Hope Springs

Naomi
Chapter Three

A Week Later

Jimmy and Ronnie Dunne had been Fostering since before they had children of their own. When their eldest, a boy named Dale, was born they worried that the work would be too much for them, that their little bundle of perfection would sponge up all the love they had for their kids.

They were wrong.

When Jo came along two years later they still had a house full of children in need of a forever home. That was eight years ago and while it was true that they couldn’t take nearly as many kids as they once did, they still tried to keep at least two in the house with them at all times.

They never lost track of those that moved on, they never stopped thinking of them as their kids, and their own children had always thought of themselves as being part of a large family, treating each new kid as if they were a long lost cousin. They’d even decided to adopt one of their charges, a bright but fragile 12-year-old boy named Bobby.

The Dunne household was truly blessed.

That is until 17 weeks, three days ago when Naomi came to live with them.

For whatever reason Dale and Jo didn’t take to Naomi. In fact, Dale had made it clear that he hated her, even going so far as to call her “It” when their parents weren’t around.

Even Bobby, who’d always been nice to her, treated her poorly when the kids were around. Naomi had been through this before though. What was different was how Jimmy treated her. He took her fishing and was showing her how to fix cars.

She felt she would love him if she could. She even found herself forgetting that she was just a doll when she was alone with him. She’d even call him Dad if he’d ask her.

“Have they found your boss’ friend, hon?” – Ronnie, sitting down for dinner.

“Nah, she’s gone. It’s been almost two weeks since the ass scared her off.” – Jimmy, still washing his hands.

“James Orville Dunne, I know you don’t like the man, but Theros took that poor woman in, and you said it yourself he’s been nothing but kind to her. Besides, she disappeared during that blackout after the fire downtown.”

“Yeah, I guess, she was really sweet too, just a big ol’ kid. She loved those old beaters out in the yard.” – Jimmy, finally sitting down.

Naomi hadn’t eaten anything, she always waited for Jimmy to say:

“Y’better eat, girl! Them bones ain’t gonna grow themselves.”

Naomi smiled and ate a big bite of potatoes.

The Sewers

Missy cursed Theros’ Name. He’d demanded that she go into the sewer, the SEWER, to help him find that thing. He was, in fact, still insisting that this was all her fault.

Dexter wasn’t a child. She wasn’t their little sister. She was a living, breathing engine of destruction and just because she had tried to treat the monster like a human being, she’d tried to make it act like a person… so far as Missy understood people anyway. That didn’t make her its keeper!

How DARE he demand that she go and help find the thing. As far as she was concerned it was better that the thing had gone wherever it was that it had gone off to.

“Bring her back and all is forgiven? Who the hell are you to tell me you’ll forgive me?”

She’d reached another junction and sprayed her mark to remind herself which way she’d come from, half wondering how she knew to do some of the things that she knew, half wondering why the sewers were so large.

She’d caught wind of the hulking child about a block back, when the water, which had been up until this point about ankle deep suddenly plunged into a seven-foot pool, at the bottom of which stood a number of jagged metal pipes. When she’d dragged herself out of the thing she found a large rod embedded in her thigh, the impression of a large human hand pressed into it.

This had been Dexter’s idea of a trap, it seemed.

She’d proceeded more carefully since then.

The left fork in the tunnel should have ended in a bricked wall, but instead something very large had torn a massive hole in it. She had no trouble getting over the rocks, having used the rod she’d removed from her leg as leverage, but she hadn’t expected to see the sheer size of the chamber she found on the other side.

Partially hewn from the raw earth by water and partially carved out by some previous city planning, the 15 by 20-foot chamber was submerged in water nearly to Missy’s knee once she’d tumble-walked down the pile of stones, bricks and tiles that made a strange sort of misshapen staircase at the entrance.

At the far wall, covered in putrid rags was Dexter, a bit of what looked like a soggy paperback book hanging dumbly from her mouth. Anger and befuddlement creased her oddly beautiful face.

“Why couldn’t you have just gone home?” – Missy shouted.

The monster spat out the filthy pages.

“This Dexter’s Home!”

The Wretch took another bite of her book and went back to work on the far wall.

“No. It’s not.” – Missy could feel the anger bleeding out of her as if through the gaping hole in her leg.

