Writer's Wednesday!

Midnight Rogue 4–Origins

Revenge. The Midnight Rogue thrashed desperately in the trunk, walls of black all around. Pressing down, squeezing in, cutting off her air as efficiently as a sinner’s final wheezing breath. Chloroform dragged her down into the murky gray, into a haze of memory that swirled her back to her original self. An outer borough daughter, friend, student. A girl broken by tragedy. The darkness folded around her. The Midnight Rogue was whisked away into the past……


“Paisley!” A flash of blond hair glinted under the strobe lights and the girl bounded off after it, bumping into strangers and giggling apologies. “Paisley! Wait up!” Miranda called, voice engulfed in the din of clacking heels and throbbing bass. She felt a hand on her arm and tensed immediately, whirling against the grip. A man.

No…a boy? Not much taller than her, sporting a casual outfit, messy hair– Miranda laughed, taking in the blurry face. This wasn’t a stranger! She looped her arm through his and yelled over the pulse of the club,

“Ben! I thought you weren’t going home yet!” He stopped her, grabbing both her hands as she teetered dangerously. Bursting with a loud hiccup, Miranda wavered on her heels, eyes straining to focus on the face. Ben’s face. 

Ben? I thought he wasn’t going home yet! 

His thin yet athletic build glowed under the strobe. Tense shoulders. Strong shoulders. The shoulders of her best friend’s brother. 

She wasn’t quite sure why she latched her hands to them, but she did. Satisfied with how she stood, in a crude slow-dance stance and wobbling on her heels, she was able to focus on his eyes.

“I was going to stay, but I thought maybe I should walk you home!” he yelled, voice barely audible as the song pounded into another deep-bass chorus. Miranda knit her brows. Now why would he do that? I have a knife at my thigh, after all. I can defend myself… 

“Miranda!” The dark-haired girl swiveled her head, vision going blurry for a moment. A squeal tore the air. The girls leapt into each other’s arms in a massive bear hug.

“Paisley, I missed you!” 

“I was only gone for a second–”

“A second too long!” They burst into laughter; Ben stood off to the side, watching the scene unfold with amusement and disbelief. The lights lit up their hair, clinging onto each other like an onyx gem fused with gold. Paisley Renee, Ben’s sister, slightly taller and with hair like the sun beaming down on a meadow. It was a strange contrast to the raven-black of Miranda’s. A good contrast, he thought. He strode forward. 

Gently breaking them apart, he held an arm out to each girl, which they each took gratefully. Even in their stupor, they seemed to know they would need it to get out the door. 

The club was alive with people. The stumbling and sweating mass whirled across the floor, breaths heavy with the stink of liquor, baking under the heat of the flashing lights. 

When they finally burst through into the night air, it felt like a winter day after being cooped up inside. Miranda’s face lit up at the coolness, coming alive with the sting of the breeze against her cheeks. Some of the cloudiness dissipated then, a bright silver moon illuminating both the sidewalk and her mind in one graceful beam. 

Rejuvenated, she shrugged her arm from Ben’s and gazed around. It was late, late enough that the world was asleep. Gushing night wind held a biting chill that felt prickly on her tongue.
“Miranda, can you hold on a sec? Paisley has to fix her heel,” Ben called. Miranda nodded absentmindedly, hearing the words for a moment before letting them slip away under the alcohol. Ambling a few feet past the exit, she stopped in her tracks. What a beautiful song, she thought, looking up at the wall. 

Scrawled in concrete were a cluster of words. Stepping closer to examine it, Miranda realized that this was not a song at all, but a poem of sorts. Glancing back at Ben and Paisley, she saw they were still there, methodically tinkering with the beige heel for no obvious reason. 

Content with their closeness, Miranda began to read aloud to herself, drawing the leather jacket closer around her shoulders. 

“Beware! Those pleasures of humanity
For when the time of need arises
The angels will deem them sins. 

Justice will not come on drunken, senseless wings
Justice will not come when the fallen addict sings. 

Protect those who are innocent
Stand with the fierce and the bold. 
Trust the passage of time when you feel yourself grow old. 

Those who cheat the game 
And burn with pleasure’s wicked claim

Will feel the world’s pitiless wrath
Blaze over them with shame.” 

Something in those words chilled her to her core. Like they were speaking just to her. Preaching to her. Looking at her, knowing her, seeing her as she stood there, euphoric from a night of dancing and drinks. Very suddenly, Miranda wanted to go home. Or home as she thought of it: an abstract idea, anyplace where she was warm and alone and felt the knot in her chest uncoil. She wanted to go home now. 

Just as she began to step away, a hand clamped down on her shoulder.
“Ben?” She turned to see a hulking figure towering above her. Goosebumps swept over her skin, rippling down her bare arms up the thin straps of her dress. This was not Ben, with his lean figure and boyish features. This was something scary. Threatening.

The hand shoved her back against the wall, pinning her without effort. 

