Scarlett slowly pulled the mascara wand through her eyelashes.
Scarlett slowly pulled the mascara wand through her eyelashes. She was careful not to get any of the makeup on her skin and to not leave any clumps. She meticulously repeated the process on her other eye before examining her reflection to make sure that the amount of mascara was even on both eyes.
Satisfied, Scarlett gave herself a cursory once over. Her face looked different than she remembered. Her eyes no longer seemed to have that dead look in them that caused people to avoid eye contact at all costs. It made her face looked softer, younger. Her dark blue eyes once again were discernible as blue instead of black. Somehow that seemed to make the rest of her features more prominent in a good way. She didn’t mind, she was happier this way.
Turning away from her reflection, she instead chose to change into the dirndl that she had carefully laid out on the sofa beside her bed the night before. It was her work uniform, and surprisingly more comfortable than she had originally thought. The best part was that her employers had insisted, actually insisted, that she wear hiking boots with her dirndl. It didn’t matter that she was on her feet all day, when her shoes were made for the mountains that surrounded her. They certainly would be better than a stupid pair of heels.
Grabbing her phone, she stuffed it into her apron pocket before grabbing her keys. Leaving her small house, she walked down the streets of Hallstatt. She was one of the few people that lived in the small town year round. It was a town that attracted tourists, so most people only lived there during the tourist season when there were jobs.
Walking down the street, she listened to people talk to each other in different languages. She could recognize most, and even get by with a few cursory phrases if asked, but there really was no reason to advertise this skill. When she had first moved to the small Austrian town, she had thought that her German would need to be fluent. She had stressed over it for ages, not wanting to be singled out as someone who was an outsider. When she was finally confident that she wouldn’t make a fool of herself, she found that nobody in the small town spoke German on a regular basis. In fact, everybody was speaking English, or some other foreign language. She had never heard so many languages in one place except for in San Francisco.
When she interviewed for her job in the small café, her future employer had asked her to list all the languages that she could speak. She had started with German, thinking that was what the woman would want to hear. It obviously wasn’t, judging by her unimpressed face. Scarlett had hurried to list English, French and being passable Spanish. That was what had eventually gotten her the job. The fact that she spoke four languages and promised to study Mandarin in her free time, and not her experience as a café waitress.
Arriving at the café, she smiled at her coworkers. It was only slightly ironic, she thought, that they were in Austria and none of them spoke German. They had come to Hallstatt for jobs during the tourist season, but lived in Romania and Hungary the rest of the year. Scarlett didn’t care as they both spoke English fluently.
Despite the fact that she spoke to her coworkers and was friendly with them, she was careful not to reveal too much about herself. Instead, she deflected their questions, knowing that there could be extreme consequences if they ever found out about her past life. The fact of the matter was that she did not want to speak about her past and dredge up all the memories that she had worked so hard to suppress. Her coworkers didn’t seem to mind that much; they had asked a few basic questions, and when she had refused to answer, they had moved on to asking about the present instead of the past. Scarlett could understand why, not many people could afford to live in Hallstatt, so she was definitely an anomaly.
Putting on her best smile, Scarlett walked over to one of her tables, where a single customer sat with the menu carefully obscuring his face. The hair on her arms began to stand on end and a pit began to form in her stomach. She just knew that he was bad news, and just from her body’s reaction, she could guess who he was.
“Hello, Alexander. May I ask what you are doing here?”
“My dear Scarlett, I’m here to retrieve you of course. Your country is calling on your unique skill set once again. I was sent to fetch you.”
“Oh? So you’re the good little monster, following your master’s every order?”
Alexander tilted his head slightly, a contemplative look on his face. Scarlett knew that look. It meant that he was going to go for the jugular with his next remark. “At least I recognize that I’m a monster. You didn’t seem to realize you were a monster until after you set off the chain of events that ended with the murder of twenty-seven children.”
Scarlett flushed, and her mind helpfully supplied the screams of said children. Alexander was correct that her actions had lead to their deaths, but she had long since realized that their deaths were at the hands of the people chasing her and not her own. Yes, they wouldn’t have died if she hadn’t been stupid enough to hide in what she had originally thought was an abandoned orphanage, but they had not died by her hands, and that had to count for something.
“What do you want, Alexander? I do have a job to get back to, you know.”
“I already told you. Your country is requesting your unique skill set. It’s time to stop playing waitress. And what’s with calling me Alexander? You used to call me Z.”
“If you haven’t noticed, I got a new job after I quit the old one. If you’re so worried about our country, you can do the job. I seem to remember you having your own unique skill set.”
Scarlett walked away, despite Alexander’s call that one simply couldn’t ignore a call to duty. She had very little time to get ready to run. They had found her, which meant that she needed to leave, and quick.
The beauty of living in a crowded tourist town was that almost every woman was wearing a dirndl as to immerse themselves in the native culture. It was pretty stupid in her opinion, as Austrians didn’t normally walk around in dirndls unless they were living in the mountains or working in a gasthous. That said, it worked out in her favor, as she was able to blend in with all the tourists.
She didn’t really know where to go because Alexander had no doubt sent someone to wait at her house. It was a good thing that she had hidden a backpack full of essentials in the cafe. She had known that she may have to make a quick escape one day, and had planned ahead. She simply could not go back to the life that she had had before. She wouldn’t make it out again, and if she did, she certainly wouldn’t recognize herself.
