Delilah

   Delilah Amberough stood at the base of a hill, looking down at what her life had become. Loneliness, isolation, death—all were staples in her already-complicated existence. Life only existed within the walls of her village, marking humanity’s  true passage of survival. Green stapled the ground, only divided by rough, dirt road; the occasional shrub littered the side of the road, separating their houses with their sought-after greenery; and the very hill on which she stood bore the only tree in the area—a maple, large and wide with limbs that extended into the sky like fingers yearning for the old world.
   Outside of that, nothing but dead, dirt and rot ruled the land.
   It chilled her to no end to realize that they may be the only people left in the world.
   “This is pointless,” she whispered, falling to her knees and crossing her legs. “Why even bother?”
   What the doctor asked for was something she could not give. No matter how hard they tried, they could not bring the dead back to life.
   Why me? she thought, tugging at her hair. Why me, when there are so many others?
   She hadn’t been the only one blessed with this gift during the great dying, so why would the doctor turn to her, a simple seventeen-year-old girl?
   It doesn’t matter anyway, because no matter what I do or say, he’s still going to use me.
   As long as she wanted to remain within the walls, she had to do whatever the doctor said.
   Sighing, she stood and made her way down the hill, back to the doctor and his somewhat-twisted ways.

   “Veronica,” Delilah said, leaning against the front desk, “could you ring Jason and say I’m here?”
   “That’s Doctor Anderson,” the older, heavyset woman said. “And yes, you can go back, he’s expecting you.”
   “All right,” she frowned. “Thank you.”
   She couldn’t understand why Veronica didn’t like her. As far as she could recall, she hadn’t done anything to the woman that could have made her mad or upset. But, then again, Veronica could just not like her for the bizarre gift she had.
   It’s not like I can help it, she sighed. I’d be much better off without it.
   She chose to ignore Veronica’s reason for disliking her and instead continued down the hall, stopping only when she came to the doctor’s office. She raised her hand, knocked, and then pushed the door open, peeking inside to make sure she hadn’t disturbed the man’s progress.
   “Delilah,” he said, looking up at her. “I’m surprised you came.”
   “Of course I would. Why? Did you think I wouldn’t?”
   “You’re late.”
   Delilah looked up at the clock.
   As Anderson had said, she’d arrived thirty minutes late.
   “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t know.”
   “It’s all right. Close the door—I don’t want anyone to see what we’re doing.”
   “Don’t people already know?”
   “Yes, but that doesn’t mean they need to see it, right?
   Good point.
   Turning, she closed the door, then crossed the room to where the doctor stood. A clipboard lay on the counter, a few papers folded over to allow Anderson’s pen easy access.
   “Are you ready?” he asked, looking up at her.
   “Yes sir,” she nodded.
   The body lay on an exam table under a thick, white sheet, the contours of the cadaver’s limbs bulging and indenting the slick fabric. It only further reminded Delilah that she had stepped into something far worse than the end of the world, something far worse than anything she could have ever imagined.
   “You know what to do,” the doctor said.
   She nodded.
   “Of course.”
   As if afraid of disturbing the corpse, she took slow, careful steps, extending her arms as slowly and gently as she could. She’d experienced the shock of having a freshly-expired corpse involuntarily jerking a limb. Doctor Anderson had always assured her that such reactions were just electrical pulses going off in the body. Delilah sometimes believed otherwise.
   “Something wrong, Delilah?”
   “No,” she shivered.
   “Then what are you waiting for?”
   Shaking her head, she took a deep breath and reached for the sheet.
   The body of a middle-aged woman came into view as the fabric came down. At first, Delilah felt sickened, repulsed even. As always, the nausea passed and was soon replaced with a sense of dread. This woman—who had been alive no more than a few days ago—now lay dead on a table, indifferent to her surroundings and the people around her.
   “You know what to do,” Anderson said, setting a hand on her back.
   Delilah kept her silence, tossing the sheet to her side. She stepped around the table until she stood at the woman’s right side, took a deep breath, and pressed a hand to her chest.
   Wake.
   A tingle started in her heart, quickening her pulse. Sweat broke out on her brow and slid down her face, coating her cheeks with perspiration. A drop slid off the tip of her nose and landed on the woman’s face, at the beginning of the bridge of her nose.
