My eyes sting with imminent tears and a headache throbs behind my brow as I scan the open textbook’s page before me. The stress from studying Latin is as unchanged as the language itself, despite the semesters I’ve spent neck-deep in Wheelock. Latin isn’t even a requirement for my Art History degree. Instead, I’d gotten strong-armed into it by my friend, Jackie. As much as I love her, I still want to wring her neck for it sometimes. I’m only in the class because it’s a requirement for her Classical Studies degree, and she’d said she couldn’t do it alone. After weeks of her wheedling, I finally gave in.
I let out a sigh and return to the vocab I’d copied into my notebook, looking between them and my practice test to make sure I’d gotten my translations correct. I’m a copious note-taker, writing down everything I can and even color-coding. Even that hasn’t made Latin any easier, though. I’ve been wanting to drop the class, but since Jackie and I have been sitting together since last year, there’s no way I could get out without her knowing.
“Kay, Clara, you can do this,” I mutter under my breath. “Let’s do this thing. It’s just a paragraph. You can do it.”
Each test has a short story written by the professor, which even now I can only half-understand. My translations must look like absolute garbage. Honestly, I don’t even know how I made it into Second-Year Latin.
Oh wait, yeah I do. Copious amounts of caffeine and tears.
I close my eyes, take a breath, and start.
“Vócō tē. Vene ad mē, o spiritus—”
The smell of smoke catches my attention. Frowning, I glance over toward the smell and let out a sharp, high-pitched yelp. A small fire crackles as it consumes the stack of books on my desk. Leaping out of my chair in a panic, I snatch one of the throw blankets off my bed and swat at the fire until I’m sure it’s been extinguished. I’d probably never get the security deposit back if I burned down the apartment. Sighing in relief, I sink back into my chair.
That was fucking weird, I think to myself. Even weirder, I notice a few seconds later, my books look untouched, intact, as if they hadn’t just been in the throes of spontaneous combustion.
I know I should be freaked out and questioning my sanity, but I just don’t have it in me. I’m exhausted, it’s the crack of midnight, and my test is tomorrow. I have far too much to worry about. Instead, I decide to stick a pin in that and come back to it later.
“Vócō tē. Vene ad mē, o spiritus—” I say, starting over.
A new smell overtakes me—one like burnt hair and rotten eggs that has me gagging. Once again I shoot up out of my chair, this time yanking open the window next to my bed. Unlike most windows, these open from the top. I pull it down as far as it goes and a fresh breeze blows into my tiny bedroom. To my mounting frustration, it’s not enough to dissipate the rotten-egg-stink.
I storm into the hall and glance around. Even though my roommate, Mickie, is out with her new guy, I still feel compelled to investigate. Where else could the smell be coming from? It sure as hell isn’t coming from me.
“Mickie? You home?” I call, fighting to keep the tremor from my voice. There’s no response, just the soft chatter of my neighbors in the hall and a burst of laughter. We’re all college students in this building.
I’m not sure if I’m relieved by this or not, but at least I’ve scratched that itch. I stand a little straighter as I gaze down the empty hallway, hoping I look more confident—and brave—than I feel.
The hall light flickers above me. My eyes dart wildly around. I know I haven’t touched the switch—I’ve barely left my room all day, so there’s been no need. As if on cue, the light blazes and I throw my arm up to shield my eyes before the bulb bursts. The hall is doused in shadow. Screaming, I dart back into the room and slam the door behind me. The lock turns with a satisfying click.
I find myself wishing the building was older—at least then I could explain away the impromptu lightshow by chalking it up to age.
A chill trickles down my back. Chest heaving, I force myself back into my chair, force my attention back to the task at hand. Despite this, it’s impossible to ignore the feeling of being watched. The air presses in around me, like a million eyes are on me, waiting for my next move.
“Everyone’s gone,” I say to myself. “Tasha and Mickie are out, and Len moved into a new place last week. You’re alone.”
I’d hoped hearing my voice—well, any sound—would put myself at ease, but it hasn’t. It’s only served to remind myself that I’m alone in an empty apartment with strange smells and faulty wiring that can’t be explained by a shitty landlord.
I shudder. Maybe I should call my parents and tell them I love them, just in case I’ve accidentally stumbled into a horror movie.
