Thoughts and Musings · Twisting Fate

Twisting Fate Part 1

I wrote this little piece in response to an au soulmates post on Tumblr. This is only part 1, but it is a whole story on its own minus the denouement of the antagonists. Enjoy!

Twisting Fate

by

Jen Winters

Part 1

 

I looked at the circle of faces around me. I stood at the center as they hovered above me and I turned a complete 360 just to look into each face. Their question still hung in the air, echoing around the darkness beyond them into an infinite void.

Who are you?

How could they not know? Didn’t they bring me to this place?

“Prudence Beatrice Benedict.” Was that the answer they wanted?

“We know your name.” A voice from behind me startled me into turning around again.

“Who are you?” the second voice turned me ninety degrees.

What did they want from me? Who was I? I was just the girl who…well, I suppose I could answer that question.

“I am the woman who has died a thousand deaths. I am the woman who fights to live. I am nobody and right now I am the most important person from my planet. I am the woman who stands before you seeking justice. I am the woman bold enough to call upon the Chief Justices of the Universe and make a plea. I am Prudence Beatrice Benedict, the soul mate of the Devil.”

The pause among the floating heads hit me like the silence darkness. They stared at me, the thirteen of them, with eyes devoid of emotion. If I had been looking for compassion, I found none here. Standing on nothing, seeing into the void, my only company these heads, and they judged me as they looked on me.

“We will hear your story.” The voice came from the one was I was looking at.

“Make it a good one.” This one from behind.

I didn’t turn again. I had to make my story worth listening to.

***

The dreams started when I was four years old. They were bloody and violent. I died in them, but never the same way twice. I was fishing, or picking flowers, or cooking, or traveling, or any number of endless meaningless tasks, and then I would see a face. The face was always the same. My killer, a man with brilliant and calculating eyes, a permanent frown etched onto his face behind a dark beard that masked the unhappy lines his frown had put into his cheeks. Sometimes he was as tall as a tree and sometimes he was not that tall at all. Sometimes I was a child and sometimes I was an adult, but every time he would kill me. He would hold my head under water, or choke me with his hands, or run me through with a blade. Every time I awoke from these dreams full of a terrifying sadness, and enduring anger. I hated him, but I also loved him. I was a child, and I had seen my killer’s face.

These dreams frightened my parents. I went to counselors and child psychologists. I watched the years scratch worry lines into my parents’ faces, until I decided I’d had enough. I was sixteen, on anti-depressant drugs, sleeping medications, and the doctors were beginning to think anti-psychotics were the only answer for me. I’d had enough.

My mother was cooking breakfast as my father read the morning paper. Regardless of their apparently crazy daughter, they were still happy. My mother hummed her favorite lullaby and slow danced as she flipped the pancakes. I didn’t make much noise, but I didn’t hide my presence either. I simply took my chair as I did every morning.

My father folded his paper and smiled at me. “Good morning, Prue,” he greeted me, reaching over and taking my hand. He didn’t ask me how I slept. I hadn’t slept well in twelve years. He’d gotten used to not asking. “What’s on your agenda today?”

My mother brought over the platter of pancakes and gave me a side hug on her way to the cabinet for syrup.

“I am quitting all the drugs and all the doctors. I know that I have troubling dreams and that I rarely sleep well, but this has gone on long enough. There isn’t a drug out there that has helped me and I am unwilling to give up who I am to try to get some restful sleep. I still sleep. I am not an insomniac by any stretch of the imagination. I function normally during the day and my grades are perfect. I am going to wean myself off the drugs and then we are never going to mention my dreams again. I will deal with my nightmares like I always have and journal them. If you want to know what I am dreaming, you are welcome to read my journals. But we are not going to discuss them unless you see that I am becoming really mentally unstable. Not just a little stressed, but truly committable. I can’t live my life like this anymore, and I won’t. No more meds and no more doctors.”

