You're all going to die. Why couldn't he say it? Pain shot through his foot again. This time to the knee where it settled in like a bolt of electricity pin-balling around the joint, electrifying his tendons, threatening to overload the system, pop the cap right out through his skin like an exploded trashcan.
The man holding him sensed his weakness and tightened his grip. His hands felt warm on his sides. Comforting.
Tears continued to spill from Miles' eyes and now, as if his entire face were melting, snot began to run from his nose, his mouth blubbered. I'm shutting down, he thought.
"It's alright," the priest continued to intone. He was next to Miles now. His hands raising and falling as if Miles' flame was dying and, by waving his hands, the priest hoped to rekindle it, fan it back to life without risking a blaze. "Sit," he said, "please."
Miles shook his head. He had to warn them. Tell them to get out. These people didn't deserve this. Taking a step forward, Miles legs gave out and he sunk even inches in an instant.
As if they were tethered together, the priest sunk with him, aiding him into a chair. As he lowered his head, to guide Miles' useless legs in between the seats, Miles looked past his shoulder and saw the young girl staring at him. Fear wracked her face. Pale blue eyes looked out from a pale face that was marked, here and there, by dirt. He hadn't wanted to frighten her. God knows he hadn't wanted that.
"Easy now, buddy." With a final push, the volunteer was able to scoot Miles back onto the chair. His barrel chest tight against Miles' back, he could feel the strength of the man. A hug from him could break his back. But would that be so bad, Miles wondered. Dying like that was preferable to this. To what was about to come.
After checking if Miles was sturdy in his seat, the priest began to pull away, but Miles, realizing for the first time that his arm was across the priest's shoulders, felt his fingers grip the priest's collar and held him in place.
"Please, father. You need to get them out of here."
"It's alright now, son. We're alright here. We're safe."
"No!" The ferocity of his own voice frightened Miles. Caught him off guard. Again the coughing took over and he felt his body shake like a cannon was firing inside his chest. "No--" The word was smothered in a fit of coughs.
"Rest," the priest said and he looked up at the volunteer. Whatever message passed between them, the man received it and hurried away. Miles watched as he crossed the room and disappeared into a doorway.
The two men who had been watching him earlier were still at it. Casting glances at him, whispering to each other, looking again.
Can they sense it, he wondered? Do they know what's hunting me?
The priest pat Miles on the back and, seeing that Miles had settled down, took up the seat next to him. "Frank is going to get you some water, eh. Something to eat."
The priest had a kind face. He could have been an old friend speaking to Miles at a bar, suggesting they scrap plans for dinner and say, what the hell, this place looks good enough, and besides we're comfortable here. Let's get another drink.
Pain bloomed in Miles chest and for the first time that day he didn't attribute it to whatever it was that was killing him. It was a pain of remorse, of sorrow. Something deeply personal and human. Wholly apart from whatever it was that was chasing him.
"Thank you, father." Miles croaked. And he could feel himself crying again, but this time he didn't fight the tears. Didn't hide from them. They would fall as they were meant to, and instead of choking them back he'd allow himself to breath. To be.
A scream cut the air and something inside Miles ripped in half. Like a knife had been dragged across chest, severing something essential, forever removing it.
The girl. She was in tears. Her eyes were on the door and it was only by luck that she had turned so that Miles could still see her. Her mouth wide in terror. Eyes half-filled with tears. He didn't need to look to know what she saw. It was here.
"I can fix this."
The woman's voice was calm, confident. She strode across the room and plucked the broken toy from the child's lap.
"Ah," she said, a cheery pop to her voice. "I see the problem right off."
The doll had a toy apple that affixed to its hand through a simple stem and hole mechanism. The young boy, in the manner of all young children, had simply been trying to force the apple into place, jamming it again and again into the hole. Had the woman left him to his own devices he likely would have ruined the whole thing. Molded the plastic into some unmanageable mess that would have necessitated throwing the damn thing away.
If only, she thought to herself. Sometimes she wanted to toss every god forsaken toy into the trash and be done with it. But you simply throw fifty dollar toys in the trash, no matter how underused or overprices--or unnecessary--they are.
"I'll have this fixed in a--" The doorbell rang and the woman nearly tossed the toy. They never got visitors during the day. Never got them at all, as a matter of fact. "I'll deal with you later." She placed the toy back on the floor, taking care to discreetly place the toy apple in her pocket to avoid another explosion.
The bell rang again and for a moment the woman lost her patience. She the remnant shoot through her like spent shrapnel, tearing up her insides. Another ring. She clenched her teeth, blew a thin line of air through them. She wanted to swear. Scream at whoever was now pounding on the door.
"Wjhy aren't you at work?"
The door flow open. She hadn't intended to pull so hard, but the anger was on her now and she hoped whoever was on the other end was holding onto the knob and would be pulled uncomfortably into the house. Not hurt, she insisted to herself, just spooked. Embarrassed.
"Nicole?" Her sister was standing on the landing, her coat tight around her face. She looked like she'd been out in the cold for days. Red splotches covered her face. Her nose, also bright red, ran uncontrollably. Like a child's, she thought. Even her hair which peeked out from under her winter hat, looked frozen. Brittle straw sticking out of a scarecrow.