This story is the expanded, and edited version of Terror in the Night. I’m posting the full text. If there are any spelling or grammar mistakes, so be it. This is for readers to track the progress a writer can make over four years. (Covered further in It Gets Better – The Difference Four Years Can Make) Editing it one final time before posting it would be disingenuous.
Without further delay, I present to you, Scars:
By Connor Perry
The car sped down a winding dirt road, kicking up dust as it went along. The shirtless, scarred driver strained to see past his headlights. “He dies tonight,” the scarred man said.
The scars took many forms, from light blotches to crescent moons. Patches of unharmed flesh peeked out between them. He was an Indian man—but not like the Native Americans those white idiots always confused him with.
With a jerk of the wheel and a push on the brakes, he pulled the car to the side of the road.
He put his thumb to his wrist until he felt his pulse. He focused on his heartbeat for some time, until he caught its rhythm. When he felt calm again, he pulled back onto the road. As he continued to drive, his mind wandered back to earlier that morning.
The man let the scalding water works his across his open wounds. It stung, which brought a smile to his lips. This was punishment. He needed this.
It was a shabby motel room, but it wasn’t the worst he’d seen, and he desperately needed a shower.
He scrubbed deliberately over every scar. A reminder of previous mistakes.
Steam billowed into the room as he stepped out to wrap a towel around his waist. He wiped a layer of steam off the mirror to find yellow eyes staring back. The man reeled back and took a moment to catch his breath. He focused on the on his back water air-drying in an attempt to regain control. The tactile—she had taught him to focus on the tactile.
He turned back to the mirror he wiped away a fresh coat of steam. The eyes were his. Complete with the ugly scar on his left temple, which he preferred not to remember. This time, however, he spotted a new set of eyes behind him. The eyes of an intruder.
A woman floated behind him. Her hands hung just above scars on his shoulders. A faint light wisped off of them.
The man spun around and took a defensive stance.
“Hello, Ro,” the woman cooed. She had a light-gray complexion and wore a strapless purple dress that hugged her tight as a lover. Her presence was like a candle: she seemed to flicker in and out of existence at random, her proportions changing at will.
Ro let his guard down.
“Lady,” he called her by name, “What are you doing here?”
The woman sauntered forward. “Ro,” she said, “the time is now.” She put her hands on his shoulders and floated just off the ground so that her mouth was level with his ear. Her voice fluttered to a whisper. “Today is the day you’ve been waiting for.”
Her voice was soothing; her words tip-toeing from one to the next. “The final meeting is today,” she said. “I’ve watched you grow over the years, Ro…You’ve grown so strong…” Her voice trailed off with her memory. After a few seconds she came back to reality. Her eyes smiled with unfettered knowledge. “I know you can win. She pursed her lips at him, “You can win the Prize.”
Ro grabbed Lady by the waist and pulled her close.
“Why is it you’ve never told me what this Prize is?” he asked.
Lady scoffed. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” she teased. Her visage crumbled to dust, leaving only a wisp of smoke in her place. Ro fanned it away and returned to the mirror.
He went about his business, pushing the encounter to the back of his mind. He had grown used to Lady’s tricks over the years.
He went about shaving, while trying to pay her words no heed. Despite his best efforts, he could not get her voice out of his head.
“Tonight,” he hummed to himself, “Tonight is the night Kajar dies.”
The man stood alone on the mountaintop. He was a massive figure, covered in a latticework of scars not unlike Ro’s. His teeth and fingernails were filed into fangs and talons, respectively. He paced back and forth.
Any other man would freeze to death at this altitude wearing this man’s thin garb, but not him. He was trained to be more than an average man. Far more.
He moved to the edge of the cliff and let out a long howl. Those who listened closely could hear the faint cry of “LAAADDDYYYY!”
The man sniffed at the air, wrinkling his nose at the faint scent of brimstone.
He seized the attacker by the throat.
“Please let go of me, Kajar,” the intruder said levelly.
Kajar relaxed his grip. “Lady!” Kajar gasped. He bowed his head deferentially, “I apologize.”
Lady cocked her head to one side. “Is this how you great the harbinger of such glad tidings?” Lady tsked. “I just came to warn you that Ro is on his way.”
“What?” Kajar snarled. “I need more time to train. I’m not ready! This isn’t how it was supposed to be!”
Lady meandered behind him and laid her hands on his shoulders, “You can beat him, Kajar. I know you can,” she smiled. “I’ve watched you grow over the years.” She put her lips next to his ear and whispered, “You’ve become a seasoned, powerful warrior. You’ve practiced so hard. So long…”
Kajar returned Lady’s smile, exposing his sharpened teeth. “Thank you, Lady,” He said in his raspy voice. He took her hand and kissed it, “Your words inspire me.”
Lady let out a small titter, “You can win the Prize, Kajar. I’m certain of it. Your training is at an end. You’re ready.”
