chewing this piece over, changing POV. You like it? also content warning, language slipping
Howard took a big gulp and pulled a grimace, eying the bootle in disbelief. The beer tasted like lukewarm navel lint, already…
The mosquitoes kept singing the most annoying siren song of the jungle. Feet on the handrail of the porch, the man gazed down the only road in proximity. Well, it wasn’t an actual a road, more a beaten track ending behind their guest house.
The seven houses huddling together, barely merited the name village.
It was the smallest he ever saw. The town hall was also the local dive. People were pragmatic, no doubt about that. To south the border was the river, to north the jungle. In fact, the jungle was everywhere. The white plastic chair trembled and creaked as he shifted his weight.
Every now and then some children, or dogs, or men, or pigs passed the porch, not taking notice of him being bored. And the only thing Howard hated more than being bored, was being ignored.
He saw a black and white spotted pig not noticing him, so he threw his nearly empty bottle at it. And missed, with more than three feet. The noise of bursting glass made the pig stop and look both ways. Nothing threatening, it grunted irritated and strutted down the track.
„Gguuh!“ Howard roared, punching the air around him. „How the hell do people cool themselves here!“ Nick poked his head from the house.
„Said something?“ Howard turned, shifted his weight to balance on two hind legs of the chair. He looked up with most elaborate puppy-eyes-technique he could manage. His fingers clenched desperately into the fabric of Nick’s T-shirt.
„Please! I just feel it…“ He rasped theatrically. „I’m dying.“ Nick rolled his eyes and sucked his teeth. „It’s killing me!”
„Just take a bath, Howy, like everybody else. ’N quit your yapping.“ Howard uncurled his fingers with a sly grin. His chair flopped back to stand on all of its legs.
„My favorite cryptozoologist! I’m melting, and your only advice is to take a bath, which is potentially dangerous to deadly. Is that all you have to say to save my life?“
“Don’t get on my nerves! I’m busy cleaning up your mess.” Nick shook his head in disbelief. He turned on a heel stomped back inside.
“Which one?” Howard called after him.
It even threw my shadow in front of me. „Don’t look back!“ I told myself. Whatever that was, I mustn’t look back.
My fingers stretched forward. Finally I could feel and grab a piece of rectangular wood and carpet. The open door! I had reached it! The strange glow faded rapidly.
I pulled myself up, clutching at the doorframe. Clouds of breath vapor puffed fast into the darkness of the house. „Stand up!“ I commandeered myself. My bad knee throbbed, it wouldn’t stretch properly. But I got up, anyway.
The wind had blown in enough snow, that it blocked the door, no thought on moving it. I propped my back against the hallway wall, swept off the framed family photo. My numbed muscles didn’t move. I reached after it, but was too slow. It fell to the ground.
The sound of shattered glass ripped the silence. No! Curled fingers hovered over broken Maria and Amy. Too late. Again! They gazed up to me, their eyes pierced me between the cracks in the glass. I felt pinned in place. They kept smiling happily. That smile… They were my last link to a better world, to a good and bright place, where things worked out just fine. Hadn’t I atoned? How much longer?
Something cracked. Their smiles tortured me, mocked me… But that wasn’t their fault, not at all… Only mine alone.
The shape of my daughter fogged up in the entrance. She materialized straight from the white wind gusts. Someone inhaled sharply. Everything was right again, back to normal, back to perfect. It was the little girl I saw earlier through the window. She was my Amy again.
„Daddy?“ She stood in the doorway, scared. A betrayed expression crawled over her face. As if I had taken her favorite plushy away, and have been waving it in front of her, out of reach. „Daddy? Are you mad?“ Her wary words trembled over to me. She was honestly hurt, and about to cry. I knew that face, the way her chin and lower lip quivered.
„What are you?“ I shouted, not sure I wanted to know. „What the hell are you?“ There was no answer to that. No answer she could give. Amy held her arms out, wanted me to pick her up. I was a real jerk, asking such stupid questions. How cruel from me, showing her my fear and hate — to a child! When did I start venting on my child? What was wrong with me? I’d never do that, at least I thought I’d never do that.
