Ambrose smiled as Barbara embraced him. Her body pressed against his. Her arms were so soft along his sides. Her hands touched his bare back. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
Something cold and hard and gut-twistingly familiar clamped around his neck and yanked him flat on his back. He opened his eyes.
Barbara was gone.
Olessa stood before him with a dripping muzzle in her hands. A mask of a dead woman’s face covered her own face from forehead to chin.
He shook his head and tried to back away from her.
Manacles poked their heads above ground and snagged his wrists, his waist, his knees, his ankles. He couldn’t move.
Olessa descended to his level. The scent of burnt olive oil assaulted his senses.
He struggled to break free of his restraints.
She put her face close to his ear and whispered, “You deserve this, Ambrose Smith.” As she slowly pulled herself back, Ambrose looked at her and he knew.
It was not a mask.
The ripped and purple rotted skin…the deeply empty eyes…the contorted upper lip and swollen lower lip….
It was her face.
She raised the dripping muzzle. A fat, oily drop rolled off the metal and splashed onto his cheek.
He gasped as his skin rippled and puckered and canyoned. The water drop burned and bit and devoured its way through flesh and bone, teeth and roots.
Her horrible ruined mouth rose into an approximation of a smile. She leaned forward.
He shook his head and struggled to escape.
But there was no escape.
No matter how hard he tried.
She attached the muzzle to something behind his head.
She lowered the muzzle…the muzzle dripping with holy water..
“No! No, please! Don’t! DON’T!”
She lowered it all of the way and buckled it tight.
And the water dripped on his face.
Ambrose woke and skittered back into a sit. He glanced around in wide-eyed terror.
She isn’t here. She isn’t here. Not here. Not here. She isn’t here.
Barbara sat up. Her lips moved, but he didn’t hear her voice. He kept searching. Kept glancing. Kept waiting for Olessa to appear. His breathing shivered.
Where is she? Where’s Olessa? Where is she? Where is she? Where is—-
Barbara sandwiched his face in between her hands.
She’s here. She’s—-
Ambrose, look at me. Look. I’m here. Ambrose. I’m here.
He looked at her.
Her blue eyes.
Her damp, honey blonde hair.
He shuddered at the memory of the face in his dream.
“It’s okay. Look at me. Don’t you look away from me. Don’t—-”
He embraced her. “Barbara.” He shivered.
Her bare arms circled him. “I’m here, Ambrose.”
He pressed his face against her shoulder line.
Her skin was soft.
Her scent was sweet.
“It’s okay, Ambrose. You’re safe.”