Author’s note: This follows directly after Part Seven. Make sure you’ve read that. Email alerts were delayed when I posted and you might have missed it. Reminder: Liz would be seventeen here.
Chapter Six: Liz Sherman
Fear of Fire: A Tale of Trust and Love—Part Eight
Stifling smoke, searing fire, excruciating pain—all coupled with constant torrents of water from the ceiling fire sprinklers. Unfortunately, the fire extinguisher Hellboy had used to enter Liz’s quarters was already completely spent. Determined not to fail in his self-imposed task of awakening Liz from the nightmare manifesting in this scorching reality, he cast aside the spent extinguisher and again forced himself further into her quarters. Every single breath he took was a searing agony.
“Damn!” he growled as he blindly lurched up against the small bed. Now blazing away like all of the other furniture, the bed still seemed less affected by the flames as if having been protected as long as Liz had been lying there. Unfortunately, she was no longer in the bed.
Crouching down and attempting to examine the area around the bed, Hellboy hoped that Liz was lying on the floor somewhere near him. As he did so, it came to his attention that the flames in one corner of the windowless room looked very different from the red-orange blaze that completely engulfed him in spite of the water still cascading from above.
Slower than he would have liked, he groped his way toward that corner with it’s bluish-colored fire; stumbling over the blazing remains of the room’s furnishings. As he broke through into this weirdly cool-looking conflagration that both surrounded and issued forth from the figure huddled in the corner, the most remarkable feeling washed over him. It was the deep-seated conviction that he, who had never truly felt at home anywhere, had finally found that haven he had been seeking his entire life.
Unlike the blaze currently gutting her quarters, the fire bursting forth from the night-gowned Liz did not burn him as it enveloped him in a brilliant sapphire glow—something that surprised him and, yet, did not surprise him at all. As he knelt down and lifted Liz’s comatose body from the floor, a warm contentment began to fill him. Holding her close with his huge stone-like right hand, he stroked her long, dark hair with his normal-sized left one. Whispering comforting nonsense words, he attempted to wake her without startling her too much.
As Liz began to stir, Hellboy’s heart skipped a beat. “Wondered when you’d show up,” she mumbled, snuggling even closer to his bare, burn-covered chest; as painful as this was, it still felt wonderful to hold her like that. Her statement had surprised him, as his father had earlier indicated that she seemed to recall nothing of their meeting when she had been eleven. Before he had a chance to ask what she meant by that, the blue flames retreated back into her body and she passed out again.
At that same moment, the fire that filled the room also began to ebb and the water still issuing from the sprinklers began to put it out. Hellboy was more than relieved at this development, even though the abrupt withdrawal of Liz’s blue fire had left him feeling oddly bereft. He had no real urge to once again force his over-taxed body through a blazing inferno and he was not totally sure if Liz would be immune to harm from the fire when no longer surrounded by a shield of her own flames; even if it was certainly those flames that had caused the fire in the first place.
He was also relieved that Liz was again unconscious as he began to be aware that more than just his chest was now bare. His leather pants having been totally incinerated, the only thing left covering him was a myriad of painful burns. Just as he once had done in a demonic-rat besieged underground chamber in Harlem fourteen years earlier, Hellboy established a mental link with Abe Sapien; something he could rarely achieve except in a true crisis.
After first making certain that he had managed to get through to Abe, Hellboy sat on the floor in the relatively unscathed corner and held Liz closer; attempting to use his own body to shield her both from the water still pouring from above and from the remnants of the now dwindling fire. At least the water from the sprinklers was beginning to soothe his burns, which were even then beginning to heal, as was usual for him.
As far as Hellboy could tell, Liz seemed more asleep than unconscious; but he was still concerned about her and was thankful as he sensed Abe’s mind connecting with his own.
‘Red, as soon as the fire dies down a little more, security will enter the room and convey Ms. Sherman to a more secure isolation facility in the Medical Wing. Right now, that is the most destruction-proof location where we can install her.’
Too exhausted to do much more than broadcast back to Abe his receipt of this mental communication, Hellboy closed his eyes. ‘Install,’ he thought to himself, ‘Makes her sound like a computer program.’
Sensing amusement from Abe, Hellboy realized that ‘Brother Blue’ had picked up this last thought even though he hadn’t meant to project it. Attempting to open his eyes again, he found that he could barely move any part of his entire body. This uncharacteristic weakness dismayed him. Still feeling the need to protect the young woman he held in his arms, he struggled to become more alert.
