Penance
Part Two
What Fresh Hell is This?
By: Stephanie J. Bardy

Reese and Marlon followed the strange man into the house. The structure still looked as it had 100 years ago. The same crown molding, the same curved railing on the grand staircase, but what had been the front parlor was now combined with what used to be the formal dining room. It was big and spacious, and the fireplace was still intact, but the mantle had been replaced with some strange painting full of color and metal hooks that held tiny milk pails with flowers.

"The fireplace is original to the house, but it has been converted to electric and that ugly mantle was ripped off to make way for my cousin's wife's artwork." Chris had reappeared and was munching on something. "You flip a switch and boom, fake fire!" he walked over to the wall and showed them. Up, you got what simulated flames inside some kind of covering, down, it disappeared. Chris did this a few times, and then walked over to a strange looking spinning plate and the horrendous sound disappeared as well.

"Any time you want to check out my record collection, let me know. I got some great vintage rock in there."

"You have rocks in those flat books?" Reese asked.

Chris looked at her with a weird expression. "Where did you say you were from?"

Reese leaned towards him and whispered softly. "Here. This is, was my home. You are trespassing."

"Oh, hell no it's not, my cousin bought it from the bank years ago. It was a crappy run down mansion then. He dumped thousands into this shithole. You are the ones trespassing. Don't think for one second that I don't know the law. Now, try again. Where you from?"

Marlon chuckled quietly. "Maybe you should ask her 'when'?"

"What do you mean when?" Chris was getting agitated. "No one is from when. That's sci-fi tv stuff. Unless your ghosts. My place in town is haunted as shit. I want friends of mine to investigate it, but they can't find the time."

Reese just looked at him confused. He was not like any man she had ever encountered before. He didn't seem susceptible to her power but didn't seem resistant either. He had long curly hair which he let hang free. His clothes were unusual, some sort of decorated shirt and pants missing the legs. She had seen shirts similar without the pictures, on the men who fought in the war, but not on someone outside of the military. The poor often wore them as well, under their button shirts.

"Are you poor?" she asked circling around him, trying to understand just want he was.

Chris laughed, "Well I sure as hell ain't rich, the government don't give you enough to live on, but I have my ways of making extra money."

Reese squinted her eyes and sniffed the air around him. "Are you simple?"

"I like simple living if that's what you mean." Chris asked, getting a little suspicious.

Reese looked up at Marlon. "Do you think he is a dewdropper?"

Marlon looked down at the man. Chris wasn't a short man, but Marlon was well over 6'5.

"Do you work?" Marlon's voice was still gruff from lack of use. Reese and Marlon usually communicated through thought, so having to actually speak again was still strange.

"You not listening?" grumbled Chris. "I already told you I get a check. I'm on disability. It's barely enough to cover my bills, but I do side jobs under the table for cash. I make do. Why all the questions?"

Reese waved her hand across Chris's face and immediately it went blank. She had had enough of his chatter for the moment.

Reese had known men like him. Before she had locked herself away, she had 'fed' on many of them. Lay-abouts, with no real purpose other than to collect from the government and skip out on fighting for their country claiming some ailment and paying a back-alley doctor for a note to get them out of the conscription. She locked herself away two years after the war ended. The freedom people felt, the recklessness, had been too much for her, and after fighting her nature and losing, she took Marlon and returned to the family land, and shut herself away. Marlon had been with her since she had landed in Roanoke. He had been her jailer when they tried to hang her for witchcraft. The night she finally decided to leave, she had feasted. The wake of bodies behind her as she walked through the town had been tremendous. The screams of the fearful, trying to hide in their home as they watched their neighbors fall, just made her smile. She spared no one. Not even the children. Those were especially tasty. So fresh, so unmarked by the ugliness of man. Like a savory candy with a sweet gooey center. As she had stood at the gate, one man stood alone in the middle of it all. The only one to have shown her even a small amount of kindness. Marlon surveyed her destruction. A bland look on his face. The shock of it had robbed him of any emotion and he was just numb. Watching over the women that the town deemed evil had taken its toll. Many were kind, innocent women, just trying to survive. He had looked at Reese, standing at the gate, hair blowing in a wind only she could feel, skin glowing a soft pale white.

