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Short Stories

A Soul on Fire

It wasn't the sort of place I would choose to visit. Chicago, inner city, back street.

The stench of urban decay was almost overpowering; the dregs of America acted out their sordid lives behind the grimy windows of gang-scarred streets just like this. Even the police would need a good reason to be seen here; yet here was I, educated, white, European, obviously scared out of my wits and way off my turf, a prime target for a touch. But I knew that today of all days, nobody would even think of getting in my way.

I was surprised that the bar had a door; it was the sort of cheap former speakeasy that would often as not just have a hole in the wall. Even before you stepped into the dimmed light, you waded into the tension; you could feel it, smell it, taste it. The clientele was as select in its own way as a premier Washington hotel, but no patron here would even get through the door of one of those worlds. It was an easy guess that most of them never saw the morning unless they stayed up all night.

The bartender was spit cleaning used glasses, and a junkie in the corner was breathing hard mid-fix; both kept their eyes on their own business. The juke box clicked onto a country blues number by a guitarist you could tell was blind from the intricacy of his picking. A pair of greasy Angels by a wall phone, their tattoos blending into the graffiti, were sharpening hatchets; it didn't take much to avoid their eyes. An inebriated trans-sexual was mumbling sweet nothings to his partner; he was the only character in the joint who couldn't feel the promise in the air. Even where more than one dropout filled a dusty table, they weren't talking to each other, just listening to the pair who were about to die.

More than half the customers were black, from the broken down drunks and junkies in ten year old suits, eyes glazed by their respective poisons, to the latex-clad working girls and their pimps in tailored threads. Most would have been armed, switchblades or bootleg revolvers burning holes in their respective pockets as if just waiting for a word. In such an environment the two behemoths surrounding one of the pool tables were as out of place as if they had tried to pay for their drinks with a gold card.

Large in all directions and wearing checked lumberjack shirts, they probably had the words 'good old boy' etched onto their hearts. You somehow knew that they wore tall white hoods on the weekends and wished there was something other than crosses that they were still allowed to burn. And if you couldn't tell from their appearance, you could hear it in their words. Almost fall-down drunk and oblivious to the danger they were weaving into the atmosphere, every shot they made was accompanied by slurred abuse, most of it hurled at an immobile aged negro with a face so lined you wanted to iron it back into shape. Hours had become minutes, the minutes were lapsing into seconds and time was all but exhausted. The growing silence was nigh on tangible with Death's intractable fingers closing in.

When she flowed into the bar, time stopped.

As if under some primeval enchantment, we would have been glad to sit there until our bodies turned to dust, content merely to gaze on such a vision; pleased just to witness the grace of motion, the fluidity of balance, the poise beyond feline; enamoured by the subtle touches of masterpiece painted into her being. Features didn't matter; it was the pure essence of her that commanded every thought. I could feel her eyes gazing into mine, her mind penetrating my soul - mine alone, yet somehow I knew that all felt the same. It was as if every fibre of my being were tweaked to the limit and then, as my consciousness burned in ecstatic fire, with a feather soft touch pressed gently beyond. Galaxies could form, suns collapse, civilisations fall; none of us would care.

Even the poolroom rednecks were distracted from their concentrated display of Southern bigotry; the intense desire burned into every one of us was not lost even on them. As their half-coherent jabber switched to the goddess, every heart stopped, every breath faded into nothing; we all waited to see what reaction she would give.

And then she moved towards them. Smiling.

The bar room temperature must have dropped twenty degrees. If the pair had been despised before, then they were beyond hate now. Over by the pool table, limbs entwined and tongues met. No man ever felt a loss like this; stomachs churned, eyes glazed, weapons leapt into hands, but not a soul moved. When they left the bar, they left their drinks and their jackets, but they kept their lives. In the blazing silence, you could hear muscles relax, breathing resume, throats rack with sobs; purely from the searing intensity of the experience. And still nobody spoke.

It took me five full minutes, but I reached my feet and stumbled towards the door. As I regained my balance, of mind as much as body, I flooded the street with my gaze. She was not in sight, but like a moth drawn to a flame, I was drawn to a soul that carried eternity in its grasp. Our minds were one; I didn't need the screams to follow her trail. A trash-filled alleyway, two blocks down, the far end. Silhouetted against a stuttering streetlight, the two men had not kept their lives for long; held by the tops of their straining shirts, one in each delicate hand, she had sucked the life out of their bloated throats and revelled in it. Racists no longer, they now understood what different really was.

As I approached, she held me in her cast iron gaze, her eyes like fire; wild, passionate and all-consuming. The remnants of her feed fell limply from her grip as she reached out for me. She drank in the desire in me, she fed on desire as much as blood; and I exuded desire in its purest form. I knew what she was; I had known all along. I wanted what she was; her power, her control, her grip on eternity. And as her perfect hands took hold of my neck, I slipped the stake between her ribs.

Her eyes dimmed momentarily, but then flared in her defeat. Even as she slumped, she understood. She knew how I could kill her and those like her; my desire is so overpowering that it hides my hate. Nietzsche said that man is doomed to kill what he loves; he was right. But it hurts. Like hell.

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