146 - Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO My cry was in vain. The fire extinguished passed through the air as if it were just that–air. There was a muted flash of light from right in front of me and a sound like popcorn popping. A heartbeat later and both were gone. The flash hadn’t been bright but nevertheless it was more than enough to bring my hands instinctively to my face. When my vision cleared, I saw that the carefully placed gemstones had moved. Several had jumped, leaving tiny black smudges, almost like burn marks. At least three of them appeared to have cracked into several smaller pieces while one of the quartz crystals–the one closest to me–had been reduced to little more than a pile of dust.
Suddenly not-Alex’s hands were free. He had been leaning on the invisible wall when it happened, leaving him swinging forward into space and pulling him off balance. He stumbled and almost fell, one foot coming forward with an almighty clap against the floor to catch himself.
There was a sound like a rumbling growl from deep in his chest, more animal than man. If I’d had any lingering doubts that what had been Alex was gone–or at least no longer in the drivers seat.
I felt a momentary pang of sadness at that. After all, he’d been a free thinking being, even if I wasn’t entirely sure he qualified as a human being any more. And I had essentially ended him. There had to be some sort of guidance for that sort of thing. I resolved to look it up whenever I had a chance.
Now certainly wasn’t the time though, as not-Alex had regained his balance and was looking around the room. I couldn’t quite make out what he was looking at since his eyes were completely black. I only had the direction of his head to go by, which wasn’t much. He seemed to be slowly panning, taking everything in, but when his gaze got to John, he froze.
“Watch out!” I yelled, still frozen in place–although I had no real reason to still be there. Whatever I had had done was over with; with the circle broken, not even that was keeping me in place any longer. But nevertheless, I found myself immobile.
John didn’t heed my warning; however, instead opting to take the monster in his brother’s form on head on. He squared himself, obviously looking for a fight and held the fire extinguisher in both hands as if he were ready to use it. It didn’t look like a particularly efficient weapon and I could only pray that he would be more successful than I feared.
Not-Alex took a step. Another. John stayed solidly planted, waiting for not-Alex to come to him. I had to give him credit for that. He wasn’t showing any fear at least. I don’t know if I could have done the same in his situation.
The monstrous red form didn’t make it though, as a few steps from John there was a cry from the other side of the room.
“Why can’t you just leave him alone!” It was Amanda. She had recovered from whatever trance she’d been in on seeing the transformation of Alex into this otherworldly form, but so far as I could tell, she didn’t see him as any different. Somehow she thought it was still Alex standing there.
As I watched–too much in shock to do anything else–she covered the ground between the two of them, planting herself firmly between not-Alex and John. “You can’t do it. I won’t let you.”
I’d respected John for standing up to not-Alex–but I just thought that Amanda was being stupid. It wasn’t sexism or anything like that, I just couldn’t see how she was hoping to do anything standing there completely defenseless, with only her words to stand against what I was growing more and more sure was a being that I’d never truly believed I’d ever have to face directly: a demon.
Not-Alex must not have thought much of her either. Whatever had been between the two of them in his previous life, it meant nothing now. With less thought than one swatting a fly, not-Alex backhanded Amanda across the room. She hit the wall with a sickening crunch, bounced off, and fell to the floor.
Finally she came to rest–completely still.
147 - Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO Finally, something that could pull me into action. I had only the barest knowledge of first aid–and after an impact like that, even that didn’t look like it would be enough–but I had to do something. I sprang to my feet and ran towards Amanda. I got to her just as Mrs. Claire did.
We both knelt, one on either side of Amira’s still form. My first instinct was to straighten her out, to make her more comfortable, but my half remembered training called out, halting me in my tracks. After an impact like that, her neck or spine could have easily been broken. Moving her would likely only exacerbate such injuries.
So instead I reached out first, putting two fingers to her neck, checking for a pulse. For several long heartbeats, there was nothing. I couldn’t see if Amanda’s chest were rising and falling either. I saw the look in Mrs. Claire’s face and knew that her worry was mirrored in my own eyes. I shifted my fingers slightly and then… was that…
It was a pulse. Weak and slow–oh so slow–but it was there. She was alive, at least for the time being. And well beyond what care I could provide, I knew that much. The best thing now would be to call the paramedics.
But what if they arrived while not-Alex was still here?
