I Was: Ch 5: ‘Calm after the Storm.

I Was: Ch. 5: Calm after the Storm.
“Reagent O’Neill?”
The voice sounded familiar, deep but feminine. I liked it, wanted it to tell me things. Secrets dark and erotic. I must have smiled because the next voice I recognized at once.
“He heard you, he smiled. Why did he smile?” It is the voice of my wife Suzie.
I will my eyes to open, the lids are heavy. I am heavy. I feel as if everything inside my skin is weighed down. Inside I’m fully awake yet have no desire to wake up my body to interact with anyone or anything.
The tiny slits I’m able to coax my eyelids into providing let in light that seems to burn through straight to my cerebral cortex. Hot electricity burns like an over-amped fuse up the optic-nerve into the center of my head.
I’m able to force my eyes fully open yet I cannot see. A white haze fills the hospital room. There are several darker areas that hover over and near me, ‘people,’ I guess.
A third deeper voice, “August.” That one belongs to my father-in-law Reynold Johnston.
“Auggie, it’s Dr. Johnston. Can you speak son?”
Opening my mouth I try to talk, but my mouth is dry. Actually dry would have been a step up, it feels gritty and strangely coated. As if my tongue were made of thick leathery sandpaper.
I shake my head trying to clear my vision. The fog begins to lift and I can make out Dr. Johnston’s features near me looking closely at my face but I still can’t really see him clearly.
Bald, bespeckled, short salt and pepper goatee, it is definitely him. Close behind I recognize Suzie’s petite silhouette and another… ‘Woman? – I think.
I close my eyes and shake my head again, I try to reach up to rub them but find short restraints are holding my arms tight to my sides.
“Unhook him,” I hear my father in law order.
I squeeze my eyelids tightly and blink hard several times while rolling my eyes in their sockets to try to get my sight back. By the time my arms had been released and I am finally able to raise them, my vision has almost fully returned.
The third woman is Inspector Byck; she stands on my right, still holding the strap she removed from my wrist. She smiles; I smile back and immediately regret it.
“Auggie!” Suzie from my left holding the other strap.
I turn my head and see Dr. Johnston holding a small metal tube with a spray top.
He says as he holds the device near my mouth, “hold on son, you’ve been poisoned. This will help you speak.”
He held the aerosol near my mouth and lightly sprayed my lips. It felt wonderful, wet and cool.
Unnecessarily he said, “open,” with a nod towards my mouth. Two short shots and the thick interior of my mouth dissipates.
“More,” I manage to say and open for another shot.
A few more spritzes and I can roughly speak again.
“Thank you Doc. Hello Suzie.” I say with a smile towards my wife of more than a decade.
Turning to my right, “Inspector Byck.” Then back to Johnston, “Poisoned? When, where?”
I remember meeting with the arena’s head of security, knew I had gone somewhere and talked to somebody about the concert.
“You don’t remember do you? Byck asked.
“I know I saw you and wasn’t done with what I met you about, but nothing else. What happened, who poisoned me?” I asked to all three people in the room. It was clear to them that I didn’t know who knew what.
The Inspector replied, “you met with, and apparently killed Muscle’s head of security. Other than that we hoped you could tell us.”
“No,” I said not believing the story.
“What about the poison?” I asked.
The Dr. replied, “you were affected by a reclamation solution. It was a very strong dose mixed with what appeared to be home-made alcohol.”
“You killed Colonel Loddi and you were found unconscious sitting at his desk with a half empty bottle of Glenlivet.”Byck added.
‘That last part sounds like something I’d do,’ I thought.
“Daddy, when can he come home?” Suzie asked her father.
I noticed that she was giving the inspector a sharp look. Coupled with her body language I got the message she was really saying, ‘he’s my man back off.’
“Soon my dear,” he said softly, “tonight. Let’s give him time to rest and get some strength back. With his history with the various chemicals he’s been exposed to during the war and on his job, he’s susceptible to intense reactions to seemingly low levels of the juice.”
Suzie grabbed my arm, “I told you that job would kill you, please quit now.”
Touching her shoulder lightly her father said, “now’s not the time dear, he must rest.”
“But Daddy, he can’t keep doing this to me,” she protested.
‘Doing this too her?’ I thought. That’s odd; I’m the one that would be dead.
“Auggie,” she continued, daddy said he’d get you a job. A nice job. One that will keep you home, we’ll be able to go to parties and I won’t be alone.”
I’ve heard this before; she wants me to take a position in her father’s company. Head of security for Johnston Industries the world’s foremost authority on, and supplier of, Prior reclamation and maintenance products may sound like a good gig to some. But to me it sounds like a drag on my freedom. I’d just be another accessory to her lifestyle. Not something I signed on for when I married her. Hell, I thought I was going to die when I made that decision, I never thought I’d make it back from the jungle. Nam2 ate people alive. And dead for that matter.
“Susan Marie,” he said.
‘Uh-oh, she’s in trouble now,’ I thought. Reynold only used her full name when he was putting his foot down.
“But he’s mine!” She protested shooting Byck another less than subtle look.
For her part, the Inspector didn’t react to this seemingly disconnected comment. “Leave him be, he has to rest,” the Dr. interrupted.
As he gently led his daughter away from me and opened the thick white door for her, he added, “Wait outside dear, he’ll get some sleep and we’ll have him home by supper time.”
Suzie reluctantly nodded and walked out without another word. She did however manage to slip in a final piercing glare at Byck who once again did not visibly react.
The Dr. closed the door but did not release the handle. Looking across the room he said, “Inspector, the same goes for you. I understand you need to speak with Auggie but he’s been through a lot. You have 5 minutes with him.”
With a nod towards me, he opened the door and left.
The instant it closed with a soft , she said, “Reagent O’Neill do you know what happened?”
I shook my head, “No, I honestly don’t remember anything after leaving your office to go…” It occurred to me that I didn’t know where I went. I remember getting to Inspector Byck’s office but nothing after saying goodbye and checking out her ass. “Sorry, nothing I’m afraid,” and I genuinely was.
“Well then let me fill you in a bit on what we do know.” She sat on the edge of the large articulated hospital bed.
“When you didn’t return I went down to the trailer to look for you.”
I must have looked puzzled because she then said, “the mobile security trailer for the band you came to check out? …”
“Muscle,” I interrupted.
“Yes, that’s right.” She affirmed. “You went to talk to their chief of security Theo Loddi. When we got there, the trailer was deserted, all their guards were gone, the doors were locked, and we had to break them down. We smashed through the inner office door we found Colonel Loddi dead, decapitated. Both of his thumbs were cut off, and one of them appeared to have had the skin peeled off.” She paused, “anything yet?”
“No idea what you’re talking about” I said slowly shaking my head.
She continued, “in the corner of the room was an empty closet with a vidscreen showing a Muscle video. A live show recorded from the POV of the stage. There were leather and chain straps attached to the inside of the closet that looked like they were installed to hold someone inside when the door was closed. None of this rings a bell at all does it?” She seemed genuinely concerned.
She wasn’t half as concerned as I was. “Nothing yet, go on.” I said.
“For a moment we thought we would be able to get some clues about what happened because we found recordings of their cameras; audio and video.”
I sat up, “well what did they show?” I said hopefully. “There must be a record of what happened?”
“Well that’s the thing Reagent O’Neill,” she said shaking her head, “almost all of the recorded vid was erased. There were only two clips left, both of you.”
I nodded for her to continue. “And?”
“The first clip is short; it’s of you speaking to Loddi. You’re asking for a bride.”
“No,” I said. “Look Inspector, I’m clean, I never took a payoff. Fucking ever!” The sudden burst of adrenalin shot into my head and split my brain in half. Spikes of pain shot into my temples and I slumped back onto the pillow, hands holding my skull as if I were trying to hold it together.
“It’s OK Reagent, I for one want to believe you but the next part of the recording, and the marks on your neck make that hard without your help. “She looked concerned but that might just have been her training as an interrogator.
‘Was she trying to trip me up? Catch me in a lie?’ I thought.
“What does the vid show?” I asked.
“When the static cleared up there is no audio but you appear to have the advantage over Loddi. He’s seated in a chair with you behind him. You step away from him as if you are going to release him.” She stopped, eyes wide, trying to get me to fill in the blank.
I just shook my head and shrugged. “What,… and what happened next?” I asked already fearing the answer from she had told me.
“You chopped his head off Reagent; you stepped back, clapped that razor wire weapon of yours back together and killed him in cold blood. You honestly want me to believe you had a reason for that? You have to work with me. Why did you do it?” She asked accusingly.
“I don’t know, really I don’t know.” I said quietly. I wanted to scream my protest but the fear of a repeat of the dual temple spikes quieted me.
“Show me the vid,” I said. “Maybe that would help jog something. And please.” I added before she could speak, “call me Auggie.”
“Ok Auggie,” she said slowly, “I really shouldn’t but if it will help, OK.”
She flipped her hand over to project the vid from her wrist communicator onto her palm. “I’ll show you the part with no audio…”
I stopped her, “no, both, show me everything you have.” She balked at my request. “Please, I’m a good man, a good cop, I had reason even if I don’t remember it right now.”
She nodded, “alright, here’s the part that shows you bragging that you own the city.”
She tapped her finger on the projection on her palm and then turned her hand so that I could see the playback against her hand.
‘Wow she has big fingers,’ I thought. ‘She could do some damage with that hand,’ popped into my head.
I watched and listened as it played back, it is exactly much the way she described it. I said I could get him whatever he needed. Saw him standing behind his desk, take something out and hold it up.
“Bad magician,” slipped from my lips.
“What?” She closed her palm to pause the playback. “Bad what?”
“Magician, I replied. “But I have no idea why.” I added quickly, anticipating her next question. I was as puzzled as she was.
“Well it’s something.” She said as she raised her fingers to resume the scene.
He walked back to a bar behind me; we talked about how we might be able make a deal. He fixed a couple drinks at what appeared to be a full wet bar.
‘This is a trailer?’ I thought, ‘how could I forget all this?’ I was worried for my own sanity.
He placed the glasses on the bar, reached into his jacket pocket and just as he began walking back towards me the video went gray with static.
“So Reagent” she said as she turned to face me, “other than ‘magician,’ you don’t recall any of this?” Her tone was stern, almost accusational.
“Bad magician,” I said. “Nothing else came to mind. And please, call me Auggie. Reagent sounds too official. I’m not feeling very ‘official’ at the moment. I can’t remember anything.”
‘Except the nasty thoughts I had about what you’re hiding under that business suit.’ I wanted to add.
I did however notice it was a different outfit than the one I had met her in. This was dark blue, almost like a PD dress uniform blue. The other had been an off-white pinstripe. ‘Odd,’ I thought, ‘that I remember.’
“Let’s watch the part with no audio” she said as she prepared the next playback.
She turned on the bed again to show me the video.
As she held her palm open and turns for me again, her body presses against mine. She has a smell, no a fragrance that excites me. The catheter pinches as I feel a stirring under my hospital gown.
“Now there’s no audio and we only have this one view from behind. We aren’t able to read your lips or those of the deceased.”
She seemed to emphisise the word ‘deceased.’ The stirring beneath the covers was also suddenly deceased.
Again I watch as if it were someone else standing on her thick, yet somehow delicate, fingers. The chief was now seated in the chair I had been in the first vid. He seemed to be anxious; his hands only stopped moving occasionally as we appeared to speak. He turned and I saw blood on his face and enormous chest. I noticed a red smear on my head and reach up to feel the back of my skull and not feeling a bandage or stiches surmise it was his blood somehow on me in the video.
As I bring my hand forward, I absentmindedly look at it, half expecting it to be covered in blood. I do not however, expect to see a dark black stripe running diagonally across the middle three fingertips.
Byck had closed her fingers again to watch me. I compare my left hand to my right and see the mirror image of the dark line. Puzzled I look up at her.
“You think that’s bad?” She said. “You should see your neck.”
Quickly I reach up and touch my throat, it stings to touch it. It is tender from one side across to the other. The soreness as I breathed and swallowed I had attributed to having a breathing tube in my airway. I didn’t know if I had one inserted or not, just assumed from the soreness I had. Now I wasn’t so sure.
“Go on,” I said, “let it play.
As she opened her palm, I watch myself step back and then suddenly clap my hands together to make the spooler do its job; ‘get to the circus’ came to mind.
As I watch my image fall to its’ knees, her fingers are again bathed in a gray buzz of static.
“Anything more?” She asked?” Concerned Inspector had returned.
“Circus,” I reply seemingly out of the blue. “I have to get to the circus. I don’t know why or what it means. I’m sorry.”
She stood, clearly agitated.
“Look Augg… Agent O’Neill.” She started.
‘Uh-oh, now mommy’s mad,’ I thought. ‘She’s using my full name.’
“I can’t help if you don’t try.” She continued, “first a magician, a bad one at that, and now a circus. I want to help you but you have to try.” She seems frustrated.
I shared her emotion, “I’m sorry but I don’t know. I have to find this circus, I don’t know what circus or why. But if I can find it and maybe find a bad magician, he might have some answers.”
“That’s ridiculous,” she replies, clearly not buying any of this.
Thankfully the door opens and Dr. Johnston appears backlit by corridor’s bright lighting.
“Time’s up Inspector,” he orders.
“I need five more minutes,” she replies. Her voice firm from years of telling lawyers to ‘go scratch’ while she interrogated a suspect.
“He’s my patient and if I say he needs rest that means you’re out inspector.” That’s my father-in-law. He doesn’t take any shit from anyone. You don’t run one of the most powerful companies on this fucked up planet without being a tough son of a bitch.
Before she can fight back I interrupt, “that’s OK doc, and she’s trying to help. Two minutes, I promise and I’ll rest so I can go home.”
Giving me a stern frown as he walks over to the bed, “I’ll take the decision away from all of us.”
He pulls a nasal inhaler out of his lab coat pocket. The rounded ‘U’ shaped device is used to administer medicine into a patient’s bloodstream. Since the link between a human’s skin and Prior life was discovered, every attempt to prevent puncturing the outer layer of a person is made. The nasal inhaler works by administering the medicine through the tiny blood vessels in the nasal cavity.
“There’s a sedative and anti-biotic in this nasal,” he says as he uncovers the dual spray ports. “You’ll be asleep in your requested two minutes.”
My nostrils flare in a Pavlovian response to him holding it up to my nose. I like nasal sedatives; it’s all I have to fight the constant war going on inside my head.
As I snort from the device, tears run down my cheeks. I immediately feel lightheaded and warm.
A wave of goosebumps travel from my coccyx up my spine engulfing my head and giving me a feeling of being embraced in a safe hug.
The Dr. Watches as my eyes roll back in the sockets, “Maybe less than two minutes Inspector. Then you say goodbye.” Johnston says before leaving us alone.
My mind is adrift inside my head, I am floating weightless, wingless, painless; all urges, all thoughts are released.
“Auggie,” I hear faintly. Opening my eyes, I realize I’m not aware I had even closed them.
I look into an angel’s face, a warrior angel. A Valkyrie to fight for my soul.
“Sharon.” I say softly.
“You remember my first name, that’s hopeful.” I hear in the distance. She touches my hand as she leans in close to me, as if to prevent someone from overhearing us.
“I’ll tell you why I believe you, even though there’s a lot of evidence that you did twist if not outright snap some laws.”
I can only grin like an idiot and think about what those beautiful hands would feel like wrapped around my more sensitive areas. Well, just one area in particular.
Although somewhat disconnected with reality, I can hear and comprehend what she has to say.
“First, you have some pretty significant ligature marks on your neck and fingers. Although there was no sign of a struggle, before the decapitation that is, you were obviously in a fight with Loddi. And for some reason you decided if you let him go, your life would be in danger.”
I nodded. I understood but had nothing to add. It sounded like something I would do.
“Next,” she continued her list, “was the audio of you seemingly asking for a bribe. You may be a tough cop, but you’re a terrible actor. Anyone with law enforcement experience could tell you were bluffing. Maybe that’s why he attacked you. Unless you regain your memory or the missing pieces of vid show up to prove otherwise, that’s what I’m going with.”
Again I just smiled and nodded. ‘Sounds plausible to me’ I thought. ‘Now give some sugar!’ I laughed a little. She gave me a stern look.
“Sorry,” I said softly. “Thank you for helping, please go on.”
She pursed her lips, shook her head and continued. “Lastly a common friend of ours stopped by about an hour before you woke up.”
This brought me back down to earth a little but I was quickly getting very sleepy. I didn’t have much time left with the conscious population.
“Sargent Nick XXX.” She paused.
“Nikko?” I said as my eyes started to flutter.
She nodded. “Yes, he said you’d call him that. He vouched for you, said that you weren’t the kind of guy to solicit payoffs and murder people in cold blood.”
“Good ‘ol Nikkooo.” I was drifting off.
“Auggie, there’s one more thing. “She moved her hand to my thigh and shook me to keep me awake.
The catheter once again bit me as her strong hand seemingly palmed my entire upper leg.
“The band was all there in the other trailer, the big one with the penis lettering.”
I had no idea what she was talking about but hearing her say ‘penis’, really hurt and did manage to wake me up quite a bit.
“They were all there…,” she didn’t seem to notice the painful growth under the thin yellow hospital blanket. Or maybe she did because she squeezed a little harder to keep my attention.
She completed her thought, “…all there except for Throb the lead singer. He and all the security crew and roadies were gone. Just the other musicians were in the other trailer.”
Strong hand, stirring manhood, tube up into my bladder, none of it mattered, the sedative my father-in-law gave me finally won. The last thing I heard my female Adonis say was,
“…they were all dead. They appear to have eaten by Priors.”

