Death is the Middle (Not the End)
by Charon MacDonald
"And thats Melissa." Eric pointed at the goth girl sitting on the fire escape.
"Ravens Shadow." The goth said with a flat and yet irritable tone.
"Melissa." Eric repeated without a pause. "And youre...?"
"Gwendolyn." The young brunette was dazed. It showed in her eyes and her voice. "Gwen or Wendy to my friends."
The goth smiled and leaned forward, hands clasped between her knees. "Wendy, welcome to the Neverland."
"You see that ambulance out there?" Eric pointed toward the mouth of the alley, where the nose of an ambulance could be seen, along with flashing lights. Music drifted to where the three ravers sat and stood from the doors around the side of the building.
"...yeah..." She looked that way, and then back at the dark-haired man. "...did someone get hurt?" There had been a lot of shoving in the mosh pit. So, shed... come out here? She didnt remember coming out here- all she remembered was the room spinning, and all the lights flashing, and the bodies pressing against her, and stumbling a little, her heart pounding...
"...someone died." The goth announced, crouching even further forward, a ghoulish glee in her eyes.
The girl swallowed. She knew she should never have given in and come to this rave.
The man licked his lips nervously, and then with a hissing intake of air, gritted his teeth. Finally, he said "...that someone was you."
"...wh...what?" Gwen repeated. "But Im..."
"Dead." The girl on the fire escape intoned. "Thats not your real body. Thats just who you were at the moment you died. You should have dressed better."
"These are my good clothes." Gwen protested, looking up at her. Gwens cheeks flushed with heat.
"Exactly." The goth was dressed all in lace and dark clothes. Gwen had to admit the goth belonged at a place like this. And she realized that she, herself, definitely didnt.
"Im... going home now. Im going to find my friends and get out of here."
The goth smiled a wicked little smile. "Want to bet on how far shell get?"
Eric shook his head. "Melissa, sometimes you disgust me. Gwendolyn, Im sorry, but theres no going home for you. No talking to your friends, either. Not... right now, anyway. Youve got an appointment."
She started backing away from the two ravers. "No way. I dont know what was in that pill, but-"
"Thats why you shouldnt have taken it." Eric said quietly. His eyes showed a definite hurt, a sadness for her, and a finality that scared her.
"Thats what killed you. The Ex you thought you were taking was laced with something else." Eric answered her question before she could ask it. He had experience at knowing what the dead were going to say.
"What?" Her voice was weak, but steadier than it had been a minute before.
"Dont know. Does it matter?" Melissa, Ravens Shadow smiled down on her, a cruel smile. "You had the night of your life. The last night of your life. Now, you have to come with us. You get to take one last look at yourself, and the people around you, and then we have to move on."
"Move on?" Her frantic eyes shot from Eric to Melissa. "You mean-"
"No," Eric sighed, "shes being dramatic. Just move on to the appointment, and find out what youre going to be now."
"Its simple." Melissa stood up and dropped off the fire escape, landing in a flurry of skirts, then rose to her feet. Gwendolyn looked up- that was... fifteen or twenty feet... then back down to the smirk on the goths face.
"So was that. Youre dead, through no fault of your own. So youve got a pretty good chance of being something important. Which is why were here. Hoping to cash in on a little karma of our own..." She grinned, and approached the shaken teen. "Every life has potential. The less you did with it, the more you have left waiting for you now. But your persona also gives you power. The stronger your self-image, the more power you can channel... You were young, and that gives you power, but youre weak and thats going to take it away!"
"I dont understand..." The brunette tried to back away from the girl, but in a blink, moving faster than Gwendolyn could see, Melissa appeared in front of her, grabbing the recently-dead girls wrist, and tugging on it with bone-wrenching force.
"I was waiting for death. I knew what was going to happen, so I did nothing with my life. And as soon as I knew I was at the peak of my beauty, of everything, I stepped in front of a bus. In full view of my entire high school. I even waved goodbye."
"Thats awful!" Gwen tried to pull her hand away, but nothing happened. The girls fingers were as hard as stone, and the goths arm didnt budge any more than a statues would have.
"No, it was wonderful." The goths eyes seemed to glaze over with rapture. "All the screams, the cries, the shocked looks, and that bitch of a bus driver. I swear she smiled..."
The goth smiled, and let Gwens wrist go with one final painful squeeze.
"I have a lot of power. My parents always said Id never amount to anything. That I was wasting my life. But I wasnt wasting it. I was conserving it. For here, and now."
Eric stepped in, his eyes plainly asking Melissa to back off. She acquiesced and turned away from them, heading to the mouth of the alley.