Awareness slowly returned to Hellboy, as he came to realize that he was in a bed. Finally managing to open his eyes, he found that he was not in his own private quarters but in a room in the Medical Wing. At first, he couldn’t recall why he should be sleeping there instead of in his own bed; or why bandages covered him and he felt as if he had been seared like an overcooked side of roast beef. An odd itch in his left arm made him mindful of needles that attached him to lines from two IV bags.
Turning his head with a little difficulty, as some of the quickly healing burns on his neck had stiffened, he saw Trevor Broom fast asleep in an uncomfortable-looking chair near the bed. As he noticed the lines of worry in his father’s face, even in repose, the fog in his brain began to clear; bringing back the memory of his desperate forage into the blazing inferno in Liz’s quarters. Yet, what had happened after his final mental communication with Abe was almost a total blank.
“Father,” he started to say; but nothing much came out except an odd kind of croak.
At this sound, Broom sat up. “Good, you’re conscious again.” Getting up from the chair, he moved closer to the bed and gently laid the back of his right hand against an un-bandaged portion of Hellboy’s left cheek. “Thank God, you don’t feel as hot as you did a few hours ago.”
Pressing an electric button, Broom slowly eased up the head of Hellboy’s bed; helping him to sit up. Fetching a cup from a side table, he filled it with ice from a pitcher of water on the table and used a spoon to place a few slivers of this in Hellboy’s mouth. “You were almost totally dehydrated by the time security managed to get into Liz’s quarters and aren’t up to drinking water yet. We’ll have to remain with ice for the time being or we could give you stomach cramps.”
After Hellboy gratefully let the ice slide down his dry throat, he grunted something almost inarticulate.
“Please, Son, don’t try to speak. Abe and Doctor Franklin took care of your burns and hooked you up to IVs for fluids and nutrition; but as you will probably be able to make little in the way of saliva for a few hours yet, any attempt at speech will be quite difficult.”
“Stop that,” Hellboy used his left hand to impatiently push away Trevor Broom’s offering of another spoonful of ice, “Lizzie, you have to tell me if she’s okay.” At least, that is what he meant to say; even if what came out sounded little like those words.
Broom smiled, “I don’t need to be a mind reader like Abe to figure out what you’re so anxious about. Calm down and I’ll tell you what I know.” Firmly inserting a second spoonful of ice in Hellboy’s mouth, he effectively cut off any further efforts to speak.
“Ms. Sherman has been sleeping peacefully ever since we removed her to the isolation facility. Believe me, Son, she’s a lot better off than you are right now. If I hadn’t been so concerned that the fire would rage out of control, I never would have let you go into that room. Frankly, Ms. Sherman seems to be even more immune to harm from fire than you are.”
While his father had been speaking, Hellboy could feel the tension drain out of him. He opened his mouth for another spoonful of the ice; but Trevor Broom shook his head. “Only a little at a time; those were Doctor Franklin’s orders.”
Again lowering the head of Hellboy’s bed, Broom once more seated himself in the chair near the bed. “You should try to get some more sleep. That will help.”
As tired as he was, there was something else on Hellboy’s mind. ((I’ll sleep, if you will,)) he gestured in the sign language they had first communicated in before the young Hellboy had learned to speak.
“I have been sleeping,” Broom laughed, “But I have to admit these plastic torture apparatus the Medical Wing insists on calling chairs are not the most comfortable places to do so. I will remove myself to my own bed; but only if you promise to do everything asked of you. We both know that you’re not the most compliant of patients.”
Hellboy nodded his agreement and Broom smiled as he arose from the chair. “We spoke of spending your birthday tomorrow evening watching some Charlie Chaplin videos. If you feel up to it, we should still be able to do so. By the way, ‘tomorrow’ is now actually ‘today’; happy birthday, Son.”
Before he stepped out into the main corridor of the Medical Wing, Hellboy was fast asleep.
Hellboy wasn’t sure how long he had been sleeping, when a slight sound woke him. Opening his eyes, he noticed Abe Sapien changing the IV bags. “Hey,” he just managed to grunt.
