If you’re reading this diary I probably got eaten by a ghoul, or maybe I just lost the damn thing. I’m not good with keeping up with stuff, so it’s even odds.
Filled with pilfered canned goods and a squashed candy bar, my backpack thumped against my back as I walked down the litter-strewn street. I sipped soda, wrinkling my nose at the fake sugar after taste, but all the good sodas were gone. A police car zoomed by overhead, but I gave it no heed. Petty crap like looting fell off their radar months ago. Cops were busy with undead, murderous Fae, criminal magiks, and maybe even aliens. I glanced up at the rose-colored sky. Puffy white clouds dotted the horizon, reminding me of the sheep in the mattress commercials that used to be on television. I wasn’t sure the alien stuff was for real. I never saw anything. Of course, I lived in nowhere Kansas at the time. If aliens had tried to invade, they gave Kansas a wide berth–can’t blame them. I didn’t make it to a city until after the shit hit the fan with the Fae.
I scanned the sky one more time and then turned my attention to the alleys as the sun sank lower. Little green men were the least of my worries. I kept my eyes and nose tuned for the sight and stench of zombified men and women. The UnSeelie were equal opportunity employers when it came to creating ghouls.
Whistling a tuneless melody, I counted the blocks until I reached my place. A major perk of civil war and insane amounts of death was that no one came around collecting rent. People that still had jobs and families tended to huddle together in clusters around the city. “Stupid sheeple.” It just made it easier for the undead to find their prey. When I could no longer find food or water within a reasonable vicinity, I moved on to a new residence. Sadly, there were plenty.
A block away from the cute little picket fence number I had co-opted I heard the scrape and scrabbling sounds of a scuffle. An empty garbage bin clattered and rolled out of the next alley. I stopped in my tracks and a moment later a flash of black and purple whooshed past. A woman let out an oof, but kept her chin tucked so her head didn’t crack against pavement. Her elbow, however, smacked hard and the sword in her hand clattered to the ground. Before I could decide if I should say something, a familiar stench heralded a streak of pale, bloated flesh and shredded clothes. In one motion I dropped the soda and snatched the sword up, swinging in an upward arc that fell a couple inches short of chopping the thing’s head off, so it sort of dangled there, still alive and glaring at me from its askew position. Blood a nasty, greenish-black hue bubbled out of the stump.
A knife spun through the air and severed the remaining bits. The eyes on the ghoul quit glaring as the head thudded and rolled toward my boot. I backed up a step.
“Thanks for the save.” The woman got up with a wince, rubbing her elbow. Her purple, chin-length bob somehow fell neatly into place without her touching it. The corset blouse, black leggings and pleated skirt seemed more suited for a date, but the boots coated in dust and dried blood, not to mention the sword, suggested she was one of those who went around hunting the undead.
I realized I still held the sword and handed it back. “No problem.”
As soon as she took the sword, I stepped over the dead ghoul, anxious to get home.
“My name’s Alina. What’s yours?”
I wave a hand goodbye, ignoring her. Anyone crazy enough to stalk death could stay far away from me. I heard the pop and sizzle of mage fire, more reason to keep walking. Power drew them. Not that I was a nonmagik. I wasn’t that lucky, but I figured the more magic you used, the easier it was for the ghouls to locate you. I kept my stuff to warding my home of the week or passive stuff, like listening to the trees talk.
I waved at the pin oak in the front yard of my current home and the leaves rustled back. Best thing about this city were the trees. They couldn’t really do anything beyond warn me of an approaching ghoul, but I didn’t mind. I could listen for hours to their stories of rain and winds and sun, such a different view of a parallel existence.
Wards brushed my skin, making the hairs on my arms and neck stand up as I walked through the front door. I kept mostly to the living room. It didn’t matter that the occupants were never coming back. It was just too creepy sleeping in someone else’s bed. I pilfered clothes from time to time and used whatever else I could find, but not sleeping in their beds was the only respect I could offer the dead.
