Monday, January 28, 2013

Fire Lily, Issue Two - Chapter Three

The van cruised along the highway at seventy-five miles per hour, barely managing to keep track of the school bus traveling some five miles faster. The lights on the bus went out once it hit the fast lane, but its mustard yellow paint job stuck out like a sore thumb, even against the cloud-darkened night sky. Few other cars obstructed the road at this hour, something which Sierrah both thanked and cursed.

“What if it's not the bus?” Lily asked, nervously watching the guard rails zip by in one silver streak.

“It's our bus.” Sierrah grit her teeth and pounded the gas harder. The van roared, wheezed a pathetic plea, then roared again.

“How do you know it's not like an out-of-town game or something?”

“Let's find out.”

The gap between the vehicles was shrinking considerably. Lily wandered what they'd do once they'd caught up to it. Sierrah's van was an old clunker of a car. There was no way they could force the bus off the road without coming apart. She studied the back of the bus. Exhaust pipes, emergency door, rear tires. Her eyes fell on the tires for a good minute before she shook her head. Melting them could stop the bus, sure, but what if it flipped? Not a risk a hero should take.

A dark shadow flashed in the back window. It seemed almost like a trick of the light. Sierrah didn't seem to catch it. Not until the emergency door was spinning at them like a buzz saw. It bounced off the road just at the end of the van's headlight pool. Sparks flew across the pavement as the door leaped back in the air, swerving to the side of the old van. It fell over the guard rail and disappeared down a grassy hill into the woods.

Lily watched it go, rolling off into shadows. Her heart grabbed her throat, scrambling to climb out. Suddenly she was falling forward, head racing for the glove compartment. The belt hugged her back, though it bit into her neck and images of her severed head flying through the car flicked through her mind. The car screeched, Lily was tossed into the door. Then on her side. A pen rolled off the dash and fell into the sea of swirling papers and discarded drink bottles at her feet. Something clattered in the back, cracking against a wall. A final heave to the right ended it all. The van seemed to pant as steam rose away. Lily's eyes were wide, her mind was a buzz. Something in her throat. She stumbled out of the car and collapsed to her knees on the hard road, desperately wishing she hadn't eaten that once heavenly pizza.

Then she saw him.

He was almost invisible in the darkness, but his shadowed form towered over the road like a truck. The ground at his feet was jagged and cracked, spiderwebbed like a piece of glass. Something like a chuckle rumbled off him as he stalked towards her. His footsteps sounded like chalk-on-chalk with a bit of gravel in between. Lily wanted to shrink away. The man—at least, she thought it was a man—seemed to grow larger as he grew nearer. Too large for a normal man. Too large for a moose, even.

“Hey, little girl,” he grunted as his shadow fell over her. “It isn't nice to chase people around.”

The car purred quietly, as if trying to hide the fact that it was there. The man's eyes, glowing with an eerie yellow light, flicked to the vehicle. At once his mammoth arm lashed out, crumpling the passenger side door. The van cried one last time before the engine fell dead. Lily feared Sierrah had fallen as well, but the van sputtered helplessly after sitting for a minute. She sighed.

Her eyes fell on the man's feet. Gray, rough, shaped with hard angles. They seemed to be almost a part of the road, as if the man had been cemented along with it. She scrambled back, tears streaming down her face. Her numb fingers fumbled as she half crabwalked out of the man's shadow. Pain in her back as she fell on the road. The man stomped forward, cracking up a piece of road.

“So tell me what the hell you were doin'!” He demanded.

The van sputtered again, longer this time, but fell dead anyway. The man growled, a sound like rocks tumbling from a cliff. He reached down with one meteor hand, spreading his bulky fingers.

Lily yelped, her mind felt blocked. She scrunched in a tight ball, waiting to feel the stony cold fingers wrap around her. All at once everything became hot. She heard the man gasp and step back. The air filled with thick smoke and the scent of melting rubber.

Not rubber, she realized as her clothes fell away, now little more than smoldering piles of ash and black mush.

For the first time that day she wasn't cold. Now she was warm. Perfectly, comfortably warm. It was a warmth so great that in it she found the courage to stand and cast flickering orange light over the highway. She caught a glimpse of Sierrah in the car, who flashed her a thumbs up before making the van sputter another time.

“So it's you,” the man grumbled. He pounded one fist into the other and cracked his knuckles. “Then I guess I know what you were doing. Sorry, girly, time to put you out.”

He crashed forward, swinging his fist like a hammer. Lily tumbled away as the fist crashed into the hot road, spraying pebbles in an arch. The stone-man grumbled, but moved surprisingly fast, his other arm a gray blur in the night swinging full-circle for Lily's head. She ducked away and slipped in, pushing herself to burn hotter. The flames on her body leaped up, raging furiously. She slid in under his mighty chest, swallowed a deep breath, and jammed her fist forward.

Pain swallowed her knuckles. Tears sprang to her eyes. It was like punching a solid wall, the kind of wall that punches back. Which it did, laughing. Lily felt her organs shift under the weight of the massive fist. Her guts pressed out a little extra pizza. Air whizzed past her, whipping her hair wildly. The world was spinning. Pain exploded on the back of her skull. She rolled over the ground, scraping her sides, elbows, knees, anywhere that touched. After a moment she came to a smoldering stop just before the guard rail.

She rolled onto her knees, palms on the ground, and stared hard at the pavement. Sickness overcame her, tossing her head wildly. A cough charged up her throat, exploding out in painful bursts. Something red steamed on the ground beneath her lips. Her stomach groaned and seemed to drop away. She felt light, unreal. Dizziness swam through her skull. A laughing shadow crept over her.

“Sleep tight, Night Light,” the man chortled. Lily looked up to see his concrete foot rising above her. Tears rushed from her eyes. The foot hovered over her, then it dropped like an anvil.

Mud chilled her flesh as she rolled beneath the guard rail. A tiny debris field sprayed over the highway. Blades of grass died around her, smoking to the heavens. Then she went out.

“What the hell?” the man grumbled. He tossed a glare at the van. “Don't go anywhere.”

Lily watched, shivering behind a shrub, as he kicked the guard rail away, leaving jagged strips of metal stabbing out over the grassy hill. The golem stepped off onto the hill, peering down into the brush and the beginning of the woods. Suddenly he was careening forward, tearing up the grass and small trees and splattering mud left and right. He tumbled to a stop at the bottom of the hill, some thirty feet away from where Lily hid.

She crawled away, hoping the night would conceal her. A shout behind her told her it didn't work. She glanced over her shoulder. The man shouted again and stomped onto the hill. The mud ran beneath his feet, and he slid back down to the bottom. Breathing heavily, with a dire pain in her lungs, Lily turned away from him and solemnly made her way onto the road.

Weariness pressed down on her as she scraped her knees on the pavement. She fell, wanting to sleep. Warm hands grabbed her beneath the armpits, and she felt herself being dragged. Then the slam of a door, the roar of engine. The screech of twisting metal. Another cursing shout from the stone man. Her labored, gurgling breaths. Then silence.