11. Venom

Sitting in an expansive black leather chair with high armrests, Steve feels small. He sips whiskey. The smooth drink warms his insides, but he fears without food in his stomach the alcohol might crash his brain.

Kandy’s basement is one large room partitioned into quadrants marked by the items occupying each section. At the back is her bedroom containing an old four-poster bed complete with decorative red netting hanging like a shroud. Beside the bed, an old wood bureau blocks the wall. Nearly appearing out of place, a porcelain tub sits on the wood floor before a large wood-paneled fireplace containing a raging fire. Wood stacked in the corner wait their turn to feed the flames. In the other back quadrant, rows of casks and bottles resting on grooved shelves form the wine cellar. If the rest of the stock is as smooth as the whiskey then it is full of only the most expensive spirits in town. Beside the wine cellar is the armory. Shotguns, pistols, and rifles hang inside glass cabinets. On the wall, knives, axes, and swords wait for when the ammunition runs out. The armory also serves as gymnasium containing a weight set, chin-up bar, and barbells. The front quadrant is the sitting room with two oversized black leather chairs, a slender red sofa, and end tables parked beside each. Burning candles fill the air with cinnamon.

On the sofa, Kandy reclines on her side, her elbow jammed against the armrest. She appears to study him, her eyes scanning him up and down. A smear of blood disrupts the smooth curve of her chin, and her lips blaze in the firelight.

Steve sets the empty glass on the end table.

“She’s an addict,” says Kandy. She drops her gaze. “Three years ago I found her outside Necropolis sitting in her own piss, stoned out of her mind.”

An image slams into him, Sabrina in the fetal position on the floor of Torx’s apartment. He pictures her huddled in the shower, her glassy eyes, unfocused, glancing around at whatever occupies her mind.

“I brought her home. I don’t know why.” She looks at the candle flame, but her eyes focus on a distant thought. “A new addiction replaced her old one.”


Kandy licks her fangs. “Venom.”

It makes a sort of sick logic. Considering Sabrina’s weakened state, Itoril venom is hemotoxic, and the glassy eyes likely mean neurotoxic as well. And addictive? A productive vampire never needs chase after a meal if the meal returns offering her blood in exchange for a hit.

“It eases the pain. And enough venom causes some memory loss.”

Gripping the armrests, he leans forward. “Wait. Memory loss?”

“Not amnesia.” Kandy shakes her head. “Sabrina will remember taking a shower. Offering her arm. If strong enough she may forget I was ever there.”

Flopping back, Steve shakes his head. A heavy dose of forgetfulness drug would be a convenient answer, especially nice if it wears off.

“She’s building a tolerance. She may remember everything including you gaping at her breasts.”

“Quite the symbiotic relationship you two have going. Two addicts feeding on each other.” Kandy scowls.

Something rubs against his leg. Lunging forward, he gazes down finding a white cat brushing against his leg. The cat purrs and looks up, eyes pleading for a return gesture.

“Lucifer remembers you,” says Kandy.

“Never would have thought vampires kept cats for company.”

The dark look on her face could stop a weak heart. “I’m not a vampire.”

“Consuming human blood is vampirism.”

“I’m Itoril.”

Reaching down, he pats Lucifer on the head. “And not all Itoril consume blood. Do they?”

“You look exhausted. Maybe you should sleep.”

“I haven’t eaten.” Standing, he reaches up stretching arms. A yawn forces his mouth wide open.

“There should be food in the kitchen.” Rolling over, Kandy stares up at the ceiling. “I can’t believe you forgot everything.”


“Nobody forgets everything.”

He remembers language, mathematics, laws, and other knowledge required by grammar school graduation. He forgets people. The past is as unknowable as the future. He remembers Kandy pointing a gun at him. If they are lovers then their relationship is a rocky one. Perhaps they are merely associates with professional differences.

I think I’ll see what you have in the kitchen.” Steve stands. “Pardon me.”

He opens the door, and Lucifer races up the stairs. Closing the door, he realizes there is no sound.

Standing on the top step, the cat gazes down the stairs. In the dim light the white fur stands out. The name seems more suitable for a black cat stalking the shadows, but even fallen angels are beautiful walking in plain sight. Searching the stairs, the cat appears aware of the strangeness.

Shoe on the bottom step. No sound. No groaning from the house, not even the silence snaps at the ear. This is the quiet place. Climbing the steps, he watches the cat search the stairs. His scent remains, lingering on the steps from the walk down, a memory of his passing.

