False Dawn #6: “The Big Gulp”
Part Two Of Two: Drowning
Short Story Edition
Devin Leigh Michaels
WORLD WAR II MEMORIAL
Standing on the steps of the memorial, I turn toward Casia with my best incredulous glare. “What?”
She wags her finger like a gangster’s mother. “Don’t even think about it.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Yeah, and Lance hates to kill.”
“Hey!” Lance objects, coming to stand next to Casia. “I don’t like killing. I’m just really good at it.”
“See?” I smirk.
Casia’s not amused. Yeah, this is normally the time when you duck and final cover. “Hanging out with an immortal and an extended mortal might make living longer seem cool, but it’s not.”
“In fact, it kinda sucks,” Lance adds.
“See?” She pats Lance on the shoulder. “He agrees with that.”
“Of course, being mortal sucks, too. Can you imagine worrying about getting shot? Or even a paper cut. Man, you Perishables might bleed out, and that’s it!”
“Oookay, so not helping.”
As much as Casia thinks she knows me, she’s got me all wrong. I live with them. I see what being immortal or having extended mortality does. At times, Casia sits outside the Blazer and just looks up at the moonlight. And Lance—he only takes naps. I don’t think he actually sleeps at night. I want to say it’s because he wants to be alert to protect us from the Skadoian Warriors, but it’s not. It’s because he feels guilty for what he’s done, and he can’t sleep without seeing those he killed.
“Being immortal isn’t inherently bad,” Lance says.
“Oh, please,” Casia complains. “You just think if he becomes immortal, you don’t have to worry about your curse.”
Here they go again.
“—true! It doesn’t matter what happens to Ral. It only matters how it affects you.”
So, of course, I wander by the water, where neither of them would see me take a sip. Where neither of them would know until it’s all done, and I’m immortal. Where neither of them would—
For those of you who didn’t know, bile does not taste good. It tastes like a mixture of dog food and pennies.
…not that I would know what either of those tastes like…
Anyway, barfing does have it benefits though. It stops Casia and Lance from fighting for one moment before Casia hits Lance upside the back of the head.
“You are so full of it.”
“Well, we know Ral isn’t.”
“Ha ha,” I answer dryly.
So good to know I have such great “parents.”
As their bickering continues, I walk along the walls of the Memorial, reading the quotes in between barfing sessions when I feel a shadow lingering over me. I tug off my necklace and lift to swipe when I see the girl’s face. She takes a half-step back, her hands out in front of her in a surrender position.
And she’s hot.
“S—Sorry. I didn’t realize you were …I was just…I—I—”
I want to wipe the bile from on my chin, but she’s right there, staring at me with those wide portals to her soul. There’re a deep blue like the sky just before the sun rises, and her dark hair shimmers with hints of moonlight.
I should not be so mesmerized, but she’s so hot. And not hot like the-girl-next-store hot. We’re talking hot like she’ll-be-bigger-than-Miley-Cyrus-by-the-time-she-turns-twenty hot.
“Did you just barf in the fountain?” she asks.
She rubs my arm encouragingly, and though I know it’s wrong—why would a sixteen year old look my way?—I can’t help but smile. I’m sure it’s pathetic with my illness dragging my mouth into a sick frown, but I still try.
“Those two people—are they with you?”
“They don’t have to be if you don’t want them to be.”
Why am I saying that? I don’t mean that, and I’m definitely not THAT cool.
Her smile’s so bright, so inviting, and her lips—they’re pump like Angelina Jolie’s. When she leans forward, her breath is like a baked chocolate chip cookie, warm and gooey, and ready to be devoured.
She whispers, “Where’s the Universal Pancreas?”
And I reply, “It’s right—OW!”
My hand immediately slaps over my bicep, where blood squeezes through. The stinging seethes like a pit bull bite—not that I know what that feels like—and when I look back, I see a dagger impaling the stone wall.
Behind the hottie stands Lance, his sword out, his teeth clenched. Next to him, Casia holds her staff ready to fight.
“Step away from the hormonal teenager,” Lance orders.
“Hey, I take—”
Before I can finish my sentence, the hottie wraps an arm around my neck and presses something cold against my temple.
You’d think this would freak me out. You’d also think I could take her, but with this illness—and yes, I’m using that as an excuse.
“Get back, or the Perishable gets it.”
Casia’s eyes burn with anger. Never a good sign. “You’ll never get far, Siren, and we’ll make sure you die and die again if you hurt him.”
The hottie—Siren?—jerks me back, and I just let it go—everything and anything that’s left in my stomach. She, then, lets me go, but that does not save her shoes. She jumps back but keeps her handgun trained upon me.
“Oh, you will pay for that!”
Lance already lunges forward, but a shot cracks the stone before his feet, stopping him in his tracks. From the arches come the men and women who attacked us at the rest area a week ago, each armed and pointing their weapons at Casia, Lance, and me as they surround us.
