It's a little something I share because I care.
“Finally,” he grumbled as the perky blonde came sprinting from her apartment building.
“Sorrysorrysorry,” she said, hurrying to the passenger side of the idling Charger. “I know we’re in a hurry. You sure you’re OK with this?”
“A little late to ask that,” he said. “I’m blaming this on the Monarch’s Heart. We need to find out why I’ve got it and how I can get rid of it because the damn thing’s a magnet for weird crap that I don’t need help drawing to me in this town.”
“Wow,” Jonni said, “this one really is making you cranky, huh?”
“Just get in the car,” he barked, getting behind the steering wheel. “We’ve got a client paying us to finish a hunt.”
“I think people have a right to die the death of their choice,” Jonni said, closing the door as she settled into the passenger seat.
“I don’t use my free time arguing about rights,” Brick replied as he revved the engine and sped down the street. “People live till they die. The only differences are details for the obits.”
“Well, something’s bothering you about this job.”
“People decide how they want to off themselves everyday--fast or slow, messy or stupid, menthol or getting in my way, whatever--but when they’re a threat to others, they need a short leash to limit how many they can take down with them.”
“I see your point,” his assistant said.
“It may be a special case,” Brick said, “but it feels like we’re being more reckless than usual by getting so close to these people.”
“Didn’t humans used to call this a curse?” Jonni asked.
“Lately, more people have been letting that idea go and just focusing on it as an aggressive, easily transmitted infection,” Brick said, slowing to turn down a dark alley. “I sure know it’s not something I want. Every new outbreak it‘s the same pattern: fear, panic, pain and death, death and more death.”
“Incurable, either way, though,” Jonni said.
“Nobody’s come forward with a real cure yet,” Brick said. “Some snake oil nonsense makes the rounds every now and again, but even with all the witches and wizards and mad scientists running loose and crazy in this town--”
“You got it, kid,” Brick confirmed, “and always trouble.”
The city streets were still wet from the early evening rain. The smells that had washed away had crept back upon The City with a vengeance. Randall Collins ran in a full-blown panic through rain-slick, litter-strewn alleys. The gun was still tightly clutched in his hand. Even cold and humid, the air burned at his lungs. His heart pounded wildly, almost blocking out all…tunnel vision…fear. Silently, almost mocking, the glowing full moon shone down on him unsympathetically. Somewhere in his frightened mind, Randall had some glimmer of memory that reminded him that he thought he would handle this better than the reality was showing him.
“Please, Randy,” she had pleaded, “you’ve got to do this.”
“No, Julie, I don’t,” he resisted. “It’s insane!”
“If it is, then so am I,” she said. “Who wouldn’t be over something like this?”
“Julie, you’re not being rational.”
“Just take this,” she said, shoving the small box at him. “It wasn’t easy to get.”
“How did you?” he asked as he hesitantly lifted the cardboard box lid.
“A lot of collecting and scraping, money and jewelry,” she answered. “It was expensive, but I got enough for two shots if we need it.”
“Forget it,” he said, closing the box. “I won’t do it! I can’t!”
“You love me, don’t you?”
“You know I do.”
“Then…you’ll kill me,” she said, “before this…horror…gets spread to anyone else. The longer I‘m alive, the more people are going to suffer and die from this.”
“Damn it, Randy, this isn’t chicken pox! This isn’t something we can just wait out! It’s serious! You have no idea how painful this is! Look at the newspapers! What’s the body count up to? Get a clue!”
“Look, Randy,” she said, “there’s no more time for any of your…I hate putting this on you, but it’s supposed to come easier from a loved one.”
“I thought it was the loved ones who usually ended up dying first.”
“It needs to be soon…tonight, before things get any worse.”
“You heard me,” she said. “Can I count on you? If I could do it myself…”
“It’s a mercy killing, just…don’t let it get you, too, whatever you do. Take precautions.”
“It’s just so insane.”
“It’s a lot to process, but it has to be. It’s the only reasonable choice left.”
“I wish there were another way,” he said, staring into her pale green eyes.
“I know you’ll do the right thing,” she told him. “It’s one of the reasons I love you.”
He tripped over something and tumbled to the cold, wet pavement. The gun flew from his trembling hand and slid into the shadows. He crawled about in the filth, frantically searching among shadowed puddles and random trash, desperate to reclaim the weapon. Finally, following what seemed an anxious eternity, he found the gun and stood again, gasping for breath and listening to the night.
“What was that?” he heard himself ask.
There were only The City’s night sounds, rising and falling, for him to hear. More than merely nervous, he bolted, continuing his interrupted run.
“Damned camping trip,” he muttered. “Through Tannhauser’s Gate and off into Avalon, exploring untamed fairy wilderness. We should’ve stayed in The City and minded our business. Nobody gets attacked like that in The City! Well, that’s no longer true, is it?”
He climbed a broken fence and a barking guard dog scared him half to death as he landed on the opposite side.
“Just a dog,” he assured himself, running onward.
An hour ago, the full moon had already been on the rise as the storm clouds thickened to blanket the sky. He had wrestled with the issue too long, hungry for every last minute he thought he might have with her. She wept as the pain began to overwhelm her, just as he did at watching her humanity fade. He could only watch in abject horror as she writhed naked on the floor like a woman possessed. Her bones reshaped themselves before his eyes as he reluctantly found himself believing everything she had told him. Her body’s hairs grew longer and thicker, rapidly covering her entire body with a coarse fur. Finger and toe nails became claws that began to rip the carpet and dig grooves into the floor beneath. Her screams were savage, each less human than the one preceding, sending chills through every fiber of Randy’s being. It struck him that the pain had to be far worse than she could have ever described.
