“Love? Have you seen my jacket anywhere?” Miranda could hear Anders’ feet stumbling around the stairway through the multiple pillows he’d thrown over his head a few hours prior to drown out the pounding in his head. “My gray one? I could have sworn that I hung it on the rack last night.”
“It’s not in the bedroom.” Miranda wearily sat up to the sound of Anders moving the couch to check behind it. “And I highly doubt that it made its way down a tiny sliver of a crack. Have you tried the bathroom? You might have left it in there while changing for your shower last night.”
“Please, Miranda, I’m running late!” Anders unlocked the bathroom door, rustled a few things around, and then slammed it.
“And I’ve just been woken up.” He dragged himself out of bed and opened the bedroom door to find Anders tossing the cushions off of the couch, which revealed the jacket after the second one had been flung against the opposite wall.
“Then go back to sleep after I leave.” Anders slipped into the jacket and put the cushions back. Crossing the distance between the two, he came in close and grazed Miranda’s neck, planting a soft kiss on his partner’s neck. “I’m going to set off for a meeting at the city hall. Don’t open the door for anybody unless it’s urgent, don’t unlock any of the windows, and go to bed early tonight.”
“Alright, love…” His tongue quivered on the word love, and Anders turned down the staircase and abandoned the house, locking the door after himself. Miranda sat himself on the couch, adjusting the cushions until the doorbell rang a second time. “Who’s there?”
“I’m from the city hall. Has Anders Shew left for his meeting?”
“Just a few minutes ago.” Miranda rose and approached the front door, sneaking a peek through the tiny window next to it. A medium-sized man stood on the front doorstep, carrying a cracked plastic clipboard and a few pencils. “Why do you ask?”
“Power bills are due in a few days due to the end of the billing cycle approaching, and I’ve come to read the power meter. If you could let me in, please…” He fidgeted, readjusting his blue baseball cap.
Miranda shrugged. “Anders said not to let anybody in. Sorry.”
A pained expression ran through the man’s face, and he snuck a glance at whatever was on the clipboard. “Well, can you please let me in anyways? I’ll have to come back on a later day with more people and possibly the police if I can’t read the meter and Anders subsequently misses any payment to the city.”
Miranda sighed, unlocking the front door. “Fine.”
“That’s fantastic,” the power man intoned, wiping his blue tennis shoes on the outside mat before entering the house and taking them off. “I assume the power meter is downstairs?”
“I wouldn’t know. Anders dealt with all the maintenance stuff while we were moving in, and I haven’t seen that much of the downstairs anyways.”
“Why don’t we go look?” The man gripped Miranda’s forearm and led him down the stairs, taking a right and brushing aside the door to the laundry room to access the meter by the furnace. Kneeling down, he looked at the red number brandished at the top and started scribbling it in onto the second page on the clipboard.
“Is your paper supposed to be completely blank, sir? There isn’t some kind of form for you to be filling out?”
The man ceased writing and stared at his paper for a good minute, filling the room with silence so pervasive that the two could almost hear the cars passing by outside. “There is, but that’s the job for the Mithrals assigned to this case.”
“Case? Why do you need cases in order to read the number on a meter? Surely it can’t be that important? And what are Mithrals?”
The man rose, pulling off his hat and shaking out his hair. He popped out his contacts to reveal deep irises of gold and crimson, eliciting a shudder from Miranda. “You are indeed Miranda Loyalis Shew?”
“I…” He took a few steps backwards, stopped by the wall of the washing machine stack. Desperately trying to hold on to a semblance of composure, he mouthed, “Yes, sir. I am.”
He held the hat over his heart. “Am I correct in making the statement that you prayed to a god a few nights ago pleading for protection for your unborn baby?”
“I prayed to as many gods as I could think of,” he breathed, opening the laundry room door and sliding along the wall to the opening. “You’re not an employee of the city, are you?” Dropping to his knees, he pleaded, “please don’t kill me. I don’t have anything of value.”
“Calm down. I’m not going to help you. I came to bring some hope, if you were willing to accept it.” He touched his hat to Miranda’s head, and he stood back up. “You can call me Bes. I can’t stay for long as Anders is going to return soon and realize that there was no meeting planned for tonight. The next time that we meet, I’m going to take a smoky form like-” he pointed towards the ceiling behind Miranda, who promptly turned around to see a few wisps of smoke racing below the popcorned paint- “my friends Calum and Hayle. We’re working on finding a safe place for you to escape to.”
He remained turned away from the power man, enamored with the floating shapes flitting among his furniture. “But why would I want to escape here? I love Anders. He gave me life and he takes care of me. I can take a few punches in repayment for being significantly better off than the majority of the world.”
“But what about your baby, Miranda? Do they deserve to be at Anders’ mercy?”
“Why are you making my fiancée out to be a psychopath? He just has bad days sometimes.” Miranda took a seat on his armchair that he’d moved from the suite, observing as one of the wisps twirled around the fingers on his right hand. “He never means it.”
“The bruises on your face beg otherwise, Miranda.”
He pressed his free hand to the bruise, feeling the tender skin under his fingertips. “What do you want, Bes? Why should I let you go and escape before Anders gets back to deal with you?”
“I want a promise from you that you’ll work with the Mithrals who come here over the next two weeks to safely escape from this household. Your baby is in danger if the abuse continues, you know. It’s unfortunate that it’s not common sense here.”
“And why should I trust you at all? You persuaded your way into my house and started spewing all this vitriol against my fiancée.”
“Shouldn’t the fact that I know that you privately prayed be enough to prove that I’m legit?” He flashed Miranda a wide smile just as he turned around to face him, showing off the fangs that had elongated over the course of the conversation. “I’m from Gehenna, dear. Otherwise known as hell. Surely you’ve heard of us?”
“Get out of here, Bes.” Miranda flung one finger towards the stairway to the door. “Leave before I call the police.”
“The police won’t do anything, Miranda. They’re corrupt too, and we know a way out… but I’ll respect your choices and give you some time to think about it.” He skipped up the stairway and left the house along with the wisps, who followed Miranda as he got up to watch the man leave and flew under the door to the outside world.
They’re corrupt too… Miranda locked the front door and retreated to his mattress upstairs, where he promptly turned off all the house lights and buried himself among all the pillows and blankets. As Anders threw the door open and swore loudly about a lack of meetings, Miranda conceded, I just want what is best for my child. But how can leaving the one person who could possibly care for me be that?