The older African American man now wears camouflage. On the green beret are crossing arrows and a sword reading, “De Oppresso Liber.” I’m not expert on gun, but it looks semi-automatic to me.
“An immortal and extended mortal—apparently Mr. Dawson isn’t the only one to whom we wish to speak.”
Casia’s hand curves to form fire, though I have yet to see the sparks. Lance just looks ready to kill the man.
“Who are you?” Lance demanded.
“You may call me Chevis.” He walks with a pose only presidents use nowadays, and he comes closer to me. “And all we want to know is where the Universal Pancreas is.”
“I’m…*huff*…still going with the …*huff*…universal…stomach,” I wheeze, wiping the bile remnants from my chin.
Casia restrains herself and places the bottom of her staff on the ground. “The Fountain of Youth is a curse within itself. You do not want what it has to offer.”
“Easy for you to say. Do you know how many soldiers’ lives could have been saved with its power?”
Lance snorts. “You know how many soldiers’ lives could have been saved without the war?”
“Hey!” The Chinese America scowls. “You don’t know what it’s like to see the ones you love dying in front of you with no way to save them. You don’t know what it’s like holding onto them until they’re not there anymore.”
“That’s enough, Nantale,” Chevis admonishes.
A dark glower contorts Lance’s face, and he becomes quiet, reserved. He doesn’t scream at the woman. He simply rasps, “And you think the water’s going to change that?”
“Oh, yeah. That and more.” Chevis finally turns back to me, and I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. “Now up, boy. You’re going to tell us exactly where this fountain is.”
A hard hand fists in the scuff of my jacket and jerks me to my feet. He’s lucky I don’t decorate his boots. “I’m not going to tell you anything.”
“Maybe not me, boy, but you will tell her.” He nods toward the hottie, whose eyes penetrate my soul and hold me captive.
Her fingers dance up my chest like legs, and she leans over close to whisper in my ear, “I know what your heart desires most of all. You know wherever they are, your mother and uncle are in pain and being tortured. You can stop that. You can save them, and all you must do is tell me where the fountains is.”
Her breath smells like the carnations my mother loved to put on my uncle’s bar, the same ones he moved to his office to spare her feelings and his business. Her eyes even glimmer with the same glint as Mom’s, but her leather jacket looks like the one my uncle wore all the time.
How can I deny them freedom by just telling her one little—?
A gun discharges, and a bullet cracks the pavement next to my sneaker.
“Don’t listen to her, Ral!” Lance blares as he kicks Chevis’s hand up, faulting the older man’s aim. “She won’t give you anything!”
Fire erupts from Casia’s staff and roars upon the ground toward the four military men and women.
The hottie takes my arm and drags me behind one of the pillars and jams the gun barrel into my ribs.
“You have five seconds to tell me where the fountain is before I take you from your parents forever.”
She’s still beautiful, and her singing makes me want to join her. Her hand crunches my bicep where Lance’s knife tore my skin. The searing pain breaks my concentration. “What’s it to you?”
The hottie’s quiet for a second as Casia’s battle cry shatters any silence, and her eyes grow dark. “I can save them. This water—It has the opportunity to save them, and I hear them.” She’s crying. “I can hear their cries, and I want to save them. I need to save them.”
She believes her own songs.
“Whatever you think the fountain can do, it can’t. Those you lost, it can’t bring back.”
Gunshots echo in the archways. Chevis slams hard to the ground, blood tainting his jacket at both his shoulders. Now holding the older man’s gun, Lance turns and fires twice, hitting Nantale in the knee and arm. Casia’s fire melts Gavin’s gun, and he screams as the hot metal burns his skin. She whirls toward Ari, whose gun is trained to Lance’s head. A simple spark from Casia’s fingers knocks the girl out cold.
“Kit!” Chevis screams.
The hottie grabs my bicep, searing pain through my body and keeping her words from controlling me. “Please, just tell me! They need me! They need the Pancreas!”
Some lessons can’t be taught, Lance told me during training. They have to be experienced.
I point toward the pool. “That’s it. That’s the Fountain of Youth.”
The hottie follows my gaze, her own shifting from desperation to hope. It physically hurts as she drops the gun from my gut. With an elated cry, she launches herself toward the water.
“NO!” Casia shouts.
Lance lunges. “STOP!”
She doesn’t listen like I knew she wouldn’t and flings face first into the cool water. For a moment, I think the world itself has stopped as another immortal is born, but instead, the siren stands. Her sopping wet body trembles, and she rotates toward us, her eyes darker than Lance’s but her face bright with relief and love.
There’s nothing there…or we at least can’t see what is.
“Kele, is that really—” Terror widens her eyes. “What are you doing? KELE!”
