All Hallows Eve

Photo courtesy of my lovely friend A. Haltom

Photo courtesy of my lovely friend A. Haltom

Since the extent of my Halloween festivities will probably be binge watching some Supernatural after work (which is not that different from what I do on the average night), here are some of the scary, spooky, and downright spine-tingling (or so I’ve been told) stories that have scattered this space over the past few weeks and months. This isn’t a trick, rather, I hope it’s a treat for your senses and gets you into a ghoulish mood for your Halloween.

Death and Destruction are Never Satisfied

What Never Dies

Croisse des Chemins

Tenderly Turned to Dust

Requiem Aeternam

Colder

There is A House in New Orleans

Roadkill

If Zombies are your cup of tea and you’ve got free time for a longer tale, then check out Tweakers

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Thicker Than Water

Friday Fictioneers you know the drill. If you don’t, go here to find the photo, write 100 words, and link back with the blue froggy. Read, write, comment, enjoy!

         At least no one will come in today, Jefferson thought, watching the waters rise outside the Food N More corner store.
        He scratched his chin, cursing his blunt razor, and leaned on the bagging station counter. He looked down at the toes of his Converse and froze. There, on the white toe and spilling over onto the faded green fabric.
         “Hey, Marty! I’m gonna grab the carts!” Jefferson knew Marty was back by the skin magazines.
        He didn’t wait for a response before he splashed out into the flooded parking lot, making sure the rainwater washed away all the blood.

Dead Girl’s Slave

Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge this week gave us a title (picked randomly from two lists of ten words) and asked us to write a story. To see past flash fiction pieces go here.

        The rats had ceased their gnawing at last. The silence struck her first. She peered out from beneath the dingy blankets that brushed the filthy floor. There was a strange sucking noise, like the snores of some giant beast. She slid back under the low bunk, clutching the reeking rags of her clothes around her wasted form. Her eyes, grimed with salt, and dirt fluttered shut as she curled around the pit of hunger deep in her belly. A thud roused her from her stupor and a whimper escaped her cracked lips. There were shouts and more thumps on the ship’s deck and she quivered.
        “Gods, the smell.”
        “They call it quarantine. If the people could see this—it’s not the plague that does them all in.”
        “At least it looks like this lot chose starvation.”
        “Starvation is the only real option.”
        “You say that now…hunger so bad, weeks on end, turns some rabid.”
        The voices and the footsteps grew closer and the door to the close little cabin swung open, letting in a draft of damp, nearly fresh air.
        “By all that’s holy,” the footsteps froze and there was the sound of retching.
        “Slit the babe’s throat and her own wrists; and I thought I’d seen it all.”
        “Nothing here but rot and putrefaction. We’d best go down to the holds—see if there’s anything to salvage before we burn it.”
        One of the men took a step closer to the bed and she shied away, her foot striking an empty tankard and sending it rolling across the deck floor. The filthy blankets were shoved back and a face appeared. She pushed herself back away from the bearded face, scrabbling against the wooden planks.
        “Hush, now, little one.” The man’s voice was soft.
        She heard people speak that way to animals as they cuddled them. She stared at the man mutely. He held out a hand to her as though he wished her to take it.
        “Come out, poor thing, come out of there,” his lips curved up in a smile and she put her trembling, dirty fingers in his.
        “Gods above.” The other man swore as the first lifted the little wraith into the crook of his arm. “But, Will, the plague…”
        “She breathes still, Thomas. Any still living this long have no plague in them. Think of what she must have endured.” William brushed the matted, stinking hair back from the child’s face.
        “Be it on your head, then,” Thomas said.
        The rowboat carried them back to shore and William shielded the child’s face from the ash as the pitch and old wood caught and the funeral pyre burned high. She did not speak or cry as the smell of ash filled her nostrils.

