By George Saoulidis
Published by Mythography Studios
Copyright 2016 George Saoulidis
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Shakespir.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Many thanks to the talented actresses you see on the cover,
Angelica Pardalidou (left) and Tonia Oikonomou (on the right)
I took her place. That’s the reason I am telling you all this. Oh god what was I thinking?
But let me start from the beginning, or else you’ll think I am crazy. I am not, by the way.
My name is Mahi and I’m a teenager. I no longer feel like a teenager because of all the skata that has happened but I guess it bears mentioning. I used to be a normal teenage girl, going to school, taking selfies all the time, failing my grades, getting yelled at by mom, going for long coffee breaks like any self-respecting Greek should do, my future predetermined by people who don’t care and enforced by people who just manage to get by.
Oh boy did I live in a bubble.
Still at our house, living in posh northern Athens, amongst the pine trees and blissfully unaffected by the Greek crisis, I remember hearing my parents through the door arguing.
“You can’t give her a present, she failed half the exams!” said mom with her patented angry whisper. I am pretty sure my ears shot up at the sound of the word “present” and I stuck my ear to the door.
“I know honey, you are right, but I already said yes to my boss!” said dad. My dad works for Hermes Information Technology at the marketing department, shush now and let me listen.
“Who ever heard of a present being mandatory to be given to your daughter?” asked mom.
“It is a buzz marketing thing, circulate the new phone model to some sneezers and it creates demand when it finally hits the shelv-“
“Don’t call Mahi a sneezer!” mom interrupted.
“It’s just a term. She is popular, other girls will see her with the new Veil phone and they will want to buy it in order to become popular themselves. She fits the profile and I told my boss that she would be perfect for the marketing study. It is a market survey thing, we gave lots of phones away.”
My mother wasn’t happy at all. “It sends the wrong message, fail the class, get rewarded with a brand new phone, why bother studying at all?”
“There is a lot of money funnelled on this release. I already said yes, we can’t afford me losing my job,” said dad, mentally adding the word “again.”
And that was the end of the discussion, and me biting my hand not to cry out of excitement. Dad’s workplace had the latest tech, like straight from Japan or something like that. I never cared for those things. What I did care about, was me being around with the latest smartphone model, showing it off to every kariola who thought she was cooler than me. I can’t remember exactly but I’m pretty sure I posted an update with my excited face about getting a new phone from my dad’s company, right then and there kneeling by the door.
Huh. I guess they really do know their thing.
But why am I going on and on about a stupid phone, you might ask? That stupid phone was how she found me, that’s why.
When dad gave me the new phone, it was like Christmas in June.
“We are still mad at your grades Mahi. Your mom and I want you to understand that this is not a reward for failing classes, you need to study hard and pass,” I think dad said, or at least something similar, but I was only paying attention to the super awesome pink late-tech smartphone in the box.
“Thank you daddy sooo much!” I jumped up and hugged him. “I need to show this to all my friends right now!”
“That’s the idea,” he said and went on to face the angry mom stare in the next room.
Of course I was grounded for being close to fail the class and I had tons of studying for the re-exams with no time to spare at all, so naturally I turned on the music real loud, started dancing and taking selfies on the mirror with my new phone.
What a vlaka I was.
While you have the mental picture of me jumping up and down singing pop songs firmly placed in your mind, I want to explain some things to you that I only figured out much later. The only reason we lived in a nice neighbourhood after the Greek crisis is because dad got a job at Hermes. I had no idea at that time (still jumping up and down) of the way people lived around Greece, or that mom and dad wanted me to get an education and get a job in one of the corporations that were swiftly engulfing the country, or that they believed that doing so was the only way to survive, the alternative being leading a life of poverty.
Then I got an IM. “You know what happened to Narcissus who admired himself at the lake all the time?” asked Billy. Bless him for being such a grounding influence.
I naturally replied with stupidity, “He turned into a bush.”
“Close, but not it. Have you spoken to Deppy?” he said.
Even the most grounded teen has his hormones bubbling hot I guess. I called him on the phone and snapped, “You talk to her yourself!”
“Come on, please just bring her here, do it for me,” he said, me imagining his puppy dog eyes. A two meter tall puppy mind you, but with a tender soul.
“I am grounded and have to study. Do you want to go from being – such a nice influence to our daughter – to – what a bad influence that young man has become – ?” I asked, mocking my mother’s tone of voice.
“I’m guessing you are posting selfies and I expect you will keep doing so for the next two hours. By badly influencing you to skipping study time I am also preventing you from staring at your reflection. Lesser of two evils and such,” he said, clearly playing chess with his idle hand as I could hear the soft thumping of the pawns.
“Stop playing with yourself Billy,” I said.
“I’m not. This Korean guy is even better in chess than the other games,” he said. His phone glinged in-call with a received SMS text, probably from the chess opponent sending in his next move.
“OK fine, I’ll call her,” I said, recognising the excuse to get out for a walk.
Billy was (seriously) not using the latest smartphone, not posting everything on Facebook and not chatting, tweeting, IMing, sharing, liking, tagging all the time like the rest us. What a freak.
I was already wearing make-up.
You don’t take selfies without make-up, what are you nuts? That is like 60-70 less likes right off the bat. I got my bag with my laptop and sneaked out of the house. It wasn’t that hard with mom having a video of a how-to recipe playing on the tablet and the kitchen TV showing some Turkish melodrama BOTH OF THEM PLAYING SO LOUD MY GOD MOM TURN IT DOWN DIDN’T IT USED TO BE THE OTHER WAY AROUND?
Thank god we live in a protected neighbourhood, or else she wouldn’t even hear any burglars smashing their way in.
Deppy was online naturally so arranged a meet at the corner by my house.
While I waited, I could see a small Roma boy, just a kid really, trying to make a living. As the cars waited at the crossroads, he would stroll to the window, extend his little hand to the driver and ask for them to buy his pack of facial tissues. It was a thing they did. Instead of asking for charity, they would “sell” you the cheap pack, and you’d always pay more than its actual value as a kind gesture.
The boy was disappointed. On a warm summer day, nobody was sneezing or anything, so nobody was buying anything from him. He had just went up to jeep, having to stand on his toes to present his wares to the tall window. He was waved away by the man inside, who simply went on with his phone call. His shoulders fell and he slouched away, while the cars revved and left the intersection. He was standing in the scorching sun all day, trying to make a meager living.
I had seen his green eyes before. He’d been working our street for a few months. The boy had medium dirty curls, unkempt hair.
He reminded me of my little brother.
I called him and bought a pack of facial tissues from him. I gave him half my allowance, then shrugged and gave him all of it, except the change for the metro fare. He gave me a smile, sold me three packs of facial tissue and went on to enjoy some of the shade.
Deppy showed up. She had the superpower of walking and never taking her eyes off the phone, all the while taking half-jumpy cutesy steps and not bumping onto things or people. I strategically positioned myself many times with a light-post between us just to kindle a sudden kiss between them, but she never seemed to fall for it. Oh well, time to get her to kiss a boy-like light post. Man, are they the exact opposites of one another or what?
“Ya!” she said, clearly dodging the light post. Oh well, must keep on trying.
“Ya. Let’s go to Kifissia for frappe,” I said casually.
“Nobody will be there, too soon. Lemme see. Yeap, no check-ins yet,” she said, taking her eyes off the phone for a mere second to see me.
“I need Wi-Fi, mom closed mine, I’m grounded,” I said casually. Casually I said!
“What a bummer. Fine let’s go but I haven’t got any money. Just coming along for the check-in!” she said with her cutesy voice. Guys must fall for it all the time.
We walked side by side each of us on her phone towards the metro. I texted Billy, “Bringing her now. Just buy her a frappe and she’s all yours to ignore you as long as you wish…” .
Deppy saw my earlier post about dad’s present and said, “Oh you got a new phone, lemme see!”
If it’s not on a status update, it did not happen.
I twisted my wrist slightly and showed her the latest smartphone that was thirty centimetres away from her nose but needed information to take the long route (I don’t know, are there satellites involved or something?) to make her actually notice it. “Oh it’s so nice. And pink!” she said. And then she started touching it.
No, that did not seem unusual to me at that time.
“What can it do?”
“No idea. Took a bunch of pictures.”
“Come on, it must do something new, Hermes’ stuff are the best.”
“Still got nothing.”
“Wait, lemme search.”
“Here it is, overlay. The revolutionary Veil smartphone will also be the first integrated overlay device. Overlay brings the digital world topology to the real world for the ultimate augmented reality… Sample pics, nai, here, how to use. Can I?” she asked but was already grabbing it. I let her play or else we would never make it to the metro.
She turned on the camera and pointed it a people on the street. Some floating text followed them, and when she tapped on a guy his facebook profile came up. The app lost the face-lock because Deppy was jumping up and down with excitement and I was carried away for a bit.
“Find a cute guy, that one,” I told her and bit my lip.
“Single, works at Apollo Medical. Good pick girl,” she said nodding.
“No don’t add him!” I said and tried to stop her. The man reached for his phone, smiled and I got a friend request acceptance a few seconds later.
“Oh this is golden. When do these come out, did your dad tell you?” she asked me with excitement.
“Soon I guess, I dunno,” I said.
“This is so awesome,” she said and pointed the camera at herself. The overlay showed her profile, her latest update, even the IMDB link of that part she had in a movie a year ago. “It has nothing private, everything is already accessible online. Lemme check, nai, my private pictures are not shown – thank god, dad would have a heart attack – but overlays the information about someone from the net on the real person. Oh, it works on buildings too. Anything with an RFID chip. Who cares really? Let’s go see what the people on the metro will show up!” she said, and started jogging.
I never jog, it ruins my image.
She was plenty distracted while waiting for me to walk at the metro station, so I did not feel bad for taking my time. It did feel weird not having a phone on me though.
“I remembered just now that dad said these phones are for market testing purposes,” I told her as soon as I got close, “so don’t do anything weird with it, I think it takes statistics and stuff automatically.”
“No nudes, got it,” she said casually and carried on eavesdropping on random people’s digital personas.
Sitting on the train we learnt that the lady beside us had an unhealthy love for cats, that the man standing behind her was constantly commenting on professional stripper’s photographs and that the kid running up and down the wagon was 5 years old and had a knack for vandalising wikis. The distraction made the whole six minute commute bearable.
There were some shop windows in our path but I tried to keep the delay to a minimum, or else poor Billy would be left with no fingernails to chew on.
The coffee shop was nice and gray, modern, catering to a bit of an older generation. Billy was slouching over a chessboard.
Not a digital one. A wooden one.
What a freak.
“Oh hi Billy, nice to see you here. Come sit with us!” I said a bit too theatrically.
“Sure, why not?” he said and followed.
Deppy and I took a selfie so we could check-in at the coffee shop and after a couple of tries we were both satisfied.
I dumped both of them unceremoniously with an excuse and sat at the next table with my laptop. Billy was delighted to have Deppy there, trying to initiate conversation. She kept looking at her phone, idly glancing at him and nodding at times.
I surfed some sites I liked for a while. Deppy IMed me, “Oh bummer, it doesn’t take good pictures. Look at all the smudges. Remember to tell your dad to fix it.”
Indeed I opened up some of the pictures I took since I got the phone and on the larger screen of the laptop I could see some white washed lights or something.
One of the white washed lights was almost something like a face. I paid no attention at the time.
86 likes later I was bored. We might as well had posted a cocktail pic. The only one still excited was Billy. I was so bored I actually took the time to read the messages unknown people send me. They are usually just greasy comments from guys, sometimes disturbing or provoking. One of the messages was different. It was actually a tag on my selfie from my bedroom. It was “#erinyes”, coming from a guy named Prodromos, with a Greek π as his profile.
“Who are you? What is this you tagged on me?” I IM’d.
It didn’t take long for him to reply, “Change your path, it’s not too late. They smell regret before it even happens.”
What was this guy talking about? Why would I have regrets? “What are you talking about? Why would I have regrets?” I said as if I had thunk it.
This time it took longer for the reply, which did not help the crazy guy’s case in my mind. “You will have them soon. Don’t let them take shape,” he said, and logged off. Fine, I wasn’t planning anyway on talking to the wacko any more.
Then I noticed that the face recognition had drawn one more square next to my face on my selfie. That face was the one Prodromos had tagged as Erinyes, not mine.
I’m not sure if Billy had any luck getting to Deppy, I guess there was some rapport but I wasn’t paying attention. Coffee time was over and we split up.
Back at my house, mom was yelling at me for sneaking out and not studying.
“I needed to take dad’s gift out for a ride, isn’t that the point?” I said unconvincingly. I don’t remember the rest of the conversation but I am sure it doesn’t matter anyway. I went to my room and puffed my pillow. Face down and looking tired like only a teenager can.
Like clockwork, it took a mere two minutes for my need to check my phone to kick in. Scroll, scroll, nothing, nothing.
I opened the pictures I took. Yup, smudges.
I sent a message to Deppy, “How do I add the printer on this thing?”
She replied, “Just hook it up to the laptop and run the…”
“WIRELESSLY. NOW. IM NOT GETTING UP,” I said.
“Kala! Here, click this and accept the install,” she said a few seconds later.
I clicked and the printer was connected. I tapped print and the photos started whirring out of dad’s printer.
How did she do those things? I’ll never get technology.
I went to the living room, and raised a big photo of my face up to my face. Yup, just like staring into the lake.
Not big enough. I downloaded an app for photo manipulation and zoomed a bit the part with the smudge. Print.
Are those eyes? And that weird looking hole a mouth? It can’t be, can it? Nah it’s just a glitch. What about the rest of the pictures? Print. Print.
What did that guy call it again?
Agamemnon looked into the vault of heaven and prayed saying, “I call Jove the first and mightiest of all gods to witness, I call also Earth and Sun and the Erinyes who dwell below and take vengeance on him who shall swear falsely, that I have laid no hand upon the girl Briseis, neither to take her to my bed nor otherwise, but that she has remained in my tents inviolate.
Then he cut the boar’s throat.
