Chapter 1: five of cups
The front door closed as Kate stepped through it, hanging her scarf and long, wool jacket on the coat rack. She shrugged. It bothered Mercedes how unphased Kate was by the circumstances they found themselves in, that she glided past her without a hint of worry.
The words fell on Mercedes, heavy and sudden like thunder. Externally, she felt their weight and how it slammed against her chest, but internally it didn’t register with the same impact. It didn’t make sense—or, truthfully, she didn’t want it to.
“How…” Mercedes trailed off. It was Purgatory, that’s how. A name a little too on the nose even before Mercedes knew exactly how on the nose it was.
Kate sat herself in front of the fireplace, reaching for her black silk bag of tarot cards and letting them slide out into her hands. Shuffling the deck, she laid out a few cards in a configuration only she knew the meaning of, turning them over one by one with a delicate flourish. With each reveal Kate’s brow furrowed further, making Mercedes uneasy.
“What? What is it?”
Sighing, Kate picked up the cards and put them back into the deck as she shook her head. “That’s the thing. Nothing.”
“They’re not telling me anything. It’s all meaningless or irrelevant. They’re not responding.”
Mercedes fiddled with her bracelet, trying not to focus on the bile rising in her stomach. The news shouldn't have frightened her like it did. She wanted to think she didn’t believe in that esoteric new-agey shit: fortune tellers, tarot cards, bone fragments cast from shaking hands. Yet she knew she’d be foolish not to. It certainly wouldn’t be the strangest thing with all that she knew now.
“So what do we do?”
Kate looked into the fire, the glow illuminating her dark skin.
That’s what it was, at first. Waiting with blank looks while conversations ran in circles. Speculation was the only thing the two women indulged in, no theory too outlandish to mention. After a day(?) of sitting impatiently on the living room couches, they ran out of things to say, both of them retreating to bated silence.
Anticipation kept them buoyed. Any moment, she hoped, things would return to how they were, each passing minute a possible salvation. A few times Mercedes could swear it was getting darker, until the seventh time when she accepted that it was merely a trick of the eyes.
So they waited.
Mercedes wasn’t sure how she knew the direction to the Homestead. It wasn’t as if she’d ever visited it, considering how it was abandoned until Wynonna and Waverly moved in. She tried to coax Kate into coming with her, Mercedes hiding and failing to hide that she was afraid to go alone.
“I’m not allowed in. I already tried.”
“Seriously? All that “you have to be invited” crap is real? Even if…” Mercedes couldn’t say it.
Kate shrugged—she did that a lot, that shake of the head and one shoulder shrug. “It means she’s still out there.”
So Mercedes pulled up on the Homestead, vampireless and shaking with nerves. It was an overcast day like all the others since. Night and morning and everything else ceased to exist, Purgatory permanently cast in pale green-blue light, the orange Pledge Moon hanging unmoving in the sky. She should’ve been able to hear the call of the woods around her. Birdsong. Wolves.
The animals had gone. Even insects weren’t spared in the rapture; the end of the world for everyone but her.
The Day It Began, it started(?ended?) with a roar.
A mechanical, high pitched scream-rumble that shook the earth, so powerful that Mercedes crumpled to the floor, palms pressed against her ears and curling into herself. She half expected the sky to tear open, for clouds to part and make way for the seven-headed Beast adorned with ten horns. Because it could’ve been real like the myths Mercedes forsook in her teen years, as real as the devil and the woman who fought it with a magic gun. As the sound rang on, Mercedes half wondered if it was a mighty trumpet from an angel, heralding the end that was to come. Was it an angel she knew, a being written about with an -ael suffix that she could still recall? Was it—
It stopped without ceremony. So too, seemingly, did the world.
Yet Mercedes wasn’t convinced. The porch stairs creaked under her boots as she stepped up to the front door, which she realized had only been partially shut. Fear gripped Mercedes as cold as the snow around her. She wished Kate were here. She wished she knew how to fight. That was always Wynonna’s thing, and she would give anything to see her now, or ever again. There was still hope, she reminded herself. If Kate could not enter the Homestead, Wynonna had to be out there. She would fix everything like she always did. With a deep breath, Mercedes timidly pushed the door open, as if stepping inside was a great, heroic act worth immortalizing.
The Homestead was quaint and not what she expected. It screamed of Waverly’s influence, that home-grown sensibility. Woven blankets and throw pillows made up most of the decor, dried lavender and wildflowers in old porcelain vases on tables. A lamp was still on, causing Mercedes’ limbs to lock in place, listening for a sound that could indicate that something still stirred.
She waited for relief that never came. Here she was, wishing for an intruder because it’d mean there was something and someone other than her and Kate. But it was only her in the empty house of her friend, looking for an answer she knew she wouldn’t get. She continued her search of the house until she came across a table with empty shot glasses, the surrounding chairs strewn in an odd fashion. It felt off in a way Mercedes couldn’t place, like something sudden had happened. What she did know was that they were here. But now…
Panic finally overcame Mercedes, slumping into one of the chairs before she found herself on the floor. Acceptance was a terrible fate to endure, one she staved off until now. Because to accept this meant to accept that this was all there was. That this was her new life.
She dug her head into her hands, wanting so badly to cry.
Confusion and denial eventually subsided. When nothing had changed for days(?), they had to confront reality for what it was. They had to make a plan.
Raid grocery stores for fresh food and eat them first, then freeze as much as possible. A small blessing was that it was still (?always?) winter, and that they could freeze food outside if it came to it. The power still hadn't gone out, making Mercedes wonder if the world had stopped or had paused. If that were the case, then perhaps nothing rotted either.
They wouldn't take any chances. Mercedes and Kate—mostly Mercedes—carted food back into the giant, industrial freezers and looked for supplies they’d need to wait out whatever they were waiting out. Yet it wasn’t about the food, not really; it was something to do. Mercedes didn’t want to spiral deeper than she already was, and planning took the edge off of it. It was familiar and something she was good at, a sense of normalcy amongs the unknown. They could last for a long time, at least. But Kate was another issue.
“We’re stealing blood? From a hospital?” Mercedes grunted, sliding the heavy freezer door closed.
“I don’t think it qualifies as stealing anymore.” Kate looked Mercedes up and down like she was appraising a piece of jewelry. “And don’t act all high and mighty. You wouldn’t care either way.”
Mercedes stared at the hung up butcher coats and ceiling-high shelves filled with containers and cleaning supplies. The back area of the store was dull and unfinished, smelling subtly of chlorinated cleaner from the unemptied mop buckets.
“Yeah. You’re right. I wouldn’t.” She dropped a roll of garbage bags into a shopping cart. Being locked in the basement of her own home with no face and a dead sister tended to instill a bit of nihilism.
The fluorescent lights were burning her eyes, stagnant and lifeless and reminding her too much of outside. Never had Mercedes wished for night so badly. It’d be better than the mockery of endless day. There were practical reasons, however, for such a wish; Kate wasn’t healing. She would be fine, she assured Mercedes, but weak. Permanently on recovery unless something changed.
“So, what’s for dinner?” Kate mused. Mercedes bit back a scowl. Eating was ironically the last thing on her mind. Kate rolled her eyes.
“We have to eat. Might as well make it enjoyable.”
Grabbing the cart, Mercedes wheeled it through the impact traffic doors into the store proper, looking around for something she’d be able to stomach.
“I can’t do meat right now.”
When they went through the empty checkout lane, Mercedes tossed her credit card onto the counter. Not like it meant anything anymore.
Their first argument happened before long.
