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House Calls

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Young Wyrm
Young Wyrm

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 21, 2017 8:25 pm    Post subject: House Calls Reply with quote

[ Scene written with Una Mia. ]

There were many floors beneath the unassuming offices of Dr. Adam Nesset. There was the basement complex, which functioned chiefly as storage. It was a drab and dark and arrayed in a confusing, labyrinthine fashion, leading people to getting lost before delivering them to any number of stairs back to the offices above. Great care and planning had gone into the construction of the basement, for the rooms below were not supposed to be there, and the deeper someone made it, the more secrets they unearthed. Adam Nesset liked his secrets. He was not interested in giving them up. .

The morgue was two floors beyond the basement. Dim lights cast uneasy shadows in long hallways, the blue-white bulbs strung together by exposed wiring. Noise went nowhere, dying in the corners with everything else. There were no carpets or signs of comfort. The doors were thick and made of steel, and their locks would have kept all but the most talented of thieves out. Adam Nesset saw the worst of his midnight clients down here. The occasional blood stain marked exposed concrete flooring.

The morgue was at the center of the floor for easy access. Bright light leaked out through the cracks around the edges of the swinging double doors. A powerful ventilation system moved air from the room all the way to the ground floor and back down again, such that the room seemed to ‘breath’ as though alive, like the slumping, slow beat of a heart at the center of a vast and unreal monster. The tables were numerous and made of stainless steel. Hoses hung from the ceiling in predictable intervals over the tables. Drains lurked underneath, ominous in their necessity. One whole wall was given over to doors of various sizes, starting near the floor and extending across and to the ceiling in columns and rows; cold storage, for the end of liners.

Only one corpse was out, laid on a table in the center of the room The knife sticking from the chest made it impossible to intern. This would have to do.

Una arrived shortly before eleven, when the night was well-established and draped thick and frigid over the city. She traveled via the city’s vilified alleyways, which she considered the scenic route, making pit stops along the way when something proved engaging or warranted more than a glance. Her breath came out white as she walked. Her coat was black and hit just above the knees. The kitten heels on her feet speared through snow and loose asphalt like icepicks.

Arriving across the street from Dr. Nesset’s building, Una settled beneath the awning of a dark storefront, thumb and forefinger shaping the points of her bob back into two black scythes that lay across her cheeks. She watched and listened and inhaled the scent of the cold, decaying wood, old blood, and bodies. Owen had been in the area recently, which wasn’t surprising. Once she’d established the area in her mind, made a sensory map of landmarks she could rely on, she stepped from beneath the awning and crossed the street.

Una circled the building once, then doubled back in the other direction before finally walking inside through the front entrance. At the door to Dr. Nesset’s office, she knocked three times, then took a step back, sliding her hands inside her pockets. Her usual pallor was heightened by the bluish cast to the lighting, and her eyes appeared all the more abyssal for it, as well—that flat, greedy black that stole all the light and never, ever gave it back.

There was always a quiet moment between a knock and the sound of movement behind the door, an unsettling few minutes at most, that often frightened off the least determined of visitors. Just long enough for the second guesses to attack, to drag people back onto the streets and away, away, away from the shady office in the bad part of town, where the medicine man may or may not even hold court. Maybe he’s not in, maybe he’s out. Maybe this is the wrong place. Maybe he’s not even a doctor. Maybe this is a bad idea, a really bad idea.

They needn’t worry. Adam Nesset was in. It was the right place. He was a doctor, and he could attend to their needs.

It was, however, almost certainly a bad idea. On that note they were absolutely right.

Then, a noise from behind the door, light steps followed by the telltale slide of bolts being unlocked. An inch, and no more, of opening, as chains kept the door from swinging wider. Darkness swallowed light and shadows hid the man inside. A thousand distinct smells of antiseptics and bleach rolled out onto Una, and beneath those, things harder to place, distinct but washed out, discordant currents in a chemical sea: blood, rot, death.

A disembodied voice, “Hands out, please. Slowly.”

Una didn’t appear as if she was having any second thoughts, or even first thoughts, all things considered. She stood in the hallway playing patient statue as she waited, her expression dull and lifeless as she inhaled and exhaled stories she’d never know the beginnings of and most likely would never know the endings of, either. There were some endings here, though, yes: the death rattle of dying breaths and the diminishing plod of final heartbeats. She could smell the desperation and then the antiseptic silence that followed.

As a faint undercurrent to all of that, there was Anton. Just enough for her to know that she was in the right place. And even that was a heartbeat fade; in days, perhaps hours, she’d not be able to trace him at all.

Her vacant study of the ceiling sharpened into focus on the inch of darkness behind the doorway the second the air changed. Without comment or change in expression, she complied with the request, sliding her hands from her coat pockets in tandem and extending them out, a slow flip back and forth between flat palm and smooth knuckles. Her slender fingers lacked their usual decorative silver spangle of rings. In fact, the whole of her seemed stripped of anything one might consider a show of character. There was nothing she could do about her face, of course, the fathomless black of her eyes or the distinctive cut of her hair slicing in twin raven wings along her jaw.

“What else?” She asked, a sigh of sound that echoed restlessly in emptiness of the hallway.

The sheer professionalism was both impressive and concerning. This was a door for the wounded and the hooked, and as Una appeared to neither hurt or addicted, Adam did not open the door further. Instead, he moved into the crack, light barely catching on an emotionless face. In one hand, a cane, while the other hand was behind the door. Something to the angle suggested he was armed.

For some time he simply looked at her, trying to pick her apart, to unravel the mystery of her being at his office, but got nowhere. She’d left him no clues. If this a game, she was out playing him. It made him terribly curious. “What do you want?” His head ticked, but the eyes did not waver.

Una held no preconceived notions of Dr. Nesset. Owen had given her only a name and an address. No testament of character, no mention of their relationship, no tangential anecdotes by which she might create a foundation for the man standing in the doorway. So she gathered what she could from that one inch wide sliver of a man: the blank set of his features, the cane, the veins in his hand, the way the weight of his weapon pulled down the other; the blue cast of light that the two of them shared—he in his doorway and her in his hallway. Until one of them stepped either forward or back, there’d be no way to determine who was the spider and who was the fly. But that wasn’t a game she intended to play tonight.

Una matched the tick of his head, and gave him a terrible smile. “You’re holding a body of mine. A man with a knife protruding from his chest. I’d like to pay him a visit, please.”

Adam barely registered a reaction and nothing close to a smile. The twitch in the corner of his mouth suggested a tightly controlled sneer, flesh betraying brain. He found the mime of his tick to be insulting. He doubted she was much impressed by his manners. Her smile annoyed him. His refusal to open the door was flat out rude. Spider and the fly, indeed. Forgiveness would have to be one of the foundations of their working relationship, as he didn’t feel like being caught in her web, and he doubted she wanted to see his.

He closed the door, undid the chains, and opened it again, stepping out of the way to let her through. The gun, if had ever existed, was gone. The cane was not. He put less weight on it then expected, as if it wasn’t completely necessary, or he disliked its use.

“Does Owen know you’re here?” The front office was so boring that it defused much of the situation with its sheer banality. The floor was a series of off-white linoleum tiles. The patterns on the mass produced chairs looked like an awful attempt a Jack Pollock painting on dark blue flannel. A poster of a cat hanging on a tree was so old the laminate was peeling away from the paper at the edges. A jar on the front counter was full of lollipops, and the irony of serving sweets in a doctor’s office was not lost him.

"He doesn't know," Una said, stepping through the wedge of light he made for her and trading the dull repetition of the hallway for something similarly colored but decidedly more engaging. The tips of her fingers skimmed the face of the door as she passed, dropping back to her side just shy of encountering the doctor standing by. "I'd prefer it remain that way. But that's up to you, of course."

Perfectly centered within the ecru sea of linoleum, Una twisted in one direction and then the other, resisting the impulse to slide her hands back into her pockets. The cat poster in particular received a great deal of consideration, as if sussing out the story behind it was of importance. A half minute elapsed in silence before she lifted one hand, forefinger circling the air before the lollipops. "Do they do anything interesting or are they the traditional fare?" It seemed such an odd thing to see on a countertop at close to midnight.

Adam waited out the silence by busying himself with the locking of the door behind her and then, when it continued past that, by watching her examine the room. One could learn a lot in a short span of time, if one knew how to look. A thought set his chin askew, a subtle drop of jaw that so often went conjoined with a hunch or a flash of insight.

Like all things with Adam, it was immediately contained. Flatly, "I am not in his employ. What I do with my time is not his business.” He was quite firm on it, already moving for the hallway. “They're just sweets for the kids. My nurses are nice beasts. As far as I know they haven't put anything in them this time. But please, feel free to try. Come, let's get you to your corpse." Adam led the wait out of the room and down the hallway. Doors mirrored doors in matching sets at even intervals, waiting rooms he honestly never went into. A window at the end of the hallway revealed a tidy office behind a door with his name on it. The door opposite lead down into the basement.

Una turned to face Adam as he spoke, the cool, coal rake of her eyes over him slow and thoughtful: the cane, his hands, the flat affect of his face. Where his throat vanished behind his collar, the line of buttons that led to his waist. "Literal beasts, or is that a euphemism?" she asked before turning away to approach the jar of lollipops. She might have been asking questions for the sake of filling the room with sound, or perhaps to rile him; it was hard to say. Fingers dove to fish among the jewel tones and emerged with a purple, which she turned back and forth before her eyes before slipping it into her pocket.

She followed along as he led, slowing slightly when they passed his office to peer through the glass.

