“All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again.”
~ The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes
Salt water carried every shattered inch of her on the tide finally vomiting her up onto a cluster of slimy, sharp rocks. All strength had left her. Her will was entirely spent, but at least if she was to die it would be in the sea, under an endless blanket of stars. For her, death would be like birth. Free.
Clouds drifted lazily in the brilliant blue of the mid-summer sky as flocks of seagulls cried out overhead, occasionally diving toward the water for a sardine or two that came too close to the surface. The days had grown long and warm with the season of the sun. This particular part of the eastern shore stretched for several miles toward the south, kissing the salty sea as it lapped and crashed rhythmically. Markus strolled down the sandy beach with a bucket swinging at his side. He held his hand over his eyes, shielding them from the hot sun and cast his gaze out to sea in time to see an unlucky fish skewered by the beak of a ravenous gull. While walking along the edge of the water, he stooped occasionally to dig clams from the wet sand. He wiggled his toes deep into the sticky sea damp shore, feeling himself sink deeper. Tide pools of warm salty water swirled around his ankles and filled the hollow places his feet left as he lifted them up. The shells made a hard rock like sound when added to his bucket, already full with several sandy clams. Markus trudged further down the beach. After a few yards he stopped, wiped the sweat from his brow and ran his hands through his hair enjoying the feeling of the sea breeze washing over his tanned skin. He smiled, lost in the moment.
Something crashed into the back of his head hard enough to pitch him forward into his knees, forcing him to lose his grip on the bucket. Clams spilled everywhere. He grabbed the back of his head with one hand and looked up. Markus swore loudly at the bird as his eyes watered from the sting of the blow. He picked himself up, dusted the sand from his frayed shorts. The gull that hit him sailed down the shoreline toward a rocky outcrop to join its friends in harassing whatever was lying on the rocks. Several were collected on top of a pinkish grayish heap strewn across the stones. They pecked and screeched and fluttered all around it. The back of Markus’ head still stung and his irritation with the bird wouldn’t let him walk away. As he got closer to the rocks, he made out the shape of a human arm under the feathers and seaweed. He started running. Markus grabbed some clams from his bucket and threw them at the birds, making them scatter into the sky. “Beat it you harpies!” He screamed. The gulls grabbed up the clams and flew to the safety of some flotsam just off the shoreline. He reached the crumpled form. Seawater had pooled all around the victim, bringing small crabs to nibble on its sunburned skin. Most of the person was covered in algae and matted gray hair. As he turned the person over he saw the soft curve of breasts. Her face and body were scarred in many places. Her limbs were twisted at odd angles. Placing his hands on her arms, Markus pressed into her torn flesh feeling the structure of her bones and muscles. He let out a long sigh and shook his head, knocking his long black pony tail over his shoulder. Just under her neck, between the collarbone points was a small scar in the shape of a circle with a cross running through it. “Huh,” he muttered. At first glance he thought the light pink mark could have been a branding. When he ran his thumb across it, he found the mark to be smooth and not healed broken skin. He moved his fingers to the left side of her throat, closed his eyes.
Beneath his fingers he felt a faint rhythm. His eyes flew open as he gasped, but before Markus could try to lift her off the rocks he felt vicious pecking and scratching from all sides. The seagulls had returned determined to keep their prey. He screamed and flailed at them. They forced him to drop the woman back onto the rocks and drove him up the beach. He ran along the coast calling out for help.
“Nicodemus,” he yelled, “Help! Help me!”
Further up the beach was a man wearing a wide, straw hat, fishing near the shore. He sprang to his feet when he saw Markus. He rushed over, waving his arms at the birds. Nicodemus, being much taller than Markus, was more effective in battling the gulls. They scattered quickly in a white noisy blur of feathers. Markus fell to his knees panting. “Good lord,” Nicodemus said, “what’s the matter with you?”