“Hey, sweetheart. How about we get out of here?” the man breathed. His breath was putrid, hot and stinking of alcohol as it beat down on her flushed cheeks. Miranda squealed and struggled, raking her nails down his arm. Thrashing fruitlessly against the hand that pinned her to the stone. 

“I don’t want to go. Please…I’m not interested!” she begged. But he didn’t draw away. His lips curled back, revealing an array of crooked yellow teeth. The smell of spoiled liquor intensified.

Looming over her like a vulture, he pushed her left shoulder even harder to the concrete; she could feel each little imperfection in the stone digging against bone and tenderizing her skin. 

With his free hand he traced a line along her collarbone where the dress neckline curved. Miranda wanted to molt out of her body. She wanted to disappear, melt back into the concrete and be one with the prophecy of the wall. Wasn’t that what she did best?
Disappear?

Suddenly the pressure was gone from her shoulder. A flash of caramel eyes, golden hair, freckles. Miranda wavered, still feeling the phantom touch of meaty fingers on her collarbone. 

It was a flurry of motion. One form bled into another–Ben’s light brown hair, Paisley’s olive skin, the frothing red mound of a man. Fumbling for the knife strapped to her thigh, she drew the blade and held it aloft in the moonlight. Silvery, shiny, warped from her intoxication and adrenaline. 

But in the grappling brawl there was no clear target. Tears blurred her vision. The blade was useless in her inept hands, staring at a tangle of friend and foe. 

At once the forms separated long enough for Miranda to raise her knife. The drunkard charged forward, fists looming, and she thrust the silver deep into his shoulder. And with a bellowing roar he struck her down.

Concrete. Dizziness lightened her head. She became a heap of white skin and black hair, crumpled uselessly on the ground. The next sounds she heard were that of defiant words, Paisley screaming. 

Then the sidewalk was overflowing. 

Crimson, sticky, spilling, everywhere. 

Somehow she fought, somehow she moved, pulled herself forth to the broken figure on the road. It all crashed down, images and sounds whooshing through the pain.

Miranda’s fingers knotting in Paisley’s golden hair. Her throat ripping screams. Ben crying out for help, help that would never come. Light leaving bright caramel eyes. Miranda’s heart draining humanity, draining benevolence, draining mercy. 

Soup strainer. 

It all melted away until the only things left were solid: her best friend lying dead in her arms, the cold lump throbbing weakly in her chest, the awful words clambering up her throat. Finally she managed to say them. Softly, despairingly; completely and utterly without hope.

“Ben. It’s no use.”

His shouts choked off hoarsely. Defeated, he slumped over his sister’s unbreathing chest, heart shattering in those tawny eyes. 

“Paisley’s dead,” she whispered, “she’s dead, Ben. And it’s all my fault.” He didn’t correct her. Wouldn’t have even if she was wrong.

That wasn’t his job, to console her, wipe her tears. His job was to mourn, to grieve, to wallow. His sister was dead; no one could help, and no one would even if they could. In this disgusting cesspool, what doctor would bother with an injured young girl? What passerby would pause to save a life? Not a single one.

Not a single one.

Miranda glanced up at the words on the wall, those which she had mistaken for a song–they were splattered with fresh blood now–and back to the most exuberant bundle of starlight and sunshine, newly dead. Skin still warm, eyes dark as twilight. Dim as dismal rain after a long, blissful summer.

Ben’s job may have been to grieve. But hers wasn’t. 

No.

Her job wasn’t to mourn, or cry, or say goodbye.

Her job was to hunt down the man who clobbered sweet Paisley Renee to death without a second thought. She would meld with the darkness. Blend into shadow. Become vengeance incarnate…and then, only then, could she do what needed to be done. 

She would stab him until he met his death.


Writer's Wednesday!

Midnight Rogue 3–Dawn

When the bell had struck hours ago, she should have run. A messy murder was better than a risk like this: to be so far from home and take her time going back. He had taken too long to die. 

When the bell had struck hours ago, when her knife had plunged into his beating heart, she shouldn’t have waited for his last breath to be drawn. It was too late. Even before she left the alley, she knew this. She had gone too far, waited too long, been too careless.

The girl slunk from the hallowed place; she was alone again. Bloody morning sun rays painted her face in gold, glistening off a pallid, milky mask: the face of a killer. Beginning to perspire, little beads of pearly sweat adorning the pale canvas, her boots struck hard on the concrete as she started to run. 

Her feet were slick with the sweat, boots stuffed with paper upon paper to disguise her actual shoe size…a smart tactic. A smart tactic, but a disgusting one; her feet were swimming in greasy newspaper, toe sweat, and blood that had seeped through the fabric. 

Uncomfortable. Not an uncomfortable like wet socks after a water ride. No. Uncomfortable like the fact that her mind no longer lingered on the fresh blood on her hands. Uncomfortable that the swampy sweat bog of her boots was of a bigger concern to her than the man she just slaughtered. Oh, well. Discomfort could pass. Guilt, which she decidedly shut out, would have passed too. The girl had greater things to worry about.

