Briar's

And thus I clothe my naked villainy With odd old ends stol'n forth of holy writ,

And seems asaintwhen most I play the devil.


Shakespeare; Richard the Third (part I, iii)

EXTR:

ALLEY

It was raining in the City of Angels; a soft drizzle that slithered into unexpected places and rusted there. Rain dripped from an iron grate hanging off its hinges behind the alley. Wind groaned through the open door and blew a flurry of water onto a silent pair of shoes. Old ratted sneakers, brown and mouse eaten. The figure who stood slouching in the doorway lifted a leg and gave one foot a dismal shake. Water soared out a hole near the toe like a glob of spit, and the shoe came back to the pavement in a dreary squelch.

Above the mangy shoes a faded pair of jeans stretched upward, breaking momentarily at the a tear in the left knee before continuing on up. Frequent holes littered the seams of the pants and joined in a ragged hem at the top, where they met the shirt; a thin, long sleeved thing that hung limply from the shoulders and was frayed about the neck. Scraps of brown hair met the edge of the shirt and seemed to nibble at it as they were brushed back and forth by the wind, framing a solemn, oval face.

Connor's appearance had none of the delicate care his parents had taken with theirs. No stylized gel, billowy coats or $50 shoes. His shoes were soaked through, and the wet and mud were creeping up to his knees. He shivered and wrapped thin arms tighter round himself, hugging the lagging heat inside.

There wasn't a scent on the wind. Everything had scuttled inside out of the rain, including any prey. Connor snorted at the thought of all the city street demons seated round some barstool playing blackjack. That was just wrong. Gunn had tried to teach him blackjack, he hadn't liked it.

Humph, demons, they should be out, no matter the weather, doing evil. Weather hadn't mattered in Quortath. Demons rampaged, and then he killed them. He needed a kill right now. He needed the chase to warm him up, to run his legs and pound himself into some monster's face. He was jittery with the urge for it, antsy.

It was a hard feeling to describe. It was like an itch in the pants, a prickle on the back of the neck; as if the hairs had turned to cactus spikes and tormented the skin. Skin which was barbed with Goosebumps, and raw like peeled apples. Inside was a briar patch that chafed and galled him as he moved. One bend of the elbow sent stitches up his side. It was as if ropes of thorns held him, tied to a listless timber that hung over a chasm. He looked down it every day, into the dark, which spiraled blue beneath him. I'm lost in this world, he thought.

So here he stayed, in the alley, waiting and hoping for some fiend to pop its head out so he could pounce. He bounced on the balls of his feet, and they squelched at him. Even a human would be welcome. Perhaps they'd come to take the trash out behind the restaurant, he could help and then maybe give him some leftovers from their kitchen, or even talk to him. But he waited and waited, and nobody came.

Thunder beat a drum roll across the sky, and Connor sighed, looking down at his shoes. He might as well go find someplace with indoor heating. Stretching his shoulders and trying to wiggle himself further into his own embrace to keep heat from leaking, he stepped out of his hideaway.

The sidewalks were sparse in the deepening evening. A few black mushroomed umbrellas rushed past panhandlers in the doorways, on their way to something of great importance no doubt. Connor trudged steadily through the gentle drizzle, watching the umbrellas dash from one awning to the next.

This world seemed inert to him. It's too quiet, and lazy and… pleasant. The luxury is wonderful, he thought. But the idleness that comes hand in hand will kill me. I look about me and everyone seems to be sleepwalking. Deaf, mute mannequins of life who stand stagnant in shop windows. They hate to look at me, like I'm some deformed freak, and they all turn away when I come around. I guess some things don't change no matter how many realms you cross. He looked over his shoulder at a striped umbrella, glancing warily at him as it bobbed past, while he stepped into the street.

The lack of activity will send me over the edge I think. I can already feel it settling in me, like some disease that's taking hold and will rot out my insides. I have hours, and whole days with nothing to do. Food is so easy to come by; they display it in window shelves in 7th avenue for Christ's Sake. He smirked at the memory of his Father's voice berating him for taking the Lords name in vain.

A sudden shrieking blasted his ears and his vision was blinded by white headlights bearing down on him. He threw his weight backwards and crashed to the curb, hands on his ears, as a black Ferrari sped by inches from his foot. Connor pulled himself out of the waist high puddle he'd landed in and splashed a hand full of water after his run by assailant. The few umbrellas who'd gathered at the near miss quickly dispersed when he stood and they saw him. He looked down at his dripping, muddy clothes, then up at their retreating backs with a snarl and a sad eyed frown. Then he left, cuffing the hubcap of a parked car in anger. The car alarm began wailing behind him, making him nearly trip in fright. He left the scene quickly and got to where he was going. Somewhere with a place to sit, vending machines, and most importantly, furnace vents.

