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In Darkness She Lives
The dark alley flashed with gunfire. A large, cleft-lipped man wearing a flat cap loomed over Klara, aiming a shaky .357 at her head.
“Thought you could kill me, eh?” he snarled. “You fuck!” With teeth bared like a rabid wolf, he choked the life out of the revolver’s grip. “I’ll blow your damned brains out!”
Klara’s ears rung. To say the bullet lodged in her throat fired an unforgettable pain through her bald, ghost-pale body would be an understatement. She pressed a hand against her wound. Blood trickled through her fingers, down her hand, forearm, rolled off her black cloak, then onto the concrete.
As she took a final lunge at him, jagged claws reaching for his throat, he pumped her with three extra lead stones before she could get him. She hit the ground.
Police sirens blared far off in the distance. The shooter snapped his head in its direction and swore under his breath. He ran away fumbling the revolver in his leather jacket.
While she lied in a crimson puddle, Klara stared at a light-polluted night sky as it stared back like a glassless mirror—all the stagnant summer heat couldn’t cure the chill scraping her spine. (This isn’t real), she thought.
She remembered the people she hunted. Their fear, their hate, their desperate struggle for life. Though never one to think she could outlast death, in the back of her mind she had seen herself above agony— a thing reserved for humans. Immeasurable guilt swept her like a tsunami. Now she knew the truth.
The pain softened to nothing. Consciousness drifted in and out as it became harder for her eyes to see through the swallowing shadow. Before she passed out, the last thing she saw was a man in a three-piece suit running towards her.
Klara had a dream. In it was nothing but the few words a man spoke.
“…savior shall arise…give Earth….”
A bright light.
Blinding sunlight trapped Klara in its fire. Flames melted her skin like candlewax. Her blood boiled. The marrow in her bones seared. A burning stench—it suffocated her like mustard gas.
Voices spoke. Where she went or that she was even running at all were unknown facts to her. The light brightened. The voices dimmed. She chased the sun yearning to grind its inferno to dust. Suddenly, she crashed through glass then fell on the ground. Shards tore at her skin. But she didn’t stop—she couldn’t stop until she returned to the dark.
Klara found herself in an abandoned subway line, unaware how and when she got there. Though it was a black swamp of waste, trash, rusted metal, and graffiti, it was the last place she felt safe.
A field of rats scampered around her tearing into anything they came across—the sounds of their scratching and squeaking always hung in the air. To see them eat as she starved made her stomach roar and hammer like a mental patient. Days passed. Soon it became impossible to suppress her needs. Though guilt-ridden by their tiny cries for mercy, though green balls of bile bloated in her stomach when she ate their meat, the rat-hunt was on.
When sleep came, rest never did as the nightmares came and danced their helter-skelter waltz: Blood seas drowned her. Fangs extended and pierced her jaws. She perished in the sun’s core as screams for mercy jarred in her head. On and on and on they danced until she woke up.
Then he arrived.
Her breath died.
The man with the cleft lip, the alley-monster she called him, loomed over her wearing the flat cap and all from that night. Muddy revolver pointing at her head, he dug his car-weight boot into her chest. Upon opening his mouth, Klara saw the maggots eating his teeth. He hissed:
“Murder many weak. Hell claims you no matter the count.”
Her body stuck itself to the ground. She couldn’t move a limb. The first time she had seen him she thought it was the end. Only when she regained control of her body and breath did the phantom disappear. After a while she caught onto the pattern, however it never got easier seeing him.
The single respite from it all was her daydreams. Measureless meadows, tranquil trees, boulders blanketed in vibrant-colored lichen, surreal structures sitting under starry sapphire skies. As the sugar air freed Klara from hunger and fear, her mind roamed the wonderland she created. But those moments were brief.
Too brief until they found her.
A bright light.
Klara dashed behind one of the H-beam support columns, back gripped against the cold steel. Had she been paralyzed, her mind would have fixed on the idea that the alley-monster was revisiting, at first she believed he was.
She poked her head from cover, convinced it was just a hallucination.
BANG!! BANG!! BANG!!
The wind from a bullet grazed her right cheek. Klara’s certainty of her being shot jolted through her like an electric shock, but once she realized she was unharmed she tore through the tunnel—weaving between steel columns, leaping over debris, ducking her head as shots rang out.
“Don’t let her get away!”
Short of breath and sweating ice, Klara sank behind another support column. A lopsided buffer-stop and a stained white-brick wall met her at a dead end. She ran to the stop and against the wall was a cast iron storm drain with holes just wide enough to slip her fingers in. She squatted and lifted the two-hundred-pound grating with relative ease. It screeched against the cement as it rose.
Her heart plummeted. Lifting the grating above her head, Klara hurled it at her pursuers. It missed, causing a metal thunder to blast through the subway the instant it struck the ground.
