Elix reaches her safe house; the old primary school she used to attend, that had long been abandoned. Most of the outer walls were broken away, there were various gang signs and scribbles on all sides probably indicating the faction of runaways who had previously claimed it. Luckily for Elix the inner walls were still intact and there was an ample sized room without a leaking ceiling for her to sleep in.
The once esteemed school library was highly sought after in the past for any scholar to hold history in their hands, but now there was no need to teach the children anything, not when they were being programmed in a fraction of the time.
Elix enters cautiously, as she always did; there was no knowing if anyone had taken her home as their own in her absence. She hears a rustle, and slows her pace even further; she quietens her breathing and listens. The rustling continues.
Could be a rat maybe, it sounds small. She ponders nearing her room’s doorway.
She steps inside and spots a small rag-clad child rifling through her belongings, Elix edges closer to the kid, he’s within arm’s reach
“INTRUDER” she squawks crippling the boy with fear and grabbing him from behind
“AAAARRGH” the boy cries. Elix holds him tightly; his feet dangle and kick wildly.
“Lemme go Elix, I wasn’t steallin’ nuthin”
“Yeah that’s what you said last time Grabs, and mysteriously, my copy of Brave New World went missing” She retorts
“Was probably the rats, you’ve seen em around they’re hungry lookin”
Elix drops him and spins him, to look at him suspiciously, to see if he’ll cave in and repent.
The boy doesn’t budge.
“So whatchya gonna read to me tonight huh?”
Elix lifts up the front of her shirt, she’s got a concealed bag wrapped around her waist to give the illusion to the Assimilated that she is of healthy weight.
“Whoa, cool hiding place” Grabs steps closer and scans it with his curious eyes.
“You got any food in there?” he asks, grabbing at her with grubby fingers
“Step back, quit tickling me, I’ll give you the goods”
Elix reaches into one of the side pockets and pulls out a sandwich neatly wrapped in a few layers of plastic to avoid the smell of chicken escaping into the Assimilated’s nostrils.
“Here, we’ll share it; you eat first while I read…”
She pulls from a rear pocket her frayed and rippled copy of: “…dun da da daaah… 1984”
“Yay sandwich party” the boy rejoices.
“I’ll pick up where we left off okay?” Grabs nods while tearing open the sandwich from its packaging.
After a few pages of reading, Elix notices Grabs has devoured two thirds of the sandwich
“Hey! your turn to read now” She barks, snatching the remaining morsel from his hands.
Elix eats the rest of the sandwich slowly, savouring the flavour of the chicken infused with what she guesses to be nearly twelve spices.
There’s actual butter in this one, man, Artemis really knows how to treat a lady. She revels, with her eyes looking up behind their lids.
Sadly though, Elix’s second bite is also her last, she practically chews it into liquid trying to keep the taste in her mouth for as long as she can.
Grabs’ reading has gotten better since last time. Leading Elix to believe he has in fact stolen her books. At least he’s been practicing.
A sense of accomplishment comes over her; she’s proud that she was able to educate someone without stealing their humanity. She is also overcome with fatigue, and quickly nods off midway through her thoughts.
Beep beep beep… Elix’s intelliguise alerts her yet again, her dreams have been growing more and more vivid as of late, even her day dreams have been getting out of hand, leading her to nearly be captured and Assimilated only a few hours ago.
Beep beep beep… The piercing sound tries desperately to reverberate off the broken walls and drooping ceiling but only manages to echo in Elix’s ear.
“I’m up, I’m up” she mumbles, thinking she’s once again at Artemis’ house being woken by his 20th century alarm clock.
Beep beep beep… “Oh fuck” She curses realising exactly where she is and what is disturbing her slumber.
She springs up immediately and rips the manifold from the top section of her shoulder blade.
“Shit, one of the fuses has come loose” She gently clicks it back into place, the Beeping stops.
Elix falls back to her bed.
I’m going to have to see Artemis again. Hmm what time is it? She asks, searching for the clock she had thought was trying to wake her.
1am, okay good, I better not use the trains again for a few days at least. I can take the sewers half the way but the rest has to be above ground. Oh damn, my coat. Elix remembers and laments over her sleeve
I can’t go walking around all sleeveless like this. She rummages through her tiny suitcase full of clothes for anything that will fit.