My parents looked at me and then each other and in unison they nodded their agreements. My mother took my other hand and smiled at me. “You are growing up so fast. No more doctors, no more medications. But if you need us, do not hesitate to come get us. We are your parents and we love you.”

I knew they loved me. I’d never had any doubt that they loved me. Not for a single moment in my life. “I promise that I will.”

***

The next few weeks were physiologically tough. Coming off a handful of medications was no easy task. My body was used to the effects of them and rebelled against not having them every day. I didn’t sleep for a week straight, but then I crashed and slept for almost two full days, awake only long enough to hydrate and use the toilet. After that, the emotional consequences started. I snapped at my parents more than once, but apologized, knowing it was the drugs, or lack of them. I missed school a few days, but my parents made sure I got my homework and turned in my late assignments. They knew detoxing was a hard task, but I was committed and so were they. We made it through those tough weeks.

Slowly on the other side of the initial detox, everything went back to normal for me. I slept, and dreamed, and did my school work. I hung out with my friends and I read my books. Even my parents started acting completely normal. They didn’t look at me with worry-lines any more. They were relieved as much as I was. I was finally off my medications and something in me lifted. It was like I had been in a fog for as long as I could remember and now I was out of it. Everything was so new to me. My friends were brighter, happier; my parents were brand new; even me, I was bouncier and laughed so much more. My dreams still disturbed me, and I still wrote every one of them down, but I was suddenly happy. I didn’t care about them as much. They didn’t control me anymore. I was in control and it felt like freedom.

Until the day I saw my nemesis in real life. I was a few weeks away from graduating high school. It was Saturday and I had been up all night resisting sleep. I was staring at the TV watching some psychic’s program. She was telling a woman that her soul mate was waiting for her in Tokyo when the camera panned to the audience. He was there, in the audience. He looked right at the camera, and it felt like he was looking straight into my soul. I knew him. He was the man that had murdered me a thousand times in every dream I’d had since before I was school age.

I screamed; a blood-curdling, terror-induced scream, and I couldn’t have stopped it before it came rushing out of my mouth at full strength. My parents rushed into the living room while I was still screaming. They worried over me, trying to break my attention from the screen until finally I ran out of breath and my father smacked me across the face before I could take the next one. The sting of pain got my attention and I stared at my father, seeking comfort from familiarity.

“What happened? Did you fall asleep? Are you ok?” My mother’s questions peppered me, but I stared into my father’s deep blue eyes seeking the love I knew was there and the strength he never bragged about having. I found it there and I held on for dear life, squeezing his arms until my knuckles were white from the pressure.

“Breathe, Prudence. Just breathe.” His whispered instructions traveled across the chasm of my terror. I took one breath and then another until I felt the calm of oxygen saturation relax me.

“It was the man from my dreams. He was on TV.” I whispered keeping eye contact with my father, my rock. “I saw him.”

My father kept a tight rein on his response. He didn’t blink, he didn’t look away. He stared into my eyes and kept me with him until the attack of fear finally loosed its grip on my soul. As soon as I had found my own feet again, I buried myself into my mother’s arms. Neither spoke, and I didn’t need to voice my fear again. They would assume it was a dream. It had always been a dream, but this time I’d been awake. He was real and I knew that he would kill me if he ever found out I was as real as he was.

I never spoke to my parents about him again. I wrote it into my journal as if it had been a dream and I never spoke of it again. If they thought I was convinced he was real, they would have committed me to an institution, and then all my hard work getting off medications would have been for naught.

I also never dreamed of him again.

***

I went to college and I got a Math degree. I was neither a brilliant mathematician nor talented with numbers, but I chose a field that I would never have chosen because I wanted to make myself hard to find. I knew that the man in my dreams was looking for me, I knew he would find me. I did not have to make it easy for him. I was not good at math; I wasn’t particularly interested in math; and those two reasons were my only motivation for choosing math. I was hiding in a job and in a career field I was not at all talented nor interested in, but I was safe.

