They had first met at a coffee shop on a Tuesday morning. Sam was sitting at the table in the corner looking at her phone and sipping a latte when she suddenly felt eyes on her. She looked up slowly and saw a handsome man with slicked-back hair, his hands in his pockets, his eyes smiling, and his mouth with a barely visible smirk.

Sam adjusted her ponytail, even though she didn’t really need to. She pretended like she wasn’t noticing him walking toward her. He stopped next to her table and took a hand out of his pocket and gestured at the empty chair across from her, keeping one hand in the pocket of his black slacks.

“May I join you?” Sam then realized that it was Stephan Miles. His family practically owned the city. His father was the Mayor, so he worked with him. She wasn’t sure what his title was, but he had that look that emanated importance.  She wondered why he wanted to sit with her.

Sam nodded and smiled weakly, trying to not blush, even though she knew there was really no way to prevent it. He pulled out the chair and sat down gracefully, unbuttoning his suit jacket with the flick of his fingers. He stretched his hand across the table, offering a handshake.

“Hello, I am Stephan Miles.” His white teeth glowed as he grinned with his mouth slightly open. Sam had seen him on the local news before, in a fourth of July parade, and around town. He was known as the handsome son of the mayor. Sam had thought that Stephan Miles had a fake kind of politician-style handsome. But in person she saw that what she thought was a fake tan, was actually smooth, olive-colored skin. The grease in his hair slightly failed to keep the waves straight and she could see tiny curls at the nape of his neck. His long eyelashes nearly touched his thick eyebrows, framing his dark round eyes. His sharp jawbone and dramatic angular nose balanced perfectly with the softness of his stare.

“I’m Samantha Hyde.” She never introduced herself as Samantha. It was usually just “Sam.”

“I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m asking to join you. No, I’m not hitting on you. Actually I’m planning on running for office in the next couple years. Over the next year I just want to take my time and get to know people in the community a little better. We’re always hiding away in our office and don’t often get to know the people of this city that I love so much.”

“Oh, ok, well, I…uh…think that’s great.” Sam stammered nervously. She looked around and wondered why he didn’t sit with the elderly couple on the patio or the young woman letting her coffee get cold while she tended happily to her baby.

“So Samantha, you must be a student.” Stephan said, looking down at the book bag overflowing with textbooks on the ground.

“Yes I’m going to the city college here in town. Just taking a few classes while I work. “

“I see, and what are you studying?” Stephan sounded interested.

“Psychology. But I’m not sure if I might go into Law…I’m just kind of debating currently. I might change my mind. I was thinking about minoring in Physics, which I’ve oddly always loved…” Sam realized she had started rambling. She took a sip of her latte and faked a smile. She wished he would move on to the next person. She felt like she was being interviewed.

“This really doesn’t need to feel like a job interview, Sam. Can I call you Sam?” Stephan laughed and began to take off his jacket. He casually put it over the back of the chair.

Sam chuckled politely and said “Of course. Most people do.” She started to relax a little and was surprised when Stephan unbuttoned the cuffs of his white, freshly pressed shirt and rolled them up to his elbows revealing various tattoos covering both arms up to his wrists. They looked tribal at a glance, but Sam tried not to stare. She wondered why he was getting so comfortable. But in a way she was also glad that he was. She felt herself beginning to be both charmed and intrigued.

“Don’t worry I’m not gonna stay long. I just need to sit down and rest before I go to my next location. I was going to stop by the youth center and maybe shoot some hoops. Luckily they have an indoor basketball court.” Stephan looked over at the window. The trees leaned over in the gusting wind and people walked by clutching their coats and wincing.

Sam nodded and looked out the same window. “It’s too bad it’s been kind of wretched weather lately, huh?”

Stephan shook his head. “It sure has.” He turned toward Sam and his smile disappeared for the first time since they met. “I’m sure you’ve heard about the hurricane warning. Hopefully, you have some preparations.”
Sam nodded, “oh yes, of course.” She reassured him.

Then she shrugged.“It’s just so hit or miss, I mean, literally. There’s been so many warnings in the past, then nothing. So I just hope this one will be a miss.” Sam smiled at Stephan and was taken aback when he didn’t smile back.

“Yes, I think this one will be a miss.” His look suddenly became distant and he looked back out the window at the trees pulsing with the gusts of wind. “They should all be misses.”

