My bare feet struck the pavement and sent jolts of pain from my heels straight up my shinbones, the sensation rattling around the underside of my kneecaps like a copper bell clapper. The oxygen I gulped into my lungs burned like napalm, feeling thick and sticky in my throat, coating my mouth and sinuses. I didn’t know where my would-be assailant was, I couldn’t hear their feet pounding the asphalt behind me or any heavy breathing in my wake, but I wasn’t fool enough to think they had given up their pursuit, not after what I’d already seen them do.
It had been a normal day, nothing out of the ordinary had happened at all, and if someone had told me when I woke up that by lunchtime I’d be running for my life I’d have thought them insane. Now I had to question my own sanity; had I really seen that woman sprout wings and fly? Surely not. But I thought… could she have… it’s not possible… was it?
I’d just finished paying for my Caesar salad and was making my way through the cafeteria toward the table where my coworkers Beth and Carrie were waiting for me, and the sudden appearance of a tall raven-haired woman in my path brought me up short. I’d stared up into the depths of her mink brown eyes, marveling at the gold and copper flecks that almost seemed to sparkle in the pale fluorescent lighting and I found I was stunned into silence for a moment at the remarkable beauty of her.
Five foot eight with legs for days that sprouted from the hem of a cherry red dress drew the attention of almost everyone in the room and all conversation faded into silence, all eyes watching her. She had honeyed golden skin and full breasts that the seemed to be contained by the plunging neckline of her dress as if by magic, the enticing expanse of skin drawing my gaze for a span of heartbeats before I met her eyes again.
She stepped closer to me, taking my lunch tray and handing it off without looking, just knowing someone would take it from her and when I moved to take a step back out of natural ‘personal space’ instinct her hands shot out and gripped my shoulders, pulling me against the length of her curvaceous body. Her voice was low when she spoke, a whisper like dark promises of ecstasy, the sound making my mind slip sideways and completely forget about the large audience we had accumulated.
“You’re the one,” she said softly, “You’re the one I’ve been looking for.”
It was when I realized that her body didn’t feel hot against mine that a warning bell started going off in my head, a woman like this should have been generating enough heat to bake bread but instead she was cold, her skin radiating a chill that penetrated my knit shirt and broke my arms out in goose bumps. I again tried to move away but her long fingers were like steel, her nails digging into the flesh of my arms almost painfully as she spoke again, lowering her head so I felt her lips moving against mine as she spoke.
“It’s painless, Julie, a small price for endless payoff.”
I had no idea what she was talking about but each word felt like it was pulling at my core, a thin silken thread tugging at something rooted inside me and the sensation brought my fight or flight instinct to life. With every ounce of will power I could muster I managed to remain calm, trying to lull her info a sense of victory; I brought my hands up slowly, sliding them across her stomach, over her ribs, brushing the sides of her breasts before coming to rest on her chest and with a small inhale I shoved for all I was worth.
She teetered on feet I was surprised to see were bare, her toenails polished a bright red, and when she stumbled backwards I turned and ran. I heard her come after me almost immediately, her feet slapping the tiled cafeteria floor, and in an effort to slow her down I grabbed the large bowl of lettuce from the salad bar as I ran past it, turning and hurling it at her. She batted it aside but the fact that I’d thrown something at her seemed to genuinely shock her; and then she was angry about it.
I could feel the air thicken, coalescing around her and she became buoyant in the heavy mass, her feet rising slowly off the floor. When the pearlescent wings of semi-transparent light erupted from her back I didn’t wait around to see any more, I turned and ran, letting my sandals fall away almost unnoticed as I bolted out the front door of my office and down the crowded streets of mid-town.
And now here I was, being chased by Gods knew what, and the massive stitch in my side finally forced me to stop. I ducked into a narrow alley and fought to catch my breath as quietly as I could, pressing the heel of one hand into my ribs in an effort to relieve the pain in my side. My feet ached and my clothes were wet with sweat, my hair disheveled and my mind still racing.
When she materialized in front of me I realized my mistake, the narrow alley I’d hoped would have been small enough to go unnoticed by her was also too small for me to maneuver within; I’d effectively trapped myself.
With the speed of a whip strike she grabbed my wrists and bent them behind the small of my back, leaning her body into mine and using our weight to pin them there. Extracting one of her hands she reached up and cradled my face against her palm, threading her fingers into my hair and tilting my head back. Was she a vampire I wondered, even while realizing how absurd that sounded, but what other explanation was there?
“I’m not here to hurt you, Julie,” she said in that silken purring voice. “I’m here to help you. To heal you.”
Without any warning she pressed her mouth to mine, her lips soft yet demanding and the pressure of her tongue parted my own lips and let her slip inside. She tasted of wine and roses, honeyed pears and nectar, and the sensation of her exploration sapped the fight from me. I again felt that tugging deep at my core, something pulling and yanking and the feeling instantly changed from odd to painful as whatever she was pulling on was ripped free.
She stepped back suddenly, doubling over while deep coughs wracked her frame. After a few moments she grew silent, her breathing gone soft, and as she straightened up I looked down at the black, gnarled mass resting in the palm of her hand. It smelled of death and decay and I wrinkled my nose at it.
“This is the cancer that was growing in your heart.”
Her words felt like a blow to my chest! What had just happened? I was trembling and with a strange gesture the black mass disappeared and she gently took my hands, her touch strangely warm and soothing now. She shushed me when I opened my mouth to speak, a smile curving her lips, “Don’t squander this chance. Live loud and passionately and regret nothing.” And with those parting words she was gone.
I glanced around the empty alleyway, my now healthy heart hammering in my chest, my world view forever altered and I started laughing almost hysterically, speaking out loud to myself as I made my way slowly back to work, “Whoever said no good story starts with salad was wrong.”