“Have you even heard of knocking? What if I had been doing something!” I was indignant.
Scott accused me with his beady little red eyes, as if I were the one being rude. Oh, how I wanted to poke out his eyes with a fork right then and roast them over an open fire. “You? Doing something? Come on, let’s be honest. What do you really do with your time, Cheese Fry? What gloriously important project did I interrupt? Were you in the middle of solving the Hodge conjecture? Curing diabetes? You don’t do shit, and you know it!”
“I could have been masturbating— you don’t know!”
Scott’s face screwed up in disgust and he threw his head back. “Ahh! Sick! Sick, sick, sick!”
“And then you would have been scarred for the rest of your forsaken un-life! Try bleaching out that mental image! And knock next time, for the gods’ sake!”
“Sick! I’m sick! Ugh! Why?”
“Because you don’t knock, asshole. Learn to knock!”
“Oh god! Why? I don’t even remember what I came up here for, all I can think about is sick! Sick! Sick!”
“Good! Now, go away. I’m obviously busy.”
Scott was still muttering ‘sick, sick, sick, sick’ to himself like a mantra when he left my room, slamming the door shut behind him. Hopefully that would teach him.
I breathed a heavy sigh of relief, and flopped back on my bed, staring up at my burgundy canopy in thought as I absently ran my fingers over the embroidery of my coverlet. Scott didn’t need to know what I occupied my time with - no one did. It wasn’t their business. Scott was the person who was closest to me, so he was the only one I allowed to occasionally tromp over my privacy like that, but I still had my secrets. I didn’t need anyone to know what I did with my time, I didn’t want anyone to know, and that’s how it would always be.
When I could no longer hear my lanky, blood-drinking, pseudo-brother’s footsteps or chanting, I slid my arm underneath my pillow and yanked out the Bad Book, which had a small notebook of my own sticking out of its pages that I’d closed in the grimoire on in my haste to cover up what I was doing, when Scott had burst in without knocking. I enjoyed my privacy, and the fact that I had people who violated my privacy, burst into my room without knocking, and did other annoying things was a huge pet peeve of mine. Scott himself, in many ways, was a massive pet peeve of mine, most of the time. I wasn’t too worried, because the book was coded. I’d started inventing codes for it when I’d caught Erik, when I was much younger, going through my closet and giggling to himself. He hadn’t intended any harm, I recognize that now, but I was infuriated at the invasion and had blown it out of proportion. Erik didn’t pull things like that anymore. Scott, on the other hand, I didn’t have the power to stop. I could get as mad at him as I wanted, but he did what he pleased, and what pleased him most was annoying me. I annoyed him right back, so it was only fair and I deserved it, but still.
I’d memorized Sandra’s Bad Book almost in its entirety, from front to back, but when I began taking notes on the book and studying dark magic further, it occurred to me that I might have had something in common with my great-grandmother. I was the only other female scion aside from Sandra born in the last six hundred years, and beyond that we were both compulsive about our note-taking, and occasionally used a code when we wrote. I could tell just from looking at Sandra’s meticulous, small hand-writing, with all the numerous footnotes and incomprehensible scrawls in the margins that she was just like me. I didn’t like it, but she was an obsessive, studious, evil genius, and it’s no question where I got my traits from.
Memorizing the grimoire helped only when I needed a quick-recall for one of Sandra’s one-line wonders. It didn’t help me decipher any hidden messages she was likely to have left - for that, I had to look for patterns. I looked to my own notes for clues, for mirrors in my own writings. I wasn’t hoping for much, but it kept my mind busy and it was sorta fun pretending to be a cryptographer. Over time, I’d translated the one-line wonders, most of the gruesome rituals and spells, and a veritable trove of ‘Commands’ meant to be used on the dead. None of them had ever helped me with Aunt Lil, so I assumed they were useless. The book wasn’t clear on the subject of the commands, though - it seemed to require something called Voice to speak, which the book was frustratingly vague on.
I was entertaining myself by re-reading a certain passage of Sandra’s grimoire, that I had summarized a few years ago from its original Latin. It described a binding spell, and a sacrifical act done at the apex of the spell - human or animal, the text is unclear. The purpose of the ritual seemed to be a blend of summoning and evocation, which ultimately is supposed to result in the creation of a “servant.” Out of context, I’m sure a reader would get the impression that Sandra wasn’t talking about ritual sacrifice to summon a horde of deathly daisies. I didn’t have the whole passage translated, just a portion of it. It was a clusterfuck of language and symbols, not intelligible at first glance, it was the only passage in the book I had left to eck out. I was still having some trouble with it. My theory was that the passage was Sandra’s how-to guide on how to make your own personal, intelligent, zombie army. Not only that, but after having poured over it the absurd amount of times that I had, I was almost positive that Sandra has actually succeeded in doing so at one point. Yet, I didn’t know enough about her illicit activities to confirm that assumption, so I had written a note that morning in my personal notebook about it for later research. To my knowledge, none of her other writings survived, so it was impossible for me to know for certain what she did or didn’t do.