It was over something insignificant, as those types of arguments tended to go. In uncertainty, every small thing became so critical. It was concrete to be angry about an open drawer. It made sense to fight over dishes. It was emotions that weren’t fear and hopelessness, and Mercedes lashed out at Kate because it felt good. Normal. Coherent.
“Careful. Once cabin fever creeps in it’s over for both of us.”
“It’s my damn cabin, isn’t it?” Mercedes wanted to scream and knock something over, hear the shattering of glass or feel the vibration of wood splintering in her hands. “It’s already over, Kate. Everything is. So why bother with any of this anymore?”
Kate only blinked, unaffected by Mercedes’ panicked rambling. “It’s okay to be afraid.”
Smug goddamn vampire. Mercedes had enough. “How can you be okay with this? You just sit there with your cards and do nothing! We should be-”
“Surviving. Which is what we’re doing.”
Survival. Something Mercedes said to Wynonna the last time he saw her, when she prized it above morality and above Wynonna, the remaining piece of a past once fondly remembered. Until—
Because what was living if only to survive?
“There has to be something we can do.”
Kate stood from the couch like royalty, her steps slow and deliberate as she stood in front of Mercedes, seemingly ten feet tall. “You and I both know we’re not the heroes of our own stories. We never were. Anything that can be done won’t be because of us.”
The truth stung. Seeing Wynonna fight with a bravery only she could muster was as inspiring as it was when they were young and stupid and free, brawling in the shabby living room of some house party. It was what made Mercedes want to be more than be a lamb for the slaughter, to do something to make a difference and be the hero Wynonna was. But here, now, in whatever now even meant anymore, Mercedes knew that Kate was right. There was no great heroic stand to make. They were at the mercy of whatever happened next.
“You forget; I’ve been through the end of the world many, many times. Wars. Political turmoil. And I’m still here.” Kate’s smile was far away, stretching backwards into a time unknown, incomprehensible and vast. “And so are you. That’s no small feat.”
Mercedes couldn’t look at Kate in the eyes. It was what she told herself after she made her agonized recovery in millimeters, bandage-covered face turning her world into darkness. Living should have felt better. She should’ve been grateful to be here when Beth—even Tucker, that piece of shit—was not. It shouldn’t be like this. It wasn’t fair to be around only for everything to end.
“I don’t know what happened to you…” Kate reached out to Mercedes, her hand brushing her shoulder in a soft gesture of comfort. “But I’m sorry.”
Coarse laughter ripped through Mercedes’ lungs, her anger manifesting in the only appropriate way it could. All of this was a sick joke. She couldn’t react any other way.
“You’re right. And you don’t know me.”
That only made Kate more insistent, taking Mercedes’ cold hand into hers. “But I know pain. Lifetimes of it.”
Mercedes tore her hand away. “Forget it. Let’s just…” she looked to her shelf packed with her parents’ prized DVD collection. “Let’s just watch something and forget about it.”
Kate barely hid a smile. “What did you have in mind?”
The blue light of the TV quelled Mercedes for a few hours of calm, her and Kate curled up on the couch like it was a normal visit from a friend.
This was one of the least romantic candlelit dinners Mercedes had ever had.
The crystal chandelier hung dormant and dark above them, instead catching the glow of the candles in its intricate designs. Blackout curtains made the house darker, almost tricking Mercedes’ body into believing it was night. But she knew if she pulled back the curtains she’d see that same green-grey light, snow as still as The Day It Began. Unfortunately, Kate’s body wasn’t as easily tricked, locked in a constant state of dying for eternity, the wound refusing to heal and still raw with blood.
“I could turn you, you know.” Kate’s voice was casual, as if she’d asked Mercedes to pass the butter and not offering to make her a damn vampire.
They hadn’t been together long—hardly a month(?) now. With no indication of the passage of time, it was hard to tell. If there was one thing Mercedes caught on to, it was that Kate was casual with almost everything, even this. It made sense, she supposed. Being over a century old no doubt made day to day life seem trivial and effortless.
Mercedes frowned and tried not to look at Kate’s teeth. “You’re just hungry.”
Kate’s laugh was honey, thick and slow and smothering Mercedes’ throat as it hitched. “Doesn’t mean my offer isn’t genuine.” She sipped her wine. That casualness again.
“Who wants to live forever?” Mercedes stabbed her fork into her salad. “Besides you, apparently.”
Kate leaned back in her chair with a wave of her hand and a shrug, swirling the red wine around in her glass. “No one.”
Cryptic—something else Kate excelled at being. Mercedes didn’t ask what she meant. For some strange, inexplicable reason, she understood the unsaid: not even me.
“What’s it like?”
Kate hummed and glanced off to the side, still swirling her wine. “Quiet. Things become longer while others become shorter. You can appreciate things you didn’t have the time for. But things you wished could last forever…” she faced Mercedes and gently set her glass down onto the tablecloth. “Nothing lasts forever except me.”
And Mercedes saw Kate for the first time, tired and weary and eternal, a meandering stream that never hit the ocean. Realization hit Mercedes in slow motion.
She was just like her now.
“Yeah, that sounds fucking awful.”
When she dreamed she dreamed of her, all leather and whiskey and a snarky quip as she fired her gun.
She closed the distance between them, arms wrapping around her shoulders and feeling her chest against hers.
I missed you, she smiled, her light green eyes full of warmth.
Though she could feel her, touch her, it didn’t feel close and worst of all it wasn’t real, only now noticing that the sky was still the same green-blue, the blood of the moon a halo around her head.
I still do.
There was a grand total of one mall in Purgatory, though to call it a mall would be generous. It was two wings and a food court, the stores all boutique and family owned. Mercedes remembered how excited she was when she went to the Big City to actual, fashionable stores as a teenager, brand names across her chest and snug designer jeans. The mall was one of the first things she planned to attack when she arrived back in Purgatory, modernizing it and making it more than a building to run in and use the washrooms in.
The plans she had only a short time ago. What a waste.
“What do you think?”
Kate held up a bright red winter jacket to her chest with an excited, wide eyed smile. They were in one of the many empty stores, this one being Mercedes’ favourite since moving back to Purgatory. Like most things she liked, it was expensive and high quality stuff, though the price tag meant as much as the credit card she left on the grocery store counter.
“You look good in everything,” Mercedes said, not paying attention to Kate, who sighed and placed the coat back onto the rack.
“Come on. You were the one who suggested we go shopping.”
“I know,” Mercedes grumbled, swiping her red hair behind her ear. Shopping always made her feel better. Even if she didn’t buy anything, it was aspirational in a way, imagining how good she’d feel when she finally could get something she had her eye on. "I guess I'm just realizing how hollow it all was.”
"It's okay if it made you happy,” Kate said.
“But that’s the thing, right? It made me happy because I could create this...I don’t know, image of myself for other people. And now that those people are gone I-”
"We lived in a world with people,” Kate interrupted, placing her hand on Mercedes’ arm. “Society. It’s not a bad thing, to want to present a certain way. To wear things that made you feel good.”
“Okay Feminism 101,” Mercedes mocked. “Like, yeah, that’s all true and shit. But…”
“It’s not just the clothes, is it?”
No shit. Mercedes sat on a bench near the changerooms, eyes scanning over the hung up clothes that would never be put away again. “Everything before this was pointless.”
“Everything is pointless. That’s what makes life so good.” Kate laughed and sat beside Mercedes and daintily crossed her leg. “You know what I learned from being alive so long? Things pass and wilt away. So many of the things we do don’t go anywhere. It’s the moments now that matter the most.”
The music from the overhead speakers echoed through the abandoned store into the mall, punctuating the emptiness all around. Some moment this was.