I formed the words with my mouth in silence. The Erinyes who dwell below and take vengeance. I closed the book of Iliad. Heavy stuff.
I played with my lips for a while.
I took my new phone and went to the bathroom. After a touch up I started taking selfies on the mirror, the light is excellent there, I’m getting tons of likes.
Click. Nope, another pose.
Oh man, it’s smudgy again. Zoom it and print, dad should really get this feedback so they can fix it.
Wait, is that a face?
Is that thing behind me?
She reached her hand to touch my face and I ducked instinctively. Smashing the mirror behind me, the shards piercing my back I ran as fast as I could out of the bathroom, running through thick time.
On the hallway I could hear mom’s Turkish TV blasting at full volume, the sounds distorted by my adrenaline and the Doppler effect.
I turned around for a second to see, the Erinyes was chasing me like a feline predator, her movements slow but steady. She was smiling, the kariola was smiling.
The door smashed into splinters at my left and a rather big piece pierced my cheek. I spat blood and ran to the balcony.
The sun was blinding and I was disoriented for a couple of seconds too long. She came closer and opened her arms as if to embrace me, her nails scratching the bookcase at her right with impossibly bright mauve sparks, as if she was welding the books to reality.
The automatic sprinkler had watered the plants and I could smell the lovely moist dirt and the fresh flowery fragrance.
“What a lovely place to die,” I thought and realised I got myself trapped in the balcony, no exit but down. No, not down, it is too high. Next balcony, yeah, I can reach it.
Mrs Toula would not be happy to see me crashing her place uninvited but she’ll get over it.
I started climbing the mid-wall that separates the balconies from the neighbours and grabbed a hold of the aluminium thing and stepped on a big potted plant and then I slipped and fell and hit my head.
I woke up from a splash of water on my face, shaking in my mother’s arms.
“Oh darling what happened?” my mom asked as she was cradling me and checking my temperature. She was still wearing her kitchen apron and her hands smelled of cut vegetables.
I looked around groggily. “I’m not sure. When did I get here?” I propped myself up, stabilised for a second and looked back at the bookcase. Everything was fine. In its place, undisturbed.
I could have sworn I would wake up to a path of destruction.
Mom was checking into my eyes like doctors do, as if she knew what to do. Which she didn’t. “Mahi, did you faint?” Her eyes opened with realisation and she whispered, “Are you pregnant? If you are, it’s OK, but you need to tell me.”
I swiped her hand away and stood up properly. “Ohi. No mom, I’m not pregnant.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m pretty sure.”
She bit her lip. “Did they teach you at school? About contraception?”
“Yes mama…” I exhaled and went back to my room.
I shut the door and sat down. I could feel her worry radiating through.
I thought about the chase. I could remember everything perfectly.
Was I on drugs or something?
It took me a minute or so to tell everything to Deppy, but Billy was a whole other thing. I had to call him on the phone like a Neanderthal.
“So, are you?” he asked.
“Interesting…” he said and I could just picture him taking the Spock pose.
“I sent you the pictures on your email.”
“OK, but I can’t see them yet. I’ll call you when I get home.”
What. A. Freak.
Who doesn’t check his emails on his phone in this day and age?
I checked my profile. A few more likes here and there, two more sleazy comments, deleted, reported, thank you… Huh. Seven check-ins at the coffee shop I just came from.
Copycats. Bunch o’ copycats. I let them know with an appropriately punny cat pic.
Anyway, I was late for frontistirio. Frontistirio is a private cram school, where they teach you the things school ought to teach you but doesn’t, so everybody needs to spend more time and money to pass the exams. I thought it was the norm, but I learned much later that it is solely a Greek thing.
I picked up my bag and hit the road.
It was like a three minute walk from my house, so took my time and window-shopped a bit.
Eventually, I got myself there, but I was late even when I started, then I was a bit late again with my detour, and most of the class-hour was gone anyway so I just sat outside at the bench and waited for the next one.
It’s not like I had studied for either one.
The bell rang (yes, we have a bell cause this is still the 20th century for some reason) and the other kids stormed out.
I was on the bench, which was covered in writings and quotes and little drawings that made it a work of art in itself.
Most of my class came and surrounded me.
“What’s that, the new phone?”
“What’s it called?”
“Oh, nai, veil or something.”
“It’s awesome. Not the pink one of course, don’t want the pink one,” a classmate said, defending his manliness.
I decided to act smart and show them what Deppy figured out. She was around the corner. She could easily hear me talking about the phone’s features that she taught me about a few hours before. If she was offended about that, she didn’t show. My class was “Ooh-ing” and “Ahh-ing” as I demonstrated.
“Let’s say I don’t know who you are Christos, and I see you here on the street. I look at you through the phone’s screen, and there’s your public profile! You’re online, so I can see your profile pic, your status, whatever. Nothing private though, nothing like that.”
That got another round of interest, and people turned to their own phones and googled for the minisite Hermes had made for showcasing the Veil.
Yes, this was going to be a hit. I felt proud for my dad. It’s not like he was the only one making the thing, but it was nice that his company was looking forward to a mass-market success.
The bell rang again, this time telling us to get our asses inside.
We all ignored it of course. Except the nerd. Deppy went inside for class.
A few minutes later, the teacher came outside and started herding us in.
I was bored. Bored bored bored. Bort. Borrrrrrrrt.
I was sitting at the back, of course. Only losers sit at the front.
The teacher was scribbling some math on the board. I was supposed to know all of these three times already, but they looked like Chinese to me.
Frontistirio was making us do-over the curriculum again and again, and had us give mock exams again and again until the SOS parts were drilled in our heads. SOS were the really important bits. We pronounced it like “sauce,” cause we are Greek and shit.
I looked down.
Oops too low. I adjusted my blouse that was leaving too much skin exposed and sat up straight.
I looked down again, at my book.
It was nice and neat. Fluorescent markers had highlighted the SOS bits. With pink of course. Yellow was for the tricky stuff. Green for the ones I could safely ignore and delete from my memory.
I was fighting an urge to check my phone. It had vibrated twice already. Or had it? I wasn’t sure. Sometimes I would think it vibrated but then I’d check and see nothing. I could almost hear Billy’s pretentious voice in my head, “it’s the phantom vibration syndrome, where the false belief that one’s…” and then I would shut him up. And he would say it with the tone of voice that implied we were addicts or something but he was somehow out of this world, more involved and natural.
Even so, more importantly, this teacher had a hawk’s eye for texting. There was no way I’d risk getting my sparkly new pink phone confiscated by this malaka.
I would endure.
I looked around for moral support. Billy wasn’t doing frontistirio, he was reading by himself. We were classmates only in the morning, at school. Deppy was here with me, smiling at a boy two rows to the left. What was his name? John? Jed? Joe?
See? This is where the veil is useful! Just pick it up and look through the screen. Boom. In-far-ma-shah.
I thought about actually trying to solve the math problem. That should take me a while. I began reading from the top. The teacher was already done with the solution, and had stood aside so we could copy it down.
Did I mention he didn’t just let us take a picture and be done with it?
I was writing down the problem-solution duo, flicking my head up the board, down the notepad, up, down, up, down, when a shadow waved in the corner of my eye and I froze.
She came through the teacher’s chest, like an ethereal projection, her eyes darting around the class, staring at people with hatred.
My heart pumped blood at a thousand litres per second and my fingers electrified at the extreme dosage of adrenaline.
I lowered my head and froze in place, my first instinct being to hide in the crowd. She arose from the teacher’s chest but her body was hazy, not fully there.
Her eyes and her hands and her hair were there, moving as if on the surface of a strong current. She looked around and turned straight at me, letting me see the hatred in her purple eyes.
She charged at me, pushing the teacher aside tearing his chest with her claws, rippling through the furniture and the people like an unstoppable sound wave.
I pushed the desk aside and ran to the door. She was gaining on me, closing in, splinters flying. Three rows, Two rows. One row. I dodged and hit a classmate. I pulled him behind me, offering him as sacrifice to appease Erinyes. She wasted fractions of a second to rend him in half and extend her bloody claw at me.
Her nails bit in my flesh and I screamed in pain. She tore most of my back but the pain gave me thrust and I ran, every step as if searing hot iron was lashing my body.
I reached the door and swivelled with my hand towards the street, she hissed and brushed her hair at me, her hair like animated snakes, purple and with purpose, stinging my hand.
I pulled my arm back and screamed from pain, new toxic pain as I ran to the bright light outside.
I was hiding in a corner.
Someone touched me and I flinched. I looked up.
Deppy was looking at me with worried eyes. Our height difference made her look almost level at me even with me crouching down. I looked around, there was no sign of Erinyes.
“What happened Mahi?” she asked me but I had nothing to reply.
I walked back to the classroom and Deppy held my arm, as if to support me if I fell. I walked past my classmates, they were staring and whispering amongst themselves. I’d never been so ashamed in my life.
I walked past them, a couple of boys tried to make some sort of tease but Deppy nipped that in the bud. I looked into the classroom.
Other than my own desk, the one I had flipped over, everything else was where it should be. I expected to find a bloody battlefield inside, but it was just my stuff on the floor. I picked them up hastily and put them in my bag, which Deppy was holding open for me. I propped up the chair and the desk, and head low, I jogged out of there.
“You didn’t see anything?”
“Ohi, sorry, nothing,” Deppy replied and she was being honest.
I pulled my legs close to my body. We were at her house, after conjuring up girl-troubles at her dad. He didn’t bother us at all and he left us the living room, finding some daily chore to attend to. Deppy’s dad was a stay-at-home father, working from a fancy computer setup with three monitors and expensive hardware and 24/7 graphs ticking away. Deppy had explained many times to me what it is he actually did, but I zoned out every time after ten acronyms. The only word I remember (because her dad used it like 6.2 times in a sentence) was heuristics. Whatever that was.
Her parents had reversed their roles since Deppy was a baby, so he was the one that actually raised her. Her mother had a promising career and they had decided not to abandon it after Deppy was born. So her father gradually shifted his work and clients to a flexible schedule that he could attend to at home, and he was happy to do the house chores while the mother was out there in meetings and business suits. It was a complete reversal of Greek household values, where the mother was expected to stay at home and raise the kids, and it had attracted a lot of snide remarks from people addressing the father’s sexuality, or at the very least, the diameter of his balls.
All I knew was that, after my dad, Deppy’s dad was the awesomest dad in the world.
I welded my eyes to a painting across the living room, not daring to look my friend in the eye. The painting was from some fantasy RPG game, one that Deppy and her dad played together, and it depicted a busty woman with a big sword in an impossible pose. Seriously, her back would have to be liquid to perch her butt like that. Deppy had told me once that it was the original painting that was scanned for the game’s artwork, and was bought at an online auction. They loved geeky stuff like that.
“But you do believe me,” I asked her when she came back in the room with hot chocolate for me. I kept my gaze on the sword.
Deppy took a few seconds to reply. “I don’t think you are crazy, if that’s what you are asking…” she said, and grabbed my pink new phone. She had no boundaries at that sort of thing, and you just had to learn to accept it.
She sat at her father’s workstation and plugged in my phone. The computer setup was intimidating to most people, and seemed important. Deppy knew of course what to do so as not to disturb her father’s work, so she logged in to her accounts and seemed to take up only two of the monitors, while the third one was showing stats and data as usual.
She leaned back and the chair squealed audibly. “Okay, that’s actually something.” We were both looking at a zoomed image of my selfies, of the smudgy part that we had seen earlier and that I had printed back at home.
The smudge was kinda-sorta-maybe facelike.
Deppy started typing away and brought up the videos our stupid-ass classmates had just uploaded. Deppy winced and sucked in air. “Sorry. Maybe you shouldn’t see those right now…”
“Ohi, it’s fine. Pull them up,” I said.
Due to the mobile ban at class, they weren’t as quick to draw as they would have in normal circumstances. The videos began after I had stormed out of the classroom, capturing a nice ear-piercing scream I’d let out. They had all managed to get my crouching in the corner in time, and in one Deppy was yelling at the boy and telling him to back off.
I hadn’t noticed that.
She had defended me.
Deppy downloaded them all and focused on a trigger-happy girl’s video, who had began recording a few seconds earlier than all the others.
As she was processing the video, I decided to block it all out for a while and focus on the sweet, warm chocolate. I closed my eyes and zoned out of the ambience of whirring computer fans and keyboard shortcuts.
Several minutes passed.
“W-T-F,” Deppy yelled in acronym and I jumped up startled and burned my finger.
“This is trippy!”
I went over her shoulder and looked at the monitor. Deppy had stabilised and looped a few frames at the beginning of the video, that had barely managed to record me leaving the classroom. It showed my hand on the door frame as I was swivelling. My body was hidden from the wall. A dark form was after me, clearly moving towards me in the few frames. Purple sparks were touching my fingers.
My cup smashed on the floor and I made a mess.
I am wearing my Hello Kitty dress. It is new and clean and I love it.
George wants to go look for his bicycle. The road is wet and covered with dirt. We are alone in the house, mommy had to go to the hairdresser’s and left me to take care of my little brother. Daddy is at work.
The flood is intense. Mommy called twenty times, I told her we are OK. She says she can’t drive back, says she’ll be late. It’s alright, I say, we’ll wait here.
George is kicking and screaming. He is at the balcony, watching the brown waters rushing down the street. It stopped raining but it’s still cloudy and a little dark.
I look at my new dress in the mirror and I love it.
George comes to me and tells me he wants to go look for his bicycle. The water took it away. He could see it around the corner but now he can’t see it anymore. He is sure because it’s bright green and you can see it clearly so it’s safe.
He is pulling my sleeve, I yell at him because he is going to ruin my dress. He leaves me alone and goes back to the balcony to look for his bicycle.
I wear my shoes. They fit the dress well. They make me a lady. I look at them in the mirror and I love them.
George is not yelling now. I hear the door closing, it is big and heavy and makes a snap when it shuts.
I get to the balcony, George is not there. I get out of the house and walk down the marble stairs. I hear the condo’s main door close and I run downstairs.
