REFUSE THE DANCE

The road ran from the resort town of Missing Heath in the mountains through Blackbridge to the cities of the south beyond. The road – It goes without saying – was long, the car’s headlights doing little to alleviate the blackness in which the man travelled; illuminating only twenty feet or so in front of the speeding vehicle.

Its occupant blinked, fighting back his fatigue as he tried to follow the broken white line that preceded the small blue car.

Cats eyes, embedded within their protective rubber, rushed past, their reflective shine mocking the feeble headlight beams.

The man turned the radio up higher as the talk show host introduced another caller, a man named Richard who was apparently concerned with passive smoking on public transport.

The driver sighed, rubbing his tired eyes with the heel of his hand and half listened to Richard’s dull monologue. Lindsay, the shows host, spoke, her vaguely attractive voice drifting from the speaker.

You sound as bored as I feel, the man thought and glanced yet again at the car phone between the front seats.

Along the darkened highway the girl walked, tears of anger and humiliation clouding her vision.

Normally the night would have scared her, nothing would have persuaded her to walk the lonely, exposed track of tarmac, but things do they always do. It was one of the fundamental facts of lift that the girl had learned so many times over.

She pulled the jacket she wore tighter around her, but id didn’t help against the biting cold of the night. The wind tore through it and the short skirt she wore with little resistance, her fingers had been numb for the last hour, her wrists and forearms for the last forty minutes, her legs had gone too, making her stumble along like a little girl in her mothers shoes.

It was beginning to occur to her that she may be freezing to death, but the idea was a remote one and all she could feel was a distant complacency concerning it. The road she’d travelled had been such a long one, its dark corners too treacherous for even the most street hardened to survive without wounds to show for it.

The girl had her wounds, deep ones that scarred her heart but left her well enough to walk further along the lost highway.

She thought, arranging and re-arranging the occurrences of her life in some foolish attempt to make some sense of it all, even though no-one knew her would consider her a foolish soul.

Clever could not come close to describing her, she was more intelligent than even she suspected. Her problems was that her heart was strong, and in straight battle between it and her mind her heart always left no prisoners or gave up any ground. Her mind, strong as it was, never stood a chance to it; it always lost, as it had done tonight.

When she felt the first drops of rain a sickening shiver ran through her as she staggered to a halt in a near panic to find shelter of some description, but in the sheer blackness around her she saw nothing, knowing that in this darkness she could be feet away from shelter and not see it. She looked down at the faint image of her feet, blotches of grey in a confusing monochrome world of greys and blacks.

As the wind buffeted her, the rain began to fall harder and the young woman wished that she was merely freezing once more.

Some miles behind her the car sped, constantly closing the distance. Inside the man yawned as he switched over the windscreen wipers to double speed. On the radio Lindsay spoke, drawing her conversation with Richard to a close moments before David Bowie and Mick Jagger began to singe of people dancing in the streets, the man tapping the steering wheel in rhythm.

Nothing else changed, the car was like a time capsule moving through the night with the only reality being an invading force on the radio.

The man knew he would have to stop eventually, if he failed to find a twenty-four hour petrol station then the side of the road would have to do. Either way he knew he would have to, driving in this state was foolish at best, his attention could barely be contained on the strip of blackness before him, so he had little choice, and he had to stop or find some other way to cease his minds endless wanderings. The man smiled, he knew he had the attention span of a goldfish at the very best of times.

Five minutes, he promised himself, five and I’ll pull over, maybe have fifty winks.

In the darkness through the veil of rain he saw something, a pale flicker of movement. Instantly his feet slammed down on the clutch and brake and the car slid, skating on a fine skin of rainwater.

Heart slamming the blood between his temples, the driver fought for control against a car that seemed possessed by evil spirits intent on some vicious deed. The man twisted the wheel into the skid, trying to angle the tyres into the direction of slide, praying for their tread to bite into the wet tarmac. Finally he reined the evil beast in and won, the car grinding to a halt.

