The First Step

This short story takes place in the world I created for my 2012 Nanowrimo novel, There’s No Place Like Hell. The novel is still unfinished, but this short story uses the main character, Kit, and would take place between the first and second book of this series. I do hope to write Kit’s books someday, but there’s a bigger plot involved that hasn’t completely revealed itself to me yet. I have other projects to finish up before Kit gets her turn, but when the Confabulator Cafe was assigned the “three steps to world peace” prompt, Kit raised her rifle and told me this story needed to be about her. How could I refuse?

Once upon a time, there were three steps to world peace. In the end, only the first one mattered.

Kit checked her weapon for the hundredth time. The damn thing was still jammed, of course. She still carried it for show, although it was useless as far as a projectile weapon. But it was a rifle, so it was useful as a blunt force weapon if nothing else. And it kept her from looking helpless.

She snorted. Nobody would ever mistake her as helpless. Not with the mercenary reputation she had built for herself.

She hefted the rifle, debating. She was going to have to run. The rifle was bulky. It would slow her down, so she would have to ditch it. She had a smaller handgun—not nearly as much power, nor nearly as much ammunition for it—and a collection of various sharp things. She was anticipating trouble, whether it came down on her between her shelter and the building up ahead, or within the building itself.

The target was inside, and would more than likely be well protected.

First step to world peace: eliminate the opposition. At least, that’s what she thought it had been. Roland had given her a list, told her to kill these people, and they would be well on their way to the next step.

She never found out what the next two steps were, because all Hell had broken loose. Literally, in this case.

“My bad,” she muttered. Although, in her defense, she had been sent to Hell in Roland’s place to begin with. She had just unintentionally brought it back with her when she escaped. A whole other story, though, she thought, shaking her head and trying to regain her focus.

She ducked low, skirting the shadows as much as she could. The world was always in darkness now. Fires and darkness. Just like Hell. Or parts of Hell, anyway. But the target had mounted giant searchlights on his building. It was smart, really. Creatures from Hell, many of them, hated the light and would stay away.

Kit would not, however. She was still human. Mostly anyway. She wasn’t really sure what she was anymore.

Best not to think of it. Best not to think too much at all.

She lobbed a grenade into one of the windows above her. Most of them were boarded shut, but she had had her inside man leave this one slightly ajar for her. She hoped the inside man had made it out.

She took off running, heedless of cover, and dove behind a truncated bit of wall several feet away. The grenade went off, the building rocked on its foundation, and people came streaming out. She sighted her handgun on the frightened people.

No sign of her target.

She cursed silently. Had he been expecting her? It was no secret, really, who her targets would be. He would have been next on the list if anyone gave it a some thought.

Her senses tingled and she whirled around, right into the barrel of a shotgun that was leveled at her face.

“Looking for me, Kit?”

The man himself. He’d gotten the drop on her. He smirked down at her as she splayed her arms out to either side.


“Hello, Erik. You know, I was in the neighborhood. Thought I’d drop by and say hello, for old times’ sake.”

The man above her sneered. “I should take your fucking head off right now.” He cocked the shotgun, still keeping it leveled at her face.

“You could, but then you’d never know the truth.”

He snorted, but lowered his gun a fraction. “The truth is pretty obvious, don’t you think?” He gestured with one hand at their surroundings.

“Seems obvious. More complicated than you’d think, though.” She let her shoulders slump.

He brought his gun up again as she shifted her weight. “Why don’t you drop that gun and keep those hands where I can see them.”

He may have been pretending to have the situation well in hand, but he still feared her. He was right to. She had fought her way through Hell. She may not have the same body, but Hell had changed her. And she had had a lot of practice killing in this new body since she had come back. She was fast, and he wasn’t sure if he could shoot her before she could shoot him.

She set the gun down slowly and raised her hands. Not much. She could still grab it and shoot. Maybe not in time, but she’d take the bastard with her, at least.

He was curious, though. Rumors abounded. They all wanted to know what was going on. Of course, she didn’t really know any better than anyone else—the battle was between Heaven and Hell and Earth was the battlefield—but she had seen some things, heard some things. She had the general picture in her mind.

And her own agenda, of course.

Step one, eliminate the opposition.

“I’d never trust a word out of your mouth. You’re a lying sack of shit, and I know you’re here to kill me. Did Roland send you?”

She was starting to get a cramp in her leg from her crouch. Fuck this. She needed to get the situation back under control.

“Of course Roland sent me. What did you expect? You betrayed him, after all.”

