“Hello miss? Can you hear me? You need to get up now, miss.” She felt a light touch on her arm and her eyes shot open. The glare of a streetlight directly above her burned into her vision. A shadow slowly came into focus, a face knitted with worry. The grip on her arm tightened, a sharp jerk brought her to her unsteady feet.
“What… what’s going on…” she croaked. A hand rested on her shoulder, steadying her swaying.
“You were in an accident, miss.” The man’s voice was as smooth as velvet. “How are you feeling?” She looked over her shoulder. Behind her lay a scene of carnage. Shattered glass and splattered blood littered the asphalt. Two twisted, smoking husks of metal were sprawled on the road. It took her a few seconds to recognise her own car. Other cars were stopping on the road, disgorging running and screaming people. One rushed to a limp form in the road, another standing back and jabbing at a phone.
“Miss, are you well?” She started. His voice was right at her ear. She could feel the light sigh of his breath.
“I think so…” She looked down at herself. There wasn’t a rip in her clothes, nor a drop of blood on her skin. She pushed her black hair from her face and looked back up.
“Oh, thank goodness. I pulled you from the car. You did not look hurt. But I wanted to make sure.” She turned to face her rescuer, finally taking in her surroundings. He was tall and thin, almost gaunt, smiling lopsidedly. His pressed black suit was dotted with blood in places, a long rip running up his right sleeve.
“Thank you for saving me.” She breathed. His smile widened.
“It is no trouble at all, miss.”
“Oh, I never told you my name.” He stared at her, pale blue eyes almost seeming to glow in the dim light. She turned away slightly, a flush of blood rising to her cheeks. “I’m Anna.”
“A pleasure to meet you.” He said, taking her hand in his own. “I am Tuoni.”
“Tuoni… that’s a strange name.” Anna looked back to the scene of the accident. Sirens filled the air, their wails and shrieks almost deafening. Three men were crowded around a body, yelling and pushing on its chest. In only a few moments, they hoisted it onto a stretcher, searching for the next lifeless form. The stretcher was whisked away, strands of black hair billowing behind it.
“You should come with me, Anna.” Tuoni whispered. “I will take you to the hospital. To make sure you are well.”
“I feel fine, really.” She said, still focused on the accident.
“Are you sure?” His fingers tightened around hers, soft and cold.
“I’m sure. Just a bit of a headache.” She forced a laugh. By now the police had arrived, winding tape around the carnage and yelling at observers. They walked past Anna and Tuoni, ignoring them.
“Are you cold?” He asked suddenly. Anna realised that the chill was creeping into her bones. She looked down. She must have left her jacket in the car.
“Yes.” She said, beginning to shiver. Tuoni took his black jacket off and draped it around her shoulders. Anna smiled. It was too big for her, but she was grateful for the heat.
“We should not be standing out here.” He said, turning to her. His smile was gone, pale face alight with worry.
“Won’t the police want to talk to me?” Anna asked, looking back once more. “I should stay.”
“Nonsense. You should get home and rest. You look tired and sore.”
“I should stay…” Anna repeated, stepping towards the barricade. Tuoni gripped her shoulder and spun her back.
“Look at you.” He said softly. “It is remarkable you were not injured, but you need to rest. You can barely stay standing.”
“…I think you’re right. I need my phone…” Anna started to fumble in her pockets, Tuoni shook his head.
“I will take you home. My car is just there.” Anna nodded dumbly, moving to follow Tuoni. She missed her step and stumbled, Tuoni bending and catching her in a smooth motion. Once more, she felt blood pulse to her cheeks. She turned away, ashamed, as Tuoni helped her back up. He wrapped a long arm along her shoulders and steadied her.
“Thank you, Tuoni.” She whispered.
“I am glad you are well.” He replied. Tuoni led her through the throng of people, weaving easily through the crowd. The people jostled for a chance to see the accident, whispering rumours to each other. They let Tuoni and Anna through, however, parting around them and closing the gap once the pair had moved away. Anna leaned gratefully on Tuoni’s shoulder, warming his chilled skin. She allowed her eyes to flutter closed, following Tuoni’s lead. After a few minutes, his soft voice brought her awake.
