Sarah sat all huddled up in the corner. Flames flickered inside her skin, bursting through in vibrant prominences. She scrunched her eyes shut.
If she couldn’t see it, it wasn’t really happening.
She wasn’t really a monster.
She was just a girl.
Just a little girl.
A very ordinary girl.
But even with her eyes closed, she could feel the fire’s heat.
The exam room door opened.
Sarah opened her eyes.
A woman in a lab coat and a gray dress suit entered the room. She was pretty, but not soft looking. Her shoulder-length hair was gelled against her scalp. Her face had sharp angles. Her eyeglasses kept catching the light, obscuring her eyes.
Yet, when she smiled, that smile changed everything.
That smile made all of the experiments bearable.
The woman smiled at Sarah. “XQ.” She came over to her with a brown leather book in her right hand. “I want to read this book to you. It’s one of my favorites.”
Sarah’s fire tentacles burst out of her back.
“Do you want me to read it? It’s a beautiful story of lovers and mystery and a monster. A monster who is more than what he seems to be.”
Sarah’s fire tentacles schwooped under her skin. The small girl nodded.
The woman sat next to her and opened the book. “They say that this story is 100% true. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t.” She turned to the first page. “I like to think that it is.” Her expression turned sad. “I like to think that someone who seems to be a monster can be redeemed.”
That woman never properly introduced herself. Matter of fact, she never introduced herself at all. Maybe she thought Sarah didn’t need to know who she was. Or maybe she lived with the strange assumption that Sarah already knew.
Sarah had no clue.
She saw her as one of The Institute people and that was that. The woman was no different than Capernaum or Antioch.
But she read to her.
Whenever the woman got a chance, she would read to her. And it was always that book – ‘The Phantom of the Opera’.
Then, one day, she stopped coming. No one explained where she went. No one said why she was gone.
She was just gone. And no one took her place. No one read ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ for the three thousandth time to the small XQ.
And Sarah did not know why.
She hugged the book as tight as she could.
She hoped that the woman was safe.
Carthage left the bathroom. His nerves twanged and jolted inside his skin. His legs vibrated with the need to run at least fifty laps around the city. His heart pounded out of rhythm.
He sank into his seat.
The waitress shot over to him. “Can I get you anything else? Another cup of coffee, perhaps?”
He shook his head. “No more coffee. I don’t want to die.”
“Did you want anything else?”
He looked over at Sammy’s Place and shook his head again.
“Okay. um. I hate to be the one to say this, but we will be closing soon.”
He looked up at her.
“You will have to leave.”
It took his over-caffeinated brain a few minutes to process that correctly. “Of course. Of course.” He pushed his chair back and stood. “I’ll go now.”
“Oh! Let me go get your bill.”
“There’s no need for that. Just send the charges to The Insti…”
Right. The Institute can’t pick up my charges anymore.
He sat back down and bowed his head. “Fine. Go get the bill. I’ll pay it.”
As the waitress walked away, Carthage raised his head. He resumed his three thousand mile stare at Sammy’s Place.
He nervously tapped his hands against his knees.
I am not an extraordinary, but I’m sure Mark Caten can find some use for me. Especially if I bring my little XQ along.
He chuckled. “I know he’ll be able to use her.”
I just need to catch her first.
Ahh, Sara. I wish you were here. You’d be able to corral her in so easily.
You always did have a knack for handling her.
Our little girl.