previous: CharmanderChar1962 ch3
I dreamt of Henry again, except this time we weren’t trapped in the darkness. Instead, I awoke in a bright sunny desert, like something out of South Dakota, or perhaps Nevada. No, it didn’t feel like the deserts of the south west. The air was usually thick with heat, like a giant blanket, but this place felt calm, cool like a tall glass of ice water. Looking down at my body, I wore a long gown made of crystals with shifting colors. It looked like it should weigh more than it did, making me think it was made of a virtual material.
I walked along the paved road; a long empty highway to nowhere, but it felt nice to be outdoors. A strong gust of wind blew by, causing my dress to billow like a cloud. Instead of pixels pulling together to form a figure, the sand worked like clay, painting to life the image of a tall, older native man. The vision of Henry was strong, rugged, handsome but more than anything he was complete.
I reached out my hand, caressing his face. His skin felt so real; soft and clean, warmed by the sun. His shoulder length black hair was pulled back, with a few strands that fell loose over his dark eyes. He wore a plaid shirt and jeans looking like a typical trucker. My hand was frozen in place, quivering with joy. “You look good, Henry.”
He stroked his hand to his cheek, as if seeing for himself. “I feel great.”
His smile warmed my heart. In my joyous state, I started to speak like a fairytale heroine waiting for her prince. “Does this mean you’ve gained power?”
“You could say that,” he said as he rolled his shoulders stretching his back.
“Have you found anything new?”
“I have been focused on holding open the wi-fi connection, to allow us to cling on to the local 5G network. If we can pull enough attention to Vice’s location, we might be able to put him on the FBI’s radar.”
My smile fell. “Then what? And I supposed to just wait and hope he doesn’t mutilate me too badly? What about your daughter?”
Henry took a step back, away from my touch, crossing his arms in frustration. “Well, what did you learn?”
“He has a PICC line, on his collarbone, connecting into his neck. Now I have never worked in a hospital but I know that no one gets a line put in their neck unless they’re seriously ill; chemo, sepsis, medicated coma. For anything less severe, the line would be in the patient’s arm.”
“You know this how?”
“Let’s just say, I’ve watched people die.”
“Okay little miss bad-ass, what do you suggest?”
I bit on my tongue, savoring the taste, until I could feel blood. My mind suddenly had an idea. “Can we put your mind into Vice’s body? Would that even work? Or would Vice start to decay without his actual soul?”
“You think Vice Paul has an actual soul?”
“How about the how?” I chuckled to myself realizing what I just said.
“Was that a native joke?”
“The how; the process, you know what I mean.”
“If what you say is true, and he has a line in his carotid artery, there might be a way to transmit my electronic imprint directly into his physical body.”
That was some sci-fi movie shit, there. “If we could do that, it would be…”
“Are you doubting yourself?”
“I’m sorry but the decaying zombie image keeps cropping into my mind.
“I believe that will be my problem, not yours.”
Henry’s sense of confidence brought me a little bit of comfort. “Can you see Alicia?”
“I know where my daughter is, but I have no way of reaching her.”
“You know she’s still alive,” I added, assuring myself of that fact. Alicia was stronger; tougher, if anyone stood a chance at defeating Vice Paul, it was her. Except for the fact that she was in a weakened, vulnerable state. “What’s going to happen after she has the baby?”
“I do not know what Vice has instore for her, but rest assured, she will not go down without a fight.”
“You’re not worried?”
“I’m terrified, both for my daughter and my grandchild, but the way I see it, we have only two options.” He reached into the pocket of his shirt, willing a package of cigarettes into existence. This caused him to pause, marveling at his magic. The display of power seemed to give him a sense of hope. Henry looked at his other hand. With a snap of his fingers, he created a small flame.
“What are the two options?” I asked, hoping to get back on track. Henry had power, that was clear but was his power over the digital realm enough to break into the land of the living?
“I’m not dead, neither are you and neither is Alicia. That is our one and only weapon.” He put the cigarette between his lips, taking a long drag. “Oh, that’s nice.”
I nervously looked down at my dress, the jewels became caught in the wind, blowing me backward. “Henry?” I reached for his hand but before I could grab him, a tornado-like blast shoved me away, dragging my body down the road. I screamed as my face hit the pavement. I couldn’t see where I was being dragged to but it was not a place I wanted to be.
I awoke with a jolt. There was a burning, searing pain on my cheek, and blood. I sat up in bed, wiping gravel from my face. Was this the work of Vice? I looked to the bed; he was asleep. I walked to the bathroom and looked in the mirror.
My face was covered in blood, like something out of a horror movie. I turned on the sink, with the goal of washing up, to get a better view of my injuries. ‘It’s ok, you’re ok. At least you’re not dead.’ I closed my eyes, and splashed the handful of water on my face.
