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Authors: Kristina Meister

The One We Feed

BOOK: The One We Feed
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The One

We

Feed

 

 

 

By

Kristina
Meister

 

 

 

 

JournalStone

San Francisco

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright
© 2013 by Kristina Meister

 

All
rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means,
graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping
or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission
of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical
articles and reviews.

 

This
is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations,
and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author’s imagination
or are used fictitiously.

 

JournalStone
books may be ordered through booksellers or by contacting:

 

JournalStone

www.journalstone.com

www.journal-store.com

 

The
views expressed in this work are solely those of the authors and do not
necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby
disclaims any responsibility for them.

 

ISBN:
     978-1-936564-99-6                (sc)

ISBN:      978-1-940161-00-6                (ebook)

 

Library
of Congress Control Number: 2013941612

 

Printed
in the United States of America

JournalStone
rev. date:  August 16, 2013

 

Cover
Design:        Denise Daniel

Cover
Art:              Wayne Miller

 

Edited
by:               Dr. Michael R. Collings

 

 

 

 

For my mother, Karen

Who taught me to sing

 

 

 

 

Chapter
1

 

 

 

 

Déjà vu

I poked the package of powdered
doughnuts and shook my head in disbelief. It was hard to imagine that not four
months ago, I had considered these edible when they were actually more fitting
as nuclear survival shelters for cockroaches.

“You don’t
seriously put these in your mouth?” I asked the person on the other end of the
telephone.

“Wha’s wong
wiff dem?” he managed to say around a mouthful.

“Besides the
fact that they smell like Playdoh?”

We were the
length of the country apart but both sitting in our cars, watching. In the
spirit of the occasion, I had purchased stakeout cuisine. I found that the
stock at the local quickie mart was really quite varied and that absolutely
none of it sounded appetizing in any way. Standing there, reading nutrition
facts, I was almost glad I no longer required food to live.

“I’ve been
less grossed out by people who drink
blood
. Matt, you’re going to give
yourself a heart attack.”

He swallowed
laboriously, “Another one? Oh, hell.”

“You mean you’ve
already
had
one?” I sat back in my car and glanced out the window. Nothing
had changed. Big shock. “Were you on a stakeout at the time?”

“No, I was in
the bull pen.” I could only assume that’s what the homicide detectives called
their grouping of cubbies down at the precinct. It had a certain scrappiness
that reminded me of him.

“Happy you’re
no longer under that kind of stress?”

“Stress?” he
joked. “It was the food that gave me the heart attack, remember?”

I rolled my
eyes. “Oh yeah, and the exhaustion and responsibility were completely manageable.”
For a moment, a pang of loss bit through the cold sarcasm. My sister’s death
had been the moment when my carefully tailored life had finally unraveled.
Having gotten to know Matt since and see how tired he had been, I was more than
a little ashamed that he’d been the person to put me back on my feet,
literally.

In a storm of
crackling plastic, Unger opened something new to shove into his face. “Anything
new?”

“No!” I sighed
and slid lower in my seat. “I mean, I know I’m supposed to be all-suffering now….”

“Since your
enlightenment
,
you mean.” He chuckled, as if my evolution into an all-seeing immortal was
half-assed. I felt like telling him it was an ongoing process, but it wasn’t
like that would have made any difference. Matthew Unger thought of Zen as “that
karate shit.”

“I am so
bored! Arthur keeps saying things will happen as they will, but why can’t they
happen faster!”

One sect of
the Sangha down, only a few dozen remained. When I had signed up to eliminate
immortal strongholds one at a time, no one had said anything about how long it
would take. Sitting in this car for the umpteenth night in a row, tired even
though it was impossible for me to
be
tired, I was beginning to think
that somehow word had gotten out and they’d all gone to their crypts to hide.

Or maybe they’re
waiting for you to file your taxes so they can schedule an audit.
That sounded
like something the Sangha would do when they weren’t throwing people in
hermetically sealed, padded cells so that they could chew off their own limbs.

“He’s right. Stakeouts
take patience.”

“Yeah, well,
since when has Arthur been wrong?” I mumbled. “What about you guys? How’s Sam?”

