The low hanging sun was slowly setting to the west, slicing through the darkening evening sky turning it a bright reddish-orange. A dented chipped Ford blazed a fierce path down the empty desert highway. Inside the car, warm air blew out the vents, blowing stringy blonde hair. The AM radio cracked out the crooning voice of George Jones.
The young woman behind the wheel nervously kept checking and re-checking the mirrors. With each check, she expected something to be there, following; each time she looked and found the mirrors still empty she was afforded a moment of relief.
The car continued on into the night, driving away from the dying sun.
- - - - - - - - - -
The State Patrol cruiser slowly rolled to a stop. Corrin Adams exited the cruiser and followed at her partner's heels.
"This, Corrin, is Mary's Truck Stop and Diner, the finest and only place to stop for food on this godforsaken highway."
Corrin nodded and removed her hat. She was 22 years old and had just started working for the Arizona State Troopers. Until she finished her probation she was partnered with James Addler. The older man wasn't too bad; she could have done a lot worse, and he didn't pull a lot of that old boys' club shit.
As they entered the restaurant an older woman with tight curly purple hair came running up and gave James a hug. Corrin took a double take at the purple hair.
"Officer Addler, I haven't seen you in awhile," the purple-haired woman stated with a slap to the man's slightly bulging stomach. "Who's this?" She had let go of James and gave her attention to the woman standing there. "My, aren't you a tall drink of water. What are you, six foot?"
Corrin blushed, "I'm only 5'10", ma'am."
"And built like a brick house. Look at those shoulders and that stomach, not an inch of fat." Corrin turned even redder.
"Mary, quit teasing the rookie," James broke in, trying to prevent the corners of his mouth from curling up into a smile. "Mary, this here is Corrin Adams."
Corrin stuck out her hand only have it ignored as Mary gave her a bone-crushing hug. For an older woman Mary seemed to be as strong as a bear.
"Follow me and I'll show you two to a booth."
As they sat down Mary poured them each a cup of coffee and promised to be right back for their orders.
James sipped his coffee and gave a sigh. "Best coffee in Arizona."
He sipped his coffee again. "Corrin, on a serious note, Mary's is a good place for info. She has an amazing ability to read people. If she ever tells you anyone looks off or wrong, listen to her and follow it up. She can spot a drug dealer or a truck driver who's running on fumes. She even once helped bag a kidnapper and a man wanted for murdering his family."
Corrin's jaw dropped open in amazement.
James gave a chuckle. "I don't shit. I think she must have worked for the FBI before opening this place."
Corrin closed her mouth. "Gotcha. Mary's the woman in the loop."
He nodded, swallowing some more of his coffee.
Mary returned for their orders. James ordered a burger and fries.
"How about you, tall, dark, and lovely?" Mary asked with a wink.
Corrin choked on her coffee. "Uh, just a chicken caser."
"You got it."
"So, Mary, anything going on we should know about?" James asked.
"Had a driver for Royal Trucking headed north - he was burning it at both ends. The booth in the back with three young men, one white and two Hispanic, doped up on something."
Corrin glanced to the right. She could see three young men in baggy jeans and shirts huddled around the table whispering.
"Thanks, Mary. I'll get a call into Paul and have him keep an eye out for that trucker and we'll check on the boys."
Mary gave another wink and took their orders to the kitchen.
- - - - - - -
The blue Ford pulled into a spot in the gravel parking lot of Mary's. Scared eyes quickly looked around at the rest of the cars and trucks sitting there. She pulled the keys from the ignition, reached over to open the glove box, and pulled out a dark gray canvas wallet stained a darker black in areas. As she pulled out the wallet, another object came out with it and fell to the floor. Green eyes watched it fall and hit the floor of the car with a meaty smack. In the garish light from the diner she could see the pale flesh, the protruding whiteness of bone, and the faint crimson splashes of blood. Her eyes were riveted to the red wetness and a shiver raced up her spine, causing the flesh to goose pimple. She shut the glove box and picked up the thumb.
As she walked toward the diner she threw it into some bushes. She nervously wiped her hands on her jeans and absently stuck her own thumb in her mouth, removing a smear of red.
She entered the diner. Looking around she got a sinking feeling in her stomach sank as she saw two cops sitting at a table. Nervously she wiped her hands again.
"Hey there. What can I do for you?"
She looked at the older woman, taking in her purple hair and kind smile. She opened her mouth to respond in a voice barely above a whisper, "I … I would like some dinner."
"Well, hun, you came to the right place."
She was seated next to a booth of young men; she barely even glanced at them. She had looked into the Devil's eyes; what did she have to fear from horny adolescent boys? Blinking, she realized the waitress had asked her something. "What?"
"Hun, I asked if you knew what you wanted."
"Uh, yes. A steak as rare as you can serve and a large glass of milk."
"Coming right up."
As the waitress left she turned her eyes towards the windows, looking for something, hoping never to see it.
-- -- - - -
Corrin looked up as Mary came by to refill her coffee. "The girl in the booth next to the boys."
Corrin turned her head to look and then nodded to show that she saw her.
"She's in some deep shit. Probably running from somebody abusive."
Corrin nodded again. She covertly studied the blonde. The girl had long blonde hair that was pulled back in a ponytail. It was limp and greasy; she probably hadn't showered in a couple of days. Green eyes were dull and large dark circles rested under those eyes. The body language screamed tension. The girl was ready to bolt.
James came back and slid into the booth. "What's up?"
"The blonde. What's your take?"
He paused for a moment. "Abuse, a boyfriend, maybe her father."
"That's what I was thinking."
- - - - - - - - -
She was wolfing down her food, chewing just enough to let the juices flow out of the meat and into her mouth and throat. She didn't even pause as she felt the plastic seat of the booth dip down with the added weight of another body.
"Hey, girl; what's your name, pretty thing?"
She almost laughed at the juvenileness of the pickup line, but food was more important. She was so hungry. She nearly growled as her hand was grabbed, stopping the food before it got to her mouth.
"Bitch, I asked you a question."
She looked up blankly into the face of the person who had stopped her feeding. Another boy behind her laughed. "Shit, dude; she's so strung out she probably doesn't even know her name."
She had a name. Her forehead crinkled in thought. It had been months since she'd been little more than a thing to be used. Her mind shuddered away from those memories, looking elsewhere. Harley - her name was Harley. She smiled; she had a name.
"What's so funny, bitch?" the boy next to her said, trying to be menacing.
She looked at him. His scrawny skinny pale arms had thin blue veins etched strongly under the skin, helping to traffic the flow of blood. She took in his shaved head, narrow weasel shaped face, and beady brown eyes. There was nothing to fear from this piece of flesh. She tried to move her hand but he grabbed tighter and this time she did growl, her eyes zeroing in on his hand.
"What the fuck? Don't make me smack you up, bitch."
She growled again and bit his hand at the wrist. The boy screamed and his two friends laughed at his expense. Harley smiled and then shoveled a piece of red steak into her mouth, chewing happily.
She growled again, realizing the boy hadn't left. "Go away," she said, shoving him out of the seat and onto the floor, causing his two friends to laugh even harder.
As he was getting back up, a smooth commanding alto voice broke in, "Is there a problem here?"
"No, Officer, no problem," the two Hispanic boys spoke up.
"That bitch bit me."
Harley shrugged. "He came into my booth, sat down uninvited, and then grabbed me."
"I see. I want you boys to pay your bill and clear out. If you don't, I'll go search your car."
The youths, thinking about the bag of pot and tabs of acid in the car, quickly agreed and left the booth.
Harley paid little attention to it, returning again to the pleasure of food. It took her a moment to realize that the body attached to the alto voice was still standing there. She paused and looked up from her food; her stomach lurched as she took in the State Trooper's tan uniform. She gulped slightly. It was a woman towering over her booth with short curly brown hair and piercing pale blue eyes. Those eyes seemed to cut through her for a moment and Harley nearly panicked, thinking, 'She knows. She can see into my soul and she knows'.
She slowly set her fork down on her plate, using the moment to collect herself. "Can I help you, ah, Officer Adams?"
