Tainted

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Chapter 11

Ramona’s plans, it appeared were the same as yesterday; track down the demon and execute it.

Isobel didn’t like this plan. She was anxious to find Jake, her instinct that something had happened had only deepened in the last hour. Jake still wasn’t picking up his phone, despite Isobel’s persistent attempts to rouse him.

Maybe I’m not that irresistible after all, she thought gloomily.

Isobel also still had reservations about hunting and assassinating a woman who had done nothing to hurt her or those she loved. Even after seeing the evidence of her demonhood first hand, Isobel still had difficulty accepting that they just going to murder her.

Ramona, whilst not oblivious to Isobel’s moral quandary was becoming impatient with it.

“It’s important you understand that we’re not killing a woman,” she explained again as they strolled down the high street scanning the area for the human shaped monster.

“Sure looks like one.” Isobel took a bite from the bacon cob she was eating. She had at least convinced Ramona to stop for breakfast.

“Looks like a woman, sounds like a woman,” Ramona intoned. “Wears the body of a damned woman, but it isn’t one.” She stopped Isobel with a hand on her arm and looked her straight in the eye. “What we’re hunting is a creature of pure evil. It exists solely to hurt and destroy that which God created. Including you and me.”

“Let go of my arm.”

“It’s important you understand what’s at stake.”

“What?” Isobel asked, “Aren’t you, like, saved? Being all holy and all?”

“Sanctified. And no, I’m not safe. Nothing is. You think if this world ends the apocalypse does as well?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Wrong.” Ramona was angry. “Once they’ve finished with the Earth, they’ll march on Heaven and destroy us too, even God. Everything is on the line here Isobel. Everything.”

“You’re delusional.”

“And you’re drunk.”

“I wish,” Isobel took another bite of her cob.

Ramona sighed, exasperated. “Does it help? Having wine for breakfast?”

“This is bacon.”

“I meant earlier.”

“You had a glass too,” Isobel reminded her. “Anyway, I had a bad night.”

“You have a lot of those?”

“Back off Ramona!” she snapped. A couple looked round and Isobel glared at them until they turned away then lowered her voice again. “It’s just…” She looked away, glancing down at the floor, turning her sandwich in her hands before looking back up at Ramona. “My life was fucked before you got here. I thought, when I got with Jake it might get better, you know? Someone to share my… condition with, but no. Along you come, pronouncing doom, making everything even weirder than it already is and beguiling my brand new boyfriend in the process.” She gave Ramona an unfriendly scan, her eyes encompassing her whole body. “No wonder I need a drink.”

“Another perspective is that you didn’t know how truly fucked up everything was until I appeared.”

“I could’ve lived with it.”

“You couldn’t,” Ramona said with gentle authority. “Trust me, you can’t go on with those dreams. They get to you.” She frowned as if remembering some long forgotten trouble, “They get under your skin, mess with your head.”

“You sound like you’ve have some experience with them.” Isobel’s curiosity was piqued.

“Not like yours,” she replied swiftly, “but I know the condition. It can get so bad you forget who you are…” she trailed off looking away, squinting into the morning sun.

Isobel wondered what exactly Ramona’s experience was. There was so much about the woman she didn’t know, but there was no chance to ask; Ramona was already back at work, scanning the street, checking shop doorways, the crossings for any sign of the demon.

There was none.

“This would really be a lot easier if you used your blood,” she commented.

“I’m not cutting myself up anymore!” Isobel protested.

“You will.”

“Fuck you.”

“You probably won’t do that.”

Isobel half smiled at her comment, trying not to let Ramona know how amusing she’d found it. Despite her best efforts, Isobel was starting to enjoy the angel’s company.

Sighing, she flipped open her phone and tried Jake again. Still no answer. She’d given up leaving answer phone messages now, having received no call back from the plethora she’d already left.

Maybe it’s his way of telling me to fuck off, she worried. Maybe he wants to break up with me. And try his luck with her.

Isobel looked at Ramona; her thick shining fall of dark hair, her perfect curves accentuated by the slinky dress, her flawless skin and dark eyes full of fire and passion. She was truly beautiful. Isobel wasn’t, not in her own eyes... or it appeared anyone else’s. She knew she had a good figure, but she was nowhere near Ramona’s level of gorgeous.