“Making money
hand over fist. We underestimated the draw of a detective agency to his coffee
shop.”

“Has he
arranged a grouping of mystery and suspense novels at the back for all the
wannabe sleuths who come knocking?” I giggled.

“Blah. There’s
a book club that holds its meetings here once a month. They just finished a
Chandler. Asked me to speak about police procedures.”

I smirked. “I
imagine fact checking James Patterson was exactly the type of retirement you
had in mind.” I plucked the doughnuts off the dash and tossed them into the
passenger seat in disgust. “I’ve been sitting outside of a completely normal-looking
building for almost three weeks! The dental hygienists are starting to talk. Pretty
soon they’ll either call the cops or ask me if I need a cleaning.”

“What are you
waiting for, someone to walk out holding a sign that says ‘Slayers please use
side entrance.’ How do you know you’re even in the right place?”

I glanced
knowingly at myself in the mirror. “It’s the gift of the Buddhas to always be
internally insightful.”

“Whatever. I
have a hard time with all this philosophical, thoughts-as-physical-things-doing-physical-damage
BS.”

I leaned my
head on the steering wheel, trying not to make a
Magic the Gathering
joke. “If people thought about
why
their brains follows certain patterns
instead of steadfastly upholding those opinions, there would be no reason for
conflict, because we would all realize that identities are structures and that
certain reactions are preprogrammed by physiology. We gain and lose weight, dye
our hair, even get elective surgery. How are we so objective about our bodies
that we can do that but for some reason can’t objectify our feelings.”

He snorted. “You
sound like the kid.”

I approved the
remark with a flick to the Batman bobblehead on my dashboard. “The kid” was the
only person I knew who made any sense, and, half the time, he spoke in coding
languages and mathematical jargon. “Sorry. Perfect memory.”

“Well, he
talks so much, some of it is bound to stick in anyone’s head,” Matthew
murmured, but I had stopped paying attention.

Outside my
window, something had finally changed. For the first time in days, a dark car
was moving slowly up the street, easing into the narrow loading zone at the
front of the cramped, brown-stucco office building. Several men got out, each wearing
an immaculate black suit, earpiece, and cuff mic, the old Sangha uniform.

“Fucking
cockmongers,” I whispered. “Smiths.”

But they were
not alone. They dragged a smaller shape that, even amongst the shadows of a
moonless night, my perfect eyes could distinguish as a little girl. Tiny though
she was, she pulled, kicked, and snarled, her bony elbows and knees turning her
from a sweet child into an enraged insect stuck in a web. She had rich cocoa
skin and dark eyes, but her hair was patchy and covered in filth. Her clothes
were tattered, dirty, as if she’d been held prisoner in a basement somewhere,
which she probably
had
been.

I felt the
chill of recognition weave up through my vertebrae. She was their captive, as I
had been, but unlike me she was defenseless. She couldn’t be more than ten or
so, and from her bearing I could see she was no deceptively youthful immortal
like Jinx. She was a little girl, terrified and alone. A familiar rage set my
teeth on edge.

“Matt, will
you call the cavalry and tell them I’ve finally gotten lucky? I’ve gotta go.”

I heard him
click off the loudspeaker, “You got it, Ninja Girl, but be careful.”

“Come on, I’m
invincible.” I turned on the ignition.

“You didn’t
let me finish. Be careful you don’t hurt anyone who doesn’t deserve it.”

“Aw, shucks.” I
hung up and put the pickup into drive, debating what I should do. I could race
in and save the girl, or I could just observe. She could be dangerous, like the
eyeless monsters in the cellars of the first sect we’d undone, but, ever the
Big Sister, I yearned to help her.

As I came
level with the scene, with no time left for indecisiveness, the men turned and
looked in the direction of my coasting truck, and the girl, wits evidently
intact, made use of the distraction, managing somehow to slip from their grasp.

It seemed almost
impossible, physically, as if she suddenly disassembled and reformed beside
them in a robotic, stop-motion kind of grace that left my stomach turning. Her
captors were left looking after her in shock, their handcuffs and fists still
closed. With a speed I knew had to be preternatural, she darted from the
darkness and directly into the path of my truck.

