JazzTeeth

My Name is Eri- Ch.7 "Live, Live, Live"

May 21st, 2015
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  1. On the other side of the city, you walked down a street, hands in pocket and eyes looking towards every sudden flutter or cry of excitement, hoping Erica may be behind it. Not one strange thing happened, and you hated that the fact unnerved you.
  2.  
  3. You feared she may have skipped out of town and into a different country when a charge in the air lifted the hairs on the back of your head and a few lights twinkled. You knew all kinds of hell was primed to flood the city and no one had a life vest.
  4.  
  5. The block exploded with the din of car alarms and electricity dying and coming back. Not make a scene, you thought. You spent the entire evening in a half-controlled panic, wondering where she went, what she was doing, what she would do. What could she do?
  6.  
  7. The ground shook.
  8.  
  9. What could you do?
  10.  
  11. People shouted up and down the street. A lady across the road dialed number after number on her phone, trying to make sure her mom was safe. A man clamped onto a light pole and looked set to hang on until morning. Cars slammed their brakes.
  12.  
  13. The power died with the groan of a shot elephant.
  14.  
  15. Someone cussed. Car horns screamed in unearthly code while their engines turned over and over and over. Electricity surged through the block and several bulbs popped. Glass peppered the man hugging the pole. He still didn't let go.
  16.  
  17. You looked to the air, almost hoping to see her, praying to God you wouldn't see any planes overhead.
  18.  
  19. Nothing but stars in the sky. That felt like good news.
  20.  
  21. Thick clouds bubbled over the city and lightning lurked behind the gray masses. The air rumbled with the clash of colossal metal drums.
  22.  
  23. You grimaced and swept your head down so fast your neck cracked. The air itself could catch fire if someone snapped their fingers. Maybe it would, if she wanted that. We kindly ask all citizens to refrain from using matches or lighters for the duration of the crises.
  24.  
  25. None of this was right. The breaths zipping through your nose showed no sign of slowing. Fear planted your feet to the ground, but a piece of glass in your chest urged you to move. You needed to find Erica and grab a reign to keep the situation from worsening. Tell her to stop, if she'd listen. If anything of Erica still lived inside that...whatever it was. At the very least you could distract her, even if she wouldn't pay much attention.
  26.  
  27. It dawned that you were the only person in this city who knew her name.
  28.  
  29. Why did you let her run off alone?
  30.  
  31. You took a step, although you didn't know where to go. Lightning flickered on skyscraper antennae and the glass panes of buildings shimmered as if brushed with thick soap.
  32.  
  33. Running seemed like the only sensible thing to do, so you ran. You followed the cries, the heavy clash of car accidents and booms of thunder. Deeper and deeper into the maelstrom of raucous violence.
  34.  
  35. It started off as a normal, if vicious thunderstorm. But things escalated. The sky darkened, it was already night, but the air hanging between buildings thickened and dampened the glow of what few lights held on in the flailing power grid.
  36.  
  37. Lightning fell from the sky and didn't take the path of least resistance. It shocked the street, jumped and skipped on sidewalks and window ledges with the reckless joy of children playing. You ran for long minutes, concentrating only on the next step. Searching for a safe path was futile, because safety applied nowhere.
  38.  
  39. The wind howled. Dirt clouds billowed over rooftops and litter smacked your hair. You spat dust and slapped away a Sprite bottle before it hit your face. By this time you were the only idiot still in the road. Most people hid indoors or inside their cars.
  40.  
  41. Any moment the wind would pick up and blow you further than you could run. Maybe that wouldn't be so bad. It might blow you somewhere nice. A beach, or cozy mountain cabin where calm and quiet was the rule and stocked with hot chocolate and warm fur rugs laid out in front of a fireplace
  42.  
  43. Considering what you saw, you'd rather be anywhere else in the world. You saw things. Bad things. The lightning turned unnatural. Thorny light hit the ground and sides of buildings, sometimes taking chunks away or leaving things behind. Trees, spouts of water, an explosion of birds, or a host of other unsettling oddities
  44.  
  45. The snow-white glares hung in the air and you shielded your eyes, but spots floated in your vision.
  46.  
  47. A car sat on the roadside. A man was inside it, but he wanted more than a few inches of metal and upholstery between his head and the malignant clouds above. He elbowed the driver's door opened and he looked to the nearest building's entry with the hysteria of a man about to make a prison break.
  48.  
  49. The man sprinted from the car and towards the entry. You saw the lightning coming from a distance away. It arced slow and long, twisting and shooting greedy fingers forward. The bolt touched him and he disappeared, leaving behind not so much as a shoe or soot mark. He didn't see it coming for him.
