A New Life
Not today. He said that in the beginning, the very beginning when the two of them first crossed paths as children. Innocent children they were back then...innocent they were no longer. These were not his last words here, those were in fact entirely opposite of what he would say every time their team, their platoon left the safety of the base to go onto patrol or on a mission. His words were not comforting, they were not assuring, they were different every time she found herself here. Standing in the dirt, the smoke caught in her eyes now that her goggles were gone; the fire from the destroyed Humvee raging, reaching its influence to the dried timber of the woods nearby.
This was the sight locked in memory, the taste of copper in her mouth, the shaking in her legs; she ran to the fallen truck, he who was trapped beneath growing further and further with each step. It was as though no matter how hard she ran, no matter how much she pushed, her legs were slowed as though an invisible sea of water was slowing her. This sea of water did not remain out of sight, it flooded this place, rolling from where the Humvee was toward her, but it did not push her back with its force. The levels climbed higher and higher, the sight of the truck fading into the blackened abyss. He spoke, but she did not hear, as she reach out, letting out the air of her lungs as she cried his name; drowning by this illusion-ed water as he and the truck he was trapped beneath slowly drifting out sight and reach. From below, the ground pulled from her feet someone, something clasped its claws around her legs and pulled down. In the darkness below, something darker than black took shape, but the only light to this endless abyss was those eyes, the eyes of a killer, a monster.
Max shot up from her bed, her lungs screamed to grasp breath, her heart nearly breaking from her chest--sweat dripped from her face, traveling from her chin to the sheets she soaked. Her breath was staggered as she trembled trying to grasp whether she was truly awake or caught in another loop, another nightmare of it. Her hands gripped the sheet tightly, so hard that anymore and she could pierce her own palm with the strength of her hand. Just when she was nearing that point her salvation walked into her lap and sat, nudging a head into Max’s head--her Bengal Cat, Maul, began to paw at her chest instantly bringing her back to the knowledge of reality. She was able to slow her breathing, his persistent calls for attention had her pull away from the terrorizing memorizes and go towards petting the cat.
Though her breathing continued to be staggered, she felt considerably better and was able to slowly slow her inhale and exhale as she focused on the rhythmic purrs Maul sounded. After a systematically counted amount of time of ten minutes and forty-eight seconds Max was able to regain a sense of control over her breathing, motor controls, and thought-process. Still she waited, sitting in the darkness that haunted and comforted her all the same. It was a neutral territory, it was comfort; this silence, this solace was the only release she knew that has helped since her separation. While in, she had people with her that knew her, that understood her--looking to her new surroundings she was outside her comfort in every sense.
A new apartment, a new city, a new state, a new life--no--it was a different life, not one she wanted, but one she would have to live in now. Looking around, though it was pitch-black, she saw and knew where everything was. Boxes filled with what few belongings she possess line the left of her studio apartment, having been untouched. They had arrived just last week, the last of her possessions that did not fit in her car were dropped off by the movers, but she had not the care to unpack them. She knew what lie within them, but it was not that she lacks the room for what she owns, rather the studio was truthfully larger than any precious quarters she has lived in for the past eight years. Quite frankly she felt that the studio was rather empty and needed to be filled--perhaps she would get a bookshelf, or a dining table. Not that she would use the table, she had no intention of having anyone other than herself and Maul here anytime soon.
Max looked to the left of her bed, to where the plain black IKEA nightstand rested with a small reading lamp and a digital clock: 0456. Typical. Her body had been wired for the same routine for the past eight years; waking up at this time had neither left her system nor caused any problems for working graveyard. She hated waking up without a task to do, but hated even more of lying back down only to twist and turn for another two hours before Maul began to meow for his breakfast and spent the next few hours answering what few messages she had from people who were thousands of miles away and hours either behind or ahead of her own timezone. That was typical to her, but now it was no longer a life she could be apart of though it was still apart of her. Rather it was everything she was.
Maul’s head was rubbed, a finger found his favorite place behind and under his ear. His back arched, his tail straightened higher, confirming his master that she had found the perfect place. Satisfied, the cat removed himself from Max’s lap and returned to his side of the queen-sized bed. Max twisted to have her sitting on the side of the bed, looking again to the clock that now read 0500. No point in staying in bed. She told herself, knowing the only way to release herself truly from this restlessness was to expel the energy in the form of working out. Standing, the woman of five feet, eight inches, exposed her naked form and walked around her queen-sized bed to the dresser where her television sat atop. Dressing into a comfort set of shorts, a tank-top and running shoes that would be thrown on once she got to the door. She threw her long deep chocolate brown hair into a quick braid when walking to the door. She passed the draped over mirror, but made no attempts to remove the fabric to inspect her appearance. No one who is actually working a sweat looks good for long anyway.
