Adriana Priest’s hands were still shaking. After two days on the road – on the run – she had finally spoken with her friends on Team Mwerte.
Their calls and texts had been non-stop; their messages concerned, then pleading. Adriana didn’t answer any of them, though each time the phone rang she felt it like a jackhammer up and down her spine.
She was hurting them. She knew that. By her second day of silence, they must have been hysterical.
But the terrible thing that happened to her (THE ABDUCTION) nine days ago had changed her. It wasn’t something she could talk about. Not with anyone. It was like the Red Mattress Killers had gagged her with iron.
After two days of torture, she couldn’t take any more. Half an hour ago she had picked up.
“I’m fine. I’m alive,” she said.
It was Charlie on the phone. His voice rose with relief, but then he passed her off quickly to Lester after only a few curt words.
“Hey little sister,” Lester said. “You OK? What’s going on?”
Adriana swallowed hard. “Nothing. Nothing is going on.”
“Nothing, huh? Are you sure? We’re here for—”
“Nothing?” That was Kate in the background. “Did she just say that? Give it to me. Give it to me.” She came on. “It’s Kate, Adriana. We thought you were dead. We almost called the police. Tell us why you bailed.”
There was a long pause. “No reason.”
“Are you serious? What?”
“I bailed because… it was time for me to move on. And I… hate long goodbyes.” The lie cut her throat like a handful of razor blades.
“Are you serious?”
“Fuck you, Adriana. You know what? Just… Sad, you want to talk to this bitch?”
Sadie’s voice was muffled: “Not really.”
Adriana could hear her friends talking animatedly. Arguing. But the sound was muffled. Kate was probably had her hand over the receiver.
After a while, Claire came on. “Are you alright?” Her voice was thin as a ghost.
“Yes. I’m OK.”
“Why did you leave?”
Adriana’s chest was filled with concrete. “I can’t tell you.” She had so much to tell her.
That hurt. After everything. “Yes.”
The line was silent for a long while. When Claire spoke, she was fighting tears. “Well. Take care of yourself, Adriana.”
“Maybe… maybe don’t call me again. OK?”
“OK.” She hung up then before she could shout: I’m weak, Claire. I’m stupid, I fucked up!
Her bill came soon after the call. She paid it but didn’t leave her booth.
She sat for another hour, arranging healing crystals on the sparkly resin surface of the table. Lapis lazuli, topaz. Onyx for protection. She arranged them in various configurations to direct their energy more precisely her way.
The diner was slow, and the wait staff didn’t seem to mind that she was lingering. A man paused by her booth. He was older, maybe in his late 50s or early 60s. His forehead was lined under his stark, greying crew cut. Facing her, he put his index fingers to each corner of his mouth and traced them upwards toward his cheeks.
“Smile,” he said.
She was taken aback. “What?”
“Smile. You’re a looker for sure, but you’d be even prettier if you’d
She stared at him for a moment, then, in a flurry of activity, gathered up her crystals, slung her bags over her shoulders, and bolted from the booth, brushing past him roughly.
“Hey!” he shouted. “I didn’t mean anything!”
But she was already out the door, leaving a startled waitress in her wake. She crossed the parking lot at a brisk pace, and when her boots left concrete for springy soil, she broke into a hard sprint.
It was as those killers, those men, were on her heels.
She ran for several minutes across an open field. Even with her heavy backpack, she did not slow. She was fit as hell.
Eventually, she slowed, nearly stumbled over a thorny vine stretched among the wildflowers, sank into a squat with her weight on her heels, and shrugged her backpack off her shoulder.
Weak. Weak, weak, weak! She was pathetic.
She panicked. She lost control. And why? Because some douchey old guy threw some patriarchy her way?
She was Adriana Priest. She lived on fear. She rode fear. She surfed waves of fear.
Once she had slept in a morgue drawer while animated autopsies shuffled and groaned just outside. She was the only Shriexer to have descended the Deep Pit within Satan’s Slaughterhouse. She was Adriana Priest!
The Red Mattress killers had taken everything from her. Fear was no longer hers to control. Now it was a dead weight in her chest, wrapping stress around her heart like live wires. Every inhalation burned with stress. If she could only release her emotions…
“Cry,” she whispered. “Cry. Cry, damn you!” She beat her fist against her chest. But she was stuck in tar. It was the same suffocating straitjacket she had fought against as a child trapped between the twin mountains of her family’s wealth and Catholicism.
Something impacted nearby, hard enough that she felt it all the way to her knees and tailbone. She stood quickly.
Where was she? She had run away from civilization, surrounded on all sides by a browning field. In the close distance, she saw a slowing rising plume of plant matter. Whatever had hit the ground had fallen there.
She made her way to the impact site, carefully navigating the awful tripping vines and brushing through clusters of Queen Anne’s Lace.
The thing that had fallen was a cow. A cut up cow.
She recognized the pattern of injury instantly. The animal’s lips, eyes, and anus were removed. Strips of flesh along its flanks were excised with laser precision. It was a classic cattle mutilation.
She turned her attention to the sky. It obscured by roiling green mist.
“Ow! The fuck!” Something shocked her, hard, between her breasts! She fished among her necklaces and help up the offender. It was her most precious possession, even more valuable to her than her new bag, Chibihome. It was a necklace with a pendant that she had taken from her very first haunt – an act, she later learned, that her community regarded as a very bad idea. She didn’t care. This necklace was a symbol of the new path her life had taken in the supernatural.
The pendant part of the necklace was round. Ornate symbols surrounded a small clear window made of a material she had determined was not glass; within was a clear coil, like a tiny antique ultraviolet device. That coil was now glowing slightly. She had never seen it do that before.
She caught the streak of a massive shape falling in time to witness the shattering impact of a second cow hitting the ground about thirty feet away. Another was plummeting beyond that, and two others fell in the further distance.
She ran back to her bags and slung them over her shoulders. Her legs registered another collision, and she spun to find a mutilated cow only feet away, bloodless eye sockets staring accusingly.
Two more hit nearby, and then the sky was full of them.
Adriana screamed and ran for her life. She knew each of those dropping slabs of meat was a thousand pounds or more.
She dodged left and right as carcasses thudded all around. The ground felt as if it were being raked with artillery shells.
A hoof grazed her shoulder and laid it open. She yelled but kept running. But where was she running to? She was out in the open. There was no shelter.
Then one of those fucking vines caught her foot and she went down just as a cow hit. She rolled out of the way and it missed her by inches. She felt the force of the impact in her lungs.
Her foot was caught. This was it. She was dead. This was how she was going to go out. Squashed flat under a dead cow.
She covered the back of her head with her forearms and waited. She could hear the cows hitting all around her.
The killing blow didn’t come. She rolled over and sat up. The event was slowing. Three cows came down in rapid succession a few dozen feet from her, followed by a few stragglers much further away.
She waited. No more cows fell.
It was over.
She lay back down among the weeds. The green haze was dissipating, snaking away in tendrils. She watched, pressing her hand against her shoulder wound. Blood seeped between her fingers. She counted the seconds, and in less than a minute the sky was back to cold October grey.
She waited another minute, then sat up and slowly stood, her legs shaky.
The cow that had nearly killed her lay on it’s back, legs stiff in the air, its head pristinely de-fleshed.
All around her were many more just like it. A hundred? Two hundred? The entire field had been transformed. It was as if an entire cattle yard had been dropped on her head.
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