Boundaries of Loss and Redemption pt 2

II.

He was a side sleeper. Two firm pillows for his head, one tucked between his knees and another held close to his chest and stomach, somewhere between the feeling of floating in amniotic bliss and spooning a lover. Only tonight he didn’t sleep. A quick thunderstorm rolled across the Peak, showering the city heavily, flooding drainage pipes past capacity. Normally, this calmed him, tonight it didn’t. When faintest predawn glow entered his room, he noticed it behind closed lids, deciding to give up on what had proven the past several hours to be futile. His only thought was Minerva.

He rose to shower, shave, protein drink, double dose of Xanax, dress for work, go back to the trail. He pulled into the trail head as the sun crested the eastern plains, casting bold crimson rays across the sky like a Japanese flag. The creek ran more like a river, angry waters pummeling rocks, testing the confinement of its boundaries.

Early morning runners and cyclists passed occasionally, sporting specialized custom camel backs or form fitting Lycra pants. Bells ringing, calls from behind “On The Left!”, bikes occasionally passing so close he could feel the rush of air against his arm and face. Some runners greeted good morning, others became lost in the music from their ear buds, sweating and panting in a rhythm no doubt practiced to maximize oxygenation and efficiency of endurance. All this reminded him of the city water supply, arteries and veins carrying microscopic lifeforms to and fro. He wondered what sort of bacteria or virus he might be. The cyclists? The Runners?

He came to the bridge, noting that someone had taken the time to scrawl the words Jesus Dick in silver marker on the right slanting support beam, complete with a picture of the anatomy below it, pointing upward at the words like an arrow. No Jesus attached, just the genitals.

Forty steps to cross the bridge, he stopped and removed Minerva’s meal from its carrier, noting its warmth and softness. There was no way to know if she would be here, of course, since he had never come in the morning, but he hoped. Runners passed, a cyclist, then clear both ways as far as he could tell.

She wasn’t there, but he waited for some long yet indeterminate time and perhaps due to an unknown instinct of intuition or empathy she possessed, she arrived, floating down like an angel taking her position on the greeting branch. Still no signs of humans approaching, and he raised his welder’s glove, kit held high, heart racing, eyes closed waiting for the feel of her body to impact.

It didn’t.

She was hesitant, he was patient, but what thoughts or instincts touched her mind were not apparent. They stood, one watching the other, one with hope. When it was apparent she was not going to leave her place, not going to descend and bruise his wrist to take her meal, he rationalized that perhaps she had already eaten. He feared the other possibilities. They stared, enjoying the morning sunshine on a cool November morning, the air having chilled since the storm. He talked to her about his work, about his thoughts and beliefs, his childhood and where he grew up. He knew she didn’t understand, but she looked at him the whole time as if listening. Presently, the humans returned, coming down the trail, the padding of their feet and tread of their tires signaling all end to privacy. He stopped talking, and she retreated into the skies, flying lazily southward; he turned to replace it back in its carrier, disappointment weighing his shoulders and back. He pursed his lips, took a deep breath; imagined a perfect world for a moment before taking it back and hiding it. Work was approaching, the clock numbers ticked forward, pressing him, reminding him there was too much finite for his liking.

Testing, analyzing, interpreting, organizing; today he changed the bar graphs to pie charts with slices of Azure, Pomegranate, Royal Cyan, Aurelian and Turquoise. He was in charge, he could make the charts however he wanted. He unpacked his lunch, one of the five containers he stocked the breakroom refrigerator with on Mondays; though some were empty. Today was a sandwich. Turkey, bacon, salami, spinach, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard on oat nut bread. Almonds, cranberries and a small chunk of Gruyere on the side. Water from the tap.

One of the new employees came in and sat at the table across from him.

“Good morning Mr. Jayne.” She said to him, as she unpacked a bologna on white.