The cat turns, takes a step, and dissolves into an apparition.

Lucifer is a normal cat, not a fallen angel or the morning star. The ghost of the cat is a memory like the house eaten by the creeping shadows. Everything is relative, and to the world beyond the quiet place, beyond the shadows, Steve Reynolds is the ghost. Is he speeding through time like passing the woman on the steps or when Kandy raced down the hall? This feels different, like walking among Necropolis or the Sanctuary of Sin. The shadows eat across the kitchen floor and onto the refrigerator. The walls dissolve revealing the entire house in a dark murky haze. Above, at the far end of the hall, the ghostly shape of Sabrina sleeps in her bed.

Silence of color leaves only foggy shapes and dark shadows. Except for above the transparent roof where swirling clouds of deep violets stand out in this ethereal world. Among shadows and ghosts, his thought is the only voice.

A cloud of darkness coalesces into a cloaked figure, hooded and faceless. As it glides closer, it leaves a smoky trail.

Steve calls out Kandy’s name, but the silence swallows his voice. Uncertain if the creature can harm him, he steps back as he watches features burst out of the shadows. The cloak hangs open revealing a tunic and long skirt, all black. Or colorless. He searches for the face, but finds emptiness within the hood. Not wanting the thing any closer, he holds his hand out and takes another step back.

Sound crashes down, a crackling pop, and brightness explodes. He slams his eyes shut and smashes his back against a wall.

Footsteps. A board groans.

He opens his eyes to find the hall on the upper floor. Walking towards him with a backpack slung over shoulder, Sabrina smiles at him.

“Hey, Steve,” says Sabrina. She tosses her hand at the air, a wave lacking spirit. “Can you give me a ride to school?”

He watches the smile slip into a quizzical look. Glancing down the stairs beside him, he sees sunlight slashing across the front room, the east side of the house. It is morning, and given the angle from the front windows, has been for about two hours.

“Do you know Torx?”

“Sure.” She shrugs. “He’s a guy in my math class.”

“Do you remember a party at his place?”

Sabrina shakes her head. “I’ve never been to his place.”

He takes in the sleepy eyes and nods. Maybe drugs, or the venom, wiped her memory. The first time they met she was unconscious. In a way, so was he. His memories begin with Torx.

“Of course,” he says. A drive sounds nice, and he needs to check in with Detective Silver.

10. Child

Snuggled in the nice part of the town, Kandy’s home is a three-story house resting on a hillside of manicured land. Do the neighbors suspect an ancient creature lives next door? Likely not. To them, Kandy is just another eccentric working nights.

Many rooms are without lights, dead bulbs or empty fixtures. On the main floor, light wriggles in through windows splashing furniture from an older era and the carpeted stairs leading to the upper floor where everything appears modern. The bathroom contains a jacuzzi tub large enough to seat five. Uninterested in the wading pool, Steve searches for a shower.

Flipping the light switch, he finds an empty bedroom in the stark light of the unshaded bulb. The carpet appears untouched. Turning the light off, he continues down the hall. A floorboard groans beneath his weight.

A sharp cry followed by a muffled scream sends shivers racing down his back.

At the end of the hall, on the side, soft light glows within a crack in the door painting a line over a framed photograph hanging on wall on the opposite side. A closed door nearly hides in the shadows beyond the photograph. The light wiggles, and a painful moan escapes the doorway.

On toes, Steve sneaks along the wall. He listens to creaking, another whimper, and a pleasurable gasp. It sounds like a minor struggle, but the gratifying sound is what scares him the most. The muffled cries, slap of flesh, and orgasmic cry sends his heart thumping. One soft step, he holds his breath, and peers through the crack in the door.

Five red candles, wax flowing like a frozen waterfalls onto granite countertop, reflect in the mirror, ten wriggling flames send shadows dancing. Condensation drips from the fog at the top of the mirror cutting through half of the candles. Blue jeans and a white shirt lay on the tile floor beneath the counter. Undergarments rest on the toilet seat. The floor creaks, and the walls respond popping.

Touching finger on door, Steve nudges it open another inch revealing a wall between counter and a walk-in shower, clouded glass door hanging open.

Standing beneath the dripping shower head, and fully dressed, Kandy holds a nude woman, moist backside pressed against black shirt. One hand clamped over mouth, the other holds the woman’s arm twisted back over, wrist held like a vice. Kandy bites into the woman’s arm, blood squirts and flows down the arm, dripping from elbow splashing onto wet tile. The woman squirms, feet thrashing, and she falls still leaning against Kandy. The hand absorbs the cry.

