The Alter Mysteries: Death Shadow, Chapter 3.3 by Laura Zabala Trigger Warning!!!
                                              The Table


   Zara and Izzy pedaled in time moving gracefully in tow with one another. Colorful signs and the size of the crowd too much to take in at once. The chatter of the people around them almost like an endless soundtrack of hails to companions, exclamations at some new product, and laughter. “Izzy, there is something bothering me. You have been acting strangely.” Zara’s voice was loud enough to carry since Izzy is so close, they chance glances at one another then focus ahead.

“Strangely how?” Izzy maneuvered her bike around a cluster of pedestrians.

Once Izzy swung back into hearing range Zara continued, “you drank your coffee in one gulp and banged it on the table the other day. And you yelled at that woman in the restaurant. Usually, you’d let something like that go. It’s not normal all these little things you’ve been doing.” Izzy road on for a bit then slowed to a full stop. The sounds around Izzy raised in volume coming further into her awareness. Zara stopped shortly after and it seemed as though everything once more fell to the background. Zara took up the majority of Izzy’s focus; the conversation taking up all her effort. 

“Didn't realize the stress of work had changed my behavior so much.” Izzy spat out this piece of information to cover up the truth temporarily. It was partially true but not the crucial bits that were blowing up in spurts through a barely contained calm. Zara nodded, “I guess it's normal. Sometimes.” Zara resumed riding and looked back at Izzy expecting her to follow. Izzy followed but kept behind. Her dark thoughts shielded by distance. As they approached Dessert Alcove shops in the shape of ice cream cones and cakes came into view. Food trucks that sometimes relocated to another tier sported decorative themes of chocolate and cute characters to attract children. Entertainers capitalizing on customers with sugar-highs took up free spaces in the squares dotted across the landscape to perform. Music played, hardly registering to Izzy’s ears. How long until the worst of it came into play? She wanted to cry, but there was no permissible explanation for her tears. She had seen too far ahead. The burden was too great, but not one she could always share- in this case- devastation would ensue if she did. So Izzy pedaled. All she could do was see fate through. She laughed at the literal interpretation and cried a little, glad Zara couldn't see her tears. Izzy hoped the wind resistance would help keep her face dry.

 Zara arrived first and waited. They returned the bikes using their flimsies to check them in at a rental bike rack. “You take the scenic route?” Izzy smiled pointing to a brownie shop, “ of course wouldn't you when there are so many tasty temptations?” Zara followed her train of sight to the shop in the distance and beamed. Izzy really was too good at redirecting sometimes but it paid the bills. Izzy a professor and all. Look at me, follow my lecture, and rate me well so I can get my tenure. The lessons were designed to entice her classroom as effectively as possible so she could keep her position. She felt like a marketer selling a product instead of discussing her field. The madness of academia. Of course, she didn't have to teach. But then she wouldn’t be working her dream job. Too bad she didn't bring her work home. Ha. Jokes, that’s a way to cheer up. Izzy took the tab for dessert, milk and homemade brownies in hand the girls took one of the outdoor benches available and watched a professional mermaid display. A huge tank of water was filled with the performers who wore realistic mermaid tails. Sometimes they did water plays dancing in patterns under the water somewhat like a school of fish. Modern technology was such that for a fee a hidden breathing apparatus could be installed to help a swimmer breathe underwater. Zara had no interest in body enhancements before but wondered if investing in body modifications could help her with investigations. After all Mx. Serial Killer did obliterate several flying cars leaving no trace. Who was she kidding? She was doomed if they met unawares.

 Izzy stood up and turned to face Zara. She held out her hand. Zara grabbed it and rose up. They deposited their trash smoothly into a compactor. The two of them linked arms to watch the entertainment in Dessert Alcove. There were fire breathers not far from where they sat. Columns of fire stretching out before, “ohs and ahs.” The clinking sound of money bits registered on flimsies. Professions like fire breathing and mermaid swimming could be pursued in the food and entertainment tiers. Basic universal income meant most people had extra money to spend so it wasn’t that uncommon for people to tip these people a few bucks at least. Making it more realistic for people to spend more time on their passions. Tips went mostly to quality performers. Licensing was still needed to weed out the positively horrible. Though the lesser skilled musicians and entertainers could attend open mic nights at cafes and practice. There were no homeless folk and crime was relatively low. However, those who wanted lives of extravagance still exhibited greed. The highest civilian occupied tier was tier four and there were penthouses up there that had amazing views of the tiers and space around. Although the government sector was on the top and final fifth tier. Zara had never had to go up to that tier. Nor was she sure she wanted to; Tanaka could do that if it was ever necessary. But, she wondered what kind of clearance the serial killer had. Were there rooms like cop cars that kept out psychic interference? It made sense. A chill ran down Zara’s spine. She looked around but didn’t see anyone suspicious. Izzy grabbed her hand and unlinked their arms. She smiled her eyes looking apologetic, “I’m sorry if this isn’t that exciting. You seem distracted.”

 “Nah, Iz’ it’s just—something feels off.”

 “We should go home then,” Izzy motioned towards the car docking station ahead.

