We’re All Human, Even When We’re Not

Written as the answer to Chuck Wendig’s challenge ‘Behold Your Theme’. 400 words.

* * *

Running over the rooftops, leaping over alleyways, tuck and roll, breathing panting, sky falling, streets burning, foundations trembling and all she can think is ‘faster, faster, faster’ — she exists as a splash of violent color against the dark sky, not that anyone looks up anymore — gasping and reaching and struggling to keep going.

That’s what she’s always doing.

Struggling.

Still going.

How, I never quite know.

Her limbs are too long; her hair is too wild; her voice is too rough; her eyes are too big; her determination is too dangerous.

I don’t look away. I can’t look away.

Watching her is a beautiful thing. They’re all beautiful, the lot of them, scattered across the city, running like Hell itself is giving chase.

Running because Hell itself is giving chase.

She darts left, then right, ducking behind bulkheads, sailing across the empty space between 480 6th Avenue and 486 6th Avenue, three floors from the street. She’s been running all day, and if luck holds out, she’ll be running all night. She’s running out of time, running out of space. I can tell she doesn’t have much left in her from the way she hits the rooftop of the red brick building and comes up staggering.

She looks left and right, a wild animal, tasting blood and fire in the air, and keeps running.

As she approaches the end of the rooftop, I inhale, as though my held breath would see her make the jump.

When she launches herself across the next gap, arms pinwheeling, I exhale, and fire.

The night lights up, the briefest of flashes.

When I climb the fire escape and reach her side, the expression on her face isn’t what I’m expecting. She doesn’t wear betrayal. Instead, she seems frustrated to still be wearing a tipless glove on her right hand. Her left lies useless, that shoulder obliterated by my shot, smoking in the night air, what is left of it fanned out and plastered to the roof, the red of her gone black in the dark of the night.

She doesn’t care; she wants the glove off.

She holds it out to me, and I peel the brightly colored material from her shaking fingers.

“At least it was you,” she says, and slides the palm of her naked hand over the stubble on my cheek. Her hand is already cold.

I nod, but say nothing.

She’s already gone.

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