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Authors: Kristina Meister

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BOOK: The One We Feed
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Something
clicked. The halos of color instantly fizzled out. The fury I had felt earlier
that day clouded my judgment but somehow sharpened every move I made. Like a
mother bear, I charged and jammed the man’s wrist into the air as he fired.

The muzzle
flare burned my hand, but the sensation was so distant from my consciousness that
it might as well have happened to someone else. I stepped forward and with all
my considerable strength bent his arm back on itself the wrong way. There was a
crack, like celery being twisted. The man screamed and tumbled backward. The
others tried to draw on me, too, but I was not a scared woman any more. I was a
raging inferno.

I grabbed one
man’s face and brought it down onto my knee. I felt his skull crack. Blood
slicked my leg. A second gunshot rang through the hall and deafened my right
ear for a moment. Incensed, I swung around and hit the man across the face so
hard his jaw broke, hanging at a sickening angle. A third man staggered away,
his right forearm a bloody pulp. Then I heard the ding and a strangled cry.

“Come on!”

I turned. The
elevator was open. Jinx was leaning against the button panel, his finger
pressing the “door close” button. I sprang forward. A third gunshot echoed
around me as I slammed into the back of the elevator. The doors closed on their
carnage and the Muzak wafted by.

“I...hate...this
fucking song,” Jinx gasped. “Where is…Ipanema...anyway?”

I reached out
for him; something in his voice sounded wrong. He didn’t resist me as I peeled
him from the panel and turned him. A dark red stain was growing across his
midsection, until the whole front of his stomach and pelvis were crimson. I
looked him in the eye, certain it had to be a mortal wound.

“Jesus, Jinx! Keep
pressure on it!”

“Don’t worry…,”
he coughed. “Just keep going.”

The elevator
slid into place and the doors opened. I took hold of his arm and pulled him
over my shoulder. Contestants in the three legged race from hell, we hobbled
toward the front door, until the ding called me to my senses.

“Lily, the
elevator!”

I took only a
half-second to prop him against the glass of the window, then spun around and
raced back to the doors. The arrow on top indicated that the elevator was going
up, but up from where? With a glance at my bleeding friend, I planted my left
foot and kicked the two doors as hard as I could with the right. The metal dented
nicely, but not enough. Two more good, solid, preternatural kicks, and it
folding like a paper crane. The emergency light flashed, and an alarm sounded
in the metal cage trapped in the shaft just beyond. The doors tried to open but
ground in their tracks. Satisfied that our pursuers would not be leaving it
anytime soon, I turned my attention back to the boy.

“Totally
against building codes anyway.”

“Where’s a
clipboard jockey…when you need one, eh?” He sagged against the window,
breathing shallowly, his face waxen. When I again shouldered his weight, he
felt limp against me. “Sorry I...stabbed you, Lily,” he coughed. “I….”

“Don’t worry
about it, Jinx.” I carried him around the tailgate of the truck, threw open his
door, and shoved him inside as hastily as I could. He sank into the seat with a
moan and gripped his stomach. Desperately I pressed my hands over his. My eyes
caught sight of the glove compartment.

Did he?

I popped it
open. Stuffed inside was a shiny metal bag. The label read “U.S. Army Issue
Celox Coagulant Pack.” The sense of things predetermined clotted in my chest.

“Today
officially
sucks,” I whispered.

 

 

 

 

Chapter
5

 

 

 

 

The
Revolutionary

 

We sat in silence while the
neon sign blinked obstinately, insisting that the best hamburgers in the north
could be found there. Based on the fact that ours was one of three cars in the
parking lot and that there were a waitress and presumably a cook inside, I felt
as if I knew why the sign was so large. Seagulls pecked at the ground near an
overflowing dumpster. Pothole puddles were being used as bathing tureens. The
moisture in the air stuck to everything, forming a thick cloud across the
windshield, made worse by his labored breathing.

I looked at
him; the coagulant powder had turned his blood into a disgusting sanguine
jello, but his bleeding had stopped, and that was the important thing. I began
to reach for him several times but stopped myself. As Arthur had said, the boy
was not a boy. He was, in fact, my senior by many years. I was acutely aware of
these facts, but I couldn’t help it. Mortality was still a loud clanging in my
mind, tolling for someone, if not for me.

“Are you okay?”
I whispered.

He leaned
back, clutching the damp spot. “Fuck no!” he growled, his pain and anger
sounding slightly more Gallic than usual. “Why do people always ask that? I
just got shot, for Christ’s sake!”

I swallowed,
my hands glued to the steering wheel. The last twenty-four hours had contained
so much, but none of it mattered just then. “What do you need?”

He pointed at
the over-compensatory sign. “
Mon Dieu
, I know it’s bullshit, but that
sounds delicious!”

The laugh that
tumbled out surprised even me, but soon I was getting out of the car and
helping him to the door of the diner. Inside, the young waitress gave us a
wide-eyed grimace, her hoop earrings swinging.

“Oh my god,”
she said, with absolutely no emotion in her voice.

