The Twisted Soul
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“Are you still mad at me?”
Lane McKay sipped her morning coffee, remembering the events of the previous night. The profoundly sad look on her face was heartbreaking. But unfortunately, the woman sitting across the table, her lover, Allie Peyton, was being influence d by her slowly darkening soul and heart.. Allie was not swayed by the emotion. “I’m not mad,” Lane finally said. “I’m disappointed. You’ve never acted like that before. You were hurting me, and when I asked you to stop, you ignored me.” Lane studied her lover’s face, looking for any sign of remorse…but sadly finding none. “Aren’t you going to say anything?” Lane asked. “Aren’t you sorry at all?”
Allie formed a sly little smile and shrugged a shoulder. “I was just trying something new,” she confessed. “I didn’t realize you were such a delicate flower.”
Lane’s dark head nodded morosely. “Since when are you so inconsiderate?”
“We were playing,” Allie countered. “Maybe it got out of hand.”
“Maybe?!” Lane shouted frustratingly. “I couldn’t move, had no way of stopping you while you put scratches down my back. I don’t know what in the hell you used, but it hurt like hell. That was not playful sex.”
“All right, all right. I’ll never do that again.” Allie moved behind her partner and started to wrap her arms around Lane’s neck, but she was rebuffed. “I’m…sorry,” Allie said.
“I’ll accept your apology as soon as I think it’s sincere.” Lane walked to the sink and put in her empty cup. “I’m not even sure I know who you are,” she mumbled as she left the room.
* * *
The two hardly spoke to one another for the rest of the day. Lane worked in her office and Allie spent the day in the backyard, scribbling in a notebook. Allie made dinner, which they ate in each other’s presence, but in total silence. Lane winced as every movement added to her discomfort. She was too stubborn to have a doctor look at the wounds, and she couldn’t reach them take care of them herself. So she just suffered. After putting her dirty plate in the dishwasher, Lane headed for the stairs. She needed a shower and a good night’s sleep, which she was not likely to get. Her pains, physical and emotional were strong and unyielding.
She stepped into the shower, her back stinging as the water ran down over the raw skin. She had showered the night before, after it had happened. It was painful then, but even more so now. Lane had slept on the uncomfortable futon in her office, not able to face her lover after what Allie had done. Although rest, then was slow in coming as the anger had fueled her brain. But the ire had faded to despair by the time she had woken up.
Turning off the water, Lane reached for a towel and gingerly dried her body. Each movement pulled the wounds taut, but Lane stubbornly fought through the motions.
Allie came into the bedroom and went to turn down the bed. Shock bleached her face as she saw the specks and streaks of red across the cream colored sheet. Flashes of torn skin and feelings of evil flickered across her brain, leaving her unsettled and unsteady on her feet.
Lane opened the bathroom door and ignoring her partner, walked to the dresser, pulling open a drawer. She pulled out a big t-shirt, dropped the robe from her body and started to put the shirt over her head.
Allie looked up and gasped upon seeing the injuries. “Oh my God!” she screamed. She ran across the room to see Lane’s back better. “I did this?” she asked in total disbelief, her chest suddenly seizing in pain. Lane pulled her shirt down and turned to her lover. Allie’s cheeks were pale with confusion and self revulsion. “How could I do such a thing?” Allie’s voice trembled. “I don’t even remember. Oh God I…” Stronger images of her madness assailed her mind like a horrendous nightmare. Allie saw the claws extending from her bony fingers, and slashing the skin on her lover’s back, but not understanding why or how it had happened. Her hand clutched at her churning middle. “I’m gonna be sick,” she mumbled, running to the bathroom just in time to empty her stomach.
Lane had been struck silent during Allie’s emotional ramblings. But she quickly followed her to the bathroom, grabbing a washcloth from the linen cabinet and wetting it down to hold against Allie’s neck as the sick woman held her place, not quite sure when the heaves would stop. Lane finally gathered her frail lover into her arms, not understanding just what was happening to both of them, but now knowing that there was something very wrong with her lover.
Allie downed the cup of water Lane held to her lips. “I remember…but I didn’t…” Allie couldn’t form a complete thought, she continued to murmur half sentences. “I love you Lane. I would never... How could I?” Allie started to tremble uncontrollably.
Lane wanted to comfort the woman she loved, sooth her nerves, end her guilt. “It’s okay baby, it’s okay. Calm down,” Lane pleaded. “Please try to calm down. I love you too. I’m sorry, I said the things I did.”
“No, No! I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me,” Allie begged as they huddled on the bathroom floor.
Lane pulled the blonde head to her chest. “I do baby, I do forgive you. It wasn’t you. Somehow you weren’t in control of your actions.”
Allie’s confusion was extensive, and the shock was draining her energy. She felt like her mind was breaking apart. “I don’t… understand. That…doesn’t make…sense. How could that be?”
“I don’t know either,” Lane said, cradling the fragile woman.” But we will, I promise you. Come on, let‘s get off this hard floor.”
“I don’t….I don’t…know if I can,” Allie stuttered in a weak voice.
“I’ll help you.”
Together they moved slowly back into the bedroom, Lane nearly carrying her lover. Allie got another glimpse of the blood stained sheets, and her eyes snapped shut as she recoiled in Lane’s arms. “Here,” Lane said, steering her toward the chair in the corner. “Let me change the those.” She quickly stripped the bed, throwing the ruined item into the hallway. With fresh linens applied, Lane brought Allie back to the bed, where they both climbed in, never letting go of each other. Lane was very worried about her partner’s mental state. “Try to get some sleep sweets.”
Allie was still shaking. She couldn‘t ever remember feeling worse in her life. “I don’t know…if I can. I’ll have…dre...nightmares. What if I’m losing my…mind?”
