Betty ran through the night.
It was winter, and it was cold, even though the snow did not fall anymore, so she was bundled up. Her shoes thumped against the cold pavement, the moon cast shadows on her whispery breath. She was out of breath, she panted, but still she did not stop, for there was a need, pressing and omnipresent, that needed to be met. She ran through the night. Many windows were lit; the city did not sleep. But she saw hardly a car on the streets, and those that were there, sped at breakneck pace. She knew people were gathered around their television sets. She also knew there would be no point in trying to overhear. Of course everybody would have it turned to the same channel.
Finally, she skidded to a halt in front of the dimly lit porch of the dingy building in front of her. Quickly, she pounded on the door. She listened anxiously for the footsteps softly falling inside.
I opened the door.
"Betty!" I said, "You're here!"
"I came as soon as I could," she said, stepping in. "Have you heard?"
"Yeah," I said. "Everyone's heard. The bomb fell."
The bomb fell. It was an event that had been talked about for months, for years, maybe even for decades, if you really speculated. We had been assured by a slew of politicians and nobles that it would never happen, couldn't happen. Now, our military had finally dropped a nuclear bomb on a distant country. We were officially at war.
The bomb fell. It sounded so final.
"Where's Marceline?" Betty asked, as she handed me her coat.
"She's in bed," I said. "I sent her up hours ago."
She nods, like that makes perfect sense. "Did you really run all the way here?" I asked.
"Yes," she said. She's still breathing hard.
"Look at you," I said, "You looked exhausted. You need a drink." I turned my head over my shoulder. "Jeff!" I yelled, "Betty's here! Get her a drink!"
In the kitchen, I heard my landlord, Jeff, scrambling for the drinks.
"Are they still talking about it?" she asked as she stepped in. It's a stupid question; she knew that. She could see the TV blaring behind the couch just beyond the door.
"Yes," I said, "Of course. They'll be talking about it for a while. Maybe the rest of our lives."
"Don't talk like that yet," she said.
Jeff came in with the drinks. We gripped them and gathered around the TV, ignoring the couch. None of us much felt like sitting.
"Today, just minutes ago, at 10:21 pm, the South Asian Directorate officially declared war on the Kingdom of Ooo. The allies of both countries are soon expected to follow suit. The death toll from the first bomb is already in the hundreds of thousands, and is continuing to climb. Officials report that the estimated casualties and worldwide cost will be…"
"This can't seriously be happening," Jeff was saying.
"Of course it can," I said grimly. "They've been planning it for years."
"I wish you wouldn't talk like that, Eva," said Betty.
"It's how I'm talking. God knows I don't have much time left to talk like this. They've failed us, you guys, and you know it."
"Do you really think they could destroy the whole world?" Jeff said hesitantly.
"They've been able to since the twentieth century," I said. "The only reason they haven't yet is that they were being nice."
"I don't even get it!" Jeff kept protesting, as if protesting could somehow change the facts, change the world. "Why are we even at war, anyway?"
"Food," I said.
"Food," I said. "The people overseas, they don't have enough. We do."
"Is that why they hate us?" he asked.
"We bombed them," I reminded him.
All of us were silent, thinking of our pasts, our pains and struggles, and what they had led to. Our hopes and dreams. Our futures. Marceline. I felt my eyes begin to sting. Angrily, I turned my head away. Marceline, my star. I'm sorry we failed you.
"It's over," I said. "We're done for."
"It can't be!" Jeff shrieked, looking imploringly at me. Nothing really bad had ever happened to him, no big catastrophes, and he couldn't believe it now. "It can't be the end of the world! They'll figure something out or…" He turned away from me. "Betty!" he implored, "Betty, tell her! She…"
But Betty just looked away, her eyes dark. She had learned, long ago, how the world can suddenly collapse on you.
"We'll fight, Jeff," I said. "We'll live as long as we can. But we'll also be realistic."