“Get the jacket,” Mercedes said, standing up and flattening her pink coat. “You really do look good in everything.”
It was so strong Mercedes could taste it on her tongue, itching her skin and suffocating her. She’d gone to pacing around the dining room to try and get the nervous energy out, hoping that she’d get tired enough that she could go to bed and let time—whatever that was now—pass. But really, if it were just simple boredom, it’d be easier. It was the waiting.
It reminded Mercedes of being at the hospital when waiting to hear news of her parents. Nothing could entertain her and doing something made her even more bored somehow, the anticipatory dread making action impossible. It was too all consuming to do anything but wallow in anxiety.
“There’s more entertainment now than there ever was back then,” Kate said, flipping the page of her book and not bothering to look up at the pacing Mercedes. “Comparatively, this is nothing. We even still have power.”
“Well, good for you. Some of us were born in this century.” Mercedes straightened the dining room chairs, reveling in the five seconds of action that brought. “It’s the same shit every day. It’s us, day in and day out.”
“Oh, am I annoying you?”
“Anyone is annoying after spending however the fuck knows how long together.”
“Not the marriage type then.”
“Technically, I am.”
“Technically, so am I.”
They laughed because something had to be funny.
“We could leave, right?” Mercedes said, peeking behind the blackout curtains. “Go...I don’t know, look at stuff. Places. We have the entire continent, at least. Unless you secretly know how to pilot a plane or a boat.”
Kate chuckled thinly. “I don’t.”
“The Big City, at least.”
“We could try." Kate was back to her cards. Mercedes hadn't seen Kate do an actual reading for a while; instead she idly shuffled before returning the cards to their bag, only for Kate to slide them out again minutes later. A ritual once comforting now useless when past, present, and future folded in on itself.
"You've been all over the world, right?" Mercedes asked.
"Mhm. Europe, mostly, in my youth."
"It's hard to believe you were young at any point."
"It's hard for me too," Kate said, laying back on the couch with a wince. "It doesn't feel like it was me."
"I think I know what you mean. Well, less extreme," Mercedes said. She joined Kate on the couch, feeling the warmth of the fireplace on her face.
"I know it was me, because obviously it was. But I look back and it feels like I'm watching someone else's slideshow." Mercedes stopped herself. "Sorry. It feels ridiculous when you're… the world is—was—so different."
"Is," Kate said firmly. "You can't look at this like it's over. It's like you said; it's just different."
An understatement if Mercedes ever heard one. "That's inappropriately optimistic."
"Maybe. But we have to try."
Mercedes didn’t respond. She didn’t know if she wanted to try anymore.
When Kate stumbled and fell one morning(?), Mercedes knew something was wrong.
Kate’s eyes bore into Mercedes as she picked herself up, a cautionary glare that Mercedes gladly understood: it looked exactly like it was. No discussions. There was nothing to be said.
Until, on whatever day(?), month (?), year(?) they were on, Kate broke the rules and said something.
“I was wrong.”
Moving her borrowed nightgown, Kate revealed her wound, Mercedes recoiling at the sight. It was worse than before, infected despite all of their efforts. The worst was the smell, the familiar wrong stench of torn, rotting flesh that was permanently seared into Mercedes’ nostrils.
“Even I don’t last forever.”
Mercedes stifled a gag. Her senses were all tuned in to Kate’s injury, becoming every physical sensation. The unsaid was what took the bones out of her limbs, Mercedes feeling like a pile of empty skin. This could not be happening. She could not be alone.
“If you turned me…”
Kate shrugged. “It’d help.”
“Finite resources. Especially if it’s-”
Two options, both alike in inevitability.
They were waiting to die either way. The question was how long they wanted to stretch it out.
“We should head out tomorrow. Just to see, right?”
“Just to see. Sure.”
“Do you think we’ll find anyone?”
“Depends. What answer are you looking for?”
“I think you just gave me one.”
“How often do you think of her?” Kate asked, wiping the blood from her lips. A Mercedes from another timeline would be unsettled by such an action, but she wasn’t that person anymore. She ceased to give a shit when her face was ripped from her.
“A lot, I guess.”
A raised eyebrow. “You love her.”
Like something she couldn’t articulate. “I mean...it’s complicated.”
Kate scoffed. “I turned into a vampire so I could search for my man forever. I know what love is, romantic or not.”
With where they were now, Mercedes knew there wasn’t much of a point in hiding her feelings from Kate anymore. While she was still hard to read, Kate saw through Mercedes at every turn, easily interpreting her like one of her cards. This, however, was different. There was guilt Mercedes didn’t want to admit, and a pain in recalling Wynonna and the last time Mercedes saw her.
“You know one of the last things I said to her was “I even kind of love you”? I couldn’t even commit to it when it mattered. And now…” Mercedes sighed. “I wish I had another chance to say it right.”
A slow, sympathetic nod from Kate. “Talking about her keeps her alive.”
Perhaps. But Mercedes wasn’t ready to think Wynonna had to be memorialized just yet—not ever.
“We’ll go tomorrow.”
Mercedes was never a pack a day type of person. It wasn’t the healthiest thing to partake in, a bad high school habit turned addiction, one she kicked before coming back to Purgatory. It was all going so well--not just the smoking, but everything in her life. A career. A life she could start to be proud of. And, much like it had so long ago, everything changed when she saw Wynonna for the first time in almost a decade.
On the front porch of her family home, she gazed off into the distance at the familiar, drab sight before her, the same snow, the same trees. Even the blood orange of the Pledge Moon had lost its ominous splendour, its presence as regular as it was boring. It was her last cigarette before bed, the empty carton tossed carelessly off to the side with a light thud. Smoking, like so much of what Mercedes did now, was something to do. A temporary relief for those glorious few minutes until she stamped the butt out under her boot. And, honestly, what good was taking care of her health going to do now?
There was something inside of her, an animal instinct that she’d felt in the basement and never thought she’d feel again until she was old and grey and not much of anything anymore. It’d grown stronger, made her have two before-bed cigarettes and caution thrown to the wind like smoke escaping her lips.
The door behind her opened, feeble and whisper quiet.
“What is it?”
Mercedes ashed her cigarette. “How could you tell?”
“We’ve been together now for...well.” Kate folded her hands across her stomach. “So what is it?”
Where to begin. Leaning over the railing, Mercedes dropped the spent cigarette into the snow, watching the embers snuffed out as soon as it hit the ground, a small hiss as it was extinguished.
“I don’t want to die like this.”
Because she almost did, once. Feeling her life slip away minute by minute. Waiting, listening to a monster who had her voice, listening to a monster who had Beth’s when she had none anymore. Though still alive, Mercedes never stopped wishing that she died before her sister. That she didn’t have to be alone in the skittering dark.
It was the same again. Kate would go before her, leaving Mercedes alone to face the endless green-blue-green afternoon and a moon that never moved. She would not live with another body, to feel its inert gravity pull at her like guilt.
She felt Kate freeze behind her.
“You’d prolong the inevitable.”
“Look,” Mercedes hissed, whipping around to face Kate, who, for the first time, shrunk back from her. “I’m fucking bored. I’m scared. If I’m going to die anyways, I might as well...I don’t know. Do anything.”
God, and Kate looked so different than she did a day(?), a month(?), a year(?) ago. Her skin was dull, bags under her sunken eyes. She was more tired than Mercedes was, and she felt it in Kate’s sigh, the weight of generations pouring from her lungs.
“You still think there’s a chance.”
“No.” Not a chance. A small, lingering vestige of hope that Mercedes couldn’t lose lest everything crumble. “I don’t know anything anymore.”
