The phone rang.
The dull tone pushed itself out into the heavy air, swirled around in the cigar smoke by the sluggish fan. He waited for it to trail off before hitting redial with a dirty finger; he never answered the phone himself. Cops traced you that way.
He heard the rough but hushed voice on the other end, “Hey Boss? Looks like Trailbait made a run fer it, jus’ like ya said.”
Trailbait. That’s what all the boys started calling her after they started warming up the dogs on her before fights. But he’d always known she was more than just a chew toy. He’d seen her land in the field just outside the Safe House all those months ago. He’d been the one who knocked her out with a board while his missus kept her distracted with lemonade.
“Good work, Tom. D’ya see where she went?”
“Nah Boss, saw ‘em volunteers go out lookin’, talkin’ ‘bout how she broke the back door down or somethin’.”
“Well what good does you callin’ me do? Ya know the cops are onto us! Get the boys lookin’ too, we need that damn animal back before them vets figure out just how smart she is!”
That animal, that...thing had seen more than enough to make her dangerous. He knew, he’d talked to her. And she’d talked back. He’d never heard of such a creature on God’s green earth, but if she was to go public, she’d no doubt ruin the family business. She was both incredibly smart and hopelessly naive, he knew. If she got her loose tongue back, she’d wag it in all the wrong ears. And imagine: a talking miniature horse-thing with wings. Everybody would listen.
He reached down and patted the panting head beside him. He flinched at the reminder of what that creature really could do. He looked down at the white head and ruby eyes looking stupidly up at him. Dumb, but strong. Red Eyes had been a real good fighting dog, til that creature had kicked his side in like it was nothing. Only kick he had ever seen her aim. Red here was lucky to be alive.
He let the pain of the memory colour his voice as he hissed, “You make sure she’s caught and wired up by morning, or you better get scarce, ya hear?”
The voice on the other end was shaking slightly, wary of calling down his anger. Thats how it should be. “I-I’ll get ‘em searchin’ now Boss, we’ll have her by sundown!”
He slammed the phone down and sighed. Business had been great. Better than ever, in fact. The moonshiners down south had been bringing in bottles for distribution, the mexican connection had been shipping up the finest drugs his money could buy. They’d been making a killing off sales, but he had wanted more. The dog fights were just so tempting.
Well, the police had bust that operation and raided the Safe House, and now his entire business was in trouble. Eight of his boys arrested, all of his dogs possessed except for Red Eyes here, and he was useless after that kick anyway. His boys knew to keep quiet at least, but that animal was a real loose end, and one he could burn off at least.
“Come ta daddy, boy,” He said to Red Eyes, and the dog huffed painfully as it climbed up into his lap. He ran his hands over the crushed ribs barely healed in the dog’s side, and grimaced. Yes, he could make sure she wouldn’t talk ever again, and he’d laugh while he watched her die.
Everything’s so strange.
Night is falling fast. I can’t help but be nervous at that, because I’ll have to find somewhere to sleep. I can already feel a cold bite in the air, and night will only make it colder. I’m not well enough to sleep outdoors yet, but I don’t know anywhere safe.
I’m so disorientated here. There are just buildings everywhere. Small colourful ones with lots of writing on them next to and in between huge hulking blocks of red brick. At first I tried sneaking away from those big buildings, towards the soft sounds of a river south of me, but there were more and more Tall Ones walking around, and I had to hide in bushes along the river bank as they passed me more and more often. Most of them were just hurrying from where they were to where they were going. But sometimes, in between the groups of walking Tall Ones were solitary wanderers, not walking to anywhere specific. Some of them are looking at the scenery, and some of them were clearly looking for something else.
Looking for me?
I turned around then and snuck in the opposite direction. There are less Tall Ones amidst the big red buildings than down by the river. Maybe they also find this place scary? Or maybe they don’t live here; all these buildings are just quiet, sitting here, empty. If the Tall ones live down by the river, maybe I can sleep here for the night?