   Aunt Claridia’s eyes opened.
   Death filled their surfaces.
   “Good,” the doctor said, scribbling a note on a clipboard. “Forty-five seconds from touch to reanimation.”
   Forty five, she thought. My fastest yet. A record.
   She waited, forcing the tingle from her heart and into her shoulder. The effort left her breathless. Rich, if clouded, oxygen entered her lungs with each inhale, and left with every exhale.  At first, she thought she would pass out, or maybe have a hard attack from the energy she had to use. But, as she figured, she didn’t. The last of the tingle left her arm, entered her palm, and entered the woman’s chest, arching her back off the table like she’d been shocked by a defibrillator.
    Only in the movies, Doctor Anderson had said. You never see that in an ER.
   You never see it on a dead body either.
   “Three minutes, Delilah,” he said, looking up at her. “Did the energy leave your hand?”
   “I’m a witch,” she whispered, almost unable to believe she possessed such powers.
   “Delilah?”
   Propelled by newfound strength, the corpse of Claridia Johnson pushed itself into a sitting position, turning its head from Delilah, to the doctor, then back again. Once settled on her savior, Claridia opened her mouth, revealing a black, bloated tongue. It wiggled, slicking its teeth with saliva that no longer existed before sliding over her lips. Delilah briefly considered the possibility that the corpse was thirsty—parched, even—but said nothing, not even when Jason turned his eyes on her.
   “You’re aware that you’ve beaten your previous record by three minutes, right?”
   “Almost half,” she mumbled.
   “Delilah?”
   “She’s alive,” she whispered.
   “No—she isn’t. Aunt Claridia is dead.”
   A low groan rose from the corpse’s chest, tracing Delilah’s forehead and puncturing the top of her skull. It slid into her brain and took control of her body, causing the hairs on the back of her neck to rise and her arms to shake. She stilled them by crossing them over her chest, but it did little to help. The dead had spoken. They wanted answers.
   I’m sorry, she mouthed, a tear sliding down her face.
   “Is something wrong?”
   “I need to go,” she said, walking to the door.
   “You can’t!” Jason said. “You need to put her down.”
   “Do it yourself. You have a drill.”
   She slammed the door without saying another word.
   Until that moment, she hadn’t known that the dead really did have souls.

   Back home—in a small, rounded building constructed from the remnants of metal buildings and topped with a flat, wooden roof—she sat on her bed and rocked herself to the sound of her thoughts, trying as hard as she could to forget the sound of Claridia’s gargled moan and the sight of her fat, bloated tongue. The woman—as dead as she may have been—had experienced human emotion, regardless of the fact that her brain had died and disappeared with the rest of her bodily functions.
   I’m so sorry, Aunt Claridia.
   While she hadn’t known the woman past the casual meet-and-greet at one of their village’s social gatherings, reviving someone she’d once known pained her to no end. At times, she’d remain on her bed for days, unable to sleep as the ghosts of the dead wiggled their tongues or blinked their glossy eyes at her. The only cure for these fits of insomnia were the sedatives Anderson kept in his medical office, and even then, those rarely helped.
   You can’t help what he makes you do, she thought, curling into a ball. You can’t control or give him the things he wants.
   No.
   Had she been able to control anything at all, she would’ve turned that fateful night and stopped the event that would ultimately change her life.
   The war, the bombs, the brief flash of light that covered the entire sky—then the flames came and wiped away all the good in the world. People ran the streets, flaming cherries atop a Burning Alaska. The ground had turned white then, as a superheated firestorm waged over the earth’s surface and destroyed almost everything that existed. Those few that had managed to escape to the underground catacombs emerged to an almost-barren earth, wiped clean of humanity’s former existence.
   All that had remained was an obelisk that had once marked the location of Washington D.C.
   Just like the day she went underground—a parentless girl of only seven, clinging to the arm of a tall man in a big, black suit—the day she emerged from the darkness below remained clear in her mind.
   Almost three years later, when the few scientists that had survived deemed the world fit for human habitation, the group of about fifty men, women and children took their first step on the cold, barren land.
