Cold air numbed S.M.’s face as the blades sang with each stroke upon the ice.
It soothed her…
“Soul?” the eighth overlord said. She couldn’t determine if he had been amused or bewildered. “I don’t build souls. Only bodies. You’re merely a sum of parts. Nothing more.”
It soothed her mind then.
The hazy sun peered though the overcast and she turned to skate backwards to spare her eyes from the glare. Black smoke continued to snake into the sky. With the roads as they were, it would be hours before the fire department made it up the hill.
These were the worst kinds of summonings.
Instead of taking her directly to the house last night, her charge had handed her a pair of skates. “One last time,” he had said. He was lucky she hadn’t slashed his throat open. Under her skin she knew what he wanted and it simmered there as they skated towards the setting sun.
Night settled before they returned to the house. He shared his home with four others. His wife stared her down but she didn’t demand an introduction and he didn’t give one. Their three children were sisters of infinite curiosity. Fearless, they climbed on furniture to touch the painted mask and bombarded her with questions. They yelped and giggled at the depth of her voice.
“Are you a boy?” the middle one asked.
“Why do you look like a girl?” the eldest asked.
The youngest tugged on her pant leg, raising her tiny hands in the air. When she was picked up, she stuck her fingers into S.M.’s mouth to touch her teeth.
“What a brave child you are,” S.M. clicked her teeth. Their mother removed the child from her arms and the family settled in for dinner in the other room.
The house was uncomfortably warm with the fire in the hearth and the bundle of nerves that was her charge churning on her skin. Back outside the porch light above flickered then dimmed. In the dark, she had the sensation of something hanging over her. The light flashed, imprinting itself across her eyes in a final hurrah before death. Instinctively, her hand went to the back of her neck, pressing the scar at the base of her skull.
“What are you doing?” Her charge was at the door and she realized she hadn’t sensed his movement. “Are you going to join us for dinner?”
“I don’t eat,” she said.
He lingered at the door before stepping back inside.
He’s going to kill the children…
“I know,” she lifted her face to the burned out light. The filament was glowing inside the otherwise darkened bulb. “I’ve…heard your voice before, haven’t I?” She cupped a hand to her ear but the voice didn’t travel on the wind and it said no more.
She spent the night on the porch even after the lights had gone off in the house and everyone was in bed. He woke up before dawn and came downstairs.
“Come with me to the garage?”
She was grateful for the momentary warmth as they passed through the house to enter the garage. He handed her a gas can and a packet of matches. “Behind the house I’ve stacked a wood pile.”
“I can’t read your mind,” she said in a monotone.
He started his SUV and sat in the driver’s seat. “Give it twenty minutes before you start the fire.” He waved her away. “You will want to wait outside.”
“You’re a monster,” she said.
“No. That’s your job.”
And she’d never allow herself to be accused of not doing a thorough job.
Twenty minutes later, she was dousing the woodpiles with gasoline before lighting the match.
“I knew he wanted you to kill us.” The girls huddled around their mother as she dressed them one by one, returning S.M.’s jacket, coat, and scarf she had thrown on them as she swept them out of their beds and away from the house.
“He asked me to burn the house down. So I did.” She swung the ice skates over her shoulders and tipped her head to them as she walked down to the frozen river. They weren’t charged to her and the further away she got from them the better. For them.
Cracks spider-webbed around her forcing her to return to the edge. She wasn’t ready to return home just yet. She was listening for it. In the scrape-scrape of the blades, the rustle of the naked branches.
Do you seek me?
She halted, ice creaking under the blades. “Who are you?”
Suddenly a branch snapped forward, clotheslining her under the chin. Her head cracked the ice, waves of black exploding before her eyes. Frigid water welled up around her as elongated shadowy fingers sought her. Through the shadow a gatherer stepped gingerly onto the ice wearing a fresh white cloak.
“Don’t!” She scrambled onto her feet, forgetting she was on blades, and the ice shattered. The gatherer reached for her as she slid into the gaping maw of the lake. Under the dark water a brilliant gold light flashed, then something from below pulled her under the ice.
The gatherer leaped over the hole and punched through, crooked fingers tangling in her coat. It pulled up limp wool.
A stone’s throw away, a hand broke through the ice then she reappeared, gasping, blood gushing from her nose. The gatherer sprinted towards her, outstretched arms hooking under hers. Pulling her from the water without breaking its stride, they dove into the blue mist and disappeared.
Exercising one of my characters from my forever-a-WIP-and-most-likely-to-end-up-in-the-bottom-of-a-desk-drawer.
If you hit the like button, please comment on whether you’re fire or ice. Just because…
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