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I Was: Ch. 4.4 ‘MUSCLE’: For Love or Meat.

I Was: Chapter 4.4. Say Goodnight to Hollywood.
By Wayne Hills

the ultra-razor sharp wire sliced through his skin and fat, skipped and then bit, cutting through his spine. Performing its purpose perfectly, it sawed through flesh, tissue, sinew and bone effortlessly.
My knees buckled, I sank to the floor kneeling behind the chair, sporadic geysers of crimson spurted from the open wound between his shoulders, blood pumping from the spasming body still seated there. The gory flow mixed with the red upholstery and ran down the chair in front on me. A thin red river flowed along my left arm where I had grabbed it to keep from collapsing completely onto the floor. A warm pool of Colonel Theodore Loddi’s life’s liquid soaking into my pant legs.
Looking down, I see his head, his face staring up at me, mouth opening, closing. Like a fish pulled into a boat gasping for breathe.
I wondered if there was still enough blood left for him to be aware. Crouching to be close I said, “About the spooler. They’ll retract safely as long as I don’t touch them together while the cable is spinning back in. I did warn you, Zip-Pop asshole.”
His mouth continued to move as if he were trying to speak without breath, his brown eyes wide, unblinking. Blood flowed from his fat head like water from a grisly overturned vase; his body now slumped in the same chair that he had tried to kill me in.
I don’t know why I did it that way, giving him a brief second of hope that he’d walk away from this. Maybe because I wanted to get some pay back for all those kids he took, all those families’ lives that will never be the same because they’ll never know what happened to their babies. Even if their cuddly, cooing offspring grew up to be society’s waste; deep down they would always be the same tiny humans that needed their parents love and protection.
I looked across the room at the locker door in the corner. Slowly I stood, releasing the chair only when I am upright and have regained enough strength to stand without wavering. Walking around the chair and its growing moat of Theo’s blood, I carefully pluck both disembodied thumbs from the floor in front of his angled feet. Picking up my slug-gun from where it had come to rest after being knocked out of my hand, I released the safety and approached the small door.
As I had suspected the lock release was a Bio-metric thumb reader, same as the entry in the colonel’s office. The reader’s sensitive scanner detects not only the fingerprint, but body heat and the pulse of the finger in order to grant access to the enclosure. Just for shits and giggles I place the Colonel’s cut off right thumb on the small indented pad.
A high pitched, is accompanied by two red flashes of the LEDs on either side of the bloody thumb.
‘Was worth a shot,’ I thought as I holstered my weapon. Using my free hand I began to carefully peel the Colonel’s finger like an overripe red grape. The skin comes off a lot easier than I thought it would, I didn’t have the same luck with the next part of my plan. Holding my own right thumb up, I carefully unroll the balled up skin over my own.
Putting it on I couldn’t help but think it felt a lot like it would to reuse a recently filled condom. It was warm, slimy and slightly larger than my own digit. I had to pinch the back of it to keep it tight enough to keep the fingerprint from folding as I hold it against the scanner.
, one red, one green flash this time. I slid the bloody membrane around, held it up to my mouth as I had seen the Colonel do at the entrance to his office, huffed on it twice, and wiped the crimson slime onto my shirt.
two green flickers and then a soft, as the lock released. ‘Well at least I don’t have to peel the other finger,’ I thought as I dropped the second stub to the floor.
I slid the Colonel’s skin off my thumb, tossed it over my shoulder and drew my slugger as I slowly opened the door.
Slowly opening the chamber’s door, I hear the raucous disjointed notes and screeches passed off by the band as music. The closet opens to reveal Throb, naked and harnessed in the tight confines of a cylindrical enclosure just large enough to hold him in an upright position.
The walls are completely covered with a single all-encompassing vidscreen. The film playing is that of a recorded Muscle concert; the video is a Point of View, or POV, shot which appears to have been taken from a camera worn by Throb during a show. There is no doubt this enclosure was built to maintain memory of his prior life as a performer so that now he can have Prior life as a performer. Ironic? Maybe not. Noteworthy at least.
He doesn’t even notice me; I can see him mouthing the alternating grunts and screeches that are his ‘lyrics.’ Slowly I raise the pistol to his neck, hold the oval business end of the barrel at the slight bump at the top of his spine just below the natural indentation at the base of his skull, and pull the trigger.
The flat, rounded plug shoots out with an audible, snapping his neck and giving him the final redeath. His body jerks solid for a split second and then goes slack, the closet’s restraints hold him up. His head bends forward, only the skin of his neck keeping it attached to his slumping shoulders. The slug is designed to break the spine without cutting the skin. I’ve seen firsthand what the loose skin of a recently killed Prior can do. It can be just as dangerous as the whole Prior.
Slowly I walk back over the bar and take a fresh glass out of the dishwasher. I fill it with ice from the small freezer, grab a sealed bottle of scotch from the bar and as I walk over to sit in Theo’s big chair, pocket the credit chip he had left on the desk.
As I sink into the plush cushioning of the large armchair, I close my eyes and sip the smooth smoky liquid letting it sooth my punished throat. As the fatigue begins to set in from crashing down from the adrenaline high I’ve been on for the past fifteen minutes, I think about how I’m going to explain this all to Inspector Byck as I ravish her incredible body.

