Forthcoming, Chapter Twenty-One: Deals

I was nauseous.  I didn’t open my eyes, nor did I try to sit.  I was content to lay where I was, listening to the silence.  The quiet was a comfort, and I wondered if I’d been to the fair; the twisted, flipping knot in my stomach reminded me of a summer from–five years ago?  Six?

The time didn’t matter.  What did matter was that I’d eaten a corn dog and an ice cream cone before riding the Tilt-a-Whirl.  Dad had warned me, but….

I swallowed, my dry throat objecting to the sudden moisture.

I felt the same as I had that night after the =fair–tired and weak.  There must be some reason for my frailty, yet my brain was refusing to supply the answer.  It was acting like a stubborn teacher who repeatedly told me to “look it up in the book.”

I inwardly groaned; my brain was acting like Miss Carling.

(Miss Carling’s car was parked outside the store.  It was the only vehicle nearby, and I didn’t stop Chay from–)

My eyes snapped open and I sat, bolt upright.  My stomach protested almost as effectively as my aching head.

Chay had been protecting me. 

The fact came flooding into my mind as quickly as my other memories: I’d willingly abandoned his protection; he’d come to get me; he’d… failed.

Though I hadn’t thought it possible, I felt even dizzier.  I remembered the sound of a body hitting the ground during a gunfight, then an explosion….

I was sweating; whether from the heat of the memory or the sudden impact of danger, I wasn’t sure. 

There had been an explosion–a great, fiery blast

that would have had enough magnitude to appear on the five o’ clock news.  Though my brain itself had been lost in the thick fog of near-unconsciousness, my imagination quickly fabricated a memory:

Henbane had sneered as he’d said, “with pleasure.”  The usual twisted grin had spread across his face as he’d raised his gun.  Taking aim would have been so second nature that–despite the blast that would follow–Henbane would have felt slightly monotonous as he’d pulled the trigger.  The bullet had hit the nearest tank of gas, the explosion following so closely that Henbane had barely had the chance to jump into the limo as it sped from the scene, the tires squealing loudly.  We had fled the flame-engulfed station, where everything was burning: the stale candy, the rusty tires, and what remained of the clerk. (I felt a sharp pang of guilt at the thought–if I hadn’t stopped at the station, then the old man would’ve still been alive.)  Chay must have–

I stood, running a hand through my hair.  I didn’t even want to assume the worse, because if it was true–if something had gone so horrible wrong–

I shuddered.

I was in trouble. 

I fell back into my seat, for the first time noticing that I was sitting upon a couch.  If it wasn’t for the fact that I’d been drugged and kidnaped, I would have noticed how comfortable the cushions were.

I closed my eyes, telling myself that the worse thing I could do was panic.

When I opened them again, I allowed my eyes to rove across the room, relieved that mild surprise had taken the place of panic.  My disorientation had eased slightly, allowing my senses to reenter my mind.

I don’t know what I was expecting: a dark dungeon with rats, torture devices, and assorted skeletons?  Maybe bars on the windows? 

I grimaced at the incredibly childish image–this was the twenty-first century, not the middle ages.  After all, the room I was being held within was more of a palace than a prison:

I’d never been in a room this large; my bedroom could fit comfortably within its walls–with plenty of room to spare.  It was painted red and white, with gold accents.  The furniture matched perfectly.  The walls were covered in shelves, all of which displayed treasures that were foreign to me–a person who’d never been outside of the county where I’d been raised.  Every corner was filled with furniture, exotic plants, or expensive knick-knacks.  The room somehow managed to be so busy that it was elegant–a statement of its owner’s wealth.  There were two chairs beside the couch where I had been sitting, both of which were angled so that they faced a large fireplace directly in front of me.

The fireplace itself wasn’t simply a decoration, it was a work of art.  Each brick seemed to have its own personality (if that’s even possible for rock and mortar).  The mantle seemed to be made of marble.  I raised my eyebrows; if the fireplace looked this beautiful now, I wondered how lovely it would be with a crackling fire within it.

