The first thing Isobel wanted to do after the fight was find her mother and make sure she was safe. Myra’s absence at the church combined with the demons words had unsettled Isobel and her quest had led her and Ramona back to one place; her childhood home.
No place like it. She smiled drily at the stark thought.
Her mother’s flat looked undisturbed. The few tattered paperbacks lining the shelves were untouched, as were the cheap TV guide and half empty spirit bottles spread across the ring stained coffee table. Sepia light filtered through the thin, smoke stained curtains casting a dreary, sick light over the place, the heat amplifying the smell of decomposing waste. It was pretty much how Isobel had left it all those years ago.
Except for the bloody pentagram drawn in the centre of the room.
If Isobel looked closely she could see blood flecks on the peeling paint of the skirting board.
There was no sign of her mother.
Isobel was shaking. First Jake, then Dave, then Father O’Leary… now this. “I can’t take any more of this,” she said putting her palm to her forehead. “I feel hot.”
It was stifling in Myra’s flat. The windows hadn’t been opened in what felt like days, the curtains were drawn and the sun was blazing down outside. Isobel could feel the sun’s rays warming her back through the glass and yellowed fabric of the old curtains; it made Isobel feel almost feverish. The smell of blood and decay also didn’t help. Her head was beginning to pound and she had the beginnings of nausea in her stomach. She caught sight of herself in the mirror her mother had mounted over the faux fireplace where the gas heater sat. She looked ashen, her face coated in a fine sheen of sweat. Her eyes appeared too large. The effects of too much shock in too short a space of time combined with a lack of food and sleep. She knew she couldn’t rest though. There was more to come.
“You look like crap,” Ramona observed, concern in her voice.
“Thanks.” Isobel managed a humourless twitch of her lips, “You look immaculate as always.”
Ramona shrugged. “Angelic gifts.”
“Seriously are you okay?” Ramona asked. “You don’t look well.”
“I’m fine.” Isobel sighed, her hand pressed to her sweaty forehead. “I just need some water.” She crossed the room and went into the kitchen next door. The kitchen was just as messy as she remembered. Her mother never had been one for housekeeping. Washing up from days ago lay in a shallow pool in the washing up bowl, a pungent aroma of rotting food emanating from the sinkhole beneath. Discarded bottles of house brand vodka and cheap wine cluttered the floor in front of the stagnant bin and continued onto the side where they were joined by dirty crockery and cider cans.
Did she have company? Isobel wondered, her mother didn’t usually drink cider. Any port in a storm, I guess.
There actually was a dusty bottle of port on the side. Isobel laughed and shook her head. She thought she had an alcohol problem. When the fuck did her mum last take out the recycling? She picked up a chipped, bright green mug and peered inside. The bottom was covered by a thick layer of something dark. She took a quick sniff and wrinkled her nose, moving the cup away in disgust.
“Jesus,” she uttered under her breath.
She opened the cupboard where she remembered the glasses being kept half a decade ago. They were still there. Miraculously they even looked clean. Isobel took a tall one down and walked to the sink. The gauzy curtains, yellowed by years of cigarette smoke were drawn across the window, the sun lighting the kitchen like a decaying sepia photo, giving it a rotted, rank feel. The fetid smell coming from the sink just enhanced this feeling. Isobel turned the tap letting the cold water run over her clammy hand for a moment before filling her glass. She drank deep of the cool liquid and pressed the glass against her forehead, chasing away the heat. It wasn’t just the bloody scene in the living room or the carnage she had witnessed in the last twenty-four hours. It was being back in this flat. Her mother’s home brought back too many memories of her childhood and teenage years. She turned surveying the kitchen, taking inventory of her memories and associations with the room.
There’s the counter mum bent me back over when she had me by the throat. She looked at the fridge. The door was slightly dented where her mother had hit her in the face with it.
It was a miracle my nose healed right.
Isobel drank some more of her water. The leg of one of the folding chairs shoved under the table was scraped and pocked. It had gotten damaged when Myra threw it at Isobel when she was fourteen. It was an incident Isobel remembered well. The abuse had gotten worse as she’d gotten older. As she’d become a woman. Isobel often wondered if her mum was trying to beat something out of her, some kind of vicious, random exorcism. She’d been in tears the first time she read Carrie, identifying so strongly with the character’s plight, so similar to her own. Carrie, though, had possessed supernatural powers. Isobel had only her will to survive. Still it had been enough. The reminders of the physical abuse were bad, but the feelings of despair, futility and helplessness the flat evoked in her were horrific too. Not to mention the shame and furious anger her mother had caused in her. It was all coming back, old memories and emotions flooding through her as she stood in her old home, drinking water.
No wonder I feel poorly. She smiled ruefully, there was no going back now. She was in this till the bitter end. A snatch of the old Placebo song with that name whisked through her mind. Her mother had hated that band. Isobel smiled at the memory of playing them loudly just to piss her off.
I’m so glad I moved out. She sipped her water again.
Ramona called from the living room, “Isobel.”
“Yeah?” Isobel replied, not moving. Whatever terrible memories she was revisiting she didn’t want them added to and she knew that following Ramona was only going to show her more gruesome sights.
“Come look at these runes. I want your opinion.”
“Shit,” Isobel muttered under her breath. “Coming,” she called. Turning she refilled her glass and left the room.
Back in the living room Ramona was crouched over the pentagram, again drawn in blood. Isobel was trying very hard not to think about whose blood it might be. The blood was practically dry and had stiffened the carpet fibres into little spikes, like some hideous parody of grass.