“The blockhead’s been looking for you.” – Missy

“He wants to put me in cage.” – Dexter, swallowing hard.

“He does not! He’s not even mad at you, he’s mad at me, you he’s worried about.” – Missy

Dexter responded by turning and shoving her fist through the wall.

It was going to be a long night.

Helm Street Elementary School
The Next Day

The playground was chilly and overcast, Naomi was wearing a jacket and scarf because Ronnie insisted, but the coat was open and the scarf hung loose. In other words, she looked like just about every other kid save that her cheeks weren’t flushed from the cold.

She sat alone on a swing, her notebook’s back cover was open and she was taking notes about what she saw the other kids doing. She wrote them in Japanese because she’d learned from her…mother… that people didn’t like it when you took notes about them.

There was a commotion behind her and she’d made a mental note to check it out when she was done figuring out exactly how the strange series of squares and semi-circles on the ground determined the pecking order of the girls who threw rocks and hopped across it.

Sadly her study of the ritual was cut short when one of the girls, the one whose turn it was to throw a stone at the numbered squares, stopped, turned to Naomi and screamed across the yard

“fight!”

Why did she want Naomi to fight?

The artificial girl turned to her left and her right before catching motion in her periphery. It seemed that the commotion she had heard was that of a ring of boys playing some sort of game that she’d never seen.

Now other kids were rushing in to see what was going on.

Naomi closed her notebook, put away her pencil and ran after.

She felt the heat of the fire inside her heart reach her skin and felt the crowd accept her as one of its own. These few short moments were the only ones that allowed her to feel like she belonged somewhere, other than when she’s with Jimmy. Jimmy always made her feel like she belonged.

At the eye of the storm of children were not¬ two boys as she’d surmised by the sounds of jocularity, but a pair of girls beating up a small boy.

It took only a moment to recognize the coat and dark hair and screams belonged to Bobby. She liked Bobby.

“Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!” – The crowd chanted

“Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!” – Naomi sang along

She felt her heart beat harder and hotter.

For a moment she touched humanity. Why didn’t it feel better?

Naomi stepped into the eye, leaving the safety of the crowd and felt their eyes on her. The magic of the moment was ruined and she now she only felt the hostility of the crowd. A part of her was comforted by the animosity. She knew it well.

Naomi asked herself what had made her step in. Why had she made this mistake?

Because Jimmy would have stepped in.

Jimmy would have wanted her to help Bobby.

She felt something hard and plastic inside her melt away, she felt…human.

She didn’t know it, but she was blushing.

“Stop! This ain’t right!” – Naomi said, doing her best impression of Jimmy

“What?” – one of the girls

“What did Bobby do to you that you felt you had to beat him for it?” – Naomi.

She felt something change in the crowd. The girls looked down at Bobby and then at Naomi again.

“You’re right. Bobby, I’m sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking.” – one of the girls as the other bent down to help him up.

“We should have been being on this.” – the girl, swinging at Naomi.

It seemed she’d made a major error for engaging so many children at once.

She saw it coming and tried to side step the punch.

“Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

The girl hit her solidly across the face, on some level Naomi knew that she should cry.

She didn’t know how so instead she decided to run… except that she couldn’t leave Bobby.

Naomi felt the oil in her veins boil with pyros and momentarily transmute into elemental blood and the illusion of humanity shimmered faintly as the heat called to the girl’s own heart. Naomi imagined the girl had feelings for her and the pyros burned hotter, transmuting hypothesis into reality. Too late Naomi felt that fire burn in her own heart and for the second time in less than a minute her cheeks flushed.

The girl’s cheeks burned red hot. Her eyes became glassy with tears.

“I’m so sorry, I don’t know why I did that.” – the girl

“Just back off.” – Naomi

She did.

“What are you doing, Chelsea?” – the other girl.

“Just leave them alone.” – Chelsea said back.

In that moment Naomi realized that her love for Jimmy wasn’t just because he wasn’t afraid of her. It was because of what he represented, he was someone she looked up to. His opinions mattered and if need be she’d do anything for him.

It was a strange epiphany to have while surrounded by 10 year olds on a playground as the lunch bell rang but there it was.

Naomi’s eyes were on Chelsea but her mind was racing with the knowledge that for the first time in her impossibly short existence she actually understood what it meant to be a child.

