The following is a commissioned mini-interlude that focuses on Fossor paying a visit to Flick during her childhood. So, you know, be prepared for creepiness.
Several Years Ago
“You are actually quite fortunate, my dear.” The man, whose utter lack of any intimidating features belied the danger he posed to the world at large, stood in front of the sink, carefully scrubbing his soft hands with liberal amounts of the anti-bacterial soap that sat nearby. “Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t bother extending this much effort with someone as indescribably mundane as yourself.”
Turning off the water with a gentle touch at the handle, he turned to take a couple of white paper towels from their holder. While drying off his hands, the man smiled slightly at the woman who sat on the floor in the corner, her wide eyes regarding him with a kind of terror normally reserved for a small prey animal facing its imminent extinction.
“I would apologize,” he explained simply, “but I’m sure you’re already quite aware of your own prosaic existence. After all, you did choose one of the most unimaginative and dull careers that your people have invented. And if you knew how many years I’ve been around to see such things, you’d understand how impressive that is. In a completely unimpressive way, of course.”
Dropping the paper towels in the nearby trash can, he stepped over to the woman. At his approach, she cowered back into the corner a little more while a noise not unlike a keening mouse or rabbit escaped her. As she lifted her arms defensively in front of her face, various runes and other strange symbols could be seen on her skin.
“Shhh,” the man, who was known to most who were aware of his existence as Fossor, cautioned, reaching down to gently take one of her hands. She quivered and whimpered under the touch while he carefully examined the markings. “You didn’t smudge anything, did you? We wouldn’t want to make that kind of mistake, after all. They’ll be here in a few minutes. Far too soon to call in a replacement.”
Once satisfied that the runes were written correctly and undisturbed, he laid a hand gently against the woman’s face. “Yes, this really is a better fate than an endless parade of days in…” Gesturing dismissively around them, he finished with, “… this.”
As her eyes started to look that way reflexively, mouth open to plead for mercy, his hand closed around her throat. She made a short, sharp sound of protest, hands coming up to grab at him. But his strength was far greater than his form would imply, and he simply tightened his hold. The woman kicked and flailed, tears streaming down her face while she fought to hold onto her breath.
Then, as with so many other times, it was over. He felt her last, desperate spasm before she died. As the woman slumped back against the wall, Fossor straightened and stepped back. His eyes watched her with the patience of one who had been through such things so often they had become routine.
Sure enough, before more than a few seconds had passed, the woman’s eyes opened once more. Her body jerked a little bit, a brief spasm that ended with the woman on all fours. Her head turned up toward her murderer and she gave a brief hiss while showing her teeth.
“None of that.” Fossor’s hand gestured, and the woman stopped. At another gesture, she rose to her feet, eyes still locked on him while her teeth remained bared. While the woman stood there, he reached out to touch her forehead, murmuring a spell under his breath as he focused on the power that had been his for so long. With a little effort, he restored enough of her humanity to allow the woman to function relatively normally. Or well enough, at least. She was more automaton than human being, but it would satisfy his purposes.
No sooner had he finished that, than a chime in the nearby room announced a new arrival. Tilting his head, the man glanced toward a television screen on the wall that showed a view of the room in question. The sight made him smile faintly. “Go,” he instructed the woman. “You know what to do.”
He waited then, while the woman tugged the sleeves of her shirt down to cover the spell-forms before she walked out to greet the newcomers with a voice that managed to sound quite friendly and inviting considering her state as a newly-risen zombie.
Before long, it was his turn. Reaching down, he plucked the surgical/procedure mask off the nearby table and secured it to his face. On his way out of the room, the man stopped and glanced sideways toward a half-open door. Lying beyond were the mutilated and ruined bodies of his new assistant’s former boss and coworkers. Blood covered the walls while their twisted and broken limbs gave testament to the agony they had suffered through their demise.
“Apologies,” Fossor spoke quietly while tugging on a pair of white latex gloves. “I only required the services of one. After all, I could hardly be my own assistant.”
That said, the man stepped out of the room and carefully closed the door after himself. Adjusting the mask, he strolled through the connecting corridor and into another room just down the hall. On his way in, he plucked the waiting clipboard off the wall.
“Well, good afternoon, Felicity.”
The twelve-year-old girl waiting for him in the chair folded her arms over her stomach. “It’s Flick,” she announced shortly. “And where’s Dr. Demmin?”
Smiling slightly behind the procedure mask that covered the lower half of his face, the man stepped closer. “I’m afraid your usual dentist had an… unavoidable personal issue.” Meeting her gaze, he pitched his voice to sound sympathetic. “There was a death in the family.”
It was, after all, technically true.
“Oh…” the preteen was quiet then before offering a weak, “I hope he’ll be okay.”
Interesting. Even years after her mother had supposedly abandoned her, the girl expressed sympathy for the losses of others. Fossor noted it before nodding. “I’ll make certain your condolences are heard. Now, you said you prefer to be called… what was it?”