Calculating statistics for an actuarial company, receiving data and delivering results, and water cooler chat with the other brilliant minds in the company were my life. I worked hard to keep up with those minds, and I did good work. I didn’t hide from them or keep myself. I only hid from one person. One man. The only man in my life that could induce panic in me with just the fleeting thought of him.

The man of my dreams.

***

“Prue do you have the results of the Aiden Corp. study?”

My supervisor hung on the side of my cubicle, his long hair was in two braids today and he wore a blazer over T-shirt with a chimp on the front. He did not dress like a professional, but he was the most competent actuary on our floor, so he got away with a lot of things.

I grabbed a blue binder and held it out to him. “It isn’t environmental and the company can’t be held liable on that account. Their safety protocols are irreproachable.”

“Thanks, babe,” he replied, burying his nose in the binder and walking off. Every woman was babe to him and every man was dude. None of us were special on his pet-names list. I didn’t care. He’d never done anything forward with me nor any other woman in the office. He was a married man, happily growing old with his soul mate. As were most of my co-workers.

The clock struck five and every person in the office started packing up to go home. I didn’t. I had nothing to go home to, not even a dog. I wanted a dog, but I couldn’t afford the company. Every last penny I earned went to a strict budget that did not include restaurants or luxuries of any sort, much less a dog. If I had been any other girl, I would have gone out for drinks after work or met up with friends on the weekend for pedicures, but I wasn’t any other girl. I was the hunted girl. I kept a minimalistic lifestyle because I had to be ready to pack up and leave at a moment’s notice. I had to be prepared for long stretches of time without a steady income. I had to have a back-up plan and a back-up plan for the back-up plan.

I stayed in my cubicle for an hour more, and then I went straight from work to the gym. Certainly a gym membership would have been a luxury except that the company I worked for paid for the membership and discounted my health insurance for regular attendance. Even if they hadn’t paid for the membership, I would have. The gym had self-defense classes, martial arts courses, boxing, and kick boxing. I took every class I could and I worked-out like my life depended on it because it did. My life depended on my ability to run for miles without stopping and my ability to evade any attacker. I didn’t know when or how, but I knew the hunter was coming for me. I knew he was already looking for me, and I knew his name.

Cyrus Aquino. The man of my dreams. The oldest living person in recorded history. He had lived a thousand lifetimes already. He has accumulated so much wealth as to put some countries to shame. He held the world record for most simultaneous country citizenships. He could come and go from almost any place in the world without worry. His hands were in more products, companies, corporations, politics, and industries than the world had names for. He had a talent for finding talent and ingenuity, and exploiting it for his profit. He claimed to be over two thousand years old, and I didn’t doubt it for a moment. There were nay-sayers that disbelieved such an important and wealthy man could have escaped meeting his soul mate for so long, but they didn’t know what I did.

He’d never escaped meeting his soul mate. He killed her time and time again to avoid death. People only aged when they were very young, or when they found the person with whom they were meant to grow old and die. Cyrus had found that person and killed her. He had killed her every time she had been incarnated and he would keep killing her until she stopped him.

I didn’t know how I was going to stop him. I didn’t even know if I could, but I knew that I had to stay hidden until I figured it out. I couldn’t let him kill me again. I couldn’t and I wouldn’t.

My phone dinged on the treadmill in front of me. I looked at the digital read-out on the treadmill. Fifteen miles. I had run fifteen miles in an hour. It was the best I’d ever done. I slowly eased into a walk and cooled down over the next ten minutes. When I stepped off the treadmill my legs felts like noodles. I went straight to my kickboxing class. The instructor was cool and down to earth, Daniel Sobe. His instructions precise, he helped every person in the class hone their technique and increase their skill. I’d been in his class for over three years now and he’d never aged a day. I liked looking at him. He was broad and lean with great cheek bones and a strong jaw. We’d talked, of course. He was friendly and fun when we weren’t working, but all business when it came to training. He knew my skill level and he kept me working, tight, and ready. He would often use me when he needed to demonstrate a technique, but he was always the one to end up on the mat. He hadn’t thrown me down since the third week I was in his class. I respected him and he respected me too.

