"Kristen?” There came no response from the darkness inside as Gracie opened the door. She saw the shape of her roommate on top of the tangled sheets of her frameless futon mattress. Crouching by Kristen’s bedside, Gracie reached out to touch her roommate’s hair and felt something wet. Gracie flicked on the bedside lamp.
The wound on the side of Kristen’s head hadn’t been bleeding long, but long enough to cover her face in dark red streams. They ran down cheeks whose topography distorted from still-swelling bruises. Drool bubbled on her torn lips, indicating she was still breathing, even if she did not respond to the light against her eyelids. Gracie didn't need to be the world’s greatest detective to figure out Kristen's boyfriend had done this to her.
She wheeled around, propelling herself back toward the living room where Zack now stood with Joe and Jerry barking at his feet. Zack raised the rum bottle to bring it down on Jerry’s head but never got the chance. At a full run, Gracie grabbed Zack by the lapels of his shirt, drove him backward, and slammed him up against the wall.
Her lips peeled back into a tight sneer, rage beyond speaking. Electric hatred leaped between their eyes, its charge built up from the nine months of Gracie watching him treat Kristen terribly since she moved in and him knowing full well she thought he was an asshole from day one.
Zack raised the bottle once more, this time to bring it down on Gracie, but she shifted and flung his body to the side. Unbalanced, he crashed to the floor and his weapon fell from his hand, skittering out of reach and spilling its contents. Jerry and Joe went for his thigh and shoulder respectively, keeping Zack distracted as Gracie leaped onto his chest to drive her first punch into his right cheek. Blood shot from his mouth, sending a spatter over his left shoulder.
She quickly landed one, two, three more blows to his head before, swinging blind, Zack managed to fling her off him and get up onto his feet. Gracie recovered quickly and hurled herself at him once more, but he grabbed hold of an over-full ashtray and threw it at her face. The explosion of ash stunned her, choked her, and as she tried to cough herself free, Zack delivered two sharp jabs at her head and chest that sent Gracie stumbling backward into the kitchen, where she splashed to the floor with the spilled cereal and milk and glass and blood.
Zack spat some curse Gracie didn’t quite hear. Her head rang from the impact. Suddenly she doubled over as Zack kicked her in the gut, once and then again. She reached out for anything to use in her defense and her fingertips found the neck of a broken beer bottle that must have been responsible for the glass on the floor. When Zack went to kick her again, she drove its jagged edge into his calf, and he howled in pain. Zack pulled back his bleeding leg and fell. His head caught the corner of an empty milk crate they used as a table, and it knocked him out cold.
Jerry and Joe kept yipping at the now-unconscious attacker, and Gracie climbed back to her feet. Her whole body burned. It was always the moment right after a fight that hurt the worst. She trembled as she looked down on him. Still, she held the bloodied bottleneck in her hand.
He was helpless. She was armed. How easy would it be to end him? What would it cost her to remove a piece of shit like Zack from the world? And would that cost be worth it? The fight was over, but would anything really be over afterward? Would he just end up hurting Kristen again? Or someone else? Who could Gracie keep from harm by taking one simple, decisive action that ensured he never hurt anyone ever again?
Gracie pursed her lips. It would be easy, she told herself. Just like carving a steak, only takes one motion, one line, ear to ear across his throat. That’s all. She could do it. She could do what needed to be done.
And then, as she focused on Zack’s face, Gracie saw tendrils of a strange mist begin to curl around it, surrounding him, reaching toward her, expanding into the room. Then she heard a voice that seemed to resonate within her bones say, “Don’t…”
Gracie looked up. She hadn’t noticed the dogs going quiet.
It was as if he had stepped out of the cover of Nights of Justice--The Crimson Wraith. He stood there, surrounded by an otherworldly fog, dressed all in scarlet, head-to-foot, looking like something out of a Renaissance Faire with tall cavalier boots and leather gauntlets, a black belt around his waist with skull-shaped clasp over his red doublet with black brocade. His red cloak, as well, bore a swirling black pattern along its length, and from within the shadow of its hood, the white skull gazed at her with no eyes visible in its darkened sockets.
Gracie blinked. “You have got to be fucking kidding me.”
The Crimson Wraith: Legacy of the Hood by J. Griffin Hughes
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