“These runes are different to the others we’ve seen. Look.”
Isobel crouched next to Ramona. The angel pressed a finger to the blood on the floor and rubbed the sticky fluid between two digits.
“It looks pretty fresh,” Isobel said.
“It’s not old,” Ramona told her. “You ever seen runes like these?”
Isobel studied the gory symbols for a moment. “I recognise chaos,” she said pointing with her free hand to the familiar group of symbols. “There’s Sol and the swastika twins again and... transformation? Rebirth?” She frowned at the problematic symbol and shook her head, “I can’t decipher that, the staves are all wrong.” She looked at Ramona, “What have you got?”
“This side reads as evil worships chaos,” Ramona said. “The other translates as chaos lives in you. The rest, rebirth, etc is in there as well, but not as prominently.” She looked at Isobel. “This wasn’t just a summoning, this was something else as well. Look at the strange positioning of Pertra, Ing and Jara.”
“There’s no body,” Isobel breathed. “Chaos lives in you?” she thought a moment, a light flickering in the recesses of her mind. She pulled out the knife she’d stolen from the demon in the churchyard. She wiped blood from the blade as best she could on her saturated jeans and squinted at the runes inscribed on the steel. “Some of these are the same,” she said, “Look.”
Ramona looked. Sure enough the symbols on Isobel’s knife matched some of those on the floor. Ramona had a feeling she knew what had happened here.
“Possession,” she said.
“Possession?” Isobel echoed. She blinked slowly, gradually understanding the awfulness of Ramona’s words. “They possessed my mum?”
“It certainly looks that way.” Ramona pointed again, “Soul, energy streams, the continuation of life, rebirth...”
“God.” Isobel stood up, blinked. “God.” She blinked again and looked, a little dazed, at Ramona, “Can we exorcise her too?” She paused, the full horror sinking in. “Oh God,” she stared at Ramona. “She wasn’t tainted.” Isobel’s voice sounded faint with horror. “Oh Jesus, she wasn’t tainted, Ramona. That means she’s dead.”
Ramona turned sympathetic eyes to her, “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah. Me too.” Isobel stared numbly down at the bloody pentagram, trying to think of some words of remembrance. Finally, she said, “That woman was a bitch.”
“But she was your mother.”
“So?” She stared at Ramona silently a moment before continuing. “You know what she did to me Ramona, you’ve seen the scars. Don’t tell me she didn’t deserve this.”
“You know what they did to her?” Ramona said from where she was crouched next to the gruesome circle.
“Yeah, I do,” Isobel said. “They nailed her to the floor and cut her throat to bring forth a demon. A demon which has probably taken her body. Which means she’s damned.” Isobel went a little paler, but held Ramona’s gaze.
“She burns,” Ramona said.
“Maybe she should,” Isobel replied softly, not quite feeling the rage she thought she was entitled to. For some reason she couldn’t muster the same level of hate she had before. Maybe it was the slaughter she’d seen, knowing her mother had suffered the same fate. Maybe she was simply just ready to forgive. If so, she reflected, she was a bit late.
“You honestly think she deserves that?” Ramona asked, shocked at Isobel’s words. “She deserves to burn forever?”
Isobel looked away. “I don’t know.” She ran a hand over her face, through her hair. When she looked back at Ramona there were tears in her eyes. “She was terrible, but…” she shrugged, “She was my mum. I guess that still means something.” She sighed heavily, some steel returning to her gaze. “Anyway deserving has nothing to do with it,” she said angrily, a tear sliding down her cheek. “You told me that.”
Ramona stood, “I don’t make the rules.”
“No, your stupid God does.”
“Whatever.” Ramona walked a few steps away, restraining the urge to throw Isobel across the room again. The poor woman was grieving after all.
“I want to see my room,” Isobel said, rising. “I have a feeling I won’t be coming back here again. I’d like to see it one last time.” She wiped her tear stained face, smearing her eye makeup all over her hand. Somehow it didn’t seem important right now.
“I’ll wait here.” Ramona didn’t turn to face her.
Isobel nodded and left the room, clutching her glass of water. Her bedroom was down the far end of the hall. The door still had her handmade sign reading ‘Isobel’s Room’ on it, the sign she’d made from a ragged piece of driftwood, as a little girl. She opened the door to find the room felt fresher than the rest of the flat. A cool wind blew from a narrow gap at the bottom of the window, the curtains swaying gently in the breeze. Her throat constricted at the sight. Her mother had kept the room fresh for her, she realised. Fresh and clean in case her daughter came back. Isobel let out a shaky breath, realising her mother may have felt something other than hatred for her after all and clutched the water glass tighter to her chest as her tears started again. She stepped forward into her old bedroom.
The single bed was neatly made with the red and black bedding she had bought as a teenage goth. Her old Marilyn Manson poster, the one her mother had cited as a bad influence, still hung on the wall. She’d cleared most of her stuff out when she left, but a few old school books remained on the shelves. The counter she’d used as a combination study desk and dressing table held a few old cosmetics that were doubtless well past their best. She sat gently on her bed and looked round absorbing the atmosphere of her past. Saying goodbye. A tear slid down her cheek and once again she was beginning to go numb from shock.
“Oh Isobel,” a voice said from the doorway, “Crying again.” There was a sigh.
