WitD3: Chapter 41

*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 41

 

Finding blood in the pea-soup fog was more like takeout than actual hunting. I started with an appetizer of strung-out looter, followed by a big helping of Thai mugger. For dessert, I topped my meal off with a few chugs of Mexican coke dealer. By the time I finished, my stomach felt like an overinflated water balloon. I knew I’d catch shit later, but I had more important things to worry about than territory. I had to be at full strength before I took on that fucking fairy.

When my ears quit ringing and I stopped seeing double, I looked myself over. My claws were blunt but hard as steel. My gums were sore where the new molars were growing in, but I still had my fangs. Shiny stumps covered the rest of the body parts I’d lost. My hair had grown, but only enough to get into my eyes. Luckily, the coke dealer had a skull cap he didn’t need anymore.

I made it back to Gwen’s place just before sunrise. I found her shop without trouble, despite the fog, which surprised me. Until then, I’d always thought that ‘I can’t see my hand in front of my face’ was just a figure of speech. I knew, though, that I hadn’t caught Gwen on the one day she’d failed to refresh the magic protecting her home. She’d been expecting me. Even so, I couldn’t risk being seen coming or going through her front door.

Gwen’s place was dark, and too quiet. I took a few exploratory sniffs, but they told me nothing. The fog must’ve blended with the morning mist rolling off the ocean. On top of the lack of visibility, a strange saltiness, almost like saline, hung in the air. The scent turned to cold acid in my sinuses then trickled down the back of my throat.

There are few things in life that irritate me more than nose-blindness.

I circled to the back alley then jumped over Gwen’s privacy fence. I landed in a crouch as I said, “Mata Diablo.”

I’d lost track of how many times I’d called the weapon since naming it. Even so, Mata Diablo always appeared. The problem was, I had to use the knife, or at least hold it tight, to keep it from disappearing again. It was like the instant I stopped thinking about it, Mata Diablo went away. It was annoying, but not a big deal. The issue was that Gwen had been the one to give me the dagger. It stood to reason that she could take it away. It was the most effective weapon I had against Gwen, but I couldn’t count on Mata Diablo during the fight.

So, that was it then? I’d committed to beating Gwen to death with my bare hands? Never mind that she’d only every helped me, all hexes aside. Never mind that she was one of the few Immortals in town trying to stop the plague. Never mind the fact she had two small children—

Ah, fuck me, I’d forgotten about her kids.

Who the hell was I kidding? I wasn’t going to kill Gwen to get to Khalid. I’d be just like him if I pulled shit like that. I couldn’t get Karen away from him by myself, though. Sure, Gwen was a fairy and I was a vampire. Not to mention Gwen had hired me to kill Karen, but I didn’t think that was anything personal. Maybe, if we worked together…I don’t know. I had to try.

Gwen’s back door stood open, and apparently, it had been for a while. Fog filled the house, so thick that it was hard to see the counter from the kitchen table. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as I reached inside to knock on the door. I noticed at once that I didn’t feel any sort of resistance. What had happened to Gwen’s wards? I took a deep breath then stepped over the threshold into the kitchen, half-expecting to burst into flames. I didn’t feel so much as a twinge of pain or nausea.

My lips barely moved as I said, “Mata Diablo.” The dagger appeared then I gripped the handle tight. Something was very, very wrong. I knew Gwen wouldn’t have abandoned the place. Not if she held Domain. No, something evil had happened there. It was still nearby; I could feel it. Gwen’s home’s energy had been as bright and airy as a field of sunflowers. In less than a day, that same energy had grown darker, heavier, and colder than the deepest part of the ocean.

I moved closer to the wall, on high-alert for any threat, then my hip jarred the kitchen table. A vase full of dead flowers tipped over, crashing onto a plate of moldy food and silverware. It sounded like a redwood log rolling down a mountain of cymbals. I mouthed curses as I waited for some sort of fallout, but nothing happened. Far from reassured, I closed my eyes to open my other senses.

Aside from rustling in the nursery above, I heard nothing. I moved with extra care as I crept toward the staircase. I was so focused on stealth that I almost tripped over the warm body curled next to the stove.

Even though it lay at my feet, the figure was a dark blob in the mist. Only the curve of the hip let me know the victim was a woman. She lay on her side, facing away from me, but I could tell at once that it wasn’t Gwen. She wasn’t scrawny enough. Dark, wet hair covered the woman’s face. She wore jeans and a simple black tee shirt, not the fancy dresses Gwen seemed to prefer. I didn’t hear any heartbeat, nor did she take a breath.

Who was this, I wondered as I crouched down. More importantly, why hadn’t I smelled a dead body? I touched the woman’s shoulder to move her onto her back, then her pale face rolled into view. I snatched my hand away, as though bitten.

Justine’s mouth hung open, her lips white. Blood trickled from the gaping holes in her neck. Her eyes were open and unblinking, but her empty stare punched right through me. My heart began to pound as the breath in my lungs turned to fire.

Justine’s corpse lay between me and the stairs. To find Gwen, and therefore save Karen, I’d have to step over Justine’s dead body.

Nice. Subtle much?

I took a deep breath, steeling my resolve. “You’re not really there,” I said. “This is just a trick.” I forced myself to stand. As I did, rage twisted Justine’s features. Her hand shot out to seize my pant leg, almost yanking me off balance. We froze, our gazes locked, as the Infernal red glow pushed the chocolate brown from Justine’s eyes.

“I loved you.” Her voice was so clear, I almost forgot she was an illusion designed to torment me. “I know you were feral, but why me? Why did you kill me? You could’ve picked any of my neighbors.” She stared at me, as though silently pleading for an explanation. When I failed to provide one, a tear slid down her cheek. “Did you ever love me at all?”

I kicked her hand away, then stepped over her. I saw the hurt and betrayal in Justine’s eyes as she laid on the floor again in defeat. I didn’t look back as I entered the darkened stairwell.

Elaina—rather, eight-year-old Ellie—waited for me on the landing. She whimpered as she rocked back and forth, clutching her ruined leg. She tried to staunch the flow of blood with her tiny fingers, but her shattered femur jutted from her thigh. The jagged, splintered ends were pink, the bone itself having been sucked hollow.

A wave of dizzying nausea made me lean against the wall. I’d never had any real memory of this attack. For thirty years, I’d been spared that horror. That time was over. “You’re a sick bitch, Gwen,” I said as hot bile rose into my throat.

Ellie looked up at me in terror. “Help me. It hurts.”

I ground my teeth together as I walked past her. “You’re not really there,” I said with a cold distance I didn’t feel.

Ellie began to cry when she realized I was leaving her behind. “Please, Daddy. I can’t walk. I’ll never walk again.”

Every word was a fresh knife in my heart. “I’m not your father.”

“I love you, Daddy. Why did you hurt me and Mommy? Please, help us. Daddy!”

I turned to scream at her to go away, only to find she was already gone. A powerful tremble began in my limbs as I forced myself to continue up the stairs.

“Keep it together, asshole,” I said under my breath.

The stairwell had narrowed since the last time I’d been there. Just like in Gwen’s portrait room, overlapping frames covered the walls. The people in the pictures were strangers to me. At least…I thought they were strangers.

I realized their eyes were literally following me. A middle-aged white dude in a business suit glared as I passed. “Murderer,” he said, his voice a growl.

His face clicked. When it did, I recognized everyone else. “Go fuck yourself,” I said through clenched teeth.

I locked eyes with the portrait of a black man, surrounded by his wife and six children. “You killed us,” he said. “All of us.”

I remembered him. He was one of the first miserable pricks I’d feasted on after my curse lifted. “I didn’t kill you.”

Lighting began to arc from wall to wall, popping like firecrackers. The next portrait sneered. “You drained us then broke our necks. What do you think would happen to us?”

“I didn’t care what happened to you,” I said as I began to take the stairs two at a time.

