Jay O'Neil's Apartment
It was a small apartment, with poor lighting and grimy counters. Dishes and empty frozen meal containers were stacked next to the sink in the kitchen, with stains that showed they had been there for days. There was room for a fridge and a small table to eat at. Inside the refrigerator, nothing except a bottle of ketchup and some Chinese take-out. Amanda had stayed in worse though. A lot worse.
There were two other rooms. A living room and a bedroom. The living room was filled with what any man would consider “the essentials”, which were simply a TV and a leather recliner—no decorations on the walls or even a side table for a lamp. The bedroom was just as barren. A single twin-sized bed with a surge protector next to it plugged into the wall. There was just a single phone charger stuck in the length of extra outlets.
She stayed standing as the man made his way through the three rooms, clearing out any spare clothes lying around. He was reasonably attractive, with clean-cut hair and a sharp brown leather jacket. He couldn’t have been more than thirty, maybe stuck in his mid-twenties. But despite how young he should’ve been, the way he moved made him seem older. Either that or tired. Looking at the bare sheets on his bed, Amanda could see that as the more likely explanation.
Out of habit, she rubbed her mechanical right arm. Her clawed hand twitched. It was still warm from the laser she had used earlier, cutting the soldiers in half. She felt no regret about it. They were coming to capture her, and she didn’t want that. So she killed them. A natural behavior to her now. She used to think about how callous that made her feel, but now it was simply a motion. Kill those who get in her way. She’d do that to anyone, even the man helping her now.
Done with the hasty cleaning, the man returned to the kitchen to face her. She could tell he was still getting used to her appearance. Her white summer dress clashed heavily with her dull gray arm and the half of her skull that had metal sticking from it, with a glowing red eye shining from her socket. But from how he looked at her, it was clear he was used to seeing unconventional things. He didn’t shy away from the sight as most people did. He looked directly at her, just like Mike did.
“So,” he began. “Want to tell me what happened back there?”
“Not really,” she replied harshly. “All you need to know is that they wanted to bring me back somewhere I didn’t want to go.”
He nodded, in a way that told her he wasn’t going to push the subject anymore. He paused for a moment, then held out his left hand to shake.
“My name’s Jay, Jay O’Neil.”
Amanda hesitated, then shook his hand with her normal one. “Amanda.”
“No last name?”
“Not one you need to know.”
Jay seemed to roll with her abrasiveness. He took a seat at the kitchen table. “I’m guessing you’re not going to tell me why you’re running around DC by yourself?”
Amanda stayed standing but moved to the table as well. She made sure her back was to the wall. “Well, I’m guessing you’re not going to tell me what you’re doing hanging around a construction yard by yourself.”
He smiled and looked down, contemplating something. Then he looked at her, at her eyes. “I was clearing my head for something I have to do tonight.”
She nodded, not interested at all in his something. She had a task to do as well, one that involved a journey to Egypt. How she was getting there, she still had no idea. But for now, laying low before the wrong people found her was the main priority. She glanced down the entrance hallway to the door to the apartment. It was cheap wood, something that could easily be kicked down.
Jay noticed this but said nothing. He reached for a remote controller on the table and clicked it towards the TV. Powering on, it was switched to a news channel. A lady appeared on the screen.
“According to reports from the Federal Mental Health Facility here next to downtown DC, the notorious patient known to locals as “The Smiling Slasher” has escaped once again. This makes it just the thirteenth time in the last two years since he’s been institutionalized. As all the times before, police are sending out warnings to all neighborhoods in the downtown section of DC, warning residents not to answer the door if someone strange knocks and to walk in groups at night. The Smiling Slasher is known for attacking at night and is not afraid to break into houses, so please report any suspicious figures to the authorities at once. Here we have a local resident, sir, what do you think of this latest escape?”
The camera panned to a middle-aged man being interviewed. “Same story different day. Everyone’s kinda used to ol’ Smiley escaping, so it’s just become a habit to stay shut in the house every couple of months. Besides, the vigilante will just bring him in again. He always does.”
The reporter hooked onto the last comment. “What about this vigilante sir? Any comments about him?”
The man shrugged. “I say keep doing what you’re doing. Not like it’s hurting anybody.”
The news report quickly changed to a new topic, a new reporter on the screen talking about a different tragedy. Amanda glanced at Jay. His face seemed stony after hearing the news report.
He shook it off and indicated the bedroom. “You can take the bed if you want. I’m fine with the recliner.”
“I’m fine. I can just sleep on the floor.”
Jay gave her a strange look, getting up to go to the sink. “Sorry, no way I’m letting a little girl sleep on the floor. You’re taking the bed.”
Amanda scowled. “I’m fifteen,” she muttered.
Stepping to the sink, Jay took out of his coat pocket the pair of brass knuckles he had used earlier. Taking a close look at them with her mechanical eye, Amanda could see the wear on them. They had years of use, with multiple chips in the metal itself. As the faucet ran and water cleaned off the grime and blood, Jay rubbed a sponge over all of their grooves. With the way his hands moved, he was familiar with how to clean them.
“Why the knuckles? A gun would be easier.” Amanda asked this as though she had experience in weaponry.
If the question sounded strange coming from a child, Jay didn’t take notice. “When I need to use them, I like to get personal.”
Jay paused, then continued washing. “How much do you know about cycles?”
Amanda narrowed her eyebrows in confusion. “What?”
“Cycles. You know, the water cycle, the cycle of hatred, that kind of stuff.”
“It’s useless to think about that kind of thing. Just do what you need to do and move on. If you get caught up in a cycle, you’ll just worry about things that’ll bring you down.”
