I sobered up real fucking quick.
Quick and skittish, my eyes went up and down the length of my arm. Or what was left of it
What was left of it?
The lower half was missing at the elbow.
It just was not there.
I couldn’t even find it anywhere on the ground. I couldn’t even pick it up and try to reattach it myself. If that was even something I could do.
The lower half of my right arm was simply gone. It had… dematerialized.
And I wasn’t healing.
Nothing was coming out. Nothing was coming out.
I knew that already.
The sight of it though, sent through me a pervading sense of dread, with how the skin was cracked and hard as stone. Charred black, with even some veins that ran up from the wound, seeped deep with the color.
It wasn’t any injury I had seen before. Or anyone, possibly, for that matter.
Gingerly, my fingers reached towards the blackened stump. It wasn’t even throbbing or thrumming with any pain, it was just there, mocking me with how it wasn’t healing, that particular power somehow deciding now was the time to be shy. I was as irritated as the skin appeared to be.
The beginnings of a headache waxed, the pangs as high as the moon above, and as full, too. I blinked and shook my head to reorient myself. I couldn’t put all my thoughts on that arm. Not forever.
Not when we have death standing right before us.
I looked up again.
The form was still standing there, the figure. The Shape. Small in the distance, hard to distinguish much by moon and lamplight. Sex, age, actual height, it was nearly impossible to determine from here.
And yet they managed to blow half my arm off.
There was already some distance between me and them…
I started to put some more.
I picked myself up and took off in a direct line away from the form. Stumbling, since I instinctively tried to push myself off the ground using both hands, and remembering I only had the one now.
The last thing I saw of the Shape as I turned was of it standing there, still as a statue, arm still outstretched. Holding whatever it was that reduced the full length of my arm to just the elbow, and stopped my healing from working.
A crack of light split the air behind me, and a boom of thunder followed. Another one.
I ducked, getting off the street and towards some buildings, an attempt to find some cover. There was a tea kettle ringing in my ears, so sharp, it was as if the sound penetrated through my skull and brain and out the other side. I wobbled as I moved from street to sidewalk, back to a proper pace once feet found grass.
What the hell were they shooting at me with?
Couldn’t even turn back to find out, which made a certain terror grip me even more tight.
They missed that time, but we’ve never been all that good with our luck. Please, keep moving.
I fucking knew that already.
I kept moving.
I was heading to what looked like tenements. They didn’t appear to be well held together, or even occupied, so I had no qualms about breaking and entering. As long as I could put some more distance and things between me and that. Them.
Every push of the leg came with an astounding power. I crossed the distance with a speed that would have blown away any top-tier athlete. Now, it was just a mad dash of desperation. Nothing graceful or impressive about it.
Moving to crawl up the side of the tenement, climbing my way up the side of a fire escape.
I crashed back down, shoulder digging into dirt.
Straightening myself, I was about to leap again and reach for the metal grating, when it came to me again, like a recurring nightmare, that I had tried to grab with my right hand first. It was a mistake I couldn’t afford to keep making.
Then the fire escape became a path I couldn’t afford to take.
Another instance of thunder, lighting flooding into my eyes for a flash, and the tearing and screaming of metal happened.
The fire escape had been blasted apart, to pieces, sharp in both pitch and debris. Shards sliced through the air, some sliced through me, sticking into my skin. I covered my face and turned away, and ended up raising one and a half arms in the doing.
Stumbling again away from the blast, I rolled with that momentum to keep moving.
Keep moving, keep moving.
I couldn’t keep pushing our luck.
Setting both arms down, I looked at the side of the tenement. The entire fire escape had collapsed, and it had torn down some of the brick wall with it. Several holes made themselves known to me. Wide enough for me to jump through.
Over the heap of metal and brick, I pushed myself through a part of the wall that had fallen out, practically flying through it. The hole there was almost like a wall in and of itself, a thin gossamer of black, a veil of absence. I broke through it and attempted to hide among the shadows, for what might be the last time.