Steve cringes as he listens to lips smacking flesh, the dripping. The guttural growl sends his stomach rising, heat flowing into his throat.

Head tilted to the side, Kandy licks at the wound, lapping blood. And she watches him. Her gaze locked on him, she continues licking and kissing the wound. She wraps her arm around the woman’s middle holding her like a doll.

Tearing his eyes away, Steve steps away from the door and turns. His legs feel weak, but he wills them into motion, and marches down the hall. Spotting shadows dripping into the very air like swirling smoke, he stops.

Kandy melts from the air standing right before him.

“What?” He waves over his shoulder indicating the girl in the shower. “Who?” The words avoid him, but his thoughts race faster than his heart. Is the woman the meal for the night? A willing blood donor? The image of Kandy biting into flesh stains his vision, but in the dim hall, he makes out a concerned look.

“You truly don’t remember anything, do you?”

He shakes his head. Concern over the woman overtakes his thoughts, and he spins around. Marching into the second bathroom, he sets his mind to the task, but the sight of blood brings the image back, blood squishing from lips. Inside the shower, the woman sits huddled in the corner hugging her knees to her breasts. And he recognizes her.


“You know her?” Kandy pulls a black towel from the bar on the outside of the glass door.

Grabbing the towel, he kneels and reaches into the shower throwing the towel over Sabrina. It is like at Torx’s apartment finding the same glazed look, and naked chest speckled with water drops and blood instead of pizza sauce. Sabrina appears stoned, barely responding to him drying her flesh.

Kandy cuts a length of gauze. Gently, she takes Sabrina’s hand and covers the wound fastening it with a clip. She leans over and kisses Sabrina on the cheek. The calmness on the Itoril’s face is both comforting and unnerving. Sabrina appears lost as she falls into Kandy’s arms like a child seeking comfort in a mother. Lifting the young woman, Kandy carries her across the hall into a bedroom.

Leaning against the doorjamb, Steve watches Kandy pull the covers over Sabrina. Is this something he has done before? Not with a young woman, but a child. It seems natural that a man his age should have a daughter he tucks in at night. Watching Kandy brush Sabrina’s hair back, he realizes the young woman is more than a midnight snack. There is a bond between them, maybe not like mother and daughter, but something similar.

Led by the hand down the stairs, he feels a little like a child.

Without memories, he is a child.

9. Bleed for Me

Figures move about within the gloom. The only light is from candles on tables on one side of the room, red neon strips along the bar on the other, and a flickering lighter illuminating faces within a pack at the center.

Red light rising from the bar gives the bartender a spooky appearance, and her spiked Mohawk completes the look of a warrior from a previous century. Kandy orders two glasses of white wine. Turning away from the bar, she waves at the pack. A slender fellow breaks away and slinks over.

There is no mistaking the lanky man, the rockstar from Torx’s apartment.

“Hey, Zee,” says Kandy. She wraps her arms around the man and smooches his cheek leaving a glaze of lipstick behind. “I don’t recall if you’ve met Steve Reynolds, but don’t worry. He’s ill with amnesia or something.”

“Seriously, Steve?” Zee holds out his hand. “You lost your memory?”

The skinny man with slender fingers has a surprisingly strong grip. Steve returns the squeeze. “It appears I’ve somehow misplaced it.”

“Well, damn, man. Describe.” Tipping in different directions, Zee waves his hands at the air. “Maybe I seen your memories wandering about.”

Grabbing a wine glass, Kandy pours the entire contents down her throat and sets the empty glass on the bar. “Excuse me while I powder my nose. And by that I don’t mean anything kinky. You boys have sick minds.”

Steve watches her strut away. Even without music, she seems to dance, stepping to her own beat.

“Yeah, man. I don’t understand what the hell she’s talking about half the time.”

“I believe I remember you.” Lifting the glass to his lips, Steve sips the crisp wine. “Do you know a young man that goes by Torx?”

“Can’t say I do. You remember where at?”

At a party full of college kids, broken bottles, discarded pizza boxes. “That I don’t recall.”

“Man, memory problem has to be the worst.” Zee shakes his head throwing long dark hair around.

Looking away, Steve scans the room taking in the patrons. Most stand in groups, drinking and talking. A bunch gather at the back beside a stage full of instruments and stacks of speakers waiting for the band. Some of the guests appear to be Itoril surrounded by Homo sapiens.

