Nostalgic rock music reverberated from inside as he strolled forward, gravel scraping and crunching under his boot soles. The neon sign hanging above the entrance highlighted his dark hair in an orange hue. He paused before stepping onto the wooden decking, flicking his cigarette butt to the ground. A billow of smoke leapt from each nostril as his eyes swept over the few barflies loitering on the patio: four tipsy college girls, and a middle-aged couple nursing light beers.
Picked a good night. This should be easy, he thought as a smile crept along his lips.
The Alley Cat was a small dive bar, dark and musty. And one of the few in town that looked the other way with indoor smoking laws. This was his regular watering hole, too. A normal pit-stop during his desperate late night outings, searching for the next notch in his bedpost. A welcoming haven for an apex predator.
Standing there, he honed in on the college girls, listening to them giggle playfully. One, wearing a cheap tiara from a ninety-nine cent store, stumbled before steadying herself against the building’s siding. The three others aided her while frisky, drunken curses flung from their lips. During the exchange, the shortest of the four, a blond wearing a red dress, glanced his way. She delivered a wink while sporting a flirtatious smile, which he returned.
He stepped onto the decking and approached the double doors. Game on!
Journey’s Separate Ways flowed from the jukebox while standing in the doorway. His eyes scanned the dimly lit room, taking in the merry occupants. Groups of disheveled ranch hands lingered around tables, joshing and laughing, enjoying what little euphoria their meek salaries could buy. Other townsfolk played pool or flung darts amongst the perimeter of the pub. A bartender he was very familiar with was drying a beer glass with a cotton cloth behind the bar. Still sporting the crisp grin, he sauntered inside, making a B-Line towards the brunette alone at the bar.
He stood there, back leaning against the garnished countertop, elbows propping him up. His head bobbed with Stephen Perry’s chorus, mumbling the words to himself. After a few moments, the brunette he spotted earlier glanced over. He could feel the smile cross her lips before she shyly looked away. He didn’t return the look, though. No, that wasn’t his game. He didn’t swing at the first pitch. He was still getting a feel for the field at this point.
“Thought I told you to stay out of here, Michael?”
The inquiry came from behind, and he craned his neck. The bartender stood there, cleaning glasses, never making eye contact.
Michael slowly turned around, facing the man with a hint of annoyance. He could feel his blood pressure spike a few points, yet remained silent. These two had a long history, going back to their highschool days; natural rivals.
“I pay my tab like everyone else. I’m not gonna cause any trouble. Just here to mingle, Jones.” The bartender’s name slid off his tongue, lathered in contempt. “Besides, last time I checked, your wife owns this place.”
The jab forced the bartender’s hand, and he finally looked up, staring holes through his adversary. The two held the moment, eyes locked, neither willing to back down, until a chuckle escaped Michael’s lips. “I’m just playin’. Relax man and get me a Coors.”
Michael whipped back around, dismissing the man without another thought. He returned to his leisurely, easy-going posture, head swaying with the music. He glanced to his left, eyeing the same brunette, delivering a smirk and a nod. She returned the look, but abruptly reached for her cell phone on the bar's top, seeing it light up and dance on the wooden surface. The name Jason strobed in bright, illuminated letters on the screen.
The woman left seconds later, gathering her purse and walking out the door, voice annoyed and agitated as she spoke through the speaker.
Shit! Strike One.
The clank of glass rang out behind him. Michael looked back, searching for the source. A tall, crisp beer sat on the bar, head frothy and full. But long, bony fingers gripped it like a vice.
The bartender, Jones, leaned in, getting within inches of Michael’s stubbled chin. “One beer.” He paused, holding up his index finger. “And then you’re on your way, pal. There’s been too many accusations and incidents.” His eyes narrowed, burrowing deep, making his statement resonate. He released the glass and stepping backwards.
Michael rolled his eyes, blowing the man off with a flip of his wrist. “Yeah, yeah. Whatever, man.” He slowly turned back around, grabbing the beer and shaking his head, facing the open bar once more. His revile dissipated as the final lyric ended, bringing the bar into a quieter state; only the sounds of inebriated laughter and billiard balls lingering.
