The Voodoo Priestess

When I opened my locker, the first thing I saw was myself. The mirror was cracked at the bottom, but I could make out most of my pale face. My high cheek bones, the freckles on my nose, my green/blue eyes. I ran my hand over my light-blonde hair which I’d tied back and braided Lara Croft style. To me, my face didn’t seem like the face of an average 17-year-old. It was because of my eyes. The innocence that was tied to the lack of life experience could not be found in there. No matter how hard I looked every night before I went to bed, it wasn’t there any more.

I grabbed my books and put them in my shoulder bag, then I glanced into the mirror once more before slamming the locker shut. Time to go home and train. I rubbed the back of my neck, which was still sore from yesterday.

“Valentina! Valentina!” The familiar voice of Hayden echoed through the corridor.

“No, I will not drive you home. I don’t have the car today,” I said as I kept walking.

He grabbed me by the shoulders and turned me around so I could see the panic in his widened eyes.

“Th-there is something—it’s—” his voice trailed off as he started hyperventilating.

I grabbed him by his chin. “Look at me,” I said in a low voice. “Breathe in, breathe out. Slowly.” I lowered my voice to a whisper as he followed my instructions. “That’s it. You’re doing great.”

He took a deep breath. “Z-zombies. Scary woman. Cafeteria.”

I pressed my lips together. “I see.”

“No, you don’t understand. I’m not making it up. Unless I’m hallucinating, but I don’t think I am. Am I?” He glanced around. “I don’t see any dancing squirrels. I always imagine I’d see those if ever I hallucinated. Have you ever hallucinated? I don’t think I know anyone who has ever—”

I hit him on the shoulder. “Focus. Tell me exactly what you mean.”

“The cemetery behind our school is empty. I saw it when I snuck home to get my math’s books. I thought they were going to get rid of the cemetery or something. The graves were all—and those people, they’re all dirty and smelly and some have started rotting. Their clothes are old and dirty and they’re attacking us.”

I put my hand on his trembling shoulder. “Don’t worry, Hayden. I believe you.” As he stared at me with open mouth, I handed him my shoulder bag and ran to the cafeteria. “Stay there,” I shouted.

Yelling came from the cafeteria and fear was practically seeping through the wall. On Wednesdays classes ended at 2 PM so luckily only the students who stayed for afterschool activities were present. Through the glass in the double doors I could see about thirty students and twelve zombies. They were moving slow and their eyes were white. They weren’t limping or hunched over, they resembled normal people except for their clothes and the fact they smelt like the grave they came from. It depended on how long they were dead, but their eyes were different than when they were alive, some completely white, some discoloured.

Two zombies were in front of the doors so I stood back and launched forward, spun and kicked the door open. The zombies shot forward and lost their balance. They fell to the ground and made a groaning sound as they did.

She stood on the table in the middle of the cafeteria, waving her staff with the shrunken head and beads. Her neck decorated with miniature skulls and one golden tooth in the corner of her mouth. Her shrill laughter reached my ears and created a string of ice cubes that travelled over my spine. She abruptly stopped, as did the zombies. They had kitchen knives and pans in their dirty hands and used them to attempt to hurt my fellow students.

“Who is that?” a voice asked.

I gasped and turned around. Hayden’s eyes were fixed on the woman on the table with her staff and layered dress, looking like she was an evil gypsy. The truth was far worse.

“Her name is Shafira. She’s a Voodoo priestess.” I returned my gaze to her as she stared at me with her blue eyes. They stood out as her skin was black. Her dreadlocks reached her lower back and she had feathers in her hair. When she grinned she looked both beautiful and cruel.

“There you are, dear Valentina. I’ve missed you so much as you can tell.” She jumped from the table with the grace of a panther and slowly headed my way, swaying as she moved.

“You know her?” Hayden asked, voice trembling.

“I’m sorry I had to grab your attention so violently, but what can I say? I love any excuse to bring out my darlings.” She turned her head to one of the zombies and tickled him under his chin. He stood motionless, all life void from his body. He was wearing a dirt covered suit and his skin was still intact.

Hayden grabbed my arm as Shafira drew closer.

“It’s rude to play with the dead.” My voice was cold.

She laughed her shrill laugh again. “It’s ruder not to.”

I narrowed my eyes and stepped in front of Hayden, though he still refused to let go of my arm.

“I’ve been thinking lately,” Shafira purred. “And it would seem so much fun to put a curse on you as revenge for all the peril your parents have caused. What do you think?”

“It’s not very original.”

She chuckled. “I agree, but fun triumphs originality every time.”

I turned around to push Hayden back and closed the doors behind me. From under my shirt I took my medallion and as Shafira reached out to grab me, I grasped her wrist and placed the medallion against the palm of her hand.

She screamed as smoke came from her hand. She fell to her knees as I kept pressing it against her skin. The zombies started moving again, while some students were pushing themselves into the far corner of the cafeteria. As Shafira’s eyes rolled back in her head I kicked her hard. She fell back several metres and hit a chair. She remained motionless, but she was alive which is why the zombies were still following her orders. I grabbed salt shakers from every round table near me and put them in my pockets. I unscrewed the lid of one of them and put salt in my hand. I dashed to the nearest zombie opened his mouth and put the salt in. He lowered his head and let the salt fall out. Then he shook his head and started heading to the doors.

I did this to all the zombies and one by one they started returning to their graves. To the students I yelled for them to get the hell out.

They ran, some injured while two remained motionless on the floor. I couldn’t be sure if they were dead because Shafira had gotten up. She growled.

“You! You have caused enough problems.” Another growl, only this time, it wasn’t her. It was a black panther that appeared behind her and started moving towards me.

She let the tail slip through her fingers and laughed.

The panther started increasing its pace and was getting closer. I moved forward as well. “Here, kitty, kitty.” As the panther was ready to jump me I held up my hand, closed my eyes and blew the salt in its direction. It exploded around the creature and turned it into a small doll shaped like a cat. I caught it and petted it. “So cute,” I said. “You should really make me one of these.”

