Apologies to all for the momentary blip of a too-long un-cut post to everyone on my FList. It will be fixed within seconds of the posting. I promise.
Also, just some quick timing notes for everyone on the schedule for story posts.
The part after this is not as clear as I need it to be and it's frankly a mess, so there will probably be no story part on Thursday, but it will definitely be up on Friday the latest. If I manage to get it up on Thursday, there'll probably be no story part on Friday so I can bat clean-up on the part after next.
As I explained in comments to someone, I think, the whole story is written, it's just that I wrote this story very, very fast to make the deadline, so I'm going back and basically doing a lot of editing and messing around within the various story parts themselves. That's why I'm unsure how many parts there actually are to this story. The page count keeps fluctuating on me.
It's also why I'm hit or miss on answering everyone's great comments. I'm racing ahead just ahead of all of you on clean-up so I can get a part up on an almost daily basis. It's an exercise in running, let me tell you.
Also, I'll be away this weekend doing the mom-and-daughter thing. Mom's birthday is in January and she's at that age where she really doesn't need anything. So I take her to lunch and movie instead. Since she hates February with a passion, I do my thing on a month delay. So absolutely no part will be posted Saturday and Sunday. I won't even be home.
So regular posting will resume on Monday. Promise.
This part is a little nerve-wracking for me to post. As I explained above, when I first blew through this part, I didn't think too closely about how I was saying something. It appeared that my Id had taken control of my hands and, well...
Anyway, when I re-read this for editing and polishing, there was more than a little eeeeping on my part because, I swear, I don't remember writing this part like that. So I tore it down and re-wrote the whole thing.
The problem was the polished part said what I wanted to say, but it didn't show it as well as the original. I've debated back-and-forth and forth-and-back about it.
In the end, the original won. I kept the parts that made me go "Eeeeeep!" and merely polished up what I had.
In short, Id-girl won out. When Id-girl wins, creepy-ness and a little squickiness is sure to follow.
You've been sort of warned.
For Scatterlings and Orphanages Africander Fiction Challenge by ludditerobot.
For all previous parts, go here.
Continued from Part 23.
My conscience would be clear. I would stop a dangerous man before he irreversibly harmed the Council or posed a threat to its work in Africa. I would allow a second potentially qualified man a chance to become a Watcher. I would help the health clinic and school plant their roots more firmly in the soil of Mali, to the point where the Council would have to tread carefully to uproot either one.
I smiled.I knew I would sleep the sleep of the just that night.
I would like to say that my realizations allowed me to sleep easy.
Alas, that was not to be.
However, it was not a troubled conscience that bothered me. It was the facilities.
The sleeping pallet was lumpy and every movement of my body caused the grasses stuffed inside the ticking to crunch in a way that was far too loud for my liking. Someone had gone through the trouble to put fresh filling inside it, probably because they assumed they were doing the next occupant a favor.
The other problem was the mosquitoes. I had somehow managed to trap a number of them inside the mosquito net with me when I crawled into bed. I spent far too much time slapping at the nasty blighters in the dark. Worse, every time I thought victory was in my reach, I would lay down only to discover I had yet more of the blasted bugs that needed killing.
I finally gave up and out of sheer frustration, unhooked the mosquito net and tossed it aside. I didn’t see the purpose of leaving it up if it failed to do its job and keep the evil creatures out. Once the mosquito net was down, I shrouded myself in the blanket on the bed so that not one bit of my skin was exposed. It was a very good thing that the temperature had dropped to its nighttime chilliness so my body did not become overheated by this tactic.
Despite everything, I still managed to drift off to sleep, although I was almost certain I would never reach the shores of blessed slumber. The only reason why I know this was the case was because I was troubled by a dream.
In my dream, I ran through a small village of mudhuts. I ran from door to door and pounded for entry. I cried and screamed that I was about to be caught and that I needed to hide from the thing that chased me.
I sensed, more than saw, the hulking shadow that stealthily followed in my footsteps.
Even though I could see light shining through the chinks around the shutters and doors, not one occupant opened their home in answer to my prayer for safe haven.
After I had completed my fruitless task of pounding on every door, I ran again to the center of the village, perhaps hoping to try again. When I made it, an unholy, undulating, cry from a thousand female voices sprang to life. I spun around me in a desperate search for the source, yet none could be found. In an effort to drown out the aural assault, I clapped my hands over my ears.
Still the full-throated cry washed over me. It surrounded and overwhelmed me to the point that I was forced to my knees. I cried out in counterpoint to the wild sound, but my voice was snatched from me and I was left without any voice at all. I shut my eyes, expecting to be killed by the owners of those voices, and waited for the final blow.