I hesitantly turned my head.  To my right, there was a window the length of the entire wall.  I stood where I was, squinting questioningly at the view: it was dark outside, though I couldn’t gauge how late it was–not because my head was still spinning (though that most certainly wasn’t helping)–but because the sky seemed too bright for nighttime.

Wow, my first trip to a major city and I’d been abducted.  I maneuvered between the couch and the chair, approaching the window carefully.  I felt my courage perk slightly when poisoned darts didn’t shoot from the walls. (My imagination was making the situation even worse than it was–not that this was difficult.)  I jogged the rest of the distance, gazing at the view with wide eyes.

I wasn’t directly in the city.  The city limits were easily five miles from where I was standing, but I was also high up (this building was so tall that it could eat the Agenton apartments for breakfast).  I could see the skyline perfectly, and I gasped the moment I saw it. 

The city was so bright that it erased the stars.  The skyline seemed to be more of an imprint of a city against a sheet of black paper than actual buildings.  They pushed from the night, each light reflecting from the windows.

I smiled.  It wasn’t an honest grin of happiness or laughter, but it was better than the frown I’d been wearing.  The sudden uplifting of my lips caused my jaw to pain, but I didn’t care–it felt good to smile. 

There was no reason for my smiling.  In fact, I’d never had less reason to grin. Yet, I stood there, leaning against the cool glass of the window, smiling stupidly.

I didn’t know what was going to happen to me; I didn’t know where I was, but somehow I could no longer panic.  I could just look out that window, thinking how amazing it was that I’d actually seen a city and how beautiful the view was.

I’d have to tell Mom about this.

My smile faltered.

Then fell.

I took a step backward, my face loose in sudden realization.

I wasn’t ever going to see Mom again.  It was a fact.  There was no “what if”–I was trapped.

(“Consider the score even.”)

And no one was going to help me.

I moved hastily from the window, retreating to the couch.  I didn’t let my eyes leave the view of the skyline–it was as though that city was the only proof of normalcy that remained.  In each of those buildings–in the crowded streets and noisy traffic–there were average people doing average things.

And I don’t want to–


My leg banged against a table and I fell, my head hitting the couch.  I sat up, rubbing my head, eyeing the table responsible for my paining shin and throbbing skull.  It was located directly in front of the couch where I had been lying earlier.

I hadn’t even noticed that table.  I’d obviously surpassed nervousness, and was wading into some new area of alarm.

Or maybe I was just going crazy.

I huffed, wondering if I was desperate enough to prefer insanity over reality.

I decided I wasn’t.

Not yet at least.

I shook my head, picking myself up off the floor.  My hand slid across the table, and I looked at it questioningly.  I noticed that the tabletop was scattered with–what I would call–a writer’s smorgasbord.  I stood, picking up different notebooks and flipping through them idly.  The paper was clean and white.  There was a dictionary and a thesaurus, as well as large collection of pens, ranging in size and color.  I picked up the nearest one.  It was a fountain pen similar to the one I’d lost to Henbane’s eye.

The memory made me cringe and I replaced the pen.  I plopped onto the couch.  Unlike the one at home, the springs didn’t creak when I sat.  There were two other tables on either side of me.  There was a coffee machine carefully placed on the table to my right; the one on my left had several books.  I heaved them toward me, thumbing through the pages. 

I squinted my eyes in confusion.  They were my favorites: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Huckleberry Finn, and The Chronicles of Narnia (my dad had read the later to me as a child).

I tossed them onto the couch, setting my head in my hands.  Somehow, between Chay’s constant supervision and the glimpses I’d seen into the future, I’d always thought that being Cyrus’ captive would be more… terrifying.

A small voice in my head suggested that he might be going soft.

I scoffed at the idea, an indignant chuckle clutching my throat.


I jumped, the books falling to the floor.  I looked toward where I thought I’d heard the sound, and saw a computer’s glowing monitor staring back at me, casting bluish light across an oriental rug.

