Body and Soul I: The Body Snatcher
Chapter 1: The Fall of the Tower
He was awake when the body snatcher came for him the next day; he'd slept fitfully and finally had awakened near dawn, unable to make himself fall asleep again. Exhaustion dragged at him, but with leaden eyes and leaden feet he forced himself to begin the morning round of chores. Work would give him something to occupy himself, something to turn his mind away from the despairing thoughts of last night.
She didn't try anything spectacularly horrible that day, as if recognizing how close to the edge of despair she'd pushed him and granting him a reprieve, though he very much doubted that that was her motive. The routine allowed him to fall back into a numb, mechanical mode of existence, going through the motions to stay alive and as unhurt as possible. He was actually almost starting to recover a little of his emotional strength back-- and then it came nighttime, time to mark off another day he'd survived on his little tally. Twenty-seven days.
Tomorrow was day 28. Four whole weeks. And a normal woman's menstrual cycle was 28 days. While the sporadic bleeding from injury had been going on for three weeks, there had been no flow so steady and so unrelated to painful and damaging rapes that he could point to it with certainty as a menstrual period. Without knowing this body, there was no way to know for sure, but from what he knew from being intimately involved with women, it was very likely that he'd missed a cycle. He'd been shoving that particular fear to the back of his mind, but the date made it impossible not to notice it anymore.
Two days later, that fear, along with all the others, was still weighing on him, dragging him down and dulling his will to live again, when she brought him upstairs to the kitchen in the morning and set him to work. A Daily Bugle was lying folded on the kitchen table, next to a half-eaten buttered bagel. That raised his spirits very, very slightly-- though if he thought about it, he'd be horrified that an opportunity to pilfer food should make him feel better, it was something he worked very hard at not thinking about. Food she'd abandoned was fair game; she didn't even punish him for that, clearly enjoying the notion of him being her human garbage disposal. He grabbed the bagel and devoured it in three mouthfuls while flipping the newspaper over to read the headlines. The bagel turned to chalk in his mouth as he read the top headline-- ELECTROKILLER STRIKES AGAIN. Mouth dry and a growing knot in his stomach, he read the article.
A serial killer was preying on young men in New York City, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Baltimore and Boston. Eight young men had been raped and electrocuted. Seven of the victims had been homosexuals; the eighth had been a 26-year-old millionaire, a stock market advisor on his way up in the pathways of power. His home showed signs of forced entry, his window smashed, the iron bars on his windows twisted and torn free, his burglar alarm shorted out and his phone lines destroyed from a power surge. The other victims turned up dead in hotel rooms or their own apartments with no signs of forced entry, indicating to the police that they were letting the killer in, that he might be someone they knew, or possibly a casual sexual assignation for the night. Police weren't even sure that the stockbroker was killed by the same person-- the modus operandi was the same, rape and electrocution with the marks of shackles on the body, but they couldn't see a reason why a serial killer who preyed on gay men that invited him home would suddenly force himself on a heterosexual man that hadn't exposed himself to the danger.
Erik, privy to rather more information than they had, saw the connection immediately. All men were potential targets of the body snatcher-- she saw all of them as powerful beings who needed to be hurt and humbled. But the homosexual victims were easy targets, people she could seduce and lure into her clutches. The stockbroker, on the other hand, had been a genuinely powerful man. Presumably her sexual tastes ran to young men, or there would be a whole host of raped and murdered elderly and middle-aged men in those cities.. dear God, one of the cities in her range was the capital of the United States. Senators and Congressmen were likely to start turning up dead. And while mutant involvement had not currently been confirmed-- New York was full of non-mutant crazies who did things like build electrified suits and commit crimes with them-- sooner or later it would be. In fact, if she left fingerprints on any of her victims, the killings would quickly be blamed on Magneto, whose fingerprints were on file from the time he'd surrendered to stand trial.