True to form, she was, in fact, lying. Roland was her puppet now. She made it look like he was calling the shots, but he had been out of the game since her little trip to Hell. Fifteen years later, she’d forced him back into his boss suit.

But he was not the boss anymore.

Not that she’d ever admit she was in charge. But she had people that followed her now. People who relied on her. And Roland made up for where she lacked in charisma, and was happy to be the one calling the shots, even if she told him what shots to call.

Kit could see that Erik was starting to sweat. It was hot. The shotgun was heavy. And Erik wasn’t as young as he used to be. He was middle-aged and had gotten out of the business, just as Roland had.

But that was the interesting thing about the apocalypse. Most people had gotten back into business. And most of those people were in her way.

Step one was to eliminate the opposition. Nothing else mattered anymore.

“It wasn’t personal. He went batshit after you died.” The man grimaced. It had taken awhile for people to believe it was her in this body, but it was generally accepted now, and seemed to cause a great deal of anxiety. “I wasn’t the only one by far.”

She knew. Of course she knew. She bared her teeth at him in a menacing smile. “Sure, sure, of course you weren’t the only one.” She had been hunting each and every one of them down, after all.

He flinched as she shifted her weight. The muscles in her legs were burning, but, she had suffered fifteen years frozen in the Ninth Circle of Hell. She could withstand a little discomfort, so she stilled.

The man was jumpy, and if he flinched with his finger on the trigger, no more face for Kit, borrowed body or not. It’d be back to the Ninth Circle, and she’d have to start all over again, trying to escape. She’d heard it had gotten worse down there. And she’d sent a lot of people there since she’d gotten back.

She had to dispatch of Erik quickly, then, before he decided he didn’t want to talk anymore, or killed her by accident.

“Look, Erik, I know you and Roland have had your differences, but I’m willing to deal. I could use another ally.” Play to his asshole side. Make it seem like she was a victim at Roland’s mercy—a hired gun, like she used to be.

“Fuck, Kit, Roland would kill us both. I mean, I’m willing to let bygones be bygones, but I know Roland. He’d send someone after us.”

“You forget, though. I’m the one he sends. Let me join your side, you not only gain a huge asset, you take one of his away.”

Erik was casting nervous glances around them. He wasn’t used to being exposed in the Hell-blighted landscape. He was far away from his giant searchlights.

She wasn’t sure if he was buying her load of demon shit or not. He looked tempted, though.

“There’s no way in Hell on Earth I’d ever be able to trust you,” he finally grunted. He wanted to. She could see it. But he was afraid of more than just her. He was afraid of Roland, too. “But maybe Roland is willing to deal? I’d rather be his ally than his enemy,” he said softly.

Ok, sure, she could play it that way. She paused long enough to make it look like she was mulling that one over. “Shit, it’s worth a shot, I suppose. He has changed. I could talk to him.” She relaxed her arms, trying to make herself look as nonthreatening as possible. Her hand brushed her boot, where she kept a length of steel that had been sharpened to a point.

“Would you? I have assets I’d be willing to share. I’ll negotiate. I’ll give up names and locations if he gives me protection.”

She resisted another feral grin. They knew all the names and locations already. The man was redundant. And a liability.

She shrugged. “I can ask. No harm in that. Means you get to live another day, at any rate.” She grinned up at him.

He snorted. “I’ve had you this whole time.”

Let him feel superior. She gave him a chagrined smile. “You know I’d never admit to that.” It’s something the old Kit would have said. Play on his nostalgia a bit.

He smiled at that and lowered his gun.

And she leapt up, makeshift knife pointed outward, using reflexed honed by being a bodyguard, an assassin, and a crusader against the demons of Hell themselves.

Blood oozed around Kit’s hand. Most of it Erik’s. Some of it hers. The shank’s handle had worn through, and her palm burned. Erik slumped to the ground, a surprised look still on his face. He tried to speak, but a blood bubble popped on his lips, and he went still.

“It never would have worked, you know. There are no bygones.”

She glanced over her shoulder, making sure nobody else had noticed their exchange. In the distance, she could see glowing eyes, watching her.

She reached down and picked up Erik’s shotgun. Son of a bitch. It wasn’t even loaded. Her shoulders slumped. Had she miscalculated?

No, he had stood against them. Had forced their hand. It had to be this way.

The first step to getting peace back on Earth was to eliminate the opposition. Three steps? Forget three steps. Only the first one mattered.

Sara is a Kansas-grown author of the fantasy and horror persuasions. She is convinced that fantastical things are waiting for her just around the corner, and until she finds the right corner, she writes about those things instead.

1 Trackback

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.