The entrance to the drainage system was a cramped, cement hole with a ladder leading down. Whether it led anywhere but a dead end was a question she had to save for later. She knelt and began descending the ladder. Her legs crawled down as they reached for the rungs, then her torso as her hands grabbed the ladder. Once her head was the last thing poking out—
Everything snapped into a blur. Her head whipped back and cracked the back of her skull against the corner of the drain entry. She heard nothing but a soft whistle in her head as her body fell the rest of the way down, banging against the walls and the ladder like a ragdoll.
She writhed on the floor in agony. One by one, foggy figures floated down the ladder and closed around her in a circle, speaking in tongues while they watched her slip away.
Stranded in the middle of a boundless desert, Klara saw nothing else except the dunes interwoven underneath a pearl heaven. Red clouds drifted in eastward and westward, painting the sands with a bloody downpour. The storm closed in on Klara and dyed her red. Her body dissolved to black bone-dust, but no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t scream.
In front of her was the alley-monster, a creature closer to Death than human. Maggots squirmed from his mouth, his eyes, his ears, his nose—sprouting like fungi.
“….er…k..ll….o..s,” he said.
She couldn’t move. The corners of the beast’s mouth widened to the back of his head, ripping the flesh of his lips away to expose the red ooze underneath. Then his head dropped, and at once his face split in half. Sulfur smoke emitted from the split, and from it the maggots gushed and burrowed in the sand. There was an incessant wail. Earth shook. The sky ripped. Space-time deformed to non-Euclidean proportions. Blood flooded the air, but beneath that deafening monsoon she heard the desert hum:
“Suffer like all the others.”
A wave of pain spiked through Klara’s skull. The front side of her felt cold. Raising her head from a marble floor, she saw herself lying stomach-down in a large rotunda. Layers of black tarp covered the dome, letting in microscopic sunrays down the walls. Hanging on those walls were black banners depicting Earth as the third eye to two others. Forty men and women in hooded burgundy cloaks and night-vision goggles circled her—six of them aimed assault rifles at her from an imperial staircase leading up to an archway.
In front of Klara was a naked, emaciated, humanoid monster covered in burn scars. Blood dripped out from its missing left frontal bone like a leaky faucet on the floor, and through the gap she saw its brain shiver and pulsate. But what unsettled her the most was seeing its irregular breathing in sync with Klara’s.
A small, old man with the same goggles emerged from the archway with two men supporting his arms. His bisht and thawb possessed newness he didn’t have, and his short ratty hair sat upon a gold laurel wreath throne.
He hobbled down the stairs. When he reached the floor, the men released him and bowed.
“Before the dawn,” they said.
“Is the dusk,” the old man wheezed. Buried below his wheezing was a deep, strong voice. He pointed a frail finger to where they stood. “Wait.”
“Without hesitation, my Prophet,” they both said.
Someone in a black cloak emerged from the crowd. He handed the Prophet a cane with a lion’s brass head for the handle. “Does he require anything else?” he said.
“No. Thank you Douglas.”
Douglas bowed and placed himself between the Prophet’s two helpers.
The Prophet limped to Klara. His cane shook and wobbled, waiting for the chance to fall under his weight. She could sense the unease of the people around her. Then the cane slipped.
His knees hit the ground with a dull thud. He yelped. After his helpers rushed and lifted him up he swung his cane at them, striking one of them in the calf.
“Wait where I told you to wait!”
“Yes my Prophet!” They did as he ordered.
The Prophet limped and moaned until he stood over her. Klara could feel the mucus in his panting in her own chest. To her it was strange—from the floor this fragile thing appeared giant; how pathetic had she become?
“How do you feel?” the Prophet asked.
As she opened her mouth to speak so too did the naked beast. It was then she realized a standing mirror had been placed in front her. Her words lost their sound. Seeing her wound intensified the pain.
The prophet smiled, displaying blotted teeth and gums perfect for an anti-smoking PSA. He looked at her in the mirror. “Do you even recognize yourself anymore?”
“W-where am I?”
“To guide you, to save you, to show you glory in virtue. For too long you’ve suffered in shadows, battling against nature. You’ve seen the bridge to paradise, now allow us to help you cross it.” He lifted his arm and guided it around the rotunda. “Stay with us and you will be given happiness you never thought possible.”
(I have to get out of here!)
“I’m afraid we cannot let you go Klara. Like the eyes of the sky to the ocean, the tides of peace cannot flow without your strength.”
Shock hit her like a grenade. She didn’t say anything, did she?
“Nothing needs to be said,” the Prophet said. “For the Prophet sees truth and fate in all.”
Her head pounded. She could feel herself dying, or at least she thought she was. Wherever the exit was she had to find it.
She hauled herself up, the high she rose the more the Prophet looked like a child. The stairway sentries gripped their rifles tighter and stared down their iron sights.
The Prophet’s smile waned for an instant. “Please Klara, I understand your reluctance given the circumstances, but I urge you to reconsider.”
