I’ve got the woman tied to the chair in the center of the room. She’s growling and so filled with rage that she’s practically spitting with every word she says.
“Fuck you, Victoria. I’ll get you for this.”
I’m pacing back and forth in front of her, the bat in my hand and the pistol, to Isabel’s protests, wedged in my belt. “Oh, you’ll get me, huh?” I say with a laugh. “I’m sure I’ll get got, but I got you first.”
“You have no idea what I’m capable of.”
“It seems like this time, you didn’t know what I was capable of,” I say with a smile as I lean on the end of the bat.
Punish her, Ally urges, but instead I walk to the corner of her garage and get a few cinderblocks to use in lieu of another chair.
“I think you just confirmed something for me,” I say as I take a seat. “You can jump from body to body, but you can’t do it over a long distance, can you? It’s the middle of the day, so the neighbors are gone. You can’t take over my body because I’m the one you’re sent here to get information from, which means you’re sitting there, trapped until someone comes to save you.”
“This is nothing,” she says, though the tremble in her voice betrays her discomfort. “You won’t get anything from me.”
“Unfortunately, I have to.” I’m on my feet, pacing. “All the rest of my leads went cold. You’re the only one left who might be able to lead me to Gerard.”
She laughs, which hangs in the air before being swept away by a gust of wind that seems to shake the entire building. “And you think getting to Gerard will somehow end this?”
“It has to. I don’t have what he wants. I never did. The only thing I can do is try to kill him to end this.”
She tilts her head back, a chuckle building until it erupts.
“Shut up,” I say, raising the bat beside me.
“Come on, bitch,” she says as she licks her lips. “Hit me. Do it.”
My grip starts to shake on the bat.
You need to be better than them, Isabel says.
“Come on,” the Sadistic Woman says, leaning back. “Hit me.”
Fucking bitch! Ally says. Hit her!
Isabel’s voice barely registers until I’m mid-swing.
The bat stops just inches from the Sadistic Woman’s head. Ally groans in frustration.
“How are you going to kill Gerard if you can’t even go through with that?” the Sadistic Woman asks, still smiling. “I almost thought you had it in you, but you’re weak. Just like your partner.”
This time, no voices can stop me. A guttural scream as I rear back and strike the woman’s arm. She shrieks in pain and the chair topples over onto its side.
Good! Give her what she deserves! Ally screams. Rebecca and Isabel are silent, perhaps in disbelief of what I’ve done.
The woman is moaning. I pull her chair upright. “Today, you feel pain. There are no neighbors to save you, your companions aren’t anywhere to be found, and the only person you truly fear, Gerard, would torture you until the end of eternity if you destroyed my soul to save yourself.”
“He’d be impressed,” she says as she looks down to her arm, which is already darkening from the strike.
“Good, when you see him next, tell him I’m coming for him.”
She smiles up at me. “He’s out of your league. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”
“Maybe, but every new death closes the gap between us.” I kneel so we’re face-to-face. Seeing the pain in her eyes fills me with a vengeful joy. “I’ve taken everything you’ve thrown at me and come back for more.” Now turning, pacing away. “You think I’m not serious about this? You took my partner and drove him insane with your stupid little games. This is the most serious I’ve ever been.”
Good, excellent, Ally says.
“Your partner was weak.”
“Javier,” I say, hand flexing on the bat at my side. “His name is Javier.”
“I wasn’t in charge of his treatment, but from what Albert told me, he broke almost immediately. No fun at all. Not even a challenge.”
Spinning on my heels, with what I can only guess is the Cruel Man’s name ringing in my ears, I strike her again. She screeches as her upper arm crumples from the impact. Her chair topples to the side, and when it lands I can see that her arm between the shoulder and elbow is bent and deformed.
Victoria, you’re going to kill her! Isabel cries.
Ally laughs, her sadism flowing through me. Yes! Do it again! Do it again!
I pick up the woman’s chair. She’s gasping in pain, staring at her arm. “How’s that for fun?” I demand.
Please, this is going too far, Rebecca pleads.
“Shut up! Shut up!” I yell, throwing the bat to the ground. “She’s not dead yet!”
All the voices in my head fall silent as I lock my eyes on the Sadistic Woman’s. I expect her to be moaning in pain, but instead she’s forcing a laugh. “Who are you talking to?”
“Be quiet.” I pick up the bat and retake my seat upon the cinderblocks. “Now, I’ve been dying to know, Gerard said I tried to steal his anchor. How do they work?”
She shrugs her good shoulder and winces. “Magic.”
“I know that, but how?”
Her eyes meet mine. She’s defiant, but in more pain than she wants me to believe. “Long story.”
“Well I’ve got time.”
“They’re magical objects that you tie to your soul,” she says after a long silence. “When you die, your soul wants to drift off to the afterlife, but your anchor keeps it here for a time and lets you put it in another host.”
“What is the afterlife?”
“Don’t know, I’ve never been there.” She forces another laugh through the pain in her arm. “I doubt it’ll be good for someone like you or me, so I’m staying here for as long as possible.”
“Don’t lump me in with you.”
She tilts here head like she’s considering it. “Maybe not before, just a petty cat-burglar, but after this it’s hard to tell the difference.”