But she wasn’t my baby girl, was she?
She was something else. But did that make her less of a child? Amy grimaced, big tears formed clinging to her lashes. No. She was a nearly my baby girl. I knew, if she started crying, she wouldn’t be able to stop. She’d get those red spots all over her face and neck and hands, and she’d keep sobbing for hours. Like her mommy used to, when she got upset.
„Daddy? Up! Up, up.“ She demanded a bit more urgent. „Pwease?“ I took a step forward to her. Couldn’t stop myself. I didn’t want to. „Pweeeease?“ Come on, old man, pull yourself together!
„Are you… Amy?“ I asked carefully. Say something else! She nodded so eagerly, that her beanie almost came down. How strange… My hands shook, my knees almost gave out under me. Where did this feeling come from? A warmness spread from my navel to my back, leaving me without strength. She beamed up at me with her dark eyes. They glowed with a soft fire. „Are you really my baby girl?“
„Mhm.“ She smiled wholeheartedly. She believed it. I was her father. I wanted to believe it too.
That was crazy! But she was so real. On my doorstep, she stood there, wanting to be held. Like any other little girl would want to be held by her daddy.
Amy from the photos wasn’t here, Maria wasn’t here either. My wife would think I was crazy… And maybe I was. Even considering something this twisted…
I kept thinking, that I had gotten a second chance. That this time, everything was going to be okay. I’d take good care of her, I’d protect her, no matter what. I surprised myself by taking another step forward.
Should I hold back? Should I run? Where to? And why? I didn’t wanted to. Not anymore… I let my body do, what it longed for. I picked Amy up. She had the same weight, as the last time I held her.
My Amy! My other Amy, my second Amy. Her innocent child smell hit me. Crayons, cookies and strawberries. I’d never want to miss that again. My knees trembled a bit, butterflies fluttered in my stomach. This time I was going to be a proper father.
„Are you hungry, baby?“ She nodded and sighed with relief. „What do you want to eat?“ There had to be pancakes dough somewhere in the cupboards. „I can make us some pancakes with syrup and chocolate chips. How’d you like that?“
She hugged my neck and gave me a big wet smooch on my cheek. „You’re the bestest daddy in the woods.“ I smiled.
Something bright and warm whirled in my chest.
I — I thought, this time…
I could be happy.
Someone bent up my fingers, my arms, unwrapped me from Amy’s little broken body. The doctor talked to me. I saw his mouth move. Never heard a sound though.
His rubber gloved hand unwrapped the quilt. I saw what I had wrapped up, what I held in my arms.
That wasn’t my Amy any more.
No… It was…
A bloody rag doll. I couldn’t peel off my eyes from the deformed head, the blue eyes staring to the left and the right, at the same time. Not my Amy!
They told me that I screamed and howled. They made me stop, by sticking a needle into my arm, sending me spiraling into unconsciousness.
My arms flew up. Must’ve dozed off.
What was that?
Something hit the window. I blinked. A bird? A snowball? My tongue felt fuzzy, stuck to my palate. It was much darker now.
I should have a look. If it was a bear going through my trash can, or a puma? I had to deal with that. Where did I put the shotgun? Was it even loaded? Ammo was somewhere in the kitchen.
The hard labor of standing up started, and the quilt slit down to the carpet. I put the empty bottle on the table.
The dim light shining in, outlined the furniture. It was enough so I wouldn’t bump into them on my way to the window. I stood there for a while, had to steady my spinning head, or was it my racing heart. I couldn’t tell the difference anymore?
As the world stopped moving, I hobbled towards the window. I took me some time to reach the curtains.
Nobody outside, just the pale blueish gray cover over everything I knew. No tracks visible.
From somewhere on the left a snowball slammed against the glass. „Whoa!“ It spooked me.