But, I guess that didn't help. The end of the entire world felt like nothing that could ever be real.
And so here we stood, gathered around the TV, on the eventide of humanity, waiting for our fates.
My name is Eva, and I am unimportant.
In the global scale, on a cosmic scale, I am unimportant. I am a speck, a tiny collection of inarticulate matter, the tiniest, a product of chance and cosmic dust, so small as to be inconsequential. On a big, universal, mind-boggling scale, I do not matter in the slightest and neither does anybody else.
Everybody, I think, growing up, has that moment where they learn they don't matter. They realize that the world, as it is, doesn't need them, that society isn't going to do you any special favors because you are just like millions of others and because of that you are unimportant. Everyone has that moment.
Everyone except me. I always knew that. I didn't have to learn that lesson. If I did have a moment like that, it must have happened years and years ago, when I was very young. I grew up knowing that I didn't matter. I was always angry. I was a very messed up kid.
In many ways, I still am. I'm messed up and an idiot, but the world was messed up and idiotic, so I think I did the best I could, considering the circumstances. I lot of things happen, a lot of things that resonate, so now, I can see things clearly, though not in order and always not with a point in mind. But clearly.
Now, I don't want you to get the wrong idea. It wasn't an unhappy life. For the most part. It also wasn't a happy life, but I'm not even sure what that means. It was a life is all, and I was happy for some parts of it and sad for some parts of it, but even though in many ways, it's unremarkable, I still have words to say and wisdom I want to give, even if for the life of me I can't tell what that wisdom is.
So, here, as I am, is me. Take it or leave it.
I am important to precisely three people.
Well, maybe that's not true. I guess I could have influenced people in other ways, by passing them in the street or sending them a birthday card or taking the last can of beans from the shelf. We all have a cloud of people that our presence touches. But, for the clearest, absolutest answer, down to the people about whom I was absolutely sure, it would definitely be these three.
The first is Betty, my good friend. Though she may be two, since there were two Betties I knew, both occupying the same body but different Betties nonetheless. Complicated, like I said. But whatever she was, she was good and kind and a hard fighter. She was the last human being I ever saw.
The second is Marceline, my daughter. My treasure, my star. I'm sorry I hurt you, love. I hope you think of me as a good mother anyway. I won't ask you to love me because I know there's no need. Nothing can ever change that.
The third is the man I fell in love with, though he wasn't a man, not really. What he was is hard to pin down. I'm still scratching my head at a lot of it. I sometimes wonder if falling in love with him was a mistake. Well, it wasn't a mistake. It wasn't the "right choice" either. It was just a thing I did.
I never forgave him, though honestly I think the only reason is that I didn't have time. That's the most frustrating thing, I think. Given the time, I probably would have forgiven him, and that really bothers me because I'm not sure I should. But I probably would. So it goes.
Did he love me? Um, I think so, but with him, it was hard to tell.
Little things about him. The grip on his hand when he pulled me into the Nightosphere, the gleam on his fangs whenever he talked about the coming war, a thrilled, hungry gleam, how, once, when he probably thought I wasn't looking, I saw him flip a coin into the box of a beggar girl while she was sleeping. And then, when I was pregnant with Marceline, how excited he was, how he actually grabbed my hands and danced around the room, and then, after she was born, the way he held her, so gently, up close, how he made soft, little cooing noises and gazed into her face like he wanted her to swallow him up.
No, he wasn't "the right choice." But little moments like that made it easy to be tied to him. So it goes.
I think I'll always remember how I met him:
I was seventeen. Back then, I was a wreck. I was wild, a delinquent, a mess. I lived on the street. I was angry and a little crazy. It's actually kind of embarrassing to think about, now. But it wasn't my fault I was like that or, at least, not exclusively my fault. The world was a mess back then.
