"Mark… Mark…wake…. Dammit… Mark…" a distant voice called out. Mark tried to say something to the voice but his tongue felt as though it filled his whole mouth.
"Mark… please…" the voice pleaded, sounding closer. Suddenly his eyes flickered open and he looked up into the face of a young woman. Her face was stained with tears and she looked worried. He tried to say something to the woman, but his throat felt like it was full of rocks and he could do nothing but moan quietly. The woman seemed to be dabbing at his head with a red rag, but he couldn't feel anything.
With a sudden rush of clarity Mark remembered the events of the night before. The walk through the park, the attack, the creature… It all seemed almost like a dream, but he knew that it was true. Why else would I be lying here, tended to by…
"Cleo? What… you doing… here?" he rasped.
"I have to get you back to the warehouse," she replied, avoiding the question, her normally brusque façade replaced by concern. He decided to not bother pursuing the question, figuring that the extra pain of talking wasn't worth the effort.
After a brief argument about whether or not he could walk on his own, Cleo won out and Mark was forced to endure an excruciating ride back to the warehouse in a make-shift stretcher made from an old blanket. By some stroke of luck they managed to keep from being seen by anyone in the early twilight before dawn. After nearly twenty minutes of being rocked around the flimsy stretcher, which Cleo somehow managed to pull rather easily, they arrived at the menacing façade of the dilapidated old warehouse just as the sun was beginning to peek above the horizon. With more than just a few looks of curiosity the mangled young man and determined young woman made their way to their room.
The old man was still conspicuously absent, but that fact barely registered in Mark's foggy mind. Cleo proceeded to go about cleaning Mark's wounds, with almost motherly tenderness, which contrasted strangely with the almost recklessness with which she had pulled him on the stretcher to the warehouse. After being bandaged with the rags that Cleo had found in the upper level of the warehouse, Mark slipped into an uneasy sleep, full of menacing shadows with vicious amber eyes and twisted, malevolent creatures. For the next week he was reduced to being hand fed by a woman who sometimes went from almost maternally caring to brutally nonchalant. She would sometimes stroke his brow, while whispering, in her gruff way, encouraging words, then at other times nearly make him gag by indifferently shoving pieces of food down his still-sore throat.
Once he had regained most of his strength, and the majority of his injuries had healed, he began to take short walks, with her, to the docks which were only a few blocks from their ramshackle home. Cleo said that the walks were to help strengthen him after the week he had spent lying down in the dark room, but Mark had a feeling that she had other reasons for taking him out.
Aside from the countless purple and yellow bruises covering his body, Mark's only injuries were two broken ribs, two sprained ankles and a few broken fingers. His astonishment at his own luck was overshadowed only by his dismay that she always managed to avoid the questions which had plagued him nearly every waking minute. How had Cleo found him? Why did she take care of him when she hardly knew him? And why hadn't the old man returned? The problem with asking her about all of this was that whenever he attempted to ask the mysterious young woman, she would simply begin talking about something else. It was as if she could read his mind, and sometimes he didn't doubt that fact. Although she couldn't have been more than three years older than his own twenty-two years, her piercing brown eyes possessed an inexpressible ancient look. They seemed to be partially clouded by undulating shadows, but when he gazed into them they had a sharp quality which made him want to look away but at the same time wish to stare forever, almost like a sort of morbid curiosity. His innate suspicion of women was slightly eschewed by her seemingly innocent appearance which contrasted with her gruff yet endearing demeanor, and he eventually found himself opening himself up to her somewhat, like a clamshell opening just a little bit in order to feed. He told her of his childhood and adolescence, always avoiding the subject of how he had come to live on the streets. To his relief, she would never pursue the subject, and just listened intently, commenting occasionally.
"So, how come you live on the street?" Mark asked during one of their afternoon walks to the nearby docks. It was particularly warm for autumn that day, and the sun's rays danced on the current on the sewage drenched bay's surface, throwing ripples of light across their faces as they strolled along the rocky shoreline.
"Heh," she snorted softly, "never knew my son-of-a-bitch father, but my mother was a whore. I was the result of one of her "services." We lived in a shitty lil' one-room apartment in the worst part of the city. She did most of her business there, bringing men, and even occasionally women home. They would usually kick me out while they did whatever the fuck they wanted and when I complained the fuckers would beat the shit out of me. One night when I was 'bout 14, the old bitch waddled in, drunk out of her mind with another one of her customers. She just passed out on the bed as soon as she got in the door. The old fucker got annoyed and decided that since he didn' feel like waitin' for my mom to come around, that he would have me instead. 'E grabbed me and… well, to make a long story short, he raped me. After he had fallen asleep I just got up and ran. Never went back," she ended her narrative. The indifference and directness with which she had told the story surprised him, catching him somewhat off-guard. "I'm sorry" was all he could think to say. Even though for the short time that he had known her she had always had that blunt way of speaking, he was still taken aback by her nonchalance.