The body snatcher was still killing innocents. He had humbled himself, had bent his head and his knee, gone as low as he could go, to keep her from murdering innocents, to let her take out her rage and her perverse lusts on him instead of innocent men. And she'd lied to him. She'd brutally humiliated him, in ways she never could have without his consent, because he'd thought she would spare others. And she hadn't.
White-hot rage swamped him. For a moment, all he could think of was an overwhelming need to kill her. He began scanning the kitchen, looking for weapons. Why were so many kitchen utensils made of metal? Oh how he would love to pick up the carving knife and drive it into her guts, but his experience with trying to hit her with a can and a metal spade told him that he couldn't use anything ferrous on her any more than it could have been used on him. She might not be as expert as he was, but she was good enough. There was little in the kitchen that wasn't metal. Wooden breadboard, wooden spoon, plastic spatula, plastic plates and cups. None of it had the weight, the strength he wanted. But perhaps something would. He went to the refrigerator and smiled grimly to see the beer bottles, sharp glass just waiting to be invoked with a blow, full of liquid that would sting and blind, and, except for the caps, totally non-metallic. Easy enough to fix. There was a can opener with a bottlecap remover sitting on the refrigerator; he reached up, grabbed it and yanked the bottlecap off the nearest bottle of beer.
"Stealing my beer?" He hadn't heard her come in. Her voice behind him held a mocking tone, arrogantly sure she was still in control. "I'm going to have to--"
It didn't matter what she would do. He pivoted, with his hand wrapped tightly around the middle of the bottle, and swung the liquid inside at her face.
She flung an arm up, uselessly. He couldn't tell if she'd tried to shield; it took serious power and skill to shield against liquid. The body snatcher screamed and staggered back as the cold liquid hit her eyes. Erik followed up with a blow from the bottle itself to her head, and then kicked her in the stomach, while she was blinded. The rattle of glass behind him alerted him, and he leapt out of the way with desperate speed as the refrigerator toppled forward, almost crushing him. It managed to slam into his shoulder on the way down. He wanted to scream with the pain, but he didn't have long. Had to take her out now, while she was hurt. Her eyes were still closed, she was still doubled over, but the door to the kitchen had slammed shut-- no escape-- and the contents of the silverware drawer flew out. Once she got her eyes open, he was dead. He grabbed the breadboard-- heavier, stronger than the bottle-- and lunged forward. Just as her eyes opened, fixing his position, he slammed the breadboard down on top of her head, as hard as he absolutely could. The silverware flew at him, but fell from the air before more than a handful of the forks and butter knives could hit him as he brought the breadboard down again and again, shrieking in inarticulate rage. She went from her knees to sprawled on the ground, and it didn't occur to him that he actually didn't want to kill the body she was in until he saw blood under his blows, bright red welling up and matting the thick white hair.
He stopped, breathing hard, and stared down at her unconscious form. And she was unconscious. She had moaned weakly, struggling, as he'd kept hitting her-- now she was silent, and he couldn't even hear her breathe. He knelt down and checked the pulse at her throat. Still strong. He hadn't killed her.
Did he want to?
The fact that she hadn't jumped yet, after a brutal beating like that, made him think she needed to be conscious and aware to make a jump. If he killed that body now, he would probably survive, and it would be her that died. It would be quick, and ensure that no more innocents fell to her. It would be sure.
And it would leave him powerless, trapped in this body forever.
Bile rose in his throat. He had never seriously contemplated that thought before-- had never considered killing her and living on in this body. He'd thought about killing them both to take her down, not about surviving like this. A wave of violent hatred for this body, for its puny size and its vulnerable puffy breasts and the fat on it and its lack of strength and the female organs so easy to hurt, so easy to invade, swamped him. He'd been entirely focused on the thought of escaping here, on using this body as a tool to flee and then get his own powerful, male body back. The depth of disgust he felt for this body when he even contemplated being stuck with it was overwhelming. No. No. He would make sacrifices to save innocent humans, yes, he would do what he could to save them, even though they'd condemn him and his out of hand. But he would not sacrifice his power and his manhood for them forever. Bend his knee for a while? He could do that. Yes, though it filled him with rage and horror and it had been slowly eroding his strength of will, he had done it. But there were limits. He was hardly one of the X-Men, to sacrifice everything he held dear for a world that would spit on him for his troubles, and he would not kill his own body. There were too many ways he could imagine to get it back, and then kill her. He wasn't going to be shortsighted out of fear now, and destroy everything that was valuable to him.
