Weekly Illustrated Fiction Series:
No Dragons Press: A HIGH FANTASY Adventure
by Maggie Gibbs
Illustrations by Emily Ruf
Chapter Seven: Addie is Not a Superhero
I suck in a breath to scream, but when the box of manuscripts I’d been lugging explodes all over the floor, I suck in another one. While I get my breathing in order, two of the large men standing in the middle of the apartment return their weapons to Nate, where they’d been pointing them before my abrupt entrance. The other, the biggest one, keeps his aimed in my general direction. He looks at me with an expression of shock and uncertainty. This does not make him any less terrifying.
In the face of all of this, Tristan is literally trembling like a leaf, in waves that start from his legs and shock out toward his fingers and keep him perpetually off-balance. I wonder, distantly, how I thought he was pale before.
Nate’s face is placid, almost bored, as if he’s dealing with a traveling salesman or a Jehovah’s Witness and being exactly as polite as social norms demand. But his expression scares me, because it isn’t one I’ve seen before. This is the first time I’ve seen his dimples without a smile underneath them.
Then a dangerous-looking expression of annoyance crosses the man’s face as he looks back at Nate for one seething second. Then he peers at me, his narrowed lids framing the hard blue glints of his eyes.
I’m holding my breath, I realize, and I try to release it slowly, so it doesn’t come out in a big whoosh. I’ve managed to hold onto the paperback I snagged from downstairs, and now I squeeze it in my hands to keep them from shaking, to keep myself steady. I can’t keep my eyes off the gigantic gun dangling from his arm. I bet I couldn’t lift it if I tried. And I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen anything like it before. Not that I know fuck-all about guns.
I am definitely not high enough for this.
He lowers his weapon.
“What are you doing here?” he demands, vocal cords like shards of ice. Then he straightens, aiming the gun away from me and down at his side, giving me a full HD shot of the length of it. What are all those pieces? What do all those things do? Does one single personal weapon need to have so many different—
The man steps toward me and I take an inadvertent step back, bumping up against the table. Nowhere to go.
I do not face this with stoic fearlessness. I do not thrust my chin out defiantly, nor do I cross my arms casually in front of me in a subtle challenge to the authority granted this man by his huge fuck-off gun.
All of these things flick through my mind as excellent reactions under the circumstances, possibly for a superhero, or at least for someone else.
But I’m not a superhero—I’m not even a regular hero. It’s just me.
I face these things in a full-body cringe: bent almost backward over a beaten-up wooden table so I don’t topple over, shrinking away, cowering behind a paperback trade novel as if it can shield me from this man’s steely gaze, much less his steely weapon.
Then, with a deep breath, I clamp down on my fear and peek around the book at him, attempting calm despite the fact that my friends are about to be tortured in front of me, or else killed or hauled away for unspeakable purposes.
Swallow. “I’m . . .”
No, shut up, he didn’t ask you your name, answer the question. Don’t look at the gun. Answer the question.
“We’re . . .”
No, don’t say coworkers. Do not expand this discussion into a realm that so intricately involves you.
I grip the paperback with the pixelated sheep even harder in my sweaty palms, trying to refrain from hiding behind it, and when his expression darkens with impatience or murder, I blurt out the next thing that comes to mind: “We’re in a book club.”
The man with the frozen voice looks from Nate to Tristan, then back to me. But the scornful look is gone; he looks doubtful, as if he can’t tell if I’m telling the truth, or maybe as if he can’t tell if it even matters.
An episode of Firefly springs to mind, one of the few legit terrifying ones, where dear, sweet Kayleigh is calmly threatened with violence of a most personal nature. Different race—this guy is the über-Aryan, as gesundheit as they come. And different type of threat, although standing here next to Nate, feeling his restraint as anger roils off of him in waves, the air is thick with a sense of violation. But the cold, chilly calm in the intruder’s voice, his eyes—that is the same. And I don’t like it any more in real life.
“We’re reading Philip K. Dick right now,” I continue, my voice too loud in my own ears. I force myself to look into his eyes, despite whatever that is glinting back at me, because I’m pretty sure if I look directly at that gun one more time I’m going to lose my shit.
I hold the book out to him. “Have you seen Blade Runner?”
The man doesn’t respond for long moments, and I risk a quick glance around the room. The two other men still have their weapons trained on my friends—at least one of whom looks about three seconds from crumpling to the floor—and while one of the men watches his leader with expressionless eyes, the other is staring at me in what looks like utter bewilderment.
As if my lack of finesse in this fucked-up situation is somehow unusual. Well, fuck him. It isn’t like I’m used to seeing guns from this particular angle. Or any angle.
Then, incredibly, the big blond leader lowers his gun entirely, shoving it behind his back in one smooth motion, where it hangs on some sort of sling, dangerous end down. His face is an expression of anger and disgust—or at least I thought it was, but now it’s gone, and in its place is . . . nothing.
“This isn’t over,” the big soldier promises Nate in a low growl, and I suddenly remember his words just before I’d entered: “Is that what you’re calling yourself these days?” I’m sure now that he’d been talking to Nate.
Or . . . whatever his name is.
Then he looks back to me, and once again his expression changes into . . . something.
He reaches toward me and I jump with alarm, expecting him to grab me, but then his arm stops moving and he bends it back toward him at the elbow. He holds his hand open, palm up. A gesture of some kind? A salute? Or is he waiting for me to give him something?
Whatever the gesture means, the look on his face gives me no hint at all. It seems to be a combination of both respect and dark promises, and while I can’t be certain of his specific motivations behind it, I am pretty sure I wouldn’t like them if I knew them.
He glances over Tristan, then locks his eyes on Nate again, and his expression ripples into something—disdain, disgust. He looks like he’s about to say something to me.
Then he simply snaps his mouth shut, turns, and strides out the open doorway, and the other two soldiers file in behind him. They disappear into the sunny Myrick day.
After a few seconds, when no one returns, we all react at once: Nate crosses to the door in three strides, slams the door closed, and throws the deadbolt, then presses his back against it, his face that same mixture of dimples and not-smiling. I breathe a shuddering, whimpering sigh of relief. And Tristan, finally, does crumple to the floor.
When the lock begins to rattle, Nate springs away from the door and over to us, arms out protectively in front of us. Hands gripping forearms, we collectively hold our breath, waiting for giant blond would-be assassins to come back and finish what they started.
But this time it isn’t the hulking blonds. Just the opposite.
“What’d I miss?” Duc says.