The portraits laughed, a fiendish chorus of disdain. “You care. We wouldn’t be here if you didn’t care.”

 “You deserved what happened to you. You all deserved it.” Who was I trying to convince? Them, or myself?

“Who were you to judge us?” I couldn’t tell which one of the pictures spoke, but I guess it didn’t matter. “You’re the biggest monster of us all.”

I couldn’t deny it. “Go back to hell.”

The mass of pictures hissed as I breached the top of the stairs. A whisper on the wind said, “We’ll be waiting for you.”

I didn’t have time to catch my breath before I was confronted with Gwen’s next illusion. Duct-taped to dining chairs and placed side-by-side to block my way, my grandparents and young aunt glared at me. Their milky ghoul eyes radiated hunger as they fought against their restraints.

Filtered by childhood, I remembered them as being huge. As a man, that changed. One look told me everything I needed to know about my grandmother. Her bleached blonde hair had been brushed to gleaming perfection. She wore satin pajamas, and even a little makeup. However, her youthful appearance was a mask to cover her haggardness. Even as a ghoul, her posture was weak and submissive.

My mother’s younger sister, though…How old had she been? Seven? Eight? Smaller than Ellie when I’d attacked her. I’m sure my mother had her motives, but seeing that tiny neck covered in bite marks rendered them void.

My grandfather looked just as I remembered him. The first memory I had was of that man holding me underwater, screaming at me to drown. Hatred swelled up from the pit of my stomach, ugly and very familiar. I kicked him hard in his chest, putting enough power behind the blow to flip his chair twice.

The fog dropped around my aunt and grandmother like a curtain. I guess Gwen figured out that she’d plucked the wrong heartstring.

The nursery was the first room on the right. I mustered my nerve then stepped forward, already knowing which ghost from my past Gwen had waiting for me. I wasn’t disappointed. The glamour crouched next to the door, but nothing could’ve prepared me to face it.

The young woman wore a long dress that covered her from her neck to toe. The sleeves stretched past her fingertips. Her long hair was dark, like mine, but sleek and glossy with a natural wave. She was beautiful. I’d almost forgotten that. The sight of her twisted around my heart like strangling vines. I backed away as she took a step toward me, her hand outstretched.

My mother smiled in disbelief, tears streaming down her face. “Tobias? Is that really you? You’ve grown…” Her voice was breathy and weak, as though afraid to talk.

I said nothing. Her cold hand cupped my cheek, and I could feel every bone in her fingers.

She covered her mouth to muffle her sobs. I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t crying. “Please, baby, don’t make any noise. He’ll hear you, and know I came up here.”

Jesus Christ, Sebastian. How old was this girl when you took a run at her? Fourteen? Even though I knew she was an illusion, I said, “Your father is dead, Olivia. He can’t hurt you ever again.”

My mother wiped her tears away, and blood smeared her cheeks. Her sleeves dipped back to expose dozens of crescent-shaped bite marks. Some were faded scars, some poorly-healed welts. The rest were raw and weeping. “Please don’t cry,” she said, even though I wasn’t crying. “I know you’re hungry, but I can’t. I just can’t. Not again.”

What if…what if this wasn’t an illusion? What if this really was my mother’s ghost, dragged from her eternal torment just to fuck with me? “You don’t have to feed me ever again, Olivia.”

My mother clutched my shirt with both hands. “I shouldn’t have made you come into this world.”

A deep chill settled over me. I’d forgotten that she used to say this to me all the time. Being a child, I’d had no idea what those words meant.

“I was so afraid someone would see me at the clinic and tell my father.”

“Stop,” I said, my mouth dry.

Her voice grew urgent, as though desperate to apologize. “I didn’t know what else to do. Then it was too late. Besides…you were my baby.”

Her fingers were so cold, they burned. “Stop.”

Olivia sobbed. “He said he loved me. He said he’d make me like him, but he never came back.”

I shoved down the violent urge to murder the hell out of Sebastian. “Enough!”

I realized an instant too late that Olivia held a matchbook. Her expression made her the poster child for psychopaths everywhere. Her gaze never wavered from mine as she struck a match, then the air ignited. The fireball whooshed like a tidal wave, peeling the flesh from my bones. It burned away my eyelids, so that flames were all that I saw.

Hell…My mother had dragged me with her, back to hell. I opened my mouth to scream, but the fire rushed down my throat.

Then, it was over. I found myself kneeling by the nursery door, surrounded by cool fog. My legs felt like jelly as I got to my feet and looked around to make sure I was alone. I saw no one, but that didn’t mean anything.

“Mata Diablo,” I said, my voice thick as I turned the door handle. It was unlocked.

The crib mattress creaked as I entered the room, and one of the babies gurgled. I took a step closer to the sound, only to be hit in the face by the smell of roadkill in a rotten diaper. The boy sat with his back to me as he played with a long string. He made small, animalistic grunts in the back of his throat.

Then, the reality of what I was seeing settled over me. The little boy’s skin was covered with the black flu rash. His chubby hands and cheeks were smeared with dried blood, his eyes white and unseeing. His sister…rather, what is left of her…was sprawled in the crib next to him.

Not much gets to me, but I had to close my eyes tight as I turned away. “This isn’t real.” I said in a desperate prayer. “This is another illusion.”

“If only that were true.’” I turned to find Gwen sitting in the rocking chair. She hugged her knees to her chest as she stared at the waking nightmare in the crib. The lines of her body were fuzzy, and I could see right through her.

Just then, I understood. The strange mist that had blanketed the city for almost twenty-four hours…this was Gwen’s true form. Grief had torn her apart.

Gwen’s face rippled like water, and her empty voice seemed to come from everywhere at once. “He had a fever, but that was nothing new. He ran a fever every time he cut a new tooth. I gave him some Tylenol to keep him comfortable, then we all laid down for a nap. Three hours later, I woke to his sister screaming.” Gwen closed her eyes in agony as more lightning arced through the air. “It was already too late to save her.”

I lifted my hand to rub my fingertips together. The mist that filled the air…I was covered head to toe in Gwen’s tears.

Rage surged through me. “Khalid. Khalid did this.”

Gwen let her head fall back, as though heartbroken to the point of exhaustion. “Khalid has been trying to kill my children since the beginning. He insisted that it was the only way to save me.” Her face hardened as she looked at me. “Now, with your help, he has finally succeeded.”

This knocked me for a loop. “The fuck? You’re blaming me?”

Gwen held out her hand, then opened her palm to reveal a dead butterfly. I recognized it at once as one of the golems Karen had made in her room at Kingdom Come. That one must’ve hitched a ride in my hoodie. “I have wards in place all around my home to protect myself and my children. I know Khalid. I know what he is capable of. I loved him, but only a fool would trust him.” Her voice took on a wicked resonance. “When you tricked my son into inviting you into our house, you brought this little bastard with you.” There was a hiss, then the butterfly’s delicate body disintegrated.

I couldn’t deny responsibility, not when it stared me in the face. “Then help me. Help me make him pay for what he’s done.”

Gwen stood as her hair transformed into a crown of flames. “You care nothing for my vengeance. You want only to protect the necromancer that murdered my children.”

Well, that settled that. “Mata Dia—”

Gwen’s scream drowned me out, then I was swept up in a tide of irresistible force. The invisible surge dragged me down the hall, banging me against walls and the ceiling. Before I could think to grab ahold of anything, I was slammed into the claw-footed bathtub. Saltwater flooded into my mouth and nose. Through the churning surface, I could see Gwen’s furious expression.

“You failed me, bloodsucker!” Her voice was like an earthquake and a volcanic eruption, all rolled up into one big ball of crazy. “Now you’ll pay the price!”

I had just enough time to wonder if she intended to drown me in her tears, or hold me under till I dissolved, when the water began to boil. The pain was immediate and beyond words. Panicked, I kicked and punched. I connected with nothing except the sides of the tub.