“I guess Mother Nature is just doing her thing though, right?” Sam wanted to lighten the mood.

Stephan jerked his head back to her and their eyes locked and a smile slowly spread across his face and his eyes softened.

“It’s just Mother Nature? If it were only that simple!” Stephan laughed genuinely and looked admiringly at Sam as he began to roll his sleeves back down and button up his cuffs.

“So Sam, you study Psychology, maybe Law, maybe Physics. You’ve quite the quest for knowledge now,  don’t you?” Sam wasn’t sure if she was supposed to answer, so she just nodded slightly.

Stephan continued. “Is your job as intellectually stimulating as your educational endeavors?”

Sam chuckled softly. “I wish. No, I just work at the reception desk at a Law firm. So mostly I have to get coffee and make copies and make appointments. But that’s what’s gotten me to think about Law because since I’ve started working there, I started studying it, you know, just on my own.’

Stephan looked pleased with her answer then asked feigning disbelief, “So you just like to study, on your own, for fun?”

Sam laughed, “Yeah I know it’s weird. I’ve always been like that. It’s just always been fun, to me,  to learn things.”

“It’s not weird,” Stephan said, his tone suddenly serious, “it’s how you’re supposed to be.”

Stephan sat up and scooted his chair out like he was going to get up. “You’re a very special person, Sam.”

Sam smiled stiffly and felt her face getting hot. Stephan reached into his back pocket and took out his wallet. “I’d like to see you again sometime.” He handed her his card. Sam took it and looked at it. She avoided his eyes and clenched her jaw nervously, waiting for him to say more.

He picked up his jacket off the back of the chair with the sweep of his hand and smoothly spun it around, putting it on. He extended his hand, leaned down slightly toward Sam and lowering his voice he said, “Ok, now I am hitting on you.”

Sam felt her heart jump and she took his hand shyly and shook it, giddy inside.

“It was very nice to meet you, Samantha Hyde.” Then he sauntered out looking back at Sam before going out the door and winking at her.

Sam sat at the coffee house for twenty minutes longer, and although she had her book open, she just stared at the same page the whole time. Replaying what happened in her mind, wondering to herself about when would be the most appropriate time to call him. She fretted about how she would word her first call. She decided she would call tomorrow evening and see if he could meet for dinner that weekend.

*                                               *                                                               *

Sam tried to control her breathing as she listened to the phone ringing, waiting to see if Stephan would pick up or if it would go to voicemail. She was hoping for voicemail and had rehearsed in her head what she was going to say.

“Hello, this is Stephan Miles,” it almost didn’t sound like the man she had just met yesterday, he sounded so official.

“oh…uh.. hi…this is…” Sam began nervously.

“Sam!” he cried happily. “I’m so glad you phoned! I was hoping you would.”

Sam sighed and felt at more at ease, although noticed her heart rate accelerating. She never knew what to say to him. He intimidated her.

“Yeah…thanks.” Sam giggled. There was a pause.

“Come over,” Stephan said. Another pause. Sam waited for him to say more and when he didn’t she stammered back, “Umm, what? Come over?”

“Yes, come over to my house. I live in a beautiful house in the mountains.” Stephan sounded excited, like a little boy getting ready for a sleepover. But he may have felt Sam frowning and feeling unsure, through the phone.

“Sam,” Stephan said softly. “If I go out in public, I get hassled a lot; I have to schmooze with people. I have a personal chef here, we can just have dinner like we would at a restaurant. I just want to have some privacy. Just so we can talk without interruption. You understand don’t you?”

“Yes, of course,” Sam said. Even though she felt nervous, she was pretty sure it was an excited nervousness.

“That makes sense. You’re a celebrity.” Sam regretted saying that. She second-guessed everything she said around him. She wondered why she even bothered if it made her so uncomfortable. Maybe because she couldn’t stop thinking about how his curls might look without the grease, she couldn’t stop wondering what his other tattoos looked like under his shirt. She was drawn to him.

Stephan laughed, although it sounded a little forced. “Sam, I may be a little bit of a celebrity but I guarantee you are smarter than me. So do you have a pen and some paper? Write down my address, I’ll inform my security that you’re coming. And please, drive safe, the wind is still ferocious out there. And when you arrive, we shall eat anything your heart desires.”