He tips his glass towards the pack. “They know, don’t they?”

“Oh, sure.” Zee glances around. “Most of them are wannabes, addicts. Shit, man. The youngest ones nearly pass for human. I can barely tell them apart sometimes.”

Taking a closer look, he considers that some of the others may actually be Itoril.

“Every generation is less like Ithuriel. Children today. Pathetic.” Leaning back, Zee appears to nearly fall over, but props an elbow on the bar. He waves a finger. “Elders are all hush.”

“What do they think of Yasmine promoting vampire mythos?”

“Politicians.” Zee shakes his head. “Always with their agendas. I can’t believe Kandy bothers with that club. I think she just likes to show off. You know what I mean?”

Rubbing his chin, Steve looks down at the floor as he considers how to extract more information. There is no doubt this is the same Itoril from the apartment. Looking up, he watches Zee’s wandering eyes. The Itoril man seems to look everywhere avoiding eye contact, which seems unusual for a predator. With all the tipping and weaving, Zee also appears high. Is it an act? Maybe Zee hides something. He seems too forthcoming about Itoril politics with a stranger.

Steve empties his wine and sets the glass on the bar. “Are you certain we’ve never met before?”

Leaning the other way, Zee looks over finally meeting the gaze. “No. I’d remember a face like yours. Man, you look military. Marine or something.”

Lights blink. A pair of spotlights flash the stage a second time.

“That’s me.” Pushing away from the bar, Zee weaves through the pack bumping shoulders and pushing guests aside. Climbing onto the stage, he grabs a guitar.

Three others join Zee. A female dressed all in black sits behind the drums, a male wearing an expensive suit stands at the far end holding a violin, and a man towering above the others grabs a guitar. Kandy climbs the stage, and takes the microphone. Hushing, the pack moves closer to the band.

An orange glow, a cigarette, bobs and weaves; the tall musician takes a drag.

Clicking drumsticks set the time.

A lullaby, the violin swims out of the quiet, floating on currents, haunting. Spotlights explode, drums crash, and the guitars sing complementing the eerie violin. Holding the microphone in both hands, leaning towards the audience, Kandy sings like an angel.

Steve feels cold creeping inside. His legs weaken. It is like a spell holding him, enraptured by the music. He listens to Kandy’s every word about love and dancing in the night.

Singing into the microphone she asks, “Will you bleed for me?”

Somehow he feels the rhetorical question deserves an answer, but there is only one answer. Kandy, sweet Kandy, is full of spice along with a heavy dose of killer instinct. Everyone bleeds for Kandy.

8. Ride

Unable to erase the image of the headless man, Steve cringes. “That was messy.”

“Sometimes I lose the element of surprise.” Kandy flashes a wicked grin. A passing streetlamp reveals blood spatter on her face and leather coat. “Sometimes it’s more fun.”

Without headlights, only the pools beneath streetlamps offer a glimpse of the roadway. An oncoming car illuminates the road, flashes lights as it passes, and the night returns. Kandy’s eyes glow red within the darkness.

“You kill people.”

Kandy scowls. “No humans. Not even young Itoril.”

Itoril are the descendants of Ithuriel. He knows about Itoril and their strange eyes, their fangs, their long life. All Itoril are related by blood, a family. If only the memory of his own family would surface.

“Rules come with the job,” says Kandy. Smashing the brake and turning the steering wheel, she pitches the car, back end sliding, around a corner. The car growls and straightens out on a four-lane boulevard. Smashing on the pedal and cranking the wheel, she drives around an orange hatchback.

“A hired killer.” Without prisons, Itoril depend on executions as a deterrent to crime.

Kandy squints at the oncoming headlights. “Everyone behaves reasonably well, so I don’t work much.”

“I saw you at Necropolis.”

Glancing over, she frowns. “You look awful. Where are your clothes?”

Looking down, he sees the same shirt and slacks. Unlike the pressed appearance at Torx’s place, wrinkles show. Realizing he clenches the seat, he puts his hands in his lap. Maybe these are not his regular clothes. A jacket makes more sense for the cool weather.

Recalling the gun pointed at him, the predator eyes, he considers his first memory. Looking at her now, he sees there is no mistake. Kandy is a killer. Whatever the issue, it is part of his past. “Why did you threaten me?”

Kandy scowls. “What are you talking about?”

“At Necropolis. In the room overlooking the dance floor.”

