Smells Like Teen Angst: Cindy #3_a

Cindy Number Three flipped through a magazine at the last candy stand before Gate 42 and her flight back to Tampa. A black auto-caddie carry-on followed her like a puppy as she slotted the teen rag and headed toward the gate; she’d be the last to board.

“You almost missed your flight, young lady.” A blue-suited coiffured male with surgically placed dimples looked her up and down. “The flight is full, we gave away your seat, but there is one in the way back. If you hurry…”

Cindy-three gave Dimples an indifferent smile. “You’re cute. When’s the next flight out?”

“If you skedaddle your little paddle you can make this one.”

“But, if I really wanted to catch the next one, and hang with a fine-looking airport official, when might the next flight be?”

Dimples straightened and re-scanned the girl before him. “Are you twenty-one?”

“Of course,” Cindy-three tilted her head and with a smooth motion, traced a blood-red nail down the man’s cheek ending with one finger on his chin. “Plenty old for anything and everything.”

The man glanced about. The concourse was empty but for an overweight people-courier lounging on his shuttle, snacking from a bag of chips and the Pakistani merchant behind the news-counter, his furtive spying on every person who walked by gave Dimples the willies.

“Not for three hours, miss. But you’ll need to get re-ticketed.”

“I don’t suppose you could handle that here, could you?” Cindy-three bent at the middle, her turquoise capris gapping at her back, she unlatched her caddie and handed the man her passport and boarding pass.  

The flight agent followed Cindy-three’s every move. Shuttle man watched Dimples watch the girl bend over, the pale fuzz at the small of her back shimmering in the afternoon light.

Dimples licked his dry lips. “Oh, absolutely. I’m senior agent here at the Delta counter, you know.”

Cindy-three embraced Dimples’ hands with her own. “You seem like such a good person. I wouldn’t want to get you into trouble.”

“Trouble?” The man returned the extended touch. “I can’t imagine what kind of trouble you’re talking about.”

She leaned over the ticket counter, casually flipping her hair down to nearly touch the keyboard. Dimples’ eyes flickered between the screen and the shadow beneath her chin.

Eventually, he reprocessed her ticket and placed an arm on her shoulder as he handed her a new boarding pass. “It’s time for my break. I have keys to the first-class lounge; would you care for a drink?”

Cindy-three’s black auto-caddie followed the pair to a placard-bound door: “Guest Lounge.”  

“Is it supposed to be empty?” Three asked as she flopped herself into the blue-leather booth.

“It’s early. A slow day. Why? You feeling wary now?” From the bar, Dimples filled two tumblers with ice, coke and rum and returned to stand before Cindy-three’s reclined posture, the leather’s coolness no doubt seeping into her sweating body.

“On the contrary, a cozy, dark room, a cold drink with a fine looking fellow like yourself is just how I’d like to spend my layover.”

Terry, Dimples’ real name, hesitated.  

Cindy-three let him mull the situation for a bit. She sipped her drink, and arched her back, her Wonderbra allowing the swell of her chest to bulge over the lip of her skin tight blouse. “What’s wrong…”

“Terry.”

“Come sit next to me, Terry. I don’t bite… hard.”

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Down the middle

I no longer question the Gift. It’s there when I want it, crackling at my finger tips. Like a power, like electricity but nothing like either. I call it the Split. I draw a line with my mind and the whole becomes halves. Any whole. Want me to cut your cantaloupe in half. Done. Arguing with your ex over who gets Bosco the bulldog? Zip. Split the check, split a hair, split the scene — no, none of those. I’m talkin’ about molecular bifurcation.

I suppose the feds will track me down through streetcams or credit card patterns. Hell, if I can cut a limo full of prom-dates right down the middle — only three died, I could have slice it horizontal, but there’s no ghoulish fun in that; the stretch just keeps rollin’ down the street until it misses a curve and hits a wall or lightpole. Only then does the top shift forward a bit, and I do mean the whole top. If I can split a limo, then who’s to say someone can’t track this Gift of mine.