“Prue,” he’d come up behind me as I was thinking of him.

“Yeah?” I asked as I completed his cool-down drill.

“Class is over, gym is closing down for the night. Let me take you to dinner.” He nodded toward the front doors. “Birch’s is open until midnight.”

He’d never asked me out before. We hadn’t even played around with flirting since he threw me to the mat my third week in his class. I wondered what was going on. “Sure,” I said, pulling off my gloves. “Let me grab a shower. Ten minutes?”

Daniel nodded. “Meet me at the front desk,” he said and walked off to finish up his nightly routine.

I grabbed my stuff and jogged to the ladies locker room. I always kept a backpack with me. It held everything I needed to make a quick escape if I didn’t have time to pack up my home. Toiletries, a change of clothing, cash and identity including passport and birth certificate. I scrubbed work and my workout off my body in a scalding hot shower and threw on the change of clothes from my backpack, stuffing in my dirty work-out clothes on top of my work clothes. In ten minutes I was at the front desk where Daniel awaited, looking like he’d just showered as well.

“You want to drive with me or meet me there?” he asked as he headed to the front doors.

I couldn’t risk not having my vehicle with me in case—always in case Cyrus found me before I was ready. “Let’s meet there.” I didn’t offer any explanation.

“Ok, I’ll follow you.” It was nice that he didn’t need one.

He walked me to my car, a new year model two door coup, black, and then kept walking to his own vehicle. He followed me at a safe distance all the way to the restaurant and parked next to me.

After the hostess had seated us I finally asked. “What’s going on?”

“What do you mean?” he asked curiously.

I looked around us. “You’re taking me to dinner. Is there a reason?”

Daniel’s smile always lit up his face like he was meant for the cover of a magazine. “I just wanted to take you out. I like you and I thought it was about time for me to do something about that,” he replied in his easy-going manner.

“Oh.” I wasn’t able to keep the surprise out of my automatic response.

He sat up straighter. “Is there a problem?”

“I just didn’t realize this was a date. I’m not, I mean—” I could have just kept stuttering. I’d never been on a single date in my life. I’d known who my soul mate was since I had come of age and had never led anyone on to believe I could be theirs.

Daniel’s small smile wasn’t as brilliant as it had been before. “Are you already married?”

That was the question. Soul mates were the only people on the planet who ever married. There was no sense in marrying anyone with whom you weren’t going to grow old. I shook my head. “I am not now, nor will I ever be married to my soul mate, though I do know who he is.” I choked back my own sadness.

Our server interrupted then and took our drink orders and Daniel ordered an appetizer, then he chuckled and leaned forward. “Did you get a wrecker too?” he asked amused.

A wrecker. Ha! Wreckers were soul mates who in this incarnation had destroyed their chances of happiness with their soul mates. It happened often enough there was a word for it. I smiled at Daniel and laughed with him. “I did.”

Daniel reached over and took my hand. “As did I. I met him about three years ago. He was a drug addict that approached me on the street bumming for money. We knew the moment we met each other, but he was so addled and refused any help. His next high was more important to him than his soul mate. So I left him to it. Last I heard he had died in a drug deal gone sour.”

“That is terrible. I am so sorry.” I squeezed his hand, but he just smiled at me.

“I’ll catch that soul in the next life,” he shrugged. “Until then, I don’t intend to be alone or lonely. We’ve both had wreckers, so why not see if we are compatible in other ways?”

Because my soul mate is hunting me and he won’t ever stop. I couldn’t say that to Daniel. Could I? He was nice, and easy going. He deserved a good life, but he would never have one looking up skirts like mine. “I like you. I always have. But there is a reason that I never pursued that attraction. My soul mate isn’t a wrecker in the traditional sense. He is pure evil. And he is relentless in his lust for power. He would stop at nothing to see me dead. I got stuck with a murderer, one that wants to live forever and fears what might become of him if he allowed me into his life for longer than it would take to kill me. I wouldn’t risk your life to get involved with me, if I were you. I’m a woman on the run, even if I’m not running just yet.”