   Like mud cracked from the immense heat of a summer-long drought, the ground below crumbled under their feet, virgin soil tested by human weight for the first time in years. Those few trees that managed to survive had been stripped of all life, crystallized under ash like Pompeii from its volcano. They’d looked like mannequins then, faceless because of a creationist’s inability to give them a true identity.  And that image alone stuck fear into the hearts of those who survived the most brutal event in human history. Many broke down crying, elated from survival, but terrified of the future. Even the men—who, until that point, had remained the stoic, almost-godlike figures of the group—broke down, shedding tears for all the things they’d lost.
   Loved ones died during that time, burned by the pressure or the apprehension of three cold, dark years; but despite everything lost, those few survivors vowed it wouldn’t be in vain.
   Not long after they began their trek across the barren wasteland to start their new life, the first case of magic turned their world upside down.

   With morning came both dawn and the realization that she would once again be returning to the doctor’s office. So, as always, Delilah rose, walked into the bathroom, and ran a shower, grimacing—but not shrieking—as the cold water hit her body. She showered for about five minutes, then climbed out, pulled herself into a T-shirt and jeans, and made her way out into the streets.
   This early in the morning, people had only begun to rise—hanging laundry or pulling it back in. A few women waved at her as she passed, but she paid them little attention. Their waves meant nothing more than a sign of recognition for a witch in their midst. Many of them probably cursed her in their minds, or prayed that she wouldn’t come anywhere near them.
   Don’t worry, she thought, running a hand through her hair, because I’m not coming anywhere near you.
   At the end of the long, dirt road that trisected itself into a Y-shape, she turned west and headed toward the doctor’s office. In her mind, she chastised herself for ever getting into this situation, but it couldn’t be helped. Until she turned eighteen, she had to do whatever was asked of her, regardless of whether she liked it or not.
   With as much dignity as she could manage, she pushed open one of the double doors and made her way inside.
   “Veronica,” she began, “can I...”
   The woman pointed before Delilah could finish.
   “Thank you,” she murmured, stepping through the threshold.
   As she made her way through the halls, Delilah thought of Claridia and how she’d beaten her personal record. Three-minutes and something, she remembered, closing her eyes. That had been all it had taken to bring a dead woman back to life.
   I need to tell him straight-out that I can’t do this anymore. It’s getting to be too much.
   Delilah opened her eyes just as Jason opened the door.
   “Delilah?” he asked, running a hand through his disheveled hair. “What’re you doing here so early?”
   Her eyes wandered over his face, fresh with beard stubble, and to the buttons on his shirt, which seemed to have come undone of their own free will. He had to have spent the night in his office, because Doctor Jason Anderson would never have been caught looking the way he did.
   “I came to see you,” she said, sliding her hands into her pockets. Then, in a lighter voice, added, “Weren’t we supposed to do something about Claridia?”
   “Oh. Yes. I forgot.” The man paused, frowned, and scratched his chin. Beard stubble always seemed to make his face look red and raw. “Come in. Just give me a moment to get ready.”
   “All right.”
   Stepping into the room, she made her way around the desk and to the window, where several plants grew under plastic wrap on in glass vials. A single flower sat in the very center, growing from a mixture of charcoal and potting soil.
   “It’s pretty,” she whispered.
   “It’s the only rose I’ve been able to grow,” Jason said, setting a hand on her shoulder. “And look at the color. Can you believe that?”
   No. She couldn’t—and didn’t want to—believe it. Just the sight of a green rose with a beautiful black-and-red interior threatened to overwhelm her with the reality of what had happened after the great dying.
   “Have you told anyone about this?” she asked, grimacing as the older man pressed his chest against her back. “Jason, don’t, please.”
   “You’re a very pretty girl, Delilah,” he said, brushing his lips against her neck. “A very special pretty girl.”
   “This isn’t right.”
   “I’m not that much older than you.”
   True. At twenty, the three years that separated them meant nothing, and compared to a few of the other girl’s Delilah’s age, the slight difference made them one of the most likely—and appealing—couples in the whole town. But despite the man’s attraction, his intelligence, and his smooth, easy smile, the darkness that corroded his heart made her that less willing to ever be in a relationship with him. Who would want to sleep with a man who wanted to bring something dead back to life?
   I sure don’t.
   “I’m sorry,” she sighed, reaching up to push his hand away. “Are we going to work on Claridia, or not?”
