Spanner Jack by Keith Melton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
by Keith Melton
If you missed it…
Introduction information is here
Chapter One is here
The truck’s tires screamed when Brenna stood on the brakes. She jumped the curb anyway, jouncing hard, her teeth clacking together and barely missing the tip of her tongue. The back-end threatened to fishtail, but she kept grim, white-knuckled control even as the side of the building kissed the edge of her mirror and rear fender. She fought the truck to a stop half on the sidewalk in front of a building with mint-green cinderblock walls in Park Hill. The parking lot was empty except for a violently pink ’78 Trans Am.
Brenna knew how drunk or crazy she must look, almost ramming a building with a plenty of wide open asphalt around it, but she wanted to be close to the door in case she had to carry her dog inside. She glanced at Tau, eyeing his harness. “You okay, boy? Got a little rough there, sorry.”
Tau started wagging his tail. She petted him, her throat tight as she tried not to burst into sobs of relief. Tail wagging, that had to be good, right? Maybe…maybe that thing inside him wouldn’t hurt him. Maybe his stomach acid had killed it.
She freed him from his harness and climbed out of the truck, then lifted Tau so he wouldn’t…jar something or hurt himself jumping down. She could’ve sworn Tau gave her a look of doggie disapproval, but then he started licking her face.
“Ew. What did I tell you about the drool-face-slathering thing?” she said, trying not to laugh. If she started laughing, she’d start crying. “You’re not butter, and I’m not toast.”
He continued licking until she set him down. A groan escaped her lips as she straightened. Her lower back hurt like hell, the slashes on her thigh and gouge on her hip still throbbed, despite the pain-killer. Her absurd makeshift towel and rope bandages were stained dark red, her jeans were covered with blood—hers and the chaur’s—and she reeked like a combination of a pickle jar and an abattoir. Now that the adrenaline had gone, every pain and ache seemed eager to outdo one another for her attention, though the slash and punctures from the chaur still reigned supreme. She glanced around, nervous about drawing stares, maybe police attention. The wacko wounded lady with the robo-legs, splashed with blood, racing around like a get-away driver, maybe even abducting a helpless, three-legged dog, who knew? Oh the freaky depravity. But the street had only the occasional car cruising past, the drivers not seeming to notice her.
The other buildings showed their age in the late afternoon sunlight, weary as old cowboys, with cracked shingles, fading paint, frayed awnings, and signs that had seen better decades. She couldn’t see into their windows, the sun out here was still too bright, so she had no idea if she were being watched. She grabbed her backpack and slung it across her shoulder, the cans inside rattling, then she wrapped the quad in an old flannel work shirt she’d found on the floor that smelled of engine oil. Better get inside fast.
Brenna hurried to the front door of the hideous pile of mint green cinderblocks. The words Freedom Organizer and Worker’s Rights Advocate were painted on the glass panel. Broken shards glinted from cracks in the walkway concrete and peeked from the yellowing weeds. Probably from the last time someone with beef had thrown a brick through the door. She cupped her hand around her eyes and pressed her forehead against the glass, peering inside. The front desk was empty, so she started to bang on the door.
No answer. She glanced at the pink Trans Am. That was Lavonne’s car. She started to sweat and shifted her weight from one leg to the other, her nerve endings pulsing with low-grade pain, a constant dark murmur in the back of her mind. The bundled up quad seemed ridiculously heavy as she tried to keep it concealed from view. Surely everyone out there had to be staring at her, knowing she was hiding a gun. Guns and blood sent the wrong message. Tau whined, sensing her growing unease. She banged harder, rattling the glass.
Finally someone shouted. “I’m coming! I’m coming! Don’t bust my door!”
Brenna recognized Lavonne’s voice and her breath caught as relief swept through her. Her friend appeared a moment later, walking with the rapid, purposeful stride of the highly annoyed. She wore a sharp grey business suit that complimented her brown skin and eyes and matching heels. Brenna tried not to dwell on how she must appear to Lavonne, willing her friend not to running screaming from the zombie knocking on her door. Lavonne halted when she saw Brenna. She frowned, then hurried to the door and unlocked it.
