Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Hanged Man by Diana Castilleja


Titania gripped the knob of her closed dressing room door and took one more cursory look around before meeting her band onstage. Without warning, an undulating wave of anger and hatred slammed into her, and she staggered backward with a cried squeal of alarm.


Her first terrified thought was that someone had discovered her, and she yanked in her mental barriers to block the waves of emotion. She forced air in and out of her lungs. Bowing her head, she let her eyes drift closed as the onslaught continued without mercy. Sparks scattered in front of her vision as she stilled, completely frozen, and fought for control. She concentrated, forming a solid wall between herself and whoever was out there. She knew without a doubt it was a man, close, at the bar by the stage. It took work to be able to breathe normally, keeping the pressure of his emotions at bay.


He had come to kill; she knew that with a certainty that chilled her to the quick. His hatred pulsed, feeling thick around her. There was a tang of insolence in his hatred, a sense of omnipotence. She studied the waves, unraveling them, and found…emptiness. A dark chasm where his soul had once been.


She shuddered with a convulsive shake, ripping her thoughts back to her own mind. Her eyes snapped open, her entire being feeling colder than she'd ever felt in her life. Her arms wrapped around her body, and she rubbed herself in reaction. She took a deep breath, feeling relief blossom inside her when she focused and found herself still ensconced in her dressing room.
She had touched death and was still living.


She jumped a foot seconds later when a knock echoed through her door. "Tani! Hey, come on. The natives are getting restless."


"Coming," she shouted through the door. She swallowed down the quake that dared to grip her. She pictured the strongest walls, the thickest barriers she could imagine, adding a prayer for strength before she reached for the door again. It was going to be hard to do her show with him in the audience.


Laney, her backup singer, stood right outside when she found the strength to come out of her sanctuary.


"You feel him too, don't you?" Laney asked, taking one look at Titania's taut features, and then casting a furtive glance to the darkened stage.


"How could I miss him?" Titania shuddered again. "Cold, so cold." She stood staring at nothing, but feeling everything. Like a cold hand had found her, gripped her and wouldn't release her.


"Hey, if you can't get on the stage, don't make yourself sick over this." Laney looked backward over her shoulder and called out to her husband.


Houston put an arm around Laney immediately, taking in their drawn faces in a glance. "You two going to be all right?"


"I have to do something about this," Titania told them, feeling the man's intent and knowing she had no other choice.


"You're kidding, right?" Laney's green eyes grew. "You'll pass out trying to fix this. I don't think you can reach this one. Even I can feel him, Titania," she breathed. "Easily."


"I have to try. Someone is going to die tonight. I know it. That's why he's here. I have to try," she repeated, imploring her friends for their support.


Houston passed a hand over his hair, watching Titania. His shoulders tightened in indecision. Both she and Laney were pale and wide-eyed, feeling the absolute desolation of the man in the crowd. Titania could tell even Houston sensed a touch of overflow from the guy lying in wait, and he had nothing but his natural instincts to go on. Houston's watchful gaze kept moving out to the darkened stage then flickering back over the girls with decided concern. That was all the sign she needed to know Houston knew he was out there too.


"All right," he murmured with hesitant approval. "Do your thing. I know you would without our blessing simply because he needs it."


Titania's eyes unfocused as a shiver tore over her frame with little warning. "He's not the only one. Someone else… He just got here. So much hate," she whispered, her voice sounding far away, even to her own ears. Her vision shot up to them, a new chill sliding up her spine.
"Whatever happens tonight, you two stay safe."


Laney gripped Titania's arm. "What are you talking about? You've never given us a warning."

"I've never felt this before." Titania's head swiveled in slow motion to the darkened stage. "It's only between them," she said with a small touch of relief. She swung back around, her gaze unrelenting. No matter what her night brought, she'd make sure her friends weren't caught in the middle between the two men whom she could feel so easily. "I mean it. When this is over, get everyone out of here. We'll meet at the hotel tomorrow afternoon."


"Is the party here, or onstage?" David, their drummer, joked as he sauntered up to the trio. He caught Titania's expression and stuttered to a stop next to them. "Oh, Lord. How bad is it?"
"It's bad," Houston said. "Two sets, no encores."


"Gotcha." He made a pistol out of his fingers, clicking his tongue at Houston. "Don't worry, Tani. We got your back. We also know you can't help yourself either," he told her in an understanding, brotherly voice.


"Thanks, guys." She took a steadying breath. Her arms fell to her sides, having forgotten they were wrapped around her body. "I'll be fine. There's always someone out there. He's just very angry tonight."


Houston leaned over and kissed her forehead. "And you're an angel in disguise. Just be careful," he warned her, his brown gaze assessing with his warning. She nodded, knowing how far she could push after years of being in the public's eye.


Her smile was weak but heartfelt as the men flanked the women to take their places on the pitch black stage. Justin was already onstage, swinging his guitar onto his shoulder. He nodded once as David spoke to him, climbing onto the dais where his drums were.

Titania took a long, deep breath. She heard Houston start the count and felt herself relax, felt the first chords reach her as his music always could. The welcoming cheer made her smile. Houston was incredible on the guitar, a born talent.

Before she could have second thoughts, she began to sing and did what came naturally, her gift flowing from her in waves, and prayed she could save the one who had been targeted.
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