Right inside was what appeared to be an apartment. The shell of one, anyways. There didn’t seem to be any sign of a current tenant, just the traces and marks leftover by previous residents, streaked across one another over the years, a film of dirt and abandonment smeared over the walls. History, too, with each skid of a shoe against the corner when a foot kicked it off, a mattress forgotten, having once been the only accompaniment to countless nights, tossing and turning away dark hours and darker anxieties, leaving when the sun shone through the glass, it wasn’t cracked before but it was now, that light going by the name, paranoia.
Morning hadn’t arrived yet. I was in the dark. I moved through the apartment like a ghost.
Broken and exposed doorways led me into a hall. Crossing it into another apartment.
The rotting door split open with a kick, and I stepped over a mushy carpet, sodden with something, leaving weighted footprints in the material. The tenement wasn’t unlike a corpse, already dead but decaying into something deeper, more base.
It was easy to imagine what happened, here. There was a community, neither big or small, but sizable enough to be affected by what was coming. Crime. Drugs. The gangs that brought them. The system. The tenements had turned into a territory, and the gang that was supposed to maintain the area didn’t put all that much care into it. They just needed it for the real estate, a place to set deals and meetings, among other things. Couldn’t be any less concerned with how they suffered the residents. One by one, the lifeblood of this place, and in this case this very building, drained, and soon was left a hollow husk, and even the gang lost interest, dropping their business here like they would a toy.
I ran through the dead veins of the building, each footstep like a small but ultimately futile pulse. This wouldn’t be enough to return any sense of life to this place, and it might not even be enough to save my own.
The pulses became harder, faster. I picked up the pace. I would not let this be the walk of the dead.
I entered a space more desolate than the first, more grim in the pictures these walls painted. Messy brush strokes of blood, darkened red, some in handprints, others applied with splatters. Shaped into some sort of Rorschach, blotches forming a spiral.
There was an art to it, if one could find beauty in death. Me? My sensibilities had been warped and twisted long ago.
Descending deeper in the dark, I passed something that reflected but a glimmer of light. It actually made me stop and look.
A mirror, broken and shattered, pieces missing. Starting from a point, a bullet hole, the cracks spiraling out. The mirror leaned against a wall, able to take in my full body.
Or was it mine?
The person in the mirror was disheveled, destroyed, looking at it another way. But in a way, there was no other way about it. Clothes were torn, didn’t even resemble a costume anymore. No gloves, no shoes. No mask. Their hair had gotten longer, and now it was uneven and choppy, sticking out and sticking on some places on their face.
Their eyes were heavy, baggy, overflowed with tears. Bits of human food and human blood were stuck around the chin. One and a half arms, legs, and clothes had been splashed with a certain mess and other detritus. Having sunk deeper and deeper to the very bottom, among the gloom that had already drifted there.
Was this what awaited me there, at the bottom? Was that me now? A skeleton of a thing, with long shadows drawn across the body, making it more ungainly, terrifying, no longer human. Or maybe it was never a human after all, with whatever was hiding under the skin finally rising to the surface, seeping through and exuding an ugly atmosphere, ready to subsume everything in its path. A certain change. My own Metamorphosis.
I couldn’t recognize myself, if there even was a self to recognize.
Shaking my head, my vision starting to flicker.
Another crash of thunder came from behind, and I went back to running… if not for my life, then for the one in the mirror, that broken and shattered person, with pieces missing. I ran for them.
I felt the whole building rumble from underneath my feet. I wasn’t supposed to be getting distracted, not here, not now. No time to question or consider anything, all physical and mental effort had to go towards survival, preservation. Even if it meant losing my mind in that pursuit, losing more things along the way.
The pieces fell as I found myself in a master bedroom. I wasn’t the only one in here.
A mother and a daughter. The younger one was held by the older, being sung to, a familiar melody. The room had an aroma that wafted about. Something sweet, but it was different. Not sweet like a strawberry jam, it was somehow deeper than that. Nostalgic even. The song reached my ears, that aroma hitting a core that stirred, a spiral direction.