Like, I said, my name is Eva. No last name, just Eva. I grew up alone. There was no mother; there was no father. Well, I mean, obviously there had to have been at some point, but I couldn't remember either of them, so there wasn't. Most of my childhood, I remember, was being passed from foster home to foster home. At first, all of them were bad, bad places to be, for reasons I can't remember now, and when I got to the nice places later on, it was too late. The damage had been done.
No school either. I had dropped out years ago. No one raised a fuss; a lot of people dropped out in those days.
I lived in the street, like I said. I disliked being outside, but I hated being indoors even more. All the clean floors and fluorescent lights and shiny surfaces made me feel filthy, like an urchin. I slept in the alleyways, in between buildings. I carried a knife with me, which I used to fend people off until someone inevitably swiped it and I had to find another one again. I was never in a gang, exactly, but there were other kids and adults out there that I ran into and recognized. We met up, laughed at things that weren't funny, told jokes about things that made us want to cry, and betrayed each at the slightest chance. You were on your own. I got into a few fights. Some I one, others not so much.
Honestly, all of it kind of runs together, and the parts that I can remember are humiliating to think about. What I remember most of all was the dirt. I was always dirty, my clothes fished out of the dumpster and either too big or too small, and there was grime in everything, in my skin, in my hair, embedded in my cap like lice, smudged on my cheek. I was always covered in some sort of grungy black something. I remember I itched a lot.
I had no job, of course. Who would hire me? So, I turned into a thief. I never went after jewelry or watches or gold or anything like that, even though there was a lot of it winking on people's wrists and such and I probably could have. What really interested me was food. I'd swipe stuff from carts or convenience stores. I'd stroll into a grocery store, trying to look in-place and being certain I was failing, and grab fruit, peeling the labels off. I also tried to grab cigarettes when I could, but that was more difficult.
Another important thing was medical supplies. Bandaids, ointment, cough drops especially, I'd grab those. We got sick a lot and ended up bleeding more often than not. No doctors, of course; we didn't have the money, so if you weren't well, nobody was going to take care of you. Other people would slow you down.
Sometimes we'd run heists together, though calling them heists makes them sound way cooler than they actually were. It basically means we'd run around in a group, hollering or laughing like lunatics, taking stuff from people, easy because they were scared of us. Other times, we tried to be more subtle. One favorite of theirs was a classic: the bump and swipe. One of us would walk down the street and bump into somebody, usually somebody we'd tagged earlier in the day. We'd walk right into them and try to make it seem like it was their fault, or, at least, an innocent mistake, no malice intended. The person who walked into them would fall on the ground, and they would be all apologies. "Oh my gosh, I didn't see you there! I'm so sorry!" While the other person helped one of us up, somebody else would sneak up behind them and take their wallet. We all laughed wildly at this method and it filled us with a kind of thrill, but I wasn't actually interested in the booty afterwards. A wallet was only valuable if you intended to walk into a store later and buy something, and I was too ashamed for that.
Here's a memory that sticks out: It was during the day, and I saw a hotdog stand. I looked up and as soon as I saw it, I could smell it, the greasy meat cooking, spinning on those little metal rollers. I felt my mouth watering.
I quickly took in the scenario. It was a pretty big stand, and it was crowded. There was a pretty sizeable line, a lot of kids, I remember. I think it must have been some sort of holiday. Or maybe a parade. Was it Coronation Day? I don't remember. Regardless, it was busy. It was so busy, in fact, that the hotdogs were mostly premade, laid all around the counter of the stand, so that when somebody walked up, the seller could just pick them up and hand them to somebody, no hassle. The vendor, I remember, was this old guy in glasses, all done up in the hat and striped apron, and he smiled down at the kids and then handed the hotdogs to their parents.
I took all of this in, trying to observe without obviously staring. There were a lot of people around, but the old guy looked pretty busy, and his back was turned to a few of the hotdogs. And they smelled so good. I figured if I was real quick about it, I could nab one with no one noticing. I walked up to the back of the stand, real slow, real casual, eyes down like I had done hundreds of other times. Just reach out, grab a hotdog, keep walking. Easy at it would ever be.
