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Where the Shadow Ends - Chapter 1

Eri Lauer


He walked out onto the balcony of the hotel room, and leaned against the metal railing. He was a tall and slender individual with an almost unnatural beauty, like that of a silent movie star. His sharp nose and angular jaw line would make anyone think that he had been conjured out of the frame of a 35mm film. And indeed, with his satin black hair and pale skin that seemed to border on grey, one may have thought Vincent existed in grayscale if not for his red eyes like dying ember.


He looked out over the city; watched as the faceless insects of the people hurried on down below. The sounds of the street beneath swelled up to him like an incompetent orchestra; the sounds of drunken laughter that spilled out of the bars mixed with the brass of the vulgar brawling that climbed from narrow alleyways. The bass was provided by the throbbing of the nightclubs’ music which only furthered the violation on the eardrums. The roar of a speeding car ripping down the street would spontaneously pierce the nauseous melody like the deafening crash of cymbals in a ballet. He wished to blame these bright lights, the piercing sounds for his inability to sleep. But Vincent would only be deceiving himself to believe that.


He reached into the inner pocket of his suit jacket and took out a lighter and a crinkled pack of cigarettes. Putting a cigarette between his teeth, Vincent sparked the lighter and raised it to his mouth. Blowing the smoke out through his nostrils Vincent sighed as he rested his head on the railing. As he cursed under his breath he ran his fingers through his hair and smoothed his curvaceous bang.


A pair of arms enclosed around Vincent’s shoulders and a wicked tail curled around his inner thigh like a python. The individual leaned in on Vincent as the hot hands slithered down his shirt. Pressing their cheek against Vincent’s the entity whispered into his ear softly.


“What's the matter? Can't sleep? Maybe I could be of some help.” They move their hands down to Vincent's waist. Grabbing the creature’s wrists, Vincent turns swiftly on his heels and shoved the lascivious caller into the exterior wall, but the man looked at him unshaken.


With a curl of his lip, Vincent groaned: “Of course it is you.”


The man’s mouth parted way into a sharp toothy smile, a soft snicker escaping his lips. He brought himself up to his feet as he brushed the dust from his pale red complexion. He stood at an even six feet, just slightly shorter than Vincent. He reeked of cheap cologne and pungent body odor. Over a shirt freckled with holes, he wore a leather motorcycle jacket. A spaded tail darted back and forth like an ill-tempered feline. Framing one side of his face was a head of unkempt dark brown hair, spiked out with an excessive amount of product. The other side shaved shorter. Both of his pointed ears were lined with golden piercings. A pair of horns protruded out of the man’s forehead, curving in an S shape with a small flame suspended between them. Then the demon’s snickering turned to a howling cackle as he turned towards Vincent, showing that row of pointed and sharp teeth like a carnivore’s. A small diamond-shaped soul patch inhabited the space under his lower lip. His right eye was concealed by a leather patch, but his left eye gleamed yellow like a torch, his pupil a thin black slice in the glowing amber.


Again, Vincent slammed the intruder into the wall to stop his insidious laughter. He shifted his grip, seizing the man by the throat. “Shut up, Beelzebub.” Vincent sneered.


Still smiling Beeyel snickered with malicious pleasure. “Awwh? What the matter. Am I still not your type? Still too preoccupied with that blonde bombshell you have in your bed? Little Puck, Right?” Vincent growled and Beeyel chuckled even more. “Would have thought the pint-sized little -”


Beeyel was silenced as Vincent lobbed him into the metal banister, leaning him over the side as he pressed a straight razor into the red flesh of Beeyel's throat.


“Care to finish the sentence, and you will find it may be your last.”


In light of his jeopardizing position, Beeyel laughed and playfully shook his head. “C’mon Vinny, we both knew if you really wanted to kill me I would’ve had ya disemboweled before you could whip out your little toy switchblade. So, what's on your mind, Daivella?”


With a grunt of objection, Vincent moved his knife away from Beeyel's neck, returning it to his inner vest pocket. “I need money.” He snarled.


“Well, …why didn't you just say so?” Beeyel chuckled as he slid his hands over his lap. “I have a really bad itch I would love to have you scratch for me, Daivella.” he licked his sharp teeth with his forked tongue; the sterling piecing squealing as it scraped across his teeth.


“Not like that you perverted bastard.” Rolling his eyes, Vincent took a drag on his cigarette and let the toxic smoke out as he continued “I am referring specifically to collecting on your expired deals like I use to do. I am sure you have a handful of lapsed deals since my leave.”


Beeyel groaned and looked at Vincent dissatisfied. “Well, of course, I have souls I have to collect.” Crossing his arms, Beeyel’s voice took on its soothing charm once more. “But Vinny, you know what I really want?”


“Damn it Beelzebub, I said no! If you absolutely need to fornicate with someone tonight, get yourself someone else. Or something else.” He took another long drag on his cigarette and angrily blew the smoke out his nostrils, all the while keeping a tentative eye on Beeyel if he made another attempt to slide closer.


