Flash Fiction – A Sharp Cut

A sharp cut

Red eyes slid critically across his latest mark, held tight and still by the bonds his own delicate hands had placed. A thrill touched him as he caressed the taut middle with a gentle hand.

He was almost finished with this one.

Screams echoed down the concrete walls from some further room, but he paid them little mind. They were a background chorus to his masterpiece.

His tools lay next to him, arrayed in a perfect line, gleaming in the light.

He took up the sharpest of them, running his fingers over the metal, savoring the work to come.

He leaned over his immobile target, eyes noting each place where his tools had already left their lasting stamp.

It was time.

His hand was rock steady as he laid the sharp metal against the stretched surface, and pushed with slow but inexorable force. It pliantly parted for him, and the metal sunk below the surface, dragging a splash of crimson in its wake.

He repeated the motion again and again. Each time the surface quivered, unable to flee, giving him a thrill he found nowhere else.

He lost all sense of time as he pierced and pulled. He was exacting, not caring how much punishment he laid upon the surface. He worked until he was satisfied, his target a beautiful splash of crimson and red, like an abstract painting.

“Now, one sharp cut,” He whispered, repeating what she’d taught him that first time. It was like a mantra, a ritual. “To finish everything off.”

The scissors made short work of the last thread and he held up the fabric, still taut in its wooden hoop. The design was one of his own. He’d seen it in his mind, one night, in a dream.

He was sure Cazella would love it.

 


 

Light from the hallway seeped under the door, illuminating a swath of thick carpet, decorated with a pattern of roses. In the shadows, near the window, a foot ghosted silently across the woven petals.

Mahogany, tobacco, rose hips, and a lingering hint of wine filled the night visitor’s sensitive nose. There was something else, underneath the richness, that only someone like him would be able to catch. A trace of sweat, urine, and fear, long since faded, ran like a gentle, but insistent, undercurrent. A small bloom rose each time his padded feet pressed the petaled carpet.

Someone had been terrified in this room. Someone had suffered.

That was why he was here.

Green eyes shifted to a gold-plated clock on the mantel that ticked softly toward midnight. He knew he was safe. He’d spent several days studying the owner’s schedule. No one had seen him and no one was coming.

That didn’t mean he wouldn’t still be cautious.

He hovered next to the huge bed like a phantom, garbed in shadow, peering down at the sleeping figure. The woman looked tiny among the mass of down pillows, swaddled like a child in thick sheets.

White hair curled around her head, catching the hall light and giving her a halo, face relaxed, untroubled. She was even dressed in a white nightgown, the picture of piety.

But he had not been sent here to kill an innocent. He didn’t need the scent of fear to tell him that.

He drew his razor-sharp knife, it too catching the light, glinting like the fang of some hungry animal. He gripped it tightly, taking cold comfort from its firmness.

It’s easy, came the whisper in his mind, unbidden. He pushed it away.

He didn’t want it to be easy, ever. This might make him an assassin, but he didn’t want to be a killer who enjoyed the act. This was the edge, the final divide between old life and new. All these years of hard work and denial had been building to this moment.

He would remember every detail, from the scent of her soap, to the rustle of the curtains, all of his senses hyper aware.

He lifted the knife, hesitating no longer, and his hand moved in one decisive, sharp cut. He may as well have been slicing through air.

Her eyes flew open, but he’d already taken her ability to scream.

Blood welled from the cut across her neck, perfectly made so she suffered as little as possible.

He didn’t look away as her nightgown and the tips of her hair were stained red, as she tried to gasp for air, turning wide, pleading eyes on him, while knowing it was already too late.

He didn’t look away as the life bled out of her, and his nose filled with the tang of iron.

It had not been easy, but it had been right.

Still, his emotions danced within him, rioting for his attention.

He focused on the work, finishing the ritual. Two feathers. One he laid on her chest, pinned under her arm so it wouldn’t float away. The other was dipped in her blood, and bagged, to be taken back to the guild and tucked away in a binder somewhere, one among a multitude.

