previous: Charmanderchar1692 ch6
In the hours to follow, I had been allowed to bathe and was given a new outfit to wear. It was a metallic green cocktail dress that looked like something out of the late eighties. The clothing itself was surprisingly warm, possibly made from the same material as those mylar thermal sleeping bags. pulling my legs to my chest I was able to sleep comfortably on the cold tile floor of the bathroom. Yes, it was the same bathroom I’d been put in on my first day; Vice Paul’s private bathroom, complete with the desktop computer attached to the tower that got me into this mess. Unfortunately, I was never left alone long enough to check out the computer for myself.
The next few hours were filled with tests. Vice experimented with the Wi-Fi capabilities of my robotic eye (or at least that’s what he was saying.) He sat at the desktop computer, downloading files, extracting files, even attempting to increase the storage space. This would have been fine if my head was made of plastic and metal.
Unfortunately, I was forced to endure the burning, stinging sensation as my eye socket became overheated. I wanted to run for the door (as dumb as that sounded) but the moment I tried to stand up, I could feel the two big strong arms of ‘H’ grabbing me in a bear hug.
‘Henry,’ I repeated over and over in my head, as the searing pain tore through my body. It was a prayer, all I had to hang on to. Was this massive man really my friend in disguise? Was he playing a role, waiting for the right moment? Or was he willing to watch me die to save himself? No, I can’t think that.
Although I did feel like I was going to die. My good eye rolled back into my head. I was dizzy, nauseous. Was I crying?
“I think that’s all she can take,” H said, allowing me to collapse in his arms.
Vice was still seated at the computer. “Her usefulness is entirely dependent on her ability to be upgraded remotely.” The sound of his voice trailed off.
“Give her a moment!” H snarled. “She’ll be no good to you dead.”
“I…” Vice’s voice sounded digital, as he faded in and out.
I held my head to my guardian’s chest. Judging by the rhythm and intensity of his breath, I could practically hear their conversation. The two men were arguing calmly, chuckling, agreeing. ‘What are they agreeing on?’ Trying to hear was resulting in further agony, instead, I focused on his heartbeat.
“Let’s say I agree with your plan,” Vice said with confidence. “What do you propose I do until then?”
“How about you bring us some food?”
I assume Vice agreed because I could hear the faint sounds of footsteps leaving the room. I attempted to breathe, but my chest refused to inflate.
The door reopened; Vice returned with a plastic grocery bag full of items, instead of handing them to his loyal guard he flung the bag in our general direction, sending the contents flying; bottled water and really stale off brand protein bars.
H waited until Vice left us alone. He sat with his body turned, eyes locked in the direction of the door, as our captor made his exit. I expected him to get up and reach for the supplies but instead, I could feel him rocking me gently like a child. “Try not to cry, Charlotte, that will only make the pain worse.”
“Ok, sure.” I knew that he was correct. My eyes could not function independently, so when one was crying tears of pain the other also excreted a dark, watery substance (a mix of water, blood and possibly battery acid.)
H used his wrist to wipe the liquid from my upper lip, moments before it entered my mouth. “Hold your focus, Charli. The more you can endure the stronger you will become.”
“Thank you, I’ll try.” I blinked back tears, but that did little to fix the leak in my prostatic eye. this resulted in more pain, more tears and soon my vision was flickering. my eyes were flashing between every possible setting; a map, darkness, a blinding light, red, fire.
There was a flashing pain, like I was getting punched in the face while being boiled alive. I could no longer feel Henry or H or anyone. I couldn’t feel the floor, the air. There was only pain, all pain. “Take it out!” I screamed. At least I think I screamed. I knew my mouth was open, but no sound was coming out. I couldn’t even feel myself breathing. ‘Henry?’ Was he holding me? Was he even there?
There was a soft pressure on my hand, one horizontal line, one vertical line another horizonal line. I wanted so badly to close my hand, but pain shot through my arm, down my back. I was going to die; my heart was going to stop or explode, or both. That would be a welcome relief.
