Chapter 22: Silent Night
Jack spat against the mud holding his dizzy head. “You’d think I’d be used to it by now.” He hauled himself to his feet wincing at the slant of the world.
He shook his head and rubbed a hand across his eyes as the landscape slowly began to take shape from the buzz of distortion that had followed him through the rift. He stilled, his senses invoking a nightmare of memories in terrifying clarity. “Hell,” he whispered into the slope of the rain.
“Not quite, captain, but close.” A voice whispered from the edge of the landscape.
Jack wiped the mud from his palms. “You know I’m all up for a game of hide and seek but even I draw the line at playing it in a war zone.”
A pillar of black smoke eased itself up from the sod. It spread its inky shadow to stain the daylight, its outline gathering itself into human form.
Jack could feel the loop of time slow as its snapshot became dormant and almost restful. A woman walked through the saturated light toward him, the strands of her silver hair unfurling from the shadows. “Death has left its mark upon you.” Her voice sounded like the slip of water over stones. “I would take your life but it would offer me nothing, your blood is not what I desire.”
Her violet stare regarded him with interest, their fierce colour intensifying against the grey backdrop. “Perhaps we could think of another way you could please me.” A pale hand reached up and caressed his face, its touch was stale against his skin.
“My mother warned me about loose women. Advice I never took I might add.” He seized her wrist but it vanished from his grasp leaving his fingers clutching thin air.
He watched as her fingers reappeared and danced over his grey coat, exploring the folds of the material until the came to rest over his heart. “Would you give it to me?” She pressed her ear to his chest.
Jack shivered against her closeness. “It’s all according what you mean by give. Would it remain in my chest?”
She moved her head away. “If you please me it might.”
“And if I kill you?”
Her gaze turned hard against light. “With kisses?”
“No, I was thinking of something more painful and permanent.” He pulled back his coat exposing the Webley mark VI.
“You think you can defeat me with that?” Her laughter crippled the air.
Jack stood his ground. “Yeah.”
She moved away. “You would make a perfect mate.”
“Contrary to popular belief, I’m a little choosy.”
Agroná inhaled. “Can you feel it, captain, the theatre of war, the glorious celebration of cruelty and inhumanity?”
She waited for him to answer; Jack remained silent. “No? And yet you face it every day, beyond this place, out there. You share in the thrill of bloodshed and carnage.”
“There is no celebration in death,” he replied.
Agroná moved behind him stroking the back of his neck. “Are you so sure, captain?” Her lips scratched at his skin. “Because I can feel a time when you revelled in the kill, craved it even.” Her fingertips moved to his temples. “I can feel your scars.”
Jack saw flashes of his past as Agroná raised his tormented ghosts. “Remember, captain, the torture of both body and soul, the crush of resistance and the power it lent?”
Jack turned to face her. “That was a different person.”
“Oh, how self-righteous of you and yet the path you’ve chosen is no different than before; you still hold the decision of life and death in your new role as saviour. You cannot change what you are, captain, you can never erase the past but together we can build on it.”
Jack stepped away studying the patterns in the mist. Agroná watched him, an empty smile on her face. “Join with me and we could be gods amongst these weak fools.” Her offer wafted in the swirl of the haze.
He turned to her again, his grasp curling around the hilt of his gun. “As I said before, I’m little choosy and to be honest, I’ve had better offers.” He drew the weapon.
Agroná flew at him before he had a chance to fire, her swift movement knocking him to the ground. Her face changed in the strained light, it aged, the features an insane knot of muscles. “You refuse me!”
“I guess so.”
A knarred hand went around his throat. “You insult yourself with this integrity; you think it will wash away the sins of your past.” Her fingertips marked his skin. “I can taste them on you, each death by your hand.”
The hag’s tongue slithered between her broken teeth drooling with pleasure. She bent close and licked his cheek, her cold breath smelling of decay. “Can you taste your own?” Jack asked as he struggled for air against her tightening grip.
“You still think you can defeat me?” Her words were mixed with spittle that sprayed him lightly in the face.
Jack’s stare was one of conviction. “Yeah.”
Agroná considered his answer matching his gaze, a primeval glint glazing her eyes. Her mouth fell open, lengthening against her wizened features, her jaw jarring as it locked. She sat back on his chest, her hold still firm. “Shit, shit, shit.” Owen’s frustrated cry drifted from the enlarged orifice with a slight echo.
Jack bucked against her, his hand tearing at her leathery grasp. Agroná inclined her head, her mouth still agape like a ventriloquist’s dummy. “Owen, it’s senseless us both being stuck out here…” Ianto’s wounded voice coasted flawlessly from between her rotten lips before they snapped shut.
“Such frail minds, laced with delicate thoughts, yet they fight against the inevitability of death, I find it enthralling.” Her tongue flickered with desire.
“Where are they?” Jack demanded in his struggle for air.
Agroná’s thumb pressed down on his Adam’s apple as it bobbed with the question. “Dying, they just don’t know it yet.”
Her black mouth pressed against his; her kiss tasting of earth and blood. “The young offer so much more in death, they’ve so much more to lose.”
“They don’t belong here!” He choked.
“None of them do and yet here they are, sent into certain death.” She released her grip and let her fingers trail over his shirt until they rested over his heart.
“Ah, so it’s not so impregnable after all.” Her aged hands tore at the material, ripping through it with ease. Jack kicked against her weight but she pinned him to the mud with a strength that was beyond her spindly body.
Her jagged nails pressed at his chest, their crooked reach turning avian, clawing through the layers of flesh. “Seeing as you will not give it to me, I’ll have to take it from you.” Her laughter turned into the gurgled screech of a crow.
Jack screamed as it ripped open his torso.
Copyright RMC Feb2018