She had been sloppy today. She was never sloppy–never. Gloves cleanly disposed of. Knives properly cleaned, soaked in chemicals, restored to their place. Boot prints left, yes, but in a size that was almost laughably big. Those grimy shoes had been passed around among relatives so many times the purchase was virtually untraceable. None of those were the problem. Not at all. 

Her problem was the sun. The sun, and the thousands of dirty, drug-shooting, poor saps rising with it as the outer boroughs spurred to life. Panther-like steps were abandoned. It was a race against the clock, a race against any early risers. This time, she had taken it too far, too lightly, too late. Sprinting now, her boots thudded so loud that she was more likely to wake up the people with the sound of her footsteps than the sun through the windows.

Idiot, idiot, idiot…how could you be so careless? It was at least a mile left to go; she had traveled so far through the night, hopped up on sadistic adrenaline and practically unfazed by the trip to the victim’s apartment. 

But her energy was waning fast. The Midnight Rogue persona was slipping through her sweat-slicked grasp, the addictive, psychotic energy dissolving. 

She had killed at midnight. 

Recounted their sins. She was the devil. The cruel Fates of hell. Anubis burning a sinner alive with the flames of their own wicked crimes. 

An easy dagger thrust. She was an assassin. 

Pierce the heart. She was Death. 

Watch the life bleed from their eyes, draining like thick soup through a strainer…make sure the victim is dead. She was vengeance.

The girl shifted through her roles easily now, easier than the first times. Each kill was smoother than the last; this broken shell no longer felt guilt. 

Why not? Simple: does the grim reaper feel guilt? No. Then neither would the Rogue.

She had killed at midnight. 

It was four A.M. 

The time in between had slipped through her grasp, springing through alleys and dodging the sleeping masses of homeless people, stewing in their own filth.

A dingy street flew by, she passed onto a silent avenue. Movement in her peripherals, just a flitting shadow. The girl faltered. There was a shape in the window, a heavyset figure: a silhouette wreathed in the brilliance of an old-fashioned light bulb, a set of eyes staring out into the void, a man. Did he see me? Is my cover blown? 

The girl hoped she was unrecognizable as the Rogue. As dangerous as it may be to face down the Midnight Rogue as a criminal, it was twice as dangerous to be the Rogue at the mercy of a citizen. In this lawless, disgusting place, who would falter to kill her?

 The vacant-eyed Reject on the street–some ex-politician from City Central, a broken man swaddled in urine-soaked blankets–who would turn her in for a scrap of cloth on his back? 

A criminal wandering the avenues, haunting restaurants and clubs, waiting for a young girl he could prey on to stagger from a bar?

Not even a mother, wreathed in cigarette smoke, puffing her lungs with toxicity to shut out her grief? Desperate to make ends meet? Living paycheck to paycheck?

Even her only friend would condemn her to hell if he knew. So why not every other sinner in the boroughs? She had no right to play reaper. No right to play God. No right to deal justice where none existed. Yet she still kept running. Somehow, inexplicably, she would not let herself die.

She knew what had to be done. There was no time to get to the bunker. No more shadows to hide in. Now was the time to be the girl she’d grown up as, the girl she was before the triggers, before the ugly monster inside her reared its head. It was time to shed the disguise.

Shrugging off her cloak, the Rogue ducked into the first alcove she saw off the street. It was dark, humid, with a dumpster that smelled disturbingly close to human feces. The boot slid easily off her foot. Sweat-soaked newspaper shook loose from its pungent prison. Remorseful, the girl stuffed the royal purple silk into the lining, cringing as the hand woven cloth was smashed into a moist boot. When she stuffed the boot back on, she was equally delighted and regret-filled by the coolness of the cloak on her foot. 

Pony tail holder: it had carved a pinkish track in her wrist. Her hair felt coarse under her greasy fingers; she quickly tied it up in an unflatteringly high ponytail. Shrugged off her jacket, loosely knotting it around her waist. 

Then, the worst problem. My dagger…the bronze etched handle was laughably visible. The sheath at her belt, so easily concealed by her cloak, was now glaringly obvious. Choking on laughter, she surveyed the sharp edge of the dagger, the designs on the sheath. Very uncharacteristic of a teenage party girl. 

Such a beautiful sheath. Shining black leather. Perfectly crafted to caress her dagger. Easy draw. And without a doubt, the most expensive thing the girl owned. 

Every nerve in her hand rebelled at the motion. A tangible ache gripped her gut, but she knew she had to do this, no matter how much it hurt. The dagger slid easily into the soggy newspaper of her left boot. 

And the perfect dagger sheath fell to the concrete. Abandoned. Ripe for the pick of any drug-hungry Reject scouring the dumpsters. The thought made her sick.