Any other time, she had told him, she could control herself enough to resist the change. On the nights of the full moon, things were different. On those nights, in accordance with the legends, she had no hope of fighting off the raging beast that demanded free reign to kill. In Magick, there was more than one moon. With two moons visible from The City and three from Avalon, a full moon could hold sway as much as half of any given month. With every passing night, she would grow more wild, more savage and bloodthirsty. With every passing night, she felt sure that she lost a bit more of her soul.
“Randy,” she cried out, a desperate sob mixed with a feral growl, “kill me! Please, kill me now!”
Her glare came at him through bestial eyes, red with inhuman bloodlust. Her long white teeth gleamed, growing longer as he watched. He was unable to look away even as she snarled at him.
In his jacket pocket, he felt the gun she had given him. She had loaded it with two bullets tipped with the purest silver she could get together. Who could have done the actual work was beyond him. A man like Brick Stone knew people who specialized in that sort of thing, but not Julie. Cold with fear, Randy ran. That felt right to him. He remembered her warning not to let it get him, too. The beast would relish taking him from her, punishing her for keeping it locked within her whenever she could.
She howled. Deep inside, the last vestige of her drowning humanity hoped he could escape and, if it had been within her power, she would have shed a tear. Too late, though, for it already had her. She belonged to the beast and it already had his scent. It longed for the taste of his soft flesh, wet with his hot blood. The hunt was on.
He heard the heavy breaths of the beast drawing closer. Too tired to climb the tall chain link fence, he turned to face her and collapsed against the barrier. The nightmarish silhouette of his lycanthropic lover moved toward him, the bloodlust still burning in her eyes. Terror-stricken, he attempted to stop her by half-heartedly throwing a small crate her way. A swift swipe of her hairy arm shattered the empty box as a growl began to rise from deep in her chest.
“Julie, please,” Randy began to plead, but stopped, realizing there was no hint of mercy behind those eyes.
With one hand, she overturned a garbage-laden dumpster at Randall’s feet. Leaping atop the metal container with superhuman strength and agility, the beast crouched and stared down at him through narrowed eyes. Sharp claws scraped slowly across the metal surface. The growl was a hungry one. Randall was numb with fear. He no longer felt his cold, sweat-lank clothes clinging to his body. He felt nothing. He could only stare back at her numbly, searching for some trace of the girl that he loved but knowing that she was gone.
A powerful, clawed hand tightened around Randall’s neck. His hands grabbed at her wrist as she picked him up from the ground. His feet dangled in the air, kicking weakly at nothing. Her free hand drew back, fingers tensed. Something stayed her hand just a moment longer. Randall fumbled for the gun in his pocket. He was straining to retain consciousness, tears streaming from his fluttering eyelids, when the gun fired.
The silver slug shattered as it hit tough flesh and bone. Pieces of the bullet lodged in her chest as she cried out in pain. Together, they fell to the unyielding pavement, rain beginning to come down harder on them. Julie began to revert to her human form, though she was still quite hairy and obviously dying as he pulled himself to her. Rain mixed with sweat on her trembling skin as Randall sat up to prop her head in his lap. He took off his jacket to cover her upper body.
Looking up at him, Julie’s lips trembled as she smiled. He looked into her eyes, sparkling more beautifully than he had ever remembered them.
“It hurts…more than I thought it would,” she confessed weakly as he caressed her cheek. “Thank you…so much.”
“I’ll always love you,” he said, bending down to kiss her.
Randall lifted the gun again as memories of their time together rushed through both of their minds. They focused on pleasant images that had nothing to do with blood and death. One last kiss.
The gun fired again, this time the silver slug exploding into Randall’s chest. The gun fell from his hand as he collapsed against her. Julie wept, still painfully aware as Brick walked up on them, Jonni Berlin a few steps behind. Julie looked up at him.
“Finish it,” she whispered.
“You didn’t pay me just to come watch,” the trench-coated detective said, cocking the hammer of his .44 magnum revolver. “Close your eyes, kid, and…I don‘t know, think a happy thought.”
Brick sighed and squeezed off two more of his custom orichalcum bullets into her chest, exploding her heart.
“Wow, that’s sad,” Jonni said.
“For cryin’ out loud, you’d think that if a couple of kids in love were gonna have a shot at a ‘Happily ever after’, it would be in this town.”
“Love can get twisted here just like everything else, boss. Werewolves have a bloodlust for violent death and hearts. It’s part of the curse.”
“Just like they go after loved ones.”
“And love can bring them down,” Jonni said. “It’s a kind of magic all its own.”
“Well, let’s try not to find anymore like these two again for a while, Monarch‘s Heart or not. Cases like this are depressing.”
“Good work for snipers, huh?”
“You said a mouthful, kid,” Brick said, starting to walk down the alley toward his waiting Charger.
“What about the bodies, Brick?” his assistant asked, following him.
“Call the Medical Examiner’s office,” he told her, “and City Wildlife Management. Neither one’s gonna want it, but it’s their headache to work out now. We're done.”
DEAD OF NIGHT