By Godfrey Blackwell

The sun was an angry, red half-disc above the low-lying smog that perpetually choked the horizon. Mackenzie Frazer stepped from the bus and pulled his cap a bit lower over his head. The chill autumn wind blew an empty coffee cup over his feet and down the street. The bus took off with a belch and a roar.

Mac was now alone and the street quiet. Few private vehicles plied the roads these days, and curfew was getting close. Most people were already indoors and he’d be lucky to make it home in time himself. But he didn’t leave the curb just yet, however.

With a deep exhale he looked up and down the street, then eyed the bicycle path that would take him home. The sun was low enough that its rays did not illuminate that passage. A haven for drug addicts, streetwalkers, and other unpleasants, it was a gauntlet he had to run every evening. He sighed again in frustration at himself. He’d faced death hundreds of times in the army. He’d come so close to death he’d tasted it. He flexed his right hand, still tight after four years from the skin grafts. He’d needed those over two-thirds of his body after the R.P.G. shredded his squad’s Armoured Fighting Vehicle.

Just get it over with, he told himself. Grunting, he shifted his pack that was slung over one shoulder and jogged across the street.  Maybe it was the close brush with death that had caused him to lose his nerve. He’d heard of other vets who had no confidence when they got back. 

He made it past the two hab-blocks that flanked the entrance to the path. He kept close to the graffiti-covered walls. It was getting dark fast, and the rotating blackouts meant no lights tonight, as with most nights. 

He’d gone a block when he heard a growl and the bang of a dumpster lid falling open. Mac looked ahead and to his left, expecting to see a feral dog. Seeing a dark shape, on all fours, muttering over a torn garbage bag, he carried on, cautiously. As he got to within twenty yards, he realised it was too big to be a dog and instead of fur, blue-grey Digital Disruptive Pattern camouflage covered its back.

Oh, man, Mac thought. Poor guy must really be gone. He’d seen a lot of vets on the streets, shell-shocked, minds ruined by cheap drugs or broken by the war. That this one was still (somewhat) in uniform meant he must have been one of the really unlucky ones who was simply left for dead when things collapsed and somehow made his own way back. 

There was another crash, and Mac jumped into the shadows of an old dead oak tree. This time it was a shopping cart. A woman in a dirty, beige parka was pushing it around the corner of the derelict supermarket the dumpster sat behind. A painfully skinny, mop-haired little girl tottered behind her.

The soldier looked up with a snarl. The woman kept on, apparently not noticing as the cart, laden with boxes and rags, noisily jounced over the broken concrete. She closed to within fifteen feet of the soldier. With a roar, he lunged at her. She screamed, but didn’t move. Mac leapt from behind the tree.

“Hey, stop!” he shouted. “You -- soldier -- stand down!”

He’d yelled the command without thinking. The training drilled into him had taken over. The soldier stopped so abruptly he nearly fell on his face. Mac jogged over to him. With wide-eyed horror the woman looked from the soldier to Mac. Before he could say anything she fled screaming, dragging the child with her.

Self-consciously, Mac’s hand went to his burn-scarred face. He felt heat rising in his cheeks. Darn it, he wasn’t that ugly, and he’d gotten these scars fighting for her! He sighed. No point in getting mad, it was what it was. He turned to the soldier.
“Okay, it’s over, take it easy, buddy ...” as he completed the turn he reached out a comforting hand but stopped short.

His first thought was that the guy was huge -- Mac barely came up to his shoulders which were nearly twice as wide as Mac’s. As his eyes moved up, they passed the name-tag on the uniform, which had a number instead: 180942609. Then he noticed the tusks jutting from either side of the massive lantern jaw, and the two slits for a nose. Casting his eyes back down, he saw talons at the end of arms that reached past the thing's knees.

“Oh man ...” Mac said. A chimera. Officially they didn’t exist outside conspiracy-theorist blogs, but Mac had seen them in Tabriz. The street-fighting had been terrible there. There’d been a pair of chimeras; his platoon had been pinned-down behind the burning wreckage of their A.F.V.s when the chimeras saved them, sort of. Those things fought like demonic maniacs. How the heck did one end up here?

He looked up and saw it was regarding him with blue eyes. Human eyes. And just before the sun disappeared, he recognized in them the faintest glimmer of a desire for something beyond the battlefield.

Okay, it’s not going to kill me, he thought. Of course, I gave it an order. They were genetically engineered to be perfect soldiers; they lived for commands. But now what was he going to do? The sun slipped behind the horizon. Curfew. He couldn’t stay here.

“Ah, alright, stand easy,” he said. The chimera crept smoothly back towards the garbage and hunched-down on its back legs which bent backwards like a dog’s. It watched him intently for further commands. “Dismissed.”

It turned and loped-off into the darkness. It moved with the grace of a cat, but somehow Mac thought there was a hint of sorrow to the way it retreated, as if it had hoped he would order it to remain with him. Mac realised he’d dropped his pack in all the excitement and jogged back to the tree. He felt a pang of guilt, like he’d abandoned the creature somehow. But what was he supposed to do? He had his own troubles and a family to look after.