“Brenna, what the hell?” Lavonne’s normally smooth, resonant voice cracked on the last word. “What happened to you? Get in here! You’re bleeding.”
“‘It’s just a flesh wound,’” Brenna quoted as she stepped inside the muggy office with Tau following close by her side. Though she nearly sagged with weary relief when Lavonne locked the door again behind her.
“Don’t b.s. me. How badly are you hurt?”
“It looks worse than it is. I stopped the bleeding, popped some antibiotics.” Now that she was off the street, behind walls again, she felt both exhausted and ravenous. She moved deeper into the office, looking the place over.
Tackboard lined the closest wall, layered with every kind of announcement like old leaves beneath an oak tree. Federal Regulation posters, a framed copy of the Bill of Rights, Unionize Now and Worker’s Unite and other flyers and photocopies and articles about the Patriot Act and health care. An American flag hung in a glass wall-mounted case. The desks were cheap particle board, covered with stain rings from coffee mugs, scattered pens, and overflowing in/out boxes. The brown carpet smelled of coffee, and the scent of ink from inkjet printers mixed with the hot ozone reek of the ancient photocopier, wheezing like an old man with pneumonia with every copy.
Lavonne waved her to a chair behind one of the desks, but Brenna didn’t sit. She placed the wrapped quad down on the desk, atop a plateau of paperwork.
Lavonne eyed the bundle with a frown but only said, “Why aren’t you at the hospital?”
“Tau’s hurt.” Brenna knelt next to him, ignoring the sudden spike of pain from her thigh and hip. “Something got inside him.”
“Inside him? What?”
“I don’t know what it was.” She hugged her dog and started shaking, all at once, as if some part of her brain had thrown a switch. Her hands jittered, the muscles in her stomach clenched, and the only part of her that felt solid were her artificial legs. She tried to get a hold of herself again and couldn’t.
“You look like sun-fried shit,” Lavonne said, her voice hushed. She dropped to her knees beside Brenna and wrapped her and Tau in a big hug. Lavonne smelled of wood smoke—always had, even in the hottest days of summer where only a particularly demented arsonist would dream of burning wood. The word for that was inexplicable. Or maybe weird. Brenna wasn’t complaining though. The smell was soothing, and so was the hug. Lavonne’s brown skin felt warm, another comfort, because Brenna felt as if her core temperature had plunged ten degrees since killing the chaur.
Lavonne leaned back, still with a hand on each of them, and fixed her with a no-nonsense stare. “What happened, girl? The truth—who did this to you?”
“Please. Tau. There’s some kind of eel in him. It got inside him after I killed the chaur—”
“A chaur here? What the ever-loving fuck?”
“—and it got down his throat before I could get it out. For awhile it seemed like he was hurting bad, but then…but then he seemed okay again. I’m scared sick. What if it’s killing him and I can’t see it?”
Lavonne’s face grayed with shock. All the comfort Brenna had gained from the hug evaporated in an instant. Without a word, Lavonne stood and nearly ran to the door, her heels thudding a rapid rhythm on the floor. She double-checked that the door was locked, and then scanned the street. The wood smoke scent grew stronger, and for an instant Lavonne’s face appeared to distort, as if her skin were a digital image suddenly distorted by compression artifacts, the smooth lines replaced by blockiness and pixelization. Her eyes seemed to widen and flash orange, the shade of traffic cones, before snapping back to normal. The blocky distortion vanished. She once again appeared a hundred and ten percent Homo sapiens, except for that wood smoke smell that overpowered even her high-end perfume. Brenna didn’t know what species Lavonne was, though sometimes the curiosity ate at her like acid. It was a huge breach of Earthside decorum to outright ask another gatejumper. All she knew for certain was that Lavonne was a fellow refugee from Entropy, a tide pool of a city brimming with strange life, brackish in the places where cultures overlapped.
