Short Story: Losers

Brad was a gas-station clerk; twenty, lean, and sickly-looking with circles so dark beneath his eyes he could make a raccoon blush. He’d spent his late teens in the gas-station by night, and the trend looked to continue through his twenties. To most, he was a loser. Sometimes he agreed. At least he was independent, self-sufficient, he’d say other times. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

A typical day saw him rise at noon. He went through his daily motions of coffee, showering, over the drone of scripted, daytime court shows. His dingy, one room apartment was on “the bad side” of town. Brad had learned since moving in, “bad-side” mostly meant, “unlike us” for those speaking of it, regardless of circumstances on either side. In his case, it meant poor.

Though there were a few of the truly undesirable around, the “government assist” housing surrounding his cut-rate apartment was simply filled with the “economically unfortunate.” Most called them disadvantaged, but Brad had always taken issue with this moniker, as if all those impoverished souls needed was to work a little harder and they too, could be Dukes and Dames of all they surveyed.

The truth, Brad knew, was much more difficult to accept: the “unfortunate” simply weren’t born into the wealthy elite or the middle classes above them, so they could never achieve what they’d supposedly been given a disadvantage at achieving. In other words, the “truth” was that the current social structure didn’t allow them to climb any higher without serious reformation. Brad had been born into middle-class living, but to escape the clutches of otherwise well-meaning parents, he took on the life of the impoverished. His own unwillingness to be anything else meant he’d all but cut ties with them after they’d tried to force him home for the sake of appearances. It might not have been much, he said, but it was his.

Like Brad, most of his neighbors ascribed to this method of thought. They were hard-working people that rose daily to slave for low-wages and no respect– and in the vain hope of one day lifting themselves from the muck.

The winters were the hardest for Brad and “his” people– the ones most would lump in as losers, whom like him, walked a straight and narrow just trying to get by. Most were laborers, single or child-bearing households with one wage earner. Often enough, those laborers received pink-slips en-masse when the weather turned to cold and the jobs froze with the ground. The influx often came with media-overblown sicknesses that frightened people into inoculating themselves and their children.

In truth, the monetary cost was greater than the risk, but none knew that. Meanwhile, those few claimed by true sicknesses were fraught by their afflictions’ medical costs. Between little work, rising medical costs, and the ever-creeping monster of inflation, it was a wonder to Brad that more people hadn’t recognized the slump into Third-World others had been forced along.

Brad was one of the lucky losers. Despite his sickly looks, and his emaciated build, he ate well enough to remain otherwise healthy. In combination with his hearty genetics, that had gifted him a robust immune system, it seemed no disease could overcome him. Physiologically speaking, he was an impregnable fortress of loop-hole turrets, regimental archers, and countless swordsmen. Were it not for these facts, perhaps the night the world caught up with him he would have died. Even so, he nearly did anyhow.

He rose as usual, coffee, hygiene, court-room dramas, and all. He made himself as presentable as any man unaware of such a monumental event to come could. Like those unlucky folks outside Ford’s Theater, he was merely ready to bustle onward through life, but was instead hit with a dose of reality that would’ve killed those losers of smaller luck.

He arrived at work as the walk-ins did in that season; layered in thick clothing, and with all but his eyes covered by a scarf, hat, and gloves. The only out of place item on him were the gym-shoes for hours of standing to come when others might have worn boots in the cold.

He hunched forward, hunkered into his coat and slinking toward the counter, as much at home there as in his dingy apartment. The two were similarly cramped, ugly, though the former bore considerably more color from the aisles of flashy products. In other words, had he an alley to himself, the gas station would’ve been right up it.

Like the most frigid of midweek nights, things were slow, tedious. Work had started just as the day’s last shift-change urged departing workers in and working departees out. The nine-PM rush quelled itself by ten with only the occasional hooting of night-owls or stoned-teenagers buying necessities to break the monotony. Cash and food stamps changed hands, debit and credit cards were swiped or shoved in to droning beeps, but that was it. Nothing unforgettable. These were the same, unfortunate souls that had lapsed into the haze of life; where day and night, weekday and weekend, had little meaning or distinction.

Brad sympathized most with this sect of “his” people. The all-nighters, graveyard shifters, and nocturnal creatures that prowled, patrolled, or otherwise maintained the night. And it was one of that group, most prone to prowling, that stepped up to the counter.