He nodded, tried to smile mid-bite and failed miserably at both, considering briefly whether he should wear a name tag. If he worked at McDonalds, people might know his name. He made another successful attempt at biting the sandwich (this time without the Reciprocity), reminding himself that he was content with his non-station among others. It was an invisible blanket. The kind that warded of fear and betrayal, pain and doubt; the hard won den of comfort that had allowed him to continue converting oxygen into carbon dioxide, the cave he retreated to, embracing familiar shadows in favor of their makers – to ward off insanity.

Sealing the container, he replaced the meal, half-finished back in the fridge and went back to work, distracted heavily by thoughts of Minerva and her rejection of him this morning. She could spend time with him or not, she didn’t care either way. The meeting was on her terms, a reminder that she was already bound to another despite how undeserving her companion was, she was not ready to commit to his intentions, though she had already in part.

And what were his intentions? He was separate, alone, damaged and like a cog in a machine, going through the motions of function one staccato tooth at a time, wearing slowly, fine shavings coating the greased surroundings of his lightless prison; on the whole yearning to be over-wound.

He drank four cups of water from the water cooler before returning to the lab, finishing his work and heading again to the trail.

She joined him at their usual spot shortly after he arrived. He greeted her, talking to her about his day, presenting the Beveren kitten which she eagerly engaged. The expected strike of her talons on the welder’s glove, the pinch of her grip, bruising his wrist anew. He held paws tightly in his grip, while she did the same on its neck. Together, they stood among the fading trees, chill breeze startling the aspens to twinkle and shed while in that rain of nature’s cycle, natural and intoxicating, she remained to dine with him.

As surreal as any hallucination, as real as the birth of a child, she tore, ripped and consumed. He grimaced and closed his eyes once when his thumb was included in the ravaging of her hunger, locked as it was against the flesh of the lifeless kit. Were it not for the glove, he would have suffered more than a crushed knuckle and torn skin.

He talked to her, softly encouraging – to understand that he was there for her, to help her feel trust and admiration, to make her understand how beautiful she was to him, for in that moment, he fell in love knowing she could not return it.

Consumed in the moment, he reached with his free hand and touched her, feathers cold on the outside, but warm just beneath where the down protected her heat, stroking her wing tenderly, which she accepted. She finished and remained on his arm and he stared into her eyes. She smelled of dewy leaves, the kind raked from beneath the sycamores in fall when he was a child, piled high for leaping into. The freshly churned damp soil earthworms prefer just beneath grass lawns. Perhaps a hint of alcohol reeking from the braid.

Moments of adoration passed, this first in this life.

Acting on instinct, he slowly reached for the tether around her leg, just to touch it, to find its strength or weakness, noticing it was frayed and begrimed from neglect.

A dog walker approached down the path, the breeze faded yet he felt colder in its absence. When his fingers touched the nylon braid, the dog barked, the sun emerged from behind a cloud to illuminate them, and in that moment of nakedness, Minerva reacted in a panic born of primitive instinct. Her for darted to his shoulder, causing him to flinch, duck his head and know he had made a mistake. Her beak sank into the skin of his neck, pulling the flesh, yet letting go just before it tore away, sharp nails digging into the tenderness of his unprotected back as they raked furiously in sync with her pounding wings.

He was down and curled, assuming fetal protectiveness in the surge of the moment; on the ground with her gone. The dog walker’s heavy steps preceded a wet nose to his protected face, while its owner went through the motions of a Samaritan. He stood quickly, recovering his wits and looking about for Minerva, though no hint of sight or sound to her remained.

Amid all her questions, he only had one, which he asked repeatedly: “Where did she go?” She, trying to ensure his health and wellbeing didn’t respond until his third repetition. She paused, confusion apparent at the mad in his mid-forties, bleeding from neck and tears in the back of his coat, seemingly oblivious to his condition in a wild eyed scan of the environs.

