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“Are you sure the other kids won’t notice?” Conner asked as he looked up to his sister while she smeared the foundation-covered makeup pad over his cheek. The boy winced and pulled slightly away as it came in contact with the ugly, purplish bruise that marred his cheek.
"You should be OK,” Madeline replied as she did her best to gently pat the substance onto his skin, trying not to hurt him further in the process. Conner held his breath as she worked and didn’t make another sound. He was strong. They both were. Mainly, because they had to be.
Madeline and Conner Shandon did not have it easy. Their early years consisted of two parents struggling to break away from either a dysfunctional, and often abusive, family or a family that went out of their way to ignore the fact their “little girl” had gone off and married some low-class hoodlum from the wrong side of the tracks. Still, the Shandons did their best to make it work for themselves and their two children. They at least managed to put food on the table and a roof over Madeline and Conner’s heads.
However, that life came to a sudden end as a car crash took the lives of both senior Shandons. Madeline, who was only eight at the time, was forced to endure the loss of the two most important people in her life and become the guardian of her little three-year-old brother. With their parents gone, the two were given custody to their uncle, who came from the same abusive family that their father tried to escape. Drunk and angry, he had a tendency to take out his aggression on the two children. Neither could speak up to anyone about his abuse, however, under threat that “if he went down, he’d take the two of them to hell with him.”
Madeline got good at covering up the bruises. And that’s what she was doing now for her little brother. He had made the mistake of spilling his soda on the carpet and paid the price with a swift backhand from their uncle that left him crying on the floor. She hated seeing her brother in pain. That’s one reason why she helped him. Conner was only twelve now. He didn’t deserve to have this kind of pain. He was just a kid and Madeline hated to see that swollen, darkened reminder of what he’d been through on his face.
“I think I almost got it,” she spoke as she dabbed a bit more of the makeup. “Yes, there!” A small smile and she pulled away. “Good as new.” Madeline took a moment to look over her work. The foundation blended well with the light tan of his face and that was needed. His short blonde hair couldn’t be used to cover up problem areas like her longer hair could. Conner lifted a hand to poke at the concealed bruise, but she swiftly pushed it away. “Hey, kid! Don’t do that or you’ll smear it. And then all the kids at school will find out that you got makeup on,” she teased with a small chuckle and gave his arm a nudge with her own.
“Yeah, yeah,” he replied with a sigh before he leaned in to look in the bathroom mirror, eyes taking in every detail of his new look. “Thanks, sis. I’m glad you’re here.” Conner turned to her with a bright smile. She couldn’t help but return it with one of her own. That smile. Even through all this crap, he still found a way to have a genuine smile. It brightened up every bit of his face and she could swear that those bright blue eyes of his almost sparkled. It gave her hope that, maybe, if they hung in a little longer they could escape this. That hope was the reason why she still got out of bed every morning.
The door swung open slowly as Madeline crept into the house. The school day finished and it was time to slink back into the household shadows while she hoped she wasn’t spotted. Uncle Lewis tended to hold in his angry attitude long enough for him to take it out on the kids when they got home from school. The best strategy was to just slip away, hide, and pretend you’re not there. Locking yourself in your room was a good strategy until he discovered you were home. Or passed out. The later was obviously the one Madeline always hoped for.
She wasn’t lucky enough today.
“Damn it Madeline!” She heard the growling voice yell from behind her just before she could slip into the back hallway of the home. She drew in a quick breath and turned. Uncle Lewis stood behind her, a tall and bloated man that currently had stuffed himself into a pair of well-worn sweatpants and a t-shirt of a band that nobody had listened to in over a decade. A sneer formed on his lips and the redness in his face indicated that already he was well into a few drinks. For a moment, Madeline wondered how one could get that drunk in the hour or so between him getting home from work and her school.
“Y-yes, Uncle Lewis?” Madeline stammered as she turned to him, her body tense and a hand tightly grasping the strap on her backpack.
“Where the fuck did you hide your brother at?” He stomped forward, wobbling slightly before leaning in and shoving his face into her own. The smell of booze was strong and it nearly made her gag as she leaned away. “That little shit was supposed to clean up the house! I told him to clean the house! And, he’s not cleaning. He’s gone!” the man rambled as Madeline stepped back, eyes focused on the position of his arms. Conner was gone? But he should’ve been home from school a half hour ago.
“I don’t know,” Madeline confessed as she tried to ease her way around him. "I just got home from school. You know he gets out earlier-"
“Bullshit!” Lewis screamed and lunged for her, an arm wildly swinging down at her. She ducked to the side and spun around him, tears starting to well in her eyes. She slipped off her backpack and prepared to dodge again, but the alcohol seemed to work in her favor. Lewis stumbled and it took him a moment to get his balance back. “You hid him somewhere from me! Where the fuck is he? Where did you put him!”
Oh God! Conner was missing? She racked her brain then. Uncle Lewis probably threatened him into cleaning and got out of hand. Conner could’ve hid though he know that was the worst thing you could do. If Lewis found you… no amount of makeup would cover up those marks. It was a series of “sick days” then. He must’ve ran! He never did that before but that had to be it.
“I didn’t do anything with him,” she spoke as she straightened, her own anger boiling to the surface. “You ran him off! You finally did it!” Madeline screamed, a well of newfound courage forming within her. If he ran off her brother… if he let anything bad happen to him…
“Don’t you talk to me that way!” Lewis snarled down. An arm rose, lifting to position itself into striking position. Madeline lunged forward, both hands slamming into his chest in a hard shove and the man stumbled back before falling to the ground with a loud thud.
“If anything happens to him while he’s out there, I swear I’ll kill you!” she yelled down at the now bewildered drunkard. “You’re the worst! And I’m done. Done!” And, with those words, she turned to make her way for the door.