  50.  
  51. Chills, bugs, and chattering teeth brought you to a full halt while the rest of the storm raged around you.
  52.  
  53. How many people were struck and plucked from the ground faster than they could blink? Where did she send them, and how would they look when they arrived?
  54.  
  55. The danger of running felt keen as more threads of white-hot streaks fell over the skyline. Thunder shattered the pipe-fantasy of turning around and walking away. At the rate of things, the city would be emptied by morning.
  56.  
  57. But hell if you wanted to be out in the open. You dove into the car the panicked fool left open. Its keys rested in the ignition and you breathed thanks and half-mad laughter. You had a not entirely unrealistic expectation of seeing an alligator crawl out of the hood when turning the key, but the car started as normal.
  58.  
  59. Garbled chatter and grated waves poured out of the radio. Angry, excited, howls of the mad. No wonder the guy tried to run. You twisted the dial to no effect and tore the faceplate off. The speakers reduced to static.
  60.  
  61. Your forehead thumped on the steering wheel to think. Sickness crept up your throat.
  62.  
  63. Fight it down. Keep it down. Take the car out of park. Drive. Fast.
  64.  
  65. But where?
  66.  
  67. Wherever Erica is. But where would Erica be? Dancing on the rooftops with an umbrella? Running down the street and tossing people into the sky?
  68.  
  69. You looked up again. The green plated tower in the medical district shone through the dirt devils and pitch-black clouds. No muddled crackles of lights lurked inside the clouds there. In fact, there were no clouds hanging over the building.
  70.  
  71. You stepped on the gas.
  72.  
  73. Having the dirt out of your eyes felt good, but you didn't feel much safer inside the vehicle. Things sprouted up from the concrete. Slabs of rock or thick plants that you swerved around. Lightning continued to spear the ground near and far. You should've buckled up.
  74.  
  75. The tower grew closer. Cars still cluttered the roads, some speeding, some not. Night time traffic was the only saving grace the streets had. You couldn't imagine the carnage if Erica decided to loose herself during the day. The light of fires raged in spurts on the horizon and cast angry orange strips beneath the blackened sky canopy. Fire trucks, police cruisers, and ambulances dashed through intersections, flooding the sides of building with washes of blue, red, and white.
  76.  
  77. Street lights pulsed in desperate Morse code. Chunks of old memories weaved you down curves and over bridges. Windows from buildings blinked awake and died down. Far away the palpitations of the city's lights gave the impression of some great thing in the spasm of death or throes of birth.
  78.  
  79. The ground shook in an upheaval of power, electric or otherwise. The front of the car lifted as if tempted by a magnet and slammed to the ground, almost making you knock your teeth out on the steering wheel.
  80.  
  81. You grunted and fought for control as the wheels swerved upon contact. You barely regained control when you felt gravity lessen and lift the car once more. Other cars on the road lifted at timid angles like an animal inspecting a new toy. Trees raised their branches upwards, pleading. Leaves undulated, giving praise to whoever stirred the wind.
  82.  
  83. Skin tightened on your fingers and the back of your hand. The car and your stomach raised off the ground. Visibility more than five feet out the window was hopeless, even with the floodlights on. You only saw a towering, green phantom.
  84.  
  85. A bolt hit a spit's distance in front of your path and left a forty foot bus rocking on its suspension.
  86.  
  87. You swore, and swung the car in a heavy curve around the vehicle, fighting off the grim urge to look through the windows to see if anyone was inside.
  88.  
  89. You sped to get far, far away from that bus and not caring for the risk of colliding into a pole or another vehicle. Almost there. You didn't know what to do when you found her, but she couldn't continue like this.
  90.  
  91. Shafts of lightning hit a building and bounced between windows until dissolving into a shower of sparks that sprayed over your car. The engine kicked off. You pressed the brakes and fought the steering wheel as the car skidded over the concrete until it ran over a sidewalk bump and halted on a patch of grass.
  92.  
  93. You knocked the side of your head on the window, but otherwise felt unhurt. You cussed and swore and your knuckles turned white from gripping the steering wheel on the now-dead car.
  94.  
  95. At least you were closer than when you started. You dug through the glove box and found a pair of sunglasses. You pulled your shirt over your nose, took a deep breath, and opened the door. You checked the sky for lightning before stepping out.
  96.  
  97. The wind outside the car roared. Dirt chipped your arms and you thought of desert storms that blew sand hard enough to clean the muscle off bones. You pressed the glasses against your face to keep the worst particles out of your eyes, and saw the glow of the tower. You fought for one step. You fought for another.
  98.  
