by Kyle Richardson
The voice on the other end quivered. “That’s just it, Miss Dealer.”
“Death Dealer,” she corrected. She hated the name, really, but if people were going to call her by it, the least they could do was say it right.
“Death Dealer,” the man said. “Of course.” He cleared his throat. “See, the thing is, we don’t think . . . well, we don’t . . . we’re not sure if—”
Rilene pressed her palm against her face. “Just spit it out, will you?”
The man gulped. “We don’t think it can be killed.”
She squeezed the phone so hard, it shattered.
The beast was all over the news. Tearing up downtown. Scattering cars like they were matchboxes. Butchering cattle in some hillbilly town. It moved like a giant, bloodthirsty frog, leaping from one district to the next. And Rilene was always one lousy step behind—a fact that the press loved to rub in her face.
“Dealer!” a woman shouted. She pointed a recorder at Rilene like a miniature pistol. “How many more need to die before you take this monster out?”
Rilene clenched her teeth so hard, her left molar practically cracked. Press releases had always sucked, but lately, they’d become unbearable. “I’m working on it,” she said into the microphone.
Cameras shuttered. Reporters jostled. Smart phones flickered and flashed.
Rilene adjusted the mask on her face. “No more questions,” she said, turning away. Please, God—no more questions.
The beast fought Pyroid for a solid ten minutes before the caped hero fell. An armored tank interfered long enough to give the costumed man an escape.
The tank driver wasn’t so lucky.
Rilene didn’t see any of this, of course. She was too busy trying to sleep. But the replays were all over the news the next day. Slow-motion loops of the beast’s reptilian kicks. Screen-filling shots of Pyroid’s terrified face. And scrolling at the bottom, the headline of the day: WHERE IS DEATH DEALER?
The television shattered even easier than her phone.
In the middle of the night, someone knocked on Rilene’s door—loudly, persistently, like someone who needed help. Or a serious ass-kicking.
Eventually, she threw off her blanket and stumbled to the door. Only once she’d swung it open, and saw a man staring wide-eyed at her chest, did she realize she hadn’t put on a shirt. “Yes, okay,” she said, crossing her arms, “they’re breasts. Alright? Got a good enough look?”
“I, uh—” the man said, meeting her gaze, “I tried to call.”
Rilene blinked. “You’re the lab tech.”
“Yes. Max, actually,” he said, extending a hand.
But Rilene just narrowed her eyes. “I’m tired and topless, Max. Do not piss me off even more.”
“Right,” Max said, retracting his hand. “To the point, we came up with this.” He lifted a glass vial and shook it, sloshing the purple liquid inside. “See, we thought the monster was an organism. Actually, it’s a parasite. Wild, huh?”
Wild wasn’t exactly how Rilene would’ve described it. Disturbing was more like it. “And the vial?”
“A compound. Should make the host resistant. All you need is the monster to ingest it and—”
Rilene snatched the vial from Max’s hand, shot him a forced smile, and slammed the door in his face.
Four weeks of havoc, of destruction, of damn near no good sleep. But now the solution was in Rilene’s hand. A flimsy glass vial. This was all it’d take to wipe that beast off the map? “Max,” she muttered, in the moonlight of her bedroom, “you better be right.”
She took a deep breath, popped the lid off the vial, and drank.
Winning entry for the Literary Maneuvers challenge, October 2016