-NEW TOWN, OLD DOUBT-
The highway was all but deserted as Marianna walked swiftly down the edge of the pavement where the cold road met the dead grass. On this endless road she walked. If she had to walk all the way to South Dakota she would bare it.
Since it was still daylight she made sure her contacts were in place. She had experienced the damage the sun could do to her eyes. She wondered why in her ability to heal herself and others, why her eyes laid down for the count. She figured that there were limitations to all things, even among the extraordinary.
She walked another mile before she saw another living soul. She stuck her thumb out indicating that she needed a ride. A trucker stopped and opened the passenger door for her.
"Where ya headed, little lady?"
"South Dakota," she said.
"Well, come on aboard. Just so happens I'm goin' right through there. So where you from?"
After she had entered the passenger's side of the truck she answered, "Everywhere."
"Nice place. So happens that I'm from there, too. So why South Dakota?"
"Visiting an old friend. He doesn't know I'm coming."
"Oh, it's like that. Old boyfriend, huh."
Marianna didn't feel like talking, instead the trucker babbled on and on. She learned that his name was Salvador Tipton and that he had a wife and two teenage girls, one of which just entered college. That last piece of information brought on a slew of bad memories. She remembered Carla ranting after she had her accident at the cliffs. How she never should have let Marianna do as she pleased. That was possibly how she ended up hitch hiking on the highway to places unknown.
At some point Marianna fell asleep. Dreams of the life she left behind haunted her sleep. She awoke only to find herself being attacked by the trucker Sal. Stunned by what was happening Marianna pushed the trucker off of her.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" she screamed, struggling to free herself from his grasp.
"Getting' my pay," he said, leaning himself against her. "Now, shut up and give me what I want."
"Here's your pay," she shouted and put her hands on either side of his head. "How about a surprise?" The black mist radiating from her hands burned her attacker's skin.
Sal screamed out in pain. He was more frightened of what she was then what she was doing to him. In his petrified state he fell into unconsciousness. Marianna fled the truck parked at a rest stop. She continued to walk down the abandoned highway, away from the truck, away from the screams of the past. She left it all behind.
After walking for several hours Marianna looked up to see a road sign: Welcome to South Dakota, Pierre two miles. She turned off the highway and flagged a taxi. She asked the driver to take her to Pierre.
"Sure, lady. But where about?"
"The first restaurant we pass."
The driver sped up going in the direction of the city. Marianna took in the picturesque scenery. It reminded her of her quiet life in Maine, not the actual scenery, but the feeling she had gotten. She could almost hear the laughter of the little girl she used to be.
"Here ya go, lady. That'll be ten bucks."
She handed the driver the money and flew from the taxi before he could ask for a tip. There she spotted a small diner called Penny's. She walked in and to her surprise received a few stares. She sat down at one of the barstools and asked for a menu.
"It's on the board, honey," the woman in the pink waitress uniform said. She paced swiftly back and forth.
"Don't order the meat loaf," a woman said coming to sit across from her.
"Excuse me," Marianna said, suddenly staring at her.
"Hi," she said, holding her hand. "I'm Vanessa. You don't mind if a join you?"
Marianna reluctantly took it. "No," she said.
"You're new in town. Right?" Vanessa asked.
Marianna studied her. The woman seemed too friendly. She looked to be a mix and Native American and Caucasian. She had long black hair, almost the same color as hers, but her eyes were of a softer light brown. She had on a pair black jeans and colorful top that flowed around her hiding her figure. She could tell the woman was thin and tiny, even shorter than she was at 5'5". The woman had friendly voice too, not high-pitched, but quiet and lady-like.
"How do you know I'm from out of town?"
"I can tell," she said with a smile. "You're got that foreign look."
"I hope that was a compliment," Marianna blurted out.
"In this town anything's a compliment," Vanessa said laughing. "So you know my name. What's yours?"
"It's Fanta," Marianna said, giving her the name of her alter ego.
"Is there a last name?" Vanessa inquired.
"Just Fanta," she said. "Names are too complicating as it is."
"I agree," Vanessa, eyeing the waitress. "My boyfriend's like that, few words and little sentiment. He's a tracker."
"And what do you do?" Marianna inquired.
"School teacher, first grade," Vanessa said. She had a look of pride on her face.
"Sounds exciting," Marianna said as the waitress returned.
"Okay, honey. What'll it be?" she demanded and flipped her order tablet to a new page.
"Egg salad sandwich and a glass of orange juice and a chef salad," Marianna said. The waitress gave her a look that said, Not another vegi. Marianna was used to that.
"Comin' right up." The waitress again flew away as quickly as she came."
"So, Fanta, what is it you do?" Vanessa seemed so intrigued with her, too much so. Many people, especially strangers made it a point to avoid Marianna.
"I'm sort of a scientist," she said hesitantly. "Biochemist, in fact."
"Then what are doing in Pierre," Vanessa said, baffled by the woman's presence. "There's no science labs here."
"Let's just say calling on an old friend. His name's Marcus Hunter. Maybe you know him." Marianna pulled out a picture and handed it to Vanessa.