  99. Your body hunched low and your walk slackened to a heavy lurch. The darkness was only relieved by the beacon of green and threats of lightning. Heavy gales whipped your body and shoved you around. For every step you took forward, you took five to the side.
  100.  
  101. You fell. The wind blew you a yard by the time you hit the ground and rolled you over even more like a kicked dog. The sunglasses flew off and you inhaled a mouthful of dust. Your eyes stung, but wiping only stung them more. The tower still shown through bleary eyes. Hand over hand, you crawled.
  102.  
  103. You coughed and more dirt plugged your throat. You pulled your shirt over your mouth, but the wind blew it away and thunked you again for trying.
  104.  
  105. No visibility remained between the overcast sky and wind that seemed to carry nothing but smoke, and tears into your eyes. All you could do was move, but you couldn't tell if you were going forward.
  106.  
  107. You moved one foot. Two feet. Three. You wanted to sleep and never wake up. Four.
  108.  
  109. The wind stopped.
  110.  
  111. Dust stopped scratching your skin. Your ears rang against the pindrop silence. You rolled onto your back and hacked everything out of your torso and stared red-eyed at the clear night sky over head. You leaned on a shaky arm and looked at the impenetrable wall of swirling dark air you crawled away from.
  112.  
  113. You turned around and saw the dominating green tower, surrounded by its herd of hospital buildings. Quiet was the last place this area should be, especially now. A chill settled over your shoulders.
  114.  
  115. Leaves drifted across the roads. You stood upright and placed a nervous foot on the sidewalk. Sky walks passed overhead as you moved deeper into the storm's quiet eye. The lights at intersections changed normally. Electricity flowed uninterrupted.
  116.  
  117. You reached an intersection and read a sign decorated with arrows. Left, medical park. Right, cancer center. North, children's hospital, and so on. No telling where she'd hole up. Steps tapped one by one as you moved in a slow circle to consider your options.
  118.  
  119. A quiet hum hid beneath the silence and you could hear its whispers a little better from the park's direction. You headed left.
  120.  
  121. Trimmed hedges and flowers wafted on the edges of walkways. The strangest sensation of sleep walking overcame your body as you traversed a paved path. Each consecutive step felt lighter and lighter, as if you'd float away if you didn't step gingerly.
  122.  
  123. The path curved around manicured trees and mushroom lights spreading soft light over the ground. Statues with unreadable plaques rested by wooden benches with spiraling iron arm-rests. The humming became clearer. It carried no recognizable tune or pattern, but its clean, melodic sweeps soothed your ears.
  124.  
  125. The park opened up into a wide courtyard framed by spiraling lattice work crawling up adjacent buildings. The sidewalk swerved through the center in a lazy fashion, and tall, handsome black lanterns glowed in the night. To your eyes, the lights filtered through space as if underwater instead of air.
  126.  
  127. Erica laid in the middle of the courtyard. Her white mane flowed over the grass like waves frozen in time. Her wings spread out lazily, and her tail curved on the grass like a kite string the wind left behind. Silver moonlight teased the tips of her fur.
  128.  
  129. Her arms drifted in the air, conducting an unseen and sleepy orchestra. You looked up and saw the towers on all sides rising high into the air, vanishing into the star filled sky.
  130.  
  131. At your final step, her fingers stilled. Her arms lowered to lift her upper body from the ground. She twisted her lengthy torso and the river of her hair flowed against gravity. The tips of her wings traced over the grass, deep blue in the night. She turned her graceful neck towards you and her golden eyes lit.
  132.  
  133. Erica said your name and her smile gave off enough warmth to melt snow.
  134.  
  135. You wanted to shout at her. Shake her until she stopped and the world outside made sense, or at least went back to normal.
  136.  
  137. “Are you alright?” you asked.
  138.  
  139. “I'm feeling better than ever,” she said. “I hoped you'd show up.” She studied your irritated eyes, storm-raggled hair, and scratches left behind by razor winds. “Someone sure looks like hell. What were you doing all day? Seems fun.”
  140.  
  141. “What was- What I was doing,” you pointed behind you, “was running for my life and driving like a jackass in a Roland Emmerich movie.”
  142.  
  143. Erica tilted her head. “But you don't have a car.”
  144.  
  145. “I had to take one,” you said.
  146.  
  147. Her eyes widened and she held a paw in front of her mouth. “You stole a car? Not funnin' me? Never figured you'd have the stuff for that.”
  148.  
  149. “Doesn't count as stealing because the driver was abducted by lightning while running away from whatever,” you shook your head, “crazy thing getting you off right now.” You closed the distance between yourselves. “Erica, please-”
  150.  
  151. “That is not my name.” Her visage turned cool.
