She almost died. Then he showed up.
In April's city, nightmares take flesh and murder indiscriminately. When one comes for her, there's no way to fight, no way to run.
It's all over. No one survives nightmare attacks, ever.
But then a boy shows up and saves her... and proceeds to invade her life.
Henry's on a mission to fight back against death, and he's not about to let his first-ever success story bite it while his back is turned. The obvious move is to take up residence on April's couch.
April's loner days are at an end... along with everything else she thought she knew.
From the same source as Blind the Eyes, but with less dystopia and more rom-com hijinks. YA supernatural romance.
Serial webfiction; new chapters debut Fridays.
20 Mar 2017
Things Got Out of Hand is on hiatus until further notice, a.k.a. when I have time to map it out and figure out some clearer direction for the edits/rewrites.
03 Mar 2017
Rumpled Guy Dave turned out to not actually be a Dave, surprising no one. His drivers’ license said he was Derek Jeremiah Cossald, 27, 5’7, 183lbs, sandy hair, hazel eyes.
His wallet also had his home address, neatly printed in a little insert card, and his keys were in his pocket, so I voted Henry take him home and let him recover on his own couch. I even volunteered to accompany him on this chore.
Henry gave me those eyes, the puppy ones that were wearing thin; I was starting to think kicking would be too good for him. And then I took a deep breath and made myself some tea.
“I just want to say, this is not what I signed up for,” I said as I clattered through the cupboard in search of mugs. “Want a cup?”
“Oh, thanks, yeah,” Henry said, fussing around R.G.D., or Derek, as he was properly called.
I still hadn’t decided if I was going to grant him the dignity of a proper name, seeing as how he’d invaded my home. R.G.D./Derek, that is, not Henry. I wasn’t about to go around calling Henry “Superhero”, after all. Even though he’d looked pretty heroic. And I guessed I’d end up using Derek’s name once he woke up, since R-G-D really wasn’t that easy to say. R-G, though… that wasn’t so bad. Arrrgeee. Yeah, I might keep that.
“April? Where can I get more bandaids?” Henry held up the empty box in illustration.
“That’s all of them.”
“We need to go shopping.”
He just raised one eyebrow at that, and went back to fussing over RG. I went back to clattering in the cupboard. He was right, unfortunately. I was not set up for this, in too many ways. I’d need more pillows and towels, if nothing else. And beds. And chairs. And glassware, plates, food… Yeah, we needed to go shopping. Crap.
I poured the tea, picked up a mug for Henry, and put it down again. Why should I serve him? Just because I’d agreed to let him stick around. RG groaned in a groggy, not-ready-to-commit to awakeness sort of way.
“Tea’s ready,” I said, picking up my own mug and leaning against the counter pointedly.
“Thanks,” Henry was kneeling beside the couch looking at RG. He shook his head. “I don’t think he’s gonna be ready for a trip out soon. Better hope there’s not another attack any time soon…”
“You might want to back up,” I said helpfully, “I’m not sure the first thing RG needs to see is your face.”
It sounded nastier out loud than I’d expected. I’d only meant he was kinda dazzling; though maybe RG wouldn’t pick up on that. He didn’t seem the type to put much stock in appearances. But a shirtless, bandaid-plastered Henry seemed like a bit much for anyone to wake up to.
“Hmm,” Henry grinned at me and backed up a few steps. “Maybe you’re right. He’d probably respond better to you anyways. You want to keep an eye on him while I have a shower?”
“No,” I said, over the rim of my mug. “No, I would not like to keep an eye on the guy you dragged home. Your stray, your responsibility.”
Henry came over to pick up his mug of tea and loomed over me in that un-self-conscious way of his, still grinning.
“Is that what you are? One of my strays?”
“House rules,” I bared my teeth at him in a humourless grin and took another sip of tea, refusing to engage. I’d set myself up for that one. “Perimeter of four feet, rmember?”
Henry tilted his head and looked down at me, still smiling, knocked back the tea like it was a slug of whiskey and marched off to the bathroom.
“And, RG?” he called back over his shoulder.
“Rumpled Guy,” I said, watching him go.
Something was bothering me. Oh yeah, he had nothing to change into. And he was leaving me alone with an unconscious RG. Like I’d told him not to.
“Hey!” I smacked my hand on the bathroom door and hissed at the sting. “Hey, don’t-“
I could hear Henry’s laugh over the rush of water as he turned the shower on. But short of storming in there to drag him out naked - which violated my house rule of, you know, clothes - there wasn’t much I could do. And RG was making moany sleepy sounds over on the couch like he was about to wake up, which was just great.
I marched over to him and stared down, hands on my hips. Up close, he really lived up to his name. Shaggy, shapeless pale hair. Bruised pale skin that showed his brandless athletic wear had to be some kind of fashion statement, as unlikely as it seemed. His jacket was shedding dried mud all over my couch, which was looking quiet a bit worse for the wear after bloody Henry and blood me over the last 24 hours. His pants had soaked up mud, and blood from a torn spot that Henry had widened and meticulously cleaned under, lining bandaids up along a long scratch that tore down his shin.
When he finally opened his eyes, I found his license had been awfully kind - they weren’t so much hazel as a muddy greyish mess, too pale to be brown, too confused to be steely grey. He’d looked younger, unconscious, like he could actually be 27, but awake, his face scrunched up in confusion, he looked a decade older.
“No more taxes,” he said, in a creaky sort of voice that gave me flashbacks to movie math and chess-club nerds. “Just let me die.”
“If only,” I tried to run my hand through my hair, got stuck in all the tangles, and braced it on my forehead instead, like that’d been my plan all along. “But neither of us are so lucky, so how about you get along to asking the normal-people questions, like who are you, and where am I, and what happened?”
RG blinked, his murky eyes watering. “You’re a girl.”
I rolled my eyes and hollered, “Henry! Get out here and deal with your head case.”
Maybe he didn’t hear me over the shower, or maybe he was hiding out, because all I heard back was a sort of squeak from RG. I sighed, pulled the chair closer and sat down.
“OK, look, I’m just gonna go ahead and lay it out there, because as far as I can tell, Henry sucks at explanations and you need to get up to speed.”
“Henry?” RG asked, shifting uncomfortably, as if he wanted to sit up, but was too intimidated to move. Which I kind of enjoyed.
“Did I say you could ask questions?” I demanded, and Henry shrunk back further into the grubby couch.
I had to suppress a smirk. If I had to have surprise roommates, it helped to be the one intimidating them.
“Right, here’s the deal. A nightmare came after you. Henry saved you. He does that. But nightmares don’t like losing their prey, so it’s gonna keep on after you”-RG got even paler at that part and opened his mouth, but I kept right on rolling-“so Henry’s gotta keep you close, like line-of-sight close to keep you alive. So if you were serious about wanting to die, I’d run now while he’s in the shower.”
I paused to give him a chance to make a break for it. Hey, I’m nothing if not fair.
“No? OK then, so here’s the deal. This is my place. I’m April, by the way. I’d say nice to meet you, but I don’t say things like that, so don’t expect it. Henry had the misfortune of saving me first, and now I have the misfortune of housing some kind of hero in return for my continued survival. Apparently, you now need to stay here too. Unless you’d rather take your chances and go?”
I paused hopefully. RG blinked a few times and shook his head cautiously.
“Oh well. Figures. Anyways. We’re still working out house rules, but here’s what we’ve got so far: that room”-I point to my bedroom-“is my space. Keep out. This out here? Also my space, but I’m sharing, for the moment. Also, personal boundaries; I get a four foot perimeter at all times. You can have that, or negotiate your own perimeter with Henry if you prefer. Clothes; we all wear them. We’re working on finding Henry some. You don’t seem to have that problem; keep it that way. Oh, and you all are quiet and leave me alone whenever I say,” I said, in a fit of inspiration.
“That’s it so far, but I reserve the right to adjust, increase or otherwise dictate house rules as I go. By the way, what was your nightmare?” I asked.
RG sat up, finally, eyeing me as if I might be the answer to that last question. “Um. I don’t do well with paperwork,” he said mildly.
“Your nightmare was paperwork?” I nearly fell off my chair. “Paperwork. Like, reports and forms and stuff?”
“Um,” he said, licking his thin lips and looking out the window warily, “and stuff.”
I didn’t have much to say to that. RG was turning out to be a real weirdo. His does one get attacked and killed by nightmarish paperwork, anyways? Death of a thousand cuts? Crushed by the weight of reams of paper?
“Oh, good, you’ve introduced yourself,” Henry said, stepping out of the bathroom in a towel. “Can we go shopping now?”
24 Feb 2017
Henry pelted down the street, dragging me by one hand as I tried to keep my toes up and sort of bounced along the ground behind him. It wasn’t going so well.
“You know I can’t leave you behind,” he said, irritatingly comfortable.
Oh, come on. He hadn’t even broken a sweat. Disgusting. I was disgusted. You would have been too. I tried to think of some cutting remark to convey my disgust, but it was hard to think while also trying not to face plant at, like, 100 kph. Or whatever. Also, air in my lungs seemed like the more valuable investment right now.
Besides, it wouldn’t be long. I could hear the crashing and the screaming and whatnot pretty clearly. We had to be close.
We were. Henry skidded to a halt so fast that I swung around in a circle and crashed into his annoyingly-but-conveniently un-sweaty chest before I could stop my forward momentum. Which he really ought to have taken care of, since he was, you know, the one creating it.
“Oops,” he said, grinning like he was thinking the same thing, and wasn’t one bit sorry. “‘K, so you wait just there, behind that bush so it can’t see you, right? And don’t move. This shouldn’t take long. Lucky it was so close!”
“Yeah. So lucky.”
His eyebrows furrowed as he snapped out of whatever kinetic energy high he had going on long enough to focus on my face.
“You’ll be ok,” he said, reaching for my head as if he wanted to pat it.
Like a kid. Or a dog. He caught my expression and pulled back his hand real quick. Dogs bite.
“Just, seriously this time, April. Stay put. If you can’t do that, we should just turn around and go home now.”
His face crumpled a little at the thought. I couldn’t do that to him. Plus, the sounds coming from the other side of that bush? Even I couldn’t walk away from that kind of suffering.
