“Where do souls go when they die?” Muriel asked out of the blue; her eyes were focused on her plate in front of her, as she used a fork to pick apart a waffle soaked in maple syrup. They were in the dining room of the hotel, with employees bustling around them to clean up the uneaten leftovers from the buffet table, as the other patrons slowly trickled out. Aion looked at her and carefully gauged the question in his mind, but, before he could answer, she commented instead, “Continental breakfasts always sound more exciting than they actually are.”
“Eating them usually helps make them more exciting,” Aion replied, the empty dishes from his own meal still sitting in front of him – he hadn’t wasted any time in satiating his hunger, then had settled back into waiting for Muriel to finish playing with her food. He was the most patient man that she had ever met, because he didn’t look or sound the slightest bit annoyed; just amused.
“Why don’t you have a home?” Muriel asked, in one last effort to avoid eating, but the way Aion’s face never changed felt unbearably persuasive; it made her feel that they would be there until the end of time, waiting for her to consume something. A patient man, she decided, was not necessarily a good thing. Because Muriel wasn’t too keen on sitting there all day, she finally took her first bite.
“Because I’m not human, and didn’t possess this form until last night,” Aion spoke after Muriel had swallowed and taken another bite. She had waited too long; now, the waffle was soggy and cold. Next time, she would eat right away, since she was sure that her will wasn’t stronger than Aion’s – his face never changed, no matter what she did.
His words make her choke slightly, but, after she recovered, she rolled her eyes at him and sighed in exasperation, then said, in her brattiest know-it-all voice, “Then how do you have money?” For some reason she felt loopy, and wasn’t sure why she was acting that way, but Aion was at ease. Besides, she had the feeling that he couldn’t abandon her, and he was unlikely to react poorly, anyway.
“Law of Attraction.”
“What? That doesn’t even make sense,” Muriel scoffed.
Reaching into his pocket, Aion pulled out his wallet and opened it, flashing her with a large number of bills that all sported big numbers. “Makes perfect sense to me.”
Gasping slightly, Muriel’s eyes opened wide. “You’re kidding me! I thought that the Law of Attraction was silly New Age gobbledygook. It really works? Just like that?”
Shaking his head with a slight smile, Aion pocketed his wallet. “I tell you that I’m a non-human creature of Light, and the part that you don’t believe is the wad of cash that I’m carrying around.”
Scowling, Muriel huffed, “If you put it that way …” before stuffing a large bite of waffle into her mouth. Secretly she was glad that he was showing off, because it made him seem slightly more approachable. It was hard to know how to talk to someone who seemed to have mastered stoicism so completely.
“What’s my name?” he asked suddenly.
She looked at him blankly, then laughed softly to cover up the anxiety that had formed a lump in her throat. “I don’t remember.” She tried to sound casual, to make it seem normal that she didn’t know his name, even though that frightened her even more.
“What’s your name?” he asked instead.
“Muriel Gardner.” She leaned back and folded her arms, losing her appetite entirely. Her voice had an edge to it that she hadn’t fully intended, but she didn’t want him to keep asking her questions.
The man, however, was satisfied. “As long as you can remember who you are, then we’re okay.” That caught her even more off guard than the original question had. Even though she was trying to pretend that it was normal to not remember his name, she didn’t want him to go along with her. She wanted him to give her a reason to be defensive, to lose her self-control and sob over how broken her mind seemed to be. She wanted to cry. But instead, he was calmly watching her with unwavering eyes. Something in her face must have tipped him off on her thoughts though, because he slowly and carefully continued, “Do you know what happened last night?”
“It was cold.” Muriel shivered reflexively, remembering the moonlight on the frost and the darkness that enveloped her, so she rushed to finish, “Then I met you and we got a hotel room together.”
Somehow she knew that she had said the wrong thing. Even though his expression remind blank, the man stood up and said, “Come. We’re going to buy a notebook, and you’re going to write in it every day.”
“What for?” Muriel slowly followed him, trembling slightly. She was sure that she had done something wrong, and this was somehow going to be her punishment. Maybe he didn’t actually like her, and maybe he was only there because he had unsavory intentions for her. But he smiled, and Muriel found her heart calming down. She was being unreasonable, she decided, and she shouldn’t entertain such dark thoughts.
“For starters, you can put my name in it to help you remember,” Aion teased as he opened the door and waited for Muriel to walk through. His tone sounded friendly and a bit flirtatious, so Muriel stuck her tongue out at him as they walked down the hallway.
“And what else would I write?” she asked.
“Just journal. We need to know if you experience further soul loss … or worse.”
“What could be worse?”
“You’re susceptible now, and I swore that I would protect you.” Now he was being evasive, so Muriel stopped with a slight stomp of her foot.
“Give me a straight answer,” she demanded.
“Not until you’re capable of remembering it,” he replied.
“I do remember. My soul was taken,” Muriel whispered and looked down, her bottom lip quivering. “After …”
Aion was quick to press a finger against her trembling lips, stopping her from speaking. “That’s good enough. You’re returning to lucidity.”
“What is a Grim, and why did one attack me?” Muriel asked. She suddenly felt small and vulnerable, so she grabbed onto Aion’s arm for fear that a gust of wind would blow her away. She wasn’t sure if she existed anymore or if she lived in Aion’s imagination, and the only way to reassure herself was to feel his solid muscles in her hands. Remembering was too much for her to endure, and she wanted to forget again. She wanted to forget everything, even her own name, but at that moment it was too well established in her mind.
“They are hell-hounds – omens of death. They come from the underworld. I can’t tell you why one attacked you.”
“It wasn’t because …” A tear spilled from her eye and onto her cheek.
“No.” Aion put his hand over Muriel’s. “That made the damage worse, but the Grim being there had nothing to do with it.”
“Do you know everything about me?” Muriel rested her head against Aion’s arm. He felt good to touch, and she wanted to snuggle against him even more.
“Probably,” he replied.
“Are you my guardian angel?”
“I am now.” He wrapped both arms around her and patted her hair, and electric tingles shot through Muriel’s body. As long as he was there, she knew that she was safe.
“I know nothing about you,” she whispered into his chest.
“Do you remember my name?”
Muriel paused. “Aion.” She felt pleased with herself for remembering, and started to grin.
“That’s something that you know about me.” He smiled with her, then took her hand as they began walking back to their room again.
“What sort of name is it?” she asked.
“A big one,” he replied.
“It’s two syllables.”
“What does it mean?”
“We could look it up online.”
“You’re frustrating me!” Muriel hit him lightly on the shoulder and giggled slightly.
Aion winked as he said, “That was the idea.”