The moon in the sky glowed like the eye of a brooding god. And there he stood, a man with one intact lens shining just like the moon, his third eye in the sky. The broken lens skewed the vision in his left eye, and he couldn’t raise his eyebrow without irritating the scar on his forehead, so he kept his face drawn and focused.
Hart with his arms crossed over his chest looked like a teenage girl about to throw a hissy fit. A tall, heavily muscled, faceless teenage girl, that is.
“How dee doo dee,” He spoke, the how drawn out longer than it should’ve been. How such as how in the world did he get this far? Or how does this little bitch think he’ll get past me? Or how will I bring this little bird back to his mommy? Or how much of me can he take?
Four of his faceless goons stood at attention. Lanks could almost see the springs in their legs and arms coiling. Lanks clenched his fists, feeling the heat buzzing in his fingertips. His breath ran shallow. His stomach twisted itself up like a wet towel. His face turned a faint shade of blue. His feet established themselves on the ground, real and steady and learned. Ready to stand after many, many years of kneeling.
The goons had barely raised their feet off the ground before he obliterated them. He watched the flames crawl on their flesh and then quickly grow and grow until they were consumed. He watched them flail and panic and scream, and then go limp. He watched them crumble into dust. He watched the chilly night wind carry the dust away, leaving nothing behind. All of this happened in a matter of seconds.
Hart was speechless. Aghast, to say the least. But this was no compliment he wanted to make for long. He raised his chin, stalked toward his unlikely opponent and opened his arms, exposing the entire span of his torso. The lines of his abs were sculpted like valleys, his chest a mountain. His skin was bright and pink and there was so much of it. This simple act of revealing himself made him absolutely terrifying.
“More for me then… and I get you all to myself.”
Hart’s voice was as rich and sugary as maple syrup. Every word dripped from his mouth and stuck to the men he talked to in a way that was near impossible to wash off.
Lanks’ hands were still warm after the initial inferno. He shivered. The core of him felt frozen while all the heat gathered in his limbs like reverse hypothermia. He wanted to turn around and run. Then he wanted to tear Hart to shreds. He wanted to feel warmth in every part of his body. Then he didn’t want to feel anything. He wanted someone to hold his hand. Then he wanted his hands all over someone. This last thought scared him. Then he told himself this was why he was here.
Hart spat, “Bring it, pussy. I’m gonna rip your fucking head off!”
Lanks thought of Beltboy when he was a kid. He thought of whats-her-name and her big green eyes and her backpack full of flasks and strange pills. He thought of Beltboy with his hair in front of his eyes and his round little face and his latchkey Ma and Pop. He thought of Beltboy’s journal full of hearts and poems that didn’t rhyme. He wondered if, wherever he had went, he still wrote poetry. He wondered if Beltboy still wrote about her, or he wrote about this new girl, or a combination of both. He wondered exactly how much money in booze he had stolen from his parents. He wondered if Beltboy had taken a bottle into the truck with him. He wondered how this five-foot-three wannabe greaser boy managed to save his skin yet he couldn’t. He wondered how Beltboy had the nerve to say he would protect him and then disappear without a trace.
Lanks thought of the second time they came. How Cyclops stepped forward and left him. He thought of Cyclops back when he was the janitor. He thought of the one time he walked into the men’s room at Wally Burger, it was a single stall, and saw him with another man backed against the wall with his arms tangled around him and their mouths together and their hips together and their hungry breathing. He wondered how Cyclops intended to kiss anyone with one of those wretched masks on. He wondered how Cyclops intended to love anyone while being surrounded by psychopaths. He wondered if Cyclops ever loved anyone. Like really loved them. Like loved them enough to be honest about himself. He wondered if Cyclops ever fucked someone and regretted it. He wondered if Cyclops was always on top. No, of course he was. He wondered if Cyclops ever sympathized with him at all. No, of course he hadn’t. He might’ve lost an eye but that’s as much as he would ever lose. He swore to that. Lanks wanted to be like that, and he hated him so, so much, because it was already too late.
