I didn’t scream. Couldn’t, due to the chain. A shaky, pathetic gurgle was all I could produce.
My left arm broke from the impact. If I had a hard time moving before, it was completely impossible now. It went limp at my side, attached like dead weight.
It was just dislocated, not too long ago.
Out of the frying pan, and into Hell itself.
Naturally, my arm went right to healing itself, but it was delayed, slow. It wasn’t healing as fast as it should, as fast as I had seen it heal before. The wounds weren’t mending like they should.
It was obvious why. Like a car running low on fuel, it wouldn’t work properly.
I needed blood.
For my part, at least the sleeves covered up my arms, so no one could see what was actually happening. They couldn’t peek under the hood, so to speak.
I just prayed that man would not hit me again.
My eyes were already full of tears, sliding down the sides of my face until they stopped where the mask touched my cheeks, tracing a perimeter of wetness. My vision was compromised.
Breathing was a challenge, a faint inhale was all I could muster.
“And one more for the road,” I heard from the man standing above me, the sound of the metal bat cutting through the air.
If I could see, everything would have went black and white. I croaked, drool starting to trail down the corners of my mouth.
The man hit me again.
But I prayed about it.
My right arm, shattered at the elbow.
The rest of my body twisted and shuddered at the pain. I couldn’t vocalize, so my body had to express the pain I was in for me.
“Styx, it’s good to see you again,” someone else said. “Been well?”
“Well as I can be. Thanks for the help, but we can pick up on the pleasantries later.”
“Then, this is the infamous superhero, am I right?” that other person asked. “Looks like I wasn’t needed after all, if we’re already taking care of this, now.”
“Don’t go planning your vacation just yet. He still has work for you to do, here. Mister.”
A second voice, a second player. This talk about a ‘Mister.’ Vaguely familiar, like I’d heard mentioned in a dream, somewhere, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
Metaphorically and physically.
My brain wasn’t letting me piece any bits of information together. I was simply unable to do much of anything. Rendered useless.
I shut my eyes, then tried to blink away the water. I needed to see, needed to find a way out.
The second voice spoke again. “I’d be wary, though, may have a partner, this one. Was talking to themselves. That, or this is one crazy motherfucker.”
“Yeah? If Blueballs here makes it all the way back home alive enough, we can try asking a few questions.”
“Ha. I have to say, Styx, you know how to entertain your guests. This should be fun.”
“Doing this for so long, you have to keep things interesting. Otherwise, you’re fucked.”
The rough voice of that biker, I had to assume he was ‘Styx.’ He raised his voice to address others here.
“Aye aye! We’re rolling out. Gather up the others, they’ll be sorted out later. He, and this… They come with me.”
Roars of assent, then the sound of movement, activity. People were moving, getting things together. Several engines rumbled to life.
One behind me was the loudest. The sound banged in my head.
My arms weren’t healing fast enough. Still couldn’t move them.
Could barely hear. Could barely breathe.
This might be it.
The loudest engine roared again, and I felt the ground move beneath me. The chain tightening yet again.
This scenario, something familiar about it.
I was being dragged by a motorcycle, with a metal chain around my throat.
My whole body was limp, unable to move a finger or toe as the motorcycle approached a faster speed, getting out of the trailer yard. As we exited, I saw that the gate was open. It was locked shut before, preventing Hleuco from getting in with me.
I was brought onto the road proper, where the ride became even more bumpy. Tiny, pointed pebbles were kicked up as I was dragged, the occasional cracked chip of concrete slipping into through the collar of my clothes, scratching the skin off of my bare back.
My eyes were rolling upward. Buildings rushed above me, speeding by as I was forced past them.
Street lights, traffic lights, no matter the color, we maintained speed. No other cars to impede the bikers, too. Styx’s Gang likely had complete control of the roads.
An elbow bumped against the road again, but it was less painful, that time.
Every feeling and sensation in me was already fading, but I felt the occasional kick of my leg as my foot bounced against the road, the stimulating sharp pain as a broken elbow scraped along concrete. We were going fast, now, and I was soon to pass out, and dying right after.