But, no one even pays me the kindness of a second look. I am cautious mind you. This trail I’ve left, if you could connect the scattered dots, it might make sense to a savant. No, I’m not that type of specially gifted, or cursed. I’m just me. I like juicy hamburgers, cold beer, racy movies and curvaceous bodies. I used to fish and camp and smoke weed, but why? I’d rather whack downtown fire hydrants and watch the panic. Or slice out a big chunk of an ocean-side pier, watch it sway and crumble like old bread, leaving people on both sides curious but terrified.

No, the Split doesn’t just split. It’s more like a molecular scalpel of indeterminate length. I could be a hell of a plastic surgeon. Tummy tucks, and titty lifts, but I’d probably get distracted and slice off a nipple or a nose.

I’d rather just cause general havoc.

And that’s why I’ve come to the city-by-the-bay. It’s time to see if I can split at a distance. Yup, those two-foot round cables on the Golden Gate are begging for attention.

I’m on the Marin side. I don’t know; being trapped in the city after I’ve had my fun would be a surefire grope and choke. Crowds and tears and whining seems like it would defeat the high I’m hoping to get.

So, I’m sitting on this concrete wall, the bay is sparkling, the sky is Easter blue, at least a hundred thousand people are on, around or arriving at the bridge. I’ve positioned myself for optimal voyeuristic viewing as well as line-of-sight to the mid-span dip in the inner cable. I’ve split stuff further than this, in fact it was one of my first: when I was eighteen, a crow at six am, high in a dead pine tree down the street. That fucker would not shut-up. All it took was the visualization of a samurai sword descending like a guillotine to cut that bird in half.

I’m concentrating now, imagining the steel windings all twisted tight, each bound to its brothers and other brothers and wrapped up with the whole damn orphanage. Then I start to picture one iron atom getting pissed at its neighbor, and the atomic bonds weakening. In a minute it becomes easier.

“Wave now, honey,” this guy next to me yells into his phone. I see out on the bridge a couple of kids and a dark haired wife with scarf and sweater. She’s got one hand to her own phone, the other waving back.

I’m about three quarters of the way through. I started on the inside and worked as a spiral on my way out.

“Hey, you want me to take a picture of you waving in front of your family?” I keep imagining the weevil crawling ever outward — at the spot just to the right of this man’s family.

“That’d be great. Thanks.”

“Get back to the wall and I’ll back up here.” He looks me in the eye and I motion for him to wave. I’ve finished my last circular transit and speed up the process to separate the last half an inch of cable still holding the whole thing together. But I don’t have to keep at it. The stresses have finished my work. I snap a photo just as the deck of the bridge dips and tilts down. “Great picture, here you go.”

I get those last words out just before the most gawd awful twang sings from the middle of the bridge. The railing has tipped almost horizontal now and the cars are diving off the edge. The wife and kids are gone. The vertical ties begin to snap like broken piano strings.

It’s a good show.

The man, as well as every other human who is not immediately impacted, stands with a dumbfounded look on their face. Cars and SUVs just continue to spill into the bay. I see the tops of the towers start to bend. I doubt they’ll collapse, but it’d be a helluva sight.

The road deck is splitting apart and falling in massive chunks. I’d have thought the superstructure beneath would have helped stabilize the whole thing. Nope. It just twisted away. Probably due to the two thousand cars weighing the whole thing down.

It’s pretty much over now, except for the wailing and screaming and crying. I turn my back and walk down into Sausalito to get a beer and maybe a bite to eat.

 

 

The path less traveled

“Don’t move,” Aubrey breathed, her breath so close to Rann’s ear it nearly caused him to lift his foot .

He whispered back, “I can feel the wire. Can you…”

“I said, don’t fuckin’ move.” Aubrey’s grimace barely let her words escape. “I can see the line of it straight back to, somewhere. It disappears beneath some thick-ass leaves and jungle shit.”

