Raging clouds, shoots of lavender undulate into the billowing sea of violets, crash onto the shores of horizons. Bits of red float like ash, melting onto the rocky, gray ground, blood oozing into the crevices. The quiet place with its deep purple sky and mottled ground of endless waste.
The ground seems to bend upward in every direction, scorching into the sky, hazy horizons waving like rising heat. But there is no warmth. No cold. Silence for the senses.
This is the shadows between worlds, the folds in time and space.
Steve glances around finding bits of pale white oozing out of the very air. Beneath him, a rectangular white shape melts out of the darkness. He lays on a bed. In a wave, hazy chunks fly up forming solid walls wrapping around into a room. A dresser, pale, rises like smoke. And he realizes, he reads the bits of reality forming a bedroom. A ghost-like nightstand lurks in the corner, tendrils of smoke solidify into a lamp with a frilly shade. Lipstick and other cosmetics occupy the dresser.
A wraith stands at the side of the bed. Smoke drifts off the dark creature like hair waving in the wind. Bending over, it brings its featureless face closer.
Glancing down, Steve finds his shirt torn open exposing a blood-soaked bandage over his gut. The gunshot wound, flesh ripped open while stumbling into the shadows between worlds.
Slender claws biting in, the wraith reaches into his gut. Ice prickles his flesh, and the wraith disappears in a puff of smoke.
“You need rest,” says Yasmine. Dressed in a long leather coat, she leans against the wall beside the open door.
Yasmine fades into a ghost frozen in the moment.
Rolling over, he steps through the ethereal bed and stands. He touches the bandage, bumps underneath. Stitches. It hurts like hell, and he lets out a silent grunt of displeasure. He could cry like a baby. No one would hear, or even remember while in between the folds in time.
He recalls Kandy, her flesh growing pale, her hair graying. Chills racing into his feet. She appears more like a corpse in his mind. Something stole the life from her.
He looks down at the bandage. Bigger than his hand, it wraps around his side.
Looking up, he notices Yasmine’s ghost has moved. Her hand is higher, moving in slow motion. Everything moves. If he steps deeper into the shadows, increasing the difference in their respective motions, her ghost will disappear along with the room. Yasmine would continue raising her hand beyond his sight. From her perspective, did he just leap out of bed? Did he disappear? It depends on the timing. He memorizes the moment for his return.
Pain rises in his gut, and the world spins around him, storming clouds of violet. Walls rise out of the shadows, a ghost staircase tumbling down from above, under his feet, and into a hall behind him.
Dressed in her black coat, Kandy climbs the wooden staircase covered in grime. She grabs the railing at the turn, glancing back down, and continues climbing to the next floor.
Looking up through the ghost-like ceiling, Steve follows Kandy’s movements above his head. She appears like a ghost, a blue aura flowing behind her. Occupants, red and orange forms, go about their business in slow motion. Above six more floors, the violet clouds pass overhead.
Even in the quiet place, his gut hurts. He feels the throbbing. Echoing the cries, his heart beats into his ears. Looking down, he appears normal, a solid figure wearing a torn shirt with a bloodied patch over his gut. From the perspective of the building, and its occupants, he is the ghost.
Keeping his distance on the floor below, he follows Kandy. Looking around at the worn carpet, the cracks in the walls, he realizes this is Torx’s building. Watching Kandy’s blue ghost on the floor above, he follows her on the floor underneath. She stops at a doorway, and he looks at the door before him on his floor. Kandy stands before the door to Torx’s apartment. He looks up through the ethereal floor.
Kandy is gone.
Racing up the steps, building blurring away, he climbs to the next floor. Snapping back, the building returns, and his shoes clomp on the floor. Music rumbles from Torx’s unit. He throws the door open.
Smoke spills out rolling onto the ceiling. Within the haze, a throng of bodies wriggle. Some move to the beat, and others slink crazily about. Sabrina, topless, stands on the sofa and twirls her shirt overhead. Standing amid the crowd, Torx soaks in sin like a king basking in the glory of his kingdom of drugs and alcohol.
Pushing through bodies, Steve fights his way inside. Reaching the table, he finds the beer bottles, some empty but others nearly full, sweaty beads slipping down the glass. And in the center of the table, a wire cage holds six vials containing milky liquid.
