I suppose I was expecting this from the minute we arrived here, but it still took me by surprise, the way it happened. I was expecting Agents, sociopaths, led by that bastard Redlight. Instead I got a crazed little girl and her two bodyguards.
Let’s begin at the beginning.
On Monday night, while Riley was out at the store, most of us were still in the apartment after having gone out to see the fireworks. It was me, Violet, Ava, Tony, and Cathy. Things were just winding down; it was quite late, and Vi was just taking out some trash. I sat down and contemplated cleaning my gun, since I’d been at the range earlier, and as usual, I hadn’t completely unloaded it (I know, I know, bad Celie, shame shame), instead leaving one round in the chamber and one in the magazine in case of emergencies.
I can’t say exactly what happened in the hallway and on the stairs -- from what Violet said, they did in fact speak to each other before they went down the stairs -- but by the time I heard the loud scream and crash, I’d already suspected that all wasn’t well. I didn’t hesitate for a second -- I grabbed the holster on the counter and took the pistol out of it, tossing the straps to the floor.
I yanked the door open and headed for the stairs. Once I was there, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Violet was lying in a crumpled, twisted heap at the landing between the sixth and seventh floors; for one terrifying moment, I thought the worst before I saw that she was breathing, but certainly unconscious.
Standing over her, shaking and staring up at me, was a little girl, maybe twelve at the most. She looked frightened, but when she looked up and saw me, suddenly she became enraged. She moved to rush forward up the stairs at me; automatically, I raised my weapon.
“You’re Celeste,” she said.
“You have to die.”
“Not now. You can leave,” I said.
For a couple of seconds, she looked like she was considering the possibility. She seemed to be losing composure.
Something like a growl came from her and she said, “I came here to kill you!”
“Change of plans,” I said. Retightening my grip on the gun, I said, “You’re going to go back to your master, and you’re going to tell him that the Gray Haven is defended again.”
My voice got stronger as I ventured to add, “And tell him that the Witness defends it.”
Panic crossed her face for a second, but then it relaxed and became something like a grotesque smirk; her face was far too pained, far too corrupted with malice for her to show any real pleasure at anything. I started to feel that sensation in the pit of my stomach, that wrongness.
“You don’t think I came alone, do you?”
Now it was my turn to panic.
“Ava!” I called, not taking my eyes off of this little girl. “Cathy! Tony!”
It was only a few seconds before I heard their footsteps in the hallway and felt their presence behind me. In hindsight, it must have been quite a sight to come in to; I was in my shorts and pajama tank top, holding a gun pointed at a crazed preteen.
Then something happened that I didn’t expect. Cathy ran forward, looking like she wanted to hug the creature.
“Cynthia!” she gasped. “My little girl!”
“Wait!” I shouted, much louder and bolder than I’d intended because of the echo in the stairwell. “She’s not alo--”
No sooner had I gotten through half the sentence than two fully-grown young men stepped around the corner, having hidden on the other side of the steps for who knows how long. Cathy, panicked, scrambled back up the stairs and out of reach before they’d even gotten fully around the corner.
For a fraction of a second, the girl called Cynthia hesitated and almost cried out to her mother. Cathy had mentioned her daughter before -- in passing, prompting sympathetic looks from Ava -- but I had thought it would be rude to press her for details. Her daughter, barely eleven, was a proxy?
Now my attention had to be turned to the two men, wide-eyed and obviously deranged. They had the same air as Mary-Ann Compton had when I’d seen her; they were content in their insanity. They didn’t hide it, nor did they think it detrimental. Their confidence scared me.
Tony pushed Cathy back and shot Ava a look that said Think of your child. It was just me and him in this standoff. But he was still injured, as was I, even though my arm wasn’t in its proper sling at the time; could we take on two healthy twentysomethings in a fight?
No, I decided. Not in a fair one.
I felt suddenly that I heard my father’s voice. No such thing as a fair fight, he was saying. No such thing. Rules of combat are a fallacy.
Anything to defend the Haven, the Runners, my friends, my family.
The men had evidently had enough standing around. One of them made a slight motion as though to come forward -- without thinking, I aimed the gun upward.
The shot rang out, and darkness flooded the room. The proxies charged anyway.
