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I remembered Amber by her hands.
When I told Jamie Backlash this he bubbled with humour. A sound like a hyena rose from his thought and mocked me. “Of all things,” he laughed, mirthful tears brimming in his shadowy eyes. “The girls hands?”
I explained how thin and nimble her fingers were, how exactly like the colour of off cream or crumbling plaster her skin was, how her nails where smooth with chipped blood-coloured polish, how the back was garnished with a splattering of golden freckles, how soft her palms felt against my own.
Backlash looked faintly surprised. “Okay, lovebird. Quit dreaming and keep loading.”
I glanced down at my hands. Usually on this job they would have been unconsciously fitting silver bullets into their heavy black hoisters, as I was supposed to be doing, while my mind wandered, as it always did.
They had paused mid-load, smeared with an inky substance from the metal, frozen as if neither muscle nor gravity could move them.
I wouldn’t move them.
The real reason I remembered Ambers flawless hands was because I wanted to forget the rest of her. In case that she ended up on the other end of my barrel.
In my world there are the innocent and the devils.
Once you pick a side you stay with it.
I was a hunter.
And she was Soulless.
Two years previously:
Fairy lights where no match for the shining yellow streaks of afternoon sun I was used to, but they set the mood just as well. The hall was floored with marble, topped with glass, and shadowed by the silvery moon. Inside, couples spun like leaves in a breeze, people lounged on thin plastic chairs, or hung in groups around the edges, their footprints caking the floor, their sound billowing the air.
And there I was, one pretty dressed-up girl among the rest, except this pretty dressed up girl was not at all like the other pretty dressed up girls.
From the outside, sure.
But the soulless aren’t human.
I don’t remember how he found me, or why he chose me, all I know is that he did.
Three slivers into the night, and we were stepping and twirling together like the other couples around, my hand on his shoulder, his tense around my waist.
He told me I danced like a bolt of lightning.
I told him I danced like a wind up doll.
He said he saw the real me.
Maybe he did.
“I’m Jax.” He inclined his head. “Just in case you wanted to know.”
I didn’t know what to think of him.
in hindsight, I realised his soul was probably large enough to fuel me for months. It was probably filled with all the goodness and protein little soulless need to get through the day. Before I knew him, I probably would’ve advertised him like a breakfast cereal. Just one life-stealing kiss and it’s yours!
But I wasn’t even thinking about souls in that moment. Not his, nor the thousands drifting around, just waiting to be taken.
For the first time in weeks, I wasn’t glued to my hunger. I wasn’t sure I had been hungry at all with him there.
But he was so good.
I’d seen it in his eyes. He was so good. That sort of righteous hero nonsense, loyal, honest, blah blah blah that usually makes the bad types want to puke.
I should’ve sensed that gun under his coat. That badge in his pocket. The ghosts under his dead TV screen dress shoes.
I should’ve thought before Jax pulled me around the doorframe into the cutting night, before we picked two white plastic chairs from a stack in the courtyard, before we sat, knee to knee, across from each other, like police and criminal in an interview room.
Before we laughed at each other and shared our secrets.
Before he drew real joy into my smile.
Before I fell in love.
Before he leaned into me, closer and closer, our foreheads touching, our lips nearly…
“Hey!” I hissed, turning my face away. “Don’t take me, I’m one of you,”
Some part of me buried deep down stung bitterly. I had thought, for a while, that I meant something to him.
But apparently, I was just another stupid girl hoodwinked into being his meal.
Or that’s what I thought.
“I’m like you. Soulless.” I whispered. “And you’re stupid to not know.”
He leaped up with a jolt. His chair fell backwards, hitting the pavement with an echoed clatter.
My neck had to snap back to look into his eyes. His pupils where small, wild and panicked.
“You’re soulless?” his voice rose into the silent air between us, cracked with betrayal.
But surprise didn’t stop him from drawing his weapon.
His hands shook on the trigger.
Mine shook on the edge of the plastic I was still fixed to.
We wouldn’t move them.
“Jaxon!” A male voice yelled from the distance.
He cried out. His hand jumped, and so did the gun.
I crushed a rose between my fingertips. Red flower stained the underside of my nails.
The scent of pollen filled my nose, scraping my sinuses like cleaning liquid, flushing the taste of bitter iron from my mouth.
Crumpled petals fall from my grasp onto my face, tumbling like bodies over a bridge, from my chin onto the ground.
“Are you daydreaming again?” My younger brother queries. He tilts his head, his brow softens. He looks like a concerned puppy. Innocent, naïve. Trusting.
“No.” I can feel the hard blankness in my eyes. It’s always been there, an absence, of emotion or pain, I can’t tell.
long, green grass dipped in front of the clouds, from where I lay on a bed of leaves and dirt, the plants breeze above me. The clouds seem so high. So, so high. The moon wavered in the corner of the sky, almost drowning in filmy blue atmosphere. With the sky blocking its view, it looked so much further away.
“Amber? Are you going to come for a meal?”
“Mum says you’d better.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Or you’ll fade.”
If mother wasn’t so fond of him, I might as well have sucked out his soul, then and there. Such was my hunger. All it would have taken was one tender kiss, and my parched heart would be satisfied.
It was a struggle to get to my feet.
My thigh, even years later, still bleed from that bullet wound. Soulless don’t heal like humans.
The Soulless aren’t human.
The air was like a crowd after a concert, laid with reminiscence, dusty and full. A streetlamp bathed the roadside, swarmed with moths bugs and spiderwebs. Jitters ran across my skin.
There where three of us, clad with black armour and strong firearms. Dark helmets covered our faces, and ammo straddled our chests. Hidden on the edge of the light, waiting.
Backlash’s com buzzed, the operator’s voice fizzing through the speakers.
“We’ve spotted the soulsuckers.” Static. “Down Gudanuff, near the Lamb.”
“The what?” Backlash muttered into the device.
“Awh, you know, that pub on the corner.” The voice crinkled. “How do you not know the Lamb? Love their cheesy chips. If you go there, ask for the chips.”
Backlash rolled his eyes. “Rodger that,”
“I’m not kidding, those chips are like souls ta suckers.”
“Sure they are, Dean. We gotta do our job, if you don’t mind.”
We moved through the shadows down an alley behind the structure. It was darker here, wedged between the buildings, and it smelled a lot worse. Like old frying oil and bitter alcohol.
“Yeah, there are Soulless here,” The third hunter agreed, looking at a glowing black box on her wrist. “The thingy-ma-jig is going wild.”
“Good. Jax and I can use the back entrance, you should scout the bar. Do you remember the symptoms?”
“Yep. They can’t eat, are always looking for prey and… something about eyes.”
“Irises are weird colours.”
“That’s it. I knew that.”
Backlash smiled behind his visor, hoisted his gun up, and gestured at the front of the restaurant.
“You’re all set then. Show us whatcha got.”
The young recruit nodded vigorously and silently rounded the corner of the alley.
I searched the wall for the kitchen entrance. When my gaze settled on a rusting metal slab in the brick, my stomach wrapped itself around my ribcage.
I was doing it again. Why do I always do it again?
That hesitation. My heart still jumped every mission, dreading that I would see her. Thinking back to the day I thought I had met my soulmate.
I still had the gun, and I know I wouldn’t let her get away a second time.
Backlash turned to me. “You ready?”
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
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