Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Pallbearer: A Hundred Tiny Hands Part 2


Even when she's naked, she won't let you see the scars. She's afraid of them. Not just of what they were, but of what they mean. Something's eaten her, and wants more. Always more.

She was eight when her house burnt to the ground. Everybody survived but she was the last one out. Made it out her bedroom window. No one had worried about going back for her.

The flames had sunk their teeth into her back and slithered their way up her spine as she leapt from her window. Broke her ankle in the fall. But she was more worried about the flames licking at her back.

Stop, drop, and roll. Stop, drop, and roll.

Never got the laser surgery to correct the scarring. A tide of old peeling blisters bubbling up her back.

Holly was still snarling at me, unslinging her assault rifle.

"They were stupid enough to get near you and your damn robot Neil. I'm not. You want this over, consider it over."

I reached with a metal arm to my ammo belt. Shells. Locked. Loaded.

"C'mon Neil, you can't hit me, even with that huge cannon. I'm too fast for you."

St. George tensed.

"Still like fireworks Holly?"


"You're about to become one."

Both triggers were pulled at the same time. Rolling to the side, two bullets grazing my calf, landing in the trash. Still moving.

A volcano erupted.

The garbage beneath us lit as the incendiary blew, a tide of flames coming from in the sea. Standing again, a Tulugal rifle in my hand.

Holly was scrabbling down the mound of trash. Saw me coming through the flames over her shoulder. Clothes singed, rifle in hand.

She flipped back onto her feet. Her cheek was smoldering. That's more like it.

No rifle, lost in the gout of the flame no doubt. She still had her knife.

Holly covered the ground between us before I could swing my rifle. Three cuts, two across arms and one across my back.

"It's a gun, not a club Neil. Should've shot me."

Twisted as she came again and drove the butt of the rifle into her stomach, then across her unburnt cheek. She hit the ground and spun on her back. She swept my legts out from underneath me and pounced. I came up with the rifle, pushing her up as she swung her knife for my eye. I drove my knees into her stomach and the air from her lungs and threw her off of me. I came up, rifle pointed at her head. Her knife left her hand and found my trigger hand.

I screamed, trying to shift my grip on the rifle. She was up again, spinning. Her foot met my temple and I saw the ground.

"Should've shot me Neil."

"Wasn't my place to."

"Oh no?"


She was laughing. The one that puts fish hooks in your skin and hangs you out to dry, the laugh that stands on your head in boots and grinds you down just a little bit farther.

I lifted my eyes and smiled.

"Holly, your fruit's gone bad."

The crate was split open wide. Fifty children, no more than seven years old stood together. None of them had eyes, only black pits.

It's the chemicals that do it. The ones in the sewer. None of 'em can see. All blind. Some old freak's down there trying to teach em. I say we go clean out the pipes.

Samson's face was bruised purple, frail body covered with knots. She supported Gremlin. He had his holey pants and ruined shirt back. A pair of cracked hornrim glasses perched on his nose.

Holly was backing away.

"You're not nice. You hurt Misser Griblin. You hurt our friend."

A chorus of voices, all as one.

Holly was shaking, hands in the air.

"Children. No no... No hurting. She not worth it. We are not beasties."

Gremlin, coughing up blood.

Dripping with sweat, soot, and my own blood, I pushed myself up on all fours.

"But I am."

I wrapped a steel hand around Holly. My blood was afire as my Brute glowed red hot. I struggled to my feet, hair blurring my sight. She was thrashing, suit starting to light, flames licking at her. I pulled her down into mound of garbage and released. My steel hand glowing pumpkin orange, I smoothed over the makeshift grave, patting it down. We could still hear her.

Flames reaching out to snap at me, I hobbled up the hill and drove a pipe into the ground at the head of premature grave. I picked up a smoldering Tulugal helmet and set it atop the pipe.

"Holly Ka, daughter of Rafi and Suzanne Ka, age twenty-six."

The ground was still burning under me.

"Died in a fire. Occupational hazard."

My boot laces were on fire.

"Rest in peace."

I aimed St. George skyward. He barked out Holly's last rites.

I fell over. It was warm.

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