Lastly, he dipped his fingers in her rapidly cooling blood, and marked his own forehead with it, as testament, and remembrance.

He crossed the carpet of roses, taking eagerly to the roofs, sucking in lungfuls of the clear night air.

It was finished, finally, his old life severed from his new with one sharp cut.

Luka -“Please stop petting the test subjects.”

“Please stop petting the test subjects.”

The familiar scent of astringent infused the air of the laboratory complex. To Luka it was almost secondary. There were times he was sure he himself exuded the scent, like some sort of natural perfume. He stared at the back of the scientist’s head as the man led him along. The overhead lights shone on a circle of his head where the hair was receding. Balding from stress, perhaps? Truthfully, he didn’t care either way. He had no love for scientists or doctors of any sort, seeing them only as a necessary evil. He used them, when it suited his purposes, but did not let them get any sort of grasp on him. As far as he was concerned, each one of them would a deal with a devil in a moment to complete their work.

To everyone here, he appeared to be one of the inspectors. It had been the perfect guise to get him in, and everyone had fallen over themselves to accommodate him. He’d get all the information he needed for his true charge, this way. These days, he moved in and out of illusions at will. It was automatic the way he generated one while he walked invisibly, a few steps behind, or to the side. It wasn’t perfect, but if any of them decided to try anything it gave him a heads up. He didn’t think he had to worry about that much here, given the nature of the test subjects.

The man led him into the first of the laboratories. Cages lined one wall. Despite the scent of antiseptic there was still an underlying animal scent, and even further under that a current of fear. Small bodies moved continually in their confined spaces, creating a never ending scurrying sound in the walls. A sound like that could drive someone mad if they let it bother them. There was a sense of life confined, in this place, that one could only really place if they’d felt it before.

He walked along the wall of cages, as if to inspect them. Red eyes peered at him from between the bars. Small, white furred forms moved in and over each other in a small scramble. A few of the rats stopped when he leaned in, peering up at him. He didn’t sense fear from these, though the others still scrambled. He reached out his hand, poking a finger through the gap in the door. One of the rats sniffed at his finger, delicate whiskers twitching here and there. He moved his finger to gently stroke the rat’s head, and it stilled under his finger.

“Inspector!” The doctor’s voice broke through the moment. The rats near his finger fled, shattering the connection. “You mustn’t do that, they might bite.” He might have been explaining to a child how they shouldn’t put their hand on a hot stove. Luka schooled his expression before he turned around, feigning a look of innocence.

“Pardon me, doctor, I could not help myself. I kept rats as a child, so have something of a weakness for them. So,” he added, sweeping along, “tell me again what it is you are studying, Dr. Stevenson.”

The man glanced over at him, a brow raising slightly in question. “Didn’t they send you a report about it, Inspector Markovich?”

“Yes, yes,” he waved a hand, feigning mild annoyance, “but I dont have the time to read each report that comes across my desk in depth. Give me the details.”

In the middle of the room was an open topped pen. Several white rabbits with red eyes sat in the bottom of it, bunched up and hardly moving. He knew rabbits rather well, and they appeared alert, at least. The doctors back was turned to him as he shuffled through reports.

Luka leaned down over the pen, the walls high enough to keep any of them from jumping out. Not that any of them were in any real shape to be jumping in the first place. Ignoring the prior instruction he reached down to the closest rabbit, letting it get his scent. It’s pink nose crinkled, but after a moment it lightly butted his fingers with it. He lifted his hand enough to run his fingers across the rabbits forehead, and down the back of its head. The fur was silky soft under his touch, and part of him was relieved to know they were still well groomed. He’d seen too many labs where the subjects were filthy. The rabbit turned its head up, into the touch, seeking contact. Cleanliness was one thing, but had any of them ever felt a kind human hand?