Kajar sat on the ledge. Lady joined him. After a silence, she swept his hair over his ear and eyes at a scar on the side of his neck. She licked her lips and traced her fingernail along the scar. Her eyes glowed with newfound vitality.
“Do you remember when we met?” she asked.
“Yes.” He smiled. “I remember. I was a boy of seven. Caesar would learn soon learn the price of friendship.”
Little Kajar pranced about the streets of Como, Rome. His small frame allowed him to weave his way in and out of a crowd. He snatched gold pieces off merchants as they bustled along the street. He came to an intersection when he spotted a Roman centurion sporting an unusually fat purse around his belt.
With swift and nimble fingers he deftly plucked the sack of gold from the soldier’s belt and darted across the street before he could notice.
He kept running until he found an alleyway where he could safely count his earnings. He had only begun to count when spotted a wealthy woman in a purple dress. He picked his target. Purple was not a color for commoners.
He followed her for what seemed like hours. Everything but her shifted to the back of his mind until she was the only thing in the world.
He caught up with her and was about to reach for her when—
The Lady spun around and bent down to Kajar’s height. She smiled a friendly smile and talked to him in a voice like honey. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but that purse doesn’t belong to you. It’s not nice to steal.”
Kajar’s went slack jawed. The centurion’s purse was nowhere to be seen. He was sure he’d hidden it before pursuing it. He looked up at her, gaping.
The Lady poked his nose playfully. “In fact,” she laughed, “I think you should give that money back to that nice man right now.”
He searched his pockets to find the sack of gold had disappeared. He blinked in surprise.
“That’s better,” the Lady said
Kajar squinted his eyes. “Who are you?” he muttered.
“Call me Lady,” she said, dismissively.
Lady clutched Kajar’s hand and dragged him along, stroking his knuckles with her thumb. “Come with me,” she said, “We’re going on an adventure.”
Within minutes Kajar found himself on the outskirts of the city. All his street instincts told him not to follow her. But he moved as though his limbs were not his own.
Yet he wasn’t afraid. Lady’s voice slowed the palpitations of his heart.
She he led him into a forest that he swore he had never seen in his years on the streets. The sun glistened between the treetops, forming a halo around Lady.
“We’re almost there,” she said. Her voice was a distant echo.
That was the last thing he remembered.
Kajar awoke in the alleyway, alone. As his consciousness expanded, he became aware of a searing pain on his neck. He looked into a nearby puddle to see an odd scar. Three crescent moons. Like claws.
He fished through his pockets again to find he still had the centurion’s purse. “It was only a dream, he muttered. “A dream.”
Still, he felt different. Primal
Ro’s engine sputtered and his car came to a halt. He cursed under his breath and exited the vehicle to see what the trouble was. He muttered something about how nothing in this century works like it should.
The altitude would make breathing labored for an ordinary man. But Ro was far from ordinary.
“I’d find another way up,” came the all-too-familiar voice.
Ro’s countenance sagged with his sigh. He rolled his eyes. “How do you suppose I’d do that, Lady?”
Lady crossed her arms and pointed a long finger upward, indicating to the cliff side behind her. “Climb.”
Why would I do that?”
Lady grinned. She disappeared in a swirl of smoke and reappeared at Ro’s side, resting her chin on his shoulder. “The battle begins at midnight, and I don’t see any other way up.”
Ro turned his gaze upward as he walked toward the cliff. He patted it, as if testing its strength, and then seized the nearest ledge, knuckles white with his grip.
He started to climb.
Lady floated above him, circling him. “That’s my boy,” she winked as he extended his arm to a finger’s point to grasp the ledge above him. She tilted her head to the side and stroked the familiar scar on Ro’s neck. Her eyes locked on it. She licked her lips like a hungry wolf.
“Remember this one?” she whispered, gently.
“I do,” Ro said, “It was the first of many. I was five. The Sunga Dynasty was just ending. It was around seventy eight B.C, if I recall.
Ro and his parents lived just off the coat of the Yamuna River. They’d taken him to the meadow that day. The soft dew made the grass stick to his feet. He laughed and played as his parents watched from a distance. The sun beat down on Ro’s head, but he didn’t mind. He was having fun.
It was then that a Lady in a purple dress appeared in front of him, staring at the sky. She bore a countenance like she’d been waiting for him. Her hair looked like it was made of night and stars. “Hello there,” she said, her voice dripping with happiness, “and who might you be?”
“My name is Ro!” He beamed.
“Well it’s so very nice to meet you, Ro. You can call me Lady.” She shook his hand, and Ro felt a tingling all over.
Her grip tightened, though she was careful to keep it gentle. She led him towards the nearby forest.
“Where are we going?”
“Come with me, Ro” she cooed, “We’re going on an adventure.”
Ro told himself to run away. Don’t listen to pretty strangers. But he didn’t want to. He looked at her, glassy eyed. The sun shone through the forest shining behind Lady.
“We’re almost there,” she said. She led him through the forest when—
His parents found him later that day and gave him a good scolding after his disappearance. Weeks went by under their watchful gaze. He never left his room, but he didn’t complain. He knew he deserved it.