I felt it again; two lines and a third line, the gentle pressure tickled my palm. it was an H. He was trying to tell me he was still here.
‘Close your hand,’ I said out loud to myself. I no longer had the ability; my nerves were on fire. All I could do was flail like a dying fish. I felt myself vomiting up water.
“Hush now,” Henry’s voice spoke directly into my mind. “Focus on my hands. I’m holding you and I won’t let you go.”
Every muscle in my body was sore, and it felt like I had been crushed, torn, and twisted before being put back together.
“Just rest. You’re going to survive this.” His words made me want to cry even more. “Are your folks still alive?”
I shook my head. I mean they weren’t dead, just no-contact. It had been years since I saw my mother and as far as I knew, my father remarried and lived somewhere in California.
“Just know this, I’m not going to leave you.” He continued to hold my head to his chest, stroking my hair in a rhythmic pattern.
As I focused on his heartbeat, my breath began to match. It was calming, peaceful. With the pain slowly subsiding I was able to open my eyes. “Henry?”
He looked down, stroking his large scar covered fingers to my face. “Here,” he said as he turned to the nearest bottle on the floor. “Have some water.” He repositioned my limp body, resting my head on his shoulder.
I panicked for a moment, assuming he was going to attempt to force a water bottle into my mouth (that would have likely resulted in choking, further vomiting or worse.)
Henry took a drink first, devouring half the bottle. He sighed, leaning his head back in pleasure. It was clear he had gone for longer than necessary without food or water for my benefit. He poured a teaspoon of water into his palm, holding the sip to my lips. this resulted in me receiving just a taste. “Let’s try that again.”
“It’s fine. I’ll be fine.”
“Just let me have one more try.” Henry moved his hand closer, lifting my face. His mouth was so close to mine I could feel the warmth of his breath.
I couldn’t help but smile. Henry poured another handful of water. I leaned in closer, and kissed his palm as I sipped. “Thank you.”
“Rest now.” Henry kissed my forehead. “We have a big day tomorrow.”
“Right.” That night, H took to the computer himself while I slept on a bed made of packaged toilet paper. Eventually I closed my eyes, allowing my soul to finally rest. Whatever was to come, at least I would have Henry by my side.
I assume Henry slept against the wall or maybe at Vice’s computer desk, but I had reason to believe he never went to sleep at all.
The next morning, I was awoken by a pair of hands putting an opaque cloth bag over my head, while another pair of hands forced me to my feet. I didn’t bother to scream. Instead, I focused my breathing. The silky fabric tasted like lavender, sage, and perhaps laundry soap.
I was walked outside, despite a lack of shoes, towards a running vehicle. Hearing the sound of the engine, my heart was in my throat. Survival 101: don’t get in any vehicles, at least not without a fight. Every muscle in my body wanted to run; my hands weren’t bound, neither were my legs. I could fight, I could get help, but no. That was not an option.
I couldn’t leave Henry behind. He wouldn’t do that to me, so I couldn’t do that to him. That, and I needed to find out the truth of what happened to Claire and Annaleigh.
I allowed myself to be shoved into the back of a van. I scooted to the side, pressing my back against the cold metal wall. This turned out to be the correct move, since I was immediately followed by a heavy clunk. I would have assumed the mass was a dead body if not for the fact it was cursing in Spanish.
‘Henry!’ My heart fluttered. This was karma awarding me for not being a coward. Or at least I hoped it was.
The door slammed shut. At least two people entered the front of the van, with one of them shifting the vehicle into drive. Apparently, we had to go on a road trip.
“My ear hurts,” I said with a groan, leaning my head against the windowless door of the van. I removed the bag, allowing me to see who or what had been thrown in with me.
“Is the pain on the same side as your eye?” Henry asked. He was sitting across from me, with his long legs stretched out in front of him.
“I guess so,” I groaned, as I attempted to clear my ears by yawning. “I think I just have a headache.”
