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The thing about Todd was, that it was easy to hold a grudge when he wasn't around to remind Curtis just how much he missed him. Easy to hold onto grievances when it was just Curtis, wallowing in his own misery. Seeing Todd yesterday and it was all he could do to remember he was supposed to be pissed off, instead of wanting pretty badly to tell Todd about the snake he'd found in the back yard last week, or the awesome mural he'd painted on his bedroom wall, or discuss the new episodes of Metalacolypse, or the stellar idea he'd had about the heavy metal hack and slash video game they'd both been dream planning for the last few years but lacked any ghost of the programming skills needed to bring to life. Any one of a hundred little things that all sounded awesome and brilliant when he talked about them with Todd.
Curtis had never been a deep thinker. He never had been the sharpest tool in the box, but he was affable and easy going and loyal to a fault. He'd never been a popular kid, or even close to it, always being a little clumsy, a little too quick to blurt out less than tactful thoughts as they flitted across his mind, a little red headed and a little fat, which was never a good combination when dealing with the tender mercies of school age kids.
But that was okay, because he'd had Todd who hadn't given a shit about any of Curtis' failings from the day they'd met. Todd who even as a grade schooler was a lot more likely to get up in some bully's face if he was picking on Curtis. For a kid that had been told by his parents on more than one occasion that his injection into the world had been the primary result of a broken condom, finding a friend in Todd had been the best thing that had ever happened in his life. And for some reason, Todd, who hadn't been nearly as socially inept, or redheaded or pudgy had latched onto Curtis like maybe - - just maybe - - he was in as desperate a need.
And Curtis hadn't minded playing the follower, gleefully engaging in the schemes and pranks that Todd generally brewed up. The things Todd liked, he liked. Todd had gotten into Metal and Curtis had developed a taste himself. Todd smoked pot and Curtis was right there at his side. Todd obsessed over a girl and Curtis lamented with him over his lack of success, while his own interest in girls had been sort of a reflexive, afterthought sort of thing. Sure, boobs were amazing things, and porn was wankfastic to watch, but it wasn't like any actual girls had ever even given him a passing glance and Todd's unrequited lusting after Jenny Kolinsky was so overwhelming that it didn't leave a lot of room for Curtis to do anything but sympathize.
But that was okay, because Curtis loved Todd and would have sacrificed anything for him and a love life that probably wasn't going to happen wasn't much of a sacrifice. He forgave Todd all his little unwitting sleights, and Todd did have the tendency to be oblivious to a lot of things, feelings first and foremost, even if he didn't mean to. He even forgave Todd the pot-induced accident that had lost him his arm - - but Hannah - - He couldn't quite get over the loss of her.
Hannah, who'd been quiet and brilliant and little socially inept herself. Hannah who liked him for him, even with all his faults. Hannah who'd been just as red headed as he was, just as awkward and the most amazing girl he'd ever known. Fierce and smart and connected to that damned Book closer than any of them could have known.
Hannah who'd been gentle and thoughtful and had given him the best thing he'd ever gotten in his life, making him a metal, robotic arm that made him feel like a man and a kick ass man at that, instead of a crippled freak. And now she was gone, a casualty to Todd's banishing of the Book. For a long time he'd blamed Todd personally, like it had been a conscious act on his part, a conscious sacrifice. Like he'd had any idea of the consequences of that one act.
Jenny had given him a nasty piece of her mind on the subject before she'd been dragged away by her mom. A sharp tongued reminder that Hannah probably would have died either way. That Todd could have swung the other way and gone Pure Evil and used the power of the Book to most certainly destroy the school and the town, if not a good portion of the world, killing them all.
'He didn't know, you fucktard, so give him a break. He did the right thing,' had been her passing shot. At the time he'd just turned the volume of his ipod up and tried to drown out the echo of her logic.
But there weren't a lot of people that Curtis loved and being angry at Todd over something that might or might not be his fault was really hard.
Walking way when Todd had just told him a group of assholes had tried to run him over with a car - - and having the battle wounds to prove it - - that was close to impossible.
"Dude, class is starting." Randy was waiting for him just inside the doors of the main entrance.
Curtis could have given less of a damn about class at the moment, or about the faint impatience in his new friend's tone. He nodded vaguely as he clomped down the hall towards the math/science room, thinking about the last time he'd seen the Metal Dudes, when they'd proved that they were more than just human. A lot more. He and Todd hadn't done a lot of talking afterwards, about just what they might be, and that was all on him, because every time he'd seen Todd for a while there after Hannah's death, it had just driven home the fact that she'd been stolen from him. He wished he'd made the effort now, because whatever they were, the Metal Dudes were bad news.
"So what'd you want with him? I thought you guys weren't friends anymore," Randy asked casually.
"I didn't say that," Curtis corrected, and he hadn't. Yeah, he'd bitched a little about Todd when Randy had been sharing his weed and Curtis had been feeling talky, but he hadn't said that. "We're just not hanging out."