"No, she was smart. She chose this world instead of life, and she did it in just the right way. Theres not many on this side of the grave that can stand up to her." He shook his head. "Even if Id known... if Id had a choice, I wouldnt have chosen this. I wouldve lived my life... we really have to go."
"I...I have to?" Gwen held her wrist - it felt broken. "Wait, if Im dead, how can I feel pain? Youre lying to me! Im not dead, Im not!"
Melissa was instantly there. The goths slap knocked the dead teen against the wall. It felt like being hit by that bus. Gwens head bounced off the wall of the warehouse and she fell to her knees, crying.
"You can still be hurt. You can still hurt others. You can even hurt the living, or kill them. But be careful about that. Only kill someone you really like... and who really likes you."
"Will you stop saying that? Of course you dont understand. I was the only one that did! Youre lucky Im here now, not that Im taking an interest in you. I just like raves. If Id known you were here for the first time, and that you were such a whiny self-absorbed airhead-"
"Melissa!" Eric stepped between them, his back to Gwendolyn. "Shell know it all soon enough. She..."
She was running, away from both of them, out the mouth of the alley, into the crowd- who parted for her as she ran through them- and then into a circle of empty space where two paramedics were...
Thats... th...thats me...
Gwen looked down at herself, eyes bloodshot, lips a pallid blue, her dress torn in the front, and two burn marks on her chest. The paramedics were putting away a defibrillator unit. She recognized it from ER.
I never knew it burned people...
Eric took her arm, gently. "You should look at your friends, too."
Melissa stood just a little past him, arms crossed, and angry. She turned away when Gwens eyes fell on her. "He said your friends."
Eric pointed across the circle - and Gwen saw her friends, the five of them, the three boys and two girls shed come to the party with. The ones whod opened the bag of ecstasy and pressured her into taking one of the pills. Amelia, her best friend, struggling against Johns arms, trying to get to Gwen... to her body, lying cold and still on the sidewalk. Steven hugging Casey tight to his chest, his arms wrapped around her, looking out over her shoulder and keeping her head turned away. And Kyle, her ex-boyfriend, who she was still friends with...
...had still been friends with...
...jaw clenched, lips pressed into a tight line, hands balled into fists.
"...why arent they dead?" Her mind was whirling. She didnt know why she thought anything that she did - the thoughts she had came chaotically, and didnt follow what she thought someone would have thought if they were dead.
Eric winced, and shrugged. "Maybe only your pill had something dangerous in it. Maybe theirs were laced a little less. Maybe you had a bad heart or an allergy. I dont know. How do you feel about them?"
She looked at him with a confused gaze in her pretty brown eyes. "I... theyre my friends. Im glad theyre not dead." Gwen swallowed. "How should I feel?"
"Thats up to you." Eric looked at her body, then over at her friends. "Angry, that they did this to you. Relieved that they didnt follow you. Sad that theyve lost you... Ive seen it all." Yeah, pretty much.
Gwen swallowed and turned to fully look at him. She could see her body out of the corner of her eye and turned further away - trying to see him and only him, and ignore the crowd. And the reason the crowd was here. "I am angry. Im angry that I died!"
"Good." Melissa appeared next to her, in that faster-than-sight way she had of moving. "Maybe once this appointments over, we can find out who you should be angry towards."
Eric nodded in agreement. "Come on. Youve had your requisite last look. Lets go."
She felt numb, and didnt fight, as they led her away down an alley which seemed to stretch away from the noise, the light, the crowd, and the paramedics loading her onto a stretcher-
-when she was right here, not there.
Then she wasnt anywhere as the alley became a hole into nothing and her world went dark.
It felt like floating and falling and flying and sinking all at the same time.
"Transition. One of Erics powers." Melissa... Ravens Shadow... sounded jealous. "Lucky bastard."
"One of... his powers?" She couldnt see anything but them, and couldnt feel anything but their hands upon her, and the feeling of falling or flying through an endless chill.
"Oh, god-damnit, you sound like every other stupid burb thats ever died before they graduated high school. Dont repeat everything I say. Youve got to be faster on the draw from now on."
"Im sorry!" Gwen shouted at the goth - "I just died!"
Melissas black-painted lips curved into a smile. "Thats better. For right now, get angry and stay angry. Itll help you deal with others. You are so lucky that Eric and I were there. Otherwise, youd be food right now."
"Food?" Gwen shrunk away from the girls angry eyes. "Im sorry," she repeated, "I dont understand any of this. Youve had-" She stopped, suddenly aware that she didnt know how old the other girl was, how long shed had to get used to this. Melissa didnt look old, didnt sound old, but - "how old are you?"
"Twenty-two. I was fifteen when I died. Seven years." The girl seemed to get angry in a heartbeat... no, I dont have a heartbeat...in a second, then... and she seemed to recover just as quick.
