Hope

Another story printed with Fire in the Sky’s first publication.

 

-1-

Wind rustled the trees, whipping around the buildings surrounded by the high fence. The storm was nightmare-turned reality to some of the tenants of this place. They tossed and screamed and begged the voices to save them. One prisoner was completely unfazed by the sounds, for they did not reach her. Lying on the floor, she counted the numbers the faces, the names, that only she could see. They called out to her. Always calling.

Careful footsteps down the white hall.

Always whispering.

Counting the numbers by the doors.

Always promising.

Check to make sure she’s there.

Freedom.

A knock, “Hope?”

This voice was new.

“Hope? Is you’re name Hope?”

The girl turned her head to face the tiny window of light, blocked by a pair of eyes and the face that held them. A rasp of a voice escaped her parched mouth, “They…call me that. Yes.”

The face disappeared and there was a soft, careful click. The window became a door, and the body that carried the face stood beckoning.

“Come on, I’m getting you out of here.”

Hope struggled to her feet, fatigue and restraints hindering her progress. Her releaser offered assistance in the form of a hand on her elbow. The two then snuck their way back out into the hall.

-2-

Footsteps on tile.

Running softly.

Here comes someone. Hide in this room.

They are urgent.

They are screaming.

We are being pulled along.

We’re almost there.

Pulled along.

I can see the door.

By this beautiful creature.

Quietly, we’re going to make it.

The two women panted as the door softly shut, and they stood in the front lawn of the dreadful building. Leaves crunched underfoot, and the gate was propped open, ever so slightly. A half-mile and a car awaited them. Once the two were safely in the car, and the beautiful kidnapper started the engine, she felt it safe to speak.

“My name is Tawny.”

“Tawny…Doesn’t fit you.”

“What?”

“There is…nothing I would call…’Tawny’. About you. I see. Green hair. Grey eyes. Ivory skin. Black sweat shirt….”

“A name doesn’t have to describe, you know.”

You are…Freedom.”

Sigh, “Sure, I’ll be ‘Freedom’ if you want.”

Hope took her new friend’s hand, “You are Freedom. You are mine.”

-3-

Tawny stared intently at the passing traffic. Stared so hard she could nearly make the lights explode with her concentration.

Why did they want this girl?

Why did they want her to fetch the cute little psycho?

Did she just call her cute?

Meanwhile, Hope sat in the passenger seat, staring intently at the driver. Listening to the jabber in her head.

They told her to go with the woman.

They told her to be careful.

They told her

not to let those feelings

get in the way.

She didn’t want to listen to that part.

Tawny saw a small bed-and-breakfast up ahead. They had told her in their last message to stay the night there. That everything would be taken care of.

Food.

Shelter.

Keys to a new vehicle.

New clothes.

New IDs.

“We’ll be staying over there tonight.” She nodded in the direction of the B&B, “Okay, Hope?”

Hope never looked at the building. That would mean taking her eyes from her friend. She nodded, “Yes.”

Gravel under tires. Car doors. A hand extended to Hope.

“Come on.”

A smile and the two went hand in hand to the temporary sanctuary.

-4-

The room smells of must.

Bland colors and floral patterns attempting a homey atmosphere.

“Well, here’s our room.”

Bags in the corner.

A knife in the drawer

where there’s supposed to be a Bible.

“Hope…Hope!”

“Yes?”

Tawny placed a hand on her hip and sighed, “Why are you upside-down?”

Hope stared up at her companion as she hung from the foot of the bed, “Haven’t had a bed…in a long time.”

“And that’s the first thing you do with it,” a sigh. “Doesn’t help that we only have one bed in this room.”

“…A problem?”

Tawny stopped in mid movement at the bags and turned to glance at Hope. Was it a problem? She seemed to be lying there so innocently. Those curious eyes staring to intently at her. Those cheeks, turning rosy from the blood rushing to hem. Those lips…

Tawny turned back to the bags, “Here, put on these new clothes.”

She tossed an outfit to Hope, who dropped down to the floor and rolled to a sitting position. She held out her arms, “Help out?”