Moments later, the jukebox fired to life once more — Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer. Michael brought the beer to his lips, drinking deep and long as his eyes fluttered around the room, watching; waiting.
In his peripheral vision, he noticed the doors swing open again, and his eyes shot to the movement. A woman stood in the doorframe. His beady, lecherous eyes honed in, scanning her from head to toe, taking in her curves and features. Tight denim shorts, a yellow checkered halter-top to go along with the full head of wavy red hair. Light creamy skin, glistening under the dim lighting. Clearly, she was not from around here.
I don’t know you, but now we’re talkin’.
Once his eyes moved beyond her toned legs and voluptuous chest, he discovered her piercing green eyes. And those emerald orbs were stalking him. He stood there fixated, watching as she strolled right toward him; a warm and inviting grin strapped to her lips.
After ordering her a sangria, he fumbled through his rehearsed, cliched lines, uneasiness brewing in his gut. Dozens had sat on the stool across from him, yet she made him nervous: her confidence, her energy, the way she flipped her hair while giggles flowed freely. This woman was intoxicating, and notches above the common sixes he usually left with.
Michael polished off the last drops of his beer, tilting the glass back and swallowing with delight. This was going exactly as planned. He turned to order another round, catching the indignant stare of the bartender feet away. Nonchalantly, he tapped the bar’s top with his fingertips, gesturing over his shoulder with his eyes, pleading for help. Dude, look at her. Just one more douchebag, then we’re on our way.
He held Jones’ eyes, begging in silence. Please, man. Eventually, the bartender succumbed, signaled by a galled shake of his head. Jones rolled his eyes, mumbling to himself. With reluctance, he shuffled away to prepare for their second round.
With the infusion of some liquid courage, Michael’s confidence and pride bloomed. His smile widened with flirtatious intent, wooing and courting this woman with his best lines. It seemed so easy, so tranquil. She laughed at every lame joke, gently caressed her soft fingertips across his forearm, met his eyes with passion. It was like a dream.
Every time he graced this run-down, shitty bar with his presence, he knew luck was on his side. Some loose, drunken gal dealing with daddy issues or acting out against the restraints of young adulthood always collapsed to his charm. They walked out those doors with Michael at their side. They’d share his bed for the night, only to be discarded and forgotten the next day. But tonight… Oh, this evening was different. He didn’t have to work as hard or buy as many drinks with this one. And she was an eleven.
A text message interrupted their coy conversation. She sat there on the stool, replying with a nimble thumb, while taking another sip of her drink.
He watched her, eyes hovering over her cleavage, before lurching up to her plump, red lips. She puckered and sucked on the straw, swallowing the last remnants of pink liquid, knowing he was watching. She finished her message, and glanced his way once more, batting her long eyelashes.
The tease stimulated his loins, and desire sunk in, lapping at his craving inclination. Slowly, he inched in, whispering in her ear. “Hey, wanna get out of here? My place isn’t far.”
She answered with her green eyes, and a little more.
After dropping a crumbled twenty to the bar’s top, he swooned in, leading her out the doors towards his blue Trans- Am.
With a facade of chivalry on full display, Michael opened the passenger-side door, holding it open for her. Willingly, she slid inside, lewdness dripping from every movement.
After closing the door, he rounded the car with wide, swift strides. Once he reached his side, he paused for a second. His fingertips tapped the car’s roof while his eyes shot to the sky, taking in the moon's brilliance. That slick smile formed again as his mind teetered, dreaming about what lay ahead: the games, the depravities. With her strapped in the car, she was already his new toy. And he didn’t even have to lace her drink to get her there. This was too easy.
Heartbeats later, he flung his door open and slid inside, latching onto his new prize. Those bright green eyes hovered over him, feeding his will, encouraging the percolating cravings. As he dropped her stare to fumble in his pocket for his keys, she lunged at him. A piercing sting throbbed in his neck. Before the blackness took control, her weight shifted back to her seat. His last memory was of her, still wearing the sensual smile and holding a hyper-dermic needle.
These thoughts festered his mind as the blackness slowly ceased, giving way to faint, flickering light. Where am I? What happened?
His eyes fluttered, vision hazy. Something obstructed his sight, wrapped around his eyes, and covered his head.