Sam smiled in disbelief and wondered what made him like her. She never felt particularly attractive. She knew she had her moments, in general, some guys looked twice at her, but most didn’t.

*                                                             *                                                             *

Sam squinted and leaned on the steering wheel as she strained to see the road through the darkness. Stephan’s house was high up in the mountains and his address took her to a windy, dirt road surrounded by trees flapping violently. The wind had gotten worse.

Sam was relieved when she saw a gated mansion in a little clearing, nestled amongst giant, tree-covered mountains. There was a man in a uniform at a toll booth and gate entrance and as she got closer and slowed down, the gate opened and the man casually waved her through, looking intensely at Sam. Sam smiled at him and waved. He kept staring at her and ever so slightly nodded an acknowledgment.

Sam shrugged to herself and kept driving. The driveway stretched up to the front of the house. There was a man standing in the middle of the entrance stairs and as Sam got closer, she saw that it was Stephan. He waved, again with that childish energy that Sam heard on the phone. She laughed to herself as she parked. She got out slowly since she was wearing heels and wasn’t all that used to them. As she closed the door of her car, she heard Stephan approaching.

“Wow! Sam, you look beautiful.” He took Sam’s hand, for what Sam thought would be a handshake, and kissed it gently.

Sam thought that he might be in more casual clothes, but he still wore a suit. This was a different suit from the coffee shop but still a nice, expensive, tattoo-covering suit. His hair was slicked, his shoes were shiny and he smelled slightly of cologne.

Sam wore a new dress that she wouldn’t want to admit that she bought earlier that day, especially for this occasion. It was one of those fashionable dresses with the right amount of sexy and the right amount of classy. It had a little cleavage and long sleeves. It fell a little over her knees and accentuated her natural hourglass shape. Sam thought it might be the prettiest she’s ever felt.

“Come,” Stephan said kindly and offered his arm to escort Sam inside.

Sam curled her hand around his arm and followed his lead, thankful for the help in balance as she tried to hide her discomfort of her heels.

Stephan led her through the marble entryway, past the grand spiral staircase, the grandfather clock, and the huge, crystal chandelier. They walked into a foyer where an elegant dinner setting was presented on a table for two, next to a window that overlooked a garden of flowers. Candles were lit, champagne was in a bucket of ice on the table. Sam felt like she was in a dream. Stephan went over to one of the tables and pulled out a chair and smiled at Sam.

Sam sat down as he pushed the chair in and asked, “Would you like some champagne?”

“Yes, please,” Sam said watching Stephan begin to open the bottle. Then she looked around the room. There were paintings on the walls; they seemed to be some kind of tribal art. Stephan poured some champagne in each of their glasses, unbuttoned his coat and put it on the back of the chair before sitting down, just like he had done in the coffee shop. He lifted his champagne glass and looked at Sam expectantly.

“Cheers.” He said sweetly and they clinked their glasses. His eyes never left Sam as he sipped.

“Mmmmm,” Sam said, licking her lips, “This champagne is delicious.”

“I’m glad you like it,” Stephan said smiling warmly at her.

“Your garden is so beautiful,” Sam said looking out the window at all the flowers dancing in the wind. “I hope the wind doesn’t hurt your flowers too much.”

Stephan frowned and looked down at the flowers. “I know the wind is out of control.”

He continued to look out the window but his eyes wandered up to the sky. His eyes studied the clouds as they moved quickly across the horizon.

Sam had moved her attention back to Stephan. She looked at the smoothness of his face. It looked like he had just shaved. She took another sip of her champagne, as Stephan cleared his throat and shifted his body in. He leaned across the table, toward Sam. They looked at each other and Stephan took a deep breath in.

“It feels good to have you here,” Stephan said bluntly. He gave her a tightened smile as he watched her fidget and blush under his stare.

“I’m glad I’m here too.” Sam barely said out loud. She looked down at her hands and started picking at one of her nails nervously.

“So how are your studies going, Sam?” Stephan leaned back in his chair and took another sip of his champagne.

“Oh, you know, they’re going great. Same old, same old.” She said shrugging.

“ I have a present for you.” Stephan got up quickly and left the room. He returned with a small, skinny, silver box. “I ended up going to the Farmer’s Market yesterday and in between talking far too much, I did a little shopping. I saw something, and thought of you.”