Lane pulled her closer. “You aren’t baby. You aren’t. Just hold onto me. I’ll be right here, I promise. I’ll never let you go Allie. I’ll be by your side forever.”
Allie finally drifted off about an hour later, but her sleep was disrupted by vile images. She twitched and moaned, but was soothed every time by Lane’s words and arms. Lane wouldn’t have been able to sleep anyway. She was now certain that Allie’s strange behavior was the result of visiting the other realm. But she still couldn’t fathom what exactly was happening to Allie. Then she remembered the wound on Allie’s leg. What if it didn’t happen in the fall? She thought. What if one of those demons did something to her? This all my fault.
* * *
Allie’s green eyes fluttered open almost an hour later. She looked up at Lane, but said nothing.
“Hi,” Lane said with a smile.
“It wasn’t a nightmare, was it?” Allie muttered, her voice thick and heavy.
“No baby, I’m afraid not.”
“Your back?” Allie asked meekly, then jumped up. “Your back! We need to go to the hospital. You need to see a doctor.”
“Take it easy,” Lane said, easing her back to the bed. “Take it easy.”
“But you’re hurt and in pain, and don’t try telling me you’re not.”
Lane took a breath. “I won’t. But I’ve gone this long, I can make it a while longer. We have to be careful about how we proceed. We can’t tell anyone the truth about what we do. Who would believe us anyway?” she considered.
* * *
Instead of the emergency room, they ended up at a nearby health clinic just before one in the morning. Lane used the same story they had used when Allie went to the hospital with her leg wound. She told the doctor that she suffered a fall down a rocky slope. The older MD didn’t question the tale; he was in a hurry to end his day. He cleaned out the long jagged wounds, putting in a few stitches at the deepest spots. But overall, he told here there shouldn’t be much scarring. After a tetanus booster and with a prescription in hand, Lane paid the bill and joined her anxious partner in the waiting room. “I’m fine,” she answered, before Allie could even get the question out. “Let’s go home. We both need some sleep.”
* * *
Back in their bed, both women quickly succumbed to their exhaustion. Lane had taken a couple of pills to help her pain, and positioned herself to sleep on her stomach. She wanted to stay awake and keep watch on her partner, but that just wasn’t going to be possible. Her blue eyes were glued to Allie’s sleeping face for only about fifteen minutes before they fell closed. Lane knew she was going to need some help figuring out this situation. She prayed to anyone who would listen to watch over the woman she loved.
* * *
Lane awoke long before her lover, but that was okay; she wanted Allie to sleep as long as possible. The tall woman quickly dressed and retrieved the key and the book from the wall safe they had installed in the closet. She skipped the morning coffee, not wanting to be away from Allie for any length of time. Lane sat in the chair by the window, propping her long legs on the foot stool. She opened the delicate, antique book, the guide that had been in her family for multiple generations, since they had been named the keepers of the key, the guardians against evil. The legacy, or curse, as Lane currently viewed it, had been hers for just a year. And until now, it had been a relatively easy task. But something was going very wrong.
Lane started at the very first word and read slowly and methodically, determined to find answers to the many questions they had. She knew it was an urgent situation. She knew Allie’s life, or at the very least her sanity, depended on it. At the turn of every page, the blue eyes would flick over to the woman in the bed, checking for the rise and fall of Allie’s chest. Over an hour later, and two pages full of scribbled notes, Lane set the book aside and stretched out her fingers. Unaware that she had a death grip on the pen and the book, her sore digits made themselves known. Knowing that she hadn’t discovered any solid answers yet, Lane blew out a frustrated breath. With just a little over half the book left to scour, she thought she had found a couple of clues at least. But how would she ever really be sure. There has to be someone else in the world who knows about this. It’s been hundreds of years, there has to be more than just this book. Lane suddenly felt dizzy as a vortex swirled the air in front of her. She grabbed the key for protection.
“You won’t need that Elaine,” a gentle voice proclaimed.
As Lane‘s equilibrium settled, her eyes beheld a familiar, yet unexpected sight. “Gram?”
“Gram, please say you’ve come to help me…help us.” Lane pointed to her fragile lover in the bed.
The spirit hovered in place, expressing concern for her granddaughter with weary eyes. “I have been granted special permission to visit you. I’m not sure how much help I can be. Because we have a connection to you, we have felt the distress, we know the situation.”
The tone of her grandmother’s voice, suddenly had Lane feeling like an awkward five year old. “This is my fault,” she said, looking away.
“Yes it is.” Upon Lane’s hurt expression, the grandmother added, “I’m sorry dear, I don’t mean to add to your guilt, but you were instructed to go to the other realm alone. This is exactly why.”
With a sigh, the dark head shook sadly in agreement. “I took her there. I thought the key would protect us both.” Lane scrubbed her face and pushed her regret deep inside. It wouldn’t do any good to wallow. “I need to know what’s happening to her. Can you tell me?”
“Just because people pass on from the living world, they don’t suddenly become omnipotent. I wish I had all the answers for you, but I don’t. I do have suspicions.”
“What do you think may be happening?” Lane asked acutely.
“Was Allison touched at any time while in the other realm?”
“I don’t…she did suffer a would to her leg…we both thought it happened in a fall.”
“But is it possible? Was there a demon near her at the time of the injury?”
The ghost nodded, pensively. “Unless Allison is truly becoming mentally unstable by natural causes or too much stress, then I believe that is the answer to one question.”
“If one of those things did something to her,” Lane pondered, “what can I do to help her?”
“I hope you can find the solution in the book,” the grandmother said. “I’m afraid I don’t remember anything specific. And I hope it’s the answer you want.”
