Maria hangs on to Jesus in case the car starts to swerve, as she looks into the passenger side window at the cop car. "What do we do?" She sounds calm, but her expression is all wrong, tight and uncertain.
The car doesn't swerve, it stops. There isn't room to get by, the wreckage fills most of the road. Mikey's face is tight as he watches the cars, glances over at the Highway Patrol parking on the other side of you. He puts the car in park, still not saying a word.
The cop gets out of his car, a big guy with a slightly jowly face and salt n pepper hair. He limps around to the front of his car, and you can see he has a cast on his right arm.
Mikey starts cursing softly. "God damnit... those people are gonna burn to death."
"Can you do anything about it?" She asks it quietly, not sure she's asking the right question.
He takes off his seat-belt and opens the door. "Yea, but not the way you mean. I told you, magic isn't like science -- it isn't a good dog that rolls over when you tell it to." He slides out and walks towards the cop, asking if he can help.
Maria gets out of the car, mostly for lack of anything else to do, holding Jesus in her arms. She probably looks like nothing so much as a worried young mom.
The cop is talking to Mikey, gesturing to his broken arm and saying "... a board in the trunk, but I can't carry it. I can get it up there, but no way can I drag it back. We've got backup on the way, but they're at least 10 minutes away."
Mikey looks at the cars, then over at you. It's clear on his face -- he might not be able to magic things away, but he knows bone deep that the people in the cars don't have 10 minutes.
Maria sets Jesus down. She tries her best not to wake him up. She nods at you and comes forward. "Come on," she says.
The cop looks at the two of you uncomfortably, guilt written all over his face. He doesn't waste more time though, he goes to the back of the cruiser and opens it up, pulling out a body board and quickly hauling it over to Mikey. "Now you two be careful, if I tell you to get out -- you get. Don't stick around if I holler to run. Okay?"
Maria nods at the cop, but it's clear her attention is focused elsewhere. "Keep an eye on my little boy," she tells the cop, obviously not happy to leave him behind.
Mikey just nods to the cop, who glances back at Jesus in the car. "He should be okay there." With that he leads the two of you towards the wreckage, moving with a quick and purposeful stride.
"Which one do we start with?" Maria asks, looking over the cars uncertainly. Gunfights she can deal with, but this is completely foreign to her.
The cop answers tersely, "The closest." He goes to the side of a car lying on it's top, the canopy half collapsed and shards of concrete from the broken divider lying in a strew about the sides. He bends and glances down and in, muttering a bit. He steps back, "You should be able to get him out the window -- it's gone anyway. Be careful of his neck though, it looks like it was cut deep by something."
Maria steps up to see the guy inside the car. She glances at Mikey, trying to see who'll reach in first. She steps in without waiting for a response, trying to reach the injured man.
Mikey drags the board in close, and slips around to the windshield side to help. It's possible mostly because the windshield doesn't exist anymore, other than as a billion fragments of razor sharp glass on the road. "Careful, keep his head from moving as much as you can." With that he reaches in to swing the man's legs out from under the steering wheel, so that you can pull him out.
You can see the layers of flesh, skin, then fat, the muscle, where the side of the man's neck and shoulder have been slashed, making a fat, drooping slit that goes down to the bone. You know that he's going to bleed no matter what, but if you keep his head down against that side, and don't wiggle him too much you can get him out without killing him.
Maria swallows hard, but moves to keep the man as still as possible, leaving his head as much against the side as possible. She tries to ignore the crackling of the fire, the heat, the scent of blood and gas and fear. Once she's got the man clear of the wreckage she takes a deep breath of the marginally clearer air.
Mikey helps you get him on the board, and from there its a simple matter to carry him over the broken glass to a relatively safe distance. The cop comes with you, and bends to examine the wound. "You two go check the other cars -- and watch those fires. If they get off the tires and into anything that looks like gas, you bug out. Get me?"
Maria nods, glancing back towards where Jesus is, looking for any sign of trouble.
Jesus is awake, sitting in the driver's seat of the car sucking on his ring finger and watching the burning with wide eyes.
Mikey moves back towards the next car, this one right side up and with fire on its tires, filling the air with an acrid smoke.
Maria tries to give Jesus a reassuring look, but follows Mikey over to the car, looking inside to see who's in there.
A man is hanging half way out the door, one arm sprawled and obviously broken across the asphalt. The rest of his body is half in, half out of the car, and is drenched in blood. It isn't easy to see where the blood is coming from, however.
Maria tries to see where the blood is coming from, and tries to see how the rest of his body is arranged, and how best to get him out of the car.
Apparently he was wearing his seat-belt, and the lower half of his body is still tangled up in it, keeping him from falling out of the car. The blood seems to be coming from several deep gashes in his upper thighs and left arm, trickling along his body in a way that suggests the wounds are actually older than the accident.