“Hey, missy. You lost?” She jumped. A voice. So close it couldn’t be more than six feet away. She pressed down the scream that clawed at her throat. A wave of terror crashed over her: what could she do? 

Panic. Hot in her veins, on her cheeks, in her throat. Hide the dagger hilt? No time. Flirt with him? No experience. Pretend to be a party girl? Drunk? Lost? Maybe…but only because killing him would be too much of a fuss this late in the morning. 

The Rogue turned. Attempting a casual pose, she gave a dopey smile, heart pounding her ribs. A man stood at the mouth of the alcove. Beefy. Heavyset. No more than a few feet away. Threateningly close. 

“Um…who are you?” She managed, slurring her words. She tried to think of what a blackout-drunk party girl would say, how she would act. The exact way her eyelids would flutter. The drool dribbling down her lip. No time. No time! Any truly drunk City Central girl would never stop talking, never, especially if she was with a man who was even slightly interested. She was panicking. Desperate to conjure something flirty, stupid, bewildered. Yet what spilled from her lips was the most idiotic thing she could imagine.

“Rebecca? Is that you?” 

Idiot. 

Idiot! 

But wasn’t that something a drunk girl would say? She didn’t know. The Rogue had never had a drink. She was only a teen…too young. Too impulsive. Enough sense to know that alcohol would send her spiraling further than blind rage ever could.

The man screwed up his brow. It was obvious he was male–masculinity practically radiated from him, dashed with the usual arrogance and self-righteousness. He frowned, uncertain,

“Uh, no, I’m–” 

“Thank god! I left my bag at the club, do you have it? My mom would killlllll me if she knew! Kill me, Becky! Becca…Rebeccs…Rebie, some rando Reject could, like,” she hiccuped, “steal it and then I would be all like, ‘mom my bag got stolen’ and she would be like ‘your nice one?’ and I would be like ‘yes, mom, the one with all my I.D and money in it!’” 

Fanning herself, the girl started to tear up, wavering on her feet, clutching the bricks for support. Her eyes were wild. She looked down, rifling through the crumpled papers at her feet. Dazed. As if her bag was somehow in the newspaper. 

“I’m not Rebecca. But if you want–”

“Oh! My. God.” Her lip quivered like a plucked bowstring. The jacket around her waist sagged, falling down to her knees as she trembled, clouds growing in her gaze. Perfect. Even in a fake stupor, she could appreciate her acting skills. 

“Are you alright? I can take you hom–”

A piercing shriek cut the air. She wailed like an air horn. He could have sworn her eyes crossed for a second.

“Where. Is. Gerard?! I promised him that I was going to give him my number! Oh, where is he?” The girl stamped her boot. 

“I totally forgot after I lost my bag! Oh…he’s never going to…Rebecca!” The girl whined, practically whimpering now, oblivious to the fact that the man was backing away.

“Becca…Gerard was like…” her eyes glassed over. Silence hung for a second, a strange interaction coming to a halt in a little divot, on a disgusting avenue, in a trashy borough, far away from the glittering lights of City Central. Silence.

Then she wretched. Doubled over. Gagged. Saliva splattered the ground, gruesome chunks of god-knows-what painting the concrete. Vomit. Vomit! Hot, thick, clumpy, moist vomit. The man cringed back, sprinting from the alcove and down the street. 

As soon as he was out of sight, the Rogue stood up, eyes clearing. With a decisive motion, she let her hair down, pushing the hair tie onto her wrist and shrugging the jacket back on. Always the actor, the girl, name unsaid, ungiven, strutted confidently from the steaming stew of vomit and saliva. 

Just as she shifted through her roles of justice, she transitioned from drunk-party-girl-with-a-lost-handbag-and-a-crush-on-Gerard to confident young woman returning home at dawn.

The mistakes wouldn’t go unnoticed. Unremarked. The Midnight Rogue was sure of that. Only that. She flowed through her forms fluidly as the devil changed faces. The only role switch she had to control was the shift from Midnight Rogue to guilty teenage girl. All the rest came naturally.

The girl stepped into the street, thoughts of the approaching day already clouding her mind. She was no longer the Rogue; her rage had dissipated with the night. The only signal of her crimes was the dagger in her left boot and the cloak in her right, a vague recollection of bloodthirsty rage, a memory of a scream. 

She had been invited to meet up with a friend at 8:00 A.M., which meant she would have to jog home, further matting down the beautiful cloak–

A hand encircled her throat. Cloth against her lips. She flailed her limbs. Feet lifted from the ground.  Immediately, a wall of rubbing alcohol scent smashed her nostrils, deep, pounding. Her vision blurred. She drew in a breath as her feet scrambled for purchase. The regret was instant. Nausea roared at her like a gut-punch. Chloroform. 

Breathless, dripping with sweat, the man from the alcove lifted her into a car trunk. She lost consciousness before he could even close the lid. 

