WitD3: Chapter 20

*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.

 

<<<Start at the beginning

Chapter 20

Sleep held me like a lake of syrupy quicksand. It was as though my tired body was determined to undo weeks of insomnia in one deep, dark, dreamless session. I was aware of the distant but gentle sting of sunlight on my face and the chirping of birds, but if I stopped struggling toward consciousness even for a second, oblivion would suck me back down.

The hollow ache in my stomach finally brought me around, and I found myself in a strange bed. I sat up on my elbows, stiff and sort of hung over, but otherwise fine. Great, in fact. Much better than I’d felt in months, if only I could figure out what the hell was going on.

The room was small, like a walk-in closet that had been converted into a bedroom. The ceiling was slanted, the floral wallpaper faded. The furniture was mismatched, but sturdy and very clean. The single window was covered in lace and thick iron bars.

I threw the handmade quilt aside to discover I was naked. Naturally. A moment later, I noticed the jeans, underwear, tee shirt, and hoodie folded in a neat stack on the corner chair. I could reach the clothes without having to get out of bed, so I dragged them over to put them on, then realized they were mine.

Karen.

I finished dressing then checked myself in the mirror, which was old and covered in discolored spots. My hair had been brushed smooth, my skin was clean, and my fangs had half-grown back. I could almost pass for human, if not for the yellow eyes.

I pulled back the curtain to look outside, and immediately knew where I was. This was an older section of town, a short trip from the boardwalk, but not all cheap and touristy. These few blocks housed antique shops, specialty clothing stores, and other small businesses too rich for my blood.

The window didn’t open, and the bars were welded into the frame. The only way out of the room was a thick wooden door covered in flaky white paint. I braced myself as I tested the knob, but it turned without hesitation. I poked my head out into the hall, found it deserted, then stepped out of the room.

I was at the end of a long, very narrow, unlit corridor. I could hear a woman’s voice hum a lullaby at the opposite end, so I eased my way toward the sound. I walked on the balls of my feet with my back against the wall to avoid creaking any floorboards. I opened my senses, then recognized the voice as belonging to the demon, Gwen.

“Who’s my sweet boy?” she said, making me wonder if she had a dog. I didn’t smell a dog. All I could smell was…oh, fuck me.

The door to the room was open a crack, so I gave it a shove to announce my presence. Inside the brightly-colored nursery, the demoness rocked an armful of infant human. It had fat, pink cheeks and a mass of curly blonde hair. The child’s bottle was almost empty and its eyes were closed, but it continued to suckle in its sleep. There was a second baby in the crib, not as large as the first and dressed in pink ruffles. I had no experience with babies—tiny humans freak me out—but they looked to be about the age people are when they started to walk.

“Who’s my little darling? Yes, you are. Poor, hungry lamb.” Gwen looked at me at last. Her tone remained unchanged, but her eyes hardened in warning. I was only slightly offended. With the horrible exception of Elaina, I was no kiddie-biter, but I was still a vampire.

“Look who’s awake, my sweet boy. Is it Tobias? Yes, it is. Do you think you’re ready to go back to sleep so I can talk to our guest? There’s my little angel.” The baby started to fuss the instant Gwen tried to place him in the crib. She sighed as she put him back on her shoulder, then said, “There, there. I know it hurts. You don’t want Gwen to go? As you wish, my little prince.”

Gwen closed her eyes, then sort of… stepped outside of herself. She walked toward me with a benevolent smile on her face, but at the same time, she stood by the crib with her back to me. Gwen One bounced the baby as he gnawed his pacifier and tugged at his earlobe. Gwen Two stepped out of the room then gently closed the door.

I shook my head. Goddamn demons. “Neat trick,” I said in the most insincere tone I could muster.

“Thank you, it’s new,” she said, beckoning for me to follow as she started down the hall. “With there being two of them this time, I had to get better at multitasking.”

“Cute kids.” Again, I didn’t mean it. “What are their names?”

Gwen responded with a superior laugh. “They’re a little young to have decided upon their names, don’t you think?”

I rolled my eyes, because…you know. Demons.

“I’m this close to having both of them down. Their molars are coming in, so they’re being quite a handful right now. Forgive me for not being a better hostess. I’m sure you must be hungry.”

We walked down a steep flight of stairs so narrow that my shoulders kept brushing the walls. “Cards on the table, demon. Did you do some sort of changeling swap with those kids? I’ve got enough legal problems right now.”

“Don’t be silly.” Gwen said as we stepped into the kitchen. The back door was open to let in a spring breeze, but Gwen gestured toward the kitchen table. I considered my options then sat down, because why the hell not.

“Well, I know they’re not yours. They’re one-hundred percent human.”

“True, but they are still mine. Rather, I am theirs.”

I closed my eyes as I shook my head. “Okay, I don’t have time for demon riddles and I don’t care enough to investigate. Do whatever you want. Where’s Karen?”

Gwen pulled a jug of thick red fluid out of the refrigerator. The appliance was pea-soup green and looked as though it had been manufactured the week after ice was discovered. “Karen is gone, thank goodness. Are you ready to discuss what you’re about to do for me?”

I scowled. “Slow your roll, lady. You came to me in response to the offer I made to that hellhound, right?”

“Indeed.”

“Well, the deal was for you to help me find Karen.”

“And so I did.” Gwen poured a generous serving of cold blood into a plastic cup. “So, according to the terms laid out by your verbal contract, you owe me an unspecified boon. Which was very generous, by the way.”

Her smile made my skin crawl. Possessed or not, what was I thinking when I made that fucking offer?

“Now, back to the matter at hand. Here’s what you owe me.”

“Back up. Sweet lies or ugly truth, demon?”

“Ugly truth, always.” Gwen placed the cup in my hands, and I was surprised to discover it was warm.

“Did you really come in response to my offer?”

She seemed taken aback by the question. “Of course. Why do you ask?”

“Because you said when we first met that you were there on behalf of the people that cared about me.”

She nodded once. “I did say that.”

“My fath—” The word caught in my throat. I literally could not make myself refer to him that way. “Sebastian must have realized the day he came to see me at the Sanctuary that I had a Skin-rider and therefore told his mother. It was Hlin that hired you to get the ghost out of me, and she’s already paid you out the ass. I owe you nothing.”

Gwen tilted her head and gave me an affectionate look, as though I was cute but dimwitted. “You really are quite charming. Also, you’re very astute. I don’t think you get enough credit.”

I shrugged as I drank. It wasn’t bad, for cold blood.

“However, at this moment, your grandmother is being paraded around Europe as the Archduke’s arm candy. The vampires are having a global conference on ocean pollution, or some such nonsense. She hasn’t seen her son in months.” Gwen’s voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “I hear she’s had very little to do with him ever since he was weaned, at the Archduke’s insistence. I suppose it’s difficult to trust one’s youngest son to a woman who’s proven willing and capable of sacrificing her own children for personal gain.

