Only the footsteps of my boots echoed against the pavement of the empty alley as I walked toward the street, following the lamp like a beacon, letting it lead me out of the labyrinth of darkness in which I was enveloped. For the first time in nearly ten years, I knew where I was going. I had been chasing her since my first day on the job, and had not since stopped, even when everyone I knew insisted that her capture was an unattainable goal.
She was the most elusive creature that I had ever seen or known; and I did know her, for I had studied her for all of that time. I identified with her, though I hesitated to admit it, even to myself; her free spirit matched my own, as did her natural inclination to remain ensconced in darkness. I had only caught one glimpse of her in during my obsessive searching, and still the image remained vivid in my memory, as if she had burned her silhouette into my retinas and I could always see her, no matter what I was looking at.
Her skin was pale as white orchids, and she had an eerie sort of glow about her. Her hair tumbled down her back senselessly, with no order as to which direction the wayward black curls shot off into the space around her. Wrapped in black stitches and rags, she swayed and glided through the night, as dark and infinite as the sky around her, though without benefit of anything as bright or beautiful as the stars that graced it.
But tonight, elusive though she was, I knew I would find her. She had evaded capture for ten long years; I was on her trail, and would not cease. With only three hours of sleep in three days, I was unwilling to surrender; the need to capture the pixie woman bubbled and frothed inside me and scorched my throat, so that I could almost feel her movements, could feel the air stir with even her most subtle movements, though the alley was silent and empty.
Hands slung in the pockets of my trench coat, my hat masking my eyes, I approached the end of the alley. Streetlights drenched the ground in wide circles of light, leaving the rest of the pavement in total darkness. I gazed, first down the street to my right side, seeing only strips of closed shops and the high-rise buildings in the background. Turning, I then gazed outward to my left side, my eyes tracing every doorway, every corner. She was here; I felt a cold nausea sweep my body. She was obligated to retrieve each object at a certain time, and in a certain order—otherwise the woven fabric of the magic would be rent, and she would be powerless.
At once I heard a small shuffle to my left, followed by more silence. I marveled at the unusual deathly stillness of the night as I watched with bated breath. I knew it had to have been her, and I simply waited patiently. My eyes rested upon the area which I guessed was the source of the noise—a street lamp about ten yards away. And then, before I even realized what I was looking at, I saw the image that had haunted my mind for the better part of ten years.
There she stood, after all of this time, just standing, smiling, taunting.
She stood tall and proud as a queen, her pale skin glistening by the moonlight in the heat of the summer night. The flickering orange street lamp above cast an eerie glow about her frame. Her long black curls frizzed and flew wild about her head like some perverse halo, embodying her own wild thirst for blood, money, magic.
She had grotesque wings of black feathers protruding from the milk-white skin of her back. Hers was a sort of appalling beauty, all big, gleaming black eyes and pouting fleshy crimson lips. An elegant queen, and beautiful, but repulsive, to be sure.
I did not dare approach her; for she was the most dangerous woman I had ever suffered the misfortune to cross. She saw me across the street and the corners of her lips turned upward into an impish grin, her teeth gleaming, white razors.
I stared into those eyes, which flirted invitingly in my direction. I did not follow them. I merely gazed coldly back at the smiling face, waiting.
She raised an eyebrow.
I continued merely to stare. She was a fascinating creature, stunning and hideous alike.
She had had enough of the game. Turning on her stiletto boot heel and strutting arrogantly into an alley, she became merely another piece of the dark as she vanished from my sight. I calmly followed.
Through the darkness, aided by the remnant light of the moon, I could barely distinguish her harsh swaying movement from the rest of the night. I squinted to see her, and the continuous tap of her heels against the pavement guided me toward her. Pride and vanity prevented her from concealing herself from my view.
She finally stopped in front of a fire escape. Light from a street lamp spilled onto the wild fly away hairs surrounding her face; the rest of her was swallowed by darkness, including the macabre feathers that framed her lithe body. Even through the darkness I could see her turn her head to look at me, then turn back before climbing deftly toward the top of the stairs, barely enlisting the help of the hideous black wings attached to her back.
