Creature of Unknown Origin


dates beside them, the papers were neat and the manila folder that held them fairly pristine.

Although the corners were worn from being slid in and out of a field pack — a thing that existed

only in my all-too present past — and the pages fluffed out from my repetitive thumbing, I’d ceased

to actually see their contents. I knew what the text and pictures were by heart, whose faces would

never be seen again, and who I still had to find.

Maybe I should be grateful for her, because with her here, I couldn’t go after them like I’d

wanted to anymore. I used to be able to. Now the nightmares were too bad and Ava was retreating

into herself in a way I knew all too well wasn’t healthy. There wasn’t much I could do for her,

what with the uncanny fear of pushing her away that had me in a chokehold every time she flew

from the bed without so much as a sweater or pair of shoes on her feet.

I supposed I should be grateful for the fact that they called me first, and not someone worse.

Even though they’d brought Kelman in to replace me, at least I’d gotten a head start on him. For a

while there, and even now the old sentiment crept up on me. I thought I was among the worst out

there, but I guess even the tin man could find his heart again.

A shadow loomed in the corner of my eye. It shrank back like it wanted to disappear from

sight. The tension drained from my body, the coiled-up muscles loosening as I replaced the file in

the bedside drawer, meeting Ava’s muddy eyes and ice -kissed cheeks.

“Damn, sweetheart, you must be freezing.” Like countless times before, I offered Ava what

little comfort I could possibly give her, and she tentatively came over and curled up against me. I

steeled myself against the shudder that wanted to rip its way through my body, thankful for the

long sleeves that hid the goosebumps blooming on my arms. My toes curled against the bedsheets

as I pulled the blankets up and wrapped them around us until they trapped whatever warmth Ava’s

shivering form hadn’t sucked up yet. I couldn’t stop the quiet laug h and the words that fell from

my tongue next. Maybe they’d bring a little smile to her face, help bring her mind back from

whatever hellscape she’d just traversed. “You’re like hugging a block of ice.”

All Ava did was bury her face in the crook of my neck, her eyes squeezed shut. Her frigid

nose softly nudged a bit of exposed skin, sending another shock of ice through my veins. It was

no use. There was nothing I could say to help her right now, and rather than beat a dead horse to

death, I clicked off the bedside lamp and gently brushed my fingers through her coarse hair,

pressing a soft kiss to her head. “Get some rest, okay?”

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