Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Drawing Dead - Chapter Five

Written by Erik Garkain 2017
When Mica woke up later, he was alone.
Broken by the occasional squawk of seabirds, the sound of lapping water was a constant yet soothing backdrop to his new environment. He remained still for a couple of minutes remembering the previous night and his new friend, but his bladder and the stench he was emanating ruined any hope he had of enjoying his new surrounds. Beams of early afternoon sunlight filtered in from a small skylight high in the ceiling but it wasn’t enough to lift the gloom from the small room. It sure did heat it up though. His clothes were dried stiff and reeking. He felt like a half-rotted carcass roasting in the middle of an oven.
Without Talon, he didn’t feel right remaining in his space. He found his backpack and heaved the heavy doors open. It took all he had to get them open enough far enough that he could edge out sideways. Once out, heat hit him like a wall. Mica groaned. He was sweating by the time he made it down several staircases and it was still a long drop to the ground when the stairs ended. He sat on the edge contemplating the likelihood of his death. Holding onto the last stair, he swung his body down and dangled. He let go, bent his knees to soften the impact onto the concrete, and rolled onto his back with a grunt. Still on the ground, he looked up. There was no way he was getting back up there on his own.
The heat bounced off the metal walls of the warehouse seeming to warp the wood around. Open water stretched before him, disappearing between pilings underneath the dock. A collapsed jetty reached out into the water where a large boat, still moored, was half sunk. It’s once white visage bled through with rust and years of sun damage. The jetty was in disrepair, planks broken, some collapsed into the water and others completely gone.
Mica climbed to his feet. He didn’t want to go far just in case Talon returned. He traversed the jetty, jumping from broken planks and skirting around large holes. He found a ladder leading down to a pontoon and descended the precarious steps towards the water.
Under the jetty, out of the biting sun he stripped off his outer layers and slid into the water. It was a cooling relief and a prime opportunity to soak the blood from the previous night’s nightmare away.
And he waited. He waited until his freshly washed clothes dried in the sun. He waited until the sun shifted across the sky. He waited until his growling stomach couldn’t stand the wait any longer. And still, Talon hadn’t returned.
So, he walked.
He returned to the warehouse, staring up towards Talon’s room turned home. Was he up there yet? ‘Talon!?’ He called before he could stop himself. There was no answer anyway.
It can’t have been that far into the town centre, but certainly longer than it had taken Talon to carry them out. By the time he approached, the sun had started its decline for the afternoon. Gradually people became more prevalent. People out walking dogs, cafes open and serving coffee, groups chatting amongst themselves… Mica dug into the depths of his backpack and found enough coins to get him a latte and a roll. Small pleasures. He sat outside and watched the people pass. It was a mixed crowd, those with mild mutations, and those without – none of them appeared bothered either way. This is how Mica had imagined things when picturing Adelaide on that bus journey out. He hoovered his chicken, lettuce and mayo on rye and sipped his coffee as this new world bustled around him. Only the niggling desire for Talon burst his bubble of contentment. Where was he?
A crowd started to assemble outside a Cash Converters, a still open relic of the way things once were. Mica studied them. There were Nats pressed against Jokers without a care. Was it just the city where the divide was so obvious? Out here in the Port, people just got along? On the TV that held everyone’s attention, a reporter with long blonde hair that didn’t move as she did spoke to the camera. Mica joined the crowd. On the screen, a news banner announced the release of a Joker cure.
Mica’s jaw dropped. A cure? He bustled closer to the window display as the folks around him murmured. Hadn’t there been cures before, and they’d never worked? Or bogus ‘cures’ that caused just as much havoc as the original virus? Could this one be for real?
A girl beside him touched a hypercolour hand against the window. Where her palm pressed against the glass her flesh turned a fluorescent yellow, gradually fading back into the regular forest green of her skin. ‘They’ve got a cure?’ She was young, perhaps just out of adolescence, her voice filled with all the hope forming in Mica’s chest. She busted him staring and her face flushed the same bright yellow before she fell back, disappearing into the crowd.