This was how I was going to die, wasn’t it? Reduced to a bloodied, beaten ragdoll, flopping pitifully, like I was being toyed with by a child. I’d die before my healing could catch up. I’d fall unconscious before I could lift any appendage.
I shifted my gaze ahead of me.
A handful of small, white dots were trying to pierce the dark that already blanketed my eyes, floating up and down, but largely staying in place. The outer edges of the lights were blunted by the overcast gloom that befell me. Hazily, I tried using the lights to focus, keep my mind active, and figure out what exactly they were.
I sensed that Styx had made a turn, because the ground under me shifted, and I was swinging to the right. It was a wide turn, which translated into me hitting the side of a curb, before being pulled along a straight course again.
Over the loud engines, cackling and whooping sounded off all around me.
The engines, the laughing and cheering. The lights… The lights in front of me were from other motorcycles. Others from Styx’s Gang. I was surrounded. Even if I could miraculously get myself out of these chains, there were threats in every direction.
I had no sense of time, place, or direction, or even an idea of who I was. Just an ever-encompassing hurt. I was lost. I was losing.
I was broken.
“-ace… ear me… Co-”
Among all the racket of the machinery and running concrete, a low, mechanic hissed tried to reach out to me.
“-most… from be-”
I opened my mouth, or rather I let my jaw hang as much as the chain would let me, and found my lips, tongue, and throat to be dry. A fish out of water. A vampire without blood.
The straining, the struggle, the fight within me was all but depleted. I was running out of fucks to give.
Styx’s motorcycle turned again, because I hit another curb, and I, in effect, bounced.
The hit was enough for me to let my eyes wander around, then gently close, languid. The motorcycle lights dimming all the more.
I was ready to give up.
But, a light here, a light there, spun. Then, they blinked away.
Two, much brighter lights, had cut through the individual lights, knocking them away. The crunch and scraping of metal followed, along with more shouting.
The two lights were moving in unison, together, picking up more speed, catching up to me. It was starting to get close, too close, then swerving to pass me up. With the last of my receding vision, I saw where light reflected off the otherwise black surface.
“Get read- Stick with… self!”
Words. In my ear, again.
The black van sped off again, and while I couldn’t see what exactly went down, I certainly heard it.
And was forced to deal with the aftermath.
Metal banged and crashed together, and the chain went even more taut. I was yanked another direction, towards the sidewalk.
My long, agonizing ride through Hell ended with an abrupt halt.
It took some time for me to finally realize it, but I was able to take breaths, to inhale oxygen. The chain had slackened enough, and I was no longer dragged away.
I was dizzy, if nothing else. Rolling and sliding and tumbling, every turn and direction. It wouldn’t leave me. Whiplash.
Damage to my neck? Probably. I was tugged by there for so long. Permanent? Probably not, but the healing would be slow there, too. It throbbed, like someone was still pulling at the chain at consistent intervals, and it wasn’t getting any better. I fought the urge to vomit.
Involuntarily, an arm suddenly twitched. I could move it. I had finished healing, there. With the little energy I had left – energy I was surprised I still had – I worked to uncoil the chain around my neck.
I worked as fast as I could, which was still slow, and the chain fell beside me, and I was free. Finally.
Working to get to my feet, however, was another hurdle entirely. That meant my entire body working together to a common goal, and I absolutely did not have the capacity for that. But, I had to move, to get moving. Escape, and find a place to hide and lick my wounds in peace. Catch up with… with someone.
But first… first…
I needed blood.
The pounding around my throat, my windpipe. I let it get to my head.
Operate, first instincts.
As fast as my newly-mended arms would allow – which was not at all – I pulled down at the metal chain that once ensnared me. And kept pulling, passing the chain past me, alternating hands. Like I was climbing a rope in gym class, except on my side, and instead of going up to the ceiling, I was trying to get to the motorcycle.
Eventually, I got through the excess chain, and the metal links straightened out again. I was able to make progress.
Dissonant. Jarring. Shouting. Tires. Just noise, everywhere. Panic. Making sense of it could come later.
I pulled, tugged, and pulled again. I made it to the motorcycle, arms aching all the way.