After a month, he met Lady again.
His mother tucked him in that night and kissed him on the forehead. “I love you,” she whispered to him, “I’ll see you in the morning.”
As soon as the door closed, Ro rolled onto his back to see Lady floating over his bed.
“Hello, Ro,” Lady sang, “I enjoyed our little adventure.”
“That didn’t feel like an adventure,” Ro whined. “All I got was a scar from a tree branch.”
Lady grinned at that. “Well, Ro, there’s something I need to tell you.”
“What’s that?” He went back to smiling.
“Tonight is a special night. The first of many. It begins now.” Lady floated down to the floor in one fluid motion. As her shimmering shape took solid form, the glow of moonlight filled Ro’s room. His convulsions began.
Bones snapped as his anatomy shifted and realigned itself. He ran out the room with a growl.
She heard the horrified shriek of a mother and a father’s dying cries of fear. Her eyebrows went taut as bowstrings. It was the first of many special nights to come, and Lady reveled in every second of it.
Kajar snapped out of his meditation, drenched in sweat. He panted heavily. His heart pounded like thunder.
Lady appeared behind him in a swirl of black smoke. “Meditating?” she teased. “I thought you said you needed to train.”
Kajar did not turn around. “It helps me focus. You should know that.”
Lady shrugged. Wordlessly, her body dissolved into a cloud of smoke and rushed toward Kajar, where she took shape again, now inches away from his face. She looked up at him with pleading eyes. “Tell me a story,” she whimpered, putting on a mock-frown, “Ro won’t be here for hours.” She wrapped her arm around his chest and stroked his muscular frame
“Which one do you want to hear?” he asked.
Lady ran her fingers along Kajar’s scars like they were pages in a book. She glowed as she touched them, her cold fingers slowly warming up. She fingered a deep gash on Kajar’s shoulder. “That one.”
“That one” Kajar echoed. “That one…”
The woman flung the drapes open, letting in the afternoon sun. Kajar’s hands flew to his eyes in a vain attempt to block the light.
“Five more minutes,” he slurred.
“Up,” the woman said, “You paid for one night. Take your things and go.”
Kajar let out an inhuman growl. It belonged to him, but not the half that the woman saw. Her eyes widened. She backed out the door, never breaking eye contact with Kajar.
In his exhausted stupor he had forgotten his surroundings. He returned to the place where it all began. Como. Only now it was no longer Rome. That empire had fallen long ago. Now it belonged to Italy.
Kajar sat up and was met with a pang of pain in his shoulder. He examined the wound, picking away at crusted blood.
Upon further inspection, he noticed something lodged in his torn flesh. He let out a grunt and fought through the pain. His free hand clenched. His fingernails dug into his palm, drawing blood.
He extracted the object: an arrowhead. He growled again and pocketed it. He reached for a burlap sack strewn across the floor and tore one of his last shirts to form a makeshift bandage. He packed up the rest of his meager possession and tossed them over his good shoulder.
Kajar was about to leave the inn when he heard a man drunkenly boasting to his friends. “…The beast was on top of me last night. Nearly killed me, it did. But don’t worry, I speared it good.” The man pantomimed the action. “Must have hurt it bad, ’cause it ran away real quick.”
Kajar made sure to laugh loud enough so that the man could hear him across the room. The two made eye contact.
“What’s so funny?” the man asked.
Kajar chuckled again. “Drunks make up the best stories,”
“I didn’t make up nothing,” the man said.
“Of course you didn’t.”
“I didn’t make it up! It’s true! Do you doubt me?”
Kajar waved a hand, dismissively. “Very much so, yes.”
“You’re calling me a liar?”
Kajar bit back a smile. “Well, not in those words exactly—”
The man withdrew a knife and lunged at Kajar, who sidestepped and struck the man across the jaw. The drunk stumbled back and crashed into a table.
“Stick to your stories, kid,” he said. He produced the arrowhead and flicked it into the man’s lap as if giving him coin. “For your troubles,” he said, and he left the inn.
Ro entered a small village, kicking of splashes of dust as he ran through the puddles. The road was lit only by lightning strikes. He needed to find shelter. Fast.
He only prayed the clouds blanketed the night sky for a few more hours. Just long enough. He did not want to see the moon.
It was not long before he reached an inn. He found himself praying that the rain would not let up. He prayed tonight would not be one of his special nights.
Ro hammered the door. The innkeeper was quick to open it.
“Puh-please.” Ro stammered, visibly shaken from the cold, “I need a place to stay.”
The innkeeper looked Ro up and down, rainwater puddling on the ground beneath him.
“H-how much?” Ro asked. “I can pay you.”
The innkeeper raised a hand. “Let’s not discuss that. Not now. Come inside, boy.”
The innkeeper sat him down in front of the hearth. The fire danced in a way that reminded him of Lady. He hugged his chest. Soon the innkeeper came back with a bowl of hot water and three quilts tucked under his arm. He placed the bowl at Ro’s feet. “Stick your feet in this. It’ll warm you up.