“Or… maybe I give you say… a hundred bucks. You go down to that bar there cross the street, say for an hour or two? And I get physical with your pint-sized lil’ pet. I bet a creature like that is a beast in the sack.” Gently, Beeyel brushed a purple mark on Vincent’s neck behind his right ear with two clawed fingers. “I mean, with the marks she leaves on you.”


The cigarette slipped from Vincent's teeth and he grabbed Beeyel by the collar of his jacket.


“Touch even a single hair on her head, I'll castrate you like the filthy swine you are!”


Snickering Beeyel continued. “Touchy, touchy. She must really have your panties in a twist. Mhm?”


Vincent threw Beeyel into the railing. “You disgust me… You are a revolting waste of living being.”


“Listen, Daivella. You’re the one who needs me right now. So better quit with the flattery if all ya gonna do stand there and be a tease.”


Vincent’s thin lips parted in a snarl as a low growl rumbled in his throat.


“Oh~ you just so sexy when you’re angry.”


The overwhelming desire to pitch Beeyel over the side of the balcony started to consume Vincent as he began to pick at the cubicles of his nails. It wouldn’t help, from experience he knew Beeyel had the tendency to land on his feet. In one way or another. Besides, as much as he hated to face it, Vincent needed Beeyel.


Taking a deep breath, Vincent carefully mustered out his next few words. “I am willing-”


“Oh?” Beeyel cooed as he perked up.


“I am willing to collect on any souls that you are overdue on. Twelve thousand per soul, as you and I agreed to in the former arrangement.”


Beeyel smiled, flicking his tail in thoughtful play. “What if I say no?”


“I thought you may ask me that. I am truly glad you did too.” This caught Beeyel off guard and his arrogant demeanor seemed to crack as Vincent smirked.


“See I was doing some research. I believe I understand why you jump from partner to partner now. And why you disapprove of my relationship with Miss O’Dare. You admired a human yourself once as well, back when you were just a young little thing. Did you not?”


In an attempt to stop Vincent from proceeding Beeyel interrupted “Where are you going with this Daivella?!”


“I have information on where your beloved is now. I am willing to throw in my file for the right price, of course, say… an extra two thousand dollars? Added to the twelve thousand earned for each of your expired deals, of course.”


“Of course,” Beeyel repeated with a rout but still venomous sneer. “Still. You’ve piqued my interest.” And extending his hand to Vincent, Beeyel added. “It's a deal then, old friend.”


Slapping the clawed hand away Vincent replied. “No, I am too wise to your ways to make a deal.”


“What? You don't trust me, Vince?” He waited for Vincent’s response but all he received as his answer was an unsympathetic glare. Putting his hand on his heart, Beeyel bleated mockingly, “Oh you wound me Daivella; and here I thought you were my loyal friend.”


“The only people I owe my loyalty to are the people who never made me question theirs.”


Beeyel smiled “Ouchy… Careful Vinny, the tongue is like your sharp little knife, it can kill without spilling a drop of blood.”


“You will recover,” Vincent replied crossly as he lit another cigarette. “It’s merely a flesh wound, not even, more of a paper cut to you.”


“True, true. I can’t argue with you there, Vincey Bear.” Beeyel snickered as Vincent cringes at the use of the pet name. “Meet me tomorrow. I’ll have a list of names for you, errand boy. Oh, and you may want to cut back on the smokes, just cause you’re immortal doesn’t mean cancer can’t touch those lungs of yours.”


“Like you give a damn, Beelzebub. I know you have dabbled in substances worse than tobacco.” He turned to look at the demon but found Beeyel was gone. Rolling his eyes, Vincent took a drag on his cigarette before snuffing it out on the railing and flicking it over the side of the balcony.


He walked into the room, slumping down into the plush armchair with a dogged groan. He grabbed the bridge of his nose and started to rub his fingers over his eyes. Blasted demon! He did not even give me a meeting spot! Vincent sighed. Does not matter. Knowing him, Beeyel will just pop up whenever he fancies.


Then pulling his hand away from his face, he inspected the long diagonal scar that ran across the front and back of his hand. He rubbed the callous mark that ran up and between his left index and middle finger as a numb tingling began creeping up his neck. His eyelids grew heavier and his breath became shallow as he felt all tension leave his body.


A lump under the covers of the bed shifted miserably. Vincent dropped his hand, his focus snapping back as he looked over to the spasming bed. Getting up as another violent tremor caused the bed frame to let out a rusty shriek. Vincent took a seat on the edge of the bed and started unlacing his leather dress boots. Taking them off, he placed them with his socks, squarely in the middle of his designated side of the bed. He unbuttoned his jacket and draped it over the back of the armchair; doing the same with his red vest. The bed shuttered violently once more and Vincent turned back. Stepping towards the twisting covers he grabbed the corner of the blanket and drew it back. Heather moaned and reached to pull the sheets back over her, but she woke when they fight her tugs.


“Hey! Stop being a dick, Vincey…” Heather shouts as she flings something at Vincent, hitting him square in the face before falling to the floor limply. Vincent looks down at a tattered teddy bear. It stares back with a single black button eye. The hole where the missing eye would have been was sewn in an X pattern.


