Chapter 9 - Demented Dysphoria
Half of me is constantly nagging, reprimanding me for assuming I can slay a serial killer with ease. The rest of me tries to negotiate with hubris and anger. My conscience is in the middle, cowering between the shouts.
Flying at increased altitudes graces me with a chilled embrace, setting an equilibrium for the heavy coat resting on my back. I looked it over before putting it on; I’m really impressed with Mochta’s work. This time, it’s a trench coat with large grafts removed, each resembling an asymmetrical plateau. Once I land, my wings will obviously cover the rest of my back as they fold, in case I really need it for cold weather.
The air is beginning to smell different, somehow. More warm? More dull… I can’t describe it. My speed declines, and my body begins to shoot downwards like a bullet I hopefully won’t get caught by later. This is Arizona. It must be about 4pm now, when the Sun reaches its peak in the sky, when it unleashes the most wrath. I forget how long it must take me to fly across the country, but oddly enough, the time goes by eerily fast. My feet feel a pressure they have to readjust to, as I glance casually about. This looks like a ghost town. I don’t see anyone.
There are only three colors: the sky is blue, the land is auburn, and the buildings are gray. Graffiti, dust, eroding paint, you name it. It’s all here. As I step forward, I have to subsist with the Sun’s rays slapping my upper back. It looks as if there’s a breeze, but I don’t feel any cool sensation, only a bit of sand grazing my cheeks. Said sand crunches beneath my durable footwear satisfyingly, and I take note of the two structures that immediately grasp my attention. One is a gas station, it looks like an antique, an oversized relic from the past. The second seems unfinished, its walls entirely constructed from stone paste, no doors. A patchy, vinyl flooring draws me closer. I step gingerly, my imagination playing a game with my perception. Overlapping and interfering with what I see as I walk, I start to pick up the pieces of the story.
It begins with incoherent shouts. Three voices, one dark and hatred-filled, one passive, high pitched, and tripping over her words. The other is barely there, hesitant to interject but eager to depart. A warm embrace that turns cold, the sneaky play of a knife from his pocket. He has to be the last to hold her tight. The witness must go too, so they can be alone. All the blood. He must not care that it soaks the carpet. A sniffle, a cry, a whine, a groan. The only one left alive is the one doing the killing, the one kneeling before a woman on the floor. Her hair dramatically paints the surface around her head. Her mouth is open. Her eyes: dead, still, firm, only minutely dazed. Helios stands. There’s a man in his bed, half naked, half doused with sanguine. He looks petrified.
I come back, miraculously standing, and I stare at my feet with a relieved sigh. I’m about to turn a corner to walk inside, when, for a split second, I see a man sitting on the floor. I want to gasp, but I do so internally as I reel myself backward and go rigid behind the prickly, cement wall. Was that him?! I begin to digest the information I accidentally gathered. He was sitting with his legs loosely crossed, I think he had… dirty, baggy work pants. That’s it? I need to know more. My toes unconsciously feel around, and push themselves against a stiff object. I look down. A rock… I pick it up. Twisting it around in my palm, I move myself closer to the other corner, where I notice three grand arches embedded in the left wall. Raising my loaded fist, I aim the weighty pebble at the ground, a good distance from my position. It goes flying, then skids across the sand, kicking it up like a mule while making a perfectly audible noise. I duck back, and quickly spring off the ground, taking my wings for a quick ride to the roof. As I cautiously perch atop its flat surface, the man walks out immediately. I can sense he’s anxious, particularly when I see a rifle poke out from his shelter.
I should have known I would be taken straight to this guy, but I wanted to believe I wouldn’t have to face him just yet. I have to make a plan, fast, so I can get the hell out of here. If I simply face him he’ll surely shoot me first. I slide the compact, semi-automatic tool out of my inner coat pocket. Oh, fuck. I’ve never used a gun before. Are you serious? Dear, God! I’m screwed… Calm down. I doubt it’s that hard, especially when the gun does half the work on its own. You can do this. I can do this. I won’t let this bastard get a kill streak of five.
Hovering gently in the air, I levitate to the other end of the building. Then, I set myself down, securely behind a barricade of concrete again. I reach for the filled magazine stowed safely in my right coat pocket, and grip it with quivering fingers. Pushing it in place, a sharp shiver jolts up my spine.
“Who are you?! Come out!” An enraged voice booms, sending shockwaves throughout the entire, deserted town. Shit. He must have heard the click.
