21. Memory Thief 2

Tasting dry clay, Steve spits. Dark spot, bits of dirt mixed with saliva, mark the mottled gray ground. Crimson gore oozes within a crevice, flowing over pebbles and into crags beneath his hand. Warm. Lifting his hand, he tastes it.

Blood.

Spotting a shadow, he climbs to his feet keeping his eyes on the smoking figure. It moves differently, less graceful, taking determined steps circling around him beneath the raging storm of violets. It slips away into the shadows, and another dark form blossoms over the desert. Watching the hazy figure slowly move around him, he recognizes the rhythm and flow of the slender legs. Kandy. Maybe she cannot reach this far, caught somewhere within the shadows between two worlds.

Kandy’s shadow dissolves into a puff of smoke, disappearing.

Another shadow, taller, erupts onto the dead landscape. Each step, determined like the first dark figure, carries dark form closer. It is a wraith dressed in the long skirt, only this one has a face of hazy dark shapes forming a broad chin, a stubby nose, and dark pits for eyes. And this one has short hair smoking as if on fire.

From its eyes violet smoke pours, billowing to the sides, tendrils worming around its ears and disappearing. The smoking eyes match the storming purple clouds overhead. It seems at home in this dead world.

Concentrating on the dance floor, Steve steps into the shadows.

Pale etherial shapes appear, walls un-crumbling from the floor up. A ghost-like ceiling unveils in a wave. Columns grow out of the floor, the stage appears in a puff, and beside it, the broken dance platform. Ghosts, clumps of them, take to the dance floor of Club Necropolis. As color returns, movement increasing in speed, the ghosts become people, some standing nearly still while others run, clanging up the steel stairs to the exit.

Fear covers their faces.

Caught in the stampede, pushing and shoving, Steve slips off the dance floor, shoes skittering on the concrete. Swinging an arm, he fights his way free and up against a wall. Spinning around, he watches the crowd pushing their way onto the stairs, some falling crushed against the steel steps by others climbing over.

Some remain on the dance floor, confusion flooding their faces. They watch the panic at the stairs, while a few glance around searching for the source.

Standing beside a stone column at the edge of the dance floor, Julio glances over at the broken podium then back at two men standing beside him.

Bursting from a cloud of smoke, Kandy appears, her face like stone. Turning towards her, Steve notices a slender black rod swinging up at him. His arm flies up in defense, but too late, the rod glances across his head sending him falling back.

Silence.

Voices murmur.

Footsteps.

Rough ridges push into backside. Cold concrete presses against palms.

Peeling eyes open, Steve finds a dance floor bathed in bright floodlights leaving the stage at the back lost in darkness. He sits against the wall gazing at the red streaks of blood on the wood floor. Two men and a woman kneel on the floor beside a streak of blood. The woman waves her latex covered hand in circles as she speaks to the men.

Forensics.

20. Memory Thief 1

Back in Torx’s apartment, he kneels on the floor at the edge of the shadows between worlds. Torx still looks out of it, but he doesn’t want to startle the young man into full awareness. Whispering hints about vampire acid and pretty women, he reads the memories flowing from the man mixing with the information of the world. It’s like drinking memories. Like a vampire consumes blood, he ingests Torx’s memories. And they taste delicious, like sweet candy.

A shiver races down his back, and tingles erupt on the back of his neck.

Selecting a morsel tasting like peppermint, he dives in. Shadows eat the floor, the walls, and the violet storm rages overhead.

Dark shapes appear within purple haze. They appear like smoke, their swooning motions leave trails, dancing. More of them, a mass of smoky forms gather around. They wave their arms building smoky clouds above their heads.

The ghosts dance, their pale forms turning and moving on a wood floor. Dark columns holding purple rods rise up into a white fog where lights spin splashing red like blood dripping from the mist.

Thunder erupts, pounding into the floor. Another dull boom, and another, the increasing beat becoming alive, sharpening. The dancers stomp to the beat, their movements increasing in speed. A chorus of guitars join in, music explodes, drums crashing.

White shirts and waving colored bracelets glow in the black light. Some of the eyes glow as well like phosphorous disc floating on white orbs. The discs bounce and weave. The floor shakes to the beat of the drums and dancing feet.

Standing on a stage, a woman with deep crimson hair screams into a microphone. Her voice, harsh and demonic, shouts about blood and death. Behind her, the band shakes their heads and stomp. A bald man pounds drums splashing sweat glistening into the spotlight flooding his bare chest decorated with a dark dragon.