Water has come inside the lobby. Some parts are muddy. I stand at the last step and look at the water. I don’t want to get muddy water on my shoes. I love my shoes. I take them off and leave them on the last step. I walk in the water and open the main door.
George is outside on the pavement. The water is lower now but it was very high before. I can see that from the brown mark on the walls. The rain took a lot of the dirt away. I yell at George to come back and pull my dress up. I step into the water and walk outside.
George tells me he saw his bicycle across the street, around the corner. He saw the water push it there. I walk down on the pavement, the street still has a lot of water, it looks like a river. A dark green garbage can is flowing down like a boat. George crosses the road after it and goes to the corner. He is all wet now, and dirty from the mud. He doesn’t care.
I walk to the corner, still on my pavement. I yell at George to come back. I tell him mommy will be very angry and that she is coming in five seconds. George says that his bike is just over there and that it will only take a second.
The street around the corner is lower, so the water is deeper. More water is coming from other places and ends up there, so it makes swirly shapes. A branch from a pine tree is coming towards George fast and I yell at him to stay away. He looks around and holds on to a car. The branch hits the car and it makes a bang, but it floats away.
George yells that he sees the bicycle and runs to it. I can’t see where he is going and I can’t see the bicycle. I wait at the corner and I am holding my dress up so it doesn’t get dirty.
I call out to George but he doesn’t say anything. I yell louder but he still doesn’t hear me. I wait there because I don’t want to get my dress dirty. It’s new and I love it.
I yell again and I step into the muddy water. My dress gets ruined. I am angry and am going to tell everything to mommy so she takes care of George when she comes.
I hold on to a car and go where George saw his bicycle. It is a place from a condo that has cars below. There is a hole and the water is going inside very fast. George is at the hole and is pulling the green bicycle. The water is fast and he can’t pull the bicycle. He tells me to help him. I tell him no, he made me walk into the water and now my new dress is ruined. It is wet and muddy and I’ll never forgive him and I’ll tell mommy and he will never play videogames again.
George is all wet and dirty, and his face is red. He is pulling on the bicycle. It gets unsnagged and George falls under it in the water. I yell at him from far away.
He gets up from the water and carries the bicycle against the fast water. He puts his arm in the triangle under the seat and puts it on his back. He tells me that it’s OK and he can get it home.
He slips and falls and the water pulls the bicycle into the hole. The bicycle gets stuck in the hole and his arm is pinned under the water. His face is red and brown and under the water. I scream and run to George and pull him up but he is stuck and the water is coming fast.
A man hears me and comes towards me and tells me to get back but I pull George up but he is stuck.
I pull and pull and I slip and I stand up over the water and I breathe.
The man comes next to me and pulls George over the water.
George turns blue.
I love him but he is now blue.
I was in no mood to go home. I left Deppy’s after cleaning up of course and went to a cafe on my own.
I walked inside and the barman lit up as soon as he saw me. His name was Adras and he was as manly as it gets. He had a thing for me, commenting on all my pictures. I could get a free coffee anytime where he worked.
He tried to hide that he rushed to my side of the bar and casually rubbed something that needed cleaning. “Yasou Mahi! It’s not your usual time.”
“I should leave then,” I said and theatrically turned towards the exit.
“No, no,” he said and he was practically leaning over the counter.
“I’ll stay then,” I said and smiled at him.
He looked like he had won a prize. “What shall I make you? Frappe as usual?”
I held my hand topside touching my forehead, and said, “I really need something stronger today.”
Adras gritted his teeth and inhaled. “I can’t do that Mahi, you aren’t 18 yet. And the fact is, I know you are not 18, and can’t even claim ignorance. You come here with half your classmates for god’s sake.”
“Come on…” I said and leaned on the counter to give him a good view, the very same I knew for a fact he was looking at for hours surfing my pictures. I took a real bimbo tone of voice and said, “I read on a article the other day that a woman should have a Cosmo when she is troubled. Can you make me a woman?”
He gulped. “Yes.”
“I’m sure you make it great.” I made sure to keep the pose he liked and took out my wallet. “I dunno how much a cocktail costs, never had one before…”
“It’s OK, on me,” he said and started making me one.
“You are the best,” I told him and smiled.
I sat at a table alone.
I surfed the web a while, ignoring my messages. Adras brought me the Cosmo and after some chit chat, he went back to the bar. I took a big sip and found it nice. I think he made it light on alcohol somehow, even though I’ve never had one before to compare. It was surely on purpose because he really knew how to make those things. Adras was a mixologist, a title that brings out snorts in Greece everytime it is uttered out loud because it means something silly. It sounds as if you call yourself “snot specialist.” Seriously. But no one seemed to complain after he’d tasted his lattes and cocktails. Adras had gone to a mixologist school in the Netherlands, and he was really proud of it. He was older of course, way over thirty but he was always sweet.
Plus he had grrreat arms.
Muscled and with hands that were rough from manual labour.
I stared at him work through a reflection.
My phone buzzed. It was a message. I was about to ignore it but I noticed the greek pi on a white background. It was Prodromos.
“Come with me if you want to live.”
I wrote back, “What?”
I waited and waited, refreshed and turned my Wi-Fi on and off again. Nothing. I drank my whole drink but decided against asking for another. Maybe I could push my luck with Adras for a second one, but to be honest, I was starting to get tipsy.
I called Billy.
“Hey. Did you see what happened?”
“You really need to get a smartphone one of these days. You are literally the only person I know who didn’t see the videos yet.”
“Please tell me you aren’t talking about a sex tape.”
“No, it’s worse!”
And I told him what happened.
“… And now nothing.”
“The killer robot is after me?”
“No, I mean could be, but no. The line is from Terminator. Come with me if you want to live. It’s right after he saves Sar-”
“So? What does it mean?”
“Lemme think. It must be a place, he must be telling you to come somewhere.”
“We aren’t in Hollywood.”
“No, wait. There is something similar nearby.”
“What, a killer robot?”
I instinctively looked around. Couldn’t help it.
“Ohi, no. There’s a sculpture at Omonoia, a metal man. It looks a lot like Terminator. The artist was on the local news a few weeks ago, didn’t you see it?”
“Why would I see sculptures,” I said as if the word was something lame. Which it was.
“Because that knowledge might come in handy when receiving cryptic messages from anonymous people. Which it just did.”
I let the smug bastard have his moment.
“I’ll text you the address.”
“Whoa, wait! You aren’t leaving me to go there alone, are you?”
“Why not? I could be wrong.”
“And you could be right! And frankly, when have you ever been wrong you tall brainiac?”
“I’ve been wrong many times.”
“You’re coming with me. I’m not meeting this creepy guy on my own. My mom would kill you if something happened to me and you weren’t there.”
I poked Billy.
Not on Facebook of course, in real life. We have already established that the freak doesn’t actually use social media.
How does he even breathe?
Anyway, we were on the metro heading to Athens Centre. The historic centre of Athens you might say, yes, the one with the Acropolis on it. I could tell we were heading close by the ever increasing amount of people squeezing in and by the body odours.
Or muck. Call it what you want.
Billy was a gentleman as always and was standing close to me, towering over and cornering me so that people wouldn’t bump into me. Other girls might think that was a bit flirty, I knew that he was actually following his own personal Savoir Vivre.
I kinda liked that.
He was looking out the window, zoned out and probably thinking of chess moves or something esoteric as always.
I poked him again.
“Deppy told you didn’t she?” I asked, not quite asking.
He hesitated. “She might have mentioned an episode.”
“An episode? Like an epileptic one?” I angry-whispered.
“That’s my term, don’t get mad at her. She’s just worried about you.” We were so close he was literally looking down at me.
I kinda hated that.
A sudden rush hit me. Cold sweat. My heart pumped and gravity tilted.
I looked around at all the people, locked in like sardines in a can.
Where would I go if she came at me again?
Where would I run?
Is there a button you can press in an emergency? Yes, there is one over there. Only three meters away yet so far it might as well be a hundred. A “break in case of emergency” button, with a warning below it for facing charges if used inappropriately.
How would I convince people it was an emergency if I was the only one who could see her? The Erinyes, with her angry face and her purple glowing hair that flowed towards me like it wanted to choke me?
I think I fainted.
It must have been mere seconds but I have no memory of it.
Duh, that’s what fainting is!
I was held in the corner by Billy, he had pushed my head closer to the window so I could get some more air.
I looked around, people were whispering. A woman gave me her water bottle, I splashed it on my face.
“Take your girl off the heat and the people,” she said to Billy.
“Excellent advice madam, we are getting off now anyway,” he replied while propping me up.
I pushed him away and walked to the door, people were making room for me despite the crowded space.
The doors opened and we walked onto the platform.
I stood firm as people rushed out of the metro and went on to their lives. I opened my legs wider than normal to stabilise myself.
People stopped paying attention to me. I wonder what they would do if they could see what I saw in my mind’s eye?
“Are you OK Mahi?”
We stepped outside into the street and breathed in the smell of piss.
No seriously, piss.
Everywhere, like stepping into the world’s largest urinal. Depending on the wind and the building you were near, the odour varied. Sometimes it was just a hint, something you pick up and need to take another sniff to pin-point. Other times it was wet and think, like the piss from 46 people taking on an averaged urinal scent.
I’m not sure why, but Omonoia, the big plaza smack-dab in the middle of Athens smells like piss. Take it from me.
I pinched my nostrils but then decided it was a bad idea to deny oxygen to my brain so soon after an actual fainting, so I mouthbreathed instead.
Besides, what kind of lady would walk around pinching her nose?
I let Billy lead, due to the fact that I had no frickin idea where we were going.
“It’s not far, two streets west.”
“Uh huh.” I decided not to interrupt my mouth-breathing and for the first time in my life, I had no reply.
“It’s funny, so this artist made the Terminator statue out of spite. He works with metal, right? And he makes sculptures in abstract shapes. So he made four sculptures out of scrap metal, and found a way to pull them out on the sidewalk. It was a big sidewalk, if you see the pictures you’ll understand. Anyway, he manages to get those half-a-ton sculptures into the street so that people could see them for free. That was his thing, he wanted that collection to be free and amongst the people, not out in some gallery for intellectual assholes. So he places them there, people like them, dogs pee on them, cyclists lock their bikes on them etc. And then the garbage collector comes, sees the piles of scrap metal and calls his partners and they haul them into the landfill. He thought they were rubbish! Not aesthetically, he literally thought they were trash and he had to get them sorted! That’s exactly what he said on his interview. Then the artist reads it, gets mad of course, months of his work wasted and called rubbish, so he makes a metal man and plops it in the same place. And then he says, ‘Terminators don’t feel pain’!”
I just stared at him.
“Get it? Cause he was hurt? No?”
“Don’t make me regret picking you as my knight,” I said and moved along.
“Hah! A chess counter-joke! Nice. Yeah you are feeling better. It’s the other way.”
I turned like a princess and moved along, the right way this time.
We walked along a street where two young Nigerian girls were showing off their wares. I’m more discreet usually, but couldn’t help but watch as they called out to men driving by and squeezing their breasts to present them. Not that they were in any way hidden, of course. The girls, not the breasts. It was broad daylight.
I thought these things happen only at night?
Talk about a distorted worldview from TV.
Loud chewing of gum, perky lips, fishnets. Some animal prints of course. It was like an unofficial uniform, as if there were general guidelines posted up somewhere with what a prostitute should wear to be considered one. You could mix and match, but the general view should work like a neon sign.
Billy took one peek and then proceeded along as if nothing happened.
The poor boy was embarrassed, that big cushy wushy!
We got to the sculpture, at last. Yup, it was big and tall and metal and rusty. Piece of garbage in a man form.
“There it is,” Billy said as if the female partner, moi, was blind or something and couldn’t notice a huge metal man by herself.
I told him exactly that.
“Just sayin’, here we are. What now?”
“No idea,” I said, and had no idea. At all. I checked my phone, no new messages. Not from this Prodromos, that is. I always had new messages, from stalkers and gawkers and droolers. Those were my own categories, I’ll explain them another time.
But from the man in question, nothing.
The metal man was taunting us. Taunting me. Terminator my 700 like-ass, this guy was useless.
Billy was discreet, searching around for clues or any hidden messages in the sculpture, but after an hour or so he was just shoving his arm in its gaps risking tetanus and sudden finger-loss.
I’d located the cleanest spot I could find and was lying in the sun.
At that point I unconsciously checked my phone for like the fortieth time and remembered about that thingy Deppy was excited about. The veil? Something like that.
I opened the app and scanned around for stuff. A vendor across the street branched out with information. OMG, what a furry fetish. Keep it to yourself man!
I pointed it towards the metal statue.
Billy was there, with minimal information of course. The profile picture was from the mandatory registration at school, the public data as little as possible.
Then the Terminator lit up.
Not literally, the veil version of him. The artist’s name popped up, links to the articles relevant to the story. And a pi.
A greek π.
I tapped the link and got a loading screen.
“Hey Billy, come here! I got something,” I told him and showed him the phone.
The app reloaded and showed a big arrow over the live video, pointing the way.
“It seems so,” Billy said and we hesitated.
We walked down the alleys, guided by the phone prompts. It was really hot and I wanted to go home, but my curiosity was getting the better of me.
Billy was following me closely, towering over my shoulder to glance at the little screen himself, craning his head back, never relaxing.
The arrow was taking us towards a multi-story parking space, one of those whole buildings where you can park by the hour, because finding a spot in the middle of Athens is pretty much impossible.
But then the arrow was gone, so I stopped.
I slapped the damn thing.
“What?” Billy asked, as he stumbled slightly on my back.
“Nothing. That’s it, nothing,” I said breathing out.
“Where was it pointing before it was gone?”
“To that parking building, I think. I’m not sure.”
Billy squinted and looked up at the building. It was five floors tall.
My phone then blipped and a message read, “You are being followed. Lose them. π.”
I whispered, “Look,” and showed the message to my tall friend. I had never been followed before. Not like that, I think. Followed by teenagers, sure. Some leery men, too. A creep or two, when I walked home. But not like this, conspiratorily.
