Monday, August 12, 2013

Red - Pt. 3

            Taylor did order a drink: vodka, neat. She downed it quickly and pondered a second as her mind raced, not noticing the man who had watched her consume the liquor—impressed. Taylor placed a hand on her purse that sat on the bar in front of her, fingers sliding around until she was sure Julia was still safely tucked away. It was the foolish hunter who didn’t know where her gun was at all times. Any gun could work, but these were specially made for killing the demonic horde. Small silver rounds, low caliber and designed for speed and precision.
            She clutched the purse close to her as she attempted to pay for her drink, but the usual bartender wouldn’t let her, knowing she was a close friend to Malcolm. She forced a smile and turned to head back down. Two young men passed her on the steps, but she barely noticed them eyeing her. The music from the downstairs club was filling her ears now, drowning everything else out. One thing Raven had said really stuck out to her, burn off some steam. There would be plenty of time to get shot at and stabbed later.
            Her feet were already moving more to the beat than they were walking when she was in the hallway. Bright lights of all colors flooded the room and were reflected off of large mirrors that lined the walls. There were three different raised platforms in the room, one for the bar and two dance floors that lit up on the bottom, similar to an old disco. So many bodies moved in front of her, each up all night to live, to dream, to get lucky, or to forget, like she was. No matter what the reason, she moved into the crowd on the first dance floor and blended into it with no problem. The strap of her purse was placed around her neck, putting her arm through to let it rest against her hip. From that point her hands raised and her body moved with a smile of red lips. Her similarly colored hair moved in waves as she glided from song-to song, forgetting the rest of the world while the music played.
            Taylor wasn’t sure how long she had been dancing, how much time had passed since she left Malcolm’s office. She didn’t care. She had dropped her guard a little too much though. Taylor was focused on enjoying herself and letting go of everything else that she hadn’t seen Paige slip in and begin dancing beside her.
            Paige smirked playfully when she was sure Taylor saw her. Taylor’s nearly-startled reaction almost cost a guy dancing to her right an accidental elbow, but she pulled back.
            “Shit,” Taylor said under her breath.
            “Hey!” Paige shouted her hello over the music, “fancy seeing you here.”
            Fancy indeed. It wasn’t hard to figure that this is one of the places Taylor would have gone to get out of the apartment, and since she hadn’t returned Paige’s call, here she was. Taylor wasn’t sure if she wanted to congratulate her friend on preservation or chalk this up to creepy stalker skills. Either way, Aspect was suddenly a place she didn’t want to be anymore.
            Paige was still dancing, eyes fixed on Taylor as she waited for a response.
            “Hey,” she said almost pitifully. “I was just getting ready to leave.”
            “Oh? Cool. I’ll come with you. No fun if you aren’t here.”
            Both girls winced at the line for different reasons. Taylor decided that no matter what happened, it was best to take this conversation somewhere a little bit quieter. She brushed past Paige gently, continuing to slide between the other dancers in the club as she made her way to the door. Paige was behind her, and for a split second she was sure that she could break into a run and disappear before the other girl could finish exiting the club. That was stupid. This was her friend. Taylor told herself that she was being stupid and now was as good a time as any to go ahead and deal with this. She fought a demon earlier tonight for crying out loud. How hard could a conversation be?
            “So, where are we going, back to your place?”
            Taylor bit her tongue slightly and turned to face Paige.
            “What are you doing here?”
            “What, what do you mean?”
            “I mean,” Taylor paused, already starting to doubt this idea. “Look, I should have called you back, but something came up.”
            “It’s okay. I know you have your own stuff going on. I understand space,” Paige added reassuringly.
            Taylor felt something about to fly on the tip of her tongue and quickly reeled it back in.
            “Paige, did you come down here because you wanted to talk to me?”
            “Of course, we haven’t hung out in forever.”
            Taylor watched her friend smile but now she was sure. She shook her head.
            “I mean talk. I mean we haven’t talked since what happened last time.”
            “There’s nothing to talk about, Taylor.” Paige tried to assure her, “I just wanted to hang out with my bestie.”
            Paige’s grin grew in a genuine nature, which for some reason that she couldn’t explain to herself only made Taylor’s anger grow. She was about to say what was really on her mind in a rather loud tone, until she realized just how many people were standing outside the club and around the other bars that could have heard her.
            She grabbed Paige’s wrist, perhaps a little harder than she meant to, and pulled her down the alleyway between the club and aged brick of the downtown office building. She placed her hands on Paige’s shoulders and gave her a very serious look before finally spitting it out.
            “You shouldn’t have done that. It was way out of line and-and just not what I expected.”
            There was a pause. Neither girl moved, but rather just stared at one another. Taylor broke the silence and turned her head first.
            “And don’t try to do it again as an answer.”
            “I wasn’t,” Paige argued defensively. “You freaked out on me last time, remember? Then you wouldn’t return any of my phone calls left me cr-,” she stopped herself. “I just wanted to hang out with you tonight, spend some time with my friend. You know, like normal?”
            Taylor dropped her hands and rolled her eyes.
            Paige turned sideways, folding her arms together underneath her chest as she tried to look away, but her gaze fell back on Taylor.
            “I’m sorry,” Taylor said softly. “I shouldn’t have ignored you.”
            “You should be,” Paige answered, attempting to be angry.
            “I didn’t know what to say,” she said sincerely, “Thanks and all? I appreciate it, a welcomed surprise, but no thanks?”
            “Probably would have worked better than freaking out.”
            “I didn’t freak out,” Taylor protested, putting air quotes around the last two words. “You just caught me off guard.”
            “I realized,” Paige said with a nod. “I could tell by how red your face got.”
            Taylor’s face, and its returning redness, was telling Paige more than any number of words could. Her fists clenched and she counted backwards in her mind, attempting to calm herself. After a moment she realized that Paige was smiling at her.
