The Taste of Fear

Author’s Note – This is another little fiction from a one word prompt over on Instagram. The word was taste. I saw a lot of responses that were either foodie or sexy. And I was tempted. But Ben was feeling chatty. He shared a dream with me. He does that. Let’s me have his nightmares sometimes. So this is what we got instead. The Taste of Fear. ~ J

Copy of Taste

The blackness was total.

It went past mere idea or circumstance.

It was physical.

First it was an enemy. It left him flailing, yelling, then finally panting and sweating.

After a while when it was all there was, he tired of that.

Then the dark around him, so smooth, so complete, so constant, was almost a friend. But the kind you knew would stab you in the back eventually. You just couldn’t prove it.

He didn’t remember it, but they must have grabbed him at that last stop.

Why leave him like this? If he was caught, why not just get it over with? 

He shivered. 

Over probably wasn’t on the docket. Not any time soon. But even torture might be preferable to this unending, muffling, blanket of dark silence. 

Okay, maybe not. 

But the nothingness was a torture of its own.

He wasn’t restrained or hurt. He felt around carefully. Nothing near him but the ground beneath him. So smooth, he wasn’t sure what it might be. Not earth, not pavement. It was strange but it was solid. Probably.

Stay calm. You have nothing to gain by losing your shit right now.

He rose carefully. One hand above him in case there was a low ceiling, the other protectively in front of him, for no particular reason other than reflex. Once he was upright, he reached out to explore, slowly at first. It seemed there was truly nothing around him. 

“Hello?”

Not even an echo. His voice sounded like something meant to be experienced in three dimensions squashed onto a piece of paper.

He swallowed hard. 

Oblivion.

This is oblivion.

They found you.

And instead of revenge or torment, they put an end to you. 

That’s why I don’t remember anything.

The final death.

But it’s even worse than you thought.

Because I’m still here.

In the dark.

Alone.

Forever.

An insidious, familiar, unwelcome, long despised voice whispered in his ear, “I can taste your fear.”

Panic came then. 

Ben bolted upright in bed, half falling out of it before Mal caught his arm. “Hey, hey, it’s okay,” she soothed in familiar tones, gathering him close. “You’re okay. Just another dream.”

Ben lay back down next to her for a while, letting his breathing return to normal, appreciating that she didn’t ask about his nightmares.

When faint grey light peeked in the curtains, he leaned in and kissed her cheek. She was almost back asleep. “I’m going for a run.”

“‘Kay,” she murmured.

Ben got a couple of miles in before he had to stop, leaning against a tree, gasping.

Almost like it was real, he heard the voice in his ear again.

“You’ll never be able to stop running.”

Ben gasped and looked around. There was no one there.

Still, the whisper came again.

“And I can still taste your fear.”

*****

Home

Author’s Note – Here’s another little ficlet inspired by a one word prompt challenge on our Instagram. This could fit into Book II. The word was home. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler if you’ve read Always Darkest, that our heroes are far from theirs.

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“Oh man, this is awesome,” Ben sighed happily around a huge bite of flatbread pizza covered with an unconscionable amount of pulled pork, olives, and pineapple. “Tastes like home.”

Chris nodded, chasing his bite of calzone with a satisfying overproofed west coast style IPA. “It does, doesn’t it?”

Aife, Ted, and Petra all agreed.

Chris added. “If the local brew were just a hair better, I could almost convince myself we were back on Saint Paul Street.”

Ben grinned around his beer.

“How’s yours, Mal?” Teddy asked, not missing the approving looks everyone was giving him for stuffing his face here. He actually felt halfway decent today and he knew it showed in his appetite. It didn’t hurt that this place really did feel like home. And that, for a change, that felt pretty good.

“Mmmm?”

Mal looked around the table like maybe she hadn’t actually heard the question and was trying to figure it out from the looks on their faces.

Okay, just the food. That’s all.

She took another bite of pizza.

Say something.

“It’s good.”

