* * *
Jon stares down on the cart, the man, and a large, brown, and black dog. The ambling canine appears without a leash, making his way willingly at heel, to the unwavering man still walking in some kind of calm perfection, a peace that appears to overcome all interference.
“I am going to kill them,” is Jon’s final, spoken assessment, as the Gypsy advances, twisting, rocking back and forth, then back and forth again in its struggle to accede to the combative physics. Not experiencing near enough feel for slowing, let alone the reality of stopping in time, Jon repeats, “I am going to kill them both.” Jon’s growing sensation is that of the imminent, sickly kill-fate. The kill zone established, the kill fate acknowledged, the only thing left is the execution of the performance art necessary to resolve all matters. The end times for some, mere darkness for others.
“End times for some, the mere darkness for others,” mutters Jon, his spoken mantra from long ago matching his slowing, self-serving assessment. “Perhaps this guy is the one they always talked about,” considers Jon, “The one I was never supposed to kill, but who dies in the mix anyway.”
Jon stops his thinking, he hasn’t thought of ‘kill-fate’ in a very, very long time,” his thoughts flash back to bits and pieces of his sniping tours. “This guy,” Jon’s considers, regretful, “The dog and this guy are absolutely oblivious to what is going on.”
Thinking of the oblivion observed, Jon recalls how he witnessed this phenomenon so many times in a long ago lifetime of sniping. All he could do was to stare helpless, as the hunching man and the dog continue their casual stroll from dark to light, into, and through the kill-zone. They never once adjust their pace, never once look up, and never once indicate any interest in the prospect of eminent death.
Jon cannot understand, commenting, “They are not looking up,” his struggle with this implausible scenario intensifies. “They--” Jon stops, his thinking flies apart, then he re-focuses, there is no breathing in fright, no panic as Jon again jerks hard at the wheel, trying to push the unrelenting Gypsy in some additional and weird direction, anything away and enough to accomplish some meaningful evasion.
“What is this?” Jon screams into the Gypsy’s massive windshield, confused.
* * *
November 2000 is hot as the intense, blinding beam of an oncoming vehicle reveals Lamia, a darkened, illusive figure in smoky silhouette. Lamia looks down at a neatly folded, red poncho, resting on the passenger seat of the speeding sedan still accelerating onto an exit ramp. The brakes light up late, toward the end of the ramp as the car slows, executing a right turn into a cluster of houses under construction. The development is Lamia’s destination as the car slowly approaches, and then stops at a new house. Climbing out, Lamia stands tall to stretch, casually donning the bright poncho, appearing to belong in the neighborhood.
Lamia is confident, striding up the walkway, deliberately drifting onto the fresh sod-grass. Knocking down the “Quality Home by Sapphire Builders” sign, the lawn sprinklers rise to spit and chatter. Lamia, illusive, disappears into the black Arizona night.
It is not long before morning nautical time allows for recognition of once darkened figures like Lamia in the evolving light of day. A pick-up, with the “Sapphire Builders, LLC” door signs pulls to the curb. Climbing down, Collin Sapphire, a beach survivor from southern California sweeps the yard with the robust flashlight beam. The muscular man of otherwise average appeal pauses to re-stake the downed lawn sign before walking to the front door. Finding the door locked, he complains, “The key? Where’s the damn key?”
Walking to the back of the house, Sapphire’s sandals slap against the concrete sidewalk and echo in the early morning silence. Sapphire’s figure gets darker the farther away he walks from the street lamps. Relying more on his flashlight, Sapphire looks on as the narrow beam passes Lamia, standing just outside the flashlight’s shifting span.
Sapphire does not see Lamia as he opens the unlocked door. Pausing, Sapphire checks the lock to find nothing wrong. Shrugging at the inconsistencies of both locked and unlocked doors, with no key accounted for Sapphire reaches in to flip the kitchen light. Learning of no power, no lighting, he flicks the switch up and down in frustration. Shining the flashlight across the kitchen area, he enters the tiled rear entryway. Pausing to sniff the pungent air with disdain, Sapphire growls, “What the hell is that smell?”
Straining for eyes to adjust in the confusing, altering light, Sapphire looks close and sees a mop and bucket in a far corner, smoking and smoldering.
“And what the hell is that?”
Stepping onto the tiled kitchen floor, Sapphire looks down to see dark stain on the tile, but it is too late. His right sandal contacts the unstable surface, triggering an intense, searing burst of flame under his planted foot. The flashlight flips from his grasp, crashing to the floor, causing its own burst of green then yellow flame. The beam is now small, intense, and useless as its only direction is tight up against the wall.
Reeling in pain, Sapphire dances, stepping impulsively to re-gain his balance, but the effort leads to more brilliant, violet-green flashes of successive, snapping explosions. White smoke dances, swirling through the room as Sapphire struggles to escape. Falling forward, then backward and onto his side, he cannot escape the intensifying series of blasts and flash-bang, sensory deprivations.