“What?” Jolted out of her reverie Isobel was a little disorientated by the voice. She looked up. It was Jake leaning idly against the doorjamb. Despite his casual pose there was something about him now that screamed danger. A predatory air, indicative of the demon inside.
“Was that the bed you lost your cherry in?” he asked, mockingly.
“Yes,” Isobel said, voice almost devoid of inflection. She didn’t know what to feel, there were too many emotions roaring through her for her to begin feeling anything in any great depth.
“She’s with us now,” Jake told her.
“Myra.” He smiled lazily, that same smile that had helped her fall for him, “Your mum. She’s with us. Ignore what Ramona says.”
“She’s my friend,” Isobel replied.
“And I’m not?”
Isobel shook her head, “Not right now.”
“You’re on the wrong side Isobel.”
“I’m not even sure there is a right side, Jake.” She sighed, “None of this...” she trailed off.
“It’s okay Isobel,” Jake said soothingly, advancing into the room. “I’ll take you to her now, your mum. She’s sorry for everything. She wants to see you.”
“How’s your arm?” Isobel asked.
Jake’s mask slipped for a second, showing the rage underneath. It fixed back in place quickly, but Isobel had seen enough to know she was in danger.
“Ramona!” she called and lunged forward. She smashed the glass into Jake’s forehead and dived under his arms, landing badly on the floor half in, half out of her bedroom. She scrambled to her feet and ran to the living room, from where Ramona was already emerging, sword in hand. “Jake’s here,” Isobel gasped, breathless as she reached her. “Let’s take him now.”
“He’s here?” Ramona raised her sword.
Jake came running towards them, a thin runnel of blood flowing from his head. Ramona couldn’t help but smile at the sight. Isobel was pretty badass when she wanted to be. She pushed her sword out, thrusting it toward Jake’s gut. It pierced the flesh, Ramona felt the blade go in, slicing through innards and bursting out the other side. She pulled the sword out and expertly stepped aside letting Jake go barrelling past, screaming in pain as blood splattered the carpet.
“For fuck’s sake Ramona, don’t kill him!” Isobel cried.
“That wasn’t a killing blow,” Ramona was terse. “But we need to incapacitate him.”
“Well that’s not done it,” Isobel noted.
Jake was fleeing out the front door, leaving a trail of blood in his wake.
Ramona started after him, sword in hand. Isobel ran after her. They chased Jake down the steps, Ramona bounded down them in two huge strides and tore off through the alleys behind the flats. Isobel was right behind.
Neglected bushes and overhanging trees swiped at them as they pursued Jake through the narrow passages. Cats darted out of the way as the demon and his assailants raced through the byways of the estate.
Isobel’s heart was pounding as she pelted past high fences and darted past bags of rubbish. Her feet constantly threatened to trip her, she was going so fast. Her only focus was Jake, tearing away ahead of Ramona. He was all she thought of as she hurtled along. An abandoned building behind a chain link fence loomed before them, an old industrial building, closed down years before. Jake climbed the fence and dropped to the other side, heading for the ramshackle structure.
Ramona cleared the fence in a single vault, still clutching her sword in one hand. It took Isobel a little more time to get over and she saw Ramona tearing off across the tarmac. She practically fell over the top of the fence in her haste. She needed to catch up to Ramona before the angel did something stupid. Like kill Jake. She raced towards the angel as she angled inside the building. Isobel saw from the rusted signs that this as the old bus depot. Disused since before she was born. She turned the corner Ramona had disappeared round seconds before and skidded to a halt.
Inside was a whole swarm of pissed off looking people. They eyed Isobel with predatory, hungry eyes. There must have been at least twelve.
Jake stood in front of the platoon, hands clasped before him, bleeding from the gut wound Ramona had inflicted.
Wide eyed Isobel backed up, only to hear a low growl behind her. She looked round. Another half dozen people were blocking the way she and Ramona had come in. She backed up and collided with someone.
“Hey,” Ramona said.
“Hi,” Isobel replied, taken aback by Ramona’s casual tone.
“You caught up then.”
“Wish I hadn’t.” She could almost feel Ramona’s smile. “I don’t suppose you’ve got a spare sword?”
The angel shrugged, “Sorry.” Their enemies were closing in, forming a loose circle around them.
“You don’t have to die Isobel,” Jake said, tapping his steepled fingers together.
Isobel turned and stared at him. “Everybody dies.”
“But not forever,” Jake smiled. “Look at your mother.” From behind him walked Myra, her red hair shining in the sunlight falling through the skylight in the ceiling. She looked no different, the change inside not reflected in her appearance.
“Mum!” Isobel’s voice broke, she couldn’t help it. “Mum, I’m so sorry. I tried to be in time.” She sniffed as a tear rolled down her cheek.
“That’s not your mother,” Ramona said, head cocked to the side. She looked round, feeling the monsters closing in, surrounding her and Isobel. She smiled. It had been a long time since she’d been in a fight like this.
“Just as I’m not Jake,” Jake retorted, re-focussing her attention.
“That’s different,” she said and shot a pointed look at Isobel. “At least it better be.”
“Leave her,” Jake gestured at Ramona with his chin. “Join us Isobel. Your only family is here.”
Isobel looked from Jake to her mother, tears falling down her face. “I’m sorry,” she sniffed again.
Her mother smiled, “It’s okay darling.”
“But I have no family.” Isobel clenched her jaw to stop it from trembling. She lifted her chin in defiance and stared the demon in her all too human face, “Sorry mum.” She stepped closer to Ramona.