It was 0548 by the time Max returned, having completed slightly over seven miles. She did not feel winded, she hardly ever did and today she was not even trying--that was a warm-up normally. It was not her personal best, but it was pleasant to know despite her separation, her continuation of PT had allowed her to not falter in standards. She maybe out, but she would be damned if she was to lax the standards she carried out and nearly perfected after eight years. The only change now was when she worked out, it tended to vary from day to day depending on her work. Work. She had that tonight starting at 1900 until 0400 depending on the business of the night. It was not though her work stayed open longer, they had a strict policy of closing doors at a select time of 0300, but Max often stayed longer to ensure no disruptions were present in those who lingered for a last drink.
It was good work and paid well, very well, but considering where she lived it was no surprise. Max grabbed and consumed a bottle of water from the fridge as she walked to the patio door, opening the blackout curtain to the city that almost never sleeps. New York City, in the heart of this metropolis one could find a studio apartment anywhere between $1,450 to $4,950 depending on which side of the bridges you were on. Max was fortunate to find this place in central Manhattan by the grace of her former CO, for a generously lowered price. A high-quality residence, a decent amount of space, and nearly none to disturb her, a more-than-fair sacrifice of $2,500 a month’s rent for a five-hundred square-foot studio apartment in Murray Hill was more than enough. She had done her research and found the actual price of her residence was far more than she could afford even with her pay and disability. If one called her compensation for separation as ‘disability’. That was an argument she cared not to have for herself, it was over and done with.
She had many hours before she needed to prepare for work and thought to try a cafe she had seen on numerous runs. Having been in the NYC for three months, Max surprisingly, seldom tried new places--not that she was opposed to trying new food, her times deployed shook her of such pickiness long ago, it was simply she had not gone yet. Maul meowed to sound for his breakfast and was answered with a cup of dried cat-food and a series of rubs from his head to his rear in numerous iterations. Max could not wait for work to come because she was a workaholic and she detested having little to do during the day--although...she did have more boxes to unpack. At least it would be a semi-productive day. But not before her cup of coffee, her secret source of power and energy for eight years.
“Black.” She said aloud after a sip, “Just like my soul.” Max joked, though Maul turned to cleaning himself.
“That was funny.” She frowned at the lack of a reaction, “At least everyone back home would think so!”
Back home. Home was not a place, home was a people, her people; the Marine Corps. It was her home for the last eight years and should have been longer, but she was robbed of the chance by the powers of bureaucracy--officers were less popular in her eyes now more than ever, particularly Chaplains. Max locked her fingers together then turned her palms outward and stretched, cracking them when looking at the boxes. Time to turn this place into something presentable for the non-existent visitors she will never have and to keep her own discipline of organization and to not let it slip away just because she is no longer in the Corps.
One box after the next she unpacked the stacks, placing the items into piles of categories to be stored, placed, or hung after they were broken down to be taken to recycling. Some contents were personal effects: photos, promotion certificates, awards--all arriving in one piece because she packed the boxes rather than the movers. Lord knew they were not only awful at packing and handling, but had a habit of ‘losing’ boxes during transit. Everyone knew what ‘losing’ really was, but in the cluster-fuck that was military contracting no one bothered to go thru the lengthy process of trying to find their belongings. Max was lucky she possessed nothing of significant money value to be ‘lost’ and that she had labelled and numbered every box to ensure all were accounted for. Other contents were along the line of clothing, larger electronics such as her black, LG - 700W Mini Shelf System stereo--now that she thought of it, she did spend a small penny on this, one of the few indulgences she had when state side.
Max paused at her organization and focused on the stereo, finding a place on the windowsill to set up the controls and hooked up a single speaker beside it. It had been a while since she listened to the sound--from her bed she grabbed a case of music; CDs where her friends had pirated music and sold them to each other for a pack of cancers--smokes, Max had to correct herself on her lingo for the civilian world. Phrases and words that were common-tongue in the military was not so for the general public. She was only out for a few months, but it felt like ages, to be separated from her true family was a hardship she never thought she would experience. She opened a CD labeled ‘Hit the Road--GunRunner 3’ in barely legible handwriting and popped it into the player--There were thirty songs on this disk because in her Humvee, a team of four, each of her truck picked out six of their favorite songs and had them burned on here. When on patrol Corporeal Stevens hid a small player and a speaker somewhere on him and would play the CD. Each member of their truck had a copy and it was almost a ritual to listen to its music whenever and only when they were on patrol.