Mikey sniffs the air and curses, "Can you get him out? I'll get the other guy, we've only got a couple more minutes."
"I'll try," Maria says, reaching down to try and untangle the seatbelt. She files away the information about the cuts for a later time, wanting only to get the guy away from the fire before anything explodes.
Mikey darts off, going back to the cop's car to get a board before running back to the final car and going around the far side.
The seat-belt is stuck, the mechanism apparently lodged closed in the accident. The thick, tough material isn't going to give way, and there doesn't seem to be a lot of give in the catch either. The man groans slightly, eyes opening for a second and looking around, not focusing on anything, before sliding closed again.
"Shit," she says, pulling on the catch for a moment more, wishing for her old switchblade. That gives her a thought, and she looks about for a sharp bit of wreckage to use to maybe cut through the belt.
There is plenty of glass lying around -- the problem being that it's mostly sharp on all sides. You could probably cut the belt with it, the problem would be not slicing your hands to hell and back.
Maria thinks for second, then starts tearing at the bottom of the button down that serves as a jacket for her, ripping strips of the cloth to wrap around the base of one of the larger pieces of glass. Makeshift knife in hand, she starts cutting at the belt.
You know, from a class you took as well as from enough street-fights, that glass can take an edge 10 times sharper than a steel blade. This glass has one of those insanely wicked edges, but even so it slices through the seatbelt all too slowly, the tough fibers refusing to part. You put just a bit to much torc on it, near the end, and when the belt suddenly gives the glass breaks and the end cuts a large gash open on the man's gut, fatty tissue spilling out for a second before the blood starts to flow.
On a radio, you can't tell which car it's coming from, someone is singing, "I never thought I'd die alone / I laughed the loudest who'd have known? / I trace the cord back to the wall / No wonder it was never plugged in at all / I took my time, I hurried up / The choice was mine I didn't think enough / I'm too depressed to go on / You'll be sorry when I'm gone."
When the wound opens you feel a sense of panic, of anger and helplessness rising up. You did that, you cut the guy open when you were just trying to help. You can't, it seems, do anything right.
"Goddamn it." Maria tries to use the cloth from her shirt to hold against the wound she caused in his belly, while at the same time trying to pull him from the wreck, trying to do anything to shut up the voice in her head, trying to prove it wrong. "Come on, come on." She might be talking to the body, she might be talking to the voice in her head, but in either case she starts to drag the man out.
Once the belt is gone it's actually easy to get him out -- in fact he almost falls out, bloody weight settling against your body as you drag him out to the board. You're just getting him stretched out when Mikey comes running up, face pale and eyes wild. He grabs the end of the board opposite you, his motions quick enough and with enough nervous energy that you know he's feeling something coming, and wants everyone the hell out of there NOW.
Maria is all for hauling ass. She picks up the board and starts to move. "Where's the other guy?" she manages to ask.
Grunting with the effort of carrying the guy at speed, Mickey says, "I already dragged him back. He wasn't cut up, so I just strapped him down and hauled him out."
Maria doesn't answer, but just keeps moving, not stopping to look back. "That everybody?"
"I hope so." A few stumbling, panting steps later and you're at the cop's side. He's gotten the first guy's neck bound closed, blood covering the cast on his arm, and is looking at the second guy's eyes. "Set him down there." He points vaguely to the side, near his car.
Maria moves to set the guy down as told, looking once again over to the car where Jesus is.
Jesus looks back at you, and then nods once, taking his finger out of his mouth. The man at your feet groans, making you look down at him briefly, and then quickly at the other two as you notice something -- though they are wearing different clothes, all three men are identical. Like triplets, but something tells you it's even more than that, a kind of unsettling churning in your gut.
Maria looks up at Mikey to see if he notices too, and takes a few steps back. She frowns, looking between the three men again, then glancing at the cop.
The cop, sitting on his heels, is looking at the three men. "Shit. It's that damn Bill Toge again. Gone and got his stupid self split in three..."
At that moment Mikey slams the car door that Jesus was looking out of closed, and drops, yelling "Hit the street!"
Before she can puzzle out the cop's weird comment, she obeys, used to following orders along those lines. She drops to the ground and covers her head.
A spark hits the gasoline just as you drop, and a fireball of epic proportions engulfs the cars, fire and bits of glass and steel bursting outwards with terrific force. The whole world vanishes into light and furious sound...
Just like that it's all gone, and you're sitting half huddled against a shelf, cans of beans and beats next to your face. You blink once, and a supermarket takes shape around you, bright and over-clean isles, rows and rows of food, and no sign of exploding cars, a freeway, or any such things.