She looked at it intensely then looked up and said, "Sorry, no. Has he done something?"
"Yes," Marianna said, not wanting to divulge too much information. "But it's better that you don't know."
At that moment the waitress came back and literally threw the food at Marianna. She continued to talk with Vanessa, who's last name she learned was Moonstar.
"So, are you staying with anyone?"
"No," she said. "I don't really know anyone here. I'll just stay at a motel or something."
"Oh, no, that won't do," Vanessa said shaking her head both and forth. "I can't let you do that. How would you like to stay with me? I'm sure Dusk wouldn't mind. I've only lived here for a few months, and I don't have many friends. Besides, I like you, Fanta."
"But you don't even know me," Marianna said, taking a bit of her salad. "I could be an ax murderer or something."
"And if you were you wouldn't be telling me this. Please, stay."
"Well, alright, but just a few days." She spoke no further of her search for Hunter or the life she left behind. When Vanessa asked where she was from she simply said Chicago and nothing more.
She liked the fact that Vanessa Moonstar didn't press her for further information. So she decided she could trust this woman. The night before she was all alone but the dawning of a new day brought about a new friend.
"Well, this is it?" Vanessa said. "It's not much, but it's home."
"Yes," she said. "I used to live in a cabin like this. A long time ago." A hint of sadness came about her at the mention of her old life.
"I'm sorry if I rekindled a bad memory, Fanta."
"Oh, no, it's just sometimes in youth we believe things will last forever when in reality all things come to a bittersweet end."
"That was a beautiful sentiment. Are you a poet or something? You sure talk like one."
"No," she said with a small laugh. "I just voice what I see."
As the two women settled in for their visit, a rapping at the door came. A man stepped inside, which made Marianna jump. Like a watchdog she never once let her gaze turn off on the scruffy-looking man. He looked as though he hadn't shaved in a week. His brown hair sweaty and unkempt, as were his clothes. He wore a dirty flannel shirt and torn blue jeans with dirt and oil stains all over them. He had on heavy work boots that were caked with dried up mud. His arms were full firewood.
"Dusk," Vanessa said, shooting up from her seat. Her long black pony-tailed hair swayed back and forth as she helped the man with his load. In the corner of the room she helped him deposit the load into a large wooden box. "Welcome home," she said, giving him a quick peck on the lips.
"Who's this?" he grunted, looking over at Marianna. "Never seen her before."
"Dusk, honey, this is Fanta. She's new in town and is going to stay with us a while."
"Whatever," he said, a pulled a cigar from his pocket. He gave Marianna a long stare. "Just keep her out of my way."
Marianna studied Dusk intently. An odd man, she thought. He looked to be about thirty, but the truth in that all depended on what kind of life he lived. He didn't pay much attention to anything accept the cigar in his hand. All in all, Marianna thought him to be more than what he seemed.
She approached him, fanning the smoke from her nostrils. "Are you always this rude?"
He walked away from her, barely acknowledging her presence. He walked briskly to one of the bedrooms and slammed the door.
"Oh, don't worry about Dusk. He's like that around new people. Once you get to know him you'll see him for the teddy bear he truly is."
"That will be a welcomed change," Marianna said, suddenly starting to yawn.
"Fanta, you must be exhausted after your long trip. Why don't you rest in the guest room?"
"Thank you, Vanessa. I know that we don't know each other very well, but…"
"You don't have to say it. Whatever kind of business you have here, I'll be happy to help with. All you have to do is ask."
"I can't ask that of you," she said, grateful for Vanessa's willingness, but she knew Hunter was much too dangerous. Even with her powers she could barely handle him. She knew this girl would stand no chance against him. "Don't worry about my problems," she continued. "They're mine alone to bare, and I promise I won't stay long."
"Don't worry about that. Stay as long as you need." Vanessa saw that Marianna was about to protest and held up a hand and said, "I insist." Vanessa opened the door to the guestroom and showed Marianna around.
All Marianna wanted to do was put head to pillow and drown herself in a long sleep. Hours passed before sleep would actually come, and when they did the face of Marcus Hunter was all she could see.
That face glowed in the darkness and brought on a phantasm of deafening screams. She could once more feel the ice cold water stabbing her skin. The strength drained from her body, and Marcus became a beacon in the sky and laughed as she writhed in pain.
She screamed out in her sleep and abruptly awakened to a damp pillow and an elevated heart rate.
"So much for sleep," she said and lifted herself out of bed.
She heard noises outside, like the sound of someone chopping wood. It echoed bringing a throbbing pain to her head. She rose from the edge of the bed and traveled throughout the cabin. It was deserted. That was until she found Dusk outside chopping wood.
She watched him closely and noticed the morbid facade he put on. She wondered what lay beyond those angry eyes. What was it that Vanessa saw in him. She seemed such a sweet girl. What had she seen in this bear of a man?
Marianna walked casually through the back door, deliberately slamming it. Dusk was still hard at work, but she couldn't understand for what reason. There were already three piles of wood and still he was chopping more.
"I think there's enough wood here to last through the ice age."