The nausea the thought of staying forever in this body had brought abated as soon as he made the decision not to kill her, and his head cleared. He did have to do something. The last time he'd had this chance, he'd punched her hard enough that it should have left her out for an hour or two. She'd woken up and pursued him in ten minutes. Which he probably should have expected, since a punch that would leave an ordinary man cold for an hour was something he himself would wake up from in ten minutes, in his own body. Though the blood matting her hair disturbed him, her pulse was strong enough that he expected she'd be out for an hour or less this time, maybe much less. He had to do something to slow her down.
Erik grabbed the paring knife-- the sharpest kitchen knife she had-- off the floor, pulled up her pant leg, and swiftly cut a deep slice into her leg, on the inside surface just above the ankle. Blood welled. He did the same for the other leg. The paring knife was sharp enough, and the cut quick enough, that there would be little pain, not enough to wake her up and not much, in comparison to her head, when she finally did awake. But she would lose blood, and the moment she stood up, the blood flow would increase enormously. And since people didn't look at their feet and the blood would be soaked up by her socks and hidden by her pant legs, it might be a while before she realized it. It was a risk-- if she remained unconscious for too long, she could conceivably bleed to death-- but he didn't think she would stay out that long. And if she panicked at the sight of the body she occupied bleeding, perhaps he'd switch-- he knew how to use his powers to slow the flow of blood and rapidly force clotting, but since she hadn't been cut up in this body before it was unlikely that she did. Even if she didn't switch, it would slow her down-- particularly in the long run, as that body would steal iron from the electromagnetic channels to repair a blood loss, which would leave her powers severely weakened if she didn't know to stoke up on iron afterward.
Time to get out of here. He considered stealing the car, and ditched the idea immediately. If she'd thought to put any kind of magnetic signaler into the car, so she could easily locate it, it would be a deathtrap the moment she woke up. He could drive like a bat out of hell, and it wouldn't prevent her from tracking him. There was no guarantee that she had put such a signaling device in-- it wasn't something he'd have thought of to do within a few years of developing the powers, much less a month-- but she had consistently shown creativity in implementing the powers. It was probably understandable-- when he'd first come to his power, there were far, far fewer electromagnetically active devices in the world. In a world of radar detectors and infrared burglar alarms and cellular phones, the thought of implanting alarms might simply be much more obvious than it had been to him. So he couldn't take the risk. By the same token, he couldn't use the road to escape-- it would be entirely too easy for her to track him on the road, just as it had been last time. No, it would have to be the woods, where her ability to fly would give her no real advantage, where the electrical auras of so much riotous growth would prevent her from picking him out at a distance, and where his small size would allow him plenty of hiding places and passage on trails that a large man simply couldn't take.
All of this ran through his mind in seconds, as he raced out the door and headed for the woods at full speed. He hit the dirt path running. It was narrow and badly overgrown, so the underbrush lashed at his legs and immediately entangled the skirt. Quickly he yanked the skirt off and twisted it, winding it into a rope as he kept running forward, and awkwardly tying it around his waist as he plunged on through the woods. This afforded absolutely no protection to his bare legs, but at least the skirt wouldn't get caught and slow him down. He ran with one arm over his face, so that when branches and twigs slapped against him, they wouldn't catch him in the eye. His blouse, already damaged from sharp glass from his last escape attempt and weakened from rough use and too many washings, tore as branches whipped at the rips already in it.