            “Alright,” Taylor told her friend. “I was-I am flattered, but that wasn’t cool.”
            “Clearly,” Paige laughed. “I thought you were going to break my neck. I know you take self-defense classes but you treated me like a knife-wielding mugger or something.”
            Taylor directed the conversation away from her abilities, hoping Paige hadn’t lingered too long on that one.
            “Is this going to be a thing? Do we need to sit down and have a conversation about this, or can I just say thank you, but no thank you?”
            Paige paused. Her smile faded. It was a moment before she responded.
            “Nah, we’re good. As long as you don’t ignore me because of this,” Paige said with her eyes pleading to her friend.
            “Of course not,” Taylor outstretched her arms, giving her friend a light hug. “Why did it take you so long to tell me? I didn’t know. It’s not like I was going to look at you as if you had two heads or something. I thought,” Taylor stopped herself, afraid she was about to put her foot in her mouth.
            “It’s a long story I guess.” Paige returned the hug.
            As the two were speaking they had heard the whistling down the alleyway. The tune was deep and pronounced as it filled the air with something that sounded old and slightly eerie. Both girls had ignored the song at first, continuing their conversation, but as they began to embrace in the hug it had become louder and a shadowy figure could now be seen at the end of the alleyway, the whistling continuing.
            Taylor looked, her hug on Paige becoming almost a protective embrace now. The man at the end of the alleyway opposite of them was coming closer, but his face was obscured by shadow and a large wide-brimmed hat. The pale blue lights on the two hanging fixtures in the alleyway were dimming slightly. Taylor couldn’t make out much, but she thought what she could see of the man’s face was a devious smile.
            “Paige,” Taylor addressed her sternly. “Go back inside and wait for me.”
            “What? Why?” Paige asked before turning to face the man. “You know this guy? He kind of looks like a creep.” Paige whispered the last part, squinting to try and make out the mysterious figures facial features.  
            “Just trust me, will you,” Taylor asked as her hand released its loose hold on Paige and made a move for her purse.
            “You aren’t in some kind of trouble are you?”
            Paige didn’t need an answer to her question. She caught sight of Julia’s silver plating out of the corner of her eye, just before darkness enveloped them. Paige opened her mouth to yell something to her friend, but what came out was muffled and hoarse, the feeling of choking on the darkness overpowering her.
            Taylor was more resistant and her eyes were quicker. The shadows that had attacked and shrouded around them were their own, leaping off of the brick wall and becoming thicker, drowning them out, bringing them further into the night. With one hand she raised Julia, the other pushing Paige roughly out of the alleyway.
            Paige saw several flashes from the gun as bullets flew but the light the muzzle flashes generated were small and subdued, the shots barely making a sound. She stumbled backwards from the opening of the alleyway, seeing the shifting darkness as small strands of it reached towards her, attempting to pull Paige back in. She froze for a moment, feeling her heart pound and a thumping so loud between her ears that she thought it may have been more shots being fired.
            She looked left first, then right. She needed to get her friend help from…whoever that was. Paige wasn’t thinking clearly, sure that he was a mugger, or perhaps a rapist. Things clicked for her just a little bit more though as people passed her by. She had opened her mouth to ask them for help, but her own emotions now drowned out her voice rather than the shadows. That was when Paige saw it though, no one else did. The realization that what was going on in the alleyway looked so much like a simply distorted darkness that it caught no one else’s eyes, even those that passed by her.
            Paige paused as her heart tried to calm, staring into the blackness. Her face grew closer as she studied it. She couldn’t make out anything in there, but that was where her friend was. She reached a hand up and was ready to push her way through, no matter what.
            The wall of darkness pushed and the shadows were torn through as Taylor pushed and ripped at the darkness. Her face was angry and there was scratches on her cheek and shoulder from what Paige thought must have been glass. Taylor quickly shoved Julia underneath her jacket so that no one else could see the weapon other than Paige.
            “Walk, let’s go.”
            “What?”
            Taylor grabbed her friends arm, just as hard as last time, but higher up and already in motion. Taylor’s pace was quick and her head was on a swivel.
            “Just go, you have to trust me.”
            “Wait,” Paige said, walking but trying to get her arm back, unsuccessfully. “Who was that? What was going on back there? What was with the stuff back there, I could barely breathe.”
            Taylor shook her head as she pulled Paige, turning the corner abruptly as she tried to figure out if there was any chance of explaining away what just happened.
            “Drugs,” she spit out, “crackhead or something I think.”
            “Are you serious,” Paige almost yelled as they rounded another corner, she finally managed to get her arm free. “You are way too calm, and pushy. You know what is going on, you know more than I do at least.”
            Taylor stopped walking for a moment and looked at her friend. She had known Paige for almost three years now, no matter how much she was rethinking her friend lately, she wasn’t stupid. The real question that Taylor needed to answer though: could she be trusted?
            “I’ll explain everything I know,” Taylor said calmly, “once we are somewhere else, somewhere safe.”
            “Are we in danger?” Paige’s question left her mouth gaped open slightly.
            It was in that moment that Taylor realized why her mother was so strict, what the old man had warned her about, why she had so few friends. She had just put this innocent girl in danger and she had let the man who had seen them together get away.
            “I’ll protect you,” was what she said out loud, while in her mind she cursed herself. She should have stayed and finished the job; killed the demon that had seen them together. She was angry at herself, but would it have really done any good? She needed to get Paige somewhere safe and get away from her, for Paige’s own good.
            “I need to grab some things from my apartment first though. Come with me and then I’ll take you home, make sure your safe.” She meant what she said, even if she had to hunt down every demon in the city to make sure no one hurt her friend.
            “Then you’ll explain what happened?”
            “Yes, then we’ll talk. I promise.”
