Letter 11: For the Living

Gladys Vandelay – For the Living
By Rock Kitaro

For the Living 1

“Honestly, I don’t care about dead people. So stupid. When you die, you’re either conscious of nothing or you’re in heaven or hell or whatever the hell you believe. Either way, you’re not part of this world anymore. And in that sense, I envy them. If anything, I actually feel more sorry for the living. They have it worse. Especially the friends and family members who have lost their loved ones. I mean, if they really loved you. The pain of no longer being able to see you, to enjoy your presence, to feel your touch, to hear your voice, it only adds to the burden of being alive.”

“Geez, Elliot. If I didn’t know any better, sounds like you’re in league with the cynics of old. It’s like you’re saying there’s no point to being alive. That it’s better not to have been born at all.”

“Nah, I wouldn’t go so far as to say all that. Life is full of hardships and tragedies, yeah. But there’s also triumphs and success, our own personal achievements. Marriage. The birth of a child. Winning something you busted your ass for. Things like that make it all worth while. I just wish…”

“You wish what?”

“I just wish I knew what it felt like to love someone and have them love me the same way. I never had that. I’ve never had someone who wasn’t related to me tell me that they loved me on a romantic level. You see it on TV. On commercials, especially around the holidays. So much so that you’d think it’s normal for everyone to be loved and have someone. That it’s a quintessential moment in everyone’s life. But it’s never happened for me. That’s why love is cruel. Because it’s not guaranteed that everyone will have it.”

“Ah. Poor baby!”

“Haha! Yeah, Gladys, you laugh about it now. But once you hit thirty, as yours truly so recently did, it does give way to pause. It makes you wonder if…It makes me wonder if I’ve ever been alive at all. All this time. Can I truly describe what it feels like to be alive?”

Elliot…Ellie…El. He was my Paramour. Mine. All mine.

I opened my eyes to a gray ceiling fan with cracks in the wood. Everything in the room looked old, as if the house was taken straight from a post-civil war documentary. The windows were milky and stained. The dresser looked like a device for splinters. My bed was twin size with a rusty iron headboard. Even my pillow was stuffed with real feathers. I could feel the stems pricking through the pillowcase, scratching at my neck.

My bullet wounds were patched up. Someone had sewn me shut and dressed me in a faded pink nightgown. There was a table on the other side of the room with a pitcher and two tin cups. I was thirsty like you wouldn’t believe, so I got up.

Anyone wondering if I was awake wouldn’t have to wonder long. I was so weak. My bones felt brittle. As soon as I tried to stand, I crumbled to the floor with this wooden crash that probably sounded much louder than it was. The problem was, I couldn’t hear anyone else. I was on the second floor and sound carried.

Not wanting to break anything, I hugged the wall and hobbled to the table like an old woman. There was nothing in the pitcher. I expected water.

Timed perfectly with my groan was a howling wind that rustled through the last leaves of a withering tree just outside my window. And through the branches, I saw the distant figure of Anna Marie all dressed in black. She was deep in the woods and her long hair shrouded her face, but I knew it was her. I grabbed sheets from the bed, wrapped up, and left.

In the downstairs kitchen was a family of African-Americans. A mother, a father, and three toddlers. They were all so quiet as fuck that it creeped me out. I could sense the feeling was mutual. They stared like I was a ghost wandering the halls. No one said anything, not even so much as a greeting.

Finally, I just shuffled over to their breakfast table and grabbed about four strips of bacon. “Thank you.” I whispered before scurrying off. But of course, my bed sheets got caught on the crease in the floorboard. I tripped, scraping my knees and the children laughed. I whipped around to see which ones, but only caught the tail end of the mother snapping her fingers at them.

“Who are you people?” I asked.

“The owners of the house you’re staying in.” the father told me.

“I don’t suppose you have a name?”

“Just call me, the caretaker.”

I squinted at him. “Did you put me in this nightgown.”

The mother rolled her neck with spiked brows, a matrimonial warning, not worth ignoring. So I threw up my hands and whispered, “Sorry.”

“You should put on more clothes before you go out.” she said.

“I don’t have any clothes.”

She rolled her eyes, “Stay there, ya hear.”

I stepped out into frigid air with thick gray clouds looming overhead. The mother provided me with clean underwear, blue jeans that were two sizes too big, black traveling boots, a red flannel shirt and a brown jacket that felt like a tarp made of cattle hide.

Geographically…I predicted we were someplace in upstate New York or possibly Pennsylvania. As I trudged through the woods against icy winds, I wondered how long had I been out. With each step, I could feel a sharp sting in my thigh. The wounds hadn’t fully healed but I managed.

