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The Halocline

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If Ghoul didn’t die now, Jet was going to kill him. She would never have let him drive so far, let alone drive at all, in the state he was in now. He barely registered the sand's blistering heat over the agony already roaring through him as he fell from the battered Trans AM outside the diner. His head snapped backwards as he struggled to his feet. Waves of heat emanating from the ground only added to the enchanting way in which the world swam before Ghoul’s drowsy eyes. The pain which had erupted throughout his body only minutes before had subsided, or at least become so regular that he could no longer feel it.

The inside of his jacket sticky and wet. He couldn’t tell whether it was due to the sweat pouring down his back or the blood oozing from his chest. The encounter was fuzzy- it was… a run? Yeah, a request. Couple of bombs, no questions asked. He couldn’t even remember whose knife had pierced his skin, just the cold fire which now filled every muscle, every tendon, every cell of his body. The only thought keeping body somewhat upright was that he would have to be fine, there had been worse claps than this, right? The sun taunted him from above, smiling warmly over each inhabitant of the Zones who wasn’t hauling their failing body towards a sand-crusted diner.

Surely they would return- the Diner was their home, at least one of them would have to come back sooner or later. Someone would open the diner doors with sand in their hair and clothes. Someone would see him, arms draped over the cracked table in a filthy booth, drenched in a pool of his own blood. Ghoul felt his head loll to one side. It took all the energy he could muster to bring it back onto the table as stars swam before his eyes.

Stars… that reminded him of something, someone perhaps? Faded visions of curly hair and something blue crossed his swimming brain. Dull flashes of confusion bubbled up through neurons which were slowing their responses by the second. Where was he? Whose blood was pooling on the floor like poisoned syrup over linoleum pancakes? Pancakes would be nice, his mom used to make them special for him. Where was she now? He called out to her, but the only response he received sounded like… feathers. As though a bird had landed beside his head.

Fear brought Ghoul back to reality, including the undeniable severity of the gash across his chest and the pain it brought. He couldn’t comprehend why terror had slipped its way into the back of his brain and begun to wrap its cold tendrils around his every thought. His body convulsed on the leather seat. Shivers crept up his spine, undeterred by the jacket soaked in warm blood which clung to Fun Ghoul’s shuddering form.

He had been born with those who should—no, would return to this diner. They hadn’t given him life, but they had taught him how to lead one worth living.
Pain and panic mingled, racing through Ghoul’s throat, and erupted from his mouth in a scream which tore through his throat. Every unspoken word, missed opportunity, abandoned attempt and smothered apology filled his chest as he felt his vision growing dim despite the unnatural sunlight pouring through the Diner’s graffitied windows. He couldn’t remember when he stopped screaming, all he knew was that breath was in short supply. From the corner of his eye, Ghoul swore he could see a single raven feather drifting towards the cracked tile floor. For a second he imagined a familiar hand slowly lowering the feather but… it couldn’t be, she was gone.
Fun Ghoul was a lit fuse—he brought a spark to the Four that no-one could replicate, but his fuse was running low and the bombs in his pocket would do nothing to halt his explosion. He felt as though his lungs had been torn by the knife through his chest, every breath was labored. Memories became less focused. Each thought pained him. His eyes were closing. He couldn’t breathe. He was lonely. Lost.

A flash of red crossed his mind. A yellow mask above a cocky smile. A gloved hand in his, messily painted nails. A criminal luxury which could only be afforded in the Zones.

For a moment he found himself transported back in time, sprawled on a busted mattress, a ratty grey blanket tangled between his arms and legs. Warm sunlight filtered through a myriad of drawings and posters stuck to grimy windows, dancing over his closed eyelids. Soft, slow breaths rose and fell from the dip in the mattress to his left. Ghoul reached a hand over to rest beside the arm which poked out from beneath a small pile of every single pillow they owned. Scarred fingers entangled themselves in his own and held on tightly. If this was his life flashing before his eyes, he wouldn’t have lived it any other way.

The numbness which had bathed his body and mind only moments before was interrupted by an eruption of pain. It roared through his veins as the memories vanished. In one horrifying moment he knew. This was the end. His fuse was about to blow. One final thought, desperate and deafeningly loud, surrounded his mind- I have to see them again. With breath he didn’t believe he had left in his lungs, a single word tore from Ghoul’s ticking heart to his throat.

***

Across the desert, a red-haired crash queen watched a pitch-black feather disappear into the sunset as their ears rang with an echo of their own name.