Adam's response was quick, short, efficient: snort. Sometimes, the only way to win was to not play the game. Efficient motions unlocked the door before him, and while he was forced to wait for her to indulge her curiosity, he studied her openly and without passion. Noticing things other missed. Making notes.

The office was clearly unused. A thin layer of dust had collected on everything. There were unopened letters in a bin, the top of which was at least a month old. A red light blinked on the phone in the corner of the desk, voice messages unchecked and undeleted. The room was for show, not function. "I don't spend a lot of time in there. Most of my work is done below." His way of saying, Can we be moving now?

"Ah," she said simply, and then arched a brow at him. Lead on.

[ continued ]
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Young Wyrm
Young Wyrm

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 29, 2017 5:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The travel downward was the same for her as it was for everyone, and it was clear from the practiced way he navigated the basement, the floor beyond, and the floor further to where he'd built the morgue, that he was quite used to leading people in the most confusing, twisting, and round about ways through the many hallways, doors, stairs, and other quirks of the building, until they were eventually unsure of how to get in or out without him, or at least realized that the place was overly large and had been built by a mad man. That it didn't fit to his personality suggested either he hadn't made it, or there was more to him. Either way, the message tended to be clear; don't bother breaking in. This was Adam Nesset's. Only he knew it. That he spared Una the more dangerous aspects of the tour was not explained to her, but this was exactly the sort of maze to have a few traps. It was positively labyrinthine.

They reached the morgue just as Adam's leg started to hurt, necessitating a deeper use of the cane. He shouldered the doors open and held one with his weight, nodding over to the body lying where he'd left it. "Yours, I believe."

Una was a keen-eyed passenger to his tour of gray cement, more neutrals, and unsettling lighting. His posture and demeanor in general didn't invite further questions, and so she didn't ask them. She had no reason to; their exchange was meant to be simple. He was the guide and she the tourist. Her thoughts were kept neatly knotted and tucked away in her mind, and her steps came briskly behind his without following too closely on his heels. The distance between them was, if not comfortable, acceptable.

"Mine, yes," she agreed, prowling in a circle around the body. "Has anything been done to him since Owen brought him?" Her palm skimmed over the knife's handle and then dropped lightly to Anton's shoulder, significantly colder now that the last time she'd felt it.

"No." Lie or truth, they both fit in his mouth the same. Adam seemed the sort to be able to lie anyone about anything, if he were so motivated. The coldness to him ran deeper than the surface; one could easily imagine him being cold to his core, right down to the spine. As cold as Anton. Perhaps colder.

She had not killed him, as he had been wondering. Adam saw no pride in her. Pain, perhaps regret. No pride. An admission then, brought on by the way she regarded the dead. "No, that's not true. I did examine the body when it was brought in, without Owen's knowledge." He was close now, and had moved far too quiet for a man with a cane. His voice was lower, even softer, but only by the smallest degree. Cane set against the table, corpse held in regard. He waited for her to ask him what he found, if she was curious enough to ask.

"Hmm," the hum of sound was soft, sweeter than the angry buzz of the overhead lighting. It belonged somewhere else, in a different conversation and locale. As she had the night they'd retrieved Anton's body, she ran a nail along the stitching sealing his eyelids shut. She kept coming back to that point and thought now it was because he'd had lovely eyes: expressive and vulnerable, rich in color. Her hand slid from Anton's shoulder and closed in a fist, and she turned her head to find that Adam, the man who'd given only a sliver of himself in the beginning, was now nearly a tower over her. She wasn't bothered by the silence with which he moved. Intrigued, but not bothered.

"And what did you find?" she asked, predictably, "Were there more organs removed than just his heart and eyes? Owen mentioned the potential that he was used or was going to be used as a sacrifice?"

Adam registered her expressions from a distance, one larger and more profound than the mere space between them. "Many questions. No, all organs were removed, by a hand that knew what it was doing. The work is surgical, though there were oddities to it. I couldn't tell you if he was going to be sacrificed ..that's out of my field of expertise.. but I can tell you he was tortured. Someone hurt him a great deal before they let him die." Watching her.

Una liked Anton a great deal. She enjoyed his company, his variations in mood, how effortlessly he could switch between personas; she enjoyed sleeping with him. But she didn't love him. The fondness she held for him was enough to pull concern to the surface of her features, a distant sense of righteous indignation, but there was not fire of fury threatening destruction. Una was too calculating for that.

"I see," she said at last, a faint frown marking the place of her thoughts when she took a step backwards and rounded to the other side of the body.

"See here. Much of these marks are unnecessary and would not have resulted in death." He pointed to cuts along the sides, along the ribs. "They are older, too, suggesting they'd existed for some time before he died. You can see how the area around the cuts was healing. The eyes, too. Those were done while he was alive. I suspect he was cut apart for days." When Adam touched the body, it was without sympathy. The man was dead and did not care. Adam showed it no reverence.

Suddenly, and despite though he seemed as if there were more to tell her, he asked, "Why would someone want to hurt him? What's going on here?"

Adam's clinical litany received more of her attention than the areas he pointed out on Anton--she was already decently familiar with those. And, after all, Anton was truly dead; Adam was a living specimen who managed to give off the impression of utter lifelessness. Her eyes made a well trod path back and forth between Adam's hands and face, watching to see if the movement of the former somehow affected the latter in expression. It didn't, but that also wasn't unexpected given that he had no attachment or relation to the body at hand. She wondered how far below the surface that detachment extended and was surprised by his follow up questions, considering his detached affect.

"That is the question, I suppose," came her noncommittal answer, and it was clear by the reticence in her tone that she found his sudden interest somewhat suspicious.

Keen to not draw her ire, Adam let the question drop. The question was a longshot at best, and Adam doubted that she would open up so soon, if ever. “If Owen believes someone intended to sacrifice this man, I would suggest he’s right. I have experience with his family. Not that I trust wizards.” Small details, tiny reveals. “But Owen would not lie and this is more his field than mine.” The lamps overhead flickered once, prompting Adam to frown and look up at them. A strange expression crossed his face, unrecognizable not because of its unusualness, but because it was incompatible with what was known of him; it was concern, sudden and profound, wholly unmasked as all other emotions, if there were any, had been. A few second later a phone rang, prompting Adam to jump and turn to stare, dumbfounded, at the far wall where it hung. The noise reverberated on tiles and hard walls, a high pitched keel that made Adam’s head twitch in rhythm. Ring, ring, ring. Twitch, twitch, twitch.

“Excuse me,” he said, and walked away from her without another word, not even a glance, limping the whole way across the long room, cane still resting where he’d left it.

Una returned Adam’s look levelly, but her mind was a tightly guarded thing, shuttered off and locked away behind the unfathomable darkness of her eyes. How flat they could be: a funeral in their own right. The lighting above them was no help in this regard. It cast shadows under her eyes and in the hollows of her cheeks as she moved from Anton’s shoulder to his side, fingers alighting on the hilt protruding from the dead man’s chest, a certain ownership in the caress over the handle that followed. She wished she had been the one to put it there in the first place. She was not, after all, without the concept of mercy.

From the wound in his chest, her palm skimmed the length of his abdominals, following the stitchwork left behind, and then a stone skip of fingertips over the top of his thigh, the muscles there still taut and bunched with rigor mortis that would soon fade. All the while, Adam spoke, and she listened though she wasn’t looking his way. It was only the flicker of lights that caused her to look up, one hand curled over the top of Anton’s foot. She looked at Adam, not the lights, and though he was no more than a stranger to her, his concern was readily evident. It wasn’t an emotion she shared at the moment, because she didn’t have a context for it. But she watched it travel his features and straighten his spine, and then she watched as he turned and shuffled away toward the harsh interruption of the phone.

Una’s hand dropped limply away from the body, tapped a thoughtful rhythm over the steel lip of the table and then ventured steadily towards the cane.

Adam made his way across the room in a cycle limps and twitches, like a broke down bicycle, listing through the lopsided orbit of one bad wheel. That it must hurt was unmistakable, as no one had a handicap that severe without pain. He seemed unaware or unconcerned with anything but answering the call. Along the way he bumped into a table and scattered papers on the floor. A few steps later he kicked over a trash can. Once, and only once, he looked back at Una, lips moving silently, as though talking but lacking sound, lacking air, but then he was at the phone and the moment was gone. He picked it up, turned away, and listened, doing nothing but listening for some time, listening to nothing but the dead sound of a dial tone.

Una wasn’t watching the progression of Adam’s limp. Or perhaps she was, but distantly, through the distraction of the cane. Later it would sift to the forefront of her mind as something to wander over--that limp and the slack expression that Adam wore. The cane held her captive for now, kept her steps, her fingers inching closer in a prowl as if it was a mouse to be trapped. Her fingers stretched, flexed, and she felt a ripple of energy move over the back of her hand and along the length of her extended arm. Her fingers closed around the handle of the cane and dark lashes fluttered to a close as her mind lit up in neon and chrome. Her spine stiffened and curled and went straight again. Adam’s cane fell to the floor and skittered across the tiles as if chasing its owner while Una sank against the steel table to catch her breath. When she looked down at Anton, she swore she saw him smile.

Suddenly, “Are you okay?” Adam was at the table, not across the room. There were no papers on the floor, nor an up ended trash can. There wasn’t even a phone; the wall where it had hung just moments ago was blank and unused. Adam’s attention was focused entirely on her, though he did not show even an iota of concern, he wore curiosity boldly. “You spaced there for a moment. Your heart is racing. Perhaps you should sit. Sometimes seeing the dead can affect the living enormously.” He leaned down to collect the errant cane. This time he kept it in hand.