Any reconsideration Klara would’ve had seeped into the blood trailing behind her. Voices rose in the background. Her food and vision swirled like a carnival ride. She saw a dozen doors, but whenever she approached one it vanished.
“Klara, you don’t know what you’re doing,” the Prophet said. “You’re delirious—you lost a lot of blood. Come, let’s take you to bed. It’ll give you time to heal and really think about—”
The real exit began to come into focus. Klara stumbled towards it.
“Come back! You’re missing the opportunity of a lifetime!” The Prophet limped after her, panting. “Do you know the work we put in to have you here? Listen to me!”
He raised his cane and hammered the handle against the back of her head.
She winced in pain. In one swift motion, she turned around and clawed the Prophet’s face. He screamed as he collapsed.
“Open fire!” a sentry shouted.
“Stop!” shouted the Prophet, raising a hand. “Don’t shoot!” His other hand was over his right eye. Blood rolled through his fingers and onto his bisht.
She looked down at her hand. Scraps of skin and blood clung to her claws. Rage engulfed her. The humiliation, the suffering; her torment manifested into a black hate. She readied herself like a predator in waiting, eager to murder them, to hear their rat-like pleas for mercy—
A green ball formed in her stomach, it rolled and bloat up her chest and in her throat until she couldn’t hold it any longer.
Klara vomited. She fell.
“Help her,” said some small bleeding man on his back. There was a vague darkness where his eyes were supposed to be.
Three figures approached and lifted her, two by each arm and one by legs. The same vague darkness around their eyes. They marched for a time carrying her…. ascending like angels to heaven…rising into a void…. swallowing them……in a mouth light never passes……
A montage of colors and sounds sprang through the darkness. Through her broken sleep, she didn’t know what was life or fiction.
Indian silk swam between Klara’s fingers as her body coasted on a cotton cloud. She opened her eyes, and at once the dark bedroom they witnessed intoxicated them like chardonnay. Baroque furniture dressed the white-chocolate walls like wedding cake décor. Her head and stomach throbbed, and the faint taste of bile was stuck in her throat, yet the unpleasantness disappeared as her eyes floated along the milk textures and gilded trims. She could almost forget the nausea was there to begin with.
She almost forgot where she was.
Gooseflesh gripped her. She dragged herself out of bed, too weak to even run.
Klara nudged the door ajar and peeked through. The hallway seemed clear. She pushed it open a little more. Still empty. With a lump of fear in her throat she slipped outside, expecting to face the barrel end of a rifle in her last second of life.
She breathed a sigh of relief as she slid the door shut behind her.
The hall she entered was like a traveling inside a marble mountain. A black-and-white damask rug stretched to the ends of hall left and right of her, the left led to a rounded double door and the right to a large archway. Across from her were four-story windows shaded by vanilla stage curtains—mounted on the walls between them were bronze candelabra whispering glass music through their weblike holders and unlit candles. She saw the sun in them. Just one spark. Fire. She moved on, forcing the image to the back of her head.
Klara dragged herself to the door. The soles of her feet brushed against the soft rug. She could feel her legs wobbling under her. (Move move move move move)
The softest silver light came through a broken, curtainless window—the last one before the doorway—and flowed down the wall and onto the floor like a waterfall. Jagged shadows of the remaining glass broke the light like rocks; it had been a long time since she saw it, but she knew it was starlight. Klara approached unafraid. However, when she came face to face with the outside, what she saw astonished her.
Above the emerald grass, the Milky Way’s enormous eye slept upon a chandelier of infinite stars—motley and bright against black of night. Above the eye, a crystal meteor sailed by, lost in its voyage to nowhere. The boundless scale of it all! History, philosophy, fact, faith—eroded to oblivion by an awareness of Earth’s smallness.
All consequence is inconsequential, the night seemed to say.
Emotions raged. She never knew the night sky was this beautiful.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” a familiar voice shouted from a distance.
She turned and saw the Prophet being pushed in a wheelchair from the archway-side of the hall by a man in a black cloak. A bloodied gauze bandaged most of his face, holding a cotton pad over his right eye. His leathery hands gripped the cane lying on his lap. Strapped to the back of the wheelchair were two oxygen tanks.
“I’ve always meant to get that window fixed,” he said. “But you can rarely get a view like this. Isn’t that right Douglas?”
“Of course,” the man in the black cloak said. He looked at the busted window, then he looked at her. “Your face looks much better.”
The remark resurfaced the memory of herself in the mirror. Her fingers grazed her head, careful not to poke her brain. Feeling the fractured edges of her skull, she judged the hole in her forehead to be no bigger than a dime. Around the hole was a ring of bare bone, around that was muscle, until she touched skin right above her left eye.
Douglas wheeled the Prophet next to Klara and removed his goggles for him. The old man’s sunken eyes looked up at the night sky. He pointed at it. “If you look up there you can see Cassiopeia.”
A murderous urge raged inside her. But could she?
The stars held their silence for eternal seconds, twisting her heart until she spoke. “I’m—”
“Leaving,” the Prophet finished. “I’m sorry you want to leave, but I understand. You’re free to go.”
