Heartlifter by Jo Roberts

Voices outside the room drew her back from what was, to what is with no recollection of how she’d arrived. Reaching out she placed a gloved hand on the nearest wall, sodden plaster crumbled at her touch, but even through the worn leather she felt a trembling beat of life somewhere. Where and what had she stumbled into? Time for once gave no answers. She was angry. How could he have just abandoned her. He’d sucked her into the vortex of excitement he’d created, no direction, no responsibilities. The time spent with him had been a perfect indulgence. Flitting between worlds, times and places, she’d gorged on each experience. Common sense should have warned her nothing that good lasts. A sharp cry from outside. Discovery was not an option, not till she’d had time to think. Instinct was her only weapon for now. The door was flung open, a body thrown into the room as easily as a bundle of rags. It lay motionless. As the door slammed shut, clouds of grey drifted across the floor, then settled. A stirring of the old excitement for a new place, a new challenge, was tempered by fear. She’d not felt fear for a long time. 

Wait. That’s what he’d taught her. Wait. Assess. Act. Had he waited for her, made sure she was following? No. He’d snapped the threads that bound them as if it were perished silk. Left her in freefall, clawing at the unfamiliar to save herself. She pushed away a brief memory. That was then. Then was no more. 

Minutes pulsed by. Waiting was important. Too soon you risked a clean take. Too long… you were never too long. Assess. The body was alive, she mentally ticked off a list of what she observed, all the while moving closer, circling, watching the body that whimpered quietly. Blood began to wind its way through the woman’s hair. Injured? Fatally? She sought out memories trying to match clothes, features, anything that would offer a clue to where she was. It was futile, she remembered nothing. 

‘Who are you?’ she said, hoping to be understood. The woman slowly turned her head and opened her eyes. ‘Who are you?’ she asked again, as she nudged the woman’s arm with her boot. 

‘Chrissie.’ It was barely a breath. 

‘I’m,’ she paused, who was she now? The essence of her had been distilled by so many other lives, borrowed, bought, taken, she realised she didn’t know who she really was. ‘A friend,’ she said, stepping back from the expanding slick of blood pooling into the dust. ‘You’re dying. Why?’ Chrissie slowly unfurled the fingers of her left hand. ‘This,’ she managed, her breathing now slow and shallow. In her palm lay a shard of green. The woman had squeezed it so hard its needle like edges had pierced her skin. 

In her head she could still hear him, ‘Act. Don’t waste an opportunity.’ She knelt ready to seize the shard, but in spite of her fragile hold on life, the woman’s fingers drew protectively around it. ‘Not… al…lowed,’ the woman whispered. A scuffle overhead showered them with dust. Come on act she told herself. If this was her future, this might be her last chance to wrap herself in another’s life. Could she do this once more, just once, till she’d made sense of everything. Placing an outstretched hand above the woman’s heart she chanted, ‘Your heart is my heart my heart welcomes your heart,’ waiting to feel the pull, the rush of senses. Nothing. Relax she thought it has to happen, please, it has to happen. Heavy footsteps passed by the room. ‘Your heart is my heart, my heart welcomes your heart.’ She hadn’t long, it had to be before the last breath. ’Your heart is…’ The livskraft began to wind its way into her. The pulse of it through her veins, a relief. 

As she plucked the shard from Chrissie’s hand, a feeling of responsibility overwhelmed her. Distant memories briefly sparked and died. Placing her hand on Chrissie’s still heart, she thanked her for allowing her to absorb her life. More footsteps, time to move. The corridor outside led to a dim narrow hallway. Through an open door at the end, she glimpsed trees. Several men were clustered by the door in a knot of conversation. One glanced up as she strode past. 

‘Hey, you with the weird hair, who are you?’ he called. 

‘Chrissie,’ she answered, stepping outside. 

The metallic tang carried on a breeze stirred a memory but whose? she’d feasted on so many over millennia. The surrounding buildings looked as they had given up and slumped against each other for support. A small figure darted across in front of her. 

‘You. Stop where is this?’ she shouted. They turned briefly before disappearing behind a house. A babble of noise distracted her. The men she’d seen in the corridor were now leaving . Head down she followed the path the figure had taken. Six against one was not an option. Behind the house, fields of brown stretched to the horizon. Dust laden air felt thick and heavy. Footprints stopped some distance from the doorway at the back of the house. The shard began to vibrate, spreading a warmth through the fabric of her coat. As she reached into her pocket she was grabbed from behind and pushed towards a set of steps that had been lowered from the house. They were flimsy, swaying as she was pushed upwards into a darkened room. A soft yellow glow from one corner seemed familiar, but was it her memory or Chrissie’s? ‘Where am I?’ she asked as she noticed a cluster of small figures crouching on the floor. ‘Do you understand what I ask?’ Their mumbling was indistinct. 

’We understand.’ The voice was deep, soft. ‘We do not get many visitors since they closed the portals.’ Someone moved in front of her so silent and immediate she had no time to react as they roughly pushed her to the floor. ‘But here you are.’ 

‘It’s what I do,’ she said, assessing the figure, there was a fresh familiar scent, but a hood obscured their face. ‘I travel, worlds, time, space,’ she tried to stand but was held tight. ‘A traveller… who steals.’ 

‘Steals?’ she intended to give nothing away. 

‘Lives. You steal lives, you are a heartlifter.’ It was a long time since she’d heard that. ‘And?’ two can play this game she thought. Whoever was holding her down was strong, but she felt their grip weakening. An advantage of taking lives is you also absorbed their abilities. It was easier than expected to throw her captor aside and back away towards the door. ‘Have you nothing more to ask me or accuse me of? No? then I’ll leave.’ The figure lunged towards her. The shard was ready in her hand. She hesitated, something was not right, then instinct took over and she thrust the shard into the figure. As they crumpled to the floor the others panicked and ran for the doorway pushing past her, desperate to get away. 

Circling the figure as it lay on the bare boards she smiled. ‘Your friends didn’t stay?’ ‘Not friends,’ his deep voice had lost its softness. ‘You cannot take my heart.’ She walked round as she had done with Chrissie assessing, thinking. ‘And why not?’ 

With an effort the figure sat up and pulled back their hood. ‘Because I am you.’ 58

She gasped. She was looking at herself. ‘You cannot be me…how … how .’ She didn’t sense anyone behind her or feel the blow to her head. 

‘Back with us?’ The hooded figure asked. ‘It’s been eons since our paths crossed, you’ve not changed. Still taking what’s not yours, still drunk on the Livskraft. It’s made you careless. I'd not thought a simple trick would fool you after all, we know each other well don’t we.’ She stirred a little. ‘Who?’ she whispered. 

The figure tipped back their hood. The yellow glow in the room highlighted a familiar face. ‘You. I thought you’d gone, left me…’ 

‘Left you? Me. No, I’ve always been close behind. Perhaps I should thank you for leading me to the key.’ How could he do this, had their life together meant nothing? Memories washed over her, not hers, but Chrissie’s strong and urgent. She understood, she must not let him possess the shard. Wait. Assess. Act. She’d waited, assessed, now she had to act. He wasn’t expecting a knife. Wasn’t expecting her to attack. She waited watching as his blood seeped into the boards. It would be so easy, she thought, to take his livskraft. 

‘Do it,’ he whispered, ‘we’d be together sister, we’d be as one.’ 

‘Too late. I’m not your sister anymore, I’m Chrissie,’ she picked up the shard and felt its warmth. ‘I have the key and this time it’s just me going home.’ 

Published in Issue #19

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