Welcome to EFNB 10th Anniversary Week! This entry is a sequel to one posted ten years ago on February 21, 2010.

Her name was Ramona Dempsey, and she was from the gulf coast–or so she claimed. Close enough that you could see the lights of New Orleans on a clear day, but far enough that oil from Deepwater was still washing up in tarballs. Eventually I started to see some holes in the story, but I think that much, at least, was true.

When we met, she introduced herself as Dempsey, and was with another Ramona. I told them both the story about my previous Ramona, leaving out the police report but leaving in the cigarette burns. They seemed ticked–after all, that’s why I brought it up–and it seemed like Dempsey and I hit it off, especially when she revealed her actual name.

Even then, I should have seen it. The little warning signs and red flags, from things as simple to being constantly asked where I was to bigger stuff like a new name mysteriously appearing on my car’s title. By the time I realized that anything was wrong, I had been so thoroughly cut off from friends and family that I was well and truly trapped. There were even new cigarette burns.

The idea that finally saved me was to pick up the phone and call Ramona. Not Ramona Dempsey, mind, but Ramona McEuen–my previous, and ex, Ramona. Given how thoroughly my phone records were combed, I knew that they would find each other.

I was hoping that they would cancel each other out.

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Welcome to EFNB 10th Anniversary Week! This entry is a sequel to one posted ten years ago on February 20, 2010.

“Look,” Reuben said. “I know what you’re going to say, but I need to make up Friday’s test. My grandmother died.” He was pale, sweaty, and shaking a little–as if he’d just jogged over, at the very least.

I took off my reading glasses, laying them across ungraded student papers on my overstuffed desk, and massaged my temples, which were already aching from a litany of excuses already floated at me via email. No one, it seemed, wanted to take a test the Friday before spring break, even though the department was forcing me to give it and I’d otherwise have readily agreed.

“Reuben,” I said. “This is the fifth time. I’m very sorry that my tests seem to be fatal to your grandmothers, but this can’t keep going on.”

“Would you believe that my family is a group of necromancers, and that we’ve tried to raise her five times now?” Reuben said, eyes wide. “And each time we’ve had to put her down when her thirst for flesh becomes too great?”

“It does have the virtue of being one I haven’t heard before,” I said.

“What if I told you that there was a grandmother-targeting serial killer out there, then?” Reuben said. “And that they’ve been picking off my grandmothers one at a time, brutally in some cases?”

Picking up my glasses, I put them back on and got up. I shut the office door before plopping back into my chair. “I’d say that you need to tell me what’s really going on here, Reuben,” I said. “Wild excuses giving way to wilder ones aren’t going to change the fact that you look like death warmed over. Tell me the truth.”

He flashed a nervous, tremulous, and bright grin. “I wish I knew, Dr. Beck,” he said. “I wish I knew.”

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“We’ve always gone our own ways, pursued our own interests, but…there has been a balance. A balance that is now upset.” The Azure Man exhaled, wreathing his head in blue smoke. “I’ve long had that balance as my interest, my reason. Hues are powerful, as I’m sure you’ve seen, and there is a greater balance at stake in the world which we are a part of.”

“You like to hear yourselves talk, too,” said Harry. “Don’t forget that.”

“Yes, quite.” The Man tapped a pale finger on his cheek. “You’ve let the Lady in Red draw living blood for the first time in decades, set the Green Couple fighting amongst themselves over your soul contract, turned the Yellow Woman’s madness back upon her, and managed to thoroughly, thoroughly piss off the Purple One, whom I count as my dearest enemy. Have I left anything out?”

“The part where I just want to go in peace and leave you Hues alone,” said Harry. “Maybe see Harriet one last time before they give her the chair.”

“That time has passed,” said the Azure Man. “The Hues of this city are in chaos, and they are demanding–or, rather, they will demand–action. I must give them something, even if it is an illusion or a scapegoat. You will do. Or, perhaps, your friend. Perhaps both. Convince me, one way or another, if you think you can.”

Harry fell into a stubborn, sullen, silence.

“Very well then,” the Azure Man said. “Hobson’s choice it is. You choose nothing, so that is what I will give you.”

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“There, there. Try not to move. You’ve been put through the wringer, and I’m not here to hang you out to dry.”

