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A Friend for Dinner


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Atticus Hammond

There’s an immediate relief to Atticus’s expression as she slides the drink in his direction – and it’s in an unseemly fashion that the contents of the Hurricane – poured with a heavy hand, apparently – slide down his throat. He seems unaffected by the fashioned drink, only adding to the curiosity of his proposed wellness. He’s only half-listening to her, so much of his strength gone after their initial greeting. He lets out a guffaw of humility at her remark on the stool’s infrastructure, trying not to take note of the way she flinched. There’s a flick of remorse now, as he gauges her post-traumatic emotions. She’s kind and friendly enough that he cares how he could have affected her.

But there’s no time for that, now. She wants to play ball. Normally, he wouldn’t accept such an offer, but comfort is his operative mission, aside from new-found knowledge of his condition. “I’m far better than I appear. Just a bit more energy exerted to get around than normal.” The lie passed through gritted teeth as he slipped from the stool to stand up, teetering for a step or two before his center of gravity returned to him. He’s a stubborn man, and will never admit that he’s quite possibly on the verge of throwing up or passing out.

I’ll allow you the option – for me to record by hand, or for you to dictate to my recorder. Either way is suitable to me, I promise I won’t go falling asleep mid-sentence. I leave that for writers like Faulkner or Steinbeck.” The joke is a soft attempt to retract from his own illness, and that he very well could pass out. “And, so long as it does not appear uncomely, we can retire to your private quarters for this.” As if he can feel his mother tugging on his ear, Atticus makes the remark to assure, despite the fact that he’d once tried to eat her face, Atticus Hammond is a gentleman, through and through.

Steadying his hands, he reclaims his satchel from the ground and slings it over his shoulder – notably leaning towards the added weight. He wipes the back of his left hand across his forehead, whisking away the slight wall of perspiration from it and wiping it onto the front of his jeans. “I brought a few grimoires as well. Don’t worry, I don’t intend to turn you into a ghoul. But the spells and studies bound within the leather might be able to help you understand what I am more than I can articulate. Or, rather, by what you witnessed.”

In truth, Atticus wants to test her. To see what she can handle, if she can truly grasp and comprehend all that he throws at her. Like Camille, like Samantha, he has to be sure Theodora can understand all that Atticus has to offer. He is a font of knowledge, able to spew random, rare and obscure factoids about ancient civilizations and archaic cults and supernatural superstitions, but for the life of him couldn’t tell you who the current Secretary of State is, or what the impact of Brexit would have on the world economy.

He’s a rarity, or, more accurately, an oddity. But not once in his life has he been faced with an opinion he wished to turn favorably. Atticus has led a rather isolated lifestyle by choice – but is always happy to share in shop-talk if someone is willing. And the same circles get tiresome, boring. Theodora is fresh-blood, and further still, has valuable information to offer to him.

Just promise you won’t chop me up and eat me.” He scoffs, but… He isn’t far off, is he?

December 10, 2017 11:37 pm

Theodora Hawthorne

There’s a touch of concern upon her face as she watches him rise from his seat, certain that he would drop as soon as his feet hit the floor. Thankfully, he was able to steady himself after a moment and assured her that he would be just fine. It didn’t take a genius to realize that he was far worse off than he claimed, and given how he’d downed the hurricane - which she’d poured generously - he was in a fair amount of pain.

He was stubborn, and would not be swayed from hearing the recounting of their memorable evening together.

Wary despite his assurances, Theo made sure to grab a handle of rum and a couple of glasses to take upstairs with them. He wasn’t the only one in need of a stiff drink, especially for this conversation.

“I guess the recorder would work best. At least for ease of conversation. I don’t mind if you make notes, though.” They both started toward the stairs at the back of the establishment, and Theo scoffed amusedly at a remark of his.

“Oh, this is absolutely scandalous, I assure you. My staff will be whispering behind my back for weeks, and my marriage prospects will flee!” She gave Atticus a sly side-eye, amused by his manners.

Really, her virtue was the last thing she was worried about. Her soul, if there were such a thing, was thrice-damned already.

She expressed an interest in the grimoires that weighed down his bag, pleasantly surprised by his eagerness to share information with her.