Ro did as he was told, and the innkeeper wrapped the three quilts around him. “I’ve got some leftover soup. It’s still warm. I’ll be back in a moment.”
Despite the newfound warmth, a shiver went down Ro’s spine. He fought back tears.
The innkeeper returned with a tray carrying two bowls of soup. Steam curled out of the bowls. Ro’s mouth watered at the sight of it. The innkeeper set the tray down and offered him one of the bowls.
Ro snatched the bowl with reflexes Lady had drilled into him over the centuries. He wolfed it down. He ignored the burning in his throat with every gulp. It was hot. That was all that mattered.
“How long has it been since you ate, son?” the innkeeper asked.
Ro finished the soup without stopping for breath. He slammed the bowl down on his knees and gasped. “Long time.” He eyed the innkeeper’s bowl. His stomach grumbled again.
The innkeeper extended his meal to Ro. “Help yourself,” he said, “You need it more than I do.”
Ro snatched the second bowl and shoveled down the meal.
The innkeeper eased into his chair. “Do you mind if I share a story with you?” the innkeeper asked. “Just to pass the time. Nobody else has a room tonight. Just you an’ me.”
Ro looked up from the bowl of soup. What kind of story did this man have to tell? Ro wondered if he’d been here before.
The innkeeper let out a small chuckle. “Well then—I can see that I have your attention.”
“Tell me the story.”
The innkeeper leaned in close like he was sharing a secret. “We had a monster here a few days back. Shape changer, I think they call them. Though some of my patrons called it something else…” he waved the thought aside. “Anyway, it came out at night. I saw it with my own eyes. Twice the size of a wolf, it was. Eating a man in an alley. The man was like paste by the time my I found it.
“Luckily, I had a friend with me—a hunter. He saved my life. Spear in hand, he fought the beast. Gave it a nasty gash, he did. Speared it good. It ran away with its tail between its legs.” He leaned back in his chair. The fire’s crackling filled the silence. “That’s a true story, boy.”
“Why?” Ro said. An unwanted venom dripped from that word. He had never been here before. That would mean someone else—
He wrung that thought at the neck.
“Just wanted to pass the time, is all,” the innkeeper said with a shrug, “Tonight seems like the perfect night for ghost stories, what with the thunder and all.”
“Why me?” Ro trembled. His face went red. “Why did it have to be me?”
The innkeeper stood deliberately, like Ro was a rabid dog—one that would bite at sudden movements. “Calm down, son.”
Anger shook his visage. He jumped to his feet, snarling, “Why me?”
Then he shrank away like a frightened dog. “I’m sorry,” he said, quieter than he meant to. “I’m so, so sorry. He curled up on the floor. “It’s the cold. It must have done something to my head. I don’t want to hurt you. I’m sorry.”
“It’s all right, son.”
“Why did you do it?”
The innkeeper walked backwards towards the door. “I’m sorry, son. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“Not that,” Ro whimpered. “Why have you been so kind?”
The innkeeper went suddenly solemn. “Because you’re a man. And all men deserve kindness.” He eased the door open. Before he left, he said, “You can have a room for the night. They’re just up the stairs. Pick your favorite.”
The innkeeper eased out of the room and groaned the door closed behind him.
Ro had chosen a room. He was on the outskirts of sleep when he descried Lady floating inches from his face. Her hair draped down and tickled his nose. He scowled.
“I’m sorry, Ro,” she said, “I was going to tell you eventually.”
Ro shifted to his side.
“Ro!” Lady pleaded, “I wanted you to finish training before you learned there was another! You’re not yet ready! You have yet to master the beast.”
“He called me a man.”
Lady laid a gentle hand on Ro’s cheek, guiding him to look at her. “Pay him no mind. This is it. This is the destiny I’ve been telling you about. You are destined to kill this man.”
“I don’t want to kill him.”
“You don’t have a choice. The dice were cast long ago by powers greater than my own. If it means anything, I would not have picked you for this fate.” Her smile did not touch her eyes. “But you are destined to win. You will win. And you will receive a Prize beyond your wildest dreams.”
Ro said nothing.
“I didn’t want you to get hurt,” she said. “I was trying to protect you.”
“I-I don’t need protection,” Ro stammered, “I’m fine. I can—I can.” He felt a surge of pain.
“The rain has stopped, Ro.”
Ro writhed out of the bed. He knew this feeling—like needles digging just under the skin. On instinct, his eyes wandered to the window. Lady blocked his view of the moon. She towered over him, flickering like a candle. “Ro,” she said, “Tonight is one of your special nights.”
Ro awoke the next morning to the smell of excrement and garbage. He realized he was in an alley. His clothes were tattered. A sharp pain bit his back. And then again. When he looked, he saw a man had bandaged his wound for him, cutting off circulation above his knee.