Another heavy sigh. “I could check the Homestead. See if I can go in and-”
“No,” Mercedes said again, more firmly this time. She couldn’t know. To know would mean confirmation of the end, not just for Wynonna, but of everything. That all was truly worthless. That she should sink down and meet her end too.
“It’ll be hard, at first,” Kate said slowly.
“I’ll take it. I don’t care anymore.”
Hesitation wasn’t what Mercedes expected from Kate. “Are you sure?”
“You’re dying, Kate. I’m dying. I can feel it. And I can’t-” she was not about to cry, because to do so would spill whatever was left of her. “I can’t. I’m not going to die alone like I was dying alone before.”
The silence was more than Mercedes had ever felt before. No wind, no distant cars, no distant call of animals because the animals had gone gone gone and were granted mercy that not even she was privileged to receive.
“Okay,” Kate said finally. “Okay.”
Relief, more than Mercedes could have guessed, the first in a long, long time. She pulled at the collar of her coat, exposing her neck and gritting her teeth, eyes piercing into Kate’s and beckoning to be taken. Kate laughed.
“Slow down. Let’s go inside first.”
The scene was sickeningly sentimental. Colourful blankets and pillows laid on the wooden floor in front of the stone fireplace, amber scented candles in their silver holders surrounding them. Mercedes laughed, incredulous, Kate lighting the last of the candles.
“Really? Should I make you dinner first?”
Kate rolled her eyes. “I’m trying to make this as comfortable for you as I can. Trust me, it’s not pleasant.” She patted a pillow next to her, Mercedes slumping down and biting at the skin inside of her cheek.
“Now,” Kate said, sliding to her knees in front of Mercedes and brushing her thigh. “I could glamour you. It’d make it easier. Pleasurable, even.”
“God, Kate, are you turning me or trying to turn me on?”
Kate smirked. “Why, are you proposing something?”
“I don’t want to be glamoured,” Mercedes said quickly, her patience wearing as thin as her nerves. “It feels like I shouldn’t.”
“I get it. I was lucid too.”
Mercedes’ heart leapt to her throat when Kate reached out to her, drawing her shirt from her collarbone and tracing her fingertips over her pulse point.
“Try to relax.”
“Kate? Just shut up and bite me already.”
Golden eyes and golden teeth were the last thing Mercedes saw as a human, twin daggers stabbing through her skin with the tearing of flesh. The smell of iron and warmth on her neck, a strange pain that seized her muscles. When she felt something slip away and something new entering to take its place, her vision turned to a bright shade of alluring pink.
Chapter 2: nine of swords
hunger in fingers, tongue, behind eyes and gnashing, licking along teeth, sharp metal incisors thirsting like a king tent to imbibe warm and thick and coating the throat and digging piercing under lips
mercedes mercedes mercedes
the name for this husk, a need to escape its confines and emerge as emanation, floating bones and three faces, tendrils like roots to walk the earth
A voice ringing out in command, Kate, there, hands grasping her arms and staring into swollen eyes.
“I’ll get you what you need. Okay? Breathe. Sit.”
Mercedes took breaths like bites, pressing her teeth together to feel the roots sink into her gums like it’d sate the hungering thirst. She felt a glass pressed into her hand, not noticing that Kate had already returned.
sustenance, so beautiful and viscous and heaven in her nose straight to the brain, vision swirling and sharp and glass raised in shaking hands, cold blood kissing lips, sticky, soothing, sundering something that was left and died but felt so awake and so alive
Mercedes blinked from a dream, the interior of her house phasing back to something recognizable. Comforting and hers, the darkness granted from the blackout curtains good but not enough. It’d never be enough now.
“Christ,” Mercedes breathed, looking at the dregs of her drink, crimson against glass, her hand coated in blood when she wiped her mouth like she was wiping grease from meat-fat. A headache that coalesced in her teeth made her dizzy and sick, Kate taking the glass away before Mercedes crushed it.
“It’ll pass. The first few days are the hardest.” The vampire (no, a vampire, like me) sat beside her on the couch, rubbing Mercedes’ back in wide circles, the touch grounding her into a more coherent state.
“Yeah, just a little rough.” Mercedes ground her molars,
flat porcelain tools for vegetation when there should be an evolution, the need to run run run to search and find and use sharp canines for slicing flesh and
She felt herself shift this time, teeth retreating and the pressure behind her eyes soften. This is what she wanted, Mercedes thought bitterly. A new form for a new life, to burn the bridge connecting them so utterly so she couldn’t see the other side.
“You might want to look in the mirror,” Kate said, nodding to the stairs. “Your reflection goes away a few hours after.”
“I get my face back and I can’t even appreciate it,” Mercedes sighed, caring less than she thought she would. Her strength was returning—no, that wasn’t quite it—receding to something she was used to, the weakness of the human body. She used the arm of the couch to stand, making her way up to her room and fighting the punch of vertigo, steps slow like a funeral. Only she was attending her own, the last she’d see of herself for a timespan she couldn’t comprehend, like trying to grasp the enormity of infinity.
Seeing the closed bedroom doors was still painful even now. Her parents’ bedroom was Kate’s now, Mercedes using her own since she returned to Purgatory from Venezuela. There hadn’t been much time or motivation to redecorate, her bedroom a time capsule of her high school years, too much pink and posters with curled edges from the sun. A decade later and she still hadn’t entered Beth and Tucker’s room, and it’d be decades until she did again. There was a sanctity she couldn’t disturb, no matter how she felt about her siblings. They were private tombs, sealed away with worldly possessions even if their bodies were absent. Beth was still in the morgue; Tucker’s location was unknown. Frankly, she was more worried she’d find the gruesome sight of it more than caring who the body belonged to. Mercedes had planned for a funeral of some sort when all was said and done, but the end, while here, would never be over. Their rooms would have to do. It was more than Tucker deserved and Mercedes no longer felt guilty about thinking such a thing. But Beth…
It shouldn’t have taken being trapped beside her mangled body for Mercedes to realize she should’ve said the right things sooner, for her great, sisterly act of love to be curling up beside Beth’s last breaths, as if it’d take the pain away.
Mercedes laid her palm on the thick wood of Beth’s door. An apology too late. Were Beth here now, she likely wouldn’t have noticed that the world had stopped. She was always so reclusive.
It was time for another goodbye. Mercedes slowly entered her room, feeling every minuscule movement of her muscles and tendons, drained by each step she took. Stopping in front of the mirror, eyes closed, Mercedes worked up the courage to see herself one last time.
The long mirror framed her like a casket, her earthly form contained in glass. When Waverly Earp healed her face, Mercedes couldn’t stop looking at herself, kneeling in front of the mirror while crying tears of joy, a piece of herself finally home. Pain was gone, that constant, lingering reminder of her state, the agony that kept her awake and made days an exhausting hell.
You’re still beautiful, Mercedes, the Waverly of the past said. Her hand was warm and soft against Mercedes’ scarred skin, a simple touch that made her feel wanted, worthy. Yet it paled in comparison to when Waverly told Mercedes that Wynonna had been calling for her. Waiting for her. And God Mercedes wanted so badly to be angry at Wynonna, no matter how irrational it was. The curse was what put Mercedes here, what sent her to the darkness to rot and be fed upon by a creature wearing her face, masquerading in her skin. All anger was snuffed out in an instant by the words spoken from an angel’s mouth.
Wynonna has been calling.
Wynonna has been calling.