Henry pursed his lips and nodded. “Hopefully you will recover by the time we make it to our final destination.”
“Which is what?” I asked, moving to sit closer.
“You’ve heard of Comic-Con, right?”
“Um, yeah.” I racked my brain to think of a reply. “Are we going to San Diego?”
Henry paused, choking back laughter. “Oh, heck no. Clearly you’ve never actually set foot in that freakshow.”
“Screw you,” I said, playfully slugging his arm. “I love Comic-Con.”
“Well, rest assured, we are going to a convention.” He handed me a plastic grocery bag with a minimal number of supplies.
“Thanks, I guess,” I muttered while looking through the gas station store bounty. There was a single water bottle, two protein bars, a keychain size bottle of hand sanitizer, a small hairbrush (like something meant for a child, or a cat) and a compact. I looked up at Henry. “Are we really going to help VP get more victims?”
“No, we’re just acting as backup. Just don’t be surprised if people think your eye is part of a costume.”
“So, you’re saying I need to look my best for all the photo ops?” I opened the compact, curious if I was actually being given a mirror.
“Let’s just say this is a convention for people who think Twilight was inspired by a true story.”
“Did you just reference Twilight?” I giggled nervously. Clearly, we were going to some kind of off-brand comic con.
The van jolted as the driver made a sharp turn. “Dumbass!” shouted a female voice. Alicia’s hand slapped the driver’s arm. “I told you the onramp was in forty-five meters!”
“If you don’t put away that fucking GPS app,” Vice gripped Alicia’s wrist, slamming her arm against the dashboard.
I locked eyes with Alicia. “Hi.”
Instead of replying, she slid the window closed.
“Whatever,” I muttered, resting my head on Henry’s shoulder. With any luck I could get a few hours of sleep before we arrived.
i closed my eyes, but was unable to sleep. we knew better then to talk, so we rode in silence, listening for any clues from Vice and Alicia’s arguing.
The van made a turn, followed by a series of speed bumps. we were entering a parking garage. All around I could hear voices; crowds talking, laughing. The voices faded away as we pulled in to a parking spot. As the van came to a stop, the door swung open revealing our location.
“Influ-con?” I read aloud. The banner was stretched across the length of the parking lot, punctuated with logos of various sponsors; Facebook, Instagram, the Chinese video site of the day, etc. I stepped out prepared to walk on my bare feet, when Alicia reappeared,
“Here,” she said handing me a cardboard box. “Don’t look so surprised, it’s just shoes. Also, fix your makeup. You need to look like a brand ambassador.”
“A what now?” I opened the box to reveal wedge heels spray-painted to match my dress. The soles were rubber, while the heel was made of memory foam. I was not sure if they were my size, but putting them on, I could feel the elastic conforming to the shape of my feet. ‘Not bad.’
I stood up, now a good six inches taller. I looked around to figure out where exactly we were. Looking for a source of light, I saw the answer; a massive guitar framed in the sunlight of the nearby beach. The event was being held in the Atlantic City branch of the Hard Rock hotel and casino.
Judging by the crowd I assumed ‘influ’ was short for ‘influencer’ (as opposed to some sort of medical convention.) There were people dressed to impress; women with tight clothing, exposed skin and tight muscular abs. (It was fitness chic; lululemon with a hint of Fashion Nova and Hot topic.)
Alicia handed Henry a pile of business cards with Vice Paul’s website info. “Try to see if you can drum up some business.”
On the top of the pile was a plastic card with a shiny holographic chip. “What’s this?” I asked while not so subtly taking it for myself.
Vice rolled his shoulder, cracking his neck in an intimidating manner. “You are to walk around the convention. You are free to explore the various vendor booths and even spend money, as the card will allow.”
“What’s the limit on the card?” I asked. The question seemed logical, but prompted only laughter from Vice and Alicia.