“A girl,” Markus struggled between breaths, “on the beach. She’s badly hurt.” He turned his head back in the direction of the rocks and saw the birds regroup by the rocks. He struggled to his feet and hurried down the beach, staggering most of the way. Nicodemus rushed after him. They both hurried, swatting birds and dodging beaks. Fended off for a third time, the seagulls scattered and, from the looks of it, decided that no prey was worth so much trouble.
Both of them lifted the woman up from under her shoulders and dragged her away from the shoreline. “We’d better get her inside,” Nicodemus said. They headed for a small stone cottage, located just west of the beach up a sandy slope covered in tall reedy grass. Several worn paths were forged toward the cottage, evidence of frequent trips to the water’s edges. They were careful to carry her around a small fruit and vegetable garden, to side door of the house, and through the kitchen to the clinic. Nicodemus pushed the clinic door open with his shoulder and guided Markus to the metal exam table bolted to the floor in the middle of the room. After positioning her as best as they could Niccodemus instructed, “Hold her left side.” Markus grabbed a tight hold of her. He felt the doctor pull hard from the right side. Her shoulder made a popping noise as the joint fit back into the socket. They moved her very gently onto her back.
“What fresh hell is this?” Nicodemus breathed.
Markus’ cheeks lost their color entirely. He was so busy trying to get her to the clinic that his attention captured little else. Now that they pulled her long grey hair away from her body they could see how bad the damage was. Half of her chest was caved in and the other pushed the skin up in such a way that it looked like she had fangs under her breasts. Every inch of her was red with sun burn causing the map of scars to shine a brilliant white. Several bite marks ran up her arms, claw marks ran down her legs and every limb she had seemed to be bending the wrong way or hanging off the table, limp as an old leaf of lettuce. The doctors stared.
Markus finally broke the silence. “She’s so…broken? Is that the right word?” He turned to his teacher.
“Don’t know,” Nicodemus murmured. “I’m not sure what I’m looking at.” He held his hands over her chest and closed his eyes. Markus heard a bass-heavy hum and saw Nicodemus’ hands glow a soft blue.
The woman lit up underneath her skin, showing the massive extent of the damage to her bones and organs. Her spine was broken and reset in three different places, causing it to meander much like a snake's body. There were deep lacerations across her liver and kidneys, one of her lungs had been punctured more than a dozen times and her stomach and intestines were tangled, making it impossible to digest anything short of water. Markus' eyes widened with every inch Nicodemus illuminated under his scan. Cracked bones, pierced organs, deep tissue trauma; all of it looked like it was over an extended period of time and none of it was treated properly. Nicodemus swore roughly. “Forced fusion,” he flicked his wrists and the glow evaporated. “How disgusting!”
Markus gasped, his hand jumping to his mouth, “No one would dare!”
“That’s where you’re wrong, dear boy,” Nicodemus responded grimly. “This happens more often than either of us want to think. A butcher did this.” He crossed the room to a metal basin filled with water and began to wash his hands. “I saw students expelled from the guild for much less than this.”
“How do we fix this,” he whispered.
“Piece by piece,” Nicodemus replied. “Put the tea on, lad,” he said to Markus, “this will be a long night.”
Burns. Pain strong.
Bright here. Cold. No water. Someone here. Fight.
No more pain. I feel hands. No hurt. All touch hurt. Why not this? No pain. No more pressing. Fix? No move. What it wants? Fight!
No see. Throat has pressing. Two men? More? Big man takes head pain. Small man takes neck pain. Must fight? Not know.
Do not cut! Not again. I fight!
Broken. No move. Hands on throat. No cut.
Rubs. Rubs deep.
Warm. Takes pain. Throat is warm. No force, only flow. Ask? What is ask? Not know. Not make pain. Fight? Not now. No make pain. No force shut. No rip open. I feel ‘ask’. Not know. Must fight? Must give?
I hear talk. Strange word I do not know. ‘Trans-fer’?
Throat feels strange. Not bad, not good, but strange. There is pressing, but no pain. I breathe? How? They fix?
If hurt, fight. Kill.
Live. Always live. Why always live?
Wait. World gone? Stop! I …