Vincent let go of the covers as he sat down on the bed, loosening his necktie before picking up the disheveled bear. The bear, Lock Picksin as she called it, had been Heather’s treasure, going on twenty-six years now, surviving only through numerous, but well-intentioned patch jobs.


“Don't be crude. I was doing you a favor.” Vincent turned the bear over, checking the seams of the off-colored patch that covered where the tail once was. He checked the stitches that kept the arms and left leg of the plush attached to its torso, making sure that they weren't coming loose or fraying again.


Grumbling profanities Heather turned away from Vincent, wrapping the blankets up to her neck, covering her Property of Glenbrooke sweatshirt she kept as a handcrafted trophy of her pyrrhic victory over the institution. She had modified the words on the back, covering the black letters of Property of with the bold red word of SURVIVED written with spray paint above Glenbrooke. The front, yet stained with an alarming amount of blood, was unaltered, and through the faded red, one could it still make out 161094, Heather’s patient identification number which was stenciled over the left side of the breast.


Vincent looked at her with a sense of remorse and inert helplessness. Reaching out a hand, he started to stroke her canary hair but Heather slapped his hand away.


“Now is that any way for you to act, O’Dare?” He held out her treasured Picksin to her as a sort of peace offering.


Heather turned to him and grabbed the bear, wrapping the four fingers on her right hand around it, her pinky finger blown off by her own negligence in a firecracker incident. Heather yanked the plush from Vincent's grasp. Then, hugging it close to her chest, Heather sighed, “It’s not that Vincey Bear. I had another nightmare.”


Vincent nodded. Of course, she had another nightmare. For Heather, they were more common than the sun rising. If she slept, a nightmare was bound to claw its way into her brain. It had occurred almost as long as Vincent had known her.


Sitting up, Heather cuddled close to Vincent, taking his arm and wrapping it around her shoulders.


Vincent rubbed her shoulder tenderly. “What was it this time, Pooka?”


A haunted look filled Heather’s brilliant green eyes as she stared out into the distance. The golden outer rings of her iris grew as her pupils widened. “I was trapped in the small room again. I was laying on the table and I was strapped down. My head was in a puddle of my vomit and my whole body was trembling. I was so cold.” Heather’s hand darted to the left side of her head where her long hair was shaved away, exposing both the chuck cut away from her left ear and the long scar that curved around the side of her head. The raised scar was punctuated every two inches by the everlasting impression of the withdrawn staples. “And there was this searing pain in my head, like a hot pin were being pushed into my brain. And it branched off as it starts to lay down roots, clawing its way deeper and deeper and deeper in.”


Vincent put his hand on her back. “Deep breath, Pooka.” He paused giving Heather a moment, rubbing her back soothingly.


“You worry me.”


Clearing her nose with a sniffle, Heather giggled. “Why? I’m only certifiably insane.”


“Not that, my little nutcase. It is how you handle these nightmares. Your method of insomnia clearly is not an effective approach. I think it is doing more harm to you in the process.”


Heather’s childish expression faded. “I don’t want to talk about it.”


“Heather.”


“No.” Heather barked.


Seeing her eyes starting to well up, Vincent sighed. He was too tired to argue out a solution with Heather, and in the end, Heather was only using the fight to prolong going back to bed.


"Fine. We will speak about this in the morning. But now we need to sleep."


She let out a whine “But Vincent...! I don’t wanna!”


He gave her a scolding look. “Don’t Vincent me, O’Dare. You need your rest.” he pulled the covers back to let Heather climb under.


“But I’m not even tired! I’ve never felt more awake in my life.”


However, no sooner had she said this, Heather let out a Herculean yawn.


“Give- give me another thirty police battalions.” Heather mustered out through the yawn. “I’ll knock ‘em all down to size.”


She was referring, of course, to the swat team that had shown up at the couple’s door, not forty-eight hours ago back in Ophir. Though the two were not the model image of morality, Heather an escaped patient from Glenbrooke and Vincent a former assassin; they had in fact been crime-free for the last four months. Well as far as Vincent was aware, lord knows what Heather may have done. Though he had questioned her thoroughly on their way to Las Vegas, she still didn’t admit to any criminal moonlighting. And despite her aptitude for lying, Vincent was inclined to believe that this time she was telling the truth.


“I am sure you would terrorize them all, O’Dare,” Vincent said as he scooped up Heather’s petite figure in his slender arms. “However, it is bedtime, Pooka.”


“No.” Heather bellowed in reply.


“Yes and, as always, I will be here when you go to sleep and here when you wake in the morning. Any nightmares you have between then and now are only that; a twisted fantasy of your subconscious.” He kissed Heather’s forehead, then got himself settled into bed as well. “You have nothing to fear, my love.”


Nestling herself in Vincent's arm, Heather rested her head on his chest, listening to the rhythm of his heart to ease her to sleep. Frowning, Vincent stroked her blonde hair and closed his eyes.

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