Tawny went behind her and unbuckled the straight jacket. Hope pulled it off, revealing arms covered in scars, carvings. Words over words, scratched out and started again.

Hope stared at her own arms as if she’d never seen them before, “They wanted out. couldn’t get out. Tell the world….” A lone tear glided down her cheek and landed on the pale flesh of her breast. Tawny caught herself before her eyes could wander from the tear to the rest of the area.

I don’t know why I’m ashamed of looking.

I don’t know why I want to look.

“I’m going to rest.” She lied on the bed, letting the soft blanket and comfortable pillows overtake her. Sleep was just beginning to creep into her mind when a lithe form launched itself at her, and the half naked body of Hope landed immediately on top of her. “Oof! What the hell are you doing?”

Hope’s eyes held a mischievous gleam, “It’s been so long since I’ve had the freedom to play.”

Tawny’s eyes grew wide. That was the first time Hope was that lucid, “Hope?”

A wide grin, “Yes, it’s till me. I’m not some alternate personality taking over this body.”

“Then what happened? What’s different?”

Hope slid her legs to either side of Tawny’s, ending in a straddling position. With hope’s pelvis up against hers, and her bare breasts so close, Tawny’s body was reacting whether she wanted it to or not. Hope slid her ground across Tawny’s and the other woman arched up automatically.

“Hope, What are you doing?”

The red-haired woman brought her face inches away, “I want to play.”

The urge to meet those lips with her own was nearly uncontrollable.

I want to.

I can’t.

She’s insane.

She’s my charge.

She’s a job.

Doesn’t know what she’s doing.

She’s beautiful.

Tawny shut her eyes against this woman, this temptation. She threw her arms out and pushed Hope off with as much force as the woman had used to jump on. Hope flew off and onto the floor.

Tawny stayed on the bed, staring up at the ceiling, “I don’t feel like playing tonight.”

From the floor came an immensely disappointed sigh, “I noticed.”

The green haired woman rolled off the bed, “You can sleep there, I’ll take the floor.”

Silence, then, “You want to know why I’m speaking ‘normally?’”

Tawny turned to glare at Hope as she lifted herself up to stand, “It’s because they’re quiet now. They get quiet for a few hours, and I can think.”

“Why is that?”

Shrug, “I never get an answer.” Hope climbed onto the bed and under the covers, “Goodnight, sweet prince.”

-5-

So peaceful.

Can’t touch.

They say no.

Hope was sitting at the edge of the bed, staring down at her keeper. Watching her chest move with the breaths and the pool of green hair beneath the tranquil face. After only a few moments of observing, Tawny’s breathing changed.

“…How long have you been watching me?” She mumbled at the bed sentry, eyes still closed.

“Five minutes.”

A knock at the door. Tawny answered and received an unexpected surprise.

“Room service.”

Tawny stared at the bellhop and his tray of silver dish covers, “We didn’t order any room service.”

“It’s already been paid for.”

Already paid for?

It’s from them.

Should I trust it?

The bellhop rolled the tray into the room and left. Hope lifted up one of the covers and picked at the food, “I see bacon.” She lifted up more covers and tossed them around the room. The aroma of fresh food drifted around the two women, and a paper fluttered from one of the plates. Tawny carefully lifted it and read the directions inscribed.

After a few moments Hope looked curiously up at her from a plate of food, “What…say?”

“Just some more instructions for us. Eat your breakfast, then we’ll go.”

Hope smiles and returned to her meal. Tawny folded the paper and slid it into her pocket. She grabbed a plate and began her own breakfast.

INSTRUCTIONS TO THE KEEPER:

TAKE THE GIRL AND DRIVE NORTH. TAKE ONLY THE LESSER ROADS, INDICATED ON THE MAP. A NEW VEHICLE IS WAITING IN THE PARKING LOT. KEYS ARE IN THE BAG.

REMEMBER THAT THIS SUBJECT IS DANGEROUS. DO NOT INVEST ANY EMOTION INTO YOUR CHARGE.