“Aubrey, go back down the hill.”

“No way, Rann. I planned this godforsaken excursion, and I’ll damn well won’t let your detour and this, this thing…”

Rann tried to turn his head but stopped when he felt the ancient snare wire slip down his instep. “Fuckin-a, Aubrey. There’s no way you can help this situation. We were warned. I… You know I hate taking the every-man’s path.”

The woman knelt and began to slide her hand, like tickling a snake, along the wire. She cleared the detritus with her left and squeaked when a six inch centipede skittered over her fingers. “I can tie both ends off. I know this camping knot. Tension is the…”

“Jeezus-cricket-Christ, Aubrey. Stop. The jungle is thick here. I’ll dive quick and be okay. But you have to stop and get the hell back.” Rann cautiously maneuvered his pack to one side of his body. “Give me your pack. I’ll sling it to the other side. Both should give me plenty of protection.”

“I think the mine is just under…”

 

Past the Gate

Steel hummed beneath her ass, feet dangling on the ocean side of the rail. Wearing dark leggings and a hoodie she doubted drivers would notice her. Or care. Out of options, out of sight. Out of mind. She tucked closer to the cable strut to which she clung. When a gap opened between cars, the road noised dimmed and she could hear the surf thrash the rocks below. Her three-pound ankle weights, she was told, would pull her under the waves until gasses built within her and ballooned her back into the light. She visualized her swollen, pale belly, stretch marks pulled tight, bobbing in the swells.

Looking down, city lights shimmered on the black waters of the bay. At this time of night the wind held steady. Past midnight it would die leaving the surface calm. Should I wait? Shatter the mirror? No, I’m freezing to death in this gale. A macabre chuckle half filled her throat.

The tide ran faster than she could walk — in hours it would carry her miles out to sea. But not if she stayed embracing the wrist-thick wire. She smiled as she measured the metal with her body: Thousands of steel wrists bearing the weight of the bridge, straining to keep her high above the Sirens’ lanterns, their faerie light beckoning.

Best not keep them waiting. Their song grows sweetest, some say, as you fall. Provided your screams don’t drown them out.

Seamslice: a multiverse shim

Teheo Kodashev steals things.

He doesn’t need them nor want them.

Things present themselves: cars, luggage, jewelry, things most often owned by the wealthy — and they vanish. Somehow, throughout the years, Teheo has avoided detection. The means, he would tell you, are by the special place in which he hides the evidence. A place only he may navigate — a gap between here and there, a strange rift in this world that he discovered as a child while playing hide-and-seek. He alone knows of its existence. Teheo would tell you that he gains access through a wavering seam of ribboned silver located between 2100 West Duluth and the glacial erratic, a boulder the size of a house left by the retreat of the last ice age, in Ronquois, Illinois (silent ‘s’ on both).

Teheo steals things. He had never stolen a person. Not until, that is, that blurry night.

That night, Teresa Nikola Pratofski Smith, a woman Teheo had admired from afar, blundered into Teheo’s desperate arms and vanished with out a trace from her take-a-number life. Fortunately for her, Teheo’s special place knew no time, and was, in fact, outside of time.

However, Teheo’s post-abduction celebratory path led directly into an oncoming Ronquois city bus; the driver didn’t even slow. The accident left him languishing in a state institution, coma-bound, for the next twenty-three years. Again, fortunately for Ms. Smith, at the time of Teheo’s accident there were no mandates regarding termination of comatose patients at state hospitals.  So it was that, after twenty-three years, Teheo arose from his zombie-like state, croaked his anguish at the newly returned memory of his last conscious act, and vowed to return to 2100 West Duluth to witness what remained of Ms. Smith; a woman who’d tormented his dreams for decades.

Alas, such is fate.