Jake probably knows it too, she grumbled to herself. She sighed wearily, wallowing in her gloomy thoughts.

“I’m sorry I overreacted yesterday,” Ramona said.

Isobel looked up startled by her voice interrupting her thoughts, let alone what the other woman was saying. “What?”

“I’m sorry about yesterday. I know it stirred up traumatic memories for you.”

“Yeah, well.” Isobel took the final mouthful of her cob tossing the wrapper in a nearby bin. As she did so an idea suddenly occurred to her. She almost smiled at its wonderful symmetry.

“What?” Ramona asked.

“This isn’t working, obviously...”

“We’ve only been hunting an hour or so.”

“It’s pointless unless I’m willing to bleed Ramona, we both know that.”

“We can find her. We started in the right place.”

“It’s not likely though is it?”

Ramona sighed and looked at her. “Why? What’s your plan?”

Isobel licked her lips, nerves starting to get the better of her now. “Something’s been in the back of my mind for a while,” she said slowly. “Something connected to my dreams and… and my past. Maybe.” She met Ramona’s unflinching stare wondering if she’d go for her plan. God knew, Isobel felt like she needed back up for this. “I’d like to see my mother,” she told Ramona. “I need to. If it’s really the end of the world...”

“I won’t let that happen.”

“I have to see her,” Isobel continued. “I’ve got questions I need her to answer.”

“Right…”

“If you come with me I’ll bleed for you,” Isobel bargained. “I’ll help you find this… demon.”

Ramona smiled.

* * *

Myra Felton’s grim flat was in one of the poorer parts of town. Isobel looked at the dilapidated two story redbrick building, where she’d been raised, with trepidation. She hadn’t been here for years. The sunlight did nothing to improve her memories of the place, the bright sun only highlighting how deprived the area was. Decrepit structures and boarded up windows were thrown into stark relief by the harsh light of day, giving the area a bleak, hopeless feel befitting her miserable childhood home. She grimaced and turned to Ramona, “Depressing isn’t it?”

The angel shrugged, “I’ve seen worse.”

“Maybe it’s just me.” Isobel raised an eyebrow.

Ramona gave her an elegant one shouldered shrug, “I’ve been around.”

I’ll bet, Isobel thought, but didn’t say out loud. Instead she cast her eyes back to the dreary sight before her.

“You associate this place with bad memories, its natural that you find it repellent.”

“I’ve not been anywhere near here for five years,” Isobel said. “I changed my number so my mum couldn’t contact me after the last time I saw her. She never had my address.”

“You didn’t want her to find you.”

“I really didn’t.” She sighed squinting up at the windows of the top flat she had shared with her tyrannical mother, lost in thought. Remembering. The sun’s glinting reflection hid any occupants from view, making her task seem even more foreboding. “I never intended to set foot here again.”

“You hate her that much?”

“I do.”

Ramona nodded in understanding, “She hurt you a lot.”

“She did.” A memory of pans and crockery smashing into her fleeing arms and legs crossed her mind. She blinked and shook her head briefly to rid herself of it. “See this?” She lifted her t-shirt in back, showing the base of her spine. She remembered Jake kissing his way slowly along that scar.

God, that felt good.

Ramona craned her neck, eyeing the thin pink scar running across the bottom of Isobel’s back, just across her lowest vertebrae.

“Kitchen knife,” Isobel said over her shoulder. The acid in her voice could have melted steel.

Ramona’s eyes widened as she looked at her. “Seriously?”

“Yeah,” Isobel lowered her shirt again. “That’s just one incident.”

“God,” Ramona straightened and blew out a breath. “I knew you’d been abused, but I didn’t know all the details.”

“You make it sound like you knew some though.”

“I hadn’t seen any of it personally, but other angels saw some of what you suffered.” She looked at Isobel, “Not pretty.”

“Try living through it.” She blew out a heavy breath, “Angels report to God right?”

“Occasionally, yes.”

“Then why was I allowed to suffer?” Her voice began to crack, “Why didn’t you fuckers do something about it?”