“Who?” She asked, contemplating the sanity of this stranger on the path. He looked to her and suddenly wondered if he should say anything. This woman might call emergency services and tell them he was attacked by an owl. Animal control would come and likely trap and destroy Minerva in the wake of such a report, and she, desensitized to human presence would likely be an easy prey for the devices of humans designed to that effect. Tranquilizer guns, snares, cages, media, people looking for the killer bird. He couldn’t reveal his relationship, never explain their interaction. Bible Bob would take her far away, if not hunt him down for insinuating himself into business that did not concern him; for loving his charge.

He looked to the woman, concern on her young face, he guessed her to be in her mid to late twenties. Blue denim shorts, white tank with “Rule of 42” silk screened on the front, dark hair pulled back in a thick braid and her Golden Retriever (By the name of Crackers he learned), barking and jumping on him happily as if nothing were awry despite her working to keep him away with the short lead.

He collected himself, pressing his hand firmly on the back of his neck to keep the flap of skin closed to stem the flow. “What did you see?” He managed to say, holding the urge to breathe heavily in check to calm the paths of choices this woman could take in his favor.

Perplexed and a bit wary, she responded. “I saw you on the ground, curled up as I came around the bend.” A pause.

“Look, are you ok? You look like you hurt your neck pretty bad, maybe I should call an ambulance.” This as she pulled her phone out of the back pocket of her shorts.

“No! No, I’m ok, I just… I fell back there and think I landed on a branch or rock or something.” Never comfortable with lying, he felt bad for lying to this young woman who was trying to help him. Him, a stranger on a path who was acting strangely and bleeding.

“Are you sure? It looked pretty bad.” She kept her distance, a few feet away either as a precaution or to control her happy dog.

“Yeah, I’m sure. I’ve had worse. It just hurt like hell for a minute.” The minute was given as a generic temporal perspective as the wound still pulsed and throbbed.

“Ok, then. Well, I can walk you to your car but… I’d kind of like to know what that leather glove is for, and who ‘she’ is.” She stressed the “she”.

Her phone still on and in her hand, the numbers 911 still typed into the screen but not sent. Smart Girl he thought to himself as his mind reeled for a nonthreatening lie that would explain a grown man walking around a nature path with a welder’s glove on. Blood, Welders Glove, solitary man; He would have his phone prepped for emergency too. Thankfully, brevity was a trait he had always been gifted with, something that had endeared others to him in his life before. Digging into those reserves brought painful memories along with responses couched in calming body language and a mask of genuine calmness germinated from a lifetime of practice.

And after all, what is a lie? ‘Tis but the truth in masquerade.

“I work in a lab that processes samples for the local water supply. Conium Maculatum has been reported in this area and one of the techs is out today, so thought I’d search for and try to find a sample for confirmation. The glove is all I had to use to actually touch it without poisoning myself. And ‘she’ is my dog. I took her along on the walk so she could get some exercise.”

Her posture relaxed a bit, mulling the explanation around. Conia…”

“Conium Maculatum – Poison Hemlock. It’s native to the area, but hasn’t been a problem in Monument Creek before.”

She stepped forward, keeping Crackers held by the collar so he didn’t jump. The dog was whining now instead of barking, making it mildly easier to hear himself think.

“Look, you’re bleeding and I really think you should see a doctor. I’ll walk you back to make sure you’re ok. I think we should call the humane society so they can pick up your dog, she’s probably lost.”

Now comes the tangled web, he thought, one lie begets another. He didn’t want people out searching for a dog that didn’t exist, when they could be doing things that actually helped others. Worse, she might go herself and look for the dog, putting herself on the trail late, opening opportunities for her safety to be compromised. He forced his mind to stay focused and not go wandering trails itself.

I walk this trail a lot. She knows the way back home. I’ll go home and clean up and if she isn’t back after that, I’ll look for her. I’ll go see a doctor tomorrow, though if that makes you feel better.”

She didn’t look quite satisfied, but her expression showed resignation to this stranger’s decision.