Daniel’s easy-going smile drifted away as I spoke and he sat back, brow furrowed as I finished my short soliloquy. “You have been relentlessly taking every self-defense and offensive sporting class at the gym for three years to defend yourself from your soul mate.” It wasn’t a question he needed me to answer. He was working through what he knew of me in relation to this revelation. “You run for hours so that you can run if he finds you. Have you told anyone about this? Are you carrying this burden alone?”

“Even if I did, no one would believe me. The situation is complicated at best and a clusterfuck for real. You met your soul mate and you knew, like everyone knows. I’ve never met mine, but I never had to. I’ve dreamed a thousand lifetimes of him and in everyone one he kills me. He is old. So very old, and he is powerful. The only reason I have escaped his attention until now is that I work very hard to remain unnoticed. I do things that do not come naturally to me because the things that do would give me away to him. I am not athletic, Daniel. I hate running, I hate working out. I do it out of necessity, not desire. I am an actuary. I hate math. If I were going to follow my heart, I would right now be in a children’s home or running an orphanage or some such thing. I would be donating every minute of my day to making this world a better place. I wouldn’t be an actuary. Everything I do is calculated to keep myself under his radar. I mean, I work in one of his companies just so that I can keep an eye on him. It’s not a major holding of his, and he never visits, but it is a way that I can keep up to date on his comings and goings without having to risk actually meeting the man.”

“Cyrus Aquino.” Daniel was as perceptive as a fox.

I nodded, silently. It was an unbelievable tale. I doubted he would take me at my word. I’d never told a single soul before because I knew my story was both unprovable and unlikely to do anything but get me killed.

“He put out a call for his soul mate earlier today. He had a psychic help him on international TV. She told him you were here. She told him you worked for him. He knows where to find you.” Daniel’s eyes reflected the crippling fear that gripped my heart. Psychics were going to be the death of me.

“Then it is time to put all my training to use. I have to run.” At some point in our conversation our drinks and appetizer had arrived. I stole a sip from my glass before I stood. “You may have saved my life, Daniel. Thank you.”

Daniel stood with me. “Where can you go that the psychics won’t find you? He is employing tried and true methods. How far do you think you can run before he finds another psychic? Do you have a plan for that?” He shot his questions at me as he threw down enough money to cover our bill and the tip. He didn’t intend to let me run without giving him the details.

“If I tell you anything, he will find you and he will get the information from you. If I don’t tell you anything, he will find you and he will torture you until he is satisfied that you don’t know anything and then he will kill you. I shouldn’t have told you anything. I shouldn’t have accepted your invitation. I should have walked away without a single word to you.” I had turned a bad situation worse by selfishly staying here when I should have run.

“It’s too late for that now. Best to move on from the regret and make a plan. How do you know that he is after you to kill you?” We were walking out the door of the restaurant now and he was following me to my car.

“I remember every incarnation of my previous selves. In every single one of them, I am murdered by my soul mate. Do you think that this time I should risk a different outcome?” I asked levelly.

Daniel pursed his lips and shook his head. “I understand. You should go as far and as fast as you can. He will know who you are by end of day tomorrow if he doesn’t already. Can I help you with anything at all? Do you need someone to pack up your house or do anything to help you?”

I smiled at his chivalry. “You are a wonderful man, Daniel. I am already ready to go. My landlady will just sell everything in my house to make up for lost rent. All I need right now is what I have on me.”

Daniel stepped close as I threw my backpack into my car. “Be careful, Prue. If you need anything at all, call me. I will come.” He handed me a card with his number on it.

I took it and threw my arms around his tall shoulders. “Thank you. If he comes for you, you tell him everything. Even me telling you to tell him everything. You do not hold back a single thing from him,” I whispered in his ear.

