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Fantasy Thriller

Rolling hills crept past as Seo buzzed over the dirt road vein. Light glared through his motorcycle helmet as his tires bounced over gouging gravel.

The sun switched off as he passed over the acre-wide shadow of the Gray Temple. All that the shadow fell upon, besides him, was stone. With hardly a second lost, he evaded an elderly pair of hikers. They had their faces turned toward each other, their smiles frozen and lost in time.

He turned the corner to meet the scarlet scrawl on the side of the pyramid — thin, bleeding letters:

LOST

“Lovely,” he muttered, tapping the button on the side of his helmet. “Dispatch, we have a Penal Code six-four-three violation. Forward.”

“Copy. Four-twenty-six, return, break - -”

“Four-twelve, request. Forward.”

Pause. “Copy that, break - -”

He tapped the side of his helmet. A small light flashed twice, taking a picture of the vandalism. “Dope aesthetic. I’ll make it my desktop wallpaper.”

Long pause.

“Inéz?”

“Stop being a child and get your ass in gear. Break - -”

His smile grew wider. “Affirmative. Four-twenty-six, return, break.”

Dawn glanced off Antzin’s gleaming domes. Seo slowed his bike to the pace of the people. The main street was wide enough for ten horses to canter abreast. A waterway flowed down the middle, teeming with boats. Some citizens shied away from Seo, wary eyes on the spiked tires of his motorcycle.

A different set of wheels caught his eye. His soul craned toward it, his head perked up. His arm went wild waving. “Mariangela! What’s up?!”

The girl in the wheelchair wrinkled her nose at him.

Tía Terésa took her hand off a handlebar to wave at Seo. “Look, Mari, it’s your brother!”

Mariangela turned her head aside and rolled away.

“Hey! I know you saw me!” Seo sighed, bringing up his hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. His fingers bounced off the fiberglass visor. “Oh.”

“Seo, I will be honest with you,” his Tía sighed. “For someone who spent half his life studying in his room, you’re very… ”

“Charismatic?”

“Stupid. You are very stupid.”

Seo frowned. “I wouldn’t be a Patrolman if I was stupid. The exams weren’t easy, you know. No liability is permitted in the Patrol Unit.”

“Yes, you tried very hard. But book smarts can only take you so far.”

“It’s not—”

“Ten-nineteen, return, break - - ”

“Sorry, I need to check out of working hours. Make sure Mariangela doesn’t cause any trouble until I get back, ay?”

“Ay,” she waved him off. “Go do whatever it is you do.”

He parked outside the main building, hopping the pyramid steps three at a time. Patrolmen prowled the halls. They spared him no welcome glance as he marched toward the counter.

“I’ll be with you in a moment,” the staff member promised, turning back to his phone call.

“Seo!” A secretary with the figure of a string bean and a crusty, grinning face jogged to the patrolman’s side. His coffee sloshed onto the floor. “Congratulations! You must be so proud!”

“Eh? Oh, Ernesto! Yes, Mariangela did very well at her recital! I have it on tape if you would—”

“What? No-no-no-no, I’m talking about your honors. The Ice Chamber?”

“Ah! Right. Yeah.” Seo rubbed the back of his neck with a sheepish grin. “That… thing. Well. It’s, eh, kind of unbelievable.”

“So! When are you going?”

“What?”

Ernesto unhitched a long-suffering sigh. “You have the tact of a plastic plant. The Ice Chamber, man, the Ice Chamber. When are you going?”

The cold, Seo thought. I hate goodbyes. And the cold. 

“Well, I don’t know,” he said, drowning out his misgivings. “It’s a bit too early to make that kind of decision, don’t you think? I have a good life here.”

“Wait.” Ernesto’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not thinking of backing out, are you?”

“No, no! I mean — well — I’m just saying it’s too soon. I need a bit of time to wrap my head around it. It’s a huge honor, and I still can’t believe it was given to someone like me. You know?”

“Right,” Ernesto muttered, his face darkening. “Someone like you.”

“Sorry, can you speak up?” Seo lifted a hand to his hearing aids. “I’ve been having a hard time adjusting the volume of these things.”

“What I said was that you’ll be going anyway. What’s the point of drawing things out?”

“I just need some time to think. I haven’t been feeling so—”

“Bah, you’ll be fiiiiine.” Ernesto flung an arm across Seo’s shoulders, dripping coffee over the patrolman’s boots. “You’re Seo.”

“I am Seo,” Seo agreed.

Look at me, he thought. Do you really see me? The bruises under my eyes? The rough edges of my nails? The clumps on my head where my hair’s falling out?

No matter how much work I do, I feel like I’m standing still. The time I have left is crumbling to dust in tragic Ozymandian decay. I am plagued by the transience of my works and aspirations. All that I suffer is bleak and fleeting. As I exist in absolute stillness, unharried is the flow of the universe, as unaffected by my inaction as by my imminent death.

I am Seo. Do you see me?

Do you see me?

“Sir? Did you need something?”

Seo shook the cobwebs from his eyes. The staff worker stared at him expectantly.

“Sorry,” he said, pulling out of his friend’s embrace with an apologetic smile. “I have to…”

“Of course.” Ernesto stepped back. “Don’t let me keep you.”

Seo slid his badge and radio across the counter. “Four-forty-four.”

“Request?”

“End patrol.”

“Granted. Have a good rest of your day, Señor.”

“I’ll try.”

He heard the siren wails before he even opened the door. He was halfway down the steps when he saw his sister plow into the stone steps. The chair toppled over, spilling her to the ground. Her skirts unraveled into a puddle of dark purple cotton.