Shafira’s hand curled into a fist. “You think salt can save you from everything?”

“Not at all, but this will.” From my boots I grabbed a dagger studded with rubies. It looked more like a piece of art than a weapon. I held out the doll and put the dagger through it. The doll turned to ashes and vanished into the air. “This is what will happen to you too, Shafira.”

“Where did you get that?”

“Where do you think?” In a flash I stood in front of her. “Don’t underestimate the Meadows family.” I raised the dagger.

She brought her staff forward and I stumbled backwards. She took a handful of purple powder from a pouch attached to her belt and sprinkled it around her.

Mimi kubadili, mimi kubadilisha, kutoweka,” she mumbled.

I scrambled to my feet and when I looked up she was gone, instead a vulture the size of a German Shepherd started flapping its wings and ascended in the air.

I smirked. “Nice try.” Though Hayden wasn’t outside the cafeteria anymore, my shoulder bag was on the floor outside the double doors which had been pushed open by the scared students. I started running as Shafira circled above me. I slid across the shiny floor and was a few inches short as I held out my hand. “Figures,” I muttered and crawled over to my bag. Behind me, Shafira got ready to dive at me. Her beating wings sounded like fury.

Her blue eyes still looked human as the bird dove straight for me and she was quite an impressive sight as she drew nearer with incredible speed.

Before she reached me I pointed a silver revolver with a large barrel at her and smirked. Her eyes widened as I pulled the trigger. She exploded in a myriad of golden dust specks and I turned away, covering my face. Silence returned to the cafeteria and though the negative emotions that had accompanied her visit still hung in the air like bats, the mother bat was gone.

I scrambled to my feet and slung my bag over my shoulder. As I was about to check on the fellow students that were still lying on the floor, I heard Hayden’s voice drift from the corridor.

“I swear, please hurry, my friend is in trouble.”

“Calm down. You know, if this is a prank you are getting expelled,” a man’s voice said.

I ran towards the window on the other side of the cafeteria. It couldn’t open, so I grabbed the dagger and tapped it against the glass. It created a spider web pattern of fractures and I pushed my finger against it. The glass shattered and fell to the other side. I jumped through it and landed on my feet in the flowerbed of violets. I turned in time to see Hayden en the security guard enter the room.

The hard part was still to come, though. How to tell my parents it might be time to get me home schooled?

 

voodoo priestess

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The Last Train: Part Three

I hugged my briefcase as we sat down in a corner of the bar. My eyes were no longer drawn to the unusual individuals that were laughing, drinking and chatting. Instead, my gaze was on Maddie, who was now sipping a green drink in a glass that was shaped like a flower.

“Are you sure you don’t want a drink?” she asked.

I shook my head. “I just want some clarity. Why am I not ready?”

“Only you know. But usually it’s fear. Fear of something.” She took another sip and touched her earlobe.

“Why all the questions? Why am I supposed to be ready to answer questions. What does any of that have to do with getting out of here?”

“That’s because this is not a destination.”

“Right. It’s a journey. But a journey to what? Where am I going? Home? Because that’s the only place I want to go to.”

“Yes, but are you willing to get there, that’s the question. You said you were, but you’re not. Otherwise you would be by now.” Her voice had gotten softer, like the melody of a broken song.

“What do I do if I won’t ever get ready?”

She glanced around the establishment. Look around, that’s your answer.”

I swallowed. “You mean, all those people?”

She took another sip.

“But they look nothing like me. They’re not from the same place as I am, right?”

“They were, but just like decorations, at some point it all becomes one with the room. It blends in like it’s the most natural thing in the world. And maybe it is. Maybe it’s survival. Or acceptance.”

“I don’t want to accept. I just want to go home.”

“But is that what you truly want?”

I looked at the ribbon on my briefcase. “I don’t know.”

“Good. Then think about what it means to be home, for you. What needs to be achieved in order for you to get home.”

A short while ago I would have answered: ‘Some bloody good directions instead of talking deer and strange ponds.’ Instead, I uttered the word that had been stuck in my throat for a while and had difficulty coming out: “Forgiveness.”

Maddie grinned an extra mischievous grin. “Then I know our next stop.”

 

“Are we there yet?” I asked after what felt like an hour of walking. All this while my thoughts had taken a seat in my head and refused to leave. I hadn’t even realised Maddie had been whistling a tune. I rubbed my forehead and paused my thoughts for the moment.

She stopped whistling as quickly as she stopped in her tracks. She turned around and took a step closer to me. Personal space was not a concept to her because our noses were almost touching.

“We’re here. Are you ready?” she whispered.

I swallowed.

“Excellent,” she said loudly and dashed backwards. We had reached the bottom of a hill, where a large, broad willow stood. Its branches reached to the ground as if it was too sad to lift them to the sky.

Maddie walked towards it and I followed.

“Knock, knock,” she said and laughed like a hissing cat.

“Not funny,” a voice said.

Without thinking I took a step back. “Who was that? It sounded so close,” I whispered to Maddie.

“Why, the tree of course,” she said.

I cleared my throat. “Of course.”

“Who wants to pass?” The tree asked and out of the bark appeared a face as if someone was pressing it against the wood from inside the tree, trying to break free.

“George wants to pass.” She stepped aside and held out a hand to me.

“George wants to pass.” The tree let the words role of his tongue, his voice low and deep with rough edges.

“May George pass?” Maddie asked.

The tree grumbled something as if contemplating his answer. Then silence returned to the woods. One fly buzzed past me and hovered in front of the tree before doing the same with Maddie.               She kept staring at the tree.

Buzzing.

A breeze swayed the tree’s branches.

Buzzing.

Maddie didn’t blink.

Buzz—she moved her hands forward in a sharp motion and smacked the fly between her hand. When she rubbed her hands together yellow dust fell down.