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—’ He cursed himself but she was gone.
‘My name is Jessica Collins,’ the reporter snatched his attention back. ‘We’re live here at MedTech Industries with local Adelaide resident Ralph Hillemann, former CSIRO researcher and scientist. With his ground-breaking new discovery, first seen here on Channel 9 News, Ralph has become the saviour for his hometown population.’
The camera pulled wide as the reporter turned to a clean-cut young man, thick horn-rimmed glasses and a manicured moustache. ‘I think ‘saviour’ is a bit strong Jessica.’ He guffawed nervously. ‘The prevalence of Jokers and Aces has been growing because of those who were yet unaware of their status or those who show no signs. Locals, Peter ‘Repeat’ Aaron and Courtney ‘Evergreen’ McNeil are popular now, but not everyone is so fortunate. I would like to provide an option for those afflicted.’
‘How did you make this discovery, and are you aware just how important this is going to be for the people of Australia, around the world even? I mean, when the Wildcard virus hit New York in 1946, ninety per cent of those affected died. This is huge, Dr Hillemann.’
‘Extensive research has proven the virus is not contagious and suggests it’s more likely to be spread through genetic transmission than direct contact with original microbes, so we’ve been exploring the DNA of those afflicted since it found its way through our quarantine zones, Jessica. I have a dedicated team of scientists—’
Behind him, there was a whoosh of exploding glass and Mica cowered, covering his head. But it was happening on the screen, not in the crowd. Everything was out of focus, the camera on its side zooming in and out of shattered glass. The journalist screamed.
‘What the hell?’ said someone beside him and the crowd shuffled with excitement at the developing story. The camera was dragged back and shaky vision revealed a slight man dressed in black stepping into the lab. Static blasted through the speakers and the crowd gasped, the first few rows stepping away from the screen and clutching their ears. The on-screen screaming stopped short. Silence was even more terrifying.
The man in black grabbed Dr Hillemann and pulled him to his feet. He was limp in the intruder’s arms. If it wasn’t so terrifying it would have looked ridiculous. How could a small man command such strength?
‘Create a cure, will you? How dare you insult me?! Who do you think you are?’ The man’s mouth wasn’t moving but the static around them formed words. Mica couldn’t tell how he heard the words but he was sure everyone around him heard the same thing.
Dr Hillemann looked dazed, half there. He wasn’t doing anything to protect himself, even as the man pulled out a huge machete.
The camera jumped away from the action and the crowd shuffled impatiently. Someone cursed. Others gasped. Some moved off not wanting to witness anything they couldn’t un-see. Mica couldn’t drag himself away from the footage. The cameraman wavered. There was someone else in the room. A familiar shadow flittered over the screen and Mica’s heart stopped. Talon.
‘No!’ He pushed away the few people that were standing closer to the screen and pressed against the glass. ‘Oh, please, no.’
‘Back off!’ Someone else pulled him back.
‘We all want to see!’ Someone growled.
Mica settled, deflated, into the crowd again. What could he do but watch?
The cameraman attempted to track the fight. It was like watching the worst ‘found footage’ movie ever. Mica’s heart leapt every time a shadow crossed the camera, but the blurs were hard to distinguish.
‘Jack, are you getting this?!’ A hysterical voice pierced through the wavering static.
‘Yeah, yeah, Jessica!’ Came the gruff response.
The camera rose and steadied somewhat. It was sheltered behind a workbench, half the vision obscured with white laminate, the other half attempting to track two men in furious battle.
‘Is it a Joker?’ Jessica said. ‘Fighting an Ace! Is he crazy?’
Mica held his breath. He couldn’t work out the images. What was going on? His vision blurred. He fought the possibility that he was about to witness losing the one person he believed was meant for him. Fate. Whatever.
