I’m pretty sure I’d gone crazy at that point, meandering around the maze of ripening women, listening to their straining skin and buckling bones, occasionally picking through puddles of cooling afterbirth. But for all of that—I’d become dangerous.
I was unarmed, but willing to sink my teeth into eyeballs, rend flesh with unkempt nails, just for fun. At last, I understood Wicked’s smile. It was a declaration of immunity—from fear, from pain, from the world itself. I felt my lips curl upward, my teeth gnashing around vicious sounds, my tongue a wagging snake. I was ready for whatever was to come. Any-fucking-thing.
Then, footsteps. It pissed me off that they were so confident, so unafraid of what I’d become. I needed to reintroduce myself.
It was another clown. Good. He walked calmly along, juggling several bright red balls, blood-worlds orbiting dead white hands. But the clown and I were both behind the world now. I was no longer tractable to the games that shadows oft play. I was finally in on the joke.
I climbed the wall and made myself silent and still, a lady mantis. I was glad for my lack of weapons. I wanted to feel this.
The painted freak passed beneath me. I dropped from the shadows, smiling as my weight knocked it down. My hands took its eyes. My teeth stole its voice from its throat, an entire vocabulary hanging crimson and quivering from my mouth. I suppose I should have been more careful. After all, the thing was superhuman—but I was post-human. I couldn’t give a shit for its darkness, its hunting evils, its secrets. Its little red balls bounced around erratically, leaving trails of blood as they went. I snatched one up and hammer-fisted it into the clown’s mouth. I reached my fingers into its open eye sockets, tearing at its candy-striped brain. I could feel the creature begin to convulse beneath me. It was dying. I couldn’t help it anymore, I burst out laughing. Adrenaline spurred my teeth and nails on, faster and faster, biting and tearing. I imagined myself killing at super speed, like a sped-up scene from Benny Hill playing out beneath the herky-jerky tune of “Yackety Sax.” The idea made me laugh and laugh and laugh. I’m laughing now as I write this, in fact.
Anyway, the thing was long dead before I stopped dismembering it.
I took the little pink flower from its oversized lapel, a souvenir. I wanted to revel in the murder, somehow explore it. I needed to own it, celebrate it, become it.
Another milestone. I’m sure she was very proud.
With some searching, I found an exit from the cavernous room filled with dying mothers. A small door opened into another drab hallway, rain tapping against the roof and windows. My excitement remained, as if my adrenaline had been swept into the void that my fear had left behind.
The air was dead, touching my newborn skin like a kiss from a corpse, stiff and cold. I walked with my arms out, feeling the walls, the locked doors, piles of old dead bodies lying in heaps, hissing secrets into the dust. I stripped myself bare, the pink flower in my hair. I strode through the shadows that streaked the corridor. I broke a window and stole the jagged glass into my hands, whipping the makeshift daggers about with glee. I slipped in and out of the darkness like a child just learning to swim, rejoicing in a new freedom.
I looked out a window and sipped at an impossible sight—barely outlined in the gloom I saw monstrous shapes wading through the city, crooked top hats on their heads, using skyscrapers as thrones. Between them, giant platters the size of neighborhoods, each filled with dead and dying throngs of humanity. The behemoths ate slowly but earnestly. I had no idea if any of it was real. It couldn’t be, could it?
I just accepted the horror—marveled at it, really. Was I part of it? Had I taken my place within the company of the night?
Yet all good things must come to an end, or at the very least they must be challenged. I watched as old shapes floated up from the streets below, sporting ruined fedoras and trailing the ragged tails of wind-swept overcoats, smiles filled with dust and eyes bluer and deeper than the Pacific. They’d come for me. I stepped backward into the shadows of a vacant room. The creatures floated up to the windows. The glass seemed to melt away when their blue eyes lit up like icy little suns. In unison, they reached into their coats and withdrew the strangest weapons I’d ever seen. I took them for whips at first, until I saw the glint of steel in their twisting lengths. The alien blades squirmed around in the air like metal eels. The window frames became putty under their blue gaze, morphing and widening to admit the creatures into the hallway. I crouched down like an animal, welcoming this new prey. I wanted this fight, neededit. I suddenly felt a hand over my own, replacing my glass daggers with eager steel. It was Wicked.
He whispered so softly into my ear. “You’ve just started upon the most terrifyingly wonderful journey that can be made, sweet Genevieve—fleeing God.”
Six pairs of blue flames stared at me. I could feel their attention as if it were a perverted force, grasping and pinching at my naked flesh, trying to change it, master it. Their alien blades continued to meander about the darkened air, occasionally scraping against one another, dripping sapphire sparks. They were waiting for me to make the first move.
“We’re all ready, Veeve. Say the word…and we begin.” I caught a glimpse of a giant shadow against the left end of the hallway—Baron had come. And from the right, I could feel my stalwart dog Rover slowly making its way to my side.
The rain blew in through the gaping wounds that had been windows, and the cold wind rose gooseflesh across my uncovered body. My grip on the knives was easy and agile. I stepped from the darkness, parrying wicked glares with my own. I smiled.
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