No, there are still Seekers here. I’m standing against the wall of one of the big buildings. Beside me is a white-painted happy looking shop, but it’s windows are all dark. I see ahead of me in the twilight, a single man with a rough unkempt beard, strolling along and whistling a tune to himself.
A tune I recognize.
The faint notes reach into my memories and pull up a memory I’d rather forget, and suddenly I recognize that bearded face. That last fight. The one with Red Eyes. In that fight, like many before, the hungry faces above and around had watched eagerly as I was mauled to tears. One in particular had stared in glee, all the while whistling a happy tune as I bled into the beaten earth.
I am torn. One part of me screams at me to turn and run as far as I can, to get away, another roars for me to beat that man as senselessly as he had me hurt. So I stand there, nearly sinking into the brick as he slowly turns down the alley, a wry smile on his bleary face.
“Come on out, Trailbait. I know yer out here somewhere…”
I don’t move. A third part of me is speaking, drowning out the others. A quiet voice of reason: I could run, but they’d find me eventually. I could beat him into the ground right here, but he’d hurt me back. I’m not strong enough yet. He’s still walking down the alley towards me. In moments, it will be too late.
I realize he will see me now, no matter what I do. I waited too long! I look around rapidly, trying to find an exit, but there’s none. My eye is still not quite right, looking around quickly makes me dizzy. But then I spot something: a window on the paint shop, up on the second floor. It’s open.
I set my hooves to the ground. I hiss softly.
He turns, looking down. He’s right in front of me, not three lengths away. He grins when he spots me, cowering behind a pile of refuse.
You’ll regret every single time you called me that, you Monster.
He jumps forward, but he doesn’t expect me to move too. I don’t jump forward, I jump back. I’m still slow, aggravatingly so, but he’s even slower. I spin and jump in the opposite direction, straight into the wall. I plant all four hooves in the brick before pushing off, still spinning. In half a second I’m at his head height, staring eye to eye at his shocked expression.
You thought I was weak too, didn’t you?
Then my hooves connect with his face. He doesn’t even have time to fall before I’m jumping off his shoulders onto the low roof of the paint shop, well out of his reach. I look back, ready to run from him when he gets up, but he doesn’t. I realize he’s out cold.
I didn’t kick him that hard, did I?
What if I badly hurt him? Well, I can’t say I’m sorry if I did, but that still wasn’t what I meant to do. I should leave. maybe I can hide in the paint shop til morning. No, the Tall Ones who work here could return any time, and then I’d be caught. I can’t stay outside in alleys, what if more of these Seekers come looking for me? If one is looking, then the rest must be as well! I don’t have anywhere to go. I’m stuck, I’ll get caught again! By those first Tall Ones, too, and they’ll make me fight again! Oh, why did I think I should run away?
“Hey, what’s going on down there?”
I know him. Tory, the one from this morning. The one who picked me up in the basement, who washed me and treated me and studied me and stabbed me with NEEDLES. But of all the Tall Ones I’’ve found, he and the Older One, Charles, the one in the white coat, they’re the only ones who’ve helped me at all. Maybe he can help me again.
He’s right under me now, kneeling next to the man I kicked now. I shuffle back onto the ceiling. I don’t want him to see me. I don’t know what to do...Do I talk to him? He’s probably angry at me for kicking him earlier, maybe I shouldn’t …
So I just sit there on the roof, and watch.
Tory turns the other man over, starts looking him up and down. He sees the man’s face, and gasps. Even from where I am, I can see the ugly blue circular bruises forming on his face. I shuffle my hooves awkwardly. Tory hisses something under his breath, then sighs. He stands and looks around. He recognized my hoof marks? He knows I’m here! I sink lower as he opens his mouth to speak.
“Well, this guy will be fine, he passed out from drink as much as being kicked in the face. I guess I will just go home now.”
He spoke slowly, clearly, like he was hoping I would hear him. I gather my courage and look up over the edge. I see Tory’s back as he walks away. He’s leaving? Just leaving me here with those empty words!
Or an open invitation?
As he turns the corner, I jump down from the roof to follow. As I pass the man I knocked out, he groans slightly. No you don’t! A light kick to the head shuts him up. I scurry on after Tory.
