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Devils playground, p.6
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       Devil's Playground, p.6

           Gena D. Lutz
 
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  “You’re not going anywhere, parasite,” I whispered.

  I was able to make out an outline of a face amidst the fog. Its features were morphed, with a long mouth, gaping in terror. The widths of the entity’s eyes melted into a dripping oval shape. I clenched my fingers tight and sent another blast of power at him. That last shot did it.

  The phantom vibrated, and then its unstable mass separated into long streams of indistinguishable plumes. Afterward, a white flash spread like wildfire from our joined hands, greedily swallowing up anything that remained of the malevolent squatter.

  Before I could blink, my knees hit the carpet.

  “What the hell?” Rafe exclaimed. “Kris, are you okay?”

  A persistent ringing nagged deep in my eardrums. I shook my head to try and clear it.

  “Is Josh all right?” I asked.

  I was scared that the process of stripping the phantom from his body had killed him. Like almost everything that had to do with my powers, I was learning as I went.

  Rafe looked at me like I was bat shit crazy.

  “I don’t care how he is. I’m worried about you!”

  Shaking my head once more, I pushed myself up to one knee. Breathing was coming hard, but I was still getting enough oxygen into my lungs to function.

  “You don’t understand. Josh was possessed by a phantom. I just burned the thing out of him.”

  His eyes went wide in understanding.

  “Oh!” He slipped his arm around me and helped me the rest of the way up. “You still come first, though.”

  My nod was weak, as I said, “Thank you.”

  “You should have seen the light show you put on. You looked like a million-watt light bulb.”

  With a chuckle, I said, “That’s good to know.”

  I looked down at my hands. They were pale and shaky.

  “I need to sit down for a second. Can you go check on Josh? I’ll be fine.”

  Rafe walked me over to the couch and sat me down. He gave me a small peck on the forehead, pushed aside a strand of hair from my face, and showed me his teeth.

  “You move, I bite.”

  He was getting no argument from me. I needed to rest for a minute, recharge my batteries, so to speak.

  Josh’s body was a lifeless pile on the floor. My stomach tightened.

  “Please, God, don’t let him be dead,” I whispered.

  Rafe moved to stand beside Josh. He knelt down, reaching to check for a pulse.

  “His breath is shallow, but he still lives.”

  I eyed Josh’s chest. I could see a slight movement from small intakes of air.

  “Should I try to rouse him with my power? A little jolt might help.”

  Rafe slid his arms underneath Josh’s body and hefted him up.

  “No. I don’t think that’s necessary… or even possible. You make vampires, when you give the gift of life, so unless you want to chance siring another wonderful specimen like me, you’d be wise to keep those hands of yours to yourself.”

  I had to agree with him.

  Josh stirred in Rafe’s arms.

  “He’s coming around.”

  “Good, put him over here,” I said, patting the spot next to me.

  Rafe nodded and set Josh down on the couch, as I’d asked.

  Josh’s body slumped forward the moment Rafe released him. He seemed all right, aside from the apparent fatigue. His breathing was becoming stronger by the second, and after a few minutes, he was able to sit up and keep his head from lolling from his shoulder to his chest. All of those were good signs; I hadn’t killed an innocent man.

  “Here, I brought him some water,” Rafe said, walking into the living room from the kitchen.

  I grabbed the glass and held it to Josh’s trembling lips. They parted, and he took in a few sips.

  “Thanks.”

  “I have something I’d like for you to see,” Rafe said. “I found it while looking for a clean glass in the kitchen.”

  “What is that?” I asked, reaching for the object.

  He dangled a silver bracelet in front of me. With a silent curse, I took it.

  “It’s an exact replica of the one you found at the murder scene. There’s a boar charm and everything,” he said.

  While inspecting the piece of jewelry, I wondered if its being there meant that another woman had died under the phantom’s authority. That led me to also consider the possibility that maybe… no way.

  “Did you search the entire house?”

  “No, do I need to?”

