Rachel clasped her hands together and her eyes gleamed with excitement. “This sounds juicy!”

“It’s really not. It’s just that…growing up it was only ever Mom and I. I never knew my Dad and we didn’t have any other family around, but there were so many times when I would have loved a big family. Don’t get me wrong, Mom always tried her best to make things special and I was never left wanting on birthdays or at Christmas, but when I watched movies or read stories that had huge families spending time together I was always envious. I suppose it’s that feeling of security you get from knowing there are a lot of people around you who are there to help you and support you no matter what. I’ve never had that and I’ve always wondered what it would be like. When I was younger I only ever had my Mom, and as much as she took care of me and worked hard to make sure that I had food on the table and clothes on my back, she was never the most empathetic person. When I went to her with a problem, sometimes I just wanted her to hug me and tell me that everything was alright, but she was always certain that it was my fault somehow. Like, you remember Danny?”

“Of course! How could I forget Danny?”

“Yeah, exactly, anyway, I told her that I liked him but he wasn’t paying me any attention, and she kept saying that I was obviously doing something wrong. Either I wasn’t wearing the right thing or I wasn’t doing enough to get his attention. Not once did she tell me that maybe he just wasn’t interested in me, and that was okay, that maybe I had an idea in my head of what things would be like with him, but that those thoughts didn’t necessarily translate into reality. Somehow she had a way of making me feel like all the weight of the world was on my shoulders.” I trailed off, growing despondent again. I hated to speak ill of the dead, but it was difficult when Mom had been such an overbearing presence in my life.

“Anyway, here’s to Mom I guess,” I raised my glass half-heartedly in a toast to her. I shot back the rough, dark liquid and swallowed it hard, forcing it down my throat, hoping that it would in some way take the pain away.

It might have dulled things for an instant, but the pain ran deeper than any alcohol could touch.

Rachel toasted along with me and offered me a reassuring smile.

“To your Mom. And to the future. If you want a family then you can go and find one for yourself. There’s nothing stopping you. Look around; there are plenty of men in this bar and one of them might be the one you’re looking for.”

I cast my gaze around again, this time trying to purposefully avoid the three men who were dressed in leather and looking at me as though I was the only thing that existed. Had they been so moved by my performance that they were utterly transfixed by me, or was there something more? My stomach churned and fluttered and nerves tingled all over. I looked to other men. I couldn’t say that any of them were my type because I didn’t know what my type was. I suppose I always liked the idea of a strong man, someone who would stand up for me and protect me, someone who would be able to bear the weight of the world so that I could take a break for a little while. I wasn’t sure that I was going to find it in this bar.

And those men…like a magnet my gaze was drawn back to them. Was it a trick of the mind? When I looked back another time they were facing each other, hunched in conversation. I strained my ears to try and overhear what they were saying. Mom had never told me that eavesdropping was bad. In fact she had only ever encouraged me to do it, because she said that we learned things from other people’s conversation that we never would have learned otherwise. I trained my ears on the men, trying to fight through the blusters and bellows of the bar, but it was hopeless. My skin crawled. Were they talking about me? Was I just being egotistical?

I turned away. I could feel my skin growing clammy with sweat. My throat was dry despite everything I’d had to drink and the bar suddenly seemed cramped and confined. It was as though the ceiling was being lowered to just above my head, pressing down on me. All the people around me were hot and sweaty and the air was musky. My chest tightened as I was suddenly aware of them all swirling around me, like vultures buzzing, ready to feed on whatever carcass I left behind. Those dancing were a sea of people all caught in one undulating rhythm. The music surged through them, seizing them in their stupor, invisible strings that connected them like paper dolls. But I also knew that I was separate from them, a world apart, with my own sorrow and pain. The Honey Pot was a place for outsiders and in that sense I fit in, but as I looked around at all the people I only saw strangers. I didn’t know how to connect with them, how to be one of them, and I was tired, so tired. All I could hear in Mom’s voice was her saying ‘go to them, go to them,’ but my natural instinct was to fight it. Perhaps it would have been better if I had just gone and thrown myself into that sea of flesh and let the rhythm carry me away, but I railed against it, fought against my natural inclinations and I tore myself away.

“I need to get some air,” I said, rising from the table before Rachel could offer to come with me. I pushed past the sweaty people, squeezing through their leather, trying to stop the music from pounding in my skull. It felt as though a drill was tearing my mind apart. With every step the door seemed to be farther away.

I reached out, trying to physically pull myself forward out of the bar. Mean eyes looked at me, sneered at me. Hands clawed at me, trying to take advantage of what they saw as a weak woman. I wrenched myself away from their clutches, twisting away from this evil place, trying to escape the only thing that I could never escape; my own mind.

And then suddenly I burst out of the door, staggering out into the cool air. My feet crunched against the gravel and I almost fell, having to double over to catch my breath. I rested against the outer wall, feeling the entire bar rumble with the power of the music. The night was long and lonely. The moon hung like a silver coin in the sky, bright and wide, accompanied by the stars that were set like jewels against the murky, inky sky. The neon sign flickered above me, the honey pot looking as though it was going to pour its thick, sticky substance over my head. A row of bikes stood outside, and beyond that there were cars and trucks dotted all around the square parking lot. To my right there were a group of people huddled together, sharing hushed conversation and cigarettes. Wispy smoke rose in a cloud above them, the ends of the cigarettes burned amber. They paid no attention to me.

