The Division • Blood: Winter 1990 • Torgus the Angel
Note: This story is being pubbed in serial form. You should probably start with EPISODE 1.
It’s late. Or early.
Marissa sways, drunk, on the wide, curving deck outside the dwelling where the monorail deposited her.
This building, like all of the others surrounding it, could have been somewhere in Nebraska. On the green lawn directly below her deck, the white froth of a fountain catches the golden light warming her face and playing off the windows of the structures rising around her. It is the soft light of Mid-American Suburbia, forever caught in that fleeting transition between late afternoon and early evening. Miles away, the mountain-sized stalagmite that is DimCor, Inc. marks the boundary between dark and light. Leaning out over the railing, Marissa can just glimpse the shadowline stretching away to the left and right of the Factory, at the edges of this idyllic bubble.
Welcome to the Division. Kelley Robadu’s last words to her as the monorail sped away. The Division would appear to be the size of a small town—perhaps Gothenburg or Waverly. The luxurious condo bestowed upon her by Kelley Robadu is on the top floor of one of the tallest buildings. The flat’s sheer size is dizzying, with rounded corners and circular cove lighting. On the walls to either side of the sliding glass doors are globes that glow acid-pink, with the silhouetted depiction of what appears to be a rape in progress, accompanied by a steady stream of industrial dance music.
She fights the thoughts and memories threatening her sanity: she is something small, kept, tamed into submission like some starved cat suddenly placed in the lap of luxury. The desperate sounds of the prisoner echo in her mind as the Caregiver joyride comes back to her, and her hands cover her ears as if to drown out the horror.
In the kitchen is a refrigerator. In the door of the refrigerator is a window. And behind this window is an ornate, transparent gas tank whose contents shimmer a delicate silver.
Marissa has not touched the potion. Not yet. Her thoughts of koolaid are at war with thoughts of the other thing, that once seen cannot be unseen: the rotary phone on the kitchen wall, just below one of the globes. In all of the many places they have been, she can’t remember seeing a telephone anywhere. Not that she was on the lookout for one in the midst of the dark carnival beyond the Division’s borders. Now, the choice lies before her: Take the hit and douse the heat beginning to simmer beneath her skin, along with the despair of being trapped in this land of living death…or make a call. Her heart has begun to race: Tori.
She has dialed the prefix of the Marshalls’ home number before she even realizes she has crossed the room. The receiver pressed to her ear, a cold thought pierces the haze of alcohol. What better way to lead Kelley straight to the origin of her antimagic than to pick up this phone and let her trace the call?
Marissa’s hand is still hovering over the dial, her mind in torment. Then she dials a random combination of numbers. As the dial spins home, she realizes it is not random at all; this is the line number for the Pot O’ Gold. There is a series of strange clicks. Then the ordinary sound of ringing on the other end. One ring. Two. She holds her breath, knowing she should hang up, but hurting to hear a familiar voice again—even Mitch, the restaurant’s foul-tempered owner.
Beep-beep-beep. “We’re sorry. The number you have dialed is no longer in serv—”
The line goes dead. She holds her breath, paralyzed, listening to a waiting silence.
The silence of the thing on the other end, the thing that has been listening to her all along.
She wrenches the phone from her ear and slams it into the cradle, staggering against the marble curve of the kitchen island and knocking a barstool over as she falls. From this new position on the floor, she stares up at the phone on the wall, waiting for it to start ringing, ringing, ringing.
But there is no sound other than the crashing of her own heart.
It is then that she crawls to the fridge, slides the window open, grasps the shimmering tank. Sitting on the cold kitchen floor, she fumbles at the valve, the pipe clattering in her teeth. And now the potion’s cold song is lifting her like vapor, turning everything beautiful as she closes her eyes, and then she is falling up through blackness, falling like crystals of frozen rain.
Hours later, when she awakens from her stupor, she will look up at a bare wall and wonder if the telephone was part of some inebriated dream. The spheres will light up, repeating the dark, sensuous face of an announcer from room to room. “One hour until first shift.” A wink of one heavily-lined eye. “One. Hour. But for all you nooners and nighters—let me show you how to live.” As he licks a tube of something blue and sparkly, the picture will pan across the streets and canyons, delivering its relentless montage of brutality and stupidity, set to frenetic dance beats.