And now, staring at the Mercedes of the present(?), she looked more tired than she remembered, crow’s feet and laugh lines pronounced. But it was her, pale skin and fiery hair and perhaps a little too serious looking. Many men had told her she should smile more; and she would, teeth bared wolf-like, verbally biting their heads off when she wished it could’ve been more literal. A shame for them; because she had a good smile, whenever it came out. There wasn’t much to smile about since The Day It Began. Her decision to be turned likely wouldn’t aid her in that regard, but it’d ensure that Kate survived. Though Mercedes wasn’t sure she’d qualify Kate as a friend—their circumstances made everything tense—Kate was all that she had left. She needed her. Mercedes wondered if Kate needed her the same way.
Giving herself one final look, Mercedes committed herself to memory, all the parts she used to hate about herself and everything in between. She turned the mirror to face the wall.
When she returned downstairs, Kate was rotating the rings on her fingers, pensive and not looking at Mercedes when she sat down beside her.
Exhaling deeply, Kate sat up and threaded her fingers with Mercedes’, warm despite the chill of her skin. “Thank you.”
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t for slightly selfish reasons,” Mercedes said, a twinge of guilt prodding at her stomach.
“Everything’s done out of selfishness. It’s the kind that determines who you are.” Kate’s grip tightened. “So thank you. For being the good kind of selfish.”
Mercedes nodded tersely. She didn’t feel good in any way.
On the first day of the rest of her life, Mercedes thought of her.
Everything felt different in every way that could be named. A body that wasn’t quite hers. A pang in the base of her skull that felt strangely like emotion. There weren’t words to describe all the ricochetting sensations within, and Mercedes felt like an unstable, sad orb. Perhaps she would ask Kate if there was a more fitting description other than “sad orb”. Something English couldn’t quite cover, like weltschmerz or ennui.
“You’ve made her a martyr,” Kate said, placing a strong cup of coffee in front of Mercedes as they sat at the kitchen table. “Before you ask, you get this look whenever you think of her.”
Mercedes frowned. Her teeth hurt.
“You can’t hold her up like that,” Kate continued. “Making her into a myth. A legend.”
How else to describe the life and probable death of Wynonna Earp? A name as a curse and at war with Hell, wielding an artifact akin to Excalibur and the Crown of Thorns, Peacemaker and its sacred metal. If Wynonna should be held anywhere it was to be held tall, above the rest with outstretched hands, Saint Wynonna, burned by the moon.
Thinking of Wynonna opened a tempest, like the stopped world originated from the hollow of Mercedes’ chest. The desire to curl up and lay still was overwhelming, a depression that wasn’t quite depression but something more, elevated, a higher plane of sadness. Inner dialogue was halted, that hollowness over and over, a lull that turned her eyes to sand from staring too long at the wallpaper. It was that wanting again, wanting to express the nothing-everything hammering at her ribs. There weren’t enough limbs, ten thousand short, a maw too small in which to voice her frustration, a tangled web she couldn’t unravel.
“I feel…” Mercedes shook her head. Articulating it was nigh impossible. “I don’t know. Like a sad orb.”
“I know,” Kate said with a sympathy Mercedes wasn’t expecting from her ridiculous description.
“Does it go away?”
Kate wrapped her hands around her tea, which was contained in a large ceramic mug Mercedes’ parents brought from Mexico, its colourful designs poking out between Kate’s fingers. “You’ll feel different until you don’t anymore.”
Sometimes Mercedes wished Kate just gave a simple yes or no.
“You just gave up your humanity. It’s going to feel strange for a while,” Kate said.
“I guess I didn’t think being human felt so...specific?”
“That’s how these things work, don’t they? You don’t know what it’s like until it’s gone.”
Contemplating humanity wasn’t something Mercedes used to think about; she preferred leaving discussions about what that meant to other classmates in elective university courses. The whole exercise seemed needlessly complicated. A human was a human because of the shell they inhabited, the particulars of the brain or matters of the heart simply added bonuses. But she’d seen monsters now, heard their ruminations spoken from her stolen mouth and living in her childhood home. Did they sleep in her bed? Did they sleep at all? Were they just like her, now as monstrous as them?
“I don’t want to lose it—knowing what being human feels like.”
“Humanity is overrated. It’s a word to make us feel bigger than we are to the rest of the world,” Kate said. “It’s not about humanity. It’s about being a person, and you don’t have to be human to do that. It’s how we’re people with other people, human or not.”
“Cool, but there’s no one around anymore. So what then?”
“That’s when you really figure out how to be a person.”
Kate looked at the tea leaves in her empty mug. “You figure out who you are at your core when no one’s watching.”
Maybe. But Mercedes didn’t want to find out who that person was anymore, all the things she’d have to admit to herself to come up with a clear image. She drank her coffee. There were some things she’d like no matter which version of herself she was, at least.
Later, against her better judgement, she pulled out an old shoebox from under her bed, wiping the dust off and curling it between her fingers. Inside were sentimental momentos and random objects that past Mercedes thought too cool or interesting to get rid of. A pack of old cigarettes from a party she forgot she wanted to remember, a switchblade Wynonna left in her car. A drawing Beth made her when they were young and didn’t know how to terrorize each other yet. Digging deeper, Mercedes found what she was looking for; two Polaroids from her short-lived artistic phase, when she tried to find something worth capturing in Purgatory. First was a picture of her house in the summer, the sun shining down on green grass her parents insisted on over-watering. It looked alien now, the concept of soft grass, sun and weather a thing of the past. Underneath was the picture Mercedes was looking for, the first one she ever took.
Seventeen year-old Wynonna smiled at the camera, leaning casually on the bricks of a convenience store, cigarette dangling from between her fingers and combat boot resting on the wall. The photo was desaturated by time, whites blown out and blue sky a pale blue. Had Mercedes known what she did now, she would have taken more pictures, gathered physical evidence of a world that would cease to exist.
Revisiting the picture made it clear that Kate was right. The Wynonna Mercedes knew could not be reduced to a narrative. Treating her like a fallen demigoddess was unfair, a misrepresentation of the girl in the Polaroid and the woman she became: complicated and cursed, brave and reckless. A person, just like everyone. And like everyone, she was gone.
Letting go was an eventuality. But, placing the photograph on the night table, Mercedes knew she didn't have to give up every piece.
Though restlessness was a near-constant for the both of them, it was never enough for the two women to leave the Gardner house beyond Purgatory. They spoke of leaving several times before. However, the thought was given the same non-consideration as meeting an old friend in the frozen aisle, exchanging numbers and doing nothing about it. Being inside the artificial darkness felt safer. Nothing existed to hurt them, which Mercedes suspected made it all the more terrifying. Danger would be something at least, proof that creatures still lived as they did. She even began to miss the insects—minus spiders, of course. She didn’t miss those.
Kate wasn’t her usual collected self. It’d been weeks since she last consulted her deck, and she was seated in front of the fireplace, nervously shuffling the deck and looking at the artwork. The action, or lack thereof, made Mercedes uneasy. She was aware that she had burdened Kate with the duty of being the brave one. With a century and a half years of experience, nothing seemed to shake her confidence—until now.
“We need to leave the Triangle,” Kate said blankly, tracing her fingers over the Nine of Swords.
“We keep saying that, but we never do.”
Kate dropped the card in front of her. “I think it’s controlling us.”
“What? What is?”
“The...I don’t know, something is affecting our thoughts. Making us not want to leave, or forget that we should. Maybe it wants us here.”
“Again, what? “It”?”
“Everything. This.” Kate gestured around the room. “I’ve felt it. And I think you’re starting to feel it too.”
