I lie on my side, breathing quietly, trying to stop the chills racing through me. The creature sits frozen in the center aisle as rain drips off its back. The lightening flashes less frequently now, and the thunder has faded to a distant rumble. Through the gap at the top of the boards, more and more stars peep out at me through tears in the clouds. Their light throws an eerie glow inside the church. The rain still pounds down through the holes in the roof. I shiver again, violently. Gavril told me once that gargoyles were supposed to turn into statues again when the sun rises, but I can't afford to wait until morning.
I tuck my knees up to my chest and drop my head on them. Anger flashes through me: how could Danut do this? How could he just forget about me? I pull my hands into fists and tap them rhythmically against my shins. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Why did I have to come here? Why couldn't I have picked somewhere safe?
My breathing grows faster. Stupid me. Stupid Danut. Stupid creature! Why couldn't it just leave me alone? I wasn't hurting anyone. Yeah, so maybe I was cooking meth, but it's not like I'm forcing anyone to take it. I mean, if someone wants to pay for it, who am I to refuse them? It's called free will. People can do whatever they want. "Supply and demand, Anica," Gavril told me once. "That's just how it is - it's all supply and demand. Simple economics. We make it, they buy it. Whatever happens after that, no one's responsible."
I tuck my purse inside my shirt and rock myself slowly back and forth, trying to keep warm. Lifting my head, I take a long look at the creature. Its head is lowered, but the faint starlight still gives it a terrifying cast. I remember the face I saw from inside the sacristy, the same face I had seen in countless dance clubs: the vacant eyes, the bared teeth. I've seen it so many times, and yet every single time I just turned away. Staring at the creature now, Gavril's words come back to me again: "That's just how it is. No one's responsible."
I watch the creature for a long while. It frightens me, but something in it holds my attention. I realize I can't turn away. A warm feeling begins to grow in the pit of my stomach, its tendrils creeping up my sides. I watch the creature and begin to think that maybe I don't want to do this anymore. Maybe I've been running from cops and staring into customers' vacant faces for a little too long now. Maybe I should think about finding another line of work. Not the FBI, of course, but somewhere else my skills might be useful. This job – it just isn't what I thought it was going to be. Maybe I should find something else.
When I get out of here, that is. I still have to get past the creature.
I keep an eye on it, taking care to stay out of the line of sight. It hasn't moved in several minutes, but I'm still wary. A bubble of frustration rises in my throat. My nail polish is gone, my lighter is gone, and I'm soaking wet. I have nothing. I glare at the rain-spattered creature, wishing the rain were strong enough to destroy it, to erode it away into nothing, even though I know it would take ages. Much longer than the time I have. If it were acid rain, maybe, but the church is miles from an industrial site, so there's no chance of air pollutants coming here. And again, erosion by acid rain it would take ages.
Yet something brings me back to that idea. I chase it around in my head. Acid rain, acid rain. It erodes stone faster than normal rain. But acid rain alone wouldn't be enough to destroy an entire statue, so it would have to be used selectively. It would also have to be highly concentrated. I remember how the creature turned away from fire and decide its eyes must be a particular weak point. If I could somehow direct acid rain there, I might have a chance. The creature is too big, the stone too thick for it to cause any severe damage, but it might work as a distraction.
The toxic chemical component of acid rain is sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid is used in rain repellant, rust dissolver, dishwashing liquid...
And meth labs.
There's a bottle sitting at the back of the church. I want to kick myself for not having remembered it sooner.
Moving as quietly as possible, I lay flat on my stomach and inch my way along the wall toward the back of the church. The creature doesn't move. I move slowly along the floor, hissing whenever my knees and elbows come into contact with icy puddles. The pile of debris that was once the rear exit looms before me in the weak starlight. The rain outside has slowed to a faint patter.
I reach the lab and seize a glass bottle of what I assume is sulfuric acid. Sitting back on my heels, I hold it up and turn it to check the label.
And then I drop it.
The bottle hits the marble floor with a loud clink. Fortunately I'm already kneeling, so the glass doesn't break, but the bottle still makes a loud grinding noise as it rolls toward the pews. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the creature's head jerk up. It screeches angrily. Its wings snap out as it leaps into the air, and then it's coming toward me.
I seize the wayward bottle and jump to my feet. The creature is barreling toward me, its face contorted with savage glee. Its teeth are bared in that familiar death's-head grin. I freeze for a moment, knowing I have to do this or I have no chance to get out.
I throw the bottle.
The glass bottle soars end-over-end through the air. It glows faintly in the starlight. The creature and I both watch it, transfixed.
Then it shatters on the creature's face.
For a moment the creature looks stunned, almost confused, and then it begins screeching and clawing at its face. Through its shrieks I can hear the faint hiss of sulfuric acid eating away at stone. The creature swings its head back and forth vigorously, trying to shake off the chemical.
I don't waste a moment. I race past the creature up the side aisle and dodge among the pews toward the door. The creature lumbers after me, but I don't turn around to look. I run through the entryway and out the front doors into the night. The creature follows me to the door and stands inside the entryway raging as I sprint across the field. I figure it's helpless to pursue me. It was created only to protect the church; its guardianship ends at the doorway.
I continue running and sliding down the muddy path. Once past a bend in the road, I can see the streetlights of the nearest village winking in the night. My side is cramping and inside my shirt, I can feel my purse whacking against my ribs. I keep running.
The rain has stopped, and the stars wink down at me to light my way. The products of my hours of labor are behind me, still inside the church, but I don't care. I'm never going back.
Anyway, I think it's time I found another job.
Author's Note: That's it! Thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed this, especially underground-writing, Alanna Lioness, and JaveHarron. I hope this story was enjoyable.
Anyone interested in more information on preventing meth use and production is welcome to check out the Montana Meth Project online. It's one of the best resources I've found on the subject.
I've started mapping out a sequel to this, so stay tuned if you enjoyed it! I plan to post it as a separate story because I'd like to keep these as short and readable vignettes rather than a novel. It will probably take me a couple of months, but I hope you find it's worth it when it's finished. :-)