“Yeah, I got it. Go.”
He beamed at me. “Be right back.”
Henry dashed off, producing that light-beam sword-thing that I’d seen him with before out of nowhere, which was pretty cool to watch. Cool enough that I kind of overshot his chosen April-hiding zone, and had to backtrack while trying to watch an epic Henry vs. nightmare-beast battle at the same time.
I needn’t have bothered; it was over in maybe 20 seconds. If that.
There was Henry, launching himself at the ripply bent-light looking mass that was a nightmare attack to anyone not in the midst of being eviscerated or crushed or otherwise terrorized to death.
Then there was Henry digging his blade into this great big whitish-grey-and-black mass that didn’t look much better defined than than the bent-light version, and some black spew fountaining up into the air and spattering all over the place.
And then there was Henry helping this rumpled, wild-eyed guy out of the muddy remains of the lawn.
“OK April, coast’s clear,” Henry called happily, trying to get his shoulder under the rumpled guy’s arm, but way too tall to make it work.
I strolled over like I had all the time in the word and was totally cool with nightmare attacks. I mean, they are a daily occurrence now. For me, at least. Did this make three? Or was it four now?
Up close, rumpled-guy was really white in the face - actually, make that grey, with a tinge of green. He looked to be on the wrong side of thirty, in a boring outdoorsy-athletics kind of jacket and pants that couldn’t decide if they belonged on the bed or in the gym.
“So, April,” Henry said, towing rumpled fashion-less guy along toward, and then past me so I had to trot to keep up. “There’s something I hadn’t really thought of that we need to discuss. You’re not going to like it.”
“That’s what I love to hear,” I say, fast, because I’ve only barely caught my breath from the last time we plowed down this stretch of sidewalk. “And maybe I can hear it when we get home? Which is not that far away, so maybe you could slow down?!”
“Hmm? Oh. Right.” Henry’s slowed down, taking exaggerated slow-motion steps while looking over his shoulder at me. “It’s kind of about that, actually.”
“What, your insane need to move at mach speed? I can tell you, it’s not doing your friend there any favours.”
I pushed past and looked back over my shoulder at Henry and his limp and rumpled acquisition.
“It’s about him too,” Henry frowned down at the rumpled guy. “Hey. What’s your name?”
“Mwaaa? Drrrh.” Rumpled Guy said, his head lolling as Henry hauled him along. He wasn’t doing as good a job of keeping his toes up as I had.
“We’ll call him Dave,” Henry cocked an eyebrow at me. “So April,”
“So Henry,” I said back immediately.
“Hnrrr,” said Rumpled Guy Dave.
Henry picked up Rumpled Guy Dave and hoisted him over his shoulder.
“Where are you taking that guy anyways?” I asked, suddenly suspicious.
Rumpled Guy Dave didn’t look in any condition to be giving directions to his place. I felt pleased about how well I’d handled my own ordeal for a split second. Then I felt suspicious. Then I felt ill.
“About that,” Henry sped up to walk a little closer to me on the sidewalk. “Remember how I said the nightmares didn’t like you, you know, not dying? How you were marked?”
“No,” I said.
“So I hadn’t really thought about it, but now Dave here-”
“So much no,” I said, walking faster to get home and lock my door behind me.
“Is marked too. So the only way to keep him, and you, alive is-”
“Endless no,” I panted, jogging.
Henry’s hand landed on my shoulder. “To keep him with us.”
“Rumpled Guy Dave is not moving in.” I spun around and shook Henry’s hand off. He patted my head.
“You’ll get used to him,” he soothed. “After all, just look how well we’re getting along!”
17 Feb 2017
“So.” I dropped down on to the couch and looked at everything except him. Mostly, that meant a wood floor that was past due for a vacuum and a plant that had been over or under watered - I never could remember how that worked - and was dissolving into brown-black ooze. “Now what? How does this work? What does this look like? What happens next?”
He was quiet, too quiet, so I darted a glance up, and then another after I saw his face. He was full-on beaming, like teeth and shining eyes squished up under his cheeks and everything. He didn’t even try to tone it down when he caught me looking, just kind of bobbed his head, nodding.
“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, ok. All right! Good. Great. Good.”
He nodded some more. I could feel my eyebrow heading for the ceiling. He was a little too pleased, too relieved. It felt gross - just, embarrassing, or something. I didn’t like it.
I got up again and stalked off to the kitchen, clattering around purposefully with cutlery and things. Honestly, it was just an excuse to turn my back on him and get some distance. My heart was beating like I’d just been running from a nightmare, and the edges of my mouth were tight where I had pinned them in place.
“So here’s what I think,” I said, clattering some more, checking every couple minutes to see if Henry had calmed down again yet. He hadn’t. “I think we both need to know what to expect and be prepared. And boundaries. We need some boundaries.”
I liked the sound of that. It sounded in control and take charge and purposeful.
“What kind of boundaries?” Henry said.
I jumped. His voice was too close; he’d snuck up on me when I wasn’t looking.
“Shirts,” I blurted, jamming my hip on the side of the counter as I backed away, “shirt-wearing is a good boundary. Actually, clothes-wearing in general is an absolute must. I’m really going to have to insist on continuous covering of skin in general.”
“My shirt doesn’t really cover anything anymore,” Henry pointed out quite reasonably, though his grin hadn’t dimmed down as much as I needed it too.
“Also space,” I slid along the counter until I bumped into the stove behind me. “Like, my space is different than your space. You sleep out here on the couch until we can track down a bed for you and- and observe a minimum distance of four feet of space between us at all times.”
Henry frowned at that. “I’m not sure these boundaries of yours are conducive to your ongoing safety. I was thinking we could have more of a flexible arrangement where I do whatever I need to to keep you safe, and you stick close and make that easier on both of us.”
“Boundaries,” I snapped back, undeterred, “will be observed in all non-lethal environments.”
His mouth quirked up a little again, apparently amused. I nearly growl at him in frustration.
“Fine, what is it that you think should happen? I’m just trying to get us set up to succeed here.”
He backed off a couple steps, hands held up in mock surrender. “OK, April, you got it. Space.”
I snorted. “That’s only three feet.”
He backed off a little further, clearly amused. I noted that this afternoon’s wound seemed to have shrunk again, and yesterday’s cuts and abrasions had somehow shrunk to the point where they could hide under the sad string of bandaid chains.
“I don’t really need any help to succeed,” he said, running a hand through his hair so a fine patter of dirt sprinkled the floor. He looked at it guiltily, then back up to me. “-I’ll clean that up later. Um. Yeah, I really just need you to stick close and I can take care of the rest.”
“Seriously? That’s it? Typical for a guy; no foresight. No planning.” I wasn’t impressed with his show of bravado. Diving into fights unprepared didn’t seem to have been working for him as well as he thought. “How about this? We sort out some, you know, clothes for you to wear.”
I tapped a finger on the counter, thinking. “…and maybe some sort of go bag, like gear you can just grab on your way out the door. You know: weapons, first aid kit, snacks or a juice box…”
“…for shock, smartass-“ I said, eyeing him disapprovingly. He pressed his lips together tight, hiding a smirk. “-you don’t really get much warning when there’s an attack, right? So we should prepare ahead. How do you know, by the way? You do that weird thing where you freeze, right? Is that-“
At first I thought he was teasing me, or just illustrating my point with a clumsy attempt at humour.
“Right, that… Hey! Hey, earth to Henry!” I waved a hand in front of his vacant eyes, then gave him a smack on the arm, then shoved his chest. He didn’t move, didn’t blink. His pupils didn’t even respond when I got in his light and stared at him up close. I pressed two fingers under his jaw, feeling awkward about violating my own oh-so-recently established boundaries and felt his pulse; freakishly slow but steady. His chest didn’t rise; he wasn’t breathing.
“Oh, crap. Is this like…?”
Then, all of a sudden, his pupil constricted as he focused on me, and shivering back to life with a steady, strong inhale.
“We’ve got to move,” he said, reaching for my arm.
10 Feb 2017
It wasn’t an argument. Henry was very clear about that, and wanted me to be too. It was a discussion, he said.
He was right, it wasn’t an argument; he did most of the talking. Which made it more of a monologue and less of a discussion, but it kinda worked.
“I don’t want you to be afraid,” he said, and, “I want you to be comfortable with me,” and, “we need to make this work,” and, “you can’t keep running away all the time.”
I sat on the couch and listened and looked at my hands. I rubbed my thumb over a scratch on my knuckles until it bled and said nothing, until he reached out and took my hand away and held it still.
“You’re going to be ok, April,” he said.
I shook my head. “It’s not me I’m worried about.”
Then he sat still and kept his hands to himself while I talked.
“I’ll never be comfortable with you,” I said, and, “I don’t want you to be hurt again,” and, “I’m going to try to make this work,” and, “I need you to be patient with me,” and, “I need you to be ok with this.”
He nodded and did those eyes at me, the ones with the dark, wide-blown pupils under knotted brows that make me lose my train of thought, and blinked those long lashes and said he could do that.
And then I kept talking.
“Here’s the thing,” I said, rubbing my hands over and under and over each other until red streaked both sides and Henry bit his lip, nearly vibrating with the desire to reach out and stop me and trying so hard not to, to listen like I’d asked him to.
“I don’t like people. It’s not about you. But I’m going to work on it. And I’m going to let you stay here. And you’re going to do what you need to. That means you go fight when you have to, and I’ll try to let you. You run away when you need to, and you don’t ever come back to me all torn up like this again. And I’ll try not to push you away and to let you stop things before they get out of hand again.”
I said it all very reasonably, and it came out even and strong and only a bit shaky when I got to things. I refused to say monsters, not out loud. I refused to say nightmares.
And Henry furrowed his brows and watched me and didn’t say anything for the longest time. I looked at my hands and drew a wavy pattern through the blood, avoiding the sting of open cuts. Then I went and rinsed them under water in the sink and stood there, letting them drip, and refused to look up again.
“So,” he said, “it’s ok for me to sleep on the couch?”
I nearly choked, darting a glance up to seem him laughing at me. “Uh, yeah. Yeah, it’s ok.”
