""I… don’t know what’s happening to me."
GM: The first thing Victoria notices is the smell.
She’s shat herself. Pissed herself, too. In bed.
Wherever bed is.
That’s the second thing she notices.
She doesn’t recognize the room she’s in.
It looks like a hotel room. It’s night out. The room’s lights feel distant and hollow. The blankets are cold and rough against Victoria’s bare skin. Her clothes lie in a heap on the floor.
Victoria feels cold, hungry, and clear of head.
Too clear of head.
She doesn’t feel groggy or tired. The waste caking her pelvis smells bad, but she doesn’t feel nauseous. Just blank.
She looks down at her body and sees an automaton that belongs to someone else.
Victoria: They say that you evacuate your bowels in the moments before death: one final ‘fuck you’ to the world before you move on to serve your eternity in one prison or the other.
Death is exactly what she feels like. Uninjured, and dead.
She did die.
You can’t live without your heart.
Even a living heart, grievously wounded, isn’t really alive anymore.
The corpse presses a hand to her forehead, wiping away a sheen of—is it sweat? Or did she manage to smear piss up there, too?
It doesn’t matter.
Is this Hell? Trapped in a room with nothing but her own thoughts, lying in a metaphor for her night given physical form, it must be.
She lifts her hips, shifting out of the mess and attempting to stand.
GM: She doesn’t feel anything against her head.
She stands without issue.
Some of the piss-shit admixture runs down her legs.
Victoria: She waddles around in the dark, looking for the bathroom. She needs a shower.
GM: The room is lit, if muted-feeling. She sees without impediment.
The bathroom is darker, but still lit. It’s a standard hotel bathroom. Clean and soulless.
Victoria: Soulless, like her.
Had she betrayed Anna in her kneeling to the blonde? Or had she saved her? Is there anything left to save?
The warmth of a shower is pleasant, but heals nothing.
GM: That’s all showers have ever done.
The water is pleasant. The filth caked around her pelvis and dribbling down her legs swirls down the drain. She’s left pale and clean.
And hungry. Very hungry. It has to have been 24 hours since she ate.
Victoria: It’s halfway through her mechanical scrubbing that she realizes how hungry she is. She didn’t eat much the day before, either.
Did she puke last night?
It’s a blur. Anna. Knives. Copper. Rust. The blonde.
She dry heaves in the shower, falling to her knees and spilling bile down the drain.
GM: Her stomach clenches, but that’s it. Nothing comes out of her mouth.
Her cry is answered by the most resounding silence of her life.
Everything she has, everything she is, and everything she wanted to be: empty.
Her stomach lurches again.
GM: She continues to dry heave.
Victoria: She doesn’t remember the rest of her shower. Just the pain. Emptiness. Dry heaving. When she steps out, at least she’s clean.
She looks for clothes.
GM: They’re still there on the floor, along with a folded piece of paper.
Victoria: She opens the paper.
GM: There’s writing on it.
Victoria: What the fuck?
She looks for other rooms.
GM: She doesn’t see any. It’s a standard hotel bedroom with an attached bathroom.
No one answers her.
Victoria: She sniffs her clothes to ensure they aren’t covered in shit, and if not, puts them on.
GM: She finds them clean.
Victoria: One dim glimmer in a night of shit. She dresses quickly and peers out the door to her room.
GM: She sees a plain carpeted corridor with rows of doors that look identical to hers.
A squeaking sound approaches from around the corner.
Victoria: A cleaning lady? She tenses, but waits, door still only partly ajar.
GM: She sees a frumpy-looking Hispanic woman pushing along a cart with cleaning supplies. Her face is lined with the resignation of someone broken by life long ago and faced with no choice but to keep going. Hunger clenches inside Victoria; when did this woman last eat? Does she have food on her? Her dull, cow-like gaze makes her seem like an animal, mindlessly chewing its cud.
Seeing Victoria’s ajar door, the woman wheels the cart towards her room.
Victoria: Her stomach grumbles angrily inside her.
She waves the woman off, grabbing her room key off the table beside the door and pulling it shut behind her.
“Room is clean.”
GM: The woman just rolls her cart closer.
“¿Qué?” she says.
Victoria: A vein throbs in her forehead.
She shoos her off with a hand.
GM: “Voy a limpiar,” says the woman. She gets out a key and starts fumbling at the door.
Victoria: “No,” she says firmly, blocking her from opening the door. “No limpiar. No.”
GM: “Está bien,” the woman shrugs with a dull look as she puts away the key, “pero tendré…”
Victoria can feel the woman’s body heat up close. She feels so cold and empty. The woman is warm and she isn’t. Her heart steadily thumps in her chest, pumping life through fat-clogged veins. She’s such a dull, stupid cow, unable to even communicate intelligibly. The fat along her jugular rolls back and forth as she jabbers.