——–

        “But who is she?” Thomas asked as he and William waited.
        “I have checked the ship’s manifest. Only four children were noted—the cabin boy, and the three Martinus children,” William said.
        “And?” Thomas eagerly took the manifest and skimmed it.
        “The babe—a boy—and two girls, Lila and Jordana.”
        “Which is she?” Thomas asked.
        “She must be Jordana. Lila was a girl of sixteen and the poor waif can be no older than twelve.”
        Both men stopped speaking as the door opened. One of the Sisters ushered out a small girl in a clean dress with her dark, damp hair curling around her thin shoulders. William looked down into the huge dark eyes and remembered how they first looked when he pulled her from under the bunk. He shuddered at the memory. The poor girl must have been there for weeks, hiding beneath the bed that held the corpses of her family.
        William bent down to meet the little girl’s eyes. “Jordana?”
        Her eyes grew round and her face drained of color; she shrank back against the Sister.
        “No need to fear, child.” William softened his voice. “You are Jordana Martinus?”
        The little girl just stared at him, her hands clutching the front of her frock as the Sister drew her back protectively.
        “Sir, this child has seen things no living creature should bear. I have not heard a word out of her and I would ask you not to frighten her.”
        William stood, chastened. “My apologies, Sister, I mean the girl no harm. Her aunt and uncle live here—the family was coming to join them—if she is Jordana Martinus.”
        “If she is, then her aunt and uncle will surely know,” the Sister kept a firm hand on the waif’s shoulder.
        William bowed and departed with Thomas, casting a glance back over his shoulder at the dark eyed little girl.

——–

        Mahlah lay in the giant bed, rubbing her fingers across the silken coverlet. The aunt and uncle were kind. The aunt wept and pulled Mahlah into her arms and the uncle patted her head. They touched her hair and compared it to Lady Martinus’ and said she had Lord Martinus’ eyes. Mahlah remembered those eyes—black as night and always full of anger. He did nothing when Jordana struck her slave, when his daughter hit Mahlah so hard blood ran from her ears.
        He was the first to fall ill on the ship and when they dumped his body into the water, Mahlah knew it would poison the whole ocean. The Lady refused to leave her room after, even when the girls began to cough and vomit and when the servants fled in panic. Jordana kept Mahlah close, her fevered strength blazing from her black eyes and limbs. Lila did not last a week and the Lady turned her face aside when the sailors drug her body out. Jordana’s breathing grew labored and Mahlah clamped her hands over her ears to shut out the sound.
        Jordana only wanted a breath of fresh air, she said, one glimpse of the sky. And meek, obedient Mahlah half-carried her to the deck, let the girl lean on her shoulder. Jordana’s flailing body barely splashed when it hit the water. Mahlah snuggled into her pillow and smiled.

Tenderly Turned to Dust

         Black cloaks broke free from the darkness, skimmed across the moonlit snow—darkness made corporeal. Through the silent night, they heard the singing. Each swearing in their hearts by all that was holy—and all that was not. The song was one they all knew, whispered over the heads of sleeping children to send them off safely into their dreams.
         Accusations of blasphemy fell from several lips, to mix with the scent of pitch. The single lantern was shuttered, protecting the small flame from darkness and the mob from discovery. The little cabin was dark except for the faint glow of firelight; it lit the snow outside crimson and orange and threw the shadows of those inside into leaping giants.
         “Hush, my darling one.” the young woman inside brushed the fair hair back from the red, scrunched face of the restless infant.
         She could hear the footsteps crunching through the coating of frost, the hammering of hate-filled hearts, the burning blood of misplaced vengeance. She knew they would come. The symbol scratched on her door, the whispers in the town streets where the black mud crept through the white frosting of pure snow like disease through healthy flesh. She began to hum again until the little one’s face smoothed and the feathery eyelashes floated down to rest on apple-round cheeks. The child did not rouse when she brushed a long finger over the soft forehead, the downy face.
         There was a thump and a hiss as the first torch flew through the air, a comet of ill will. It fizzled out in the snow, but was soon followed by a rain of flaming brands. One landed on the roof and found thatch. It kindled, caught. The hooded cloaks fell away from their faces, contorted in glee. Their eyes lit with the red blaze of fervor, mirroring the writhing flames. The thatch crackled and crisped, the homey sound of a hearth-fire on a snowy evening. The roof crumbled in a shower of sparks that rose and mingled with the cold stars, immovable witnesses. As the little house disappeared in the tongues of flame and blazed hot, the attackers drew back from the leaping fire, watching as everything within was consumed. They heard no more singing.
         The sun rose over the smoking ruin and brought with it a chill wind that blew the dead leaves and drifts of snow over the bare black bones of beams and walls. The men and women that observed the wreckage no longer wore their cloaks and the pale dawn sun bleached their faces bone white. The swirling eddies of snow curled around the smoldering embers, quieting them into coals. The light-fingered wind blew, and brushed away the footprints that led away into the silent, black woods.