Karma, she thought. The world was paying her back for her sloppiness. Karma, and arrogance, for believing she could so easily outsmart every passerby. Her mistakes were not unremarked. Justice comes at a hefty price in the outer boroughs. The Midnight Rogue would soon pay it.


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Writer's Wednesday!

Midnight Rogue 2- Vengeance… Writer’s Wednesday!

Image from Shutterstock

I’m a stalker. Officially. He scrunched up his face, fingering the tape and decisively pasting the picture on his cluttered wall. As soon as the paper left his hands, he sighed, gazing at the mess of notes that scattered his walls. Fragments of the life of a killer. An assassin. A girl. A girl. Was this really all about her? 

No. He could deny it all he wanted, but this wasn’t about the assassin girl, the vengeful, breathtakingly beautiful goddess of the night that prowled the boroughs. No. This didn’t have anything to do with her, he decided. It was about who she had killed. 

The boy took two steps back, nearly running into his disastrous desk… the one scattered with bright yellow post-it notes that seemed ironically happy. Sunshine, golden honey dribblings, sweet canary songs, autumn leaves in the park on Rachington Avenue, sugary candy yellow. Why were the words written on them all about murder? Regret? C.S.I. evidence?

Looking at the sprawl of information on his wall, fragments of bloody brutality and silver dagger slayings. Fragments of her. The assassin. The justice-bringer. 

I’m just like those stereotypical victim characters in the movies, their only use to cry their eyes out and plot half-baked revenge schemes that never work. At least I didn’t link the pictures with red yarn. The only difference between me and the “dead-family-member,” vengeful character is–

Knock knock! The boy yelped, recoiling and slamming his back against the desk. 

“Ooow… frickin…fricker…stupid…desk!” He growled, teeth tearing at his lips with each word. Hopping over to the bathroom mirror, he ran a hand hastily through his bedhead hair. It wasn’t going to get better than this. No time to gel it. No time to brush his teeth, which probably should have been done hours ago when he woke up. Praying it wasn’t her, he hopped to the door, pain still shooting through his back…

Yup. It was her. Crap.

“Hey, Ben! There’s this new show on Netflix that looked really good and I-” she paused, seeing his flustered expression and unruly gingerbread-brown hair. Mentally cursing himself for his laziness, his cheeks flushed bright red, praying she wouldn’t say those words before he could collect his thoughts–

“Euh… should I go?” 

“No, no, sorry. Please! Come in!” Okay, now too desperate. With an uncertain smile that displayed her shiny row of purple braces, she meandered in, feet moving so lightly on the floor it was as though she was gliding over the wood. 

“Switched out the dark blue?” Ben asked her, swinging the door shut as she took in his room. The girl cocked her head, eyes still roving the cluttered room. 

“What do you mean?”

“Your braces. I like the purple.” His cheeks flushed again, and he cursed under his breath. She already knows about my sister and my investigation, and now I’m making creepy observations– his thoughts immediately halted when she smiled self consciously, sitting down on his bed. She looked like an angel sitting in the depths of hell, a vision of beauty right in front of him. Sitting on his bed, inky black hair stirred by her breath, sparkling black eyes.  

“Thanks. I don’t know, I liked the dark blue but it didn’t really match my cloak–not cloak. Uh… coat. And the purple is more mysterious.” Miranda cleared her throat awkwardly, averting her eyes. Cloak? Mysterious? An inkling popped into his head, one that he shoved aside. Irrational. Stupid. But true all the same: she matched the description perfectly… dark haired girl, tall, pale skin, cloak billowing behind her, braces. But Miranda was no killer, Ben thought, shoving the notion from his mind. It was just a slip in speech. Nothing more.

“You know, your wall is getting kinda… graphic.” 

“Huh?” He paused, following her dark gaze to the smattering of pictures dotting the wall of his apartment. “Oh. I’m sorry, I should have taken it down–”

“No, no, it’s okay. But, honestly, Ben, how long will you keep going with this? Hasn’t she been avenged enough? The Midnight Rogue slaughtered him a week ago. Justice has been served, Ben! Isn’t that what you wanted?” Her eyes grew abruptly stormy. She looked away, a glimmer of something other than concern flashing in her gaze. 

“Yes. Paisley is in a better place than this awful town, these horrible outer boroughs. But I need to thank her, The Midnight Rogue. I need to know her, know why she did it. Why she killed him.” He gestured vaguely to the picture, a stocky man with a gaunt face and a ravaged stomach, torn and gushing dark blood. The man that killed his sister.

Miranda stood up, muscles taut, coal eyes glittering dangerously. Plucking her bag off the bed, she whipped it over her shoulder, fingers twitching as she brushed off her black leather jacket. 

“Isn’t it enough to have justice?” Her mouth was downturned, lips curled in a pained sneer. What is she talking about? A cluster of birds twittered nervously outside the window, a cloud passing over the sun as though the whole world was holding its breath. 