Blood: Winter 1990
“Marshall—you’re off.” Mitch’s voice startled me out of a dark daydream. “Go home, get some sleep.”
“But it’s only ten,” I said. My shift ran to midnight. I’d come straight to the Pot O’ Gold from Intro to Atmospheric Science, and had dozed off on dinner break while trying to get some studying in.
But here stood Mitch—actually looking at me. And this was weird because unless he was yelling at me, he usually acted like I wasn’t there. “Streets’re slick. Temp’s in the single digits. Not a lot of action tonight. Think we can handle it without you.” His sentences always got clippy when he was upset, and I braced for the onslaught. Finally, he grumbled: “Someone came by last night.”
“Asking about your friend. The Kelvin girl.”
“What? Who was it?” Forgetting to be blasé, I took a step towards him.
Mitch shuffled his feet. “Young. Blond. Asked if there’d been any clues about her whereabouts.”
“What’d she look like?” I asked.
He frowned. “I just told you. Short blond hair. A little younger than you. Big blue eyes.” He looked uncomfortable. “I say: Who’re you. She just gives this great big smile and says: A friend. I say: If you were her friend, you’d already know they don’t have any clues—not to public knowledge, anyhow.”
My mind was racing, trying to think of any friend of ours who looked like that. But Mitch was right, for once: who could possibly not know the investigation had so far turned up nothing? The whole school, all the other Lincoln schools, all the parents—everyone knew. The posters were still all over town. Every week or two, a blip on the local news. “Then—” Mitch cleared his throat, looking down. “She said she was sorry to hear that…and did Marissa have any friends she hung out with.”
I could hardly contain my excitement. Could this girl have some clue we’d missed? “Did you give her my number?” I asked eagerly.
“Didn’t give her squat.”
“You mean, you didn’t tell her about me?”
“She was some kind of imposter. You go on home now.”
The morning after that strange conversation, I was trudging across campus towards Andrews Hall when I noticed the Red Cross Bloodmobile parked in front of the student union. What sounded better—College Comp or relaxing on a cot with a free pass and cookies? I veered away from Andrews and headed towards the big white van.
One of the phlebotomists gave me the medical form to fill out, then led me to a cot under the window. “Someone will be with you shortly,” he said. Behind me, the door opened, admitting a small gust of winter air before closing again. Light steps came up the stairs and down the aisle between the cots.
“Hiya!” said a bright, bubbly voice, and I looked up to see a cute blond girl in a lab coat and latex gloves grinning down at me. My heart leaped, but only for a second, and I realized I’d been unconsciously on the lookout for anyone fitting that general description.
“Hi yourself,” I told the stranger, resolving to keep a tighter rein on my emotions. “You don’t look old enough to be going around sticking needles in people.”
Her robin’s-egg blue eyes twinkled with sudden hilarity. “Oh, I’m a lot older than I look!” she giggled. Her laughter was infectious, and I relaxed as she tied a rubber strap around my arm and examined my antecubital area. “So, where ya from?”
“Oh, yeah? Go Links, huh?” She handed me a red foam heart-shaped toy and closed my hand over it, showing me how to squeeze.
“Oh, you’re a Southeaster, then.”
“Yup.” I looked down and realized she’d already slid the needle in without my noticing.
The girl frowned in thought. “Didn’t somebody from there go missing last year?”
I was silent a moment. “Yeah. A friend of mine.”
Her eyes softened. “Oh man, sorry. I get diarrhea of the mouth sometimes.”
“It’s okay,” I said, recovering. “People are so afraid to talk about it, but it’s not like she died. I mean, she could come back tomorrow.”
“Killer attitude! What makes you feel like she’s coming back, though?”
“Just a feeling. She was—is—really tough, you know?”
“Tough, how? Like, super-strong? Or does she have, like, magical powers or something?”
The hilarity of the question shocked me into laughter. The girl laughed along until I finally got it back together. “I just mean she doesn’t take crap from anyone.”
“Gotcha. Hey, keep squeezin’ and I’ll be back to check ya.” She patted my shoulder and disappeared up the aisle. I lay back with a sigh, my eyelids already growing heavy. Our spontaneous conversation had given me a feeling of lightness and release, after so many months of sadness and silence.