"The hell?" Maria looks up, looking for Jesus, Mikey, something familiar, anything familiar. She looks for blood on her hands, or for tears in her shirt where she used strips from it. Quickly she starts to stand up.
You look just like you did a minute ago, tears in your shirt and dirt and blood on your hands. It's not you that's changed, it's the world. Across the isle and a few feet down from you a guy, a kid really, is crouched and looking out around the edge of the shelves. He's got a walkman on, phones down around his neck, and you can hear a girl singing over a rampaging guitar "She is not scared to die.. / The best things in life drive her to cry. / Crucify then learn.." Over the faint sound of music shouts suddenly start up, the kind you've heard before often enough to let you know things aren't right.
"Fuck! Get him!"
Then the unmistakable sound of gunfire fills the supermarket, echoing off the walls as round after round are pumped off.
Maria drops to the ground again, crawling towards the kid at the end of the row to try and find out what the hell is going on. It occurs to her she might be the 'him' being referring to, but takes her chances.
The kid freezes there, standing up and looking around the edge of a display of pork n beans and "Divine Hash," a big can of spam with a smiling black Jesus endorsing the goods. You get over to him quick enough, and realize you're facing the front of the store.
Up at the front, by one of the check-out booths is a man wearing a Ronald Reagan mask, shooting a gun at another man. The other guy, though he isn't in uniform, has all the markings of a cop -- and he's shooting back at Reagan mask.
Maria feels a momentary urge to play hero, but with no weapon and no idea even where the hell she is, she creeps back a little bit, just watching the situation for now.
Up near the front of the store, on the far side of the check out stands, are two other men in president masks -- looks like Clinton and Nixon -- both holding guns. Neither of them are shooting, though both of them are waving their guns a lot. Nixon is by one of the doors, and is waving his gun at anyone who looks like they might try to get out. Clinton is behind the manager's counter, and is pointing his gun at a pudgy man with a dopy little mustache.
Reagan finally hits the cop, and you can hear the man yelling as he falls back into the isles, into the isle just one down from you, knocking the Heavenly Hash over as he flails and falls.
Maria scoots back a bit more, trying to stay out of sight. Deep down she's still too busy trying to assimilate her sudden change in location to really think through what she sees around her.
The sound of running feet, soft but very fast, comes down the isle behind you.
Maria turns quickly to see who's there, immediately going into a defensive crouch.
It's Mikey, moving low and fast. He comes to a skidding halt near you, glancing around and hissing, "Where the hell are we?"
"How the hell am I supposed to know?" she hisses back. "Where's Jesus? Is he with you too?"
He shakes his head, moving back against the near isle, the one towards the center of the store, so as to stay out of view of the guys in the front. "No. I don't.. I don't think he came along with us." Not that he sounds all that sure, "The guy up front though -- the one in the Nixon mask, he's wearing the same clothes, exactly the same, as the guy we pulled out of the first car. And it's daylight outside, not the middle of the night."
"Are you saying we went back in time or something?" Maria said. She looked at the three guys again, noticing the similarities she'd missed earlier. "But the three guys we pulled out, they all looked the same. Think that's them?"
He shrugs, shakes his head, shrugs again. "No. But the one guy is the same guy -- has to be. I don't know about the others." In the background the cop is moaning, and you can hear lots of yelling and screaming, followed by another gunshot, up in front.
She takes a chance and looks out again, then looks back at you. "Did you hear what the cop said about the guy splitting himself in three again? What the fuck was that about?"
That just brings a shake of his head. "I don't have any fucking clue. All I know is there is some fucked up shit going on. I can hear dice rolling everywhere.. you know, God's dice and shit like that. Something big is happening, but I have no clue what, or why." He glances out around the isle at the men in masks rounding up the shoppers near the front of the store into a little clump. "All I know is that fucker in the mask has something to do with it."
Maria doesn't know anything about God's dice, but it doesn't sound good at all. "What do we do? I don't have any weapons on me, do you? I gotta get back to Jesus." She sounds a little frantic on that last one.
Mikey's face grows grim, "I have weapons.. of a kind. There was shooting just over there" he points to where the cop went down, "Did they get that gun, or is it still there?"
"I think it's there," she says. She glances up at the shooters again. "They didn't go over there at all."
Mikey nods, looking up and down the isles, "Right. I counted four of em, think you can take two?"
Maria grins suddenly, a glimpse of her old self resurfacing. "I can if they don't take me first. What are you going to do?"
Looking back down the isle Mikey says, face away from you, "I'm going to gamble with the devil. If I win, I'll kill two of them -- not Nixon. You get the other, and take Nixon down, and we'll see if we can't get some answers out of him."