I was surprised by the fact that I wasn’t surprised anymore.

“Yes. He. May. Pass.” The tree spoke slowly, interrupting any other thoughts I would have had about the fly that turned into yellow dust.

“Excellent. Thank you.” She bowed and tipped her hat before turning to me.

My eyes were still on the tree, whose face had sunken deeper into the bark until it looked like a regular willow tree again.

“This you must do on your own, because only you know what you must do.” She grinned and held out her arm to the path that led up to the hill, where there were no orange trees to light the way.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Do you trust me?”

“Strangely enough I do.”

“Then good luck and I hope I won’t see you again.”

“Wait, so if I succeed, then you won’t see me again?”
“That’s right.”

I shifted my weight on my other leg. “But, then…I mean…”

“Ah, George, will you miss me?”

I cleared my throat. “I didn’t say that, I mean, I just wanted to get to know you more, I guess.”
“Trust me, it will be a good thing if you don’t.”

“Will you be okay?”

“Of course. This is my home.”

“Has it always been?”

“I don’t think so, but the longer I’m here, the more I forget where I once was from.”
“Have you been here long?”

“It feels that way, but time is different here.”

I nodded. “Thank you for helping me.”

“It’s my pleasure.” She bowed to me and winked.

“Take care.” I smiled and started walking up the sandy, dark path as I felt Maddie’s eyes on my back. It wasn’t until I reached the top when I turned around and all the orange trees had gone out below me and there was only a sea of darkness that had swallowed my peculiar friend.

There was a well on top of the hill and the full moon shone enough light for me to see things clearly enough. Like the short grass that surrounded the well and the one flower that stood a few feet away from me. It was a tulip. They had been her favourite.

I walked up to the well, feeling that this is where it would all begin. Or end, rather. I put down the briefcase on the bricked edge and took off the ribbon. Then I placed the briefcase on the soft grass and rested one hand on the cold stones of the well as I leaned forward and stared into nothing but black. It felt like it was staring back at me. And I wanted to see it, even though I also didn’t want to see it.

I let go of the ribbon. “Forgive me.” The darkness swallowed the ribbon but I knew it was still descending, I knew it was getting closer and then I closed my eyes.

When I opened them again I was at home. The home I had lived in with her and I looked at the calendar which hung above the bin in the country-style kitchen. It was that day. Today was that day.

I heard her hum as she came down the stairs, always that same tune, that tune that I had missed so much. I felt the tears well up and blinked repeatedly so I could see her clearly when she waltzed into the room. And when she did I couldn’t help but shriek and run over to her, clinging to her tightly, inhaling her lavender scent and touch her golden hair that reached between her shoulder blades.

“Love, what are you doing? Are you okay?” she asked. Her voice soft and high, laced with the warmth of a crackling fire.

“Yeah, I’m fine, sorry.” I cleared my throat and let her go as I stared into her light-blue eyes that searched mine with curiosity and concern. Her eyes had been the clearest thing about her I’d remembered, I’d see those every night as I woke up from my nightmare.

I touched her cheek. “I’ve missed you.” And I kissed her hard and soft at the same time. When I pulled back there was even more confusion written on her face.

“Are you sure you’re okay? You know I just saw you when I woke up, right?” Her mouth unfolded into a smile and I held her close again.

She laughed this time and I felt her body shake. “What is wrong with you? Did you have a bad dream or something?”

“Yes, you could say that.”

“Well, I’m late for work, so I don’t have time for breakfast and I’ll have to take your car.”

I swallowed and felt like somewhere inside my stomach I was being set on fire. “Err, are you sure that you want to go? Maybe you can stay home and—” my voice trailed off. I knew these words wouldn’t help. This wasn’t a second chance, this was a second viewing. Front row seat. A chance to say what I needed to say, a chance to see it very clearly.

“No, no, I can’t do that. I have a very important day, I told you.” She leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek. She then grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl and tucked it into her bag. “I’ll see you tonight, have a nice day.”

The fire in the pit of my stomach grew wider. “Wait.” I followed her to the door where she had her coat over her arm and my car keys in her hand.

I touched her elbow. “I love you.”

She smiled. “I love you too.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Sorry for what?”

“For letting you go, for letting you leave.”

“What are you talking about? You really did have a bad dream, didn’t you?” She frowned and handed me her coat and the car keys. “Hold this.” From her hair wrist she undid a pink ribbon and she bent down next to the stairs where my briefcase was. She tied the ribbon around the handle and stood back up. “There, it’s a lucky ribbon and it will keep your nightmares and worries at bay.” She kissed me on my lips and grabbed the coat and the keys. “Now I really have to go or I’ll be super late.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Don’t worry, it’s not your fault. Sometimes things just happen. It’s called bad luck.” She waved at me before the door closed behind her.

“It’s not my fault,” I repeated and closed my eyes. “It just happened.” The next images that flew through my mind were of the phone call, the hospital, the doctor, the funeral. And finally there was nothing but black around me. My eyes were closed. I lifted my eyelids as they fluttered against the harsh lights of the carriage.

Outside the window was the familiar sign that indicated I had arrived at my local train station. “I’m home,” I yelled with unexpected enthusiasm. I got up and ran out while the doors were still open. It was like the train had been waiting for me. The doors closed soon after I stood on the platform and I embraced the chilly breeze that swept right through me.

Maybe it had all been a dream, I thought as a sigh escaped my lungs. The thought planted roots in my mind as I started heading home but when I stopped at a crossing, I forced myself to look down.

The ribbon was gone.

 

 

THE END

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The Last Train: Part Two

We walked for a whole minute in total silence when Maddie began to hum a tune. She even added a little hop every once in a while. All the while I thought about what I could say to her, what I could ask her, but somehow all the words in my head crashed into each other and became a tangled mess.

We reached a crossroad with wooden signs. One pointed to the right and said: left. And the other pointed to the left and said: right.

