Love is strong. Love conquers all things. Even time. Even death.
Romance in the Void, by Alexander Paul Willging
Word Count: 782
Nick Santos stared into the abyss. The abyss stared back.
Then, deep within the abyss, a pale hand waved.
Back so soon? a quiet, sensual voice called out.
“I’ve been gone for months,” Nick replied. He glanced down at his smartphone. The connection was half-strong here.
Months, days, years, hours. The pale woman taking shape in the void shrugged. No difference at all to Me. Who’s your friend?
Nick stretched out his hand and focused on the space between him and the girl in the shadows. He concentrated hard, imagining every feature of Marissa’s face, every curve in her body. A ghostly image of her took shape in the abyss, a snapshot of her just moments after her death.
The girl smiled. I met her last night. Did you want to say hello?
“I need you to bring her back.” Nick waved his phone at her. “Didn’t you get my message?”
The etherium in your phone is too far from a Source, said the girl. She started to curl a loop of hair around her finger. I only received your signal, not your message.
“Marissa Jones,” said Nick. “She took a bullet for me and the bastard we’re hunting is still out there. Victor Bastian, if you want to know.”
The girl’s brow furrowed. The undead one still walks your world? The blood drinker?
Nick nodded. He glanced down at his phone and thumbed through his image folders. When he found a picture of the pale, smirking nosferatu, he held the phone up. “I know about the rules. The balance of life and death. The treaty between the nosferatu and the Pantheon. But Bastian’s broken his oath and is taking his fill of innocent blood. Marissa and I were going to bring him to the Solar Court for justice, but now…”
His hand trembled. He closed his eyes against the memories. Last night. Marissa falling. The nosferatu’s hiss. Fleeing into the shadows. Cradling his cold friend’s body in his arms.
You like her, the girl observed. She crossed her arms. You were going to tell her something before she left. Something important.
Then you have to tell her when she comes back, the girl insisted. And you know the price, right?
The girl clapped her hands. Good. I’ll give you a moment to prepare. Then she began to fade away.
Nick stared into the abyss. Then he looked down at the pictures on his phone. Marissa. Victor Bastian. Vince and Jeannie at the LA Sorcery School. All people he’d kept at arm’s length, people who helped him through his career.
Never enough time for friends or romance.
Now he was signing away half of his remaining life. It could have been forty more years or forty more minutes. The price would be death at age fifty-two or death in an imminent showdown with Bastian.
She’s ready, the girl called out from somewhere in the abyss.
Nick put his phone away. He relaxed his body and looked the ghostly girl in the eye.
“I give you half of the rest of my life,” he said slowly, “to give Marissa back the rest of hers.”
The girl smiled. Ta-da!
Then she disappeared. The abyss swallowed Nick whole. He felt his heart constrict and his lungs tighten.
And everything went black.
Hours later, Nick stood over Bastian’s remains. The fiend’s body was crumbling into dust at an accelerated pace. He felt old, standing over the coffin of his enemy. The coffin of a man he’d once been proud to call his patron.
Marissa put her hand on his shoulder. “It’s done, Nicky. The last job you’ll ever have.”
Nick blinked and turned to Marissa. She was young and healthy again, shining blonde hair and sparkling green eyes. He stared so long that she started to blush. Then she reached up to brush at his hair.
“I think the white suits you,” she commented. “Makes you look distinguished.”
“If you can afford to live with a premature old man,” Nick replied softly, “then I’ll gladly stay by your side. Wherever you want to go.”
Marissa smiled. “You mean it? You’d go to Chicago with me?”
“I’ve been making excuses all my life.” He swept her up into his arms. “I’ve only got so much time left. So much to see and do.”
After a moment of resting in his arms, Marissa pulled herself back. “We need to get moving. The Containment Squad should be here any moment now.”
Nick nodded. He watched Marissa slide her sidearm into her holster. Then she offered him her hand. He took it and let her guide him up the stairs and out of the catacombs.
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