Maria arches an eyebrow, but doesn't ask further questions. "Right. Don't kill Nixon. You got it." She looked towards the fallen cop, taking a breath and getting ready to make a run for him.
Mikey says, "Wait till I distract them." With that he picks up a can of beets, and then in the other hand a can of beans. He takes a deep breath, throws the can of beans hard towards the front door, then runs out the end of the isle.
As soon as the can of beans hits the door, guns start firing. Mikey runs across the short distance to one of the check out stands, and dives behind it. Two of the masked me start shooting at him, guns blazing, and he vanishes from site before you can tell if he was hit or not.
Once the shooting starts, Maria starts in fast and low towards the cop's body, reaching for his gun and scrabbling to pull it.
As you run one of the men, you can't really tell which, turns and starts firing at you. The bullets hit stacks of pasta in bags, spattering your face with dry fragments of noodles as you round the bend. The cop is still holding his gun, but his grip is loose enough that you manage to pull the gun free quickly.
The guy shooting at you keeps shooting, blasting off caps so fast and hard that you know he isn't really aiming -- it's panic fire, the kind you've seen so often. He doesn't come close to hitting you, but you hear the kid in the isle you were just in, the one with the walkman, scream a high-pitched pained squeal.
Mikey stands up from behind the checking counter, and two of the guys start shooting at him. The register explodes, the glass front shattering, as bullets tear into it, and chips of formica go flying up. Calm and controlled Mikey points at one robber. "Bang." He says, miming the motion of a gun with his hand. The man in the Clinton mask drops, screaming in pain and horror like you've never heard before. You've heard men get gutshot, squealing like pigs as they shat themselves and died -- but this is a diffrent order of thing. This is a man in horror, a man who sees the devil reaching up and grabbing his soul as the pit opens.
Maria tries not to think too hard about the boy behind her or what Mikey might have done to the screaming man. Instead she crouches behind one of the checkout lanes and carefully takes aim at the guy in the Reagan mask.
Your shot, aimed and tried, hits the man solid in the chest. He falls, screaming and gasping, gun falling out of his fingers.
The other two keep shooting, screaming in fear now as they move towards each other -- panic making them react by clumping, which just makes them easier targets. By pure chance one of the bullets hits you, grazing your arm and ripping a large chunk of skin off as it passes.
The pain of your wound makes your eyes water, and your hand waver. For a moment you can't focus. You hear more screaming, and the guy in the Nixon mask takes a shot at you with his pistol. The round goes wide though, shattering several bottles of soda that gush and froth down the isle behind you.
The next shot going past her clears her mind, and she aims the gun again. She levels her gun on Nixon's leg, aiming about midway down, somewhere near the kneecap.
Your shot goes wide, though luckily you don't hit any of the bystanders. The Nixon mask stops shooting and starts to push his way through the group he and his friends had circled up, trying to put them between you and him as he heads for the door.
Trusting Mikey to handle the friends, Maria scrambles up to chase the Nixon guy, hoping for a second shot to slow him down.
He's moving through the group of about 15 people, pushing them and threatening them with his gun. He hits one man across the face and shoves him so hard he sprawls, and then bobs behind a woman and a child, crouches low and heads for the door.
Maria tries not to do the same damage as him, but knows she has to get past the bystanders before she can take another shot.
You realize, fairly quickly, that he'll be out the door before you can get a clear shot. Much as he's bobbing and weaving, he'll be hard to hit anyway.
You race down the narrow isle between two check out counters, getting to the front forum of the store. Nixon looks back at you and bolts for the door.
Maria jumps up on to the counter to get clear of the bystanders, and tries to take another shot at the man fleeing for the door.
The counter only gives you a couple feet of elevation, which doesn't help all that much. The automatic doors start to slide open as the man rushes towards them, gun dangling loosely from one hand.
You almost fire too fast, but a gut feeling makes you hold your fire for one second longer than you normally would. Something sort of clicks in the back of your head, like when you first saw Jesus lying in the hospital, and your bullet hits the man square in the kneecap just as he's passing through the door. He falls, with a whimper rather than a scream, and his gun goes scittering off down the pavement. He lies in the doorway, slowly trying to curl up as his body goes into shock.
Maria looks back to see what Mikey's gotten up to, pausing to see before she goes running off to Nixon -- he's not going anywhere.
Mikey is shooing the bystanders away, yelling at them to run to the back of the store where it is safe. Few of them are moving, most having the eye-rolling panicked cattle look of a crowd on the verge of hysteria. A few, however, start to run towards the back, and a moment later most of the rest follow.
On the ground about 15 feet away from you, in a circle about 10 feet in diameter, lie the dead presidents. The one you shot is still moving, clutching his chest and trying to keep the blood in. The other two aren't moving, and are so plastered in blood that it looks like they were hit with a grenade. You can literally not see a single patch of skin or clothes, it's just a wet mass of blood, gooey and thick in places, running and red in others.
