What will happen next?
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“You ever had that kind of day?”
“Yeah,” she said, knowing what the teacher was saying without the burden of specifics.
The teacher leaned back on the railing. “I’m having one now.”
“Else why’d y’call me, y’know?”
The teacher coughed a grunt in response.
They stood facing in opposite directions, she looking south and west over the city of Honolulu from the 23rd floor, he leaning back-to against the rail of the lanai and looking in on the wreckage.
“Anyway thanks for coming, all the same.” The teacher spread his arms out, gliding along the steel.
“You know I’d do anything for you,” she said, shifting her weight away from him. She looked sad, and her eyes were wet around the rims.
The teacher was staring at what was left of his furniture, his living space, his home life through the glass. “It’s not that big of a deal…”
She actually laughed, shaking her head, wiping under her eyelids carefully.
“Okay maybe it is. But we need to make a decision.”
“You need to make a decision.”
He stabbed a look quickly at her, shocked. A long and heavy moment passed. He looked downward. “They won’t be much longer.”
She too looked down, straight down, twenty-three floors down, to the radiated wreckage on the ground, the pieces of the contents of the teacher’s home that had been thrown off the lanai today. “You see it coming?”
“I did. Somewhere. Somehow. I knew it was inevitable. Denying that didn’t prevent it.”
“Sho’ you’re right.”
He looked again, drinking her in, her dark caramel skin and straight graphite hair quenching the feral part of him just enough to cause him to thirst for more. “Damn you,” he said, matter-of-factly.
“You talk at me like it’s my fault.”
He laughed raucously. “Everything’s your fault.”
She cupped her elbows in her hands and brought her feet together. The tradewinds lifted and moved long hair against sunkissed cheek as she looked out again, to the distant and sinking sun. “If that’s how you feel.”
The teacher’s face grew dark, the blood pushing against his skin, veins distended, fists clenched. But he said nothing.
They didn’t come boisterously, with sirens and screeching tires and battering rams and SWAT gear. No. And the teacher had foreseen this; it was child’s play. Instead: a knock at the door. Soft. His jaw ticked up toward it, his eyes narrowed already.
“I’m sorry,” she said, unmoving.
He didn’t move either. “No.” He pushed off the rail and stood steady, feet wide apart, hands up, palms facing the knock at the door.
She reached into her back pocket.
The teacher tensed.
She drew out black handcuffs with a measure of skill, held them on the flat of the palm of her right hand like an offering to the teacher.
He looked at her, saw her, eye to eye.
The doorknob turned slowly and quietly on the other side of the glass.
“You never knew,” he began, but the door was opening and it was too late. He turned toward it in reflex, taking his eyes from her for the briefest of moments.
She moved too quickly for him. The cuffs out and open, she managed to get one of them on his right wrist, but that was all. He spun away, ripping the cuffs from her control.
The door was wide open, some of the junk on the floor pushed aside in its sweeping arc, and there they were, standing, the only ones that could deter any of this.
She turned to face him, standing, relaxed. He came to a halt at the opposite edge of the lanai in a crouch. He growled; a fearsome noise. The handcuffs fell from his wrist and clattered on the concrete floor of the lanai—but this time they did not melt. She arched an eyebrow in response and looked at him.
His eyes were changing, blackening, and she shouted to those at the door, “It’s happening!”
They rushed in, fifteen of them, one at a time, silent as poison gas, gliding, soft, deadly, pale.
The teacher looked at her again as the metamorphosis took hold. He said it again, and one last time: “You never knew.” He closed his eyes and crouched deeper. The lanai shuddered violently, the concrete floor under his feet becoming liquid. He fell through.
She moved quickly to the edge.
He was gone on a contrail of fire.
The teacher woke gasping for air as a rush of salt water filled his mouth. He coughed and spit sand from his mouth. Rubbing the sting from his eyes, he pulled himself to his feet. He stumbled, nearly losing his balance from the combination of shaky legs and the soft beach under his bare feet. His head was throbbing.
Confusion and question began racing through his mind. Where was he? How did he get here? The last memories that he could get a firm hold on were from the night before on the lanai, if in fact that had been the night before. He knew that there were memories, he could sense them. He just couldn’t seem to form them, like trying to remember a dream after being awake for several hours.