Caught myself on a fistful of the fabric hanging near me, nearly keeled backwards. The curtain tore. A heatwave rolled over me, from scalp to toe. My knees wobbled a bit more, but I stood again, fairly secure. I peeked out. Something moved. Then I saw it.
And what I saw, made me sober the instant. I held my breath.
„Daadddy!“ Amy’s voice rang clearly in my ears. „Come outside, daaady!“ She danced around in the snow, her blanky around her shoulders, her pink beanie on top of her head. „Let’s play!“ My tongue hurt. I wanted to scream, but the words were glued somewhere in the back of my dry throat. How was this possible?
Everything was right. Was that really my baby? Her blonde piggy tails swooped up and down as she hopped around.
„I wuv you!“ She pulled my heart strings. It stung and burnt. As if she knew, what I longed for, she blew me kisses. Then she started to sing the princess in the woods. The window was cold to my touch. It fogged up around my fingertips.
She was still there, dancing and singing. „Snowman, daddy. Snowman!“ She cheered and beamed up to me.
„I’m coming!“ I wanted to scream. Amy! My little darling is back! Ugly noises left my throat instead. The backyard blurred and swam. Something warm ran down my cheeks. She started to form a big snowball, stretching out her little tongue, like she used to, when she was concentrating really hard. I sobbed. „AMY!“ She giggled and waved for me to come outside. „I’m coming,“ I gestured her. „I’m coming!“ As fast as I could, I hobbled towards the entrance door.
„Please be there, please be there. Please…“ I begged and closed my eyes. My hand tore the door open, felt snowflakes landing on my hand, my face, my toe. Bone chilling cold greeted me, but I didn’t care. My eyes flew open.
„Oh, Amy!“ She stood there, waiting for me, only a few steps distance between us. „Amy! Baby! Where have you been? I was looking for you all over.“ She shrugged, like little children do, with all of her body. Embarrassed she pointed behind her, then to herself. „You were in the woods?“ I asked, barely believing it. She nodded happily.
Have I been looking on the wrong place? Was she there all along waiting for me?
Amy cocked her little head, as if catching to my thought. „Yes, daddy.“ She pulled her shoulders up. „I was waiting for you. But you didn’t come. And I was really tired and you had a piece of wooden doll in your arms, and you and mommy… You cried a lot. And I was scared, that you be mad, if I come out now.“ How could I be angry at my little baby?
I threw my legs out. Long eager steps took me towards my little darling. I closed the distance between us, arms stretched out for a hug. The snow melted under my feet, my socks were wet and I fell to my knees before Amy, but this time it didn’t hurt. I could move without effort. Snowflakes landed on my neck.
I embraced Amy, sucked in the air around her. She smelled like children ought to. She smelled of cookies, crayons and strawberry shampoo. And smoke? My arms remembered her body and welcomed it with force. I couldn’t hold back, I tugged her close and squeezed. „Oh, Amy. Amyamyamy. I worried sick, baby.“ Those words disappeared in her blanky, in her piggy tails and mittens.
„Shhh, daddy.“ Her voice was dripping in my ear. „It’s okay. Don’t cry.“ Her tiny hand petted the back of my skull. It felt like heaven. I had her back, back in my arms. I’d never let go again. Never!
„It’s okay, daddy.“ Her voice buzzed with distortion for a moment. „I stay.“ No, that was only my imagination. „Forever.“ That voice!
I yanked my head back to look at Amy’s perfect little face. Everything was like I remembered. Big brown eyes, little nose and a small mouth with full soft lips, pink cheeks. Where did that voice come from, then? „Was that you, baby?“ I asked her. She stared into my face. I couldn’t read anything in it. Something was different, though. I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Her eyes! I remembered them clearly. Why did I notice just now?
They have been blue two years ago, but they were dark now. How was that possible? Eye colors did not… Change?
Her tiny mouth twitched and stretched into a sick grin. Her eyes glistened. Like the eyes of a rat. They went all black, tuned to some otherworldly channel. I swallowed. „Amy? Baby?“ I didn’t sound like me. „Are you okay?“ Her eyes bulged. „AMY?“ No!