   “Yeah,” Jason breathed, “we are.”
   Even though a tinge of malice lingered on the tip of his tongue, Delilah felt better knowing that they would finally be getting to work.

   “She’s aware,” Jason said. “Very, very aware.”
   “More than the others have been,” Delilah agreed.
   Like a glass puppet with strings attached to its back, Claridia followed Delilah’s finger with the utmost abandon, not caring—or believing—in anything else but the single digit that lingered no more than a foot away from her face. When Delilah moved her finger up, Claridia’s head rose with it, and when she moved it down, the woman’s head followed, a plane nose-diving toward the great, misty beyond. But when Delilah put all of her fingers up, Claridia’s eyes widened, the dead, hazy pupils widening in confusion or fear.
   “Why does she look so surprised when I put more fingers up?” she frowned, sliding her hands into her pockets to avoid Claridia’s startled expression.
   “It could be that she thinks she’s supposed to follow them all,” Jason grunted, expelling a deep breath. “I don’t know what else to tell you.”
   “It’s all right. What do you want me to try next?”
   “Anything you think might work.”
   What I think will work. She nodded. Great. Leave it up to me, the girl who knows nothing about anything.
   Sighing, she raised the hand Claridia had been watching. This time, she chose to spread her fingers apart, then flick them forward, as if stretching the muscles. As she did this, Claridia’s head bobbed up and down, watching each and every digit.
   “Aunt Claridia,” she said, stilling her hand. “Do you know which finger I was moving?”
   The corpse stopped moving. Even her eyes, usually animated inside their hollow pits, ceased to move the slightest bit. The harsh, rising sunlight that penetrated through the windows didn’t even seem to bother her at all, even though it glared right into her dull eyes.
   Then, out of nowhere, her right eye moved.
   She reached out and touched the tip of Delilah’s index finger with the tip of her own.
   “Did you see that, Jason?” she whispered, turning her head up at the doctor.
   “Uh huh,” he breathed, mouth slightly agape. “Yeah. I did.”
   “What… what does it mean?” she asked.
   “It means that it might be working,” Jason said, stepping up beside Delilah. “It means that we might be onto something, Delilah.”

   When she left Jason’s office nearly five hours later, the bleak sun had risen high in the sky, brightening the dead land like it had before the great dying and as it always would. She thought of the green rose with the speckled, black-and-red interior and what it might mean to the existence of everyone within the wall.
   Does it mean that Jason’s smarter than he thinks he is? Does it mean that we might be able to bring the dead fully back to life?
   What would happen if Jason were truly able to accomplish that? Would he be hailed a hero, like those scientists and doctors had in the past? Or would he be scorned, belittled and hated for his treacherous work?  Human nature existed in a way that allowed a man or woman to be afraid of death, but did it really, truly exist to defeat it?
   No, it doesn’t. And it shouldn’t.
   But, as far as she was concerned, Jason could do whatever he wanted, just as long as he left her alone.
   You know he won’t.
   Why her, of all people? She didn’t have big boobs, a nice, shapely figure, or the face of an actress long since dead. Jason had called her pretty—special, too—but that meant nothing, coming from him. He’d go from one girl to the other, obsessing over the first, then flocking to the second as though he’d been forever lost from his troop. Part of her liked Jason and the way he seemed to admire her, but the other, darker and stronger half hated him for what he did.
   You can’t hate him.
   “Oh, no,” she whispered. “Don’t worry—I can.”
   “What’re you goin’ on about, girl?”
   She jumped, and then spun around to find Johnson, the village farmer, grinning like an idiot.
   “Nothing,” she smiled, reaching back to rub her neck. “Just talking to myself.”
   “You crazy witches and your talkin’ to yourselves,” the man grinned, leaning against his shovel. “So, what were you and Jason cookin’ up there in his old lab?”
   “I shouldn’t say,” she sighed.
   “Come on. You know I won’t say anything.”
   “I know, sir. I… I just don’t want to break Jason’s trust.”
   “So that’s what you were mumblin’ about,” he chuckled. “Someone’s smitten for the smitter.”
   “That’s not even a word.”
   “It is with Jason Anderson, dear girl.”
   “Anyway,” she smiled, setting her hand at her side, “did you need something, or can I go?”
