written by: J.B. Arnold
A frantic knocking, followed by a distraught voice, brought her from her deep slumber, eyes springing open.
Through the disorientation, she lifted her face from the straw mattress, eyes scanning her drab boarding room for the source. A second series of thumps followed, garnering her focus. Her eyes shifted to the locked door, seeing it wobble with each bang of the fist, observing the thin outline of illumination surrounding its frame from the torch-lit hallway.
“Jade, let me in! It’s me, hurry!”
Annoyance crawled up her spine as she collected her senses, recognizing the voice and the man making the ruckus. She rolled over, staring at the smoke stained ceiling, shaking her head in detest. Weeks had passed since her last night off, and she deserved the rest, unaccompanied. Yet, two hours in, the disturbance ensued.
“Please, Jade! Please!”
An exasperated breath blew from her lips as she listened to his pleas. Through hesitation, she sat up, swinging her legs off the bed to sit. “Ollie,” her voice was stern yet sultry. “I’m not in the mood for company. Ya’ know I’m not workin’ tonight, love.”
The statement didn’t halt his ambition. His voice quavered against the wooden planks, begging for entrance.
With reluctance, she lifted her weary body off the mattress, staring at the door. Bloody Ollie. Go home, she thought, brushing her scarlet hair away from her eyes. Her steps were slow as she sauntered forward, knowing the rejection wouldn’t be short winded or quick. He had always been persistent, especially when it benefited his needs.
“What do ya’ want, Ollie? I told you, I’m not working tonight.” She said, her voice suppressed as she leaned her head against the door.
“They found me, Jade! Please, let me in!”
The angst resonating in his voice was apparent, but she cautiously wondered if it was a con, a clever coy for pleasure. He was a regular, a steady client, coming and going when desire rooted itself, sliding between her sheets. She enjoyed his company, too. His contagious laugh and that smile he brought with him. Shaking her head in ill-advised disappointment, she unlocked the door and cracked it open.
Ollie burst through the opening, unapologetic, nearly toppling her over in the frenzy. He whirled, slamming the door against its frame, locking it once more. He stood there for moments, breath ragged, palms flat against the wood grain, barring it.
“What in the bloody hell has gotten into ya’, Ollie?” Her face twisted with surprise and agitation. “What’s all the fuss?”
Feeling the threat dissolve and safety bloom, he leaned his head against the door, closing his eyes, collecting himself without a response.
A scowl formed on her face, crossing her arms across her chest as she glared at him. “Well?”
The bitter tone gathered his attention, and he turned his head in her direction, gaping at her. Worry still flickered in his eyes through the gaze. He released a breath, taking his hands off the door. “I made a mistake, Jade.” He paused, eyes welling over, turning and facing her. “It was a big mistake, but I didn’t mean to!”
She stepped in his direction, seeing the trembles pulsating through his core, empathy gripping her. What in the hell did ya’ get yourself into, Ollie? What are ya’ getting me into?
“It was the moonshade, Jade, not me. I promise.” His voice was shaky, full of guilt.
The culpability behind the claim forced her forward, taking his hands into hers, embracing him. She led him to a rusty bistro set in the room’s corner, lighting a candle.
“What are ya talkin’ about, love? What’s this moonshade and people after ya’ talk?” She bit her bottom lip, eyes sincere and focused.
He shook his head in detest, thinking about the scene, the accident. Slowly, with reluctance and grief, he revealed the troublesome events from the previous night.
Shortly before the witching hour, he left his regular watering hole, The Black Sails, with an exotic woman, both heavily inebriated. Her features fascinated him right away. They were different, foreign to his eyes. Jet black hair and a deep tone to her skin. She wore a sleek blue dress, long-sleeved, contorting to every curve, flowing loosely around her ankles. Her voice was hypnotizing, eccentric, as well. She spoke the local dialect perfectly, yet there was a hint of an accent there, which boiled the temptation lingering in his loins.
As they walked the empty streets, arms interlocked, her state of euphoria lacked satisfaction, so she suggested continuing the night. He steered her towards the docks, walking along the lantern posts’ fading light, searching for their next fix. That’s when they stumbled upon them.
Five peasants sitting on the sun bleached planks of the docks formed an irregular circle. None bore the looks of coherence, but all carried the distinctive mark of a shade user; bright blue fingertips on their dominant hand.
The woman, giggling with enthusiasm, approached the peasant closest to them. She knelt down, watching his dilated eyes, noticing the moon’s reflection glowing within them. A befuddled grin crossed his lips as he stared back. Not at her, though. He was somewhere else.
