Chapter Four

Friday, December, 11th, 2015

She twirled a bit while she bent over to grab her axe. Patience be damned, she did not break stride as she spun it into the wall, imbedding the blade deep enough in the pale yellow wood that she could see through to the neighboring room.

It was unoccupied. Good. She hated company. She hated this shitty motel. For the time being, she was devoted to hating everything.

When the dark came, she would leave, axe hidden in the waist of her leggings and covered by the sweatshirt she threw over herself. It did not bother her anymore that she was forced to hide the body much sought after in her former line of work. The true weapon. She would do anything to remain under the radar and away from anyone who could recognize her.

Then, she would finally earn his forgiveness.

The axe had to be pried from the wall and it stung against her back when it cut through her sweater to her porcelain flesh. She liked it. It made her feel safe. Dangerous.

Alone, she was a force to be reckoned with. Coupled with the twin blades she carried, no one would dare. She left the room, visualizing the hunt she would be enjoying in the wee hours of the morning. Until then, she would indulge in a meal.

The diner was in the neighborhood. It was only a few minutes’ walk from the motel and small, just a one-floor establishment organized of splintered wooden planks and faded signs. The windows were dirty. Still, it had its perks. On the one hand, no one knew her there or questioned her. On the other…

The egg’s sucked here. Sasha’s mask was momentarily pulled away from her mouth to make way for another bite of fried egg and bacon but she hid it well from the other patrons. She could not be seen again. Not at this place with its cheap, plastic-like eggs and urine-yellow water.

There were few people sitting around the dining room. A lone man here or there enjoyed the comfort of mediocrity they were so accustomed to while they devoured the two-dollar foot-long chili dogs the place was known for.

The smell raised bile in Sasha’s throat. She was surrounded by pigs.

The manager was an older man, one she was becoming accustomed to seeing. While Sasha ate, he dealt a hand of poker to his friends at the cashier station, laughing around the cigar hanging from his mouth. Puffs of smoke lingered above them. Pigs.

The occupants of the room were all regulars. Sasha had been coming here for dinner every two or three days for the last few months and she had never seen anyone other than those she was looking at now. Then, the door opened.

He was unusual. The stranger that came inside was almost inhumanly tall, having to duck under the bell that alerted them to his arrival. His face was young and plagued by a thick brush of blonde facial hair. The mane atop his head was the same shade of gold and was tied back in a ponytail that fell to the small of his back. His eyes were bloodshot and wide but a startling shade of green.

Sasha narrowed her eyes at him, as so many others did around her, but he did not seem to care. His gaze was only for the small paper square in his hand, then the older manager at the poker podium. He did not look back.

Sasha lowered her forkful of eggs back to the plate. There was something very off about him, about the way his eyes focused so intently on the manager. About the huge, burly muscles pressing against his crusty shirt. His lips frantically closed around the words Sasha hastened to hear.

“Excuse me, I’m looking for someone,” he spat, shaking as he held up the paper in his hand for the manager to see. “Have you seen this woman?”

The manager either did not hear or did not care because he said nothing.

The stranger barely waited long enough to catch his breath. He shook the paper again with growing insistence. “Excuse me,” he gasped again in a baritone.

“Jesus, go the fuck away, freak,” the manager counter. His cigar bounced as he spoke.

“Please, have you seen this woman? I have to find her.”

The old man scowled. “If I’d seen her, don’t you think I would’ve called the cops or something?”

“I’m not the police, I just have to find her.”

The manager waved around the dining room. “Do you see her? ‘Cuz I don’t see her.”

Sasha cursed herself for not choosing a closer booth. As they looked about the room, she stared back, separated by the red scarf. Her weapon lay close to her back. The man was a threat, she could feel it. She was not sure of his true motives for choosing this garbage neighborhood to search for the supposed “woman,” but the manager was deluding himself if he thought this guy could not, or would not, snap him like a twig for the insolence. If he would come here, he was capable of nearly anything.

His eyes paused but did not stop over Sasha. All the while, she scrutinized him.

“I guess not,” Sasha read from his lips. His being deflated with disappointment. “Sorry to waste your time.”

His arms hung at his sides, dangling the paper. Sasha strained to see the woman he wanted so badly to find. The outline was gray, reflecting the face of a young woman drawn in pencil.

No.

