Chapter 8 - Transfixation
I’m back at Mochta’s house now, and I’m not sure if I should call it home. I just realized the stairs in the corner of the living room are never touched. I haven’t seen Mochta go up there once since I’ve been here. Maybe he just doesn’t feel the need to? He’s sound asleep in his bed, and I’ve snagged his laptop. Death was telling me to project myself outside of my body, so… That must mean astral projection. My fingertips begin to dance a quickly paced jig across the keyboard. I’ve heard of it before, but I never thought to try it. How is that even supposed to work?
After some brief reading, my jaw drops. “Whaaat...?” Squinting and rubbing my temples, a whimpering sigh sneaks past my mouth as it closes. This hardly makes sense.. but, then again, my own existence hardly makes sense. I died and came back as an angel-devil hybrid, of course astral projection is real. Why wouldn’t it be? Air fills my lungs like a pair of fleshy balloons while I situate myself on the floor. I cross my ankles and stamp my palms on my knees. Slowly deflating, I close my eyes. It’s like meditation, right? But I have to harness my consciousness, and allow it to… What? Float outside of me? This is ridiculous. I grunt unintentionally and wiggle a bit, unable to keep myself still for more than a second. One deep breath after another, I begin to count, visualizing score cards being flipped to the next number. How long do I have to do this? No-- Just stop thinking… My stomach, a spoiled Pomeranian, growls without shame. Another deep breath, and I imagine myself under a gentle waterfall, running off the edge of a cliff somewhere entirely secluded. I’m calm, now, I can adjust to my real surroundings. I try to map out what the room looks like in my head, but my right eye impulsively takes a peak. Dammit. I close them again with a huff of warm breath, steadily losing patience.
“Do you want something to eat?”
“Gah!” I swivel on my tailbone as if I were a spinning top. My ankle smacks into the rigid part of the sofa and I scramble on the floor, desperate to gather my composure.
“What were you doing?” Mochta innocently rubs his eye with the side of his pointer finger.
“I was.. meditating.”
“Oh, sorry. I just woke up and heard your stomach growl from my room. I thought it was some kind of animal.”
“...Well, obviously, it wasn’t.” Reaching the peak of my annoyance, I scoot onto the couch cushion closest to me and hang my head with an incognito sigh.
I must have been wandering around in my thoughts for longer than it seemed, because Mochta is now sitting next to me with a piece of cake on a little china plate. The fork "tinks" as I catch a spark of reflective light with a subtle movement in the corner of my eye.
“Cake isn’t food...”
Mochta glares at me with bags under his low eyes. My gaze makes a momentary shift to notice the fork in Mochta’s hand waiting for my jaws to reciprocate. The bit of cake on it does look tempting, it has a faint smell that I can only describe as “cold,” and “sugar”. The ice cream in between its minutely sampled layers has microscopic ice crystals--
“Will you eat it already?”
“Uh--” Before I can even process my response, the freezing, metal spikes slide onto my bottom lip.
“How is it?”
Mochta sets the plate in my lap, then leans comfortably back into the settee. “Is something bothering you?”
Hmm. Is something bothering me...? I take a bite of cake and stare at the blank, matte television. “Maybe..”
“Come on, Shina. I’m your only friend, you might as well tell me.”
Wow. He’s right... but did he really have to say that? I turn my head just enough to be able to make eye contact with Mochta occasionally. “Death told me.. he wants me to learn how to use astral projection, so he can train me.”
“Train you? I thought the Grim Reaper just went to people who are about to die and collected their souls.”
“I mean.. you saw the blood on my hands that one day, didn’t you?”
“I.. did. I guess I just didn’t want to think about it...”
“Mochta... This is selfish...”
I fail to resist looking into his mesmerizing irises while he puts on an expression of concern.
“But I haven’t told you everything, because I was worried about what you’d think of me.”
“You can tell me anything, Shina, and I mean it.”
“...I’m a murderer.” I find myself locking eyes with the floor. Squeezing my hands together, I dig my nails into my skin scoldingly.
How else do I say it? That’s the truth, really. Can I even justify it?
“I...--Well..” I scoff at myself. “My job is to kill really bad people.”
“Oh.. wow. That’s kinda scary... Couldn’t you get hurt?”
“Yeah, apparently I’m not invincible like this, that’s why Death told me I had to prepare.”
“Do you know why it’s your job to kill bad people, though?”
“I… hadn’t really thought about it. I think maybe... What was it he said to me in the beginning?" I mumble. “You’re the only one who understands...”
I take a glance at Mochta, who seems to be dragging behind my flashback expedition. “I had a theory.. that heinous criminals don’t have souls...”
“Oh! That makes sense, or.. it could at least. I don’t get why a grim reaper would want to kill someone without a soul though? What would you get out of that?”
“I don’t know...”
