Nightfall found Esau moving from rooftop to rooftop, a scarf wrapped around his face, its tattered and frayed edges flapping in the wind behind him like broken wings. Below him the city slept. The elders had reduced the guard presence after a night without any deaths. It was a stupid decision, but it suited Esau just find. After all, if the prey were easier to hunt, then the machine was more likely to make its presence known. And if it did, Esau would be there, and he would destroy it. He would shatter it, and he would take the pieces home with him, another trophy, like the rifle, the goggles, the dog tags he had taken over the years, the armored vests that had not been armored enough.
“Where are you?” he whispered to himself as he watched a lone guard wander through an alley far below him. “Are you hiding in some darkened corner licking your wounds, repairing yourself? Did you lose too much oil and shut down alone and forgotten, like so much trash left to rust and decay?” He hoped not. He still hadn’t seen the thing truly. He hadn’t seen what it was capable of. He hadn’t tested it.
He hadn’t tested himself against it.
The elders had told him to abandon his hunt, that the thing was surely deactivated somewhere but he ignored them. Even if it were so, the city was not safe until such a thing could be said for certain. Even if it were so, he had to find it himself.
Esau sighed, lost in his thoughts. He almost didn’t hear the noise behind him, the sound of metal scratching on concrete. He didn’t hear it until it was right on top of him, and then the darkness of the night became complete.
The next morning, the army at the gates sent another envoy to the city. They entered, alone and unprotected save for their armor, and demanded a public audience in the streets with the elders. The elders obliged, and the soldier gave them the same ultimatum as last time: surrender, or more will perish.
A crowd had gathered to watch the exchange, and Esau watched from the periphery. He wore a thin, light robe over his clothes, just heavy and opaque enough to console the weapons and gear he carried on his person. After failing to uncover the hiding place of the demon, he had returned to his simple one-room apartment and fell asleep in his gear as the sun was rising. He’d slept only a few hours when word reached him that the army had sent another messenger, and he rushed to hear what the soldier had to say.
The message was short and direct, as was the elders’. There had been no murders the night before despite the threats, and word had gone round that Esau had killed the beast in the night. They told the envoy to return to their brethren, to return home, and to trouble them no more. The envoy said nothing and left.
The crowd dispersed, but Esau remained, troubled by his thoughts. There had been no military action. No body had been uncovered. The demon, the machine, whatever it was had not returned to the army. The army had not come for it. There were mysteries to be unraveled, but they all meant the same thing, at least in the short term.
The hunt continued.
Esau rubbed the fluid between his fingers. It was thicker than blood. When he held it to the light, it was black as pitch. It smelled of machinery. After a few moments he realized that no matter how long he let it sit on his fingers, it remained cool to the touch.
“Oil, then?” he thought. “Some kind of grease? It’s a machine?”
Esau weighed this thought in his mind for a moment then frowned. If the demon that haunted the city had just been a machine, then it was replaceable. The army at the gates would send another and another, machine after machine, until their commanders grew irritated and impatient and simply bombed the city into submission.
Or not. Perhaps there was something in the city they wanted that kept them from simply flattening it. Perhaps they wanted to enslave its people. Or perhaps they simply didn’t want to be perceived as tyrants. They didn’t want the world to know that they had come to this city and murdered its citizens so that they could pass through unimpeded. Better that everyone think they had been welcomed with open arms. Better that the world believe the insect men with their inhuman faces and their inhuman minds were still men and women that could be understood and were willing to understand others.
None of that interested Esau. The only thing that mattered to him was the hunt.
Esau knelt in the dirt until he found trails that might have belonged to the demon. He hoisted up his rifle and took off into the night.
After a few minutes, Esau was in the clearing where the demon had been when he’d shot it, breathing heavily, his gun held at the ready in his hands. Cautiously he approached the dark puddle on the ground, his eyes scanning the windows and the rooftops for any signs of the demon, a shifting of shadows, a glimpse of its inhuman form, a dark smear of the thing’s blood leading towards some hiding spot, but there was nothing. He activated his goggles, but they revealed no secrets either.
He frowned. He picked up a stone at his feet and threw it through the window of a nearby home. He could hear a scream from inside, but the sound drew no gunfire, no movement, no other noise.
“Very well, then,” Esau muttered under his breath. He stepped into the clearing, wishing for some kind of a response from the demon, an attack, anything, but nothing came. He bent low and examined the blood looking for a trail, but he couldn’t find that either. Finally he dipped his finger in it.
It was cold. Not even faintly warm.
He raised it to his nose and sniffed.
It was not blood.
Technical difficulties tonight. I was looking through my phone for something suitable to post and
I found this, a poem I have absolutely no memory of writing. I suspect I wrote it in bed one night while half-asleep and promptly forgot about it.
There’s a few lines in here I really like, and it’s largely unchanged from the original version save for a few deletions and word substitutions. “A Poem of Humility” seems to be the title I came up with, although I don’t see where the humility comes in now that I’m a month removed from the writing (evidently.) If anything it’s about being lonely, and a little too drunk and unhappy, and not knowing what to do when you’re hung up on the past.
But I guess that doesn’t make for a very good title at three in the morning.
She had ruby red lips,
Wore the kind of pink that said,
“I’m feminine. Give me your gender roles.”
But she threw herself at me like a summer storm,
Tongue laced with tequila,
The kiss of alcohol on her lips
I thought I was playing it cool,
But really I was playing it dumb,
Dumb when I felt her,
Dumber still when she felt me,
Dumbest of all on the walk home,
Her scent on my clothes,
Her features seared into my memory,
And me all alone
But she was a person, see.
A girl a little too drunk,
A little too lonely.
Not a blow up doll,
Not something to use and throw away.
She was a person
But she wasn’t you
The homes along Esau’s were mostly dark, the people that dwelt within smart enough to bar their doors and shut their windows and extinguish every light when they heard gunshots echoing in the dark. But as he ran through the winding streets and alleys, he noticed a few faces poking out from behind curtains, even a few rooms bathed in light where men and women stood with their bodies leaning out the windows, bracing their hands on the windowsills.
“Idiots,” he thought. If they were smart, they would be sitting in the dark, armed and waiting for the danger to pass but ready to defend themselves if trouble came for them. And if they were bold but cautious, they would have a rifle leaned against the wall next to them, ready to return fire from the window if necessary. But these fools that hung out of the window, perched like clumsy birds, they deserved whatever they got for attracting unwanted attention to themselves.
There was no hesitation. In a single motion, Esau slammed his left hand into the rifle barrel, twisted his wrist and grabbed it. His right hand brought the shotgun up and jammed it into the gut of the person before him. The whole thing was precarious, awkward. If they fired, he’d be deafened, his hand burned. The shotgun was heavy, the weight too far forward for him to hold it up indefinitely. But then, he didn’t have to.
He stared into the wide, frightened eyes of one of the guards. The person’s face was obscured by a scarf wrapped around their mouth and their forehead, but their features seemed soft under it. It could have been a boy or a girl, a child still in their teens. The eyes, at least were too soft to belong to someone who had known war.
“Esau,” the guard said, their voice doing nothing to confirm their gender. “We didn’t know where you went. I didn’t know it was you.”
Esau just grunted. He removed his shotgun from the guard’s stomach and flung their rifle barrel towards the ground.
“I heard gunfire.”
“Of course you did. I am hunting. Leave me to my work.”
He pushed past the guard invigorated and ran in the direction he’d last seen the demon.