Brad greeted the man habitually as he stepped up to the counter. He seemed out of place, as if he fit into none of the groups Brad saw nightly. He looked almost alien, with his long, emaciated figure, skinnier than even Brad’s. Signs of addiction were present in the gaunt of his face and the brown rot of his teeth. Brad guessed Meth: it wasn’t a stretch. Those few, nearby undesirables still present in society had chosen that particular poison as their cash-cow.

Nonetheless, Brad showed no disrespect toward the man, nor in response to his request for “a pack of smokes.”

Brad turned away mechanically, lifting cigarettes from the display. He turned back and found himself staring down the end of a snubnose .38. It took his mind but a moment to connect with the steel death staring him down across the counter.

Brad dropped the cigarettes, raised his hands, “Take wh-whatever you want, man.”

“Give m-me e-everything in the d-drawer!” He stammered back with a strung-out scream.

His fury made him look more alien than any creature Brad had seen. The shaking steel death in his hand looked too familiar. Brad’s mind was slowed by terror, but the gun waggled and reality went in double speed.

“All the cash!” The man shouted, the gun pivoting left and right in a narrow arc. “Everything! Bag it. No funny stuff.”

“R-right,” Brad said with a habitual pull of a plastic bag. “N-no funny stuff.”

He rang up a false charge, opened the drawer. Hundreds in cash and change from the last few hours flowed into the bag. Had he not been alone, Brad knew, that money would’ve been locked away in the safe, and out of his hands. But the manager was home, sick, with the flu. The money was to pile up ‘til morning, when the next shift’s manager was due to collect before he clocked out.

Shaky hands fumbled paper-bills to the floor. “S-s-sorry.”

“Get ‘em!” He shouted.

Brad dropped to his knees, trembling. He felt as if standing before the firing squad. Tears fell involuntarily from his eyes. The alien creature softened.

“Nothin’ p-person, man. T-times is hard. Gotta’ support family. Nothin’s gonna’ happen to you, so long’s you pick up all that money.”

“R-right.” He stashed the last of the money into the bag, readied to hand it over.

“Yur comin’ with me,” he said, gesturing sideways with the gun. “Gonna’ cross the parking lot ‘n then you good. Can’t have the c-cops called too soon.”

Brad didn’t like it. He felt his stomach lurch. He stepped around the register, hands up and bag dangling from a thumb. He was escorted at gun-point into the cold night. The laterally-arranged fuel-pumps were vacant, save a single car just out of sight. The .38 compelled him across the lot, to the curb of the main-road, then across to its far-side. A car skidded to a stop before them.

Sirens blared through the night.

“You damn fool!” The creature barked at him.

He dove into the car, and for a flashing instant, Brad saw a human being. It was afraid, hungry. Then, the revolver rose and popped! A single round struck Brad’s gut. The shooter and his getaway car were gone before Brad hit the ground. How, he wasn’t sure until later, but those sirens screamed for the gas-station with angry vengeance. Brad lie in the snow, bleeding and half-frozen. A car inched over, its head-lights adding white to his pained and darkening vision.

Anyone else should have died that night. Brad wasn’t anyone else. In fact, he was the only “one else” for a young, espresso-skinned woman that more than qualified as stunning. As one of his regulars, she was also an independent, people-loving “loser,” content (like he) in the goings of her life.

Were she not so certain of that fact, she might never have been compelled to linger at the pump. She might never have been looking for an excuse to ask Brad out. She might never have wrestled with the decision, and thus witness the robbery, call the police, or watch Brad cross the road.

Had she refused to accept being a “loser,” she might have found herself in conflict with her feelings. Her nerves might then have gotten the best of her, and she might not have sat, waiting and arguing with herself. She might then have driven off, hopelessly romanticizing “what might’ve been.” Most of all, had she been anything else but herself, she would never have been quick enough to rush to Brad’s aid, or apply the life-saving pressure his wound required.

But she was herself, and she was there: she did apply the pressure, flag down the officers on scene, whom radioed EMT’s, then took her thorough description of the two men and their getaway vehicle. It wasn’t a half-hour after Brad was rushed to a nearby hospital that she was identifying the men. She waited two hours while she gave and signed statements, then made sure to locate and populate Brad’s otherwise-empty bedside.

What happened after he awoke is a matter of another tale, much too long to be told here. The conversation that took place immediately after he awoke was almost tedious in its way, but properly sets the tone for that lengthy tale, for those interested.

