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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Young Adult · #2273034
Onions bouncing down stairs have a tendency to bruise.
My eyes resembled two overripe peaches set beyond their shelf lives atop a windowsill. One early morning glance into the bathroom mirror had me doing a double take and questioning whether or not Boris Karloff had taken up residence within my rooms.

There were many situations preferable to the one in which I immediately found myself. All night debauchery followed by an intensely mind-bending, gut wrenching hangover for one. All I knew for certain was my eyes were sore, my arms were made of lead, and it was going to be a really long day.

As such, I felt it best to relegate my priorities and focus upon the more mundane tasks around the manor.

All in all, I really intensely loathed this weighted, heavy, slothful feeling. With a head full of cotton and fuzziness playing at the edges of my eyesight, I watched as my gloved hand polished a brass ball adorning a low, sweeping banister for about the hundredth time. I fixated upon my perfectly maintained, patent leather shoes as they slowly shuffled around the base of the stair as if in a dream. Couldn't place a coherent thought in my head if I tried. Lucky I had yet to begin giggling like a crazy person.

All I could do was knuckle at my soreness, blink away the dampness of extreme fatigue welling behind my eyelids and stifling the impending yawning which was taking up way too much of my time.

I wanted to keep my ears sharp, whatever the case, per chance to answer the needful call. She was resting and would undoubtedly find herself in some discomfort once the anesthetics ran their course.

And as expected, I would really need to be on hand, but it was amazing I was fully dressed. Much less pantomiming this ... "work".

The Salvatore grandfather in the entry hall tick tick ticked in time to my shuffling as I buffed once again at the brass while pensively glancing up and right of the landing, along the path of the split sweeping stair.

Previous evening, I'd been abed enjoying a well presented, coffee table album filled with playful scenes staged along the Palazzo Vecchio from long ago. I was feeling particularly nostalgic, and the book conjured many fond memories of the family and the young master bobbing and ducking around the steps and the square chasing after pigeons.

Next thing I know my mother was standing over me, staring down and booping my nose repeatedly. Which was particularly odd considering my mother passed away some time ago. Such an annoying ordeal, I found her endlessly prodding at me while making that particularly annoying sound was completely foreign and out-of-character for her. So in my discomfort, I began to wail like a swaddled child, which seemed to do nothing but inspire further "boop"ing.

The repetitive noise grew resoundingly acute until reaching a crescendo I expected might rattle the window panes, and I covered my ears, and drew my knees to my chest to refute the claxon's call.

I started awake to find the coffee table book tenting my face and the customary lamp light interlaced with flashing a red typically accompanying a proximity alarm ... a loudly blaring, singular tone which pulsed methodically in the background.

I thrust the Palazzo Vecchio onto the comforter and sat upright and blinking. 3:59AM according to the clock at my bedside.

I threw back the covers rather too violently and hopped into my slippers ... the ones with the good tread and the rubber souls. Considered I needn't don my bathrobe. Were I beset by intruders, I expected my robe would only act as an encumberance.

I flipped off the bedside light and trod lightly yet quickly to the hall door. Padded cat quick down the hall, adrenaline pumping, shouldered into every darkened corner before pausing to listen. The damned alarm was making auditory detection more difficult than it should've been, but the house appeared undisturbed as I descended the staircase at the back of my drawing room. I considered briefly yanking back our definitive copy of the Eustace Diamonds, but after a moment, I thought better of it lest we face an untimely discovery.

I was meant to be the butler after all, and I could use that to my advantage. There were many tools of the trade affording me advantage no matter what I might encounter in the middle of the night.

So I kept to the shadows, crossed the room, separated the double doors at the far end a fraction. Nothing moved, and all seemed quiet - forgiving the damnable alarm - which was just about running afoul of my very last nerve.

It was a moonless night which would also work to my advantage.

Gingerly, I fished a wrought-iron poker out of the stand by the fireplace, quietly separated the drawing room doors, and pushed into the wood paneled hallway beyond. Crept along the walls, shouldered more corners, peeked around multiple doorways keeping the poker by my thigh but tightly gripped and ready.

Passed the piano, passed the ballroom bar, passed the sweeping staircase framing the front entry. Crept low across the marbled floor in the foyer. Snatched the latch above the handle.

I was about to yank back the door and vault forward like a complete "knob", but I suddenly had a thought.

I propped the poker against the inside of the door jamb, and flipped the hook holding the cradle covering the little bars and the crystal window set at eye level inside the door. I carefully pried the hinged slat back and peeped into the front drive.

The tiered fountain whizzed and spewed per usual, and the graveled expanse surrounding appeared relatively undisturbed.

Except. Well ... except there was a largish, blob of dark shadow to one side of the fountain's base about 20 yards distant. My heart caught in my throat.

Only one thing that could be, I was certain of it.

I retreated to the security panel to the right of the coat closet behind and around the corner. Keyed in the code, and the damnable pulsing alarm and its accompanying flashing, annoying red, died instantly.

I tripped over my own feet in the deafening silence while crossing the threshold back onto the marble.

And the doorbell rang, a deeply affected, singular tone one might naturally associate with such a ... house.

Vaulted for the door, scrambled to throw back the locks. My fingers and thumbs clumsily fumbling alongside my growing panic. Oh yes, and I slapped at the wall, pawed on the exterior lights, bathing the entire entry and most of the fountain area in ambers and soft yellows.