I dont have a heartbeat. Her hand began to unwrap from Erics wrist. Then her bones were grating togther, and her hand wouldnt budge. "Ow, youre hurting me!"
"Dont EVER let go during Transition. EVER!" Melissa was angry again.
Gwen waited for the other girl to recover, and tried not to cry from pain, shock, fear, and humiliation.
"Dont let go." Melissa repeated, and kept her hand on Gwens wrist. "I wont." Gwen replied. Melissas hand didnt move. "I wont!" Gwen repeated, more forcefully. Melissa smirked, and still didnt move her hand. "Its not an escape. Its a torture. An endless torture... and thats if youre lucky."
"If youre - well, Im sorry I keep repeating what you say but I still dont know whats going on and Im still trying to accept that Im dead and you keep saying things that I dont know anything about!"
"Shes right, Melissa. Please, just let her rest for now. Well clue her in later."
"Ravens shadow." Melissa repeated with a snarl, and finally let go of Gwens wrist.
Gwen wanted to rub her wrist, but didnt dare try to remove her other hand to do it...
The darkness faded, and they were pulled or thrown into the light. Not much light, it was just another empty alley, but the walls of the buildings were totally different and marked up with gang tags. She didnt know which gangs, shed never been in that part of town, but she recognized that they were tags and not just graffiti.
Eric looked around. "Now, why the hell are we here?"
Melissa let go of him and looked around as well. "Oh, cool. Maybe we have some business to take care of first..." She grinned and flexed her fingers.
"Eric?" Gwendolyn clung to his arm. "Whats going on? You said we had an appointment. Why are we here? This isnt it, is it?"
He shook his head. She was very frightened. Melissa looked like she was ready to get into a fight, and Erics eyes were roaming all over the place - to every door, window, and exit he could see.
She moved closer to him. Why are they not sure where they are? What are they getting ready for? What is Eric looking for? What does Melissa think shes going to fight?
"Can... we be hurt... more? Killed?"
"In a way, yeah." Eric didnt elaborate. Melissa wasnt paying any attention to her anymore. Gwen wanted to cry - to sit down somewhere and cry. She was dead, at only seventeen, a junior in high school, and without a current boyfriend, and she hadnt even figured out what she was going to do with her life yet. Shed never made the cheerleaders, hadnt gotten involved in the science, math, or debate clubs, wasnt on any student body councils, or... anything. I havent done anything with my life.
Melissa had said that gave people power... she didnt feel powerful at all. Gwen felt scared, and weak, and helpless, and afraid, and overwhelmed, and so many other things she couldnt even place or name them all.
But she felt they were in the wrong place- and the right way was this way. "This way..." She started walking away from Eric, following a pull that seemed right.
He grabbed her arm. "Are you serious?" He glanced at Melissa, who was watching her with wide eyes and a growing smile.
"You can feel something already?" Melissa straightened up and waved a hand in the air. "Lead on!"
Eric walked next to her, his hand on her arm, protectively, ready to close his fingers tighter if he needed to. Gwen walked along the sidewalk, watching the people in the street. Hispanics, mostly. This had to be the puerto rican section of the city, one of the slums. She knew where this part of town was. It was pretty far from the club, and her house. We... went two miles in a minute?
Her breath caught in her throat. No, it wasnt her breath, it was something else. She hadnt been breathing for a while now. "Do... we breathe?"
"If you want to, or if you dont think about it, you might breathe. You dont have to. After a while, you just... dont. Thats one way to tell the really old ones. If they dont breathe at all, ever, while youre watching them. They might be old."
"Hundreds of years," Melissa replied, with an awed tone in her voice. "I wish Id been born before Christ... then Id be a god now."
Eric chuckled. "You wouldnt have known to kill yourself. Or how to deal with this, afterwards."
"I might have," she said, defensively, and turned to Gwen. "Come on, point it out."
"Point what out?" Gwen asked. She felt something. Something she couldnt explain, but it was up- in the building they were standing in front of.
"Point out your killer." Melissas eyes all but gleamed.
She shrunk away from the thrilled goth and clung once again to Eric. "My killer? I dont know who-"
"Yes," Eric murmured, "you do. Or else we wouldnt be here. Just... keep walking, and dont think about where youre going. Well take care of this."
"Take care of what?"
"Revenge." Melissa crowed. Her hands, the incredibly strong small hands, flexed once again in front of Gwendolyn's face.
"I dont want to kill anybody. It mightve been an accident."
"I thought you were angry." Melissa said with bitterness. "I thought you werent happy that you died."
"Im... I wasnt... Im not." Gwen ducked behind Eric, putting the taller man between herself and the goth. "We cant kill anyone!"