  If what I suspected were true, the last person who needed to search the house would be Rafe, because he was a man.

  Shuddering, I asked, “Can you take over for me here? I need to check something out.”

  He shifted his head toward the hallway that led to the back rooms of the house.

  With a grimace, he said, “Be careful.”

  ***

  The penetrating smell from the living room followed me down the hallway, only to hit me even worse, as I opened the first door that I came to. It was a small bathroom. The floors were covered in grime, and mold and bacteria grew, crawling like a collection of stretching branches down into the tub, to spread into a blackish green splotch inside the corner, between the wall and the base of the tub. I was too scared to even look at the toilet. It was time to move on, because the only living things in that room were cockroaches, mold, and bacteria.

  I stopped at the next room. The door was locked, so I wrenched the knob, until it snapped like a twig in my hands. I pushed through, and what I saw on the other side brought tears to my eyes.

  I could hear small sounds coming from the woman tied to the bed. Her dark hair was rumpled into a mass of knots, against a sweat-stained pillow. Her eyes were closed tight, with dark crescent moon-shaped marks underneath them. My stomach clenched at the sight of her hip bones, which were protruding underneath her brown skin. She looked as if she hadn’t eaten in days, her hollowed cheeks and slack features reminding me of a skeleton.

  The woman’s chin lay against the bruised curve of her shoulder. She must have heard me enter, because she rocked her head to the side in spasmodic movements. Oval eyes cracked open, a deep green that penetrated me with their weakness and absence of any real light.

  She opened up her mouth to speak, but all she could manage was a croaked, “Help me.”

  I felt a scream of protest building in my throat. But it wasn’t my injustice to release, to set forth onto the world—it belonged to her. I’d save my rage at what was done to that poor woman for better use, as a weapon to wield against her attackers. So I swallowed it deep.

  Before my own movement registered, I was beside her on the bed. Any filth or presence of bad smells didn’t matter anymore; helping her was my only concern.

  “It’s okay… you’re going to be okay. I’m here now.” In a gentle voice, I cooed to her like a mother would to a sick child. “No one will ever hurt you again.”

  I pulled her limp body into my arms. Her sunken cheek instinctively nestled into the warm comfort of my breasts.

  “I want to go home,” she rasped between brittle lips, her voice almost lost against my shirt.

  I wanted to squeeze her more tightly, but I feared she’d break.

  “You’ll be home very soon. I promise. Just be still.”

  It came slowly, a warm pulse of power that hurt at first. It was a good pain that assured me what I was about to do was right. Rafe thought that if I tried to heal a human with my gift, I would ultimately create a vampire, but when the power was riding me like that, almost instinctual in nature and having a mind and intent of its own, I knew what I needed to do for that woman could be done. And I also knew it to be fact, because I wasn’t using my power to bring back a lifeless corpse. I was about to use it to enhance a life that already existed in a living and breathing body. There was an immense difference between the two acts.

  I rubbed my fingertips against her temple and willed my light to seep slowly in
through her skin. Her body bowed away from mine, her hands clenching my shirt. The entire healing process happened within a beat of a heart, finishing as my light receded, and she relaxed her body against mine. Her eyes fluttered wildly, until they swept down at a normal rhythm. She gave me a perplexed look.

  “Where am I?” she asked, her voice no longer hoarse; instead, it held a smooth cadence.

  I was about to explain things to her but decided not to. Instead, I gave her a second to remember the Hell she’d been through on her own. I’d healed her bodily wounds, but her memories were left untouched. The horror was her burden to bear. Suddenly, she sprang from the bed, eyes darting around the room like a skittish animal. Her legs and arms moved fluidly, her slender body, in perfect working order.

  “We have to go! Now, before he comes back!”

  I reached for her, my hand beckoning in a non-threatening manner.

  “It’s okay. You have nothing more to fear. Your tormentor is dead.”

  Her face, which was fleshed out and back to a healthy light brown glow, began to pale. She frowned at me.