The sound suddenly stopped.
I cautiously removed my hands from my ears, opened my eyes, and slowly lifted my head.
Before me stood a wild woman of Africa. She was dressed in no more than rags and her feet were bare. Her long, untamed hair gave me the impression that it had never known a comb or brush. Her face had a mask of painted-on white and her eyes and lips were surrounded by circles of the blackest kohl. Her visage more closely resembled a skull than one made of flesh and blood. She crouched like an animal and her hands and fingers extended like claws as she stole closer and closer to me, borne on light footsteps that seemed to barely touch the earth.
She quietly snarled and yipped, as she began to circle around me. I could swear that I also heard sniffing sounds, as if she were making an attempt to capture and memorize my scent. It seemed to me she was more animal than human.
I cringed inward, terrified that this creature might touch me.
“There’s really nothing you can do about her,” said a male voice behind me.
In my shock, I fell on my bottom and scrambled in the dirt to turn around and find the man who spoke. As I did so, I remained mindful to keep myself low to the ground and out of reach of the half-woman, half-animal that continued to circle me.
“You,” I snarled.
Mr. Harris stood before me with his hands in casually tucked in his pockets and watched me with a faint air of amusement. However, he was sans eyepatch and his left eye, the one that had been lost in Sunnydale, had been restored to his face.
“She’s really impossible to ignore, you know,” Mr. Harris said casually.
The creature broke away from me and began to circle him. She occasionally reached out to gently touch him — on the arm, on the shoulder, on the hip, on the thigh, on the chest, it didn’t seemed to matter — and would lean forward to take a very deep sniff, as if she were inhaling his scent to the point of being overwhelmed by it.
I was rather disappointed that she didn’t use her claws to rip him to shreds.
I was even more disappointed to realize that the sounds she made had changed to tones that revealed she was rather more pleased with the new object of her obsession.
Strangely enough, Mr. Harris seemed to be equally in her thrall. Every moment of contact resulted in a sharp indrawn breath through his mouth and every loss of it resulted soft groan. In response to every deep inhalation of the creature, he closed his eyes and seemed to be baring his neck to her. There was something almost sexual about his willingness to be helpless before her, even though he was quite a bit larger than she was. He was, to my eyes, a short step away from falling at her feet and allowing her to have her way with him if she but indicated the desire.
It was obscene.
“What is this perversion?” I whispered. “I will have you keelhauled for this, Mr. Harris.”
Mr. Harris’s unfocused and hazed eyes rested on me. “It’s the way it’s always been.”
The creature disappeared behind him.
“She’s not the source of everything that’s wrong with you,” Mr. Harris’s voice became steadier. You can’t run from her.” His voice became unforgiving and hard as if he were passing judgment. “You can’t hide from her."
At this point, the creature’s head popped out from behind him. Her sudden reappearance startled me so much that I crabbed backwards in the dirt. In response to my weak escape attempt, the creature smiled a feral smile that enhanced the skull-like nature of her war paint.
“Believe me, I’ve tried,” Mr. Harris said. “Didn’t work out.”
“I hardly see you chained to the earth,” I growled at him.
He raised his eyebrows with surprise. “I am the chain to the earth. I am the keeper of the heart and soul. I am the shield to the weapon. I am the human face.”
The creature circled her arms around Mr. Harris’s waist from behind, but kept her unsettling kohl-rimmed eyes on me. In response Mr. Harris closed his eyes, threw back his head, leaned back against her, and shivered with a long draw-out groan.
I derisively laughed. Why I couldn’t say.
Mr. Harris again focused on me, but this time his eyes were sharper than an kestrel’s and he seemed, for lack of a better phrase, more in the present than he had been. A smile played around his lips, but it was more a predator’s smile and a human one.
This, for some reason, caused me to laugh harder at him.
Rather than accept the insult I intended, his smile turned into a grin that matched the ferocity of his companion’s, as if he were amused by my attempt to put him in his place. “I didn’t say I was your chain,” he sneered
“And who do you chain to the earth?” I asked snidely. “What sort of sad Slayer would accept a whipping boy raised by mongrels for her sacrificial stone?”
The creature heard the insult for what it was and growled angrily at me. She bared her teeth to show her willingness to rip out my throat if Mr. Harris said the word.
“The one who needs me already owns me,” Mr. Harris said while his eyes silently laughed at me. “What you think isn’t important.”
“We will see about that,” I stiffly said.
“The chain’s impossible to break,” he said. “I’ve tried that, too. In the end, we all submit.”
“And who should I submit to? You?” I challenged him.
“I’m not your chains. I can’t submit to you,” Mr. Harris said evenly, “but you’re still my problem. They won’t let you choose your chains. I can’t allow that. She won’t let me.”
