Watching the wraith emerge from the vortex, I pull my blade free and toss the sheath aside. Dressed in a black cloak, his splotchy, cracked skull peeks out from beneath the hood. He gazes at me with his pinpoints of light within eye sockets, violet smoke spilling down over jagged cheek bones. From between his rotten teeth, smoke gathers around his slender fangs and drips like blood onto his cloak. Preparing to strike, I hold my sword overhead.
He speaks, not with a voice in this silent world, but an invading thought inside my head sending a shower of painful prickles down into my neck.
Kandy, will you bleed for me?
Here on this side, I imagine is the only place I can kill the wraith. My churning gut reminds me this is his home where he has the advantage. If only I can catch the creature off-guard moving between worlds.
Attacking, I slash down at his head. He drifts backward evading my blade. I continue the attack, but he moves away leaving me in his smoky trail, and that stupid dead grin of his taunting me. The world darkens around me, and I realize I’m within the shadows passing back into my world. Walls appear blocking out the purple sky, and ghostly forms rise out of the darkness behind the wraith. Before he can reach the other side, I lunge, my sword slicing through churning black-and-violet mist and into his neck.
Thundering drums crack the silence, light explodes, and the scent of sweat and blood fills my nostrils. My sword slices flesh, bone, and zips through the air spraying a crimson streak across a mirror and one of the light bulbs surrounding the reflection of the dressing room.
The shocked face before me turns away, head toppling over. The body collapses to the floor.
Stratton lays dead at my feet, and his bodyguard stares down at it, stunned.
Pushing away thoughts about how the wraith tricked me and the consequences of murdering my employer, I circle around searching the dressing room for the wraith. Including the bodyguard, Stratton’s body, and a dancing girl cowering in the corner beside the lockers, nobody that matters occupies the room. Not on this side of the shadows anyway.
Crossing over, I find the wraith reaching for me with his talons. Diving into a roll, I leap up and spin around slashing at my foe. Instead of the skull, I find the face of my mentor—my friend, Steve Reynolds. His nebulous, purple eyes fade leaving normal blue eyes gazing back at me. His cool hands wrap over mine pulling the sword free.
The sky darkens, ghostly forms rise up like smoke, and I find the dance floor of Necropolis. Some of the patrons glance around in confusion while others storm up the stairs for the exit. The music hits me like a brick. Steve twirls around, dancing with me. He’s wearing his suit, of course, his tie streaming from his neck. As I spot the light flickering off the blade, the gravity of it all falls upon me. I take a step back into the shadows, music fading.
Cold slices through my neck.
My head fails to respond, but my eyes manage a look around. I’m on the floor, the black-and-white checkerboard of my club. A wood shelf disrupts the surface blocking my view of the entrance. I can’t quite see the beaded curtain at the back, but there appears to be shelves lining the wall. Relaxing my eyes, I find Steve Reynolds standing over me. I try to speak, but my mouth fails. As Steve kneels down beside me, I see tears spilling down his cheeks.
My life doesn’t flash before my eyes, and I realize in a way, it has been passing before me since this very day Steve stole my memories. Time is a collection of ghosts.
Don’t forget me, Steve.
He doesn’t see her lips move, or hear a voice. He reads her thought inside his head.
“Never,” he says.
Glancing around the room at the brightly packaged albums, he smiles.
“Look, Kandy. It’s your record store. How odd is this?”
It’s the same place, the same position on the floor, only now their roles reversed. Instead of the Sanctuary of Sin, it’s Kandy Fangs, a music store. History changed along with their memories, a life the two of them shared together at the most intimate level.
Remembering the note, he reaches into her pocket and removes the crumpled paper. Unfolding the kill order, he reads the fine script.
Steve Reynolds a.k.a Ezekiel.
It’s her handwriting.
The theft of her memories is a terrible crime, but she pushed him to this final dance. It’s about retirement. She chose him to replace her. In the spirit of a killer, she made him fight for it. Their intermingling memories somehow lifted a few strands out of Fate’s tapestry turning her club into a record store.