“What are you looking for?” Brenna asked, although she already suspected the answer.
“To see if you were followed.” She turned away from the window. “This eel, was it red or see-through? Did it crawl out of the chaur?”
“Translucent, all veiny, and covered with slime.” Fear twisted her guts into knots. “What is it?”
“Probably a nopauk worm. Dammit. Did you see anything else around? A person watching? Maybe an earth animal that seemed too intelligent, lingering and watching you?”
“There was a van. Something was inside, I didn’t see what.” The feeling of sick dread boiling in her stomach grew worse. “Can you get that thing out of Tau?”
“No. I’m sorry, I can’t. My skills don’t even begin to run that way.”
Brenna closed her eyes. Her thoughts had exploded into panic again, spinning in her mind as fast as a fan blade.
“Listen,” Lavonne said. “We have to find someone skilled enough to remove it safely. An Earthsider vet would only kill him trying to get it out, even if they didn’t freak and run screaming to the authorities. Now, about the van. Did it follow you?”
“No. And I drove fast, took a half dozen random turns to throw off a tail. I watched for it and didn’t see it. It’s a white RepairPro van. Hard to miss.” She fought the urge to throw up all over the floor. Get a hold of yourself. Think of Tau. “What can I do to save my dog? There has to be something. Don’t lie to me, is he going to die?”
“I don’t know. Not if we get it out, and we have some breathing room, I think. A nopauk’s a parasite from some fungus jungle place—I forget the name. Rare, though, and banned like you wouldn’t believe. They seize control of a native host, mind and body, and use it to breed. But I’ve never heard information claiming they can control species not native to their planet. Too specialized, maybe? So your dog won’t stop being your dog.”
“But someone can get it out of him, right? I mean, you know someone who can save him, right? I’ll pay anything. Do anything.”
“Easy with the promises, girl. True, I know someone. A xenochirurgeon. A real fascist prick too. We have some…history. Thing is, he’s in Portland.”
Oregon. So far away. “That’s a thousand plus mile hike. Can Tau make it that long?”
“I don’t know. I’m no expert.” Lavonne shook her head. “I ran up against something like this once, long time ago. But that’s not the worst of this either. There’s another species, intelligent, advanced, that has the ability to use nopauk worms as…I don’t know, remote control devices. It’s some sick stuff. They’re called Matriquin and they are scary. Very damn scary, hush-hush assassins. They’re parasite bodyriders that can appropriate, subvert, control almost anything with a spine. They’re kill on sight, persona non grata in Entropy, and that’s saying something.”
“And one of those bodyriders sent the chaur after me?”
“Had to be. They do horrible stuff, messy as shit spellwork, crimes against life. Blood gates. Weird, sick summoning rituals.”
“How do you know all this? I’ve never heard of them.”
“Ran across one in work I used to do. From before.” Lavonne’s words were too offhand, dismissive in a way that only drew attention to them. Brenna didn’t press her, though she itched to do so. Entropyside life was Entropyside life—all in the past, and dangerous to talk about.
Lavonne moved to another window and peered out at the street again. “You said a white van?”
“With RepairPro on the side. You see it?” She looked, but the parking lot was still empty save for Lavonne’s pink Trans Am and her truck, but her friend’s unease revved up her own, until every sound seemed pregnant with threat. Was that a scuttling on the roof? A creaking hinge from the back of the building? She glanced at her father’s gun on the desk, wondering if she should grab it.
“No. Nothing.” Lavonne wheeled away from the window again and charged the coffee pot. She dumped black coffee into a cup, splashing it wildly, before throwing it straight back like a shot. She slammed the cup down again hard enough to send little plastic creamers rolling across the table and then glared at Brenna. “What did you do to bring one of those vicious bastards down on you?”
“Nothing. I don’t know. I was just working.”
Lavonne scowled and for an instant her face distorted into pixelization before returning to normal, so fast Brenna might’ve believed she’d never seen it in the first place. The hairs on the back of her arms stood up. She wasn’t afraid…but that was a little unsettling to watch.
