Author : Timothy T. Murphy

Lola heard shuffling footsteps behind her and cursed her laziness. Lingering at shops she could no longer afford, dreaming of days long gone. Now she was out after dark in a bad neighborhood. She was only a few minutes from home, but it only took a few moments for something to go wrong.

She risked a glance back. A limping figure, a girl in torn sweats, hands in her pockets, eyes cast to the ground. There was a heavy scarf around her face and wild shocks of black hair sprouting from under her hood. As she turned, the figure stopped and turned to look in another direction.

She hurried her pace, her breath heavy. The shuffled steps behind her quickened, and she began to really panic. She cast her eyes, looking for some escape, someone sympathetic in a window, even a light on, but found none.

Half a block ahead, a door opened, and voices spoke. Boys, rough-looking and drunken. She stepped back quickly, eyes on the boys, and was grabbed from behind. Her follower pulled her back fast, a gloved hand over her mouth, pulled her into the alley and spun her around, pressing her against the wall. Through the folds of the scarf, Lola saw eyes that were brown, bloodshot, and determined.

A shushing gesture and the girl glanced around the corner, back towards the boys. Lola’s chest tightened unbearably and she shook. She couldn’t breathe. She tried to open her purse for her pills, but the bag dropped from her trembling fingers.

The girl looked down at the bag, then up at Lola’s ashen face. Seeming to understand, she picked up the purse. Lola watched, dumbfounded, as the girl flipped through its contents, leaving the wallet and taking out her pills. These, the girl opened and gave to her.

She stared numb as the girl went back to watching the boys. After a moment, the girl saw her and tapped the pill bottle for emphasis before looking back at the street. Lola took out two pills and swallowed them dry.

A moment more, and the voices died away. The young girl stepped back and faced Lola, bowing respectfully.

“Thank you,” Lola told her.

The figure reached out a gloved hand towards her hesitantly and Lola started to back away. The girl waited patiently, though, like she was dealing with a frightened animal. She stood still, then, and the girl reached up to pull a single hair from Lola’s head. She stretched it out, holding it up to examine, and seemed to smile under her scarf. Turning back to Lola, she held up the hair in one hand and with the other, tapped on the pill bottle, a question in her eyes.

“I don’t understand,” Lola told her, and the girl pushed the bottle towards Lola and pulled the hair to her own chest. “Yes, it’s fair,” she nodded.

The girl smiled, and bowed respectfully. She glanced back out at the street one last time, and waved Lola on, then turned to shuffle down the alleyway.

Lola ran the rest of the way home and locked herself in.

Sheevey lay the precious hair under her tongue and cursed her laziness. One day she must learn this species’ languages. She’d nearly scared that poor woman to death.

Her saliva broke down the hair and the microscopic bots in her tongue dissembled the D.N.A. inside it. In moments, the pain in her hips faded and she could walk better. A fair trade, she’d thought. Medicine for medicine.

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