The day Vickie first met Salome, she was running down the street and her skin was melting. She had no idea what was happening or why blisters were swelling and bursting in wet splats all over her body. The horror and pain of the experience sent her careening through the crowded sidewalk, screaming and clutching her face, which was coming off in sloppy chunks in her hands.

Huge arms wrapped around her from behind and a burlap sack dropped over her head. Her stomach turned as she was lifted into the air and carried. It was hard to get a handle on exactly what was happening to her when her focus was fixed so firmly on the fact that her flesh was literally boiling off of her bones.

By the time she was tossed unceremoniously onto a wooden floor, her voice had blown out and the only sound coming from her body were the wheeze of her empty screaming and the dripping of her melting flesh. Somehow, through the terror and pain, she understood that she was kneeling on the floor of a carriage and that there was a bag covering her upper body. The bouncing and rocking of the carriage kept her off balance, so all she could do was crouch on the floor and try not to engage with the world.

A voice drifted through the burlap and into her ears.

“I’m going to remove the sack. It may be painful, but not for long.”

She was unable to open her eyes because the lids were melted together, but she felt the cold rush of air and the rub of the fabric as the bag was pulled from her body.

“Hello Victoria. I know you can’t see me right now. Take my hand.”

The voice was calming, and even though she was in the worst pain of her life, something about the woman’s voice made her close her mouth and listen. When she felt a cold hand wrap around wrist, she tried to press herself toward the body attached to it.

A desperate need inside her insisted that she stay close to whoever was helping her. She was so scared and hurt so bad and she didn’t understand why, yet somehow she knew it would be okay as long as whoever owned that icy hand was there to take care of her.

“Hold still. This will hurt but I promise you will feel better soon,” the voice said to her, and again she was struck with an innate sense of trust, which was something that didn’t come natural to Vickie.

Something cold and hard pressed against her lips and she had just enough time to realize that they were fused together before the blade parted them again. She tried to scream, but her voice was gone. When she opened her mouth, cold, salty fluid pattered onto her tongue.

The need to scream fell away as the liquid coated the inside of her mouth and tongue. It had the rotten, fruity flavor of rich wine and an undercurrent of something poisonous. As the taste filled her head, she felt herself fall through the floor into a blind, drunken swoon.