“Working for the Emissary?” Lavonne demanded.
“For Dr. Annabelle Price.”
“Same thing.” Lavonne held up a hand before Brenna could protest. “I still have some connections, so I know a bit about Price. Working for that thug…that jzarekahl posli fat cat piece of sewage…almost as bad as working for those Order of the Thorn assassins. Or the Guilds.”
Brenna sucked in breath. She set her hand on Tau, who looked up at her. When she thought she had herself under control, she forced out her reply. “I came here because I need help, not lectures—”
“Clearly you do need lectures if you’re coming to me, ripped to shreds, almost eaten by a chaur again, with a parasite in your dog. My oath in the gutter, what did you expect with that cockroach Emissary involved?” She clenched her fists and began to pace in front of a desk, slashing the air with sharp gestures. “And Price. Still trying for the portal superhighway? That stupid bitch. Dammit, Brenna.” Her voice turned mocking. “The crossroads of interdimentional capitalism and science. It’s so fucking fascist I could choke.”
“Can we not fight about it for once? I came to you because I didn’t have anywhere else to go.”
“My help comes with commentary. If you can’t deal, then scoot off. Go see if the Emissary will save your ass.”
“You don’t mean that.” But Brenna stood anyway, her heart hammering away, part of her as though she were cracking inside, breaking into shards at her friend’s words, her coldness. And where would she go now? She didn’t even have the name of the guy who might help Tau.
Lavonne rubbed her hand over her eyes. When she looked at Brenna again, she wore a smile—strained, sad, but a smile nonetheless. “Are you crazy? Sit down. Of course I don’t mean that.” She sighed and flopped down in a nearby office chair. One of the wheels gave an outraged squeak. “The bodyrider will still be after you, if you’re the target. This is damn scary stuff. A few minutes ago I was stressed out applying for marching permits, and now this…”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t have anyone else to trust.” She hated the desperation in her voice, but it was true. “Not anyone who’d understand.”
“I know. But I’m pissed off and I’m terrified. These bodyrider things…well, you know the chaur. These are ten times worse.” She glanced at Brenna’s legs, took a deep breath, and shook her head as if clearing it. “Still, it’s good to see you, even though I’m really hating the circumstances. I see you’re wearing your fancy heels.”
Brenna snorted, willing to run with the change in subject if it meant sidestepping an ugly argument. “I see you still have zero tact.”
“When was tact ever useful among friends?” Lavonne grinned. “You know, when I first met you, I thought you wore those ugly things for attention. A ‘look at me, I’m different’ vibe. Now I can’t decide if you’re crazy or if you just have terrible taste.”
“Wrong on both counts. The real answer’s so simple it’s boring.”
“And? Don’t make me beat it out of you with a pamphlet. Because I will.”
“I don’t have time to hide who I am. This way, it’s all out in the open. Someone has a problem with me and how I look, what I am, they don’t even have to talk to me.” Her lips twisted into a wry smile. “Hey look, I ended up whining on the shrink’s couch after all.”
“You whining? That’ll be the day.” Lavonne drew herself up, shoulders back, and lifted a hand as if she were about to address an audience of far more than Brenna and her dog. “As a concerned social activist and card-carrying bleeding heart, I’ve given my life to deleting prejudice and discrimination from society forever. People everywhere should be allowed to wear the legs they wish, how they wish, and where they wish without fear of condemnation or reprisals. How’s that sound? Ridiculously pompous or pompously ridiculous?”
“I’m going with both.”
“Score for me. So let me reveal something embarrassing to make up for being such an insufferably nosy and bombastic jerk. Like always. Let’s see…how about this? When I first arrived Earthside, of course I needed a new name. So I did I grab a baby name book? Search the Internet for most common given names? Not at all. I got my hands on a Thesaurus. You know my first choice?”
Brenna shook her head, grinning.
