Knee Deep in the Hoopla
Sophie and Hunter stood with Vyx security on either side blocking any routes of escape. The agents had their rifles trained on them. The most forward officer pulled up his balaclava.
“Take the girl alive,” he said, “Shoot the other one.”
One of the men stepped forward and took a shot at Hunter. Hunter twirled his katana and the bullet returned to the security agent and struck him between the eyes. The other agents watched the his body drop to the ground, their eyes darting between them. Sophie produced and antique, silver hand mirror from a pouch slung across her shoulder and held it up high.
“Close your eyes,” she whispered to Hunter.
A blinding flash of silver light erupted and the agents swung their arms over their eyes and turned away. Sophie, with her other hand, began forming complex mudras in the direction of the apparent lead agent.
“Let’s see what kind of creepy shit you have crawling around in there,” she mumbled.
A point of blacklight purple formed in the air in front of her target and began to grow. A grasping claw shot from the light, dripping and black. It dragged its nails along the surface of the street and dug in, prying the rest of its hulking form from the rift. The creature emerged and towered over the three agents standing before Sophie and Hunter.
It was bulbous, ill defined and vaguely humanoid. Extending the length of its torso was a gaping, coughing vagina that oozed a viscous fluid on the pavement. Its head was nearly split in two by a slavering maw unable to close due to an array of an inordinate number of needly fangs. The creature swung its head toward the target of Sophie’s incantation. It was wearing dangling earrings that resembled the business end of a morning star. One of the earrings swung and struck an adjacent Vyx agent in the face, piercing his head and dragging him along. It grasped the lead agent by the torso, impaling his side. It stuffed him into its vagina which appeared to bite down on his top half. The rest remained in the creature’s talon.
“Mommy issues,” Sophie cooed, “No foolin’.”
One of the agents to the rear began running. The other two regained composure and started firing on the beast. Hunter leapt and ran one through. Sophie raised her bow. As she drew back a silver arrow appeared to emerge from her drawing hand, glowing like a sliver of moonlight. She released and the arrow and struck the remaining agent in the chest. He dropped to the street. She grabbed Hunter by the sleeve of his robe. He began dragging like a toddler.
“What the hell was that?” he croaked, looking back at the monster that was begin to look like it was deflating back into the blacklight poster from which it emerged.
“Just run,” Sophie shouted, “There’ll be more Vyx agents on the way.”
As they ran Sophie pulled a cell phone out of her pouch. She tapped it and held it to her ear.
“Please don’t be passed out drunk, please don’t be passed out drunk,” she panted.
Cheryl was sitting on a stool at the bar. A slightly off key rendition of Autumn Leaves was unspooling from a jazz trio set up in the center. A silent television in the corner was showing a reporter holding her hand to her ear standing in front of roaring fire. The words ‘Explosion in Port Richmond - No injuries’ crawled along the bottom of the screen. She stared dead eyed into the mirror behind the rows of liquor, drumming her fingers. Her phone, sitting on the bar in front of her, lit up. She tilted her head toward the phone, smiled and snatched it up.
“Oh my god,” she said in a theater groan, “Sophie, you gotta save me. This is torture.”
“No, girl,” Sophie yelled into the butt of the phone, "You gotta save me. Or it probably will be torture.”
“Shit, babe, where are you?” Cheryl said rifling through her handbag.
“Uh…,” Sophie tried to focus on a street sign a she jogged by, “East Thompson and Berks, I think it’s Fishtown.”
“I’m at Chris’,” Cheryl found her keys, “On my way. Try to hide until I get there.”
“It’s plus one, tonight.”
Cheryl darted for the door, but was blocked by a stumpy man in a polo shirt and puka beads.
“Where you going, babe?” he said widening his arm span, “We were just getting to know each other.”
“I knew everything about you when I saw your loafers and cargo shorts. Besides, barking up the wrong tree.” Cheryl said attempting to circle her obstruction. He adjusted to block her exit.
“You don’t gotta be a bitch, c’mon.”
“Sorry, kid. I don’t have time to find my taser,” Cheryl fell into a side stance and drove her shin bone into his crotch. He shrieked and dropped to his knees. She stepped over him and flew out the door.
She raced to the parking lot and pressed her fob. A black ‘67 Pontiac GTO chirped in response. She threw her purse inside, hopped in and the engine roared to life. She squealed out of the parking space and toward the lot attendant’s kiosk. She tossed her claim ticket at the man inside and rammed through the barrier gate before he had time to raise it. The tires cried as she darted down Sansom Street.
Sophie and Hunter had hopped into a fenced yard that was overgrown with scrubby hedges. Sophie peeked through the space between the leaves, wide eyed.
“I have a lot of questions,” Hunter piped up, “Seems like a good time to ask them.”
“Go,” said Sophie, taking a deep breath, not taking her eyes off the intersection.
“Why are you running from Vyx security? What was that fucking Heavy Metal looking thing? And how did you do all that stuff?”
“I burnt down a Vyxcorp’s warehouse in Port Richmond, that was a materialized construct of that guy’s subconscious and from my mother.”
“Now I have a litany of new questions.”
“Why did I burn down a Vyxco warehouse?”
“It’s complicated,” Sophie scrunched her face and looked at Hunter, “Ever heard of the Demiurge?”