  152.  
  153. “Eris,” you said, breathing slow and heavy. “I'm sorry, about earlier. Sorry,” your eyes flickered, racing to think of something to say, anything, to convince her to back off. “But I need to know what you're hoping to do here. People are getting hurt all over, the wind almost blew me to the damn coast. It looks like the rapture, and no one, no one except you can explain why so please, I'm begging you, tell me why. Eris, what are you doing?”
  154.  
  155. She shifted her legs beneath her and steadied her upper body on long arms. Her eyes narrowed and her antlers lingered prominently. “Could be I'm teaching them a lesson.”
  156.  
  157. You shook your head and said, “Don't push any bull.”
  158.  
  159. A little smile tugged the corner of her lip. “You caught me. Mostly. I never did have the patience for teaching, but I'm...I'll put it this way,” she rolled her eyes around and blew air.
  160.  
  161. “This city,” Eris said, “and the people in it -all of them, left an ice cream shop with a wonderful view to rot and become cockroach breeding central. Does anyone know how beautiful that little parlor used to be? How beautiful it could still be?” She gazed fondly at you. “How beautiful, I know, only by putting two lost and confused souls in the top room after pulling the boards off the windows?”
  162.  
  163. “You're mad because of an abandoned room?”
  164.  
  165. Her fingers curled and she looked far into your eyes. “You're the only person left in this city who cared, maybe out of the whole world. That...it's...a little bitter. A little sweet. Dorky, but still. I'm not mad about that, no. Never will be.” She licked her lips.
  166.  
  167. “I'm mad because people forget about potential,” she whispered and settled back.
  168.  
  169. “Potential?”
  170.  
  171. Eris nodded. “How many dark, locked up rooms hide potential? Forgotten places that no one thinks about. Who knows what's hiding -life, excitement, danger, love. So many unknowns. It's all potential, just hold a spark to it and watch the fires blaze.” Her gaze drifted through you.
  172.  
  173. “I can see it, you know.” Her fingers thrummed the air in front of her. “Looks like...wires and threads and cables and rope and nooses running all over the place, but tied down by fears and doubts.”
  174.  
  175. Your mind colored in the invisible threads she traced in mid-air. “So to you, all this potential, it's tangled? And you want to untie it?”
  176.  
  177. She nodded, but you couldn't tell if you understood her point, or if she only humored your attempts.
  178.  
  179. “Is that what you were trying to do before? Playing the tricks in the streets and in the bar, you know. Freeing up potential.”
  180.  
  181. “Maybe. Partly. Seems like it. It felt nice, looked nice. Lots of fun, either way.” Her gray eyelids closed. “But I'm finished with tricks,” she said, tired.
  182.  
  183. Bea's face entered her mind. She already changed the life of one woman. Why stop at one? “The outside stinks with discontent and half-thought wishes of people who want something different out of their lives, even if they won't admit it to anyone else or themselves. I'm wondering how I didn't choke on all the smog clogging the atmosphere.”
  184.  
  185. Her fingers clutched the grass, “Well, I know why. I was incomplete in body and mind. But I'm whole now.” Only her shiny lips moved. “Whole. I can fix a few things wrong with the world.”
  186.  
  187. “And what,” you winced inwardly at the trepidation in your voice, “do you think is wrong with the world?”
  188.  
  189. Her stare could spear bodies. She smelled something off in your tone. “A lot of things are wrong. Too many to list.” She looked you down from top to bottom. “Bu-u-u-t, let me start by saying what's wrong with you.”
  190.  
  191. You put your hands in your pockets and raised your chin. You harbored no desire to see where her logic would carry both of you. Unfortunately, no other ideas to keep her occupied arose. “Tell me then. You're the social expert here, right? Illuminate me, please, make sense of my life. Tell me what's wrong with it. I have a few ideas of my own, but I can't seem to trust myself recently -haven't made a lot of good decisions these past few days.”
  192.  
  193. Her eyebrows tilted at the brunt of your words, then the high-beams of her eyes flashed. “You woke up,” she began slowly, “a handful of days ago, staring at the ceiling and wondering what the hell you've ever done wrong.” She slithered near. “You thought, for a long time, if getting out of bed was worth it because so many things in life went to shit and you couldn't imagine which direction it'd keep rolling down hill.”
  194.  
  195. “Felt like you were being jerked in circles on a broken merry-go-round, but the music's broke and that fake horse with the chipped paint job you're strapped too? That's your life and odds are that's gonna keep being your life, and that terrified you. Horrified. A living nightmare.”
  196.  