Una blinked and Adam was there as if he’d not departed in the first place, the red telephone gone though its harsh ring still sounded in her ears. The steel table was damp under her palm, and as she jerked away, she realized it was her own sweat that she swiped across the thigh of her skirt. Suspicion narrowed her eyes over the countenance across from her and the absolute void of concern--though his question sounded genuine.

She backed a step away, and turned, removing herself to the end of the table, some distance from the doctor. When she commented, it was only for the last of Adam’s remarks. “So I have heard,” her tone was flat and as unaffected as his expression. Pushing the recent events to the back of her mind, Una walked slowly around Anton’s body again--an inspection, no doubt, but for what she wasn’t saying. Once she’d completed another loop, she straightened and nodded to Adam. “I’m finished. Escort me out, please.”

Thoughtful in movements, Adam lingered near the corpse while he watched Una move around the body, making to leave. She was -- unusual, but of course she was. She was dangerous, too, but that was also a given. These were known quantities, even familiar quantities. There was something more there, though. Something quite undefinable. Adam looked down at Anton while he made Una stand there, and considered what he’d just seen happen. When he finally moved to lead her from the room, it was not without statement. “He meant something to you. I understand now.” Understood, yes. If he related was harder to tell.

Una waited patiently--as she could afford to do--and once Adam finally passed to lead her from the room, she turned quickly on her heel and followed along behind him without a backward glance. “He did.” She didn’t bother to deny that, though he meant less to her than Adam would probably assume. “You will keep him exactly as he is, yes?”

“Exactly as he is.” Flatly. What went on his head was kept behind the lock of an unemotive voice. Adam led her out without further comment, through the maze of turns and twists, up through the floors, and back out onto the street where she’d come from. There were things to think about, for the both of them, and they were thoughts to be had far away from each other. Thoughts for the dark. Thoughts for seclusion.

[ End of scene. More to follow! ]
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PostPosted: Sun May 07, 2017 10:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

[ Scene written with Una Mia and Owen Ramsey. ]

Owen was standing outside the Adam's office building in West End, leaning against a car that wasn't his upon which two styrofoam boxes had been stacked in order from largest to smallest. The largest was no bigger than a shoebox, the smaller of the two maybe half that. He was staring at a cell phone, flicking through messages sent to Una and Adam while he waited for the former to arrive. It was midafternoon, impossibly sunny and abysmally cheery in spite of the grisly items he was carting about the city. Even the cold seemed to have let up some.

He thumbed a message to Adam: I'm outside. Waiting on Una.

And then he sent one to Una: I'm here. How far are you?

Text to Owen: Why wait outside? Are you that eager to see her?

Text to Adam: Why not?

"Closer than you think." Her words drifted preceding her on a breeze, yet there was little more than a subtle shift in the air currents before she stood alongside Owen as if peeled from the shadows skirting the parked car.

"That's creepy."

She smiled.

Text to Adam: Coming in.

He pocketed the phone and picked up the packages, returning Una's smile. "Experimenting with portal magic, are we?" he left the stranger's car behind and approached the doors. "Can you get the door, Una?"

Adam opened the door before Una could get to it.. "Are you calling someone else creepy?"

"Alas, that title does not belong to you alone, Adam."

"I don't need portals," she sniffed. "I have speed at my disposal." She'd nearly reached the door when it swung wide and revealed Adam.

"You and I already have something in common then," Una said to Adam, stepping aside to let Owen pass through first.

"I imagine we have more than that." The man stepped aside, holding the door open.

"Portals are more fun than speed, though. I'd wager," he stepped past Adam with a smile and a nod and into the building. "Una Cristea, this is Doctor Adam Nesset. He'll be performing our surgery today."

"Cristea. So that's your last name." He hadn't known it before now.

"Oh?" Adam's comment elicited a lingering look from Una, though she didn't inquire further about it. Owen distracted her with portals again, and she quirked a vague smile at him before turning back to Adam. Her hands were still in her pockets, so she didn't offer a handshake, but did nod as she greeted him, "Dr. Nesset."

"Ms. Cristea," he responded. Once inside, he locked the door behind them. The flatness of the waiting room was quickly moved past with a, "This way."

Owen watched the two exchange greetings and then followed after Adam. "Has the body done anything strange?"

"Yes. It doesn't rot." The body was not far. "Care to explain that one? It would be a useful secret to know."

"It was partially mummified, I know. Aside from that, I can only assume by the same kind of magic that keeps these organs from decomposing as well."

Una was quiet behind them, leaving the discussion to them as she trailed, sweeping a look from side to side to see if anything of the hallway was different than the last time she'd been. And possibly looking for small identifying structures or patterns.

Nothing was new, nothing was different. It was so similar to the last time either had visited that it should be obvious that effort went into maintaining the condition of the halls, the rooms, and all other aspects of the ground floor. "If we meet the people who cast the spells that preserve the body, I think I'd like to have a long conversation with them. It could further my understandings." Adam opened a door, almost at random, and ushered the two in. Anton lay on an examination table just as he had in the morgue only days ago. Tools were assembled on a cart by the feet. "Here, please." He glanced at both of them as the walked in, catching each in the eye.

"I cannot imagine the mages responsible are particularly chatty, but if I come across one who is, I'll let you know," Owen followed Adam, ushered easily into the room possessing Anton's corpse. He glanced over his shoulder at Una and his eyes narrowed only a little. Then he was all business, his attention turning to Anton as he approached the table he'd been laid out on. "First and foremost, Adam. The heart was delivered to Una's apartment a couple of days ago. We looked at it, it's been branded on the inside by some arcane marks. The eyes have stitching which suggests they've been cut into as well, but I did not want to go poking around in something so small and delicate. Would you mind examining them for me?"

Una met Adam's look mildly, pleasantly even, as she moved past him and into the room. Anton was given little more than a cursory glance at first, her attention turning primarily to Owen as the conversation bounced back and forth between mage and doctor. In the midst of that, she missed Owen's extended scrutiny.

"If you know they are branded, what else can I tell you?" The office door, too, was closed behind them, as if each physical barrier between them and the world at large would hide their upcoming act by further degrees. Adam moved as if Una did not exist at all, leaving her to slip into watchfulness. A motion of a hand indicated the organs should be set down upon the table with the body.

"I do not know what the specific marks are on the eyes," he said. "I did not want to open them, because I don't want to damage anything. I figure you'd have a steadier hand for that sort of work. I need to see the marks, perhaps I may recognize them," he set the boxes down on the table as Adam directed, moving the smaller one to rest beside the larger.

Una didn't mind being the overlooked wallflower. In fact, rather appropriately she settled back against a nearby wall, intending to observe as Owen went through his explanation, and sidling closer only when the prospect of revealing more symbols within the eyes loomed.

"I thought you were good with your hands," quietly. Adam donned surgical gloves and plucked a scalpel from the cart to opened the boxes, reaching in and extracting the organs with tender care. He announced, "I was a surgeon, I'll show you your marks. It's up to you to read them to us." An exhale, a tilt of the head; preparing for the work ahead. "Una, I dub thee nurse. Hand me a clean towel. Drawer, beside you." He didn't look when he talked to her.

"What gave you that impression?" he stepped so that he was not in Adam's way, but remained close enough to watch closely as he prepared to cut into the strangely preserved eyeballs. They had fine stitching along an incision made along the backside of them, and otherwise seemed perfectly fresh.

"It was a joke." Dry as the Sahara.

There was a slight flinch about her shoulders, perhaps having not expected to be called out directly, but Una shortly turned a look to either side of her and opened the nearest drawer to hand him a napkin as asked. Afterwards, she kept her attention on the movements of Adam's hands rather than the objects that would soon be within them.

"One of these days I'm going to have to sit down with you and discussion vocal inflections. Tone of voice and the like."

Una smiled in spite of herself and shot a look aside to Owen. She had no real understanding of the relationship between he and Adam, and thus far the duo hadn't been particularly illuminating.

"Thank you." Still his attention was on the eyes, only the eyes, nothing but the eyes. Once, before he began, he paused to move slightly to the right, as his own body was in the way of the light. The conversation was dropped, Owen and Una were pushed to the very edge of his attention, even the room faded away, until his focus was solely on the eyes, the scalpel, and the stitches keeping them closed. He rolled the eyes gently onto the napkin and slowly, oh so slowly, cut through the fibers keeping them sealed. The two would have some time to wait; Adam was determined to not touch even a sliver of flesh.

Owen's hands went behind his back. He was content, for the time being, to stand in silence as Adam worked so as not to disturb him.

After some minutes, he was done. "The flesh of an eyes is not conducive to opening, but you can see the marks they made." Adam stepped back from the organs, spread as open as he could make them, and let the others look.

Once Adam lost himself in the depths of stitchwork, Una's gaze slid aside to where his cane rested. She studied it in contemplative silence, a frown drawing her features tight until Adam spoke again. Her frown remained as she took a step closer to the table and leaned in to see what had been left behind for them.

Owen leaned forward, hands remaining behind back, and bent over they able to peer at the small, dark markings branded into the eye through some unknown method.

"It's the same as the heart. Same markings. We've seen them before but do not know their origin. Shame, I had hoped that these might have been different. Something I might recognize. Tell me, Adam," he turned, looking up at the doctor from where he was still bent over. "You haven't gone poking around inside of Anton's chest or skull by any chance, have you?"

"No." Adam picked up his cane, keeping it in hand. No glances for either Owen or Una. "I've done nothing to the body since you left it to me."

"Are you thinking there might be more symbols there?"

"In the body? At this point, yes. They'll likely match these."

"Would you mind taking a look, Adam? I can, of course. But you're much better at it than I am,” Owen said.

There was a hesitation. Adam did not look to Owen for direction, but Una. Without reason, without explaining, it was obvious that this was not Owen's request to make.