I found Anna in a clearing about a hundred yards from the house. So solemn she was, bound in a black overcoat with her long hair tucked in the collar. I stepped lightly, like a kitten to milk left by a stranger. Once by her side, I leaned forward to see her face. She kept her gaze to the ground. And there, I saw two graves. Stones outlined two man-size patches of dark soil.

She pointed, “My man. And yours. We lost them both on the same night. What are the odds?”

Guilt swelled in my chest as warm saline glossed my eyes. I had to ask, “Do you blame me? For what happened?”

“Tell me, Gladys. What exactly did you think would happen? That Marcus and I would kiss and live happily ever after? Hmm?”

My jaw went slack. Like a child, I mumbled, “But you told me that—“

I literally choked on my words as Anna grabbed me by my throat and pulled me close. I saw the pain in her eyes, the twitch in her cheeks.

“I’m sorry!” I whimpered.

“You’re sorry?! Sorry won’t bring them back, Gladys!”

“But I did bring him back!”

She let go and pumped her fist like she was about to hit me. “You brought him back?” she said.

“Yes. You thought he was dead and I brought him back to you. He wasn’t dead. You see?”

“He is now! And what, you think I should thank you? I’m not stupid, puta! Your ambitions don’t escape me. You we’re planning on using him, to convert me, to get your revenge. Well guess what. You got it. It’s all over the news. You’re famous. Gladys Vandelay, the spoiled little rich kid who killed both her daddy, her sister, and dozens of soldiers. They’re calling you a terrorist. A manslayer.”

I shook my head with a clenched jaw. That’s what the mere mention of my father does to me. “Anna…we are terrorists.”

“I’m not a fucking terrorist!” She shouted. “I was part of an organization that stood for something. And thanks to you, I betrayed them.”

“You betrayed yourself! Marcus loved you and you betrayed him.”

“Bitch, I will cut you from ear to ear.”

“I’m not afraid anymore.” I shrugged. “What’s the point?!”

“Don’t call me a terrorist!”

“Alright, Anna! Geez!”

We stood there for some time staring at the graves.

“I really am sorry about Marcus. I spoke with him a great deal. I can see why you liked him.”

Anna sniffled. “What did he say?”

“He said he knew you had a tough exterior but that you were soft underneath.”

“Pfft! Everyone is soft underneath. He would say something stupid like that.”

I smirked. “Elliot…my man. He warned us that things would turn out like this. I mean, he really did give Marcus and me all kinds of shit about it. But your man, Marcus. He said he just wanted to see you again. He wasn’t going to convince you to turn from your ways or betray the Society. He just wanted to hold you once more.”

Anna scoffed and rolled her eyes. “He always said he wanted to die in my arms. Fucking idiot.” She said before blurting out in a frustrated laugh.

“Anna, they’re all idiots. Men…”

We laughed. We cried. We honored their memories with laughter and tears and for better or worse, we said our goodbyes to the only men who could invoke such sentiment.

About an hour later, Anna and I started walking aimlessly through the woods by a narrow stream of trickling freshwater. She asked me where I had been for the past year. I asked her the same. Neither of us wanted to share. So we didn’t.

“I met the caretaker. Who are they?” I asked her.

“Gladys, I have contacts all over the world. I have so many sleeper cells. The Society doesn’t even know.”

“Okay, so who are they?”

“Friends, Gladys. They can be trusted. Speaking of friends. Your man, Elliot. I saw him rappel down a building and fling himself through a window to save you. It was pretty impressive. Where on earth did you find someone like that?”

To be honest, I was reluctant. I never swore some oath of loyalty to the Paramours. I wasn’t even sure whom I owed my allegiance to.

“Anna…if you were anyone else and I told you that there’s this secret underground organization of women hell-bent on taking over the world, it would sound crazy right? But what if I told you that there’s another secret organization, one who knows about the society and exists solely for the purpose of undermining the Swords of St. Catherine? Like shields.”

Anna furrowed her brows. “You mean there’s another society competing against us.”

“They’re not competing. It’s more like a counter-culture. And I’d say the Swords of St. Catherine created them. They’re called the Paramours. It’s a brotherhood. They’re some ladies in there, scorned lovers. But more or less, they’re the loved ones left for dead by the Society. The Paramours seek out these survivors and invite them to join. While the Swords work feverishly to overthrow the patriarchy and impose its will on politics and culture, the Paramours roam from the shadows sabotaging their plans. One could make the argument that the reasons why counter-cultures even exist, was because the Paramours created them.”