“What? Really?” Sam said with a confused smile. Stephan sat down and waited for her to open it. Sam lifted the lid and inside was a silver necklace with a seashell on it. The small, conch shell with its intricate spiral, shimmered. Although Sam thought it was a little soon to be buying presents for each other, she was touched. She held the shell in her hand and examined the details and colors as she tilted it against the candlelight.

“It’s beautiful,” she said finally. “Thank you.”

Stephan then got up and gently took the necklace from her and stood behind her chair. Sam held up her hair to allow him to put the necklace on her. He clicked it on and went back to his seat, proudly. Sam let her hair fall to her shoulders and looked down at the shell that sat a little above her cleavage. She wondered briefly why it made him think of her.

“It looks beautiful on you. It really suits you.” He stared at the necklace. They sat for a moment in silence, the trees bumping at the house, from the wind.

Stephan picked up a silver bell that sat on the table and rang it. It had a high pitched, pleasant ring and before the bell stopped resonating a person with an apron appeared.

“Thomas, we’re going to have the special steak, the one that we talked about earlier. Nothing to start, maybe just some more champagne…” he pointed to Sam and nodded as if to ask if she agrees.

“Yeah, sure that sounds good,” Sam said and smiled politely.

“And that’s it for now. I’ll ring if we need anything, as usual.” He smiled and nodded at the man in the apron.

Sam’s smile slowly faded, ‘as usual’, she thought. Maybe I’m not quite as special as I think I am.

Sam suddenly felt silly for getting so excited, but she tried to hide it as she took a couple more sips of her champagne. Stephan poured them each some more as Sam looked around the room again, looking again at the tribal art on the wall.

Above the large stone fireplace was a big painting of a simply drawn man in a colorful costume with spikes on its head and back and the mask of an animal. The colors were bold. It seemed festive. Sam squinted trying to decipher the painting.

“It’s Quetzalcoatl. Represented as a feathered serpent.” He took a deep breath. “Sam.” He said sternly and surprised Sam with his tone; she jumped slightly and looked at him, her eyes wide and waiting.

“You know, my dad is the mayor.” Stephan began. Sam nodded, and Stephan continued “He takes care of the whole city, you know? Well, not just him. Me too! And it’s a big responsibility. And it’s full of sacrifices you know?” He bit his lip. Sam thought that he suddenly seemed a little nervous. Or was it excitement? She wondered

“I’m sure it is a big responsibility. I can only imagine.” Sam said empathetically.

“People sometimes have to make sacrifices for the greater good of society. We are the ones who have to make the tough choices.” The volume of his voice had gotten louder with each sentence. Sam shifted in her seat. She nodded slightly and tried to stay casual.

“Totally, I’m sure you do.” She kept nodding and reached for her glass of champagne but just held it between her fingers.

Stephan held his arm out and motioned toward the window.

“And this wind, Sam. We can’t have this. We cannot have a hurricane.” He looked out and glared at the movement of his garden, his plants, and the surrounding trees. He shook his head.

Sam frowned and tilted her head at Stephan.

“But you can’t control that.” She chuckled, “no one expects you to control the weather. There’s nothing you can do about it.” She smiled at him and waited for him to return the smile.

Although Stephan did smile, he kept looking out the window.

“Well, you see, Sam,” then he scoffed. “That is where you are wrong.” He turned toward her and said casually, “And you’re going to help me.”

“Me?” Sam was confused. “What can I do about it? Do you need, like, some research done?”

Stephan laughed, “Oh Sam, that is just the most perfect thing for you to say. You see, you’ve done enough research already. You are my goddess of learning and knowledge.” Still, in his chair, he leaned back and held out both hands as if to present her to the room.

Sam crossed and uncrossed her legs and suddenly felt very uncomfortable. Stephan cocked his head and looked almost amused at her obvious discomfort.

“I saw you admiring my painting of Quetzalcoatl. Another most perfect thing you could do.” He smiled coyly. But now Sam was starting to get frustrated.

“Ok are you fucking with me?” but he started laughing at her before she could even finish her sentence. He then picked up the bell and rang it, not so gently this time, but rapidly and excitedly and his eyes got bigger and his smile got bigger and before Sam could react beyond looking horrified and trying to process what was happening, the man with the apron returned.