Brad awoke with a throbbing head. “Ugh. What happened?”

The woman was on her feet. She pressed him back to the bed, “Don’t try to sit up, you’ll pop your stitches.”

He hit a threshold of pain, then allowed her to ease him backward. Her espresso-skinned face, and jewel-bright eyes flitted through his mind, unseating a buried memory.

“You’re one of the regulars.”

She nodded. Her gentle hands and glowing smile forced a mental recall of the multitude of times they’d interacted. He’d seen her, felt a draw. He buried it, played it off as wishful thinking. Her smile glowed a little cooler now, but more from concern than anything.

Her hand withdrew but hesitated near his. She spoke almost breathlessly. “I s-saw everything, and… well, I wanted to stay here until someone else came, or until you w-woke up. I didn’t want you to feel alone after what happened.”

He gave an earnest smile, “Thank you. But… why?”

She chewed her bottom lip timidly, twiddled her nimble thumbs. “I was… um. I noticed they had no-one to call and … well, since I was there– and was sorta, gonna, maybe, ask you out– I figured I’d just s-stay… you know, as a f-friend. In c-case you n-needed someone… here, I mean.”

He blinked off a fog of morphine and pain. “You were gonna ask me out?”

Her big eyes glistened, “Y-yeah, I mean, i-if you wanted.”

He blushed, felt his cheeks reddened, and managed a laugh that made him wince. She looked as if about to lunge, fearing something more, but grimaced with a desperate laugh. Her gaze fell to her twiddling thumbs.

Brad watched her, found himself as equally stretched for words. “Wow.” His wishful thinking was rekindled into a blazing fire of hope, “I’m– and you’re so… I mean, why me? Why would someone so… be interested in me?”

She looked up with another timid, half-smile, having found her confidence again. “You’re cute, and I figured, since I see you everyday, we sort of have something in common. I-I really was only gonna ask for a-a date and then, well with everything now–” She sighed, “I understand if you don’t… want to, you know?”

He laughed again, shallower this time, then like her, found his confidence again. “From the sound of it, you saved my life. Least I can do is oblige such a… stunningly beautiful woman.”

Her eyes rose at him with a twinkle of hope. He let his hand rest atop hers, “I’m Brad, by the way.”

She giggled, shook it, “Sheila.”

One date: that was the agreement. And it was held to. Time and again, until long after they’d already become inseparable, they recalled that fateful meeting. No matter what anyone said about two such “losers,” they’d found perpetual joy in the fickleness of life– and in one another’s contentment of their place in it. Together, they took their own happiness and combined it, only to find more. What losers…

Poetry-Thing Thursday: On Death We Dine

I close my eyes,
for a moment,
I see;
concrete gristle,
staining steel-gray skies.
Pale incandescence,
pocking them with light.
Beneath rolling clouds,
blackness splinters,
with blue-violet lightning.

Graffiti of neutral and violent hues,
splashes color here and there,
that color voices the voiceless’,
untimely, unrelenting despair.

In the distance,
billboards lighted,
like cheap, sidewalk,
Mannequins of humans,
caricatured creatures of beauty,
made to look like us.

Still, they can’t,
for they know nothing,
but to be beautiful,
when all the world around them,
reeks of poverty–
and ugliness entombed in despair.

The distant sound of traffic,
but in relative ways,
for the masses, non-existent.

Yet somehow,
the air is unclear.
It tastes of those things,
which afflict the world so–
and the ever-present despair.

Somehow we carry on.
No reason to.
No explanation.
Just survival.
Scrounging, scavenging,
hoping for revival,
day to day,
until passing, old,

On the streets,
and out of time,
we greet defeat,
and on death we dine.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Colors

On a warm summer’s morning,
cool dew clings to grass.
Sunrise kisses the milk-white skin,
of her bare-naked breasts.

Cool pale meets hard pink.
It stiffens against the breeze.
She sits, leaned back,
arms propping her up.
to gaze at the awakened hues.

Bluish-green taints milk-white,
in lightning strike patterns,
from veins pumping crimson blood,
compelled by a red heart beneath.

Her head tilts back.
Sandy hair cascading.
The first rays of sun engulf it,
warm it with their soft yellow light,
and reveal the gentleness,
of motive in her ice-blue eyes.

