Story art by TWood.
From the author: Chris has a secret, in fact, she has a few, but when she meets a young girl in trouble in the park one night, she must decide how much of her unknown past she will share. A tale of revenge, strange powers and three unusual women who must work together to survive the night.
My shift finished one hour and forty-five minutes ago. Actually, one hundred and seven minutes and thirty-two... Thirty-three... Thirty-four seconds ago. Not that I’m counting or anything.
Damian, my boss, said he’ll pay me overtime, but we both know that’s not true. I work more hours than anyone in this place, probably even more than he does, but I never see an extra dollar in my wage packet. Damian’s like a grown-up version of the most annoying kid in the schoolyard. He’ll look you square in the eyes and swear he’s telling you, “God’s own truth,” while he crosses his fingers behind his back, trying to excuse his lies. Most of the time he’s a pretty sweet guy, but as a boss, he can be an asshole. I’d quit, but who else would hire me? Small town problems. They see a weirdo first, ex-con second. I’ve been out well over a year, but shit sticks.
I dry the last tumbler, stack it on the draining board and flick the wet towel over the sink.
“I’m off now, D-Man,” I call across the empty kitchen. From the depths of the store-cupboard comes a startled reply. I hear a crash and some curse words followed by a hollow thump. Damian appears, his face and chest white with flour.
“Chris? Chrissy!” he starts. “Wait up, babe. Can ya just...?”
I’m out of there before he can finish his sentence. Can I just help him with one more thing? Nah, mate. I really can’t.
I grab my battered leather jacket from the peg near the door and rummage in its pockets for my smokes. Four hours without a single break and I’m gasping for a hit of nicotine. Bad habit, I know. Don’t much care. The first match flares then dies in the wind. I strike another, cupping my hands to protect the flame. I inhale, feel my lungs ache, and blow a plume of grey smoke into the sky.
The clock on my phone says 12:06. If I walk fast enough maybe I can get home by half-past. The air is cold and a fine drizzle flecks my cheeks. I turn up my collar and get moving.
My route is the same one I always take, I’m a creature of habit, what can I say? I walk up the hill away from the bar, past the bus stop to the park. No busses run at this time of night, they’re erratic even during the day, so I cut through the park to the path by the school. After that, it’s straight down the street to my house.
By now you’re probably thinking, this girl’s a fool, walking home alone at night. I respect your opinion, but that’s bullshit. I won’t go through life always feeling afraid. Besides, I can be pretty fucking nasty if I need to be.
I walk with my head down and my hands in my pockets. The wind tries to bite me through the leather. The rain gets worse and my hair grows slick, and the further I walk the more pissed off I feel. At the weather. At Damian. At my shitty life. My stroll shifts gears into a heavy stomp; an angry, punk-rock, middle-finger to the world and everyone that’s in it. I head into the park, toss my cigarette butt on the ground and grind it angrily into the dirt with my heel. I’m so furious I don’t even see him at first.
He’s tall and skinny with dark, shaggy hair a good three months past a decent haircut, with thick stubble on his face to match. He’s not dressed for the weather any better than I, but this dude is soaked to the skin. His jeans are splattered with mud and grass, his jacket is ripped and filthy. He’s holding a dog leash with no dog attached, and I don’t see one anywhere around. He walks quickly, muttering to himself but I can’t make out the words.
He stops and stares as if he’s fascinated by me, like I’m an exhibit in a zoo. He takes in my piercings and my half-shaved hair. My black jeans, ‘Misfits’ T-shirt and scuffed Doc Marten boots. I see his top lip curl. Yeah, I’m used to that kind of reaction, especially from men. I don’t give a shit.
We pass and he hisses a slur at me. Homophobic, the D-word. How predictable. I can’t help but chuckle to myself. I’m not scared of his kind, all mouth and no balls. They think they can hurt me with their words. They don’t realise I’ve heard them all, and worse, a million times before. I’m impervious now. Hell, I’m goddamn bulletproof.
