Chapter Four: Who we are
Jasper did not back down. He merely gazed at her with a mournful, almost forlorn look. Astra folded her arms. She could not back down; he was still plenty dangerous.
"You're a demon, right?" she asked accusingly.
Jasper's eyes lit up in the dark, as if on command.
"So? You eat humans. And that's what you want with me right? You want to eat me."
Jasper leaned in towards her. The tip of his nose settled on hers. She held her breath, not wanting to be kissed or bitten into. With a quick laugh, he backed off and sat back down. For a moment, he played with a hangnail on the edge of his thumb.
"Well, I'm not going to eat you, but yeah...that's what we were made for."
"So, what? Why won't you eat me?"
"I don't have to eat every single one I see."
The girl breathed out heavily. Maybe, if she played her cards right, he would let her leave. But, then, why would he kidnap her in the first place? She studied the enclosed space carefully. There was no way to leave without him catching her. With his arm practically brushing her, she could not think beyond that plan. Her heart continued to pound in her ears.
"Then, let me go," she said steadily.
Jasper turned to her, cocking his head. He did not seem angry, but rather curious.
"But, I just brought you here…"
Astra, bravely, moved a few inches from him. He did not react. She signed and moved a few more. Perhaps she could just inch her way out the door. No, she thought shaking her head, that was a silly idea.
"Why? Why would you kidnap me, just to speak to me like this?"
"Maybe," he sighed, staring down at his feet, "maybe it's because I like you."
Despite herself, Astra snorted. Jasper's head bounced up. She briefly met his glance; it appeared almost wounded, like a kicked dog. She rolled her eyes; who did this weirdo think he was fooling?
"I need to go home. I don't belong here in the slums with someone like you."
"It's not like I chose to be born this way."
There was no response for a long moment. Minutes passed. The two sat almost back to back with Astra brainstorming other methods of leaving. The psycho seemed bent on keeping her here for some unknown reason. He wasn't telling her something. She didn't care what it was, but she could recognize the truth when it was hidden from her.
"I guess...I could take you back. But, you would need to do something for me first."
Astra's ears pricked up. She pushed back her hair behind her ears, as if it were going to help her to hear better. She leaned her head so that she could see his profile from her periferal. Perhaps this was it, her ticket to freedom. Then she could go off to college and forget all of this nonsense.
"I would need to mark you," whispered Jasper.
Astra turned and sat on her knees, folding her skirt over her slim thighs. Her eyes narrowed, but otherwise her face was plain. Jasper shuffled his shoulders, trying to make himself smaller. He pulled his thin sweatshirt over himself, as if shielding his body from hers.
"I...I need to put my mark on you. If I do, you'll be safe from other demons," he reasoned aloud.
Astra took one breath in, then shouted:
Jasper reeled back, as if he'd been struck.
"Why on earth would I let you something like that?"
The boy reached out for her, but she struck his hand away angrily.
"I-I promise, you'll be safe…"
She scoffed at that.
"As if I have not been for years…"
Suddenly, the boy leapt on her like a cougar, striking her down. His eyes were intense and gleaming, like an animal. Astra stared back at him, trying to keep her stare expressionless.
"You-you are an animal," she spat.
"I want to protect you."
"Then let me go and leave me alone."
Jasper, despite his better judgement, let her up. Without hesitation, Astra scrambled up and ran out of the hut, as fast as her legs would take her. The wind was pounding into her lungs. She was going to get away from this place, away from that creep, and away to her college. She dove past pedestrials, milling about the hutted village area and ran until the end of the city block. Then, as suddenly as she began, she stopped. Her hair was in a tizzy and she could hardly breath. And, without a doubt, she was lost. Against her better judgement, she called out.
Like a flash, he was beside her in all of his ratty glory. Astra folded her arms.
"So, are you going to take me home or what?"
Jasper leaned in, almost bumping their noses together.
"You are quite demanding, little star."
"And you're a weirdo kidnapper," she retorted.
The boy did not respond, but took her by the hand leading her through the slums. They walked in complete silence, with Astra wondering why he had to walk so closely to her. However, she was distracted by the surroundings. Though she had considered herself living on the margins, looking around gave her another idea of poverty. All around were people cutting moldy scraps of bread even smaller to pass among themselves. Rambled shakes were built upon others so that one good quake might set them all to ruin.
She also noticed the children. They all had sunken eyes and thin limbs. Astra glanced down at her own bony hand, still held by this complete stranger. If this strangeness ever ended, perhaps she could mull through what happened. However, she could only put up her bravado for so long. The sooner she was home, the better.
"Astra, we are almost to your zone. I will take you as far as your block."
She laughed dryly.
"What, you'll kidnap me but you won't walk me to the door?"
The girl stopped in the middle of the block. The moon was high in the air. It felt calm somehow, now that she had finally caught her breath.
"What did you say?" she asked.
"I said...I am sorry. I acted rashly. I knew it was wrong to take you, but I swear I never meant you any harm."
Jasper threw up his hoodie. Under the shadow of the fabric, the tip of is nose was still visible. Astra, for the hundredth time that day, felt her emotions change on a dime. Why couldn't she focus?
"I don't forgive you, but...thanks for dropping me off."
She turned, but heard a voice call out behind her.
"Just...think about my offer."
She nodded and went away.