Una’s nod amounted to little more than a slight incline of her chin, but it was an assent all the same.

"This will take me a moment. If either of you want to step outside, no one will judge you." What happened next was much like what had come before, except on a grander scale. Adam lost track of them, so focused on opening the body that other matters simply ceased. It was a messy and base activity; opening a man was not at all unlike butchery. The skills were quite similar, in fact.

Owen only stepped back to assume his previous position as Adam began the process of cutting into the dry husk that had once been a man named Anton.

Una slipped around to the end of the table, ostensibly to give Adam more room to work, though incidentally it put her closer to his cane once he set it aside to begin opening up Anton's corpse.

[ continued ]
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PostPosted: Mon May 15, 2017 12:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The stitchwork was first, and then where the body needed encouragement to open. It had been more supple when sealed. Adam's attention flickered to the end of the table only once and not again. "Owen. Put on some gloves, please, and help me. Come hold this open." The chest cavity was stretched with effort and Adam could not reach his medical equipment while using both hands to keep it agape.

Turning, Owen went to snatch up some gloves. He tugged them over his long fingers and pulled the band back so it could slap back onto his wrist with a snap before joining Adam and reaching over Anton's body to do as instructed. "Just tell me where to hold."

"Here," Adam indicated that Owen needed to slip his hands over his own and take the weight of the ribs while Adam inserted a spreader. The insides were observable after.

Owen placed his hands in the appropriate spot while Adam inserted the tool. Once done, he let go of the man's ribs and peered into the chest cavity. "Oh my," the entirety of the man's innards, as far as Owen could see, had been marked similarly by the same arrangement of dark sigils they'd seen on the cultist's body. "That cannot have been a pleasant experience."

While Adam was engaged with Anton's chest cavity, and Owen was snapping latex over his wrists, Una's fingers brushed over the handle of the cane and upon finding it to be as unrevealing as its wielder, she left it behind to move closer to Adam and Owen. She had seen corpses, of course, and chest cavities. But rarely were they as pristine as what lay before them now. Her eyes narrowed at the sheer amount of markings, however.

"What do you mean? That cannot have been done to him while he was alive," she said.

"No, I don't imagine so. I meant for whoever performed this grisly task. It requires a delicate hand, I'm sure," Owen thrust a finger at one mark that seemed larger than the rest, occupying a spot of flesh behind where the heart should have been. "It's like we've been given a puzzle and all the pieces. A very simple puzzle, mind. Reunite the parts and something will happen."

"Of course I can't say what."

"It's not so much to do this to a body." Adam stepped back and allowed them to crowd.

"There's an art to inscribing these kinds of marks that goes beyond a steady hand and a strong stomach."

"I'm not sure why someone would go to all the trouble of creating a puzzle in the first place aside from amusing themselves. Or unless there was some ritualistic aspect behind it.”

"Are we certain that we should be so cavalier as reuniting the parts and seeing what happens? I imagine this is how your portal adventure began, Owen. And look how that turned out," Una said with a pointed look.

Theories kept to himself, Adam simply waited for them to be done. He had organs to install.

"We know his death was ritualistic. The altar placement was a clear enough indicator. As is the fact that his soul is trapped somewhere on this plane of existence," he tapped a rib thoughtfully. "Do you think there is meaning behind the organs which were given to us?"

"If we are talking simple things, then yes. I'd say the meaning is obvious in that case, though your inclusion still makes little sense to me unless either a. you are involved, b. you were included after the New Year's Eve party."

"Am I still a suspect, Una?" a brow arched as he straightened. "They match the markings on the cultist who attacked me. Otherwise, I can't tell where I've seen them before," Owen began to remove his gloves. "Do you think we should reattach them? There's no telling what could happen if we did."

"You are forever a suspect, Owen," and though she said it lightly in jest, there was an undercurrent that suggested she still hadn’t resolved the matter to her satisfaction. Her fingers curled over the edge of the table as she peered at Anton's body. "I--" she shook her head, "I'm not certain. It's entirely possible, too, that nothing will happen, that we could be off track."

"Then I say go for it," he snapped his fingers, a little tremor of excitement in his voice. "Adam, would it be too much to ask?"

She inhaled, the splay of her fingers widening and tensing. "Let's put them back in and see what happens," she agreed. That tremor of excitement she detected got a bit of side-eye.

Adam nodded. "It should be simple, so long as you two can resist the urge to go at each other until I'm finished." Dry again. Adam took much less time inserting the organs into the body as he had opening it, though there were a few minutes wasted on sewing the eyes together. "When this is done, we must all reconsider what I'm being paid." Sealing the chest cavity was done with his own stitches, and they were far less ornate than the ones that held things together originally.

"Of course, Adam," Owen smirked and tossed the gloves into the biohazard disposal bin nearby and rubbed his hands together.

Una hummed vaguely, though whether for Adam's comment or for the actions that followed was indeterminate. She said nothing more, her attention was fixing again upon the deft movements of Adam's hands. As he sealed Anton's chest again, she took a reflexive step back, as if expecting a flash or some sort of instantaneous combustion.

Adam likewise stepped back, discarding his gloves and collecting his cane. In the distant depths of the building, a phone echoed, unanswered.

Medical examination rooms were always cold, so the chill that hung in the air might have gone unnoticed by Adam and Una. Owen didn't feel the drop in temperature so much as he felt the distant echoes of a dormant spell slowly working its way to life. The tethers that surrounded Anton's body snapped, the magic he'd cast to link the corpse with the switchblade was severed as something more intricate and powerful took hold. The body's chest rose as though taking in a deep breath and the eyes seemed bright for a dead man's, but that passed and it soon settled back as inanimate as before. Owen rubbed at his chin.

Una was listening to the sound of the phone echoing through the empty hallways and watching Adam to see how he reacted. That there was no change in his expression had her turning toward Owen, a question on her lips when she felt the finest tremor run along her bare arms that snatched her attention back to Anton in time to see his chest rise and fall. She gained back the distance she'd put between herself and the table instantly, staring down at the dead man to see what more might occur. When there was nothing else, she looked back up to Owen. "What was that?" The phone was forgotten for now.

"Respiration." She had not asked him, but Adam answered anyway. He leaned forward on his cane, curious. "But it stopped. That's a let down."

She gave Adam a slow blink for his comment. "I understand that part." Perhaps the connection between the two men was simpler than she'd anticipated.

Owen's hands came together and he held them in front of his face, staring over his fingertips at the body with a far away look in his eyes that suggested he was not seeing reality the way Una and Adam were.

"Think of a spell," he said, his voice muffled by his hands. They lowered. "A ritual. It has ingredients, it requires components and certain symbols. It requires an incantation. The body and organs are the components, the markings on the heart and eyes key sections of an incantation."

"The first couple of words have just been spoken, but it is incomplete. I can see a thread forming but not where it leads, practically speaking."

Una turned her attention next to Owen. "So once again we are left with no immediate solution. Just more questions."

Question and silence, to be exact. After a moment, Adam picked his cane up, prodded the body, and uttered, "Abracadabra." When it didn't work, he looked at the other two and shrugged. "Worth a try."

Owen gave Adam a dry smile. "I'll take you to a comedy club, Adam. You're in dire need of some education."

"You both are," Una said drily.

"I'm hilarious."

"That's not what she means."

"Of course it's what she means, Adam," Owen rolled his eyes and approached Anton. "Una. You should have Besnik keep an eye out for delivery men or women. I wouldn't be surprised if we had more mysterious packages arrive in the future."

"We need to focus more on the marks, I suppose. I can ask Mus'ad if he's uncovered anything else," Una said, trying to rein in their focus as the ringing phone finally abated. She nodded as Owen spoke and then turned to Adam. "Would you continue to hold the body for awhile? You mentioned payment earlier, what are your terms?"

Adam leaned back against the door, cane tucked across him. It was an act of considering, a show, fake and empty. He had already decided what he wanted. However, he was going to make them wait for it. "I'll tell you when it comes to me. Owen is covered; I'm paid for my service." Adam nodded at the corpse. "I'll hold it for as long as I feel safe. I would suggest we find another location, just in case."

"I can take care of that," he said, nodding slowly, thoughtfully. "I will come up with something shortly."

"You are billing us separately?" Una asked Adam.

"Seems so." Nodding, lips pursed, acting as this was as surprising to him as it was her.

"Then I want terms up front, rather than the unknown hanging over my head," Una said.
"Later." Cold and without emotion now.

Adam's shift was degrees different from what Una had experienced with him prior, and therefore was not a surprise. She was unruffled as she left Anton's side and drew closer to the doctor, the dark weight of her gaze landing squarely upon him. There was lead in both it and the words that followed. "Then we are at an impasse. What would you suggest?"

"Una," he said. "Don't worry about it. Adam, I will handle the expense myself."

Una gave Owen a long look over her shoulder, and then relented.

"Hm." Adam came back with only a short response, characteristic of the man being absorbed in thought. As Una dropped the subject, so he did he. "Will that be all for tonight?"

Owen, seemingly relieved, nodded. "Yes. Thank you for your time, Adam."

"Yes, thank you," she echoed, with one last look at the corpse upon the table. Still inanimate.

"I'll let you out. This way." Much as they had come out, they were led out, escorted by the doctor with the cane through boring, drab hallways. The door was unlocked and held open for them. "I'll talk to you later, Owen."

Owen followed as Adam prepared to lead them out. He nodded. "Of course. Thanks again, Adam."

"You should consider an answering machine, Dr. Nesset, " Una said to Adam as she passed over the threshold and shaded her eyes against the light. "Your phone went on and on earlier."

"I'll consider that, thank you." Then he closed the door without further comment.

