Friday, January 11, 2013

Eight - Blood-Stained Hands

And I saw her today at the reception 
In her glass was a bleeding man  
She was practiced that the art of deception 
I could tell by her blood-stained hands
 - The Rolling Stones, "You Can't Always Get What You Want"

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Seven - Chief Of Sinners

If I am the chief of sinners, I am the chief of sufferers also.
 - Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Six - What You Want

A full three-sixty, a complete return 
With no excuses and no concerns  
The ultra-heavy beat is going strong 
If it feels this good then it can't be wrong
Damned if you do and damned if you don't  

You better seize the moment before it's gone  
The ultra-heavy beat goes on and on  
When it's all said and done this is what you want
 - "Risen", KMFDM

Five - Deaf, Dumb, And Blind

Deaf, dumb and blind, you just keep on pretending
That everyone's expendable, and no one has a real friend
And it seems to you the thing to do would be to isolate the winner
Everything's done under the sun
But you believe at heart everyone's a killer

Who was born in a house full of pain
Who was trained not to spit in the fan
Who was told what to do by the man
Who was broken by trained personnel
Who was fitted with collar and chain
Who was given a pat on the back
Who was breaking away from the pack
Who was only a stranger at home
Who was ground down in the end
Who was found dead on the phone
Who was dragged down by the stone

 - Pink Floyd, "Dogs"

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Four - A Band Of Angels

Well, look way down the river, what do you think I see?
I see a band of angels and they're coming after me
There ain't no grave can hold my body down
Ain't no grave can hold my body down 

Well, look down yonder, Gabriel, put your feet on the land and sea
But Gabriel don't you blow that trumpet 'til you hear from me
There ain't no grave can hold my body down
Ain't no grave can hold my body down 

 - Johnny Cash, "Ain't No Grave"

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Three - In Peace Henceforward

"Menelaus, there are some strangers come here, two men, who look like sons of Jove. What are we to do? Shall we take their horses out, or tell them to find friends elsewhere as they best can?"
Menelaus was very angry and said, "Eteoneus, son of Boethous, you never used to be a fool, but now you talk like a simpleton. Take their horses out, of course, and show the strangers in that they may have supper; you and I have stayed often enough at other people's houses before we got back here, where heaven grant that we may rest in peace henceforward."
 - The Odyssey

Seward stared upward at the second-floor landing until he heard the sound of a door closing before he turned back to look at the rest of the residents.

They were all staring at him expectantly, varying degrees of worry present on their faces. He let out a heavy sigh, shrugged, and said, "All right. Sitting room."

Without a word, they turned to move towards the couches and chairs arrayed around the room in question. One of them, a tall, skeletally-built man with a hooked nose, switched the television off as he went. Seward waited until they were all seated before dropping into his own customary recliner and looking around at them.

"She'll stay upstairs until we're done talking," he said, leaning back. "She won't want to be the center of attention. So we've got plenty of time." He cast a glance around at each of them, then sighed again. "Who wants to start?"

He looked around at each of them in turn. There were four residents of the Recovery House in total, besides himself and their newest tenant. One of them, a slim black man in his early twenties, bit the inside of his lower lip for a moment, looking thoughtful, and flicked his eyes around the room, taking in the expressions of the others.

No one moved.

The black man sighed, shook his head, and said, "Since we're all thinkin' it... is this a good idea?"

Seward grunted and raised both hands to rub at his face. "No," he admitted. "But then, when you get right down to it, this entire place might not be the best idea."

"Don't dodge, Andy." The speaker was a woman in her mid-thirties with copper hair. She wore a thick red robe over her jeans and shirt, and seemed to be huddled into herself slightly as she frowned at Seward. "The House is a good idea, but that's not the point. It works because we're not important. None of them care enough to bother looking for us. She's important, Andy. They hunt her."

"They hunt all of us, Terry," Seward answered, lowering his hands. "If they wanted us, they'd find us, and that's about the end of it. And do you really think they have any need for priority lists? They're not human. They don't have to operate by the same rules we do. They could crush us without even trying if they wanted-"

"That's the point," interrupted the black man. He wasn't looking at Seward any more. He was holding his head in his hands. "'If they wanted'. Most of the time they don't, because we're small fry. She's not small fry."

"She ran with the old man," said a young blond girl curled up on the chair to Seward's right. "She helped with the archives. She's seen most of them face to face."

"Anne-" Seward began, but she cut him off.