“Uh huh,” Billy said and then looked around as if looking at street names. Then he said, too loud so he could be heard by anyone, “I think the store is over there.”
We fell side-by-side into a hurried walk, round the corner, towards crowded shops and people. We were going the other way, far from the parking building.
I tried to hide it, but I was anxious. Being followed by people? Some nebulous face? I needed to make it real, to see someone. They say that the unknown is what’s really scary, that if you familiarise yourself with something, it doesn’t scare you anymore.
I rubbernecked all the time, trying to catch a glimpse of our pursuers.
Then I saw them. Two guys, wearing light coloured shirts in the heat, but they seemed the sort to favour suits. Sunglasses, short hair. Nothing distinctive on them, no tattoos, no piercings. Average height. They were the sort of people who would blend in easily, and who you couldn’t recall anything specific about if you were asked.
Billy was pulling me close to him, not forcefully but I would find myself being hauled along if I tried to stop for a second.
Two streets down I saw them again. They were definitely following us.
“What are we doing?” I whispered.
“We are trying to get lost in the crowd,” he said.
“You are too damn tall! You stand out like a lightpost!”
“I know, that’s why we are going to Varvakios Agora.”
Varvakios, or rather its more recent name Athens Central Market, was the biggest place to shop for perishables in Athens. Fresh produce, meat, fish, anything you can think of is stacked in rows of little shops, carried back and forth while people yell loudly and speak out their sales. It is so big that it’s actually a tourist attraction. It has a retro feel to it, a very tall ceiling, old-style roof and metal supports with white and dark green paint. Some shop signs are modern, some are old. High-tech aluminium open fridges sit right along the classic drop-the-fish-into-ice-boxes technique. Screens yell out advertisements and public-interest messages, banners fall down from the ceiling. It’s packed with people.
And the fish.
Oh boy, the fish.
A pervasive fish smell oozes out blocks away from the place.
And to my joy, Billy was taking me right towards a fish merchant.
I was trying to be as ladylike I could, but it was impossible. If I could find a clothespin I would use it in a heartbeat. I just held my nostrils tight.
Billy was talking to a merchant, right next to a big stack of those shallow wooden fish crates. Names were written at their side. As I waited, while holding my nose of course, I read some of the surnames from the fishermen who had brought them.
Afovos. Fearless. Armenistis. The wanderer. Anemos. The wind. OK, those were probably nicknames, not surnames. But the rest were ordinary last names.
The noise in the agora was intense. I couldn’t hear them speak three meters away. So I went closer to see what was up.
“I can’t let you go back, I’m sorry,” the middle aged man said. He was, in a word, weathered. Rough hands, rough face, gentle eyes.
Billy was gesturing wildly. “Come on Mr. Antoni, I just need a couple of minutes.”
Mr. Antoni’s eyes fell on me. At first I was rattled by that, but then I realised he was checking me out and whispering to Billy in approval.
So I did what I always do.
I struck a pose and took a selfie.
I put in my most seductive yet innocent face, as if for the camera. I could see in my peripheral vision Mr. Antoni softening up. Billy, his mind quick and sharp, admitted quietly that he had promised me to show around the back.
He let us go past, and I thanked Mr. Antoni as we went by, holding my breath in a nasal “Tenk yom”. He went back to selling his fish.
Billy looked under a dirty metal stool and found a key. He unlocked the back door and put the key back to its place. He kept the door open for me and I went inside.
“How do you know this man? This place?” I asked.
“I worked here last year,” he shrugged.
“You were selling fish?”
“I was mostly carrying them and placing them on ice, but yeah.”
A teenager that works. I didn’t know that about him. Me, I’d never worked a day in my life. What else didn’t I know about the people who I called best friends?
We went through tunnels. No, they weren’t really tunnels, but they were so dirty and smelly and thick in grime that they might as well be. Dangerous too, metal edges, discarded wires. People were carrying heavy loads back and forth with those handy two wheel lifters. They barely slowed down, I had to stand aside or get squashed down.
Then I stepped on something squishy.
We walked at the far end of the Varvakios agora and came up to the sunlight. The street was busy as always.
“Whoever it was, we shook them off for now,” Billy said while holding the heavy metal door for me.
I rubbed the soles of my feet on the pavement. I didn’t even wanna know what I had stepped on.
We stared up at the parking building.
Billy held my arm and said, “Wait, are they just gonna let us walk in?” We both looked at the guy in the booth, next to the swinging barrier.
I perched up myself and tilted my nose up. “Just walk in like you own the place,” I said, and did just that.
I didn’t even acknowledge the man’s presence as I walked past him, and he simply went back to fussing with his crossword puzzle. My tall friend followed me behind. I couldn’t see his act, but I was sure it wasn’t as good as mine.
As soon as we went a few meters inside, I pulled out my phone again and fired up the veil app. The arrow led us up the stairs, two floors up.
I panted. I was so not used to physical exercise.
After I caught my breath, we moved along, and found a white van, nondistinct, with a private company’s plain logo at its side. It looked like a technician’s van for a communications company, two small antennae at the top.
We walked around the front, and were greeted by a young woman with a gun pointed at our guts.
“Why did you bring him here?” the young woman asked, pointing with the gun vaguely at Billy’s feet. She was lean, pretty, in her thirties.
I put my hands up, and the woman leaned forward and pushed my arms down. “Are you nuts! Don’t raise your arms, there are cameras here.” She tugged her jersey hat even lower and adjusted her ponytail, keeping her face hidden from any camera. I realised then that she had barely shown the gun, and that it was my startled imagination that made me think she had pointed it at me. In truth, she had merely shown us the gun and had never threatened us directly.
Talk about unreliable eye-witnesses.
Billy was about to raise his long arms and paused halfway, turning the gesture into a scratch and a yawn.
“I wasn’t gonna come meet a crazy sleazy guy by myself, would I?” I said, crossing my arms over my chest.
She squinted. “What guy?”
“Prodromos. Aren’t you taking us to him?” I asked.
“Yeah, yeah. Right. Get inside, we gotta go. Those guys might have lost you but they won’t be long now,” the woman said and went back into the driver’s seat.
Me and Billy stared at each other, and I shrugged at him.
“I thought you said it was a guy,” he whispered to me.
“It is a guy”, I replied, not getting it.
“How did you manage to get me into this mess?” he asked, but moved around the van and opened the car door for me.
The young woman lifted an eyebrow at that, but said nothing and fired up the engine. We all sat in a row, a van’s seat can accommodate three people, and we drove down, paid the parking fee with a paycard and drove out into the streets.
I glanced behind me. There was a thin divide with a hole at our backs. I raised myself and peeked inside. There was a ton of computer equipment in there, double monitors, racks of hardware, blinking lights, cables neatly arranged in copper guts and sinews. I was in no way an expert in computers, my knowledge was limited in selfie uploading, chatting and photofilter applications, but this looked non-standard for a tech-company’s van. It looked something that Deppy would drool over, and I mean that literally.
We drove in silence. Billy was silent, in observation mode. I could see the gears spinning in his head, processing all details, big or small.
The young woman was peeking at the mirrors constantly. She once muttered, “We are running out of time…”
After a while, we got away from the city centre and towards some warehouses, an industrial area. I wasn’t really sure where we were, my sense of direction is wobbly at its best. I doublechecked even the train direction at the platform, the very same one that I used daily. I had gotten on the wrong one a few times too many.
She parked us in a secluded space, finding some shade from the scorching sun. We got off the van and the slight breeze felt nice.
What a great place to get executed in, was the thought that came to my mind.
“So?” I asked, “Where is he?”
She snorted, taking off her jersey hat to cool off.
“Oh Mahi…” Billy said, presenting her with a gesture of his hand. “Meet Prodromos.”
I was stunned for a minute. I closed my mouth because my jaw was hanging like an idiot and then said, “But you look normal.”
“Thanks?” she said hesitantly, but then her expression changed into a stiff tone. “Give me your phone.”
I put my hand over my jeans pocket and said, “Ohi. No, I’m not giving it to you.”
Billy was about to say something but she raised a hand and he stopped.
“I know your father gave it to you. I need that phone,” she demanded, opening her palm, the other hand resting at the hilt of her holstered gun.
“All this so you could rob us? Going the long way around, are we? Just find a dark alley and get over with it,” I said in challenge.
Billy interjected, “I think you should give it to her, Mahi.”
I blinked at him. “What?”
“There is something happening to you, those episodes, and it all began as soon as you got that phone. Right?” he said, and paused until he got a shrug of approval from me. “From what you told me, I can only conclude that Prodromos,” he said showing the young woman, “Is investigating this and needs your phone to test stuff.”
“But my father gave it to me! He would never do something to hurt me!” I protested, forcing back a tiny amount of tears.
“He wouldn’t!” Billy said, putting his hand on my shoulder. “He might not know, Mahi. He’s just in the marketing department, he doesn’t know what this is.”
Prodromos was softer this time. “I need it now, but I can give it back to you at some point.”
Billy said to her, “It’s best not to raise suspicion right? We don’t want her dad noticing that she lost it.”
Prodromos shrugged and said, “Yeah, a couple of days should do it. I’ll contact you and give it back then.
I straightened my spine and gave my phone to her. As I did, Billy asked, a frown on his face, “But why? What does this phone have to do with anything?”
Prodromos checked the time, pointed at my horrified face and said, “This.”
I saw the Erinyes climb out of the concrete and come straight at me.
I saw her hands like steel claws, breaking through the concrete floor, pieces shattering and exploding all around, pulling her body up the hole.
I reacted a second sooner this time, my feet taking me swiftly at my side, dashing towards metal barrels.
The Erinyes rose up and lunged at me, missing my back for a hair’s width. I ran towards the barrels and looked behind me. Billy was trying to reach me, and the Erinyes brought down a hand and cut his extended arm where it was. Her strands of hair grabbed him and choked him, but her attention returned back to me. I hesitated for a second, seeing my friend like that but I couldn’t control my body. I ran back to the maze of barrels.
She ripped his head out of his body and her purple hair loosened again. She came at me, her hand sliding on the stacked barrels, her nails sending sparks around in staccato rhythm. I pulled down a top barrel to block her path and then ran away.
She put both her hands inside it and ripped outwards, passing through it with ease.
I pulled down another barrel but it was heavy and didn’t budge. She closed the distance, her purple hair floated and darted towards my neck. She pulled me hard on the floor, brought her face over mine and tightened her grip on my throat.
I thrashed and slapped the concrete, moved my arms in defence but I was powerless. She stared at me with deadly eyes and choked me.
Darkness fell and I let it take me.
I got pummelled on the concrete floor, unable to open my eyes. Something heavy thumped on my chest, a little more and it would break my ribs. I took in sweet, warm air and managed to fill my burning lungs.
Billy fell back relieved and I turned to the side, coughing my lungs out, wheezing in air, coughing, wheezing, and so on.
Prodromos leaned back, crossed her chest in an absent-minded religious gesture and sat near me on a barrel. As soon as I managed to calm myself, I stared at Billy, who was rattled but fine, and at the fallen barrels at my path. The mess was real alright, but what I had seen before, my friend getting choked and ripped apart by the Erinyes, and her tearing of the metal barrels was not real. I had knocked over a barrel or two myself, but nothing more.
I must be going crazy.
Billy didn’t look Prodromos in the eye, though he was clearly addressing him. “What. Is. Happening?”
“I don’t know,” she said quietly, and met my friend’s sudden deadly stare. “I don’t! I swear to God almighty!” She took out a cross from a chain around her neck.
Billy said as-a-matter-of-fact, “That’s what you are trying to figure out.”
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” Prodromos repeated, a hint of plea in her tone of voice.
My friend turned back to me. “Are you OK?”
I touched my wet lips and said, “Were you kissing me?”
“I was doing CPR!” Billy said apologetically.
“Well, you took my breath away,” I said and enjoyed his blush.
I barely got inside my house when I decided to head back out again. Mother called me out and I answered back with some excuse I can’t remember, shut the door and headed straight to Deppy’s.
As I walked there, I got lost in my thoughts.
This all seemed nuts. If my friends hadn’t been there for me, I’d think I was going crazy.
I took them for granted, but they had really been there for me. Billy the tall and lean geek had come with me to a strange meet, saved my life after my heart stopped, and still said when we parted, “Call me as soon as you need me.” Deppy, the short and curvy geek, whom I didn’t even care to hang out with at school, had defended me from the people who’s attention I craved for.
It was the first time I really appreciated them, instead of just thinking I was worth it so they just did stuff for me.
One hundred and nine minutes. That was my life now, a countdown.
“That’s impossible,” Deppy said with a squeaky voice. We were in her room, I was sitting on a pokemon woolly stool or something like that.
Did I mention she was a nerd? Yeah, I need to emphasise that again.
Her room was filled with nerdy stuff, spaceships, monster toys, muscly men and curvaceous women with swords, superhero movie posters, and of course, a big computer with blinking blue lights and two huge monitors, silent as a whisper.
I pursed my lips and said, “Yeap. 109 minutes, that’s what Prodromos said.”
“Wait. The period is 109 minutes, and she shows up for a minute?”
“Yes, the period is 109 minutes, but no, she shows up for the duration of the last minute. So, 108 minutes after my last episode,” I said presenting the countdown app I had running on my old phone, “She’ll show up again for one minute.”
She held a pillow to her tummy. “So it’s 108 minutes, plus one minute of appearance.”
“Nai. Sure, call it like that,” I surrendered.
“Like Lost. Pushing the button.”
“Haven’t you seen it? Lost, where the plane crashed on the island, and-”
I put up a hand, and said, “It sounds boring, so assume I haven’t.”
“Anyway, they find a person who is stuck in a vault somewhere, and he has to press the button every 108 minutes, for four minutes. So he was to schedule his sleep, his food, his whole life around that schedule. He can’t leave the place of course, and he believes something bad will happen if he doesn’t reset the countdown. And it does, but he still goes back-”
“I know it sounds thrilling for you, but this is happening to me right now, so it’s more like horrifying than like, interesting,” I said, and chose my tone of voice specifically to hurt her.