“I’m feeling a lot of shit I haven’t before, Kate. Vampirism tends to do that.”
Moving to the side, Kate laid her hand to the spot beside her, Mercedes joining her in front of the fire. The heat was comforting, something primal and safe about firelight that Mercedes hadn’t appreciated before.
“Have you meditated before?” Kate asked.
“I tried but it’s not really my thing.”
“Don’t worry, we won’t make it a thing. You get the basics though, right?”
“Yeah. Thoughts passing like leaves on the wind and stuff.”
“Sure, that works. Except for this, look into the fire and focus. Don’t search for anything in particular. Let it come to you.”
Whatever “it” was. Mercedes tried to relax and quiet her thoughts and let whatever she was supposed to feel come to her. Nothing happened for a time. Meditation was boring to Mercedes, and the few times she’d tried had her fidgeting and losing concentration. Yet as she watched the flames burn away at the edges of the firewood, bark curling and falling to ash, she felt something only to lose it immediately.
“Shit,” Mercedes hissed. “I felt something then got too excited that it worked.”
“Try again,” Kate said, back to searching through her deck.
It was easier for Mercedes to get back into that blank state, going back to watching the intricacies of burning. Tongues of flame licking the wood. The embers around the fallen fragments. When it came Mercedes let it wash over her, that “it”, that something she was waiting for. What alarmed her was that it was familiar. She’d noticed it when she had been turned, that strange pang in the base of her skull. Alive was what she’d describe it as, thick and present, that same sensation at Easter Vigil when a hush fell over the congregation, the cheap white candle in her hand cutting through the darkness.
“I feel it,” Mercedes said. “It’s...why can I only feel it now?”
Kate hummed. “You feel things more when you’re not human. Your senses get heightened to less physical things.”
“So, what, my chakras are aligned and my third eye is open?” Mercedes said. Kate rolled her eyes.
“You mock, but it’s a good analogy.”
Spiritual matters were never Mercedes’ particular bag. But after all the shit that happened in Purgatory, she was forced to reconsider. After all, if Hell existed and Waverly Earp was a damn angel, then what else was real?
“Okay. So there’s something. How do we know it’s affecting us?” asked Mercedes.
“We try to leave and see if we can.”
“The Triangle goes to the Big City. We can still hit part of it, right?”
“We can, in theory,” Kate said. “We’ll have to try no matter what. We’re going to need more supplies eventually.”
Sitting up, Mercedes made a beeline to the coat rack, hurriedly slipping into her pink jacket and grabbing her keys. That something was potentially controlling how she acted was not something she was excited about, and she preferred to confirm that particular issue as soon as possible. “Then let’s go now. Before we forget. Or, “forget”, or whatever.”
There was a moment’s hesitation from Kate as she looked at the scattered cards on the floor. She sighed. “We have to try, right?”
Soon they were speeding down the country road, past the welcome sign into Purgatory, its art taunting Mercedes, the excited nuclear family cheering as if there were something to be excited about. Mercedes tightened her grip on the wheel when they made their way through downtown. She hated going here. It exposed the emptiness of the town, highlighted by the fact it’d been evacuated with not a single car in sight, the orange-red of the Pledge Moon reflecting off the glass of the darkened store windows like there were fires within.
Now leaving Purgatory. That smug-ass family smiling at her. Her hatred was interrupted when she saw a blue car in the ditch, and another down the road. Kate rubbernecked at each of them, shooting Mercedes a worried look.
Dread replaced the blood in her veins. The stalled and crashed cars were getting more numerous the closer they made it to the flyover into the Big City, forced to drive on the shoulder to continue what Mercedes was convinced was a hopeless journey. Driving down this highway used to be so pleasant for Mercedes, the natural beauty undeniably breathtaking. The road cut through the tall, vertically striped rocky walls of the Canadian Shield, small stone inuksuks constructed by travellers standing meekly along the top. The image was different now, ominous and foreboding, cars crunched into the stone she once found so beautiful.
Everything halted when they reached the highway.
“Fuck,” Mercedes hissed, slowing her SUV in stunned disbelief. Kate's eyes widened.
“This is...a problem.”
In their haste, they had completely overlooked this possibility. With Purgatory abandoned, stalled cars weren’t even considered. It was Kate who left first, running to the railing and looking below. A sea of crashed vehicles lay before and under them, metal and glass strewn across the salt-stained roads like torn organs. Dread turned to shock, the true extent of their loneliness overwhelming. Still life without life all around them. No one knew the end was coming. The cars had rode off without their passengers, piled and barricading their way out. A dead end; the literal end of the road.
“How the fuck are we supposed to get anywhere?” Mercedes panicked, joining the awestruck Kate by the barrier, who looked like she was going to be sick. Mercedes knew the answer before it left Kate’s mouth.
Mercedes stared down the long road ahead, squinting to see the city skyline in the distance, the moon a bloodied coin in the sky. It’d be hours until they made it.
The two of them stood in silence for a long time. Imagining the world empty was one thing. To see it all laid bare before them was a cruel wake-up call, infinity a number Mercedes could count to. How could they have been so irreverent? They’d claimed everything as their own, ate like royalty and drank blood like wine, laughing together because they could find something to laugh about. All the while the world ceased, the Blood Eclipse a reminder of what hadn't been and who wasn't anymore, roaming a graveyard the size of the Earth.
“Let’s go home,” Mercedes said finally. There was nothing for them here. Mercedes wasn’t sure Kate heard her until she turned around, solemnly getting into the passenger seat, eyes fixated on the carnage in front of them.
When they finally made it home, two hours of insufferable silence, they wordlessly went their separate ways to their rooms, needing to wallow in the newfound darkness in their hearts. Mercedes didn't want to ignore what happened, and she didn't want to feel better. She deserved to feel every bit of regret and loneliness, as if it'd atone for the sin of living, proper penance for the dead. Out of spite, she picked up her phone, an item long forgotten on her desk, opening up all the old sites that used to occupy her time. Initially, Mercedes counted it as a blessing that time had stopped in such a way that electricity, power, and the internet still worked. But now, reading updates and seeing pictures of everything The Day It Began, it was the aftermath of Pompeii, figures of ghosts in a moment taken so suddenly.
She tore the blackout curtains open. The Pledge Moon glared as an ever watching eye, casting her room into the blood orange sea she tried to hide from. It could burn her for all she cared.
rise to meet hunger and feel it all around, floorboards under feet and high ceiling never the sky, a yearning for dark once hated but needed to feel complete
the door opens
and it’s the same as always, moon above enticing enough to drink, marching nowhere but driven forward and feeling wind finally by running, air through the scalp and blowing back hair-tendrils, as if the world moved again, and it’s cold without a jacket, hunting without prey, searching because it felt good to want to find, but in open field of pristine white it only showed the nothing of everything, search and search despite it all because there needed to be an escape and a way out of here and if the running went forever it’d be worth it to get out and be free of the pall that strangled
no time anymore because there is no time
the forest once held something secret, animal whispers before the animals had gone, the trees are dead and dried out, limbs to snap broken or bend like double joints
an explosion. a gun
In the distance was Kate, arm raised skyward, the gunshot echoing to the treeline, stopping Mercedes in her frenzied bid for freedom. The ground rose to meet Mercedes, snow cushioning the fall, the crunching of Kate’s boots colliding with the crunch of her knees.
tear into plastic and let it flow, iron, a simple metal but platinum on her tongue, kate a sentinel beside, progenitor
“Let’s get you warmed up, Mercedes.”
