Olivia woke to a knock on her door. Late afternoon sunlight beamed in through her window as she cracked her eyes open. What? She rolled off of the couch and stretched her wings as she stood up fully. Wait, no one knows I’m here. Her heart rate spiked. She sniffed and caught a whiff of Benjamin’s scent. The pleasant donuts had faded, leaving behind only something metallic. It’s him. Another knock, this time louder, more insistent. The front door still had a dresser in front of it. Frozen in place, she whipped her head towards the window in the room, the only other possible exit. Maybe he’ll move on.
“You know this is the only closed an’ locked door in this whole damn place, right?” he called out. “I know you’re in there.”
She flung herself against the old dresser against the door with a thud. Her clawed feet dug deep into the floor, bracing in case he tried to force the door open. No, no, no.
“Whoa, calm down, I ain’t lookin’ for a fight,” he called out again, in his fast, clipped way. “I damn near got fired for runnin’ after you this mornin’. Let’s chat.”
Olivia paused, not taking her weight from the door. He just wants to talk? That doesn’t sound so bad. Wait, he has a gun. “No,” she said, mustering as much force into her voice as she could.
“What was that? Can’t hear you.”
“No,” she repeated, raising her voice as high as she dared. “Go away.”
“What’s your name?” he asked.
The question caught her off guard. Why does he want to know? I guess that’s not too bad. “Olivia,” she called out.
“OK, Olivia, call me Ben, Skulker, whatever,” he yelled through the door. “You really just wanna keep shoutin’? Or do you wanna open the door so we can talk face to face?”
“No, I want you to go away,” she replied.
He muttered something under his breath, though the door muffled most of it. Then he said, “You know, most people you run into ain’t gonna be as friendly as me. An’ I don’t lie. You don’t got many options.” In the silence that followed, Olivia thought, I don’t know. No one else has ever talked to me before. Maybe I can find something out.
“How did you find me here?” she asked.
“You went straight fuckin’ here from the donut shop. Wasn’t hard,” he replied.
“But I was flying.”
“An’ I got workin’ eyes. Wasn’t expectin’ this though. Pale Man’s Palace, no wonder no one’s stumbled on you yet. Place is freaky.”
“What is the Pale Man’s Palace?” she asked.
“It’s what the place is called. Well, it’s really somethin’ else, but no one gives a shit about that anymore. Supposed to be haunted.”
Like, haunted by ghosts? Is that what that means? “Really?”
“You don’t find it weird no one’s looted this fuckin’ place? Pale Man’s just an urban legend, but people steer clear anyways.” I haven’t noticed anything. Ben continued in the silence that followed, “Olivia, I’ve put my gun away, an’ if this goes nowhere you never gotta see me again. If you open this door we can talk face to face.”
Olivia rested her hand against the wall beside her, weighing her options. I guess. I think he’s being honest. It sounds like he’s being honest. He hasn’t tried to force the door open or anything.
“Hang on.” She finally pulled herself from the door and dragged the dresser out of the way, its wooden feet rasping against the threadbare carpet. With a deep breath, she opened the door and poked her head out.
Ben’s head whipped up towards her, still grinning. Rather, the metal mask grinned, he could be cross eyed and slack jawed for all she knew. He leaned against the opposite side of the hall, arms folded across his chest. They considered each other for a few moments. True to his word, he didn’t have a weapon in hand, though it didn’t take her long to spot a holster at his hip.
“Damn you’re tall. Hi!” he said with a nod.
“Hello.” He nodded, should I nod? She added a hesitant, jerky nod after a brief moment.
The mask threw her off. Other than his wary, tense shoulders, she couldn’t tell his expression, if he was angry or happy or bored. Is he about to shoot? She glanced to the side. Closing the door would slow him down, and she could fling herself through the window and away from him. Ben’s dark hoodie and jeans stood in stark contrast to the white wall behind him, though without the mask he wouldn’t look out of place simply walking down the street. The massive rifle he’d carried on his back before was nowhere in sight.
“How you doin’?”
Olivia blinked. “I’m OK.” They started at each other for another moment. Should I say something? “What do you want?” she asked hesitantly.
“Right!” he said, pushing off the wall and standing upright. “I believe that a mutual exchange of info is in order. Keeps anyone from gettin’ shot or stabbed.”
She tilted her head to the side, not certain she’d heard him correctly. “I thought you said people were going to shoot me. Why aren’t you?”
“Cops. I said cops were gonna come after you. I think they try to catch ferals nowadays, not shoot ‘em. An’ besides, I coulda just shot you instead of knockin’. Or this mornin’. Or the day before. You get the point.”
No one else has ever talked to me before. I guess he’s right. “OK. But you stay there. I stay in here.”
“Fair enough.” He relaxed noticeably, his foot tapping to a rhythm only he heard. Olivia remained hidden behind the door, only her head and half a wing exposed. He spread his hands wide and said, “You look lost as fuck. What’s up?”
Olivia glanced down both ends of the hallway, just in case anyone else had snuck up on them, as well as to buy some time to gather her thoughts. The sun began to set, casting the hallway in a more orange glow.
