I couldn’t breathe. My whole body felt shrouded, covered by an unyielding barrier. My ears were ringing and I could smell hair, plastic, electrical wiring burning. I tried to move and as I wriggled my arm, the barrier fell away, with a dull flapping sound.
It took a moment to remember where I was. The train. Underground. The explosion. The bomb. Then it came flooding back to me. I was lying down and there was a body next to mine. I knew it was a body because it was still warm. But it was cooling rapidly. Maximillian Oak, a Red Star was standing next to me when the bomb went off.
I slowly reached into my pocket for my keychain and LED flashlight. I figured it wouldn’t be much but any light would be better than none for me. I rolled to the right to free my hand, but I couldn’t move it. I reached out with my right arm and found my arm was bleeding, sticky and wet. I had to be in shock, I didn’t feel it yet. Reaching across my body, I got my keys and fumbled with the LED; a gift from a former girlfriend. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, but now, if I live, I will have to thank her.
At least that’s what I was thinking until I turned it on. A brief flash of its harsh, blue-white light and I immediately turned it off.
How am I alive? The train, I remember we were on a train, was nothing more than a tangled wreck with no piece of it larger than a beagle near what was left of Max and I. Rubble from the tunnel had collapsed onto what was left of the car and Max was pinned underneath that. I could see the dripping smears that used to be people on the other end of the car.
I turned to what was left of Max and gasped involuntarily. He had wings. They were disguised as his coat, complete with the iridescent sheen. Now that they hung open, limp and lifeless, they only added to the horror of what I believe was his true form. His body was burned across the back and legs but his wings appeared to have taken no damage from the blast.
That’s what I heard before the explosion, his wings wrapping around us.
His face was twisted up in pain and his hair and parts of his skin around his neck has been burned away. In seeing his injuries, I began to feel my own and between the rubble pinning him down and my broken arm, we weren’t going anywhere fast.
“Artist.” His voice was a whisper but he spoke with a casualness that belied our circumstances. “You are looking well, relatively speaking.”
“Max. You look like hell, relatively speaking.
“I’ll get better. We’ll be here for some time. But this area is unstable. We need to move.”
I waved my light around. I couldn’t see what he was seeing but there were still particles falling from the ceiling. I took that as a sign of the area’s instability.
“Are there others still alive on the train?” I wanted to feel as if one subset of human selfishness hadn’t cost everyone on the train their lives.
He looked at me with a cold stare. “Yes, but they won’t be for long. With my injuries, I will need to feed soon.”
“How do you plan to do that? You can barely move.”
“As usual, humans confuse feeding with movement. I don’t need to move to feed. From where I am lying, I can take the lives of everyone on this train and there is little they could do to stop me. And I will if that is what it takes for me to survive,” he hissed.
Earlier, I felt fascination and even a few seconds of pity for this enigmatic being. Now, despite the fact I should be grateful to be alive, in this moment, I hated him and more importantly recognized his inhumanity. I had no doubt he would and could kill us all if that’s what it took for him to make it off this train.
“Then why save me? I was nothing more than a failsafe snack to ensure your survival?” I tried to sit up and the effort made me dizzy. Sand from the ceiling hit me in the face, interrupting my attempt to look outraged. Fact of the matter, I will still too damn grateful to be alive to really be mad.
He took a minute to answer. He croaked, “If I told you that was true, would you hold it against me? It isn’t, but I am curious.”
“No, not really. I’m pissed but if I had been alive as long as you, I might have the very same attitude. Survival at any cost. I guess you don’t get many Christmas cards.”
“No, I don’t.”
For a moment, we sat silently, for my part awkwardly, trying to decide if I felt good enough to try and get up. I was also considering whether I should be helping him.
“Did you hear that?” He lifted his head and turned his good (and by that I mean unburned) ear toward where he said he heard the sound.
On the other end of the car, there was a still intact train door. I could hear someone trying to force it open. “We’re rescued.”
“No, it hasn’t been nearly long enough. It would take longer than an hour to reach us. Someone is here to finish what they started.”
My stomach clenched as he closed his eyes and furrowed his brow. I grabbed his arm and was swept up in his evil. I could see again with his senses, there were five people still alive in this car. They were at the far end of the car and protected by the press of bodies during the explosion. They were barely alive, their energies fading even as I watched. One by one, they winked out like candles in a storm, flickering brightly for a second and then gone. A winged darkness fell over them and then it was gone.
Max breathed in, deeply like man given a glass of water after being in a desert.
“So you think this is just about me? You do understand they cannot allow any witnesses. You, my good man, are a witness. They have already killed everyone between you and I. Do you doubt this? Take my hand and see what I see.”
His grip was hot again. Strong. Terrible. The visions before this one were soft compared to this one. His senses tore the car apart, his visual acuity sharp, I could see every torn angle of the car, ever drop of viscera dangling from the walls, every human remnant. I could see these things in complete darkness. His vision zoomed to the car door as it was pulled open. The sound of a silenced handgun echoed though the adjacent car. Max feasted. The well-oiled scent of the gun, mixed with the explosive effluvia, and the iron-hard scent of blood spattered on it made it easy to find.
I could see the man, his pores visible even from fifty feet, his face pockmarked like the surface of the moon, his eyes glittered with a drug-enhanced shine. His movements were strange, stuttering things, as if he could barely contain himself, a juxtaposition of stillness and action. His head snapped in our direction, as if taking our measure. He sniffed the air like a wild animal as he brought his gun about.
Max shuddered. “I know what you are. You didn’t tell them did you? You used them to plant your bomb and do your dirty work.” He spoke as if he were talking to someone right next to him.
When I looked back to the door, the man was gone. He was standing right above both of us. I never heard him or saw him move.
Do not trust your eyes. He is boomsha, a dweller between shadows. We have only one chance. You will know. If you fail, I will kill everyone who is left alive here to save myself. Including you.
The boomsha stood above us his gun pointed at our still forms. “Lord Oak, you have been deemed a Betrayer of the Way. You have conspired with Man and have been found guilty. I am here to deliver justice. Do you have Words for me to Deliver?” His speech surprised me. A thick accent I could not place, almost as if he spoke a language I had never heard.
“No Boomsha. I have no Words for you to Deliver. You will, however, send a message for me.”
“And what is that Lord Oak?” Suddenly my supernatural vision failed me. I could not see anything and the darkness was terrifying. I felt so heavy and slow, adrenaline no longer driving my actions. I turned my LED toward where I heard the boomsha’s quiet voice. I turned it on.
The light struck the boomsha directly in the chest and the clawed wing of Maximillian Oak blasted through the spot of light and penetrated the ceiling above him. The look of surprise was clearly written on the boomsha’s face. He shrieked as he tried to escape being pinned, vibrating between one place and another but unable to complete his blinking movement.
Then the ceiling collapsed upon us all.
Red Star, White Sun © Thaddeus Howze 2012, All Rights Reserved
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