Then, suddenly, she shuts up.
She’s lying on the ground at Victoria’s feet, bleeding and motionless. The coppery scent is everywhere. Overpowering. The hallway and everyone in it smells like they’ve been drenched in blood; Victoria can’t even guess how badly she must the woman must be bleeding. Her heart feebly thumps. There’s long pauses between each beat.
Victoria feels better than ever.
She feels full. She feels like she’s eaten a sumptuous meal that hasn’t settled in her stomach, but spread through her entire body. Her limbs feel energized. Her head feels sharp. She feels like she just finished a workout and is ready for ten more. She feels horny, like Anna just ate her out.
She feels warm again.
Victoria: She feels a boil of irritation well up inside her. The nerve! As if she’s the first person in the world to decline cleaning service?
That anger bubbles up inside her…
…and then it’s gone, and in its place: euphoria.
Where there was once cold, there is a fire. Where there was once pain, there is pleasure. Where there was once lethargy, there is lightning.
From one moment to the next, the scene around her morphs, and all of her physical woes disappear. She’s strong. Stronger than she’s ever been. She’s the pinnacle of form without trying.
Thump… pause… thump… pause… thump… pause…
She notices the body at her feet, her feeble heartbeat barely keeping her clung to the living. Her fingers begin to tremble, and though she feels the instinct to scream, she covers her mouth to force it down.
No. No screaming. No nothing. She can’t be blamed for this. If she’s blamed for what happened—whatever happened to this woman—she’ll be tied up with the police long enough that she’ll never find her Anna.
Thump… pause… thump…
Shakily, she sinks to the floor, checking the woman’s pulse.
Before her fingers reach that fatty throat, she already knows the answer. She doesn’t need touch to discern her heartbeat.
She feels sick again. This time, she doesn’t puke.
“H-hey…” she stammers, trying to stir the woman. She pats her pockets, looking for a cell phone.
GM: The woman gives a feeble moan, but does not stir.
Victoria finds keys in her pockets.
No phone, though.
Suddenly, one of the nearby room doors bursts open. A 30something man in a hotel bathrobe gawks at the sight.
“What the FUCK?!” he exclaims, looking between Victoria and the bleeding woman.
Then his gaze halts.
“Oh shit! OH SHIT!”
Victoria: “I don’t KNOW!” she shouts back at him! “I opened my door and FOUND her like this!”
Fuck, fuck, fuck. Blood is everywhere. All over the woman. All over the floor. All over her.
“Are you going to HELP?”
GM: The man’s jaw works for several moments.
“I-I didn’t-I DIDN’T SEE THIS!” he shouts in a shrill voice.
The door slams.
Victoria: Fucking useless! FUCK!
She examines the woman’s wounds. Is she savable?
GM: She’s freely bleeding from two deep punctures on her neck. Victoria smells blood far in excess of what she sees.
Victoria: She can’t stay here. She can’t leave. What the fuck happened to her simple life?
Victoria looks at her hands: bloodstained.
She moves back into her room, back into the bathroom, and examines herself.
GM: Two long, sharp, and utterly inhuman fangs protrude from her upper mouth.
Victoria: This time she screams.
GM: The sound endlessly rings off the bathroom tile.
Aaaaa! Aaaaaaah! Aaaaaaah-aaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!!
The fanged woman in the mirror screams along with Victoria. They’re hideous, gleaming white things. Killing things. Killing tools. They look like they belong on a snake or vicious dog, but they’re right there. In her mouth. She looks like some amalgam of human and monster. Blood coats her lips as she screams and screams, eyes bulging with madness.
Then she’s gone from the mirror.
All that’s left is an indistinct shadow.
Victoria: Her breaths rattle like chains on broken machinery. The screaming stops, and trembling fingers reach up to touch those teeth—her teeth. Her fangs. Her killing tools.
GM: They feel just like teeth do.
But she’s never felt any so long before.
Or which taper into such wickedly sharp points.
Is the blonde playing a macabre joke on her?
We’ll let you go, but you’ll live as the monster you showed yourself to be.
She presses on them.
They don’t give.
Thump… pause… thump… pause…
It’s in her head—that woman’s heartbeat. Slowing. Stagnating. Dying.
She’s losing her mind.
The disappearance of her mirrored twin makes her jump. She touches the mirror, where her hand should meet her.
GM: The glass is cold against her warm skin.
All she sees is shadow.
Victoria: She smacks the mirror, then rips the water on and tries her damn best to rinse what blood she can off her face and hands.
GM: It comes off.
It smells so strong. It fills the room, even draining away down the faucet.
Victoria: She dries herself with a towel, and searches the room for anything identifying.