  197. Her shoulders shook as her voice spewed. “You watched the sun draw shadows over the walls and thought 'Where did it go wrong? I didn't break the rules, yet I'm afraid to get out of bed to slough off and live a life I don't want anymore. Get me a garbage can so I can throw it away.'”
  198.  
  199. You held her gaze and kept your back straight instead of slamming your forehead against her snout.
  200.  
  201. A heavy drone echoed inside her horns.
  202.  
  203. “The worst part? The absolute worst thing about that, that makes me want to tear my hair out? You wanna know?” Her lower lip drew down and her teeth did not touch. “The worst part is you lost count of how many mornings you spent thinking that. Actually, there's a part worse than that -you're not the only one.”
  204.  
  205. She drew a heavy paw through her hair, lost in wretched thoughts. “I can see the discord between people's hearts and the lives they're saddled with. It's amazing that anyone can wake up and trudge through the...the normalized tragedy that weighs this planet down, not knowing if things will get better. Not knowing if they even can get better. It's white noise at this point. Static. Numbing the ears and bound to drive us all deaf before we die.”
  206.  
  207. Her eyes drifted to the grass and her body quieted.
  208.  
  209. You spoke. “Does knowing that hurt you so much that this is all necessary? Is it that bad, for you?”
  210.  
  211. She shrugged. “It's an out-there kind of pain, or, not even out there. Inside. Deep, deep inside, and not everyone can fix it because sometimes they don't know anything needs to be fixed, or they're paralyzed, frozen, glued into what they've become.” The joints in her wings flexed. “Although I guess none of us get much say in what we become.”
  212.  
  213. “Even if they did,” you said, “there's better ways to change lives than storms and lightning. Eris, people are scared right now, right now, and hurting, at something tangible, at that raging thing going on outside. Ease up, put an end to this tonight.” You crouched before her. “Whatever you feel you have to do, this isn't the way to do it. The world can't change so fast, it'd crumble to pieces. Come on, girl. Don't tell me you want that,” you swallowed and added, “please.”
  214.  
  215. Her shoulders shook again. Erica's spine twisted back and her jaw snapped as she laughed. “Can't change fast? Can't?” She howled and beat her wings, like an agitated bird in a wire cage. Her golden eyes sparkled. “You think too small, guy. It's time to think big. No more little tricks, gentle nudges, or hallucinations I thought might make someone happy,” she sneered. “Those limits belonged to someone else.”
  216.  
  217. She stood on her rear legs and pulled up to her full height, a frightful cobra rising to her own song. Her long body swayed as she stepped back, her head slowly tilted towards the night sky.
  218.  
  219. Black nails clacked onto pavement. She flexed her fingers and popped her pronounced knuckles. “I told you before, Starman, the universe is a big place. Haven't you listened at all? Can't you see?”
  220.  
  221. You raised a hand to your ear as the wail from her antlers soared.
  222.  
  223. Her voice sounded far away, like she spoke across a vast chasm. Maybe she was, considering the fathomless distance between you and her, in body and state of mind.
  224.  
  225. “Things have to change. That's how it is. Chaos is the rule, not the exception. It's either rot or live, live, live, because you have no idea how far behind we all are. And there's so much living to do, if we wanna catch up.”
  226.  
  227. She pirouetted into the air, lifted by a gust made only for her. The iron lanterns plucked out of the dirt. Roots snapped and clumps of grass hung from their bases. Wires tethered them to the ground like ponderous balloons. Their squared, glowing heads bobbed like lazy fireflies and Eris's red fur shimmered. Her ankles touched and scaled tail spiraled around her. Massive wings spread.
  228.  
  229. Her arms raised over her head in a heavy arc as if weights dangled from her wrists. Her hands clapped. All the other lights blew out, leaving only the halo of lanterns with her in the center.
  230.  
  231. “Let me show you.”
  232.  
  233. She clapped again. The lanterns winked off.
  234.  
  235. Her antler's siren reached a crescendo. An unseen hand pulled the thunderous curtain away from the city.
  236.  
  237. She clapped a third time and the sky opened.
  238.  
  239. Black ink rippled. The echoes called light from far away, further than any telescope ever peeked. The sky glimmered as light, eons-old, sped towards the earth, moving in a violent diorama. Stars exploded, were born, died, and replaced by something new altogether.
  240.  
  241. The sky became a swirl of light and colors never seen over the earth. Stars danced in configurations thought impossible. Cosmic clouds erupted in sprays of super nova. Things thundered. Things swam. Infinity beamed over head and your mind stalled trying to understand.
  242.  
  243. Witnessing the rush of motion stole a beat from your heart. Your fingers dug into the dirt because you feared falling off the world and endless a vast and ceaseless expanse. Your chest heaved. The air felt thin. Your eyes wanted to shut, but held open.