"No, Andy, Will's right," she said firmly, sitting up and frowning at him. "Having her here is dangerous, even assuming she's who she says she is instead of one of their pets trying to get in, and you're not going to be able to argue that away. So why do you want her here?"

Seward frowned heavily and let out a hiss of breath between his teeth. Before he could speak, though, the hawk-nosed man spoke, his voice sharp and clipped.

"Because the Recovery House was founded as a place of refuge for people such as she," he said. "And what good is it, then, if it turns away the very people that it was made for simply because they might be a little more dangerous than the usual tenants? This is a dangerous thing to be doing whether or not she is here, and that has not affected any previous decisions."

Seward relaxed slightly in his chair. "Thanks, Irving," he muttered. "What he said. I didn't start this place to turn people away just because it's risky. Besides, she's good at avoiding them. And fighting back, when it comes down to it. She could be helpful."

"Yeah," said a low, rasping voice from the doorway. As one, all heads turned to watch as Christie stepped in. Her eyes stared up at the residents in turn from under a lowered brow as she stepped into the room. She pressed between Anne's chair and Seward's, moving towards the coffee table in the center of the room. There was a soft thumping noise as she set a small duffel bag down on its surface.

"Yeah," she repeated. "I can be helpful. I'm not expecting you to do this for free." She reached down and unzipped the duffel, revealing a stack of manila folders inside. "The rest of the archives," she said flatly. "The stuff we didn't get uploaded. The old man left it with me. And the computer he used while we were running together's in there too. Password's 'marlboro'."

Most of the residents looked stunned. Irving watched her with an expression of mild interest. Seward openly gaped. She fixed him with her blank, expectant stare until he finally forced himself to cough and say, "Uh. We didn't expect you to finish unpacking so quickly."

"I didn't bring much," she answered, shrugging. She slipped both of her hands into the front pocket of her hoodie, then shrugged. "And you missed another reason to consider forcing me out. I'm wanted in three states."

Seward frowned heavily and sat forward on his recliner. "Yeah," he grunted. "We heard about that. You end up in the news a lot, for one of us."

She nodded. For a few seconds, everyone was silent. Then Seward grunted again and folded his hands.

"Right," he said. "Here's the deal. This is my place, so everybody living here does so under my rules. Here are yours." He took a deep breath. "One, you're a law-abiding citizen as long as you're here. Anything that would get the police on you gets you thrown out. Two, you've got no secrets as long as you're here, at least when it comes to the big stuff. Nothing about them. Or their pets. If something starts happening with them and you know something about it, you speak up, because we're putting our necks out for you and we need to know. Three, you don't go looking for trouble. You say they're not after you right now. Good. Great. Keep it that way. We survive because we stay off the radar here. Don't make it any harder on us. Four, if something does go wrong, whether it's with you or somebody else, we stick together. You've run with other people before. You know how it works. You don't leave another runner in the lurch."

He put his hands on his knees and forced himself upright. "And anything else I happen to come up with," he muttered. "Bottom line, stay out of trouble and what I say goes. So long as you're clear on that, we'll be all right. Got it?"

The only answer was a nod. He ran one hand through his hair and sighed again. "Right," he said. "And that's the last word on it. From anybody." He gave the rest of the residents a sharp look. "She's one of us now, end of story. Anne, come on and help me get dinner started. Irving, take those-" he motioned to the folders "-and get them somewhere safe. The rest of you..." He sighed. "Whatever you were doing before."

With that, he turned and left. The young blond girl followed in his wake, and the hawk-nosed man drifted off a moment later, the duffel bag slung over one shoulder. The black man and red-haired woman lingered only a few seconds longer, to cast worried glances towards the motionless, skeletal girl standing in the center of the room.

When they had all left, she set off back to her room, shut the door behind her, and locked it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Two - Sanctuary

"Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods."
 - Aristotle

Grayness and fog dominated the landscape as she approached her destination. Here, there weren't many cars passing through the narrow streets even during rush hour. No one bothered to clear away the snow. If the winding roads hadn't forced her to slow the car to a crawl, she might have lost traction on the ice.

The cold bit harshly at her exposed wrists and face as she stepped out of the car. It bled through her thin jacket and hood, causing her to hiss and stamp her feet as she slammed the door behind her and rushed towards the door of the house.

The sign over the door read A. E. SEWARD RECOVERY HOUSE. The letters were lazily scrawled across the plastic in an unprofessional hand, but she didn't give them more than a passing glance. Instead, she hammered on the door with one clenched fist, then stood back, shivering and shuddering uncontrollably on the doorstep, gaze directed firmly at the ground.

