I needed sleep. Two nights in the car wasn’t helping.
I snuggled up by his bed. He’d fallen asleep hours ago and I was happy he had. It stopped me from getting any shadow eye – I listened his breathing as if it was the last thing on this earth. Any minute now and it could end. Nay second and I could miss it. And what would I do? The thought scared me and kept me up together with his breathing.
It was cold here. The damp walls made the inside of the corridor feel like early autumn despite the summer roaming outside.
After the moon lit up the empty corridors, lulling the prayer in the far-end room, I noticed steps coming our way. They were hardly audible, but in the sort of silence this house harbored, I could hear them clearly. So far none of the eighteen students I’d seen hadn’t bothered to sneak like that, so I unlocked the knife from my belt and fixed my fingers around it for easy grabbing.
It was the man from the shadow. He was falling closer soundlessly, stopping ever so often to peak in the rooms before passing the doorways.
The moon made his older figure glow silvery on the edge. I couldn’t tell what color his hair was. He was close to the same height as Fredrick, but bulkier and when he reached his hands out to me, they were covered with web of veins running over his rough skin. I let my knife be. It made little difference. He was probably the closest Fredrick had for a friend and I could use some support around here.
“How is he?” he crouched next to us.
I shook my head, cringing. I couldn’t voice out what I feared, but I hoped he was smarter than this punch here and won’t put it in words.
He didn’t. Instead he reached around my chest and pulled me on my feet. It happened before I could tell forbid him, but when the stinging feet suddenly gave in and I sagged against his side, I understood it was the only way to get me up. To keep me up. My feet had died long ago and now they were filled with led.
I was still leaning against him, my left hand searching support from his shoulder while the right one was searching Fredrick’s pulse.
“They don’t let you in here, do they?” I whispered, ignoring the smoky smell lingering around him.
“I’m their enemy.” He said without elaborating.
“And Fredrick’s your friend.”
“Yes.” he said and let me go, sensing I was now standing firmly on my feet. “When Fredrick messaged me, I started calling through hospitals first, but after I couldn’t find him in any, I realized they hadn’t taken him to hospital at all.”
“I will deal with them later.” I wasn’t sure what I could have done without revealing, who Fredrick really was, but I will think of something, I was sure of that.
“Take in line.” He growled. Our eyes locked and I saw from his eyes that I didn’t want to be part of his revenge. I nodded. Whatever he had planned for them, I would accept it gladly and stand out of his way.
Fredrick moved and the bandages soaked with new blood around all the muscles he moved.
I quietly raised his hand higher and started undoing the knot with one hand. His friend watched me do it for a minute before taking the knife from my side and cutting it through. I pointed at the water bottle I had on the edge of Fredrick’s bed and he misted the bandage before we peeled it off. He was good at wound care, I reckoned, watching him do it quietly and quickly without me having to release Fredrick’s hand.
We finished dressing his wounds and settled back watching him breathing. I didn’t need t look up to know how his eyes kept going between Fredrick and me, calculating the odds of us being together. Eventually he decided to address the issue.
“He didn’t tell me he had a girlfriend.” His voice drawled while he titled his head, observing how I would react.
“I’m not. We worked together and he helped me see the reason where my limited youth got stuck.” To be truthful we’d only known each other for three years. But I wasn’t going to tell a total stranger that Fredrick’s experience, despite his 30s appearance, actually reached closer to 90 years. Definitely helpful to have a wise-ass like that on hand. But now his time was limited and it pained me inside that it had to be through such a silly thing.
“He messaged me yesterday, said he was sick and wanted me here.”
“And like a good friend, you just came?”
He sounded baffled, but I only frowned. We were not lovers. Had never been and he laughed every time when somebody even hinted to it.
“Like you, I came.” I reminded him that he probably ended up here the same way. “We’ve always relied on each other.”
“He owes you something?”
My eyes flashed up in his and I punched him hard to his chest. I appreciated him worrying for his friend, but that was insulting. “Does it matter how I got here? Let it go! He owes me nothing!” I burst to tears and covered my mouth to muffle the sound, and looked away. “He is my friend!”
“I’m sorry.” He turned his eyes back on Fredrick. “It’s just that you’re dealing with it so well.”
I snorted quietly, drying the tears. “Meet me tomorrow.”
“He wanted me here to tell me something.” He changed the subject. “I should wake him up.”
“Not yet. I’ll ask about it tomorrow, if you’d like, and let you know what he wanted to tell you.” I blocked his hand. “Right now he needs to rest if he wants to see the sunrise.”
“He always woke me up to see sunrises.” I patted Fredrick’s hand and calmed him, swiping gently over his chest when it made him stir through his sleep. “Everybody can watch sunsets. But when the Sun rose, he knew he had one more day.”
