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The Traveler’s Companion

By @Val

Shift

Sebastian held an unlit cigarette between his teeth, the matchbox missing from his coat pocket. Though he craved the nicotine, it would have to wait. He sighed, pinching his fingers on the butt and sliding it carefully back into its box. His listened impatiently to the scuffle around the corner. Lola wasn’t screaming, which only confirmed Sebastian’s suspicions. She was ready to die.

There had been something off about Lola all day-all week, in fact. The way she slouched. The hollowness of her eyes. How she no longer smiled. It was so unlike her. Even now, as the muffled gun popped and her body slid to the ground, Lola made barely a sound. Their time together had been abnormally long, and though Sebastian enjoyed Lola’s company, it was time to enjoy her in a different way.

The mugger rifled through Lola’s purse, its contents clanking as he quickly searched for valuables. He would find a wallet containing over two-hundred American dollars as well as the equivalent in both euros and rubles, a jewelry box housing a pair of five carat tanzanite earrings, and a vial of French perfume. All items expensive, and undoubtedly already within the murdering thief’s pockets. Sebastian only hoped he would leave the matches.

A gentle shattering sound could be heard around the corner, glass tinkling as it spread across the asphalt. The idiot had dropped the perfume vial.

When all was quiet, Sebastian turned the corner. Too soon. The man still crouched over Lola, his pervish hand extended towards her breasts. Though repulsed at first, it appeared to Sebastian that necrophilia was not this man’s intention. He started when Sebastian made his presence known, gripping the golden chain around her throat and darting from the alleyway. With him went the purse he’d not yet finished rifling. Sebastian was more than a little peeved at this.

After a moment to grieve his lost matchbox, Sebastian made his way to Lola’s still warm body. He didn’t bother to close her eyes like he knew people tended to do. Instead he watched for their inevitable change, hoping maybe for a sign that this time it would be Colleese. Surely it was time she came back. She was Sebastian’s favorite of all the travelers.

Her lashes flickered, a final puff of life leaving her round lips, and as suddenly as a train derailing from its tracks, the traveler was no longer Lola.

Sebastian sacrificed his suit to the puddle of perfume and whatever filth littered the alleyways of Dublin, and lowered himself to the ground beside her, wanting to comfort whatever new soul appeared. He positioned the body in his arms, resting what still looked like Lola’s head so that it turned up to face him.

It was nearly half an hour before her eyes flicked open, however briefly. Sebastian almost missed it, but the quick flutter of her lashes was enough to reveal the brown irises behind. Lola’s had been a coppery orange, the core nearing on gold as it faded out into the deep toned exterior. That delicious coloring had already faded, becoming nothing more than a muddy brown without fleck or flare of another hue. Sebastian was disappointed. These were familiar eyes, though not in a good way.

“Come on now, be quick about it,” Sebastian said, his exhilaration gone and patience wearing. The shot had been muffled and thirty minutes already ticked away as he awaited the new soul. There were no police en route to the scene of the crime. Either no one had heard or no one cared enough to call for help. Sebastian knew this, but he hurried her to consciousness anyway. Call it concern for any passerby that may find him cradling a disoriented and disheveled woman, or simply a lack of empathy for the particular traveler who slowly began to replace Lola.

Her hair was beginning to change from Lola’s smooth curls to the matted black of another. Sebastian usually found this transition fascinating, often spending hours transfixed as the details that made each traveler unique would fade away into something new. But the traveler he recognized coming through was such a waste of brilliance. He could feel Lola’s curves pressed against him as they sat, slowly shrinking to form lean muscle. What is it about a strong woman that’s so hard to hold, Sebastian thought to himself.

“Where am I?” She croaked.

God, was that voice ever horrid. The vocal chords were stuck somewhere between Lola’s sultry purr and a newer, more awkward sound. Soon it would settle in the alto region, still accented from their time together in Bulgaria. Though this traveler picked up new languages fast, she was never around quite long enough to acclimate her speech to proper English.

Sebastian didn’t answer the question fast enough and her senses quickly returned. She pulled away, lunging from his grasp as though he would have tried to stop her. Bad move. She staggered, crashing into the side alley wall of Arthur’s Pub. Sebastian could have warned her not to get up, that her body was not yet changed completely and wouldn’t move at her will, but he didn’t.

