Stories

A Tale of Blood and Roses, Part 3, by Keira Heckman

#blood and roses #fantasy

Maccan ran a hand over his perfectly smoothed hair before he set off down the hallway again. Jake didn’t follow this time. Instead, he went to find Rosalind.

He found her in Exam Room B sitting on an examination table dressed in jeans and an old t-shirt. He folded his arms as he leaned against the doorframe and waited for her physical examination to be over. She sat with her legs swinging slightly, crinkling the white paper beneath her.

The nurse crossed over to her. “Open your mouth, please.”

Rosalind did as she was told while the nurse peeled the microphone from the inside of her cheek.

“Am I done?” Rosalind asked the nurse. Her eyes met Jake’s and she raised an eyebrow.

The nurse nodded. Rosalind jumped down from the table and skipped over to the doorway where Jake stood. “What’s up?”

Jake stood up straight and walked down the hallway in the same direction he had come, gesturing for Rosalind to follow.

“De-briefing?” She asked, matching his stride with ease. Her tone was coloured with a mixture of sarcasm and annoyance. Rosalind was much more of an act first, ask questions later agent. She had been taken in by the agency at twelve years-old and climbed through the ranks until she had found a position that fit. She made an excellent field agent, but he pitied the person that had to fill out her mission reports, until he remembered that was his job now. He sighed mentally, budget cuts.

He nodded. He glanced at her shirt, “Daddy issues?” he raised his eyebrows at her as he read the words printed on the yellow fabric.

Rosalind smiled, “It’s funny cause it’s true.”

Jake liked it when she smiled. It brought out a small dimple in her left cheek. When you added her bright blue eyes, lined with perfectly winged eyeliner, the contrast of her pale skin, and auburn hair, the result was a very pretty face.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you without eyeliner.”

“And you never will,” she teased.

Jake swiped his ID badge on the card slot in the door and pushed it open. “After you,” he said as he held it open for her.

“You know I can open a door for myself, right?”

Jake rolled his eyes, “I know you can open a door. I was being gentlemanly.”

Rosalind smirked as she stepped through the door. “Wow, there really is a first time for everything.”

Jake stepped through after her, shaking his head slightly as the door sealed shut behind them.

The size of the room was unclear because of the amount of technology that had been stuffed into it. A large screen took up most of one wall, while piles of old modes of computers, keyboards and base units took up another. The air smelled of dust, heated plastic with a faint scent of Doritos.

Rosalind saw a swivel chair in the center of the room and sat on it, one leg tucked under her, the other she used to spin herself in slow circles. Jake took the spare chair and moved it over a monitor in the corner of the room. He switched the monitor on and the screen showed an open document—a rundown of Rosalind’s latest assignment.

Jake sat on the chair, his eyes darting across the screen. He could see her spinning in the corner of his eye and sighed, “Please stop, you’re giving me motion sickness just watching you.”

“Sorry,” Rosalind wheeled her chair over to him.

“Okay, so what do we know about the assignment?” Jake asked, scrolling through the file.

“Known locally as the faceless man, seven feet tall, great fashion sense, oh, and I killed him,” Rosalind smiled.

Jake looked up at her, “What did you miss?”

Her look of triumph was replaced by one of confusion.

“Nothing.”

Jake turned back to the screen and read from it. “The faceless man disables his prey by emitting a high frequency sound. Victims have reported dizziness, disorientation, migraines, temporary deafness, and even blindness.”

Rosalind put a hand to her head, “The headaches.”

Her eyes widened, “Is that why I fell? The disorientation? Because I never fall, you’ve seen me train. I’m like a cat. I always land on my feet.”

Jake nodded, “It’s the most probable explanation.” He closed the tab and turned his chair back towards Rosalind. “About your fall…”

Rosalind read his face like a book, “What did Maccan have to say about it?”

Jake was taken aback, “How did you—”

“I could tell by your face. You get this look after you’ve spoken to him, like you’ve been sent to the headmaster’s office for something you didn’t do. So…”

Rosalind leaned forward in her seat.  “What did he say? Am I in trouble?” Her face was serious but there was a sparkle in her eyes.

Jake sighed, “He said your fall was an embarrassment to the agency and told me to deal with it.”

Rosalind looked relieved as she slumped back in the chair. “Oh, that’s not too bad. Just put a note in my file and delete the footage. It’d be a shame to mar my perfect record, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make if it’ll get Maccan off my back.”

He got up from his seat and walked across the room, running a hand through his hair. “I don’t know if I can just do that, Rosa. He was pretty ticked off. So,” He looked down, “I’m assigning you to Camilla.”

Rosalind’s jaw dropped, “Vampire duty?! But it wasn’t my fault that I fell. It was no face guy and his high frequency sounds!”

“I know that, but Maccan—” Jake started but Rosalind spoke over him.

“Did you at least explain to him—”

“I tried but he wouldn’t hear it. Besides, I think it’s for the best that you lay low for a little while.” Jake walked over to a monitor and turned it on.

Rosalind got to her feet. “And if I refuse?”

Jake looked up from the computer. “Well, technically, I’m your superior-”

“Not necessarily,” She shot back. Her anger clouded her pretty features.