“We are here.” Anna opened her eyes groggily. Tuoni opened the sleek black door, and gestured Anna inside. She slid onto the passengers seat. It was a soft red leather, sinking deeply as she sat. She leaned back with a sigh as Tuoni closed the door. She put on her seatbelt as Tuoni walked around and got into the driver’s seat. The engine came alive with a purr, he turned to face her. Anna looked at his hardset face, smiling slightly to herself.
“Where is your home, Anna?” He asked. She frowned.
“I’m sorry… I can’t quite remember. It’s past the big bridge, over the river. I’ll try and remember by the time we get there.”
“Do not worry, Anna. You are tired. If you do not remember tonight, you can stay at my home.” Anna felt another flush. That wouldn’t be too bad…
“Oh, thank you, Tuoni… but I don’t want to be a burden.” He simply smiled, and started the car. It took off smoothly, and before long, had left the blaring lights and shrieking sirens behind. Anna leaned on the door, watching the dark highway fly past. There were no other cars on the road, just the jet black car streaking through the night.
“Are you sure the police wouldn’t want me there?” Anna said to the silence.
“You should only talk to them when you are well. You are clearly tired.”
“I guess you’re right.” Anna shivered again, clutching the jacket closer to herself. “You’re not cold, Tuoni?” He still watched the road, but a smile crossed his lips.
“I am fine. You need it.” Anna took a quick glance at his arms. They were thin, but a sheen of muscle rippled under his skin. True to his word, he didn’t look cold. There were no goosebumps on his skin, and he sat perfectly still, only occasionally adjusting the steering wheel. The air in the car was getting colder, seeping through the warmth of Tuoni’s jacket. She huddled up, drawing her knees to her chest. She sighed, and was surprised when she saw her breath dancing in the air.
“Tuoni… it’s freezing… can you turn the heat up?” He was silent for a few moments.
“I am sorry, Anna.”
“For what?” Anna turned her gaze outside and gasped. The highway was no longer visible. It was swallowed by a dense fog, grey mist swirling in the wind outside. “What the…” She muttered, leaning to the window. It seemed to have sprung from nowhere, and was so thick the headlights could barely pierce it.
“I am sorry, Anna.” Tuoni repeated in his wonderful voice. Anna turned to him, and stopped in shock. A line was running down his cheek, a trickle of thick black liquid. His short blonde hair had turned as grey as the mist outside, thin and brittle.
“What’s wrong? Tuoni, stop! You’re sick!” He turned to Anna, and she screamed. His eyes were gone, leaving two black holes where a pale blue light burned. His nose was sliding down his face, leaving a streak of the black liquid. She jerked away and pulled at the seat belt. But the seat belt was gone, and in its place was a thick lash of leather, wrapped tight around her chest. Tuoni stared at her, his skin bubbling up and sloughing away. His frown stripped away before her eyes, revealing a wide skeletal grin.
“What are you!” Anna shrieked as she tore wildly at the leather that bound her. “Let me go!”
“I am taking you home. Do not be afraid.” Tuoni whispered. His voice was no longer warm and smooth, and instead sounded like wind whispering through trees. He no longer held a steering wheel in his hands of bone, but instead a set of reins, lashed to two black horses in front of the carriage. They rushed through the dark and mist while Anna screamed and fought, Tuoni’s black cloak fluttering behind her in the wind.
“Do not resist, child. I bring you to your new home.” More strips of leather came from the sides of her rough seat and wrapped around her struggling limbs. Anna stared down at herself and froze. Shards of glass dotted her skin, buried deep in her arms and chest. One was lodged in the left of her chest, digging into her long still heart.
“I’m dead.” She said flatly.
“Yes.” The carriage continued through the mist, into the endless darkness.