“I never threatened you. Why would I?”

“I don’t know.” He rubs his face. Maybe there is a mistake. “I don’t remember much. I can’t really say.”

The car swerves between lanes passing two more cars. Kandy presses the accelerator, and the engine roars with delight.

“I don’t recall my childhood, or where I live.” Hanging his head, he gazes out the passenger window watching trees and buildings racing past. “Nothing before yesterday.”

Tires howl, the nose of the car dives, and the seatbelt digs into his shoulder. Screeching to a stop, the car growls and falls into a purring idle. Lights flood the car, and horns blare. Gazing around, he realizes they rest in the middle of an intersection. Headlights fill the passenger and rear windows. Hands gripping the steering wheel, Kandy glares back at him. Unlike the cool, stern expression behind the gun, this face rages with anger. Unable to hold the gaze, he looks down at his hands resting on his thighs.

Three sharp honks cry out from behind. Another horn blares seeming to go on forever. Puttering around the side, a car passes, its driver shouting curses out the window.

Steve glances about and waves his hand at the window. “Traffic seems to be growing impatient.”

“You don’t remember us?”

Pulling his gaze back, he takes in the hot face. In the glare of the headlights, her face is white speckled by blood droplets. White powder, sheetrock from the blast, clings like snow on fringes of her dark hair curled over her shoulder. Her lips, bright red like sticky, sweet candy glisten in the light. Even angry, her brown eyes are beautiful. Her face is unforgettable, and no wonder the only one he remembers. Their past, however, is blank.

Anger giving way to concern, Kandy shakes her head. She looks at the road ahead ignoring another driver yelling obscenities as the car passes around. “I thought you died. What happened?”

“I don’t recall.”

Kandy stomps on the accelerator, and the car roars, tires screaming. She pitches the car down a side street. Steve watches the passing lamplights splash over Kandy, her eyes flashing between brown in the light and red in darkness. All Itoril, even the young ones, have the iridescent eyes. They perceive ultraviolet light, heat, allowing them to see in darkness. City lights must be a pain, both the brightness and the heat forming clouds over the skyline.

Pulling into a dark parking lot, Kandy cuts the engine. The building is an old movie theater with a single box office out front. Except for the handful of cars in the parking lot, the place appears abandoned. Painted in black like graphite is the name of the establishment, Midnight Dream.

Kandy removes a handkerchief from her pocket. Leaning over, she gazes into the review mirror and wipes the blood droplets from her face. Her hair smells like cinnamon. Opening the glove box, she pushes a pistol aside and removes a small canister. She paints her lips red even though they already appear luscious.

At the entrance, an imposing man in a leather jacket opens the door for them. Warm air wraps around, and Kandy removes her long coat, handing it to a lady wearing an elegant black dress. The short hall opens into a chamber with archways leading to rooms in three directions.

In the corners of the square room, tall stone statues stand on black marble bases. Each one nude, two females stand in opposing corners and two males in the other two. One male and female have large wings, angels grasping swords, tips touching the ground between feet. The other female has large pointed breasts and long fangs protruding from an open grin. The remaining statue is a hulking figure with large muscles standing on hooves. Above its tall pointed ears, two massive horns extend up curling out front like a bull. The near human face scowls exposing sharp teeth above a pointed chin. The engorged penis curls out like a weapon.

Steve gazes up at the female with the fangs. “One of your ancestors, I presume.” Turning, he faces the other female. The wings are symbolic. “And an Alnir, the people from the sky.”

Kandy scowls. “You remember your ancient history.” Spinning around, she struts through an archway.

Following, Steve watches her hips rock in the snug pants. He nearly stumbles down the stairs, shoe slipping over an edge clomping onto the next step. Spotting Kandy gazing over her shoulder, he returns the smile.

7. Trick-or-Treat

Steve Reynolds walks the streets of Roseland beneath the crimson sky. Passing faces ignore him. He is a ghost haunting sidewalks filled with musicians pounding plastic buckets, beggars holding cardboard signs, shoppers lugging bags. Discarded paper cups litter the street. The sky darkens, streetlamps spark, and lights fill the windows of the tall buildings.

Ghosts walk the streets, not the memory ghosts from Necropolis or the specters from the Sanctuary of Sin, but children wearing bed sheets. They carry sacks filled with treats. A man in a gorilla suit waits in line behind a woman wearing a negligee and bunny ears at the door to a nightclub spilling music onto the street.