"Oh, yes we can."
"No, I mean - were dead, we shouldnt be killing anyone. And you said I should pick people I liked. Wait, what did you mean by that, Im not going to kill my friends! Im not going to kill anyone!"
Melissa was next to her - Gwen hadnt seen her move. "No, youre not. I am."
Melissas shadowed eyes seemed to grow large, filling Gwens vision. She... where does she get makeup here?
"Or I will." Eric added, turning to face both of them. "You dont have to do anything. And... it will be your choice. Once we find the one responsible. Youll choose to kill him or her. I mean, have them killed."
"I dont want anyone killed!" Gwen complained. "I just want to end this, all of this! Whatevers supposed to happen next, lets do that, and then-"
Erics hands gripped her shoulders. "Since were here, you have to see this, too. See who killed you. And then we can leave, if thats all you want to do."
"Who says? Who says I have to go up there? Why cant we just leave now?"
Melissa looked bitter, and turned away. "There are some rules you cant break. Just... deal with it, and move on."
Gwendolyn turned her eyes from Eric to Melissa. Shes... sad. What cant she break?
Her grip had felt so strong, her body so solid, that Gwen couldnt imagine anything that Melissa couldnt break.
"Upstairs." Eric whispered. "And then we can go."
She hung her head. "Do I have to?"
"You have to." His hands came up to frame her face, fingers cupping her cheeks. Eric drew her head up gently but firmly. His brown eyes met hers. "Just this once, this one night, theres certain things you have to do."
"After that, youre free..." Melissa added in a pained whisper. "As free as we can get."
Does she... regret her choice? Was this not worth stepping in front of that bus? Is she... Gwendolyn couldnt even think of the right words. Melissa seemed so pleased about being dead, so enthralled with the power she had, but then, for a moment, there was this pain that crept out.
"Okay," Gwen whispered in return. "One more thing, and then we can go..."
She led the way up the stairs, Melissa right next to her, acting like a bodyguard from the movies, and Eric one step behind, his long coat fluttering around his ankles, and his hands stretched out to either side.
He seems just as ready as her, but in a different way.
The three went up the stairs, and Gwen heard a baby crying, some loud TV, a lot of shouting, some music playing, and sounds of all sorts of peoples lives coming through the thin walls and doors. She had never been in this part of town before, didnt know how people lived, and couldnt imagine ever wanting to come here or live in such a ratty building. And I never will, now. It cant be true. This has to be a dream or - anything! It cant be real! Dead? I cant be dead, I cant!
She stopped at a door that said 5C. She bit her lip, hard enough to hurt. "This is it." Her fingers touched the metal numbers on the wooden door. "This... this is where he lives..."
"He." Eric repeated, standing behind her. "All right. Melissa. Its her choice."
"Choose that he dies." Melissa said, harshly. "Choose that he dies in pain."
Gwen shot her an angry look. "I dont want anyone dying."
"Anyone besides you." Melissa retorted. "Youre dead. Thats really enough for one night?"
"YES!" Gwen screamed! "It IS! IT IS!" She felt herself crying. I dont breathe, I dont beat, but I can cry?
Eric took her into his arms, his chin resting on the top of her head. "Melissa..." One of his arms reached past Gwen and pushed on the door. It swung open at his touch. Gwen turned around and looked into the apartment. "Theres...two doors..."
Eric sighed. "Were not in the real world. Were in a spirit world, an... Eidolon-"
"Oh, shut up and go in there." Melissa shoved Gwen through the hazy door. Gwen shut her eyes. It felt like passing through a big cotton ball. When she could feel... nothing... around her, she peeked out at the apartment. It was cheap, and lousy. Faded paint, stained carpet, and she could see a bit of an ugly leather sofa down the hall. A TV was blaring.
Eric stepped into the hall behind her. Gwen looked back at him, then at the weird two doors- one semi-solid, like a door made of fog, and one that was solid but different from the walls and ceiling and floor.
Melissa didnt follow them. Gwen looked up at Eric. "Wheres Melissa...?"
He looked depressed. "She cant follow us. One of... her strictures. Dont worry. No one here can touch you. Shell come in as soon as someone opens the door. Ill try and make that happen."
"She cant come in through the door?"
He sighed, and explained. "Theres two doors. We can pass through one of them- the real one. I can open the other, the spirit door. Shes blocked by the real one, even if the spirit door is open. Ill explain all of this later. Just head into the apartment and find the person that... feels right."
Gwen wanted to go somewhere and cry. To lie down, and stop doing all of this until everything made sense. To go home and curl up in her bed, in her room, and have her mom or dad come in and tuck her under the covers. To call her friends and talk on the phone. My friends!