“What do you mean?” Lane asked with a wide eyed suspicion.
“The evil has tried many methods to enter the living world. If that is what’s happening…?”
Lane became more agitated. “If that is what’s happening, what?”
“It is your duty to stop them.”
“And I have been doing that. The door is secure!”
“I believe you Elaine. But if they have found another way to infiltrate, it is still your responsibility to fight it.”
“Just say what you are trying to say Gram.”
“You know what I’m saying. What if her death is the only solution to protect the human populace.”
“No! No! I will never do that.”
“You would sacrifice the fate of the word to pure evil, just to protect one woman?”
“Yes,” came the quick answer. Lane caught a brief glimpse of her grandmother’s stern expression before her eyes fell shut and her face twisted in emotional pain. She took in a long, slow breath. “No.” Lane met her grandmother’s eyes again. “But I will not let it come to that. I will search this world for another solution. And I will find one. If Allie’s life ends like this, so will mine. It’s not a threat, my heart will just stop.”
“Read my entries at the back of the book,” the ghost said. “Your grandfather and I faced the possibilities of being separated for most of our life together. Our love was as deep and profound as yours. So I do understand. I must leave now Elaine. You are strong, my precious granddaughter. You can make the right decisions.”
Lane quickly returned to the book, more desperate than ever to find answers. She got through another seven pages when she heard Allie begin to whimper. Lane slammed the cover shut and shoved the journal aside. She sprang to the bedside, hushing the hidden terrors in her spouse’s mumblings. Allie’s terrified eyes flew open and she started screaming. “It’s okay baby!” Lane promised, pulling the distraught woman into her arms. ““I’m here, I’m here.” Allie clutched frantically at Lane’s body. Lane pulled her even closer, only allowing them enough room to breath, as she continued her soothing words. But deep inside, she knew no words would be enough to help Allie through the situation. Action. It was going to take quick action.
Lane didn’t care about the pain screaming across her back as Allie continued to squeeze her. She would hold Allie forever, enduring a thousand times the pain if it would protect the suffering woman. But it wouldn’t. “Allie,” Lane said. “Allie, sweets, please look at me.” Lane disengaged from her partner’s hold as gently as possible.
Allie was still terrified, her body trembling. “I remember,” she confessed, shakily.
“I know baby, you told me last night. You remember what happened to…my back. But I know it wasn’t you. You are the kindest, sweetest, gentlest person I know. I love you.”
Allie buckled under the praise and the tears fell. “I love you too. I really do Lane. You have to believe me.”
Lane took Allie‘s face in her hands and kissed her salty, wet lips. “I do believe you. I do. Do you believe me?”
Allie nodded. “I do.” They kissed again, pouring every bit of love they could muster into the gesture. Lips connected with a gentle touch. Souls connected with a fierce grasp. When the kiss finally ended, Allie rested her forehead against Lane’s. They were quiet for a few seconds, catching their breath, but still reeling from the emotional turmoil boiling inside. Allie spoke, almost in a whisper. A guilty whisper. “That‘s not what I meant though.” Lane pulled back and studied her lover’s face, as the green eyes lowered. “I remember what I saw…in the mirror…right before I hurt you.”
“I don’t understand sweets. Can you tell me more?”
“Yes…but I need to…” She gestured toward the bathroom.
Lane smiled briefly. “Okay. Splash some water on your face. I’ll go get us some coffee and something to eat. Will you be okay by yourself for a few minutes?”
Allie stood on shaky legs, Lane’s strong arms around her waist. “Yes. But just juice for me. I can’t eat anything.”
Lane wasn’t going to push the point just yet, but she would get her lover to eat before the day was over. She knew they were both going to need their strength to endure this ordeal.
Allie tended to her bathroom duties, totally avoiding the mirror. She was afraid of what she might see…again.
* * *
About an hour later, after two big glasses of orange juice and nearly three cups of coffee had been consumed, both ladies were reclined on the bed, Allie nestled in Lane’s arms. Lassitude was still plaguing their bodies, but intense concerns busied their minds to near insane levels. Allie had told Lane every detail of her encounter with her demonic reflection…only it hadn’t been just the reflection. They deduced that Allie had actually undergone a brief transformation into a monstrous being while looking in the mirror, and then again after she had handcuffed her lover to the bed. It had been her clawed fingers that had inflicted the wounds on Lane’s back.
“What’s happening to me, Lane?” Allie asked miserably.
Lane held her tight. She hated repeating these words, but at the moment, they were all she had. “I don’t know, but we’ll find out. I promise.” Those last words she never regretted, because she vowed with every ounce of her soul to uphold them.
* * *
Lane found a name in the book. A name that might lead her to a person who might know what was happening. She spent four hours searching the internet, very despondent when she finally found a death record. But her diligence paid off when she able to track down a descendent. Sending off a somewhat vague, but urgent email, Lane then made a reservation for the next available flight to Montana and the small city of Fort Benton.
With that done, she went to see Allie. Her lover had spent almost all of her time in bed, sleeping or staring at the ceiling, mumbling, ‘Who am I?’ The depression was settling over her with stifling strength. Lane had to force feed her and actively engage Allie in conversation to keep her mind from slipping away into oblivion.
Lane stepped into the bedroom, surprised to see Allie standing at the window, staring out into the sunny backyard. “Hey babe, are you feeling better? I have some news.” No response from Allie. “Sweets? Talk to me Allie.”
“What do you want me to say? Maybe I should tell you that this is not your fault.” Her previously weak voice was suddenly stronger.
“Allie, you’re scaring me.”
“You should be scared,” Allie said. “I am just the first. We will grow in numbers.”
