Vickie turned around and her eyes met his. Those eyes. Those big, blue, cartoonishly beautiful eyes, like an animated princess. They seemed to project sadness, though he detected something else behind him. Something dark and angry and cold blooded, like a coiled black snake. It almost made him recoil, but then the smell hit him again. That smell. It was all around her like a cloud and he breathed it in. He tried to speak but was only able to let out a weak, sad shuddering breath.

She glided toward him and he resisted the urge to step back.

“Look, you have to leave me alone. You’re pretty and you taste fantastic but you have to go away. Now.” she said, becoming less sympathetic and more annoyed. He shook his head, trying to put a clear thought together. It was impossible. His brain was spinning.

“I can’t. I think I’m in love with you.” Devon tried to say with some semblance of integrity, but it came out as a stuttering mess. She lowered her head and that sheepish, sad smile disappeared. The coiled viper raised its head and he could see the darkness welling up behind her eyes. She was beginning to look angry.

“You aren’t in love with me. GO AWAY. I don’t have time for this shit!” she said, building into a shout, a hint of some sort of accent coming through. British or Scottish or South African. He staggered back as though physically struck. The rejection, so forceful and plainly spoken, was devastating. It wasn’t just that she didn’t want him. It was the understanding that whatever this feeling was that she was bringing out in him was going to ride away with her in that car, and he may never feel it again. That memory of sitting in the library, reading Slaughterhouse 5,  the quiet, protective presence of Miss Alexis only a few yards away. Somehow she gave that feeling to him and he needed it again. He wanted to live in that place forever.

A small fire was building in the pit of his stomach. An angry fire. That feeling of being dragged out of the club. That feeling of watching some white trash neanderthal picking through his backpack and dropping his books and toys and pencils through the open rectangle of a school bus window and knowing that there wasn’t a damned thing he could do about it. Knowing that no one he told would ever care or help him. That feeling of being lifted and dropped into a garbage can, full of discarded food. Of getting ketchup and tuna in his hair and on his clothes. That feeling of his entire being controlled by the will of trolls and bastards. All of that hurt and pain swelled into an anger he’d never experienced before. She started this. She DID something to him, and he suspected she did it intentionally. She had opened this world to him and then immediately slammed the door in his face.

“No!” he shouted, in a voice that was suddenly confident and forceful when so recently it had been simpering and sad. “No! You don’t get to decide this! You don’t get to-” he started to say, but was interrupted by the sound of an explosion from somewhere close by. Something punched him in the chest and he felt himself lose his balance and stumble backwards onto his ass. He tried to speak but had no breath. Whatever it was knocked the wind out of him.

Vickie was holding a pistol. He didn’t know guns, but he could see that it was a big one. The oily taste of gunpowder was in the air and he looked down at his chest where he’d been hit. There was a small black hole in the left side of his shirt. He could see blood, his blood, seeping out of the wound and was suddenly aware of his heart thudding in his chest. He couldn’t hear anything, but he could feel the beating of his heart as it scrambled to understand what had just happened.

When he opened his mouth again to ask her why she’d shot him, blood spilled out in a wet splash. No words, only blood. She looked down at him and their eyes met again. In them he saw nothing at all. No crystal blue magic. No cartoon twinkle. No coiled snake. Nothing. Her eyes were completely blank as she watched him die. Her mouth was still and dry and expressionless. The gun smoked at her side.

The sound of his heart drifted off somewhere, and he could hear, echoing in the distance, delicate piano music. Chopin. The woman, Vickie, was gone, swallowed by gray fog. She no longer seemed important. She was a creature in a lake he was walking away from. No longer of any relevance or threat to him. Though he could still smell the strawberries, and that other scent. The one that eluded him. As the blood ran out of his body onto the gravel of the parking lot, a memory came to him.