She’d been fine when the decided to stop here, but Mal had grown a little distant as they’d sat waiting for their order. She drove all day, Ben reasoned, maybe she’s just tiredOr maybe she needs a chance to blow off some steam. “After we finish dinner, you wanna watch me be shitty at pinball? Then you can totally grab yet another high score on the Mal Sinclair All-American Pinball Wizard Tour.”

She smiled. “Sure. Can’t pass up handing your ass to you with a pinball machine right in front of us.”

Ben flashed a smile of his own. Mal dug back into her pizza. Reasonably certain all was well, Ben and Chris resumed their conversation about which campground would be more appropriate for the weekend. It was going to be crowded no matter where they went. If not for the mellowing influence of good beer, the conversation might have turned into an argument.

It had been twenty minutes or so when they finally reached a tenuous agreement and came up for air. Ben glanced to his side, then around the table. “Where’s Mal?”

Petra shrugged. “Bathroom, I think.”

Aife frowned. “She has been gone for a while though.”

Ben hesitated, then stood. “I’m gonna go grab us another pitcher.”

Petra rolled her eyes. “After you check on Mal.”

Ben’s grin was appropriately sheepish. “Yeah. After that.” 

He walked away from the table, not even pretending to go order more drinks.

Ben finally found her outside on a park bench. Her face was in her hands. “Mal?”

She didn’t look up. “I’m fine,” she said through her fingers.

He sat down. “Don’t sell yourself short. You’re damned fine, gorgeous even,” he said, voice purposely light. 

She sniffed. “Thanks.”

He put a hand on her back. “Can I help?”

She shook her head, still not looking up. “I’m sorry. I just couldn’t stay at the table. It reminded me so much of home and…” Her voice broke.

“You wish you were there.” He wrapped her in his arms and she leaned into his chest. She hadn’t been about to ask for comfort, but she wasn’t about to turn it down either. 

“I wish all of us were.” She turned into his offered arms. “Safe.”

He rested his cheek on her head and pulled her close.

“Me, too.”

*****

Image by Karsten Paulick from Pixabay

Dirty

Author’s Note – Here’s another little Arbitratus Trilogy Fanfic that comes from an Instagram one word challenge. This one could fit just about anywhere mid-Book II, Before the Dawn (coming soon, I promise). The word was ‘Dirty’. I had fun with this one. ~ J

Dirty

“Hold still,” she grumped, taking his arm and turning it over for the third time.

“Mal, I’m fine.” Ben tried to pull his arm away from her again, but her hold on his wrist was too firm. “It’s just a scrape.”

She rolled her eyes. “This is not a scrape.”

He shrugged, not exactly interested in looking at it all that closely anyway. He tried a charming grin. “Well … That’s what I get for showing off by climbing ledges to impress a girl I already know is going to sleep with me.”

He tugged at his arm again.

She adjusted her grip and went back to work. “Quit being a baby and let me clean this up.”

“Mal, come on. Just do your healing power magic thingy. I rinsed it off already in the…”

“Filthy stream next to the road? Yeah, I know. I was there.” She sounded just a little pissed off.

“Ow!” He jumped a little. “Take it easy!” he groused, trying once again, unsuccessfully, to reclaim his injured arm. 

“I’m sorry.” She stopped trying to pick gravel out of the gash. “But Ben, this is really dirty. I need to clean it up before I can try healing it.”

“I don’t see why.”

“It’d be pretty gross if I magiced you into an arm full of pebbles and leaves because I was careless and closed it all up in there.”

He wrinkled his nose. “I guess that would be kind of gross. But it’s not like it can get infected or anything … I mean I did all those spells to protect …”

“You had an Archangel tell you you could basically pass for human these days. Who knows what Uncle Davi’s spell did to all those protections.”

Ben stopped squirming. “Christ. I never thought about that.” He started chewing his lip.

She looked up at him again with concern. “Am I really hurting you?”

“No … Um … I mean, a little, but it’s okay. I was just …”

“What’s the matter, Ben?”

“Suddenly feeling a little worried about my not-deal-with-human-stuff magic maybe not being foolproof, I guess.”