A furious wave spurts up from the calm fountain’s surface and swallows her whole. When it retreats, she’s gone, leaving only a few ripples where she once stood.
“KIT!” Chevis shrieks, but it doesn’t matter.
“What…What happened to her?” I ask, coming to stand between Casia and Lance.
The two share a brief, worried gaze before Casia places a hand on my shoulder and pulls me close. “I—I don’t know. Apparently, the Fountain doesn’t work how we think…?” She looks to Lance for help, but he offers no other explanation. He doesn’t know either.
“Bring her back!” Nantale demands. “What you did—”
“He did nothing.” Lance bends down and takes off his jacket, throwing it over Chevis. He presses his hands down on one of the man’s wounds while Casia moves toward Nantale. “The Fountain’s power contains mysteries none of us know. For your own sake, steer clear.”
“But what it can do—The lives it can save—”
“The lives it can destroy,” Casia growls. “Overpopulation, rapid growth, and unending war. Imagine super soldiers on both sides unable to die and the mortals caught in the middle. We don’t know just where this comes from and why, or how much is there. You might be dooming the very people you wish to save.”
“They’re already dead,” Maddox hisses, his face clenched with pain. I offer what I can—a bottle of regular water—but it helps little. “Our team, they were killed in the onslaught of Baghdad.”
“Then honor them but not this way. Unless of course, you wish to join them as your Siren now has,” Lance argues before pulling out his cell phone and chuckling. “Resurrection, my ass.”
“Then you know the potential it holds.”
“No.” Lance meets my eyes, solemn and forsaken. “I know the curse it tolls.”
He calls 911 and then orders Casia and me to leave. Cops and us just don’t get along too well. As we head up the stairs, Gavin calls, “This doesn’t end. If this isn’t the Fountain, then we’ll find you, and when we do—”
That stops Lance, who glances over his shoulder. “All of us, even Immortals, have a one-way ticket. Cherish what you have now and know you will see your loved ones again.” He puts a hand one hand Casia’s shoulder and another on mine. “Not all of us are so lucky.”
We walk to the Blazer, my hands stuck in my pockets to hide the shaking. “What’s a Siren?”
Lance sighs as he opens the back door and motions for me to sit. “You ever hear the Greek stories of those three women on the rocks who sang songs to lead men to their deaths?”
Casia opens the first-aid kit.“These are their descendants.”
Shedding my jacket, I roll up my sleeve, so Lance can clean and dress the wound on my arm. Let’s forget he’s the one who put it there. “Just be happy,” Lance adds, “that their bird feet became genetically recessive.”
Casia’s cell phone rings. “…Donnellie? Donnellie, calm down…What do you mean we’re being hunted?”
Rubbing the back of my neck, I blink. My necklace! In the fight, I must have somehow lost it!
Lance listens intently to Casia, and when I motion to my neck, he waves his hand, “Go.”
“FBI?” Casia repeats uncertainly. “Why would the FBI be after us?”
With both his shoulders bandaged, Chevis grunts as the bed clicks into place in the ambulance. A knock draws his attention to the door, and instead of EMTs, a man and a woman, each in a black suit, flash their badges.
“Captain Chevis Kingston, leader of Alpha Team, aka the Predators?” Agent Towne addresses as he steps up into the truck.
“We were called the ‘Preds.’”
“Mind if we talk about your latest mission?”
Narrowing his eyes, Chevis lays back in the bed. “What do you want to know?”
Agent Skylar climbs up on the opposite side of Chevis. “Everything, starting with why you went after Raleigh Dawson.”
Chevis looks from one agent to the other, his face intense. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
Towne leans his elbows on his thighs. “Try us.”
Chevis does. “His mother and uncle are immortal.”
Skylar smirks. “Bingo.”
I sneak behind one of the arches, hooking the chain about my neck. Yeah, I never lost it. I just need to get back to the Fountain. It’s a Curse, I know. It’s wrong, but I don’t care.
As I bend down to the pool, I feel a cold shadow over me. I slowly raise my eyes, scared of what I’m going to see, and there she is.
Her short brown hair cuts just under her chin, and her smile can save me from any darkness. Her soft, green eyes blur with tears, and she’s sad. Her angelic hand reaches out to me, to cup my chin, but it stops just below, hovering where I can’t feel her warmth.
Her smile falls, and she shakes her head no before she dissipates in the rays of the sun.
“Mom…?” I lunge forward but stop just before the pool. “MOM!”
She…She was there…wasn’t she? She was telling me that this is wrong.
An electronic beeping vibrates my back pocket, and I pull out my cell phone. “Yeah?”
“Ral.” Casia. “We have to move. Did you find what you were looking for?”
I swallow back the warm bile and scoop fast, sucking a hand full of the water into my mouth. Almost instantly, the bile’s cut, and the sickness that clutched my stomach calms.
“Yeah, I’ve got everything I need.”