“BS.” She called.

“Think about it. The Swords of St. Catherine have been around for how long? And it wasn’t till the past forty years or so that they finally made any headway. They’ve taken up intersectionality, political correctness, social Justice. Call it what you will. If it wasn’t for our generation’s complete disregard for history. Worse, our manufacturing of it. Picking and choosing our own history. If it wasn’t for our generation being as stupid and naïve as it is, the Swords of St. Catherine would barely be so prominent.”

“Gladys, you’re underestimating the Society. Everything is going according to plan.”

“That’s delusion, Anna. The fact that the Paramours have managed to elude you all this time is proof positive. Or are you going to tell me, the Society has always known and actually allowed them to fuck up their plans?”

“You really think these Paramours can stop us?”

“You keep saying ‘us.’ It’s scaring me.”

“I’m still a Sword, Gladys. I swore an oath.”

“And that oath is so sacred, is it?”

“It has been for centuries. Some of the most influential women have worn this ring. Joan of Arc, a woman who turned the tide for the French in the Hundred Years War. Queen Mary Tudor, who expelled the heretics threatening her kingdom. Catherine the Great, the most powerful empress who literally dominated her era. I can go on and on. Thus, the wheel will never be broken. We till the earth. We grow the seeds. We’ve come to collect on all man’s deeds. To the martyr. To the death.”

It was so sickening to hear her say that. I know she’s in there, behind the brainwashing that clearly prompted her to recite those words. But still…She needs to break free. I had to go deeper. And what I was about to tell her took courage like you wouldn’t believe. For I knew…if Anna wanted to, she could have reached out snatched the ever-loving life out of me at any moment.

“Anna…I think it’s about time you come to realize the truth. The Swords of St. Catherine are evil. If they were really so righteous, they’d be concentrating their efforts on the Middle East, in Myanmar, in indigenous South America, in the South Pacific. And if you say it’s only a matter of time before they do, I think I might slap you. You say they’ve been around for centuries. Well, that sounds like back before the United States was even a thing. And yet they’ve done nothing. Nothing! To stop the millennia of torture and abuse, of honor killings, of forced marriages, of women being herded and sold like cattle! It’s a fucking joke!

“Even now, here in the states, women are trafficked and forced into the sex trade from Vegas to Vancouver. What about those women? What about the women muled by the cartels?! With all the skills, strength, and resources, the Swords of St. Catherine should be able to abolish all of that! But no. They don’t give two shits about women! They’re elitists. Totalitarians. It’s all about control. They only care about issues that propel them to the top of the society. What societies? ALL OF THEM! Anywhere there’s a community by which the few can dictate to the majority, there you will find the Swords of St. Catherine. Wicked little harpies who killed my father just to prove a fucking point! Who will tell me that’s not evil?”

A fire was brewing in Anna’s eyes. She turned and snarled, “And what? I guess you’re a shining beacon off all that’s good and humane?”

“I know I’m no good. But the Paramours, cuckolds though they are, they are virtuous. They have this whole thing about not killing. It’s absolutely insane, but still. Righteous. I can’t help but respect it. There’s strength in being alive. To endure the pain and suffering of the past. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to immortal. You’d have to be a sociopath to actually enjoy living forever given all the hardships and misery, the tragedy of it all.”

Anna didn’t respond. The sound of the stream took over. Gales continued to shake at the branches.

“Anna, I have to ask.” I said after some silence. “In my case. Why do you think they choose me as a prospect? It would make sense if they were after my father’s company in some shadowy takeover. But they already had my sister, Clarice. They didn’t need me. So why put me through the trials? Why train me? They must have known that I would’ve never gone along with killing my father. To suggest otherwise, would mean that they’re intelligence is beyond piss-poor and I’m reluctant to leap to that conclusion.”

Anna’s eyes kept to the stream of trickling water. “The Paramours, are all the members made up of those who are supposed to be dead?”

“Most. I mean, I’m not sure. Some are members who lost everything, surviving family members of the deceased. My man, Elliot. His mother killed his father when he was just a baby. Some cunt named Jaida Fong. I have half a mind to pay her a visit, actually.”

Suddenly, Anna clasped her hands on my shoulder, her eyes wide with shock.

“Anna, what?!”

“You said Jaida Fong? The network executive?”

“What, you know her?”

“Gladys! Everyone knows her. She’s one of the Twelve Chairs! Holy shit! This is bad. Elliot was her son? Please tell me you’re joking.”

“Well, that’s what he told me. Why would he lie about that? Who are the Twelve Chairs?”