“O-oh, well-” The man straightened, smoothing his white coat. “We’re studying the effects of several different types of new ferrochemcicals on biological life. We’ve done quite a few successful tests on plant life and now we’ve moved to animal testing. The losses are still somewhat high, but we’re getting some very promising results. We have, of course, been approved by our governing body and review board.”

“Of course, Dr. Stevens, I would suspect no less.” The man went on about their research, and their process. Luka came to the definite conclusion that this research was not worth the suffering involved. There was a very fine line, and this did not pass it. He would have no trouble completing the job he’d been hired to do.

“Ah! Sir! Sir please, stop petting the test subjects!” The doctor sounded more angry this time, fixing him with a stern look. “Their environment is very particular, you see. We don’t want them getting used to being handled.”

Luka turned sharp eyes on the other man, who looked suddenly nervous and took an unconscious step back. Were it up to him he would tear everything down right now. He had to be good, though. For the moment he was only here to assess before the real job began. The client would certainly not be happy if he acted too soon.

He drew his hand back, and changed the subject. “How many animals do you house here, Dr. Stevenson?”

The man relaxed, unaware danger still lurked in the tall grass. “Most current numbers are just under 150. It sounds like a lot, but the majority of them are rats, so they don’t take up a lot of space. I have a sheet with a detail breakdown for you.”

“That will be very helpful, thank you. Shall we continue on with the inspection?”

The scientist seemed only too glad to continue, and didn’t see Luka glance back at the white rabbit before they left the room. He would be back for them.

“Do you know, Dr. Stevenson, that rabbits can easily die of distress?”

The man was prone on the ground, staring up at the illusion he’d crafted just for him. An eight foot tall, muscled rabbit would terrify anyone. The words would be nothing more than a disembodied voice on the wind, to the scientist. He’d let the illusion stay for some time, he was enjoying watch it all, but he’d not do the man any physical harm. Stevenson hadn’t been cruel to the animals, so he saw no reason to end him.

“You should rethink your career options.”

Laboratory staff ran around him, trying to corral illusory rabbits, others rolled on the ground, imagining white rats climbing all over them. A little chemical boost to his abilities and he’d sent the entire facility into meltdown. With that, in addition to the information he’d gathered earlier, it had been all too easy for his clients to walk right in and take the animals out.

The rabbit from earlier nestled in the crook of his arm. It might as well have been made of tissue paper for all it weighed. Despite its tiny frame, its heart beat rapidly, an insistent thrumming against his arm. He stroked his hand gently down its back to try and calm it. In response it burrowed a bit more against the fabric of his coat. The night was cold, but the animals would be taken somewhere safe, where they’d never be experimented on again.

A job well done. He was sure this particular animal rights group would have more work for him in the future.

Luka – Shallow Breath

‘Shallow breath’

The long walk down the barren hallways had brought him here again. Luka stood just inside the doorway of the small room. The lights were low in here, the outer walls obscure. One of the facilities many interchangeable guards flanked him on either side. Their close proximity provided the only warmth in this place, but also blocked the exit, making flight impossible. Before him, forms moved in the gloom, like ghosts in a mist.

“Ready him.”

At the order the guards took hold of his arms, propelling him forward. Instinctively he resisted, but the thin slippers he wore offered no purchase and he slid ineffectually across the tile until he gave in. They will hurt you. His thoughts reminded him. They’ll hurt me anyway.

The table waited, metal gleaming in the light. His breath quickened as it filled his vision, but he didn’t have long to contemplate before his vision suddenly changed. The guards lifted him up off his feet, manipulating his body onto the table. Cold began to instantly seep into his limbs through the thin clothing he wore. Images of dead hands slipping up across his skin, drawing away his warmth, slipped into his mind.

At this angle the bright floodlight seared his eyes. It was disorienting. How could such impossibly bright light fail to illuminate the rest of the  room? It was nearly as effective as a blindfold, while denying him the comfort of darkness. Light seared away all. Others moved around him. Each sound they made amplified by the bare walls. The table was hard against the length of his body. No matter how he shifted it was impossible to find a comfortable position, and his back was already starting to ache.

