~ Chapter One
in the dark. The moving dark. Automatically she sensed the envelope
of her skin. Other than a sting on her thigh, she was intact.
Next, steadying her nerves for the shifting and the possibility
of pain, she reached out with one hand. The other was beneath
her head, as if she were a little girl who had gone to sleep quietly,
rather than lying on her side in the weaving gloom.
Her hand encountered
a wall close beside her. Cautiously, with the practised flinch
of a long-standing habit, she ran her fingers down the grooved
material. It smelled like wood and, in the close air of the box,
her urine and sweat. Tugging her body flat on her back with as
little betraying movement as possible, Malu stretched out her
limber toes to feel the dimensions of her tiny prison. It was
only slightly larger than her body. To some, its size and shape
would have suggested a coffin. To Malu, it was just another box.
that she was alone, and likely not observed, Malu allowed herself
to breath more deeply, to gather strength for a more rigorous
test. She calmed herself, worked her arms, legs, hands and feet
through several contortions that dissipated the strain of sleeping
on the hard surface, then pressed her hands against what she knew
was the box's top. Malu was never disorientated when she woke.
Today, or tonight, was no exception. Once her hands were seated
on the rough grooves of the wooden ceiling, Malu brought her thin
legs up and planted her feet above her hips. Her toes gripped
the planks. Arching her back and giving a noise like a tiny kitten,
Malu strained against the wood.
wood. She knew the many years it took for a tree to spread the
soil into a shape and flow into the tallest being in the world.
Her strength was puny pitted against such a dense mass, but she
pressed until her muscles flexed her thin bones and her joints
cracked against her tendons. For a moment, from where she lay
panting on the box's bottom, Malu was nearly fooled into thinking
that the ceiling was giving way.
Once she realised
that the box was stronger than she could break, Malu lay quietly
in the pitch black, waiting for the inevitable noises. She had
woken a hundred times like this. It was always the same. Always
she fought against the box and always they came.
of time that preceded their arrival was difficult to predict,
since Malu was so far from any indicators she knew. Her narrow
chamber shifted in a steady tempo, and she had even begun to relax
into her wary sleep when noises sifted through from outside. First,
it was the clanging of shiny stones, then a hard grumble and a
softer clutter of sound. Two of them. Hantus. Soft ones. She braced
herself involuntarily, preparing for the inevitable while keeping
her muscles loose. She would not fight. This time she would try
to hold herself back, her disgust at bay, try a different strategy.
streamed into the box, Malu was at first unable to adjust her
eyes. There was always too much light. Shading her eyes with her
hand, Malu saw a larger box above her, and then the heads of the
Hantus. Their faces were almost too much for her, and she struggled
with her resolve not to attack. Whether they were surprised she
could not say. They twittered and mumbled, their attempt at a
real language hidden behind noises even a tapir would find embarrassing.
Malu lay quiet. Perhaps they will forget, She thought,
looking more for distraction than hope. Perhaps they will grow
interested by some other thing and leave me alone to explore the
after the exhalations of the Hantus had fouled the air, long arms
and pale fingers reached into Malu's box. She was still. She thought
of stinging insects and how tranquillity could be rewarded with
honey, although she hated to lie to herself. They lifted her out
of the box, their fingers too firm in some spots-bruising the
skin on her thighs and arms-and too loose in others-making Malu
yearn to thrash and scream. A mere repeat of the many times they
had played this scene. Forcing herself to squint into the glare
and observe, Malu crouched small in her shadow self and waited.
The two Hantus
were much bigger than her. Carrying her was so little burden for
them that one of them, the male, held a shaft in his other hand,
prepared to bruise her even more if she squirmed. Malu congratulated
herself that she had predicted their intentions. I am learning
them, and they are learning me. Just as she had begun to be doubtful
of their behaviour, they placed her on a long, low, flat metal
surface that was positioned over the ground at about their midsection.
Malu dreaded what was next. They would begin their exceedingly
her mind away. She remembered the forest. The delightful chimes
of voices. She saw the quick flash of the birds, and far below,
the ground. Her mind drifted through the images, until, disoriented
by her body's sudden shift onto her stomach, her face against
the shiny surface, she found an image that brought her no comfort.