“By all means. We can’t force you to be here. I suggest you go now, sunrise is in two hours.”
“I can handle it.”
“I know you can.” The Prophet winked and gave his brown-toothed grin. “Goodbye Klara. Our doors are open to you if you change your mind.”
She stepped out the broken window and onto a lawn as big as a 9-hole golf course. Pure sweet air flowed through her lungs. Orange leaves rustled. Crickets chirped. The grass—overgrown but not weedy—tickled her feet. A relaxing warmth poured through her neck and down her back like honey.
Drifting…like water…to the front of the fairytale chateau, almost sure it was a dream, she spotted a white Grand Marquis parked down a hill with the trunk an inch open. It was just a background detail at first, but the more she noticed how little was shown, the more curious she became. If it’s right there…
She went to the car and opened the trunk. Inside was her cloak with blood puddles pooled in its creases. Given today’s events, what shocked her most about the discovery was that she forgot her cloak at all.
She took it out by the shoulder seams and the blood rolled off like rain off plastic sheeting. Wrapping the cloak around herself added life to her spirits. It was good to be with a friend. She curled and stretched her toes into the cool dirt. She proceeded to go down the hill, far away from those goggle-wearing freaks. And if they got in her way…
The question grabbed her like quicksand. Then what? What could she do? If they could find her in an abandoned subway without her telling a soul about it, where else was there? First her name and now this. (Am I this easy to figure out? Am I forever trapped? Why is this happening where am I why why why?)
She couldn’t breathe.
The strength in her body vaporized. The grass dissolved to acid, ripping the elegance off her surroundings to reveal its raw ugliness. Her chest tightened. Trapped in a frozen body, she saw him standing there with that gun pointed at her.
Lightheadedness overcame her and floated her mind to the stars like a balloon. The stars showed themselves to her, racing her brain through a cosmic tunnel at light speed, telling her that her worries were based on nothing special, that all consequence was inconsequential. Every star and planet that passed took a pebble from her mountain of dread until the world returned to normal.
All consequence is inconsequential. It made sense. What did she have to lose? If they killed her, so what? Better that than to live not knowing if tomorrow was going to get worse. And if they meant to do good, then it was more reason to stay. But she didn’t want to think about any of that. Right now, she just wanted to go to bed.
A quiver traveled from the head down as her blood thawed. She returned to the mansion breathing bittersweet air.
She reentered through the broken window. Silence echoed through the great marble hall. Wondering where the Prophet was, she traveled up the hall to tell him about her decision.
Douglas came through the archway she was walking to. They met each other in the middle of the hall.
“You’re back,” Douglas said.
“Changed my mind. Where is he? I might as well tell him I’m back.”
“No need. He knew you’d be here.” Douglas folded his hands in front of him. “Found your cloak too. You went inside the trunk, didn’t you?”
“How did you know?”
“How do you think we you got here? We weren’t going to repeat the same mistake as last time.”
What Douglas said triggered a vague memory in her mind. She looked at the broken window she walked through. “Was I here before?”
“You were. I’m actually the one who found you. I would’ve taken you to a hospital had I not known who you were.”
“You know who I am?”
He turned to face her. “Who doesn’t? You’re on the news all the time.”
“I am? Sorry, I don’t watch the news.”
Douglas laughed. “I see. Probably for the better too.” He sighed and gave a tired salute. “Well goodnight. Oh, before I go I have to tell you that we have to give you a physical examination tomorrow. You know, check your health, see if you’re not allergic to anything.”
Klara shrugged. It was a weird request, but far from the weirdest thing that happened today. “Fine.”
Douglas nodded. “Well see me if you need to talk about anything.” He walked to the double door and closed it behind him, leaving Klara all by herself.
Thoughts kept her awake in bed. Any possible answer to her situation was drowned out by ten other questions, but those questions soon lullabied her to sleep, allowing her the best rest she ever had.
She had never seen eaten this much meat in her life.
Red. White. Ground. Fillet. Bone in. Bone out. Her stomach won the battle against her mind. As long as it was dead before it hit the plate, she was able to fill herself to her heart’s desire.
Klara also spent nights lying in the snow stargazing. Sometimes the Prophet joined her. In the beginning, she’d acknowledge him with sidelong glances, the sight of his face made her stomach crawl inside itself. Then he got her a telescope. After that, he gave her astronomy lessons. Trust replaced mistrust, and soon they watched the sky together like daughter and father. Jupiter and its moons were her favorite—she didn’t know what the Prophet saw in Leo.
She was observing midnight’s waning moon when someone in a heavy black winter outfit and a dim flashlight came up to her. Klara had told everyone lights were okay, they just had to be dim and not on her for too long. She was getting tired of wandering around in the dark all the time. Even now, she’d fantasizing about waking up during the early hours of the morning. The stars awoke something in her that made her appreciate the light.