Tapping into my last reserves of strength, I pushed myself up, and crawled on top of the vehicle, which was on its side, but still humming, engines on.
They weren’t here. Styx, or the owner of that other voice. Male, if the haze in my brain could clear up a little, and let me remember properly.
They aren’t here. Not anywhere around. Did they run off? Take another bike?
Wait… What was I going to do, if they were here?
That thought, that idea, I had to push it aside. Just for now. Search. Look elsewhere.
I sat up, but I was slouched over. I removed a glove, feeling around the bike, being mindful of where the bike was at its hottest.
If they crashed…
My fingers ran across something wet. I looked at my hand, the way it glistened, how it smelled.
Getting my mask off was the next course of action. Using only one hand was proving tricky, and I was becoming impatient with how hard it was to unfasten the different straps and pieces to it. I was tempted to just rip it off, but that would only cause more problems in the immediate future.
Patience, Blank Face, give yourself just a small amount.
I did, and I managed to loosen the mask. I pushed it up, scrunching it, putting the filter over my eyes.
I didn’t waste a fucking second.
I thrusted my fingers into my mouth, and licked.
A surge, a short burst of energy, coursing through my veins.
But it was not enough.
It was not enough to satiate me.
Like a brief charge to a battery, I was now at about ten percent. I needed more. I wanted more.
I rose, getting over the bike, and onto my feet. I fixed the glove back over my hand, fit the mask back properly on my face, and adjusted my hood.
Time to find Styx.
I ran onto the sidewalk, trying to look for a good path to maneuver myself upwards, to a roof.
I leaped up to get onto a single story building, crossing the roof to observe the street below.
A line of motorcycles were continuing their drive. Some bikers had helmets, some had bandanas. I couldn’t locate the van that knocked itself into Styx’s bike. But there was another vehicle, among the motorcycles.
A red pickup truck, carrying seven people in the back. They were in white. A boy among them.
With little thought entering my mind, I went back down.
As I descended through the air, I threw a hand into a pocket of my parka, and drew out a handle of a retractable police baton. I clicked a button on the side, unsheathing it. A little over a foot long.
The baton… I recalled getting it earlier in the night. Exchanged for something I couldn’t remember right this second. Something about… safety.
I had aimed with my jump, landing a distance ahead of the truck, but with a few bikers close by.
I swung, wide, attempting to clip a biker off their ride as they passed. I connected, and a biker in a helmet got knocked back off their bike.
The truck was advancing, even closer now, and there was little chance in avoiding me with a sharp turn, considering its load. I had to perform a small hop, and the top of the truck just grazed past the bottoms of my shoes.
It had avoided me, but the truck had veered, then stopping the moment I touched back down. The people in the bed of the truck fell forward, from the momentum of the sudden brake.
Now, I had options, but I went straight for the closest person, to make the decision easy. The downed biker.
I retracted the baton, slipping back into a pocket, and picked up the man by the collar. Either he was lighter than I thought, or I was starting to get some strength back.
I ripped apart his leather jacket down the zipper. He had a sweater underneath, and a scarf around his neck.
I’d be momentarily stalled in getting his neck exposed. The impatience was eating at me, hastening my movements, becoming more wild. Couldn’t wait for more blood. Now. Now.
A blow to my side, and I was back down. Swiped by another passing biker. The thick parka took the brunt of the hit, but I instinctively knew that a bruise was left behind. Maybe a broken rib, if I was unlucky. It’d heal, but a significant wind was knocked out of me.
Too many people, here. Gang members, innocents, witnesses. Needed to get one, needed to get to a far away place where I could feed in peace.
I had to move as soon as I straightened myself up, and get out of the way of bikers and other such obstacles. Slower, easier targets. Weaker.
A hiss in my ear. I brushed it off. It was easy to drown it out with all the incoming sirens.
My jaw twitched. I licked my lips.
A short building, old, with ruined bricks and grooves that defaced its surface. I scaled it, my hands and feet reaching into holes for support and footholds. I got over in no time flat.
I skittered down the side of the building, running while keeping an eye on the street I just left. The truck was just now getting into gear, a ring of bikers surrounding it. Still supervising a transport, or were they trying to protect the immigrants from a certain group, or individual?