"When can I see my friends! When can I talk to them- please dont say never!"
Eric winced. "You... lets talk about that later. I... I dont feel comfortable here. Theres... A lot of death has been caused by the people who live here. It... can you do this quick, please?"
He sounded strained, and she felt suddenly very guilty. He and Melissa were helping her, and she was making this harder for them. "Im sorry." Gwen moved down the hallway and into the apartment, glancing into the kitchen and frowning at all the dirty dishes. There was a woman in there, drawn face, and tired eyes. Gwen felt sorry for her, too. Living with a drug dealer couldnt be easy.
She turned away and moved on, into the living room.
It felt really strange to her to be standing in a drug dealers den, looking at people filling bottles of pills, and nobody paying any attention to her. Not even noticing her at all. There were four men in the room, all of them hispanics, dressed in cheap and gaudy clothes, especially compared to her rave outfit - her best dress, best jacket, best blouse, best boots... she didnt care what Melissa thought, she liked these clothes and - I guess Im okay with dying in them.... No Im not.
And there was one man, just one of the men, not the biggest or sleaziest, just one of them that she felt drawn to. She walked forward and bumped into the edge of the table. It didnt move- it felt solid and heavy to her. I guess thats why I can climb stairs and walk on the floor. She scuffed her feet along the carpet. If I break something, does it stay broken forever? Gwen wanted to ask Eric. She wanted the answers to ALL her questions, all the questions shed have about being dead- about this world, about her purpose, her life, what kinds of enemies Melissa had been ready to fight, and why shed said Gwen wouldve been food if the two dead ravers hadnt been there...
"This is him," she whispered, her voice catching in her throat. "Eric! This is him!"
"Great." Eric sounded very pained, and she turned to see him slumped against a wall. "Make a choice, and lets go."
She turned and ran to him, her hand reaching out and then drawing back. "Are... is it okay to touch you? Are you sick? What... is it catching?"
He managed a grin. "Its okay... theres just something bad about this place. Probably all the drugs - all the... killing..."
"Killing?" She felt that she was breathing quickly. Gwen tried to stop, but she was too scared, shocked, to control her breaths.
"Probably. Theyre drug dealers. Theyve probably killed people. I think... you were an accident. I dont think... can you please just do this..." He slumped against the wall.
She moved to support him, and Eric waved her away. "Go take a long look at him, at what hes doing, and see if you want him to keep doing it." Getting the words out drained him. He hoped shed make this quick, or else theyd have to leave and come back again.
"Will... we get in trouble for killing him?" I dont want to kill him... but... he did kill me. Well, no he didnt. He didnt shove the drugs down my throat. My friends did... nearly did. Did I... kill myself?
"Its not as easy as that. Theres... no real law, here. Other than make friends with powerful people, and dont... later, please. Right now... just make your choice."
She turned away from him and went back into the living room, looking at the man again. He seemed like a bad guy from a movie, a white T-shirt, blue jeans, short black hair, a very cruel look on his face even when he was just putting pills in bottles. She didnt like him. Hed sold the drugs that killed her.
She turned away from the man. "Why is it he killed me, and not Kyle? Kyle held out the pill bottle."
"I dont know." Eric sat down on the floor. He was breathing heavily. She felt bad that this was taking her so long to figure it out. She didnt want him to hurt himself.
Gwen turned back to look at the drug dealer. "I cant just say kill him, right now. Id want to know if he did it on purpose. If he knew that cutting the Ex with something would kill me. Kill anyone. Then, maybe, maybe..." She knew she couldnt do it. There was just no reason... not even if hed done it on purpose, put poison in the pill. Im not that kind of person.
"Lets go." She turned around again, turned her back on the man, and looked at Eric who struggled to his feet. "I dont care what Melissa wants. I dont want anyone else dying. I want to go."
He nodded, and a woman walked out of the side hallway and stared at both of them.
"Two of you?" She snarled, and pulled something metal from her belt. It spun and flashed in the light, and the woman was holding a knife. Gwen took a step back and bumped up against the table.
Eric fell backwards against the wall. "Oh, fuck."
The woman was hispanic, like the men. She was tall, long-limbed, and older than any of the dead people Gwen had met - Eric looked only in his twenties, college age, and Melissa was a teenager, like Gwen. No, shes older, but she looks young. Acts it, too. Will I be like that, looking like this forever?
Gwen gulped as the woman pointed with the knife. "Who wants it first? You, hombre?"
"Well just go. We wont tell anyone. We cant anyway..." Gwen wasnt sure of that, but shed say anything to get out of here. Shed never been in a fight before- not a real fight, anything more than pulling hair and kicking.
