Five in the morning knew all of Eliza Dresden’s secrets.
Of course, the blond had more than her fair share of confidantes throughout her life–she had a way of attracting others to her, something magnetic in the mischief of her smirk and the promise of an interesting night in her eyes. Even well before she grew into adulthood, though, back when Isaiah was alive and she had dreams of Olympic medals rather than HOW title belts, there was something about being the first one awake and making her way downstairs into the silence of the kitchen that resonated with her, the infatuation with that particular brand of stillness remaining into her adulthood.
If anything, it intensified as she grew up.
No matter how wild the night before, no matter how much alcohol she drank or how many times she got slammed into the mat after being thrown around like a rag doll or who it was that was left to sleep for a few hours more in her bed, one truth remained. Every single day, rain or shine, hot or cold… Eli went out for a run before most of the world was awake. Earbuds shoved into her ears, something about riding the line between exhaustion and exaltation thanks to the adrenaline that pounded its way into her soul with every collision of her foot against the ground…
It was as close to spirituality as Eli would ever possibly get.
As her route carried her through the slumbering heart of Knoxville, her mind shifted from the usual fog of simply being that was part of what made her morning runs so important to the last conversation she had with her brother. It had been well over a week since Elijah had not just stepped over the line, but cha-cha-slided back and forth across it like it was going out of style. Remembering every word was easy, something she was not remotely thankful for.
Remembering it meant replaying it in her mind over and over again…
“So how much did you pay him?” Elijah’s voice was so certain of itself that it caught her more off-guard than his words did at first. As a matter of fact, it struck Eliza silent for a good long moment, long enough that her brother had chuckled to himself as if he had caught her in the act instead of simply being caught off-guard.
“What?” Even if it was a question, that single word was flat as it left the blond–a warning sign that Elijah chose to ignore.
“How much did you pay that Mitch guy to let you pin him?” She could all but hear the smirk tugging at his lips, his own attempt at the expression that was her hallmark. Clearly, Elijah felt that his latest tactic was going to prove her wrong and, more importantly, prove him right. “Did you think that you winning a single match was gonna suddenly make me change my tune?”
As the shock wore off, Eliza’s temper–not the fiery brashness she tapped into for wrestling, but the blackness that lurked beneath it unacknowledged lest it consume everything whole began to stir. “You wouldn’t be talkin’ that kind of shit if we were in the same room and we both know it–”
“No, I wouldn’t… because you being here with me at home right now would mean you finally abandoned this stupidity and decided to do something sensible with your life.” And then the know-it-all not only tried to move on with the conversation like she had confessed to something they both knew she’d never do? He then continued in the most condescending voice she had ever heard. “Why don’t you finish your bachelors in literature and teach? You could–”
“Knock every one of your teeth down your fucking throat.” All semblance of familial kindness was gone, and so was her patience. It was bad enough to have someone who was supposed to support her undermining her at every turn–for him to call her integrity into question like that after all she had suffered was beyond the pale, and she felt her temper’s reins slip through her fingers as a snarl laid claim to her lips. “As a matter of fact, Elijah, the next time I see you, that’s exactly what I’m gonna do–and after I’m done, I’m gonna go to Isaiah’s grave and dig it up to see if maybe your brain and your balls got buried when he did.”
…especially that last part, not to mention the strangled sob that she had heard before she disconnected the call.
It was a good thing that she had invested in the sturdiest phone case on the planet when she upgraded her phone last, otherwise it would’ve been just as shattered as the relationship between herself and her brother was when she hurled it across the room with all the force she could muster. And ever since then, there hadn’t been so much as a call from any of her immediate family. No calls, no voicemails… not even a text. The silence had been outright deafening in its presence, underscoring the absence of one of the biggest supports to Eli’s life to painful effect.
The worst part of all of it was that Eli couldn’t blame them for turning their backs on her, not this time.
Sure, Elijah had probably spun their conversation to come out of it smelling like a rose, but he wouldn’t have needed to change a single syllable of the last words to leave her lips before she cut the call off for her mother to be furious. And since her father wasn’t the kind to communicate much even when times were good, well–the door leading home was closed now, if not forever since there was no peacemaker left to crack it open again. Without the moderating influence of Isaiah, the brother who came after Elijah and after herself, there was no peace.
No peace… and no room for the doubt that was trying to squirm its way into her mind.
The blond’s jaw set as she pushed herself to go faster, to outrun the mental pain that was nipping at her heels in favor of replacing it with a physical ache that she was far more adept at handling. For all that two-thirds of her opponents so far had made fun of her time as a gymnast–and how so many people were quick to dismiss her because of it–she couldn’t help but to be thankful for how it had forced her to become good at shoving aside the the world and all of its bullshit in the name of focusing on the moment that mattered, the feeling when everything fell away to set her free so she could simply… be.