I walked along in the shadows, trying to hide from the world. Maybe that was the best place for me. I didn’t know if I could ever find a family for myself. What kind of life could someone like me have? I had nothing to offer anyone. I had no idea how to even be a part of a family. I had failed as a daughter, and I felt as though I couldn’t even mourn properly. All I wanted was to go home, crawl into bed, and curl up with some semblance of comfort to sleep the night away. I had done what I had come here to do. I had sang my heart out for Mom and I knew that she was pleased. Now I had to figure out how to do something for myself. I had to figure out how to live.

*

I was about to leave without telling Rachel. I knew it was bad of me, but I also knew that she’d understand. We had been friends long enough to allow certain misdemeanors to pass without comment. I just couldn’t face going into that bar again, not with all those people and all that swirling music. Now that I was free in the fresh air I didn’t want to return, I just wanted to escape. My skin prickled with goosebumps. I wore jeans, a casual top, and a denim jacket. It was hardly the most glamorous outfit, but it was comfortable and offered some protection against the elements.

Then I heard them. Their footsteps were heavy. Fear slithered down my spine even before I turned around to see them. The three figures were cast in shadow, looking huge and looming before my eyes. I gulped and hurried my pace. I didn’t care if I was just being paranoid. Sometimes being paranoid saved lives. But my small strides were nothing compared to theirs, and they closed the distance between us without any trouble at all. Within moments they were upon me, their tall bodies blocking out the rest of the world. The light of the moon illuminated their faces and cast them in an ethereal glow.

One of them was taller than the others. His arms were crossed over his chest, and his biceps bulged. He wore a leather vest that left his arms exposed, and I saw a tattoo curling all down his right arm. His hair was pulled into a tight ponytail and he had a goatee. A single earring dangled from his ear. The man in the middle had his hands resting by his sides. He leaned slightly forward. His hair was lighter and wavier, looser. He was clean-shaven, and wore a heavy jacket. His lips were soft and sensual, his eyes were filled with mystery. The third was the shortest of the trio. His hair was the longest and he let it flow down past his shoulders. It was almost as long as mine. He had a long beard too, one that was braided, and he wore a peace symbol around his neck. His black shirt was open at the collar and the pendant nestled against a thick bed of chest hair.

“What do you want?” I asked in a trembling voice.

“We just want to know your name,” the man in the middle said with a charming smile. “I’m Jack, this is Matt and Buck,” he said, gesturing to his left and then his right respectively. Matt inclined his head and his long hair framed his face like a veil. Buck just nodded and grunted.

“I’m Trish,” I stammered. I tried to keep my voice even, but it was difficult. My eyes darted around, looking for an escape route. I knew that I wouldn’t have been able to flee into the night because they would have been able to outpace me, but if I could wriggle past them and make it back into the Honey Pot I could seek refuge with Rachel. There was safety in numbers, and I suddenly realized how much I hated being alone.

“We just wanted to thank you for the song you sang. It was amazing. Where did you learn to sing like that?” Jack asked.

“My Mom taught me,” I replied. Maybe I was just being paranoid. They might have been fans after all. I shouldn’t think the worst of people, but I couldn’t ignore the alarm bells that were ringing in my mind. All I wanted was to get home.

“She must have been a hell of a woman,” Jack said.

“Yes, she was. But look, I have to go. I was just heading home. It was nice to meet you and I’m glad you enjoyed the song. I’m sure there are going to be plenty of other people performing for the rest of the night. I doubt you’ll want to miss any of those,” I said, and tried to walk away, tried to peel myself away from the conversation. I wished that they would let me go and walk back into the bar. We lived in a world where men were supposed to respect women when they walked away politely, when they gave off signals that they weren’t interested. I thought I was as plain as I could possibly be, short of saying that my Mom had died and I was grieving and I didn’t want to be with anyone. I couldn’t think of anything that would have been more of a buzz-kill than a dead parent, but at the time I wasn’t thinking straight and I couldn’t form coherent words. I stepped back, but they stepped forward, and I knew in that moment that I was in danger.

“None of them would sing like you. You’re a real star,” Jack said. My gaze shifted between the three men. Jack was doing all the talking, but the other two moved with him. It was as though they were all linked together. They moved as one, in complete harmony. I had never seen anything like it before and it was entirely unnerving. I tried to swallow my fear but it rose and swelled and grew. My lips parted as I stumbled back. I twisted my neck to look behind me.

“We don’t want to hurt you. You don’t have to be afraid. We just want to get to know you a little better,” Jack said. There was something about his words. They seemed so slick and charming, so much so that I was almost enthralled by them, but one thing Mom had always taught me was to be careful, and to listen to my instincts whenever I felt afraid. My eyes were so wide with fear I thought they might pop out of my head. I managed to summon enough courage to cry out for help, but as soon as I did so Buck moved with surprising speed. He clamped a hand around my mouth. His skin was hot and leathery, and I struggled in his grip, but to no avail. His strength was bestial and I could no more escape his grip than I could escape being buried by six feet of snow.

His hand was upon my mouth and I could barely breathe. My eyes flared with panic as I tried to look beyond them, tried to catch the attention of the people who were smoking at the far end of the building, but my screams were muffled and my body hidden by these three men. My flailing arms were pinned to my side.

“Don’t worry, it’ll all be okay,” Jack said. It was the last thing I heard before everything went black. His whisper echoed around my mind as Matt pulled out a small vial and wafted it in front of my nose. I breathed it in, struggling as I was for air. The smell was sweet and tempting and I felt a wave of serenity wash over me before I passed out, falling limp into Buck’s arms.


Tags: Lilly Wilder Paranormal
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