Corrin stared at the piece of steak on the girl's plate; she thought the thing might still be mooing. "Oh, um, I was just wondering if you were okay, Miss."
The girl looked up, giving a demure smile. "It's Harley, Officer, and I'm fine. Thank you for stepping in."
Corrin thought the smile slightly macabre considering the girl's lips were stained a liquid red from the steak she was eating. "That's what I do. Um … look, me and my partner are sitting right over there if you want to talk or if you're in any kind of trouble."
Harley blinked, her muscles tensed to bolt, and then she relaxed, "Thank you again, Officer, but I'm not in any trouble." To herself Harley thought, 'At least nothing you could help me with'.
"Okay, but the offer still stands," Corrin said, waiting a moment, but the girl returned to her food with a vengeance that was kind of sickening. She returned to the table where James was paying the bill.
"You get the little bit's story?" James asked, looking up.
"No. I scared off the punks, but I get the feeling she may not have needed my help."
James gave a snort. "A little thing like her? Right."
"I could have sworn she was growling when I came up to the table."
"Come on. She looks a little wild but growling?"
"Yeah, probably just hearing things."
"Come on; let's go."
Mary gave them both hugs as they left.
Their boots crunched on the gravel as they walked over to the cruiser. Out of the corner of her eye Corrin caught a glimpse of a vehicle that hadn't been in the lot when they had pulled in.
"Hey, James, what's the description of that car we were supposed to keep an eye out for?"
"What? The rapist?"
"Uh … blue Ford Mustang, I think. It had California plates."
Corrin jerked her thumb. "That piece of shit over there is blue with California plates."
"Let's take a look."
Harley looked on nervously as the two troopers approached her car, and then let out a sigh as they walked off, got in to their cruiser, and drove off.
- - - - - - -
James and Corrin pulled to a stop behind a large rig, which allowed them to watch the road without being seen themselves. James put down the CB, his brown eyes slightly wide. "Good catch, kid. We got a positive match on the plate. It belongs to one Herbert Franks; he's wanted for questioning on four rapes."
"I didn't see anybody in the diner that fit his description."
"Maybe he's slinking around outside in the shadows looking for number five?"
She nodded but she was starting to get a very bad feeling in her gut.
They sat there for maybe twenty more minutes until they saw the car pull out onto the highway.
"Shit," James said and he pulled out, flashing his lights. The car didn't slow down; in fact it sped up even more. "Corrin, get on the horn. See if anybody's nearby, traveling west."
She nodded and made the call.
Harley's eyes widened as she saw the lights in her mirror. "Fuck," she whispered and pressed the accelerator to the floor; she didn't have time to mess with the cops. She needed to get away, put more distance between her and him.
"Fuck, he's doing nearly 95. Thank God this stretch of highway is quiet this time of night," James shouted out.
"I got a hold of Eddie and Jon; they're going to try and set up a roadblock."
"Good, kid; my night's getting better."
Harley tried to urge more speed out of the junker but it wasn't giving it. It tapped out at 100 mph. She could see red flashing lights following behind her and they seemed to be catching up. Fuck. She had nowhere to hide; it was a fucking wide open desert. She came over a slight rise and her eyes widened. There were two cruisers blocking the road. Distantly she could hear a voice commanding her to stop. Time was running out. She could try to ram through and hope the blue piece of shit made it or try to go around and hope she didn't puncture a tire in the black shrouded desert.
Suddenly there was a popping noise and a tire blew out, jerking the car to the left. The wheel snapped out of her hand, and as she ran off the highway, the car dipped low and she smacked her head on the steering wheel. The car plowed through sand, rock, and cactus patches. The front hit a large boulder, flipping the car, and it slid a few more feet before coming finally to rest. The lights were busted out in the front while the back glowed an eerie red, highlighting a portion of the desert night in crimson. The AM radio played "Hooked on a Feeling" and a pale hand pressed against the driver-side window smeared a bloody handprint.
"Oh shit!" Corrin yelled as she saw the car jackknife into the desert.
James came to a stop in front of the other two cruisers. He got out yelling, "What the fuck are you two doing?"
Corrin also got out, pulling her service gun and carefully walking out to the downed car.
Harley was trapped and panic was beginning to set in. Franticly she pulled at the seatbelt that held her trapped. She finally ripped it apart, freeing her suspended body, but gravity slammed her head into the roof. She gave a grunt and twisted her body around. Wiping the blood out of her vision she reached up, rolled the window down, and crawled out.
Corrin saw a body get up and begin to walk away. "I've got a body trying to run," she yelled back to the arguing officers. Then she took off, shouting for the person to stop, firing her weapon into the air when her command had no effect.
Harley heard the voice telling her to stop and she began to run. She couldn't stop; she needed to get away. She flinched as a gun fired but kept going.
"Damn it," Corrin muttered and took off, her booted feet digging into the sand. Her long legs ate up the distance between her and the runner; she leapt, bringing the person down in a tackle. She leaned up, holding the struggling the figure down. "You have the right to remain...Harley?" She stopped; it was the blonde from the diner. Poor girl. Herbert must have gotten her.
Harley didn't care if it was the nice cop from the diner; she needed to get away and the cop was hindering that. She growled and brought her hand up; that hand had managed to grab hold of a rock. She swung, catching the officer in the jaw. Corrin went sprawling into the sand and dirt. Harley staggered up and started to walk away.
"Freeze! Put your hands where I can see them," Eddie yelled, his weapon pointed at the girl's chest. The other two officers, more out of shape, were slowly catching up.
Harley narrowed her eyes, gauging her options. She dropped the rock and put her hands on top of her head. Eddie sighed and put his gun away, pulling his handcuffs out.
"You okay, Adams?"
She nodded, getting up and rubbing her jaw. "Hey, Addler. It's not him. It's the girl from the diner. Check the car; he may still be inside," she called out.
James, wheezing, nodded; he and Jon stopped before walking over to check the car out.
Harley watched the baldheaded black-mustached officer approach her. As he got her first hand into the cuff, she felt him relax. She turned her free hand against his thumb, freeing herself. She quickly grabbed his arm, and with a strength that seemed far larger than she was, she whipped him around and into Corrin. They both fell to the ground in a heap. She turned and sprinted away.
Gunfire cracked out and the blonde fell with a boneless grace into the rock and sand.
- - - - - - --
Corrin sat in the back of the cruiser with the girl. The blonde's head was pillowed on her lap and she was applying pressure to the bleeding wound in her shoulder. The bleeding seemed to be slowing down but she wasn't sure; the girl hadn't regained consciousness since she'd collapsed to the desert ground. "How much farther?" she questioned.
James didn't look back. "Another 10 to 15 minutes."
"This doctor is expecting us?"
"Yeah, I had Jon call him and make sure he and his staff were up. All the town of Infierno Cocina has is small local clinic, but it's the nearest thing."
She just grunted.
- - - - - -
Franklin Halstead wasn't feeling so good; the bite on his wrist throbbed. 'Bitch,' he thought darkly. If he saw that freak again he'd show her. Damn, he was warm; sweat was starting to roll down his skin. He wiped his forehead and rolled down the window.
"Dude. It's cold out. Roll that back up," Mark shouted from the front seat.
"I'm hot, so shut it, wetback," he yelled back
Both Hispanic youths yelled at him, "Wetback? You fucking gringo!"
"Just watch it, asshole, or this wetback will be dumping your ass in the desert and letting it walk home," Hector shouted from the driver's seat.
"Jesus, I'm sorry," Franklin said, wiping his forehead again.
"Dude, are you okay? You're not looking so well. Maybe that bitch back at the diner had some disease."
"I'm fine," he shouted.
The two youths went back to talking, ignoring Franklin in the back.
He watched the sign flash by proclaiming only 8 more miles to Nettles. 'Almost home,' he thought. Maybe there had been something in that pot, but Hector and Mark seemed to be fine. His stomach cramped and he let out a moan.
"Shit, dude. No puking in my car."