The second I accepted that this was the end, Gwen yanked me up. Her teeth scraped my ear as she said, “This is nothing compared to the suffering I will unleash upon your necromancer.” She shoved me under again, having become the sort of Infernal that can feed her kind for centuries.

I couldn’t call, but I was in definite need. Mata Diablo

Even through the agony, I felt the weapon in my hand. I took a blind swing, then thanked the blessed universe when the blade jarred against bone.

Gwen shrieked as the force holding me under the roiling water went away. I sat up, scalding tears cascaded down my face.

“Tenanye!” I said, coughing. I barely managed to squeeze the word through my swollen throat, but it was clear as a bell.

The enormous press of evil disappeared. “What did you call me?” she said, her voice small.

Somehow, I pulled myself over the edge of the tub then fell to the floor. I didn’t have to see my skin to know it was hanging from my flesh in ribbons. “Tenanye. Tenanye…I command you.”

There was another heartbeat of silence, then Gwen wailed.

“Heal me!” I had to shout to be heard above her wretched misery. “Tenanye, fucking heal me!”

Her scream turned into one of fury and absolute hatred. Regardless, in that same instant, my pain was gone. I could see, I could hear, and I could move freely. I pushed myself onto my hands and knees, to find all my missing body part had regrown. I had all my fingers and toes, and not a single blister on my skin.

The fog was gone. Gwen lay on her side next to me, sobbing in pure despair. Her cries were so pitiful that, despite everything, I felt a pang of guilt.

The bathroom door banged open, then a tall man walked into the room. He was flanked on either side by two more men, all three grim and angry. They appeared to be in their late-twenties and were dressed in fine silks. It was as though they’d stepped out of another century. Their faces were human, but, like Gwen, there was something off about all of them.

“Tell me, bloodsucker.” The leader shared Gwen’s strange accent. “How did you come to learn our sister’s true name?”

<<<Chapter 40

Chapter 42>>>

As always, thanks to all of you for following the story. I hope all of you enjoy what you’ve read so far, because, without you, there would be little point in writing it. If you like what you’ve read and want to help spread the word, please click the buttons below to like and share. You’d be doing more to help an independent author than you can possibly know. As always, stay blessed.

 

Chapter 41 will be delayed, because I do stupid, stupid things.

Hi. Ordinarily, I strive to keep my personal business off the internet because I’m an incredibly private person. Besides, it feels arrogant to presume anyone would care about my life or personal opinions. I’m here to tell stories, not change lives. I decided to make an exception today, so my story can serve as a warning to others.

Here’s the TL;DR: I haven’t been able to work on my book for a few days because my German Shepherd tried to rip my hand off.

Still with me? Okay, here’s the long version. Our family has four dogs. We never planned on having four dogs, but it just kind of panned out that way. This isn’t about all of our dogs, though; just the two males. koga

Koga is ten years old, and we’ve had him since he was a puppy. This dog is my freakin heart. He’s smart, he’s loyal, he’s funny, he gorgeous. You are literally looking at the best dog in the world.

ares

Ares is my son’s dog, and I personally delivered him. His mother was a stray, we took her in, and she thanked us a month later by giving birth to eleven puppies. We found homes for nine of the babies and the mom, but were left with two we just couldn’t place. The puppies, as they’re still known, will be two-years-old on New Year’s Eve.

Once upon a time, the boys got along very well. Then, Koga got old and Ares hit puberty. I guess the problem is that Koga feels as though he should still be in charge, and has never been above shoving the other dogs out of the way. The girls take his grumpy-old-manness in stride, but Ares has begun to take offense. Despite the fact that Ares is terrified of Koga–he trembles and growls every time Koga gets near him–they progressed to actual brawls about a month ago

Fast-forward to October eighteenth. What started this particular fight? Food. It’s almost always about food. Koga won’t let Ares near it unless I make him. Sometimes, Koga will run up and act like he’s going to take Ares’ food just to show he can, and that’s when Ares gets pissed.

img_5278

I know that looks terrible, but it all came from one scratch in the middle of his head. I posted it so you can see the horror I’m dealing with. Plus, it doesn’t help that Ares takes his job as guard dog extremely seriously. He acts like he was part of the Queen’s guard in a former life. img_5105

On October 18, the boys got into another knock-down-drag-out fight. My son and I tried to break them up by sticking a broom between them, since this has worked in the past, but not that day. Ares caught hold of Koga’s ear and would. Not. Let. Go.

I panicked and did the stupidest thing in the world. I reached between them, knowing it was a mistake, to grab them by the napes of their necks and drag them apart. Unfortunately, Koga decided to go for Ares’ neck at the same time. Guess who got bitten?

Yup. Me. I want to make this clear: I was at fault. I knew better. Everyone with sense knows not to reach between two fighting dogs. I was lucky in that Koga let go the instant he realized he’d gotten me and not his brother, and that he didn’t thrash his head. He didn’t have to. With the exception of that wide gash on my knuckle, those are puncture wounds that go all the way to the bone. Four days later, the bruises have risen to the surface and the swelling is just now starting to go down. For ten days, I get to enjoy a regimen of antibiotics that turn my stomach and make every inch of my skin feel like I’m covered in mosquito bites.

Oh, yeah. AND they didn’t give me stitches in the ER (Thanks, Obama) but instead decided to close my boo-boos with steri-strips. Guess what. I’m allergic to the adhesive in most bandages, and these were no different. Now, I have pus-filled blisters surrounding the bite marks, because why not?

Oh, btw? October the 18th is my birthday.

The good news is this seems to have taken the fight out of the boys. They mostly avoid one another now. While I know that some self-proclaimed dog experts won’t agree, we are not getting rid of either dog. It’s just not an option. These dogs are family. To us, and to each other. We are actively working to eliminate the stress-factors that play into the aggression between Koga and Ares. Instead of constant hostility, we are actively working to make them associate one another with fun and play instead of rivalry.

So, that’s why the new chapter is running late. I know, maybe three people in the world care if WitD3 is ever finished, but hey. You three people mean the world to me. And, for you three people…OMG LOOKIT MAH HAND!!!

I’m glad to be able to type again. Please, for the love of all that is holy, respect your animals. Big or small, dogs are dogs, and that is not a bad thing. That’s what makes them so wonderful. We have to love them as dogs. Not four-legged people, but dogs. My family is going to approach Koga and Ares’ problems from a perspective they, as dogs, can understand. To do anything else would be a disservice to them.

 

WitD 3: Chapter 40

*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-40

Chapter 40

 

Vampires don’t have souls. Humans lose theirs when they get Turned, and the Pure are born without them. When a vampire dies, there’s no eternal reward or punishment. We just blip out of existence. Therefore, good and evil are just words to us.

I never believed in God; I just take his name in vain a lot. I’ve never believed in anything. Humans invented religion. Anything to make the short pointlessness of their lives more bearable. The majority of them will never admit to themselves that they’re floating on a speck of dust through a brutal and uncaring universe. If they did, most would swan-dive into the nearest active volcano.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I opened my eyes to find myself surrounded by light.

There was no tunnel. I didn’t feel myself being drawn. My head hit the wall, my neck crunched down into my shoulders, then I was floating in a sea of white. The light was brighter than the sun, but not at all painful. It took me a second to figure out that I’d died, and then another to realize I wasn’t alone.

A woman lay on top of me, almost nose to nose. Even that close, the light made the details of her face soft and fuzzy. It didn’t matter, though; I knew her. I would’ve known her anywhere.

 “Karen?” My voice didn’t want to work, and I’d never been so tired in my entire life. Oblivion seemed so inviting that I wanted to sink down into it forever.

I sensed rather than saw her affectionate smile. “No,” she said, and it was like her voice spoke directly into my brain.

I think, if I wasn’t numb from the neck down, I would’ve felt my heart skip a beat. I couldn’t hide the dread in my voice as I said, “Justine?” The idea of running into the woman I’d murdered in the afterlife never occurred to me. Talk about awkward.