Without a second thought I began chasing her up the stairs. I watched her disappear into the third floor window and I followed. I hoped that my noisy footsteps would rouse the family that slept peacefully and obliviously inside.
But when I entered through the window, I saw her again, stooped low over a sleeping boy. She looked up at me as I stepped inside and removed my hat, and she smiled. It took me but a moment to catch my air.
“Enough,” I whispered. “Be gone. This magic is not meant to be used for evil.”
“Who will stop me?” she replied in an eerie sing-song voice. “You, Yeshua?”
My eyes met her own, and I felt a sinking weight in the pit of my stomach as I gazed into the two whirlpools of darkness. No light caught her eyes, though a nightlight shaped like a star plugged into the wall next to the bed highlighted her silhouette.
“You know my name.”
“Of course I do,” she said in a playful tone. “Don’t you know mine?”
“Zila.” She flinched almost imperceptibly at this. I guessed that she had never heard her own name from another before now.
“You are the first.”
“To know your name.”
“How does it sound? Hearing it from someone else, for the first time?”
“Pleasant.” She shrugged as she looked down, sliding her hand beneath the child’s feathery pillow. She pulled out a tiny tooth and held it up, admiring it.
“Give it to me.”
“You will give me that tooth.”
“What will you use it for?”
“I will not use it, and that is just the point. This is innocence. This is child magic and you are using it to achieve your own ends.”
“My own ends?” she inquired. “You know nothing about my ends.”
I continued to stare at her.
“What, you mean those goons, sent by the queen?” she said. “It was self defense. They were out for blood.”
“They were coming after you because you are evil.”
“No. They were coming after me because I was a threat. I never did anything but take children’s teeth.” She stood up and started walking back toward the window. I blocked her path. “Excuse me.”
“No. I have followed you for ten years. I can prove that these atrocities happen because of you and I am ending it.”
“Atrocities? You mean the deaths?”
“Thousands of deaths. Faerie and mortal alike.”
She continued to stare at me. Her eyes were intimidating.
“You truly don’t understand, do you?” she asked with a small smile. “I’m not good. I’m not evil. I am not a killer, Yeshua. I am death.”
Confused, I asked her, “Then why the teeth?”
“The teeth are magic. Concentrated innocence, something I need to continue escorting souls through the end of their lives and into heaven and hell, respectively. And if I benefit sometimes,” she shrugged with a smirk, “then so be it.”
“I’m an enigma. You don’t know me and therefore, your disgust is unwarranted.”
“I know more than you think.”
“What is it that kills you, Yeshua?” she asked softly, pressing her hand against my chest, tracing it with her fingernails. She leaned in, her face inching closer to mine. “What is burning you?”
“It’s hatred,” I hissed at her through clenched teeth, staring at her coldly, ignoring her advances.
“You don’t hate me. You’re afraid of me, and you lust after me—the two are similar in nature. That burning you feel, Yeshua,” she whispered, leaning in further. “That burn is not hatred.”
Her face was a mere inch from mine, and I could feel her hot breath on my lips. “What is it…?”
“Something else…” she breathed, closing the gap between us as she pressed her lips against mine. Her skin sizzled against me, and I felt the scratch of her fingernails as she placed her hands upon my face and she kissed me. I found my hand gently tracing the curvature of her hip, barely touching her.
She pulled away after what must have only been an instant. I stared down at her. Her eyes were pits of darkness, nothing but abyss. “You’re so empty,” I told her.
“Well,” she said with a smirk, “we have that in common.”
When I think about that night, I do not remember her climbing back out the window. I remember standing in the room with her in front of me, and then being alone.
I see her sometimes. I stare out my window and look for her figure, graceful and wild, out trolling for souls. She is only a flicker in my sight before she vanishes, and is gone.