She had to tell Jimmy.

Mitch’s Old 78

Theros was moving boxes when he heard the slamming on the bay door.

“Jimmy, get the door!”

Knock-knock-knock!

“Jimmy, get the damned door!”

“I’m getting it!”

Theros heard the mechanic let loose a quiet string of expletives before the door opened.

“What are y’all doin’ here?” – Jimmy

“Bobby was getting beaten up by a girl and…” – a girl’s voice

“It wasn’t a girl, it was a boy named Chelsea!” – a boy… probably Bobby.

Theros came around the corner, still lugging the box.

“I thought I told you I didn’t want kids playing around the –“

The words died in Theros’ throat, he recognized Bobby right off, Jimmy’d brought the kids around before things went sour between them. His other boy, Dale, had gotten stuck in a drum and Theros had said that the place wasn’t safe for them while they were fixing everything up.

Bobby wasn’t why he’d stopped talking though.

For a second he saw a girl with dusky skin and almond eyes standing next to the boy but then he got a good look at her and saw the truth.

The girl had no skin, not really, instead she was coated in a pale rubber sheath. Her hair was synthetic; her eyes were glistening marbles.

He’d seen little girls carrying dolls around before, he’d never seen one this large or this well-articulated, but there was no doubt that she was, in fact, a doll.

Had Jimmy done this?

The doll’s pretty silicone face was twisted a literal mask of fear.

“Never mind… you got family matters.” – Theros, turning to walk away.

The doll whimpered as she noticed the patchwork of dead flesh and steel that made up his face. Theros’ heart broke.

The Wretch sat the box down and turned back toward the living doll approaching to a safe distance before taking his knee.

“Hi, I’m Mr. Theros. I’m very sorry for scaring you and for yelling at your father. I promise I’m not nearly as scary as I look.”

Theros held out his hand but the girl pulled away. Knowing that it was getting more awkward, he got off his knee and went back to work.

No sooner had he picked the box back up than he felt the dry heat from beneath the garage.

The basement door slammed open and Dexter, naked but for a filthy wife-beater and her sludge covered legs, stomped into the garage.

Theros dropped everything and hugged the misshaped woman.

Missy was right behind the nude hulk. She looked unhappy.

Dexter saw the crying doll-girl being hugged by Jimmy and snarled. The girl cried harder. Dexter smiled.

The tears ended immediately. They wouldn’t be coming back. Maybe not ever. At this moment the doll who had only moments before feeling more human than she ever had suddenly realized that none of it actually mattered. She was just a doll after all.

Fear was all she felt at this moment.

Jimmy hugged her again.

“You okay, girl?” – Jimmy.

Naomi didn’t respond.

Meanwhile

The air was hot and dry outside the garage and Dexter felt more at home than ever. Perhaps if she’d been a deeper thinker she might have noted that it seemed to better fit her own mood, unfortunately she only knew that it seemed right.

Where before she might have played with the cars now she simply tore them to pieces and as she did so the smell of ozone grew and thunderheads seemed to form from the ether alone.

By the time she’d taken apart a ’73 Buick with her bare hands the sky was full of murky and thick thunderheads while the heat had reached a nearly 80 degrees.

View
Pippin's Furnishings
Chapter Two

Two Weeks Later

Alice’s Agent was getting angry. She’d canceled another shoot and was refusing to leave the bourbon capital of the world.

“Imagine the way it’ll look, Alice!” – Doreen

“I don’t care.”

When Missy hung up the phone she was almost crying. Alice’s career was important to her… Alice. It was important to Alice. Missy told herself that it didn’t matter to her… and that was true… It had to be true.

Missy dialed the phone number she’d committed to memory when she first came to Hope Springs.

“Mitch’s Old 76, this is Jimmy”

“Yeah, Jimmy, can I talk to Theros”

Jimmy put her on hold without another word, he didn’t dislike her. It was her, he just really hated the boss. She got that… sometimes.

“Hey, Missy.” – Theros

“Is Dexter busy today?”

“Nah, she’s just playing with her “hot wheels” in the yard.” – Theros scoffed.

Dexter’s Hot Wheels was a 78 gold Crown Vic. That she pushed around the yard making racing noises.

“Tell her to get cleaned up. I’m taking her into town to go shopping.”