Daniel hugged me tightly for a brief moment, and then I was in my car speeding out of the city toward back-up plan A, a small cottage I had bought under a pseudonym in a small town on the coast. It would buy me a few days to get my affairs sorted for the next leg of the journey. I’d be heading to another continent in less than a week, and I had to take everything with me.

***

I was watching the TV screens in the bar at the airport three days later, waiting for my long flight when my picture flashed onto the screen. Brown hair, blue eyes, no make-up, and one of my favorite cardigans over a maple leaf print camisole. I looked so easily recognizable that it made me chuckle. I looked like a school teacher of all things. I could have been a school teacher. I would have loved doing that. Instead, I was sitting at a bar, sipping whiskey straight up, wearing a black leather jacket and skin-tight leather pants. My boots hit my thighs and chains dangled everywhere. I had new piercings in my nose and eyebrows, pale make-up with purple lipstick and I was sporting a rainbow colored Mohawk, black eyeliner, and the darkest colored contacts I could buy. I was even showing some henna tattooed skin on my midriff. The bar tender looked directly from the woman on the screen to me and didn’t recognize the face before him. “Luckiest woman alive, if you ask me,” he smiled as he wiped down the bar.

I shrugged. “Should have been me,” I laughed as if I agreed with every word. “I’da cleaned up for that much money.”

The bartender laughed with me. “So would I,” he winked before he was called to another customer.

I looked back to the screen. Cyrus was talking now, but what stilled me and made my heart pound were the people behind him. My parents smiling like they had won the lottery and Daniel, staring with anger roiling behind his eyes directly at the camera. “—found her parents, but she is missing. She was last seen headed home after a friendly dinner with this man, Daniel Sobe, who has kindly been helping us search for her.” Cyrus looked directly at the camera. “Prudence Benedict, please come forward. I will come to you. I just want to know if you are my one and only. Don’t you want to know the same?”

He had my parents and Daniel. Three days was all it took for him to find them and get them in front of a camera so I could see. If I had been innocent and naive, I would have thought nothing of coming forward, but I was neither innocent nor naive. He was showing me his power, and the danger of fleeing from him. He would find every person I cared about and slowly, one by one, they would die.

“Oh my god!” the voice startled me out of my reflection. I looked up and saw people pointing to the TV. I followed their shocked gazes to see my father holding his chest, red in the face, and my mother’s panicked expression as she tried to determine what was wrong. He was having a heart attack.

Of course he was.

He was the healthiest man I’d ever known and he was dying on international television. Cyrus was showing me the consequences of running from him. My mother would be next.

Anguish gripped my heart and anger seethed through my bones. My father had just been attacked and everyone witnessed it, but no one would suspect. A heart attack. The screen went back to the usual talking heads as they began making promises for updates on my father as they received them. Cyrus excused himself to care for my father.

What was I going to do? He didn’t make idle threats. Cyrus made examples. This was an example of the danger my parents and Daniel were in so long as I was running. Did I dare keep running and let them die, or did I risk coming forward and letting him kill me instead. I would have another incarnation, another chance at life, another life short-lived because of my soul mate. I sighed. I wouldn’t let him kill everyone I cared about to get to me. I’d have another chance at life. I always did.

***

I went to a news station. I didn’t change how I looked; I just washed off the make-up. I walked right in and stood in front of the secretary. “I’m Prue Benedict.”

Those were the only words I needed to speak before a flurry of activity surrounded me. Interviews, make-up, executives, hosts, broadcasters—and then I was speaking into the camera. “Cyrus, I know you want to look at me and feel that moment of connection that soul mates have. I know you have been looking for me, and now you have found me. You’ve turned our relationship into a public interest story, but that isn’t something I would have never done. Meet me at the stadium tomorrow at noon. I’m sure our meeting will have a huge audience.”