Did he trick-or-treat as a kid? Is there a daughter somewhere waiting for her dad to take her out for trick-or-treat? He remembers Halloween, but not his childhood or if he has a family. Maybe somewhere in Roseland, his daughter wears a princess costume while holding her empty bag. She sits on the porch waiting for him to come home.

Looking around, Steve finds a quiet street lined with old apartment buildings. The decorative stonework appears like something from an age when craftsman cared about their work. The building across the street includes gargoyles gazing down from high perches.

A herd of goblins scurry down the steps scrambling onto the sidewalk, and turn racing for the next building. Chasing after, a woman waves a flashlight splashing a person dressed in a long black coat. Steve watches the parent scurry around a pedestrian, and he spots her face.

Kandy glances back at the woman chasing after the children. Unbuckling belt, she loosens her coat falling open waving behind her like a cape as she ascends the stone steps.

Stepping onto the road, Steve waves his hand. He tries to call out, but his dry throat burns. Watching Kandy disappear inside the apartment building, he scurries onto the sidewalk and takes the steps two at a time. His heavy feet stumble at the top, and he crashes into the door. Pulling the door open, he dives inside.

The green carpet on the stairs appears new, and fresh paint attacks his nose. Keeping near the wall, avoiding creaks and groans, he climbs the stairs. Among the snapping of the cooling building, he hears muffled voices and music. On the first floor, he gazes down the hall finding closed doors. Turning the corner, he climbs to the next, his breath puffing at the exertion. If Kandy is on the top floor, he may have to give up his pursuit.

On the third floor, he leans on the banister and takes a deep breath.

An explosion, bits of wood shower the hall, and emerging from the dust, a man wearing only boxer shorts runs bouncing off the wall and back into the center. Appearing behind him, Kandy holds a shotgun in one hand and a sword in the other. Twisting around, Steve watches the man run past. Gazing down the hall, he spots Kandy already midway to the other end. Glancing over-shoulder, he confirms the empty hall. It is as if Kandy teleported.

The man in the boxer shorts looks back over his shoulder unaware of the woman crouching down in his path. Leaning a shoulder low, Kandy trips the man lifting him up over end falling on his backside and rolling over head smacking against the wall. Spinning around, she jams the shotgun against the man’s nose and pulls the trigger, and the gun fires, the boom rattling the foundation.

A cloud swallows Kandy.

Teeth clenched, Steve fights the ringing in his ears. Reaching out towards the white cloud, he stumbles down the hall. Concern over the man, the residents, the building, and Kandy twist and turn within as his shaky legs carry him. The dust clears revealing Kandy standing over the man’s legs. She holds the shotgun pointed at his chest. Where the man’s head should be, there is a hole in the wall at the center of blood spray.

Kandy turns around, her cruel gaze bearing down. As she slips the sword into her leather coat, she says something lost to the ringing.

Knees weakening, Steve reaches out at the air searching for balance. There is nothing he can do for the headless victim. There is nothing he can do about the killer holding the shotgun. His life is hers if she wants it.

“Steve,” says Kandy. She holds her hand out. “The quiet place!”

In that instant, he realizes precisely what she means. Like in Necropolis, like in the Sanctuary of Sin, and perhaps like even in Torx’s apartment building, he steps into the shadows of the world. He grasps Kandy’s hand, and together they glide down the stairs, their soundless feet carrying them to the second floor.

This is the quiet place. His heartbeat is still within his head, but nothing beyond. Darkness eats at the floor and walls turning the building nearly transparent. He sees the street below, the cars parked on the street: phantoms. They pass an apparition climbing the stairs in slow motion. Glancing back, he considers the perspective from the ghost, a woman climbing the stairs at normal speed barely aware of two phantoms blurring past. The quiet place, the shadows between folds of time, feels like home.

He is alive. His legs find their strength, and he glides down the steps and through the closed door. Turning, Kandy leads him around the corner where she releases his hand. Stepping out of the shadows, he returns to the world. Sounds of traffic, music, and laughter attack along with the crisp evening air.

Reaching a black muscle car, Kandy pulls the door open and tosses the shotgun and sword into the back seat. “Get in.”

He obeys her command.

The car roars, the thundering pistons shaking the entire vehicle. Steve barely connects his seat belt when the tires squeal, and the car throws him against the door. Kandy howls out the window like a warrior announcing victory after a great battle. She straightens the car out and speeds down the road. No headlights. Itoril see better without them.