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I Was: Ch. 4.3 ‘MUSCLE’: For Love or Meat.

I Was: Chapter 4.3 Friday Night at The Fights.
By Wayne Hills

I heard the grunt of his breath and saw the shadow of his hands come around my head as the thin wire hit my neck. If I had hesitated a second longer I wouldn’t have been able to get my fingers up between the slim cord and my neck as he pulled back to strangle me.
I tried to stand as he pulled back, he outweighed me by at least a hundred pounds but I managed to push into the chair enough to keep my fingers in the way of the string blocking my airway completely. I felt the line digging through my flesh; my fingers were being cut off, blood flow being blocked from the tips as I tried to jerk and rock to catch some breath. He leaned forward and quickly yanked back again.
I heard a pig laughing.
I hadn’t noticed when I sat down that the chair was firmly attached to the floor, I couldn’t push it backwards. He was choking the life from me; I had to pull forward with my hands while trying to lean away from him. At best I could maintain enough breath to keep equilibrium between the two but I knew I couldn’t keep it up for long. My fingers started tingling, as I writhed in the chair trying to break free. He leaned forward pressing his fat face into the side of my head. I could smell the sickly sweet stench of the moonshine on his breath. I felt the stubble of his beard pressing behind my ear as he spoke.
“Society should thank us for finding a use for the juiced up kids that worship him. They may be useless for parts or manual labor, but Prior’s do love those fresh brains. There’s quite a market for ripe headcheese out there if you know where to look. It’s kind of funny isn’t it? The R-juice contamination that makes their rotted brains useless to society preserves them when they’re pulled out. They can be eaten weeks later and still be satisfying enough to allow the Prior to be controlled. It works great with our meal ticket Throb; we throw him some meat and open his cage to let him perform. Everybody’s happy.”
My fingers tips were going numb; the metallic strand felt like it would slice through them soon if I didn’t get loose. I pulled forward as hard as I could trying to get my legs beneath me. When I heard the wheeze of him inhaling I knew he was preparing to pull me again.
Pushing as hard as I could backwards and up, I managed to get my right foot up onto the chair and extend my leg using the momentum to step up and over the chair.
I knew the fall was going to hurt, it was risky but staying seated would have killed me. As I fell over the chair back he tried to twist my head to hold me up, unknowingly he helped break my fall, had he let me go, he probably would have broken my neck.
I stepped backwards as fast as I could forcing him into the wall by the door with a thud. I started stomping at his feet, raking the inner calves trying to crush his foot. Unfortunately it didn’t seem to bother him all that much. He had a firm grip and again I was starting to lose breath and began to feel weak.
I let my legs go slack, dead-dropping all my weight so that he’d have to try to hold me up. Pulling down on the cord, my fingers no longer able to feel it cutting through them, he leaned into me. With everything I had left I stood and drove my skull into his face.
I heard his nose break, a sudden warm wetness on the back of my head. I felt the line go slack around my neck. Pushing my right hand forward I pulled one end of the garrotte free.
Breaking away I rolled away from the door. Fiery breath surged through my mangled throat. I felt weak, lightheaded, my head pounded, temples throbbing from lack of air. My fingertips felt as though they’d been hammered, the pain is intense. I feel a sting across my neck where the wire has been cutting through my skin.
Planting my feet I reach for my slug-gun and try to stand, he’s on me before I can fully spin and he knocks the weapon from my tingling fingers with his massive fist. Pulling me up by my hair with one hand, he grabs my already weakened neck with the other. I look into his bloody face, nose crooked and split at the bridge, blood coating his teeth and running from the side of his split upper lip. His eyes wide, a crazed animal stare looks back at me as he lets go of my hair and begins to shake me back and forth with both hands around my already compromised windpipe.
Instinctively I drive my arms up between his forearms trying to knock his grip off; he doesn’t even register the blows. I grasp his thick wrists knowing I won’t be able to pull them off, just hoping to buy some time to breath. I try kneeing him in the balls but he twists away; he’s winning and he knows it. A bloody smile appears on his face as he starts to chortle in that porcine laugh. I start feeling euphoric, my brain suffering from oxygen deprivation. Releasing his wrists I reach for his face, his arms are longer than mine, the best I can do is make him flinch, his eyes close to slits to protect his vision. My mind goes foggy, my vision starts to white out.
I remember the spooler still attached to my belt. I twist left and reach for his eyes with that hand; I have to distract him from my right hand dropping to my hip. I hope I’m a better magician than he was. I reach the spooler and release it from its holster; thumbing the button I let it play out to full length. I almost drop it because my fingers don’t have any feeling in them and I’m starting to black out. My eyes involuntarily roll back in their sockets; I’ve got one shot at this.
My right arm swings around flinging the free spool around him above his shoulders, Miraculously I catch it in my left hand as it comes around his fat bald head at the point his neck would be it wasn’t one solid fleshy mass. Clapping the balls together I release the button and the wire whirs as it begins to rewind. I push it again when the retracting cable pulls my hands to his chin stopping it as I touch his enormous throat.
The thought, ‘that’s how you do a misdirection asshole,’ pops into my head.
His grip immediately loosens, he doesn’t yet fully realize what just happened but the surprise was enough for him to know he’s just lost the battle.
“Spooler.” I wheeze out as I gulp in air, my knees weak, I’m barely able to hold myself up. My throat is burning, sore from the choking and the cord. I can still feel the sting of it across my skin.
“Diamond, cable, , if I let go, , your fat fucking head pops off. Push me, kick me, look, , at me in anything, but a fucking shee…, , sheep like manner and I let go. Zip, pop, you’re fucking head’s on the floor.” . Hacking, sputtering, gulping for air, I fight out the words, I’m trying desperately to stay conscious.
His eyes are wide again; this time the look on his bloody face is disbelief, not fury. His mouth is clenched shut, chin resting on the spooler’s orbs. His meaty hands are off my neck, held out to the sides as if to show me he’s not holding anything.
I continue to cough sporadically as I speak, “I’m going to let go of the left spool, the magnets will keep them together,” I explain slowly, deliberately, painfully. “If I let go with my right, zip-pop, off with your head. Get it fat man?”
His big head nods slowly up, then down again resting his chin back on the spoolers, he gets it. I take my left hand off the ball, he flinches, I freeze, “Whoa Theo, no sudden moves remember?”
Another slow nod up, then down again, chin on the spooler.
“Now we’re going to talk again, this time no bullshit.” I hope he understands me; my voice is cracked and interrupted by alternating coughs and wheezes. “I detect crap my right hand might develop a cramp and open. Zip-pop, you know the rest, no bullshit.”
I rub my throat with my free hand and cough, trying to regain my breath. I lead him like a dog on a very short leash around to the desk. My head is pounding but at least I can feel some strength returning.
“Spin around and sit down asshole,” I’m wheezing out the words as my crushed esophagus tries to regain its natural shape. “This may sting a bit.” I pull the spooler around his back, the sharp wire slicing a thin red line around his neck. Drops of blood start to flow as I imagine it tracing a ‘cut here’ line around the circumference of his head. I place him in the small chair he had me sit in when I entered the room. Standing behind him I’m holding the spooler and rubbing my sore and bruised neck.
“Now you’re going to tell me just what the fuck is going on here and I’m going to listen and try to come up with a reason I shouldn’t just let my little toy wind itself back up.” I tried to sound menacing but wasn’t sure he got it between the bouts of coughing.
“All right, I’ll tell you, just don’t let go.” He seemed genuinely afraid.
I nod for him to continue, not that he could see me.
“As a teenager,” the Colonel began, “Throb was a member of the pop band ‘Boy-Toys.’ Perhaps you’ve heard of them?”
I reply a froggy, “yes” as I gave the spoolers a tug.
He continued, “his name was Tommy Throbison at the time, he got himself pushed out of the band for substance abuse but still had a lot of loyal fans. He was an R-head, used a lot of crack-juice. That’s a combination of R-juice, and the age old favorite, cocaine.”
“I know what the fuck it is, what do you think I do for a living,” I pull the spoolers back again giving him a jolt.
“OK,” he says holding out his hands palms down to show me he understood. “When he’s kicked out he decides to go solo. Shortens his name to just Throb and joins up with an already established band named Muscle. They were already touring and had a cult-like following for their ‘Wild Prior’ routine before Tommy, slash, Throb joined them. Once he did, they exploded, selling out arenas and drawing huge crowds wherever they went.”
The Colonel paused and swallowed hard, I felt the spooler balls move as the razor sharp wire pulled tight under his shifting Adam’s apple.
“OK, so clean cut Boy-Toy Tommy becomes hard core Throb.” I grabbed the other spooler ball and released a little tension on the cable. Just enough to allow him some breathing room. “How did he end up a prior and,” I paused already knowing the answer to my next question, “why are missing person reports following your shows?”
He shifted in the seat, his hands slid and grasped at the dark red leather of the chair’s armrests. He coughed lightly and began speaking deliberately, as if he we’re teaching a child about sex after being caught in the act. “Once he became Throb, his fans just became more zealous. At first he put out the image of being a good kid in real life and the wildness was just his act. But because he was unwilling, or unable, to give up the drug abuse, Mr. Squeaky Clean became the act. The zoned out junkie became his normal self.” He shifted more upright, his hands became more agitated. “Look Reagent, there’s a lot of money at stake here, not to mention the young pussy and quality living. We’re not giving that up just because that dumb fuck couldn’t keep his head straight. That whole clean-cut, business image when he’s not performing is the act that he’s perpetrated on the public for years. The drugged out high Prior wanna-be was the real Throb. Eventually he OD-ed, about a year ago. Cancelled a lot of shows, cost us a ton of money.”
“So Throb’s a Prior?” I ask softly. I had to get him to admit it.
“Yes,” Theo replied. Then added quickly “well I figured that since Throb has been operating on auto-pilot for so long that he maybe he could lip sync his entire act. I brought him to a black market reclaimer. Had him fixed right up. We bobbed his tongue, wouldn’t want that wagging around on stage when he was supposed to be singing would we? Tattooed on his makeup, you’d be surprised how much time that saves a night I’ll tell you. Lung bag but no talker, wouldn’t want him croaking out undead noises during show.”
‘Shit,’ I thought, ‘he really is telling me everything, no BS from the big man.’ “So why the missing fans, why the bodies after each show?” My voice was coming back, my mind wasn’t. It was getting easier to breathe but my fingers were tingling badly; I had to concentrate to maintain my grip.
“I’m switching hands on the spooler you prick, no jumping this time, zip-pop jerk-off.” I switch hands and start flexing my right to get the feeling back. “Go on now, why the feeding?”
He continued matter of factly. “What I didn’t count on, was that because he was a Rec-head and died from an overdose, straight R-juice wouldn’t satisfy him. He attacked a roadie, had to pay off the family to keep it quiet. Each stop on the tour, we’d pick one or two of the skankiest groupies for him to feed on. We’d kill them first, we’re not animals. It’s gruesome the way they kill I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that.” He continued to talk fast, trying to explain his moral choice. “We are just giving the people what they want. Nobody’s missing these losers, they wouldn’t be looked for and actually it’s a service to society if you think about it.”
As he talked I began to understand what he meant. Having seen hundreds of these kids strung out or high on the juice, what he was saying made sense. Nobody would look for them. That was unless Theo’s boys got unlucky enough to pick a VIP’s niece.
“OK,” I said calmly. “I get it. You continue to make money for Muscle’s employees and their families. The fans get what they want and you get a few wasted Rec-heads off the streets. We can’t harvest or reclaim them anyway so what’s the loss. Really I get it.” I relaxed my grip slightly but kept my thumb on the release button. I scared myself; I really did get his perverted logic.
”So, we’re good then?” He asked almost brightly. “You’ll take that spinner thing off me and we’re good? I’ve got money, untraceable credits, real girls, boys, whatever you’re into. I can get your neck fixed, good as new.” He started to squirm excitedly in the seat.
“Not quite yet Theo, I need to learn more about whoever reclaimed Throb off-the -books.” I wanted to sit down but couldn’t let go of my prisoner. I had to get right to the point and end this. I asked, “Where, who, and how did you contact the reclaimer?”
“I can’t tell you all that.” He replied.
I tugged on the spooler and said, “I not surprised you balked, they always balk at giving up information that could get them killed, or worse. Like say, being reused for something horrible, like maybe having your brain used as food for a Prior to keep him performing.”
I grabbed the second orb and tightened the loop a bit; fresh blood started flowing from his neck as he jumped a little in his seat.
“Don’t be a dick Colonel; you know I’ll find out.” I tugged the metal orbs for emphasis. “Maybe I’ll just dump the contents of your skull out on the floor of your pretty office here and slosh around for some answers. What do you think Colonel, shall we play ‘pick through gray matter’ today?”
I didn’t even know what I was saying; I’m feeling light headed again. I really need to sit down.
“You won’t kill me, you can’t. I have connections.” His hands were dancing on the armrests again, I could tell he wanted desperately to reach up and grab the thin cable around his throat.
“Don’t give a shit about your connections fat man, and don’t even think about grabbing that cable. My fingers are a little numb from your wire; yours will come right off from mine.”
I loosened the cord again; I needed him to calm down. I couldn’t fight him again.
“Look, Colonel.” I talked slowly. “You don’t have to tell me all the details. All right? Let’s start with who? Be general, no specifics. We can work together here can’t we? I get Intel; you get to keep your head?”
He paused, considered his options. I gently tugged on the spooler to speed up his thought process.
“OK, sure.” He seemed to relax a little. “I’ll tell you what I can but only because I know this gig’s over anyway.”
“Good Theo, thanks for your cooperation.” I was relieved, didn’t think I would be able to continue standing much longer. My eyesight was getting fuzzy, my peripheral vision danced in a blur of static colors buzzing around giving me tunnel vision. “So talk, get it out. You’ll feel better.” That was bullshit; this guy doesn’t feel anything except self-preservation.
He spoke quietly, as if he were afraid we’d be overheard, “Dr. Bukowski did the work. The bulk of it anyway.”
I wasn’t surprised; I’ve been chasing him for over a year.
“How do I get,.. get,.. in touch with him?” I stuttered. ‘I’ve got to end this,’ I thought. Even at the cost of more information, need one thing then I’m done. “How did you contact him?” I swallowed hard, heading swimming. Trying to not let on that I was losing it.
“Through the circus,” he said. “They’re all Priors except the ringmaster. They travel outside the big cities. The Ringmaster can get in touch with him. That’s all I know really, that’s everything.”
He went silent.
I couldn’t see him; my eyes were closed, clenched against the pain.
He must have noticed that I too was silent, he tried standing. That brought me back.
“Whoa Theo, hold on. I’m still here.” I jerked him back down by the throat.
“Well, Colonel, I’ll tell you what,” I leaned over and spoke in a cracked whisper in his ear. “I appreciate your offer of money and young boys and the REA thanks you for the information.”
I stood up straight as I placed my left hand on the return orb, “I must confess that I lied a little bit to you. Not about understanding your fucked up train of thought, unfortunately for my own soul I do get that, but I told a little fib about this device.”
His head turned slightly to the left, then right and back to try to look up at me. I saw the blood from his nose and lip had run down onto his chest and stomach, one large bib of crimson covering his front.
Cocking my head to meet his gaze I smiled. “You see Theo old boy, in order to release the balls and have them retract like a child’s yoyo, I have to turn and slide the little buttons on both balls at the same time, like this.” I twist my thumbs slightly on the release balls and they immediately separate.
He tried to stand and managed to get his chubby thumbs under the cord just as I clapped them together, released both balls and stepped back.

