The Insider – Part 8

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a serial by Joseph Benedict

“Fang!”

Fang stared at her monitor, ignoring Sky’s voice and the sound of his fist on the door downstairs. Rows of gray email subjects filled the screen. She looked at them, biting her lip. The URL at the top of the screen was still highlighted blue; her fingertips rested heavily on the illuminated touch-spots of the glass keypad before her.  She stared at the letters and tried to think.

“Fang!” Sky called again, up at her window. “Come on, I know you’re up there!  I have class with your mom, remember?”

Fang felt the sound of his knuckles banging on the door again like the pounding of her heart the night before as she crawled into her bed. She let her hands slip away from the keypad. Like a wraith, she slid out of the chair and drifted down the stairs. She rubbed her hands down her arms at the touch of the biting cold air blowing down from the air conditioner.

Read more…

a serial by Joseph Benedict

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

 


 

“Fang!”

Fang stared at her monitor, ignoring Sky’s voice and the sound of his fist on the door downstairs. Rows of gray email subjects filled the screen. She looked at them, biting her lip. The URL at the top of the screen was still highlighted blue; her fingertips rested heavily on the illuminated touch-spots of the glass keypad before her.  She stared at the letters and tried to think.

“Fang!” Sky called again, up at her window. “Come on, I know you’re up there!  I have class with your mom, remember?”

Fang felt the sound of his knuckles banging on the door again like the pounding of her heart the night before as she crawled into her bed. She let her hands slip away from the keypad. Like a wraith, she slid out of the chair and drifted down the stairs. She rubbed her hands down her arms at the touch of the biting cold air blowing down from the air conditioner.

Sky kept knocking.

Fang stood in the open front room with white walls and nothing but a simple vase to relieve the sense of vacancy, and watched Sky’s shadow in the frosted glass over the door.

“Fang!”

She stepped forward and turned the cold knob.

“Christ, you are here!” Sky let his breath out and shook his head at the ground.  “I’ve been calling you all morning. You have no idea.”

He ran a hand up the side of his neck, massaging the muscles just below his mussed mane of dirty blond hair and froze.

“Hey, are you sick or something?”

Fang blinked back at him, realizing that she was still in the loose pink pajama pants and tank top she had dragged on numbly the night before and laid awake in since. The hot breeze creeping in from outside pushed her bangs back. She felt a little of the chill slip away.

“Yeah,” she said. “No.” She clenched her eyes shut and tried to slow down. “What do you want?”

“What do I want?” Sky walked past her, into the front room. He cocked an eyebrow at her. “My bank card? You left your wallet at home yesterday and needed to buy… I don’t remember. Food or something? The Left-side Shallow tickets are on sale today, remember? You were supposed to bring it to class. I gotta get ours before they sell out. If they’re not already.”

“Left-side,” Fang repeated distantly.

The opening bass line of You Don’t Owe Me Skirt played in the back of her head. She watched Sky shrug, throw his hands up, and stalk into the kitchen with long, quick strides. The air conditioner clicked on loudly, blasting cold air out of the ceiling vents.

Fang shut the door. She went after Sky, feeling a little like she knew who she was, like everything that happened the night before could be a bad dream.

“No ice?” Sky asked, displaying the empty tray before the open freezer door. He turned away without waiting for her reply and filled it from the tap. “You’re still going right? I know Evan was a dick last weekend, but he’s stressed out from his exams and stuff. His parents are really leaning over him with his grades and stuff. You know how that is. Anyway, he wants to apologize. He told me.”

Fang stood next to the island counter, watching the running water. She remembered rain.

“You’re still mad at him?” Sky asked, snapping the faucet handle down.

Fang started. She looked up at him, trying to think of something to say, but her head felt empty and too full all at once. She put one hand on the counter as if the motion would force words out.

“No,” she managed at last.

“Right.” Sky lifted the tray carefully into the freezer and pushed the door shut. He took a sip of water and watched her over the rim of his glass. He put the glass down, sighing. “You really are sick. Did you even sleep last night? You look fried.” He frowned.

“I don’t care about Evan.” Fang looked away from Sky’s dark eyes. “He can just be a dick sometimes.” Her voice sounded too quiet to her and strained, like she was trying hard to convince him. She waved a hand vaguely at the whole topic.