“Sorry. I’m just trying to figure it out. Wait, did Prodromos say the same thing happened to other people?”
I sighed. “Yeah, a couple more. Prodromos didn’t get there in time, that’s why I got contacted so soon.”
“We need to ask your dad about this!”
“No! He won’t know a thing about this, and we are keeping it that way. I don’t want to jeopardise his job, mama will go nuts about it.”
She was thinking out loud. “109 minutes. A prime number… That could mean something.” She got to her desk and unlocked her computer, tapping out stuff as she thought. “It’s so specific, a heuristic could look up at the appearances at a sufficient data set and I could…”
I zoned out. She was mumbling nonsense again. I looked at the movie monsters around me, the video game monsters, the novel monsters. So many monsters. None of them looked like Erinyes. She basically looked like a really pissed of lady, thin, her cheekbones poking out. She was always wearing an Ancient Greek style white cloth on her, a toga, but not the sexy kind we were used to seeing at masquerade. More like the theatre kind. The normalcy ended there, cause she was moving like in thick water, and she had floaty constricting purple hair.
I was feeling claustrophobic.
I stood up and opened the window, and leaned out for fresh air.
Deppy frowned and looked at me with worry. “So how do you handle it?”
I shrugged. “Prodromos said, mind the clock. Stay in open spaces. Avoid crowds, mass transit. Just run away from it for a minute, and then you are fine.”
There was a pause. “How can I help?”
“You already are,” I said and leaned down to hug her. I couldn’t see her expression, but she remained still and didn’t break it off.
I leaned back, towering over her as she sat, her dark eyes on me with worry.
Huh. This is how Billy is experiencing the world, I thought. Overhead.
She jumped up and she startled me. “Oh! I know, wait.” She began shuffling through stuff in the closet, opening boxes and looking into bags.
I turned back to the window and just stared outside.
A lot of shuffling later, she presented me with an old style sports watch, “waterproof up to 30 meters,” it read. She gave it to me and then pulled it back out of my hand, made sure the time was right, set up a countdown alarm, and gave it back again.
“Here. It’s an old gift, and smartphones can be a bother sometimes, batterywise. This is heavy duty. Hope it helps.”
“Thank you,” I said and put it on my wrist. It was bulky and entirely not fitting with my wardrobe, but who cares about that anymore?
“I told her you kissed me,” I said, teasing him, as I was throwing stuff in my schoolbag.
“ What?” Billy yelped. “I-I didn’t kiss you Mahi, I was onl- I’d never kiss you! No, sorry, didn’t mean that. Of course I would, if you were to… You’re gorgeous. But not like that!”
I let him babble on for a while and then shushed him. “Relax, I didn’t tell her anything about that. Just the rest of the facts.”
I heard a chair squeak from weight, and a sigh. After a while, he said, “Mahi? Do you need me to come with you?”
I thought about it. “Ohi. No, I’ll be fine. I ran away from her the first couple of times, I’ll just do it again. I’m prepping my bag now, got my clothes, my sneakers, all I need. Don’t worry titan boy.”
“Hope your plan works. Tell me where you’ll be in case something happens. I need to know.”
I sighed. “At that little forest at the border with Kifisia. I’m telling my parents I’ll sleep over at Deppy’s, so if they happen to ask, cover for me.”
My overnight bag was ready. A light sports jacket, comfy pants, running shoes, water, a snack, a torch, the watch Deppy gave me. What else? I had looked around for my sleeping bag, but it was nowhere to be found. I decided I could manage a single night with just an old blanket, after all it was warm even late at night. After that I’d either look for it in the house’s closet or go buy a new one.
I was clutching my nécessaire and was deciding if I needed it or not. If someone would see me, I’d be an unattractive mess. Then again, the point was to avoid everyone. I put it back to the rest of my makeup stuff, and just took a jersey hat with me for the morning. I threw in my toothpaste and my toothbrush though. We can’t ignore basic hygiene.
I looked outside, and then at the countdown. It was almost nightfall.
The clock was ticking down.
I lifted my schoolbag on my shoulder, made my excuses, ignored mama’s complaints and hurried out.
Twelve minutes to go.
It was the longest night of my life.
In the morning, I was feral.
There is a reason people chop down trees and go live in frickin houses.
It’s cause forests are scary.
Even though I was in a narrow ribbon of leftover forest, a tiny part of what had been there decades ago, and without animals and such inside it, I was terrified. The strip of land was so thin that you could see houses across it through the trees, so there was a modicum of safety, in that you were near civilisation. They were all pine trees, not that I knew how to recognise any other ones but I’d been living there all my life, yeah, I could make out one type of tree. The pine cones pretty much gave it away. They were tall and their branches were spaced out. Pine cones and pine needles made a thick layer on the ground. A row of lamp posts were at one side, lighting a path around a school.
At night, it was still scary as shit.
Allow me to recap.
The first attack came at once, but I was already buzzed out about it so I think I handled it pretty well. I ran and screamed like a girl, which I am, so no shame there. The Erinyes chased me between the trees into the twilight, her arms always stretched towards me. My flashlight did the trick but it was harder than I had imagined to run into the night with so little a light source. I didn’t really know the lay of the land. It was a place were we had played years ago as children, but I overestimated my knowledge. As I said, I’m the worst kind of navigator you could possibly find, but come on, this was practically a city park, a tiny part of the wild, smack dab in the middle of the place I lived. How hard could it be to find my way around in the dark?
Pretty hard, as it seems.
I ran from her, the minute was up. My adrenaline went down, I breathed in again normally. I was lost. I spent almost a full hour trying to find my backpack again, and that left me with not much time to rest.
I tried to doze off but it was impossible. So I just waited.
Forests are scary. Did I say that? Well I’m saying it again.
Even though I had a perfect timepiece that was ticking away the precise minutes till the predator attacks, I couldn’t make myself calm. Every distant noise, every sway of the branches, made me stand up and get ready to bolt. It was ridiculous, I knew, my logical self knew, that there was no attack yet, but my hypothalamicus or whatchacallit was screaming at me, making me wanna run away.
In retrospect, choosing the forest was a bad idea. I know. We haven’t gone to the second attack yet.
The second attack found me running even as the watch beeped.
Sure, reason said that a running start wouldn’t hurt, but this wasn’t coming from any logical part of my brain. She found me running and chased after me, flowing in the air as if through something thick, just as she did every time.
Thick, thick kariola. Never giving up, always chasing me. Always following me. Thick, thickety-thick.
My running brought me towards the houses, a plain road separating them from the forest. I ran a wide arc and got back towards the forest. My feet slapped on the pavement and made a lot of noise, but nobody seemed to get rattled. Even if they had, I didn’t even look back. I jumped over a bench and dove between the trees. There was nothing to throw at her, and I would have tried to, even though she didn’t seem to mind any obstacles in her path.
I was so scared.
Sixty seconds is an eternity when something is chasing you in the dark forest.
I panted, my foot giving out and I fell to the side as I cursed. Pine needles pricked my hands, not that sharp so as to make me bleed, but enough to feel it and decide not to do it again. The Erinyes came at me around a tree, smiled, so I threw a handful of brown pine needles at her and dashed away.
I had made it.
The third attack found me facing her head on. I stood myself high, my feet wide in a stance of projected power. She came at me, leaning down as she closed the distance, her hand sweeping the dirt floor with purple sparks.
My armour of confidence shattered and I fell back, stumbled on a small crevasse on the dirt, probably carved by a small winter stream that was now dry, and sharp rocks scratched my hands. I fussed, kicking dirt and ran away in a straight line more or less, zig zagging through the forest.
The minute must have been up, well, minutes ago but I still ran till I found the far end of the forest. It came to a wide road, after that were condos. I looked back, panting, but not that much, checked the time, confirmed that I was running away from my shadow for a good six minutes and turned to walk back.
Then the adrenaline left me and the pain kicked in. Cramps, scratched arms, a pounding head, a wheezing chest. Boy, was I out of practice. I promised myself I’d hit the gym tomorrow.
I was calm, body aching, walking slowly back at my ‘camp.’
Then a bat flew over my head, scared me shitless and I ran the rest of the way.
The fourth attack found me up a tree.
I know, I know. She floats. Yeah, you can say that, sitting in your cozy bed, hugging your pillow tight, safe and sound. It was impossible at that point for me to think properly. It was around two o’clock, I hadn’t slept all night even though I thought I’d manage to sneak in a nap, and I was aching and tired and terrified.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, climbing up a tree to avoid something that followed me. When she came, she lifted her head straight at me and began climbing the trunk of the tree as if lifting herself from her fingers. But it felt wrong somehow, you know, not… realistic.
Who cares, as soon as she got up to me I leapt down in a soft patch of shrubbery and ran away. At least I tried, cause my leg hurt like hell and I couldn’t move.
The Erinyes stayed above me for a few seconds, still holding on to the tree. I looked up, a tiny ray of hope in me, that she maybe was too dumb to get down, that I had found an Achilles Heel. I rubbed my leg and looked at her.
Then she dove down, falling, her toga rippling on the air, but impossibly slow, as if a different sort of gravity applied to her. I twisted my body to the side and barely missed her nails coming down on my leg, but her hair caught up to me. They billowed and spun, grabbing my throat. A flashback of the previous encounter where she had choked me came to me, and I decided not to let her do it again. I thrashed, kicked, yelled, threw dirt. I’m not sure how but I did manage to get out of her hair (pun alert!), and I stood up in pain and ran away.
The fifth attack was at daybreak.
I was out of my mind at that point. Exhausted, terrified. She appeared in a circle of streetlight. I did a u-turn, fell on my old school’s metal railings and tried to climb up. She approached, and I let go of that plan and simply ran up some wide steps, paved with rocks at a side of the forest. She followed. I ran to the adjoining street, between cars. She followed. I ran to a house, trying to find a spot to climb a fence, looking frantically around. She followed. I ducked behind a car, tried to hold my breath so as to not give me away. She appeared over the hood of the car, following me. I ran back into the forest, fumbled, scraped my knee for the tenth time on the uneven ground and lost my flashlight. She followed. I ran into the dark forest, jumped over a rock, found a large, old tree with a wide trunk and hid behind it, my back to it. She followed.
I cried. I just cried. I couldn’t take it anymore.
I couldn’t move.
I just sat there, on the ground, my back to the tree. Waiting for her to get me. Her seconds were up, she never came.
“You look like skata,” Billy said as soon as he saw me.
“Jee thanks Romeo. Tell me more of those compliments of yours,” I said and rubbed my eyes. I hadn’t slept a peep. He was staring at me, worried. His eyes fell on the my scraped knees, the cuts on my arms. He couldn’t see the bruises I had acquired on my belly, but I felt them just fine. My hair was a mess, my eyes sunken and dark. I was brushing my snot on my sleeve.
My tall friend had come by himself, being worried all night about me. I was sure he had lost a bit of sleep over me, but he sure had had a better rest than me. He had called me from the outskirts of the small forest, looking around for me.
“I’m gonna sneak in home, I need a shower,” I said, pulling my schoolbag in one strap over my shoulder.
“Let me walk you there. What else can I do to help?”
I shrugged and led the way. “Get me a flashlight. I lost mine.”
We walked back to my house. The light of the dawn washed over me. I was feeling tired, sleepy, hurting in places I didn’t know I could. But there’s something about the light of a new day that washes the worries away. And some of the fear. Physically, I was still feeling horrible. Emotionally, I wasn’t that bad.
I opened the front door as quietly as I could. I had done it so many times, that I knew the places I needed to apply pressure to avoid all noise.
I snuck in the hall, carefully placing my steps on the wooden floor. It creaked all right, and in the silence it sounded dangerously loud. But I had tested the noise, and was fairly confident that it didn’t get through the room walls.
I took a few steps, exhaling as I neared my room, where I could drop off my dirty clothes which would give me away in an instant. I was just in time to avoid dad, and mom should be avoided anyway cause she would assume the worst. That I was doing excessive physical activity in the forest, more likely.
Just a few more steps.
And then I heard a massive yawn and I froze midstep.
“Mahi?” My dad said and clinked his coffee mug.
It was still an hour till my dad’s normal wake up routine, but he must have had another sleepless night. He was drinking a cup of warm coffee in the kitchen. The door was at an angle so he couldn’t really see me, but I had to get past him to go to my room and put on a bathrobe or something.
“Yeah?” I asked feigning innocence.
“Weren’t you at Deppy’s?” my father asked, not really accusing me of anything, simply asking.
“Yeah…” I replied. Oh man, did my comebacks get monosyllabic when I was tired or what?
“Well? Why are you walking around so early? It was dark outside a few minutes ago.”
“I had my period,” I said, coming up with an excuse. “Deppy gave me a pad but it doesn’t fit right. She is too short. There is blood everywhere. You gotta see the carnage!” I added, stepping into the kitchen, full into his view.
I gambled on men’s instinctual reaction to avoid anything menstrual related, and I was spot on. My dad put up his hand to block his eyes and pulled away. “Uh, OK honey, I believe you. The bathroom is all yours,” he said trying not to show how uneasy he was.
I went back to my room and said, “I won’t be long, you’ll be on time for work.” I took off my dirty pants, my scraped t-shirt, the blanket that I had used outdoors, and threw them all under the bed for now. I put on my bathrobe and went to take a shower.
As the water washed away the dirt and the sweat, I felt marginally better. But my thoughts were troubled. Was this how I was going to live from now on? Chased by my very own personal furies? Living life in segments of 109 minutes, having to do all the stuff people normally do around that schedule? Eating, resting, studying, all inside that time-gap?
Would I be able to keep on studying? Going to school? I’d need to leave class without notice, every day for at least four times per day. It would make every single day a chore. Not that it already wasn’t, but time flew by sometimes. My Erinyes would make sure I’d never be relaxed again.
If my parents were in on this with me, maybe we could come up with a medical condition to explain away my “episodes” to the teachers. But how could I explain this to them? Dad would simply die of sorrow if he found out that the new veil phone he gave me was somehow linked to this.