To know her is to love her,
orange and daring,
but so very few do,
for the gray and the white of shyness,
make her humbling privilege gold,
atop her palette of affections.

Still she sits, until satisfied,
atop a verdant, dewy hill,
waiting for something,
no matter the color,
to move her back to life.

When it does not come,
she instead lies backward,
baring her self to blue skies,
and hoping, even dreaming,
for the Sun’s color-filled goodbye.

Short Story: Ritual for the Bereaved

She had skin like an ebony goddess with a face painstakingly carved from stone by masters’ hands. Sweat gleamed off her as if she’d been coated in lacquer, fired in a kiln. Beads of water formed streams, forced downward by gravity to mix with sweat. Her wiry hair was wild; stray strands cascaded down her face, jutted out from her bun-ponytail, and framed her prominent cheek bones.

She began at an edge of the black-mats in the wooden room. In her hands, thinly-curved steel of two katanas readied in a down-angled point at the floor. Her head hung, chin against chest, as her mind sank entered a placid trance. Her muscled thighs parted just enough to give her legs their due gait. Then, with a breath, she sprinted forward a pair of steps.

Her feet and calves worked in a spring. The blades remained motionless as she flipped forward, landed. Steel rose in double, whipped through the air with audible swipes, made inward slices. She spun on a single foot, a ballerina in a fouetté turn. The blades followed, parted to swipe one high and one low. Her body compelled them to follow through.

With a backward flip-kick, her wrists rotated, whirled the blades around. She landed, jammed them backward to penetrate phantom foes. The swords pulled free from the phantoms, fused with a wide sweep that saw them righted in her hands. She saw the swipes catch the throats of five armed men around and in front of her. Had they been there, she would have been deathly right.

Her powerful legs made a deep lunge, right hand thrust a blade forward, inward. The toes of her left foot dragged forward as she straightened, put her fists knuckle-to-knuckle. The mirrored steel shined from the large’s rooms LEDs, reflected half and quarter views of its innards. The reflections became blurs; the blades dropped, began to spin, whirl, twirl, while her body made small pirouettes and leaps.

She did a final, backward stab, eyes shut, then pulled the blades forward, flattened her arms outward. Her wrists angled to keep the blades flush with the t-pose, extend the breadth of her reach. Together, steel and skin sank back to her sides. The swords returned to their down-angled point, her chin once more against her chest as it heaved from exertion.

A door opened behind her, a scent like smoldering wood coals wafted over. A smile crept across her mouth. She turned on-heel, eyes open and head leveled. Before her stood a tall, equally dark skinned man. The white and gray that peppered his beard matched aged-eyes wrinkled at the corners. A large scar ran down the right side of his face, through his eyebrow and a piece of his upper lip, and made his smile unique, peculiar.

“Jazmin,” he said gruffly as he crossed the room.

She met him half-way, “Dad.”

“Am I interrupting, sweetheart?” He asked respectfully.

She shook her head, led him toward a corner to sheath her swords. She patted a towel at her neck with one hand, used the other to ready a water-bottle to drink, “What’s the what?”

He smiled, her lingo ever foreign. Such was the way of generational gaps between fathers and daughters. He knew the meaning of this particular phrase, sensed she was all business today.

He responded in kind, “Your assignment just came down from the top.”

She gulped a squirt from the bottle, panted, “Since when’s Dahl been giving you my orders?”

“Since the assignment concerns an old acquaintance,” her father replied seriously.

Her neck stiffened, eyes widened to match his, “You can’t mean–”

He interrupted gravely, “I do.”

Their eyes met with a hardened narrowness. Somewhere beneath her confidence and determination, Jazmin’s core was shaken. To hear such words meant any hope for peace was gone.

She spoke with a stiff spine, “When do we leave?”

“Now. There’s a van waiting.”

A quarter of an hour passed before Jazmin pushed her way from the gym and into the night. The Zen garden beside and behind the gym gurgled with a hand-made waterfall at the edge of its Koi pond. Japanese Maples in cement and paver-stone planters cast her in sparse shadows beneath the palette of copious neon signs and incandescent poles lighting the streets. She followed the cobble stone path along the garden’s outer-wall, found her father waiting before the an open side of a black van.

She gave him a look as if yet unprepared. He sympathized, “You know, I can talk to Rachel. She and I are old friends. If she–”

“No,” Jazmin said definitively. “I trust her judgment. If she believes I can do this, then she knows I should.”