 “No, I promised you a whole day.” Izzy kept trudging in line with the docking station.

 “You sure?”

 “Yes.” We found our way towards a section of the food tier that was Renaissance themed. Trams to the tier above were available, where the festival portion of the annual Renaissance Fair was. The festival was ending after that weekend. We passed by synthetic turkey legs. Izzy pulled me towards the pub. She rarely made her way to alcohol and encouraged me to drink mead. This should have been the first sign if I could be excused for ignoring the others. After downing three cups I wavered. The sun had set and the lights in the food district went up. Izzy guided me towards the cars. I resisted going in wanting the date to go on. Inebriated, she pushed me in and pushed the coordinates to take us home. She was in a hurry, frantic. Everything went black.

 Open eyes to darkness. Skin assaulted by crisp air my limbs are spread-eagled on a table. I am strapped down naked. A cold metal table kissing my skin. Footsteps barely audible on the floor enter my awareness. Nothing approaches in the darkness. Maybe I am hearing things? No, a light turns on. My eyes sting as they adjust to the light in the room. Deep breath. My mouth is dry, it must have been some time since I have been here. I turn my head slightly straining against a restraint that is holding my head in place. A man in a white coat is walking toward me. Struggle against the rope which is made of nanofiber infinitely stronger than my human flesh the rope squeezes my limbs, unforgiving. He has a syringe. I try to use telekinesis to rip the syringe from his hand. My mind is not able to perform the task, blocked. This must be a dream. Struggle against the restraints, again, feel the pinch of the binds against my skin. This is not a dream.

“Welcome, Zara,” The man sits next to me. He is not wearing a mask. His face is white, eyes blue, and hair gray. The room is shielded against psychics; I know because although I can’t reach out I can still sense the man standing next to me and the hum of human emotions and thought is completely blocked out from the room. My flimsy is not wrapped around my arm, I can’t feel the synaptic feedback from the device. Helpless? Impossible. I try to take the syringe telekinetically from his grip. Once more, nothing. He shoots some substance into my arm. I swallow and take a breath to keep myself calm. Unable to use my abilities I look around the room. The table and his tray of goodies at his side are all that exist within my view. No window within sight. Judging by the dimensions of the ceiling the room is a perfect square. I try to spit at him, but my tongue rolls out. Whatever he gave me works well.

“Your friend really didn’t do you favors.” Izzy? Where is Izzy? I try to turn my head again, but the room spins.

“Don’t worry she is safe. I let her get away.” My eyes widen. My heart pierced by the news I feel like I will vomit. She got away safe but I was left behind.

