green goes great with bruises

  • content warning
  • HWWF 2015 assignment

„Nice…” Mary licked her lips with concentration. She bowed down over her right hand. „Careful now!” She whispered to herself.

The nail polish brush stroked evenly over the arch of her right middle finger. The creamy butter yellow of the coffee table clashed with the sparkling aquamarine of her nails.

The dull metronome on the kitchen wall ticked away a bit too loud. Shabby thing, she thought. The new photo wallpaper of King’s Cross Station, she put up herself, didn’t go well with the white and green porcelain clock. Mike brought it back from some garage sale. Yesterday she saw a golden rimmed station clock on the shopping channel. That would go just fine.

On the big TV screen, Emily Garner’s Jewelry Show flickered on mute. Pearl earrings and pendants waltzed into full shot. Mary leaned back and chuckled. Those earrings were pricier when she bought them last week. „Ha!” She felt lucky, hunting down the best bargains. That was her world. She could start as a pro-shopper. That’d be a great job, her dream job, in fact. Being the wife of a private eye was boring her out of her mind. Mike was nice, but never glamorous, or mysterious. Mediocre at best. The last time he wore a smoking was at their wedding.

The keys chimed as her husband rammed them into the lock of the entrance door.

„Home, hon!” Mike’s voice disturbed Mary in her admiration for the peridot pendant on the screen. She turned up the volume.

„Kaaay!” She said, eyes glued to the TV.

„Dinner?” Mike asked head poking into the living room, but Mary didn’t answer. After waiting several seconds he went investigating the kitchen instead. Nothing. The stove was cold, and there was nothing prepared in the fridge. The freezer was stuffed with frozen lasagna, and something that looked like mac’n cheese. “Dammit, Mary.” He closed the freezer and sighed. He had enough of these kind of welcomes. He felt like someone had put his head into a bucket full with ice, and his heart on the grill. „Hey, Mary? What’s for dinner?”

„What you order, Mike!” She hollered from the couch. He just stood there, head hung, arms perched on the kitchen counter. He tried to breathe in deeply. This wasn’t what he wanted to come home to. After all those hours in the car, on stakeouts, he longed for something home cooked. For something that could warm him, from the inside, like the thanksgiving dinners his grandma had made.

Mary was different. She ate like a bird, when she wasn’t on some weird diet. Everything to fit into her fancy clothes. She had absolutely no passion for cooking, music, or movies. Everything he loved. The only thing on her mind was money, jewels and fancy clothing. She worked hard for her ideal beauty, that he had to admit. But beauty was only skin deep.

Mike picked up the phone and dialed. „H’lo, yeah. I’d like to order a big pizza. Yeah, uh-huh. Top it with extra cheese, anchovies, olives, onions, salami and bacon.” Mike walked over to his wife, poked her on the shoulder, and pointed a finger to the phone. She shook her head. „Yeah. To 2352, Remington Avenue. Yeah, okay. You too.” Mike put the phone back. He thought of a shower, but decided to have a smoke instead.

Mary didn’t allow him to light a cig inside. It made the curtains yellow, she used to say. Somehow, it was convenient. He wanted out, so he could breathe again. He grabbed the lighter and threw a look at his wife, marveling at some stupid jewelry. Shopping channel. Again. He decided to take a closer look at their bank account. He’d be damned if he missed her addiction, or something. His shoulder leaned against the door, he slowly pushed down the handle.

In the living room, Mary snuggled into the couch cushions. That necklace with jade and gold was breathtaking. Only four hundred ninety nine! They were kidding. So cheap! The dark haired model wore it with a dark green satin robe, with a deep décolleté. She looked astounding. Mary scrambled to get the phone. She dialed.

The entrance door blew open. The sound made her jump, and the phone fell to the ground. „MARY!” Mike roared from the entrance. She stood. He was hunched over, carrying something big and heavy in his arms.

„What the… Stop that! Don’t carry the trash back in!” No! That was a human! It dawned on her the instant she closed her mouth. Dirty sneakers, black jeans, black hoodie, a hand flopped down and dangled lifeless from Mike’s grip. She couldn’t look away.

“Come on! Don’t just stand there!” Mary didn’t move, eyes bulging. “I found him outside, behind the trash cans.” He groaned, the man was heavy.