“...Some kind of hitman you are!”
I stay hidden, fleshing my plan out in the back of my mind.
“I.. I know you’re here!”
But I’ll have to buy some time. “How did you manage to escape?” I raise my voice, masked by a solid curtain. “You sound like a coward!”
“What did you say?!” The hot-tempered assailant growls. “I’ll beat you within an inch of your life!” I can hear the shuffling stomp of his boots beating the ground, “And then I’ll take it!”
At possibly the most foolish time, I step out, into view, with my submachine gun held firmly towards him.
“Wh-What the… What the hell?!”
With the flinch of his arm, I duck preemptively before a bullet tears the air above my head. “You can see me?” I question as I rise, and praise my reflexes. That’s the only explanation for the way he reacted to my appearance. I feel my tail give a little wag as if to say, “Look at me!”
“Of course I can see you, jackass!”
Maybe that wasn’t the best choice of words on my part…
“I wanna know, what did you do to those people you killed?”
I must’ve said something funny, because Helios scoffs, amused, “What.. did I do?” The dry air around us is sucked through his teeth with a sharp inhale. “Ask me what they did!” he screams, “Those fuckers ruined my life!” A deranged laugh crawls up his throat and out of his mouth. “But if you really want to know… I tortured them. The ones that I planned.”
His face makes me sick. He looks livid and overjoyed at the same time; it’s a dastardly combination. His smile looks seriously contorted.
“I sat them down and pulled out a pair of pliers,” he giggles and puts his sweaty palm to his forehead, raking his free hand through unkempt hair. “I pulled their fingernails out one by one.”
I want to gag already, but I have to stand strong, keep my composure. Don’t let him win.
“Have you ever thought about slowly plucking a snail out of its shell? That was kind of what it felt like, but there was so much blood.” He licks his lips, and I can’t withhold a revolted frown.
“Don’t make that face! Let me tell you more, since you asked.” He clears his throat with a soothed leer at me. “Peeling them, and having to listen to the skin and the blood crack and ooze.. was disgusting.” I gaze in disbelief at his cocky grin while chuckles slip in and out of his narrative, “But the screams, the screams lasted for hours… And that made it beautiful.”
My arm has been fixed, reaching out with my weapon to keep him in line, but as I look down, I realize my elbow is giving way. I look up--he’s right there! A hand fiercely grips me by the neck, a thumb and a forefinger pressing down hard on the edges of my jaw. He wants to crush me, but I refuse to choke. I save my breath as he drags me to the wall, and I gurgle with frustration behind gritted teeth.
“I don’t know what the hell you are.. but you know what I really want right now? To smash your skull into the linoleum until it shatters! And that might take a while.”
Looking into his remorseless eyes, with irises so dark they match his pupils, my wheeze becomes a taunt. “...I won’t give you the satisfaction.” Swiftly kneeing him in the groin, I’m unprepared for him to pull the trigger glued to his left hand, which lands a bullet in my wing. We stagger together. I grimace, but continue to pursue him as he runs off. He is a coward. I had my own gun in my hand still, I could have at least shot him in the leg. What’s wrong with me? I sprint outside, through the middle, towering archway, and continue to wonder while chasing him in parallel. Could he sense that I was hesitant? Is it that obvious that I’m not really a cold-blooded killer? My blood has to boil, for me to take a life into my own hands, and crush it like a wilted flower. The fluidity of time seems to freeze, while an onslaught of pain in my frontal lobe coincides with another vision.
Desperate, echoing sobs. Footsteps, resilient, loud, and unstoppable. Cries half-silenced by tight rags between two sets of jaws. Each soaked with tears and a gooey buildup of saliva. The fingertips of the first victim, heinously ravaged. A muffled howl bounces off thick, shadowy walls. Feet impatiently kicking as blood drips from each nail bed. He bites his tongue in the process. Blood further taints the gag in his mouth. The one that has to watch is diverting his eyes, writhing so hopelessly that he tips in his chair. His face slams into the dense floor. Teeth clatter against parched, sensitive lips. The rim of an eye socket bashes into concrete. Helios yanks him upright, it’s his turn.