Before he could attempt to get up a hand pressed against his chest, holding him firmly to the table. There were those who struggled, the whispers said, but he didn’t bother. After a moment, strong hands took hold of his wrists. They squeezed with unnecessary force, gently grinding the bones together as they forced his wrists against the old, thin fleece that lined the table’s restraints. A new pressure followed as the cuffs were tightened around his slender wrists.

The motions happened like clockwork, gears and parts spinning away  with him powerless to pause the momentum. He was in the heart of the machine, trapped. It was a familiar feeling. He turned his head, seeking some mercy from the light. A figure suddenly loomed over him, in sinister silhouette. This was no angel, come to lift him away into heaven. This figure brought pain and suffering. The outline was familiar. Dr. Gudelj. He would be in pain tomorrow. The doctor leaned close over him, smiling like a bearing of teeth, smelling of death. Luka’s breath quickened as fear blossomed, heart beating in his chest like a small bird.

Deep breaths, his mind desperately whispered. Remember, deep breaths.

What had the girl said to him? It had been the week before, one of the rare times he’d spoken to any of the other residents. The staff did their best to keep them apart. Isolation was a powerful tool. The exchange had been an accident. One they had both paid for afterward.

His guard had been escorting him through one of the many identical halls, when they’d crossed one of the other residents being led elsewhere, a girl older than himself, but not by much. He’d seen her face before, but never quite like this. Her skin was ashen, almost grey, with an unnatural waxy sheen to it. Streaks of green stained her blonde hair and she walked half slumped, though under her own power. She was rake thin, just as he was. He knew her, for all they tried to keep them all separated, but he did not know her name.

Perhaps her guards had thought her too weak to do anything, but she saw him and suddenly broke away, half throwing herself into him. Bony hands gripped at his shoulders, pressing hard with surprising strength. Her eyes were milky white and wide and very suddenly her lips had been against his ear, her breath a raspy whisper. She only spoke a few words, but they were ones he could not unhear.

It must have only been moments before the guards tore them apart, and hauled her away. He’d been returned to his room and asked what she’d told him. He’d lied and said she’d asked him for help. Though they seemed to believe him he was denied supper as punishment anyway, just for listening.

He’d spent that night thinking about her words, as the hunger crawled through his insides. Deep breaths. Her voice echoed in his mind. They can’t control it. Your thoughts. Your mind. At first he hadn’t understood, but then he’d realized he knew where she had been coming from. She’d just come from one of her sessions. How would deep breaths help him? Fear always took him during sessions, and shallow breath was all he could find. Did she somehow control her breathing, master herself? Denying them power seemed impossible. Could just this little act of defiance give him some measure of control over his situation? He didn’t know for sure, but he’d been determined to find out.

In the moment, on the table, the thin layer of fleece lining the inside of the straps did little to ease his discomfort. The leather edge cut into his wrists as he pulled against them, giving no purchase. They never did. His breathing quickened, unable to stop himself. Memories of past sessions flooded his mind, bringing fear with them. What was it to be this time? Needles? Solutions on the skin? Drugs?

They began. Arms and hands moved over him, passing instruments back and forth, performing a twisted dance in front of his eyes. At times they lowered close, brushing against him. The contact made him shiver. Starched fabric obscured his vision as one of the doctor’s sleeves settled across his face. It may as well have been a funeral shroud draped over his nose and mouth.

He sucked in a breath, heart hammering in his chest so hard he swore it would crack his ribs. He couldn’t get enough air with such shallow breaths. He pressed his eyes tightly closed, trying desperately to focus on his breathing. There was pain  all around him now, but he opened his mouth and fought against the urge to pull in air as quickly as possible. He drew in several slow breaths, imagining the air flowing in and out of his lungs.

He whimpered, as pain coursed through him, but with each breath he could feel a center forming, a focus. It was small, like the beginnings of a pearl inside an oyster, but with each moment it grew. It helped. It didn’t take away the pain but it started to put his mind somewhere else.

