Chapter 1: Strife
“Anything?” Bonnie whispers in the dim light of the apartment hallway.
James peers into the spectral analyzer clutched in his hand and slowly nods his head. He looks up and squints a little. “Apartment twenty-seven. Straight ahead,” he whispers back.
Bonnie tucks a strand of her light brown hair behind her ear and bites the side of her lip. “Do you want me to rush in and rough it up a little before you start?”
James shakes his head, but doesn’t look at her. “No, let’s go with the element of surprise instead. It’s a strong signature; I want to take it down as fast as possible. If we get a runner, it could cause a lot of harm.”
A second woman approaches from behind. “I’m getting a really dark feeling. Are you sure it doesn’t know we’re here? I could go sneak a peek if you want.”
James shakes his head a little again. Bonnie gives him a quizzical look. “Talking to her again?” she asks. He nods in reply. The other woman scowls at her.
James produces a shard of crystal from his cargo pants and slowly approaches the apartment door.
“Be careful, James,” the other woman says with a concerned voice. She clutches the top of her garment as she watches him advance. “I get so worried every time you do this. You don’t have to do it, you know? No one says this is your job.”
“I’m right behind you,” Bonnie whispers. “I’ve got your six.”
James reaches forward and gently tries the apartment door handle. A soft click indicates that the door is unlocked. He turns to Bonnie. “On three I’m going to rush it. Block the door just in case it gets by me.”
Bonnie gives a resolute nod and readies herself.
“James!” the other woman shouts.
The door to apartment twenty-seven suddenly swings open. A large man with a wild look in his eye and long, crazy hair looks down at James and Bonnie.
Before they can react, he lets out a howl and knocks the two of them to the floor as he bursts past them and sprints down the hall.
The impact knocks the crystal from James’ hand. He scrambles to recover it. “Don’t let him get away!”
“I’m on it!” Bonnie shouts as she springs back to her feet and starts to give chase.
“James…” the other woman says softly and reaches out to him.
“Not now, McKenzie!” He shouts and struggles to stand.
The large, crazy man makes wild animal sounds as he thunders up the apartment staircase.
“Come back here!” Bonnie shouts after him. “Don’t make me beat you down!”
A moment later, the man bursts through the rooftop access door, knocking it from its hinges. He scampers over to the side of the building and sniffs the air. Bonnie appears in the broken doorway behind him, slightly out of breath.
“You’re a fast one, I’ll give ya that,” she pants.
The man bears his teeth, and begins to circle her. Drool oozes out of the sides of his mouth and drips from his hairy chin.
“James?” Bonnie shouts off to the side, but doesn’t take her eyes off of the man in front of her. “James? Are you coming? James?”
The man howls at the sky and flexes his muscles.
“Okay, fine,” she mutters and raises her fists. “The hard way it is then.”
The bestial man howls a second time, then charges the much smaller woman. “Come on, big man!” Bonnie shouts and launches herself into him.
Physics dictates that the smaller woman will lose in this exchange, and science, as it turns out, doesn’t fail us in this instance.
Bonnie bounces off the large man and finds herself rolling across the gravel surface of the rooftop. Before she can recover, she feels a pair of strong hands lift her into the air and toss her several feet toward the edge of the building.
“Oh, you like it rough, eh?” she hisses through gritted teeth as she struggles to stand –her face and hands raw with fresh cuts and scratches.
Her opponent throws a hammy fist toward her. Bonnie ducks the blow and rolls between the man’s open legs. An instant later, she buries her elbow into his kidneys. He howls in pain and stiffens his back.
She steals a moment to glance back at the open rooftop access door. Still no James. She turns back to the man just in time to receive a stinging backhand that sends her staggering backward. Now partially blinded, she feels herself again lifted into the air. Pain shoots through her body as she’s forcibly slammed into and held against the brick siding of the rooftop access door hutch.
“Pretty… pretty…” the large man grunts as his crazed eyes hungrily examine the beautiful curves held in his hands.