            Paige nodded. Taylor took another moment to look around them. She didn’t like how long they had been stationary. She quickly planned a route to her apartment that was a few streets over and up the hill, moving them along as soon as she was sure which way was the best to go. Paige was oddly quiet as they walked, trying to make sense of everything. It worked out. Taylor had her own thinking to do as she realized how much she had messed up already tonight.
            What finally did break the silence a block away from Taylor’s apartment surprised her.
            “You’ve killed people, haven’t you? You didn’t hesitate to try and shoot that guy.”
            Paige was just full of surprises these days.
            “Did you make that black stuff appear?”
            “Wow,” Taylor said, and couldn’t help but smile, “two hardballs. I thought we were going to wait?”
            “How do you expect me to not ask? I’ve been thinking about it since-“
            Taylor raised a hand, stopping Paige abruptly in her sentence.
            Her building was in view from here, several windows still lit up and Mr. Linden out on the front patio smoking while he checked his phone, which was all normal. It was the SUV in the parking lot behind the building that bothered her. The vehicle was parked in an odd place, setup perfectly to keep an eye on both of the doors that residents used to get into the building. She ushered Paige to back up a little bit. That was when she saw the other one walking out from the alleyway on the far side of the old renovated hotel. Two people she had never seen before, both in all black looking for someone. She motioned Paige to stay buck and duck down behind the tall bushes of old home.
            “This isn’t good.”
            “What is it,” Paige asked.
            “I think they’re here looking for me,” she said as she watched the one on foot, making sure he wouldn’t be able to spot them. “Getting into my apartment may be tougher than I thought.”
            “You…want me to try and distract them?”
            “Hell no,” Taylor said softly, snapping her head around. “Don’t do anything stupid like that.”
            Taylor noticed that Paige wasn’t looking at her anymore. She thought that she was about to have to subdue her friend. Good intention lead to getting shot, at least, that was what the old man had told her. She followed Paige’s gaze though to the man that was on foot. He had been sniffing the air, and now he was knelt closer to the ground doing it. His face didn’t look like it had though, more animal like now with two sets of nostrils flaring, consuming air and information around him in what looked like a cross between scales and a snout. His eyes flashed a light gold as he looked up right at the two girls.
            “Shit,” Paige uttered. “What do we do?”
            “Run.”
            Paige listened this time, pushing her feet against the pavement in her crouched position behind the bushes and bursting out into a full stride as she hit the sidewalk. Taylor took one last look at the beast that was staring her down, wondering what the best way to handle this was. She considered giving Paige time to run while she stayed, faced what would come, but a sense of fear or preservation, perhaps both, sent her running after her friend.
            Taylor didn’t need to stay and watch to know what was about to happen next. The man with the nose would head to the SUV. With his ability and the advantage of a vehicle it wouldn’t be long before they would overtake her and Paige. She couldn’t risk an all out fight against two hellspawns and guarantee Paige’s safety, or maybe even her own. The devils seemed determined tonight. What if the one who could control shadows wasn’t far behind either? It was a time for tactics.
            Paige was quick on her feet, but Taylor was quicker, and used to this.
            “Keeping going,” she urged her friend as she caught up.
            The two came to the four-way stop, both pausing for the slightest moment until Taylor saw the answer she had been looking for.
            “This way,” she said taking off.
            “Wait, really? We’re going in here?”

Paige asked her questions between gasps, trying to breathe as she slowed to a fast walk, but Taylor was committed. She sighed and turned her head slightly, just enough to see the headlights of a vehicle bouncing down the hilly roads not far behind her. Paige cussed as she ran through the back entrance of Temple Hill Cemetery. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Red - Pt. 2

             Taylor Hawkins has had a rough life, but that was her lot. When she was young and asked her mother important questions about life, Christine didn’t lie to her. As a single mother on the run, raising her daughter in an uncertain world, she told her child the truth so that in the future, nothing would shock her. The first questions were about her father and why he wasn’t there.
            “He was killed by evil men.”
            Taylor was confused though. Whenever people they didn’t know asked about the little girl’s father, Christine told them that he was a bum, a deadbeat, no one she wanted to talk about. It was only when they were alone did she speak highly of him. Taylor wanted to run away. She and her mother rarely got along the older she got and every time the young girl finally began to make friends, it was time to go again. Constantly running, but never quite sure why; she followed her mother’s lead, because she had no one else.
            At thirteen Taylor was diagnosed with brain cancer. She was in a hospital for nearly three months. Taylor was scared and in pain. She asked her mother countless times why this was happening to her and when she would be okay.
            “You’ll be fine soon, honey. Just be tough,” Christine constantly replied.
            There was no fear in the young mother’s voice, and only the slightest bit of concern. She simply sat in Taylor’s hospital room with her legs hung over the arm of the chair as she thumbed through the pages of numerous romance novels. Christine was also not surprised when her daughter woke up in those nights in a cold sweat, talking about visions and vivid dreams.
One night Taylor had even tried to run away from the hospital. Feeling alone and helpless, the young girl thought that she could run away from the cancer. It took longer than Christine had though, but after three months Taylor began feeling better, stronger. Soon after a new team of doctors confirmed that she had been misdiagnosed with brain cancer, which had instead been some sort of nasty virus. That night Christine took her daughter from the hospital, skipping out on the bills and any further questions.
On her fourteenth birthday Christine told her daughter that they were going somewhere special. She had lied. Christine drove the old station wagon down a long and winding dirt road to drop her only child off with an old man that she would live with for almost three years, a man whom she couldn’t run away from, even though she tried. Taylor didn’t see her mother again until her seventeenth birthday, and from that moment on she never trusted her again.
Like many people, Taylor ran from her destiny. She did what she had to but refused to let anyone else control her life after the old man let her go. Taylor shirked the responsibility, unsure why anyone expected anything else from her. As soon as everything was set up she left her mother on her eighteenth birthday to find a new start where most teenagers do—college. She had chosen a quiet school down in Waycross, a place big enough for her liking but small enough to hide out in away from everything and everyone else, at least she thought that.