She was literally combing her fingers through her hair, looking around in a frantic state of paranoia. I’ve never seen Anna like this. Her fear was contagious.

“Anna! What is it?” I shouted.

With bated breath, she stressed, “Elliot was killed in the Upper East Side. Manhattan. There’s camera everywhere. Gladys, I went back and got his body. You’re all over the TV. But there’s no mention of me as your accomplice, which means the Society knows I was involved and probably paid to have that information withheld.”

“But wait! You’re assuming Jaida gives a damn in the first place. Elliot told me she bombed his apartment.”

“But he wasn’t killed, Gladys! Bombings are messy. Reckless. We used them to intimidate, to coerce, to create collateral damage. But when it comes to accuracy of a target we want dead…Trust me. I’ve met Jaida. She’s a cobra. Smile in your face one minute, and the next she’ll slit your throat like wiping a stain from a table. If she wanted Elliot dead, he would’ve been dead a long time ago.

“The Swords of St. Catherine may hate men but we’re still humans. You don’t fuck with a mother’s son without her explicit consent. The Twelve Chairs are the closest things to god’s on earth. We might as well have gotten Jesus Christ killed in their eyes. This is war. I’m telling you they will deploy every available resource to rectify this.”

I balled my fist. “I say good. Let ‘em come! Jaida, Breanne, Scarlet and whoever else wants it.”

“So stupid.” She said.

“What do you suggest?! Just lay down and take it? I’m not goin’ out like that!”

“Shut up! Listen!” She whispered.

I got quiet and tilted my head to focus.

“Shots fired.” I whispered.

At once, Anna and I raced through the woods towards the house. We saw smoking rising above the tree line. At fifty yards out, we could see the second floor was on fire. A team of about ten soldiers, private contractors all in black body armor had formed a perimeter and were fanning out.

The mother. I saw as she frantically ran from the house. She got about halfway across the front yard before she was mowed down by a P90 submachine gun. It was horrible and sent chills over my arms.

“Daddy!!!”

The children! They were still alive. Something sparked inside of me and I emerged from the trees in a full sprint. Soldiers turned their guns at me as I went crashing through the dining room windows.

I hit the ground rolling whilst spotting three soldiers from my peripheral. Before they could figure out what happened, I whipped off my cowhide jacket and used it like a whip to wrap it around a man’s head. I yanked him into another’s line of fire, grabbed the soldier’s rifle and returned fire. The third soldier tried to shove me away, but I just held on and used his momentum to run along walls and sling him to the ground.

Another soldier ran in. I aimed the P90 and lit him up. The soldier I slung to the ground got back up and wrapped me up from behind. I could still hear the children crying. I swung my elbows like a trapped falcon. One of which, broke his nose, but he pulled my hair and dragged me to the floor.

“ARRRGG!!!” I shouted.

With all the strength I could muster, I picked this bulky soldier up by double hooking his legs and ramming him through a wall. We went crashing through. Another soldier saw us just as I rolled off and ran into the adjacent room. He followed but by now I had a submachine gun with no restraints.

I dropped the soldier with a triple tap and dashed into the hallway to finish off the son of a bitch who pulled my hair. As I raced up the stairs, a soldier fired too soon and hit the wall just in front of me. Rookie mistake letting me know his location. I shot through the wall corner he was hiding behind. The high-velocity rounds penetrated like cutting through flour.

Another soldier kicked in the front door. It was down and to my rear. I glanced just in time to see someone else shooting him from behind. It was Anna. She was working outside.

“I’m telling you, I don’t know!” the father screamed.

Again, a soldier fired prematurely. The bedroom door was closed and he shot through it, spraying into the 2nd floor hallway like a coward. Clearly, this man didn’t care about friendly fire.

He stopped to reload. With unblinking eyes, I squatted and flattened my back against the wall in this dark, smoke-filled hallway. It was a war zone outside. But inside, it was quiet for the moment. I waited. Solid as a statue, I waited.

Again, he fired a burst through the bedroom door. I fired once, aiming for the center of the flashes. Then, and as fast as I could, I hurried for the bedroom and kicked it open, making sure I got my shooter. He was staggering back with a hip wound. I finished him off with a burst to the face. He went spilling out the window.

The father and his children were tied up on their knees.

“My wife! Where is she?” the father asked.

I didn’t answer, maintaining my focus to untie them.

“MY WIFE! WHERE IS SHE?”

As soon as I released him, he grabbed my shoulders. I shoved him back. We needed to leave. I had no time for a pity party. As I hurried to untie the children, the father ran to the window. It was facing the front yard.

“KESHA NOOOO!” He screamed.

