Chapter Eleven

Saturday, December, 12th, 2015

Garrett’s body shook behind her. “It hurts so bad, Sasha.”

“You have already told me as such, Daniels.” As his hands began to caress her back again, she slapped him away. “Remove yourself from my person.”

“Sorry. It’s not getting better.”

The sun had risen over an hour ago. Leaving the bush was not in their best interest, but Sasha knew that sooner or later she would need to check his wounds. If she did not, she worried that it very well might have been a corpse that she would be carrying into her father’s home. And if he was dead there would not be any evidence of the things she had seen. Without him, they would not get to the bottom of where all of these super-powered freaks were coming from.

And how she could get her hands on those powers.

“I will take a look. We just have to be fast.” Surveying the woods around them for signs of pursuit, she maneuvered her way out from under the bush and crawled to her knees. “I am going to pull you out. Bite your tongue.”

He grunted out a cry when he was pulled through the dirt and grass but it was short lived. Sasha winced, suppressing a gasp. He whispered, “How does it look?”

Garrett was beginning to resemble a melted candle. His back was entirely bare of flesh. The…disease had encroached on other parts of his body, from the wrist of one arm to the elbow of another. Sasha did not dare look under the waistband of his pants, but she assumed it had crawled down onto his legs. Bubbles sprouted from his throat. There was not a doubt in her mind that it would reach his face soon, and, when it did, there could be only death to follow.

She debated lying to him, it would be only too easy, but she did not. “You are dying, Garrett.”

“What?” he hissed, trying in vain to look up at her. “How is that possible?”

“It is spreading to your legs now. If I cannot find a way to stop it, I imagine it will eat the rest of your healthy tissue until you are dead.”

“But you’re not sure. You haven’t seen anything like this?”

She scoffed, “Of course not. I doubt I know of anyone who has seen anything like this. But I have seen plenty of dying people and I can tell you that you will not make it much longer with wounds such as these.”

Garrett tried to push himself up onto his hands and knees, but he was flattened within seconds. “What do we do?”

“We? What makes you think that you will be receiving help from me?” she inquired.

“Please, Sasha. Even if you don’t have any feelings for me, you and I both know I’m no good to you dead.”

He was right, but she could not relinquish her power to him. It would give him hope. “You were never any good to me, Daniels.”

She swore she could see tears falling from his face and onto the dirt. “I must be. Somewhere in there, you have to remember me. You have to love me.”

“Love you?” she chuckled. She had almost forgotten. Her companion was unbalanced. “Of course.”

She looked around the forest floor in search of something sharp. Something that she could use to strip him of the afflicted tissue. Garrett could heal himself, she knew that well enough, it was Contagion’s poison that would not allow him to regenerate. But if Sasha could cut away the poisoned skin, leaving behind only the healthy parts, then she ventured it was possible for him to heal again. “If I saved you, Garrett, believe me it is not for romantic reasons.”

“Why then? Why not?”

“I have never felt a romantic feeling for anyone, Daniels. Try not to be offended.”

“Can’t help it. You married me. I like to think that when a person promises to love you forever, they mean it.”

She narrowed her gaze at a stick that was not quite as dirty as the ones it was surrounded by. “If it is all the same, I would prefer to leave this conversation for a later time.”

“If I’m going to die—” he began.

“Oh please give up the theatrics. You will not die.”

“But…you said—”

“Contrary to what I have said, Mr. Daniels, your powers are quiet useful to me. You are of great value to me, and I assume to my father as well. And I am opposed to dragging a corpse with me while those two chase me. I will help you.”

“How?”

“Once I have figured it out, I will let you know.”

She did not have much left in the way of resources. Everything she owned was back in the car and her shoes, the only means she ordinarily would have had to sharpen the stick to something usable, were long gone in some nondescript part of the woods. She would need to think of another way.

“Any ideas?”

“Nothing that you will find pleasant. I suggest putting your mind on other things.”

“I’m dying and my wife doesn’t remember me. I don’t really have a happy place to go to from here.”

She tapped the slightly pointed end of the stick. It was not nearly enough to do the job, not without something to wash the poison out. “Suit yourself. It is no skin off my back.”

“Was that a pun?”

Ideally, she would have used a scalpel. Ironically, she knew there was one in the car. “I have to go back to my things.”

“No! They’ll be waiting for you there.”

“I doubt it. They will be looking for us here and the car is useless so far as they know. I have some things that could help you.”

“I won’t let you put yourself in danger for me, Sasha.”

It was a strange feeling to know that someone cared for her wellbeing. Even her father, the light of her life and only family, had never expressed much of a concern. She thought it might have even felt…nice.

