Black Heart – Chapter II Part IV
by Steppen Sawicki
Posting quick before this storm knocks out my power again.
They threw him a party on his return to work, as he was mortified to discover. It was bad enough going to work expecting to be the center of attention, but he had expected to deal with one person at a time, not all of them at once with a cake and a sign proclaiming Welcome Back Ivers. He got pats on the back from the men and hugs from the women and Good jobs and How are you feelings and the whole time he wanted to just crawl out of the room and into a hole. As it was he tried to just shrink into himself, hunching his shoulders and hanging his head to appear smaller in a sea of Possessed in jeans and t-shirts, Spotters in business causal, and the Office workers in suits and ties.
“Sorry, man,” Cam told him when he was finally able to pull him away from the others. “I wanted to tell them you’d hate it, but they were so excited about planning it.”
“Office parties should be banned,” Bryan said. He held an untouched piece of cake on a bright red plastic plate. He had dropped the fork somewhere, but he didn’t care. He wouldn’t have tasted it anyway.
“I hate to say this right after you left a hospital,” Cam said, “but you look awful. Even if you are at a party for you.”
Bryan looked at the crowd before him, making sure not to make eye contact with anyone. “I’m going to be seeing that demon I captured right after this. Actually I was ready and steeled for it but this has thrown me off.”
“They meant well.” Cam scratched his nose. “You can’t blame us for being grateful.”
“I didn’t even mean to catch the thing.” Bryan sighed. “Look, it’s a long story.”
“I don’t doubt it. But we’re Possessed. We’re tough guys. You can take it.”
“I can’t even take a welcome back party.”
“This? This is your real enemy. But demons? You beat them up for a living. They’re nothing.”
Bryan couldn’t help but smile. “You’re always right.”
“Ivers?” It was Andrade, appearing from the chattering party-goers. “I hate to pull you away from the party, but Hussein thinks we’d better not wait.”
“Please pull me away from the party,” Bryan said, leading her out of the room.
“You look better,” she said in the elevator.
“Is that why Hussein sent you?” he said without malice, only curious. “To check me out beforehand?”
She shrugged, and with her hands behind her back she looked adorable doing it. “Possibly. He always has reasons for doing what he does. All I know is he told me to go get you.”
“Meaning he knew about the party,” Bryan mumbled.
Quarantine was a sterile white block of the building. It always seemed to Bryan like people here should be walking around in hazmat suits studying petri dishes, but they were just dressed in regular office attire. There was added security – they all had to sign in at the small desk with the bored looking deskwoman, who looked less bored at the sight of Bryan. She looked at him for a moment before asking Hussein “Should I expect anything, sir?”
Bryan thought of the party downstairs. One last blowout before Ivers fucks everything up and a demon tears through the place?
But Hussein smiled. “I assure you everyone involved is fully prepared. No worries.”
Oh God, why does he have to lie like that, Bryan thought feverishly. I’m not prepared. He hasn’t prepared me. I haven’t prepared myself.
A hand landed on his shoulder and he jumped. But it was only Andrade, who of course could tell he was nervous. She smiled at him, trying to be reassuring, but he was only embarrassed that it was showing how nervous he felt.
Hussein led them down the hall, windows to either side displaying the scenes inside the little rooms. Two or three people gathered around a table holding anywhere from one to one hundred little totems. This was where fresh demons were stored when a Possessed had a breakdown and went into therapy, unable to handle their newest demons. Or when a Possessed died. Bryan saw Gennick’s candles on one table, three people circling them, watching them until the demons were set in the things.
It was boring work – Bryan had done his share of it – but it was necessary. If a demon got loose while their owner was already half-crazed it could take over them. And if a demon got loose while their owner was dead, well then you had a loose demon who was a little smarter on how capturing worked.
They came to two rooms across from each other, one housing three people, the other six. Bryan knew which one held the gamma. Hussein opened the door to that room.
The six looked up, and Hussein greeted them and started explaining that they were to stay alert, etc, etc. Bryan wasn’t listening. He had stopped in the doorway, his eyes locked on the card on the table, sitting there with six people staring at it like a holy relic. He had felt something from it on entering the room, or…no, he had felt it all along from the moment he had entered the building. He just hadn’t noticed it. A barely controlled rage and fear – a numbing fear. A mind, contemplating each of them as if searching for an opening. For an escape.
His eyes snapped to Hussein. Had Hussein said something to him?
“What?” he said, his voice sounding small and tinny to him.
Hussein motioned to the table. “Go ahead. Pick it up,” he said, as if offering some party cake instead of a crazed demon that could rip his mind to shreds.
Bryan swallowed hard and stepped forward. He felt all eyes on him but, looking up, he saw that most of the people in the room were watching the card. He glanced back at Andrade in the doorway. She was watching him, waiting to see what color his aura became when he picked up the card. She nodded at him and for a moment he hated her. He swung back around.
I don’t need your reassurance, his mind snarled. I don’t need your permission.
Eyes on the card. Reach out and pick it up. But oh God what if I fuck it up.
He watched his hand reach out as if it didn’t belong to him. As if someone else was going to pick up the card and deal with the demon, and that would have been just fine with him except it wasn’t. It was him and everyone – Hussein – was watching to make sure he didn’t fuck it up.
His fingers brushed the glossy surface of the card and something in it jumped and retreated like a dog huddling into the shadows of its kennel. And Bryan could feel its eyes on him but that was all. And that was enough, because it really saw him.
He picked it up in his hand and looked at it. It looked back, from the depths. But he had it.
Everyone in the room breathed again.