This story gets stranger and stranger the further we travel down the rabbit hole. But maybe some questions are answered tonight. Have you ever noticed though, that when we find answers to questions we also find more questions?
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Stan struggled against the bonds. Fruitless work but he kept trying. The plasticuffs snugged tight to his skin and gave him little room to wiggle free. The girl, she couldn’t have been much older than twelve, had marched him through a series of tunnels below the building.
He didn’t recognize the tunnels, hadn’t known about the city under the city they lived in. This place had become home to rejects and reprobates as far as he could tell. Maybe that was reading too much into it all. She hadn’t spoken since she pulled him from the street and he hadn’t seen anyone else on their trek to their current location.
There had been a pungent odor that followed them through the tunnels, something a bit stronger than the funk of a wet basement. He couldn’t see anything in the near total darkness that surrounded them. There had been a faint glow on the walls as she pushed him along the tunnels. Intermittent fungus that illuminated the path, though only so much that he hadn’t tripped over his own feet.
He was now tied to a wall in a small room at the end of one of the tunnels. The girl sat on a box and watched him. He shifted and squirmed under the unblinking gaze. He wanted to shift out of sight, away from the dull glow on the walls.
Darkness has a strange effect on sound, especially in a quiet tunnel environment. Small sounds that a person would never hear during the day time are amplified. They echo through the darkness and come from everywhere at once. The scuff of feet across dirt floors had grown to the shuffling of an army by the time they were joined by someone new.
Though Stan couldn’t make out the full details he guessed the man’s age to be early thirties. His long beard had been well groomed and braided into a single plait. From his vantage point on the ground he appeared to be at least as tall as Stan.
The man leaned down to whisper in the girl’s ear and she stood up, her movements fluid, not so much liquid but the muscles reacted like the unravelling of a spring, like she had expanded and released when he spoke to her. As she walked to the door she folded back in on herself. Her presence shrunk and tightened.
The man stood over Stan. “You’re the one,” he said. He drew a long knife from the sheathe at his hip. Stan shrunk back as the knife came near his face and then behind him. The man was in a compromising position as he stretched behind Stan though the knife could be pushed through his back, long enough to extend through his heart and out his chest again. With a flick the plasticuffs came free of Stan’s wrists and the man moved away from him.
Stan glanced at the doorway and then back at the man. He could attack, overpower the man in front of him but he didn’t think he could be fast enough to push through the doorway and past the girl. Of the two he felt the girl was the more dangerous, the one more likely to kill him without thought.
“If you’re going to kill me, why don’t you do it and get it over with,” Stan said.
“Who do you work for?” Jack said. He tugged at his beard as he spoke with Stan.
“I run a laundry,” Stan said. “My wife and I been running it for a few years now. We have the papers, keep ’em in order myself.”
Jack scanned the room, looked everywhere but back at Stan. “Listen, we know what you did. She saw it all last night,” Jack said. “So you’re either lying and you knew what you were doing, or you’re a damn fool. And I thought even fools knew enough to leave the inspectors alone.”
“I defended myself, and I was alone. What would you have had me do?”
“That’s where you’re wrong. If we saw it, then so did others,” he said. “You had a visitor today? If not at home then at your work.”
Stan felt the man’s eyes on him again but he couldn’t bring himself to face him. Instead he looked at Streena, watched her movements and then her stillness. The contrast blasted through his mind, neither action felt quite natural to him. “How old is she?” He faced Jack and locked his gaze.
A smile played at Jack’s lips. “Taken a fancy? You don’t want anything to do with the likes of her,” he said. “She is nothing of what she appears.”
“That doesn’t tell me her age, anything else about her for that matter.”
Jack’s visage softened as he looked Stan up and down again. “You are nothing of what you seem either, are you? Maybe, just maybe, you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. And even now circumstances have placed you where you never expected to be.”
“You speak in riddles,” Stan said. “What the hell is going on?”
“She’s one of the lost. Most of their experiments return home none the wiser. But some, some of their tamperings, aren’t so lucky. There are a few like Streena that manage to survive after they have done their damage but only a few.” He stepped over to her and bid her to stand. “These are the unlucky ones. They can never return to the life they once knew. The horrors, the pains, are too much, the changes leave them less than what they were.”
“You’re saying that she isn’t human?”
“No, what I am saying is they made her into something more.”
“You’re crazy,” Stan said. “Isn’t the reality out there enough for you? Or is this what pushed you over the edge?”
Streena lashed out, her movements a blur as she leapt through the space between them. She pinned Stan to the ground with a hand raised above his face. Claws had extended from the tips of her fingers, needle sharp points at their ends. “Take it back,” she hissed. “Jack good, care for me when I had no one else.”
“You might want to do as she asks.” Jack hadn’t moved from his seat. “I have seen her shred others for less.”
He hadn’t noticed it before but in the light and her face so close to his, Stan saw the interplay of flesh colored scales that covered her face. And her eyes, they had a yellowish oval line around her pupils. From a distance it had blended with the blue of the iris, but this close the oddity pulled him into the depths of her eyes. The claws menaced him at the edge of his peripheral vision, but he couldn’t pull away from her eyes. Words failed him, he could find none that would leave his lips.
“Release.” The command from Jack pulled her away from Stan. She kneeled beside Jack and looked to the ground as Stan fought his way to his feet again.
Stan dusted himself off and adjusted his shirt and trousers. “There are others like her?”
“A few that I know about,” Jack said. “Most of the ones who end up like her are dead before they dump the bodies. It’s the experiments, the tamperings that they have been collecting for a while now.”
“Haven’t quite figured that much out,” Jack said. “But we save who we can.”
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