The small man fled as the shadow transformed. Talon. He stared at the camera, his black eyes intense, menacing wolfish features coming out of the darkness. He growled.  Then, just like that, he was gone too.
The camera returned to Jessica. Her blue eyes wild. A few shards of glass must have struck her on the face because blood smeared her cheek. Her hair, still immaculate. ‘Where’s Ralph?’
She stood up and approached a fallen figure slumped across a benchtop. As the camera followed her approach, she adjusted the hem of her skirt. ‘Ralph?’ She looked back at the cameraman. ‘Jack, call an ambulance!’
The footage cut and returned to the studio where two news readers stared at the camera, taking long moments to compose themselves. ‘Umm,’ the man stumbled. ‘We’ll take a break before we check back in with Jessica. Stay with us on 9 News.’
As the commercials started the crowd erupted with activity, everyone talking at once, some scared, some elated. Mica watched them all. What would a cure mean to them? The young girl with the hypercolour skin – was she in school? Could she be? Perhaps she’d had dreams of being a doctor? A lawyer? What would it mean to her to be transformed again?
What would it mean to Talon? Would he want the cure? Did he? Could they leave here, go somewhere ‘normal’, be normal? Mica’s thoughts whirled.
When the news returned to the story, Dr Hildemann was being loaded into an ambulance. The reporter stood at his side. ‘This is Jessica Collins from 9 News. We’re here at MedTech Industries where we’ve just been attacked by two Wild Cards. Ralph Hillemann, creator of the newly announced cure is okay. Surely we need to question whether the cure should be mandatory? These people, as we’ve just witnessed, are violent, they’re unpredictable. Ralph, in the wake of all this destruction in the Wild Card community, it’s obvious someone is upset about your new discovery. Do you have anything to say about your cure?’
He was lost, his eyes wide in terror, but he gained composure under her fierce gaze. ‘I do Jessica, I do. I just want to let you all know that it’s here. We’ve tested this cure and I can confirm that it works. Don’t be afraid. I will start to distribute free samples to all major pharmacies. You don’t need a script, you don’t need a reason why, just go in and ask. Things can go back to the way they were. Trust me. It’s safe.’
‘There you have it,’ she stared down the camera. ‘Back to the studio.’
Mica withdrew, getting lost in the crowd of people. He was alright. He was okay. Talon wasn’t dead. He was fine. He’d survived the encounter. Talon was alright. Talon was okay.
Mica inhaled and tried to release the bad feelings with his exhale. He pushed his way out of the still gathering crowd – there had to be a hundred people at least – to the very fringes across the main street where abandoned shop fronts were overrun with ivy. He needed space. He collapsed against the door of an old record store left to gather dirt and graffiti.
A shadow crept over the street and chills ran down Mica’s neck. No one else noticed, but Mica’s head snapped up. He jumped to his feet. ‘Talon?!’ he asked the shadows.
‘Why aren’t you afraid?’ the shadows asked back, sounding exhausted.
Mica beamed, unable to control his excitement. ‘Those black eyes, terrifying,’ he said as he found his new friend in the darkness. ‘Your skin as liquid—’ He brushed a daring hand over Talon’s arm. ‘As if I could reach in and touch the abyss Nietzsche warned us about… Absolutely stunning.’ Mica curled in close to hug the shadow-come-man-creature. He felt Talon’s hard muscles stiffen at the touch but he didn’t flee. Mica had no doubt that if he wanted to, he could melt into nothing and leave him embracing only shadow. He didn’t. ‘Are you okay?’ he asked into Talon’s chest.
‘Thank you for protecting the man with the cure. This means so much to so many people. We need to help him, we should protect him. Do you think they might attack him again?’
‘I don’t know.’

Mica felt one of Talon’s arms come around him. He closed his eyes.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Drawing Dead - Chapter Four

Written by Erik Garkain 2017

Chapter Four
‘You’re bleeding…’ a small voice whispered.