[ End of scene. More to follow! ]
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 03, 2017 8:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

[ Scene written with Una Mia. ]

The view from atop the building opposite the one in which Adam housed his macabre labyrinth of hallways, strange lighting, and surgical steel-dominated rooms was a sedate one. The twinkle of building lights was diffused by a light fog and a drizzle that pattered gently on the asphalt below. It had come and gone for the last hour like an indecisive houseguest. Una, in only her wool overcoat, didn’t mind its presence, even when it became a wintry mix that nipped at her cheeks. Her hair was slicked behind her ears, a sleek, shining jet cap that funneled trickles of wetness down the slope of her neck and the curve of her back.

There was a single bulb pouring yellow light from the side entrance of Adam’s building. It’s compliment was a rectangle of blue-white light that filled a nearby window. Like the light of a TV, but it lacked the unsteadiness of a moving picture. She’d seen a man enter the side door as she arrived, but he had yet to exit.

Sliding her hands from the pocket of her coat, Una folded them over the the fat lip of the building and rested her chin upon them, watching, waiting to see if the doctor would venture beyond the safe haven he’d created to protect his secrets.

It’s a known fact that time moves slower at night, when everyone but artists and criminals are asleep. Just after midnight time becomes sluggish, grows thick, condenses down, until it just beads up like drops of mist or fog and runs right down the walls. The whole rain of time, just dripping by. Dripping. Dripping.

Adam sometimes took these hours to himself, when business didn’t occupy him. Like tonight. Tonight he was free.

The light above the side door throbbed once, bruise yellow, then died. A moment later the door opened and man with a cane stepped out, carefully locking the door behind him and checking that it was secure. The dark hid his features, made his hair as black as dead blood, but there was only one man it could be, would be; Adam Nesset, the awaited doctor, out in secret to walk through the slow hours. Pale hands zipped the front of his military jacket and pulled the collar up around his face to block the wind, but despite the cold, he was unhurried. Like an animal scenting the wind, he stood there, still, and contemplated the direction to take.

Una would have known Adam by the way he stepped through the door, alone. Walking through his hallways a half step behind him, she’d had time to study his gait, become familiar with how he carried tension in his shoulders, the curvature of his spine, and the back of his neck where dark hair spliced neatly over paler skin. He was not a man who spent much time in the sun, and Una suspected in general that it’d been many years since he noticed any weather other than the sound of pouring rain. If even that. He struck her as a man who sequestered himself against many things.

The wind cut a sudden gust that whipped the dark slash of her hair across her face. Her eyes stung and watered, and she lifted her chin from neatly folded hands and watched to see where the man’s internal compass might point him to next: a solitary stroll among the alleyways, or a sidewalk jaunt where the people milling around him might rebound from his aura like the wrong end of a magnet. He wasn’t an easy man to know, Una had gathered, and she suspected he might not be an easy man to like, either. It was the latter that piqued her curiosity.

One hand drifted along the building’s ledge as Una ensconced herself in the far corner and leaned over the side, waiting to see where Adam was off to before she’d become his pursuer.

Adam pulled a sleeve back to check his watch and set a slow beat of feet to its sluggish tick, seemingly in no hurry, content to match pace with the torpid sweep of the second hand. If direction seemed random it was because it was random, because he had no destination, and instead of wanting to reach a defined place, he navigated on unseen principles. In the first block, he crossed the street twice, across once and then back. In the second he walked straight, though he stopped beneath the flood of a street light for an odd minute and waited; its light formed a halo around his head, snuck past his collar, and highlighted the blankness of his expression. The pattern repeated itself again and again, until two things became clear:

Adam was evading anyone following him, and he was looking for something. Or, perhaps, he was looking for being looked for, laying himself out as bait beneath the streetlight of every every odd block, pausing on street corners to check the cardinal directions for people, cars, or other, stranger things, and putting effort, concerted effort, into appearing helpless. Not once did he become aware that Una was on his trail, but the hunt was not made easy.

It was only at the end of an hour that he finally found a cluster of men that gave him pause. Rough skinned and strung out and loud even from the next block, engaging each other in physical contests of mock fights and yelling in the shorthand speech of the poorly educated. They stood outside a bar that could barely be called such, anemic music inkling out thinner than the smoke that billowed through the door when one of them stepped inside to gather cheap cans of beer. They were young, reckless, full of violence, and at a half dozen in number, they were dangerous.

Adam looked almost pleased, spying from the corner opposite them. Or just relieved. The mute of expressions made it hard to tell.

Una traipsed the ledges of open rooftops, prowled the narrow caps of steeply pitched roofs and gables, and nimbly traversed the line where gutter connected to building for as long as the buildings allowed. Her hands were often in the pockets of a dark coat that hugged her figure possessively except where it lolled open at her knees. Otherwise they were out in a teeter totter of balance that she didn’t require except for enjoying the way the wind moved through the wide fan of her fingers. It was a girlish, if perhaps developmentally sinister past time she delighted in, and there was little that compared with a view from above.

She lost track of Adam and found him again no less than three times, but just as he moved with the torpor of one who no longer cared for time, she let his lead slacken and tighten at a leisurely pace, as sure as an angler holding a line and certain of their bait. When she ran out of rooftop, she dropped nimbly to the ground below with little more disturbance to the night that the soft scuff of her flats as she rose from her crouch and continued on.

Beneath an umbrella of silver light from a streetlamp, Una bent at the waist and released a trio of marbles from her palm that went tearing down that sidewalks like bloodhounds set loose on a fresh scent. The smile she wore looking after them carried her to the next block, and it was from the shadow of a leaning telephone pole that she spied what Adam had already fixed upon. A collision of testosterone, bravado, sweat, and narcotics roiled like a malignant growth upon the sidewalk. Their clustered violence and unearned confidence was a perfect temptation, but as Una left the shadows behind and sidled in that direction, her calculations were entirely for the solitary man looming closer to her. No effort was made to disguise her approach. In fact, once she was within a certain distance, her voice cut in on the street noise to ask, “What is your diagnosis of them, Dr. Nesset?”

Adam was already aware of her before she spoke; the cane was up like a club and the other hand was behind his back and inside his jacket, palming what would invariably be a hidden weapon kept against his spine. The motions were quick, efficient, and professional, and did not belong to the set of skills a doctor was expected to have. Doctors healed, treated wounds, helped. These were the movements of a killer.

Neither action was reversed when he turned to face her, but they weren’t continued, either. Instead, Adam just frowned, staring at her with an unhappy intensity bitter enough to ruin the good moods of even the forever joyful. It was a look he had perfected through heavy usage. “Una.” The shape of her name was foul in his mouth, like he was being forced to eat something he’d rather spit out. Brown eyes narrowed. His hand fell away from beneath his jacket, empty. The cane was set down and leaned upon. He forced himself to become the doctor once more, until even his expression became flat, vanishing behind a stoic, flat mask. “You followed me. I’m impressed.”

Una didn’t fail to notice the graceful efficiency of those actions, or what they meant. She’d watched with interest how deftly his cane defied gravity and its original intent to become a threat in a shockwave fast flick of Adam’s wrist. Or that the folds of his coat hardly moved as Adam reached within it. For all of these assessments, Una’s approach remained the unwavering directness of an incoming tide, the wide black gulfs of her eyes fixed upon him. “You didn’t realize it was me,” she said softly, and with a small amount of wonder that bent the statement towards finality at the end, as if she’s satisfied one of her own internal questions.

Una wasn’t forever joyful, she wasn’t even forever feeling. There were moments when her own sense of self evaporated entirely and she became nothing more than limitless instinct. Now was not that kind of moment (and there were only a handful who’d lived to observed the art of them), but Una remained nevertheless unfazed by the way Adam’s mouth curdled around her name, and she did wonder over that, if only because he’d been such a devout adherent to expressionless during their prior encounters. Una watched the collapse of distaste into a dull plain of neutrality, and that was the greater wonder still. A smile rethought itself and she turned away, looking over the brawling drunks down the street. “It’s also possible that I simply enjoy long and particularly circuitous routes through the city, isn’t it? You’re the man of science, you tell me.”

Adam’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly, a microcosm of expression too small to avoid. No, he hadn’t realized it was her. That he hadn’t didn’t bother him, but somehow that she knew this did, either because it meant she had more on him, or because he might be letting her down. He wasn’t sure which. That bothered him, too. These were not the days to be caught off guard by his own animal brain. It was base and crude; he was more than that. He put the feelings aside, left them to the night. Annoyance, agitation, fear; They belonged to other men. Like morality, he did not let them bother him.

That still left him with the problem of Una, and the issue of his other thoughts towards her; he was still curious. It was a lie to think he was entirely displeased she was here. Despite the complications she presented, and the danger, there was a fortune to her arrival. So long as she was here, he could learn of her, learn things he could not learn from Owen or from hidden observation. The breadth of his knowledge could grow, like a map. And if he were a cartographer, then Una was ever so savage a continent. Adam watched her move and imagined, this is how early man felt, seeing the lion move in the tall grass.

He turned from her to regard the men across the street. “My diagnosis is they are dull and slow and drunk. Are you here to interfere, or observe?”

“Occam’s razor at it’s finest,” she replied. Una had come to a stop five feet from Adam. It was a distance that allowed for many choices, broad strokes of them, where a closer proximity limited and required precision. Una liked distance, but she liked proximity better, that spot just shy of the boundary line of intimate where the sheen of sweat lining a brow or upper lip was visible in minute detail, where the emotion giving birth to every expression could be witnessed as it shaped the planes of a face, and of course where a pulse could be seen beating relentlessly, steadily, hungrily against skin.