“Miranda? What are you talking about? It’s just… I need to find her. I don’t know why, I just… feel like it’s the right thing to do. For Paisley. For me.” The room was silent, the world around them proceeding lightly, apprehensively. Clanks sounded from the other side of the wall–the resident next door cooking spaghetti, from the smell of it. 

“Can’t you ever stop? I’ve done what I can, Ben. Paisley was my best friend… you are too. But she’s gone. And she’s never coming back.” Dusting off her skinny jeans, she turned, ice in her eyes, face slack and emotionless. Ben lunged for her hand, mouth curled in a desperate frown, freckled nose crinkled in confusion. She shook off his grip easily, opening the door to leave.

“Miranda! Wait, stop!” She paused for a fraction of a second, just long enough for his heart to falter and flail in his chest. He could think of nothing to say to her—thoughts empty except for the way Miranda’s name was bitterly sweet on his tongue, the storm cloud visage of her moon dust face, how the rare smiles lit up her eyes and made her cheeks go red. 

His tongue was lead in his mouth.

“The Midnight Rogue is dangerous, Ben. An enigma: a night prowling, devastatingly heartless, brutal avenger of the innocent,” her knuckles flexed on the door, face never softening from that emotionless glaze.

“She’s cruel, Ben. Just. Fair. Vengeful… and more dangerous than you could imagine. If  I were you, I would give it up. You’ve had your vengeance.” The door shut silently. It hurt worse than if she would have slammed it: irrational people exit with slammed doors, but people who are right leave silently, dignified. That was the scary part…Miranda was right. He’d had justice for Paisley. What was he still seeking? What was out there that he needed so badly?

Alone again, Ben collapsed on his bed, where Miranda had been moments before: bright eyed, excited, leather jacket shiny as an oil slick in the faint light that trickled through the window.

 How quickly she came and left, barely three minutes and enough to leave his heart aching with a sour, longing grief. A grief that wasn’t so much about Paisley as it was Miranda. It was a guilty truth… but a truth all the same. 

He told himself it would be different if he knew what set her off, what flipped that switch, that it would take her off his mind. But maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was something more, something he was too scared—too guilty?— to admit to himself. 

***************

The Midnight Rogue had found her next victim. Opening the hatch in the abandoned apartment floor, the assassin glided silently down the stairs, feet just barely padding the stained cedar, a leopardess stalking the jungle. She didn’t bother to close the hatch. The season for drug addicts and squatters seeking refuge had long passed, the winter months over and already deep in the rainy dregs of spring. There would be no one to intrude. It was time to get ready.

In the dim light of the cellar, everything was dull and grimy, grisled with gray soot. Something about the space struck a chord with her heart—perhaps it was the chill that permeated the space like the mournful spirit of a lonely ghost adrift in the air, dancing in sorrowful harmony with the clouds of dust. Or maybe the brutally thin slits of light falling through the bars were symbolic to the bars she had put around her heart; how little of the sweet, sweet sunshine she let herself have. 

Either way, to her it was one thing, and one thing only. A place to store her daggers. Rows and rows of razor sharp blades, meticulously cleaned and not a speck of blood in sight. 

Most assassins, those for hire or not, were sloppy. Blood spatters on their knives, fingerprints everywhere, wearing their true shoe size to the crime scene. Everyone knows to wear oversized boots and stuff them with newspaper. Anyone with a brain, at least. That wasn’t the only advantage she had over “regular” killers. Reputation or not, everyone underestimates a pale teenage girl with braces. 

If only they knew the coldness in her heart: a well of pain overflowing, a pounding surf of fury relentlessly beating in her mind. Some girls solved their anger with technology, speeches and tirades, mall trips (the metropolitan ones, at least—drugs seemed more popular in the outer boroughs). Bloodlust, however, was not a trait they had. The Midnight Rogue was overflowing with it.

She sauntered over to the daggers, running a hand over their handles gently, touch soft as an angel’s wing caressing a cloud. Envisioning her next victim, she fingered through the daggers, letting her gut guide her choice. 

Something inside her was broken, she knew, thirsty for vengeance that wasn’t her own. It was easier to ease into it, down in the cellar where there wasn’t anything else to trigger the bloodlust. But even with all her fractures, breaks, ruptures and seams, she could pick out the perfect dagger and let the hurt settle.

It was a cool, soft pain, a cold arctic river coursing under the icy facade. 

This was how it always happened when the switch was flipped. 

Normalcy, pushing the irrational, pounding grief into the far corner of her mind. Allowing herself a brief glimmer of happiness. 

A trigger. Blind. Hot. Heart-wrenching grief, a drowning sorrow that pulled you under. Fury. Burning. Anxious. Itching for something unreachable, intangible, impossible. Then the ice washed over and softened the burn.