“Secondly, vampires hate my kind. If your relatives were to enlist any sort of aid in exorcising you, they would’ve hired a priest. When I said that I was there on behalf of your loved ones, I never said that they’d actively sent me. When I met you on the bridge, it was in response to your call.”

“Okay, but why? Demons have no love for vampires, either.”

“No, but they do have use for them. Also, if you don’t stop throwing that word around, I’m going to put a hex on you that will make you lose a body part every time you say it.”

“Oh, really?” It seemed like a lot of wasted energy over a stupid word, so I was skeptical.

She nodded again. “First your hair, then your claws. Eventually, you’ll lose your teeth, ears, fingers and toes. If you continue to refuse to learn your lesson, you’ll eventually have to change your name to Ken.”

I winced as I crossed my legs. Message received. “Alrighty then. What do I call you?”

“Gwen,” she said very slowly, as though talking to an idiot.

“Is that your real name?”

“Of course not, don’t be silly.”

I tilted my head back to drain the last of the blood. The mild weakness and very slight headache I’d endured since waking had disappeared. “What type of…what are you?”

“I fail to see how that’s relevant.” She took a deep breath, as though tired of having to repeat the story. “My father was worshipped as a fire god by early civilizations that witnessed his power firsthand. He was known by several names before his slumber. He took a wife, my mother, the Lady Rhiannon of the Fomorians. I am the seventh born of the two, and the second daughter. My mother’s last breath was my first, and in his grief, my father destroyed the city of Pompeii and all of its neighbors.”

I took a moment to process her words. “I see. Seriously, as far as back stories go, that one was right up there. But what does that make you?”

Gwen sat in the chair across from me then swatted my hand, which had been idly picking at a chip in the tabletop. She folded her hands on the table then said, “My kind has many names. Some know us as guardian angels. In other parts of the world, we are called the djinn. We grant any heart’s desire, but always at a price, for this is the natural order of things.”

“You’re a fairy godmother,” I said. “Why didn’t you just say so?”

Gwen moaned as she put her face in her hands. “You have no idea how demeaning that label is. Thank you so much, Walt Disney, for that incredibly racist portrayal of my kind, because it’s stuck forever.”

“So, those kids upstairs. You entered into a contract with their parents?”

“No. My contract is with them.”

I sneered at her. “Ugly truth, my lily-white vampire ass. How does a baby enter into that sort of contract?”

“They inherit it,” she said, placing unnecessary emphasis on every single letter. “Toby, the children have nothing to do with this. The simple fact of the matter is that you owe me, so let’s get down to business. We’ll start with the most pressing issue—”

“We’ll ‘start’?”

“Of course. You will remain in my debt until my kindness has been repaid to my satisfaction.”

“And how long will that take?”

“That depends, Tobias, how much is your life worth to you?”

“Honestly? Not that much.”

Gwen made a sympathetic noise as she stroked my cheek with the back of her hand. I jerked away on reflex. Her touch was like groundwater. She didn’t seem offended as she said, “I’m sure that witch would disagree, as do I. There is no greater gift in the universe than life, half-breed, and don’t you forget it. Now, do you want to hear what I have in mind?”

I shrugged. “Why the fuck not?”

“Splendid. I don’t know if you’re aware, given the fact that you’ve been imprisoned for the last several months, but a great evil has awakened in this city.”

Shit. I should’ve guessed what she’d want from me.

“A disease is spreading, an unnatural disease. The symptoms are—”

“Fever. Rash. Coughing up blood,” I said in a flat tone, staring at the floor as though hypnotized by the scratches in the wood.

“Yes, for some, but the disease doesn’t affect all of its victims in the same way. That’s why the CDC has been so slow to link the victims together, and recognize this for the budding plague that it is. Some experience nausea and vomiting. Some anaphylaxis. Some slip into an inexplicable coma. But, as you said, there is always the fever and the rash. The sickness is always fatal, and most recently, the dead have been reanimating as ghouls.”

I bit the corner of my lip. “Hey, look…you’re old, right?”

She stared at me without blinking. “Thank you?”

“No, I mean you’ve been around for a long time. You’ve seen some shit. How much do you know about revenants?”

Gwen pulled a face. If she was Catholic, I think she would’ve crossed herself. “Revenants mean trouble. The circumstances of a person’s life and death have to be very precise for so much pain and evil to manifest as a new life.”

She wasn’t trying to rub in my deepest shame, but goddamn if it didn’t feel that way. “There’s a revenant in this town.”

“Yes, I know, and whenever a revenant appears, plague follows. In medieval Europe, three appeared at the same time. It’s the only time in history that this has ever happened, and they were the harbingers of the Black Death. If we don’t do something soon, that sort of calamity could sweep the globe again. It has already begun.”

“I guess I don’t need to ask what you want from me,” I said, miserable.

“The source of this disease must be exterminated. Left unchecked, she will turn this city into a graveyard.”

“Justine…” My voice caught and I felt my sinuses begin to sting. I had no idea how much grief my unwelcome passenger had been soaking up, but undiluted it was a constant ache in my chest. I could feel again, and it sucked balls. “It’s my fault she is the way she is. I did that to her. She loved me and I killed her. She died in agony. Why am I the one that has to stop her?”

“Because, like it or not, you’re the one with the power to stop her. Thousands, maybe millions, of people are counting on you.”

“Since when do demons give a shit what happens to people?”

She gave me a dry look. “Not all Vættir would see humanity destroyed. Most of us view your kind as wayward children in need of guidance. You shouldn’t stereotype all based on the actions of a regrettable few. And I warned you about using that word in my presence.”

I opened my mouth to argue, then felt something soft land on the back of my hand. I looked down to find a clump of hair lying across my wrist, having dropped like a petal from a flower. I touched the bald spot on the crown of my head and my scalp was tender, as though sunburned. “Are you fucking kidding me?” I said.

She gave me a look that dripped self-righteousness. “Well, you can’t say I didn’t give you every opportunity to correct your behavior.”

No, I could not. Son of a… “Whatever. You know what, have it your way. I’ll try to find her, but no promises.”

“Oh, I would really make this your number one priority. When you enter into this sort of agreement with my kind, misfortune will follow until you satisfy the contract.” She slid a long knife across the table as though she’d been holding it the entire time. “Take this. It’s imbued with great healing magic.”

I picked the weapon up to examine it. It was the same blade Karen had used during my exorcism. “Healing? Will this cure Justine?”

Gwen stood. “If by cure, you mean shuffle her off this mortal coil and end her suffering, then absolutely. Just drive it into her heart then the unholy magic animating her will be undone.”

“There has to be another way.”

