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Author's note: This piece was written hastily as a class assignment and I'm still proud of it. I intend to rewrite it, yet have no idea how to expand it to propar novel length. This is a very gruesome novel and should not be read by those with a weak stomach.
Rolling eyes, gaping mouth, flailing arms. The poor, wretched sight offers a perfect target, unable to defend herself as she writhes beneath the rusty fire escape. Her baby blue silk blouse rides up her petite frame, exposing tanned skin and a small rose tattoo. Any gasps she makes die away in the car horns and sirens. Brown hair tangles in a drain, blood oozes from pink petal lips, bronzed skin bruises from lack of oxygen. Her pinstriped skirt creeps up her waist, receiving tear after tear, revealing white lace for underwear. After a few never ending minutes, her body relaxes.
Not hesitating, I search the corpse, discovering a silver credit card and some petty cash. Stripping the body of its clothes and lifting it off the ground, I make my way towards the dumpster, avoiding discarded crates and toppled trash cans. Even as her head lolls back, I sense the dead doll gaze radiating from her dilated yet piercing eyes. Setting her next to the dumpster, I drag cans and bags from around the alley to where she lay. After a good kick between her glass eyes, I throw her body into the dumpster, cover it with rotted sushi and shredded paper, and walk away praying the Mother will approve of my findings…
My name is Vulture. I find treasures in the trash so we can survive; I steal from the surface by night to feed the Family; I rape and torture and kill to please the Mother. I owe the Family my life, for though I possess no memories of my past, I know they rescued me from it. I serve the Family in exchange for protection, I serve the Mother in exchange for love, and they will have my loyalty for as long as I live. My life belongs to the Family and the Mother…
Hours later, after avoiding mindless drones and Council Guards, I reach it: the drain pipe. I struggle to lift the iron lid and enter the solitary world of filth and sewage. The tunneling labyrinth guides my feet through the underbelly of the city to the Family’s hideout.
Once, several large tunnels next to each other were closed off by the city, then a Mother from eighty years ago demanded the Family move here and destroyed the walls dividing the tunnels. Now, the tunnels are leveled out and close to two hundred grimy beings inhabit tents made from pipes and ratted blankets. Food and water are scarce, whereas Silver Devil is freely injected into even the youngest of veins. Dim firelight dances along the walls, mingling with the distinctive moans and screams in the distance, tell-tale signs of an initiation. My own dreaded torture floods into my memory, overwhelming my senses…
The foul odor of burning flesh scorched my nostrils as they pressed the red hot iron to my thigh; the world went white as I struggled to remain conscious; the salty taste of blood filled my mouth as I bit down on the gag to silence my screams. They removed the iron from my skin and pressed salt to my fresh wound, then stepped back to watch me writhe in pain. Two hours to go, and I could already see Heaven’s gates. The Mother motioned for the others to sit, then stepped forward with the knife in hand and her blind protégé by her side. As she skillfully sliced away, intense pain caused me to rip one blood-soaked hand free from its bonds and instinctively swat the knife away. The blind protégé caught the knife with skill, approached me, and slowly dragged the blade across my cheek. She giggled at my muffled screams…
I shudder as my hand impulsively strokes the scar on my cheek, a painful reminder of my loyalty to the Family. Young children scatter as I make my way through the rudimentary camp, whereas those more familiar with my presence nod out of respect then return to their needles and self-mutilation. At the back of the camp, I breathe deeply before peeling back the blanket covering the entrance to the Mother’s tent. The Mother sits on the only chair allowed in the camp, her dreaded knife in hand; her blind gaze is fixed on a figure huddled on the floor. Maggot and Leech, two grimy creatures who possess the Mother’s respect as well, cackle as the figure shudders and wriggles away from their every touch. His frail naked form is bruised and bleeding, his platinum-honey hair a matted mess, his hands bound behind his back. The Mother lifts her head and regards me with her visionless gaze and a vicious smile.
“Vulture, my pet, you return successful?”
I toss a bag in the corner, “Credit cards, clothes, jewelry, the usual.”