“Hoi Polloi. Can you believe it? I meant well, but damn I was such an idiot.” She barked a laugh, then followed it with a sigh. “You know what mannerism I like best, Earthside? Sighing. It seems to sum everything up perfectly sometimes. Like now, with you. Brenna girl, the way I see it, you have a couple of choices, neither of them good.”
“Let’s hear ’em.” She already knew she’d choose whatever was best for Tau, no matter what.
“One, you try to contact that pompous ass of a scalpel shaman in Portland. See if he’ll agree to help get the parasite out of your dog. Even if he agrees, it’s going to cost you. He’s a swaggering monument to cold-hearted avarice, but he’s good at what he does, and it kills me to admit it. His name’s Dr. Jason Freely.”
She nodded. She didn’t have a lot of money, but maybe…maybe they could work something out. “What’s the other choice?”
“Scurry back to the Emissary. He’ll have people who could remove it. Probably. But if he sent the bodyrider after you? You’re ever-loving screwed, kid.”
“Why would he do that? He warned me about it—told me not to mess with the box and to get the hell outta the lab. As if he suspected something. And he was on his way to the lab when he called me.”
Lavonne’s lip curled. “Funny how he didn’t warn you in time, don’t you think? And did you ever see him arrive?”
“No, because I ran like hell. I mean, the Emissary’s an arrogant jerk, but why would he gun for me? I’m nobody.”
“Maybe he’s erasing a mess he made. Something he doesn’t want his overlords to discover, or maybe the Guilds, or the investment syndicates, or hell, even the Sidhe learning about. I’m sure the list is long. Price is probably dead by now.”
“I talked to her. Right before the Emissary called and things crashed all off the rails. She was obsessed with some package that hadn’t arrived, but she was okay.”
“Sounds like a good reason for the Emissary to kill her.”
“You’re not paranoid enough. Not by far. Somebody tried to murder you with a pet monster. Did you hit your head and forget that? How many fingers am I holding up? What’s wrong with your brain?”
“The package was only parts. She’s a scientist. No one would want to murder her. She couldn’t even match her socks when she was focused on an equation.”
“And you’re certain no one wanted to eliminate her, super spy? You have no idea how dangerous these people are. Any of them. All of them. You’d be chum for the sharks and you’d never even know why. That would cut my heart out, you know, because I couldn’t do anything to save you. Only sing for you, and that never brings anything back but memories.”
Brenna sagged into a chair and rested her head on her hand. The painkiller she’d popped in her trailer had lost most of its effectiveness. Her puncture wounds throbbed in agony, the slash on her thigh burned, and it seemed like every other major muscle ached all the way down to her bones. She stank like sweat and fear and blood. She was hungry, she wanted a shower, her brain felt like it had been microwaved, and she had to pee. She crossed her legs and gritted her teeth. Damn biology.
“What about returning to Entropy?” She’d do it. Only for Tau. “They could heal him there.”
“I have no idea how you’d find a way to portal-slip back there. Not without big-league help from that cockroach Emissary or those bloody-tongued Guilds. The gatejumper who smuggled me is long gone. The Thorn blew up his car when he happened to be driving it.” She shook her head. “Maybe a kyveryn, if you could find one, and good luck with that. Unless you and Ms. Mad Scientist actually succeeded with a stable wormhole and you’re being sly about it to make me sound like an ass.”
“No. She was closing in, but…” She shook her head and stared at a red stapler sitting half in, half out of a coffee cup, as if the stapler were biting the side of the mug.
“Right then. You should know better than anyone exactly how feasible gatejumping is from Earthside. Like I might’ve mentioned, you’re ever-fucking loved, to twist a phrase.”
Brenna didn’t answer. She watched as Tau wandered to a desk and nosed off a squishy stress ball. It hit the carpet and bounced away. He scooped it up, wagging his tail and eyeing her as if she might break from her wild escape to play a little fetch. She smiled at him.
“It’s the xeno-whatever, then,” she finally said. “How do I contact him?”