The distorted voice answered with my daughter’s mouth. „Amy isn’t here, daddy.“ The grin widened to full teeth. There were too many teeth in that mouth! „What’s wrong, daddy?“ Oh, God! „Don’t you wuv me?“ No! I pulled back, but lost my balance. The icy sensation burned on my back. The snow was powdery, slipping into every wrinkle of my pullover and pants. „You wuv’ me now, daddy?“ I gasped.
The wind picked up. Its force bent the firs. They squealed and groaned. The gust swept over the roof, whooshed ice crystals into my face, into my eyes. It stung, like pins and needles. I couldn’t see.
My legs numbed, didn’t move at all. My hands trembled towards my baby. That was impossible! That mouth stretched beyond its anatomical possibilities. I saw so much more than her pink gum and the too many teeth. I saw bone and working muscles. „NO!“ She chuckled, as I scurried towards the house on an all four. The wind stuffed my mouth with tiny ice shards. She danced around me, singing the princess in the wood, with my Amy’s voice.
That thing wasn’t my daughter! It was something… else. I saw something pink reach into the furious white gusts, she giggled. Oh, God! „You are not my Amy!“ I screamed into the howling sound around me. It wiped all silhouettes away, replaced it with a wall of white. Sick laughter reached me, the kind of psycho laughter you don’t want to hear from a four year old. Never from your own four year old. „Are you scared, daddy?“ She buzzed, „let’s play!“
The way she said, „daddy,“ chilled my blood. The voice was deep and guttural. The hair on my neck stood on end. Where was the gun? I had to get the gun.
The thing, that looked like Amy, screeched. I caught a whiff of smoke and strawberries. Somewhere ahead, only a few steps away, there had to be my house, entrance door still open. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t see it.
„Come on, old man. Keep moving!“ I cheered on. „Get back to the house.“ More laughter drifted to me, over the wind gusts. The ice whooshing past my face glistened, reflecting some soft light. I stopped. There was something bright behind me.
- content warning (horror, language, otherworldly beings, grief, alcohol…)
- this is a HWWF2015 assignment about world building and character background.
“I plunked down into the leather couch and tugged the patchwork quilt over my legs. Maria, my ex wife, made it during the two long years of our marriage, for Amy.” Our little daughter…
My hand petted the fabric, fingers tracing the sewed ridges, for the hundredths, thousandths time. Maybe for the millionths time by now… It had been vibrant and colorful, with the reds and blues and yellows thoughtfully arranged on twenty to thirty-five inches. Baby animals playing under the stars and the moon. My fingertips knew all the stitches. It was one of Maria’s most wonderful pieces. You could feel how she poured her heart, her soul, into it.
Now it was dirty, soiled with life and death, but I’d never dare to wash it. There was this big brownish incrusted stain on the upper corner, where the bunnies met the puppies. That things was evidence, that I killed my daughter. My little Amy…
I stared at the dark spot. The longer I gazed at it, the darker it went. It made my mouth an acidic desert-like place. My hand hovered over it. Eventually, my fingertips brushed over the dried edges of the caked brown. The oxygen got up and left the room.
That smudge was everything Amy wasn’t… She has been our sun, the glue between our hours, days and nights, the blood of our bond…
I shifted my legs, and put my throbbing stiff one unto the coffee table. My sock was torn, big toe peeking from the knitted green wool. Under my heel one of the magazine towers collapsed and spilled to the floor.
The empty baked beans can wobbled and fell nearly off. I nudged it with my toe and pushed it back. It stood still again. Now it kept the almost empty Ravioli can company.
I had a whiskey bottle wedged into the couch, nestling between my left side and the elbow rest.
That was what numbed the pain best, as long as I kept my brain fogged up. I pulled it out. The black cap went off easily. Another wasted hour without being hammered. The smell of my armpits hit me.
I stared out of the living room window. Snowing. I didn’t bother to switch the lights on. No need for electric light chasing away the shadows in the room. It couldn’t chase away the shadows that mattered most.