   “I just wanted to wish you well,” he said. “And tell you to watch yourself.”
   “Watch myself?”
   “Uh huh,” he nodded. “Because as far as I’m concerned, when you’re playin’ with the dead, you’re on a whole other playin’ field.”

   Jason held the terrarium-grown rose in two hands, admiring its delicate, exotic surface with careful, calculating eyes. Delilah stood off to the side, eyeing both him and Claridia, who sat in the examination chair waiting to see what would happen.
   “I’ve been running tests on this,” he said, watching Delilah through the glass terrarium, “and Claridia’s flesh.”
   “Her flesh?” Delilah asked.
   “Her flesh,” the doctor confirmed.
   “But what does the rose have anything to do with… with Claridia?”
   “At first, nothing. But, upon further examination, I’ve found that the rose seems to have chemical properties, which was expected, because the seeds were exposed to radiation in the doomsday’s vault, but I never expected something like this.”
   “What did you find?”
   “The tests show increased cellular activity when a broken-down petal is exposed to the dead flesh. Now I’m not saying this means anything, because dozens of tests would be needed to see if my theory is correct, but…”
   “Tell me what the flower does, Jason.”
   “It brings the cells back to life.”
   Delilah swallowed a lump in her throat.
   “To life?” she managed.
   “To life.” He set the terrarium on the counter, a smile perking the corners of his lips. “You know what this means, Delilah? This means that we could finally, after all these years, we could bring the dead back to life!”
   “But we don’t know if it’s true,” she sighed. “Jason, we don’t know if we can bring the dead back in order to keep humanity going. We don’t know anything past a few ideas and speculation, because nothing’s been proven, and the few tests you’ve done have shown little to no results. We don’t know anything about the people we’ve been bring back to life. Jason, we…”
   “That doesn’t matter, Delilah! We’ve got the resources, and we have the test subjects. All we’d need now is…”
   “No.”
   One word—one single, deadly word—was all it took to silence one of the most powerful men in the entire village.
   “What?” he laughed, turning his eyes on her. “I’m sorry, but did you just tell me no?”
   “You can’t do this to them!” she cried. “You can’t do this to her! She’s a person, for God’s sake!”
   “Was a person, Delilah.” Jason shook his head. Again, the smile returned, but this time with a sense of narcissism that could only come from a power-hungry man like Jason. “I’m sorry to say, but you’re in no position to tell me what I can or can’t do.”
   “I’ll stop working,” she warned. “You can’t make me.”
   “Oh? And just what, exactly, will you tell the mayor, when I report you for insubordination?”
   “I’ll tell him what you’re doing.”
   “I’ve been authorized to perform life-altering experiments on the bodies that the witches are able to revive. Just because one pathetic, little girl says that she doesn’t want to help me doesn’t mean I can’t get others.”
   “I’m the best.”
   “So be it. There are others.”
   “Jason,” she whimpered. “You can’t…”
   “Get out, Delilah.”
   “But you…”
   “I said get out.”
   “You shouldn’t…”
   “GET OUT!” he roared, throwing his hands in the air. “Get out before I have someone remove you!”
   “Fine,” she whispered. “But don’t think you’ll get away with this, Jason.”
   “Oh, don’t worry,” he smiled, licking his lower lip. “I’ll get away with whatever the hell I want.”

   Tears coursed down her face as she ran from the neurology office. Having barely been able to contain them in the front lobby, they came out in a blistering torrent of heat, burning her eyes and forcing them shut. She ran through the streets without a care, not bothering to look to see where she was going or the people who looked on with concern. It didn’t matter, not anymore—Jason had had his way, and he would do whatever he wanted with Claridia.
   Claridia, she sobbed. I’m so sorry.
   Inside her home, she threw herself on the bed, buried her face in her pillow, and screamed as loudly as she could. At times, she thought she would drown, weighted down by an insufferable emotion called guilt, while  at other times she thought someone would come knocking down her door, demanding her screams to stop or her pleas to be silenced. But throughout all of this, she thought of the one woman she’d brought back to life, the one woman that seemed to have part of her soul still inside her.
   You touched my finger, she thought, drawing breath into her lungs. And I touched yours.
   It was at that moment she knew what she had to do.