“Be still,” a raspy voice said. “You’ve been hurt. It would be best if you did not panic.”
As Ro’s consciousness expanded, he recollected where he was: the small village in Italy. Last night had been one of those nights.
“Don’t turn around either,” the voice continued.
Ro felt something pinch of pain continued as it slowly wove up his back. He craned his neck to see who this man was.
“I said be still!” the raspy voice said. His words were clipped. “I’m stitching you up.”
Ro’s breathing went rapid, chest heaving. “Who—who are you?” he asked.
“Call me Kajar,” The voice told him, and with a final knot, the stitching was finished. Kajar circled to face Ro and offered his hand. Ro took it and the man hauled him to his feet.
“Don’t worry,” Kajar said, grinning to himself, “I don’t bite.”
“Thank you.” Ro said.
Kajar put his arm around Ro’s shoulder, “Now let’s find you a physician.”
The two walked off. “I have a friend here,” Kajar said, “He runs an inn. He’ll know someone we can get you to. How exactly did you receive your injuries?”
Ro’s heart raced, his hands sweaty. His mind sifted through believable excuses. “I drank too much,” he said at last, “It’s a long story.”
Kajar laughed. Ro sighed, relieved “We’ve all been there.” Kajar chuckled.
The two came to an inn—a different one than he had stayed in last night. “I’m in need of a favor, my friend.” Kajar said.
The innkeeper hurried Ro inside. Kajar gave him a quick salute. “Thank you for your help,” Ro said. The innkeeper shuffled him back.
“It’s no trouble.”
As Kajar turned to leave, Ro noticed a scar on Kajar’s neck. Three crescent moons. “How long have you had that scar?” Ro muttered to himself. He started forward, but the physician held him back. “Sir, calm down. We need to tend to your injuries.”
“His scar. Wait! Wait!”
It would be another year before Kajar discovered the truth of things.
He had entered Zaragoza in Spain to be met by apprehensive glances. To avoid trouble, Kajar snaked through back alleys until he found a barn. It looked as though a gust of wind would ruin it. The paint was chipped, and termites had done their fair share to it.
But it was a place to stay.
The inside was not much better. The stink of animal feces filled the air, and a cacophony of sounds kept him awake.
It didn’t help that the farmer and his wife were shouting from their house either.
“You should not go out tonight!” The farmer’s wife shouted, “The beast could still be out there!” Kajar perked up like a dog that had caught a scent. He stalked to the barn doors to listen.
“I’ll be fine,” the farmer said, “The townsfolk assured me the beast was gone.”
“The townsfolk can lie!”
“Why would they?”
Kajar listened to every word uttered. Unless he had heard wrong, a beast paid a visit to the town the night before, during a time of night Kajar knew all too well.
He snorted his derision, and when he turned, he saw Lady rising up from beneath the ground.
“I’m sorry.” Lady’s eyes welled with tears. “I should have told you before—”
“Stop,” Kajar cut her off. He put a finger to his lips, “You’re spooking the animals.” He cast a wicked smile.
“Kajar, please,” Lady said, “Don’t ignore me, I was going to tell you eventually—”
Kajar turned away. “Really?” he said “When?”
“When you’re ready. When you’ve mastered your control of the beast.”
“Am I not ready now?” Kajar said. “I’ve trained for thousands of years! How is that not enough?”
“There is a higher power that tells me so. You must be patient, my child.”
Kajar sat on a nearby stool, silent yet still fuming.
“You’ve met him before.”
A century past. You remember the man you played Good Samaritan with in Italy.”
“And you didn’t tell me.”
“It is as I said. You’re not ready!”
“I know a way to make it up to you.” Her voice was scarcely more than a breath. Her visage collapsed in on itself and reappeared beside Kajar.
“I had an idea about the New World. War spreads like wildfire, there.”
Kajar nearly cracked a smile. “Keep going….”
They were headed for Roanoke. It was a three month journey. As such, three men fell overboard during a drunken stupor in the night.
Or at least, the third was about to.
The sun dawned, and Ro gazed upon his own carnage. The body was a tangle of meat and organs. The face had been chewed up. Ro felt strangely full.
Men would be up soon. Men enough to notice. For now, it was still dark enough to be rid of the body.
“I’d act quickly, if I were you,” a voice said from behind him.
“I know what to do,” Ro sighed. “I’d be able to do it a lot quicker without you pestering me.”
Lady crossed her arms over her breasts. “Well then,” she said, “I won’t speak.”
Ro offered a mock-bow. “Thank you.” He grasped at what remained of his victim’s shirt, which fell apart in his hands. He knelt to scoop up the body. When he turned around, the body in his arms, he was face to face with Lady. He scowled at her.
Lady put on a show of feigned surprise. “Oh, you don’t mind if I watch, do you?”
Ro smiled, despite himself. “Only if you move.” He stumbled forward. Lady turned into a cloud of purple smoke as Ro walked through her to the starboard side. He did not look back, but could sense her presence. He felt the tingling sensation that told him Lady was doing her little trick. The one where light trickled over his scars.