  “How can you be certain? Did you see him die yourself?”

  I stood up but kept myself on the opposite side of the bed from her. Even though she was calming down by small degrees, a person who’d been through as much as she had could be unpredictable, especially when cornered. So I left a wide space between us.

  “I know he is dead, because I’m the one who killed him.”

  Her head tipped to the side, her eyes a little less shifty.

  “So do you mean I’m free? I can go home?”

  She turned her head away, tears threatening to spill over her lower lids, as she noticed for the first time that she was standing in the middle of the room, completely naked. Her hands scrambled over her full round breasts, and she crossed her legs at the thighs to hide the triangle of black curls situated at the lower junction of her body.

  “Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.”

  She took a deep breath, then another, before saying, “Can you help me find my clothes?”

  “Of course.”

  I scanned the room. Josh’s clothes littered the floor in piles. In the far corner, there was a table that held many different sexual toys and torture devices. I was pretty sure she hadn’t noticed those, thank God, so I quickly stripped the soiled sheet from the bed and draped it over the table, trying to keep myself from thinking about what those things could have been used for.

  Then I noticed a black plastic bag at the foot of the bed, so I walked over and kicked it. Nothing moved, which was a good sign. I pinched the corner of the bag between my fingers and shook it. Women’s clothing fell out.

  “Are these yours?” I asked.

  She nodded and said, “I only want the dress. Everything else, you can leave there.”

  I understood why she only wanted the bare minimum. Those things were reminders of when she was taken, so she wouldn’t want them touching her skin. I’d have left them, too, especially the bra and panties.

  “I can get you something else to wear.”

  “No, that’s okay. The dress is fine.”

  I picked up the emerald green sundress from the pile and handed it over. Her hand was steady, when she grabbed it from me. She gave it a good shaking out before pulling it over her head.

  “Thank you. I really mean it. I counted myself dead.” Her naturally red lips creased into a frown. “It was Hell. I can’t even begin to explain.”

  She choked over the end of her words and began to cry.

  I rushed over and wrapped my arms around her, saying, “You don’t have to explain anything. Let’s just get you out of here, okay?”

  She nodded against my shoulder.

  “Okay.”

  Chapter Eight

  Taking slow, careful steps, Alayna and I left the room and moved into the hallway. I held her body close to mine, hooking an arm around her waist, as we walked. She was a couple inches taller than I, and the difference made us hobble. Her long black hair whipped across my cheek with each step.

  With her distinct Hispanic features and above average height, Alayna was gorgeous. She had to be a model or in a similar field, where looks mattered.

  Considering how attractive Darcy was, it led me to believe that maybe those two had worked together or had another connection that would be helpful in leading me to their abductors. I already knew the murderers’ motive—acquiring extraordinarily beautiful women to command and control, ultimately using each one for their sick and depraved sexual pleasures. And what better place to find women who could meet such high criteria than a modeling agency or television studio?

  That was a theory worth investigating, in my opinion. But I needed more than opinion if I were going to be of any help to those poor women. I needed no-bullshit answers. All I had to go on so far was a bracelet, an eyewitness account from a ghost who was drugged out of her mind before she was killed, and a whole lot of assumptions.

  I heard the thump of a door shutting, and I picked up the pace. When we reached the living room, it was empty. Then Rafe appeared there, without Josh.

  Alayna flinched at Rafe’s sudden appearance. I gave her arm a gentle squeeze.

  “He’s with me. He won’t hurt you. I swear it.” Then to Rafe, I said, “Where is he?”

  Her eyes shifted between Rafe and me. I could tell that my word alone wasn’t going to make her feel at ease around Rafe. We’d just met, so she was afraid to trust me, but she had no other choice. I hated the fact that she felt that way.

  Rafe pointed in the direction of the garage, and I turned to look.

  “Even though you killed the phan—” He cleared his throat to cover the almost slipup. “…the bad guy, I figured the sight of our friend might still be disturbing to her.”