“Cool. Um,” he paused, stood halfway up, then sat down again, “there’s a bit more ground we need to cover.”
“Hang on, I need to change the wash.”
“Oh, I’ll help-“ he stood up.
“Sit down.” -he sat down- “Speak.”
I inspected the wash while he spoke, sorting it into clean and needs more bleach.
“I kind of need to keep fighting,” Henry said, as I chucked clean laundry into the dryer. “And I definitely need to stick close to you. Like, line-of-sight close.”
He paused meaningfully. I slammed the dryer door and reached for the bleach.
“So…” he said. I poured bleach and started the wash and closed the laundry closet door. Then I stood with my hands braced against it and thought about what he was trying to say.
“You need me to go with you,” I said, flatly. I didn’t turn around to see if it was the correct answer. The sinking feeling in the region of my stomach was positive it was.
“I know it’s not ideal,” Henry started, then stopped, then tried again, “it’s a lot of people time for you, I know. But I’m not leaving you alone to die. And I’d really rather not leave anyone else alone to die either. Which means I need you to stick by me at all times.”
He watched me as I made my way around the table, sat down on the couch again and glared up at him. Then I stood, so I could glare down at him. It worked better that way.
“And how exactly does that fit into my life? I have a job,” I said, ignoring the fact that, with a good number of my coworkers in pieces outside the office, I might, in point of fact, no longer have had a job. “I have places to be. Do you realize what you’re asking?”
Henry seemed less bothered by having to look up at me than I’d hoped for. To be fair, it wasn’t very far up, although he was seated and I was standing. I tried to loom. It just didn’t go very well… but it did made me feel a little better.
“I need you to be with me every moment of the day,” Henry said quietly. He was very still. “I need you to follow me around and give up your life to help me with mine. I need you to sacrifice the way you want to live to help me save the lives of others. I need you to give up what you want for me and for other people, and I know you don’t want to, but I’m asking anyways.”
With him looking up at me like that, the words felt uncomfortably like a proposal, and I had to shake off the creeping heavy feeling that caused. So not feminist, the whole situation. I knew he didn’t mean it like that, knew that none of it was really even about me. I just happened to be the one stuck with him now. It didn’t make it any easier to shake the feeling that my answer would be the sort of lifetime, heart-felt commitment that generally came with a ring attached. I took a deep breath and made my peace with it.
“OK,” I said.
03 Feb 2017
There were no survivors.
Except for us, of course. Henry checked the wreckage, but he’d hesitated too long with me, and none of the others survived the attack. I didn’t look. I may not like being around people, but I wouldn’t wish that kind of torment on even my least favourite co-workers.
He limped back to where I sat, after, without a word. His lips were pressed bloodless white, but they quirked up at the corners for my sake, a sad attempt at friendliness.
“I’m sorry,” I said, in a voice raw from screaming. It’s not something I say, but just then, that seemed irrelevant.
“Don’t be. It helped to be able to fight, at least, even if…” His eyes flicked back, but I didn’t look.
He was quiet for a long moment. His chin dipped, then firmed again as he looked up. “I take you home?”
He offered an arm. I looked at him, bleeding there. I’d caused him enough pain. I could stand on my own. I took it anyways.
“You come home,” I said, holding on.
I didn’t look at him again as we moved away from cracked earth and human remains. He was steady, for someone who’d nearly been eviscerated by a transforming monster. He made it a full block before getting heavier, leaning more on me than I did on him. By the time we reached my building, he was damp with sweat and shivering. We went up the stairs a couple at a time, resting between steps, one of his arms braced on the wall, the other pressing on my shoulder.
I liked it better, that way, being the one to carry him home. Maybe it was just that I was in control of the situation, opening the door for him, helping him into the chair by the table, bringing towels to wipe away sweat and grime. His blood ran sluggishly, the wounds less gaping that I expected, and maybe it was panic that had made them look so terrible, or maybe there was more going on with him than I’d guessed, because they seemed to have gotten smaller, less critical. He should still have gotten treated somewhere with better options than a dwindling stock of bandaids and polysporin, but when I brought up the idea he waved it away without a second thought.
“I’ll be fine,” he said, smiling a little brighter, a little less tightness pinching the skin around his eyes. “You should get cleaned up, though. Go take a shower, and I’ll help you with the bandaids after.”
I made it all the way under the water, the bathroom door pulled carefully and quietly shut behind me, before I broke down. The water ran cold before I stopped shuddering and rocking in the bottom of the tub.
I didn’t know what the worst of it was, and that scared me most of all. The spiders were bad. More than bad. My worst nightmare. Bad enough that I’d wished for death.
The cries of my coworkers, knowing they were experiencing something just as bad, or worse, and it would be the last thing they ever experienced, that was bad too.
Sending him back into it, not knowing if he’d make it out, and then watching, thinking he was going to be shredded while I looked on, helpless? Still not the worst of it.
Laying on the ground seeing his strong hand half-submerged in bloody muck, motionless, limp… That was strangely horrible, when it shouldn’t have been. Just one more corpse, one more victim, one more person I never should have gotten involved with.
But he was alive. And I was alive. And that was enough for today.
I realized too late that all my towels were out in the main room with him. I really needed to do some laundry. And also dry off. I settled for wiping myself down with a t-shirt before pulling on a fresh pair of jeans and a sweater. I wasn’t actually bleeding at that point, which was a plus.
“Feel better?” he asked as I opened the door, and froze, thinking he’d heard me choking back sobs and shuddering in the bathroom, but no, he was just congratulating me on being clean again. I shook my head, grateful I wasn’t the kind of girl who worried about what she looked like in front of guys. Had I ever not looked like a wreck in front of him?
“I’ve got to do some laundry,” I said, instead of saying other things. Thank you. I’m sorry. I wish it could have been different. I wish I could be different.
“Oh, yeah, sorry - here I’ll help-“ he said, getting up from the chair with a wince.
“Sit down,” I sounded harsher than I should have, a contributing factor in how quickly he found his seat again.
I puttered around for a couple minutes, collecting towels, sheets, anything white and washable. This was going to take serious bleach. Then I grabbed the edge of the table and started pulling.
“Mhm?” I grunted, as the table squeaked along the floor.
“What are you doing?”
Henry stared at me. “The machine’s under the table?”
“Other side,” I huffed back.
His head swivelled and he stared at the small folding door set into the wall at the end of the table. Then he sighed, ran a hand up into his hair, and clamped the other hand down on top of the table. He held it there, effectively stopping me from moving it any further. Leaning on that hand, he pushed up out of his chair, and shoved it back from the table, staring at me all the while.
“April?” He said.
“Next time, just ask.”
I let go of the table and bustled past him, arms full of laundry, without another word. He waited until the machine was happily clunking away behind the door again before moving the chair across the room to face the couch and dropping down into again. He looked at me and pointed at the couch. It wasn’t a question.
“We should talk,” he said.
27 Jan 2017
I always think I’ll do better. Next time, it won’t bother me as much. I’m a rational person - some would say, too rational. Others might say rational to the point of psychosis. Anyways - as a rational person, a little eight-legged probably-not-poisonous crawling beastie shouldn’t worry me too much. Ignore it. Squish it and move on.
Nope. When confronted with arachnids, the ferociously rational part of me squeals, throws up its hands and locks itself in the closet. The rest of me starts shaking, folds up into the fetal position, and rocks until the crisis has passed. Sometimes I manage to grab a shoe and smush the offending creature before the rocking starts. Sometimes not.
When the nightmare caught sight of me, it was like the rational and irrational parts of me joined hands and jumped off the roof, leaving me entirely senseless and alone. There was no time to curl up, much less grab for a suitably heavy-soled shoe and start flailing. I just stood there, frozen.
It came at me, growing with each rippling-skittering-mind-piercingly horrifying step. I could see myself reflected in too many eyes, reflected and then erased in a flash of white light beaming like an icy sunrise behind its back. Henry had charged from behind, leaping up to slice into the giant spider-nightmare-thing. It reared up, trying to fling him off, but he clung to it, stabbing repeatedly with the blazing silver blade that he seemed to have pulled out of nowhere. The glossy darkness of the spider’s - what, forefeet? Front arms? appendages - rippled, faded and snapped bonelessly, morphing with a gristly crunching sound into pale, smooth ladies’ arms with black-tipped talons for fingernails. A pair of eyes blinked, sprouting long lashes, their darkness shrinking to the centre of vibrant blue and green irises. Then the green eye burst, melting out of its socket to leave a gaping pink and red hole.
I saw Henry’s face slacken in horror, his determination waver. The spider-nightmare-beast tore at him, and he bent over the blade, pressing deeper into the creature’s back, using it as an anchor to keep from being torn off. He bled bright, arcing his back and tucking his head to shield vital areas from the attack. Then he twisted away, ducking and hauling on the blade as he rolled, swinging it in a bright arc that lopped off one of the black-taloned fingers, before digging it to the hilt in another spot on the spider-creature’s carapace.
The severed finger whipped through the air spewing gouts of black blood and planted itself talon-down in the earth beside me. The spider-nightmare shrieked from a fanged mouth suddenly adorned with luscious red lips and a forked tongue, and renewed its attack. It caught one talon under Henry and flipped him, scoring a gash down his side and curling into his stomach. He let go of the blade, knocked loose, and the creature caught him, fist clenched tight, the stump of one finger pumping black muck over him.
That hyper-rational part of me that had fled, earlier? It poked its head up and whispered, “at this rate, he’s not going to make it.”
I knew what was coming next, “you’ve got to run.”
I knew I would, too. I had to. I had to turn my back and haul ass away from this place. It was my only chance. I even knew he’d want me to. I could picture the look on his face, hear the words. He’d shown every indication of putting my safety above everything else, and the least I could do, in his memory, was to follow suit and make his sacrifice worth something.
I looked at him, his face pale and tight from blood loss and pain, streaked with black and red, his eyes staring at me, pleading. I looked at him and I looked at the monster and I booted the rational part of me right off that roof again.
