by Teresa Cain
I should have listened to all the public service announcements about running away. A moot point now, as the deed was done and I found myself being pursued by street thugs through an alley that seemed as long as an airport's runway. There was no way in hell I would make it to the other end before they grabbed me. And when they grabbed me -
I ducked my head and forced my legs to take me even faster towards the opposite end of the alley. And because I was busy concentrating on my feet, I didn't see the figure in front of me until I had hit him full force.
I bounced off a chest like rock and hit the ground hard enough to take my remaining breath away. My vision went bye-bye as I gasped for air, knowing that the breaths I gulped were probably going to be my last...if I was lucky. I listened for my pursuers to finally catch up with me, and sure enough, the pounding footsteps that had been the only important sound of the past few minutes slowed and stopped behind me.
"Alright, you little bitch," one snarled, "now you're - holy shit!"
"I thought the term was 'dead meat,'" I muttered, sarcastic to the end. I pressed a hand to my chest, still in pain from hitting - whoever I had hit. Who had I hit, anyway?
I looked up, but before I could catch a look at the alley's obstruction, I saw one lone, black feather float slowly downwards towards me. It landed on my face right between the eyes, and as my eyes crossed, something flashed by me, something large and dark. And then the screams began.
I brushed the feather off, but it was quickly replaced by a splash of something wet and sticky that hit me across the eyes. I wiped at it, wanting to see what was making those bastards scream, but then the coppery smell of blood assailed my nostrils and looking was the last thing on my mind. And when my fingers brushed squishy little lumps sticking to my cheeks, I quickly leaned to the side and puked.
Then the screams stopped. Well, one sort of spiraled into a wet little gurgle, but the silence after it stopped was deafening. I stayed on my hands and knees, my face inches away from the mess I'd just made, horrified to look up and see my own death looking back.
And slowly, another feather floated down, gently stroking my cheek as it passed. What was with the feathers? Had someone shot a crow or what?
My breath caught in my throat at the sound of that soft voice. Every urge in my body was trying to force me to look up, but I was so afraid that if I did -
"I wanna go home," I whimpered, shutting my eyes.
And then I felt it crouch down beside me, felt a hand on my shoulder and another under my chin as it forced me to look up. But I kept my eyes tightly shut. I didn't want to see it coming.
Whatever it was chuckled lightly, its breath brushing across my face. "Child, look at me. I will not hurt you."
"I'm not a child, and I don't believe you."
"Open your eyes, lady. I shall not be your death this night."
"Does that mean you'll be my death another night?"
Well, the banter was fun, but this was going to have to end somewhere. So I decided to look. Slowly, I let one eye squint open, just so the horror that had a hold of me would be slightly blurred. But as I got a glimpse of it, my eyes snapped open in disbelief.
He was... beautiful.
He looked like the most gorgeous guy I'd ever seen, just utterly perfect down to the smallest detail. I couldn't see what color his eyes were in the dark alley, but I could see that they were tilted and thickly lashed, which is one of my weak spots. Perfectly sculpted mouth in a face that was almost feminine, but something - some angle or line made it impossible to mistake him for anything but male. That lean, rock hard body helped a lot.
Then I caught sight of those little traits that had my heart thudding against my chest for an entirely different reason. There were the horns, for one - horns that curled back across the top of his head, holding back his thick white mane of hair. And then there was the huge pair of feathered wings that were flexed around us both, cutting us off from the world. So much my rescuer being human.
"Wh-what are you?"
"Doesn't matter," he whispered, his hands sliding up to cup my face. As his face leaned towards mine, I realized that I could see the color of his eyes: pure bright gold with wide slit pupils. And the closer he came, the more those strange, alien eyes seemed to fill my universe. Then my universe became those golden eyes, and I knew nothing more for awhile.
When I could think again, I discovered that I wasn't in that alley anymore. I was instead on a bed big enough for a family of twelve, covered to my waist by silk sheets. I could hear an argument going on somewhere across the room, and its basis seemed to be me.
"She's too damn young!" a female's voice protested. "You should have taken her to a shelter somewhere so she could call her parents to come get her. She doesn't suit our needs at all."
"Did you see her back, Jade?"
"Yes, I saw the burn scars. Made by cigarettes or something. Fairly old. Probably evidence of childhood abuse. Whoop-de-doo. And?"
"And you want to send her back to that?"
"She's almost eighteen. She just needs to find a better place to escape to." The female gave a disgusted sigh. "Why do they always come to New York? What's so damn inviting about this city for runaways? It's just as easy to hide in Delaware."
"Trust me, no one ever thinks to look for anyone in Delaware."
"Look, enough make-up, the right kind of clothes - she'll be perfect. Her mind is well opened. She accepted what she saw in me with very few qualms."
"Too - young," the female emphasized. "And besides, she doesn't look anything like Emily. When she wakes up, get her a real meal and a bus ticket home. And after that, leave finding our token human to me, would you?"
"I don't even see why we need a bloody human, anyway! Didn't we learn our lesson with Emily?"
"Because we both stink at hiding our forms! It's not like we can go around like this! People are bound to notice, Aerael."
"Then Ophelia can become a recluse. And you pass better than I do, Jade. At least you don't have horns and wings."
"No, I just have a tail and teeth. And we both have the eyes, of course, though for different reasons."
And all of this can be hidden on you. But then, you do badly among humans, I've noticed... you're right, we need a proxy. Are you sure she can't - "
"Look, I don't know why you've developed this affection for a human you've just met, but we need someone older. Someone to be me, dammit, and that's just the start of it. You just had to seduce and dump Emily, didn't you?"
"I was starving on her, Jade! It's not the sex I feed on, it's lust, and frankly, it was like trying to live on ice chips."
"So you want to seduce the kid over there for your dinner? I had no idea you found jailbait so appealing."
"Not that it has anything to do with the business at hand, but she would be considered getting on in years by the standards of even a hundred years ago. And no, I'm not looking for another live-in meal, thank you. And I still say she's perfect for our needs."
I was lying there getting insulted for some reason, even though I knew it was a couple of non-human creatures talking about me like a piece of meat. But as I shifted myself to hear them better, they suddenly stopped and I realized I'd given away the fact that I wasn't asleep anymore. And I had the worst feeling that this wasn't a good thing.
design ©2001 by Cindy Rosenthal
Bargains ©2000 by Teresa Cain
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