I saw the picture, clutched in my hands, a picture of him; Darky. Next I saw the inside of a cave. It was followed by darkness around me and the feeling of being unable to move freely. I knew I was dreaming. I had to be. Next, I felt warmth as I saw Darky sitting beside me. The horrible sight of Dallas came, furious and stabbing at me with his knife. A pain in my chest. Screams. Darkness.
My eyes opened and I was staring at the ceiling of my apartment. I took a few deep breaths to calm myself. It was only a dream. As always, the remembrance that Darky was gone came. Followed by the flicker of hope Death had given me. Perhaps, somewhere out there, Darky could still be alive.
I got up, shivering as cool air surrounded me. I slipped into more decent clothing and left my room. As I closed the door to my apartment, I locked it. I didn’t know when I’d go home. Slowly, I wandered out of the building. Midnight strolls had become normal to me. I always went on a walk after a nightmare like that one. They’d been more frequent after Death resurfaced the matter.
My mind wandered to Death. I’d stopped pressing Dallas after my encounter with him. I was ready to trust Rock and Dallas to save Halo. She’d survive somehow. Part of me hated it though. I wanted her back. I needed her back; I needed to talk to her.
I trusted my feet to find Death Cliff on their own. They always did. My late night walks often paused there.
“Dad…. What am I to do?” I asked, looking upwards at the stars.
No answer came and I felt empty and alone. My hand moved to my chest. I knew where the scar was. I pressed my palm against the shirt above it and stopped walking for a moment. “I wish you were here Darky.”
I heard a car, somewhere behind me. I didn’t bother to look back. I never did. No one of interest roamed the streets at this hour. To my surprise, the vehicle stopped not far in front of me. I kept walking forward, keeping an even pace. My mind had a thousand ideas of who was in the black car. However, only one seemed possible. Death.
As I reached the car, I didn’t look in the window. It was rolled down, which I gathered from peripheral vision. “Get in the car, Willow,” a voice said.
I knew it was Death. Without a word or a look either way, I complied. Refusal was pointless. He could crush me easily if he wanted to. “Glad you came,” he told me.
“Shut up and drive,” I growled.
“Touchy are we? If you insist.” Even as he spoke, the car started moving forward.
“What do you want with me?” I demanded after a few minutes.
“What about you my dear? Surely, you have other questions to ask… Perhaps about a particular friend?”
“I’m not interested in lies Death. I want my sister back. I want Darky back. I want a lot of things though. We can’t all get what we want, can we?”
“Well said. Perhaps I can assist you in some way or another. See I’m after one very specific thing; Dallas dead. I don’t care who kills him. I’d prefer Rock of course, but you will suffice. Even luring him to my hide out would be enough.”
“I’ve said something like this to Dallas; I am not your pet. I won’t be bandied about like some dog. You can’t expect me to beg for mercy at your feet. I’m not killing him for you,” I answered.
He laughed. I still hadn’t looked at his face, but I imagined he thought me a fool. “Willow, Willow, Willow. Do you honestly think you, can best me? You’re a fool to believe that. If Dallas isn’t dead, with his head on my doorstep, by tomorrow at midnight, I will kidnap you, fetch your pretty little boyfriend, and kill him. That’s 25 hours to kill Dallas. Dear, if you have a grain of sense, you’ll listen to me. When that’s done, I’ll see what else I wish to do with you.”
I didn’t know what to say. Against my will, I turned my face to him. I searched for any sign that he wasn’t serious. “What if that still isn’t enough?” I couldn’t resist asking.
The car slid to a stop. Death looked at me. “It will be though. You will do absolutely anything for me Willow. You have no choice.”
He leaned closer to me. His hot breath touched my face, causing me to recoil. “You’d lick my boots to save Darky. Besides, I also have Halo and getting Fear would be an easy matter. You, my dear, are the weak link.”
I closed my eyes. Dallas had once said I was easiest to manipulate. Perhaps, valuing others above myself was a weakness. I had often tried to convince myself it was a strength but, so far, it had only brought me bad things.
I sighed as I opened my eyes again; I knew what had to be done. “And how do you like you eggs?” I said sarcastically.
Death grinned and winked at me. I glared at him in return. He reached into the back seat and pulled out a knife. “Headless or heartless,” he answered.
I shuddered as I took the knife. “Now get out,” he ordered me coldly.
I complied and climbed out of the car. I watched it drive away before looking around. I was at the path leading to Death Cliff. I didn’t know how he’d known, but it bothered me. “Even here isn’t special anymore,” I muttered.
I didn’t follow the path. I couldn’t bring myself to go to the cliff. I felt that going would taint it and I needed somewhere to keep myself sane. Instead, I walked home, as directly and quickly as possible.
Sleep didn’t come. My head was spinning as it tried to think of how I could kill him. I didn’t let myself think the name. It would make it too real. Slowly, the night disappeared and was replaced by daylight. I trembled at the thought of what that day would bring.
Reluctantly, I forced myself to sit up, looking around my room as I did so. A single tear rolled down my cheek as I grasped the knife. “For you, Darky,” I murmured.
After a small breakfast, I was unable to stomach anything more than bread; I got into my car and headed for Dallas’s house. I stopped and parked on the street by his driveway. Step by step, I made my way up the long narrow path. I was almost to the last curve when Dallas’s car drove up. He pulled to a stop beside me and rolled down the window. “What are you doing here Willow?” he asked.
I bit my lip, wondering what to say. After hesitating I got into his car. “Dallas… Death talked to me last night,” I said.