YOUR DUTY IS TO DELIVER, AND TO FORGET.

I know. I won’t let you down.

-6-

“Freedom, I’m hungry.”

“I told you, my name’s Tawny.”

No streetlights.

Open spaces.

Highway stretching out endlessly.

“How long…till…food?”

“We don’t have any money left for food. I’m guessing they’ll feed us at our next motel.”

They hadn’t given much money for food. Only enough for gas and a few snacks. One good meal, and nearly twelve hours on the road.

“Somebody’s following us.”

“They say… lose them.”

Tawny raised an eyebrow at her passenger, “They?”

Hope turned empty eyes to Tawny, speaking with new enthusiasm, “Lose them, Keeper. Your duty is to protect.”

“W-what?”

“Protect her, Keeper.”

“Hope, what are you doing?”

“Protect her with your life.”

The car came up beside Tawny’s Screeching erupted from the door as the two vehicles impacted, sending Tawny’s car squealing to the side of the road.

“Shit! Hope, are you okay?”

Hope sat in her seat quietly. Her eyes were unfocused, but she was breathing. Tawny climbed out of the car to face the assailants. “They” would not allow her a gun, and instead she used a sword, which they supplied, of course. She had learned to sword fight, but would have much preferred something with more range. In any case, she braced herself and began picking her way to the other car. Two figures stepped out, both huge and menacing. However, for all their horror, there was a sense of perfection. They came at Tawny, each wielding his own blade. Clashing metal and moving bodies through dodge, parry, attack. Sweat poured out from heated skin.

Then Tawny’s blade crashed to the ground.

The two fighters stood over here, and massive wings unfurled from their backs. Tawny’s eyes widened with awe and horror as a blade came toward her.

Clash of metal. A chain scythe knocked the sword from its path. It darted past the being and changed course. A yank from the chain sent the blade in the opposite direction, through flesh and bone of the perfectly terrifying body.

In the confusion Tawny lunged for her sword. The scythe continued to tear at the beasts as they changed focus and stalked their assailant. Tawny grasped the hilt and rolled. She plunged the blade up through the thigh of the closest being. It stumbled and fell as Tawny rolled away, pulling the sword back to herself.

The other beast fell. Standing over the mass was Hope, chain scythe in hand and a crazed smile on her face.

“Hope?” Tawny panted.

Hope turned her gaze to the woman, the smile became more mischievous. She stepped toward Tawny, slowly swinging her blade.

“Hope, where did you get that?”

The swinging got faster.

“What are you doing?”

Faster.

“Hope?”

Faster.

“Hope!”

The scythe flew with amazing force, and crashed into the dirt one foot from Tawny’s head. Hope then proceeded to straddle Tawny, placing her face inches away from the other woman’s, “There’s something wonderful about adrenaline.”

“I should have left you in the straight jacket.”

“Now that the endorphins are pumping…”

“I’m going to throw you again.”

“When I do this,” Hope pressed her lips against Tawny’s, who jumped in surprise, then closed her eyes as the caress trailed its way across her cheek and down her neck. Unconsciously, she arched her body into Hope’s.

Hope whispered next to tawny’s ear, “It’s that much harder for you to resist.”

As hope lifted herself up Tawny moved her sword to the woman’s neck, “Why do you keep doing this?”

Hope’s smile only widened. She lowered her head so that the blade pressed into the soft flesh of her neck, “Because,” she declared as she slid down the blade, leaving a line of blood, “You are mine.”

-7-

“I am not ‘yours.’” Tawny’s voice shook slightly. She lowered the blade from Hope’s neck. Hope took the opportunity to move closer to her prey once more.

“Fine then, you’re not mine.” She grabbed Tawny around the waist and rolled. Tawny was suddenly above the red-haired temptress, who threw her arm out, “I am yours.”

“Hope…” Tawny tried to dismount the woman, but Hope pulled her back down. Looked deeply into her eyes.

“Please.”

Press of lips.

Did she kiss me?

Or did I kiss her?

Or does it matter?

Hope’s hand shot to her forehead, her face contorted, “No…Not now.”