A brick of ice water struck him, streaming down his muffled mouth and torso. Shock set in, and panic strangled his mind. A scream morphed deep in his lungs, yet hung there, frozen, unable to explode in the darkness. He couldn’t breathe.
He tried to shield himself, but found he couldn’t move. Immobilized. Restraints bound him, held him in a tight embrace in a seated position.
His head shuffled to each side, listening, trying to control his manic breaths. He pulled, twisted, tried to stand; tried to speak. Nothing.
Silence. Utter silence.
Through the veil encased upon his head, a silhouette shifted, outlined by the flickering light. Footsteps echoed along as the person approached.
The suddenness of the greeting forced a flinch, and he lurched back, chair-legs screeching along the concrete floor.
Mumbles sounded from his throat, anguish and fear pulsating with rhythm, but the gag lodged in his mouth prevented the words. The darkness swept through his mind, promising to end the nightmare, but he fought it off. His heart hammered, deafening thumps ringing in his ears. All his senses erupted as a person stood in front of him.
Suddenly, he was straddled, legs pinned to the steel chair. Soft, yet firm hands grasped the sides of his head. He wriggled against the touch, head flailing, to no avail. The screams came again, cloaked and suppressed.
The hands tightened like a vice, and helplessness crept in. “Stop struggling, Michael!”
I know that voice. He held still, trembles shooting down his spine. Through the haze, his eyes narrowed, watching her inches away. He listened, hearing her calm breath, feeling the pressure slowly subside in her fingertips. She was in control, dictating the events here.
Once compliant, and with subtle eagerness, she released the death grip. Her slim fingers gravitated to his nape and interlocked. With the action, her weight shifted forward, hips thrusting deeper into his lap, firm breasts smothering his torso. He could smell her hot breath inches away, scents of lilac and vanilla.
“Oh, that’s better, Michael. Thank you.” The words purred from her lips. “From your racing heart, I can tell you’re scared.” She paused her speech, leaning in, soft lips tickling the side of his neck. “You should be.”
As the last syllable slithered from her mouth, she stood, breaking the intimacy. She reached out, ripping away the burlap sack veiling his sight.
His eyes shot up, seeing her hover over him. Faint candle light flickered across her short blonde hair and brown eyes, revealing the remnants of a deep scar across her cheek.
No, no, no, no…
“What’s wrong, Michael? Don’t you recognize me?” Her head tilted, watching with appeal at each squirm and twitch. “Ahh, I think you do. How could you forget me, right? Our time together? That venereal, unforgettable night?” She clenched her jaw, holding him in contempt.
With the sack removed, Michael spat the gag from his mouth, violent coughs exasperating from the action. “What the fuck do you want from me? What is this shit?” He pulled, arching with his strength against the ropes holding him prisoner. Through the coughs and strains, the sight of the room’s faint illumination clearly manifested. Encircling him was a ring of candles; too many to count. His eyes shot from left to right, finally landing back on the woman.
Her stare intensified as she stepped away, sauntering with methodical backward steps, creating distance. A click sprang from her tongue as she shook her head, yet didn’t answer his demands.
As he watched her retreat, soft, faint voices lingered around him. Frantically, he scanned the dark room, searching for the sources. The sounds seemed to swoop in, tickle his ear and then retreat, swirling whispers looming in all directions; phantoms amongst the wind. ‘Michael. Michael. Michael.’
“Michael?” This greeting rang from his right. He whipped his neck, staring into the abyss of darkness.
“Who… who’s there? What the hell do you want?” His sight shifted back to the woman bearing the scar, now wearing a sly smirk, before returning to the call’s direction.
Through the shadows, the footsteps advanced, revealing the contours of a person. They were small, petite, cloaked in a hooded robe matching the darkness outside the circle. Whoever it was, their head dipped, shrouding their face in the fabric’s folds and creases.
After tense heartbeats, the figure withdrew the hood in a fluid motion, pushing the garment away from their face. Michael sat there, bound and destitute, shaking like a twig in a windstorm. It was the red-head from the bar.
You. You did this. What was your name again? Amy? Emily?
With calm resonation, she called out to him. “Michael, I’m sure a million questions are stirring. But the one most pressing is why? Why have we brought you here? Why are we doing this? Oh, and let’s not forget, why you, right?”