  244.  
  245. “Er...eri...”
  246.  
  247. “I know,” she whispered, smiling with unblinking eyes at the splashes and tides. “I never thought..”
  248.  
  249. Celestial clouds of emerald dust cascaded in a plane with no gravity.
  250.  
  251. You caught your breath in a trembling grip and asked her to stop. Her head snapped towards you and asked, “What?”
  252.  
  253. In as calm a voice that could be fought for, you begged her to stop, because you felt afraid.
  254.  
  255. “Afraid?” she said. “Afraid? That's all...” her feet trembled in the air. “All you ever are is afraid.” The panorama above shimmered. “That's not a trick,” she pointed overhead. “It's real. Don't think I can hide you from the universe, because we're stuck in it, and it won't play nice with you, so why should I?'
  256.  
  257. “Up to now,” she hit the ground and lanterns fell on the grass, one shattered its head on the sidewalk. “I've tried to show you the world. I've just shown you so much more than anyone could ever hope to see, right here,” she touched her collar bone, “with me. And you're,” her brows tightened, “scared. Scared.”
  258.  
  259. The living painting of the night sky fizzled. Black paper and white pinpoints slowly asserted themselves.
  260.  
  261. “Maybe that's why I'm going at this like a bitch,” she turned away from you and ran her talons through her hair. “Because you're all fucking scared, shivering in your shoes and waiting for someone to shove you out the door. If that someone's gonna be me, then let it. Complacency, that's what it is.” she growled and stomped towards you on all fours, antlers swaying heavily. “But complacency's not going to work anymore, it never worked.”
  262.  
  263. You moved your hands from the grass to your mouth and heaved. Your eyes bounced between Eris and the normalizing stars in the sky, wondering which pricks of light frightened you more. She read the look in your face.
  264.  
  265. Her head bowed and mouth drew tight. “I tried, okay? I held your hand and asked you to follow me, but that didn't work. You're too tangled, weighed down by a boulder made up of all the shit that happened in your life that you couldn't prevent. It's locked you in. Dammit, I'm breaking that lock, understand? And not just yours, all the locks, the ones people made for themselves and others.”
  266.  
  267. You held a palm up. “Please, I'm trying to wrap my head around this, I swear, but yo-”
  268.  
  269. “Uncertainty. That's what I'm talking about. A world without life lines or safety nets. No more taken-for-granteds or set-in-stones, that's what I'm after, but no one else can chase it, not as fast as I can run. So I will drag you with me if I need to, get that?”
  270.  
  271. She roared loud enough for the entire city to hear. “I will drag,” she seethed, “all of you.”
  272.  
  273. Her head swung.
  274.  
  275. “Screaming.”
  276.  
  277. You stared in stunned silence. A firm part of you refused to believe this beast was the same girl who skipped across the streets and kissed you on a bed only one night ago.
  278.  
  279. “Screaming,” you said. “You want screaming. And panics, right? Riots? Danger and what else? Do, do you want people to wake up and count it as a blessing if the sun's the right color? If they're still in the same hemisphere as the day before? On the same planet, even?”
  280.  
  281. She grinned.
  282.  
  283. “What are you?”
  284.  
  285. She cackled and her sunset-yellow eyes glinted. “So obsessed with labels. Want me to get you a fat red marker so you can scribble all over my forehead? I am not a dragon, not a genie, or witch, or savior, or anything like that. I am here,” she said, “to ruin your life. What happens after that is all on you.”
  286.  
  287. “Ruin,” you said, thinking about the Starcrunch you shared with her. “Ruin. All this time, you just wanted to turn the world upside down and smash the windows.”
  288.  
  289. The points of her teeth shined when she smiled. “Just a bit. Place is a mess anyways.” She cocked her head. “Something wrong? Mad 'cus I'm not prettying things up? Regret leaving your room, jumping on a bus and talking to a black girl sitting all alone?” She pursed her lips and snorted. “What were you're intentions then? How about now?”
  290.  
  291. “I intend to find out if there's anything left of that girl I met” You couldn't gather the strength to yell. Misery knotted your organs.
  292.  
  293. “Oh,” she pulled her wings close. “Yeah. Hah. Wasn't she just the best? Hot little number, huh?”
  294.  
  295. Your face held still. She was stabbing for a rise and you'd be damned if you'd give her the satisfaction.
  296.  
  297. “Maybe that's your issue. Didn't even get to finish screwing her before I came and crashed the party, but hey, I wrapped it up pretty nice. Should've came with a bow,” her voice shook. She jolted forward and stopped a hair's width away from you. Her jaws hovered over your brow and nose. You saw the glisten of her gums and enamel on her teeth. Humid breath blew your hair and your spine crawled.