The angel’s lips twitched, the faintest glimmer of a smile on her face. There was a still silent moment where everything was balanced on a knife edge. Isobel and Ramona stood facing Jake and Myra, as the other demons closed in on them, waiting to tear them apart. Isobel’s eyes flicked from one enemy to another as the demons closed in. These appeared more feral than the others she’d seen, like some essential spark of humanity was absent, gone. Was this what a person looked like with their soul removed, she wondered? She looked to Ramona; she was focussed on watching the monsters too, her eyes moving from one to the other as if determining who to kill first. The world itself seemed to be paused just for this moment, this second of calm before the storm. Isobel breathed out slowly, trying to remain calm. Her eyes returning to her mother’s twisted sneer.
“It’s not too late,” Myra implored her daughter.
“No, mum,” Isobel said softly, a lone tear rolling down her face. “It’s way too late.”
Then everything erupted.
The demons charged as one, the whole lot descending on Isobel and Ramona.
Roaring, Ramona charged the nearest one, sword first. Her glowing steel slid through his flesh, the gore covered point tearing out the other side of his body. Without stopping or thinking Ramona tore the blade upward, ripping the body in half from the stomach up. A shower of blood and viscera spurted out covering Ramona and the ground before her. The body slumped down, colliding wetly with the floor. Ramona whipped her head round, beads of gore flying from the ends of her dark hair, her sword already cutting into her next victim.
Isobel could hear the screams from the other side of the large, open room. She just hoped none of them were Ramona’s. She was too busy running and dodging the grasping claws of the demons to fight. One of the monsters caught her arm, holding the rune inscribed knife and squeezed. Isobel tried to lunge at her with her fist, but the demon twisted her arm painfully and with a yell she fell to the floor, unwilling to relinquish her blade so easily. The woman crushing and twisting her arm had other ideas and with a fierce snarl ripped the knife from Isobel’s grasp. Isobel saw the woman draw the knife back about to bring it back down to sever her arm. Their eyes met and Isobel knew what was coming. With a scream she kicked out at the woman’s knees sending her tumbling to the ground. Scrambling to her feet, Isobel fled through the forest of deformed, burnt arms clutching for her.
Except for the tiny penknife she held, Isobel was now unarmed. Flight seemed a much better idea than fight right now. Flicking the knife out she slashed at an arm with the short blade that was still coated in Jake’s blood. The demon screeched and leapt out of her way. Isobel ducked and weaved, scraping past outstretched hands until she found a space. Quickly she cut a gash in her left palm, re-opening the same old wound.
There’s was no way that isn’t going to scar now.
Blood flicked from the wound as she jerked her hand up, splashing blood into a woman’s face.
“Stop!” Isobel commanded her.
Isobel had time to blink and momentarily appreciate what she’d done. She held her dripping palm out, her blood holding those in its path at bay. Barely. She held her blade out to the side, the combination of her and Jake’s blood covering it giving some of the creatures pause. The hunger in their eyes left no doubt in her mind that these were creatures despite their human appearance. People did not look at you that way. The horde before Isobel looked like they wanted to devour her one screaming, bloody piece at a time. They were less like the woman she and Ramona had chased and more like zombies.
“Are these…” she called hoping Ramona was still alive.
“Lesser demons,” came the reply, accompanied by a grunt of exertion and a wet cutting sound. Something hit the floor, Isobel didn’t want to know what. “You should,” another grunt, sounds of fighting, Isobel lost part of the sentence in the melee “…be able to control them.”
“On it,” Isobel called, without real feeling. She wasn’t on it, not entirely. Her meagre defence was not holding the demons at bay. Looking at them she noticed scorch marks on their flesh. They use the bodies of souls from Hell, Ramona had said. Oh God, these people had been dragged out of Hell… filled with demonic spirits.
Her back hit a wall and Isobel had nowhere left to go. The demons were closing in around her. She couldn’t keep them all at bay at once. The only one not moving was the woman who Isobel had accidently spilt her blood on. Desperately she flicked her knife at the horde, but most of the drops had dripped onto the floor long ago.
Badly played, she thought. She did the only thing she could think of and screamed, “Ramona!”
The angel slammed into the concrete wall back first and fell to the floor, hitting it with her face and hands. She heard her sword clatter as it fell from her grip. She wasn’t just covered in blood now, she was also bleeding, her blood mingling with the demons as it ran down her skin. “Ramona!” she heard Isobel yell from the other side of the wide space. Picking herself up, Ramona saw Isobel gamely holding off the demons with a bloodied palm and a penknife. Ramona admired her guts. She just hoped they stayed inside her body. She ducked a swift punch, threw one of her own and dived for her sword, grabbing it up as she rolled across the floor. A demon tried to kick her but missed. Ramona slashed its ankle with the blade, almost cutting the foot clean off. The demon screamed as blood spurted from his severed tendons.
Ramona locked her eyes on Isobel, put her head down and ran, using the point of her sword to score demons as she passed. Screams rose on her right as the sword cut into flesh. One enemy tried to trip her up, but Ramona hopped easily over the foot and kept moving.
Isobel’s scream rang out, echoing off the dank concrete walls.