She scrambled to make room. “Is he… Is he?” She stuttered.

Mike laid him on the couch. “No.” Now she saw, it was a young man, limp and dirty and senseless. Blonde hair, bleeding from several cuts on brows, cheek, nose and mouth. His face was blueish purple on the left side.

„Oh god,” she gasped, hands covering her mouth. Mike turned around looking at her. She’d pass out, if she had time to get worked up.

“Water, towel, peroxide. Now.” She rushed into the bathroom. Mike’s hands seeked for a pulse. His face relaxed, „strong and steady.” He stroked over the man’s brows with his thumbs, then on the jawline. No crepitation, that was good. His hands checked shoulders, elbows, hands. Seemingly okay. Nothing broken, as far as he could see. He pulled the lower eyelids down. White. Eyes rolled back into his skull.

Mary came back with everything he asked for. “Most likely, it’s a nasty concussion. Don’t worry,” the pained expression on her face didn’t ease. He smiled at her. She was pale, her eyes glowed with the fire he used to love. There was a glint of the magic Mary meant, so perfect, so kind and caring. She was still alive in there, just hiding all these years, in the skin of this person he married. He was relieved that it still existed. For a moment, he imagined Mary’s beautiful face and her burning eyes above him, glowing in the darkness, rocking above him… Rocking him. His mouth went dry.

„Hon, I’ll go check outside,” she looked at him anxiously, „please clean him up a bit.” She was just nodding holding tight the bowl with the water. He needed to breathe.

Mary knelt down beside the man. „Why us?” she asked. The man on the couch looked peaceful, like a sleeping child. In fact he seemed to be in his early twenties, a lot younger than she thought. Her fingers wetted the cloth. The smell was overwhelming. Carefully she touched the face. She could tell, it was beautiful, even with dirt caked on his temples and the back of his head. His brows were long, lips arched like a Mongolian reflex bow. Under her hands, the skin became brighter and brighter. She set the bowl down and cupped his bruised cheek with her hand.

His eyes flew open. Green!

That moment broke into her, like a green bottle’d burst into million shards glistening in the sunlight. She gasped. The green focused on her, it begged her barely audible. “Please…” How gorgeous he was… She’d cut herself on that green. How sweet that pain would be! The green hid again behind his eyelids. A tear ran down the bruised cheek. She felt the young man sink back into the softness of unconsciousness. Mary stared in awe. She smiled a little embarrassed smile. She blushed and wondered how anyone could hurt such a lovely being.

She took his hand and squeezed it. “I’ll take good care of you now. Everything is going to be alright.” She whispered into his ear.

the stain

part 1  (part 2 here; part 3 here)

  • 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.

stray cat son

This assignment is a scene with two characters, thinking/talking about a third character. In Nr1 it is the point of view of one character, then the second character gets the spotlight.

#1

I imagined the fat headlines, the news reports, the sleek trial.

‚Private eye, Mike Fletcher, brings down corrupt mayor.’

I had only one shot. No one would listen to an old fart like me twice. Ever. I needed a safe place for the evidence. Justice could only be served, if I played my cards right. Huh, I would be famous. Either way…

Ah, my back was killing me. I loved my GTO, but I payed a high toll for these stakeouts. Sitting tight for hours, painful and boring. Not that I wasn’t used to pain or boredom. It tempted me to barge into the mayoral office, guns blazing. Patience wasn’t really my forte, the waiting tore on my nerves. I longed to let my inner Clint Eastwood out.

For a change, I wasn’t alone. I had company.

Benny was sleeping in the passenger seat. Head sunk on his chest, dark hair hanging over his forehead, skinny arms resting in his lap. He looked so peaceful, that I nearly believed the world was a good place. Inside the GTO, it was solid and light and warm. It was alive.

Two month ago, Benny strayed to. I found him behind my bins, the crap beaten out of him. Face bleeding, swollen blue and black. Beyond recognition. No money or ID.

Maybe it was only a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe not. I spent half of my days on the wrong side of the tracks. I understood. It was easy to decide that the boy had enough hard luck. I carried him inside.

Mary, my wife, was at first shocked, then delighted. She started to pamper the kid, obsessed over him. We had no children of our own, so she dumped all of her suppressed love unto him, trying to drown him.