  
   Memory.
   Simple, cosmetic, something everyone and every single thing on the planet experienced. Even the planet, thought to be only a rock floating in a vast, never-ending universe, remembered the things she once experienced, for her surface bore the scars of years past. Craters where giant rocks from heaven blanketed the deserts, twisted caverns rose and fell from where the tides once swept back and forth, and even marks of the greats—the Egyptians, the Mayans, the Aztecs and the Chinese—still stood, monuments to the cultures that once thrived upon Mother Earth’s surface. And like Mother Earth, Delilah remembered how both her and the life of thousands of others had been turned upside down on one loud, fateful day, when a man in a big, white house stood up and said they were going to war.
   Then, three months later, a man in a long, black cloak and with Christ hanging from his neck pointed to the sky and began to watch as Armageddon reigned down upon all of them.
   At only seven years old, and tailing the heels of a social worker who made it his mission to adopt her, Delilah looked up at the sky at exactly the same moment the alarms went off. Washington, D.C, the home of the great, grand president, issued a warning to any and all who could hear, across all airways and across all radio signals.
   That warning had one meaning.
   And that warning ensured that death would come to the United States.
   Some got down on their knees and prayed, and some threw themselves into cars and headed for the hills, while others simply stared in wonder at the three angels soaring from the sky. With their mechanical wings and their broad, open arms, the faceless things from above extended their hands in offering. They offered peace, they offered gratitude, and they offered one final chance for those who believed to be with their loved ones one last time. Some did stand and wait, eyes wet and glistening, lips quivering and pouting; but not Delilah—not Delilah and the social worker who made it his mission to make a little girl happy.
   As if no time passed at all from the moment the alarm went off, the man in the big, black suit took Delilah’s hand and ran.
   Dodging through traffic, civilians and wayward pets let loose by their owners for one last, final feast, the social worker tucked Delilah into his arms and threw himself forward. Shoulder-first, like a football player on a grand field of sport, he slammed into his opponents—men and women running for their lives. Some fell to the ground, trampled by the crowd of wild apes, while others simply stumbled aside, only to be pushed again, and again, and again.
   Few survived that day, all because only a few knew where to go.
   The government had once said to run for the hills were the end of the world to come, to rush into the prepared bunkers in case tragedy did indeed strike.
   What the government didn’t tell them was that those bunkers couldn’t withstand a nuclear attack.
   So, while they ran, making their way to the hills, Delilah and the man whose name she could no longer remember ran toward the catacombs, a place where only certain military officials were allowed. And because that social worker wore a suit, and because he held a child no older than ten in his arms, they took him in, out of pity for a father seemingly rescuing his daughter.
   After that, they made their way into the ends of the earth, all the while listening to the sounds of the screams outside.
   A minute later, everything went silent.
   Then, like a man dropping a pin in a large, quiet room, the world exploded and everything died.
   With that memory held intact, and with those nightmares and dreams continuing to linger in the later days of her life, Delilah knew that she could not let anything else suffer, not after what she had seen and experienced.
   Whether a person was alive, dead, or undead, she knew that nothing deserved to suffer.
  
   That night, she did the unthinkable.
   She broke into the Anderson Neurology Department and made her way inside.
   Guided by the single, lone beacon of a flashlight, she made her way through the wide lobby and down the hall, careful to train her light at an angle on the ground in front of her. If she were to hold it the way a normal person would, and were Jason to walk out of a room and be caught in her spotlight, there would be no way to explain her reason for being here.
   I came to check on Claridia, she’d most likely say. Or, if her conscience betrayed her, I came to say I’m sorry, Jason. I shouldn’t have said what I said to you.
   Regardless, she’d come for one reason, and one reason only—to free Claridia.
   Taking a deep breath, she stopped at the foot of the examination room and waited, hoping to hear the sound of Jason’s heavy breathing or the click of his polished shoes. Neither of these sounds came to her ears, but she stopped to consider something else she might hear—a pen on a clipboard, the scratch of stubble, the quiet murmurings or the soft curses of a man with troubled thoughts. She heard none of the sounds that would attest to Jason’s lingering presence, and for a moment, stopped to consider one deadly possibility.
   What if Jason wasn’t in there?