GM: All she sees are standard hotel toiletries.
Outside the bathroom, there’s the shit and piss left on the bed, and the unfolded note. Everything else looks hotel-standard.
Besides the savaged cleaning lady lying motionless on her back by the door. The heady coppery aroma wafting from her neck is impossibly distracting. Her heart’s beats are sluggish and faint.
Victoria: She collects the note, leaving the rest. Is excrement identifiable? She isn’t sure—and she doesn’t care.
Victoria tears out of the room, hopping past the woman’s body, and—
Thump… pause… thump… pause… thump…
She skids to a halt.
What are you doing, you dumb bitch?
Yet, she can’t bring herself to ignore the overwhelmingly present thought.
Victoria crouches beside the corpse-to-be, leaning over her throat. Why can she not get the steady pulse of this woman’s heartbeat out of her mind?
GM: The woman’s chest feebly rises and falls as she stares blank-eyed up at the ceiling.
Victoria: She sniffs.
GM: She smells more.
A last bowlful of soup at the bottom of the pot.
It made her feel so good.
So strong. So alert.
The woman’s heart continues to weakly beat.
Victoria: So energized.
She doesn’t need to test to know: this is what made her feel so full of life.
She opens her mouth, leaning down.
Before her lips grace that fatty, bleeding throat, she pushes off, tearing down the hallway toward an exit.
GM: She collides straight into several bewildered-looking hotel workers just as the door opens.
She distantly hears something else, too, past the walls.
Victoria: Right outside? FUCK!
Before the group of hotel workers can collect themselves and realize who just barreled them over, she recovers and sprints back down the hallway, looking for another exit.
GM: There’s stairs.
There’s an elevator.
The employees were just filing out of the elevator.
Shouts of “HEY!” go up as footsteps thump after Victoria.
Victoria: Stairs. Stairs work.
She barrels into the stairwell, taking the stairs four at a time.
She isn’t worried about them catching her—she’s faster than most.
GM: “STOP!” yells a raggedy voice behind Victoria.
She barrels down the stairwell. Bursts through a door. She’s in a mostly empty hotel lobby. There’s an employee behind the desk. Several people, too. All of them turn and stare at her.
The employees burst into the lobby, too. One of them points at Victoria and yells,
Victoria runs before anyone can. She bursts through the hotel’s front doors.
Victoria: She shields her face as she runs, trying to hide from any cameras.
GM: The city’s night air is warm and humid. It hits Victoria like a miasma. She wants to stop and inhale it, until she sees the screaming red and blue sirens of the cop car. Two police officers are already walking towards the building as they see Victoria barrel past the front doors, taking the steps three at a time.
“STOP HER!” yells a raggedy-voiced employee.
Victoria: Her head whirls around, first left, then right—spotting the police. She turns back away from them, pushing off harder than she’s ever sprinted before.
GM: “STOP!” yells one of the cops.
The night explodes with gunfire. The sound is like a bomb going off. Several bombs going off. The hot smell of gunpowder fills her nostrils.
“YOU’RE UNDER ARR-”
The words are lost beneath another gunshot. Victoria staggers. She feels like someone just punched her. Hard and in the back. She smells blood. She hurts. But she doesn’t slow. She doesn’t feel tired. She doesn’t feel a stitch in her side. She doesn’t feel her lungs burning with air. It’s like she’s watching someone else pilot her body.
All she feels is her feet pounding against pavement.
GM: After several minutes running, Victoria feels confident she’s lost her pursuers. No one’s calling after her. Or shooting after her.
She still doesn’t feel winded. There’s no urge to catch her breath. She might as well have been playing a video game for all the exertion she feels.
Blood leaks from a hole alongside her flank. Even that feels removed, like she’s watching it happen to someone.
Victoria: She stops behind a parked car, several blocks past the last time she heard anyone shout—or shoot—at her, willing herself to pant out of sheer knowledge that she should be.
The teeth. The blood.
She touches the wound in her flank. Grazing? That’s the only explanation.
Her energy—boundless as the blue sky.
It points to an impossibility.
Just as impossible as the blonde.
She brings the hand that touched her wound to her face. Bloodied?
Why is she alive?
GM: Blood stains her hands.
Questions of why remain hauntingly unanswered.
Victoria: She licks her own blood. That’s decidedly less unsettling to her.
GM: It tastes slightly thicker and sweeter than she expected, but somehow… unsatisfying.
Victoria: She grimaces.
No, she didn’t expect that would go any differently. If that were the case, vampires would drink themselves.
She simpers, shaking her head. Is she believing it now?
I don’t mean metaphors for sin. Real demons. Claws in the night.
Now I own you, body and mind
What’s not to believe, Victoria?