Lucky me, she stopped most of her nagging, busying herself with the needs of a teenage boy. She stopped chewing my ear off, about the house, the job and the money.

Benny said he was eighteen. A lie, but it was okay with me. He claimed he had no home, no family or friends. Surely, he had his reasons. I didn’t ask, and he didn’t tell. Since then, I half expected to find his bed cold and empty, every early morning. But he was there, and he kept being there.

Benny stirred.

A week ago, he begged me, to take him with me on the job. Mary was livid, but the kid stood his ground. She had to give in. There was more to him, than the obviously too young streetwise kid. I knew that, but she only saw the bruised boy in need. Mary whined, that Benny was our God-sent son. She prayed he’d stay forever, and called that her love.

I went with the idea, that he was our stray cat son. He could leave anytime, I wanted him to be free. If that was what he needed… Sometimes it was easy. I knew exactly what I could do to comfort him. A hand on his shoulder, or a hug, sometimes the silence of being left alone.

Usually he fell back on being sad, when he thought no one was looking. He kept himself busy with napping and eating. I always had the feeling, that he tried to catch up on things he missed, like a refugee.

And by night? Hell, I had no idea what he did. I heard the windows open and close. Obviously he snuck out. As far as I was concerned, he could be batman’s sidekick, or a guerrilla gardener or a drug dealer. As long as he came back, I was good.

My cigarette died. Mary smelled the tobacco anyway. I needed a stretch. The car door squealed, as I got out of the GTO.

„What’s up old-timer? Crackin’ somethin’portant?” Benny yawned from the passenger seat.

„Wanna kiss your teeth goodbye, bucko?” Hmpf, called me old-timer. I could kick his ass anytime. Benny stretched in the seat, in his twisted cat manner, letting his joints click loudly. That sound drove me up the walls. „Ugh, stop that!” It sounded spine crawling, like the dry snapping of bones. „Wanna eat?” I asked him. I was hungry too. He nodded.

#2

The birdman behind the counter opened his beak and jarred.

‚What the fuck?’

He grabbed me by the elbow and sent me flying into a deep pit. It hurt. I landed on my back, in a bed of black feathers. It felt sticky, then sharp pain clawed into my limbs. Tiny needles pierced my skin.

‚Ow! Not nice. Hey! Lady! Gimme a hand outta here!’

A woman, very similar to Mary Fletcher stood at the edge of the pit. Or was that a giant bird nest? She smiled.

‚Fuck.’

That was no ordinary smile, so wide! So impossibly wide… With way too many teeth! I swallowed. All teeth. What was that in her hand? A burning match! Oh God! She threw it.

‚NO!

The feathers combusted! My lungs burnt as I inhaled the flames.

‚Mike!’

An iron grip pulled me under the surface.

‚HELP!’

My body and mind plummeted side by side into the blackness of my nightmare. I jolted awake.

‚Okay.’

I was in a car. Nothing burned. Mike’s car.

‚Just breathe.’

He wasn’t in the car. Where was he? I couldn’t move.

‚Calm down!’

Everything was fine. I was okay. No one torched me. I puffed. The air felt hot, smelled of leather and tobacco. I rubbed my face. The shirt Mike gave me was wet. Tongue stuck to my palate, lips hurt, my throat was stinging and dry. Felt like I ate all the dust from the Gobi desert.

Through the dirty windshield, the orange sun shone in. I must have slept nearly the whole day. I saw Mike standing near the open driver’s door.

‚Thank God.’

He did some clumsy stretching. His back must hurt, he groaned. Googling for hours at that stupid house, and the traffic did nothing for your health. Same went for smoking and drinking booze, coffee. Doing drugs, numb the existence… But people did that anyway, didn’t they? And I did that too.

‚Yeah, but why me?’

Man, I wished I wasn’t the one to tell him. Mike would hate me for this. Even I hated me for this.

‚But it’s fuckin’ necessary.’

Yeah. It was… Was there ever a right time for such news?

‚No, never…’

I tried to tell him a couple of times during the week. But how did you tell someone you liked, that his wife was cheating on him? Beyond that, she loathed him, she hated everything he said, owned or did. I swallowed.

