Raven had never thought looking at her own hands could make her cry. Disbelief rushed over her as she tried to separate what she remembered of her hands and what was attached to her now. A clunky gear shifting sound made a “chunk, chunk” noise as her hands stuttered while she rotated them. She could see the skin combined with metal and wondered what the Hell happened last night. How did having a beer while sitting on top of her car at the end of Palomar Airport result in this?
Why couldn’t she remember anything? Just watching some planes take off and whoosh, her mind was blank.
Eyes closed, her fingers could identify the smooth finish of the wooden chair she was sitting in, along with some grooves from the natural wood. They could also distinguish the rough denim of her jeans and the stiffness she wanted to soften with a few more washes. She felt all of it and yet, she was certain her hands had been replaced.
She wiped the tears from her cheek.
“I’ve had enough. Help my ass. This is what people do when you're different, find a way to set you aside so you're not an inconvenience anymore. All they are doing is trying to lock me down,” Raven told herself.
The pristine hall with stained glass windows could seem comforting. The images were of landscapes and kaleidoscopes of color, but all Raven saw were the windows of her childhood with saints and nuns judging her. She would not let that happen again.
Going to the hospital was a mistake. She hadn’t felt any pain, she was still alive. The fact that her hands didn’t look like hers anymore wasn’t an emergency. Especially when the doctor came back with that man, that agent? Got a “Men in Black” type to help, ha. No way.
Raven might have been naive to going to the hospital, but she wasn’t going to continue and become a lab rat.
She studied her hands again. There were pores that glistened, and it felt like gears were inside. Hmm, skin combined with metal but does not hurt. “I don’t know what you are,” she told them, “But we need to get out of here.”
The metal part began to glow red and tingled, like she had Pop Rocks under her skin.
“Okay, I’m guessing you're on board with us getting out of here.”
Her hands flexed and she could feel the strength in them. Then her left hand rotated and pointed to her head.
“Ah, so I guess you’re the brawn and I’m supposed to be the brains. Well, that’s just great.”
The room looked so old compared to the hospital next door. Could this building have been an old school? So much was made of wood, including the door. That might give way if these hands were as strong as they felt.
“Okay, how strong are we?”
They spread in a “not sure” gesture, and she looked around for something for them to test with. She found a wooden chair and suggested, “Go ahead, break it.”
She tried to visualize what she meant because she wasn’t sure if it was her words or her thoughts that were making the hands respond. As she did, she followed along, picking up the chair, which was a lot heavier than she expected. She grabbed a leg in each hand and snap, it split in two with no effort. “Okay, that’s a good start. Now let’s get working on that door.”
Approaching voices put her heart into overdrive. “We’ve got to move fast and I’m certain we have no time for us to get to know each other. We need to find a way to break this door and hopefully not get hurt in the process.”
She thought of pushing the door, punching through it near the doorknob, and of breaking the doorknob. “So, do you have an idea?”
Her hands stretched out and she followed as she put them on the doorknob.
Raven focused on the door with the intention of a wish on birthday candles, “Please be a way out, please be a way out,” then she exclaimed, “Do it.”
The hands tighten hard onto the doorknob, bent and crack. The doorknob came off and it swung open.
“A staircase, okay, there might be a way out down there.”
More voices were coming up the stairs. “Shit, maybe there is a place to hide on the roof. I guess we’re going up.”
Every tiny noise seemed to echo, making the roof feel miles away. A sigh of relief escaped her when she noticed that the door was unlocked and moved it as slowly as possible, hoping that no one would hear it open and close.
There weren't many places to hide, and Raven hoped she was quiet enough. A brick wall seemed like the best place to duck down. As she rounded it, Raven's fear went into overdrive at the sight of a cop. But, he didn't react to her. Was he hiding?
The police uniform was weird but put that guy in baggy jeans and a Avenged Sevenfold t-shirt and you’d get, "Billy?" It was like seeing a teddy bear stored in a toolbox, totally out of place.
Raven got a glance and then an “oh great,” sigh from Billy. "It's Officer O'Reilly now," he muttered, completely preoccupied with hiding the situation he was having with his gun. "I'm surprised that this is the first time I'm seeing you after graduation. I would have thought I would have seen you get arrested for protesting some ‘save the planet’ cause years ago with all of the trouble you put Sister Francis through."
"She was heartless and judgmental and, actually, I don't have time to argue about what happened in school. I just need you to be quiet and let me hide with you."
Raven pushed next to him, not waiting for an invitation. For being a police officer, Billy wasn't acting extremely cop-like. "What are you doing here, hiding? Why aren't you downstairs, or on the street working?"
"I'm just trying to figure out my next move. Trying to get a handle on what's going on," Billy mentioned while he was still fumbling with his gun. Then Raven saw it. His hands were too big to handle the gun. His finger couldn't fit where the trigger was. They looked like human hands but too large for his body or his police equipment.
"Did something happen to your hands too?" she asked.
Billy finally took a break and looked at her, “Too?"
Raven held out her hands. Billy gasped as he held them, dwarfing them in his hands. "Yours look so elegant. The perfect combination of human and maybe robot? Do you remember how you got them? Are your hands still in there?"
"I don't know, and I don't know. The last thing I remember was relaxing with a beer while watching planes land. What about you?"