The pair swayed together, a dance, slow and relaxed, a wishful trance. They seemed to not notice my intrusion. The ringing in my ears seemed to be in tune with the mother’s song.
No other exits. I’d get stuck here. Why had I gone this way?
The building began to rumble again.
I wanted to call out to them, but…
Make your own exit. Leave them. We’ve done it before.
We had, hadn’t we?
Before anything louder came crashing down around me, I pushed forward, past the couple, breaking them apart, and towards the thin wall on the other side. I leaned into it, favoring my half-arm, the shoulder, and the wall came tumbling down, with me following through it.
Then the bedroom exploded, turning into dust and debris.
The intense force was enough to send me rolling, but I was back on my feet and running.
Now forward like a pawn. Forward, forward.
I listened to the voice. Letting it guide me, letting it make me into whatever it needed me to be. Letting it use me. I’d let it. For us, for us. Forward. Forward.
And so I rushed. Forward. Breaking through every wall, every scene I’d come across. Another mother and daughter sharing a meal, fried chicken and miso soup, a girl sitting by herself, at the foot of a door, weeping with a great shame that she couldn’t quite place, and another sitting at a balcony, watching the city beyond it, imagining a fire large enough to consume it all…
Most of the scenes, so many of them, all alone.
One by one by one by one, it all came crashing down to the back of me.
Each of them, those people, disappeared in the dust, as if they were being systematically eliminated. I couldn’t save them, even if I wanted to, even though I did want to. I was having too much trouble in saving myself.
With each blast, each crash of thunder, sweat rolled down my neck like hail. If I wasn’t running for my life, I would be shivering cold.
What was chasing me, what was making me run so fast? This was no human, this was a monster. Then what did that make me?
An animal? A mouse? As blind as three mice?
Was this all that was left for me? Endless running? Running in circles? Spirals? Countless questions in which I’d have no answers?
Pathetic. Pitiful. Laughable.
I laughed again.
If we can’t escape, we could try and stop them. Just one strike would be enough. Just one.
As many as a snake would need?
Yes, just like that. And we have the teeth for it.
We did, didn’t we?
Listening to the voice, so hot that it was melting my brain again. Oozing a grey matter that splashed and coated the already filthy walls when I turned my head.
Turning again, going out another way. Spiraling back around.
The tenements were becoming a labyrinth, and I was becoming lost within them. Limbs flailing in a mad dash, an ugly sight indeed. But that was fine. It was okay. Because, if I could buy just enough time for us, we could just make it out okay. We’d be fine.
I’d just have to strike. And I only needed one.
Following where I thought the thunder was coming from, seeing a cloud of accumulated dust kicking into the air, swirling the hall, I weathered it and ran through.
Silence fell upon my ears, or my madness was becoming so sharp that it began to dull other senses.
I stalked, or haunted, or hunted, whichever it was, I would soon find out, or I’d find them. Or they’d find me. I had to find them, I couldn’t let them find me. Because that wouldn’t be a good thing. No, no, it would not.
I swore I saw a form in the dark. My eyes surely wouldn’t play a trick on me now, would they? Of course not.
There they were. Standing there. Still as always. Couldn’t be human, possibly a monster. Maybe like me.
I’d just have to strike. And I only needed one.
Grinning at the idea, teeth baring, I thirsted for one.
I leapt with a strength that would have crushed anyone else.
I heard a single instance of a boom of thunder. Not in the direction of the Shape I was looking at.
I was crushed.
Sent through the wall, spinning. I had twisted and tried to dodge. Tried. Because it but a mere attempt.
A pathetic, pitiful, laughable attempt.
The impact was hard enough to send me flying through wood and glass. Splinters and chips were sticking out of me. Even more. I felt like a flower that was blooming shards of shrapnel.
I tried to shake myself off. Couldn’t do that. I tried to brush or pick out the fragments but I couldn’t do that either.
A harsh chill subdued me when I looked and saw why.
My left arm, from the joint of the shoulder.
It just simply wasn’t there.