The familiarity of it all sends a wave of nausea splashing over. Necropolis. The same, all over again, a nightmare playing from a different angle. Steve spots Torx entering the dance floor. The sea opens up, bodies grooving, surrounding the young man. Grinning like a kid in a candy store, the man approaches a woman dressed in a long black skirt.

The woman spins around, her hips throw her skirt swaying and shifting about her leather boots tapping the floor in time with the beat. Her body flows, twisting, her arms climbing up over her head like snakes swooning about each other. Her dark hair bounces on her shoulders.

Steve recognizes her pale face, her cute dimples, her slender nose. Kandy. Like before, at the beginning, but now he watches like an out-of-body experience of a memory.

Torx’s memory.

Torx says something lost to the music. Steve searches the information, diving into the quiet place. He slips around the ghosts, afraid touching them might break the spell, and steps back into the world.

Kandy smiles, her glossy red lips curl deepening her dimples. “Nice to meet you, Steve Reynolds.”

Her eyes are on Torx. She speaks to him.

A wave of nausea rushes over, and he concentrates on Kandy’s face, focusing on her glossy lips trying to read them. He watches her tongue slide sideways licking her upper lip. Smile growing, her mouth opens wider exposing glistening teeth. A red spotlight flashes over her fangs, red like blood.

“I’m sweet like candy,” she says. Spinning around, she gazes over her shoulder. Her thin eyebrows bounce. “With a kay.”

“Kandy Fangs,” says Torx. He grins like the devil. “I like.”

19. Guns

Leaping from one memory to another, Steve glides through a storm of shadows eating away at the buildings, the streets, ghosts of pedestrians fading out and back in. Violet clouds give way to blue skies as he steps back into the world, city traffic greeting his ears.

He spots the bicycle messenger and waves his hand. Brakes squeal, and she stops. Each time, a different greeting. This time, she asks for his name. Backwards. That’s what Kandy said. Sometimes it seems the world is all backwards.

Twenty thousand dollars minus the change already spent. He buys another suit, top of the line, from the same tailor. Concentrating on the bike messenger, he searches for another memory, her memory. It’s beginning to feel as if he has no memories of his own, or that his memories blossom from the memories of others. Three trips through the shadows beneath the violet sky, four counting the walk downtown, leaves him exhausted. He enters the quiet place like stepping home, but finding his way back out requires concentration. He searches until his temples hurt, but there is no other meeting with the bike messenger. His employment with Yasmine lasts four weeks.

Returning to the world, traffic noises and laughter filling his ears, he stops beside a lamppost. People pass him without a glance. Nobody seems to notice his return. And who would remember a ghost? Only those paying close attention, catching a glimmer of his movement out of the shadows.

Opening his pocket pad, he jots down a note about the payments. Success or failure, his job searching for the source of venom distribution requires four weeks. A month in their time, but how long in his? Days? Does it even matter? Flipping back through the pages, he reviews his notes. Yasmine suspects someone important. Why would an Itoril distribute venom? Status, that’s what Yasmine said back in the Sanctuary of Sin. Maybe an Itoril kills his own kind, takes the venom trying to level the field. It would have to be someone near the top. Those with venom kick ass.

Beside the note about the Sanctuary of Sin, he jots down a question about the record store. With an uncertain history, the notepad does more than keep memories straight. It helps him keep the world in order. The record store, the Sanctuary, and the shooter must wait.

Torx is his only link to the venom.

Polished leather shoes meeting old worn carpet, he climbs the stairs finding the door to Torx’s unit right where he remembers losing Kandy. What was she doing here? He considers knocking, but instead steps into the quiet place passing through the door like a ghost into a dimly lit room.

A pizza box sits on the table where the beer bottles once stood. Clothes lay strewn on the floor. Torx sits on the sofa, his eyes focused on nothing. In his open palm, he holds a syringe.

Standing beside the sofa, Steve gazes at the barely conscious young man. The unit is nearly dark, only the red glow of the television indicator and the green glow from the clock above the stove in the kitchen provide illumination. A step inside the quiet place, he finds more. He reads the bits of information forming the walls, the dark lamp with clothing draped over the shade, and he sees the milky puddle left inside the syringe.

Enough venom erases recent memories.

Settling into the darkness of the room, Steve hears music thumping from somewhere within the building. Shouts beat into the floor, a couple arguing in the unit below.

“Torx.”

18. Naked Revelations

Gun oil hangs in the air.