“Just promise you won’t chop me up and eat me.”

He was joking, and although her amusement darkened momentarily, her returning remark was jovial. “Only if you bore me.”

Nearly half of the upstairs space was taken by a storage room, but the other half was inhabited by Theo. Her apartment was small - a studio, with a nook of a kitchen, a small living space that bled into her dining space, and at the far end of the studio was her bed, sectioned off from the rest of the area by heavy curtains that were not currently closed. It was clean and tidy, although there was a fair amount of clutter. Books took up much of the available storage spaces, including a shelf unit under her bed and beneath the end tables that bookended her couch. She didn’t have quite enough wall space for a big enough bookshelf, so she’d stacked a fair few piles next to the smallish one she had.

Her floors were the same dark wood that laid across the floor downstairs, though markedly less worn out, and her walls were also bared brick. Across the floor in front of her couch was a large hand woven rug of Native American design, geometrically patterned in bright red, black, and earth tones. As the duo entered the small space, the subtle scent of sage would greet them.

Theo gestured toward her couch, “Go sit down before you fall down.”

She followed him to the living space, and set the handle of rum and the glasses upon the coffee table in front of the couch. Sitting down, she poured each of them a generous amount and settled back as he found and set up his recorder.

“Well… where to start.” Though her amber eyes were on him, they had grown distant as she returned to that concrete back lot where they had met.

Atticus was met with a sturdy wall of silence as she considered her words carefully.

Just how frank was she going to be?

This meeting with Atticus was a beautiful opportunity. She couldn’t squander it. The best thing she could do was to greet his forthrightness with honesty, and hope for the best.

Theo took a long sip of the dark liquid in her glass.

“I suppose it all started when I killed Justin.”

Sh*t, was his name Justin? Or was it Josh… no, Joey. Or..
January 04, 2018 01:12 pm

Atticus Hammond

His ascension of the stairs does not come without great pause and difficulty – but if they trouble him, he doesn’t let on in words. His expression, since having entered her establishment has been strained to some degree, and his current grimace is no great difference. “I’m not going to fall.” He protests, his belabored swagger carrying him just to the edge of the sofa before he practically collapses into it.

“Much more spacious than my abode.” He notes, gray eyes scanning her nook of an apartment idly. “Of course, I have an airstream. Not much room for guests.” An idle smile hangs on parched lips, his clammy hands already moving to accept the generous pour of rum. Never mind that the alcohol was doing nothing more than dehydrating him – he was beginning to feel blissfully numb to his fatigue and pain. He shifts a bit – placing the half-empty glass of rum back onto coffee table. Or is it half-full?

He clicks his tongue against the roof of his mouth, amused by his mental musings. In a slow-going manner, he brandishes the recorder and inserts a new tape, setting the now-recording device onto the table beside the jug of rum. His tremulous hands then settle his notebook into his lap – the leather binding weathered with age and use. In his left hand, a pencil. Rather than speak, he simply gives her a nod.

And her first sentence does not disappoint. He lets out a hacking cough, which immediately transitions into a laugh. But just as soon as he’s started, he falls completely silent, perhaps picking up something in her tone and body language. She isn’t joking.

And why, exactly, did you kill Justin?” He’s aware, to some degree, he’s safe from harm. There are witnesses to his presence in this apartment, of that he’s certain. And Atticus Hammond is by no means afeard of death. “And by what method did you take his life?” Gray eyes slide shut as he briefly recounts the barrage of stab wounds across his flesh. Is this woman a sociopath? A cold-blooded killer, and he had simply interrupted her predations?

As always, questions and queries of possibilities swirl in his mind. “And why did you choose to kill him in such a relatively public setting?” He’s quickly unraveling from his original purpose. His interest is piqued, and there’s no denying it. “Do you normally operate in such reckless ways, Ms. Hawthorne?” He tilts his head, pencil now resting in the crevice of his opened journal, attentions instead focused solely upon her.

Atticus has killed before. Often in self-defense, but other scenarios… He has excused his actions by taking them in the name of science. Cadavers of all manners are required when dabbling in the darkest arts of necromancy. He has even cultured his own blood in an attempt to raise the dead – with only minimal successes. The ‘curse’ coursing through his veins feeds upon biological matter, yes, but thrives and multiplies in living tissue until, like a parasite, it controls all impulses and actions.

