By Alyanna Poe
People had always thought white represented purity and positive energy. Such was not the case with the woman self-proclaimed as Nephiti.
With eyes intensely white and skin a matching, shining pallor, many referred to her as Death. This only fed her ego.
Her light eyes, accented with dark pupils, scanned the nearby parked cars. With a confident stride, she marched down the parking garage's sloped asphalt. Her hay-like hair fanned out behind her, just as the long cloak she wore over her outfit did.
Fluorescent bulbs exploded as she passed under them, raining glass in her wake. This, coupled with the harsh click of her footsteps, jarred Evilyn as she cowered behind a tire.
The parking garage was dark, only faintly illuminated with artificial light as the sun had set hours ago. With every step Nephiti took, the garage only got darker.
Evilyn leaned forward, inky eyes examining the parked cars around her. There were hundreds of them, but where were the people? Another light popped, startling her back into her place. She thought about running or slipping under the car she was next to but knew Nephiti would catch her eventually. Fighting for good had never felt so bad.
She stood, catching eyes with Nephiti over the cars.
Nephiti smiled. It was a wretchedly wide smile that showed Evilyn how sharp her teeth were.
Evilyn felt her feet move without her consent. She raised her hands, ready to strike Nephiti with the energy of a star, when her arms were forced down to her sides.
“I don’t think so, little one.”
Evilyn made her way to Nephiti, however awkward and stiff it might have been, even as she struggled against the magic.
The old woman’s smile broadened as she touched Evilyn’s brown cheek. “You’ll make a fine meal for my Tera-phagothauma.”
Evilyn's eyes widened. She had heard of such a monster but had never seen one in person.
Nephiti picked up Evilyn, still board-like under Nephiti's spell, like a rolled-up rug.
The drive was short. In the passenger seat, Evilyn peered through the side mirror, watching the parking garage vanish behind them. She wanted to tremble but couldn’t.
Evilyn hated herself for intervening with Nephiti's plan without taking up the help of other witches. She realized she was too young much too late.
Nephiti cackled as she pulled up to her front gate. She gave a sideways glance at Evilyn, letting the girl move her neck to look back at her. “You are too young, and interfering will cost you much more than your pride.”
She flashed Evilyn a smile and hopped out to open the wrought iron gate. Nephiti’s house was the only house on the block that maintained its original patina. The brick was aged to a faint red, and the old, lead-based paint peeled from the gutters. Evilyn could only imagine what lurked inside.
She tried to move again, feeling like she was encased in solid concrete. Had Mileena not told her Nephiti planned to poison the food court, she wouldn't have come. Had Mileena come, she might have gotten away.
Nephiti got back in the car and drove into her driveway. A wry smile twisted her lips. “Since you're going to die anyway, I figure I should let you know that Mileena owed me a little favor.”
Evilyn wanted to cry but felt like her tear ducts were clogged.
“Don't cry. Don't cry,” Nephiti cooed. “Salty tears only season the meat.”
She cackled again and shut the car off.
The interior of the house was lovely. Evilyn internally remarked on the vintage brightness of the home, having expected dark, dreary furniture coated in cobwebs.
Nephiti had Evilyn walk herself through the house, too tired to carry her. They walked down a spiral staircase, only illuminated by the light of a candle, which Evilyn thought to be a bit dramatic. It went on for what felt like forever, and she wondered just how far into the Earth they were going. Doors occasionally passed and sometimes a rat would skitter by.
Finally, an end came when a door blocked their path. Nephiti unlocked it with a large, iron key, something she thought to be another novelty. As the door swung inward, Evilyn caught a glimpse of her enemy's workspace.
Evilyn's workspace consisted of a spare room in her house lined with books and crystals and a few plants, paling in comparison to this dungeon-like ward. Thousands of books lined the walls, illuminated by candle-lit sconces. Scattered about were tables with dead bodies of humans and animals.
This was a place of evil.
“No, darling.” Nephiti turned to face Evilyn, her countenance frightening in the flickering candlelight. “This is where evil was born.”