“I don’t know,” Ramona shrugged. “Maybe they were instructed not to. If it’s any consolation...”

“It’s not,” Isobel cut her off.

“Right.” Ramona went quiet, sensitive to Isobel’s anxiety. Returning to the site of her long years of abuse was a big moment for her, so Ramona swallowed her sarcastic remarks and allowed Isobel time to compose herself. After a minute more contemplation Isobel sighed.

“Let’s get this fucking done,” she said in an outward rush of breath. Without waiting for her companion Isobel strode across the road, her hair bouncing with the force of her stride.

Ramona smiled ruefully, pleased by the sight. This confrontation was going to be good for Isobel; therapeutic.

Hopefully.

She gave the other woman a second’s head start and followed her over to the grim looking flat across the way. Mounting the chipped concrete steps, she followed Isobel up. White paint flaked off the rickety banister when Ramona ran her hand over it, the flakes sticking briefly to her skin. She took her hand off the banister, rubbing her hand on her waist to dislodge the paint.

Isobel didn’t even use the railing, she remembered where all the pocks and dents in the old stairs lay. The front door of the flat was in a small sheltered hallway. Red paint peeled off the door in more places than she remembered but otherwise it looked the same. Time seemed to flow backwards and for a moment Isobel was a scared teenager again; fearfully waiting to enter her home, afraid of her mother’s wrath. The sensation passed quickly and she was back in the present. She looked at Ramona and smiled nervously, “Guess this is it.” She looked the worn vermilion door up and down and blew out a breath. Her hand shook slightly as she raised her fist. She knocked, the noise sounded loud in the empty hall.

Nothing happened.

“She better not be fucking out,” she said to Ramona. After a minute she knocked again, louder this time.

“Oh for God’s sake! I heard you the first time!” Came an angry matronly voice from within, followed by a muttered profanity. The two women exchanged a glance as irate footsteps stomped across the floor. The tattered door was wrenched open, creating a gust of wind, blowing Isobel and Ramona’s hair as they were greeted with the potent fumes of strong spirits and a venomous: “What? What do you people want now?”

“Hi Mum,” Isobel waved her hand.

“Isobel?” Her mum squinted at her, then her eyes went wide in surprise, “Isobel?” Her eyes travelled up and down her daughter’s body, a sneer expanding her features, making her appear grotesque. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“I wanted to see you.” Isobel looked down, “I...”

“Whose this?” she gestured with her chin at Ramona. “One of your slut friends I suppose?”

“Mum!”

“Yes,” Ramona interjected, extending her hand, “Ramona.”

Myra looked at her hand as if it were diseased, a frown of disgust wrinkling her brow. The young woman’s lack of response to the insult had thrown her. She looked cautiously between the two of them. Isobel was looking down, but Ramona was staring straight at her, unafraid. Myra snorted, thinking her daughter’s friend looked like the brazen sort.

“What is it you want Isobel?” she spat, her attention returning to her daughter. “You want money?”

“No,” Isobel said quietly. Nerves were keeping her from making direct eye contact with her mother and Isobel could feel herself slipping back into her old behaviour; the timidity of the long abused in the face of her persecutor. She gradually blew out a breath to steady herself, trying to calm her shaking hands.

“Well?” Myra snapped, “I haven’t got all day.”

Isobel felt the first stirrings of anger in her gut as her mother berated her. “Keeping you from daytime television?” she snapped, eyes finally darting up and holding her mother’s gaze.

“How dare you.”

“I make my own money mum, I always have. That’s how I left remember?” She continued to hold Myra’s eyes, drawing strength from the cold fury growing inside her. Looking at her mother, Isobel realised her temper was probably hereditary. Either that or she’d been socialised into anger and violence by the woman in front of her. The thought that her own rage was her mother’s fault made her even angrier. She laughed aloud at the absurdity of it, startling both Myra and Ramona. “What do I want?” she mused, shaking her head. “I want some answers, you vindictive bitch.” With that she stormed past her protesting mother and back into her childhood home.

Ramona followed close behind.