Good luck with that.
I kept a hand close to the pocket where I returned the baton, ready to use, ready to strike. Had to think of a way around those bikers. To throw them off, or eliminate them entirely. They could fight back, they had strength in numbers.
The people in the truck? They had numbers, but not strength. They had been travelling for days, probably, and they were drained, spent, weak. I could use that. Should.
What I needed to figure out was how to separate them from the bikers, then each other. Pick them apart.
One. I only needed one. Two, if things fell in my favor.
Apples. Strawberries. Jam.
I went back down, but not onto the street. I was ahead of that group of vehicles, in wait. It had gotten late enough that there wasn’t a single person here on the sidewalk.
I ran until I got to the corner, where the street turned into an intersection. A metal newspaper vending stand, full of paper. I lifted it up over my head, and tossed it at the truck as it sped closer.
It slammed into the hood of the truck, hitting the windshield as it got knocked away, papers flying, twirling down.
The bikers stopped when the truck did. The truck was probably still operable, but some of the truck’s passengers were choosing to abandon it, instead. They scattered, running past the bikers and into alleys and other streets, but not in my direction.
The bikers themselves split up as well, shouting contradicting orders. Some fled entirely, while a select few actually parked their bikes and got down.
No time to play.
I jumped across the street, avoiding them all. No time to waste. My stomach grumbled, my throat flared.
We were well out of King District, but a lot of the buildings here were either under construction, scheduled for demolition, or abandoned completely. A lot of dark corners, a lot of places to hide.
In reality, a lot of places for people to corner themselves.
I headed straight, into an abandoned building. It was easy to glean from seeing inside the skeletons of other structures. No one had run inside. Too easy to be seen and found out. They had the right idea, but it would only them take so far.
With my mouth starting to salivate at the thought of sustenance, I jumped again, going through an open windowsill.
The clamor outside was immediately taken down a notch. I was in a hallway of an empty hotel, it looked like, judging from the doors that were lined down the length of the hall.
Halls, doors, under stairs, rooms, closets. More places to hide than I expected. This could be harder than I thought.
But that didn’t slow me down. I only needed one.
One. Only one. Needed.
I decided to work my way down, investigating every floor, every possibility, before moving to the next one, below. From checking the numbers on the doors, I was on the fourth floor. If the door was locked, I didn’t try to open it. If it wasn’t, I’d peek my head inside.
I moved on, down the winding stairs at the end of another hall, same floor. I didn’t take the stairs, exactly, I hopped down, passing all of the steps, stopping when I banged my shoulder against the wall on the other end. I turned, and repeated the process again to make it to floor two.
The second floor.
Haste made waste, and I was starting to worry that my hurrying was making me clumsy. That I had missed a person, somewhere, or skipped over a locked door when I shouldn’t have, with someone hiding inside. Maybe I could backtrack if I ended up coming up short by the time I reached the lobby. The longer I took meant people were getting away. Food. Drink. Apples.
I combed through the second floor. Rooms, bathrooms, I was checking under beds, now. I pulled open a drawer, staring at a ziplock bag of colored tablets and syringes, and I had to force myself to realize what I was doing, and why it didn’t make sense. Desperate. My throat was on fire.
I got back out into the hall, and looked for the next set of stairs.
In the gloom, I didn’t notice a plank of wood on the floor. My foot got caught on it, and I tripped.
However, I kept my momentum, putting my hands out and catching myself, rolling forward. On all fours, I crawled a foot or two towards the stairs.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
A small boy. Probably not over thirteen years old. He slowly drew back, taking small steps, down the stairs. Hair messy, disheveled, stuck up in places. Clothes white, but dirty. Hands to chest.
Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.
“Miguel,” I said, and that was it. No statement, question, or other comment. I just said a name.
He didn’t give me a response, not that he needed to. He turned on a dime, taking the stairs two and three steps at a time, disappearing from my sight.
I didn’t take the same tactic down as before. I bounded towards the railing, vaulting over to reach the final floor. Floor one.
The first floor, I mean.