For three seconds, when she had Mitch Quinlan’s shoulders pinned to the mat as the referee made the count, she had felt that freedom again–and now that she had that taste of it on her tongue again? It was sweet, so very sweet and intoxicating… and as she turned her thoughts to the memory of how she snatched victory from the grips of a man who had been wrestling for longer than she had probably been alive, she felt the thread of adrenaline running through her body and held onto it with all her might.
Could she actually outrun her problems?
Of course not. That was impossible.
Could she find those three seconds of glorious freedom again?
Absolutely, and there wasn’t a single solitary thing Xander Azula could do to keep her from them.
“–still breathing, that means–still fight!”
The commentary of Azula’s most recent outings in the HOFC cage might’ve been clear at one point, but there was something about the way the wind whipped through the cabin of Eli’s truck as it threatened to shake itself apart that tore it around the edges, distorting it just right to where it reminded her of some death metal band she’d once been obsessed with. Maybe it was the rattle of the frame, perhaps it was how the A/C didn’t work so she had to hand-crank both of the windows all the way down to keep from sweating to death–or maybe ol’ Benny had missed his original calling, it was hard to know for sure. All she knew was that what had begun as a way of multi-tasking–getting a better grasp on Xander’s mindset so she had a better idea of what to expect while she went on a late night snack run–had turned into her channeling Isaiah’s need for speed on the highway.
The rattle and hum of an ‘89 Toyota engine that had been Frankensteined into a Ford truck’s body with bits and bobs from other trucks she didn’t even remember the make of grew louder, the needle of the speedometer quivering like a leaf as it reached its zenith. The pedal was pressed down against the floor by now, some part of her knew–but her mind wasn’t focused on that, or how she was steering purely by instinct.
No fucking way.
“Isaiah–?” Choking out her brother’s name like it was too large to escape her throat, the edges of her vision grew blurry from the wind stinging her eyes–but still she kept her foot shoved down as firmly as she could manage, reaching out for the phantom of a voice she hadn’t heard for a couple years now.
“What–what are you–” A white-knuckled fist pounded against the steering wheel the way one would punch an old TV to get the picture to clear up, Eli’s eyes wide as she strained with her entire being to hear, to keep the speed that was seemingly breaking the barrier between this world and whatever lay beyond. Even if the rational fragment of her brain was screaming that it couldn’t be real, the desperation to feel a connection with the only family member that would have never even dreamt of turning his back on her had her reaching for it. “Tell me what you’re tryin’ to tell me, Goddamn you!”
A loud scream of metal against metal… and then a clank, a clunk, and then silence as the engine gave up the ghost, the distortion of the wind trickling away until all that was left was the mundane sound of broadcaster bickering post-bout. Steering her truck to the shoulder, putting it in park felt like it was just ceremony as the blond slumped back against the seat, sides heaving as she tried to suck in air that was no longer rushing its way into her lungs. At a standstill, there was no denying that she hadn’t heard her brother at all–that she’d imagined it as sure as she’d just managed to fuck up her truck’s engine beyond repair. The fact that nothing happened when she tried to turn the key was all the proof she needed of that.
Good fuckin’ job, Eli. First you ruin your relationship with your brother, and now your truck’s shit the bed because you couldn’t just keep to the speed limit. Now what’re you gonna do, dumbass?
Pounding her fist against the horn, the sound it let out wasn’t nearly loud enough or long enough to drown out the voice in her head–and the second go was a pathetic excuse for a honk that was over before it could even truly begin. Eli quivered as she forced herself to take a deep breath, then another, then another. That did nothing to slow the jackrabbiting of her heart against her ribcage, the sweat that was already soaking through her t-shirt as she found herself atop a different edge, one that ensnared instead of liberated. One that reminded her–
Flashing lights caught her eye, earning a groan that seemingly sucked all the air and life out of her as it left her lips.
And now you’ve gotta deal with a cop. Fucking spectacular–wait. Those lights’re yellow.
Eli forced herself upright, squinting at the reflection of the vehicle that slowed to a stop behind her. In the crimson glow of her tail lights, it was hard to make out details at first–but as she narrowed her eyes just a little bit more, she saw the tell-tale triangular metal shape of a winch that could only mean one thing.
A tow truck.
As the door opened and her savior for the moment began his approach, the blond quickly swiped the back of her hand across her eyes before running a hand up along her forehead to tame her hair into some semblance of order–and by the time that a flashlight was shining into the darkness of the cab to illuminate her sheepishly-smiling face.
“Woman drivers, am I right or am I right?” The way he chuckled was encouragement enough for the blond to lean in just a bit, lowering her voice as if she didn’t want her truck to overhear her. “But really, this old bitch is the problem. Think you can work your magic, handsome?”
