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.  That headache was gone.

His little game of stay and go.  Of endlessly saying Come here, and equally endlessly saying, 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, I thought, was the best you could say.  And I was over him.  All that was left of my obsession were its dregs – a re-telling in my mind that I was over him, I was over him, I was over him.  Finally.  At last.  If I was thinking too much about it still, or about him, it's only because I didn't have anything else to occupy my brain.  It was twenty minutes after four in the morning.  Still pretty much pitch black outside, though the convenience store I worked at 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 than 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.  And I was done thinking about him.

It was deathly quiet, and deadly dull.  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, safe and silent in bed.  I was bored out of my skull.  I'd read every magazine in the place.  I'd walked out from behind the counter and wandered round the store, looking down the aisles, checking out nothing, not a single odd sound or unexpected sight . . .  Just the same ol' same ol'.

I looked out the front window, a solid sheet of glass that ran from floor to ceiling, towards the car.  Could I see the face of somebody sitting inside it, a man maybe, checking me out?  As I looked the window on the driver's side slid down.  I saw an arm extending outwards, held up stiffly because it was encased in a cast that extended from elbow to palm.  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 make his face out clearly.  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.  Then again, I wasn't supposed to leave the store . . .

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

Oh, I said, and 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 profile.  He turned towards me, grinning sheepishly.

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 with embarrassment, 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 the 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 thick thighs slightly parted.  I saw very little of her at that moment, and nothing of her face, but I had the sudden impression of largeness.  The woman whose presence I was beginning to take in was big-boned perhaps?  I didn't know.  It felt like her body took up a lot of space.

And yet . . . I hadn't even seen her . . .

Suddenly 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 as I was thinking this.  And just as I was bent down lowest, just at the moment I was most vulnerable, my head, my back most exposed, I suddenly realized, with a shock that stunned, just how enormously stupid I was being.

Had been.

Because then is when 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.  Merchandise wasn't right.  Time wasn't right.  We was only lookin', you see, window shoppin', 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, in the evening, after dark.  When we started doin' that I knew we was gettin' close.  When we'd go out just to look.  He'd smile as he was drivin' along, smile like he was sharin' a secret with himself.  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 glassy-eyed way, I think it's tonight, lass.

Yeah?

Yeah.  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 deep into my eyes.  I felt a cold thrill run through me.  He could still make me dizzy, still take my breath away when he looked at me like that.  I nodded.  Okay.

And so it's been growin' on us all day, this pressure inside, the pressure of his power, his and mine.  Waitin' to be unleashed.  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 almost vibratin' with it.  I feel it too.  I can feel myself goin' to that place, that special place that only we know, that 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.  Then 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 flick that out the window and lean into a shadow while he fits 'imself into the cast.  The kid's pacin' around inside the store.  Then he just stops, suddenly, and stands there in front of the window, 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 found myself slumped over in the back seat of a moving car.  The blue car.  I should've known.  My hands were tied.  My head hurt.  From the corner of my eye I saw a woman sitting wedged against the door opposite me.  Even with her shoulders folded in on themselves, she took up a lot of space.  The car jostled us gently, and sometimes not so gently, up and down.  She was smoking a cigarette.

You have . . . angel's 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.  The words were silky, slithery on top, with claws underneath.  Talons.  She could catch you mid-flight.

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

Up we traveled, away from the stores, the houses, out of the valley, into the countryside.  Yawning fields passed by, and trees, and little woods cut through by narrow dirt roads.  There were 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.  Young, middle-aged, old.  All headed for work, all starting their day . . .

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 were 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 glisten.

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.  A hand appeared – I saw a knife.  Flash.  He watched me see it.  He licked his lips watching me and nodded, grinning.  Then his eyes moved over to the woman.

Alright, lass.  I'm off to do a quick look 'round.  Won't take me long.  He stepped back a pace and did a little dance of excitement just for me, mouth open wide, sticking out his tongue, flashing the knife, laughing, watching me all the while.  Then he moved off, disappeared into the shadows.

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

Please, I whispered.

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

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 four, five times, even flirted with me a little once.  And maybe he'd been in there with her too.  Maybe.  Half hiding behind her . . .

She gave me a sidelong look.  How old're you, luv?

Seventeen, I mumbled.

Huh, she said, and almost smiled.

What?

She shrugged.  I was just thinkin' . . .  You're not even legal.

My chin sank to my chest.  Why do you let him make you do this? I asked her.

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 while she waited for an answer.

I know you, I said.

She shook her head; I saw the white of her teeth.  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.  Those things he'd never do to me.

I bowed my head.  Please, I said.

She reached over and stroked my hair.  Don't worry, luv, he don't take long at it.  She fell back in her seat again and sighed.  That's one thing I know for certain.  Oh . . . 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 burn my throat, my lungs, burn me all the way down.

She sat back, watching me, then shook her head.  I'm sorry, luv.  You can't ever know, she said, as if this might somehow help.  You can't understand what it means.  You can't even imagine.

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

The footsteps were heavy and close now.  It'll end badly for you, I said urgently, pleadingly.  It will.  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 at something or someone beyond me.  She shifted forward, reaching across me towards the handle on the door . . .  Maybe, she said as her lips came close to my ear, maybe I just play the game better than you.




4


Soon as they'd gone I rolled down all the windows in the car.  I wanted to hear everything.  First there was just . . . you know, grasshoppers and crickets and tree-frogs, what people 'round here call peepers, and sometimes a soft flutterin' of wings.  But every few seconds or so I'd catch the sound of sticks and twigs breakin' under their feet, the noise of a stumble, a shove, a grunt.  Slowly the sounds 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 on the far side.  Up above the stars was fadin'.  I could see first light, the black sky slowly turnin' to gray.

Then, suddenly, I heard a piercing cry, quickly muffled.  Another cry, then scufflin' sounds, suddenly stifled.  Two voices – one jubilant, one wailing, desperate.  I couldn't hear words, just the rise and fall of their voices, intermingled.  Then, after what seemed a long while . . . a low, gurglin' sound.  A giggle and a groan, more groans, then both of them groanin'.  A kind of dull poundin' noise, a shout, a gutteral shudder, and grunting, grunting . . . grunting.  At last, one quick, shrill scream – cut off suddenly, completely, perfectly – and finally, best of all, a silence so complete it deafened me –

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

After a few minutes listenin' I opened the door and got out of the car.  I felt cramped, so I stretched.  Everything was still.  I looked upwards, breathin' 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 mornin' traffic.





~ END ~








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