Aaaand here’s the next installment! I did say I would get it done, even if it took a while. Shame on anyone who ever doubted me. *sticks tongue out*
Ned tries to kill the dead girl after they arrive in Austin. He’s smart, he waits until she is distracted by the marvel of a hot shower and snaps her neck from behind. He leaves her in a heap on the dirty linoleum and hobbles out the door, still shaky boned from the change.
The dead girl gives Ned a head start. It’s only fair, she supposes. He needs to learn this lesson on his own, otherwise it won’t stick, and it’ll be inconvenient to keep putting herself back together.
The Malibu roars to life and speeds out of the parking lot spitting gravel.
“Rude,” the dead girl says. She twists her neck back into position, bones grinding together, and picks herself up off the nasty floor. Jesus, has no one ever heard of Lysol?
She cracks her neck from side to side. A couple more things pop. Wow, that’s better than sex.
The dead girl stretches out on the motel bed and flips through the TV channels for a while. Sports. Sports. News. Sesame Street.
She gives it an hour. By then there’s a weird pulling sensation deep in her chest, a tug and twist that has a distinct Ned feeling to it.
The dead girl locks the motel room and goes hunting. The tug gets stronger or weaker depending on where she travels towards.
Huh, looks like she has her own Ned homing beacon. That’s interesting.
Ned has himself holed up next to a dumpster smeared with something unmentionable. The dead girl is impressed, his knees are up near his ears and he’s made his tall self as small as possible. Ned’s hands are streaked red and he’s pressing his eyes into his palms, crying and begging to some god who will never answer.
The dead girl knows. She tried it once, and here she still is.
“Wow, gotta hand it to you. I never thought you’d hold out long enough to get across town.”
Ned startles so hard he cracks his head against the dumpster propping him up. The hobo laying in front of Ned struggles for air and trembles from the shock of exposed muscles and nerves.
Ned holds up his hands. They are as steady as jello in an earthquake.
“I tried, I tried so hard and then I stopped and-and now-“
Ned makes a choked off noise and gestures to the bum on the ground.
“Never stop in the middle of a meal,” the dead girl says. “It’s just bad manners, not to mention kind of sadistic for the prey.”
The dead girl pokes at the hobo. His eyes roll back and his heart finally gives out. That’s unfortunate, now the meat is spoiled.
Ned strikes out at her, but she catches his fist and cracks the bones. He yelps and jerks back, but she keeps her grip strong.
“Kill me,” he says, borderline begging. “You don’t need me. Just kill me, let me die.”
“No,” she says.
“I don’t want to be a monster,” Ned begs. He’s crying again, sagging against the dumpster, fist going loose in her hand. This close, the dead girl can feel everything Ned is feeling. The ravenous hunger, all needy and screaming in his head, and the swirling dark of morality like a viral infection gnawing on his insides.
“You know, I think I may know the best way to help you. You have all this misguided humanity still lurking in your bones. Understandable, but not conductive to a good life.”
She applies more pressure. He screams. She punches him in the face. His head smacks against the metal and it’s lights out for Ned.
The dead girl slings his arm over her shoulder and half drags, half carries him back to the Malibu, still parked at the mouth of the alley with the driver’s door open. Getting him in the car is a struggle, because he’s nine miles tall and unhelpful with maneuvering, but she gets him in. She adjusts the seat, the mirror, and pulls away from the curb at a reasonable speed.
The derelict homestead is still there after fifty-some years, which the dead girl finds surprising. The roof of the cabin has caved in and looks to be housing variety of owls, swallows, and snakes from the tracks she can see. The barn is down to a few posts, but the shed is still intact. Everything is riddled with weeds.
The dead girl takes a moment to just look at the shed, to wait and see. Used to be, gazing upon that unassuming building gave her chills and sent her to flinching like a chain was coming at her face. She feels something in her gut, a fleeting sourness like turning meat, and the distant desire to tear it down brick by brick until her hands are stumps.
The dead girl hauls Ned out of the car and she drags him to the shed. The door budges after a couple of kicks, swings back on rusty hinges like the low growl of thunder. She sways on the threshold for a moment, and the irony of coming full circle hits her.
She huffs out a laugh and dumps Ned in the middle of the empty shed. He groans and rolls over, blinks up at her with dazed eyes.
“Get some rest,” she says, and happens to glance at the corner where a pile of old bones sit with a skull balanced on top. The empty eye sockets follow her movements, still judging, but she just grins back. Old bones don’t scare her anymore.
“Please,” Ned says.
The dead girl closes the door and locks it tight.
Ned is sitting up the next time the dead girl opens the shed door. He blinks against the bright sunlight that falls across his face.
“Who is that?”
The guy is about Ned’s age, a bit on the skinny side, but a scrappy fighter. The dead girl has healing bruises on her face and a couple cracked ribs. Skinny struggles against the ropes tied around him and screams through the gag.
“A crash course in dinner etiquette. You can come outside when you finished a full meal.”
The dead girl plants her hand on Skinny’s back and shoves him in. He staggers in and goes sprawling in the dirt.
“No. No, I’m not doing this.” Ned reached toward Skinny to help him up, but Skinny scrambles away. Ned flinches, hands balling up, and turns to the dead girl. “I won’t do this again, not for anything.”
“Then I guess you’ll get to know dinner pretty well until your hunger comes back. Just remember, quickness is kindness. Don’t make your meal suffer.”
