So kiss me sweet with your warm wet mouth,
Still fragrant with ruby wine,
And say with a fervor born of the South
That your body and soul are mine.
— Ella Wheeler Wilcox
London, November 1885
She had always been attracted to death. Sought it out for reasons inexplicable to even herself. But it wasn’t supposed to end this way. And now she was dead. Of that she was certain. She felt the stinging tug of the knife as it pulled through her flesh. Her life’s blood, hot against her skin, cool as it spread in a crimson pool about her still body.
Just before she died, the grizzled, grinning faces of the thugs around her began to fade, the world turning a muddy brown. Eliza’s last breath left with a soft, soundless puff.
And now she was dead. She had fought so hard and so long to live. Done ugly things to remain alive, to survive. She’d come to London to find her distant family. They might help, offer her solace. And she hadn’t even had the chance to look, set upon by bad men barely an hour after she’d disembarked and stepped upon English soil.
Rage surged up within her. She refused to be cut down like this, by these… mindless thugs. Her body was still, a heavy, foreign thing now. No longer hers to command.
Again came the rage, but the black pall of death was stronger. Before she could think, she was simply gone.
Eliza blinked, light wavering around her. And then she was back, standing in the alleyway. Alive. Before her, two women fought the men who had murdered her. She had been murdered. Hadn’t she? Yet here she stood, idly watching as these lovely, properly dressed women, one wielding a sword, the other a baton, fought like masters. Eliza nearly laughed. She was going mad. That was it. Madness had at last claimed her.
And then all was still. The men fled, limping and bloodied. And she was left with her saviors. Eliza didn’t know what to say. She felt… odd. No, she corrected, she didn’t feel at all. There was, in fact, a decided lack of any feeling. She wanted to think further on it, but the pretty blonde woman was kneeling next to a body, crimson blood soaking into her fine, butter-yellow skirts.
Eliza stared at the sight, at the body of another blonde woman, her plain brown skirts in disarray, her throat cut, her brown eyes wide and sightless in death. She looks like me. The dead woman looks exactly like me.
“No pulse,” the young lady murmured, pressing her fingers against the woman’s pale throat. “They gutted her. Poor dear.”
“No!” The shout tore from Eliza. Fear, so violent she wanted to scream, rose up within her. She knew that body was hers. And yet… “I cannot be dead. I refuse to go. Not like this. Not from the likes of them.” Again came a flash of ire and need. The need to live.
The pretty blonde glanced at the woman with dark hair and hesitation rose high in her blue eyes. But her voice was calm as she addressed Eliza. “I’m afraid you are dead. I am very sorry we did not arrive sooner.”
The hell I am. Eliza wanted to stomp her foot. In fact, she tried. The action made not a sound. “If I am dead, then how is it that you both see me?” She peered at the women, struck by a strange new fact. “And why do you both glow?”
“You are seeing our spirits,” the dark-haired woman said. “Just as we see yours.” Around them, the breeze began to stir, and it carried the sound of moaning.
Oh, but Eliza did not like that sound. Despair and urgency lived in that sound. Nor did she like the way the shadows in the corners of the alley seemed to stir, as if impatient. Stay away from those shadows. Eliza refused to cower. But she wanted to.
The brunette sighed, the sound full of pity and heavy sorrow. “There is still a chance to move on. You must feel it. I suggest you take it, lest you be stuck here just as they are.”
She didn’t need to explain who “they” were; Eliza could feel them. When she couldn’t even feel her own feet. These beings, whatever they were, exuded cold. Such cold. Eliza glared at the shadows, daring them to come closer. She’d make them sorry. Gads, but they gave her a chill. She tried to rub her arms for warmth and felt nothing of her body, only their desire to take her. “I feel it,” she admitted to the strange ladies. “Like someone is plucking on my sleeve.” She shuddered. “I… I can’t! I don’t want to die.”
“Well, who does?” the blonde mused.
Eliza decided she did not like her very much.
The woman tilted her head and eyed Eliza in a calculating manner. “Would you really rather stay? Even if it meant you never died?”
Something inside of Eliza leapt with warmth and tight urgency. Hope. “Is this a true question?”
“She has spirit,” the blonde said to the brunette, who frowned and looked Eliza over.
“She’s a strange one,” the brunette murmured.
Rather the pot calling the kettle. “Says the woman who rushed in like a crazed banshee and beat down three full-grown men,” Eliza retorted.
“She’s in shock,” the blonde said with a smile.
The brunette’s lips twitched. “Likely you’re right.”
What a pair, these two. “I agree.” Wouldn’t anyone be in shock knowing they’d died? No, she would not think of that. Or of the increasingly loud moans coming from the shadows. “Can we move on please?” Hadn’t they said something about her staying here? Hope took on a sharp edge and made her want to reach out and shake one of these odd women.
The brunette ignored her entirely but focused on her friend. “We could…”
“We could,” the pretty blonde agreed.
Saint’s preserve her, Eliza had had enough. Perhaps if she simply tried to get back into her body… The brunette’s words halted her. “You’d be a slave. For however long He deems.”
A new chill went through Eliza. As if she’d had this conversation before. As if she were on the cusp of… something. “Who is ‘He’?”
“The man who can give you back your life,” the blonde said without preamble.
Well… She supposed… That strange, almost anticipatory discomfort within her soul grew. “Will it involve…” She couldn’t finish, but being women, they understood readily.
“No,” said the brunette emphatically. “You merely have to find other willing spirits for him.”