"We were checking a call by the airport early this morning. Strange lights. I had some latex gloves on and went to touch something that looked like a rock but fancy. I heard my partner say something about "alien tech" and then nothing," Billy confided, "Wait, before the nothing, I remember my partner yelling 'stop.' I think someone or something was coming at us."
The roof was sparse. Raven couldn't see a fire escape or any other stairwells, and they couldn't stay up there.
"Dammit!" Billy looked like he was cursing his hands.
"Do they hurt?" Raven asked.
"No, I, I just can't get them to do anything. At least nothing helpful."
"Did you try talking to them?"
"What?" Billy squinted at Raven, "Wow, you're still as odd as you were in school. Why would I talk to my hands?"
"Because they're not only your hands anymore. Look, I talked to mine and made a picture in my mind of what I needed, and they seem to be helping me now. Try it or not. You're not the first person to put me down for weird ideas.
But you know, some of those ideas seemed to work out for me in the end, including this one. I'm going to try and find a way off of this roof," Raven’s body felt heavy as she went to the edge of the roof to look around, being careful to not be seen. Dealing with people always was exhausting and now it wasn’t any different.
The street was clear of people. Probably everyone chasing her was already in the building.
"Yes," Billy cheered.
"I did what you suggested.” Billy felt Raven’s stare cut through him with shock that he listened to her. “What? I’m not totally closed off. I’m willing to try new things.”
“Then you’re one of the rare ones,” she responded.
“Was that a compliment? I’m going to take it as a compliment. Anyway, I learned that my hands can crumble brick. I don't know how that can help us but at least it seems like they want to help me, just like yours want to help you."
"Well, go team Hands then," Raven quipped. "Maybe we can climb down. Check and see if your hands can hold your body weight. I'll do the same."
Raven went to the wall of the stairwell, jumped, and grabbed the top. It was effortless to stay up. "Wow, why didn't I have you when I was trying to pass phys ed.?"
"I can do it," she called to Billy.
"Me too. Let's try it."
Billy hung off the side and punched a hole in the brick wall. He cringed as small nuggets of brick crumbled to the ground, afraid that he might attract attention. No one heard. He continued down the wall, making holes for him and Raven to climb down with.
"Can you make the holes closer together?" Raven pleaded, "I can't stretch as far as you can."
"I just want to get this done fast."
"I get it but...whoa," Raven missed the next hole when she stretched for it. The bricks passed by quickly as she went down, clawing for a place to grip. She felt herself pull away from the wall and just started falling.
"No, no, no," she panicked, "Come on, grab something."
A window came into view, then the ledge, and smack. Her face smashed into the brick as her hands clutched onto the window's ledge. "Good job," she praised and felt the Pop Rock feeling under her skin again. She guessed that they were both scared. Being only one floor away from the ground now, she was able to climb the rest of the way.
Billy was three seconds behind her, "That was close. Let's get out of here before they figure out where that noise came from."
The side door of the building was starting to jostle, "We don't have time," Billy said, "Here, my left pocket has my leather gloves. My hands are too big to get them, never mind wear them. Use them and try to hide as much as possible."
"But what about you?"
"I'm going to slow them down. I'm still a cop and I might be able to...anyway, hiding will keep you safe. Go. I can create a diversion," before the door swung open, Billy went to a palm tree at the edge of the sidewalk. He looked at his hands and said, "Help me with this, please."
He gripped the tree trunk, taking up most of its width and crack, bam, the tree went down, blocking the sidewalk.
Billy turned to Raven, "I saw you in school. You were different and you had high ideals and you just wanted to be yourself. Sister Francis should have been more understanding. I believed it then too. I was just too busy being an awkward teenager to speak up."
"Keep running and keep hiding. Scared people are dangerous people."
Raven took off, her heart beating out of her chest. As she turned the corner, she stopped for a peak. Come on Billy, please be right behind me.
He was right about scared people.
At least they didn't shoot him, but they threw him into a white van. And in an instant, Billy vanished.
Over the next three weeks, parts of every horror movie Raven ever knew came to life. People were quarantined, taken into custody. At least the news covered some of the results, although who knew how reliable they were.
There were reports of strange aircrafts flying over five states in the US alone. Many reports of people losing consciousness after touching elegant or fancy rocks.
Raven wondered how many people were 'touched' in total. Did they learn how to communicate with their new hands? Could there be enough of them that she might not have to hide anymore?
For the moment, hiding was best. She learned that picking apples and harvesting other types of fruit worked well for her hands and being a day laborer had the advantage of no one asking a lot of questions. The gloves were helpful at blending in too.
She tried to find ways to have her hands communicate with her. She became more and more convinced that she wasn't alone and with all of her hiding, it felt rather comforting.
"Okay," she started, "I've been reading and now I am going to start writing. Let's see if you can write too. Maybe you can tell me something about yourself."
Raven wrote her name while she thought it in her head. She wrote the word apples while she thought about the work she did that day. She wrote that she missed Billy while thinking about him.
Then she held the pen and relaxed. She waited and then her hands wanted to switch the pen from her left hand to her right hand. Her right hand began to scribble large circles and then little lines. Then the writing became fancier as Raven could make out the message in a completely different style than her own,
Hello Raven. Nice to finally meet you. We are called Xeri and you are right, we do want to help.