Talon turned his attention to the lost Deuce with the shimmering fear. He was crouched on the ground, starting up at him like a cat poised to flee. His pupils were wide, crowding out the dark chartreuse of his irises, and his skin glazed with an iridescent glitter that sparkled beautifully under the streetlights. Around him, a bloody massacre.
Talon cleared the echoes of static that lingered in his mind, and stepped away from the Deuce. He wanted only the dark shadows where he could disappear and observe from safety.
‘Wait, please?’ The young man reached out for him.
Talon paused, and when he didn’t make a move, the Deuce attempted to get to his feet, slipping over the slick, bloodied cobbled stones. Blood soaked the ground, splattered the walls around them and ran in rivulets down the alley, all seemingly collected under the Deuce. None of it was his – it didn’t sparkle like the dried blood under his nose. The bloodbath indicated this murderer relished the brutality.
This time he rose carefully and backed against the wall for support before bending over to throw up. His regurgitated stomach contents were a glittery mess, laced with the alcohol he’d consumed earlier. Talon waited.
‘I’m sorry.’ The Deuce apologised. ‘I’m a mess.’ He wiped his mouth on his arm, then wiped the residual sheen on his shorts, and stared at the state of his clothes, soaked in someone else’s blood. ‘What should we do about Alicorn?’ He remembered, turning back to Talon for direction. The colour had drained from his face and his hands trembled.
‘Who?’ Talon crooked his head at the Deuce.
‘Alicorn, umm, Alex Harner.’ He motioned to the dead Joker. ‘The—’ he couldn’t finish. He collapsed back onto the ground, this time away from the puddles of blood and purge.
Talon could sense his heart beat slow. Was it shock? He moved forward to help, but stopped himself. His scent confused him. Usually he could collect information on someone just by their smell. He could smell change in perspiration when someone lied, he could smell the blood on someone’s hand three days after they’d struck someone. This young man’s scent only raised questions. ‘Did you know him?’
The Deuce nodded, and then shook his head. ‘I knew his band. I never got to see them... Who would do such a thing? Why do people want to kill Jokers?’
‘These streets aren’t safe anymore.’ Talon stood awkwardly wanting to return to the shadows. ‘This is not the first time.’
‘Should we call the police?’ he asked.
Talon shook his head. ‘There is no ‘police’ anymore. The Jokers will find this one and take care of him.’
‘Who was that man? And how—? I can’t even remember what he looked like.’ The Deuce looked about, his brow furrowed, close to tears. ‘I can’t even remember what happened? Who can fight that… and how did you?’
‘I don’t—remember.’ Talon backed further away, the questions unhinging his small resolve to stay.
‘Please don’t!’ He sprang to his feet. ‘I mean, not now, not with… Please stay?’
‘Why?’ He glared at the young man who held his gaze. ‘Don’t I frighten you?’
He shook his head, his lips curving into an exhausted smile. ‘You’re the least frightening person I’ve come across for as long as I can remember.’
Talon watched the Deuce standing wet with a stranger’s blood in a dead-end alley. His long dark hair had come loose from its tie and stuck at unflattering angles to his face and head, his arms wrapped around his chest, fingers clutching at the straps of his battered backpack. He stared at Talon. Talon knew the expressions of those who feared him far too well and this wasn’t it. Perhaps with the nearby mutilated corpse, he just wasn’t the scariest thing around anymore?
Tentatively Talon extended his arm to the lost one, his black malformed hand with clawed nails opened in welcome. ‘We need to leave here; the Jokers will come.’
The Deuce stumbled, but clutched at the extended hand to steady himself, its size enveloping his own, accepting the invitation without hesitation. Talon pulled him close and held tight. He’d never taken someone into the shadows with him and was unsure of any side effects. But it was too late for anything else. The commotion of people stirring from the streets indicated vigilante justice was on the way. Soon they would be busted here with the corpse of a Joker. The streets were scared; they would hang anyone they could to feel safe. Either of them would make a scapegoat and it would be too late once they were considered anything else.