Mochta’s next reply is a yawn as his head falls into my lap. My hands jolt up and hover aimlessly in the air. I can tell he’s exhausted. Even though... I’m pretty sure he did nothing today. My fingers curiously land on Mochta’s scalp, smoothing over his soft, pastel-copper locks. I think he’s drooling a little. Jeez. Fast asleep like a child. I look upwards, and my lids start to fall with the sound of rain greeting the window panes.
☘︎︎ ☘︎︎ ☘︎
I open my eyes groggily as sunlight seeping through the blinds invades my vision. It feels like my eyelids have been glued shut until now. There’s a weight that’s been lifted off my thighs. I look around before getting on my feet. Where is he? Walking towards the hall, I plan to enter Mochta’s room, but instead, I’m drawn to a humming somewhat farther down. It leads me to a door, cracked open, that I feel I’ve never seen before. I cautiously nudge its surface and peer into the room behind. Woah... this is a workout room, a big one too. It could almost be a public gym. Mochta’s to the side, cleaning off the equipment, with a broom and dustpan at his feet. I clear my throat.
“Shina!” He runs up to me. Could he be any more enthusiastic? “I just remembered,” Mochta continues, “I have this gym, and you can use it to get tougher!”
“You woke up and went straight into cleaning for me...?”
“Well, it sounds weird when you say it like that, but yeah!”
My eyes have surveyed the room in amazement, only recently looking back at Mochta. “Thank you. It’s perfect. I can’t believe I didn’t realize I could train myself physically.”
“You’re welcome. Can I get one of those head pats again?”
“Y’know, that thing you did after I made that disguise for you?”
“Oh…” I lift my hand up with a pinpointed intention and gently ruffle Mochta’s locks. He smiles at me and gives me two thumbs up while he says, “Okay, have fun! I gotta go to work!”
“You’re not late, are you?” I turn to catch him in a hurry, hastily scooping his car keys off the counter. “No comment! Bye!”
He’s just like his aunt.
I graze the metal and plastic parts of machines while I inquisitively walk past, as if I am inviting them all to a waltz. Something catches my curiosity in the corner, a standing target. Looks like it would be used for archery, but I’m not sure where the bow and arrows are. That reminds me… I make a bee-line to this item, and carry it with one hand to the back door symmetrically aligned with the front of the room. His backyard is surprisingly plain, but neatly fenced. I trot eagerly indoors, fetching a few light, kitchen knives.
When I was about 13, I started becoming intent on learning how to throw knives. Along with other forms of combat training, it was the coolest thing to me at the time. I would escape to the backyard while my parents were at work, and draw a target out of white chalk on the hickory planks. Eventually, my dad noticed deep scratches in the wood. Even though I thought I had covered my tracks well enough by wiping off the chalk each time I finished. My parents were furious, labeling me reckless, dangerous, and disturbed. After that, they didn’t bother to mention it anymore, much like everything else. Sure, it was odd, and I suppose I could have hurt somebody if I threw one over the fence. But, I was a kid. I wanted something to do, something to make me feel like I wasn’t just one in the billions. I guess I got what I wished for, now. Unless I really am dead or in a coma, having some kind of elaborate DMT trip. Once I was scolded, I snuck out of my window almost every night, into the woods nearby with a flashlight at my feet while I practiced on the trees. I stopped a year later, though, replacing that routine with video games and naps.
Throughout my internal monologue, I set up the target with patience, making sure it’s in the center to appease my perfectionist curse. I take a deep breath, a premonition of failure playing in the back of my mind. The first blade joins her frail little brothers in the dirt. The second flies too far, and clatters against the end of the enclosure. I sigh, reeling my arm back with an anticipating grip. I chuck the third knife, and it pins itself teasingly on the bullseye’s rim.
I wonder how my parents are doing… I’ve felt disconnected from them for as long as my memories rewind, but I can’t help thinking: Do they miss me? I kind of raised myself, really, to the point where I have to remind myself who they are. It could have been worse. But, I don’t think I should worry about them, because I was their responsibility, not their child. And now…
A sniffle betrays me while I seek comfort from the clouds. I lift my chin as high as it will climb, and wish to launch into the sky. Now, I’m a burden lifted. Congratulations, fuckers. No, maybe I should at least thank them for allowing me to be born. Is it sad for me to put all the hope for my life into one person? Mochta’s all I have that I want. Ceasing my rambling, I pick up the knives to try again.
☘︎︎ ☘︎︎ ☘︎
I can hardly believe it, but it’s been a little over a month since I moved in with Mochta. Most of the days have been like clockwork, and I know exactly what to expect. I’ve been working out every day, with varying intensities. Mochta guilts me if I push myself too hard, since one day I ended up with a bad cold for half a week. He’s enrolled me in self-defense, boxing, and martial arts programs, and he took it upon himself to learn how to cook healthy food.
Axel’s been over a couple more times, but I managed to find excuses to take a walk or isolate myself in another room. Right now, I’m sitting in the kitchen, swirling a silver spoon through fresh milk in a precious piece of pottery. Swish… Swish…
My chin jolts up, quick, as I imagine myself a prairie dog checking for the source of a fellow critter’s cry for help. “Huh?”