"If… if you say anything, I’ll-"
“-take you both to hell with me,” she shot back without missing a beat. “Well, then I’ll see you there.” Madeline slammed the door behind her as she bolted outside to find her brother.
It wasn’t until evening hit that Madeline decided to check the park. She found Conner sitting on one of the swings, no longer crying but the tear stains were still visible on his cheeks. She came forward slowly toward him and bit back a small cry. The bruise she had covered up the day before was now visible thanks to a mix of his crying and hand-wiping his eyes. She also found it was joined by a blackened eye that had swelled up rather large. She held back her own tears, biting back each one as she approached. Don’t cry. Have to be strong. Have to be strong for him.
“Conner?” she asked as she came up to him. “Are you OK?” The boy shook his head and tightened his grip on the swing chains.
“I can’t do it anymore Mad,” he spoke, sniffling as the tears threatened to return. “I can’t take it anymore. I just want it over. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” he spoke.
"No reason to be sorry, Conner. It’s not-" he cut her off by leaping to her, arms suddenly wrapping about her in a hug as he buried his head against her.
“No! I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I… I…” He worked to form words but the tears resumed and they degraded into the sobs. Madeline gently pet the back of his head before she whispered down to him.
“Don’t worry. We’re not going home,” she assured him in a gentle voice. “We’re going to the cops. We should’ve done it a long time ago. We’ll be OK.” His crying didn’t seem to halt but he did manage to nod his head. Slowly, she pulled away and took him by his hand. Conner followed his sister’s lead and let her lead him back to the street. The police station wasn’t far, at least, and Madeline knew they would protect them. She felt so stupid. Why hadn’t she done this before? Why had she waited so long? Maybe it was because of Conner. If she went to the police, then Conner might feel Uncle Lewis’s wrath before she could save him. But, now, he was here. Bruised and scared, but safe. They’d be OK. If they could hold out a bit longer…
The screeching of tires hit her ears first. Madeline turned to see the twin bulbs of headlights barreling toward them. She didn’t have time to scream. She barely had time to register what was happening before the oncoming car bounced over the sidewalk and slammed itself into the brother and sister.
Pain. Madeline awoke to her entire body aching. She tried to move but just the small tightening of her muscles caused shocks of pain to shoot through her. She let out a small cry and relaxed back onto what felt like a bed. The world, at first just a darkened blur, began to brighten and focus in. She was… in a bed in a dull room lit by bright fluorescent lights. Again, she tried to move but the stabbing feeling shot through her again and she resigned herself to immobility. At the very least, she was able to tilt her head down.
She had been wrapped up in a series of bandages and splints, brownish-red seeping through those bandages all over her form. It took her a few moments to remember what happened. Uncle Lewis yelling at her, Conner in the park, the car… the car! They’d be hit! And if she was this bad, then how was Conner? That made Madeline resume her struggle but, once again, found the agony too much.
“… you think she’ll make it, Doctor Allen?” a faint voice came from the nearby doorway.
“Probably not,” came another calm, yet unnervingly detached voice. “Though she isn't as bad as the boy and we might be able to repair some of the damage but it’s a longshot. Not much of a point.” Boy? Was he talking about Conner?
“No point? What do you mean no point?”
“I’m not marring my good record with a girl who’s more than likely going to die anyway. I have a reputation to uphold.”
“So you’re going to let her die? Just like the boy?” Die? Conner was… Madeline squeaked in horror as she tried to push herself up. No! No no no no! It wasn’t possible.
"It would’ve been nearly pointless for him as well! I have the best survival rate for my patients in this hospital. And, I’m not going to jeopardize that-" The doctor suddenly stopped and then let out what sounded like a grumble. “Oh, she’s awake. I swear if she heard anything…”
Each of Madeline’s sobs made her body shake and feel like it was tearing itself apart. No, it couldn’t be true. She heard it wrong. Conner wasn’t dead. He was fine. He had to be fine.
“Ah, Madeline Shandon!” The cold voice she heard finally had a form as he approached. He was tall and older from the look. Short, tightly slicked back grey hair topped his head and he had an air of… clean about him. Not a good kind of clean. Like he preferred to stay away from anything that might mar his perfect image. It was a sick sterilization that made her squirm nearly as much the fake smile plastered on his face. “My name is Doctor Allen. I see you’re awake.”
“My, my…” Madeline coughed and a twinge of coppery taste hit her tongue. She tried to swallow it. “… my brother. He’s OK?” Dr. Allen halted for a moment, his smile faltering slightly.
“Unfortunately, your brother didn’t make it. He passed before he arrived here.” Bullshit! She just heard him! He had a chance to save him but the heartless asshole wouldn’t touch him if he wasn’t a “sure save”. Madeline clenched her fists, despite the pain that nearly made her black out again. Her mouth opened and she coughed once again.
“L-lie… you… lie…” she sputtered to him as she shut her eyes. The tears began to stream down her face. She didn’t hear what he replied with through those tears. It didn’t matter what he said or did. Her brother was gone. Madeline was going to die soon too. And, even if she lived, Uncle Lewis would get even and that would probably finish her off.
Madeline didn’t know how long she cried for. Hours? Maybe. Nothing mattered to her. She didn’t see the doctor leave. Or when the nurse dropped off her food and tried to apologize. She just laid there, sobbing and waiting for either death or her uncle to take her.
However, neither would approach her first. Instead, a sudden chill swept through the room. It was a deep cold, one that pierced her blankets, her blood, and even felt like… it went deeper. Through her into something far inside her being. Her tears suddenly stopped and she looked about the room.
The room was dark. Night seemed to have fallen and the lights had been turned off in her room. Only the faint glow from cracks in the door and the room’s equipment illuminated the area. There was just enough light to allow her to look about the room and notice the particular shapes of the machines and visitor’s chairs. An eerie feeling swept over her. Something was wrong though. Something was very wrong.
