Author : Jeff Soesbe

Blood transferred and body hidden, Fulton unplugged the transfer tubes, twisted shut the valves of the metal cat’s access port. One step left. With a deep breath, he leaned forward, set his rusted wrench on the gleaming winding nut. His heart sped like a hummingbird’s wings. The scent of cloud roses hung heavy around him, and it gave him pause. Ardenne always loved cloud roses.

Ten full turns to wind the spring, the muscles in his arm shaking during the last turn. To the soft whirr of the internal machinery, the cat’s eyes flickered open with a click. Their white blankness, like ocean pearls, followed Fulton as the great cat raised its head to the song of gears and wires.

“I live.” A harsh voice, a rasp on metal, air through hollow tubes.

“I’m Fulton. I made you.” Carefully, he reached for the cat. The coldness of the metal made him gasp. He rubbed between the ears and the cat’s purr was a distant thunderstorm.

“My name?”

“Echo. You remind me of someone.”

“Echo,” the cat growled, then froze. It sniffed, a whistle like the distant call of eagles, and searched with its nose. “Fresh meat.”

Faster than fire through dry wood, Echo rose. Fulton followed, shuffling through leaves as the cat moved, silently, unerringly, to Ardenne’s hidden body. With a great paw that glistened in the sunlight scattering through the oaks, it uncovered the body, brushing aside dried leaves and crisp green limbs carefully arranged by Fulton.

Seeing Ardenne again, her blood-streaked face frozen in a final silent cry, Fulton’s heart turned. He had to look away, at simple shoes on her feet, at red and brown leaves around her.

“Newly dead.” Echo opened a mouth like sharp daggers, aimed at Ardenne’s stomach, then paused.

Fulton sighed deep, his mouth dry like dust, relieved the cat had not bitten.

“Her blood is mine,” Echo called. “It runs through me.”

“Yes,” Fulton stuttered. “I gave you her blood.”

“Why?”

“She died. I love her. I wanted her to live on.”

Flipping Ardenne’s still form over with a nudge of its nose, Echo sniffed at the dark matted spot in her hair. “Metal.”

The wrench was still in his hand. He shivered, dropped it into the grass where it thumped against an oak root.

“Why did you kill her?” Echo sat back on its haunches.

The stillness of its pose, like it was about to pounce, drove fear into Fulton.

His emotion was an explosion of water over rocks. “Once, Ardenne said she gave me her heart, her blood. But she was going to leave me. I couldn’t let her.”

“Hm.” Echo turned to Ardenne’s body, flipped her again, then in a flash of large metal teeth bit out the left side of her chest.

“No!” Fulton stepped forward, reaching, but the cat’s cold white eyes froze him in his step. He watched with horror as Echo slowly chewed Ardenne’s bones and flesh. Every crunch was a slap to his face, a blow to his stomach that left him breathless.

Once finished, Echo swallowed. “Now I have her blood and her heart. They were not yours to take, nor was her life. Goodbye, Fulton.”

The cat sauntered off, the only sound the wind in the trees and the songs of the birds.

Fulton fell to his knees at Ardenne’s side, into the pool of red that seeped from the gaping hole in her body. His tears came freely, tears at a heart now lost twice, twice through deeds steeped in blood.

 

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