Maul let out a small meow when the music came on, as Max leaned back and lay on her bed. She shut her eyes, listening to the first track, Sergeant Brath’s choice was Ashes of Eden by Breaking Benjamin. Not everyone’s first choice, especially with him singing along every--single--time, but he managed to get the rest of the truck to single with him which was likely not his intent. Lance Corporal Phelps was a good-old-country-boy who kept all his music to country. State side, for a skinny-boy he kept well to his country roots, earning himself the nick-name ‘Cowboy’. His choice was Honky Tonk Badonkadonk by Trace Adkins which was favored by everyone in the platoon, especially when the six females in the platoon, one of them being Maxilyn, always hoped on a table to dance to its beat for shits and giggles. Max smiled to herself--that would certainly be a SAPR complaint state-side, but of course no one there cared.
The music continued playing tracks, Max fell into the rhythm of the songs, replaying the lyrics and the memories associated with them. Her memory began to have her relive these memories without her command, bringing her away from the loud, crowded streets of New York City and landed her back in the foxhole she dug and used as her sleeping hole. A shadow stood over her and her poncho, blocking the sun and providing much-needed shade. Max smiled, opening her eyes to see an ice cream cup that was dangled over her head. It was hard to get ice cream that had not been melted by the desert heat, but he always had his ways. She was certain he had a secret fridge somewhere, probably bribed a cook to let him use their space. Whatever it was; it was cold, refreshing and greatly appreciated. Max reached to take his hand opening her mouth to speak his name--her alarm sounded ripping her from the memory and having her back in the studio apartment.
Turning, her clock read 1745, just an hour and fifteen minutes until her shift started. Realistically at this time of day it would only take fifteen minutes by FDR Drive, to get to work, but as the saying goes: if you're on time, you're late, if you're early, you're on time. Max slipped into her work clothes, a simple attire of black tactile 5.11 pants, a Cold Core long sleeve, a black collared shirt with her work logo on the upper left breast pocket; her last name on the upper right and giant 'Security' embroidered in white on the back. To say it was simple would probably be an understatement, the club she worked as security for...rather a glorified bouncer, was one of the most exclusive in the city and likely the east coast. Their shirts were a quick-dry material that was both comfortable and practical because it allowed ease of movement, however looked professional. Max often compared them to her combat shirt she wore on deployments stashed away in a sea bag. After tying her boots, Max did a last check to ensure she had everything because she would not be returning the remaining of the night. The last touch were two, thick, black and silver paracord bracelets, one for each wrist. A creative combination of metal and cord, these were special to her because they were not only beautiful, but also practical and a gift. There were two sets, one she wore in uniform, that complied with regulation and the others were thicker, possessing more silver and more cord about an inch and a half wide. She treasured these more than life itself now.
Maul meowed. His owner smiled and rubbed his head, reaching to the back of his ear and working to a favored place before kissing the top of his head and making way. Max parked her car in an underground parking lot, the last light of the sun long lost beyond the horizon of endless skyscrapers whose reflection distorted the origin of the setting blaze in many places. The night life was only just beginning, in an hour time her work would be busy as a hive, patrons of only the wealthiest or most famous class would enter thru the double doors of the most exclusive club in New York. Max entered thru the ally to the back door, the employee entrance--the doors would open in an hour, but her work would begin sooner. She always checked the cameras, locks, and doors, ensuring that only certain areas were or were not locked. The servers and bartenders were all around stocking and cleaning to prepare the night. Just another night at Eclipse.
Max was grateful to not be one of them, the clientele of this establishment were highly demanding and expected nothing, but the best for the price they were paying. A single bottle of what was sold here was a small fortune, more than she would make in two weeks in the Marines, hell a month in some cases. Eclipse was a massive club, two floors, VIP areas, three large bars, dance stages; it was modern, but also possessed a seemingly timeless appearance of dimness to create mystery and mystic atmosphere. The finest quality materials, no holding back, every luxury that could be spent was, but the cost to maintain such a place compared to its profit were exuberant. Needless to say money was no problem for the club, which explained the unusually high pay and benefits. And they say quality is priceless.
"Hey Max!" Called Tim, the manager, "Got a minute?"