Yanked back the heavy door.

First thing that caught my eye was the bike laying on its side in the gravel. Front wheel was half buried in loose stones and cocked oddly at an angle perhaps after an evasive maneuver? But where ... where was ...?

I scanned the turnaround, felt my jaw pop open a fraction before some dark weight flopped softly against my shins. The bundled ball of midnight purple knocked me back awkwardly.

Such a slow pressure, at such an odd angle, forced my legs to give way, and as I recall, I may have waddled backward a step trying to maintain my balance. A battle I clearly lost as there was naught I could do but slap down hard against the marble floor upon the inadequate cushion of my behind.

Pain shot down my legs and up my spine with the impact, coccyx against stone, and I squeezed my eyes tight against the fall before catching myself sideways upon an elbow with a grunt.

And then all I could do was swallow my pride and stare ... before the realization hit like a hammer.

"No." I groaned, scrabbling to the doorway. "No no no no no no no."

I cradled her head atop my forearm, worked my thigh gently beneath her torso.

Pulled her cowl back and tossed rolled the wig beneath her neck. Her eyes were closed and there was bruising around her forehead down beside her right eye. The barest smear of blood around her nostrils. She was breathing steadily, but there was an odor. An odor that was unfortunate and way too familiar.

"Barbara?" She just lay there like a limply discarded doll. "C'mon ... Can you hear me?"

I pulled her face gently to my ear and listened to her breathe. No obstructions, but perhaps the faintest rattle, like dried leaves?

Lowered her head to the ground, rotated myself to a knee by her side and placed her arms prone. I scanned beyond the doorway into the darkened turnaround. The gravel was uneven in a steady pattern from the bike to the stair leading to the landing. The landing was dappled in little elongated puddles ... oh god ... dark little puddles and streaks ...

I raised her head scanned her face from one ear to the other. Felt the back of her scalp. No wounds.

Replaced her head against the ground pressed against the sides of her neck with my fingers. All aligned. Shoulders were square enough ...

But the smell.

I pulled the short cape away from her torso. All zipped up beneath. Belt was where it should be. Boots were on and laced thighs were whole, no tearing or protruding bone ...

Pawed her wrists and gently moved her arms away from her sides. Slid my hand beneath her latisimus.

Right side came away wet. Sticky and wet and warm. And way too wet.

She was bleeding. A lot more than she should've been.

All at once, she convulsed into a cough. Blood shot from her nose and dribbled down her chin. Her eyes rolled around and locked on the pendant light hanging outside the front door.

She was struggling to roll onto her stomach, her boots scraped repeatedly against the limestone outside.

I reached out and cradled her head. Her eyes were wild and rolling, but I forced my face into her field of view. She grappled with my forearms in a panic.

"Barbara. It's ok. You're ok."

"Where." she grunted through gritted teeth.

"At home now. At the big house. Seems you've been in an accident."

Her eyes fixed upon mine and she shot glances first one side then the other while gripping my forearms.

"Shhhhhh." I whispered, nodding soothingly. "Going to be ok. Promise you're going to be fine."

Her eyes came back to mine, and she relaxed.

"No." She whispered. "Not an accident."

She tried to prop herself up, barked a yelp of pain and fell back into my arms.

Her tongue flicked around her lips, working into the corner of her mouth.



"Stabbed." she gulped again.

She closed her eyes, gulped, her breath was growing more labored.

"Must've caught something in that hallway, one of those guys during the fighting. Hard to be sure. But before ..."

She opened her eyes.

"What." I queried. "Before what?"

"The girl." she muttered quietly, distantly. "She had no ... hand was missing ... her whole hand ..." barely a whisper, before she passed out.

Without another moment passing, I yanked her up and moved her into the infirmary, my body buzzing with adrenaline.

Spent the rest of the night inserting fluids, a transfusion, administering antibiotics and tetanus countermeasures. Minor surgery to repair surface tissue and a small portion of muscle ... she had great lats. I counted that fortunate as someone with a slighter upper body musculature and frame might've ended up with a punctured lung. As it was, most of the damage was superficial ...

Thankfully, it was a smooth blade caught her side couple of inches beneath the armpit.

She'd be uncomfortable for a time, but she'd live.

But it was a long night followed by an immeasurable amount of clean up. Pressured washed and scrubbed the front walk and part of the wall to one side of the front door. Went over all the marble and all the floors letting into the infirmary. Scrubbed the floors inside the infirmary theater. All the linens went to the laundry. Sterilized all of the implements. Replaced supplies within the cold storage.

Pushed the bike upright and hauled it out of the gravel and into the space beneath her apartment. Her old hog seemed to scowl at me as I brought the quick little rocket back to its place.

Raked all the gravel.

And I supposed I should look into repairing her suit. But we could talk about that more as the moment presented itself.

She was upstairs resting peacefully. Occasionally I mounted the back stairs to check her temperature and the I.V.s to be sure she was comfortable. Certainly she should remain abed until such time as deemed acceptable. (But yes alright, I think we all knew how that would most likely play.)

Regardless, we had a lot to talk about.

Had a few new things to figure out. Together.

New people to protect. Dark forces to uncover. New discoveries to be made and exposed.

I grinned despite myself, but damn, my eyes were sore.

Chapter 9:
 Graceful Imbalance 9: Off and Running  (13+)
Onions cause tears whether you wannem or not.
#2269181 by Dekland Freeny

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