Bonnie feels something bubbling to the surface within her. Her lips stretch into a twisted grin as her eyes close. “Hey, bud… didn’t anyone ever tell you…” she sputters and grips the man’s wrists. Her eyelids shoot back open. He doesn’t notice the fact that her irises are now bright red with blue veins spidering through the whites of her eyes. “…that this is no way to treat a lady?”
Bonnie begins to forcibly remove the man’s hands from around her neck and shoulder. He howls again, this time in pain, as she lifts him off the ground with a little grunt. “Kiss the floor!” she shouts and tosses him several feet in front of her. He lands hard and gets a face full of rooftop gravel.
He looks up at the female advancing on him. The wild look in his eyes has now been replaced by something else. “Fear…” Bonnie hisses as she lifts him into the air again. “Now you know what your victims felt when you approached them in the dark of night!” She tosses him several feet back toward the rooftop entrance. “Now you know how they felt when you overpowered them!” she shouts and savagely kicks him in the side, sending him skittering another few feet.
The crazed man launches a desperate punch as she advances on him again. It connects with Bonnie’s midriff, but she ignores the blow and wraps a hand around his throat instead. The man struggles to break her vice-like grip, but finds that he does not possess the strength to do so.
“Now… now you will feel what it’s like… to… DIE!” she screams with reckless abandon.
“Bonnie!” a familiar voice shouts. She looks up to see James leaning against the rooftop door frame desperately trying to catch his breath. “Stop! Not like this! Stand down!”
The brunette hisses loudly at her companion, but doesn’t break her grip. “He doesn’t deserve to live!”
“I know!” James says as he stumbles forward toward them. He fumbles in his pocket and produces the crystal from earlier. “But in this case… this one case… you know it’s not actually his fault.”
Bonnie hisses again, then finally relents and releases the man’s throat.
Before the large man can recover, James presses the crystal firmly against the man’s forehead and begins chanting something in Latin.
Bonnie hisses a third time and slowly backs away as wisps of red energy begin leaching from the large man’s body into the crystal. His appendages go ridged and his eyes open wide as James continues to chant. He lets out a final howl as the last of the demonic essence drains from him. A moment later, his body goes limp and he loses consciousness.
“You got him!” McKenzie exclaims and clasps her hands to her heart as she appears beside James. She looks up to the demonic woman standing a few yards away and scowls. “Now get her too!” she commands.
James quickly pockets the crystal and turns toward Bonnie. He lifts his hands and slowly, carefully approaches her. “Bonnie? I want to speak to Bonnie. Can you hear me Bonnie?” he asks quietly.
Bonnie hisses again and thrashes around a little. “Bonnie’s not home right now, Jimmy-boy,” she says in a deep, guttural voice. “Would you like to leave a message?”
“I want to speak to Bonnie. Bonnie? Can you hear me?” he repeats.
The brunette thrashes around some more and shakes her head. “Not home! No Bonnie! Only Strife is here! Bonnie is weak! I had to save us like usual! Weak Bonnie isn’t here! Leave me be, Jimmy!”
“Thank you, Strife. Thank you for saving Bonnie, but you know what will happen if you don’t let Bonnie back in control,” James says and slowly produces another crystal from his pocket.
“She’s lost it this time, James,” McKenzie shouts. “Do it. Seal it in crystal!”
“You know I can’t!” he shouts back. “They’re too interwoven. Bonnie will die if I do it!”
“Since when does that stop you?” McKenzie asks in an icy-cold tone.
James feels a lump forming in his throat. He turns back toward Bonnie. “That was a mistake, and you know it. It wasn’t my fault,” he says quietly.
McKenzie watches as he continues to slowly approach Bonnie, a crystal outstretched toward her. “Fine,” she states in a venomous tone. “You two deserve each other.”
James feels McKenzie leave. He pauses to wipes a tear from his eye.
Bonnie stumbles around like a drunk person, gripping and clawing at herself.
James clears his throat as best he can. “Come on, Strife, don’t make me do this. Just go back to sleep. Bonnie will call you again when she needs you.”
The possessed woman howls at the sky, not unlike the way the large man did minutes earlier. She sinks to her knees with a pained expression.
