The Blind Spyle

My vision flickers back and I see through the blurry red haze of the wound over my eye. The girl still lies unconscious under the light of a lantern, in the centre of a mess of shattered cobblestones and crisscrossing tracks. The cool night air smarts against the deep cut across my face. I’m on the ground, in the perfect darkness of an alleyway, removed from the light of the street. I know I need to get back into the light. Struggling against bloodless, wobbling legs, I rise and start forward toward the girl.

Abruptly, the light of the street blacks out as something moves between me and the girl. I freeze, and catch the rising gasp in my throat by clamping a hand over my mouth. A cold surge crawls through every individual branch of my spine. The reeking breaths of disintegrated flesh waft into my face and worsen my horrific nausea. If the thing were any closer, I would be touching it. Even in this dark, I’m so close that I start to make out the thing, and I immediately shut my eyes.

I shut my eyes so I won’t see the bony, plate-like structures protruding from its eye sockets, covering most of its blind face. I won’t see the taut folds of skin around its mouth which is pulled into a constant, demonic grin, or the clefted upper lip that further disfigures its visage and showcases several sets of small, jagged teeth. I won’t see the purple tongue that twitches eagerly in the putrid recesses of its maw.

I do chance a fleeting look past the thing, and I see the girl starting to stir. But my eyes stray too close, and I can make out the raised tendons in the thing’s neck vibrating as it begins to growl, softly, unsure. Slowly, soundlessly, I stray my free hand behind me for something– anything– and my heart twitches between its pounding beats as my hand closes around a spur of rebar left among the detritus of the alley.

It must smell the tang of my blood in the air because it won’t leave. I draw the spike of metal toward my side more slowly and hesitantly than I’ve ever moved. The thing seems to grow ever so slightly less confident, and it cocks its head in a birdlike motion. Just as the bar is about to rise totally free of the ground, it rasps almost imperceptibly against something in the dark. I jerk my head back as far as I can without stumbling backwards because the thing surges instantly forward, looses a snarl echoing down the alley. The pale, rippling body is about to crash into me. The rebar is entirely free now, and as fast as I can I whip it in a furious arc towards the thing.

Small Talk

The uncaring sea roils around the mazelike archipelagos of synthetic coral that support the floating city’s looming skyscrapers, which are being perpetually buffeted by massive sprays of brackish water. Lich-like rays of pallid light struggle through the low, black clouds and fall onto the buildings, painting the city an unholy green. A flash erupts from within the clouds, and a rumble echoes through the skyscrapers. A curtain of icy rain begins to sweep into the city, further reducing the visibility in the ill-defined light of the storm.

Both the authorities and the city’s employs have long since vacated the vast rooftop plazas and commons and have taken shelter inside the plastic-steel walls of their gigantic ivory towers. The only places where people can still be found outdoors are the slums, on the edges of the city, where the skyscrapers seem to fall away into the ocean and leave only the exposed homes of those residents who are either unable or unwilling to work for the city’s regime, and have been forced out of public view. Somewhere within the mountains of storage containers and sheet metal homes, a boy steps through the door of the slums’ bona fide clinic which is nestled in the carcass of an old fishing trawler, in what used to be the vessel’s medical bay.

Inside, Tommy folds back the hood of his tattered jacket and blinks the rain from his haunted eyes. He is greeted by the familiar sight of the slum’s resident doctor. She has just emerged from behind one of the suspended curtains that cordon off the place.

“Hey, handsome,” she says numbly. Her scrubs are stained and splattered almost black, as are her mask and gloves.

“Do you have it?” Tommy asks.

“No small talk? Tsk,” murmurs the doctor as she slides a sealed medical bag across the counter. “What a surprise.”

Tommy ignores her as he slings the bag onto his shoulder and turns for the door. “Take it to the hospital on 9th,” the woman sighs to Tommy’s back, and then he’s gone.

He sprints through the labyrinth of rusted hulls and stacked one-room houses, navigating the slum with memorized efficiency. The pack on his shoulders is pulled tight to his body, but its precious cargo still bounces muffledly from within. The rainfall grows heavier, pinging off all the metal of the buildings in a metallic din.

If he was in any legitimate part of the city, Tommy would have travelled several blocks by now, but the different districts of the slums are far too disorganized to be regarded as blocks. Tommy navigates by way of landmarks; he makes the particularly difficult leap across the nearly abutting construction cranes south of an abandoned, collapsing section of the shanty town, passes the always-crowded illicit corner bar in the belly of a cargo barge by the slum’s water filters, circumvents the conveyor system that the fishermen use to haul their catches higher up into the city proper. Only, no fish are being hauled in today.

Tommy finally emerges from the slums as a vein of lightning streaks white and violent across the sky. He races for the entrance of the community hospital building just as the thunderclap reaches him. He bursts through the glass doors and slides to a stop as a jarring boom! explodes out of the sky. A nurse waiting in the lobby starts at Tommy’s appearance and the nature of his entrance; her eyes widen and her lips part as she intakes a sharp breath. Almost instantly, she steels herself and rushes to Tommy, who is doubled over, panting. The nurse places a hand on his shoulder.

“Hey… hey! I need the bag, okay?”