Connor pushed open the glass door to the Laundry Matt, and the doorbell chimed behind him. It was empty, except for an older, Latino women nursing a baby. Rows of blue plastic chairs were lined up against the walls. Washing machines droned in ranks in the middle of the room. The Latino Woman watched him out of the corner of her eye as he approached, and placed a protective hand over her basket of laundry.

He tramped past the mother and babe and the humming washers, and up to the line of dryers rumbling against the back wall. The woman watched surreptitiously as he wandered along the line of dryers, hugging his sodden arms and losing himself in thought.

The prickles under his arms were jabbing him taut and nervous. I need to search for prey, he thought. He needed a kill, but he was also cold, wet and his fingers were numb. Fighting was only temporary respite now anyway. The relief it brought him would be brief, and then he'd be back to jouncing for it again. There weren't enough demons here to keep him satisfied; in fact there were so few he had to go look for them. They hid away in houses of wood and stone. Connor ran his fingers over the door of a buzzing dryer, staring at the clothes insides rolling round and round.

He opened the first dryer in front of him and reached in to feel the clothes. Women's clothing. He paused, hands ensconced in the lovely, clean warmth of fabric, feeling eyes gouging a hole in the back of his neck. He looked up to his left at the mother and baby. She quickly turned to stare at some spot on the far wall, bouncing her baby in place. Connor snorted and slammed the dryer shut, moving to another and thinking about how stupid and inappropriate everything in this world was.

The boogiemen don't prowl the graves, but topless bars and singles clubs. Creepy critters lurked in plaster drywalls and made him crawl in after them. The thorns under his skin chafed and rubbed him onward, away from the stillness and the illness that slithered in behind him. I think someone has cursed me, he thought, trying another dryer. It held a man's load of wash (better) but it was damp and three times his size. He moved on.

How else can it be? He thought. I'm never sick, yet this pain settles in my chest when boredom stretches out in front of me, consuming the day. I fear I've been infected by some black hex, bespelled devil-to-devil. I've never felt this before, and I don't like it. He slammed the dryer door shut with that thought.

Finally, the third dryer yielded dry clothing to fit him. He sifted through the load of wash, frowning at the bright colors and fluorescent T-shirts; he didn't like this person's taste. But they were dry and warm. He pealed off his sopping shirt, dropping it on the floor in the puddle of dirty water that had collected around him. As he undressed, ditching shoes, pants and boxers, the Latino woman squirmed in her seat and kept jiggling her baby, more to reassure herself than the babe.

Connor rung out his hair on the tiled floor, and sighed, pulling on fresh jeans and the drabbest sweater he could find (which unfortunately was a peachy pink). Then he piled his dirty, wet clothes into the same dryer, restarted the cycle and sunk into a chair. The Latino woman would not make eye contact, avoiding his entire half of the room. He stared at her, with cold eyes and a searching face, but she ignored him with what could only be practiced art. As if his existence would crawl across the room and contaminate her if it was acknowledged. With a derisive snort, he turned away from her.

He listened to the buzz of traffic, the whore across the street quarreling over her price, The brawl breaking out two stories above, and the Latino woman's heart beating in rhythm with the seconds ticking on the clock. There's too much empty time here, he thought; it leaves one abandoned to thinking. Cast aside and deserted. And having nothing to do but think, he found himself feeling worse and worse everyday. Outside a fog had rolled in off the bay, and all the street lamps and car lights were fuzzy from reflected light. Inside Connor sat right below a heating vent, ignoring the woman who was ignoring him, and picking at his nails.

A pang of longing branched through him, making the briar thorns stab his heart. He yearned for what little vestiges of home he could claim he'd had. He missed Holtz, everything he'd given him. Purpose, reason. He missed the dusty wastes of Quortath, and the pitted, rotted trees that hung with flesh. He ached for something familiar, and right. Sometimes now, he would blow out all the candles in the loft where he crashed, and hang tarps over the windows to block LA's lights. Then he'd prowl about his loft in the dark with his knife and bandoleer of things he'd killed, fighting imaginary monsters, and pretending he was back home. He pummeled rage into them, bleeding his fists and cursing demons with his blood and hate. Again, again, and again.

Connor clasped his hands and rested them over his chin. His eyes closed and warmed with tears that floated under the irises, but would not be shed. He remembered Fred snapping at him when… when he spent his last night in the hotel. "You just don't feel anything do you? There's nothing inside." No, you're wrong Fred, he thought. There is something inside, and I can feel it turning on me like a cancer that's gnawing at my core. That's why I need the Kill, and the Pain. To make it go away, at least for a little while.

So he lost himself in the hunt and the kill, kills that had no thrill or lust anymore, but he kept on because they're familiar actions. He almost felt normal for that half a second when he pushed a stake through their flesh and bone and felt them turn to dust, but they had no savor beyond that. They felt like ashes in his mouth, and he knew he'd missed that elusive taste again. So he'd hunt again, and again. Sometimes he thought of the medicine that killed Sunny, and her need for it that left her dead. They were very similar he thought, because there was only one kill he still yearned for…