She saw herself as though from above, but as her vision descended
she saw her busy hands, chubby in their youthfulness, strip the
flesh from a living frog. The amphibian screams were impossible
to hear. But when Dit turned her on her stomach and tore a freshly
cut branch through her skin, explaining between her screams that
he merely mimicked her actions, Malu heard the frog. Turning on
the spit of impossible pain, her back alight with blood and searing,
Malu had learned.
were probing the scar the branch had left, when Malu, torn by
her memory, cried out. Surprisingly, their hands immediately withdrew,
and Malu gathered her endurance for a fresh assault. The hands
came back and turned her on her back, more gently than she had
been touched in a long time. Their faces hovered. They brought
covering and touched it to her face. Malu discovered that she
tortured by her name ever since she had realised its terrible
fit, heaved her bulk into the tight chairs with which they had
reluctantly furnished the temporary laboratory. "She's obviously
been traumatised." Deary rarely asked questions.
again. That thing in there is not human. Not in any recognizable
way." Hemoltz Bernier fancied himself a strict logician, although
his secret passion for organized sports gravely undermined his
Wouldn't you use a gendered pronoun for a dog?"
point." Hemoltz's clipped sentences were his speciality. He'd
refined them in primary school when the rest of his classmates
were slinging chalk. In university he'd used them as weapons.
"Is it what we wanted? There's funding to think of. I'd hate to
paid so much of the budget on a deformed hominid? Go ahead, say
it. It's been on the tip of your hypothalamus ever since we left
Sumatra. But you've also seen the dentition, and felt the angle
of the tibia."
That's a graduate student for two years. That's someone else writing
your articles. That'd buy your friend a tenured position." Hemoltz
seldom spoke idly, and never to hurt, but Deary's ongoing relationship
with a graduate student had not gone unaccompanied by occasional
snide comments. It was much worse in the department, Deary reminded
herself, where every bit of funding that Limber received had to
go through a prying committee.
worth it. You just wait until you see what the blood tests reveal."
got the nerve to stick her with a needle." Hemoltz prided himself
on his indifference to suffering-the "random firing of cells,"
as he called it-although he'd not offered to shove a needle into
the thin arms of the crying being on the examining table.
onto safer ground, Deary said, "I don't like the box. She could
hurt herself in there. We need a more secure enclosure. We need
to get some nutrient into her too, or we'll lose her. If all the
others are dead, it was probably neglect that killed them."
something. Amazing that she survived. Dragged as she was from
village to village. A monkey in a crate to astonish the crowd."
and Hemoltz shared their awe of the being under their protection,
as they saw it. They had merely been looking for an interesting
specimen, and when the zoos and research labs came up empty, they
returned to the poachers. The poachers could be counted upon to
procure the impossible, or at least illegal, and more than once
their lab had benefited from the extra cash outlay. Hemoltz's
lab specimen, or the thin girl, as Deary saw her, had been chained
by the neck to an open-sided crate when they bought her, bedraggled
and barely alive. Like other animals they had bought over the
years, she was covered in scars, fearful of the slightest movement,
but not, they hoped, as short-lived.
"She's a miracle.
We should call her Miracle."
"I was thinking
of '679'. Good lab name like that."
topic of naming aside, Deary and Hemoltz-who worked together well
despite their apparent low-level animosity-discussed how they
might get blood samples without more trauma, and how an x-ray
and MRI could be effected without drugging the subject into a
stupor. Pausing to look through the darkened window at their subject,
who was prowling the empty room now that she had devoured half
of the food they'd left for her, they debated the relative merits
of various Ketamine mixes.
he called himself, spent most of his time alone. He was a good
student, in as much as that was possible considering how ill-suited
he was for the sciences, but his social skills needed improvement.
He'd made a secret rule, which he was continually breaking, not
to speak to his professors. Later, under the duress of missed
cues and scattered laughter, he extended his exclusion to his
was why, when his shabby yellow coat and loose-fitting boots appeared
in the door of the animal rights league, all conversation immediately
stopped. If that cessation of noise was calculated to make Winkler
feel at ease, it did nothing of the sort. But standing his ground,
Winkler met the dozen or so curious glances with a diffidence
that revealed, rather than hid his insecurities. It was Nancy,
the animal rights league's co-ordinator, who finally got up from
where she'd been sitting on the floor debating veganism and greeted
Winkler as if she'd been waiting for him to come.
"We were just
talking about vegetarianism," she explained as she put out her
hand and looked up at Winkler. He was easily a foot taller than
her. Another six-footer in the world, Nancy thought.
his hand from Nancy's grip and looked at Lenny. Lenny was also
sitting on the floor, although his position looked cramped, as
though he'd been shoved by a prison guard and was afraid to stand.
With a diamond sharp insight, where anyone other than himself
was concerned, Winkler saw the many nights Lenny drank, and how
that released his fists. He saw the girls who had suffered Lenny's
"Sorry I didn't
bring a drink," Winkler greeted Lenny. "Next time." Winkler's
was not a harm reduction model, and many times words had leapt
from his tongue that he'd wished he could reel back and cast in
a different way.