She laughed hard, resting her head on his chest like a fangirl. “Aww, little Charli thinks you gave her a free credit card. That’s cute.”
Vice sighed, and put his arm around her. “Anything you attempt to buy will trigger a notification on my end, understood?”
I rolled my eyes. “So, does that mean you’ll find us when you’re ready to go home?” I put my arm around Henry’s waist. If Alicia was Vice’s date, then Henry was mine.
We entered the convention through separate ‘press only’ doors. No one asked for a ticket or even any proof that we were supposed to be there. I guess when a volunteer wearing a neon yellow shirt and a lanyard sees a giant with a robotic eye, escorting a man made of metal their first instinct is to just roll with it.
I hung off of Henry’s arm, following his lead as I searched for a map.
There were many booths. Most were open stalls with people selling handmade body jewelry, and other augmentations. There was even a section where tattoo artists were working on customers while crowds of fans cheered them on.
In the corner was an overpriced snack bar section. I could see there was a Starbucks set up. “I think we should head over there.”
Henry was already looking in the same direction. “Not a bad idea.”
The line was massive. I stood inline with the credit card (because I was seriously hungry,) while Henry talked to people. Some took a business card, while others (the majority) wanted a photo with his amazing ‘costume.’
When I got to the front I ordered a large black coffee for Henry, but I was at a loss as to what I wanted for myself. Chocolate cake, muffins, cookies, scones, eggs, sandwiches; my stomach was getting nauseous just thinking about it. “Sorry I’ll just have a sugar cookie.” I attempted to hand her the card, but to my surprise, the cashier declined.
I looked up at her. She was a pretty blonde with unique solid black eyes. I couldn’t tell if they were tattooed or just the result of costume contact lenses. And then she blinked.
Her left eye changed from full black, to a pink star, then a vertical striped pattern reminiscent of the French flag. “I like your eye.”
She discreetly placed her hand upon mine. “Have you seen the neon land?
“No, sorry I just got here.”
“You should check it out.” She flicked her hand backward handing off the receipt to a coworker who gathered my order.
By the time I was able to reunite with Henry he was surrounded by fans with colorful hair, gauged ears and bright chunky body jewelry. I handed Henry the coffee posing with a sweet kiss to his cheek.
“Well, thank you, love.” Henry turned his lips to mine. “I got rid of all the cards, and I think I know where we need to head next.”
“Neon room?” I asked.
One of his fangirls answered, “You mean the neon land?”
“Yeah,” I said with a big, supermodel smile (as if I wasn’t a total poser.) “That’s what I’ve heard.” I put both of my arms around Henry, holding him like a backpack while enjoying my breakfast drink. “Where do you think it is?”
A girl with green and black braids was laughing at me. “Yeah, what you- do you think it is, baby?” She kissed Henry’s cheek, gliding her pierced tongue along one of the silver scars on his face. “Let’s ditch this muggle bitch.”
“Muggle bitch?” I put down my snack while taking one last sip of my coffee. “Is that a Harry Potter reference?”
“What about it?” The girl was short, maybe five feet without the use of her high heeled knee-high boots.
I was able to look down on her. Channeling Vice, I shot her my most intimidating, glare. I wanted so badly for her to shove me in the chest, anything to give me a reason to fight her. ‘Why? Why was I so angry?’ My body felt strange. My heart was racing, my lungs were on fire. It was all I could do to remain standing. Thankfully my blank stare was coming off as tough as opposed to needing urgent medical attention.
Henry picked up my drink with one hand while shifting my weight with his other. This allowed me to ride on his back like a toddler. With his new friends leading the way, we went past the main area, down a dark hallway, to a central floor lit up with blacklight. A few people were dancing to music from an unseen speaker. The deep, rumbling dubstep beat was just loud enough to dance to while staying soft enough to not impede conversation.
I pressed my lips to Henry’s ear. “I want to look around.”
“Are you feeling up to it?”