“Hey, to you too, Sleeping Beauty,” Abe replied, as he finished replacing the bags, “I was beginning to wonder when you would deign to grace us with your inimitable presence again. It was a teensy bit alarming to find that you had fainted dead away by the time security managed to get into that room.”
“Faint?” growled Hellboy hoarsely, “I don’t faint. I didn’t get much sleep last night and it took you guys forever to finally show up; so, I just dozed off.”
“Dozed off; is that what they call it now?” Abe said with a little grin, “Looked like you fainted to me.”
“Liz; how is she, really?” Hellboy asked, wanting as quickly as possible to turn the conversation away from the topic of his ‘fainting’. “I know Pop told me she was okay, but maybe he just wanted to keep me from worrying too much.”
“After we were finally able to enter Ms. Sherman’s quarters and managed to pry her out of your arms while you were, um, ‘dozing’, she woke briefly, mumbled something incoherent, and then fell asleep until just around an hour ago. She recalls very little of what had happened after she retired to bed last evening, beyond having a bad nightmare and hearing someone speak words of comfort that drove the nightmare away. Physically, she is unharmed; unlike someone else whom I could name.”
“Good,” Hellboy just managed to get out, his previous laryngitis beginning to return. As Abe patted his shoulder, he once again found his eyes drifting shut.
At one point, Hellboy woke slightly as he heard voices. Abe and Trevor Broom were speaking with what sounded like a young woman; but Hellboy was still too exhausted to be curious. Not even noticing that the IVs had been removed, he burrowed deeper into the pillow and fell back to sleep.
When he finally began to come awake, he could feel someone holding his left hand. He first assumed that this comforting hand was Trevor Broom’s, but it did not feel like his father’s usually cool hand. Neither did it feel like Abe Sapien’s webbed, even colder, hand. The more that he thought about it, the more this hand definitely felt too warm to be either of theirs.
Turning his head to the left and opening his eyes, he found himself looking at Liz Sherman seated in the chair Trevor Broom had been sitting in earlier. She was wearing one of the blue-striped white robes the Medical Wing issued to patients, looking as if she had showered recently.
“Hi,” Liz said, as Hellboy turned toward her. Her eyes were as brown and as sad-looking as he remembered from meeting her in Chicago when she had been eleven.
“Um… hi,” Hellboy replied. Removing his hand from hers, he located the controls to the bed and raised himself to a sitting position. He was a little embarrassed at being caught in bed and hoped that the white sheet covering him adequately concealed that he was wearing little but bandages.
“Hellboy, Professor Broom tells me that you were the one who came into my quarters last night and woke me from my nightmare. I can’t thank you…”
“It was nothing,” Hellboy interrupted; voice still slightly hoarse, but much stronger than earlier.
“This doesn’t look like nothing,” Liz said, touching the bandages on the upper part of his left arm.
Hellboy shrugged, “Don’t worry about it. Fire doesn’t usually do much to me except hurt like, um, heck and I heal really fast.”
Liz took his hand again, giving him a little smile; but it never reached her eyes, which still looked so very sad to him. “So Professor Broom said; but it was still a brave thing to do. I just wish I could remember you doing it. I never remember much when these things happen.”
Hellboy looked closer at Liz. “Don’t you remember saying that you wondered when I’d show up?”
Abruptly pulling her hand away, Liz stared at him and then shook her head. “Why would I say that? I’ve never met you before. At least, I don’t think I did.” She clasped her hands tightly together, looking down at them rather than at Hellboy. “But there’s these whole chunks of my life that I don’t remember at all. And you do sort of remind me a little bit of something I think I dreamt about once.” Liz stopped, took a long breath, and looked up at him again. “I think I better stop rambling. I do that when I get nervous.”
Hellboy reached out and touched the still rigidly clasped hands. “Look, kid, you don’t need to be nervous of me. I’m one of the good guys, you know; even though I don’t look much like it.”
Liz smiled again; and this time it almost reached her eyes. “You look fine to me, H.B. That’s not what I’m nervous about.”
She stood up from the chair and started to pace around the small hospital room. “I’m not used to letting people get that close to me anymore; it’s just not safe. Professor Broom says that he thinks he can help me and I know I don’t need to worry much about you.”
She turned to face him again, “But what about the others? I’m sick and tired of spreading death and destruction everywhere I go. Maybe I should just get out of here before something worse happens.”