Jinx managed
to stand erect. “It ain’t mine.”

“Oh,” she
said, and grabbed two menus. “Table by the window okay?”

I snorted, but
in a moment we were sitting beside a bottle of ketchup that looked like it had
never been washed, two forks rolled up in thin napkins, and a sticky, laminated
fountain-drink menu. Glancing around, I realized why they weren’t worried about
the potential biohazard sitting across from me. I tried not to touch anything,
and, as she walked away, leaned forward.

“You’re not
dying, are you?”

“Screw you!” He
sent me a wry look. “It’s not the first time I’ve been shot in the gut.”

I leaned back.
The more irascible he sounded, the better I felt. “Right...okay.”

She came back
with two glasses of water. “What can I get you to drink?”

“I’d like a
plate of lemons for my water, if that’s okay,” I began, and when she looked at
me as if I’d committed a venal sin, I rounded out the order with, “and a cup of
your strongest caffeinated beverage for the kid.”

Jinx shifted
uncomfortably and slapped a bloody hand on the dirty table. “No, no fucking
metabolic boosters. I’m werewolf, fucking hungry! I need meat—the biggest,
thickest, bloodiest steak-ground thing you make, A-sap. I’m talking still
mooing. Hell, just bring the fucking cow out, and I’ll gnaw a piece off it.”

Her eyes sought
mine for a translation. I glanced at the menu and tried to smile, as if it was
all an inconvenient joke from someone who just didn’t get it. “Bring the coffee
anyway, and the largest, rarest steak you make, please.”

“Soup or
salad?”

“You have
either?” I replied, stunned.

Her head
tilted upward snootily, as if it should be obvious that the fog wasn’t strong
enough to keep
all
culture out. “Yeah. Which one?”

I glanced at
the boy. His eyes were so narrowed that I thought he might have developed laser
vision. It was clear that he did not want to waste energy on words.

“What kind of
soup?”

“Chicken.”

Meat
.
Perfect
.
“Soup.”

She scribbled.
“Vegetable or beans?”

“Um.” I waved
at the air. Beans had protein. “Beans.”

“You want
toast or biscuit?”  

“Look, woman,
I don’t fucking care what kind of carbohydrate you put on the stupid plate!”
Jinx roared. “We both know it’s just a butter-delivery device so just get me
the fucking steak!”

“Jinx,” I
hissed. I glanced at her; her mouth had fallen open. “I’m sorry,” I lied. “He’s
in shock. He needs protein. He’ll have a biscuit, thanks.”

She looked
unconvinced but stomped away, tossing sassy looks over her rounded shoulder.

I sat still,
as if nothing were the matter. The last thing we needed was for the cops to
walk in. I smiled artfully at Jinx, turning my control over my muscles into a
performance for the Academy. “She could spit in it, you know.”

“I don’t
fucking care if she pees in it.”

To my
surprise, he picked up the glass of water and began to gulp it down, then tossed
himself back and squeezed his eyes shut. He seemed to be in a great deal of
pain, and as I looked at his midsection, I could see that the false clot was
shifting from the open wound in his stomach. Perhaps because of its
interference, the gap was not knitting shut as quickly as mine had, nor did it
seem to be as clean a closure. I was tempted to ask about it but was certain
that if I did, he would grab the plague-carrying ketchup and fire. I sat there,
feeling useless, until a memory hit me.

“I’ll be back.”
I got up and walked to the bar counter. She was standing there, a tray in front
of her, my tiny plate of dried-out lemon slices waiting beside the saucer for
the extra-strong coffee she was making. As I walked up, she seemed to retreat
into the appliances.

I smiled, but
we both knew it was a compulsory gesture.

“Do you sell
memorabilia?”

“Huh?” Her
ponytail swung as her head slid back on her shoulders in confusion. “You mean
T-shirts and stuff?”

“Yes,” I
sighed. “I’d like one.”

Her eyes
twitched in Jinx’s direction. He was busy emptying the sugar packets into my
glass of water and stirring like a madman.

“Yes, for him.”

She walked
over to the glass cabinet and unlocked the sliding door. When she emerged, she
had a bright red shirt that bore the logo of the restaurant and a black shirt
embossed with the words “BIG MEAT.”

I pointed at
it.

“You sure?”

“Definitely.”

She shrugged
and tossed it at me, lapsing into a grin as if it was a bet she’d just won. “I’ll
put it on your bill.”

“Thanks.”

On the way
back to the table, I snagged the ice-water pitcher and a second box of sugars. When
they appeared beside him, the boy looked up at me as if I were a saint. He was
using a teaspoon to measure out proportions of salt, turning his water into
saline.

“Why don’t we
just ask if she has a hypodermic needle lying around and be done with it?” I
said, slumping into the booth.

“Last thing I
need is to fight off hyper-syphilis, too,” he grumbled, cringing in apparent
agony.

Sweat was
beading on his forehead. The napkins were both already soaked with chunks of
gore. I reached back and grabbed some more from the table behind ours. There
was nothing I could do, really. All he wanted was the steak.

