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They shall hunger no more,
neither thirst any more;
neither shall the sun light on them,
nor any heat.
And they went upon the breadth of the
earth and devoured them.
In the time before, many had prophesied, wailing loudly of the damage being done to God's good world: the ten commandments, they pointed out, were not just being ignored; they were being mocked. Remember, God's seers said as they drew themselves up knowingly behind priests' vestments and holy white collars:
The meek shall inherit the earth.
But those who inherited the earth were not meek at all.
And their dead bodies shall be in
the streets of the great city...
and shall not suffer their dead
to be put into graves.
A quarter of an hour until dawn, and Alex Nicholson could see a woman on the street below.
He woke early, during the gray, pre-safe time before the sun topped the downtown buildings and filled the streets with light. As always, he stood shivering at a window while he scanned Clark Street from thirteen stories up, looking for movement, birds, whatever might catch his gaze. This morning his eyes widened as he saw the female come from around the corner of City Hall. At first he thought she was one of them, but she drifted east across Daley Plaza as if she were out for a morning stroll, back when 5:45 a.m. had been a time ruled by joggers and health freaks. Even at this distance he could see her hands reach to pry at a pale knot atop her head; a moment later a fine sheet of hair fell to her hips, then streamed behind her in the spring wind like bleached corn silk, barely visible against the startling white of her dress. There was no hurry in her step and for a moment she lifted her face to the sky, as if to welcome the soon-to-rise sun.
He stared in dismay as she headed straight for the subway entrance.
All drowsiness fled. "Stop," he hissed. "It's too early-- get away from there!" His knuckles gripped the metal ledge until the fingers went bloodless. What the hell was she doing? She must be mad! His thoughts spun desperately. He could grab a weapon and start down, but it'd take him seven minutes-- five at least-- just to negotiate the stairs and throw back the bolts on the doors. By then the sun would be up--
She was parallel to the stairs sinking to subway level now and Nicholson felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise.
"Watch out!" he cried uselessly. Her head swiveled to the left as a figure darted from the stairs and clutched at her wrist. From Nicholson's vantage point, she didn't seem to resist as she was dragged into the stone entryway; for an incredible moment he could have sworn she embraced her attacker.
In three seconds she was out of sight.
In another five he was pounding down the stairs, a wickedly sharp machete gripped in one fist while he struggled for balance as he leaped down four and five steps at a time. Each second was precious; there wasn't enough time to drain her, he reasoned wildly, it was too close to sun-up. But there was time to drag her somewhere and tie her for later. If it got her into the tunnels, she was finished. He'd never been foolish enough to explore the lightless underground, even during the day. He tried to speed up, every footfall jolting purposely buried memories closer to the surface of his mind, releasing phantom screams and pernicious shadows from beyond the crumbling walls of mental safety. Breath rasping, he reached the first floor and fought with the tight metal bars across the stairwell door. They grated and screeched as he wrenched them loose, the unoiled hinges screaming their alarm. His senses heightened in the stairwell's blackness and he could smell his fear for the girl on the sweat squeezing from his pores as he finally tore open the steel fire door.
After the darkness of the hallway, the mild gray light of dawn spilling into the lobby nearly blinded him; he stumbled, then found his footing and raced for the main doors. Too long! he thought frantically as he fumbled keys into the locks. For the first time, he regretted welding shut the building's underground entrances, but his good intentions could be contemplated later. Right now, he clenched his teeth in frustration as his fingers tangled and his hold on the keyring jittered. I'll bet she's--
Then he was out and running across the plaza, his grasp on the machete precariously slick. He skidded to a stop at the top of the stairs and peered below, then turned away in revulsion; the smell sliding up his nose reminded him of dead frogs in long-ago biology classes.
There was no sign of the woman. The bloodsucker that had attacked her was crumpled on the stairs, a mass of slowly disintegrating flesh; where its mouth had been was a maw of blackened skin and fused stumps that might have once been fangs. Insane red eyes blinked against the light and fastened on Nicholson as it tried to crawl away. In them he saw pain, rage and hate and the legs kicked as Nicholson covered his nose in disgust and raised his machete. In another moment, the thing's head thumped down the concrete stairs into the shadows, leaving bits of flesh and sticky fluid in its wake as the mouth still worked hungrily. At Alex's feet, the fingers twisted and reached reflexively and he backstepped, watching until the sun did its work and nothing was left but a tar-like puddle.
Where one of the hands had been, Nicholson saw several strands of fine white hair; he plucked them from the gooey remnants with the point of his blade and held them up. Still clean, they sparkled like silver threads in the brightening sunlight before the breeze flung them away.
Where was she? he wondered numbly.
What was she?
On such the second death hath no power.
Another few minutes and it would truly be a glorious morning, Jo thought. The air remained night-chilly but the sky was beginning to lighten as she walked; above the tops of the skyscrapers surrounding her, the sky was still a dark, navy blue, the color of the uniform her adopted father had worn years ago as he dressed to go to his job as a policeman. To her right she could see five or six blocks east, past the elevated tracks where the sun was painting the dawn pink and pale blue above the lake.
The wind increased and she reached to pull the band from her hair. An instant later the tight mass atop her head came free, falling to her hips in a straight, silvery mass. She fingered a strand curiously for a moment, then dropped it; two years ago her hair had been light brown. The color had changed seemingly overnight-- no, that wasn't true. A chunk of her memories was gone, cut from her mind like a wedge of pie; the resulting gap bled a fiery faith into her soul that she could not ignore.