Plus, it was a practical matter. Going to the small forest to spend the night had been a rather bad idea. The mere thought of having to spend another night, let alone another attack in a dark scary forest got me shivering despite the warm running water on me. I’d have to find another way, someplace where I could escape the Erinyes attack without people gawking at me. Taking video of me, laughing at my condition.
I shivered again.
The comfort of my home was the only thing that was keeping me from bursting into tears. I leaned out the shower and grabbed my watch. Being waterproof was handy, it turns out. I have less than an hour till the next attack. If I hadn’t gathered myself, my thoughts, calmed myself with a shower, I’d have gone mad when it came.
I thought about it.
Be on the run. Someplace open, not too crowded. It didn’t really matter where, I just needed to avoid dangerous stuff like train-tracks and busy roads. Hiding didn’t seem work.
I was at a roadside, in an open place. It was a big open piece of land next to a highway, that had stacked ceramics and statues for sale. I was going past it daily on the bus, and I’d never noticed anyone actually manning the place. The ground was full of white rounded gravel, noisy but it didn’t matter at morning. I didn’t know if anyone actually sold anything here, it could have been one of those businesses that had closed down and never been resold.
I was sitting on a brown smokestack. It had some shade from the tiny shack that they used to have as an office there. It had been easy to jump over the fence, but my aching muscles had made it a small torture.
I was checking my phone every two seconds.
Now, that fact wasn’t unusual for me, the social media addict that I was with narcissistic tendencies, as Billy would put it. The unusual part was that I was waiting for Prodromos to call me back, or at least reply with a message or something.
I had hoped for a result like: “Stand in a puddle of water facing east and she wont get to you anymore.” Don’t mock me, I was still optimistic back then! Sue me.
I was tapping and refreshing the damn phone at a steady pace. I was well aware that the attack would come in mere minutes. I must have been hoping for a cure before that. I certainly didn’t want to experience one more chase if I could help it.
The minutes went by.
I checked my watch.
Calmer this time, I stood up, left my bag on the ground. I puffed in some deep breaths, stretched my arms and my legs, just like during gymnastics time. I used to be on the volleyball team two years ago, but I got tired of it. Still, the warm-up routine had been ingrained to my memory, doing movements I didn’t even remember knowing.
I jogged in a small circle, checking my watch.
As the beep sounded I broke the circle path and ran straight ahead, towards a square brown-red bundle of roof tiles.
I vaulted over it and her hair missed me by an inch.
Her hair brushed my neck as I fell on the other side of the roof-tiles. The gravel was noisy under my feet but gave me a steady grip. I ran between two lawn statues, Greek-style women that covered their nakedness with a small piece of cloth.
She came behind me, raised her hand and smashed the head of the statue with tremendous force. The pieces smashed and fell on my back, cutting my skin and letting it bleed. I wiped some of the pieces away with an awkward backhanded gesture but kept running.
I reached the spot I had marked with an arrow on the white gravel and spun left. I ran parallel to the street, through the narrow gaps between the various ornaments and stacks of ceramic tiles. I glanced back, and there she was, her face a breath away from mine, smiling.
I squealed and ducked, hitting my elbow on the edge of something hard. The blow hit bone, numbing my arm. I stood back up and ran away, my arm refusing to move along, needles piercing my skin on it.
I ran and wobbled, unable to maintain balance with one arm tightly gripped on my stomach.
I reached the next mark, spun left again and headed for an open space to make my finish. The Erinyes came up to me, touched my thigh and it turned bright purple. I fell on the ground, spinning from momentum and came to a stop.
I was in a foetal position on the ground, in the middle of the strange place, surrounded by decorations and ornaments that nobody wanted.
I let it all out.
I cried and I vomited, then I cried again.
After a while, I felt a bit of relief so I stumbled back to my back and drank from a bottle of water. I checked my phone.
Prodromos had sent a message. “We have a problem. Come meet me at the barrels.”
I replied, “No shit we do. You better have something.”
I ditched school and went to our meeting place.
It took me a while longer than I thought to find the place. It wasn’t as if I was really paying attention the first time we got there. In the end I managed to find a bus that dropped me off a minute’s walk away.
I saw the white van from a distance and got closer. As I was walking behind the vehicle towards the passenger door, a hand swung it open and I hopped up.
I opened my mouth, preparing to deliver a stream of nags, insults, WTFs and some epithets, but Prodromos slapped a device on my head and that shut me up temporarily.
“You are late,” she said and adjusted the electrodes on my head.
I looked back at the umbilical cord of cables that linked me to the devices at the back of the van. “Wha- Hey! I don’t have a car you know. It’s called public transportation, you are always late with them.”
Prodromos checked the time. I knew what she was checking. My internal clock was ticking already.
“Take the seatbelt off, and grab onto something,” she said, and stood on the gas pedal.
She appeared through the dashboard, angry and with wide dark eyes. As the car moved she glided with no corporeality through the van, opening her mouth in a silent scream and raising her arms towards each of us. Prodromos and me pulled ourselves away from her grasp instinctively, and I stared at the woman.
I realised she could see the Erinyes too. The van sped up and for a moment there was only the sound of heavy wheels spinning on dirt.
The Erinyes showed up on the van’s roof, tearing through the metal, rending noises as her purple hair reached down like tendrils and brushed my cheek. I fell down to the wide gap infront of my seat and she turned her attention to Prodromos. I realised it was worse that way, her going for the driver so I stood up again to get her attention back. I pushed up my bag in my hands like a stupid shield and taunted her loudly. Her eyes darted to me, her purple glowing hair swam in the air and twisted around my arms. They hurt, the places where she touched me burned scalding hot and I screamed and I let the bag fall through my hands.
I pulled against her gripping hair and she leaned further down through the hole on the van’s roof.
In a moment of terror I slapped her hard on the smug smiling face.
She jerked back and her hair turned into razor sharp ends, cutting my arms and my face in slices of flesh, blood gushing out, getting into my throat, denying me air.
I kept staring at the van’s roof. It was as expected, grey and well, just sitting there. No holes. I kept my eyes up on the same spot. “You can see her too,” I whispered.
Prodromos exhaled and gripped the steering wheel. The dust we shook up was settling around us. We were stopped, a good distance from our original spot next to the barrels. I noticed a saint’s picture hanging from the mirror, and her rubbing her own cross between her fingers. “Nai. It’s happening to me too.”
“Since last night. I was up all night poking and prodding at the veil phone.”
I snorted. “I was up all night running away from the Erinyes.”
“I know. It began for me this morning too.”
“What began? What is it exactly?” I asked, prodding the crown of cables on my head.
As if she was suddenly reminded of something, she got out the van and went round the back. She opened the door and sat on her computer system, looking at the data. I could see digital displays that showed crooked lines like the ones they show on the news when there’s an earthquake, but I could tell this was from my head.
A small brain was in a diagram, with lit areas around it. Half of it was turned off.
I gasped. “Hey! Am I becoming brain dead? Cause you won’t be able to see any difference on me, you know.”
Prodromos smiled at me and said, “No, you shook the EEG away when you were thrashing about earlier.”
“Excuse me for playing decoy,” I said and folded my arms, throwing the cable mess away on the seat.
She wasn’t even listening, just staring at her monitors. “It’s OK, I got the data.” She was murmuring to herself. “Just gotta compare them to mine. Yup. Damn. Oh, wait… Yup.”
I just waited in silence. She was in the same mode as Deppy would sometimes go to, mumbling incoherently over a computer. The only way out of it was straight through.
Mumble mumble. Mumble. Grunt. Mumble.
A couple of days ago, I would combat my boredom at this point by taking selfies of myself. Somehow, since the Erinyes appeared in my photos I wasn’t really in a mood to take any more.
Prodromos banged the desk and leaned back.
I twisted around the front seat, resting my head on the hole to see the back of the van. “Well? Is it a boy or a girl? Don’t keep me waiting woman!”
“It’s unholy, is that it is,” she said seriously.
I went pfft.
She raised an eyebrow at me. “Oh, you don’t believe me?” She tapped her keyboard, did something too fast that I couldn’t really figure out and a slight pressure came to my ear drums.
I felt uneasy.
Just like during an Erinyes attack.
I checked my watch, it was hours away.
“No, she’s not coming yet,” Prodromos said and took off her jersey hat, tossing it on her desk. She tapped the keyboard again and the pressure stopped. “Infrasound. 18Hz to be precise. It’s below human hearing, but the mind perceives it all right.”
“What about it?”
She picked up my phone, the one she had borrowed and waved it around like it was something disgusting. “This emits that frequency, in specific intervals. The infrasound also matches the eye’s resonant frequency, creating visual hallucinations.”
I leaned in, my arms splayed through the hole. “Wait, are you saying this is just a hallucination? I almost died yesterday!”
She sighed. “I don’t know. Of course it’s a hallucination, because the damage you-” She stopped. And gulped. “-We experience is not real. The Erinyes tears through stuff and breaks things, cuts your flesh and rips out pieces, but the only damage is what you inflicted on yourself during the chase, cuts, scraped elbows, impact bruises, twisted ankles.”
“So… She will hunt us to death. That’s what you are saying. There must be more than that.”
“There is. The science stuff is pretty straightforward-”
“If you say so,” I interrupted.
“-but, the rest is bordering on witchcraft.”
I pfft again.
She tapped her keyboard and showed me a row of selfies of various people, myself included, that had the hazy glow in the shape of a face next to them. I just stared and was lost in thought at the magnitude of this.
“All these people, have been ‘touched,’ by the Erinyes. I looked them all up, they all have something to regret about themselves, something tragic in their past, just like you.”
She paused for effect and she looked into my eyes.
“They are being tormented by guilt. Then, the unholy part comes in. People have noticed the Erinyes showing up on photos, and they have begun making speculations about it. Urban legends. Creepypasta,” she said, checking my face to see if I was following.
“I’m sorry? Whatpasta?”
“Creepypasta. It’s the internet’s spooky legends. Videos that make you crazy, chats that are haunted, the Slender man in the photos, crap like that. The point is, that people actually believe in those things because they sometimes become viral.”
“So you are saying that because other people believe in the Erinyes creep…”
“Creepypasta,” she added helpfully.
“Creepypasta, I get to see her and get chased around every two hours,” I said exasperated.
“Precisely. It’s a demon reinforced by idolatric beliefs.”
“OK. You’re nuts. Bye,” I said, and stepped out of the van and into the street.
I was walking with a quick pace towards the bus stop. My phone was ringing. I ignored it.
Prodromos drove the van next to me and spoke to me through the window as I walked. “I need one more thing from you.”
“Of course you do. You are a nutjob,” I said, suddenly regretting I hadn’t brought Billy again with me.
“Hermes is instigating this for some reason. I need your father’s access card to get into the R&D lab and see why they are doing it,” she said, having to speak loudly over the engine.
I kept on walking as if avoiding a clingy ex-boyfriend.
“I’ll go to a church for the next appearance. The Lord will keep me safe. Jesus won’t allow idols into his domain.”
I showed the way with my hands. “Got it. Jesus saves. Go to him then.”
We got past a pedestrian who was staring at us, so she hesitated a bit but then whispered, “Please bring me that access card so I can figure out what’s happening.”
“Whatever, you crazy lady.”
She picked up speed and drove off, then I stood in the bus stop’s shade.
I exhaled through my teeth, and muttered, “Unholy creepypasta…”
The old woman sitting on the bus stop crossed her chest and muttered stuff at me. I turned my back to her.
I had stolen the phone back from Prodromos. Well, stealing is a word that does not apply when it’s already something yours. Repossessed then.
On the bus, on my way northeast, I was slapping the inactive phone on my palm. I had taken out the battery, we don’t want any more of those megahertz or whatever coming out of it anytime soon.
It didn’t make sense. Let’s accept that what Prodromos had said was real for a moment. Why would a huge tech company like Hermes Information Technology ship out a phone that triggers hallucinations? I was certain my father didn’t know about any of this. My daddy was perfect and I was his princess. Maybe someone had added the stuff without the corporation knowing? It wasn’t unheard of, it had happened before. Those back-doors by hackers or whatever. Deppy would know better.
Even so, what was there to gain? Scaring people to death? Spreading creepypasta? It’s not like it would help with sales, that’s for sure.
I was staring at the road, people getting on the bus, getting off, the same procedure, over and over. My destination was far away. I had decided to go to the temporary headquarters of Hermes, a big building in the Silicon Valley of Greece, in Gerakas. The town was under Penteli, a beautiful hill filled with antennas that kept getting torched by arsonists. For some reason years ago, a few tech companies had set up shop there seeking cheap office-space, managed to stay afloat and attracted new ones. Hermes, my dad’s job, was staying there until their skyscraper in downtown Athens was ready.
I was tapping the veil phone and biting my lip. I had to check it out for myself. This thing would mess up with my life if it went on. Prodromos might have been a religious nutjob, but her observations made sense in a way. It wasn’t her fault that this whole situation was crazy to begin with.
I checked my watch. Still had plenty of time.
I imagined what it would be like if I hadn’t, and Erinyes showed up for me in the middle of the crowded bus. What would I have done? Climb over people? Yell for the driver to stop? I’d look insane.
Two buses later I stepped off at Gerakas. The place was nice and green, the roads were freshly paved and a silly self-driving car that looked like a soap-bubble was zooming down the road. There were open spaces of unused land right next to beautiful modern office buildings. An international ad agency had a brick-red building with a cursive typeface logo on it, and some smaller computer security companies touted their sleek presence. It was a wild mix of country houses and big office spaces.
I hung my schoolbag on my shoulder and walked towards Hermes HQ.
“Mahi?” my dad said, coming to get me from the front desk security. He hugged me and looked into my eyes. “Everything OK? Weren’t you supposed to be at school?”
“Nai, one of the teachers was sick so they let us go early. I came to bring this to your department,” I said, showing my inactive veil phone.
“Alright. What about it?”
I shrugged and took on my most innocent face. “Dunno. Doesn’t work. Figured you’d wanna know.”