All at once, I squeezed the heart extra hard, jittering the needle. The weather had been clear when I got here, but now I felt a stirring…a hastening. Outside the window, the sky that had been pale winter blue rapidly darkened. As I watched, a giant, wraithlike shadow skimmed above the gathering clouds, followed by another…and another. I’d never seen so many angels at one time. Then, slowly, the whole sky began to turn, the cloud mass becoming a vast wheel before disappearing above blinding curtains of snow. The Bloodmobile rocked and creaked with the powerful gusts sweeping the campus, and I glimpsed people running this way and that, seeking shelter from the storm.
“Whoa, dude!” said the blond phlebotomist from somewhere up front.
I started to sit up. “Hey, can somebody—I—I need to make a phone call.” In a very short time, this thing was going to immobilize the city.
“Chill, bud,” said the girl, returning to my side and easing me back onto my pillow. “Your bag’s full, but stick around for cookies and juice.” She deftly removed the needle and bandaged my arm. I looked around for the plastic pouch filled with my blood, but it had disappeared. “Wouldn’t wantcha getting light-headed out there in the middle of a blizzard!”
I meant to ignore her orders and head for the payphone in the food court, but as soon as I stood up, the world swam before my eyes and I swayed. “Easy there, Geronimo. Take a load off.” The girl helped me into a seat by the door and handed me a bottle of cranberry juice and a snickerdoodle.
I drank gratefully, my head slowly clearing. As I finished the cookie, the van ceased rocking. Outside the window, the snow had stopped as suddenly as it had arrived. I leaned against the glass, looking up at patches of sky beginning to show through the clouds, which had stopped circling and were now breaking up and drifting away. “Wow, weird,” I said.
“Yeah, right?” said an older male voice. I turned around. The only person nearby was the guy who’d taken my driver’s license when I first arrived. I looked past him, down the aisle. The blond girl was nowhere to be seen. “You okay now, honey?”
“Yeah, thanks.” I shrugged into my coat, grabbed my backpack, and stepped down, blinking, into a cloudless winter day, the new layer of snow already melting into the slush.
I was in my room changing for work when Dad called from the bottom of the stairs. “Hey, sweetheart. Isn’t this your boss?” I went down into the living room, where he was watching the local evening news.
On the screen was a newspaper photo of Mitch from several years ago, unsmiling as always, posing in front of the Pot O’ Gold on its grand opening day, as a voiceover continued: “…discovered alone, barricaded in a basement closet in his own home, clutching a loaded gun with no bullets fired.” I stood there as the words washed over me, my skin constricting into cold goosebumps. “He was peacefully disarmed by police and restrained for his own safety before being transported to Bryan LGH for treatment for dehydration and further evaluation…”
I finished getting ready and drove to the restaurant. I didn’t know what else to do.
At work, I tried to tune out the crazy rumors already flying—the ones about how his hair had gone completely white, how he couldn’t even remember his own name. People are stupid. Echoing in the back of my mind were the last words he’d said to me, his eyes downcast in that awkwardness that passed for sympathy. Some kind of imposter.
The Pot O’ Gold shut down. Barely a month later, the place was up and running again under new ownership. The old, cartoonish sign depicting a leprechaun sitting atop a pot brimming with coins was replaced by one with a checkered tablecloth, DownHome Kitchen printed across it in bold red script.
Over the months that followed, I remained watchful for a blond girl with blue eyes, someone I might have known but forgotten. I even went around to all the area high schools and looked through their yearbooks. No luck.
Torgus the Angel
That was a close one. Your conversation with the Nameless meant nothing to You, of course.
According to Daath, certain folk at the NFMA have conjured some infernal charm that hides It from our sight—until It becomes a direct threat to You. Then, Little Speaker, You become an acid test, and It is unmasked by Your glorious light. Only when the threat recedes does the Nameless fade from view again.
And according to Daath, whose memory can be quite imaginative at times, a chilled sample of Your blood was tested in some accursed chymistry lab, perhaps alongside many more samples—blood, urine, hair, etc.—from the father, known friends, and classmates of Marissa R. Kelvin (Driver’s license no. G20113211, DOB 04-04-1972, Sex F, Eyes Blu). If so, Your test results would have been negative, for the magic flowing through Your veins is a magic even older than the thing that walked away from that big white van, pocketing Your blood bag.
And so, the shadow passed over You, thinking no more of You than You thought of that pretty young Bloodmobile girl.
Copyright © 2018 by Shoshana Sumrall Frerking
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead, or otherwise, is purely coincidental.