Dumbly nodding his understanding, Tommy struggles to slide off the pack as he looks up for the first time.

Their eyes lock and the heavy breaths momentarily catch in Tommy’s throat. He chokes and blood rushes to his cheeks before he can regain his breathing. A little smile dances on one corner of the nurse’s mouth, and she reaches out for the bag. Tommy gingerly places it in her hands, passing to her the still faintly-beating responsibility within.

“Thanks for this,” she whispers, then she turns and is gone.

Still panting, Tommy gazes after her through the swinging doors that lead to the OR. “What?” he mumbles between breaths. “No small talk?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

?

Shadows bloom across the muraled walls and spill like ink onto the floorboards, seeping into the seemingly thirsty mahogany and filling the whole place with gloom. Small golden lights at frequent intervals on the walls do little to light the grand old manor. The only noises to be heard are the distant clangs of the cleaners and the steady footfalls of night guards. The day’s employs have long since cleared out of the reconstituted atrium which spans several floors and is still draped with lavish standards and banners, towered over by a decrepit chandelier that sways weakly over all the floors of geometric paintings and the arrays of unused furniture of silver and glass.

In one still corner on the first floor of the atrium, a guard circles the room, checking door locks and flashing his belt-clipped torch around arbitrarily. The gritty polymer of his boots pads softly as he moves away into the velvet darkness of a hallway leading elsewhere in the building. After a span of heartbeats, a low whistle sounds out of the darkness, and with a blur of motion, two small figures materialize from their hiding places in the guard’s wake. I join them, emerging from under the exquisite love seat that’s been sheltering me.

“Is that it?” came a tense whisper. One of the figures gestures at an ancient, stained grand piano, gilded with brass and blanketed with a layer of slowly rising dust. I recognize Mitch’s voice: clipped, world-weary, constantly hoarse. He sounds older than he should. I try to remember how old he should sound. I think he’s twelve.

“Yep,” comes the reply, this time a girl. Ash. “Help me out guys.”

The three of us converge on the instrument and begin to roll it toward the exit of the manor. The great rotating doors, ever-spinning during the day, are frozen in place at night by security. Mitch slinks to the doors and inspects the latch that holds them closed. After a moment, he draws a piece of copper wire from within the latch and gives a yank. A spark jumps into existence for a moment, and then the doors begin to rotate. We hurriedly pushed the piano through the doors and out of the manor.

We emerge not onto the street, but onto the rooftops of a vast network of buildings. Cities haven’t had streets since before the seas rose, back when people lived on land and farmed and had countries. Now the vast, reaching skyscrapers are connected by bridges and junctions and gondolas. Bright pulses of neon lights shine out everywhere. Billboards flash the news, the current freshwater rations, designer clothing ads, adjustments to curfew, the newest restaurant openings.

I watch Ash as she steps away from the piano and takes a deep breath of the high, briny air, stretching her arms above her head. In the glow of the vibrant city lights, the first thing I think when I look at her is the word “bones”. More are visible every day. I can see ridges pressing out from her threadbare clothes, and I know that Mitch and I are in a bad way as well. We’ve never actually worried about starving; we have been courting starvation since we were born, and we’ve always found enough food to survive. Growing up scrounging on the destitute rooftops of the city’s slums has left the three of us clever and maybe a little jaded. But sometimes wits aren’t enough to fill your belly, and often we go hungry. But things were never as bad as now. And seeing Ash in such a state, an unfamiliar feeling roots itself under my skin. It feels like what Mitch describes when he whispers to me about Ash when she’s out of earshot.

I feel a pang of guilt for allowing myself to feel anything for Ash. I cast a sidelong glance at Mitch. Mitch, who has sacrificed so much for us lately. I eye the hand Mitchell holds to his abdomen; the thin split down the front of his stomach is still so fresh it pulses to his heartbeat. It is expertly hidden in the seam of his abdominal muscles and sewn tightly shut by Ash’s experienced hands. The only thing that betrays the scar’s presence is its pink discoloration and the little peak of raised flesh at the bottom of Mitch’s navel.

He is still weak from the knife wound, and I know he hates to appear weak in front of Ash. We tried to steal meat from a butcher two weeks ago, and it cost Mitchell dearly, but it fed us for days. We haven’t eaten since. This piano is our next meal ticket. It’s going to a black market collector with more money than anybody in the city needs, and access to more than enough food to feed three diminutive urchins.

My eyes trail upward, and I see the way Mitch looks at Ash. Yearning but reserved. I know him too well. Well enough to know he’ll never make a move. My guilt intensifies.

That’s why I lie. The next morning. Once we’ve finally carted the piano to the collector’s loft. Once we’re in the kitchen of his hotel building, pockets lined with money, gorging ourselves with more food than we’ve ever had in one sitting. Ash tells me how thankful she is that I had the piano idea. That’s when I tell her it wasn’t me. Mitch has never been the idea guy, and Ash’s eyes widen with realization before she flies to him and wraps her arms around him. I start to worry she’ll break his ribs, she’s squeezing so hard. I allow myself a humorless smile when they aren’t looking. But I have a full stomach, and Mitch is happy. And that’s enough.