With a heave the body slammed into the ocean, and was lost beneath the ocean foam. He turned to Lady. “Now then,” he said between labored breaths. “Can I help you?”
Lady laughed under her breath. She skittered around Ro, her feet never quite touching the ground. “In many ways.” Her laugh was like satin.
“Then narrow it down,” Ro said.
Lady was nose to nose with Ro in the time it took him to blink. “I have something I need to tell you. A warning.” Her breath was like cold peppermint. “During your next special night, I want you to carve a C.”
“Not like that, silly!” Lady said. She pointed to the distance. Ro followed her finger. “Like the letter.” He turned back to look at her. She rubbed her nose against his and vanished into the air.
“What’s this about the sea?” a man said, as he walked up onto the deck.
Ro spun around, a hand outstretched in mid-strike. He stopped himself when he noticed the old man who had spoken.
The man raised blistered hands in defense. “Calm down, son,” he said, “I don’t mean ya no harm. I just heard ya talkin’ to yourself, that’s all.”
Ro lowered his arm. “I’m sorry,” he said. The words came out strained. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“It’s alright, boy,” the old man said with a pat on the back. “You meant nothin’ by it. I get that.” The flaccid skin on his neck wobbled as he spoke.
“Thank you,” Ro said.
“For not being offended.” Ro braced himself on the sides of the ship. “I could have killed you.”
“A butcher’s boy? Kill me?” the old man laughed. “I doubt it. Shoulda seen me in my youth. I’d have kicked your ass.” The two shared a laugh.
What had he meant by butchers boy? Ro looked down at his shirt to find it speckled with blood. “You probably could have,” Ro muttered. He hoped he sounded more convincing than he felt.
“Do you normally attack anyone who comes from behind?
Ro grinned to himself. “Only if I’ve had a rough night.”
The old man raised a hand. “Say no more, lad. I understand. I’ll leave you alone. Try to get some rest.”
“Sir?” Ro called after him. The old man glanced back. “What’s your name?”
“Ananias,” the old man said. “Ananias Dare.”
“The husband of Mrs. White?”
The old man elevated his eyebrows. “How’d you know?”
“She’s the only pregnant woman on this ship. And she talks of you.”
“You know of our child then, no doubt.” Ananias said. “She’s to be born, soon. And she talks of her more than me.”
“Do you have a name for her?”
“Virginia,” Ananias said. “Virginia Dare.”
“Virginia Dare,” Ro echoed. “I like that. For the first time in memory, Ro’s smile was genuine.
Ro would go on to kill little Virginia Dare in her crib during his next special night. The rest of the settlement soon followed. The next morning, he awoke to find Ananias dead by a tree, a sharpened stone in hand. He’d carved Ro’s name into a tree.
He made sure to add a C. Just like he promised.
The year was 1779. Kajar had just stepped off the boat to the new world. Lady stood across the street. Kajar straightened his redcoat before crossing to meet her.
She brushed her hair out of her eyes. “What did I tell you?” she said, “I knew something would come of this when Columbus came here all those years ago. And now you’re in a position of power.” She leaned forward and whispered, “How do you intend to use it?” She stood on her tip-toes and stroked Kajar’s face.
“Any way I can.”
The acrid smell of gunpowder filled the air, pouring into Ro’s lungs. The French started a bayonet charge towards the British army. It would go down in the history books as the Siege of Yorktown.
But Ro didn’t care about history. He had seen too much of it already. It was a vile thing. But he needed to train.
Ro darted down the field, narrowly dodging the musket balls. Bangs and pops filled the air, drowning out any other noises.
Ro had earned the nickname The Lucky Indian because of the fact that no matter how many times he was shot, he would always recover.
It was not time for him to die yet.
Ro wove between the bayonets and thrust his own into a British soldier. The bloodied bodies began to accumulate.
The meadow where the armies met brought back memories from when he was five. In the midst of battle Ro paused for only a second. He thought he saw Lady off in the distance. She seemed to be watching him. Waiting for something.
He dismissed her to focus on the task at hand: killing.
Ro felt a splitting pain tear through his flesh, and he fell off of a redcoat’s bayonet. He howled in pain. It was no human howl.
Ro rose to his feet. New flesh spiderwebbed across his wound, leaving only a scar. Fear rooted the redcoat to the spot as Ro raised his musket.
As he reloaded, his hands shook with a mix of fear, anxiety and adrenalin.
Again, Ro thought he glimpsed Lady in the distance. Faint wisps of light lashed at her. Again he blinked, he her apparition was gone.
A sharp yelp came from behind Ro, where one of his comrades had fallen. Ro aimed his rifle with supernatural accuracy to face the attacker in the distance. Determination lit up in his eyes. His comrade would not die in vain.
With a bang, the redcoat’s head flung back, and he fell to the ground.
“Damn redcoats,” Ro muttered as he reloaded his musket a second time. This time, however, something stopped him completely.