More activity. Questions and answers. Heads speaking on screen in front of me. Finally, I made it out of there. I drove to a motel known for its don’t-ask policy. I paid for two days and told the guy at the desk that I would give him a grand to keep his damn mouth shut. Five hundred now and five hundred at the end of two days if no one discovered where I was staying. He was more than happy with the arrangement.

As soon as I was in my hotel room, I used a burner phone to call Daniel. “Hello, Prue.” It wasn’t Daniel’s jovial voice. This one was deep, dark, and cruel.

“I didn’t call you. I called Daniel. If you can’t put him on the phone and let me speak with him, I won’t be at the Stadium tomorrow because I will have no motivation to be there.” I didn’t want to hear his voice, I didn’t want to speak a single word to him. I hated him. If I could have done it, I would have burned the phone out of his hand and maimed him for life.

“As you wish,” he replied.

“Prue?” This time it was Daniel. He sounded weak.

“Are you ok? Did you do what I told you to do?” I asked fearful of his answer.

“I told him everything. He decided I would be an asset in his chase. I wish I could tell you to stay away, but I know that you wouldn’t listen even if I did. Your father is ok. He’s stable and your mother is with him at the hospital. Cyrus is keeping body guards on them, for obvious reasons, but they are fine for now.”

“I’ve known you for three years, but I never knew you. I do hope that I get the chance, but even if I don’t: you would have been my choice.”

“I think you would have been mine too,” Daniel responded, choking on a sob. “He’s taking the phone back now.”

I didn’t say anything. I just hung up and destroyed my phone. I wouldn’t speak to him again until it was in public. He could wait another eighteen hours. I didn’t have a plan, I was just buying time. Public encounters were less likely to turn deadly. Certainly there were risks. I couldn’t do anything about a sniper, if he hired one to kill me right there.

As I laid there on the motel bed contemplating my noon rendezvous, I realized over and over how very screwed I was. My only hope was that he would make it look like an accident or something and leave my family and friends alone. My life was so unfair. I was completely ill-equipped to handle a massively wealthy man who wanted me dead. I didn’t have the resources or the following. On paper, he looked completely above board; he even had the kind of charisma that made people like him regardless of his wealth. He was the perfect storm of wealth and power to have me killed and get away with it, as he had been doing for lifetime upon lifetime.

Before I started in on the self-pitying, I called the front desk. “Hey, this is room 213. If you deliver me a pizza and a six pack of diet whatever, I will tip you for your time and discretion.”

“Sure thing, Mr. Hansen.”

At least he understood my need for discretion and was willing to earn his money. “Thanks,” I said and hung up. I didn’t care what he brought to the door, I only cared that it came.

***

The stadium was packed with on-lookers. It was an event no one wanted to miss if they didn’t have to. It was like a national holiday, businesses shut down just so their employees could be here. I wondered if the teams that usually played in this stadium were jealous of my turn out. I packed it better than they ever had. I immersed myself in the reporters and media presence on the actual field, engaging every person who wanted to ask me questions. And I lied. I lied through my teeth and smiled like it was Christmas morning. They didn’t want nor need to know that Cyrus was after me only to kill me. Even if I spoke such a thing aloud, they wouldn’t believe me. They wanted the story: corporate billionaire meets soul mate working in his own company.

At noon I stood on a platform the news studio erected, waiting to either die or meet Cyrus. I had made my peace with this world. I had given it my best shot and I had tried to stay anonymous. Cyrus and I could have lived forever separately if he had just left well-enough alone.

The first person I saw was Daniel. He walked toward me clearing the crowd for the man behind him: the bane of my existence. I wondered at what point Daniel would be left to live his own life, but I didn’t have time to really contemplate that. Cyrus took his place on the platform, greeting the crowds with waves and smiles.

I didn’t rush him. He could make the performance of a lifetime for all I cared. He answered a few questions from eager reporters, and then he turned to me and met my eyes. We both knew it the moment we looked at each other. There is a wave of longing that strikes when two soul mates meet. The souls want to be united and embrace. The physiological reaction to the meeting is akin to the high-place phenomenon, the urge to jump off of high places even if you aren’t suicidal. My body wanted to throw itself into his arms, and I am certain his body wanted to embrace me just as much, but my survival instinct kicked in and I took a step back.