I severely underestimated the old guy selling them.
I reached out to grab a hotdog, and the old guy whirls around and whacks my hand with a spatula. I didn't even see the guy grab the spatula; he was just so fast. I swore and grabbed my hand, and with that people noticed. I looked up and saw eyes watching me, the parents and the kids, the parents disdainful or maybe amused, the kids troubled or scared or maybe a little thrilled, but what horrified me most was just the simple shining fact of those eyes, staring at me, taking me in. I felt my cheeks burn. The old guy was staring at me, too, and his eyes were just hollowed with disgust. They were like pits, like a black hole.
I probably should have run. Every instinct in my body was telling me to flee. But, I guess my pride or something got in the way, and I couldn't. The burning in my cheeks spread to somewhere in my back, I guess, and I felt a lump in my throat, and I got that feeling I always got, like the whole world was a horrible plague that I wished I could scrub with acid down a drain. I guess it was that raw, powerless anger that kept me from running away, like I should have.
Instead, stupidly, I tried to grab the hotdog again and bolt. I wrapped my fingers around it, could feel the soft heat of the bun in my hand, but the old guy reached out and slapped his hand on my elbow, grabbing me and yanking me back. I tried to twist out of his grip, screaming as I did, but he wrenched the rumpled hotdog out of my hand and threw it to the ground. Then he shoved me back, hard, and I collided with the sidewalk. I glared up at him, full of hate and venom. I wanted to tear this guy's throat out and eat his heart, but of course I lacked the power to do anything of the sort, so I just sat there, feeling it bubbling in my head.
He was looking down at me still, that hollow, garbage look, and I'll always remember what he said.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" he told me. "You filthy hooligan!" he gestured behind himself, to the people in line, staring, "What makes you think you deserve anything more than these people here? Don't you know there are good, hardworking people in this country who earn what they eat?"
I just looked down at the concrete, really quietly. Off far away, I could hear band music, trumpets and drums and confetti sounds. I said, real softly: "Where?"
I didn't see the old guy's face, but I could tell he probably thought I had some cheek. "What do you mean?" he asked.
"Where are they?" I asked. "The good, hardworking people. Where are they?"
"Well…" He seemed taken aback. "Well, they're… er…um…"
I kept talking. "Where? Where are they hiding? Show me. Show me where they're hiding."
I looked up at him. I couldn't really see straight anymore, and I couldn't make myself stop talking. "Where are they? Where are the good, hardworking people? Where are they? Tell me where they are. C'mon, tell me."
The old guy seemed beyond words at this point. He didn't even seem angry anymore. He was just kind of staring at me.
"Tell me!" I kept saying. "Please, tell me! Where are they? Tell me, for God's sake!" There were tears streaking down my face. "For the love of God where are they? Please show me somebody, anybody!" Without really thinking about what I was doing, I reached forward and grabbed the guy's apron, tugging down on it. He didn't push me away. I looked right up into his face, my face covered in tears, begging. He looked horrified.
"Show me! Please, show me!" I kept sobbing. "Please, just one! Just one decent person! Where are they? Where are they?"
Eventually, somebody got scared and called the police. I spent the night in jail. I never did get that damn hotdog.
That was the way the world was, then. It wasn't just me that was angry. The truth was the whole world was messed up. Not everybody was like me. I had some concrete things to be angry about; I was hungry and alone. But, the way I heard it, even if you were wealthy and surrounded by people, these days you were still angry about something. Not at anyone or anything, there was just a deep dissatisfaction that ran through your life. Crime was everywhere. It seemed everyone either had too much or too little. It was crowded everywhere. Oftentimes I'd curl up in a spot for the night between two dumpsters only to find as many as three people already there.