“There is no other way,” Gwen said, her patience finally wearing thin. “Revenants sustain themselves on blood, flesh, and suffering. If she were rational, Justine would beg you to end this existence for her. Think of it not as murder, but as atonement for taking her life in the first place.”

I tossed the knife onto the table. “Easy for you to say.”

“I’d hold on to that. I guarantee that you’ll need it.”

Against my will, I stretched out my hand to pick the weapon up again only to find it was gone. “Where did it go?” I said with a frown, checking to see if it had fallen onto the floor.

“It will appear when you need it,” Gwen said as she washed out my cup. “If you name it, it will appear when you call.”

“Name it?” I said with contempt. “It’s a pansy-ass fairy knife, not a baby.”

Gwen wiped the watered-down blood splatter from the counter. “Suit yourself. Look, Toby, I upheld my end of the bargain. I brought you and Karen back together.”

“How do I know that was even intentional? You asked if we knew each other during the ceremony.” I knew I was grasping at straws, but the only thing that lives longer than a vampire is a fucking demon. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life as her thrall.

“Intentional or not is beside the point, but I asked that for her benefit. I had to make it seem like a believable coincidence. If Karen had any inkling that she was helping you instead of literally any other vampire, her master wouldn’t have allowed her to come. I’d hate for him to feel it necessary to move her again.”

I nodded, preoccupied with Justine, so it took a second for her words to register. When they did, I leapt to my feet so quick that my chair tipped over. “Wait, her what? What are you talking about?”

Gwen motioned for me to keep my voice down as she cast a worried look toward the ceiling. “Her new master is very stingy about that necromancer. He’s gone to a lot of trouble to keep her all to himself. I had to promise him three favors just to enlist her aid, so…I’m not looking forward to that.”

“So, some demon—” More hair drifted to the floor and my back teeth ground together. “Goddamn it. Fine. Karen wasn’t the one that hired that doppelganger?”

“I’m sure she believes she did.”

My heart began to pound in growing panic. “Where is Karen?”

“I can’t say.”

“Bullshit. How did you hire her if you don’t know where she is?”

“I never said that I didn’t know where she is, I said that I can’t say. I have children to think about.”

I pushed my hand through my hair and more loose strands tangled around my claws. “I’m not afraid. Where the hell is this guy?”

“You asked me to find Karen for you and I did. Keeping you together was never part of the deal. Now, you owe me. That’s the long and short of it. You have bigger fish to fry. Ending this plague is of far greater concern than you patching things up with your girlfriend.”

“She’s not my girlfriend.” This was a conditioned response from me.

“And that’s probably for the best. So complicated.”

I held up the messy clump of my hair. “Hold on, what about this?”

Gwen pursed her lips as she thought it over. “My hex ends with the plague. Fair?”

I let the mess drop to the floor. She’d cursed me, she could deal with the cleanup. “Fine, but you need to sweeten the deal for me. I’m about to kill a revenant and end a plague, but all you did was put me and Karen in the same room for an hour. I need to be able to talk to her, face to face and as myself.”

Gwen put her hands on her hips. “All I did, Tobias, was rescue you from nixies, exorcise your body of an invading spirit, and nurse your ungrateful hide back to health over the last three days. What I ask in return is so reasonable that if you don’t get on top of it, I’m going to take your tongue as a trophy. And trust me, I would be doing the entire world a favor.”

I fucking hate demons. “Fine. I’m on it. But…could you at least call her and let her know that I’m looking for her?”

“Find the revenant, and I’ll consider trying to put you in touch with her.”

I narrowed my eyes as I pulled the hood over my patchy scalp. “Fine,” I said with a growl before I stormed out of her crappy little house.

<<<Chapter 19

Chapter 21>>>

WitD3: Chapter 19 (finally)

*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.

<<<Start from the beginning

Chapter 19

When I came to, I had no idea where I was. I really hate that.

My thoughts had to wind their way through the cottony pain crammed into my skull, but the first thing to strike me was the smell. The combination of perfumed oils, herbs, and incense coated my tongue like fine powder. My eyes felt as though they’d been smeared with cooking oil, but I could make out a nearby shelf lined with jars. Several racks of clothing swam into focus, then some weird potted plants. Silk tapestries hung on the walls, embroidered with colorful patterns, but I couldn’t tell what they were. The only light in the room came from the four tea candles placed at the cardinal points of the summoning circle I was sitting in.

Oh, and I couldn’t move. Like, at all.

My hands were bound at the wrists to the arms of a heavy wooden chair. The ropes were tight enough to restrict movement but not so tight as to cut off circulation. Same token with my feet, which were tied to the chair’s legs. Clearly, someone didn’t want me to get up, but cared enough about my comfort to put a thick cushion under me. Some kidnappers are just more considerate than others.

I had three gaping holes in my chest. One was in my ribs, just below and to the left of my heart. The second pierced through my diaphragm, which made taking a deep breath suck. The third was lower, in my side. I could feel the through-and-through holes in my back, plus one extra.

Talons. Between the bridge and the river, I’d been snatched out of the air by an enormous flying creature. I guess that explained why I wasn’t being digested by river nixies.

The talon marks barely hurt, which meant that they’d been there for a while. They burned more than anything, but they were open and weeping foul clumps of blood. What did that mean? Infection? Vampires didn’t get infections. Had I been poisoned?

Most important of all, why was I bare-chested? Why do the people that take me hostage always remove my shirt? It’s fucked up, is what it is.

I heard a door open then close behind me. Footsteps whispered in my direction, then a slender figure stepped into my line of sight. The demon bitch from the bridge floated past me. She tiptoed around the edge of the circle, all pale skin and rippling red hair.

“Hey,” she said, as though delighted to see me. “You’re finally awake. How are you feeling?”

My arm jerked as my hand clenched into a fist. “Where am I?”

“I brought you back to my home. I hope that’s all right. I needed a comfortable place to work, and the walls are soundproof.”

Fuck you, you festering cunt, my brain snarled, but the filter in my mouth somehow managed to catch it. “Let me go.”

“Sorry again, but I can’t do that.” Her sing-song voice did nothing to soothe my temper. In fact, it had the exact opposite effect. “At least, not quite yet.”

“I’ll rip out your fucking throat, demon.”

She clucked her tongue in sympathy. “Poor thing. I know it hurts. It will all be over soon, I promise.”

So, she was planning to kill me. The back of the chair cracked as I threw my weight against it. My seat began to tip forward, but the demoness waved her hand. I was caught by an unseen force then my chair was set right.

Goddamn it. “Release me! Do you have any idea who I am?”

The demoness tilted her head. “Do you?”

My eyes narrowed as my claws gouged into the arms of the chair. I hoped that its value was destroyed. “Who are you? Why have you brought me here?”