It had been years since she had entertained the idea of meeting a man that she could see as a companion. Men were scarce in her life, all being far too old to be considered anything worth liking, or even loving. Besides, she was near positive that even if such a man existed around her, pursuing him in any way would have been strictly forbidden.

Sasha wondered what it would be like, though, to be half of a couple who understood each other deeply enough to stay together forever. To have another person in the world that would not base her value on whatever job she was employed with completing at the time. To have a person in the world she would not mind having around her all the time; who she would enjoy disrupting the quiet with.

Someone even Sasha could hold feelings for.

“I will go to the car.”

Her own words shocked her. It was not at all in her best interest to leave the cover of the brush. It would have been in her best interest to leave him behind and run for Summit’s home on her own, only to go back in search of him later. Somewhere between her training and her morals, and lack thereof, her mind told her that it would be unacceptable.

“No—”

“You cannot tell me what to do, Garrett. I will save your life and you cannot stop me.” He opened his mouth to speak, but she silenced him by raising her hand. “The longer I wait, the less of a chance you have of surviving. If you stay in the bush, you should be fine. Just stay quiet.”

Sasha did not wait for his reply. She shoved him back into place beneath the brush.

They had left footprints. Sasha was aghast to see the clear imprints of her own bare feet in the mud. How had they not found them?

She remained cautious as she followed the tracks back the way they had come, constantly listening for them. Still, she was not so worried for herself. She worried for Garrett.

Sasha was trained for situations such as this, barring acid-spitting men and talking lizards, but Garrett seemed unprepared without the use of his powers. If they were to find him, and those tracks could bring them to him easily, he would be completely useless.

A shriek pierced the otherwise silent forest air.

Sasha froze in midstride and dropped to the ground. It was too close.

After a long moment, after she deduced that she was not walking into a trap, Sasha raised herself from the dirt. She continued slowly. Silently. When another scream made her jump, she realized that she was coming closer to its source. Within a few yards, she could even make out words.

“Kim, it won’t do any good.”

“Well, it isn’t going to help us if we just sit here waiting for it to go away!” a familiar, lizard-like­ voice retorted. She knew that lizard.

The man she deduced to be Contagion countered. “What would you have me do that we haven’t tried yet?”

“Spit acid at it.”

“Spit it at what? There’s nothing there.”

The Chameleon heaved another frustrated scream. “Oh, when I find that girl I’m going to rip off her skin and wear it!”

“You can do that already.”

Through the leaves, they came into focus. Sasha could tell they had not yet moved because her shoes lay scattered around them. Puddles of Garrett’s blood had collected amongst the leaves. The Chameleon pounded her fists against an invisible barrier.

Sasha kept low to the floor. Garrett would not last much longer, certainly not long enough for her to chance another fight with monsters. They could not be permitted to see her, even if she was raring for a rematch.

From there, it was simple to find the car. They had not made it far earlier that morning when they had run from the Chameleon. The doors were open and Sasha’s bag rested in the backseat. She threw it over her shoulder, debating whether she should sabotage the truck parked a short ways behind her car. The image of Garrett’s wounds behind her eyelids made the decision for her.

She sprinted through the woods, taking a different path from the one she and Garrett had used in the hopes that they could confuse which one to take. Her feet sank into the soft mud with every step.

Sasha fell into the clearing where her shoes and Garrett’s blood still rested. She did not know which would have been worse: being attacked by Contagion and the Chameleon while on her own or finding them gone.

Because they were gone.

“Shit,” she muttered under her breath. “Shit. Shit. Shit.”

She threw herself further with all of the speed she could muster. If Garrett had not yet been found, it would be a miracle. She followed her tracks from earlier to find him. The woods all looked the same down to every tree and bush. Which one had she shoved him under.

A hand on her ankle threw her to the floor.

“What—”

“Sorry,” a quiet voice retorted.

“Garrett?” she demanded, reaching for him through the branches. He hissed, informing her that she had hit her mark. “We will have to do this quickly.”

“Do what?”

She said nothing. Fishing for the scalpel in the front compartment of her bag, she removed the rest of his clothes. Garrett was unable to put up much resistance. Sasha wondered if he knew what was going on.

He could definitely tell what was going on when she got to work at sawing off the poisoned portions of his body. “What’re you doing?” he yelled.

“Quiet! You will bring them to us.”

He did not quiet. With every new slice of her blade into his skin, his cries grew louder. Once she had moved onto his arms, his cries of pain turned to moans and his eyes questioned her. His back was healing.