I could round on him and challenge him, ask him what the fuck he called me. But I don’t care enough to start that fight, and this isn’t the time or the place. I carry on walking and ignore him, pretending he doesn’t even exist. You’re waiting for the twist but there isn’t one. Sometimes you just have to keep on moving on. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Don’t look back.
At the end of the park, when I find her, I wish I’d taken a hold of the bastard and snapped all his fingers clean off. I wish I’d ground my heel onto his throat, and squeezed his eyeballs from their sockets. I could have beaten him to such a bloody pulp, his own mother wouldn’t recognise him. I’d ignored him, certain he wasn't a threat, but that wasn’t true. He simply wasn't a threat to me.
She’s slumped in the bushes, unconscious, bleeding badly from a wound in her head. A streetlamp on the opposite side of the path throws down a sliver of pale light, just enough to make some sense of the scene. She’s slim and petite with long, blonde hair. The total opposite to me. Despite the shadows, I see straight away what’s happened. The horrors this woman has seen.
Adrenaline hits me and I run to her side, skidding in the mud. My knee knocks her shoe as I kneel down beside her, discarded and covered in filth. I put two fingers to her neck and check for a pulse. It’s there, but only barely. Her chest rises and falls with a flutter, like that of a baby bird. I remember my first aid training, old skills from what feels like another life. I should put her in the recovery position, but I don’t really want to move her. I’m unsure if any of her bones are broken and I can’t take any chances.
I take my phone from my jacket pocket and start dialling. The line connects.
A voice on the other end asks me what emergency services I need, and then she sits straight up and knocks the phone right out of my hands.
“No,” she says. “No police. No ambulance.” I almost fall back in the mud in shock, and I scramble to retrieve the handset. I can still hear the tiny voice in the darkness asking if I’m okay, if I’m still there. I grab the phone, take a look at the girl, and kill the call.
“You’re hurt,” I say, aware I’m stating the obvious. “You need medical help.”
She laughs. Her voice is high-pitched and almost musical. Like the notes of a tin whistle blown by a child. “No. I’ll be fine.”
I stare at her ripped dress and damaged face. I’m not convinced. “Did someone... Was it..?” I struggle to find the words at first before they smack me in the gut. “You’ve been... Assaulted?” I don’t want to say the word I mean. She knows it.
She nods. Far too calmly. Like I’d simply passed comment on the weather. I know this state. Only a few steps up from catatonia. A defence response that kicks in when the brain is struggling to process trauma.
“Yes. He took me by surprise. I was walking Bridgette...” Her expression changes from blank to panic. “Oh, shit! Where is she? Where’s my dog?” She struggles to her feet and I reach out an arm to steady her but she shies away. She calls out the missing animal’s name, puts her hands to her mouth to throw her voice. I remember the man with the empty dog leash.
“The man who hurt you, I think I saw him. Was he...?” I begin. She turns and looks at me so intently my cheeks flush with discomfort. I feel strange. Naked. Like she can see right through my clothes. Like Superman with his x-ray vision.
“Here, let me show you,” she says. She steps towards me, one arm outstretched, and before I can move away she presses her palm to my forehead. Instantly, I see his face in my head, so detailed he could be standing right in front of me. I see his messy hair and red-rimmed eyes. I see the wrinkles and lines on his skin. He leers at me and I see missing teeth; deep cracks on his lips where the skin has gone dry. There’s a pimple by his nostril, almost hidden amongst his stubble. A whitehead, fat and ready to pop.
Then she takes her hand away and the image disappears.
My breath comes fast and shaky and my heart pounds like a jackhammer. I need to take a second before I can trust myself to speak.
“What the fuck was that?” My words sound angrier than I intended, but she doesn’t even flinch.
“I apologise,” she says, and shrugs. “It’s what I do.”
I stare at her, incredulous. “It’s what you do?” I parrot. “What the fuck does that mean?” She shrugs again.
“Like I said, it’s something I can do. Something I’ve always been able to do.”
I flounder. I feel totally overwhelmed. I’ve seen enough weird shit in my life to be at least half-way used to it, stuff most people wouldn’t ever believe, but this is a whole new level of crazy. She straightens her clothes and rescues her shoe, then sets off further into the park.
