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?
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.
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.
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.