“Well I’m convinced,” Sky said blandly. He continued to frown, looking down at her hand.

Fang followed his gaze and saw a few rusty flecks of scabs and new white marks that would eventually become scars on her knuckles where they had been raw and bleeding the night before. She snatched her arm down from the table and pulled her sleeves low to cover the marks. Sky grunted softly.

“You sure you’re alright?”

“I’m fine, Sky,” Fang snapped, feeling like a bitch, but suddenly stressed and wishing he would get out of her house before she broke down and told him how she’d gone crazy before she had a chance to really think about it.

 

She went after Sky, feeling a little like she knew who she was, like everything that happened the night before could be a bad dream.

 

Even though that’s what I’ve been trying to do all night, she thought, clenching the scarred fist inside her sleeve.

“Just sick, like I’m sure my mom already told you.” Fang added “suck-up” mentally, and squeezed her eyes tight again, turning back toward the stairs.  “Don’t you have class?”

“Yeah,” Sky shot back, showing a little attitude of his own. “My card? Or are you so delirious you forgot? I swear, Fang…”

She could just imagine him shaking his head, dropping the empty glass under the faucet as she heard it clink against the metal.  His hair would have fallen back into place now that he was out of the wind. And the eagle tattoo on his bicep—

“So are you coming with us?” Sky asked, interrupting her thoughts.  “You’re obviously still pissed at Evan.  I’m telling you, we should get this settled or it will ruin the whole weekend. If I ever get that card back from you. These things are selling out now.”

“Fine!” Fang whipped her head over her shoulder to show him a look of disdain. “I told you, I don’t even remember what Evan did anymore. He’s not even a doodle in the margins of my list of problems this morning, but if you’re freaking out so hard, I guess I just have to go get your stupid card or I’ll be mopping pee off my kitchen floor.”

Sky stood up a little straighter. The mock anger drained out of his expression, leaving his face etched with hard lines she recognized as serious concern.

“You do have it?  Right?”

Fang spread her hands in frustration and marched toward the stairs.

“Obviously. I put it in my bag last nigh—” Fang froze in mid-step, feeling all the warmth she’d soaked up at the open door leave her limbs. She spun around, facing Sky with her mouth wide open, then realizing that he didn’t know anything, turned toward the front door instead. “No, no, no, no…”

She staggered away, curling her fingers up toward her face like claws. She covered her eyes.

“Shit,” said Sky.  “Fang!”

His boots clomped loudly on the hardwood floor as he rushed to her. Fang heard and recalled the footsteps of the two men she’d been with the night before when she’d stood in the elevator, when she’d left her bag in the expensive, smashed car for the guards to find.

Not me, she thought bitterly to herself. Whatever was in my head. Whoever.

“Fang!”

She heard Sky’s alarm and opened her eyes. He must have spun her around. He held her by the shoulders, bending down to bring his face closer to hers.

“What the hell happened?”

“I left it in the car,” she whispered in despair.

“Forget the card, Fang,” he said. “What happened to you? You’re a wreck. Don’t tell me you’re just sick or that nothing happened yesterday. You were fine when I saw you and now you’re walking around like a zombie, crying your eyes out and clenched up like you want to kill somebody.”

He was right. Fang felt warm tears dripping from her eyes. Her fists were clenched, not sloppily, but into the compact, battle-ready weapons she had used to fight the guards.

Kill the guards, she corrected herself.

Her whole body felt tight, like she was ready to lash out. She felt like she could do it too, as if all the martial arts she had wielded the night before would come back to her if she only thought about them. And then, suddenly, they did.

“Say something damn it!” Sky squeezed her.

“Stop it!”  Fang pushed him back, gently, but with the easy strength of leverage.

There was something more as well, might in her arm where she had been weak before.

Where I am weak, she insisted mentally.

Yet Sky moved back even farther as she applied mere force. Fang looked up into his eyes.

“I’m in trouble,” she said. “I don’t know how, but I got myself into a lot of trouble.”

“What happened to you?” Sky stepped close again, though he didn’t reach out.  His brows tightened over his brown eyes. He tightened his jaw, watching her consider her words, then said, “Who were you with last night?”