Ollie staggered after her, weary of the group, knowing the reputation of nightshade users. When the toxin took effect, erraticism and violent outbursts were likely to follow. He stood close behind her, scanning each peasant’s rapturous face, wondering how they had access to this addictive drug. The peasants barely scraped by, stealing, begging, conning for a morsel of food. And yet, all five were flying.
They watched the peasant she glared at topple over, peering into the heavens, a silent whisper rattling his lips. Then her eyes flowed to the linen satchel laying on the wooden plank the group encircled. Hues of blue stained the cinched opening. Without notice, she stepped into their circle and snatched the bag, retreating just as fast. No one noticed.
She strode up to Ollie, violet eyes locked on to his. A devious smile crossed her face as she reached down and placed the satchel in his hand. She was beautiful, intoxicating, and the thrill she exposed in the moment drove his ambitions.
Ollie broke her alluring gaze, lifting the bag closer to his face, eyeing it in the darkness. Snuffing shade wasn’t his regular vice. He had only used it a handful of times, but her aura drew him in, gripping his initiatives, steering him. His sight maneuvered back to her, melting within the myriad of lavender spiraling into her eyes. He was hooked. Naturally, he threw an arm around her thin waist, leading her away from the docks, ready for their ecstatic trek.
They neared the businesses lining the docks and tucked into an alley littered with crates and debris. Ollie glanced behind them several times, making sure the doped peasants or anyone else hadn’t followed them.
The woman’s ravenous nature took hold, prying the linen bag away from his grasp. The string cinching the opening came loose with a tug and she placed her thumb and forefinger inside, pinching the addictive blue substance. Pleasure immediately erupted on her face as she whiffed and snorted the shade, taking in a heavy dose before reaching in a second time. Elated giggles followed the second series, echoing through the damp alleyway. But the high subdued in moments.
The excitement and bliss excreting throughout her movements vanished. Those exotic, enchanting eyes swelled with panic, and she dropped the bag to the floor, cupping her throat with her hands. Violent coughs exasperated from her core, forcing her to buckle over in a fit, followed by a series of spasms.
Ollie leaned against the alley’s wall, watching the events unfold. Shock set in, digging in with its razor-sharp teeth, making him unable to act, unable to help.
She lurched back, spine contorting, revealing the crimson life oozing down her face, flowing from both nostrils to the corners of her mouth. She clung to her throat, gasping, eyes bulging, blood vessels erupting. Her dark skin morphed, replaced by pale hues of gray.
Then she collapsed in the alleyway. A final series of shakes struck her before she exhaled her final breath.
With his mouth gaping wide, Ollie stared at the warm corpse. Stared at the lifeless violet eyes. Sobriety and panic took hold instantly, not knowing what to do. He didn’t even remember her name. But the stress elevated instantly as his eyes flowed to her right wrist. Her struggle to breathe forced her sleeves up near her elbows, exposing a tattoo. He knew the image, the mark. Anyone in this forsaken city did. It was the Phoenix. Bright red flames scorched the beast’s wing and tail feathers as it glided against her arm. She belonged to Drake.
So he ran, never looking back. Praying it was a dream. A morbid, dark nightmare never visited again. Until now.
Jade leaned back from the table, her knuckles whitening from the tight grip. “Drake! Ya’ killed Drake’s woman, Ollie?”
He was out of his seat before she finished the indicting question. “I didn’t kill her, Jade. I didn’t know she belonged to him! It was the bloody shade, not me!” He hovered over her, a leer on his face. “I’m… not responsible.”
“Okay, okay, I understand, Ollie.” She paused her rebuttal, trying to think, trying to put together the right words. Her eyes drifted to the candle on the iron table, watching the flame flicker. After a few moments of tense silence, she looked at him again. “But… Drake won’t understand. He’s a maniac.”
“You think I don’t know that?” He turned away from her, shaking his head. “I know what he’s capable of, Jade. I’ve heard the stories.”
“Why are ya’ here, Ollie? I’m in danger now too because of association. Why did ya’ come here?”
He faced her again, desperation swimming in his eyes. “There was nowhere else. A goon the size of a trade ship is standing outside my room as we speak, waiting. My flat’s keeper warned me they’ve been asking questions, searching the city, looking for… me.”
“What? How? How does he know it was you?” she asked.
He sat down once more, facing her, a slight tremble pulsating through his core. “I… I don’t know, Jade. Maybe the peasants said something, or someone else saw us. I really don’t, but he knows, and he’s looking for answers, looking for vengeance.” His eyes dropped to the tabletop, searching for answers within the faint flame.