“Eleven. The alleys are becoming deserted, Mother. We’ll have to move to the streets if we want to continue. Signs are covering the streets warning people against night travel. The Council is doing everything to oppose us.”
“Of course they will, my dearest Mother. They fear anything that will reveal the truth about them, and we now the truth, don’t we, Leech?” Maggot giggles as she fills a needle with Silver Devil.
“Oh, yes, the truth. Those Council members think they can control everyone by blinding them from it, but we know it, and it’s ours to tell, ours to share,” Leech repositions their unfortunate prisoner, revealing his face, his beautiful face. He unties the boy’s hands and prepares an arm, “Are you almost ready with that? He still has some fight in him no matter what I do to him, the precious little doll.”
“Vulture,” the Mother’s voice draws my eyes away from the cruel yet fascinating spectacle, “Come with me.”
I follow the Mother into one of the back rooms of the spacious tent, glancing over my shoulder once more to see the boy looking helpless in the hands of Maggot and Leech.
The Mother sits on her cushioned bed, patting the spot next to her. Unsure of her intentions, I take her offer, afraid to defy her. After a moment of silence, she takes my hand and gazes into my eyes as if searching for a weakness. Faint giggles and cries infiltrate the room as the silence between us swells. She places a hand on my cheek, caressing it softly for a moment, then breaks the silence.
“Time has come for a new Mother to be born. I must choose a member of the Family, one whose loyalty remains unquestionable, who serves my every whim without question, to be tested. If they pass, they will be mine and mine alone, and we will create the next Mother. We will raise her to be one of the Family, and one day lead it as I do now,” the Mother leans in close and whispers in my ear. “I choose you.”
My mind and heart stops, unable to comprehend this knowledge. The fabled honor of becoming the Mother’s lover is often spoken of as a way to inspire men to better themselves, to impress the Mother; now, I sit in her tent as she offers this mark of respect to me. Speechless, I look away, incapable of continuing such an intense conversation while gazing at the Mother.
“However, there is the matter of your test. Though you have proved yourself worthy on countless occasions by turning in spies, conducting initiations, and feeding the Family, you are not exempt from this tradition. Maggot and Leech are entertaining a very special guest. High Councilman Ryder’s son sought us out and asked to become a member of the Family, but I see a much better use for him. His death would devastate his father and force him to resign; this will present us with the opportunity we have waited for. Your task is to kill him and deliver his body to his father, along with this note,” the Mother handed me a scrap of paper folded and waxed shut. “Take him deep into the tunnel and make him suffer. The message will run deep with Ryder only if his son suffered up until the very end. Return successful and you shall possess the honor of my love,” releasing my hand, the Mother joins Maggot and Leech to observe their actions.
I wrap the cloak around his injured body and check his bonds once more. After attaching a leash, I lift the bag onto my shoulder and lead him out of the tent. As the Mother assured me, no member of the Family tries to attack him. Many taunt and call out foul names that should not exist, but we walk peacefully otherwise. As we near the two exits, I slow and ask myself: do I take him near the surface or deeper into the sewers? I choose the right tunnel and descend into the depths of a rotting hell.
Seventeen hours into the journey, and the boy stumbles on. He falls often, blinded by a strip of cloth, but still re rises as if determined the next step will set him free. What a ridiculous belief. The Family spares no one, the Mother’s demands are final, and I will show no mercy. Once his father resigns and the Council crumbles, the Mother will award me. She will invite me into her bed and bestow upon me the honor few live to hear word of. All that respect, all that power, and all I have to do is kill an innocent boy. I stop walking, listening for the distinctive sound of rushing water; I follow my ears until we enter one of the many natural caves deep in the sewer system. A massive waterfall releases its fury on the rocks at the far side, pouring it into a large pond that fans out beneath before it flows on.
I pull the boy close, grab a fistful of hair, and haul him to the ground. His muffled cries echo in the enormous grotto. Slamming his face into the fine-grained sand of the bank, I laugh as he struggles to breathe. I release him after a few moments, kick him a few times to keep him down then begin setting up camp.
