He kept his eyes following the target as his hands deftly assembled the weapon. He had practiced in the dark for hours to make his movements quick, precise, and silent. The narrow opening between two loud speakers wasn’t much but it would allow him the range of motion needed to aim. He was kneeling on wound wires the bore into him and an unused Fresnel light was jammed into his side, slowly but brutally bruising his flesh. He felt none of it. His mind was solely on its purpose. Acknowledgment of injury was left until the job was done.
Annaliese caught the flash of red out of the corner of her eye. She assumed it was a glare but instinctively turned to search the crowd for the source. Her heart thrummed with excitement; this was more people than she thought she had ever seen in her life. Gathering in groups larger than twenty was frowned upon, and gathering for pleasure even more so, except for this one day a year when residents came together to celebrate. She was 18 this year, and finally allowed to attend.
Her gaze was suddenly drawn to a figure a few rows away. She had short, white-gold hair that caught the light with every twist and shake, and bright green eyes that Annaliese could see even from her seat. The woman’s throaty laugh echoed across the theater, delightful and vibrant. Her clothing was much more finely made than those around her, though not as intricate as Annaliese’s immaculately tailored suit. Annaliese had often felt self-conscious about her clothing when outside her home; her rank showed in the soft fabric and every tiny stitch. The woman Annaliese watched wore a gown of white cotton, and the fabric hung loosely, swaying along her shape. Annaliese continued to watch her, thoughts churning over who she could be, when the woman’s eyes suddenly found her own.
The flashback hit her like a fist to the gut. She was seven and had woken alone in her bedroom. The silver light streamed in through the window casting long, eerie shadows behind familiar objects, turning them into freakish monstrosities in her child mind. A maid usually sat with her each night and she felt almost as much rage as fear that she had been abandoned. She opened her mouth to screech the maid’s name but the breath snagged in her throat as she glimpsed the most beautiful face she had ever seen peering curiously through the window. The lovely face smiled at her reassuringly and Annaliese suddenly relaxed completely, fear giving way to fascination. The face disappeared from the window and Annaliese stretched her arms out, regretting the loss immediately. A slow shadow emerged from behind the drawn curtain. In the dim light Annaliese could not tell where the shadow ended and the curtain began. The shadow moved toward her and still Annaliese did not cry out, felt no fear. Annaliese could make out the beautiful face once more and when the hand reached out to touch her cheek, she leaned into it, amazed the shadow could feel warm and solid. The effervescent green eyes sharpened suddenly and Annaliese felt a bright, euphoric pain. She screamed and all went black.
Those eyes. Annaliese knew with a severe certainty that they were the same eyes, in the same face -- the same ageless face -- as the nightmare she had had so many years ago. A nightmare it had been, she knew. Her father and her maid had spent most of the night convincing her it was so. The maid said she’d left for a moment then returned to find Annaliese sitting up in bed but still asleep and when the maid touched her cheek to wake her Annaliese let out a bloodcurdling scream. The phantom pain she’d felt in her dream carried on into waking, a throbbing pain near her throat that felt as if skin had been punctured, but no one, not even the physician they sent for in the morning could find any marks or any indication of injury. Sometimes dreams have great power over the mind, her father had told her.
The mysterious woman was still staring back, the smile on her lips having fallen into a small frown, her brow pale and furrowed as though thinking hard. Then the she smiled again, relaxing her face into friendliness and gestured to Annaliese to join her. Annaliese glanced around her, oddly surprised no one else had noticed the exchange which to her felt momentous. Her father was not in sight, likely talking to his associates somewhere since the festivities were not due to start for another half hour. She smiled shyly back at the woman and slowly edged her way through the crowded rows until she reached her side.
Damn. The slight redhead completely blocked his shot. He’d been seconds away from pulling the trigger. He held completely still, anticipating his chance. They couldn’t stand like that for the entire ceremony. He readjusted his weight from the leg that had fallen asleep and waited.