Letting herself be lifted from the snow, Mercedes clung to Kate’s arm and shivered, Kate’s voice distant and muffled on Mercedes’ ears, words of encouragement and comfort. Soon Mercedes was sitting in front of the fire, a thick blanket wrapped around her and hot tea in hand. Not a tea drinker, classically, but given by Kate, who sat next beside her, it felt right to take it.
“Sorry,” Mercedes mumbled, looking at the unfurling tea leaves in her cup. She wondered what hidden meaning lay inside their dried veins.
“It’s okay. You’ll start to know when you need blood and you’ll get it under control. It didn’t help that today was…”
“The worst day since The Day.”
Kate sighed. “It definitely put it all into perspective.”
“Yeah. You seemed really rattled. That was new.”
“I’ve seen carnage in my time, and human evidence of it. The gore, how ghastly it all was...but there were always people. There isn’t even that now.”
Something compelled Mercedes to pull Kate into an awkward side-hug, Kate readily resting her head on Mercedes’ shoulder and relaxing against her. “I mean, I’ve never seen anything like this. The worst was that Chili Debacle,” Mercedes said.
“Okay, what’s up with that? Everyone mentions it and it sounds ridiculous.”
“It was… and a debacle. When you live in a shitty small town, small things tend to explode. Boredom, I guess.”
Kate took Mercedes’ hand—Kate seemed to like hands, she noted—and hummed, sinking deeper into Mercedes’ chest, Mercedes finding as the same comfort by the contact. It was nice to be on the giving end of things, thought Mercedes, and she didn’t realize how much she missed being touched after being starved of it for so long.
“Where do you think everyone went? Are they like, stuck in their own reality? Are we?”
“I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine,” Kate said. “I don’t think there’s much of a reason for us to be around specifically.”
“Besides the fact we’re the baddest bitches alive?”
Kate laughed. “Yes, besides that. But...if I can’t go inside the Homestead, then Wynonna is somewhere on the same plane.”
And if she was, there was hope that the nightmare would end. Dawn and dusk, something once taken for granted would happen again. For now, there was Kate. Her only certainty.
“You know, I could’ve done worse than you.”
“Well that's not a backhanded compliment,” Kate said.
“No! C'mon, Kate. If I had to be stuck in the end of the world with someone, it’d be you.” Kate tensed in her arms.
“You and I both know that isn’t true.”
A lie Mercedes hadn’t realized she made. Mercedes grimaced.
“I’m always second choice. Even here,” Kate said. “But I get it. We’re all we’ve got.”
“Mercedes,” Kate said, squeezing Mercedes’ hand too tightly. “Don’t make this into something it isn’t. I’m fine with what this is—happy, actually. You give a shit about me. I’d forgotten what that feels like.”
“Of course I give a shit about you. And...even if all of this didn’t happen, I think we’d still be friends.”
Kate sunk deeper still, the grip on Mercedes’ hand loosening into something more delicate. “I think so too.”
When she dreamed she dreamed of her, all leather and whiskey and without humour, gun laying in wait by her side.
Suddenly the gun wasn’t anymore, but a simple sword as old as the earth, raised high like justice and glowing blue against the Pledge Moon which still framed her head like a halo.
There was no warmth of recognition on her face, no hint that she’d heard her. Peacemaker—it was Peacemaker, she knew—took the fire of the moon for itself, orange and hateful and moving closer.
And she held her by the small of her back, up against her and eyes cold, blade pulled behind her, ready.
I’m still here.
There was no reaction and still none when her arm surged forward, leftward bound and up through her chest, cleaving her heart in two.
The darkness was seen rather than felt, the artificial pitch of the house no longer fooling the vampiric Mercedes. She was momentarily confused, not remembering falling asleep. She felt Kate’s weight on her, the both of them laying on top of the pillows and blankets in front of the fireplace that had long gone out. Mercedes rested her head back on the pillows. It’d been an age since she fell asleep with someone else, and especially like this; the closeness, the comfort of another. Though part of her wanted to get off the floor, Mercedes decided against it. She wanted to savour the moment for as long as she could in fear it wouldn’t happen again.
Kate stirred not long after, pressing her hand against Mercedes’ chest to lift herself up, seemingly just as confused. “We...fell asleep?”
Mercedes tried to hide her disappointment when Kate went to relight the fireplace. “I guess we did.”
The firewood crackled to life, the light breaking the false night of the house. Mercedes’ head felt muddled, like a hangover devoid of the nausea. The night(?) before hadn’t helped matters. Neither did her dream, Wynonna putting her down like the monsters she dutifully slayed.
Monster. That was her now. Perhaps she would be hunted too. Perhaps she even deserved it.
“We have to shop around today,” Kate said, closing her silk robe around herself.
Kate nodded. “If we’re going to walk to the Big City…”
Mercedes gazed into the fire. She didn’t want to confront the journey they’d inevitably have to make. She wanted to lay back and sleep the eternal afternoon away, pretend she hadn’t seen the empty husks of cars that once held living people, travelling to destinations and having lives to worry about.
“We have to do it, Mercedes. Even if it hurts. We can't be miserable forever."
After their quiet breakfast, the two of them headed back to dreaded Downtown Purgatory, pulling up to a metal domed surplus store that sold a random selection of goods: army boots, miscellaneous electronics, snacks, lawn ornaments. When they entered Mercedes was hit with the smell of rubber and the sight of overstuffed racks filled with junk against concrete walls.
“Man, look at all this shit,” Mercedes said. “It’s like Canadian Tire for serial killers. I guess that’s why Tucker liked it. Fucking creep.”
Kate knew better than to comment. They went their separate ways, beginning their scavenger hunt for what they’d need. Their list: good boots, thicker clothing, backpacks, ice packs for blood. The walk wouldn’t be too long, all told. It was the ceremony of it and what it stood for, and preparation eased Mercedes’ mind off the grimness of the journey. The length wouldn’t be the hard part; vaulting over cars would take an athleticism Mercedes hadn’t used since high school gym class. A small blessing was that it was mild for the winter-turning-spring they inhabited. Most of the snow was out in the boonies like the Gardner house, and they’d be walking on flat ground when they weren’t avoiding debris.
When Mercedes went to find Kate, she found her perusing the knife selection inside of the glass counter. There were standard hunting knives and colourful folding knives, the titanium coated blades catching the overhead lights.
“Fan of knives?” Mercedes asked. Kate shrugged.
“These are all garbage. I do want that though.” She pointed at the wakizashi hung up on the pegboard.
“Why? Expecting to run into something?”
“No. It’d just be fun to have.”
Mercedes smirked and thought of Wynonna. As a teen and all around shit-disturber, Wynonna was an enthusiast for knives, and she always had a switchblade—at minimum—on her. Luckily, as far as Mercedes knew, Wynonna didn’t have to use them. Her favourite was a balisong which apparently, Wynonna told her proudly, was hard to obtain. Butterfly knives were super illegal, but that particular detail was of no concern to the already delinquent Wynonna. She remembered watching transfixed as Wynonna would flip it idly, showing off her Cool Knife Tricks in Mercedes’ room, Mercedes holding her breath and hoping it wouldn’t slice her friend open.
“You’d look straight out of a movie,” Mercedes agreed. That was all the motivation Kate needed for her to climb over the counter, taking the wakizashi and placing the scabbard on her back. She rotated her wrist and swung the blade around expertly, Mercedes taking a step back lest she accidentally be caught in the trance Kate was in.
“Come on. You can’t tell me you’ve never thought about having a sword.”
“Uh, no. I really can’t say I have,” Mercedes said, thinking about the glowing sword (Peacemaker?) in her dream.