The young woman, half deafened by the pounding rain, never heard its approach until something huge slammed through the air beside her.

Her mind, driven to irrationality by the cold and pain, saw it as a beast, a thing conjured from the deepest recesses of the sickest man’s mind.

She shrieked, throwing herself backward into the shallow ditch beside the slick tarmac of the hellish road. The thing rocked, swaying across the whole highway before it stopped sliding to a standstill, affording the young woman a view of its low, blood red eyes and she felt sure that it was indeed a monster.

Suddenly light sprang on from inside, and she saw a figure move behind glass.

A car!

It was a car that was all!

That was all? She thought. Oh! Lord!

She pushed herself from the ditch, sliding on its slick sides and the figure from the car moving in her direction. She slid, her nylon clad legs sinking deeper into the thick mud. Thoughts of quicksand suddenly filled her mind and in panic she began to kick frantically until a hand slipped around her bicep and dragged her from the marshy ditch.

The car, now tamed with its engine idling, tilted and shook as she climbed into the passenger seat. The man climbed in beside her, his body twisted to half face her as be babbled an almost continual stream of drivel in her direction. The words washed over her broken mind as the warmth of the cars heater dried her sodden clothes, but all the meaning in his words were lost on her, she caught a phrase here, a word there, but that was all. All she felt she needed to know for now was that she was out of the cold, if anything else turned up, and then she’d deal with it when it came.

She looked over to the man briefly and thought, but maybe I’m not safe yet.

He was twenty-six if a day past the age where most bothered to try to be interesting, his clothing was neat though a little out of sync with current fashion, and his dark blue eyes showed nothing but an innocent concern, but it wasn’t clear if his concern was for her or for himself.

She looked away, kicking off her single shoe; the other gone lost in the ditch presumably, and pinched her stockings between thumb and forefinger, tugging the torn laddered nylon from a muddied graze that ran up her calf almost to her knee.

The man, unnoticed by wither of them, had fallen into silence, his eyes moving over the wicked rip through her stocking in her leg. Unknown to the girl her skirt had twisted and rode up her right thigh, allowing him a view of the dark band that encircled the snow white top of her leg.

It was obvious by her dress that she’d been out nightclubbing in one of the larger cities to the south, her cropped leather jacket and mid-thigh length skirt affording her so little cover from the cold that she must have endured. His gazes moved to a profile of her face as she inspected her wound, not a single syllable had escaped her yet, no explanation of why she was dressed for partying but had been walking in that freezing maelstrom since God only knew when.

The man was worried, it may have been a wise move to just keep on going, he still could, and he could push her from his car, then from his mind and simply drive on. Instead he dragged his knapsack from behind the back-seat and pushed it into her arms, twisted and stepped out into the biting rain.

The woman gazed at the grey canvas bag, her lower lip trembling and her hands visibly shaking as she clutched it.

When he had moved so fast her mind had ceased and fear had descended on her so fast she thought she’d drown. For one eternally fleeting moment she had found herself caught in a vacuum, then the bag had fallen into her lap and the man was just as quickly gone, leaving her alone in the warm cocoon of his car.

Cautiously she unclipped the bags hood and pulled the drawstring that secured the top open, the young woman peered inside.

Should she feel shame? No, a moment’s kindness hadn’t proved a thing. His actions had so far proved nothing.

She turned off the interior light and peered around through the rain-streaked glass for him. Then, confident that if she couldn’t see him he couldn’t see her, she began to change.

Not before she locked all the doors however.

His long raincoat kept him relatively dry and the wind had little chance to touch him, but still his legs had gone numb.

The light on the dashboard had gone out so he thought it safe to assume she’s accepted his invitation to change and he found himself shocked to discover how deeply pleased he was that she had.

