Artemis Drifting

Just because she tippietoes, doesn't mean she's a creepin'.

Part 1, Wrenched

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When you’re healthy, loved and ambitious – your death at twenty nine will always come as a surprise. She could still taste the raisin bagel she had for breakfast on the back of her tongue, mixed with fear-soured salvia. The woman was leaning against the molding wood panels of an abandoned boarding house, her damp hands clenched around the grip of her service weapon. Between breaths, she thought only of her family, waiting for her to barge exhaustedly through the door for a late dinner. Her partner was forgiving, she always was, even though she was left with the responsibility of raising their son at home.


Joan stood still in the silence and dark, the former had only occurred because the bastard inside had picked off her partner. If they had been more careful, she wouldn’t be yards away from Jacob’s rapidly cooling body. She could have had noise if she wanted, she could’ve turned her radio on – she could have signaled for help. Then she wouldn’t have to be so alone, waiting to hear the tormented screams of the hostage inside. He’d dispose of her, and he wouldn’t be quick about it. The creature inside had left his humanity long behind, tearing up that essential contract that men have with guilt.


She had her own contract and it was utterly suicidal. Even before Noah was born, she had put herself between monsters and children. Noah’s arrival only strengthened her conviction to hunt them all down. Her partner Sam understood, as much as she could. Sam’s greatest asset was her ability to pull Joan out of that black abyss of sin that she waded through daily. She would christen Joan with hope, and be the one person who could touch her intimately without rousing the inherited memories of horror that every new case brought. Joan went headlong into everything, into the predator, into the prey, and she would come out stained but victorious. 


Standing out here in the cold, on the knife’s edge of decision, she thought about this morning – the last time she saw her lover and her son.


“Joan? Joan! My hands are wet, and Noah’s shoveling the sugar onto his oatmeal.”

Joan looked up from her newspaper and towards the kitchen proper. Sam was standing next to the sink, suds winding down her wet forearms. Her partner looked at her, pursing her lips, a strand of honey-blonde hair caught between her lips.

Reaching over, Joan waited until Noah finished dumping the last spoonful of sugar onto his growing tooth-decay mountain and pulled the bowl towards herself. “Kiddo, you’re going to drive Mrs. Berke mad today. That’s enough.” Noah screwed his face up at Joan, “She’s already mad.” he replied, whistling his breath through the new hole in his smile, courtesy a vicious dodge ball game.

Her son was a spitting image of herself, and she always felt sorry for Sam in that regard. The poor woman had to endure that pouting scowl double in a day. Joan’s beeper buzzed, a reminder. Rising from the table, she folded her newspaper, ruffled Noah’s shaggy black hair and approached Sam. Popping a soap-bubble on her arm with a fingertip, she leaned in and brushed her mouth across Sam’s cheek. “I’ll see you tonight.”

Sam grinned charmingly, “You best, get home on time. If not, I’m giving him five pixie sticks after dinner and going to bed when you get home.” Joan whispered, “You witch, you wouldn’t!” Contemplating this, Joan relented. “Ah, yes you would. You’d be sound asleep and I’d get the full experience of living with this kid all day compacted into an hour.”

“Yup. Go on. Don’t forget to bring all of yourself home.”

Joan laughed and drew away, walking out of the kitchen and into the hall. “Don’t worry. I will. I love you both, be good at school today Noah.”


There it was, the last moment with her family. It was a normal everyday exercise in the American dream. But it was not enough, not right now. As she inched towards the back door to the home, she wanted to smell Sam’s perfume from a hard hug, and feel the sting of a high-five still on her palm from Noah. She didn’t do more than enough, she did everything with the goal of keeping harmony, not jolting forward to actual rapture. And this is why she was making this huge mistake, trying to do this alone, waiting for back-up would kill this child, and the last of her battle torn spirit. 


When the first wail of pain started from the house, even the structure of the house seemed to have chills. Joan lurched forward and kicked the door open, splinters of rotting wood exploding around the locking mechanism. The way in cleared, she threw herself inside, her gun extended forward, her finger
curled around the trigger.


Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. It wasn’t how horrible he appeared, how disgusting the inside of this building was, or the expression on the face of the girl child that had aged her crone with fear. It was the sensation of victory, and it wasn’t her own. He stood there, his shotgun trained on her, with the bound girl under his booted foot. The man had been crushing her ankle until he urged a scream out of her and waited for Joan to make that mistake that brought her inside. He was ready for her, when she expected him to be preoccupied in his twisted lusts on the victim. 


Joan thought of Jacob, she thought of Noah, and when she thought of Sam she pulled the trigger. The sound of her weapon discharging was lost in his own explosive fire. Joan’s aim was true, and her bullet was fatal – punching a neat hole right through his heart, dropping him to a crumple. The girl shrieked as his crumpled body hit hers, and rolled away.


He, however, essentially ended Joan’s life right there. The man shot from the hip, and had punched dozens of holes into her gut. The impact threw her off her feet and into the wall behind her, where her numb back dented the warped wood. It didn’t hurt, not at first, it was just warm. It was warm all down her stomach, down her thighs, where that river of blood was pouring. Joan’s arms and legs were arrested with shock, and she slumped there like a broken doll, watching her life run out of her. When the pain came, she screamed, the sensation reminding her that this was it, she wasn’t going home, she wasn’t going to ever hang her coat up by the front door again.


The girl had wrestled herself away from the man’s body and crawled over toward Joan, pushing her bound hands on the wet fabric of her thigh to pull herself up to look at the woman who had saved her life. Joan, aware that she was growing swiftly numb, threw her head back in an effort to meet eyes. She had to say something inspiring, right? This kid was going to be okay, she was going to go home, she was going to get some therapy and be alright. 


But Joan met angry, ancient eyes. “Don’t die.” the girl demanded, her sweat-soaked hair sticking to the sides of her chubby cheeks.


Joan tried for a smile, her pale lips only twitching up at the corners.


“Don’t die!” the girl screamed again, beating her palms onto Joan’s thighs, the impact making a squelching impact each time.


If Joan had had the presence of mind, she would’ve been surprised, that even during dying she could be aware enough to be shocked. However, the response was instinctual, “You’re going to be fine.” she croaked, moments ticking away, a dark throbbing fog curling around her vision.


“No body’s ever saved me before.” the child wailed, throwing her head forward, burying her face into Joan’s chest. If she wasn’t so numb, she would’ve felt the difference in the temperature between tears and blood. 


Joan swallowed, but she didn’t feel the muscles complete the action. Things must be shutting off now, she thought, everything’s winding up to a close. Noah was setting the table right now, and Sam would be anxiously checking the clock. “You’re going to go home, Lori. You won’t need to be saved again.” It was a struggle to compose the sentence, her body had revolted against her brain. It was dying, and everything up-top wanted to keep going on. Which thought was going to be her last?


The girl grew still and drew away, looking at Joan with eyes that had gone from ancient to dead. “My dad did this to me. He gave me to him.”


Oh Christ. Oh Christ no. She didn’t want this to be her last moment, she wanted to die and think about her family and the life she saved. She didn’t want to die and think about the little girl she died too early on. The little girl that was going to go home and be thrown into hell all over again.


It wasn’t fair, IT WASN’T FAIR.


Joan had to kill him, she had to kill him. She had to get up, she had to pull herself up and hold her guts in and find him. Then she could die. The girl never stopped looking at her, even when she felt Joan’s body tense, as if the woman was going to try and rise. The outer rim of her blood on the floor had already begun to thicken. “I’ll save you.” she whispered, putting her hand on the floor to struggle upward.


Then death came, and her palm slid, her body contracting with a seizure of muscles missing instructions. The girl never stopped looking, even as Joan’s body grew limp, and her jaw slackened to reveal the wet swell of her tongue. Her eyes, pleading and agonized, watched Joan’s pupils fix and gloss. She watched the personality drain from her face. She leaned forward and touched her forehead to Joan’s, her breath slipping in and out of Joan’s mouth.


Lori was curled up on the wet mess of Joan’s chest when the officer’s finally came. They came in to find the girl, who in this macabre scene, looked extraordinarily self-possessed. It wasn’t just that, she was clearly waiting, and it wasn’t for their arrival.


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