words. There was something else in his grasp, one of those shiny bits that make me nervous. This one was long and serrated and brushing against my throat. Worse yet the seam in his jaw was on the verge of ripping my face clean off the bone. Seeing it was still less painful than his free hand that had dug into my arm making sure to leave bruises as deep as the ones he had branded on my wrists. I jerked away so hard it brought tears, my fuse made me sidestep him moving to the right.
“What the hell is going on?”
“Ask Vintage, she is just like you, a real talker. Now shut the he-” I had to, I couldn’t help it, I smiled as our right turns caught up with Catch.