The click click click of Seven’s useless lighter had begun to irritate the very core of her existence. She’d been smoking every day since the time she turned sixteen and her lighters never lasted more than two or three days. Her house always had this faint whiff of cigarettes, almost as if the smoke had permeated into the very walls. Giving up on the lighter, she lit a match to light both her cigarette and the stove, broke a pack of instant noodles in half and chucked it into the saucepan.
It was a nice change for Seven to have the house to herself. Cliff, her boyfriend and flat-mate, had run off on one of his ‘errands’ and she couldn’t be less bothered. He was lean, rippling with muscles and had tattoos along the length of his backbone. Their daily routine had left her weary. She’d grown sick of college before it had even begun much like the rest of her life. She was bored as often as the breeze blew in Southill, irritated at the slightest touch. All she saw when she looked out the window were grey concrete apartments, some high some low, with black insets for windows into black homes which housed the blackest and dullest of lives.
The noise of water bubbling reminded her of her meal for the day and she rushed to the stove, turned the heat off, stirred the soupy noodles and poured the ochre contents into a bowl. She turned to look at the cherry red wall clock.
Fifteen minutes to finish my food and have a quick shower. She calculated in her mind.
Three sharp raps on the door, a resounding ‘fuck’ under her breath and she knew the noodles would have to wait. She set the steaming bowl next to the stove and went to open the door for Dublin.
Five feet and eleven inches tall, Dublin was perhaps her only friend, even though this friendship was based purely on its benefits.
“You’re early” she pouted at him.
“I was bored. You look like a right mess by the way.” He pushed his way in and plopped himself on the couch, his preferred stage set.
“I’m going for a shower, you’ll have to wait.” He grabbed her by the hand just as she was turning away and pulled her down. She fell onto his lap.
“Just bathe afterwards babe…”
Voices in the hallway brought a stony silence upon them. Cliff could not have been back yet and the entire floor was deserted apart from Seven’s place. But there was more than one voice coming from the other side of the door, two maybe three men passing down the corridor.
Dublin zipped up his pants and darted out the window, down the fire escape before Seven could say anything.
What a wanker.
When the door of 9b opened, Santiago Morris would never have imagined the woman to be Seven Lane. She was skinny, white as paper and chewing gum, but still she was beautiful. Her long blonde curls ran past her shoulders and wove into thick black locks almost as if she’d dipped them in ink. There was a strange familiarity in her intense sapphire eyes that almost immediately made him think of Seven. He’d just opened his mouth to say something to her when his younger brother, Blu, showed up at the staircase with the last carton. She took one look at the two of them and banged her door shut.
“What welcoming neighbors!” Blu exclaimed, flashing his usual sardonic grin.
“Stop takin’ a piss and just get inside” Santiago headed back to their doorstep, possessed by the childhood memories of playing games, of cycling down the street, of first kisses. There had to be a box of photographs from that time, he was sure of it. But he wasn’t the neatest packer and hoped to find it amongst Blu’s things. They were polar opposites after all, him and Blu. He’d been born to their father’s first wife in a small village in Spain while Blu was the child of Mr. Morris’ second wife.
There was no lack of brotherhood between them, but Santiago hadn’t forgotten –especially since he’d just been reminded –about his love for Seven. She’d always had an inclination towards his brother and, being the older one, Santiago had never said anything.
“Look, if you want her now you can have her mate, I ain’t stopping you.” Blu surprised himself when he said the words, standing at the doorway holding the last box. He wasn’t a mind reader or a psychic of any sort, but he could always sense what the person in front of him was thinking. Santiago had his back turned to him so it was hard to deduce what was going on behind those wide shoulders.
Suddenly, two pairs of muscular, tanned arms grabbed the back of his head and Blu saw Santiago’s knees give way. Swearing out loud, he dropped the box and ran to his brother. Sweat profusely poured down his face, he was burning up with fever and Blu didn’t know where his medicine was.
Drip drip drip…
Beads of sweat fell to the floor, forming little saline pools. His brown curls were matted on his forehead. Blu ripped the carton nearest to them and was lucky enough to find the medicine, almost stabbing his brother with the injection. Slowly, Santiago’s breathing normalized and the pain faded away from his face. He felt the hardwood floor solid under him as it came back into focus. He was on all fours and the room still spun as if he’d just been on a roller coaster.
The headaches had started when he was about sixteen or so and the pain had driven Santiago to the point of committing suicide more than once. As he took off his shirt and stepped into the shower his hand ran over the scar on his abdomen where he’d driven a knife through, the wound had miraculously healed within a week but left a trickling scar, and he would often find his hand on it of its own accord. And then there was the accident that had happened at the McAllister’s. Their house had been burnt to the ground, the whole family in it, and he’d been detained as a suspected arsonist. The very thought of the whole incident frustrated him so much he wanted to punch the wall. He glared at the mirror as it reflected the halo of brown curls around his head, warm hazel eyes that singed the shining surface as it steamed up.