"But don't you think that your mother was worried when she found you missing?" Mark finally managed to stutter, after regaining his composure."
"Hell no! She was probably happy I was gone! She was always compainin' that I was a pain in her ass. She barely gave me enough t' eat and she didn't even put me in school until I was 8, when the landlady took something of an interest in me and forced the old bat to send me."
Mark just sat on the creaky old dock that they had just arrived at, resting his body, which still ached when he overexerted himself and thinking about what Cleo had just told him. Cleo walked further down the dock, looking around for crabs on the poles, which she would catch with a net she had found once and always brought with her now. The devilish looking crustaceans, with their spiky shells and eyes that looked like horns were actually quite tasty and they both enjoyed eating them when they could catch them.
Figuring that she was fine, Mark let his mind wander, thinking about how long it would be before he could finally go back to the way he used to live. He hated having to depend on someone else, but he still couldn't even walk a quarter of a mile without his body aching as though he hadn't slept in three days, and he couldn't run at all. He definitely wouldn't be able to manage any thefts to support himself in his current condition. Still pondering his situation, Mark was brought out of his thoughts by a sudden scream and a loud splash. Thoughts racing, Mark ran in the direction from which splash had come, finding Cleo bobbing in the light surf, sputtering and floundering in the grayish green water. Without a second thought, Mark jumped in, ignoring the ache in his legs as pure adrenaline and instinct took over. He grabbed Cleo's thin, thrashing frame and pulled her back over near the dock. Her panic finally subsided once she was in Mark's adrenaline-boosted embrace, and he helped her hoist herself back onto the creaking pier. Once Cleo was finally safely on the dock, Mark's attempted to raise himself up as well, but couldn't. The adrenaline had worn off and he was beginning to feel exhausted, treading water in the sun-drenched bay. His last vestiges of strength gone, Mark began to sink, no longer bothering to tread water in his mind-numbing weariness. I'm gonna die, he thought in his oxygen-deprived stupor. Giving in to his inhuman weariness, he let himself sink. I guess dieing isn't so bad, its kinda comfy actually. He felt an unearthly force pulling him upward. I'm dead already? Oh well, I guess I'm goin' to heaven, never thought I would be goin' there… There was sudden a weight pulling him down, trying to plunge him into the dark depths of the underworld. Dammit, I'm goin' to the other place! The force gave one last titanic tug upward, making him surge to the surface, and he landed on something hard. I thought clouds were supposed to be soft? Coughing and sputtering brine-saturated water everywhere, Mark opened his eyes and looked into the concerned face of Cleo.
"You're in heaven, too, Cleo?" he gurgled dreamily.
"No! You dumbass! I just saved your damn life!"
"I'm alive? Oh, crap, I am alive!" he gasped. "Wait, what the hell happened? I remember jumping in the water to save you and then…"
"You passed out and started to drown, and I pulled you out before you were down too far. And you're damn lucky too! I was barely able to pull your fat ass out!"
"Oh. But how could you have had the strength to pull…" he trailed off, sitting up, just then realizing that his legs were still hanging over the ledge and that there was some foreign weight on one of them. Sitting up and leaning over, he looked down and what had been weighing him down. Hanging off of his right leg was a gruesome corpse. It was barely recognizable as human, its entire lower half being completely gone. The seaweed encrusted remains had a strange familiarity to them, as though he had seen something similar before. Mark stared in horror at the carcass which had been attached to him by a splintered bone latching onto his pant leg. Mark kicked wildly, throwing it off of his foot, and crawled backwards with a gasp, trying to put as much distance between himself and the mangled cadaver as possible. He glanced up at Cleo's face which had turned ghostly white with shock. Her normally unshakeable visage was one of total horror and the ancient-looking shadows in her eyes swirled wildly.
"Let's… go…" she stammered in total horror, which seemed to hold a hint of anger, but Mark dismissed the thought. Once they were back on the land, mark realized that his leg had been slashed rather badly by the broken bone. "Well we can't have you bleeding everywhere on the way back."
She yanked off the sea-soaked remains of her yellow hoody and tied it around the large gash in Mark's ankle. Getting up she rubbed her arm unconsciously and froze, eyes open wide. Cleo caught herself almost immediately and straightened her face while turning so that her left arm was facing away from him, but Mark had already seen. There was a terrible cut just below her shoulder. It looked to be about a week or two old, but it was still bruised around the edges and it looked like it would be a while before it was fully healed.
"Where the hell did you get that?" Mark gasped.
"Huh? This? Oh I, uh, fell and landed on some glass last week," she said hurriedly. "Lets go, we should be gettin' back to the warehouse so we can clean you up properly.
Mark acquiesced, figuring that he would have a better chance of extracting the truth from her after they had eaten. Walking side-by-side, silently, the pair made their way back to the warehouse, each glancing at each other constantly, Mark with suspicion, and Cleo with what appeared to be… fear.