The living room was still grotty. The same old stained beige wallpaper and brown threadbare carpet from Isobel’s youth remained. The décor looked more worn out than ever, although that could have been the distance of years. She stopped in the middle of the room, looking down at an ancient stain on the floor, remembering.

“I spilt strawberry milkshake here, when I was six.”

Her mother slammed the door shut, “Who the hell do you think you are missy?” she shouted at Isobel.

Isobel didn’t look up, her attention fixed on the faded stain, lost in the past. “You gave me such a smack.” She smiled grimly and looked back at her mother, “That was the least of it though, wasn’t it?”

“It was no more than you deserved,” Myra snapped. “No more than you still deserve by the looks of it.” She narrowed her eyes at her daughter, noticing the bruises, bandages and multiple scrapes for the first time, “Who did all that to you?” she asked. She almost sounded concerned, though Isobel refused to believe it. Surely the woman who’d personally beaten her wouldn’t be bothered if someone else did the same?

“Me mostly,” Isobel told her, defiantly.

“I gave her the bruises round the neck,” Ramona said, moving further into the room, ready to intervene.

Isobel was already becoming familiar with the way Ramona moved, with the subtle grace of a predator, of a hunter and for the first time she was glad she was on her side.

“What the hell for?” Myra demanded.

“She let a demon escape.”

Isobel gaped at her in shock.

Ramona simply shrugged, “It’s true.”

Isobel just shook her head and turned her attention back to her mother, who was shaking her head in disbelief at Ramona’s bizarre explanation. Her mother’s greying red hair had gotten greyer in the last five years, the bags under her eyes had become more pronounced.

Maybe she wasn’t sleeping well either.

“Mum I need to ask you something, several somethings actually.”

“Fine, sit down,” Myra grumbled and gestured to the sofa and chairs. “I need a drink. You girls want one?”

“No thank you.” Ramona settled on the arm of the chair that Isobel had perched on the edge of.

“I’ll have one,” Isobel said.

“You really shouldn’t,” Ramona said, concerned. “We have work to do, remember?”

Isobel shrugged. “Ignore her, I’ll have one thanks Mum.”

Myra wandered off into the kitchen, returning with two tumblers full of clear liquid. She handed one to Isobel and took a seat on the sofa. Isobel took a sip and almost choked. Her mother laughed as she coughed, earning a scowl from Ramona.

“Oh what?” she mocked.

Ramona didn’t respond. “You okay?” she asked Isobel.

“Ish,” she replied and gave a final cough, clearing her stinging throat. She sniffed the glass and jerked her head back, blinking in surprise. “Jesus!” She looked at her mother. “This is neat vodka!”

“Yeah,” a nasty smile split Myra’s face, her very expression seemed to mock Isobel, to imply that she was pathetic.

“It’s nearly full!”

“Yeah,” the unpleasant smile broadened. “A proper drink.”

“If you’re Russian!”

Her mother laughed, “You still working in that pub?”

“No,” Isobel lied smoothly. “I’ve moved on.”

Myra nodded slowly, watching Isobel as if she didn’t quite believe her. “So what was it you wanted to ask me?”

“Where to begin?” Isobel considered for a moment. “There’s two big things I guess.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Isobel licked her lips choosing how to phrase her question. “Do you remember the nightmares I mentioned years ago, about the apocalypse?”

Her mother shook her head, “Can’t say it rings a bell.” A big gulp of vodka slid down her throat.

Ramona watched her through narrowed eyes.

Maybe she was projecting onto her, but it seemed like Ramona was waiting for an excuse to hit her mother.

She won’t have to wait long.

“You’re sure?” Isobel asked, “The world on fire? Burning?”

Her mother shook her head slowly.

“I woke up with black eyes, screaming.”

Something passed across her mother’s face; a flash of recognition.

“You remember that don’t you?” Isobel pushed.

“I remember,” Myra replied, “Screamed the bloody place down you did.” She pointed a finger from round the glass at her, “Fifteen years old and screaming like a baby. Some nonsense about fire and the end of the world... yeah I remember that. Don’t remember no black eyes though, guess that was part of the nightmare.” She frowned and looked at her daughter again, “Didn’t it happen again? About a year later?”

“Yeah.”