"I'm fine," he wheezed out. There was a faint buzzing in his head, and his limbs felt tingly. He almost felt like there was somebody else inside his body, looking through it.
As the car turned the corner they saw another car stopped on the side of the road. A shapely ass and two just-as-nice legs were visible from the road; the upper body was hidden under the hood of the car.
"Damn, boys; would you look at that?"
"I think she might need our help."
Hector slowed the car down and came to a stop. He rolled down the window and nearly drooled on himself as not one, but two, extremely hot ladies walked over to the window.
"Uh … you ladies need some help?" he said, trying to inconspicuously adjust himself.
The blonde came forward, leaving the African-American woman to blend in with the night. "Oh, yes. Thank you so much for stopping," she said in a breathy whisper.
Franklin wanted to tell his friends to drive off. There was something wrong here, but then his brown eyes caught hers and he was lost in their cold hardness. Her eyes widened, catching his, and then she smiled a wicked smile. Something passed between them; his muscles became locked and his voice no longer worked.
"Yes, " she cooed, "my friend and I seem to be having some car trouble. Do you think you two could help us?"
"Oh yeah." Hector nodded, opening his door and springing out of the seat, followed closely by Mark. Neither one noticed that Franklin wasn't moving. Franklin whimpered, watching his friends go.
Hector stared at the engine. "Um, what seems to be the problem? From what I can see, everything's fine. How about you, Mark?" he asked his friend.
"The engine looks good. Maybe it just overheated?"
"My mistake, boys. It looks like I don't need your help after all," the blonde purred out.
Franklin wanted to scream and run but he remained immobile in the back seat. The door flew open and the blonde's face appeared. Her face was cold and white. Her eyes were calculating and aloof, the eyes of a predator; they seemed to say, 'Nothing personal - just survival of the fittest'. Red streaks ran from her mouth down her chin and darkened the yellow T-shirt she was wearing. The shirt, now wet and tight, highlighted her breasts and he could see her nipples straining against the material. Darkness appeared at her shoulder and formed into the shape of another woman, a shadow at the blonde's elbow. A voice came from the shadow; it was thick with an accent he'd never heard.
"This puppy has information on our little runner."
The blonde smiled. "Oh yeah. Puppy here has come into personal contact with our little runner. Haven't you, Puppy?"
Franklin felt the buzzing in his head get louder. They were waiting for him to answer but he was scared and confused; he didn't know what they wanted from him.
"Oh look, Puppy is scared. He piddled on himself." Both women laughed and the blonde turned away, walking toward the Mercedes. "Tasha, bring the new pet. The moonlight won't last forever."
The black woman reached forward, dragged him out of the car, and tossed him in the back seat of the Mercedes. Then she got in on the passenger side. The blonde turned and looked at boy cowering in the backseat. "Well, Franklin, looks like you just became our bitch." She gave a laugh and started up the car. The headlights came on, piercing the night, highlighting two bodies staring sightlessly into the infinity of the night sky. The dry earth under their bodies was stained a brownish red.
- - - - - - - - - -
Corrin sat in the uncomfortable plastic chair, waiting for either the doctor or her partner to show up and give her information. She sighed and rested her head back against the fake wood paneling of the waiting room. Her eyes were drooping closed as she heard a door click open and then shut; groaning, she opened her eyes to see who was coming. Squinting, she saw the shape of her partner walking away from the doctor's office.
She gave a weak smile. "What's the word?"
James sat down with a sigh. "I just got off the phone with Captain Phillips. He's got a wrecker on its way to pick up the car so they can take it apart for any clues on the guy. It could be we got the wrong license plate number."
She held up her hand, stopping him, and then reached down to pick up a plastic bag. "Shortly after you went to use the good doctor's phone, a nurse brought me the girl's clothes that they'd cut away to do surgery. There's nothing too exciting - shirt, shoes, undies, and jeans. However, she did have a wallet on her." Corrin reached down and picked up the wallet. "The interesting thing is it's not hers. It contains the driver's license for one Herbert Franks."
James whistled. "No shit."
"No shit," she said, flipping the wallet open to expose the gaunt balding head of Herbert.
"What do you think is going on? Was she running from him? Did she just steal his car and wallet? Or is she working with him?'
"I have no clue, partner. All I know is we most likely have Herbert Franks' car and his wallet, but we don't have Mr. Franks."
James nodded. "Hope that kid is alright, 'cause right now she's maybe the only one who has the answers." He sighed, rubbing his eyes. "Depending on what's up with the kid we either get rooms over at the motel for the night or we drive her back to Phoenix tonight."
Corrin groaned. "Sleep is sounding so good right now."
"I hear you.'
Corrin was coming back from the bathroom when she saw the doctor approach. He was an older man, maybe in his forties, probably of mixed heritage; he had salt and pepper brown hair and sharp hazel eyes. He paused before the two officers. "Officer Addler, Officer Adams," he started respectfully.
"How is she?" Corrin jumped in.
The doctor cleared his throat. "She, that is the young lady, has suffered some extreme trauma. The bullet entered the side near the shoulder, traveled through the body, and came to rest next to the spine. We were able to stop most of the internal bleeding, but felt it was best to leave the bullet where it was." He paused, giving a sheepish cough. "This is, after all, a simple country hospital, and we are not really trained for such trauma."
"We understand, Doctor, trust me. We're very thankful that you could do anything," James broke in.
"When do you think we could question her?" Corrin asked hopefully.
The doctor sighed, rubbing his eyes. "Ah, that brings up the next point. She's slipped into a coma."
"Sir, please, wait and hear me out. This girl, I don't know what happened to her but she's very lucky to be alive. She's malnourished, anemic, and has severe scarring on her wrists, back, and neck. Someone has branded an upside-down cross onto her back."
"What?" Corrin asked, dumbfounded.
James just let his mouth hang open.
"The bullet your fellow officer put in her is a very minor thing compared to the other things that have been visited upon that poor girl."
"Doctor, is there a chance that she did it to herself?"
"Officer Adams, there is always that possibility but I doubt it."
"Well shit. Doctor, is there anyway we can get in and take pictures?"
"James," Corrin hissed out, shocked.
"Corrin, that scarring sounds ritualistic, maybe the work of a cult. We get a lot of whackos out here in the desert. Shit, Doctor, you remember those cannibals about seven years ago, eating transients."
The doctor gave a shudder. "Yes, it was about 30 miles south of here, near the Diablo Horca, but if I do remember correctly the two survivors were similarly marked." He nodded his head at the memory then mumbled, "Poor bastards."
"We need photos so we can run them for a match."
"What about Franks? Maybe he did that to the girl?"
"It's possible, but if so there would be photos. We could match them."
Corrin sighed. She didn't like it; it felt like they were violating the young woman.
"I'll go get the camera but, Corrin, it would be better if you took the pictures. If the good doctor has a female assistant I'll have her help you."
The doctor nodded. Corrin just gritted her teeth and counted to ten.
- - - - -- -
Corrin sighed; holding onto the digital camera, she looked at the young woman who was to help her. "Um … Lucy was it?" The girl nodded her head, her bobbed black hair swaying. "Great. Let's get this over with. Could you just fold the sheet down and … eh." Corrin faded off. She was feeling amazingly self-conscious; this just felt wrong. She understood the need for it to be done, but damn, why did it have to be her? The girl looked relaxed as she lay there in the bed; her skin seemed even paler under the harsh fluorescent lights. She watched the girl's chest rise and fall; it was so peaceful she could almost believe Harley was just sleeping. She looked up at Lucy who was staring at her expectantly. "Oh, right. If you could just loosen the gown and then …" She paused. "Is it going to be okay to roll her on her side?"
Corrin really wanted to ask Lucy if she could speak. "Okay, um, just roll her on her side and we can do this."
Corrin watched as the hospital gown was pulled down. The girl's skin was so pale that the white bandage was almost invisible against it. "Okay, hold it. Let me get a photo of the neck from the front." She came forward, looking through the viewer; there were purple thick scars on the girl's right side from the shoulder to the neck. "Jesus, it looks like some animal mauled her, maybe a mountain lion," she thought. She clicked the camera twice, then looked up at Lucy. "Do they have any idea what might have done this to her?"