He gave a small nod. She tossed her duffle bag inside, gripped the vans roof with a hand to launch herself inside. He sighed, climbed in behind her.

It took almost two days to travel from Hong Kong to the remote region where they would find their mark. The Nepalese scenery of verdant, earthen hues and white-capped mountains would have been a jarring shift from Earth’s densest, rain-laced city were it not so gradual. Jazmin found herself enamored, but her joy was always quickly suppressed by the assignment at hand.

They reached the mark’s hideaway; a small temple on the precipice of a mountain where snow fell eternally in screaming winds. Her father led the way inside. Two pairs of blades readied, one after the other, and slipped through the temple’s double doors.

The woman was in her late forties, clearly honed from a life of agile aspirations and training. There was no incitement to violence– it was already clear in her eyes. Something said she expected the two assassins as more than a mark could. A clear spite was beneath the expectation: she’d been the one exiled, cast out for daring to challenge Dahl. In place of death, she was told to flee from beneath the sword at her throat and never return. The spark of hatred in her eyes then had since grown to a raging, animistic fire. Twenty years of planned revenge and festering rage still fueled it.

Her own blades were out. Jazmin and her father were ready. One of each of their blades blocked the woman’s. The free blades sank through her fleshy torso beside one another. Her eyes went wide. Blood trickled from a corner of her mouth. Jazmin and her father pulled back together. The woman shriveled to the floor. The thirsty, aged planks beneath her lapped up blood that spilled down her sides. She gasped on the floor, eyes distant and glazed.

“Jazmin,” she whispered.

The girl knelt beside her to listen carefully. Her dying breaths were on her, all of them knew it.

She wheezed a wet breath, “T-take my swords. T-they ar-are yours n-now.” Jazmin gave a singular nod with a blink. The woman raised a bloody hand to caress Jazmin’s cheek, “You’re so beautiful.” Eyes began to tear up. “I-I’m s-sorry I couldn’t be there to see you grow.”

Jazmin took her hand, “Shh. It’s okay. I understand.”

At that Jazmin was sincere, she understood the woman’s absence, the rationale for her exile, even the anger that had prompted the attack that led to it. More importantly, Jazmin understood why there was no epic fight; simply, it was easier for all if her death was quick, in defense of themselves.

She squeezed Jazmin’s hand, “N-never f-forget that I l-love you, sweetheart.”

Jazmin suppressed her own tears, “I love you too, mom.”

The life left her mother’s eyes and her body went limp. There was no one to blame; not her adulterous father whom caused the challenge to Dahl, nor herself that put the blade to her, not even the exile whom sought revenge, consigned herself to her fate by declaring all out war on the Order. She would have never hurt her family, but even Dahl knew she couldn’t allow anyone else to take the assignment, put down her would-be assassin.

Jazmin collected her mother’s blades and sheathes, slung them over her back, then lifted her for a pyre she and her father had already built. Absent or not, respect was due, and if there was anything the Order knew, it was the importance of rituals for the bereaved– no matter whom put the blade to the mark or why.

Bonus story: Preparing For The Hunt

She sat at the bar in one of the nondescript dives darkened against its regulars ugly mugs. Stale beer and smoke lined the air in a visible haze with more than hints of desperation and depression beneath them. Places like this were a dime a dozen in a mega-city like Neo-Chicago. Over the decades the hustle and bustle of white and blue-collar bodies and El-trains morphed into the steady bob and weave of crowds two and three times their elder’s size. Over them were the intermittent whir of the light-rails and near-silent engines of electric, public and private transports. Gusts of wind from the city’s collective– albeit quiet– roar, made the Windy City’s name all the more apropos.

She’d been there at least six hours, had nursed two or three drinks in that time. Obviously of the Femme Fatale variety, she was all decked out in leather, calf-high boots, and pierced just about everywhere to be seen– and in a few places that couldn’t be. The metal accented piercing, blue eyes that would swallow whole anyone whom looked into them. Straight, brown hair fell around her leather shoulders that folded and crinkled in as she sipped a warm beer.

Her eyes were drawn sideways as a man entered the bar across the room. A gust of wind blew his clothing with a wild tousle from a passing train, sucked the door shut in a slam. He marched up to the bar, ordered a scotch, threw it back. He slammed the glass down, motioned for another pour. She watched him carefully, one leg crossed over the other at the knee on a high stool.