She’s right, Isabel whispers before Ally shouts here down.
A shake of my head to get them to go away, to make sure I’m still in control.
“An anchor can only bind a soul by itself for so long,” the Sadistic Woman says, “so you need to find another host. The closer the body the better, unless you’re someone like Gerard and you can tie a soul to a body that’s thousands of miles away.”
“Is it the same for going to another body?”
She shifts gingerly on her chair. “Yes, depending on how powerful you are, the new host needs to be closer to your anchor.”
“And you’re stuck here, which means you’re nothing compared to Gerard.”
“Everyone’s nothing compared to him, but don’t forget I’m still coming back after this.”
“And don’t forget who won last.”
“It’s a long game,” she says. In the dim light, our eyes meet and linger with hatred. “Winning once doesn’t make you a master.”
“How are they made?” I ask.
“Anchors? Used to be they had to be weapons,” she says, “weapons you’d killed a thousand people with. The stain of the blood imbued the blade with your soul, tied you together. Now-a-days they’re just inanimate objects we imbue with magic.”
“And if I destroy Gerard’s, then he ceases to exist.”
“You’d have to kill him one last time, but yes, if the anchor is destroyed the soul goes to the afterlife.”
I get to my feet, the bat in my hand. “Good. Where is he now?”
She scoffs. “You think I’m just going to tell you where he is? Really?”
She whimpers as I press the bat into her shattered arm.
Victoria! No! Isabel screams.
Keep going! Ally urges. You’re getting her to break!
I push a little harder until the chair topples over backward.
Dammit! No! Stop!
Don’t be like them!
This is the only way!
“Both of you, shut up!” I scream. The sound pierces the room, silent other than the whimpers of the Sadistic Woman and the distant howl of the wind.
The Sadistic Woman laughs from the floor. “Looks like someone’s losing it.”
I yank her upright, bat in my hand, ready to hit her again.
“How many souls do you have now? Six? Seven?” she asks, grinning. “I’ve lost count myself.”
A loud smack from my palm on her face. “I’m asking the questions here!”
“Are you talking to me or the voices in your head?” the Sadistic Woman says.
My hand flies to the pistol in my waistband, instinctively wrapping around the grip, my finger resting on the trigger. Why take abuse when I have a weapon I can end it with?
The moment hangs, the woman’s laugh mocking, a wide grin on her now bloodied face, her hair matted with soil and whatever else on the floor of the garage. I’m bent over her , the bat in one hand, my other reaching around my back to the grip of the pistol, my entire body trembling.
“Oh, Victoria, you really are losing it, aren’t you?”
Suddenly, the pistol is against the woman’s cheek. Our eyes are locked on one another, and I can see hints of surprise and fear beneath the cool exterior.
Please! Rebecca screams. Her husky voice cuts through me, makes me hesitate, but only for a second.
I squeeze the trigger, but it won’t move. Isabel and Rebecca gasp. I can’t tell if it’s surprise, disapproval, relief, or a mix of all three.
The safety, Ally urges.
I pull the pistol away from the Sadistic Woman’s face, examining the switch next to the hammer, flicking it into the other position and returning it to her cheek. With a deep breath, I consider what’s about to happen. The world seems to stop around me, falling silent. A voice cuts through just as I’m about to pull the trigger.
“Cat!” a man screams from so close behind me that he must already be in the garage.
It’s too late to avoid him. I spin but he crashes into me. The back of my head is the first thing to hit, takes the brunt of the impact. My right elbow is the second. My hand squeezes in shock. The gun goes off.
“Oh!” he grunts in surprise, holding the note with the entirety of his breath, rolling to the floor.
The room spins around me. Eyes blinking, seeing stars, unsteady even though I’m lying flat on my back.
I can feel him moving beside me. He’s crawling, mumbling, “Cat, you let her get the jump on you like this?”
“Shut up and help me,” the Sadistic Woman says.
He slides to his feet, whimpering in pain. I don’t know where I hit him, but it hurts.
We need to leave! Isabel screams.
Unsteadily, I pull myself to my feet, almost falling down multiple times before I’ve even taken a step. The Cruel Man, I assume that’s him, is hunched over the Sadistic Woman, untying her, asking if she’s okay. They turn to me as I rise.
“You’re fucking dead,” the man growls, though through the pounding in my head I barely hear it. “You will never get away with this.”
Without answering, I turn and stumble to door. The bat, which is somehow still in my hand, falls to the ground beside me. The pistol splashes in a puddle only a few steps away. A gust of wind nearly knocks me over as I exit.
Gravel crunches beneath my heavy feet. My head is throbbing. Stumbling up the driveway with nowhere else to go, my peripheral vision is a blackened blur that encroaches from all sides. Rain pelts my skin. Wind swirls around me as my legs tangle, my knees buckle, and the ground rushes upward to greet me. I don’t even attempt to catch the fall.
Immobile, prone. Heavy breathing, both from the exhaustion and searing pain of the head impact. I get the feeling the ladies inside me are screaming, but I can’t hear anything other than rain, wind, and the crunching gravel of rushing steps.
Rushing steps. The Sadistic Woman, the Cruel Man. Doesn’t matter. Kill me now. End this.
They stop behind me. “Hang on,” a man says as he pulls me up to my feet.
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