One Woman’s Trash…

Friday Fictioneers is simple: write a post (100 words or so) based on a photo prompt. Led every week by Rochelle, you can find the other stories by clicking the little blue frog. So read along or write your own–or both!

copyright John Nixon

copyright John Nixon

         Beatrice smiled at old Mr. Garret as she passed Sue-Anne’s Second Hand store. No matter what Sue-Anne said, that out-of-date wedding dress was never coming back in style.
        She glanced at the wares in the storefront, on the lookout for bargains. The legs of a bright blue wooden table draped in white caught Bea’s eye. Her heart hammered.
         But how did it get there?
         She scrubbed for hours before consigning it to the curb. She knew there was a dent on the edge and a rusty red smear that wouldn’t come off.
         Bea smiled. One woman’s murder weapon, another’s treasure.

Réquiem ætérnam

Chuck Wendig’s latest Flash Fiction Challenge: choose from a list of conflicts* and write your face off.

Original Photo Here

Original Photo Here

         The simple pine box was plain and smelled of fresh sawdust, bright and clean against the heavy, damp scent of overturned earth. The top rested beside it, not yet sealed. The mourners stood in a huddle at the base of the hill, where the widow could not hear their whispers. Such a sad thing, to die so young. Lady Daria Vuldava’s shoulders shook with suppressed emotion.
         “Lady Vuldava,” the priest broke free from the flock and walked through the damp, blowing grass.
         “Father,” she took his thin, dry hands in hers. “Thank you so much—it was a beautiful ceremony.”
         “Lord Vuldava will be missed,” the priest’s smile quivered at the corners.
         “My Andrei,” Daria pressed her lips together and looked away, “would have appreciated your words. He so loved your homilies each Sunday.”
         “I am honored, Lady Daria,” the priest freed his hands from her grip, turning to look at the coffin.
         “Was there something else, Father?” Daria could not help but notice the way he clutched his rosary, fingers clicking across the beads.
         “Lady Daria, this brings me such grief,” the priest swallowed and Daria watched his Adam’s apple bob in discomfort.
         “Please, Father, speak freely,” Daria pulled her thick black furs tightly around her shoulders.
         “Your husband—God have mercy on his soul—died so suddenly, so unexpectedly…” the priest abandoned his rosary, dry-washing his pale, bony fingers.
         Daria looked expectantly at him, twisting the enourmous ruby on her left hand. When she did not speak, the Father’s shoulders heaved in a sigh.
         “The townspeople…given the circumstances of Lord Andrei’s death, would be put at ease if the old rites were performed.”
         ‘The old rites?” Daria’s hands clenched on her handkerchief. “You want to put a stake through my Andrei’s chest? To desecrate his body, consecrated unto the Lord, whom you claim to serve?”
         “Please, Lady Daria,” the priest glanced down the hill at the townspeople. Their pale, shapeless faces were all turned towards the Father and the widow. Daria stepped away from the priest, her black gown billowing out behind her in the gusting wind. The priest scurried after her, an errant leaf blown in her wake.
         Daria looked down at Andrei’s face. His skin was pale, almost translucent, in death. The thick eyelashes that rested on his cheeks like black crescent moons, the full lips forever stilled. She took a deep, shuddering breath and knelt next to him, crumpling as though her knees could no longer hold the weight of her sorrow.
         “Fine,” she rasped, looking up at the priest. “It shall be done. But not by you. He is—was—my husband. No one else shall touch him.”
         The priest finally nodded, his fingers twisting and twining like coupling serpents.
         “Lady Daria…it is no easy task…” he faltered at the look in her eyes and cleared his throat. “Those that prepared the body took the liberty…” he reached down a shaking hand and parted the thick furs and fine silks that draped Lord Vuldava’s body. A crude X was marked on his breast, just over his heart.
         Daria brushed her fingers over Andrei’s smooth, cold cheek, holding out a hand to the Father. She did not look at him as he laid the heavy wooden stake in her palm. Her fingers closed over it, feeling the splintered wood bite into her bare skin.
         “Leave me,” she said, her hand shaking as she examined the stake.
         “My Lady, I must bear witness—”
         “You will close the lid, will you not? You will see that I have done what is required of me. Now, go. If this desecration, this mutilation must happen, it will happen at my hands alone,” Daria waited until she heard the sounds of his hurried footsteps departing, the murmured reassurances he offered to the crowd of carrion crows waiting below.
She rose up on her knees, steadying herself on the edge of the coffin before gripping the stake in both hands and raising it high above her head.
         “To Thee, I commit his spirit,” she cried, loud enough for the gossips and their spiritual guide to hear.
         The stake met the resistance of cold flesh and bone. Sinews and muscle. Thick, black blood welled out like tar. Daria leaned heavily against the side of the coffin. Half the stake’s length was buried in his breast; the rest of the dry wood seemed to drink in the dead blood. Daria buried her face in her hands, ignoring the pressure of the priest’s hand on her shoulder as he came to examine the body. He lifted her gently away as the gravediggers came to seal the coffin. He released her long enough to make the sign of the cross and murmur “In nomine Patris, et Filis, et Spiritus Sancti” before the pine coffin disappeared into the hole. With the thuds of dirt on wood echoing across the hilltop, Daria let the priest lead her away.

