I’ll hold you forever.
That was our phrase. We used it whenever one of us was feeling adrift, needing reassurance, needing to know things were well between us after arguing.
Needed it, to know that things were well after we made love.
We stopped seeing each other the day I hesitated; she retreated from me and stayed upstairs, in her claustrophobic room, refusing me several times a day.
She’d always been quirky, effusive, but with a loose connection to reality. To hold her was to bring her back to herself, and me.
Those days are over, but I check on her now and then, and when I do, she gets stranger still.
In her hands is an offering, and whenever I look in, she holds it out for me to see; it seems to be something between a heart and a flower, but I see no blood, and there are no plants.
“What is that, Tavia?” I took a step further than I should have, and she pulled it away.
The silence seemed to pulse, and her eyes seemed to gleam in the semidarkness as she folded herself against the wall.
I stopped, and sought sanctuary in the doorway once again, keeping my distance.
She looked at me, the glittering light shining in her eyes from an unseen source, or perhaps from the object in her hand.
Slowly, she lifted it out to me again, trusting.
Slowly, I reached out my hands to take it. “What is it?”
The object pulsed, and I hesitated, but she didn’t pull it back. “What is this, Tavia?”
I kept one hand at my side now, lest I be bound in some way, and she’d be free to harm me.
My fingers were just grazing it when it pulsed again, and something locked my wrist so I could not break free.
As Tavia drew it back, it drew more of me inside of it, pulsing and growing.
The pain was keen enough to turn my screams to hoarse grunting; I couldn’t save myself, and I couldn’t kill her.
Bracing my free hand on the wall behind her, I pushed back against the dark force that seized me as quick and sure as a wilderness hunter’s trap.
She smiled, and her own hands began to glow asthe pull grew stronger. She was giving it strength to overpower me. Writhing like a hooked fish, I kicked and screamed and cursed at her, but all she did was give me her glittery eyed stare, seeming not to comprehend was she was doing, that she was killing me.
The force of the pull was like an ocean current, and I wasn’t fit to endure it long. My lone fist punching the wall behind her, looking to break through to find a handhold, was neither strong enough or sufficiently expert to find one.
“Tavia! Tavia, let me go!”
“I can’t, Jeral.”
“Why can’t you?”
“I am only a gatherer.”
“Gatherer?” I fought harder.
“I merely gather the souls and send them to my lord.”
“And who is this lord?”
Her smile was feral. “We don’t say his name, and you wouldn’t know it if I did.”
I stopped struggling. My strength was failing. “Why my soul?”
That gave her pause, and she gazed at me a long moment, watched me grieving the inevitable, ignoble death she was about to impose.
“I wanted to share with you. I tried.”
“It was too much.”
“But even so, could you not have loved me?”
I now gazed at her a long moment, and knowing death was imminent, saw no reason to be any more dishonest with her than I’d already been.
“I tried, and I tried to tell you we were losing it, but you were oblivious.”
She bristled at that, but stayed silent, and a dark film began to envelope the object in which she’d trapped me, tears running down her face as I was hidden from view.
I don’t know if I still existed physically, but when her lord came for me, I felt her hold me, the warmth of her soft hands seeping through the shell, and offer me up to him.
He took the proffered object in one hand, and ran the other along its surface.
As it passed over me, there was only blinding agony, and then—
I’ll hold you forever…