Lainey slapped away the muzzle of the beast before her and tightened the three locks on the cage with a twist. The scaly beast of a subject inside curled in on itself, only extending its torn muzzle to gnaw on one of the polished iron bars of the cage.
“Come on, you sorry excuse for a dog, cooperate.” She placed one hand on the top of the cage, only to withdraw it a second later as the subject attempted to gnaw on that as well with yellowed and serrated teeth. “If we don’t get anything done today, there won’t be any outside time for you tomorrow.”
The beast locked one bloodshot eye on her and gurgled in response, jerking back and allowing the cage to propel it to the floor. The cage clattered onto the tiles, ripping out one of the murky brown scales on the subject’s back and leaving a bright pink rip in the flesh. Its mangled paws pushed against the cage, hoping for it to pop open and release but receiving nothing.
“You’re a bother, you know that?” Lainey slipped around the table and nudged the top of the cage with her foot, knocking it over and sending the subject somersaulting inside. “Administration isn’t going to be pleased when he doesn’t receive that blood sample, and that means that Anders will be upset.” She took hold of the transportation straps and tugged the cage back onto the table, this time strapping it down with bungee cords. “And when Anders is upset-”
The beast let out a piercing shriek, cutting Lainey off mid-sentence. It launched its body against the iron bars separating it from the woman, but the locks on the cage only rattled as Lainey took a few steps back against the wall.
“What’s going on here?” Giles slipped through the door as the beast convulsed and then laid still. Its pink tongue slipped out of its muzzle, and the scales faded to black. “Did…”
“Yes, I do believe that we’ve witnessed another spontaneous subject death.” Lainey adjusted the buckle on her belt, laying a hand on the brass door handle. “Should I go inform Anders before administration catches wind of it?”
“Probably not.” Giles tiptoed towards the deflating corpse. “What’s he going to do anyway?”
“I’m going to go anyways just in case.” Lainey ignored Giles as she exited the room and headed for the staircase, brushing down her clothes with her palms. As she approached the suite doors, the soles of her shoes picked up a few of the scraps of notebook paper strewn all over the staircase. When she reached the doors, she pushed it open and leaned over to pull off a few of the scraps. “What could possibly…”
Her words trailed off as she looked up and encountered Anders, who was standing on his toes and engrossed in examining the dust on the fireplace mantel. She stood up straight and creeped towards him, but he made no acknowledgement of her presence as he dragged a finger through the heavy coat of dust at his eye level.
Lainey poked his shoulder. “Anders?”
He blinked slowly, taking a deep breath before turning to face the young woman behind him. “Yes, Lainey?”
She mentally took note of his furrowed eyebrows. His face was stony and emotionless, and he folded his hands together in await for her to continue. “I just thought that you should know that another one of your subjects has died.”
A vein in his neck twitched, and Lainey backed up a few steps. She put her hands up, fearing a burst of rage from Anders directed her way, but it was soon proved unfounded as he closed his eyes and otherwise remained motionless. “Which project?”
Something in Anders’ mind snapped, and he slowly sunk to the floor, clutching his face in his hands. Lainey caught him and helped him to lie down as he gasped for air, concealing tears behind his fingers. “Sir?”
“It- it’s-” He sucked in a few quick breaths, and Lainey helped him onto his side, opening his airways. A few tears slipped through the cracks between his fingers as he sobbed, “This is where it’s going to end, isn’t it?”
“Anders, what in the world are you talking about?” The thought of pulling out her walkie-talkie and calling for Giles to assist her crossed her mind, but she let it be as she unbuttoned Anders’ jacket. “None of the purebred humans have perished yet.”
“I-” Anders sucked in another shaky breath, and Lainey reached for the device on her belt. “I don’t want to be the first, Lainey. But every day- there’s this voice in my head sometimes, and it pulls on my strings like a marionette. And every day we continue with this Nevermore project, I feel like I’m increasing my mortality instead of getting rid of it.”
“Negative side effects are expected as your body bolsters its immune system, sir. We’re well aware of the psychological effects of your mind preparing itself to live a much longer lifespan.”
Anders peeked one of his eyes out from behind his hands. His voice warbled as he whispered, “Do you really, Lainey?”
“Sir…” She pulled her walkie-talkie into her lap, allowing Anders to see it. “I can assure you that you are in no danger of dying.” She stroked Anders’ hair, and he made no movement to push her away. “The police has caught a lead on Miranda. He’ll be back here soon, and then you can focus on how you’re going to regain some semblance of a normal life after you’re done with treatments.”
“But I’m so afraid that I’ll hurt Miranda while in this fragile state…”
“Okay, that’s it. I’m calling Giles.”
his elbows are well acquainted with the polished granite of the sink
as cold and clammy as his own skin
although no life beats behind their chilled exterior
unlike the gasping figure hunched over it
for all of Anders’ existence spent
under the watchful eye of the sciences
nothing he knows of can explain
his hair darkening overnight
Giles peeks in every now and then
to maybe pass along a tidbit of food
but he stays away from the writhing mess
once standing so proud and so strong
and as soon as Anders can find some kind of peace
curled up and shivering on the bathroom floor
there’s a cackle on the other side of the wood
speeches of pure desperation between each hasty breath
he drags himself up
and throws open the bathroom door
Miranda brushed his hand against the artificial flowers. The rainbow teardrop prism hanging in the bedroom window cast all sorts of hues and shades upon the white petals, leaking onto his fingernails.
