Some say that our lives are defined by what we desire to do, when we do it and how. But maybe it is not our wants that define us per se, but how far we are willing to go to make them reality. In their purest forms, our desires have the ability to render our lives into pits of hell with the power of retaliation furthering the cycle of violence. Demons are able to claw into our lives with the ability to destroy everything and the wreckage left in our wake like an inferno with the power to devour everything in its path. It is a race of danger and finality. Even so, the risk must be met when a greater offence is up for the taking: To allow the guilty to go unpunished. And when facing them, no amount of training can trump nature and that desire we held onto for so long is but a simple test that separates the strong from the weak.
The sound of the glass shattering below me makes my lips twitch with satisfaction. I’m up on the upper level of the Grind, the VIP section, my arm still above my head. Just seconds ago there had been a hastily made molotov cocktail in my hand and now there is nothing but the memory of the heat of the flame and the smell of the burning rag in the air. What is left of the bottle lay at the front door, its remains taunting the flames to grow bigger and wider, successfully cutting Jackie off from her attempt at escaping the building and me altogether.
Jackie skids to a stop. She’d been running full tilt since she set off that trap in her office—I know she has just by the way she pants and sweats like some stuffed pig. She must have stopped off at a nearby office or the washroom in the meantime, however. I would have expected her to be miles away by the time I came to. Perhaps she went downstairs to try and get Arthur. Whichever way I look at it, I can’t be more happy that luck is on my side today. Not only have I managed to catch up to her, but I have also stopped her from fleeing.
From down below, Jackie’s cry of disbelief forms, raising like the smoke to the upper levels. She stomps her feet, her fists clenched, and then she spins around, her eyes wide, rolling with barely controlled panic. She’s at first watching the fire spread until she spots me. I cock an eyebrow and even in the maniac tinge of the room, I catch her face reddening.
Sword in one hand, I hop over the railing and drop to her level, landing in an agile crouch. Jackie doesn’t hesitate. Her gun is in her hand and it’s aimed, high, high at my head. I am in no mood to be careful. It’s do or die. Within two seconds, I’ve pulled my arm back and thrown the sword. It catches Jackie’s gun, pinging it out of her hand and out of sight. Just by the way Jackie jumps and gasps, I know she didn’t expect that. In that instant, I think I can see fear, real fear in her face and a desire to burst into tears.
“This is it, Jackie,” I say, straightening up.
She whips out her smart phone from her pocket and raises it so that I can see. “Before you attempt to kill me, you should know that if my heart stops, everything I have on you will be uploaded onto our servers which will be available for the world to see. Once it is seen by the authorities, you will be nothing. A reminder of who your mother was, your disappearance after Vita Alto died, the alias Samantha Millens, video proof of how it was you who broke into the museum months ago, everything I have on you is out there!”
I raise my eyebrows at how pathetic she sounds. “I have come all this way, to stop and consider whatever words are coming out of your mouth… Do you think I am going to fail this?”
“Do I think you are going to fail?” she scoffs. “This coming from the little girl who has been failing since she was brought into this world. You didn’t see this all happening tonight, did you? And our little episode in my office is but more proof you are in way over your head.” She pauses for a moment as if to let the words sink in. “I would say the chances of you failing again in your loathsome life is rather high, wouldn’t you say?”
I take a deep breath and just look Jackie in the eyes. I don’t speak.
“You either let me go,” she says, “or you go away for good.”
“Do you think I really care anymore?”
“I think you are unstable, Delilah. You’re caught up in some world where one little girl is capable of crushing a whole organization.”
“Ah,” I say, “for once I think you’re right about something. Unlike your theory, however, I am not looking to take down the whole organization one person at a time. Instead, I am going to take out the ringleader and let the rest of the company shake on unsupported legs.”
“As much as I envy your mindset, we both know you are incapable of taking that next big step.”
“You know, we’re taught in the art of destruction that the best way to ruin somebody is to keep them as far away from death as possible, force them to live in their agony for their wrongdoing. But you… you are the one exception.”
Jackie shakes the phone in her hands. “This will destroy you!”
“Then destroy me.”
Jackie screams in fury and runs as fast as she can at me. Her hands, stretched out in front of her, claws ready to rip into my eyes, come at me at miraculous speeds. I grab them fast, kicking her back and, while still holding onto her one arm, give her two kicks to her side. She winces, bends over at the midriff and groans. My follwing punch to her jaw forces her to tumble backwards and twirl to the ground.
Pins and needles stab at my knuckles and I shake my fist to get rid of them. Jackie has gotten back to her feet now. I’m a little surprised. I expected for the woman to have been floored after the first counter.
“You’re a worthless piece of shit!” she growls. Any remaining confidence or serenity her former tone held has long since disintegrated into something much more menacing. We both follow an imaginary circle line, always directly across from one another. I can’t speak for Jackie, but I wait for her next move, mentally preparing myself for what I can do next.
Jackie doesn’t disappoint. Like a boss battle in a video game, Jackie screams out in a piglike battle cry before her attack. When she launches at me again, I grab the closest hand and use her momentum—as well as my shoulder—to hoist her into the air and flip her over my back. She lands with a thud, a gasp escaping her throat in a nasty, horrible croak. I have easy access to kick her in the guts, pummel her while she is on the ground, but I don’t. Surprisingly, Jackie rolls over and over until she is back on her knees.