I grabbed the severed finger, a good three feet or more in length, with a hard, tapered and wicked sharp talon planted in the ground, and hauled it up. Black blood slicked my arms and soaked my shirt, stinging. I screamed wordlessly and charged the spider with its severed finger braced like a spear, terrified. Terrified I’d trip and fall on my face. Terrified I’d vomit and pass out. Terrified I’d be impaled before I could do anything.
The beast opened its mouth wide and laughed, great rolling, shrieking guffaws, flicking its tongue at me in derision. The severed finger in my arms dissolved under my touch, shrinking and pouring and… skittering? It disintegrated into hundreds of tiny - and not so tiny - spiders and I howled with my mouth closed, flailing to knock them loose as the talons reached for me-
And planted themselves in a five-pointed star around me, ends spraying black like evil torches. Henry landed in a graceful crouch in the scant distance between me and that flickering tongue, having sliced through the talons imprisoning him. He called out to me without looking back, but I couldn’t hear him over my own muffled shrieking as the spiders worked their way into my ears and nostrils. I was choking, unable to breathe, but if I opened my mouth…
I blinked fast, trying to keep my eyes clear, so the final moments were like really old animation. Flashes of darkness and everything smudged and blurred. Henry straightening, blade at the ready, somehow. Henry, bracing himself. Henry, diving forward, at, no, under the beast, twisting, driving the blade up. A curtain of black spewing from under the spider-nightmare, Henry dragging the blade through its belly, stump-fingered hands flailing and legs curling as it rears away - and then a burst of air, foul with blood and monster, but blessedly clear, as the monstrous spider dissolved, sweeping its attacking army away in an instant.
I couldn’t stop shaking, so it kind of looked like he was still alive, laying there on the broken ground, hands empty, limp and outstretched. My breath came in gasps, and I gagged, vomiting, curling onto the ground as my body clenched and spasmed involuntarily.
My eyes were clamped shut, visions of the attack replaying against my eyelids as my skin rehearsed the sensation of a million tiny skittering feet and narrow fangs digging in. Then the light was blocked out, and I knew it was the end. The nightmare had come back for me, and this time there would be no one to stop it.
“Shh,” he said, soft like he was talking to an infant or a small animal, his touch even softer on my arm. “Shh. You’re ok. It’s ok now, April.”
I’d never seen anything as beautiful as his face, haloed in light and streaked with muck.
20 Jan 2017
I couldn’t look.
Henry just dove into the middle of the mess barehanded, ignoring my shrieks. One minute he was dashing across crumpled pavement, miraculously never losing his balance on the shattered earth, arms pumping in time with his legs, muscle shifting under his skin with a ragged trail of loosening bandaids fluttering in his wake. And then the distorted sea glass glint of the attack swallowed him whole.
Ok, of course I looked. And looked. And I even got to my knees and crept a little closer to look better.
Do you remember those ripply glass blocks that people used to build with? Thick and hard like cinder blocks or great square bricks, but translucent. I think people used to put them in houses back in the ‘80s or something. Probably in bathrooms. They were great for letting light through, but distorted the light so much you couldn’t get much more than a smeared blur of colour from whatever was on the other side.
It was like that, kind of. A little darker, a little more transparent. There were flashes of bad things. Eyes inside of eyes, clustered, impossible. Rows of teeth in a too-wide grin with painted lips. Scuttling grasping reaching rending things. And the flash of human paleness, the artificial brightness of a woman’s handbag or a tasteless shirt, and so, so much red. And in the midst of it all, a growing brightness, a silver-sharp flash at the heart of it that turned the thick distortion more transparent moment by moment.
He was at the heart of it, of course. The miracle was, he was still on his feet. Still fighting, the silver light flashing as he lashed out at the monsters. It was kind of beautiful, as long as I didn’t let my eyes drift down, focus too much on what puddled and pooled on the ground. I didn’t hear any screaming now. The play of the silver light across his face, across his body, tense, agile grace and a face alive with determination and focused rage. The contrast, that light against the darkly insubstantial forms that imploded on its piercing rays.
I moved closer, tripping over the broken ground and barely feeling sharp pain followed the warm rush of blood down my shins. I couldn’t look away.
Henry was beautiful, lit up from within, the light of the sword in his hands seeming to pour also from beneath his skin. An avenging Michael come to slay the serpent on holy fire. Before him, the darkness quailed, retreating in fits and starts, devious as it flowed to the side, behind, but futile as well. He was, against all odds, winning.
I don’t like people very much. That should come as no surprise, by this point. All I really ask for in life is to be left alone as much as possible. In the ancient world, I would have been one of those hermits, off in a cave or a tree or something (except, yeek, spiders). In the old world, I would have worked freelance, or maybe for one of those remote heavy industry sites, on a rig or forestry station or something. People are just… too much. Too much noise, too much want, too much feeling and needing and expectation and… It’s easier without them.
What? I didn’t say I wanted anyone to die. Just that I preferred my world without complications. The human kind.
But this was one complication I couldn’t look away from. I’d had Henry pegged as a nuisance. Sure, he might’ve saved my life (ok, yes, fine, he absolutely did, but still) but he was a guy. Guys are the worst human creatures, besides infants. So full of want and need and hurt. And he’d expected me to trade my space for protection. As if my life would be worth living, with him in it every second of every day.
I know it sounds terrible, ok? It’s not like I go around explaining that to everyone I meet. I mostly just try to avoid meeting anyone. But here’s the thing; I couldn’t look away.
You’re thinking, well duh, hot guy, fighting, muscles, sweat, hero moment, you don’t have to spell it out for me. You’re still not getting it. I cared. About him. And I knew it. Sure, maybe I’d taken pity on him last night - in my defence, I was exhausted and probably still in shock - and sure, I might have felt a twinge about making him sit outdoors all day, and yeah, I’d made him join the fight for his own good. And then I’d realized.
Henry was unlike anyone I’d ever met before. Henry’s existence was unlike anything I’d even imagined existing before. And maybe, just maybe, he was someone I wanted to have around for a bit.
All that was before the beast sprang past Henry and barrelled toward me, coalescing into one-two- -six-seven-eight-oh shit.
13 Jan 2017
When the first cry broke out behind us, Henry froze. It was like the previous night in the apartment; he went from excruciatingly present to gone in an instant, leaving just a shell behind.
The human reaction would have been to whip around and stare at the source of chaos, but something about his stillness was magnetic. I couldn’t look away, even as the cries escalated, voices joining together in horror. The sidewalk quivered under my feet, and I grabbed at the nearest thing to stabilize myself. Which happened to be Henry. Which was even weirder - to feel the warmth of his skin, the flex and resistance of him - and yet for him to be so completely unresponsive, so absent. It was enough to keep me from realizing, for a moment, just how wrong the situation had become.
Voices. Multiple screams tearing through the golden light of a quiet late afternoon on the coast. That wasn’t possible… The nightmares don’t attack crowds; it’s always a single victim. It’s personal, not mass attacks like terrorism or something. I’d never heard of…
I risked a glance over my shoulder as the sidewalk shook and cracked underfoot, keeping hold of Henry’s unmoving arm for balance. I had to blink a few times to work out what was going on. It was like staring through a heat wave or thick, uneven glass; the shapes were dark blurs, barely recognizable as human. A mirage across the desert; silhouettes through a cloudy curtain. If it hadn’t been for the tree at the centre of the chaos, tilted at an impossible angle now as the ground beneath it crumbled, I could have pretended I didn’t know what was going on.
But the attack was right out in front of the office, the neat, slightly mossy grass crumbling to earth and broken pipe, the carefully groomed bushes tilted with gnarled roots in the air while cracks spiderwebbed through the stuccoed facade. The tree sinking down as I watched, only moments ago Henry had been leaning against it, surrounded by curious admirers. And now their voices carved up the skies as the blurred attack took on a red tinge.
Nightmare. Even as I stared, the near-invisible disturbances took on shape, the hint of a fang here, the suggestion of rough scales there, too-wide eyes blinking and staring and murderous on every side. I shuddered to think what it must be like at the heart of the attack; did they each only see their own worst fear stalking them? Or a horde of nightmares all at once? Or maybe a hideous amalgamation of shared horror stitched and blended together in a Frankenstein’s monster of deadly intent?
It helped to consider the unheard of rarity of the attack, to ponder it academically. It kept me from trying to match the screams to familiar voices. It kept the cold sweat beading on my skin at a distance, the memory of my own all-too-recent terror at bay. It was icy, grim insulation from the horror that I was, now that I thought about it, really too close too. I braced myself against Henry’s unresponsive arm and pushed away, staggering across the cracked concrete. He thawed to life as my hand left his skin.
I paused, a few steps away, to watch. His eyes were wide and liquid with pain, his hands clenched into fists, his body rigid as he turned away to stare at the attack. And turned back to stare at me. His lips were bloodless, pressed so hard that I felt like I could hear his teeth creak behind them.
“Just go,” I said, bracing my feet and gripping my elbows. I felt cold and trembly. Must’ve been the ground shaking. Yeah. That was it.
If anything, the anguish on his face deepened when I spoke. Then it vanished, wiped away by a mask so smooth, I almost thought he was gone again. But this time he wasn’t frozen. He lunged forward, his face set, grabbed my arm and dragged me down the sidewalk so fast I felt like a balloon caught in a gale, just the toes of my shoes bumping along the ground to bounce me airborne again. At the corner he hesitated, lost or disoriented, maybe. I seized the moment of distraction to rip my arm out of his grasp, stumbling backward and sitting down in a heap on the grass.
“Wha-” Henry’s hand hung in midair, fingers outstretched where I’d pulled away. “April. Get up. I need to get you out of here.”
I sat on the grass and dug my fingers into the dirt below. In the time it took me to find the words, he’d knelt and got both hands around arms, ready to haul me bodily along.
He flinched, but reached out again almost immediately.
“I said, leave me alone!” I twisted away, falling back on my elbows and glaring up at him. He was holding on to his calm, contained mask, but only just. A vein pulsed above his left eye, and tiny lines around his mouth and between his eyes kept creasing and then smoothing away. It was terrible to watch.
“It’s not safe here. We need to go.” He said, kneeling over me. I couldn’t sit up without bumping into him, couldn’t pull further away. A bandaid on his shoulder was lifting, and I shifted my weight to yank it away, revealing a barely-closed red welt curving over to his back.
