Steve glances in both directions. Closed doors line the hall, a corner in one direction and the beaded curtain to the exit in the other. Music thunders shaking the floor. Even the air seems to shimmer, and the walls ripple like waves of rising heat. The pounding grows in his head.
The quiet place. He needs the quiet place, away from music where he can think and slip away from whatever is about to happen. Who knows he is here? The exotic dancer knows. Yasmine knows. And Kandy. He barely understands where, or more precisely when, the Sanctuary of Sin is located. Somewhere, buried within the shadows of time.
Turning away from the beads, he glides down the hall. The thundering bass continues shaking the building. Recalling Kandy’s house, her cat, Lucifer, on the stairs, the ease of stepping into the shadows, he tries to relax, let his mind go.
The music pounds into his head.
Around the corner, he spots a glowing exit sign at the end of the hall. Quickly, he strides towards the sign passing more closed doors. Imagining Kandy holding his hand, he puts his mind in the same frame as when they glided down the stairs in the apartment building, two ghosts passing a person frozen in time. Instead of silence, he hears his heart thumping in his ears.
A door swings open on the side. Out of the shadows, a hand rises holding a gun.
Gazing into the room, he sees the outline of a slender man with shaggy hair. Two points of red, burning embers of an Itoril stare back at him. He watches the finger squeeze the trigger, the hammer flying, and a flicker of light. In the spark of the silent gunshot, he spots the shooter’s face. The lanky fellow from Torx’s apartment, Zee, the musician in Kandy’s band. The light fades leaving two glowing orbs.
The quiet place.
A streak extends from the barrel, the bullet slowing, losing substance. And he realizes his mistake. His step carries him into the line of fire, the streak piercing his gut. Instead of a quick sting, he feels the bullet ripping through his flesh, burning hot. A heartbeat pounds his head. Flesh splits open, slowly, but he keeps going deeper into the quiet place.
Concentrating on Kandy’s home, outside the empty bedroom, he reaches out for the ghostly hall. Sabrina sleeps in her bedroom, and Kandy relaxes on the sofa in her basement. There in the hall, Lucifer watches the stairs.
The bullet lets go, and he tumbles over landing on carpet.
Steve cries out hearing his voice. His gut fills with pain, and his heart thumps in his head. Rolling over, he grabs the side of his stomach feeling warm blood soaking his shirt. He cries out again.
The floor bounces. Voices.
He opens his eyes finding movement in the dark hall. Blinking clears his vision. Horror covers Sabrina’s face, and confusing fills Kandy’s eyes. Gut crying out, he squeezes feeling blood flowing over his hand.
“Dammit Steve!” Kandy pulls at his hand. “What the hell happened?”
He takes in a breath, lungs burning, and he grimaces. “My timing was off.”
“Sabrina!” Kandy snaps her fingers. “First aid kit from the bathroom.”
Sabrina frowns and slips away, floor shaking.
“Steve, what the hell?”
“Like I said.” Sharp pain rumbles up into his chest. The Sanctuary of Sin is more than a memory lost in time. The pain, the torn flesh. The quiet place is a conduit through the shadows connecting two strands of memories within the fabric of the universe. Here he is back at the top of the stairs where he briefly left the cat, but now with a hole in his gut. A giggle rises, but the pain cuts it off. He gazes down finding Kandy ripping the buttons on his expensive shirt soaked in blood. His side is a mess of torn flesh.
Kandy sours her face.
The floor shudders. A metal box squeaks open.
Grabbing white pads, Kandy dabs the blood. She glances back. “Now, go to your room.” Sabrina stomps away and slams her door closed.
“Looks like it didn’t make it through.” Dropping the pad, she grabs another and holds it to his chest. “Bleeding like a bitch, though.”
Heart settles down, and he takes a deep breath. “The Sanctuary of Sin.”
“What about it?”
“That’s where he shot me.”
Kandy snatches another pad from the kit and presses it over the wound. “That club has been gone for years.”
“That’s where he shot me.”
“Your friend, Zee.”
Kandy laughs. Holding up her arms, she leans and sways, mimicking the man. “Zee can’t walk straight. Sure as shit, he can’t shoot straight.”
He chuckles at the comedic imitation. It hurts, but laughter feels good.