Hope Springs Historical District

Dexter sat next to Missy in the car. She held out her hand and pretended it was a wing as it moved through the air. This was only the second time she’d ever rode in a car.

Dexter liked cars.

“We’re here” – Missy.

Dexter looked around, she’d never been here before… there were too many people.

“Where is here?”

“We’re going to get you some clothes, Dexter.”

Dexter hugged her coveralls.

“No, honey, we’re going to find you some pretty clothes.”

Dexter narrowed her eyes.

“It’ll be fun” – Missy, hopping out of the car.

Dexter watched her cross the street before getting out of the car. She was crossing the road when she noticed a small figure in the alley next to the store. Distracted by the mysterious figure, she forgot about Missy completely.

It was a boy in a hoody, his small hands grasping a spray-paint can. He was painting a strange picture on the wall.

“Can I play?” – Dexter

The boy turned around and looked at her, his eyes wide his mouth agape.

He handed her the spray-can and ran away.

Dexter shrugged and began to draw.

She drew symbols, no less strange than the boys, but somehow she knew they were important to her.

She’d drawn a circle with an arrow pointing up and to the right and crossed halfway between its point and the circle. She finished by spraying a big ugly dot below the circle.

She knew what it meant… whatever that might be.

“That’s really nice.”

Dexter spun on her heel. It was a police officer. She didn’t like police officers. They were mean to her, made her move.

“Hi.” Dexter grumbled.

“Howdy.” – The police officer.

He stepped toward her.

“Now, I’m sorry to tell you this, but graffiti is illegal in Hope Springs.”

“Oh. I just wanted to draw.”

“Well, I’m sure we can get this sorted out, hun, do you have any ID?” – The officer.

She pointed at the nametag on her coveralls. “Dexter” it read. Theros had made it special just for her.

“I’m Dexter.”

“Well, uh, Dexter, do you have any other ID?” – the officer, he was speaking slower now. Dexter hated it when people talked to her like that.

“No.”

“Wait, officer, stop, stop! She’s with me, she’s just a little bit slow. She didn’t know what she was doing.” – Missy.

“Sorry, hun, we’re going to have to take you to the station to get this sorted out.” – The Officer.

Missy saw the officer’s partner step out of the vehicle. Everything was moving too quickly.

The officer reached out with his hand and gingerly grabbed her wrist, revealing a pair of handcuffs in thether hand.

Dexter panicked.

The cop didn’t even have a chance to let go of her wrist before he was lifted skyward and thrown bodily into the wall opposite her.

Missy could hear the massive creature weeping as she turned towards the end of small alley. It was a dead-end, save for the heavy door that acted as a service entrance to whatever business faced the opposite street.

“You scared her!” – Missy

The officer’s partner ran toward the alley and drawing his weapon.

The hulking figure lifted her arms to protect her face as she charged the door, blowing the thing off of its frame as she ran through.

“Freeze!” – The officer yelled after her, while bent low to check on his unconscious partner.

“Stay with him until back-up arrives!”

Missy nodded as he ran into the building, barking into his radio.

She counted to eight before going to work.

The Muse desperately pulled the cop’s belt off of his sleeping body, cinching it loosely over her Jean Paul Gaultier Tattoo Lace dress and took the cap off of his head, placing it on her own.

“Goodbye, Little black dress.” – Missy, in the cop’s voice.

She felt the fabric stretch and heard it tear as the pyros burned through her, reshaping her flesh and bones as if they were only a shimmer of heat on asphalt.

Missy gave chase barefoot.

It had been a bad choice.

The floor of the shop, some sort of furniture store from the looks of it, was littered with splintered wood and broken glass. It seemed that Dexter had tried to bulldoze her way through the whole store like she did the door and from the look of the panicked Wretch, the store had won.

Dexter’s arms and legs were sliced in a dozen places, and littlered with bits of debris from the various displays she had destroyed.

Currently she was slamming herself into one of the shop’s display windows for what must have been, from the size of the blood smeared across it, the hundredth time.

“I said freeze!” – the cop

His voice was less than commanding. Dexter turned and grabbed the antique cash register that sat on the counter next to the window.

“Don’t make me shoot!”

As if the word possessed some sort of magic, the cop fired.

Missy’s ears rang as two black spots appeared on her friend’s back. She didn’t know where the other went, maybe the wall… why did she care?