She wouldn’t have listened if he had, and more importantly he was in no mood to help her.

“What happened?” Her words were venom. She put her weight against the bricks, further soiling her already ill fitting red dress. Without Lola’s curves and nothing to fill out the low cut neck, she was soon swimming in fabric as her skin grew tight and began to darken. It pained Sebastian to watch. Lola’s flesh had retained its lively glow even in death, reminding him of a treasured carnelian gemstone. But it seemed with enough strain even the most beautiful of gems can tarnish. 

Those watery brown eyes were nearly black in this lighting. They glared at Sebastian, still hateful. This woman never seemed to change-not in that aspect at least. Glaring seemed difficult as her lids began to widen and take on their new shape, the whites of her eyes becoming vast pools of ivory with a charcoal center. Perhaps wide doe-eyes were attractive on some women, but not on this one. They were too large and overly contrasting with her dark skin, as was the pinkness of her plump lips. Why has nature given such a dark woman so pink of lips? Were there no rules against such contradictions?

“So it’s you then.” He stated disdainfully. It was no longer a question. Fifty years of freedom had finally come to an end.

Her head, now rounder than before, cocked to the side. She managed to surprise Sebastian. This traveler had never been a graceful one, but in this moment she moved like a snake rising to strike. Her jaw grew more angular as it clenched, doing away with Lola’s angelic softness and round cheeks.

“Me?” She hissed. “You were expecting someone else.”

Sebastian thought maybe she would try to hurt him. Though startlingly quick at recovering her stamina, he doubted there was fight in her quite yet. He gambled on this, stepping closer to the poised cobra. When she did not recoil, he filled his mouth with milk and honey, calming her with the sweet comfort of gentle words. Her expression did not change. Sebastian wondered how good her memory was.

Her lips parted, baring unnaturally white teeth within her large, gaping mouth. “You killed me, again.

Perhaps these words should have hit Sebastian harder, but there was no guilt in him. He rolled his eyes, speaking dryly, “It came so fast, my dear. I could not have stopped a car be sheer will, as you could not with your body.”

She struck him hard and fast, unsettling his footing and bringing him to the ground. Analogies aside, Sebastian would have rather faced a literal cobra than this woman. She pinned him beneath her weight. Though the comically large dress gave the illusion that she was skinny, her brute strength proved otherwise. She was nothing but bone and muscle, both of which Sebastian could feel pushing hard against his windpipe.

“Hasana,” he breathed, struggling against her crushing hands. “Enough. You know I’m dead for good if you kill me. No second chances like you.”

She growled. “Why should I care if you come back or not? You deserve to die.” Regardless of her words, her fingers loosened slightly. Maybe I’ll survive her yet, he thought.

“I’m sorry.” A lie. He was not sorry she died, yet he repeated the words with as much sincerity as a suffocating man could muster. “Hasana, I am truly sorry.”

It seemed she did not care to hear him grovel for his life. She pushed from his chest to stand, still straddling his waist as she glared down at him. Sebastian rubbed at his neck, never looking directly up at her. He’d heard it was a sin to look a snake in the eye. More so, he feared she would spring upon his throat once more.

“You may choose to allow me some space to stand. This angle and that dress spare you little dignity.” She kicked under his ribs, the blow doing away with any residual pain in his neck. “Well struck, my dear.”

With her permission, Sebastian crawled to his feet. She regarded him coldly, tension building in her black arms as they crossed in front of her chest. There wa****le to hide there, a point Sebastian would have made if he weren’t in pain enough already. He held his tongue for a moment, though quickly dissolved that thought when another occurred to him. He stood straighter, imitating her perfect posture. “How is it you were able to overcome me so easily, and so soon after waking up?”

Hasana laughed-a hideous sound like most others she made. “I was dormant, not dead. What else is there to do but acquire power while stuck inside the traveler’s mind for-how many years was it?”

“Fifty.” She answered herself, voice all knives and sharp edges.

Sebastian hated Hasana’s smugness. He chuckled to match that which had come from her lips. The most empowering thing a man can do whilst fighting is to laugh, and laugh loudly. Or so he’d been told. “As a man, not a traveler, I would not know.” This earned him her hand snapping sharply across his face. God, she’s quick.

