Eerie shades of bright violet bled into the dawning of the black sky, drowning the dying screams of the Asylonian sun, and beckoning broad, muddy clouds which tumbled in the tepid wind and then burst.
Silver darts of water fell from above, a tropical storm which lashed against the sky, and bounced against the rooftops with a loud rattle.
Rochelle rolled her eyes to the roof of the jetcoach, breathing through straight, white teeth, listening to the rain as it danced overhead.
The patter of nature’s footsteps on the roof of the coach reverberated, low and deep, inside the vehicle. It came in a relentless beat, like fat, sticky fingers endlessly tapping on a snare drum. The only other noise came from the tormented moans of the General, fighting against the lethargic restraints of withdrawals.
She watched him.
His leg twitched, as though kicking at some unforeseen adversary. His chest throbbed, as though his pounding heart were desperate to escape, and his eyes ran wild with stinging hot tears, which flowed into the streams of damp sweat pouring from a scarred, blush-red forehead.
Noah was oblivious. He was oblivious of Rochelle, chewing her bottom lip without realising it, observing him with eyes which gave her away as someone who unnecessarily shouldered the blame for everything going on around her.
He was oblivious of his surroundings, of the soft leather seats, the vomit-stained carpet of the gangway, and the overhead storage compartments of his reality. The seats were not seats but caves, mountains, and rock faces in which They hid, their yellow eyes with black slits watching him, waiting for him, disappearing when They thought he had seen them. Oh, he had seen Them alright, and there was not a chance in hell that he would surrender. They would come out of their hiding places eventually, when They thought they could get him, get rid of him, murder him.
‘Play dumb. Play dead,’ he thought to himself.
Eventually They would swoop, from the leather seat mountains all around, or the floating space stations hovering overhead which, were he lucid, he would recognise as overhead storage compartments. And when They swooped, when They pounced, he would be ready, and he would get Them. He would murder the Temüjin swine. He tried to close his eyes. Play dumb. Play dead. His eyeballs scratched at the back of his eyelids.
The bastards. The fucking bastards. They were in him. Inside him. How? How the hell did They get in there? They were craftier than he thought. They were gaining on him, falling in on him, slowly, quietly, without him even knowing it. They were rising up out of the carpet swamps, and diving from tray-table platforms. They were getting under his skin and into his soul, and they were killing him inside out.
A scream rose up from his core, scalded his lips, and volleyed around the mountains.
Rochelle watched The General sit up, as though some unseen force had snatched him by his wrists and jerked him upright. That same force had possessed him. It was angry. It made his eyes as red as his flesh, pushed his hands to his face, and bent them into claws.
Noah screamed. He sobbed. He clawed at his own eyes, hooking his fingernails along the lower edge of his eye sockets, and pulling, and scratching, and gouging.
The fucking bastards. They wanted to attack him through the eyes? He would make Them regret ever going near him. He had no idea how the hell they got in there, but he would get Them out, even if he had to gouge out his own eyeballs with his bare fingers. He would pull down on the optical nerve and swing the eyeballs around as they grew in size, swelling and pumping blood, knocking down mountains, like wrecking balls with retinas and dilated pupils.
She saw blood start to spill from The General’s eye socket, heard his screams as they scraped against his throat, and shot out between the endless tapping of heavy-footed rain on the rooftop. He started to punch himself in the face, jabbing at the eye as though he were both prizefighter and punchbag.
She dove from her seat at the front of the coach and darted along the narrow gangway. The palms of her smooth, pale hands stroked the rows of soft, leather seats. Her bare feet, with their strong bones beneath creamy, delicate flesh, and each toenail painted in smooth strokes of mango-orange, pressed into the coarse furs of the gangway carpet. Above her, two thin strips of light illuminated the path.
She grabbed at his wrists. The General resisted. His fingers were latched into his eye sockets, tugging, tearing. She thought that if she left him to it he might just succeed in tearing his own face from his skull.
‘General, let go. Let GO!’
