I don’t get to her in time.
Time stops. Everything stops. My answers, if they were truly to come from this unknown woman, seep out of her throat with the gush of blood pouring down her chest.
I stumble back and fall against the chair again, sitting in a slouched and defeated position with my legs splayed out across the floor. I watch the woman from my seat, the way her eyes begin to glaze over, how her eyelids flutter in some soft yet sickening way. I watch helplessly as she chokes, and how her body fights to hold on to that last breath, her bloodied chest heaving desperately.
And then her fingers uncurl and lay heavily over the chair arms. Her dead eyes look upward at the ceiling, filled with nothing. Blood drips from the chair into a dark puddle beneath it. It won’t stop. I wonder how much blood this woman’s body held.
I sigh with pain and remorse and softly shut my eyes.
I only feel this pain when the victim is innocent.
Seraphina, standing with her back facing me, finally turns around. Her soft, plump mouth is partially agape. There’s something called confusion and maybe even regret swirling in her brown eyes. She looks down at her hands, the right one with the knife covered in blood, and then she drops the knife as if it’s a dirty, evil thing. She brings her hands up and looks at them, it seems as though asking herself how she could’ve done this. How could she have done this? I don’t understand it. Seraphina is a killer. An executioner. Many lives have been taken by her hands. But they were, for the most part, deserving deaths. These three women she killed since yesterday were the first—that I know of—that were done in cold blood.
Was it because of me? Am I to blame for her madness somehow?
No. She was already mad. She was a sadistic bitch when we met and when I fell in love with her. But this. What I’m witnessing now…
I am so goddamn confused…
“It wasn’t her,” Seraphina says, her voice cracking.
She looks at her hands again, one covered in blood, and then she looks back at me.
“I’m so sorry, Fredrik”—tears begin to stream down her cheeks—“I’m so sorry.”
She falls to her knees on the concrete floor and buries her face in the palms of her hands, sobbing into her fingers.
I rush the short distance to her and pull her against my chest, enveloping her in my arms. I rock her against me, pressing my lips to the top of her black hair as she weeps. I let her cry, but I don’t let it go on for long. Because I need answers now more than ever. I need to know everything.
“Tell me, love,” I whisper, holding her tightly within my arms. “Tell me who you thought she was. I can help you if you’ll just tell me. Make me understand.”
She shakes her head against my chest.
“I-I can’t. I can’t tell you because you’ll hate me.”
“I could never hate you,” I say with truth. I love her. Parts of her I don’t love, like who she was moments ago when she killed that woman. But right now, the person she is wrapped in my arms, I love with everything in me. “You said she owed you, Seraphina. What did she owe you?”
At first, she doesn’t want to answer. I wait patiently, hoping that if I don’t push her she’ll feel more confident about telling me. I squeeze her gently for good measure.
“I was ten when I met her,” she says, but then becomes quiet again.
Anxious. Desperate. Perplexed. They are among a thousand different emotions I’m feeling right now. But still, I try to remain calm.
“I never meant to betray you,” she says.
I feel like she’s jumping subjects, evading the one about the woman.
“But I knew you had to get away from me,” she goes on. “I couldn’t leave you on my own. I tried. But I couldn’t bear it. So I lied to you about everything. I started sleeping at Safe House Sixteen.”
This is the part I don’t want to hear, but know that I need to.
I brace myself, gripping her tighter, both out of preparation for the pain I’m going to feel, and the pain I’m going to inflict on her before this night is over, because of it.
“I-I did sleep with him, with Marcus who ran the safe-house.”
I grit my teeth and take a deep breath.
I stay calm.
I stay quiet.
I want to skin her alive.
“I did it because I wanted you to find out.”
“Why did you want me to find out?” My voice is composed, careful.
“Because I wanted—.”
I’m growing more impatient. Subconsciously, I feel the leather straps on the chair slipping through my fingers as I bind her against it in my mind.
“You wanted what?” I ask with my chin resting atop her head.
“I wanted to hurt you.”
“Why did you want to hurt me?”
I love you.
I despise you.
“Because love is pain,” she says and I swallow down the truth of her admission. “Because love is the greatest scam of all time. And because as much as I f**king love you, I hate you for inflicting it upon me!”
Suddenly, I feel a pinprick.
Warmth moves from my thigh upward, spreading out through my veins.
The room begins to blur, faintly at first, but enough that I instantly know I’m in trouble. I try to shake my mind free of the drug, but it’s too strong, wrapping around my consciousness like a spider’s silk around its prey.
I didn’t even realize when Seraphina left my arms, or when I fell against the concrete floor.
Gasoline. The cool air is rife with it, so much so that it’s beginning to burn my nostrils.
“Love…where are you?” I call out, but can’t tell if the words ever actually left my lips. “Sera….”
My lids are getting heavier. Flames. The air isn’t cool anymore. It’s hot…so f**king hot. I want to loosen my tie to let my neck breathe, to strip off my suit jacket, but I can’t move my arms.
“I love you, Fredrik,” I hear her voice whisper near my ear, soft like powder, fatal like poison. I want to kiss her, to feel her lush lips on mine. I want to grind my hips against hers until she cries. “I love you…and because I love you,”—I feel my body moving across the floor—,”you have to let me go.”
Smoke. It’s scratching my throat and my lungs, seeping into my pores and suffocating my blood vessels. I feel like I’m being cooked from the inside out. The heat is becoming unbearable, the flames engulfing the wooden beams holding the basement ceiling up. I can’t see them through my heavy lids, but I can hear them, licking the walls like a thousand demons that sprang from Hell to torment me.