The revived Teheo became waylaid, his past had caught up with him. At the time of his accident, he’d been identified on camera as the thief who’d stolen three expensive vehicles from James Tanedem, an upstanding (but by all accounts, crooked) city philanthropist — still in office, and upon awakening, Teheo was sent to the state penitentiary for the next seventeen years.

On July fifth, forty years after Teresa Smith had been ripped from her reality and abandoned in the no-time place, Teheo, now sixty-eight, a son of the Nation of Osage, Native American Tribes was released from prison. He made his way by Greyhound back to silent-s-Ronquois, where he stood before the strange, vertical shimmering seam, shaking with dread and nervous anticipation.

He cocked his head, squinted his eyes and slipped his bent fingers into the crack between. His body followed.

On this no-time side, all was grey. A faint charcoal line showed as the horizon, a shade lighter above, darker below.

“Ms. Smith?” Teheo advanced, weaving between the stolen treasures of his past. He had some understanding that time moved slowly here. Once, when he was thirteen, he’d spent what only seemed like minutes, riding Bobby Charles’ stolen blue bicycle in happy, dizzy circles. In the real world, he’d been gone three nights. His mother, torn between anguish and anger, punished him by forcing his help cleaning toilets in the nearby motels.

Teheo shuffled out to the edge of his plunder, all around the monotone color spread like institutional paint. “Ms. Smith? You here?” A dozen cars lay scattered around him, one less than he remembered. He tongued the holes left by his prison-pulled teeth. His voice sounded stuffed with cotton, swallowed by the grey nothing. “If she drive off, where… where she end up?” The nature of this place had befuddled him. He’d occasionally driven out as far as the light from a Coleman lantern would reach. At the edge he would gaze at the distant, horizontal line that encircled him. His breath would catch, he’d begin to shake and he’d race back to the safety of the exit.

Upon close inspection, he discovered that all the cars had been ransacked; their trunks opened, random contents tossed about. From one it looked like groceries had been pulled, brand-wrappers crinkled like new underfoot. “This is the Mercedes I took from that maid be shoppin’ for that city man.”

Upon his third loop around the remnants of his crimes, he noticed the faint smell of diesel smoke. He stopped and focused out into the empty. “She drive that diesel Volvo out that way.” A dingy cloud seemed to linger in the air.

Teheo paid no mind to the forty year interim. He packed the Mercedes with gear from the other cars. Slammed the trunk shut, cranked over the engine and followed the stink of fumes beyond the light of the lantern he left burning atop the cab of a black Chevy pickup.

 

 

 

 

I man the pumps

I man the pumps. Been doing it since I was twenty-three, about ten years now. Tomorrow, I’ll have to head up to Charleston to check-in with Dooley, he’s been getting wicked foul-ups from leopard mussels on his intakes. I’ll have to help clear those out.

But today, I’m driving the Savannah Line, scannin’ for leaks, testing the back pressures and Central informs me that I have to replace a couple impellers. All that, plus keep an eye out. But it’s been months since I had to run off any globateurs. But that’s here. Down in Jacksonville, hoo-boy, they been gettin’ organized. Some of them environmentalists either found a backer, or some dumb-ass inland farmer forgot to lock up his ammonium-nitrate. It’s a federal offense to so-much-as paint graffiti on a levy wall. But blowin’ one up? Hell, you get caught by the folks whose homes you flooded, you’d be lynched for sure.

Get a load of these three. “Hey, you can’t be fishing in the collection pool. You’ll get your lines n’ shit all tangled in my pumps.” Whoa, that’s a big channel cat. “You guys clear out. Head on down to Bolling Pier and fish from that. I catch you here again I’ll send your photos into NLS.”

I’m about eighteen inches below sea level just standing here at pump number one nineteen. The kids pull up a big ol’ catfish on a stringer. Water from allover the land seeps up from below, or rains down from above, and runs in collection channels to here where we pump it into the river. All kinds of juicy vittles end up in the ponds. Cats get thick on ’em. I wouldn’t eat the fish that comes out of the pools. But some do.