“Hey! Where are you going?” She doesn’t stop.
“I’m going to find him and I’m going to kill him,” she tells me, without breaking her stride. Her cheery, upbeat tone turns my blood cold. A sudden wave of panic washes over me.
“What? No, wait! You can’t do that!”
“I can and I will,” she replies. I run after her, reaching out to touch her shoulder, but she sidesteps and moves away. “Please don’t try to stop me, Chris. It won’t work.”
I feel all the colour drain from my face and the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention.
“How do you know my name?” She continues walking. “Hey!” I shout. “How the fuck do you know my name? What is going on here?”
She finally stops and turns to me. “I’m sorry. Again.” She sighs. “It’s another thing I can do. When I touch you…” She gestures vaguely, as if trying to pluck the right words out of the air. “The information goes both ways.”
I can see her apology is genuine, but I still feel pretty pissed off. She got into my head without asking. But if she can take as well as give... Does that mean…? My thoughts lead me down a dark rabbit hole. I’m not sure I really want to know, but the question pops out anyway.
“So when that man… ?” Jesus, for someone who is usually such a gobshite, no topic out of bounds, I’m struggling. She knows what I mean.
“No. I’m strong enough that I could keep him out. I closed off. Found a safe space, you know?”
I don’t know. I have no knowledge of this stuff at all. But maybe that’s why she’s so calm about it all. It’s a defence mechanism. But she still needs help. I know from experience that she needs help.
“Look, stop a minute, okay? My ex, they… She’s a police officer. I know you said no police, but will you at least talk to her, show her what you showed me? She can look out for him, try to make sure he doesn’t hurt anyone else. How does that sound?”
She purses her lips and screws up her face. “I want to kill him,” she says again.
“And I understand that, I totally do, but there would be consequences. Don’t risk your freedom for one asshole. Trust me. Linda, my ex, she can deal with him in a better way. Will you at least let me call her?”
I can tell she’s not keen, but eventually she nods. “Okay. Call her,” she says.
I scroll through the contacts in my phone. Linda’s my ex, but not because we stopped caring, and nothing to do with my past. I’m sure there were eyebrows raised at the station. At an officer of the law dating a reformed prisoner. Like either of us gave two shits about that. No, what we did care about was how our work shifts meant we hardly saw anything of each other, and when we did we were always so tired. We drifted unintentionally. Our relationship went from furious and fired-up to completely fizzled out. It happens. We moved on, with no hard feelings, but we kept in touch. I’m always going to be grateful to her.
I find her number and push the button. The line rings and connects.
“Hey.” Linda answers. She sounds slow and a little fuzzy, like I've pulled her out of a deep sleep. “It’s pretty late. You okay?”
“I’m sorry, Linds. I didn’t mean to wake you. I’ve got a situation here.”
“What’s that mean? Are you in trouble? Are you hurt?” I hear the concern in her voice.
“No, not me, I’m okay. But there’s a girl with me. She was attacked in the park. She says she’s fine, but, well…” I take a deep breath. “She’s got powers, Linds.”
“I don’t know, some sort of mind-reading thing. What do you call it, telepathy?”
Linda laughs. “Girl, did you take some freebies from the bar tonight?”
“No, Jesus! I’m not drunk, Linds. Look, can you just come?” Another deep breath. “I really need you.”
This time she doesn’t miss a beat. “I’m on my way.”
“Thanks, Linds. We’ll wait by the gates.” I pocket the phone and nod to the girl. “She’ll pick us up. Let’s go back to the entrance.” I’m unsure if she will follow me, but as I start to walk she does too. “So, what do I call you?” I ask her.
“Anita,” she says, with enough of a pause that I have to wonder if she’s bullshitting me. It doesn’t matter, she can call herself whatever she wants. None of my business. “You told your ex-girlfriend I have powers,” she says. I nod. “And she wasn’t fazed by that. Why?”
Good question. “Well, you see, Linda is pretty special herself.”
“Right,” she replies. "That makes sense. That’s how I knew you were safe.”
I slow my pace a little. “What’s that?”