The statement left him speechless. Words and screams and sounds scratched his throat, but his mind couldn’t process the request. He sat there, mouth slightly gaped, staring at her.
“I won’t be coy here, Michael. No, no, no. You deserve the truth.” Her attention left Michael, averting to the blonde with the scar on her cheek. “Ruth, he deserves to know why he’s here, right? Why this is happening to him?”
Ruth. But, how…
The blond with the scar, Ruth, didn’t answer the inquiries. A subtle nod delivered her verdict, and her eyes remained fierce, seething.
With her attention redirected to Michael, the red-head continued her emotionless monologue, watching Michael wriggle with confusion and trepidation.
“Why are you here, Michael?” She stepped forward, locking onto her prey, toying with him. “Why?” Another step. She kneeled down just outside the circle, getting to face level with him. She watched him; watched the moisture sculpt in his eyes, the subtle shakes pulsating through his bound hands and arms. She liked this.
“Oh, but you know, don’t you?” The indictment melted from her lips. Her green eyes shuttered to Ruth for a split second before returning. “You’ve known since the instant you saw her. Why did you do that to her, Michael?”
Michael’s eyes welled, tears meandering down his quavering cheeks. He shook his head; slow, painful motions that mimicked the rest of his body. His words finally grabbed root and blossomed, flowing from his lips in strings of spittle. “I’m… I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to…”
The red-head didn’t respond. Her stoic glare continued, savoring the moment; listening to him plea and sob for mercy.
“Liar! Shut up! Shut your mouth!” Ruth’s bellow echoed through the room like a storm, momentarily stunting the candle's light.
Michael whipped his head, focusing on Ruth’s scowl. She stood there, breath heavy and fists clenched. A looping pant came from her chest, shoulders heaving up and down. As the candle wicks steadied, her features came back into view, but something had changed. It was her eyes. They were a blinding green, glowing in the darkness.
Michael flinched at the sight, lurching backwards and skidding the chair’s legs against the floor a few inches. But the retreat was fruitless. Paralysis set in as he watched her, unable to look away. He fixated on the spiraling hues of lime and emerald. They were hypnotic, controlling, until…
The corners of her mouth curled to reveal a smile.
Rows of razor sharp incisors, inhumanly large, interlocked in a sickening, wanton grin.
He screamed, nearly flipping over in his chair.
He chased the source, panic controlling his actions. The red-head, still kneeling before him, held his eyes.
“It’s time to repent, Michael. Admit your lecherous crimes. He will end the grief, the guilt, shed you of your… disease.”
With shock splintering reality, he glanced back at Ruth. Those terrifying, shredding teeth, and the entrancing orbs of green had reverted. Her features were normal. The woman smirked his way, arms crossed.
“If you admit your sins, He will take it all away.” The red-head’s words flew freely, full of credibility and passion.
Michael’s head swiveled, taking in her features as his heart pounded in his chest, listening to her wielding words. He was lost, mind twisting and contorting, unable to grasp what had happened with Ruth, what was happening around him. He couldn’t think or breathe, merely exist in this abhorrent state.
Her beautiful green eyes narrowed, and she surrendered her kneel, rising to her feet. She seemed taller, towering over Michael like a peak casting a shadow. “Are you prepared, Michael? Are you ready for Him to cleanse your sins, wipe away the lustful temptations, your lewd thoughts and actions?”
His words couldn’t develop. He sat there, gazing at her with glossy, red eyes, unable to respond. A feverish twitch struck his core; subtle shakes flowing rapidly through each extremity.
She didn’t wait for him to show understanding or deliver a hint of life. Her eyes drew away in a linear line, landing on Ruth. “Sister, the chalice please.”
Ruth’s chin dipped, and she turned around, strolling away into the darkness, silent.
“How many Michael? How many have you raped, defaced, maimed?” The red-head paced the area like a ravenous beast, stalking her prey with callous side-glances. “How many, Michael? Five, ten, twenty?”
Mumbles, barely audible, slipped from his quivering lips. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
“Apologies are null. It’s too late for that. He is coming.” As the last word formed, footsteps sounded from the darkness. Ruth returned, cradling a golden chalice in her palms. Rubies, sapphires, and other brilliant precious stones encrusted the intricate piece, twinkling in the dim candlelight.