Her gaze fell on the dagger. She smiled, less out of true emotion than the knowledge that justice would be served soon enough. It was a silver blade, serrated, jagged as a shard of glass. Crude, glittering, bronze etchings spiraling up and down the black handle. Tossing her hair over her shoulder, she crouched to pick it up, turning it over in her long, piano-player’s fingers. Holding it up to the thin streak of sunlight, she marveled at how dazzling the silver was in the light; lethal and imperfectly perfect.

Sheathing her knife and grabbing her dark purple cloak, she fastened the silky fabric neatly around her shoulders. Of course, she would wait for night to fall when visibility was limited and some rogue passerby wouldn’t have much to report. The people already knew too much–and vengeance was far from complete.

Tonight the streets would run red with blood, for the second time that week.


Writer's Wednesday!

Midnight Rogue- A Writer’s Wednesday Story

Prologue

As the long-coated man slunk down the fetid alley, he had the strangest instinct that tonight was destined for misery. The creeping ivy that crawled down the crumbling brick reached out like clawed hands, the air was silent as the Welsh countryside, and the usual cat-droppings-and-perfume aroma was gone without a trace. Most nights, he would have supposed that to be a good thing, that that awful German woman who carried that stench was gone and he wouldn’t be scolded for his soft footsteps on the trash-littered cement. 

But tonight, with a bitter chill nipping at his skin and an icy wind breezing down the narrow corridor, the man bit his lip, subconsciously picking up his steps… perfectly in time with the dry rustle of leaves on the night wind. Tonight, the absence of the usual–the cacophony of German screaming, the distinct litter box and perfume odor, the gamblers speeding recklessly down city streets, revving the engines on their off-brand sports cars– felt not like a blessing, but rather like he was all alone in the world. 

The muffled, cottony hum of the distant City Central meant nothing to him. Or the ribbon of lights weaving its way across the black horizon. Those people were nothing to him. Nothing real, anyways. Just a far off dream, what the world thought about when they thought of our city. The world knew nothing of the outer boroughs at midnight. The world knows nothing, he thought. Nothing at all.

Unlocking the door to his apartment, the man stepped inside, wincing at the creak of his shoes on the floorboard. Madame Heleen isn’t home… there is not a single need to be quiet. But he did. Pushing the door shut with as little movement as possible, the man tentatively hung his coat on the rack. But the dark trench coat on the rack cast an eerie shadow in the stale light of the moon, that of a slender, dark figure inching up from behind… in a surge of panic, the man snatched the coat from the rack and flung himself into bed. The shadow was just that of a coat rack now, spindly wooden arms stretched out invitingly like an guilty mother beckoning back a scorned child. 

Cursing softly, the man stretched, yawning and squeezing his eyes shut. When he opened his eyes he fell back with a scream. 

A figure stood silhouetted in the doorway. Tall. Slender. Outlined in pale silver-yellow moonlight. And a thousand times more frightening than a trench coat on a rack. Gasping, he jolted out of bed, pinning himself against the wall.


“Who are you?!” He shouted, heart slamming against his ribs because he knew better than to ask. He knew exactly who she was, if the stories were true. Distinctively female. Deep purple cloak with silk threads that glimmered in the moonlight like the rushing waters of a mountain river. Hood resting barely on the top of her head; he had heard it was a way to show everyone that she didn’t need her face obscured by a mask or hood. He had never believed it. Now–mouth agape, mind pinwheeling, shivering with fear–there was no doubt in his mind that the rumors were true.

As though seeing right into his mind, she inched forward, chin tilted down at precisely the right angle that a shadow concealed her face.
“You know the answer to that question. And don’t bother to ask me the next one. I’ve tired of it, so let me just say it… why are you here?” The man expected her to chuckle condescendingly at him, like a villain in the movies, but she didn’t make a sound. A freezing breeze gusted through the open door. It took everything in his power to clench his teeth to keep them from chattering. Without preamble, she inched a step closer to him, shutting the door with an effortless silence he would kill for and continuing on.

“But… alas, you know that, too. Murder.” He quivered in place, opening his mouth to protest–”Ah ah ah!” She tittered, feet edging ever closer with each syllable she spoke. His mind flashed back to every sin he’d ever committed. Too many to count, he was sure. Drunken brawls, black market business dealings, dabblings in drugs of every kind–trying to find bliss, to no avail. All he managed to get himself was two ODs, empty pockets, and nasty shiners that kept him from getting a respectable job. His sins were many, and he had a lot of company in that, at least. Everyone in the outer boroughs was hell-bound. There was no way around that.

But… murder? Did he ever commit murder? Drunken nights flashed in his eyes, hazy blurs, eternally dark alleys after dusk when all he could see was the glint off a person’s hair in the moonlight. In the perfect world, nobody would have to question whether they had slaughtered an innocent person. But this was not the glistening utopia of the City Central. In the sinful, disgusting outer boroughs, there was no way of knowing.