James hurries forward and grips her by the shoulders. “Don’t hurt her! Let Bonnie out again! Do it now, Strife, or I swear…”
Bonnie gnashes her teeth several times as the crystal in James’ hand presses into her shoulder through her tattered clothing.
“Come on, Bonnie,” James whispers. “Come back to me. Please.”
The brunette lets out one final howl, then slumps forward into his arms. James holds the woman tight and feels her start to sob. They kneel together in silence and listen to the sounds of the city night wash over them.
After several minutes, Bonnie pushes away from him and wipes the tears and snot from her face. “She’s asleep again,” she mumbles. “No thanks to you though. I keep telling you to get in shape! I was up here with that psycho all by myself for way too long!”
“I’m old?” James says with a half-smile and a shrug. “Everyone in their forties is out of shape?”
“Oh, don’t give me that crap!” Bonnie says loudly and struggles back to her feet. “I had to let her out again because you weren’t here!”
“I know,” he says with a frown and looks away.
An awkward silence fills the rooftop.
Bonnie lets out a little sigh and gently takes James by the hand. He turns back toward her with guilty look in his eye. “I know,” he repeats softly, his eyes suddenly threatening to spill over.
She studies him a little, then grins and shakes her head a little. She kisses him on the lips. “You’re lucky you’re so cute, mister,” she says quietly. “You did manage to talk Strife down again, so I guess you’re not completely useless.”
James sniffs a couple times and regains control over his emotions. “Not completely,” he says with a head-bob. He looks back to the large man lying off to the side. “I’ll make the call. SCPD has been looking for this one for a while.”
A half hour later, several police officers help the large, confused man into the back of a paddy wagon. An emergency responder finishes applying bandages to Bonnie’s hands and face. She gives the EMS a smile and thanks him.
“Poor bastard,” James mutters as Bonnie approaches. “He’ll spend the rest of his life in an insane asylum now.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Bonnie offers as she loops her arm through his and rests her head on his shoulder. “He killed three women. I think they’ll just put him out of his misery. Permanently.”
They watch as a small crowd gathers along the police perimeter to try and get an idea of what’s going on.
“Speaking of which… you got him, right? I only remember bits and pieces when she’s in control,” Bonnie asks and starts fishing inside James’ jacket.
“Yeah,” he replies as she pulls out a foggy-looking crystal. He takes it from her and examines it closely. A screaming face briefly appears in the swirling mist. “Nasty looking one. Probably a level five if I had to guess.”
“Level five?” she repeats softly. “No wonder I had to let her out. I was thinking it was only a level three. I can take a level three on my own.”
James kisses her forehead. “I know you can.”
A man in a cheap suit approaches and hands James an envelope. “Nice work, as always,” he says in a low tone. “That’s the second one this month. How do you find these psychos?”
“Trade secret, detective,” Bonnie says with a grin and takes the envelope from James. She removes a wad of cash and quickly stuffs it in her bra.
James shrugs. “Like the lady says.”
He grins and shakes his head a little. He turns to leave, then pauses and turns back to the couple. “Have you two got a date yet? Me and a couple of the boys are happy to be witnesses if you guys decide to elope to City Hall or something.”
Bonnie pulls James a little closer and looks up into his eyes. “No date yet. Mom hasn’t even met him yet.”
James returns the smile, then looks back to the detective. “You’ll be the first to know, Jack. Promise.” The detective chuckles and turns back to the crime scene, shaking his head.
“Actually,” a familiar female voice says off to the side, “I’ll probably be the first to know.”
James turns his head to see McKenzie standing a few feet away with her arms folded. A look of sadness painted across her face. He turns back without acknowledging her presence.
“Speaking of mom…” Bonnie whispers and playfully tugs at James’ collar.
James rolls his eyes and starts walking into the night.
Bonnie catches up to him and threads her fingers through his. “You have to meet her sometime! We can’t get married before you even meet your mother-in-law!”
“How about this Saturday? She’s dying to meet you!”
“Oh, come on! You’ll love her!”
James reaches into his jacket with his free hand and finds his spectral analyzer. He starts waving IT around, desperately searching for another case of demonic possession to change the subject.