"Or you, chica?" The woman turned and pointed the knife in her direction. Gwen couldnt back up any more and fell onto the table. It felt solid and real to her, and the pill cases felt solid, too. One fell over when she sat on it, and cracked under her weight.
How do things break here? What happens if they move?
Eric made a grab for the womans wrist. "Get out of here!" He yelled at Gwen and pushed the woman into the side hall. Gwen started forward. "But, Eric-"
He was thrown back into the hallway. His body slammed into the wall and left cracks. Eric fell to his knees, the coat flapping around him from the violence of the attack. "Eric!" Gwen shouted.
"Damnit, someone open this door!" Melissa yelled from the hall.
The woman stepped into the hallway. "And I thought you were a gargoyle, from that long coat you have there. What are you?" She looked at the closed and open doors and smiled. "No, not a gargoyle." Her voice was deep, her accent heavy. "Diablo? Come here looking for a fresh meal?"
Eric staggered to his feet, leaning heavily against the wall. "Not saying. Well leave now."
The woman grinned and flicked the knife out. He jerked away from it. "No. I dont think you will."
"Eric? Gwen?" Melissa called out from the hallway. "Goddamnit, open the door, you fucking idiots!"
Gwen got up and ran around the woman, through the living room instead, and into the kitchen. One of the men stepped out of her way. She checked herself - shed been moving to get out of his way. They did that at the... place I died.
The woman in the kitchen also moved out of her way and then took her place again, leaning against the counter. Are they really moving for me? Do people see them move? Wouldnt we see holes in crowds where dead people go through them? Did... I ever see this or did I ignore it?
She had so many questions - and even more fears.
Gwen heard a crunch from behind her, and a shout of pain. She ran to the door and skidded to a stop.
"Open it!" Melissa sounded frantic, and not like the cool, in control, goth girl she had seemed to be earlier. Gwendolyn looked at the door, and stuck her hand out, which passed right through.
"Damnit, thats not the way!" Melissa, it had to be her, shoved Gwens hand back inside the apartment.
"I dont know how!" Gwen shouted, tears of frustration welling up in her eyes.
"Fuck it, never mind, Im-"
And someone slammed into Gwen, shoving her through the door-that-wasnt-there, into the hallway. She felt at least one person on top of her. "Ow!" A coat fell across her face. It had to be Erics. Then some of the weight was gone, and she pulled herself out from the person lying on top of her, and rolled onto her back to see what was going on.
Eric lay face-down on the hallway floor. Melissa had the woman held off the floor, in one hand, and had a savage smile on her face. The woman looked irritated - not scared. Gwen took Erics hand. "Are you okay?" He nodded, breathing heavily.
The woman, Gwen noticed, wasnt breathing at all. Oh, no... She hadnt been breathing inside the apartment, either, something Gwen just realized.
"Who are you?" The hispanic woman asked down to Melissas face.
"It doesnt matter. You are so goddamn reaped."
The woman snorted and kicked Melissa in the stomach. Melissa shot backwards as if out of a cannon, crashing against the far wall and collapsing to the floor. The woman landed lightly on her feet and flicked the knife out from behind her back. "You come into my casa, and threaten my familia, and you think you can just walk out of here without paying the price?"
"Your family killed me! With those damn drugs in there! And we werent going to kill anyone! I just came here because he said I had to!" Gwen didnt want to fight - she wanted to leave. Shed done everything that Eric had told her to, seen her body, her friends, and her killer. Now she wanted to go away.
"Oh, youre new. Ill make it quick for you." The woman vanished, and Melissa vanished. There was a crunch, and the building seemed to shake. Melissa had the woman pinned against a wall. The woman struggled against the goth girls grip. The knife fell from the womans hand.
"How old are you?" The woman hissed, staring into the goth girls dark-shadowed eyes.
"Older than time." Ravens Shadow replied. They vanished again and the building shook once more. Gwen saw them appear further down the hallway, and they vanished, appeared, vanished... each time with a crunch and sounds of a fight that Gwen couldnt even see happen. Eric got to his feet slowly, and Gwen helped him up. He was heavy, and she barely could lift him. I should have worked out more when I was alive. Did that even matter now? She had no idea.
"What do we do?" She looked down the hall, where the two women were... fighting... if you could call the eyeblinks of activity a fight. It seemed like a fight taking place in still-frame, they were moving so fast.
"Are they going to tear the building down?" Each crash left cracks in the walls, or holes in the floor. "How can she break things, and not open a door?"
Eric laughed, painfully. "I cant... tell you this now..." He motioned toward the stairs. "Outside. Weve got to get outside. Well be..."
He couldnt say safer out there. It wasnt true. But theyd be able to escape out there - if he was willing to leave Melissa behind.