Sanders; or whatever was riding his body was the first one she had seen in almost two years. She could tell too, because she was rusty as hell. Taylor took a quick minute for clean-up, getting the small bits of blood off of the hardwood floor and pulling the smashed bullet from the copy of The Great Gatsby that it had lodged itself in. She paused for the briefest of a laugh, realizing how appropriate that was. A knock at the door ended her jovial moment abruptly.
“Taylor,” the voice of the older man called out. Mr. Benton, the apartment supervisor. Someone must have called about the gunshot.
She quickly hit the light switch and the apartment dimmed to a dull reddish-purple. The only light now was coming from her lava lamp. Taylor slid her shoes on as the man knocked again.
“One second,” she yelled in response.
One last look around the apartment before she opened the door, but nothing could be done about the bookshelf. When she did finally open up, Taylor kept her body between Mr. Benton and the bookcase, hoping he would be distracted enough by her as he usually was.
“Hey, Mr. B,” she said with a smile.
“Taylor, are you alright?”
“Yeah,” she said quickly, sliding out the door and shutting it closely behind her so that he had very little chance to see the damaged furniture. “I was just heading out.”
Mr. Benton looked over Taylor’s shoulder but the door was already shutting firmly and the key was almost in the lock before he got anything else out.
“There was noise. Several of the neighbors complained, said it sounded like a gunshot.”
“A what,” she feigned ignorance. “I don’t- Oh, I bet I had my music too loud again.” The distraction was easy for Benton to buy, as all good lies go, it was laced in truth. “I’m sorry, I’ve –REALLY- tried to get better with that. I hope I didn’t bother poor Ms. Phelps down the hall there.” Taylor gave her performance with near-genuine expressions, her time in theatre paying off.
“Oh, your music again,” Mr. Benton said with a smile. “You really do need to be more careful about that,” he said wagging a finger at her. “You aren’t the only one who lives on this floor you know.” Benton was about to launch into some other semi-flirtatious attempt at conversation, but Taylor was ready to cut him off.
“I know Mr. B., and I will, bye!”
Before he could get anything else out she had already hit the door to the stairwell; gone before her gleeful goodbye had finished registering. Taylor’s feet padded down the old gray steps quickly until she saw the side doors that lead out. Pushing through the first, then the second, she reached the street and took a much needed deep breath when she felt she was far enough away.
“Cool it. Handle it,” She encouraged herself.
The street was lit up by bright orange lamps that hung over her in a haze of humidity that the pale moon could not pierce. It had rained earlier. The wet black pavement reflected the orange of the lamps and the bright blue and white accent lights from the houses of the historical area of Waycross. The fresh night air was still filled with the scents of rain and freshly cut grass, a pleasant mix that represented the southern town quite well.
The walk was actually doing her some good as Taylor ran scenario through her mind, trying to figure out why that had just happened in her apartment. She had wanted to get out tonight, but not for this reason. Tonight was supposed to be about forgetting her problems, Paige and all. Sanders presented a different type of problem though. Now, Taylor was at defcon one.
She took her normal route through the backstreets of the city, by the old houses that had been turned into small apartments for the college students and the brick telephone building with the wrott-iron gates that she loved. That was when it hit her. Taylor immediately turned down a small road that she didn’t normally take. She eyed the unfamiliar white houses and the small dentist office that still had Christmas lights hanging on the window sill.
Taylor told herself to stop it, she would be jumping at shadows soon if she didn’t exercise some control over her fears. Her training was starting to come back. So there was an encounter, just get to a safe place and prepare. Once that was done, work on the how and the why. It had not happened in so long that she didn’t even have a weapon at her place. That was sloppy. The old man would have made her pay for that one if he found out. That notion made her feet move faster more so than the thought of running into another jacker, at least that was what she thought Sanders was, being ridden by some malicious entity. He had been like that for a while though, his eyes barely looked human. The more the spirits rode a host, the less of the host there was.  
Downtown was crowded for Waycross, but Thursday was college night, and this was a college town. Taylor was getting further into downtown, in between the taller buildings and parking decks. She hurried past the family owned camera shop that had been there for two generations and up by the courthouse with its statues honoring the towns founders.
The buildings began to change from private practice offices and dress shops to cafĂ©’s, restaurants, bars, and clubs. The new light that filled the sidewalks were brightly colored purples, reds, and greens of entrance signs and advertisements. That meant that she was close. Taylor had slowed her pace slightly though, more cautious of the people around her. Without knowing what was going on, an attack could come from anywhere. She should have grabbed a knife or at least another pen from her apartment. Something, anything that she could use for protection would have been better than walking out empty handed.
That didn’t matter now. She was laying eyes on her goal. Aspect. The two story dance club and bar was a safe haven in multiple ways for Taylor. The outside walls thumped with the music that came from the inside and there was a small line outside with one of the usual bouncers checking ID’s. Taylor almost cut through the line, but didn’t want to draw any unneeded attention. When she got up to the man at the door he simply smiled and nodded her through without checking anything. Not only was she a regular, Taylor had the owner’s favor.   
            The club had two entryways in the lobby. The door to the right enticed her with the loud bass and flashing lights. That would only help to relieve the small problems though. The person she was looking for would most likely be upstairs though, as he was most nights she was actually able to see him. He would only help with the main problem, but that was what troubled her the most right now. Maybe after that, Taylor thought, she could have some time to herself to unwind.
            Taylor turned to the left instead. A rather plain looking archway greeted her instead that led to a dull brown staircase with a few hanging portraits of UK bands and rock stars. On the ceiling at the top of the stairwell a Union Jack flag hung that made way for the football memorabilia on the walls for the various clubs. The upstairs was more of a bar setting than the club below it. On Friday and Saturday nights there would usually be a live band or karaoke’ night set up. The long bar stretched across the rectangular room against the mirrored side wall. Small red and white lights hung from the ceiling, coupled with the mixed culture decor that was lit up on the wall. Taylor made her way through the tables, past the row of booths and up to the bar.
