Iron Manimal

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Chapter 14

The next day was crisp and sunny. We woke up just after dawn and headed to the remains of the sink factory a few miles outside of Coldwater. It had burned down years ago, all that was left now was a dozen or so acres of concrete foundation and several crumbling concrete pillars.

“Not much alive for Roger to eat.” said Garbageman Mike.

“Except for us.”

A large opening had been made over a subbasement and covered with a tarp. Piles of rubble were propped up on a ramp. A push from Hector would fill in the subbasement and trap Roger, at least in theory.

“That isn’t going work. Roger is going to hop right out of there.”

“Won’t hurt to have a way to slow him down.”

We still had a few hours to kill, so we sat down on a comfortable slab of rubble and had a wake me up with acorns for breakfast. I took a pull and passed the bottle.

“This plan seems a bit light to me from what I can see.”

“I’m sure Leon has something up his sleeve.” Garbageman Mike chuckled. “Hell, I’d bet he’d charge admission to see it if he could, and people’d pay.”

The Only Remaining Crying Ghost pulled up a little before noon. Leon came over to talk with us as Hector, Dave, Dan and a few of the grounds crew unloaded the truck. Among the items they removed was a large rail gun. Leon could see that Garbageman Mike and I recognized what it was.

“You’ve already seen the tiger pit as well no doubt. Just precautionary measures I assure you. The basic plan is to lead Roger here and have Phil explain the situation to him, that he can either rejoin the circus if he wishes to or run off and live and be free, as long as he’s discreet.”

“That sounds like a pretty complicated explanation.” said Garbageman Mike.

“You don’t give Roger enough credit.” said Leon.

“Complicated for Phil.” said Garbageman Mike. “His nerves are completely shot, and they’ll be even more so with Roger around.”

“And let’s not forget that Roger is a bottomless cauldron of rage. Have you actually seen him Leon, what he’s like now? I have, and he doesn’t look too inclined to listen to reason.”

“I agree with Scotty.” said Garbageman Mike. “We need Lulu in on this, if she can calm him down maybe Phil can tell him a simple message like ‘hide’ or ‘stay away from humanity.’”

“Absolutely not. As far as I’m concerned Lulu is just as dangerous as Roger, and the last thing we need is another unstable element. I believe that I can still control Roger to a degree, but not if I have to worry about Lulu as well. There’s only so much I can do.”

“You believe you can control Roger? Only so much you can do? Leon, you’re dreaming if you think you can control Roger now, and you’ve already led us from one disaster into another. You’ve done more than enough.”

“So you want Lulu involved, is that what you’re saying?”

He had me stumped. I didn’t want her anywhere near this.

“I’m saying this plan is crap. That’s all I’m saying. And I don’t see what you need us for.”

“I need you here in case things go south. Maybe all together, we can overpower Roger.”

I started laughing. Leon pushed on.

“Or at least distract him, force a kind of truce.”

“So you’re deliberately bringing us into harm’s way. You know the plan is lousy, you know it’s probably going to blow up in your face, and you want us here to get shit on when it does. This is the barrels all over again. This is actually even worse. At least you didn’t think the train was going to blow up. Did you?”

“Are you done Scotty? I acknowledge I helped to create this situation.”

“Helped?”

“We all did, and now we have to deal with it.”

“To do that, we need Lulu.” said Garbageman Mike.

“No.” said Leon and I.

I turned from Garbageman Mike back to Leon.

“While we’re at it, what the hell are you doing with the barrels you dragged out of the woods?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You lying piece of shit. You rotten, shifty, son of a bitch.”

“Not now, Scotty.” said Garbageman Mike.

“I didn’t want you to have to worry about that.” said Leon.

“I knew it! You devious cocksucker. And what’s your angle on Roger? You want to stick him back in a cage like Hector, have him jumping through hoops again? You’re insane, Leon.”

Leon took a deep breath and slumped down, caricaturing his idea of defeat.

“My intentions toward Roger are as stated. As far as the barrels, I just wanted to better understand what had happened to us, how it all works, but in the end I was too wary to experiment. Suppose I inadvertently created some kind of super flea or rat? I’m not completely blind, Scotty. I don’t have a death wish.”

Nothing about Leon sat well with me. Every time he spoke I felt like I was being dragged further into his machinations. I was about to lay into him some more when Garbageman Mike interrupted.

“First things first. No point in worrying about any of this if Roger kills us all anyway, or if he doesn’t bother to show up. How you got that figured?”

My head started to throb. Leon and Garbageman Mike rubbed at their temples as well. There was a metallic shriek and a loud crash as Roger landed on the truck and flattened it. All of the people still inside were crushed. Hector, the Duggans, and the rest scattered as Roger tore the truck apart. He looked like he was tearing into the belly of an antelope. He paused to look around frantically, as if guarding his carcass against scavengers, and spotted us. His eyes locked in on me and I felt Leon and Garbageman Mike quickly back away. He pounced and I froze, I was dead for sure, but Leon pushed me out of the way with a magnetic pulse and stunned Roger with lightning bolts.

Roger raised a paw to swipe at Leon. Leon tried to deflect it with another magnetic pulse but Roger was far too massive and Leon was sent tumbling. He had avoided the actual blow, but not most of the force behind it. Roger moved in for the kill. I grabbed his tail with my left hand and tugged it as hard as I could. Roger spun before I had a chance to let go and threw me on my ass. Leon jolted him again from behind as he approached me but Roger ignored him. Roger was done playing with us. Garbageman Mike lined up to try and grab me but I waved him off. There was no way he would make it. Roger’s presence at this range made all of us slow and woozy. My ears buzzed as Roger loomed over me and I was separated from him by a wall of bees.

He glowed and pulsed with light, the intensity increased quickly, then leveled off and subsided. I was nearly blind again, but I could make out Lulu’s silhouette against his glow. She was kneeling down in front of him, holding one of his huge paws in her hands.

Through Lulu, we were all connected. I felt Roger’s yearning, Leon’s discipline, Garbageman Mike’s stoicism, Phil’s terrorized confusion. I understood the anarchy of animal thoughts, the frustration of always having to attend to others, the thanklessness of trying to protect others from the world and themselves.

Roger bounded away. Bees swirled in the vortex of his wake.

Lulu’s eyes glowed a deep red as she rose to her feet. My heart pounded in my skull as blood dripped from my nose. I looked to Garbageman Mike and Leon as we collapsed to our hands and knees. Blood leaked from every orifice. Lulu intended to destroy herself and all of us with her, and we accepted it. She lowered her face into her hands and sobbed as her millions of bees scattered and exploded all around us. As the last of them popped out of existence, Lulu glowed brightly for an instant, then disappeared.

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