Authors: Brenda L. Harper
“What happened back there?” she asked.
Wyatt shook his head as he went to the front windows and pulled back the clothes that covered them, his eyes scanning the street down below. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Something was there.”
“Gargoyles,” he said.
Before Dylan could ask for an explanation, he turned to her and gestured for her to sit on one of the battered, smelly chairs. She sat on the edge, careful not to touch the green mold that was growing on the chair’s arms. Wyatt came over and sat across from her, pulling a wooden chair with most of its cloth cover rotted away close to her.
“Gargoyles are mythical creatures that once lived in distant places in the last society. Books say that they were placed on the top of buildings, usually religious buildings, to protect the people who lived in the cities down below them.”
“To have a belief in a higher power.” He sat back slightly, staring at his hands as he struggled to find a better way to describe it. “Whole groups of people used to worship this man they called God. He was supposedly their creator, and he was supposed to have the power to help them live better lives.”
He shook his head. “A being no one ever saw.”
Dylan thought of the invisible entity that had helped her find water, the thing that spoke directly into her mind and warned her of the danger in the bookstore. Was that the God he was talking about?
“Anyway,” he said. “Gargoyles were these ugly creatures that were supposed to protect people from these other evil things. Demons.”
“So gargoyles are good?” she asked.
Wyatt shook his head slowly. “If they were then, they aren’t anymore.” He dragged his fingers through his hair, a weariness she hadn’t noticed before scoring the smooth skin along the edges of his eyes. “They attack without warning,” he said. “Kill people for no apparent reason. Attacked whole cities, massacred people who were just trying to survive.”
Dylan touched his hand, and immediately images began to flood her mind. A woman with dark hair, her jaw familiar in an odd sort of way. She lay in a puddle of blood, her neck turned at a strange angle. Beside her, on his knees, sat a little boy with dark curls, tears running down his cheeks in big, round drops. So much sadness in that little boy that it made it almost impossible for Dylan to breath.
The word began small, but grew larger inside Dylan’s mind until it was a shout in the voice of a child who had suffered too much too soon.
She pulled away, tears beginning to flow from her own eyes.
He looked at her, but there was no answer to this question. Even she knew that.
Dylan ran the backs of her hands over her face as she stood, wandering to the window simply to have something to do. The road down below her was empty, a soft breeze the only thing moving. She touched the glass, and the room around her immediately transformed into a bright, yellow-colored world. A child played happily on the floor between the two chairs Dylan and Wyatt had occupied, their cloth covers new and bright with red and blue flowers. The child had blond hair, not unlike Dylan’s, and a soft laugh that was filled with so much innocence that it actually made her chest ache.
But there was darkness behind the child. In the small room that opened into this, Dylan could see a man towering over a woman, anger rolling off of him in waves she could almost see. The woman cowered, huddled back against a tall, silver thing that looked like the wide refrigerators in Genero, as she tried to make herself small under the threat of the man. Dylan recognized her fear, could feel it inside her own chest as she had felt her own fear in the bookstore. And the fear was justified. The man curled his hand into a fist and slammed it into the woman’s belly, the pain he caused her so intense it slithered through the room in thick, viscous strands of gloom.
Dylan let her hand slip from the window and the image quickly dissipated, revealing only Wyatt, still sitting on the wooden chair.
“What do we do now?” she asked.
“We can’t leave here until the gargoyles are gone,” he said.
“How do we know when they are gone?”
He stood and worked at the buckle that kept the long, heavy weapon strapped to his back, slipping it off. “You should get some rest,” he said as he slipped the weapon from its holder, revealing a long, slightly curved blade. “I’ll take the first watch.”
But he was gone before she could think of what it was she had wanted to say.
Dylan found a long, wide mattress that was not rotted through. She spread her jacket—Wyatt had told her the heavy, outer piece of clothing she had been given at the beginning of testing was called a jacket—over the center of the mattress and lay down. There was an unpleasant smell, and she could not get the image of the man hitting the woman out her head, but it was softer than the dirt and sand she had been sleeping on for the past three days.