GM: She recognizes her surroundings. She’s maybe half a mile from her and Anna’s house. She recognizes the Victorian bed and breakfast she just passed.
Victoria: Fuck! She can’t go home. She can’t go to Anna’s house. Where the fuck can she go?
She doesn’t even have a phone to warn anyone.
She doesn’t have a clue where her girlfriend is, or if she’s even alive.
If she’s here, and warned against going home—then someone freed her. Did they free Anna?
Hope is all she can cling to.
She walks to the bed and breakfast.
GM: It’s a two-story Victorian house with several trees in the front yard. A sign says it’s called “The Chimes” and was established in 1986. The lights are on.
Victoria: She knocks on the door.
GM: She’s answered after a few moments by a white-haired man who looks old enough to be retired.
He offers a friendly smile, then looks at Victoria’s bleeding flank and exclaims, “Oh my lord…!”
Victoria: Fuck. A wound should concern her more than it does. It’s his concern that really concerns her.
“Help, my girlfriend—she…”
GM: “I’ll call 911!” exclaims the man, reaching into his pocket.
Victoria: She seizes his wrists, her eyes maddened.
“I can’t FIND her. Please. You HAVE to help.”
GM: The old man cries out and tries to pull away from Victoria. Fear flashes in his eyes.
“Let go of me!”
Victoria: Well, now the cops will know exactly where she is.
She presses him back into the home.
“It’s me. You’ve seen me around the neighborhood. With my friend.”
“She’s missing, and hurt, and the cops tried to kill me. They’re in on it.”
GM: “Help! Heeeeeeeelppp!” the old man yells when Victoria doesn’t let go.
Victoria: She pushes him inside and shuts the door behind her.
GM: “Glenn!” yells a woman’s voice from deeper in the house.
“Call the cops, Wanda!” cries the old man. “Hhheeeeelllppp!!!!”
Victoria: She grits her teeth in rage, shoves him, and departs back into the night.
Why can’t they see that she needs help?! What is WRONG?!
Shutting the door between them, she kicks it as hard as she can in a flare of anger, and departs back out into the night.
GM: But that’s not what happens.
Fury wells in Victoria’s heart. She shoves at the old man—
—and then he crashes to the ground, bleeding profusely from his neck. Victoria tastes hot blood, wet over her lips. It’s salty and succulent with the taste of… fear? The old man’s heart spasms in her eyes. He raggedly wheezes like a fish out of water. Blood pools over the floor.
An old woman rounds the corner, with her phone out. She’s yammering into it, reciting the house’s address.
She sees the old man.
She sees Victoria.
Her hands fly to her mouth as she screams.
Victoria: It takes three to make a pattern.
This time she feels her foot set to the tiled floor of the entryway, and feels her muscles contract and spring. She feels the old woman crumple against the far wall, her strength and weight landing against her throat.
GM: The old woman’s scream abruptly cuts off with a strangled choking noise. Her eyes bulge as she gags, then hits the floor with a brutal crash. She stops moving.
The old man gives a strangled cry. He weakly crawls to her side, wheezing and bleeding like a dying animal, and tries to position his body over hers.
“St… st… a… way!” he froths.
Victoria: Victoria shakes like a leaf in fear of the wind, brittle and hopeless. Her eyes flash between the two.
Her doing. Her damage. Her crimes. Chosen, or not.
“I’m sorry,” she burbles, half through blood and half through her own choking saliva. “I didn’t mean to—”
But she did, didn’t she? Not the man, no—but the woman? A flash of heat rolled over her, and she gave in—and in that moment, she just didn’t care. The damage had been done to her husband. Why not the wife, too? Would any fewer cops come for her if she’d only harmed one?
And then the guilt came.
And here she is.
“He’ll be—he’ll be fine.”
She tears out of the house.
GM: Victoria doesn’t taste anything in her throat. The words come out perfectly clear—choked only by her own guilt.
The couple does not answer her.
All she hears are their cries. Their pain. Their suffering.
Then she’s gone, the old man’s blood hot in her veins, and she doesn’t feel like she was ever shot at all.
Victoria: The night is hot. The night is always hot, but tonight feels more oppressive than usual, steamed by the heat of her own shame.
Still no closer to finding Anna, no closer to finding safety, no closer to learning who her mysterious ‘friend’ is, and only making her situation worse with every attempt to remedy it.
She steers herself into a side street a few blocks away, and sets to examining herself in the dim glow of a distant streetlight. How damaged is her clothing?
GM: There’s a hole in her shirt from where the bullet hit her. The area around the hole is crusted with half-dried blood.
Victoria: She gingerly touches where the wound should be.
GM: She feels fine.
Victoria: She reaches around her back, feeling for where an exit wound should be—or, at least a hole in her shirt.
GM: She doesn’t feel any.
