The air fled his lungs from the force of the boot's blow. It made him caw with pain. This raised a chorus of laughs from three of the men who tormented him. The other one stood by, expressionless, watching the others go after him, one innocent Horus on his way home from work.
"Sing us a song, bird man," one of them said. "Go tweet tweet, why don't ya?"
He pushed himself up from the wet pavement with one hand. He looked at his tormenters. They were faceless in the driving rain, just forms with brass knuckles, steel-toed boots, and hate, shrouded with falling water.
"Kiss my ass," he said, his voice buzzing and croaking.
This earned him a kick to the face. He was knocked flat on his back, pain coursing through his beak. It hadn't been broken, lucky him, but it was surely bruised.
"Shut the hell up," someone said.
"You sold your soul for this, now pay the price," the one who stood alone said.
He laughed at this. Staring up at the dark, damp sky, bloodied and bruised, he found it in himself to laugh; a series of rough caws. The cosmic comic had seen fit to let him see a part of this act as humorous, hilarious even, if one left out the pain.
"What's so funny, freak?"
"You think I want this," he replied.
A police siren wailed and they were all bathed in light. A car door opened and closed, and soft footsteps sounded in the rain like a whisper in the sheets of rain. A hush fell over the band of men. The Horus did not even bother to get back up. He lay face up, too abused to do much of anything else.
"Boys, what's going on?" asked a cool voice. It sounded like a gunslinger's in a spaghetti western.
"Well, Officer, we was just mindin' our own business when this here bird man tried to jump us."
"I doubt that," the officer said.
"Does it really matter?"
"Well, does assault and battery matter to you?" the officer asked.
"Don't try an' pull that on us. He ain't human, you cain't charge us with that."
"You want to play that way?" the officer said. "Fine then. But I can charge you with animal cruelty. And when the Church of the Politician gets ahold of you for that, well, you'll wish it was assault. They don't care about people, but gods help you if you touch an animal."
"Don't interfere with us, officer," said a cold voice. "This is none of your affair. Leave in peace, while you are still able. Let us deal with this abomination and go on your way."
"Well, I thought I recognized you," the officer said. The Horus heard the click of a gun being cocked. "You're the Reverend Yates, wanted for a dozen hate crimes, ain't ya?" That name sent chills down the Horus's spine. The Reverend Yates had jumped him? How was he still alive?
"You would not dare," the Reverend said, his voice laced with rage.
"I will," the officer said, his voice laced with control. "You're coming with me. You three, because I'm in such a good mood now, you have ten minutes to get the hell out of here before I arrest you too."
Three sets of running footsteps fell away into the rain, fading among the water drops. There was the sound of handcuffs being put on uncooperative wrists. Then a car door opened and someone was forced inside. The Reverend promised great doom for the officer because of his actions. The officer promised the Reverend no food. Then he shut the door.
A face appeared in the bird man's view. It was the officer. The man looked the Horus over. The Horus resented being examined like he was a freak. Even though he thought of himself as one, he thought that right should be reserved for him alone.
"You all right, fella?" the officer asked.
"I've been better," came the reply. He'd always kept a sense of humor about these things. Though they'd never been this bad before.
"You got a name?"
"Well, Mr. Saybridge," the officer said, "you can't be doing yourself much good lying in the gutter. How about I help you up?" He held out a hand to the Horus.
Saybridge took the officer's hand and was pulled to his feet. All of his new bruises and cuts screamed in pain, and he let out a pained whistle. He leaned on his left leg; the right was numb from the beating it had taken.
Saybridge took a look at his savior. The officer looked like he was getting close to veteran status, his hardened face and knowing eyes attested to that. His badge stated that he was "Police Sergeant P. Connor, Second Precinct."
"I'm sorry about this," Saybridge said.
"About what?" Connor asked. "Needing my help?"
"Don't be," Connor said. "Listen, you need a ride to an emergency room?"
"No," Saybridge said. The last thing he needed now was to be stared at by men in white coats. Besides, nothing was broken or in need of stitches, thank goodness. He could fix himself up at home.
"How about home, then?" Connor asked.