It was probably a good ten minutes before the stitch in his side became too painful to endure any longer and he had to slow down. Erik glanced back at the way he'd come. No. Fool. His headlong rush might have put distance between him and her, but he'd left plenty of evidence of his passage. If she had the most rudimentary tracking skills, she could follow him. He grabbed the nearest tree branch that he could reach, and climbed up onto it-- he wasn't actually strong enough to lift himself onto the branch, so he ended up having to use his legs to shimmy up the tree. It turned out that bare human legs were great for bracing against bark, if you didn't mind scraping said bare skin raw. The trees were close enough that if he walked carefully out on one of the main, low branches, until the point where it began to sag dangerously under his weight, he could jump and catch a branch of the next tree, there to carefully lower himself onto a lower branch of that tree and circle around until he could find a route to climb higher again. He deliberately angled away from the pathway he'd been on, into the thick of the woods where there was no pathway. Let her try to track him now.
After using seven trees to put distance between himself and the pathway, he carefully lowered himself to the ground, and began pushing his way through the thick growth. He stepped on sharp fallen branches and bracken, almost constantly; it was a good thing he'd been walking about barefoot on a stone floor for a month to build up calluses. His feet would be bleeding and swollen tonight. It didn't matter. As long as they carried him to freedom, he didn't care what price he had to pay.
The pace was too slow. He was carefully pushing branches out of the way so he left little sign of his passing, and that slowed him down far too much. Every sense screamed at him to move as fast as he could, put as much distance between her and him as he was able. Surely he was in deep enough that she could not have followed his trail here. He started to run again, or at least as much as he could in the thick of woods like this. Even with an arm protecting his face, there was no way, here, to prevent the branches lashing and scratching him, on the face, the arms, the legs, tearing the sleeves of his blouse nearly in two, catching in his hair. Rocks and sharp plant matter jabbed into his feet. It didn't matter. He had to run, had to move. Deeper into the woods, further from her, closer to freedom. Every painful stride took him closer to safety. He just had to keep going. This wasn't harder than running on frozen or snow-covered ground with starved stick legs and bare feet. His feet had bled into the snow then, when he and Magda had run, as far and fast from Auschwitz as they could. This was nothing. It was warm out. He couldn't hurt himself all that badly.
Eventually he broke out and onto another path. If he was reading his position right-- and he was going by the sun, with difficulty, being used to an internal compass-- he had been heading more or less north. East was the direction of the driveway, the direction where he'd intersect the road. North, therefore, should eventually hit whatever larger road the smallish rural road he'd found on his first escape attempt intersected with. The path went east, with a northerly bent, and west with a southerly one. He chose the northeast direction and put on a serious burst of speed, fairly flying down the pathway, breaking off to head north again as soon as the stitch in his side became unbearable again. If he never actually stopped, if he pushed on through the areas where he had to go slow when this body forced him to slow down, he could keep making distance. Sooner or later he had to hit the road. Even in Pennsylvania, the woods didn't last forever.
He went on this way for an hour, maybe two. Sometimes he went east, but mostly he kept heading north. He was on the path again, and hadn't encountered any roads yet. Erik was beginning to wonder if he'd miscalculated somehow, when he felt the hairs on his arm stand on end.
It was an awfully familiar sensation, as it invariably accompanied his own raising of power unless he compensated. Terrified, he spun around. No sign of her-- no, there, in the trees far off, a faint blue glow. He found the thickest, deepest stand of bushes around, and drove himself into them, pushing through their welter of branches from the angle behind the bush, facing toward the path, until he was behind and sheltered in them, bush branches jabbing into him everywhere. A scent of ozone, another terribly familiar sensation, wafted through the air, and the blue glow in the distance brightened. He caught up the loamy dirt from the ground and smeared it in patches on his face and legs, folding up the denim skirt to cover his chest because dark blue was closer to the brown and green of the bush than the dirty white of the blouse would be. And then he went absolutely, completely still, barely daring even to breathe, as the blue glow approached closer.
