Even as she walked, she could feel her fragile grip on reality fraying. Outside of the evangelical church, a missionary spoke in doomsday tongues of how these were the End of Days; the rapture had occurred when things fell apart and now the final judgement was at hand. When Cynder turned to look at him she saw his face melting into something sinister and demonic. It caused her to shriek and run blindly through the twilight streets.
Everything was twisting and warping and reforming in upon itself. She felt disoriented. Every so often, she thought she heard an alien, yet familiar, voice guiding her, but she couldn’t be sure. Noting was real anymore. Her body ached, and, despite the chill in the winter air and the biting wind, she was sweating, heat radiating from some inferno deep within her. Part of her wondered if she was going to die, or worse, plunge into a psychosis of never-ending hallucinations and pain.
She had no idea how she found the alleyway. Even as she came upon it, it bore the countenance of a gapping maw with gore dripping from rows upon rows of jagged teeth. Still, she crawled into the belly, finding herself surrounded by the familiar graffiti and scents of trash. Desperately, she looked to see if there would be the familiar non-human figure she met the last time she was here, but perhaps that was just a hallucination too.
There was itching on her arms, she reached down to scratch and saw maggots chewing their way free. Even as she started to scream, the meager contents of her stomach burst forth in the form of sewer water and blood. She could feel wetness in her crotch and a stickiness from her backside. Her legs buckled under her as she began to shake. Cynder spied a pile of garbage she figured she could crawl into to hide, but found she lacked the strength to move. Finally, a low moan escaped her frame.
A set of arms wrapped around her, pulling her close. Clawed nails caressed her scalp. She looked up into a pair of serpentine blue eyes. Scarecrow’s forked tongue flicked out into the cold air, almost touching her fevered brow.
“Easy. Easy,” he said. “Cynder sick. Not good. Easy.”
“Withdrawal…” she managed to say. “I’m crashing.”
She might have said more, but a spasm shot through her body. Suddenly, she was twisting and turning, thrashing violently. By this time she realized she no longer has control over her own body. Part of her regretting not staying at the temple with the lama, but she also wondered what could’ve possibly been done for her at this point. The seeds, the addiction, was having their way with her, as she tried to purge it all from her system.
As the spasms wracked her body, she felt Scarecrow’s grip tightening. His mind brushed against hers, letting her know he was close. The sensations of comfort helped calm her a little. It was only as the spasms subsided that Cynder noticed he had wrapped her in webbing from her shoulders to her knees. She opened her mouth to scream, but he placed a clawed finger to her lips.
“No!” Scarecrow hissed. “Easy, easy. Cynder not food. Promise, promise. Easy. Trust me.”
Slowly, she nodded. It was the only thing she could do. Her mouth was filled with ashes and she couldn’t trust her body to do much of anything. Slowly, Scarecrow lifted her over his shoulder. The hallucinations were still happening and the heat she felt made her wonder if she was going to burn alive from the inside out, but, in the arms of the hunter, she knew there was at least one real thing left.
“Cynder sick,” he said as he began to move into the growing shadows. Then, with his mind; …I will keep you safe until you are well...
The decaying silo stood at the far edge of the city. One of those places even the most criminal of elements would not go. Beyond stood the desiccated wastes and iron-colored mountains. Cynder felt the structure resembled a watchtower. Something that was perfect for a hunter.
She had no idea when it was she arrived, or how long it was she spasmed and hallucinated. Her body, and its ability to keep its contents to itself betrayed her on more humiliating occasions than she could count. The whole time, Scarecrow stayed with her, cooing assurances, giving sensations of comfort. When she thought she could take no more, she found his gaze locked with hers, his blue eyes glowing brightly.
When Cynder opened her eyes again, she was alone. A blanket was placed loosely over her bare body, and a tub of steaming water had been drawn for her. Next to the tub were fresh cloths, and her soiled ones were drip-drying in an open doorway.
The water felt wonderful on her aching and battered frame. She wondered how long she slept and then wondered if it really mattered. Outside, she could hear the wind, and, from an open window, she could see a few flakes of desperate snow. It looked like it might be late afternoon.
Finally, she pulled herself from the water, which had become lukewarm. The fresh clothing was a little brighter colored than she preferred, but at least it fit. The building she was in was surprisingly warm for being an abandoned looking structure with open windows. She somewhat wondered if it was an after effect of her withdraw. Perhaps a residual fever.
Cynder began to explore her surroundings. Many of the chambers in the silo seemed abandoned. There were webs everywhere, which seemed fitting, given her host. She called out his name, but there was no answer. With her mind, she tried to sense for him, but wasn’t exactly sure if he was nearby.
Finally, she came upon a room filled with cocoons of various sizes. Cynder felt herself grow cold, knowing what was inside those bundles. There were what looked like piles of ash on the floor. One cocoon looked to be opened. Her curiosity getting the better of her, she approached it. What she saw made her scream.
The mummified husk had to distinct puncture marks through the top of the head. A great deal of the remains was little more than ashen dust. Whether it was the sound of her scream, or her footfalls so nearby, but the rest of the body disintegrated into dry ash almost instantaneously.
…What are you doing in here?…Scarecrow’s voice came from out of nowhere. She turned just in time to catch the back of his hand across her face, sending her flying. “No! No! No! No look! Cynder bad! No look! Bad! Bad! Bad!”
Before she could even stand he had grabbed her by the nape of the neck and dragged her from the room. There were scratch marks down the side of her face. She wondered if she was bleeding. Forcefully, she pushed against the wall of another chamber.
“Bad!” Scarecrow hissed. “No look! Not your food! My food! No look!”
“I’m sorry,” Cynder whimpered. “I was looking for you.”
He said nothing, his tongue testing the air. She could sense he didn’t enjoy striking her or admonishing her. Still, the sensation he gave was clear; that room was off-limits to her. It was as though she wanted to protect her from the sight of his preferred food source.
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll stay away from there.”
“Good,” he said. “Cynder hungry?”
“I think I am,” she replied, unable to remember the last time she ate.
“Good,” Scarecrow said as he began walking in the opposite direction of the room with the cocoons. “Come.”
“Where are we going?” Cynder asked.
“To feed,” Scarecrow said over his shoulder.