Dexter didn’t seem to notice, heaving the massive metal device in her left hand she turned to the cop and bellowed. Her eyes were swollen and red behind the goggles that held them in place, her face a rictus of anguish and fear.

With a roar she hurled the register through the window and into the car beyond, caving in its rear passenger door.

Dexter leapt through and seemed ready to run.

Why was it so hot? Missy turned to see that a fire had erupted, igniting a settee.

“Hey, I think we should go!” – Missy-cum-Cop.

The cop turned, confused. It must have been odd to see his partner in a $500 dress. At least he wasn’t shooting at Dexter anymore.

Missy had been only vaguely aware of the woman screaming in the room before that moment, having been deafened by the police officer’s gun. But now, she noticed the older woman with dark hair and a purple dress pointing out the window and wailing.

She turned to see Dexter, her pyros guttering to reveal her true face for all the world to see, was lifting the car in front of the building.

“Oh.” – was all that Missy could say before the car tore through the storefront. In a moment the police officer was nothing but a smear on the ground and Missy found herself flying backward, she felt her skull crack against the wall and knew that in that instant she’d reverted to her natural state.

Her poor dress.

The woman was still screaming, too terrified to run.

“Come on, lady, we’ve gotta go.” – Missy, noting that there was something wrong with her arm.

The fire that had broken out on the settee had caught the carpet and was now spreading across the store.

Missy ran out the way she came, she knew that it was only a matter of time before the fire met the broken heap that was the car and oil and fire most definitely mixed.

She was outside and just around the corner when she was thrown off her feet by the explosion.

It was time to go… and she had no idea where to find Dexter.

Mitch’s Old 76

Theros’d sent Jimmy home when they’d seen the news. A local business had some sort of gas main eruption and they’d cordoned off must of downtown. There wasn’t going to be any more business today.

The Titan had been calling Missy for twenty minutes straight when he heard someone come in the back door.

“Dex?”

“No. It’s me, she didn’t come back?” – Missy, covered in soot and more the worse for wear.

“What happened?”

“Dexter happened!” – Missy, explaining the course of events that ended with at least two people dead and a monster on the loose.

Theros listened patiently while the Muse told her tale. She hadn’t noticed that he’d broken his phone even after she finished speaking.

“Three.”

“What?” – Missy.

“Three people died. The other cop died of his wounds.” – Theros

“Oh.”

“So you left her?” – Theros

“Left her? I had to get out of there. I couldn’t go around asking people which way the monster went!”

“She’s a child, Missy! Not a monster, a child! And you abandoned her!” – Theros

“This isn’t my fault, Theros!”

“I trusted you!”

“It wasn’t my fault.”

“She trusted you!”

“It wasn’t my fault, Theros!”

“You LOST her, Missy, You let her get away from you TWICE, and now you have no clue as two where she could be!”

“She’s probably in the sewer! It’s the only place she could have disappeared in all of this.”

“Probably!”

“Hey! It’s not my fault that your “cousin” is a super-strong rage-monster! But there was no way in hell I was going to go looking for her after she threw a car AT MY HEAD!” – Missy

“Stop talking. Right now.”

“What did you say?”

“Stop talking or I will put my fist through your head.” – Theros, his face flickering like a guttering candle.

“Wow. You’re violent.”

“Yes I am, please stop talking. If you had watched out for her, she wouldn’t have been drawing on the wall, the police wouldn’t have had any reason to talk to her and she wouldn’t have gotten scared and BLEW UP A GOD DAMNED BUILDING! This comes back to you.”

“Technically speaking, it’s your fault. I’m not strong enough to control her when she goes into a rage. You are. You should have come with us, like I asked you to –“

Theros hit her. Fire had been pouring into his arms and she went flying, a loud crash sounding out as she slammed through the window she’d been standing in front of.

In that instant Theros’ rage subsided. He was still angry to be sure, but he no longer wanted the girl dead.

He approached cautiously, nudging her foot with his own.

“You shun a vish.” – Missy, her misshapen head lay all but motionless at an odd angle on ground but her black eyes bored into him.

“Dammit.”

“I key ya weh ah geh up.”

Theros groaned and grabbed her ankle and dragged her back into the junk yard.

She cursed him the whole way. He’d heard it all before.