They walked to an empty table, the one next to it covered in blood-soaked linens that held organs of unknown origin. A wet, gnawing sound filled Evilyn's ears as they stood on top of a grate in the ground. How desperately she wanted to look down.
“My Tera-phagothauma likes fresh meat, which is hard to come by nowadays. Everyone has a phone to record things with and, well, have you seen me? I’m a bit of an oddity.”
Evilyn watched Nephiti go through keys on a large ring as she spoke.
A drip fell from the ceiling and onto Evilyn’s scalp. She flinched, to her own surprise, also shocked to see Nephiti flinch in the same manner. Evilyn raised an eyebrow at the old woman as she fingered the top of her head, looking up to the cavernous ceiling hidden in shadows. Nephiti made eye contact with Evilyn, embarrassment giving her pale cheeks a tinge of rose.
With all her energy, Evilyn focused on leaning into the table.
Both Nephiti’s eyebrows raised. “Stop that!” she snapped. “It’s no use, and I can’t focus.”
Evilyn smiled, but when Nephiti saw, it was quickly ripped away, her skin pulled tight against her face in a frown.
Nephiti mumbled, as she hastily tied rope, “Rotten, earthy witches.”
Evilyn watched from the corner of her eye as the old woman walked out of sight. She loaded the end of the rope into a wall-mounted crank and wound it up until only the slipknot she had made remained.
Evilyn’s body spun around and walked toward it. She was almost certain what it was for. She tried to trip herself.
Nephiti narrowed her eyes on the girl.
Evilyn focused on crossing one foot in front of the other as she neared the crank, sweat breaking out on her brow. Her leg muscles ached as they strained toward each other, helplessly remaining apart. She feared she may not have enough time as Nephiti sped up her pace, getting her within steps of the crank.
As Nephiti’s focus went to hurrying Evilyn’s steps, Evilyn got her legs to move closer and closer, finally catching her toes on her heel.
She hurtled forward, hands remaining by her sides through Nephiti’s control. Her hip struck the concrete floor first, then her shoulder and cheek. Nephiti screamed, holding her face in her hands. Evilyn smiled through the dull pain in her face, her notion proved to be accurate.
She scrambled to her feet and threw herself at Nephiti, but her body locked up again. She stood, rigid and unable to move, as Nephiti glared at her. She shook her head, but said nothing. Evilyn took notice of the bruise forming below Nephiti’s eye.
Nephiti slipped the circle of rope around Evilyn and tightened it against her chest and armpits. She had the girl walk herself to the edge of the grate, finally allowing Evilyn to look down.
The gnawing hadn’t stopped the entire time they had been in Nephiti’s lair. Evilyn’s eyes peered into the darkness, curious what she was getting herself into, when a flash of orange light struck her. Sconces like those in the lair suddenly erupted into flames, illuminating the Tera-phagothauma.
Evilyn’s breath caught in her throat.
Amongst a mess of crimson stains and piles of flesh, a mass of muscle tore through the abdomen of a young woman, spilling a slop of organs and blood. Evilyn whimpered, catching the attention of the beast. Dropping the woman, it looked up at Nephiti and Evilyn, glaring at them with beady, black eyes.
“He’s quite the messmaker,” Nephiti said, looking down at her monster with a smile.
Evilyn agreed, looking over this human-like beast. Had it been smaller in build, it might have passed for a corpse-like bodybuilder, but no human could amass an aggregation of muscle like that.
“Alright!” Nephiti snapped, startling Evilyn. “Enough looking. Time for feeding.”
Evilyn watched helplessly as Nephiti opened the grate, terrified that the monster would jump out at her. She heard Nephiti operate the crank behind her, gears crunching noisily.
Suddenly, Evilyn’s body was her own again. She was able to take a full, deep breath, no longer restricted. As she turned around, the weight of a truck hit her. Her body flailed in the air as she fell into the pit, landing harshly in a puddle of blood and feces. Before she could register the pain, the Tera-phagothauma was on her. It picked her up above its head, carrying her toward a pile of cadavers. Evilyn squirmed, making it realize she was alive. A growl emanated from its entire being, vibrating the pit.