He was so focused on his breathing he hardly noticed when the dance stopped. “What’s this?” Came a voice from just above him. The doctor was hovering mere inches away when he opened his eyes, and his breath hitched in his throat. The doctor frowned, seeming displeased. He wanted nothing more than to sink into the ground.

“Don’t forget where you are, my boy.” A deep, sharp pain blossomed in his arm and he cried out. His head lolled and he saw from the corner of his eye the point of a scalpel sticking out of his flesh, crimson welling up around it. His concentration was lost, and once again he was taken by the fear. The doctor grinned and went on with his work.

The rest of the session was spent being tossed about by the waves of pain, and he was exhausted by the time they released the shackles. He had failed to find his safe haven again after that, but now he knew it was there he was sure he could find it again. She’d been right. They couldn’t control the thoughts in the mind, and in his mind he would find refuge.

Luka – Very Few are Left

Very few are left

The hospital halls were white, and stark. The air was cool, perfectly temperature controlled, and a slightly acrid smell permiated the air, a byproduct of stringent cleaning. He was always somewhat amazed at how you could walk into almost any medical facility in the world and find the exact same things, no matter their purpose. This place was a last stop for the elderly, living out the remainders of their lives. He was sure there was some life here, but at the moment the hallways were mostly silent.

No one had seen him enter, and no one saw him making his way down the long hallways. This was personal business, and no one needed to be privy to that. He’d come here searching for someone it had taken him a very long time to find. Part of him had been sure this one had been lost, but he had been relentless in his search. It had taken years to bring bring him here. He stopped in front of a room with a nameplate on it. It wasn’t the name he’d known the man under, all those years ago, but there was little doubt in his mind this was who he was seeking.

He opened the door, and stepped into the small room beyond. Sunlight streamed in through a window, the sound of birdsong somewhat muted through the glass. There was an empty bed, dresser, some small touches that made it look homey. No pictures though, he noticed. A man like that had never had need of a family. There was a man inside, sitting at a table, a jigsaw puzzle set out in front of him. He was shuffling around peices with a withered hand.

He was old, and it showed, likely in his 80s by this point, though time had not been kind to him. He looked even older, weak and wrinkled. Such a change from the strong frame and powerful hands he remembered. Once the door had closed he allowed himself to be seen once again, a lean, small figure, garbed from head to toe in white. He likely would have looked like a ghost to some, or death itself to others.

He turned red eyes to the man at the table, who finally seemed to notice he was there. Somewhat milky eyes took him in, but there was no recognition in them. That wasn’t all that surprising, he looked rather different than he used to. It wasn’t his appearance he was hoping to catch him with.

“Who is it?” The old man’s voice sounded like something sharp being drug across a bed of small stones, no doubt from a lifetime of smoking. He remembered the acrid stink of cigarettes clinging to a white coat sleeve as it passed close over his face, like a curtain.

He shook away the memory and sat down at the table across from the other man. The jigsaw was half finished, a placid pastoral scene. How old had be been before he’d realized that places like that actually existed? His childhood had been blasted facades and twisted metal, bare hallways and locked doors. It didn’t matter now.

“A visitor, Mr. Andreas.”He said, fixing the man in his red gaze.”Or, should I call you Dr. Gudelj?” There was again no moment of shock, no gasp, not even a hint of recognition. Had this man lost himself in his own cover story? That displeased him. He wanted him to know who he was, before he did what he’d come here to do.

“Doctor? No, I’m an electrician. Was an electrician. I worked on many buildings. Over decades. I was very good. Why are you here? It’s not dinner time yet. Why do you look so strange?”

He was silent a few moments, before answering. He’d come expecting fear, and a sharp mind he could threaten. Another tactic, then.

“I’ve come to tell you a story, Mr. Andreas. That will explain how I look. If you’ll indulge me.”