“It was a good idea to stop and get these,” Miranda muttered to himself, drawing his right hand back from the flowers and returning his attention to the green pen laid across the notebook. The monochrome landscape resting on the page, almost seeming to writhe under the touch of the pen, was a stark contrast to the dullness of the faded carpet beneath his feet and the intricately carved wooden desk.
“Indeed, it was.” A voice of low timbre rumbled behind Miranda, startling him into swiveling around in his wooden chair. Standing before him was a gentlemanly figure, garbed in a simple white suit and a bleached wide-brimmed hat not unlike what LaJean had stepped out of the house wearing just a few hours before.
“Who- who are you?” Miranda felt goose bumps rise on his arms as the man’s smirk widened, exposing his sharpened teeth. “Am I about to be sent to the mental ward because I’m hallucinating?”
Miranda’s breath quickened as the man closed his mouth and pulled the hat off of his head, allowing it to slip through his fingers to the floor. His eyes opened all the way, exposing a pair of very familiar golden and crimson irises.
“I’m Bes. I believe we’ve met before, Miranda.” The androgyne felt the sensation of ice dripping down his back as he locked eyes with Bes, feeling his own widen. Bes snapped his fingers, and the suit disappeared in a cloud of smoke, metamorphosing the demon into a grey-skinned and horned figure.
“What do you want, Bes?”
“The same thing I wanted when I accosted you in that basement all those weeks ago.” Bes dragged one clawed finger along the crack running over his chest, exposing a glowing core, and then along Miranda’s cheek. “Freedom from Anders. Freedom from worrying about being dragged back to the Laboratory. Freedom from the world.”
“For yourself, or for me?”
“For yourself.” Bes withdrew his arm from Miranda, hissing when his shoulder rubbed against one of the crucifixes on the wall. “Although it would certainly be nice if I could get a break from dealing with Anders.”
“Why don’t you just leave him alone?” Miranda swiped the green pen from its place on the desk and uncapped it, clenching it in his right hand as a poor attempt at a weapon. “Why bother with me or him or any of this and just return to Hell? I bet the devil is having a wild party and you’re missing out on all the fun.”
Bes tittered, shaking his head and resting one arm against a blank space on the wall. “The ruler of Gehenna rarely leaves his throne nowadays.” He took Miranda’s chin into his hand, tilting his head up to meet Bes’ gaze. “Why don’t you come with me? Then I can show you how he just lazes around all day and sends others out to do his bidding.”
Miranda slapped Bes’ hand away from where it was slowly creeping to his neck, and he arose from his chair. “Being killed by a demon and dragged into the afterlife prematurely isn’t exactly on my list of things today.”
“But think of the advantages, Miranda.” Bes studied the claws on one of this hands. “You want to be independent from Anders, but you don’t want him to die in order to fulfill that. I want a good portion of Gehenna-Altaris, my homeland, to stop freaking out about some ancient prophecy that was most likely faked.” Bes momentarily glanced up at Miranda before returning his attention to his ebony claws. “A prophecy that involves you, by the way. We both want to thwart Anders’ plans. It looks like a win-win situation.”
Miranda’s lips trembled, and he increased his grip on the pen to the point where he was more worried about his knuckles blanching than the plastic shattering in his fingers.”Just leave me alone, Bes.”
“Why? It’s so much fun playing with the Shews.” Bes turned to Miranda, and he shook his right hand out. A wisp of smoke drifted out of the claw on his pointer finger and wrapped itself around the pen that Miranda was holding. As soon as the smoke made contact with his hand, the flesh spasmed and contorted, hardening to the same murky and leathery texture as the skin on Bes’ own hands.
Miranda shrieked and released the pen, which softly handed on the floor. Bes cackled as Miranda took hold of his wrist just as the smoke webbed out to it, and his left hand became infected and began to harden as claws germinated on his fingertips. “What are you doing?”
“I was simply allowing you to test one of the many forms that the Mithrae are able to bear.” Bes held his hand out towards the androgyne. The smoke drifted off of Miranda’s hands just as it reached his elbows, and the hallucination stopped. “Would you like to try another form? Maybe of a Mithral this time?”
The temperature in the room dropped sharply, and Miranda drew his arms close to him, attempting not to shiver. “Please leave, Bes. LaJean will be here soon.”
“I don’t fear a godly woman.” Bes kicked at the ground, and a small swirling portal opened up beneath him. “But I’ll leave so that LaJean doesn’t call the police and accidentally give your location away to Anders.”
“I think I’d rather take my chances with the police than with you.”
“Goodbye, Miranda…” Bes fluttered his hand and disappeared through the portal, which closed behind him. The climate in the room improved drastically as LaJean and company streamed in from the front door. Their laughter and chattering permeated through the walls, and Miranda picked up his pen and resumed his place at the desk as he resolved to let the lines in the paper forget what had just happened.
the skin under Anders’ eyes is dark and stained
as he drags himself though the empty hallways
a blanket secured around his neck
and billowing out like a cape
he can feel his hands trembling under the cover of the fleece
and he can sense the nervousness
wafting off the few people he comes across
spoken in wrought hands and pained faces
but no words are muttered as he makes his way to the staircase
where lingering a bit too long haunts him with visions
a half-glimpsed image of Miranda waiting for him in the garden
a rose in his hand and gold in his eyes
his cracked lips almost give way to a weakened heart
but nothing gives out on his ascent to the suite
except maybe his legs when meeting the mattress
and another shard of his willpower