“Silly girl,” as she shook her head Myra sounded almost fond of her daughter. “Carrying on like that at your age.” She actually smiled at Isobel then.

Isobel returned the smile uncertainly. Was her mother actually enjoying talking to her?

What the hell?

Aloud she said, “I guess it seems silly to you.”

“The apocalypse?” Myra laughed again and drained her glass, quickly picking up the half empty bottle to refill it.

Isobel looked down into her glass, tears welling automatically at the well known habitual abuse. Part of her knew she was regressing again; slipping back into her old patterns of behaviour, but didn’t know what to do about it. She blinked back the tears, unwilling to give her mother the satisfaction of upsetting her.

“I guess you’re still having these nightmares?” Myra chuckled, settling back into her chair.

“Yeah,” Isobel said narrowing her eyes a little, “It’s worse than it sounds mum, really. A lot worse.”

“I’m sure it is.” She smiled, “I’m sure it’s the end of the world.” She laughed again and drank.

“It might be,” Ramona said, “unless I can talk some sense into her.”

Her mother laughed, “Good luck with that. She’s a stubborn one is Isobel.”

“I know.”

Isobel shot Ramona a look, briefly wondering whose side she was on and shook her head before jumping back into the conversation.

“These dreams,” Isobel continued, “have affected everything in my life and they’re getting worse... the after effects are getting worse too.” She looked back at Myra, “I’m falling apart mum. This thing is killing me.”

“And what do you expect me to do about it?” her mother said.

“Help me,” Isobel said urgently. “I hoped you’d be able to help me understand this thing. Why do I have these dreams? Why do they turn my eyes black?” Her voice was rising in pitch, “Damn it mum, Can you tell me anything useful? Or are you just going to sit there and get drunk just like you have my whole life!” She took a deep breath, glaring at her mother.

She simply stared back, a little shocked by Isobel’s tirade. “How dare you,” she whispered, anger colouring her voice. “You have no idea what I’ve had to deal with…”

“He left me too mum,” Isobel snapped. “Get over it.”

With a roar, Myra launched the half full glass at Isobel’s head with all the strength in her meaty arms.

Isobel yelped, automatically ducking.

Ramona swept up, deflecting the glass in one quick swipe, sending it rocketing across the room to shatter against the far wall.

Myra looked at her stunned, “You little bitch!” she gasped.

Ramona just stared coldly back at her, ready to fight.

“Mum!” Isobel said loudly.

“What!?”

“Can you please sit down? I still need to talk to you.”

“Fine.” Myra thumped back down into her chair, “So talk, but she leaves.”

“She stays,” Isobel said firmly. She might not like Ramona much, but so far today the angel had had Isobel’s back.

Which was more than could ever be said of Myra.

A cruel smile played across her mother’s face, “You afraid of me girl?”

“You threw plates and knives at my head.”

“You had it coming.”

Isobel sighed, “Whatever mum.”

“Don’t you whatever me young lady!” she simmered. Snatching up the bottle she took a swig from the neck.

Ramona shook her head watching Myra carefully.

Myra saw her watching but didn’t mention it. The intensity of her stare seemed to preclude that. She turned back to Isobel, “You still haven’t asked these so important questions.”

“Yeah,” Isobel said. “Mum have you ever had dreams like the ones I’ve described? The world ending in fire? Burning alive? That sort of thing?” she noticed her mother already shaking her head before she’d even finished. “Black eyes afterwards?” Isobel ventured.

“No,” Myra replied.

“What about my dad?” Isobel asked. “Did he ever have dreams like that?”

Myra looked down, eyes fixed on her glass at the mention of her ex-husband. Isobel was tempted to press but didn’t want to push her mother if she was going to provide some insight. Discussion of her absent father had been prohibited in their house her entire childhood. As she’d grown older Isobel had asked more questions about him; about why he left. Always it had resulted in her either being yelled at or hit. Perhaps this time would be different. Isobel sipped her vodka and played it cool, letting her mother take her time.

When she eventually answered it was worth the wait.

“Thomas sometimes spoke about nightmares.” Myra said, some of the malice gone from her tone, replaced by worry, though for what Isobel didn’t know. “He never told me what they were about though. Sometimes I’d wake up and he’d be gone. I’d find him in the kitchen with a beer and he’d tell me how he’d had a nightmare and couldn’t get back to sleep.”