My dad took me past security and we went to the R&D department. On the way I put on a wide-eyed face on to cover up the attention I was giving to security measures. Father was swiping his card on every other door, cameras were staring down at us all the way, the security men were looking bored but capable, not like the public sector. I hadn’t decided yet if I was actually gonna help Prodromos, but I wanted to see what was happening here. As we walked, my dad was moving me along the way, opening doors and pointing down busy corridors.
We got to a computer lab that was a mess. It was the equivalent of a mad scientist’s lab, filled with computer parts, phones, testing devices, monitors, and I kid you not, a robotic arm that was welding one of those green electronic plaques with precision. It wasn’t one of those big ones they had in car factories, but a smaller one for petite electronics. It was bright orange.
We got close to a young man in his early thirties, and dad introduced us. “Dave, this is my daughter Mahi. Mahi, this is Dave, head of the R&D for the veil project.”
Dave stared at me for a second, obviously interested. He took my hand and kissed it lightly instead of shaking it. I smiled at him. He was the kind of geek who had confidence, not those socially-challenged ones. “Enchanted, my lady,” he said, with a slight bow.
“Dave is a Tolkien fan,” my dad explained.
Dave took my veil phone in his hands and said, “Oh, you are one of the beta-sneezers? Right, it suits you of course. Popular, young. Attractive.”
“Any more epithets and we are gonna have to sit down and discuss dowry young man,” my dad said in mock seriousness.
I slapped his shoulder and blushed. “Dad! Stop that!”
“Right,” my dad said and resumed business. “My daughter says it stopped working. Can we take a look?”
“Of course,” Dave said and got down to tearing the phone into pieces with a pair of thin screwdrivers. His motions were methodical, precise.
“Hey, I have to get back to my office. Mind if I leave my daughter here with you? She can tell you how she likes the phone or not,” my dad said, one foot already out the door.
“I will defend her with my life,” Dave said and brought his fist over his heart.
What. A. Nerd.
I smiled, brought a chair and sat next to him.
Dave opened the phone, examining it with some instruments. His gaze fell on me and went back into his work a thousand times per minute.
“What’s wrong with it?” I asked.
“We’ll see. Can’t see anything malfunctioning really.”
“It just stopped.”
“Yeah, it might be due to a manufacturing error in those early prototypes. We’ll sort it out before the major release. So tell me, did you play around with it? Did you like it?”
“Sure, its handy. My friend used most of the new features, she really liked it.” I took on an innocent tone of voice. “Sometimes,” I said and paused to drag his attention towards me, “Sometimes I can hear this buzzing in my ear, and like some sort of pressure on my eardrums.”
“Aha. Well, it’s not supposed to do that,” Dave said, and I studied his features. I couldn’t tell if he was lying or just horny. I wouldn’t pass any detective exam anytime soon. “It must be a prototype issue, I’ll send a memo.”
“Ugh huh. And the camera sometimes gets these smudgy glowy parts.”
“Smudgy glowy parts,” Dave repeated, deep in thought. He had pieced the phone back together and was pressing the power button. It started up just fine.
“Here, let me show you,” I said, grabbing the phone and putting my face next to his, propping the phone high for a selfie.
I half-hesitated, and then brought the phone closer for both of us to see the picture. I had taken a pose like all the other social-media selfie ladies out there, and he had just smiled and presented his good cheek to the camera. We kinda looked good together, to be honest.
And to my right, a hazy face. A smudgy glowy part.
My heart skipped a beat and I checked my watch. “See, here, it’s smudgy,” I said.
Dave cleared his throat and grabbed the phone from me, turning it off. “Yeah. Well, it might be from the prototype. Nevermind that,” he said and presented me with another. “Here, take this instead.”
I took it. I checked my watch again and stood up, losing my balance and falling over him. Dave propped me up and smiled at me.
“Thank you. I better go say hello to my dad and head back to school,” I said.
“School is important. Lemme know when you are done with school-” he cleared his throat. “-Lemme know if there’s any more problems,” he corrected.
I smiled and said, “Will do.”
Then I walked as fast as possible out of there, smiling innocently to security, trying not raise suspicions and not to stare at the countdown on my watch.
I was fidgeting with the security card in my pocket that I had swiped from Dave. Teenager or not, I wasn’t an idiot. I wouldn’t endanger my dad and his work for some crazy conspiracy nut who wanted to break in, no matter how spot on he seemed to be about most of this stuff. Family comes first. Prodromos had gotten in contact with me because she needed something from me, not because she was my friend. People on a crusade tend to get others in trouble. If I was gonna help get to the bottom of this, my father would not be involved. Besides, my dad was in the Marketing Department. His card accessing the R&D department late at night would raise suspicions, whereas a card from the R&D itself doing another sleepless night just before a major product launch would make more sense.
My phone chimed and I got a message from Prodromos. It read, “I’m going to the house of God, He will protect me. I suggest you do the same.”
I barely turned around the corner of the building when she appeared out the wall. Her nails passed right next to my face and I ducked to avoid her. I ran through the parking lot, hoping not to see anyone there. She came beside me, around the cars, her face puzzled, as if deciding on a car sale.
I looked around and saw the tip of a church. It was too far away but I ran towards it anyway. Along the way was a small park, women with little children having a stroll. I ran between them, narrowly avoiding one little boy with a bicycle. The Erinyes came behind me and stopped.
I stopped too.
My face was contorted in fear. A few of the mothers were watching me puzzled. The little boy was getting on his bike’s seat again and preparing to move away.
I bit my lip.
The boy was taking forever. The Erinyes leaned down to its level but her eyes were drilling deep into mine.
Her hand moved over the boy’s head, and her purple hair moved in a wave and engulfed it.
I lost my breath.
Like a wave crashing on the shore, her hair pulled in the boy and it was gone.
I screamed. Let him go! He’ll drown. Let him go!
The mothers moved in, one to protect her son from me, the other to pull her own back away. They were moving through thick water, too slow to do anything. Too slow.
The boy’s head managed to get out of the drowning hair for a second and I gasped in hope.
Then he was gone again.
Just like my little brother.
“I didn’t know Prodromos was a woman,” Deppy said, her high-pitched voice echoing in the church.
“I assumed it was a man at first, when I told you about his messages,” I said, sitting on the pews. My face was in a perfect bulldog impersonation, cheeks dripping on the sides.
“What do we do?” Billy said, rubbing the back of his head, towering over the body.
We were in a large church at another part of the city. Prodromos, her body, was lying under the cross in the middle section of the church. Her face was pale, contorted into a horrid mask of fear.
She was dead.
A few of the candleholders were knocked over. The carpet was ruffled in the end. Other than that, it was peaceful.
We had located the church with the help of Deppy. I had no clue of half the things she had said, but she had managed to locate Prodromos and lead us to the church. Were we’d found her dead. Right after an Erinyes attack, and right after her message saying God will protect her.
If that ain’t a kick in the guts, I don’t know what is.
“Nothing,” I said. “You don’t do nothing.” I leaned close to her body, tiptoeing and with the edges of my fingers went into her pocket. I winced. A bit of vomit was coming out. Being near a dead body makes your primal fears ding-dong in high alert. I fished out her car keys and passed them to Billy. “You two get out of here, I call in the police anonymously.”
“Are you sure?” Billy asked, taking the car keys.
“Yeah, before someone sees us. Wait for me three blocks down,” I said, and went around the back to find the priest.
“Where the hell are you guys?” I said on the phone, sweat dripping down my face, my hair a mess.
“I had a suspicion I was being followed,” Billy said and gave me new directions.
I sighed, leaned my head down and kept on walking in the summer heat.
I found the van and got in, putting the air-condition on ‘freeze me’. “Where’s your love interest,” I asked Billy who was in the driver’s seat. He stared at me with wide eyes and shook his head.
“What took you so long,” Deppy asked from the back of the van. I looked back through the hole in the van’s wall, and saw her on Prodromos’ computer, checking out her stuff.
“Look who fits right at home in the Scooby gang,” I said pointing at her. “I was giving a police statement, that’s what took so long.”
“What?” Billy yelped and pulled my face towards him. “Why did you do that?”
“I put on my scared little girl act, which isn’t really that hard, cause I’m a girl, and kinda little, and scared right now, and I brought the priest to see the body.”
“I’m still waiting for the reasonable answer to my question,” Billy said seriously.
“I told the police that I saw two men running away. And I gave the description of the two guys that were following us downtown,” I said calmly.
“OK. That’s… Kinda clever,” my tall friend said, gears spinning in his head. “I doubt that her death will show up as anything other than natural causes, or a heart attack, but this will help take those guys off our back. If only they weren’t so inconspicuous…”
I mouthed silently, pointing at Deppy. “What’s she doing?”
“She’s going through Prodromos’ research.”
“I’m going through Prodromos’ research,” Deppy said with her squeaky voice, tapping away at the keyboard.
I squeezed myself through the hole and went to the back of the van. I caught a glimpse of Billy checking out my ass, but then he gathered himself into the perfect gentleman again and stared straight forward.
I sat on the floor of the van and compared notes with Deppy.
“Well, what Prodromos told you was true.” Deppy waved a hand around. “Not the churchy stuff, the rest of it. I can see many cases of the same thing all over the city, these Erinyes appearing in photos, people acting strangely, persecution syndrome, the works. It has reached a cult-status online, I mean, sheesh, there are hundreds of discussions online about Erinyes and what they are.” She pursed her lips. “It’s a classic case of creepypasta, I expect a movie coming out about them in less than a year.”
I slammed my fist on the side of the door and yelled at her, “And how does that help me?”
She stood shocked, staring at my face.
I kept banging my fist on the metal, annotating every sentence. “And. How. Does. That. Keep. Me. Alive.” I sat back down and held my hand to my chest. It was hurting.
She managed a few words, “I’m, ah. I just looked into it, I need more time…”
“I measure my life,” I snarled, spitting out the words, “in a-hundred-and-nine minute parts. I can’t sleep properly, everything hurts, nobody can see this thing chasing me, and now,” I gulped. “And now, the only person who seemed to know anything about it is dead. Dead because the stupid kariola thought God would save her, so she just sat there and let Erinyes take her.”
The back of the van opened and Billy stepped in, bowing down to fit in and closing it behind him. He put his hand on my shoulder.
I sagged and cried in his arms.
Deppy sat next to me and hugged me.
“I’m sorry,” I sniffed.
“It’s OK,” Deppy said. “We’ll figure it out.”
I let it all out for a few minutes. Deppy gave me a paper tissue from her purse and I blew my nose into it.
“I look like a mess,” I said, holding my phone in reverse camera mode to turn it into an expensive complicated mirror.
“You always look great,” Billy said, and then bit his tongue.
I got out the van, from the normal door this time and went around to the passenger seat. Billy sat on the wheel and asked, “So, where to?”
I checked my watch. “Take me where you first kissed me,” I said, and got a raised eyebrow from Deppy.
She came out the concrete floor again, digging her way through. I was ready, I ran between the stacks of barrels and avoided her lunge.
As she followed, her nails scraped the barrels and threw out purple sparks. I knew that after, nothing would be there but if I’d let those sparks touch me I would hurt a lot.
I reached the end of the row and stopped, turning myself and standing on the spot.
Maybe I could just let her end this. Maybe that’s what it was, to end my life gasping for air, just like my little brother had died when we were little. When I was supposed to take care of him, when I was old enough to be left in charge of him. When I let him die in the flood.
The Erinyes came closer, but slowed down, even in her dreamy movement, and looked me in the eyes. Hers were gleaming. It was as if she knew what I was thinking, what I was feeling. Guilt. Guilt over my brother’s death.
Guilt because I was too vain, staring at my reflection in the mirror, to see that he had gone out for his bicycle.
The Erinyes came to my face, a mere centimetre away, smiling. I kept my eyes open and gulped. Maybe I deserved this. Maybe I should experience getting choked to death, a fate, I presumed, similar to drowning in water.
The Erinyes hair spread out and leaned closer to envelop me. I couldn’t bare it, I shut my eyes. One second, two seconds. Three seconds, I bolted out of there, ran like the wind, ran like my life depended on it.
“Well, this was interesting,” Deppy said deeply, in contrast to her normal cheerful tone.
“Trade ya any time,” I said.
“Nooo,” Deppy replied, expanding the ‘oo’ into a deep forced laugh.
“Okay Scooby gang, we have a van, we have a nerd, we don’t have a dog. What’s stopping us? Let’s plan this thing through,” I said in a coach tone of voice.
“You want to go through with Prodromos’ plan,” Billy said matter-of-factly.
I opened my palm towards Deppy. “Yes, as she said, everything Prodromos came up with is sound and factual. His own interpretation is the only thing that’s wobbly.”
“Well,” Deppy said showing us some schematics in the van’s monitors, “Here are the plans she wanted to use to get in. All she needed was an original access card to spoof the system, which we have now, and access to the R&D lab to download all the research data and internal emails. Hopefully, the answers lie there. They will require some digging afterwards.”
“Great,” I said slapping my hands. “What else do we need?”
“I’ll need to go in to get the data from the computer,” Deppy said hesitantly.
“No. I’m not putting you there, you’ve already done enough. I’ll go, you talk me through it,” I said firmly.
Deppy sighed with relief. “In that case, I’ll set up a USB drive to it all automatically. Should work fine.”
“Do that. Get it ready,” I said. “Billy, fill it up with gas, I’ll owe you. OK, we go in tonight. “I’ll need to show up at the police station for a follow up statement.” My head tilted down as I was reminded of the dead woman.
Billy frowned. “That was reckless Mahi. What if those policemen had kept you there for hours and your time was up? What would you do? Tell them, ‘Sorry officer, I gotta run a few laps around the building for a minute, cause I’m an Olympic athlete. Nevermind me looking like hell, running for my life from an unseen predator. It’s all good. Coming right up in two minutes, tops.’”
I squinted at him and put a finger on his chest. “Sarcasm is my domain, tall dark and nerdy. Besides, that was a good excuse you came up with, I might use that next time.”
I shushed him and looked at my watch, calculating intervals.
“We meet up at midnight at the park, OK? I’ll just be done with the latest attack, so we can skedaddle to Gerakas right away. Be on time,” I said firmly.