            Taylor looked down the long bar and was about to check the back of the room before she saw his reflection in the mirror. She blinked; sure that he wasn’t there a moment ago. She approached him, dressed in his gray slacks, black vest, and the rolled up sleeves of his button-up shirt. He hadn’t turned around, making himself a drink from what she could tell in the mirror.
            “Malcolm,” she addressed him. “Malcolm,” a bit louder, but still he didn’t turn around. She began to say his name again very loud over the rock music that played, but stopped when she saw his hand raise to his ear, mimicking that he wasn’t hearing her. Taylor sighed.
            “Raven,” the name trailed off as she cut her eyes at him harshly.
            Finally the sharply dressed club owner with the spiky brown hair spun around and took a sip of the alcoholic beverage in his glass. He was smirking as he leaned over the bar and looked Taylor from bottom to top, taking another drink.
            “Ello’ there love. You come for some company or just to bother me?”
            “I had a run in,” she said seriously, “with a jacker I think.”
            “Well that is a bother,” Raven said, downing the rest of his drink.
            Raven came from behind the bar and motioned Taylor to follow, waving his two fingers towards the door, beckoning her. The two walked past the last booth in the back, past the pool table and the overly loud speakers to the plain brown wooden door that Raven unlocked with a silver key from his key ring. Like the gentleman that he was half the time, he held the door open for Taylor to enter with a waving motion.
            The office was deceptively large. When the door shut, all of the ambient noise from the bar and downstairs club was shut out, almost too quiet actually. There were two couches against the walls and a large wooden desk with two chairs. A globe with several oddly colored areas on the sphere sat on the dexk. Bookshelves lined the back wall with different tomes and volumes in multiple languages and a computer monitor was hooked up to an old typewriter on a table next to it. In an odd way, it was kind of what Taylor expected.
            “Nice place.”
            “Eh,” Raven replied with a sour twist of his lips. “I work with what I have. You should see my flat sometime; make you feel right at home.”
            He took a seat on the sofa and motioned for her to join him. Instead, Taylor turned the chair on the opposite side of the desk to face him.
            “I didn’t come here to flirt with you, Malcolm.”
            “This again?”
            “Raven, whatever,” she trailed off in frustration. “I’m not even sure your accent is real.”
            “Course it is,” he said, insulted. “I guess I do keep it a little thick though. You southern girls practically swoon over it.”
            “Will you stop, I told you what happened.”
            “No, you said one word. Explain.”
            Taylor sighed and crossed her legs, throwing her head back and closing her eyes as she felt a headache coming on. It was probably from Raven. She took a breath and then regaled him with the story.
            “I’m pretty sure it was a jacker that found me in my apartment somehow. It knew where I was and it put up a decent fight. The thing had a gun. By the time most of them find me they are too stupid to use guns.” She looked to the side. “Not going to lie, I’m a little worried. What if this wasn’t just a random attack like the last one?”
            “I told you this would happen.”
            “It’s been two years!”
            “Well,” Raven said shaking his head. “The world let you run from what you are for two years longer than it lets most people. The stronger you get the easier that they’ll be able to find you.”
            “I’m not like you,” Taylor protested.
            “Of course you aren’t, you git.” Raven stood and began explaining a bit more passionately with his hands. “You’re an anomaly in a world full of freaks. You stick out more than an albino at a meeting of the Farmers of America.”
            “Okay, I get it!”
            “No, precious,” Raven said, leaning down to look her in the eyes. “I actually don’t think you do. I’ve been trying for over two years now to get you to accept the world you try to ignore, to learn and be ready. You disregard it so much that you still call me by my human name even when it’s just us.”
            “Raven sounds a little too Emo.”
            “Fine, be cute,” he turned. “See if I’m here to help you when the jackers, the leeches, the incubi and all the others decide they want to put you out of their misery.”
            Taylor didn’t know what to say. She simply stared at him for a long moment before looking down at her hands that had been folded neatly across the black shirt.
            “What do I do?”
            “Way I see it you have two options: run, or do your job.”
            There was another pause as she considered his words. There was that thought of running, trying a new state, maybe in an even less populated area. He had warned her before though, the stronger she became; the more they would be able to find her. She thought about her other problems too, with the school, with Paige. It was an odd mixture of wanting to run, to make everything easier, but realizing that for the first time in her life, Taylor had actually begun calling somewhere home.
            “I… I mean this can’t be that bad, right; a small infestation, a minor demon or something, nothing big, right?”
            “I don’t know,” he crossed his arms and mused for a moment. “What about the gargoyle thing? Think they still have it out for you?”
            “This wasn’t a gargoyle, Raven. I know that much.”
            “They could have hired someone, made an alliance.”
            There was a long pause. Raven stared at her. Taylor stared at the wall as her fingers tapped nervously on the arm of the chair, echoing in the quiet room.
            “No,” she finally said out loud to the wall.
            “No, what?”
            “I’m not going to run.” Taylor stood. “I’m going to go find out what is going on and take care of it, and then I’m going to take a vacation.”
            “Vacation? This is the first we’ve seen of anything in two years.”
            “Not just from this,” she corrected, “from everything. Trust me. I need it.”
            Raven shook his head and stood, muttering, “Whatever you say. But, you’re going to need weapons if you’re going hunting.”
            “What did you have in mind?”
            Raven walked over to the bookshelf behind his desk and let a hand fall onto an old brown book with a smudged title that loosely spelled out Wuthering Heights.
            “Luckily, your mum had me hold something aside for you. She knew you’d be needing it eventually.”