Wild jerks of the torso. Reaching with arms that weren’t there, feeling with fingers that weren’t there. A dreamlike sensation. A phantom pain.
But the hurt of it, all too real. It turned me as red as an apple.
I threw up, and I barely had the arms to wipe it off.
Panicking, freaking out, losing it, I struggling to get back to on my feet. Turning onto my stomach, wincing when I lifted myself with my right stump, I pushed with my feet. I slipped, face hitting the floor, and with my rear up, I dragged myself until the top of my head hit a wall. I shifted positions, then slid up the wall with an insect-like crawl until I could stand.
Head was spinning.
I looked again.
From the shoulder, just like the elbow. The skin had been turned hard and burnt. The wound was hot and quickly cooling, and there was no indication that it would heal and get better.
There was no indication that any of this would get better.
I looked around.
No sign of what attacked me. The form. The Shape. The dust was begin to settle on this new equilibrium.
It’s not going to last. You’ll lose your balance. Forget about fighting back, just run. If you can’t lose them, if you can’t fight them, run.
The floor rumbled again. I was on shaky ground.
I followed that directive.
There was a glass door, a balcony leading back to the cold outside. I didn’t have the hands to throw it open.
Whatever. I was losing the sense to care anymore. I was almost welcoming the pain, at this juncture.
The glass fell around me in a burst when I went through it. Raising the stump to my face in a sad attempt to protect myself. It didn’t do shit. Funny.
A free fall, but I hardly felt free at all.
No hands to aid in my landing. I collapsed instead into a heap of my own bones. Broken.
Those bones healed, allowing me to stand yet again. My powers were mocking me, now, too. I couldn’t regrow my limbs, but I could heal just enough to keep going. Just enough to keep suffering. Just enough to live these moments in agony.
There had to have been a wild look in my eyes. I was searching for some kind of respite, anyone or anything that might deliver me from this.
None. No one else with me, nothing that could be of any use. As useless as I was proving to be.
I was so alone.
I wasn’t even human. Hadn’t been for some time. Why was I acting as if I was saving a human life? Wouldn’t this all be for nothing?
Fuck this. Fuck everything.
I wanted break this. I wanted to end it all. Burn it all down. Fuck it all up. I hated this shit for so long. The world that made me this. The girl that had brought me here. Hated me.
Wouldn’t it be better if I just fucked off and disappeared? Quit while I was still ahead? Quit while I still had a head?
I laughed at that, even though it was a terrible idea. I’d be heard, I was still being followed.
By something, by someone.
Swaying, as if I was sleepwalking now, through what was certainly a terrible dream, every step heavier than the last, head buzzing, body throbbing, as though that light rain continued to fall down on me. But that thrumming passed through me and the core as waves, and I swayed and swayed some more.
I was losing it, but there was a very real possibility that I never had it at all.
The tenements around me turned into towers, tipping over and threatening to topple. Or was I faltering that much already? I wasn’t used to the weight on my shoulders, or lack thereof, wanting to move or stretch an arm but I couldn’t and it only frustrated me further and…
Fuck this. Fuck everything. Fuck me.
God fucking dammit.
This isn’t a joke anymore. Stop playing around.
What else was there? What more could I do?
There wasn’t an answer for some time.
I moved as though I was floating. Blood dripped down and stained my hair, face, eyes. It waaaas getting harder to seeee…
But you were doing so well before.
Well? That could considered a good job? Fuck that.
Maybe I should just search for a place to rest instead. Like a dog searching for place to rest. In peace.
Because victory was no longer an option.
What did that guy say? Someone said something. It was an animal.
To have some dignity. It would be better, wouldn’t it?
They’re still there. They all are. If you need a drink, we can go back.
Weren’t we trying to leave that place?
How bad was it getting, that I couldn’t quite remember why anymore?
I just had the general sense that everyone and everything was out to get me.
I did need a drink.
I needed to heal myself up.
These wounds, scarred and blackened.
Would it work?
There’s no other option.
No other option.
In other words, no choice.
