Head of the Pack (A Liar Fire Story)

It was Debra’s third night out with what the locals called, ‘The Pack,’ young delinquents preying on those who came through after their lecherous festivities in the Town Proper, as the Pack called it.
Touristy and ripe with rich foreigners, it was a pick-pockets playground, but the law was vigilant there.
The Pack stayed on the outskirts, waiting for stragglers and strays.
Omni threw the old woman to the ground, and yanked her purse from her feeble hands. Debra heard a bone snap, and winced as the old woman screamed, but she didn’t dare stop Omni; he’d do worse to her if she interfered, like he did the first time she took pity on a mark.
This mark didn’t go quietly, cursing him roundly; Debra found herself surprised, and wondered if the woman was younger that she wouldn’t give Omni a run for his money.
“Shut up, ya decrepit ol’ bitch!”
He kicked the old woman in the face and knocked her out, left her there with a bloody mouth as he walked away, Debra trotting behind him.
He mentored her while rifling through the old woman’s belongings: “Cash is cash, little thief. Young, old, don’t matter, as long as what comes out of ‘em is green. If that don’t happen, then what comes out is red.” His phlegmy laugh haunted her dreams that night, and she cried, afraid for her own fate, but there was nowhere left to go.

************************

Tonight, they did more of the same, but this time he was warming to retelling the tale of that night. She was listening to him now, his speaking voice an echo of his laugh, raspy with impending cancer and callous living, bragging, holding court outside the alley in front of the rest of them.
“She wouldn’t let go of her purse, so I swung her around by it ‘til she let go. I never meant to break her arm or nothin’.
“It were an accident.”
“Yeah, okay, Omni. But even after, you kicked her lights out.”
He lowered his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, I know. Things got the better ‘a me, thas’ all.”
“Broke her up, pretty good, Omni.”
“Forgot you was a fighter?”
“No, I didn’t forget, ya moron! Like I said, it got the better ‘a me. She was callin’ me names and screamin, then the darkness came, and I didn’t send it away. This time, I didn’ send it away.”
A tall man in a dark suit was coming toward them; they spared him a wary, cursory glance, until Jim spoke again.
“She had no chance against you.”
“Well, like I said, I didn’ mean t’do it. Lay off it, Jimmy.”
Jimmy laid off, looked at the stranger, who’d stopped just outside the circle, a bit too close.
“Anyone got a light?”
They looked him up and down; he wore a well-tailored suit, understated ring that they knew to be worth something. His watch, too.
The cigarette was black; not sold here, then. An import.
Mark all over him, in fluorescent neon green.
Cal took his lighter and lit the smoke.
“Thanks.” He looked at Omni. “You’re Omni, right?”
Omni gave him a crocodile’s grin. “I know you?”
The stranger shook his head. “Heard of you. Why do they call you Omni? Is that your real name?”
Omni pushed his way through his small crowd of sycophants and stood before Nefarion.
“You got yer light. Best be on yer way, Mr. Suit.”
The man made no move to go away. “You didn’t answer my question.”
Omni pushed the man’s shoulder with a small jab. “Don’ have to, n’ not goin’ to. Move along, fer fuck’s sake. Ain’t gonna tell you again.”
As he spoke, his entourage slowly circled the man.
“I’ll tell you why,” the man said. “They call you that because you provide everything these losers need.” His arm swept out to include the gathering. Debra shrank back as Omni took the bait.
“Well, la-de-da, fellas. Th’ fancy’s callin’ ya losers. While he ain’t ‘xactly wrong, he’s outta line, talkin’ to us like that.” He turned from the man to look at them all, making sure they were with him.
“Wouldn’t ya say?”
His sycophants looked the man over, and he looked back, his own gaze carrying a calm confidence that gave them pause. “This isn’t your fight, guys.”
“It is if I say so.” Omni took another step forward, and jabbed the man’s shoulder again.
“Really?”
“Really.”
Nefarion looked them over as they tentatively shuffled forward; their hearts weren’t in it. “For the last time, my fight’s not with you. What you do with that information now is up to you.”
“Hit this fucker, boys.”
No one moved.
“Ain’t this some kinda chickenshit business…” Omni’s fists were on his hips.
“You’re the one he wants,” Cal said. “Seein’ as how yer a leader n’ all, pushin’ grannies around and breakin’ their arms, let’s see what y’ really got.”
The others nodded, murmured agreements, and stepped back; Omni found himself alone, if not isolated.
The stranger still seemed at ease, which made Omni uneasy.
“Go to it, Omni.” Jim said.
The stranger waited.
Omni waited.
The stranger arched a brow. “Nothing?”
They waited some more, saw Omni shift and shuffle, but his heart wasn’t in it either.
The Pack drift began to drift away.
“Hey…where ya goin?”
Cal stopped, and they all turned; in that moment he became the de facto leader of the group, if Omni wouldn’t act.
“Last chance, Omni.”
Omni looked back at the stranger, who held out his arms in a welcoming gesture.
Backed into a complex corner, Omni rushed at the stranger, who never moved. To his credit, he didn’t hesitate, landing some blows that seemed to do damage.
He messed up the stranger’s suit, and had his lip bleeding; his small cadre got back into it, except Cal.
He’s being suckered, and he’s too stupid to know it. Cal started walking.
Look, Cal! Don’t go! Omni’s winning!”
He’s gonna die, the dumb shit. Fuck it. I’ll watch him go…
Omni had the man’s arm behind his back, his forearm locked around the man’s neck, pressing hard; in their excitement, none of the others had seen the man’s expression hadn’t changed at all, though his jaw was swollen and his mouth bled.
He ain’t human. Cal wasn’t surprised as the revelation hit him. The devil came a – calling.
The stranger relaxed in the hold, and his suit began to smolder.
At first, they thought the cigarette had set the suit on fire, but as the stranger’s eyes began to glow, they stepped back. Their expressions alerted Omni to the fact that something wasn’t right.
He pushed the stranger away, but just as quickly found himself grappling face to face as the stranger turned and wrapped his hands in Omni’s jacket sleeve, pulling him close.
Omni tried to shove him, but the strangers skin was hot. “What the–?”
Omni fanned his hands trying to cool them, backpedaling. He began to turn away, but the stranger pulled him off balance by his right sleeve, dangling him like a fruit, a punched him twice in the face,
Omni was on the edge of consciousness; the stranger tightened his grip and twisted, breaking off Omni’s right arm at the shoulder, and set it on fire, blood spurting onto his left pants leg.
The others broke, but there was an unseen barrier.
Panicked screams and pleadings rent the heating air, and they began to cry as well as sweat.
One by one, they burst into flame, except for Cal. He only looked at Nefarion as those around him burned. Nefarion stuck his chin out, indicating Debra, standing outside the circle, her eyes wide and her mouth open.
Cal nodded; he’d look after her.
“Go, then.”
Cal walked through the firewall to stand beside Debra, and they both stared at the spectacle of immolation; the crackling, sizzling fire, made the air wavy with heat. Human bodies twitched and dripped bloody fat as they melted away like Nero’s living torches, unrecognizable as human anymore.
“Let’s go,” Cal said. He put his arm around her shoulders, guiding her away.
Still standing in the center of the carnage, Nefarion could see Debra turn back for one more look, and smile.

 

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