The Long Walk

(Apprx. 8 mins read)

by Kilmo

The storm’s outriders had brought snow to the sleeping town and flakes caught in the clothes of the girl with the pale face of a geisha from a samurai’s dream. As she walked down one of the icy streets the lamps flickered, and Comfort brushed hair from eyes whose shadows had worked their way beneath her skin.

The last roof she’d had to run from had proved as fragile as all the rest. She rubbed at the scarlet smeared on her cheek; and frowned. She needed to come up with another if she wanted somewhere to stay. The problem was she was finding it hard to care: her stash made her feel like a balloon only held to the world by the feeblest of strings. But it wasn’t very good for the business of survival. Who wanted reality in your life when you could felt as light and empty as air?

As the last of the bulbs winked out of life and her surroundings plunged into darkness she decided to try a man. There were all sorts in town: one of them was bound to have what she needed. But she’d barely gotten close when the bald priest with a smile that looked like it had been stuck on with tape cornered her. He was passing out leaflets to the huddles in the doorways, and at first she thought he had a speech impediment. Comfort watched his mouth open and shut on words that sounded mushy and sweet like he had marshmallows where his teeth should be. He must not realise what he was wearing she decided as she looked at the collar round his neck. Maybe he thought it really was just the cloth it was pretending to be, but she knew better. A slave was still a slave whichever way you sliced it.

Still, she listened despite herself. He wanted her to come to the house where his god lived, except it wasn’t just his house. It was his pal Jesus’ too.

‘ … I am the way and the truth and the life.

She examined his face. The man looked deluded if you asked her, all earnest eyes and plump skin, like he just knew the world would work out well if we did what his god wanted. Which, apparently, was what we were all doing anyway. Comfort struggled with that idea. What she got up to had nothing to do with truth, or life.

She could see what he couldn’t though: soon his secrets would catch up with him. There was no hiding from what he did when no one was looking, not even Jesus.

‘Accept him and you will be saved.’

Comfort laughed, as if the action could stop that hollow feeling deep inside. She’d heard similar offers before, and there was always something else waiting on the end of them like a hook concealed in a piece of bait. The priest was still talking only now it was about Jesus and how he would make her feel too: full, and loved, and like she had the best friend in the whole world. Comfort’s smile got broader; or at least its lips did. She didn’t have friends like that for a reason.

She decided the best thing she could do was tell him a little of her story. It might be interesting to see what his promises would be then. But Comfort had hardly begun before he started using words she remembered from childhood. For a moment she thought he was trying to scare her: which was a very stupid idea. She travelled through life as impassive as a mirror with eyes that never gave her away. Her voice could have charmed the skin off a snake, and she could cry tears like a crocodile, and laugh like a hyena. Although no one ever got closer than miles. But the most dangerous thing about Comfort was what she kept at the bottom of her mind. At least like a dog gnawing on a bone it was loyal.

‘Sin,’ and ‘repentance,’ and ‘evil.’ featured quite a lot in the Priest’s diatribe. Comfort paid plenty of attention as more lies tumbled from his mouth.

Father Conscience’s fingers scrabbled at the lock of his church as sweat dripped from his brow. He was desperate to get something between him and the girl he’d just met.

‘God in heaven what was that?’

He dropped to his knees and raised his eyes beseechingly.

‘That wasn’t a girl. I don’t know what it was.’ Father Conscience stared at the finger on the cross. ‘It can’t have been a girl.’

In his whole life he was beginning to think trying to talk to the void wearing human skin was the worst mistake he’d made. He hadn’t seen monsters like hers since he’d followed his religion to Africa and witnessed what happened when they got in people’s heads.

‘Almighty help me.’

But where the good book’s words had once plugged the guilt in him now all they did was vanish behind his eyes. Only the lives that passed across his doorstep provided any distraction. All those problems with their different faces he could feel superior to, it was a shame he’d listened to hers. Although he doubted there were many who would have known what she was talking about, except social workers, and people you crossed the street to avoid.

A knock echoed between the walls.

‘Let me in Father,’ said Comfort’s voice, distant and faint.

‘Go away; you’re not welcome here.’

‘But you said everyone was Father Conscience. You said it like you and Jesus where my friends.’

There was a muffled sound and Father Conscience watched ice crawl across the transept’s hinges.

‘Well. I’m here now,’ said Comfort stepping through the doors as they swung wide, ‘I’m so cold. Can’t you help me?’

Comfort locked her eyes on him, and Father Conscience felt every prayer in his head begin to clamour. He brought his Bible up to shield his face in case she looked up and saw the truth hidden there.

Comfort had headed into town again after she’d let what she kept in her mind out. She was pretty sure there was no forgiveness for his kind, and certainly looking at him squirm in a pool of his own blood she felt anything but pity. So, she’d done the next best thing and shown him how to end his problems. As she left the man with her stash she made sure he wouldn’t take too long and mimicked making a call with her forefinger and thumb. She doubted there were many that could handle living life as a eunuch.

For a while she amused herself finding strangers to spit pages of the good book at. But she moved around too much to allow her to get really stuck in, wearing holes in her feet as she tried to see where the problem lay.

But most of the time it was easy just to let what she did go on like nails exchanged for something forgotten so long ago she could barely remember its name.