“You are insufferable.” The words shot from her lips with strong accent.

“Were you always this horrible?” Sebastian shot back, avoiding her hand as it flew forth a second time. He moved away, eyes daring her to follow. “I genuinely cannot remember.”

“Your body may not decay, but I can still kill you.” Hasana’s fire seemed to be fading. She felt for the wall behind her and began to shrink back, leaning now as she had in the beginning. “You’ve killed me so many times, it would only be fair.”

“Two thousand years together,” Sebastian recalled, his voice triumphant as he stood tall while she sank to the ground, “you cannot expect me to come to the rescue every time a car tries hitting you.”

Her eyes began to close as each blink lasted longer than the one before. “Five decades of acquired power doesn’t seem to go very far,” he jested, though it was hard to say whether or not she heard. Disregarding the notion that her deflation may have been a ruse to lure him closer, Sebastian knelt by her crumpled body. Swollen lips parted and she muttered, “If I pass out, don’t **** my throat. I’d like to get a glimpse at the twenty-first century before you send me back to that prison.”

She did pass out. There must have been some honor in Sebastian yet, as he made no attempt on her life. Such a simple request, and yet he debated the many ways around it. Hasana asked not to have her throat ****. Sebastian would not have done this, regardless of the want to rid himself of her. Too messy. There were far more cleaner ways to end a life. She said nothing about being left in the bath, water rising as she sunk low in her unconsciousness. It would have been easy, yet Sebastian refrained.

Now he wished he hadn’t.

“The cars go opposite now.”

Hasana stood by the window, her muscle corded body draped in Lola’s silk robe. A fresh towel was wrapped tightly in a knot on her head. She’d taken a peculiarly long bath for a woman who did not wash her hair. When the washroom was finally his, Sebastian found the mass of Lola’s expensive product in the trash.

“We were in the states last time. Europe is different.”

“They’re ugly,” she added, letting the lace curtain fall back into place. The streets of Dublin rattled on outside, a more welcome noise than Hasana’s curt observations.

“Efficiency is the new sexy,” Sebastian mumbled, absentmindedly. He missed Lola already.

“If the sixties did anything right, it was the cars.”

Sebastian found this funny, as it was a car that killed her, but he did not voice this thought. Hasana would have replied, “I wasn’t killed by a car. I was killed by my companion,” or something of that manner. He was tired of hearing her blame him for the incident. She wasn’t wrong, but the last thirteen hours had been filled with her almighty allegations between lapses of unconsciousness.

Redundant accusations were continuously thrown, never leading to resolution. Surely one of them would have to call truce.

“Two beds,” she narrated. “Always the gentleman.”

Sebastian sat up from where he lay sprawled on the sofa. She sat at the foot of what was once Lola’s bed, legs crossed and spine rodlike as she felt the white comforter beneath her dark fingers. It was a strong contrast-the white of the bed and the black of her flesh. A fan of high-contrast art, Sebastian should have found this pleasing. Instead he detested the opposing colors. Even the black silk robe looked out of place on her, as though no color wished to associate with her.

She wasn’t looking at him, though her eyes did not grow soft. They seemed to become harder as she processed the room around her, narrowing at the mess of suitcases and strewn clothing left by Lola. They’d have to throw the outfits away, Sebastian realized. None would fit Hasana even if she wanted them.

What a waste.

Irritated, Sebastian spoke without filter. “I didn’t bring Lola to the Guinness capital so I could sleep with her. I brought her here to get drunk off the best beer in the world and to enjoy life. Some people don’t seem to know how that’s done.”

The words were bitter leaving his tongue.

Hasana did not respond immediately. He expected her to be angry. To spit back with equal temper. But she was slow to answer. She calculated his words, looking pitiful as she replied, “Some people are not given the chance.”

Sebastian ought have felt some shame at these words. Guilt, remorse, regret. Deep down there must have been something. A flicker of one of these emotions. It was faint and unrecognizable, but if not for its existence he would not have found it within himself to hold back the rush of retorts. But it was there, and he did.

The day passed in silence. And then a week.

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