Her hand gripped the axe to steady herself from falling into her eggs. She would have been standing if not for the table, still she tried to look closer before he could disappear out the door.

It did not matter how she looked at it or how close she got. The face in the photo never changed. It was very clearly a police sketch of an irritated face with high cheeks and slender bones between tendrils of straight-cut and boyishly short blonde hair.

It was Sasha’s face.

 

She wouldn’t let him get away. All thought of remaining inconspicuous evaporated from her mind, driving her to bolt upright. The table wobbled and fell.

“Hey!” the manager cried. “You’re paying for that, right? Hey!”

She threw herself out the door, leaving behind a plate of half-eaten breakfast food.

His steps were slow and sure. Sasha could not help but find this strange, given that threats loomed around every corner in this part of town. Perhaps his size made him feel strong here, but she would prove him wrong. Anyone who would carry around a photo of her did not mean anything positive for Sasha. He would need to be dispatched.

The streets were spotted with people. She could only wait now, keeping to the shadows a hundred feet back in case he looked back.

He did not. He just kept walking, staring down at the photo.

Why was he looking at her picture?! Despite the thinning group of people filtering out of sight, Sasha pulled the axe from beneath her many layers and held it at its very end, extending her arm to its full length. She was complete.

The stranger turned a corner at the street’s end and Sasha followed. He seemed completely ignorant of her presence, but that was not what Sasha liked from her prey. She wanted him to be afraid. She wanted him to scream when he died.

“I think you were looking for someone,” she called, approaching faster. The end of the axe swung backward, heavy and insistent.

He turned. “Yes!” the look of hope on his face glowed. “Yes, have you seen this—?”

Contrary to her initial thought, he did not go down easily, and she had bested bigger men then this before. It took two strikes to the throat, an elbow to the right temple, and a kick to his tailbone to get her threat across. Then, he fought back.

“What the hell?” he demanded, shoving her backward. Sasha’s solid figure crumpled like a leaf under his otherworldly strength, flattening her to the sidewalk.

An obscenity passed her lips. Clearly, she would not be getting the fight she wanted. Rather than wilt, she threw herself back to her feet, swinging the axe to cut him wherever she could reach. Each time, he avoided her with visible ease.

“I don’t have time for this,” he grunted, narrowing his eyes in distaste.

She returned the gesture, lips pursed. Her scarf blew to and fro with her even breaths.

The stranger lunged for her axe, gripping it around the handle and yanking it from her hands with a strength that nearly pulled her shoulder from its socket. Sasha gasped. This man must have been trained in much the same way she had, but she was loathe to admit that he was stronger. She was merely taken off guard.

“Mine,” she hissed, clutching the axe just below the blades. Sasha used it for leverage to pull her toward her opponent, kneeing him in the gut. Winded, he dropped her weapon, falling to the ground. She did not allow him to gather his bearings. Her legs straddled him. The blade in her hand came down onto his throat, throwing ruby droplets in every direction.

All was quiet.

Easy. It was always easy. Sasha pried the axe from his neck and held it under her arm so she could ceremoniously go through her victim’s pockets. He had a wallet and the sketch of her face, but, otherwise, he was completely bare of possessions. No keys. No phone. It was rather disappointing.

She opened the wallet, only to be greeted by an expired driver’s license, issued to the late Garrett Daniels. The other compartments were empty of currency. “This must be a joke,” she whispered to herself, turning it upside down in case he was hiding anything. The plastic rectangle that was his only identification clattered to the ground. A photo fluttered after it.

It was pristine, but clearly old, as the quality was grainy, like the photos of decades past. Ordinarily she would not have bothered herself with a stranger’s mementos, but she felt so robbed by Mr. Garrett Daniels that she did not even care to waste another moment of her time. Besides, she was curious. She scraped the picture off the concrete, looking it over.

The man frozen in time was familiar enough, she had just flattened him on the sidewalk. He was dressed well in a standard, black tux, and stood beneath the overhand of a white gazebo. It looked as though he had not aged a day, but his hair was shorter, neater, in the photo. A grin split his face, and it was matched by his companion, leaning elegantly against the wall of their shelter. A woman with strawberry blonde locks draped over her bare shoulders.

Sasha bit her lip, drawing blood.