Talon carried the young man home. He didn’t have to think about it anymore, even with an extra person; he simply dissolved into the shadows. He could bend and become them as effortlessly as breathing. Some might say he flew, but he bounced between them, flitting from shadow to shadow. Building by building, street by street, even suburbs blurred past.
Talon held the Deuce close – he was too fast and wasn’t sure the damage it might cause his soft lungs or his delicate eyes. Best be safe. He didn’t resist Talon’s hold even if he could have. The bundle he held against his chest was warm. So very soft and fragile in his grasp. For a second, the feeling was familiar. Like he’d done this once before, back when he was human. He fought the urge to squeeze tighter – to hang onto that memory.
Finally, they reached the coastline, far away from the commotion of the city. They encountered no one on their journey, not even a stray cat.
Talon’s home was a warehouse in what was once an industrial docking station. It had been used to house and quarantine boats. No one came to Adelaide en masse anymore so the boats were left rotting wherever they had been abandoned, adding fresh wreckage to the ship’s graveyard from yesteryear. The jetties and docking stations were rusting and falling into the estuary, hammered each day by the tides. The warehouses surrounding the docks, along with most of the suburb, had long ago been ransacked and vandalised, home now to those who sought solitude or needed space for their newly mutated bodies. Talon was one of these few. His warehouse was secured from the bottom up, surrounded by walls of shipping containers. He’d spent weeks barricading doors and windows.
If someone found him, they were hunting him.
He released the Deuce so he could drag open the thick metal doors. The young man stood gathering his senses; his hand clutched the flaking metal railing to soothe his vertigo. The sun was beginning to rise in the distance and as if on cue, he yawned. Talon watched him; waiting for him to enter on his own terms, sure that he would come to his senses and flee while he still could.
He offered Talon a tired smile and entered the warehouse. Talon followed him, pulling the doors closed. What little light they’d had was swallowed by darkness once again. The room they entered might have been an office once upon a time. It was enclosed except the one door leading outside and into a perilous inner staircase.
Talon watched the young man in the dark. He giggled nervously, his arms wobbling about before him searching for something to hold onto. Talon studied his room trying to decide where to put him. Suddenly he felt ill-equipped to deal with visitors. His furniture was a mismatched array of what he’d collected from the side of the road and what he’d looted from neighbouring properties, not chosen for comfort or style. He didn’t have much – didn’t need much until today, and certainly not enough for two people. There was a table in the middle of the room and a mattress in the corner topped with bedding and clothes Talon had made into a nest when he needed to be warm. He grabbed the Deuce’s wrist and pulled him to the corner. ‘Sit here,’ he said.
He sat, falling onto the soft mound. His hands rooted about, searching for hints at his location. ‘What’s your name?’ he asked as he raked through the piles of soft clothing.
‘Talon,’ he said.
‘Talon. I’m Mica. You’re an Ace?’ Mica’s eyes searched the darkness for a place to land.
He shook his head. ‘No, they call me ‘Joker’ when they are being kind. ‘And when they aren’t; ‘freak’, ‘thing’, ‘monster’. I don’t want to scare them, so I stay in the darkness. People can pretend not to see. I can blend. It’s safer that way. Easier.’
‘Easier? For who?’ he asked.
Talon stepped back, instantly regretting his decision to bring this boy into his home. There was no where he could go. His room was all shadow.
‘You speak to the shadows.’ Mica continued when Talon didn’t answer. ‘I saw you. I felt movement as they bent to your desire. I saw you disappear into a shadow and yet you stood right in front of me, but I’m sure if I’d tried to touch you, I’d find nothing but darkness.’
‘I’m glad you found me,’ Mica said. He smiled into the darkness and his head dropped down as he fought off fatigue. ‘If I fall asleep, are you still going to be here when I wake up?’

He did not answer, wondering the same thing himself. Instead he watched the pretty young Deuce drift into sleep.