Verbal Medicine 8

“You all knew? You knew, and yet you left me alone with him?”Lily smiled as gently as she could, her mandibles marring the effect less than one would imagine.
“It was inevitable, more than that, it was preordained. That was why you were chosen.”
Steven felt his intestinal tract convulse. Mandibles? No. Red, red lips. Lips like wine. That was what they said, the poets. He felt a pain which was more than physical, sweat broke out on his forehead, suddenly feverish, he felt drops of perspiration run down his cheeks, his nose, onto his lips, his chin.
Despite himself, his tongue darted out and intercepted a few drops.
It was sour, and yet so sweet.
He stared at his companions. “Meant to eat him you say?”
Krampus looked suddenly shifty, Odd Legs was busy tinkering with the doors of the van. Lily met his gaze, with eyes that were pools of deepest black, and nodded.
Somewhere, away in the darkness, there sounded a sudden cry, sharp and yet deep, the cry of a startled goose. Stephen watched in weary understanding as Lily’s eyes flickered, deep and black, then multifaceted, compound, her face twitched, melted, swam.
Lips. Mandibles. Saw edged. Brutal.
Bubbles for eyes, holes into the blackness, the blackness which went on forever. The blackness which would swallow him and everything he knew, without thinking, without caring.
His right hand made an involuntary movement towards his throat, caught on something.
Something sharp edged. He looked down. Something shiny. His badge.
Protect and serve the Chief had said. A buried memory from his youth leapt up. Protect and survive. The sirens. Paint your windows white. Sandbags full of your parents flowerbeds. Prize blooms, loam, manure. Protect and survive. Serve and protect. When you hear the four minute warning. An old punk song screamed in his brain “It’s too fucking late!”
He swallowed, tasting the citrus flavour of his frantic sweat. “I was supposed to eat him?”
The Lily thing nodded, almost like a prayer. Praying. Preying.
“So it was oranged?”
“Arranged, yes.”
“But the poor Chief, he had such a zest for life.”
“Yes. But it is the way. It is the way. And the sacrifice is made.”
Odd Legs turned away from what he was doing and stared at her. Krampus seemed to deflate.
Did in fact deflate, with a parping noise reminscent of childhood birthday parties. His body wobbled and collapsed in upon itself and with a final ribald toot became nothing more than a scrap of coloured rubber.
Steeplton’s right hand clutched his badge like a totem. His left felt in the pocket of his coat, fumbling, searching, until he grasped a small smooth object.
Pulling himself straight, he forced himself to look straight into Lily’s face, and worse, into what it became when it was no longer a face. Strobelike, it was a face, albeit buglike, then a warm and human face, with dark and imploring eyes, then the cold mask of the insect, then a cartoonish, mad, villainish visage, then something else, all of the above, and less, and worse, much, much worse.
“Protect and survive. Serve and protect.”
Steeplton’s left hand flashed out, he felt the dry, yielding chitinous surface, felt the thin glass of the vial shatter, the acrid liquid spray out, stinging as it touched the fresh tiny cuts on his skin.
The Lily thing screeched and threw itself backwards, flashing between its forms, legs, arms, flailing, too many legs, too many arms, too many everything.
Grinning savagely, Odd Legs leapt to one side as the thing thrashed about, twisting and writhing like a moth in a flame. His hand darted to his shoulder holster and came out with a wicked looking thing that gleamed dull orange in the faint street light.
One. Two. Three. Four times the weapon spat lurid flame before the Lily thing lay still on the ichor stained tarmac. Odd legs looked down at the sprawling wreckage of Lily the Midge, his flat features registering the minimum of surprise possible whilst still looking surprised. “So Ol’ Lil was a bug huh? It’s always the ones you least suspect. I should probably start suspecting the ones that I don’t suspect, but old habits die hard. What was that you hit her with?”
“Super concentrated Citronella. It was something I was working on for my old job.”
“Oh yeah, the Chief said you used to be a fighting magician or something before you joined the force. Sounds like a pretty cool job. Like in a film.”
Stephen started to correct him, but let the words trail away. What was the point?
“It was ok I guess. Lots of routine.”
“Like being a cop then.”
“This is routine?”
“Oh sure. Happens all the time. Bugs, Balloons, Sand Devils.”
“Sand Devils?”
Odd Legs pointed down the street, to where a whirling yellowish cloud veered and pirouetted towards them. “Best hop in the van till it passes, those beauties will abrade you down to a skeleton pretty quick. And there’s some toffee in the glove box.”
Steeplton did as he was advised, and the two of them watched the miniature tornado spin along the road towards them, a low spresh spresh spresh growing louder as it advanced. It enveloped the van like an overly keen carwash, seemed to dally for a few moments as if irritated that it was unable to abrade them down to skeletons, then rushed off all at once in a fit of pique.
Silence fell, broken only by the faint sound of Odd Legs chewing toffee.
He ate very quietly, for which Stephen felt irrationally grateful. With a final elegant swallow, he opened the door and jumped out. Walking round the van he whistled appreciatively. “That’s saved us a job Poc, Ol Sandy there’s cleaned up Lily real swell. Say Poc, you’re looking better, we’d better get back to the station and report to the Chief.”
“The Chief? But…”
“Oh there’s always a Chief Poc. Always. That’s how the job works.”
He delicately scratched his neck and peered into the darkness of the sky. The smears of cloud against the gloomy greenish blue gave it the appearance of a long uncleaned aquarium. “Gonna be a long night Poc. The enemy are advancing somewhere. Or retreating. Or staying where they are. Maybe all three. We’re gonna need coffee. And we’d best pick up a few tins of sardines for the Chief.”
He settled his cap more firmly on his head and cocked an ear as if hearing something on a frequency inaudible to Stephen, then slammed the back doors of the van. “Yeah. Gonna be a long ol’ night.”

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