Fates Avow: The Arbiter: Part Four

At school Connie was smart and athletic. Both these attributes served her well during her teenage years and they were required once more in the alleyway.

She was smart enough to realise the two dark figures meant her harm; although, to be fair, the large knife brandished by one would have been a strong indication to even the less intelligent that a friendly welcome was not on offer here.

Connie’s athleticism allowed her to stop and change direction in almost a heartbeat. Those hours spent on the sports field responding to the sound of a whistle paying off. This time the prize was not some athletic pride in her fitness but her life.

She could hear her old coach barking orders in her ear as she sprinted down the alley towards the safety of the crowded street.

Connie was fast. She knew she could out run her would be assailants. Nevertheless she was unable to resist looking back to check. The two figures were in pursuit but they did not run instead opting to walk, patiently stalking their prey just as a tiger would do. At that pace they would never reach her. The odds were in favour of even the slowest runner to outrun someone walking.

It was however this moment of curiosity, that need to see behind her when once again she failed to notice what was in front of her.

A stone lay innocuously in her path, too small for Connie to have noticed but large enough to cause her ankle to turn as her foot landed on this nuisance mineral.

With her balance interrupted she fell to the ground, the elegance of her sprint now reduced to an unceremonious flailing as she hit the floor.

Dazed by the speed in which she went from upright to prostrate, her immediate thought was the proximity of her attackers. She looked up to see them approach, their journey still at that stalking pace. There was certainly now no need to run, Connie wasn’t going anywhere.

But she tried to go somewhere, her will to live too strong to just passively lay on the floor and await her tragic fate. Yet despite her resolve to escape her ankle had other ideas.

Any movement she made to continue her journey towards safety was met by a growl of pain that travelled up her leg and forced her back on to the floor.

Her resilience continued and through gritted teeth she crawled towards where the alley opened onto the street; close enough for her to see the people who could save her yet too far away for them to notice her.

Despite her brain crying out through the pain that escape was now a hopeless endeavour, her desire to survive pushed her further albeit slowly down the alley.

Connie turned to see her attackers, they were close now. She could see the blade more clearly, soon this object of destruction will be pushed into her ending an altogether brief life.

Tears began forming in her eyes as any hope of escape made way for the realisation of her death; and it wouldn’t be a pleasant painless death but the absolute opposite.

Her eyes closed as she waited for the inevitable moment of her doom. She need not witness anymore and mournfully submitted herself to her conclusion.

A long shadow formed over Connie, yet it was not from her attackers but from behind her. Connie’s curiosity caused her to open her eyes and standing over her was the man from the pub…Ryan.

“Come with me if you wish to avoid the threat to your life posed by these two people.” he said, holding out his hand to her.

Forgetting he was the reason she had ran in the first place Connie reached up and grabbed his hand. The actual threat in front of her outweighed any potential threat that Ryan posed.

From behind him emerged the woman, Heze. She leapt at the two attackers striking them on the chest. They stumbled back but quickly recovered to swipe at Heze with their blades.

She pulled a weapon from her belt to fend them off. It was a curious object small enough to be gripped with one hand. The handle was curved like that of an umbrella with the end pointed. At the other end it forked off with three blades, one made of gold, one made of silver and the other bronze.

Connie watched as Heze deftly swung this weapon knocking the knives from the grip of the attackers. Then in one quick stroke she dove the weapon into the stomach of one before pulling it out and slicing the throat of the other. They both fell to the ground in a bloody heap.

Heze wiped her triple pronged weapon on the back of one of the attackers before putting it back in her belt.

She lingered over one of the bodies and rolled up his shirt sleeve. Connie could not see exactly what it was but it looked like a tattoo. Whatever it was it caused Heze to flash a look over at Ryan; was it a look of fear? hate? It was very difficult for Connie to tell.

The adrenaline from her near fatal encounter was still running and perhaps in a different scenario she would have been horrified she had just witnessed the violent death of two people.

But they had tried to kill her, they deserved what happened to them. Any concern she should have about how deadly Heze had been was overtaken by a feeling of relief and gratitude. Heze had saved her and with that came an automatic element of trust.