The new employee came over, sitting at the vacant bar and having a folder handed to her.
"You're officially one of us." He smiled offering a hand-shake.
Finally. Three months of probation and she was at last hired, a new contract, a pay plan, benefits, a steady and secured income--one less thing to worry about. While Tim was the manager of the club, just below the owner, he made the majority of the decision excluding final say on hiring. That was reserved for the owner who Max had never met and heard little of. Apparently only the manager and Max's direct supervisor had met the owner, but the Marine suspected their evasion of direct answers was for a collective agreement of discretion. She did not care.
Manager Tim grabbed two shot glasses and lined the rims with sugar, filling the glasses with vodka and dashing limes on the napkins. He pushed one to Max who held the glass between three fingers and her lime in the other. Down the hatch. The liquid courage burned going down her throat, but numerous weekends of drinking with Infantry Marines had built up a significant tolerance to alcohol, this was not nearly enough to get her buzzed, but at the very least it was gracious a toast to making the mark.
"You wanna come out with us tonight after shift?" Tim asked, taking the glass and stashing it where many others would follow.
Max lifted her arms up, her built and bulging muscles well deserved for her hard work, and stretched.
"Why not?" She shrugged, taking a water bottle from just under the counter.
It was the first time she had accepted going out with the others, she had been asked before, but had no desire to involve herself with others when under probation. Now she was free to do what she want and to frank, she needed something to take her mind off last night. Maul was fantastic company and all, but he never talked to Max and she felt if she did not interact with civilians often enough her adjustment to their world would be that much harder. Since she was going, she thought to ask Creg, a fellow bouncer and former solider. Twelve years active duty, three deployments as Intel--currently going to Law School to be a lawyer. It was good to have someone to relate to, someone to talk to who understood her and most certainty possessed the same twisted humor. Oh how she missed not censoring herself to such a degree.
The night when on, hundreds of the rich and famous were allowed entrance. Max stayed out front, the clipboard possessing the night's roster and blacklist memorized for the most part. There were few disruptions aside from the usual black-out drunk of college students out partying trying to weasel their way with a flash of tits. They were always turned away, but if more trouble was caused the disruptions would be seized and held for the approval of police. It was not difficult for bouncers of Eclipse to handle such minor problems and the clientele that lie within knew better to keep to the law of the club. Hell, in order to be on the roster you must sign a waiver with three most notable laws to follow: First, treat fellow guests and patrons with respect and courtesy. Second, proof of payment must be given first before ordering. Third, do not lay a hand on staff of Eclipse. Failure to abide by these laws means dismissal and a permanent spot on the Blacklist from the club and all its affiliated events, which for many was a social death sentence.
This Wednesday night was as any other, not quite as busy as the weekend, but enough to have it be eventful. Just as any other Wednesday night though, there was always a single outlier--one and it took the form of a woman. From a sleek black sports car, Max could not identify from her position, the woman emerged, elegantly she strode her long legs, kicking out her scarlet form-fitting dress out as she walked toward the door. Her name was unknown, but Max's supervisor had made it clear to allow this woman to pass undisturbed. The other bouncers always left her be, aware of her presence, but ignoring her travel behind them and thru the doors. Max however, never allowed herself to be caught unaware of her presence. She was beautiful, her long raven hair flowed freely down her back perfectly disrupted by her movements, her very lightly sun-kissed and flawless skin retained a type of paleness Max could not place to describe, but what she did memorize distinctly was this woman's eyes. Electric blue. Tall and sleek, she could be a model, but she had muscle on her to appear fit, but not to be engaged in any actual sport.
The mysterious woman strode closer, her eyes meeting the female bouncer as her red-colored lips curled up to an amused smile. Max did not return the same, her expression was neutral, studying the woman as she came closer. Something about her bothered Max, not because of the mystery, but the look in the woman's eyes raised the hairs on the back of her neck. Max never exposes her back to the woman, never allows her to approach without knowledge. In the back of her mind there was a 'voice' an instinct that would not be explained to be weary, to be on guard--it is not the same feeling when she was on a mission or on patrol, rather that there was more beneath the surface that this facade let on. She walked between Max and the other two bouncers, unwavering of their gaze as she once again recited the only words she spoke before entering.
"What a cute puppy."
She passed thru the doors and Max breathed out as though she had been holding her breath. She could never leave her back to that woman, not with eyes like those. There was a hunger there and now that she was here, Max knew she was entering a predator's den. Just has her break came.