Separate bathrooms, Blu sighed to himself, what a relief!
He was staring at his reflection in the mirror, trying to remember how he used to look before the faint shadows had taken permanent residence beneath his grey-green eyes. He clenched his teeth and saw his jawline twitch. The sunlight cast shadows from the exhaust fan on his face but lit up his eyes like gemstones as they pierced the surface of the mirror. The mirror cracked and then the cracks deepened and spread out like a network of nerves twitching and twisting with electricity. The periphery of his vision began darkening like an old photograph and everything began losing its color. The walls went from dull orange to muddy brown, the spaces between the tiles darkened and grey, almost engulfing him whole. The shadows on his face expanded and it was not long before he felt his vision slipping away as he fell deep into the darkness, the fizz of Santiago opening a beer a faint echo.
Just as she turned on the shower, cigarette in the other hand to await the ever-elusive warm water, Seven heard glass breaking in the apartment where the two men had gone. They weren’t really ”men” as such but they had this air of maturity that told her nothing about them.
“It’s really none of my business now is it?” she spoke to the serpentine swirls of smoke before setting it precariously on the edge of the basin. She scooped her long hair and twisted them into an expert knot at the back of her head, blonde and black interlacing into a distorted bun abruptly pierced with a sharp metal object which may as well have been a dagger.
With the same speed, Seven undressed –taking her time with the smoke, enjoying it as much as she could –and stepped into her bath, the rising steam enveloped her and she let herself relax into the warmth of her shower. The sunlight pouring in from the window, Seven felt herself slipping into the deep trenches of old memories.
A silver sun hanging high in the grey sky. An electric blue butterfly flutters by. Two boys and a girl, heads together, looking up. Childhood games and songs forgotten, exhaustion leads them to rest their heads on the shabby, sparse grass. Her blue denim eyes look for the grey-green that send electricity through her.
The thoughts of Blu and Santiago couldn’t stay in her mind for long, she focused instead on warming up her joints, gently plié-ing to warm up her turn-out muscles, working her pointe as the warm water washed over her. She couldn’t afford to pay for formal classes any longer and so, like she had with the rest of her life, found a way to make do with what she was handed. The roof had a wide open space and more or less deserted. She’d cleaned up the area and Cliff had installed barres on one side for her.
Once she was done, she waved the shower steam away and piqué-ed her way to the rug, wrapping her big brown towel around her body. The tips of her bun had come loose and coiled down her neck. She wiped and dabbed and dried herself but could feel that space between her shoulder blades still damp. She reached across to touch it and found stray drops clinging onto her back for dear life. Her hand swiped along her back and she ran it across in front to her left collarbone, but her back still felt wet. She wiped it with her hand again. The mirror caught and reflected back an inexplicable bright red, her towel was brown, she put her hand to the surface to de-fog the mirror and saw blood all over it.
In a flash she felt every breath leave her body. Blood was all but pouring down her back, her waist, dripping off her knees, splashing at her feet. She was being butchered by an invisible force; every second was like being hit with the reaper’s scythe. Her knees buckled and she almost fell back onto the wall to keep herself steady, the towel hanging in loose clutches at her breast. Thin trickles of blood seeped down her back as a sharp pain began piercing at her from the inside. The pain increased, went from her shoulder blades to her spine to her ribs, up her neck and hit her smack dab at the back of her head. She’d once been hit on the head with a gun, one of the better deals of being Cliff’s girlfriend, and it was nothing compared to the pain she felt.
Before she knew it a shrill scream tore her lips apart and she felt the skin of her back rip all the way down the her waist. But there was a soothing wave spreading through her shoulders now, the pain was slowly leaving her. The towel had fallen with the jolt of energy that had rocked through her body. She felt light, almost as though she could fly, fly away from the big pool of blood she stood in.
The mirror perspired with the effort of bearing witness to the macabre scene, reflecting back the wings that had unfurled from beneath Seven’s skin. Feathers upon feathers bathed in blood, white at the top and gradually graying –from where they could be seen–outstretched behind her shocked frame. She stared at herself with horror. There was nothing she could think of at that moment. Nothing.
Santiago shut his eyes and took a deep breath, standing at Seven’s door and finally convinced that it was her. What was he planning to say to her? He braced himself for the not sure if that’s the right usage of the worduncomfortable conversation that was to come, and knocked on the door.
He imagined the scenario in his head when Seven, beautiful as ever, would open the door and fall in love with him as soon he she laid eyes on his face. She’d blush and then redden further when he would reveal who he was. He’d finally be able to tell her how much he loved her and for how long he’d waited, waited because it was his brother’s company she preferred as a child.
He knocked again, realizing that there hadn’t been an answer till then. His temples began throbbing and his knees gave way. Sweat started dripping down his back as the intensity of the pain swiftly escalated. He clawed at his head with his hands and, much to his surprise, he was screaming in agony. Never before had that happened. His body broke down completely and he lay there on the cold, grey floor writhing in pain. Crawling to the opposite wall, he pulled himself up and grabbed onto the concrete for dear life while the breeze tickled his face.