"I live around the corner. 135 Glenn Road. I just want to go without any trouble, that's all."
Connor nodded. "I'll be sending somebody in the morning to make sure you're all right. And for pictures, of course."
"I intend to add this little incident to Reverend Yates's already prolific rap sheet."
Saybridge nodded, aware of the fanatic's exploits. He tried to say something, but the officer held up his hand.
"Now, don't go saying you don't want to press charges. After a beating like that, you ought to want to give him some bruises of his own."
He could do more than that. The claws on Saybridge's hands were not just for show. They could cut through skin and muscle, right down to the bone. But Saybridge just shook his head.
"I'll let the Church of the Politician do that," he said. "I'm not much for violence." He didn't think he could ever hurt anyone, even someone like the Reverend Yates.
Connor nodded. "All righty then." He turned to go.
Saybridge took Connor's arm. "Why'd you do that? Most times you guys don't even care."
Connor paused for a moment. "I've got my reasons," he said. He gave him a knowing look. "And I'll just leave it at that."
Saybridge nodded. "Well, in that case, thank you, Officer." He turned to walk on home.
"Remember, one of my boys will be by in the morning for pictures and a statement," Connor said.
"Stay safe," the cop said. Then he got into his police cruiser. He fired it up and drove off into the night, leaving Saybridge alone in the rain.
Now Saybridge hobbled home. He didn't think that the other three would come back. They were just some idiots. The only time idiots were dangerous was when they got ideas. And the Reverend Yates and his evil ideas were gone. All that was left of him was the echo of his voice, whispering in the rain.
Saybridge got to his front door. He pulled out his keys, unlocked it, and walked inside. The house was dark, silent, and lonely; like an unused tomb. He turned the light on and let light bath the kitchen. No one was there. Not that he'd been expecting anyone; no one liked him enough to throw him a surprise party.
He shut the door behind him. Blood and dirty rainwater dripped off of him onto the linoleum, staining the white floor. That would have to be wiped up later. Right now, he needed to get himself cleaned up.
Saybridge limped through the kitchen, leaning on his cheap plastic table for support. He stumbled into the bathroom and sat down on the side of the bathtub. The pain was still sharp. It was going to be a while before he felt himself again. To tell the truth though, he hadn't really felt himself for ten years, since the Event.
He got up and stood in front of the medicine cabinet. He saw his reflection in the mirror that was mounted on the door. His beak was bleeding and he had a gash over his left eye. Those eyes still bothered him. They were the one thing that he still couldn't get over. His clawed fingers and toes, the scales that covered his forearms and legs, the feathers that replaced most of his hair, even his raven head and beak he could manage. But his eyes still haunted him. The way they stared back at him made him uneasy.
Saybridge opened the medicine cabinet and got out his bandages. He stripped down to his boxers and got to work. Each and every cut was patched up, each and every one a reminder of how the human race still had a hard time dealing with whatever the Horus Event had been.
It shouldn't be this way, Saybridge thought. His kind had been named after a god. And still, every now and again, a Horus would be thrown from a building and told to fly. They couldn't, though. They had no wings. Nature, or fate, whoever's fault this was, was never kind.
All of his wounds were bandaged up now. They stung from being messed with, but he could get over it. Saybridge now got up and looked in the mirror. He began to wash and preen himself, trying to get rid of as much blood and gutter gunk as he could. It took a few minutes, but he got his feathers clean. They weren't glistening; he didn't want to mess with oiling them now. All he wanted was sleep.
So Saybridge hobbled through the house to his bedroom. He left the kitchen light on. He had picked up that habit from his mother. It was her old practice to discourage burglary. He shook his head to banish the thought of her from his mind. He was glad that she wasn't alive anymore. She didn't have to see her son like this; an inhuman creature, bloodied, bruised and alone.
The bed and its open covers awaited Saybridge. He brushed away last night's loose feathers and fell on the sheets. It was good to lie down. Even his injuries stopped bothering him now as he drifted off into the land of unconsciousness. Sleep at least didn't care what he was, didn't care the card that had been dealt to him and a fourth of the world's population. It welcomed all. Saybridge closed his alien eyes and let it come upon him.