~ a short story
“I never thought I would find you here.”
The apparition’s voice spoke not from behind, but from afar. Away but near, the tone incisive, biting into the interiority of his soul in a way that he never thought he would experience again in this life.
“Out here. Not even inside… Rather pathetic if you ask me,” she kept on.
Nary sat on a bench outside of an establishment. His nerves froze and staggered his heart into a wayward flow. Whole body tensed, teeth ground against each other. The chill of the young woman’s voice, speaking of her surprise and loathing at seeing him, cut through his form like a bastard blade wielded with the grit of a gladiator. The slash would be enough to slay him… But he decided to turn in the direction of the voice, investigating her with the utmost of his remaining attention.
Before him stood a woman. But less .. conventional than most he’d ever seen. (And perhaps more alluring?) He shook his head and blinked hard. Long silver hair, flowing in some places and laced into a side-braid in others, cut across her shoulders, one barren and the other steel. Or was it silver, too? Adamantium? What could be real in such an image, constituted within the bounds of his reality? She smirked as her magenta eyes — glowing magenta eyes — scanned over his pitiful self hunched over on the bench. Her breast and torso were hollowed out. Waving and jagged bends of this strange steel-silver-adamantia shaped into a half-humanoid formation; she wriggled the fingers of her right hand, long metallic claws clanging and wisping together, with delicate patience. Pink sparks surfaced there and reflected off her face. She was beautiful.
“Are you… t-talking to me?” Nary asked with a near silent, constant waver in his voice.
“Who else?” the strange woman snapped. “Don’t see any others on this bench.”
She rolled her eyes at his continuously stunned silence.
“Yes I am talking to you,” she groaned. “And you better make it worth my time!”
“Uhh… ummm… I don’t … know. I don’t know…” Nary mumbled. He couldn’t be sure he was even speaking aloud.
“Uh, uh, UH. Is that really how you talk? Tch. This is going to be more painful than I thought.”
The woman towered over him. In fact, she stood directly in between him and the previous target of his energies. The spa.
Nary angled his view away from her shapely yet empty body, favoring her right side, which served as a translucent window back to his task at hand.
“Don’t look over there! Look up at me!!” she demanded.
Nary obliged. Breathing through his mouth, he hunched further down, made himself smaller. The woman snapped and a jolt of electrical energy zapped up his spine. Nary straightened in his seat involuntarily.
“Hey!” he started to instinctively exclaim. But then he went silent. His position was more comfortable than before.
The woman began to inspect him more conscientiously. She glanced him up and down, turning him over with her eyes like a rotisserie, judging him — seemingly always harshly — with the small sounds that escaped her lips.
“Are you a witch?” he asked after a few moments.
“Tch,” she gasped. She acted as if she hadn’t heard him. “I think everything is in order now, Mister…” Her voice trailed away. Something in her eyes was reluctant, as if she was trying to recall something.
“N-” Nary began, before remembering that he couldn’t remember. His name. Or anything else. He tried to look at the door across the street again, forgetting again that he had forgotten.
This time, she did not scold him. A question sprung to mind.
“What is it about this place?”
“Huh?” Nary returned.
“Were you … ever a customer?”
“No… God no! I couldn’t imagine it…” he chuckled.
She cast a wistful gaze across the street alongside him. A simple wooden house, looking almost like a home, in between a restaurant and a bar. A ‘spa.’ A front. Just the first floor. Much of its space was below ground, a series of doors behind which shoddy “love dens” lay. The lights dimmed but blazed through the heavy curtains. Shadows danced occasionally across those quadrant windows, but no heavy motion could be seen from outside.
“A home… to you,” she said. “You just liked to… watch from afar. And imagine.”
Nary didn’t confirm her words as truth; she spoke them as if she knew them to be true. And they were true. Nary hardly reflected on the strangeness of her knowing something like this. He wasn’t looking at the spa anymore.
“They dress up as schoolgirls and nurses, huh? Guess that is pretty hot,” she remarked casually.