“In the interest of maintaining the scientific theme, I’m here to observe for now, Dr. Nesset. You are free, of course, to ask me to leave, but you’d short me of the chance to make my own scientific inquiry, and that would be a shame.” She closed the distance between them without haste, in the languid prowl of limbs and hips that came naturally to creatures such as her, dangerous and magnetic at once, demanding attention while simultaneously warning away.

Adam seemed aware of her inclinations, and perhaps even shared them, though for entirely other reasons. If any bit of animal lurked beneath his skin, he hid it well, covered beneath the many layers of cold logic. Pupil response, capillary action, skin response; Adam made studies of people. He meant to make a study of Una. If she were the untamed land, then he would be the cold ocean that hugged her shore. He moved closer and their world became smaller, until it only existed as far as either of them could reach and no father. The men across the street were excluded, toppling off the map edge. If only temporarily.

Adam’s head tilted, his voice was flat. “I somehow doubt you subscribe the scientific method. Imagine that. Tell me, do many people doubt you, like I do?” Curiosity heavy on the tongue, like physical attraction but more intimate. His interest was less occupied by what she had beneath her coat, and more beneath her skin. Without waiting for an answer, he nodded at her, prompting. “Promise on something. Whatever you see, you do not stop it, and you tell no one. Promise.” The halo of light above them cast his face in long shadows, amplifying features, distorting them, mutating them, perhaps revealing them. There was something beneath the dead ocean flatness, beneath that glass smooth calm. A hunger. A need. Not for her, but something. Even anything. Perhaps especially anything.

Maybe there was something to the animal in him after all.

Her smile in response to his comment was like claws flexing, and even had he given her the space to answer, Una likely would have kept silent. She retained the barb in her mind’s eye to put under the lens later when he was not so close beside her, mull the mechanism of its fine point like the curious specimen of unexpected aggression that it was. Una did not subscribe to a formal scientific method, she subscribed to instinct and the pitfalls and pinnacles of humanity. If Adam doubted her on any count, all the better.

Una considered his request in a long, thick silence, watching the shapeshifting shadows bend his features and stretch his limbs in the shadows cast off over the pavement. Adam gave off the effect of being that dark blur just under the surface of the water, an amorphous omen just waiting to rise up from the waves. “I promise,” Una said after a time. She found promises to be as easy to give as break, but her voice pitched the agreement as solemnly as if they were inking the deal in blood.

She was certainly the lion in the tall grass. So clearly did he see it that it made the little hairs on his arms stand up, and the little part of his brain dedicated to instinct buzzed, like a nest of angry bees, warning him to stay away, stay away, stay away or you’ll get stung. Adam took one step closer and watched her closely, burning her into a memory to examine later as a scientific relief in his log book of wild curiosities. The light didn’t quite catch him anymore, and without the shadows, Adam looked much as he always did. Dark eye were cold and detached, mouth flat. He nodded slowly and believed she’d keep this promise, at least this once. What she saw next would be kept between them.

[ continued ]
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 14, 2017 10:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Without word, Adam turned on his heel and made a direct line to the men. Along the way his whole demeanour changed; his shoulders slumped, his limp worsened, he put on a soft expression. The slowness of time made the minute long journey seem like five. They noticed him almost immediately, and as he drew close, pack mentality made them spread out into a half semicircle. If Una was a lion, the men were hyenas. But what did that make Adam? One blocked the door and Adam’s path. As Adam walked closer, the circle completed itself around him, closing like a net. Adam stopped at the door and gave the man in his way a flat look.

“You look like a man who can handle himself,” intoned Adam.

“Eh? What are you on about?” The look returned was puzzled. His face was large, his head bald, and his eyes were so small that they were almost lost between cheek and nose. A sneer. “You looking for some trouble, mate?”

“Yes. I am, in fact, looking for some trouble. Mate.” The mimicry was meant to be insulting, but none of the men moved. Adam sighed. “I want you to hit me.”

“‘Scuse me? You what?”

“Hit me.”

“Hey, we don’t want no weird around here. City is plenty mad. Get lost ‘fore we beat on you some.”

“That’s exactly why I’m here, so if you don’t mind, we can just get on with it.”

The response confused them so thoroughly that Adam rolled his eyes and started things himself. A quick strike from his cane across the doorman’s chin got things moving, and immediately they were on him.

Una was left behind to watch, spectator to an urban sporting event in the thick of a concrete jungle. Man and his testosterone, a timeless pitfall. She could smell the eagerness of the other men to fight, to make a target out of Adam as he so clearly wanted to be. A masochist, but not quite. There was some kind of tired desperation beneath the request, in the way he’d made himself less the closer he got until he was an unavoidable temptation, an invitation that couldn’t be refused. Would she have done the same as the drunks given such a display of vulnerability? She didn’t know.

The cold concrete wall of the building she leaned up against spread its chill along her shoulder and down her arm, but the rest of her was flushed with the fervor of the violence happening across the street. Adam’s tall non-existence was swallowed by shoulders and wire brawn immediately, the strike of his cane a pendulum in fast forward just before they set upon him like carrion.

Una, as promised, did not interfere, unless one were to count how intently her dark eyes followed the action, how they parted like fingers the limbs of the other men and sought the solitary doctor underneath, for she had little interest in the grunts and blows being rained down by Adam’s unwitting marionettes, but every reserve of her attention was bent on capturing his expression, the movements of his body, whether he flinched or was yielding in their hands, what bones might break, what blood might flow. Yes, her body remained across the street, but her gaze crawled all over him, heavy and cold, sliding between fists and bootheels to keep its place upon him.

What followed was less destructive than it appeared, though it was an illuminating study at what lurked beneath the doctor’s facade. Adam resisted only to avoid damage, skipping out of the way of blows aimed at skull or joint, or absorbed fists and feet to avoid deep bruising. When one man becomes overzealous and attempted to grab Adam from behind, the doctor broke the hold with an elbow to the stomach, a rake to the eyes, a throw, and finished with a crushing strike to the temple that left the man fetal and unconscious. It gave the other men pause; Adam threw himself into them, and bloodied a nose to keep the fight going. Again and again he put himself in danger. Again and again he allowed himself to be hurt. Again and again he kept them engaged, until they started to grow tired of the ritual, and one of them pulled a knife.

Even then, Adam never looked more than bored, perhaps disappointed, making the exercise all the stranger. A cut in his hairline dripped blood across the left of his face, creating war paint. Adam should be buying groceries or waiting in line; even corpses are more expressive. The men were entirely mystified at the behavior and, in their confusion, lost the urge to fight. The moment had simply become too awkward for them. They rejected the reality of it. The man put his knife away. With a sigh, Adam pulled his and moved in.

They moved much too slow to get away. Adam demonstrated cold methodology, cutting his way through them in seconds. Here, stabbing through the arteries in the leg. There, plunging the blade up beneath the ribs and into the heart. One man ran and Adam produced a pistol from a pocket, finishing him at distance before turning it on the rest in an easy, steady beat of gunfire.

When they were all down, he ensured they stayed down with execution shots to the head. He then crossed the street at speed, wanting to leave before the Watch could arrive. “Come,” he told Una, inviting her along.

Una watched, calculating and re-calculating the goals of this game, making guesses and judgments based on the height and stature of each man in comparison to Adam, but they lacked his viciousness and distance. They were fueled by inebriation and passion, two deadly traits in any sort of fight unless there were weapons involved from the start--in which case it usually depended on quickness. Adam was cold precision, a cobra bobbing and weaving, teasing with multiples strikes.

Una recognized the instinct, knew the trait to be one that she carried as well, and had once indulged in with delight. Though she recognized it, felt the stir of it like embers coming to life in the pit of her stomach, she still felt removed from it, removed from the many years in which she’d taken a grotesque, abnormal pleasure in excess violence. That didn’t mean her interest waned in Adam, or the fight transpiring, however. No, she was enough of a gourmand that she remained in the same state of thrall to the events, hardly moving until the last burst of gunfire had Adam moving steadily in her direction.

Una eased from her lean against the wall as if she might deliver a score on the carnage ornamenting the curb nearby, but she didn’t speak until they were a block away, her acceptance of his invitation evident in the pace she kept at his side. “When you asked that I not interfere, did you mean you didn’t want me to stop you or that you didn’t want to share?”

Adam returned the gun to his pocket and cleaned his knife with a small handkerchief, replacing it in the sheath on his spine only when there was no blood to stain it. “I didn’t want you to interfere. I should not have even let you watch, but I was interested in having you there.” The moment was yet fresh with action, and so too would it be with honesty. By the end of the block Adam’s heart rate had sunk to normal and once around the corner he was back to leaning on his cane. The stripe of blood dripped onto his jacket and bloomed in the fabric. Adam did not care. Instead, he looked at her while they walked, forming some outline of her in his head -- both the shape of her beneath her overcoat, and the hole she made in his head, which he needed to fill. It was a good thing the minutes moved slower at night, as it gave him more time to do just that.

“What is your diagnosis, then?” His bottom lip was cracked, and it opened when he asked his question, splitting in a red, angry line at the corner.

For all of Adam’s care with his knife and handkerchief, the dark spread of blood over his jacket stood out, and it was that which she kept her eyes on for some time as they walked. She was of course aware of his attention upon her; his gaze had the same weight as any other night predator, but it lacked the vividness of being alive.

When she at last looked up to answer his question, the bright red stripe of blood in the corner of his mouth snared her attention and she darted a look up at his eyes to see if he might anticipated just that before dropping her eyes back to his mouth again. He was capable of bleeding, of course--that much she’d noted just watching the fight--and yet somehow seeing it up close was surprising, too human for her estimation of him. She began slowly, drawing that same line with the black pit of her gaze from his mouth up to his eyes, “It’s not masochism, not outright. That seems too complex. And it’s not for the thrill of it, either. You seemed to take no pleasure in the violence. I don’t know that I’d like to put forth my theories beyond that. I think I’d rather you just tell me.”