The grey wooly darkness of the late winter afternoon bloomed forth into the room.
My old tattered shelves went up to the ceiling. The spines of the books crowded the space on the planks. They sucked up the rest of the light seeping in. Another ghostly night stretching its tentacles towards me, to pull me under and drown me in its cruel unnatural silence. I had to get there first.
I took a big gulp from the bottle. It burned. It burned all the way down to the midnight of my soul. But it burned much less, than Amy’s absence. Cold crept from my limbs into my guts. I hated this part most. It was a race. A goddamn race. The night was coming and I wasn’t drunk. Not yet. I had to turn up the volume of the misery static in my head! Everything was better than silence.
On bad days, I heard Amy running through the house, looking for me… “Daaaddydaddy?” She’d find me and hug me with all her might. „I wuv you this much!” Then she’d throw out her little hands as far as she could to show me how much. „Wuv me too?” I told her, I loved her more than the stars, the moon, the mountains and the woods together. „How big is that, daddy?” Then I’d throw out my arms, and she’d giggle her head off.
On unbearable days I saw Amy playing outside, in the snow. She’d play princess of the woods. Her quilt blanky draped around her little shoulders, like a cape. Pink beanie on top of her blonde piggy tails, matching pink mittens on her tiny hands. Then she’d stop mid-play to wave me and blow me kisses. And I’d wave back at her before I realize, that she wasn’t there. Outside, there was only trees and snow.
The lump in my throat grew bigger. How was it possible, that memories could punch such immense holes into my heart? I wished someone’d barge in and knock me out already.
Two years ago, my little darling died. Maria and I, we died with her. Our bodies and minds kept moving through this world on our oblivious courses. Maria stopped with nearly everything, except with cooking and baking. I barely ate, but Maria cooked anyway. She went shopping, and I threw out the food that went bad.
We didn’t talk. We let our tears die too. Then our marriage expired. Maria left me after eight month of constant grief, booze and silence.
I stopped sleeping. Hoping that I’d pass out, I emptied all whiskey bottles I could find. Nothing happened. I sat awake, day and night, reliving the worst day of my life.
The wind gusts swept over the tips of the huge firs around our house.
On that special sunny winter day, I went into the woods behind the shed to chop down a dead birch tree. Amy begged I let her come along. Maria complained, but I took her anyway. I told her to collect some cones for the fire in the kitchen. I pointed at the cones lying around couple of feet away. I turned around and heard her pleased child song, how she was the princess of the woods. My axe flew up and down. Her humming faded and got washed away by the rising storm. As the birch fell, I couldn’t hear her anymore.
Amy disappeared. I screamed for her, running around in the vicinity. How far could she wander off? The snowstorm howled, and I kept howling her name, till I coughed up blood.
She didn’t turn up… until two days later. The search party combed the area after the storm.
It was me, who found her tiny body under a half broken fir log several hundred yards away, from the spot I last saw her. I’d say it was just punishment.
I wrapped her in her blanket, she still had around her shoulders. I scooped her up and roared for Maria.
After that, everything was kind of a blur. Maria wailing, us three jumping into the pick up, my wife behind the wheel. We skid down the icy road to Points, where the doctor was.
And all I could do was to hold Amy tight, beg her to stay with me. She was so cold. Her tiny shape burnt itself into my arms, and I hardly could remember anything else. It seemed like an eternity.
Someone bent up my fingers, my arms, unwrapped me from Amy’s little broken body. The doctor talked to me. I saw his mouth move, though I never heard a sound.
His rubber gloved hand unwrapped the quilt. I saw what I had wrapped up, what I held in my arms. That wasn’t my Amy any more. It was a bloody rag doll.
Special Agent Eric Paulson stood in the doorway, with a goofy smile on his thin lips. He flicked away his still burning cigarette. Snowflakes melted on his grey stubby chin.
