The Secret Sellers

Once upon a time an old woman foretold a world where monsters ruled. And they did. The fairy tales from history seemed to foretell the mutations of the future. Forests grew large and dark and within them, creatures thrived. Avis Eldred is one of the few surviving humans; she should be grateful for that. But she's not grateful for killing in order to survive. Now she faces a choice - take a leap of faith and defy everything she ever knew, or keep being a murderer and a coward.

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8. Of Trade and Fox

 

-7-

Of Trade and Fox

The Trade post was situated at the bottom of a long narrow mountain valley. It had been a train depot at one point. The rails still ran from here to the coast. (Beyond this point, the trees tore the tracks from the ground, lifting them as they grew. Some trees had branches of iron mixed in with their own.)

The train cars that did run were few. Hulks of abandoned cars had been stacked at one point and had toppled. It made for a dangerous maze of iron boxes. Transient villagers had converted a few of the upright cars to homes. Using what they could find to make a livable space. These people tended to be viciously protective of their space. It made scavenging through these yards a risk not many took.

Some of the boxes still contained objects from a time lost, useless to the reborn world. Black plastic things that might have done something magic at one point but were now just blank frames. There were train cars that were buried and hard to get to. The contents were labeled ‘sour grapes’ and left to over taken by mold with age.

New items brought in from the coast were sold by those favored best. Coffee, chocolate, spices and herbs and chemicals off all sorts, medicinal and recreational, were the prized goods and brought in a lot of trade. Especially those that knew how to mix the chemicals into intoxicants and suppressants.

 Up the hill from the train yards lay the center of the tiny town. In it was The Canvas Camp; no place for a lady.

Katrine was not only at home here, she was the Queen. She wore knee high boots and tight dark jeans as she picked a clean path through the mud. Her long blonde hair, waves down her back. Her curves shown through the silk top and riding jacket she wore. Her face was sharp and her eyes sharper. She never lost sight of the man she followed. He was stumbling into one tent after then next. He must be desperate for something uncommon.

Katrine waved her gloved hand at her lackey. “Find him what he wants.” Ham’s baffled expression earned him an elbow to the ribs. “Ask him what he’s looking for and then buy it.” The buffoon stood tree-like.

“I’ll do it, Ma’am.” Chappie sidled up.

She nodded. “I don’t want mistakes. He’s not what he says he is. Don’t kill him.”

Katrine watched as her minion stumbled, drooled and backslapped his way into the armpit of the werewolf in full shaking withdrawal. Chappie dragged the prize to the proper tent and they emerged victoriously burdened with poison. The wolf hardly realized that he was being guided slowly to his captor.

Chappie stood straighter, holding the arm over his shoulder and almost lifted the doctor off of his feet. Dr. Lovelace looked at him as if they just met.

Chappie cocked his head, “Ma’am. Is this what you were looking for?”

Katrine reached her hand out and turned the addled face to hers. “Oh, look at that. He’s almost too pretty to beat.” Lovelace winked a slow eyelid at her. “Lets get him inside.”

Lovelace swiveled his head back to the larger man under his arm. “You with her? She looks like a handful.”

Chappie laughed. “I wouldn’t know. I just work here.”

The Doctor was too sick to even contemplate a reply. Ever since the girl dropped him off there, he hadn’t been able to sell his secrets from the town he just left to reap there rewards. He had been too sick. He hadn’t known what made him sick just that he was incredibly sick so that he couldn’t even function like a normal human being. He was expected to be hurt upon arrival to this strange woman. His wish was not met.

He was laid down on a canvas bed and left there to burn in his illness. Time passed incoherently. Whenever he opened his eyes even a fraction it burnt.

Eventually he felt himself becoming thawed, opening his eyes didn’t hurt as much as it had before. He didn’t know how long it had took or why he was in the strange facility that he was. But it was a compromise that he would gladly take.

Lovelace rolled off of the low bed and crawled across the floor.

He was in his third, perhaps second, day without the burn underneath his eyelids. He was nauseous and trembling. He could feel the instincts that he had been muting for so long tickling at his spine. He hated it. Hated that he could hear everything, smell everything. He retched into the sink at the side of his prison cell. He didn’t know what was going on with him. He hated it.

He could hear her coming. Her obnoxious shoes ticking out steps. He splashed water on his face, rinsed his mouth and spit. He rallied his reason. He was going to get out and she was going to let him.

Katrine beamed at doctor, “You look so much better.”

Lovelace scoffed, “I welcome death.”

She cooed at him, “I promise, it gets easier from this point on.”

She unlocked the door and stood above him as he lay on the floor. The doctor scrubbed his hands across his face, “This is the worst medical facility. The brochure said Wellness Center.”

Katrine muffled a laugh, “This isn’t an infirmary, dear. I’m not making you well. I’m making you better.” She pulled at his arm. She was stronger than she looked. “Not all better...” She sat him on the bed and drew her sharp fingernails through his hair. “...Just better enough.”

The doctor resisted the urge to lean into the scratch of her hand. His new urges were growing and the physical contact was desperately missed. He didn’t even realize he had his hand on the back of her knee until he felt her grip his hair. She hissed, “You only touch when I say you can.” He liked the pull at his scalp so he slid his hand higher. This impulse to keep going higher and higher didn’t last long, she brought her knee up and his head down, slamming him on the chin. She pushed him back on the bed, “Only when I allow it.”