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I Was: Ch. 4.1 Muscle: For Love or Meat

I Was: Chapter 4.1 For Love or Meat
By Wayne Hills

The morning after what was to be my final tryst with Lucia, I was assigned the task of investigating the upcoming visit of the Pop group MUSCLE. Our local REA office had been given an alert regarding an increase in R-juice thefts as well as a series of missing person cases that echoed the tour stops.
The group’s ‘shtick’ is they perform their act while made up to look like Priors. They’re very popular, maybe the most famous currently active band in the country; I personally don’t get the allure. The music, if that’s what they insist calling it, is a series of notes that alternate between high pitched screeches that slice through my ears, to notes so low they make my balls vibrate. Admittedly this isn’t a totally unpleasant feeling, but I’m not really comfortable sporting full wood while standing in a crowd of strangers.
While the increased abuse of R-juice preceding any major concert or athletic event is considered a normal trend in the Law Enforcement community, the disappearances are not. That’s why Captain Speziale decided to have me try to find a connection.
The band is currently on tour to promote their hit album, ‘MUSCLE: For Love or Meat.’ The lead singer is known by the single name Throb, he’s in his late 20s and when not wearing the ghoulish make up or tattered clothing usually associated with a wild Prior, he looks fairly normal. Unlike most of his rabid fans, he doesn’t have any piercings or visible tattoos. The vid-file I’ve been sent shows him dressed like a junior executive, Armani suit, closely cropped neat dirty blonde hair. His facial features and posture remind me of pictures I’ve seen of Hitler youth, that white almost pale skinned, blonde hair, blue eyed Arian mother race that the Nazis loved to tout as the supreme model of human development. Ironically, most of his fans are not of this quasi-pure bloodline. They act and dress in everyday life like Priors on the hunt. Where the hell they work is anyone’s guess. I’ve never seen them anywhere but stoned or dead from R-juice locked up in a transport wagon or in some dark alley.
It’s a shame, they have the gift of youth but think that life is pointless because they don’t have a future, they can drink, smoke, snort, or shoot R-juice to get high and it won’t matter if they die. I once arrested a stoner with a Tattoo that read, ‘Life is short, death can last forever if you plan it right.’
There’s a mistaken belief in the user community that ingesting R-juice while Human prevents you from coming back; although in a way they’re correct. Users who die cannot be reclaimed or recycled. They can’t be used for transplants because of contamination to their organs; reclamation isn’t feasible because their minds become blank after death, therefore they have no ingrained skills to be useful to society. The term ‘Wasted Youth’ a popular saying when I was a child, has taken on a more dire meaning. They don’t serve humanity in life and they are equally useless in death.
Arriving at the ‘Governor Christie Arts Center’, I show my credentials at the gate and am led up to meet with the facility’s head of Security, retired State Police Inspector Sharon Byck.
The phrase commonly used to describe a woman of her stature is to say ‘she’s a handsome woman.’ I didn’t really understood what it meant until I met her. Taller than me by at least two inches, and wider than me by the same amount, her facial features, although feminine, have the chiseled look of a rugged man. She’s beautiful but not in the way a fashion model or stripper would be. Maybe it’s her position of power that does it, or the fact that she could probably bench press me without much effort, but if my convoluted love life wasn’t in its present state, I’d give it a shot.
We review her team’s preparations for the evening’s concert with extra emphasis on keeping track of the wasted groupies that no doubt will be trying to hook up with the band or their crew. Everything seems to be in order, although I will admit that large venue security work isn’t what I am trained to do so I had to trust her instincts. Because we’ve never had any major incidents to investigate here before, I have no reason to suspect the facility’s personnel. At least the people in charge seemed on the level. I ask Inspector Byck to introduce me to the band’s security team to get a look at the people traveling with the tour. Ms. Byck tells me that their chief’s name is Theo Loddi; he’s ex-Military Police and held the rank of Colonel before retiring. I found out later that when he left the service his records were sealed, inferring he didn’t retire so much as was asked to leave. She makes a call and orders one of her men to show me down. I thank her and give her a quick up-down glance as I shake her hand. She must have seen my gaze linger briefly on her breasts because she didn’t release my hand as I loosened my grip. Instead she gave it a squeeze, locked me in her light brown eyes and then gave me an up-down of her own, her look remaining on my suddenly tightening crotch. I will admit I got a little embarrassed, it isn’t often a woman looks at me that way. Being looked at the same way a guy would look at a hot girl is strange to me. I must say I liked it.
Releasing my hand, she gave me a sly smile and turned to return to her office. Her dress, more of a female version of a business suit, was well tailored and very form fitting. Her workouts must be intense; I imagine her body beneath the light brown pinstriped outfit is perfectly chiseled, no loose skin or undeveloped muscles. ‘Woof’. I think, catching myself wondering if it slipped out.

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I Was: Ch. 4.2 ‘MUSCLE’: For Love or Meat.