The man puts his hand on my body tracing along my navel up to my neck then forehead. I can barely feel him sampling my energy. The drug is clearly inhibiting my abilities and physical response time, given the awkward tongue I pushed out earlier. “We can not take the soul of a Moirae. But, we can make you suffer. It will be delicious.” I glare at him as he licks his lips as though a steak is ready for him devour. He pulls a scalpel from the tray. The light gleams off the metal. In the reflection of the scalpel I can see the outline of a door in the wall behind my head. The gleaming metal and the door on it’s face coming closer. Did he set up this table on purpose so I could see how close I am to escape in the reflection of his tools? I do not try to ask, that would be a compliment for someone as demented as he seems. My breathing can not quicken because I am slowed down by the drugs. Hovering, unable to move there is one thing that is left--the spirit world. Ancestors! Mother! Anyone! There is no reply. Psychically castrated my mind is grounded completely within my body unable to push into the other realms. Hopefully, someone in the spirit world cares enough to get me help. The serial killer, stereotypically makes an object of my body tracing the edges of my curves. I try to hiss but it just sounds like when the suction cup at the dentist’s office pulls water from your mouth. The man doesn’t laugh he simply sighs and shakes his head. Fear is what he wants to elicit. He could have done anything to me before but he didn’t. He wants me to experience it. I want to deny him that pleasure but the sad truth is encountering powerlessness for the first time—there is doubt I will succeed. The first cut is barely felt. I try to lift my head but it is no longer mobile. The pain whispers as I feel him tracing around my navel. The cuts don’t feel too deep. Though I fear he will do something with my internal organs that can not be reversed. Is he killing me? The pain grows and my mouth fights to let out a grunt trailing off into a spitting cough. Death, I have seen but am not ready for. A list of reasons for living go through my head. I try to will my body to move and there are slight jerks, but I am unsuccessful at dislodging the restraints. This criminal looks at me irritated, “stay still.” He looks at my body as if it is his canvas and there is the sense that a drawing is taking shape on my skin. Even the strongest of us can be made weak- can be made to quiver. Will I be just another message? The memory of the dead Tanaka look alike wakes me up some. He knows about the people I care about. With all the will I have inside of me I try to put my body to action. Nothing. I gather my willpower to focus on the spirit world. The smallest sense of energy stirs before moving beyond reach. The scalpel trails up from the circles and lines on my stomach to crawl up the trunk of my body. The pain is screaming in a pattern. The lines of his cuts go from a stinging sensation to a throb as he focuses all of his energy into wounded flesh. My eyes widen to find the grain of the ceiling. There has never been a time that I could not do anything. Always comfortable in my skin, thinking I owned my body and it was sacred. The temple of my body defiled in lines of red. Weighed down by the weaknesses of the human condition. Drugs long in use for healing, perverted. Subjugated on a slab of steel my mind wanders amidst the sparks of fire. Pain singing in nerves who scream blasphemy. It had never occurred to me that the tools of the internment camps would find their use on me, psychically handicapped decades after the crimes against my kind. There are screams uttering themselves at the base of my neck. The voice consumed by the quiet of his tools finds no purchase to escape lips. All a predator needs are the right tools. I was physically fit, psychically above the cut, and a master of my space. My body language told tales of a cat slinking along, beautiful but deadly, yet here I am. Size does not matter; strength does not matter. The scalpel is finished carving along my trunk. After gracing the valley of my compact breasts it swirls toward my neck. The smell of blood is rank in the air. I wonder how much I have bled. Will he bleed me dry? The sensation of liquid pooling on my chest and shoulders my breath catches. Who among the victims have felt this? My temple crushed, body vulnerable, a feeling of being dirt beneath boot. When I saw the pictures I knew it was wrong. But this, this has gone beyond wrong to pure evil. I close my eyes when he finds my neck so I can not see the finishing strokes. “Watch, or I will cut the lids of your eyes off!” My eyes flutter open. We are all the same when we fall prey universally in a state of filth that cannot be achieved without being completely robbed of any agency. Dignity stolen. This disgusting menace whom I loathe has become ruler of hell. The keys to my personhood and sanctity in his hands as he violates me with each agonizing step. Some of it is just a matter of luck. The hazy lethargy calls for sleep, but under the terror of his whim, I cannot. He takes the scalpel and traces another line from my belly up to my neck. Careful not to cut my arteries yet. Blood is seeping from wounds reopened and cuts made new. He puts a bandage on a design I can barely make out. A curled pipe? The pattern rises up from my belly. Then I realize as he smirks hissing that he is tracing a snake on my body. My body screams as the medicine tapers off some more, but not enough for me to do anything psychically. After testing my grasp of energy, arrested by the inertia my mind floats. Izzy is walking next to me. Her hair blowing in the wind. Curls bouncing, she turns to smile at me. Her beautiful full lips that I’ve tasted, alluring. As a new cut traces over an old, I flinch. I am in the tenth grade. My mother is watching TV with me. My father gets home, but we don’t see him through our headsets. My parents ended up arguing. I know it has to do with me. I know because I got in trouble again. The bullies just had to mess with that poor Francine. I hate it when people pick on others. Here I am. No one to save me, the victim now. The victim when for so long I resented them their weakness. Blamed them even for giving me work. But really it was schmucks like this devil that made these unbearable circumstances. My inner Jersey roiled in my stomach. Every curse word came to mind. Then feeling the way my body hardly breathed, my will leading to the barest of jerks--I realized there was nothing. No screams to shout. Cut. No one to save me. Bleed. No one to stop him. Laughter. His face graces my body. He moves his line of sight to catch my eyes. He can see the fear, taste it.

“To see my enemy so subdued makes my day. Hold still I want pictures of you still alive.” How this man had the gall to take pictures of me while I was still alive made me wonder at how safe he felt. Was there someone protecting him? Someone high up? Maybe some official approved of our deaths—us paranormal women. Was there something about us that threatened society? I wanted to laugh at myself. Of course, there was. I hate myself as I lay bare. His pictures taken at odd angles. He grabs my privates for a moment just to establish his superiority. The fear it elicited caused him to salivate. A look of sublime pleasure on his face. If I live I will kill this fucker—sanctioned or not. He pulls out what looked like a mallet and hit my face. I cry as I feel my nose break. The sound of the cartilage breaking making me flinch more than from the pain. Thoughts stop. A symphony of painful sensations playing themselves out in kicks and punches. The chains used to restrain other victims, used as a tool for the beating. My mind comes back to the sensations. Why the torture? No one else was this badly marred. Why not just kill me? The smell of my blood scares me my attention split along pains and the feeling of pooling liquid on the table. Oblivion hovers torturously out of reach. Mind in the reality of small and helpless, floating--my heart asks for death. Once more the hits resume, sounds of flesh smacked and the crack of something else reach ears. The pain leaves, my sight a tunnel to the ceiling above. Places and things pass through my mind. Clinging to what edges of sanity remain. He is there answering my escape with new injuries. Only when he hears the ring of a phone does he pull away. A flimsy must be hidden out of sight. He leaves. The thought that the blood loss could help the effects of the medicine wear off barely reaches the surface of awareness. Exhaustion not just from the physical assault, but the emotional battle of will stolen weighs my body into the steel table. Will my body bleed to death so I do not have to live with this shell of what is left? The fear so cold and arresting in my body that curling into myself would not escape it. No words could express this hell. Vacant except for the horror that is sleeping at my breast one thought meets me in the haze--at least Izzy got away. May she never see this husk of shame.



Previous                                                                                    Next 


Laura zabala released this post 7 days early for patrons.   Become a patron