Lucy shook her head.
"Okay, let's turn her over."
Lucy turned the girl over onto her uninjured side.
"Fuck me," Corrin whispered. More bite marks trailed around to the back of the neck and down both shoulder blades. Some looked fresh, others were faded white puckered scars. However the centerpiece was the burned image of a cross down her spine; it was about five inches long, ending right above her hips. Corrin winced in sympathy. She could only imagine how it must have hurt when it happened. She focused the camera, taking shots of the marks.
"Okay, that's it. Let's give her some peace," Corrin said, relieved that she was finished.
She walked out of the room paler than when she'd gone in. James was waiting for her. "Jesus, James, what kind of warped human being does that?"
"Got me, Corrin. "
"It looks like she's been attacked by an animal, and that cross - whoever did it burnt it right along her spine."
James winced. "Whoever they are, they're one sick fuck, I'll give you that."
She wordlessly handed him the camera. "What now?'
"You go get some sleep," he said, handing her a room key. "I'm going to use the good doctor's computer to send these to the Captain, then wait for this night watchman they have here to show up. I'll watch her till he comes in then he's supposed to keep an eye on her. We can't afford to have her run again."
She nodded wordlessly. She didn't care at the moment. All she knew was there was a bed nearby waiting for her to crash into it.
- - - - - - -
Franklin summoned courage from somewhere and flung his body out of the bouncing car. They'd turned off the main highway and were traveling along a gravel and dirt washboard road. Franklin was not a brave or particularly courageous young man but he did recognize the fact that he was dead if he stayed in the car with these two predators hiding inside the skins of women. He figured his chances were better if he threw himself out of the moving vehicle.
He bounced into the road, small stones digging into the flesh of his hands, tearing them open. He bit through his bottom lip and he could taste the blood spurt back into his mouth. He shook himself like a wet dog; the world stopped moving and he got up, staggering away from the car that was slowing down.
He had gotten maybe ten feet when he was suddenly jerked up off his feet. He dangled in the air, choking for oxygen, his feet uselessly kicking. The dark skinned woman, Tasha, glared at him; holding him, she shook him and his head whipped around. When she stopped, he coughed, splashing her face with blood.
"What's this? Is puppy hurt?" the blonde spoke in a mocking tone. Coming up behind the pair, she leaned in and licked the blood from Tasha's cheek. The woman purred, closing her eyes; Tasha didn't move or blink. "He's a tasty one, and if the Master didn't want him, I'd say open him up and let's have a little party." She moved forward, grabbing Franklin's head between her hands, then she leaned forward, capturing his mouth in a brutal pillaging kiss. She finished it by sucking his split and bleeding lip into her mouth. He tried to rear his head away as the pain from his lip radiated out.
She released his head and stepped back, licking her lips. "Bring the puppy, Tasha. It's nearly time for the cock to crow and the Master wants to speak with young Franklin here."
She turned and went away, followed by her dark shadow; Franklin was pushed along between the two. Silently he cried, large fat salty tears rolling down his face, streaking through the dirt and blood.
He was placed back into the backseat. As the blonde started the car back up, she turned to him. "Feel free to try and escape again. It will break up the boredom," she said with a wicked grin.
They kept driving down the road. More and more trees began to appear; some sort of fruit tree growing wild. As they pulled out of the trees a single story ranch house appeared. It was rundown, so was the large barn towering in the distance. The windows glowed faintly with light and Franklin began to tremble as they came to stop in front of the house. The black woman opened the door and he slowly eased himself out.
A dark shape pulled away from the wall of the house and Franklin shrank back. The shape became the form of a man; he had long black hair pulled into a braid down his back and he wore a black shirt with dark blue jeans. A shotgun was cradled in his arm. He looked them over, his eyes resting on the blonde. "Catherine, that don't look like no girl; that looks like a boy."
The blonde gave a shrug. "The Master told me he had info on the girl. Apparently she bit him."
The man's black eyes got wide at that. "You think she's turned yet?"
Catherine paused, seeming to give that some thought. "No, I think it will be maybe another month. If she changed, boss man wouldn't feel her any more. It's only been two weeks since she escaped. She's probably changed enough that she can pass on the curse."
The man nodded and then snapped his fingers. Another man came out of the darkness. "Give your keys to Julius here and he'll take care of your car. San Pedro is waiting."
Catherine nodded and tossed her keys to the other man. She snapped her fingers and Tasha started pushing the boy forward into the house.
The house was basically bare; there were a few rugs and chairs and a small fire burned in the fireplace. They moved forward to a closed door. Catherine knocked; after waiting a moment the door opened and they entered.
The room was dark except for a single candle that burned on a desk. Sitting behind the desk was a man. He had short dark hair slicked back, his eyes were a large liquid brown, his skin was a dark tan color, and on his fingers he wore gold rings. He had around him an air of wealth and sophistication, and also of age. This man had seen a lot. He sat there petting a small tabby cat.
The blonde bowed. "My Lord San Pedro, I have brought the boy." The man looked up from the cat, studying them; he seemed to find what he wanted and smiled, placing the cat down on the desk. As he rose from the chair he spoke, "Tasha, you may go. Catherine will join you shortly." Tasha nodded and quickly obeyed. His voice was power and Franklin wanted to weep at it, to throw himself at it and beg forgiveness for every small sin in his short 17-year life.
The master came forward, studying the boy. His hand came out and softly his fingers trailed down Franklin's body, starting at his cheek, down his neck, to his shoulder, and then stopped at his wrist. "The girl who did this, tell me everything."
Franklin wanted to please the man, anything to make him happy. So he talked; he talked about his friends, Mark and Hector; about the pot and acid; and about the strange girl in Mary's Truck Stop and Diner. When he was finished he held his breath and waited.
"Very good, my son. You have made me happy."
Franklin wept at the praise.
"Go with Catherine, boy; she will take care of you." The boy smiled through his tears and eagerly followed the blonde out the door.
Mentally to Catherine he said, "The boy can't live to see the sunrise. You and Tasha may have him. Tomorrow take Julius and go to this Mary's."
"As you wish, my Lord."
- -- - - - - -
Corrin was grumbling as she threw open the door to her motel room. "James, it's six in the morning! What the hell do you want?" She glared at him; he was already dressed in his uniform and had two cups of coffee.
For his part James was taken a bit aback. He knew Corrin was a woman but he never really thought about it much. She was standing in the doorway wearing nothing but a men's undershirt, which did little to hide her breasts and everything to highlight them. Her uniform pants were hastily put on; they were buttoned but not zipped. He coughed and took a cleansing breath.
"Ah, Corrin, we got a call. Two dead kids were found about 7 miles outside of Nettles. We're closest to the scene so we get the call."
Corrin sighed. "What about the girl?"
"She hasn't woken up. When the doctor gives the okay to move her, we'll send someone to take her back to Phoenix."
Corrin grumbled; she didn't like it.
"Plus the boss man says we go look at the dead bodies, write our reports, and we get two days off."
Corrin grumbled some more but went into the bathroom to change.
- - - - -- - -
Corrin wiped her brow. It was damn hot out and it was only eight in the morning. She stared at the two boys lying in the dirt, their faces beginning to bloat; flies that were attracted to the scent of decomposition crawled over the flesh. She had a nagging sense that she should recognize them from somewhere.
"We got a second car track and footprints and it looks like a third body was dragged out of the backseat," James said. "What do you have?"
"James, why do you give me the gross things?"
The man shrugged. "Builds character."
"I got two Hispanic youths; looks like some sort of large animal tore their throats open."
"It just keeps getting weirder and weirder," James said under his breath.
Suddenly something clicked inside her head. "Damn it. These two boys were at the diner last night. There's one missing - the white boy."
"He must have been the one dragged out of the backseat. Doesn't matter. It's out of our hands; they called the Feebies in on this one once it started to look like a kidnapping."
"You think the girl and these boys are related?"
