He returned many times; his love of words and her desire to learn them fabricating a friendship neither expected. Occasionally they discussed their worlds but both were content to escape from them and dive into one of their own design.
“You know,” he said, sprawling on the plush lounge, her feet resting on his lap, “you never told me who Mr Baird is or why he comes; aside from bringing supplies.”
“I love your voice. Now that it’s not correcting my grammar and my lack of using intriguing words, that deep huskiness really gets to me.”
“Come now Z, do not think I am so easily fooled. Answer me or I shall never leave and asked Mr Baird next time he comes to visit.”
“Oh My God, you’re such a jerk sometimes. When you’re here I don’t have to think about him, you’re an escape from that stuff. Now you want to know? Mr Baird is the asshole who runs this country. The Baird’s have ruled since the start of this century. Mr Baird’s ancestor sold all the electricity to private companies, became super rich and bought out the government. His son took over and, well yeah. They’re in control, totally stuffed up society and now the people they claimed to care for are suffering. His business with me, however, is none of your concern.”
He held his hands up as if in defeat, smirking at her defensive tone.
“Don’t worry, I won’t pry. As much as I would like to know, I know that you’re too god-damned obstinate to tell me anything if you do not wish to.”
Humour lit up her eyes, “You really are a dick.”
“Yet, you still love me.” He reached out to stroke her long white leg.
The instantaneous detached look that dulled her previously lustrous eyes terminated his laugh. She jerked her knees up to her chest, trembling.
“Don’t you dare touch me.”
“Oh, um, I think I’ll go now. That’s alright Zella? I have to get back before it’s too late anyway.”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s fine,” she said impassively. “See you next time.”
As the door clicked shut behind him and he headed off down the alley he released a frustrated sigh, “You’re an idiot Rhyn. Ugh!”
He kicked at a puddle, the semi-congealed liquid coating his boots and smearing the base of his pant leg.
“That you are Rhyn,” a deep voice resonated from the shadows behind him. A man stood grinning, leaning against the oleaginous wall of the tower.
“Nice to finally meet you Rhyn, my name is Arlo Baird and I was very impressed. But now you’re getting boring and how I loathe the tedious. Come now. Let’s go have a little chat with Zella. I’m sure she would be so pleased for us all to be together, one big happy family.”
Rhyn scoffed, “Screw you Baird, you’ve caused enough grievance to this place, you have no power over me.”
“Tsk, tsk. You really are boring. You disappoint me Rhyn. You see, I have total power over your darling Zella. You have two options boy, come with me or leave and never see Zella again. Well, at least not when she’s breathing.”
“You sadistic son-of-bitch.”
“Please Rhyn, if you’re going to insult me be original.”
With that he held out his hand, his black, beady eyes; cavernous pits divulging his inimical nature. His figure, silhouetted in the light morphed into that of a disfigured creature as his sing-song voice filled the alley.
“Zella, Zella, let down your glorious hair for me.
“This is wonderful, truly. Oh, your faces are just divine. Surely you knew that this charade could not continue. Now Rhyn, take off your mask as I ordered and replace it with this one.” In his hand he held a rusted mask with a few spidery cracks marring its surface.
“But Mr Baird, he will die.” Zella reached out a hand to Rhyn but quickly retreated from Baird’s glower.
“That’s what people DO!” he roared. “However, you will die right now if he does not comply, whereas, I’m sure he will last a few months.”
“Why, Mr Baird?” He wrenched the mask from the man’s hands.
“Because I don’t like little boys playing with my toys.” He twirled a strand of Zella’s hair between his spindly fingers before tugging her towards him. “Run away now child, you’ve wasted enough of my time.”
The last he saw of Zella as the doors closed and he was carried away was her tear streaked face as Baird swept a lock of her hair under his nose, and inhaled.
He’d stopped relying on sight. Gloves negated his sense of touch. The varying rancidity of the city was of little use. His ears were always alert. Pain was constant. His lungs stung with every wracked breath. Blood was all he tasted. No food stayed in his stomach. The build up of peeled skin was a nuisance, one that he had become accustomed to. He didn’t know how long he had been dragging himself through the slums. Days passed as he slumped against a wall seeking an energy he knew was all but depleted.
He was struggling to lift his head from its slumped position on his chest when he heard a voice. Her voice was muffled and only a small part of him registered that it was her.
“I’ve been looking for you for weeks.”
He felt his mask being removed and a cool liquid slipping down his inflamed throat.
“It’s a cure. It’s why Mr Baird never wore a suit. It should make you better.”
The cold seeped into his body, soothing the ulcers in his stomach and calming the burning beneath his skin.
“How?” He rasped, his swollen tongue struggling to move.
“Anything for you Rhyn.”
He thought he may have smiled but his mind was preoccupied as the agony that coursed through his body started to ebb.
“Thanks Z,” he murmured, her cool hand resting on his cheek.
“I’m gonna butcher that bastard. And then Rhyn, I’m gonna burn this city to the freaking ground.”