Saturday, November 21, 2015

Day Nine-Thirty-Nine: Dragomir

Dragomir thought Traveller was going to leap off of the ground and punch Bora hard enough that her head flew from her body and sailed across the countryside. He had good reasons if he decided to do so, and he certainly had the strength to make it happen. Dragomir wondered what would happen to himself if Bora were to be killed, given their connection. But the battered man barely moved beyond lifting his hand to point at Bora and quivering from head to toe, looking for all purposes to be frozen in a single moment of exquisite horror.

Bora shook her head. “I’m not gonna hurt ya. I just wanted to stop… stop… ach…”

Bora leaned forward, seized by a sudden coughing fit. She rasped discomfort, spitting blood onto the ground and into the fire, and Dragomir realized with no small sense of panic that he was caught in the same fit. They struggled almost in unison, she doubled over in pain, he using his one arm so inefficiently that he sprawled onto his side. Traveller watched them both, face pale.

“Are you sure you don’t need me?” a voice called out from the darkness surrounding the campsite. “I… are you sure?”

“Nah… n… nah!” Bora struggled back into a sitting position, clutching her chest. She wiped her hands on her pants, spat twice, and waved away the suggestion. “You… you stay out there, ol’ boy… we’re good.”

Dragomir didn’t bother to right himself. He remained on his side, breathing a little better but still coughing every now and then, mostly staring into the beady eyes of the diary. He’d tipped it off of his lap during his fit. The frown on its face was heartbreaking, and he tried a little smile, but that didn’t seem to cheer the book. It poked lightly at his face with its tail.

“So anyway,” Bora said, sniffling, “that was a pleasant start to the conversation, wasn’t it? Glad I didn’t do that while tendin’ bar. I’d have driven off every paying customer within twenty miles.”

“You took my eye,” Traveller mumbled. He shifted his pointed finger to Dragomir. “You took my eye - “

“Yes, I surely did, ’n we all know it.” Bora struggled to straighten her hair. It was matted and unruly, a far cry from her usual, stylish ‘do. “And I’m sorry. Okay? I’m sorry. ’n I’m here to rectify that a touch, if I may. It needs to be rectified.”

Dragomir froze, the unease in his chest travelling down into his stomach. He was glad to see Bora - they’d parted on good terms a few months ago, and he knew she’d show up again before the end, like she’d promised - but those last two sentences… they sounded bad. They sounded downright terrifying, in fact, and he couldn’t tell why, suspecting that Bora’s intentions were travelling across their unique bond in a way he couldn’t yet grasp.

Bora reached around the fire and gently pushed Traveller’s hand into his lap. He looked like he might spring up and bolt from the campsite at any moment, but he didn’t move, and his arm yielded to her pressure. 

“I’ve done a lot of thinkin’,” Bora went on. “Even when you were tellin’ your little story, Dragomir, I was thinkin’. And researchin’. You wouldn’t tell it from my job choices in the past, but I’m a scientist, y’know? I figure stuff out. And I figured out something that I wish I’d figured out a while ago. Might’ve saved some pain.”

“What’s that?” Dragomir asked, the words emerging from his mouth in a dribble. Despite his fear he also felt exhausted, as if Bora’s presence had given him license not to fear Traveller, and he wanted to sleep. He wouldn’t, but he wanted to.

“Doesn’t matter right now.” Bora shook her head. “You’ll puzzle it out. Point is, I wronged you, Dragomir. Both of you. Stole the life from one, fabricated the life of the other. That damned fool in the woods might’ve been to blame, too, but the one who pulled the trigger has to take the responsibility. I’ve been good at ducking responsibility for the shit I pull for way too long.”

Bora staggered to her feet. Traveller flinched back, almost toppling over, but she wasn’t moving towards him. She plodded over to Dragomir and knelt over him, stroking his stump of a shoulder, and Dragomir’s fear subsided a bit… until she grabbed at his prosthetic arm and wrenched it from the socket, eyes flashing green as she did. Dragomir howled in pain at the sudden violence - and his howls redoubled as she did the same to Dragomir’s false leg. She threw both pieces of wood and metal into the fire.

“Why… why…” Dragomir hiccuped through his cries, tears flowing liberally. He could feel blood dribbling out of both of his stumps. “W… wh… why… I th… I thought…”

“I’m not bein’ mean, my boy,” Bora insisted. Dragomir tried to push her away, but his attempts were feeble, and she rolled him onto his back. “You keep having bad dreams. I know, because I have ‘em too. That lunkhead over there wants something back. Well, let’s give it back to him.”

Mouth quivering, Dragomir understood. His eyes flew wide open, and he tried to struggle in earnest, realizing the depths of Bora’s actions, knowing that she was going to take something vital from him, something he’d never given much thought to, but something that made him Dragomir. He needed to fight it, but he couldn’t, because, oh, she’d done something, she’d done something to herself to rob him of what little strength he had left, perhaps drugged herself, and though she could fight those effects he couldn’t, and now… he was… he couldn’t…

Dragomir blinked. I’m going away now, aren’t I? I’m going away.

“Maybe this isn’t a good idea!” The voice from the darkness sounded panicky and fearful, and much closer than before.