“I’m sorry,
Jinx. I didn’t mean for you to get hurt.”

“It was my
idea. Shut up.”

I did just
that. As he slurped at the water, spilling some of it down his front in the
rush, I watched him twitch and tremble, turn pale with the slowed effects of
actual
shock. As he licked his red fingers and continued his strange rehydration
ritual, I could not help but see Ursula, licking juices as they rolled down my
arm.

Shut up.

I pressed my
thumbs into my eyes. When I opened them, the waitress was standing there with
the tray, lobbing items at the boy as if he was offensive.

“Still mooing.
You want me to round up a few virgins too?”

He glared at
her. “Doubt you could find ‘em in this shit hole.”

She crossed
her arms. I expected her to make a not-so-smart retort, but she seemed to be
reevaluating him. She surveyed the scattered wreckage of the salt and sugar,
took in the water pitcher, now half-empty, and peeked at Jinx’s stomach and the
mess of napkins, before her over-plucked eyebrows lifted yet again. Then she
looked at me, and I knew she understood.

“You’re right.”
She untucked a rag from her apron and set it on the table. “We don’t wash the
tables, so it’s clean-ish. You want the first aid kit? It’s about the only
sterile thing in this place.”

He snatched
the rag, stuffed it into the wound, and then ripped into the steak with a vigor
I’d never seen, even at the espresso bar down the street from the hotel. “Does
it have pixie dust in it?”

“No, but I
could probably get some if you wanted it. About all there is to do here, and it’d
take the pain away.” She leaned on the table. As she did, I spotted the barbed-wire
tattoo on her upper arm.

I pinched my
mouth down around my grin. “I think he meant the magical kind.”

“Nope,” she
sighed. “Sorry. Don’t die, okay?”

Jinx glanced
up, raw meat dangling out of his mouth. “Twyin no choo.”

“Uh huh.” She
turned and sauntered back to the cash register, where she took up residence on
a stool and began to paint her nails neon pink. The phone remained on the hook,
though she clearly knew he’d been injured.

“She really
knows how to earn a tip.”

He ignored me.
The dripping flank with its metallic aura was far more interesting. He didn’t
even bother cutting it, just picked it up and ripped through its barely seared
crust with abandon. When he’d finished, he grabbed the fork and tucked into the
beans, then gulped down the soup as if still starving. By the time he reached
the biscuit, I was sure he had to be full, but he began sopping up the meat
juice and swallowing the pieces whole.

It was
thoroughly off-putting. Like the doughnuts, it made me never want to eat again.
All I could see was the similarity between his gel-clot and the cow’s horrible
fate. Was that all we were made of, all we were, meat or meat-eating machines?

“You want
another?”

He tipped
back, still chewing, his face a shade of rosy pink and smeared with sauces. I
could feel the heat radiating off him as muscle burned and turned nutrients
into flesh in record time. He surprised me again with a contented smile.

“Naw. I’m
good, but I wouldn’t turn down an ice cream sundae. Need some saturated fats.”

“You got it,
but only because I love you.” I chuckled. I watched as he pulled the cloth away
from his abdomen and revealed a thin, white scar. “Well done.”

“I’m getting
better at it,” he murmured. “First time it took a couple days. They buried me. If
not for my ability to calculate soil densities I’d be there still. Though we
were
three or four deep in those days. Made it easier.”

“Um...lucky?”

While I
flagged the girl down, he shed his denim jacket and bloody shirt, wadded the
torn things around the washcloth and placed the bundle atop the plate. By the
time the girl got to the table, he was sporting BIG MEAT and sighing happily
after chocolate fudge.

“Much changed,”
she said, in ostensible shock.

He shrugged. “I
told you it wasn’t mine. Extra cherries, please.”

She walked
back to the kitchen, frowning, the tray of cruor lopsided on her hip.

“You freaked
her out.” I chuckled again.

“Eh, can’t be helped.”
He reached for my coffee and slid it across the dingy divide. “Gaffled.”

I surrendered.
“Tell me you’re fine now.”

“I’m fine now.”

With a sigh of
relief, I finally let the tension drain away into the vinyl, where it joined
the detritus of every other occupant that had ever sat there. “Have you seen
the movie
Poltergeist
?”

He nodded. We
were both thinking of Petula, and we were both thinking the same thing.

“I was going
to suggest
The Omen
, but totally.”

I tapped the
table idly. “You going to explain to me why you stabbed the two of us?” I hoped
I looked disapproving, like his mother, and that some long-untouched but
integral sense of remorse would pull an answer from him.

He rolled his
eyes as if I had made a joke in poor taste. “You’re not stuck on that are you? It
wasn’t a serious wound and you healed. It’s in the past.”

“Yes, but you
kinda ruined our little peace pact with Petula or don’t you care that they can
see you?” I grabbed his coffee and tried to steal it from him as punishment. “I
know I certainly care. Where would I be without my sidekick?”

BOOK: The One We Feed
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