I saw the blurry pink corner of her mouth turn up. “No.”

My eyes began to adjust, like those of a newborn. “Are you telling me you’re Serkani?”

Her smile became sad as she traced my bottom lip with the tip of her finger. “I’ve had dozens of names. I will have dozens more, before we are finally finished.”

Why do all women speak in riddles? Why wouldn’t she just let me sleep? “So, what do I call you?”

Her elbows on my chest, she propped herself up to give me a long look. Her black hair fell over her shoulder, tickling my cheek. “Call me Fetch.”

Weird name for a chick, but whatever. “Where are we?” Overhead, I could almost make out tree branches with radiant green leaves. I caught a sparkle out of the corner of my eye, like the surface of water. I even thought I could hear the soft babbling of a brook.

Fetch’s eyes drifted closed as she rubbed her nose against mine. “We are together.”

She knew what I’d meant, but I couldn’t be too aggravated with her. Not in that place. “And where is that?”

Fetch pressed her cheek against my chest, as though listening to my heart. The top of her head smelled like musky incense and strange flowers. “The in-between.”

“How did I get here?” I tried to make out more details of my surroundings. A deep ache was beginning to grow in my neck and the back of my head. It didn’t seem right, to experience pain in heaven.

“I brought you here,” she said. I sensed there was more to it than that. She was holding me there, keeping me from drifting away on that nearby stream.

“Why?” I sounded like an angry child. “Why can’t I just go?”

“Not yet.” Her voice was gentle but determined. “She needs you now.”

I frowned. “Who? Karen?”

Fetch’s lips brushed my cheek like the wings of a butterfly. “Yes, her too.”

 I didn’t want to ask, as though saying it would make it true. “Justine?”

Fetch pulled away to give me a meaningful look.

My throat tightened. I knew my heart would ache if I could still feel it. I couldn’t look at her as I said, “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”

Fetch shushed me. “I know, my love. She knows, too.”

“But she still hates me. I couldn’t…”

Fetch’s smile was warmer than the light. “You couldn’t help yourself. Fret not, my sweet. Love and hate aren’t so different. You can feel both at the same time.”

She wasn’t the first woman with that face to say the exact same thing to me. Those words brought me into focus. “Karen. How can I help Karen?”

Fetch let out a long breath as she pondered the answer to that question.  “Karen is lost and afraid, yet believes herself safe. She has to want to be freed.”

I shook my head, and sharp pain rippled through my neck and shoulders. “What can I do? Khalid has this hold on her that I can’t—”

Fetch placed a cool finger against my lips. “His hold over her merely overlaps your own. Shrug it away, vampire.”

She made it sound so easy. “How?”

Fetch pushed herself up to straddle me. Turns out, she was naked, so of course I couldn’t feel anything. She pressed her hand to her left breast, then turned it toward me. Her palm was stained dark with red blood, the color so intense that it shouldn’t have existed in that place.

“It still bleeds,” she said.

I didn’t see a mark on her. Besides, how do you hurt a guardian angel? “I don’t understand.”

Fetch placed her left hand behind my head, and the dull ache in my neck graduated to full-blown agony. Pins and needles began to radiate through my limbs. “You will,” she said, her voice already a fading echo.

My neck popped, then I was thrust out of the light into complete darkness. The ability to feel came crashing down on me like a mountain of jagged boulders. From the crown of my skull to the middle of my back, it felt as though someone had taken a sledgehammer to me. Beyond that tight core of pain, my surroundings were damp and very cold.

The scent of musty roses and graveyard dirt leaked through my senses, then I knew where I was. Somehow, I’d been brought home, to the vampire cemetery. However, I’d been placed in Justine’s glass coffin. My head laid on her white satin pillow, my hands folded on my chest. Faint torchlight danced on the walls.

I would’ve preferred hell.

Justine stood over me, glaring down as though she wanted nothing more than to twist my head off my neck. She held my skull between her icy hands, her claws gouged into my flesh. Before I could react, Justine gave a hard yank.

I couldn’t help but cry out as my spinal cord snapped back into alignment. Warmth flooded throughout my neck and skull, then the pain shrank to a minor twinge. Justine sneered as she took a step back, allowing me to sit up.

I was as thirsty as a drunk in the Sahara Desert, but I could move. Coming back from death had taken almost every drop of blood in my system. I’d need to feed, and very soon. I swung my legs out of the coffin to see if I could still walk, then realized Justine was leaving.

I didn’t want her to stay. I didn’t want to talk to her, or even see her. However, my voice doesn’t work for me. “Justine, wait.”

She stopped then looked back over her shoulder with cold disdain. Her eyes weren’t glowing, though, so I guess that was a good sign.

“You saved me? Why?”

Justine growled deep in her throat.

“I’ll find him for you,” I said before she could walk away. Night had fallen, and the fog made it pitch black beyond the open door of the tomb. How long had I been out?

Justine stood with her back to me, the line of her body rigid. I got the feeling that it was painful for her to be so close to me. I could relate. The feeling was mutual.

“Nicholai Santos. I’ll find that son of a bitch, then I’ll make him pay for what he did to you. To the both of us. I promise. I’ll kill him, so you don’t have to.”

A tiny bit of resentment drained from Justine’s face.

“Can that be enough to bring you peace?”

Justine pressed her hand against the wound in her chest, the most recent injury I’d given her. She turned her palm toward me, and her fingers were black with undead blood.

I nodded as I looked down in shame. “It still bleeds. Yeah. Me, too.”

Justine stepped out of the tomb, vanishing at once into the mist. I took a deep breath, then let it out slowly as I rolled my aching shoulders. Karen had been back in Khalid’s hands for hours. I didn’t want to think about what he’d done to her in the meantime.

I closed my eyes. “Okay,” I said to no one in particular. “Name it, and it will come when I call. Fine. How about…Mata Diablo?”

If there’s one thing I’d learned from years of hunting in the barrio, it’s how to speak unbelievably bad Spanish. It worked, though. Gwen’s dagger appeared in my hand. I held it out then released the handle, and the weapon dropped. I waited, but didn’t hear metal hit the stone floor.

“Mata Diablo?”

The dagger reappeared in my hand as though it had been there all along.

I nodded in satisfaction. Okay, then. The process seemed simple enough. Time to go kill Gwen.

<<<Chapter 39

Chapter 41>>>

Hi, everybody! Thanks for following the story. That was a long wait for a short chapter, I know. If you like what you’ve read, please take a moment to like and share it below. You’ll be helping an independent artist build a following. Here’s hoping the good karma points you wrack up turn into a winning lottery ticket!

WitD3: Chapter 39

chapter-39

*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 39

 

I didn’t believe I could save her. Even if I could wrestle Karen away from the hellhound, they were too far away. I couldn’t fall fast enough. That didn’t stop me from going over the edge after them. I didn’t think twice about it, but that’s nothing new. I never think twice.

It turns out, though, that five seconds is plenty of time to weigh this option: feet-first and live, or headfirst and die?

The look of terror on Karen’s face scalded my sanity. She stared at me, as though to say, “Can this really be happening?” I watched as the gravity of her situation hit her, then I shared her despair. She drew in the breath to scream as the fog swallowed them whole.

Then, silence. A deep, endless silence that stripped away every last shred of hope. Sorrow hit me like a spear to the chest, but it was brief. A numb sense of calm washed everything else away.

Okay, then. Headfirst.

It was the most peaceful decision I’ve ever made. I turned my body in the air, closed my eyes, then waited for the inevitable.

Then again…what if she was alive?

Call it foolish hope, but once the possibility entered my mind, I couldn’t dismiss it. People have survived falling out of airplanes. Besides, maybe that hellhound had cushioned Karen’s fall, or something. Maybe—just maybe—Karen was only broken and unconscious on the pavement below. Even if she was hanging on by a thread, I could still save her. Hell, we were right next to the fucking hospital.