I swallow a swig of vomit as I pick up speed. My wings swat the gritty air, it hurts! Not only friction from gravity but also grains of sand violate my wound. Rage pushes me forward. He’ll pay, he’ll pay for it all. I launch up and over the building, gaining momentum as my feet carry their own weight on the roof. He’s in my sights now, and a euphoria gushes through my veins as I swoop down, both of my legs bulldozing his spine inwards. He lets out a defeated groan, nearly lifeless. I use this moment to kick the rifle out of his hand, my shoe just scraping his knuckles. I straddle around his torso as I reach down and flip his body over, so I can look him in the face. Without hesitation, my right foot plants itself in the center of his collarbone, my toes locking underneath his chin. I let him grab my pant-leg and dig his fingers into the fabric, because it’s futile. The barrel of my gun is stapled to his forehead. He bares his teeth like a rabid animal and snarls, never taking his wide eyes off of mine, not even to blink.
The cacophony… The cacophony of my heart beat, the robust bang of a gunshot and the ringing that follows… It’s like trying to tell your child what death is. Where did his life go? Looking at him now, the man once named Helios, the man once labeled a nation-wide threat.. is nothing but a husk. Staring him down for another moment, my eyes become glazed with an acquainted magenta. An impossibly wide grin elongates my lips until I can no longer feel them. It's too unsettling for me to question this time.
☘︎︎ ☘︎︎ ☘︎
I’ve torn a small piece of his shirt and twisted it into a knob to cork the puncture of thin meat on my wing. Now, I’m almost home. I make a stop in the clouds to remove the parts of my costume that are easier to do so than the others, and hastily shove them in my duffle bag before they’re stolen by Earth’s gravitational pull.
Mochta’s door is left unlocked for me, and I make my way inside only to head straight to the bathroom. I forage for anything that might aid me. With a scoop of tap water from my cupped palm, I down 4 Ibuprofen, and snag a first aid kit that’s almost hidden under the sink. With the door shut, I sit on the toilet’s hollow lid, sliding the rectangular, plastic container on the sink counter before opening its latch.
I yank the bit of cloth previously shoved into my wound like a dirty bandage that’s somehow underneath my skin. I groan and wince, hunching over and clutching my thigh in hopes of balancing out the pain. With an epiphany, I swing open the cabinet doors again to grab a clean hand-towel. Folding and twisting it nicely, I place it between my two aching rows of teeth, rather than continuing to let them grit together. I pick up a small bottle of pure alcohol, and my hand is shaking. I open the cap and gently tip it over the ragged, bloody cavity blemishing my otherwise white and blush pink feather-hoarders. As the hand-towel absorbs my agony, I replace the antiseptic with a handful of gauze and medical tape. The towel falls out of my mouth as the bathroom door is flung open. You’ve gotta be kidding me…
“Oh, hey, uh…” It’s Axel, aggravatingly shirtless and obviously at a loss for words. The worst part.. is Mochta pressed up against his chest with Axel’s toned arms and bulky hands. Mochta’s red face looks me over in shock, “Shina! You’re hurt!”
“Huh, where?” Axel butts in.
I can’t help but glare at them both, feeling the heat of my emotion and my pre-existing discomfort grill me from the inside out. “Just get out!” I snap, “Both of you!”
“Okay, okay. Come on, puppy.” Holding Mochta’s arm, Axel leads him away.
“B-But..” Mochta strains his neck to look at me until they’re far enough out of the way for me to slam the door shut with my foot. Unbelievable… I think. But really.. it is believable.
I get up, slouching without a care in the world. I want to be left alone… I carry the first aid kit with me, to make me feel productive. Walking into the hall, I detest the thought of whatever’s going on behind the door across it. I walk into the living room, and my eyes draw to the set of stairs I noticed only briefly before, the ones untouched by anything but dust. I might as well. Walking up them warily, a faint creaking begins to follow my footsteps. When I finally reach the summit, there’s only one direction to look. However, I can barely see. My hand frisks the wall until it discovers a light switch. It’s all one room, with a triangle ceiling and one circular-paned window. How curious.
There are several items of furniture that are covered by cliché sheets, most of them white. I can make out a loveseat, a standing lamp, a dresser, a table, a couple chairs, and even a bed that’s pushed all the way to the back, nestled beneath the window. There are many boxes, packed, but not sealed. I sit on the sofa wrapped in a clear, glossy plastic. It makes a crinkle as it’s dented by my weight. I observe intrusively, and try to decide how I feel about snooping around. Something manages to catch my eye on the left side of the room. I get on my feet to investigate. An ominous chest, with an insecure padlock awaits my touch. I grip its lid with my thumb under an icy, metal brim. Hesitantly revealing the contents, I wait for the light to show me what’s inside.