He walks up the streets and buildings, taking odd twists and turns, at homes in the strange environment. I wish I could fly! But my wings hurt too much, I’m grounded. So I follow him, dodging awkwardly from bush to bush to streetlamp to postbox, hoping he doesn’t see me. From the way he keeps throwing secretive looks over his shoulder, though, I think he already has.
I need his help. I need someone’s help. I thought I could look after myself if I got far enough away, but I haven’t even had a chance to inspect myself yet. I’m hurt, I can feel stitches pulling, and the weird thing in my neck is leaking the harder I breathe. If anyone will help me, it will be this One. Only, this time its on my terms.
He finally stops in the light of a house on the corner of two streets. I hide in a shrub nearby. It's long dark by now. Behind me, I can hear some people shouting, but I can’t hear what. Tory stops at the door with a key in the lock, and turns to look at the road and verges, seeking. I hunker down lower. After only a few seconds, he sighs and turns back to his door.
What if this is a trap? It might be. He could be waiting for me to come out, to catch me! But...I don’t think so. And at any rate, if I want him to see me, it should be outside, where I can at least run.
I suck in a breath. I step out of the shrub.
He doesn’t see me still. I’m standing here, in the light of a streetlamp, wings slightly unfurled instinctually. I grimace as I try to figure out just what to do. In the end, I give a soft nicker. It still hurts my throat.
But it gets his attention.
Charles still had an hour of duty before he was allowed to leave.
He swore for the umpteenth time and punched the desk. Nothing of the day made any sense. He half believed that if he punched the desk hard enough he would wake up from this plainly very strange dream.
There was no way, no way at all, that he was staring at a desk full of sketches and annotations for a Pegasus. There was no way that the creature that six hours ago had been lain on the operating table, bleeding out and hellishly hot, had upped and beaten both him and Tory, and escaped. There was no way, no way at all, that he had looked into that golden eye and seen determination.
That was the whiskey talking.
There had been a moment of silence once the creature had made its escape. Even after they heard it scream and break somehow open the back door, he and Tory had stared at each other, shellshocked. Then they’d rushed to act. Tory had barely spared a word beofre grabbing his bag and running out in search of her, and Charles, unable to leave the building (It’s hard to study a creature from jail) had marshalled the rest of the interns to form a search team. He only called interns who had seen her already. He didn’t want just everyone seeing her; if they managed to capture her and bring her in, then maybe there would be less fallout. Charles told himself he wanted more time to study her in private, to get the best results. But the fact was, somewhere in his old heart, was a little piece of him that really wanted her safe for her sake alone. If nothing else, he hoped she found a good place to sleep.
His eyes roamed the notes under him, detailing Tory’s assumptions as to genealogy. None of them made sense, it was all wishful thinking. But Pegasus he had called her, and so she was until proven otherwise.
Charles was thinking about a damn Pegasus.
He had sent the interns out not ten minutes after she had run, and so far they had all returned empty handed. Tory had already gone home, not bothering to come back. Charles accepted that. Knowing Tory the boy had simply gone home, loaded up his car and was now driving around the city looking for her. Probably trying to imitate Pegasus mating calls or something the like. Still, if anyone could find her, Tory would do his best to make sure it was him.
The notes were still scattered about the room. Charles had done his best to organize them, but it was a losing battle: Tory’s note-taking made little to no sense. But it was something to occupy him while he waited.
He didn’t know what do. He’d thought to leave and search for the creature himself, but he knew that wasn’t worth it. He should stay put and wait for whatever would happen to happen.
No sense in doing anything hasty.
He shouldn't be impulsive…
He should stay calm…
“Doc?” TJ stuck her head around the door, “Tory called and he says…”
Charles bolted up and shoved as many notes as he could into his briefcase in all of twenty seconds. He dashed past the young intern towards the door, pages in his wake. He returned moments later, a questioning look on his face, “Where did he say he was at again, TJ?”
The girl stuttered slightly in confusion, “He said he was at home, but sir, you can’t leave the-”
But Charles was already gone.