|TWO LETHAL LIES
The man gazed down at the body stretched before him. She’d been a pretty thing. A bit scrawny, perhaps, but with the makeup removed and her face in sleep’s repose, she had the bare, otherworldly look of an angel.
Then again, he always saw his brides that way. Sisters of Mercy. Chaste, docile, patiently awaiting the intimate piercing that would join them forever.
He stroked her arm, caressing the limb from the shoulder all the way down to the wrist, watching the play of vein and artery below the soft skin. The sight thrilled him—as much for its own sake as for what he knew was coming.
He tried to prolong the moment, to control his breathing and the rising excitement. Before he learned to have power over his impulses he’d squandered the precious fluid. Even now he could wait only a few seconds. Compelled, he found the blue v336ein still pulsing in her arm, gently, carefully squeezed the needle in, and began the ritual. As the bags filled with the deep claret blood, his heart fill with a fevered, zealous devotion. In that moment, he would have done almost anything for the creature in front of him.
He crooned a soft hymn as he drained her. Brushed the hair back from her pale, pale skin. Sweet child. Sweet, sacred child.
There would always be things in this world that cannot be explained. Just as there would always be people who tried to explain it. A bad childhood. A bad set of genes. God’s will. He smiled. Or the Devil’s.
But the fact was, the most important things had no explanation. Life and death were true mysteries.
But as humans we weren’t just empty bottles whipped down the road by the wind. We could take action. We could spurt seed into a fertile womb, or steal air from healthy lungs.
In this way we became the myth ourselves. The Creator. The Destroyer. The One who Acts.
Not because we hate or love, but because we can.
There was no better reason for doing what he did.
Because he could. Like God, the ultimate actor.
Just as it pleased God throughout the ages to slaughter the innocent, it pleased him to watch the life seep out of his silent sacrifice.
When it was done, and her heart had stopped, he secured her gift in the cooler, dating it carefully.
Then he kissed her serene forehead and her bloodless lips, picked up the blade, and carved out her eyes.
Some men were born heroes. Mitch Turner wasn’t one of them. Heroes, even humble ones, drew the spotlight. And the last thing Mitch wanted was attention.
But when his pickup rumbled over the old wooden bridge that cut the town of Crossroads, Tennesse in two, the universe had other ideas. So did the eleven-year-old beside him.
He saw it at the same time. A small form on top of the bridge rail.
“What’s she doing?” Jules asked.
But it was obvious. He stopped the truck. “Wait here.”
He firmed up the order. “Wait here.” He dove out the door.
Julia Turner watched the girl on the bridge turn as Mitch raced toward her. For a minute Julia stopped breathing. Then the air exploded out of her as the girl turned back to the river and did the unthinkable.
Flew into the air.
Julia gripped the dashboard, her mouth hanging open. Then her Dad sailed over the rail after her.
Julia yanked off her seatbelt and leaped out of the truck. In a heartbeat she was at the railing. There he was—bobbing in the water, turning in every direction. From where she was, Julia had the better view.
“Dad!” She pointed to her right, where several hundred yards away long strands of scraggly red hair were sinking beneath the water.
In seconds, strong strokes took her Dad there. He disappeared below the blackness and for a few horrible moments it looked like he might not come back.
But he popped up at last, gasping for air and tugging something with him.
He did it! He actually did it!
Julia rushed back to the truck. The keys were still in it, but the engine was off. Just as she’d seen Mitch do a thousand times, she turned the key, and when the engine only coughed but didn’t start, she said the same thing she’d heard her Dad say.
“Dammit, old girl, don’t do this to me.”
The charm worked. The engine turned over and she wrenched the seat as close to the pedals as possible. She still wasn’t tall enough to reach them and see where she was going. But by fits and starts she managed to get the truck down the bridge to the other side where her Dad was heading.
She set the brake carefully, then dashed out again. Grabbed an old blanket in the truck bed. It was dirty and leaf-strewn because her Dad used it to haul stuff, but she snatched it anyway, scampered around the edge of the bridge and slid down the bank to the river. Her father was approaching, using one arm to swim while the other cradled the small body he’d rescued.
“Over here!” Julia jumped up and down, waving her arms.
At last the water was shallow enough for Mitch to stand. He shifted the girl into both his arms and carried her to the shore. Dripping wet, he stumbled up the bank and laid the girl on the blanket. Julia thought he was going to fall down he was breathing so hard.
“Is she okay?” The girl’s eyes were closed and she looked all scrunched up and tiny. More like a doll than a person.
Mitch wiped water off his face. “I don’t know.”
He started pumping the girl’s chest and blowing into her mouth and pumping her chest again.
Endless minutes of nothing but the sound of her Dad working on the small body. Then...another miracle—the girl coughed, groaned, and opened her eyes.
“There we go,” her Dad said softly. “Welcome back.”
Mitch’s arms trembled with exhaustion. Every muscle ached and he wanted to collapse on the ground for a week. Not for the first time he wished he had a cell phone. A few buttons and someone else could take over. But phones and credit cards and accounts of every kind were a thing of the past. And any kind of authority—police, EMT—would have questions he didn’t want to answer.
“Hey,” Julia said. “What’s your name?”
The girl startled, seemed to see them for the first time, and started to sob.
He told Julia to wait while he got the truck, but she thumbed over her shoulder with a triumphant, mischievous look. Their dusty black pickup was already at the near end of the bridge. Half of him wanted to scold her, the other half wanted to pin a medal on her.
He chucked her under the chin. “Good work, soldier.”
She smiled happily, like he knew she would, and as it often did, it took his breath away. She would be a mankiller some day. Every inch of her inherited beauty was there in her face. The silky dark hair, the amazing blue eyes. He was going to have a handful if he wasn’t careful.
But he was careful. He was always careful.