The three boys were crying. Scared. When they heard their father’s cry, they shriveled further, the poor things.

Then, bad went to worse. The chopping blades of an Apache helicopter was en route. I could hear it.

“Come on boys. Let’s go. We need to go!” I said.

They huddled up and refused to move. I grabbed one of them by the wrist but he pulled away. Blinded by whatever the fuck, the father tackled me to the floor. He mounted and tried to choke me with the stock of an assault rifle.

“You not taking my boys!” he shouted.

“We need to get out!”

“YOU ARE NOT TAKING MY BOYS!”

I kneed him in the balls and struck him with the butt of my own rifle. My instincts were to shoot him, but the children. I needed to corral them out of the house.

“Get up! GET UP!” I shouted.

The boys ran to their bruised father. He curled them in his arms and refused to move.

Shooting at the floor, I screamed, “LET’S GO!”

I was out of time. The Apache chopper was sixty yards out and directly in sight. I ran out of the room, entering a cloud of smoke and flames as I hurried down the stairs. I got outside and wasn’t even six steps from the house before the house exploded. The Apache fired a missile at it…as expected.

I was launched probably twenty feet into the woods with thick bushes cushioning my landing. My ears were ringing and I’m pretty sure I was upside down when I saw more soldiers rappelling from the Apache chopper.

Then…I saw a woman, a tall, blonde, woman with the sharp brown eyes of a hawk. Everyone else was dressed in soldierly fatigues, but this woman was dressed in beige hunting attire with brown boots laced up to her knees and a Marlin 336 lever-action hunting rifle. I had seen her before. In Iraq.

The smoldering house looked like a tornado had ripped it from its foundation. My hearing was starting to come back. As the men rallied around the woman. I wasn’t about to let them stand there and have fucking team meeting after destroying an innocent family. So I opened fire, picking off at least four of them before the rest took cover.

The woman, however, didn’t flinch. She calmly spun to her knees, raised her rifle with both hands and aimed her muzzle my way. A bullet zipped past my ear and hit the tree behind me. I didn’t flinch either.

“Come on!” Anna said as she grabbed the shoulder of my flannel shirt.

I raised up and followed Anna through the fluctuating terrain of the forest. Just as I started to climb up a ridge, this sharp burning pain burst through my pelvis. I fell down the banks and came to a sliding halt with water from the freezing creek gushing over my legs.

Anna leaped across the creek to reach me. “You hit?”

“My stitches! I think they ripped.”

“Damn it!” She whispered. “That woman is Sammy McPherson, based out of the Detroit. Gladys, she’s one of the best trackers in the Society. A bounty hunter.”

“Then we have to keep moving.” I panted, wiping the sweat from my forehead with a dirty palm.

Anna shook her head no. “We have to make a stand. We’re wasting energy and I know for a fact that we can’t lose her. She’s been hunting through the timbers of Minnesota since before she could ride a bike.”

Anna gave me her P90 and looked around before setting her sights on a barren pine tree with its roots protruding from the ridge. Then she looked at me and I nodded, taking off my red flannel shirt and muscling myself to a stand. Wearing just my white tank-top with water-soaked pants, I cringed at the pain and icy winds to climb the tree. The Andalusian tied back her long black hair and brandished her field knife.

The plan was simple but risky. Anna would go on the prowl, combing through the woods like a tiger, stalking her prey one-by-one, slitting throats and piercing hearts. Meanwhile I’d post up high in the tree with my rifle at the steady. I wasn’t about compromise my position by targeting the soldiers. My prize was Samantha “Sammy” McPherson. A Sword of St. Catherine and supposedly one of the best trackers the society had to offer.

My eyes scanned the foliage. The soldiers and their glaring muscular frames were easy to spot. I witnessed Anna grab a man by his neck and turn it one way while her knife went the other. It was nasty. She disappeared before his knees even hit the ground.

Another soldier emerged from two juniper bushes. Anna plunged her knife through his heart and yanked him back into the bushes like a trap-door spider.

Another soldier lost his nerve and started shooting indiscriminately into the shrubs lining an outcrop. It was so noisy and constant that I felt confident about dropping him with a shot to the back of his head. At once, the echo ceased. I only hoped Sammy wasn’t nearby. I only hoped she hadn’t heard me.

“SAMMY!”

Anna’s call came from the north, over my left shoulder. She was fucking fast. Not even half a minute earlier, she was about 200 yards in front of me to the east. How the hell she went from one place to another so quickly was beyond me.

“Let’s do this Sammy! It’s just us now!” Anna shouted.