“Which way to your car?” she asked, to which he pointed north toward the bridge and began walking that way. She walked beside him, crackers pulling on the short lead, trying to sniff any part of him the dog could reach.

He was quite on the way back, adding his scarf to the wound to help soak and conceal the blood, while this young lady talked away, accelerated, pleasant rambling about her day, year and life. Her name was Avè. She worked at Starbucks as a Barista while attending grad school for trauma counseling. Crackers was four years old, but still acted like he did when he was four months. She lived in a crappy apartment and paid for her school with loans she knew she would never be able to pay back in her lifetime.

He let her talk, lost in his own thoughts on Minerva’s reaction. She jumped to his shoulder, his back and neck were screaming in pain. He shouldn’t have pushed it, he knew, shouldn’t have addressed the cord on her leg. Stupid.

He didn’t want to tell her he thought her degree was crap. What did counselors know about trauma? Young, idealistic and wanting to make a difference in a world they knew nothing about. What experience did she have in trauma? How could she understand the abiding pain of ultimate loss? There was nothing that could make someone forget that kind of pain. Pain that changed a person forever, the careless and heartless reality of organic life succumbing to natural selection. But more than that, an insidious and malevolent state of being that regretted the sunrise; a madness that could make a man walk calmly through the streets of every city burning, stroll the avenues of looters and gangs that would form in the wake of total annihilation, savoring the sounds of bullets screaming past him.

No fear, no expectations; just paying taxes and making sure people had safe drinking water. This was his life. Now, walking next to the girl who was nice.

They neared his car and she held true to her declaration of walking him all the way.

“Thanks for letting me talk, I tend to run on a bit. I hope that was okay.”

“It was fine, thank you for your help, you didn’t have to.”

“Yes I did. What’s your name, by the way?”

He unlocked the car and opened the door. “It depends on who you ask.” He replied with a shrug. “Thanks again. You’re good person.” A short pause before: “Take care.”

“Hey wait, about your dog? What kind of dog is she?”

He smiled from the corner of his mouth, a genuine attempt to make her feel his appreciation, which was also genuine. Her actions were perhaps steeped in reciprocal altruism, even with the understanding that the reward stemmed from her simply wanting to feel part of a good deed done; but maybe that was the best kind.

She looked skeptical and a bit worried that he didn’t seem so concerned about his lost pet. It made perfect sense in light of him freaking out just after the attack and asking about her repeatedly.

“Thanks again.” He closed the door and she backed up as he drove away. She stood there in the reflection of the rearview mirror watching as he drove away. She was smart enough to know when things didn’t add up.

The trip home was quick, and interesting as he worked to drive his standard one handed, holding his scarf against his neck with the now ungloved left.

At his house again, he stripped naked and headed to the bathroom. In the mirror, the marks down his back weren’t as bad as he thought, his coat had saved him from the worst of it, but her strong talons had gotten through enough to make him bleed. His neck was of more concern, the skin torn in an upside down V midway down between shoulder and ear. Blood flowed freely when he removed the scarf prompting him to winter wrap it. He grabbed the bottle of rubbing alcohol from beneath the counter, leaned his head over the sink and poured it over the covered wound.

The expected pain was intense, once the alcohol seeped through to the hole, causing him to clench his jaw. He poured little streams several times, each time bringing renewed pain just as strong as the first. He removed the scarf and poured again, watching the blood, mixed with alcohol flow, into the basin; splattering against the white porcelain, pool for a moment and trickle into the drain.

Paralyzed with the spectacle, pain and immediacy became lost to memory.

He woke in a puddle of vomit and blood, heart beating with greyhound pace, body wet with perspiration. He stood slowly and calmly, walking to the shower as effluvia dripped with the same ever-present gravity that somehow weighed his soul as if it had physical substance. Same rules: action, reaction; force equals mass multiplied by acceleration toward a velocity that was long ago terminal.