The poor bastard never knew that it was more than the engine that was broken… but that suited Eli just fine. So long as no one else was aware of what she was running from, then she wouldn’t have to face it.
Y’know, I’ve never been a religious person.
Yeah yeah yeah… I can hear the chorus of just about everyone that knows me screaming ‘Well no shit, Sherlock!’ in the background. I mean, I come from a family of dyed-in-the-wool outspoken atheists, for fuck’s sake. I was taught by my edgelord older brother that Kafka–not Jesus or Buddha or whichever god or goddess you wanna name from whatever belief system’s en vogue–knew what the idea of Hell truly was and, more importantly, where to find it. For those who didn’t have that kinda’ influence growin’ up, I can sum it up in two short sentences. Ready?
Hell isn’t a place in the traditional sense. Nah–it’s other people.
Judgin’ by everything I’ve seen since I was old enough to be aware of much of anything, I’ve gotta agree with that. Shit, I’m not gonna sit here and lay claim to sainthood or walkin’ with the angels–relax, Mitch, we’re cool. I just still have to chuckle to myself when I think of that line. But anyway, I know full well that I’ve been that kinda’ torment to other people–shit, I’ve been Hell to other people on multiple occasions, and a lot of those were on purpose. I’ve even done it here, and I’ve done a bang-up job of it if the way ol’ Sugartits can’t keep my name out of his mouth no matter what he tries.And if he thinks he’s experiencin’ eternal damnation now… well, a girl can’t give away all her secrets, can she?
Maybe that’s why I’m so amused at the goddess you’ve chosen to follow, Xander Azula.
I have some familiarity with Discordianism thanks to bein’ a fan of Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman–and now I’m wonderin’ if Good Omens would be considered a religious text for you, Xander. Huh. Maybe I’ll remember to ask. All of the Dirk Gently books have to be… but that’s beside the point. Eris, as I’m sure you know, is the goddess of chaos and destruction, the feminine embodiment of fuck around and find out. She’s the kind of woman who would, for example, march right up to one of the most dominant male gods and tell them to suck her dick because she’s going to make her mark at his expense. She’s the type of lady who would get back up after havin’ her jaw shifted to the left with a punch before askin’ if that’s all the one who’s punchin’ her has got. She’s the kind of woman to take one look at society’s expectations of her, flip them all the bird, and go about her life as she sees fit, and damn the consequences.
Sound familiar yet?
It should, considerin’ how I’m closer to your goddess than you could ever hope to be simply by existing. Matter of fact?
You could call me the embodiment of what Eris represents.
How hard are you clutchin’ your medallion at my blasphemy, sweetie? More importantly, though, how much does that truth hurt? Because you know I’m right. You know, deep down, that for all your lip service and your robes and all the other iconographic accoutrement that you’ve spent waaaay too much money on, you’re never gonna be remotely as close to Eris’ bosom as I am. There’s one key thing you’ve forgotten, Xander, and it’s the same thing that bible thumpers and suicide bombers and all the other zealots inevitably lose touch with along the road to madness.
Belief doesn’t mean dick all to the non-believers that know better than to fall into the religion trap.
Hell, even if we set aside how Discordianism was founded as a parody of organized religion–remember how I said I was familiar with it?–all it took was one idiot to actually believe it and here we are with a cult of personality, just minus the personality. And I know, I know–because I’ve besmirched your “faith”, you’re gonna spew forth the same mantra as always about how you’re a force of nature and an avatar of violence and how you’re gonna hurt me, blah blah blah fuckin’ blah. But remember what I said about how much belief means to those of us without our heads up some deity’s ass? Object lesson time!
You believe you’re going to hurt me badly enough to where I’m going to beg for mercy when I haven’t begged for a Goddamn thing in the entire time I’ve been lacing up my boots.
I know I’m going to GDI your head into the mat until you have a chance of actually hearing voices because of the brain damage you’re gonna suffer.
See the difference?
The really funny part about all of this is what GDI stands for–God Damn It. An atheist is going to put down a religious nut with a move with the word ‘God’ in it. Actually, y’know what? For one night only at Refueled LXIX, just for you, the ‘G’ in that acronym is going to stand for ‘Goddess’ as a reminder of the goddess you’re failing yet again. There’s one thing you can take comfort in, though–or, at least, I think this is how it can work? I’m not the believer here so maybe I’m wrong, but your goddess already has her willing sacrifice all lined up, ready to be led to the altar by the hairs on his chinny-chin-chin. That’s what they call human sacrifices, right? White goats? I’m probably mixing up religions here, whoopsie daisy.
Anyway, I’m not the sacrifice to Eris here.