In The Midnight Of His Heart
By AL BRUNO III
April 26, 1993
His mind swam in and out of consciousness, mixing reality, memory and fantasy. Sometimes he was conscious of the fact he was dreaming but no matter how aware he was John couldn't muster the will to fully awaken. After all, what did he have to awaken to?
In his mind he saw Victor and Phil as they were in the nineteen-fifties. Though they spoke in his presence, he was in no way a part of the conversation- he was merely there to guard them in case one of their experiments went awry.
“Human beings make two basic mistakes in life.” Victor said as he finished binding the test subject to the table.
Phil gagged the test subject and then grabbed a pair of shears from the workbench, “What might that be?”
Turning from the table, Victor scanned his bookshelves for the appropriate tome. A tiny grin tugged at the edges of his mouth as his fingers lovingly clasped the 700 year-old volume, “The first is to believe that anyone can ever truly know us.”
Shears in hand Phil began to cut away the struggling test subject's clothes. He nodded as his mentor spoke.
“And second is that anyone will ever truly love us.” The ancient volume fell open to the appropriate passage. He surveyed the test subject's body and grimaced, “Get rid of all that hair would you?”
“Yes sir.” Phil chose a cruel-looking razor from one of the workbench's many blades. Suddenly he paused, “What about Zara?”
Victor's attention was buried in the book, “What about Zara?”
“Don't you love her?”
The older man snickered, “Zara will make me immortal, how could I not love her?”
John shifted painfully on the bloody mattress, and looked around. It was nighttime again. Someone had closed the windows and the tang of antiseptic cloyed at his nostrils. Phil sat on the floor beside him, a knapsack filled with sandwiches and medical supplies at his feet. He was awake, watching over him. The realization gave John the first glimmer of happiness he'd felt in days. He wanted to speak, he wanted to tell Phil that Victor was wrong but fatigue claimed him before he could part his dry lips.
Asleep again, he dreamt of his childhood. Of chasing fireflies through the night-shrouded labyrinth of green. His parents and sisters were far behind, he couldn't see them but he could smell them whenever the wind blew the right way. Somewhere overhead an owl was hooting from a high tree branch. Eventually he lost interest in the flitting sparkles of light and he began to explore his surroundings.
He came upon the remains of a pair of hunters, half-consumed with decay. Their wanderings must have brought them too close to his family's lodge. Curious, he examined one of the spent shell casings that littered the ground. His senses told him the story of the terribly one-sided conflict that had erupted here. His parents sometimes spoke of a time when such occurrences were prevented from happening, but that was in an age when the members of the High caste still upheld their sacred responsibilities. As one of his fathers had said, it was now up to the Common-Born to protect themselves.
Somewhere off in the distance his mother began to scream. A cold alien stench filled his nostrils. John remembered running through the woods, his mind spinning with terror, his heart hammering. Whoever was hurting his mother, he vowed he would hurt them back. Fear made all the familiar shadows of the forest take on a sinister aspect, tree branches flailed at him as he passed, stones and roots bit at his bare feet. He felt like he was being followed, but whenever he turned back, he saw nothing.
By the time he reached the Lodge, his mother had fallen silent, she was dead, as where all three of his fathers. His sisters stood back to back, their teeth gnashing, surrounded by creatures with harsh, inhuman anatomies.
They never stood a chance.
All he could do was watch. He wanted to do more, he wanted to call up the Metastasis and let it race like fire through his body but the truth was he was just a boy, and there was nothing he could do.
A hand clamped down hard on his shoulder, a deep voice whispered to him, “Be still boy, they won't hurt you so long as you're under my protection.”
He looked up into what he took to be the face of a nobleman, elegant features with dark eyes and a razor-thin smile. The boy opened his mouth to speak, only to be silenced with a stern glance.
“Be quiet now, and come with me.” Victor Kovach offered him his hand. The boy took it and the last vestiges of the life he might have known fell away forever. “You want to live don’t you?”
Waking again, John groaned. The sun warmed him.
How long had he been asleep?
Zara had taken Phil's place, she sat cross-legged at the foot of his mattress her nose buried in a book. He tried to sit up but found he was too sore to do anything more than toss and turn. Zara saw him stirring and set the book on the floor, “John? How are you feeling.”
His voice was a haggard whisper “Tired.”
“That's no surprise.”
Zara stood and stretched, “I'll get you some water.”
“Thanks.” he said as he watched her go. He sifted through the scents in the room- Zara and her books, Phil and his furtively smoked cigarettes. As far as he could tell he'd been unconscious for over a week. This wasn't his old mattress he realized but a new one with a plastic slipcase, it felt clammy against his skin. Zara and Phil were in his kitchen, John listened to them talk.
“How is he?”
“Any permanent damage?”
“I'm not sure.”
“Not sure? How can you not be sure? You're a doctor!”
The gurgle of a faucet running.
“Of human anatomy Phil, when it came to Sig all I could ever do was guess and pray.”
“So, he still might die?”
“Yes. It’s up to him. Does he want to live?”
“He damn well better want to live after all the happy-crappy he’s put us through.”
John closed his eyes and remembered Victor’s question from long ago, forever. “You want to live don’t you?”
Do I? He wondered to himself, Do I?