His gaze does not drift from her person as he leans back over – with all due difficulty – and switches off the recorder. For now, he will allow this to be a privileged conversation.  

January 05, 2018 11:21 am

Theodora Hawthorne

To his credit as a scholar, there is only a momentary pause as he reconciles her claim with his image of her. There was no flash of fear in his eyes, no recoil. There was a moment of disbelief, but he quickly realized that she wasn’t pulling his leg. Then, his curiosity bubbled up from him in the form of a barrage of questions.

He really was a foolish man. His fearlessness was admirable, maybe even attractive, but she was certain it would kill him one day. But not today - he had nothing to fear from her. Except perhaps a massive hangover.

She clutched the glass tumbler in both hands as she tried to form the words in her mind to answer his questions, surprised by a wave of sudden reticence. She’d never spoken of this to anyone besides her grandmother, and she’d been dead for years. Theo had carefully crafted layers of armor to protect who she really was, and answering Atticus’ questions was proving to be a surprisingly difficult task.

Maybe she had deluded herself into thinking that he was just going to run for the hills as soon as she revealed her nature. This was not the case.

A mechanical click brought her out of her brain freeze. He had turned his recorder off, and his pencil lay in the crease of his journal, forgotten.

She didn’t know why, but it helped.

She brought the rim of her glass to her lips and took a steadying sip.

Why are you so nervous? Jesus, calm down. This is what you wanted.

“I killed him because I was-..” She paused, feeling as though her answers would only lead to more questions. Perhaps, she thought, prefacing her answers with an explanation would be better.

“Sorry. This is a little harder than I thought.” Her brows cinched together slightly, and she decided to answer his question with a question.

“...have you ever heard about the Navajo Skinwalker legend?”

She paused momentarily, but was met with silence. Shifting in her seat slightly, she continued. “It’s a Native American myth about a being with terrible power who can transform into creatures by wearing their pelts. The legend is that they do this purely to cause pain and suffering for others, and because of this it was taboo for anyone in the tribe to wear any animal skins apart from buckskin or sheepskin.”

She lifted a hand to secure a wayward strand of hair behind her ear, though it seemed like more of a self-comforting gesture. “Well. The legend isn’t necessarily wrong about the Skinwalker’s purpose of causing suffering. It just doesn’t explain why. Skinwalkers are cannibals. They can’t survive without killing other people. I can’t survive without it.”
January 05, 2018 12:39 pm

Atticus Hammond

He senses her reasoning on the tip of her tongue – his body physically leaning in with the suspense, but then she falters. He lifts a brow, shifting so that he is now perched at the edge of the sofa. He doesn’t interrupt to offer sympathy, nor to encourage her. Perhaps he is simply paralyzed by his own curiosity.

Theodora Hawthorne is a Navajo Skinwalker. Of all of his unnecessary knowledge of mythology and lore, tales of this Native American monster account for only footnotes. He’s silent as she continues on, happy to allow her first-hand recount of what her life is.

Maybe she’s absolutely crazy, and having a go at him. She could very well be pulling his leg. She could also believe she’s being entirely serious, and it just an absolute basket case. But in this instance, he believes her.

How long can you go without killing?” He assumes, of course, she has tested the limits of her theory. He senses a deep intellect with her, a same philosophical curiosity for the unknown. It’s this that had driven him to share his studies and openly discuss his nature. In some ***** sense, he sensed a kindred spirit with her.

Were you born this way, or was it by some stroke of misfortune? Or fortune, had you sought it willingly…” He squints, notebook sliding off of his lap and falling completely shut. He is, in this moment, wholly focused on the discussion. He reaches for his glass, the dark liquid racing past parched lips as he considers all she has just revealed with a calmness. “Do you know others like you? Perhaps, is it hereditary?”

I must admit, my knowledge of skinwalkers is extremely limited. As I’m sure you know… It’s as if my only possibility of encountering one would be if they fell out of the sky. And… Here you are.” He offers a surprisingly warm smile. Atticus is bizarre, yes. But he has never shied from the truth in any scenario, and this would be no different.