“Nothing?” She says holding a pair of her childhood pants in her hands, she looks at them and has a tiny epiphany
“That could work” Elix hastily stiches her pant leg to her coat has a quick check in what’s left of a mirror she found
“Good enough, glad it’s going to be dark. Now where is 1984?”
Elix searches her bed and the shelves on the wall opposite, she continues for a few minutes getting more frustrated as she scans.
“That little punk! He must have taken it when I passed out. After all I’ve done for him” Elix stops dead halfway through an angry stride and:
“Ha-ha hahaha, I suppose I can’t expect much more from a kid named Grabs ha-ha. Ahh fuck, what am I going to tell Artemis, he loves that book”
Elix Leaves her crumbled dwelling and embarks to Artemis’ house, thinking about the excuse she’s going to give him for losing his book.
Three hours pass and still Elix has no excuse.
I’ll tell him the truth, yeah, he’ll believe me, the worlds gone to shit, he’ll understand.
Elix’s gaze turns from straight ahead towards Artemis’s front door, breaking her robotic stride.
Huh? The doors open, something’s not right here.
She checks her surroundings quickly before treading the path to his front door.
I hope he hasn’t been assimilated, please don’t be assimilated.
Elix tries to push the front door open, but something is obstructing it, it opens only enough for her to squeeze her head through. The room is dark and her face scrapes on the splintered edge of the timber door. She uncomfortably whispers: “Artemis?” then again, a bit louder.
Her heartbeat races, she pushes the door a bit harder in her panic, it opens a fraction more. Elix can see an arm on the ground. Tears stream down her face
“No, don’t let it be him, please” She gets angry and pushes with all her strength. There’s a crunch and the door gives way. Elix falls to the ground on her side facing the obstruction; she’s hurt but reaches her hand out to touch to body. Her fingers near its skin slowly and meets it with hesitation. Then a memory strikes Elix like a hammer to glass.
Plastic?! Oh, you fucking idiot Elix. She has stumbled across the crime scene of a fallen mannequin, the one that Artemis kept his coat and hat upon.
“Last time you scare me” She says kicking its arm clean off.
Elix takes in a deep breath and shakes the nerves from her body like a dog would water. In the back of her mind there were only a few conclusions to the situation she was in, she dared not think of them until more evidence had been found. She began her search of the rest of the single-story house starting in the lounge room to the immediate left of the entrance.
It was a rarely used room; containing two recliner chairs with a round table separating them and a lamp shooting out of its centre with an aged green shade. Sometimes Artemis would sit there in the dark and have a sip of some old scotch he’d saved. In even fewer times Elix would catch him in deep thought or thoughtlessness in the middle of the night while she too was up with a restless mind.
She moves into the kitchen, nothing is out of the ordinary; Artemis keeps it in immaculate condition. He’s always telling Elix to clean up after herself and then ends up re-cleaning it anyway because he isn’t satisfied with her level of perfection.
She opens the refrigerator; a habit from her youth. Hmm sandwiches, could he have been expecting me? Elix closes the fridge and leaves the kitchen towards the den at the far right of the house.
Elix passes her old bedroom to the left side of the hall; the door is open about 100 millimetres.
“Exactly how much I like it open” She says softly to herself.
Elix’s quirky childhood proclivities had been stained into Artemis, they gave him a sense of purpose, a sort of routine and when she moved out he kept them. Doing the odd little things like keeping the door open so much, not enough to cross young Elix’s face as she slept, but enough to illuminate the demons of her dreams as she woke to escape them. He’d find himself checking under the bed for monsters and re-tying her bear’s bowtie when it came loose, just to keep Elix’s peace of mind, these habits remained and he soon found they would give his mind ease his as well.
She passes Artemis’ bedroom, she’d only been in there a few times, and he rarely slept there. Mostly he would fall asleep at his workbench in the den or on the odd occasion he drank too much scotch; in his recliner chair. Immediately across from his room is the den; its door is wide open.
He always closes this door. Elix’s heart rate rises again as she enters.
Her footsteps lighten, fists clench, and wits sharpen. She’s ready to fight whoever may be there.
In front of her are the book shelves; they cover the entire wall save for a small pocket in the middle, missing to fit a desk. Artemis would often write his books and poetry there, but when Elix came along she claimed it as her own reading desk. She makes a bee line to the desk and flicks on the light.