Jay sighed. “Maybe, but sometimes it’s not that simple. I didn’t own these until my brother died. He gave them to me through his will. You see, he was a police officer. But before that, he got into a lot of trouble. Fought a lot. So he used these. In his will, he said to me that these knuckles let him figure out how the world worked and that he wanted me to learn from them too. Didn’t know what he meant by that until much later.”
“He was killed on the job. Died investigating a home invasion. The man who killed him was still on the run after the funeral. So I tracked him down to get revenge.”
“Did you kill him?” Amanda asked.
“I wanted to. The night I found him, I had him on a rooftop. His head was hanging over the edge and I just wailed on him. Over and over, until his face was bloody. But here’s the thing. You ever punch with brass knuckles before?”
She shook her head. She didn’t think her arm was exactly the same as the knuckles.
“Well, when you punch with them when you punch a lot with them, they end up hurting you too. By the end of the night, my knuckles were bleeding just as much as his face. So that’s when I realized. If I killed this guy, this piece of shit, I’d be just as bad as him. And I don’t think my brother wanted that. So I stopped and I turned my brother’s killer in.”
“But that wasn’t the end of it. By not killing that man, I stuck myself in a cycle. Because I refuse to kill that man, he wouldn’t stop trying to kill. He won’t stop anytime soon. So I have to stop him now, every time he tries. And that’s the situation I’m in.”
“So why don’t you kill him? So what if it’s not what your brother wants, it’d make your life easier.”
Jay turned off the faucet and grabbed a towel to dry off the knuckles. He turned now to face Amanda. “Because then I wouldn’t have the pain from the knuckles to remind me of how the world works.”
She looked at his hands as they dried off the brass knuckles. They were worn, with scabs and callouses all over. They were the oldest, most tired-looking feature of his entire appearance. If someone were to judge his age off of his hands alone, they’d think he was centuries old. She looked at his hands and how they wrinkled. Then, subconsciously, she glanced at her shoulder, where the metal met flesh. Where there were scars from the surgery, that were still a pink-red.
“Let me ask you something,” Jay continued. “Do they hurt? The metal pieces on your body.”
Amanda stayed silent. The nights she had spent shifting as the metal arm scraped her side. The headaches she experienced when she turned too fast sometimes. The scratch marks from when she accidentally brushed her claws against her leg.
“Yeah, sometimes they do.”
“And what have you learned from that?”
Her features went dark immediately. A rage that constantly burned flared up, in an almost uncontrollable way. Her left hand, her normal one, balled into a fist. Her face scrunched, and the skin that was attached to the metal in her head tightened.
“I learned that there are some people in this world that need to go.”
“Go to hell, where they belong.”
Jay stayed silent. He finished drying off the knuckles. Amanda simmered, still stuck in her bad mood. Finally, after minutes of silence, Jay spoke.
Amanda sighed heavily out of her nose. “Whatever. You can stay in your cycle if you want. But mine ends when I find the man who did this to me.”
“And how will you do that?”
She cracked her neck. “First, I have to do this job. I have to go to Egypt and find someone.”
He whistled. “Wow. How’re you getting to Egypt?”
She frowned. “I… haven’t figured that out yet.”
Nodding, Jay stepped away from the sink. He went to the bedroom.
“Well while you’re figuring that out, feel free to crash here. I’ll head to the store to get some actual food for you.”
Amanda stared off into space, looking towards the counter where there was a stain. “Thanks,” she said absently, almost forgetting her manners.
It was close to midnight. Amanda lay in the bed, face down on the mattress. She had tossed the pillow on the ground. It hurt her neck, which had metal infused into the spine.
Laying there, she could hear noises coming from the living room. Switching on her x-ray vision in her right eye, she saw Jay sitting in the recliner, listening to something. It was a small handheld device. He had been sitting there all night, waiting for something. What it was, she did not know.
She heard a burst of noise come from the other room again, presumably from the device. Stirring, she watched Jay’s figure hunch over to listen to it. After a few moments, he suddenly got up and began to move to the bedroom.
Amanda closed her eyes in a hurry. This action reminded her of her childhood when she used to pretend to sleep when her parents checked in on her. This memory made her blush in embarrassment, and she was thankful the room was dark so Jay couldn’t see her. She heard him walk into the room and over to the small closet. He rummaged around in it, trying to find something. Half-opening her normal eye, she barely saw his back as he looked through a duffel bag. Finally, he pulled out a pair of objects. His brass knuckles.
Getting what he needed, he began to turn around to leave. Hurriedly closing her eyes again, she waited for him to leave. But he didn’t. She could sense him in the room still, turned towards her. She waited. What was he doing?
She heard him move towards her. A sense of unease crept up on her, not being able to see what he was doing. Her metal claws twitched. If he made one wrong move, she’d slit his throat, even if this was his bed. Sensing him getting closer, Amanda prepared for the worst.
She felt the bedsheet rustle, then lift up and over her shoulder. They settled closer to her neck, covering her body more. Was he… tucking her in?
After that, he left the room. She opened her eyes again and switched to x-ray. She watched him walk out of the apartment, out the hall, and out of the building. She stayed still for minutes on end. Then, she gripped the sheets tighter around her. It was a comforting feeling; one she hadn’t felt in a while. She closed her eyes again, this time falling into a hazy sleep.
When she awoke in the morning, Jay wasn’t anywhere to be found in the apartment. Not knowing where he was, she stood in the kitchen. Opening the fridge, she grabbed the take-out and scarfed it down. Throwing out the container, she looked around.
The grimy counter, the bare living room, the lone bed. It was the closest thing to living in a home she’d had in a while. Standing in the kitchen, she wondered about staying here for just a week. Eating at the table, listening to the TV… having someone to tuck her in.
Her metal arm twitched. She rubbed it, an old habit. Then she made up her mind. She walked out the apartment door, without so much as a goodbye.