When the door swung open a few seconds later, she didn't look up to see who had opened it. Instead, she squeezed through, croaking as she went, "Runner." Only once she was inside did she look up again.

Outside, gray ice dominated. Inside, everything was bright and warm - polished mahogany walls, an elegantly-curved spiral staircase, thick, forest-green carpeting, sun-yellow lamps. She stamped her feet a few times, clutching at her thin arms through the jacket, then turned back to look at the one who had let her in.

She ignored the residents eying her suspiciously from the other rooms. There would be time for them later.

The man standing at the door was tall, and fat, and clad in jeans and a heavy-looking Steelers jersey. His doughy face looked as though it was used to smiling, but at the moment, it wore an expression of suspicion and mistrust. His left hand was in the pocket of his jersey, gripping something blocky and angular.

"First question," he said, as he shut the door again. There was a metallic click as the lock was thrown shut.

"I haven't brought any of them with me," she said, before he could tell her what the question actually was. She straightened up to her full height and pulled back her hood. Her gaze was no less mistrustful than his, but she looked more accustomed to it. "There might be one of their pets on my tail, but none of the big ones, and I'm pretty sure I lost the one around Indianapolis. And-" she held up her hand to stall anything else the big man might have been about to say "-it's the Boy, the Girl, and the Angel, mostly."A brief pause. "Mostly the Girl." She lowered the hand.

The big man looked less suspicious now, but his forehead was still heavily creased as he ran his eyes over her skinny form. After a moment, he said, sounding incredulous, "Three?"

"All of them," she answered flatly. "But mostly those three." She shrugged, then added, "I'm Christie Waterman."

He blinked twice, then tilted his head to one side and squinted at her. "How do I know you're telling the truth?"

"James came through here four years ago," she answered, staring levelly back at him. "He stayed for six months. He left a photo here for safekeeping, of his family on vacation in Florida. I ran with him. He told me about you."

The man straightened up again, and the hand in his pocket released its grip on the blocky object. His expression cleared, and he flashed her a broad, toothy grin. "Well, I've still got his photo, if he ever wants to come back and get it," he said brightly, taking a step forward. One of his broad, powerful hands came out to offer a handshake. "Pleased to meet you, and welcome to my little sanctuary. Just call me Andy. Or Mister Seward, if you've got to be formal about it."

She reached out and set her smaller hand in his. Her grip was firm, despite the difference in size, but her gaze remained flat and emotionless. "Christie," she said. Her voice was raspy and quiet, in contrast to his jovial, booming one. "And he won't be coming back for it."

Seward's face fell, but he didn't release her hand. "Oh," he said. He seemed to slump slightly, his entire body drooping with the weight of the news. "That's... too bad. I liked James."

"He liked you, too." She remained motionless while she waited for him to continue.

Seward coughed, then shook his head. "How... how'd it happen?"

She blinked once. "He went bad," she said flatly. "I killed him." A momentary pause, then, as if she was forcing herself to add something vaguely comforting, she added, "He had more of them after him than anyone else. Anyone would have cracked."

There was an answering nod from the big man. "I... hope it was quick, at least," he said quietly.

"It wasn't." She blinked again, then looked away. "I wish it had been, too."

Silence reigned for a few seconds. There were sounds of uneasy shifting from the other rooms, the feeling of eyes glued to the back of her head, but she ignored them.

After a moment, she said, "That's why I'm here. Part of it, anyway." She looked back up at him and, finally, withdrew her hand from his. "I've run alone for almost a year. I'm done with that. I don't want to run any more." She glanced around at the hallway. "And this is the only place I know where I can go."

Seward seemed to pull himself together at that. He gave her another grin, slightly weaker than the last, and said, "Well, that's what we're here for. You'll have to pay rent, 'cause I'm not made of money, but you can work around the house to reduce that cost and there's work around here if you go looking. We've got three open rooms to choose from."

"I'll take any of them that doesn't have a mirror," she said flatly.

Twenty minutes later, she was upstairs, sitting on her new bed and trying to ignore the sound of talking from below. Her gaze was trained on a small photograph she held cupped in her hands, as if it was a small bird. In it, a tall, thin, brown-haired young man grinned up at her, both of his arms around the shoulders of his parents. All three of them stood in front of the ocean, the blue water stretching out behind them as the surf lapped at their ankles.

She blinked rapidly for a few seconds, then slipped the picture into her pocket, rubbed at her eyes with the back of one hand, and started to unpack.