I shrugged, walking towards it.  The quiet in the room had lasted so long that it was beginning to feel thick, as though the air was made of gravy.  I decided that the printer had made the sudden noise, though there didn’t appear to be anything wrong with it. 

I rolled my eyes, turning back toward the couch, when something else caught my eye.  I spun sharply, my eyes narrowed in concentration: setting next to the computer was my IPod.

At first, I didn’t think it was mine.  I picked it up gingerly, balancing it in my hand.  It was black and had the same scratch across the back that I’d come to recognize.

I turned it on.  It moved more slowly than it normally did, but eventually a list of songs appeared: “Behind Blue Eyes” was at the top of the list.

Yeah, it was definitely mine.  I swallowed hard.  The plan was a disaster because Chay had failed.  There was no way he could come and get me because….

I shook the word away.

I couldn’t say that I was feeling remorse.  I wasn’t even feeling sad.  If anything, the emotion I felt was nothing less than selfish–if Chay was gone, then I’d run out of options.

But the plan was all I had, so I bit my lip as I did exactly as Derek had told me: I plugged my IPod into the computer, and pressed the buttons in the exact order Derek had indicated.

Why had I been so stupid to agree to this?

I sighed, setting the IPod back onto the table.  I eyed the computer screen.  It didn’t seem to have changed. 

Well, at least something had gone right.    

Not that it did me any good.

“The computer’s yours, by the way.  Feel free to download whatever you want.”

I jumped backward, nearly tripping over myself as

I whipped around, searching for the source of the voice. 

“I thought I’d go ahead and plug it in for you, Todd Everett.  Consider it a friendly gesture.”

At first, I couldn’t find where the voice was coming from, but I recognized it immediately: it was cold and calculating.  Each word sounded as though its owner was carefully observing me, analyzing each move I made. 

I stopped when I was facing the back wall.  There were steps leading to a small, darkened room.  At first, I couldn’t see clearly into the chamber, but my eyes finally adjusted, revealing a desk.  There was a shadow behind the desk; it began to move as soon as I locked eyes with it, slowly stepping into the light. 

I felt my heart begin to beat faster as Cyrus moved toward the couch, his eyes set upon where I was standing.  A logical part of my mind–a part that seemed impossible to listen to–wondered how long he had been sitting there, how long he had been watching me.  The rest of my brain–or rather, my adrenaline-induced body–didn’t care.

I didn’t let my eyes leave his.  He seemed to be

waiting for me to respond, by my throat had constricted and my only clear thought–remarkably–was how little I’d truly been able to see in my stories.

I wondered if my own inhibitions had censored what my prophecies had been trying to tell me.  I’d known that Cyrus was a threat, but my stories had never given me enough detail.  It wasn’t simply that Cyrus was dangerous; he embodied danger. 

He stood resolute, his hands visible and his features without expression.  The suit he was wearing was expensive; it was a forest green color–almost black.  His tie was a deep, crimson red.  His dark hair was short, though it curled slightly near his temple, giving him a dignified appearance that matched his stance.  His hair was streaked with gray–another detail that I’d never noticed when writing. 

He lowered his head slightly, his eyes seeming to smolder in the action.  It was a silent command that I didn’t comprehend, so I stood where I was.

His face tensed, his wrinkles becoming more prominent.  The lines of his face–rather than implying old age–simply suggested dignity and difference.  They seemed carefully carved into the marble-like skin.

Because he was pale.  It was a whiteness associated with vampires and foreboding–a tone that even a goth like Reb would never be able to equal.  After all, beneath Reb’s startling exterior was always laughter.  But beneath Cyrus….

I gulped.

Beneath Cyrus was simply more Cyrus.

Like it or not, there are simply some people in this world who have nothing to hide.  Unfortunately, the people who are the most honest–like Cyrus–also tend to be those who are the most dangerous.

“Please, Todd Everett, take a seat.”

The request was simple enough, even polite, but I didn’t move.  Somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to take a direct order from Cyrus.  Blame it on pride, or teenage rebellion, but I simply couldn’t do it.