She closed her eyes, but she knew sleep was a long way off. Too many things had happened. Too many questions swirled around in her mind.
What was it that spoke to her inside her head? Was it what Wyatt had called God? If so, did he speak to Wyatt as well?
And why did she only see images when she tried to read Wyatt’s mind?
And why could she see the people of the former society when she concentrated on the ruins, when she touched pages in a book, when she touched the glass in a window?
And why had pleasure burst through her mind when Wyatt touched her the night before? What did it mean?
Too many questions.
She rolled onto her side and studied the gray and crumbling wall that once was a bright, happy yellow. She closed her eyes and listened for Wyatt. He was out there somewhere, watching the street to keep them both safe from the things he called gargoyles. She found herself wondering what exactly a gargoyle was. She imagined the dark, disfigured children Davida had once described to her when telling her about the children of Genero, the ones they were not supposed to know about that the council had made disappear.
Had Davida known about the gargoyles? Had that been her way of warning Dylan?
If so, how?
The memory of Wyatt’s mother filled her mind again. The emotion he felt in that memory, on the day his mother died, was similar to the way Dylan had felt when Davida left D dorm and never returned. A slow, painful emotion that colored everything she did for weeks afterward. Donna had felt it too. Dylan could see it in the way she sought Dylan’s hand when they were walking side by side, in the way she had slipped into Dylan’s dorm room at night and lay in her bed, asking Dylan to tell her the stories Davida had once whispered to them.
Was Davida their mother?
Was that what family was?
A tear slipped from under Dylan’s closed eyelid. She finally had a word for the people she loved the most, for the life she had before they began to leave her, one after the other. Family. It felt right. It also felt like a burden wrapped over her shoulders.
Her family was gone.
She cried silently, tears running along her arms where they lay under her head, pillowing it on the moldy mattress. Her chest ached and her throat burned. She bit her lip to stop a groan from slipping out to spill into the air around her. It all became too real to her in a single thought.
She had been abandoned.
Her city, her council, abandoned her to this desolate world, left her to die like her sisters before her. They took her guardian, her sister, from her and abandoned her to die a harsh, painful death. It wasn’t a test. It was a way to get rid of the girls they didn’t need. What had she done on the test that made them decide her life was not a life to value? Had she failed so horribly that she didn’t fit in on the next level of existence? Couldn’t she have been a guardian, couldn’t she have cared for the small children who began in the nursery?
She had always done so well on her schoolwork. She didn’t fail, she knew she didn’t. She had known all the answers as well as she knew her own name.
There was something else, something the test had revealed about her.
Had they figured out that she had a gift, that she could read the minds of her sisters?
Dylan reached up and rubbed her face with her forearm. It didn’t matter anymore. She knew nothing would change her current situation. Her only hope was that Wyatt didn’t tire of her and abandon her, too.
Even as the thought moved through her mind, a huge crash that seemed to shake the entire building shuddered through the front of the apartment.
You have company.
Dylan immediately crawled off the mattress and slipped underneath the metal frame that kept it off the floor. Almost immediately she could hear loud footsteps in the hallway outside the room where she hid, a sound that vibrated through the floor and into her tense muscles. The sound came with the heavy breathing she had heard twice before, huffing as it moved, as though carrying a great weight.
Dylan waited for that familiar breeze, for her invisible friend to come to her rescue. She nearly forgot the knife at her hip until she felt it press into her skin as she shifted position. She slipped it quietly from her waistband, wrapping her fist tight around it as she lifted her arm, taking what she hoped was a defensive posture.
The sound moved closer. She held her breath. The movement paused, too, as though the creature, or whatever it was, had paused outside the bedroom door to search the meager furnishings for its prey. Then it continued, shuffling down the hall toward the bathroom that sat empty a few feet away.