Randy shrugged. He was a cool guy and all, and he'd taken an interest in Curtis, which was pretty awesome, because Randy was likely the smoothest guy he'd ever met. And he had an awesome car and chicks loved him, and guys - - even bad ass guys - - fell all over themselves to kiss up to him. And maybe Todd hadn't been that far off the mark wondering why he was hanging with Curtis, because Curtis generally didn't attract uber cool, bad ass, Camaro driving friends, but beggars couldn't be choosers and maybe Curtis' cool factor had gone up after the last year of kicking monster ass.
But, Randy could be a little mean and a little bit of a bully and that sat a little wrong with Curtis, who'd been the butt of one too many bullies attentions. And maybe he had dissed Todd a little to Randy, but he hadn't particularly liked it when Randy had been bad mouthing him in the parking lot yesterday. He wasn't even quite sure what had happened, Randy and Todd going on the attack like that.
"You're late, boys," Ms. Dempsey complained, a cup of convenience store coffee and a bagel on the desk, looking like she'd just rolled out of bed. "If I have to be here on time, you have to be here on time.
"Sorry," Curtis muttered, slipping into desk seat. Ms. Dempsey had only a marginally better head for math than most of the kids retaking the course did, so everything she was using was standardized and she was lenient with the grades. In fact, he suspected she wasn't even really checking all the answers through and through, which was fine with him, because he still had trouble remembering some of his multiplication tables, much less algebra.
Todd was in the same boat. They'd spent most of freshman and sophomore year skipping math and getting high, and last year had been devoted to a lot of monster killing - - and getting high - - which hadn't left a lot of time for studying, even if they'd been so inclined. The only reason Todd wasn't here in summer school with him was that after becoming the Pure Evil One at the Semi-formal, his teachers had been afraid to give him failing grades. Fear was a really good motivator to grading on a imaginary curve.
Hannah had been brilliant though. She didn't even have to write complicated math problems down, she could figure them out in her head, like an adorable walkie talkie computer. His walkie talkie computer. He sighed, staring out the window. It hurt a little less, remembering her now. He could smile thinking about her, instead of wanting to go someplace dark and private and cry. He hadn't even wanted to get high for the first few weeks after her death, and that was saying a lot.
He still missed her a lot, but life was getting better again.
There weren't a lot of churches in the town of Crowley Heights. Most towns with a population of some twenty-five thousand residents might boast several hundred places of worship. Crowley Heights had six and two of those had been abandoned, their pastors leaving for greener pastures and places where the pickings weren't quite so slim for a flock of devoted followers. A town plagued by the often mysterious and unexplainable evil generated by the occasional appearance of the Book of Pure evil over the decades had the tendency to scare off the devoutly spiritual. Generations of Satanists influencing the subtle underpinnings of the town hadn't helped encourage the foundation for the following of more sanctimonious deities.
Still efforts had been made over the years, ground consecrated, buildings constructed before giving up their ghosts. And though the town of Crowley Heights didn't boast a great many churches, it did have its fair share of cemeteries, filled with victims of the aforementioned Book.
One such abandoned church, sat at the edge of such a cemetery, the steeple with its peeling paint and the occasional missing board, casting a shadow over the graveyard in late afternoon. The bell was missing, as were no few of the pews and the woodwork that had once graced its interior. Graffiti defaced the walls, both inside and out, but still there was a quiet serenity about the place. A calm in the midst of a town full of storms.
The girl found sanctuary there when the whole of the world was one huge cauldron of confusion for her. She was newborn, birthed in manufactured embryonic fluids and of nutrients fed directly into her veins, although she had no understanding of these things. All she knew was that the world opened up to her one day and she stepped into it, a blank slate, naked as any newborn, into the cold, sterile atmosphere of a laboratory.
She'd fled that place and the creeping, paper skinned people that lived above it, clad only in the thin, print robe one of the bent, withered old women had thrust at her when she'd appeared from the depths of the place. The old men had gaped, offering nothing but open mouthed, toothless stares.
Almost as if it called to her, she'd been drawn to the little picket fence bordered cemetery. The grass had been wet and cool, and tickled bare feet. A sensation to be cherished, as all sensations were. She'd run her hands across the tops of stones, the markings blurry scribbles that she couldn't quite understand. Then she came to the one that made her skin prickle and her heart beat a little faster in her chest. The ground before it had been freshly turned. There was a lone white rose, the petals beginning to curl and wither around the edges. Next to it lay a pair of round lensed glasses. She crouched, the tiniest flashes of understanding coming to her. Like the words the old people had spoken to her, that had been nothing more than gibberish at the start, but that she'd gradually begun to comprehend.
The glasses were like that. It took a moment, but as she reached out and touched them, instinctually she realized what she needed to do with them. The lenses were a little dirty, but when she carefully slipped them on, the world became clear. At least the world close up. She could see the words on the stone now, but they still meant nothing to her and she was tired. Something boomed in the distance, a great rumbling in the sky, followed shortly thereafter with fat droplets of rain.
She'd shivered, the thin cloth of the robe soaking through almost immediately, then ran for the only shelter available. The church.