He placed her into a car trunk and for just a moment Missy thought he was going to leave her there to rot before he returned to dump a bucket of ice water onto her.

“I bet that’s cold” – Theros, attaching a pair of jumper cables to her ankles and another to her wrists.

“Ahm bunnin don yo shop.”

He slammed the trunk shut and turned on the generator.

Electricity arced around trunk and the air filled with the smell of ozone for nearly a half minute before the generator burned out.

Theros popped the trunk.

“You son of a bitch!” – Missy swung at him with her left arm, which seemed to be the only one that was working.

“I’m going to burn this whole place to the ground!”

Theros closed the trunk. When he came back he brought with him a cart with four car batteries on it.

The entire time he spent attaching them to her still paralyzed legs and arm she screamed about how she was going to kill him.

He slammed the car lid and hit the switch.

When the batteries finally died he popped the trunk open she slapped him in the face.

“You’re welcome. Get off my property.”

Somewhere below Hope Springs

Dexter looked upon her domain and smiled a cold cruel smile.

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Mitch's Old 76
Chapter One

The wrench missed Theros’ head by a hair’s breadth. The redneck swinging it was bellowing in rage as the giant pressed against the dirt to save his face before pushing his immense bulk up off the ground, slamming his fist into the hick’s chin as he rose to his knees.

Standing over eight feet, Theros was the tallest man anyone in Hope Springs had ever seen and it was common for the giant to be challenged. Luckily, he liked to fight, even had a fighting cage built behind the garage. Usually they didn’t bring wrenches.

“The hell?” – the yokel, fingering the impact tear where Theros’ fist made contact with his face.

The wrench-wielding maniac, bellowing, charged the still kneeling mechanic, but it only took Theros standing up to remove himself from the drunk’s swing.

Theros was already lunging, ready to wrap his arms around the yokel, ready to slam his face into the fence when he suddenly felt the familiar burn of Azoth, like the heat of the summer sun on his face.

The giant turned to see a hooded figure standing outside the cage, apart from the gathered drunks.

It was someone like him.

Theros’ foe took advantage of the moment’s distraction and slammed the wrench into his downturned head, connecting with the giant’s temple. The swing could have killed a man.

Theros wasn’t a man.

The monster caught himself as his body swung toward the ground and hurled his fist back at the idiot, opening it at the last moment to keep from killing him outright, resisting every urge in his body to let the pyros ignite his muscles with power and send his victim flying and instead simply knocked him out, sending him crumpling to the ground in a heap.

Playtime was over.

“Take this piece of shit off my property.” – Theros, to the yokel’s buddy.

Even as his friends dragged the unconscious drunk out of the cage the crowd began to recede.

“You!” – Theros, pointing a clubbed finger at the one he’d sensed.

“You can stay.”

The others barely glanced at the robed figure as they left, angry that they’d lost yet another fight.

The inside of the garage wasn’t nearly as rundown as the old corrugated metal shell made it look. Mitch, the previous owner, had a peculiar pride in his skill fixing engines and always made sure to have excellent equipment, he’d simply never bothered to spend a dime on the garage itself.

Jimmy Dunn, the head mechanic, was working on a ’99 Chevy Malibu with a blown radiator. He didn’t look up from his work when Theros lumbered in.

“How much longer, Jimmy?”

“It’ll be done by six, just like I told you. Sir.”

Jimmy didn’t like Theros. That was okay. Theros didn’t like Jimmy either.

“I’ve got a guest coming in, I want you to leave ‘em alone.”

“Whatever.”

When the back door finally closed Jimmy’s head popped out from inside the car and Theros knew why.

The anonymous figure smelled like road kill that had been left in the sun for three days.

“Jimmy. Take the rest of the day. I’ll finish up.” – Theros

The mechanic dropped his tools and headed for the door cursing under his breath.

Theros didn’t care. He was already fetching a few fresh bars of soap and a few of the cleaner towels from the supply closet.

“You gonna take that gettup off?”

The figure grunted and began to strip away the layers of filthy clothes. A leather coat, a denim jacket, a sweater, a sweater-vest, two button up shirts, a t-shirt and a wife-beater later she revealed her dark naked flesh, whoever put her together had chosen her torso based on looks, and had chosen well. Unfortunately the arms attached to said torso belonged to no fewer than five separate men, and were held awkwardly to the lithe body by gun-metal gray joints that looked like they had once belonged to some sort of assembly machine.

