Belly of the beast

Jay felt the couch bounce as Chris and Ian shifted their weight off it, probably standing.

In tandem the both said, “Sir.” and she could imagine them saluting. It didnt matter. Overwhelming pain welled up from a deep place inside. Two of the three connections that connected her to reality had been severed and she felt awash in the world. The stabilizing love of her parents was gone. Snuffed out by whichever coward had mailed the bomb to her father. Mailed it weeks ago, in fact. Bastards! The fires of righteous anger started to rage. Tears still fell but they couldnt quench the flame. The heat rose turning tears to steam until all that was left was an arid dry place devoid of emotion. A ring of fire enclosed the pain and the greater part of Jay’s mind registered the reality of the eomtional pain’s existence but denied its power over her.

“Let the fire handle it” she thought as she internally delegated responsibility. Inside the ring of fire Jay could now see a small girl distorted by the heat-haze. She was sitting on the ground with knees drawn up to her chest, arms wrapped around them, weeping, her long dark hair a curtain between the tears and the rest of the world. The young girl looked up with pleading in her dark eyes. The greater part of Jay’s mind was now hardenned by fire and looked back with nothing but contempt for the weakness the little girl represented. The little girl’s guilt showed on her face. She tried to speak over the roar of the flames that enclosed her.

“Please! Dont leave me in here! I didnt mean to do it…”

Jay turned her back on her and distanced herself from the accusing tears that flowed at her departure.

Jay could hear conversation: the 2 men were speaking to someone else, a woman by the timbre of the voice. Exact words were lost as the music carried them away. She remained curled in a fetal ball, face wet, but no longer crying. Jay cracked an eye open, CaraBelle was lounging on the couch in a drugged stupor, the 2 men standing on the far side of the table obscuring her view of the woman who’d spoken. Body language from Ian and Chris gave the impression of being a pair of raw recruits on inspection parade. Whovever the woman was, she obviously wielded significant power over the two men.

Jay blinked a few times trying to look through the green. Was she tired? It wasnt coming. She began to feel the icy clutch of fear, feeling suddenly small and normal, her new sence missing. Hadnt they mentioned something about “suppressants”? Was this what they’d meant? She closed her eyes and regarded the fear inside her mind. It was affecting the wall of rage, cooling it, forming a doorway. The brass door handle still glowed red-hot but she had no doubt that given time the guilty little girl would be out of her prison.

“Not bloody likely!” she said to herself angrily, “bitch is staying put.”

Flames licked out around the bottom edge of the door catching the varnish alight. With a whoosh the fire coursed back into place across the surface of the door but what appeared to be wood still refused to burn. So be it. Brass hinges, ornate door knocker and handle all began to glow orange then yellow in the extreme heat.

“See if you can pass that, you freak!” Jay said to herself. The added heat illuminated the inner space her awareness occupied and she saw faint green texture. “That’s better.” she added and openned her eyes again.

There was a green overlay to the club and she noted the irony of being in “The Jade Room” looking at it in the green like this. On the other side of the table she could see the two men and through them now she could see the woman. Jay was surprised to see flickers of gold inside a skin of green. It reminded her of the strange cloud that she’d seen in her own peripheral vision. Like the cloud that now possessed Eli. Unlike the cloud, the woman’s green shell was static, a form-fitting suit covering the golden body of its wearer. How could that be?

The dancers behind the woman were a blur. Beyond the dancers Jay became aware of a solid glowing presence. Power kept in check by rigourous discipline. It looked dangerous, ready to explode at a moment’s notice. The more she concentrated on the dangerous presence the more if became clear to her that she knew who it was. She’d seen a brief flash of this version the moment that the dark stranger had reacted to her sudden attack. There was a hint of the shield still in place, the same shield that had so easily withstood her attempt to harm him. She didnt have the Voice urging her to strike out at him this time. She doubted that she would ever hear the Voice again, not after seeing the cloud’s liquid fire merge with her brother. She made a mental note to return to his dorm room and check for the whirling textured shell that had been left evicerated on the ground.

