An Arm and a Leg
rating: +25+x

Kit lay on his back, staring up at the ever-changing clouds of a British Summer afternoon. Maybe it would rain, later, but right now he couldn’t smell it – couldn’t sense anything of the weather other than the clouds so far above him.

‘I’m looking at the shape of tiredness,’ he thought, languidly.

That uneven, rarely repeating pattern of clouds was a herd of tiredness threatening to trample the city.

Well, that would suck. But then again, insomnia for one person alone was the very centre of a suckpool. Despite his dragging weariness and the sploshed bruise across his face – interestingly, itself the colour of tiredness – Kit had a house on fire, that day.

As he stood, he absently brushed mown grass from his rumpled clothing. Upon looking around, he was slightly surprised to find that the grassy area had become infested with picnickers – families, couples, friends. The smell of BBQs was tangy in the air.

Kit ignored squealing children and parents protesting as he stepped and tripped over picnic blankets, having to make his own pathway out of the chaos because the small section in the middle of the city wasn’t really designed for such things as people trying to enjoy the broken summer day.

Once he was through the maze of picnic-havers, he checked the deep pockets of his coat and gently stroked what he found within them. Good. They were still there, waiting.

Stepping into the city proper, Kit took the twisty-turny roads, trying to avoid tourist traffic and the more well-trodden streets. A hidden and barren junction of alleyways and then exhausting climbs (well, for an insomniac, pack-a-day smoker) took him to Muesli Mountain. From there, he walked through an old graveyard and into an even older park that was overgrown and smelt musty, of damp wood and churned soil.

He took himself off the pathway and walked towards the back of the area, taking a deep breath as he found the correct tree, marked with a nearly indeterminable infinity loop near its base. He used to be self-conscious fulfilling this ritual, but the things rattled mercilessly in his pocket and the sweat on his palms reminded him of his task.

He just had to get in, find his target, and get out. Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy.

Reminding himself of this, he put his hand on the trunk of the tree and closed his eyes tight. A middle-aged couple walking their dog nearby gaped and then hurried along, muttering about ‘damn stoners’.

Kit let the breeze ruffle through his hair and matched his breathing with the faint life pulse of the tree, once the world was silent enough around him that he could hear it, though it always seemed to be more with his head than with his ears.

The chant, at least, was only in his head for sure.

‘Imagine a market here. Imagine people yelling their wares. Imagine the man who wants preemie pies. Imagine why someone not made of tin may want a heart. Imagine why someone with a brain of their own may want the still-pink brain of a young woman who had killed herself. Imagine how courage may look, feel, and smell, if you could bottle it. Imagine yourself there, and sell them your sacrifice.

I, Kit, willingly wish to visit the Meat Market. I accept my fate and do not hold the Market libel for any maiming, crushing, murdering, dismemberment or defenestration that may happen to my person whilst visiting. I have your sacrifice and I wish for…’

What did he wish for? He could ask for anything. Didn’t mean he would get it, but he could ask. But his outstretched hand was trembling, and he was sweating buckets. The bruise on his face ached with every distant heartbeat.

‘And I wish for Bloom.’

The world went silent around him. No breezes, no birds, no strangers’ footsteps. Then it span and he lost grip on the tree, slamming into the ground which had gone from grass to cobblestone paths. His ribs ached as he struggled to catch his breath whilst waiting out the dizziness.

He put out his hands to lever himself up, and they were nearly trodden on by someone with very big feet that had no toes. The owner of the feet grumbled about ‘outside trash’ and Kit waited until they had moved on before scrambling to his own feet.

Regardless of how many times he had been here before, the change always amazed him. The park was gone, instead replaced with an area with stalls as far as the eye could see, and probably further than that. Manning these stalls – and they were always men, Kit had noticed – were beings that called out their wares. They all spoke in English to him, with a variety of accents, but, from what Kit understood of this place, English was not what everyone else heard.

The clouds in the sky were gone, replaced with a domed roof that seemed to go on and on, carrying the acoustics of the market. Entities jostled for space and for attention, with some stalls serving more as pop-up stores, whilst others were little more than folded tables with a few items spread on them.

Some had banners – some didn’t have as much as black marker on a piece of card. Kit squeezed into a space he could find between ‘Pied Piper's Preemie Pies’ and ‘Bob’s Meat and Two Veg’ whilst he found himself still recovering from the dizzying sensation. A voice nearby called out in an East London accent, identical to his mother’s, causing profound nostalgia and a flinching pain in equal measures.

Those who didn’t know the way to the Market still saw the illusion of the park (or was it the Market that was the illusion?), with Kit’s human body slumped in front of the tree, as if sleeping – or collapsed. It hadn’t taken him long to figure out he had limited time in this place, if only for the fact that some Good Samaritan would eventually rush to his side and try to rouse him. If that happened, he would be dragged from this place, whether a deal was struck or not.

So, Kit doggedly got to the business of moving towards one of the more unassuming stalls that he knew offered Bloom in exchange for anything of a human, with the quality dipping based on what one had to exchange.

