Heartweed: Chapter 21

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.

Chapter 21

Artie was empty. In fact, she felt like she had gone past empty into whatever lay beyond. She’d thrown up until there was nothing left inside her except for the taste – sharp, slick and impossible to get rid of, no matter how much she spat.
Rob had rattled the door a couple of times. She’d told him to go away. Now Sam was there, giving off clouds off worry that permeated the door. Artie leaned her cheek against the chill tile surrounding the bath.
“I’m fine,” she said again. She wasn’t fine. Nowhere near. She wasn’t even on the same planet as fine.
Artie heard Sam move away from the door, murmuring to someone else. She drew herself to her feet and opened the frosted glass window. The cold air was like a slap in the face.
March smiled up at her from the garden. He beckoned, his long, white fingers coiling and uncoiling, and turned to disappear back into the shadows of the garden.
Artie’s own fingers released the window edge. They were numb and stiff; she hadn’t realised that she had been gripping that hard. She fumbled to fasten the rest of the buttons of her shirt. The landing was empty. Artie hurried downstairs. She could hear the sound of laughter and voices in the lounge, where the remainder of the party sounded like it had ended up.
The kitchen was almost empty. Chloe and her friend were leaning against the counter, their conversation had turned into alcohol-laced proclamations. Artie ignored them and they ignored her as she rooted through a drawer.
She stepped out into the still night. March wasn’t there. Artie strained her eyes into the shadows, waiting for them to adapt, and took a cautious step deeper into the garden.
“Cold iron.”
The liquid hiss came from behind her; Artie spun towards the voice, raising the serrated steak knife. She pointed it towards March’s heart. The faerie lolled against the sagging fence. Like spider-silk, his hair stirred in air currents that Artie couldn’t even feel. His loose clothes merged with the darkness. He gestured at the knife.
“A sensible, but useless, precaution.” His eyes bored into Artie’s. They were bottomless; they pulled her in and down. Artie came back to herself with a heart-stopping jerk, like waking from a falling dream, to find the knife reversed in her hand – the tip over her own heart.
“Do you see what I mean?” March said.
Artie blinked and focussed her eyes on a point beyond March’s right shoulder. She turned the knife away from herself and dropped the hand gripping it to waist height, holding it there stiffly, not trusting it.
“Murderer.” The acid in the word burned Artie’s tongue. “I’m going to kill you.”
She didn’t see him move, but he was in front of her, so close that the floating strands of his hair stroked her face. He gripped her wrist and leaned even closer. His breath was hot on Artie’s face as he whispered: “Are you sure of that?”
Artie started to twist away. March pushed his thumb deep into the tendons on the inside of her wrist; the pain froze her. March laughed and flung her arm away with such force that she staggered back, struggling to keep her feet.
“Why are you here? What do you want?” Artie almost sobbed.
A rictus smile. “Why, to ruin your fun – the way that you ruined mine.” The smile transformed into a snarl. “I don’t forgive such impertinences.”
“So you killed Alex, what?” Her voice felt hollow, “To spite me? To hurt… me?”
March’s shoulders rose and fell like a sea swell. “You do not seem to be very hurt over your brother’s death. Already throwing yourself into that handsome youth.” His lips curled. “I wonder if my wife would like him as a replacement for Alex. She was quite addicted to your brother. No other tidbits I have brought for her cut through her vapid melancholy quite the way he did.”
Artie screamed and lunged, the knife in her fist. March sidestepped deftly and she tripped on the edge of the flowerbed. Her shoulder slammed into the fence. She sprawled face down at his feet in the dirt.
“You know what I think?” Artie glared up at him and spat earth from her mouth. “I think you just killed Alex because he was better at giving it to your wife than you are.” She tensed for the kick or the blow, but neither came. March went still.
“Perhaps.” He crouched down. “But your brother is dead and no longer interesting. You are interesting.” He reached a hand to touch her face. Artie slashed at him with the knife – and missed, again.
“So are you going to kill me now?”
“No,” March stood. “I am going to tear you apart. Those you love – the blonde girl, the tall boy, your lover, your mother, your father – I will kill them, and anyone else you allow into your heart, instead. One at a time. I might even take years to do it, but be assured I will take them all from you in the most painful ways possible.”
He straightened the cuffs of his shirt,
“This has been most amusing. I will see you again. Soon.”
The shadows roils around him and he vanished. Artie stared through the space he had left for a long moment, then put her face back down into the soft soil. Tears streamed from her eyes.

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