Just then, I heard a twig snap. To anyone else, it would have come like pencil drop. To me, it was like someone snapping their fingers right by my ears. I didn’t have to turn my head to look. I instantly knew I was in danger and reacted by throwing myself from the branch just in time to see it obliterate from a .35 round. I must have clipped every branch on the fall down.

Samantha… She was good alright. She had approached from the stream, keeping low with the water to mask her movements. It wasn’t until she reached the banking ridge that I heard her. And had I not plunged, she would have turned me into one of those quails you see on nature shows.

Sammy didn’t say anything. She simply cranked the lever of her rifle and approached to aim at my head as a hunter would to a wounded deer. Suddenly, a line of bullets burst into the ridge just over her head. I would have gotten her if it were me. But Anna, for all her skill and prowess, wasn’t the best shot while she was on the move. She came running from the other side of the creek, discharging her P90.

Sammy aimed and fired, clipping Anna in the thigh. I heard it. Anna yelped in pain as the forward momentum sent her tumbling down the ridge and into the shallow stream. Sammy reloaded, but by then, I had the P90 in my hands. She saw me out of the corner of her eye and reacted with lightning-quick reflexes. My shot merely grazed her temple, drawing blood, but not enough to kill or even knock her out. It only made her mad.

With this menacing snarl, Sammy aimed and fired. She clipped my shoulder, like a hot poker hammering into flesh. Anna tackled Sammy into the stream and the two proceeded to wrestle like grizzly bears jostling for territory, or in this case, the hunting rifle that Sammy refused to surrender.

Anna unleashed furry in a relentless barrage of elbows and uppercuts, but Sammy managed to see an opening and slammed the barrel into Anna’s face. She got on top and forced Anna underwater by shoving the rifle into her neck. Anna choked and gurgled, struggling to stay above.

Sammy…this bitch was something else. As focused as she was on Anna, she detected me crawling for the P90. Our eyes met and I was frozen in legit terror. But in that brief lapse of diverted attention, she made the fatal mistake of letting up on Anna. Because Anna was a fucking beast. She roared, erupting from the water with both hands on the rifle.

In a frightening burst of strength, Anna slung Sammy to the stream and started beatin’ the shit out her. Eventually Sammy let go of the rifle in a vane attempt to stop Anna’s relentless shower of pounding strikes. But as soon as she did, Anna grabbed the rifles and started jamming it into her face. And when Sammy finally lost consciousness, Anna aimed and shot her three times.

Then…Anna threw the rifle away, screaming in masculine frustration. Her hip was bleeding but more than that, I saw in her eyes that she must have just seen death in the distance. It was amazing. I was literally star-struck as I sat there and watched the Andalusian reel in fury with clenched fists, biting down on her bottom lip as if to scream, “THE AUDACITY!”

“Anna!” I called out. “You know what we have to do.”

“It’ll never end.” She grunted, trying to catch her breath.

The adrenaline was wearing off. The pain, the freezing cold and exhaustion were beginning to settle in, but my resolve was absolute. I had known it for a while now. Even before I killed my sister. But after all this, I could never be more certain about anything.

“The Swords of St. Catherine. The Paramours. We don’t fit in with either. Yet, we have purpose. We have drive and we know what we have to do. Since we don’t have a place in this world, I say, let’s pick ourselves up and build our place in this world. The Paramours don’t kill. But we do. So we will. Starting with Breanne and going through the ranks, scouring the whole fucking earth to rid ourselves of this cancer!”

Anna shook her head as she finally reverted back to a human. “Why bother? I lost Marcus. Your man is gone and you already got your revenge. If this is about getting rid of that so-called cancer, you can start with me.”

I was starting to faze in and out but I knew it was critical. With stiffness spreading down my legs and back, I cringed and shouted. “IT’S CALLED REDEMPTION, ANNA! I believe in the Paramours. Marcus and Elliot believed. Let’s help them by doing what we can’t.”

I should have said, “let’s help them by doing what they can’t.” But by then, I was done. My last memory of that place was the sight of juniper bushes scraping by as I was carried in her arms. I also remember the chopping blades of a helicopter. I remember my eyes opened at one point to see Anna in the cockpit. Then, I was out again.

After some time, probably a few weeks or a month, I finally woke up to full consciousness in a dark room. A strip of light flooded the floor from beneath the closed door. From that, my eyes adjusted and I was able to make out shapes and objects to discern I was in a hotel room with two queen size beds. Not a classy one, but one of those independently owned motels, where I was prompted to watch the vents for any movement, in case of voyeurs. We were at a high altitude. I could feel the barometric pressure in my bones.