——–

         The wind that blew as the gravediggers filled in the last of the hole picked up as the shadows drew and the day was devoured by the evening. Lightning rent the black sky with brilliant tongues of white fire, though no rain fell. The candles in the church flickered fitfully and the farmers and their wives closed the shutters tightly. No moon shone on the hilltop, but the windows in the Vuldava mansion glittered like a thousand eyes shining in the darkness.
         Daria stood alone on the hill, watching as the lightning lit the crosses and monuments with eerie, pale light. No veil of mourning covered her face and the wind whipped her dark hair free of its bindings and lashed it across her face. She reached down to grip the long fingered white hand that thrust out of the soil. She tenderly brushed the filth from his face as Andrei pulled the stake from his chest and cast it to the side, looking at her with pale, luminous grey eyes that drank in the lightning.
         Daria smiled exultantly,“Welcome back, my love.”

* a difficult funeral

“It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah”

Read what’s happened so far to Evie and Owen here.

        Drip. Drip. Drip.
         Evie felt a tic starting in her cheek just under her eye with each drip of the liquid in the IV bag. She stopped wondering where all the medical equipment was from when several of the men addressed the surgeon as Sergeant. Owen’s face was gray and she saw his eyes moving back and forth beneath his lids. She didn’t look at the stump of his hand that was tightly bound and tucked into a sling across his chest. The stubble on his chin looked blue against his pallid skin. He already looked like a corpse. She stopped counting the seconds, the minutes, as the first hour stretched into three, into five.
         It took Chett a few hours—she thought, but she didn’t know when the first blood got into his leg. Somewhere in her head, she started counting down as soon as they hauled Owen into the helicopter. As soon as the stumbler latched his teeth onto Owen’s arm. The doctor—Sargent Surgeon, her brain called him—gripped her shoulder when they were done stitching and cleaning and bandaging, telling her to let go of Owen’s shoulders. She could see the bruises her fingers left under the edge of the cleaner shirt they’d put on him. She swallowed the bubble of hysterical laughter that rose in her throat. If he was awake, he’d joke about her trying to strangle him when he was flat on his back. If he was awake he’d smile that crooked, stupid smile at her. If he ever woke up.
         “Evie,” Jessamy’s voice was quiet—a crypt-voice.
         She took the cup of coffee he handed her with both hands and gulped the boiling liquid, tying to hide the way her eyes watered. Evie still heard Owen yelling, saw him standing on the rooftop, the tendons in his neck stretching with the force of his scream as the tweaker bit into his flesh. She felt the cup burning her hands, the faint numbness of her protesting fried taste buds, but everything else was cold. She leaned forward again to press her fingers to the inside of Owen’s wrist. His pulse hammered there, just under his cold skin. He felt like a corpse already except for the heartbeat. Sometimes they didn’t get the fever before the change, something whispered. Sometimes they just went cold before…
         “Evie,” his voice was clear as he said her name before lapsing into a garbled murmur.
         Every nerve drew tight as a bowstring as she waited for him to speak again. Five hours and Owen was still in there. Part of him at least.
         “You should—” Jessamy stopped at the look she gave him.          “Right.”
         “If I sleep…if I leave for a minute…he might not be there anymore. And if…when…” Evie took an unsteady breath. “I have to do it. It can’t be anyone else.”
         Jessamy looked stricken but he nodded, his face gray, he patted her shoulder awkwardly before shuffling back to one of the other beds they’d provided in the bunker.
         Evie scooted her metal chair closer and wrapped her hand around Owen’s chilled, unresponsive fingers. She pushed the hair away from his face and ran her fingers across his cheek—the bones already stuck out more from the loss of blood.
         “All you ever wanted to do was save me. And all I ever wanted was to run,” Evie didn’t try to stop the hot tears that spilled over her cold cheeks and splashed down onto the sheets as she pressed her lips to the back of Owen’s hand and squeezed his fingers as though she could force him to wake up.
         “I’m done running, Owen. But I think it’s too late for both of us.”