The Purple One set a glass of water next to Harry and walked toward the window, with its expansive view of the city below. They were dressed in a curious mixture of frills and spots, an amalgamation that suggested more than it said, and kept coy about the Hue that wore it.

“Why would you do that?” Harry croaked. “The other Hues have had nothing but trouble for me.”

“Yes, you do seem to have set them aflutter,” said the One. “Perhaps that is what I was curious about. I’m used to their disapproval, you see, and breaking their silly rules. Maybe you’ve got a natural knack for that. Maybe I’d like your help.”

“Just like the others,” Harry said.

“What?” The Purple one was next to him, their violet eyes wide, livid. “I am nothing like them!”

“You say that, and yet here you are, asking how I can help you advance your agenda,” Harry said. “That sounds like every other Hue I’ve dealt with this week.”

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    “Leave it to Green to be so utterly narcissistic as to divide in two, so that there would be someone to love them as much as they loved themselves, and so be of two minds about everything, forever.”

    The Yellow Lady glided down the stairs like a sunbeam, scarcely touching the steps. “And yet it is you who have paid for interfering in the business of the Hues,” she continued. “Your soul in hock. Your lady-friend accused of murder most foul. And you, here, with me. I imagine you’ve heard stories, have you not?”

    “They say you drive men mad,” Harry muttered.

    “Not just men! All sorts. Hues are not immune. I have a talent, like breathing, for unraveling the comfortable lies that people have built up and letting them see the truth. No one likes the truth. It is the harshest of things and can blow away sanity like a dandelion seed riding a blast wave.”

    She was nearer now, and the color of her garment and her eyes was hard for Harry to look at, it seemed to trail behind her as if itself hesitant at the association. “I will show you a truth, and if you are still sane afterwards, then you will have proven worthy of my time.”

    The air around her was visibly shimmering now, a tremblor made visible, and Harry could hear the sound of distant voices shouting and gibbering. Reality seemed to swim about him, and he was drowning in it.

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Greenman stopped and stared at the card. “This is real,” he said. “She is calling in a favor.”

“Absurd,” said Olive. “She doesn’t usually care about the other Hues. Too busy playing her little games.”

Greenman looked over at Harry. “What did you tell her,” he said darkly, “to get her to interfere in our business?”

“I just asked to trade myself in her place. And she said that all she wanted was one night of my friend’s life.”

Olive and Greenman looked at one another. “Your soul?” Olive said. “Worthless. Trousers for a button.”

“But a night of Ms. Rasmussen’s life…she must have something in mind,” Greenman mused. “And if we don’t, she’ll…”

“She’ll…” Olice echoed.

“She’ll…?” Harry said.

“Are you still here?” Greenman snapped. “Fine. The deal is done. Go and wait to hear from us once we decide what to do with your miserable soul. And don’t you dare interfere in the business of Hues again, because without a patron to protect you there’s nothing to keep us from leaving you monochrome.”

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“Well, you sought me out and here I am.” The Woman in Red sat in the booth, her outfit positively dripping with an otherworldly crimson, the reflected light giving all around her a notably pink glow. It might have been a trick of the light, but her eyes–clear and intelligent, if airy–seemed a darker crimson as well.

“Thank you for meeting with me,” said Harry. “It’s a great honor-”

“Please. I didn’t meet you for pleasantries,” the Woman said. “Tell me what’s on your mind. If it’s not boring, I’ll see what I can do. If it is…well, I’ll have to find some other way to make up for the time you’ve wasted, and I don’t think you’ll like it.”

“I have a favor to ask,” said Harry. “It’s about some of the other Hues.”

“Hmm? That’s asking a lot. They stay out of my business and I stay out of theirs. Why should I interfere?”

“The Couple in Green,” Harry said. “They took something very precious to me, and I want it back.”

The Woman leaned forward. “I. Do not. Care,” she said. “You have about thirty seconds to make me change my mind.”

“The Couple in Green took a friend’s soul,” said Harry. “She cares only for money now, and drowns herself in gambling and excess. I want to exchange hers for mine in their contract.”

“Oh, now, that is interesting,” the Lady said. “Release from a contract? That’s an everyday request, and I’ve eaten people for being presumptuous about it. But an exchange? That is delectable. I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you my calling card to take to them, on one condition.”

“Name it.”

“Your friend, what’s-her-name? I want her soul for one night. One crimson night, ichor-stained, to be my plaything.”

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