Somehow, she ended up at St. Michael’s Chapel, leaning over the cliffside railing and studying the scenery around her. It was not a very good hiding place, and if Scarlett were to deeply analyze her motives for coming here, it would probably have something to do with the morbidity of the place. Or perhaps she was just sick of running no matter what the logical part of her brain was screaming. If she had truly wanted to run, she would have gone to the salt mine. The dark twisting passages would have given her the cover to escape.
“I always wondered how this specific chapel became such a tourist attraction.”
Scarlett wasn’t even surprised by Alexander’s sudden appearance next to her. She had been expecting him to find her. She was, however, glad that he was alone. She didn’t need some government hack to witness this conversation.
Her lack of reply seemed to spur Alexander to keep talking. “You know this place is called the Beinhous, or for the non-German speakers, the Bone House.”
“I live here. I’m not sure why you are telling me something I already know.”
Alexander continued on, as if she hadn’t spoken. It was one of his more annoying qualities. He had a lot of those. “I always wondered what they were thinking when they dug up all the bodies. Why not just throw them in the lake or something? Instead they paint the skulls and it becomes a tourist attraction hundreds of years later.”
“Maybe they were afraid.”
They both knew that Scarlett wasn’t talking about the painted skeletons. “Was it fear though, or maybe something else?”
Scarlett stared at the scenery surrounding her. It was so peaceful here. Almost too peaceful. It had been like a dream to escape and live there but how much longer could the dream last? After all, everyone had to wake up at some point.
“Why are you really here, Alexander?”
“Is it so hard to believe that I’m simply doing what I’m told?”
“You never have before.”
Alexander quirked a small smile at that. Scarlett studied him as he was leaning against the railing, wind ruffling his hair gently. It was hard to believe that he was so dangerous when he looked like a college kid who was traveling across Europe on a break. She would know, she had met plenty of those kids.
Alexander made eye contact with him. It was intense, and Scarlett could feel some of her old feelings for him stirring. “Maybe I just missed you.”
Scarlett thought that she hid her surprise fairly well. It could only be seen through her eyes widening momentarily. Normally, Alexander would spot her reaction easily. This time, however, he was too busy looking out over the water, a faint blush dusting over his cheekbones.
Scarlett startled when he added, “You ran away from me.”
“I didn't. I ran away from the things that I was being forced to do. I didn’t want to become a different person.”
“News flash: it’s too late for that. You’re a completely different person from the girl that I met the first day of training. You don’t become one of the best Black Ops operators without changing, Scarlett. I’m a completely different person too, the only difference is that I’m not running.”
“Well maybe you enjoy what they force you to do then. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t want to lose what was left of my humanity.”
“You think I enjoy it? That I don’t want to run away sometimes? I do. And you can’t lose your humanity if you refuse to let it go.”
Scarlett rolled her eyes, which made Alexander force her to face him. Images flashed in her mind of all the different ways that she could break his arm and incapacitate him. He must have seen something in her eyes because he let go of her arm and raised his hands in surrender. “You’re smart Scarlett. Did you really think that there would be no consequences to you running away?”
Scarlett jutted her chin out. Truth was, that she had been too busy plotting her escape at the time to think of consequences. She just knew that she could never be caught. It had taken a few years, but she had been caught, and now she had to face the consequences.
Her lack of answer must have been all the answer that Alexander needed. “Jesus, Letti. My orders are to take you in or to kill you. And before you smart off and say that I should kill you or maybe run away with you, you should know that they are training kids to replace us. Do you really want to burden two kids with what we do?”
Hearing his old nickname threw her off momentarily, but she tried to not let it show. “They know what they are getting into.”
“Do they really? Did we? They’re actual kids this time, Letti. Not dumb teenagers.”
Scarlett hated that he was right. They hadn’t known what they were getting into, and from the sounds of it, they were a few years older than the current recruits. When the training started, Scarlett had been under the mistaken impression that they were going to play spy and it had spiraled out of her control from there. Before she had known it, she was being sent on missions to kill people that were considered enemies of the state. Those poor kids wouldn’t know what hit them. They wouldn’t be able to tell when they stopped doing good and when they started doing evil.
Alexander sighed. “Look Letti. There’s no good solution to this. You either sacrifice yourself, or you spend the rest of your life on the run from a group with unlimited resources. You’ll never be free. And those kids will be sent to kill you.”
“I’ll be dead. I won’t be able to kill you Letti. We both know that. And I won’t be able to run away with you either. I’ll go home and eventually they will kill me when my guard is down.”
“Z... I don’t know what you want me to do.”
“I want you to come home.”
Scarlett closed her eyes and leaned harder against the railing. Alexander let her stand in silence, let her think. She didn’t know what the right thing to do was in this case. There was no right thing. Only two bad choices. One option was better for her. The other option was better for everyone else involved. Which option should she choose?
She looked at Z, opened her mouth, to say what, she wasn't exactly sure, when something hit the back of her head and her vision began to fade. The last thing that she saw was Z's face briefly flashing something akin to sorrow before it once again became carefully blank, and she knew with the utmost of certainty that she should have run while she had the chance.