“I’m your superior and I could report you to Maccan,” Jake finished.

Rosalind stared at him for a while before she spoke. “Fine. I’ll go babysit a three-hundred-year-old but it’s a waste of my talents, and we both know it.” She strode past him but stopped at the door.

She turned, “And you’ll report me to Maccan? Now who has daddy issues?”

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Stories

A Tale of Blood and Roses, Part 2, by Keira Heckman

#blood and roses #fantasy #scifi

The official job title that Jake Lachlan held was “Project Manager.” It said so on his contract and in smaller letters on his ID badge, but his real purpose was cleaning up other people’s messes—a job that never seemed to end. It seemed like every few minutes there was another thing that he had to fix. The latest, was Rosalind’s face off with the faceless man.

“What the hell was that?”

Jake looked up from his phone to see a swarm of people in suits pace toward him, the leader of the group was his boss’s boss, John Maccan.

“Rosalind is supposed to be our finest agent, Lachlan, you said that she could get the job done,” Maccan said as he tugged sharply on his navy blazer, smoothing out a non-existent crease.

Maccan was dressed sharply with his dark hair slicked back. Jake was the complete opposite; his dirty blonde hair was unruly. It stuck up in all directions no matter how hard he tried to tame it. While his superior was decked out, Jake wore a beige checkered shirt and an old pair of jeans accompanied by rust stain half way down one pant leg.

Jake slipped his phone into a pocket, “Well, respectfully sir, she did get the job done. She neutralized the threat.”

Maccan’s assistant gave a small tut and tapped on the tablet she was carrying. She presented it to Maccan with a small look of satisfaction. He glaced at it and turned it so that Jake could see. Playing on the screen was footage of Rosalind’s tumble backwards down the hill. Maccan turned it off as she landed at the bottom.

He took a small step closer to Jack as he spoke, “Does this look like our finest agent? The best that we have to offer? This—,” he gestured to the screen, “—is an embarrassment to this agency. You had better deal with it before the press get wind of it. The FDA have been looking for an excuse to shut us down and I’ll be damned if she’s the reason.” He gave another sharp tug on his blazer and set off down the hallway with his gaggle of businessmen trailing after him.

Jake raced after them. “Sir, what exactly do you want me to do with her?” He had to jog to keep up with their brisk pace. “She made one mistake. She can’t be punished for falling.”

Maccan stopped and turned to stare down at him. “It was a mistake that could have got her killed and would have let a target get away. Do you know how much paperwork a mess like that would produce?”

“Actually, sir, I do,” Jake said. One of the joys of his job was filling out mountains of documents detailing the dangers of one’s mistakes. He continued, “But that doesn’t mean—”

“Do you know how much time and, more importantly, how much money goes into training a new agent? People are scared. We are getting more assignments every day. It’s a struggle as it is to keep all of this under wraps. Can you imagine the widespread panic that would happen if the general public knew that monsters or demons or whatever you want to call them are not only real, but running amok in their towns?” Maccan spat.

“Like I said, Lachlan, deal with this or I’ll have to deal with you and you know what happens when I get my hands on an agent’s file,” Maccan said sternly.

Jake knew all too well what happened when Maccan got involved: memory wipes, arrests, and if worse came to worse, death.

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Stories

A Tale of Blood and Roses, Part 1, by Keira Heckman

#blood and roses #fantasy

There was something about the forest that had always felt comforting to Rosalind. Maybe it was the light breeze that danced across her face, or the way that the sunlight bathed everything in a yellowish hue. Perhaps it was the loaded crossbow in her hands and the arson of weapons at her side. She had practically emptied the trunk before she left, but she doubted anyone would mind. They had been hunting him for the best part of twelve years and every time they got close to minimizing the threat, he disappeared. His attacks were getting more frequent, more violent, and if they were sending Rosalind in, it meant that he had to be stopped.

The blanket of leaves cushioned the sound of her boots against the forest floor, but there was little she could do to cover the sound of rustling leave as she walked. The only solution was to move slowly, which she despised. It made her feel like the hunted instead of the hunter.

“How are we doing, Rosalind?” Jake’s voice said in her ear.

“Slow but steady,” She replied, her voice less than a whisper. The microphone taped to the inside of her cheek caught every vibration her mouth made.

“Do you have his position yet?”

She caught the sound of someone typing faintly through the earpiece. She heard a twinge of uncertainty under Jake’s Scottish drawl, “It’s hard to determine exactly where he is, you know with the lack of a heat signature, but the closer you get to him, the clearer it’ll become.”

“So, in other words, you won’t know where he is until he’s right on top of me.” Rosalind said, her voice was punctuated by a hint of annoyance. She started to stray away from the path and stood on the edge of the sloping hill beneath her.

“That’s another way of putting it,” he said. Rosalind rolled her eyes as she crept down the path.

“Be careful here. The path drops and you need to make as little noise as possible to avoid alerting him with your movements.”

She bit her lip as she concentrated on her descent. The sound of leaves rustling made her skin pickle. She swung her crossbow over her shoulder, poised to shoot in the direction of the sound. “What was that?” She murmured, her eyes scanning the area.