Dylan released the pent up breath in her chest and lowered the knife. As she did, a thick, malformed hand reached under the mattress and grabbed her leg. She cried out and raised the knife again, but she was already sliding on her back into the center of the room. A short, bulky thing stood over her, its face twisted and warped into something that looked like a permanent scowl. Its skin was the color of marble, its muscles bunched and thick like the awkward proportions of a child’s drawing. The only thing remotely human about it was its eyes. They were brown, a soft color that could have been soothing under different circumstances. They even looked sorrowful as they gazed down at her.
“No,” Dylan cried, yanking her leg in the hopes of pulling her ankle from its viselike grip. “Please, don’t hurt me.”
“You must die,” it said in a voice that sounded ancient, creaky like a rusty hinge.
“Please,” she said again. “I haven’t done anything!”
“But you will.”
Dylan yanked her leg again, hard and quick, until she felt something in her ankle pop. Nothing happened, except for a slice of pain that ran up the length of her leg. The creature had a long-handled ax in its free hand. It raised it above its head. Dylan rolled to her left just as the ax came down and landed in the rough, wooden floor inches from her head. She cried out and continued to roll, twisting her own ankle in the creature’s fist.
The creature raised the ax a second time. Even though she rolled again, she was not able to escape its wrath completely. The ax fell against her ribs, slicing through her broken coveralls, sending another burst of pain through her body. She cried out again.
She still had the knife in her right hand. She pulled herself up, coming to almost a sitting position, and heaved it into the creature’s right hand, the hand holding her ankle. But the skin not only looked like marble: it was as thick and hard as marble. The blade simply bounced off its hand and flew away, landing somewhere on the other side of the room.
“No!” she cried, desperation settling in her chest as she lay back down just as the ax sliced through the air again. She managed to roll just enough to keep from losing her head to the awful, thin blade.
She stared up at the creature, saw frustration and sadness in its eyes. “Don’t do this,” she whispered. She reached up again, this time with empty hands. She touched the creature’s leg, the only part of it she could reach. Instantly she saw a world filled with anger and hatred and war. But she also saw happiness, ceremonies with names like wedding, baptism, and confirmation. She didn’t know what it meant, but she saw thousands of happy faces, saw men and women sharing kisses, saw adults with small children they loved like nothing else in the world. She saw a complicated society, a people worthy of mercy. She saw satisfaction in a life well spent.
“You protected them,” she whispered, her eyes moving to the creatures.
“That is my duty.”
“You loved them.”
It inclined its head slightly. “You must love those you protect.”
“Why don’t you love me?”
“You are not one of them.” The creature stepped back, yanking her ankle painfully as it did. “You mean them harm.”
“No,” she whispered as she spotted movement at the door behind him. Wyatt was slipping into the room, his movements slow and deliberate, his long weapon held out in front of him in both hands. “I don’t mean anyone harm.”
“Your existence is harmful.”
“No,” she whispered again as Wyatt moved up behind the creature and swung his weapon once. It bit into the side of the creature’s neck, exposing a deep enough cut that grayish-red blood began to flow in a thick, wide river down the creature’s shoulder. It cried out and turned, releasing Dylan’s ankle as it did. “No!” she cried out again, not sure if she was screaming more for Wyatt’s sake or the creature’s.
That familiar breeze washed over Dylan as gentle hands lifted her and moved her out of the bedroom. She stumbled on her injured ankle as the hands pushed her too fast for her to keep up. “Stop,” she grunted as sounds of battle came from the bedroom. “I have to help him.”
You have to live.
“No,” she muttered again, pain overwhelming her as her fingers grazed her side. Blood drenched her side, running in ticklish rivulets down her waist. The invisible entity wanted her out of the apartment, but between her ankle and the loss of blood, her head was beginning to spin. She fell against the wall and slipped to a sitting position. She closed her eyes, the sound of Wyatt’s weapon pinging off the edge of something solid reverberating through her mind.