“You are not the first! You are not evil! You are Allison Peyton, wonderful, gentle human being. The woman I love.”
“You don’t love me,” Allie said calmly. “Love no longer exists here.”
Lane took three steps closer. “I do love you! I won’t let…”
“No!” Allie whirled around, revealing her ashen and withered face. She pointed a clawed finger.
Lane jumped back at the terrifying vision, but fear was not going to chase her away. She was going to fight. “No! You stop! I will not leave this place. This is my home. Allie is my home.”
Allie looked around, her eyes darkening with a reddish tint. “It’s so…cheerful. Just like the view outside this window. It’s disgusting. But it will all change. Soon.” Allie’s possessed form sidled up to Lane. She sniffed all around the tall body, enjoying the stench of Lane’s revulsion. “Let’s play some more like we did last time,” she said in a sultry tone. “Your screams made me so hot. I bet there will be some beautiful scars. Too bad I’m not strong enough yet to turn you. But I will be very soon.” She rose to her tip toes to whisper in an ear. “Then we will re-create this world in our image.”
Forcefully, but carefully, Lane pushed the monster away. “I want Allie’s true image back. I know she is still behind that freakish face. The human soul is not so easily broken. I am speaking to her now. Allie, I love you.” The demon façade winced. Lane persisted. “Find the place inside, the place that loves me. Use that love. Use my strength to fight off the evil grasp. Come back to me.”
Lane’s words were the weapon’s Allie wielded to turn away the darkness. She struggled inside, her soul twisting against the powerful, but not superior force. Allie’s muscles contracted painfully as the battle swelled.
Lane could do nothing, but watch in agony. She once again reminded her partner “I’m here Allie.”
The darkness finally began to weaken when Allie was able to recall the very first time she had laid eyes on the tall, dark haired, gorgeous woman. And then she remembered the first time Lane had said I love you. “You will not defeat us!” the demon screamed one last time. Allie fell to her knees, her arms wrapped around her aching stomach. She panted heavily.
The beast was chained.
At least temporarily.
Lane rushed to her side, and quickly moved Allie to the bed. “You did it sweets! I knew you could.” Lane smiled at the bleary eyed woman.
Allie returned that smile for the first time in over two days. “It was that faith that did it. You saved me.” Lane hugged her gingerly, noting the physical pain flashing across the green eyes. Allie flinched. Everything hurt, but it was a satisfying pain. “But we haven’t won yet,” Allie said. “I can contain it for now. But if it breaks through again…I don’t know…”
Lane hushed Allie’s negativity with two fingers against her lips. “We’ll consider that later. Besides, I don’t intend for that to happen. I’ve got a lead that may give us some answers. I’m going to see someone who is…or at least their relative is mentioned in the book. Hopefully, they know more than we do.”
Allie nodded and rested her head against her lover’s shoulder. “When is the flight?”
Lane checked her watch. “In about ten hours.”
Allie took a deep breath. “Good. That gives me a few hours to rest.”
“And after that?”
“I’m going with you,” Allie mumbled sleepily.
“Are you sure you can…?”
“I’ll be fi…okay. Besides, you promised not to leave me alone.”
Lane grinned and kissed the head nestled against her. “I sure did.”
* * *
Fort Benton, Montana was a small town, population sixteen hundred, give or take a few souls. But it wasn’t those souls Lane was currently worried about. Allie had been by her side every minute, and Lane could clearly see the strain on her lover’s face. Allie’s hand would twitch every time Lane clasped it in hers. The bright green eyes that Lane loved, were dull and…almost lifeless. It was taking every bit of Allie’s strength to suppress the demon inside. But Lane knew that strength was waning.
The man they were looking for, owned a local bar and grill, and they had the cab take them directly there, not wasting time stopping for a hotel room. Lane paid the driver and shouldered their shared bag. She took Allie’s hand and headed for the door.
The tall woman looked down with deep concern. “What is it sweetheart?”
“If this man doesn’t know anything,” Allie said, “don’t blame him. Don’t get mad at him. We both know this is a long shot.”
Lane’s jaw clenched at the alternate possibilities. “We’ll find an answer, no matter how long it takes.”
“We don’t have nearly that long,” Allie joked darkly.
Lane stole a quick kiss. “I love you. I’ll be with you forever.”
The ladies stepped into the unusually quiet sports themed establishment. Being two thirty in the afternoon, there were only a few customers, three at the bar and two at a back table. Lane and Allie sat at the bar, near the front door.
“Hello ladies,” the tall, gray haired man greeted.
“I’ll have a beer,” Lane said, “whatever you have on tap.” Allie ordered a ginger ale.
He returned shortly with the drinks. “We don’t get many tourists around here, but welcome.”
Lane took a sip as he wiped off the bar top nearby. “What makes you think we’re tourists?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Small town. I know just about everybody…those old enough to come in here anyway.” He studied the duo briefly. “You’re name wouldn‘t happen to be McKay, would it?”
“It is. David Stevens?”
“That’s me.” He offered his hand and Lane introduced Allie. “I have to say, you’re
email was very unusual, but intriguing,” he said with a humorous tone.
“It’s very important.” Lane’s tone was heavy and unwavering. “If you have the information we need…it could save a life.” The blue eyes looked briefly at the others in the room, who were involved in their own conversations or thoughts. “Can we talk in private?” she asked quietly.
He called a young man out from the kitchen to watch the bar, and then led the ladies into a small office. “You don’t say much, do you?” he asked Allie as she was helped into a seat by Lane.
“Not at the moment,” the weary blonde said with a tight jaw.
Lane knew she had to be careful with her questions, but she wouldn’t waste another minute. “About what I asked, Mr. Stevens, do you know anything?”