Cyrus, however, seemed unfazed.  “Ah, I see,” he began.  “You feel the need to play the hero.”  Here he gave a small smile; it was easily ruined by the malice it contained.  “You’ve spent far too much time around Chay.  I’m afraid he may have been an influence.”

I didn’t argue, just listened.

“You see,” he continued, “Chay was never able to grasp the necessity of the moment. Do you understand what I mean by that, Todd Everett?”

I swallowed again at the use of my full name; he said it as though I was a product.

“No?  All that I’m saying is that I’m going to talk to you whether or not you are sitting or standing, whether you want to hear me or not.”  His voice lowered an octave, and he took a seat.  When he spoke again, the polite tone had returned.  “Now, I’m going to be sitting.  I would suggest you take a look at the bigger picture here.”

Again I didn’t respond.  I was watching him carefully as he crossed his legs, setting his hands upon his knee. He entwined his fingers, his head inclined toward me.  “The bigger picture is simply that there is no bigger picture.  We are going to talk, and it would be best for you to sit, rather than stand for the entire exchange.”  He paused.  “There is no threat, no game.  I am simply suggesting that you save yourself the trouble.”

Despite his words, I couldn’t help but detect the menace beneath his delicately manufactured phrases.  I obliged though, stumbling slightly as I advanced from the computer toward the sitting area.  I avoided the couch where I had awoken (it was far too close to Cyrus), and tripped slightly on my way the chair.  I sat on the edge, nearly falling onto the expensive hardwood flooring.

Cyrus seemed slightly amused.  When he began talking again, his voice had an edge to it that seemed unnatural, almost forced.  He sounded cordial, as though we were discussing the weather during a soirée.

“I trust your trip was relaxing?”  He laughed again, as though enjoying an inside joke.  The sound was soft but pronounced, like leaves thrashing in a tornado’s wind.  He didn’t once lose eye contact.  “I apologize for the inconvenience.  But certain precautions had to be taken with Chay being so… resistant.”  He raised a hand, setting his head in it casually.  I couldn’t help but feel as though he had rehearsed his motions.  “Of course, you wouldn’t have given us such problems.”

I narrowed my eyes, listening deftly.

He no longer seemed to expect a reaction.  Cyrus continued to talk in an offhand voice, but his constant scrutiny was unnerving.  He hardly blinked, attentively watching my expressionless face.

“What all have you been told, Todd Everett?  That this is far too complicated for you to understand?  That you can’t be told anything?”  He paused.  “I would like for you to know that what I offer is simply cut and dry.  No strings attached.  Whatever euphemism you prefer, the situation remains the same.”

I straightened slightly.  I looked around the room again: the best writing supplies possible, my favorite books, a coffee machine set atop a nearby table….

My jaw tightened; I knew why Cyrus was being so welcoming.  He wasn’t acting as host, he was acting as negotiator.

Again he smiled, showing all of his perfectly white teeth.  “You noticed the room?  It’s nice, isn’t it?  Everything anyone could ever ask for: comfort, a nice place to work–”(here he nodded to the desk in the  chamber behind us)–“music–”(he gestured toward the computer).  “Yes, I think you have everything you need.  I’ve heard that writers are quite accustomed to coffee?”  He looked at the machine wistfully.  “I also thought a few of your favorite stories were in order.  In case you needed inspiration.”  Cyrus shrugged.  “I thought they were a nice touch.

“The fireplace was specially made.  The colors were selected for their warmth….” Cyrus sounded remarkably like a realtor, listing the reasons for purchasing an expensive estate.  “And the view.  I noticed you were able to appreciate the view.”

I twitched; he’d been watching me.  For the first time that thought held firmly in my mind.  Somehow, the shock stimulated my vocal chords, yet–

“Yes,” was all I could respond.

For the briefest of instants, I thought Cyrus looked impressed, but it disappeared quickly.  Perhaps it was merely the dim lighting.  After a moment, he said, “So you have taste.”