He recalls sitting at the table, the crushed glass where the vials stand, his first memory.
Looking around, he searches the faces. Most of them smile or laugh, a few appear lost in bliss. Kandy is not here. He searches for the shaggy hair and leather jacket. He spots Zee leaning against the wall beside the door. Leaning and wobbling, his strange stupor, he chats with a girl.
Steve considers taking the vials, but the pain in his gut reminds him of his task. Find Kandy. Slipping into the shadows, he leaves the music and sounds of life behind along with the stench of smoke and alcohol. He floats down the stairs, passes through an empty apartment, and outside beneath the streetlamps. He spots Kandy’s muscle car, not here on the street, but within the swirling violet clouds on the warped horizon. A single step carries him inside her car, and out of the quiet place.
“It’s hardly exciting,” says Kandy. She gazes through the droplets clinging to the driver’s side window. “The job is mostly about waiting and watching.”
Execution. Kandy is a killer employed by Itoril politicians to maintain justice. Peering through the raindrops on the windshield, Steve finds Necropolis. People wait in line as the doorman checks their passes.
“I was never naïve.” Hand on the steering wheel, she gazes at the dashboard as if studying the gauges. “Even when I took this job, I knew.”
Hanging his head, he listens to the rain pattering on the roof. It always seems to rain in Roseland. Light, sometimes a misting turning everything slick without even a drop. The pattering comes and goes like a blues musician plucking away at the guitar searching for the right sound. Even between pattering, moisture continues to slick the windshield as if the rain cloud hangs inches above the car.
“But I always expected some honor in it.”
His gut rages on the verge of exploding , and he grimaces. If this is a memory, he carries his wound with him. He gazes down at his torn, blood-stained shirt. It is a memory, but not his own. This is Kandy’s memory. The car’s memory. This is a piece of the information within the cosmos. And it is part of his memory now. If this after his blood stole her life, then all is well. And everything is fine, peaceful, here and now.
“The magistrate fears her.”
The magistrate, an Itoril officer administering the law. They have no prisons. Instead, they send executioners like Kandy.
“Someone backs her with money.”
Yasmine lives above Necropolis. Someone sponsors Yasmine for a political move.
Kandy swipes her dark hair back pushing a shock of gray over her ear. “This is man’s world, Steve, and they want to make certain it stays that way.”
Pulling the torn shirt closed, he covers the bloodied rag. “Didn’t females once rule Itoril?”
“You do remember your ancient history.” A grin rises and fades. Her face grows dark.
“Those women were monsters and deserved to die.”
“Do I detect some animosity towards your own gender?” He laughs, but the rumble in his gut stops him short.
Kandy gazes down at her hand on the wheel. “I grow tired of this.”
“Why don’t you retire?”
“I killed my predecessor,” says Kandy, her voice falling to a whisper. She closes her eyes. “Death is the only retirement.”
He nods finding the logic in the barbaric custom. It proves that the new executioner is capable, and more important, reminds everyone of the power of the judicial system.
“Don’t get me wrong. I’d never take it back.”
“I know. Every job comes with its baggage.”
Kandy looks at him, her eyes lingering on the torn shirt, before meeting his gaze. “Do you remember the Sanctuary of Sin?”
Taking in a deep breath, he wills the pain away. “Like yesterday.”
She nods and looks out the window. “Everyone forgets. They say it was a record store.”
“Like mass amnesia?”
“A record store, Steve!” Turning, she looks him square in the eye. “Is it possible to change the past?”
Feeling like a victim, he drops his gaze to her hand on the steering wheel. Changing the past is a fascinating question given more meaning by recent events. Can he return to the Sanctuary and stop the shooter? It seems like a paradox. What business is there in returning to prevent an incident that never happened? Or will happen. That is the problem with time. A given future might be another past, arbitrary labels in a timeless world.
“I mean,” says Kandy. She bites her lip. “Could someone go back and erase my club?”
It makes sense that Kandy is behind a controversial club upsetting members of society on both sides. Sometimes it seems that Kandy and sin go together like peanut butter and jelly.