Her eyes darted among the shadows, looking over each one and analyzing it for anything that could lay within. However, it wasn’t what was within the shadows that caught her eye. It was the shadow itself, particularly one that seemed to slink along the visitor’s chairs. It crawled tendril-like arms that pulled a blackened mass up and onto the nearby wall. The darkened shape stretched out and pulled along a vaguely human-like form that traversed the side of the wall like a spider. Madeline’s eyes widened and a scream caught in her throat. Her arm shifted, fingers moving to try and find the remote with the nurse call-button. The creature seemed to halt on the wall, just feet away from her bed and stared. Or did what she thought was stare as she couldn’t see any eyes on that blackened mass.
And then, it spoke. Its voice slithered from it, clawing at her ears and making her blood freeze. It sounded like a series of hisses and wheezing breaths but each seemed to form part of a coherent word. It didn’t feel like she should be able to understand those piercing noises but each seemed to cling a particular word in her mind.
“Do not fear me, young one,” it spoke. Or hissed. Or whatever it was this thing did. “I am not here to hurt you.” Madeline swallowed and her body tensed. Tears of fear began to well in her eyes as she focused on the thing.
“Wh-what are you?” she stammered through the fear, asking the first question that came to her mind.
“That does not matter,” it came to whisper back to her as it inched closer. A large protrusion pulled forward from the wall and hung down toward her, looking like a round ball of shadow that Madeline soon realized was a head. “What does matter is that I can help you.”
“Help me?” Madeline asked as she drew back from the shadowy head. A strange series of sharp wheezes escaped it. It was… laughing?
“Yes, girl. I know what you want.” It crawled closer, then shifted off the wall before a slithery hand placed itself on the side of the bed. “The loss you feel. The pain you feel. You want them to feel it.”
Madeline swallowed as she listened. Her gaze narrowed slightly and she thought. Yes, she did want that. Her brother was gone. Taken from her by people who could care less about their lives. She wanted them to know what they did. To take responsibility. They needed to pay for taking her brother from her.
“Yes,” she answered simply, her eyes focusing on where she assumed its own eyes would be if it had any.
“Good.” Another sick-sounding laugh before it pulled itself onto the bed. It lingered on the side, standing there before it inched around the perimeter. “I can give that to you. You will make others feel that loss. And they will pay the ultimate price.”
Madeline gasped at those words, a pained sputter following before she winced and laid back. The ultimate price? It meant death. It wanted her to kill them!
“I-I can’t… kill someone,” she whispered, afraid someone nearby might hear the strange conversation.
“The ones that hurt you deserve it, do they not?” it asked with a cant of its head. Those shadowy arms soon found themselves slipping further onto the bed, crawling up the length toward her. Madeline grimaced and shivered as the cold it carried enveloped her further. “Allow me to aid you, girl.”
It was tempting. Very tempting. But there had to be a catch. There had to be! Madeline leaned back, suspicious of the dark thing before her.
“And what do you want in exchange?” she questioned, waiting for the string that was attached to its offer.
“My dear, you already will be providing a service for me,” it spoke as it approached her chest, climbing into it without pressure but only with that strange cold it carried. Madeline breathed out, discovering she could now see her breath before her. “I seek to show the world pain and loss. For everyone to understand those feelings. Your vengeance aligns with my goals as well.”
That sounded like bad news. This thing was a dark creature. Evil, she was sure. It seemed to sense her turmoil and continued.
“It is a dark purpose, but justified in your case. It is a suitable punishment for those that have wronged you. You can avenge your brother’s death. Was he not important to you?” it hissed to her, almost accusingly. Madeline turned away, eyes focusing away from that shadowy thing. “Will you not do everything in your power to see justice dealt? Please, young one,” it leaned closer and those shadowy tendrils rose and extended to her, as if reaching for her. Or offering her a hand. “Help yourself by helping me.”
Madeline’s gaze turned back to him and she hesitated a long moment. If it spoke true to her, then she could get revenge on everyone who hurt her brother. That bastard doctor for letting him die, Uncle Lewis for making their lives hell, and the driver that ended everything for Conner too soon. She… she did want them hurt. She wanted them dead. Madeline couldn’t have Conner back. Death was final and nothing they could give would make it better. Except their lives. Madeline did want blood.
“All right. I’ll help you. Just… follow through with your word.” She hesitated in giving him demands though the creature seemed to let it go. She worked to lift a hand up toward him, the movement sending pain through her body. The pain from her wounds tore through her as she let out a small cry but still carried her hand toward it. When her fingers touched the wisps of its shadowy fingers, a swift and cold numbness spread through her. It shot down her arm and spread out throughout her body, feeling like it was freezing every vein within her. The pain soon ebbed away to a cold, numb feeling. And then the pain was gone. Completely. Madeline glanced down along her body and tightened her muscles. Yes, the pain was gone. She didn’t feel anything wrong. She felt… fine. It was an unnerving feeling. She should be in pain. She should be screaming. But she was fine.
“I took the liberty to make your body useful to you again,” the creature whispered as it turned away and began to slink down off of the bed, slithering down the side and toward the floor out of her sight. “No pain will make you lose sight. You best be ready, girl.” The hiss grew quieter as it disappeared, Madeline assuming it hid itself under her hospital bed. “Your first chance comes. He is here for you…”
He? What did it mean? Suddenly, a bright light nearly blinded Madeline. She lifted a hand to cover her face, thankful that the pain no longer held her back, to see the door to the brightly lit hallway had opened. And, in it, was the silhouette of a man. A big, imposing man that marched forward and quietly closed the door behind him.
“Madeline,” Uncle Lewis spoke as he loomed toward the bed. “Look what you got yourself into.” Madeline gasped and drew back on the bed. Lewis was here! And she was sure he was going to make sure she regretted defying him and running out. “What did you say?”