Eating memories is a dangerous game.
Pushing his hand across the gore beneath the half-severed head, he props her body up. His other hand beneath her thighs, he scoops her into his arms. Turning, he steps into the quiet place and crosses the shadows into the other world. Selecting a spot in the endless desert, he sets her down and returns fetching some tools.
Slamming the pick into the hard soil, Steve breaks the ground beneath the violet storm reaching for each horizon. There is no sound, just the vibration of each strike climbing his arms. The work is slow and tiring, but he manages a trench. Switching to the shovel, he digs a hole. The dry grit becomes easier with depth and soon, he stands beneath the surface. Looking up, he watches the churning sea of clouds drift by. It might be night, but there is no way of knowing. No stars or sun, just the everlasting storm lighting the world.
Purple Hell. It’s a good enough name.
Climbing out of the hole, he finds three wraiths standing several meters away. Here on this side of the shadows, their features stand out even though they remain dark and nearly ethereal. They each wear skirts flowing about their ankles. He imagines the skirts once had color. One in blue for the warriors of the north. Another, a dark green worn by the wizards in the east. And the third, violet, the color of the royal guard. Perhaps these are Kandy’s ancestors come to mourn her passing, or welcome her home.
Kneeling on the hard ground, Steve slides the body down into the grave. Grabbing the shovel, he stands and begins filling the hole. A drop splashes on his shoulder, and another on his head. Red splats on the ground.
Looking up, he watches the red rain. Purple Hell cries for her.
Spinning around, Steve Reynolds spots the bike messenger squealing to a stop at the curb. She pulls her messenger bag from her shoulder and opens the flap. In her bottle cage is a black aluminum can with silver-and-blue writing.
“What’s your drink?”
“Vampire Ice,” says the bike messenger. She rummages through the bag. “A new energy drink and addictive.”
“I bet it is.” Naturally, the new drink dispels the venom rumors.
“Here it is.” She pulls out an envelope, same size as all the others. “You need an office,” she says with a laugh. “It would make tracking you down much easier.”
“Sounds like a wonderful idea. Do you have any suggestions?”
Twisting around, ratty hair flipping over shoulder, she gazes back up the street. “Yeah, there’s an empty space just five blocks from here. You’ll see the signs.”
Steve tips the messenger, shoves the envelope under his arm, and walks up to the police station doors. The detective meets him in the lobby with a huge smile.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” says Detective Silver. “Your wife will be so happy to see you again. They are on their way now.”
The name, Steve Reynolds, is his at last. He still does not remember where the name, Ezekiel, comes from. Maybe another memory, but it doesn’t really matter. He has a wife and a daughter, a step-daughter, but his girl just the same. They can go to the movies, trick-or-treat, or whatever. Fate? Her tapestry may have changed the memory of the world, but this is Yasmine’s doing. Another envelope full of money confirms it. The Itoril woman runs Roseland now.
“I’m just sorry I couldn’t have been more help with your investigation,” he says. Of course, he can’t mention the identity of the killer, the body that left the streaks of blood on the dance floor, or even the other body in the locker room. Would anyone even believe such a confession?
“Not to worry,” says the detective. “It’s only been a few days. Forensics is still going over everything.”
“Of course,” says Steve, smiling. “Good luck with your investigation.”
Silver extends his hand. “Have you learned anything about your past?”
Giving the hand a firm shake, Steve considers the question. There is no past. No future. There is only the ever changing fabric of the universe pushing around bits of information leaving ghosts—memories.
“No, can’t really say I did.”
Life is a memory, a blood-spattered stain on the cosmos where ghosts relive every moment. Before his eyes, another life flashes, ghostly moments of love, sadness, anger, and joy from birth to death, indescribable sweetness. If he looks deep within the murk of stolen memories, near the cinnamon and lavender scents, among the knowledge of weapon skills, down in the blood of it all, he’ll find me and my fangs.
Big thanks to Carrie and Jason.
David G Shrock