Curtain open, eyes closed, the bursting stream of cold water left the showerhead, shocking his skin to contract as it washed the filth and blood away only to warm gradually as the minutes passed. He braced his hands against the wall, letting the water wash over his hair, over his face, over the loose skin of a stomach that once held weight. A stomach that looked fit under his shirt, complimented on occasionally by those who knew him before. They assumed it was diet, exercise, a dedication to health and well-being; the appearance versus the reality of a body reflecting the emaciation of joy and love.

The water was only luke warm. He turned the knob on the left till steam rose and he could feel the sting of heat, lowering his head to let it flow down his back and shoulders; feeling the water play with the flap of skin on his neck, moving like seaweed in a tidal current. The pain rose and he relished its healing power, forcing his instincts to want to address it.

The rough sea sponge lay in the shower rack, the corpse of a creature that served in death to exfoliate and remove layers. Fully lathered, standing in steam, the spray of the water half in the tub, the other half pooling on the bathroom floor. He scrubbed his body, in the water that still wasn’t hot enough. A quarter turn, and blanket of warmth; he inhaled the vomit smell of steam, felt skin tingle with menthol sensitivity as the temperature within his body rose; gravity diminished, sweat beaded to be rinsed with the water that created it.

The fugue meanderings of his brain solidified like so much oil on water. Was there a soul capable of being affected by the laws of physics, or was it an ephemeral construct of humanity, the intense desire to think of oneself as more than firing neurons and chemically stored memories. Memory and spirit conflicted, however, with painful reminisce damaging the soul, while peace and joy strengthed it. Was it the other way around? Was it subjective? At what point did the destruction of neurons bring a soul to animalistic state, vegetation, non-soul. Many would argue that with the brain dead, the soul would live on; his mind wrapped conversely on the death of the soul with the mind intact. Murderers were described as having no soul – psychopaths, deviants. His paths diverged considering his non-deviant, damaged mind, as undecipherable as Sorites Paradox; for at what level of diminishment could a soul no longer be called a soul. If it existed at all, for him, for any, his was but a grain.

The left knob wouldn’t turn any longer. The right one did, the diminishing cold leaving a cascade of purification centered on his chest where all anguish seemed to focus, constricting lungs, crushing a rapidly beating heart to which only the heat could try to eliminate, the sensation bringing stinging tears of relief that disappeared as quickly as they formed. He tuned and turned, the water never hot enough to purge but still making him feel something more than apathy and death. He was too late perhaps, as the water cooled, the reservoir depleted. Cold off, hot on, yet it cooled.

With a turn, the shower ended, and he exited, drying the forming welts with disregard -feeling only slightly better; enough, perhaps to satisfy his body’s need to survive to which he retreated for a moment to retrieve the small tube of super glue from his writing desk and return. With a quick wipe of the mirror, he clumsily sealed the bite on his neck, dropped the tube on the floor and walked with effort the long steps of the hallway to the bedroom, collapsing wet and drained onto the bed, savoring a disturbed and fitful sleep that was his only solace.

Morning. The morning brought its normal routine of wakefulness. He checked his phone for his daily dose of news. Deaths, wars, destruction, racism, with a dash of cute animal stories. A large fire had broken out in the western mountains, only unusual since it wasn’t fire season in Colorado. He stepped outside, squinting into the east, thick with the haze of smoke. Over four hundred acres burned, people evacuated from their homes; two dead. All this worked to provide him with the most beautiful sunrise he had seen in years. Red rays warmed his bare chest, bringing pain from the burn of his shower last night. He closed his chest and let the sun sink in.

On the porch rested an Aloe Vera plant that had long ago outgrown the pot it rested in. The terra cotta pot sported characters and scenes from childhood books about its base, The Little Engine that Could, Goodnight Moon, Winnie the Pooh and Piglet holding hands, Alice Chasing the White Rabbit. Tired of the sun and its life-giving pain, he knelt down and broke off a large piece of the succulent, returning inside to administer it to the blisters.