“I didn’t say anything,” Madeline replied quickly. Of course, with her brother dead and herself injured, the only thing he cared about was whether or not she spoke about the abuse. Lewis growled and grabbed the side of the bed before giving it a hard shake.
“Bullshit!” he snarled to her as she let out a small cry from the shake. He was going to hurt her. Hell, he might kill her! She was supposed to have the power to punish him. Why didn’t she? That thing tricked her. It had to be a trick!
“Uncle Lewis!” she whispered through gritted teeth as she steadied herself. “People are outside! They’ll hear you.”
“Feh, nobody gives a shit about a girl who made her doctor look stupid. You’re dying anyway, right?” And he actually chuckled before he shook his head. “Just going to help that along before you get mouthy.” Lewis strode along toward the head of the bed, his thick arms lifting so he could crack his knuckles.
Madeline trembled, fear filling her body as Lewis, once again, found himself in the position of power over the girl. However, it was then that she felt something shift under her blanket. Something solid grew in her grip, coming to form within her hand and hidden from view. It felt cold and metallic, probably some type of handle. She clenched it tightly, feeling the weight of it under the sheet.
“Do not hesitate girl,” that hissing speech hit her ears, making her cringe. Uncle Lewis didn’t seem to react to it. Could he not hear it? Maybe that thing was… just for her… “He means to end your life. Do not let that happen.” Lewis reached out toward her, taking his time as he let his stubby fingers wrap about her neck. He must’ve figured her injuries still held her back. Those fingers squeezed about her tender throat and she let out a muffled cry as he tightened his grip. Her oxygen supply suddenly cut off and her body nearly threw itself into a panic.
Until she tightened her grip on that object.
She had no idea what it was, but it was now or never. With a sudden jerk, she whipped her arm out from under the sheet and swung it toward Lewis’s head. A sickening crunch resounded and his grip swiftly loosened. Madeline stared up to see she was holding a single-handed scythe, the black handle tightly grasped in her fingers. The curved blade stuck straight into Lewis’s temple, shoved deep into him. Blood dribbled down from the wound, dripping toward the bed sheet below as he wheezed. Lewis wobbled back, a look of shock on his face. He barely seemed to register what happened to him before the large man, the man who abused her and her brother for most of their years, got what was coming to him. He slumped down to the ground, the weight of his fall wrenching the weapon from her head as he fell over dead.
Madeline just stared down at the corpse, gasping for breath as she rubbed at her neck. She… she killed him. Lewis was dead. There was a moment of panic in her heart at that. She killed another human being! She murdered him.
That wasn’t quite right though. He was trying to kill her. It was self-defense. Completely! Kill or be killed. Her gaze narrowed down toward that body. Lewis, that son of a bitch, got what was coming to him! He deserved it! For everything he did that drove Conner to run. To put him in that situation where a stray car took his life.
Madeline rose from the bed, pushing herself over it as she moved toward his corpse, the paper-like hospital gown shifting lightly on her form. She didn’t notice she was no-longer bandaged or hooked to any of the machines. That shadow must’ve deemed them unnecessary. She carried herself toward him, her bare feet falling into the slowly forming puddle of blood about his head. He didn’t look as tough now. Not with that look of surprise and fear on his face. Or with all the life gone from his eyes. Madeline glowered down, looking from his face to that dark weapon still protruding from his skull. She leaned over, reaching out a hand to clasp the cold handle. With a sharp yank, she pulled it free, a bit of blood leaking from the wound afterward.
“An appropriate weapon for my angel of death,” the creature spoke as it revealed itself. It slunk out from the shadows under the bed, using its long dark appendages to pull itself on top of Lewis. It seemed to look down with that bulb she assumed was its head before it continued, “My gift to you.” The scythe felt good in her grip. It almost seemed to meld to her fingers. Like it was made for her. An unnatural chill came from the weapon, giving her the feeling that it would remain ice cold even if she left it in a raging fire. Its color was a deep black, nearly matching the darkness around it. It seemed darker though, even more so than the shadows in the room. She drew in a breath and let it out slowly. Madeline was in this now. There was no going back.
“Now what?” she asked the creature. It reared its “head” up to her and she heard that strange hissing laugh once again. “Now, time to visit the doctor.”
Doctor Allen was finally able to slip away from the hospital and head home. He had to spend most of the night coddling a particularly wealthy patient with a stomach-ache which, annoying as it was, was necessary to make sure he continued donating. It was important to keep their wallets full after all. At the moment, he was gathering his belongings in his office. With his attention drawn away, he did not notice as the darkened corner by his bookcase seemed to peel away, dark tendrils of shadows pulling thin and tauntingly before snapping away to reveal Madeline’s form beneath them. Madeline shook lightly and wavered. It was a new feeling to move in such a way and quite disorientating. However, when her eyes locked with the doctor, she quickly found her focus.
“Doctor Allen,” she spoke in a tone much darker than she intended. Her fingers gripped her scythe tightly as she stepped away from the shadows and the creature she knew lay within, watching her. Dr. Allen let out a start and swiftly turned toward the girl. He quickly found his composure and drew in a breath.
“Ah, yes, Miss… Shandon was it?” he said, eliminating any previous unnerve he had. Until his eyes fell upon that scythe. Madeline noted how his eyes widened and he took a step back. “What are you doing in here?” he asked, trying to keep his usual cold composure though a wavering of fear trickled into his voice.
“You were going to leave me to die.” Madeline glared at him as she advanced, her bare feet carrying her purposefully toward him. “You left my brother to die.” Her voice was cold, focused, and made the doctor swallow. Madeline felt a bit of a rush roll through her. He was… afraid of her. He feared her! The small girl that was once a drunk’s punching bag actually made him scared. Her lips curled into a smirk.