The hum of sound that followed was both thoughtful and electric at the same time. She added on,”Why were you interested in having me there? Do you enjoy witnesses?”

Adam grew introspective, using the necessity of crossing the street in silence to consider his answer. Somewhere in the distance the whine of a watch siren sounded, low and baleful, and their path was immediately adjusted to take them away from it. As they took a turn around a block and he aimed them towards an empty park, he responded. “I don’t enjoy witnesses. I have no real feeling about them in any regard, except that I must usually ensure their silence. I am not a voyeur. In general, I do not get off on anything.” There was a heavy admission in there, one he could allow himself, inexplicably. Adam touched the crack in his lip experimentally with his tongue. He added, quieter, pausing at the park edge. “I don’t intend to silence you. I don’t know why I let you stay. Hope, perhaps.” In the dark, the flow of red was positively black, contrasting with the white skin that saw little sunlight. Lips pursed, blood ran. He reached out to touch the wound on his head and gazed at the wet hand thoughtfully.

Then the siren sounded again and he urged her onto the path through the lightless park. Foliage ran parallel to them, thick and wild and barely maintained. Trees grew tall and hung overhead, heavily covered in vines flowering in massive white petals. Insects chirped. A pair of small eyes watched them from beneath a bush. Adam ignored all of it, wanting only to sink further into the shadows and away from the light.

[ continued ]
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 19, 2017 10:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As Adam adjusted their course, Una shifted automatically, in tune with how his feet hit the pavement, the way his cane created a drag. “Hope is a funny thing,” she said, dark eyes sweeping their surroundings, absorbing the sound of lesser and greater heartbeats, the scatter of vermin, the night music of flapping wings battering the laden branches of trees. “Not at all the feathered thing Dickenson said it was, I don’t think. More like a cruel mistress at times.” Una smiled at the sky, at the cold light of stars that winked upon them both.

Of course her eyes were drawn to the dark patch of blood glistening on his hand, but she averted her gaze shortly then, as they slipped from the watchful white light of a streetlamp, she pulled a bit of cloth from her own coat pocket and slowed her steps. “Your lip, too,” she explained, and turned her palm up, the white cotton fabric bunched between delicate fingers. “May I?” It was a question that lacked precisely that thing which they’d just been talking about, but it came out confidently, as if either his rejection or acceptance were both equally measured in her mind and hope had no place. “You feel nothing, then? Nothing meaningful?”

Adam’s steps slowed with hers now that they were safer and the cries of the approaching watch was muffled by the trees. Not that he felt safe; he never felt safe around Una. “You ask for a lot. Which do you want more? The answer to your question, or to clean my lip?”

She laughed then, and the sound seemed to scatter darkness and pull in the moonlight. Regardless of whether his question was meant to be a test of some kind, Una answered it honestly, the white bit of cloth retreating into the fold of fingers around it, and then a withdrawal back to her side. “I want the answer to my question. One is discovery, the other is, for the moment, simply a courteous dead end.”

The reply was thoughtful, measured, and by some small degree less distant than normal. “Of course. I thought, perhaps..” Adam paused, discarded the moment, and wiped his mouth with the back of his arm, smearing more than cleaning. A distracted look at the jacket. “I feel fine. I feel as I always do. Bruised, cut, and nothing more.” Brown eyes returned to hers, studying.

“A flat line on a page, yes? No peaks and valleys for you. Perpetual fine-ness,” she mulled the implications, the idea of emotion being replaced with an endless stripe of beige, and thought of the hallways in his clinic, the peeling laminate on the poster of the cat hanging in his waiting room. “For how long?” she asked, reaching up to catch a low-hanging branch with her fingertips and spill the fragrance from the bowl of a large white bloom onto the upturn of her face.

“I would never attempt to describe what I am or how I feel. I feel more than nothing. I am more than nothing.” But how much more? Even Adam didn’t know. He watched her move, following her body as it lengthened in the stretch, from the small contact of toes to the ground, to the subtle shift of the lean muscles of her legs, and up, through her spine and collar and upturned chin. Even he could appreciate the beauty of her. He wondered at what the raw application of her must feel like, if it was enough to register. A spike, perhaps, to break up the monotony of all the flat lines running through him. Or maybe a fast moment in the slow night. He bit his lip; blood touched a tooth, stained it red.

In all likelihood, she would feel like nothing but claws and teeth. He reminded himself she was a predator and put all thoughts of her back on the slide for clinical examination. “What about you? How do you feel?”

[i[Like a magnolia, but not[/i], Una thought, hooking a finger around the stem of the flower and tugging it free of the vine it hung from. It took more strength than she’d anticipated, the stem woody and tough, ragged green fibers exposed like cut wires. But the fragrance was exotic and rich, filling the space between them with its strange syrup. Una watched as Adam caught his lip between his teeth, how red bloomed over white enamel like ink spread over tissue paper. A deep inhale and she passed the stolen bloom just below her nose, a pretense of considering the doctor’s question in the thoughtful upturn of her eyes. “Right at this very moment? I feel fine, as well. But there’s a pleasantness to it more so than just a stagnant state of being. I have plenty of highs and lows.” She extended her handkerchief to him, a tap of her finger on her own cheek to indicate the smear of red upon his. “Perhaps sometime I will let you come along and observe one of my past times.”

“What must it be like to have highs and lows.” Adam plucked the handkerchief from her hand as delicately as he would remove a flower, surgeon hands unaffected by the night's activities. Red burned through white, turning black where the concentration was heaviest, fabric wilted and soaked through. It took some moments for Adam to clean his face and he continually checked the fabric, amused by his own physical properties, as if reminded suddenly that they existed. He appreciated that the nights were so long, it allowed him to tend to such frivolities. A glance to her as he pocketed the now wet square. “I’ll return it after I clean it.” The look swung sidelong to the path behind them. He added, “We should be going. They will look here. We’re not far from my office now.”

“You’ve never had any in your life? You’ve only been a steady state?” The question came out wonder-touched, the lilt surprisingly girlish for Una, who rarely liked to emit the aura of anything other than thorns and barbs these days. Better, she thought, that everyone knew what it was they were reaching for. She did little to hide her interest in the progress of her handkerchief over his face, though it was easily masked as concern for the effort, for she lifted a finger a few times to her own face to help him navigate overlooked spots. Her glance cut sharply away, however, once he pocketed the square, her disappointment fed to the implacable gray concrete of the sidewalk before them. Clever man, of course he’d keep it. Una murmured something faint and dismissive as she began to stroll again, and couldn’t help the amusement that haunted the corners of her mouth for his warning. “Of course,” she said, drawing the flower under her nose once more as they left the hanging vines and lamplight behind.

Adam was back to her, feeling miles from the danger that bore down on him. More than miles; continents away, oceans away. The watch would have to set sail to reach him in that one moment. The whole of time stretched, and there, the two of them alone in that garden, he was tempted to call her Eve to his Adam, for she was dangling the Fruit in front of him. He would never have guessed she had a softness to her beneath that animal skin. There was a hesitation in his step, and his mouth parted as if he wanted to say something, something profound, but yet -- nothing. His mouth closed. He put aside his idea of her and the moment. Time’s pace picked up. He turned to lead the way out, on the side opposite their entry.

“That’s a catalpa tree, by the way. It’s the only source of food for the sphinx moth. Interesting, isn’t? A whole species relying on one single tree to survive.” Adam pointed above them with his cane without looking, without stopping.

The doctor didn’t answer her questions. Una smiled for the familiar tactic, a faint curve of her mouth interrupted by cast shadows from the blossoms and vines above. For a time there was nothing but the soft sound of the evening between them, the park’s sequestered atmosphere, and the muted scuff of Adam’s cane over the pavement. The moment it hesitated, her attention departed from a fixed point in the distance and leapt back to the doctor beside her, anticipation of a confession, an answer to her question, perhaps, guiding the haste. Instead, there was only a different kind of quiet, a purposeful quiet accompanied by the black fissure of his parted mouth, the blight of a fresh scab on one side. A dark brow arched, sharing its expectation and then relented as he turned and continued on.

Una looked up when Adam indicated the canopy above with the crook of his cane. “Fascinating,” she agreed. Her steps slowed briefly where his didn’t, and she walked behind the stiff peaks of his shoulders for awhile, studying him from that offset angle wondering if he, like most others, would find that unsettling. “That seems a very dangerous way to live. A fluke of evolution, perhaps.”

“All relationships are a dangerous way to live. Animals have no thought otherwise. It’s people who pretend it isn’t.” Adam looked over his shoulder without fear, without contempt, without altering his pace, seemingly content with her place behind him except that it made it awkward to look at her. Just a moment ago, when he’d started to talk, she’d appeared so interested. He was playing a dangerous game, keeping her interest, and he predicted he would eventually lose. It was just about what was lost, then.

Just to throw her off, Adam smiled, but turned it away from her and aimed it ahead. He continued, “I appreciate the frankness of the wild animal. No pretexts. No dressings. Everything plain and forward.” The cane’s pattern reasserted itself into the conversation, growing louder as they neared the far edge of the park. Soon the path became concrete and street lights peeked through tree trunks.