On the other hand, if Karen was dead…I’d have to see her body. That image would take the place of every other memory I had of her. It had happened before. The only thing I really remember about my mother was killing her family for her. To my fucked-up brain, having ripped open Justine’s throat defined our relationship. I didn’t want to carry the image of Karen’s dead body in my head for the rest of my life. Sure, that would only be for another thirty seconds, or so, but still.

But, didn’t I owe Karen that much? A chance for survival, no matter how small. No matter what it cost me.

Whatever. The fog closed over my head as I twisted my body to land on my feet. In almost the same instant, I stopped falling.

Let me make this clear; I didn’t hit the ground. There was no sudden stop, no jarring impact, no pain. My momentum ground to a halt, then I hung in the air. Thanks to the blinding fog, I had no idea how far I had fallen. I had no idea how far I still needed to go. I flailed my arms and legs, but it made no difference.

It was then that I became aware of a low hum. The sound existed just below the general noise of the city, so I’d always tuned it out. There was no wind rustling through the trees, no traffic. No one shouted inside of the hospital. There was only that low, steady vibration of sound.

The fog rolled away, sucked back to form a bubble of clear space. I discovered that I wasn’t far from the ground. Had I continued to fall, I would’ve smashed into a garden thick with flowers, narrowly missing a stone fountain. Except…

The drops of water hung in the air, catching the light of dusk like neon rubies. Withered petals hovered on the still breeze, as motionless as a painting.

In a universe of wonders, there are some things that make you question everything you think you know. Time had frozen. I couldn’t even begin to wrap my mind around it.

The hellhound floated nearby, just out of reach, whimpering as it twisted its body in the air. Karen lay below, on her side with her back to me. Her hair pooled around her head in a puddle of black silk. The realization that I didn’t smell blood or any ruptured organs squashed my panic. I could even hear her slow, steady breathing, but my relief was very short-lived.

Khalid stood over her, his hands in the pockets of his long, trench coat. His expression was unforgiving as he looked up at me, his pupils glowing red. Aliese the Whore stood behind him. Her black hooker dress left nothing to the imagination. She smirked at me as though she shared his victory, her hands on her hips with her shoulders pulled back.

“It’s sundown, half-breed,” Khalid said, his voice as stern as the grave. “Your time is up.”

Khalid crouched down to turn Karen onto her back, then I broke. “No…No! Don’t you dare fucking touch her!” I clawed and kicked at the empty air, as though I could somehow gain traction.

Khalid chuckled under his breath as he brushed the hair from Karen’s face. “Don’t touch her? She belongs to me.”

“Karen!” My voice threatening to rip apart my vocal cords.  “Come on, Karen, you have to wake up!”

Khalid ran the tip of his finger down her brow, then along the bridge of her nose. “No. No, not yet.” He glared at me again. “This is the last time I let you borrow my things, half-breed. You promised she wouldn’t come to harm, but look at her. Her poor mind is positively awash with sorrow and anguish.”

My hatred of him was a force unto itself. “Because of you. Because of what you made her a part of.”

“Exactly,” he said without a trace of remorse. “She never needed to know. She is still young and innocent. What right did you have to take that away from her?”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Demons and their fucking demon logic. “If you ever let me down, I will tear that host body off your true form, one bloody chunk at a time.”

Khalid shook his head. “I don’t expect you to understand, vampire. There are precious few in this world with the wisdom and foresight to recognize the magnificence of this endeavor.” He gave Karen a sad look. “She might have come to understand, given time and a proper education. You’ve ruined that for me.”

“You’ve failed, Khalid. Accept it. We’ve already found the cure.”

Khalid’s smile took up his entire face. “Implement it, half-breed. I beg you. Inform as many mortals as you can that vampires hold the cure to their salvation. I shall watch with a heart full of joy, as the rift between your species becomes insurmountable. Especially after the vampires refuse to help. Then, when the humans are hunting you to harvest your livers, the tenuous peace will be forever shattered.”

There is some evil that boggles the mind. The realization that this had been Khalid’s intent all along made the cut. We hadn’t accidentally stumbled upon the black flu’s weakness. Khalid had tailored the plague to the cure.

“You sick fuck,” I said. Not creative, I know, but this was some next-level supervillain shit.

He looked back down at Karen as though he’d lost interest in me. “The world is sick, mule. I aim to cure it.”

“Let her go. She’s of no use to you now. Karen will never willingly help you again.”

Khalid nodded once. “I agree, but the word you’re looking for is ‘knowingly. If only I had the power to ease her mind and make her forget the horrors you’ve made her face today. Wait a minute.” Khalid looked as though he’d just had the world’s smuggest epiphany. “I can do that.”

I watched as Khalid passed his hand over Karen’s face, muttering in his Infernal gutter-language. The energy in his palm glowed against her skin like sunlight.

I wanted to tear myself apart in helpless frustration. “Karen, please, you have to wake up! Fight him!”

Khalid’s voice was soothing and hypnotic. “Hear no one but me. See nothing but me. Karen, my love, awaken and be at peace.”

Karen’s eyelashes fluttered, as though being pulled against her will from a very deep sleep. Her brow furrowed as she stared at Khalid. “Lord Ahriman?”

Khalid looked down at Karen as though she was the glittering center of the universe. “You were moaning, my dearest one. Are you all right?”

Karen blinked in confusion, then two fat tears rolled into her hair. “I…had a bad dream?”

I wished I had something, anything, on me that I could throw at her to get her attention. My stolen scrubs didn’t even have pockets. “It wasn’t a dream! Karen! Look at me!”

Khalid and Karen behaved as though I hadn’t spoken, but Aliese the Whore laughed in delight. “What did you dream about?” Khalid said.

Karen frowned as she struggled to remember. “I don’t know. I think…Toby?”

Khalid placed his hand on her forehead with a sympathetic smile. “You don’t need to be afraid of him anymore.”

My back teeth ground together as every muscle in my body locked with rage. “That’s bullshit! She never needed to be afraid of me!”

“Toby is in prison where he belongs,” Khalid went on as though I hadn’t screamed my lungs out.

Karen’s bottom lip quivered. “He doesn’t belong there.”

Those were the sweetest words I’d ever heard. Khalid had almost complete control over Karen’s body and mind, but he couldn’t touch the bond between us. That meant I still had power.

I heard the shadow of irritation enter Khalid’s voice as he said, “I understand your pain. I know you want to see only the best in him, but he is where he needs to be. Even he knows it.”

“Karen, don’t listen to him. I’m here. I’m still here!”

Khalid lifted Karen off the ground, bridal-style. She wrapped her arms around his neck as he stared unblinking into her eyes. “He can’t be trusted. He’s dangerous. He is a threat to you and to everyone you hold dear. Justine learned that lesson the hard way.”

Karen’s eyes rolled back as her voice emptied. “Yes, Lord Ahriman…”

Khalid smiled in satisfaction then kissed her on the forehead. “That’s a good girl. Go back to sleep, my love.”

Khalid turned to carry her away, then I literally saw red. “This isn’t over! I’ll make you pay if it’s the last thing ever I do!”

“I’m quaking in the purest terror, let me assure you.”

“I’ll get her back, and I’ll make you regret ever taking her. I’m going to start with your fairy-godmother, ex-fiancée.”

Khalid arched an eyebrow as he looked back over his shoulder.

“I still have the dagger, Khalid. I’m going to make her sorry she ever gave it to me.”

Khalid knew this wasn’t an empty threat. “Do tell? In that case, you should know that her true name is Tenanye.”

Aliese the Whore flinched as though he’d slapped her across the face. Her eyes widened, and her mouth dropped open as she looked back and forth between us. In the fog, just out of sight, there was a hiss. It was followed by the dry scratch of something large sliding across the concrete. Realizing we weren’t alone, Aliese the Whore took a frightened step closer to Khalid.