Tawny slid off the tortured woman to sit next to her. Hope curled onto her side in a tight little ball.

“Stop…yelling…at me.”

Tawny leaned over to get a closer look, “Hope?

Are you –“

“Stop yelling at me!”

She began convulsing. Writhing. Muttering. Tawny grabbed her arms and mounted her again, this time to keep her still. Hope bucked and clawed the dirt and screamed and muttered.

“Hope! Hope, listen to me!”

“I’m tired of you telling me what to do! Get out of my head!”

“Hope!”

“I won’t listen to you anymore!”

“Hope, get ahold of yourself!”

“I love her!”

Tawny’s heart stopped for a second. Even in all the torment her voices were giving her, this girl was fighting for Tawny? Hope continued to writhe and shout, but Tawny didn’t hear it. She just watched, holding the girl down so she didn’t hurt herself. Finally the fit subsided, only ragged breaths from the tired Hope. She opened her eyes and stared at Tawny with absolute clarity, and whispered in a strained voice, “They want me dead.”

“Why?”

“They don’t like when they are disobeyed.” A tear began to form in the corner of her eye, “Help me.”

Tawny stared down at her charge for a long moment, then leaned down and kissed her.

-8-

Tawny nestled her head into the pillow. The sun peeked in the room, making her squint her eyes when she tried to open them. Another cookie-cutter hotel room. She shifted her gaze around, then sat up and examined the room more thoroughly. She was alone, with only her small bag of clothes in the corner to accompany her.

Was it all a dream?

Was she…

A pang of sadness hit her. It was possible that it was a dream. She found herself in various hotel rooms numerous times in her life. It was part of the job.

The sound of water from the bathroom. Tawny’s hand shot to her gun under the pillow, as her heart sped up. No one else should be in this room. Silently she crept out of the bed and along the wall. Past the framed photo of happy newlyweds, across the pile of luggage and clothes. She hugged the wall next to the door. Breathe out. Focus.

A familiar male voice, humming a familiar tune. Tawny’s pulse skipped when she remembered the lyrics. Her gun lowered slightly.

It’s him.

She jumped at the doorknob, then stopped herself from flinging it open. It couldn’t be him. It just couldn’t. She held her gun firmly in one hand, doorknob in the other. Slow turn, then the door creaked open. Fog billowed out from the hot shower. Tawny stepped slowly to the white shower curtain. It slid open at her hand, and she stood staring down at toned muscles, tanned skin, red blood. There was screaming, at which her husband stared endlessly up over a void. No, not a void. There were teeth, and muscles, and bone. Tawny kneeled down and touched the soaked, stained hair. Lifted the broken face of her soul away from the perfect body. It stained her white lingerie with blood as she cradled it against her chest. She did nothing when she felt the object against her head. Nothing about the man behind her. Nothing when he flexed his hand and deafened her with the sound.

Tawny’s hand grasped an arm behind her and threw. There was a curse and a thud before she opened her eyes. Concrete was all around her, and before her was a red-headed girl, who was rubbing her back in pain.

“I thought we were beyond the throwing in this relationship,” Hope groaned.

That’s right. Now it was coming back to Tawny. They were sleeping under an overpass, hiding from “Them.”

“Sorry, Hope,” She rolled herself to a sitting position. “I was…having a nightmare.”

“Must have been a doozy,” Hope scooted her way to her partner, “You can tell me about it over breakfast.”

Tawny repositioned herself so she could dig in her pocket for money. A small wad of bills appeared, and income created from a visit to the local pawn shop. “I hope you like McDonald’s.”

“I’ll try anything once.” Hope rolled down the cement incline, tattering her long-sleeved shirt on the way. Tawny followed at a slower pace, and the two began their walk into suburban San Antonio.

-9-

A strong pulse throbbed under the victim’s skin. The huntress pressed her lips against the soft flesh, felt the jumping vein as it struggled. The body writhing beneath her only excited her more while she sat straddled atop her prey. The huntress closed her eyes, and bared her teeth…

And the doorbell rand.

