AlvernoINK Spring / Fall 2017 - Page 52

Limbs crumbled.

Bones snapped.

A new sensation burdened the poor, restless creature. That sensation was release.

Red, redder than the boy’s regimentals, so red it was black jetted from the boy’s lips like a geyser, spraying the Expatriate. A low groan emptied his drooping silhouette like the sputtering of a tired old machine coming full stop. The blood appeared gilded in the fried sun, enhancing the feral nature of the young demon.

Meat he thought, looking at the final convulsions of this boy, Meat and Iron.

This is what is to be human.

I.

CALCUTTA, APRIL 1798

Talkādu Maralaāgi.

Mālingi maduvaāgi

Mysuru dhorege makkalagade hōgali.

Sixty-eight days after he arrived in Bengal, the sky bled. Three days. Three days of red rain massacred the whey-faced garden-houses that littered Calcutta. Crowded Black Town bazaars resembled a midwife’s linens and Colonel Kirwan’s retinue of the odd foot officer or so receded into the twisting distance of exogenous merchants. He was alone among the shelves. Only the strange storm’s thrum broke the bookshop’s sickroom silence.

Coarse fingers, more used to mud and death than serious scholasticism, struggled through the reams. Hours of searching and Kirwan could find little else but the grueling observations of benighted agents and wealthy flesh merchants. The vagaries of local histories found a way into communal legends the way mice hide from more territorial beasts. For all the damp-bloated, greenish pages tucked in warped dossiers, nothing useful was discovered outside of the scribblings of Sufis and a faint scratching in the walls, nothing that could hazard a hint at what happened in the dunes.

A man wound ‘round the corner of the shelf and stopped abruptly some feet away. Though the young colonel neglected to look beyond the surplus of papers between his palms, he wasn’t so unaware of his surroundings that he didn’t note the way in which this man held himself, as if a group of bunraku masters instructed his limbs on human movement.

‘Officer?’ asked the soft but rattling voice that could have only come from the figure. ‘Might I ask what you’re looking for?’ Distinctly colorless to the point of indifference, the clarity of the words were more informed by the Dutch than the Englishness of the speaker.

Kirwan turned on his heel.

The Dutchman had the sly little grin of someone who knew too much. As he neared, his increasingly familiar pockmarked face was illuminated by a shard of brass light from the shifting lamp above, displaying skin like the powdery painted remains of a cloth doll’s face. Attempting to place him from memory was about just as useful as the burdened buttons that kept his mother-of-pearl belly from bursting past the hem of his waistcoat.

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