There was no point in trying the elevators at the Coldessi Boulevard subway station again. The climb down the emergency staircase was just as dim as before, though it was much easier on everyone’s legs. It was also just long enough for David to share his story with Nico and Shavonne – the one he told the others on the train.

“You were what?” Nico asked in surprise.

“Oh god,” Shavonne said.

“They did the same to Mr. N, as far as I know,” David continued as they left the stairwell.

“That’s new,” Bern noted.

“Didn’t expect him to show up in Coldessi Park. Definitely not with Martinez or Bubblegum.”

“Yeah. The fuck was that about?”

Cara and Mia stood off to the side, against the elevator doors, talking between themselves. Cara counted heads as the rest passed by, following the signs to the northbound platform.

Nico told David, “Back up. You say you were tortured. How exactly?”

“Hey! Don’t press him like that,” Sakari interjected.

But David ignored Sakari. He wanted Nico to know. “You’ve had blood drawn, yeah?” he began.

“Yeah,” Nico answered.

“Imagine have blood drawn from five places at once. One of them being the back of your neck, where your spine meets your shoulders.”

Shavonne flinched, shivering.

“Course, this is magic we’re talking about, not blood. It burns on the way out.”

Bern unconsciously rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah. Yeah, that’d be painful,” he admitted.

David slowed to a stop, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose. The memories were welling up again. “You can feel yourself being drained,” he continued. “I kept thinking that ought to be enough. They’ve got to be satisfied with that much, right? But they kept coming back for more. They wouldn’t stop.”

“Shit” was all Nico could say in response.

Rianne gave David a sideways hug. He looked like he needed one.

David smiled. “You’re kind, Rianne.”

The Red Line train sped north over the well of electric lights, back toward the city’s center. Clouds had rolled in. They reflected back the city’s light, turning the sky a sickly, smoky yellow.

None of the passengers had heard the announcer lady since they boarded at Coldessi Boulevard. They flew past Mason Plaza unannounced. Silver Arches is on the Purple Line, so they would need to change trains at least once. The train will stop to let them change lines, right? They will be able to get off at Silver Arches, right?

“Say David, you’re looking better than you did before,” Sakari remarked, demonstrating his talent for changing the subject.

“Better?” Shavonne asked, looking up from her sewing. She was attaching a row of buttons onto white fabric – a bundle that would perhaps become a shirt.

“He coughed up blood on the way to Coldessi Park,” Rianne informed her. “Not a lot but still.”

Shavonne’s eyes widened in shock.

“You didn’t need to mention that,” David told Rianne.

“But you feel better now, right?” Sakari asked him again.

“Yep. Ever since I got this,” David said, showing off the brand on the back of his hand.

“How do we know it’s legit?” Bern asked.

“Good point,” Nico agreed. He vividly remembered David sporting a fake brand three years ago. To his credit, it was a convincing fake.

David reached across the aisle and held out his hand to Bern. “Go ahead. Try and rub it off.”

Bern recoiled at the offer. “I ain’t taking your hand, weirdo!”

Rianne took David’s hand instead and rubbed his brand. “It’s not coming off. Feels hard and scabby. Like mine, actually.”

With one hand, Shavonne stuffed her sewing into her backpack purse. With the other, she took out a wide strip of binding tape from her skirt pocket that held her sewing needles. “Let me see,” she asked as she slid a needle out with her fingernail.

She placed the needle between her lips, then took David’s hand, pulling and pinching the skin. She tapped the blackened part of his hand with her needle.

Sakari jolted in surprise. “What are you –?”

“Yep, that’s hard,” Shavonne reported. “Does it itch?”

“Now that you mention it, yeah,” David answered, slipping his hand out of Shavonne’s grip.

“Just like mine. Same as before. I think it’s real this time.” She returned the needle to its place and the binding tape to her pocket. She retrieved her white bundle from her purse to continue sewing.

Nico crossed his arms. “Well… Take a walk in the rain. Then we’ll see.” That’s what revealed David’s fake three years ago.

“Or I could just toss him in the river,” Bern suggested.

“Please don’t,” David asked.

©2022 Joyce Lewis. All rights reserved.