“Not safe for who?”
It wasn’t fair, I knew. He’d shown every indication of caring about my well-being over pretty much anything, or anyone, else’s. Including his own. Which wasn’t right. I wasn’t about to let him get away with it.
“You’re not safe here.” Henry shrugged away, as if to hide the wound. I waved the bandaid in his face.
“Neither are you.”
“That’s not… it’s different for me. They’re not after me.”
“But they’d hurt you all the same, if you got close enough.”
“Wish to god I could!” He choked on the end of the exclamation, jerking back and away from me. I sat up. “Sorry. Sorry, I- it’s not your fault, April. Can you just… can you just trust me? Just let me help you?”
“No.” I said. He gave me this look, like he didn’t know whether to strangle me or cry, but I held my ground. “I won’t say I don’t need your help. Maybe I do. Maybe I should even let you. Maybe I will. But not now.”
“What do you want?”
“April, I- to help, I just-“
“No. You don’t just want to help. What do you want?”
He wasn’t getting it. He was so focused on me, so determined, whether I wanted his help or not, that he wasn’t thinking straight. A part of me was standing a long distance off, laughing at the whole exchange. What did I care, really? Why insist on playing word games with him, now of all times? Why make him confront the source of his anguish, instead of taking what I could get - what I needed, maybe - and letting him suffer, if he wanted to? The rest of me was too focused on him to be amused. He’d helped me, even if I hadn’t asked for it, hadn’t wanted his help. Maybe this was a way of paying him back.
I rolled forward onto my knees and shoved Henry, knocking him off balance.
“What do you want?”
“April, I just-“
“No. WHAT! DO! YOU! WANT!”
It took screaming in his face to break down his insistence, his determined blindness, and he yelled back, every vein in his neck rigid with fury, “To make it stop!”
“Good. Do that.” I held myself from jerking away, but only just. His face fell as he searched mine, anger falling away to pained sadness, resignation.
“No, April. No. We need to get out of here. I promised. I told you I wouldn’t leave. I’d keep you safe.”
“I don’t accept that. Go.”
“April.” He reached out for me, and I slapped his hand away. His expression shifted to frustration. “Look, I-“
“I’m not leaving you to get killed, ok? I can’t!”
“Then I won’t.” I was being unreasonable, I knew. I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to be his excuse, his anchor dragging him down, dragging him away from what he wanted. I didn’t appreciate being forced to find the solutions for him either, but since he seemed to be burdened with a one-track-mind, needs must.
“Look,” I said. “There’s got to be an alternative. How about I wait from a safe distance while you go deal with it? You can keep an eye on me and take apart some monsters at the same time. Win-win, right?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. That’s-“ He trailed off, his gaze turning inward. “That could work, maybe.”
Henry was starting to look excited. If he’d been a dog, his ears would have pricked up and there might even have been some tail wagging involved. Disgusting. I had to stifle a laugh.
“Sit right here, ok?” He said, pushing down on my shoulders with both hands as if he could root me in place. “Don’t move. Promise you won’t move, ok?”
“I’m not going to-“
“Promise, April, or I won’t go.” He insisted, staring me down. I could have lied, I guess, but honestly, I was a little curious about what this next step was going to look like.
“Whatever. Fine. Cross my heart.” I settled, cross-legged on the ground and held my hand up like a pledge. Henry’s focus had shifted; he’d half forgotten me already.
“Don’t move.” He said. And then, “it’s gonna be ok.”
I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or himself. He ran back toward the screaming.
Only then did it occur to me that he was unarmed.
06 Jan 2017
“It’s coming back.”
The words hung in the air between us. A breeze stirred the curtains, leaves rustling outside the windows. I cringed. It was out there, somewhere, waiting for me. 20 foot tall death with eight legs and swarming offspring.
There were two possibilities. Henry was crazy, or lying, or both, and my biggest problem would be finding a way to turf him and get back to my peaceful life. Or, he was telling the truth and my days were numbered.
Well, shit. I reached for decisive, and all I found was dazed. I should… I should… do something… say something…
“I need to go to work.” Not quite what I’d had in mind, but accurate, at least. Henry made a sound of protest and shifted in my peripheral vision.
“I do. It’s Friday. I’m going to be late.”
I think he was learning. Henry held his spot perched on the top of the couch, though his fingers were digging into the cushions rather. Smart boy; I was not in the mood to be comforted, consoled or otherwise distracted. He clearly wasn’t pleased with where this was going. I, on the other hand, was warming up to the new direction I’d stumbled upon.
I pushed away from the table and rushed for my room before Henry could figure out what I was up to. I’d have locked the door behind me, but like most apartments, the bedroom wasn’t individually secured. I stood against it instead, just breathing for a moment. I felt relieved. No eyes on me, no demands or expectations. Space to think.
“April, that’s not going to help.”
I jumped at the sound of his voice, so close. He was just on the other side of the door, invading my space again.
“Don’t come in here! I-I’m getting changed. For work. I’ll be out soon.”
“April, I really don’t think that’s a good idea…”
“I think it’s an excellent idea. I’m not wearing this outside the house.”
“You know that’s not what I meant. It’s not safe out there.”
I’d taken a few steps away from the door and opened the closet. Suiting up against the day, against him, sounded like a great idea just then. A good sturdy layer between me and all this weird couldn’t hurt. Too bad jeans weren’t on the office dress code.
Too bad I didn’t care.
“What if you call in sick? Everybody loves a sick day.” He sounded hopeful, like maybe I’d magically get all enthusiastic about his great plan or something. As if. I wiggled into my jeans, wincing where they grazed the bandaid-padded cuts and scrapes, and layered on a couple loose shirts. I’d grab a jacket on my way out to cover the scrapes on my arms. And a hat, because there was no dealing with the state my hair was in. Of course, then I’d have to wear the hat at work all day…
“OK, fine, I’ll just have to go with you.” Henry said.
No. Oh no. I grabbed a hat and jammed it over my head before throwing open the door.
“You are not coming to work with me.”
“Great, so you’re calling in then.”
“Sure, right, fine. Can you grab my phone? It’s by the TV.”
The moment his back was turned, I scooped a pair of shoes up from beside the door.
“I don’t see it? Where did you say-“
The door clicked shut on the end of his sentence. I dashed for the stairwell, a shoe clutched in each hand. No time to put them on, or he’d catch me. He had no idea where I worked; he might be able to invade my privacy at home, but I wasn’t about to let him take over my entire life.
It wasn’t until I’d hidden in the bushes between my apartment and the next block, grit chafing between my toes and my hat slipping down over one eye that I realized the flaws in my plan. Dirty feet, plus no socks, plus - oh, lovely - I’d grabbed mismatched shoes.
Which seemed like a bigger problem until I caught sight of the cobweb. I’m not great with spiders at the best of times, but the reminder that my worst nightmare was on the hunt for me - and I’d just run straight out at it - didn’t help any. I jumped backward, caught my heel on a root and landed flat out on the lawn behind me.
Henry towered over me, holding up the missing, mismatched pair of my shoes with raised eyebrows.
“Ladies fashion isn’t my forte, but…”
“Just hand ‘em over.”
I put on my shoes in silence, rubbing as much of the dirt from my feet off on the grass and lower portion of my jeans as I can. He let me. I ought to have been grateful. I wasn’t. I wasn’t sure what it was about him that brought out my inner recalcitrant two-year-old, but even I was getting tired of it. He’d been nothing but kind, nothing but helpful - seriously helpful - and I’d done nothing but push him away. It wasn’t his fault he’d drawn an antisocial freak for protection duty. Maybe I should’ve stopped punishing him for his bad luck?
I set off to work. He followed. When we get there, he tried to follow me in. Which would have been a problem at the best of times, but in his current shirtless, bandaid-plastered state, was out of the question. I stopped in the doorway and gave him a look.
“I’ll just wait out here then,” He held his hands up in mock surrender. Good enough.
Except it wasn’t. I couldn’t concentrate on work for a moment, between wondering if he was still there, wondering if he’d left, wondering what I’d do if he’d gone… not that he had - the buzz in the office around the hot shirtless guy outside warred with reports of the latest attacks for most distracting. Then there were the questions about what I’d been up to and the pointed looks at my muddy jeans and scratched arms.
Which was good news, all things considered. At least they weren’t talking about my tragic demise, just the mystery crater that had shown up several blocks away.
I thought I showed great restraint, stubbornly sitting at my desk and ignoring the chatter for a solid eight hours. I did steal a peek at lunch time - he was sitting under a tree beside the sidewalk. When he saw me looking, he waved. I quickly withdrew before anyone noticed.
By the time the day was over, my desk meticulously cleaned, the lights half off and the main rush for the door cleared, I finally got tired of stalling. But when I reached the door, he was still surrounded by curious, chattering office workers, not all of them female.
He looked happy enough, smiling as he spoke to my coworkers. Perfect. He was distracted. Maybe I’d beat him home and get a few minutes of peace. I waited until he’d turned to answer a question before bolting out the door. I’d nearly succeeded in slipping away when I caught my name.
“Oh, just waiting for April to finish.” He was saying loudly. “Do you know when she’ll be out?”
I nearly fell on my face. Shit.
“Yeah, I’m staying really close. April’s place is just a short walk from here.”
Oh no. He didn’t. That idiot.
My first impulse was to run for it. Thankfully reason won out; who knows what else he might have said if left to his own devices?
“Henry,” I called, without looking back. “Hurry up.”
The crazy thing was, he caught up in seconds. Totally just dropped the conversation and the crowd of curious admirers to follow me.
“How was your day?” Oblivious, he loped along like like a puppy beside me.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Lovely weather we’re having today.”
He paced along in silence for a few minutes. Then the screaming started.
30 Dec 2016
Waking up disoriented was getting to be a pattern. This time, it wasn’t the sound so much as the smell. Although, the sizzling broke through almost immediately after.
“You’re making breakfast?” I yawned halfway through, the inadvertent and unattractive yelping covering over the indignation I meant to express. Henry turned from the stove and smiled.