Jay nudged the dangerous man’s shield experimentally. It felt smooth and was resilient to her touch. He was aware of her instantly though. She could feel a probe that whipped out through the shield and regarded the core of her. It felt like a hook inside as it grabbed her and pulled her inside the bubble.

“Jay?” he asked in surprise

“Yeah … ” she trailed off remembering the last time he’d called her by name too.

“You cant wriggle out of it this time, how the hell do you know my name?” she demanded.

“Not now Jay, this isnt the time. This is bigger than you know. You’re caught in the middle of a war that’s been raging for the better part of a hundred years.” Jay paused to let the fact sink in. She’d been seeing it as all about herself. This news had a sobering effect. A wet slap in the face that brought a little perspective.

“What’re we going to do?” she asked.

“What state are you in?”

“I’m fine, bit groggy, CaraBelle’s high as a kite.”

“She’s only going to slow us down. We dont have time for her.”

Jay felt anger rising again, “Hell no! She’s with me. Where I go, she goes.”

“Fine. she’s your responsibilitiy. So, what’re you able to do right now?”

“Not a lot. The drug that’s sent her sky-high is meant to suppress my gift. They got the dose wrong. Or rather, they got the dose right and I was different by the time they gave it me. I dunno, I’m surprised I’m even able to talk to you like this.”

The dangerous man’s outline flexed and a pulse of green texture pulsed out through him. She could imagine him sighing with exasperation, getting annoyed, thinking through options, weighing risks.

“Alright. This is going to get messy. Get yourself back there and be ready to take out the two guys yourself. I dont care how you do it. Oh, and you’re going to hurt like hell with what I unleash on you but it’ll sober you up real fast, and alert golden-rod there. I’ve a feeling I’m going to have my hands full with her.”

Jay started to move. As she reached the edge of his bubble shield he seemed to grab her from behind and and ice pierced her presence there in the green. Agonizing light spiralled up and down her, icy needles delivering micro-injections the length and breadth of her. Stupid! How could you inject an incorporial presence here in the green? The light scanned back down her drawing something back out of the injection points. She was reminded of a car wash – first pass to add soapy water, second pass with a squeegee pulling the filthy water back off the windows. Whatever was scanning down her had leached something out of her. She felt the hold on her let go and she raced back to her body still laying on the couch.

Jay awoke to the sound of screaming from CaraBelle. There was blood in her own mouth and her tongue felt like it had been driven over. She must have bitten it. She didnt have time to dwell, she had to do something about the men.

She needed time to think. Needed time to do something but they were both pulling guns and raising them. Now she screamed throwing arms out in a protective gesture, is if that was going to help with bullets. Bullets. She watched as they slowly poked their noses out of the guns. Freeze-frame. She grabbed reality and stopped things. She had moments. This had better work. CaraBelle’s mouth hung open beside her in mid-scream. Across the room she could see the dangerous man had drawn a pair of pistols. Jay leapt off the couch, grabbed Chris and wrenched him. She wasnt sure it was going to work. Reality fought back and she didnt give, it had to work, she had to win. The man pivoted. Jay lashed out with a foot to kick Ian causing his frozen form to turn, she didnt have time for finesse. As quickly as it had begun reality wrested itself out of her grasp and the guns delivered their deadly payload. Both men toppled over, Chris with a gunshot wound to the chest and Ian with a neat hole in the forehead. Jay found herself dodging the falling corpses as she jumped back to the couch to grab CaraBelle. Pandemonium erupted. A screaming horde swept toward the exists.

CaraBelle was crying.

“We’ve gotta get out of here!”

CaraBelle continued to cry and ignored Jay completely.

“On your feet Cow Bell. Now!”

