05.Dragons Before Ice Cream


My ears turned deaf and I sat with a dumb expression as Detective Redding went on explaining himself. The rage was like a brooding storm, as I sneered at the back of his seat. Before I could speak, Luna’s hand fell over mine and gave it a protective squeeze. The fear in the look she gave shimmered like the cold sweat on her dark skin, and all I could do was  look down at my shoes.

Luna-the-fearless-Ellis, the sister whose life I had managed to ruin in less than two hours. Still, she went on holding my hand with all the love of the mother we had shared for three brief years. It would have been a nice moment if it weren’t for the closing line of Detective Redding’s apology.

“I’m serious kid.” He insisted. “I’m going to make it up to you.”

I pulled the car handle, but it was Luna who said what I was thinking:

“Shut. Up.” She snapped before slamming the door behind her.

The car was only halfway inside the warehouse, so it didn’t take the detective long to drive away. As I stood there staring at the outline of machines in the dark of the warehouse, I could feel my fingers trembling.

“Just let me talk.” Luna said in a voice that almost had her usual confidence.

“About what I said earlier,” I told her in a bitter voice as we stepped into the pitch dark of the warehouse. “Feel free to think my existence is ruining your life now.”

“Just remember what you promised. After this, you do everything I say.”

“Yeah.” I said sardonically. “Right after this.”

Just then, the gray roll up door of the warehouse began lowering with a humorless hum. As it did, the shadows of bulldozers spilled to the floor and came rushing towards the light disappearing behind us.

“Everything I say, for the rest of your life.” Luna muttered, with a slight tremor in her voice. Before I could tell her it was a deal, I heard the ceiling crackle with electricity.

The nightmare began like the start of a play, as the light fell through the darkness to splash down over a dinner table. A soft groan came from the woman sitting hunched over at the table. When she looked up, I could see the ropes that wrapped around her and the knife buried in her chest.

Luna suddenly whimpered as she squinted at the familiar blue dress.

“Mom?”

I knew better, only because I could see past the swollen eyes and bloody gums. Samantha gave me a pained but happy smile, as I came and knelt beside her. Her eyes shimmered with something that breaks my heart. Something that still saw me as the knight that I wasn’t.

Averting my eyes, I wrapped my arms around Samantha and felt her sink into my chest. I held her and wished for her to live, to be happy and to start again. All those things I was powerless to give her, I wished for as her breaths fell silent.

“No.” Luna whispered. “Not again…” Her voice trailed as she clutched her head and sank to the floor. By the time I reached her, her forehead was low over the ground. Pulling her close, I felt the shakes and sobs run through me like a wave of shivers. There was pressure building behind my eyes, pushing out the tears one boiling drop at a time.

First my mother and now Samantha, it seemed like all of my life I have watched the women I love die in my arms. Maybe that was why I held Luna as tightly as I did; and wished for her all those things that I couldn’t promise.

“I’m ok.” Luna finally said with a sniff. It made me relax just enough to hear the footsteps that were already upon us.

Then a hand pulled Luna back by her hair, as something smashed into my back and sent me sprawling with empty lungs. I heard Luna cry out the way she had when she brought down the hammer on our father. I saw one feet turn, while her knee launched forward with all her strength behind it.

Instinct sent me rolling to the side, to avoid another blow from the baseball bat. Balancing my weight on the edge of my right foot and right arm, I kicked the batsman at the back of the knee.  As he crumbled with a groan, I came crashing down on him with my arm around his windpipe.

In front of me, Luna was pinning the thug with her knee and doing her best to smash her knuckles against his skull. Then the room flashed with light, and then hummed with electricity as Luna let out a trembling gurgle.

Someone kicked me in the ribs and once again, the room flashed with light and the air sizzled. The pipe jabbed me between the shoulders. Then a final kick turned me over, and someone else crouched over me surrounded by the smoke rising from the glowing cherry of a cigar. His face was just a silhouette that melted as easily into the dark as the smoke.

“Do you know who I am?” The man said in a soft voice. “Do you have any idea what I do?”

“Roanoke…”I croaked, tasting blood and smoke. Then I whispered. “You’re in HR.”

“I am a butcher.” The dark silhouette corrected in a toneless voice. “And I deal in flesh.”

“I do so because, Mr. Ellis, because it’s oldest currency known to man–as old as Hammurabi. Because every living creature understands the value of a pound of flesh. ”

My head felt light as I felt myself sink into the floor. I went on staring at him, unable to make sense of what I saw. Gone was the silhouette of a man, and rising to its feet was a beast of scales and glowing yellow eyes. His tail brushed against my leg as the cigar turned into a burning ball of ember between his fingertips.

“The girl, for example, stole from me.” Said the dragon. “But she paid me back.”

When he moved his face closer to mine, I could see that his mouth stretched all the way to his ears. His teeth hovered above one another like rows of needles, and his hooded eyes were fire. Horns rose from his head like that of a bull. I turned away from him, wishing I could pass out.

“Your sister tried to oppose me.” He went on. “So she had to pay.”

“But you hurt my son, and have yet to pay.”

His hand suddenly pressed my face against the floor. As I squirmed and protested, Roanoke roared like the dragon that he was: “So this, Mr. Ellis, is to clear all accounts.”

Roanoke, returned once again to the shape of a man, pressed his weight down on the hand covering my face, as the burning tip of the cigar plunged into my eye like a branding iron. I screamed louder and louder with each second until he finally moved away.

It was a two second glimpse of hell and the dragon that lived there. An image burned permanently into my eye by a pain I could never forget. The world turned red as I groaned and writhed on the cold hard floor.

“Just remember. There can always be a third dead woman in a blue dress.”

Then, the boot that connected with my face sent me spinning into dark oblivion.

Going into shock and passing out, two things you never appreciate until you wake up screaming like the flesh is melting off your bones. Not until you see the car that brought you into the nightmare with one eye, and a burning red haze in the other.

I spat blood and bits of teeth as I crawled to my sister. Her face was carnage and suffering as I picked her up from the floor. The tiny groan she let out told me that at least my first wish had been granted.

My sister would live. I looked behind us to see that the table, and Samantha along with it, was gone. There was nothing at all except the smearing trails of a wet mop and the smell of bleach.

The driver side door of the car opened, and I turned to see Detective Redding exit with something in his hands. He swore as he came to the front. For a moment we both looked at each other with disbelief.

“I… wanted to do something nice for you guys.” He stuttered with an ice cream cone in each hand.

Then, just like that, my final two wishes were granted. With squinted eyes and a childlike voice Luna groaned:

“Gimme.”

Sitting there with one good eye and a half dead sister, I had to admit—ice cream sounded like the greatest thing in the world.

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