I looked at Maddie who had placed her slender claw-like fingers on her chin. “It seems like a riddle, don’t you think? Something that can trick you before your eye can blink.” She laughed like a broken violin again.

“Well, right can mean two things, so I think the sign that says right refers to the correct way.” I paused. “Right?”

Maddie’s lips burst into a smile, this time revealing her teeth as white as bone. “Whatever you say, my friend. Your way is my way and therefore always the right way.”

I curled my hands into fists. “Okay, this is too weird and I can’t take it anymore. I don’t care what happens. I don’t care if you’re a crazy serial killer that wants to kill me, but just tell me where I am, how I got here and who you are!” I breathed heavily and became aware of the red ribbon that danced against my wrist because of the breeze that rushed through these woods.

“My, my, why didn’t you tell me you were scared, I don’t want you to think I never cared.” She placed her hand in front of her mouth. “Oops, once you start rhyming it’s hard to stop.”

“Th—that’s okay. It’s just a little…unusual.”

She grinned. “Unusual is a nice word isn’t it? I suppose that is the best way to describe this place.”

“And what place is this?”

She put her fingers together and started to pace around me. “Well, it’s kind of your place. And kind of mine. It’s like your subconscious is visiting my world. Only it’s not really your subconscious, you are in fact really here. But your part of this world is made up out of your subconscious. And now we get to try and bring you home.”

“Home? So you mean, I can actually get out of here?”

“Most definitely. This world is a journey, not a destination.” Maddie touched the rim of her hat. “The question is, which way do you want to go?” She pointed to the signs.

“Left, because the sign says it’s the right way.”

Maddie’s black, thin eyebrow shot up. “How do you know?”

“It says so on the sign.”

“But how do you know the right way for the sign, is the right way for you?”

“It isn’t?”

Maddie moved her arms to her side and shrugged. “Only you know the right way. I’m just here to keep you safe.”

“Safe from what?”

At that moment a cry came from the woods. Something that didn’t come from a human, nor from an animal.

“From something like that?” I asked.

“Something like that.” Maddie gestured to the left path and then to the right. She held up her hands like a scale and moved them up and down. “Which one is the right one, George?”

“Then we go right.” I turned to my right and started walking in a rapid pace.

“Excellent, the boy has made a choice.” Maddie made a twirl and then dashed after me.

“So why am I here? Why am I brought to your…world, or whatever?” I asked without looking up.

“I don’t know why they come to me, but they all have something untold buried inside of them, something that they need to uncover here.”

I huffed. “That’s ridiculous. I’m perfectly fine.”

The shrubs beneath one of the orange trees rustled. We both stopped in our tracks as I stopped breathing for a moment.

The shrubs rustled and rustled like something huge was trying to come through. I was afraid to speak and held my briefcase in front of my chest. Whatever it was, I would fight it. I would make it—

From the bushes hopped a baby deer.

I let out a short, high-pitched scream out of surprise then slapped my hand in front of my mouth. “Sorry,” I mumbled.

Maddie ran her long finger nail over my cheek. “I like men who scream like girls.”

I frowned and took a side-ways step away from her.

“I need to show you something,” a little boy’s voice said.

I looked at the deer. “D—did you just s—speak?”

“Yes,” the deer said.

“But you’re a deer.”

“No, I look like a deer. But that doesn’t make me one.”

“It doesn’t?”

The deer shook his head. “Follow me.”

I looked at Maddie.

“If he says you should follow him, then you should follow him.”

We both followed the deer off the trail to a small pond and a large oak tree with a door. The deer stopped at the pond and turned to me. “Normal reflections show you the opposite of what is true, but here it shows you the opposite of what is false.” With that statement the young deer dashed off and disappeared between the shrubbery and trees.

I looked at the oak tree and its door, the pond and back at Maddie. “What did the deer mean?” I scratched my head. “Never thought I’d say that in my life.”

“It means you should never look at the surface, but rather beneath it.” She gestured to the pond.

“More cryptic messages, great.”

“Shall I hold that?” Maddie held out her hand as she glanced at the briefcase.

“No, no thank you.” I gripped it tighter.

“I really think you should. You’ll get it back as soon as you’re done. I’ll guard it with my life, if that’s what you want.”

“You won’t do anything with it?”

“Of course not. That would be wrong. You’re my guest. I told you, I’m here to protect you.”

I nodded and pursed my lips. I touched the ribbon before I handed the briefcase over.

Maddie bowed and gestured toward the pond before holding the handle with both hands and standing up straight like she was a guard that wouldn’t let anyone come near me or the briefcase.

This made the muscles in my neck relax as I stepped closer to the pond and kneeled. I looked into my reflection, but didn’t see anything. Just the clear water that reflected some of the light behind me. I leaned in closer and just before I was ready to turn back to Maddie a hand shot up from the water, grabbed me by the face and pulled me in. I tried to scream and flung my arms and legs. Nothing happened and I could still breathe. When I opened my eyes, I was sitting in an office with a sofa, bookcases, a mahogany desk and diplomas on the wall.

A man sat behind the desk. He had glasses on and was bald.

“Where am I?” I asked.

“Welcome, Mr. Giovanni,” the man said.

“How do you know my last name?”

“Let’s talk about your problems, shall we?” He grabbed a notebook and pen and leaned back in his office chair.

“My problems? I only have one, really and that’s being stuck in here.”

“Really and what about the ribbon?” He took the tip of his pen and dipped it on his tongue.

“What do you know about the ribbon?” I asked, growing itchier by the second and wishing I had kept my briefcase with me.

“How do you feel, knowing she’s not here anymore?”

“You don’t know anything about it.”

He scribbled something.

“Stop writing, there’s nothing to write. It’s none of your business.”

“It is, because it troubles you so. Sharing is caring. Why don’t you tell me what’s beneath the surface?” His voice was heavy and his eyes light.

I wanted to protest and shout, but instead I blinked a few times and sat back into the sofa. My limbs began to feel heavier. “I don’t now…she’s gone. She left me.”