He looked at them curiously. They were anxious. And obviously secretive. “I don’t really know why you want to hear a bunch of old stories,” Stevens said. “And I’d really like to know how you found out about those tales my grandfather used to tell me and my siblings.”
Lane had an answer prepared, but was still very careful with her wording. If she let the wrong thing slip it could ruin everything. “Let’s just say that my grandmother had a few tales herself. I can’t really say why, because it’s a private matter, but if you could please just trust us. It‘s very, very important.”
Stevens scratched his head. “I generally don’t distrust people…especially women. And grandpa never told me to keep them a secret. What specifically would you like to know?”
“What were you told about the…monsters from the other side, how were they kept away?”
Stevens cleared his throat as the memories came forward. “Supposedly, the legend says they were kept on their side by a guardian. And this guardian had a key to keep the door locked.”
Lane and Allie shared a glance. At least they knew they were on the right track. “Other than through the doorway,” Lane asked, “did the legend say anything about how the monsters might come into our world?”
Stevens chuckled. “You mean like do they hide in children’s closets?” When they didn’t share his humor, he continued. “Well, grandpa used to say they were what caused nightmares.”
“That part we know,” Lane said. “Was there any other way?”
“They are only stories you know,” he reminded them.
The frustration was quickly building, and Lane shifted in her chair. But she went lightly. “Yes Sir. But the answers could mean…”
“Life or death…yes you said that in the email. Are you writing a book, or a movie maybe?” he asked curiously.
Lane’s tense expression relaxed. She could use his assumption to their advantage. “That is a possibility Mr. Stevens. I’ll just say it would be a terrifying one. And I could use the inspiration. I need to know what might happen before I can envision a solution.”
The desk chair creaked as the man leaned back, rocking a time or two. He studied the painting on the wall, but kept the pair in his peripheral vision. “Well, let me see now. If I remember correctly, he once said that the guardian could become infected with evil while protecting the door.”
“But my grandmother said that the guardian couldn’t be harmed while in possession of the key.”
The gray head nodded. “Hmmm, yeah that does sound familiar. But I think grandpa once said that one of the very first guardians lost…or maybe dropped the key, allowing the infection of evil.”
“And how would an infection spread?” Lane asked fearfully.
Lips clenched beneath the shaggy mustache. “I don’t remember that,” he said. “You’ll have to use your imagination I guess.”
That wasn’t the important part anyway; they already had a strong suspicion. But Lane’s next question was crucial. “Could an infected person be cured?”
The man‘s face took on suddenly severe expression. “Grandpa said the guardian who became infected took his own life, to save the world.”
Allie sighed and shivered.
“Are you ill, Miss Peyton?” Stevens asked.
“Yes I am. That’s why we need…”
“You need money for medical expenses,” he conjectured, pointing to Lane. “And if you can sell a book, you’ll have that money.”
Lane nodded and pinned a loving expression on the small, frail woman at her side. “Yes Sir.” The lie was followed by an extremely true statement. “I would do anything, give anything…including my life to help her.”
He believed her. “Now that’s a true friend. I wish you luck.”
“Thank you,” Allie said.
“But what we really need,” Lane said, returning them to the more important topic, “is an alternative to death. Do you remember anything about another cure for the infection? That’s the most important part of the story.” Allie suddenly doubled over in her chair. Lane went on alert. “Easy,” she soothed. “Easy.”
Allie was panting, her stomach muscles cramping painfully. “I’m gonna be sick.” she mumbled.
“Where’s your restroom?” Lane asked, and rushed her partner there.
David was quiet for a long time, reviewing his thoughts. Human curiosity made him wonder what illness plagued the blonde. Her health was obviously deteriorating rapidly.
The current topic of conversation was something he hadn’t thought about in a long time. He silently questioned again how Miss McKay could have heard of his grandfather’s stories. But she knew too much for it to have been a coincidence. Stevens left the office, but returned just before the ladies made their re-appearance.
Lane supported her lover, who looked better, but far from healthy. David handed her a fresh glass of ginger ale to help ease her stomach.
“Thank you,” Allie said as Lane settled her into a chair. She took a sip, feeling the thing reach out with an experimental swipe. But the barrier held steadfast.
Lane brought her chair closer, and kept a physical connection to her lover with the touch of a hand. “We need to return home soon Mr. Stevens. If you could please just help us. As you can see, we are desperate.”
“Yes,” Stevens said. “I think I understand completely.” Moving back behind the desk, he took a deep breath and regarded them very seriously. His voice held the same emphasis. “The infected can only be cured and live if the residing Prime is destroyed. That can only be achieved by piercing it with a iron spike. The wound must be in the front of the neck, up through the head.”
Lane didn’t like the sound of that. She’d read in the family journal about the Prime, but he had barely been mentioned. How would they ever be able to find this leader among the millions of beastly creatures in the dark universe. Obviously, none of he ancestors had ever had to deal with this wicked warden. Lane would have an important entry to make when this ordeal was over.
Stevens added one more detail. “It’s also said that the death of the Prime would cause chaos in their world. Maybe even destroy it.”
“Well, you’ve given us a lot to consider Mr. Stevens,” Lane said with a heavy sigh. “Thank you for your time.” There was a tug on her shirt sleeve.
“I need to get some fresh air,” Allie said weakly. “I’ll wait out front.”
“I’ll be right there,” Lane said, pulling some bills from her pocket and placing them on the bar before walking toward the door.
David stopped her with a gentle hand and leaned in to whisper. “If you try this, you must let her be the one to strike the death blow.”
Lane’s head snapped up, complete surprise lighting her face. “You know?”
His head nodded solemnly. “I couldn’t tell you the truth…until I put all of the clues together. Then I saw her eyes flash red. Is she the guardian?”