"Come out, come out, wherever you are," she was saying. "Here, little terrorist. Here, little terrorist. Come to papa."
He could see her now, floating past on the path. She wasn't wearing his boots; instead, she was wearing socks over bandages. So his plan had worked, but not well enough to utterly incapacitate her. After that kind of blood loss, she would suffer for any serious magnetic effort she put out... but she'd suffer hours from now when it caught up with her, not right now when it would save him. A stream of varied and polyglot expletives ran through his head, but he didn't dare so much as mouth them-- he couldn't move a single muscle, couldn't risk the motion attracting her attention. Oh God, but he wished he could believe prayer would do him any good. At this range, if she'd shifted her vision to the electromagnetic patterns of force instead of the visual light spectrum, there was no way he could hide. Plants generated electrical fields, but the field put out by a human was much stronger and more complex than that of a bush. If he was recaptured-- don't think about it, don't think about it! Don't see me. Please, please don't see me. Dear God, don't see me. He closed his eyes to bare slits, imagining that it would make him less visible-- the fierce glow she was putting out had to be easily reflective off eyes-- and over and over again, silently begged whatever powers there might be not to let her see him, though in his more rational moments he didn't believe there were any powers that listened to human prayers. All he could see through his scarcely-open eyes was the brilliant glow in front of him.
And her voice became more distant, drawing away.
For a moment, he didn't want to dare open his eyes all the way-- not for the rational reason of the reflectance making him visible, but because of the fear that she was standing right to the side with her powerfield shut down, looking at him, pretending to have moved off as a mind game, waiting for him to open his eyes before she pounced. But that was ridiculous. He refused to be that much of a coward. Grimly, he opened one eye fully, rolling it from side to side without moving his head, looking. No sign of her. He opened both eyes and glanced down the path. There was the blue glow receding into the distance.
It was several very long minutes after the glow was no longer visible in the slightest before he could make himself get out of his hiding place and start walking again. His knees had gone weak with terror and relief and the added terror that the relief was false, and he could barely stand. Everything that hurt, hurt far worse now, and he felt a draining exhaustion dragging at him. He couldn't keep going. But he had to. Erik forced himself onward, leaving the path and heading forward into the woods, pushing his way through the underbrush again.
Before long he came to a shallow stream, no deeper than his mid-calves. There were large, flat stepping stones that led halfway into the stream, and then stopped. He took them as far as he could go and sat down on the last one, soaking his aching feet in the cold rushing water. Water got the dirt off his face and legs and hands, and he managed to drink a good bit of it from cupped hands before it occurred to him that it might not be safe. He had no guarantee this was potable water. Oh well. At this point he hardly cared if he came down with dysentery in a few hours, as long as he'd gotten to civilization and safety by then. The water refreshed and strengthened him, and he waded in the stream, heading north-- last he'd seen, the body snatcher was heading south. (And how had she gotten ahead of him, anyway? Had she gone directly to the road to check for him and swept her way inward?)
After close to an hour of following the stream, he reached the end of the woods. Up above him there was a road of some sort, at the top of a steep grassy embankment. Erik clambered up the embankment. A major road of some kind. It was completely divided, with two eastbound lanes, and the westbound lanes invisible behind a stand of trees dividing the two directions. Erik untied his skirt and wrapped it the normal way around his waist again, covering his legs. He walked the eastbound direction, keeping well to the grass on his side of the shoulder, for another half hour or so. Cars whizzed past him constantly. He considered trying to hitchhike, but considering how wild he must look-- hair a mess, clothing ripped, skirt a mass of wrinkles, no shoes, face scratched by branches-- he suspected it wasn't a great idea.
Half an hour later, he encountered a sign marking this as Interstate 80, and not long after that, a placard informed him there would be an exit in two miles. The thought of civilization, telephones, someplace to eat, energized him, and he began to jog, unable to drive his abused body into an actual run.
END CHAPTER ONE
Body Snatcher: Chapter Two Part A
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