Hell and You


 Their white flag had bloodstains, but it was a truce he could respect. They'd met on the outskirts of Mountainside, a transitory liaison rooted in necessity, nothing more. He'd given her the money she needed to move and she’d taken it. He’d told her that he could help her be a writer and she’d listened. The remnants of their relationship was a cold gruel -- disatisfactory, but sustenance when it came to keeping his withered sensibilities alive.

 Anger redirected, he indulged his cruelty in other places, letting Niamh serve to show him what happened when he let sloppiness win.

 The new (to him) one bedroom in Avondale was a dreary departure from the comfortable residence he’d had in Larkspur, but it was better than a hovel or a bunker in the ground. Niamh was still far too skittish to meet him alone, though he kept holding out his hand hoping she’d learn to trust him of her own volition instead of being compelled to do so.

 An all night Denny’s was hardly the place he wanted to host her, but the tables were large and Avondale wasn’t known for its niche bourgeois eateries. He arrived and was shown to a booth in the back, ordering a water, pretending to peruse the menu while he waited for her to show.


 "Can you drink water?" She used it in place of a greeting, a half sort of curiosity. Clearly, he couldn't ingest solids, but ... would water really be the end of the world? How much of blood was water, again? The fact was hazy and half-formed, but a lot from what she remembered - something to ponder so she didn't have to think about how frogs didn't know they were being boiled alive. It felt relevant as she tossed her sweater down onto the side across from him, sliding into the seat and listening to the old tacky cushion deflate as she rummaged through her bag.

 No one went to fucking Avondale, but she still felt her heartbeat in her ears at the idea of being spotted by anyone who knew her, who knew about the colossal fucking mess. And yes she knew this was a gamble, yes she knew there was a good chance that the water was started to bubble around her - but ... what the fuck else was there to do?

 It felt like she'd ran from a forest fire into a tower made of oak - different sorts of disaster but disaster all the same. And at least this path meant money, and there was a security net built into his forced domestication, a dog chained in the front year who was just shy of reaching her. Just be mindful, just don't steer off the path - simple. Something to remind herself as she unpacked her laptop and set it on the sticky table with a frown at the feel of it against her palms.

 "Do I have the ability? Yes." He could swallow water as easily as blood, but it would rot where once it cleansed. "But I'll spare you the from the aftermath and refrain from taking a sip." So much of his existence was maintaining the appearance of normalcy, fitting himself for a costume that had become increasingly tight.

 Continuing with the theme, he pretended to be patient as she settled in. The waitress floated closer, hovering and gnat-like so she could take her drink order. Once she'd buzzed away, Spencer looked across the table to his begrudging companion. "Tell me what you've been working on."

 She ordered sweet tea and watched their waitress head off to make good on it, waving her mouse to wake the screen up before she picked the computer up and turned it around one-eighty so he could see. "Short stories, no universal theme - I'm having a hard time focusing on much of anything for more than, maybe twenty or so pages." A bunch of half-finished ideas, a whole lot of raw material and good intentions.

Sorry the dice enabled me

 No one went to Avondale, not really, except the people who lived there. Minerva was one such person, out so far past her self-imposed curfew that even driving made her nervous. But she needed to eat, after having come home to find her mother had not made dinner - an unusual thing to encounter, and what she figured was probably a result of the increasing turmoil in her parents’ marriage.

 So, here she was, having placed her order over the phone, parking as close to the door as possible. She might have risked a ticket for parking in a handicapped space if it wouldn’t have weighed on her conscience so much. Getting inside was done at just short of a run, speed walking through the artificially lit darkness. Get in, get out, get home.

 Being inside, at least, felt safer - a sparse late night crowd, but a gathering of people all the same. There were eyes and cameras all around her while she stood there.

 Her eyes wandered as she waited. One table of patrons looked like they were all hungover already, another sported a pair of men who looked more like they belonged in a biker bar movie. There was another table, a man and a woman, and she had to do a double take. She knew that face. He was partially obscured by the back of someone’s head, a red-haired lady from what she could see, the whole scene nearly blurry from across the restaurant.

 Her blood became ice, heart catching in her throat like a piece of food she’d failed to properly chew before swallowing. She was not prepared for this.

 She decided, very quickly, that there were other places to eat besides Denny’s. Really, her appetite was washed away from her now, instantaneously. Wide-eyed and wordless, Minerva spun on her heel and sprinted to her car, a mad dash to home.



 Content to keep things strictly business, he perused her latest work with a generalizing scrutiny. They would have time to sculpt the gritty details. "Many people think short fiction is somehow less than, but most people are idiots. The length of a piece of work does not define its merit. And if you’ve been working strictly with the pacing of short stories than of course trying for something longer is going to feel clunky. The best way to stay the course is with an outline."