“I knew you were safe. When you took my pulse, I could feel it. I thought maybe you had powers too, but now I realise that you’ve been exposed to them instead.”
Oh. Okay. That’s not weird at all. I give an awkward laugh. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Yeah. I’ve been ‘exposed’. Linda is... Well, maybe she’ll tell you herself.”
We walk to the gap in the hedges that marks the entrance to the park and wait underneath the streetlight. I see Linda’s bright blue Mazda in the distance. Neat and tidy, just like her. She pulls up beside us and winds down the passenger side window.
“Get in the car, bitches! No time to explain!”
Anita looks confused.
“It’s okay,” I tell her. “This is Linda. Trying to be funny, eh?” I open the rear door for Anita and she slides into the back. I take the passenger seat up in front.
“Hi,” I say.
“Hey,” Linda replies.
Her hair is brushed and shiny, and her sweatpants are clean and crease-free. Even when woken unexpectedly she manages to look immaculate. I notice the T-shirt she’s wearing is one I bought her. The one with Lucy Lawless dressed as ‘Xena: Warrior Princess’. I wonder if she was sleeping in it. If she still misses me, like I miss her. “Thank you for doing this.”
She dips her chin in acknowledgement. “It’s all good.”
So she says. But really, it’s fucking crazy, right? Three girls are thrown together in the middle of the night. Two with powers, one with secrets in her past. Like a punchline, but no one is quite sure of the joke. And if they were, they wouldn’t find it funny anyway.
“Okay, let’s talk,” Linda says.
We sit in the car in awkward silence. Linda keeps the engine running but doesn’t drive away. She switches on the interior light and turns in her seat to face Anita. One arm curls around the headrest. She looks and sounds totally at ease.
“Hey,” she says. Anita replies in kind. “My name is Linda Lepuni and I’m a police officer. And you are?”
“Anita Frost.” This time the name sounds believable. Perhaps she’s grown more comfortable with telling the lie. Or maybe she was being truthful all along.
“Okay, Anita, I’m going to try my best to help you. Chris tells me you’ve had a rough night, huh?”
“Okay, and somebody hurt you?” Anita nods and her expression goes hard. Linda softens hers in response. “I’m so very sorry you’ve experienced that. Now, I understand that you’ve got powers, is that correct?”
“Yes. I can show you.”
Linda raises a hand. “Just hold up for a second. Can you run me through what happened first? Can you manage that?”
Anita takes a deep breath. “Bridgette, my dog, needed walking. I know I should have taken her out earlier, while it was still light, but I’d been busy all day and I was tired. I fell asleep on the sofa and it was dark when I woke up. I took her to the park as I always do, and he came up behind me and grabbed me.”
She stops for a moment and chews at a hangnail. The memory hurts, I can tell.
“I knew straight away he meant to harm me. He yanked Bridgette’s lead out of my hand and he kicked her. He kicked her really hard. She yelped in pain and I screamed too, then he spun me around and he hit me. He put his hands all over me. Said horrible, disgusting things. I knew what was going to happen and I… My powers saved me. I closed off. I didn’t reopen until Chris found me.”
Linda stays silent, taking it all in. Anyone else would have thought this ridiculous, would be asking all the wrong kinds of questions, but not Linda. She understands this stuff.
“You’re a telepathic empath?”
Anita nods. “And a conduit. I go both ways.”
“You and me both,” Linda says with a wry chuckle, but then catches my eye and stops herself. “Sorry. Bad joke. Okay, I’m ready. Show me.”
Anita reaches between the seats and puts her hand on Linda’s forehead. Linda blinks rapidly and I see her face change. Her eyes cloud over and her nostrils flare. She makes a low noise in the depths of her throat, something like a growl.
Anita pulls her palm away, her mouth a perfect circle. “Oh!”
“Yes,” Linda replies. “I am. Let’s move on to the situation at hand. I saw him, as you intended, and I saw what happened. I’m so sorry, Anita. What a bastard. So, you want me to find him?”
“I want to kill him,” Anita says.
“I realise that. But you also understand why I can’t let you?”
“So what then? You find him, then what?”