Colder

This week’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig had us choose (via randomization) a setting from his list. I chose #16: In a police department during an epic blizzard.

photo by post-a-card

photo by post-a-card

         “Gawd,” Chief Burnett let the metal blinds snap shut again, freeing his pudgy fingers. “It’s still coming down.”
         “So the transfer won’t happen tonight, will it?” Quinn already knew the answer, but he asked anyway.
         “No chance,” Burnett laughed and Quinn looked away from his trembling jowls.
         He tried not to think about how much colder it would get inside the police station as the day wound down into night. It was just past 6 pm and the heater was already making a sound somewhere between a rattle and a wheeze. It reminded Quinn of his parent’s old dog trying to breathe shortly before they put it down. There was a faint clatter and Quinn felt the hair on the back of his neck rise. He reassured himself by remembering the gun that hung on one hip and the nightstick on his other side.
         “Worried, Brody?” the Chief settled his bulk into his desk chair, which creaked in protest, the ancient wheels squealing.
         Whenever the Chief smirked, Quinn Brody thought of a great fat walrus. The Chief wallowed in his chair like a sack of blubber, a bloated corpse. Quinn struggled to keep his disgust from showing.
         “We are not a high security facility. Sir. The prisoner—” he tried again.
         “—Will be just fine, Brody. What’s he gonna do, anyway? Chew through the bars and run out into that?” Burnett guffawed and jabbed a meaty thumb back at the window.
         Quinn could hear the wind even over the Chief’s barking laughter. There hadn’t been a blizzard like this—especially not this late in the year—since anyone alive could remember. The Mistfall police station was a tiny building—five rooms in all. The foyer didn’t quite count as a room and served as the reception area and the booking station. The chief’s office occupied another room, the rest of the force (all eight of them) shared a third room, and there were two closet-like interrogation rooms. The cellblock ran along the back of the old, squat building—five cells in all. They saw their share of drunks, druggies, hookers, and johns. Nothing like their current resident ever graced the old jail—until now. Quinn realized he was toying with the catch on his holster and clasped his hands behind his back. He didn’t need the chief to see his nerves. Everyone else went home early when the storm looked bad and Quinn—still considered the rookie—got the short stick every time. The only reason the Chief stayed was that his second in command was stuck at home when the blizzard started during lunch. Quinn knew the last place Burnett wanted to be was in the icy police station with him; the feeling was mutual.
         “If that’s it, sir…”
         “Oh go check on the bastard if you’re so worried,” Burnett’s eyes were humorless, glinting out of the fatty folds of his red cheeks.
         Quinn shut the door to Burnett’s office carefully, too tempted to slam it so hard the glass shattered. Maybe Mistfall was a small town and didn’t need a full police force or funding or a chief that did anything other than schmooze with the Mayor and his cronies, but Quinn would be goddamned if that lunatic got out on his watch. Burnett wasn’t there when they booked Him; Burnett didn’t see His eyes. Quinn fought off the panic that rose in his throat as he walked towards the cellblock. All of the cells had simple iron barred doors; no solitary confinement or high security here. A long gate ran along the narrow hallway between the main building and the cellblock. They’d put Him all the way at the end—as if that small measure of distance could save them.
         It took Quinn a moment to realize he could hear music. The man sat on his low cot, slowly rocking back and forth. Dark, unkempt hair swirled around his gaunt face like the pitch-colored water of Mistfall River lapping against wet rocks. Quinn gripped his nightstick until his knuckles whitened. He reached his free hand up to the bars of the gate to steady himself. As soon as he touched the icy metal, the prisoner stopped rocking and humming. So slowly it would have seemed comic in any other circumstances, the prisoner’s head began to turn towards Quinn. Finally, his light eyes appeared from under the curtain of dirty hair.
         “Officer Brody,” he smiled beatifically at Quinn—his voice was deep and melodic, a terrifying contrast to the skeletal face.
         It looked like someone had cut the excess flesh away and pulled the prisoner’s skin tightly back against his skull. His lips barely covered his surprisingly straight teeth; his pale eyes seemed to have no lids.
         “That song—don’t sing that song,” Quinn’s voice came out a whisper.
         The prisoner cocked his head to look at Quinn, a smile playing across his colorless lips.
         “What song?” he asked, rising from the bed in one fluid movement.
         He walked towards the bars, head still cocked to one side, his bare feet whispering along the cement floors. The prison jumpsuit hung on his wasted frame. Quinn could see the tattoos that ran over his hands and neck and feet—the tattoos that disappeared under the jumpsuit. The tattoos were wriggling lines and loops and whorls. The names of every man, woman, and child the prisoner ever killed. His entire body was covered. Everywhere except his face. The prisoner shoved his head suddenly through the bars, sweeping his greasy hair away from his prominent cheekbones. The fluorescent lights flickered once, twice, and Quinn prayed that the generator would hold.
         He looked back to the prisoner and saw, running across his forehead, carved with something dull—the prisoner’s fingernails, he realized—was a name. He squinted at it, gorge rising as the crooked letters became clear. Lyle Burnett. Quinn’s nightstick clattered from his nerveless fingers as he heard a scrabbling noise coming from behind him, followed by a loud thump. Chief Burnett’s chair, relieved of its burden, creaked like a ship set free of its mooring.

