Artemis Drifting

Just because she tippietoes, doesn't mean she's a creepin'.

Empty Chalice.

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The wind cut through the hoop of her earring, sending its chill throughout the entire ring. Therefore, the upper portion of her ear was painfully throbbing only seconds after she stepped free from her car. Shoving her hand into her purse, she pinned the bag between the car door and her hip – relying on her vehicle to provide some sort of shield for the weather. Fumbling through empty cigarette cartons for the sole one that still rattled with a lone smoke inside, she withdrew it and thumped her finger on the bottom of the carton. Shit happened, of course. That trick never worked, and when it did, she only would manage to send a whole arsenal of cigarettes into the air. Lack of party-trick abilities aside, this ritual was being performed only to give her heart time to slow down. The parking lot was short, and if her walk was too slow it’d be all too evident that she was searching the other cars for familiarity. It was the last thing she wanted to look, wary. 


Between preoccupying herself with vehicle recognition and searching for her lighter, the end of her last cigarette lit the moment that she stepped up onto walkway to the bookstore. Now she couldn’t breeze in, because she sure as hell wasn’t stubbing this out only to relight it half an hour later and suffer the bitterness the tobacco had acquired from its early death. There was no other choice but to settle into one of those iron-work chairs and throw her shoes up. No sense in facing the window, she’d strain her eyes trying to see through the rows of books to identify a threat that now was only a ghost. A quick flick to the filter perched between her fingers sent ash tumbling down between her knees. “Fuck.” she whispered, the word exploding forth with an accompanying plume of smoke.


“Something the matter?”


Her head snapped up, tension racing from her belly to her feet. Already, she was jerking her legs back and setting the balls of her sneakers down on the concrete. “No, nothin’s the matter.” When she finally focused on the speaker, her heart seized and pain lanced along her ribs as the muscles laced over the bones tightened down like a metal net.


It was him. That was the first thought which had sent her body into paralyzed rabbit fear. The second one, however, liberated her to move. No, no it wasn’t him. Someone that was strikingly similar, but on the whole, not her ghost. As far as she was concerned, it was some nosy stranger with the kind of haunting eyes that were on level with a spooky theme park ride. Disturbing, yet nothing that would later stalk the victim and besiege them with a torrent of nightmares.


Paranoia had her checking his hands, finding the palms empty and arms limp but with the fingertips turned up just enough to give the illusion that his touch was a clever one. That, she didn’t like, because that reminded her of the many times she had been coaxed into things that she would not willingly revisit. Even when she was truly confident none of it would manage to spill out into a confession. 


“Would you start acting like a real person an’ quit staring at me?” her voice was almost shrill with the humor she tried to press into her tone. She wasn’t naturally aggressive, or even suspicious, it was circumstances that had her erecting walls.


“You’re smoking the wrong end of your cigarette.”


Immediately, she narrowed her vision down to the end of her nose. She expected to taste the sour roll of the filter flooding her mouth. But a clench of her teeth confirmed the spongey end was between her lips and the lit portion had gained a good half inched of trembling gray ash. “Fuck off!” she sputtered, pulling it free, ignoring the obvious dent her bite had left. “Why would you say something like that?”


He stepped towards her table, snapping the collar of his jacket up and around his neck. His answer was confident, “Because I knew you’d check.”


“What the hell does that mean?” she was shifting her weight towards the back rest of the iron chair, and the bars burned cold up and down her spine.


His hands came down on the table, impossibly long fingers splaying until the webs between each grew taunt and whitened. “You’ve got the look of someone that can trust what they hear, what they see, what they smell and what they can touch … but, they can’t trust anything that they do. The sort of person that walks around in circles their whole life until someone runs into them and knocks them off course.”


She was still throughout the entire speech, and when she believed it had ended – she exploded to her feet. The bones of her hips crashed against the edge of the table and jostled it beneath his hands. “Oh, so me and my kind are the sole reasons for crop circles?” humor was always her first line of defense, even if she was furious. “I don’t know who you are, not really. I have a feeling I might, and fuck, I might even be talking to myself out here. But you remind me of a lot of people, a lot of people I really don’t want to think about anymore. So seriously, shove off.”


Even under the barrage of her words, his charisma practically ebbed heat. When he leaned forward, he moved with such grace that his clothes didn’t even rustle. “It’s really cute, your bravado. However ..” he trailed off and raised one hand
, turning it palm upward. “A little useless in this situation. You don’t mean anything you say. You hardly ever do. You’re just a creature of response. You can mimic the appropriate reply as long as you’re given the slightest nudge in the proper direction.”


Now she was frozen, and it felt like the entire contents of a black, icy lake had flooded her chest. Even her breathing was labored by the weight of phantom algae sinking its roots into her bronchial tubes.


“Do you want to die?”


The answer would’ve been immediate, in the same way that it had always burst forth whenever someone had dropped that question on her. But he expected nothing from her, and his utter stillness left her with nothing to reflect. What he had done had plunged her into her own head, a terrifyingly silent place. It was occupied with nothing but limestone and an iron tree, and a massive opaque sphere that dangled somewhere between ground and the limitless darkness beyond. That sphere resembled a twisted representation of the sun she was born beneath, so instead of nurturing and warming it only served to suck up feelings, personality and desire into its shell.


Numbness crept up her legs and she fell back into the chair behind her, elbows clipping the armrests. A sort of fatigue took over the muscles of her jaw and her lips and teeth parted, allowing the full volume of her breath to cloud the air in front of her. She did not respond.


He straightened and slid his hands into his pockets as if he actually felt the cold. “I’ll see you around, kid, after you’ve had some time to chew on that.” And without another word he departed the patio and stepped into the parking lot, leisurely taking his time to disappear in the distance.

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