VIII: Adjustment

There comes a moment, as you approach death, whereupon you realize that there is no more life left to live—no more frolicking on the sun bathed hills outside the city; no more puppies; no more hugs. Only that looming spectre of the interminable unknown; always with you, but now rather more apparent.

This moment occurred for Frank Marrus as dark hands joined the eyes and teeth below him, gripping at his feet and fists like six tiny vices. He fought at them, kicking and swinging, struggling to cling to the tree and what was left of his existence. But on some level, he knew this was it. In fact, it made sense—if he was honest with himself, he understood that he had only survived the previous day by a combination of sheer luck and happenstance. And really, death probably wouldn’t let itself be cheated twice in one day.

But there was no room for lament or reminiscence. Abruptly, his body was seized by the fall and gravity’s siren sound surged through his veins, leaving him quite unable to contemplate anything at all. He turned upside down, his eyes quivered, and his head plumbed the hard earth, snapping and smashing his neck into a purpled trunk and tossing his body to where it rested, a few feet away, trembling with the last sparks of life.

Soon after the world had passed away, the dark creatures gathered around his flesh, snapping and growling at each other, flicking their thick, fox-like tails side to side and licking their chops. They took hurried bites between snaps at each other, growling as they contested the succulent meal. But before an accord could be reached between them, the woman came dashing out of the cave, shining her light every which way, face contorted with panic.

They tried to move the body, and even put up a reasonable effort to fight her when she flung herself swinging and crashing into their midst; but she was a force greater than they could contend with, and her whip-like lashes, thrusting and twirling from her fingertips; and her steel blue electric cosh; and her pulse-stopping, nerve flaring, body breaking nanomachines, soon left the forest floor misty with blood, lashed from their bodies, and marked with white chunks of bone, redly glistening, beaten from their skulls.

Its two brethren defeated, the third attempted an escape; but her wrath pulled it back in, black cords lassoing at its metallic legs. Her eyes streaming, her breath fiery with agonizing chest, she put aside her toys, slipped off her gloves and slammed her fist into its monstrous face over and over, blood flecking her body as it burbled and spurted from the monster’s puny, caved in nose, its sunken eyes blackened and bulging with fluid, its skin redly tearing beneath her breaking fingernails…

Metal legs hissing and clicking with hydraulic shudders over useless, scrambling paws, its body seized beneath her pummeling. And then she could do no more. She broke down, sobbing over the desecrated dark animal, her hands dripping and shaking as her eyes. She crawled to Frank’s body and lifted him into her arms, her tears and the creature’s blood soaking his hair as she stroked at his wet face, his mask torn away the beings and the fall. If there were any more creatures in those trees, they now held the fear of God at the sight of that woman, rocking silently back and forth, impaired by utter disbelief.

In her mind, she saw his eyes open, resplendent with life, and she turned his face to hers, hoping it was some sort of premonition—She recoiled at the sight, and then pulled him even closer to her body, not willing to look again. But the image was firmly planted in her mind—of the flesh, ragged and torn by blood thirsty claws; of an eye, snatched out by hungry jaws. She cried and hunched closer, as broken and battered in ways as the dead she held.

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