The young man sat at the table in the diner, fingering the three items in his pocket. He watched the other people in the diner, and held his breath, waiting, trying to decide who his next mark would be.  In all, there had been three, so far. He pulled the three items out of his pocket and looked them over, a sense of macabre fascination building as he studied them. The first: a ring, taken from the finger of a woman newly married. The second: a bullet, recovered from a police officer’s gun. The third: a match, taken from a smoker of Cuban cigars. The weight of the trophies was comforting to him.

Now:  a decision. Who was next? The young couple sitting at the table near the door, with the two children? The senior citizens seated at the counter? Perhaps the waitress in the tight-fitting pants and a blouse that showed off her full figure? Most likely her, but no. Looking left, he saw the most startling pair of eyes he’d ever encountered. So blue they were almost red, very nearly black. Long, flowing, copper hair. Curly. He knew then that she was the one.

“Hi beautiful,” he said. “What are you doing here?”

“Waiting to meet my sisters,” she answered back, sweetly.

Sisters. Plural.

Like her?

This could prove interesting.

Smiling seductively, she sauntered out the door. He followed her, finally catching up with her at the end of the block where his car was parked, ready to grab her arm and force her into the back.  He reached out for her, drew his hand back as though it had been burned, and found himself on the ground. As he tried to find the strength to stand, she turned to face him, and he gasped at the subtle transformation.

Where her hair had been curly before, it now writhed with a reptilian life of its own, hissing and slithering around her head. Her eyes had turned blood-red, and red tears traced a pattern down her face.  Her nose had lengthened, and become more like that of some feral animal, a wolf or a dog. From somewhere she had obtained a metal studded whip, and now she cracked it above her head and bared her teeth at him. Was this reality, or a nightmare? He blinked, wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, and blinked again.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I am justice,” she barked.

The young man blinked again, deciding he must be dreaming. This was all becoming very strange. “Why are you here?” he asked.

“I’m on the job. You have broken the laws of humanity. The evidence is in your pocket, and it will be the instrument of your destruction.”

He fingered the rough facets of the ring, the cold, smooth metal of the bullet’s casing, and the splintered wood of the match, as he pondered what she meant. He saw their faces in his mind, the terror in their eyes as he took his prizes and their lives. He felt himself sinking into the blackness swirling through his mind, and tried desperately to raise himself up out of it.

“Why?” he asked, laboring to clear his head enough to speak, but only able to free the one word from the prison of his mind.

“Because you never saw us watching from the shadows. Because we are protectors of the innocents, and we maintain the balance. Because it is our job to hunt down those who break the law, and punish them with madness.”

“Angel?”

“No, neither demon. Something else. Something older. It is time for me to go now, and I will take with me your mind, but your memories are your own, and you may keep them. I will see you in your dreams.” Neither angel nor demon? Something older. Then, what? The thought swirled up through the void. He heard one single word, hissed by the snakes in her hair, “Tisiphone,” and as the madness took him, for an instant, he thought he understood.

Advertisements