I started to turn back to him, afraid of what I might see when there was a sharp report–the sound a close cousin to a gun shot–and a sudden terrible hiss. It sounded like a thousand snakes, all set to hunting in the same timeless moment.
I finished turning, but to my surprise, I couldn’t see a thing. The entire center of the room had been filled with an expanding white cloud, blowing outward from where I’d last seen not-Alex throw Amanda across the room.
What in the…
“You bastard!” I heard John’s voice, loud and clear coming from the center of the cloud, barely over the sound of the hissing. There was a dull, softened thud, the sound of something heavy hitting flesh. “What did you do to my brother?”
The answer came in that same grinding voice that had replaced Alex’s own. “What once was dust returns to dust yet again. I am all that remains.” Another heavy thud. I prayed that the sound was John hitting not-Alex and not the other way around.
“Is he…” John’s voice floated out. It was softer now, but so was the hissing sound. I still couldn’t make out what could have caused quite such a cloud. Most of the room had been enveloped now in this strange, thick fog. It felt cool to the touch and slightly moist. Which didn’t help my confusion at all. “Is he gone forever?”
“Not my concern,” the other voice said. “You are my concern.”
The hissing had all but died out now, only a faint whistling sound remained. It did nothing to diminish the fog now which had expanded to fill the entire room. I could barely see Mrs. Claire across Amanda’s still form. “Stay with her,” I said. “And call for help.”
“What are you going to do?” she asked, a look of concern on her face. At least she already had her phone out and was dialing 9-1-1 even as I answered her.
“I’m going to end this.”
148 - Baghdad
SEVERAL YEARS AGO Honestly, I’m not sure how they managed to get both Amira and myself back out of the compound and into a local ambulance. They told me later that the fighting had died down at almost exactly the same time that Mr. Average had vanished, the men suddenly stopping shooting and just looking down at their guns as if puzzled to see them there. It had been a matter of moments to disarm them all and round them up.
Meanwhile, I couldn’t walk. For whatever reason, this seemed like the funniest thing in the world, but any time that I tried to get my feet under me, it seemed like gravity decided to just arbitrarily point in another direction. I would shift to counter it, but that just sent me right back to the floor. Or rather it would have had I not had a serviceman on either side of me, essentially keeping me upright. I was unstable as hell, but they were strong.
The other two had Amira. They’d taken then IV with them–I vaguely recalled the Sergeant saying that without knowing what was in it, it was too dangerous to remove it. So he carried it along with them. It didn’t occur to me until much later that with my hearing as screwed up as it was, there was no reason I should have been able to hear him at all, but nevertheless I have a definite recollection of his words.
Luckily, the elevator was functioning. There was a brief moment of terror when it came down just as we were heading back out into the hallway, but it turned out to be more of our own men. I saw them opening the other doors, seeing who else had been held captive down here. It was a brilliant plan–I wished that I’d thought of it. But at the moment, everything just seemed to surreal to think of anything much at all.
The rest of the night was a blur. I couldn’t focus on anything but at the same time I couldn’t seem to fall asleep. My mind was racing along at a thousand miles an hour but going nowhere. I knew that at some point Amira and I were both loaded into an ambulance. I knew that the Sergeant himself had come with us, riding in the front while the doctors in the back had gone to work checking the two of us out.
I remember arriving at the hospital and realizing just how much it looked like every other hospital that I had ever seen. I didn’t have much reason to think that it would have been otherwise, but being halfway around the world, somehow it just seemed surreal. Then again, so did a lot of things.
They took us into the hospital and for a long time, I was alone. Apparently, my case wasn’t nearly as critical as Amira’s. This didn’t really bother me–although with how fast my mind was going, I have no idea how long I was alone there. It felt like an eternity.
Finally, the doctor came. There was a soldier with him–one of ours–which seemed strange to me, but he stayed outside when the doctor came in. The doctor tried to talk to me–or perhaps he was just talking to himself, but I couldn’t make out a word he was saying. It sounded like he was trying to speak around a mouthful of gravel and I wasn’t even sure that it was English in the first place. In all likelihood, it wasn’t.
But he talked anyways, keeping up a stream of broken gravel words while he poked and prodded me with what seemed like a whole hardware shop full of instruments.
Just before he finally left, he gave me a small white pill, offering it to me rather intently with a glass of water brought by another man I’d barely even noticed before he was gone.
I took the pills.
I don’t know what they were, but they worked.
Oh they worked.
It took maybe a minute and I was out like a light.