With Extreme Prejudice pt2
by Lee Hulme
By the time a group of women and men returned to the shack, bearing assorted guns, objects both sharp and dull, and a selection of flammables, Viscura was long gone. The small mob burned the shack to the ground anyway, and slowly dispersed, grumbling softly.
Viscura had fled through the woods, out the other side, and was halfway back to the only place ze knew ze had friends before ze slowed down. Finding a field of quietly grazing cows, ze settled down against the hedge, out of obvious sight, and thought hard.
Ze had thought that getting away from people would ensure never harming them. Ze had thought that by locking zirself away, seeing nobody, would inure zir to the world – both good and bad. Ze had thought that the safest place to be was as far from the names and the stares and the evil people trying to destroy things as possible. Ze had thought that ze wouldn’t need the good things, if the bad things were kept away.
Now, sitting in this field, watching the cows graze peacefully as damp grass seeped beneath zir clothes, ze could see how stupid an idea that had been. Taking zirself away from the good things gave zir nothing to cling onto when the darkness rose. And taking zirself from the bad things only destroyed zir shield against them.
But how to guard against hurting someone else? How to control zirself?
Viscura sighed and stood. There was going to be no conveniently packaged answer, but at least ze could be warm and dry while ze continued to think.
Moving at a steady run, Viscura quickly reached the outskirts of the city. A brief interaction with an atm, whose bank Viscura vaguely hoped would be reimbursed somehow, provided zir with money to enter a coffee shop and buy something warm.
Ignoring the stares of the other consumers, Viscura tucked zirself into a corner and thanked the pink-haired waiter who brought zir coffee with a smile that wasn’t forced.
Ze stared at the bubbles of frothed milk as they popped on the surface, each bubble leaving the whole a tiny bit weaker with its disappearance. Viscura touched the froth with a finger and watched it collapse in a small puff of chocolate sprinkles. It didn’t take much to collapse a weakening structure. Was that zir mind? Hanging on, slowly losing its grip, one burst bubble at a time? If so, surely it would be better to speed the inevitable as safely as possible.
Viscura sighed. Ze may have been the closest to a successful experiment, but ze was clearly still missing some important parts. If ze couldn’t keep other people safe by zirself, perhaps other people could keep themselves safe from zir.
Ze drained the coffee and left the coffee shop, turning back in the direction of the small town.
In the conference room, the older woman smiled and tapped a message on her phone. “Cancel gentle push, move to next position”.
The woman with the scar smiled “It’s much easier when It helps us.”
“Enjoy that while you can,” the older woman said grimly.
Viscura walked through the small town until ze found what seemed to be a good place: a small pavilion with benches and a fountain, bordered by shops. Ze stood by the fountain and waited to be noticed.
It didn’t take long. Viscura tended to stick out even in the biggest crowd. A small town, still reeling from a murder out at their local house of urban legend, was ready for anything or anyone that looked different.
As passersby slowly became curious spectators, Viscura noticed that most of them carried newspapers with bold headlines ze couldn’t quite make out. It wasn’t hard to guess what those headlines read, though. Murder. Fire. Retribution. Kill the Creature. The looks on the faces of the people stopping were more than enough for zir to imagine what sort of fear had been put into them.
Viscura stood, watching the crowd grow, waiting.
Eventually a woman in uniform stepped to the front and looked zir up and down. She drew a telescopic baton from her belt and spoke curtly into the radio on her shoulder. As she stood, tapping the baton into her hand, two men in uniform arrived.
“Sheriff?” one asked tentatively, trying not to look at Viscura.
The other simply stood and stared.
Avoiding all the eyes upon zir, Viscura looked at the ground in front of zir feet and waited to be spoken to.
The Sheriff stepped forwards and looked up, her jaw working as she sorted through words, looking for an opening sentence, “You new here, huh?”
Viscura hesitated, then shook zir head, “Not quite, Sheriff.”
“Uh-huh. Reckon I’da noticed you walkin’ around,” the Sheriff looked Viscura up and down.
Viscura nodded, “I kept to myself, Sheriff, tried not to be seen. I know I stand out.”
“Kept to yerself, uh? And just where might you ha’ been keepin’ yerself?”
Viscura took a breath and held it for a moment, then let it out, “An old shack in a field outside of town.”
The Sheriff drew out her “Uh…huh…” to breaking point before stepping back and holding out her hand for one of the newspapers, not caring where it came from. One was thrust into her hand and she folded it to the front page headline, Murder & Mayhem in Monster House! “So I guess you maybe seen the murder, huh?”
Viscura nodded, “You could say that.”
“I could,” the Sheriff agreed. “And I don’t suppose you happened to see that murder being done from a front row seat, so to speak – as in, you saw it first hand while you were doing it yourself?”
Viscura took a second to dissect the last sentence then nodded, “I did.”
The Sheriff jerked her head. The deputy still staring at Viscura stiffened and grasped the baton from his belt. The other Deputy was too busy looking at the crowd to see the signal, causing the first Deputy to backtrack and gently tap him on the arm.
Finally the two of them were in position either side of the Sheriff, who produced a set of handcuffs from her belt, “You gonna make this easy?”
Viscura nodded and turned around, holding out zir hands behind zir back.
Built to withstand most things, Viscura could barely flee the cold metal that was cinched a little too tightly around zir wrists. Yet still the handcuffs seemed to weigh the world.
Ze allowed zirself to be marched through the town and into a cell in the Sheriff’s station. Zir cuffs were removed, the door clanged shut, and Viscura looked up at the tiny window.
Outside, the Sheriff stood on the front steps and waited for the crowd that had followed to settle down.
“Alright here’s how it’s gonna work. I’m gonna keep that…whatever it is locked up in there tonight. Tomorrow It’ll be to the courthouse in the city, and It’ll be off our hands. I know youse are angry. I know youse want a piece of It. But It’s under my protection, alright? That’s the law, and I’m gonna follow it. Any o’ youse feel like gettin’ a few drinks down and causin’ trouble, well you’ll get yerselves locked up likewise. Not get you gone, I don’t wanna see anyone on my steps ‘less you got real business with me. Alright? Alright.” With a decisive nod, the Sheriff turned and strolled back into the station, where she closed the door and eyed up her deputies. “None o’ us getting’ any sleep tonight, y’hear? We stay an’ we guard that thing till we can get rid of It.”
Both men nodded.
In the cell, Viscura lowered zirself to one of the bunks. Ze had heard the speech, and ze knew the mood of the town was likely to change as night drew on. Ze wondered whether ze hoped for the mob to get past the Sheriff, or not.
Outside of the city, in a laboratory that still looked mostly demolished, one of Millie’s gadgets gave a silent whirr and spat some text over to the comms device she was just finishing for herself. She tapped the red flag and scanned the text that scrolled up. After a moment she dropped her wrist and fell backwards into her chair. “Ah…shit.”