“Is…is it working?”

“I am sure you can feel it. Your back is doing fine.”

He haphazardly pushed himself onto his haunches, despite her harsh orders to remain on the floor. “You saved me.”

Sasha averted her eyes when she first glimpsed his naked body. With a gulp, he pulled his pants back into place. “I am in the process of saving you. Get down.”

He reached for her, pulling her into a tight embrace. “Thank you! I can’t—”

Garrett was truly a beautiful specimen. Sasha felt dirty looking at him, given how perfectly sculpted his body was. She felt strange. Uncomfortable. And he was touching her. “Get off of me!”

He did not seem to be very put out by her words. “I can’t believe you did that. You risked your life for me!”

“Yes. Please be quiet. The last thing I need right now is for those two to find us. I will not heal like you. Just let me finish or it will grow back.”

“I could kiss you!”

“Please refrain from doing so.”

He watched in awe as his arm replaced itself with fresh, pink skin. That look quickly turned to disgust as he looked around at the mounds of toxic flesh piled up around him. “You’re leaving a big mess.”

She wished she carried men’s shirts. His old one was quickly disintegrating, but she desperately needed some distraction from his stone-like body. She attached her gaze to a specific blade of grass. “After I get some sleep I would be happy to relocate.”

“Of course! Of course you must be tired. You crawl under the bush. I’ll put your stuff away and I’ll keep watch.”

Sasha saw no reason to disagree.

Monday, November 26th, 1984

“Why do you think you’ll make a good contribution to our establishment?”

I forced myself not to answer too fast, but the words were already on the tip of my tongue. “I’m a dedicated worker. I am very proud of my work and would like to be as valuable as possible as soon as possible. I’m very excited to have the chance to grow with the business.”

The manager of the local diner nodded appreciatively, just as I knew he would. I had used the same statement in every interview I had done this week. I had long ago lost count of how many that had been, but the end was always the same, just as this one would undoubtedly become in the next few seconds. The man would flip the pages of his application, find the criminal record portion and freeze. He will ask about the night in the bar. I will answer truthfully, but the manager will not believe me. I will be turned away…again.

“Please, sir,” I begged while I was ushered out, “I need this job.”

The manager shook his head, holding the door open. “I’m sorry, Garrett, you seem like a nice kid, but I can’t have someone so volatile hanging around my customers.”

“I need the money. No one will hire me.”

“Sorry, kid. It’s not my problem.”

Not my problem. It had been made abundantly clear to me that the problem was only mine. I had lost both jobs when the police had come and arrested me for the fight in the bar. I could not consider turning over Poppy for doing the damage, she could not handle that place: cold, hard, unpleasant. I had only been there for the night (my mother had not answered the phone) while Poppy collected the money to get me, but I could safely assume it was the worst of my life. I could only imagine how much worse it would have been if it were that little girl in my place. Being hollered at by the criminals on either side of her, crying herself to sleep…

I had done the right thing.

Head hung, I left the diner. I waited until I was sure the manager had left me alone out there before I sighed, pulling the job listings I had seen in the newspaper from the pocket of my khakis. From the other, I grabbed a marker and crossed out my most recent failure from the near-bottom of the page.

“Where to next?” I muttered to myself.

The final line was one I had been reluctant to try: Hartl Laboratory. There was no specific amount of pay written there, or a job description, only those two words and a phone number. I hoped I had the necessary change to use a payphone; I could not bear to go home and try our own to find it disconnected. With no money coming in, it would be the first to go. If my mother was not going to get a job, I would be choosing the sacrifices, even if she would lament its absence for me to hear over and over again.

It took a few moments of searching, but a few quarters could be found in the crevices of my car’s seat. I did not let myself think I would be lucky in the rest of my ventures for the day. I trudged over to the payphone at the edge of the parking lot, coins in hand, and dialed the number the paper listed for me. It only rang once.

“Dr. Hartl speaking.”

I coughed and cleared my throat. “Hello, I’m calling in reference to your newspaper ad.”

“Name?” the older man asked.

“Garrett Daniels.”

There was silence on the other end for a moment. “How soon can you be here for a consultation?”

Consultation? “Umm, as soon as possible?”

“Perfect. Do you have a pen?”

“Yes!” I exclaimed, putting the tip of the marker to the back of my left hand. Doctor Hartl gave me the address, inputting some basic directions on the hidden path to the lab and hung up without so much as a goodbye. I did not mind; I was thrilled to even have the chance at another job. I barely managed to put the phone back on the hook before I was running for the car, straightening my shirt and my recently washed hair.

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