Setting priorities first, I hammer the largest stick I can find into the ground and tie the leash to it. As I set up a fire pit, I glance at the boy and see not a human being but an animal tied to a post. With the fire thriving and a rudimentary tent constructed just out of the boy’s reach, I set some soup over the flames to simmer as I take him to the water.
Tying the end of his leash to my wrist, I strip him bare of his clothes and toss him in, letting the water wash his wounds. I bring many prisoners here and always draw pleasure from watching them struggle in the water – their hands bound behind their backs and mouths gagged – but now I look at his thrashing form and feel nothing. No joy in his hopeless battle with the water, and no pity either. I only feel indifferent. I reel him in as he struggles against the rope around his fragile neck. When I first tried this trick, I snapped the woman’s neck; I now know you have to pull slowly or they kill themselves. Twenty minutes after I threw him in, I hauled him out.
With his cloak in one hand and leash in the other, we returned to the camp. I toss his cloak by the fire, missing by mere inches, and tie him to his post once more. He crawls as close to the fire as the leash will allow, then proceeds to shiver his way to warmth. I pour a bowl of soup for myself and slurp loudly, knowing his stomach is far from full. Tossing the bowl in the dirt, I make my way to his side.
“You thirsty?” He nods frantically, “You hungry?” Again, he nods. I lift his head and turn it side to side, then slap him hard across the face. “You’ll have to earn the right to food and water. From this moment until you draw your last breath, you’re mine. I’m going to make you suffer, make you plead for death,” I slide my belt out of my black cargo pants, “and only when I grow bored of you will I be so kind as to give you that one little mercy.”
I unleash on him, letting my belt fly through the air. I channel my wrath and hatred into every whip, every lash, until the welts turn to cuts that pour blood. Blinded by fury, I fail to see the tears running down his delicately bruised face. Deafened by disgust, I neglect his muffled pleas. All my unexplained pains lay before me, waiting to be destroyed, begging me to whip them to death. Slowly, my vision returns and I see the helpless wretch before me, draining blood from numerous slashes. I drop the belt and walk away, returning moments later to bandage his wounds. He cries out in anguish as I rub salt in the gouges covering his snowy skin, then relaxes as I bathe them in water from the pond. After wrapping each cut carefully, I ungag him and place the canteen to his lips.
“I’m surprised. Most in your position scream, some beg for mercy,” he drinks greedily before I steal the precious water away, “but you barely made a sound. Care to shed some light on that?” He remains silent, head low. Impulsively, I remove his blindfold and peer into his mismatched eyes…
Shock, intense pain flooding into my mind. Everything I once left behind comes back in a sudden rush. In my room, I played with High Councilman Ryder’s son as my Father and his guest discussed official business downstairs. Achillian and I chased each other around through the spacious area, pointing toy guns, then his father came to escort him home. Hours later, crashes resounded through the house and hired servants screamed bloody murder. I lifted the panel in the wall and hid, fearing the worst. After what seemed like an eternity, the screams slowly faded until the last one, my father’s angry vow for revenge, died away as well. Footsteps pounded through the house and eventually reached my room; dull thumping echoed along the walls until it reached me, then the panel was lifted and I was dragged kicking and screaming from my hideout. Down the stairs we went to where my people lay massacred on the ground in a bloody heap, encircled by the fabled Family.
I was thrown at the feet of a woman with a vicious gaze; the blind girl by her side possessed a smile so cruel I knew she took pleasure in the pain they caused. My knees were soaked in blood, my mother’s blood, and my sister lay stripped in the corner with her throat gashed open. Rage filled me as I took in their cruelty, their twisted nature. The woman spoke, but I only heard the dying screams of my parents replaying in my head. A boy barely older than me advanced, wielding a hunting knife drenched in blood. Whose blood was that, my sister’s, mother’s? Something died in me, or was born, and I stood and faced the boy. Fear had left, and hatred replaced it; I threw myself at him and wrenched the knife from his hand. Over and over the knife went in, until his blood soaked through my clothes and covered my hands. I stood and faced the Family.