“Rough Day?” She asked behind a drink.

He made a half nod, slugged back another shot, slammed the glass down again, “Laid off.”

She raised a brow, spoke with a curiously still upper-lip, “Sounds rough to me.”

He cast a glance at her, saw her in full; a hint of arousal tainted the air, as it did with all the men that saw her for the first time. Most never got past the first advance, but something about her said she might let him go further, if not all the way, just for the fun of it.

He leaned on an elbow to face her, “Never seen you here before.”

She gave a sly smile, “I’d imagine I’m here when you’re working.”

He smirked, “Well my the day’s not so rough then. What d’you do then?”

Her mouth made grandiose motions with the words, “This and that.”

He inched along the bar toward her. She could smell the half-erection in his pants, the course of arousal that stank like a high-school boy’s locker room– all testosterone and revving engines. She tilted her head toward it for a silent, subtle whiff. He missed the movement, sensed her interest from the slight glaze of her eyes. In truth, her heightened sense of smell was as much a weakness as a strength– especially when hunting. All she needed was one, minor whiff to trigger the animal inside her.

She tongued her sharpened incisors and canines, kept them hidden from him. They were frightening at first appearance, kinky afterward. The result of a failed attempt to embrace an illness she’d received in her teen years, she’d learned the hard way not to show them prematurely.

He seemed to make a motion, as if to hesitate and ask her permission. She made no protest. He moved forward, allowed by the dulled glaze her thoughts had left in her eyes. Between her heightened senses and her careful evasion of baring her teeth, most of her inner-resources were too occupied to notice him before he’d sidled up beside her in his lean.

He slugged back another shot, eyed her body with a heavier breath than his last. Most would have missed it, even she might have, were she not so intent on remaining focused after the last oversight. The erection was probably full-on by now, or at least as full-on as denim would let it get. Her ultra-attentive eyes flitted downward at a lump, each breath through her nose tinted by his scent.

He ordered another shot with a twist and a wave that shifted the air toward her, bathed her in testosterone and pheromones. Her body trembled, her groin warm. Hot blood flowed through him, but she wanted it hotter, faster. She slid off the chair without volition as the bar-tender slid over shot.

She stopped him from drinking with a quiet lean, whispered into his ear, “I want you.”

The erection was full-on now. She eased back with a long, sensual inhale through her nose. Beneath her leather coat and t-shirt her nipples hardened, panties already wet with anticipation. She slugged back the shot, made eye contact. Her piercing blues swallowed him whole. He swayed after her as she led him out by a hand.

His feet clomped along, leaded by a curious insulation that left him numb to the world, but kept his body fiercely alight. They maneuvered out of the bar and into the alley beside it. It would’ve smelled of piss and trash were it not for the overpowering scents of animal lust. She pulled him to the back wall, the least offensive smelling of its depths. An aggressive shove threw him against the wall. Her hands writhed as her tongue fought to take control of his. He submitted, hand loose against her side as she slid down, ready to swallow him more wholly than before.

When she came back up a few moments later with a long swallow, she kissed up a trail his neck to suck at his collar bone. Then, her tongue skirted his jugular. Numbed by pleasure and confusion, he almost didn’t notice when she her teeth sank in. Hot blood flooded her mouth. A hand grabbed her hair with passion. Then, pain; his eyes went wide, neck struggled against her. He was light-headed by the time he saw his death coming.

She climaxed with loud, wailing moan as his last bits of blood drained from his pale body. She pushed away from the wall, chest heaving. His corpse slid sideways, limp and empty. Her tongue circled her mouth. She swallowed hard, the mixed ambrosia of sweet cum and coppery blood a cocktail of Nirvana. HPPD– Hypovolemic photo-phobia disease– had given her half the recipe, but she’d concocted the rest on her own. It made it all the sweeter to suck them dry before she drained them, once more embraced the term “vampire.” It was a romantic notion of course, she was just another afflicted soul, but whatever she was, she was grateful for it’s gifts.

She returned to the bar, gave the tender there a knowing look. When she sank back into her seat, she lifted her beer to nurse it, only to see a gaggle of men enter ready to drink and party. She tongued her sharpened teeth and once more prepared for the hunt.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Stitch up the Seams

Lift up a pen,
to stitch up the seams,
For evil is never as cumbersome,
as beauty or dreams.