The old man seemed unsure, a little frown touching his thin lips, but eventually he nodded. “So long as you’re done by dinner, young man.”

He nodded, settling in his chair as much as he would allow himself to. “This was a very long time ago. Nearly twenty years. It was somewhere far away, that most people in this fat country will never have heard of.

There was a group of scientists, and researchers. All of them had been dismissed from the wider world for what they wanted to do. And their disregard for ethics. They went underground, where there were no rules or review boards to govern them.

They found a place, filled with war and death. Where they could pick through the ruins of bomb blasts for subjects. Who would miss the dead? Or the half dead?”

He paused, searching for signs of recognition. None came.

“They were free to do as they liked with those they took. The hallways were filled with despair, pain, madness. How many did they dismantle or break in their quest, do you think? Imagine being helpless, tied down, the bright light in your eyes. They speak of you as if you are not there.

Imagine days, years, of torment, being warped into whatever shape they feel you should take. Those that went in rarely came back out again. Or, if they did, they did not emerge as the same people.

But, one escaped, after being there for a very long time. One became strong and, after many years, came for those who were still alive. It was not easy. These were smart men, used to hiding. But they inadvertently taught this one all the patience in the world, and filled him with a desire to see their blood run free.

Very few are left. The cunning ones, or the forgotten ones, like you. I’ll not be stopped by anything. Another decade, perhaps, and I’ll have you all.” He paused. His throat hurt. He wasn’t used to speaking so much at once.

The old man was looking at him, a bit of a frown on his lips. He’d long since stopped working on the puzzle, clearly not liking the tale. The visitor couldn’t help but bear his teeth slightly, displeased with the reaction. If the old man couldn’t remember what he’d done, then perhaps he could show him. There was nothing left for it, though it galled him to have to do this. He let his guise drop. The white skin and red eyes melted away. He stood there, revealed, in all his horror. The monster returning to his Frankestein.

The old man saw. He saw the yellowed, spotted skin, dry and brittle like aging parchment. Saw the wild black hair, streaked with grey. One perfect, beautiful blue eye took him in. The other was a milky white. The face was the worst of it, crisscrossed with marks, and sutured lines that had healed into still visible, thin scars.

For good measure he even pulled off his gloves. One hand was that same yellow, the nails greyish, the other was formed of a shiny black metal. Prosthetic fingers curled neatly around the fabric. It was the best current science could offer, cutting edge. He’d learned you could get what you wanted if you went to those outside review.

“I am Luka Petrovic, Dr. Gudelj. One of many you took apart.”

For a moment it looked like the man recognized him, and then his eyes went suddenly wide. “You!” This was the reaction he’d been looking for, and a grin split his lips and he stood, looming over the old man.

“I will not allow you to live out the rest of your days here.” The old man scrambled up, pushing his chair back and hurried across the room, as if trying to run away. Luka hadn’t tried to stop him, not thinking there was anywhere he could go, but the old man had pulled a remote from his bedside, and pressed an alert on it, no doubt to call the nurses.

He cursed softly as he heard footsteps in the hallway and made himself invisible again, as nurses rushed inside. The old man was frantic now, crying and pleading about a ghost, as the nurses working to calm him down. Luka retreated to a corner. He was patient, he could wait. It took a long while, but the nurses managed to calm the old man down, and with assurances of dinner soon, left him be.

Luka waited awhile before he appeared again, crossing to the bed where Gudelj was laying. There was once more no recognition in the old man’s eyes. It was just as well. He’d wanted him in full preservation of his facilities, but sometimes you had to settle for what you were given. It would have to be enough that the man had known him before his end.

He did him the one courtesy of not disappearing again, as his delicate, but deceptively strong hands, wrapped around the slender neck. He wouldn’t bother bloodying his knife on this one, if he even had any blood left to spare in that body of his.

He squeezed with practiced easy, and the milky eyes were wide, panic within them. The old man was was too weak to fight it off. It would have felt somewhat poetic, if Luka could appreciate such things, how their positions were reversed. He hadn’t know why he’d been so tormented all those years ago. Let the old man die with the same question in his mind.