“Recovery food,” he waved a spatula, wearing an apron that I dimly remembered stuffing into the far reaches of an upper corner cabinet when I first moved in. It showed off the rows of bandaids to nice effect. What happened to his shirt?
“Hope you don’t mind; I borrowed your shower,” He said, noticing my gaze. “Can you get up? The eggs are on the table already, and this is almost done…”
I swallowed back the snarky response that leaped to my lips and shifted my weight. Sleeping on the floor, half propped up against the couch had done nothing for my bruises. I set my jaw and refused to groan as I heaved myself up to the couch, and then, unsteadily, to a standing position. If I hurt this much, how was he managing? His injuries last night had to have been worse than mine…
I turned to look Henry over once more, and yelped, finding him at my elbow, looking concerned.
“Sorry,” he slipped an arm around my back to cup my elbow, “I wasn’t thinking. Here, let me help you over…”
“Whoa! Hands off!” I twisted away, ignoring complaining muscles and the twinge of half-closed scabs. I stomped over to the table and sat down, pretending that he wasn’t half a millimetre behind me the whole way.
He stayed beside me for a beat, standing. My pulse raced. Had I gone too far? Insulted him? All he’d really done was try to help… And what was I going to do if he lost it?
The moment passed, and Henry headed back to the kitchen without comment. Well, good. It was my place, after all. He knew I didn’t want him here. And apparently last night had just been a play for sympathy - he seemed to be alright this morning, after all. No wonder he was trying so hard; probably trying to make me forget that he wasn’t even supposed to be here. And forget what a mess he’d been, losing it like that on some strange girl’s doorstep…
Henry deposited the last couple dishes on the table and then perched on the back of the sofa across from me. What? It’s not like I’d ever needed a second chair before.
“I hope you like pancakes,” He said, smiling at me with wide, hopeful eyes while fiddling with the edge of his apron.
I sighed. “Look, I don’t know what you-“
“I know you don’t want me here,” Henry held up his hands, interrupting me. I raised my eyebrows, but let him continue. Interrupting. Minus five points. “and I’m sorry about that. I’ll do whatever I can to make it up to you, April. But I’m not leaving.”
“I don’t remember giving you my name,” I was proud of how neutral my tone was, how still I held myself. He almost flinched, freezing in place for a moment as I continued, “and I wouldn’t keep insisting on promises - or threats - that we both know you’re not going to keep. What is this really about?”
Henry’s eyes widened as I spoke, his gaze flickering away and back, before dropping. He was silent for a moment after I finished, tense and rigid. I felt my lips tighten in grim amusement; apparently I’d backed him into a corner. I took the pause in conversation to scoop eggs onto my plate. I watched him as I chewed, wary. He was bigger than I was, and unpredictable. He seemed like more of a pest than a threat, but it didn’t hurt to be cautious. I needed to maintain the upper hand here.
Henry’s shoulders slumped as he exhaled, and when he looked up, pain was etched across his face. His sunny confidence was replaced by exhaustion, worry, hurt.
“I’m sorry,” It could have been an act, maybe, if he was very, very good, but he gave every appearance of vulnerability as he responded, “I had hoped… but I was too late, it was stupid, so stupid to go like that… You have to live, April - you have to! - and I shouldn’t have gone off like that. I won’t, not until I know you’re safe, I won’t let you out of my sight.”
Hang on, that didn’t sound good at all, even if his expression did tug on the heartstrings, at least a little. I think he saw me getting ready to protest; he sped up a little as he continued.
“I know, it’s not what you want, but you don’t understand. You’re marked now. It’ll come after you again, April. You’re the only one who’s lived. It’s not worth the risk, leaving you alone.”
“Marked?” I shook my head, sure I didn’t want to hear the rest of this. Dread crawled across my skin, too like the nightmare for comfort, and I rubbed my arms as if I could wipe the memory away along with the sensation. Suddenly, I hoped Henry was crazy, that this was all some elaborate ploy to get a roof to crash under. “I’m nobody. Why would I be in danger?”
“It’s my fault,” Henry covered his eyes, his fingers tangling in his still-damp hair, “you were supposed to die yesterday. I stopped that happening - it’s not that hard, if you know what you’re doing. The only thing is, it doesn’t give up. It gets angry and comes back, and keeps coming until it claims its victim.”
He was wrong. He had to be wrong. Because if he was right - I glanced at the open windows, my scalp itching as I thought about the door behind me, was it locked? - if he was right, the nightmare would be back, and I would be…
“You’re wrong,” I cringed when Henry flinched at the words, his lips twisting painfully as he shook his head. “You’re crazy. It doesn’t work like that. You have to be wrong. Stop lying. STOP LYING TO ME.”
I reached across the table as I yelled, wanting to push him away, to shake him, to make him take it back. Lies. It had to be lies. How dare he mess with me like this?
Henry grabbed my wrists, his grip gentle but solid. I couldn’t pull away, couldn’t move as he stared at me.
“April.” He let go, and I dropped into my seat, breathing hard. “April, I’m…”
“Sorry. I know.” I refused to look at him, rubbing at my wrist as if he’d hurt me.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It wasn’t supposed to be so hard. It should be simple. Confront evil. Fight back. Defeat it. Happily ever after. I came to the city to make a difference. I’ve trained my whole life for this.”
I stole a peek at Henry. He stared off into the distance, his gaze remote and his voice soft. Sad.
“At first, it was great. I felt so strong, so right. I was making a difference, saving lives, defeating evil! The victims, they were so grateful - well, most of them -“ His eyes cut over to April and she flushed, looking away, “-and I knew it was worth it, the sacrifice, the years of discipline, everything I’d given up. For a couple days, it was like living in a fairytale.
“And then I figured it out. I wasn’t defeating the nightmare. I wasn’t making anything better. It came back, it always came back. I fought, again, and again, racing across the city, barely resting, but it’s never enough. I can’t keep up. It always wins in the end.”
“Always?” I didn’t realize I’d spoken until Henry’s focus snapped back to me. The dreamy, far away look on his face ironed out to stone. He reached across the table and took my hand.
“This time, I’m not going anywhere. I figured it out. The only way to beat the nightmare is to stay ahead of it. If I’m with the target at all times, there’s no opening. It can’t get past me.”
Henry’s hand was so warm, but I felt sick to the stomach. This wasn’t even about me. It was all some random coincidence; I’d just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time for him. Which was a stupid thing to feel weird about, because…
“So it’s coming back?”
“Yeah. It’s coming back.”
23 Dec 2016
What the heck was that about? What happened to “I’m not leaving until I know you’re safe.”? One minute he’s acting all determined and concerned, the next he’s out the door and gone.
I locked the apartment door and fumed my way through a shower. Boys. Incomprehensible.
Irritation helped soften the sting of the hot water on all the small and not-so-small abrasions left over from earlier. The attack was already starting to feel distant and far away, like something that had happened in a half-forgotten dream. But the evidence that something had happened was clear in the water running murky, then bright, then nearly clear as I rinsed away the mud. I flicked at the embedded bits of gravel, starting fresh blood flowing as I did my best to reach and clear the worst of the cuts and scrapes. Nothing too deep, thankfully; my modest store of bandaids and polysporin ought to be able to keep up.
Somewhere between clean and close enough, as the water temperature started shifting, I stepped out of the shower and moved on to trying to pat away enough moisture without further abrading the wounds. By the time I’d disinfected, smeared antibiotic cream over and covered the worst of it, the steam had cleared to chilly condensation, and I only stopped shivering long enough for enormous yawns to crack my jaw. I hobbled past the ruined mess of my clothes and headed for my bed. Which was also still a mess. Resentment boiled up, undoing the soporific good work of the last hour’s tedious focus. Stupid day. Stupid work. Stupid nightmare. Stupid boy. Stupid bed. Stupid blood and mud all over everything. Stupid promises that mean nothing. Stupid boy.
I crawled to the couch, yanked the throw off the back of it and reached for sleep with everything I had.
The noise hauled me back to consciousness slowly, resonating like the earth-piercing thud of gigantic spider steps. I dumped myself off the couch before opening my eyes, scrabbling to get away, my voice caught high in the back of my throat and my lips clamped to keep them out.
The nightmare was calling my name this time, in between the sharp impact of its footsteps. The beats sped up as it approached, my heartbeat racing ahead. Then a sharp crack and intense pain in my head. I curled up around the pain and held my breath, waiting for the end.
The final blow never came. When I pried my gritty eyes open, I was huddled half-below the coffee table in my shadowy apartment. Someone was banging on the door and calling my name. Henry?
“Go away,” It came out in a gasp, hoarse and far too low for him to hear. I took a couple breaths and coughed before trying again. The hammering stopped immediately.
“April? Are you ok? Can you open the door?”
Right, like that was going to happen.
“Go away,” I said again, shifting my weight gingerly as the accumulated pain of bruises and scrapes clamoured for my attention.
He was silent for a few moments. Long enough for me to lever my sore self back up onto the couch. Maybe he’d gone again? Typical. Waking me up for no reason…
“April, I can explain.”
“Just go away. I’m not talking to you. I’m definitely not letting you in. Leave.” I knew I sounded harsh. I didn’t care. Much.
I could hear him sigh through the door, then a sliding thump. I wasn’t curious. It was just thirst that made me pull the throw off the couch and drape it over my shoulders as I shuffled into the kitchen. And it was total coincidence that the apartment door was just a foot away from the edge of the counter. I could hear him breathing, weirdly loud and close, a bit ragged, like he’d just run up the stairs, or was shouting or something.
“I’m not leaving,” Henry said, breathing out halfway through the last word like he was short of breath. I snorted. Heard that one before. He must have heard me; he paused for a beat too long before continuing in a softer voice, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to run off like that. Just give me the chance to explain.”
“I’m not letting you in here.” I stepped closer to the door despite myself, holding my breath so he wouldn’t realize how close I was. I leaned my head next to the peephole, but all I could make out is the shabby hallway. He must have been sitting in front of the door, too low to see.
“April,” he said. “April. You have to let me explain.”