  I let out a relieved sigh. That was good thinking on Rafe’s part. Even though I had killed the phantom, Alayna would still see Josh as the man who tortured and raped her. I’d burned the spirit from its host, but the body that had tormented her still remained.

  I walked Alayna over to the couch.

  Should I call the police? How could I explain to them that Josh was innocent, when we were at his house, and an eyewitness was sitting on his couch in shock? So much so that she hadn’t noticed that all her cuts and bruises had healed.

  Talk about getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar.... I had to think it over for a minute. Tension throbbed at my temples.

  “I’m going to grab you some water and call for help. Will you be okay by yourself, while Rafe and I run into the kitchen?”

  Alayna reached up and spiraled a strand of hair around her finger, a nervous gesture she more than likely didn’t know she was doing. Her eyes were wide and full of shock.

  She nodded and whispered, “As long as he’s dead, I’ll be fine.”

  The kitchen was in no better state than the rest of the house. Dirty dishes were piled high in a sink full of water that had grown a soup of bacteria weeks earlier. As I entered the space, the tapping of tiny paws echoed off the linoleum: mice, scurrying away from their all you can eat dinner buffet of an overflowing trash bin. I looked for a clean place to sit or lean, but not an inch of the room was free of grimy debris, so I stood in the middle of the room. Rafe paused by the garage door, which was situated between the kitchen and the living room.

  “I’m going to check on Josh and ask him a few questions.” He turned the knob and gave me a look over his shoulder. “I’m assuming that you mean to call Rush.”

  “You’d be right.”

  Rafe smiled, showing me his straight white teeth.

  “Okay, then. I’ll be back in a few minutes,” he said, shutting the door behind him.

  Staring out the window, I grabbed my phone and hit redial.

  “Kris? It’s about damn time you called.”

  “I’ve been busy.”

  “I figured that’s what you’d say. Are you okay?”

  I glanced up at the ceiling fan. It was tur
ning in wobbled circles.

  “Yes,” I said, thinking of how it was funny that the sound of his voice somehow made me instantly feel safer, more at ease. “I have a guy here who needs the kind of help only you and the Center can give him.”

  The phone went silent for a second.

  “Is he supernatural? Is that why you called me, instead of the police?”

  “No, he’s very much human. I’m not sure what he knows, though.” I turned and covered my mouth over the phone, just in case Alayna could hear me, as I whispered, “I kind of exorcised a phantom from him, so I figured that fell under your jurisdiction.”

  I could practically see him nod, as he said, “You were right to call me.”

  “Yeah, that’s what I figured.” I reached up and rubbed the back of my neck. That was as good a time as any to drop the Alayna bomb, too. “There’s more.”

  I heard a deep intake of air, and then he asked, “What is it?”

  “The phantom was holding a woman captive, tied up in one of the rooms. She was in pretty bad shape, barely alive. So I kind of healed her wounds. She’s in the living room, waiting for help to arrive. I just don’t know what type of help to give her. Should I call the cops?”

  “Where are you?”

  I could hear paper shuffling around, like he was looking for something to write on. I told him the address.

  “I’m on my way. Don’t do anything until I get there.”

  ***

  With my hands crossed over my lap, I sat next to Alayna on the couch. It had been five minutes since I ended the call with Rush.

  “Thanks for the water,” Alayna mumbled, with both hands wrapped around the plastic cup.

  It was a miracle that I’d found one semi-clean, but I still washed it out just to be safe.

  “You’re welcome.”

  My head was still pounding. I’d used a lot of energy in the last couple hours, and I was starting to feel the effects.

  A questioning look glazed over Alayna’s features, before she asked, “Did you do something to me?”

  My brain suddenly went blank.

  “Huh?”

  Alayna set her cup down on the floor and shifted to face me.

  “I’m not stupid. I know how bad it got for me. That guy beat the hell out of me. And after all the horrible things he did…” Her voice cracked, as she continued, “…I should at least be bruised up or in some sort of pain.”

 
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