How to tell, that Mary deliberately walked in on me, while showering. That she tried to touched me, to kiss me, to seduce me. She snuck into my bed, when I slept. I wouldn’t stay any longer with her alone in that house.

‘No… Just yank that patch off. Fast. Easy.’

It’d hurt anyway. I couldn’t bring myself to break Mike’s heart. He loved her. He said it so many times before. He was lucky being married to her.

‚Yeah, lucky like a man having a rusty knife rammed between his ribs.’

He told me the stupid nauseating story about how they met and how they kissed. Romantic bullshit. I’d never understand that. And if I kept it to myself?

‚Wrong! And you know it.’

Mike’s face was pale and tired. He deserved the truth. I had to repay him somehow for the kindness. For everything he had done for me. I owed him that. At least.

He never asked any questions. He was there, patiently waiting for me to begin with my story.

„What’s up old-timer? Crackin’ somethin’portant?” I was hungry. He leant down, supporting himself forearms on the door and car top, and grinned.

„Wanna kiss your teeth goodbye, bucko?” As if he’d ever be able to catch me. Ha! I stretched more and my joints clicked into place. „Ugh, stop that!” But I wasn’t done with stretching. “Wanna eat?” I nodded.

almost friends

almost friends

– 1 –

I slouched on my bunk and stared at the ceiling hologram revolve. It was the boiling ocean throwing itself against the rocks of some shore. It was Kageshima’s time to watch the sea. In about one hour I would change it to the starry night sky over the Sonoran Desert. This was relax time, after a 25 hour shift on the transporter taking us to the mining regions in the asteroid belt.

With us I meant, Ivanov, Rico, Kageshima and me. Captain Rizzo would remain on board. Five men wedged into a tin can floating through the black emptiness of the space, heading towards some expensive rocks and dirt. The journey we just started would take seven months.

Kageshima was moving, and I watched him start his tai chi exercises. Eyes closed, concentrating on his movements, his muscles worked under his soft skin. I pulled my prosthetic leg in, so he’d have enough space.

I heard he had a fight with drunk Rizzo. It ended with calling names and a bloody nose. No doubt it was self defense on Kageshima’s behalf.

Rizzo was doing the job for over twenty years, and he was lonely. The booze must’ve killed enough neurons that he’d try to hit on Kageshima. On a ship like this, there wasn’t much else to do than drinking, and facing the one eyed snake. And Kageshima had a distinctly feminine appearance, small and slender, long lashes over dark almond eyes. That old fart went insane over any trace of feminity.

“You’re officially classified as liquid, Kintaro.” I told him, and decided to watch his back from now on. Rizzo wouldn’t dare to pick a fight with me. I’d break him in half, with my pinky. 

“Sumimasen, sorry?” He turned to me confused.

“You move like a bengalese tiger.” I stated and meant to be appreciative. Kageshima pulled a sour face instead.

“Ian, don’t say that.” Did I hit a nerve? Why was he stressed? “Did Jefferson set you up? He did, didn’t he?” His black eyes glistened, his cheeks boiled. 

“Rico?” I shook my head. “What do you mean? Set up?”

“Nothing in special, just curious.” Kageshima lied. He was bad at it! Why would he lie? What was wrong? “You two know each other for long?” He asked carefully. I had the feeling that I needed to be wary, for some reason. Kageshima sat down, beside me.

“Well, yes. We already worked for five years together. On Gorgo Beta. A mining ship. He saved my life.” I patted my prosthetic left leg. “I was sent out to repair one of the giant waldos, and Rico was instructing me. Somehow, I got my security line tangled up in the hydraulics, and when the gear slammed back into motion, the gripper went online… You can imagine. It caught and yanked me into the grinder mechanism.” I tapped my left prosthetic arm and eye. “It tore my arm from its socket, ripped my leg straight off.” Kageshima’s eyes lock on mine.

“So… Rico’s your best friend.” It sounded flat, as if he was stating it to himself. He looked at me and smiled. It was a sorrowful smile, the saddest I ever saw on a man’s face.

“Yeah…” That was a strange reaction. “Come on, he’s the funniest guy. You’ll like him, once you get to know him.” I tried, but Kageshima stood up.

“Let’s talk later, Ian.” He said and resumed his exercises.