Isobel screamed when the demon seized her arm. Memories of a dozen zombie films filled her mind. Her first thought was to stab the woman in the face, but she held Isobel’s knife arm and Isobel didn’t dare drop her other hand for fear of being overrun, although it seemed inevitable at this point. It wasn’t in Isobel’s nature to give up, but she couldn’t keep all these fuckers at bay forever! The woman holding her arm uttered a guttural, hungry sound that should never have come from a human throat. Isobel couldn’t help it; she screamed.
The woman bit into her flesh.
Isobel screamed louder in pain, fear and pure horror. She yanked her arm back and forth, trying to free it, but the woman held fast as she worked her teeth in. Isobel fought to hold onto the knife through the pain as her blood flowed and dripped to the floor.
“Stop it!” she screamed at the demon, hoping the ingestion of her blood would give her control over it. But the demon was too far lost in bloodlust for such commands. It just kept gnawing, its teeth grinding through Isobel’s flesh. Pain roared through her arm and Isobel screamed again, staggering, blood loss and pain making her feel faint. Her head spun and her vision began to blur. As shapes coalesced before her eyes, she saw the demons drawing closer. Suddenly the woman’s head tore back off her arm. Isobel found herself staring dumbly down at a bloody imprint of the woman’s teeth, crimson blood leaking out of the wound.
Ramona grabbed the woman’s lank, dark hair and wrenched her roughly off Isobel’s arm. She came with a wet ‘schluck’. Without pause Ramona thrust her sword through the back of the prone demons body, slicing through muscle, bone and the woman’s heart.
Blood sprayed Isobel’s face as Ramona’s sword burst through her enemy’s chest.
Ramona ripped her sword out, letting the woman fall to the ground and stood in front of Isobel. “You hurt?” she asked.
Isobel looked at her, still in shock, “A little.” She was breathless from screaming and fighting. She glanced at her wounded arm.
“Looks bad,” Ramona winced. Sensing movement she spun and punched a man in the face. He fell, but quickly got to his feet, his nose pouring with blood.
“It feels bad,” Isobel replied, blood and black veins mixing as both ran down her arm. She looked at Ramona as the angel thrust the point of her sword at another demon. It danced back away from her attack. Ramona was covered head to foot in blood. Her hair wet and sticking to her crimson streaked skin. Her bare arms and face were covered in a thin layer of gore, not entirely chased away by the sweat of her exertions. She looked absolutely terrifying to Isobel, every bit as scary as the demons they fought.
Ramona’s vigour inspired Isobel, made her renew her tenuous grip on her penknife, even though clenching her hand tighter hurt like hell. With a cry she ran at the demon closest to her. It was like tackling stone. She rode the guy to the floor and slammed her knife through his chest, the impact jolting her injured arm, sending pain flaring up the savaged limb. The man roared in pain and rage and lashed out with one arm, backhanding Isobel. She flew across the room, smacking into the concrete floor and rolling half a dozen times before coming to rest on her back, staring up at the ceiling, the wind completely knocked out of her. Her knife was still stuck in the chest of the man she’d killed. She heard glass shatter somewhere behind and above her, followed by the pattering, tinkling sound of glass shards hitting the asphalt.
Ramona skewered another demon, twisting her sword as she tore it out of the woman’s body and swung the glowing blade at the next monster to grab her. She was outnumbered and she knew it. She kicked the woman she’d stabbed back into another foe, but not before hands grabbed her from behind. She twisted, trying to free herself from the iron grip on her shoulder, glimpsing the rabid face just as the demon picked her up. With a ferocious roar he threw Ramona upwards, sending her crashing through the skylight and soaring into the air beyond. Glass shattered against her back, slicing through her skimpy top and her skin beneath. Blood flowed down her back and her hair blew around her face in a dark cloud. Ramona had a moment to appreciate the warmth of the summer sun on her skin before she began to fall, her hair whipping out behind her with the alarming speed of her descent. She could see the ground rushing up to meet her and knew this was going to hurt. There was only one thing she could do.
She unfurled her wings.
Isobel couldn’t believe what she was seeing as she struggled dizzily to her feet.
She had just rolled over and was getting to her knees when she felt a strong gust of wind blow over her. Momentarily she closed her eyes welcoming the relief the cool breeze provided from the sweltering heat. In her battered state it took her a moment to realise that there shouldn’t be wind inside a building.
What the fuck?
Looking up she saw Ramona flying, the wings apparently sprouting from her back gently flapping, slowing the woman’s descent. Isobel just stared, unable to reconcile the sight with reality. For a moment she genuinely thought she was hallucinating. She blinked slowly but the image remained the same. Ramona was flying! Long wings, over twice her height in breadth swept through the air, blowing debris and Isobel’s hair in the powerful gusts they created. Layer upon layer of fine dark brown feathers, faded to a lighter brown at the tips comprised her wings, but despite the brunette colouring, they had a peculiar transparency. Rays of sunlight shone between and through the feathers, turning some of the tips red and lending the wings a glowing, heavenly quality, even in the half light of the abandoned depot, creating a weird contrast with Ramona’s blood soaked body.
She’s the angel of death, Isobel thought.
She couldn’t help staring. It was an incredible sight. Ramona’s wings were beautiful; maybe the most beautiful thing Isobel had ever seen. They were truly magnificent and Ramona looked awesome hanging in the air, covered in blood, sword in hand, her wings buffeting the sky.