“Stay down, Jackie,” I warn her. “You’re not going to win this.”
She spits a glob in my direction. “Your arrogance will be your demise!”
“How are you expecting to get out of this?” I ask her as she huffs in front of me. “You have overtaxed your abilities—”
Jackie’s throws all of her weight into grabbing a hold on my stomach in what I can only assume is her attempt at tackling me down. We stubble. There is a moment where her weight actually is used to her advantage and she gets me on my back. My world, the room, it all spins as I land hard and she is on top of me. She punches me hard in the face. It is like a spark plug has gone off at the back of my eyes, followed by another one. Numbing pain blossoms like a dark cloud and before she can hit me again, I grab her fist, jab her in the throat and push kick her over my head. She doesn’t get to her feet as quickly as she did before.
“I’ve jumped through hoops, Jackie,” I gasp, getting to my feet. The back of my head hurts and I think a gash has opened up on the side of my nose. “I’ve fallen victim to your manipulations and believed your lies. I’ve battled all of your strengths for the past year.”
Jackie has gotten onto her hands and knees and she is shaking.
“But now,” I continue, watching her stumble to her feet, “it comes down to the physical part of things.” She takes a step forward, arms swinging. I duck, kicking at her shins and it makes her topple forward. “You chase down my family”—I whip my bleeding nose as she tries to get up again. I kick her down—”manipulated everything so that I would follow you to the ends of the earth, abandon the people that I love. And now, I get to test out my own strengths.”
My hands clamp onto Jackie’s shoulders like vices and yank her up to her feet with no mercy. She wears an ugly looking daze on her face—I don’t think she knows which way is up—and I grab the back of her head. With brute force, I pull her face into my knee, cracking her skull off of it. I hear her yelp—it is muffled, but there is no mistaking her pain—and she is propelled backwards in a foul swoop. Blood arches in the air—much coming from her nose and mouth. She falls back and a following thunk as her head hits the floor.
Jackie tries to roll again. I can’t imagine how far she thinks she is going to get or where she could think she’d be able to get to. She’s back on her hands and knees, crawling. I wipe the sweat from my forehead, force the loose strands of hair from my face and use the ball of my foot to force her onto her back again. She tries to fight it. She knows what is about to happen—she has too. She slaps away my foot and tries again to escape. The flames roar around us and I do not understand where she thinks she’s heading for. We’re surrounded by fire, encircled. We are in the eye of the storm now.
I stop her again and force her to stop and spin her again on her back. This time I am fast enough and lower myself onto her. She’s slapping at me, whimpering, trying to get away from an end that was inevitable. Tears slide down the sides of her face as I sit on her stomach.
“No,” she mumbles through bared teeth. “No!”
I form my hands around her neck, my eyes meeting hers. I want her to look at me. I want to watch the life drain out of her. Her fight has no end, though. With what little strength she must have, her hands climb up my arms towards my throat. With a nasty grimace, she tries to fight me off. Large gashes look like they tear Jackie’s face apart and long inky stripes roll down her features in strings. I tighten my own grip. She looks like a mess. I remember when I first met this woman I thought she looked like some tropical creature from another world. But now that virtuous face of some exotic bird is now hideously transformed into a blood-coated demon.
“You’re as weak as your mother,” she struggles to say, but I hear it. Instinctively, my grip tightens. “She called me that day. Went over Reginald Peter’s head. Begged me to let her off the hook.”
“What?” I say and my grip loosens. It doesn’t go away. It loosens.
“She was so pathetic,” Jackie wheezes. “Said she saw a light when you were born. Said she couldn’t kill your father.”
“No, you’re lying!”
“She was a pathetic woman. To think I actually believed she had the capability to be something great.”
“Shut up!” I tighten my grip again, more so than ever. I need to stop her words from coming.
“I pitied her, Delilah. Your father was nothing but a criminal, hellbent on turning Sunset into his own fortress. Vita Alto but a pawn in his game.”
“I like to think that Paragon getting rid of all three of them was for a greater good. Getting rid of them from this world…” Even if Jackie is choking, she is forcing herself to laugh. I know she is doing this just to have the last laugh—literally. And I know I shouldn’t be losing my cool for her. But I can’t help it. I hate her so much.
“She failed you, Delilah,” she continues. Even as my hands tighten around her neck, she is spitting everything she’s got at me. “It’s a good thing Paragon got rid of her for you. She would never have been able to be that person, that mother, you so badly wanted. You would have fought tooth and nail for all those years when she abandoned you and she would never have been able to fix that. She was a destroyed woman. You should be thanking me. I relieved her of her pain!”
“You fucking c—”
Jackie manages enough strength to slash me across the face with her claws. Nothing fazes her right now. She is in bliss. Laughing. Cackling. She’s going to die and she knows it.
“Look at me!” I yell at her. Her eyes are closed and I pull her head up and smack it off the ground. “I SAID LOOK AT ME! I want to be the last thing you see when you die!”