“And you like that stuff. Conventional. No shame. How many days did… have you spent doing this kind of thing?”
When he didn’t answer, she turned back to him. The “witch”, the woman, shuddered under his prolonged stare. Creep. His eyes watered and she could see his whole body shudder, elbows digging into his bony quads, hair mussed and greasy. Loser.
“Why… why are you here?” Nary asked in a desperate whisper.
“Why do you think?!” the woman retorted with force, growing more sick of the sight of him every moment. “To stop a freak like you from-”
To her growing surprise, the young man did not burst out in the fit of tears he seemed to be building to. Instead, his eyes sunk back into a glaze. His body relaxed into a state of numbness. He did not speak as he returned to his pleasured imagination, his eyes on the front door again and away from her.
“What did I tell you!? Bah!” she griped. Frustrated, she reverted her strategy to an older fashion. The woman took a more direct stance, shielding him from the spa’s purview fully with her body. Left hand on her hip, she raised her right hand, steeled with the magicks of her ancestors, to a point centered on the twerp’s forehead. Leaning back on the bench now, no longer able to maintain concentration on his mark, Nary closed his eyes.
“Idiot. Dissociating isn’t going to save you now..” the young psykimancer grumbled to herself. She pinpointed the bulk of her aura toward the tip of her bladed forefinger, preparing for the first jolt to process. Pink flashes started to flare upon the illucid boy’s face. Pain wracked her as she drew upon the Underpowers.
“Go ahead and get it over with,” Nary returned a moment later, his voice clear and stolid.
She stopped. The violent buildup within her, coursing through her body’s ki, halted mostly out of unconscious revulsion. Instant disappointment surfaced within her at the prospect that he would not fight this. Then, there was confusion. Finally, a melancholy she could not anticipate assaulted her.
“I’ve done it once before. It is no matter now…” he continued, eyes drawn away to the intermittent traffic on the road between his spa and his bench.
“How … did you do it?” she asked without thinking, unable to hide her soft curiosity.
The specter’s eyes flashed toward her, past her, lucid again. Pitiful again.
A burst of revelation fell into her at the sights and sounds of her latest job.
“Not a job, a sacred duty.” The sounds of her sensei’s voice flashed into mind.
She sighed and moved to sit beside the young man. He glanced to her furtively, sidelong, shuddering at the nearness of her presence.
Not a Resolved aberration; no Dissociation to speak of.
He’s lost. Can’t find his way. Never had a way to begin with…
He clings to his livelihood with the passion of any yokai. And yet, he was a Man.
“Give me your hand,” she spoke with conviction.
“What?” Nary responded nervously.
“Just gimme it you dunce!”
Nary finally turned to face her, his left hand a limp fish for her to grab or slap away at her whim.
She took it tenderly. Nary breathed in hard and fast. For a final time.
With the forceful precision of a trained warrior, she grasped his hand and pulled him forward. Off balance, Nary’s body tumbled toward her on the bench.
She closed her eyes and kissed him on the forehead.
His hand turned to dust in her claws. When she opened her eyes again, she was alone on the bench.
The stream of silent, midnight wind coursed through her hollowed out body.
The young woman sat there on the bench and watched the fake spa’s door and windows. She marked her imagination with thoughts both profound and lewd. A few of them spurred her to the point of pain within her frame. Her lips still tingled.
All in all, it was the easiest exorcism she’d ever done. The Hothouse would no longer be experiencing any bumps in the night, any unwanted eyes or imaginations holding its space in The After-Mind. Legal or no in its operation, her work was done.
But questions did abound within her regarding this aberrant. And not just those of mechanics…
Did I know him? That conversation, that solution… They indicate foreknowledge. Familiarity. Did I love him? From somewhere Before, this spirit past?
There were no answers; there was no longer anything inside her to deal with such questions. The psykimancer got up to leave this place forever.
It was no matter, she thought. And that was true. There was no longer any way for her to recover those memories. Of whoever she was Before. ~