She smiled, and I noticed that she had a bit of an overbite. “Which question do you want me to answer first?”

I flexed with all of my strength but the chair barely creaked. What the hell was this damn thing made of? “Don’t play with me, demon. I haven’t decided exactly how I’m going to kill you, but I promise you’re making it worse for yourself.”

She pressed her hands together, her expression solemn. “First of all, thank you for the warning. It’s very considerate. And secondly, thank you again for giving so much thought to something as serious as my murder. But, to answer your questions, I brought you here to help you. As for who I am, don’t you remember?”

I knew she’d told me her name but it felt like my brain was full of fire ants. Their tiny, venomous jaws were clamped down hard, making it impossible to think. I couldn’t do anything but hate. “I don’t give a shit who you are. What makes you think I want your fucking help?”

“I know you don’t want my help, but I need yours, and you are useless to me in this state. If it makes you feel any better, there are people that care about you. I’m here on their behalf.”

“Fuck them!” The nastiness in my voice startled even me. She was a lying bitch, and even if she wasn’t, I didn’t want people to care about me. I hated everyone and everything. I wanted to scream in rage and laugh maniacally and bawl my eyes out, but I could do none of these things. It was like my rampaging emotions would peak, turn to steam, then vanish.

I was so tired. I wished she’d just let me die. “God, let me go.”

The demoness watched, her head tilted and her hands folded in front of her. No doubt, she was the one soaking up my misery, but she said, “Who are you talking to, Toby?”

I would’ve spit at her if my mouth wasn’t so dry. I barely recognized the voice that spewed out of me as I said, “Fuck you, Vættir whore.” Wait…what did I call her?

The demoness responded with a tolerant smile. “Let me give you some blood, Toby.”

I clamped my teeth together as my stomach heaved. “Don’t be disgusting,” I said around the gorge in my throat. “Vampires can’t feed off demons.”

Her head fell back in a tinkling laugh. “Silly,” she said as she waved her hand again. My chair swiveled to face the opposite direction.

Behind the shop counter, Karen watched me through her eyelashes as she pinched and molded a grey lump of clay. She looked exactly as I remembered, except…more, somehow? Her hair glistened in the candlelight, and she no longer looked like a starving orphan. She appeared rested, and her skin glowed. Wherever she’d been hiding, she was being well taken care of.

My heart thumped once. “Karen?”

“Hi, Toby.” She sounded sad and resigned.

My break from the red hot fury was momentary. The nerve of her, showing her face to me after she’d disappeared without a trace. My resentment rushed back with reinforcements. “Cunt.”

Karen turned her full attention back to the sculpture.

“I take it you two know each other?” the demon bitch said, as though she’d had no idea.

I imagined wrapping my fingers around Karen’s throat then squeezing until her face turned purple. “Where the hell have you been?” I said.

The demoness clapped her hands together. “Save your questions for when you’re back to yourself. Right now, we need to get some fresh blood into you. Karen, are you ready to get started?”

“I guess,” Karen said, unenthused.

Big Red removed a knife and crystal goblet from a locked glass cabinet, then skirted the edge of the circle to approach Karen. Without a word, Karen held out both wrists.

“This will sting a little,” the demoness said as she drew the blade across Karen’s skin. The shallow cuts immediately welled with blood. She set the knife aside then said, “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” Even so, Karen’s voice was tight with discomfort.

“Very good.” The demoness waved her long, delicate fingers over Karen’s wounds, and the blood drifted into the air like red smoke. “This is ancient magic, one of the very first spells taught to witches by fairy-kind.”

“Blood-mugging,” I said. “That demon is teaching you how to blood-mug. Thanks for that.”

The girls ignored me. “The spell itself is very versatile. Now, you would say something along the lines of…” The demoness made a show of giving it some thought, “Holy Essence, life’s red flame, from the branches within. Out, to the greater tree, my gift to thee, and by my will, obey.” Karen’s blood curled through the air to the goblet without losing a drop. “Are you ready to give it a try?”

Karen laughed, embarrassed. “I don’t know if I can remember everything you just said.”

The demoness…Gwen! Her name was fucking Gwen! Jesus, that was driving me nuts. Anyway, Gwen favored Karen with a motherly smile. “It doesn’t have to be verbatim. You can say whatever you like, because they’re just words. It’s the will behind the words that counts.”

Karen nodded, because she knew this, then frowned in concentration. “Essence of being, once unseen, behold the vampire’s need. Flow and flow, were I tell you to go. Gift for gift, I bleed.”

Gwen’s smile widened as Karen’s blood continued to fill the goblet. “Good. Very good. You’re very talented.”

“She’s a fucking twat,” I said.

Karen jerked as her mouth dropped open in outrage, then her blood splattered across the countertop. “Damn it!” Karen pressed her lips together as she took a deep breath to steady herself. To Gwen, she said, “I’m sorry.”

Gwen bowed her head in gracious understanding. “It happens. Try again.”

I laughed, which made Karen glare at me. “No,” she said. “I’ve lost it.”

She deserved to lose everything. “What kind of person abandons her mother and little brother to a demon? Are you really such a selfish cunt that you were okay with that?” I couldn’t lash out at her physically, so I had to settle for verbal abuse.

Gwen wiggled her fingers then the beads of blood floated off the countertop without leaving a mark. They drifted into the cup, then she ran her fingertip over Karen’s wounds. The cuts in her flesh zippered closed.

Gwen passed the goblet to Karen. “Remember. He is not himself.”

“I can handle it,” Karen said as she rounded the counter.

I would have backed away as Karen approached, had I been able. “Stay away from me.” I hated her almost as much as I wanted her, and I would have sold my soul to bury myself in that soft warm flesh, all while battering her perfect face to a pulp. Those thoughts chilled me, but I couldn’t stop them from coming. It was a very good thing I was restrained.

Karen thrust the cup under my nose and the warmth of her blood wafted over my lips. “Drink, Toby. If you don’t get some blood into you soon, you’re going to turn feral.”

My hatred focused on Karen like a laser. If I could have killed her through sheer will alone, she would’ve dropped dead a thousand times. “Get that shit away from me.”

Karen waved her hand so the powerful aroma billowed directly into my nostrils. “Tell me you don’t want this.”

I turned my face away. “It’s poisoned.” The scent was so caustic it stripped my throat like steel wool. “You whores are trying to kill me.

Gwen watched with obvious concern. “We aren’t the ones trying to kill you.”

“Toby, I need you to come back to me,” Karen said.

She didn’t mean it. Besides, I wouldn’t do anything for her, ever. She was a fucking hypocrite. “You’re the one that abandoned me,” I said through clenched teeth. “You never came to see me in prison. You never even sent me a fucking letter to let me know you were okay. Just like a fucking woman. Just like all women. Never trust a slut. You’re only good for one thing.”