He glanced at the black hulk of the car once more, squinting through the stinging pellets of rain; already this silent, hurt woman had struck something within him making the concept of moving on without her a joke, a delusion. Some people had a magic you simply could not say ‘no’ to.

Here he stood in this ferocious rain while a stranger changed into his clothes inside his car. A car he’d left the keys in, so the heater could keep her warm. Foolishly he smiled to himself, aware that any moment the car could start up and disappear down the road, stranding him here, but trusting that this wouldn’t happen.

The minutes ticked by like hours, and he thought irresistibly of a line from Romeo and Juliet; ‘I will wait every day within the hour, for in a minute there are many days.’

He sensed movement and his gaze snapped to the car from which it had wandered, the light inside it was on once more.

When he saw her he was shocked, not because of how different she appeared even though she did, he was shocked because of the choices she’d made. The trousers she’s picked were his heaviest, an old army surplus pair that was grey, broad belted with buttons instead of a zip. Her too-big toe capped boots matched, but most disturbingly she had buried herself under at least two shirts that he could count, and an enormous pullover that was too large even for him.

He sat, slamming the door a little too heavily behind him, her gaze snapping to meet his own for the first time and, her long dark hair pulled back into a loose ponytail, he saw the girl properly for the maiden time.

Her flesh had lost its unhealthy blue-grey sheen and, though she was still pale, her understated beauty struck him. With cheekbones so high they seemed almost beside her dark, sad eyes, she looked like an abandoned child of royalty. Her lips were set straight foreboding, with no love lost for anyone.

The sight of her angry, sad perfection struck pain into his heart and he was mildly aware of his hand reaching to his chest.

“Thank you.” She said, but her words were as cold as the lips that spoke them and the phantom pain struck again.

His eyes tore from her and instantly the pain vanished.

Concentrating hard, he popped the handbrake with trembling hands and slipped the car into gear and began his trek once more.

Like that they drove, his gentle questions going unanswered until he gave up and only the radio spoke, sometimes with song other times with callers. Even the man’s sideways glances ebbed away once he discovered that his chest began to hurt every time he did.

The woman sat unmoving, staring out over the darkened road, through not seeing it. Her mind was in another place, another car in fact, re-experiencing hell only hours old.

When he heard her tears he didn’t look, he couldn’t bear to knowing the consequences, so her crying joined the radio as the only sounds in their tiny world travelling through limbo.

The man, driven to distraction, began to speak, the words themselves unimportant, as before she found in them a calming affect.

Gradually the young woman’s tears subsided, drawn from her by his almost senseless rhetoric, but still he spoke, his words drifting in tone and content toward a place he did not wish to go.

From the corner of his eye he saw the lovely young woman staring at him, her face-swollen red around her eyes, and a stark contrast to the pastiness of her cheeks and forehead. The man looked at her, his heart twisting in his chest, and frowned at her questioningly, then quickly looked back at the road.

“So what your name?” He asked her over the murmur of the radio, glad of her inadvertent rescuer from the road of his mind.

Hands hidden under the long sleeves of her pullover, the woman crossed her arms over her chest and looked down at her feet.

“Marianne.” She answered simply, voice still cold.

“Jacob.” The man crossed his right hand over his left arm for her to shake, still grasping the wheel with his left. Not at all surprised when she ignored it he placed it back on the wheel and forced a smile over his lips.

“So where are you going?”

Something flickered across her face, Jacob missing it entirely. Marianne shifted in her seat and crossed her legs, right over left.

She had no idea where, she hadn’t thought of it. Quickly she rooted through her mind desperately, but there was nowhere, the car was heading away from the only place she had ever been welcome, and there was no way she could ever return.

Not after what had happened.

She opened her mouth to answer, and then closed it with a snap.

Jacob looked over, biting his lip as he frowned in bleak consternation, then he slowly relaxed and spoke quietly.

“You don’t have anywhere to go do you?” Silently she shrugged and Jacob plunged on ahead. “You’re running from someone!”

