After careening through a ridge of packed powder and across an icy street gutter the cruiser’s tires stuck to a halt on the front lawn, the officers unstrapped a two-man battering ram from inside the trunk and carried it to the front door across the snow-covered yard of scattered evergreens. Their black boots crunched and squeaked in the blue-white snow. In the distance, more sirens blared. Three more cruisers would appear in less than four minutes. In less than two it would all be over.
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This doesn’t happen in my neighborhood. This doesn’t happen in my neighborhood. This doesn’t happen in my neighborhood. Sebastion repeated that in his head, almost like a mantra, almost as though the repetition of it would return him to the warm bed of before. Silent slumber under eaves of ice and snow, safe from the outside. Safe from all this, a time before footsteps in snow, a time before broken glass, a time before terrible looming strangers with dead-cold hands. A horrifying banging had started at the front of the house, after a siren had sung loudly then died away.
This doesn’t happen in my neighborhood.
It was true. Things like this didn’t happen here. He had grown up in this house, in this neighborhood, in this little city on the edge of a behemoth one, and never had he been fearful of robberies, break and enters, suspicious prowlers. But first times always come, don’t they? First times always march in like foreign troops coming over the rise. Oh God, why did it have to be me? Why did they have to march into my camp? He couldn’t overcome the shock of it; here he was with his feet loosely touching the carpet below him, his toenails actually scraping it a little, and his neck held firmly in this otherworldly grip. Just make it stop, his mind pleaded. Oh please oh please oh please, just make it stop! Somewhere beyond the bedroom to his left and beyond walls and hidden closets where cool air lay unstirred, unbreathed—like that under his bed—came that continued set of deafening thuds. They were spaced apart and even. They were shocking, earsplitting and overwhelming. Was this more to contend with? Another set of hands that would wrap around him, smother him? Or a saving grace of brute force that would commandeer these cold clenching tree roots below Sebastion’s face, wriggled up under his chin and pressing his clavicle. Was there anything on the green earth pervasive enough to just make this all go away?
He was conscious only of details, minutiea: the hands, their size and ice-touch, the banging of dispatched saviors—or perhaps the devil’s other hand—at the front of his home. But the shock remained. Despite recognizing such odd and unnatural elements for what they were, for what they could be, he simply couldn’t bend his mind around what was happening to him. There were these eyes staring at him, through him, dark and insidious. And his were locked into them, two pools of black tar, seemingly despondent and unaware, but bulging at him nonetheless.
These were impossibly fine points to be noticing while insanity’s will held him by the throat but Sebastion couldn’t help it. He saw tiny shards of glass sticking from small bloodied wounds up and down the stranger’s face. And there were similar lines drawn longer on the bronze skin of those tree-trunk arms. But the figure’s mouth was tightly closed—the stranger was staring Sebastion down with a voiceless evil.
The madman hadn’t said a word, hadn’t made a threat, hadn’t uttered a whisper, hadn’t let out a grunt, a sigh or even a breath of air from his mouth. But he did so now. At least, he tried to. His lips, dry as charred paper, parted and all that came from between them was a gurgling dribble of blood together with a stuttered, guttural sound from deep down in the man’s chest. The blood dripped to his chin in three thick lines and on his own lips Sebastion felt a small rush of air, barely noticeable, except that he was so close to its source. His eyes trailed down to the source and fell on a gaping, bloodied hole in the stranger’s neck, just above the clavicle and to the right of his throat’s center.
Even with that, even with the shocking sight of that hole he thought he could see right through, he was unwilling to admit the earthliness of his reality. He banged fists against the arms, shoulders and chest of his oppressor. He twisted at the reddened fingers and wrists clutching him, seizing him, controlling him. He clawed at the awful, dead roots holding him by the throat, struck them and strained at them for release. His eyes felt bulgy now too, the inside of his esophagus like a wet paper tube smothered under the wheels of a bicycle. His cheeks and forehead burned like a hot sun had baked them for three hours and would never again let them cool. But his fingers couldn’t get a grip on the man’s hands. They were just too powerful, like steel vice grips which would never give way, would never even rust.
The wholly improbable banging, loud and rhythmic, had come to an abrupt and welcomed end with one final, monstrous wham. The front door had burst on its hinges. Wide open, like a giant wooden tongue, it crashed against the front closet.