Many began to advance, but the blind girl laughed, “What spirit, Mother! Here this sapling stands among the bodies of his loved ones, clearly outnumbered, and he chooses to fight anyway. Wouldn’t he make a wonderful addition to our loving little Family?”
The vicious woman looked down at the blind girl, puzzled, then smiled, “Yes, a fine addition indeed,” the blind girl walked towards me, mesmerizing me with her smile. Once she stood an arm’s reach away, the world went black…
Looking into those mismatched eyes, one pure as silver and the other hot as fire, I remember all I once was. Achillian, my childhood friend, sits before me, injured by my hand. I turn away, ashamed of my horrid actions. Knowing of nothing else to do to mask my disgrace, I wrap the bare figure huddling before me in the now filthy cloak. I pour a bowl of soup and hold the spoon to his lips, but he turns away and shivers in fear. I leave the bowl of soup in his reach and finish setting up camp.
After two days, I make no progress. He still despises me, refuses to eat what I feed him, and only drinks when he has no choice. Sitting here, outside the tent, I watch him shudder in his sleep as I turn the Mother’s note to Ryder over in my hands. If I break the seal, I betray her and all I’ve known for over a dozen years; but how can I kill someone who I once spent my days smiling with? I used to wonder what my life was like before the Family, but never cared much to find out. I was content stealing, torturing, and murdering for the Mother; I believed I acted to free the world from the Council’s oppressive hand. Now I grasp the truth. The Family may have once been pure, working solely to rid the world of corruption, but now exists in the very depravity it sought to destroy and rules others with fear and pain. The Mother’s tyranny causes death and misery while her pawns live sedated on Silver Devil. I committed despicable crimes, unforgivable sins, in her unspeakable name; my hands will never be washed of my victims’ blood. I glance up at Achillian once more, then break the seal on the note before I lose the nerve.
To the Leader of the Surface,
Your son has fallen by the hands of my most skilled Child. Terror will befall the rest of your loved ones if you do not concede to our demands. The Council has terrorized the surface and those below since the dawn of time, but now their oppression must come to an end. Your bloodline runs deep in the seat of High Councilman, and so your rule remains a symbol of the dictatorship that dominates our country so secretly. My beloved Family has fought valiantly to dethrone you and your predecessors; now your son lies at your feet, murdered in the harshest way. You will resign the post of High Councilman or condemn your family to suffer the same fate.
Chills run through my spine as the full realization of the Mother’s devilish threat hits me. My hands shake, sweat forms on my brow, my vision fades away. Drawing on my last ounce of strength, I stand and make my way to the fire and feed the note to the hungry flames. I watch the paper burn – gaze at the flames devouring the charcoal words – until only ashes remain. Yet still I stare into the fire, as if the letter still burns. After hours without moving, I look away and adjust my eyes to the darkness, then make my way to Achillian. I kneel beside him and untie each knot with deft efficiency.
“I’m so sorry, Achillian. I never meant to hurt you, and I never would have, but I was just…” I look into his eyes for the first time in days, and see not terror but confusion.
“How do you know my name?”
“It’s me, Vulture,” he wrinkles his eyebrows in concentration as if racking his brain for the name. “Well, I’m Vulture now, but I used to be Jacob. Our fathers were friends, before – before it all happened.”
After searching my face for similarities to the playful Jacob he once knew, he throws his arms around me, “I knew you were alive! Everyone said you weren’t, but I knew! They said the Family didn’t take survivors, but I searched for someone and I found that girl. I recognized her hair, it’s the color that Council members and Elites have; she wasn’t dressed like it though, so I knew she was in the Family. I followed her and asked her to bring me back. I hoped she could lead me to you.”
“You mean Maggot? She can’t be trusted. She’ll do anything just do get more Silver Devil.”
“Drugs. The Mother makes them herself; it’s a Family tradition,” we sit in silence for a moment.