Victoria: There’s a bullet inside her.
The problems mount.
No phone, and she doesn’t have anyone’s number but Anna and her mother’s memorized.
Is her mother’s house a safe place?
GM: Approaching police sirens scream red and blue through the night.
She sprints off, away from the sirens.
Her legs carry her away from the din of her would-be incarcerators, aimless. The further she travels—always more unnerved by her lack of fatigue, or any symptom of exercise at all—the more her mind wanders.
She can’t hurt another.
She doesn’t want to.
It’s not her.
She only hurts those that want it; those that pay for her service.
But the thought has always been there, hasn’t it, Sylvia?
Hasn’t it, Victoria?
Deep, yet present. Why else would she revel in doing what she does?
She doesn’t want to hurt another who doesn’t deserve it, but she knows that someone is going to be hurt.
Best someone who deserves it.
She angles her direction toward Central City.
GM: Without warning, it starts to rain. Fat droplets of water pound over Victoria’s head and plunk against the pavement. That’s New Orleans weather for you. Victoria’s hair is soon wetly plastered against her scalp.
The transition from middle-class Milan to poverty-blighted Central City proves equally abrupt as the weather. On one block, it’s beds and breakfasts in charming, lovingly maintained century-old homes. The next, it’s like Victoria’s stepped off the bus to the broken heart of ‘90s Los Angeles. Rows of homes stand abandoned, with with shattered windows and peeling paint. Graffiti tags the rotted boards. Needles and trash litter the streets. Victoria doesn’t see anyone around her, at this hour, but she hears the screech of a car alarm followed by yelling voices.
That charter school where Anna got threatened at knifepoint shouldn’t be too far away.
She still doesn’t feel any pain or discomfort from where the bullet stuck her. She doesn’t smell any new blood. The rain is cool against her still-warm skin, and dampens her clothes, but it doesn’t bother her. Not really. It’s just there. She doesn’t feel any fatigue or adrenaline crash from her escape with the elderly couple.
There’s just nothing. It’s like this is happening to someone else.
Victoria: It’s like she’s watching a movie about herself, viewed from inside her own head.
There’s nothing and no one.
Not a soul.
Just trash, and trashed dreams, and trashed hope. That’s the Big Easy.
No one will be at the charter school at this hour, either. She doesn’t even know what hour it is.
She wanders further, looking for something open—a bar, or similar.
GM: The blaring car alarm eventually dies.
After a few moments, she hears a distant gunshot, shattering glass, and a screeching cat.
The rain continues to fall and plunk.
Suddenly, like wolves leaping from undergrowth, Victoria sees several dark-skinned youths in hoodies approaching her with grim purpose in their strides.
One of them produces a Saturday night special and aims it at Victoria’s chest.
“Hands in the air, bitch.”
Victoria: She holds her hands up, palms out, chest height.
Her voice is weak. “Please… I’ve already… been shot…”
GM: “Gimme your money,” comes the pitiless response.
The other two youths converge behind Victoria.
She has no bag, and the pickings of her pockets look slim.
GM: The gun’s safety clicks off.
“NOW, BITCH!” yells the youth in front of Victoria.
Victoria: “I d-don’t h-have anything!” she whimpers, reaching gingerly down to turn out her pockets.
Then, in a snap, she tries her luck.
She pivots on heel, bracing for the impact of the bullet to hit her back, and tries to dance behind one of her nearest assailants before the bullet can explode behind her.
GM: Pain explodes through Victoria’s back as she staggers forward, crashing into one of the youths. Suddenly he’s screaming, too. A coppery scent fills the air as he crashes to the ground in a bleeding heap. The other kid draws another gun. The night lights up like a discount fireworks depot as the guns explode. Distant voices scream. Gunpowder fills Victoria’s nostrils. Rain pelts her face as she staggers off into the night, feet pumping against pavement.
“YOU’RE DEAD, BITCH! DEAD!” roars a voice.
Victoria: Too late for that.
The woman tears off down the sidewalk and out into the night.
Victoria: Victoria runs, and runs, and runs, until she can’t hear any screaming or shooting. It probably isn’t far—and she doesn’t expect sirens to come here anytime soon.
She checks herself for holes.
GM: Her fingers come away bloody from her back.
She’s sore there, but it’s not a crippling pain. It feels like she was barely grazed.
Victoria: There’s no way she was grazed from that angle.
Nothing on the front? More bullets stuck inside her.
“What the fuck!?”
She smacks a nearby door in anger.
GM: Her finger leaves a red smudge soon washed away by the rain.
Her clothes feel wet.
Victoria: More holes. More problems.
She wanted one of their shirts.
This isn’t helping.
She can’t go to the police—obviously—and she can’t call an ambulance. She can break in somewhere.