“I’ll deal with him.”
“My way.” The two women stare each other down. The edges of their faces are pooled by shadows where the glow of the overhead light can’t reach. Their eyeballs shimmer like furious stars. Flashes of power in the dark. I’m the odd one out, flanked by those with inhuman abilities, but I’m okay with that. I’ve got my own talents. My own personal strengths. Besides, I’m in awe of them. Of what they both can do.
I can feel Linda bristling beside me, I know damn well she won’t back down. Anita looks away first. “Okay,” she says quietly. “Do what you think is best.”
Linda grunts her acknowledgement and turns the key in the ignition. The engine grumbles to a stop and I’m confused.
“Wait. What are we doing?” I ask.
She grins. “We’re going hunting.”
“Oh.” I understand.
We get out of the car and Linda locks the doors. “We’ll go back through the park,” she says. “See if we can find Bridgette on the way, and track where he’s gone.”
“Are you going to put out a BOLO for him?” Anita asks. She means ‘Be On Look Out’ and has probably been watching too many cheesy cop shows on T.V.
Linda scoffs. “No point. I’ll find him easily enough myself. Right now, I don’t want anyone else involved.” She heads for the path and inhales deeply, head tilted back as she breathes the freezing air. The rain is bearing down much harder now, her hair and shoulders are oil-slick.
She huffs and turns to face us. “Okay, Anita, I’m really sorry to tell you this, but Bridgette is dead.”
Anita freezes. “What!? How can you possibly know that?”
“Oh, she knows,” I say.
“Well, can we at least find her body?”
Linda pauses. I can tell she’s not eager to accommodate. “We’re wasting time, Anita. We can come back for the dog. Let’s get the bastard who killed her first.”
Anita slumps, her voice sounds small and defeated. “Fine.”
I go to touch her, to offer her some small piece of consolation, but she moves away.
“Please don’t,” she says.
I pull my hand back. It must be pretty damn exhausting spending your whole life avoiding physical contact, not knowing exactly what you might give or receive if you relent. I don’t think I could cope.
“Sorry,” I say. “And I’m sorry about Bridgette.”
She fixes me with a dead-eyed stare and speaks through gritted teeth. “I’m going to make him fucking pay.”
I hope like hell that Linda finds this shithead first. I have no doubt that Anita will keep her promises otherwise. She doesn’t need that on her conscience, however angry she might feel right now. My ex-girlfriend, on the other hand, I know she can deal.
Linda’s almost in the middle of the park now, hidden by the dense arms of the beckoning trees. “Come on,” she calls back to us. “I’ve caught his scent.”
We break into a jog to catch up with her. The grass slaps my feet as I splash through shallow puddles and cold mud sprays up the backs of my legs. It’s cold and miserable out here. I wish I was at home in bed. Beer in one hand, snacks in the other, watching reruns of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’ but I have to admit, I’m also thrilled by it all. The prospect of the chase is exhilarating.
I draw parallel with Linda. She sniffs the air like a bloodhound, her jaw set in a grimace of concentration. I remember this. The first time was terrifying; now it feels exciting. Sexy. I know exactly what she’s capable of.
“You okay?” I ask her. She whips her head around to face me and her eyes are almost black. She bares her teeth and looks ready to snap, then realises it’s me.
“Hey,” she replies, sounding strained. “Yeah, I’m good. I think he’s close. He hasn’t left the park.”
“I passed him you know?” I tell her, keeping my voice low. “Before I found Anita. I didn’t know.”
“How could you? You’re not like me. Or her.”
She’s right. I’m not. I’m terribly normal in comparison. “Still, I feel like I should have realised. Dude was creepy enough.”
“Come on, Chrissy. You and I both know that’s not an indicator of anything. There are way too many assholes like that in the world. Spouting their shit whenever they go. On the street, or online, they’re all over. Doesn’t mean they’ll act on what they say.”
“He called me a dyke.”
“Well? You are.”
I laugh, but it’s more at the absurdity, not out of humour. “You know what I mean. If I use that name, that’s my decision. I can take it and reclaim it. When it’s thrown in my face like that, it’s a weapon. That word is meant to hurt. And for the ones that are brave enough to call you names out loud, it’s often the start of worse.”