  298.  
  299. “Want to have a go?” She mouthed over you. “Come on, no one's looking.” Her tongue twisted. “Think think of all the ways I could ruin that lovely little body of yours.” A heavy paw clenched the inside of your thigh and you stumbled backwards.
  300.  
  301. “No, no, no,” she said, catching and pulling you close with a wing. “Wrong way, boy toy.” Your head turned away from her teeth and your eyes closed.
  302.  
  303. Her paw jumped upwards and squeezed. You bit your lip and tried to pull her arm away, but the steel-wired muscles beneath her skin was all that needed to be said about her strength.
  304.  
  305. “Not interested?” Her paw clenched again. Nails pricked sensitive flesh and you groaned. “That's right, because you don't like me. You prefer the other chick. Maybe I can meet you half-way.” Her voice dripped honey and poison.
  306.  
  307. You opened a horrified eye.
  308.  
  309. Her snout receded with the snap of bone. Fur fell away like patches of mange. The lines of a former skull shifted underneath, but her eyes did not change and her teeth remained pointed. Flesh boiled and your determination snapped.
  310.  
  311. “For God's sake,” you closed your eyes, recoiling. “Erica, don-”
  312.  
  313. The twisting skin and muscles burst outwards. Her jaw unhinged and a hiss from the core of the earth echoed from her impossible throat. Rows and rows of teeth unfurled from her gums, each one a different length, each one from a different animal.
  314.  
  315. “Don't call me that!” She roared in a cascade of bellows, screeches, and howls that could never be mistaken for an actual voice. “That's not my name.” She hurled you to the ground and the back of your head knocked against the dirt.
  316.  
  317. In a rage, she pounced and gripped your shoulders. “I keep telling you,” beastly arms slithered down and grabbed your wrists, your forearms, wrapped around your neck. “Are you deaf? Is your brain damaged?”
  318.  
  319. One of your hands locked around the claw at your neck. Another pulled the fur on her chest.
  320.  
  321. Wings jutted out from her spine and twitched as if about to burst from her insides. “My name is Eris,” eyes sprouted on her face, all of them red, all of them hateful. Spittle sprayed over your brow. “Eris, not Erica! Eris! My name is Eris! My name is Eri-”
  322.  
  323. She saw the bulge of your jaw. The vein on your temples. She saw the tears on your flushed face. She saw her reflection in your eyes, and all the fear and confusion and sadness being wrung from you like cheap pulp.
  324.  
  325. “You're...” she loosed her claw's grip. You kicked away from her, coughing and gasping for breath, shivering on the ground and scared to touch the deep red marks around your throat.
  326.  
  327. “No...oh.” Limbs slithered back into her body. She swayed as extra wings folded into nothingness, muttering to herself and to you. “I'm....you're...” her yellow eyes traced over the grass, saw the insects and the dirt and moisture and you writhing and the electrical wires and you're hurting and she wanted to throw up and glowing cables and, “You're afraid of me.”
  328.  
  329. She swallowed her teeth and numerous eyes blinked closed and vanished. “Don't tell me....oh.” She wiped damp hair way from her face. “Did I just- No, no no. Not like that, not you. Come on, guy, I...” Eris fumbled as if her horns became too heavy.
  330.  
  331. You coughed and looked at her through bleary eyes. The sight of you made her voice crack.
  332.  
  333. “I...I need to go,” she said.
  334.  
  335. “Er...” you coughed. “Eri-”
  336.  
  337. She couldn't look at you. Her wings opened and covered her face and body. Her yellow eyes shone between gaps in feathers. “I need to go think,” she rasped.
  338.  
  339. You gulped and stood on a weak leg, raising a hand out. It looked like two from your blurred vision. “Wait, Er...i..” you jerked forward.
  340.  
  341. “I'm sorry,” she shook her head and stepped back.
  342.  
  343. Don't let her run away. That's all you could think. You let her go once today and the price was too terrible to pay a second time. Your body hurt. Your legs hurt, chest burned and you wanted to roll into a ditch to die in peace, but you did not want her to be alone. She scared the shit out of you, but you did not want her to leave. “Wait,” went your damaged voice.
  344.  
  345. Her tail whipped and she bounded down the pathway over glass shards and flickering lanterns. For the second time that night, you ran. Despite all the pains and voices in your head telling you to lie down and never move again, you ran.
  346.  
  347. She moved fast. Unsurprising. The girl was packing four more limbs than you, and all powered by an unearthly force you couldn't name. Her feet padded over concrete and glass. The long, painterly brush of her tail slid through the air. Yet you kept up with her.