“I’ve heard Terence McKenna and Robert Anton Wilson use the phrase, but I never really looked into it. Oh, and one time my dungeon master had my party fight one. You guys aren't LARPers are you, because I’m pretty sure I killed two guys back there. And now that I say it out loud I’m starting to bug out.”
“Definitely not LARPers and between us we killed five men back there. They would have killed you. And don’t bug out. Cheryl should be here any minute.”
Hunter started hyperventilating. Sophie held his head. Her hand began twisting in tortured patterns that looked as though she was trying to untangle something. Hunter’s breathing returned to normal.
“Feel better?” Sophie asked.
“Much,” Hunter looked at her and she appeared to holding a wriggling yellow centipede. It crumpled in on itself and disappeared, “What was that?” he asked.
“Your fear,” she said peering back out through the hedges, “A piece anyway. It’s only temporary so I need you to just stay calm.”
Hunter began taking long, deep breaths. A low engine roaring could be heard in the distance growing louder.
“Our ride is here,” Sophie said clutching Hunter by the arm, “Be ready.”
“For what?” Hunter asked.
“Ever jump into a moving car?” Sophie grinned at him. His eyes goggled under his aviators.
As the engine sound crescendoed to its peak Sophie slapped Hunter on the back.
“Now,” she yelled.
They both hopped the fence. Cheryl swerved close, leaned over and pushed open the passenger side door. Sophie leapt into the passenger seat. Hunter hit the quarter panel, but grabbed onto the spoiler and climbed onto the trunk as Cheryl sped off. Sophie popped out the window and sat on the door.
“Can you climb on the roof? I’ll pull you in,” Sophie shouted over the wind and hair whipping her face.
Hunter began to crawl over the rear window when two cars emerged from side streets sped after them. They were both emblazoned with Vyxco logos.
“Shit,” Cheryl snapped jiggling the shifter, “Hang on.”
Hunter looked under his arm and saw a Vyx security agent leaning out each of the cars brandishing pistols. They began firing. Hunter rolled to his back and braced his heels on the spoiler. Cheryl made a fishtail turn down a narrow one way street lined with parked cars. Hunter jerked but remained stable. Hunter, impressed with his feat of balance, jumped into a crouch. He raised himself to his feet and nodded, pleased. A bullet whipped past his head. He extended his arm and middle finger toward their pursuers.
Cheryl made another hard turn onto wide shop lined road. Weaving around what few cars were on the road. Hunter’s balance didn’t waver. He drew his katana and as bullets flew by he knocked them back, his blade pinging. One returned and hit a pursuing vehicle on the windshield creating a spider web pattern of cracks.
“Where did you pick up samurai Arthur Dent?” Cheryl yelled to Sophie, watching in the side view mirror.
Sophie pulled out her mirror and produced another searing burst of silver light. The windows on the Vyxco cars darkened.
“Damn it,” Sophie screamed and slid back into the car.
“What?” asked Cheryl.
“They’ve adapted to my light trick,” she replied.
One of the vehicles began pulling alongside Cheryl. The driver pointed his gun at Sophie and fired. The car hit a pothole and the bullet strayed. Sophie began her elaborate hand dance. The driver aimed again and fired as Hunter scurried to the roof of the Pontiac and swung his sword in windmill and knocked the projectile away. What looked like an emaciated wolf with mange dropped out of thin air and landed on the roof of the Vyxco car. It began tearing and chewing its way through the roof and dropped into the cabin. The car veered toward Cheryl and she hit the brakes allowing the car to cut in front across the other lane and into a store front.
“You better not be scratching up my finish,” Cheryl shouted as she banged on the roof.
“I think he’s wearing fuzzy slippers,” Sophie said.
“I’m just fucking with him,” Cheryl giggled, “I just got it refinished. Carl tells me it’s hard as steel. Want to test that claim? Hang on.” Cheryl grinned wide and stood on the brakes.
The Vyxco pursuers slammed into the back of the Pontiac ejecting its passengers through the already shattered windshield. They launched in the air and landed in a heap in front of them. Hunter jumped down and Sophie opened the door and he slid into the back seat. One of the Vyxco agents started to sit up and waved his gun in their general direction. Cheryl slammed the accelerator and ran him over as they sped off toward the highway on-ramp.
“Cheryl, this is,” Sophie paused, “What is your name, samurai?”
“Hunter,” he groaned, sprawled out on the back seat.
“Hunter?” Cheryl snickered, “What frat did you get coughed up out of?”
“My mom named me after Hunter Thompson,” Hunter moaned in reply.
“The only acceptable explanation,” said Cheryl.
“I’m Sophie,” Sophie said looking over the back seat, “But, on these occasions I go by The High Priestess.”
“What, like a secret identity?” Hunter sat up.
“It’s best not to go by real names where you’re out,” Sophie said settling into her seat, “Cheryl goes by Fanny Alexander.”
“Like the Bergman film?” Hunter asked.
“It was the name I used when I was a dancer,” Cheryl added.
“Exotic dancer?” Hunter quipped.
“Yes. Don’t hate,” Cheryl barked, “It paid for my Ph.D. The one in electrical engineering, anyway. Got a grant for the one in computer science.”
“Where are we going?” Sophie asked watching the scaffolding of the Betsy Ross Bridge fly by.
“Jersey,” Cheryl replied, “Can’t go home, so we’re going to Carl’s.”
“Who’s Carl?” asked Hunter.
“My mechanic,” Cheryl replied.