He slipped past ‘Vincent’s (slightly used) Vulvas!’ and ‘Here’s Lookin' at You, Kid!’ before reaching his destination, mumbling the occasional ‘excuse me’ and ‘sorry’ to the variety of creatures that had followed their own unique rituals to come into this world.

He was glad to find the queue wasn’t really a queue at all – someone stood at the table, with just one very tall bipedal creature with huge, hunched shoulders ahead of him, waiting for the last transaction to finish up. When the being turned around to see what the tiny human behind him was doing, Kit saw they had no face, yet they still managed to grunt, though if it was in greeting or disgust, Kit couldn’t be sure.

When the tall thing reached the front, they took a machete from the pocket of their long, dark coat. No-one seemed shocked or even surprised at the action, not even when the being bent himself down and began to chop at their ankle. Only the noise of the blade slicing flesh, cutting tendons, smashing through bone, was present, rather than the screams of anguish and noises of panic that would be displayed within the world of humans.

Even Kit was becoming somewhat immune to the sight of extreme self-mutilation, although words flashing through his mind such as ‘sinew’ and ‘throbbing gristle’ still offered an element of disgust.

Kit’s own shin ached in sympathy, then he realised the being was literally radiating pain – sharing it out amongst creatures within a certain radius, as some now walked with a slightly uncomfortable limp whilst others shot daggers at the thing, clearly not impressed by their technique at dealing with the pain.

It seemed like a wise idea, really – rather than absorbing all that pain on ones’ own, share it out in small doses to those around you. Still, it all seemed rather invasive without asking permission, first.

Job done, the tall being dumped its butchered foot on the table. Kit wondered if he would ever be so addicted that he would willingly cripple himself, and, in a sudden moment of realisation, he figured out why exactly the creature in front of him didn’t have a face. He would never get that desperate, right?

The sale in front of him concluded, and the tender was doing a poor job of cleaning up the blood that had pooled on the table, and had apparently pooled there many times before, if the stains were to go by. Maybe that was why he didn’t exactly seem to care, and why this table wasn’t as busy as some.

Beckoned forward by the seller, a squat man who seemed human enough, with a bald, greasy head and tiny eyes, Kit grabbed his ‘sacrifice’ from his pocket and approached, spreading them out onto the table. The man eyed them with disinterest. He got countless numbers of this cheap tat every day, but no-one could afford to turn down a customer who may one day be desperate enough to sacrifice an arm and a leg, so he dealt with these piddly offers the best way he could.

Picking them up one at a time, making a big deal about checking their cut-marks, how decomposed they were, even their temperature. Kit knew there was a market for everything here, from the fresh to the totally mummified, but fresh tended to sell better – so did the ones with neater cut marks, and lighter skin tones.

He looked down at the table as there was a series of clattering noises.

“We don’t take the ring-things here. Take back to human world, maybe they give you money, cash.”

The man spoke in a definite Russian accent, sharp and blunt, but with slang he had probably picked up from working here. They used the slang that the alleyway world did too, which Kit was slowly getting the hang of, for the good it did him.

“That’s fine, fine.” He muttered, simply, collecting up the rings that had been removed from the fingers and slipping them into his pocket. Two plain gold bands – or maybe just gold-plated – and a silver ring with a low-quality diamond. Cash wasn’t really forefront in his mind right now, but he was sure it would be next time he needed tobacco.

“Okay, kitlet. That’s a lock.” The man said, and Kit let out a breath that he didn’t know he had been holding. So far, he hadn’t had a no to anything he had brought in as a sacrifice, but Lady Luck wasn’t exactly known to be a friend of his, so he expected that to be challenged, one day.

The Russian reached inside his trenchcoat and got out a tiny vial, letting Kit see the goods inside – Kit examining it just as closely as the seller had done with the fingers, looking at its quality. The colour of the petals – purple, with a hint of blue at the end. Good stuff then. Not top of the line, but good. They curled in slightly, so he knew it was freshly produced – however it was produced – and it would last him a while. An increasingly short amount of time, but he didn't really want to think about that just then.

“No touch, no smell,” the seller recited, as if Kit was going to ask, when he knew better than that by now. Kit was entranced by the flower as he had been so many times before, but snapped out of it when he paused to actually count the petals.

“…Four? Only four?! I gave you…” His shaking hands spread the dismembered fingers across the seller’s filthy table. “…Six. Six perfectly good fingers!”

The seller smirked, Kit’s shaking hands speaking volumes, telling him he could have offered him less and Kit would have been convinced to take it. Still, he wanted his prey customer to keep coming back for more.

“Supply and demand, kitlet. Come back, an arm, a leg? Maybe we talk.” The man shrugged.

“Fine.” Kit muttered, curtly. “That’s a lock, you…” He thought better of cursing the man out, knowing it wouldn’t do anything worthwhile anyway. Instead, he snatched the small vial before any more deals could be discussed – and before he could change his mind and storm off to get a quote from the stars elsewhere.

Kit disappeared into the crowd, little more than a speck on most people’s radar, apart from a set of dark blue eyes watching from in between two stores.

“Oh Kit… What have you got yourself into now?” The voice whispered, forlornly, before the eyes – and their owner – sunk back into the darkness to watch the rest of the Market from the shadows.

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