Tamer and Tamed

Lara let the snake coil around her neck, slithering over her shoulders and looping itself once, twice, until its head was comfortably level with her eyes. The effect was ominous, and it seemed to Barriana that Lara could see out of the snake’s eyes as well as her own. She couldn’t hope to stare the both of them down, and shook her head.

“No. Can’t do it, love. Sorry.”

Lara’s eyes flashed and the snake hissed, moving so its scales flashed in the poor lighting, showing off its poisonous green color. The Tamer stood perfectly still, lips pursed. She couldn’t believe her ears. Having brought Barriana  this far, and to hear her say this? That she couldn’t? Lara couldn’t think of a worse insult.

“Don’t you ever call me that again. You’re finished, you hear me? You’ll never be a Tamer, and what’s worse is you won’t be under my protection anymore. I’ll have my friends chase you to the end of the earth if you ever try to come near me again. You hear me? Do you hear me?!” Lara realized her voice was rising in pitch, getting out of control. She couldn’t have that. She stopped, took a breath, and stroked the snake softly on the head with one long, brown finger. “Out,” she commanded coolly.

Barriana took one last agonizing look at her, at the magnificent, iridescent and beautifully dangerous Lara. She turned deliberately, completely, and wondered if the snake would attack her. The nape of her neck prickled with Lara’s furious gaze – it almost burned with its intensity. But there were no fangs sunken in her flesh, no claws flashing out, no weight bearing her to the ground. So she walked. She took one step, then another, and another. She didn’t allow herself to look back, because she knew that if she did, she’d return to the Tamer and to the Tamer’s life. She couldn’t do that. It had gone too far.

When she got far enough down the tunnel that led out of Lara’s cavern, she started to run. Not knowing how much time she had, nor where she could flee to, she knew this much – Lara wasn’t the kind to forgive and forget. She’d ruin Barriana’s life if she could – and if not for the betrayal she could have done so at any moment out of sheer meanness or spite. That was Lara, alright. Barriana ran on, emerging into air as humid as the tunnel had been, and not much cooler. She took a moment to steady her breath, and then used one of the talents she’d learned from Lara – climbing up a tree, she began to swing from branch to branch, jumping and landing as lightly as she could where she couldn’t get a good grip with her hands. It would take her hours to traverse the humid jungle Lara called home, but every inch away was a bit of her soul that she got to keep to herself.

Barriana fled, using every bit of willpower and strength to keep going. But secretly, a nasty little part of brain wanted to get caught.

Going Soft and True

Leroy glanced down at his watch for what felt like the hundredth time. They were late. Very late. And he was out on a limb here, risking his ass for Mr. Tony Boss-man. As if the Boss-man ever did a day’s work in his life, sitting there on his throne of black leather on wheels, computer screen hiding half his face, playing at being all modern. Sure, he was modern. If modern was looking at dirty videos all day.

Patting his pockets, Leroy searched for his lighter. Realizing it was already in his hand, he drew his pack of Marlboro cigarettes from his jeans, shook one out, and lit it. He glanced at his watch again, breathing in the smoke as if it was much needed oxygen. They were so late, he thought again. He could feel the prickles on the nape of his neck; he was sweating so badly that his hair seemed to be leaking. There was no reason for them to be late. Not unless… But he wouldn’t go there. Not yet, not consciously.

Glancing at his watch yet again, he realized that this was the first time in a long damn while that he’d been up in the small hours of the night. He remembered the last time vividly now, as if it had been yesterday instead of eight years ago. He could almost smell the smoke from the barrel of the gun – but no, that’s the cig, he reminded himself – and could almost see the hole in that man’s chest. That was a long time ago now, and Leroy tried to forget it more often than not. Only right now, with them being late and all, it was getting hard to separate his quickened heartbeats from that other night when he’d felt them so strongly too.

He realized he was muttering under his breath and shut up quickly. It was a habit he’d picked up at the pen. Some banker who’d offed his business partner had told him that muttering made people stay away from you. Leroy’d started doing it one evening when one of the thugs seemed willing to come beat on him for some sport, and he’d found that the thug turned away pretty quick when Leroy didn’t respond to his taunting but just kept on muttering. The thug had made his dumb friends laugh by making fun of the crazy dude talking to himself, and that had been it. The habit of muttering had stuck. The Boss-man told him to cut it out, that it was freak-show quality stuff that would scare away his clients. Didn’t need the muttering, though, to scare them away. Since they were so late that Leroy just assumed that they weren’t coming.

Just as he took his last puff and was flicking the butt into the road, he caught sight of headlights coming towards him. That moment seemed to stretch into forever. Leroy saw the headlights, saw the flare of his cigarette hitting the ground, saw the man’s chest torn open eight years ago, saw the bars of his solitary confinement when he’d raged at first, saw the eight wasted years. He saw it all in that one instant, and instinctively turned and jumped over the railing of the highway into the adjacent field. He ran through it, the dew making the ground slippery and the plants moist. He slipped, fell, hands covered with mud where he caught himself in the wet earth. He stayed down, heart beating, and listened.

He heard the idling car. He heard voices, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying. The blood was pumping so loudly in his ears that he felt that they must have turned into beacons of sound, broadcasting to all the crooks he’d ever known, telling them all that Leroy’d turned soft. That jail had reformed him. That Leroy wanted to clean up his act and never think of how another deal gone bad could turn into a gaping hole in a man’s chest.

He stayed down for a long time, long after the car had gone with the dealers in it. He lay in the damp earth until the sun rose, until the plants and ground around him seemed to start steaming. When the sun warmed the back of his still sweating neck, the warmth gave him goosebumps and shivered. The involuntary movement jarred him, and he finally managed to make his stiff limbs listen to his brain. He sat up, and stared around him. The field he was in looked nice, tended, except for the long path he’d made from the highway where all the plants were trampled, bent and broken. Like him, like Leroy the ex-crook, the ex-brave, the ex-badass.

There was a house a few hundreds yards away, at the end of the field. Leroy got to his feet, shaking, and took a good long look at it. He’d go there, ask about making amends for the ruined crops. Ask if he could work to pay for some food. Maybe if he’d prove he was strong and just as able as any man to work a long day in the sun, they’d let him stay for a while. Rent a room for his labor. That is, if there was anyone in there. With his luck, it’d be some old bag who hired illegals to work her fields, or some senile man with fifteen sons who did everything that needed to be done. But then again, maybe it’d be a husband and wife and a little boy who needed some extra hands to help get the harvest in proper. Leroy started towards the house, thinking that soon enough he’d find out.