"Damn." Eric looked down the hall at the blinks of motion as the two women fought.
Gwen started to cry as she looked down the hallway at the fight, the part she could see. "Im sorry, this is all my fault. Ive got to help her-"
His hand closed on her arm again, though his fingers were weak. "Theres nothing you can do. And its not-" He coughed. "your fault. Sometimes you just have to do things. This is how-" He coughed again. "it worked out tonight."
"Im not leaving her." Gwen said, and took a step in that direction, was jerked to a stop. "Let go of me."
"There is nothing you can do to help her. Youre too new. Youre not powerful enough yet."
Gwen pulled on her arm as hard as she could, and Erics fingers slipped away.
"I never did anything with my life..." Gwen said and shuddered as the building creaked and groaned from the bodies slamming into it with immense force and speed. "That means... Ive got a lot of potential now!"
She raced down the hall, not knowing what shed do, but not willing to let someone shed just met fight for her without doing something to help. Eric watched her go, and put a hand to his side. It came away with a slight whitish silver glow. Im hurt... that knife must be part of her.
He went to pick it up, and felt the power inside it. It was masked earlier, part of her aura... but this... has real power.
Did he dare take it? If Melissa lost... the woman would be able to trace her lost weapon. But if she won...
He slipped it into a pocket of his coat, and staggered after Gwendolyn, their new recruit.
Melissa kicked the woman in the thigh. The blow knocked the woman sideways down the hall, tumbling about half the length of the hallway before she stopped herself and returned to grab Melissas arm. The hispanic woman slammed Melissa back and forth against each wall, using the arm like a lever.
The pain was overwhelming. Damnit... Melissa knew she was powerful. Shed planned for this for years, was way more than a low stone on the pyramid of power. She had desire, she had potential, and she was getting her ass kicked by this hispanic bitch! She jerked her arm out of the womans clutching grasp.
How... ow... fucking old are you?
Ravens Shadow ran up the wall and flipped over the other woman, settling to the ground in a flourish of skirts and lace, and punched the woman in the small of the back. Some new dead still believed they had weak points, kidneys, balls, throat, eyes... and even some old dead had never managed to free themselves of their holds on mortal bodies. Shed been blinded a couple times before shed managed to break that habit - and her breasts were still sensitive, enough that getting slammed face front into walls and punched in the chest was starting to really hurt.
The woman cried out in pain. Melissa nearly did too. The womans body was as hard as stone, or steel.
A spinning backfist whistled over Melissas head.
As she ducked, she saw Gwendolyn standing in mid-stride, down the hall. Shes coming to help me?
Melissa laughed at the sight - what could a statue do to help her?
The next attack caught her in the shoulder, and she was twisted off balance and fell.
The hispanic woman gritted her teeth in pain. She hated fighting other gargoyles- the dead with nearly equal speed and strength to hers, and were just as hard to hurt. Fights this hard left her exhausted and weak. They were almost as dangerous to win as they were to lose. And hitting other gargoyles hurt her, like punching a solid wall. "You fucking bitch! This is my home, these are my people, you cant just walk in here and take me on! I am Maria Biares and I was killed by Conquistadores!" She kicked the muerto-obsessed girl in the head, hurting her foot, but causing the girl to cry out in pain and silvery light to appear in the dark hair. She had seen this type before - little girls who believed they knew death.
She was tiring, but the other girl was almost out of energy. Maria kicked her again, in the stomach, and smiled as the girl curled up into a ball, coughing and racked with pain.
She brought back her foot for another kick - and the girl uncoiled, lashing out against the only leg of Marias that was planted on the floor. Maria shrieked in pain as a stone-like fist cracked against her shin, and fell backwards. The girl rose to her feet in a smooth motion.
"And Im Melissa Jones, and I threw myself in front of a bus." The girl fell to her knees, her body unable to support her or lend strength to her brave words. She slumped sideways against the cracked and broken wall.
Maria struggled to get up - her leg sent pain throughout her body- and she barely managed to raise herself on her elbows. She finally managed to sit up, glaring at the gothic gargoyle who dared challenge her on her home ground. Maria didnt see her new knife anywhere, but that was all right. She had an older one, too.
Melissa watched, too weak to do any more than that, as the woman got to her knees and pulled a long obsidian blade from behind her back. The gothic girl gritted her teeth and strained to pull herself up again, only managing at the last moment before the blade whistled down to pull herself even a fraction away. It wasnt enough - she watched the blade hurtle toward her chest, toward where her heart would have been. And she hoped, prayed, that she didnt believe that she still needed one.
A small hand caught the ancient Mayans wrist, and stopped the plunge of the dagger.