One keeps you frightened,
with heart full of dread.
The other’s enlightened.
The last one undead.

A mistress of maidens,
cloaked in the light,
for evil works best,
under cover of night.

So let your heart be like the poles,
with weekfuls of day,
emitted by pen-hand and souls,
and ink in main-stay.

Just count to ten,
then stitch up the seams.
Let ink flow til day-come,
with images, beauty, and dreams.

Short Story: The Murder of an Angel

I found her wandering the Ginsu Corporate Japanese garden. I’d been called to the scene to address a public nuisance. Such is the way of our culture now that even this woman, goddess though she was, could not escape our surveillance drones nor there automatic report. Though she was non-violent, I knew from the report I received en-route, that I’d have to take her in. What I found when I arrived though…

The Ginsu Corp’s Japanese garden is an enormous courtyard in the center of a sky-scraper made of all modern, sleek angles, stainless steel trim, and large, open windows. That last bit seems the most important for what I found, but it was hardly on my mind when I entered from the lobby-side. The door there was designed to open and close like a sliding door, but was hidden in the windows to appear as one. Something about architects and their styles– or some such nonsense– made it necessary to hide the door.

There was a persistent, purposeful gurgle of water in the garden. A make-shift river was cut through its center with clever, hidden plumbing and a slow-trickling waterfall to the left side. The water would slip down those rocks endlessly, follow the twists and turns of its man-made banks, flow beneath a foot bridge in the middle, then exit somewhere far to the right to start the process again.

The few, Japanese Maples Ginsu had imported were delicately placed around the garden’s stone pathways and small clearings so as not to overshadow the countless foreign hedges, flowers, and ancient, potted bonsai-plants. Over the sky-scraper and through the foliage, the sun’s rays cut streaks through a mist that persisted over the area. It gave the garden an almost ethereal look.

It was surreal. There I stood in heavy, corp-sec armor with an LR-30 five-five-six in my hands, in a veritable garden of Eden. It was even more surreal when I made my silent progress to the footbridge, then clomped over it in my weighted gait into the Garden’s heart. Somewhere behind me a Koi jumped at one of the various water-dwelling insects. It landed with a splash that I missed but caught the ripples of. Even at the distance I could see the Koi in the river; they were massive, all manner of mixtures of orange, black, white. Some were wholly patterned, the rest mostly solid colors with speckles of others splattered across them. There must have been a few hundred that swirled through the water, added life to the already-teeming garden.

I found her a few paces from a split in the hedges. To say I was breath-taken would be an understatement. She sat in the dewy grass in one of those shining sun-rays that gleamed down from the heavens. The metaphor was all the more apt then. Her knees were drawn up, legs curled beneath her while she leaned on an arm. She glowed with an aura of the sunlight– or maybe it was her angelic features– while a hand pensively hung at the back of her neck. She stared upward in trance, as oblivious to me as I was of what was to come.

I don’t know how long I stood there, but it was enough to eventually rouse her curiosity. I should have said something, anything, but I knew I couldn’t. To add anything to the sounds of that low gurgle, distant, quiet birds, and the faint scent of fresh mist would have been blasphemous. Instead, I watched her. As if of her own volition and nothing else, she rose from the ground and angled toward me.

She was clad in little more than a transparent dress. It wasn’t a thing from any of the corp-owned stores in town. They’d have never allowed it. Even so, she wore it like a goddess, could have fit in with any of the old myths about ancient women whose beauty brought men and women their knees.

She tilted her platinum blonde head– which curiously seemed natural despite its impossibility– and drew a slow hand upward. My eyes caught the motion to see her pale skin beneath the dress, her body bared for the world, for me. The glow behind her gave an outline of something voluptuous to her already-transcendent beauty. It was difficult not to stare. Even so, something in the way her hand curled beneath the hard angles of her jaw made it seem as though she wished me to, took pleasure in it.

Imagine me, all corp-sec clad and rifle-toting ready to rain hell-fire on rebels and revolutionaries, being met with a match so fully inverse of myself– in appearance or otherwise. Surreal didn’t quite cut it anymore, if only because of the ethereal, extra-worldly magnificence before me. I was the beast in the metaphor, a perfectly sculpted image of terror, torture, and pain, and somehow I’d found beauty that brought me to my knees. Literally.