Hellboy wished that he could get up and go to her; but it just wasn’t feasible. For one thing, he was still a bit tired out from his ordeal the previous night. For another, he wasn’t really wearing anything.
After a brief internal debate over whether to be kindly or blunt, he decided on blunt; and to leave the ‘kindly’ thing to his father or Abe, who did that better than he did anyway.
“And go where, Lizzie? Back on the streets, where you can be a danger to almost anyone passing by? Back to those shelters and foster homes you keep running away from?”
Liz flopped back into the chair and glared at him for a long moment. “Thanks,” she finally growled, “Thanks a million for reminding me that I have no place to go except this weird place. And don’t ever call me Lizzie; I hate when people do that.”
Hellboy wasn’t always the most observant when reading the behavior of others; but he knew when he was being tested. Liz was trying to see how far she could push him before being rejected and he could tell that she was a little surprised when he grinned broadly at her instead of becoming angry.
“Unique; Pop likes to think of this place as unique. And it’s not such a bad place to call home, either. I’ve found that out and so has Abe; maybe you can too.”
Liz sighed, “I know what you mean; but I used to have a home before this stuff started, you know. I’m afraid this place doesn’t really compare with that.”
A bit hurt by this rejection of his overtures, Hellboy tried not to show it. “The Bureau’s been the only home I’ve known for forty-eight years; whether it’s been in New Mexico, Boston or here in Newark.”
“You’re almost fifty years old?” Liz jumped in before Hellboy completed his thought; he almost laughed as the look in her deep brown eyes shifted from petulance to surprise. “You look pretty good for someone that old,” she added, as she glanced toward his muscular chest with its white bandages against bright red skin. Blushing, she looked away again.
“Jeez, Liz,” this time Hellboy did laugh, “Whether you wanna call it good or bad, I’ve looked the same since I was fifteen.”
“I think I better go now.” Liz got up and headed toward the door into the corridor. “I did promise the Professor I wouldn’t stay too long.”
“Wait,” Hellboy sat up further. Liz stopped and turned back to face him.
“Today’s my birthday, you know, and my father and I will be watching Charlie Chaplin movies tonight. Would you like to join us?” Hellboy clenched and unclenched his enormous stone hand and his tail, which until now had been obscured by his blanket, nervously squirmed out to fidget back and forth.
Liz moved back toward Hellboy’s bed, seeming somewhat mesmerized by the tail. “Maybe I’ll do that; if the Professor doesn’t mind. I love silent movies myself, especially Chaplin.”
“You do?” Hellboy could never get Kate Corrigan or Abe Sapien to show much interest in his favorite silent movie stars. It would be fun to have someone around who loved them as much as he did.
Liz nodded, “Yeah, I do. When I was living on the streets in Portland a lot of us would hang around the Laurelhurst Theater. It’s an old movie house that’s been chopped down into four screens in order to compete against all those new-style multiplexes. On one of those screens, they show old movies, the kind they don’t have to pay much money for. Saw a lot of great movies that way, you know.”
“I’ve got loads of movie videos, if you’d like to see them,” Hellboy’s tail waved excitedly, “Old movies, new movies; you name it, I’ve got it. TV shows and cartoons too.”
Liz heard a quiet step in the corridor and turned to see Trevor Broom hovering outside the door.
“Here’s the Professor. I better go now. You know, H.B., maybe I could start to feel at home here.”
Hellboy felt a strange flutter in his heart as Liz said this—but not being quite sure what that flutter meant he ignored it. “See you tonight then?”
“Yeah, I think so.” Liz said as Trevor Broom walked in.
More to come…
Author’s afterword: Sorry for the delay. I started working on this right after the beginning of the new year, but I went and threw my back out. Sometimes I literally wish I could ‘throw out my back’ so I can buy a new one. But, unfortunately, I can’t; so, I just had to settle for a chiropractor instead. Thank God, he’s a good one and I was finally able to get back to typing again. Until recently, I was just able to get through the day at work; but typing at my home computer was literally a big pain.
The Laurelhurst Theater is a real place. What I mentioned in passing above is pretty much historical. It was built in 1923 and was one of the first art deco buildings in Portland, Oregon. During the 70s, 80s, and 90s the outdated theater was left to decay. It was purchased around the year 2000 by the current owners who have restored it to its original splendor, still keeping the four separate screens that were installed in the late 70s.
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