"You missed a dog I think." He said.

She had laughed. For the first time in many, many, years, she had laughed. That night she bound him to her. They spent many decades after that, crisscrossing the country, venturing to other lands, but always returning to the place that Reese had called home. Marlon had always been her voice of reason. Her caution. He counseled her on the victims she took. Children were taken off the menu. Much to her chagrin. Over the years, they had gathered information to her existence. For as long as Reese could remember, she had just existed. There was no childhood to remember no parents, no family. Just her. She had always been this age, always looked the same. In the early 1900's they had found a secret society that kept records of a being from long ago. 'She' possessed qualities that you find in the creatures you find now. Vampire, Werewolf, Zombie, Wrath, Shapeshifter, she had them all. The records said that a ritual had been performed and pieces of her flesh were taken and ingested by members of the ritual. Each one transformed into a different creature. The subject, as she was called, had then escaped, never to be found again.

Reese had no memory of this, but her body bore oddly shaped scars. In the exact number of the 7 creatures that these records spoke of. They had called her Mother of All. Reese had searched the world looking for others and had come close at times, but they always seemed to stay just out of reach. Hidden from the public and only noticed when an unusual death was reported in the papers.

She paced the floor in front of the fireplace.

"He could be of use to us. We need a guide in this new time. It is strange with things that I do not understand. Things have changed dramatically from the 1920's." she said.

Marlon nodded. "Yes, and he seems to have a fondness for you, whether that is just your natural power, or not, it can be used. You seem to enjoy the attention."

Reese glared at him. "Jealousy doesn't suit you, Marlon. He doesn't seem very bright, which will play to our advantage. This isn't his residence, as he has stated, so I must put a barrier of ill around the perimeter to keep others away. We will all we can about this new world and then…dispose of him."

Marlon sighed heavily. "He is an innocent. We've talked about this."

Reese pouted. "But it's been so long."

Suddenly there was a bang that sounded like a gunshot come from the back of the house. Reese and Marlon both went to investigate leaving Chris standing staring blankly.

They stood at the kitchen window and watched as a young girl ran past. Her face was dirty and streaked with tears. Not far behind was a much older man with a shotgun. He stopped and took aim. The ground exploded by her moving feet.

"Get back here you dumb bitch!" he screamed.

She froze as the dirt rained down around her. The man reached her and slapped her so hard across the face that she dropped like her body had no bones.

Marlon was out the door before Reese could stop him. As the man took aim at the girl, he didn't see this huge man barreling down on him. Marlon hit him full speed and the two rolled across the lawn. Reese reached them just as Marlon was about to strike the man in the face again.

"Stop." Was all she said.

He stopped and rose off the man.

"What the hell?" the man said round broken teeth and blood. "You need to collar your damn dog lady."

Reese smiled at him. She could smell the evil on him, like a foul stench with a bitter undertone. Her eyes began to glow and her skin shimmer in the late afternoon light. The man's outrage quickly turned to fear.

"What are you…?" he breathed.

She smiled down at him as the delectable flavor of fear overpowered the bitterness of evil and she drank it in.

"I am your worst nightmare and the last thing you will ever touch." She straddled the fat man, her knee's several inches from the ground, placed her small hands on his chest and took a deep breath.

His eyes bulged and he began to scream. She took another deep breath, and his skin began to wither and wrinkle. With each breath her knees got closer and closer to the ground until she was flat from knee to foot, in the grass. The man was less than he was when she started. His screams had stopped, and he lay now staring at the sky. No life shimmered in those eyes. She leaned down and licked his cheek then looked up at Marlon.

"May I?" she asked sweetly.

Marlon grimaced. "Do you not smell him? Really Reese? It hasn't been that long."

A scream brought them both back to the current situation. The girl they were saving.

"Besides, I'm sure that girl has seen enough. Even you can't erase everything."

Reese stood and walked to the girl. She whispered in her ear and the girls face took on one of pleasure and she turned and walked back the way she came.

"Let's go deal with this 'Chris'." She said.

The two walked into the house together, but Reese had a little more bounce in her step than she had before.

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