James scratched his head then replaced his hat. "Right now anything is possible."
The bad feeling in Corrin's gut intensified.
Corrin sighed as she stepped out of the shower. It felt good to be clean; all she needed now was a good night's sleep and she might feel human. She wrapped the towel around her head and moved into her bedroom; opening up the dresser she pulled out sweatpants and a T-shirt. Her apartment was a modest one bedroom, scantily furnished. She just had the basics - a bed, a dresser, a table with two chairs, a beanbag chair and an old black and white TV. There was nothing very personable about her place, but then again she hadn't been in Arizona very long, only about a month. With her hours she didn't have enough time to meet people or make friends.
She rolled onto her bed, groaning in pleasure. She reached over, grabbed the remote off the floor, and clicked the TV on. She surfed for a while before she settled on an old Abbot and Costello; it was the one where they met some monster that looked like Dracula.
She watched for a moment then her blue eyes began to close, her mind drifted, and she thought back to the girl. They had pulled prints from the car but so far there was no match. She felt the murdered boys were linked to the strange girl. What was she running from? Who had done that to her? So many questions with no answers. She sighed and threw an arm over her face in an effort to shut out the rest of the world. A stray thought floated through her head - the murdered boys had had bite marks similar to the ones on Harley's body. She sat up, cursing herself. "What the fuck are you doing, Adams? The two things are not related so just go back to bed, dumb ass. We are so not getting dressed and driving 170 miles to the middle of nowhere just to check on some girl in a coma." All the time she was berating herself for jumping to conclusions, she was getting dressed, putting on shoes and grabbing her keys and wallet.
Soon a forest green Jeep pulled onto the highway heading east, away from the setting sun.
- - - --- - - - - - -
Justin slowly opened the door and peaked in. The girl hadn't moved all day; there was no motion to show she was even remotely regaining consciousness. From the window he could see the sun beginning to sink in the sky. He patted his pocket, feeling a pack of cigarettes; it was time for a smoke break, not like she would miss him. He gave a goofy grin and shut the door before heading out front.
Jerky movements began under pale eyelids, breathing increased, and muscles twitched. Eyelids snapped open, exposing green eyes to the buzzing florescent lights; they rolled in their eye sockets, taking in the room, the beeping of machinery, the pale yellow of the walls, and the absence of another human being. Harley sat up and gently eased her way off the bed. She removed the probes from her body, but stood stunned as the machines began to squeal.
She stood there, her face scrunched up in puzzlement. 'Make it stop!' her brain screamed. The squealing needed to stop before someone came. Franticly she searched for an off switch; unable to find one, she finally reached behind the metallic annoyance and pulled the plugs out of the wall. Silence blanketed the room. She stood in the silence and the stillness for a moment, enjoying a second of peace. She took stock of her situation. She remembered the accident; she had no car, no clothes, and the wallet she'd stolen from the pervert was most likely gone as well. She needed clothes, money, and transportation because he was hunting her. Harley could feel his presence in the back of her mind, calling to her like a tug on a string; it was strong and compelling yet somehow she could force it away, bury it and ignore it. She didn't know how or why, only that she could; she had escaped hell, and no matter how seductive the devil, she wasn't going back.
Harley doubled over as pain raced outwards from her stomach; she clenched her teeth and fought back the nausea. This had happened once before shortly after she escaped; she'd stopped at a roadside diner to eat. Before her capture she'd been a vegetarian but that night her body had rejected the salad she tried to feed it. She had rushed to the bathroom and vomited up great amounts of blood and salad; she'd been scared, but after a minute it passed. Maybe this hospital had fed her something she couldn't digest. Frantically she searched for a wastebasket. She opened a door and found a small bathroom with a shower; she lunged for the toilet but didn't make it.
Blood ran from her lips and nose; she groaned and heard something metallic hit the floor. Harley ran water in the sink and washed her face and hands. Wiping her hands she threw the now pink-stained towels into the wastebasket. Bending over she picked an object up out of a puddle of blood; wiping it off she found a small caliber bullet. She frowned. 'Where the hell did that come from?' Her eyes widened. She'd been shot; she remembered the tearing pain in her chest. Looking down she ripped away the sterile white bandages to find a star-shaped scar.
She peaked out the door of her room. She needed clothes; she needed to get out of here. She could sense them getting closer. They had sniffed out her trail and they were coming for her. Not seeing anyone she slunk down the hallway, checking doors; some were locked, others were rooms like hers or examining rooms. Hearing footsteps echoing from back down the hall, she sprinted and ducked into the first available door. She found herself in a small locker room. Searching the lockers she found one that wasn't locked and she opened it. Harley pulled out a wad of clothes from the bottom that were stiff and smelly, but she didn't care; the jeans had to be rolled up and the rugby shirt was too large but the shoes were a near perfect fit. She pulled items out, looking for a wallet or purse but could find nothing.
Harley crept out of the room. Looking around she wondered where everyone was; she slunk back down the hallway to the front. Scanning the waiting area, she spied a black leather jacket and a Playboy magazine. She grabbed the jacket; putting it on, she found that some money and change had been absently shoved into the inside pocket. She grinned; things were looking up.
"Hey, baby, you miss me?" asked a cold voice behind her.
Fear ran through Harley's body, turning her legs into frozen ice. How had they caught up to her without her feeling them? She could sense them being close, but this was off-the-radar-map close. She turned and faced the blonde; hard brown eyes swept over her frame and a cruel smile emerged on pale red lips. If the blonde was here so was the African; her green eyes swept around the room trying to pierce the shadows.
"Looking for Tasha? Don't worry; she's around. She's just having a spot of fun with the deputy. She'll join us in a moment."
Harley shivered; she knew all to well how Tasha liked to have fun.
The blonde clapped her hands. "How lovely! You remember all the fun we use to have. We've missed you so; you were always a tasty one." Catherine brought a hand up and trailed it along the young woman's face down to her neck where she lightly fingered the puckered scar tissue.
Harley shivered and tried to pull away. She had no idea what the blonde's name was. It was always Master; they were all addressed as Master, but her memories of her nights and days spent in the blonde's company would haunt her nightmares forever. She tried to back away only to have her face grabbed.
"Oh no, my little runner. Can't have you escaping again; you've already caused enough problems."
Harley knew she needed to get away; she couldn't go back. She squared her shoulders and looked into the brown eyes. "Fuck you," she growled out, knocking the blonde's hand from her face.
Catherine's eyes lit up. "So the little piece of meat has a back bone, does she?"
Harley backed away from the other woman until her legs bumped into a desk. All the while she was going backwards Catherine was matching her stride for stride and pinned the smaller woman to the desk in a blink of an eye.
Harley screamed in rage and hit the body on top of hers with her fists.
"I love it rough, honey." Catherine laughed and licked the woman's neck; she could feel the blood dancing under the pale flesh. It was tempting, so tempting; she could feel the power and the strength in the red liquid so close to her face. The blood of not one but two Lords flowed in it, mixing with the human's own pitiful hemoglobin.
Hands frantically scrambled, searching for anything that would help; grasping a metal object, Harley screamed and plunged it into the vile flesh above her.
- - - - - -
Corrin pulled into Mary's in need of a cup of coffee; the lack of sleep was getting to her. She got out of the Jeep and walked into the restaurant, only to be immediately assaulted by Mary herself.
The purple-haired woman came tearing around the counter and grabbed the tall woman in a fierce hug. Corrin was released and she gasped for breath. "Nice to see you, too."
Mary looked the tall woman up and down. "You're late."
"What? What are you … late for what?" Corrin asked, confused. This was the second time she'd been in Mary's presence and found the older woman confusing.
"Got your coffee waiting and there's a sandwich and something else in the sack you may find useful. That will be five bucks even."
"How did you? Eh, okay, here." She paid the five bucks and decided just to go with the moment; someday maybe should look back on this and have a clue.
"A man was by earlier, a little before dusk, asking about that blonde girl who was in that accident last night. Bad, bad vibes on that one. He talked to my busboy, Jimmie; the poor kid told him everything. He was here maybe 25 minutes ago."