“Who? That animal wrapping herself around you?” I demanded.
At a lightening fast pace, the creature untangled herself from Mr. Harris and lunged for me. Faster than my eyes could move, Mr. Harris laid a gentle hand on her shoulder, which strangely enough seemed to stop her forward momentum. Her hate-filled glare remained fixed on me, her muscles tensed with the desire to tear me to pieces, yet she didn’t follow through for the sake of that light tough on her shoulder.
“See?” he said. “Chain.”
“Control,” I said with a nasty tone.
He frowned in confusion, as if my statement didn’t make sense. “A reminder,” he corrected me.
“Of what?” I snidely asked. “What can you possibly tell her that she doesn’t already know?”
Instead of answering my question, Mr. Harris said, “She doesn’t ever let go. Once she sees you, you belong to her.”
I had to take a mental step back before I realized that Mr. Harris was making no sense at all. “You are the chain.”
“If you’re the chain how is it you’re the one who submits?” I asked. “Shouldn’t that be the other way around?”
“It’s a paradox,” he agreed. “It’s also the truth.”
For some bizarre reason, I understood. The problem was, I didn’t know what I understood. I know that doesn’t make sense, dear reader. Perhaps it only makes sense in the logic of dreams.
“And what gave you the right to be the chain,” I demanded. “Who gave you permission to submit?”
“The Slayer chooses her chains in the dark,” Mr. Harris said. “My choice is to submit or die.”
“Then you should have died,” I snapped.
The creature broke away from him with a furious scream. Faster than I could blink, she was on top of me. She ripped at my clothes and face. Her claws gouged into me and I could feel her tearing the flesh away from my bones.
A word from Mr. Harris broke through the noise of her angry screeching, although it seemed impossibly soft to my ears. “Please.”
As suddenly as the attack began, it stopped. I gasped with the absence of her weight on me, and the loss of pain. Not wanting to be caught like a cornered animal again, I crawled to my feet. I quickly checked to see the gravity of my wounds and was shocked to realize that, aside from being dirty and disheveled, I was otherwise untouched.
I looked up at Mr. Harris, fully intent on mocking him over my lack of injuries, when I realized that neither he nor the creature were paying me any mind at all. They were staring wide-eyed into the dark, heads cocked in such a way that it was clear they were listening for something.
As my words died in my throat, I heard the distant sound of voices, a babble of men and women that bled into each other. The movement of bodies in the darkness, and the jeering laughter that was carried to me on the breeze indicated that somewhere out there a hunting party was conducting a search.
I turned around in a desperate bid to see them. I knew without anyone telling me that the hunting party was looking for me. Yet, for once, my enhanced eyes and ears failed me and I was left vulnerable.
“You better get behind me,” Mr. Harris said quietly.
I turned around and saw that he and the creature were now standing shoulder to shoulder. Their bodies were tensed for a fight, and their eyes were watchful. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say they could see into the dark as clearly as if it were day.
Despite the fighting stance of the pair, despite the hunting party looking for me, a rebellious spark in me refused to accept this invitation. “And why should I stand behind you?” I asked.
Mr. Harris jerked his head so that he stared directly at me. “Because,” he said in a very low timbre, “you do not want to be in front of me.”
I startled awake with a gasp on this warning and flailed helplessly about as I fought to break free from my cocoon. During my exertions, I fell out of the bed and landed on the hard ground with a helpless squeak. My waking mind took some moments to remember where I was, as I lay tangled in my blanket and humble circumstances in the pitch black.
In short order I realized that I was shaking like a leaf, the drying sweat on my body was causing me to shiver, my heart was pounding, and I was hyperventilating.
It took all my willpower to force myself into calmness. It was a difficult task. No matter how hard I tried, my confusing dream remained fixed in my memory in such a manner that I couldn’t force it to fade.
I flopped over onto my back with a groan. It was one of those dreams. I would have to exert all my mental discipline to force it from my mind. I knew I could excise it from my memory, but it could take a day or two. In the meantime, I would be cursed with headaches and a wandering attention.
This simply would not do. I needed all my resources to battle Mr. Harris.
However, my only other option was to let the dream stay in my memory. Since I didn’t know if time made the memory more difficult to forget, the prospect was less appealing than fighting a migraine.
I rubbed my hands over my face as I considered my options.
Just then, I felt a threatening gurgle in my stomach.
“Oh, no,” I moaned.
I could blame Grandmother Touré’s goat stew, the bissap, the maafe, or any number of things for my predicament. Unfortunately, blame wouldn’t help me.
I had no choice.
I would have to face my greatest fear: the village’s communal commode.