Last time on Dark Goddess, Kali Johnson was trying to enjoy an afternoon movie when she was kidnapped at gunpoint by a strange man. She managed to get away briefly, but the man caught her and slammed her into the side of his van.
And now, Chapter 2:
A garden drenched in moonlight. There were flowers growing up columns, along the walkways, on the trees. The air was heavy with the fragrance of thyme and mint and basil, but Kali could only smell the memory of them. It was distant and half-remembered.
A rustle came from the nearby bushes. She smiled.
“You can come out,” she said without looking at the bush. “I know you are there.”
This time, the rustle was louder. More violent as the boy extracted himself from the foliage.
He knelt before Kali, his golden head bowed. “I didn’t mean to disturb you,” he said, voice little more than a whisper.
She reached for him. Lifted his chin so she could gaze into his bright blue eyes. “You’re the senator’s boy. Gabriel.”
“Why are you here?”
His cheeks flushed and appealing shade of red. Golden eyelashes lowered. “I wanted to see you again. My master had no need of me, and I…” His blush deepened.
She cupped his cheek and leaned closer.
A jolt sent her tumbling from the bench. Her head pounded, a sharp pain shooting through it. The left side of her face burned, dagger digging into her brain. Her stomach did a somersault.
The boy opened his mouth. He let out a loud honk, like a goose. It blared once. Twice. Longer and longer and…
Kali opened her eyes, the dream fading away. She was stretched out on some kind of scratchy carpeting, miles of beige filling her vision. Her eyes were heavy and blurry, lashes sticky, like she’d been crying. Her mouth tasted rancid. Her head was a hot mass of pain.
“God,” she whispered, trying to remember where she was. She couldn’t focus through the pain, but she knew something bad had happened. Something…
“A crash on the northbound 5 is slowing up traffic,” a voice said.
She lifted her head, biting her tongue when the world swam around her. After closing her eyes and counting to ten, she pushed herself up to sitting.
“What?” she gasped when she raised her hand to her face. Her wrists were taped together with duct tape. Her ankles were taped together, too.
“There’s also some debris on the road slowing up the interchange to the 101.”
“Wonderful,” a new voice muttered. “Of course there’s traffic. Why wouldn’t there be? I’m only racing the damn sun.”
That wasn’t the radio.
Kali tried to look over her shoulder, but couldn’t get a good view. She had to maneuver herself around, rolling to see the driver.
Brown hair. Goatee. Black clothing.
Movie. Man. Kidnapped.
“There was a shooting today at a shopping center in the city of Orange,” the radio said.
He’d threatened her with a gun. Shot the guard. And then.. then things got fuzzy.
“Police say the witnesses on the scene were unable to give a clear account to exactly what occurred. Some are speculating drugs may have been involved. Several people have been treated for injuries and released from the hospital. Investigation is still ongoing.”
“Why can’t they remember?” Kali asked.
The driver glanced at her. “You’re awake.”
Kali nodded, her stomach roiling at the movement. She leaned against the passenger seat in front of her, panting.
“Look out!” she shouted, seeing through the windshield that the car in front of them had stopped.
He turned and slammed on the brakes. The car jerked to a stop, throwing Kali against the seat. She hadn’t thought she could be in more pain, and yet…
She groaned. Saliva flooded her mouth.
“You all right?” he asked
“I’m going to throw up,” she croaked.
“There’s a bag next to you,” he said. Eyes still on the road, he reached back and fumbled for it.
She was barely able to yank it open before she threw up. Half-digested popcorn, soda, and candy mixed with stomach acid landed in the black plastic bag. Some dribbled down her chin.
The car lurched forward. She vomited again, not making it all into the bag this time. It splashed onto her cargo pants, causing her to heave again. She hacked and spat into the bag before finally pulling away.
He reached back and twisted the bag closed. “If you feel sick, there are more bags back there.”
“You planning on putting my body parts in them?” she asked.
“Here.” He handed back a bottle of water, the cap already twisted off.
Water spilled out of the top as she lifted it to her mouth, spilling down her chin and shirt. The water washed the worst of the taste away and helped clear her head.
“Who are you?” she asked before taking another sip.
The name wasn’t familiar. “Why did you kidnap me?”
He didn’t say anything.
“If you’re looking for ransom, you have the wrong girl. My mom’s been gone since I was a kid, so that’s a dead end. All her relatives are dead broke. I haven’t any clue who my dad is, so there’s no money there. So, um…” Belatedly, she realized that maybe telling a kidnapper she was worthless might not be the best strategy. The chances he keep her alive might be lessened by prematurely devaluing herself.
He shook his head, a smile playing over his mouth. “I’m not after a ransom.”