I checked the tap in the bathroom and grinned when water still flowed. I never took that for granted. Some places the pumps no longer worked, but I lucked out in finding a house with running water. It made me want to linger simply for the surety of clean water. I kicked off my thick soled boots, shed the black tank top, jeans and undies and soaked in a hot bath.
Sooner or later, whoever was fixing shit would take note of what places were occupied and which were empty and they’d cut the power and water to conserve resources. Until then I planned to enjoy it.
I thought of the purple-haired girl and sighed wistfully. She’d had amazing hair. My own hair, a nondescript blondish-brown tangled if I looked at it crosswise. Hair like hers probably cost a ton of money. Money came from jobs that didn’t exist anymore. Ergo, I had crappy hair.
“Hair like that? Probably magic.” I said aloud as I rinsed suds out of my own. “A big fat purple bulls-eye for the undead. Probably why it found her.” It made me feel better about my non-magical hair.
Toweling off my hair and donning clean clothes, I stretched out on the couch. I didn’t like using electricity too much after dark. An UnSeelie or smarter ghoul might notice. I put her out of my mind and fell asleep to the music of trees, waking to a halo of purple hair backed by morning sun.
I screamed and hit her with a pillow.
Her hair whooshed in front of her face as she dodged, and then went right back to its perfect bob. “I should have expected that.”
“Damn right. How’d you get in?”
She let out a laugh that was heartier than a giggle, but high and fluty. “You mean the wards? Oh sweetie, I could do wards like that before I could write.”
I punched my pillow back into place with a scowl. “Yeah, well, good for you. You know what they are. They mean stay out. So out.”
“Not a morning person are you?”
“I’m not a person person. Go away.”
“You handled that ghoul well.”
“Yes, well, I majored in ghoul killing in college.”
Alina kept smiling, unfazed or maybe oblivious to my sarcasm. She glanced around the room. “It has running water and electricity. Most don’t, so I see why you like it.”
I felt trapped, a strange woman meandering around my living room, with me under a blanket in little more than a tank top and panties. “Are you a stalker?”
Alina glanced over her shoulder. “Only of my enemies.”
“Is this because I killed that thing? Do you have a ghoul fetish or something? Did I interrupt?”
Alina laughed. “No, no. You probably saved my life. I’d like to repay that with a favor.”
“Seriously. Train with me, hunt with me, and I’ll give you a safer place to live.”
I scowled. “Hunt? You mean voluntarily find ghouls?”
“Among other things, yes.”“That sounds like the height of stupidity.”
She shrugged. “It’s either we hunt them or they hunt us. I know which I prefer. Do you?”
I clenched my teeth. She was right. I knew she was, but I didn’t want her to be. I wanted a safe, tree-filled corner of the planet to hide in, which was cowardly, but I didn’t want to die. Everyone I had loved already had. I wasn’t in a hurry to join them.
“How about this? Train for a bit. You don’t have to hunt right away if you aren’t good at it. You still get the safe living space and I get company.”
“I won’t throw parties.”
In spite of myself I snorted. A change in the tree song outside caught my attention and I listened to the new subtle harmony aimed not at the world at large, but at the woman standing in front of me. It recognized not the who, but the what of who she was, an ancient.
I scowled at her,realizing as light played over her face, that her eyes shimmered and glowed opalescent. “You’re a fairie.”
“Yes, I am. And you, human, what’s your name?”
I expected more than simple affirmation, but it wasn’t like she’d been trying to hide it. I probably sounded stupid, as if I’d looked at a dog and been shocked it was a dog. Lacking any real reason to hold onto animosity, I told her my name, “Christine.”
“So is it a deal?”
The most powerful sort of being on Earth stood in front of me, offering safety, a commodity in shorter supply than clean water. That sort of opportunity didn’t happen twice. “Okay, but this doesn’t make us buddies or partners.”
“Of course not. You’ll be my sidekick. If you ask nicely, I’ll even get you a costume.”
I just stared mutely as she wandered off to the kitchen, images of spandex dancing through my head. What had I gotten into?
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