“Carmilla,” the woman said, holding her hand out to Annaliese who touched her fingers lightly to hers then released them. “You looked like you were all alone over there. Would you like to join me?”
Annaliese nodded, trying to swallow the hard lump in her throat. She felt fright even as she felt an intense desire to stay. She finally managed to open her mouth and respond.
Carmilla nodded and shooed her former companions away; men who Annalies now realized had flocked around Carmilla, trying to win her attention. Judging by the ease with which Carmilla dismissed them Annaliese assumed this was a common occurrence. The two women settled into their seats and sat in silence for a moment before Carmilla leaned close to her ear and whispered, “May I confess something to you?”
Something about the question and her tone – or perhaps the feeling of her breath on her neck – caused Annaliese’s stomach to tighten into a tight ball. She could only manage a nod in affirmation.
Carmilla stared intently at her. “When I saw you across the room, I thought I’d seen a ghost,” she said. “I had a dream about you when I was very young, maybe seven or eight, but you were exactly as you are now.” She watched Annaliese for a moment and when she did not respond she flushed prettily, “Isn’t that odd? You must think I’m insane.”
“No, no not at all,” Annaliese said in a rush to reassure her, “I was just surprised because I had been thinking the same thing! I had a dream about you when I was young and you were grown up in it as well, except… it was more a nightmare than a dream. I woke up terrified.”
Carmilla nodded seriously. “The shadow,” she whispered. Annaliese’s eyes widened and Carmilla continued, “In my dream I was looking in through your window, into a lovely room with dolls and toys I wished I had. Everything looked so warm and safe. Then I felt a chill and turned to see a shadow coming up behind me. I was so scared. I climbed in through the window and you held your arms out to me so I knew I would be safe. I walked over to you and touched your face to make sure you were real. But the shadow had followed me inside. It grabbed me by the throat and it felt as though it stabbed me. Then I woke up screaming. But I had no marks on me and everyone told me it must have been a bad dream.”
Annaliese could barely keep her seat in her excitement. “My dream was exactly the same! Except from my point of view. You came in, and the shadow was with you – it almost looked like it was part of you – and you touched my cheek then I felt the exact same pain you described!”
Carmilla and Annaliese sat in silence gazing at each other in wonder. Carmilla finally spoke in a soft voice.
“It’s so strange that we dreamt of each other and had the same dream. What do you think it means?” The bright eyes searched hers for a long moment.
“I don’t know,” Annaliese said, suddenly feeling some of her fear return, she tried to push it away. “Perhaps it means we are destined to be friends?”
Carmilla suddenly flashed a brilliant smile. “I believe that is exactly what it means. In which case, I pronounce us already friends and not merely acquaintances.” Carmilla hooked her arm through Annaliese’s and settled back in her seat. “Now when is this bloody show going to start?”
Annaliese warmed at the affection. She had spent her life mostly solitary and having a close friend, not simply an agreeable maid, had been a wish she had harbored her entire life. She sighed happily and looked at Carmilla again, scarcely believing her to be real, when she caught the glimpse of red once more.
A small red dot moved across Carmilla’s white shoulders and settled directly in the center of her chest. It took Annaliese a moment to comprehend it but when she did all she felt was a flash of rage. She flew out of her seat and positioned herself in front of Carmilla, the red dot now dancing along her own abdomen. She searched across the stage, trying to form a line in her mind’s eye from the dot to the barrel of the gun she knew was aiming at them. Seeing a dark space between two enormous stage speakers, she glared into its depths.
Wild blue eyes bore into him, eyes that seemed to scream “how dare you” as she held her ground. The redhead had seen his aiming laser and thrown herself between it and someone she obviously had just met. He could not understand it. He knew she could not see him but it felt as if she were marking him where he crouched. Murderer. Assassin. He slowly lifted his eye from the scope. He could still see her eyes in his mind, clear as day. He blinked several times and slowly lowered the weapon.