That’s probably her only option. In her frantic state, that’s all she can envision.
Victoria: And then it occurs to her: she may not have his number handy, nor a phone to call him, but there is Marcus.
She turns around, getting her bearings, then jogs off toward the Warehouse District.
GM: The most direct route that isn’t through Central City takes her straight to the Garden District. The contrast is night and day. Crumbling vacant properties give way to a classically-styled faubourg with tree-lined thoroughfares. Southern live oaks, weeping willows, palm trees, carefully maintained hedges, and expansive lawns fill the neighborhood with green. Attractive rows of Greek Revival and Colonial-style homes, some small enough to be ordinary homes and others large enough to call mansions, are surrounded by ornate cast-iron fences and classical statues of Greek nymphs and muses, lending the district an aura of grace.
Yet, vigilant of the crime and squalor that could spill down from its northern neighbor, the Garden District is well-guarded. Victoria has barely glimpsed a live oak when she sees a police cruiser slowly making its rounds.
Victoria: It’s only just as she turns a corner that she spots the cruiser rolling by, an overweight officer with sleep-laden lids seated behind the wheel illuminated by the dim light of a standard-issue laptop.
She ducks back onto the prior street, aligning herself with a pillar until he passes by.
Her journey through the Garden is much the same, her eyes trained blocks ahead, peering down intersections and ever vigilant for the police—people who would ordinarily be her allies, but who wouldn’t take kindly to the bleeding woman mucking up their pristine streets.
GM: There are two police officers in the patrol vehicle. But neither one looks at Victoria, even when she traipses hair-raisingly close by their patrol vehicle. All they have eyes for is their laptop and the live oaks.
The next patrol vehicle proves equally oblivious.
And the one after that.
The Garden District’s boulevards give way to the CBD’s glass and steel skyscrapers and corporate high-rises. There are still passersby and pedestrians at this hour. No one looks at Victoria or remarks on her bloody clothes. No one hassles her. No one stops her. No one gives a damn.
Office buildings give way to restaurants, art galleries, and finally Marcus Marrow’s condominium building.
The front door is closed and locked.
Victoria: By the time she reaches the other side of the Garden District, she’s in sheer disbelief at the nonchalance of NOLA’s finest. Their jar of fucks to be given is often void—but not quite so void in the places that matter.
She arrives outside the condominium building, and presses the call button for Marcus’ apartment.
GM: “Marcus speaking,” greets the man’s smooth voice.
It sounds the complete opposite of how Victoria looks.
What the fuck are you doing up?
“It’s Vic. Victoria. Can… I come in? I look like shit. I feel like shit.”
At least she doesn’t smell like it anymore.
GM: That seems to break the club operator’s stride a little.
“Ah, certainly. Let me buzz you in.”
Victoria hears the door unlock with a click.
At least something is going right.
Victoria: Victoria steps inside and moves to take the elevator up to Marcus’ apartment.
GM: The condo’s lobby is clean and modern, with tasteful art on the walls and magazines by the chairs. There’s a woman at the front desk. She doesn’t pay Victoria a glance either.
Marcus’ unit is on the fifth floor. Victoria takes the elevator up and runs into him in the hallway. He’s a handsome, 30something man with dark hair and a carefully trimmed goatee. He’s dressed down from his usual suit and tie in slacks and a button-up.
He blinks as he takes in the sight of Victoria.
Victoria: Never has Victoria Wolf felt so lucky to be ignored.
She raises a brow at the sight of him in turn.
“I expected pajamas at fuck-o’clock in the morning,” she grimaces.
She does not move to comment on her own sorry state.
GM: “It’s not 9 PM,” Marcus answers slowly.
Victoria: She blinks slowly.
“What time is it?”
GM: “A little after 8.”
Victoria: “There’s… no way.”
GM: “What happened to you?”
Victoria: She pushes past him into the apartment.
GM: She finds the door closed and locked, given that Marcus is in the hallway.
Victoria: “Can we go inside?”
She turns to face him.
She looks like she just left a funeral. Tears are barely restrained.
GM: “What’s going on?” asks her occasional fling.
Victoria: “Marcus. Please. I don’t want to talk out here. I…”
GM: “You look like you should be in the ER,” Marcus frowns.
Victoria: “I’m fine. Physically. I just need a shower. And clothes.”
And a hug.
“And a hug.”
GM: “You don’t look fine,” says Marcus, his voice still wary. “You look sick. And is that… blood?”
Victoria: Her voice is as fragile as a cracked mirror, its pieces already falling.
GM: Her occasional lover looks like this is distinctly more than he wants dumped in his lap.
He pauses for several moments, then jabs a finger at Victoria and says,
“You’ll owe me for this.”
And she means it.
She knows better than to ask for the hug yet.