“Spot any alien life yet?” he said.
Klara looked up from the lens. It was Douglas. “Oh hey. What brings you out?”
Douglas looked down at her bare feet submerged in the snow. She wore nothing but her off-white silk pajamas. “How are the nightmares?”
“And the sleep paralysis—the meditation helping?”
“A bit. Thanks for the advice.”
Douglas perched his lips and nodded, as if in thought about something else. With his head bowed he kicked a bit of snow around. “The Prophet needs to see you.”
“What does he want?”
“It’s better if he talks to you about it.”
Until now Douglas always played the messenger between the Prophet and Klara if they were far apart. If he had to see her now face-to-face, it had to be urgent.
Douglas escorted her inside the mansion. The high walls of the labyrinth halls draped the same three-eyed banners that hung in the rotunda. She could feel them staring down at her, expecting her to carry the weight of its globe on her shoulders. Tracing the corners of the walls, she picked at her manicured claws, praying the news wasn’t as bad as she made it in her head.
“You hear about what happened to that two-year-old and her mother in Chicago?” Douglas said.
She tugged at the end of her sleeves. “I heard.”
“In public and in broad daylight. What’s wrong with people?”
“You think the guy’s gonna get caught?”
Douglas sighed. “I doubt it—the cowards. Everyone’s too selfish and afraid to do anything.”
Klara scanned the ground for a pattern to focus on. “At least the mother has a small chance of making it.”
“I hope she’ll be alright.”
Douglas and Klara said nothing else as they walked to the Prophet’s study. His cane laid on top of a dusty mahogany desk next to the study’s door. Douglas opened the door and led themselves inside.
Bookshelves and rosewood paneling lined the room. In the center laid the Prophet in a twin bed with an oxygen mask on and an IV in his right wrist. The hospital gown contrasted with the gold laurel wreath he couldn’t bear to part with.
“You called?” Klara said.
A smile weaved itself on the prophet’s face. He removed the mask. “Finally! You had me waiting longer than the Wife of Bath.”
The Prophet laughed. “Oh it’s noth…nothing…” He began to cough. Douglas insisted on getting water, but the Prophet refused.
“Douglas, bring her a chair,” he said. Klara saw him struggle to swallow spit, gritting his teeth as if he were drinking nails.
“Are you sure—”
“I’m fine! Just go.”
Douglas left the room.
Klara walked up to the side of his bed and gently squeezed his hand. The claw marks, although faded, were still visible on the right side of his face. “Are you okay?”
The Prophet shook his head. “I’m fine.” He took several more breaths from his mask. “Damn emphysema. Please have a seat.”
“Douglas didn’t come back.”
“Oh. Right. The painkillers you know—” He flopped his hand in small circles. “I feel out of it sometimes.”
Klara nodded. “How’s your chest?”
“A lot better than yesterday. But enough about me, I wanted to talk about you.” Suddenly, he took his eyes off her and widened them in surprise. “Ah, just in time!”
Douglas entered with the dining room chair and placed it in front of the bed. “Shall I get anything else my Prophet?”
“No thank you. You’re dismissed.”
Douglas bowed and left the room.
“What would I do without him?”
“I don’t know.”
The prophet offered her the seat. Klara took it.
“I love this study. My bedroom is just too big for me to get used to.” He cleared his throat. “So, Klara, why do you think we have you here?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out for the past four months. Everyone refused to tell me anything.”
“I know, I told them not to. You have to understand that up until now we didn’t think you were ready to go along with our plans.” He pointed up at a bookshelf. “Do an old man a favor and hand me that book up there. It’s the big red one on the second shelf.”
Klara got up from her chair. She reached up and pulled out the book by its spine. It was heavier than it looked, like a lead-loaded pillow. The cover had Epiphanies of the Prophet embossed in ivory letters. She carefully placed it on his lap. After that was done, she sat back down.
The Prophet flipped to the first page. “Epiphany 1: To survive nature, homo sapiens had to adopt savagery and intelligence above their predators. In their quest for self-preservation, sapiens evolved to man; however fear turned to cowardice, happiness to greed, needed violence became needless for there was now no consequence to infinite power. This is the origin of evil.
“Epiphany 2: Our creation of religion, karma, economy, ethics are pebbles quelling the waterfall of human ambition. Cunning and strength, our god-weapons, erode all limits to sand. But like a wooden cart bearing a mountain of coal, so too do we break under the burden of our own power. The fall of Rome, Germany in 1945, the dissolution of the USSR. Self-destruction is the result of evil’s existence.”
He flipped a dozen pages forward. “Epiphany 89: Non-violence is a road of fool’s gold. To bring true good to humanity, we must revert to our ancestral impulses and fight evil with greater evil. Destroy the wicked and the weak that protect them. Be merciless; the smallest kindle left unextinguished can burn a forest to nothing.”