It should have been a daunting place, dark and abandoned, with one door hanging ajar and a good number of the stained glass window panes shattered by the careless hands of teenagers or satanists, throwing rocks. Instead it welcomed her, the one big stained glass window that was intact casting a soft bluish light down the center aisle. Her shoulder throbbed a little, a curious little itch, as if that single part of her cringed at stepping into this place, this quiet, peaceful ground. Absently she scratched it and soon enough it faded away.
She curled up in the little alcove at the rear of the building, below the stained glass window and slept. And for the first time in her short life, she dreamed dreams. Not particularly imaginative dreams, granted, for her experiences were vastly limited, but dreams all the same. She dreamed of endless floating slumber, and of the giant metal tube she'd awoken in. Not a real girl at all, but a thing, and she experienced another first. Shame.
But the church didn't care. The birds that roosted in the rafters didn't mind, nor the family of mice that stared warily at her with their small dark eyes, as they scurried to and from their hole in the wall. So she stayed, entrenched in her haven, content in her solitude. There was an apple tree behind the church and a long untended, riotous patch of berries gone wild that filled the emptiness of her belly. There were books, moldy forgotten books in the little room off the side of the church, that she looked at over and over, not comprehending the meaning, but fascinated by the idea that something vital must have been contained within. She was ever hungry for knowledge, for the whys and the wherefores of even simple things.
She wasn't exactly content, for there were so many things she didn't know - - that she didn't understand about her very existence, but was afraid to venture into the world and find out - - afraid that the rare people that came to the cemetery loitering about the stone markers would see her as she was - - not a real girl at all.
She hid from those people, cowering in the depths of the church like one of the mice and none of the people ever ventured close enough to disturb her.
No one, until the young woman came. She showed up one day, standing on the little road just beyond the little patch of yard out front and yelled with surprising veracity for such a petite thing, startling the girl out of a late afternoon doze.
"Come out, come out. I know you're in there, little girl."
The girl crept to the dirty window, peering through a corner where the glass had been shattered. The girl outside was dressed all in black. Black pants, black shirt, long ringlets of black hair that framed a face as alabaster as the one remaining statue inside the shell of the church. She had eyes as dark as pitch though - - cold eyes that made the girl shrink back and press her back to the wall beside the window, hoping the girl outside would go away eventually.
The girl outside yelled and little more at her, but after a while, stopped. There was silence then, nothing more threatening than the whisper of the wind through the tall grass outside, the chirp of crickets as the evening shadows grew.
Then, the yelp of a dog and the whimpers of something hurt thereafter. The girl pressed her eye back to the opening, and saw a big, grey dog lying in the little road beyond the fence. It tired to drag itself a little ways, but collapsed, tail thumping, making desperate little whiney sounds.
Human beings terrified her, but animals - - animals she felt empathy for. Still she was wary, moving to peer through another pane to see if the girl was still out there. There was no sign of her. Just the dog, panting and whining in the road. She wrung her hands, afraid to venture out of her sanctuary.
With a deep breath, she made a decision and crept down the aisle to the front doors. The dog looked at her, big silvery eyes, silver tipped grey fur, paws as wide as her hands. A very large dog, that had stopped its whimpering and lay, watching her hesitate at the gate, afraid to take that step beyond the church yard and into the street which led to places that frightened her.
But she did, a sudden burst of bravery, and knelt by the dog, hesitantly putting her hands on fur that looked soft, but felt bristly and rough under her fingers.
"Are you - - all right, dog?" She'd never had the occasion to speak, the mice and the birds not sparkling conversationalists and her voice came out raspy from disuse. The words came slowly, things she'd never uttered, coalescing in her head as she thought them. Curious.
The dog's black gums pulled back in what might have been a growl or a canine grin. Its teeth were very, very long, and very white. Then the snout blurred, the teeth melting, the fur evaporating, the very bones shifting so quickly that between one breath and the next it wasn't a dog lying there, it was a girl - - the girl in black - - who caught her wrist while she was gaping at the amazing transformation and held it in an iron grip.
"Stupid thing. Did you think you could hide in there forever?"
The girl stared, trying to pull away, but the black haired girl's grip was strong.
"Let - - let me go."
The black haired girl smirked at her, rising to a crouch. "Can't do that. You have something I need."
The girl blinked behind her glasses, not understanding. "What?"
"Oh, don't get me wrong, you're just a doll - - an empty shell somebody made in a jar. But you have something precious in you. Something we can't get anywhere else - -"
There was a sudden, sharp pain in her hand, and she cried out, looking down at the small blade the black haired girl's hand and at the deep, seeping slice in her own palm. She whimpered, pulling ineffectually, as the other girl held a small glass vial beneath the dripping blood, filling it to the brim, before she let the girl's hand drop, interest lost now that she had what she wanted. She stoppered the vial and smiled. It was a cold smile that held nothing but malice.
"See? You have a purpose after all." She rose, slipping the vial into her pants pocket and walked away, leaving the girl in the road, clasping her bleeding hand.
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