Lavonne moved to her desk. She found her smart phone, looked something up, and wrote on a neon green sticky note. “His number and address. Last I checked, the number was still good, but that was a couple of months ago. I might’ve called him a few choice epithets last time we talked, so dropping my name might not help your cause. He’d probably raise his prices if he knew you were my friend.”
“Sounds like a real prince.” She took the sticky note and stood. A cramp in her bladder shoved through all the other pain signals and informed her brain she desperately needed some facility time. “Got a restroom I can use?”
Lavonne pointed to a door leading into the back area of the office. “Through there, last on the right.”
Brenna moved to pick up the quad. Her first step sent agony from the point where her lower leg met the Andurgo limb all the way to her neck. She hissed in breath and took another step, working out the stiffness that had settled in after she’d sat down.
Lavonne arched an eyebrow. “You’re going to haul that gun along to our tiny bathroom? You’re going to accidently blow a hole in yourself trying to find a place to set it down.”
She hesitated, feeling both absurd and defiant, but in the end she left the quad behind. “Stay with Tau. I’ll be right back.”
The bathroom was small, clean, and smelled of flowery air freshener, though it was a good five degrees hotter inside. She glanced at the a/c vent. It was open, but didn’t seem to be pushing much air out. The washbasin was close enough to brush her shoulder when she sat on the toilet. One of the two fluorescent light tubes flickered every few seconds, mounted in a water-stained dropped ceiling.
It was only after she’d started to pee that she caught a strong whiff of vinegar. Goose bumps broke out along her arms and thighs. The anemic breeze wheezing out of the a/c vent stank like acetic acid. Her heart began to pound harder.
A clang sounded somewhere inside the dropped ceiling, followed by the groan of metal under stress. She stared at the panels, not daring to blink, breathing faster but keeping very still. No way. There was no way this was happening—
Another clang,, followed by a series of tings and a low screech, like a screwdriver scraping across a metal plate. Something was up there. Something was in the ceiling—inside the ductwork. She looked at the vent and began to sweat. Her palms were clammy. She tried to control her breathing, but it came too fast anyway.
Why the hell hadn’t she brought the gun? Here she was with God-knew-what overhead and getting closer, caught with her pants down and no weapons. Being killed on the toilet would be most pathetic way to go she could imagine, but she’d deserve it for being an idiot and second-guessing herself. She’d left the gun her father had given her.
She stood slowly, heart hammering, hammering, and started to pull up her underwear and jeans. Her jeans snagged on her left artificial leg and she almost lost her balance.
The metal-on-metal clangs and groans were very close now, right near the vent grate. She shifted and pulled harder, yanking her jeans up and stepping backward while buttoning them, all while staring at the vent, not daring to blink. The darkness behind the metal louvers seemed to seethe and churn. Something was right there.
She stepped badly and her leg scraped the door. The noises inside the vent stopped. She reached behind her. Her hand brushed the door panel but she couldn’t find the damn knob. Her fingers kept sliding over the panel, but she couldn’t find the damn knob and she didn’t dare look away from the vent.
She could see something in there now. Faintly glowing lines striping a dark shape—
Liquid sprayed from the vent, as if someone had gulped a mouthful and spit it back out. She jerked backward. Most of the spray hit the wall beside her, but a few droplets spattered across her left arm. She wiped it away with a grunt of disgust, then smeared her hand along the wall. The liquid was clear. It ran down the wall in long trailing drips. There was no pain from the places the droplets had hit her, just a tingling warmth on her arm and her palm. Her heart was thundering away, and a moment later she felt light-headed. Dizzy.
Two long blades punched through the louvers with a metallic screech. The vent buckled as something slammed it, but it held, though the metal straining and buckling around the screws. She spun to the door, but overturned and lost her balance. She caught herself by slamming her forearm against the opposite wall. The room whirled around her as if she were drunk, her thoughts growing fuzzy and disconnected. She grabbed at the elusive knob, missed, fumbled again, and finally got it. She wrenched the door open. The vent behind her gave away with a screech.