Where’s the Warrens when you need them? I think miserably.
Something brushes against my arm, trailing goosebumps along my skin. I jump, yelping, and snatch my Mr. Rogers figurine off the desk. My cheeks burn with the humiliation of wielding it like a weapon—I must look like an ass. It’s probably not very neighborly of me, but what choice do I have? The baseball bat’s on the other side of the apartment, next to the front door.
The air in my room shifts. I swear the—well, whatever it is—is laughing at me as it seems to recede. I slowly set the figurine back down and utter a silent apology to Mr. Rogers before turning back to my homework. Once I’m sure there won’t be any more interruptions, I pick up the practice quiz and start again.
“Vócō tē. Vene ad mē, o spiritus…”
I only get about another hour of review in before I decide to call it a night. The pull of sleep weighs heavily on my eyelids, and I don’t bother to fight against it, nor do I try to suppress a yawn as I push away from my desk. I flip the lights off and stumble back to my bed, flopping unceremoniously down on it. With a smile I snuggle down under the comforter. It’s not long before I’m starting to doze off. All I’ve wanted to do since coming home from class this afternoon is sleep.
Maybe it’s the stress. Maybe it’s the exhaustion. Hell, maybe it’s both. But I swear to Dolly Parton that I feel something sliding along the bed behind me. It’s like rough scales, sandpaper against my skin with only the thin cotton of my Ghostbusters t-shirt as a barrier.
My eyes shoot open. I gasp softly, going completely rigid when the body behind me starts to vibrate with deep, rumbling laughter. Long fingers tipped with what I can only assume are claws run up my thigh. I press my legs tightly together when the fingers trail along the lining of my panties.
“Did you forget about me, Little One?” the voice, deep and velvety-soft yet with a rough edge, purrs in my ear. His hot breath against my skin draws out a shiver from me.
This isn’t happening, I think frantically. This isn’t real!
He draws his hand up to cup my breast. “It’s real. Very, very real.” I hear the fanged grin in his voice.
A shuddering breath escapes me, and I try to gather my thoughts despite my bedmate’s not-unpleasant administrations. I summoned a demon. He’s in my bed. And he’s doing…VERY nice things with his hand.
I wake up the next morning with a start. I reach out to grope along the other side of the bed and, finding it empty, I let out a relieved sigh.
“All just a dream,” I murmur to myself. I’m never eating an entire pizza before bed again.
My ears perk up at the sound of voices coming from the kitchen. One is undeniably Mickie; the other is deeper, with a rougher edge to it. A guy’s voice. They must’ve had a really good night last night. Mickie giggles at something he says.
I swing my legs over the side of the bed and grab my hoodie from off the back of my desk chair. The morning chill permeates my room, leaving goosebumps along my skin. I shiver and blow out a breath, rubbing my hands together.
Mickie is in the kitchen with a steaming mug of coffee in her hands. A smile stretches across her face and she’s batting her eyelashes at a man who is very much not her boyfriend. The stranger is tall and fit, with dark hair and even darker eyes. His lips are sultry and far too kissable. As my eyes rove down his shirtless torso, the words cum-gutters come to mind. For a moment I’m tempted to run my fingers through the dark hair on his chest.
No! Bad Clara!
The man turns to face me as if I’d called out his name, which I don’t even know, though I’m assuming the DM stitched in black on his red silk boxers must be his initials. He levels a devastatingly handsome smile in my direction. I swear my soul leaves my body for a second.
“Morning, Clara,” he says. I frown. It’s far too early for this weirdness
“I—who are you?” I mumble, rubbing a hand down my face.
“Dante?” As if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. I shake my head, still not understanding. “Your Latin tutor?”
I blink in surprise, mouth opening and closing like a goldfish. I’ve never had a Latin tutor.
Mickie snorts. “Veni vidi vici, indeed,” she jokes into her coffee.
I bury my face in my palms. “No, no, it’s not like that,” I groan, but it’s no use. I’m not stupid—I know exactly how this looks. I look up, back into Dante’s handsome face. He’s still smiling. “Get out.”
Dante has the nerve to look offended. “Clara! Don’t you remember? You invited me!”