“Didn’t you ask?”

“Of course I asked,” Myra’s temper was returning. “He never wanted to talk about it.”

“Stoic type huh?” Isobel smiled a little, thinking of Jake.

“He was,” Myra sounded sad.

“I don’t imagine he ever mentioned waking up with black eyes?”

“Like I said, he didn’t talk about it.”

“God, mum why didn’t you tell me?” Isobel cried. “The number of times I told you about my nightmares and you didn’t think it worth mentioning, even once, that my dad had them too?”

“I don’t know what they were about!” Myra defended, her voice turning vehement again. “To this day I don’t know what went on in that man’s head. If I did maybe I’d know why he left, other than the obvious. Why do you have to come round here dredging up the past like this?”

Isobel was fighting to stay calm, “I’m just seeing if my condition’s hereditary. If dad had the dreams it might be.” She looked at Ramona half expecting the angel to laugh at her theory.

She didn’t. Instead she was watching Myra warily.

“Condition,” Myra snorted. “The only condition you have girl, is that you’re an ugly, ungrateful slut.” She rose, “Now get the fuck out of my house.”

“Not yet.” Isobel rose too, her hand shaking minutely, sloshing cheap vodka around in her glass, “One more question.” She was aware that everyone was standing now, her and Ramona facing her enraged mother.

“What?” Myra spat.

“Why?”

“What?” She repeated.

“Why?” Isobel asked again, her voice straining, pronouncing the rasp of her sore throat.

“Why what girl?”

“Why the abuse?” Her voice finally cracked, a lone tear rolled down her face, “Why the name calling? Why the criticism? Why the punches, and slaps, and chokings?” Her cracked voice rose with hysteria. “Why?”

Her mother just looked at her, her daughter with tears rolling down her face and said simply, “Because you deserved it.”

“How?!” Isobel cried, “Why? Why did I deserve it? Mum, what the hell did I do?” Her tears were flowing more freely. “What did I do?”

“You ruined everything,” Myra hissed. “Now get out!” She moved to herd them towards the door. Isobel stared her mother in the eyes and saw the unrelenting, unreasoning hate in them. There would never be any reconciliation for them; her mother simply wasn’t interested.

She actually hates me, Isobel realised staring into the pure venom of her mother’s face, She really does hate me.

She blinked back tears at the fresh revelation and staring into the hateful orbs of her mother’s eyes, Isobel opened the hand holding the tumbler. It fell to the floor, thumping dully on the carpet, spilling vodka in a dark puddle.

“Oops,” she said, her eyes daring her mother to try something. When she didn’t, Isobel snorted and turned on her heel, heading for the door.

“You godforsaken whore of child!” Myra began, coming after her, continuing her vitriolic litany of insults, even as Isobel opened the door.

“That’s it!” she snapped, turning on her mother.

“What!?”

“That’s it! We’re done.” She drank in the absolute hatred in her mother’s face, using it to confirm her decision. “You’ll never see me, never hear from me again. Never,” she gave her head a quick shake, “We’re done.” She turned and left, walking shakily away from the flat, limbs quaking with fear and adrenaline.

Ramona paused in the doorway and looked back. “You think you’re a godly woman,” she said. “You aren’t.”

Myra glared at her.

“Your soul’s more tainted than Isobel’s,” Ramona continued, “but you can be redeemed. I’d get to work on it now if I were you. Before it’s too late.”

She turned, closing the door behind her, leaving Myra shocked and gaping in surprise.

* * *

Ramona found Isobel on a nearby bench. She was hunched forward elbows on knees, staring contemplatively out at the dilapidated children’s playground across the road.

“I used to play over there,” she said as Ramona approached. “I fell off that swing no end of times. Never once got any sympathy.” Ramona gave her a sympathetic smile, but the sun was behind her and Isobel had to squint and shade her eyes to look up at her.

“Your mum’s nice,” Ramona commented.

Isobel laughed. “You know sometimes I thought she’d actually named me slut.” She looked back out over the park. “She called me a lot of things though.”

