Turning the corner into a short hall, Steve steps into the shadows. Peering through the walls, he finds the room with the door on the opposite side. It is a closet full of the ghostly shapes of brooms, mops, and dust bins. A shelf against the near wall holds boxes of cleaning supplies. Concentrating on the memory, he passes through the wall like a ghost.
Out of the violet gloom, a familiar form appears. Dressed in his dark rockstar clothes, Zee faces the other way with his feet wide apart. In his left hand, he holds a gun aimed out the crack in the open door. Finger squeezes trigger, a flicker ignites.
Steve lunges smashing into Zee’s backside. Arms wrapping around, he grasps for the hand holding the gun. Chin against leather, he gazes over the shooter’s shoulder down the length of the extended arm. Beyond the gun, out the door, a wraith occupies the hall.
The creature is shadow, dark wisps flowing behind. Even without color, there is no mistaking the suit. Swinging to the side, the slender necktie erupts into smoke. Feet dissolve into nothing, smoky wisps climbing legs up over the hand holding gut. Erupting from the eye sockets, violet smoke flows back around its head. The wraith dissolves into the shadows.
Pinning Zee against the doorjamb, Steve pulls on the leather coat swinging the lanky man twirling around back into the closet knocking brooms over, a mop bucket rolls and bounces off the wall.
A gunshot smashes the air, and a box tumbles off the back shelf spilling green cleanser crystals onto the floor. Another gunshot, duller. The third shot sends tissue paper flying off the shelf.
Steve falls back into the shadows, silence surrounding him, but his ears continue ringing. Slipping from his grasp, Zee slides down fading into a ghostly figure, boots slipping on the floor kicking the etherial mop bucket. The lanky man sits on the floor at Steve’s feet, and the gun rests discarded between the outstretched legs. The world returns in a dull roar.
The Itoril coughs, the sound muffled behind the ringing. “Shit, man,” says Zee. He coughs again. “That hurt.”
Glancing at spilled cleaners, at the scattered paper, at the shelf where the packages fell from, Steve realizes the shooter is on the other side of the wall. He spots three pinholes of light.
Reaching into his jacket, he draws his gun and pushes the safety off. Aiming at the wall, he fires repeatedly. Boxes scatters, papers flutter, and holes appear in the wall as the hollow point bullets scream into the hall on the other side. The gun kicks hard, but he keeps firing a swath of pinholes across the back wall. Julio delivered.
Emptying the gun, he steps into the shadows. Ringing fills his ears. He strides into the shelf and melts through the wall. Pulling the empty clip from the gun, he shoves it into his pocket and snatches the other. In the hall by the dressing room, he glances around and spots ghostly forms on the other side of the dressing room. Popping the clip in place, he storms the dressing room, passes through the wall and onto the stage.
Sin crouches against the bars, fear on her etherial face. Sitting calmly in her seat, the Yasmine ghost watches Sin.
Slow strides carry Steve out the open door into the front hall passing two men running in slow motion. They don’t seem to notice him, a ghost blurring by in their perspective. He walks through the beaded curtain and finds her.
Like a dark queen in her long black dress, Kandy stands at the center of the checkerboard floor. In her right hand she holds a pistol. In her left hand, she wields a sword, curved blade pointing to the side.
Ghosts are immune to bullets. As long as they stay in the quiet place, it is a stand-off, their guns aimed with conviction waiting for the other to return first. Timing is everything. What about the sword? It’s for fighting within the shadows of the world. In this battle, Kandy has the upper hand.
There are no words in the quiet place, no sounds except for the fading ring droning inside his head. Kandy’s eyes blaze, both with the iridescence of the Itoril blood seething inside her and the killer instinct burning inside.
Steve recalls the other night, sharing a bed with the killer. It seems strange that the woman before him is the same woman caring for Sabrina. The same woman that took his hand and helped him find the quiet place. Her face tells him that this moment on the chess board is business.
One foot over the other, Kandy takes a step closer.
This has to stop. He doesn’t want to hurt her. Slowly, he lowers his gun and shakes his head.