GM: Marcus unlocks the door to his apartment. He still looks like he’s wondering if he’s going to regret this.
Victoria: He won’t.
“Can I… use your shower?”
Translation: Can I look like less shit before I explain?
Alternate translation: I’d like to track less shit all over your pristine apartment.
GM: “Go ahead,” says Marcus.
He’s polite enough not to say she looks like she could use one.
Victoria: She gives him a sympathetic look, and disappears to do so.
The heat is pleasant, but short lived. Thoughts crash against her. Memories. Blood. So much blood. So many people.
So much blood, but none of it her own. No bullet. No hole.
Had she imagined it? She felt the sting—had she imagined that, too?
No, her shirt has a hole. Several holes.
What the fuck is happening to her? Is she dreaming?
She doesn’t spend long in there. She doesn’t want to be alone. Not with these thoughts.
Victoria pokes her head out the door.
“Do you have some spare pajamas?”
GM: Her shirt has one hole in the side and three holes in its back. Some of the water that swirls down the drain is red-tinged, at first. Victoria smells it like the bathroom is doused in it. Eventually, the water is nothing but clear.
The bathroom is neat and clean with chic decor. Neater and cleaner than Victoria’s, in fact. It feels like a hotel bathroom more than a lived-in one.
She doesn’t see any bullet hole along her flank as she bathes.
Marcus isn’t immediately outside of the bathroom door when Victoria pokes her head out. She hears the sounds of TV playing from the living room.
She walks out, mostly dry. At least she isn’t tracking water through his apartment, aside from the droplets in her hair.
GM: She finds Marcus seated on the couch watching a movie. Arousal is distinctly absent from his face at the sight of her naked body, although there is perhaps some relief that he can’t see any blood.
“You look pale,” he says.
He’s not wrong. She’s definitely lost some color.
Victoria: She slides gingerly into the sofa beside him.
She doesn’t say anything.
GM: “I have a bathrobe,” says Marcus.
Victoria: She nods, but doesn’t move.
GM: Marcus gets up, leaves, and returns with it. It’s white and fluffy.
Victoria: She doesn’t feel very white and fluffy right now. Slipping her arms into the robe doesn’t help.
It’s a dam against a tsunami.
“I… don’t know what’s happening to me.”
GM: She doesn’t sniff. There’s no congestion in her nose. No moisture welling from her eyes. Just nothing.
“That makes both of us,” observes Marcus.
“You’re not the first person I know who hates visiting the ER, but… why me? I thought you had a girlfriend.”
Victoria: She wants to cry. Why can’t she cry?
Frustration bubbles up inside her, like a clogged sink regurgitating fetid water.
“I… I don’t know where she is.”
She can’t tell him. Can she?
“I woke up, and she’s gone.”
He must not have seen the news yet. Is she in the news?
“I’m not hurt.”
Despite the bullet holes.
Despite looking like shit.
“I feel fine.”
Despite the pallid complexion.
GM: Victoria suddenly smells it again.
Wetly cascading down her face.
“Oh my god!” exclaims Marcus, his face paling.
“You need a doctor!”
Victoria: She sniffs.
The scent hits her.
“Wh—why do I smell blood?”
She wipes her face, the coppery fluid coming off on her hands.
GM: Her hand is wet with blood.
Marcus pulls out his phone and frantically taps into it.
She snatches his phone.
GM: “You’re bleeding out of your EYES!” yells Marcus.
Victoria: She blinks. Her vision stains red.
“I… I’ll be fine! I can’t. I can’t go to the ER!”
Anna would understand.
Is Anna even alive?
She starts crying again, harder.
This time, she runs for the bathroom.
GM: Marcus stares at with an incredulous expression, then makes a throwing-up-his-hands expression.
The man’s phone still in hand, Victoria sees a ghastly sight in the bathroom mirror. Exactly like Marcus said, she’s bleeding from her eyes. Bleeding red, fat, sanguine tears.
Victoria: She turns his water on, pressing her body to stop. No tears. No crying. No tears. No crying. Stop.
It still hurts.
She rinses her face off, then looks again.
GM: She looks miserable.
But clean of blood.
Victoria: She reenters Marcus’ living room, this time in better control of her emotions.
“If you lend me something to wear, I’ll leave.”
The words are cold. As dead as her.
GM: “Sure,” says Marcus. His gaze noticeably lingers around Victoria’s eyes. “Do you… want to call someone?”
“Girlfriend, family, whoever.”
Victoria: She shakes her head after a long moment.
She doesn’t want to leave.
She still wants a hug.
“I don’t know where Anna is.”
GM: “How long has it been since your first call or text?”
Victoria: “I… can’t tell you, Marcus,” she admits, defeated. It’s like the blonde is there, smiling at her. She’s still winning.