"...and Im Gwendolyn Chase, and I just died tonight." An expensive boot pushed the woman back down to the floor, and another stepped on her wrist. "Let us go, and we wont fight you anymore."
"You are dead, chica. You hear me? You are dead!"
"Yes, I am." The tip of the boot dug into the womans wrist, and the knife clattered to the hallway floor. Maria struggled against the girls weight, but couldnt move her, couldnt get up at all.
Melissa watched, speechless from both exhaustion and shock. She shouldnt be able to do that. Shes new tonight - she shouldnt be able to do ANY of this. The goth girl was desperately pleased to see that Gwendolyn could...
Eric stumbled along the hallway, his wounds causing him pain, making his head swim. Was he seeing what he thought he was seeing? Or was the light only coming from his side and Melissas head?
"I didnt want to be. Your people killed me, by giving my friends bad drugs. I didnt want to be here, I didnt even want to go to the rave. I didnt want to take the ecstasy, but I gave in and here I am. I came here to see what I needed to see, what Eric told me I needed to see, and I saw it, and now I want to go."
"Im going to come after you. You and your friends. I have friends too, we will find you and-"
Gwendolyn knelt, putting her full weight on Marias chest and arm. Melissa watched as the newly dead girl held down the prone womans other arm with the teens free hand. Gwens other hand picked the knife up off the floor.
"Let us go, and leave us alone."
Melissa watched eagerly. Not an hour old and already shes threatening a gargoyle. She knew shed made the right choice - to do what Eric wanted, and help the girl, instead of consuming her, or even leaving her alone. If she keeps that anger, shell be one strong little bitch.
"Never-" The woman hissed, and Gwendolyn pricked her skin with the black stone dagger.
"Leave us alone, or else Ill kill you again." The girls hand didnt shake at all.
"I am Maria Biare-" The womans voice was a scream of anger and implied threats, before Gwen shivered and shoved the knife deep into the gargoyles chest.
Melissas eyes widened! "All right!"
Gwen watched as silver light poured out of the woman, and the womans body faded away, the stone dagger falling to the floor and then turning into silver light that spread out to every corner of the hall before disappearing from sight.
Gwen fell those few inches to the floor and started to cry. Melissa tried to push herself away from the wall and fell, only to be caught by Erics hands. He knelt between the two girls and put a hand on each of their shoulders. He looked at Melissa first, and saw the pain in her eyes, as well as the triumph, and sighed.
He thought he also saw a little fear. Eric turned his head to see Gwen looking at him.
She felt tired, and sick, and scared. Had that been what shed be in a long time? Someone who was so stubborn, so full of hate that shed rather die than surrender? That she wouldnt forgive an accident?
Gwen forgave the man whod cut the drugs with something, even if it was on purpose. But she planned to tell the police about that apartment as soon as she could. If she could. If there wasnt a rule against it.
She saw Eric and Melissa staring at her, and both of them barely able to move. She didnt feel like she could move, either, she was so tired, so scared...
"Eric, Im scared. I want to go home."
His next words scared her even more. His deep voice said with a cold tone, "You will. But first we have to find out where that is."
"I just killed someone!" Gwen cried, and beat her hands against Erics trenchcoat.
"No, you didnt... She was already dead..."
"Dont give me that!"
Eric winced and nodded. "Im sorry. Yeah, you reaped someone."
He looked embarrassed. "Its the newest word. Its such a punk culture. Finished her. Ended her. Whatever you want to call it... you stopped her existence in this world. And it was a good thing too."
"She was just protecting her people, her family..."
Eric laughed, and then winced and held his side. "And when you said wed just leave... did she let us go?"
Gwen shook her head, feeling horrible - that there was no way out of this conversation that didnt end up with her having done the right thing.
"And who was her family, that she said she wanted to protect?"
"Drug dealers..." Gwen hated this, hated herself, hated the new world shed been forced into.
"And she was a murderer, I could feel it. All the pain, or most of it, was from her. Shed killed a lot of people, on this side, and the other. If you hadnt done it, Melissa would have... or she would have killed Melissa, and then you, and then me."
"...okay..." Gwen started to cry. "Okay, I killed her, and it was the right thing to do."
He took her into his arms, and wrapped his coat around her. "Yeah, it was." Shes had a rough night. Well, its rough for everyone... young or old. Shed been through more than some, less than most.
But - shed survived. Not only survived, shed forced down a gargoyle, even a wounded and weakened one, and reaped her. To protect people shed just met... and had little reason to actually trust.
We found a real pure soul tonight. He felt good about that. And hoped she was still pure. As far as he knew, purity wasnt set by outside influence, but by the choices people made and how it affected them inside. Was Gwen still the same person shed been when she died? No. Did she still have the same purity of her spirit? He hoped so...