Triple antibiotic served the scratches well, to which he also applied a large gauze bandage with tape to the largest of them to keep salve from getting on his clothes.

He wore a collared black shirt with a paisley tie which belonged to his father at one time and smelled of Old Spice no matter how many times he washed it. The shirt scratched at the several blisters on his chest and aggravated the uncovered wounds on his back, but it worked well to conceal the garish wound on his neck, choked with the hardened bloody glue, a field bandage at best begging for a scar.

He wanted to go to her this morning, wanted to see her, but had felt she would not want to see him. He took care of his Beverens; feeding, cleaning, handling. Fresh water with a liquid vitamin additive. By the time he had finished, he smelled of rabbit and sweat, but had no time to shower. Work was in fifteen minutes, and though no one paid attention to his comings and goings, they would miss their data emails. Like most jobs, he imagined, good work was ignored, while falling behind was punished. He had a bit of leeway, however. He was in charge of the department, not having called in sick in the ten years he had worked there. What would happen if he just didn’t show up one day? Ever again?

With a sigh from his depths, he reminded himself of an old promise to himself and forced himself to carry on. He chose a ripe kit from the cages, selected an old favorite book he had read a dozen times and headed off to his day. There was no time to see a doctor, though he had never intended to go as he had told Avè yesterday.

He hated how subjective time was. Even with as busy as he became that day, he groaned inwardly at how little time passed with each glance at his watch. The truth was, all he wanted was to see Minerva again, to know that everything was ok even though his instincts told him she was not to be trusted, they also drove him to want to be a part of her life, to set her free and take care of her all at once.

He stepped out of work, resigned to do what every nerve in his body urged him to do and not do. His coat was at home, and he walked down the trail with nothing but shirt, tie and welders glove for protection. He opted for foolish trust, heart screaming survival instincts. Approaching the bridge, he heard her; a silent yet recognizable low throated pattern he recognized as his.

Fires still burned in the east, sun setting behind Pikes Peak like some rare astronomical event was in place; magical and buzzing with a form of energy physics couldn’t measure. Crickets didn’t chirp and wind didn’t flow in this ravine, even the water moved carefully; the reverent peal of calm reigned like in the fabled mystic grottos of old.

He rounded the bend, no one in sight, Minerva perched low and awaiting with reticence and expectation, he thought. Tall tuft feathers rising like horns on each side of her head, eyes wide and focused burning orange in the red light of sunset; head turning as he came along the path to keep him focused ahead of her. He didn’t know what to expect as he reached for the kit, but her reaction startled him. She turned her head upside down first one direction, then the other. He laughed, the sensation almost foreign to him, a deflated balloon realizing it could be filled again to what it was, though thinner and more fragile; laughter came with fear but straight from gut. Whether coy or apologetic, playful or inquisitive, the action captivated him and he couldn’t stop smiling and as if taking this as a cue, she leaped forward to perch on his wrist, before he had even begun to raise it.

The kit was held clumsily as he met her just in time and he thought she landed with a bit less ferocity, tamped with the inhibited mute of a violin in a fancy restaurant, resonant and lovely without overbearing the moment.

He kept his eyes averted, the throbbing in his neck a reminder of his limitations and she stayed there for some minutes taking small bites. He talked to her this time, reassuring her of her beauty and grace, her power over him. She looked about for a moment as if exposed on the trail and took off to perch, not on her high up perch, but near him on the greeting branch. Everything so promising, he took out the book he had brought with him, his hopes and imaginations of this day’s events coming to full fruition. Slowly, he nestled himself at the base of the giant cottonwood and sat with his back against it, reading to her adventures of Richard as she ate. She seemed to listen, pausing now and again to look over at him as he changed voices for the different characters; crescendoed at dramatic moments, softened and slowed for dramatic effect. Even after finishing her meal, she remained, the calm remained and he read on till after the sun’s light faded, only stopping when the battery on his phone nearly depleted from using its light to read on.