The woman in the picture was her, but she did not recall posing for such a thing. She was bedecked in a lacy, white gown and held a bouquet of similarly-colored roses. “What?” she hissed, looking over the body before her. Who was this man? A spy? A psychotic freak? She could not stay to think it over; someone would be discovering the body soon and she had to leave before she could be connected to it.

Then, something hit her.

Sasha did not see the force that struck her in the chest with a strength that nearly crushed her ribs. She only saw the world swirl away from her while she sailed through the air, landing with a harsh crack against the wall of the building across the street. Her body slumped to the ground. Mind racing, she searched for the threat, but the stranger had not moved. There was no one else on the street.

Are my ribs broken?

She threw herself to her feet, only to find them knocked out from under her by the same ghostly force. This time, when Sasha landed, it was on her face. Her lungs pleaded for precious air, but gasping did little good. The axe she had been holding had fallen out of her hand, and skittered into the road, completely out of reach.

The man from the diner gurgled a few times on the sidewalk several yards away. Sasha watched, spellbound, as he sat up, despite the blood spurting from his cut throat. Her awe only grew when he poked at the wound, sighed, and stood. Before her eyes, the flow of blood stopped. As if being sewn by invisible hands, the gash just seemed to seal up, becoming a visible scar even in the dark. Mouth agape, she stared until the scar vanished. It was as if she had not touched him in the first place.

“Oh my God,” Sasha gasped. Her body prepared itself to stand, but her arms lacked the strength to pick herself up.

Move.

Her would-be victim started toward her. His steps were loud against the asphalt. The Earth shook under him.

Jesus Christ, get up!

A beefy hand wrapped itself around the front of her sweater, lifting her off the ground with no effort at all. Her back struck the brick wall once, twice, a third time. The breath had all but left her body and her head lolled forward.

Can’t breathe.

Her tongue was choking her. The dark mixed with the black dots floating behind her eyes, blinding her. She could not see. She could not breathe. She was drowning.

Is that blood?

There had to be a way out. There was always a way out.  Calling on any strength Sasha could muster, she reached for his face, clawing at the flesh she could reach. Her fingernails dragged at his cheeks, leaving marks that healed just as quickly as she caused them. When it seemed that would do no good, she resorted to more serious measures. She sent a mule kick straight between his legs.

The groan that answered her, followed by the release of the hands that held her sweater, told her that she had met her target. The brute doubled over, gasping while he held himself. Sweat beaded up on his face. Whatever he was, he was able to be injured. That was all the opportunity she needed. Without his grasp, she fell in a heap on the sidewalk once again.

Fight or flight kicked in at full force. If he managed to get his hands on her one more time, certain death would be sure to follow. Sasha rolled onto her stomach. Bracing herself on both elbows, she raised her leg behind her, striking him in the face as hard as she could, given her weakened state. Thankfully, it was enough. The giant fell back onto his behind, curled in on himself.

Sasha scrambled for the axe in the street. She smiled when it was safely in hand, turning for the man. He was getting up again. Sasha threw herself into him, hoping to bring him down, but it was like hitting a brick wall. She held him by the throat with one hand, keeping herself against him while he continued to stand. With her other, she stabbed him with the blade.

His screams echoed through the city. Sasha struck at him harder, opening gashes in his face and chest and spilling blood on the concrete. He needed to go down. Now. Someone had to have been close enough to hear and investigate.

The gashes stitched up. Sasha feverishly plunged the blade into his flesh wherever she could reach, hoping the blood spurting from his throat and eyes would knock him to the ground, at least. It was not working. With every stroke, his hands came closer to her chest. The axe was doing no good.

“Just die,” she muttered coolly, dropping her blade and curling her thumbs into his eyes. He shoved at her. His hands felt like rocks, but she refused to succumb. The stranger screamed, blinded by her fingernails. The music of his screams grew.

He had to go down soon. It could not be possible for anyone to survive this.

The behemoth was unlike anything she had ever encountered. His flailing did not slow. His blood was pooling beneath them, but it did not seem to make a dent. Her thumbs drove further and further into his skull. Her legs curled tighter around his waist, holding her in place despite his desperate shoves against her chest. Sasha struggled to breathe; every strike he delivered robbed her of air.

“Just die!” she gasped.

Her thumbs could not go any deeper. She shook him, grunting, but it did not work. Nothing worked. Why wasn’t it working?

