Quinta Essentia

Bradley P. Beaulieu


On the day they finally came, Sean Brannon tossed and turned in his bed, his ligature exoskeleton whirring while assisting his movements. The sound of the ligature was nearly, though not quite, masking the childlike whine that escaped him with each turn of his broken body. He rolled and lay in a fetal position, and found Therese an arm’s length away—a measure of space that in their early days had always seemed so tenderly close but now felt unbridgeable. He knew she felt his movements, heard every minute manifestation of his pain no matter how hard he tried to mask it, but she tried to remain asleep while he in turn tried to remain as quiet as he could manage.


Dawn was still a distant dream, but Sean knew he would never get back to sleep now, so he threw off his thin blanket and pivoted himself up, joints howling from the attention the levering of a ninety-pound frame to a semi-upright position required. Placing hands on knees and gritting his teeth, he pushed himself up to a trembling stand. It was worse than normal today. The humidity—he could feel it in the air already—and something else, something more arcane than precipitation.


He was sweating by the time he managed to coax his body into a fully upright position.


“Come back to bed,” Therese said, reaching over the ruffled bedcovers with an arm that was well shaped. A woman that was well shaped. A woman that had helped him every day since this endless nightmare had begun.


“Go back to sleep,” Sean said.


She woke more fully then, raised herself up, arms and shoulders angling unnaturally as she propped herself on one elbow. By the light of gas lamps filtering in through the nearby window, she watched him with pity-filled eyes. This was the worst time of day for both of them. It reminded them how frail he was, and he suspected it reminded Therese how frail she was—how frail they all were in light of the ways the world had changed—and Therese was a woman who had never liked being reminded of her own mortality. She seemed ready to argue with him, to coax him back to bed, but then she relented and lay back, turning over with the leaden movements of the deeply fatigued, and fell back to sleep.