I would offer solace in saying that perhaps you and I are not so different… But I would hope not to assault or offend your sensibilities in suggesting such a thing.” If her soul is thrice-damned, Atticus simply no longer possesses his. In the least, his soul is splintered, fragmented by the embodiment of true evil within his body.

He replaces the now empty glass upon the table, a soft sigh of strain passing through his lips as he lifts the jug and refills his glass, taking the time to top hers off as well. “Would you change it, Ms. Hawthorne? Would you sacrifice the power it provides if it meant living a normal life?” It’s the question he asks himself most often.

The same conclusion is met every time.  

January 05, 2018 01:40 pm

Theodora Hawthorne

Theo had openly admitted to him that she had not only killed a man, but also that she was a cannibal… and a shapeshifter. She had never divulged this to anyone that she wasn’t about to kill before, and she was quite frankly flabbergasted that this meeting hadn’t taken a nasty turn. Of course, her audience wasn’t your average Joe. He had his own skeletons hidden away in his closet, and seemed to be practically humming with the excitement of discovering her and her wicked ways.

He was quite possibly the strangest man she’d ever met.

Theo was obviously thrown off-kilter by his undisguised interest, but was also encouraged by the response. She tried to answer his questions as openly as she could.

“I can go for a couple of weeks without having to kill… it all really just depends on the size of the… victim.” She’d never referred to her kills in conversation before, and had faltered upon finding a word to describe them. “If they’re bigger, they last me for a couple of weeks, but the bigger they are, the harder they are to kill. If I don’t do it right, I could be hurt instead. Normally, I’ll…” She let out a soft huff of disbelief at what she was divulging. “I’ll cut them up and store the pieces in a freezer. Use them as I require.”

She suddenly felt like she needed a cigarette.

“I was born this way, actually… the curse has been passed down from mother to daughter for… actually, I’m not even sure how many generations back, now. I’ve never met anyone outside of my family like us. Maybe…” She lightly shrugged a shoulder. “Maybe the legend stems from us.”

That would be extremely unfortunate, were that the case. The whole reason she was divulging this information to him was to find out if he could locate others like her. Others that could help her.

“The story goes - and I’m not sure how much of it has been embellished - that the beginning of this curse was with an ancestor of mine that sought power. She allegedly bargained the power from the devil by promising him the next born male in her line. So far… no males. All the children after the bargain have been girls.”

She took a long sip from her glass.

“I’ve noticed, from the stories I was told, that the women in my bloodline have gotten progressively more ravenous. Each generation has had to kill more to survive. I even heard that my great-great-great grandmother could eat actual food without getting sick. I think this…degradation is because the devil hasn’t gotten his due.”

Theo leaned over to set her glass upon the coffee table, fixing her amber eyes upon Atticus. “That’s really the main reason I wanted to stay in contact with you. When I realized what you do, I’d hoped that you would know of others like me. Or, at the least, possibly know of some way to help me without having to pop out babies until I have a boy… if that story is even true.”

Even if it was, Theo had no intention of having children. Her choices were to have a girl, and have that child grow up to be like her, or have a boy, and have that child quite possibly taken from her. She would rather just be the last one, given the choice.

He admitted that he knew little about Skinwalkers, to which she nodded solemnly, eyes casting downward as that tenuous hope dwindled.

“I would offer solace in saying that perhaps you and I are not so different… But I would hope not to assault or offend your sensibilities in suggesting such a thing.”

This pulled a soft chuckle from her. “I’m not offended. Actually, our similarities are what stopped me from killing you. At the end, when I’d gotten you off of me, you started to come back from it, and your eyes changed. It just... stopped me. Afterward, when I was trying to piece through what the fvck had happened, it occurred to me that we were really very similar. We’re both monsters. You just happen to look like one now and then.”

She muttered a word of thanks as he topped off her glass, eyes raising as he posed a difficult question to her.

“Would you change it, Ms. Hawthorne? Would you sacrifice the power it provides if it meant living a normal life?”