On top of that, there was a lot of conflict going on overseas. I didn't really understand it; I don't think anybody did, but we were always hearing on the news about such-and-such attack or such-and-such bombing or such-and-such assassination. People got afraid to travel. The seas were polluted, and for the most part, empty. There were a lot of bugs, too, I remember, you were usually swatting at them. All the irritations, the small and the huge, pilled on each other and poisoned all of us like miasma. There were just too many people and not enough to go around.
So, it's true what I say, that the way I turned out wasn't my fault. Except no, that's not true, it was my fault after all. Both of those statements are true.
So when I say what happened that day wasn't my fault, I'd be lying. But, if I were to say that it absolutely was, that would be a lie, too.
Like I said, I was seventeen. It was in the afternoon. We were gathered around an apartment, and on one of the big upper floors, there was a party. It hadn't gotten crazy yet, after all the sun was still up, but one of the windows was open, and we could hear the music and the voices from the sidewalk, the laughter and the driving beat of the dance music. And, as usual for a party, there were a lot of cars parked around, all tightly packed together like mud.
We mingled around, laughing about sad things, and, of course, we took up residence on top of the cars. Just kind of sitting on them, perching on them, like birds. A few of the guys started scratching things on the doors. We were making fun of the rich people upstairs with their apartment and their party and their cars and fancy clothes, hiding our envy rather poorly. We took our petty vengeance on their cars, scratching and denting them where we could.
After we got bored of that, we started looking through the windows, peering at the interiors, and dude, there was some valuable stuff in there! Phones, purses, shoes, jackets, I mean, a real mother load. We even saw a laptop. One of the cars had a puppy inside, no joke, a live puppy. It barked furiously when we pressed our faces against the glass, but luckily the people upstairs dismissed it. We couldn't believe the kind of loot these dumb socialites would just leave lying around for all to see.
So here there were, staring at all this stuff, and one of the guys, I think his name was Chaz or something, said, "Dude, let's crack one open and grab something."
That's just the way he said it. "Crack one open," like the car was a nut, and we were picking out the sweet, sweet meat inside.
I laughed, which is the way I reacted to things that made me unhappy. "Don't be stupid," I said. "They'll hear it!"
He rolled his eyes and grinned, showing off all his teeth. Bravado. "Don't worry! We'll grab it real quick and then split. No one will be the wiser."
Everyone was immediately on board, and I must admit I was, too. We tried all the doors to every car, but they were all locked. So it was decided we would have to break a window.
Since we decided to be quick about it, we decided we'd only have one shot. There was some debate, then, about what to grab. We looked around at the cars again, perusing the stock. Someone actually suggested taking the puppy, but thankfully someone else shot it down on the grounds that it might bite and the glass might hurt it anyway. Besides, who would feed it? The laptop was considered, but for something like that, someone would have to pawn it, and the fact was none of us trusted each other to give us an even split of the money.
Finally, we decided on a big, pink, leathery purse, on the grounds that it was huge, and whatever cash was inside could be divvied up more clearly. Besides, the pink gaudy, femininity of the bag filled us with the sense that the owner had to be punished.
I told you we were stupid.
The next question was how to break the window. One guy tried to use his elbow, and that ended up disastrous. Someone else had a pocketknife and tried to get in that way, but the glass was too thick and the knife barely scratched it. One girl suggested ramming a foot through the window, but nobody wanted to try that.
Finally, somebody went through a nearby dumpster and found a power drill, thrown away because of a frayed cord. We decided the drill would be sufficient to break the window, so Chaz took it, held the tip against the curve of the glass, and then reared back and jammed it through.
The glass shattered with a sound somewhere between lighting and bells, but the opening was far too small, just a small hole with the cracks spidering around it. But as soon as Chaz broke through, the car alarm went off. All the lights on the car began flashing as the loud wailing siren rose into the air.
"Aw, what?" said Chaz, his arms still up. We cringed slightly, covering our ears at the noise. In the upper floor, the music suddenly stopped.
"We need to go! Now!" somebody shouted.
"No, give me a minute! I can get through!" Chaz yelled back.