Khalid didn’t seem concerned. “Might I suggest, it might be wiser to start with threats closer to home.” He winked at the squirming hellhound. “Don’t you agree?”

The hellhound bared its teeth as its fur grew then fused together to become the material of a long, black dress. The veil of ebony hair parted, revealing a pale face with burning red eyes. Justine hissed at Khalid like a feral cat as flames began to flicker around her.

“Now, now, none of that,” Khalid said. He waved his hand in our direction, then Justine and I were catapulted backward. My bowels dropped into my feet as the mist closed around me. Before I could react, even to scream Karen’s name, I smashed headfirst into the hospital’s stone wall.

<<<Chapter 38

Chapter 40>>>

WitD 3: Chapter 38

chapter-38

*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 38

The metal surface of the exam table clanged as I strapped down the squirming body bag. Focused on the task at hand, I pretended not to notice the medical examiner’s smile. It made him look like a registered sex offender.

The M.E. was a small man, thin and frail with a wispy beard. Everything about him was pale, from his hair, to his skin, to his eyes. I wondered if he had any fairy in his background, but I didn’t ask. I have no idea what’s politically-correct anymore.

M.E. Creepy sipped herbal tea from a plain white coffee mug as he watched me do his job for him. “Are you sure you don’t mind?” he said for the third time.

I nodded as I took the tools from the autopsy tray. “It’s fine,” I said, and it was, as long as he upheld his part of the bargain.

I unzipped the body bag just enough to expose the ghoul’s face. This one was a pudgy, Hispanic teenager that bared its teeth at me with a growl. My flesh was too cold, so its milky gaze began to sweep the room.

“Don’t worry,” M.E. Creepy said. “I don’t mind you two hanging out down here. Heck, I’m kind of glad for the company. Have you heard anything about Angkor Wat?”

I placed the point of the stainless steel awl against the ghoul’s right eye, near the bridge of its nose. “Can’t say that I have,” I said as I smacked the handle with a rubber mallet. The awl’s sharp spike punched through the thin bone behind the socket. The ghoul went rigid as it let out a choked groan.

M.E. Creepy winced when I jiggled the handle, just as he had with every ghoul I’d disposed of for him. “It’s this gorgeous Buddhist temple in Cambodia. It’s one of the wonders of the world, because of how well it’s preserved. A group of my friends vacationed there during medical school, but I couldn’t afford to go with them at the time.”

I sighed as I dragged the dead ghoul over my shoulder. I stacked its body along with the others I’d already dispatched, inside a huge laundry trolley. An identical bin full of writhing body bags stood next to it. I stretched my aching back as I checked on Karen over my shoulder.

Karen sat behind M.E. Creepy’s desk, hugging a small wastebasket to her chest. Her eyes were vacant and glassy. I saw her shiver despite the white lab coat M.E. Creepy had given her.

I looked away. To M.E. Creepy, I said, “Hey, wouldn’t it be easier to just jiggle their brains in the first bin, then dump them in the second?”

M.E. Creepy lifted his shoulders. “Yeah, but I’m supposed to be giving them all a cursory medical examination before I declare cause of death.” He made no attempt to touch the pile of folders on the table beside him. “Hospital procedure, and all. Like we don’t already know what killed these people. Anyway, the longer I stretch this out, the longer I can avoid filling out the paperwork for every. Single. Ghoul.” He rolled his eyes and made a strangled sound, then smiled at me again. Goddamn, I wanted to punch him. “Again, I really appreciate you doing this. I euthanized eleven all by myself before I couldn’t take it anymore. Say, do you want me to call up to urgent care and check on your mom again, Kare Bear?”

I’d been unaware of this nickname, but M.E. Creepy had yet to call her anything else. I wondered if he knew she referred to him as ‘that freaky weirdo that works in the morgue.’ “No, thank you,” she said in a soft voice.

Guilt, I thought to myself, but said nothing. Also, she probably didn’t want to draw attention to our hiding place. Why would the medical examiner be calling the ER to check on a nurse aide?

“I’m so glad I work down here,” M.E. Creepy said. “Between the quarantine, and whatever gas leak made all those people sick on five? Trying to relocate all those patients? No thanks.” I strapped down the next ghoul as he shook his head. “You know, they tell us in medical school not to think of them as still being alive. It’s really hard when they’re moving around, looking at you, and stuff.”

I whacked the wooden handle, jiggled the awl, then yanked it free. “Not really,” I said. Putting a ghoul out of its misery was the easiest thing in the world.

“Have you ever considered doing these exterminations for a living? You could make pretty good money.”

I laughed under my breath as I carried the body to the bin. “Sure. Because being half-vampire isn’t bad enough?”

M.E. Creepy gave me a steady look. “I don’t think there’s anything bad about you.”

Karen lifted her head from the wastebasket with a frown, but I took it in stride. I’d wondered when he was going make his move.

M.E. Creepy did not pick up on the awkward vibe as I pulled the next ghoul from the live bin. “Are you seeing anyone?” he said.

Karen’s frown became a full-blown scowl.

“No,” I said, answering the question he was really asking. In truth, I wasn’t flattered or offended. Lots of people were turned on by my fangs.

M.E. Creepy shrugged. “Ah, well, it was worth a shot. Hey, what do you like better, Mustangs or Camaros?”

Whack, jiggle, yank. “I’m not really a horse person.”

M.E. Creepy laughed, and Karen had enough. “How many people have died?” she said without a trace of patience.

M.E. Creepy scratched his cheek as he gave this some thought. “You know, I’m not sure. Fifty or sixty. Confirmed, anyway.”

Karen’s irritation drained away then she swallowed hard. “Confirmed?” she said, her voice hollow.

“It seems reanimation is a fairly recent mutation of the pathogen. Before that, the symptoms of the disease varied from victim to victim. Now, they think some of the deaths might have been misattributed to food poisoning, meningitis, anaphylactic shock, and so on.” M.E. Creepy didn’t notice the wounded look on Karen’s face. “I heard one of the CDC doctors say there might be almost twice as many.”

Karen retched into the wastebasket as the door to the morgue opened. Michael frowned when he heard the god-awful, pterodactyl noises she was making. “Everything okay?” he said as he placed his hand on her shoulder.

I sneered. Did she look or sound okay? “Of course, you would show up now that most of the work is done,” I said. Whack, jiggle, yank. “How did it go with the disease people?”

Michael sighed as he rubbed Karen’s shoulders. “Well, we managed to get a meeting with the chief investigator, and he seemed really interested in what we had to tell him.”

I dropped the next ghoul onto the table. “But?” Whack, jiggle, yank.

“But, there’s a ton of bureaucratic bull crap that we have to wade through. I can preach all day that blood-mugging saved my life, but my case was never confirmed by a doctor. Until they get a chance to go over my bloodwork, they can’t be sure I actually had the black flu.”

Karen looked up from the wastebasket, breathing hard. “Black flu?”

M.E. Creepy piped up, as though he’d been part of the conversation. “The microbiologists with CDC are having a hard time classifying exactly what sort of pathogen this is. It has the characteristics of both H1N1 and Yersinia Pestis.”

Whack, jiggle, yank. “Translation, please?” I said.

M.E. Creepy gave me an affectionate look. “Spanish flu and the bubonic plague. Black death.”

I nodded as I piled the latest lobotomized ghoul on top of the others. The heap in the second bin threatened to topple over.

Michael frowned at the way M.E. Creepy watched me work. “As I was saying,” he said, “they were willing to give blood-mugging a shot, as long as the sick people volunteered for the procedure. Plus, I need to provide rebirth certificates for all the vampires involved.”

M.E. Creepy made a disgusted sound. “Yeah, because god forbid we end up with any new vampires.” I knew that was for my benefit, and that he was trying to win me over. It didn’t work; if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s posturing. “Hey, do any of you want to go out to eat after we get done here? On me.”