„Fuck. What do you want?” I asked. Bitterness seeped from the back of my throat. I wanted to spit it out, but words fell out instead. „Seven! Years!” No calls, no visits, no cards. He didn’t even call, when my daughter, Amy, died. I’d be damned if he doesn’t want to drag me back to the hell I’ve been through.
He was fast with flashing a smile. There it was, the I’m-better-than-you-look in his blue-green eyes. The look I died to smack out of his face, with a brick, or bottle, or a chair, or my fists. His dark hair was shorter, his build porkier than I remembered. He was doing well. The red parka he was wearing was too tight on his belly and arms.
His smile froze to an annoyed grin. He must have his reasons for coming all the way out here. „Is that all you got for me, Vince?” He pulled an offended grimace, and pushed me aside, to enter the hallway. “Unbelievable!” That was Eric Paulson all over. He stomped his feet on the doormat. With one hand he opened his ski parka and I slammed the door shut.
I needed a drink. I went to the kitchen to grab a bottle. Talisker Storm. I prayed, he came to visit out of pure friendliness, as a friend, as family. But I knew his hesitation in the hallway meant he had a case I should help him with. He stared at his boots, left hand absentmindedly stroking his jacket, where his breast pocket was. I knew that look of guilt… Long ago, Eric and me, we were a team. He was the agent, and I was the psychic profiler. We were match and gasoline.
„Prepared for the blizzard, buddy?” He attempted small talk. Futile, but I nodded. He inched my way, eyeballing the photos of Maria, Amy and me on the walls; reminders of my misery. My kitchen disgusted him, I noticed. Today it seemed peculiarly smaller and dirtier than usual, even to me. „It was clean last month.” I manned the whisky bottle and shook it at him. „Want some?” I asked by courtesy.
„You tell me, Vince,” he shrugged. „Don’t you see, what I’ll do?”
„It’s not working that way, Eric.” I turned and went to the twilit living room, switched the lights on. He followed me in silence. „You know that.” The bookshelves made the room look like a cave.
Outside, the snow came down in thick curtains. I couldn’t see his car. Up here, November hit us hard, with temperatures below 15 °F all week. The winter was gentle and silent around my house, the woods insulated me from the world. But I felt it roar in the valley, and down in Points.
I plunked down into the leather couch and tugged the patchwork quilt over my legs. Maria, my ex wife, made it during the two long years of our marriage, for Amy. She was adept with the needle and yarn, but she couldn’t take it, after the accident, after…
She left me the quilt, so she could forget. It covered my bad knee, which was cold and swollen. It hurt badly and I couldn’t hide it. Eric furrowed his brows. Was that concern?
„The Eric Paulson I know, wouldn’t dither,” I growled at him. Jaw muscles clenched together, my fist was a white ball of bone, sinew and muscle. The Eric Paulson I knew, was responsible for my stiff leg.
He breathed and rubbed his chin. „You know why I’m here, don’t you?” I gazed out of the window. “I need your help.” I shook my head and twisted the cap of the bottle off. “We got ourselves a phantom, a smart and cruel predator.” Eric continued unimpressed. “Maybe you can give us a new angle. We’re desperate! You’re our straw.” I stared into the bottle before my lips touched the liquor. No need for a glass, or ice. There was this hollow icy feeling leeching my stomach.
„We’ve found his sevenths victim yesterday. He is different. I haven’t seen anything like that in my whole life,” Eric told me. His presence woke something up in me. It stirred. “He isn’t satisfied with just killing them. No. He tortures them for days, breaks their bones, peels their skin off, while they are still alive.” Eric walked up and down in the room. “Vince! He’s a monstrosity, an abomination!” The first gulp burnt its way down into the midnight of my soul.
The smell of smoke and bunt hair hit me.
Eric came up close to me, observing my face intently. I must’ve spaced out. „Was the last victim burnt?” I asked, hoping he’d say no, but his eyes lit up instead. Poor man… That merited another gulp. „I hate you.”