Eventually she met the man with skin the colour of ten-day old meat who said his name was Mr Bilious.

‘Hallo baby doll.’

He was cramming fried chicken into his mouth when she saw him, and the words came out something like: ‘Hmmmmph blllll mmmf.’ But it was better than the usual insults, and there was something soft and greasy about them that felt kind of warm and nice. She let the words wrap round her as he stared at her with black eyes that never moved.

‘You look cold. You should try eating more,’ said Mr Bilious.

She examined the idea carefully. Of course she was cold, she was always cold.

Comfort nodded.

‘Ok.’

Mr Bilious rummaged in his jacket and produced a package the colour of a resplendent sun before handing it to her.

He must have been some time in its preparation because it was all neatly folded and wrapped: inside was a bowl.

When Mr Bilious smiled his teeth were full of gold and Comfort began to get excited. Whatever he was eating she wanted plenty of it. If it could fill a man as large as him she was definitely game for a try.

‘You see those?’ said Mr Bilious.

She followed where he was pointing. The road was nearby and the lights of the cars shooting down it flickered and flashed like dice.

‘Yeah.’

‘Stop one.’

Comfort stuck her thumb out. She was a born free spirit, and she’d already been up and down the country more times than she could remember. The first vehicle that pulled over was driven by a woman with a tartan skirt and blonde hair bobbed to perfection. She rolled down the window a fraction so she could be heard through the gap.

‘Hallo, sweetie. Where are you going?’ said the woman.

‘Far away from here, please.’

Comfort made sure to keep her eyes lowered because she didn’t want her to see what was really in them. The woman laughed and her blonde hair bounced as she wound the window down all the way.

‘I admire your spirit girl. Hop in, we’ll go anywhere you like.’

Comfort got in slowly, and carefully. She didn’t want the bowl in her pocket to chink.

But the car didn’t get very far before it rolled to a halt; and Mr Bilious watched as the springs went up and down ten to the dozen.

He smiled carefully to himself. He’d been right then. You got to know the type after a while in his business.

When Comfort got out, there was blood on her lips, and her arms were wet to the elbows. She crossed the street and gave him the parcel she was carrying with a little curtsey.

‘You feel any better after that?’ said Mr Bilious.

Comfort felt the thing she kept in the bottom of her mind growl a little when he said that. But she kept it out of her eyes before answering.

‘I want more,’ said the girl.

‘Of course, but you’ll have to do it on your own initiative. You don’t mind do you?’

Comfort shook her head, and Mr Bilious handed her another serviette folded as neatly and carefully as the last before he patted her on the bum and sent her on her way. That was the start of a busy stage in Comfort’s life. All she seemed to do was flag down cars, and eat, and flag down cars, and eat, until her muscles were sore, and her bones ached. Before long people drove the long way round when they saw her. When she could find nothing but one deserted street after another Comfort got an idea.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      ‘Hallo Mr Bilious.’

He was standing dominoes on a table with his friends and the little plastic slices careered round the board until not one of them was standing. The eyes of the other people there looked red like they’d been up too long, all except Mr Bilious’. His never changed: they were as smooth and glassy black as the domino’s.

‘Hallo Comfort, what do you want?’ But he must have had a pretty good idea because he took her away from the others quick before she could cause trouble. ‘Why don’t you, step into my office?’

The alley he waved her to smelled ripe and full just like Mr Bilious when he pushed her up against a wall. Comfort barely needed to stop him as she let the thing in her mind show its teeth. Eventually when everything had finished steaming she unwrapped her bowl and got down to eat.

It was months later before Comfort noticed she had indigestion. She wasn’t sure what to do about it at first. She tried breaking things: people, lives, and anyone who looked like they had a direct line to god. She hated them most of all. Before long it got really hard to stand, and she’d have had to be double-jointed to move more than a few paces with the stabbing growing in her gut. When it was so bad she forgot how hungry she was for the first time in her life she began to  scratch and dig at her skin. When people asked her what she was doing she made sure she showed them: there weren’t many that bothered after that.

The two hard little pebbles she found in her stomach, black and round like marbles, took her by surprise. But she had her knife out in seconds so she could make neat little crosses for extraction. When they slid into the palm of her hand she held them up so she could examine them better.

‘Mr Bilious’ eyes. I don’t remember eating those. No wonder I’ve been having trouble,’ said Comfort.

They must have been inside her all this time, and they still looked exactly the same, not a pupil had punctured, or an iris smeared. She chucked them away with a frown, but it was what came next that really surprised her as Comfort felt her temperature rise.

At first, she was merely warm, but before long Comfort was doing everything she could not to scream because it felt like she had the worst case of pins and needles in her life. She tried massage at first, but the heat coming off her wasn’t going to be stopped by something as fragile as fingers. After what seemed like ages the pain calmed, and Comfort began to realise how distorted the world had been. Now, it wasn’t warm all the time. She doubted it could ever be that. But the unfamiliar landscape was no longer quite as full of sharp objects on which to trip up, and without having to pay so much attention on pretending to be normal she felt like she could think more than a mile ahead. Carefully, because she didn’t want to disturb it, she looked in the bottom of her mind. It was empty.

END

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