“Why did she leave you?”

“I don’t know. I don’t remember. She was just gone one day, all her stuff was still there, her scent was still there, but she never came back to me. I don’t know why. I don’t know why.”

“Hmm.” The man scribbled some more. “Are you sure you don’t remember? I think you do, you just have to open that door.”

A door appeared in the middle of the office.

I blinked and stared at it, unsure if it was real or just my imagination. I looked back at the man, but he’d disappeared. The entire office had disappeared and there was nothing but me and that door. The door hummed.

I stretched out my hand and touched the door handle. The door started vibrating and I pulled my hand away. The moment I did I was launched backwards, feeling the cold air around me before hitting the ground but instead of embracing a rush of pain, the ground lowered under my weight and then shot me back up like a trampoline. I waved my arms in the air and somehow managed to land on my feet, but this time the ground stayed as it was.

“Holy hell,” I said. I felt my arms and stomach to make sure I wasn’t hurt and then glanced around for Maddie. She was nowhere to be seen, but the door in the tree was ajar. I walked around the pond and edged closer to the door. My hand trembled as I grabbed the door knob, what would I find this time?

Inside the tree were a few wooden steps that led downstairs to a big place that looked like a bar of some sort. Strings with white-coloured lights hung up on the wooden ceiling and the place was packed with strange-looking people. A woman dressed in a yellow dress with actual flowers at the bottom and butterflies in her hair. She had green lipstick on and her eyes were purple. She winked at me as she passed me.

I scanned the people at a nearby table, taking in the snake that was wrapped around the neck of silver-haired woman when Maddie’s distinct laughter drew my gaze to the bar. She was talking to a man who only had one eye in the middle of his head. My briefcase was placed on the seat next to her. I sighed with relief and dashed towards it.

I grabbed the handle and turned to Maddie. “Maddie,” I said, my voice smaller than I had intended.

She looked up, her eyes widening as she saw me. “George, you made it back. That’s too bad, you seemed like you might be ready.” She took a sip of her drink. “Oh, well, I suppose the journey continues then. First, I’ll get you a drink. You’re gonna need one.”

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Anniversary

He touched his purple tie as his eyes danced over his reflection. The colour of his thick, black hair was broken in its evenness by the white streaks around his temples. His eyes were fern green in colour, drawing immediate focus to that part of his face, instead of his full lips or the scar that ran through them. He had been told that he resembled a mafia boss in his expensive suits, with his piercing stare and the overall darkness that drifted around him like a heavy perfume.

He checked his cufflinks, which had his initials on them, when a soft knock collected his attention. The sound was so faint he was close to thinking it was just his imagination, but he realised that perhaps the person at the door lived as a shadow, and therefore also knocked as one.

He walked over to the door in three long strides and opened it. Before him stood a young woman, in her twenties, with short, bleached blonde hair and a shiny stud in her nose. Her eyes were surrounded by eyeliner and black eye shadow while her soft lips were stained by blood red lipstick. The autumn wind blew past her and she shivered. No coat on, just her mini skirt and a see-through shirt that showed her black bra.

“Please, come in,” his voice modulated.

“Thanks.” She breezed past him in her stiletto heels, leaving a trail of her sweet and cheap perfume.

He closed the door behind her and sauntered over to the table, where he had placed his scotch.

“Well, this is not what I expected,” the girl said. She had glanced around the room in one sweeping motion, practically twirling. “Fancy man like you in a cheap motel like this.”

“I could say the same about you. Young girls should be at university, not hanging out with older men in motels.”

Laughter broke free from the girl’s mouth like it had been trying to escape for a while. It sounded fruity, just like her voice. “University, that’s a good one.” She walked over to the end of the double bed and glanced at a white plastic bag. “Costume or props? Or both?” Her eyebrow—shaven off and then drawn on—rose across her forehead.

“Clean underwear, clothes and perfume.” He turned the cold glass in his hands as he approached her with slow steps. “I want you to take a shower and come back with those clothes on.”

She blinked, then a smile spread out across the lower part of her face. “Sure thing, honey.”

“It’s Graham,” he said.

“Marci.” She grabbed the bag and winked before disappearing into the small bathroom. Not long after that the sound of crashing water against the shower curtain and her body travelled through the stale air of the motel room.

Graham sat down at the end of the bed, sipping on his scotch while he pretended the sound of the shower was the soothing sound of rain.

After the shower was turned off, it took Marci seven minutes to open the bathroom door and step back inside. “Are you sure this is the right outfit?” she asked.

Graham directed his gaze to the black dress that ended right below her knees and reached up to her collar bone. “Most definitely.”

She inched closer to the bed. “It kinda feels like I’m going to a funeral. And it’s not very…revealing.” She made a circular motion around her chest.

“I know. Please, sit down.” Graham gestured next to him.

She placed herself close to him, barely an inch between them. She crossed her long, thin legs and leaned in to him, taking in his musky scent and letting her eyes dart across his face like she was following a pin ball in a pin ball machine.

“You smell much nicer now,” Graham said as he closed his eyes and inhaled the vanilla scent that clung to her skin like wet tissue paper.

“I even sprayed it on my hair. It makes the scent hang around you much longer.” She leaned in even closer and rested her hand on his thigh.

He removed it and placed his drink in her hand. “Take a sip,” he said.

She put the glass to her lips and tilted back her head, letting the cold liquid cascade into her mouth until the ice cubes were the only thing left. They clung together as if they were afraid of losing each other. She handed back the glass as an unseen thread pulled her lips into a grin.

“That’s not how you’re supposed to drink that.” A hint of amusement in his voice as he put the glass on the floor beside him.

“Well, feel free to teach me.” She slid her arm across his back, wrapping her hand around his shoulder and pulling him close as her lips crashed into his warm cheek. She repeatedly kissed the soft skin, working her way to his ear. It seemed like her lips were attached to his skin with an elastic band, not able to pull away for long.