            Taylor felt a cold chill on her spine as her mother was mentioned. She looked over her shoulder at Raven and saw the bookshelf shift slightly when he pulled the book from the shelf. There was a four foot safe behind it that she couldn’t see very well with him in the way, but instead of hearing the tumblers or a keypad, there were four notes of distinct sound that escaped into the otherwise quiet office.
            Taylor had an idea what it was, but her mouth still gaped a bit when she saw the open box. It was beautiful. The small wooden box held in it a silver-plated Beretta 92FS, an extended clip sitting next to it on the felt fabric of the box.
            “Dad’s gun,” Taylor said in a hushed tone.
            “He called it Julia,” Raven informed her, “and now it is yours.”
            She picked up the weapon gingerly, as if it were a fragile thing. The name of the piece was mouthed again by her lips, paying reverence to an artist’s creation as the pads of her fingertips ran down the side and she checked it. Taylor was no stranger to guns, not at all. They were one of the preferred weapons of hunters, one of the many disciplines she had been trained in, but it had been quite some time since she had held one.
            “Glad you approve, but the box is mine.” Raven’s words pulled her out of the state of awe. He handed her the clip and closed the lid on the receptacle, placing it back in his safe and closing it as well. “I’m also fresh out of silver-tipped stilettos. You’ll have to get your blades elsewhere.”
            Taylor didn’t indicate if she heard him or not as she ran a thumb over the exposed bullet at the top of the magazine before loaded the gun. She pulled back the slide and aimed the pistol at one of Raven’s older paintings, judging the sights.
            He stepped in front of her with his hands slightly raised, protesting the abuse of what he called good art.
            “No, no. Stop it. Why don’t you go downstairs and have a drink, burn off a little steam by shaking your bum, and not put any holes in anything of mine while I promise to put my ear to the ground and listen for whoever might have it out for you in the underworld. Agreed?”
            She nodded and slid the gun away into her purse. Taylor felt his arm wrap around her shoulders, leading her to the door. She looked up at him as it opened, feeling like there was more to say.

            “Don’t worry love. I don’t plan on letting anyone hurt you. At least not until all your debts are paid.” He smiled and noise flooded back into the upstairs bar as he closed the door behind her. She stood there against the wall for a moment, hesitant about what the night may hold. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Red - Pt. 1 (Introduction)

In a familiar but different world, with a horrible future…

            A familiar song signified a huge problem as it woke Taylor from her nap in the cool darkened apartment. Her hand fumbled on the wood of the bookshelf, feeling for her glowing phone as it rang. She couldn’t see it at first, unwilling to remove the pillow that covered her head that she had become so acquainted with. She didn’t have to look at the screen to see who was trying to video call her, she knew from the person’s personalized ringtone. Taylor needed to see the image of Paige’s face though to remind her why she didn’t want to answer the phone.
            Putting the phone back where she had found it, the only noise in the apartment now was the roaring of the old window-unit air conditioner. She brushed strands of red hair from her face and nestled back into the pillow while readjusting the blanket over her legs, just the way she liked it. The red glowing numbers of the clock had caught her eyes though just before they closed; 10:10 p.m. on a Thursday night. She could sleep, but there were also a lot of other things that she could be doing if she was going to ignore her best friend.
            Taylor threw the blanket from her and leapt up onto the hardwood floor from her low-sitting mattresses. The wood was cool on her feet, in a calming way that she let overtake her as she stretched and curled her toes, enjoying the feeling with a smile. She reached over to the desk and turned her laptop on. Bent over, checking her e-mail, she glanced back at the bookshelf across the room. Paige hadn’t tried calling back again, which meant she was probably crying right now because there was no one willing to pick up on the other end. Taylor tried not to think about that. She turned the volume as loud as it would go on her attached speakers and let the heavy bass fill her small apartment.
            Her hips began to move to the beat in the small black boy shorts she wore. Smiling, she pushed all of her problems to the side, as long as the music continued. She opened the bathroom door and took a glance in the mirror as she continued to move and even sing along with the music. Reaching over, she turned the shower on, barely missing a beat. The apartment building she lived in was old, so the water would need a minute to warm up. That was alright with Taylor, more time to dance. She reached down and pulled the checkered tank-top up over her head, thrashing her long red hair to each side as she sang, tossing her clothes on top of the pile. She finished her performance in the shower before thanking the imaginary audience and giving the encore while drying off with the towel.
            Taylor’s closet was large, one of the reasons why she didn’t mind her apartment being as small as it was. She browsed her clothes, trying to make a choice with her hair still wrapped up tightly in a second towel atop her head. Tapping her chin, genuinely perplexed by what to wear, she sifted through her underwear drawer after tossing one of several makeup bags onto her bed. She had decided on the black mini skirt with the gray top that she got last Christmas. It would go well with the black jacket with the hood she loved so much from her last trip to Atlanta.  
            Taylor was finishing up her makeup, sitting on the bed. Eyeing her phone for the third time in the past five minutes, she wondered if she should call Paige, her feelings were getting in the way. Nope. There was no reason to. Paige had opened this can of worms all by herself. She needed to stew on that while Taylor took some time to herself. Bestie or not, what had happened was not cool. Stepping back into her closet, she was looking for shoes when she heard the knock at her door. Taylor froze. If that was Paige, if she had come to her apartment unannounced, she would be furious. Maybe this would good though, now they could finally have it out. Paige wasn’t doing herself any favors or making it any easier doing it like this though.
            It was in that moment that she decided to wear the two inch black heels. Those were a gift, and she liked the way they looked on her. The knock came again, louder. She left the heels where they were and stepped out of the closet to the front door, glancing briefly again at the mirror that hung on the inside of the closet door, even if it was Paige.
            “I’m coming, hold on.”
            Stepping up to the door she un-latched the chain and turned the deadbolt that held her door closed. There was a smile, then the silver 9mm that was pulled on her. Taylor would have usually answered the door with the chain still latched if she didn’t know who it was, but she really had thought it was Paige and the frustration with the whole situation had caused her to be careless. It was lucky for her that the man who intended her harm outside the door didn’t seem on his best game either.
