The Rosamund Trap
by Leighton Connor
Table of Contents|
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
The drive from Marietta to Columbus only took two hours. We drove straight through, except for the time Ross insisted on pulling into a truck stop and loading up on snack cakes and more Mountain Dew.
As I pulled more cash out of my pocket I said, “At this rate I’m not going to have any money to pay you.”
“We’ll find a way,” he said.
For a while we drove in silence. I was too annoyed to speak; he was too busy eating his snack cakes. It occurred to me that geniuses like Ross Fulton always have eccentricities. So what if he forced tacos on people and refused to buy his own junk food? Putting up with his behavior was a small price to pay if it meant saving my sister from the clutches of the occult. Once I realized this, I started up a conversation with him.
I wanted to hear about his past cases, the occult detective work that had won him his reputation. Almost immediately, though, he turned the discussion to video games. He lectured me on the pros and cons of various systems, and the various games you could get for those systems. I tried to listen, but as the minutes passed I started feeling sick to my stomach.
The sick feeling got worse and worse until I had to stop the car at the side of the road. Hunched over in front of the car, the hazard lights silhouetting me on and off, broken glass grinding into my knee, throwing up tortilla and beef and stringy bits of lettuce, I cursed Ross Fulton’s name.
When I crawled back into the car Ross smirked at me. I wanted to punch him. Instead I started up the car.
“We’re almost there,” he said. “Did you know that Columbus is the nation’s sixteenth largest city?”
“No,” I said.
“Or is it seventeenth? Something like that.”
We drove into Columbus a little before midnight. Ross directed me on to High Street, through downtown, and toward Ohio State. As we neared the campus, Ross asked, “Is this where Rosamund goes to school?”
I looked around at the buildings, thought about it for a second, and nodded.
Ross stared at me longer than I thought necessary, then looked around and pointed.
“That ATM we’re looking for is up here on the left. Pull over.”
The ATM was between a 24-hour Chinese restaurant and a drug store. We parked in front of the drug store. I stared at the ATM. She wasn’t there, of course; a whole day had passed. “Now what?” I asked. “She could be anywhere.”
“Don’t worry. I have a plan. Start driving.”
“Anywhere. Just drive.”
I pulled back onto the street, drove farther down High, and took a left. I followed that street for awhile and then took a right. “I don’t know where I’m going.”
“On some level you do,” he said.
“Go by instinct. Don’t think about it too much.”
“Intuition. Gut reaction. Whatever you want to call it.”
I wondered, where do you draw the line between eccentricity and insanity? Was it possible that Ross Fulton’s reputation was inflated? That he never really thwarted that Loctulla at all? That he really had no clue what he was doing? I kept driving for ten minutes, passing through increasingly questionable neighborhoods, until I could no longer keep my doubts quiet. “This is insane. I can’t do this anymore.”
“Great,” he said. “Park here.”
I parked. “Look, Mr. Fulton, I appreciate your help and everything, but I’ve been thinking —”
He already had his door open. “Don’t wimp out on me, Ted. We’re almost there.”
We walked to the nearest door. It was an office building, closed for the evening, but the lights were still on inside. “Why would she be in here?” I asked. Ross tried the door. It opened, so we walked inside.
There was a desk for a receptionist, a waiting room with magazines piled up on the table, and a few potted plants. And Rosamund, dear sweet little Rosamund, sitting in a chair looking at a magazine. “Rosamund!” I said. I ran to hug her.
“Don’t touch me,” she said. I stopped, hurt and confused. She stood up, tossed the magazine down, and called over her shoulder, “They’re here!”
Another voice said, “It’s about time.” A woman with short black hair, a nice figure, and an evil, evil smile walked into the room. She had a gun pointed at Ross.
“Christ,” Ross said, staring at her. “Allegra. What an unhappy surprise.”
“Yeah, that’s right, Allegra,” said Allegra. “Allegra that you ditched for some stupid pizza delivery girl. How’s that going, by the way?”
“Uh, we’re no longer seeing each other.”
Ross shrugged. “To be honest, Leg, that was just an excuse. I actually dumped you because you’re nuts.”
Allegra sneered. “I can’t believe I ever dated you. What a waste of my time. I suppose I should thank you for ending it. But instead I’m going to have horrible, bloody vengeance.”
Rosamund giggled. Ross looked at Allegra, and looked at Rosamund. “So do you gals have some kind of hot lesbian thing going on?”
“No, you stupid horny bastard!” Allegra said, waving the gun at Ross. “We’re friends! And occultists. Brilliant occultists. And you’ve walked right into our trap.”
I had to say something. I took a step forward. “Rosamund, please listen to me.” I looked into her eyes. “This girl, this Allegra, is a bad influence. You’re not like this. I know, deep down, that you don’t want to hurt anybody.”
She looked at me, giggled some more, then started laughing. Allegra joined in laughing, though she didn’t take her eyes or her gun off Ross. I didn’t understand. What had happened? How could my own sister be so cold? My eyes started tearing up and I choked back a sob. Rosamund fell to the floor, heaving with laughter.
Allegra, grinning more than ever, circled around us. “You thought your stupid SOAD was pretty impressive, didn’t you, Ross? Well check this out — Rosamund and I have created something much more complicated. A homunculus.”
Ross nodded. “An artificial man.”