“You okay? Your cereal’s gonna get soggy.”
“Oh.” Shoving spoonfuls one after the other with haste, I cope with the fact that I’m not sure what else to say.
“...So, how’s all the training going? Do you feel more confident that you can protect yourself?”
“Mm.” My reply is caught between an answer and a mouth full of food.
“Well, I was thinking I should take you to the shooting range sometime soon, to really cover all the bases.”
I gulp down the rest of my breakfast and leave my utensil by its lonesome. “That sounds like a good idea.. I can’t thank you enough for doing all this for me.”
“It’s no problem, it’s kinda cool. I feel like the Alfred to your Batman--”
“Tsk,” I muffle my needless reaction. “Dork.” However, I keep the last of it loud and clear while I make my way to the sink and ruffle Mochta’s hair in passing.
“What do you wanna do today? I don’t think you have any classes scheduled.”
My arms stretch up on their own with a synchronous yawn. “Sleep.”
“Really? …I suppose I can’t be disappointed by that, since you’ve been working so hard.”
“Why? What did you want to do?”
“I’m not sure, something with you…”
“That’s a first.” Watch your inner bitch, Shina.
“What? …What do you mean?”
“Not with your boy toy?” Shina!
“B-Boy toy?” Mochta looks away. Facing the door now, he sits still on his stool with his fists loosely curled atop the island’s silvery, quartz-like, polished stone. I don’t wait around to figure out whether Mochta is peeved at my comments or not, I begin to walk away.
“Agh!” Not again! I clutch the tight wrapping of skin around my skull as my knees knock against gray tile. As I suck air through my teeth, my mind becomes a movie theatre with locked and barred exits.
An emotionless, Latino man sits in a dark corner, observing his inmates. The orange scrubs on each condemned body cluster together, eventually blending into one mass. Cusses, clamor, rearing heads, conflict, confrontation, no fear. The security guards are pulled in, one by one into a match of uncertainty, a bloody tug-of-war. His bright red ends above obsidian roots still don’t move a hair. Now. He stands, calm, sure. A guard stands carelessly to the side, also distancing himself from the commotion. A swift, bony punch to the temple, he’s knocked out cold. Quick, the invisible man swaps attire. Running, he makes it to the front desk. He must be saying, “There’s a big riot happening! We’ve already lost two men! Hurry, get everyone down there!” The receptionist turns. He continues to run. A flush of light gleaming off a desert terrain.
I gasp and tremble, finding myself on the floor, but in Mochta’s arms.
“Shina! What’s going on? Are you okay? Please, say something!”
“M-Mochta… I’m fine. It’s just.. another vision.”
“Come here, sit on the couch.” He pulls me up. Then, I walk like a limping duckling to the sofa with his aid.
“Is this what happened at the mall?” Mochta stands over me with a motherly stare.
“Yes. This time… It’s a guy who escaped from prison?”
“...You have to kill him?”
“I--” Bowing my head to my knees, another premonition comes swirling in. “T-Turn on the news.”
“Um. O-Okay!” Mochta begins an anxious search, as if the remote to the TV would save me from a fatal illness. “Here it is!” The television blips, and the breaking news is the escape of a serial killer in Arizona.
“Is that him?” Mochta prods. “Helios Straeja… It looks like he killed four people a couple months ago.”
My lips are sealed with an imaginary adhesive while my eyes fixate on the screen.
“He may be armed and dangerous.”
“Well, that’s what they always say, right?” Mochta lets out an unwarranted chuckle of sheer nervousness. I join my forehead with my knees while my entire dermis tingles with fear.
“Don’t worry! Okay? I’ll be right back.”
What?! What is he thinking? He can’t leave me here! Don’t leave me, not now! But I can’t speak… No matter what I think or how I feel, I can only curl up and cower. What a pussy. Shut up. Any sane person in my shoes would feel the same way! Death himself told me I’m not invincible! What chance do I have over a grown man who happens to be a serial killer?! That means he planned all those murders. And murder is illegal. And he escaped prison!
Swaying robotically for what I naively perceive to be hours, I finally hear the door open. This would be like seeing the stairway to heaven, except I’ve already lost all hope. Footsteps eagerly sprint down the hall, soon returning with purpose.
I look up. I’m almost speechless. “Is that…?”
“It’s an FN PS90!” In one hand. “And I made you this coat last week,” In the other. “For you to conceal weapons on the inside!”
“You don’t have to be afraid, I’ll always have your back!” His chest rises with an inhale that’s been waiting for his voice to take a pause. I stand without asking my legs for compliance, so I can embrace Mochta, since I can’t find the words to express my gratitude. My knees wobble, and I squeeze him tighter.
“Go, Shina. So you can get back home safe while it’s still light outside…”
I fetch my bag with my disguise buried neatly inside, grab the gun, and toss my new coat over it. I’m able to leave with a smile.
I’m coming for you, Helios Straeja.