CaraBelle’s tears erupted with greater force in concert with Jay’s frustration. Behind her there were gunshots; the dangerous man’s twin pistols answered by a high-speed burst from an automatic weapon.

CaraBelle screamed and threw her arms up. Jay’s anger swelled and she swept the arms out of the way. She followed with a swift slap to her face.

“Get your ass moving, we dont have time for this!” Jay draw her arm back to deliver another slap but CaraBelle was shifting out of the way, backing away from her.

“Good. Let’s get the hell out of here.”

Jay grabbed CaraBelle by the hand but she pulled it back. She tried again this time grabbing for CaraBelle’s wrist, dragging her into the crush of the people. They vanished into the seething, screaming, heaving mass. Bodies crashed into the from all sides. Elbows dug into them. Jay found herself slammed into the wall and almost lost her grip on CaraBelle. At the last minute roles reversed, CaraBelle grabbing on to her and dragging her back into the flow. The crowd erupted into the paved courtyard outside the club, a living, breathing inky black flow. Both girls dodged through the crowd heading for the parking lot.

The car was exactly the same as when they left it. It started first time. CaraBelle managed a smile, then drove as fast as she could back through the parking lot toward the exit. Without warning a body fell from above, looking to be little more than walking meat. Jay recognized the dangerous man.

“Stop the car Cow Bell. We have to help him.”

CaraBelle slammed the brakes on barely missing the man as he lay on the ground. Jay got out and half dragged him, shouting and cursing at him, urging him to move his feet. She dropped him in the back of the car and CaraBelle drove off, squealing the tires as she did so.

CaraBelle pulled away from the parking lot with a slight squeal of tries but otherwise she seemed to be driving as though everything were normal. To the casual passer-by they were simply two friends heading home after a night out, no matter that there was a bleeding soon-to-be corpse on her back seat.

Jay looked back. The dangerous man didnt look nearly as dangerous now. He looked like he’d gone five rounds in the ring with an angry jack-hammer. She’d heard automatic weaponfire but there werent the bullet holes she’d been expecting in him. Nicks and cuts mostly, ripped biker’s leathers, but no holes leaking vital blood. It appeared that his opponent, the mystery woman, had taken the time and effort to begin dismantling the man with her bare hands (and feet).

He groaned. Good, not dead yet. “Where are we?” he asked through pulverized lips and broken teeth.

“Ssshh, we’re getting you to a hospital.”

“No!” he tried opening his eyes but they were swollen shut, his nose smashed.

“Not time.” he murmered as he passed out.

Jay looked up from him and saw a dark blue mid-sized SUV snaking its way through the traffic behind them. It was travelling faster than the ambient speed of the traffic and was gaining on them.

“CaraBelle … step on it … they’re after us.”

“You sure?” she respoinded. A burst of gunfire answered her. She squeaked and put her foot down.

“Where are we?” groaned the man from the back seat.

“Just passed a sign saying Ueno and I think we’re heading north.”

The man groaned and tried to sit up but pain from what Jay assumed to be broken ribs prevented him. “What do you see?” he asked.

Jay paused to look around, momentarily distracted from the SUV that was chasing and firing at them.

“A wall to the right of us, has large panels with some really ornate looking paintings of chinese dragons on them, oh, and a gap. There’s a sign inside the wall that says ‘Welcome to Akasaka’. Uhh, on the left is a huge skyscraper with twin towers and golden coloured windows.”

CaraBelle was quiet. Her knuckles were white on the wheel of the car and she was dodging between the slower moving traffic. She didnt look to be enjoying the evening one bit now.

“OK. We’re passing signs for Murasaki and Shinjuku. Is any of this making sense? Im lost.”

The man coughed up blood and again tried to sit up again. “Road makes a left up ahead, right? Just after it is a footbridge with a really old sign for a chinese seafood restaurant.”

Jay looked around, spotting the road curving, “Yeah. You know this place.”

“Yep. It’s how I met your father … ” he was interrupted by another bout of coughing, more blood.