It was a tough question, and one that seemed important to him. She was silent as she considered it, something she had admittedly done before. Turning her glass slowly in her hands, she began, haltingly. “I think… if I didn’t feel as though it were beginning to control me, rather than the opposite, I wouldn’t dream of sacrificing what I have. The cost is having to kill, to take life. But the things I can do…” She smiled at him for a moment, but it faltered. “But as it is, I’ve started to lose my grip. When I get hungry, it’s hard to think. I’ve gotten reckless, and… I’m pretty positive it’s going to kill me. Soon.”
March 31, 2018 02:11 pm

Atticus Hammond

The last thing one needs in a room full of cannibals is to be subversive.” Atticus chuckles, heartier than he could really manage, the strain of his own personal amusement showing in the apparent weakness of his tilted frame. “Nevertheless… I’m happy to be amongst whatever God forsaken kindred we are to one another.” His patience and persistence despite his failing physical faculties tells of his true duty to knowledge at all costs.

I will lend my brain to you, Ms. Hawthorne, if you’d find it useful. Research is my forte, after all. After all, what I don’t know now, I’ll simply learn.” He fidgets with the glass in his hand, her many questions swirling around in his mind – the wheels clearly turning. “I have contacts, others who dabble in cryptozoology the same way that I do. Not as bright as me, I assure you… But they’ll be useful, I’m sure of it.” His lips stretch in a tight smile, unable to continually offer the previously calm and reassuring expressions he normally would.

I was worried, initially, whatever humanity left within me would wither. And initially, it did. I was fully committed to the form you’d witnessed – that bestial, unholy and mindless creature. As it was nothing godly that committed me to that damnation, I assure you it was by no means of the Lord that my soul was preserved.” He pauses, gray eyes squinting. “Understand when I speak of a soul it is in the abject, comparable of a soul to a conscious. But as I believe in what you and I are… I believe in a more complex form of what many religions worship. It’s more practical to start by believing in everything… And then narrowing it down.”

Now Atticus comes to a full stop, catching his breath from the rather long-winded explanations. But at full rest, dulling his senses with rum, some of his personality was returning. “Which is why I believe, quite sincerely, whatever the true origin of your ‘curse’, as it were, is discoverable. I believe that even if I cannot solve it, I might offer to you an explanation of your lifestyle.”

Atticus doesn’t yet have the benefit of his daughter to understand the magnitude of cursing a child, or quite literally offering another up as sacrifice. He doesn’t yet comprehend how possessive that love is, nor how it must feel to burden your offspring with such a curse. But to let it end with your own life, while tragic, must certainly feel noble.

Still, he is determined to preserve her life. If not solely to quell his sickening curiosity, but to pursue all that ails him. “I suppose it is due to offer that I am a rather reckless worker. That is, after all, how all of this came about.” In a body riddled with scars, even the ones Theodora has delivered, only one mark really speaks to his trauma. He tugs on the collar of his shirt, revealing the mangled, healed over remnants of a scar – jagged teeth having sunken into supple flesh straight across his carotid. “An ancient Germanic tribe of necromancers, those who too must feast upon flesh in order to survive. I’m certain I could trade what research I’ve performed in response to a few useful leads.”

He doesn’t really comprehend what he’s even offering to her. To trade priceless research is ordinarily unthinkable. But as quick-witted as the man is, he knows what a gamble it is, and the sort of fruit it may yet bear. “I think, Ms. Hawthorne, we will discover together, once and for all, the truth of your circumstance. I cannot promise it will be simple, nor safe. They could quite possibly lock the two of us in a cellar for observation and research. I’d say the likelihood of that is about fifty-fifty…” His colleagues, similar to Atticus, worked purely for personal motives. And like any good scientist, could separate their humanity from the work. The ethics of locking two arguable monsters up to experiment upon them? The lines were gray.

But if the information is worth to you what I think it may be, then I presume you’ve already reached the same conclusion as me.” He then polishes off his class of rum, turning it over upon the coffee table to signify he was finished. “I’ll need some time, clearly. I’m not quite in fighting form…” He lets out a short huff, knowing he’ll have plenty of explaining to do to Camille once he returned home. Regardless of the scolding, he looked forward to the respite. And the time required to tap into his networks isn’t easily predicted.

Do we have a deal?”

March 31, 2018 03:01 pm
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