I reached over to turn on a lamp. The dull, yet aching pain in my shoulders and waist still lingered but thankfully it no longer felt like I was on fucking fire. I was starving. Could have devoured a whole wedding cake by myself. In fact, I craved it. I was indeed in a hotel room but I wasn’t sure where or how secure the location was. It didn’t take long for the silence and seclusion to wear thin.

I had no doubt Anna was taking care of me. My wounds were sutured and there were antibiotics on the nightstand. Apparently I had an infection and she tended to that as well.

I supposed the most puzzling thing about the room was the inventory of weapons leaning idle against the wall like brooms. Everything I needed to take over a country was right there. I saw duffle bags full of ammunition, smaller gym bag packed with grenades and explosives. Two bulletproof vests were folded on the sofa, and a laptop workstation was set up at the desk. Anna had been busy. She was gone, I knew not where.

After taking all this in, I turned on the TV. What I saw distressed me greatly. I couldn’t believe it. So much time had passed. The headline news of my sister’s assassination had run its course, I guess. Because now…the former United States president was in jail. He had been convicted and found guilty of murdering his wife, the First Lady.

This coupled with propaganda of Russians interfering with the last elections sparked the first re-election process in American history. On November 8th, a chief justice swore in the first female president of the United States of America.

My mind was blown. And yet, to be honest part of me was excited and pleased. I was never a fan of the old president. Nor was I sympathetic about the Paramour’s endeavors to clear his name, but clearly they failed. I knew the Swords of St. Catherine were probably jubilant, flying high on Cloud Nine.

My own glee was kind of like a boxer who realized his main rival had won the championship and with me being next in line for the title. Making it that much more glorious when I step in the ring.

The door opened and in walked Anna. She was dressed like a civilian, and by civilian, I mean exactly what one would expect from a Columbian hottie with a body like that. She had the hoop earrings and a purple satin cold-shoulder blouse.

“Oh! Finally!” She gushed.

“How long has it been?” I asked. My voice was barely perceptible. My vocal chords, weak.

She smirked. “It’ll come back.”

I pointed to the TV and threw up my hands in astonishment.

“I know right. So much for your boys. If this is any indication of their competence, I’m not impressed.”

For some reason, I was offended. Her criticism burned.

She sat on the bed next to me and laid out food and drinks, saying nothing as she rummaged through the bag for straws and napkins. I just looked at her, examining her, trying to pick up any sign on what she’s decided. I saw her little armory but I needed certainty. I think my eyes conveyed that.

“We could disappear where nobody could find us.” She said. “I have enough money. We can get by. Or…we could do as you suggest. And become redeemers.”

Then she turned and looked at me.

“Here’s the thing. If we become Redeemers, who will redeem us?” She asked.

It was a heavy question. Deep, provocative, and I didn’t have an answer.

She said, “We can sit and try to justify all the death and carnage but in our heart of hearts, we know. I know. We’re just hypocrites.”

“Anna, everybody is a hypocrite.” I whispered, clearing my throat. “Parents are hypocrites to their children. Pastors to their parishioners. Politicians to their constituents. CEOs to their employees. We are all walking contradictions. The Swords of St. Catherine should not be allowed to exist. How many loved ones must they destroy before someone stands up and does something about it? You and I are just the beginning. We’ll create a code, just like the Paramours. Never kill the innocent, not even just to justify our own ambitions. Our enemy is the Society. Not just the Swords, but all societies lurking in the shadows to corrupt mankind’s natural order.”

“And what if the existence of secret societies are in league with mankind’s natural order? That one cannot do without the other?” She asked.

I smirked. “Then I guess you’re right and we’ll be the ultimate hypocrites. Because we will serve as judge and jury to say which ones are allowed to exist and which ones need to be eliminated. Anna, if you’re still wrestling with your conscience, just ask yourself, has anything really changed in your resolve. From when you thought Marcus was dead, till now that you know he’s dead? When the storm inside clears, let me know the answer to that.”

She squinted. “You really read all those books they doled out, didn’t you. FYI, no one else did. They just got the summaries from Google.”

“I think you’re making fun of me.”

“Well you talk a lot, Gladys. Sometimes, I think you just spit out a volley of logic hoping one or two points stick.”

“Whatever! You get what I’m saying though, right? I made my case. Whatever you decide to do, I’ll go along with it.”

Anna got up and approached the windows. She peered through drapes to look out into the dead of the night. She was so pretty. For all the fights, and nasty bare-knuckle brawls she’s been in, Anna’s visage was still flawless. She turned to me and slumped against the wall with this hopeless expression. Then, she got serious.