Anger is ripping me up from the insides. She’s not supposed to be laughing at this time. She’s supposed to be crying, begging me for mercy. I close my fists as hard as I can this time. I’ll give her something to laugh about—
I see a flash of my mother. She’s there, back in that world of paradise, my dream world, where I left her. My eyes gaze over the lace gown that hangs from her shoulders. And as fast as she’s there, she’s gone. The fiery hell that was created ten minutes ago has engulfed me again and I am back in the Grind. Jackie is still laughing—forced but still laughing. The smoke has thickened around us and the heat strengthens in heavy doses.
Jackie’s hand trembles as she tries to grab whatever she can with the little life she has left. The nearest thing she has is my ponytail. She grabs it and my hair comes loose.
“Whether you love the person or not, you still kill that innocence inside of you.”
Tears sting my sinuses and I am shaking. But I can’t let go. I can’t let go now. I squeeze my fingers tighter. Tears have begun flowing down my cheeks and Jackie is staring right into my eyes.
“There’s a difference between doing something in shock, out of loss. And it’s another thing to do it deliberately.”
The flames roaring around us intensifies and I am struggling to breathe. Jackie chokes under me and she is fighting less. There is less tension in her arms and while her fingers are locked on my shoulders, there is no fight. The most Jackie can do is cough, choke, try to breathe.
“This isn’t what I wanted for you, Delilah.”
Something horrible between a groan and a whimper spills from my mouth and I let go of Jackie. I give her a shove and get up off of her.
Jackie wails for air in a long, howling gasp, followed by an abundance of coughing and sputtering. She rolls onto her front side, sitting up and fighting to bring the life back into her. I struggle to react. I am standing away from Jackie now, my back to her. Tears will not stop flowing down my cheeks and nothing feels real.
“I thought you were going to kill me,” Jackie says, still trying to catch her breath.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see she’s holding her chest, fighting. She was almost dead and I didn’t follow through with it. I can say what I think about this yet. Part of me feels as if I have failed while another feels like I have honoured my mother.
Still struggling, Jackie adds, “To save your family and whatnot.”
“I will not become you, Jackie,” I say over my shoulder. “You make it look so easy—there is a reason why somebody as disgusting as you would follow such a path. But to follow in your footsteps was never my intention. Just like you said earlier, I wanted to follow in my mother’s and I am not going to kill somebody because of their outrageous behaviour, no matter how tempting. I will not be a pawn of Paragon.”
“You’ve done terrible things, dear,” she tells me. “I think it was you who killed Daniel Lee.”
“And I have to live with that. Unlike you, Jackie, I am willing to come to terms with it and not destroy every person who steps across my path. I thought for the longest time that destroying this organization for what they did to my mother was the only way to get some closure and be free. But actually, the best thing to do was look you straight in the eyes and see the monster I was becoming. My mother tried to convince of it two years ago when I started this and as much as I blamed her for so long, you’re right…”
“I’m right?” Jackie asks.
“You said my mother tried to stop everything before it could get started and you pitied her. I did for a moment too until I realized I was falling for the same woman’s manipulations.”
“So, you’re going to just let me walk out of here and we are going to go on with life?”
I raise my eyebrows and look around what had once been a dance floor. “Jackie, if you can get out of here, life has a different road for you. I guess we’ll see then, won’t we?”
Jackie tries to get up and then stumbles back to the floor. No doubt she’s dizzy.
“Goodbye, Jackie Collins.”
Right as I say it, the roof crashes in and separates us with a wall of flames. The impact rattles the floor and I am blown backwards hard. As I try to get back on my feet, countless other pieces of debris rain from above, crumbling onto the floor and try to capture me in the blazing balls of hell as well. I roll out of the way as the upper level collapses and tables and chairs fall down in sparks and flares. I am back on my feet as fast as I can. Ashes covering me in a thick layer, small flames, like fireflies in the darkest of nights, specking my clothing and burning through to my flesh. I ignore the pain as best as I can. Now things are starting to hit home like the numb feeling in my face now blooming into actual pain and how much my body hurts. I feel like one pulsating bruise.
As I hightail it past the bar on my right, I notice the shutters to outside are either down or completely engulfed in flames. Going that way will be deadly. I spot a window next to one and run for it.
Something blows up behind me, the heat from it burning against my back and my ears pop. The window is broken thankfully. I climb out of it, my bare feet stepping on broken glass. I wince but I don’t hesitate. To do so will be the difference between life and death.
I am outside now. I can hear the authorities in the distance. In my efforts to get farther away, I hop over the railing to the parking lot. My foot catches and I tumble to the pavement. The ground doesn’t hurt as much as I expected it to. I still have enough strength to move, to crawl. I am going. Something else blows up and I am halfway across the parking lot now. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. And then everything goes silent. I’ve crawled to the edge of the parking lot, slipped into the bush and out of sight of anybody who will be there in the minutes to come. Sure that I am hidden, I lie on my back and look up at the night sky. Even with all the chaos, it is completely still up there. More so now, with the sparks shooting into the night, they really do look like fireflies. I find one and follow it all the way up as far as it can go before something blows up again and the chaos reigns on.