Maria doesn't look too close at the ones Mikey demolished, and again doesn't think a whole lot about her companion. Instead, she starts towards Nixon, cautiously ascertaining that the man's gun is nowhere nearby within reach -- if it's out of sight, she stops.
Nixon rolls over onto his back, hands visible and without a gun. He jerks around a little, like a fish on a butcher block, then starts clawing at his mask, trying to rip it off.
Keeping her gun close, she leans over enough to pull off the mask, then steps back.
The mask comes off, and out of it spills a mass of vomit. The man hacks and coughs, body wracking as he tries to spit out the regurgitation that the mask had nearly made him choke on. Under the slime of his lunch you recognize his face -- Mikey was right, he's the same guy you pulled out of the car.
From up the road you catch the flash of sirens headed towards the store...
The sirens of a highway patrol car flash in the corner of your eye as you look down at the man moaning below you. You and Mikey just pulled the two men out of the two wrecked cars. The two look like twins, but something tells you it's even more than that, a kind of unsettling churning in your gut.
Your left arm throbs where you were shot, and you're still holding a .38 in your hand.
Still trying to put pieces together, she looks first for Jesus, then for Mikey, then she tries to tuck the gun away out of sight. "Where'd he go?" she says aloud.
Mikey is off balance, and falls down against the door of his car, slamming the door shut so that you lose sight of Jesus. "What the fuck!"
The cop, sitting on his heels, is looking at the two men. "Shit. It's that damn Bill Toge again. Gone and got his stupid self split in two..."
Just as before you hear the spark that starts the explosion, and the whole world goes red and white with the thunder of the cars blowing sky high.
Maria hits the ground again, and prays that when she opens her eyes again she'll still be in the same place.
Your shoulder hits something hard, something that spins you half around, and suddenly you're staggering forward -- still on your feet instead of on the ground -- into a close, stinking space. You clearly smell vomit and urine.
Maria mutters a very rude word and looks around, hoping to see car wreck, but not counting on it.
The fact that you aren't expecting it lessens the shock a little, if not a whole lot. There is no car wreck. Instead you're standing in a little apartment, having just burst through the door with Mikey right at your heels. You're standing in the doorway, .38 in hand, looking into the 15' by 15' room. It's a grey place, mostly empty save for a sagging, dirty mattress in one corner, lots of pizza boxes around the floor, and two men in the middle of the room.
One man is standing, a knife in his hand and several bloody wounds on his body. He's sweating and bleeding, eyes wild and nose flaring hysterically. He's also the man you pulled from the cars. The other man is seated, duck taped to a metal folding chair. His eyes are bugging out. The rest of his face doesn't exist. From under his eyes down to his chin is a completely smooth expanse of flesh -- no nose, no mouth. From the way he's thrashing he's probably suffocating.
Maria's feels her brain wanting to stretch and twist into unfamiliar shapes, battered by the weirdness of the day. She first looks to see if the man with the knife also has his kneecap blown out.
He doesn't, his knee is just fine. He does, however, have a stab wound in his upper thigh, and one in his left arm -- exactly like the guy you pulled from the second car. In all the wierdness surrounding you, you remember that one real, fleshy detail very clearly. It's that one solid detail that hits you in the gut, making the room spin a bit, stretching oddly at the edges of your perceptions, madness stalking the dark corners of your mind.
Maria dimly thinks, 'At least now I know where the knife wounds came from' before drifting for a while. She stays where she is, just staring at the scene, gun held loosely in her fingers, a forgotten accessory.
You're sort of dimly aware of the man yelling something at you, and of Mikey yelling back. None of it really registers, however. Now and then you look at the man tied in the chair, and think it's odd how he doesn't have any way to breath. How'd he get to be so old if he didn't have any way to breath? He doesn't look like he's enjoying it now.
After a few minutes, you're not really sure how long, you realize you're sitting down and that you have a cold beer in your hand. Someone presses it to your lips, and the burning cold liquid washes down your throat. It tastes sharply, cleanly, of lime and lemon -- and that taste, that very clearly real thing, brings you back around.
Maria startles and looks around, nearly dropping the beer in her hand. "The fuck?" she sputters, half afraid of what she'll see around her.
You're still in the little apartment, half seated on the sagging mattress. The man in the chair is sitting limply, passed out in his restraints. Now, at least, he has a mouth, and a nose. Mikey is standing beside you, having just given you the beer. The other guy, the one from the car, is watching you with freaked out eyes, looking like guys you've seen tripping on PCP.
"Mikey?" Maria looks up at him questioningly, keeping a careful eye on the freak, not at all comfortable with the way he's looking at her.