The dark blue SUV was right on their tail and CaraBelle was too freaked out to drive any faster. Jay could see a man’s hand come out of the passenger window holding an automatic rifle. She screamed. Bullets ripped into the back of the car, a diagonal line, finishing up with destroying both the rear window and driver’s side rear passenger window. Had their bleeding passenger been sitting he’d have lost his head.

They made the left turn, went under the seafood restaurant sign and Jay could see trouble ahead. Parked across the street were another two dark blue vehicles. Men were standing ready with an assortment of shotguns, pistols and another automatic rifle.

“Whatever you do … ” the man on the back seat grunted in pain as CaraBelle threw the car into a sharp right turn, tires protesting

“… dont turn right.” he finished, “We’re heading for a brick wall. It looks like a dead end. At the last minute the road will dip into a tunnel. There will be a toll booth … ” more gunfire interrupted him.

“Got it.” CaraBelle said, accelerating, seeing the road drop away in front of her.

“No, stop … right now.!” the man shouted but it was too late. Their car ploughed into an invisible wall. They all blacked out.

Jay woke up to the sound of bullets ripping into metal. She hurt all over. CaraBelle was slumped over the steering wheel of the car and the man on the backseat was now mostly in the front in the space between driver’s and passenger seats. She pulled her seatbelt off and reached for the door.

“Are you OK miss?” a voice asked. A man in blue uniform was standing outside. He tapped on the glass of her window with the end of his flashlight, “I said, are you alright? I’m a police officer,” he held up a badge, “Im here to help…”

Jay pulled on the door handle but it wouldnt open. The crash had wedged it shut. She could smell gasoline.

“Sit back…” the policeman said and swung for the glass, smashing it, showering her with fragments. He knocked the remaining pieces out of the way with the flashlight and grabbed the door with both hands. It complained but finally started to give a little with them both exerting their full strength. They stopped as CaraBelle started groaning. The police officer wiped his brow and reached for the door again, his hand now covered with a stick yellowish goo. Jay looked up, he was sweating something really gross. No, not sweating, she corrected herself … it looked like he was melting.

She leaned back and lashed out at the door with a kick, her eyes on the melting policeman. His hair was all gone. Sticky fluid was running down over his face. His hands were little more than shapeless stumps as the melting proceeded from extremities inward. She kicked the door again and without warning it flew open knocking the policeman onto his ass. He didnt get up, it was as though he was glued there by … the ever growing puddle of yellow he was in. She climbed out of the car just in time to see the last of him melt into the puddle. The smell was horrible: gasoline, burned rubber and something else she couldnt name but seemed to be wafting from the puddle of what used to be a police officer.

Inside the car she heard CaraBelle swearing and fighting with her own door. It protested but seemed to open with more ease than Jay’s had done. She looked up, looked back along the road where they’d some from. A dark blue SUV was parked, blocking their exit. Standing by the SUV were three people, three familiar people. A man flanked by two women, one tall, one short. Jay had never seen the short woman face-to-face before, only in the green, but she was sure that it was she who’d kissed her brother. The other woman was holding the automatic rifle that had been ripping into their smashed vehicle, adding insult to injury.

The other woman. Jay gasped as she recognized her shrink, Doctor Pomona. Her eyes went wild with horror the moment she recognized the man standing between the two women, the man who’s face wore a cruel smile, who’s hand was raised in the direction of the melted police officer as though controlling the unnatural melting process. The man Jay recognized as her own brother, Eli. His eyes were lit by an inner flame. The pupils and irises replaced by a sickly, flickering yellow light. He turned slightly and looked directly at her and spoke in a hideous tone of voice – his own, yet not his own. His own overlayed with one she’d only heard with her inner ear in the green. The voice from the sparks.

“Hello sis. Miss me?” the Voice said through her brother’s lips.