She ignored the bell, and grazed the skin, causing her prey to moan softly.

The doorbell rang again.

And again.

And again.

“Dammit.”

Tawny stood, arms crossed and smirking, letting Hope have her slightly sadistic fun ringing the doorbell over and over again. The girl’s finger never left the button while she made up various rhythms in which to make the ding-dong-noise particularly annoying. Finally, a tall, dark-haired woman flung the door wide, exposing herself in her deep red satin robe.

“What the fuck do you- Oh, hi Tawny.”

“Hey, Enni, mind if we barge in?”

A naked young man shuffled out into the hall on his knees, his arms bound behind him, “Mistress?”

The woman spun around and pointed to the doorway from which he had just come, “Get back in the room, boy. I’ll be in to feed in a moment.”

The man bowed his head, “Yes, Mistress. Thank you, Mistress.”

Tawny leaned against the door, “Looks like you’re up to the same old tricks.”

“Yeah. Why fix something that aint broke, right?” Enni sighed, “Come on in, I’ll put on some tea.”

-10-

“Sounds like you’ve been pretty busy,” Enni commented while she poured herself a fifth cup. “And I’m guessing the others don’t know what’s going on.”

Tawny stared deep into her cup, “No. They told me to do this completely on my own. They even provided everything, and were very strict on their instruction.”

“And you broke the rules and now they want to kill you. Are they still tormenting Hope?”

“They have abandoned me,” Hope came in from the hall, the submissive male’s leash in hand. “They don’t feel they can trust me to ‘do my job’ anymore.”

Enni gave her sub a look that made him lower his head, then looked back to Hope, “And what exactly is your job?”

“To help them come into our world.”

Enni dropped her cup, her eyes wide and her gaze far away. Hope opened her mouth to say something, but Tawny shushed her. The sub moved over to Enni and cleaned up the tea and chipped pieces from the fallen cup. After a few moments Enni came back to the present.

“Hope, why were you in the asylum?” She said in a hollow voice.

Hope pushed back her long sleeves to show the carvings in her arms.

“And?’

Hope stared unemotionally into Enni’s eyes, “I brutally murdered three people. My mother, my father, and my boyfriend.”

The two shared a long look before Enni finally asked, “Why do you use a scythe?”

“Why does that matter?”

“So that I can know what’s going on.”

“You mean so I can incriminate myself in front of her.”

“If you love her-“

“I’ll tell her in my own time.”

Tawny coughed and the two women glared at her, “I would like to know how you fit into all this, Hope. I’d like to know how much danger you’re in.”

Hope crossed her arms and sighed, “Let’s just say… I’ve been charged to do a job in which most people don’t look forward to seeing me.”

Tawny nodded, then turned to Enni, “I need your phone. I’ll be making a few calls.”

“Getting the group together?”

“Getting supplies. Hope and I will be continuing alone.

-11-

“You guys can’t go alone.”

“It’s too dangerous.”

“You don’t know what you’re facing.”

“The runes say you’ll die.”

“The cards say you won’t come back.”

“Fine. Go.”

“Go ahead.”

“Leave.”

“Throw your life away.”

Voices of tawny’s friends echoed over and over in her head as the wind whipped past her. Why was she going on what they said was a suicide mission with a girl she’d known only a few days? She didn’t know. She only knows that Hope’s arms around her waist brought her a confidence she hadn’t known since…

Hope tapped her shoulder and pointed to the right. A lone farm house could be seen down a long dirt road. Tawny nodded her head, careful not to clack helmets with her passenger. Yes, that was where they were going. Though her other friends loaded her with handguns, money, clothes, and a shiny “like new” motorcycle, this little house on a Converse farm was where to go for the fun stuff.

As they approached the house a pack of dogs came charging at the bike. However, before they could reach their target a small crater appeared near the pack leader, accompanied by the sound of gunfire and a woman screaming at the animals. Hope whipped her head to the source of all the noise. In the window of the two-story shed was a blonde woman with a sniper rifle.

“Get outta here you stupid mutts,” She shouted vehemently as the dogs scattered back into the neighbor’s property.