From across the battlefield Ro spotted a familiar face. Long, dirty blond hair strewn about and dotted with white from the powdered wig that had presumably fallen off in battle. He had changed—his nails were sharp and his teeth were pointed, but he knew him.
The man was also loading his gun, despite his uniform speckled with bullet holes.
Then he saw the scar. And he remembered that man from centuries ago. His name rang in his head.
BANG! The musket ball found its way to Ro’s left temple. He fell to the ground, his face bleeding. Darkness etched his vision, and then consumed him.
When he awoke, soldiers were picking through the dead bodies, and Lady was kneeling over him. “Sweetie, why would you do that?” She pinched his cheeks. “Look at what he’s done to your pretty face. You have to react quickly. When the time comes, he will kill you if you repeat this mistake.”
“I’m sorry, Lady. I’m sorry.”
She knelt to be closer to him. “Don’t apologize,” she said. “Learn.”
Ro flinched at his memory as his mind snapped back to reality. He took a moment to touch the scar on his left temple. Lady’s words chimed in his head.
Take your vengeance, Ro. Tonight is the night Kajar dies.
The Americans had won the war, and Kajar couldn’t care less. He thrust his belongings off his desk with a swipe of his arm. “He was there!” Kajar shouted. “He was there, Lady!”
The ship back to Britain bobbed back and forth. Its passengers were getting seasick and Kajar’s screaming was of no help.
His long talon-like fingernails scraped the side of the ship like nails on a chalkboard. Lady sat comfortably on his bed, flickering legs crossed.
“I know he was there,” Lady said, “I was there, too.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that he was the man I was destined to kill, Lady?”
Lady shrugged, “I have my reasons.”
“Why didn’t you let me finish him then and there? I could have killed him if you hadn’t stopped me!”
“You’re quick with the questions, tonight.” She rolled her eyes. “But you should know why. Reason one: you were in front of an entire army, and you know you are forbidden to reveal your true form in such a public forum. You exist only in tales of myth. Reason two: is you and your enemy can only die when both of you are in your truest of forms, and only if you are killed by one another.” Belatedly, she added, “Your truest forms only occur on…certain nights.”
Kajar sighed through his teeth, “Then when will we fight for the Prize?”
“I told you this already. Once you have finished your training, you can fulfill your destiny by killing your opponent. Then, and only then, will you receive your Prize.”
Kajar glared at Lady before he finally lowered his eyes. He asked, “Can you at least tell me the name of the man I am destined to kill?”
“Ro.” Lady said, “His name is Ro.”
Ro struggled up the mountain. Fatigue weighed him down. His whole body shouted at him to stop.
Despite this, he pressed onward.
Ro gripped a ledge, but sliced his hand on the sharp edge of the rock. Instinctively he pulled his hand back while drops of blood fell onto his face. He let out a long grunt and went back to pulling himself up.
Lady appeared again, circling around him like a cloud.
“You’d better hurry,” she said softly, “the witching hour will soon be here.”
“How much time do I have left?”
Lady checked an imaginary watch. “I’d say about fifteen minutes.”
“I can make it.”
Lady’s eyes widened and she let out a gasp as she swiveled towards Ro. She ran her hands along a deep cut across Ro’s back.
“Oooooh,” she said, “I don’t remember this one.”
“I’d rather not talk about it,” Ro said hoarsely. He took a moment to wipe beads of sweat from his brow.
“Ro, sweetie,” she said, taking on a mock-baby voice, “Why was I not there for this one?”
“It’s from when I was married.” Ro snapped. Vitriol etched his face.
Lady but a hand to her breast in pretend-shock. “Go on…” Lady said narrowing her eyes.
“Don’t act like you don’t know.” Ro said. “You know all. Don’t insult me by pretending you don’t know what happened. I may not have talked to you in that year, but you were there. You never left me.”
“You’re right,” Lady said, unable to meet Ro’s gaze. “But can you at least humor me? A couple hundred thousand years can make memory a little foggy.” She winked.
Ro looked her over in an attempt to discern whether or not she was lying.
“I stayed in America after the war. I found happiness. I found Irene. We were married in a year.” Ro sighed. “But this curse wouldn’t let me be with her!”
“Sweetie, it’s not a curse—”
“It is,” Ro hissed “I could never go home on those special nights. Irene thought I was unfaithful. I can’t say I blame her. She caught me trying to leave on one of those nights. She followed me. She took my bayonet off the mantelpiece before she left. And when she saw what I was she managed ta good swipe at me. But like any other time it didn’t slow me down. Then—” Ro cut himself off. He did not want to say the words.
“After that night I started running. Again. I took the first ship I could, across the ocean. I wandered. I’ve killed people, Lady. Innocent women and children. Don’t you dare tell me it’s not a curse. Because it is”
Lady’s eyes swelled up. “You poor thing.” she said. “I’m so sorry.” Her voice grew soft. “I’m sorry.”