Immediately she shook her head vigorously, her dark eyes looked up at him, fresh tears spilling down her face, her tiny voice saying, “no!”

The pain slammed through him, the car swerving. Putting a hand to his chest he took a deep breath and mercilessly continued.

“You are, don’t lie to me. What happened?”

Marianne sobbed, burying her face in the soft wool that covered her arms, her whole body rocking with the force of her pain.

Jacob groaned, pushing himself back into his seat.

This wasn’t easy, he thought, not at all. There was little he could do for her, no way he could help unless he took her to a hospital or contacted the police, and he was reluctant to do either until he knew more.

He half listened to Lindsay talk over the static infested speaker as he thought, trying to make sense of how a night can so suddenly change. He leaned forward and turned the radio up a little more and froze, his gaze moving to the car phone between the front seats. He picked it up and dialled from memory the number the radio constantly played and waited, glancing at the woman who cried beside him oblivious to his actions.

Only when he spoke did the young woman react, looking up through her tear-dazed eyes as he mumbled to the man on the other end of the line, after a moments conversation dropping the phone into the crook between head and shoulder, holding it there with the pressure of his head.

“What are you doing?” She spoke as he waited; he was pleased despite the alarm of her voice, a reaction at last.

Jacob waited until she asked again then, forcing an offhand tone into his voice he answered.

“Well what’s the point in talking to you? You’re no an…”

A shrill voice on the other end of the phone line cut him off and, at its request; he turned the radio down a little.

Marianne’s eyes followed his hand, her first impulse was to rip the phone from his grasp, but he was driving in the rain, and she knew that the odds of survival if the car crashed were non-existent.

It surprised her that she cared, half an hour ago she wouldn’t have but now, inexplicitly she did.

“Is it the police?” She asked, her voice low.

Jacob glanced at her then, on the radio, Lindsay spoke.

“Our next caller is Jacob from…. from where Jake?”

From next to Marianne the man spoke into the phone in reply.

“No fixed abode Lins.”

“So you’re a traveller?”

“Not a Gypsy, if that’s what you’re thinking, just a drifter of sorts. “He glanced across to his passenger and smiled.”

The woman on the phone coughed quietly, Jacob hearing its echoes a second later over the radio.

“So what’s on your mind? She asked in her lyrical voice.

He thought for a moment, Marianne watching as his brow wrinkled, her first impressions may have been wrong, he may no be the blank innocent she’s assumed.

Jacob, his thoughts collected, began to speak.

“I was driving along this dark, lonely stretch of road thinking about my life you know? I was thinking and something occurred to me.”

“That was?” Lindsay asked.

“How little we know of each other. I have no idea what my mothers favourite colour was for instance, I don’t even remember the colour of her eyes, and it worried me.”

“You mean that it worried you that you knew so little of someone who was so close?”

“Exactly.”

Marianne’s face was a picture of confusion, her brow a wrinkled mass as she gazed at the heavy gold ring that rested on Jacobs’s third finger.

Did he know? And if he did, how did he? Her eyes shot to the radio as Lindsay spoke again.

“So are you asking if it’s normal? Because it is a think.”

“Pretty sad state then”, Jacob shot back, “if ignorance is ever considered normal.”

The word ‘normal’ revered, the radio echo punctuating the idea, then fell silent. Jacob waited a moment.

“Lindsay?”

“I’m here, there’s not a great deal I can say to you there. You’re right of course Jake, but think of it this way; have you ever told her anything? Your favourite colour? Anything.”

“No”, he said and smiled an unpleasant knowing smile, “but she knew it all anyway.”

From across the miles Lindsay signed.

“I guess the moral of this tale is its good to talk, eh?” She laughed softly at her bad humour. “Well lets give someone else a chance to talk Jacob my friend, so keep well.”