Therefore without protest she limped back to the pub flanked by both Ryan and Heze.

Once inside she sat on one of the worn wooden chairs and rested her injured foot on another. Heze brought her a glass of that potent alcohol.

Heze seemed different from before, her previous warm and friendly attitude had made way for a more icier demeanour. Connie was unsure if any of this clear hostility was directed at her or at Ryan.

“As I was saying Connie” said Ryan “You’re not safe and so best you stay here.”

His voice appeared stronger than before and he was less confused. Connie didn’t respond, the pain in her ankle was matched only by the throbbing in her head. Instead she smiled and nodded her appreciation.

Certainly she had questions and suspected that Ryan had the answers but that could wait. For now she was content to sit in silence and relax. Silence. Connie noted that the music was not playing anymore.

“Ryan. Can I talk to you for a moment” asked Heze.

Connie watched as Heze walked to one of the doors at the back of the pub and went inside, Ryan followed immediately thereafter.

Behind the door was not the toilets as Connie had first assumed but a hallway. Almost immediately as you entered was a wooden staircase that led to the first floor.

Heze waited by these steps as Ryan entered and spoke “Well done Heze that was good wo….”

Heze punched Ryan hard across the face “We’ve intervened. Haven’t we?” she said angrily.

Ryan said nothing, instead rubbed the side of his face, Heze had quite the right hook on her.

She removed her weapon from her belt and begun to furiously stab at the bottom step.

“We’ve fucking intervened” she shouted “You know who they were? You saw their mark!”

Ryan passively held his hands out “Heze” he said, ensuring that he was a safe enough distance to dodge Heze’s weapon if she chose to throw it.

She flashed him a stern look “Don’t Heze me!” She said twisting her weapon further into the wooden step “We’ve intervened! And you promised we would never do that…again.” Her voice trailed off as she completed that sentence.

Ryan stared at Heze thinking of the right words he could say to her. Even if he had those perfect words to hand, Heze was certainly not in the mood to let him speak.

She stood up to face him “Why Ryan? Why have we intervened?”

“I don’t know” he replied instinctively flinching in case another Heze punch was about to arrive.

“You don’t know?” Heze said, twisting the weapon between her thumb and forefinger “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means I don’t know!” replied Ryan raising his voice before taking a breath and speaking more calmly “Look Heze I’m not sure what is going on. I just know we had to do it.”

“Why? Why now? Why her?”

Ryan thought for a moment then replied “Again I don’t know……It was the music and…”

“The music?!” Heze interrupted “What about the music?”

Ryan put his hands on Heze’s shoulders “I don’t know. I’ll find out Heze. I will sort this. Trust me.”

He flashed a smile at Heze which was met with a strained one from her.

“Now” he continued “Let’s go back in and talk to her. Maybe we can get some answers.”

He turned and opened the door to the main area of the pub.

Connie was gone.

Fates Avow: The Arbiter : Part Three

< Part Two

Any hope that the tired and worn out exterior of the pub would not be replicated inside faded as Connie entered.

Although spacious there was a perpetual gloominess about the place. A few lights hung casually from the ceiling, the cracked glass coverings revealed dull yellowing bulbs. Black specks marked the final resting place of curious insects.

The murkiness of the bulb betrayed its main purpose and all that it could muster was to illuminate a constant stream of dust that seemed on an infinite loop round the mouldy yellow light.

To the right were a row of cubicles, three wooden benches adorned in tatty red leather enveloped tired looking tables. The gloom would not allow Connie to see as far as the furthest benches.

Further down the room a number of tables were haphazardly laid out and the chairs that surrounded them were not arranged in any particular order.

Towards the back were two doors side by side, Connie presumed these led to the toilets but there were no signs indicating which one was intended for Gentleman and which for Ladies. Connie doubted, given the decor, that this particular Pub was trailblazing with Gender Neutral facilities.

In the furthest corner was a pool table. The green velvet covering was scratched and it was unlikely a competitive game could be had with just three balls and one cue.