  348.  
  349. Maybe you caught a second wind blown in from hell itself, or maybe the racked state of her mind meddled with the space and speed between her point A and your B, but she stayed in sight. Slips of her voice fell behind her, and she sounded afraid, angry, and altogether uncertain. If you saw her eyes, the fur around them would not be dry.
  350.  
  351. But she knew she wanted to get away from you. You wanted to be close to her. Two needs on far ends of a volatile spectrum that made you both do countless, foolish things.
  352.  
  353. You chased her beneath a metal arch wreathed with vines. The world around you fell away like cutouts and stage props. Hidden cogs and pulleys slid the buildings away, pulled the streetlights to the side, rolled the cars off and set up another stage.
  354.  
  355. Sidewalk turned into tiled floor. Fluorescent lights buzzed overhead and people shouted in a language you didn't know and were shoved aside as Eris or Erica or it doesn't matter anymore charged through. A subway train thundered off to the right.
  356.  
  357. She clattered up a staircase tunnel. You hopped the steps three at a time and your legs frothed at the flood of lactic acid burning your bones. Trees and sunlight sprung as you burst from the tunnel and your shoes sprinted over foliage and untouched flowers.
  358.  
  359. Forest light made by thousands of intersecting branches and their endless network of leaves cast strips and speckles of light over her fleeing body. For the first time she was inside an element approaching natural. Your eyes marveled as if her every aspect of motion was filmed with a high-speed camera. Thick hair spun from snow and mercury streamed down her back. The joints in her legs swiveled and fired over the natural floor, kicking up the dense layer of twigs and ruffage in high sprays. The air felt cool. Birds cawed, hidden in branches.
  360.  
  361. The long arc of her neck turned and you saw black pupils widen inside the ruby set in her eye.
  362.  
  363. She bounded behind bark and brush, but you kept up, despite the harshness of your breath and stumbles in your step.
  364.  
  365. You passed between a pair of trees and sun-bleached rock echoed underneath. High mountains and ridges striped in deep, ancient colors of the earth made gestures to the sun. Hardy plants clung to the cracked ground.
  366.  
  367. Arid drafts hit you like punch. The rips inside your throat recoiled. Dust billowed behind her and left a trail of deep paw prints in the sand.
  368.  
  369. Is this how you'd spend the rest of your lives? Chasing each other in a sick magnetization? Alternating between fear and rage, yet unwilling to stop because something worse could emerge? Judging by the hammer beating over your heart, the rest of your life wouldn't be that long.
  370.  
  371. You called her name, you don't know which one. She yelled something back, but you couldn't understand.
  372.  
  373. She disappeared. Your heart jumped and, for a breath, everything looked lost. Then the ground ended under your feet and you fell. She plunged ahead of you.
  374.  
  375. Wind beat your ears and t-shirt. Your stomach banged on the nape of your neck, hurried to leave. Your legs flailed against nothing while she dropped like rainwater, wings tight around her body and their tips quivering. She dove, you plummeted.
  376.  
  377. If you touched her before going splat all over the ground, would that be good enough? All this pain, all this madness, tiredness, and desperate chasing, smothered cities, and arguing that seemed almost pointless in the face one grand stop, would it all be justified if only a fingertip could touch her?
  378.  
  379. Gravity and wind resistance straightened your body and the canyon's base rushed closer. She grew further and further away until she vanished in a splash in the river flowing through the basin.
  380.  
  381. Your arms crossed over your head and a corner of your mind wondered how many times you'd be tossed from a high place and into a body of water.
  382.  
  383. You hit the river's broken surface. The water muffled the wind screeching in your ear. Momentum from the fall pushed you deep, deeper, deeper still until your lungs burned and you feared you'd sink forever until your body was spat out of a public pool where the air made your skin shiver.
  384.  
  385. You landed on the smoothed concrete edge, gaping like a booted frog and spat out chlorine. You looked around, head reeling and eyes wide and deranged. The pool surface churned. A chain link fence clinked against a line of shrubs. Silver and orange light characteristic of the night lined its criss-crossing wire. A sign read “No Running.”
  386.  
  387. There was no sign of Erica. No sound of fleeing paws. No beating wings in the air, only the frantic beat beat beat inside your chest.
  388.  
  389. The off-white ground rocked left and right. You tripped trying to stand and almost fell back into the pool. Water dripped from your forehead and fingertips.
  390.  
  391. You lost her. Now she was out there again, alone. You lost her.
  392.  
  393. You took a deep breath and yelled her name. You yelled it over and over, and when no one answered, you just yelled.
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