He grinned through the pain, “Worth it.” He winked.

He cringed at this. What was going on with him?

He asked her.

He got no reply.

He didn’t get anything until the next day where he could feel the itch and restless pacing of something stirring inside of him.

“What is going on with me?” He whined,

From slightly opened eyes he could see Katrine pull on latex gloves and handle a needle. A deadly long and terrifying needle.

“There was some information that some people were infected with a mutation that led to them becoming monsters. We named this new species hybrids, half and half you could say. People were getting sick and turning. We are led to believe that one of those hybrids is you.”

For a while the doctor didn’t focus on what she was saying about him. Only one thing stood out:

“Who are we?”

*

“I can see you.” Neveah turned and watched the fox, just off the path. “Why are you following me?” The fox disappeared into the trees.

Her pace was probably half what he normally did. Her sister was the runner. She pushed her more than she realized. She told herself that she was taking time to look for any sign that Avis was still alive. She knew that it was a possibility; she wasn’t giving up on her sister.  She trudged because it was all she could do. She was heartbroken because she knew that there was a possibility that Avis was actually dead.

She stopped for the third time that morning. Stumbled into the patchy grass and lay down. She felt so disconnected from the world now. She wanted the grass to grow up around her and absorb her into the dirt. She wanted to feel nothing instead of hollow longing. This was all because of that possibility of death, she couldn’t return home with that hollowness in her stomach.

She lost all sense of time. She only realized how long it had been since losing Avis when she arrived at one of the more known Trade Posts. She didn’t even stop to stay, all she did was gather supplies for a trip with some secrets and then left. Humans could trade secrets too and with Neveah’s reputation she had plenty from other people.

She wondered what had happened to her sister, both if she was still alive and if she was dead. She didn’t want to find her body but she needed to know. Neveah was haunted by that few minutes. She fumbled on the down stroke and the glancing blow of the weapon cost Avis everything. The bear won. She sobbed at the thought of Avis, hanging from the beast’s mouth. She cried again. Seems like all she did now. Cry and sleep. Neveah was never a person to cry, she wouldn’t allow people to see anything other than the mask she fixed in place in the form of makeup and smiles. Now because she was alone and no one could see her tears she found no reason to reapply the disguise.

Neveah was face down in the grass. Her eyes salty and dry. The sun was behind the trees. She had only a few hours until dark. There was something warm laying on her back.

She rolled and the little fox jumped off and ran. “What do you think you’re doing?” She yelled after the animal. “I’m going crazy.” She gathered his things and watched as the fox appeared in the trees again. “What do you want from me?” She screamed. “I have nothing!”

She stomped through the trees. The fox ran past her and crossed her path. She kept walking. The fox circled around did it again. “Turn left?” She darted through the trees to the left and then sat and waited. She followed the bright red tail through the woods for most of the evening. She was sure she was being led to her doom by some malevolent forest fairy but she didn’t care at this point. If Avis wasn’t at the compound, there was really no reason for her to go there. She would let this rodent choose her fate.

Neveah and the fox crossed three mountains that afternoon. At sundown they made camp in a cave too small for a fire. The fox curled into the warmth of her belly as she curled on her side.

She was farther away from anything familiar than she had ever heard of from the Couriers. Nobody knew where she was and nobody would look for her. The Pony Express officer that they sometimes reported to, wasn’t informed of this trip. It wasn’t listed anywhere. They might wonder where she and Avis had gotten to, then assume they found better work.

Neveah rattled a lonely breath. She didn’t cry. She felt it burning at the back of her chest but it stayed there. Is this progress?

The fox whipped their tail at her face as it circled again and settled.

Neveah wondered how many songs she knew. She was going to try to drown out the fear. Embrace the positive mindset that Avis had tried to instill in her. She hummed aimlessly until she fell asleep.

“Avis?” She woke himself with her voice. The Fox scurried to a dark corner.  She had dreamed that she had saw her sister. She was pale and bloody, reaching for Neveah’s hand, gasping as she tried to grasp at something too far away. She gagged when she realized that it was too late. Her sister’s eyes fixed and clouded.

It had happened. She wouldn’t find her. She couldn’t help her. Neveah screamed out in agony. She fell back to the floor of the cave and shouted. Her voice amplified and returned back to her; pained and hollow. “Avis, I’m sorry.” She shouted it out into the darkness. “I screwed up.” She sobbed. “I screwed up again.” She collapsed to the dirt and sobbed until she retched. “I don’t know what to do.”

The fox winced as their companion writhed in lonely regret, they could do nothing in this form for this one.

They tried to speak, tried to convey that the companion’s sister was in fact alive but injured. But their companion convinced themselves that they were crazy and stumbled out.

They could not help someone would didn’t want to be helped.

But maybe there was someone who could.

When their companion was asleep for a while the Fox drew upon all that it knew that told them the way to walk in order to reach safety.

With this done the Fox left to do another job.

They hoped that this one would divert on a path that was right for them. 

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