– 2 –

There was a killer on board. I had seven month to unravel his identity and to pin him down. I went through the received data from the ministry. The profiles of Rico Jefferson and Ian Dervall were promising. I could rule Ivanov and Rizzo out, after today’s incident. Rizzo really thought I’d be defenseless. He won’t make the same mistake again.

I shared my room with Dervall, a huge afro-american cyborg with sand colored eyes. He occupied the lower bunk, I had the upper. A quiet man, with the average of ten words and two facial expression a week.

My first thought upon meeting him was, that he was Jefferson’s brute lap dog. The way he followed him everywhere, like a shadow. Gaining his trust was most important. I started with him, and see where it takes me.

I knew he and Jefferson had a history together. They worked for five years on the same mining ship, most likely side by side. It was that time, when Dervall had his accident, leaving him a ruin of a human being. I’ve read the log data and the surveillance feed transcript on that accident. It was fishy. Someone had it altered. I wondered why though…

On the ceiling, the ocean hurled and splashed against rocks. It was the comfort holo for the passengers, designed to keep us happy. Depression was common during these long flights. I chose it to soothe Dervall’s alertness to my actions. Monotony was a cyborg’s weak spot.

I used the time for tai chi, to let my thoughts fly. A clear mind is a most effective mind. “You’re officially classified as liquid, Kintaro.” Dervall said. I mustn’t let him know that I was capable of killing him with bare hands. My moves could betray me.

“Sumimasen, sorry?” I managed.

“You move like a bengalese tiger.” He added a gummy full teeth smile. Did he see through?

“Ian, don’t say that.” I hoped not. It’d be very inconvenient if he sussed me. “Jefferson set you up? He did, didn’t he?” I tried.

“Rico?” He shook his head confused. “What do you mean? Set up?”

“Nothing in special, just curious.” I thought of his pain and suffering. I sat down on his bed. “You two know each other for long?” I looked at what was left of him, lining of scar-tissue ripping his perfect dark skin to ribbons, stitched up with nearly skin tone prosthetics.

“Well, yes. We already worked for five years together. On Gorgo Beta. A mining ship. He saved my life.” He patted his prosthetic leg. “I was sent out to repair one of the giant waldos, and Rico was instructing me. Somehow, I got my security line tangled up in the hydraulics, and when the gear slammed back into motion, the gripper went online… You can imagine. It caught and yanked me into the grinder mechanism.” What if that wasn’t an accident? What if it was a cover up for something else? Dervall tapped his left arm and eye. “It tore my arm from its socket, ripped my leg straight off.” Did he even remember how it happened? I doubted that.

In his eyes, I could only see the dullness of a man under heavy medication. “So… Rico’s your best friend.”

“Yeah…” He furrowed his brows. “Come on, he’s the funniest guy. You’ll like him, once you get to know him.” I bet! Something told me that Jefferson was a dangerous man. I had to be very careful about this.

I stood up. “We’ll talk later, Ian.” My body went on with the exercises, but my mind raced.


This short story was an assignment for HWWF 2015. The task was to interpret a dialogue from two different points of view, and that the characters talk about a person not present, lighting two different sides of that absent character.

the shape I’m in

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.”

—No!

„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.”

Sleipnir

Sleipnir

this is an assignment I’m working on and thought of sharing with you guys-

also content warning: strong language

 

„Where’s – the horse?“ The words. So hard. To speak. Heavy. My eyelids are heavy as stonework. I swat at the light in my eyes and the fingers forcing them open.

„What horse?” The light hurts. Who’s voice is that?

„That kicked me. Somewhere…Chest” Sighing. „Proto?“ The light and fingers retract. The floor is spinning, so I have to hold tight.

Above me, a silhouette fogs up. „Don’t you scare me like that, EVER again!” I know that uniform, that shape. A captain-shaped uniform! Huh… What’s he doing here?

I’m soaked and flat on my back. „Still on the ship, aren’t I?”

„Aye. Still on board of my Sleipnir.“ His words fall on my stomach, their weight make me nauseous. My head is empty. Think! What am I doing down here? Something went wrong. Dosage? Anaphylactic reaction? Why am I wet?

„Oriented to location. Now tell me your name.” I obey.

„Oz. I mean Oscar Wellington. Doctor.”