My rifle dropped from my hands first, the safety thankfully on. She was within arm’s reach, could see all the subtle curves of her supple breasts, perfectly-rounded hips, and the glistening green of her eyes. The left side of her head was shaved. The rest short but with bangs that angled around her forehead. The seemed to weight it into a tilt to one side, then drifted in the light breeze that made it over the gargantuan walls of the around us.

I met her eyes with a breathless, parted mouth. I was only vaguely aware of the people gathered around the garden and surveillance cameras. Most would be watching out of curiosity, others out of arousal. So repressed has our society become that this woman was committing a crime simply by existing. By then, I had forgotten my job there. She could have murdered me, if it meant only a touch from her unearthly wonder.

Our eyes were still locked when I fell to my knees. Her mouth formed a sadness then that still stabs my heart when I remember it. With a pair of nimble, silken fingers, she lifted me upward by the broad-underside of my chin. Her touch sent a shiver through my spine. I was ready to faint, so powerful was she.

Why what came next happened, I don’t know. Maybe she knew what was to come from it. Maybe, like I with her, she’d been captivated by something in me that I didn’t know existed. Or maybe she was as enthralled as I by the unseen, primal forces of lust and love that have allowed our species to propagate. Whatever it was, she gave a small shake of her head as I rose to full-height from the light pressure beneath my chin. Then, slowly, both of her soft hands rose to either side of my face. She pulled me into a long, deep kiss that nearly made me buckle again.

Her breath was hot, inviting, her tongue soft and trained like a dancer. Between us a slow, almost mournful ballet began. I’m not sure how long it lasted, but I never wanted it to end. My hands were warmed through my gloves at her hips while the breeze tousled the creased, see-through dress around them as its anchors.

I know she sensed what was to come. I felt it in a burst of passion that surged between us. If I had known though, I might have done something more. But all I knew was her; a glowing, pulsing beacon of beauty, love, and good in a world literally gone to hell. Outside that garden, there were a dozen different corps all vying to carve out the largest part of the world they could. Anyone that got in their way was labeled a traitor, dissenter, terrorist.

My job was to rid the world of those people, the undesirables. All I ever did was drive wedges between people and their families, murder the righteous, and taunt the rest into choosing sides in a war for the most basic of freedoms. I will never know her name, but I’m sure that she was all of those things and somehow… I couldn’t have done more than I did in that moment.

There was a sound like a someone shouting in the distance, but I didn’t hear it. Then a hiccup in the low gurgle. I was a million miles away, riding a beam of sunlight with a queen of stars. Her passion never faltered; not from the moment our lips met. It merely stopped as she slipped down my body, clutching at my armor. I was hit by reality like a freight-train ramming an unseen motorist off the tracks. Another apt metaphor that was just as bloody as my armor as she slipped away from me.

Before I knew it, she and I were surrounded by one of the Corp’s Emergency Response Squads. The ERS are guys sent in to “contain,” a “situation.” In other words, I didn’t do the job fast enough or well enough, and some assholes kicked down the door. They murdered an angel. I know no-one believes in that stuff anymore. Neither do I, really, but then again I never believed in love, or love at first sight either. I do believe in those last two now.

She bled to death in my arms. Her glowing gown was stained red from the exit wound in her chest. I was safe from my armor and its built-in kinetic compensators. I wish I hadn’t been. I’d have rather died there with her.

I held her, breathless tears welling in my bestial eyes. She never stopped smiling. Not even after the life left her eyes and her last breath eased from her chest and tore out my heart. I was arrested for indecent public conduct and displaying affection while on-duty. The latter was a reprimand, the former a felony.

I took my forty licks– corporate lashings that we all agreed to allow when we signed on with corp-sec. Why wouldn’t I? I was cold, numb, without feeling. I had become the very thing the corps always wanted out of us. It wasn’t until I realized that that I finally understood why she’d smiled even with a bullet through her heart and her life fading: she’d made a statement with her life, her death, and the moments leading to it. I was the punch-line to a joke about trying to remove the humanity from a human.

Even now I don’t mind. Every day I wake up in my dingy hovel, help more people to escape the prison-compounds the Corps have turned most cities into. I use my power, my authority, despite my Spartan living and appearance, to do the one thing I know she would approve of. I help people find feeling again, just as she did for me. Even if she didn’t love me, I loved her, and I’ll go to my grave doing everything to honor that. It took the murder of an angel to awaken me, but I’ll be damned if it was in vain.