So, he was either a killer or a rapist. Or both. “So, what? You going to, um. Rape me?” Not that she wanted to give him ideas, but being raped would be better than being killed. At least, in the long run.
“I’m not going to rape you, Kali.” He met her eyes in the mirror, expression soft, almost like he was trying to reassure her.
Except, he knew her name. This wasn’t a random snatching. And… “Are you going to kill me?” she whispered.
He looked away from her. “Yes.”
“Why?” Escape. She needed to escape. Get out of the tape. Get out of the van. Run.
She tried to twist her wrists, but the tape held them too tightly. She cast her gaze about on the floor, looking to see if there was anything she could use to cut through.
A fission of realization went through her. Her keys. She could feel them in her pocket, pressing against her hip. And on the keys was her keychain. Her special keychain of a phoenix, given to her by her foster mother right before Kali was emancipated. The metal phoenix with the long beak and wings.
The beak and wings that might be strong enough to cut through the tape.
She shifted so her legs were in front of her. The world outside was bathed in the orangey glow of sunset that reflected off the cars around them, all stuck traffic and hardly moving. If she could cut through the tape, she might be able to run through the cars and get through an exit. Traffic was slow enough at the moment. She’d be able to avoid getting hit.
Garrison was still looking at the road. Slowly, so as not to draw attention to herself, she moved her hands to the right hand leg pocket of her cargo pants which was held shut by Velcro.
“You wouldn’t believe me,” he said.
She froze. “I wouldn’t… believe why you’re trying to kill me?”
He shook his head.
“You’d be amazed what a concussed girl will believe.”
“You wouldn’t be concussed had you done as I’d asked in the first place.”
Unbelievable. “Sorry if I messed up your kidnapping plans. I’m not exactly used to being a helpless victim.”
“No,” he murmured. “You never have been.”
She bit her lip and winced as she tasted blood. Sucking on her bottom lip, she started working the hook and loops on the Velcro as carefully as she could. Her fingernails were short, but she could just edge them under the top piece, breaking the connections quietly. A glance out the window showed her that traffic was still creeping along quietly. They were one lane over from the slow lane. One lane from freedom. All she had to do was jump out of the van, avoid one lane of cars, and get to an exit.
And then… And then it didn’t matter. She would be gone, swallowed into the crowd of the city before Garrison could make his way over. She could get to the police, let them hide her.
The image of Garrison calmly shooting the security guard flashed through her mind. Kali shuddered. He had killed so easily. Garrison hadn’t even paused before he’d shot him. Would he do any differently with the police?
But the guard had been only one person. Plus, Garrison had known exactly where to find her. IF Kali ran away, he wouldn’t know where she’d gone not once she was out of his sight. Even if he did find her, there was no way Garrison would take on an entire police station.
He stepped on the gas. The car rolled forward over a pump. Kali’s hand jerked on the pocket. The Velcro gave way with a loud rip.
“What was that?” Garrison demanded. He looked back.
She forced herself to stay calm. “My pocket. I pulled it. It has Velcro on it.”
“Um, to stop stuff from falling out.”
“Why are you pulling at it? What’s in your pocket?”
“Nothing. It’s just something to do. Nervous habit.” She licked her lip, the metallic tang making her queasy. “You never answered me. Why do you want to kill me?”
He looked at her a moment longer, eyes narrowed. Kali did her best to look innocent.
Finally, he turned away.
“I’m not special,” she said, taking the keys from her pocket. She scooted back, pulling her knees to her chest, shielding her hand. “Is it a race thing? You want to kill me because I’m not white?” She’d faced her share of racism. Her mother was white. Her father was a man that Mom had met at a party, slept with, and left without getting his name, much less country of origin. When pressed, she’d said, “I don’t know. Indian or Mexican or Chinese or something,” which was absolutely no help.
Garrison shook his head. “It has nothing to do with your whore of a mother or bastard of a father. Nothing to do with your race. In fact, is has nothing to do with you in this life at all.”
This life? “What?”
He looked at her in the mirror. “Do you really not remember, or are you just being coy?”
“Remember what?” Her wrists ached from twisting them around so she could slide the beak of her phoenix under the tape.
“Who you were,” he said. “Who you are.”
“I’m Kali Johnson. I’m just… I mean, that’s all.”
“You’re more important than that . At least, to some you are. Or, rather, you were and will be again if I don’t stop you.”
“By killing me?” She got the beak under the tape. Tried to lift it through. “What are you stopping me from doing?”
“Dying and being reborn as the so-called goddess you once were.”
She stopped. “Goddess?”
“That’s what you called yourself.”
“Do you ever dream, Kali?”
This guy was nuts. “Doesn’t everyone?”