Ro shied away from Lady’s touch. “It’s okay, he muttered, “I’ve been through worse.”
Lady appeared in front of Kajar in a burst of fire, “Five minutes to the witching hour.”
Kajar smiled. “Good.”
Ro’s hand grasped the top of mountain ridge. With a final grunt he pulled himself up.
“And here is Ro.” Lady said.
The opponents stood opposite each other, staring at the enemy they had waited millennia to kill.
“I’d like to congratulate both of you on your journey.” Lady was a fine mist, weaving her way between the two, in a figure eight. “You’ve both trained hard for this. And the final battle is here.”
Lady disappeared in a blaze of fire, leaving behind a lingering smell of brimstone.
The two were left staring at each other. Kajar flashed a toothy smile. “Funny,” he grinned, “I expected taller.”
“I expected more of a challenge.”
“Rest assured, you will get one,” Kajar said.
The two looked up in the sky. The hazy clouds parted to reveal a full moon. Off in the distance, the church bells struck twelve.
“The witching hour…” Kajar said.
Hair sprouted from underneath their skin. Their flesh was rent, falling to the floor like a snake shedding its skin. Their jaws and noses sprouted forward and their spines realigned. The killers let out a mutual cry of pain. Their entire anatomy was rewritten. When their skin shed fully, it revealed their inner beast. Two wolves circled each other. Where Kajar had snow white fur with gray spots, Ro was completely black.
The two howled.
Kajar was the first to strike. He lashed out, striking Ro across the jaw. First blood was drawn.
The two fought into the night, their claws scraping; teeth gnashing. Yelps and growls abounded while the two struggled against each other.
Kajar managed to cut Ro’s forehead, and blood dripped into his eyes, temporarily blinding him. Kajar rushed forward, digging his jaw into Ro’s side.
Ro shook wildly, growling until he managed to free himself from Kajar’s grip, bits of flesh and fur coming off with it.
Kajar spat it out.
Ro dug his claws at Kajar’s chest and went to bite his throat. The beast bit down on Ro’s ear.
Ro bit his enemy’s leg, forcing him to loosen his hold. Ro went for Kajar’s neck, but the beast stumbled backwards. Ro lunged at him and the two rolled across the mountainside.
Kajar lurched forward, while Ro sprawled to his back, and with a kick, Kajar slid across the clearing.
Ro pressed his luck, tackling Kajar clean off the edge. He let out a howl as the two rolled down the mountainside. Muscles tore and bones cracked. Their blows with the mountain kicked up clouds of dust. Both lost each other to a spinning world of rock and pain. Jaws, bodies and heads snapped against the mountainside.
Kajar hit the asphalt first, and Ro landed on top of him. He could hardly stand. His hand leg was broken, along with many more injuries he didn’t want to think about.
He his paw pressed against Kajar’s neck.
Kajar struggled to stay conscious. He knew that much. One of them still had to be the one to make an end. It wasn’t over yet.
Kajar’s body was twisted and mangled. Ro hardly looked any better. The two heard Lady’s voice in their head.
With that, millennia of struggle and pain had come to an end as Ro dug his jaws into Kajar’s throat, ripping out flesh and fur, as his opponent had done to him.
Ro roared, shaking in fury and triumph. He hardly noticed Kajar morph back into his human self.
Lady reappeared in a burst of light. She cast a cursory glance at Kajar’s body and sighed. “Oh, he had such potential.”
She turned to Ro. “You told me you viewed this beast as a curse…” she smiled, “so now your beast is gone.” She smiled devilishly at him, “You’ve won your Prize. The thing you most desired. I hope you’re happy.” Light enveloped Ro, whose anatomy realigned itself, until only his human form remained. When he recovered, Lady was gone.
“Wait!” he cried, “Lady? LADY?”
She did not answered his call.
Sirens blared, and three police cars pulled up to the scene. The cops exited the vehicle, guns drawn
“Hands in the air!”
“Is that fur?”
“Blood, there’s blood!”
“What are those? Claw marks?”
Ro raised his hands high above his head, slightly confused. Within seconds he realized his predicament.
Kajar’s corpse lay next to him, covered in fresh blood and wounds.
The police drew nearer, and still Ro kept his hands in the air. The odds were stacked against him. At least five policemen, all with guns at the ready.
He couldn’t help but smile…
It was a warm summer day in Baltimore. Young Billy played in the park, laughing to himself. His parents watched him from a bench, content that he was happy.
Billy tumbled down the slide to see a woman towering over him. Her skin was that of a light gray complexion and she wore a strapless purple dress. Her hair was as dark as the night itself and her eyes appeared to be made out of the very stars that stood in the sky. She flickered in and out of existence like a flame, her proportions stretching at will.
“Hello,” the woman cooed, “and who might you be?”
“Billy!” the boy said, excited to meet his new friend.
The woman took Billy’s hand in hers and began to drag him towards the nearby forest.
“My name is Lady.” She smiled. “Come with me. We’re going on an adventure.”