I heard breaking glass and a woman’s scream. She climbed out of a second-floor window onto a ledge and clung to the frame. Her nightgown and long, blonde hair billowed in the breeze. Fire raged on her roof, and a hand pawed at her from the darkness inside the room. A telltale wisp of smoke threaded its way through her open front door and up the stairs.
“My husband’s gone mad. Please help.”
So young. She wore the bronze ring of a newlywed. I hurried below her and held up my arms. The smoke probed insistently at my lips and nostrils. I shook my head against it.
She hesitated, whimpering. A hand snatched her leg. She kicked it away and scrambled further along the narrow ledge. The wooden casement began to tear from the wall.
She glanced at me then the ground below, but only clung tighter. A man appeared at the window, his teeth bared. Four scratches on his cheek oozed red. White drool speckled his trimmed beard. He clawed at her. She scrunched her eyes shut and wailed.
With a crack, the casement tore free, and she plummeted into my arms. We tumbled to the ground and the smoke surrounded us like a pack of wild animals.
I rolled to my feet, helped her up, and dragged her down the street, holding my breath as long as I could. She coughed and choked, resisting my pull. Murder flared in her eyes. I slapped her.
“Trust me. Hold your breath and stay with me.” I yanked her forward.
I shouldn’t have spoken. Smoke surged down my throat and I gagged.
Rage ignited inside me. I wanted to tear out her rabid eyes. My arm squeezed hers until she cried out, and I knew that I could break it with a twist, could snap her entire frail body. My gaze fixed on her pale, sweat-soaked throat. It invited me to choke the life from her, watch her struggle and finally go limp. My pulse quickened. Anger flooded my veins. Then my hands were around her throat, squeezing, crushing. She coughed and drooled thick, white saliva. Her blue eyes locked with mine but she put up no resistance. A smile twitched on her lips as my thumbs dug deeper. Ah, the sweet moment of superiority. How would it feel to kill? Delicious. It washed the tight pain from my head.
Something flickered deep within me. This was wrong.
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