Gwen waved her hand in dismissal. “I’m already bored with you. Karen, I’m going to let you take the lead. Do you see the…issue I explained to you over the phone?”

Karen and I were in a glaring contest, neither willing to blink. “I see it,” she said.

“Do you think this is something you can help with? Go with your gut.”

Karen handed the goblet back to Gwen. “I’m not sure. I think so. I want to help.” I watched as she gathered an open notebook and a folding metal chair, but of far more interest was the enormous knife she took from behind the counter. Karen placed the chair within the circle directly across from me then sat down with a sigh. “Let’s just get this over with.”

Karen unsheathed the wickedly curved blade, and the candlelight gleamed along its razor-sharp edge. The metal had that filigreed, hand-forged quality, like it was hundreds of years old. The handle was made of wood, or maybe bone, but wrapped in strips of leather to improve the grip. I wanted so badly to feel it in my hand that the need translated into a raging hard-on.

“What are you going to do with that?” My voice was husky.

Karen noticed my interest and the corner of her mouth turned up. “You like this?”

I swallowed hard as I nodded.

She smirked. “This is what eight inches actually looks like.”

I closed my eyes. Fucking bitch. I would’ve given anything to rake her face with my claws until that cunt was unrecognizable.

“Look at me, Toby. Watch.”

Against my better judgement, I looked. Karen drew the flat of the blade up her left arm. My breath caught and my entire body turned to stone as the fine hairs on her forearm drifted to the floor like pollen. She brought the knife up over her bicep, then finally to her jawline. She held the blade there, as though intent on slitting her own throat, and my claws sank deep into my palms.

Do it, my traitorous brain chanted. Do it. Please, god, just do it.

Karen turned the knife over, and the point dug into her flesh, just hard enough to indent the skin without breaking it. She dragged the knife tip down her collarbone, and I could feel it like fingertips along the length of my painful erection. She slid the blade under the strap of her dress, then sliced through the fabric in one quick swipe. The flimsy material fell away to reveal her flawless skin, then something inside my mind snapped.

I bowed my head, shaking with dry sobs. I didn’t care that I had an audience. An avalanche of sorrow, so much more intense than the toxic rage, threatened to bury me alive.

“Karen,” My voice was so wretched that her eyes widened. “What’s happening to me?”

“Toby?” Karen set the knife aside then dropped to her knees in front of me. She reached forward to place her hands on my shoulders as she said, “I’m here. It’s going to be—”

As soon as her fingers got close, the hate-fueled wrath lunged forward. On pure reflex, Karen snatched her hand away just as my teeth snapped closed like a bear trap. The knuckle of her index finger brushed my chin and she fell back on her butt. She stared up at me in stunned disbelief.

My chuckle was so evil that it even gave me chills. “I’ll slice your throat open then fuck your bloody windpipe, you filthy whore.”

Karen turned her back to me, climbing into her chair as though the near-miss had stolen her strength. I could smell the salt of her tears, but the shimmering black curtain of her hair hid them from me.

“Do you need to take a break?” Gwen said. I had almost forgotten she was there. Karen’s little show had left me disoriented.

“No.” Karen’s voice cracked as she wiped at her eyes. “No. I’m okay. I can handle this.” When she looked up again, her expression was merciless. She stood then whipped the dress up over her head, revealing her flat stomach and lacy white lingerie. Her eyes narrowed in challenge as she said, “Do you like what you see?”

Every cell in my body ached for her, but my face twisted into a sneer. “Slut,” I said as though this was the worst insult in my vocabulary.

Karen’s thighs were smooth and strong, her ass perfect as she spun on the balls of her feet in front of me. “Are you saying you don’t want this?”

Cock tease. Dear god, how I hated her. “You’re trash. I wouldn’t fuck you with a stolen dick.”

Karen looked down at me with what could only be described as pity. “Then what’s up with your hand, Toby?”

I didn’t trust her, but my gaze flickered toward my right arm anyway. My hand was twisting against my restraints without any conscious direction from me. The hemp rope was slick with blood, and the ragged, rough abrasion cut to the bone.  Upon discovery, the pain washed over my arm as though someone had set it on fire, but my hand never stopped moving.

“Holy shit,” I said, unable to look away. “I’m crazy.”

“Yes.” Karen didn’t sound smug or superior. If anything, she seemed heartbroken. “But I’m here now, and I’m going to help.”

I ground my teeth together in despair. “No one can help me.”

“We’ll see. Hark me now, hear my command, undead creature close at hand. Heed the power inherent in me. Your flesh, your blood, your bones, now freeze. Don’t. Move.”

I held perfectly still, as though every muscle in my body had been seized by an invisible hand. For the first time in my life, I was grateful to be subjugated, though my mind howled in fury. It was a weird contrast.

Gwen handed Karen the clay figurine, which had been manipulated into a crude human shape. Karen nodded once in thanks as she stooped to pick up the notebook. She sat in the chair across from me again, then cleared her throat. Her skin was covered in goosebumps as she brought the notebook in front of her face.

 “Under no circumstances are you allowed to move, Toby.” Karen sat up straighter, and her voice hardened as Gwen paced the perimeter of the circle. Reading from the notebook, Karen said, “Intruder, imposter, unclean ghost. Vacate and depart, abandon your host.”

The confusion was completely my own, but the surge of murderous rage I felt was alien.

“Wicked invader. Unwelcome presence. Hark and heed my spell. My will, indomitable. By your name, I call you. Lucas Armand, you are expelled.”

We all held our breath, but nothing happened. Another wicked laugh bubbled out of me, and I finally understood what was happening.

It was impossible. Vampires are supposed to be immune to this sort of thing, but my mother’s human blood had betrayed me once again. Prison hadn’t broken me. My grief over Justine hadn’t driven me insane.

I was possessed.

Karen sighed in frustration. “Alright. Wicked invader. Unwelcome presence. Hark and heed my spell. My will, indomitable. By your name, I call you. Elias Gomez, you are expelled.”

Subjugation has never had any affect over my ability to speak, and this was no exception. Unfortunately, my voice was no longer my own. I was a passenger in my own body, and a maniac was behind the wheel. “Useless cunt. I’m going to carve you into a thousand pieces, starting with your face.”

Karen dismissed me with a glance. “Sure, sure. Wicked invader. Unwelcome presence. Hark and heed my spell. My will, indomitable. By your name, I call you. Antwain Johnson, you are expelled.”

“I’ll peel away your eyelids, so you’ll have to watch as I cut off your tits.” Jesus-fucking-Christ. Worse than the words coming out of my mouth was the sincere intent behind them. Whoever this freak had been in life, they were the poster boy for pure evil. Their energy was so black and negative that it poisoned everything it touched. Unfortunately, that dark presence was burrowed deep inside my brain.