Michael and I looked at each other. I grew up on the streets, and I hunted drug dealers for sport. Even I had better social skills than this guy. “So, anyway,” Michael said. “I wish I could get more vampires to help. It took two vampires to filter my blood, and I’ve only gotten five of the Disavowed to agree to come to the hospital after the sun goes down. We’re not going to be able to save more than a handful of people at this rate.”

I knew what Michael was driving at. “Sebastian already said that he wouldn’t help,” I said as I strapped the next ghoul down.

Michael rubbed his five-o’clock shadow. “What about the governess?”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Sure, I’ll just ask her over tea next time we get together.”

Michael hesitated then said, “What about Hlin?”

I almost dropped the awl. “Jesus back-flipping Christ, Michael. Do you want me to suck the devil’s dick while I’m at it?”

Michael let out a long breath as he ran his hand through his hair. “Fair enough.”

I jiggled the ghoul on the table, then noticed the look on Karen’s face. “Did you know this one?” I said.

Karen met my gaze, but only for a second. “I’ve known all of them.”

I rolled my eyes, because fuck me straight to death. “Then quit watching,” I said, louder and angrier than I’d intended.

Karen’s ivory brow furrowed. “I have to watch.” Her tone made it clear that arguing with her was pointless.

I moved the next body onto the examination table, wishing Michael would just take Karen out of the room. In my defense, her emotional distress was sapping every ounce of energy I had left. Plus, I would’ve liked a moment alone to process the fact that she was married. I said nothing as I strapped the next ghoul down, unzipped the body bag, then froze.

Karen closed her eyes in exhaustion. “Okay, I don’t know that one.”

I stared at the ghoul’s swollen face and savage eyes. “I do,” I said. It was D.A. Edward Halloran, the prosecutor for my case. Unlike the others, there wasn’t a trace of any rash on his skin. My hand moved on its own, continuing to unzip the body bag. M.E. Creepy frowned as the ghoul gnashed its teeth and growled at him.

“What are you doing?” Michael said when the ghoul’s half-erect cock came into view.

I didn’t answer. Halloran’s blood hadn’t settled to the back of his body, because he didn’t have much left. He didn’t smell of decay, and there was no heat from the fever that should’ve killed him. In fact, the only marks on his body were the two small puncture wounds on his inner thigh.

M.E. Creepy’s eyes widened. “Oh, wait. Never mind. I’m supposed to…I mean, I can do this one.” He moved my hands aside to zip the body bag closed again. “His family wanted him cremated apart from the others, so I need to prep him for the funeral home.” He took the awl and mallet from me. “You guys should probably go before you get caught down here.”

“Good idea,” Michael said, pulling Karen to her feet. “In fact, Tamryn’s in one of the labs down the hall. She said she had something to show us. Why don’t we go see what she has to say?”

I stripped out of the lab coat M.E. Creepy had let me borrow. “Well, thanks, I guess,” I said. And say hello to my grandmother next time you see her.

M.E. Creepy’s pedophile smile beamed. “No, thank you for all your help. It was a real pleasure meeting you.”

I felt my face tighten as I nodded, then I joined the others in the hall. The door to the morgue closed behind us then Karen announced, “Loki’s left nut, how annoying was that guy?”

Michael shook his head. “I hate to say it, but I have to agree.”

I said nothing, deep in thought as we followed Michael to the lab. What did this mean for my trial? If my prosecutor was dead, it was a safe bet that no evidence against me remained. Hell, I’d be surprised if Halloran’s office could still find my case files. Hlin wasn’t the type to get sloppy. So…now what? Was I free?

Karen’s feet dragged as she shuffled down the hall. She appeared ready to fall over, not that I blamed her. I put my hand on her elbow as I said, “Hey, how are you holding up?”

Karen appeared to have lost ten pounds. “I feel sick.”

A flash of terror shot through me. “What do you mean, you feel sick? Do you feel sick because today fucking sucked, or do you feel sick like you think you might be coming down with—?”

“No. I feel contaminated. Down to my soul. I feel like my blood has turned to toxic waste and my organs are filled with tar. I feel like if they burned me at the stake, the flames would be bright green and last for a week. Then, when I’m nothing but ash, the ground beneath me would be poisoned, simply because I’d stood there. That, Toby, is how I’m holding up.”

Wow. Okay, then. “I guess I can understand that.”

Karen pulled her arm out of my hand. “Trust me. You don’t.”

I had a lot to say but decided to keep my mouth shut. I followed Karen and Michael into the darkened lab, where Dr. S peered into a microscope. She lifted her head as we approached, her eyes glittering with excitement.

“I’ve done it,” she said in greeting. “I’ve figured out how the black flu is being transmitted.”

Karen sat down hard on a nearby stool as I crossed my arms. “We know how it’s spreading,” I said. “I thought we were focused on getting more vampires to go along with the cure.”

Dr. S nodded. “We are, but there’s no way in hell we’re going to get humans to accept help from vampires. Not without solid proof that there’s no other way. The good news is, the blood we drew from Father Cooper confirmed that there are dead and severely weakened black flu microbes in his bloodstream. The bad news is, the CDC seems far more interested in duplicating his antibodies to create some sort of vaccine. That could take months, and it does nothing to help the people that are sick right now. Taking advantage of Immunoglobulin V is a violation of some sort of ancient treaty or…whatever.” She waved her hand in dismissal.  “Anyway, what I wanted to show you guys is this.”

Dr. S reached under the lab table to pick up a bright orange biohazard bag. She snapped on some latex gloves, then reached inside to pull out Michael’s dead, floppy kitten. It was still cute despite its mangled spine, and Karen made a sympathetic noise.

Dr. S laid the animal flat on the table. “While the two of you have been running around doing whatever it is you’ve been doing all day, we’ve been at the Sanctuary trying to recruit vampires to make an actual difference.”

Karen and I exchanged looks.

“Well, after your revenant friend killed it, I put this poor baby in a shoebox until we could get around to burying her properly. After a while, I noticed that I couldn’t detect any scent of decay.”

“So?” I said. “It’s only been about a day, right?” I took a moment to marvel at that realization. So much has happened since…aw, fuck, I’d forgotten about Song.

Dr. S gave me a superior look. “Decomposition begins immediately, but it’s more than that. This cat smells like nothing, not even water or air. Plus…” She picked up its tiny body then shook it. “There is no rigor mortis.”

So, it was a demon. I sucked on my front teeth, unimpressed. “Are you going somewhere with this?”

She glared at me. “I am. Everything I just told you defies scientific explanation, therefore I took it upon myself to investigate.” Dr. S plunged her fingers into a slit in the cat’s stomach then pried it open. Karen gagged as she turned away.

Even I couldn’t help but be disgusted. “Of course, ‘investigate’ to you means cut it open.”

“Such is the way of scientific discovery,” Dr. S said. “And, I’m glad I thought to do so. This animal has no organs.”

I blinked in surprise. “What do you mean?”

Dr. S turned the eviscerated cat so we could see for ourselves. “I mean what I said. This kitten has no liver, intestines, heart, lungs, anything.”

Under the white fur, there was nothing but bloodless, stringy pink flesh that went all of the way through the animal. In fact, its insides looked like gooey fruit.

“It’s a golem,” Michael said. “A flesh golem. We talked about them a bit in seminary, but I never thought I’d actually see one.”

“The point is, this animal is not natural and was manifested through magic. I took a swab of the sticky stuff that’s inside this thing, and it’s absolutely swarming with black flu. Not only that, the microbes are still very much alive.” Dr. S stared at us, as though expecting applause. “Don’t you guys understand? This disease isn’t some random mutation of nature. I’ve met your revenant face to face, and there’s no way in hell she created this thing.” Dr. S dropped the kitten back into the biohazard bag. “If you recall, she’s the one that killed it. So, what if her presence is just a coincidence?”