“You mean what you said? You’re done with her?”

“As much as I ever did,” Isobel sighed. She rubbed sweating hands over her hot face and through her hair, leaving a damp trail behind. God, it was hot today. “Why? Does it offend your angelic sensibilities, not honouring my mother and all that?”

“No,” Ramona said. “The woman’s a bitch.”

Isobel looked surprised for just a second and laughed, “Yeah” she sighed again, “She is that. She’s also my mum.” She blew out a breath with a helpless gesture, “I won’t truly be done with her until she’s in the ground.” A bitter smile tugged the corners of her lips, “And even then she’ll probably find a way to hurt me. She’s that kind of person.”

“She can’t hurt you now,” Ramona said.

“Of course she can,” Isobel snorted, “She’s a person isn’t she? Seems to be what they’re good for.”

“Not everyone hurts you Isobel.”

“Feels like it,” she sighed. “Sorry, seeing her... depresses me.”

“Has she always been like that?” Ramona asked.

“Ever since I can remember,” Isobel sighed. “She’s been through a lot, I know that. When my dad left I think she just lost it, you know? Single mum on next to no money, plus my grandparents shunned her. Apparently.”

“Apparently?”

“I never met them, at least not that I remember.”

“Why did your father leave?” Ramona was curious.

“Not a clue.” Isobel sighed again. “I didn’t even know his name before today. Every time I asked, I got shut down or slapped. I’ve always wondered why he left, but I’ve no idea. Maybe it was me,” she gave a bleak laugh, “The unborn sprog from hell. Maybe he knew what I’d become.” She shook her head and sighed. “I think I preferred talking about the apocalypse.”

Ramona gave her a thin, supportive smile. “None of this is your fault,” she said.

Isobel considered a moment, pondering the statement. Eventually she said: “I guess not.” She looked at Ramona, “My dad’s tainted isn’t he?”

“It seems likely,” Ramona replied. “He had recurring nightmares, although that doesn’t prove anything by itself.”

“I hope he’s still alive,” Isobel said. “If he’s tainted…” she let the thought trail off, knowing Ramona would follow it to its logical conclusion.

“I could have told you the Taint was hereditary,” Ramona smiled.

“I wanted to ask her.” Isobel looked at her. “I’ve thought about visiting her for a while anyway, but I was… hesitant. Afraid I guess.”

Ramona sat down next to her. “I understand.”

Isobel raised an eyebrow, “I doubt it.”

“Doubt away but it’s still true.”

“Really?” Isobel was scornful.

“Yes,” Ramona gave her a reassuring smile. Somehow Isobel got the feeling it was more for Ramona’s benefit than her own. “How about I buy you a proper breakfast before we get back to the hunt?”

Isobel looked startled, “What?”

“I’m hungry and we’ve got a busy day. I need carbs.”

Isobel eyed her warily, weighing her options. She didn’t really want to go anywhere with Ramona, but what were the alternatives? She could either go with her... or return to her flat and think about her mother and Jake. To be depressed. Besides there was an uneasy camaraderie forming between them. Maybe if she went along with her Isobel could work out how Ramona felt about Jake. Finally she said, “Okay.”

* * *

They found a quaint olde worlde pub in the old part of town, the part Isobel had cut a swathe through the other day. That walk felt like it had taken place in another world, another life. Too much was happening too fast, distorting Isobel’s perception of time and making days feel like weeks.

The old town lay between Myra’s grimy estate and the town centre so made a natural stopping place for the pair. Ramona had chosen this pub because of the big blackboard outside decorated in bright chalk writing, proudly expounding the taste and value of the all-day breakfast. Inside the place was decorated with dark wood, stone walls and authentic oak beamed ceilings, with a staggering selection of real ales on offer. Isobel examined the strange pictures and bizarre names on the pumps, while Ramona ordered them both a full English breakfast. She returned to their table with two steaming cups of black coffee, complete with tiny wafer biscuits and sugar sachets

Isobel smiled. “I would’ve gone for some of that dark ale myself,” she said, eyeing another patron’s glass. “Matches my mood.”

“After we kill this demon,” Ramona smiled.

