The phone rang.
Melody opened her eyes, squinting against the bright sun shining through an open window. She stretched, shook her head and blinked heavily a few times, and plodded into the bedroom where the phone jangled insistently. Scattered images from the hallucination still worried her, and she tried in vain to let them go.
Silence on the other end of the line. Melody’s brow furrowed. Something didn’t feel right.
“Hello?” she said again, more insistently.
“It is you,” a male voice finally spoke. “It’s been a long time, my dear.”
“Goddammit, Mark,” she said. “What do you want?”
“What does anyone really want?” he said. “Someone who understands them, perhaps? Someone who believes in them?”
“Don’t do this, Mark. It’s over – it’s been over for a long time. I have to go–”
“You’ll be happy to know,” he interrupted her. “That I’ve met someone.”
“Congratu-fucking-lations.” Melody massaged the bridge of her nose with her free hand. Whatever relief had come from her meditation was swiftly negated. She could feel a headache building already. “When she figures out who you really are and dumps your ass, please please don’t come running back.”
“I’m disappointed, dear.” His voice oozed like slime over the phone. Melody felt dirty just speaking to him. But still he kept talking. “I thought you of all people would pleased for me.”
“I’m tired of this bullshit, Mark.” Melody was exasperated. “I’m hanging up the phone now.”
“A man rises from the earth,” Mark droned on, now sounding like he was quoting from some unfamiliar scripture. “And he says to the world: Join me, my flock, and I shall show you the light and the love and the glory never before known.”
“Don’t tell me you’ve found religion,” Melody sighed heavily. “You of all people–”
“But the flock rose against the shepherd, and the Shepherd grew angry,” Mark continued to monotone. “For his will was mighty, and his vengeance swift!” Mark finished with a flourish, as though he expected applause, or perhaps a hallelujah.
“This is a bit much coming from the guy who told me he was a god among men, and was above mortal judgment,” Melody said, cursing herself for rising to his bait.
“I am a god, Melody. But many gods walk this earth.” She could hear the smile in his voice, the wicked smile that she knew better than to trust. “I’ll see you soon.”
Melody exploded. “You son of a bitch! If you’ve been following me...” she hesitated, not entirely sure how to appropriately threaten him. “I’ll have you fucking arrested!” She slammed down the phone, nearly knocking it off her bedside table. Her pulse raced, her face was flushed with anger. She shouldn’t have let him get under her skin, she thought. She was embarrassed; she knew she had provided him some twisted satisfaction when she lost her temper.
And now she was late. Melody worked part-time at a veterinary hospital, after hours. Melody rushed out the door, bag swinging behind her, barely missing the bus as it pulled away from her stop. It wasn’t far, maybe 16 blocks, and so she ran – trying not to cry as her bag thumped uncomfortably on her shoulder. The winter sun was already low in the horizon, not so much setting as escaping, and the temperature was dropping rapidly. She stopped, breathless, on the steps outside the clinic. She pulled out her compact and made sure no stray tears had mussed her eyeliner, tried unsuccessfully to mash her now windblown hair back into place, and trudged up the stairs.
Her supervisor raised a curious eyebrow in her direction when she arrived, but thankfully left her alone. For the next four hours Melody was distracted, unable to focus. A wall of animal emotion hit her: hunger, loneliness, fear – her center was off, she was completely unbalanced, and the more she tried to reach out and calm the menagerie, the more it opened her up to the barrage of discomfort and displeasure the animals of the shelter were experiencing. Mark had rattled her far more than she wanted to admit.
The creatures under her care were restless; the cats fussed and scratched at her when she tried to bathe them, a beautiful golden lab refused to sit still as she tried to provide much-needed antibiotics. The dog jumped out of her arms and tore off down the hallway before one of the other lab assistants intervened and coaxed the dog back into a kennel. The dog paced and snuffled impatiently, glaring at Melody.
“I’ll get her later, okay?” the assistant offered graciously. “You look like you could use a break.”
Melody busied herself filing paperwork instead, angry that she was unable to pull herself together. Evening came, and by the end she’d managed to let little of the day’s stress go. She was walking out into the cold air when she realized she hadn’t eaten all day – her unplanned phone call had left her little time to grab lunch. There had been nothing in the break room but cold coffee and stale popcorn.