They were, in fact, very similar to Theros’ own joints.

The Wretch pulled off the scarf and ski-mask that had hidden her face to reveal that it too had belonged to a beautiful woman, though whoever had put her together hadn’t bothered mooring her eyes, and instead bolted what looked like reinforced goggles over them.

She turned to remove her pants, showing a child’s modesty. Unfortunately it did not hide the same machined joints that connected her massive arms to the body. Nor did it hide the hideously malformed and oversized legs that were thus connected by someone who seemed desperate to keep the torso from being too heavily modified, as the hips and pelvis obviously belonged to a third exceptionally well-shaped female.

On her back were two tattoos, one was a calligraphied name, Dexter, just below the neck, perhaps the name someone that the torso had once loved; and a barcode, just above where the neck and torso had been sutured together.

Theros recognized it immediately. It was similar to the one he had on his own neck.

Theros hadn’t noticed that the woman had begun to kneel down on the ground, as if waiting for him…

“Stop that!” – Theros

The creature turned on him, her face a mask of angry confusion.

“I’m just here to clean you up. There won’t be any of that.” – Theros handed her the towels and soap.

She smiled and again he was reminded of a child. He smiled back and after pointing her to the chemical shower at the back of the garage made to give her some privacy. He hadn’t taken a step before he heard the sound of her biting through the bar of soap.

“No, no, no. You don’t eat it!” – Theros, frustrated.

It was too late, she’d already finished one and was biting into the second.

Theros thought back to his time with the “Circuit”. How they would “clean the equipment” and sighed.

“Hold on here. Yeah, you might as well finish your lunch. I’m going to go find some lye.”

The Circuit had built Theros to fight, just as they’d built this one. But Theros had been smart and capable, he’d gotten the upper hand on his “managers”. This one was more like those he’d fought, broken and simple… more machine than human.

When he returned he found the creature finishing off the last of the towels she’d found herself some coolant to wash it down with.

“That’s disgusting.”

She smiled at him again.

Theros was ready for a fight when she saw the lye. He had no idea how she was going to react and was surprised when she jumped to her feet and spread her arms wide and opened her mouth. It seemed she liked bath time.

“What kid doesn’t?”

Elizabethtown Regional Airport

“What do you mean, “you’re in Kentucky”?”

Doreen was furious, as Alice Mansfield’s agent, she had a right to be. Alice was supposed to be heading to the Caymans for a shoot. It had been in the books for weeks, it meant a lot of money.

“Sorry, Doreen, I have to do this… It’s a family reunion.”

“Is this about what happened in Boston? I said I was sorry, I’ve never done anything like that, I’m not a lesbian – Maybe if you hadn’t – ” – Doreen

“Sorry, the plane’s landing, I have to go now.”

Missy hung up the phone and stepped off of the private jet.

“Welcome to Elizabethtown, Ms. Mansfield.” – The attendant

“Thank you, is my car ready?”

“Yes, ma’am it is… I’m sorry, I just have to ask, could I have my picture taken with you? It would mean the world to me.” – The attendant.

Missy cringed inwardly.

“Sure.”

Mitch’s Old 76
Later

Theros got the woman, whom he’d come to call Dexter, settled down. She was currently wearing a spare set of gray overalls. He’d invited her to stay with him above the garage. The apartment was large and had a spare bedroom, but she’d insisted on staying up and watching television. He understood, he wasn’t particularly tired himself.

He didn’t have cable so he showed her the stack of Looney Tunes DVD’s he’d collected over the last couple of years, before going back down to finish up the radiator.

When he came back upstairs she was still paying rapt attention to the T.V., having wrapped herself in a comforter and was speaking along with the man on the screen.

“Barnett’s being processed. We’re headin’ to Mulligan’s to celebrate.” – Dexter and the man.

“You’re probably not gonna wanna do that.” – Dexter and a second man

“And why’s that?” – Dexter and a woman.

“Dad’s mad.” Dexter and the second man’s voice.

“Get your asses in my office.” – Dexter and another male voice.

Theros was half way through making a Ham Sandwich before he realized what was bothering him about the conversation.

