You close your eyes and finally make the decision to end your life, only to have him show up. Gabriel, here to give you a second chance at salvation. They say he’s an angel, but then again, they don’t have to serve under him. He offers you a chance to be a member of the Frozen, a group of demon hunters. Serve your sentence and you can ascend to heaven. Refuse? Well, the punishment has been clearly laid out in the scriptures. It’s a last chance. But when your body is frozen in time, can your heart still beat?
Two hours into an ever-so-thrilling entertainment news cycle, I felt the pleather of the beanbag chair sticking to the back of my thighs. It was amazing how the breeze from a window air conditioner could freeze my face and yet have no effect on my legs dangling just two feet below. Looking around at my vast apartment, I couldn’t help but think it was a reflection of me—plenty of space but nothing inside.
I needed to move before my joints congealed in this position. A smile crept across my lips while I turned to my bestie, DJ. He wasn’t watching TV, but instead seemed to have developed a foot fetish given the way he was fixated on my untied size-six Nikes.
I pulled my right shoe up and tied it. With my head rested on my knee, I noticed DJ’s beautiful, deep brown eyes smiling at me. I needed to break the mood.
Being unable to break my gaze as my smile contorted to a smirk, I blurted, “So there I was, naked with a joint in one hand and a beer in the other, and the cop says…You wanna get out of this ticket?” My favorite get-my-ass-moving-line had DJ staring at me like I'd actually done something. Damn it! That usually made people uncomfortable, but no, DJ kept staring at me, forcing me to turn away.
“Um…I…” DJ stumbled.
I could feel his eyes examining me. He must have been trying to find the appropriate response.
“Joking, jackass,” I said as I stood up. “But thanks for thinking I’d actually do that.”
To emphasize my disgust, I slapped the back of his head, almost knocking off his stupid, orange Bowling Green Falcons baseball cap that seemed to be attached with Gorilla Glue.
“I don’t know you that well,” he replied, readjusting his hat. “And for all I know, you like the sticky icky.”
“Right, like I’d smoke the ditch weed they've got around here,” I replied while I scanned my apartment.
It was beginning to feel like a fruitless treasure hunt. I had almost nothing in my apartment, yet I couldn’t remember where I put my wrist pack.
Tacky built-in bookshelf?
Top shelf in the fridge?
I should’ve been worried about finding my wrist pack in the fridge, but I guess the fact that I knew to look there was more important. I shoved a five-dollar bill in the pack and drew my shoulder length blond hair into a ponytail.
I knew why I kept DJ around. It wasn’t only that DJ was my current nearest and dearest. God, I'd only known him a month. Keeping any guy around for more than a week was a record for me. Who knew not sleeping with a guy could keep him coming back?
By some dumb luck I met DJ on my first day in town and he chose to take on the “daunting” task of showing me around all ten of the campus buildings in this hamlet. He was an assistant defensive coach for the football team at Iowa Wesleyan, the college where I’d also recently taken a coaching position.
When I first saw his deeply tanned skin on a set of abs I’d like to lick ice cream from, I was initially excited to have a new friend. Strangely, his body had become secondary to the way he set me at ease. I don’t know, maybe it was his baby face, but being around DJ made moving halfway across the country less scary for me.
“KK,” DJ started to ask, then shook his head.
“Look here, lazy ass. You were supposed to run with me when you got here so I wouldn’t have the sun beatin’ down on me, but nooooooo. Someone had to find out if J-Lo was going to be on American Idol next season. Just because you don't want to keep yourself in perfect shape doesn’t mean I don’t.”
“I don’t know, chica. I think you could stand to gain a few pounds.”
Turning and shoving my ass right in his face triggered the preferred reaction of a good butt cup and firm squeeze by his hands. I laughed.
“See, more than a handful’s a waste and I see I’m already wasting some on you.”
“I won’t waste it, I promise,” he pledged as I stepped away.
“No, my pequeño bebé,” I replied and lightly kissed his forehead.
“You need to work on your Spanglish, woman.”
“I don’t think so,” I replied, knowing full well what I'd called him.
Grabbing my waist, he pulled me to the floor and trapped me. I tried to lull myself into a safe and warm place where DJ could set me on fire.