She lunged into the hallway, caught her balance, and then wheeled to seize the door again. Before she could shut it, something leapt out of the vent and landed on the toilet. The creature was the size of a cocker spaniel, its oval-shaped body colored the gray of cremation ashes, but covered in luminous stripes. It flailed around, trying to steady itself. Two of its triangular, blade-like legs scraped the inside of the toilet, another gouged the wall, and the last rasped at the tiles. Its single yellow eye swiveled in a deep eye socket and locked on her. A long brown tongue whipped out of its mouth toward her as she slammed the door. It smacked the panel with a wet, smooching sound.
She staggered backward. The hallway reeled around her, as though she were on a ship caught in rough seas. Her thoughts drifted in a growing fog in her mind. The monster had poisoned or drugged her with its spray. Even that thought didn’t set off the fireworks of terror it should have. Her heart rate had slowed. She didn’t feel afraid. Only floaty. That was exactly how she felt.
Something started ramming into the bathroom door. A distant part of her brain screamed at her to run. She heard Lavonne cursing and calling her name from somewhere far away. Then she heard Tau barking. Rapid, angry alarm-barks. The sound steadied her a little. She stumbled toward the door at the end of the hall that lead to the outer office. It felt as if she were walking on stilts. The walls around her seemed to melt and run, sweating from huge gaping holes in the drywall, distorting in melted-candy flows.
Focus on Tau. Focus on the sound of his barking.
Her father stood in front of the office door. His back was to her, and it had been years and years, but she recognized him at once. He was staring at the panel. Not moving. Not making a sound. She knew with the certainty of bad dreams that she had to reach him. She wanted to see him again more than anything. More than anything except saving Tau… Pain opened inside her, but again it was distant, almost unremarkable and easy to box away and ignore.
Behind her, the bathroom door crashed open. The knob punched a hole in the drywall with a resounding crunch.
She risked walking faster. She’d almost reached her father. She lifted her hand to touch him. “Daddy?”
Tau barking, barking. The walls started vibrating like speakers blasting a bass-heavy song.
The office door opened. Arms shot out, through her father, and grabbed her. Her father vanished and she never saw his face. Never had the chance. The arms dragged her across the threshold, but her legs tangled and she started to fall. As she fell, she caught a glimpse of the gray, one-eyed monster spiking its way down the carpet, quicker than she would’ve imagined, and headed straight for her.
She tumbled to the ground with a groan more weary than pained, because even here on the old carpet, she was floaty. Floaty was a state of mind. Floaty made dying seem…seem not so terrifying after all. She turned her head to see the one-eyed monster coming for her. It was close, more than halfway to her.
Lavonne slammed the door and leaned against it. A second later “Brenna! It’s here! Get the gun!”
But Brenna laughed, because she already knew it was here, silly. Was Lavonne an idiot? Of course she knew it was here. It had nearly got her on the toilet. But at least she wouldn’t die on the old porcelain throne with her pants around her ankles. And that was good.
Tau moved to her side, barking and growling at the hall door. Something began ramming the office hall door, each booming strike shaking the door in its frame. Tau. She…She had to keep on keeping on. For him. Keep fighting. Save him. He needed her.
She pushed herself to her feet. The room spun in sickening, dizzying circles. She had to close her eyes until she felt steadier, then lurched to the desk and picked up the quad her father had built. It felt reassuringly sturdy in her hands. A solid piece of gunsmithing. She stared down at it, her thoughts still floating, circling, making it difficult to concentrate. That monster’s spray had drugged her. All her thoughts drifted away from her like bubbles blown by a kid.
And she couldn’t remember how to use the gun, couldn’t remember if she’d loaded it, couldn’t think which of the four barrels she’d selected or how to disengage the safety.
She could not remember how to use her father’s gun.
Wasn’t that the funniest thing?
* * *Copyright 2013 Keith Melton* * *
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