“Listen,” he said.

She continued.

He turned to her, placed his hand on her chin and pushed her back. His thumb brushed over her lips and she nibbled on it in return.

“You’re quite eager. Is that because you’re new to this?”

She stopped, her eyes narrowing. “What makes you say that?”

“I know you are. I requested the new one.” A shadow of obscurity passed in his eyes. “But I need you to listen. All I want to do is talk about honest things, eventually falling asleep next to each other. Understand?”

She nodded. “Sure, I’ll do anything you want.  But are you sure? I’m very good at—”

“I’m sure.”

She shrugged, her lips pursed into a pout. “So, what do you wanna to talk about?”

“If you could be anything in the whole world, what would you want to be?”

“Dead.”

Graham narrowed his eyes as he searched hers. If there were answers in there, he couldn’t find them. Her eyes portrayed the emptiness of a desert. There was still a warmth, though. A certain kindness that hadn’t died yet.

“And if—” he started.

“What about you?”

“How do you mean?”

“Aren’t you supposed to answer the question too, or isn’t that how it works?”

Lines appeared around Graham’s eyes as the corners of his mouth moved upwards. “Do you want me to?”

Her eyes darted from left to right, then rested on him. “Yes, I do.”

“Then I will.”  He inhaled. “I’d want to be dead too.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Since when?”

“Since when what?”

“Since when did you want to die?” She leaned in closer like she was afraid to miss a single syllable.

“Since exactly six years ago. How about you?”

“Since I was fifteen. I win.”

His expression softened. “Is this a competition?”

She shrugged. “Why not?” A smile broke free and she matched it with a giggle. “Next question.”
“What if you could make one wish, but you couldn’t make it for yourself. What would your wish be?”

She bit her bottom lip and stared at the grey carpet. “I think…I think I’d wish that my mother would have been a nice person. And you?”

“I’d wish that my wife never met me.”

A frown formed between Marci’s drawn on eyebrows. She lifted up her hand and placed it on his, using her thumb to stroke his knuckles. As the silence settled between them like specks of dust, she pulled back her hand. “Okay, next question.”

“What is your biggest secret?”

Her lips parted. She cleared her throat and shifted on the bed. Words formed in her mind and were pushed into her mouth. They hung off her lips like water drops, on the verge of falling into freedom. Instead of letting them fall, she ran her smooth tongue over her lips, retracting the words into her warm mouth. She cleared her throat again. “What about you?”

“I can’t say if you don’t say.”

She laughed melodiously. “Well-played.”

Her laugh tugged on the seams of his reposed manner and his lips curved into a smile.

“So why am I really here? Are you just going to play games with me?”

“Not games, just passing time.”

“Why? Why with me?”

“Because I was told it was you.”

She frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Your left eye is of a lighter colour than your right,” he said, leaning in closer to observe the slight difference that went unnoticed before then.

“You’re not answering my question.”

“That’s right.” He ran his hand over his tie, smoothing it.

“You’re a man of secrets. I like that.” She grinned. “But I should warn you, I’m really good at uncovering secrets.”

“I’m sure you are.” He stood up slowly, as if unsure he should be moving in the first place. His legs transported him to the end of the room where he poured her a glass of water with ice cubes.

“It would be better if it was vodka,” she said as she took the drink from his warm hands.

He sat back down next to her. “Normally I’m not like this.”

“Like what?” she asked as she drank half the glass. She touched the corner of her lips then looked at him from under her long eye-lashes.

“Considerate.”

She laughed that fruity laugh. “You mean you never bring women a glass of water?”

“No, I mean I never had to work on this day.”

It wasn’t until then that she noticed the ring he was twirling between his fingers.

“Have you been married long?”

“Well, I don’t think I am anymore. They say until death does you part.”

Her smile faded from her pale face. “I’m sorry.” She frowned and touched her forehead.

He didn’t say anything but took her glass and put it to her lips. He titled the glass and watched the rest of the water pour into her mouth. Some of it streamed down her chin.

She swallowed the last of it, then coughed and wiped her chin.

“It will make it easier.”

“What?” she asked, her voice softer. She leaned forward, resting her head on her hands. “I don’t feel so—”

“It’s okay,” Graham said in his most soothing voice. He put the glass on the ground and in one smooth gesture, he picked her up in his arms. He hummed a tune and laid her out on the bed. Her legs together, her arms at her side and her hair brushed out of her face.

She tried to speak, but he put a finger on her soft lips.

“It will be over soon.”

Her eyes were overcome with pure panic. He didn’t even notice the blue anymore, just the emotion that was rushing through her soul.

“I have an unusual job, though similar to what you do in the sense that it’s a necessary evil. I don’t know what you did, maybe you didn’t do anything, but I don’t care to know either way. I just get paid.” He stroked her cheek. “I just always use a gun, this time I prefer something more gentle. Like I said, it’s a special day.” He kissed her forehead. “I’m sorry,” he said, but the words drifted into oblivion as she’d already slipped away into another world. And all he could do was hope that it indeed was what she wanted. To be in a world far lighter than this one. One that would treat her much better.

He fell asleep beside her, his wedding ring back on his finger since a long time.

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My Problem

“I have a little bit of a problem. You see, I kind of like to run towards trouble. It all started when I was a teenager, when my mom was dating this dirt bag that liked to knock her about. I was barely at home, so I didn’t even realise it was going on, but one time I was listening to music in bed when I heard her scream and him yelling at her. It was quite the festivity as you can imagine. Anyway, without even thinking about it I stormed out of my room and just jumped him, scratching, kicking and even biting him until he bled. So what do you think happened?”

The man shrugs.

“He starts beating the crap out of me after he bashes my head against the fridge. And what do you think my mom does?”

The man just looks at me.