“Yeah sure Lins, you too.” On the phone there was a click and the air went momentarily dead on the radio before the same woman, it was hard to believe it was the same woman, introduced another caller. Jacob slid the phone into its cradle, his eyes momentarily looking with Marianne’s.

“What was all that about? She asked and he found himself even more pleased, her cold tone had been replaced with an in comprehending curiosity.

“It’s true don’t you think?”

She looked away, arms still crossed, hands still invisible.

“Don’t tell me. You’re an artist right?” Her sarcasm weighed heavily, she pronounced ‘artist’ to rhyme with ‘prick’.

“Cause only an artist could talk such crap.”

Jacob smiled yet again and suddenly Marianne pursed her lips and nearly shrieked.

“Stop laughing at me!” She half shouted like a child taunted by an adult, Jakes smile sliding from his face.

“I’m sorry!” He said, meaning it, for when she spoke she’d sounded so lost that the pain in his chest had returned. From the corner of his eye he watched as her fine fingered left hand emerged from its woollen cocoon, a large dark brown graze covering the pad of her thumb. She twisted the volume of the cheap radio-cassette and Lindsay’s voice dropped to a murmur. Slowly Jacobs beautiful passenger’s head twisted on her slim neck and Jacob found his gaze torn from the road.

“Do you want to know why I’m running?” She asked softly.

The drivers’ breath caught, Marianne’s eyes were that of a stormy sea, dark, dangerous and inescapable. Jacob found that he did not want to know under any circumstances, ever. But the woman’s eyes washed over him, their dark waves forcing him below their surface, him fighting but failing and finally saying ‘yes’.

Magic he couldn’t say ‘no’ to.

She smiled and her spell broke, the driver snapping his attention back to the ever-present white line before them.

Marianne began her story with a steady, even voice that belied the tears that Jacob was sure he saw in her eyes.

With every word the pain in his chest seemed to increase.

“I have to start a long time ago”, she said over the bug like murmur of the radio, “eight years is a long time when you’re twenty-two.”

“I was fourteen when I was first raped, he was a boy in my history class and I was a virgin.” She paused and Jacob, a lump the size of a golf ball in his throat, stole a look.

“I thought it was normal. I had nothing to compare it to you understand.” She met his gaze with her own, and his eyes suddenly felt hot and heavy. Marianne nodded to the road and obediently Jacob studied the crescent of light before the car.

“It sounds so silly when I say it out loud. He said yes, and I said no. So, being the stronger, he took what he wanted. It wasn’t long before he left me lying on the thin, worn carpet tiles of the classroom with my blouse and underwear torn from me.

“I never told a soul. My mother died in childbirth and my father”, her voice faltered and there was another pause before she recovered and continued, “my father wasn’t much of a father. He never hurt me, but he never had much time for me either, I was the invisible girl.

“It wasn’t until a long time later that I connected what happed to me with the word ‘rape’. I was probably seventeen or so, and the incident had faded in my mind to a grotesque dream. Up until recently that’s exactly what I thought it was, a vivid dream like I sometimes have.

“Eventually I met someone.” Marianne’s voice dropped low, her gaze examining a far off world as Jacob watched from the corner of his eye. Her words had been accompanied by a dull irregular drumbeat that boomed through his head and settled behind each ear.

In his chest the pain thumped in unison.

“He was nice”, her voice had gained a lilting, singsong quality of miss-managed opportunity, “I liked him a lot, but when he began to ask for things I couldn’t give I grew afraid and ran from him.”

“That’s when things got bad. Wall’s in my mind crumbled to dust and I couldn’t pretend it was a dream any more.” The woman’s eyes cleared and she looked over to him.

“My father took me to see a shrink, and then a specialised councillor and I met other women who’d been hurt in the same way.

“Eventually I began to cope again, four years; a quarter of my life was spent trying to deal with it. I never left the house, unless it was to go to the centre, but after a while I discovered that I could, just. The world began to feel real again.”