“You guys didn’t lose any tackle did ya? Just tell me straight. I already flipped off my camera,” I tell them, but a smart kid would known better. “Nothing? Alright, so get outta here. Go on.”

I continue on down Savannah Line. It’s clear until I get to pump-station one thirty-one. It sits right at the edge of a cemetery. By the time my truck pulls up its wheels are deep in grey-green water that, thinking about, gives me the willies. I’m sure I can smell formaldehyde leaking from a hundred graves. I wear hip boots but, geeze, I’m sure I’ve got nodules of cancer growing from whiffing the stuff.

But I get to it.

I drop the intake hose from the truck’s pump into the pool, drag the output up to the spigot that leads to the river side, clamp it and crank up the truck’s sixty-horse pump. I can hear the water gushing out on the other side of the levy. On this side, the water slowly drains, like watching a bathtub empty. Stuff starts showing in the filthy water: bottles, paper, clothing, odd things like sandals, dog toys, hell, once I found a pink dildo. Next to the cemetery I keep thinking I see bones and skulls. But it’s only twigs and plastic bags drifting with the pump’s current.

The truck’s pump sucks air and I kill it. This is one of the impellers that needs replacing. I’ve got to lower myself into the cavity where the blade turns and the thought of being below sea level and below a thousand dead people adds a snap to my fingers. The air is thick with the breath of the dead and that strange sweet smell of preservative…

I’m done in five minutes.

I flip the control panel open, enter my password, check the logs, (only a failed impeller) and reset the pump. It starts right up and clears the water that’s already begun to collect.

I wipe my brow with a clean tissue from the box on the dash as I drive away from pump one thirty-one.

Storytime: an unraveling yarn

The tale you beg is old and tired. I’ll not tell it again. Give me a new beginning, one tugged by the threads of your heart.” I glance about, taking in their their small eyes peeking from the shadows. “Well?”

“Can there be dragons?” Cressan pulls the woolen cloth to her chin.

“Dragons? No, I’m weary of dragons.”

Durn whispers from the back, “Flying machines and rockets?”

“You mean like those we dig from our rubble explores? I suppose you want cave-trains and smooth-cars too? No Durn. Deeper, pull from inside you, down in the dark, down where the light glows like a gem.”

They breathe a dozen breaths, minds click, lips pinch with effort.

“Death,” speaks a steady high voice, one not yet begun to turn.

I consider the source. Tawlins holds my gaze. The boy knows death and suffering, but for the sake of the story, that’s all he knows.

“Yes, boy, we’ll have some of that. Some quick, some that will last the whole tellin’.” Cressan coughs for effect. “Yes, starting with sickness like yours, my dear.” The girl grits her teeth defiantly.

“A… A story of c… courage and t… travel.” Syssa’s comment comes out in her hesitant way. I’d been waiting for it.

“And who shall be courageous? Who shall embark on this journey?” I stare back into the girl’s wide eyes, walnut brown and calculating. My challenge, they know, is staged, but I hold the questions up as proof of the story’s potential. “Hmm?” I look from face to face. “Will you stand and fight young Durn? Seek the cures and potions, Cressan? Syssa, will you struggle the mountains and rivers to find the answers?”

The brown eyed girl with the scarf that hides her scar nods solemnly. “I will.”

The rest volunteer their assent. I let my grin stretch from pleased to devious, cock an eyebrow and speak, “Then, let us begin.”

 

 

 

Mother — a story of Mars

Sharp rocks gouge at my back. I’d lain there watching the greasy yellow sky grow dim for hours, unable to lift my arms to shield the sun from my eyes. My O2 nanny begs me to move, get up, get going. “Why?” I ask her. She surprises me: because of all the paperwork she’d have to process back home — if I died here. She admits that it wouldn’t be her specifically to do the work, but one of her sisters. However, since they were all connected, it would be her by proxy. And she hated paperwork.