“Ah, there it is. Thank you, sister.” Within seconds, the cup changed hands. The red-head held it before her eyes, taking in the glory and brilliance. Slowly, she raised it high above her head, staring into the nothingness above them. During the motion, a meek current of air flushed through the room, waving the candles’ flames. Once they stilled, a foreign phrase seeped from her mouth. “Sanguis hic dominus est. Age mete eam.”
Once she finished the line, voices erupted all around Michael, mirroring her words. From every corner, high and low, the chant looped in the room like a broken record, getting louder with each pass. The vehement sounds escalated, vibrating the floor under Michael’s bound feet.
From the suffocating darkness, the chanting phantoms closed in, creating an inescapable ring around Michael. Each bore the same black cloak; hood pulled down, shielding their faces from the candlelight.
Instantly, the deafening sounds halted as the red-head lowered the cup, holding it out towards Michael. “He is here, Michael. You must repent. Drink the nectar of life.”
Before Michael could act or speak, the crook of an arm slipped around his neck and squeezed. The assailant tightened their grip, preventing any chance of thrashing. Michael’s eyes ballooned as he watched the red-head lean forward, being cautious not to enter the illuminated circle with the chalice. Her arm stretched, inching it closer to his lips. He was helpless.
The acrid taste of copper and salt struck him with force, and he swallowed against his instinct to recoil and cough up the offering. Thick crimson liquid slipped down his throat, coating it in a layer of gore.
With the chalice emptied, the red-head, as well as the assailant, pulled back, leaving Michael alone in the circle.
The desire to gag and retch bore from his guts, but he pushed the feeling away, burying it. His sight bounced between Ruth and the red-head, unsure what to expect next. Was he free? Had he made peace with his past? He watched them, noticing how their eyes dropped to the dimly lit circle he sat in. Without knowledge of his actions, his view followed theirs, staring down at the concrete floor. But the hard, dingy floor was gone.
Blackness ensued. Like a starless night, devouring any traces of luminance.
Michael gazed into the nothingness, feelings of weightlessness puzzling his shattered psyche.
From the depths of the void, a shape evolved. It moved in rhythm, slithering from the endless chasm, slowly elevating towards the ring of light. Michael leaned back, eyes fixated on this thing floating effortlessly towards him.
Seconds later, saturated black matter seeped from the darkness. It held a congealed form, turning and growing as more substance joined it. The long, twisting appendage stood erect, shying from the faint light. It moved through the circle with inquisitive nature, finally coming to rest in front of Michael’s face.
Before his scream took root, the head of the serpentine entity morphed. Sharp, gnarled claws emerged on five bony, elongated fingers. The rest of the connected matter took shape as well: a frail forearm and biceps. It was an arm, easily ten feet long.
As the thing finished its transformation, the hand lunged at Michael’s face, locking his head in its grasp. Blood seeped from his lacerations, dripping down through the slick, black fingers into his lap. Then, the arm whipped back and down, bringing Michael, chair and all, into the darkness.
Ruth and the red-head stood shoulder to shoulder, eyes catching the floor revert to cold, unforgiving concrete.
Ruth broke the tense silence, turning her head to face the other woman. “Amelia. Thank you, sister. His predation has haunted my memories for too long. Thank you for finding me and bringing me into your service.”
As she met her eyes, a soft smile creased Amelia’s lips. “Your sorrows are vanquished, my sister. It’s my pleasure.” She reached up with a gentle touch, feeling Ruth’s cheek, examining where the scar had once been. Soft, flawless skin now appeared. Radiant beauty.
Slowly, Amelia bent to a crouch, extending a hand to the cold stone of the floor, an act of uncanny regard; of worship.
She looked over her shoulder, watching Ruth with a piercing stare.
“There are those who still hurt, victims like you who’ve had to bear the burden of a man’s unruly desire. Michael is not the first to repent, nor will he be last.”
Ruth nodded in understanding. “We need to find them, then.”
Amelia stood back up, sliding her palm into the other’s. “Indeed, we do. We’ll cleanse the streets until we can’t any longer. When He feeds, our misery ends, sister.”