Of Monsters and Madmen
by K. C. Gray
Table of Contents|
Chapters: 1, 2, 3
Chapter One: He
Stupid, stupid female dog.
Tessa clomped down the street, her mind spinning, arms loaded with dry-cleaning across her arm, a full cup of coffee quickly growing cold, and a bagged lunch from Italiana’s Deli. Every day, Veronica picked over the salad in their noon meeting just for show. She probably shoved cake in her face in the privacy of her office, afterwards.
Her heel caught on a divot in the concrete. Stumbling forward, her legs moved quickly to compensate. She juggled everything in her arms and balanced again. Coffee sloshed over her hand.
Stupid, stupid... Gah!
She held steady, knees together and feet spread apart, feeling for all the world like a newborn foal standing for the first time. In this stance, she resituated, adjusting the bag of dry-cleaned business suits, turning the bag with the salad container sideways, under her arm, and firming her grip on the three-fourths of the cup of coffee.
Now a little more confident in her steps, Tessa continued, head down, watching to ensure everything stayed in place.
Had her job paid more, she could be driving, unencumbered. All day running errands for that woman, and Tessa was nowhere close to where she wanted to be, career-wise. Granted, there wasn’t much growth as a personal assistant, but she had her degree. Her clothing designs had caught the eye of many in the industry. The only thing she lacked was experience... experience she’d hoped this company would have given her.
Instead, she stormed down the street, already minutes later than Veronica had wanted her to be, and she’d likely be chastised the moment she walked into the office.
Her shoulder tingled with vibrations from her phone. One quick jostle, a text probably, and it would be from Veronica, wondering why her errands to three different places scattered across the city would take longer than an hour. Sigh. If she didn’t answer, the texts would quickly turn into calls, and then she’d have to deal with flat-out condescension. She pulled the cellphone from underneath her bra strap and quickly unlocked it.
She huffed out in relief. Not from Veronica, but from her mom.
“He” is in town! Be careful!
The meaning of the words sunk in, causing her fast walk to morph into a stroll. Only one being on the face of the planet was simply known as “He.” But he hadn’t been spotted anywhere in over sixty years, choosing instead to stay in the mansion formed by his own hand at the top of a mountain in India. Her mom must have meant an ex or someone else.
Fumbling with the phone, trying for all the world to reply using just one hand, one thumb, her body collided with a form, crushing the cup of coffee between them and splashing hot liquid on them both.
Tessa didn’t scream out... couldn’t. Her body flushed cold, trembles rumbled through her legs, and her bladder ached with a sudden need to release. A quick, high-pitched cry found its way out of her clinched throat.
Right in front of her, within hands reach, He stood with a slight lean backwards, hands in pants pockets and elbows pointing straight back. The cream colored three-piece suit fit snuggly on his slim frame, almost too slim, and the collar of the deep tan duster stuck up, obscuring his ears. A matching fedora rested right above his brow, leaving a shadow over hazel eyes. The cream color balanced perfectly with skin a smooth, tawny color, like dried yellow-brown leaves on a tree right before they died and released from the limb.
The items weighed down her limp arms, and they all clattered to the ground, her cell phone breaking into several pieces and scattering.
Her eyes searched his face, looking for a sign of the anger that often preceded death and destruction.
But she found none... no anger or joy. No disgust or pleasure. His full lips lay placid on his face, and not a single line etched along his smooth skin.
“You’re not running away,” he said, plainly, in a thick voice.
She wanted to, but her legs wouldn’t cooperate.
“Why not?” he asked. Once again, facial features didn’t change; no inflection added to the end.
“I... I...” She swallowed, forcing the tight muscles to loosen. “I guess because you haven’t given me a reason to.”
One corner of his mouth twitched up, but quickly relaxed back to that placid line.
Taking a step back, putting a little more space between them, He reached his right hand toward the ground, toward the pieces of her cellphone. His fingers bent inward, as though he’d suddenly developed arthritis.
Another high-pitched cry sound escaped her lips, and his eyes jolted to her. She hugged herself, feeling little pellets of goosebumps beneath her trembling fingers.
And in the background, behind him, feet pounded against the pavement, guns clicked, and men shouted... Did he have an army following him? Not that they could save her.
Her cellphone floated up into the air, the pieces circling one another like planetary bodies. The front and back panels separated, giving room for the guts of the phone to float back into place, fitting perfectly, snapping into one another with no issue. Even the tiny broken plastic pieces from the edge moved back in place and fused with no sign of damage.
With a twitch of his fingers, He moved the cellphone to her eye level. His face blurred, un-focusing in the background, as she stared at her cellphone spinning in midair.
“Take it,” he said.
She grabbed hold of it with shaking hands.
He reached out toward her, palm up, his right hand still stiff and fingers curved. She almost dropped the phone again. This is it! He’d been toying with her like a cat would a mouse.
But seconds passed, and she was still a whole person, mouth open and eyes wet. On second glance, she realized he was fixing her mistake of not looking where she was going.
His hand remained between them, between their clothes and the coffee stains that looked like designer Rorschach blotches. And while they stood there, the liquid pulled from their clothes. Little dots of fluid, bending and flexing in all directions, coalesced into a sphere moving in the same manner. With a bit of concentration in his eyes, he knelt and picked up the coffee cup. The fluid curved back into the cup, almost filling it up.
He passed her the cup.
She accepted it.
With all the placidity on his face, his eyes briefly sparkled with something new... maybe amusement.