“Now, now Miss Shandon. Let’s be realistic.” He lifted both hands as he backed further away, soon bumping into another bookshelf. A glance back and then to her, focusing on her as she approached. "You and your brother were in bad shape. Any operation might’ve simply made things worse. You’re lucky-"
“Lucky?” she spat back at him as she pushed forward, standing right in front of the trembling doctor. “Lucky, you were here to tell us to fuck off? Lucky, for what? My brother is dead! I was going to die! Tell me doctor, why the hell should I be lucky?!” Doctor Allen let out a cry of fear as he raised his hands higher, head tilting away from her.
“Please, it’s not like that! It’s much more complicated! You don’t understand!”
“No, doctor,” Madeline shook her head, hand lifting to bring her scythe up into the air. Dr. Allen gasped at the sight and cowered downward. The girl before him looked nothing like the girl that was brought in. There was a darkness about her. And she should not be walking around! Madeline should be on her deathbed! “You don’t understand. Though, I’ll make you.” He wasn’t going to give her the chance though. Dr. Allen pushed away suddenly, running to the side to attempt to run around her. He barely made it past his desk before she struck.
Madeline’s scythe fell down upon his back, tearing into his coat and skin, making the doctor cry out in pain. He stumbled down to his knees, hands reaching back behind him to try and feel for the large gash that gushed blood down his back. Madeline came forward, scythe rising before slicing down on his back again. Another slash followed. And another. Repeatedly, she stabbed at him, each cut echoing with a sickening, meaty sound that rang in her head. Blood splashed about her, soaking into her hospital gown and skin as she relentlessly slashed. Every bit of aggression she held in over her life came out here. Every time Lewis hit her, every time life seemed useless, every time she wanted to just let it all end… it came out in the form of a relentless swing of that scythe into Dr. Allen.
Finally, she slowed when the doctor was a mess of gore and cloth on the ground. The stench of blood was thick in the air and it covered much of her skin and gown. A few long breaths escaped her as she panted. Her high ebbed away and back to reality she went. This wasn’t self-defense. This was murder. But so was letting Conner die. So was leaving her to die. He deserved it.
Madeline felt it before she turned to see the creature peering over her shoulder. Its “hand” had fallen to her shoulder, holding it in its icy grip as it surveyed her work.
“He was a terrible man. Status before well-being. He will be missed by few,” it regarded before drawing away from her. Madeline turned toward him, her darkened gaze focusing on that shadowy beast.
“You said I would have my revenge on all of them,” she told it as she mustered up more of her newfound courage. “What about the driver?” A piercing chuckle came from it before it turned back to her, blank and black head seeming to stare in her direction.
“I will fulfill our bargain. Do not fret. Come, girl.” And the creature crawled with spider-like limbs toward the same darkened corner they had appeared from. It slipped into the shadows, vanishing as if it had never been there. Madeline swallowed and looked back down to the mess that had once been Dr. Allen. One more. One more and Conner will have justice. For a moment, she questioned herself as she eyed the bloody remains before her. This wasn’t right. Even if the world was better without Dr. Allen or Uncle Lewis, murder was still murder, right? She shook those thoughts from her mind and focused on Conner. She’d never see those bright eyes again. His smile. He’d never grow up. He would never have a chance for a better life.
And for that, there was hell to pay.
Ryan Gallard lived on the other side of town and the bastard was out on bail as they figured out the details about the accident. Getting to his home was easy, thanks to the ability of Madeline’s dark, new companion. Traveling through the shadows was a strange thing. It was like being slowly stretched and pulled thin, so thin that it seemed implausible to survive. Skin should snap, organs burst, and blood forced out of her body. However, there was no pain. Just a weird, uncomfortable pressure that constantly pushed upon her. Then, she would be moving. It felt like being sucked through a tunnel, pulled along against your will until you pushed through the very shadows themselves as if you were walking through particularly thick spider webs. Madeline felt a mixture of both wonder and terror as she was pulled along to the final living reminder of Conner’s death.
She formed behind what looked to be the couch set in his living room. The lights were out, save for the playing television that cast a bright, moving light throughout the room while still leaving much in darkness. Madeline pulled herself up to her knees, her free hand lifting to grasp the back of the couch before she rose. Her other hand readied the black scythe as she peered over to see nothing. He wasn’t in the room. A concerned look came across her face as she looked about for him. She finally spied him sitting in the connecting kitchen, bent over the large and round table.
She first noticed how skinny he was. He was a rather thin man and the t-shirt and jeans he wore hung loosely on him. His short, black hair was already developing a bald spot right on the top that was sure to spread in the coming years. He looked tired and sat silently, just staring off into the wood of the table with dark circles around his eyes.
Madeline’s grip tightened on her weapon as she pressed forward, her newly-found confidence and rage made her care little for stealth. He noticed her when she approached the kitchen opening, tired eyes lifting to look toward her. He took a moment, just looking upon her before it suddenly registered in his head what was before him. Ryan let out a cry and hopped up from his chair, the fixture falling over to the floor with a loud clatter.
“W-what do you want?” he asked her as he stepped back. “Why are you in my house?” She could see fear welling in him. The same sweet fear Doctor Allen felt. Madeline lifted her scythe slightly, letting her thumb toy with the tip as footsteps carried her around the table toward him like a stalking predator.
“You don’t know who I am?” she began, her voice dark and low. Somewhere, deep inside, Madeline must’ve realized how much her actions changed her but the idea of vengeance clouded her thoughts. It clogged every rational nerve in her brain and forced her to focus on one thing: the pain she was about to bring on the man before her. “I know you. I know what you did.” Ryan stared at her in a mix of fear and curiosity. Then, it hit him.