“Sometimes. Not always. I know you, when you decide to square up to someone, they piss themselves. These guys don’t call you names because they think you’re weak, they do it to prove to themselves that they’re strong. It’s all bullshit.”
“Yeah. Maybe. Sometimes I wish I was like you. I wish you’d made me like...”
She stops and shakes her head. “No. You don’t. You’re powerful enough on your own without any of this.” She gestures to her body.
I know she means her powers, but still, I look her up and down over-exaggeratedly.
“Maybe. But I happen to like all of that.”
She grins and I feel the shift in tension. I welcome the release. She takes my hand in hers and squeezes it. God, I’ve missed this.
A rustle in the leaves up ahead makes her pause. I fall silent. She lets go of me and her posture changes. Tightly coiled, like she’s ready to jump.
Anita flanks her on her other side. “Is it him?”
Linda sniffs the air and nods. “Yes.”
Anita bolts forwards, heading for the trees. Linda sees her and moves lightning-fast. She catches hold of her arm and stops her. “No! I can’t let you do this.” Anita puts one hand on top of Linda’s and I can see something — thoughts? — pass between them. The moment is so intimate I’m almost jealous. Linda grunts loudly in frustration then sighs. Some agreement has clearly been made.
“Okay. Fine. I’ll hold him for you.”
Wait, what? She’ll hold him? How has the plan changed so quickly? “What are you doing?” I snap. “You said you wouldn’t let her kill him!”
“I won’t. But I will let her take her revenge. She deserves that at the very least. For her and for her dog. Do you understand? I can’t stop her from using her powers.”
“What will you do?”
She dodges my question. “Just stay out of sight, okay? Let us handle this. And if things go to shit, take Anita and run.”
“Jesus, what are going to do? You know I won’t leave you, Linds.”
“I’m not giving you the choice. Go over there to the trees. And for fuck’s sake, stay put.”
I do as she says. I feel sick and I want a cigarette. They slink in silence towards the foliage. The darkness and the rain mess with my vision, but I can just about make out another shape moving in the distance. The man emerges from between the leaves, zipping up his pants. Taking a piss or having a wank? Could be either with a creep like him.
Linda sneaks up behind him and grabs his shoulder. She spins him with one hand and holds him steady before landing a hard punch to his chin. He staggers and one leg gives out, but she hauls him upright and hits him again. I hear him shout, but even at this distance, he sounds dazed and groggy. Linda is strong. If she wants to, she can knock him unconscious without trying.
She spins him again, wraps one arm around his neck and places him in a chokehold. He isn’t going anywhere. I know Linda told me to stay put, but I want to know what’s happening. I want to see this sick fucker get his just deserts. I move a little closer so I can see and hear them better. Rain pours off the ends of the sodden leaves and trickles down my back. I shudder uncomfortably.
Anita moves towards the man. I hope Linda knows what she’s doing.
Anita doesn’t say anything, she simply stands there, staring into his eyes. I wonder what she’s thinking now. If she’s trying to find the words.
What would I say in this situation? Yeah, I know the answer: nothing. I know there’s little point. I’d kick him squarely in the balls for starters. Keep kicking him and kicking him until he was done. In his soft, fat gut; in his pink, bald head. Right in his throat so he can’t breathe. I know this because I’ve done this. Behold; my violent past.
I’d acted purely in self-defence. I was a nursing student, and he looked like he was hurt. He wasn’t. He was only faking his injuries. I wasn’t the first to be taken in. There had been stories going around the campus for months. In the bushes, he realised his mistake. He’d finally conned the wrong girl.
The judge decided I’d gone “too far.” In my five years of incarceration, my only thought was that I hadn’t gone quite far enough. The fucker had lived.
Anita reaches out her hand palm-first towards his forehead. Of course, she has her own methods, her own powerful way of kicking the bastard until he bleeds. Whatever images she’s showing him, what vengeful thoughts she’s firing straight into his brain, I hope she doesn’t hold back. He squirms and screams but Linda holds him until his angry hollers become scared sobs. Tears and snot stream down his face and are washed away by the driving rain.