Marianne’s eyes clouded, and Jacob felt his legs go numb with sudden fear. Just as quickly her eyes cleared and she smiled a shocking open smile, but Jakes far did not abate.

“For the last year things had been fine, until tonight. I even began to lose my fear of men.” She said, sliding down into her seat, her look drifting mercifully from him.

“There was a girl at the centre called Jenny who I spoke to more than most and it was her brother that I began to see. I figured that the brother of a rape victim must be safe.”

Unbidden the driver found his gaze upon her again, his fear turning to horror as she waited, jaw set and eyes straight ahead. He too waited, knowing he’d have to ask, knowing what she’d say.

“What happened tonight?” Jacob said in a quiet, drained voice. The voice of a corpse dragged from a grave.

“All that you think did”, Marianne responded, “and much more besides.”

He turned his head from her dizzying image, back to the road, the never-ending road. The nape of his neck had begun to tingle and the hairs on his arms had stood, as if trying to abandon him.

“We were on our way home; we’d gone to one of his friends parties. Me, him, Jenny, and her boyfriend.” Her left hand made an appearance again, to tuck a loose strand of hair behind an ear; its job done it disappeared once more.

“Jenny was stoned”, she reminisced sadly, “she was always stoned, she and her man had the back seat and they’d began to use it before she passed out, but he went on and used her anyway.”

Her voice broke, groaning rather than speaking her last words, the driver grasped the wheel in bloodless hands.

Suddenly a shaking fit ripped through him, his whole body quaking for perhaps thirty seconds before settling. Jacob gasped, the world greying as he fought to control his turbulent cocktail of emotions. Next to him Marianne calmly watched, waiting before collecting herself to continue.

“From the corner of my eye I watched as her brother grinned brainlessly and I knew I was in trouble. Before long, bored with her I suppose, the thing on her call to Tim, her brother, to pull over, then they both leered at me and the car turned to ice and my clothes to vapour.” Fresh tears spilled down Marianne’s cheeks and she no longer groaned the words, she sobbed them.

Jacob sat in the pocket universe of his car, trapped with passenger’s anguish and his own hot shame, a miniature hell on wheels. In the passengers seat Marianne coughed taking a deep breath.

“I probably begged I hoped I didn’t but I think I probably did. I know I fought and kicked, but there were two of them.” She shrugged, her head lolling to one side drunkenly. “It took years of forcing and punching and hurting before they had their fill. Then they sat back in the car and waited, Tim smiling and saying. ‘C’mon honey get in.’ it was the smile that did it I think. I mean he actually smiled!”

Another shaking fit ripped through Jacob and again Marianne waited for the phenomenon to pass. He glanced across to her questioning gaze, then back at the road.

“I think its shame”, he said, making believe he was alone, that he wasn’t speaking to this emotional storm disgusting as a woman. “Serial killers are men, rapists are men, men designed the H-bomb and men used it. I’m not saying that a world of women would be perfect, but it’d be a better one I’m sure.”

Jacob frowned and bit his lip in frustration. Sighing he asked. “You hurt him didn’t you?”

“I did more that that”, she replied through a grim smile, “in the glove box he always kept a few tools. So when I sat down in the passenger’s seat I calmly popped it open and reached in. My eyes were fixed on Tim so I reached in blindly, grasping the first thing my fingers touched. He was looking at me like a fool, mouth half open to speak and before he knew it, before even I did, the tip of the screwdriver I’d grabbed pierced his lip, smashing a tooth before I felt it pop through the back of his throat. I think it went into his spinal column because he twitched, spasms, and then just died, simple as that.

“Boring really, he died so damn easy it made me mad. The other big brave man bolted for it, ran.”

Marianne laughed shrilly and Jacob winced. Strangely he felt little fear now, just a dull sadness that complemented the pain in his heart to perfection.