Connie followed the dark green carpet which in places was so worn away she could see the floorboards beneath. Stains sporadically embellished the carpet, some appeared of dubious nature but no doubt the origin of each stain was, in itself, an interesting tale.

There was a musky smell that immediately had filled Connie’s nostrils as she entered. It was as if she could smell every pint of beer ever supped in this establishment. The aroma was so heavy she had to swallow it down to allow herself to breathe normally.

To her left was the bar and there framed by the optics and beer taps stood the woman. She was illuminated by a neon branded sign advertising a beer that Connie was sure did not exist anymore.

The woman smiled and Connie made her way over to the bar and sat down on one of only two tall bar stools at the front of the expansive wooden bar.

The oak panel was deeply scored and down the entire length were dark rings from the many drinks that would have been placed upon the bar by careless customers and staff alike. They occurred all the way down the bar leading to what appeared to be a wooden box.

Connie squinted in the gloominess to see what that box was because it looked out of place. She was shaken by her surveillance of her surroundings by the woman slamming a glass onto the bar.

“So you’ve had a bad day?” asked the woman, pouring some amber liquid into the glass.

“Terrible” replied Connie

“Well this will make you feel better” said the woman sliding the half filled glass over to Connie.

Connie picked up the drink and took a tentative swig. There was a surprising potency to the liquid and she coughed a frisky ‘Wow!’

“It’s good stuff!” laughed the woman “I’m Heze by the way” (she pronounced it Haze).

“Connie” replied Connie still choking slightly on her drink.

Heze leaned on the bar and rested her chin on her hand “Well Connie tell me about this bad day you are having”

As Connie begun to tell Heze of all the annoyances she had to endure something peculiar happened.

A low hissing sound began to fill the room, then,faintly at first, the soft hum of music. This melodic interruption caused Connie to stop talking and seek out the source of the tune. She presumed that it was from a jukebox but a quick scan of the gloomy interior did not reveal one.

Listening intently she followed the tinny notes to the box at the end of the bar, the box that appeared so out of place when Connie had first seen it.

The music became louder and it was a familiar song to Connie, one that her parents used to listen to. She believed it was by The Beatles although she couldn’t remember the precise name of the song, John Lennon was singing about a Guru called Dave or something.

Heze who had been resting against the bar stood up straight and glanced towards the box then out at the cubicles opposite the bar.

From the gloomy shadows a man emerged and he walked slowly towards the musical cube as if he were in a trance. The presence of someone else being here had initially surprised Connie.

Both her and Heze watched as he took the box between his hands and started to examine it, lifting it up to study all four sides. He glanced up from the box and looked at Heze before his head snapped round to intently stare at Connie.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“Connie” she replied nervously, the intensity to which he studied her made her feel uncomfortable.

“Connie? Do I know you?” he returned his attention to the box, looking it over once more before returning to Connie “Who are you?”

This man seemed confused and Connie presumed he was a regular in the pub that had just woken up after sleeping off a particular heavy night.

Connie was unsure how to respond to this individual. Indeed her only thought was how best to leave the pub. Her day was bad enough as it was and she could do without an altercation with some random drunk guy.

She watched nervously as his attention returned to the box. With the song still playing he wandered back to the cubicle, his apparent interest in Connie over. She followed him until he was consumed by the gloom, the only indication of his presence was the tinny tune that still played.

Connie spun back round to look at Heze who gave a forced smile “That’s the boss” she said with an embarrassed shrug.

Connie thought it was best she left and took one final swig of her drink and coughed her goodbyes.

“How much do I owe you?” she enquired.

Heze threw up her hands “On the house” she replied.

Connie expressed her gratitude once more and then walked towards the large wooden door.

“You can’t leave”

Connie spun round to witness the man emerge once more from the darkness, still cradling the musical box.

“I’m sorry?” replied Connie, trying to hide the anxiety that was building up inside her.

“You can’t leave. It’s not safe ” said the man.

Connie’s heart begun to pound as the realisation that her exit from this pub may not be an easy one. She shot a look over at Heze who was trying to get her bosses attention “Ryan. Ryan” she kept repeating.