            With her hand still on the door, she slammed it on the gun barrel and moved out of the way as a shot fired, lodging breaking through the side panel of the cheaply made bookcase. Taylor cursed loudly, upset that she had not caught the man’s hand in the door as well, and that she would need a new bookcase. She let up on the door, not wanting him out in the hallway where he could shoot someone else. The assailant took her up on the offer, pushing in halfway, but she was ready. Launching herself almost off her feet, Taylor slammed her head into the older man’s face, breaking his nose.
            He grunted, raising the gun again as he tried to angle it. Her elbow kept it back as her free hand punched him in the throat. The door fell open and Taylor pulled him inside, slamming the door. She turned and brought her bare heel across his face with a kick that sent spit and blood flying.
            “You know I just cleaned!”
            His jacket fell open as he tried to reach for the gun again. He was an older man with a jumpsuit for some local business. The label said his name was Sanders, but that was probably not the case anymore. Taylor fell on him, straddling, her knees pressing his arms down so he couldn’t reach the gun, couldn’t hurt her or anyone else. She reached across with a precise lean to grab the pen from her desk.
            “Which one of them sent you,” she demanded. “Which one of them do you work for?”
            The thing beneath her looked back up with an almost blank stare. It struggled to push her off, but wasn’t strong enough. It wasn’t going to answer. It didn’t know anything.
            “Right, why did I even ask,” she questioned herself.
            Taylor raised the pen with her right arm as her left hand grabbed what hair was available on the man and held it still. The writing instrument came down into one of the glossy eyes, shattering it, and then in the other. For a brief moment Taylor’s small dimly lit apartment erupted into a bright blue light as Sanders’ body vanished from beneath her.

            “Really,” Taylor complained out loud to no one. “On top of everything else going on this week? I need a vacation.” 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Story of Wu - Pt. 1

            The pot in the corner of the room was used for many things. It had given life to food, good tea, and at times had been used as a waste disposal unit. There was not much else in the room that was as useful as the pot. A good container was really important to any prisoner who planned on staying for a lengthy time. Danny treasured that pot. It was important to his everyday life in the facility. He probably would have named the pot by the end of his eight year stint in the prison, as it was already a treasured item.
            “Hey!”
            Now though, Danny wasn’t a big fan of his small black pot with the broken handle and metal rim, because Wu was using it to bash his head in.
            “Stop it! Let him go or I will open fire!”
            The guard yelled past the bars as they waited for the electronic gate to open up. The green light above the railing had finally come on, meaning that the guards would rush in soon. It was too late though.
            Wu knew they wouldn’t shoot. The guards cared nothing for those they watched, but, even they would have to answer for each dead body that happened on their shift. However, if they simply allowed the animals to kill each other, that caused much less paperwork in the future.
            It didn’t matter though. Danny’s eye was already hanging loosely out of its socket and his lips were parted, the top one curled upward as blood splashed down his face. Even if Wu’s next strike wasn’t about to end the young prisoner’s life, he would have lived with brain damage from that moment on.
            The other prisoners cheered as the events unfolded. Some cheered from their cells, banging their cups and similar pots against the bars. Others, members of Wu’s gang and those who had just been unfortunate enough to be caught in the main corridor, they rooted for the violence as well. All of them were preparing for the guards to rush in and beat them into submission. They crouched to the ground, arms shielding their heads, prepared.
            It was Wu though that chose to hit Danny once more, even though he was sure the runt was dead. His arm rose. The leader’s darker skin was covered in blood that almost hid the numerous tattoos he had over his arms and chest. The last hard sound, thwack, sounded off as Wu’s hand struck. The pot carried another volley of blood and small bits of skull across the concrete white wall. That noise echoed with the alarm as it sounded, letting the other group of attackers in. Those safe in their cells still yelled and cheered at the brutality of the guards, even though they would not hesitate to do the same to them, were they down in the corridor.
            The guards beat Wu the worse, as he knew they would. He smiled though. It was all worth it. Everything had gone according to plan.
           
            Solitary was a blessing in some ways. It gave you quiet time, time to heal, time to think. The food in solitary was not necessarily worse. The guards just threw it in. Eating crap food off the floor didn’t really hurt the taste that much. The absence of light wasn’t as drastic of a change from the dimness of the prison interior.
            The only thing that Wu minded was not being able to track the passing of time. He wasn’t sure how long he had been in the hole. They kept changing their answer, whenever he asked how much longer he would remain there. Wu had attempted to measure the days by the meals delivered to him, but the guards began to forego that small luxury, denying him food or saying they had delivered it when it had ended up in the trash. Wu could hear them laughing sometimes, up the stone steps and outside the door.
            Wu had been left in the hole for twenty-three days—even though he was not aware it had been that long. At some point, the door was opened and he was sprayed down with a large hose as a make-shift shower, but there were still some flakes of dried blood in his short black hair. His bruises were mostly gone. Healing didn’t pass the time though. There were only so many push-ups and crunches that he could do before Wu was almost literally climbing the walls, just for activity. Wu wasn’t sure whether it was the food itself or the lack there of that had been making his stomach turn so much these last few days. He had been drinking from the toilet until it backed up.
            Now his throat was parched. He leaned against the cool wall in his dirtied wife-beater. The cool stone braced his shoulders now. He lacked the energy to do anything else until something changed. Wu was trying not to lose his smile though.
            It was close to an hour later when he heard the footsteps. They stopped outside of his door and spoke for a moment, but it was hard for Wu to make out in his current state. He thought they were arguing, perhaps it was meal time and they would decide not to give him the food and drink again today. Perhaps he would die from this. That couldn’t be though, that was not part of the plan.