Her mind filled with possible scenarios, him trying to draw her in and wanting to make her feel comfortable before tearing her to shreds. Every documentary of him had depicted a ruthless force, destroying city blocks in seconds. But here he stood, right in front of her, helping her out after she’d bumped into him. Her mind fought between the things she’d been told and what she witnessed before her own eyes.
He bent over again, picking her dry-cleaning up from the ground. Letting it dangle in his right hand, he lifted his left, but appeared to have second thoughts. He looked from the cleaning to her, then back again, and instead used his hand to brush off the dirt and tiny bits of concrete. Afterwards, he laid it across her arm. And he bent over one last time, grabbing the salad and balancing the bag on top of the dry-cleaning.
With a tilt of his head, He stepped around her and continued on his way.
She stood there, weighed down and full of the same burdens. The scare of having an ancient and powerful being in front of her slowly seeped from her body, giving her a glimpse of who she was only moments ago.
Warmth slowly came back to her, starting with a swirl in her stomach, allowing her to breath regularly again. Her eyes flitted over the scene in front of her now that she could register something other than He.
Six cop cars crept along the four-lane road a respectable distance away. And on either side, on the sidewalk, several dozen officers cautiously approached, weapons drawn but down by their sides.
Tessa had been so busy rushing back to work, trying to juggle everything and keep her mind focused that she didn’t even notice when the crowd died down, when she passed from a bustling sidewalk to an empty one. Did everyone in the city know about this but her? How long had He been there, and why, why in the world would He travel to Chicago?
One of the officers motioned her towards him, several yards away. He crept forward, stealing glances around her. “Are you okay, ma’am?” he shouted.
He motioned for her, again, his fingers moving quickly, almost out of desperation. The warmth that had started in her gut made its way to her extremities, allowing blood to flow through her fingers and toes once more. She’d finally been freed from the fear that pushed her body past the choice of fight or flight.
The officer stumbled back, almost falling. He scrambled behind a parked car. Other officers pressed their backs against building or dove behind cars. For the second time in a short period, warmth rushed from her body.
He stepped up beside her, watching the police who watched him back. His high collar and fedora worked together to obscure most of his face, only allowing the side profile of his eye. He never turned toward her, but he still spoke. “I’m going to an art gallery to see a new exhibit. Come with me.”
The lack of inflection in his voice caused her to wonder if it were a command or a question. Did she even have a choice? Telling him no might cause one of his destructive streaks, putting the city in danger of being completely wiped out. It took nearly thirty years to rebuild Tampa, the last place he’d been seen before moving to India.
Uncertainty left when he turned and started walking, not even waiting for a response.
The officers crawled out of their hiding places, crowding the sidewalk again, motioning for her to run to them. She could have; a good sprint and she would have been in the middle of the officers, lost in their sea of uniforms, but she couldn’t outrun his destruction radius of miles.
She looked up at the buildings, noticing for the first time faces pressed against glass, stealing a glimpse of this figure from safety. And she looked behind her, at He who waited several feet away, head turned sideways and his left eye focusing on her, on her movements, on her decision. She wanted to go home and crawl into bed, to let the gravity of the encounter wash over her so that she could fully analyze it all.
But, instead, she took slow steps toward him, her mind so numb it barely registered her decision.
They walked down the sidewalk, side by side, his steps slowing down to match hers. A mile up the road, the police had created a moving blockade, their bodies and riot shields acting like the obstruction. As many people as there were staring through their windows in safety, many more stood behind the line of officers. They moved in conjunction, not fighting the police, not refusing the protection, but watching the leisurely stroll.
At the end of the block, He tugged on the locked door of a gallery. The attendants watched in disbelief on the other side of the glass door.
“I-I think they’re closed,” Tessa said.
He cupped his right hand over the lock of the door, and it clicked open. He held it for her, taking a step back to give her room.
She peeked in at the attendants on the other side of the room behind the desk. The woman, middle-aged, stood with her back pressed against the wall and a hand over her open mouth, and the man, much older with thick gray hair slicked back, looked almost as placid as He, save for the widened eyes watching their every move.
The T.V. behind them played the unfolding scene, she and He ready to walk into a corner building in the city. She never even noticed the helicopter flying high, not directly overhead but close enough to catch her face staring up at it.
Her mom would be freaking out. Hell, everyone she knew would be.
She gulped and stepped into the building with him right behind her. The front area was the gift store, with trinkets and smaller copies of popular paintings hanging from hooks on the wall. In the center was a turning postcard display full of recreations of Van Gogh and Edvard Munch.
He came from behind and stood in front of her, his fedora and coat now gone. His hair was cropped close to his face, and with the fedora missing, his eyes shown a bit brighter, more gold than hazel.
He gestured towards the dry-cleaning. “May I?”
He pulled the bag from her hand, leaving everything else behind, and took it over to the coat rack. He hung it beside his items.
They walked up to the counter, and the male attendant gulped.
“Two, please,” He stated.
“Are you s-sure you want to see this exhibit?” the man asked.
“Of course. I’ve come a long way.” He took a wallet from his back pocket and pulled a crisp hundred-dollar bill out, the only crease from the single fold. It would have looked brand-new except it was an older bill, maybe from the fifties, such an older version that it no longer looked like real money to her.
The attendant accepted it and fumbled with the register.
“Keep the change.” He brushed past her, heading towards a door in the back.
The bell to the front door dinged, pulling her attention. An officer held the door open, but he didn’t walk in. Beyond the store-front window, a sea of officers were standing, waiting.
Copyright © 2017 by K. C. Gray