"How would you know?" he grunted, still tending to his work. He made no real acknowledgment of her presence, just a simple twitch of the eye.
"What makes you ask that question?"
"Classy girl like you wouldn't know much about rural livin'."
"And how would you know of the experiences of a girl like me has had. I once lived in a cabin like this. The silent mountains being the audience to the whispering wind, and the waters with their quiet serenity explode into anger at the slightest touch."
"Are you talkin' about the mountains or yourself?"
"Perhaps I'm speaking of you," she said, coming closer to him. "You look like a man with something to hide."
"We all have somethin' to hide, little girl."
"You may be right," she said, slowly circling him. "What's your secret? You know people act the opposite of what they truly are. So what are you?"
"Ain't none of your business. Look, girly, the only reason I'm puttin' up with ya is 'cause of Van. So stay outta my way if you know what's good for ya."
"Threatening me," she said with a laugh. "That's funny, Dusk. You know, others have threatened me before and do you know what happened to them?"
"What? Ya kicked their ass."
"Let's just say they're no longer with us, but you don't have to worry about that. You see, I like Vanessa, and I want her to remain happy. So I promise I won't kill you."
"I don't take threats well, girly."
"The name is Fanta," she said, pointing a finger at him, "and believe me when I say that I am not your enemy."
"Then what are you doin' here?" he asked, finally putting down his ax.
"Tracking a killer," she said, leaning up against a nearby tree. He looked up at her for the first time. She walked back towards him and continued, "A man called Marcus Hunter. Do you know him?"
"Na, don't like people much… especially killers," he said, while gathering his freshly chopped firewood. "So what he do to you?"
"He pushed me off a cliff right after he killed a friend of mine," she said, giving him a helping hand. He looked amazed by how strong she was. "You see, that's why I'm here. I'm going to kill the bastard before he kills anyone else."
"Do whatever you want but keep Van out of it," he said with glare in his eye.
"I intend to," she said, adding another piece of wood to the pile. "But what about you? You don't seem the type to back down from a challenge."
"Only if there's cash involved… but not anymore. I gave that up when I met Van. I'm gonna give ya a little advice, girly." He pointed a finger at her.
"For the last time my name is Fanta," she said, anger showing in her face. "Don't forget it."
"Maybe you should forget it. Ya see, Fanta," he said, putting more emphasis on her name. "Anything happens to Van because of you, and I'll kill ya."
"Is that a threat or a promise?" she asked, a hint of red showing in her eyes.
"Take it however you want," he said, picking up his ax. He pointed the blade right in front of her. "You're trouble, Fanta. Ya try to hide it, but I see right through you." He turned away from her and chopped another block of wood.
As he started for a second blow she raised her hand to stop him. "Takes one to know one. Perhaps, you're just like me. The problem is you deny it. So truthfully you don't know who you are. Dangerous freaks of nature they call us."
"Shut up," he snapped. "You're more of a bitch than I thought."
"Why? For knowing what you are? Normals don't realize how dangerous we are. Don't look so surprised. You know what I am, and I know what you are. The question is does Vanessa know."
"That's none of your business."
"Then I take it that she doesn't. You do her a great disservice by staying with her. I learned that the hard way."
"What are you saying?" he asked, abruptly stopping his work and approaching her still with his ax in hand. "Answer me!"
"Temper, temper. I have one, too, you know. I get angry and things happen. People get hurt."
"What are you saying?" he asked, throwing away the ax.
"Not anything you don't already know," she said, her hand exploring his. "Oh, you're exceptionally strong. So am I." She glared at him as walked a few steps away.
"Why are you really here, Fanta?" he asked, his eyes never losing sight of her. "What do you want?"
"What do I want? I'll tell you. Justice. But why am I here in Pierre? To get it. You want a taste. I can feel it."
"I want nothin' from you, so do yourself a favor and get out of here."
"I can't do that, Dusk, not until you tell me where Hunter is. I know you know. Do that, and I'll go."
"How do you know that I know where he is?"
"I just do," she said, "Call it one of my little... talents." She walked towards a line of trees. She looked into the darkened woods as a tear fell from her eye. That's when she noticed that Dusk was standing behind her.
"What ya got against trees?" he asked, touching her hand.
"Nothing, it's just…" She stopped before she said too much. "Just forget it," she said swiping her hand away. She ran from him and towards the house almost running straight into Vanessa.
"Hey, Fanta, wait."
She kept on running until she reached the porch of the cabin. She stayed there for several seconds as Vanessa looked from Dusk to her until the confusion burst out in words.
"What did he say to you?" Vanessa asked.
"Nothing," she said before entering the cabin.
Vanessa followed her inside but found Marianna had locked herself in the guestroom.
"Fanta," Vanessa called out. She rapped on the door, but she received no answer.
Author's note: Sorry it took so long to get this chapter up, but I was just so dissatisfied with it. I'll not fully satisfied. It feels like it's missing something. If anyone has any ideas please let me know.
Next up: The Other Woman - What is the attraction between Dusk and Fanta (aka Marianna), and will it lead to the ultimate betrayal.