Her pleas fail to move me. What does finally drive my elbows into the red sand that spreads like a disease all around me is this: Rhelman will take all the glory. Rhelman and his false friendship, his buddy-buddy kissoff that we had all sensed as soon as the hatch had opened and he’d crawled onboard.

Still, there I lay. If I don’t hump it and move my ass, he’ll bathe in the glory of what should be ours. Our discovery of Life, Her. The Mother. We still hadn’t plumbed her full depths. She was a vast mycelium galaxy buried a quarter mile beneath the surface. She was a fungal jungle — Janic couldn’t help herself with the word-play. The Mother was, how can I say this without sounding like a ’50’s horror flick? She was alive. She was a living thing, discovered on another planet. She represented everything we’d hoped we’d never find.

Yeah, I did say never. Some of us worry about those damn Great Filters.

And Rhelman will twist our discovery and take all the credit, as if he’d carved Her from red rock himself. I mean, the prick left used squeeze-packs on the kitchen pullout.

Nanny reminds me of my current predicament. When I’d climbed up to the cave I’d had no idea how rotten the ledge was. Like baked granola. As I’d reached the opening my camera caught sight of new, strange evidence — before I keeled back and ended up pinned, my legs beneath boulders that looked like I should be able to move them in this one-third gravity, but couldn’t. Evidence that She was much more than what Rhelman and the rest of us had speculated.

My beacon is letting them know I’m about to enter stasis — a whiff of cinnamon fills my helmet. Good, I say, I’m rather fond of cinnamon. I hope Blake has to haul my stiff corpse-like self back alone. I like Blake, but his laziness wears thin.

I would like to get one more glimpse of the setting sun before I black out, pale and sickly though it might be. But my whole torso seems glued to the ground. The cold is seeping up through my suit and, hell, it almost feels wet under there. Must be leakage or some malfunction, my urine pouch bursting in the fall. I don’t smell cinnamon anymore, though. Something more like the odor of cheese, or mushrooms, earthy, rich and consuming.

Ah, there’s the evening glow of the sun. I catch a glimpse through the fractal tendrils that seem to be growing over my visor. I can’t remember the last time I felt so-damn-comfortable. A sip of chardonnay would be nice right about now.

Wicca Abides

The ping of the worn hammer echoed across the compound. Sed shook the sweat from his forehead and drops sizzled on the dull-red iron band he was shaping, a collar strong and heavy.

“She’ll not be rid of this one.” He plunged the metal back into the glowing coals readying the strip to receive the first hole punched in its end.

Old man Creston leaned back against a nearby post. “Iron won’t hold her but a day, maybe two. Without a core o’ silver runnin’ through, she’ll be rid of it soon enough.”

Sed motioned the man over to hold the punch to the end of the collar, ready to receive the blacksmith’s penetrating strike. “She’ll come out of it. It’s just mind-fits. Nothing more. You and the Council been spending too much time in Borrowest’s library.”

The hardened punch drove through the iron band and Sed flattened out the ragged edges of the hole. The mist from the river had yet to lift; the cottonwood trees encroached upon the smithy like shrouded watchers, witnesses to the makings of imprisonment.

“Not a scratch on her, yet the last two sets of shackles bent and tossed aside,” the old man offered.

At Sed’s nod Creston set the punch to the other end. The hammer struck and the sound died hollow.

Sed bent the ends of the collar to tabs and aligned the holes holding it up with tongs to gauge the trueness. “This time we’ll rivet the ends with the chain pinched between.”

Creston frowned, tossed the punch into the tools bin, and wiped his forehead with a rough canvas sleeve. “No silver, no chance.”