It didn’t work. DJ was officially in my friend zone and that’s where I needed him to stay. He was like all the rest—someone I'd have to force myself to feel what I’ve been told comes naturally. I was going through the motions.
I'd been fighting the urge to just go ahead and sleep with him, but it wasn’t to fulfill some deeper purpose like finding a soul mate or partner. I knew if I slept with DJ, he’d fall into my long line of mistakes. He was perfect. Attractive, well built…and completely unavailable. Rumors would abound, ruin me, and give me a good reason to leave.
“Think, Kiriana. This isn’t what you want.” Those damn whispers were always getting in the way. Yes, it was, I thought back, only to have the whispers come at me again. “He’s your friend. You don’t keep protection around. Do you really want to end up bent over…”
I cut the thought off there because if I kept going, with the way DJ’s fingers were sliding up my tank top, I wouldn’t stop until my sheets were sweaty, our clothes littered the floor, and he'd penetrated me six ways from Sunday. Been there. Done that. Got the frickin’ T-shirt. I was not going to make that mistake again.
“DJ…” I looked up at his brown eyes. I had to smile.
“You know we can’t.”
“We’re both consenting adults with fully functioning bodies and no attachments,” DJ said without taking a breath. “Not only can we, but I’m sure we can do it well. You know athletes are the best in bed.”
“We’re on my floor. And don’t you have somewhere to be?”
“Oh shit!” he said, rolling off me and checking the time on his phone. “Hey, whoever broke your heart, I’m gonna kill. That is if I ever get a break in my schedule.”
“That’s why you’re my bestie,” I said as I kissed his cheek.
He stood up and I was beginning to regret my knee jerk reaction. DJ’s skin-tight workout shirt was defining him in a way that made me wish I needed his dictionary. His biceps flexed as he moved reminding me of what it had been like to have strong arms hold me down, but submission took too long to satisfy me. Taking control wasn’t any better. Either way, DJ’s shirt had to stay on.
“Will you think of me with fondness?” DJ asked, bringing me out of my own head.
“Dude, you’ve been the only one in my spank bank since we met,” I assured him as I pulled my legs up to my chest and curled into a ball.
At least that earned me a smile.
“How does a sweet face like that harbor a mouth like yours?”
“Evolution of the species,” I replied while stretching the strap for my white iPod Nano over my left arm. The elastic snapped and held tight. “Now get going! If you’re late, doesn’t your mother or someone slap your ass?”
“If only,” he sighed, tucking a stray strand of hair behind my ear and lightly brushing the nape of my neck.
He'd learned the move drove me crazy and it did cause a tingle. Turning my head away only exposed more of my neck. Maybe there was something between us?
“Hey…can you give me some of your patented Latin charm to keep me going?”
Gooseflesh emerged when his lips came to my ear. He found the Hispanic accent he tried so hard to lose in everyday conversation.
“What if I promise you I’ll never stop? I will help you discover pleasures you never knew existed,” he said as his warm breath tickled my skin. I clutched his hardening bicep for support. “Succumb to me but once and you'll discover your pleasure is my greatest obsession.”
My heart raced as the heat coming off our bodies mingled, tantalizing my senses to return his touch. As my eyelids fluttered and my mouth became wet with anticipation, the whispers only let out one scolding word of warning. “Kiriana!”
An irritated growl came from deep in my chest. My body was protesting against my mind. With both hands on his chest, I pushed hard until his spell was broken.
“Stop channeling Don Juan and get out,” I said, pushing him out into the hallway and slamming the door so I could try to come down from the rush pulsing through my body.
I fell against the door, slumped my head in defeat, and remembered his smell, the spicy scent begging me to stop him. I pulled myself as if I was taffy, half of my body still stuck to the door, the other half trying to distance myself from the encounter. I crossed the room to one of my front windows. Looking down, I saw DJ get in the car he had to have owned since high school. It wasn’t until he pulled out of the parking space that I could breathe again.
I placed my ear buds in and pushed play as the sounds came at me hard. I needed my girls. Pink, Alanis, Gwen and a little bit of Eve for an extra kick in the ass. If nothing else, the music got my mind off DJ. I could go on my run now. And much like I suspected, DJ hadn't left a lasting impression.
Grasping the door handle, I was stopped by the hot pink post-it eye level to my five-two. No words were on it. None were needed.
