Miranda’s soft pink lips closed together as he shifted into a more comfortable sitting position. The glint of the single lit tea candle in front of the lectern glowed in his eyes as he opened them, and the sanctuary was just as calm when the echoes of his song stopped as when they had begun.
I wonder what Anders is up to these days. Miranda passed one hand above the flame of the candle, which wavered at the touch of his fingers. Has he found a replacement for me? Is there no more reason for me to be wearing this engagement ring anymore?
The answer to his question came in the form of a hand yanking his hair. The world fell away from him as his head collided with the carpet, which didn’t provide any padding whatsoever from the concrete floor below. He cringed as the ceiling above him blurred, pain shooting through his skull, and then his sight gave way to the face of his fianceé.
“Anders…” The eyes of the one that he’d failed to escape from were bloodshot and wildly darting about the fallen body, and a demented grin grew on his attacker’s face as he leaned over the androgyne. “What… How…”
“So nice that we could meet again,” he hissed, curling back from Miranda’s body. He crouched on his haunches and laid a palm on the zipper of his pants, licking his lips. “And alone as well! I am a lucky man tonight.”
Miranda locked his gaze on the insane figure to his left as he stood up. The candle was undisturbed from its original position, but the flame flickered wildly as Miranda brushed his hair behind his ears. “Are you sure that you’re feeling okay, sir? Usually, people bother to brush their hair before stepping into a holy place.”
Anders dragged his fingers through his hair to muss it up further. “There are more important things to worry about than my appearance. It’ll get messier in a few minutes, anyways.” He crept towards Miranda, who backed away at the same pace until he bumped into the end of a row of chairs. “Shall we play a game?”
Miranda’s eyebrows furrowed. He brushed his hands across his skirt to smoothen it. “I don’t think-”
“Exactly!” Anders snarled, bolting up and leaping onto Miranda. Ignoring Miranda’s crescendoing protests, he hooked his hands on the ridges of the underside of the chair Miranda’s head lay on, effectively pinning Miranda in place.
Miranda wriggled underneath his assailant, and Anders curled his feet around the legs of the last chair in the interconnected row. “What-”
“Shush, my love,” Anders hissed, leaning his head into the crook of Miranda’s neck. Miranda’s eyes followed as Anders brushed his lips against the tender skin. With heavy breath, he whispered, “If you stay quiet, nobody will walk in on us and banish us from this peaceful place.”
Miranda wedged one of his arms in the crack between the back rest and the seat of the chair. “What do you think-”
Anders sacrificed his grip on one side of the chair to place a single finger to Miranda’s lips, dragging a lock of the snowy hair along with it as he shushed the androgyne. Miranda whipped his newly free fist into Anders’ cheek, solidly connecting with the cheekbone with a heavy thunk. Anders lifted the hand to massage the stinging skin, wincing, and Miranda shoved his fianceé off of him and flew to his feet.
Anders rolled over the floor, roaring when his head connected with the candle and instantly lit his hair aflame. The door to the sound booth burst open, and a few of the women from the prayer group flooded into the room, immediately vacating it for the front lobby with shrills of their own.
Miranda’s body froze as Anders covered his eyes with his hands. A plume of smoke drifted away from his head, but unlike the small poofs coming directly from the overturned candle’s burning, this one took a human shape and sneered at Miranda with faded and yellowed teeth as it floated to the top of the ceiling.
“HELP ME!” An excruciating cry escaped from Anders’ lips, and Miranda approached the writhing human in front of him with caution. He moved to place his arm underneath Anders’ neck, but the heat emanating from his scalp forced him to latch his hands onto his ankles and drag the body instead. Anders’ cries only grew louder as the fire alarm began to blare, and as Miranda crossed the threshold into the main lobby, the sprinklers kicked in and started spraying waters of mercy everywhere they could touch.
Sirens from whatever emergency responders were on their way blared in the distance. Thank you, gods who be… He let go of the ankles for a moment in order to kick the front doors open. Enough water had poured onto Anders to extinguish the flames, but smoke still wafted off of the scalp as Miranda finally braced one arm under his neck and one under his knees and carried his love out to the patio.
“Love…” Anders slowly tore his hands away from his eyes, which were the only part of his head not affected by the burst of flames. A large portion of his hair had burned away, and his scalp was covered with pinkish segments of skin covered with a shiny sheen. A wet and pitiful cough escaped Anders’ throat as Miranda laid him onto the damp grass, and a streak of blood stained the fabric of Miranda’s skirt.
“You don’t get to call me that anymore.” Miranda sat down emotionless on the concrete patio, facing Anders. The sirens drew closer, and the group of people who had evacuated drew into a group on the other side of the patio and faced the parking lot. Miranda’s voice warbled as he pointed out, “You attempted to rape me inside of a public building. People who love their partners don’t do that, Anders.”
The burned man replaced his hands onto the unburned area of skin around his eyes, suppressing a sob from deep in his throat. “I… I was possessed… I had no power to stop anything…” He peeled his hands away, sliding one arm to the forlorn Miranda as the other dropped to the grass. “I’m sorry, love. Please forgive me.” Anders’ eyes drifted to the sky as Miranda picked up the singed hand. His breath rattled as he moaned, “Oh, Bes, what have you done…”
Miranda wiped the tears beginning to form in his eyes away. As the ambulance and fire truck rounded the street corner, speeding down the dirt road leading to the church, he took the burned and bruised hand on the concrete in his own, brushing over the knuckles with his thumbs. His mouth contorted and his eyes glassed over as he breathed, “I’m sorry.“