She blew out a long breath, leaning back in her chair, mind working. “This… this isn’t good. I’m not gonna lie to ya’. But, my love, ya’ shouldn’t have come here. If he finds ya’ here, hiding out like a bloody squatting peasant, I’m as dead as ya’.”
Tears welled in his eyes as he peeled out of the chair, dropping to his knees on the wooden floor. He reached for her hands, gripping both in a tight embrace. “I’m so sorry, Jade. I just… I just didn’t know what else to do or where to go.” His thumbs gently caressed the top of her hands. “I’ve always been safe here with you, babe. Help me… please, Jade, please, my love.”
She sat there, peering into his light brown eyes, thinking of all the nights they spent together. Thinking about the lust, the pleasure he brought each time they laid together, his scent. Thinking about his hands, his lips, his mouth. She learned years ago not to get emotionally attached to her clients, but intimacy carried those emotions. She didn’t love Ollie, but she cared for him, and he was a regular. He differed from the others. He paid well and was never too rough or disrespectful.
She knew no was the safe answer, but couldn’t turn him away? She hadn’t seen this side of him before, vulnerable, dependent. He had always been so confident, so strong, taking what he wanted, when he wanted it. But he needed her now.
As she opened her mouth to answer his plea, a thunderous pounding struck the locked door. Both whipped their heads in the direction, unable to speak or move.
A firm voice sprang from the hallway. “We know he’s in there with you! Open up, now!” The hammering continued, juddering the old door.
Their eyes reconnected, turning and facing one another. Ollie’s head shuddered, shaking. Jade could see his trembling lips mouth the word please in a repetitive loop, barely audible. Fear toiled in her core as she listened to the thumping, flinching with each strike.
“Open this bloody door!” The clamor echoed through the room. “You can have the coin, or the blade, woman. It’s your choice!”
Without realizing her actions, she stood, never averting her eyes from the beseeched man kneeling before her.
His tear streaked eyes looked up at her, while extending his arms out towards her, palms together. “No, no, no. Please, Jade.”
Her glance flowed towards the shouts outside her room before returning, watching him quiver. Watching this man, she had spent countless nights shaking with fear, begging for help. She leaned down towards his flushed face and whispered. “It’s okay, my love. Everything’s going to be okay. I’ll get rid of ‘em.”
She stepped to the side, sliding past Ollie, and moved towards the door. He reached out with both hands, trying to grasp hers, trying to halt her advancement, to no avail. She pulled away from his attempts, strolling forward.
Once she reached the door, she glanced back. Their eyes met, and she delivered a nod, mouthing the word ‘my love’ before turning back around.
Then, heedlessly, she reached down and unlocked the door, opening it in a wide arch.
She stood in the doorway, obscuring the view of the room, seeing the group of men making the threats and demands. These were definitely Drake’s men. All wore the familiar red band on their left arms, and a few carried clubs wrenched in their fists. One held an axe, carrying it with both hands. They were prepared for a fight or an execution.
Her gaze fell upon one in the center of the group, observing his groomed blonde beard and sharp features. He stood there, returning the look, arms crossing his thick, barreled chest. She knew who he was, knew his reputation in the city. His name was Aiden, Drake’s second, his muscle, a man you didn’t get second chances with.
Without hesitation, she moved to the side, allowing a clear view of the room, intimidation driving her actions.
Aiden’s eyes flowed inward, seeing the man he hunted kneeling on the wooden floor. A slick grin slowly formed on his face, and he waved to three of his colleagues with clubs forward with a subtle gesture, sending them to retrieve his prize. As they stormed into the room, his focus returned to Jade, standing offset, delivering a nod of appreciation. “Thank you.”
There wasn’t a response. She couldn’t move or speak, merely watching the man while listening to the wails and screams protruding from inside the room. Her mind splintered, wondering if she had made the right choice, if she was safe, if he would pay her for her fidelity.
She had become desensitized to life. Lacking feelings or genuine friendships, scraping by one day at a time. Doing the unthinkable for a few coins. Deep down, she hated herself and her choices in life, but hopefully, this choice would lessen the pain. Maybe it would allow her to start over. Be reborn.
Her eyes couldn’t move to Ollie as they carried his limp body past her into the hall, staying locked on Aiden and his twisted grin. Anxiety elevated with each breath as she waited.
Aiden shuffled to the side of the doorframe, allowing his men to exit with his bloody prize before addressing the man holding the axe. “Kill the whore and don’t worry about the mess.”