“Oh, oh God!” he spouted as his hands rose to grasp the sides of his head. “You’re the girl. M-Madeline, right?” He recognized her? Good. Then he will understand the consequence of his actions. “I’m so sorry!” Ryan apologized. Madeline scoffed and tilted her head.
“You’re sorry? Of course you’re sorry now.” She wasn’t surprised at his apology after death stared into his gaze. It would take much more than that to save his life.
“No, I’m sorry!” he yelled again at her as tears welled in his eyes. His look turned more oddly frustrated as he continued. “It was an accident! I didn’t mean to hurt you or your brother!”
“But you did!” Madeline screamed as she hefted up the scythe. “You killed him! And you almost killed me! You’re gonna pay!” And she brought the scythe down upon him. Ryan raised his arms, lifting them to protect his body as the cold steel bit into the flesh of a limb. He cried out and stumbled back, hand moving to hold the now bleeding wound. His eyes never left her though, even as he fell to a knee and she loomed over him, scythe once again rising to striking position.
“No, I-I-I…” he stammered as she glowered down to him. Just one moment away and Conner will be at rest. Justice will have been served. “It was an accident! I have insomnia!” Ryan quickly explained as he began to pull himself back, inching his body backward with kicking legs. “I hadn’t slept in two days! I needed to go to work. I thought I could handle it. I… God, Madeline, I am so sorry.”
Insomnia? Madeline paused as she repeated the word in her head. He blamed this on insomnia? She lost the one person that mattered to her and this guy said it was because he was too tired to drive? A side glance about the kitchen made her muscles loosen. Madeline had been so focused on her prey that she didn’t notice the medicine bottles on the table. Sleep aids? And the tired look in his eyes… his incredibly skinny body stature…
She suddenly found herself picturing it in her head. Ryan, driving to work to make ends meet after not having slept for 48 hours. Finally, the lack of sleep caught up to him while he was driving. And then, he just happened to drive in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Madeline once again looked down to him, her cold eyes staring into his own pleading ones. Ryan was terrified, but, there was something else. Regret? Guilt? Madeline, lowered the weapon and stepped back, a shocking gasp filling her lungs.
It was an accident.
Ryan didn’t mean to hit them. He was a victim of circumstance, just as she and Conner were. The poor man was just trying to keep his life going but his sickness got the better of him. His death wasn’t self-defense or justified.
It would be murder.
“Oh God,” Madeline started as she looked down to his trembling form. "I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. I didn’t-"
“He killed your brother, girl!” A screeching voice rang in her ears, making her stiffen where she stood. Madeline felt the creature behind her, felt its icy tendrils grasp her shoulders, her waist, her legs. Oh, it was crawling on her! “He deserves to die. He will feel the pain. You will give it to him!”
“N-no!” Madeline shook her head as she took another step back, away from the teary man on the ground. “It wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t!”
“Girl, we made a bargain and you will fulfill your end of it.” It tightened its grip on her and she cried out, feeling its tendrils stab in and through her skin. A shocking, cold pain ran through her veins and she struggled to keep her body straight. “You will honor it by your own choice or not!” Those tendrils of shadows stabbed deeply into the flesh of her hand and took hold of it by what felt like the very bones inside her body. She screamed in pain and shut her eyes. Madeline had no idea if Ryan could see the thing attached to her or not, but his expression still held a look of growing terror.
The creature’s body forced her own forward, marching her on like a puppet as her hand yanked itself up in the air despite her attempts to hold it down. This thing was going to make her kill him! She didn’t want to! This was wrong! Everything was wrong!
“No, no please!” Madeline begged as another step carried her once again over the fallen man. She opened her eyes to look down and see Ryan, sobbing on the floor as he raised his wounded arm up in a vain attempt to shield himself from the coming onslaught. “Run! You have to run! Get away from me!” Madeline yelled to him, but the man’s fear had gotten the best of him. He was frozen in his spot, sobbing as death loomed closer. Madeline felt the shadows jerk downward, tearing her arm down with it.
The scythe fell upon him.
Ryan screamed as the first slash stabbed into his arm again. Another tore more flesh away from the appendage. A third knocked it aside, blood spurting along the kitchen cabinets. The next series found their way into his torso, tearing flesh and scraping along bone. Madeline screamed along with him as she was forced to carry out her deal to the end. Soon, only her own screams and cries echoed in the house. His faded away along with his life.
Madeline soon found herself released of that icy grasp and slumped down over him. The girl sobbed as she fell forward and her hands landed in the warm, yet rapidly cooling blood that pooled around Ryan’s corpse.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered through her tears. “I’m so sorry. I was wrong. I was wrong.” Madeline repeated, vainly attempting to resurrect him with her words. That creature tricked her! It made her do all this! Her thoughts were suddenly cutoff by another voice shouting in the room!
“Freeze!” a deep, authoritative voice resounded through the room. Madeline lifted her tear-stained voice toward it to see a uniformed police officer standing in the kitchen entranceway. His gun was out and pointed right at her, his face a mixture of disgust and anger. “Slowly, step away from the body, miss. And put your hands in the air!” Madeline hung her head for a moment and drew in a long breath, enough to calm what few nerves she still had in her. This was justice. She’d be punished for her crimes. It was what she deserved. Resigned to her fate, she went to lift herself up.
Her body didn’t move.
A terrified squeak emitted from her as, once again, those cold talons of shadow latched themselves into her skin. She felt a numbingly cold breath in her ear, followed by a screeching of words right up against it.
“Our deal does not end with your revenge. You will bring pain to the world far beyond that.” It wrapped itself around her fingers and tightened, causing her to close her hand about the demon’s scythe.
“Don’t you dare! Drop it!” the cop commanded as she took a step closer, gun still pointed directly at her. “Let it go and step away!” The creature held her there a moment longer before Madeline let out a loud yelp of pain. Threads of shadow stabbed through her limbs and her body. It jerked her up to her feet and threw up her scythe-wielding arm. She shook her head, trying to fight it but she could do nothing to stop it from sending her lunging forward at the officer.