The wind-- God's breath-- caressed her face and raised goosebumps on the skin beneath the high collar and long sleeves of her white dress. She cut diagonally across the intersection of Clark and Washington and headed east again, facing the hard lake breeze. Her hair floated behind her and she raised her eyes to the pinkening sky, knowing that the sun-- another of the Lord's wondrous creations-- would rise above the buildings within minutes. She let her sixth sense guide her, following like a blind person at the mercy of a guide. Her eyes scanned the windows of the buildings, but the plaza was wide and empty; here and there pieces of paper fluttered in the growing breeze. She wondered idly how the trash had gotten there-- it might be new, she thought hopefully, brought outside by human hands. Then again....
Jo was no longer alone, she could feel it. No eyes had watched earlier when she'd stopped on LaSalle and brushed her fingers against the engraved brass eagle plaque on the American National Bank Building. Eagles, huge creatures of the air flying without mechanical parts or fuel, had always fascinated her. Now she paused opposite City Hall and looked across Daley Plaza to the Picasso statue, a metal horse dying a slow, rusting death. Something whispered from within the subway and she moved toward the shadowed steps of the Dearborn underground as if in a trance, unbuttoning her collar invitingly. Beneath the translucent skin of her throat her pulse increased, visibly throbbing as it gave out the warm scent of lifeblood.
Four feet from the stairs, her face turned toward the dirty creature as it leaped. Clawed fingers wrapped around her wrist, freezing through the thin cotton material as it yanked on her; still, she followed without resisting. At the top of the steps she met its surprised eyes without flinching and opened her arms, stepping forward and exposing her throat. Fangs gleamed like pearly scissors in the dark pit of its mouth; the beast's arm slipped around her waist and pulled her down the steps almost tenderly. Held against its icy, half-starved body, her warmth was like a furnace and she knew it would not be able to resist a quick taste before sun-up. Her pulse thundered in her head as the fangs closed on her neck; she welcomed them.
Bright, white light and pain, like being washed in the lake of God's holy sun.
Another dress in charred tatters, and her last one, too. Jo sighed and walked up LaSalle toward the river; her unmarked throat ached nastily and she was a little light-headed, but the crisp air would clear that away soon. Right now she needed more clothes and she skipped child-like across the bridge at LaSalle and Wacker and pushed through the unlocked revolving doors into the Merchandise Mart. Her stomach growled and she glanced at the cigar stand in the lobby and the twisted metal gates which had once closed off the Walgreens Drug Store. There was still food here, old candy bars and snacks, but there were also others who needed the nourishment-- such as it was-- more than she. The knowledge brought a flaring of despair to her head and her mind turned quickly away from the black thoughts.
On the sixth floor Jo wandered into a women's wholesale store and shook out an armful of white dresses in a size five without regard for style. Beneath a counter supporting an open cash register with a drawer still full of dusty bills, Jo found a shopping bag and put the dresses inside, then touched the money thoughtfully, trying to feel the old vibrations of the people who'd once held it. When nothing happened, she picked up the bag and made her way back to the first floor.
Passing an empty cookie stand in the massive lobby, Jo stopped and held her breath for a moment, listening. This building, she knew, was never silent; the space left by the sound of her breath was filled instantly with the faint moans and crying of the Damned imprisoned two floors above, growing louder now as they sensed her presence. Tears filled her eyes and she hung the shopping bag over one thin arm and clapped her hands over her ears.
She fled into the blessed warmth of the spring sun.
Jo left the ruined dress on the sidewalk under the Lake Street elevated tracks, unconsciously shedding it like an old and ill-used skin. Soon the sunlight would warm the day, but the morning air was still chilly on her naked shoulders and she turned into the black building on the corner of Lake and LaSalle. In her pile of garments she found a dress cut from a heavier material and slipped it on. There was a Greek restaurant off the lobby, door still unlocked from her last visit; inside the restaurant's shadowed pantry was a plastic jar of her favorite tangy black olives-- a strange breakfast, but she liked the garlicky flavor and was sure this was one of the foods eaten in ancient Biblical times. The supply was almost gone; soon she would have to look elsewhere for her treat.
Outside again, she stopped at a corner bench and sat, eating the rich olives and spitting the pits into her palm. Before returning to St. Peter's, she would detour and drop them in the small patches of soil surrounding the trees along the river's edge; even if they didn't grow, maybe the squirrels or birds would want them for food. Her thoughts returned to the Merchandise Mart. The need to free those within was strong, but the means still eluded her. It would come-- but when? Sometimes frustration filled her so intensely she would drop to her knees and beg God for His answer, right now!
But He was always silent, and she knew He would wait as long as He wished.
A bird, a tiny sparrow, landed on the sidewalk at her feet and gave a cheerful peep. "Psalm thirty-seven," she whispered; the bird cocked its head as if in understanding and hopped closer. She nodded. "Verse seven."
Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.
She closed her eyes and napped for a time; while she slept the sparrow flitted to her knee and preened itself calmly.
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All text copyright © by Yvonne Navarro. Don't be naughty-- no reprinting or use in any form whatsoever without prior written permission of the starving author. We mean it. We know lots of lawyers. And we ain't afraid to use them.