“How many rapist-slash-murderers died in that prison?” Gwen said.

Karen gave her a meaningful look. “Don’t ask. Wicked invader. Unwelcome presence. Hark and heed my spell. My will, indomitable. By your name, I call you. Alex Shepherd, you are expelled.”

I was wracked by a violent tremor that shoved my entrails up into my throat. My guts turned to ice as they slid back down into my abdominal cavity. I was still reeling, but the intruder in my head leveled a glare at Karen.

“Whore,” he hissed.

Gwen clapped her hands together. “Ding-ding-ding. I think we have a winner.”

Karen drew her shoulders back, every inch of her ready for battle. “Alex Shepherd. Cancerous soul, I hereby cast you out. Hide no longer, cowardly fiend. Enter the abyss and face your final judgment. Flee now, or face me.”

Shepherd began to spew what could only be insults, but in a guttural language I couldn’t understand.

“Be silent, wicked one.” To Gwen, Karen said, “What is that? Infernal?”

“Close. It’s German.”

Karen shook her head in confusion. “What’s he saying?”

Gwen made a face. “You really don’t want to know.”

Karen turned her attention back to me. “Enough of this. Alex Shepherd, foul spirit. Hark my voice and obey my will. You are unwelcome and unclean, and so I cast you out.”

“I’m not going anywhere.” Shepherd’s voice was a throaty growl. “This body is mine.”

“Hark me now, hear my command—”

“Shut your cock-hole, you rancid slut. I am more than what I once was. Your powers may hold this body, but they don’t work on me.”

Karen’s mouth drew into a frustrated line. “My powers work against ghosts. I’ve driven dozens of restless spirits out of people’s homes. I’m more than capable of getting rid of you.”

“No,” Shepherd said. “You’ve never expelled anything.” Karen paled and I felt Shepherd’s satisfaction. “I know all about you, necromancer. This pathetic moron has done nothing but pine for you ever since he got locked up. It was almost too easy to slither inside of him.”

Everything clicked into place. Shepherd had died in prison, but instead of moving on, he had hidden. He’d learned to feed off negative energy of that place, until he’d evolved into Vermin. That same Vermin jumped into me when I fed from Ochoa. Was I truly so messed up over Justine’s death that I’d become the first vampire in recorded history to get possessed. Out of the corner of my eye, Gwen watched the encounter with great interest. It was too much to hope for that no one would ever find out about this.

“Shut the fuck up, Shepherd,” Karen said with utter scorn. “You were so evil in life that you’re about to become a demon. Congratulations, I guess.”

Gwen groaned. “Infernal. Come on, guys.”

Karen raised her hand in apology, though her focus remained on me. “Fine. You’re about to become Infernal. Well, I’m not going to let you gestate in him, you fucking parasite. Get out of his head and go away forever.”

Shepherd hunkered down and dug in. It felt like ice picks in my brain. “He wants me here. I’ve taken his pain away.”

“Because you’ve been feeding off of it. You’re not special, freak. You’re an infestation.”

Shepherd threw me against the ropes again. “You don’t have the authority to banish me. He is mine.”

“Fine! Have it your way, you disgusting worm. I’m sorry, Toby, but I have to pull this thing out of you. It’s going to hurt. A lot.”

Do what you have to do, I thought, but Shepherd said, “When I’m free, I’m going to drain you dry just to watch you come back as a ghoul. The blades are finally in my mouth, bitch, and I have a lot more work to do. Ted Bundy won’t have shit on me.”

“You think so? We’ll see.” Karen closed her eyes as she lifted her arms, her palms turned toward the heavens. “The corners I call, the powers that be, divine forces almighty, work now through me.”

“You’ll have to crack his skull open. Either way, I win. Do your worst, witch. You can’t defeat me.” Shepherd was right. He was buried so deep inside of me, only my death could get him out. When that happened, he would be a full-fledged demon, which had been his intent from the beginning.

Karen glared into my eyes, radiant energy pouring off of her. Despite his big talk, the spirit in my head shivered. Our vampire ears could hear the resonance in her voice as she said, “Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Order, Chaos, come to bear. I compel you now, spirit unclean. Your hold is severed. By my will, it must be.”

My hands and feet began to burn as though they were being held over open flames. My insides writhed and I was hit by the most powerful wave of nausea I’d ever experienced. A fountain of congealed blood and thick green bile shot out of my mouth. The disgusting stream splattered over Karen’s bare stomach, trickling down her thighs to pool at her feet.

Aside from her jaw tightening, Karen didn’t react. “Vile serpent, death beckons you. Your blackened coil, depart. Divine light, burn you to ash, and free this innocent heart.”

Shepherd threw my head back in laughter. “Innocent? If he was innocent, I wouldn’t have gotten so much as a toehold here.”

The powerful energy that flowed through Karen made her tremble. “Holy fire, divine spark, Giver of Life and Mind. Behold, a fugitive from your justice, deep in this vessel entwined.”

A strange sensation began to overtake me, like my body had been hollowed out and I was being filled to bursting with ice water. It was awful, if not exactly painful.

“Cowardly vermin, hide no longer. Your gestation set to flame. My will is law, despicable creature. I cast you out by name.”

Shepherd twisted my face into an ugly glare. “Fuck you, necromancer.”

“Alex Shepherd, I cast you out.”

My head was flung back as an invisible forced rammed through my body. It was like being punched in the face by King Kong.

“Alex Shepherd, your time is at an end.”

My heart thundered, pumping liquid fire and ice though my veins. The scream that tore out of my throat was my own.

Karen was relentless. I know she had to be, but…goddamn. “Gods, behold this living cancer, Alex Shepherd, whose very existence in this world demands excision. Alex Shepherd, as it was when you were alive, so too now do I sentence you to death. Selfish destroyer and corrupter. Alex Shepherd, hideous fiend and pretender to humanity. Gods, grant me, your humble servant, the honor of being the conduit through which you decimate this worthless soul. Alex Shepherd, behold the wrath of the heavens, unleashed upon you at last.”

Karen seized handfuls of my hair, and the power that shot through me was like pure electricity. I screamed, and Shepherd screamed, so loud that I felt as though my throat would rupture. I understood at last why so many people died during exorcisms.

“Alex Shepherd, go to hell, you worthless scum!” Spittle flew from Karen’s bottom lip, but my cry of pain became a laugh. Karen reeled, and I could sense the energy she’d summoned drifting away.

“Idiot bitch,” Shepherd said. “You’re a necromancer. I told you, you don’t have the power to exorcise me. Do you really think the gods would grant you any divine authority? They don’t even hear you when you speak. You’re useless when it comes to anything but death. Divine light flows around you like a river around a stone.”