There was silence.  I wondered if Cyrus was weighing his words as heavily as I was weighing my choices.  If no one was coming–

No, I thought irritably, There isn’t anyone coming.

Then I had only one choice.

“What are you suggesting?” My voice was quiet.  No matter where Chay was–dead or alive or injured or whatever–I know he would’ve cursed me for the statement.

Cyrus seemed surprised, but pleased.  He lowered both of his hands to his lap.  He didn’t grin, but spoke in a business-like manner.  “Luxury, Todd Everett.  It is no secret that you are quite an… advantage.”  He nearly sneered, but swallowed it in his next words.  “The Department has little to offer except secrecy and experiments.  I choose to use what I have been given–a prophet.  I would be happy with whatever insight you would give me–no needles or test tubes.”

Liar!, my brain practically screamed, but I ignored it.  “What about my home?”

Cyrus faltered slightly.  “No operation is perfect.  You would need to be under the effective security of IMPOS.  Surely you wouldn’t want to risk The Department seizing you?”

You sure can talk. 

The sentiment was furious, yet my voice–and myself, for that matter–was downright uncaring.

“It’s wrong.”

That was my only argument.  No matter where I ended up–with Cyrus or with Chay–my future was the same: imprisonment.  The only thing that changed was how everyone else was affected.

(“Prophets predict things on a much larger scale” quote)

Global was a big word.  What was even bigger, however, was the lump that had formed in my stomach at the thought.  I looked back at Cyrus and the lump turned icy and melted, sending shivers through my body.

“Would you like a fire?”

His words seemed genuinely concerned, but I shook my head.  I looked away; Cyrus had begun staring eagerly at me–it was the same feverish look that a person would wear if he’d just discovered the Fountain of Youth.

Well, he’d discovered something, alright: the Fountain of Future.  Apparently, I was just about as —— as water.  Yeah, here’s Todd Everett, the amazing mythical wonder of the world, easily switching sides as long as the price is right and I manage to continue existing. (However pathetic that existence may be.)

After all, it’s not as though Chay would have treated me any differently… not in the end.

You don’t believe that.

Why shouldn’t I?

“Very well, then.”  Cyrus rose.  He walked around the couch, coming closer to me as he spoke.  “I believe I’ve made my point clear.”

“It’s wrong.”

“I heard you the first time.”  He stopped directly behind my chair.  I could almost feel myself pale.  He didn’t sound perturbed, but I didn’t dare turn to see his expression.

“I believe I’m going to be forced to disagree with you.”  There was movement.  When he spoke again, his voice was much closer.  “Your welcome to relax, you know.”

Yeah right.

“What exactly is your definition of wrong?”

Cyrus’ question caught me off guard.  I turned sharply.  He was between the window and where I sat.  The sky was darkening further; the city was a bright blur, dulled by the surrounding night sky.


The corners of Cyrus’ lips twitched.  “What is your definition of wrong?  It’s a simple question.”

It was simple, yet I found myself unable to answer.

“Is it what your parents taught you?  What you saw on television?  Just where do you draw the line?”

“At you,” I whispered.

There was a heavy hush over the room.  Cyrus’ attitude changed so quickly and completely that I could feel it spreading to the corners of the room like a disease.

“You think that Chay is right and I am wrong.  That is where the line is.”

I bit my lip, as though simply breathing would offend Cyrus.

     “Let me offer you this thought, Todd Everett.  Do you think that everything that goes on in this world is right?  Do you think that war is right?  Do you think that what The Department plans to do with you is right?”  He didn’t wait for a reply; not that it mattered–I didn’t have one. “I didn’t think so.  What makes you think I can’t do better?”