“She starts crying. Crying!” I hold out my hands for emphasis. “Like that is going to do anything. Did you see me cry? No, I acted, because that’s what you do when you feel very strongly about something…like wanting to protect someone you love. But no, not her. I was in a coma for three months before I woke up. Know what I did when I got back on my feet?” I slurped on my lemonade. “I set their house on fire.” I slurped again. “They survived and had some scars and absolutely no possessions or a home. Serves them right, no?”

The man blinks.

“Here’s the thing, though. I got away with it, so I guess the moral of the story is, when you run towards trouble, at least make sure you can punch it before it starts running after you.” I wink.

“Why are you telling me this?” the man asks in a gruff voice.

I place the gun on the table. “Just to explain how I became a bounty hunter and that you’re totally under citizen’s arrest right now.” I flash him a smile. “Thanks for the lemonade, though.”

arrested

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Heads or Tails

“Heads, we get married; tails, we break up.” I held the coin in my trembling hand. Our lucky coin. The one that had brought us together. Would it keep us together forever or force us apart this time?

“Do it,” she said. It came out as a whisper.

I flipped the coin. It seemed to twirl in the air in slow motion, taunting us. For a brief moment our eyes met, a hint of fear and hope in her pine green eyes. My mind transported me to the moment we first met.

 

It was a Tuesday afternoon and the weather indicated that the Gods were angry. Rain was pouring down like it intended to drown us. The sound of thunder struck all the way through to my bones. The windscreen wipers were working hard to fight off the smashing raindrops that attempted to disrupt my vision of the small country road that I was on. Wipe, wipe, wipe.

The road was muddy and I was driving too fast. My knuckles were white. Perhaps if I drove fast enough I could escape it all. Can you outrun your problems? Can you outrun your life?

It was too late when I saw the dark green Mini Cooper parked at the side of the road. I jerked on the steering wheel and hit the break at the same time. The car slipped and ended up against the wooden gate that set apart the paddock. Smoke came from the bonnet and I tried starting the car again without success. When I glanced back, the green Mini Cooper was still parked, unharmed. The rain made it hard to make out, but I saw a person in red.

Vicious raindrops settled in the fabric of my black suit and travelled over the pores of my face. I slammed the door and came from behind my car. A slushing sound as my leather shoes got sucked into the mud.

“Are you okay?” A woman’s voice shouted.

I looked up and saw a woman in a red coat. She was completely soaked and shivering. Her high heels had almost completely disappeared in the mud.

“I’m fine. Are you?”

“My car broke down.” She pointed at her car as if I hadn’t seen it yet.
“Did you call someone?”

“My phone is dead.” Her voice sounded higher.

“Don’t worry, mine isn’t. Let’s just get in our cars before we drown or something.”

“Come sit in mine, smoke is coming of yours.” She flashed a smile as if to apologise for that fact without actually apologising.

Her car was warm and it smelt like vanilla.

“My whole hair is soaked, I must look like a drowned cat.” She brushed her bleached blonde hair out of her face.

“It’s just rain.”

“That’s easy for you to say, you’re practically bald. It suits you, by the way.”

I shifted in my seat.

“And you’re wearing a nice suit. Are you going somewhere fancy?”

“No.” I cleared my throat. “I just came from a funeral.”

She stopped touching her hair and looked at me.

“Someone died? Someone you cared about?”

“Yes and no. It was my father.”

“You didn’t care about him?”

I didn’t say anything.

“Well, after we call for help, why don’t we go somewhere? Take your mind off things.”

I must have looked like she had suggested to travel to the moon on a pillow, because she burst out in a melodious laugh.

“I know, don’t go with strangers right? Tell you what, let’s flip a coin for it. Heads is you go with me; tails is we go our separate ways.” She grabbed a coin from her purse and handed it to me. “It’s my lucky coin. Go ahead.” A smile grew on her face.

I tossed the coin, caught it and smacked it on the back of my other hand.

She placed her hand over mine. “Quick, what did you hope for?”

“What?”

“Everybody hopes for an answer during the toss, whatever you’re hoping for is your answer.”

 

The coin landed in my hand and I placed it on the back of my hand. “What did you hope for?”

Her eyes searched mine. Then she smiled.

I smiled back.

“We should probably reserve a church straight away,” she said.
“A church? Don’t you want to marry outside?”

Silence.

“Flip a coin?”

 

 flippingCoin

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Shadow of a Doubt

In one swift motion Yumi Yoshida turned around. There was nothing to see, the car park was empty except for her Yamaha motorcycle and one dark Mercedes. She heard the sound of a howling dog again. It sounded like it came from the adjoining park. If you could even call it that, it was just trees and a sea of grass stretched out as far as the eye could see. Nothing but total darkness surrounded the car park and the pub she was heading towards.

Yumi turned back and kept her eyes on the pub. She had been here before to check out the place, but she hadn’t yet been inside. The ice cold wind caused her to shiver and she quickened her pace. She could hear the rapid tapping sound of her high heels on the pavement that was still wet from the rain earlier that evening. She brushed her hair out of her face and checked her watch. It was exactly midnight. A few lampposts poorly lit up the car park. From a distance it would seem like the pub and car park were floating in darkness, like a miniscule planet floating in space.

Walking in an empty car park towards a pub that was situated on a hill in the middle of nowhere at midnight may have sparked fear in any woman in her late twenties but not in Yumi Yoshida. She was the kind of woman who could handle herself. She had moved to London from Kyoto when she was ten and ever since she turned eighteen she had been moving around the country doing what she did best.

She reached the back of the establishment and stepped into a red telephone box that was placed at the left corner. There was an old, wet newspaper on the floor with a distorted picture of some child, and the phone was hanging off the hook. It smelled like urine and coffee. Yumi picked the phone up by the cord and took out a handkerchief to clean the phone before putting it to her ear.

A brief moment later she stepped out of the telephone box and walked to the front of the building. She stopped to look inside. It was a small pub with bad lighting. The radio was playing popmusic in the background. Behind the bar stood a middle aged bartender cleaning a couple of beerglasses, she couldn’t see his face. In the reflection of the window, she saw her long, dark hair frame her face. Her long fringe covered her eyebrows and beneath the dark strands she could see her lightblue contacts. She only ever put them in when she had to work.

