The Puzzlebox

by Judith Riley O'Brien

Note from CataCombs owner: This is just a piece of a larger story yet to come, enjoy!

The Seraph had stopped screaming just as abruptly as she had started.  Now, she
lay on the table, panting, her hands clenched into fists.  Herbert stood in the
background, like an anxious sentinel.  He was not going to rush things like had
done in the past.  If he rushed, things always seemed to go wrong.  So, for now,
he would only watch her.
        The Seraph blinked, fluttering her eyelids.  She turned her neck from side to
side, observing things.  "I... I can see..." she said softly.  There was a
puzzled tone in her voice.  Ever so slowly, she unclenched her hands, and worked
each finger, bending each joint.  She blinked once more.  She sat up in one
fluid motion, and swung her legs over the side of the table.  She cocked her
head, lifting her arms out from under the gauzy material.  Her feet hung a few
inches from the ground.
        "God, she's shorter than I remember her," Herbert muttered under his breath.
        The Seraph didn't even notice.  She slid off of the table, and stood, swaying
lightly on her feet.  He watched as she brought her left hand to her chest, and
felt.  "I... I have... skin?"  It wasn't a statement.  Perhaps she remembers
being skinned, thought West with utter excitement.  "I have... skin..." she
repeated.  "I.  Have.  SKIN!"  The Seraph twirled on her toes gracefully, and
        "You have a beautiful laugh," Herbert found himself whispering.
        The Seraph turned, spinning on her toes once again.  Their eyes met.  One hand
was still clasped to her chest.  She cocked her head, and with a smile lighting
up her face-and seeming the whole basement-she said, "You brought me back,
didn't you?"
        "Yes," Herbert said, suddenly breathless.  "Yes, I did."

        Pain.  Horrible, searing pain.  She arched up, and screamed, screamed her
loudest.  She screamed hard, hard enough to raw the back of her throat.  She
could feel her hands constricting at her sides, the nails biting into the skin
of her palms.
        I have skin, she thought.  No, of course I don't.  Why would my last memory of
my body being strapped down to a metal table while he took that knife and-the
pain sounded again, and she screamed, turning her neck to the side.  Even the
memory brought pain.  Her fingers suddenly exploded outward, and she felt them
dig into the hard surface which she was laying on.  They contracted and released
spastically, and she felt as if her hands belonged to some giant cat.  Her eyes
snapped open, and she couldn't see anything but a bright, piercing light.
        Then, as suddenly as the pain had begun, it ceased, and her body lay still,
hands quiet, and heart racing in her chest.  She still couldn't see.  She closed
her eyes, and tried to calm herself.  One of the techniches that she tried was
to steady her breathing.  In and out, she commanded herself.  In and out, slow
and slower... She knew that she was no longer hyperventilating when the fuzzy
feeling in her brain faded away, and her lungs were not tight.  I'm still
panting, she thought, but at least I can breathe...
        She forced her eyes open.  At first, her pupils were assulted with light, as
sharp as razor beams.  She squinted, but resisted the urge to shadow the pupils
with her lids again.  Slowly, things, objects came into view.  Hanging above her
was a naked lightbulb that was illuminating the otherwise dark room.  She
blinked, then turned her head to the right.  There were stairs on her right, and
various sports equipment that had been piled up next to them.  She turned her
head to the left.  Cluttered glass containers lay everywhere, strewn carelessly. 
And a small refrigerator was nestled in a corner.  "I... I can see..." she said.
        It was the first time that she had heard her own voice form words.
        Her hands lay limp at her sides.  There was no pain.  Very slowly, she clenched
and unclenched her fists, like a big cat.  I can move, she thought.  She spread
and contracted the fingers themselves next.  Still, there was no pain, no
throbbing.  She could move her hands on her own accord.  She tapped her fingers
against the hard surface that she lay upon, and and bent them until all the
joints were contracted.  Then she lay them still again.  Realization dawned on
her.  If I can move my hands, she rationalized, then can I move the rest of me? 
It is possible...
        She tried to sit up.  The muscles in her stomach strained, and she lay back
against the table once more, feeling defeated.  She watched her surroundings,
however.  Things seemed to be moving, and then they stopped, their positions
different than before.  She tried to sit up once more, then realized that she
had been sitting up.  She then swung her legs over the side of the platform, and
watched her feet.  They did not touch the floor, no, but dangled a few inches
from the ground.  I'm short, she observed.  She then straightened up, and,
cocking her head, lifted her arms up out of the sheer white material that
covered her body from head to toe.
        Something inside her mind went *snap*.  She dismounted the table, and stood a
few inches away from it, and stood, body swaying as if she were in a strong gust
of wind.  Slowly, she brought a hand to her chest, and rubbed the filmy material
against her body.  She didn't feel the hideous scrape of fabric on muscle. 
"I... I ...have skin?" she asked to no one in particular.  This wasn't right. 
She wasn't supposed to have skin.  She rubbed her chest once more.  "I have...
skin," she repeated, the scattered fogs of doubt whisking away.  "I.  Have. 
        The emotion of euphoria overwhelmed her, and the unfamiliar emotion caused her
to move.  She found herself twirling around, and the sensation was so completely
foreign and exhillerating that she felt that she had to acknowladge it somehow. 
And she didn't know how to do that correctly.  Screaming didn't seem right, and
neither did crying, so she took the only option that she had left:
        She laughed.
        A voice then, from behind her.  "You have a beautiful laugh."  Whilst it was
only a whisper, she made out the words.
        She turned back, once more twirling around on her toes.  She cocked her head at
what she saw before her.  She still had her hand clasped to her chest, and she
wasn't planning on lowering it.  Even though she was confused, she smiled (i
didn't know i could do that) and said, "You brought me back, didn't you?"
        "Yes," the reply came.  "Yes, I did."
        Curious, she walked over to the slim figure before her.  She walked around him,
looking him up and down, while he stood perfectly still, body tense and breath
coming in soft, ragged pants.
        Evaluation done, she swaggered back a step, and looked him up and down once
more, this time just to reassure her mind that it would take in and record
everything.  Whoever he was, he could be very pretty if he tried.  At least, in
her opinion.  He was taller than she, with dark brown or maybe even black hair
that just barely fell over his forehead in a boyish manner.  It made him look
incredibly young.  Large, beautiful eyes stared out at her from black - rimmed
glasses.  Those eyes could only be described as a hazel brown, and at the
moment, it was a dazed hazel brown.  His skin was considerably paler than hers
was, yet it was not such an alarming white that one would consider it sickening
to gaze upon.  No, in contrast, it was a pleasant marble color.  He was slim,
with a semi broad chest, delicately muscled upper and lower arms, narrow waist,
and just barely flared hips that became long legs.  He wore a long - sleeved,
button down shirt, a thin black tie, and plain black slacks, no belt.  To her,
the whole outfit was more than a little unbecoming.  While the black on him
looked good, she found the shirt to be just too stifling against his skin. 
Isn't it itchy?  Her brain did not know, and she did not feel like asking him.
Instead, she asked, "Who are you?"

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