“What makes you think you’re so righteous?”  I turned sharply.  I didn’t know where my anger had come from, but–apparently–directly beneath fear is fury.  “It’s wrong because you kill people.  I’ve seen you do it.”  He watched me carefully, half of his face concealed in shadows.  If I had seen the full intensity his rage, I would have stopped my rant.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see it, and I continued talking, my voice growing stronger with each word:

“Don’t forget who you’re talking to–I’m a prophet.  I’ve seen everything you’ve done and all the things you will do. I know how twisted you are, how–”


He didn’t shout, yet his tone was so thick that I shut my mouth immediately.  His voice had sounded like caramelized venom–heavy and lethal.

He approached me so quickly that I hardly saw him move.  Cyrus stood before me, his features severe.  He leaned in closely, placing his hands on either arm of the chair.  He leaned so close that his scent was clear to my nose: it was a fusion of cigars and cologne.

When he spoke, his voice was barely above a whisper.  “You tell me, Todd Everett–if your heroic Chay would ever get the chance–what would he do to me?” 

I pushed myself as far into the chair as I could, my head turned away from him.

“Look me in the eye and tell me the answer.  You said it’s wrong to kill people, so tell me what Chay would do.”

I refused to look away from the crimson material of the chair.  I knew the answer–and it was exactly what Cyrus wanted to hear.

He breathed through his nose, apparently satisfied.  “That’s what I thought.”  When he stood again, the same regal manner had returned.  I hesitantly looked toward him; he’d been unable to hide the darkness that was brewing behind his eyes.

“What do you say, Todd Everett?”  Cyrus asked.  “You answered my question–oh yes–” (meekness had swiftly swept over me) “–you did answer me.  Care to explain yourself?

“Why is it ‘right’ for Chay to do me harm, and yet I am so wrong for what I do?  Again, you fail to grasp the necessity of the moment–the necessity of every moment.” 

I stayed where I was, squared into the corner of the chair.  He turned to me, no longer pretending to be polite or friendly.  His intentions were as clear as the tight frown on his face as he said, “The world revolves around control, Todd Everett.  There are those who have it, those who want it, and those who are at the mercy of it.  But–above all–there are those who need it.”

He stepped closer yet again.  He stood above me like a monument, his features so engraved that the entire room seemed to dwarf around him: all that mattered was that he and I were alone.

“What would your excuse be for the difference between Chay and myself?  You think he cares little of this control?”  He laughed; it was different from the forced humor of earlier–this was so genuine that my throat became dry.  “What does he do to you, Todd Everett?  Chay desires control just as much as everyone else; he just does it in a way that society prefers.

“But it still ends up hurting you.”

He walked away, back toward the window.  I didn’t turn to watch him, but listened intently as he continued:

“Is it the greater good Chay works for?  Tell yourself that if you will, but I think you and I both know the truth.”

He paused for so long that I thought he had finished, then–so quietly that I had to strain to hear him–said, “Chay’s human, Todd Everett.  The Department is human.  They aren’t immune to basic human impulses. Humans at their core are selfish: here’s a prophet we can use to help us.  At least I don’t sugarcoat it.”

There were soft footsteps, and suddenly I felt pressure on the chair.  I looked up warily.  Cyrus’ hands were clamped mercilessly upon the ——–, and he was looking down at me blankly, as though whatever I said wouldn’t matter–this preliminary speech was for his benefit.

“I will be using you, Todd Everett.  You are precious commodity.”

He stared at me for a long while, then raised his head, straightening himself.  “And that is all I have to say on the matter.” 

Cyrus straightened his tie, checking his watch.  I stared at him in disbelief.  Every ounce of darkness had left him.  He was Cyrus, the businessman–and prophets were simply a good investment. 

He gave a smile–a quirk of his lips that lit his eyes with a such a fiery passion that my heart skip a beat.

“You have been given your tools.  You have been given a very… adequate introduction.  You will begin work at once.”

He turned toward the door, pulling at his sleeves.

I was frozen to my seat, my mouth hanging open slightly.  It wasn’t until he reached for the doorknob that my brain slapped itself awake.


Cyrus froze.  “Excuse me?”

I shook my head.  “No.  You’re wrong.  It’s different.  Chay–you–no.” 