 “Or a warning,” I said. I knew then why Sebastian had been so smug when I’d said that revenants were the harbingers of plague. Harbinger didn’t mean the same thing as cause; it meant omen. Sometimes, a lack of education can be a huge pain in the ass.

“But the cat is dead,” Michael said. “That should stop the black flu from spreading, at least?”

Karen got up from her stool, turning on the balls of her feet. “There are more golems. Lots, lots more.” She slammed through the door, out into the hall.

All at once, I was hammered flat by the most horrible realization I’ve ever had. It was worse than waking up buried alive with a stake through my chest. It was even worse than discovering I’d been the one that killed Justine.

I started after Karen. No. No, no, no, no. Please, god, no.

I reached the hall in time to see Karen get onto the elevator. I ran after her, but the doors slid closed the second before I reached them.

In the movies, there would’ve been some sort of dial above the elevator to let me know which way it had gone. This wasn’t a movie, though; it was a waking nightmare. I had to guess which way she had fled, so I assumed the worst. I slammed through the stairwell doors then raced toward the roof, even as I prayed I was wrong.

I wasn’t wrong.

I got there in time to see Karen step onto the ledge, an eight story drop spread out below her. Framed by the sunset, her hair cascaded on the wind. She turned her head when she heard me come through the door, but pointed her finger at me in warning. “Stay back!” she screamed. “Don’t you dare come near me!”

My heart swelled, crowding out my lungs as it threatened to break my ribs. I held up my hands as though that would somehow keep her from jumping. “Karen, please. You don’t have to do this.”

“Yes, I do!” Her voice was shrill, and every sob blasted through me like a bullet. “I killed them, Toby! I killed all those people!”

“You didn’t. Karen, you didn’t kill anyone. It was—”

Karen shook her head. “What the hell was I thinking? That I could create life? All I’m good for is death.”

“That’s not true. You can help people, Karen. I’ve seen you do it.”

“You saw that cat, Toby! It was one of twelve. I made more golems every single day.”

It was like someone had poured a bucket of ice water over my head.

“Birds, puppies, mice, rabbits…they’re everywhere. They’re fucking everywhere!”

I know my face betrayed my horror as I said, “We’ll find them. We’ll…I don’t know, we’ll get the word out. Please, for the love of fucking god, come down from there.”

Karen turned toward me. “Don’t try to save me, Toby. I don’t deserve to be saved. I’m a monster.”

“You were tricked, Karen. There was no way you could have known that Khalid was infecting those golems with the black flu.”

“I should’ve known. I should’ve figured it out. Justine figured it out. Hell, she’s fighting it now!”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do know,” Karen said, her voice empty. “She showed me, back at the school. She showed me everything. You should have left me to burn!”

I closed my eyes in self-loathing. Why had I been so slow to put it together? “Fuck that. You think Justine never made mistakes? She let the man that killed her live in her spare room.”

“It’s not the same. I can’t live with this. I can’t live with their faces in my head for the rest of my life.”

I pressed my hands together. “Karen, please listen to me. No one understands the feeling you’re describing better than I do. It hurts, and it makes you sick, and it makes you want to die, but that’s not the answer.”

Karen sniffled as she wiped her cheeks, suddenly calm. “Tell my mom and my little brother that I love them. They’ll never understand, but tell them that I’m sorry.”

Before she could lean back, I yelled, “What about me, Karen? Do you have any last words for me? Or are you going to kill yourself right in front of me like I don’t fucking matter to you at all?”

Karen looked away in misery.

“Karen, I swear to god, if you jump, I’m going over the edge right after you.”

Karen was caught off guard by the sincerity in my voice. “Toby, no…”

I took a step toward the ledge. “That’s right. If you go, I go. And, I’ll make sure to land head-first so I don’t limp away from this.”

Karen looked over her shoulder, at the sea of unmoving fog far below, then back at me. “You can’t,” she said, her eyes wide.

“Why not? You can, so why can’t I? Without you, what the hell is left for me?” I took another step toward the ledge, but kept my distance so I wouldn’t spook her. “Do you want to go at the same time? Because we can.”

Karen shook her head in desperation. “No, don’t you see? If I die, that demon bitch has nothing on you. You’re free. Your curse is broken.”

I let out a short breath of contempt. In hindsight, it was all so obvious. Gwen had never meant for me to kill Justine. Karen had been her intended target all along. “I don’t care. I’m not afraid of Gwen. What can she do to me that’s worse than this? She wants me to do her dirty work for her, but she can go fuck herself. I’m not going to kill you. She can stick a stake in my chest and put back me in the ground forever. If you die, I die. That’s it.”

Karen looked as though I’d broken her heart. “That’s not fair.”

“Fair? Karen, what the fuck in life is fair? There is no such thing as fair. Ask your mom about fair. If life was fair, Justine would still be alive and Ellie would have both legs. If life was fair, your biggest problem would be what to wear to prom. You think life cares about fair? Life can eat a dick, Karen. The trick is to find people that make it suck just a little bit less. For me, that’s you. No one else.”

Tears filled Karen’s eyes again.

“You know that this was Khalid’s plan all along right?” Karen shook her head in denial. “Sure, he spoiled you with money and clothes to make you want to stay, but he was never, ever going to let you leave.”

“He said he loved me,” Karen said, her voice a strained whisper.

“I’m sure he did, which is why he killed the people he killed. Bad Karen attacking your school made it look like you did it. Ninety-nine percent of the people that have died were your friends. Your teachers. Trevor. That kid that lived behind you.”

Karen’s eyes widened. “Carly’s dead?”

Fuck. Fuck, fuckity, fuck-fuck-fuck. “Anyone that would’ve noticed you were gone had to die. The only way Khalid could keep you from leaving was to make sure you had nowhere else to go. That’s why you didn’t see this coming, Karen. You’d have to be a fucking serial-killer-psychopath to see this sort of thing coming.”

I watched as Karen accepted the truth of my words, but it was just a fresh wound, bleeding with all the rest. “I can’t live with this,” she said.

“Then neither can I. Hell, Khalid might’ve planned this from the start, but it’s my fault he pulled the trigger. If I hadn’t tracked you down, he wouldn’t have felt threatened.” I stepped onto the ledge. “Come on, we’ll go together.”

“No!” Karen lunged for me, her hand outstretched. I grabbed her by the wrist then stepped back onto the roof, dragging her with me.

Karen leaned back as she tried to pull her hand out of mine, screaming something I couldn’t understand. When she realized I wasn’t going to let her go, she pounded my chest. I wrapped her in a hug, holding her tight until she went limp.

Karen whimpered as she wrapped her arms around my neck. “You’re a real asshole, do you know that?”

I turned my face into her neck as I took great big, greedy gulps of her scent. “Yeah, I know.”

Karen pulled away, but just enough to look into my eyes. “What are we going to do?” she said, pleading.

I opened my mouth to reassure her, but nothing came to me. This problem was so huge, and so impossible, that I didn’t want to face it yet. Finally, I shrugged. “I don’t know. We’ll figure something out. I promise.”

Yeah, it was bullshit, but Karen didn’t call me on it. She put her hands on the sides of my face, and I looked into her red, swollen eyes. Her nose was pink. Her dry lips were cracked and pale. She was, hands-down, the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.

Before I could say a word or act on the crazy impulse that went through my head, I was interrupted by a deep growl. Karen and I turned toward the sound.

The hellhound stood a few feet away. Its eyes burned, its yellow teeth were bared, and its hackles stood on end. The second our eyes met, the animal lunged toward us.

I shoved Karen away as I raised my arms to grab the beast. Turns out, I wasn’t its target. The wolf leapt past me, slamming into Karen. She screamed as she wrapped her arms around it’s chest, disappearing into its thick, black fur. I could do nothing but watch as they sailed over the ledge.

<<<Chapter 37, pt 2

Chapter 39>>>