It’s good, but I feel like he got off lightly. I would have made him really hurt.
And then he lashes out.
He brings his foot up into Anita’s stomach and she folds over like a paper doll. Her hand slips from his forehead. Free from her powers, he thrusts an elbow backwards, hard into Linda’s side. She huffs in surprise, and is jarred by the movement, but holds him fast. He’s ballsy, I’ll give him that. He does his very best to wriggle free, and she grips him even tighter. His face turns purple and his eyeballs bulge as he struggles for every breath.
He circles his left arm back over his head and claws at her face. His fingernails are dangerously close to her eye. His hand roves like a fleshy spider, scratching and pushing at all her soft parts and becomes entangled in her hair. She shies her head away, but cannot shift him. I start to move, to go to help her, but she’s in no need of my assistance.
I hear her growl. A deep rumble that comes from the back of her throat. It’s a sound that has made even the bravest of men soil themselves and whimper, but he doesn’t seem to have noticed. He continues to try to fight her off, to hurt her if he can. I should look away now. He’s dead already, he just doesn’t know it yet.
Anita picks herself up from the grass and moves away from the pair. She knows what’s coming, but unlike me, I doubt she’s ever seen it.
“Anita! Come on! We’ve got to get away from her!”
I meant to say “here.” At least I think I did. It makes no difference. It’s not Linda’s fault. She’s unable to tell the difference between good and bad, from friend and foe, when she’s in this state.
We run from the trees back into the park. I can hear the scrape and squelch of bones, stretched skin taking on a new form. Her low-toned warning has changed and grown, just like her body has. A chilling howl echoes through the dark. The man makes no sound at all. I doubt he can. By now she will have torn his throat out.
We run until we reach the exit, and even then we don’t look back until we hear her calling us. She sounds normal now, if a little hoarse. I stop and turn. She looks a mess.
“Hey,” she says. I don’t know how to respond. She’s bathed in blood from head to toe, and none of it is hers. There won’t be much left of the man; perhaps some bones and hair. The rats and birds will take care of that. It’ll be like he just disappeared.
Like how, six months ago, she made my attacker disappear.
“Your T-shirt is fucked,” I tell her.
She looks down and plucks at the shredded material. “Yep.”
“Shame. I really liked that one on you.”
Anita appears at my side, breathing heavily. “Is he…? Did you…?”
She looks relieved. “Thank you.”
Linda nods. “That wasn’t ever my plan. You do realise that? Just because I can doesn’t mean I do. There has to be rules. He didn’t really give me much choice.”
“I know. But still, thank you.”
She puts her hand to Linda’s cheek and I feel that twinge of envy again. I pull my smokes out of my jacket pocket and wrestle with the packet. My hands are shaking. I put the cigarette between my lips and fumble with the matchbook. The match flares. I light the tip and inhale, waiting for the nicotine to calm me.
Anita reaches out with her other hand and takes a hold of my bare wrist. I feel a surge of soft emotions. Like I've been wrapped in a warm blanket. I am grounded and serene. I feel… connected.
I don’t know how long we stand like that. The rain slows to a haze and finally stops.
Linda breaks the silence. “Look at us, eh? Like ‘The Three Musketeers’.”
“Fuck off,” I reply. “We’re way more like ‘Charlie’s Angels’.”
“Yeah,” Anita says. “Except we don’t need no fucking Charlie!”
We laugh, sharing the joke and sense of camaraderie. Linda plucks the cigarette from my mouth and takes a drag. The moon steps out from a crack in the clouds. It gives the smoke she exhales a silver edge. She looks thoughtful but also, I don’t know, content? Maybe ‘satisfied’ would be a better word. Like you might feel after eating a good meal.
The less I think about that, the better.
“Well,” she sniffs. “This evening has been a fucking trip. I guess I’m calling in sick tomorrow. You bitches want to come back to mine and grab a drink?”
“Yeah,” I reply.
Oh hell, yeah.
This story originally appeared in Divination Hollows Reviews .