“I’ve never murdered anyone…” he said, unable to hide the slight rise in his voice at the end of the phrase that made it a question. Coal black eyes glinting as bright as the dagger she withdrew from her cloak, the vigilante girl stared into his soul. 

“Shame,” she cocked her head, mimicking deep thought, “that you’ll never truly feel the guilt of that night.” Stepping a hair closer, her face was illuminated by the silvery yellow moonlight. Black, oil slick hair hung around her cheeks in effortless waves, a stark contrast to the colorless pallor of her skin. She was the vision of an assassin, a lethal goddess of the night: mouth drawn up in an almost smirk, crow-like eyes glittering dangerously, a rigid tension humming in her every muscle. 

“Please… I’ll call the police! I will!” he shouted. There was no thought dominating his mind, only a raw fear that rendered him utterly helpless. His bluff was just that… a bluff. He couldn’t afford the luxury of a cell phone, almost no one could in this neighborhood.

 He should have heeded the warning. Stayed indoors with as much food as he could afford. Boarded up his doors, nailed plywood to his windows till not a single sliver of sun shone through. That’s what all the sinners should do. The man thought, quaking under the intensity of her glare. That’s what I should have done a long, long time ago… back when I first heard the rumors. The rumors of a vigilante prowling the outer boroughs, dealing justice to all the sinners. 

Sensing his tumultuous thoughts, the girl grinned, showing off an array of teeth that made him recoil. Metallic purple bands stretched over silver brackets, shimmering in the pale light. The braces on her teeth were not something you expected from a villainous assassin or a novel-protagonist crime fighter. They were an anomaly. An unexpected reminder that the girl–standing before him with the malice of a crouching leopardess–was just a teenager. 

“You have no idea…” she purred, fingering the serrated blade of the dagger, “how brutally you killed her. Paisley Renee, seventeen. Murdered when you staggered out of a nightclub, drunk and higher than the night sky, and beat her to death on the concrete for having the courage to push away your inappropriate advances on her friend.” 

His heart stalled. Screams bounced in his mind like marbles crashing onto a tile floor, fragments of half-formed drunken memories swirling elusively in the depths of thought. There was no way for him to truly know whether he had done it during a blackout—but why, then, did the name make his skin prickle with goosebumps?

Paisley Renee. Visions of innocent caramel eyes flashed in his mind. Eyes that were protective. Eyes that were sweet. Eyes that reflected a towering man, face flushed red from heavy drinking, frothing at the mouth he was so intoxicated. 

I murdered someone. The thought was a slap to the face. Recoiling against the wall, he wished for a quick, painless end to it all. A confused wave of guilt washed over him. 

The outer boroughs were still. The air was abruptly cold, the fetid smell dimmed slightly, the jaundiced moon beaming a spotlight on the standoff. 

With one more step, she was close enough to him that the man could feel her calm breaths stirring his mussed hair. The girl gripped her dagger with renewed intensity, poised to strike. Resolute, holding his breath in the grim silence, he begged the clock not to chime. It was edging towards dusk. And everyone knew what happened at dusk. Heart pounding, skin tingling, eyes dilated in panic, the man squeezed his eyes tight and waited to die.

“What time is it?” she insisted suddenly, gripping his throat in her bony fingers.

“What time is it?!”  He quivered, shuddering with terror, limbs like concrete and insides turned to jelly. His throat was constricting. Air rushed from his windpipe, the slim, feminine fingers crushing into his vocal cords.

“What time is it?” She bellowed, trembling with fury. Soulless black eyes and a dastardly grin barely visible. He shook violently, tears pooling in his eyes, praying to anything holy that that clock would not chime. 5 more minutes, 3, 2, he didn’t care. He wasn’t ready to die. 

Face red as the crumbling brick in the alley, eyes bulging. Her victim was ready to go. But not yet. The clock hadn’t chimed yet. She always waited until midnight. Midnight was a time of isolation, death, reckoning. The perfect time.

 Pressed into the corner as far as he could go, mind whirling with his sins, he prepared to die. 5 more minutes… the man bargained desperately to the lord up above. He should have known that there was no god in the outer boroughs, only demons lurking around every corner… because at just that moment, his worst nightmare came true.

 The clock chimed, and he felt his body go slack with fear as each hour rang out in the dark room. 

1. 2. The girl hissed at him with a raw anger like a mother cougar defending her cubs, bearing her metal-clad teeth.  

5. 6. “For justice.” The girl whispered, counting the chimes with a cruel grin. 

7. 8. “For the people.” His whole body shivered relentlessly, tensing, prepared to feel the serrated blade. 

10. 11. He raised my hands instinctively.

 12. “Midnight.” She whispered. A surge of heat rushed through his body as the dagger plunged into his gut. He toppled, feeling the yank on his stomach as the blood-slicked knife was pulled from his intestine. The world darkened. Each nerve was on fire. He saw her turn off the weak lamp and quietly close the door, gone as quickly as she came. The Midnight Rogue had taken another victim.