She stepped inside and smelled fish, chips and grease. She walked straight on to the only other person sitting in the pub. His back was turned towards her. “Is this seat taken?” she asked and sat down without awaiting a reply.

“Go ahead,” said the man and pushed his glasses back. It was a man in his thirties with short, sandy hair and hazelnut eyes. He wore a grey suit with a deep-purple shirt and violet tie. “You must be…”

“I am, Mr. Stone,” Yumi interrupted.

“So, what should I call you?”

“Call me Yami.”

“Is that your real name?” he asked.

“Almost, but the meaning is more accurate.”

“What does it mean?”

“I’ll tell you later. First things first.”

The man nodded and touched his glasses again. “Well, I’m married.”

“They always are. I assumed that’s why you contacted me.”

He looked down at his coffee and moved in his chair. He then loosened his tie before he spoke again, somewhat softer than before. “Her name is Heather and here’s her picture.” From his breast pocket he took a picture and slid it to her side of the table. Yumi picked it up and saw it was a picture of them together, holding each other and smiling, happy and unaware. They seemed so at ease, so at home with each other no matter where they would be. How could it have come to this? There is no such thing as true, unconditional love, except maybe with babies and dogs. She couldn’t help but wonder if it meant that the smarter you are, the less you become capable of loving.

Yumi snorted. The man looked up. “I got it,” she said and wanted to slide the picture back but the man said: “No, keep it. I don’t need it anymore.” He then finished his coffee and they sat in silence for a moment. Yumi was observing him and couldn’t help but think he didn’t seem like the type of man who was capable of doing any harm. Usually she could tell for sure, and if she couldn’t she had time to shadow someone, but in this case everything had gone so fast. It seemed understandable considering the case.

“Do you have many…clients?” he suddenly asked, breaking the silence and interrupting her in her thoughts.

“I have enough,” was her reply.

“Don’t you ever find it difficult? I mean, because you’re a woman…well, I mean…”

“No, I don’t. I’m good at what I do, which means people are willing to pay for something I can give them. It’s that simple.”

“Is it really that easy?”

She just tapped her fingers on the table. It didn’t make a sound though, because she was still wearing her gloves. She narrowed her eyes at him.

He had a frown on his face and was unconsiously tapping his indexfinger on his watch. “Life really is all about money, isn’t it?” His voice sounded gentle. Yumi remained silent. He got up to go to the lavatory and excused himself.

Yumi leaned back and let out a sigh. She still had the picture in her hand and looked at it again. She was actually thankful for the life she had, at least she had the chance to do something meaningful.

After a couple of minutes she saw Mr. Stone coming out of the lavatory and got up. She gestured towards the exit and dropped a twenty pound note at the bar. Then she walked towards the door with Mr. Stone on her heels.

Together they walked past the building back to the car park. Yumi closed her eyes when the cold wind struck against her face. She had kept on her leather jacket and gloves inside, which made the drop in temperature very welcome. “You said both was fine, but I brought cash with me. I figured that would be harder to trace,” Mr. Stone suddenly explained.

“It is,” Yumi said coldly.

He unlocked the car with his key fob as they nearly reached it. Yumi looked around and noticed it was still as deserted as when she had arrived. The car was right beneath a lamppost and when Mr. Stone opened a briefcase in the trunk she could clearly see all the money in it. “Half up front and after, right?”

“Yes, Mr. Stone. That’s correct.”

“Considering what you’re about to do, you can call me…”

“No,” Yumi interrupted. “I don’t want to know any first names. It’s easier that way.”

“But then…you know my wife’s name.” The light of the lamppost reflected in his glasses.

“That’s not a problem in this case,” Yumi answered and walked slowly to his other side.

“You know, you still haven’t told me what your name means.”

“Darkness.”

He opened his mouth to say something but closed it again.

“Why do you want to do this to your wife?”

He grimaced. Not in an evil way, but more like he was disguising his discomfort. He put his hand in his jacket and Yumi automatically reached for her gun. He took out a picture and handed it to her. It was the picture of a little boy. He had brown hair and freckles and his broad smile showed he was missing two front teeth.

“That’s my son. He was from my first marriage.”

“Was?”

“Yes, he died a few months ago. My wife has always treated him very poorly, without me knowing. I was always at work and even though I noticed he was mostly quiet, I thought it was because he missed his mother. But then I found his diary and even though his death was technically an accident, I can’t help but feel she’s responsible. I can’t even look at her anymore and I don’t remember the last time I said more than a sentence to her.”

“So you never abused her daughter?”

“What? What are you talking about? We don’t even have children together.”

“I see. Well, that’s what she told me.”

He looked down and fumbled his watch.

“I’m saying she found out what you were going to do and she wanted to beat you to it.”

Even though it was cold outside, little drops of sweat began to form on his forehead. He was mumbling incoherently.

Yumi closed the trunk. “Don’t worry, I don’t take money from a dead man.”

She saw him tremble. “If you’re going to kill me, just do…”

“No.”

Everything happened fast from that moment on. She’d taken her knife and cut the palm of his hand. Following her instructions he had held his hand over the front seat of his car. He had put his tie around his hand to stop the blood from spilling on the ground. He left his car keys in the ignition and only took the briefcase. It didn’t matter if his wife thought she’d taken the money. Now, he had a chance to start over.

Yumi walked back to the telephone box and dialed the number she had dialed before. “It is done,” Yumi coldly stated.

“I’m transferring the other half now,” the woman said.

“Alright, Mrs. Stone, goodbye.”

Yumi took a deep breath before stepping out in the cold wind. Her black hair moved fiercely in front of her face, dancing. She ripped up the picture of the happy couple and the wind blew away the pieces into the darkness.

gorgeous-killer-guns-shoot

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