The dead girl closes the door on Ned’s yelling. The sound cuts off abrupt, thick door, thick walls. No one can hear you screaming from inside.
The dead girl goes back to the car and rifles through Skinny’s backpack. He’s a college kid with a bag full of books and a smartphone with a ton of cool little apps that just beg to be explored.
Screaming and thumps come from the Malibu’s trunk. She ignores them.
The link between the dead girl and Ned flares up. Fear, hatred, hunger, it’s a pulsating shard of glass between them.
The dead girl stretches out on the hood of the Malibu, crosses her ankles, and thumbs through the phone.
She still needs a name. Now is as good a time as any to settle on one.
The dead girl opens the shed door three days later. She has to hand it to Ned, the guy has conviction and enough moral fiber for an epic bout of constipation, but the thing about curses and hunger is that they shred even the staunchest of ideals and aspirations.
Ned is standing in the middle of the shed, chest heaving, new skin spread over his form many shades darker than his original. Dark, sweaty hair is matted against his slick forehead. He shakes, weak and powerful all at once, his guts twisting in on themselves, wanting more.
Skinny’s bones are scattered among the dust and rat turds on the floor. They gleam, devoid of any lingering blood or muscle.
“Very nice,” she says. “I knew you’d get it eventually.”
Ned says nothing, doesn’t even look up. He stares down at the stray femur before him.
“You’re still hungry.”
Not a question. The dead girl has teeth in her own belly.
“Come on, then.”
She steps through the open door. Ned follows her out a few long moments later.
Skinny’s girlfriend, Rhonda Lowry according to her driver’s license, is trussed up in front of the Malibu, mascara streaking her face, her wrists rubbed raw from the rope, snot bubbling down her nose.
The dead girl turns and walks backwards to face Ned while they approach Rhonda.
“I’ve been doing some reading lately, trying to knowledge up on the whole pack concept. Pack’s work together in everything they do. Finding shelter. Water. Protecting the territory. Hunting. The better the working relationship, the healthier the pack.”
The dead girl palms a pocket knife and kneels beside Rhonda. Rhonda whimpers and curls in on herself. The dead girl turns her over and saws through the ropes until they fall away. She makes sure to nick the skin a couple times, draw a bit of blood. It’s Ned’s first time, after all.
Rhonda sits up, eyes wide as she reeks of fear.
“Run,” the dead girl tells her.
Rhonda struggles to her feet. Falls down. Cries. Gets up. Runs for the trees.
Ned starts after her. The dead girl smacks her arm across his chest.
“Give her a head start,” she says. “A pack works together, but there is a leader, and that is me. We hunt when I say hunt. We go where I say we go. You follow my direction. I am your alpha. Do we have an understanding?”
Ned’s eyes flick between the dead girl and the tree line where Rhonda disappears from sight. He licks his lips and meets her gaze. A red haze drifts over his eyes, and the last of his moral compunctions drain away in the face of an enticing chase.
His turning tide sends a corresponding flutter of rightness through the links.
“You’re my alpha.”
“That’s right. And I’ve chosen a name for myself. You can call me Persephone.”
Persephone, to destroy. Mythology pegs the goddess as a victim, the conquest of Hades, dragged to the underworld and imprisoned for part of the year which brought winter to the lands above.
The dead girl was a victim once, but any queen of hell knows how to survive, how to thrive, and this name speaks of freedom and life as sweet as the first breath stolen from newborn’s lungs.
“We hunt?” Ned asks.
Persephone turns her gaze towards the tree line. She licks her own lips.
Seven hundred miles away, in the basement of a quaint yellow house in the middle of the suburbs, a coven of three join hands over a skeleton laid out on a green pool table serving as an alter. Glade candles, lavender and linen scented, flicker at all corners of the table.
One witch takes an athame in hand and pricks the fingers of everyone present. They drip their blood onto the bones. A faint rumble from underfoot shakes the walls.
“By the elements, the spirits, and the gods of old, we call upon the Hunter to return to this plane and finish the hunt once more,” they chant.
One of the witches turns away and plucks a finch out of the cages set up in the corner. It squirms and wiggles in her grasp. She brings it to the table and they each hold part of the bird – a wing, a foot, the neck – and the athame separates the head with one swipe.
The witches hold the bird steady while it flops. They drain it of fluid and organs, drizzle them on the bones. The bones sizzle and pop.
“Come back to us, Hunter.”
They drop the bird and it disintegrates, feathers spreading and rippling. The witches bring another bird. And then another, and then another, until the cages littering the floor are empty and the bones are not bones anymore, but a young woman streaked with red and gasping for air with new lungs.
“Welcome back to life,” the head witch says.
The Hunter sits up, eyes darting back and forth.
“Why I am back?” the Hunter demands. “What happened?”
“The Cursed has returned to life, she is devouring once more.”
The witches cover the Hunter with a bathrobe and lead her to the bathroom to clean up.
“How? I made my sacrifice.”
“The tides keep turning,” one witch says.
They give the Hunter clothing, feed her, and present her with the weapons once buried with her: a 9mm and a necklace strung with sparrow bones.
They give the Hunter a Toyota pickup and bless her thrice with spell and prayer.
The Hunter applies a layer of lipstick, bright red, and checks her reflection in the rearview mirror.
Her eyes glow burnished gold and a set of claws dig deep into her belly, remnants of a hunger not her own.
The hunger pulls her west, so she follows it.