Panic bubbled up. "Thanks, Mary. I'm on my way out there to see her now."
"I know. Now hurry up and don't forget to put bullets in your gun."
Corrin paused at the door. "How did you... never mind." She ran out to her Jeep, thinking someday she'd look back and laugh, but probably not; more than likely it would still be as creepy then as it was now.
She sipped her coffee as she pulled on to the road, looking over at the sack Mary had given her, wondering what that something else she'd find useful was. Curiosity burning in her brain, she reached over and spilled the contents out onto the passenger seat. A large nice-smelling sandwich wrapped in butcher paper and a sliver crucifix tumbled out. She just stared at the cross. How did Mary think that it was going to help her? She was hardly religious. Her father had tried to raise her Catholic, but as she got older she had a harder time reconciling it in her mind, so she had just drifted away from religion. Her eyes flickered from the road to the cross as she drove down the highway. What did Mary know?
-- - ---
Catherine reared back screaming, blood spurted out of her neck where the letter opener had torn her skin, piercing tissue and blood vessels. Pain - a blood bag, a human had caused her pain. It had been 60 years since that had happened.
Weakly Harley slipped her legs up between their bodies. She ignored the blood sprinkling on to her upper body like a warm rain and pushed the woman off her.
Catherine staggered back, a hand going to the wound on her neck, watching as the human sat up on the desk holding the bloodied letter opener in front of her in hopes it could protect her. Already the wound in her neck was healing and Catherine's anger bubbled up and she roared her frustration. The illusion of humanity slipped away and her true face appeared. Brown eyes became a rusty red color, the color of old blood, the mouth stretched wide, the jaw unhinged to expose large sharp fangs, ears became large and pointed, and large claw-like nails curved wickedly from hands. Skin paled and sunk into the body, causing the bones and muscles to stand out, giving the appearance of a sallow corpse. She charged the woman, no longer caring that San Pedro wanted her alive.
Harley was not thrown by the change in appearance; she'd seen it before. Some looked worse, more demonic, and others looked more human. The blur of charging flesh came at her and she tried to move out of the way, only to be knocked back into the wall by a fist. Her jaw snapped shut with a loud click and her skull vibrated and rattled. Above her a small shelf came loose on the wall and dumped its contents onto her head. Dazedly she slumped; the floor right in front of her eyes was a symbol she had come to despise. Slowly fingers inched forward. As they got closer, a feeling of revulsion swept through her; gritting her teeth she wrapped her hand around the icon of the crucified God.
The monster shuffled around the desk, looking at the small body crumpled on the ground. She watched as the feet slowly twitched; sniffing, she knew the girl was still alive. Long nails clicked on the floor, getting closer to the blood bag. Catherine bent down. "Come on, blood bag, time to get moving. San Pedro is waiting; we have a contract to honor."
Suddenly, quicker than a human should be capable of moving, Harley flipped over, swinging the large wall-hanging crucifix to catch Catherine in the side of the face. The skin smoked and burned where blessed wood touched cursed flesh. The momentum carried through, whipping Catherine's head back into the side of the desk, knocking her out.
Harley stared from the cross to the unmoving figure. She finally gave in to the urge and dropped the cross on the floor. Slowly she got up, her eyes never leaving the figure on the floor, and she took off running.
- - - - --
Corrin pulled into the parking lot of the clinic. She undid her seatbelt and reached for her gun box; pulling out the revolver, she swiftly loaded the chambers. She started to exit the car then stopped to grab the sliver crucifix, wrapping it around her wrist. She ran to the entrance, feeling a strong pull in her gut; something was wrong and something inside her was telling her she needed to hurry or she'd miss it. What 'it' was exactly it wasn't saying.
Corrin pulled on the door only to find it locked. She pounded on it with her fist, but nobody came; she peaked inside and didn't see anything. She looked down at the large metal ashtray wondering if it could bust through the glass window. She bit her lip in thought. Backdoor - she should check the backdoor. She scrambled around the side of the building, gravel spraying out under her feet; she slid to a stop, staring down at a bloody mass of flesh and bone left crumpled in the dirt and stone. She nudged it with the toe of her boot. Nothing happened. She squatted down and removed the bloody T-shirt wrapped around the head. 'Please don't be gross. Please don't be gross,' she thought over and over. She jerked back. It was gross. Whoever it was had been ripped apart: the eyes dug out, the tongue bitten off, and the throat chewed on like a dog with a bone. Corrin felt the bile rise and she breathed deeply, trying to get control of her body.
Corrin would need to call it in, but first the girl; she was certain everything revolved around the girl. She reached the back of the building. Looking around she crept along the building, staying in the shadows; she found another body but didn't waste any time checking it over. Pulling the back door open, she slid silently into the building.
Silence. The building seemed to be holding its breath; all was silent. The flickering of emergency lights lit the hallways. The power must have gone out. Somewhere down an unlit hallway she heard the scraping of wood on tile. Cautiously she stepped into the blackness, occasionally her body lit by an eerie half-light.
Behind her a body slipped out of the shadows and followed.
Corrin stepped around a corner and brought her gun up. "Freeze!" she shouted.
In front of her stood two figures, one light and the other dark, their forms made hazy and unclear by the lighting.
"Officer, I'm so glad you've arrived. There seems to have been an incident," one of them spoke. Corrin was unsure which one.
"Who are you two?"
Corrin didn't believe this; there was something very wrong here. The two bodies moved toward her, and she jerked her gun up. "Don't come any closer and keep your arms where I can see them."
The bodies stopped moving and the blonde spoke, "We seem to have misplaced someone - a small blonde girl. You didn't happen to see her, did you?"
"Harley. What do you know about..." Suddenly Corrin realized that the darker body had vanished. "Where did she go?"
"Don't play games with me. Your hands - put them up in the air."
The blonde complied and Corrin stepped forward, checking for a weapon. She could see the evidence of a struggle; all the while her eyes darted around looking for the other one. As she got closer she studied the woman. Dried blood streaked down her neck but there didn't seem to be a wound of any kind. Cold brown eyes followed her and she decided that they were predator eyes; fuck if she'd be prey.
"What happened here?"
"A little misunderstanding."
The blonde tossed her hair back and Corrin had the perfect glimpse of the shape of a cross burned into what should have been a flawless piece of skin. Her eyes darted down to the crucifix on her wrist. What the hell was going on?
In that moment Catherine struck, grabbing the taller officer and pushing her into the wall.
Stunned Corrin reacted slowly; the gun fumbled out of her hands onto the floor. The woman charged her again and she brought her hands up to protect her face. The silver cross gleamed in the dim light and the woman was brought up short, hissing and spitting. Confused Corrin brought her hands down slightly, trying to figure out what was going on. Her brain nearly snapped at the vision in front of her. It wasn't human; it was … shit if she knew. Whatever it was it was certainly all teeth. Keeping the cross in front of her, she reached blindly for her gun and picked it up. Out of the corner of her eye she caught movement and the other figure charged; she turned without thinking and fired two shots into the thing.
Claws ripped into her back and she screamed; more shots were fired from somewhere and the creature's head jerked back, splashing her with blood. It howled and then it was gone, both shapes tearing off down the hallway. Getting her bearings she took off after them. As she turned a corner she came face to face with a gun.
"Shit!" two voices screamed out.
Corrin threw her hands up in front of her face, the sliver crucifix glittering as the light from the emergency lighting caught it. "Don't shoot," she yelled in the vain hope that words could shield her from a bullet.
"Jesus Fucking Christ!" another voice bellowed out.
There was a soft click and the gun was lowered. "Where are they?" a voice demanded angrily.
Corrin lowered her hands. Puzzled she asked, "Who?"
"The vamps; I know they're here. I shot their wheel man."
Corrin felt lightheaded and nothing was making sense. "Vamps?"
"Would you stop answering my questions with a question? It's annoying."
Corrin stared into the flickering lights, trying to see who was talking to her, but she was having a hard time piercing the shadows. A hand grabbed her and pulled her down the hallway.