The stadium fell into awed silence. Who stepped back from their soul mate? No one. Not a single person on the planet, even the wreckers didn’t step away from their soul mate. I had done something no one had ever done in the collective memory of the entire species. I smiled at Cyrus. “Wrong girl,” I said feeling amazed. I hadn’t planned on stepping away from him, it just happened. And now, every person watching this interaction would think that I was not the right girl. Only Cyrus, Daniel, and I knew the truth.

Cyrus gave me a calculating look and pursed his lips. “I see,” he murmured. “May I take you to dinner nonetheless? I would like to know a bit more about you and what gave me the impression you would be my soul mate.”

I stepped up to him and leaned up to his ear. “I seriously just gave you the perfect out. You don’t have to kill me because I will never live with you and we can each just move on with our lives separately. No risk to you. Why? Why would you want to invite me to dinner. The longer we are in company the more we age. Isn’t that why you keep killing me? So that you never have to age?” I whispered furiously.

Cyrus gripped my arms and held me uncomfortably close. “I have killed you a thousand times and will kill you a thousand times more. For what you have done, you deserve to die again and again. There is nowhere you can run, there is nowhere you can hide. I will find you in every life and I will see you die a most painful and horrifying death. You deserve no less.” He bit out every word with pure fury raging behind his mask of indifference.

His fingers dug into my arm for only a brief moment and then they were gone. I stepped away from him shocked by what he said. My actions caused him to hate me? What could I have done in a previous iteration that would lead him on a quest of revenge for so long? “I don’t think dinner is a good idea. You should probably continue your quest for your soul mate, if that’s really what you want.”

I stepped off the platform and unsurprisingly was ignored by the frenzied media and crowds of disappointed on-lookers. I grabbed Daniel by the hand and pulled him off the platform before Cyrus could do or say anything. He had been a hostage, until I stepped away.

“How did you do that?” Daniel whispered as we fled the stadium as quickly as we could.

“Survival instinct. I knew he wanted to kill me and it stopped me from throwing myself at him. Did he tell you why he wants me dead?” I asked.

“You did something unforgivable the first time he met you. He never told me what,” Daniel replied as we broke free of the stadium crowds and started running toward my car. I had parked as close to the exit as possible and only had to run a quarter mile to get back to my car.

As fast as my legs could take me, it only took me about a minute to run to my car. Daniel kept up with ease and when we finally made it, I stopped only long enough to unlock my car. An extra click had me stopping in my tracks. “Did you hear that?” I asked taking a step away from my car.

Daniel grabbed my jacket. “What did you hear—”

“The car clicked three times when I unlocked it.” Utter despair hit me deep in my chest. “A car bomb,” I whispered, closing my eyes as I felt the impact of the detonation on my back. My only thought was of justice—who would give me justice?

***

I hadn’t stopped speaking to the heads surrounding me until that moment. “That’s when I found myself here instead of there.”

“You called upon the Chief Justices of the Universe because someone killed you again?” The speaker came from my left and I turned to address the androgynous face.

“I don’t know what I did in a previous iteration to incur such devastating wrath from my soul mate, but I seek justice because I am powerless to stop him from killing me over and over. He doesn’t just desire my death, he desires my death for all eternity.” Fear might have gripped me, but it was a healthy fear, a terror toward beings that could wipe out my very existence. This was The Council of Justice for the universe. They didn’t take on mundane cases that could be solved by terrestrial courts. The fact that I was standing before them meant that my story was important. It meant that what happened here right now could affect the entire Universe.

“We will hear Cyrus’ story as well.”

In the blink of an eye, Cyrus stood next to me. He did not look at all confused, as if he had been watching the entire time. “My story begins two thousand three hundred forty-seven years ago, with the birth of my soul mate.”

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