Steve finds Kandy in the opposite quadrant of the basement, the armory. Nude, she stands at a table cleaning a gun. Glancing over her shoulder, she flashes a grin and returns to her gun. Hands behind his head, he lays back on the bed and watches Kandy. She assembles pieces pushing a pin inside, and slides a magazine into the handle. Picking up a dark nozzle, she screws it to the barrel.

“What is that?”

“This?” She taps the nozzle that appears too large for the gun. “It’s a sound suppressor, but don’t let the name fool you. Still damn loud.”

“Then what’s it for?”

“Hides your location. People might not recognize the gunshot in a noisy location like a club.”

He nods imagining Kandy slipping through a crowded nightclub searching for her target.

“Even better if you shoot from the edge of the quiet place.”

Sitting up, Steve shakes his head. The physics seems wrong. The time dilation might even wreak havoc on a speeding bullet leaving the barrel into normal space. Would it suddenly slow down? It seems crazy imagining the shooter passing her own bullet, if she could keep track of it at all.

Kandy spins around squaring her shoulders, arms extended, and aims the gun directly at him.

There is no gunfire sound, not at first. Kandy’s ghost fires the gun, a distant pop, and everything goes quiet like giant hands clamping over his ears. And Kandy is no longer a ghost, her intense eyes gazing down the length of the barrel. The bullet blurs through the air, vanishing.

Two thunks and a ringing sound. The world is normal again, his heart pounding away.

Kandy holds the gun, finger on the trigger. A curl of smoke rises from the opening of the sound suppressor. “Do you see now?”

Steve glances down at his chest. No fresh bullet wounds, just the bandage over his gut. Glancing behind him, he finds two holes in the wood headboard.

“It’s like a natural reaction for you. It took me years to learn. But you.” She twirls the end of the gun, and returns her aim. “Instinct.”

Kandy fires the gun, and this time, the bang crashes the room. Like before, he drops into the shadows, the room becomes a ghost, silence in sound and color, and he pops back again, unharmed.

“Maybe if I tried my best. Perfect my timing.”

Waving hands, he climbs out of bed. “You’ve made your point.”

“Have I?”

Kandy tosses the gun, and he catches it.

“Shoot me,” says Kandy. Planting hands on her hips, she stands in defiance, and naked she appears even more intimidating.

He looks at the gun in his hand. It’s a small caliber semi-automatic pistol with a sound suppressor making it appear three times as big. He shakes his head.

“I don’t want to hurt you.”

“It will only sting if you even hit me.”

Taking a step closer, he grasps the gun by the barrel and holds it out.

Kandy snatches the gun and spins around. “You can be a pussy sometimes, you know that?”

A gunfight with an Itoril having Kandy’s skills requires extra training, a lesson better suited for the firing range.

She pulls the clip out and sets the gun on the table, the clip next to it. Turning, she falls into his arms and pounds her fists against his back. “Dammit, Steve. Tell me what happened.”

“We all make mistakes.”

17. Kandy Love

A sharp odor attacks. Nail polish.

Opening his eyes, Steve finds Sabrina sitting beside him. She wears a black tee nearly covering her pink panties. One leg stretched out across the bed, her other foot rests close to her buttocks as she paints her toenails pink.

“Must you do that here?” He rolls away, but the odor follows.

“This is my bedroom.”

“My apologies.” Grunting, he sits up. The bandage appears fresh, again.

“I overheard you talking to that bitch,” says Sabrina.

“Yasmine?” He rubs his eyes and looks at the window. City lights twinkle in the valley. “Why is she a bitch?”

“She won’t let me into Necropolis!”

“Is it because you were asking about venom?”

“God no!” Sabrina slaps the bed sending waves sloshing over. “I know not to talk about that.”

“And you get your fix from Kandy.”

“Shut up. God! You suck sometimes.”

The bed wiggles sending nausea rising.

“Please, I’m sorry.” He stands before Sabrina turns the bed into a war zone. Maybe it is the pain or the dizziness in his head, but he can hardly imagine dealing with a girl. Maybe there is no daughter out there somewhere. No trick-or-treat. No family waits for him.

“No, I’m sorry, Steve.” Sabrina closes the cap on the nail polish. Pulling her legs up, she hugs her knees. “It’s Kandy that needs the fix. I don’t think she could last a week without me.”

He nods. Kandy’s addiction is powerful enough to attack while mending a bullet wound. Maybe the near death experience will persuade her to consider facing her addiction.

“Torx.” Sabrina buries her face into her legs. “You asked me about him the other day, and I lied.”

“And?”

“Torx gets venom from some guy. Julio, I think.” Lifting her head, she looks him straight in the eye. “That’s all I know.”