Eric sat down on the coffee table in front of me. It creaked its complains. He plucked the bottle from my hand and held a plastic bag in front of my face. In the bag was something lathy, dark and stained. I swallowed, that was a knife of some kind, unusually thin.
„For the love of God… Eric, I don’t need more nightmares.” He wanted me touch it. “Why are you forcing me?” I didn’t need to be a psychic, to know where that thing had been before. Instantly, my phantasy went wild, flooding my consciousness with pictures of bloody pierced hearts, deflated lungs and slit throats.
„You play hermit in the woods? That’s okay,” his calm voice floated in the room. „You won’t talk to me, cause you’re teed off? That’s also okay.” He ruffled his dark hair. „I respect that, and I’m truly sorry for what happened. For what I did, but can’t take back…” He took a sip from the bottle, and pulled a grimace. „Alright. Be mad at me. That’s fine.” Eric looked at me like a beaten dog. “You expect the world to leave you alone?” His lips tightened. His left hand made a flat horizontal swiping gesture, as if covering something. „I’ll have none of that bullshit!” I stared at the star and heart patterns on the quilt. „Vincent, I really need your help! I’m not giving up on you. We all need your help. With your special abilities… It’s your duty to help.” I felt his despair seeping into me through the pores of my skin. “He sent us a picture of his next victim. A little girl, not older than five.”His voice picked up volume and urgency. “Help me solve this!”
We locked eyes. That face! I heard myself gasping. His hurt expression… His eyes wide and watered up, lips trembling, corners of his mouth pointing to his heart… He had that same look… The same look, when I had pulled him out of that car wreck. He was 17 and I was 19.
I couldn’t imagine how hard it’d punch me. I forgot that I still had these feelings in me. Why did I notice just now? Eric was exhausted. Something festered in him, something stinging, black and tar like. Something hungry…
And easy as that, I was his partner again. Ready to hug and comfort Eric, ready to watch his back…
I took the plastic bag, and my he smiled weakly. Between my fingers the knife slithered into my palms, snuggled into my left hand and wanted to be clutched tightly. A lefty. My hands felt wet and warm, the blade seemed to pulsate, like a beating heart. I sent out my thoughts like tentacles.
„It’s not a gift…” The smell of blood was overwhelming. „It’s a condition, ruining my life.” I told myself, and forced my stomach back down. „I think, I got something. Take notes, Eric, I’ll forget everything in about half an hour, or so.” My body plummeted, my mind trickled down my navel, like sand in an hourglass. “He’s a lefty and went to college. Had good to mediocre grades but dropped out. He prefers to work with his hands. He’s in his forties. I get the feeling of clay on my hands… Maybe pottery, maybe gardening. Overly adjusted. Most likely married, but his little wifey is clueless, so is everyone else in his social vicinity.” I swallowed, my body grew heavier, my vision blurred. „He needs glasses.”
Heavy knocks echoed through the house, made me jump. The door trembled under the beating. Eric nodded towards the hallway. „Go on. Open the door. It’s an officer with more information you need.”
The hard labor of standing up started and the quilt slit down to the carpet. Eric took a big gulp of my good wisky, while I hobbled to the door. He was right. It was a man in uniform at the entrance. His police car sat obediently in my driveway, lights flashing. Where was Eric parking?
„Good afternoon, sir. I’m Officer Peterson, Hampshire County Police. Are you Mister Samson? Mister Vincent Samson?”
„Yes.” I answered. Suddenly, I didn’t like how things summed up. The icy feeling dropped deeper.
„I’m sorry that I have to tell you.” He breathed. “Your ex partner, special agent Eric Paulson, was killed, yesterday, in the line of duty.”
„I’m sorry for your loss… He was on his way here, to beg for your expertise as profiler.” Officer Peterson harrumphed. “There is something else… His little daughter was kidnapped.”
The screen flickered to life. A simulation of the landscape hidden under the thick blue methane and helium clouds unraveled itself. My custom navigation grid stretched over it, and listed all promising magnetic anomalies in the partially viscous crust. Areas of seismic instability stretched further into the polar regions. That was what the analysis program showed me in the lower right corner. I threw out my right index and thumb and the writing faded away. I did not plan to stick around to witness any crust activity.