Klara’s hands wrung the bottom of her silk top-pajama. A loose book that fell from the shelf and hit the floor caused her to startle. Yet the Prophet continued—perhaps it was from the falling of the book, or the words he read, but a vigor awoke deep within him and shook his voice.
“Epiphany 99: One might ask how. How do we! How do we the evolved, do not repeat the history of evil we aim to rid!! The answer lies in the deity we all fear. Klara.”
When he said her name, Klara bladder twisted. A sharp itch rippled through her spine.
“Epiphany 100: Klara, the world-destroyer! Klara, the devourer! Klara, the wrathful! Klara, the feared! Thirty million emigrated North America to drive an ocean between them and certain death. Even against the efforts of the most powerful military and police the world has ever seen, she continues to rampage the nation without so much as a pinprick! Does this not more than prove her ability to be the divine empress of our Shangri-La, to be the absolute judge of all men? With us as her subjects, she shall birth a new Eden!”
Klara’s mind lost all ability to think. What she saw, smelled, felt, heard, tasted—all of it warped to unreality. She didn’t even notice her claws ripping the bottom of her pajama-top.
The Prophet released a deep exhale, as if making an exit for the devil that possessed him. But his voice kept firm. “Now you see, Klara, who we are and what our purpose is. I, my disciples, we can only do so much. However you, you are the key we have been looking for.”
“The existence of our monastery purely serves to steer you toward the righteous path—we don’t want to control you, far from it.” He paused a minute to collect his breath. Closing his eyes, almost in meditation, he continued. “Klara, do you want to amend for the pain you caused thousands?”
Reluctantly, Klara told him she did.
He opened his eyes. A mellow aura veiled him. “Well unless you starve yourself to death, then this is what you have to do. You are carnivorous ruin, it’s what you were meant to be.”
Her pulse hammered her eardrums. She breathed the way Douglas had showed her: Big breath in through the nose. Slow breath through the mouth. Although still anxious, she managed to tell him no.
The Prophet smiled. “Of course. You can leave now.” The way he said ‘Of course’, his blackened and slimy mouth—they had a frost that slithered up the back of her neck like fingers up a child’s skirt. She tried to stand on steady legs, but the blood rushing to her head made her dizzy. With utmost focus, she walked out the study, desperate not to faint in front of the Prophet and give him the control he thirsted for.
(I need to get out of here!)
Klara noticed Douglas as she left the room. He was leaning against the mahogany desk, twirling the Prophet’s cane like a bored Broadway musician, but his attention went to her the moment he heard the door creak open. He laid the cane on the desk and asked, “Is everything alright?”
Instead of answering she took off in the direction of the mansion’s front door, all the while Douglas trailed behind her telling her to stop.
“Get away from me,” she said.
Klara lost him going in the cafeteria. Keeping straight between the tables, she slammed through the double doors and entered the grand marble hall—had not the shattered window been fixed she would’ve left through it. Instead, she sprinted down the hall, she was ready to feel the snow melting on her face. Then a thought snapped in her head.
(They’ll find me again.)
She stopped running. The hall seemed to hang frozen in time. The thought replayed in her head louder and louder until it was all she could think. Then, breaking her trance, Douglas burst through the cafeteria doors with two other men in burgundy cloaks.
“Get her!” he ordered.
Almost tripping over herself, she sprinted to the bedroom door further down on her right and leapt inside. Then without a break in thought, she pushed the bed, the dressers, the lounge chair, all the furniture she could move in front of the door, leaving a large area of nothing around the room. Klara cowered in the corner of the room, certain that the knocking and shouting on the other side of the door would break down the barricade. But it soon ended, and after a dozen hours of silence she fell asleep.
Trapped in her dark hell-den, Klara dissolved herself in the piss-stained carpet. Most of the cream-colored wall paint had been picked at like scabs and exposed the sheetrock underneath. Klara rolled a paint chip on her tongue and chewed it into a thin paste before she swallowed.
As the days passed more fluids caked on her skin, even more so between her legs. But as starvation and fear grew Klara learned to accept her waste, for with it came the nourishment and protection keeping her frail body alive. Soon she realized that no matter how imaginary, insignificant, or putrid it was, every element in the room shielded the purity of her soul. It was everything outside the door, down to the subatomic particle, out to betray and harm her. Her never-ending prayers reminded her of this and more:
(I am the room the room is I womb it is river red river red let river red let holy light shine blackest swim upon oceanland let the river red for so lonely I am painless death will not visit.)
The alley-monster perched on her bed like a gargoyle repeating her thoughts in a low, distorted growl as maggots dripped from his eyes and writhed on the floor. Klara watched him without fear or loss of breath. He was with her, he always had been, but up until now she hadn’t been able to see that.
As she was rocking back and forth in fetal position, chewing her once manicured claws into jagged swords, the sound of an engine starting came from outside. Then, the roaring blades of a chainsaw tore around the edges of the door, ripping its wood into splinters. Klara fell on her tailbone and retreated, screaming, to the corner of the room. The alley-monster locked eyes on her until the door was pulled out from its spot and the barricade was cleared, then he disappeared.