Karen’s eyes began to shine. Knowing her as I did, Shepherd’s words cut to the bone. Other schools of magic had always been tricky for her. Hell, he’d probably mined my subconscious for the perfect insult, and that one was pure gold.

All at once, I could hear her thoughts, thanks to the unholy presence in my head. He’s right. Oh, my god, he’s right. I’m useless. What can I do? I can’t help him. Toby’s going to die, and I can’t help him.

“Yes,” Shepherd said, stunning her yet again. “I’ll rip your precious half-breed apart from the inside out, Justine 2.0. Then, when I’m finished, I’ll be something greater than you could ever imagine.” To prove his point, Shepherd spit my fangs into her face.

Karen recoiled when the bright enamel bounced off her cheek. She took a step back, staring down at me in intimidated wonder.

My eyes rolled back into my head then I began to spasm. My teeth clacked together and I could feel fluids begin to trickle from my nose and ears.

“No,” Karen said. “No! I will not lose him, not to the likes of you. I may not be able to fight you on your terms, but I can destroy you on mine.” To Gwen, she said, “You. Hand me that. That bolt of lace, right there.”

“This?” Gwen’s musical voice sounded as though it was in another time zone. The seizure was starting to pass, but it took everything with it. I didn’t even have the strength to inhale. The next one would kill me, then Shepherd would hatch. Already, I could feel him summoning his strength.

“Yes, that,” Karen said. “Please, hurry.”

“Well…see, the thing is, this is one of a kind. It’s made of pure Chinese silk, and it was hand-crafted by a Serbian artisan that was a master at her—”

“I get it,” Karen said, impatient. “Whatever it’s worth, I’ll pay you back. I need it to save a man’s life.”

“Well, okay, but it’s worth over eight-thousand dollars.” Gwen placed the bolt in Karen’s hands, thereby setting the contract.

Karen stared at the insanely overpriced lace. She looked at me, then her eyes narrowed in annoyance. “Of course, it does. Thanks a million, Toby.”

Like I’d asked to be possessed, but whatever.

Karen knelt in front of me then began to wind the lace around my legs. I could feel Shepherd’s confused distrust. “What are you doing?” he said.

Karen continued to wrap the bolt around my arms and chest. There was just enough fabric to wrap it once around my head. Karen held the tail-end in one hand, cupping my chin to hold my head back with the other.

There wasn’t a trace of uncertainty in her voice as she said, “Alex Shepherd, behold. I am Death, come for you at last.”

Karen yanked on shroud. It fed through her hand against my face, and there was a great wrenching inside of me. When the horrible feeling passed, I had complete control over my feet.

“Alex Shepherd, hear the raven’s wings and feel the cold tide. Death has come for you.”

Karen pulled the shroud again. The silk passed over my legs and hands, then I had the ability to move both, though not the power.

“Alex Shepherd, your time is at an end. The afterlife has a just fate in store for you.”

She yanked again, and my freed torso burned as though I’d just run a marathon.

“You hid in that prison, so imprisoned you shall remain, until the end of time.”

She yanked again, and I could draw a breath. However, my voice was still not my own. “I’m going to burst every blood vessel in his brain on the way out,” Shepherd vowed.

Karen looped two quick swoops of the fabric around my head then I was completely blind. “You’ll do nothing. You have no power here, Shepherd.” This wasn’t bravado. “Your fate is sealed.”

Karen pulled again and the fabric was resistant, as though snagged. My head felt too full, like my brain had doubled in size and turned to concrete.

“Caught and trapped, locked and snapped, I hear you claw and hiss. One way free, look and see, go back to the abyss!” Karen gave one more mighty yank, and it was like she was trying to pull an entire grapefruit through my nose.

The next few seconds happened in slow motion. The folds of lace rippled as they drifted through the air, but they looked like a human face screaming in impotent rage. Karen turned, the fabric billowing around her as it passed over the clay sculpture. The figurine twisted and threw its head back, then shuddered to a standstill.

Breathing hard, Karen kicked the statuette out of the circle, into Gwen’s waiting hands. The demoness picked it up, muttering something about a kiln being ready, but I barely heard her. Soft hands lifted my head, then brushed the hair out of my eyes.

Karen propped my head against her chest, then held the cup of her blood to my lips. I was beyond weak and every swallow passed through my throat like broken glass, but I couldn’t stop drinking.

“It’s okay,” Karen’s voice flowed into the approaching darkness. “It’s over now. I’m here, and you’re going to be fine.”

That’s the last thing I remember.

<<Chapter 18

Chapter 20>>

WitD3: Chapter 18

*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.

<<Start from the beginning

Chapter 18

The freight train roared above my head, loud enough to drown out my thoughts, as a shower of sparks rained down around me. I could feel myself being shaken free from the trestle, so I held onto the crossbeam with one hand as I cradled my head in the other. My skull felt as though it were literally about to split open, but I reminded myself that the torment wouldn’t last much longer.

Far below, the river rushed around the bridge’s concrete support beams. Silver bodies flashed just below the surface of the water, more and more of them every time I looked. The nixies had become aware of me. When the train finally rumbled off into the distance, I could hear the water sprites chattering at each other in their strange demon language. Their eagerness for my flesh was nearing a frenzy.

My eyes felt hot and dry from staring at the sun as it set, and the tendons in my wrist screamed. Even so, I couldn’t stop writing.

A couple weeks after my mother set me free, I found this dirty homeless guy. He was trying to fight off invisible KGB agents behind a Chinese buffet. I heard a crack when I tackled him next to the dumpster. It was the sound of his neck breaking. I can still feel his matted beard against my tongue, and his sweat was so sour, but his blood was liquid gold. I didn’t drain him dry, yet there’s no way he survived.

I ripped the paper out of my dwindling notebook then let the wind carry it away. I watched as the note drifted down to the rushing water. A nixie leapt out of the river to snatch the paper from the air, appearing then disappearing in almost the same instant. I could hear their breezy, tittering laughter as I began to write again.

The year before I met Justine, I came across a girl as she was stumbling home after a night spent binge-drinking with her friends. She tried to scream when I clamped my hand over her mouth to drag her back into the bushes. She didn’t stop trying to scream until I bashed her head against a rock.

I ripped out the paper. I think, by this point, every nixie in the river had gathered below me, their grey faces glistening and eager. Their mossy hair floated on the water as they stared up with jet black eyes that were too large for their faces. I found my gaze being drawn to one female in particular. Her lips were moving, and I realized she was trying to tell me something. I squinted as I opened my senses, but then her face split into a vicious display of razor-sharp teeth.

A female voice to my left startled me so much that I almost fell. “You know, for a vampire, you are remarkably unobservant. I could’ve killed you five times already, if I were so inclined.”

To be honest, I’d expected a troll; I mean, we were on a bridge. However, the woman that sat on the neighboring crossbeam, just out of reach, was anything but a troll. In fact, for several seconds, all I could do was stare.