   What if, after all this time, he’d simply been following her, waiting to make his move?
   “No,” she whispered. “He couldn’t…”
   “Hello, Delilah.”
   She whirled around faster than she ever had in her life.
   Jason stood no more than ten feet away, smoking a cigarette.
   “It’s a no smoking zone,” he grinned, plucking the cigarette from his lips, “but I’m not the bigger fire hazard here.”
   “Go away, Jason. No one has to know anything about this.”
   “So you want it gone, just like that? All the work we’ve done, all the progress we’ve made?” He dropped his cigarette. “I don’t think so, Delilah.”
   “You can’t stop me, Jason.”
   “You think so?”
   “I know so.”
   He smirked, spread his fingers, and pursed his lips.
   The cigarette he’d just dropped rose, suspended by invisible ropes and chains.
   “You…” she breathed. “You’re…”
   “You’re not the only witch in town, babe.”
   A firestorm erupted from the cigarette.
   Throwing herself to the floor, Delilah covered her head with her hands just as a plume of flame exploded inches over her head. The flames—hot, greasy, and slick—tickled the walls, pawing at the ceiling and sprinkler system like hellcats from the underworld.
   For one brief moment, Delilah thought the sprinklers would start.
   Then, with the horrible, deniable truth, she realized that they hadn’t, nor ever would, work.
   Taking a deep breath, she rolled over, thrust her hand into the air, and forced a gap between the flames just large enough for her stand. Once on her feet, she held the barrier steady, sweat tickling her neck. She didn’t know how long she would be able to keep the fire at bay.
   It won’t be long, she thought, closing her eyes.
   “Give it up, Delilah. You’re never going to win, not against me. I’m too powerful.”
   “No!” she cried, tears burning her face. “You’re nothing but a coward!”
   “You think so, girl? Would a coward defend his work until his final breath?”
   “Only a coward would defend something as futile as this!”
   The barrier broke.
   She screamed.
   Fire surrounded her.
   Laughs echoed the hallway as what Jason believed to be Delilah’s death ensued. Fire spiraled around her like a butterfly’s cocoon, smoke devoured her like a dog to a kill, and fear tightened its hold on her heart, once again playing the puppet of a teenage girl. All seemed hopeless for the Amberough girl, who’d tried to destroy what the doctor believed to be the cure to death.
   But, despite all this, Jason did not know one thing.
   Delilah had only shrunk the barrier, not let it break.
   “You see!” Jason howled, tilting his head back to the ceiling. “This is what you get for trying to destroy me!”
   “No, Jason,” she said, “this is what you get.”
   Using the barrier as a propellant, Delilah caught the flame in its surface, curled it around her body, and then thrust it right back at Jason.
   There was nothing the man could do as over two-thousand degrees of heat slammed into his body and forced him against the wall.
   The last of his screams died with the fire’s last breath.
   “Goodbye, Jason,” she said. “I’m not part of your game anymore.”
   She turned and opened the door.

   Claridia sat in her chair, unaware of the events that had just taken place outside. She did not look up once, not until the door clicked shut behind her.
   “Claridia?” Delilah asked.
   The corpse turned her head up.
   Glossy eyes glowed in the darkness.
   “I… I came to help you,” she said, stepping around the chairs. “I don’t know what will happen now that I’ve killed Jason, but at least this way, you won’t have to suffer.”
   Delilah closed her eyes.
   A dead hand touched her arm.
   “I know,” she smiled, opening her eyes to find Claridia looking up at her. “You’re ready to go, aren’t you?”
   Of course she is, she thought, tightening her hands into fists. Why did you ask that?
   “I want to thank you for everything you’ve taught me,” she said, pressing a hand to Claridia’s chest. “I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you, but the least I can do is let you rest.”
   From her heart, to her shoulder, then down her arm and through her hand, the healing touch of mercy entered Claridia’s body and forever stilled her undead body.
   Closing her eyes, Delilah tilted her head back and let a tear fall from her face.
   You did it, Delilah. You finally set her free.
   “Goodbye,” she said, making her way toward the door. She stopped in front of it, gripped the doorknob, and took a deep breath. “Thank you, Claridia. Rest in peace.”
   Behind her, a flower sparkled.
   The rose began to shed its petals.

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