"Come on. We have to stop them."
"God, are you being annoying on purpose? Shut up, do as I say, and I'll try to get you out of this alive."
"Did you say vamps?" Corrin wasn't trying to be annoying, but she was in a lot of pain and she could feel blood trickling down her back. The world was becoming blurry around the edges.
They emerged out the back door just in time to see a dark car speed off. The person who had been leading Corrin took off after the car, firing a weapon. She took two steps to follow but stopped as the ground began to wobble.
"Shit!" a voice screamed from somewhere, but Corrin wasn't really worried about it or anything else.
Athena Jones was throwing a temper tantrum, screaming and kicking dirt and rocks as the fucking vamps sped away. So close, she'd been so close. She turned just in time to see the woman she'd pulled from the clinic crumple to the ground.
- - - -- - ---
Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot, left foot; damn. Harley was tired, and she felt bruised down to her bones. However, she kept moving into the desert away from the small hospital and the demons that chased her. To stop moving meant death. She refused to give in; she needed to get away and hide and get her strength back and when she did she would go back and get revenge. She would burn them all, grind them into dust and piss on their ashes. She wouldn't forget the ones that the demons had taken from her. She would honor them by getting revenge, but first she needed to get away, and get strong.
She kept walking as night rode through the sky, painting everything in darkness. She was staggering as the night sky began to give in to the advances of dawn. She wasn't sure her feet were still attached so she would look down every once in a while to confirm that they were still there. In the distance, illuminated in the weak morning light, was a rock formation; on the top were arches that formed to look like an M.
As the daylight grew in strength she began to grow weaker and sleep invaded her limbs. She needed to sleep, hide deep away from the sun and rest. As she drew closer to the red and tan rocks, voices sang in her mind.
"Come," they sang, "come rest. Follow the trail, the one that ambles to the left from the strange looking cacti that resembles cats mating. Come, come rest."
She was going mad, then she saw the cacti and damn if they didn't look like two cats getting it on. She laughed and then winced as sunlight caught her in the face. She almost screamed; it burned for a minute then the feeling went away but she was blinded.
"Come," the voices sang again, "hurry, run. We shall be your eyes."
She ran, cutting left and right as the voice directed then she was in the cool belly of the rock. She collapsed onto the smooth floor of stone and the voices sang into her mind, "Welcome to the Diablo Horca, little sister. Rest; we shall watch you as you sleep."
She knew she should be afraid, but she was too tired to be cautious and she slipped into sleep as the voices sang of comfort in her mind.
As the blonde woman lay asleep on the cool stone surface, figures emerged out of shadows on silent padded feet and looked at the girl, black eyes peering out of furry angled faces. They moved around her body, taking in her scent.
"Is she one?" one asked.
"Who does she belong to?" another asked.
A gray and tan-colored body moved closer. "If she survives she will belong to herself. I see two demons fighting for control; they will merge and make her a Master or kill her."
"Is she the one the Master told us of?"
"Maybe, it is uncertain."
The smallest of the three whined. "Her feet," it said, taking fanged jaws and trying to pull off the tattered shoes. Finally the shoes were torn off and the pack began to doctor the bloody and torn feet. With rough pink tongues they licked away dirt, blood, and cleaned the wounds.
The elder gave a toothy grin and bumped shoulders with the youngster. "Good work," she praised.
- - - - -- ------
Athena cleaned and bandaged the wound on the woman's back; the clawed flesh still wept blood. She went to her bag and pulled out a small vial and unwrapped a syringe. She jabbed the needle into the vial and pulled the clear liquid inside it. Sliding the woman's underwear down she jabbed the needle into the exposed flesh. She didn't think any vamp blood had gotten into the wounds but it was better to play it safe. The woman groaned and thrashed a little bit then settled back down into sleep. Athena unwrapped another needle and injected the liquid into a vein in her arm. She threw the stuff into the wastebasket and moved over to the jeans she'd pulled off her visitor. Slipping a pale hand into the pockets she pulled out a wallet; flipping it open, her pale brows lifted. "Well, Officer Adams, it looks like you've stumbled into a real mess." She flipped the wallet closed, moved over to the other bed, and sat back, opening a brown paper bag with grease soaking through the bottom. She flipped on the TV and pulled out a burger.
It was the shrill ringing of a phone that woke Corrin. She stirred, wincing in pain as the nerve endings in her body started to fire messages to her brain. They weren't good messages; they were bad messages of pain and muscles and skin badly abused.
The shrill cry of the phone was cut off and a voice barked, "Athena speaking."
Corrin turned her head and noticed that she was on a bed. From the smell it had to be a motel bed. Next she noticed that she was naked except for underwear and some sort of wrap on her back. She was worried but decided to let gravity pull her head back down to the pillow so she could get her bearings. She was in too much pain to be overly concerned about her place in the universe at the moment. Corrin lay on the bed and listened to the conversation.
"Sir, yes, sir. I know I'm late checking in; I apologize, sir. Sir, if you would just let me … if I could just say." There was a frustrated sigh and Athena bent her head, rubbing a temple.
"Sir, didn't Juan file a report? He said … but … yes, sir." Another sigh.
"I found the nest in Santa Cruz but they were gone. It was burning as Agent Vargis and I located it. From what little we could see they just left after cleaning house. There were some survivors, some might recover from being used as blood bags, and others were too far gone and infected. Vargis and I terminated them. I snooped around, came up with their trail, and followed it here to this hellhole of sand and dirt." There was a loud voice shouting through the phone. "I'm in Arizona, sir." More noise. "Yes, I'm sure your wife finds the state very pretty."
Athena sighed again and pinched the bridge of her nose. "I caught a break. There was an attack, two boys dead and one is missing; it has vamp written all over it. I stopped at some truck stop and came out of the restroom to see one of Catherine's lackeys working his charms on some busboy. I hid until they left and followed them to some town. They must have spotted me 'cause their wheelman led me on some goose chase until I figured out what was up and retraced my path back to Catherine. She went to some shit-hole clinic in some sheep town. Get this - the name translates to Hell's Kitchen." More loud noises came through the phone.
"No sir, I'm not sure what they were doing there. I think they were looking for something or someone; I'm not sure at this time. Catherine and her shadow escaped. I need you to look up somebody for me; it's an Officer Adams of the Arizona State Troopers. I pulled her ass out of there after she decided to take on two elder Vamps. I think it was a fluke but I don't want any surprises."
"Yes, sir. I'll type up a report and email it to you in a day or so. Sir, the injections are working; there are no signs of infection. Yes, sir, you should probably send in a clean-up team to the clinic. No! No, sir; I don't need help. Saint Peter is close; there's no need to risk other agents. Yes, sir, I'll check in tomorrow and on time. Goodnight sir."
Athena shut off the phone and let it fall to the bed as she cradled her head in both hands. She calmed herself and looked over at the resting officer. With a chuckle she asked, "Confused yet, Officer?"
Corrin opened her eyes and blinked. "How did you know I was awake?"
"Bodies in rest and in motion are both quite different from one another. How are you feeling?"
"Like a tiger used me for a scratching post. What the hell was that?"
Athena popped a fry into her mouth and slurped her cola before answering. "I could tell you the truth but you wouldn't believe me. So for now lets just say it was some gang member looking for a fix."
"That wasn't human; it was something else. It was horrible."
Athena shrugged. "Couldn't be too bad, you didn't piss yourself," she said, popping another fry into her mouth.
Corrin groaned and sat up. "I'm not positive but I'm fairly certain I don't like you."
Athena shrugged. "Got you a burger - want it?"
Corrin stared at the blonde woman sitting across from her. The woman was tiny, maybe 5'3", with bloodshot blue eyes that stared impassively back.
"Yeah, fine. Can I have some clothes?"
Athena tossed a greasy burger bundle before getting up to root through a duffle bag. "I'm not sure I have anything that will fit you, but your other clothes are nothing more than bloody rags. What are you - six foot?"
"I'm 5'10"," Corrin responded automatically
"Ah ha," Athena said with a grin. "Try these."