“You stay out of this, Baron, m’lad! Get the hell away from the fire, and keep the other one pinned in place!” Bora’s features seemed to be changing, her face growing and turning grotesque as her muscles grew. She looked almost like a spider in the firelight, but one with greyish skin and a mop of white hair. “Fuck… you… you’re pretty strong even like this… mama’s proud of you… now just be quiet…”

Pinning Dragomir’s head to the ground by his neck, Bora hovered over him, her wide, emerald eyes weeping yet determined. Her long, leathery fingers swept across his face and pried his eyelids open, and as they did Dragomir unleashed a drunken, horrified scream. Traveller joined him, but Dragomir didn’t hear his doppelganger run, and as Bora did her work Dragomir decided he wasn’t able to notice much of anything besides the horrible sensation of departure.

To his surprise, beyond the iron grip of Bora’s hand on his neck, it didn’t hurt at all. He screamed anyway, but the lack of pain was almost as stunning as the fact that she’d just removed his eye.

Bora released Dragomir, and he rolled onto his side, gibbering incoherently, eyelids pinched shut. His skull felt vacant, robbed of something vital, and he clutched at his forehead with frantic fervour. There was a burning in his brain, as painful as his usual headaches but somehow different, as though his body was struggling to do something, to create something, but in its weakened state it couldn’t quite muster the effort needed to get it done.

Dragomir barely noticed that Bora was undoing the bandages on Traveller’s face. He, too, was screaming, but he didn’t move, allowing himself to be laid onto the ground. Bora’s lumpy body dangled over him, a fleshy shadow on spindly legs, half woman and half monster. It all seemed like a nightmare, but Dragomir knew he wouldn’t be sleeping again, so it couldn’t be a nightmare. It couldn’t be.

“And just a little bit left on it,” Bora murmured to herself. Dragomir suspected her heard her in his mind as much as with his ears. “There. Yep, that’ll… that’ll do. Yeah. Yeah.”

Time passed. Things happened. And when Dragomir opened his eyes, he was staring into the face of The Baron. The old man was hunched over him, a hand on Dragomir’s shoulder, shaking him lightly but firmly. He was saying something… but Dragomir couldn’t tell what it was. His ears, along with all of his other sensory organs, seemed attuned to only one fact: he’d expected The Baron to look different. Someone with only one eye should be a little… off-centre. But the man looked the same as he’d always looked.

Dragomir reached up and touched his face. He still had two eyes. Then he realized that he’d touched his face with an arm he thought he’d lost, and he wondered over that, too. His wonderment spread to his leg, because it was back in place. Both limbs felt tender and weak, as though they might burst into dust and flutter away at any moment, but they existed.

Dragomir sat up gingerly, helped by The Baron. He spotted Bora at once, laying off to the side of the fire pit. She was still a mass of greyish skin and otherworldly horror, but that horror was quickly folding in on itself, the flesh collapsing back into her human arms and human legs… and, just as quickly, robbing her of one of her arms and one of her legs. The truth was obvious enough, and Dragomir didn’t feel the need to ask any questions as he hobbled to her side.

Sweating profusely, her matted hair swept over one empty eye socket, Bora smiled up at him. The tusks protruding from her cheeks slid back into her face just quickly enough for the smile to be adorable. “I… ah… I set… I set it… right… didn’t… didn’t I…?”

Dragomir wasn’t sure if he should nod or not. He stammered a few nonsensical words instead.

“Are you certain this is what you want?” The Baron asked, straightening his glasses. He tried to help Bora into a more comfortable position, but she looked like any position would be uncomfortable to her. “Or… well, I suppose it doesn’t matter anymore, but…”

“Yep… bit… late…” Bora tried to reach up and stroke Dragomir’s cheek, but her remaining hand couldn’t make the trip. He helped her along, realizing as he did that he looked like a Non again, every bit of his skin oily black. “Now… you fellas… ought to keep goin’… it’s late, but… she’s… waiting for ya…”

“You’re hurt,” Dragomir said stupidly.

“I’ll live… s’long… as you… live…” Bora closed her remaining eye. “Just… get… that damned… fool… to bury us… together… if he can… he’s… he can do it… easy… now that… he’s…”

Bora’s hand slipped out of Dragomir’s grip. Breathing uneasily, she fell unconscious. Dragomir knelt beside her and touched his head to hers, still feeling wobbly on his new leg. But he couldn’t stay that way for long. He had to look. He had to see. He couldn’t avoid him forever. And so, forcing himself away from both Bora and The Baron, the latter of whom had knitted his fingers together in silent penance, Dragomir straightened… and looked to the other side of the fire.

Traveller was standing tall on the edge of the campsite, the sweat on his skin glistening in the moonlight. He was looking at his arms as though they were something new and unexpected, a surprise so surprising that he didn’t know what to do. He raised a hand and peered at it, then the other. Dragomir couldn’t see Traveller’s grinning expression through the curtain of hair around his face, but it was there, no doubt about it. Dragomir had no doubt that the wonder came from seeing the world with two eyes again. That, and the feeling of completeness.

The diary stood at Traveller’s feet, staring up at him. It held a quill in its tail, and it was thrusting the quill towards Traveller. Dragomir’s heart broke.

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