He turned slightly, the smile growing.  He seemed amused, but–rather than lightening his features–he just appeared to be demented.  His hair seemed to curl in the process, though he hardly made a move. Cyrus seemed like a firework that had just been lit, the wick slowly curling until it flew into the air, setting fire to whatever it hit.

But he remained composed.  “You know what I find so truly amusing?  People who claim to be so–what was the word you used?  I rather liked it… righteous?”  He nodded.  “People like you.”  He turned back to the door.  “If life is so sacred, then there is no difference or any exception.”

I didn’t respond.  The logic sounded correct on the surface, yet its depths seemed murky and dank. 

“I worried that we might reach this snag, but unfortunately I need to be somewhere.”  Cyrus opened the door.  “But I’m sure this will be fixed when I return.”

From where I was sitting, I couldn’t who Cyrus was talking to, but I couldn’t help but feel as though the statement hadn’t been completely directed toward me.

“Shouldn’t be too difficult.”

I pressed myself so far into the chair that my back began to hurt.  Cyrus was quickly replaced by Henbane, who walked slowly into the room, closing the door behind him with a soft click.

He stayed beside the door, refusing to look away from me.  Henbane’s face was contorted into a look of purest loathing and–somehow–pleasure.  He stepped closer, his lips twitching.                                      

     I noticed that his patch was different–it was a dark blue.  He spread his hands in front of his body, laughing.

“We’ve had a good fun time together, prophet.  I can tell by the look on your face.”  He leaned against the chair opposite me.  (We were mere feet apart now, but my legs were refusing to move me from the chair–where would I go, anyways?)

“Let me tell you something about myself, prophet.”

(This was far worse than being addressed as ‘Todd Everett.’) He sneered cheekily.  “Bet you didn’t know I was a history buff.”

He shot a look my way that I would have flinched, but I couldn’t even move that much.

“You know we can learn a lot about our present from our past.”  Henbane took a step closer.  “You want to know how to get someone to–” He shrugged. “–cooperate, you can get a lot of ideas from our ancestors.

“I like the Renaissance myself.  Fascinating time period.”  He leaned downward, picking up a few notebooks and pens.  “You probably know all about Billy Shakespeare.  That’d be your cup of tea.” 

He threw the books at me, and they hit me in the chest, the pens falling to the floor noisily.  The action aroused me enough that I shook my head in reply.

“Not a huge Shakespeare fan?  Pity.”  Henbane reached for the fountain pen, studying it carefully.  “I like the punishments of the Renaissance myself.  Absolutely fascinating.”  He looked at me, balancing the fountain pen between his fingers.  “I rather liked their philosophy back in the day… an eye for an eye.”

My legs responded.  I leapt from the chair, jumping behind it.  I didn’t cower, but stood shakily, as though waiting to run.  I knew there was a window behind me….

I shook my head. 

“Don’t look so worried, prophet.  Cyrus isn’t as fond of the idea as I am.  He doesn’t want me doing anything that will stop you from writing.”

He hurled the pen at the table; it broke apart, ink spilling across the carpet.

“Thing is Cyrus isn’t around.”  He grinned.  “And I’m not afraid of a little reprimanding from the boss.”

He was beside me in an instant, his strong hands gripping my shoulders tightly. 

“Don’t hurt me!” I spluttered between struggles.  I kicked my legs furiously, twisting my body in ways I wasn’t aware it could move.

Henbane was unperturbed.  “This is too easy,” he muttered, picking me up and throwing me back into the chair.  “Now, prophet, I think you’re going to be smart, but I don’t want you second-guessing the right option.”

He pinned me to the chair, standing above me.  His knees were bent around my body, his hand held over my head.  I was twisted so that I was on top of my arms.  I squirmed and screamed, not caring who could hear me, just hoping that someone would.

“You’re far louder than I would have expected,” Henbane’s voice held a note of mild surprise as he reached behind him.  “Now let’s see how creative I can get….”  Henbane pulled a knife from behind his back. It appeared as a pointed shadow from where I lay, struggling against Henbane’s weight.