“Hmm. You strike me as a Zweihänder kind of girl,” Kate said thoughtfully. “Big two handed sword from Germany. You could really get that aggression out.”
“Well, if I find one, I’ll let you know how it works out,” Mercedes said, entering a random aisle to continue her search.
All the tacky decorations were giving Mercedes the urge to redecorate—not with any of this crap, of course—but a fresh look. Only recently did she pull the white dust covers off the furniture, the antique drawers and couches looking far too much out of time. A modern look would be nice. A signal of change. She’d have to consult Kate, Mercedes thought with a smile. Though it was her house, it seemed she’d let it be Kate’s too. Something that was truly theirs.
With her cart full, Mercedes went to find Kate again, this time in the electronics section looking at the stereo systems blinking in demo mode.
“We should trick out your car,” Kate said.
“Not sure my soccer mom whip could handle it,” Mercedes said. “Though I guess nothing’s really stopping us from getting a cool new ride. Not like we can drive very far, but.”
“Something to consider,” said Kate, taking to browsing the scrap electronics bin.
They gathered all they needed and headed back to their shared house, Mercedes in higher spirits than before. It was still lonely being in Purgatory, and despite the nature of the scavenging, it didn’t feel as strange as before. Something to be happy about, she supposed. And when they’d made it home, Kate was grinning.
“It feels like we came home.”
Mercedes matched Kate’s smile. It did feel like home, hanging up their jackets, placing the car keys in a bowl on the side table. The good kind of familiarity. The comfort of a place to return to.
“It feels like we should eat a tub of ice cream and bingewatch some shitty reality show.”
“What’s stopping us?” Kate said, already heading to the basement to grab a bottle of wine. It was only then that Mercedes realized that Kate was always the one going down there on behalf of Mercedes, a silent, understanding gesture of her fear. Mercedes’ chest lilted as she scooped two bowls of ice cream—moose tracks—and sat down in time for Kate to come out of the basement, bottle in hand.
And it was almost normal. A night in with a friend, junk food and the buzz of wine to take the edge off of the nothing-everything, yelling at the contestants of the Bachelorette as if it was the most important thing in their lives.
“Ever think about biting me?” Mercedes said through a mouth full of dessert.
“I did, didn’t I?”
“No like...you know.”
“I hadn’t had a reason to. Hopefully, you won’t either.”
Kate sipped her wine. “If things get bad, we might not have much control over what we do.”
Suddenly the Bachelorette was the last thing Mercedes cared about. “So, what? One of us is gonna kill the other?”
“Maybe,” Kate said, that same damn casualness that had become so typical of her. “I don’t think we have to worry about that for a long, long time.”
“Great, yeah, I’ll just put that away for later, no big deal.”
“It’s safer for you now that you're a vampire. At least there’s a chance you come out alive in a fight—if that happened, which it probably won’t.”
“Again, a really cool thing to put a pin in.”
Kate took a scoop of ice cream. “You like bluntness, so I’m giving it to you bluntly.”
“Yeah, but maybe a little sensitivity? It’s not like you’re telling me if my outfit sucks.”
“Please. I’d never have to tell you that," Kate said, her words genuine. Mercedes couldn’t help but laugh, their impending fight for the death forgotten as she draped her legs over Kate's.
The tub of moose tracks was emptied over three episodes, the wine nearly depleted when Mercedes spoke next.
“I hate how good this feels.”
“Because of outside?”
Mercedes scraped the last of the melted ice cream onto her spoon. “That, yeah. But I don't want this-" she waved her hand in front of the TV and her empty bowl, "is going to disappear. That this good feeling will crash and burn.”
Refilling Mercedes’ wine glass to half, Kate placed her hand on Mercedes’. Always with the hands. “Enjoy right now, right now. All we have are moments like this.”
“It doesn’t seem right, you know? Like we’re betraying something.”
“Someone,” Kate said knowingly, her voice soft. “Life goes on, Mercedes. We can’t spend forever weighed down by guilt. I did it once. Wouldn't recommend it.”
With the last of the wine drained, Mercedes felt blissfully tired, her eyelids lead and the TV fading to a pinpoint in her vision. Kate shook her gently, Mercedes gasping and shaking her head to clear it.
“Alright, bedtime,” said Kate. “We have a long day tomorrow.”
Emboldened by exhaustion and alcohol, Mercedes scratched her wrist, looking at the wooden floor with an unfamiliar sheepishness. “Hey...so. Last night.”
Kate chuckled. “It was nice.”
“Did...uh, it’s okay if not, but-” Her sentence was interrupted by Kate lifting Mercedes’ chin.
“I'd like that."
“I just… I don't know. I don't want to make it weird."
“What you're doing right now is making it weird.” Kate rolled her eyes, her expression softening. “It's okay to want a connection—to feel something."
“Deeper than I'd word it, but okay," Mercedes dismissed, embarrassed.
“You let me turn you because you didn't want to be alone. Now you'll never have to be."
“Until I maybe possibly kill you," Mercedes mumbled.
“Mention a little murder and everyone gets all caught up about it,” Kate sighed, the corner of her mouth twitching. “But until then?”
Standing from the couch, Kate extended her hand, Mercedes taking it gratefully. It was as if Kate was whisking her away to another place, somewhere far away from the Triangle, the world open to them.
And on their final sleep before facing what awaited them beyond Purgatory, Mercedes slept better than she had in a timeframe long forgotten. Kate’s breathing lulled Mercedes into a dream she’d forgotten when she awoke, Kate’s chest pressed against her back.
One final note.
On the porch of the Homestead was Kate and Mercedes, who was lighting her second cigarette since they’d arrived to the abandoned old house. Kate was looking around impatiently, not wanting to rush Mercedes but not wanting to wait for her either. Finality lay beyond the threshold, a mere step away. Today(?) was the day they left for the Big City. A momentous occasion Mercedes couldn’t begin, somehow, without getting definitive answers, an epilogue before the next saga.
Yeah, she would never truly feel ready, Mercedes concluded, taking a long drag of her cigarette. “Okay. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”
“You okay?” asked Mercedes.
“Sorry. I just realized that this is a big deal for me too. Wynonna being gone could mean...well.”
That she had lost.
Exhaling deeply, Kate reached for the door handle, millimeters miles long as she slowly moved her hand, closer, closer, closer still. Kate’s body froze, fingers curling back like paper caught in a flame.
“You can’t?” Mercedes said, barely able to keep her excitement down.
A smile. “I can’t.”
Self control snapped, Mercedes wrapping Kate in a giant hug, relief flooding through her like warm water. So much was unknown still; but wherever Wynonna was, she was. She still lived. She still fought. One day, when “day” meant something again, perhaps Mercedes would see her again, all leather and whiskey and victorious.
Mercedes’ hands fell back to her sides, and she turned towards the door, a resolute silence, an internal prayer.
The signs announcing their departure from Purgatory were no longer a mockery. It was a promise of progress, moving ever forward, the Gardner house two hours behind them until next they met. They were in high spirits, perhaps inappropriately so. Forward. Forward was all that mattered.
Kate must've thought so too. It was in her gorgeous voice as she sang along to the song on the stereo, a half smile on her lips and fingers tapping along in 4/4. Mercedes joined in harmony, because why not sing along when the world was over?
When they stepped out of the car and onto the salt-stained streets of the highway, the corpses of cars lined in front of them, Mercedes looked to the blood-orange moon, an exhale of hope leaving her throat.
Mercedes shrugged. “No. But hey, what else is there to do?”
Together they walked down the highway, into the city skyline and into the green, the base of Mercedes’ skull thrumming louder and louder with each step.