It didn’t take long before he eventually gave in. He could tell when the life had left him, and he stepped away. He didn’t bother to close the staring eyes. He felt a sense of, not peace, but a sort of rightness, and contentment. There was one less, and he could put that particular ghost behind him.

Luka – After the door shuts, and the footsteps die

After the door shuts, and the footsteps die…

It is night. He knows this from the routine. Three hours after the evening meal they come to take him for his sessions. He spends several hours under the ministrations of the doctors. Some nights they keep him nearly until dawn. Those are the worst of them. After every session, he is escorted back to his room, if he can walk. The long hallways have pristine, white painted walls. They nearly all look the same. He’s learned them well since he was first brought here, though he’s not sure just how long that’s been. The memories of those early days are hazy, at best.

The white garbed guards are particularly careful with him. They always chain his arm close against his torso, as if he could do something to them. Perhaps he could. Despite his small size, and thin frame, they know he has some sort of power. Blood tests never lied, and security was of the utmost importance. None of them seem to know, yet, just what he can do. The doctors have been trying to find out, quite aggressively these days. His sessions have been getting steadily longer. They want to rip it out of him.

They come to a door with several locks. His room. He hasn’t always stayed here. This one is deeper in, closer to the labs, for their convenience. There are more screams here than in his old room. He still hears them, sometimes, when he can be bothered to. It is small, and sparse, with only a bed, a small side table, a chair, and a clothing rack. They remove his handcuff once they are inside, instruct him to sit down. He watches them impassively as they back out, and lock and bolt the door behind them. He can tell they are afraid of him. This pleases him, deep down. He thought he’d forgotten how that felt. After the door shuts, and the footsteps die he finds himself alone again. At least in a manner of speaking.

There is a camera in one corner of his room, with a single red light, like an unblinking eye. They’re always watching, every moment of every day. Or at least, they think they are. Unlike the doctors, unlike the guards, he knows what he can do. He sits very still and focuses. In his mind forms a perfect copy of himself which he manifests into reality. The illusion occupies the same space as his body does, insubstantial. He focuses again, letting his body become the insubstantial one, the copy taking up his place on the bed. He stands, and steps away, invisible, leaving the copy of him behind. The switch is successful, as the footsteps never return.

One blue eye watches the copy, but it is lifeless unless he directs it. He thinks and it breathes in, then out. As moments pass, and his thoughts flow, it shifts, blinks, curls its fingers. He’s learned how to control it now, and as he stands in the corner, under the camera’s eye, he pulls the invisible strings. The copy leans down, draws up the leg of the same loose pants and removes the prosthetic, setting it in its place next to his bed. Then it turns over and lies down. It is the same routine as his, every night. There is still more to do, simulating breathing, movement. After awhile the copy turns onto it’s back. Eventually he will lie down as well, and take its place once more.

The chill of the tile floor seeps up through the sole of his thin slipper. It’s always cold in the facility, and their thin clothing and blankets are little help. He’s grown to like it. Cold feels clean. It’s sharp like knives. It crawls up his leg the longer he stands. The other isn’t affected, but still aches where its settled into its prosthesis. He will not rest until he feels he’s practiced enough for the night. One day, this will be his way out of this place, but he needs to learn to control it better. If he wants to get out, past the locks, the guards, the gates, he must be able to control it from afar. If the sessions in the chair have taught him anything, it is patience.

Patience, power, sharpness. These were all things this place had given him. He would return them soon enough.

Luka – Next to Godliness

Obsession

(Warning, this prompt may contain material upsetting to some. Read at your own discretion.)

Harsh fluorescent light illuminated the figure, making him look gaunt, like some sort of specter out of a nightmare. He preferred light like this. It was ugly, brutish, showed every imperfection. All but his. Others only saw what he wanted them to see.