I Was: Chapter 4.2 Would you like a cocktail.
By Wayne Hills

The guard led me to a custom trailer built to serve as the band’s mobile security center of operations. The single metal entry door opened into a small vestibule with another door that led into the main section of the trailer. Commonly known as a ‘man trap,’ its purpose, as the name implies, is to give a person access into the space so they could be vetted before being allowed passage through the inner doorway leading into the protected space. They work by only allowing one of the two doors to be opened at a time. The man trap operates the same way in both directions, someone would have to be granted entry into, or egress from, the trailer by either a valid access pass or manually by the trailer’s guard. Getting though one in either direction didn’t really help somebody trying to covertly enter or leave the trailer.
Through the small sliding window in the wall between the two doors I saw a console desk built in one side of the trailer with several small video screens mounted into its angled upper face. The opposite wall was covered floor to ceiling by a sheet screen. The video wall was split into multiple camera views of various areas around the Arts Center. It didn’t occur odd at the time, but the views were much different than those I saw on Inspector Byck’s monitors. They showed views of the parking areas, common hallways and many angles of the auditorium’s interior. The band’s cameras however, were aimed at bathroom doorways, the trailer I was presently standing in and the eerily empty hallway leading from the trailer’s door to the stage.
I announced myself to the uniformed guard through the window but since the overweight, crew cut police ‘wannabee’ sitting less than a few feet away from me hadn’t bothered to look up, never mind open the window, I had to announce myself several times before I got his attention. In fact it wasn’t until I tapped the glass with my REA badge that he acknowledged me at all with a single pointer finger in the air giving me the universal, ‘yeah, one sec pal’ salute
After several uncomfortable minutes, and a few unsuccessful tries at opening the inner door on my own, a well-dressed middle aged man came out of a mahogany door at the far end of the trailer. I saw the disinterested guard reach under his small desk and heard the inner door click and buzz; he gave me a halfhearted nod signaling me to proceed. I opened the door and walked in towards the person I assumed was the band’s head of security.
“Mr. Loddi?” I said holding out my right hand.
“Who the hell are you? He replied gruffly, not returning my welcoming gesture.
“I’m Reagent Detective August O’Neill of the REA,” I said trying my best to not match his combative tone. “Inspector Byck was supposed to call down here and let you know I’d be coming in to chat.”
“She did.” He replied curtly, “doesn’t mean I have to care. The REA has no jurisdiction here, we don’t employ Priors and all our people are human. I don’t trust those undead fucks. I’m busy setting up for a show, so what do you want?”
I’m not generally a level headed guy, be a dick to me and I’ll be a dick back. Must be my Jersey upbringing, or the fact that I just don’t like bullies. Having an older brother that pushed me around my whole childhood probably is to blame for that. But I had a job to do; punching him out wouldn’t get me any answers not to mention the very real possibility of a short suspension.
“Mr. Loddi…” I began slowly…
“Colonel Loddi to you boy.” He cut me off.
‘Man he wasn’t going to make this easy.’ My temples started to throb.
“Colonel Loddi…” I said slightly bowing my head trying to give the impression of submissiveness. “I was sent by the mayor’s office to ask a few questions about some irregularities on the previous stops on your tour and to make sure they don’t re-occur here.” I lied about the mayor; as long as he got the tax revenue he could care less about the people who attended these shows. Plus since I popped his grandmother we weren’t really on the best of terms.
“Yeah I figured as much. Assholes like you come and harass us in every city.” He turned and started walking back towards the wooden door he had come from. I followed assuming that was his intention. He kept talking as we walked so I guessed I was right.
“We run a tight ship here.” He waved at the screens as we walked past them. “We monitor our people in and out, there’s no reason for us to watch the perimeter, that’s the building’s problem. We do our show, collect our money and go.”
I stopped in the center of the room and pointed to one of the bathroom views. “Then why the restrooms?” I asked hoping to catch him in a lie. He turned, glared at the guard sitting at the console who promptly swapped those camera shots for several of the trailer’s exterior and some of a second somewhat larger trailer with the band’s logo, “MUSCLE”, written in letters shaped like not very disguised penises.
“Those views are for the protection of our traveling stagehands, the roadies are known to get a little…” He paused for effect, “Well I don’t want offend you so for your delicate sensibilities let’s call it, FUCKED up.” His laugh came out in a sound I would never consider a reaction to something funny, it sounded almost guttural. “They wander into the public areas and we have to go drag them back. We don’t like our people mixing with the locals”
‘Plausible,’ I think, ‘unlikely but reasonable enough for someone less skeptical to believe.’ I decide to try another tactic. I’ll kiss his ass.
“Colonel,” I stand upright, almost at attention, addressing him as if I was back at boot camp and he was my instructor. “Sir, I understand you’re retired MP, I’m a Marine myself. Served two tours in Nam2.”
I’ve always found that if I can find common ground with someone being uncooperative, a witness, a suspect, a cute woman I might randomly be chatting up out in the world, finding something we both have experience with opens them up.
“A Jarhead huh?” His comment seemed less gruff. “What’s that saying you guys use, ‘once a Marine, always a Marine?” He smiled.
‘It’s working’ I thought.
“Well fuck that, I’m retired Army and thank God I’m out of that shit outfit.” Gruff Colonel was back as he turned and waved me along to follow him into his office. I didn’t count on him not being fond of his time in the service. He still used his rank as his title, I took that as a sign he still had respect for the military. It was worth a shot.
The door to his office was closed; he reached for the knob with his left hand and placed his right thumb on a small quarter sized oblong pad mounted on the wall., small LEDs on either side of the finger scanner flashed green, then red in time with the sound.
“Dammit,” I heard him mumble. He raised his hand to his mouth, huffed on the his thumb as one would to fog glasses to clean them, wiped it twice on his pant leg and tried again.
accompanied by two green blinks and the lock clicked allowing us to enter his inner office.

Following him through the thick wooden door, I am surprised at how large the room is. Walking with Inspector Byck’s guard, I had noticed the mobile trailer was the sort that had extendable sides that could be deployed when parked, but I hadn’t realized just how much extra space this really added. As he closed the deep brown door behind us with a solid , I noticed immediately that all the sound from the main office’s chattering and radio noise was cut off. The room was deathly silent. I saw the interior design of the Colonel’s inner sanctum carried on the theme of the dark toned entry. A large solid looking desk appearing to be made of the same thick wood sat in the center of the room, an oversized heavily cushioned chair sat behind it. Two smaller but equally well padded low backed armchairs were between us and the desk. The paneled walls were stained a lighter shade than the desk, but still had the rich appearance of expensive millwork not just slapped on plywood paneling. An ornate, almost tapestry like carpet covered the floor. If I didn’t already know I was in a box that was driven around the country I would have thought I was in an upscale boardroom somewhere in a skyscraper, well that and the lack of windows. The extended wall to my left was occupied by a wet bar; shelves of multi-colored bottles were arranged in front of a mirrored backsplash. This sat on a travertine limestone countertop with a small sink built into its surface. Under the counter, opposite the sink, were small stainless steel doors to what were probably a small refrigerator and dishwasher. Against the wall on the opposite side of the room sat a thick leather couch; the deep red leather matched the chair behind the desk and the pair side by side facing the desk.
In the far right corner of the room I notice a thin closet door with what, from my vantage point, appeared to be a finger pad reader, the same type that was outside Loddi’s office. It was a small door, more the size of the hall lockers I stuffed freshman nerds into when I was in High school.
‘Now what could the good Colonel be hiding in there?’ I thought. He gestured for me to sit as he walked over to the bar.
“You want anything?” He asked, “It’s not even ten AM and I already need a shot. Going to be a glorious day.” Again he chuckled in that guttural laugh that sounded like a pig rooting around in a trough; I’ll freely admit it skeeved me out a little.
“Yes sir,” I replied to his query, “whatever you’re having is fine.” My now having to continue to kiss his ass was going to wear thin quickly. He picked a couple of tumblers out of the dishwasher and placed them on the countertop.
“What should we have for breakfast,” he said rhetorically as he stroked his thick stubbled chin. Although it could have been his neck, the fat seemed to rise out of his shoulders directly up to his ears.
“Bourbon, I think.” He said after some consideration and fumbling with the bottles, “it’s black like coffee and I like it black.” I had a feeling he went through this little dialogue with himself every day, it wasn’t just for my benefit. He poured two fingers in one of the small glasses and the other up to the brim. Picking them up, he turned and began sipping the fuller drink as he walked towards me.
“Loch-hiem.” He paused, “or not loch-hiem depending on if you’re a Prior I guess.” Another hog in heat grunt before he downed the contents in one shot.
I took the glass from his hand and nodded as I tipped the deep black liquid towards him to acknowledge the toast, and slammed it back. I must have grimaced when it hit my throat because he made that piggy sound again in amusement. It wasn’t a smooth whiskey; it wasn’t a smooth paint thinner. It was as rough as the stuff we used to make in the stills we built back in the jungle during the war.
“Th-a-a-a,, that was smooth.” I manage to croak out.
More pig laughter. “We make that ourselves, remind you of anything?” He said with the first genuine smile I’d seen him make since I met him. He was testing me, as an MP during the war he probably busted dozens of Grunt stills. If I served in Nam2, I’d have had jungle liquor.
“Yes sir.” As good as any I made myself from wild rice in the service. What did you add for color?” I tried to hide the fact that the liquor still stung my throat.
“Well as a Reagent I shouldn’t tell you, but as former military, I’m expecting you to keep it between us brothers-in-arms as it were.” He paused waiting for my reply.
“Of course, Semper Fi brother.” I was making myself sick being nice to this prick. That or the hooch was beginning to burn a hole through my stomach.
He continued talking while he poured himself another. “Just a splash of the R-juice at the end of the process. About a half cup of R per each gallon of the stuff mellows it out a bit” He took a big sip and didn’t react to the acidic liquid at all.
“Sir, I only have a few questions and I’ll be out of your hair.” I really was starting to feel queasy; I needed to get this done. He was hiding something, not just in the corner closet, that much was clear. What it was I still had to find out before I barfed all over his rug.
I decided to try another tack. “Back in Nam2, we had other ways to make an extra buck. You ever run into any fight clubs?”
He stopped smiling and looked at me, nodding slowly, his fat neck bulging beyond where a normal chin would be when his head bobbed downward.
“Maybe son, maybe not, what are you getting at?” His tone had changed, he was quieter.
I continued, “we would catch some of the enemy fighters and put them in our uniforms, let them loose in a ring and bet on the outcome. You ever bust any of them?” He had taken the hook, now I needed to set it.
“Of course I did, you know I was an MP, and you know that was illegal. What about it.” He sat on the edge of his desk; I could tell he was still sizing me up.
“There were times when the authorities would come, we’d share our profits with them and they’d leave us alone. This job I’ve got, it’s a thankless job and the pay is shit. I’ve got a family to support.” This was bullshit but he didn’t know that. “Anything I can do to make a few extra credits from you, I’d be willing to listen.” My stomach rumbled, my head started tingling, that R-juice shot was starting to affect my head.
“There just might be something, a favor or two from one soldier to another.” He motioned for me to sit in one of the chairs by the desk, nodding I accepted. I needed to sit down and was grateful he offered. He walked around and opened the desk’s top drawer. It opened with a thick sound, the slide was tight, the drawer heavy. Reaching in with both hands he removed his right hand and held up a chip, his left he slid into his pocket, I didn’t see what was in it. When he withdrew his hand it was empty. It was a move I’ve seen illusionists use, they call it misdirection. You hold one hand up to draw the audience’s gaze and with the other hand pull a rabbit out of your ass. The Colonel would have made a terrible magician.
“This credit is worth ten thousand, it’s for you leave now and say that there was nothing to see here, nothing to report. Think you can do that?” He smiled. It wasn’t an easy smile, like he wasn’t used to doing it. The skin on his bald head tightened and wrinkled from the effort.
‘That was easy; could he really be that trusting?’ I thought.
I returned his fake smile with one of my own, “sounds good but if you’re willing to part with ten K for me to do nothing, what’s it worth for me to do something?” I knew that offering me a bride to keep my mouth shut was incriminating, but not enough for me to have him busted. It’s not really a bribe if I don’t know what I’m covering up. He hesitated.
‘I pushed him too fast,’ I wasn’t thinking straight; I needed to get back on track.
“This is my town,” I said trying to let the line play back out a bit. “I know where to get things, whatever you need. Untraceable juice, other more conventional recreational chemicals. Maybe more importantly, where to lose things.”
“That’s true son, and that Intel may be useful.” I didn’t like the way his voice changed, he was being too agreeable. I fucked up. He kept talking as he walked around the desk, placed the chip worth a month’s pay on the desk in front of me and then moved back towards the bar. From my position in the left side chair he was now slightly behind me. ‘Was the chip meant to keep my attention forward?’ I wondered.
He said, “Let’s have another shot and see what we want and if we can agree on a price.”
I heard the small fridge open, then another small door and then the sound of ice hitting the bottom of the glass. I heard a bottle top pop off, the sound of liquid pouring into a glass, then another. I heard his heavy footsteps coming up behind me.
I looked at the matchbook sized credit stick in front of me. A thought suddenly popped into my head. ‘Bad Magician!’

