ONE: Anniversary [Argenstrath]
Grimwall took his time locking up the seven large gated archways leading to the jail courtyard. It was late enough that the last of the oil streetlamps were beginning to die out and not a soul was seen wandering the street; even the drunkards and libertines had gone to bed. As a rookie, the third-shift jail patrol had given him the creeps, but tonight he had volunteered. He volunteered every year on this night.
When the morning guard relieved him at the last gate, Grimwall did not go home. Instead, he trudged back to his office, lit the lamp and poured himself a drink from the almost-empty decanter on his desk.
As he shuffled through his paperwork, his office door groaned at him as it inched open.
“Hello?” Grimwall called to the dark hallway. No reply. As he turned back to his work, a cool breeze pierced the room, slamming the office door completely open with such force that it cracked the sandstone wall behind it. Tendrils of the icy air coiled around Grimwall’s wrists and up his spine like ivy.
“Warren, that you?!” Grimwall shouted again into the black. Again, there was no reply. Impatiently, he slammed the door shut. In the moment his back was turned, the decanter had tipped over, covering the desk in deep amber liquid. The stopper rolled through the puddle of scotch and onto the floor with a small thud.
“I’m going crazy,” Grimwall muttered resolutely to himself. His hands barely touched the decanter as the ice flashed through him again with such ferocity that he dropped the bottle, spilling the rest of the contents on the floor.
A quiet, high-pitched giggle echoed through the room.
“Yeah, I’m obviously out of my damned mind.”
His heartbeat quickened and the laughter grew louder as if to not be drown out by the rush of his blood pumping through his veins. Grimwall could feel the room begin to tunnel and spin around him and he grabbed onto the edge of the desk, trying to steady himself.
“Will you come read to me?”
The melodic voice settled in the pit of Grimwall’s chest, a torrid lead bullet.
Grimwall turned slowly. The girl standing by the door was barely seven with dark braids, still damp from a bath, draped over her blue nightgown. She looked back at Grimwall with his own green eyes.
“Please?” the girl pleaded. For a moment she seemed to flicker. Solid but somehow...insubstantial. She smiled and reached his hand, but he snatched it away quickly.
“This is impossible,” he breathed.
The girl frowned, staring at the hand he’d just shoved in his vest pocket.
“I know you’re busy, but just one, I promise!”
Grimwall realized when the girl spoke, her lips didn’t move. He stepped behind the desk and reached for his gun, aiming with shaking hands.
“Wh-Why are you here?” Grimwall choked out.
She seemed to float across the floor toward him, but soon Grimwall realized she was treading through the brandy, a thin layer covered the entire office floor now. She flickered again.
She reappeared so close to Grimwall he could smell her lavender soap. Her nightgown was soaked through now and her braids so wet that they were dripping in tiny constant streams into the ever-growing pool beneath them.
Instinctively he shot, and the bullet ripped through her chest and into the opposite wall. Black seeped from the wound onto her nightgown. She didn’t stop moving, her brow furrowed and the shadows grew under her eyes.
As she cornered him against the wall, Grimwall dropped to his knees.
“Please understand… I was trying to keep you safe…”
She stared at him with bloodshot eyes. Her lips were purple and swollen now, veins showed through her yellowed, translucent skin. The liquid was at his waist, just barely below her chest. It wasn’t brandy anymore, but darker and growing hotter every second.
“Mia…I’m so sorry, darling.”
She reached for his hand again, her grip so strong the gun fell disappeared into the pool and he could hear his wrist crack.
The girl’s mouth opened, and black liquid dripped out, matching her bullet wound. There’s wasn’t a voice now, but an awful metallic gurgling sound that barely formed words.
sorry. Not yet, Papa.”