“Can’t we sneak him out to a hospital?” He was rubbing his hands, eyes fixed on his face. “Steal him away and… If it’s the hospital he fears, I know few, who would keep it private…”
My chest was tight, but all the wishing wouldn’t change the score and I had to shake my head. I understood his need to do something, but right now all we could do, was to give him the best ending we could. “Even if we do get him out, it would be too late.” My own voice sounded like icicle pushed slowly down my spine. “His condition is an end result of their experiment.” I began slowly, unsure how much Fredrick had shared. “He never said he’d stopped taking the solution!” Why would he keep it a secret? Henri had proper method worked out to deal with the setbacks! Why didn’t he call Henri?” I sighed. “He came back every other month to get it! Why would he keep it a secret? Stupid man…” I sighed. “Perhaps he didn’t want to? It gets lonely in long term, after all.”
I felt his stare and coughed, stopping right there with my despair. He had straightened up, peering his eyes in me.
“You’re telling me there’s a cure?”
“No, there is no cure!” I hissed. Hadn’t he payed attention at all? “They only found ways to ease it. He should have gotten it months ago! It’s too late now.”
He was breathing heavily, his jaw twitching. I reached hand out for his, pulled his rigged palm from the edge of the bed and placed it gently on Fredrick’s chest. His entire hand began shaking hard and he did everything in his power to keep his fingers steady so he wouldn’t wake him.
“I can’t let go, he would wake up.” I apologized quietly, hinting why I couldn’t leave them alone.
He took a shaky breath and looked straight at me. “Make sure he gets to enjoy it to its fullest! From beginning to the end!” he demanded. “Make sure!”
“I’ll wake him soon.”
“Ask him, what the message is, and then meet me at the coffee place near the park.”
“I don’t know, where…” but he cut me off.
“It’s behind the house, you get there through the small street on the right.” He pulled his hand away and left quietly, making sure he didn’t step on anything that would make unfamiliar sounds. “I swear those bastards will pay for this!”
I found my knife gleaming from where his left hand had been just minutes ago and returned it on my belt. I was tired, but I didn’t dare to fall asleep.
These were the last hours I could spend with my good friend. Even if he was sleeping. That illustrated quite well how our friendship had always been. We could sit next to each other in total silence until he would stand up and say he forgot he had an appointment two hours ago. He never were keen on meetings. Brought him more trouble than they were worth. Past. All this was now in the past.
Morning came too sudden. It was sounds of the empty house and his breathing, and then it was all gone. The sky began turning and I had no choice but to stern my heart and wake Fredrick.
I was about to shake him, when I heard two girls came home five in the morning, right before the Sunrise began. They came up the stairs, clopping and giggling like fouls, drunk as hell. I stood up to go and tell them off right there, but was caught up with Fredrick’s hand. I didn’t want to let go, but I wasn’t going to tolerate their sick giggling either. It was so inappropriate I wanted to cut their tongues out.
They got closer, their laughing louder thanks to the empty corridor we had to occupy for this cruel night.
We must have been quite a site, for they stopped suddenly and observed us in shock.
“Oh! I forgot!” the shorter girl with shriveled catnip in her hair gasped. “Sorry, we didn’t…” their voices faded, unsure how to apologize for their behavior, but before I could manage something less insulting, they simply disappeared behind the nearest door with quick sorry.
I pressed gently where the man had held his hand and shook him gently. He didn’t move at first. I repeated it, seeing the red flood from my handprint. I cringed, sensing the fluids under my fingers.
“Hey, Fredrick, time to get up!” I coached him, fearing in my heart I had missed the moment.
His fingers closed around mine before he slowly opened his eyes, assuring me he was fine. Then he saw his bandaged hand, he remembered it all and panic rose back to his eyes.
“It’s all right. We have time.” I assured him and pulled the sheet away. He sat up and fixed himself on the edge of the bed.
“My head is spinning all over the place.”
“It’s okay, the whirling will pass.”
I got up, unsure if his headache would pass, considering the blood loss he must have suffered by now, but I couldn’t think of it yet. “I saw a balcony,” I changed the subject, steering it back to what I considered safe. Every word was tearing my dry throat. “Can we get there?”
“You need to pry the door open, but you shouldn’t have any trouble getting it open.”
“So like you,” I wrangled, “leave all the work for me!” I turned, gathering the stuff that was still lying around and tossed them in the bag.
“I need to pee first. Up from the stairs – glass doors on your right. ”
After assuring me, he’d be okay, I left him there, weary if his words were actually to be trusted in his condition.I stepped behind the wall up one floor and waited, holding my breath out of fear he’d faint. But after long time, I finally heard his heavy feet climbing higher from third floor and went ahead.
The doors were actually open and though the entire house was dark like shadows surrounding us, we had no problem finding safe way through the broken glass to the tin roof edge, where three plastic white chairs were situated.