“The light’s better over here” she said for the thousandth time; which would often send Artemis to write at his workbench amongst the chaos of half-finished inventions and half started contraptions.
Elix turns around. Opposite her claimed desk was his, the light was blueish and cold, and she’d been avoiding looking over there, even though it would be the best place for an intruder to attack her from. Somehow, she knew the danger had gone. Her eyes focus on his high-backed chair and as if her heart were made of stone it drops to the floor and anchors her there; motionless.
She can’t swallow her own spit, her mind hums a noise above the silence, but not a nice hum more like one of an engraver scraping into steel the longest word known to man over and over. The room blurs everywhere else but the dangling limb, still, over the side of the chair.
Breathe, just breathe. Elix tries to convince her lungs.
She gasps for air like someone who’d been winded by a punch to stomach.
“No…” she lets out with her weakened lungs.
Her heart lifts from the floor and resumes its beat so Elix can step closer.
“That, that’s not Artie, it’s someone else, Artemis must have knocked them out fighting the Assimilated off”
Elix persists in telling herself a new story with each step towards the chair, each story growing in fantasy and shrinking in plausibility.
The engraver’s hum remains in her mind until she’s standing next to the chair. Her peripherals know who’s sitting there but she won’t turn to see him, not yet. She breathes deep, exhales and in this moment, Artemis is alive inside her head; telling her a story, a joke, telling her not to do something silly, not because it was silly but because he had thought of something sillier they could do together. His face is right there behind her eyelids smiling and chuckling, everything that made him human is imprinted on Elix in that one moment, and in the next.
She opens her eyes.
Looks to her left, down at the face. His fair fawn skin has turned grey, his depleted cheek muscles have lost grip of his once pointy jaw. Elix’s muscles become overwhelmed by gravity, she plummets to her knees, her head on his lap
“Artemis…” is all her voice box can handle before being squeezed by the onslaught of her cry.
She lays there sobbing until her tear ducts are dry and her face hurts.
“Why did they have to kill you?” She asks, as if the wind would answer her.
Just then, an idea comes to Elix.
Artemis would rather die than help the Assimilated again. If he’s dead that must mean they came to him, they came searching for something, they came hoping to beat it out of him, but he beat them to the punch.
“Oh, you’re a crafty fox, you must have finished it and hidden it”
Elix’s sadness is swallowed by her curiosity; the hum dissipates back to the silence.
“Where would you have put it…?”
She studies his face.
“You always gave your moves away with your eyes Artie”
Elix turns to what he is facing, it’s a photo of his late wife Veronica.
Elix pulls the back off of the frame and between the photo and the rear is a note ‘Find Davis where the crow’s head falls.
Huh, interesting… But surely that’s not all.
Elix returns to studying his face. Something is amiss, Elix looks from one eye to the other and back. His right eye is bloodshot, and his left is not
“Oh, you got me this time Artemis”
Elix gently cups the back of his head with her left and with her other hand she softly prods the eye, instead of yielding with a squish, the eye is firm
“Huh, a fake eye.”
Elix looks around to see what she can use to pull out the eye; a spoon in an empty coffee cup shines a reflection across her face.
Well it’s not pretty but it’ll work.
Her bionic hand is steady like a surgeon’s, as she plucks the eye from its socket. It’s covered in blood and nearly slips from her grasp when she raises it to look closer at its strangely familiar stem.
“OH, it’s just like the male part on my intelliguise”
He must have perfected the emission degradation.
“No wonder you didn’t want them to get their hands on it”
Elix gasps, with an epiphany striking her.
“Davis! That’s who I have to get this to”
She runs her hand through her hair
“Crow’s head? Where does the crow’s head fall?”
Elix paces; as she had all too often seen Artemis do in times of critical thinking.
Another habit exchanged between the two that would keep Artemis with her.
“Raven’s Tongue Pub! It has to be, that’s the only similar thing Artie ever talked about. I have to check it out”
Elix closes Artemis’ eyes and leaves the room swiftly with cause. Any lingering would cause her to stay for the rest of her days.
On her way out, she gathers the remaining sandwiches from the refrigerator, realising only now what their purpose was. She grabs the coat from the disarmed mannequin, leaves hers behind and closes the door. She thought about burning the house down to remove any evidence but her favourite memories where in there.
Someday I’m going to return and reclaim them, I’ll miss you Artie.