The ever present guilt displayed itself in her tired eyes. “No,” Lane admitted. “That is my family legacy. But this happened to her because of me. We just want to put an end to all of this.”
“She must do this in her demon form,” he added gravely. “That’s the only way to get close enough. I hope she has the strength left to stay in control.”
Lane looked through the door to where Allie sat on a bench, allowing the sun to warm her chilled body. “We’ll do whatever it takes,” she stated staunchly. “We’ll fight as long as it takes. We have everything to live for.”
“That’s a great attitude,” he said skeptically. “And that is important, but as far as I know this has never been achieved successfully.” He held out a hand. “Good luck. If there is anything else I can do to help please let me know.”
* * *
Less than twenty four hours later, the two were preparing for the final battle. Lane had retrieved the appropriate weapon from one of her company’s construction sites. The dark, metal tool was heavy, and Lane hoped that Allie would be able to wield it with enough force to do the job. Lane had sharpened the usually blunt end of the spike to an extremely sharp point…better for piercing hide and tissue.
The air in the house was heavy with intentional silence. The reason was not from guilt or blame, but the realization that it may well be their last peaceful minutes together. And no matter how positive they both tried to be, they knew it might very well be the end of their lives.
Both women were dressed in dark, unrestrictive clothing. It’s exactly what they had worn on their monthly visits to the other universe, but on this night it seemed even more necessary. No longer mere guardians, they were now warriors, preparing to march into battle.
But maybe they didn’t have to. Destroying the Prime would protect the world. But so would her own death. Across the way in the kitchen, Allie eyed the handle of a large bladed knife. All it would take was one slash across her throat.
But that would be too easy.
She also considered that destroying the Prime, and possibly the other world, could ease Lane’s burden as the guardian. And Lane was her primary concern, now and always. Allie sighed. I have to try this. No matter how impossible it seems.
Allie actually felt stronger than she had in days. The beast was still inside, she knew that much. But keeping it chained seemed easier. She wasn‘t sure what that meant. But it scared her. She turned to her lover, who was seriously inspecting the spike, which was resting on the table nearby. Lane picked up the weapon, moved it into an attack position, then thrust it forward with intent. She repeated the action several times, hoping to gain some insight so she could pass along some fighting strategy to Allie. Having had no specific training, Lane’s movements still appeared well practiced and impressive. This tall, strong, skillful woman was the hero type, Allie thought. I’ve been the sidekick in this entire, dubious adventure. I blundered and put the entire world in jeopardy. I put her in danger. Allie stepped up behind her and gently ran a hand down her arm. The dark haired woman turned. “Lane, promise me you’ll leave, if it looks like I’m going to lose.” Lane started to object, but was stopped with a bit of logic. “You have a nephew coming in a few months. You’ve been so excited about that. He needs to know his brave, compassionate, wonderful aunt. You have to survive to continue to protect the world and preserve the purity of the human race, for him and every other child. I may not have a choice. But I want you to choose life.” Lane pulled the blonde into her arms, but said nothing. “Please promise me,” Allie asked.
Lane pulled back to meet the beautiful face. She swallowed hard, pushing past the constriction of the emotions spinning around inside her head. They were simple, easy words, but probably the toughest sentence her lips had ever had to form. But the pleading green eyes wouldn’t ease in their ardent commitment to Lane’s safety. Lane caressed Allie’s face with both hands and made her pledge. “I promise.”
Allie smiled and nodded. Her burden was halfway complete. She picked up the spike and secured it inside a sheath tied around her waist. Taking a deep breath, she asked, “Are you ready?”
“Yes, but just one more thing.” Lane made the kiss last, until both were weak in the knees with love. Every kiss they shared was exquisite, but this one was particularly special. Since it may be the last.
* * *
It was quiet. It was usually silent in this unholy land, but this time it was different…incredibly creepy. They couldn’t see a being in sight. But they could feel a thousand eyes peering at them from deep in the shadows.
They walked for more than two miles across hard, barren, hilly ground, never glimpsing or hearing a thing. As always, the air was thick and musty, smelling of decay and death. Even without a sun hanging in the sky, the heat surrounding them was oppressive, the humidity nearly raining down.
“Where in the hell is this thing?” Lane mumbled rubbing her thumb along the smooth stone held in her right hand. “The key obviously can’t help us.” The city limits came into view as they topped a steep hill. “This seems familiar,” Lane said. “Maybe we’re getting close.” She held Allie’s right hand securely in her left, their bodies as close as possible as they moved down the slope with careful footing. The unspoken fear passed through their connection like an electrical current. The adrenalin surged with each step, as the dangers, known and unknown could be hidden around any corner. The crumbling buildings were aided in their eeriness by shadows of the creatures as they passed by the insides of the upper windows. A faint hissing could now be heard in the shade of this perpetual night. “You’re shivering,” Lane acknowledged, her voice low and cautious. “But you’re not cold.”
The blonde head acknowledged with a slight movement. “I have to let it out,” Allie said bleakly.
Lane stopped their progression and turned sharply, never losing hold of her lover. “Not yet Allie!” Her demanding tone was fueled by love.
“I have to,” Allie reiterated. “It’s the only way. We’re…I’m running out of time. Being here…I just can‘t…”
The tall woman protested, not with words, but with a terrified expression that transformed her face into a mask of anguish. The sudden flash of panic, and dread of defeat nearly drove Lane into a state of hyperventilation.
A cold hand soothed the tense muscles across the beautiful face and a smile calmed the quaking, breath deprived body. Allie spoke soothingly. “Lane, they always know where the Prime is; we’d never find him on our own. I will fight with every beat of my human heart to maintain control. But it has to be now.”