Grumbling, I turned around and headed into the kitchen, ran some water into a glass, and uncapped my Retrovir. Dumbass. Fucking dumbass, whore! I screamed in my head. Never again! Not that it was an option. Truly, if I would've had the same mantra every time I woke up next to someone I didn’t know, I would've never had this problem.
I'd been diagnosed with HIV six months ago. Why it had taken so long was still a mystery of good luck. I didn’t drink, at least not then. I didn’t do drugs. I had only one addiction. Easily solved you’d think, but it wasn’t. I was chasing a high I never found. Wanting the feeling of closeness. Wanting to feel anything but never finding it. Never. Of all the men I'd been with, none were worth repeating. But still I tried. And tried. And tried.
Yeah, I know, I’ve got issues. Screw that, I have a damn subscription.
Now I was done. Cast aside by life. I didn’t know why I still took my meds. There was nothing in my life to live for. My sentence had been handed down by a higher power. Then something would speak to me softly, telling me to keep going. “Keep trying. It will come.” That damn voice inside my mind was my salvation and downfall all in the same annoyingly soft whisper.
Bounding down the stairs, I stopped at the mailboxes and spun the dials. C right, G left, L right. The old brass door swung open. I stowed my keys in the box. Walking out into the painfully bright July sunlight, I instantly put on my wrap-around sunglasses.
My apartment was always so dark. The brick building had no windows in the back, so the only light in the apartment was in the morning at sunrise, but that was usually blocked by the brick buildings on the east side of the square. I debated on whether to go back up for a hat, but decided against it. It was only eighteen steps—I'd counted when I needed to make more than one trip after the grocery store—but I knew if I went back upstairs, I’d just crash on my beanbag.
I could only shake my head as I looked around. Mount Pleasant, Iowa. How the hell did I end up here? A medium-sized town meant there were probably more people in my graduating class at UCLA then there were in this whole zip code.
Looking left then right, I tried to decide how far I wanted to run. Part of me wanted to run through the campus at the college but the other part wanted to stick to the city and go past the prison, a medium-level correctional facility that housed drug dealers, sex offenders, and drunks, which for some odd reason was on the main drag of the town. One of the inmates was my father.
I hadn’t contacted him. There wasn't a reason for him to know I'd moved here. He'd been out of my life for ten years and yet after my mother chose to end her fight with MS last fall, something inside me said I needed to be closer to the only family I had left.
Coming from southern California, I thought summer in Iowa would be a breeze, but the joke was on me. The humidity in this town was unbearable. It had taken less than two blocks for me to miss my stupid window air conditioner and for my clothes to start sticking to my skin. Oh, how I missed the ocean breeze.
Running along the main road through town, which thankfully had a sidewalk, I passed by the businesses I’d begun to memorize. Gas stations, pizza places, grocery stores, prison…yeah, who has a prison on the main drag of town? Obviously people who didn’t expect the town to grow as much as it had. The humidity was draining me and I needed to stop and grab a quick bottle of water from the grocery store at the edge of town before I hit the dirt roads. Two deliciously cold bottles down, I stretched and took off again.
My Achilles tendon burned. The scar from the repair of it was still dark red. The surgeon promised it would fade, but up until now it was just as dark as the day they wheeled me through the outpatient clinic doors. I turned and went back onto Highway 34 and picked up my pace. Turning onto a dirt road, I decided I’d go back to town through the campus.
I was pushing through the ache in my muscles and drank the last of my second bottle of water as the lactic acid fought me for control of my tender muscles when a pain ripped through my right hamstring, causing me to pull up.
“Fuck! Damn it!” I cursed. “Son of a bitch!”
I limped to the side of the road and tried to stand on one leg, my right leg curling into itself, the muscle tightening as each second passed. Bringing my hand to the back of my leg, I could feel the sweat that laced my skin. As I tried to rub the muscle, something felt wrong. My palm was red.
* * * *
“Left! Left!” Dilana yelled at me, her voice shrill as it always was when she hunted.
A thick, eastern European accent tended to emerge when she was irritated. Her black hair cut short like a pixie, she was anything but. Hard, muscular, five foot ten. Her angular face showed a beauty that belonged to a marble sculpture, not a woman speeding down a back highway in the southeast corner of BFE.