In the darkness I felt my raw skin. Little by little the pain went away, as my dried skin seemed to flake off in my hands. After a third splash of water, I opened my eyes. Standing behind me was Henry.
He lifted his hand, stroking my newly healed cheek. “We kill Vice or we die trying; those are the two options.”
As he held me close, I could feel a raw, powerful energy: it was a connection like something out of a movie, one very specific movie. I had not watched ‘Ghost’ in forever (the movie was older than I was,) but in this moment I could feel the intense passion from the famous pottery scene. Except I knew for a fact Henry was not a ghost. “Where is the source of your power?”
Henry looked up, glancing briefly at the ceiling. He blinked once then twice causing the lights to flicker.
This drew my attention to the imbedded wires. There were thick, visible wires laced across the stucco decor. To the naked eye it looked like decoration, but to me (and my ocular implant,) I saw ribbons of active electricity, a river of green, yellow and red. That was how I was able to feel him so strongly; Henry was literally right above my head, raining down on me like a watering can falling in love with a lonely flower. I felt a renewed sense of purpose, even hope. I followed the wires back to the main bedroom, where Vice Paul was asleep on his side of the bed.
He was positioned on his side, so I felt the need to roll him onto his back, letting the colorful lighting illuminate his face. With his freshly washed hair, and unshaven face, he looked sexy, regal. A handsome prince with a unique fragile beauty. Vice coughed in his sleep, causing his chest to spasm, but his eyes remained firmly shut. Did he know I was watching? Maybe. Did he like it?
“I could kill you right now, if I wanted to.” I walked to his desk, opening his laptop. If he was faking it, he could stop me at any time. He could also kill me, so I made it a point to grab an actual weapon to defend myself. Looking around the desk, I picked up an elaborate blade that seemed like a costume piece. The relic the size of my hand, looked like a holographic silver dagger with a scalloped edge. It was pretty but I needed to check if it was functional. Not wanting to destroy anything in the room, I cut a line down my own palm. “Lucky for you,” I said with a chuckle. The blade was very real. “I need to keep you in one piece.” Because of Henry, I was doing this for Henry.
Certainly not due to a twisted sense of admiration. Vice never killed anyone, only ever using his brilliance to enhance humanity. His work would elevate our species to the next stage in evolution. Stop it!
I walked back to the bed, pressing the blade to my captor’s neck. I playfully lifted my open wound to his lips, allowing him to taste my blood. “You like that? It’s what you’ve been joking about right? Your twisted little way of trying to scare me. Or perhaps it’s just your kink.”
Since he was still very much asleep, I decided to take a chance and search through the desk drawers. Maybe I’d find the set of keys (I’d settle for just one key.)
Instead, I found a book. ‘The culture and history of cannibalism, by Vincent Pauletto.’ V.P: Funny. I flipped through it, there were historical accounts of various cultures engaging in cannibalism. Some practices were ceremonial, others were cases of survival. One caught my eye.
During a certain war, during Japan’s time on the wrong side of history, a group of high-ranking soldiers celebrated a victory over the Americans by eating half a dozen prisoners of war. They believed that consuming human flesh would grant them power, strength and courage. It made sense. According to the author’s notes, the more fearful the person was, the more energy the flesh held. This was why it was of utmost importance to only consume the flesh of the living.
I closed the book, putting it back where I found it. I had every intention of getting back into bed, but an alarm went off. It wasn’t loud, just a repetitive beeping sound. I looked to Vice; his side of the bed was vibrating. Was that a silent alarm?
He yawned stretching his back. He blinked his eyes, immediately freezing in place. “What are you doing over there?” He started to sit up; his eyes unblinking, as he stared me down like a vicious, starving predator.
“Sorry, I had to go to the bathroom.”
“You shouldn’t even be awake.”
Before Vice could answer, he licked his lips, noticing the blood. He lowered his eyes and smiled. “Why not indeed, dear Charli.” He was now in a much better mood. Vice stood up, running his fingers through his hair. When he was out of bed, I could see that he wore a pair of jeans with no shirt. I didn’t bother to ask why; it was clear his choice of attire was in order to allow him to keep his collection of keys on his person.
‘How the hell did I not notice that sooner?’ I nodded and bowed. “I wanted to give you a taste of my blood, a gift for all you’ve done for me.”
Vice placed his ring finger to his mouth, biting his nail in contemplation. “Well, since you’re up, might as well come with me.” He picked up a leather jacket off the floor. “Do you want to put something on?”
It was only then I noticed what I was wearing. It was not the gown from my dream, but rather a red, silky bra and panties set. Only when I noticed did I begin to feel goosebumps. I was uncomfortably cold, so I crossed my arms over my stomach. That was when I felt a shot of pain. My lower abdomen had a massive surgery scar. “Where are we going?”