Corrin stared at the shirt. It was worn and black with bold red lettering that said 'Hunter University, Stake and Bake Champion.' "I don't get it."
"Oh, it's just a joke my classmates and I started.'
"Okay," she said, still confused. "Since I still don't believe you about those things back at the clinic, why don't we start with an easier question. Who are you?"
Athena sat back down. "I am Special Agent Athena Jones."
Corrin glared from where she was zipping up her jeans. "Well, are you or not?"
Athena reached into her black leather coat lying on the bed and pulled out her wallet and flashed her ID. "See, I'm all legal."
Corrin grumbled and then winced as she slowly pulled the shirt over her head, then sat down to eat her burger. Athena seemed content with the silence; she ate her food staring at the blank TV.
Corrin tossed her garbage into the wastebasket. Noticing the needles and empty vial, she shrugged it off and went to lay down. Her back was throbbing and she needed to rest and collect her thoughts; she had too much information to sift through.
Athena sat on the bed ignoring the other woman; she stared at the blank TV and tried to zone out, but she couldn't so she pretended not to notice the other woman. She finally moved when she sensed the other woman drift off to sleep. She slowly got up off the bed, grabbed her laptop, and sat back down. As it booted up she stared over at the sleeping woman. What was she going to do with her? At this time she wasn't sure; she couldn't just let her go in case she'd been infected, but to keep her around would be dangerous and suicidal. However, if Officer Adams stuck around, she'd have to tell her the truth.
Athena sighed and closed her eyes. For a brief moment she thought she smelled Old Spice aftershave and felt strong hands squeezing her shoulders. She opened her eyes and swore she could sense Jake.
"Jake?" she whispered. As always there was no answer. Of course there was no answer; Jake was dead. As she looked down at her laptop she found it had opened to the web page of the Phoenix Post and was displaying an old archive story. As she read, her eyes got wide. It had to do with a cult sacrificing and eating transients. It had happened about seven years ago at a place called Diablo Horca or the Devil's Pitchfork. Looking at a map she saw that the Diablo Horca was about 30 miles away from where she was currently located. She swore she could still smell his aftershave on the air currents and a single tear slipped down her cheek.
Athena was just drifting off to sleep when Adams sat bolt upright in bed and shouted a name, "Harley!"
Grumbling, Athena was debating whether or not to open her eyes and see what the fuss was about when she heard the other woman get up and start rummaging through things. She opened a sleep-deprived eyelid and stared at the tall woman's ass with a bloodshot eyeball. "What the hell are you looking for?"
Corrin straightened up and turned to face the blonde. "My shoes."
"By the door. Where are you going?"
"The clinic. Harley was in there. I think those women and those, those things were looking for her. I need to go back. In all the insanity I forgot all about her."
"Okay, Officer, get your shoes. We need to get a move on and get back there before the cleanup team cleans up," Athena said, getting up and slipping on her coat. She felt a spark, a rejuvenation; hopefully there'd be a lead or a connection. She slipped on her shoes and pulled out her keys.
- - - - - - - -
They pulled into the gravel parking lot and Corrin could see her Jeep sitting as a silent sentinel. She climbed out of the black Honda and raced to the front doors; this time she was willing to smash the glass to get in. Guilt pulsated in her gut. How could she forget about the girl and just leave her helpless?
A hand grabbed her arm. "Hold on there, champ. It's open."
"What?" Looking closely in the dim morning light Corrin could see that one of the doors rested slightly on the other.
Athena hummed to herself and popped her trunk open. She lifted up the carpeting, removed a black case, and opened it.
"What is it with you and black?" Corrin questioned. "Black clothes, black car, and mysterious black cases."
"This, my piggish friend, is my toy box," Athena replied, looking over the contents. She pulled off her jacket and slipped on a shoulder harness and gun. Quickly she released the clip and checked to see if it was full; happy, she replaced it. Pulling out a belt she wrapped it around her waist and clicked it closed, then slipped her jacket back on.
"What is that?" Corrin asked, not sure she had seen what she had seen.
"Were those stakes?'
"Nope. You're seeing things."
Corrin wanted to scream. "When are you going to start being honest with me and stop giving me the runaround?"
"So, Corrin, tell me about this Harley person?"
Corrin slumped in defeat, and followed the short annoying blonde into the building.
Athena cracked open the door. Looking at the knob, she noticed that it had been nearly ripped out of the door on the inside; somebody had been in a hurry or panicked, maybe both. Her gun was drawn and she felt safe with the larger woman following behind her, covering her back. She felt a rise in emotion as sadness crept over her; it reminded her of the past with Jake and his burly 6'2" frame guarding her ass. She swept it away and concentrated on the here and now. They stood in the dark reception area listening for the sounds of anything that shouldn't be there.
Athena looked around. The emergency lighting had failed and everything was clothed in darkness. She pulled out a flashlight and her gun and swept the reception area. The signs of a struggle were evident.
"Do you think anybody is here?" Corrin questioned.
Athena shrugged and looked behind her. Positive that the other woman couldn't see her, she turned back around and for a brief second her eyes flared red, flashing like an emergency flare, then they went back to blue. Athena held her body rigid, not wanting to give herself away. She hated giving in like that, but she needed to know quickly if there were any vamps in the building. If her boss knew, he'd have her brought in and staked. Everyday she called in and reported that the injections were working, and in a certain sense they were, but it couldn't stop it completely. She was still changing. She had found it to be a boon in a way. By dropping her guard and letting the demon have a brief moment of control, she could sense them. It had made tracking them easier but she knew one day she would let her control slip and not be able to get it back and the demon would win.
"What is it?" Corrin asked.
"Nothing," Athena replied, putting her gun away.
"You went tense for a second. Are you sure nothing's here?"
"Yep, I'm certain it's clean."
"You go turn the lights on while I go check on Harley," Corrin commanded.
Athena watched the taller woman's back as she moved into the darkened hallway.
Athena stared into the contents of the switch box. No real damage had been done; somebody had just switched all the breakers off. Running her hand down the switches, she flicked them on one by one then went in search of the officer. She found the taller woman standing in an empty room; the bed sheets were thrown back and equipment unplugged.
"Think they got her?" Athena whispered in to the still air.
Corrin made no immediate response; looking around the room, she felt a certain amount of self-loathing rise into her consciousness. That poor abused girl was thrust back into the clutches of those that had hurt her. Corrin knew deep down that those two misshapen women were responsible for the horrors and abuse inflicted on Harley's flesh.
"Too late. If only I had been thinking. They have her," Corrin said out loud. Moving slowly around the room, she started towards the restroom.
"Maybe she escaped," Athena offered helpfully.
"She was in a fucking coma; it's not like she just woke up and walked away," Corrin replied. Walking into the bathroom, her tan skin paled to a shade of gray and she staggered into the door jam.
"What? What is it?" Athena rushed to her side. With her changing body makeup, she could smell the blood. It was old, lying around cooling and congealing on the tile of the floor; it smelled of dying humanity and powerful darkness. The smaller blonde grabbed Corrin's arm roughly and prevented her from entering. "Don't," she hissed.
Corrin looked down sharply. "What is it?"
"It could be infected. These people, those women and the gang they hang with, have a disease," she responded lamely.
"And you're just now mentioning this. Jesus, they attacked me! Am I infected?"
She looked at her feet to avoid looking up into those blue eyes. "It's too soon to tell." Still not looking up, she moved into the bathroom, her own blue eyes tracking around the room. There was a lot of blood splashed on the floor but not enough to be life threatening. Whoever the girl was, she was at the first or second stages of the change; she could smell it in the blood.
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a gleam from a shiny object on the floor. Picking it up she saw it was a battered bullet. "Was, ah, Harley shot?"
"Yes. One of the officers trying to stop her fired; it lodged near her spine and the doctor wasn't able to remove it. What made you ask that?"
Athena held up the small piece of metal. "She's fine. All this blood is from her system purging a foreign element and repairing itself."
Corrin stared at the metal, then at the blonde. "We need to talk and soon."
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