“Will you be OK till then,” Deppy asked worried.
“Shuuure,” I said so I could believe it myself. “Six measly attempts to choke me to death till then. I’ll be fine.”
I slid the side-door of the van open and jumped inside.
My eyes jumped from Billy to Deppy and back again. “Am I interrupting something?”
“Nope,” Billy said at the same time as Deppy’s “No, it’s fine,” anxious laugh.
I was in no mood for their stupid skata. I had spent all day lying to my parents, making excuses, running off to the little forest, getting chased by that sadistic Erinyes, going back, lying some more, resting for a few minutes, making more excuses, running again. It had taken its toll on me.
Physically, I was surprised to see that it was getting easier to handle as time went by. Emotionally, it was becoming too much to bear.
I stared at them both inside the dimly lit van, parked at the side of the little forest in the middle of the night. Billy was flushed and was trying to discreetly pull his pant leg in a hopeless attempt to hide his boner. Deppy was breathing heavily and her lips were shiny wet.
My eyes widened.
I threw my arms in the air. “Finally, you two!”
I went around to the passenger seat and put my seatbelt on, mumbling, “If I had a euro for every time I tried to get you two vlaka together, I’d be a gazillionaire.”
I looked back through the hole. They were just staring at me, speechless.
“We ain’t got all night! Come on, I’ll let you get back to it after we infiltrate a secure tech corporation.”
We parked in the back of Hermes Information Technology. Prodromos had already located a blind spot in the security cameras. To my surprise, Billy was straining and sweating over driving the big van but he was managing it. The traffic had been low, but it had been still there.
I wore dark loose clothes, but they attenuated my body lines nicely. Just cause you are a cat-burglar doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look good doing it.
Deppy gave me a headband with LEDs on it, and helped me put it on.
“What’s this? Doesn’t making me a beacon defeat the purpose of a stealthy approach?”
She made sure my hair was neat and the headband comfy, and then tested the lights. “Not in this day and age. These LEDs shine some visible light, but they are extremely bright in the infrared spectrum. It blinds the cameras, you are still there, but it’s like you have a flash constantly blowing the image over your head. Oh, here,” she said and turned on her phone’s camera on me. A superbright flare that was leaving blue vertical streaks was over my face, moving as I did. There was no way to see what I looked like.
I looked around the van and moved my head to see how much it would light the place. It wasn’t much, a person could see you of course, but if you were a few meters around the corner it wasn’t enough to give you away. “Huh. Nice. Did Prodromos make this?”
Deppy smiled a bit. “No, it was me. Her plan was to spoof the video feed. My plan is to leave everything running and trip no alarms. Our entry will get recorded, but if nobody gets suspicious and checks manually, they won’t even know we were there.”
I squinted at her. “You are taking to this life of industrial espionage like a duck to water.”
She exhaled, “It’s all up there on the internet, if you look for it.”
I checked my watch.
“Let’s do this or die trying,” I said.
“Let’s try not to die at all,” they both said in tandem.
I felt damn silly, going in.
Crouching low, in my cat-burglar suit, dim lights on my head. Other than the disabling of the cameras, we followed Prodromos’ original plan to the letter. A blind spot in the back of the building allowed me to get over the fence. I was hurting various parts of my body, but the constant running from the Erinyes attacks had the flip side of keeping me in shape, even though it’s been only a couple of days.
I saw a light from an office at the second floor. I didn’t mind, the building was large enough for someone to keep working there but never come near me. I already knew that the R&D lab was on the ground floor, somewhere on the other side, away from that deadline champion.
I was coming in from the opposite side, the main entrance was the other way, so I stopped and did some mental orientation and moved my hands around to spin the path I had on my head. Yeah, I went in, to the right, so it’s my left now, and then down the hall, left again…
I suck at this.
I decided I’d figure it out once inside. I moved low and ran the way through the open space at the back of the building. The human security was minimal, we knew the patrol times. I was near the building. It wasn’t that dark, the back ‘yard’ had some big lights that made you see well enough. I was counting more on intelligence than stealth.
Not my intelligence thank God, but that of Prodromos’ research and Deppy’s steps.
I followed them to the letter. Like a rehearsed dance move, I slid to the side, behind a trendy modern half-wall that served no real purpose, then crouched all the way to its end. I jumped as fast as I could to some bushes, and stayed in there for twelve seconds.
I had no clue why I was doing all that, but Deppy had already gone through this four times and I was getting bored. I just did as I was told.
A patrol drone, one of those quadcopters, whirred and buzzed down the wall. It flew in a specific path, pivoting its camera around slowly, making sure no one was there. Two seconds too late and it would have caught me. It made an annoying sound, as if you got a thousand bees in a balloon and shook it around. I could feel the blades cutting the air, a slow breeze below it as it hovered.
Apparently, my positioning wasn’t precise.
The drone went low at the bush level, and moved with its back towards me. I wasn’t worried about it seeing me, so much as I was worried it bumping into me. I stayed perfectly still, and the blades, too quick to see as anything other than a blur, came right next to my face. It came a palm’s width away from my eyes, slicing the air. I stayed still. Then it buzzed in a higher pitch and gained height, moving on with its patrol.
I hugged the wall and moved to my right. I went around the corner, my limbs flat on the smooth surface, me doing my best octopus impersonation.
I found the service entrance. I swiped the card I stole from Dave earlier, and the door opened with a gling. I peeked inside, dim lights, nobody around.
I closed the door and moved silently down the corridor.
The second corridor was going straight down to the security desk at the main entrance. I peeked around the corner and saw a security guard staring at monitors and sipping coffee. It was another guy, not the one from before. If he glanced at my direction, he could see me as I crossed the corridor to the next one. Especially with those damn silly lights on my head, a stray reflection could shine right into his eyes even without him turning towards me.
I checked my watch and saw that time was ticking away.
I took in a breath, covered my face with my sleeve and turned off the lights on my headband. I crossed the corridor in steady quick steps, one two three and hop. That was it. I made sure to get a bit further around the bend and then turned on my headband lights again, so I was free to move my arm.
Then I got lost.
To my defence, the place was like a maze.
OK, fine, not that much. I admit it. My sense of direction is horrible. I sent a message to Deppy and she gave me directions.
I found the R&D lab, swiped Dave’s card and went inside. It was quiet now, the two or three young guys I had seen working there earlier were absent, as expected.
I held my breath for a minute, checking around for any sounds. It was clear. I closed the door carefully and went inside. I tiptoed around the gear, making sure not to bump into anything. Stuff lay on the floor, leaning at the edge of tables, it was a burglar’s nightmare trap. I decided that caution makes haste so I carefully walked around to Dave’s desk. The robotic arm behind me was inactive, computer parts at its side. It was neatly folded into a slanted pose, just like those robots in assembly lines.
I sat down, pressed a key to wake up the computer and plugged Deppy’s USB drive. I tapped the few steps she had instructed me and I saw a progress bar filling up.
I pursed my lips and congratulated myself in silence. As I waited, I looked around the lab. Veil phone prototypes were laid out in various stages, either plugged in devices, taken apart or simply plugged in to charge. One of those was pink, my own. I didn’t care for that. The progress bar was filling up, but it was slow. I swirled around the office chair once, then did it the other way.
I stopped myself in horror. There was a whir of servos and the robotic arm came to life. The welder tool at its tip for electronic parts threw out a few sparks. With superhuman speed it reached me, aligned the tool with my forehead and welded a straight vertical line at one side of my face, burning my skin, my eyebrow, and my eye, and then finishing deeply into my cheek.
I fell on the floor hard. I managed to keep my scream of agony mostly contained, but a slight whimper came through.
The pain, the pain was manageable. I didn’t dare touch my face. I didn’t really want to know. I was shaking, tears in my eyes. Strangely, the right side of my face felt funny. Instead of the tear’s usual path at the side of my eye, an arc over my cheek and into the side of my mouth, this one fell straight down. My tear dropped on the floor, never reaching my lips. I hadn’t felt it brush my skin.
The orange robotic arm had taken it’s usual slanted relaxed pose over its base. Me, in shock, turned around to the computer monitor. There were a few minutes left still. I realised that I needed to lean my head to the right to see the monitor. I decided not to dwell on that too much.
My phone kept buzzing.
Messages were coming in one after another. My friends were telling me that someone was coming into the building, had parked and walked in.
I looked around, craning my neck to see with my left eye.
Deppy was sending me, “It’s the R&D guy, Dave. You need to leave now.”
I looked at the progress bar. It was seconds away.
Another text. “Billy will make a distraction in the front.”
I shook my head. “No. Stay put. I got this.”
The copy was finally complete and I pulled the USB drive without safely removing hardware. “Why yes, I do like to live dangerously,” I muttered and put the computer back to hibernation.
Male voices echoed on the glass walls, coming closer.
I looked around, picked up a sharp cutting tool for electronics. It looked like a scalpel.
I hid behind a stack of computers, the ones that come in closet size. Servers? Servers. I turned off my LED headband.
Dave came in his lab escorted by the security guy, chatting away. He fumbled through his desk and said to him, “No, not here either. Thanks man, I’ll call you when I need to leave. Must have dropped it from my wallet or something.”
The security guy said, “Anytime Mr. Andrews. Just make sure to declare it first thing in the morning.”
“Will do,” said Dave and sat down on his desk, cup of coffee in hand, ready for another all-nighter.
He sighed, and slapped a button to wake up his workspace.
Then he sniffed, and looked around. He checked the sole of his shoes, then stood up and sniffed behind him. He went to the robotic arm and leaned close to the welding tool, picking at it with his finger.
My burnt skin was on it.
He looked around, mumbling but alert.
I stepped out of my hiding place and stood in front of Dave.
“M-Mahi? Oh no. Oh no! What are you doing here? What have I done to your face?”
“You listen now, I know what you are doing here. There is that infrasound from the phones you are planning to ship out, that makes people see monsters. One of them is dead,” I snarled, feeling my skin pull at me.
Don’t touch your face.
I was keeping my sharp tool in plain sight and staring him in the eyes.
Dave blinked. “It’s not me doing it.”
“Then who is?”
He gulped. “I’m not really sure. I’ve seen the reports too, we were ordered to ignore them and move along like nothing happened.”
“Ignore what exactly?” I demanded and took a few steps towards him. His gaze fell down on my feet.
“It’s a testing ground.”
“You wanna kill all the clients? That’s a hell of a marketing idea!”
“No, these are just large-scale tests I think. My hypothesis is that when enough people learn about the myth of Erinyes, and believe in it, the phones will be able to activate the,” he fumbled for a word.
“The chase,” I offered.
“The chase, and disrupt any person at all, effectively destroying his life. Sometimes, it ends up in death by shock, heart failure.”
I leaned close to him and put the sharp edge to his neck. “I know about the effective destruction of one’s life,” I said and gritted my teeth at him.
He shivered. “Look, I know what you did. You got my data. It’s fine. I won’t tell anyone you broke in. I’ll even scrub the logs. I wanna help, I really do.”
“Why would you want to help me expose your own company?” I asked in disbelief.
“Because I know that this is wrong, on many levels. I can’t guarantee I’ll give you any more information in the future, but I’ll help you for now,” he said.
I was taking in his words, trying to figure out if he was telling the truth.
“Plus, I have a crush on you.”
I blinked. “What?”
“I-I have a crush on you,” he repeated.
“You don’t even know me!”
“I do. You are all your dad ever talks about. Here, check my phone. I got your selfies saved on it.”
He passed me his phone and I said wearily, “That’s creepy Dave.”
I swiped around, my photos were on his picture gallery.
“Yeah,” he let out a little laugh. “It is creepy. Would I admit to something like that if I wasn’t serious about letting you out of here? I’ll delete them, I swear.”
I waved his phone around. “So you won’t call security? You won’t tell my father? Or the police?”
“My lips are sealed my fair princess,” he said and locked his mouth with a gesture. His face turned sour then. “I’m terribly sorry about your face. I-I put that script but I didn’t…”
I raised a hand and interrupted him. I checked my watch.
“Stop it.” Then I gulped, and fought back my tears. I turned towards the door and stood in the frame.
“You can keep my photos,” I said, and left.
As I said, I took her place.
I adopted the nickname, took on her crusade. Though mine is a lot less churchy and a bit more… Active.
I’ve become a conspiracy nut, because I found myself inside a conspiracy. I left school, abandoned my home. My parents have gone crazy with worry. Police are after me, but I’m just another runaway teen.
There are people out there who are experiencing the same thing as me, their guilt, their personal furies taking form and chasing them non-stop. I have to help them. The mega-corporation Hermes is rolling out this new technology en-masse, a new state of living in the modern world that blends the virtual with the real, throwing a veil on top of everything.
Deppy is my hacker. We meet from time to time, and she gives me tricks and tools to avoid the authorities, or worse, the private sector security firms. I swear she gets a kick out of doing this hacking stuff. She has applied that heuristic thingy and pinpointed people who are or will be chased by Erinyes. I asked her to try and take down all the creepypasta online about Erinyes, in a futile attempt to limit the effect. But, as every censorship attempt in recent history has proven, it is impossible to make the internet shut up about something.
Billy also helps me out sometimes. He brings me his mom’s pita, the homemade pie I like. He has helped me contact some people and try to get them out of this Erinyes chase. They are together with Deppy now, and I’m happy about it.
I kept the van. The computer gear is pretty much beyond my capabilities, but I need to stay on the move. My life now comes in intervals of a-hundred-and-nine minutes. I eat, rest, work, all inside that timeframe. Then I run.
I never admire myself in the mirror anymore. My narcissistic tendencies, as Billy would call them, have gone for good. I have a deep straight scar at the right of my face, burnt skin around it and an eye that’s glossy. I never take a picture of myself anymore. My eye is better now, I can see some shapes.
Prodromos is dead. I checked. She had wiped herself from all records and had assumed fake identities. They were so intricate that Deppy showed me how to utilise them for myself. The young woman I met never told me her real name.
I took her place. I’m Prodromos. But for now, I gotta run. My Erinyes are after me.
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