“Does it matter?” he asked, taking a step closer. “Just put some clothes on.” His voice had a tone of anger, but also amusement.
“Okay, sure.” Looking at the open closet, I threw on the nearest jacket. It was an oversize winter coat, the kind that looked like a puffy pillow. The long black coat reached below my hips, allowing for a level of comfort and modesty, despite the fact I was still without pants or even shoes. Rushing to dress, I made an effort to stay by Vice’s side. I couldn’t risk getting left behind since it was fairly obvious, he would lock the door on his way out.
As I followed him down the dark corridor, my decision to forgo shoes started to come in to play. I could feel dirt, gravel and even sharp glass cutting my feet. The situation did not improve when we reached the first of many hand-powered elevators. Vice Paul knew this path by heart, so he didn’t require light to guide him. I had to rely on my night vision, staying focused as he increased his pace. There were several times when I narrowly made it into the elevator, barely avoiding getting the door slammed in my face. It was a privilege to travel with him; if I could not keep up, he would gladly leave me behind in the darkness (where I would likely wander until I died of starvation.)
The deeper we descended the louder (and clearer) the screams became. At first, they sounded like normal cries of terror and/or pain, but the closer we came to our goal destination, the sounds became, well, strange. We approached what I knew to be Alicia’s cell. I expected her to be the one screaming, crying, but no, that was not the case. There were screams all around her, begging for help. In fact, there were more screams than there were prisoners. I closed my robotic eye to confirm this; there were no other adult-sized heat signatures near her cell. There was, however a small one, struggling on the ground.
When Vice Paul slid the door open, it was fairly obvious what happened. He had an alarm set to detect any ‘extra’ heat signatures within the cell. This could have been a cat, a dog, or even an oversized rat however judging by Vice’s wicked smile it was exactly what he expected to fine.
With the entrance widely ajar, the familiar lighting of the Wi-fi LED Christmas lights washed over the scene. Part of me expected to see Alicia holding her baby, protecting the young life with whatever weapons she could find. Instead, she sat on the floor in a pool of her own blood.
Her eyes sparkled with a look of joy. This was accompanied by a creepy smile that looked like something out of a comic book. “Hello, my love,” she said to Vice.
I wanted so badly to stay silent, but my mind forced my mouth to speak. “Alicia, where is the baby?”
Alicia moved her eyes, tilting her head like a doll. “Did I do good, my love?” she asked, speaking in a hypnotic trance, “Will she be the one to heal you?”
Laying on a dirty plastic bag was a squirming, blood covered newborn baby girl. The umbilical cord had been cut, so at least she would remain alive for the time being. She was crying, screaming, usually this was normal for a baby (used as a means of clearing the lungs) but this was a sound of pure terror. This was why every other prisoner was crying out, the echoes of their screams feeding into the atmosphere of madness.
Vice lifted the child in his arms, looking for a moment like an actual father. “She’s perfect. You’ve done well.” He then turned to me. “Hold this for a moment.
“Are we taking Alicia with us?
“Yes, of course. This is a day of celebration. We shall all enjoy the fruits of our labor.
“Okay.” I pursed my lips, keeping my mouth shut for the time being.
Vice lifted Alicia in his arms, carrying her like a bride. I assumed he was taking her to meet her new prosthetic legs; the prize for birthing the beautiful miracle that I held in my arms. It was kind of sweet. This was all good news, nothing to be worried about.
We arrived at the studio floor. Vice carried Alicia to the room where he stored the beautiful, couture-inspired legs. I was still holding the baby. “What should I do with this?”
He motioned to an open door to the right. “Take the meat to the kitchen and prove your loyalty and devotion.”
“Okay,” I said with the widest smile I could muster. “Will do.”
“Good. I look forward to tasting your work.”
That cleared away any doubt: he expected me to cook the baby. Vice closed the door, allowing Alicia some privacy. I could hear him presenting her with the legs. She seemed impressed, showering him with praise. I had to hope she was going to repay his kind gesture with something sexual involving a lot of foreplay (which could buy me some time.) I took a deep breath letting the icy cold air hit my lungs.
‘Where was that air coming from?’ I knew I was on the surface. Outside was New Jersey; freedom, help, salvation. The sound of scratching could be heard from behind the large, four-burner stove. The appliance looked like something from a restaurant supply store. I got on my knees, crawling along the base until I found a sizable hole. It was roughly the size of a cat, or maybe a rabbit. I could hide the baby in there, but I would need something to serve in its place.