The first shot rang out and made her lurch back with a new pain that stabbed into her chest. Another blast resounded and made her stumble in her uncontrolled attack while the bullet pierced her stomach. The third hit her chest again and forced her back. Each shot that hit her was like a truck slamming into her body. She felt pain but this was different. It was a hot lance of pain that shot from her chest out to the rest of her body. It hurt. Oh, did it hurt! But it was a welcome relief from the cold, unnatural pain that shadow inflicted on her.
Madeline fell backwards, her body slumping to the ground on her back. Her eyes fluttered and slowly shut as she drew in what she thought to be her last breath while blood trickled from her wounds. Death. It was appropriate. A life for the lives she took. Maybe, something on the other side would have pity on her and let her see her brother again.
“Foolish girl,” the freezing hiss blew against her ear, making her shudder even as life ebbed away from her. “Death will not break you from this contract.” The world once again came into focus as the shadowy creature crawled on top of her. She trembled, her body freezing cold as it enveloped her. A small, weak cry and she watched it lift a shadowy hand into the air before it plunged right into the bullet hole in her stomach. Madeline yelled and squirmed where she lay, feeling the inky beast bury that appendage into her.
The peace of death left her swiftly only to be replaced by freezing pain. It started in her stomach and spread out, inching to the rest of her body. She could feel it move, feel that blackened shadow running through each of her veins as it entered and spread like a disease through her. She cried. She cried and squirmed as it invaded her, filling her with ice-cold darkness. It sank inward, running through her organs and making them feel rotten within her, before extending out to even the tips of her fingers and toes, corrupting every inch of her in a slow and thorough manner. As she felt it slide up along her face, she grit her teeth tightly and didn’t realize that she bit her tongue. She didn’t taste blood however but a foul, thick substance that swiftly congealed along the muscle. That darkness rose, reaching upward toward her tightly shut eyes, filling them to a point where she thought they would burst from her skull. The creature allowed, at least, one bit of mercy for when it felt like the shadows finally took her, Madeline’s consciousness faded away to black.
Madeline awoke, gasping for air and her muscles tight and aching. She lifted a hand, reaching up to find herself grasping the back of the couch in Ryan’s living room. Her entire body hurt. Even worse, she felt... strange. More accurately, violated. It felt like someone had reached inside of her and molested something deep within her, beyond anything she could comprehend. She was cold as well, even freezing. Each breath she released turned swiftly to visible vapor in the air before her. Slowly, she rose to her feet. One foot found itself stepping into something warm and wet, making her pause to look down to see what it was.
A loud yelp and she stumbled back from it, pulling herself along the couch as she looked about in horror. Blood had been splattered all around the room. And not just blood. She could see, in the dim light from the TV, chunks of flesh mixed with the crimson liquid. Her eyes wandered around the room in searching horror until she found the source.
The police officer lay on the coffee table in the middle of the room. He had been completely eviscerated with his body mutilated almost beyond recognition. She could still make out enough details though, like: parts of his torn up uniform, his face locked in an expression of absolute horror and pain, and the gun that was still grasped in his hands. Madeline lifted a finger toward the bullet wound in her own stomach. She found the hole in her hospital gown and pressed in to feel the wound. It didn’t hurt. Not anymore, but she felt something wet trickle from it. Assuming it was blood, Madeline lifted her finger up to look at the substance.
A black ooze trickled down her finger, dark and ebon in color. This wasn’t blood! It looked like ink. And it was coming from her? A terrified yell and she scrambled back, as if trying to escape herself. Madeline turned and was going to make a bolt for the door, when something caught her attention. Ryan had a large mirror set on the wall behind the couch and the reflection she glanced at caught her, and drew her gaze.
Madeline saw herself, though more accurately, what she had become. She saw a girl with long, blackened strands of hair hanging down to pale white shoulders. A hospital gown covered that white skin and was stained with the drying blood of the people whose lives she stole. The bullet holes in it were still visible and leaked a viscous, inky fluid that could only be what now pulsed through her veins. She could see those sickly black veins pumping that ink through her body, contrasting with her pale skin and branching out like a dying tree. Her eyes were fully blackened, leaving no trace of white within them and seemed to swirl and shift like the shadows in the room. Something lay beyond them, hiding and waiting to take over. And, finally, grasped still tightly in one hand was the symbol of everything that had turned her toward this thing before her: the scythe.
It still seemed darker than the world around it and even the fluid that ran through her body. Its cold felt even colder than she and it radiated a harsh, unholy feeling in her hand. Newly spilled blood coated the blade and dripped to the ground to join the puddles that now covered the floor.
Madeline screamed and the creature in the mirror screamed back with her. Blackened tears began to stream down her pale cheeks, furthering her more away from her previous humanity. And, as she cried, she heard that same hissing voice. No longer did it whisper into her ear however. She heard it in the swirling of her own thoughts, loud, clear, and inescapable.
“My sweet angel of death,” it whispered followed by a deep, coughing laugh, “you have performed well. There is much to be done still. Our bargain does not end here.”
“You’ve never heard of the Shadow Girl?” Alex asked his date as the two strode through the darkened buildings of the city. The movie had gotten out later than expected and the young college student wasn’t expecting to walk home this late, but it was nice to get to spend some quiet time with Lisa without the noise of the city getting in the way.
“Ah, no I haven’t. Why? Should I?” Lisa giggled as she looked to Alex with a raised brow. He chuckled and wrapped an arm about her to draw her closer, his voice dropping in pitch to begin his tale.
“Oh, well she came from near here. The murders at the Brooksfield Hospital? Rumor has it, she was the one who killed them!”