Santiago pulled and pulled at the ledge with crushing force and the pain just got worse. He felt it lessen for just a fraction of a second but then it returned and began to focus on a central spot on either side of his forehead. Just as he imagined being shot on those spots, two spindles emerged, piercing the skin, from his forehead and widened and coiled and hardened as the pain worsened. Blood oozed down the sides of his face and almost into his eyes, and just when he’d given up hope, he felt it lessen and go away. The pain was gone just as suddenly as it had arrived, but the dead weight he felt on his head was still there, as real as the light of day.
A hollow cough built up in his lungs that left him wheezing. He coughed and coughed to no end till it left him bent over and gasping for air. A wave of nausea rose in the pit of his stomach. He leaned over the edge to throw up but instead of food and bile, flames erupted from his mouth and leapt up into the air.
Seven sat with her back pressed against the corner of the wall. The floor of the roof was all shades of grey and had hidden stories in its endless patterns, she never really noticed that. Still shaking from the incident in her bathroom, all she could do was sit there and smoke.
‘Okay. You’re okay…’ she told herself to breathe, ‘You’re gonna go downstairs and wash that bathroom clean. And it’ll be as if it never happened. Nothing happened.’
She pushed herself off the floor, jaw clenched with determination she didn’t really possess. The ledge wasn’t that high, all she had to do was twist one side of her butt and adjust on it. The wind swept her hair up, blowing the ropes around her face. And there she sat, smoking, when she heard a scream that would haunt her for weeks. It sounded like someone was being tortured and her heart all but leapt out from her mouth.
Flinging herself off the ledge, she ran towards the door. She pulled as hard as she could and it wouldn’t budge. She all but threw herself on it, hoping it would ease open, but the fixtures had gone rusty and maintained their stony silence. She took off her grey hoodie, wrapped it around the handle and pulled, one leg on the wall for help, but it was sealed shut. Frustration took hold of her and made her wish that she could have flown away.
No sooner had she said this, her wings jerked out from behind her back, ripping her top off. The force of the wings brought her to her knees but it wasn’t like before. It didn’t hurt one bit. All Seven had to do, was think of them, like her brain had a different section just to deal with her ‘adaptation’.
Her head was still bent, staring at the ground, chains jangling from her neck. The wings, darkened to a silver-grey, stretched out six feet on either side of her. She mentally flexed them and saw them move from the corner of her eye. She got up, thanked her luck for wearing a bra, and reached out with both arms, feeling the soft but sleek feathers on her fingers. Her eyes were closed but she could see it all happen as though from a distance.
And so, she turned to the side of the building and jumped off the edge, hoping the damn things were good for something other than causing her pain.
Seven made it in time to see the blast of fire from the hallway. The wings were surprisingly easy to maneuver. Santiago looked up and took her for an angel. He couldn’t believe his eyes. She looked down at him and knew just who he was. After all, the birth mark under his right brow was a dead giveaway. He had hard, black horns curling out from his forehead. They caught the dull light from the milky sun and shined at her. He could breathe fire. She lowered herself and he reached up to her waist.
When they touched it was like nothing either of them had ever experienced. It was like electricity running through every nerve, tingling with a furious intensity.
Blu found himself looking at a girl lying on a bed. The sun was pouring in from the window facing him, through the cheap white curtains. There was a man, no a boy, about eighteen or nineteen, standing right in front of him. He was only wearing a pair of dark boxers and a string of tattoos along the length of his spine. A sudden rush of wind told Blu that he was almost naked as well. He was like a voyeur looking at what was promising to be something dreadful in front of him.
A scruffy looking guy entered the room and when the boy moved his head, forcing Blu to move his, Blu realized that he was the shadow of the boy, pressed against the wall and trapped. When the other man spoke, he spoke with a distinguished accent that sent silent shivers down his spine. He had no idea how far he’d teleported from his apartment.
The boy lifted one bony hand to scratch the back of his head, forcing Blu to follow suit.
“Why’sya clenchin’ yer fist n all?” the man looked doubtfully at the boy.
Blu and the boy looked down to see their right hand white-knuckled in a frustration that belonged to only one of them. He wanted to scream, beat them up nine ways to Sunday and just get the hell out of wherever he was. But he was trapped in this body, this body which now looked at its hand with furrowed eyebrows with the intelligence of a troll.
The anger in him reared its ugly head and gave him a power much too strange to him. Anger rose and rose in him like a bubbling, boiling acid, coursing through his veins, washing over him from head to toe, crawling into his eyes, up his nose, till all he could see was a distorted blue and red vision wherein he raised his hand towards his throat, but felt the throat of another. And then, he squeezed and squeezed and squeezed. It wasn’t until then that Blu realized that one could be killed by one’s own shadow.
He would return to his brother three years later, a changed man. A man with a heavy burden. A monthly checklist, a daily death. The Reaper had retired and a new intern was trained.
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