“Maybe just a small animal?” Jake suggested. “There’s nothing big coming up on the thermal scan.”

Rosalind shook her head. “No, it was more than that. I felt something,” she said as she kept her eyes on the direction of the sound.

“It might just be all that hair getting in your ears. I don’t know how you can hear anything through it,” he said jokingly.

Rosalind’s hair was thick, auburn coloured, and fell in loose waves. She was used to Jake teasing her about it and the fact that he had chosen now to joke about it meant that he didn’t think that she was in any immediate danger.

“Jake. I’m serious,” she said as she relaxed her grip on the crossbow while keeping her gaze on the sound. Her skin bristled with restless energy. The adrenaline that buzzed through her system seemed to be working against her and she was struggling to keep her hands steady.

“So am I,” Jake shot back. “I honestly think the best option is to have your head shaved and be done with it.”

Rosalind suppressed a sigh. “Now really is not the time, I—” Her foot slipped on a wet leaf and knocked her balance off, sending her tumbling down to the bottom of the hill. She landed on her back, winded and covered in leaves, with throbbing pain in the back of her head. She lost her crossbow in her fall, the knives at her waist had fallen out of her belt and were scattered on the ground around her.

“Rosa!” She heard Jake shout, his voice muffled and slightly distorted. Her earpiece had been knocked out of place slightly in her fall but remained otherwise undamaged. She sat up slowly and gently pushed it back into place.

“I’m fine,” Rosalind said, “Just a headache.” Once she sat up, the throbbing in her head had escalated and it felt as if someone was drilling into her skull.

Jake’s voice was loud and frantic, “He’s coming towards you, fast. Twenty feet and counting!”

She scrambled to her feet, her eyes darting around for her crossbow when he crashed through the leaves. He was seven feet tall, his arms reached down to his midthigh, ending in stubs of wrists. His skin was ghostly, and he was dressed in a black suit, yet by far the creepiest thing about him was his face—or rather his lack of it. Instead, there was a smooth stretch of skin where his features should be.

The man with no face barreled toward Rosalind, his overly long arms swinging. The pain in Rosalind’s head blurred her vision. He swung his arm at her, she ducked, still searching the ground for her crossbow.

And then she remembered the other weapons she had.

Rosalind jumped up punched him in the stomach, putting all the force she could muster behind the blow. The faceless man hissed as he staggered back. Rosalind raced towards him, this time aiming a kick at his neck, but the pain in her head was gradually worsening and it threw her off her balance. She caught the side of his ribcage instead and fell, landing awkwardly on her side. She pushed the hair out of her eyes and jumped to her feet. He ran toward her again and pushed her hard against the trunk of a tree, the bark rough against her spine.

“Rosalind,” Jake was in her ear suddenly. She winced as the microphone he spoke into gave off feedback. He spoke over it, his voice loud and urgent. “Hitting him in the stomach is no use. The weak point is his face.”

The faceless man stood back before lunging for her throat. She ducked.

“But he doesn’t have a face!” She shot back. The tree shook as he collided with it. Rosalind leaped past him, slightly disorientated. She felt something wrap around her leg and looked down to see his suit-clad arms clutching to her ankle. He gave a tug and she fell. His long arms pulled her towards him like a prized catch on the end of a fishing rod. As she was being dragged across the forest floor, her skin scratched by stray pine needles, she saw something gleam in the sunlight.

The crossbow.

Her ear filled with the sound of static and Jake’s voice trying to overpower it. “I mean the area where his face should be… he’s… before…” His voice was drowned out by static.

Rosalind dug her nails into the dirt and felt the faceless man stop for a second, confused. He wasn’t used to his victims fighting back. His pause gave Rosalind the advantage she needed, and she used her elbows to crawl towards the weapon. He recovered from the shock quickly and Rosalind felt him pull on her leg again. Her fingers were inches from the hilt and she was determined to survive.

She pushed her elbows into the ground, suddenly glad that she had chosen to wear a waterproof jacket and used her knees to push her body along. Her fingers closed around the edge of the crossbow and she held onto it as she rolled onto her front. Rosalind retrieved an arrow from her jacket pocket and loaded it into place. Rosalind’s finger hovered over the trigger as she tried to aim for the center of his face. Her vision was blurry, but the paleness of his face stood out against the lush background of the forest. She waited until he was stood over her to take the shot.

She let the arrow fly.

It landed just off the center of the space where his face should be and he let out a high wailing sound. Rosalind covered her ears as she watched his knees buckle beneath him before he fell to the ground. She got to her feet slowly, as the pounding in her head settled, and her vision returned to normal.

“Is he dead?” She said aloud, not bothering to be quiet.

There was the sound of typing before Jake answered, “I think so. How’s your head?”

Rosalind touched her temple gently, “Better. Much better actually.”

“Huh. I guess he’s dead then.”

“What does that have to do with my headache?” Rosalind asked, she held onto her crossbow, poised to attack, just in case.

“I’ll explain when you get back to HQ. Sit tight, I’m sending a team in to relieve you.”

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