„Good. Who am I? Don’t roll your eyes, you know the drill. Location, person, time, situation.” Yes. I know the drill.

„2198.“ I don’t have to think. „You’re the captain. Edward Wong.”

A disappointed shade crawls over his face. Or is it anger? I can’t tell. „Do I have to run a drug test on you? Were you high, or what?! How do you explain THIS?” He waves at me, the destroyed electronics and scattered data sheets on the floor. „Why were you locked in, and floating facedown in that tank? Spill it!”

Everything’s smashed… I sit up. Just look at that mess! My work! „I-I dunno.” Six months research! What happened here? “Wires?” What am I hooked up to? A defibrillator unit… „How many shocks did I get?”

“One to 250 and three to 310 Joules. Jumpstarting you wasn’t easy. I might have cracked or broken some of your ribs.”  He looks at his hands, as if they were bloody. “It looked like you wouldn’t make it.”

„Explains why I feel like a schnitzel…”

Eddy’s eyes search for mine. I can’t stand the look. „Who did this?”

Why was I fully dressed, if I was doing a hibernation experiment? “I’m sorry—„ I start pulling off the electrodes of my chest and back. “I can’t remember. All I know is… I was testing new chemical compounds.” My first accident ever. Cardiac arrest is not an option… Strix Genome won’t be pleased with my near-death-experience… Of course, this is not the first accident with hibernation research anyway. CPR is taking long, which means that my electrolyte metabolism is off balance… Where is my safe guard? Where is Proto?

“You mean, you did this on purpose?!” Eddy bellows. “You little prick! You asshat! You were DEAD! No breathing! No pulse! What do you call that?! Fuckin’ power-napping?” Oh-uh. That shade of red can’t be healthy. A human volcano is going to spit a ball of anger right into my face.

“Eddy, I’m sorry.” He grabs my torn shirt and pulls me up to his face, lips tightening.”- Really sorry. Okay?”

“–NO! What if I hadn’t pulled you out in time? Or the liquid destroyed your lungs? There are no prosthetics on board! And you are THE doctor. IDIOT! Even downloading and printing would take nearly half a day!” He lets go and turns to leave, but has some powder left. He’s not done. „Where’s your lapdog? Where is Proto? Isn’t it supposed to watch your back? PROTO? Where are you hiding, you little shit?”

“HE is doing research. I sent him.” At least, I think I did.

The captain turns to the surveillance panel in the medical unit. „Don’t make me laugh! Babe? Who’s on board?”

„Captain, Edward Wong. Doctor, Oscar Wellington. My robot pilots, ninety-six maintenance robots, and my neural hub.” The Sleipnir answers in a flat tone.

„See?” Eddy gives me the I-told-you-so-look. „Where is Proto?” he asks.

„Proto is – not on board.” WHAT?! „His suit is – not on board. Scanning… Scanners are jammed.” Another I-told-you-so-look.

No! Where is Proto? He is priceless! He is a being between an AI and a human clone. A miracle, if you ask me.  For the captain, he’s just an AI, in a meat suit…

With a soft purring of the Sleipnir interrupts. “Warning. Warning. Collision imminent.”

“What the hell is going on?!” The captain shouts sprinting out of my lab.

bad faith

bad faith

*

I couldn’t wait for the wonderful taste of coffee in my mouth, even if it came from the vending machine. The first sip burnt my tongue and palate. I killed my tastebuds. Again.

I needed that hot, bitter, liquid bliss to keep me awake, so I won’t miss my bullet train. Destination? Kazakhstan, a strip of godforsaken blood and kerosine soaked land, the New I.C. Baikonur.

I got hired by Strix United for a top secret job. My paycheck was going to kick my last year’s paycheck’s ass.

The narrow platform was empty. Walking towards the passenger waiting area, I thought of lighting a cigarette. The seats looked cold and uninviting and the info screen showed 2:40 am. 3:30 the Kowaljonok Express would arrive.

Still fifty minutes to kill, so I sat down and stuffed my bag under the seat. I hooked one of my bag’s straps around one ankle. If anybody tried to snatch it, the yank would wake me.

I was battling exhaustion and it was winning. My eyes burned my head ached, my thoughts slow and sticky. It felt like my skull was stuffed with cotton candy.