He shaded his eyes from the morning sun creeping over the horizon of the ocean. Looking down he realized his shirt was missing; he was wearing nothing except his pants which were filthy and torn.
“Are you alright?” asked a passing jogger.
He jumped at the voice. He had not noticed her approach.
“Fine,” he said forcing a smile. The look she gave him was more disgust than concern. He stood there watching her until she was nearly out of site. He turned away to take in his surroundings. He knew this beach. He had been here hundreds of times before, back when life was simple before he met… her.
He shook the thought from his head. He started walking, heading back towards town. He needed help and he knew it. Everyone he had trusted had betrayed him, and he was running out of options.
Walking through the parking lot of the beach, the teacher helped himself to a shirt from the open window of a car. The intense feeling of being watched was beginning to overwhelm his rational side. His pace began to quicken, slowly at first and then eventually into a full run. It was still early so the streets were nearly empty, however every person he saw felt like an enemy. He continued to run for what seemed like an hour or more until he finally reached his destination, an older apartment complex.
He climbed the steps to the fourth floor. He found the door marked 413, and began to beat on it furiously. A few moments later the door flung open. The man on the other side of the door stared wide eyed at the teacher as if he were seeing a ghost. He grabbed the teacher by the arm and pulled him inside, slamming the door behind them.
“Carter, what are you doing here?” The man asked angrily.
“Bill…I need...” the teacher had to catch his breath. He was panting so hard from the run that he could hardly breathe let alone speak. He sat down on the couch. Bill left the room; he returned a moment later with a glass of water. Carter took it and drank it down to the last drop. He set the glass on the floor and laid back into the chair.
“Thank you,” he said. “I needed a place to go, Bill.”
“Why did you have to come here, I’m already on suspension from the lab thanks to you.” Bill said still standing. They stared at each other in silence, nether knowing what to say to the other. Finally Bill sighed and sat down in the chair across from him.
“You look like hell you know,” Bill said with a chuckle.
“Bill, we did it,” Carter said. The smile fell from Bill’s face.
“What do you mean, it?”
“It Bill, It!” Carter yelled. “The project we have been working on for five years. What else would I be talking about? It worked, well sort of.”
“Carter, what do you mean sort of?” Bill’s voice sounded nervous.
“We can discuss the specifics later, but right now we have a bigger problem,” Carter said. Then the nervous feeling of being followed flowed back over him. He got up from the couch and closed the curtains on the windows. He returned to couch. “Someone found out.”
“Well of course someone found out, you were working in a public university lab,” Bill’s voice was rising.
“No, we were working out of a hotel. The lab pulled our funding due to lack of results,” The teacher explained.
“I assume you are talking about Laura?” Bill asked. At the mention of her name, the anger he had had the night before began to creep back up on him. He tried to let it go.
“Yes, Laura,” was all he said. Bill could sense the bitterness in his voice.
“Carter, what is going on?”
The teacher took a deep breath. He gave Bill a good long stare before he began talking.
“As you know,” he began. “All the animals we did the tests on had negative results. None of them showed any signs of transformation. So Laura came up with a theory, that the problem wasn’t the formula, but the size of the subject. When we went to the board to get a larger animal, that’s when they decided we were done.”
“So, let me get this straight,” Bill said. His voice sounding more uneasy than ever now. “You got kicked out of the lab, and decided that you would forgo the luxuries of a state of the art university laboratory, and try to develop a chemical that would alter muscle tissue, with a girl one year out of grad school in a sleazy hotel room?”
“When you say it like that, it sounds worse than it really is. It was a pretty nice hotel room,” He gave Bill a half smile.
Bill simply shook his head and stood up from the couch. He passed back and forth about the room, his hands behind his head. Finally he stopped and looked down at the teacher.
“So I take it by your appearance, you’re the bigger animal the two of you wanted to use?”
“How did you know?” The teacher asked.
“Carter,” Bill hesitated, giving him a look of pity. “What do you want from me?”
The teacher opened his mouth to speak, but then stopped suddenly. A small bead of sweat rolled down the side of his cheek.
“Carter, what’s the matter?” Bill asked confused.
Carter sat silent, not looking at Bill. He was looking past him, into the kitchen. Sitting on the counter, out in the open for all to see, was a familiar pair of black handcuffs.