“Steve, you’re confused.” Kandy cuts a length of gauze. She licks her lips. “Damn you smell good.”
Nausea waves over, and his vision blurs. “I don’t feel so good.”
Throwing her leg over, Kandy straddles him. She holds the compress down with one hand and digs through the kit with the other. “You need stitches.”
“Sew me up before I ruin your carpet.”
The house creaks. Paws pad the carpet, and Lucifer appears, nose sniffing.
Looking up, he finds Kandy staring down at his gut. She lifts the compress and watches blood gurgle out of the wound. Her eyes grow large, and her mouth unhinges. She appears lost. Or taken.
The blood has her.
“Kandy!” Pain lurches within, and he grinds his teeth. “Focus, please.”
Tossing the blood-soaked pad aside, she dives in, tongue lapping his gut. Her teeth scrape flesh, nibbling at the wound. As her tongue digs inside, pain shoots through his gut, and he screams. Holding him down, Kandy continues slurping blood.
Steve squirms, but she has him held tight. Each nibble sends a torrent of pain shooting through him, and his heart races pounding into his ears. Vision blurs, and he cries out. Fist balled, he pulls his hand free and punches hitting the side of her head. The slurping gives way to carnal grunts and biting. Deep bites.
He screams emptying his lungs.
The fire in his gut fades, and something cools his insides. Venom. Pulling back his arm, he punches again cracking his knuckles against her head.
Kandy rears back, blood dripping off her chin. She cries out something, and the rage in her face fades. Her grip loosens.
Pushing Kandy back, he sits up. The pain is manageable, but blood pours out from the torn flesh. He holds the wound tight, and turns his attention on Kandy.
Shock consumes her face, eyes wide and distant. Her flesh turns pasty and dry. Dark cracks erupt on her cheeks and lips. Her hair pales, graying. She tumbles over onto her back.
The door at the end of the hall stands open a crack, the slender line of light lighting up Sabrina’s shocked face. She slams the door shut.
Hand on the wound, Steve rolls onto his knees, and gazes down at Kandy. She appears like a corpse, frozen with cold eyes staring at the ceiling. He presses his palm to her chest. No heartbeat. Unlike vampires of folklore, Itoril have hearts pumping blood through their bodies like everyone else. He feels a thump and then another. Her heart rate is slow, too slow, even for an Itoril.
“Need help.” He winces at the sharp pain and tries again. “Sabrina, we need help here.” Where to go? Not a hospital. Do Itoril have physicians? There is one individual that might now what to do. Yasmine.
Holding his gut, he climbs to his feet and searches for the quiet place, the creeping shadows. The floor sways throwing his feet, his shoulder crashes into the wall, and he grimaces against the pain in his gut. His visions blurs. Blood oozes between fingers. He moves along the wall. A dark fog rises, swirling around his feet.
Shadows creep over erasing the walls, the floor. The ceiling crumbles away, and the sky opens up into a storm of dark violets.
Steve concentrates on Yasmine. He pictures her home above Necropolis, the dark stairs leading up to the doorway. The fog licks his face, and he shivers. He sees the stairs rising out of the darkness. The violet sky fades away. A door. Instead of reaching for the brass doorknob, he stumbles through the door, a ghost passing into a room. His silent steps meet red-and-white checkerboard floor.
Lit by a waving veil of golden light within a dark alcove, a porcelain tub cradles a woman submerged in bubbles. Eyes closed, laying back, blonde hair reaching the floor, her arm out over the edge, she holds a wine glass cupped in her hand.
Eyes adjusting, the room brightens. The alcove is a fireplace set into the wall, and the golden veil is fire waving in slow motion. Glowing haze leaps up, wriggles splashing light onto the floor and tub, and fades.
Looking at the wine glass, he watches the red contents lean at an angle, ringing the edge, a wave crashing back in on itself. The wave increases in speed, swirling. The fire crackles.
Yasmine opens her eyes. Surprise floods her face quickly replaced by a grin.
“Steve,” says Yasmine. Her giggle races around the windowless room. “How delightfully naughty of you watching me bathe.”
“Kandy needs your help.” An explosion of dazzling sparks, and he winces.
Her grin fades, and she sits up, water draining from her shoulders. “You’re bleeding all over my floor.”
“Kandy.” Nausea waves over, and the room spins. The floor strikes his knees.