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NINE LIVES OF XEN: Chapter 22: Pain

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The 22 chapter of “The Nine Lives of Xen”

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Darkness. All that surrounded me was darkness. There were no thoughts, any time I tried to think of something, it slipped away and was surrounded by more darkness. It would be so easy to stay like this: no worries, no doubts, no fears, no pain…

Just like that, a small tear in the darkness formed. A keyhole of light broke the monotony of the blackness I craved to call home. A keyhole that once unlocked would open up all of the memories that slid away from me so casually before. And the first memory was pain.
Pain is the building block upon which all other memories rest.

I remember Egypt: the scorching sun, the sand burning my eyes. We may have been treated like gods, but it was a shitty place to live. If you didn’t have a home, you were constantly searching for shade—which was great if you wanted an unobstructed view of thousands of slaves killing themselves to build the pyramids. If you did have a home, you were always on guard. If you weren’t paying attention, you would become a permanent fixture in their burial room. Being a god is not worth the trouble.

I remember going to Spain by way of Morocco. Farms always were good places to live, but in cities people were always hungry. It’s not safe to live in a place where people are always hungry, cat or not. Spain was pleasant enough, but still too hot for my taste. I remember hearing about the northern winds and thinking the further north I got, the stronger those winds must be.

I remember traveling all around the countries that would come to be known as “Europe.” The first time I passed through France, I remember having no use for the French at all. I didn’t make it back there until the mid-1600s; I took up residence in a lovely pastry shop. A simpleton of a man, who was constantly berated by his wife, operated it. He fancied himself a poet and patron of the arts. He was a generous soul, always giving away rolls and pies to so-called artists in exchange for their mediocre poems. The show was frequented by the local cadets, who would fill his head with fantastic tales of their boldness and bravery. I certainly lived in worse places. Even when his wife left him, he remained a jolly and pleasant soul. Years later, the loss of a dear friend put him in such despair that I wasn’t sure his heart could take the abuse. I remember his pain, as fresh as one of his pies.

I passed through Norway, Iceland, Sweden, the Celtic Islands, and even Denmark, where it always smelled as if something had spoiled. Eventually, I ended up in England. The pastry shops in England were nowhere near as cozy as the one run by Poet-Baker. For one thing, he never tried to kill me and put me in one of his pies.
There was constant hunger—always the pain of hunger—but something about the city suited me. I remember leaving after the incident at Whitechapel. The pain of fear and helplessness immediately moved me toward America.

Darkness almost was blocked out by the crowding memories: places I had lived, ghosts of memories that weren’t mine, losing loved ones, dolls staring at me from a shelf, the one last night spent on a beach. Pains from long ago fought for a position in my mind and led me to the most current pain. No longer comforted by quiet Darkness, I was surrounded by a wall of memories—rushing back and forth until they blurred together. In the middle of the blurred mess another opening of light appeared. This time it was less like a keyhole. It was something familiar, something related to my pain. The light was a warning and it grew closer by the minute.

Headlights. The headlights of the car that hit me. I remembered.
Another few inches, and it would have passed over me unscathed. But the passenger side tire caught me and shattered my legs. The car stopped. The door opened, and I heard a woman screaming as a man got out of the car. He reached down and lifted my head, hand covered with a plastic bag. I couldn’t respond. Satisfied that I was dead he wrapped me in the bag and placed me with the other garbage already piled up in an alleyway. He went back to his car and sped away, leaving me to my undignified resting place.

But it wasn’t trash he had rested me on. There was a shift, a groan and the harsh sound of glass hitting the pavement. With the groan, I caught a sense of something: years. I was on a person. Although incapacitated at the moment, they had several years left to live—more than enough to repair my damaged legs. My eyes still adjusted to being back in reality, and I noticed I was on the chest of someone who passed out in the alley. It was hard to make out the face; the grime and dirt helped them blend into the surroundings. I could tell by the smell —a mixture of alcohol and rot—I wasn’t far from the mouth, which emanated the aroma of burning cigarette filters.

I was going to have to pull myself up about a foot to get what I needed. I reached out with my front paws and pulled. Pain shot through my bottom half; I thought I was going to pass out again. The person stirred and I couldn’t afford to lose the opportunity. Ignoring the fire in my back legs, I pulled again and aligned myself with his snoring mouth. I was reminded of Henry back in California: same circumstances, only this time I would have to take it all, skimming off the top wouldn’t cut it.

The smell worsened as I neared, but I willed myself to look past the blackness of the few surviving teeth, the greenish pale pallor of the tongue and focus on the back of the throat. I saw the essence sliding toward me. I was probably halfway through with the transfer when the eyes opened. There was a look of terror and confusion. I had to act quickly or I would be thrown off. I lunged forward with my paws and latched onto the side of the head. I felt one of my claws sink into the soft meat of the right eye. My paw suddenly was covered with clear fluid.

Unable to scream, I had a firm hold not only on the head, but on the very life that moved him. The thrashing started to subside as the last strands of life escaped and entered my mouth.
Again I was a killer. I could feel my bones snapping into place. The hollow snapping sound of twigs, but in reverse. The regrowth was every bit as painful as the break. But I could walk again. Despite the pain, I had a destination.

Anthony David Lawson is the author of “Novel,” as well as a local playwright, director and actor. He will write a piece of prose presented in parts every other week in encore throughout 2015, entitled “The Nine Lives of Xen.”

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