Tawny drove the motorcycle up to the large back porch of the house. As the kick stand came down the door opened, and a short, fluffy-haired brunette sauntered out to them.

“Tawny! You’re just in time for dinner! Come in, make yourselves at home.” The woman embraced Tawny as she dismounted the bike.

“There are a lot of cars here, Danielle,” Tawny smiled at the same old friendliness of her favorite pyromaniac.

“Oh, it’s just a little get-together. Some close friends, some good food, and a lot of drinks.”

“Ah, the usual,” Tawny mused. “By the way, this is Hope.”

Danielle’s face lit up mischievously, “So this is the infamous Hope,” She grinned as she shook Hope’s hand almost violently. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Hope smirked in an equally mischievous way, “I’ve heard a lot about you, too.”

Tawny raised her eyebrow. She hadn’t told Hope anything about Danielle, or vice-versa. But she shrugged and let the two women banter in scheming, mysterious ways. After all, Danielle was known for getting herself into some sticky situations with the other planes. After a few minutes the three moved toward the house, and Danielle beckoned the blonde down from her sniper position to have dinner.

Laughter and the smell of food filled the house as ten friends visited around the table.

“This food is amazing, who made this?”

“See the girl in the muscle shirt? She did.”

“Your food is awesome!”

“And then four queens chased him out of the club.”

“That’s impressive in those heels.”

“Oh honey, you have no idea.”

“This new video game I bought is orgasmic!”

On one end of the table, Danielle and Tawny discussed important business. They looked over schematics and stats while Danielle described, very animatedly, just how big of a boom these babies had. After dinner the rest of the group kidnapped Hope into another room for video games and drinking games. This left Danielle and Tawny in the dining room alone.

“So this girl,” Danielle sat with her arms crossed. “You love her?”

Tawny stared intently at the schematics of a particularly complicated custom weapon, “I think so, yes.”

“You better know before you run off.”

“What have you seen?”

“Her.”

“And?”

Danielle shrugged, “I just think you should find out what you’re getting into. This is a lot more than a crazy girl with a few stray voices in her head,” The woman stood and began collecting her paper. “But you already knew that.”

Tawny made a frustrated sound, “A friend who sees the past, a friend who sees the future, and no one will tell me what’s going on.”

“You know we can’t. She’s the only one with the right to explain herself.”

“She will. I trust her. I love her.”

“You also loved your husband.”

The two friends stared at each other, one knowing and one scared. Then the green-haired girl stood and left to join the others in the game room.

-12-

Laughter and dancing.

Friends and food.

A whisper in an ear,

“Why did you kill them?”

“My boyfriend left me for another woman.”

“So you killed him?”

“I found out when he told me he was on his honeymoon.

“So I shot him.

“In the shower.”

Tawny paused for a long while before she could finally choke out, “And your parents?”

Hope kept looking straight at the screen and the others cursing over their video game, “They wanted to send me to a mental hospital,” She turned and smiled happily. “I told them shooting my boyfriend isn’t crazy, and picked up an axe, ‘this is crazy,’ I said, and proceeded to hack them to pieces.” The redheaded girl changed focus back to the screen. “They were delicious.”

-13-

What did I get myself into?

I’m riding with a mad woman.

A killer.

THE killer.

But…

He was cheating?

Then I was…

The other woman.

But he loved me…

Right?

The smell of salt air and dead fish wrapped around the two women while they rode into down town Corpus Christi. People from various walks of life populated the cement along the sea wall, following the paths of their daily lives. Two-story restraint. Feeding fries to the seagulls on the balcony.

“You’re sure they wanted us to come here?” Tawny asked Hope over her burger.

“Yes. They wanted me at the Father’s island when the realms are close.”

“That would be Padre Island, tonight.”

Hope gave Tawny an inquisitive look.

“You’ve met my friends.”

A nod, “Freedom?”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you.”

Tawny looked back down at her burger. The two sat in silence, or as much as the birds would allow, and watches the people move across the pavement below.

-14-

“So it is written.