Nephiti cackled from above, closing the grate with a bang. She scurried over to the crank, reeling Evilyn up and out of the monster’s hands. Evilyn swung abruptly and smashed into the pit wall.
She concentrated through the pain, attempting to enter the mind of this monster. Her brain throbbed, and she realized with a start that its head was empty. She would have no control over something this feral.
Her mind wandered to Nephiti as the monster clawed at her from below, just unable to reach her feet as she dangled high on the wall.
Evilyn gasped as she was lowered a foot, unsure if she were about to fall into its bloody arms.
Nephiti cackled again, echoing throughout her lair.
Evilyn raised her hands, palms toward the beast. It watched her with those black eyes. Being so close, she was able to see just how many needle-like teeth hid in its mouth. It pulled back its lips in a snarl and snapped at Evilyn. She gently pushed her hands toward it and spoke softly.
“We’re going to calm down now. Take a deep breath and chill.”
She had used this many times on aggressive stray dogs in her neighborhood and prayed it would work on this beast.
It seemed to understand. Lowering its arms to its sides.
She nodded. “Yes, that’s good. You’re feeling sleepy, aren’t you?” As she spoke, she slowly turned her hands toward each other and pushed them closer.
The beast yawned, unhinging its jaw. Evilyn almost lost her nerve but held steady at the thought of this thing falling asleep.
“Sleeping sounds so nice right now.” She lowered her voice to a whisper, her palms almost touching.
Nephiti’s laughter stopped.
Evilyn trembled as footsteps neared her from above. She had little time left.
“Sleeeeep.” She touched her hands together as the beast lay down where it stood.
As Nephiti got to the grate, the beast lay snoring. “What did you do to Tim?!”
Evilyn laughed, sure it wouldn’t wake for a few hours. She concentrated all her energy on Nephiti, looking up at the old woman.
A flood of emotion filled Evilyn as she entered Nephiti’s mind. Nephiti stood stiff as Evilyn spasmed in a fit of visions. The rope slipped, letting her fall into the pit beside the sleeping beast, but her mind was elsewhere, roaming the memories of Nephiti.
“Burn the witch!”
Evilyn peered through the eyes of a young Nephiti, hiding behind a bale of hay. A woman, not much older than Evilyn, stood tied to a wooden stake. She held her chin high, looking out to the crowd around her. The young Nephiti silently cried, tears illuminated by the flames that arose around the woman. Nephiti sobbed, turning away from the scene. She ran to the nearby treeline, where the memory ceased.
Evilyn lay on the floor, sobbing. She woke with a start, wiping the tears from her blood-soaked face. Gazing up, she saw Nephiti still stood in place. Evilyn felt a deep rage, at the people in the memory, as well as at Nephiti. She made Nephiti open the grate and reel her up.
At the surface, she walked up to Nephiti and slapped her across the face, leaving behind a smear of crimson on her pale cheek. Evilyn glared at her.
Nephiti’s eyes were softer, the usual sharpness and cunning had dissipated into woeful, wet eyes.
A pang of guilt struck Evilyn. Conflicted, she had Nephiti walk herself to the edge of the pit. She walked up beside Nephiti, making the woman hand Evilyn the keys to get out of her house. She gazed into the pit, looking over all the bodies within and the monster that had ravaged them all.
Evilyn nodded, sure of her decision. She walked behind Nephiti and shoved her into the pit. Letting go of her mind before she struck, Evilyn closed the grate on her.
She strode toward the door of the lair, thinking of all th
e loose ends she would have to tie up; all the lies she would have to tell.
Picking up a torch, she entered the stone, spiral stairway. A wry smile twisted her lips as she ascended the stairs, entirely oblivious to the striking white streak now running through her black hair, and the white that had taken over the once inky iris of her right eye.