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I Was:3 Hello Ladies

I Was: Chapter 3. Hello Ladies
By Wayne Hills

Tunnel Vision.
I remember having tunnel vision. I could see only what was directly in front of me; I have no recollection of any peripheral sight at all. The imaginary daggers in my temples twisted and vibrated as they had in varying degrees for the half decade since I returned to civilian life. My father-in-law told me the recurring symptoms are caused by Multiple Sclerosis like lesions and myelin damage to my brain. He believes its cause is from the prolonged exposure to various defoliants and experimental nerve agents used in the jungles during the war. The fight with that grandmotherly Prior had drained me, I had already swallowed the last of the pills ‘Dad’ had given me the last time I had an episode.
I recall hearing the usually exhilarating music of the the twin turbochargers alternately screaming and popping as I ripped down the side streets digging into my brain with each gear shift. Even though I had turned on the car’s guidance systems as if I were going on a call, inside my splitting head it felt like an eternity was creeping by. The grimacing clown in my brain wanted out.
At the time I was on my way to the estate of Dr Johnston, physician, psychologist, drug dealer to the rich and powerful. I’m lucky enough to have married his daughter, otherwise his kind wouldn’t even glance at his watch to deprive giving me the time of day, never mind the pills I need to make it through the pain.
I knew my wife Suzie wouldn’t be there, she was out with my sister in law for their monthly girl’s day out. The throbbing slowed, the thought of my brother’s wife, Lucia, always seemed to ease the pain a bit; her image helps keep the clown at bay.
Now, days later, as I lay with her in our secret hideaway, she told me the story of that day with Suzie. Having already heard my wife’s side of the story, I could finally piece together the fateful afternoon. Some of the details I learned from what they told me, some from my knowledge of both women’s deepest secrets. A few minor details I’ll chalk up to a fertile imagination in cahoots with my drug addled and rotting brain. In my own way I needed to understand the week that started with the final chapter in the unnatural life of a family’s matriarch, and unknowingly began the countdown to my soulmate’s death.
Suzanne Johnson-O’Neill, my wife preferred the hyphenated version with everyone except family or her closest friends to prevent anyone from mistaking her for the wife of a mere REA agent, was at her favorite salon. She was getting her weekly mani-pedi from the Korean Prior who had been doing this work since she was a Human child, when the flashy ‘Eyewitness Newsbreak’ logo cut into her favorite entertainment program. The polished faces had been talking about the mysterious disappearances that had been following the pop band MUSCLE as they toured the country. In place of the image of their hunky lead singer Throb lounging poolside, an animated title screen declaring “Granny-Nanny-Snaps!” popped up on the personal video station mounted to her chair. Dancing in front of the bold pulsating letters was the cartoon depiction of a bespeckled old woman with a mountain of unkempt gray hair. She was wearing a loosely fitting full length bright blue and white dress spattered with red drops. In one hand she held onto a huge black walker. The type with the small wheels at the front, only these wheels were circular saw blades flinging animated blood droplets. Her other hand was held up in a bloody fist, her eyes bulging circles pulsating in rhythm with the flashing background lettering. Moving on the off-beat was her oversized mouth which opened and closed revealing jagged crimson tinged teeth.
Suzie looked into the upper left corner of the screen and blinked twice, the retinal scanner interpreted this as a mute command and the rhythmic chiming that signaled that the news was breaking into her show immediately silenced.
She looked across the small room and gazed at herself in the mirrored wall across from her chair. It was the only spot in the spa with a full length mirror directly across from a nail station; and the only position she ever requested. Reaching up and touching her pixie bobbed linen white hair, she tilted and turned her head side to side and studied her look. She brushed her hand down over her forehead and across her cheekbones, inspecting her skin for any sign of a crease or blemish. ‘Yes, it’s time for a new style and maybe a little wrinkle management,’ she thought as she dropped her hands back onto her lap.
With that bit of business out of the way, and the ‘Granny Crisis’ still blocking her program, she turned to her best friend sitting in the chair to her right. Lucia’s eyes were closed and with her own speakers silent, Suzie could faintly hear the classical music playing in her Sister-in-law’s headrest. She noticed several gray strands lacing through Lucia’s long tightly curled black locks as they lie over her shoulders, bunching up slightly behind her head where it rested against the cushioned seatback.
Shaking her head at the sight she thought, ‘Lucia really needs to take better care of herself if she wants to keep her man.’
Although she knew that having a child to care for meant that Lucia was only able to join her once a month for these pampering sessions, this was supposed to be just for the two of them. It wasn’t her fault that Lucia could have a baby and she couldn’t, this was ‘me’ time. Lucia should be ready to be here for ‘ME’.
Suzie reached out her hand and touched the sleeve of Lucia’s fuzzy pink sweater, just above the spot where the short sleeve ended exposing her cocoa brown skin. ‘Pay attention to me,’ she thought as she touched the garment.
Lucia opened her large hazel eyes, double-blinked at her screen to silence the soothing music and tilted her head. “What’s up Suzie, are you done already?” She said brightly.
“No, I just wanted to talk. There’s some news break thing blocking my show. You know how I feel about those media people, vultures all of them. They should all be reclaimed as janitors.” She shook her head quickly, as if to clear the thought from her mind. She smiled and changed the subject, “Let’s talk about lunch. Where should we go today? I was thinking that new Euro-Asian fusion café’. And then we can get our hair done. You’ve got some stray strands girl and I need a change…”
She went on as she always did, Lucia had been her friend since grade school and was used to Suzie’s prattle. As she talked Lucia glanced at the monitor attached to her friend’s seat and saw the bloody dancing hag. She guessed it was about a Prior going wild and that to comment on the topic would only upset her. Suzie hated the media because of the way they portrayed her father, Reynold Johnson, for his work in the field of human reclamation.
Suzie says they don’t care about what truth is, “The truth doesn’t get ratings. Speculation, innuendo, and fear that is their bread and butter, their R-Juice rush.” This comment came after a particularly critical piece about her father and his work aired. The title of the report was, “Reynold Johnson, Dr. Frankenstein Reincarnated?”, or something equally hurtful. Suzie had learned to ignore all newscasts just in case the subject of Priors came up.
Answering her friend’s original question Lucia said, “We’ll have to go somewhere fast; my boy will be home early today.”
This visibly bothered Suzie, “We don’t get out together often Lucia, and now you’re cutting out on me?”
Taken aback by the sudden change in demeanor, Lucia said, “I’m sorry Suzie, but it’s the best I can do. Jason’s going to be working late again so I have to be home for the Adam.” This was a lie; she had more illicit plans that she could never share with her sister in-law.
Suzie replied curtly, “He’s hardly a baby anymore, he can fend for himself, it’s not like he’s wearing diapers. He’s practically old enough to be on his own”
Trying to diffuse the situation Lucia said, “Suzie, you’re right, he’s not an infant, but eleven years old is not old enough to be on his own.” She said this in calm, understanding voice, “But he’ll always be my baby to me.” Like all mothers are in these days of fewer live births, Lucia’s devotion to her son was limitless.
She knew her friend’s dislike for children, infants in particular, wasn’t a recent development. When the women were children themselves, before the Center For Population Enhancement was formed and female fertility testing was mandatory, it seemed kids were everywhere. The girls dreamed of marrying twin millionaires, living in big houses, and having lots of babies. They were close on only one point, they did marry brothers. They weren’t twins or millionaires, Lucia’s house was modest but comfortable, Suzie lived on her father’s estate, and only Lucia could have children.
Like the majority of Human women, Suzie is unable to become pregnant. ‘Barren’ was the word that came to her mind when she thought of it. “Such an awful, evil word,” she had said.
Even of the small percentage of woman who could become pregnant, less than half carried to a live birth. The rest either lost the child mid-term or died from ‘the turning.’ A horrific condition in which the fetus dies in-vitro and returns as a sort of ‘preemie Prior’ inside the mother’s womb. All pregnancies are closely monitored to catch these deaths before the unborn tries to get mommy’s brain from the inside.
Lucia’s wrist vibrated telling her she had a message delivered to her Personal Data Instrument. The PDI is worn like a wristwatch but it’s capable of much more, indicating the current time and date are the simplest things it does. Flipping her hand over and touching the band projected the virtual touch screen onto her open palm. Tapping the icon shaped like an envelope opened the message from me:
“Can’t meet.
Rough day.
Don’t watch the news.
❤ A.”
Her heart sank, our meetings were becoming more infrequent, and when we could connect, either one or both of us were too tired to do more than just hold each other and cry; both stuck in loveless marriages, our separate lives too entwined to separate.
With her carnal plans with me now dashed, and succumbing to her quilt at her long-term betrayal of her friend's trust, Lucia said, "Actually Suzie that sounds fine. I'll let Adam and Jason know to fend for themselves. Let's go to that new place for lunch. It can't be worse than that all vegan Southwestern restaurant we tried last time." She said with a laugh as she pinched her nose.
The rest of their afternoon was spent eating and laughing about the ‘old days.’ They rarely ever spoke about the present and never spoke of the future. Hardly anyone ever did actually. We humans have learned that talking about, or God forbid, planning for the future was a waste of time. We are all an earthquake or unexpected encounter with a post-human away from becoming a Prior ourselves.
Anyway that's how I imagine it happened, how the conversations and inner thoughts of the two women in my life went. My superficially beautiful wife Suzie, who I loved in our blissfully ignorant days of high school. And the Cajun object of my heart’s desire Lucia.
I turned my head to look at her, the perpetually tanned skin, evidence of her Gulf coast heritage. The symmetrical slightly olive shaped hazel eyes owing to her Vietnamese ancestors, her wide flat nose, she is always on my mind. Lying there beside me in the secret room we kept above thePerfect Clean' dry cleaners, that night we were blissfully unaware of the impending conclusion to our love story. A tale that began a little over a decade ago on the night I left for the Marines to serve the sane world while she stayed home with our seed growing inside her. A love that took root before my brother Jason, unaware of the baby's origin, married her thinking for once in his life he was doing the right thing.
If I could wind back the clock… No, it wouldn’t be that easy, changing fate never is. We would have still ended up dead, or as close as is possible these days.
For now and forever the best I can do is cling to the memories. Of her and the night Adam was conceived. Life was never better than that one evening spent in secret ecstasy entwined with Lucia. If we could only go back…

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I Was:2 To Grandmother’s House We Go.