All That Glitters

Friday Fictioneers is here and my tale is not one full of cheer. I hope you like it all the same and give thanks to the one who started this game.

         “Did you hear what happened?” Jenner said.
         “This weekend?” Ben set down his Thunder Grill menu.
         “Yeah,” Jenner grimaced. “It was Mr. Stein—used to run the jewelry counter in the mall.”
         “She’s still unconscious?” Ben asked.
         “I don’t understand; he seemed like such a nice old guy,” Jenner said.
         “You know what I heard?” Ben leaned forward.
         “That his eyes went all black when he was choking her? Yeah.” Jenner glanced towards the empty jewelry counter and shuddered.
         “It’s just crazy,” Ben looked back at his menu.
         Neither noticed the wraith of black smoke float into Jenner’s left ear.

Words: 100
Genre: Horror/Paranormal

Don’t You Want to Stay?

The next installment of Here, There Be Monsters. Click here to catch up.

         “Stay?” I looked around at the RV.
         Only wealthy Citizens owned private vehicles, but I wasn’t sure where an RV ranked on that scale. I’d never actually been in one before now. I looked back at Jericho Lang. The piercings and the tattoos didn’t necessarily mean he didn’t have money—although the shabby interior and the state of his clothes weren’t promising.
         “I just told you I murdered someone and you’re asking me to stay in your RV?” I almost choked on the word “murdered” and took another bite of the Ramen to hide it. “You don’t even know me.”
         “I know you’re from Cook’s, I know your age, and I know you need me,” he stood in the kitchen now, washing some dishes.
         “How—what makes you say that?” my voice was hoarse and I licked my dry lips.
         “Well, I know you aren’t from around here. Given your age and the fact that you’re here alone at night, it was the logical guess.”
         “What do you know about Cook’s?” I asked.
         “It’s an all-girl orphanage. They give you an education that’s probably slightly better than the average public institution, and they turn you out when you turn eighteen,” his lips tipped in a smile. “I won’t wish you a happy birthday, under the circumstances.”
         “I’ll only get you in trouble if I stay,” I swallowed past the bile that rose in my throat.
         “I know a thing or two about trouble,” he lounged back against the counter, drying a bowl.
         I let his statement slip without comment, holding out my now empty mug. I realized I still had on my knapsack and slipped it off, keeping it close.
         “I hope you liked the Ramen,” he said.
When I didn’t say anything he turned.
         “I’ve never had it before,” I said.
         “Whiskey and Ramen,” Jericho shook his head. “Now that’s a birthday dinner for the books.”
         He glanced out one of the curtained windows and froze.
         “It’s the Nat,” he turned to me.
         I stared at him in shock. The National Police—if they found me, I was worse than dead. As an orphan, almost the lowest class Citizen, I’d be lucky if they just shot me in the RV. They were going to kill me.
         “Back here,” Jericho grabbed my arm and pulled me off the couch, shoving me towards the bedroom.
         I watched as he heaved the mattress up with one swift movement, revealing a dark cubbyhole, little bigger than a coffin. I couldn’t afford to hesitate and climbed in, cramming myself into the narrow space. I tried to breathe slowly, fighting claustrophobia until I realized there were small holes drilled into the bed’s base. I could taste fresh air and I could hear the Nat officers pound on the door. Jericho glanced back at the bed and gave it—and me—a reassuring nod.