For the last two days I couldn’t get any sleep, so my body was extremely tempted to fall into a slumber.

I rolled a stolen persimmon between my palm and my jeans. I had it pocketed in the Cafe, where the Strix guy gave me my tickets.

I couldn’t stop myself from yawning. Forty-four hours awake were nothing to sneeze at.

„Hey, Mihail!” A male voice from behind made me jump. I must’ve dozed off. „Where you go?” How could he sneak up on me? I squeezed the paper cup too hard. The hot liquid burnt the back of my palm and between my fingers. The coffee splashed as the cup hit concrete.

I craned my neck to express my feelings towards the stranger. A bad idea, it dawned on me a second later, but I was sleep deprived.

I felt the impact of a fist smashing into my cheek bone. My head tried to fall off, into a black starry pool. I didn’t see that coming. I groaned… Probably. It stung.

The pain sliced trough the fog of dizziness. Good for me. Now I was pissed, and didn’t need to hold back. This guy deserved what was coming, and I had an excuse to let off steam.

I ducked under his next punch and landed a body shot on the lower ribcage. With a growl he swung his arms very much like a stuffed grizzly would swat flies. No doubt, he was drunk. I could smell vodka and onions.

I caught his wrist and flung him unto my side of the seats. His surprised howl ended in a tubby whoomph. He smooched the platform.

Man, I could use a cig.

From the looks, he was someone’s muscle man, not the smart kind. Confusing me with some crook, what a jerk.

He whimpered, pulled himself into a tight knot. I tried to exhale the fire that boiled my lungs. It wasn’t working.

The man on the ground lashed out, his kick nearly crashed into my knee. For a drunk he was fast, tackling me, sending both of us flying. I smacked his ears. On my feet, I had him in a head lock. He won’t give up easily, I could tell.

“Who is Mihail,” I asked him as calm as possible.

“Dog,” he grunted and struggled.

*

“That’s no answer.” I tell the reeking drunk man in my stranglehold. He tugs at my jacket, my fingers. No one gets out of my headlock.

He calls me Mihail.

My name is not Mihail.

The polished chrome on the side of the vending machine reflects us, me and Mister Vodka here. We’re dancing, I drag him further up the platform and he shoves me back.

This happens when I’m tired, I get irritable.

I overreact.

The purple color of the guy’s head tells me, he’ll lash out. Nearly unconscious, he’ll put all his strength into one final punch. Get there first! I lean my weight unto his, so he has to balance both of us. That keeps him from hitting me, just have to squeeze a little harder.

His saliva drops from my hands on my jeans and shoes. Disgusting. Almost there, just a tiny bit more and he’s cold out. Though he is built like a bull, he isn’t used to violence. I can tell. He has no idea how to free himself. He gasps like a carp in grass. „Pomosh…”

His struggling gets weaker. “Pomosh,” he gargles. Why is he grunting for help?

I feel him relax under my grip, arms dangling. I let him keel over. He falls like a log, a vodka soaked, stupid log.

My cheek stings again, the heat eats my face, blooms into my skull. It’s going to be some nasty bruise.

I hope nothing’s broken. My vision blurs a bit, a dark cloud over my eye. The skin around it feels puffy. Dull pain throbs through my eye socket as my fingertips touch it. Shit.

People talk shit. People get funny ideas. And easy as that, they will call me pansy. This is just great! Why is this always happening to me? Look at the spilled coffee! I needed that. And the machine ate my change.

The screen on the platform shows 3:15. My train will arrive soon.

I can’t let the man lie here. He looks like an attraction.

The Russians aren’t too happy about a foreigner beating up one of their kin. Calling the police will definitely delay me, and I have a first class ticket all the way to Kazakhstan. Besides, I think they give the job to someone else, if I’m late…

“Show up or blow up.” That’s what the funny Strix guy said to me. So, Mister Vodka has to go.

I could ditch him from the other side of the platform, unto the rail tracks. He’d be out of sight…

I don’t think somebody would miss him… Much.

No worries, I’m the motherly type.

I’ll make sure he doesn’t suffocates on his own vomit. Even if he’d merit a kick in the teeth for attacking me. I’ll just drag him behind the vending machine, and leave him there.

And I need some coins for another coffee. Let’s have a look.