It’s difficult to say how long the light was out, or what happened in the total darkness of the windowless landing between the stairways. The emergency light was on the wall, in case the bulb in the hanging one blew out and left it dark; it was an archaic-looking bulb in a barred dome, and it was uncertain how long it would take before the system kicked in.
In the struggle, I lost my gun. I could hear Cathy and Ava retreating up the hallway and Tony’s grunts and roars as he took on, from what I could tell, the bigger of the two.
Both sides got good hits in. Both sides took damage. I have a hell of a bruise on my elbow, and another on my hipbone.
Suddenly there was I cry -- I think from Cynthia -- and the two men retreated. Confused, thinking something bigger was coming, I backed up as well. One flicker of light, then another. Then the backup kicked in fully, and I immediately wished that it hadn’t.
Little Cynthia, two crazed men behind her, held my pistol in her small, shaking hands. She was crying; I don’t think she expected this kind of confrontation, or any kind of confrontation. She trained the gun on me.
“Why wouldn’t you just die?!” she shouted, her tiny voice magnified by the echo. “You ruined everything! I hate you!”
She pulled the trigger.
Anyone experienced enough in firearms will tell you that pistols are not known for their accuracy. It takes an awful lot of practice and patience with timing to hit a target. Cynthia was maybe five yards from me, because we’d wandered about halfway back up the stairs in the scuffle. Her hands were not nearly big enough for my gun, small as it is. And she was shaking badly.
Does that mean I wasn’t relieved when the bullet whizzed past and cut only the outside of my arm instead of plunging into my chest? Not bloody likely.
The kick from the gun had obviously scared her; she was crying harder now. She steeled herself and tried to shoot again, only to produce little more than an empty clicking noise. There was no more ammunition left. She no longer had the advantage. The gun fell to the floor, and she ran. The proxies looked unsure at first, and then followed her.
I didn’t waste time; I was bleeding from the arm, yes, but Violet was unconscious and obviously in need of serious help. Tony carried her inside and laid her on the couch while Cathy called the local hospital to see what we should do, and whether we would need to take her in.
Ava, meanwhile, fussed over my arm while I tried with my other hand to get on my phone to call Riley; it was better if he didn’t come home to see it and freak out.
In hindsight, we made a right good team; as soon as I gave them each a task (except Ava, who took up the cause of nursing me all by herself, much to my dismay), they went to it and before long, things were back under control. I watched at the door window as Cynthia and the two men ran for the small patch of woods, twisted trees gnarled by the ocean wind. What mattered was that they were away now, and probably not going to come back soon.
Now it was time to call Zeke and let him know. As I chose him in my contacts, my finger froze over the call button. Was he able to talk? Where was he? Could something have --
Ava reached over me and hit the button, interrupting my worry session before it got out of hand.
He picked up after three rings.
“I’m busy,” he growled. My face flushed; well, we’re kind of busy too, stupid.
“Zeke,” I said, calming myself. “Cynthia Delmont was just here. She attacked us --”
“Celeste? You’re breaking up.”
I checked the signal on my phone; it was fine.
“Goddammit, just get back here, and hurry,” I said.
The phone cut off. He must have been in an area with bad service.
The last two days have been rather busy. But under the constant advice from the doctors at the hospital, Violet has been getting better by leaps and bounds, and said today that her headache is nearly gone. The aid in the panic room sort of saved our skins, otherwise we would have really had to go to the hospital.
It’s been quiet for the last two days. Zeke hasn’t been back, but he called again yesterday and I was able to explain. He should be in sometime this afternoon.
I can’t believe I threatened that little girl. What’s wrong with me? At the time it felt like the thing to do…I must have looked like a monster to Tony and Cathy, looking almost ready to shoot their daughter. Would I have done that? Could I have shot an eleven-year-old to save my friends, to save the Haven?
I suppose I’ll never know. I don’t think I want to.
And in any case, it’s all back to normal now. Riley was distraught for some time, but once Vi woke up and calmed him down, he was pretty fine. That boy is strong, much stronger than I’d ever given him credit for before. And faithful; I’m happy that he’s here, sharing our work.
The fight goes on. And so does the Show.