All relationships are a dangerous way to live. A particularly astute comment from the doctor. Una’s mouth didn’t know how to respond, formed a compressed line that betrayed neither the humor she found in the sentiment, nor the bitterness--a strange, indecisive net neutral effect that looked out of place upon her. Bittersweet. How much of the past 30 years could she characterize as such? A name rose up in her mind, a leviathan from the morass of old memories, perfect architecture of sharp angles, a certain symmetry of cruelty. Before the old scripts could rehash themselves in her mind or entrench themselves in a film-reel like montage of history, she focused on the turn of Adam’s smile, the brief glimpse of its full curve before he gave it to the night in front of them. It wasn’t real, that much she was certain of, but it was rare enough to warrant her full attention.

The heel of her shoe scuffed against a chunk of concrete, though she managed to correct the arrested movement before it was anything close to a stumble. More like a step out of place, a tremor in her shadow before it realigned itself next to Adam’s. “You might appreciate it, but it’s not something you necessarily practice, is it? You have your secrets, things about yourself that you wish to protect from discovery, yes?”

Little of Adam was real, but Una would not be captured by the romanticism of it. She was no young girl, yearning away to the fevered soundtrack of a small town. Nor was she old before her time, married and child struck, seeking afternoons escapes in the thin pages of cheaply printed trash. Una was Una, and Adam was growing to appreciate her. Slowly, cautiously, and against his better judgement, he was starting to actually enjoy her company.

Not that he could relate to her. She was an animal of the tall grass. Beautiful, dangerous, and totally, utterly alien to him.

“I don’t routinely practice frankness, no. I know of no one to engage in it with. I prefer to keep people at arm’s length or further, if I can, which is almost always.” They reached the end of the trail and with it, the park. A street opened in front of them, lights buzzed overhead. Adam paused long enough to verify they were still alone and then crossed the street, to the walk in the shadows of a tailor’s business, replete with suits on display in the tall storefront windows.

[ continued ]
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 25, 2017 5:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“So you are practicing it now, then,” Una said, a cant of her head to the side so that Adam became the more prominent fixture between sidewalk and the street ahead. Her smile was faint, a suggestion of amusement that was in no hurry to leave where it curled up at the corners of her mouth. “While also maintaining an arm’s length distance,” she teased, one arm lifting to measure the distance between them, though she knew what he really meant. Her fingertips barely brushed the sleeve of his coat over his bicep.

As they passed alongside darkened shop windows, Una studied the wares behind the glass, the empty, headless suits on display at the tailor’s, how Adam’s reflection filled them in. Her steps slowed in front of a women’s clothing store as she considered the plastic meins of mannequins wearing short babydoll dresses and one-piece rompers with shorts that cut off just below the apex of the thighs. “The sixties have cycled back around again,” she murmured, mostly to herself. It was an offhand comment, but one that erased the last vestiges of her smile. Turning away from the window display, she asked Adam abruptly, “Do you know what I am?”

“This is a strange evening.” In response to everything, acknowledging that, in some sense, he was being frank with her -- or, franker than he would with others, or with her in other situations. He was not, however, entirely ready to admit it openly. Perhaps because of the weight of admission, or because he didn’t necessarily consider the conversation that frank. He didn’t make it clear which camp he was in. Moving past the shops, he was keen to get inside and away from the approaching watch. The wound on his head was still open and fresh blood was rolling down the side of his face, along the hairline and onto his jacket. The shirt beneath must be soaked. When she touched him, he eyed her skeptically but did not withdraw. He didn’t move closer, either.

“Yes.” Why lie? His sense of her was that she would know. He admitted further, “I know more about you than you realize, just as I know more about Owen than he realizes. It’s one of my functions.” That he was interested in them was not explicitly said, but it was still implied. At the middle of the block he made to cross the street.

“I enjoy strange evenings,” Una said. “Over a span of many years, so much fades away. What is left are only the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, and the very strange,” her voice curled dramatically at the end, a teasing jump of her brows in his direction. Better a tease than the creep of melancholy that sometimes struck her. The duration of their walk and the open air gave Una the necessary mental distance required to avoid staring at the temptation of red trickling down Adam’s cheek, though she wanted to at least take her handkerchief to it desperately. It wasn’t that she needed blood, but wanting it was just as much of an issue, and the craving tended to deepen when she found someone interesting. So she kept her eyes resolutely trained on the innocuous parts of the doctor, the places unmarred by red stains--his hands, his chin, his eyes which often seemed to resist locking with hers.

“How do you know?” She let the curiosity in her voice remain untempered and open, an experiment of sorts as she fell in line with him again to cross the street. Her hands found her pockets and the wind found her hair, rustling it free of its usual composure. “You say functions as if you’re running some sort of program, as if you’re an automaton. If I were to peel back your skin, would I find a metal skeleton beneath?”

Adam had no such temptations to resist. There was no part of her that was more appealing or less appealing -- his attraction to her was one of complete totality. A lifetime ago he might have found himself inclined to wonder about the shape of her body beneath that one coat (and the motion of the coat sliding free of said shapes), or lost his train of thought to the rumblings of the imagination (her, in a sea of black sheets, as dark as his mind or darker yet, with the one writhing island that was Una Cristea), or simply adrift on the fantasies of pure, masculine need (taunt muscle, animal brain).

Or perhaps even of more mundane variety, wanting to make silly promises to exchange books, letters, recipes. He could lend her his copy of The Lion and the Wardrobe, the only book of fiction he owned. They could mail each other letters, despite living in the same city. They could cook together, or dine out. Did Una like Italian? He imagined she did, but only so she could entertain herself with fine dining, just for the irony of it. Here sits Una, back straight and proper, just a slip of monster in the flimsy skin of an upstanding, moral woman. Poor waiter wouldn’t know what hit him when she looked him in the eyes while he poured her wine. Leave him with thoughts most impure and quite possibly accurate.

But those thoughts belonged to someone else. Everything he did or said suggested that his understanding of these thoughts were just that; an understanding, and not an experiencing. Adam’s sole need from Una was to know more. Thus, when he replied, “I pay attention. That’s how I know things. No one pays attention anymore,” it was likely not at all a surprise. I pay attention. It was as romantic, and dangerous, as he got. A thin smile formed and blood followed the line of his lips. He wiped it away again with a sigh, bloodying his jacket sleeve. “I pay very close attention to what people do or say or, for example, how they look at things. And I wouldn’t argue against the notion I’m a machine, though I believe my thoughts are more irrational than you apparently think.”

Then, as he caught view of himself in the reflection of a window, he stated, “I don’t think I will let people hit me again. Too messy.”

Una, tight-lipped, watched blood well and delineate the shape of his mouth, making a red seam in the middle that contrasted with the paler pink of his lips. In another time and another place, Adam might’ve been been something else to her altogether. Here, he’d established his role and she followed the rules accordingly, more or less. “You didn’t answer my question about your skeleton. Is it made of bone or metal?” A dead-pan tease.

“What will you do next time, then? What else is there for you to cross off your list?” she asked when he nixed any future brawls of his own devising. A sliver of a smile quirked for his conclusion. He did seem a rather tidy man, in the end, an overarching neatness to him that pervaded even his essence. There was of course the temptation to stir it up and unsettle it, but it was early yet and, aside from her suspicion that it’s be a difficult thing to achieve, Una reminded herself that the doctor was not her prey.

“I assure you, I am perfectly normal and human. Normal bones, normal blood, normal heart.” The brain was left off the list, as Adam would not attempt to convince her he was usual in that regard. “And as one in possession of such a normal body, I believe I’ll find less invasive ways to spend my time.” Adam lapsed into a heavy silence then, tucking his hands into pockets and moving along at a slower, calmer speed. There was enough space between him and his experiment now that the risk of being caught was very slight to nonexistent. The sun was on the rise, too, which meant this was the last of the night. Soon time would catch up, and with it, so would the aches, cuts, bruises, and other inflictions he’d earlier welcomed. For all the effort, Adam had to admit he felt very little about it. Una was far more engaging.

But even she didn’t move the needle like he wanted. He glanced at her often, as they walked along, and he exercised his imagination. Other scenarios, other situations; he was endlessly inventive, when he allowed himself to be. She was fascinating, and some distant part of him yearned for her, not like boys did for their fantasy girls, but like a man did, experienced and practiced, knowing what he wanted. She was dangerous, too, and that should have been exciting. And beautiful in a rare way. But it was all distant, after all, and what should have been was not an actuality, and when he went looking for the feelings she should have engaged, he found absolutely nothing, just like he always found. Just like he’d found when men had struck him and again when he’d killed them. Just like he found as the sun’s first gorgeous rays curved over the horizon. Just like he found when he looked at himself. Distant, empty nothing.

They reached the door to his office. Adam coughed. “This is where I say goodnight.”

“How disappointing,” Una said, not bothering to clarify whether the comment was meant for his humanity, the probable future of less invasive past times, or their arrival in front of his office and his subsequent spoken intent to depart.

On a different night, in a different city, in a different era, perhaps Una would have had more to say to the doctor, would have had found difficulty in relinquishing him to his familiar office confines, would have delighted in initiating some sort of nameless game that cast them in revolving roles of predator and prey to test the mettle of the man’s impenetrable facade. He might not have had any sort of reaction to it, but Una had no doubt he’d participate. She was too old to feel any sort of regret either way. Opportunities came and went and no doubt the doctor would remain a fixture for a little while longer. Once his time passed, Una wondered how long she would remember him, how long until his face receded, indistinguishable among the sea of the thousand others she’d looked upon over a century.

The wilting stem of the flower she’d plucked twirled in her hand, soft white petals a revolving caress along the side of her jaw. He coughed and she remained standing exactly as she was and then, with a serpentine coil of her mouth, she took a step backwards, closer the arms of shadows stretching to reach her. “Good night, then, Dr. Nesset,” she said, and then turned, melting into the darkness.

[ End of scene. More to follow! ]
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