At that moment, the glass on the sunroof suddenly exploded. Shards and white dust littered the roof of the car. Open-mouthed, we stared and looked up at the window. We saw the silhouette of a man, his arm out in front of him.
"He's got a gun!?" I shouted.
For a second, nobody moved. We were all frozen. A second shot, busting the headlight on another car, broke the spell. We bolted, all of us in a different direction. The power drill clattered to the ground as Chaz turned heel. I panicked and took off in the opposite direction of the apartment, towards the next street over. I could still hear more shots ringing out. In my confused state, I remember thinking, Dear God, I hope they don't hit the puppy.
I ran away from the car, away from the gun. I couldn't make my legs stop running, now did I want to. And it isn't one of life's little ironies? I escaped the gun. None of the bullets left a scratch on me.
But I didn't see the car coming.
The last thing I remember is a crack of glass and a woman screaming as my head hit the windshield.
Here's some stuff that must have happened:
I must've been unconscious, my body draped across the hood of the car. Somebody must've called an ambulance, and the ambulance must have taken me away. They must've wrapped up my head, fussed over me, real professional like, tearing away my cap because it was dirty and in the way. They must have rushed me through the hallways in one of those cots, the breathing mask over my mouth and nose, as they wheeled me down into the room with the machines that glowed and bags that dripped. They must have hooked me up to a lot of machines, brain scanner, heart monitor, and kept an eye on me.
And at one point, they must have noticed that my heartbeat was erratic.
Shock they'd say. She might have gone into shock. Then they must've taken the defibrillator and zapped me, trying to get me back, shock for the shock. And they'd work hard and fast because my life was on the line, and by God, there was too much death in the world for them to lose another one.
But I was unconscious for all of that, so this is all pure speculation. It must have happened, though I didn't see any of it.
Here is what I did see:
The first thing I noticed was the smell. It smelled like… like rotten eggs. Rotten eggs and smoke. The air felt thick somehow, like a perpetual eggy fog. The next thing I noticed was the feel. I was sitting down, one knee propped up, one hand on the ground, the other in my lap, and I felt the gravel and the fine sand rolling against my skin, the jagged hardness of the rock I was leaning against. I slowly blinked and blearily looked up.
And the first thing I saw was flames.
There were flames everywhere, and the heat was intense; I felt like I was baking underneath my cap, my jacket. I wasn't burning; I seemed to be on some kind of cliff, looking over the fiery plains, and everywhere I looked I saw hard, red light as the flames curled and danced into the dark red sky.
I crawled on my hands and knees to the edge and looked out across the burning landscape. That was a mistake. Everywhere, I saw things moving. Living things, I thought. I was half-right. Even now, I'm having a hard time describing them. They came in every shape imaginable and some unimaginable. The crawled and limped and flew through the curled air. I saw horns and bat wings and glowing, yellow eyes. They slithered and flapped in ways that were disturbing to my stinging eyes. And there were so many of them, an endless throng of lizard skin and spider walks.
I felt bile raise up in my throat. I fell backward, crawling back towards the rock I had been lying against. "Oh no," I whimpered. "Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh God, no…"
I knew I screwed up. I knew that, oh I knew that. But had I really screwed up that badly? Every fear, cold and clenching, burrowed up from my stomach. I clenched both sides of my cap and shook my head. "Oh God, oh God, no no no no no…"
One of the creatures that was flying by, a fellow with six eyes and a sideways jaw, spotted me and flew down to where I was, landing with a soft crunch. "A human?" I heard him say, "Oh Glob, not another one." Another creature flew by, and he pointed up at him. "Yo!" he said, "Get the boss! Tell him we got another one!"
The other one nodded and flew off. The first parked right where he was and just stood near me, sort of absently looking out over the distance.
"Hey," I said weakly, "H-hey… Listen. This is a mistake. I shouldn't be here."
"Yeah, yeah, I know," he said briskly, "Sure, we got it, a mistake. Don't worry, we'll take care of it."