White. Unlike in the stories, which he was sure could not compare, his skin was as white as snow. White as bleached bones. No human looked like that, at least not ones that were living, anyway. It had been his choice. White was clean, without blemish. When it had come time to choose, to create his face, there had been no hesitation in him, no doubt.

The doctors had always worn white. Long coats that flowed out behind them as they walked the halls. Nurses, orderlies, had worn white scrubs. White was a symbol of their authority, of their power to heal, or to harm. How many times had he lain there, a starched white sleeve half laying over his eyes, obscuring everything else. How many times had he cried out, into its depths.

Cleansing, they’d said. They were always so clean, always above reproach. Untouched deep down in their souls. He had wanted that for himself. Eventually, he had gotten his wish. No other eye could see what was beneath his disguise. No one could claim that the fire of science and medicine hadn’t burned away all which had been unholy inside him. When he had burned them away, in turn, he had taken up their mantle.

There was some color. His eyes were bright red, like a fresh wound. There had been mice, with soft white fur and red eyes, free from any blemish. They, too, had always kept themselves so tidy. Little paws pushing back whiskers, smoothing perfect fur. He had seen himself in them. Larger mouse, larger cage. So many of them had died in agony. He wasn’t sure he could separate their screams from his own anymore. He saw out of their eyes.

Pale fingers ran across perfectly creased lapels. They were white. It wasn’t that he much cared for fashion, it had never spoken to him, but he could appreciate a well cut suit. So sharp, he’d be told, he’d cut himself. Besides that, he’d found the intimidated people, made it hard for them to get a read on someone who dressed completely in white.

Everything had to be perfect, and in a job like his it wasn’t always easy to keep a white suit and trench coat clean. Dirt, blood, viscera. Blemishes could be easily hidden in the heat of the moment, but when he returned, everything had to be cleaned to his standards. He asked for little, but his tailoring and cleaning bills were exorbitant.

His steps were silent as he made his way through the halls of the hospital, masked from hearing. This was not his most prestigious job, but it needed to be done, and he could do it with the smallest amount of fuss. Unlike others, he did not complain about the jobs he was given.

It smelled of disinfectant. A familiar scent. Many were unnerved by it, and the connotations it carried, but he welcomed it. It covered the iron scent of blood, the pungent odor of food, the reek of lost control over the body. It was sharp, acrid, and, above all, clean. It has been his near constant companion for so long. Even to this day other strong odors put him off. He found who he was looking for easily enough, strode right in past security and the cameras. He didn’t let his target see him until it was too late, never giving the chance to scream. It had been easy. Quick and clean, if boring.

He left the way he’d come, making his way out into the night. There would be a car, eventually. He was in no rush. He felt a need deep inside, a desire demanding to be fed. Without thinking he turned down an alleyway, searching, footsteps tapping out a regular rhythm. Few on the streets at this hour. It was dangerous to travel now, for some. For prey. For others it was safer, those who knew how to stalk.

He found what he was looking for in less than ten minutes. One could always trust the city. Four men, one woman. It wasn’t that he much cared, outside of finally having an opportunity to play. He made no demands, no quips, didn’t even let them see him until he was right on top of them. He struck the first just to let them know he was there, to set them to scattering, though he avoided anything vital. No need to shorten the fun.

Breath came quickly when it was all over. It was the sort of release he couldn’t indulge in often. His clothing was stained with blood, and worse, since he’d made no attempt to be neat. He reveled in it for a time but as the need left him, and he straightened, the splotches and splatters began to grate. With just a thought they disappeared, invisible to the eye, but still there. He would know, until the launderers got them out.

There were times he wondered, as he sat in silence, if the marks were ever really gone. And if they couldn’t come out of a coat, could they come out of a soul? Those were questions best left untouched. He retreated to the astringent, white walled, hallways of his mind, his familiar maze. He shoved the troubling thoughts through a door, behind which a child’s voice softly wept. Free, he wandered the maze of endless corridors until the car came to pick him up.