Authors: Stephen Blackmoore
“And the ambulance crew? Where are they?”
“Home, I imagine. Confused and wondering what happened last night. Once you left there wasn’t any reason to keep up the charade so I left. None of them will remember a thing.”
“And what about ‘Tabitha’? Did she ever exist? Was she ever real?” I say.
“Yes. She died a couple of years ago.”
“The car accident.” When I met Tabitha she told me how she’d discovered her own small powers. Her car went over the side of the freeway one night and instead of dying in a fiery car crash her magic had manifested and saved her. Guess it didn’t quite work out that way.
“She was dying, and as she breathed her last I moved in. Not all of me, a seed. This body is just an extension of me. I’m here, and in Mictlan, and in the dreams of my followers. I’m Death, Eric. I can be anywhere, any time. ‘Tabitha’ is an avatar. Some of me, some of her. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins, to be honest.”
“This is how you got past my masking spell,” I say. Santa Muerte could track me down, but she couldn’t see me. I was a big blind spot. But ‘Tabitha’ is Santa Muerte and not Santa Muerte. Human enough to fool the spell. “How you found me at the electronics store.”
“It is,” she says.
“Did you kill her?” I say.
She hesitates, but a moment later says, “Yes.”
Rage flares in me and in a flash I grab her and yank her against me. I have the obsidian blade hard against her throat, its point dimpling her skin.
“You murdered someone who I’d never met just to use her against me. Give me one goddamn reason why I shouldn’t slit your throat right now.”
“Why would I stop you?” she says, her voice a hot whisper against my cheek. “Go on. Kill me. That’s what that blade is for, Eric. Tear out my heart and bathe in my blood. That knife will kill this body. But the mind in it? That’s only a small piece of me. A splinter of who I am. ‘Tabitha’ will die, but I’ll be just fine. Do you want to have to explain to Vivian that you murdered her friend, her only other tie to the dead fiancé you killed? I don’t think that’ll go over very well, do you?”
It’s tempting. So tempting. But I know it won’t solve a thing. And much as I know that this is Santa Muerte in Tabitha’s body and that the woman I thought she was died before I ever met her, I don’t think I can kill her. She leans in closer to me, the blade nicking her neck, a thin line of blood running down her throat, and brings her lips a hairsbreadth from mine.
“Kiss me or kill me, Eric. But pick one.”
I shove her away from me, opting for neither. She wipes a tear of blood from her throat with a fingertip and licks it off. The wound seals up a moment later, no sign it was ever there.
“No?” she says. “Pity.” I’m not sure which one she’d prefer.
“So what now?”
She shrugs. “I walk out that door. Unless you want to stop me. I can think of a few reasons to stick around. But something tells me you need a little time to adjust before we try that again.”
“I can stop you,” I say, but there’s no conviction in my voice.
“You can,” she says. “I won’t even fight you. I think I even have some duct tape and zip-ties around here somewhere. Might be fun. But what will that get you? Are you going to keep me in the closet? And what happens when Vivian comes calling? No, I’m going to leave. But we’ll see each other again.” She smiles, blows a kiss at me, walks out the door.
And I let her.
I wait until I hear the Mini drive away then pull out my phone. I need to call Vivian, explain to her what just happened, to not trust Tabitha or anything she says. Somehow explain that a trusted friend, the last tie she has to her dead fiancé, is not what she appears. Instead, I call someone else.
“Well? Did I call it?” Gabriela says when she picks up.
I thought I’d figured everything out on my drive over, but something wasn’t sitting right. I needed another pair of eyes on this thing and I couldn’t think of anyone else I could talk to about it, so I called Gabriela, even though I knew she didn’t want to talk to me again. Took some fast talking to get her to not hang up, but I told her what I’d been thinking, that this wasn’t over. That Tabitha was working with Santa Muerte.
Gabriela listened then told me that no, Tabitha
“I owe you twenty bucks.”
“Booyah,” she says. “Did you kill her?”
“No. Thought about it. But she’s just an avatar. Just an extension. Killing her’d just leave me a body and wouldn’t solve the problem.”
“You could have at least tried.”
I answer that with silence.
“Okay, fine,” she says. “I’m just saying you have no idea if she was telling the truth or yanking your chain. And killing her wouldn’t have cost you anything. Seriously, you can’t tell me you of all people don’t know how to get rid of a body. So why’d you let her go?”
I don’t answer for a long time. I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t do it. Maybe it’s because, no matter what she’s done, she’s still Tabitha, that I’m holding out some hope that it’s not true. And then it comes to me. I turn the obsidian blade in my hands. It’s a stupid idea. It will probably get me killed.
“I think I still need her,” I say, the bones of a plan forming in my mind. I think about what I’ve heard from Santa Muerte and from Mictlantecuhtli, about what their domestic squabble has cost me, has cost my friends and family. I heft the obsidian blade in my hand. I wonder how much fire will satisfy my promise to the Santa Anas.
“To kill a couple of gods.”