Thursday, April 8, 2010

Changing Crystal

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Needs" in Mirror Shards.

Who did he think he was, wondered Crystal. She shivered as she walked beneath the building's wooden beams that decayed into splinters that loomed over the sidewalks. Not a great part of town, she gritted her teeth as rats scurried down the alley and she hugged her arms tight. Her sweater was still in his car. She should've negotiated at least until she was in a better neighborhood. She still couldn't believe that he had abandoned her here. Perhaps, her friends' whispers had been right. Her pumps echoed on the concrete as the yellowish glow of the streetlights reflected off puddles on the street barren of cars.

The red light of a cigarette butt caught her eye and she saw four men standing outside a dark doorway. She shouldn't be walking out here by herself. She felt for the locket on its chain around her neck. It was there with the Phoenix pill that her mom had given her. She could hear her voice saying, "Only take the pill as a last resort." It was the popular thing to get your child, she wondered if it even worked. No one she knew had ever taken the Phoenix pill.

The men's conversation stopped as she neared and they watched her while puffing smoke over the street to swirl in the streetlights and the low hanging fog. Crystal thought about crossing the street to the other side, but they'd know she was scared of them then. They were just four men smoking, she told herself.

Avoiding their shadowed eyes, trying not to challenge them she walked past them seeing their heads track her. She could feel the knot constricting between her shoulder blades and knew that she'd need to make another appointment with the chiropractor. She passed and realized that she'd been holding her breath. She let it out. There were footsteps behind her, muffled things compared to the staccato clicks of her heels. She looked over her shoulder and saw the man's stubble covered face. She ran. A hand squeezed her arm and caught her pulling her back as she yelled.

They laughed. "Ain't no one going to help you." It was the man that held her who said that, his hands feeling slick in the darkness.

She slammed her heel down into his soft athletic shoe and twisted her arm out of his grip. Someone lashed out and hit or kicked her and she sprawled to the pavement. Pain shot from her skinned knees and arms. The men moved to surround her and she pulled the locket from her throat, thumbing the latch with one hand, and popping the Phoenix pill.

Flames, brilliant fiery white things, coruscated before her eyes and blinded her to the dark street. Something gripped her legs or hands she wasn't sure which, her whole body itched. She kicked thinking that she might be able to break whoever's grasp had her, but the itching feeling stayed. She still couldn't see anything, and heard screams. Her own and possibly others as well. She was still on the ground, as the flames began to fade but her eyes hadn't adjusted yet. She pushed herself up on to her knees, listening and feeling for anything. Nothing.

The streetlights came into focus a single light in the darkness. She stood and walked forward and stumbled over something on the street. A black burnt carcass. Had she done that? The pill? Her arms were covered with iridescent scales that caught the light from the street.

She hurried down the street. Every few steps, she looked back over her shoulders but the bodies didn't move from the ground where they had fallen.

Halogen headlights blinded her as a dark car careened down the street and skidded to a stop. She saw the dark form of the driver lean over and open the passenger door.

"Hey Phoenix, everything is okay now." A man's voice so deep it purred. She backed away from the car until she bumped against one of the buildings walls. He shuffled out of the car keeping his arms out, away from his body. "Don't worry, I'm one of you."

One of you? What did that mean. There was something about the skin of his face, something un-skin-like. A texture to it. Hair. Or rather patterned fur. "Who are you?"

"A Phoenix, just like you." His hands were still held out palms upwards or perhaps pads upwards. "Come with me, I'll take you someplace safe."

"No." This was too much and Crystal closed her eyes. She recalled the bodies of the four men lying on the ground.

"We have to get out of here," he said. "The mob will have detected your change and will pursue you here."

"The mob?"

"I don't have time to explain. You must trust me."

Crystal looked at the car, she could ride with him. If required, she'd jump out the door.

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