“Flick,” the girl repeated. “My name is Flick.”
“Hmm, that’s an interesting name.” Stepping around the side of the chair, he touched the button to make it start to move into its proper position. “Lean back, please. Don’t like Felicity?”
“My mom chose it,” the blonde replied while leaning back in the seat. “She’s a bitch.”
“Wow, language.” Fossor gently chided while pleased that the mask allowed him to smile. “Having a fight with her, are you? It’s not about coming in today, is it? Because you know getting those teeth pulled is important.”
Her head shook. “My dad brought me. Mom left.” Her eyes scowled a little bit. “Everybody leaves.”
Positioning himself beside her, Fossor shook his head. “Aww, I hope this isn’t about poor Dr. Demmin. I’m sure he regrets not being able to be here today if you were close.”
“What?” the innocent girl blinked at that. “Oh. No, it’s not about that. I—never mind.”
“Hey,” the man made his eyes twinkle just a little. “If you can’t talk to the man that’s about to pull several of your teeth, who can you talk to?”
“I just–” she started before stopping. Her eyes moved away from him and she seemed to be gazing off at nothing. After a few seconds of that, the twelve-year-old heaved a sigh. “My best friend just moved. My mom left, Randi left… now Dr. Demmin isn’t here… everybody leaves.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” He wasn’t. Having the other girl leave hadn’t actually been part of his plan. Not yet, anyway. But it worked to further isolate his prize. And it meant that he didn’t have to expend the effort to either kill or remove the girl in the future. Sometimes life just seemed to work out well.
In time, ‘Flick’ would be ready to reunite with that missing mother, and then… well, then it would be interesting to see how they interacted. Perhaps Ammon would be far enough along in his own… training by that point that they could all have a ‘welcome’ dinner for the girl. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Shaking off the thought, he picked up one of the dental mirrors in one hand and a sickle probe with the other. “Let’s see if we can take a look at what’s going on in there before we put you under, shall we?”
Clearly restraining a groan, the girl leaned back and opened her mouth. Carefully, he pushed the mirror and probe in, taking a look while reminding himself not to chuckle.
So obedient. He would have to commend her mother.
Expertly checking over the teeth in question with only a minimum of poking (he could have done it with none, but making the girl squirm and twitch a couple of times was irresistible), he eventually straightened with a nod of satisfaction. “Looks like we’re ready then.”
On cue, his newly raised zombie-assistant stepped back into the room. Murmuring something about nonexistent patients in the other rooms, she crossed over to the other side of the chair where a tray of waiting syringes sat.
While she prepared the injection, Fossor met Flick’s eyes. “I promise you,” he assured her in a gentle tone, “this won’t take long, and your father will be waiting for you when you wake up. Now, ready?”
The girl gave a slight, clearly nervous nod, and he gestured for the dental assistant to proceed. As the injection went in, he gently touched her shoulder. “Now just count backwards from ten. That’s right… ten… nine… eight…”
She was out. As the girl slumped unconscious in the chair, he dismissed the zombie with a gesture. She fell over as well, leaving him alone with the drugged child.
“Yes…” the man murmured while tugging off the gloves. Hands bare once more, he gently brushed two fingers down the side of the girl’s face. “No harm will come to you. After all, I keep my promises.”
After a moment of silence, he snapped his fingers. “Speaking of which, how could I forget?” A gesture brought the assistant back to consciousness and she scrambled out of the room, only to return a few seconds later with the bag that he had brought.
Taking a camera from the bag before dismissing the woman’s puppeted body once again, he carefully lined up a shot of the unconscious young girl. Snapping first one, then two, and finally a third photograph from various angles, he murmured, “I did tell your mother that I would bring her pictures, after all.”
Finally satisfied that he had enough, the man set the camera aside, patting it carefully. “I’m sure she’ll be eager to know that she’s no longer alone in having utterly abandoned you.”
Pausing, he considered whether it would be worth it to track down the former friend. Having her around might give Joselyn something else to focus on, and wouldn’t it be a delightful treat to share with Felicity when the time came to collect her?
It was something to think about. After all, other than these two, there were only three living connections to the Atherby bloodline. The other two children were out of his reach, while the third connection was so well hidden that even he couldn’t recall what it was. That memory spell that the Heretics enjoyed so much. He remembered that the third connection existed, but no subsequent efforts had managed to retrieve the precise identity.
Knowing it had been done to him once, that he had already lost the identity of that first Atherby blood relative was precisely why he had prepared himself against its subsequent use and thus remembered Joselyn Atherby after others had forgotten.
Fool me once, shame on you, and all that.
Shaking that thought off, the man returned his attention to the unconscious, innocent, untouched child as she lay in the dentist’s chair.
“Well,” he spoke aloud. “I’m sure they’ll present themselves in time, won’t they? For now, let’s see what we can do about getting those teeth out.”
Picking up the tools, he reached for the girl’s mouth.
“You won’t feel a thing.”