On the heel of that? Nothing. An exhausting silence. The bedroom had become a vacuum. Every brush of fabric, every sweep of body against body, every living breath in and out, could be broken down into its explicit fragments. Sounds were in his head now. They weren’t real but instead wore the paint of an elaborate surface where brushstrokes could be magnified and studied in detail. Please, he wanted to say to these eyes that gouged through him, please just let me go. Just make it stop—I won’t press charges. It’ll—
One of the cold, forceful hands finally eased, making the blood pound harder in his temples. There was a borderline ebb of the heat and pressure in his face. He felt tears coming but held them. His eyes remained fixed on those of the stranger, the eyes of the stranger fixed on his. A flash of something dark came into the corner of his vision. His eyelids flicked at it.
So there it was, what he had dared not imagine, what she had called the inevitable beginning of his absolute fade away. This was the part where Sebastion met his God—where time came screeching to a halt on a needle’s point—she would have said, if she had been here to witness it. This is that endless second where divinity would be made real for him. And those words, divinity and fade away, made the tears finally come. They trickled to his hot cheeks in thin streams. The deeper fears—the ones he had quietly told the operator—had become real.
The stranger was armed.
In one movement, the derringer’s barrel was pressed into the side of Sebastion’s jaw and he was whirled around to face the door. His eyes were no longer on those of the man who held him, were no longer, in fact, even able to see the mad man at all. The sight of the bloodied lips, the dime-sized hole in the black char and red tissue, and the bulging eyes of sober damnation were hidden somewhere behind him. He felt nothing but a balmy, passive breath on the base of his skull.
Only part of one arm was visible now, in the corner of his sight. The hand holding the weapon to his jawbone quivered, wavered, but did not lower and the other hand, the one holding him by the throat, had rescinded its grip as well. He was now face to face with his bedroom door and two uniformed officers, weapons drawn and looking like they had always been there. We get used to things, his drifting mind spurted at him. His mind was adrift and the words were tied to a rope, floating in the sky of his dimming thoughts: be damned if we can’t get used to any ol’ thing.
One of the stranger’s hands was behind Sebastion’s shoulder and his throat was caught in a gagging gesture by the tight crook of the intruder’s right arm. His feet were nearly dangling below him and the skin on the visible arm was bronze, specked with darker spots. He could smell sweat and something coppery: blood. Reacting, his hands went immediately to clutching and gnawing at the dark-skinned forearm squeezed against his Adam’s apple; his eyes squinted and fought back more tears.
Sebastion was the outlaw at the end of a spaghetti western, dangling and flailing sloppily, grabbing at the noose around his neck. He clumsily gripped this arm, this foreign object, and strained to block out an onslaught of bursting lights at the corners of his vision. The bedroom was swallowed by that sharp orange, a sick dead color, and the translucent glaze was punctuated by white flares and shots of what looked like spiraling sinew. His consciousness began to run away from him. He was choking and everything under the orange was hazy. The boundaries of definite shapes began to fuzz out and the voices of the officers were gone. Simply gone. He saw their eyes in tight slits, faces snarled in yells, mouths opening and closing, but he couldn’t hear a word. The distance from his face to theirs seemed interminable. It would be a year-long voyage across ocean waters to reach the words that came from their lips now. Up, up, towards the ceiling the silent words went, gone, never really existing, floating now, somewhere above their heads. In his mind, only nothingness, only coming blindness, and that terrible thrumming of blood behind his ears.
In an instant, Sebastion’s body weight was forced to shift by the man holding him firmly from behind. In the shallow light of the bedside lamp, near a tan telephone handset that still sat wobbling on the carpet, the two of them tilted forward and to one side. He was helpless to struggle against it, couldn’t, wouldn’t try. The air in his lungs was trapped, and the edges of what he saw were questionable. Did the world even have edges anymore? And did it matter if it didn’t? A loud pop came, then another, breaking the silence inside Sebastion. No, came the answer to his questions, both of them. The world didn’t have edges. And edges didn’t matter. Be damned if we can’t get used to any ol’ thing. Fade Away Divine. Still tryin’ Purple Lion. Just make it stop. Pleaseohpleaseohplease just make it stop. Both bodies, his and the enormous one that contained him, felt the jolt. It tore through them, and they teetered backward—
(Just make it stop)
—Backward over the brink.
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In the bathroom, sitting in its cold puddle of stray tub water, the glass tumbler existed undisturbed. But the two cubes of ice within shifted inexplicably, as ice cubes will do for some reason. They collided together, with a set of small clinks, then eased further down inside the glass. They settled on an angle, points pushing against the base of the glass, points pushing against one another. The tiny measure of heat generated by their movement caused them each to begin melting into the other and they became one chunk of ice with two arms.
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