“I want to make this clear. I don’t care about ridding the earth of societies. People are free to do whatever the hell they want. But the Swords of St. Catherine…They killed Marcus. They’ll kill anyone we get close to. And something about all that, that they can carry on, business as usual, it just doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t seek redemption, I seek justice. I seek satisfaction.”

“So we attack?” I asked in anticipation.

“Before I answer, just one final question. Are you afraid to die?”

I could feel my heart beat, a surge of anxiety all of the sudden. I didn’t know what she expected me to say. I didn’t know what I needed to say to convince her to take on my crusade. So…I took a shot in the dark and chose honesty.

“Yes.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Because it’s not fair.” I answered.

“Is that fear or anger?”

“You know exactly what I’m about to say.”

“Rage…” we said in unison.

“There you have it. We are of one mind.” I joked.

“We are not of one mind. You don’t know Breanne Cunningham. Jaida Fong is one thing, but Breanne…She scares the living daylights out of me. Her eyes alone terrify me worse than lightning in a thunderstorm.”

“That’s exactly why we need to…”

“Shut up. Just shut the hell up, Gladys. I’m not Elliot or whoever else you think you can manipulate. I don’t need you to take on the Swords of St. Catherine. I can do well by my damn self. Alright? We’re talking about taking on some of the most dangerous, not women, but straight-up manslayers. And FYI, as bad as you think you are, Scarlet will eat you up for breakfast. So I’m not just scared, I’m out of my fucking mind.”

I got out of bed and started for her, but she held up a hand prompting me to stop. I continued on.

“Anna, this gives us an advantage.”

“Shut up.” She whispered.

“We’re fighting for our lives.”

“Shut…up.”

“No!”

And of course, true to Anna form, she reached out and grabbed my neck. She didn’t squeeze hard, but with a creepy smile, she let me know that she could.

“Listen to me,” I wheezed.

“You listen, Gladys. Understand that I haven’t decided yet whether or not I going to kill you. So don’t push it.” She said before letting me go.

I stumbled back and sat on her bed.

“You still blame me for Marcus? Unbelievable! Screw you. Mind you, only one of us here refused to kill their paramours and it sure as hell wasn’t me.”

Anna smiled the creepiest smile I’d ever seen. I saw her chest inflate and cave in with a sharp exhale that blew at the strands of hair caught over her lips. She approached, one hard step after the other and drew a knife that she kept hidden along her waist.

I must have been like a rabbit on the prairie as a hawk swooped down. ‘Cause as quick as I could, I dashed for one of the pistols along the wall. But she pounced. With one hand, she palmed me to the floor while her blade hovered in the other.

“I’m sorry! Please don’t kill me!” I whimpered.

“You shut the hell up talking about Marcus, comprende? COMPRENDE!”

“Yes! I…No. No. I’m sorry. I can’t. You’re just going to have to kill me!”

That’s when I started laughing. I can’t explain it. She started laughing too.

“Oh, I see!” She chuckled. “You’re insane!”

“Maybe…” I said as I massaged her arm that pinned me to the floor. “So what’s it gonna be? Shall we be friends? Or are you gonna plunge that knife and take on the world by your self?”

“Depends on you! Stop talking shit!”

“Alright! Let me up. God! You weigh a ton.”

“That’s because I hit like a truck, bitch!”

And that was that. Anna and I became partners in crime. Both of us, crazy and out of our minds. Each of us, bringing our own set of special skills. And, I dunno, something about what Anna said lit a fire in me that night. “As bad as I think I am.” Psh…I am a badass! And the next time I saw Scarlet I was determined to settle that.

For the next three weeks, Anna and I moved from safe house to safe house, inching our way to the Pacific Northwest. After getting their puppet in the White House, we knew it was only a matter of time before they let their guard down for some triumphant celebration. And if there was to be a celebration, there was no doubt that it would take place at the Villa, nestled deep in the mountains of British Columbia.

As expected, one night, Anna came home with confirmation from one of her contacts. “Everyone was invited. They’re gonna get down and party on Saturday night. You know everyone’s gonna get drunk. It’ll be perfect.” She said.

“You really think they’re gonna get drunk?” I asked her.

“Well, tipsy anyways. Regardless, we’ll catch ‘em off guard.”

“You sound excited, Anna.”

“It’s our best chance. Not just to hit them but to make a statement.”

“So…I have your permission to go all out?”

“Go to town, Gladys.”

“And you? Will you, ‘go to town’?”

“Just remember. Breanne’s the quarterback. Take her out of the game and the whole team crumbles.”