Miguel was fast, I had to give him that. He was already hiding somewhere, I figured. He was nowhere in sight when I made it into the lobby. I walked, taking my time. I could catch up to him with a single move if and when I had to.
I didn’t find him by the front counter, but I glanced at a dusted brochure that sat atop it. I picked it up, feeling inclined to read it.
“The Burne-Jones Hotel? A-already going sightseeing, Miguel?”
No answer, not like I expected one. I set down the brochure, and searched elsewhere. It was quiet in here, and when I wasn’t walking on carpet, my steps carried. I would have heard it, if he had opened an exit door, or any door, for that matter.
Bang. The sound of a metal door, down the hall behind me. I hurried in that direction.
He wasn’t here, and door wasn’t closing behind anyone. Dammit. A rock sat inert close to the bottom of the door, a white mark left a foot above it. A trick?
More sounds, again from behind. This time, footsteps.
I picked up the rock before I turned around. Briefly, I saw a figure run down the length of the hall. Another exit was at the end, there.
“Mi-Miguel!” I shrieked, my voice reaching a higher pitch. My head was pounding, my thoughts singular, narrow, too focused. Feed. Fruit. Juice. The smallest of fries.
I can feel myself losing it.
And I am okay with that.
Going after people was…
I wound up the rock like a baseball, then threw it at the boy.
Twice in one night, I struck my target. The rock flew down the hall, striking Miguel in a calf. He didn’t fall, but hobbled away to a nearby door. Changing course?
I followed him, taking long, fast strides, nearing a jog. Windows near the door revealed a pool area. I got to the door, and went through.
The pool itself was drained, and it was easy to spot Miguel in here. He was standing awkwardly at the other end of the empty pool, holding a metal pipe. Shivering.
Fool. He had cornered himself.
Like a dumb, scared rabbit.
I dropped into the pool, my landing echoing through the room. Carrying.
With every step forward, he took three back. But his back soon hit the pool wall behind him.
It was dark in here, dark throughout the entire hotel, but I had no issue on that front. For Miguel, he wasn’t allowed that advantage. Moonlight had pierced through the windows that faced the outside, casting blotches of light on the floor of the pool.
What did Miguel see, right this second?
My voice croaked out, completely unrecognizable.
“Migueeeeel, you s-set meee up against Styx Gang, r-riiiiiiight?”
It seemed like so long ago, but I remembered being ambushed back in the trailer, taken by surprise. I had no evidence, no reason to claim what I was claiming, but my brain was taking any train of thought that came to it and rode it all the way. Derailed.
He yelled, as if trying to appeal to someone he knew. But that person checked out some time ago.
Slurred, panicked Spanish. I was barely decent speaking at normal pace in class. All of his words were lost on me.
Alright, no more delay.
I practically skipped the rest of the way. My leg strength took me the rest of the way in three steps.
Miguel tried to swing, to retaliate, but it would be of no use to him. I caught with one hand, twisted, and it was enough for him to let go of his makeshift weapon.
My other hand went for his throat.
He was stuck, choking, with my thoughts speeding towards one eventuality, pushing me to take the appropriate action.
“Juice,” I wheezed, trying to suppress a cough. “Let me drink. M-make it easy for me. Give me juice. Use my knife, give me your juice. I j-just want something to drink.”
I thought again. Did I have my knife?
No, I don’t.
Someone had me give it up for… something else. It was in my pocket right now. Would that work, instead?
I had a feeling it wouldn’t.
My fingers tightened some, and the boy was turning red. Like an apple.
Just needed the juice.
I was excited.
A word, maybe more. A sentence? I couldn’t understand, but whatever was said compelled me to wheel around.
Part man, part bird. Tall. Two, dark circles for eyes stared back at me. Haunting.
He brought an arm out. Holding something. Pointing something.
“Who-” I started, but two sharp pricks poked into my leg, stopping me. Another prick.
Sluggishly, I drooped, an intense weariness overwhelming me. I stumbled, and the boy slipped out of my grasp. My eyesight was beginning to swim, and a heavy, forceful comfort took over my whole body and sense of self. With my eyelids heavy, and a long breath, I blacked out.