Tan as he was, she almost thought he looked a little pale. “Well, I mean, obviously you still have powers and everything. I wasn’t about to drag you into town for a tetanus shot or anything.”

He rolled his eyes. “Not what I was thinking about. But good. Because gross.”

Oh. She smirked. “I’m still on the Pill, if that makes you feel any better.”

He laughed, flushing just a little. “It does, actually.”

He let her just finish what she was doing and when she closed her eyes to use her healing powers, he closed his too. Watching her do that made him feel weirdly self conscious. After a minute or two, she released his arm.

“There. All better.”

He opened his eyes and grinned at her. “Thanks.”

“The rest of you is still all grubby from wiping out.”

“Yeah. I’m pretty filthy.”

“Shower?”

“When do I ever say no to that?”

*****

Please

Author’s Note – Here’s another little scene that doesn’t physically appear in The Arbitratus Trilogy, but it could. It fits into Always Darkest, or Before the Dawn. Mal spends a lot of time worrying about Ben, about their future. This is just a moment of real vulnerability that she tries to keep to herself. 

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Mal came back to bed quietly. She didn’t want to wake him, but she didn’t think she could go back to sleep. At least they both preferred sleeping with the light on lately. So, that wouldn’t disturb him.

She chewed her lip for a few minutes, staring off into space. Nope, definitely not sleepy anymore. And no wonder, after the dream she’d had. 

She wouldn’t let herself focus on or recall any of the details too vividly. 

All she knew was that they’d been in danger and Ben put himself in the way of devils and angels in a place of almost total darkness and that some great Being who she thought must have been God showed up and instead of helping, instead of saving Ben, He’d turned away indifferently. 

Ben had looked at her with eyes like hot coals. He was burning from the inside. 

He couldn’t even cry out. 

He wasn’t being consumed by fire, he was becoming it. 

She fell to her knees and he just started disappearing, flaking away like paper in a hot stove. 

She screamed.

She’d woken up so sweaty and shaky, she’d needed to change her clothes and go get a cup of tea. The idea of losing him to Hell, or any other power, plagued her more and more these days. Now, she felt tremors still coursing up and down her arms. 

Maybe a distraction would help. 

Now was as good a time as any to use her journal, she supposed. She reached for it, balanced on the edge of her nightstand.Pen in hand, she stared at a blank page for a long time. 

A tear struck the empty space and made a bright purple blotch on the pale lavender paper. 

She blinked and it was joined by more. She set it aside and hugged her knees, burying her face and trying to keep her sobs quiet. 

“Please,” she whispered. 

She hadn’t prayed in a long time. And it didn’t get any more articulate than that. But she thought. Hoped. Believed. That if anyone was listening, He’d know what her desperate plea meant.

“Just please.”

*****

Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay

Fire

Author’s Note: Here’s another little Arbitratus Trilogy Fanfic that resulted from a one word prompt challenge over on IG. It’s something that doesn’t happen in Book II, Before the Dawn. But like so many of these little fictions, it could. 

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Their after dinner walk had gone on for longer than was probably smart. The temperature was dropping rapidly as the sun sank behind the mountains. The breeze rustled the frost stiffened trees. It was nice to be away from populations centers. There was less to worry about in terms of getting noticed, getting recognized, getting caught. But maybe they should head south again. It was too damned cold around here.

Mal untwined her fingers from Ben’s. “Sorry. I need my gloves.”

Ben was already pulling on the lopsided mittens she’d knitted him. “Same. We should head back anyway. It’s getting dark.”

They decided to cut across a couple of back yards to get back to the campground faster. “What is that?” Mal asked cocking her head.

Ben paused and listened, spending the energy on magically enhancing his hearing.

“Fire,” he said quietly.

“Where?”

He listened again then pointed. “There.”

They took off running and skidded to a stop in the yard of a large farmhouse already well on its way to burning down. Shouts and pleas for help came from inside. “Stay here,” he said firmly. “Call 911.”

“You’re not going in there!”

“Official help is pretty far out. And … there’s kids in there. I can hear them.”