“You’ll call the police, and the police will make it worse.”
GM: “Okay, no police,” the club owner says in stride. “What do you mean, you can’t tell?”
Victoria: She eyes him carefully.
GM: “Sure. Promise.”
Victoria: “Put your phone in the kitchen.”
GM: He walks to the kitchen and returns empty-handed.
Victoria: That elicits a small smile from an otherwise dead woman.
“We were taken last night. Both of us. They… Hurt her. They made—”
She wills tears to stop. No. No, she doesn’t let them out. Not this time.
“They made me tell them h-how. How to hurt her. They made it my fault. Then, they knocked me out—and I woke up in a hotel. Like this.”
GM: Marcus opens his mouth once, then closes it.
“Maybe it’s better if I don’t know who. Or how.”
Victoria: She gestures to herself as if it explains everything.
“Alone. No Anna. No one.”
GM: It explains nothing.
Marcus just continues,
“And you woke up in a hotel?”
“Where do you think your girlfriend is?”
Victoria: “I—I don’t know. She was hurt. Hurt badly.”
Words are hard. They’re harder when she’s spending so much effort trying not to cry.
“Th-they promised me she wouldn’t die. I believe them, but I d—don’t know where she is. And I was left with nothing, and no one, covered in—just naked, on a bed.”
GM: The Corner Club’s owner just takes that in stride.
“Is she missing from your place? Not responding to calls and texts?”
“Or her place, if you don’t live together.”
Victoria: “I g—got a note. It s—said it wasn’t safe t—to go home, or to Anna’s. I d—don’t want to endanger my family.”
“I don’t have my phone. Should I try c—calling from yours? They h—have it, though. Then they’ll have your number.”
GM: “Uh,” says Marcus. “Maybe you should just get a disposable one.”
Victoria: “Are you offering to buy me one?”
As she obviously has no wallet.
He gets up, retrieves his wallet, and offers her $50 in five $10 bills.
Victoria: She takes the bills, in apparent disbelief.
GM: “It’s not that much money,” Marcus says dryly.
Victoria: “Do you have something I can wear? I only have my bloody t-shirt.”
GM: “No promises it’ll fit, but sure. Check my closet.”
Victoria: “I’m surprised you don’t have ‘extra’ clothing laying a round,” she manages to tease, pushing off the sofa to go look.
GM: “Depends what day you catch me,” Marcus responds idly.
The walk-in closet, like the rest of the chic and upscale apartment, is clean and neatly organized. There’s a variety of designer men’s clothes and accessories in styles ranging from dressy to casual. It’s a really big wardrobe for a man.
Victoria: She rifles through everything—anything—that might fit her, that won’t look too obviously out of place. Even a baggy shirt and sweatpants will do.
GM: Marcus has a few inches on her. The clothing is sized to match. It’s a little big, but wearable.
His frame, at least, is lean rather than bulky.
Victoria: She snags a shirt, a pair of lazy-but-not-out-of-place-at-a-convenience store pants, and dons her own shoes. She isn’t the picture of modern fashion, but it’ll do.
“Thanks, Marcus,” she murmurs. “I’ll be back in 15?”
Translation: If I’m not, worry.
GM: Marcus has set the cash down on the sofa’s armrest.
“Sure,” he says. “Good luck.”
Victoria: She takes the cash, pocketing it, and leaves.
She hopes she’ll be let back in.
Thursday night, 7 April 2016, PM
Victoria: Victoria pushes the call button on the elevator, waiting.
GM: Its doors ding open after about a minute.
Victoria: She steps in, and presses G.
The loneliness of an elevator feels oppressive.
GM: It opens at the ground floor. The woman at the front desk and the several people in the lobby ignore her like she’s invisible.
Victoria: Just like before.
Just like she wanted.
She doesn’t want it anymore.
Victoria strides past and out onto the street. There’s a convenience store just a few blocks down from Marcus’ place. It’s not the first time she’s had to visit.
GM: The cashier’s gaze slides blankly past her as she walks in.
Victoria: She huffs, approaching him.
“Where are your cell phones?”
GM: The cashier startles as Victoria talks to him.
“Ov-over there,” he says, pointing down an aisle.
Victoria: She regards him for a moment.
She retrieves a phone, setting it on the counter.
GM: The cashier gives her a mildly surprised look, but rings it up for her, takes the cash, and counts out her change.
Victoria: She takes the phone and cash, pocketing the latter, and rips open the package to the prior.
She has Anna’s number dialed before the door even closes behind her.
GM: A few rings pass on the disposable ring.
They are the longest-feeling rings Victoria has ever heard.
Then they stop.
The calling icon on the phone’s screen disappears.
“Hello?” comes Anna’s voice.
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