Morning Sky



(1)


I was glad he was out of my head.  I was glad to be free of him..  At last.  Finally.  For good..  The headache was gone.

That little game of stay and go.  Endlessly Come here, and endlessly Leave me alone.  Of

I want you.

Oops, no I don't.

If an asshole can be defined as someone who sets you up just to see you take a fall, then he was an asshole.  Maybe you could call him an unconscious asshole, but that's the best you could say.  And I was over him.  All that was left of my obssession was its tale end – a re-telling in my brain that I was over him, I was over him.  Finally.  At last.  If I was thinking too much about that or him or anything else it's only because I didn't have anything else to occupy my mind.  It was twenty minutes after four in the morning.  Still pretty much pitch black outside, though the convenience store where I worked the night shift was lit up bright as a neon sign.  The little blue car that had pulled up out front awhile ago was still sitting there.  Must be more'n five minutes now.  It was sitting in the parking lot not quite directly in front of the door, but pulled off a little to one side.  I'd put on a fresh pot of coffee soon as I saw it.  That's what everyone wants this time of morning.  Coffee.

It was deathly quiet.  All I could hear was electric hum, from the lights, the refrigerators, the pop machine.  I'd turned off the radio earlier – I'd heard every song they played a hundred times.  No one had been in the store for hours.  Everybody was sleeping, pretty pretty in bed.  I was bored out of my skull.  I'd read every magazine in the place.  I walked out from behind the counter and wandered round the store, looking down the aisles, checking out nothing, no odd sounds or unexpected shapes.

I looked out the front window, a solid sheet of glass that ran from floor to ceiling, towards the car.  Was somebody sitting inside it checking me out?  As I looked the window on the driver's side slid down.  An arm extended outwards, held up stiffly because it was encased in a cast.  The arm was waving, fingers curled, beckoning me.  I pushed the door open and leaned out.

Yeah?

Yes.  I wonder, could you help me, please?

I heard a voice, just any man's voice, but I couldn't see a face.  I was bored out of my head.  I glanced around the parking lot.  It wasn't especially well lit, but there was a streetlight nearby that was pretty bright.  I wasn't supposed to leave the store.

I just need a little help with the brake, the man explained.  If you could just . . .

I pushed through the door.  As I sauntered towards the side of the car I caught a glimpse, framed in the open window, of a youngish man's chiseled, narrow face.  He turned towards me, grinning.

I accidentally stepped down on the emergency brake, he was saying.  And I can't reach the pedal because of this . . .  He waved the cast, like a flag of defeat, in my face.

I see, I said.

The car door opened and the man gestured, still grinning, down towards a small pedal near his feet.  If you could just pull that up for me, he said, that would release the brake.

As I bent to look at the floor my eyes darted suddenly sideways, attracted by a small movement made by two bare knees adjusting themselves.  I took in the bottom fringe of a lightweight sweater, a dark skirt, the heaviness of thighs.  I saw very little of her at that moment, and nothing of the woman's face, but I had the impression of bigness.  Like she was big-boned perhaps.  I don't know.  It felt like her body took up a lot of space.

Almost immediately I wondered why this woman sitting there hadn't helped the man herself – I mean, she was right there.  I was still bending over, bending down my head, finding the pedal with my eyes.  And just as I was bent down lowest, just at the moment I was most vulnerable, most exposed, I suddenly realized, with a shock that stunned, just how enormously stupid I was being.

Had been.

Because then everything went black.




(2)


We both know tonight's the night.  It's been growin' on us all day.  It's been growin' on us for weeks, month even.  We'd be out drivin' somewhere, and I'd spot someone I thought he might like, so I'd give 'im a nudge and say, Hey, luv.  How 'bout that one?  He'd look and maybe he'd approve or maybe he wouldn't, but he didn't stop.  Not yet.  We were only lookin', you see, while on the way to somewhere else.  But then after awhile, that would change.  We'd start goin' out just to look.  In the daytime, evening, night.  That's when I knew we were gettin' close.  When we'd go out just to look.  He'd smile as he was drivin' along, smile like he was tellin' himself a secret.  Then he'd look at me, and I'd smile back at 'im, and he could see that I knew the secret too.

I knew all his secrets.

Then this morning, he was comin' out of the bathroom, and he says to me in his stony way, I think it's tonight, lass.  That's what I'm thinkin'.  I was sittin' on the edge of the bed, and he got down on his haunches right in front of me and looked into my eyes.  I felt a cold thrill run through me.  He could still make me dizzy, still take my breath away.  I nodded.  Okay.

And so it's been growin' on us all day, this pressure inside, the pressure of his power, his and mine.  And now it's here, and now it's now, it's happenin'.  My head feels light with it, my neck's gone all wobbly.  It's almost painful, but I like the feelin'.

He's alone, I whisper.

Yeah.  Yeah.  He swivels his head and looks over at me.  I give 'im a smile, and watch the answerin' grin spread across his face.  His eyes are wide, wide wide open, dark but bright.  I could feel the power in 'im.  He's nearly vibratin' with it.  I feel it too.  I can feel myself goin' to that place, that special place that only we know, the place where choice and destiny meet, and only one can survive.  His head swivels again.  Now he's lookin' at the kid, the store clerk.  I look at 'im lookin'.  He looks for a long time.  Just starin' at the kid, starin' for minutes on end.  He's markin' 'im, I think, markin' 'im with his mind.  He could do that.  He's got the power.  I look too.  I know he wants me to.

Ready, luv? he asks at last.  I give 'im a nod.  I'd been puffin' on a fag, and I put that out while he fits 'imself into the cast.  The kid's pacin' around inside the store.  Then he just stops, suddenly, and stands there, lookin' out at us.  Lookin' at us lookin' at 'im.