Through the bull’s eye the surface seemed so peaceful and lush blue. It reminded me of Earth. The upper atmosphere showed a relievo ribbon of white clouds further to north to our orbiting position.
What bothered me most were the atmospheric pockets and the wind velocity, unpredictable and vicious. Even the CPU had problems showing me depressurization timely. Scooter was approaching faster than the simulations showed. Something was off. I had less time than calculated. That peacefully looking blue under me was deadly. It was ready to tear me and my glider to shreds. If anything went wrong, I could only hope for a fast death.
To my right side the com came to life. „Crap,” I sighed. Of all crew members on duty it must be him.
„What did you just say?” Rains’s guttural voice filled the tiny cabin of my glider. I didn’t have time to put up with his yapping, so I ignored him diligently. „Decker? Protocol?” The best I could do for now, but he was one annoying fellow. „Do you copy?” I’d sign him up, if there was an Olympic discipline called annoying. I bet he’d be top ten. “Decker!”
“No time, Rains.” I needed to focus. „Buckle up!” This was going to be quite a ride. I pulled my straps tighter and started the sequence. The countdown appeared on the screen. Ten seconds to detachment.
„Decker! Is this your idea of—„ I pinched my fingers together and the tone died instantly. I grinned into the video feed and watched Rains ugly face deteriorate.
Five seconds. Rains was signing me something. First he pointed at me with his index, then he seemingly slammed his middle finger into the screen. Ouch. I only could imagine how pissed he must be, losing this bet to me, so I blew him a kiss. I got to be dolphin and he had to be mother hen. My name was going down in history, not his. The first human to drift with Scooter around Neptune.
A deep rattling went through my seat, and my stomach lifted off. My glider shuddered and moaned as the winds caught my wing panels. Rapid acceleration swept me to the left, and the glider bucked. Scooter’s vanguard storms caught me in a powerful stream. Air speed indicators spiraled insanely. Exceeding sound velocity! Already! Although I was sealed in properly, I felt the static charge stinging on my skin, even the air tasted sour. I imagined the sonic boom reaching Rains, making him spill his hot coffee.
Stabilizers were screaming, thrusters working at maximum performance. The blue darkened to a steel-gray. The slipstream sucked me down into the lower regions of the atmosphere and the storm picked up speed. The grey withered to a blueish black. The wind screamed around my little plane. Unbelievable! Lightning flashed inside, nearly blinding me. Everything shook, sounded as if someone was throwing rocks at me. Must be hail, methane hail. God of hull integrity stay with me.
Scooter was approaching. I was the very first human to meet it. The first one to see its funnel. Face to face with the to fastest cyclone in the solar system.
My cabin was lit dimly by the instruments and screens. The read-outs went head over heels. I couldn’t make out a thing, the information was changing so fast. Simulation toppled over simulation, illuminating the darkness washing in from outside. The hail went as fast as it appeared, leaving me with a cracked porthole. Between the towering cloud formations I was just a speckle thrown into a blender.
To my right Rains was still there, waving his hands frantically, mouth moving like a dying fish. I unmuted him, and a thunderous scream filled the audio feed. I jumped in my seat.„You—„
Rains looked as startled as I was. He furrowed his brows. The scream lowered in tone and volume to a metallic screeching and low-key buzzing.
„Wind? Interference?” I don’t know if I was audible. No reaction from Rains.
Then the screeching got louder and louder. It filled my cabin, my head, the console. It got so loud that I tried to put my hands over my ears, although I was in my suit.
I saw Rains muting my audio feed and staring at me.
The noise got louder and louder. It hurt. It clawed at my eardrums, tore on my nerves. The air felt hot. I smelled blood. Rains eyes bulged.
Can it get even louder? Nausea was on it’s way. Unbearable! My stomach shook, my lungs vibrated.
I screamed at the noise.
I screamed at Rains.