“Mari!” Seo flew down the steps, falling to his knees beside his sister. “Christ, Mari, your arm’s covered in blood! Let me see it!”

“To Hell with my arm!” She slapped his hand away, then winced, clutching it to her chest. She hiccuped, ducking her head as she swiped at her eyes. “I’m fine!”

“A-Ah…” Seo brushed her hair back. “Are you okay? What’s wrong?”

“Stop worrying about me! Worry about Tía!” She blinked hard, and a tear slipped out. “She’s— She’s in the hospital!”

Ice, ice in his chest, in his bones.

His hands trembled. He clenched them. “Let’s get you back in your chair.”

“Can’t you see it’s broken— Hey, hey!”

He scooped her into his arms and started to run toward the hospital.

Mariangela slapped the top of his head. “The bike! Use the bike!”

He turned around, dashing for his motorcycle.

Seo collapsed at his aunt’s bedside, catching himself on one knee. He lowered Mariangela to the chair beside Tía before letting himself sink to the ground.

“Ah.” The Healer offered a strained smile. “You’re here. Deseo, right?”

 “What happened to my Tía?”

“Sit down first. My apprentice has tea on the comál. And try to stay quiet — she needs her rest if she’s to heal properly. Can you do that?”

Seo nodded, his eyes blank as he transferred his body from the floor to the chair. A hot cup pressed itself into his hand, and he took it mechanically, seeing nothing.

“Your Tía had gluten poisoning. Her throat swelled up, blocking the airway and causing her to faint from lack of oxygen. Thankfully, they were able to bring her to me before her condition was fatal.”

“I told them,” Mariangela said in a hollow voice. “The waiters. I told them twice.”

“Do you… need some time alone?”

“Yes,” whispered Seo, “please.”

When the Healer and her apprentice had left, he let his face fall into his hands.

“Jesus Christ.” He leaned his head back, letting it smack against the wall. “This is so messed up.”

“I told them. I swear I didn’t.”

“I didn’t. I didn’t tell. I was going to, but everything’s so complicated and happening I can’t deal with this!”

Mariangela scowled. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m going into the Ice Chamber.”

“Wait.” Mariangela shook her head in disbelief. “No. Only the good patrolmen get put into stasis.”

“I’m good at my job, okay? I’m,” his face crumpled as he gazed into the palms of his hands, “very good at my job.”

“Are you stupid?”

Seo flinched. “Mari—”

“Why?!” She grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. “Why do you keep risking your life? What are you trying to prove?!”

Seo wrapped his hands around her wrists. “I can’t— I don’t want to wait around until I die. If the ancient seal breaks, this world will need me.”

“What, and we don’t? Are we not enough for you?”

“No! I mean, yes! I don’t know!” He clutched his head. “I don’t want to leave you. But if the Quinametzin wakes up in the far future and I’m not there to stop it, all of this will turn into stone. If I don’t freeze, Antzin will. And it’ll be my fault. Because I couldn’t take responsibility. Because I was selfish.”

“Seo.” Mariangela tilted her head to one side. “You don’t want to go, do you?”

He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head.

“You idiot.” She hugged his arm tight. “No one said you had to save the world.”

“It’s my duty as a human being to save other human beings.”

“No, it’s your duty as an individual to do what feels right to you. Does leaving feel right to you?”

Seo blinked. He brushed his sister’s hair out of her face. And his face finally cracked a real smile. “Nope. And that’s what I’m going to tell them. Right now.”

“Good.” She grinned. “Hurry up while there’s still fire under your butt.”

“Ay.” He ruffled her hair, rising to his feet. “Take care of Tía for me, okay? I’ll be right back.”

“Copy that.”

He was already several blocks away when he realized he’d forgotten about his bike. He turned around, nearly plowing over Ernesto.

Ernesto recovered his senses. “Do you have a minute?”

“Sorry, I’m in a bit of a rush.”

“It won’t take long.”

“It’s very urgent.”

“So is this.”

Seo pursed his lips. “Fine. But only five minutes at most.”

“Good,” said Ernesto, “very good. Come this way.”

As they marched the halls of the Patrol Unit building, Seo shot a longing glance at the main office. He quickened his pace to match Ernesto’s. “What exactly is this about?”

Ernesto stared straight ahead. “Let’s not talk about it here.”

“I don’t recognize this chamber,” he said as they descended into a dark hall. He shivered.

“Of course, you wouldn’t. This is a secretarial chamber.”

“It doesn’t seem—”

“We’re here.”

“It’s cold,” said Seo, glancing warily from corner to corner. “What’s—?”

A glass wall shot from the ceiling into the ground between Seo and Ernesto.

“Ernesto!” Seo took a running start at the glass, slamming his shoulder against it. He bounced off of it with a crack of bone, crumpling to the ground. “What the Hell are you doing?!”

“Honestly. You’re a grown man, and yet you still have no tact at all. Surely you knew the risk in following someone without asking where they’re going.” He sighed. “No one knows where you are.”

“You can’t do this.” His breath fogged in front of him. Goosebumps rose on his arms. “We’re friends.”

Ernesto watched him as he pounded against the glass. It was fogging up. Seo’s body was trembling like a leaf in the wind.

“P-P-P-Please,” he chattered. “J-J-J-Just let me say goodbye.”

“That’s always been your problem,” Ernesto said, shaking his head sadly. “You’ve always had earthly connections holding you back.”

Seo’s tears froze before they hit the ground, shattering. He sank to the floor, rubbing his arms. 

“Mari,” he whispered. He pressed his head against the glass. “MARI!”

 “Don’t worry, amigo,” Ernesto said softly, turning and walking towards the door. “I’ll take care of your family for you.”

October 09, 2020 06:48

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