The Hell Butterfly

Excerpt from ‘Unsafe Haven’

This weekend I will be busy with moving out of my second year student house, and bonding with The Dad, so posts will be sparce. To make up for it, here is a section from a story in progress, Unsafe Haven. I only began this yesterday but the idea has been floating around for a while. As a quick disclaimer, yes I have used the terms “Draculoid” and “Killjoy” which is a direct reference to My Chemical Romance’s Danger Days, but I do not mean to steal the terms permanently. I actually owe a lot to the album for the idea, and a lot of the places, events and characters I have in my head were spawned from that album, but I will not attempt to claim a right to any of it, and hopefully will adapt it, in time, to an extent where it is all my idea and not stealing from you. Sorry, Gerard, I love your work, and it helped me make this. I promise to do you justice.

So here it is, the opening chapter of Unsafe Haven.

****

“I hate seeing you like this. I wish I could help you.”

“I know, love. Don’t worry about me.”

Severin sat staring blank across the room. He was empty inside, Madeline could see it. There was nothing in his eyes. And as he breathed, slow, controlled, she searched desperately for a way to draw him out of his head. To find a way to bring him back to her. His mask concealed most of his face, but the eyes were clear as day to her. Eventually, she pulled herself up on the counter and waited. He would come around.

The room they were in was large, square, and piled high with trash. The two walls facing East and South had taken the brunt of it. All the windows had been blasted from their frames in the last attack. Glass still littered the floor. Long boards of graffited wood now covered the gaps in a futile attempt at reparations. They never spent much time fixing battle damage out here. The Western wall was the least damaged, due to its being the only side of the building not facing a road. They always began a raid from the roads. The Draculoids were predictable, but effective. Where bricks were coming loose on every other wall, this Western one was as solid as when it was built. That was probably the only reason this building was still standing. The North wall was where Madeline now turned her gaze. This was where the roof access was. A cracked and flaking red fireman’s ladder bridged the gap from central chamber to lookout point. This is where she headed. The mask that was looped loose around her neck was pulled up over her eyes before she spoke. For her plan to work they were going to have to go outside. Concealment was key. Her jacket was zipped to the throat and she paused as she spoke her words.

“Come with me. We’re going to have some fun.” The hovering hand continued its journey to close the zip over her chin, mouth, nose. She held out her hand to Severin and prayed for a response. It was answered. He looked at her with dark eyes, then took her hand. With her free one she scooped up a handful of rubble and led him to the ladder. Dust sifted between her fingers.

On the roof, she sat cross legged and tipped the loose stones into a section of broken gutter. As she dusted her hands on her shirt, Severin took his place beside her, his legs wrapping over the plastic to hang over the edge into the dusk. They wouldn’t have long. Night was coming.

The sensation of movement at his hand made Severin look up. Madeline had placed a small rock in his palm, and now looked off in the direction of The Oak Barrel. His mind turned sad for an instant as he remembered better days, drinking at the saloon, dancing on the bar to jaunty folk songs. Back then things were easier. He hadn’t had to pretend to smile then.

“See that?” He didn’t. She pointed. “Target acquired. Two o’clock, man with briefcase and bowler hat, mid thirties, trying too hard not to be noticed.” Severin looked, and found him. He was short, stocky. “Reckon you could knock off his hat from here?” A quick assessment of the distance and analysis of the stone was all he needed. He could make that happen. He stood, the lethargy of his movements not unnoticed by Madeline. At least he was moving now. One step back, a curl at the elbow. He shifted his body to face his prey side-on, wound up his arm in a display of theatrics and kicked out his leg, hurling the stone through the damp air. It arced, and the pair squinted to watch its descent. Seeing it would no doubt reach the man, Madeline shouted “Fore!”, her voice echoing in ripples into the night. Mr Businessman looked up at her call, and perfectly on time, the stone connected with the hat and sent it spinning into the dust.

Severin turned to her and held up three fingers. “Strike three”.

The air shuddered in the silence. It grew cold. Severin’s arm drew up at a 90 degree angle. He pointed East. Madeline tracked his direction and found the target. He couldn’t be missed: scruffy teen; balaclava; 99 flake. A Devil Dancer. A rage sparked in the pairs’ chests. It was the Devil Dancers that put the safety of everybody, themselves included, at risk. It was because of them it was so hard to hide at night. “Your turn.” Severin’s voice was husky in the darkness.

“Might need a run up for this one.” A sizeable rock was selected from the pile. The added weight would assist in carrying it the distance. As she retreated, Severin pulled his hood over his head to protect himself from both the chill, and identification. Devil Dancers were notorious snitches. Madeline ran on the spot then took three quick strides to the very edge of the roof. Her training had prepared her to brake effortlessly. Windmilling her arms in an impersonation of Stuart Broad, the stone was sent on its trajectory. In another life, she would have been a spin bowler. But this was where she had ended up. The anticipation was physical. Up it went, then down, down it came. A quiet, high pitched whistle emerged from Severin’s lips, comically lowering in pitch in time with the stone.

Impact.

The destruction was greater than either had predicted. Countless hours of target practice had obviously paid off. The cone exploded. Fragments of wafer were propelled into the air and his face, and still the stone kept traveling. Even from here the pair could see the blood that now dripped from the Dancer’s hand. The jagged edge had ripped the skin open. The flake fell into the dirt.

“Out.”

The Dancer’s curses could be heard, even at this distance. It was dark now, but they could take no chances: Devil Dancer’s had even better eyesight than regular Killjoys. They had to. Time to move.

Back inside, the gloom seemed deeper. During the day, dust clouds made the room seem smaller, but the sun was still a comfort. At night, they were invisible, as if they too knew hiding was essential. Madeline felt bare, exposed. With night came a threat more harrowing than the dark. She thought of days gone by, days when laughter was on the agenda, weapons training was not, and the scars of battle did not mar her skin. The burns seemed newly aflame in her dreaming. Why did it have to come to this?

Cracking of metal against metal sounded. Severin was readying the armory: two nine-millimetre police grade pistols, silenced; one military sniper rifle, silenced; one hunting rifle with Schmidt and Bender scope attachment, silenced; hand grenades, military grade; blue flares; Kukri dagger, Gurkha Officer grade. This was simply Severin’s arsenal. In a place like Zone Three, in the dead of night, you couldn’t afford to be unarmed. That was the glory of their hideout. They were in Big Al’s Gun Store. The Draculoids never thought the inhabitants would ever be brave enough to arm themselves against them, much less use such an obvious building as a headquarters. But that was the glory of it. It was their unsafe haven. Here, they were untouchable.

In the distance, the sirens began, deep, moaning. The pairs’ eyes met in the shadows. Even the Devil Dancers would be running now. They were always running. Gunfire trilled. The raids had begun.

“Must be Tuesday,” Severin whispered. His voice was close to her. Within minutes the calm of Avenue 59 would be a battleground. In that instant, they were no longer Severin and Madeline. They were Eagle Eyes and The Vulture. War was upon them, and they were ready.

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