*The Watcher in the Darkness Series and all characters contained therein are the sole copyright of K.M. Spires. All rights reserved.*
The Watcher in the Darkness series contains adult situations, graphic violence, and lots and lots of bad language. Rated M for Mature, seriously.
Elaina worked in silence as she snipped the plastic bristles from Karen’s toothbrush with a pair of fingernail scissors. The tiny plastic hairs fluttered like snow into the pot of melted wax. I had nothing to contribute to the ritual beyond lighting the brazier coals, so I sat at the kitchen counter with my chin in my hand. The white incense smoke that curled into the air was suffocating, or it would have been if I needed to breathe. The shit did nothing to help my headache, anyway.
I could feel my blog’s absence, and it was like being dangled over the edge of a cliff. I had no idea how to fill that void. For lack of anything better to do, I used my muted smartphone to cruise the deep web for the grossest porn I could find. It was more out of scientific curiosity than anything else; ever since my release, my sex drive had flatlined. Once upon a time, I’d been easy to please, in that regard. Not anymore. I was fifteen minutes into a German dungeon scene before I got so much as a flutter, but it was only a flutter. The girls in the scene were willing participants, after all. It wasn’t like their pain was real.
Wait a second…my turnoff was that their pain wasn’t real?
I sat up straight. Time to do something else. It wasn’t often that I made my own skin crawl.
“You shouldn’t have let me in,” I said. “Isn’t this the sort of thing that causes mistrials?”
Elaina looked up from her work just long enough to give me a thin smile. Her cheeks had become gaunt and there were deep shadows under her eyes. “If only,” she said with a sigh as she stirred the wax. “However, I’m told that I won’t be called on to testify because I have no memory of what happened that day.”
I placed my thumb between my front teeth, just as Elaina’s mother used to do. My claw was as hard as steel. I liked that. “How can I get my hands on an old coroner’s report?”
Elaina laughed once in the back of her throat without a trace of humor. “I assume you mean my mother’s and not just in general? Mother didn’t have an autopsy.”
I frowned. “Seriously?”
Elaina nodded once. “Mother had her will in order long before I was born. She specified that she wouldn’t allow her body to be desecrated in death, no matter what circumstances surrounded it. There was to be no autopsy, no embalming. Just bathe her, dress her, then bury her.” I watched as Elaina poured the hot, clear wax into the gingerbread mold.
“So, when they bathed and dressed her, no one noticed the gaping holes in her neck?” This made Elaina wince, which made me feel bad. “Sorry,” I muttered.
“I was still in a coma at the time, so I can’t say. All I know is the executor of her estate noticed that she wasn’t decomposing and mistook it for incorruptibility. No one consulted me before they decided to put her in that public shrine.”
Damn it, Justine. You and your stupid will. Maybe, if they had given her an autopsy—hell, if they’d just buried her, like they were supposed to—things would have turned out different. Maybe she wouldn’t be a revenant. “Look, I admit that I’m not that good at reading people, but you seem to be taking this fucked up situation really, really well.”
Elaina placed her hands on the small of her back to stretch. Her shirt collar slipped back, giving me a peek of her neck scars. “I don’t think I’m taking it well, so much as it’s so unbelievable that I have yet to fully wrap my mind around it. It feels surreal, like a bad dream or a fairy tale. Revenants are so rare that most people think they’re nothing more than urban legends. Yet, somehow, Mother is one. It can’t be true, even though it is.” Elaina drummed her fingernails on the countertop as she watched the wax set. “Anyway, I can’t give you the answers you’re looking for, Toby. I’ve been asking the same questions myself, lately.”
I put my head between my hands then squeezed. It wasn’t just because the counterpressure sometimes helped; vicious and vivid images were lancing through my brain. I could see Justine kneeling by the bathtub upstairs as she drew a razor across her wrists. She didn’t even flinch as she sliced though meat and tendon; she was already dead, so it didn’t hurt. Her flesh opened, but hardly any blood oozed out. Her fingers were clumsy as she dialed 911, then she placed the phone on top to her suicide note without a word. She couldn’t have it flutter away in the chaos that was to come. Once finished, she rested her head against the rim of the tub, dangled her arms over the drain, then closed her eyes. Whoever responded to the call wouldn’t have found her breathing.
I could picture it so clearly it was like I’d been there, but all of my pain and sorrow was buried under a blanket of smoldering anger. Someone had dropped the ball three decades earlier, that much was clear. A coroner, a police officer, hell, even one of the paramedics should’ve noticed Justine’s neck wounds. They should have put two and two together that she was attacked by a vampire, and was therefore a ghoul. It was their civic duty to have scrambled her brains for her.
People are stupid, lazy, and corrupt, so no one that had died as a result of Justine becoming a revenant was on me. And, if what she became wasn’t my fault, stopping her wasn’t my responsibility, either.
I was pulled from my thoughts by the little idol breaking free of its mold. I stood to follow as Waxxy Jr. jumped off the counter, but I noticed right away that he wasn’t as lively as the original. Waxxy Jr. took a few shaky steps toward the door, staggered to a stop, then burst into flames with an audible whoosh.
Elaina cried out, startled, as she snatched the copper pot off the stove. Surprisingly quick in spite of her wooden leg, she dropped the container over Waxxy’s melting body. “Oh, my gods.” I could hear her heart racing. Breathless, she said, “I don’t know what went wrong. I’ve never heard of this happening before.”
“I think I know,” I said in a bland tone. “That fucking doppelganger got rid of all of Karen’s personal effects then replaced them with her own to keep Karen from being tracked.” I shook my head in self-disgust. “I really should have seen that coming.”
Elaina nodded in understanding. “Oh, dear. Well, how about we—?” The rest of her sentence was lost as she looked up, then her eyes widened and her face turned white. Her scream was deafening, even in the spacious kitchen.
I jumped back, shoved hard into my fight or flight response. “What happened? What’s wrong?”
Elaina’s eyes were shut tight, and she was breathing fast. “Your face. Just for a second, your face was…”
She didn’t want to finish, but I could guess. Even so, I had to hear her say the words. “What about my face?”
Elaina blinked fast, but tears dropped from her lashes and her voice wavered. “You were a monster. Just for a second, you looked like a monster. Toby, I’m so sorry—”
I turned to leave. The fact that she would apologize to me after everything I’d put her through was disgusting. “What the hell are you sorry for? I am a monster.” I stormed out of the kitchen, and I heard Elaina struggling to follow me. I let myself out of the house, but turned to face her on the porch.
“You need to testify,” I said. This was a command. “Tell the court the whole story. Tell them what I did to you. Hell, make something up.” I stabbed my finger toward her neck, and even though I was nowhere close to touching her, Elaina flinched. “Show them. Make sure that I get put away for the rest of your life. That way, you don’t have to be afraid anymore.”
Elaina looked as though she wanted to say something, but words had failed her.
“Do it for your mother. Justine loved you more than anything in the world. You owe her.”
Elaina’s bottom lip quivered. She looked more than a little wounded as she closed the door between us.
I marched down the walkway toward the street, swearing to myself that I would never set foot in that house again. My eyes stung, but it was as though my tears were turning to steam the instant before they broke the surface.
I was sure of it; Justine’s death, and realizing my part in it, had shorted out the part of my brain that was able to feel.