Akina Dressed in Grey
The cigarette burned orange as it hung off the corner of her lips. One of the few things illuminating in the dark. Brewing storm clouds concealed stars and the moon. She could feel a rain coming, sooner rather than later. A breeze stirred her blonde locks, whipping them across her face briefly before settling down. That momentary pause in the weather gave her a chance to flick her cigarette away half gone and pull up the hood of her jacket. She stood on the street corner between Unity and Grace, waiting for the car to arrive. It was just past midnight. The air cooled drastically as the minutes ticked by, and as it did her mood soured.
This was the meeting spot. Street lights doused so the intersection lay dormant in shadow. Houses that lined both blocks sat quiet and unlit. It was as clandestine as possible in this town. Yet he was always late, always ready with an excuse, almost always unreliable. But he had her fix. And that’s all she needed. Small drops fell from the sky. Soon, she was caught in a deluge, soaked to the bone in seconds. She shivered, unable to stop her teeth from chattering or her muscles tensing.
His old beater car drove down Unity now. The headlights were on dim and she was grateful not to be blinded. As he stopped beside her, he quickly rolled down his window and shouted, “Get in!” She climbed in the passenger seat. A smile crept along her face when she realized the car was already warm. She pulled her hood down, letting her hair fall around her in damp tangles.
“How’s it goin’, Akina?” he asked, emerald eyes staring straight ahead.
He merely nodded in response. She sighed and tried to give herself a once-over in the visor mirror. The car rattled, speeding up and over small hills, shaking with enough violence that she couldn’t concentrate. When he slowed on a smoother street, she saw her mascara had run. A mess underneath her icy blue eyes, so blue, in fact, that to her they always seemed more silver. Dark streaks trailed her cheeks halfway. She groaned.
“Everything alright?” he asked. He still didn’t look at her.
“I look fucking awful.” The heat of her anger burned in her words. Frustration with the storm. Frustration with him. He didn’t seem to take note, however, and dipped his head slightly.
“Damn. That sucks.”
She scowled. “For fuck’s sake, Damien. Will you look at me?”
“I’m driving.” He said this in a flat tone, so barren of emotion that it enraged her even further.
“Drop me off here.”
“What?” He finally looked at her, startled. “Why?”
“Because you’re an asshole, that’s why.”
He blanched and pumped the brakes. “How am I the asshole here?”
She looked at him with an eyebrow raised. “Would you like a list? How about making me wait for a whole two fucking hours, the last fifteen minutes of which I drowned in the rain? Or never even saying ‘hi’?”
He shrugged. “…hi?”
“Oh, fuck you. I’m done.” She forced open the passenger door and rain swept in on howling winds. She scrambled back inside. “Just take me home, then.”
“Whatever,” he said as he shifted gears and turned around. “Thanks for wasting my time.”
“Drove all the way out here and now you’re acting like a spoiled bitch.”
She slapped him on the shoulder. The wheel jerked left and the car skidded in the flooded street, water sloshing behind.
“What the hell did you do that for!?” he screamed, trying to regain control. But they were fishtailing by that point, and the car slammed into a curb. It flipped. Inertia caused them to barrel roll. The car landed on its top as it crashed against a large tree. Akina coughed. An ache crowded at the back of her head. She felt around with her hand and came away blood wetting her fingers. She looked to Damien. His face buried in the steering wheel, blaring the horn. Blood flowed like a crimson river down his forehead.
“Damien?” she questioned, hoping that the worst had not happened. Tears came unbidden, stinging her eyes. “Damien, come on. Wake up.” Sirens wailed in the distance. She tore her attention away from him and tried to shove open her door. Darkness approached her like a predator to prey. She could not see. Damien and the car faded into nothing. The sirens suddenly stopped. Silence encumbered her very being. A voice eerie and low slipped into her thoughts.
“Ah, dear child. Caught in the midst of a scandal, are we? A married man and the pastor’s daughter. My oh my, how delicious!” Excitement dripped in every word.
“Who are you?” she asked into the void. “What do you want from me?”
“Which would you like me to answer first?”
She could not respond as shock paralyzed her. The sting of a slap on her cheek dragged her from falling unconscious.
“Stay awake, girl. We have much to discuss and very little time to do so. Pay attention.”
“Good. I am what you humans might call the Grim Reaper. It’s not a preferable name. Rather lacking in taste, honestly. I’m really not all that grim and my occupation is little more than an escort or a guide.”
“What does…” She paused, sucking in a breath. Cold leaked into her skin. “What does that have to do with me?”
“To be blunt, you’re not supposed to be dead. He is. Though I had to carry him on my shoulders across the gates. Heavier than I thought. All that junk you people eat, I swear…”
She coughed. Somehow she could feel her heartbeat. It was weak. The pitch black seemed to take on the shape of a womanly figure. Dark hair curtained a pale face. Pale as moonlight or blank paper. They were slender, close to emaciation. Akina could see the figure smile, lips cracked open and oozing black liquid. Shadowy tattered rags moved as a living thing along their body. A hand of bone pointed at her.
“Replace me. Or live your life, ostracized and ridiculed. Make your choice.”
A car parked in the middle of a clearing surrounded by a forest. It was quiet, save for the spare call of birds. Two lovers trapped themselves inside. They exchanged kisses, slow and deep. The woman took off her bra to reveal her breasts and the man buried his head between them. He was shirtless. His pants dangled down past his knees. Moans from both of them emanated. She motioned to slip off her shorts, but a tap on the window made her jump and scream. The man looked out and saw nothing.
“It’s alright,” he said. “Probably just a bug.”
They resumed their tryst, only to pause when the tapping came again, this time more incessant.
“Goddammit,” swore the man. “Hold on a sec.” He lifted his pants, strapped on a belt, gave her a peck on the cheek, and stepped outside into the afternoon.
“Hello?” he called. His sandy hair was in disarray and lipstick marked his face in several places. He had a bulging stomach that parted both sides of his unbuttoned shirt as he walked. The sun glared down a stifling heat and soon he was sweating.
“Hello?” He wandered into the trees, out of his lover’s sight. Night descended before his turn. An empty darkness swallowed the car whole and its lone passenger sat in the backseat, fear pumping her heart like mad.
“So, Akina…” said a familiar voice. “Do you accept?”