Isobel sighed, “We’re still after this ‘demon’ then?” she made quotation marks around the word.

“Of course,” Ramona sipped her hot coffee. “Look Isobel I need you on board here.”

“Right,” Isobel was checking her phone again, futilely hoping that Jake had tried to call.

“Still no word?” Ramona asked.

Isobel shook her head, “No. Where the hell is he Ramona?”

She shrugged, “I don’t know.”

Isobel exhaled heavily, exasperated and anxious. She drummed her fingers on her chin, trying to think what to do besides drink. Where would Jake be? Not at work, he had no job. In bed still? Maybe he’d finally had a nightmare free night. He’d told Isobel before that he no longer bothered to set an alarm as the dreams always woke him and he never could, nor wanted, to sleep again afterwards. If he’d not dreamt last night, for whatever reason, then he might still be in bed, catching up on lost sleep.

That could be the rest of the day.

The thought normally would have made Isobel smile, but this morning she was too tense, her anxiety growing with each hour she didn’t hear from him. Despite her own fatigue Isobel knew if she tried to have a nap she’d only lie awake worrying about Jake. She wouldn’t be able to properly relax until they found him.

“You want to swing by his place?” Ramona suggested, “See if he’s there?”

“Love to, but we can’t,” Isobel said, eyes focussed on her coffee. “I don’t know where he lives.”

How bad is that? I don’t know where my boyfriend lives? What does that say about our relationship?

“No problem,” Ramona smiled. “I walked him home last night. I know where he lives.”

Isobel hung her head. This day was only going to get worse from here. She took a long sip of her coffee, wishing that Ramona had bought her a beer instead.

The breakfast was good, although the waitress gave Isobel a worried look when she saw her wounds. Isobel couldn’t work out if she was concerned for her wellbeing or worried that she was going to start a fight. She was pretty beat up and Ramona as usual looked pristine; poised and ready for action. When the waitress had gone, Ramona outlined her plan for the day as they ate.

“So,” Isobel summarised round a mouthful of bacon and mushrooms, “We get Jake, then we look for this supposed demon.”

“In a nutshell, yes.”

“How? Where?”

“We start from where we lost the trail yesterday. Back at the shopping centre.”

“Didn’t you and Jake hunt for hours after that?” she asked suspiciously. Despite Ramona’s assurances Isobel wasn’t entirely convinced something hadn’t happened between them. Jake was clearly taken with her and if she felt the same... it would certainly explain why Jake was being elusive. But if they had slept together, would Ramona really be treating her to breakfast? Isobel couldn’t make head nor tail of it. She just hoped Jake was okay.

“Yes.” Ramona’s voice dragged her back to reality, “We hunted it.”

“So why don’t we pick up the trail from where you two finished?”

“It was patchy going at best.” Ramona looked her in the eyes. “Jake’s taint isn’t as strong as yours, not by a long shot. We never found the demon again. We found another sacrificial site, but it was old, used up. No demon.”

“Jake couldn’t find it?”

“No. I’ve been hunting for it all night. No luck yet.”

“Don’t you need to sleep?” Isobel asked.

“Don’t you?” Ramona replied cooly, meeting Isobel’s eyes.

“Not as much as I thought I did.” Isobel sighed, toying with her cup, “I haven’t slept much for years. If it’s not apocalypse dreams its buried memories of my mother. Frankly I prefer the apocalypse. At least it isn’t real.”

“Yet,” Ramona said sternly.

“Yet.” Isobel sighed wearily and sipped her coffee wishing to God it had some whiskey in.

“We’ll stop it,” Ramona assured her.

“You sure of that?”

Ramona gave her a hard stare, grim determination shining in her eyes, “Yes,” she said simply, “I’m sure.”

“Okay then.” Isobel mopped up egg yolk with the last of her toast, “I give up trying to fight you on this.” She shoved the last morsels into her mouth, “Resistance is fucking futile.”

“I always preferred ‘exterminate’.” Ramona said.

“You would.”

Ramona smiled, “And here I was thinking we didn’t get on.”

“Who us?” Isobel finished her coffee, tipping the cup back to drain it, “Never.”

Ramona’s smile broadened.


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