“What are you watching?” – Theros

“SVU, It’s much better than original. McCoy’s boring.” – Dexter

“Where did you get it?”

Dexter shrugged, only half listening as she continued to watch the show with rapt attention.

Somewhere in Kentucky
That night

The Driver had been good for conversation for the first twenty minutes of the drive. That was when Missy made the mistake of joining in, of drawing his attention.

“You know, you’re prettier in person. The magazines always take away the imperfections, you know, they use computers to take away the thing that makes you, you. You’re very beautiful.

“Thank you.” – Missy.

“Would you mind if I took your picture?”

The car was pulling over. Missy realized that she couldn’t see any sign of civilization.

“You know what? I think I’ll walk from here.”

“Oh, of course you will. You’re going to flirt with me, lead me on, play with my emotions. It’s not like I matter, right? I’m just some schmuck who gets paid to drive your perfect little ass around!” –

The car was suddenly on the road again, they were driving faster than before.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you, I’m just tired and it’s late.” – Missy, taking her Taser out of her clutch.

Even as the man railed from the driver’s seat, screaming at her, turning to face her and point his finger in her face, she knew that this was not who he was. She had done this to him. Just like Doreen.

For just a moment she almost let herself be overcome by the hateful things the man spewed at her.

The car was slowing and Missy looked up to see a sign up ahead.

“Hope Springs – Sample our spirit”

She was where she needed to be.

Missy reached into her clutch and pulled out a handful of cash, throwing it at the driver demanded that he pull over.

The man slammed on the brakes and just like that she was free.

It was only after he’d pulled away that she realized that she was still in the middle of nowhere, that nothing there seemed to be any sign of anyone.

There was nothing but old buildings.

Mitch’s Old 76

Dexter chose to sleep downstairs in the garage after Theros said it was time to turn off the TV. He’d set up a cot for her in the break room but still found himself unable to sleep.

What if she got hungry? What if she ate his tools?

Could she?

Suddenly Theros was bolting upright. There it was again, that deep sense of warmth under his skin.

Had Dexter been a plant? Some sort of lure?

The giant flew through the apartment and down the metal stairs into the garage where he was greeted by the sound of wrenching metal; Dexter having pulled bay door off of the track while trying to open it.

“What are you doing?”

“Someone’s here!”

Theros, leaping off of the stares, landed in front of the broken door.

Standing before him was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Her skin was almond, her hair chestnut. Her eyes were chocolate brown. She wore expensive clothing and seemed entirely out of place in an old scrapyard.

Then he blinked. Suddenly she was even more beautiful, impossibly so, Her hair and eyes were black and too reflective. Her skin seemed as fragile and rigid as eggshells. There was no softness, no lines, no warmth.

She was like him and Dexter and altogether different.

“What are you?” – Theros

“I’m Missy. I think I’m like you.”

Missy saw the two gargantuan monstrosities standing before her and for the first time she knew she wasn’t alone. Her heart swelled and burned with fire as something inside her, something base and unnatural burned away.

She wasn’t alone.

For just a moment everything was bright and shiny and unimaginatively real and Missy couldn’t help but laugh.

Missy stepped forward, her hand stretched out.

“I’m Missy.”

The big one gave her a good once over, assessing the threat she posed.

“You’re probably the least dangerous thing I’ve ever seen. Come on, get in here, you look too sad for me to make you stay out there.”

“You want to play hopscotch?” – the smaller creature.

“Dexter! What did you do to my floor?”

It seemed that the smaller one had actually carved a hopscotch board into the stone floor.

“Play?”

The big one sighed heavily.

“Go play. I’m sorry about that, I’m Theros, I own this place. That’s Dexter… She’s not right. I’m guessing you’ll want to stay here too.”

“What? No. I just need a ride into town, I can get a room there… You’re like me, aren’t you?” – Missy.

“I don’t know. I’ve never seen one of us that looked like you. Mostly they look like Dexter and I.” – Theros.

“I’m gonna go watch SVU!” – Dexter

“Okay… Wait, Don’t go upstairs!”

Dexter rumbled up the stairs on all fours.

“I said DON’T go upstairs! I brought a TV down here!”

Theros looked at Missy and shrugged.

“Come on, I have coffee upstairs, I’ll be right up, I just have to fix the door.”

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