Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

Beneath a stark winter hue that washes but never cleans a young woman lays naked, the cold winds filthy besom scratching as it dusts her with crystals that flurry as ash.

A security camera gazes down blind and useless.

The upward gaze that meets it is as vacant as it is piercing. Right arm disjointed, grotesquely it folds beneath the gentle sweep of her arching back. Skin once perfect, though now weary with abrasions and abuses both new and old, holds stoic and still.

A solitary figure hunches.

“Such fun as you gorge and tongue at my mind”, said this man to the worm in his head.

“What do you ask? Pity, or is it lust you wish to provoke?”, he sighs. “I sense your taunt, nobody will cry for me as they will for her”

“I’m not dead”

There’s movement behind his eye and his brain contracts and releases.

“… and so, I become madness?”

He splays his jacket atop the woman, averting his eyes he speaks to the whipping breeze as yet another flurry lays litmus, settling, drinking the toxins of the street into its every last pore.

“Who did this?”

“People did this. The people who started your war, they who died in it and those who brought it to an end. It was you. It was me”

There is a box. A home of phenolic sheets that once slotted into the brain of a great computer, its golden pathways and scattering of remaining components drip the sweet scent of mercury, lead and cadmium as he lowers it carefully to cover her head and torso. Though he can do nothing for her perfect legs as they protrude out and into the ramping cold.

“Hold me till morning. They’ll come and you’ll be safe”

“I know a place with soup”

“Fuck the soup, Francis. Lay down. Bite, tear a strip from my lip and taste that I’m here, warm your cold hands at the cup of my breasts, gorge on me. Just please don’t go”

But he does go, inching beneath the city of airships that buoy high above. An escape for the privileged from the poisons that eat at the feet of the poor.

Hours have passed as he now kneels, shifting his home to one side. The woman is still, eyes fixed and staring as he lays a cup to her lip and pours. Frozen lumps slip across hardened features and slide from the ridge of her jaw.

“You came back Frank. Stay”

“I can not”

“Nothing’s here. You’ve given all to me. Dignity and warmth. A home and now… your only food”

“I gave nothing”

“You can’t fucking leave… fucking self-pitying deadbeat… baby killer…”

Morning breaks, but it is not the sun that unfurls into this ally of loading bays and acid-rain pitted iron doors. The beams are man-made that now swing into a tight arch and hiss to a stop.

A mechanical hand reaches through the glare and with one fluid motion heaves the box into the asthmatic mouth of the waste transports gaping compacter.

Steel claws open and flex above the woman, then, a moment’s hesitation, before they drop crushing into her body.

The mannequin snaps and contorts as she is sucked beneath screeching hydraulic plates that stuff her away and into darkness.

The body of a soldier, the fool who could not distinguish plastic from skin, lost and already forgotten as unloved things so easily are, lays propped against a frozen red wall.

Alone, but for the carcass of the gray worm that had so relentlessly churned in his head.