“Tell the Council we’re ready.” Sed submerged the hot collar in the water bucket where it hissed and spit. “And make sure Nesta’s hands and feet are well tied this time.”

~~~

Nesta’s chin lifted and she stared straight into the blacksmith’s eyes, her own, honey-gold eyes clear and guileless. “We can lose this place, Sed. You and I, we can head north, maybe west where Mother Earth still earns respect.”

“Shh, Ness. Wear this collar. Suffer their fears for the time being. Some fresh calamity will steal their minds from you. Then…”

She lowered her eyes and Sed noticed her familiar, melancholy look. Nesta, her tangled chestnut hair weed ridden and stringy, leaned her head to the anvil. Sed adjusted the collar binding the first link of the twenty foot chain; ready to hammer the rivet smooth. He’d taken a bit of cottenwood fluff, free of seeds and gently tucked it into her ears, the pinging, so close, would drive anyone mad.

Borrowest’s mayor, the buttons on his vest straining to fly loose, his eyebrows combed vertical — thinking to lengthen his pudgy, pie-tin face — held up his hand. “As sentenced by the town council of Borrowest, you, Nesta Vie will be shackled in the square for a period of thirty-days for your original crime of conjuring dark spirits and subsequent crimes of escape from prior punishment. Smithy, you may proceed.”

~~~

Three days in, Sed had built the woman a lean-to with a raised cot; the southern sun could bake a stranded frog to a dried husk in minutes. Eleven days and Nesta had worn a deep rut, dragging her chain first one way then back, careful not to damage her makeshift shelter. At day twenty of her sentence, the scent of a heavy storm coaxed the folks of Borrowest to board up their expensive glass windows. When the downpour started, the few whose homes looked upon the town’s square left a finger’s gap to watch how the storm would treat the shameless witch. They were not disappointed. At least not until later, after they’d shielded their children from the sight. A few of the men continued to cast their eyes Nesta’s way.

“Ness, you prancing naked in the wind and rain ain’t gonna help your case. Here, here’s a wool throw I keep in the smithy.” Sed moved to embrace the crazed woman whose water slicked skin sheened like copper beneath the lightening that ripped across the wounded sky. She danced away from him, her chains tinkling like bells as she went.

Nesta yelled behind her, “Tonight we feast, Sed! Tonight the spirits pound the Earth. And tonight She heaves and moans.”

Slipping through the mud he tackled the woman, wrapping her in a fearsome struggle. “You’ve got the fever, Nesta. Let me tuck you into your cot and fetch some hot tea from the smithy fire.”

The woman arched her head back and laughed into the storm. “Fever, Sed? You know I have a burnin’ inside me been eatin’ me all my life. Tonight it’s gonna eat its way out. It’s gonna eat up the land and the people and this blowin’ crazy sky. It’s a comin’ Sed. I feel it like a demon scratching its way out o’…”

A thousand suns exploded just feet away from the pair as Sed tried to drag Nesta toward the shelter. The lightening bolt stabbed like a spear into the metal stake that anchored the prisoner’s chain. Brilliant white light arced along the links stretch tight, crackling and hissing. Sed had had his eyes pointed away from the strike but instantly felt the shock as a hundred-thousand volts gripped his nerves and muscles — the electricity having shunted its way through the iron collar, into Nesta’s body and then into his.

Her scream carried long after the concussion of thunder had echoed away. Nesta didn’t breathe. She just screamed, an ear-splitting shriek that drilled into every town-person’s mind. Years later, as those still alive recalled that sound, a pale shudder would take them in the retelling.

The blast threw Sed back near the stake. Nesta remained standing, the collar, melted to slag in an instant, sloughed off and hardened at her feet, a blackened dead thing. The hair on her head had billowed out, a Devil’s halo. Her brown skin, steamed dry for a moment, wetted to dull copper as the rain continued to pour down. She stood like a goddess in the soggy soil, her chest heaving with exhilaration, her eyes wide with fascination.

“Sed. Rise and come to me,” she commanded. “Come to me and take me away from here. No one will stop us. I have been given my purpose. None will risk to meet my eyes, nor place a hand upon my flesh. We are chosen. Come, let us leave this place.”