I guess that was supposed to be reassuring, but there was something rather sinister in his tone that was distressing to me.
We waited, me shivering with terror, even in the heat.
We didn't have to wait long.
The other guy flew back before He showed up. The demon, because of course that's what he was, a demon, flew up just over the edge of the cliff face, a little above where my head would be if I were standing, and just floated there in place, his wings flapping. I didn't look around for the one they were looking for; I only sat there, staring straight ahead, as he appeared.
On the rim of the cliff, two long, black tendrils lashed out, one after the other, and curled around the rocky edge, hoisting up its mass. More tendrils followed, crawling and oozing over one another, making sick, whispering, bubbling as they did. The whole black and purple mass curled up over the edge, sending out a new tendril to squeeze onto the ground each time it moved forward. I was reminded, bizarrely, of mold, the way it spreads and clings, thriving in decay.
Quickly, the mass piled up on itself, growing taller and taller, until it assembled itself and a canvas of gray skin stretched itself over it and there he was.
I stared, gaping. I didn't know what to think. In some ways, it was less strange than what I was expecting, but in other ways, that only served to make it more… uncanny, I guess is the word. The long white fangs, the gray skin and sunken-in cheeks, the long bat-like ears, the trim haircut, the suit. It didn't match. But what stuck out the most to me where the eyes. They were huge; they took up almost half his face. They were yellow and seemed to glow, with pupils that were red and slitted like a cat's.
He was looking down at me with a sort of mild disinterest.
"This the one?" he asked, looking at his nails. His voice was also normal, also out of place. It was clearly and obviously a man's voice.
"Yes, Your Lowness," the flying one said, before I could say anything, "We think she showed up just a second ago."
He kept looking at me, rubbing his chin. "Yup," he said, "Definitely human." He moved in an odd way; his torso kind of swiveled around in a circle, almost like it was in a ball hinge, before it swung him down toward me. He was less than a foot from my face. He grinned.
"Hello," he said.
I turned my eyes away. I didn't know what to say.
"Tch, not even a scream?" he asked. "Oh well. Might as well get started. Say, 'aah…'"
And he started to open his mouth.
In that moment, something in me snapped. I have no idea what caused it. It was like a spring or something had been winding inside me, tighter and tighter, and then suddenly, with this thing in my face and flames all around me, it finally sprung back. Maybe it was a bout of insanity or adrenaline. Maybe all the hurt I'd been building my entire life was sharpening itself, demanding to be heard.
All I know for sure is the only thought in my mind was, Not like this.
There was a stalagmite near me, a skinny thing, but solid enough. Without really knowing what I was doing, I reached over, grabbed it, and yanked. It broke off in my hand surprisingly easily. Not letting myself think I swung it in front of me so hard I felt I almost yanked my own arm out of my socket.
He flew back faster than I thought possible. "Whoa!" I heard him shout. The other two demons seemed astounded. I didn't let myself be surprised, though. I knew that if I did, I'd freeze up and then I'd be lost. I twirled the stalagmite in the air beside my head like a bat. "Get back!" I snarled.
He flinched, and his arm swung in front of his face like a marionette's. "Sheesh, put that down," he said, "There's no need to be so violent."
I swung it again and whacked him hard across the face. I saw the scuff mark from the sand on his cheek. For a moment, he looked shocked. He blinked and then he snarled, literally snarled, and his eyes slid over to me and narrowed into slits.
"I mean it!" I shouted. "You stay away from me!" Not like this. Not like this.
He was unimpressed. "So that's how you want it? Fine." He let out an animal hissing noise and swiped at me. I leapt sideways out of the way, keeping the stalagmite pointed toward him. I swung it up towards him again, but his left arm shot out at a weird angle and blocked it. He grinned, and I saw the other arm swinging around for me. I ducked, swinging in under his outstretched arm. I don't think he was expecting me to do that. I swung up my stalagmite one more time and managed to uppercut him on the jaw. He flew back from me, hissing and rubbing his chin, looking more annoyed than anything else. He looked down at me, and I looked up at him.