We landed on them, taking in the early smells of the city. I watched him, he watched the horizon. I will never forget his frizzled hair, I promised, watching them fly in the breeze. He winched, elbows rested on his knees. It took my eyes back on the soaking gauze.
“We should change your bandages.” I said watching the sun illuminate the blood soaked clothes, but he refused.
“There’s no point in that.”He entwined his fingers in mine so I would sit still and made me watch the sunrise instead. “Let’s just enjoy the site.”
I reluctantly turned, as he put it to “enjoy”.
The park was clearly visible up here. I could see the S-shaped paths between badly kept flower beds and wild bushes. Might be what the architect was aiming for, but it looked dreadful from here. Behind the second house there looked indeed a small wooden shed and next to it chained up cheep chairs and just as cheep punch of tables. That must be the coffee place.
For the first time in the past dreadful hours I felt good. The little tingling in the heart had eased into background music and despite the aching in my chest, I could calmly sit and forget that anything was wrong. The only thing missing was a glass of wine.
I was brought back to reality by his wheezy breathing and coughing. He brushed the blood away with the bandages around his hands. I ignored it, biting in the cheek. “Enjoy it,” his order echoed in my empty head, but my lips were sealed to offer any comment on the obvious.
“You had visitor yesterday.” I remembered suddenly. I wanted to hear his voice more. His brows furrowed before reckoning, who I might be talking about.
“Rasmus.” He nodded tiredly. “You’re meeting with him today?”
“Yes, he took that promise of me.” So, his name was Rasmus?
“Let him know that the wasp nest is ready to be killed off.” He said while we watched the cafe coming to life through one tiny lady’s efforts.
“He’ll be pleased. He swore to take out every wasp leaving this nest.”
His fingers crunched around mine for a second and eased again.
“I believe some of them could be speared…”
I pressed my lips in thin line from the pain. I’d been here a day and even I agreed with Rasmus. “They are just so stupid! Like in cross-section of a century stupid!”
I raised his hand to my lips and gave it a gentle kiss.
“Oh, I know.” He agreed without hesitation, then his banter failed. “Actually, I had a message for you, too…” His eyes trailed off the horizon and stopped on the rusty railing. “Your father’s in town.”
“He’s after Saul’s people now.”
I let out a long sigh.
“Saul’s people?” I felt confused, but he continued without noticing.
“He killed two last time and then he disappeared. He stopped, because Rasmus made the whole village leave in course of one night. Now they have gathered again and Stepan is on the roll. Again.” He paused to breath deeper. It was becoming hard for him. “You know how to find him. You were tracking him long before Rasmus got his scent down.”
“What has this to do with me? He is the killer, not me.”
“Mykola reported you to Social Movement.”
I rubbed my brows pressing down the urge to scream, ugly suspicion growing. “For a dead man he sure gets around a lot.”
“I saw him two months ago. He is very much alive and kicking.”
Not dead. I swooned against the back of the chair head filled with explosive fireworks. Mykola was not dead!
“He got shot, yes, but he didn’t die. It was flesh wound. When they accidentally reported him dead on radio, he used it to make a clean cut. You taking Regina out – now that was surprise. If they find out, it will be third generation manslaughter, thus – you and everything coming from your line will get the gift from our government.”
“I know the laws – clean-up kill.” I exhaled harsher than I expected. It was the worst of times for the upper crust of society to get social conscious. They created Social Movement, which became the frontier for vigilantes keeping our streets safe by removing those, who would be deemed dangerous to good citizens. The scientific, rational way. In reality they were fancy cover for punch of hideous monsters, who used their twisted ways to define the society.
I admit the group that started it all did scare our parent’s generation with the killing spree caused by the sudden relapse in their medication, but nobody saw it coming when they continued their martyr cleaning work after that. The worst part was they were the ones, who did the talking while our parent’s generation opted them to do the right thing for common good without forcing them to deal with the ugly truth themselves. It was too late, when it came out how far their plans actually led.
“They know I’m his daughter?”
“Mykola is hunting him down himself as we speak – if he gets to your dad first, he’ll get the DNA proof he’ll need to get you killed on spot.” I might have been dead serious for he snorted quietly and brushed my cheek. “You can swear if you want. I know I did, when he told me.”
He was right for I did want to curse. “When did you see him last?”
“A month ago.”
Considering the state he was in, I couldn’t keep from guessing. “Is that when you stopped taking the medicine?” I tried to pull the hand free, but he wouldn’t budge. He had so much promising for him, and yet here we sat, facing the consequences.
“Medicine?” He burst laughing. “Oh, darling! We both know it’s last century poached alchemy!” He pulled my hand up and kissed it with red tear rolling over his bruised cheek. Then he reached for my head and pulled me closer for a long, last kiss on my cheek. “Kill the whole experiment! Please!”
I embraced his hand with tears and kissed it before hugging him strong.
“Go now, Rasmus will come soon.”