Twenty-NineMature

Her face is partially obscured by long, greasy black hair that shines weakly in the moonlight, but I can see a pale nose, black lips pressed tightly together. Gloved hands carry two plastic shopping bags filled to bursting, swaying gently back and forth at knee level.

There is a knot tightening my stomach, blood seems to have abandoned my head, and the struggle to remain still is making my legs tremble.  So this is Ashes. Or is it? Maybe Tommy has found some new companionship already. That doesn’t seem very likely though - the experience with my half-sister should have sent him packing to a monastery, not into the arms of another woman.

I let my held breath seep out slowly through cracked lips, wishing the white puffs would dissipate faster. Is she just going to stand there, waiting for Tommy to show up? No, she has to check inside to make sure he isn’t there already... unless she knows he’s not. I’ve got no way of getting out of here without being seen and I don’t trust my legs to carry me at more than a limping jog at this point.

Ashes swings her head from left to right, lank hair reluctantly mirroring the motion. She cocks her head to one side as though listening for something, then turns her gaze to my hiding spot.

The urge to run is overwhelming. I hold my breath again, ignoring the protests of my lungs and join the staring contest. A weak breeze crinkles her shopping bags and burns my cheeks and neither of us moves.

A movement at my feet breaks the standoff and I look down to see a rat chewing on my shoelaces. A choked, coughing scream escapes me as my whole body tenses. I hate rats, oh my lord I absolutely despise these filthy creatures.

I whip my head up to see Ashes drop her bags and reach inside her jacket with her right hand before the terror of an unseen rodent at my toes brings my eyes back down. Get away from me you disgusting beast, get the hell away from me!

I sneak another glance at Ashes and my eyes go wide – she is striding towards me with a very, very big knife in her hand. She’s almost halfway here already. I need to run but my body is frozen in place. By cold. By fear. By shock.

The rat places its front paws on top of my left sneaker and I’m forced into action. I flick my foot and send it fleeing into the light, towards the advancing maniac. I shift my weight, legs shrieking in protest, and prepare to run. But a scream stops me short.

I look up to see Ashes backing away with a horrified expression painted on her face, her eyes locked on the rat scurrying around in circles between us. I guess at least one thing runs in the family.

She back-pedals to her bags, slips her knife inside her jacket and shakes her head furiously.  She gathers up her things and, with another quick look around, disappears into Tommy’s place. Now is my chance to escape but I don’t move. I can’t let Tommy return home to this psycho, I need to warn him.

But what if I can get to a telephone booth and call the cops before he shows up? They would have Ashes behind bars and we could both rest easy again. The stress and fear would be gone, I could stop looking over my shoulder every ten seconds. This could all end tonight.

My eyes are glued on the dark entrance to Tommy’s place, straining to detect any movement, a pair of eyes waiting for me to reveal myself. I need to make a decision – wait for Tommy or go now. Could I live with myself if Ashes kills him while I’m away? Can I pass up this chance to lock her up and be free of her?

Tommy’s arrival takes the decision out of my hands. As soon as I see him at the corner of his building I step out of the shadows and move quickly towards him. He stops short but relaxes once he realizes it’s me. I put a finger to my lips to forestall the question forming on his and risk a quick glance at the entrance to his place.

I almost trip over my feet when I see Ashes climbing out of the darkness with her knife in her hand and a crazed look on her face. I swear and break into a stumbling run.

“Run!” I scream at Tommy. “She’ll kill us both!”

The End

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