A new sound penetrated the gloom; the deep grumble of a police armoured patrol vehicle. Of course, it had to be tonight of all nights that they chose to patrol his neighbourhood!  Mac ran the rest of the way home, up the hill to the townhouse complex. He stopped to catch his breath at the door to his unit. With the rising quarter-moon behind the compound, it was completely black here. Muffled by the door, he heard a baby screaming and his wife, Petra, yelling in Croatian.

Petra was a saint. Many of Mac’s comrades in the war had received “Dear John” letters as the campaign stretched on and their Common Laws and girlfriends got tired of waiting. More still had stumbled upon Facebook posts featuring their girls with other men and sometimes women. But Petra had stayed with Mac through it all. He’d abandoned her, running away to the war after their first child died, and yet she stayed. When he came back, he’d been horribly scarred mentally and physically -- she didn’t turn away and helped him through the rehab. They’d even had two children since then, who he could hear wailing through the door.

He turned the knob and pushed his way into the townhouse. He kicked off his boots and strode to the back of the house to the kitchen where, by candlelight, the mortal combat of attempting to feed a toddler was in full swing. Petra had their youngest, Emilija, balanced on her hip as she stood over their eighteen-month-old, Mark, who was putting macaroni and cheese anywhere but his mouth.

“Arg, you terrible creature!” she sighed. “Mac -- you do something with him!”

“Good to see you too,” Mac said, smiling. He knelt next to Mark at the table. “Hi there, Mark. Giving mama a hard time are you?”

“No wonder he doesn’t listen,” Petra said hotly. “You’re way too soft on him.”

“He’s not even two,” Mac said. Standing, he took Emilija and gave Petra a peck on the cheek. “Rough day?”

“The usual,” she said, reluctantly smiling.


Petra slumped down in a chair at the kitchen table. “Kids are finally both asleep.” She  unscrewed the cold air return register under the table and pulled out a battered package of Ziganov cigarettes and the latest issue of that Croatian newspaper she read whose name Mac couldn’t pronounce.

“Sorry about earlier,” she said, lighting the cigarette. “I’m just tired.”

“You can go to bed,” Mac said, putting another plate on the drying rack. “I’ve got things under control here.”

“I’d rather stay with you,” she said, smiling. “How was your day?”

Mac made a noncommittal sound and took a plate from the pile of dirty dishes next to the sink and started scrubbing it. He kept no secrets from Petra, but what he’d seen could be dangerous. He looked up through the barred window over the sink. All was quiet outside thanks to the curfew and police patrols. He couldn’t imagine the same government that imposed such things would want its citizens to know about creatures that officially didn’t exist. He and his platoon had sworn a pact of silence never to tell anyone they’d seen the chimeras in Tabriz.

“What’s up, bebo?” Petra asked.

“I don’t know,” Mac sighed. He put the plate on the drying rack and rested his hands on the counter. “I saw something weird tonight on the way home.”

Petra took a drag on the illegal Russian cigarette. “Like what, you saw Stretch and he didn’t proposition you?”

“A chimera ... at least I’m pretty sure that’s what it was.”

She exhaled slowly, releasing a large cloud of smoke. “What happened?”

“You don’t even seem surprised.”

“Nothing surprises me anymore.” She put her paper down. “Figures some would have survived. Thank God you did.”

She gestured for Mac to join her at the table. They kiss before he sat down. He recounted the meeting with the Chimera.

“You know, I kind of felt guilty about leaving it there ...”

“Poor baby,” Petra said.


“You know, they birth those poor babies they make into chimeras out of cows. Sick kopila.”

“How do you know that?”

She gestured to the newspaper, and Mac rolled his eyes. “Don’t believe everything you read in those things. Not all the black market literature’s true.”

“Better than the legal stuff which is all lies.”


The sun had not yet crested the horizon when Mac left the next morning for work. The housing complex was shrouded in a blue-grey murk that made everything blend together. He went down the front steps quietly and moved around the side of his row of houses to descend the hill, moving quietly, keeping to the shadows. It was doubtful a police patrol would be out now, but he preferred to be safe.

Halfway down the hill, he noticed that he wasn’t the only one out this early. About fifty yards away, a group of six youths, all around sixteen or seventeen years old from the look of them, were gathered around a footbridge that represented Mac’s fastest way across the dry canal that ran through the cluster of tenements. They passed a glass pipe between them, all dressed in ragged black clothing. Mac slowed and cursed under his breath — what on earth were they doing out this early? They were never up before midday, as far as he could tell, and thus avoiding them didn’t normally factor into his morning routine. He turned towards the nearest alleyway to detour around them. 

The sky was now starting to redden. He peered into the dark passage and jumped back with a loud oath as a hulking shadow emerged. The chimera again. Two of the youths looked up from their drugs.

“Darn it,” he said now, much more quietly. The chimera stopped its advance at the edge of the alley and sat on its haunches, silently watching him.

