Chapter 2 - Helpless as a Baby

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My run jerks me to a stop beyond my control. My neck lashes forward and my gut retches, a thing that usually happens after one of my cross country sprints. After the last bit of vomit splatters on the pavement, I struggle to catch my breath and burp up the taste of copper. While my wound remains crusted over, my ribs burn like a mother. I should have stayed back at the boarding house, at least until I fully recovered.

The sun starts to rise beyond the I-25 overpass up ahead. On my left, a twenty-four-hour gas station, and on my right, a closed burger joint. This is the Walsenberg exit, and from what I remember it's ten minutes by vehicle from where my run began. I'm not sure why I stopped here, but I need to get out of sight. Soon the daylight will make it harder to hide from Hell's bounty hunters.

My stomach gurgles from internal bleeding or hunger. I walk toward the gas station for something to eat to rule out one of the possibilities, and to recuperate before I attempt another run to Trinidad to rescue my friend Nina. I hang my head knowing it's my fault she's with my demon ex-boss, Margery, and that my pain is nothing compared to what she must be going through.

Minutes later, I exit the convenience store sipping on a Monster and holding a small box of Froot Loops. Four guys around the right side of the building stand huddled together, their voices muffled. I swallow hard and do a double take. They're all wearing red hoodies, the brand color for the courier company Margery manages for Satan.

Then I smell smoke. Cigarette smoke.

I whip around.

Margery emerges from between the red hooded men. "Hi, Honey." She winks an eye smeared with black liner and turns a grin up one side of her puckered mouth. Real flames mix with her orange and red streaked hair, telling she's in a bad mood.

I drop the cereal and aluminum can and turn to run, but it's like my shoelaces are tied together. I trip and fall flat on my face and chest. All the air in my lungs escapes with a grunt. My heart races while doing a pushup, but my legs are stiff. I can only manage to twist my torso around and flip into a seated position. A stream of black smoke has wrapped around my lower body. Like a snake, it slithers upward, pins my arms to my sides, then wraps around my neck.

Margery's all too familiar paralysis spell taught me to be careful around her a few days ago. I can't believe I've fallen under it again. All I can do is whimper and brace myself while the inside of my mouth fuses together, muzzling my speech.

The four men move in and stare down at me like I'm roadkill. One of them gets extra curious, leans close to my face and says, "He doesn't look so dangerous."

My nostrils flare. Holy crap, what are they? His shriveled skin and sunken cheeks make him look as if he belongs at an Egyptian mummy exhibit. And his receding lips expose cone-shaped teeth like those of a tiger fish.

Margery's long bulbous fingers reach in with hulk-like strength, and forcefully sweep the men out of her way. "Back up, you idiots." As usual, a cigarette hangs from her lip while she talks. "Barry, you stupid boy, did you really think you could get away from Old Margery?"

My eyes shift side to side and raspy breaths match the pace of my heartbeat. Why did I sign that contract to become a courier for her three days ago? Stupid. Stupid, stupid, I repeat in my head. I swear, I'm meant to live a miserable life, and here I am living it.

Margery holds her hands up and slowly brings her palms together. My knees bend upward in response until my thighs meet my chest. I lose my balance and fall to one side in a fetal position, as helpless as a baby.

"Go get the van." Margery shoves one of the mummy men. "We've got to get him back to the warehouse before bounty hunters show up."

I groan, "Hmm?" Lingering smoke burns my nostrils and the back of my throat. Margery works for Satan. Why is she worried about bounty hunters showing up? What are these freaky-looking mummy men if not bounty hunters?

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