Mikey doesn't exactly look all that stable at the moment either. His eyes are a little too big, and there is a definite twinge in the corner of his left eye, a jumpy little tick.
"Well we found Bill," he says, gesturing at the guy with the knife still in his hand. "He's found Don Lewis" he points a thumb at the guy tied to the chair. "Who kidnapped his 7 year old daughter yesterday. Bill was just having a talk with Don when we came in."
Maria decides she doesn't feel too comfortable with the way Mikey is looking at her either.
"A talk," she repeats. She tries to feel around for a moment to see if the gun is still with her.
Mikey nods and turns to watch Bill. "Unfortunately Don passed out. It seems he had a touch of asthma." He says the last completely dead-pan. "This could be bad, as no one knows where Bill's daughter is. She's seven," he repeats, "and could be in trouble if someone doesn't find her."
The gun is sitting on the mattress next to your right leg, on the far side from Bill.
Maria takes a slow drink of beer, trying to mask how disturbed she really is. "Yeah? That's too bad. What's her name?"
It's Bill who answers, his voice a little squeeky with tension and fear, his sweating face looking as freaked out as you feel. "Sascha. Sascha Deillo. This pig fucker snatched her." He absently traces the tip of the blade of his bowie knife along the side of the bound man's face.
Maria nods, as if the answer were a perfectly rational one. She takes another look at Mikey, trying to judge his frame of mind. To Bill, she says, "How do you know it was him?"
Mikey has his hands stuffed in his pockets, and looks about as thin as a teaspoon of sauce spread over a whole pizza crust. He's maybe two steps away from being where you were 5 minutes ago.
Bill stops tracing lines over the man's face when you question him, looking at you narrowly. "Word gets around about kiddy-rapers, you know. This soon-to-be-screaming-in-agony sack of shit is known, you know, everyone knows he does kids -- sells em too. His dumb-fuck head should have known better than to take a kid from someone in the life."
Maria just nods. "Just remember, if you kill 'im, he won't be able to tell you where to find her."
That brings a low laugh, a sick laugh with more than a touch of self-hate in it, from Bill. "He won't die till I let him. Bastard might not get to die at all." He takes the knife and runs it across his bare chest, opening up a long, thin cut. He hisses with the pain, and then reaches out and grabs Don's ear and twists. The ear pops off like a grape, and Don wakes up screaming.
Maria grits her teeth to keep from shuddering, her mind racing frantically as she tries to think of what to do. Mikey is clearly going to be no help here. "Well," she says slowly, "you also probably don't wanna spend so much time having fun with him that you forget to find your little girl either, right?"
Don keeps screaming, eyes rolling and body quivering against the tape. You know for sure now where the smell of piss is coming from. Bill nods to you shortly, and says, pointing at you, "You see her Don? That's La Llorona. She's come to finish you off Don. She isn't nice like I am, she isn't even human. She's going to do things Don, that make having your mouth taken off look like nothing. You're fucked Don, but if you tell me where my girl is I'll kill you clean, I won't give you to her."
Don goes stock still, pale as a sheet, and turns slowly to look at you, as though half hoping you'll help and half fearing Bill is telling the truth.
Maria reaches over slowly to get the gun, watching Bill, but trying still to figure out what's up with Mikey. Once she has the gun in her hand, she slides it a bit behind her. "Do you know where the girl is?" she asks Don. Her voice is very calm, almost soothing.
Don blubbers, his face quivering like it was set loose on his bones, not connected the way flesh should be. "You don't understand! It isn't dirty like he thinks! We love each other! She wants to marry me, she wants to have my kids!"
His words get cut off when Bill stuffs the man's ear into his mouth, ramming it deep past his teeth and then using a freakishly strong hand to hold Don's mouth closed.
"Bill," Maria keeps her voice calm. Maybe he really believes she's the Crying Woman -- she decides to test it. "Give him to me, for just a little bit. Then we can go find your daughter."
Bill lets go of Don's face, and the man weakly chokes his ear out. It falls into his lap and lies there while he breathes heavily, looking at his ear. Bill steps back and grins, "Now you're gonna scream Don. Scream a lot."
Maria points toward the door, firmly but still ever so calmly. "I must work alone. I will call for you when I am finished."
Don starts babbling, "She's safe! She's in my house! In the basement.. there's this hidden room behind the tool rack, in the back. It's in the back, near the wall in the south. It used to be a shower, or something, but I made it into a room where she could hide. People wouldn't understand! She'd be taken from me if she didn't hide!"
Bill steps forward and puts his hand very gently on Don's head, resting it there lightly and looking down at the quivering, babbling, pissing wreck on the chair.
Mikey snaps, voice sharp and hard, "Don't do it Bill! He gave it up -- let him live till we're sure, at least."