He inclined his head as if in acknowledgement. “Your dreams should be more intricate. More real. They should be so real, they fell less like dreams and more like memories. They are, in fact. Memories of your past life.”
She let out a short, barking laugh. “You mean when I was Cleopatra, right? I remember that, sure.”
“You were much greater than a mere queen, Kali. You were a goddess. You should have memories. You told me you saved them. Your people, your rituals. Things you did. Places you’ve seen. Being worshiped by hundreds like you.”
His voice was soft. Seductive. Her head spun, eyes grew heavy.
“You were thousands of years old. As old as civilization itself. And you drew people, young and old. The strong and the weak, all of them were drawn to you. To your power, your beauty.”
Her vision darkened. The miles of cars stretched out before them were suddenly replaced by a circle of people, all bowing, their pale skin glowing, reflecting the first they were gathered around. She stood above them on a platform, wearing a long heavy dress. When she raised her hands, the people raised their faces, showing their fangs.
She blinked the image from her eyes. Rubbed them against her hands, trying to clear it away.
“You must have dreams of yourself in the past,” Garrison was saying. “Dreams of yourself in the desert. In England. France. Russia. Persia. You were so well traveled.” The car picked up a little speed. “But they’re not just dreams. They’re memories of your past life. You were a vampire. The first.”
She tried to laugh, but it stuck in her throat. Something tingled in the back of her mind. Something like a half-buried memory or story she had forgotten.
“A vampire.” It was crazy. And yet…
Dreams she’d had rose in her mind’s eye. She’d always had dreams, strange, vivid dreams where she was a queen or speaking to queens and famous people from history. Dreams of strange ceremonies. Of fields covered with dead, dirt stained with blood. Of ripping out people’s throats with her teeth. Tearing out their hearts with her hands. Dreams of saving a beautiful slave from his Roman master. Of pleading with a man in a garden to run away with her. Dreams of pleasure and pain, dreams that filled her journals and kept her friends enthralled with the retelling. Friend enthralled and psychologists worried. For her, they were normal, part of every night’s less than restful sleep.
Then, she remembered one dream with startling clarity: Garrison. Garrison, his pale, thin face rising over the backwards collar of a priest. Garrison, standing in front of a church. Him handing her a communion wafer. Blessing her as she drank from the communion goblet. His eyes burning fire as they gazed into hers.
That dream was chased away by the other dream. The horrible dream. The one she could never recall clearly, but there he was. He was in it. He stood over her, holding a knife, tears and blood streaking his face as he glared at her.
Kali gasped, pain erupting all over her body. It wasn’t the pain from where he’d hit her, but the other pain. The phantom pain that had plagued her all her life. Pains in the palms of her hands, her ankles, her stomach and shoulders.
Kali doubled over. Her hands clenched her keychain, squeezing as she rode out the pain.
“I had to kill you,” Garrison said in a low, almost desperate, voice. “I had to. Your mind forgot and your body is new, but your soul must remember.”
Kill her. He was going to kill her.
Kali forced her eyes open. She’d managed to make a tiny tear in the duct tape with her keychain. She grabbed at it with her teeth. Tugged.
The tape came apart, ripping under the pressure. She yanked her wrists apart and stabbed at the tape on her ankles with her keychain. Broke it and pulled it off.
“Well, you’re not going to kill me this time.”
Garrison whirled, looking over his shoulder. “Kali, no!” He reached out, grabbing for her.
The van smashed into the car in front of them. She was thrown backwards, then immediately forward again as they were hit from behind. The airbag hit Garrison in the face, distracting him.
Shaking the dizziness of, Kali grabbed the handle of the door and pulled it open. She tumbled out of the van onto the asphalt, elbows skidding over it, skin tearing off.
“What the hell, lady!” someone shouted. A car honked. Tires rolled frighteningly close to her head.
Garrison coughed behind her. Wheezed out, “Kali!”
She jumped to her feet and ran. Every car on the freeway seemed to erupt in a storm of honks. People stuck their heads out of their windows. They shouted at her. Waved fingers.
She kept running.
Garrison shouted again behind her. She didn’t look back. Instead, she found an opening in the traffic and darted into the lane.
A car slammed on its brakes. It stopped so close to her, Kali could feel the heat from its engine through her clothes. She stumbled and fell against it bracing her hands on its too-hot-hood.
“Christ, you okay?” the driver shouted.
Kali shook her head and pushed herself up. She finished crossing the lane and began to run along the shoulder. Her feet pounded the pavement. Her ankle throbbed in pain. Lungs burned. Ahead, cars lined up on the exit ramp. She ran alongside them until she hit the street.
Kali had no idea where she was. Los Angeles wasn’t her city. She’d been there before, but never to this area. She was completely lost, bleeding, scared, and alone.
She kept running.