It was a remark
that might have passed as a harmless witticism if no one knew
Lenny, but as it was, more than a few people looked at Winkler
again, looking past the worn cuffs and salt-stained boots. Lenny
was bland and smiling, but the rage in his neck gave him away.
Likewise, a perceptive viewer would have seen the girls sitting
closest to him move a few millimetres further away, angle their
heads to the side, and close their cupped hands.
Winkler in and introduced him, keeping her arm firmly on his thin
elbow. She was determined, as co-ordinator, to indoctrinate one
more willing participant. "This is Lenny and Kristie and Kurt-with
a K-and Jessie, and Amber."
the welter of names wash over him, just as he had ignored hours
of lectures. His mind could store any information, he had assured
himself, and if needed, he could regurgitate the steaming mass
back. This visit was a mere foray. Feeling out the temper of new
friends. Winkler was suddenly unsure why he'd come.
In the mountains,
on an eastbound greyhound, Sam was shaken awake. He woke suddenly,
stiffly, and for a moment Yashi Amura, the bus driver, the air
still ringing with his yells, felt that he had made a mistake.
Sam had grabbed Yashi's hand where it rested on his shoulder and
began the movement, perhaps involuntarily, that would lead to
a twisted wrist. Sam's pupils were dilated.
you, on drugs? Calm down." Cursing the many crazies that he constantly
encountered on the long haul buses, Yashi once again regretted
not following his father into the carpentry business.
His grip released,
Sam sat upright in the ripped vinyl seat. "What's going on?"
You're responsible for your own luggage. This is an hour stopover.
Then the next bus leaves for Chicago." Yashi moved away before
Sam responded. I'd rather not know, Yashi thought to himself.
There's always a nutter.
Once he was
alone, Sam visibly relaxed. His dream of a chase, of the hand
on his boot, had slipped away, and he was still alive.
was not yet open, and although it was spring, someone had forgotten
to inform the Montana mountains. The air steamed where the passengers,
after hours in the overheated buses, released clouds of vapour.
This was a crossways. Buses idled in the pre-dawn, their interiors
warm and inviting, but regulations dictated no one could load
until just before departure. The resentful passengers stood in
the cold, their duffel bags and suitcases beside them, waiting
out the arbitrary hour until the buses would open to them.
his ass." Eddy Prosser stood above the mess that had been Mick,
their main gopher. Eddy was wearing his signature sports coat,
which he'd been hoping would earn him the nickname teacher, but
had merely alienated many of the people he dealt with on the street.
be busting Mick's ass anymore, I can tell you that." Makonicky,
a hulking brute of a man, had a grim sense of humour and a certain
callousness about violence.
to get that guy," Eddy continued. "He saw us kill that crip and
if we don't get him, he'll go to the cops."
"What do you
mean we?" said both Makonicky and Filler. Filler was thin and
mild-looking. Although he could be relied on to sell more k's
than anyone, his inoffensiveness was his best weapon, and danger
made him squeamish.
the one beating on the crip. For whatever it was, fifty bucks.
Now we got no crip and no fifty bucks. All I've got is this."
Filler held up a cheap watch. "What the hell you want me to do
with this? And now you want us to find him. You're getting expensive
Eddy. And not worth the expense."
ass on the line too. Accomplices. That's what the cops would say."
going to tell them, Eddy? You?" Makonicky moved from vaguely intimidating
to threatening with a practised ease, a role more suited to his
rounded shoulders and stocky build. "You wouldn't be in the pen
long enough to get laid, you rat on us. This ain't our problem.
You killed the crip. You kill the looker."
Filler as they walked away, "and you won't be able to send Mick
after him this time."
hid his fear behind his willingness to menace and abuse, if his
victim was weaker than him. He'd relied on Mick to do his dirty
work more than once, but this time Mick had fallen from too high
a building, and he didn't look like he was going to recover. Once
Filler and Makonicky were out of sight, Eddy sifted through Mick's
pockets and took a blood-stained wallet, knife and keys.
their steps back to Mick's car, and then drove to Mick's apartment.
He'd never been there, but his guess that Mick was stupid enough
to register his license using his own address proved to be correct.
There he sifted through Mick's shelves and under the bed, while
Mick's girlfriend, or whatever she was, slept, tenderly cradling
a half bottle of rye. Mick had been Eddy's main supplier, and
Eddy needed some for the road. When he found nothing, Eddy woke
up Mick's girl, shook her around a bit, and got her to lift the
floorboard Mick had been dumb enough to let her see.
never work in Vancouver again, Eddy lifted out the neatly packaged
bundles. Three kilos. Now he had enough money for the road. Enough
to get him out of town.