A movement to her left brought Isobel back to her surroundings. She snapped her head round and saw a snarling man with an axe bearing down on her. She barely had time to wonder where the axe had come from before it swung at her. She rolled, the axe narrowly missing her, clipping only a lock of her hair rather than her head. She leapt to her feet, swaying for a moment and faced the demon. Her knife was still buried in the chest of the dead man, she could see it from where she stood… miles away. She was unarmed. Except for her blood. She held her still bleeding palm out, almost right in the man’s face he was so close.
Heart racing, adrenaline flooding her system, Isobel took a step forward. Others were coming. She didn’t have much time.
“Give me the axe,” she ordered holding out her right hand to receive the weapon.
Growling, the demon held out the axe to her. Isobel took it by the wooden shaft and hefted it, testing its weight. It was heavy. She’d need both hands to swing it. Gripping the axe made the bite wound in her arm throb painfully and Isobel prayed she didn’t drop it. The other demons were getting nearer. She had to act now. She let out a deep breath and dropped her hand, putting both on the axe handle, her blood making her grip slippery. Without thinking she swung the axe at the man’s neck, aiming to decapitate him. She partially succeeded, the axe burying itself in his neck, but sticking on the vertebrae. The demon roared in agony and dropped to the floor, pulling the axe from Isobel’s grip. Slightly numb and horrified at what she had done, Isobel grabbed the handle and tried to pull the axe free of its gruesome mooring. It shifted slightly, grinding against bone inside the wound. The demon screamed. Finally with one almighty yank she pulled it free. She looked the demon in his terrified eyes and brought the axe sweeping down. This time the blade went the whole way through, the tip embedding itself in the concrete beneath. A fine jet of blood shot upwards, splashing Isobel’s chest and face. She uttered a high girly scream of shock.
Glad I’m wearing black.
Isobel tore the axe out of the ground and swung to face the approaching horde, wiping excess blood from her face. Amongst the approaching demons she could see her mother’s face. Could she really do this? Kill her own mother?
She’s dead already, she reminded herself.
The thought gave her no comfort as Myra hurtled towards her. Her mother barrelled into her, knocking her to the ground. Isobel’s head cracked against the cement floor and she saw stars. Iron hands gripped her, making her gasp for air; her mother’s hands round her throat, squeezing with inhuman strength. Isobel had lost her grip on the axe during the fall and she groped behind her for it now. Glancing back she could see it just out of her reach, her fingers desperately clawing the ground just short of the weapon. Staring up into her mother’s rage contorted face Isobel flashed back to the last time her mother had almost strangled her.
She had pinned Isobel against the hallway wall and choked her. Isobel had worn those bruises for a week. She made no attempt to cover them up though. By that point she’d started wearing such things as trophies, memoirs of a war she had lost. This time was no different. She hadn’t tried to cover up the marks left by Ramona either.
Looking up into her mother’s face now, it didn’t look too different to that fateful day. Isobel tried to raise her hand to smear her blood across Myra’s face, but her arm wouldn’t move. Another demon was pinning her arm, crushing her hand into the concrete, her bones grinding against the ground. She couldn’t scream. She barely had any air. With her other hand she reached into her pocket, the world beginning to go black around the edges of her vision; she had lost the knife but her keys were in there somewhere. A third monster dropped onto her wrist, pinning her free hand and arm to the floor. She glared up at her mother and tried to spit in her face, but only succeeded in getting a little saliva on her own lips.
She heard Ramona scream, “Isobel!”
Too late, Isobel thought as darkness closed in on her. Gonna be too late.
A huge gust of wind filled the old warehouse, dust and litter swirling and eddying up into the air. Isobel squeezed her eyes tight shut as she felt grit sting her cheek. Dust swirled up her nose, but her throat was held too tight for her to sneeze. She heard cries and sounds of bodies crashing into far off walls. Suddenly her mother’s hands wrenched away from her neck, her arms sprung free. She opened her eyes and blinked up at her rescuer, coughing on the dust as she sat up. Ramona stood before her, dark hair blowing back in the wind. Her hand was held out to Isobel. She took the hand and Ramona pulled her, spluttering and gasping for air to her feet.
“You okay?” Ramona asked, steadying the other woman with a hand on her shoulder. Isobel just shot her a look that made the angel’s lips quirk, “Stupid question.”
“A little,” Isobel rasped. She coughed again, grimacing at the pain in her bruised throat. “My mum just tried to strangle me. Again.” Isobel shook her head, “I’d love to know how I could be less okay.”
“You really wouldn’t,” Ramona replied. “Here,” she held something out to her, a bundle wrapped in bloodied cloth.
“What is it?” Isobel asked, unable to comprehend what could possibly be wrapped in the bundle.
“Just take it,” Ramona grimaced as if she were in pain.
Frowning Isobel took the bundle, thinking that the weight and shape of the thing were familiar.
A moment later, as she unwrapped it, Isobel realised it was the knife she’d lost to the demon.
Ramona shook her hand as if she’d been scalded, once Isobel lifted the package from her hands.
“You okay?” Isobel asked.
“Fine,” Ramona told her. “That knife’s just a little hot for me, that’s all.” Seeing Isobel’s confused look she elaborated, “Your knife is charged with demonic energy. I’m an angel. If I hold that knife it burns me, it’s forged to hurt creatures of God.”
“And you’re a creature of God,” Isobel nodded in understanding.
“Last I checked.”
“Thanks,” she said, discarding the bloodied cloth and raising the blade, watching colours of flame dance in the runic shapes.