Without thinking about it anymore, because there wasn’t much of a mind left to use, I staggered and spun, nearly stumbling over like I did so many times before.
Gathering all the strength I had left, what little there was. Putting it into the last two proper limbs I had.
One foot ahead of the other.
Things rushed past. Tall things. Big grey lumbering things. I couldn’t even recognize them anymore, not that they were ever particularly memorable to me but the concept of them were becoming lost on me.
I just saw colors, blurring and blending and bleeding so hard that I was becoming blind to them.
Moving without thinking. Spiraling back to where I had started from. Someone, somewhere, would see this, read this, and they would laugh, I bet. Just as I was doing right now.
Oh, to be this fucked up.
There was almost a freedom in losing myself in depravity.
It was a gut feeling that led me to where I was going, wherever that was. A spot for drink. Hunting for the dead like vultures.
But my wings were clipped. Jumping, flying became impossible, so I was left scrambling like a little mouse instead. A crossbreed between so many different creatures, but right now I was displaying the most feeble of them all. The prey.
All we need is a sip. Just one drink.
Just one drink. Yes. That was all we needed.
Just one drink.
In our stomach, in our throat, burning and yearning for something to give us our fill. Just one drink.
Our eyes landed on big bright ball in the black sky again. The moon? The sun? The world itself?
Watching. Like it always did.
So high up over everything or everyone. Where we had always wanted to be.
We used it like we would a star, letting it guide us again.
Just one drink.
Trailing after it like dust, in our stomach and throat, our nose, we could sense that we were going back the way we came. Just one drink.
Just one drink.
Smaller lights passed overhead, an orange, hazy glow. Could feel it, getting closer. Closer.
Sure it was there. Sure of it.
So close. We were so close.
Couldn’t get back up again. Wouldn’t.
Snapping back into a tangible reality, though it felt as flimsy as old cobweb, I soon recognized the situation for what it truly was.
All that running for nothing. All for naught. Just a description of a struggle.
My right leg, from around the knee.
Only things around that I could see above me were streetlights, all blinking red. Looking around, from how the roads stretched, I was at an intersection. On the ground, flatlining in the middle of a crossroads.
But I was so close.
I never really had a chance. Not one.
Spiraling down, spiraling and spiraling, until I was at dead center. And what did that make me?
I didn’t hear the voice again.
Crawling was useless. Barely had the strength for it now.
On my stomach. Used what little power I had left to turn over on my back. The moon above, wasn’t there. Clouds were cutting through its light.
Or the tears were welling up too much.
Blinking didn’t help any.
Through the murky waters, I saw a form creep into my vision, blocking the light. A Shape.
Hard to make out, even at this distance.
Small, not much taller than someone like… a letter. Boy or girl, impossible to tell or even guess at. They wore a coat, or some sort of uniform, the colors neutral. They were completely silent.
Somehow… this wasn’t so unfamiliar to me.
They raised… that thing. Obviously some type of weapon. Nothing I had ever seen before. It opened out, spiraled out like snakes untangling. Black as my charred wounds.
My left leg, from the base of the thigh.
Whole body was on fire.
They were as quiet as I was loud, screaming for a relief that would never come. Not for me. Not for us.
Then, without a word, without any regard for my squirming or wailing, the weapon pointed to my chest, right above my heart. It spiraled out again.
Feeling my chest twisting and tightening up, I swallowed, felt it scrape, dry, fruitless. I let my eyes close, slow.
And then I waited.
But nothing came. No flash, no thunder.
Was I being denied that, too?
Reluctant, wanting this to be over already, I looked once more.
They weren’t there, directly above. Off to the side, still pointing that thing at me. As if I was still somehow a threat.
Someone else was there instead. A man in grey.
Neither of them I knew. A world I had never ventured into. Now they were here, in mine. And they were about to end it.
The man in grey, for reasons only aware to him, because I surely lost the ability and will to even conceive of doing such a thing, smiled. The man in grey smiled.
And then he spoke.
“Hello to you, Meine Kreuzung.”