© Written by Jacob Arnold
This story involves a woman whose sleep is interrupted by an acquaintance seeking help and entrance because he fears for his life. The local crime-lord is searching for him due to a recent incident. Will she help him, or use this scenario to better her domestic situation? This is the first installment in an anthology in development.
A frantic knocking, followed by a distraught voice, brought her from her slumber, eyes snapping open.
Through the disorientation, she rubbed at her eyes, trying to rid herself of the daze of sleep, lifting her face from the straw mattress to scan the room's drab interior. A second series of thumps followed, garnering her focus. Her attention 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 down her spine, pooling heavily in her belly. She recognized the voice and the man making the ruckus. She rolled to her back, staring at the smoke stained ceiling, rolling her eyes. Weeks had passed since her last night off, and she deserved the rest-unaccompanied.
And yet, two hours in, the disturbance ensued.
More knocking; distressed and eager, rattling the door's frame with each thundering pound. "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, making her way to the door. Bloody Ollie. Go home, she thought, brushing her scarlet hair away from her eyes. Her steps were slow as she trudged 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, leaning her head against the door.
"They found me, Jade! Please, let me in!"
The fret resonating in his voice was apparent, but she 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 fancied his company, too. His contagious laugh and that smile he brought with him. She sighed, giving in, fumbling with the locks of the door to crack 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 woods' grain, barring it.
Her face twisted in surprise. "What in the bloody hell has gotten into ya', Ollie? She snapped, knitting her brow in blatant confusion. It was too late for any of this. "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.
She scowled sourly, crossing her arms over her chest sa 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.
He released a breath, taking his hands off the door. "I made a mistake, Jade." He paused, eyes welling over. "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? She paused, dropping his eyes to the floor for a second. 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 talking' about, love? What's this moonshade and people after ya' talk?" She bit her bottom lip, eyes sincere and focused.
He shook his head, thinking about the scene, the accident. Gathering the courage, he stumbled out the garbled mess of the 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, sweeping him off his feet. Her look and mannerisms were different, foreign to his eyes. Jet black hair and a deep tone to her skin. She wore a sleek blue dress, long-sleeved which mapped out every curve, yet flowing loosely around her ankles. Her voice was hypnotizing, eccentric, as well. She spoke the local dialect perfectly, even with the hint of a rich accent, 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 toward the docks, walking along the lantern posts' fading light, searching for their next fix. That's when they stumbled upon them.
Five peasants sat on the sun bleached planks of the docks forming an imperfect 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, giddy 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 peasants rapturous face, wondering how they had access to this addictive drug. The peasants in this forsaken port 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. She then eyed the linen satchel the group had circled, like it was some God, some higher-up, and maybe to them, it was.
Hues of blue stained the cinched opening. Without notice, she stepped into their circle and snatched the bag, retreating just as fast. Not one of them noticed.
She strode up to Ollie, violet eyes locked on to his. A smile twisted her face, mischievous and racy as she placed the satchel gently into his palm. The pads of her fingers, soft as silk, stayed a moment longer, sliding across his skin, leaving a trail of warmth in its wake. She pulled away, coyly. A tease.
She was intoxicating, and the thrill she exposed in the moment drove his ambitions.
Ollie lifted 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 intiatives, steering his will. His lustful eyes motioned back to her, melting within the myriad of lavender spirals. 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 blue substance. She sniffled her fingers, gathering the dust up her nose, eyes fluttering with ecstasy. She dove right back in, collecting more of it, giggling as she took another dose. Her elated laughs echoed through the damp alleyway.
The excitement and bliss excreting throughout her 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 lurched forward but found himself immobile, 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, becoming one with the mud and dirt of this alley's ground. A final series of shakes struck her before she exhaled her final breath.
With his mouth gaping wide, Ollie stared at the still-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. The port's crime lord.
So he ran, never looking back. Praying it was a dream. A morbid, dark nightmare never visited again. Until tonight.
Jade leaned back from the table, her knuckles whitening from the tight grip. "Drake!" she yelled, "Ya' killed Drake's woman, Ollie?" She couldn't believe her ears.
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."
She paused her rebuttal. "Okay, okay, I understand, Ollie." She bit at the tip of her thumb, contemplating. 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, Ollie."
"You think I don't know that, Jade?" He turned away from her, shaking his head. "I know what he's capable of. 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 is 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 blood and 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, cogs turning in her mind. "This..isn't...good, Ollie. Ya' shouldn't have come here. God, you idiot, you really shouldn't have come. My love, if he finds you hiding out here squatting like a bloody peasant, I'm just as dead."
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 curves of her palms. "Ive 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 mind as she listened to the thumping, flinching with each strike.
"Open this bloody door, wench!" 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 in her direction, 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 with, 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 away.
Once she reached the door, she glanced back. Their eyes met, and she delivered a nod, mouth 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, cradling 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 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. He glanced at the goon holding the ax just behind him before speaking. "Kill the whore, and don't worry about the mess."
Bio: Jacob "J.B." Arnold was born in Klamath Falls, Oregon. His family relocated to Bakersfield, California, when he was a child and he has resided there since. He earned his B.S. degree from California State University Fresno, majoring his history. Professionally, he has worked in education since 2012, helping nourish elementary students' minds. His debut novel, 'The Streets of Floria', launches in late 2022, published by Hear Our Voice. He is a family man, happily married with four children, 3 girls and a boy. When he is not reading or writing mysteries and thrillers, you can find him on the golf course or watching Pittsburgh Steelers football. You can learn more about Jacob Arnold on his websites at:
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