“What do you mean it’s not safe?” asked Connie taking a step backwards further near the door.

“It’s not safe. You leave here. Bad things will happen.” continued Ryan.

Connie reached behind her, blindly grabbing at the handle. She stepped further back as Ryan approached.

“What bad things?” she asked , hoping that engaging him in conversation may distract him enough so she can make her exit.

“Terrible things. Horrid things. You are only safe here. You cannot leave” he said, there was a confused mania in the pattern of his voice which did little to calm the rising panic that Connie was feeling.

Her heart was racing and she inwardly gave a small sigh of relief when her she finally found the handle to the door. Although the music was still playing the sweetest sound Connie heard was of the door unlocking as she twisted the handle.

With her back still to the door she tugged at the handle and a comforting ray of light from the low afternoon sun shone through.

Her eyes were fixed on Ryan as she stepped back. She could feel the warmth of the sun on her leg. The unexpected breeze challenged the musky smell for dominance in the air. The dust that had dutifully followed its same infinite path now swirled around on a new chaotic route.

Ryan walked towards her still clutching the box muttering all manner of warnings about impending danger as Heze continued to try and attract his attention. All the while the song continued to provide the soundtrack to this weird encounter that left Connie feeling confused, frightened and clear she had to leave.

She spun round and completed her escape from the building, slamming the door behind her. The street was rather busy but rather seek comfort in a crowd her instincts told her to run. She turned and sprinted up the alleyway that ran alongside the pub.

She could hear the blood pumping in her ears as she sprinted along the alley. She looked back to see if either Ryan or Heze were pursuing her.

Such was her concentration of what might be behind her that she neglected to pay much attention to what was in front of her.

Had she done so she would have noticed two figures standing there. Although it would have been difficult to make out their features in the dullness of the alley she would at the very least had seen the glint of the knife that one held in their hand.

Different path. Same Conclusion.

Fates Avow: The Arbiter: Part Two

< Part One

Connie was having a bad day….But you know that already. You know her story of how she woke up late, rushed to get ready, had someone steal her money, accidentally burnt down her flat, got fired from her job, found out her boyfriend was cheating and then to cap it all off got murdered.

In every story there are moments where things could take an alternative route; that each different choice would open up more and more possibilities which in turn lead to even more eventualities.

Yet, inevitably, even if we chose to take a different path, no matter how unique the journey may be it always leads to the same place.

Maybe Connie chose to go home when she missed the train but that would have seen her trapped in her flat when it caught fire.

Or perhaps she did have enough money to get a taxi only to then be involved in a road traffic collision.

Different path, same conclusion. Connie died that day.

However in every story there is always that moment when the different path taken can change the entire narrative.

For Connie that moment was standing outside the dilapidated building that once used to be a Pub.

In its more glorious years this building would have been alive with the sounds of communal revelry. The tired facade now betrayed the once vibrant colours that lured many into its comfy interior.

Connie never went inside on the day she died; she thought it was closed, abandoned. Her curiosity of the building was not sufficient enough to see her try to enter. There was nothing inviting about this strange place.

However there had been something but in her rage and torment she had simply not seen it.

Haphazardly resting against the side of the building was a wooden board, it was the typical one you see outside pubs and restaurants that proudly exclaim ‘Come On In We’re Open’, followed by a list of drinks and written in chalk Today’s Specials (There were none listed).

In the moments before Connie arrived outside the building, the earlier inclement weather had knocked the board over so it rested hidden against the wall.

If Connie had been earlier she may have seen it before it fell and taken the sign up on its welcoming offer to ‘Come On In’. But she didn’t and she died.

Maybe even the presence of the sign would not have enticed her to go in. It was after all as worn out and broken as the building. Plus they didn’t have any Specials on that day.

She may have studied the sign but the revelation of her boyfriend’s infidelity was always going to send her into that rage which would conclude with her death.

Different Path. Same Conclusion.

But what if, rather than arriving earlier, she arrived a little later?