“What has he done? Is Halo okay?”
“Halo is fine… Fine for now. Dallas he wanted me to kill someone… If they’re not dead by midnight he’ll kidnap me and kill Darky. I don’t know what to do,” I confessed.
Dallas shrugged, as if this were normal. “If they mean enough to you to let Darky die, maybe more than your life then don’t kill them. They’ll be dead soon if Death wants them dead. If they don’t, kill them. It’s a simple solution.”
“By your own advice I should be killing you, but lucky for you, there is more than that. Fear would hate me… I still wouldn’t get Darky back. I’m hopeless.”
“Willow, we have to talk to Fear first. She’ll understand. Just let me say good bye, then you can kill me…”
I nodded, feeling numb inside. Dallas started to drive to her house. I felt a lump in my throat, knowing I would have to confess it to Fear. Time seemed to slow. It felt like ages before we got there. My hand missed the handle as I went to open the door so Dallas opened it for me. “Let me do the talking,” he said softly.
I nodded and followed him into the house, still holding the knife. “Hey Willow, hello Dallas,” Fear greeted us.
She kissed Dallas on the cheek and he hugged her. I looked away for a moment then back at the pair of them. Dallas and Fear had only a few inches between them. He pushed a free strand of hair behind her ear and whispered something her ear. Louder he murmured, “I love you Fear, never forget it.”
“I won’t, but what is this about?” she asked.
“Death approached Willow. He asked her to do something or Halo would be killed and someone else Willow holds dear to her. Darky is alive, for now. Fear, one death can prevent two… I have to make up for the evil I’ve done. I don’t want to hurt you but in order to save you and your family I might need to. Do you understand?”
“You’re leaving me,” she said.
He nodded and Fear looked at me. “Isn’t there any other way,” she pleaded.
I shook my head. “Death wants his head… If I don’t deliver it by midnight… I’ll be taken and Darky will be killed. He never mentioned Halo but I assume…”
“She won’t do it,” Fear told Dallas.
“Yes, she will,” he answered.
“No! She will not. I won’t let her. Dallas, there must be a different way. Talk to Rock, anything but this. I’d rather die than lose you. I’ve seen what happens to people who lose the person they love,” she yelled. Quietly, she added, “I saw what happened to Willow.”
“That isn’t fair Fear. Do not bring Darky into this like that. After all he is the reason this needs to be done,” I shot back at her.
“No Willow that is where you are wrong. For one, you brought Darky into this. For another, do you really want me to feel the pain you felt?”
“What must happen must happen,” was all I could say.
“Fear, I already agreed. I only came to say good bye. If I can save myself, I will and Willow will help. But if I must die, I’ll do so willingly,” Dallas told her.
“Willow-“ Fear started but I stopped her.
“Fear, this is almost harder for me. I don’t want to kill anybody but I can’t let Halo die. I too would rather die than see this happen but it must.”
“You once asked me who I would choose if it came between Dallas and my family,” Fear warned me. “I chose him. I still choose him.”
“No you don’t,” Dallas shot back at her. “You don’t get a choice. I love you and I wish we could have been married but it won’t work like that. I am making the choice to sacrifice myself for your sister. So shut up and let me.”
They continued to argue, but I stayed out mostly. Dallas had a better chance than me anyway. In the end, we left the house with a very unhappy Fear trailing after us. Tears fled from her eyes as she begged him not to go. I touched my scar, thinking of Darky’s sacrifice for me.
When we were driving away, I looked back. “Our family is cursed,” I whispered.
“What makes you say that? You guys seem pretty lucky to me. Talent is in your blood,” Dallas responded.
“We fall in love with the wrong people. The people who sacrifice themselves when we would rather die… We’re vulnerable… Maybe we’re too loyal or too loving… Halo’s gonna get hurt someday too I imagine… I don’t want Fear to feel what I felt- what I feel.”
“She won’t. You are going to bargain for my life. First, demand to see Halo and Darky alive and free. Death will want to have me in a spot where if you try to back out he will be able to kill me. Rock will help bust us free when the time comes… I just prepared Fear for the worst,” he explained.
A small sigh escaped me but I couldn’t resist doubting him. What if he was wrong? What if it all failed? I didn’t have time to ponder it because we arrived at the path. Dallas lead the way. To my surprise, Death was waiting for us.
The fortress Death had built was awe-inspiring. It was terrifying. Rock stood beside him. He refused to look at me, and I did my best not to look at him. He was probably disappointed in me for bringing Dallas. I didn’t listen as Death and Dallas began negotiating, I was too busy looking around.
The trees did a good job of hiding the fortress. Grass, leaves and sticks littered the roof, offering a disguise from above. Two men stood by Dallas and Rock. They looked mean, tough, and unwavering. I felt dread well up inside me.
Dallas nudged me and I began paying attention. “May I speak to Rock?” Dallas asked.
Death narrowed his eyes but nodded. Rock moved towards us and I would have moved away if Dallas hadn’t grabbed my arm. “Rock, who all do we need to get free? I don’t know how badly Death wants me dead but I can try,” Dallas asked softly.
“Get him to bring Ocean out, she’s a vulnerable spot for him. Halo, of course and Feather too. Rumors say Dark is here too, though not confirmed. As far as I know, that’s all.” Rock said.
“Is Halo okay?” I asked.
To my relief, he nodded. Dallas told me to ask for all three to be brought out, and sent Rock back. After I asked, all that remained was to wait.
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P.S. Opal might have been here