Gun held steady, Kandy inches closer.
Steve returns to the world, and Kandy fires her gun. Instincts pull him back as he watches the flicker, the bullet escaping in slow motion and fading away. Timing the passing of the ethereal bullet, he aims his gun and pulls the trigger as he returns to the world. Leaping diagonally closing the distance, Kandy fires again. Bullets strike the walls behind both of them cracking stone walls. In a zig-zag dance, the two close in on each other as they fire their guns.
A sting blazes inside his chest, and he tumbles sideways falling onto the floor. Another sting strikes him in the side. Twisting around on the floor, he fires his gun repeatedly, the explosions filling his ears. The killer comes at him like a blur, and he keeps shooting until the hammer clicks.
Standing over him, Kandy aims her gun at this chest and raises her sword. Her chest heaves, and blood runs down her leg onto her black slipper.
“Please, Kandy.” It feels like something slams him in the chest, and he clamps his hand over his heart feeling the moist slop soaking his shirt. “Kandy?”
The killer bites her lip and shakes her head. “By order of the magistrate, I hereby end your miserable life.”
The sword slashes down blurring into a ghost, and Steve realizes he’s in the quiet place. He feels his arms reaching out for Kandy, but his limbs do not move. His thoughts extend out, and he lets his hunger take control. The sword reappears slicing through wisps of violet turbulence of the shadow world.
He swims into her thoughts and drinks her memories in. Like bubbles floating up around him, memories drift by. Touching them releases their bundles, moonlight glimmering off the lake, the musty scent of autumn, and sound of a beating heart. The scent of cinnamon beckons a campfire and the taste of blood carries a warm wind. He dives into the abyss, drinking it all in.
The smell of burning wood, pine and ash, rides the wind. A spark breaks the darkness, and a pop disrupts the silence. From the depths, mumbling whispers rise into rabid howls, shouts call for pain and death. The spark erupts into a flame, a hungry blaze reaching for the twilight.
Gathered in a semi-circle, men dressed in cowboy hats and dingy overalls shake their fists and shout. Women wearing long dresses, several in bonnets, join the men. They scream blasphemes at the top of their lungs. At the focus of their relentless clamor, a young woman struggles against the bounds holding her to a post. Her free foot kicks at the wood piled around her, dust and paper swept away by the warm breeze. The smell of oil rises. Beside her, a woman in a dusty blue dress waves a burning torch as she shouts leading the crowd in a chorus of contempt.
Witchcraft and devilry, their accusations ride the wind.
The torch bearer turns to the prisoner, her expression dark, the icy glare of a killer. Kandy.
The prisoner thrashes around, her golden hair flying about her dirt covered face. She pulls at the rope tearing the sleeve from her dress. She spits and shouts, cursing the people. Younger, but there is no mistaking her curving form and deep blue eyes: Yasmine.
Kandy circles around touching the torch to paper and oil. Flames rise, flickering, dancing, puffing smoke taken by the wind. As the crowd roars with delight, Yasmine gazes over, tears streaming tracks down her dusty face. The fire eats at the end of her dress, a flicker climbs up the middle, and the garment billows up, cinders flying away.
Yasmine cries, heaving fits, her face wrecked in anguish. No words on the wind, no voice, just the pleading face, but he hears her call.
Ezekiel, my angel, rescue me from this nightmare.
Spotting a knife attached to the belt of the nearest man, he pulls the weapon from the sheath and strides directly towards the prisoner. Like a ghost he passes through the burning flames, the pile of wood, and returns. Heat blazes. He slices through the rope and scoops Yasmine into his arms, and crashes through the pile kicking wood. Dropping Yasmine onto her feet, he grasps the top of her dress and rips the fabric open releasing the flaming dress floating to the ground.
Lifting the young Itoril, he carries her into a violet storm of light and shadow. Smoky mists rising, another memory slips inside pulling the young Yasmine from his grasp. Diving into the abyss, he grasps at memories bubbling all around. Latching onto one, he drinks it in finding the smell of rain and leather, the soft driver’s seat of Kandy’s car.