“I don’t know.” Fang put a hand to her head. She stepped past him toward the kitchen.

“Bullshit!” He grabbed her arm, but made a sound of frustration instead of spinning her around, let go, then rushed into the kitchen to turn and stand before her.  “Whatever you did you can tell me. But these guys—or girls—whoever, you can be sure they don’t care half as much about you as I do.”

Fang shook her head and turned away again

“What did you do, Fang?” Sky insisted. “Did you steal something? Break into some place? You look like you got into a scrape or something. God, did you do drugs, or sell them, or did somebody attack you?” His voice caught a bit on the last words. He cleared his through hastily and spoke again. “I want you to tell me.”

 

“There have to be cameras there, inside and underground, and they’re going to think I killed them all.”

 

“No.” Fang let her arms hang loosely at her side, trying not to think about the sudden strength. She slid her gaze sideways to rest on the kitchen doorway, then the carpet. Anywhere but his face.

What am I doing, she wondered.

“No?” Sky asked. He took a step back from her. He blew out his breath and walked around the island, hitting its polished counter top lightly with the edge of his hand. “So you don’t want my help. Or you don’t want me to know what you were doing.”  He stopped at the far end of the kitchen. “Fine. Apparently my card is missing—or stolen. I have to go report it anyway.”

“Sky!” Fang stepped in his way as he strode toward the front room.

“I can’t?” Sky asked sarcastically, wearing a dark frown. “My card’s out there in….” He swiped the air with a careless gesture of one hand. “…Some car—maybe stolen, maybe wrecked… and you want me to just leave it open for anyone to take the little I have and run up some fierce fucking tab, not to mention fees, that’ll ruin my already shit credit for months until I can get this all sorted out. If you’ll let me sort it out! And you won’t even give me a hint as to why I’m getting screwed?”

Fang stared at him with too many doubts and ideas racing through her head to focus on any one answer.

Why is this happening to me, she shouted mentally clearing her mind with the burst of sudden anger.

“You know I live on that thing,” Sky finished lamely.

Overhead, the air conditioning clicked off loudly.

“You can’t report it yet,” said Fang. “I don’t know if you can report it at all. It doesn’t matter. They found it when found my bag. And there have to be cameras there, inside and underground, and they’re going to think I killed them all.”

“Killed?” Sky leaned in. “What the hell happened last night?”

“I don’t know!” Fang slumped back against the wall. She felt dizzy. “I got on the bus to come home and there was something! Something in my head. It sounds like I’m crazy or something, but it wasn’t me, it was this other… thing. This other person, like it just appeared in me and I couldn’t move or think.” She paused for breath. “But not really.  More like I suddenly wanted to do all those things. But I was someone else too. I can’t remember who; that part’s blurry like when you know a word or a name and you just can’t—” She banged on the wall with her fist. “Get the damned thing out! And there were these other people I knew.”

“Alright, don’t freak out,” Sky said. He came around to rub her arms gently.

“No!” Fang walked away from him, brushing his hands aside. “It’s not like that! I don’t need a pill or a doctor or anything. You don’t understand. It wasn’t me! Not like a part of me was sick and started running away from reality. Like someone was pulling the strings in my head from the outside. Who were those other people? If they come for me and there were two other men with me, then you know I’m telling the truth. How did I know them?”

“Well I don’t know about last night, but you’re acting pretty crazy right now,” Sky said, exasperated, following her. “Would you sit down and repeat some of that at a pace I can hear?”

Fang let her shoulders sag and looked at him.

He’s worried, but he’s not ready to pick up the phone and call an institution to come get me yet, she thought.  Of course he’s going to listen to me.  He always listens.

She felt guilt twist her heart. It was a small discomfort beneath the pounding of her head and the tight fear scrambling up and down her nerves, but memory of his face as she had told him they should see other people made her wince like putting weight on an injured ankle. They’d dated for less than a week after years of friendship, and she’d told him she didn’t want to lose that.

Almost the truth, she thought, dropping her face into her hands.

“I broke into a building last night,” she said as Sky knelt close before her. “One of the big office buildings right by the beach.”

 

To be continued.

 


by & filed under Arts & Music, Litra'ture & Poetry.