“One of who?”
Ezekial blinked, her ease of attitude setting him off course. The inky darkness behind her drew his focus as he scratched at the day’s stubble upon his face. “I don’t know what they call ’em.” A sudden pop and spark from the fire muffled his gruff admittance. “Forget it.” He stowed his helmet on the ground beside him with a crunch and shoved a searching fist into the inner pockets of his leather jacket. “Thanks for the fire.”
The girl nodded her reply — she couldn’t be more than eighteen — and watched him with an odd intensity. Waiting for something he didn’t understand. His skin crawled and his breath fought against the steady rhythm he demanded as he grabbed hold of his pouch of jerked meat and tugged it free.
“I never know until I find myself there.” Her gaze drifted to the quieting fire and she added another dry log.
“Been on the road a long time?”
A smile teased the corner of her mouth. “A while.”
He offered forward the pouch, not understanding the itching need to keep words alive between them. Perhaps it was the startling silence broken only by the whispers of nature and those things which didn’t make him shudder. The shrill whispers had faded the moment he stepped into the light of her fire. So much he almost couldn’t feel their scratching presence.
She accepted the offered jerky and tucked it into the side of her cheek, closing her eyes as she relished the tangy flavors of salt, meat, and pepper. “Longer than some, less than others.”
His chin dipped in an absent nod, the hair on the back of his neck standing at attention at the minute shift to her taut body. As the silence of the surrounding night crept in, he could feel how the whispers teased the shadows just behind him like the stinging of freezing rain. But there they remained, lurking and more quiet than they had ever been.
And he was so tired.
Her sapphire eyes rose, meeting his with a steady gaze that seemed to see in, through, beyond everything he had ever been or hidden. Her lips lifted in the hint of a smile. “You can rest. I’ll keep watch.”
But trusting anyone to watch over any part of his life gnawed at every aspect of his being. How many times had life taught him to keep his own council? The fire edge drew his focus as he fumbled with the pouch of jerky, his fingers refusing to do much more than tremble.
He shoved the pouch into his pocket. “Nah,” he said, his voice gruff. “I’ll be moving on here in a bit.”
Her focus didn’t retreat, though he clearly saw her eyes drift to some unknown thing beyond the blackness. Somehow that look drained any warmth from the roaring fire, suspecting that she saw…. She stood, arms at her sides, and said nothing as she made her way to the border of the firelight. A tightness shifted inside as he watched her with wide eyes–she knew.
A smile teased her lips upward a little higher the same moment she began to hum the same hauntingly familiar melody from a few moments before. Then she simply walked around the modest campside, just at the border of darkness and light, humming and smiling as her gaze shifted from the nothingness to the starry skies above. He couldn’t explain how that simple melody pulled at him, tugging memories aside to reveal the starving child huddled in a mass of rags and rot.
“Stop,” he hissed. He shuddered under the weight of that image, hunching forward and clawing at his eyes and ears. And then he felt it, a heat like scalding water, cascading over him from the inside out–he bolted to his feet, eyes wild.
She looked up, the melody fading as she reached out a small hand. Her eyes shone with tears. “Don’t be afraid,” she whispered. “Just rest, Ezekiel. Just for a moment.”
He stumbled backwards, terrified at how the sound of her voice shuddered through his soul. She was one of them! He swore and sprinted for the exit of the small, haunted clearing. He cared little for anything left behind, knowing that if he did not escape that melody and the whisper of his name he would be her slave.
He clapped his hands over his ears, his throat ragged as he continued to swear and threaten.
The ones that could control everything about a person with a single word: their name. They could make you do anything with just that one word. He would be her slave, forever. How many of those mindless thralls had he seen on the road? Their empty eyes and shallow smiles giving rise to a cold chill and propelling his steps faster through the brush and branches.
He stumbled to the motorcycle still hidding in the shadows and dragged it free, cursing his stupidity as he fumbled with the pedal. He nearly collided with a tree as he sped from the clearing and the hidden pathway to an unfathomable hell of mindless devotion.
“The Faithful,” he spat, scrubbing at his face with shaking hands. More like the dead to believe and follow fairy tales.
His gaze flickered to the sideview mirrors, barely making out a slender silhouette and a haunting melody of promise.