The Better Proposition


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Scene Title The Better Proposition
Synopsis Almost forty years ago, someone guides another down one of two roads diverged in yellow woods.
Date June 29, 1972

Colorado: Black Hawk Campgrounds

The sun is coming down, an orange coin set in the sky and greasing its way towards the horizon. In the high noon, the camping ground seems green, but at this angle of light, the sunshine brings out only the ambers and the golds, throwing the dying things into focus. The fresh fire currently crackling in its ring of rocks gives off an unnecessary heat in this season, but it will be of use when the sun finally dips down once and for all, and greens and reds alike are shrouded in shadow.

A leaf falls, skitters down the angle of the tent expertly erected. A field of grass stretches off into high visibility, but there is denser trees at her back. Colorado seems empty. America seems empty, an immense loneliness coming in to concentrate from all corners of an impossibly huge continent. This state set in the centre of the country if a little westwards, a mirror of a heart's resting place in the torso.

Come tomorrow morning, gunshots and the thunder they make, but there are no hunters out here tonight.

Or at least none with rifles.

Waiting in a feline crouch by the fire, a woman with long black hair the texture of finely-spun silk and eyes like polished topaz curls fingers around the stick she holds in her right hand and uses it to poke at the embers in the fire's smoky belly. The tent has been pitched, her claim at the Black Hawk Campgrounds staked. All that's left to do now is be patient, and while patience contradicts what's at the core of her nature, it's something that she — like any good predator — has needed to learn.

The year is 1972. In September, Arab terrorists will murder eleven Israeli athletes at the Summer Olympics in Munich. The Federal Bureau of Investigations will open its doors to female agents for the first time since its inception. Pong will make its worldwide debut. She doesn't know it yet, but — one way or another — the woman with the crystalline blue eyes won't be around for any of it.

What comes up to her resting place is not the prey she's expecting to encounter, but it moves like prey, the good and stupid kind that lets twigs break underfoot, lets the brush rustle against haunches and meaty shoulders. The soft green and white blend of flannel drawn over his torso doesn't do much to camouflage, unbuttoned to the white undershirt beneath, tucked into jeans, his boots making sinking footsteps in soft soil as the figure of a man emerges from the thicker forest.

Dark eyes track around the clearing as a hand comes to rest against the elbow of a crooked tree branch, abused over time, scratched initials and worn bark where the sneakered feet of children have scuffed along it in their peter pan adventures. She's the last thing for him to focus on, a guilty hesitation before he manages a weak smile.

"You mind if I join you?"

The corner of the woman's mouth crooks up into a lazy smile that has no reservations about showing teeth. Motes of bright orange light drift up with the smoke, illuminating a handsome face with shapely brows and full, soft lips with a naturally dark tint — beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder, but her shoulders and torso are lean, abdomen defined and athletic legs long. If she isn't pretty, then she's put together well.

A tip of her head gestures to the place beside her at the fire, though she does not yet surrender her stick to the sputtering flames. "Lost?"

Maybe he's taken in by her brand of beauty, or the attraction of firelight as the day dwindles, because he moves as gestured, coming to squat down, tip his weight back to plant a sit on the ground without worry for dust staining the seat of his pants. There's enough age and grime in them for it to not matter. "I think I found where I was going," he denies, hands coming to rest on his knees, and a loop of silver around a finger glimmers in the faded light. "I won't be long — I know you've got a guest you're expecting."

A twig is taken up, and the hitching, knotted bend in it allows him to make a heart shape from it as he draws to the two ends together, forest debris supple, before it twists into a more comfortable almond shape. It gets flung into the modest fire.

The woman's smile doesn't fade, but something changes behind her eyes, which are suddenly very cold. Sculpted brows take on a slier slant. When she removes her stick from the fire, its tip is limned in golden light that cools to black in the time it takes for her to examine him more thoroughly, and although her eyes do not leave his, she uses it to begin drawing a pattern in the loose earth between them.

If he didn't have her full attention before, then he does now. "These are dangerous waters you're swimming in."

"They're the only waters I know," is his affable response, joining his hands together where elbows set against his bent knees, looking more at the fire than the woman beside him.

There's an acrid sent of smoke and earth, from him, more metallic than the sun-baked dirt they sit on, that trees grow from, a scent better resembling the decay going on in the little fire in front of them. "There are some things that are set in stone. You're not going to kill him, and I, in good conscious, can't let you try. You've got a lot of things going for you, Linda, and I'd like to give you the chance to make sure it doesn't end out here. In the middle of nowhere."

The woman, Linda, finally lowers her eyes from the stranger's face and looks down at her drawing in the dirt. A five point star composed of sharp angles and criss-crossing lines of equal length, its topmost peak aimed at the man across from her like the tip of an arrow. When she lifts them again, her stick — now a spear — is too, but rather that plunge it into his throat, she uses it to follow the curve of his jaw all the way through to the bottom of his chin, leaving an ugly charcoal smear like a snail trails slime.

"Is that your power?" she asks in a voice comparable to the low crackle of the fire. "Seeing the future?"

It hasn't not occurred to him that he, too, is in the middle of nowhere. The corners of his mouth twist up in a more genuine kind of smile, chin lifting under the coax of stick point and treating it with all the cautious of a knife. Or at least playing a part. "That would be something, now wouldn't it," he says, tone like agreement. "The answer is yes but it's nothing you can acquire, even with your talent. I've only inside information. He kills you, leaves you for the compost and rot, and if you like, you can stay here and try and see for yourself."

His hand comes up, and as light as a butterfly, sets his fingertips against her wrist. "But I've got a better proposition for you. I'd like you to come with me instead."

The point of the stick does not waver. It does, however, lower beneath the stranger's gentle coaxing. Her fingers grow lax as she floats it aside and sets it down beside the fire for the man she was waiting for to find — and if what this one says is true, then he inevitably will.

At her back, the canvas tent ripples in the breeze. She braces both her hands against her thighs, encased in dark denim jeans, and pushes to her feet in one smooth, fluid motion. Sleek mane of hair tossed back, she offers him her hand.

He scuffs his palm up his jaw to rid itself of dirt and ash, dusting it off with a practiced patience as he watches the discarded stick be flayed of its flaky bark under the crackling fire. Darts a look up, now, when she offers that hand, wariness in the angle of his jaw before, in some deliberate show of trust, he takes her hand in its offer, and gets to his own feet as well. His dark eyes meet her's of their lighter tone, gentle enquiry.

A shimmer passes over the stranger's body, and one at a time, the colours bleed from the flannel of his shirt and the rougher material of his jeans, his skin and his hair — last to go is the band of silver beneath the knuckle of his finger, and as it does Linda undergoes a similar transformation that ends with her standing before him as only a vague outline of her former self, a translucent shadow suffused with firelight, invisible to the world around them but not to him.

"Lead the way."

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