“Right. Faster, stronger, tougher than any man. Designed for the sole purpose of killing you. For my enjoyment. You should be honored.”
“And just where is this homunculus?” Ross asked.
“Right here,” Allegra said, pointing at me.
“What?” I asked. “Why are you pointing at me?” I glanced around. I had a headache and I closed my eyes. My stomach rumbled and I could taste taco vomit. What she’d said didn’t make sense. Why had she said that?
Rosamund said, “Go on, Ted, tell me about our childhood.”
Easy enough. I searched my memory, going back to when she was first born, going back and finding only scraps, two or three vague images. Walking to school. A birthday party. “I loved you. And and protected you.” Even as I said it I could feel my memories unraveling. Not my memories — my real memories stretched back only a day or so, back to the pizza place and Ross Fulton’s apartment. Everything before that suddenly took on a different light, exposed as pure information — the basics needed to pose as a human, enough of a sprinkling of personal history to feel normal — programmed in by two zealous occultists. Digging back through this swirl of background information I found real memories, memories of coming to life, surrounded by candles and chanting and burning vats of goo, opening my eyes for the first time and seeing my mothers —
“Ted,” Allegra said in a commanding voice. I stood at attention. “Punch Ross.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Fulton,” I said, and swung at him. The blow caught him in the jaw and knocked him back a few feet onto the floor.
“Damn,” Ross said, rubbing his jaw. “Nice trick. Send the homunculus to recruit me, feed me some lies, and have him lure me down here, so you can watch him kill me. Crafty.”
“Thank you,” Allegra said.
“Of course I already figured out most of it,” he said.
“Sure you did. Ted, break Ross’ ribs.”
I tried to resist her but couldn’t. I walked over to Ross, knelt down, and pulled my arm back for a crushing blow.
“Ted, freeze,” Ross said. I froze.
“What?” Allegra said. “Ted, break his ribs!” My arm twitched and, out of what felt like force of habit, I almost obeyed. But a strange feeling washed over me and, for some reason, I didn’t have to obey her. So I didn’t. She stared at me. “What’s going on? Break those ribs! Now!”
“You stupid whores!” Ross boomed. He added, “Ted, grab her gun.”
Before Allegra could blink I snatched the gun out of her hand and tossed it to Ross.
“Thanks,” Ross said.
“This isn’t fair!” Rosamund said. “You’re supposed to do what we say! That’s how we made you!”
“No,” I said.
“Come on, Ted,” Rosamund said, in the tone of voice I remembered her using back when she was my sister, the close loving family voice. “We created you. Doesn’t that mean anything?”
I couldn’t look at her. I didn’t know what to say. Before I could think of a response, Allegra said to Ross, “How?”
Ross smirked, the same annoying smirk from when I’d pulled over to throw up. “After you girls created Ted you bound him to yourselves so he’d always obey you. Of course, there are lots of ways to bind yourself to someone. Like, say, freely accepting the food someone offers you.” He turned to me. “Did you like your taco, Ted?”
“No,” I said.
“That’s okay,” he said, “you’d probably never eaten before.”
Allegra yelled, “Why did you eat the taco? We programmed you to avoid food!”
I looked away. I knew she was evil, but I still didn’t like disappointing my mother. “He forced it on me.”
Allegra glared at Ross and demanded, “You really did know. How did you know?”
“That’s he’s fake?” Ross said. “Well he doesn’t have any ID, only has a wad of cash and a photo in his pocket, and has no personality to speak of. But really I suspected from the beginning. The kid didn’t know what marijuana smells like. Who the hell doesn’t know that?”
“I hate you,” Allegra said.
“I’ve been hated by worse,” Ross said. He turned to me. “Come on, pal, let’s get out of here.”
Allegra continued to seethe at Ross; Rosamund stared at me. For a second I met her stare and tried to imagine that I could see a spark of affection, sisterly or otherwise. No — she was looking at me analytically, like a science fair project that had blown up at the last minute, trying to figure out where she had gone wrong. No loving sister and no loving mother, either.
Self-pity was quickly replaced by anger. I asked Ross, “Aren’t you going to call the police or something?”
“For what? I don’t think there are any laws against building homunculi.” Ross walked to the door. I followed him out into the night. It had gotten cold. I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “I’m sorry about that, Mr. Fulton. I really had no idea.”
“It’s okay, kid.” We got into my car. It had been Allegra’s at one time, most likely, but it was my car now. I stuck the key into the ignition, and then the hugeness of it all hit me. I wasn’t a real person. I had no past; I only knew what Rosamund and Allegra had programmed into me. I had no job, no home. And, now that I didn’t have to kill Ross Fulton, no reason to live. I would drive Ross home. Then what? Where would I go? I stared off into the distance. I had no desire to move.
“Let’s go,” Ross said.
“Where will I go?” I asked.
Ross sighed. “You’re mystically bound to me now so I guess I’m going to have to look out for you. You can stay at my place. But don’t think you’re getting a free ride. You’re going to have to work for me.”
I grinned. “Really? I get to be an assistant occult detective?”
“Actually I was thinking assistant pizza delivery guy. But who knows? I was pretty hot tonight.”
So this would be my life. It wasn’t much, but at least it was something. I drove us home, with Ross loudly snoring the whole way back.
Copyright © 2005 by Leighton Connor