Kandy shakes her head “Forget it.”
“How many others can do what you do? How many can go to the quiet place?”
She closes her eyes. “Not many. Some Itoril can appear to move fast for a short period, but very few know about the quiet place. I didn’t before I met you.”
Pain bursts, and he screams through his clenched teeth. A violet storm washes over erasing the car and Kandy. His gut calming down, he looks around at the churning clouds above the endless waste. If this is home, it is his resting place. The pain remains, but a tolerable thump. Here in the quiet place, it as almost tranquil except for the sight of the black wraith and its smoking hair blowing wildly about its featureless face.
The room. Steve concentrates on the bedroom where Yasmine stands at the door.
Bits flying up, ethereal walls take shape. Yasmine, a pale ghost, appears holding out her hand. Colors slam onto the walls, floor, everything, and sound explodes in his ears, crackling of a sleeping home racing through the walls like thunder.
“Steve,” says Yasmine. Reaching out, she snags his arm as he tumbles into her.
Pain returns, and he looks down at the blood oozing through the bandage.
“You’ve torn the stitches.” Yasmine pulls him towards the bed.
The image of Kandy appearing like a corpse hits him. “How’s Kandy?”
Pulling free, he stumbles into the hall. Lucifer scurries down the stairs, and he follows taking the steps two at a time. The front door stand open, and two men push a gurney, a body covered in a white sheet, outside. Kandy? Reaching out, he trips over the steps and crashes against the banister spinning him into the wall.
“Steve Reynolds!” Yasmine descends the stairs like a dark queen, her leather coat crinkling around her curving form. Her blazing eyes demand attention, and she has it. Even the men with the gurney stand frozen in the doorway.
Yasmine waves the men out the door. She smiles, but instead of appearing friendly, she seems more imposing. It might be the way her fangs hang there ready for attack.
Steve feels the blood against his palm. The bandage hangs loose, and he presses it down.
“Kandy rests in her bedroom.” Reaching out, Yasmine strokes his chin.
“Sabrina? Where is she?”
“The girl is preparing you another bandage.” Yasmine shakes her head. “Honestly, Steve. You’re like a walking disaster area. Trouble follows you.”
A door bursts open, and an older man with gray hair climbs the stairs from Kandy’s basement. Spotting Steve, he shakes his finger and smirks at Yasmine. “Nature’s answer to your kind I think.”
Yasmine frowns hiding her fangs.
“That’s what this one is.” The old man pats Steve on the shoulder and disappears out the front door.
“Let’s get you back upstairs.” Linking elbows, Yasmine pulls him up the steps.
Steve reaches back towards the basement. “Kandy.”
“Let her rest. You and I have business to discuss.”
“But what’s with the body?”
“Never mind the mishap.” She waves her hand. “I need an outsider. I’ll pay you five thousand a week.”
“The bicycle messenger.”
“Discreetness is key.”
Yasmine helps him into bed. Sabrina peels the old bandage away and replaces it with a fresh one. After the young woman departs, Yasmine kneels beside the bed. Coals smolder within her blue eyes.
“At my club,” says Yasmine. She licks her lips and glances around the room as if thinking about how to continue. “There’s been talk. About venom. Not some cute name for a new power drink, but venom. Our venom.”
“Someone bottled it.” Rolling back on the pillow, he closes his eyes.
“I want you to find out who is responsible.”
“Did you try the authorities?”
“You suspect someone important.”
“I don’t dare make accusations. Not yet.”
Steve takes in a deep breath hurting his gut. Opening his eyes, he gazes at those simmering coals at the center of deep blue lakes. “Let’s see if I come to the same conclusion. How is that?”
Smiling, she nearly appears less threatening. “It’s a start. Thank you, Steve.”
Her coat crinkles as she stands. Strutting like a supermodel, hips rocking, she walks to the doorway and latches her claws onto the frame. Turning her head, she gazes back with a devilish grin. “About popping in during my bath uninvited.”
He recalls dripping blood on her red-and-white checkerboard floor, Yasmine floating in bubbles beside the fire. He intruded, not just her home, but her memory. His memory now.
Her sinful grin glimmers with delight. “Careful, Steve. I might get the wrong idea.”