Falling face first, trying to find clean air Sapphire tries to break the fall with his hands, but there is only more of the searing ignition, followed by brilliant flashes blowing from beneath his now burning bare hands. The scream is of agony as Sapphire jumps to his feet, but there is again the brilliant flash and pains manifest everywhere as he again contacts the floor. With the intense, blinding detonations now taking away his oxygen, Sapphire’s sanity in the moment is lost. He scrambles, flailing in an attempt to survive, to reach the kitchen door he recalls, must still be open.
Sapphire jumps up, then lowers his head to bull rush into the yard, a place he can only guess means safety. He makes it to the back doorway, believing his escape is clean, falling out of the house, gasping for clean air, panicking, running, rolling into the cool sodden grasses of the yard. Collapsing, Sapphire tears at his feet, trying to remove the remaining sandal for relief, but cannot grip the footwear without suffering agonizing pain in his feet, his burning hands, and forearms.
More lawn sprinklers rise to spit and chatter, soaking Sapphire with the comfort of cooling water on newly burned skin. Distracting movements close in through the lessening darkness of the emerging daybreak, under cover of the incessant sprinklers.
With a look toward the movement, only his eyes moving, Sapphire listens enough, inventorying the sounds he recognizes through the sprinkler chatter, to determine there are footsteps along the same sidewalk he had walked only moments before.
Lamia strides toward Sapphire, confident, purposefully.
“What did you do?” snarls the pained Sapphire, not yet willing to move, but willing to confront.
Emerging, wielding roughhewn truncheon in each hand held at arm’s length, Lamia approaches most deliberately, at the ready for the deliverance of more battery upon the motionless Sapphire.
“Ever hear of an eye for an eye?” rasps Lamia, there being no sentiment from the oblique silhouette. Lamia raises both truncheons high overhead and into the broken waters falling upon them.
“What?” fears Sapphire, raising his arms as a defensive measure, “What are those things?”
Swinging down hard, the first blow knocks Sapphire’s face to his right, flat into the dewy morning grass.
Sapphire screams, “No!” The intense blow causes a grand mal shake and the uncontrolled quiver of suffering further indicating the beginning of a certain process of death.
“No!” Sapphire whispers, repeating his succinct plea for life as the synthetic rains fall upon him and then not, and then finding him again in regular intervals.
Sapphire rolls slightly, pleading “Please!” Desperately, begging for his remaining life, Sapphire sobs, “I need to live!”
Swinging down hard, the second blow knocks the man’s face left and flat into the cool, wet grass.
“Please…” Sapphire mumbles, rolling onto his face, assuming the only defensive position possible, given the weakness delivered with the original, stunning blows.
Lamia cross-examines, “And when The Innocents begged the same from you, what did you tell them?”
There is only silence, interrupted by the remote moan from Sapphire.
Kneeling, Lamia rolls Sapphire to his back, enough for Sapphire again, to stare into the stars and the falling, fragmented waters. Lamia steps over Sapphire, straddling the stricken, demanding, taunting, “Oh come now. Tell me. When they begged the same from you, what did you tell The Innocents?”
A third blow, this time quicker and more efficient, strikes without waiting for any answer.
“When they pleaded with you through their screams,” Lamia insists, “what did you do tell them?”
“Please,” Sapphire begs, “I just…”
Both Sapphire and Lamia now dripping with the cold waters, unable to squelch Lamias heated, rising passion. “They pleaded for the remainder of their lives.” Lamia does not let up as a fourth blow brings Sapphire’s death nearer. “Their need to live was announced for the entire world to hear, but every scream you suppressed with first your threats, then by exploiting their hope, promising them if only they would not cause trouble.”
Sapphire cries the cry of a predator, now the fallen prey.
“What did you do?” Lamia demands. “What did you say?”
Without an answer from Sapphire, the pace of the striking, and now stomping, accelerates into a flurry of raging energy. There is now the unrelenting, blurring, stamping, and the shearing blows erupting from the roiling, churning arms of Lamia and the extensions that produce the results of a mule flailing, its fore legs in panic, flicking and stamping the air to defend, to cause harm.
Now with the intent to kill undeniable, Lamia strikes, the hooves at the eyes, the teeth, and the hands of Sapphire, destroying the perpetrator, who would not answer to Lamia’s challenge on behalf of The Innocents. Kneeling over the now motionless Sapphire, Lamia rises up and then down to reposition beside the punished, lost soul staring up at the Arizona stars. With eyes staring empty, filling with blood, the synthetic rains fall to begin the washing of gore from Sapphire’s eyes. Breathing hard, Lamia rises to stand over the battered and now silenced target. “That is right,” Lamia lowers the mule forelegs with damp, bloodied hooves to each side. “You did not answer, as I have not been responsive to you.”