Monks in white hoods and night-vision goggles crowded around where the door used to be. Douglas stood in front of them all. “It’s time to stop hiding,” he said.
“No!” Klara yelled. “Stay away from me!”
Douglas turned his head and nodded. A man entered the room carrying a tranquilizer gun, aimed it at her, and fired. They all waited until Klara slipped away.
Klara awoke to herself being led down the marble hall. Looking down, she found her arms, legs, and neck shackled in a web of chains to the bars of an iron cage. Yanking and pulling, Klara screamed for them to let her out, but the white-hooded monks proceeded forward without any notice to her pleas.
They wheeled her through the double doors, the cafeteria, down the hall where the Prophet’s study was, and through five other areas of the chateau before they were outside on a snowy meadow.
The Prophet stood center from twenty other white-robed men in his bisht and thawb, leaning on his lionhead cane. The glow of the lantern he held at arm’s length put a sunny shine on his gold laurel wreath. Although just out of reach from the light, Klara’s skin warmed.
The people bringing her out took off their goggles. The monks circled around her and the Prophet, making a small arena with their bodies. Douglas was the last to enter as he crossed the circle arena and up to the Prophet. Someone next to him handed Douglas Epiphanies of the Prophet, its red cover flashing under the fire of the Prophet’s oil lantern. He opened the book and began.
“Epiphany 444,” Douglas read. “As the Prophet has written and said, we all desire control. Control of our lives. Control of the world. Control of death. Yet humanity never fails to cease its ignorance of how little it has. Even the Prophet, as great as he is, must submit to this fact.”
A petite woman no older than twenty walked through the crowd holding a single-shot shotgun. Klara’s brute force escape became more desperate than ever.
“But tonight, we relinquish all control from us to Klara. History’s calendars shall read this as the first day of New Eden, and this epiphany shall be the last words of this text.
Douglas closed the book. The Prophet turned to him and laid a hand on his shoulder.
“Thank you,” the Prophet said. With shaky arms, he handed his cane to Douglas, who took it with a deep bow and blended in with the other white cloaks.
The girl popped the firearm open, slid the shell in, and clicked it back together. Her finger touched its trigger as she pointed it at the Prophet’s forehead. Then…
A bright light.
The prophet’s head painted the snow like a Pollock painting. The crater of what used to be his face blended in an orgy of pink and red, and what still clung to his neck deflated like a popped balloon. He fell, dropping the oil lantern in the bed of snow.
A soft croak escaped Klara. Her ears rang. She couldn’t believe what she just saw.
Two men unlocked the cage and removed the chains restraining her. Once they pulled off the last of her shackles, Klara crept to the middle of the circle, looking around her to make sure no one did anything.
The woman traded the shotgun with Klara’s folded black robe with one of the men in the crowd. She walked up to Klara. “Here,” she said with a quivering voice. “We took the liberty of cleaning it for you mother. Mother doesn’t mind our kindness, does she?”
When the lady realized she wasn’t taking the cloak from her, she placed it on the ground and returned to the crowd. With a close eye on everyone Klara crouched and picked it up.
“Please eat mother,” Douglas said, gesturing to the corpse. “You’re very weak.”
Klara wrung the cloak in her shaky hands. The more her eyes drew closer to the cadaver the more her appetite grew. “No.”
“We did this all for you mother.”
The night in the alley resurfaced from the murky depths of her memory, and then, like a nightmare, twisted into a demented spiral of cacophonous laughter. “No! Leave me alone.”
“We’ll do anything for you mother,” the whole crowd said.
“I said leave me alone!”
Klara stormed into the crowd. None of them attempted to hold her back, some even got out of her way. She ran down the white hill to the dead-tree forest that made up the border of the estate. Looking back, she saw a wall of monks staring down at her—waiting, watching till death for the next life they were promised.
After dashing miles through the forest, she came across a chain-link fence with a ‘No Trespassing’ sign. On the other side of it was a double-track railroad.
Leaning on the fence, she took a minute to catch her breath. The pain in her stomach was unbearable. Had not pure, ear-ringing adrenaline been coursing through her she wouldn’t have made it half as far. But even adrenaline can’t keep her alive—if she didn’t eat soon then the days to come might be her last.
Klara put on her black cloak and climbed over the fence, hitting the ground back-first. As snowflakes kissed her cheeks she felt a thin blanket of calmness come over her, to her they were like falling stars.
She picked herself up, letting the snow melt and roll off her cloak.
Although the winter storm greyed out the finer details, Klara spotted in the distance a train with people walking around. She stood there waiting for the train to depart, perhaps because of a meditative trance the blizzard put her in. But it never did, and soon curiosity and hunger merged to spur her to the locomotive.
One by one she saw men, women, and children gather in and around the train. An older man with a steel-blue peaked cap, gloves, and suit to match spoke to them all.
