Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice:
Title: After Life
Savannah paces back and forth in front of the old, graffiti-splattered building. It is one of the oddest things I've ever seen. I mean, for one thing, she is dressed in a medieval-style gown, one that is pale blue velvet with black lace and silver and sapphire jewellery. She has her dark red hair swept up in a messy style that leaves her snowy white, Jennifer Aniston bangs loose, and wears just enough makeup to emphasize her eyes and give them that sultry, smoky look the fashion critics are always going ga-ga over. She looks like a cross between Rogue (think X-Men) and Maid Marian (think Robin Hood).
And there she is, pacing back and forth in front of an abandonned building (I want to call it a barn...but it has an actual front door leading into a muck room so it's not really a barn) on a deserted road in the middle of nowhere. It is very odd; like seeing a bunny rabbit on a battlefield or a baby in an ammo shed. It is the very weirdest of...juxtapositions, that's the word.
"I wouldn't say the weirdest," she protests suddenly. "I'd like to think the bunny on the battlefield is at least a little weirder. Unless it's a were-rabbit. Well, no, that could still be pretty weird. Especially if it shifted into a naked human. But a jackolope, definitely, would be an exception. Fiesty little warriors those guys. Oh, did you ever see that movie Watership Down? It may have been a book too. Anyway, those were some pretty hardcore rabbits. I especially liked that dun coloured one with the little dark shock of fur on his head - what was his name? Fur-head? Oh! Bugs! He was a pretty awesome little rabbit. You know, on second thought, I see your point."
I blink, but there's no point trying to decifer what she's talking about. There never is. I cast a look around, trying to see if any of her bodyguards are about, but see no one. I doubt she's truly alone though - she has a whole host of loved ones who would go ballistic if she went out on her own.
"Ghost, Keeley and Khary are with me," she tells me, still pacing. "And my cats are around somewhere too. Or they were. They may have...oh, no, Oz wouldn't do that so, yeah, they're around."
"Why are you here?" I ask. I take a few steps closer but am careful to still keep my distance. Savannah may have a strong grip on compassion and fairness more often than not, but even the tightest of grips and slip.
She stops pacing, freezing suddenly like a deer caught in headlights. "I...the barn is haunted."
I quirk one eyebrow in disbelief. "You avoid ghosts like the plague," I remind her and it's true, she does. she wards off ghosts the way germophobes clean house: obsessively. It's one of the reasons she has so many cats around her and why, despite being Irish with the lilting accent to prove it, she wears emblems of ancient Egyptian gods like Anubis and Horus. Ironic, I know, given that she's a necromancer, but from what I gather ghosts are to necromancers what piranha are to swimmers; individually, they are painful nuisances but in large enough numbers, they're potentially lethal.
"Not to mention terrifying," Savannah puts in, shuddering slightly at the thought. "Touching a ghost...it's not pleasant, you know. You get a taste of their death, of their life, of their emotions. Getting that sort of...charge from multiple ghosts can drive you bonkers. But, um, there are exceptions. Like my wraiths. And, um, my friends."
"Yes, my friends. When they, ah, die and transition into ghosts and haunt...something...I make an exception. Because, um, they're my friend. And I care. If they spend eternity stuck haunting somewhere. Especially an icking barn in the middle of nowhere."
I look around at the area again. I can understand her point; this isn't even a nice place to visit, let alone spend one's afterlife. "So what happened? To your friend, I mean?"
Shrugging, Savannah turns back to look at the barn, her expression intent. "My friend was killed. Someone they knew...got upset and lost control and my friend...my friend was killed. Horribly."
I wince and nod. Even with the details kept vague, it sounds unpleasant. "What's your plan then?"
"I...I don't have one. Not really. I can't...can't have anymore wraiths, not for a good long while at least; taking on Jester almost...it was a bad idea. I love Jes, I'm happy he's my wraith - I'd make him again regardless the circumstances - but it was...it was hard. Very hard. But my friend...my friend called out to me, pulled on me really hard like a mortal pulling on a choke chain. I couldn't not come, so I thought maybe if I came and talked to my friend, maybe..."
Compassion and fairness, like I said.
"What happened to the killer?" I ask.
Savannah frowns as if she doesn't understand the question. I can tell the very moment comprehension dawns, at least if the sudden darkening of her expression is anything to go by.
"I set the Hunt on him," she tells me. "He's still alive, but I gave him over to Wave and Drustan."
I'm shocked. Wave is the head torturer for the Winter Court, Drustan the Guardian of Wrath for the Winter Queen. Tendering someone into their care is the equivalent of sending someone to Hell; it's among the worst of all possible punishments the Winter Court has to offer.
For some reason, as I think on this, I'm oddly pleased.
Savannah smiles. "I thought it was rather fitting myself. The killer's Fae, you know; he'll be enjoying Wave and Drustan's hospitality for a long, long, long time to come."
"Your friend's still dead," I point out.
"Yes, my friend's still dead, but at least my friend's avenged."
I think about that a moment, then nod, accepting it. "Do you think justice will be enough to lay your friend to rest?"
"No." Savannah shakes her head and sighs. "Nothing is ever that easy - at least for me - but it's a start."
A chill wind sweeps by and I hug myself in a vain attempt to keep warm. Savannah gasps and takes a step back into the arms of one of her suddenly visible wraiths, one with red skin and horns. The moment I see him, I'm terrified, fear stabbing through me like an icy blade. There's just something about him, about his energy, that chills me. He rests his chin atop Savannah's head, wraps his arms loosely around her waist, and watches me intently with dazzling yellow eyes. It's like being caught in the gaze of Satan. I am instantly uncomfortable.
Savannah sighs. "I should go. I don't think talking will help my friend...not yet, at least."
I frown, not understanding. "Why not?"
Smiling sadly, Savannah shakes her head. She taps on her wraith's arm and he releases her, though she keeps hold of his hand as she moves away and starts walking down the dirt trail, away from me. I let her go. What else can I do? I look back at the barn. Its white paint peeling is on its sides. Indistinct grafitti is scrawled across its gable. Each and every one of its windows is broken, the glass left like jagged teeth in their panes. Long dead vines climb, twisted and black, up its walls. There's no question; it's a wretched place to spend eternity.
Savannah has stopped walking. She is standing at the edge of a forest, her wraith a looming presence at her side. He is looking away into the trees, no doubt seeking out potential danger. Savannah, however, is looking at me, that same sad smile gently curving her lips.
"The first stage of grief," she says, then vanishes, her wraith along with her, as though she'd never been here at all.
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