“Move on and live your life,” Cyclops had begged him, laying there on the ground, and Lanks had really wanted to kick his shit in because what life did he expect him to live? There was no one left to crawl back to. No more places to call home. No more memories to cherish. There was only the girl, the future, and the sanctuary between her legs. Cyclops knew what that felt like. Beltboy had been inches from it. Lanks couldn’t even put his lips on a girl and now he was this close to peace, to completion, to holding someone else as closely as he held himself, and as closely as he had been held. But he wouldn’t hurt her. Never. He knows the kind of pain that comes from breaking into sacred places. He knows the sounds those kinds of men make when they shatter every window in a church. He knows how they linger in every waking moment and grope in every fitful sleep. He knows it’s not love but when they call it love, he has to roll the word in his mouth and wonder what he can do to this word and to the man who did it and to himself to have all of this bullshit make some kind of sense already.
Lanks knows he wouldn’t hurt her but he doesn’t know if he could love her. Or if loving her would hurt her. Or if love is supposed to hurt. He loved his mother and he lost her. He loved his friends and they left him for dead. He loved Rodriguez and he put him down every day he went to work. This love thing seems overrated the more he thinks about it. He thinks love is why it happened to him in the first place. He thinks he was lovesick waiting for Benny and Clyde to rescue him while his pants were down. He thinks he was so full of love, it made him too big and round to slip out of his hands. He thinks there was so much love in his eyes, the minute he saw him, he was a goner.
But then he had three eyes, and the moon was cold and mercilessly bright. Hart was nothing more than mush on the ground. Lanks panted, holding one side. His vision was getting dimmer. His head began to dip.
Hold on. You’re almost there.
Voices swam in his head. He laughed, sharp and sudden. “I did it, guys!” He smiled, the widest he’d smiled in as long as he could remember, and he wheezed.
Thanks for believing in me. Not.
Lanks willed within himself just enough energy to get his legs to work. He had been a man of fire just a few moments ago but when it died he felt his entire body ache. Channeling years of insecurity and self loathing was no easy task. But he told himself he wouldn’t back down this time, no matter what. And he didn’t.
Once he had momentum going, he could open the door of the warehouse and walk with one hand against the left side wall of the building. He passed through a narrow corridor before reaching a door. He pushed it open and thought he would faint. She was real; her collarbone and shoulder bones so exposed she must have been underweight, a few bands of linen tied around her breasts, a rats nest of hair barely held together in a ponytail, thin legs toned by weeks, months, possibly years of fleeing from the hands of famished men. There was even a small trickle of blood running down one side of her face but he couldn’t get a close enough look to see where the injury came from. He raised his left eyebrow. His own cut still stung.
“What are you doing here?” The girl, or the woman asked. She looked very old and very young all at once. Not young enough to be a child but not old enough to be much older than him. Her age didn’t matter very much beyond that.
Lanks heard the sound of his own blood rushing in his ears, like an hourglass constantly turning in his head, “I…” He mustered an ugly rasp, and then cleared his throat, “I need you… not like that. Just like… well kinda like that. You know?”
5 didn’t move.
Lanks groaned. The gash in his side stung, blood grew between the fingers of his right hand.
5 murmured, “You won’t touch me.”
“Damn it,” Lanks gasped. He clenched his teeth. A swell of fire began to build in his hands. He watched her stiffen, “N-no. It’s okay. I need you. I r-r-really need you. I c-can’t do this w-w-without you.”
5 swung at him and he caught her. There was the hissing sound of her flesh boiling. She shrieked and recoiled, holding her arms against her body. She continued to scream a mix of expletives, prayers and nonsense words as he crept closer. And closer. And close enough to her that when the encroaching heat of him alerted her, she kicked him low.
He collapsed. She took off.
He sobbed into the floor.
He beat his hands into the steel until they were his normal body temperature.
He lay there with his forehead, his chest and his knees against the steel and meditated in his loneliness which was not true loneliness, was it? He wasn’t lonely, he told himself he didn’t need them. But he needed her, and she was gone.
He’d used his hands, that made him sick. But he had to. There was no other way. He still failed.
Was it love in his eyes again? Was that what his fire was made of?
Who was he before all of this flesh and burning? He couldn’t remember.
One by one the lights in the warehouse flickered off. The moon observed his departure without comment. It was an eye without a face, after all.