“I don’t have to do anything,” I replied automatically, hearing a thump at the door at the same time as it jumped under my hand. It felt a bit wrong, how close he was, close enough to touch, except for the door. I slid down the door, feeling the draft under it, the cool air blowing through from the hallway. From where I sat, I couldn’t see a clock, but it had to have been the middle of the night. The sky was dark through the windows, and I was just tired enough to find this argument weirdly soothing. Half-asleep, the emotions associated with the script were distant, more an impression of how I ought to respond than a reflection of what I wanted in that moment.
I must have dozed for a moment; when Henry spoke next, I jerked and hit my head on the door in exactly the same spot I’d bonked it on the coffee table earlier.
“I had to leave,” Henry said. I rubbed my head, disoriented and wondering if I’d missed anything while I dozed. His voice was so quiet, like he had forgotten I was there. “I know the timing sucked, but I had to. It’s what I’m here for. To help people. Someone was in danger; I had to go.”
I shivered. Danger like a nightmare attack? I eyed the dark sky outside, worried, checking for the lightening of dawn. The nightmares tended to cluster around the edges of things. The shore where water and earth collide. Mist and fog, rain and snow, anywhere one thing turns into another. Dusk and dawn. I should pull the curtains before falling asleep again.
“I’m sorry,” Henry whispered through the door, and I freeze. “I’m sorry. Sorry.”
He wasn’t talking to me.
I don’t know what I expected when I opened the door, but that wasn’t it. He was very pale, under the spatters. His head was propped against the wall, legs outstretched in torn jeans, arms limp at his sides. He didn’t look up at me. I stood there for a moment, wavering, then pulled the door closed behind me and sat down against it. Beside him. He kept muttering “Sorry,” like an old toy running down on its batteries. I might have checked for a power-source, except the liquid oozing out of him was clearly organic. Definitely not a robot.
“What are you sorry for?” I whispered. I don’t know why. To avoid disturbing him? To preserve this weird dreamlike space where nothing is the way it should be? To keep pretending that nothing’s wrong, not me still being alive, not me sitting here in this chilly hallway beside this boy who I had no intention of letting in, not his presence here, not the tears in his already tattered clothes or the blood soaking into the carpet beneath him or the way his gaze had turned inward, the way his eyes were wide with horror and heavy-lidded in despair at the same time.
“Too slow,” his eyes drooped, as if he was fighting sleep, then widened again, the muscles in his face and neck tensing. “I was too slow. Too far away. Maybe if I’d gotten there sooner…”
Henry blinked, swallowed, and then blinked several times in succession. The emotion faded from his face as he seemed to notice me beside him for the first time.
“April.” He said. I shivered, and his brows drew together. “What are you doing here?” Then, after another moment, “What am I doing here?”
I stood up and opened the apartment door behind me, wincing.
“Careful,” Henry said. I just looked at him, sitting there as limp as seaweed washed up in the tide. He stared back in concern, apparently unaware of his own condition.
“You coming in or what?” I flicked the light switch, and he blinked in the sudden glare.
“I can explain,” he said again, standing up. It was pretty impressive. The only signs of how hard it was for him were the lines around his mouth as he clenched his jaw and the whiteness of his lips. He didn’t even rest a hand on the wall.
I just nodded, stepping back as he moved into the apartment and turned to look at me. The sight of him in my space was upsetting - I fought down the desire to order him out again - but… Something about the rigid way he held himself, swallowing back pain and exhaustion… I relented.
“Sit down. I’m getting a drink.” I turned toward the fridge, watching in the polished surface of the toaster as he slumped, wobbling a bit, and sank down on the couch. By the time I’d filled two glasses with water and made my way over to the couch, he was fast asleep.
I sat down on the floor and stared at him.
A stranger, bleeding all over my couch. A boy, staying the night (ok, it wasn’t like that, but still.) A hero? A madman? (Not a robot…) An alien?
He looked only slightly less perfect, all beat-up and ragged. Boy hero after a battle with the big boss. It was like something out of a movie. Even the smears and scrapes on his cheek looked artistic, the way they traced the sculpted planes of his face, and the muscle tone beneath his ripped shirt was positively Hollywood. I immediately felt guilty for admiring this poor unconscious battered guy while he slept. But it’s not like I’d wanted him here. I’d pretty much done everything I could to send him away.
I should probably have gone and pulled out my depleted first aid supplies, or at least found something to stop the bleeding. Or like, found another blanket for him. But somewhere between watching and thinking and doing, sleep took over.
16 Dec 2016
“I was thinking I could stay with you.” Henry said.
So that happened.
Shaking my head, I pivoted away from Henry, pushing off from the doorframe to stagger into the bathroom. The edge of the sink was smooth, hard, and reassuringly cool. When I looked up into the mirror, I stared right past my mud and blood-smeared face to his reflection behind my left shoulder. I was still shaking my head. He looked worried.
“Look,” He rubbed his temple with one hand, rumpling his hair as he frowned at me in the mirror. “It’s not like that. You could still be in danger. You’re definitely not ok. I’m not leaving until I know you’re safe. Plus, I’m a great houseguest.”
He smiled hopefully. I heaved a sigh into the mirror, fogging his reflection away into a blurry gold and grey smear. The ghosts of tiny arachnids skittered up and down my spine. Sure, this guy was cute - and apparently did chores - but this was my space. Mine.
Some girls would be into the idea of having a cute guy move in. Not me. I treasured those hours of solitude that having my own place afforded, guarded them, anticipated them with longing through every minute of the endless work days. No one to judge or want something from me, no one chattering away and cluttering up the space in my head. No one to be careful of, no feelings to dance around, no mysterious, inexplicable web of unspoken needs and desires and intents and purposes. Just me, doing what I wanted to do, when and how I wanted to do it. Just a clean - metaphorically speaking - empty space to think and be.
I eyed Henry as the fog cleared from the mirror. He shifted nervously behind me. It should have bothered me, the way he filled up the space in the doorframe, hemming me in. Instead, I felt strangely comfortable. Safe, even.
But I knew how it goes when girls let guys in. They get caught up in the romance of it all. The promise. Someone to understand, someone to see them. Affirmation. Acceptance. Love. Stability. Safety. They ignore the reality until it’s too late. Until he’s taking up your space, expecting you to wait on him and clean up after him and accept everything about him without getting anything worthwhile in return.
No, in the equation of men and women, women always come out in the red. I wasn’t stupid. There wasn’t anything he could do for me that would make it worth letting him in.
I shuddered, remembering the sensation of being slowly crushed under that moving blanket of spiders. The sense of horrified futility, of being unable to escape, fight back, even let go. There was no surviving the nightmares when they stalked you in daylight. I’d never heard of anyone living through it. Ever. But here I was. And here he was, standing between me and that.
I turned around slowly, shifting my grip so I could still brace myself against the sink. He’d crossed his arms and was leaning against the doorframe, all graceful and easy and confident, like everything was going to work out the way he expected it to. But looking closer, I could see his fingers dimpling the skin of his arms where he held on, and his casual smile had a certain tightness at the corners. It was like he was worried and trying to hide it, like my response mattered. When I opened my mouth, I still wasn’t sure what would come out. It ought to be no. But more of me than I wanted to admit was leaning towards yes when the light went out of his eyes.
He didn’t move, but he was gone, just like that. One moment, he was waiting for my response, the next, his gaze had turned flat and empty, one-dimensional. I stepped toward him, letting go of my anchor and reaching out. I laid a hand on his arm and it was warm, the soft resistance of skin over firm muscle. I had half been expecting plastic, the chill of metal bone and wiring, some sort of cyborg superhero or something. Nothing moved in his eyes; it was like he didn’t feel my touch, didn’t see me moving toward him. And then he did. I actually saw his pupils respond, his focus shifting to my new location. As fast as he’d gone, he just came back into himself - and pulled away in the same moment.
I almost overbalanced as he pulled away, catching the doorframe just in time as he left it. He turned his back and walked away, picking up speed with each step. I made a sound, a sort of questioning, shocked squeak at his back, and he hesitated.
“I have to go,” His voice was neutral, firm but not loud. He didn’t turn back to me as he said it. Then he opened the door and left my apartment.
Well. So much for that.
End, CH3 [Continue to Chapter 4: Alone at last] (http://kaie.space/tgooh/2016/12/23/TGOoH-CH4-Alone-at-last.html)
09 Dec 2016
When people in stories wake up, they always seem to focus on stupid things, like describing the ceiling in minute detail, or the feel of the sheets. I mean, who does that? Like I’m going to be lying in bed, returning to consciousness, and making erudite observations about my thread count…
Nah, when I woke up focusing on, well, anything, was the last thing I was about to do. I kind of mellowed my way up from warm, good to blech, fuzzy to oh crap, what the..? in stages, without caring too much about the setting and anything beyond the confines of my own body, which was feeling not good. Like, cotton tongue fuzzy teeth sour taste plus a side of gritty eyes with a smattering of ouch.
It was only in exploring the ouch that I started working out my surroundings. Which were pretty meh. Also, this isn’t the kind of story where I wake up naked and conveniently washed and bandaged, by the way. Which could have been embarrassing, sure, but just then sounded pretty damn appealing. Nope, instead, I woke up fully clothed and shedding gritty debris in my own bed, which was going to be super fun to clean up later. But, you know, at least some guy didn’t see me naked. Yay.
Speaking of guys, oh yeah, boy hero. And the nightmare attack. Which - wow - I must’ve been the first person in, like, ever, to have survived. All of the sudden, smears of dried blood and mud stains on my sheets didn’t seem like such a big deal. In fact, they were starting to be an encouraging reminder that I hadn’t hallucinated the whole episode in a fit of perverse boredom-induced self-harm. So that was a plus.
I kind of heaved myself to the side of the bed and staggered upright in a skittering shower of dirt and pain. The worst damage seemed to be around my feet and joints, and I cracked more than a few scabs standing up, but nothing too severe. Cuts and bruises I could handle, if it meant I could take myself for a nice shower and avoid hospital time to boot. I limped toward the ensuite, but stopped cold when I reached the doorway.
I guess I’d forgotten just how remarkable he looked. That perfect hair, those wide eyes, wider still as he stared back at my mud-crusted hair and stained, torn work clothes. He was standing in the kitchen, holding a pot in one hand, a scrub brush in the other, soap suds trailing across his knuckles and up his wrist.