"He's right. Wait until your little girl is safe," Maria says, still speaking in a voice that is not quite her own.
Bill shudders a bit, then nods and steps back. "Alright. Alright." He turns and goes to the fridge, leaving Don to his babbling. That has not stopped, by the way, the man is still telling everyone and everything how much Sascha loves him.
Driven by something she doesn't quite understand, Maria steps around in front of Don and leans down enough to look into eyes that are madder than Bill's. Catching the babbling man's gaze, she raises her finger to her lips and simply says, "Shh."
Don looks at you for a minute, drool leaking out the corner of his mouth, then goes very quiet. He nods once, then nods again. Then he just sits very still.
Mikey looks out the little window, then over at Bill. "Do you know where he lives?"
Bill, back to you, shoulders shaking as he starts to cry, nods once, then gives a husky voiced "yea." He follows it with a shot of beer. "Yea, I know."
Maria isn't far from shaking apart either, and takes a deep breath. "She can't come here and see this, you realize."
Bill nods slowly, "Yea. I'll go get her, take her someplace... safe." He takes a drink of beer. "I'll take her to the King." he says the words slowly, uncertainly, then nods once, gathering his courage. "I'll take her to the King. He'll protect her, even... even though I'm her father."
Maria blinks a bit. "The King?" It's a question whether she means for it to be or not, and escapes her before she can think about it, remembering only her father's dying words.
The man nods, setting his beer down and going to a little table/stool by the door and picking up his keys. He puts them in the pocket of his jeans, then pulls on a flannel shirt hanging on a peg on the door -- which has been closed since you came busting in. "The King in the desert. I.. I used to work for him." He closes his eyes, "A lifetime ago."
"I have heard of him," Maria says. "I would like to meet him someday." Thoughts of Jesus never stay too far from her mind, and again panicky fear beats in her mind, wondering where he is while she's stuck here.
Bill gives you a weird look at that, buttoning up his shirt. "Go to the Excalibur. Given who you are, I'm sure he'd talk to you. Under flag of truce at least." He grabs a hat and pushes it down on his head. He looks at Don, "If she isn't there, Don, you're going to wish you were dead." With that he opens the door and heads out.
Maria hesitates a moment, waiting to see if Mikey follows, unsure that she really wants to.
Mikey looks around the room, then shrugs and follows Bill out the door. He gives you a look that clearly says, "What the hell else are we supposed to do?"
Maria sighs a bit, but follows, shutting the door behind her.
Bill doesn't question the two of you coming with him, which is odd enough that it normally might provoke a comment. In the day you've had though, it doesn't seem all that significant. He leads you to a beat up old Impala, and drives through what looks for all the world like downtown Whittier. The trip takes maybe 15 minutes, and neither of the men speak much on the way.
Maria has a sudden misgiving about riding in a car with a man of whose body she has clear memories of pulling clear of burning wreckage. She chews on her lower lip and makes sure her seatbelt is on.
Despite your misgivings you make it untouched and without incident. The destination is a little house, a crackerboard place with a little lawn of mostly dead grass in front. The street it's on is mostly deserted, everyone being out at work in the early afternoon.
Maria waits for everyone else to get out of the car, hesitant to be any more involved than she already is in this.
Everyone else seems to feel the same, so it's Bill who finally gets out after several uncomfortable minutes. He walks quickly across the grass and goes to the front door. There he stops a moment and fishes a key out of his pocket, then opens the door.
Maria snags Mikey before going in. "What the fuck is all this? And how does he have the key to that guy's house?"
Mikey shrugs as he walks into the house behind Bill. "I'd guess he took the key off the guy. When you have someone tied up to a chair it's fairly easy to take their keys." He doesn't even bother trying to answer the first question.
You cross into the house, which is fairly dim because all the shades are drawn and down.
Bill moves through the living room with it's floral print couch and giant TV on an aluminum TV tray quickly, looking about till he finds the stairs that lead down to the basement. They're just at the intersection of the living room and kitchen, and the man doesn't even slow down as he heads under.
Maria follows along, looking around the rooms for some sign of abnormality. She's not looking forward to seeing the basement of this house.
Everything looks something resembling normal. White trash normal, with grungy green-shag carpeting, tv dinner trays in front of every piece of furniture, and so on. There are even some pictures of religious figures on the walls. Of course, none of them belong together -- there's a Joseph Smith right next to a Buddah, but then most people wouldn't know anything about either man anyway. Even the basement looks normal, full of furnace and washer drier, and tools on a rack.
Then Bill goes to the side of the tool rack and looks around for a moment, finding where it swings open. He pulls it wide, and reveals a little room with a sink, a shower, a pair of manacles, and a dead 7 year old girl.