The skin of his eyes around her fingers was healing and tightening around her. She wrenched herself back but she was already stuck in the prison of his miraculously growing eyeballs. His hands shoved harder against her chest, and this time she let him throw her to the ground.

She was drenched in his blood and he was still standing. Sasha lay sprawled on the floor, scowling at the red marring her clothes, and the monster was still standing. His eyes were shut and streaming crimson, but the flow was slowing. His shrieks were rebounding off the walls. Sasha’s time was running out.

Seizing her chance, she dove for the street corner, ignoring the stabbing pain that shot up her leg and threatened to drop her to her knees. She only needed a moment to catch her breath and then she would know how to incapacitate this…thing.  There had to be some way.

Someone yelled nearby. A good Samaritan coming to the rescue? She doubted it, but, either way, she had to cut her losses soon before she was discovered. She was strong, she was more than confident about that, but she was not unrealistic; there could be a crowd coming to bring her down. Combined with the strength of the monster she fought, she might actually lose this one.

Fight another day, she finally mused.

It killed Sasha to retreat. For all of her career she could not remember a time when she had ever run from a fight. It killed her to say that she was unprepared. Staying could only mean death.

She did not make it. The familiar hand grasped her ankle, yanking her back into the street before she could turn the corner, and back into the arms of her captor. This time, they wrestled into the curb, her back to his chest, her behind to his newly recovered crotch. “Get off me!” she growled, swinging at him with her closed fist, elbows, and heels. Each one did less damage than the last.

Rolling them both into the puddle of his blood, Sasha nailed him in the face with the back of her head, wiggling herself in an attempt to distract him. It did not work. “Garrett!” she shrieked in a last ditch effort. “Get off me!”

She did not expect it to work. Instantly. The second she said his name, he froze, arms going just slack enough for her to breathe completely. She shoved at him, pulling herself from his grasp.

He seemed to come to his senses. “Not real, not real, not real,” he whispered to himself, scratching at his ears. He held her with his legs, rocking the both of them on the floor. “Go away, leave me alone.”

She did not possess the time or the will to try understanding his ramblings. “I am trying! Let go!”

“Not real, not real, not real.”

Sasha clocked him with the back of her head again, if only to snap him out of his crazy.

He ground his teeth together. “Stop doing that.”

“No!”

“Who are you?” he demanded, curling his arm around her neck to hold her tighter. “Why did you come here?”

The panic washed away as soon as she could breathe freely. In its place grew something hotter. Sasha saw red. “Let. Me. Go.”

He hummed a dark chuckle. “I don’t know who you think you’re dealing with, but you’re not all that intimidating, kitten.”

“Kitten?” she snarled, teeth bared. “Do. Not. Call. Me. Kitten.”

Garrett seemed to realize that he had let something slip. He held her to him like a teddy bear despite her protests, rocking back and forth. “Not real, not real, not real.”

“I am real, you idiot! And you are really keeping me from leaving! Let go!”

Garrett loosened around her, only enough to roll her on her other side to face him. His fingers gripped the scarf covering her face and he ripped it away, dragging her head with it. He studied her for all of half a second before he recoiled. Green eyes going wide, he shuddered, unable to process something he had seen in Sasha’s face. His hands shook, but he made no move to touch her again. She had clearly burned him.

“Not real, you’re not real,” he whimpered, squeezing his eyes shut. Saltwater erupted from them. He clawed at his face, covering his mouth while the vicious sobs spilled out. “You can’t be real. Why are you torturing me?” He shook his head to dispel the image from his mind. “Why are you torturing me?”

Sasha forced herself to her feet, slouching under her own weight. She did not hesitate before she threw herself away, making eye contact with a pair of men sprinting toward them. Those “Good Samaritans” froze. She must have been a sight, drenched in blood the way she knew she was.

Time to cut those losses. Garrett seemed to be distracted enough this time to free her, but Sasha refused to go empty handed. His driver’s license and those pictures still lay across the street. That I.D. meant an address to find him again. She took them while she ran from Garrett and away from those guys.

“No!”

She kept her legs moving, faster than she ever recalled before. Her life depended on it.

She needed to get back to the motel. Somewhere safe.

“Poppy!” his voice called again. Sasha chanced a look back. He was still picking himself up. Concern was painted clearly across his features. “Are you alright?”

Don’t look back.

 

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