 Their waitress returned with Niamh’s tea and an expectation for them to place their order. Lifting his head, his eyes caught on a vaguely familiar form. She seemed to recognize him too, because she bolted. "We need a minute." Marginally more polite than ‘go away’. His voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper once the older woman had gone. "The girl I made a mess of was just here. The one you helped me with. I think she saw us."

 She was poised and ready to call him rude as soon as their waitress left. Prepared to remark about how some things didn't change no matter how you dressed then up. Any hint of irritation fell from her face as she looked to glance over her shoulder and towards the door. " Minnie?" As if perhaps another girl had slipped her mind. "How sure are you?"

 "Not very." He admitted, staring at the door, half expecting the young woman to come back having darted out because she'd forgotten something.

 She didn't.

 "But unless she saw a rat why else would have she run the fuck out of a restaurant she'd just walked into?" It seemed they were both paranoid nowadays. Speaking of. "How do you know her name?" He didn't recall them exchanging those sort of pleasantries the night he ripped her throat open.

 "Minerva, technically. She's the friend of a friend." She paused then, frowned as she moved to close her laptop and slide it into her bag. "She lives out here in Avondale, it might be best to leave." She hesitated as she sipped her drink and stared at him. "You got the tab, right bud?"

 Spencer picked at the prong of the unused fork beside his hand, thinking bloody thoughts. Suffice to say any inquiry about where Minerva lived or what kind of schedule she kept would be met with immediate, and warranted, suspicion. "I'll pay the tab and you can go quiet her the nice way." His version wouldn't be as friendly. "This is why I wanted to meet in private."

 She hesitated, a simple plan having been in mind - to reconvene elsewhere, continue on as usual. His idea of what happened next seemed to vary greatly. She frowned, watching him closely and shook her head. "No. Fuck that, no - I'm not doing shit. She's not my best buddy, she's not going to listen to me. And what could she have possibly seen anyway?"

 She could have seen her two attackers in a beige leather booth at Denny's. Spencer was wary to test the longevity of Minerva's mercy, the stroke of stupidity or luck that had kept the skinny bitch from calling the authorities that night. And he hadn't been good. His hands were far from clean. Swallowing the threat lodged in his throat, he glared at his pupil. "If you want to continue this you can follow me to my apartment."

 She stared at him, bag slung over her shoulder as she considered what he had to say. She looked to the door, thought about the loose map she had of Avondale and how it remained more or less a gray hell in her mind. A dangerous place to go with someone like him, but there were safety nets. He couldn't hurt her, he couldn't bite her.

"Fine. I'll be right behind you."

 The night was thick with clouds that moved in line like purple smoke stacks covering the bright pin holes made by the stars. Spencer didn’t look back to see if Niamh was behind him, her presence was one that could be easily felt. There was a beat after their exit that Spencer scanned the parking lot, half expecting to be met with a trap, but it was empty save for a trio of motorcycles, their own cars, and a red pick up truck.

 "Come in." He said, as he unlocked his apartment door fifteen minutes later, as if she needed her own invitation to dwell inside his walls. "You were robbed of your meal, so if you’d like to order something to eat I’ll pay for it."

 The whole drive there felt like she was writing a choose your own adventure on whatever she could find on the floor and in the glove box of her car. All the different ways in which this could end in pain or death, all the pathways it could trickle through that might leave her untouched. She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel as she dwelled on it, tried not to allow her thoughts to take her too far from the unfamiliar drive at hand.

 Minerva, presumably, would tell Rika - whether directly and inevitably, but it didn't matter it would happen. And then from there, Rika would ... well, it wasn't her problem. "Not your problem." Murmured under her breath as if to confirm the thought and cement it into place.

 She parked in a visitor spot and slung her bag over her shoulder, hands stuffed into her pockets as she followed a couple of steps behind him and lingered at the threshold as she looked about the apartment - a far cry from the one before it. "Pepperoni pizza, you order it - I don't know where I am." Mumbled under her breath as she went to set her bag down and considered the idea of warning him.

 For the most part, Spencer had acclimated to present-day technology, though apps proved to be a bit of a struggle. He knew delivery was available from a variety of different avenues, but he decided to dial the restaurant's number instead, choosing Pizza Hut because it was the first thing to come up under his google search for.

 "I'll pay with cash upon delivery." He added at the end, hanging up shortly after. Spencer didn't offer to make her any more comfortable, letting her find her own water glass and take her own seat should she want to. "Now, we were discussing your short stories. Shall we get back to it?"

 The formality, despite the tension of their current situation, was jarring enough that she smirked as she focused on setting herself up as she had been before the hasty forced evacuation. She looked up when he ended the call, sighed at the return to business as usual and fell into the familiar comfort of it as she pulled back up what she had been prepared to share.

"Right, so ..." Reluctant but trying to focus on the bigger picture as she dove into familiar but decidedly disgusting waters.

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