I Was: To Grandmother’s House We Go.
By Wayne Hills
The steady rumble of the dual-turbocharged in-line five of my unmarked Reclamation Enforcement Agency cruiser is always a pleasant sound to me. It reminds me of the big V-8s the older boys in my neighborhood built before my mother was salvaged. Although much smaller and running on hydrogen distilled from the car’s water tanks instead of gasoline refined from decaying dinosaurs, the Swedish designed 2.5 liter engine develops twice the horsepower as those archaic gas guzzlers. Hitch those wild ponies to the active four-wheel drive and my slightly tweaked not-so standard issue sedan will outrun pretty much anything on, or off the road. It’s a beast and one of the only perks I get from my job as an agent for the REA.
Today I’m following the road map displayed inside the windshield by the Agency’s on board communication system. Along with the active satellite image map of my route, it shows where the people already on-site are located so I’m never pulling up blind, well almost never. Although the x-ray vision cameras aren’t quite perfected yet, the system is still worlds better than the primitive radio dispatched, ‘Surprise it’s an ambush,’ days of pre-Nam2 technology.
As I downshift to slow for the turn off the main road onto the small side street, I notice that I’m pulling into a very upscale neighborhood. There are none of the typical cardboard cutout houses with their generic middle class architecture found in the ‘lower class’ sections of town; the locals do however share some things in common with the Humans living in those less affluent areas. All of them are living relatively sheltered lives; existing with the same mistaken belief that this insanity will end. Thinking that ‘someone’ will find a cure, praying in vain that nature will prevail and Humankind will be saved from this catastrophe of civilization.
I pity them.
They cling to the hope that this unnatural way of life we’ve become accustomed to as normal will pass.
“Too bad for them that normal’s dead,” I muttered out loud. “It’s really gone suckers. Not just temporarily suspended like a Human death. That normal’s gone, never to return. Long live the new normal.”
OK so I’ve become cynical over the years that have passed since my father’s reclamation and I don’t try to hide it; I’ve seen too much over that time. The plagues of Earth and Nature, the war, the inhumanity from Prior’s and Humans alike. Too much pain, too much death and re-death. Thinking about it makes my head hurt, my temples throb, and I begin to feel pressure building behind my eyes.
Skidding to a stop, I can hear the screaming and the pounding coming from the house before I even get out of the car. A small crowd has gathered outside the home and a couple of uniformed local Police are on the lawn. Each with an apple picker in hand keeping people back at a safe distance. Apple pickers are slang for the P.D. standard issue Grab Sticks; but instead of being used to reach up a tree to pluck juicy fruit, they’re can be used to grab and restrain an out of control Prior. Think of them as a six foot long fiberglass pole with a claw at the end; like the kind given to people with bad backs to pick up their socks or empty beer cans. Besides the obvious longer length of a Grab Stick compared to the household convenience variety, the biggest difference between them is the adjustable spring loaded claw. Depending on the tension setting it can be used to grab an arm or leg and hold the Prior until it can be hooded and captured. Or at its grisliest, it can be adjusted to what I like to refer to as the “Dandelion setting.” As a kid I used to pick the little weeds, hold the stem in my fist and flick their little heads off with my thumb, ‘ off with their heads.’ Regardless of the pressure used, the procedure usually ends badly for the occasional user which is why they prefer to stand outside and wait for the professionals to show up. That explains why they’re usually relived when I pull up with my more effective means of containment. Customized Grab Stick, slug guns, diamond wire spoolers, all the toys at my disposal are very effective at keeping Humans safe from runaway Priors.
From the dispatch call I have a pretty good idea of what I’ll be dealing with. An older Prior housekeeper has trapped the host family in a pantry that doubles as a safe room and she’s clawing at the door. Lucky for them they have a fortified room, I’ve seen Priors twice my age break through solid wooden doors. I know from experience, once they get the taste of live Human, they’ll keep coming until you’re a meal or their head’s on the floor.
Opening the back hatch of the V75 to arm myself for the impending battle I hear my name shouted over the crowd’s murmuring and the noise from the house.
“Hey Auggie!” Turning towards the familiar voice I see my old friend Sgt. Nick Walker strutting over right hand outstretched.
“Careful there Nicco,” I say as I pat his left shoulder. “Last time you almost broke my pinky.”
I ask as I carefully shake his hand, “what fun do you have in store for us today?” It still grosses me out a bit, the slight warmth and dampness to the touch. If I didn’t already know the hand he was born with had gone up in smoke and gelatinized flesh years ago, I wouldn’t be able to tell it was filled with hydraulic fluid and cables instead of blood and bone.
Nicco is a buddy of mine for a decade and a half; we met in Marine Corps basic training before being deployed through two tours of South Asia. When I first laid eyes on him he was six foot three of skin, bones, and bad attitude. The Corps put 30 pounds of muscle and a sense of direction for his life that he never had before. He survived the War better than most, came back with only one rebuilt limb. Half a new right arm courtesy of a plasma napalm grenade, it melted his arm to just below the elbow. He told me once that even though his bionic hand had the look and feel of the real thing, he couldn’t get used to jerking off with it.
“It feels strangely gay, like it’s some other dude touching Little Nicco.” He’s always did have a strange sense of humor.
After being discharged we both chose to continue to serve, he as a street cop, me as a Prior cop. We make a point of seeing each other from time to time even when we’re not fortunate enough to run into each other on the job. It helps keep us both sane since we came back from the jungle and the horrors we witnessed or committed there.
“I’m glad they sent you Auggie,” as he releases my grip. “We’ve got a lively one for you; or a deadly one depending on your point of view.” He said with a chuckle. “The Mayor’s mother was reclaimed, completely off the grid as far as we can determine so far. We can see her through the window in the back door.”
“Have they tried subduing her yet?” I ask already suspecting the answer. If they had, either I would have been called off or an ambulance would have been called in.
“Not yet, the situation is too dicey at the moment.” He answers shaking his head. “I’ve got a couple of men keeping an eye on her, Patrolmen Mellon and Viktor, he’s a rookie. First Prior off the leash call for him. Seems like an OK kid, just wanted him to get a taste for a wild one, see how he handles it.”
“Well,” I reply as we walk towards the back of the house, “let’s just try to keep him out of my way and let him start to build those emotional calluses he’ll need to survive.”
“Maybe we can show him one that goes smoothly so he’ll know what a capture is supposed to look like.” Nicco says with a smile, “as if any of these goes as planned. Let’s see if you can at least keep a lid on this one. You know, for a change of pace, try turning that big stick of yours down a couple notches. Try to not pop Grandma’s head off in front of the Mayor and his family.”
“We’ll see,” I say, “let’s take a look at sweet old Granny first. I’m not making any promises.”
Crouching in the rear of the house by the kitchen door, Nicco and I survey the room through the thin flowery curtain covering the four square glass windows. It’s a large open space, marble topped counters, solitary cooking island slightly off center effectively creating two rooms, cooking and slightly larger eating areas. The outside door opens into the dining side of the room with an archway directly opposite us leading into the main house. Between the two entrances sits a sturdy looking wood dining table, the center table leaf is installed and it is surrounded by eight chairs which gives the furniture the appearance of being slightly too large for the area. On the table are plates, silverware, glasses. There is also obvious evidence of a struggle, the large floral centerpiece is lying on its side and several of the chairs are knocked over.
I whisper to Nicco, “looks like they were setting the table for a family gathering when all hell broke loose.”
“Nicco points towards the wall adjacent to the table, “appears to be some blood splattered about on the table and wall above the credenza next to it. She may have gotten a taste Auggie. That’s not good for a safe retrieval is it?”
I knew it was a rhetorical question, I just shrug.
The pantry containing our trapped family is to our right, just beyond the island. I know this will give us a barrier between our entrance and Grandma. I move closer to the window to get a better recon of the situation, I’m a little shocked at my first look at our target, and from a grizzled veteran of the war and dozens of domestic Prior encounters, that’s saying something.
She’s a bruiser of a woman, Nordic or Austrian descent maybe. Looks like she was in her late 60’s when she passed. How long ago I wonder, 10 years at least, maybe 20. Five foot ten, 220 maybe 240 pounds with all the hardware in her. Her ‘Natural Look’ wig is still stapled perfectly in place. She turns her head, fat black tongue sampling the air like a huge anthropomorphic lizard.
I shake my head. “This is a bad sign, Nicco.” I say quietly to him, “she’s flicking her tongue, trying to smell them.”
“I haven’t seen that in years Auggie.” I can tell he’s concerned, the look on his face has suddenly changed in to the game face he’d put on when we went on patrols.
Natural Priors, those that turn without any Human interference, use their tongues the same way snakes do to smell the air. Because their internal organs have all decomposed and gelled into a massive slug contained within their ribcage, they have no lungs and therefore no way to breath. Or reason to for that matter, they absorb what they need from the air through their skin. It was only after they began being reclaimed for Human use that the lung bag was invented to allow them to use forced air for certain tasks, including speech in very advanced and expensive reclamations.
I look back at the Grandmother pounding at the door, I notice the makeup tattooed into her undead skin is slightly faded from the years but her lips still look red. A shade too dark and smeared a bit onto her chin. ‘That’s not just the lip ink.’ I think.
“She definitely clipped one of the family,” continuing my thought out loud to Nicco. Not expecting an answer I ask, “what were they thinking when they brought this one back as a domestic, a related domestic at that. This family has some pull to have been able to get this approved. We’ll sort that all out later; let’s try to get them through this so I can find someone living to blame.”
As I move back from the window Nicco turned and grabbed my arm in the vise grip that is his right hand. ““You’re right Auggie. We’re under orders to take this Prior alive.” He shakes his head, “not alive, just not re-dead. You know what I mean. I specifically requested you for this call”
Looking him straight in the eyes I shake my arm out of his grip. “I can’t jeopardize a Human for one of them.” I tighten my jaw to fight off a spike of pain in my temples. “I don’t see how we can keep her in salvageable pieces Nicco. You see her in there, she’s big and pissed and not to mention off the R-juice obviously. She wants blood. Even if we can bag her there’s no way of knowing if she can be brought back under control.”
“I promised the Chief I’d try Auggie.” His gaze never left mine. “I said you were the best, if anyone could grab her clean, it would be you. Can you at least try for me buddy?”
“I already said I’m not making any promises Nicco. Let’s get your men set up in the house and we’ll give it shot. Best I can promise.” I lied. There’s no way I’m letting this one loose on society.
We decide to have the uniforms enter from the main house and draw her attention while I come in the kitchen door. Nicco tells me his men have already checked and the front door is unlocked, this one isn’t.
“Send them around,” I tell Nicco. “Make sure they’re quiet as they enter, we need to have Granny’s attention on the pantry until we’re all set in position.”
As he walks away to instruct his men, I watch as our target stops pounding the door, turns slowly, looks at me and then cocks her head slightly towards the archway. ‘She knows,’ I think for an instant, ‘she knows she has to watch both entrances into the room she’s in.’ Her face twitches, her lip snarls and she snaps back to the pantry, she returns to pounding and pulling the handle. ‘This could get dicey.’
I check my belt; two spoolers, two slug guns, a pair on each hip. My own modified grab stick in hand, I’m as ready as I can be. My headache seems to be slightly worse, my upper jaw hurts and the pain is bridging across my nose. ‘Never go into battle sick and never pass up an opportunity to take a leak.’ Life lessons learned through combat. Well at least I don’t have to piss.
We wait for the patrolmen to get set in the living room; Sgt. Nicco opens one of the many small clasped compartments on his thick leather belt and takes out a pair of thin metal picks. Quickly and silently he has the door unlocked and opened just enough to clear the latch from the frame.
“Practice makes perfect,” he whispers with a smirk.
I see one of the uniformed patrolman, I found out later this was Viktor, appear holding an Apple Picker in the opening from the living room. Directly behind him is Officer Lennon, we watch as he gives instructions to the rookie, pointing at the grab stick, miming the twisting motion used to adjust the tension and release the claw. He points over at us through the window, then towards the other side of the room. Following the path of his finger I see Granny has stopped pounding and with the exception of her tongue flailing wildly, is standing perfectly still.
Moving from the door to give Nicco a line of sight with his men, I listen as he gives them final instructions over the Earpod radios. From my position behind him I can still see Granny standing at the pantry door where the Mayor and his family are holed up. I notice that her skin looks a little off, a bit too pale and shiny. It’s as though there is a thin film of slime shimmering on the exposed areas. I know from experience the feel would be leathery, that sheen is a primitive attempt to make the skin appear ‘alive,’ a covering to hide the fact that the Prior wasn’t really Human.
Now rare in this part of the country, unreclaimed priors, truly ‘undead in the wild,’ are ashen gray, and their skin doesn’t quite hang right. The epidermis is the only organ that still lives when Human’s die, it’s what keeps their bodies together. If it’s cut or torn off, it will continue to survive, thankfully, without sustenance it won’t last very long. It will twist and squirm and seek out body heat. If it touches living tissue, it grabs on as if held with Superglue; eating into the flesh spreading the infection. Back in the war we saw a lot of skin moving on its own, just sliding along the ground, or hanging from trees reaching out like leeches feeling the air for something warm. That’s why the plasma napalm and grenades that claimed Nicco’s arm were invented. What’s the point of killing your enemy if they’re just as dangerous re-dead if the skin is still intact? Use a standard grenade on a Prior and you blow living shrapnel all over the battlefield.
My head throbs; I close my eyes and rubbed my temples. Thinking about the war always brought the pain.
Granny must have sensed us at the window because she stopped clawing at the door to turn towards us. Her blank, black eyes stared at us as she took a half step away from the door. Then as if she remembered the family dinner waiting for her inside, returned to beating on the door. Her connection, the memory of those behind the door must be very strong, the taste she’s already had pulling her back towards them.
I do have empathy for them, the families that chose this path. No matter whose palms got greased or favors were called in for this debacle; this family just wanted their matriarch around awhile longer. Hard to let go if you don’t need to, still there’s always something different about a related Prior. The retained memories can influence their reaction to any situation.
My left eye twitches; I rub it with the palm of my hand and rethink my life choice of alcohol abstinence. This is going to suck if it worsens. I’ll deal with it later, game face on. Time to earn my pay.
I nod to Nicco who relays the signal to his men to enter the kitchen. The idea is for the Patrolmen to enter the kitchen from the main house to get her attention. She should react to easy prey by leaving the pantry door and head for them giving me a chance to open the door and come at her from the other side. In theory, we should be able to get grabbers on her and hold her long enough to get a blinder over her head.
The blinder hoods are used to subdue a Prior when they’ve become uncontrollable. It’s a pretty straightforward, low-tech device; a tan canvas bag with a pre-loaded closure. Slip it over the crazed Prior’s head and pull the string. The actuator zips the opening tight and the Prior is blind. The only real piece of technology is olfactory. It ‘smells’ neutral. Not to a Human, just to a Prior. Smells like shit to us but their tongues can’t pick up the scent of the living. Once they’re blind and can’t smell they become docile, scientists believe it’s a survival instinct. If they don’t sense any food they mostly shut down. They’re waiting for something to eat to come near them. Like any number of animals in nature, they become ambush predators, just lying in wait for some poor sucker to come strolling by. “La-di-dah’ out for stroll and insta-Prior meal, just like that.
Viktor, Mellon and I have grabbers; Nicco has my back and the hood, that was the idea anyway. What is that Robert Burns quote about schemes, mice, men and going to shit? Well cue the shit-storm, about the only part of this plan that went well was Granny’s attention leaving the pantry door when the Patrolmen entered the kitchen.
I stand at the door and watch as Viktor steps into the dining room with Mellon directly behind him. She knew it was coming; she’s an old, wise Prior. Like a big fish in a small pond, she wasn’t taking the bait. Instead of turning towards the two men entering from the living room, she turns and heads for the outside door as I open it. In hindsight I’m ashamed to admit that the move took me completely by surprise. I can’t imagine what the two uniforms thought, but right now as I stand alone in the kitchen doorway, it was her against me. I’m supposed to be the backup; the two Patrolmen are cut off from my side of the room by the dining room table and marble island.
Normally I’d just toss a spooler at her and let the tool do its job and lop her undead head off but I promised Nicco I’d try to spare her, I have to at least make a token attempt. I only have one chance at this; I’ve got to drive her back towards the other two men. My instincts take over and I thrust at her with the stick, she’s seen the business end of a claw before and dodges my grab. Fortunately it has the desired effect and she steps back into the small open space between the areas of the room giving Viktor a chance with his picker.
She catches the claw in her hand and pushes them back.
“Close the grip!” I yell at the rookie. But he drops the stick instead. She tosses it at me. Thank God she never used one in life because I’ve got a feeling she would have used it against us.
With her attention momentarily off me, I jump forward and snatch her arm with my stick. Unfortunately I’m too close and before and I can clamp down on her and hold her off, she swings around and grabs at my head catching me in the left temple with her meaty open palm, it feels as if she’s stabbed me through the skull with a spike.
The pain involuntarily clenches my eyes closed; instinctively aware that it’s generally not a good idea to lose sight of your foe in hand to hand combat, I stumble backwards to buy some time, knowing she’ll be following back into the kitchen side of the room and aware the area to my right is clear, I let my momentum take me down in that direction. Tucking and rolling towards the floor, I grab the spooler off my hip as my shoulder hits the ground. Thumbing the release, , I count out what I hope is enough cable and throw it towards where I ‘feel’ she is trailing me as I roll away from her.
Unfortunately from my position near the floor I release it too low and it wraps around her meaty left calf. The Spooler balls clack together, the reels retract with a familiar high pitched whine. The diamond coated cable easily slices through her bloated flesh, meat, tibia, and fibula literally taking her leg out from under her. Since I had guessed correctly and she did indeed react quickly to my fall, she was in full speed pursuit when all the support of her massive Granny-ness was suddenly cut out from under her.
I’m still amazed at the reaction speeds of Priors; our falling Granny is as fast as any I’ve seen. She never even hits the ground. Using her stumpy left leg as if she were an amputee for years, she plants it into the floor to stop her fall, spins on the spot where it struck the floor and goes back towards Mellon and Viktor, neither of whom have moved since she took the stick out of Viktor’s hands.. I see in his eyes fear. Fear in these situations leads to pain, pain leads to death.
I’m done playing with this Prior, she’s done. I grab the other spooler off my belt.
“No Auggie!” I hear Nicco yell from the doorway as he runs past me with the blinder hood in both hands. I realize that he’s going to try to bag a loose Prior!
“What the fuck?” I yell as I tackle him before he can reach her and we both crash into her back as she steps and slides towards the frozen men in the archway.
Tumbling towards the rookie Viktor as she falls, he finally thaws out and grabs Mellon’s apple picker and sticks it out towards her. It appears to be more to keep her from falling on him then as an offensive maneuver and the grabber’s claw catches her beneath her flabby bicep and snaps closed grabbing her floral print muumuu along with a good size chunk of fat.
Because he’s standing in the doorway to the living room with Officer Mellon so close behind him, the force of her falling pushes Victor back into his partner, who holds his ground and pushes back against the Viktor trying to hold her up. He might have been right if he had a better grip on the pole, the claw end of which was tenaciously gripping her fatty underarm.
Instead of being able to force her back, the stick slides back and upwards as the two Patrolmen plant their feet and struggle to stand in the doorway as Granny continues to move towards them. Her dead, no pun intended, weight combined with the angle of the pole tears her garment along with the hunk of fatty meat the metal grip was attached to.
This sudden release of resistance forces both men to fall into the room, Mellon stops his forward progress by pushing off of Viktor forcing him into the room on top of a weakened but still very dangerous and aggressive Grandmother.
Grasping the chair nearest her with her left hand for balance, she reaches out with her right and palms the back of the rookies head pulling it towards her gnashing jaws. It looks so smooth, so choreographed; it’s almost as if she planned the whole thing from the moment my spooler chopped off her leg.
Viktor has thrown his arms straight out while he falls to try to keep his face out of the Grandmother’s open mouth, hands buried deep into her bosom, his forearms are completely engulfed in her massive breasts. Mellon regains his balance and taking hold of the back of his partner’s vest, leans backwards trying to pull him away. He’s losing the deadly tug of war.
“Please, don’t let her get me!!” Viktor is screaming, trying to swing his head away.
“NO, Plea…”