Lane easily turned into the hand caressing her face, kissing its palm with immense affection. “I can’t lose you.” The murmured words were heartbreaking.
Allie couldn’t promise that it wouldn’t happen. All she could do was smile warmly, and say, “I love you.” She loosened her hand, and beseeching eyes pleaded for Lane to do the same. Their hands pulled apart very slowly, never losing touch until their fingertips parted. More movement in the shadows as they were alerted. Allie took three steps back, her eyes never leaving Lane’s face. The metamorphosis began, starting at her feet and quickly swept over her entire body. Allie/creature settled into her new form with a few twists and turns of the unfamiliar limbs. The previous, physical alterations were incomplete and flawed, because of the tenacity of the human spirit. But with the door opened willingly, the plague spread properly.
After the self inventory and appreciation, the Allie creature caught sight of her first victim. With a screech of delight, the clawed fingers reached for the tall, delicious dish.
Lane recoiled instinctively, but refused to run from her lover.
The thing stopped suddenly, and its stringy haired head tipped to one side with curiosity…recognition.
“I know you’re still in there Allie,” Lane said, faithfully. “You remember what we came here to do.”
The creature’s mind considered for a few seconds, before the boney hand reached for the spike, still secured around Allie’s waist. The head nodded and beckoned with a finger.
* * *
The odd duo soon found the Prime’s location. He wasn’t sitting on a throne. He wasn’t protected by detail of armed guards. In fact, he didn’t seem much different than all the others. But Allie/creature knew exactly who she had set her glowing eyes upon. As Allie approached, she picked up an escort. Or more precisely, a group of onlookers. She was different enough that the ghouls regarded her with hesitant curiosity. The drone demons had no lower limbs, they floated from place to place. Allie had maintained her bipedal physicality…even if the legs were a bit withered and pale. Her hair, though white and straw-like, was still attached to her head. The others were always covered with tattered, black robes, including hoods that covered their bald heads. They whispered, telepathically about the peculiar stranger as they followed her directly to their leader. Though different, she was one of them, and they had no reason or instructions to stop her.
Lane followed the group headed by the dark version of her partner. Along the way, she had gathered her own entourage, which remained distant because of the key’s protective powers. But Lane wasn’t going to let Allie out of her sight.
Allie signaled for Lane to remain as she continued forward. As Allie/creature got closer, she did begin to notice a few slight differences. Just a bit larger than the other demons, the Prime wore a battered cape with a white symbol on the right sleeve. His attention was finally drawn toward her when she was about twenty feet away. He studied the newcomer with an acute eye, finally realizing the prize that had walked in to his world. He formed what would be called a smile on a human being, as the black, gaping maw on his lower face changed shape. He held out welcoming, skeletal arms.
The demon was ready to race forward and be embraced by its leader. But deep within, Allie clawed and fought to maintain domination of her will and to finish her task.
Lane watched nervously. She could sense Allie’s internal clash. “I’m here Allie,” she reminded with a yell. Allie/creature put both hands to her aching head and suddenly doubled over. Lane ran forward out of instinct, but her foot quickly turned in the loose gravel. She fell to the ground, the key slipping from her grip. She was instantly set upon by a gang of demons, but her quick reflexes recovered the stone, sending three of the creatures to their death as they slammed into the renewed barrier. The rest began screaming and swarming like an angry hive of bees.
Allie regained her motivation and made use of the distraction, rushing to the Prime, who still made the gesture of welcome. In the last moment, Allie extracted the weapon from her belt, preparing to wield it with purpose. The evil inside pulled the thrust in the last instant, allowing the Prime to deflect the strike. He screeched and lightening filled the cloudless sky. Thunder cracked, shaking the ground. The proverbial hell broke loose in a cacophony of sound, flashes and movement. Allie’s humanity rallied and the spike was thrust again and again…but always missing its target. The Prime was faster and stronger, but Allie wouldn’t give up. She wanted to win. She wanted to live a normal life with Lane. She wanted it all.
Lane pulled herself along the ground, even though she could not help her embattled lover. Pain throbbed around her ankle. Frustration sent her hands clawing in the dirt and rocks, as she made her way to the fight. Hearing a particularly high pitched scream, that she knew had come from Allie, Lane scrambled to her feet and hobbled forward. She had no fear of the demons surrounding her, or the elements filling the sky. Her only fear was losing Allie.
In one last effort, Allie relaxed her inner grip and used her increasing demonic strength as she struggled with the foul, monstrous leader. They were face to face. Breath to breath. Body to body. He clutched her right wrist within his boney fingers, the iron weapon waving wildly above their heads. Her grip on the spike was like glue as she stepped and pivoted her body, looking for any advantage.
But it was useless.
The Prime was merely toying with her. Allie knew she was losing. She spared a glance at her lover, willing her human vocal cords to perform. “Go!”
The request buckled the long legs once again. “I can’t leave you!” Lane screamed as she lay on the ground, helpless, but to watch. The defensive barrier held the ugly warriors at bay, but they still surrounded her, hissing and reaching, waiting for any sign of weakening.
“You can’t help me!” Allie said, her voice rising above the sounds of thunder. “Go! You promised!” Allie used her human determination to see her lover one last time with her own eyes.
Lane stared into those eyes that flashed from red to green, and the fa’ade that faded from demon to human as the combat raged, inside and out. One final time, she saw her lover’s beautiful soul…her beautiful face. Lane’s mouth smoothly formed the words that her throat would not release. “I love you.” She held the key tightly and pictured her house. She was leaving her home behind. In the next second, Lane McKay found herself in the safety of her living room, sitting on the floor. Her chest hurt and her eyes were stinging, but dry. Shock numbed her body and her emotions. She couldn’t really move. She didn’t even want to. She only wanted to die. Her spirit already had.