“There’s so much I want to know about your life now. What do you do with the Family?”
I think about my words, “Various services. Look, it doesn’t matter what I do, just as long as I’m safe right?” I snap.
“I guess, but I want to know who you’ve become.”
“It’s not who I turned out to be, but what I’ve become that matters. You know what I did to you. You should hate me.”
“You can’t help it if this is what they make you do. So they force you to hurt others, what’s the worst that can come from that?”
“You’re so naïve. I wasn’t just going to hurt you until tears stained your pretty little face,” I look away in shame. “I was going to kill you.”
He backs away, “No, it’s not possible. You couldn’t even kill spiders when I last saw you.”
“Well that Jacob is dead. This is what I do now. I might spare you, but who’s to say I won’t kill again? I murder dozens of people in cold blood a week. It’s what the Family does to survive.”
“How come I don’t know about this?”
“What, you think the Council would let this news run rampant? That’s what the ‘plague’ is all about. The Council has to cover up the bodies somehow or the world would be in chaos. And the billboards warning people not to go out at night for fear of plague carriers, yeah more conspiracy. That’s the kind of s*** the Family works to oppose. We hate when the Council lies, when they rob citizens blind in an effort to cover their mistakes,” I contemplate what I just said. Does the Family serve a purpose, or will we cause pain and suffering no matter what the Council does. I stare at Achillian’s inexperienced face, wondering how many of my victims were like him; how many didn’t know the Family kills the innocent and not just those in power? I wrap Achillian in extra blankets, then I douse the fire. “You stay here. I’m going back to deal with something.”
“I need to talk with the Mother. Find out some things about my past. If I don’t come back,” I look towards the exit, “no, I promise I’ll come back.” I walk away and ignore his cries. “Don’t leave this cave! You take one step out of here, you’ll be lost in the tunnels and even I won’t be able to find you.”
The Family greets me differently. The children don’t run, but instead gift me with morsels of food they scavenged from the surface; the older members stand and salute me, an honor reserved for the Mother. Celebration runs rampant as needles exchange hands and liquor fills every glass. Chocolate and fruit float around camp, gifts from experienced thieves. A runner stops me to inform me of the chaos on the surface. High Councilman Ryder has taken all supply trucks off the streets to make way for his search for his son, and so far thirteen successful raids have occurred. I speed through the camp, attempting not to appear suspicious, but collide with none other than Maggot.
“Ah, the triumphant hero returns to walk through the adoring crowd.”
“Maggot, I need to speak with the Mother.”
“She is not with us, oh valiant one. Her magnificence left shortly after you, probably to the surface.”
“You lie. The Mother never leaves, not without the Family to protect her,” I shove her aside and race to the Mother’s tent, entering without permission despite the consequences. The main room is empty except for a dried puddle of Achillian’s blood on the floor. I search her room, only to find it vacant as well. Breathing the stench of chemicals deeply, I lift the flap and enter the secretive back room: her Silver Devil workshop.
Fires burn under beakers both small and large; chemicals bubble and fizz as the heat changes their properties; smoke rises from the substances and escapes out a hole in the roof. My eyes scan the room and linger on the tubs of blood in the corner, the secret ingredient of the Mother’s vile drug. Rage fills me as I realize Maggot, for once in her miserable life, told the truth – the Mother is absent. I rip a supporting pipe from the rudimentary tent and let my wrath flow from me. Blood paints the floor as shattered glass sparkles in the air. The pipe collides with the beakers, causing an explosion of inflamed emerald passion. Jade and sapphire infernos leap around the room as I smash every fragment of glass until only glistening shards and powder remain. Blood pours from burns and cuts endured from my rage, but I ignore my injuries. I drop the pipe and exit, stopping only to grasp a burning comforter from the tent’s wall. Dragging the blanket behind me, I walk through camp, setting the filth ablaze. Screams erupt in my ears, overcoming the noise of joyous celebration. When I reach the tunnel, I glance back to see a fiery furnace ridding the world of the obscenity and suffering. I return to Achillian without a second thought for the Family.