He didn’t move himself, trying to figure out what to do. One path was blocked by a bunch of hoods, another by a walking one-creature army. The six youths started sauntering towards him. Two were now swinging baseball bats at their sides. No doubt the rest had knives -- just last week one of the neighbours had been stabbed in this very laneway.

“Yo, what up, skizza?” The leader of the hoodlums called. He was a bandy olive-skinned youth with brown, rotting incisors and dark fuzz passing for a goatee. The chimera looked over, and its body tensed like a spring.

“Hold fast,” Mac hissed. He turned towards the kids and put his right hand inside his jacket pocket to make it look like he had a gun there.

“Hey, you a fool?” another one, skin black as night, hollered.

Mac screwed-up his courage -- he had to try to scare them off somehow. If the chimera perceived them as a threat ...

“I’m just walking here. Don’t start something you won’t be able to finish.” he said.

“We say who walks here,” Rotten Teeth said.

“Since when?” Mac stepped forward menacingly.

As they neared him, a sliver of sun slipped through the gap between buildings. Seeing his burned face, they hesitated.

“Aw, scrag, man,” said the black one.

“Yeah, that’s right.” Mac grinned savagely. “You think a bunch of punks like you scare me? I’ve been to hell!”

“You just watch y’self,” Rotten Teeth said and started backing off. The others turned and they melted into the gloom of another alley.

Dizziness swept over Mac and he put a hand on the wall to steady himself. He bent over, struggling not to throw up. His knees were shaking. He sucked deep breaths of air to calm himself.

“Orders, sir?” came a soft voice from his right.

Mac jumped back. The chimera was still there. It could talk. He’d never heard one speak before, wasn’t sure that they could. Its voice had been very human -- could have been any soldier speaking quietly to his CO.

“Ah ... hide.” Mac cleared his throat and searched for his old army jargon. “Secure a tactical hide and await further orders.”

The chimera disappeared into the shadows. Looking at his watch, Mac cursed again and started to run. He was going to miss his bus. Then he’d really be in deep. He pounded down the lane, heedless of noise or his surroundings. He was nearly at the foot of the bridge when something smashed into the back of his head, sending him tumbling onto his face. Stars burst before his eyes, but on instinct he rolled to his right.

He came up against a wall and sat up. His vision cleared enough to see the group of six youths around him, naked blades and bats ready.

“We gonna teach you a lesson --”

Something flashed from Mac’s right and slammed into the olive-skinned youth, sending him flying into the wall across the lane. The youth tumbled onto the broken pavement and his knife spiralled down into the canal. Mac saw the chimera, its hulking mass rising and falling with its breath: with another leap, it was on the boy.

Mac made it up onto one knee. Hot, sticky liquit splattered into his face as the punk died noisily. Mac wiped the blood from his eyes. The chimera charged through the rest of the group. It was but a blur, so fast did it move. As it passed screams followed in its wake. In a heartbeat, the other five hoodlums all thrashed on the ground, horribly wounded.

The chimera disappeared between two buildings, ready to ambush the reinforcements or medics it expected to come running to the injured “combatants’” aid. 

Now Mac did vomit. Then he lurched into the alley the chimera went down. The screaming behind him was drawing attention: tenants opened their windows to look out; footfalls sounded on the concrete, and in the distance a siren started.

“Stand down!” Mac bellowed. He knew the chimera was trained to take down anyone it saw now. It was trained -- conditioned to the terror tactics on display here: wound then repeat as more arrived, destroying enemy morale and taking as many out of the fight as possible. “Stand down -- friendlies.”

They weren’t in a war zone any more. Even those no-good juves were just civilians. The chimera came out from behind a pile of garbage. “Orders, sir?” it whispered.

It was now starting to get light out. Voices spoke excitedly in the lane, and the siren was closer. Now what?


The door slammed open with a bang as Mac nearly fell through it. Petra’s head popped out of the kitchen.

“Mac, what are you doing home? Bo┼że! You’re covered in blood!”

“It’s not mine,” he said, leaning against the wall. “And it’s the least of our worries.”

Petra’s eyes widened as she spotted the chimera, who’d entered behind Mac. “Mac ...” she whispered.

“He ... it ...  saved my life. I didn’t know what to do. We’ve got to hide it.”

He pushed off the wall and flung the door to the basement stairs open. Just then, his son Mark toddled around the corner from the living room. “Papa!” he cried, his face lighting up.

Mac held the door so it blocked his son’s view of the chimera and ordered the creature down the stairs.


“You’ve got to call in sick before you lose your job.” Petra handed him the phone. “And get these clothes off. Kletva! You had to get blood all over the wall too!”

She stripped him down right there and jammed the clothes into a garbage bag. When he came back down from their bedroom in fresh garb, Emilija was crying, stranded in her highchair in the kitchen and Petra was half out the front door.

“Get the baby,” she said over her shoulder.

“Where are you going?”

“To burn your clothes and my cigarettes and newspapers. We don’t want the murija seeing any of that stuff when they come.”


1 comment:

Mom said...

Great start, can’t wait for next week’s instalment

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