But she had kept her promise.
This outcome was always a possibility. But possibility and reality had excruciatingly merged.
It was quiet. Very quiet. No more screams. No screeching or hissing. No thunder, no wind. Everything surrounding her was calm. But the world outside Lane’s window continued to turn. And fight. And starve. And hate.
But even with all of that, there was still much more compassion, generosity and love in the human race. And there was always hope that the negative things could change with time. And Lane just gave the world that time. Even if it was the hardest thing she had ever done or would ever do for the rest of her entire life. Lane McKay made an ultimate sacrifice.
Lane’s chin dropped to her chest. Her blue eyes closed and allowed a single tear to slip away. It splashed onto the key, which had dropped onto the floor between her outstretched legs. The inner pulsing began to slow, until it faded to a faint glow.
Lane peered through her shaggy bangs as her ears registered a small sound. A far off noise. A buzzing. She looked around the room, seeing nothing unusual. But she was much too tired to check anywhere else. So Lane ignored it. Everything else was overshadowed by her incredible pain. It’s all there was. She hadn’t slept or eaten in over twenty four hours, but she felt no effects from that. The ankle she had injured throbbed, but that discomfort didn’t matter. There was only the pain in her heart.
The high pitched droning began to increase. It quickly reached a point of such irritation that Lane covered both ears. A raging vortex of air then appeared before her, the pressure paralyzing her body. And then in one sudden explosion of sound and motion, a mass slammed into Lane, knocking her onto her back, her arms full of something solid. Instinctively, her hand searched for the key, fearing the appearance of a demon creature. As the whirlwind settled and her eyes cleared, the first thing Lane saw was a tangled mass of hair. Her fingers brushed against the strands. They were soft and smelled of citrus. And they were blonde. “Allie?” Lane frantically turned the body over, gently moving it to the floor. It was her lover, her partner, the beautiful woman she worshipped. The hideous creature had been driven out …she hoped forever. Lane desperately tried to rouse her. “Sweets! Sweets, please wake up!” Lane calmed herself long enough to feel for a pulse at Allie’s neck. There was a strong beat. “Come on baby, open your eyes,” the distressed woman urged. She pulled Allie into her arms and rocked the unconscious body as they remained on the floor.
Once again it was so quiet. Only the clock on the wall made any noise. It ticked away, keeping time with the measure of fear beating within Lane’s soul. In all appearances, Allie was alive, but until her eyes were open and she spoke intelligently, Lane was still in hell. She couldn’t shed another tear. She had to concentrate to make every breath complete, because the body in her arms was hugged so tightly. Lane was frozen in time. She was alone…but not. “I love you,” she whispered. It was said with absolute reverence, meant to reach into Allie’s heart and rejuvenate her spirit. Muscles trembled. Nerves twitched. It was the first move Allie had made on her own since her appearance. “That’s it sweets. I’m here. I’m waiting for you.”
Allie heard it. Allie felt it. The emerald eyes suddenly snapped open, almost beyond their physical limitations. But her terrified vision still saw the hideous, demonic figure, bearing down, ready to exhume the human soul from her body.
Lane drew to her knees, took her screaming lover by the arms and shook her anxiously, but gently. “Allie! Allie! You’re safe! You’re home! You’re okay sweets. It’s me. You’re here with me.”
The screaming stopped. The green eyes began to blink again. Allie was starring at the woman looming over her, but still hadn’t said a word. Lane, not so patiently, gave her the time to realize her surroundings, just watching with a hopeful smile. They were halfway back to normal.
But halfway was not good enough.
Allie’s eyes focused on the gorgeous, smiling face. Her thoughts, however, were still cyclonic with memories of hellish actions and intense loathing. But somehow, inside of all that she felt safe and peaceful under the touch of those hands.
The horrors finally began to fade. Feelings of compassion and benevolence flooded her spirit. And love overwhelmed her heart. “Lane?” she said, her voice a whisper. The identity was slightly questioned by her brain. But never doubted in her heart.
“That’s me, baby.” Lane was pulled into the weakened arms. She dropped back beside the supine woman and they hugged, deeply and purely. There was still a glimmer of fear still hiding inside. And there probably always would be. But that would be dealt with later. “You did it Allie,” Lane declared. “I’m so proud of you.”
Allie licked her dry lips. She barely croaked out the next words. But there was conviction in her tone. “I didn’t do it alone.”
Lane pulled back to stare into the lovely face. They simply drank in each others presence, their eyes singing the intense feelings they shared.
It was powerful. It was what had turned the darkness. It was love.
“It was you.”
Lane smiled and caressed a soft cheek. “What do you mean?”
Allie’s expression turned pensive as the memories of her evil encounter burned across her brain. The Prime had communicated with her, projecting its vile thoughts and intentions into her mind. If Allie’s humanity had been absorbed by the Prime, it would have been able to defeat the key‘s protective powers. “You gave me the courage and the strength to do what I had to do,” she confirmed. “If you had stayed, we both would have died.” Allie’s face mellowed, filling once again with adoration. “But you honored your promise. We honored the love.”
Lane reached out the few inches and touched Allie’s waiting lips. The kiss was alive with sensation and emotion. It was a physical connection that only shadowed the strength of the bond shared by their souls…their pure, human souls.
They barely parted, and Lane confirmed. “You and our love mean everything to me. ”
Allie smiled. “I feel the same way. I hope we have a very long life ahead of us. I have a lot of dreams to share with you.”
“We defeated the nightmare,“ Lane said. “We will definitely bring all of our dreams to life.”