The sight paralyzes me. A new fire burns in the pit and the Mother sits on a log pulled close. The light dances eerily on her frail features, reflecting off her glassy eyes as she lifts her head. Leech sits beside her, stroking Achillian’s platinum-honey curls with a vicious smirk on his grimy face. I walk slowly, regretting my betrayal every step of the way. Anything I could have done to Achillian will seem like nothing in comparison to what Leech and the Mother will do to the both of us. When I feel the fire’s heat, I stop. Minutes pass by in silence as my gaze flickers from the Mother to Leech.
The Mother breaks the silence, “You look worse for wear, my pet.”
“The Family is burning as we speak,” I glare at Leech, who giggles as he slowly slides his knife along Achillian’s chest. “You’ve lost. Let him go and I’ll let you live.”
“You dare speak to the Mother that way! You’re in no position to make demands, you scum.” Leech continues to slice away.
“Enough, Leech. So, Vulture, when exactly did you betray me? In my tent? When you looked into his eyes and saw a helpless little boy? Or when you realized you were killing your past?”
“Shut up,” I growl.
“No, my pet, I deserve to know why my most loyal follower left my side for a child,” she stands and motions Leech away. Grasping a handful of his beautiful locks, the Mother jerks Achillian to his feet and holds her infamous knife to his throat. “Tell me.”
Instinct overtakes me and I lunge for Leech’s blade, ripping it from his grasp. I spear him in the stomach, wrench my hand to the side, and rip the blade out. His stomach, intestines, and other organs pour out in a waterfall of crimson blood. In shock, he looks down and attempts to push his body parts back in, then collapses and shudders in a pool of scarlet gore.
I turn to the Mother and attack, knives clashing. The ring of metal on metal echoes of the rock walls of the cave as she defends my blows as skillfully as a normal person. I thrust, she parries. She jabs at my shoulder and lands the blow deep into my bone, laughing as I cry out in pain. Kicking me onto my back, she climbs on top of me and tugs at the blade. My vision turns white as pain blossoms from my shoulder. When I regain my senses, the Mother is fighting to steal my knife, having given up on recovering hers from my shoulder. Successfully ripping it from my grasp, she attempts to plunge it into my heart. I stop her just in time, and we struggle for what seems like an eternity; she drives down with all her might, I use all my strength to counteract her. Her strength overwhelms mine and the tip pierces my skin, then ribcage. I reach deep inside myself and force the blade away, shoving her off me. The knife is now mine to wield, and I lunge at her. Lashing out at her, I miss the first few blows but land the fourth in her right ribcage. She cries out in pain and claws at me furiously. My fists fly with fury and thoughts of survival so strong, I don’t notice when she lies still beneath me. I step back and, with a cry of pain and anger, rip the blade from my shoulder.
Only them do I notice Achillian’s limp form lying on the ground. I limp to where he lies in a heap, collapsing a few feet short. Crawling the rest of the way, I roll him over to face me. His throat is slit delicately and he sputters as he tries to breathe. I stroke his hair softly and hold him close; he lifts a heavy hand and touches it to my wounded chest.
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I’ve had a lot worse, trust me,” I force a smile, knowing very well I haven’t had worse, that the knife reached my heart.
The adrenaline leaves my body and weakness overtakes me. Achillian feels heavy in my arms. I look at Leech, with his open stomach. I stare at the Mother in all her glory, dead because she wouldn’t accept failure. Achillian coughs, drawing my attention. His eyes widen, and I wonder how to end his pain. I lean down and, without thinking, kiss his gentle lips. When I look into his eyes again, the pupils are dilated, and the light has left. He died pure, but in the worst of ways. My fault, this is my fault. I can only bring death to those I love. My family, my victims, Achillian, I could have prevented each of their deaths. I am a killer; it is who I was and who I am. I lived as an assassin and I will die one. Now all there is to do is wait for death to come and shake my hand. Maybe he will thank me for all the business I gave him.