Our eyes met.
I must admit, though I am a little ashamed now, at the time, all I saw was a monster. Well, no, not a monster. Nothing as concrete as that. But something bizarre, something dangerous, something alien.
But that's not what he saw.
All the anger faded from his face. He looked dumbstruck. He kept staring. I didn't notice at the time, save for a tiny point in the back of my brain.
What did he see?
I didn't know, at the time. He told me later. What he'd seen, he told me, was divine light. Exquisiteness. Beauty in its purest form.
What he had seen was my pain. My anger, my hurt. My hatred, my deep burning hatred for all things, for myself, for the people I spoke to that I would never call my friends, for the children and parents, for the bugs and the heat and the people who swam in them, for the countries far away and all their soldier's deaths, for the children and the parents and the empty seas, for the poor who laughed at pain and the rich who ignored it, for the others and their cars and their guns and their striped aprons, for the entire planet, the entire broken world, for him. A hatred and pain that could account for ten billion souls. A rage against the heavens. In there, as well, he saw a fierce will to live. Not hope, no, nothing like that, something fiercer and darker. The drive to hurt as many living things as possible, to spite and lash out at the world, punish it as much as possible before the end. He saw a hatred that could devour cities, worlds, that could scrub them with acid and drown them in seas. It was a hatred powerful enough to crumble millions of galaxies to dust, a poisoned, despairing heart that could drown reality in an eternal black hole.
Beauty, he'd said.
He kept staring at me. "I warned you," I spat. "Don't you dare touch me. If you do, I swear, I will split your head in half!"
He blinked at me, then growled, real low and dangerous. His arm shot out and gripped the stalagmite, and when I tried to wrench it out of his hand it broke in half.
My hands shook, and I took a step back, staring up at him. He grinned, a weird, pumpkin grin, and threw away the half that had broken off in his hand. I looked down at my broken fragment and spun it around, so that the pointed tip was facing outward. He laughed as he stepped closer to me.
Suddenly, I felt a strange pulsing inside of me, a sort of lightening, that moved out in ringlets. I dropped my broken stalagmite to the ground and looked down at my hands. They were fading into air and back, winking in and out of existence. I looked down at the rest of my body. It was all the same; I was fading.
Apparently, nobody quite knew what to make of this. The two demons, who had been watching, stared openly. "What the…?" one said. I knew I probably should have panicked, and yet I felt oddly calm.
I looked up at him, and his eyes grew wider and he watched me disappear. His expression had quickly melted from triumph to blank surprise to anger. I flickered faster and faster. My vision was starting to darken.
"No!" he snarled, and he lunged for me, but it was too late, and his fist closed on empty air as I faded out of existence.
I can imagine now, the doctors in that hospital, putting the defibrillator away and pointing at the screen, at my now even heartbeat. They would be sighing with relief, congratulating each other. Perhaps they would even high-five. "Great work! We brought her back from the brink! Excellent job!" They'd say, and afterwards many of them would leave, only leaving one to watch me as I truly slept, calm, my breathing even. Some variant of this must have happened. And I slept through the night and for several days afterward, dreaming absently, much more vaguely than before, of the monster in the place of flames, who filled me with fear, yes, but also with a wonder I'd never known before, and whose final act had been to reach for me, clutching the empty air as I'd vanished.
Beautiful, he'd say.
Hrm... Here it is. Yes, another story. I know, I'm bad at that. But I'm really interested in this one right now, so I want to focus on it for a while.
While creating Eva, one of the things I wondered about was "What kind of woman would Hunson Abadeer fall in love with? The result is what you got. And while I was brainstorming this chapter, I sort of noticed something.
Hunson Abadeer is hella sexy.
There is much to say, but even more to read, so I will simply bow and leave you to it. Please enjoy "Evermore."