            The keys hit the lock. Wu turned his head a bit surprised. If it was just a meal run they would have thrown it through the slot, accented with an insult. The iron door opened though with two guards standing in the doorway. Wu shielded his eyes at the bright light that flooded in to the solitary cell. He couldn’t open them at first, unaccustomed to the brightness. The smell of semi-fresh air was also a little jarring.
            “Get up,” one of the guards grunted.
            Wu was trying to stand, he was just too weak. The guards came over towards him, batons drawn. One of them put the baton to Wu’s throat while the other helped to pull him up.
            “Pick up your feet!”
            The guards pulled him out into the hallway, rushing him in a truly uncaring manner, perhaps more so than usual. Wu noticed the annoyed expressions on their faces. Something had angered them, perhaps he had been granted an early release from solitary confinement. Wu smiled. If the guards were having a bad day, his life couldn’t be that bad.
            “You boys are looking a little down.” Wu remarked to the guards, having to work to keep up with their pace. “I can talk to Tommy for you guys, have him hook you up. You two need to de-stress. You look upset. You know my boys can help you with that.”
            “Shut up, Wu,” one of the guards shot back.
            “Felix, he has the hook-up on pussy here. I figure you guys aren’t having much luck on the outside, but in here, we can make things happen.”
            The other officer was not responding to Wu’s taunts like the first guard. He struck the concrete wall with his baton, causing a loud noise to echo through the hallway.
            “For someone who thinks he runs this place, you are in for a world of hurt.”
            It was at that point that Wu realized they were not heading towards his cell. C block was the other direction from where they had just turned. Wu was so rarely surprised, but this moment had his mind racing. They wouldn’t be taking him to see the warden, no sport in that. Warden Morales didn’t like to get his hands dirty with the riffraff anyway. This was something else.
            “So, where we going? Someone finally fix the pool?”
            The smugger of the two guards now began to smile.
            “Your jokes are falling flat. Where is your smile now, asshole?”
            They took another turn in the long windowed hallway that lead to one of the oldest parts of the prison. Built in the 2140’s, Talcolo Prison was constructed on the island of Boca Raton, Florida, after the great depression. The prison was comprised of five different structures, each housing four blocks of prisoners except for the administration building. Each one stood three stories tall and had an accompanying guard tower and green Spanish tile roofs. There were two docks, the only ways on and off of the island were by boats that came twice a month, and could only land on one of these two points. The rest of the island was too dangerous to try to dock a boat on, for fear of being thrust into the rocks, or eaten.
            There was a permanent gray hue to the sky. Storms came frequently, raging without warning. Vicious—with lightning and electrical interference, flying anything into that area was almost a death sentence, another side-effect of the great destruction. The island prison was on the North end of Mother Nature’s constant anger, tropical storms, hurricanes, and lightning storms were typical, especially at night. Escape was not much of an option.
            Construction of the island facility took quite some time under these conditions. The administration building was erected first and was the largest in square feet. The old windowed bridge was raised between the two buildings with explosives placed at each of the struts to cut off the administration officials from the inmates if needed. It was also the place that, if you believe the rumors, more than one prisoner had been tossed out of to a gruesome death on the rocks.
            Wu had tensed up when they went through the hallway, just in case. There were only two of them, but he wasn’t in any shape to fight. It occurred to him though that if they had wanted to kill him, the easiest course of action would have been to leave him solitary.
            He had plenty of time to think about the possibilities of why he was being moved there. It didn’t fit the plan. Wu had work to do on the inside, important work. He had a prison to run.
            The administration building looked much better on the inside than any of the others. It was Spartan, but had actual carpet in a dull shaggy red. There were mirrors, which did not exist in the holding facilities, because the glass could be used as a weapon. The light fixtures were more ornate here, an older lost style that had been imported from the mainland. There wasn’t much else in the way of decorations other than a few portraits of past wardens.
            Hallways led way to strings of offices, past the infirmary and library to the steps that led down. In the basement of the administration building was the records room, armory, several holding cells and interrogation rooms that were all under heavy guard and security. The two guards leading Wu had to take him through three checkpoints and strip search him in one of the holding cells.
            Wu’s body was toned and muscular, a canvas for the collage of scar tissue and tattoos that covered his limbs. Each scar told a story of near-death or a lesson learned. Whether it was a lesson learned from his sparring partners or a plan gone wrong, he treasured each one of them, as much as he treasured the tattoos. Each piece of ink on his body was purposefully visible, because they were all representative of victories. The two black tears signified his first kills, the dragon his promotion, the kanji were for his brothers, and the bleeding eye for his revenge on his sister’s rapist. Those were just a few of the ones that lined his limbs, some he couldn’t even tell the story for, due to potential repercussions.
            Wu was just glad there were no cavity searches this time, since he was coming from solitary confinement, there was no need. He just wasn’t in the mood to be smugly violated today. Instead, they left him naked and dripping wet after his chemical bath in the holding cell. The room was freezing cold, his leg bounced and his hands rubbed his chest from time-to-time to try and keep him warm. Time was wasting and once again he found himself unable to keep track of it, life was too short not to be in the mix.
            The door opened again finally and the same two guards approached Wu, tossing him a change of clothes. He quickly threw on the sleeveless white t-shirt and grey pants, wishing they had brought some socks as well. When he was dressed they had one more piece for Wu, the grey magnetic shackles that bound his wrists together with a gentle hum. The guards tested the cuffs before standing him up.
            It was then that Wu realized that the new clothes and cuffs meant that he was about to be paraded in front of someone. It wasn’t his time for parole there, hell; would they even offer it to him? As far as the Warden was concerned, it was just a matter of waiting until one of the other prisoners slit Wu’s throat, one set of paperwork he would gladly handle himself. It was only a matter of time—an inevitability. Wu was actually pretty sure at least one of the guards had tried once, paying one of the other prisoners to do their work.
            This was different though, it felt strange and new. Wu was about to be ripped from the world that he controlled, but he was not sure how or why.