Riding my 1946 Indian Chief I tried to stay beside her. I didn’t want to get lost in the dust storm from her black Denali pickup. This was much easier when the damn things didn’t run. The demon had emerged at noon originally as a kitten, but with an hour of chasing him he was no longer a small animal.
A bantling, or newly reborn demon, could only enter the earth twice a day. With only a small opening in the Earth they have to come to us as animals. Ahead of us, the newest arrival was trying to convert into human form. The fact he was running over seventy miles-per-hour tended to make him stand out no matter the form he’d taken. Dilana leaned out her window and with a quick snap, an arrow whistled through the air, expertly released from her crossbow.
The first arrow missed the bantling completely. The second plugged him in the back. My arm reached out and I caught the bantling by the hair, dragging the body until my bike came to a stop. With one mighty stab of my claustranima to his chest, a burst of light shot through the air, leaving only a pile of sulfuric ash.
“Good shot,” I grumbled, I hated when Dilana immobilized the bantling before me. It no longer mattered if she killed the bantling or not. Unlike me, she was no longer working off her sentence.
“Thanks,” she said, throwing the small crossbow over her shoulder. “But I lost an arrow.”
I spun my claustranima and resheathed it. My soul spun around, encased in the diamond handle. It was amazing how little it was.
“This heat is a bitch. I hope I get Antarctica next,” Dilana teased.
Neither of us could wait for Mt. P’s Hell's Mouth to finally seal. I'd been stuck here for forty-three years. They were only open for fifty years and it usually took the angels a few to find them.
“The Deumos should have scooped that guy up quicker.” Nye looked behind them for the beautiful protectors of the bantlings. Nothing. “How many closings you been through?”
“Too many to count.”
“Ever been stationed a couple months prior to one?”
“I used to be a closer…I was trained to read the signs. We should have a Deumos trying to kill us right now.”
“And if the nasty little shit would have cut through town we would have had to abandon our mission to avoid being seen.”
“Don’t curse, it’s not ladylike.”
Dilana rolled her eyes then crossed her arms over her chest.
“Let me get this straight, you want to be fighting with the females?”
“No, but…at least we got it before it hit the distribution center—”
I lifted my head to see if anyone was on a smoke break at the end of the road and my heart stopped. A normal was fewer than ten feet away and staring directly at me.
“Oh heck,” I cursed under my breath.
She was stumbling backward, but only on one leg. Her deep brown eyes caught mine. They reminded me of a cattail, the brown velvet tops telling of the softness and depth contained within. I couldn’t move.
Fear crossed her tanned face. Her sunshine-colored hair was falling from a ponytail and framing her jaw line, which still had some roundness to it like a child’s.
Single-leg-hopping backward she fell on her butt and screamed. Using her arms, she tried to get away from us. She hadn't released her gaze from me. What had she seen?
“Nye. Nye!” snapped Dilana.
“Grab her,” Dilana ordered.
I ran up the road to get the woman and she kicked my shin with her good leg, which caused a sharp pain to shoot up to my knee.
“Don’t touch me,” she warned with a growl that was strangely arousing. Her hands pushed her up off the gravel and she stood on her good leg with her fists clenched.
“Do you need help wrangling the two-year-old?” Dilana asked.
The girl was short. She probably only came to the top of my abs, but she was definitely a woman. A woman with amazing curves. I shook my head and focused on the task at hand.
“Knock it off,” I warned Dilana then turned back to the girl with my hands open. “Look, I’m not gonna hurt you.”
“Kiss my ass, motherfucker. You ain’t layin’ a hand on me.”
Jabbing at my gut, she made contact, which caused me to buckle over. Then she went for a kidney shot. Now she'd irritated me, not to mention I thought I was going to be pissing blood. I was definitely going to lay more than one hand on her now.
Bull rushing her, I made her fall back, but I caught her around her waist before she hit the ground and then threw her over my shoulder.
“Help! Help!” she screamed.
“I am helping you,” I grumbled. “Hush up.”
“Like hell I’m going to shut up!”
Her body squirmed in my arms. I breathed in deeply to regain my composure and clasped down harder. Her fists attempted assault by pounding my back, but instead they felt like a much needed massage.
“There’s my arrow.”
Dilana’s accent wasn’t as pronounced as she spoke calmly, pulling the small arrow from the back of the woman’s thigh.
