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She walked to the line of black guardians. The men with guns and without patches, with no insignia or banner or name. Mercenaries. Who upon seeing her, opened a small gap for her to enter. No words were exchanged. They didn’t even look at her walk in. Their faces were stiff and forward, their rifles grabbed firmly and pointed down.

She walked into the empty casino. Up the elevator, the light haphazard turned on. Mostly off. The sun hit her from the backside, and each level cut it off with a thin black line where the elevators support beam was. Her baby was awoken to the light and the shadow, grumbled a bit on her chest, then went back to passive sleep after spitting.

And she looked up as the elevator numbers increased. The dark rings were wide around her eyes and only got wider as the red-neon number rose.

He’ll kill us, I know it. It doesn’t take anyone smart to know that, that Ritcher will kill us. He’s never cared about our side of the family, never even tried to talk to us. Why we aren’t much to him but flies. Flies on the corpse of our father, dwindling and prancing and pretending our noise means anything.

The doors opened.

Well, I know better.

I know that Turnus can help us. He’s a piece of shit, but he’s not a liar. Not to me at least. When he said, for example, that he’d show father the pictures. The pictures that lead to this all. Why he did it. I didn’t believe him until he did. And when he said father would be furious, I didn’t believe him until he was. And when he said, finally, that we’d have to kill him. Why.

Why…

Why, I doubted him up until the last moment, when father looked us dead in the eyes and said we are not his seed and no kin to Wolfes. Then I went along and did the thing. Fathercide. I guess that’s what it’s called. I think. I wasn’t the smart one. I wish everyone was as simple as me. I wish I didn’t have to wish for things. I wish I hated Turnus enough to stop myself from trusting him. I wish.

She looked down at her child.

But the things I hate and the things I love don’t matter much anymore. Some things are more important, deeper than hate or petty love. It’s legacy. Legacy is important, dad knew that. And if Turnus can promise me my legacy then I might just have to consider what he wants; Floyd.

But it’s hard. It really is. I can’t do it. Not yet. I don't think.

She shook her head, the blonde strands caught in her mouth. She spat them out. She went up the elevator, her neck aching and the growing fever causing a pounding in her head, waves of hot pain. The elevator dinged. The lights turned off for a moment. Then on as the doors creaked open half-way. Half-way only.

She walked into the lobby leading Floyd’s room. What she presumed was his room. Her heart beat fast, her eyes danced along the floor, then to the child and then, finally, to the door.

Where it should have been at least.

Because what she found could only be defined as extraterrestrial. Like some cosmic, otherworldly locale. A meteor’s surface, an alien, stalagmite-covered planet. She saw pillars of black crystal. She saw them congested at the door leading to Turnus’s living room. Ornate, white doors, now broken down and stabbed through and shaded black from the semi-transparent crystal. It looked like a pitchfork straight from hell, grown out of obsidian.

“Don’t touch it.” She heard her mother’s voice. She almost seemed camouflaged by the crystal for Salome’s body was all black. Her dress, her large hat, the shadow cast across her pale skin.

“What’d you want with him?” Salome asked. “I hope it’s something I can do too. For as you can see, Floyd isn’t here anymore.”

“Nothing,” Luanne said. “I wanted nothing.”

“No, you wouldn’t be here for nothing. What’d you need from him?”

“Some hope.” She moved her head up and down and held her mouth with her hand and turned to leave. Salome grabbed her. The bony hands sunk deep into Luanne’s arm, like the mechanical clench of those toy claw-machines. She felt grabbed. Pulled. Lifted. Dragged back.

“Don’t talk to me like I’m trash like I’m just another fool down the lobby with bad luck worn all over my face.” She said. “I am your mother. I demand some patience. I demand your respect.”

“It’s too late for me to care about your formalities,” Luanne said.

“You’re talking back? You never did.”

“Times change.”

“Yes, yes they do. Didn’t they? Just a month ago, maybe two.”

And Luanne looked at her, her eyes strained and squinted, her hand hard pressed against her infant's body until his fat-fleshed cheeks bulged in between her fingers and until the infant shook in her arms.

She eased her squeeze.

“But whatever was done back then, whatever nasty, dark thing was done.” Salome approached her. “Needs to forgotten. Forgiven, even. Because the things happening now are more important, certainly more pressing.”

They both looked at Flint.

Salome’s bony fingers touched him. Luanne stepped back, taking the child with her.

“So you went to Turnus, hmm?” Salome asked. It was then that she felt the isolation. The chill of loneliness. The black crystals in front of her, barring her from Floyd. The elevator, some meters of red carpet away. Too far to run, to big a staircase and length for her to carry her child with through. And Salome, like a spider with her elongated fingers and the rings that looked like hoola-hoops around them and the pale face and the black dress. The great hat, hiding fangs, and thin eyes.

Why you could call her a black widow.

“You didn’t have to. I could protect you. You’ve seen them outside, right?” She said. Luanne looked around to small busts of her father, and her father’s father and men she was related to but did not know, all staring at her like a jury. “You’ve seen those armed soldiers. They were expensive, but good warriors cost good money. They’ll keep us safe for a while, long enough to think about something. A plan maybe…”Her voice drifted. “Maybe Turnus should die first. I get the feeling that he’s a bigger threat now. Slimy little shit isn’t he?”

Luanne’s eyes darted. The words like empty noise, static. Acoustic abrasions that stirred nothing in her but the growing coldness in her belly. That’s what it was, she realized all of a sudden, what all of this was; a madhouse. And the Asylum was open to all. Free for all. Home to all. Wardens, prisoners and quack-doctors, all dancing to some insane tune.

She looked at the black crystal, a tree from hell sprouted at the wall, stabbing through its ornate doors. She looked at her mother, finger on her chin as she thought and thought and thought.

Planning and setting her web.

The baby cried.

“I went to assess my options because I need to,” Luanne said. “Not everyone wants the same thing you want, mother. And I get this feeling that you getting what you want would mean me losing something important to me.”

“All you want is the safety of your family, right?” She stepped towards Luanne, the clack of her heels like a shotgun cock.

“Yes and I don’t think you can provide that.”

“And how can Turnus, exactly?”

Luanne turned to Floyd’s room. The barricaded room. The quiet room present behind the wall of crystal. It was she was staring into one of those museum pieces, the large ones where the figure of interest is encased in ice. As if she was staring into an old, lost hope, like a museum piece. Do not touch. Do not take pictures of.

“I wasn’t banking on Turnus.”

“No?” She asked. “You weren’t. But you are now?”

“Turnus can keep away the monster that is coming for you.” She walked back. “That’s coming for all of us.” She had been walking back, slowly. Making her way to the elevator. “One of them, at least.”

“And who’s the other?”

She pressed the button behind her. The door opened, ding. The lights flashed on. She stepped into the center, looking at Salome square in the face. Her grey hair protruding out like cut cobweb. It seemed to move without wind. Really, it seemed Salome lived without air. She made no deep breaths, no sudden movements. As if all of her was some kind of ethereal being.

Salome took a step forward. The doors closed.

It made Luanne glad, as the metal wire screeched and the cart moved down, and her stomach dropped. It made her glad.

And then Flint started to cry.

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mdhector41

Bio: Author of the Evil that Men Do series.

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