“On the behalf of Oracle Express we apologize for the delay. The train should be moving momentarily.”
More and more people cocked their heads to Klara the closer she got. When the conductor followed their gazes, he ran to the end of the platform and blew his whistle.
“Hey!” he said. “You need to get off the track! Hey, you hear me? I’ll contact the police!”
As Klara remembered the Prophet turn to a slab of meat her stomach roared in pain. As she fixed her eyes on the crowd her stomach roared in pain. As her steps brought her closer her stomach roared in pain. As her steps grew faster her stomach roared in pain. All consequence became inconsequential.
She drew her claws.
She bared her fangs.
Then, she attacked.
The pain in her stomach soon released like a long-held breath.
It was a swamp of gore. Organs clung to the vinyl seats. Blood painted the windows and rolled off Klara’s cloak. The cries and the begging stood as still as the shredded bodies she stepped on. A pacifier bobbed up and down in the red pool of an infant’s gaping chest wound as Klara devoured the insides of the mother gripping him. It was a feasting hall fit for a goddess. Finally, she was home.
Once she pleased her appetite she stepped out onto the platform where two more corpses greeted her. During the time she was outside the snow had eased, the night had started to fade, the police sirens had blared far off in the distance, yet she maneuvered around the boulders and past the branches of the forest without a care in the world.
She reached a small cabin nested in a shallow valley of leafless trees. A corner of the cabin had caved in and the windows were broken, but it would have to do.
She went in. The oak walls of the main room she entered were damaged enough to allow woodchips and water-spots to litter the beige carpet, and the caved-in part of the roof had let snow pile up in the back-right corner. Depressed into the left wall was an alcove, and in the alcove’s right wall was a bathroom. The entire place had been gutted save for the rusted pipes that jutted from the broken tiles in the bathroom.
Klara laid against the bathroom wall, just out of view from the window opposite the alcove. She took off her cloak, wrapped it around her, and closed her eyes.
Klara awoke to the sound of animals trotting through the snow outside. Probably a herd of deer, she figured.
She put on her cloak and stretched, popping the muscles in both her legs and back till the tension melted. She stepped out the bathroom and—
It was day.
She leapt back in, smacking against the wall hard enough to shake the bathroom. She inspected her body for burns—none as far as she could tell. Peering her head out the door, Klara saw the shadow from the roof hide the alcove from the sunlight glaring through the window.
Unable to sleep and with nowhere to go, Klara slipped out the bathroom and sat pressed up against the rear of the alcove waiting for night to fall, envisioning the next dinner to come—the monks seemed as good of a meal as any.
Out the window Klara spotted a squirrel scurrying around the ankle-high snow; the rising sun glistened its dewed fur, even as Klara lurked in the dark the winter morning lifted a corner of her lip.
The herd’s footsteps came closer and scared off the critter. Then she heard voices sounding off call signs and unit numbers, boots crunching snow, metal tapping on fabric, the wind-chopping roar of a helicopter. The smell of blood was thicker than ever. They found her
Klara retreated to the bathroom. She counted seven to ten in the group closest to her by fine-focusing her ear to judge how their breaths and steps overlapped. They were going to the cabin.
Big breath in.
Slow breath out.
She was ready.
The cabin swarmed with howls of “Police!” from body-armored, assault-rifled Marshals. Klara soared out the bathroom and into the lead hurricane—claws removed a face—screams—claws blinded another—screams—a bullet grazed Klara’s nose, another pierced her right shoulder—then five in her torso, one in her right cheek, three in her legs—she lifted the blind man to shield herself—bullets riddled him—“Cease fire!”
Rifles silenced—she hurled the corpse at two men—the wall behind them dented—two bullets broke her left forearm—her fangs broke another’s trachea—Two dead, three down, two left.
The two retreated the cabin still firing their weapons. Then one of their rifles clicked empty. As he yanked at his sidearm holster Klara pounced on his friend and shredded him inside-out.
Only one officer remained. He removed his pistol and began firing in her direction. Hit in the jaw—miss—miss—hit in the neck—miss. That was as far as he got before his toes pointed up.
Like smelling salts, the coming thunder of the badged mob roused her out of her bloodlusted trance. All at once she felt the sunlight searing her skin and the eruption of agony from her wounds. No strength was left in her; only through supernatural willpower was she able to move at all.
The air ran thick with smoke and metal. Between the trees and over the branches Klara maneuvered with a fast limp. The gust from the helicopter blades beat down on her like the world on Atlas. Time and time again she was hit by the stray rounds, and as they stripped parts of her brain so too did they strip her thoughts and identity. Was there no end to the torment? Yet she pressed forward—desperate not to fall as prey to those lesser than her.
Klara approached a circular field clearing and ran through it. Above and front of her was the helicopter, hovering over with a man sitting at the side aiming a sniper rifle at her. Their flight cast a shadow over the face of the sun, washing her with the momentary relief of that black shelter.
A bright light.
CREDIT : Marquise Williams