“Your what?” The woman screamed in pain. “Who the hell are you? What the fuck are you doing to me?”
“D, that was stupid,” I said. Setting the woman down on the bed of the truck, I ripped off my Ed Hardy T-shirt and strapped it to her leg. “You never pull out a protruding object. I loved that shirt. You’re buying me a’notheren.”
“Why? You have four of that one.”
“Three,” I corrected. “’Cuz of you. No gift wrap needed either.”
The woman’s eyes looked back and forth and she seemed bewildered we weren’t even noticing her screams. Maybe our ambivalence to her was more unsettling than her injury. I was sure Dilana was trying to figure out how to avoid Gabriel’s wrath on this one. I was trying to figure out how to avoid this woman’s death. Either way, we were both calculating Gabriel’s fury.
For me it would be an extension on my sentence. Another twenty or thirty years, but Dilana, having chosen to marry and become an Other, had Kiyoshi to worry about. Length of sentence wasn’t her concern now. Gabriel had other tricks for her.
The woman squirmed underneath my hand, which seemed massive on her hips. She kicked me with her good leg, hitting my thigh, which felt like a small dog jumping up on my leg. Her strength was already draining. I turned to look at her body splayed in front of me, her hips and curves clearly defined by her skintight outfit. Her arms, thighs and hips all had smooth muscular definition. It had been a hundred years since the curve of a hip made my mind rush to the thought of holding a woman close to me. But this woman’s body not only stirred the quiet beast inside me, it made me remember I had only tricked myself into thinking I was a eunuch.
“What are you going to do with me?” she cried, shaking in fear.
“Nothing. We’ll treat you and let you go.”
“Right, like I believe that. I just saw…”
“What did you see?” I growled, staring into her eyes. “Nothing is what you saw.”
“Fine, I saw nothing. Drop me at the hospital and I’ll make my own way home. You’re right, I saw nothing. I know nothing. I can keep my mouth shut. Just…just…”
“Hush up,” I ordered and threw her in the cab of Dilana’s truck. “Take my bike,” I barked at Dilana.
“No. I got my truck,” Dilana thrust me against the driver’s side door. “Leave her.”
“She’ll die if I leave her.”
“You think ole’ high and mighty isn’t going to figure it out? Her spirit rises up and who ever meets her at the pearlies is going to send a little note to Gabriel. You wanna chance that?”
“You can’t hide her in the house.”
“I’ve got four days before Gabriel checks in. I’ll figure something out. I’m taking the truck.”
I slammed the door and threw the truck into drive. Stomping hard on the gas, the truck peeled away from the side of the road, leaving Dilana standing stunned in my wake. I looked at the woman who crouched against the passenger door of the pickup and grunted.
“Look. Really. You can drop me…anywhere.”
Her hand was pressed hard against the window and the fear emanating off her made my stomach churn. I hated when women feared me, but I understood why. I was scary. Disgusting. The Dark One.
Staring straight ahead, I kept my eyes focused and my jaw tight. There was no way this couldn't end badly. I hated the noon demons. Half the time they escaped because we didn’t want the normals to find out. This bantling turned down a dirt road which gave us a chance, but no, some dumb wench had to be running down it. Why the hell would this woman be running at one in the afternoon? Didn’t she have a life? I said a silent prayer of forgiveness for calling her such a hateful name.
I could see her hand was reaching for the door handle, which made me wonder if she actually thought she could jump and survive. I laughed.
“I wouldn’t try it,” I warned, shooting a look at her.
Her breathing increased and I could see the tears in her eyes.
“Don’t cry,” it came out as an order, but it was really more of a plea. “It won’t help.”
“Don’t tell me what the hell to do!” she screamed with a fury I wasn’t prepared for. Her eyes bore into me as she braced herself against the dashboard and the headrest. “If you think I’m just going let you touch…”
“I don’t want to touch you,” I snapped.
That made her catch her breath and her arms released their hold and crossed on her chest. Now she actually looked like she was pouting.
“What? I’m just supposed to want to get between your legs because there’s a hole there? Nah.”
“Why did you grab me?” she growled through gritted teeth like I'd just line jumped her at Target.
“You’re not going toward the hospital.”
“No, I’m not. They couldn’t help you.”
“Because the poison that’s about to hit you in the next, say, five minutes, would take them hours to figure out.”