She sighed and wrapped her fingers around the fabric of his sleeve. “Why do you have to be such a big damned hero all the time?!?”

“Well, you’ve got the damned part right.” He smirked and squeezed her hand, gently encouraging her to release his jacket. “I’m a demon, not a hero.”

She grabbed him by the back of his neck and kissed him quickly, then gave him a light shove toward the building. As he ran toward the calls for help she sighed again. “Pretty sure you can be both.”

She got out her phone and made the call to emergency services.

~~~~~

In bed, later that night, whispering so as not to disturb the others in the camper who were already asleep, Mal brushed his slightly singed bangs off his forehead. “How are you feeling now?”

“I’m good.”

“You really don’t hurt anymore?” He huffed a little sigh that told her he thought she was fussing unnecessarily but he didn’t want to call her out for it. “I know the burns look okay now, but I’m never sure about this magic stuff. Like what do I know about healing nerves and stuff?”

“All better. I promise.” Then he reached up, more to prove he really wasn’t in pain than anything else, and plucked at his uneven hair. “Just wish your healing powers included cosmetic repairs.”

She snorted laughter. “It doesn’t look bad. Your hands did though. I’m glad I could fix them.”

“Me, too. Burns really hurt,” he admitted. “Thanks.”

“And I’m glad you were a big hero for those kids.”

“I’m not…”

“Don’t argue. Or I’ll take back the healing stuff.”

“Pretty sure that’s not how those powers work.” Then he frowned. “Right?”

“Probably. But still.”

He laughed. “Not a hero.”

“If you can’t admit to being one in general, will you accept being my hero then?” She put her head against his chest.

“I can live with that.”

He was still smiling when he dozed off a while later.

*****

Image by Simon Matzinger from Pixabay

School

Author’s note – I’ve been playing around with some little one word prompts over on our Instagram. For those of you that don’t goof off over on IG, I figured I’d share the little flash fan fictions for our Arbitratus Trilogy characters here. Here’s a little imagined scene from our Work In Progress (which is basically done – it’s all over but the final editing) Before the Dawn, aka Book II.

This isn’t necessarily canon, of course. But it could be.

If you do enjoy ‘gramming a little, you can follow us at Demons Run Lit.

SCHOOL

Mal had been quiet all morning.

When Ben suggested a walk, it was more because he thought she might talk if they were away from the others. It was cold this morning. Again. But the view was breathtaking.

They’d been sitting on the rough hewn bench for a while in silence and Ben was ready to give up. But he was pretty sure she was crying and trying to hide it.

One more try, he thought.

He pulled her in closer. “Mal … what is it?”

She sniffed, staring off down the road. “It’s nothing.”

He slid both arms around her. “It doesn’t sound like nothing.” He didn’t point out the tear trailing down her cheek, visible when she tilted her head against him, but he reached up and brushed it away with his thumb.

She looked up at him. “I’m starting to wish you weren’t so goddamned observant.”

“Now you know how I feel, literally half the time.” He let her have the small crooked grin he knew she liked to see. “C’mon, tell me. you never let me get away with keeping what’s bothering me to myself.”

“It’s stupid.”

He shook his head. “Not even possible. Have you met you?”

She gave him a watery smile. “Today would have been the start of semester break. I’d have been halfway through Freshman year today. One step close to being Dr. Sinclair.”

Oh.

“Oh.” He chewed his lip. “Wanna go hang out at the college library in town?”

“What for?”

He shrugged. “I dunno. We could just … pretend to be normal for awhile. Forget we’re not just at school.”

She smiled more genuinely. “That’s silly.”

“I could buy you a new gross medical textbook…” he offered.

“We don’t have any money, Ben.” She leaned into his side.

“Hey, I’m a demon. I’m not above picking someone’s pocket.”

She shook her head with an affectionate exasperation. He always tried. “Okay. Let’s. Not pick pockets, but you know, hang out in the library. At least it’ll be warm.”

“And we’ll be together reading about something other than the prophecy.”

“Together is good.”

“Always.”