         “Can I help you, Officers?” he asked, swinging the door wide.
         “Citizen, state your name,” one said.
         “Jericho,” he supplied.
         “Citizen Jericho, you were seen in the company of a young female this evening,” the Officer looked around and saw the two glasses, the bottle of whiskey, and the dinner things. “Do you know this girl?” I assumed he had a photo of me and blanched. How did they get a photo so fast?
         Jericho took a moment to consider and I could feel my heart trying to crawl up my throat.
         “I know a lot of girls, Officer, but not that one,” his tone was suggestive. “Not that I would mind….”
         The Officer snatched the photo back by the sound and I was worried Jericho stepped over the thin line he walked. The floor creaked and I could see the Officer lean in to take a closer look at the RV.
         “Is this your…vehicle, Citizen?”
         “Yes sir, it is. I have the papers if you’d like—”
         “That won’t be necessary. We can run the license plates,” the Officer cut him off. “If you see this girl, inform the nearest National Officer or your local Protectorate. She is highly dangerous and mentally unstable. For your own safety, do not approach her. We do not need to tell you it is in your best interest neither to aid nor harbor this fugitive.”
         “Of course, Officer. If there’s anything at all I can do to help, I will,” Jericho sounded so sincere I wondered for a moment if he was going to reveal me.
         The Nat must have believed him; the door swung shut and I could hear their boots fading away on the pavement outside. I went limp with relief, still afraid to move in case one of them was still there. The mattress was wrenched off and light and air poured in on me again. Jerico hoisted me up by my elbow and let the mattress fall again. I sank down on the edge of it.
         “They have a picture,” I whispered.
         ‘They do—not a bad one either,” his attempt at humor fell flat as I looked up at him through my hair. “We won’t make it far without some changes.”
         “Why are you helping me?” I asked. “You’re obviously a Middle Citizen—if not higher. This could get you into a lot of trouble.”
         “I told you,” his voice was carefully light. “I can handle trouble.”
         I shook my head helplessly, feeling the shakes starting again. I had no choice but to trust him. I didn’t want to—didn’t want to risk his life, too. “I can’t thank you for this,” I said finally.
         “I know. And, after you hear what I’m about to say—you probably won’t want to,” he said.
         I looked up at him.
         “That photo was dead on, no doubt about it. But, I think we can make you less noticeable—even unrecognizable,” he turned back towards the little kitchen and began rummaging through the drawers.
         Jericho turned back towards me brandishing a wicked pair of scissors.
         “What are you going to do, cut off my nose?” I asked.
         He tilted his head considering, then sighed and shook his head, “I don’t think it would help.”
         I smiled weakly and pushed my hair back from my face, “The hair then?”
         “I think it’s the best shot. Do you want to do it?” he held the scissors out to me.
         I shook my head, “At at least you can see the back of my head.
         He pulled a trashcan over and had me sit on the side of the bed, facing the back of the RV with my back to him. I could feel the hesitation in his fingers as he ran a section of hair through his fingers. I felt the tugging and the snipping begin and tried not to think about it as my head grew lighter and lighter.