Maria makes a noise that might started out as a word, but doesn't finish up that way. She doesn't turn away, but stayed looking steadfastly at the dead little girl.
Her face is pale, but puffed up and raw around the gag shoved tightly into her mouth. As Bill kneels down over her, slowly prying the manacles off her wrists, you suddenly see the version of him from earlier.. or later.. or.. whatever... nearly choking on his own vomit inside his mask. It's what must have happened to the little girl, tied up and gagged...
Mikey turns around and walks up the stairs, leaving the basement and the grieving Bill.
Maria follows Mikey, not wanting to think any further about the little girl or the maddened father, or what might happen to the bound man in the room.
Mikey got to the main room well ahead of you, and stops just inside the door, backing up. He starts to curse low and slow, but with a great and annoyed intensity. Half turning to look at you he says, "Two cops just pulled up to the curb."
"Goddamn it. We gotta get out of here. I gotta get back to Jesus, wherever, or whenever he is. Goddamn it." Maria says it again, frustrated and confused and completely disturbed.
"Back door." Mikey matches action to words, heading for the back of the house, searching for a door there.
Bill comes up the stairs just as Mikey passes them, holding hiS daughter in his arms. His eyes are dry and clear, and he watches the little Polynesian pass him. "What's the matter?" The question is all out of place, but asked with a calm rationality that Bill had not, to this point, possesed.
Maria doesn't answer, but instead follow's Mikey, eager to leave all this behind.
About the time you get to the back door, which is down a short hall past the kitchen, you hear a knock on the front door. Mikey is going out the back door, looking around the yard, when Bill comes up behind you. "Fucking cops." He sighs, "I can't have this now. I have to take her to the King. He'll bury her right, like she should be."
Mikey growls with frustration, as the yard is very small, fenced in with a high fence, and backing against a drainage gully. There aren't a lot of ways out that don't involve going past the cops.
Maria resists a momentary urge to sit down and cry, or yell, or do something either than panick (or, ideally, other than get caught by the police). She paces the yard, looking around the perimeter.
You can hear the cops pounding on the door loudly enough for it to be heard in the back yard now, and you know it's not going to be long before they come in the hard way. Bill looks around the yard and sighs, walking over to you he presses the body of his daughter towards you. "Make sure she gets to the King? Please? I know you can, if you want. He's at the Excalibur."
Maria doesn't want to take the body. She really doesn't want to take the body. It's enough that she's trying to keep a baby safe and sound, and dealing with all sorts of strangeness, the last thing she needs is to be stuck with a dead little girl. She even takes a small step backwards, recoiling from the corpse.
Bill looks at you, right in the eye. "I won't kill anyone else. I promise. Take her, and the killing can end. If I have to fight my way out though, I'll kill the cops, and Don, and then I'll take off for the desert and probably kill someone on the freeway too. Please, take her -- take her to the King. I, the Knight of Three Swords, ask this of you as the last boon I will ever ask of anyone."
Maria sighs reluctantly and steps forward, taking the little girl's body. She doesn't bother looking to see Mikey's reaction, realizing that, yet again, she's being manipulated by some external force. With the realization comes a growing sense of frustration that she tries to shake off.
As soon as the girl's body settles into your arms you're standing on the side of a dark freeway. A car, a familiar car, goes speeding past on the opposite side of the road. For a second you can see Bill's face, or one Bill's face, and then the car is gone in the night. There is no crash, there is no cop, there's just you and Mikey standing by the car, parked on the shoulder. Your arm hurts in a constant dull throb where you were shot, and the girl's body is so heavy in your arms you feel like you are going to drop her.
Maria looks over at Mikey and sighs. "So, I guess we're going to see the King." She shifts the weight of the little girl and turns to walk back towards their car.
He watches the freeway for a long moment, then shrugs. "Isn't that where you were going anyway?" He goes to the car and opens the door so you can put the girl in the back.
Maria checks on Jesus while she puts the body in the back, laying her across the back seat. She tries to arrange the girl into some sort of natural position, but it doesn't work.
Jesus turns around and looks at the girl. He takes his finger out of his mouth and says "Sascha." Then he turns back around, puts his finger in his mouth, and looks out the front windshield.
Maria looks at Jesus for a moment, but doesn't bother asking how he knows the girl's name. For all she knows, he was the one who arranged this whole mad sidetrip. When she gets into the car, she asks Mikey, "Why did that guy think I was La Llorona?"
He gets in and closes his door, carefully not looking back at the girl. "While you were off in la-la-land I told him you were. He was to the point where he'd believe about anything." He shrugs, "It just kinda popped out, you know." With that he starts the car and gets back on the road. In two minutes the site of the crash is lost in the hills, like it never was at all.
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