Wow, it's been almost a month – I apologize to all of my loyal readers. I will be updating regularly from now on. Thank you for all your reviews! Enjoy!
Her cell phone lay ringing on the table before her.
Extending a hand, Anna propped herself up on the sagging cushion, the haze of sleep still clouding her sight. The confusion left over from her dream drifted at the edge of consciousness, memories of a caress whispering across her icy skin. A shiver raced through her body at the chill determinedly lingering in the dark room, the shadows looming upon walls and floor seemingly pressing ever closer.
The cheery swing tune, grossly out of place, cut off abruptly with the flick of her wrist. A different number than before glowed eerily upon the tiny screen.
"Anna speaking." She coughed, surprised at the rasp in her quiet voice.
A bark of a laugh, distant and cold.
The same woman's tone held a peculiar mixture of accusation and amusement, skipping straight to the point. "You fell asleep." It was not a question.
"I might have, I might not. But –" Anna glanced at the time across the iridescent display, shock and indignation flooding her expression. "– do you have any idea what time it is? I don't know what you do all day that you can afford to stay up half the night, but I'm not so lucky."
"Luck is all relative. As it is, be thankful that you are still here. He cannot take you directly yet, but I know he tried." An unspoken warning crackled fiercely behind her words, abruptly back to business and cold reality. In the background, the faint clink of a lighter, the exhaling of smoke. Voice sinking to a mere murmur, the rustling of papers was audible through the receiver. "His presence was stronger tonight than it has been in many, many years."
Anna pushed herself awkwardly to a sitting position, brows furrowed in disbelief. "How do you know any of this? Who are you?" Never usually one to lose her composure, she could not suppress the bitter fury rising within her – how dare this woman presume to know anything about her, all condescension and riddles.
The voice on the other end brushed aside the questions as if they had not existed. "I know he entered your dreams tonight without the stone's aid. What exactly did he tell you?"
Anna swallowed the biting remark that came to mind, not even bothering to ask another question that would go unanswered. She began haltingly, trawling through the myriad of images that swirled in her head, the sighs and gossamer touches spinning in oblivion. "He said that the rules had changed… referring to the necklace, as you mentioned. He didn't give an explanation, and I stupidly didn't ask for one. Nothing else he said seems like it would make a difference to you."
She ran a hand through her hair, a heavy sigh escaping her lips. "The terms of the contract have stood for twenty years; I didn't even know he could change them."
"He can do anything he wants." The voice spat suddenly, as if correcting a petulant child. "In believing we can negotiate, we prove just what fools we really are." A slow exhalation, the clicking of what sounded like a computer keyboard. "He always gets his way in the end. Make no mistake about that."
A chill slithered along Anna's spine, memories of endless fields of asphodel blossoming briefly in her mind's eye. She wet her lips, dreading the answer to a question she had been waiting to ask for a decade. "I don't understand something here – he ripped me from this world before the agreed upon time. How can he continue to change what he invalidated over twenty years ago? I should be free, goddamn it."
"He did not technically invalidate it, at least not completely –"
"But that doesn't make any sense!"
The woman impassively continued, ignoring her outburst. "– It has limped along for years, hanging by a thread. The type of contract into which your mother unwittingly entered is what we call pactum perpetuus; it can never be fully broken or canceled by either party."
"We? Who is 'we?' I took a course in legal and business contracts during college, and I've never heard of such a thing." She fought to keep her voice under control, free from panic.
The woman chuckled deeply, smugly. "We are not talking about the laws of humanity here, Anna; this is an entirely different ballgame. You think that your mother was the only person to negotiate with Death? You honestly believe that you are the only individual whose life is affected by contracts?" Rhythmic tapping upon a keyboard, another puff of a cigarette into the mouthpiece.
"Now, I will admit your situation is a unique one, however. It is unlike anything I have ever seen or ever will see. A very curious affair, entirely without restrictions or precedent…."
"And as of right now, it is a free for all."
Anna pushed the blankets hastily from her legs, leaning forward. "You are saying that anyone can change it? Add in any stipulation they want?"
"Only you, your mother, and he are able to change it directly. Your mother is dead, so in reality that leaves the both of you." The ruffling of papers, a beeping from somewhere in the background. "Meaning, naturally, that if anyone were to control or coerce you, they could – through you – insert any demand they wished. Imagine eternal life in the palm of your hand, written and signed in a contract that can never be broken or negated."
Anna stood abruptly, unable to halt the tremors wracking her body. She now had a pretty good idea how Alice felt after she tumbled down the rabbit hole. "If he was able to sidestep needing the stone, couldn't he just change this new clause back or ignore it? I don't understand the problem."
"He was able to change the rules that he himself made; he would not be able to change any that you, or someone working through you, later created." The voice on the other end had not wavered, steady and cool as if she had been discussing tomorrow's weather instead of the life of a human being.
The dark-haired woman paced awkwardly, a note of desperation entering her voice. "Then why couldn't I just say that he could not take me at all? That he was forbidden to touch or contact me?"
"That would be in direct violation of the original contract, and thus impossible."
Collapsing against the wall, Anna choked back a sob, her throat burning mercilessly. "Then why bother contacting me? Why bother telling me any of this?"
A pause, the tapping of a pencil. The familiar stream of smoke against the mouthpiece.
"I will not lie to you, Anna, or bother to sugarcoat. You were always his, you are his, and you will be his. I can do nothing to change that fact. It is my responsibility, however, to see that the eternal balance is not disrupted by anyone seeking to use you. I will prevent harm to your life from others, but not from him. I am here to protect the interests of order and nature… and nothing more."
A sigh ghosted through the receiver, the slightest hint of sympathy entering the frosty tone. "In my haste, perhaps I gave you too much hope."
The line clicked, the connection broken, leaving her standing with only her tears for company. He was her future, her only future; there was no way out.
I tried to make this chapter an interesting contrast between the two characters, as well as further explaining just how bound Anna is to Death. Anna is quietly defiant by nature; if she is even to consider him, she would have to have all other options closed to her.
That aside, how did you like the woman's character? She is not a major one, but she is fun to write.
More Death next chapter! How will Anna react to him now? Please review!