Oh, yes, luv, I think.  You've been marked alright.




(3)


When I woke up I was slumped over in the backseat of a moving car.  The blue car.  My hands were tied.  My head hurt.  There was a woman sitting wedged into the corner opposite me.  Even with her shoulders folded in on themselves, she took up a lot of space.  The car jostled me gently up and down.  She was smoking a cigarette.

You have . . . angels' hair, I mumbled.

She inhaled deeply.  I saw the tip of her cigarette glow sparkly red.  That's right, luv, she said.  Her voice was firm and low.  I'm an angel.  Your very . . . own . . . angel.  Silky, slithery on top, claws underneath.  Talons.  She could catch you mid-flight.

I moaned.  My head was throbbing, there was a fierce ache spreading from the back of my skull, saturating my entire brain.  It hurt it hurt it hurt.  I shifted my eyes to look out the window.  We were headed out of town.

Houses spaced out.  Up we travelled out of the valley, into the countryside, where there were yawning fields, and trees, and little woods.  Plenty of spots.  Plenty of spots to pick from.

It was, what, maybe 4:30, quarter to five in the morning?  Pretty soon the first of the day's customers would be coming through the door, wanting coffee, wanting a newspaper, wanting smokes.  An hour from now, the trickle would be a steady stream.  Early risers.  Men, women.  Headed for work.

I was sagging on the seat.  My head, my head . . .  I couldn't keep my eyes open.  Tears stung them.

That's right, luv.  The low firm voice, comforting yet somehow needling me too.  You just sleep now.  You just sleep.


When I came to again I felt that the car had stopped.  I looked out the window – looked out all the windows.  All I could see was trees.  Somebody moved in the front seat.  A car door opened and slammed shut, I felt the jolt of it.

The woman smiled at me.  I saw her lipstick.

Then a man's face was at the window beside me, the face I'd seen before, long, narrow, hollow-cheeked, palely glowing in the gloom.  It grinned at me.  Then it moved, I saw something glittering.  I saw a hand – I saw a knife.  Flash.  He watched me see it.  He licked his lips and nodded, grinning.  Then his eyes moved to the woman.

Alright, lass.  I'm off to a quick survey of the area.  Won't be gone long.  He stepped back a pace and did a little dance in excitement, mouth open wide, sticking out his tongue, flashing the knife.  Then he moved off, disappeared into the shadows.

I tried to sit up straight, but that made the pain start down my back.  My eyes looked through the dark to the woman.

Please, I whispered.

No, luv, she said.  We're long past that.

I tried to focus on her, to really see her.  She was opening up her purse, taking out another cigarette.  As she held the flame up to her face I suddenly realized I knew her.  She'd been in the store maybe half a dozen times, even flirted with me a little.  And maybe he'd been with her too.  Maybe.  Once.

Why do you let him make you do this?

She cracked a window open to let out the smoke, then leaned back, arms crossed, and gazed at me.

Who says I let 'im?

I heard her take another long drag on her cigarette.

I know you, I said.

She shook her head and smiled.  Not for long, luv.

You'd do anything for him, wouldn't you.  Even –

That's right.  That's right.

Even though what he really wants is me.

She turned her head away and was silent a moment.  All he wants you for, she said evenly, is for what he can do to you.

I bowed my head.  Please, I said.

Oh, it'll all be over in a minute.  Don't carry on so.  Here, she leaned towards me suddenly and stuck the cigarette between my lips, you might as well finish this.

I sucked on the cigarette.  Felt the smoke burning all the way down.

She sat back, watching me, then shook her head.  I'm sorry, luv.  You can't ever know, she was saying, as if that might somehow help.  You can't understand.

I heard sticks breaking nearby, stones crunching underfoot.  The man was coming back.  He was coming . . .  Suddenly she lurched forward and grabbed the cigarette out of my mouth.  Don't tell Ian, she hissed at me.

The footsteps were heavy and close.  It'll end badly for you, I said urgently.  It will.

Yeah, well, maybe not.  She took one last fierce drag on the cigarette before flicking it out the window.  Her eyes, turning back, darted up, looked beyond me.  She shifted forward, reaching across me towards the door . . .  Maybe I play the game better than you.




3


Soon as they'd gone I rolled down all the windows in the car.  I wanted to hear everything.  First there were just . . . you know, crickets and tree-frogs, what mum used to call peepers, and sometimes a bird.  And every few seconds or so I'd hear the crackin' sound of sticks breakin' under their feet.  Slowly they got farther away.  But not too far, Ian.  Not too far.

The car was parked on a rocky ledge.  Just in front of it was a ravine.  There was a break in the trees there.  Up above I could see first light, the black sky turning to gray.

I heard a cry, quickly muffled.  Another cry, then scuffling sounds, suddenly stifled.  Two voices – one jubilant, one desperate.  I couldn't hear words, just the sounds of their voices, intermingled.  Then, after a long while . . . a low, gurgling sound.  A shriek and a groan, more groans, then both of them groaning.  At last, one quick, shrill scream – cut off suddenly, magnificently – then deafening silence –

I sat back in my seat, stunned.  I couldn't move.  That scream.  That last scream.  That was my name he 'd screamed.  My name.  I couldn't get over it.  It filled the silence.

After a few moments I opened the door and got out of the car.  I felt cramped, so I stretched.  Everything felt still.  I looked upwards, breathing deeply, and stared, transfixed against the sky.  A bird chirped.  Then another.  A toneless mimicry.  Off in the distance I could hear the sound of morning traffic.





~ END ~








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