“Yeah, I’m good.” I looked around for a chair. In the corner of the room there was a bench painted with glow-in-the-dark graffiti. “No matter what happens, we meet back at that bench before leaving the area. Whoever gets there first will wait as long as it takes, understand?”
Henry nodded. “I’ll sleep there if I have to.” He was already getting pulled away by the others, walking towards a booth that looked very BDSM in nature.
Next to the bench was a booth that sold incense. It smelled like cotton candy and strawberries, with just a hint of marijuana. I leaned my head back, arching my neck until I could see the wall behind me. That was when I noticed it.
‘The innovative curse of Claire Milette.’ The gold writing was along the spine of a book. I sat up, looking for the owner. The booth was run by a figure wearing a hajib; the kind of traditional Muslim dress that covered everything except the wearer’s eyes. Except those were usually black, modest pieces. What this person wore was made entirely of metallic gold fabric that shimmered in the florescent light.
“Hello?” I said, approaching the very still figure. I couldn’t even tell if it was a man or a woman. “I’m interested in the book over there, the one about Claire Milette.”
The figure’s eyes perked up. “Are you a fan of her work?”
“Actually I am.” I made a point to lock eyes with her. (Judging by the voice, I assumed she was female.)
“Do you take credit cards?” I handed her Vice’s card.
The woman was about to speak, when she caught sight of something on the plastic. Her pale pink fingers gripped the card, stroking an area where the name and number would be. I had not noticed any kind of lettering but somehow, she could feel something that I could not. “I usually don’t take card.” She nervously released her hold, turning around to grab the book. “Here, you can have it for free.”
“Are you sure?”
“Anything for a fan.”
I meant to grab the book, but my sweaty hands let it drop, hitting the table hard. A few of her incense displays were knocked over, as the book opened to a page about the famous monkey head transplant experiment. In photos, the doctor was kind and gentle as he caressed the animal’s face, but I knew the story; the living monkey’s head was removed and attached to another living body. The creation survived for only a few hours. “This was from Russia, right?”
“The monkey experiment?” the woman asked as she returned to her chair, having cleaned up any open flames. “No that was done by Dr. Robert J White of Minnesota.”
“In the United States?”
“Yup, I actually studied under one of his partners. The man was truly a genius.” She turned the page to a new set of images. “These were from the Russian experiments. They used stray dogs. I imagine that was because monkeys were not as readily available.”
The dogs in the photos were mutant creations with multiple heads and limbs. I imagined they were all dead as well. “Wow that’s fascinating,” I said with a smile drawn from both fear and admiration.
“Would you like to see more?” She motioned to the decorative curtain that made up the back part of her stall.
“Sure.” I followed her down a short hallway, around a corner, to a beaded doorway. This seemed to be the place for serious innovators. The space was small, with six rows of benches similar to the one I had sat upon earlier.
I took a seat in the back row, trying my best to disappear into the darkness of the far corner. (As much as that was possible in my bright green dress.)
A few minutes later the woman took a seat by my side. “Sorry for the wait, I had to post up my lunchbreak sign.”
A few more people entered the room. I paid no attention until I caught sight of Alicia’s metal legs. “Alicia?” I said out loud.
She turned to me with a look of terror, before clutching the hand of the person entering behind her. Vice was, of course, with her and she was making a not-so-subtle effort to keep him from looking in my direction.
The woman beside me giggled as she removed her veil. Her long red hair flowed down her shoulders. “Do you know why Vincent hated his father?”
“Something about the death of his mom? I know she died of cancer.”
“Yeah, cancer. That was why the body went missing.” She removed the rest of her hajib, revealing a black t-shirt and jeans. This allowed her to blend in. She turned her veil inside out before putting it back on her head. It now appeared as if she had dark blonde hair. “He tried to save her. That’s all we ever wanted to do.”
“Save her?” I asked, already knowing I would not receive an answer.
The lights started to flicker. The woman smiled. “Sit back and enjoy the show.”
next: Charmanderchar1692 ch8