I slammed on
the brakes, expecting to feel the sickening crunch of the massive vehicle
rolling over her tiny frame, but with no warning, she leaped into the air and
landed, still growling, atop the hood, as elegantly as a winged creature.

I shot a look at
the men, just in time to see them running for her and, not one to question
fate, put the hammer down. The girl flattened herself on the hood, feral and lithe
in the night, perched like some kind of bizarre hood ornament. In the amber
light from the streetlamps, her eyes seemed to glow red, and in them was the
expression of wild, animal instinct, of terror. She could not see me, did not
know me for a friend. She was mad.

Emaciated, her
bones jutted out at sharp angles to her torso. Thin skin was healing over a
split lip. Her teeth were bared, and to my shock I realized that they were much
larger than they should have been, and sharper, too. Her hands seemed
overlarge, and long, dark claws curving out of her nail beds hooked into the
plastic and steel of my truck. Salivating, her back slightly arched, she was
unlike any Arhat I had seen before. She didn’t even look like any
human
I’d
seen before.

As we rounded
the corner, the henchmen still bounding after us in my rear view mirror,
another car came around the bend. I hit the brake. As I did, the girl was
thrown forward.

I gasped as my
seat belt caught, for she was flying through the air, twisting like a cat. She
didn’t hit the other vehicle but rebounded
off
it into a flying leap,
arms reaching to grasp at whatever they found first. Before I could even make
the turn, she had taken off down the street like a greyhound. Staring after
her, my mouth wide, I didn’t even notice the black car growing larger in my
mirror.

It slammed
into me going full force and knocked the wind out of me, sending my pickup
skidding into the other car. There was a crunch, the sound of glass sprinkling
the hard surfaces of auto and road. Smashed between the two cars, I was unable
to follow the girl, and, as I turned around and looked at the driver’s face, I
could tell that that had been his intent.

Behind his,
another sleek luxury car had exited the parking garage and was turning down a
side street, on a collision course with the poor escapee.

Swearing, I
threw open the car door. The innocent driver was shaking his head in wonder as
he slid across the seats to the passenger door.

“What the fuck
were you doing?” he was demanding of me, but, seeing he was all right, I didn’t
bother to answer. I shot a glare at the Arhat behind the wheel of the black car
and decided to show them what they hadn’t seen coming.

I took a deep
breath and flexed every muscle, then with a burst of speed and strength born
from complete focus, leaped over the joint where metal and plastic were crushed
together, landed like a hare, and took off after the girl.

I didn’t know
where she had gone, but something told me to run and she would find me.

Trees, homes,
and signs whizzed past me as I tore down the street, a dark blur, my eyes
tracking right and left, catching glimpses of colors and shapes. I spotted the
car, two blocks ahead of me, screeching around a corner, and raced after it. It
was skirting a park darkened by trees and shrubs. They were shining flashlights
from the windows, searching for barefoot prints in the soft soil. I lurched
across the street and, before they could stop me, shot diagonally through the
park.

Behind me, the
engine revved. They had spotted me and were moving to intercept.

Better me than
her,
I
thought, just as I came out between two fence posts and sped through a
crosswalk. As they caught up to me, the roar of the engine an ominous growl, I
halted like the Road Runner and turned to stare them down.

The car slowed
to a stop, the garish moons of their headlights burning my eyes. I crossed my
arms defiantly as the doors opened and closed, expecting them to tackle me at
any second. But suddenly a shadow swooped between us. Something wet spattered
my face. I leaped back and looked at the cement at my feet.

The girl’s
body lay mangled before me, lifeless. Her blood and brain matter covered us all
from head to foot.

I sat bolt
upright in a cold sweat and sucked in air. Sunlight set the border of the heavy
blackout drapes aglow. Jinx had his headphones on and was muttering over his
computer in French, vogueing like a nutcase with a hand stuck in his red hair
and another gesticulating at a webcam. I breathed a sigh of defeat.

That made
three attempts, none successful.

“Hey,
shortbus?” I muttered to the technocrat.

He swiveled in
his captain’s chair. “Progress?”

“Maybe, but
more importantly, how do you feel about powdered doughnuts?”

BOOK: The One We Feed
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