Jay chanced a look in the green at the three people standing before her, still not completely believing that her brother was standing there next to the doctor that she’d been sharing her life with these past weeks. What had the woman been up to? Jay didnt know what to expect as she looked at them, what could possibly be different this time as opposed to the last few times.

She recalled Keisha telling her about the narcotics anonymous program that she’d attended with her mother, moral support for a woman who’s moral fibre was getting awfully frayed. They had defined “insanity” as doing exactly the same thing time and time again and expecting that somehow it would be different the next time you tried it. Jay felt insane at this point in time. The only member of family with a connection to her was standing in front of their crashed car with a cruel smile and what looked like the fires of hell burning up inside him. His companion, the woman allegedly meeting with her to help lead her toward sanity was waving an automatic rifle in her direction after shooting the car she’d been riding in. Where’s the sanity in all that? Where’s the sanity in driving into an invisible wall?

Jay remembered the accident report, the eye witness, “its like they hit an invisible wall and bounced” or something like that. Didnt the crazy old coot say something about Keisha melting before the reporter had pulled the microphone back from his face? What kind of sick game plan was she caught in? Who the hell were these people and why did they have her brother? She screamed in utter frustration. Inside the car she could hear CaraBelle working on the door and helping their passenger out. She had to do something or they were going to get shot.

In the green she could see Pomona’s green exterior covered a golden interior. She wore the green like clothing, a disguise then? Jay presumed there would be a bubble of shielding around her. Her short companion said nothing but in the green she was a seething presence, texture flowing and pulsating, a wound spring waiting to be unleashed. Which of these women had beaten the snot out of the passenger Jay and CaraBelle, she wondered.

Behind the three was their SUV but Jay could see behind it. There was furious activity around a box-like structure that had been erected. Cables ran from the box to generators in the back of the two vehicles that had been blocking the road, causing CaraBelle to crash the car in the first place. The box stood around seven feet tall and around four feet wide. It reminded Jay of a hotwired phonebooth. Activity suddenly ceased and there was a shout. Jay blinked and slipped out of the green to look at the gun pointed at her. There was a crackle of energy and she could smell burning, smell ozone. An electrical discharge from the jury-rigged crontraption then.

“We’re good to go. Counting down to hardline activation in … 3 … 2 … 1 … we are go!”

Jay screamed. It was as though someone had punched a hole in reality where the box had been. Something utterly foreign now occupied that same space. Reality screamed through her at being violated by the foreign object thrust into its midst. Jay closed her eyes but it was no good. The sight of the thing hung in her vision, hung in the green, every sense she had cried out. She could smell and taste the thing and it was rotten. He skin burned and prickled with the aura it gave off. Her ears hurt with the sound of something rushing into and out of reality. Whatever these people had activated it had to stop. She reached out and tried to grasp the thing in the green and it burned her, a bare live wire thrust into her waiting hand. She pulled her awareness back from this abomination.

The short woman and Eli walked around the parked SUV and vanished from sight but Jay was still aware of them, a silouette against the bright shining beacon of wrongness that the box represented. The short woman inclined her head to Eli, a bow of respect, and spoke a few words of reverence before stepping into the gaping maw. Eli paused and turned back to look at her. In the green she couldnt see the expression on his face, but there was something about the body language that said he was having misgivings, that he was scared. He turned and stepped into the mouth of the beast, this evil thing that was torturing reality.

The connection that Jay had with Eli sprung taut like a rope at maximum extension. She watched at it began to
stretch, to thin, to fray.

“No!” she screamed and in the green she reached for CaraBelle and the man she was cradling. Not thinking rationally she leaped through the green dragging them with her. He had no clue what it felt like for them, she only cared that she wasnt going to be alone in the world. She didnt want to lose her one deep relational connection. She’d follow Eli into the belly of the beast if she had to, but she wasnt about to lose him.

With CaraBelle and the dangerous man in tow she leaped for the portal to follow her brother.

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