The alleyway is dark, too cool for a Southern summer night. At the end a streetlamp shines, but it refuses to brighten the cold, damp hollow between the brick buildings. I move swiftly through the fog, quietly down the length of the passage, pressing my hand against the rough, brick wall, feeling my way through the shadows. My steps, though light, trigger warning sounds. The snapping and jingling of shards of glass, pebbles crunching beneath my soles. I freeze, sucking in a breath and holding it, feeling my heart pound against my rib cage. One mistake, one wrong move, and it's over.
I shut my eyes tightly, replaying the vision in my mind again and again.
They're here. I know it.
When I open them, two figures pass into the light. One struggles against the other, against the arms binding his neck, stealing life from him, thrashing against his captor. I sprint through the alley, feet crashing against the pavement, splashing through thick puddles from earlier thunderstorms. The cuffs of my jeans are sodden and weighted, breaths rapid and violent in my ears. I move in, narrowing the distance between us. I stop at the edge of the sidewalk, pressing my body deep into the wall as I peek around the corner.
The road stretches empty between us, and thick clouds veil the night sky. There is no moon, no stars, the only light shining from the streetlamp overhead, casting cool blue shadows on the two men. The demon wraps his broad fingers around his victim's neck, lifting him off the ground.
Perspiration trembles along my skin. I shiver, and my lungs burn with each ragged rise and fall of my chest.
This is it.
A quick exhale and I bolt into the street, fingers coiled tightly around the steely handle of a knife. The razor edge is freshly sharpened and serrated, designed to inflict the deadliest of wounds: a gift from my Guardian.
There are no second chances in this world of mine. I have moments. One opportunity. I rush toward it. The blade glints in the light as I draw back my arm and plunge it into its neck. A scream of agony, and he loosens his hold. The victim's body crumples to the ground. Flesh breaks, tearing, as I draw the knife back to me, and blood spills from his throat, pouring from the wound.
My heart reacts to this, pumping too fast.
He's not real. He's not human.
My teeth clench together, jaw tightening as I brace myself for one, final thrust, finishing him. The Evil One twists toward me, eyes red with fury, on fire, and swings. I move to dodge the blow, but his fist connects with my skull, cracking, and I fall backward, a searing pain ripping through the length of my body. I hit the pavement, and a wave of numbness washes over me, the entire world blurring, the darkness enveloping me.
And then a voice, pulling me back. "Genesis?"
A light drizzle falls, misting my face. Seth wraps his arms around me, lifting, pulling me upright. He leans in closer, examining my forehead, and I breathe him in. He smells cool and salty, like cedar wood and seawater. Heaven.
His fingers brush the tender area and I flinch, sucking in a quick breath.
"I'm fine," I mutter, rising to my feet. Seth holds my arm, steadying me. The blood behind the blow pulses, pressure building, the raw pain intensifying. His hand grips me tighter as I sway backward.
Others move in, quickly, quietly, disposing of the demon so it can never be traced back to me. I brush the seat of my jeans, swiping the mud away, but the water has already seeped through them, chilling me.
It's worth it, though, if this is what it takes to eliminate them. Even if it's only one. Because one can make a difference. It made a difference to. . . .
He's deathly still, lying face down in a dark puddle in the middle of the street. The faint traces of fingerprints bruising his neck.
The air escapes my lungs, and I curse under my breath. I press the palms of my hands against my eyes, hiding them, squeezing them tightly, feeling the tears threatening to surface.
"It isn't your fault," Seth assures me.
I pull my hands away. "This can't keep happening."
I have visions. I see things in my mind—bad things that are going to happen to good people. My job is to help them, to keep it from happening. I remind myself daily that this is a gift—my purpose. On days like today—when I fail—this gift feels more like a burden.
"You can't save everyone," Seth reminds me.
My eyes remain fixed on the crumpled heap. Someone's son. Brother. Best friend. It's well past midnight. He'll lie here until morning, smothered in a somber rain. Someone will call the police. They'll investigate. Show up on the doorstep of a parent, girlfriend, roommate with the terrible news. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. They always are. There are never any real, justifiable answers. Not for this. Not anymore.
"I can try," I reply, voice barely a whisper.
I can't predict when the visions will occur, but I know they will. I never fully understand what they mean, but I know that, once I see them, I'm supposed to act quickly. I've saved lives. Altered courses. Made a difference. But I've also shown up moments too late. Missed opportunities. Let them get away. Let her get away.
Seth and I move quickly toward the alley, refusing to breathe until we're safely hidden in the darkness. My head throbs, and, as I run my fingers over the injury, I can feel a knot forming beneath the skin. Growing.
Across the street a neon sign flickers, welcoming us. OPEN. It has to be a mistake. Not a living soul is awake at this hour, and no one is out. We're not allowed to go out—not with South Marshall's mandatory curfew.
We slip through corridors, hurrying to my car.
I pull Seth into the doorway of a restaurant, pressing against the frame as a pair of headlights swings wide, lighting the street. I wrap my arms tightly across my chest, waiting. A squad car approaches, making its rounds. Gravel and other street debris crunches beneath its tires. And again I'm holding my breath, willing my heart to slow down, to quiet. He passes leisurely by before disappearing, turning down another street. With any luck he'll stumble upon a John Doe—the Diabols' latest victim. He'll call for back-up, and they'll rule it death by strangulation. Another one. Tomorrow it will fill the front page.
There are serial killers among us.
I am one of them.