“You need it,” Ramona said and dived back into the fray. Stunned and still recovering, Isobel looked out over the battle. It was chaos. The remaining demons were being attacked by, she counted, four angels. Ramona had been joined by Elliott and two others, a hulking black man and a blonde girl she didn’t recognise. She watched as the black man threw one demon, bowling over two others before cutting them apart with expert swordsmanship.
The blonde was soaring over the demons, attacking by diving into the throng, thrusting her sword down and darting back out of reach. She was laughing. Isobel shook her head in disbelief. They were all mad.
She heard the scrape of metal on concrete and whipped her head round to find herself facing Jake. He was holding the axe she’d dropped, blood still dripping from its edge. With a sad smile she turned to face him fully.
“Hello lover.” He spoke with a sly sardonic smile.
“Hi,” Isobel replied. They stared at each other for a moment, Isobel weighing her options. Her hand was still bleeding, she wasn’t sure if she could control Jake but it was worth a shot. Otherwise she had her knife again. That was a last resort though. She wanted to cure Jake not kill him.
He said nothing, just smiled that eerie smile and stared at her.
“At least you’re not staring at my tits,” she said drily.
He didn’t respond.
“Did you kill my mum?”
His smile grew into something cruel, evil twisting his handsome features into a sick mask. “I did.”
Isobel swallowed hard, a lump forming in her throat, grief and horror mingling in her gut. “You bastard,” she managed. “You motherfucker.”
“More of a daughterfucker really,” Jake replied mirthfully. “Anyway, you hated her. She tortured you, your whole life.”
“She was still my mother.”
“So?” Jake shrugged. “We’re damned anyway Isobel, this is what awaits us on the other side.” He smiled wider and spread his arms, encompassing the violence around them, “May as well embrace it now.”
“You don’t mean that.” Isobel shook her head as she spoke, “You don’t Jake, I know that’s not you talking.”
“You know?” Jake laughed at her. “Do you also know I’d rather be with Ramona than you? I mean let’s face it, she is way hotter than you.”
A tear rolled down Isobel’s cheek at his words, hearing her fears confirmed. This was something she could, did, believe. She knew it was the demon talking, but the words still stung. “You bastard,” she whispered.
Jake shrugged again as if to say, guilty as charged.
Isobel just glared at him.
The moment hung in the air between them, a heartbeat of pregnant silence where anything could happen. Then Jake started forward a swagger to his walk that hadn’t been there before.
Isobel raised her bloody hand, crimson drops falling like tears before her.
Jake stopped directly in front of her and raised his own hand parallel to hers.
Isobel watched as he slowly entwined his fingers with hers. His palm was hot against her sweat slick skin. Despite his temperature Isobel felt goose bumps race along her skin at the delicate touch, so intimate, so affectionate. She cried harder knowing that the man before her was not truly her lover.
“Join me, Isobel,” he said softly, looking directly into her pitch-black eyes. “You can stop fighting so hard.” She met his gaze, locked so attentively on her own. Looking into his eyes she swore she could see genuine regret there, even love. She swallowed. It was all a lie wasn’t it? The emotions writ on his so familiar face were false, were a façade the monster was using against her… weren’t they? The battle raging around her faded away as she stared into Jake’s dark soulful eyes, weighing her doubts. If she wasn’t careful she’d lose herself in those depths, swept away by her love and his lie.
“I like fighting,” she whispered at last.
“What?” Jake whispered, as soft as her.
“I said I like fighting,” Isobel said stronger, more sure of herself. She tore her hand away from his before he could intensify his grip and took a step back, holding her bloody hand out, even though it clearly didn’t work on him. The sounds of fighting came rushing back, sounds of weapons clashing, flesh tearing, screaming, washed over her, making her giddy for a moment. Still, she held her ground, staring into her lover’s face as she drew her knife. “Stay there.”
He laughed at her and swaggered forward, “No chance lover.” Isobel fought the urge to back off as he approached. If she was going to die today she wanted to go down fighting. She swallowed her fear, gritted her teeth, preparing to attack.
Just then Ramona crashed into Jake knocking him down and landing on her back on top of him. A demon she was grappling with fell on her a second later. She wrestled it, trying to hold it off her, far enough to stab it. She wasn’t having much luck. The guy’s teeth were barely an inch from her throat and she was lying on top of another monster.
Isobel stepped round behind them, out of reach of the demon but within Ramona’s eyeline.
Ramona didn’t see her there, her attention focussed solely on keeping the demon away from her throat. It was a losing battle. Gradually the beast inched closer to her, his teeth grazing her neck, preparing to bite as she writhed beneath him. Ramona screamed, a harsh angry, fearful sound.
Isobel crouched and Ramona met her eyes only when her knife snaked round to the man’s front.
The demon, focussed on his kill, only noticed something was wrong when he felt the cold steel of Isobel’s blade against his neck. By then it was too late. Isobel pulled the demonic knife hard, across his neck, slitting his throat open. He screamed, a gargling noise of agony. Blood poured out, coating Ramona’s face and hair with gore. She pushed hard and the demon flew across the open hanger, skidding along the floor like a motorbike crash victim, leaving a trail of blood and skin in his wake.
“Thanks,” Ramona spluttered, spitting out demon blood. She held up her hand.
“No worries.” Isobel took Ramona’s hand and helped the angel to her feet. They both stood there a moment, breathless.
Ramona glanced at Jake, who she’d been lying on. “He’s not moving,” she commented.
Isobel looked down at his prone body, face down on the floor. “I think you knocked him out.”