He stood and stretched.

Minerva looked, shifted back and forth like an old style wooden rocking horse before the time when squeaky springs and metal bars industrialized childhood. Her eyes reflected all the light of the stars, as if they held a luminescence all of their own. She lifted, flapping hard to soar high and quickly. A quick circle above then she drifted down on a cushion of air to sweep past him so close, he could feel the passing of her wings held in stasis, a whispered sound of parting and she was gone into the night, leaving a November breeze in her wake that seemed to flow in her sudden absence to awaken the night.

He sat again against the tree, captivated, heart light, thinking back on her playful gesticulations of greeting and smiling to himself, remembering the details of the night; hardly believing the memories were his own. He closed his eyes and to his later dismay, fell asleep just off the path.

He woke uncomfortably and quite cold, momentarily confused. The sky revealed Orion high in the southern sky and a quick look to his phone showed it to be almost 0300. Sleeping against the tree had done nothing for his back, though the cold night air soothed the burn on his chest. He lifted his body from the ground, dusted himself off and smiled at the memory of this evening. There was little charge left but he decided to use it to check his email on the way back to his car.

Concentrating as he was, he didn’t see the figure approaching him directly from the front until it was only two meters away; walking a path that could not be interpreted as anything but an attempt to engage. The phone lowered, but the blindness of the bright screen remained, cloaking the path with incomplete vision; pupils refusing to dilate quickly enough.

He did see a knife in the right hand, grey hoodie pulled low, sagging jeans, no face. He knew what was about to happen and he threw his phone like a Frisbee into the trees and brush; surprising himself at how far it flew before disappearing.

The figure had stopped when he threw the phone, and the body language, already resonating with anxiety, took on the connotations of anger and frustration.

“You shoulda just fuckin give your phone.” Light blindness. Pushed backward by hands that he couldn’t see well. He attempted to avoid going down, but there was something behind him; hands that grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him to the ground, his face hit the walking path hard. There were two.

Maybe this was what he was waiting for, and end to a perfect night. He laid there for a few moments. Red shirt. Red shirt held him down knee on his throat, tearing the glue. Grey Hoodie. Grey Hoodie kicked him in the side and grabbed the wallet from his back pocket.

He could lay there.

He thought about it, wanted it, but couldn’t. Instincts of survival, what would she do? Was it stubbornness from his youth? Fight in face of flight? He tightened his neck, turned and grabbed red shirt’s hair, pulling the man (it was a man) over his body. The wound on his neck tore wider.

Grey hoodie came in with the knife to slash like the parody of a street thug in Dragnet. He raised his arm at each slash, taking most, but not all of them to the man’s wrist, avoid a few cuts. He kicked grey hoodie in the face, amused at how leather loafers could splatter a nose so magnificently as to hear the cartilage crunch.

He rolled over and stood while red shirt stabbed him in the right side of his abdomen. He thought for a moment that now he wouldn’t have a decent side to sleep on if he lived. The knife, a kitchen utility knife from a Wal-Mart Collection Block. Underhand stabs came toward him. He was a raptor, a Neanderthal, calm adrenaline stifling logic.

In the end, the bloody knife was on the ground, and red shirt was having trouble breathing from a forming bruise on his larynx. Red shirt ran, to join grey hoodie, wherever he went. The hardest part of being a criminal is knowing if your victim has nothing to lose.

Blood flowed from the several deep cuts on his arm. It poured from the stab in his side, front and back, muscle sliced. Tie and belt became pressure, shirt and socks became gauze. There was little point in looking for his phone, it could be anywhere in the brush and he guessed it had flown some twenty meters or so. He could try to walk to the car, he still had keys. His head became light and he decided it was best to lay instead of fall. Blood pooled in his sideways periphery, while in the trees above him, Minerva looked on with distant callousness. His last vision before darkness was her taking flight southward, leaving him to bleed.

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