The sound of a slug gun and the ensuing snap of a spinal column cuts Viktor off in mid-scream.
I’m standing behind the now re-dead Grandma, a fistful of her Perma-wig in one hand, the still vibrating slugger in the other; her inanimate hand still on the back of the very pale rookie’s head. Stepping backwards, I pull the lifeless body into the kitchen and let it fall to the floor. I glance around for any bits of her flesh that may have been torn off during the struggle. I see a chuck about the size of a stick of gum crawling towards me from the bloody meat of her fatty upper arm ripped off during the fight.
I know it’s just trying to survive, seeking out heat from something living to latch on to. Crushing it under my boot, I imagine a tiny squeal of pain as it’s ground to a pick smear on the white marble floor.
My vision goes white as the pain of a thousand needles bursts through my temples
During the interview with family, along with a scolding from Sgt. Walker on our failure to ‘save’ the Grandmother, I get the distinct impression the Mayor would have accepted the sacrifice of a couple of the city’s finest in order to give his mother what she wanted. A real brain to feast on.
‘Fucking rich prick’ I think. The world and civilization came very close to ending, and still may very soon, but rich entitled pricks still think they can do or get whatever they want.
I discover the family had Grandma reclaimed at ‘Johnny’s Prior Sales.’ A well know outlet for servants of all kinds. Most of the business is legit but I know of some of the backroom deals Johnny has made. It’s inevitable, where there’s money to be made, there’s the lure of an easy buck regardless of whatever laws and regulations are in place.
I decide to leave the follow-up for another day, now I need a shower and a visit to my father-in-law. My skull feels as if it wants split open from ear to ear. Like there’s a freakish clown inside trying to smile and his blood red lips want to part my face in half. As the nation’s leading researcher in all things Prior and Human alike, he’ll have something to help the pain. he always does.
And most importantly, I need to see my love and my reason for living since I returned from the jungles and swamps of hell; she keeps me alive, sober, and sane. Thinking about those years of pain, fear, and death, both temporary and final brings the headaches back. Something unnatural is alive inside me and it wants me gone, it wants to control me. But for her and my bastard son Adam, I have to maintain control.

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