I closed my eyes, focusing on my connection with Henry. ‘Are you there?’ I asked in my head. ‘If you can hear me, give me a sign.’ That was when a fluffy white bunny stuck its head through the hole. The creature appeared to be abnormally clean, as if it was someone’s pet. That thought did not stick around, as a jolt of electricity shot through the rabbit causing the animal to fall limp. Needless to say, I jumped back in terror.
‘He gave you that to use as meat, so you don’t have to kill the baby. That’s all.’ With trembling hands, I removed the animal from the (hopefully) dead wires. Now I had something to serve, but I was unsure about putting the baby into the electrified hole. ‘Henry, how do I know she’ll be safe?’
With no immediate answer, I placed the baby on the floor, crawling on my knees to give the hole a closer look. The wires suddenly pulled back, allowing me to see. There was a small, but noticeable light at the end of a long tunnel. I would have given anything to be a cockroach, at that moment. I placed my hand to the wall, to aid in getting back on my feet. That was when I finally heard him.
Henry’s voice echoed through the wall, the tones rippling up my arm with a soothing vibration. ‘A gift for you, Charlotte. A gift for a trade.’
‘My trust, my love.’
The opening was cool to the touch and the tunnel itself seemed to be structurally sound enough to not immediately collapse. ‘Does this lead to the outside?’
Henry answered in the affirmative. Instead of words, his response came in the form of a soft jolt of electricity. I felt energized, empowered. ‘Leave the child with me.’
The words echoed in my mind. What choice did I have? The baby was naked, still covered in afterbirth. I was concerned about the cold; was the baby going to freeze, starve, or something even worse? On the other hand, any fate was better than being cooked and eaten.
I kissed the baby’s forehead. “You don’t understand what’s going on, and that’s probably for the best.” Try as I might, I couldn’t stop the tears from falling. “You’re going to go with a friend of mine; your grandpa. He’s going to take care of you, keep you safe.” The baby looked up at me with her big innocent eyes. I knew that newborns didn’t have great vision. She might have even assumed I was her mother. Either way it took all of my courage to place the baby in the hole. It took even more for me to move a large trash can in front of the entrance, blocking the act from view. It was done. ‘Maybe one day we’ll meet again.’ Now I had to focus on prepping the rabbit.
With the knives available to me, I was able to skin the animal. What remained looked a bit like a human child, but I knew the skeleton would be a dead giveaway. And I still had no clue as to how much time I had. Not wanting to turn on the oven, I opted to use a single pan on a single burner. I cooked individual pieces, plating the medium rare meat in the shape of a human body. I had never eaten rabbit (or a newborn baby) so, I had to hope that my liberal use of spices would cover for my lack of insight.
When my work was nearly complete, I heard the door open. This was followed by the distinct sound of metal legs clomping along the tile floor.
“Is the meal ready?” Alicia asked in her zombie, doll-like, voice.
“Yeah, I guess so.” I motioned to the pile of meat. “I gave it my best shot.”
“I am sure you did well.” Alicia took a step closer, pressing her lips to my ear. “I’m not insane. I know that’s rat meat.”
“This place is full of those things and they can easily grow to be the size of a human child.” Before I could reply, she sank her nails into my neck. “Now, where is my daughter?”
“With Henry,” I replied in a whisper. “He has control of the entire building.” That was not what I’d meant to say. Henry had eyes on the entire facility, at least as far as I knew.
“Okay, good.” Alicia nodded. “We’re all good.” She picked up the plate of food carrying it like a waitress.
“Unless Vice Paul can tell the difference,” I muttered, rushing to keep pace.
“No, we’re good.”
“He did write an entire book on cannibalism, you know that, right?”
“We’re good,” she said in a normal tone of voice, as she opened the door. “In VP’s current state he doesn’t even know where he is.”
I entered to an odd sight; Vice was sitting on a black, leather recliner, connected to an IV bag of neon yellow fluid. His eyes were rolled back, giving him a look of tranquil bliss. “What is that?”
“A little something, I like to call First Nation medicine.”
“Meth mixed with human blood plasma,” she replied, walking her fingers down Vice’s PICC line. “With just a hint of breastmilk.” She leaned over his body, lifting a piece of meat to his lips. “Open wide, for mama.”
Vice moaned, licking his lips. He bit at Alicia’s hand, drawing blood as he slurped down the morsel. “Yum.”
“Can you feel her?” Alicia asked. “The spirit of our baby?” Alicia glanced in my direction before starting to breastfeed the man.
Their explicit act allowed me to catch a glimpse of his key ring. Knowing this was my only chance, I carefully approached, slowly slipping the item out of his pocket.
I took a step backward, making my way out the door. I had every intention of grabbing the baby and running, when I felt a massive hand on my shoulder.
“Just where do you think you’re going?”
next: CharmanderChar1692 ch5