“So, who am I exactly,” she said, stumbling over the words. She braced herself for a laugh, or a curse, but she wanted answers.
“Fuck if I know,” said Skulker, as if that statement were obvious. “Never seen you before in my life.” He held up a hand. “Wait, wait, hold on. If you don’t know who you are how do you know your name is Olivia?”
“Oh, um, I just picked it,” she mumbled.
“Just picked it,” he repeated. “Just Olivia? What a wasted opportunity. You coulda gotten creative with it! You coulda been Skullcrusher or somethin’.”
“But I don’t want to be called Skullcrusher,” she whispered.
Skulker either didn’t hear or didn’t care, as he said, “Man, that’s just sad. Last name coulda been somethin’ like Coldheart. Middle name? Any ideas?”
“Never mind. I meant what am I? What is a feral?”
He laughed and replied, “A feral is big scary mutant thing. You know how people get freaky powers an’ shit?”
Olivia nodded. “I guess.”
He continued, “Ferals get the same deal. But everythin’ gets fucked up when it happens. Human gets smashed together with whatever. Elephants or bugs or some shit. They don’t mesh too well, I think you’re figurin’ that out. I’ve never heard of a feral talkin’. Usually you lot just go on a killin’ rampage until someone puts a bullet in you.”
Human. I used to be human and normal. Her gaze dropped to the ground as she thought, Why me?
“So you first said you don’t know who you are, right?” he asked, breaking her train of thought.
“Yes,” she replied, not looking at him.
He nodded. “Maybe that’s somethin’ we can work on. You’re really fuckin’ weird, I bet if we kick over a few rocks in the right places we’ll probably find somethin’.”
Olivia nodded, struggling to keep up with the speed he talked at. Maybe we can find out who I am? Is that what he said? Can he do that?
“What do you remember?” he asked.
“Stuff. I know what a grape is, even though I don’t ever remember seeing one. But, like, remembering stuff with me in it? Only a few days now.”
His head leaned back slightly. “Damn. The bits with you. What do you got?”
“Oh, with me.” I woke up with nothing. “I didn’t have anything.”
“Might wanna be a little more specific,” he prodded.
“I was naked,” she mumbled, staring at the floor.
“No clothes? No jewelry?” he asked without missing a beat.
He started at her for a moment. Did I say something wrong? “Are you fuckin’ with me?”
She flinched. “What? No.”
“That’s weird as fuck. Never heard of anythin’ like that. Anythin’ around you? Anythin’ at all? Anyone?”
She paused, wracking her memories for anything that might help. “No. I mean, it was raining. I was behind a dumpster. In that alleyway downstairs.”
“OK, that’s a start. Not sure where to go with that. Tell you what, I’ll give it some thought.”
“OK. And, um, I had another question.”
“What can superpowers do?” she asked.
“Anythin’, I think. I teleport. My brother makes cool techie shit. Within reason. You ain’t gonna find someone who can throw you into the sun, but if you’re thinkin’ small scale the sky’s the limit.”
She blinked. Did that make sense? “So maybe someone could change someone else? Like, physically?”
Skulker paused, staring at her for a moment as he leaned back. “I dunno,” he said, slower than normal. “Maybe. Somethin’ like that’d be super dangerous though. Super fuckin’ dangerous.”
“Oh, OK,” said Olivia in a small voice, trying not to show her disappointment.
“Hey, cheer up! At least you ain’t dead yet,” he said. “Now, my turn.” He arched his back, stretching, before he continued, “Those dudes you ran off two nights ago, why’d you do that?”
“Them?” she asked. What do they have to do with anything? “They were trying to hurt someone.”
“That all?” he asked.
Olivia frowned, “What else would there be?”
He chuckled. “Fair enough. They’re actually part of a larger problem I’m workin’ on. You see, they’ve got a boss, goes by Sanchez. Not sure of his real name. They’ve been doin’ some very bad things lately, as you’ve seen. You seem like you could be super helpful there.”
“I don’t know, I don’t think I could do that.”
“You don’t want them runnin’ around, doin’ whatever they want, do you?” he asked, sounding almost offended.
“No. But what are the police doing?”
“Cops have got lots of shit on their plate. They’re gettin’ overwhelmed. And concerned citizens like you an’ me have gotta be willin’ to step up when we need to, don’t you agree?”
“Here is what I’m proposin’. I could use some help out there, an’ you need help with your memories or whatever. It’s not like you ain’t done what I’m askin’ you to do already, right?”
“I guess,” she replied again, doubt niggling in the back of her head. “But there’s a bunch of them, the guys with Sanchez, right?” she added, grasping for some reason to say no.
“You’ve already pissed ‘em off. You ain’t exactly subtle.”
“But what would we be doing.”
“Lead cops to evidence. That’s the short of it.”
That doesn’t sound bad. And he said he’ll help me. “OK,” she said,
He pushed off the wall and gave her a lazy salute. “Great! I’ll see you around here tomorrow. Oh, an’ I’d keep out of sight of any cops if I were you.”