She was very pretty, but it was an unusual kind of beauty. At first glance, she was stunning, but then she tilted her head and looked away. From that angle, she appeared almost alien. Her most striking feature was her hair; it was so red and shiny that it could’ve been spun from rubies. More than that, it was so long and thick that it was a wonder her scrawny neck didn’t break under the weight of it. It played on the breeze like writhing tentacles.

Her skin was lily white, while her eyes were bright green and large enough to drown in. She wore an ankle-length, wispy white gown and a light brown hooded cloak. Even with the loose-fitting clothes, it was obvious that she was crazy thin. Her bare feet were hooked at the ankles as she idly kicked her heels, but she possessed absolutely no scent.

My initial surprise faded to nothing, so I started writing again. “Then why didn’t you, demon?”

When I was seventeen or so, I mugged a street vendor on his way to the bank. I beat him so badly that he spent the next week in a coma. There was only seventy-five dollars in his deposit bag. I did it in broad daylight, but the cops arrested a gang member in the neighborhood because he had long hair like me. Word on the street was that the banger got twenty years, but I never told anyone the truth. I didn’t even care. I still don’t.

I ripped the paper out, then tossed it to the wind.

The demon watched me. “I have no desire to kill you. You’re of far more use to me alive. Besides, feeding Disavowed to the nixies is such a Watcher-move, don’t you agree?” She had one of those uppity British accents designed to get on a person’s nerves. “So, you’re Tobias, right?”

I replied with a noncommittal grunt.

“You do the vampire blog?”

Last year, I beat a man half to death then drained his blood after I saw him slap his wife on a subway platform. I think he was in his eighties. “Not anymore,” I said. I ripped the paper out then tossed it to the nixies.

“Pity.” She sounded like she meant it. “You know, I really liked that blog. Well, up until the end. You can call me Gwen.”

“I didn’t ask.”

When I lived with Justine, I fucked other women every chance I got. I lost count of how many. I knew that I loved Justine. Deep down, I was aware that she had feelings for me, too. I knew that when I came home smelling of other women, it bothered her. That’s why I did it.

I ripped the paper out, crumpled it in my fist, then tossed it away.

“I was going to ask what you’re doing up here, but I think I’ve figured it out,” she said. “Good for you.” I gave her a strange look out of the corner of my eye. “Confession is healthy. It’s good for the soul.”

 “I don’t think that’s what I’m doing,” I said. Once, I tried to figure out exactly how many men and women I’ve almost killed for their blood. How many have I actually killed? It’s not like I ever stuck around to see if they were all right afterward. Their faces have all blended together, so it’s impossible to know. But it must be in the hundreds.

“Then what are you doing?” she said, extremely patient.

I looked at her at last. “Bragging.”

I could tell that I’d unnerved her, but she hid it well. “I see. Well, let’s get down to business then, shall we? You know why I’m here?”

My hand flew across the paper as though it had a mind of its own, describing the time I’d broken a fourteen-year-old boy’s collarbone because he tried to stop me from stealing his wallet. “I do,” I said. “Never mind. It’s too late now.”

She blinked in surprise, her smile mystified. “Too late? You just sent out the call. How can it be too late?”

“I changed my mind,” I grumbled as I hunched over my notebook like a meth head with his last rock.

“I see.” Her tone was annoyed. “So, are you really going to kill yourself, or are you just teasing those poor nixies?”

I didn’t answer. I just continued to write as fast as I could.

“Wow, you’re making this really awkward.”

“Then leave.”

When I was twelve, I began to see women as more than just men with boobs. There was this one chick in particular that lived alone in a low end apartment on the east side. She had long black hair, a model’s face, and a smoking hot body. She was a cunt waitress, but she used to walk around like she owned the world.

“Tell me, when was the last time you had any blood, Tobias?”

I began to tell her to fuck off, but then I hesitated. Deep, deep down, in the hidden recesses of my brain, buried under the muck and mire of pain and bad memories, a cup of cold blood splattered the floor of my prison cell. I grabbed Ochoa’s arm, then yanked it through the bean slot until I felt the jarring pop of his shoulder dislocating. His scream echoed down the run when I sank my fangs into his wrist…

But that couldn’t be right. I couldn’t have gone that long without blood. My throat wasn’t even dry. I had to have fed at some point, I just…couldn’t remember doing it.

“Look, Gina—”

“Gwen,” she said sweetly.

“Right. Look, I’m a little busy here. So, if you could kindly just…fuck the fuck off.”

Her eyes cooled but her radiant smile was untouched. “Charming. Clearly, everything I’ve heard about you is true. No matter, though, we should keep this professional. Here’s what I need from you in exchange.”

My thoughts were disjointed and incomplete. “In exchange for what?”

“In exchange for finding Karen,” she said with a little laugh, as though the answer should have been obvious. “Don’t you want to find Karen?”

My focus drifted back to the page in front of me. My handwriting was sloppy and almost unrecognizable. “No.” I felt something fall from my eye then a droplet splattered the paper, but my hand never stopped moving. “I don’t deserve to find Karen.”

I waited until she was in the shower one night then sliced through the screen on her bedroom window. She left the windowpane up, so I could crawl right inside. She was asking for it, or maybe the universe wanted me to do what I did. I slipped into her room, closed the window, then hid in her closet.

Gwen stared down at the horde of water fairies gathered beneath us. “You know, vampire, of all the ways to commit suicide, ripped apart and eaten by nixies has got to be the most hardcore. A gunshot to the head would be just as effective.”

“But not as foolproof.” She came out of the bathroom wearing nothing but a towel. She had no idea I was there so I watched her for a long time, until the rock-hard handle of the knife ached in my hand. I stepped out of the closet behind her…

Gwen was suddenly on the beam next to me, her chilly hand on my wrist. “You know that’s total bullshit, right?”

I described the rape in as vivid detail as I could. “What is?”

“That. You know none of that happened, don’t you?”

Her skin smelled like lilac soap, at first. Then it smelled like sweat and blood. The way she screamed against the pillow was so fucking incredible. “Yes, it did.”

“I should rephrase that. Yes, it happened, but not to you. You had nothing to do with this.”

I shook my head at her stupidity. “Then why do I remember it?” I said, my voice empty.

“Because you were there.”

I gave her a hard look. “Get away from me before I tear your head off, poke your eyes out, then skull-fuck you.”

This wasn’t an empty threat, but she was unimpressed. “Not you, Toby.” She touched me between the eyes with the tip of her finger. “You. You were there. Weren’t you?”

I couldn’t tear my gaze away from hers, but my hand flung the notebook away. It flapped like a bird with a broken neck as I shifted my weight to fall forward.

 

<<Chapter 17

Chapter 19>>