“Good,” she said. “That will make life easier.” She propped a booted foot against Jake’s spine and looked round at the battle. It was tapering off now. The floor was littered with bodies and parts, a head there, an arm here.
Isobel spotted a bisected torso nearby, its guts trailing out along the floor. She turned away, a hand held over her mouth. She closed her eyes, fighting the urge to throw up again and just about won. A gust of wind washed over them as an angel flapped they’re wings, a final scream echoed across the battlefield and all was still.
Into the quiet Ramona called: “I got the highest body count!” She turned to Isobel and smiled.
Isobel blinked disbelievingly at her. “There’s something wrong with you.”
Ramona’s smile widened as the other angels walked towards them, “There’s a lot.” She turned to face her bloody comrades. “We have a prisoner,” she declared cheerfully.
The others stopped just in front of them. Isobel recognised Elliot, the blonde guy who had helped them before. A purple-red bruise was forming on the side of his scratched face, swelling his eye partially shut. He greeted Isobel with a nod of recognition, which she returned. The other two, the big black dude and pale girl with bleach blonde cornrows, she didn’t know. They all looked pretty beat up from the fight. Half of Cornrow’s face was covered in blood from a gash high on her forehead and she was clutching her bleeding arm as if it hurt. Blood dripped onto the floor from a wound she was covering with her hand as she stared down at their prisoner with contempt.
“What the hell are you doing Ramona?” she asked.
“He’s tainted,” Ramona explained, “We need him.”
“He’s possessed,” Cornrows pointed out.
“We’re going to exorcise him.” A collective intake of breath sounded from the angels. They all looked shocked, outraged even at the idea.
“Exorcism?” Cornrows sneered. She shook her head, “You really have crossed the line this time Ramona.”
“It isn’t the first time,” she said, holding Cornrow’s stare. A few seconds’ silence passed, finally the other angel gave a disgusted snort and turned away, shaking her head.
“Where are you going to find a holy man?” Elliot asked calmly. “All the locals have been murdered.”
“I don’t need one,” Ramona said.
“You arrogant bitch!” Cornrows whirled on her.
“Julia…” Elliot cautioned her, but she paid him no attention, her eyes fixed on Ramona’s blood covered face.
“You can’t be serious! No angel can perform an exorcism without a holy man! Hell, Ramona, most angels can’t perform one at all!”
“You mean won’t,” Ramona replied. “You ever tried?”
“No!” Julia shouted, “Because I’m not insane!” She shook her head again, “You stupid split-souled bitch!”
“That’s enough,” Elliot said sternly.
Ramona took a step forward, her foot moving off of Jake’s back. “Call me that again.” Her fingers flexed around her sword handle, adjusting her grip. Julia backed down. Ramona eyed each of the others, meeting their eyes in turn. “I am doing this,” she told them. “I’m not asking you to get involved, but I am doing this.”
“You risk your soul,” the black dude said in a low rumble.
Ramona shrugged, “It’s not complete anyway.”
“You don’t have much time.” Elliot warned her.
“I know.” She spoke softly, her eyes turning to him, “Elliot, how many times do we get a second tainted soul? We need him in the fight. He could swing it.”
“You know what God would say,” Julia spat at her.
Ramona looked at her, “I don’t care.” She turned back to Elliot, “I’m doing this.”
Elliot gave her a small nod, “Then good luck.” He stepped forward and embraced her in a hug, blood soaking through each other’s clothes making the embrace damp for both. Their clothes stuck together for a second when they separated. Elliot held both Ramona’s hands in his for a moment and gave them a gentle squeeze before letting go. “Good luck,” he said again, stepping back.
Ramona nodded at him. “And you.” She paused. “Is there any chance of turning this back now?”
Elliot shook his head. “Not a lot.”
“Then we’ll need him.” She indicated Jake with a head gesture. As if on cue Jake groaned and began to move. Ramona spun round and slammed her fist hard into the back of his skull. His head whacked back into the concrete floor and he lay still again.
Isobel jumped at the startling impact and the loud smack Jake’s forehead made against the asphalt. She prayed that Ramona hadn’t given him brain damage.
Ramona flexed her fingers and turned back to the angels. “I can handle this.”
Julia snorted derisively.
Elliot regarded her gravely, “Be careful.”
Ramona laughed, “You know me better than that.”
“I do.” Elliot said, this time a sliver of heat crept into his voice.
Ramona bit her lower lip, eyeing him. “Maybe you’ll know me again one day,” she told him, a suggestive lilt in her voice.
“Maybe.” Elliot looked grave again. “Good luck, Ramona. I hope you save him.”
“So do I.”
With a final nod and a faint smile, Elliot left, leading the other angels flying out through the broken skylight.
Isobel was left gazing up at them, staring out at the sky long after they’d disappeared. “What the fuck?” she said softly to herself. She glanced at Ramona who was also staring after the angels. “Did you and Elliot…?”
“Oh, yeah,” Ramona couldn’t help the smile that split her face.
“Jesus Ramona, how many exes do you have?”
She heard a noise behind her and turned to see Ramona holding Jake up, one of his arms draped over her shoulders. She hadn’t been aware that the angel had moved. Jake was still unconscious and Isobel winced as she recalled the punch Ramona had given him.
“We can’t take him far,” Ramona cautioned. “He needs to be restrained before he comes round again.”
Isobel thought for a second, then smiled; there was a certain symmetry to her idea. “I know just the place.”