“Ran from little me”, Marianne finally continued when her fit had passed, “I caught him easily, and he was floundering around like an elephant. This was before the rain, while there was still light. I still had the blue handled screwdriver, so I struck out with it, he screamed and we toppled over together, me scratching the hell out of myself on the tarmac. Blood pumped out everywhere, he was choking and gagging, coughing it up. I sat next to him and watched until he stopped, the screwdriver sticking out of his throat at an odd angle.

“I wondered if there was a saw in the car, so I could cut up the bodies and leave them out for the birds. I thought of Jenny still lay on the back-seat and I thought of killing her too, putting her drug intoxicated brain out of its misery, but instead I stood and walked away.”

Her tale told; the young woman looked down, studying her arms that were hidden beneath the thick sweater.

Slowly the world solidified around the Jacob once more, the radio’s murmur, the cars engine, and the warm air coming from the heater becoming real again, as he was released from the vicious world of Marianne’s past.

“That’s all of it really; I began to walk the road and a long while later you came along.” She paused for a lifetime, eyes darting around, desperate for a distraction, finally finding the radio he turned it up.

“Well?” She asked finally over the sound of Lindsay’s voice, and then her own voice dropped to a whisper. “Are you going to say something?”

Jacob sat his face an impassable wall, staring out over the headlight beams. It was impossible for him to put it all together.

She was both incapable of committing such acts, and telling the whole truth simultaneously. He looked across to her.

“What are you going to do?” He asked, voice calm.

“I don’t know.” She said, her words belittling the profound depth of her loss, but she knew that she did. Only one option really presented itself, an option hidden from Jacobs view. Her right hand, forever hidden, made its début, unfolding like a flower exposing its secret treasure.

Jacob screamed, for the second time his feet slamming down on the clutch and brake, the car skidding.

Blood fountained as the Stanley knife, the one that lived in the car’s glove box, bit deep into flesh, slashing through veins and tendons with little resistance.

The car stopped and Jacob pounced at the blade bit again. Her hands encircling her forearm but the cut, from wrist to elbow, deep enough to show bone, a crevice that led to her very soul, could not be closed. The knife switched hands and, weakly, Marianne opened her other arm, Jacob wresting the blade from her before it cut too deep. It fell to the dirty carpeting beneath the passenger seat, and Jacob ignored it, his hands busily trying to cut off Marianne’s gyrating flow of blood.

Weakly she whispered words that even his own furious heart and frantic hands he could still hear, words she repeated until she spoke no more.

Jacob howled the black, feral howl of a lone beast. When the howl faded he sat and ran her last words over and over in his head. His whole body shaking as he sobbed, crying because he knew of nothing else he could do. Through his confusion, pain and shame her words, her final wish, cut, driving him out of the car into the rain.

Around the car he wondered, his body on automatic, his mind elsewhere as he prepared, working long her words, her commandments.

It didn’t take long for him to finish, even so his arms were blue, his legs non-existent as they carried him away from the car that was to become Marianne’s final resting place.

He felt the heat before the explosion robbed him of his hearing. He felt his unprotected neck burn and his hair caught fire. His body lifted, carried along by a purifying wind that he’s help unleash, flames licking over his skin, clothes setting aflame.

Jacob slammed into the ditch at the side of the road, into the rainwater caught within that doused his burning body, its ice cold mercifully killing the pain of his broken form.

There he laid, eyes staring into the black sky, hard rain pelting down on him, a drunken weariness flowing through him, his eyes fluttering closed.

It would not take long he knew.

As he died Jacob remembered Marianne’s final words; ‘don’t let them touch me Jacob, please don’t let them.’

He remembered her dark, sad eyes and her royal cheekbones.

He remembered her tears, but most of all he remembered her pain and his own hearts empathic but feeble echo of it.

They can’t touch you now, he thought.

In the never ending cruelty of the road the car burned, turning flesh to smoke.

In the cold lonely ditch Jacobs frozen heart stopped, and across his lips, cold and dead as they were, a sad smile stretched.

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