“Really?” A skeptical look came across Lisa’s face.
“You know they never did catch that killer,” he retorted, before leaning into her. He whispered right into her ear as he dropped his pitch to a deep, sinister tone. “And it’s said she still preys on people, slinking from the shadows as she cuts them down! All while pleading with you to run from her! She doesn’t want to kill, but the dark desires in her make her!” He ended it with a small but sudden shake to her shoulders, making Lisa jump a bit before smacking him on his arm.
“Oh yeah! So scary!” she mused as she stuck up her chin. “It’s really childish to believe in those things.”
“Childish, yeah. But still entertaining!” Alex chuckled, rubbing his shoulder for a moment before catching up to walk next to her.
The two chatted for a block or two longer before the quiet sounds of city nightlife were broken by what sounded like shuffling and… crying? Lisa was the first to hear it and stepped forward to peer down a darkened alley they soon were to pass. What she saw made her gasp and her skin crawl, but she tried her best to swallow it down with rationalization.
A girl stepped down the alleyway, her head tilted down to the ground, and soon, she had moved close enough that the streetlights were able to reveal her sickly form. She wore what looked to be a ruined and dirty hospital gown and her pale skin was covered in diseased-looking black veins. Was she sick? Could she be contagious? Oh, she had to be in pain… Lisa’s fear turned to a mix of unease and concern as Alex stepped up to her. He approached and, upon seeing her, tensed up immediately. This girl looked like hell but she gave off a sense of danger. Her look also reminded him of the story he just recounted.
“Lisa,” he began as he took her by her elbow. “We need to go.”
“No, we can’t go!” She shook her arm free from his grasp. “She looks hurt! We can’t just leave her.”
"Lisa, that’s not-" She cut him off by moving toward the shambling girl.
“Hey!” Lisa called out, timid but determined to play the Good Samaritan. “Are you OK? Do you need help?”
“Go away,” the girl responded in a raspy, quiet voice. “Run away. Don’t ever come back here.” This made a chill run down Alex’s spine. The story rang in his head once again and he moved forward to Lisa’s side.
“OK, that’s it! We’re going!” he spoke quickly as he took her by the arm. Lisa, however, came to a different conclusion. The story he just told her and the fact that he liked to joke around made this all seem a little too convenient. A creepy girl appearing right after he talked about some shadow girl murdering people? Yeah, sure. She glared at him and shoved him back harshly.
“Oh, I see what this is!” Lisa yelled angrily to him. “You just tell me that story and now you’re trying to scare me? Some date you turned out to be! Asshole.” She glared at him before turning back to the girl. Her fear now replaced with bitter anger and annoyance, she stepped right up to the strange woman and placed her hands on her hips. “Alex really put you up to this? You got some nerve pulling a stupid prank! Don’t you have better things to do?”
The girl stopped as Lisa approached her and she tilted her head up. Despite thinking this was a prank, those swirling black eyes that seemed to dance in their sockets caused her to take a single step back in unease. Lisa swallowed but held her ground as her fists clenched. A sad look seemed to slip upon the girl’s face before a shifting of movement caught Lisa’s eyes. She looked down to see the girl’s hand slip out from behind her back… and find that it was clasping tightly to a blackened, metallic scythe.
“You should have run from me,” she whispered as she lift the weapon into the air. Lisa screamed and moved to step back. The sudden movement, however, was uncoordinated and her foot came down at an angle, making her stumble then fall backward to the ground. The Shadow Girl loomed over her, scythe high in the air. “I told you to run!” she yelled before the scythe fell downward upon the girl before her, hacking into her as Lisa’s cries of fear turned into screams of pain. It tore once into her chest, the sound of ripping cloth and skin echoing in the alley. Alex yelled something and burst forward, slamming into the Shadow Girl as his date bled below her, the poor girl coughing and clutching at the gash in her chest. He slammed her up against the side of a building.
“You get away from her!” he yelled down to the Shadow Girl as he held her against that wall. His eyes locked with hers and widened at the swirling mass of black that lay within them. Something stirred in those eyes. Something evil and alive. For a small moment, he almost thought he heard something from them. A kind of cackling hiss before that something soon burst from her hues, inky black tendrils of shadow reaching from her sockets and wrapping themselves around his skull. Alex screamed in agony as those tendrils of darkness dug into his skin and bone, spikes of icy cold hitting his nerves wherever they touched. She leaned in, and, for a moment, he thought he could see a blackened tear stream down one of her cheeks.
“Please, why didn’t you run?” she asked in a sad, raspy voice that almost made him feel sorrow for the creature before him. Until those tendrils of blackness ripped outward, tearing his skull apart from where they dug in. Blood and bone flew from his head and Alex slumped to her feet, his head nothing more than a bloody, gory mess.
Lisa, bleeding from her previous stab on the ground, cried out in terror as her date fell at the creature’s feet. The Shadow Girl stepped slowly over him and returned to approach the bleeding girl on the ground. Lisa tried to pull away, but the mix of terror and pain allowed her little room to move. She sobbed uncontrollably as she saw the Shadow Girl lean over her, those inky black eyes staring into her own.
“Please, forgive me,” she whispered to her as she raised her scythe into the air. Lisa’s scream was cut short as the blade fell and tore into the flesh of her neck, silencing her.
With her work down, Madeline rose to her feet and turned back toward the darkened alley. Some listened, some didn’t and every death made her heart wretch in pain. She wanted to just collapse. To cry for the two mercilessly cut down by her hand. But the Shadow Girl would not. She, instead, was forced forward and stepped toward the darkest place in the alley where the lights of the city were cut off by a presence of a long forgotten and disused dumpster. As she entered, the darkness pulled itself around her tightly and, soon, she vanished to the next hell her captor would force her to. There would be no rest or peace for her. The Shadow Girl had a bargain to fulfill.