She released one hand from him, drew it back, and snapped it down across his face.
‘I said let go! LET GO!’
Noah let go. His head snapped towards her. His hands broke free from her restraint and took hold of her. His eyes were wide, looking directly at her without seeing her.
Rochelle choked back the lump in her throat. A heavy dread consumed her. She stared into the wide, vacant eyes of Beelzebub, looking to find General Noah Fallon hidden somewhere within them. He was gone, gone completely, though she hoped not permanently.
The Devil Himself flashed rotten fangs at the doctor. He breathed deliberate, protracted breaths that washed right over her face, sweeping away any hope of employing the assertive bedside manner she thought might work.
‘N…Now, now Noah, it’s me, The… The Doctor,’ she stuttered. ‘Doctor Rochelle, r-remember me?’
Noah snarled at the image of Medusa in his grip, watching a tangled web of serpents slide their rough, brown and green skins together above her forehead. He saw that their eyes were the same colour as hers, a bright, demonic red with vast pupils, blacker than black. Sucking saliva into the back of his throat, he squeezed strongly on her wrists, the sound of madness drowning out her squeals of pain. He regarded her soft white skin, her terrified heart pounding, her breath short, her breasts rising and falling quickly. And he did. He remembered.
At least, he thought he remembered. He certainly remembered something. He looked closer at the Gorgon, beyond her woven hair of dancing snakes, and deeper, beyond the image of hell’s great inferno in her eyes. There, he saw something. He saw a doctor, and he remembered a doctor, though he did not remember why he remembered a doctor.
The beating of his heart came like a hammer, walloping his chest. His veins tore at his skin. His bloodshot eyes rolled into the back of his head, where, in the gloomy void, he swore he saw his own veins mangling themselves into knots, shedding their adventitia, the way Medusa’s serpents shed their skin before him. He felt those knotted veins piercing through the barrier of his sweat-soaked skin, the way tree roots rip through soil. The roots took his hands from around Medusa and lay them by his sides.
Rochelle controlled her breathing until it came in long, calm gasps. Her hands steady, she went back to work undeterred. Slowly, so as not to startle him, she pressed the flat of her palms lightly against his shoulders and leaned in to hold him.
‘There, there,’ she said softly. ‘Everything’s going to be OK. I’ve got you now, Noah. I’ve got you.’
Her voice was mild and loving, that of a doting mother comforting an infant in the wake of a nightmare.
To Noah, it was a sinister, callous voice which spoke to him. A voice which cackled and mocked and was evil. It said:
‘I’ve got you now, Noah. I’ve got you, and you’re screwed.’
It laughed a full, malicious laugh. The arms of Medusa brought him to her bosom and began to squeeze.
Rochelle held firm as The Devil writhed and thrashed in her arms. She felt him tense his muscles, pushing them outwards against hers in a break for freedom. She held on with a strength and determination fueled by the compassion thriving in her heart.
Noah cried out as Medusa screamed. She flashed her fangs and her serpents followed suit. Hell fire and lightning swarmed around them. Thunder roared.
Rain and wind beat against all sides of the jetcoach. Rochelle arched her head back, mouth agape, an involuntary reaction to the expended effort taken to restrain The Devil.
The Gorgon spat. She slapped her hands at the sides of his face. She was going to make him look, look directly at her, into the depths of hell where most mortals had eyes. She was going to stare, and turn him into stone.
Rochelle kept one arm wrapped as firmly around him as she could, raising the other to sooth The Devil by stroking his cheek. She would calm him, she would comfort him, she would help him to rest. She would be his nurse….
….And he would be her Perseus.
He cried out. She shrieked. Thunder roared. The rain drummed on the roof top. The mountains caved in on them. The leather seats stood solidly as they wrestled against them. Medusa caught him in his grip again. The Devil broke free and raised his fist. Medusa held up an arm to stop him. Noah Fallon landed a fist against the bridge of Rochelle Asa’s nose, and knocked her unconscious with one punch.