Stephan squirmed in his seat excitedly as he watched the man in the apron tie Sam to the chair. Sam’s pathetic attempt to fight the man off, only pleased Stephan more. The man tied her up with zipties, quickly and efficiently, like he’d done it before, one around each wrist and one around each ankle.

As Sam continued to struggle and try to tear off the zipties, she screamed and thrashed around hysterically. Stephan slowly unbuttoned his shirt revealing his tattoo-covered body. His arms and torso were all covered in characters much like the tribal painting of Quetzalcoatl.

Finally exhausted from fighting, Sam cried quietly and asked Stephan weakly, “What are you going to do to me?”

He slowly sauntered over to the painting, revealing the tattoos also covering his back, more tribal characters. Sam’s hands trembled, her breath quickened and tears ran down her cheeks, as she watched Stephan stand in front of the painting. He held up his hands with his palms out and began to yell,

“Quetzalcoatl! I hear your cries loud and clear!”

The gusts of wind seemed to get stronger, the banging against the house louder as the trees were violently and repeatedly bumping against it.

“I have a sacrifice for you! She is a woman of learning and knowledge! She is adorned with jewelry that honors the patterns of your manifesting power! And she is for you!”

Stephan then reached forward and picked up a knife that was resting on the mantel. The knife, carved from obsidian, glistened it’s smooth blackness in the candlelight as he held it up, triumphantly; the handle of the knife wrapped with tiny spiraled shells. He slowly turned around and began walking towards Sam.

“Please don’t! No!” Sam screamed and desperately writhed her body in her chair violently, blood dripping from her wrists, the skin being torn apart by the ziplines.

Stephan marched over to the dinner table and pushed it out of the way. The dishes went crashing to the floor and Stephan stood in front of Sam. Sam sat frozen, shuddering quietly, her whole body trembling.

“You know, Sam, you’re actually lucky. It’s an honor to be sacrificed to Quetzalcoatl. You’re doing us all a lot of good.” He got closer, Sam squeezed her eyes shut and turned her head away from him, still shaking with fear. Stephan swept some hair from her face, she jumped and screamed at his touch and started sobbing aloud.

“Shhhh.” Stephan tilted his head and smiled at her lovingly. “You are going to do us all a lot of good. I mean, a lot. You’re going to save lives. It’s a sacrifice for the greater good. Now Quetzalcoatl will be satisfied, and our city will be safe.”

With Sam still squeezing her eyes closed and turning her head away, Stephan gritted his teeth and drove his knife into her chest and started growling as he began sawing at it.

Sam’s body moved with the pain, she gasped for breath and gurgled up blood as he sliced across her chest. And the last thing she was looking at, as her body spasmed with the last of its life, was that painting. The last image she saw was that painting of Quetzalcoatl. The last thing she felt was terror and pain. And the last thing she heard was, “Quetzalcoatl, this sacrifice is for you! Drink her blood, be satiated and take your winds away! We’ve heard your cries, and have brought you this sacrifice! We honor you, Quetzalcoatl!”

After Stephan knew she had passed, which he knew made the next part easier, he sliced her abdomen, letting her guts spill onto the floor. He nodded, happy with the job he was doing. He returned to her chest, which had been opened up and threw his knife on the floor. He then reached both hands into her bloody, gaping torso and dug around until he pulled out her heart.

The man with the apron returned briefly to put the chair and table back next to the window and set up a place setting for one in front of a chair. He was quick and efficient, pulled the chair out for Stephan so sit down and disappeared back to the kitchen.

Stephan sat down and set the heart onto the plate.  He looked across the table at Sam, who still dripped blood, whose warm guts lay in front of her lifeless body, and he smiled at her. He picked up the fork and knife and cut into the heart, properly, and began to eat it.

“Mmmmm.” He said and sighed with relief. Opening his eyes, he took another bite. He chewed loudly with his mouth open. “Mmmmmmm,” he said again and swallowed it. He nodded and chuckled, pleased with himself.

He looked out his window. His garden stood still in the night. The flowers were stripped of many of their petals and leaves, beaten up by the wind. The trees were no longer bumping against the house. Everything outside was now motionless. Stephan smiled, as he cut another bite, and said to himself, “That’s better.”

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