Black Bird Jeopardy

 

 

The last thing he doesn't remember:

 

His father collected swords, and his father before him. It runs in the family. Every once in a while, his father will talk to him in the living room and start taking down those long, savage, sheathed curves of steel from their hooks on the walls. His father's best sword hangs over the mantle; it is a long, razor sharp, perfectly balanced katana, sheathed in deep greenish black and accented in patina bronze. His father will take it down, unsheathe it, twirl it slowly and in deep contemplation in his weathered hands, but never let him touch it. The blade shines like a star.

Now the living room is in ruins from the explosion. That was all the warning they had: the grenade tumbling like a dropped toy across the floor. Then the explosion, and he'd dived behind the sofa. Then the machine guns had opened up, and his sister had run in terror out of the bathroom with her pants still around her ankles and been cut in half by the spray. Then a shotgun had caught his mother in the arm with a deep rolling blast, and she'd fallen, and somebody had shot her twice in the head where she lay.

The boy huddles in silent, nameless terror as the men in black suits circle the room. Then he hears his father.

"No, please--"

"We told you what would happen if you fucked over your end of the deal, Cochran."

"Oh God no please--"

The boy closes his eyes against hot tears and grinds his face into the back of the sofa, weak to his stomach from shock, as the gun fires three times and cuts off his father's screams.

Silence.

"Well, that was easy."

"Too fast."

"Suichi, you're a sadistic fuck."

"Cochran had another kid."

One of them nudges his sister's body.

"Yeah. Wife, nice house, two kids, white fucking picket fence. Did you see the photos on the mantel? God, I hate it when there are kids."

"Then find him and get it over with."

The boy screams. He cannot help it. He is only twelve, after all, and not particularly special. Footsteps. A large hand grabs him by his collar and hauls him out from behind the sofa.

"Whoa, look at his hair."

"How old do you think he is, anyway? Twelve? Thirteen?"

"God, I hate it when there are kids. This is just fucked up."

"It's the rules. It's the way we do business."

"You think he's an albino?"

A hand in his hair, tugging his head painfully up.

"No, his eyes aren't red. They'd be red if he were an albino."

"Then what the hell is he? That's about six shades beyond blond. That's fucking silver. Kids aren't supposed to come in silver."

"Would you just get it over with?"

"Oh, come on. Kids are easy."

"No they aren't."

"Here, let me see him."

"Suichi, what the hell are you doing?"

The hand in his hair changes, tugs harder. Tears seep from his eyes.

"Strong face. Pretty though. Pity, really."

"Suichi, you sick fuck, just get it over with."

"I will." The click of a switchblade knife. "We told Cochran we'd fuck over his family, after all. Didn't we?" The blade resting against his cheek. "Pretty boy. You'd've grown up big. Big hands." He is vaguely aware of beating ineffectively at somebody's body. "He's got spirit, eh?" Hair wrenched tighter. His scalp is on fire. And then the blade digs into his flesh, slicing deep into one cheek, then the other. Salt tears sting in the wounds, and he wails, and his blood is hot on his skin. "You'd scar if you were to live, little one. You'd've grown up big and scarred." Fingers rubbing his throat.

His hair is finally released. He is vaguely aware of screaming, low, wavering, constant cries, as fast as he can draw breath. He stumbles free of the little circle of men in black suits, across broken glass and empty shells and blood. His father's best sword lies amongst the ruins of the mantelpiece, the scabbard virtually unmarked. He dives for it on animal instinct, unsheathes, turns with the long blade wavering heavy and unfamiliar in his grip, screams long incoherent words of denial, cries for his father. He is shaking, sobbing, hoarse with terror, and his hair sticks in the blood running down his face like tears. The men in black suits stare for a moment, then run at him, cursing. He waves the blade, half-blind and desperate, and the razor edge tears into their flesh. There is more blood, and at that he nearly drops the sword, "that little shit, just kill him already," and then one of the other men swings his heavy gun in a wide arc and the barrel catches him across the back of his skull, and he falls, and is still.

 

 

Freeze:

 

The metal tears into his skin and draws blood that flows out as it can only from a scalp wound, and thick soft strands of silver hair come away on the barrel of the gun. The shock jolts his head forward, back, riddles his skull with circling hairline fractures. The sword drops from his numb fingers. For a moment, he is falling, one arm out with his long fingers spread wide, one leg already crumpling in beneath him, hair fanning out from a face frozen in a cry of anguish. The shock is already spreading through his brain, shattering the links between neurons in great rolling waves, wreaking havoc on the fragile hologram of consciousness. Then he lands with a dull thud amongst the debris. Cells and conscience sputter and die. Cochran's son is gone.

 

 

The first thing he remembers:

 

He wakes in an empty room, his skull crawling with agony, his face stinging beneath his eyes, and does not know who or why he is.

Things seem familiar, somehow. The pain and the fire and the blackened things and the holes that riddle the walls. Those have happened before. Still and mangled and bloody things that look like people. Those have happened before. Smoke wafts from little sputtering flames. He staggers to his feet and his vision flickers black and the world spins.

He will remember this night like a dream, except far more urgent and vivid. Every sight here will be imprinted upon his mind forever, along with the slowly rising conviction that he is not human. More like a vision than a dream, a single flash of divine and painful clarity that will be an unspoken birthing and apotheosis for the rest of his life.

There is something long and sharp and curving next to him. He has seen it before. He picks it up, and he has picked it up before. He is standing, and he has stood before, but he does not know where or why or what he was seeing or how he thought of it. The crows circle over the roofless room, crying.

Without understanding why, he begins to cry himself. He cries until the open wounds on his face are scalded raw from saltwater. Then he stops, and he will never cry again in his life. Connections that were broken in his mind are reforming, and he can feel the deep throb of his pulse at the base of his skull, and his mind is recreating itself into something cold.

He thinks there should be something to put the sharp thing in, and finds it. He looks for a while at the dead people, unsickened by their gruesome forms. One of them is in two parts; he looks at that one for a long time. He touches the shining thing in his hand, and it cuts him, and that means something terribly important.

He remembers nothing of his self or life, only thinks certain things should be important, such as this blade, or crying red tears. He remembers some other things, about people, a little about animals, things, words. He remembers that people should have names, and so he should have one too, because he cannot remember of his or think of anything that might be important. He runs his finger along the blade again, cuts himself again. He remembers a word, and a vague evocation of meaning, like a bird's cry on the wind, and decides that should be his name. Eventually, of course, he will have to form his whole life from nothing, but now he just needs one word. He stumbles from the wreckage of his home, as the crows descend upon the abandoned flesh of his family, and gives himself a name that he whispers to the night.

"Vicious."

 

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