“You really shouldn’t let the food get dried on,” He waved the pot around, scattering bubbles across the counter.
I should probably have blushed in shame at my delinquent housekeeping or something, but you know, shock. That, and my relief at not having to deal with those dishes - he didn’t know how long they’d been there - insulated me from the embarrassment. I just kept staring back at him. He blinked first.
“That was a joke,” He said, a line marring his forehead as his brows drew together. He put down the pot and wiped his hands on his jeans. What? I have dishtowels. They’re in the wash. Or somewhere, I’m sure… “Hey, maybe you should sit down…”
I took a firmer grip on the doorframe and glared back at him. He held up his hands in mock surrender, then darted around the counter and grabbed for my elbow as I swayed.
“Why are you here?” I tried to pull away, but he just followed me back into the room, pivoting with perfect balance to maintain his hold. “What are you doing here?”
“Hi,” he raised his eyebrows, ignoring my question entirely as he tried to guide me back towards my bed. “I’m Henry.”
“Hi Henry. I’m annoyed.” I dug in my heels and leaned back toward the bathroom, tugging against his grip. “Also, a little freaked out. What are you doing in my apartment?”
“Look, thanks for your help earlier, but I’d really just like to be left alone right now-”
“So yeah, you were a huge help, really appreciate all that life-saving and all, but this is my home and I’d really like to get cleaned up now and all, so…”
I waved at the door, swaying, and then batted at his hand on my arm with the other. Then I made the mistake of looking up at him. Big mistake. He had this look down pat, you know the one, the big-eyed kicked puppy look, where you feel like a monster and would do anything to make it stop.
“Did I do something wrong?” He said, releasing my arm so I could stagger a few steps back. I tried to look away. It didn’t work. I clamped my lips shut, determined not to give in. I took a few more steps backward, bumping into the door frame and wincing. Henry was at my side in an instant, looking worried and hurt at the same time. I needed to say something. Something to make it clear. He had to go.
“Really, thanks,” I said, trying to sound sincere rather than irritated. After all, he had saved my life. “What you did out there, that was huge. And I don’t want to sound ungrateful. But I’m fine now. So you can get back to wherever you need to be. I can take care of myself; you go ahead and get home.”
Henry opened his mouth, closed it, frowned, opened it again.
“I just got to the city,” He said.
No. Oh no. He didn’t mean…
“I was thinking I could stay with you.”
Crap. He did.
02 Dec 2016
It had been one of those days. A Monday sort of day (though it was a Thursday). An “I can’t wait to get home and forget it even happened” kind of day.
The last time I’d looked around, it was sunny. Beautiful, if you like that sort of thing. Blue skies, sparkling water in the distance past the low apartment blocks that line the streets on my usual route home. Green grass, flowers blooming, all that nonsense.
So it’s not like I was expecting any trouble. No early morning mist, no winter fog rolling off the sea, no low lying cloud cover, and the shoreline was a good few blocks away. No, I was busy deciding if I’d rather unwind with a book or a show when it attacked.
The tremors knocked me off my feet before I’d even registered the shape in the distance. One minute I was hurrying home, stuck in my head like usual, the next I was picking gravel out of my palm and wondering what had happened.
Pain is wonderfully focusing. I caught up to events, or rather, it felt like everything slowed right down, so I had time to soak up every horrific inch of the creature before it took another step.
It was a spider, of course.
The nightmares get inside your head, somehow. It’s always the one thing you can’t stand. The one thing you’d do anything to avoid. But worse than you’d ever feared.
They say you die of horror before the creature has a chance to actually, you know, crush or rend or munch, or whatever it is that your personal nightmare specializes in.
I could tell you that my heart was pounding like it was about to explode or that my breath rasped in my ears, almost but not quite drowning out the embarrassing mewling noises that were arising from my general vicinity, but honestly, I was too caught up in the horror to pay much attention to mere biological functions. I mean, all those legs…!
Oh, and it was the size of a house.
Yeah, the small ones give me panic attacks too, but they don’t generally crack the concrete with each scurrying step. And it was growing. Cracks spread as the concrete sidewalk buckled under its weight and spilled me into the cratered street.
The spider loomed overhead, blocking out all the light, although I think I might’ve stopped breathing a while before, which could have had something to do with the growing darkness. From this close, I could make out tiny, shifting movements all over the massive arachnid. It was overhead now, all eight legs trampling around me, carving a deeper crater and trapping me underneath, not that I’d have been able to make a run for it if I’d wanted to by then.
Then things got even worse. The shifting black dots resolved into a covering of smaller spiders swarming on the massive one - increasingly visible as they started to drop down all around - and on - me.
I bucked and squirmed, rolling against the gravel, dirt, and shards of pipe at the bottom of the crater, trying to crush the smaller spiders off while wishing the gargantuan one would just impale me on one of its horrible legs and end the nightmare. Anything would be better than being slowly crushed by a skittering blanket of the little monsters.
It was getting harder and harder to move as the weight increased moment by moment. I couldn’t do much more than twitch and stare up at the swarming multitude endlessly descending on glittering threads, hoping that death or insanity would hurry up and end the horror.
When the light broke through, it was blinding. He was blinding. He sliced through the nightmare in a single blow, sweeping it away like a cobweb. The spider forms dissipated, blown away in an instant, and
I was left bleeding and stunned, staring up at him from the bottom of a muddy hole.
My rescuer looked worried.
“Are you ok?” He said.
I opened and shut my mouth like a dying fish and kept staring. It may have been his knight-in-shining-armour rescue, but I didn’t think I’d ever seen any one who looked more heroic in my life. The blonde, boyishly handsome kind of hero, not the dark smartass kind.
Also, the kind with a sword. And no cape. Definitely no cape. In fact, just some pretty ragged looking jeans and a faded t-shirt. Plus a great big shiny sword, that I could have sworn had been glowing only a moment before. Huh.
Hero still looked worried. Maybe more worried. What with my gaping and staring and bleeding and distinct lack of actual words, I didn’t blame him.
“Hang on,” he said. “I’ll get you out of there.”
He pivoted, looking all around as if a fire brigade was about to show up with a ladder or something, which it wasn’t, because it’s not like anyone actually survives a nightmare attack. Then he shrugged and sort of hurled himself down into the hole. With me.
Up close, his outfit looked even shabbier, which was good news, since the broken pipes had made a muddy mess of the hole. Plus, blood. Plus, it helped balance out his looks. Which were pretty wow. Although, that could have been the shock talking.
I couldn’t stop shaking, and his hands felt like they were on fire when he fished me out of the mud. Humiliatingly, I couldn’t actually stand on my own, never mind claw my way out of the hole. Maybe if I’d been less traumatized and hurting, I could have enjoyed the storybook fantasy moment of being carried out of there.
As it was, I couldn’t decide if I was more embarrassed or in pain. It did help me stop reliving the feeling of thousands of tiny feet skittering over my skin, though.
When my rescuer finally deposited me on the clean grass several feet down the street, the fear came back, and I started shaking again. The blades of grass, that tickling sensation, and they could be hiding there… I grabbed at the boy’s arm before he could straighten up, startling him and further embarrassing myself, but I couldn’t bring myself to let go.
He held very still, studying my face from only a few inches away, and something in it must’ve convinced him.
“Ok.” He said. “It’s ok. Whatever you need. I’m not going anywhere.”
The shaking didn’t stop, but it slowed down a little. My jaw was clenched, teeth chattering, but I did manage a nod and the ghost of a smile. I didn’t let go of his arm.
The boy sat down on the grass beside me.
“You’re going to be ok,” he said. “But sitting out here isn’t going to help. Do you live nearby?”
I managed to nod, yes.
“Is there anyone at home right now?”
I shook my head, no.
“Can you walk there?”
I paused, unsure, shrugged. Maybe. Probably not. Eventually.
The boy studied me. I’d relaxed my grip on his arm, but I was still shivering. The cold inside me was keeping the pain at bay, but I could see blood soaking through rips in my clothes in several places. Once the shock wore off, I was going to be hurting. I couldn’t tell if it was emergency room stitches level hurt, or just band-aid-level surface scratches, but since the nearest facility was ten times the distance of my apartment and presumably neither one of us had a phone handy, it wouldn’t be the first stop. “Probably not,” the boy said out loud, answering his own question as he bounced to his feet and pulled me upright. I swayed for a moment, locking my knees and fighting a wave of nausea, before he made a surprised noise and swept me up again. I must’ve looked as sick as I felt.
“We’ll have a better chance of getting you home if you’re conscious,” he explained, heading off down the street. He stopped at each corner and had me nod in the right direction to navigate.
It was surreal being carried, half conscious and bleeding, into my own apartment by boy hero. I probably should have been worried about the state of the housekeeping or whether I’d left underwear lying around or something, but by the time we made it through the door, I was more focused on not puking on my gallant rescuer. Pain was starting to break through the cold of shock, and my head was spinning and throbbing at the same time, inspiring waves of nausea. Thankfully, the boy had enough sense to take me directly to the bathroom and deposit me on the floor, propped up against the tub. When he turned to rummage through the cabinet, presumably in search of some kind of first aid supplies, I lunged for the toilet. And promptly blacked out.
TGOoH on hiatus | 20 Mar 2017
TGOoH CH14 Killer paperwork | 03 Mar 2017
TGOoH CH13 Rumpled Guy Dave | 24 Feb 2017
TGOoH CH12 Adulting involves boundaries | 17 Feb 2017
TGOoH CH11 So not feminist | 10 Feb 2017
TGOoH CH10 Laundry and other chores | 03 Feb 2017
TGOoH CH9 Rational and irrational urges | 27 Jan 2017
TGOoH CH7 Priorities and promises | 13 Jan 2017
TGOoH CH6 Mismatched shoes | 06 Jan 2017
TGOoH CH5 Hope you like pancakes | 30 Dec 2016
TGOoH CH4 Alone at last | 23 Dec 2016
TGOoH CH3 So much for that | 16 Dec 2016
TGOoH CH2 Can I crash with you | 09 Dec 2016
TGOoH CH1 One of those days | 02 Dec 2016