“You know what they called this during the Renaissance?  They called it flaying.”  He gave a throaty laugh.  “And it is just as uncomfortable as it sounds.”

I jerked my body upward.  “Don’t please!  I’ll write something!  I swear I will!  Just don’t!” The knife came closer, reflecting Henbane’s odd grin.  “Please!” I shrieked.

“Now, I won’t do much.  Calm yourself down.  This is just a reminder.  I’d hate for you to get cocky.”

He reached for my arm, holding it steady.

My eyes widened; my screams became unintelligible as I thrashed against the couch.

“You make me cut a vein and you bleed to death, it’s your own fault, prophet.”

His voice was calm, as though he was a nurse preparing me for a flu shot.  I half expected him to whisper, “This is hurting me more than you.”

The comparison barely registered in my mind.  It was beneath the surface, beneath the screaming and the aching of my limbs.  My legs had gone numb and my eyes had grown so wide that the skin surrounding them was beginning to throb.

“I have all night, prophet. Eventually you have to wear out.”

The knife came closer–it was similar to a dagger. The metal was raised and pointed so that it looked like an elongated arrowhead.  The handle was carefully carved from ivory, with elegant designs dug into it.  Henbane held it tightly, as though he worried that I would harm his precious treasure.

“Let go of me!  Please, please!”

Henbane released a bark of laughter, turning so that he had a clear view of my upper arm.  He held my elbow, clutching it so tightly that I could feel my pulse. 

The dagger was inches from my skin, and I jerked, the blade slicing my AC/DC t-shirt.

Henbane pursed his lips, as though in concentration.  His eye met mine, and he grinned.  “I think I’ve had an inspiration.”

I tried to move, but found I couldn’t.  The dagger was lodged into my skin, barely breaking the surface.  It slid finely through my skin, like a knife cutting a slice of cheese.

My stomach objected to the truth of that statement: Henbane was taking a slice of me.

“Stop,” I muttered weakly, my eyes burning as they watered.  They were now shut so tightly that even my eyelashes hurt.

Henbane gave a low chuckle.  The room was quiet, save for my quiet pleading.  I breathed shakily, trying to muster the energy to scream. 

There was a terrible tearing sound, and I clamped my lips together.  The pain was clear as the skin ripped from the rest of my body and the blade dug back into the raw area, carving into untouched skin.

My arm began to feel wet–as though someone was spilling water down my elbow–and I realized I was bleeding.  “Stop it, please,” I whimpered.

“Just about finished.”  I felt the cool metal leave my skin, and Henbane’s weight lift from my body. “Just a reminder, prophet–don’t forget who’s in charge here.”

My eyes opened slightly, my vision blurred from the tears that were still at the edges. I realized that my cheeks were also wet–I must have been crying, though I hadn’t noticed much more than the skin peeling from my body.

I was again dizzy, so I didn’t sit up, just watched as Henbane cleared the now-bloody dagger with a cloth he’d retrieved from his pocket.  Crimson smeared the white material, and I closed my eyes again.

“I believe that’s fair,” was Henbane’s only reply as he left, the door closing behind him.

I rocked slightly, gulping and gasping.  I didn’t dare move my arm; it was aching horribly: the pain traveled along my elbow to my fingertips. 

I turned my head hesitantly, eyeing my arm with a type of repulsion I didn’t know I could muster.  Where skin had once been was pink flesh–raw and burning as air hit it.  Blood leaked steadily from it, staining the red couch.

I stared at the gash, my eyes widening in disbelief.  It was shaped like an ellipse, with sharp points at the edges.  My throat choked on the laugh that was threatening to escape me.  Instead, I heaved a dry sob, gulping uncontrollably.

The slash looked very similar to an eye.

And now the score was even.

It was downright poetic–

A writer like me could appreciate it.

I began laughing quietly–soft sniggers that fell silently in the room, as I closed my eyes again, wishing that I could sleep.

Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020

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