****

“Connie! Wait”

Connie turned to see Ann bounding after her. Connie desperately wanted to just leave and get home. She could not bear anymore humiliation and was fighting so hard to keep even a modicum of dignity.

When Clive had rather abruptly informed her that she was being fired she could feel the tears begin to bubble up, ready to erupt. With it would come the rage and Clive would never know how close he came to having his face smashed in with a stapler.

“I’m fine Ann. Go back to your desk” pleaded Connie as she tried to hide the fact she was very much not fine.

Despite her portly frame Ann surprised Connie with how quickly she was able to catch up.

“Are you sure?” Ann said, placing her thick hand on Connie’s shoulder.

There was a look of genuine sympathy in the eyes of Ann. This was surprising given her propensity to leave passive aggressive post-its warding off anyone who was tempted to swipe her tuna sandwiches.

Connie just wanted to leave the building, go home and cry her heart out. But she no longer had a home she to privately express her anguish in.

That thought was enough to set her off and she wept. Burying her head deep into Ann’s shoulder, all her frustrations as to why life would choose to be so cruel to her leaked onto Ann’s crocheted cardigan.

Each sorrowful recollection of the morning events were punctuated with a sympathetic ‘There. There’ from Ann.

During this outpouring Connie’s phone vibrated, indicating a message. Her hand moved down to retrieve it but was stopped by Ann.

“Leave it. It can wait” she said “You just let it all out.”

And that she did and when Connie had no more tears to spill she sniffled her gratitude for the kindness Ann had shown.

“Do you feel better?” asked Ann

“A little” Connie replied, forcing half a smile “Thank you. Best go see what is left of my flat”.

“Here” Ann said, pulling out a few bank notes and pressing it into Connie’s hand.

“I can’t Ann…This is too much” protested Connie trying to force the money back into Ann’s hand.

Ann stepped back raising her hands “Take it. You need it more than me.”

After one final hug of gratitude Connie left the building and took the same route that would lead to her eventual death.

She passed someone shouting obscenities towards a HGV which was disappearing into the distance.

“Way my luck is going today I’m surprised that weren’t me” thought Connie as she stared at the soaking wet angry pedestrian.

It was then she remembered about her text and paused her journey to retrieve her phone.

As she was about to type in her pin code something out of the corner of her eye caused her to look up from her phone and towards the crumbling old building.

The front of the pub looked as always uninviting and Connie would have returned to her phone were it not for the woman standing to the side adjusting a wooden sign.

It was initially the blue hair that caused Connie’s gaze to linger longer than she might have. The woman squatted down to write something on the board, her black sleeveless t-shirt riding up to reveal an intricate tattoo of a crescent moon on the small of her back.

The woman moved away revealing what she had written under the heading ‘Today’s Specials’.

Trouble Free

It was a curious thing to write but nevertheless for a brief moment that simple phrase caused Connie to smile.

“Gotta write something.” said the woman breaking Connie’s intense focus on the board.

“No specials?” Connie enquired.

“We haven’t done anything special here for quite sometime” the woman replied.

“Are you okay?” she asked noting the rawness in Connie’s eyes from where she had been crying.

“Just having a bad day, that’s all” replied Connie.

The woman smiled, there was a kindness to her face but Connie was in no doubt that this woman could handle herself if need be.

“Come inside for a drink then” the woman suggested “As the sign says, we are trouble free”

“I didn’t think you were open” said Connie looking up at the building with it’s flaky paint and cracked windows.

The woman followed her gaze and shrugged “This place is never closed to the troubled” she said with a smile and then opened the creaky wooden door to go inside.

Connie paused for a moment, twiddling her phone between her fingers. It had been a rough day already. Maybe just a quick drink to collect her thoughts.

If the mysterious blue haired woman was right maybe it would be a trouble free respite, even if this was unlikely to be the most comfortable place she had ever been in. What harm would one drink do? It’s not as if her day could get any worse.

Putting the phone back in her pocket she opened the door and entered the pub.

That simple act meant she would not die that day; her story would continue. Yet it was now a different story and one that still may not necessarily end well for Connie….Or for anyone for that matter.

Part Three >