So it shall be.”

Along the beach, a number of small gatherings and single individuals were playing out their rituals under the light of the moon. Some did so out of true belief, and sense of self-discovery; while some did so as to get a thrill or because “witches are cool.”

But while the others did their relatively harmless rituals, one group prayed to much darker forces. Tawny and Hope found them circled around a young woman, chanting as she stood in naked ecstasy.

“Looks like they found a new vessel,” Hope murmured.

Tawny gave her a confused look, “What exactly are they trying to do?”

“They want to come to earth. To do so they need a sacrifice to act as a portal.”

“And they wanted you.”

“They want to live forever,” Hope trudged forward before Tawny could question her, up to the circle of ritual. The chanting became louder and the sacrifice became ever more joyous as she felt her soul open up to her masters. A jingle of chain and a scythe flew past the bodies of the other members, into the flesh of the sacrifice.

Blood poured out of the girl’s wound. The blade was jerked out by the chain and the other members stared in horror while the girl’s innards spilled out onto the sand.

The members slowly turned to Hope and Tawny, just as the green-haired woman asked her partner:

“Where do you keep pulling that scythe from?”

-15-

“We are glad that you made it this far,” The circle chanted in unison, staring blankly at the two women.

“But we are disappointed in our Hope.

She was not supposed to get attached

To someone as unclean as you.”

Tawny stepped in front of Hope, “I’m unclean, huh?” She reached for her gun, but before she could pull it a hand was on her arm. She looked back at Hope, who stared intently at the circle of followers. The girl pushed Tawny gently behind her and walked slowly forward.”

“The unclean ones are you, who hide behind followers unfit to do your bidding.” She stopped, grabbed her head, “You, who seek evil power through neutral vessels.” Heavy footsteps forward into the small mass, “You…used…me…” She reached the center of the circle. Collapsed in front of the sacrifice.

The members of the cult crept closer to Hope, began chanting as their hope stared into the red pool beneath her. Tawny stepped forward, pulled out her gun, “Stay away from her!”

One of the followers turned to her, making eye contact. Tawny tried to aim at him, but couldn’t move her arms. Panic set in. She struggled and fought and screamed, but could not move her body.

“Hope!” She screamed.

The chanting grew louder.

“Hope!” She fought against the spell.

The red-haired woman bent down to the pool.

“Hope!” A single tear down her face.

Long drink.

Hope.

The chanting stopped. Hope choked. Writhed. Threw her body back, arching over her own ankles. Tawny watched the woman who killed her husband, the woman she fell in love with, as she pushed herself to a standing position. Slow turn. Quiet chanting from many voices. From one mouth.

Tawny’s arms became her own again. She swung the gun to the being before her. Full-bellied laughs shook the feminine shoulders, “You think you can kill us? We have her now. We have her, and her power.” Arms thrown wide, “Just try to kill us. Try to kill Death.” Tawny saw as a familiar glint appeared in the green eyes, and heard a familiar voice within the others, “Go on. Kill the Grim Reaper.”

Just close your eyes.

You can do this.

Pull the trigger.

Freedom.

Crack of gunshot in the air. A woman’s body falls to the sand. Red hair blends with mixing blood. The members of the cult look from the body to each other, wonder what to do now. Some begin to cry. Some scream. Some shout angrily at the murderer. Some sit silently in shock. Then one falls to the ground. Then another. Then two more. Soon the group is silent in the sand, never to stir again. Tawny stands still, silently watching all this. Not knowing what is going on. Not really caring. A tap on her shoulder, and she turns around to see a red-haired woman standing in a while dress, hands draped across the long handle of a scythe which sits across her shoulders.

“Hey babe.”

Tawny placed a hand on her hip, “So this is your big secret? You’re Death?”

“Yup. Pretty simple, huh?”

“And you didn’t tell me because?”

Hope leaned forward and kissed her love, “Thank you, Freedom.” She turned and walked out toward the water.

“That doesn’t get you out of answering me!”

A wave behind, “See you later.”

Tawny sighed, then smiled and waved back.

See ya.

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