I briefly obsessed over the implication that my serial killer great-grandmother had left a massive army of the reanimated dead hidden somewhere in the world, doing gods knew what right at that moment, and that I was the only one who knew about it. I didn’t even know what I’d do with such an army, because the summoning and binding of spirits was highly illegal, as was the creation of the undead. (The news was always peppered with stories of ghouls popping up here and there; they’re typically no-mystery cases of dead people haunting their bodies because they can’t ‘move on.’ Poltergeists are what happen to spirits who haunt a place and not a body, but still can’t move on, like Aunt Lil. We’ve tried talking her into the light before, with no success. How hard can it fucking be to walk toward a goddamn light?) Scott always claims vampires aren’t ‘undead,’ even though they technically are, because of a law passed seventy years ago by the GOU that absolved them in mitius, granting them the right to citizenship, which could be annulled if they went a-drainin’ like some of them did in the old days. (Non consensi exsanguis, I think, is the legal term for that). Speaking of vampires… How would I ever explain this to Scott? Good question, me! Hello, yes, I know this looks like the zombie apocalypse, but it’s cool. This army is with me. Oh, and I know black magic. That’s how I got these zombies, see? Sandra left a book in the attic that I found when I was exploring. When I was eleven. Please don’t give me that look.
The point was moot, at least until I deciphered the whole passage. I had all the time in the world to do that.
Before leaving my room, still with a stupid giddy grin on my face, I secured Sandra’s grimoire in its safe place. “Fieri tenebra,” I whispered to the silence of the room, and watched as the lights on the wall turned themselves off in perfect unison. With an even bigger grin, I closed my door and walked out, ready to face what the world had in store for me that day.
It didn’t even register that Scott had burst into my room for a reason. I’d been too distracted. Well, of course he usually had a reason - it just was probably a stupid reason. That was my logic. Scott did annoying things to me all the time. I had gotten so used to him annoying me and doing dumb things that it didn’t even occur to me until way after the fact, that maybe there had been a legitimate reason for him to bother me. If I didn’t ever listen to a damn thing Scott said to me, it was because he never had anything important to say. Sometimes he would text me complete nonsense by accident. Who does that? He didn’t get to complain when the first and only time he ever had something actually important to tell me, I didn’t listen. This was what I tried to explain to him when he accosted me at the foot of the stairs, and began to badger me about shelves and dining sets. Or that’s at least what it sounded like he was badgering me about; I was only paying him half of my attention.
“My dear, Godfather Scotty,” I said with a saccharine smile, batting my eye lashes. “Have you ever heard the tale of ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf?’”
Scott stopped in his rampant pacing and placed himself right in front of, leveling me with a red glare. “Don’t be a nit. And don’t get cute with me! You’re only ugly when you’re cute, you know.”
I straightened my spine, crossed my arms, and did my best to look ‘confident’ in spite of the insult. “What’s all the fuss for?”
“Well I was going to tell you about it,” he sneered, “but then you filled my fragile mind with such vile, disturbing images, and it traumatized me so deeply that I can’t think of it now. Now, all I can think about is sick, sick, sick, sick, sick!”
“You mean, you forgot.”
“I was traumatized, you sick fiend! You traumatized me!”
“I traumatized nothing!” I roared, throwing my hands up in the air. “You forgot! Why do I even talk to you?”
“Why are you asking me?” He roared. “You’re the one who’s SICK in the head!”
“So, this is my warm welcome home?” a voice from behind the two of us bickering idiots intoned with a deep chuckle, causing me to shriek in surprise. Scott cocked an eyebrow at my girlish antics. I glared, slapped him on the arm, and slowly turned around to face the owner of that deep voice: my tall, agate-eyed, shiny-headed father, Marcus Colville, dressed to the nines in a three piece suit, with a black briefcase on the ground beside him. Dad had been gone for half the week. He’d flown to the branch of his law firm in Los Angeles, then spent the last day working at his office here in town. If everything went well and according to plan, he would have had just now gotten home from work after a long day of flights and paperwork. Anyone else would have suffered extreme jet lag; Daddy looked clean and crisp as ever. Nothing ruffled the feathers of Marcus Stelian Colville.
“Uh. Hello, Daddy,” I said, attempting not to sound nervous (and failing miserably, I’m sure). It’s not that my dad was intimidating. Well, he was actually an intimidating man, but not to me - to other people. To me, he was Daddy. A Dad that I actually hadn’t seen in a long while, because he’d been so busy at work and I’d been so “busy” at school (and hanging out with Vanessa and Lee) that we just hadn’t really encountered one another. That was normal, for me. Scott was usually around, so I didn’t get lonely. Dad was a little more present when I was younger, but ever since I became a teenager, he left me to my own devices. I know that he tries to make time for us, especially for Erik. I don’t judge or resent him. Sometimes I resented Mom a little bit, because I saw her even less than my father. She’s always away, or out of town, or something. It’s always something. Mother’s always busy with her projects and charities.
“Is arguing all you two ever do?” He asked us, his green eyes roving amusedly between Scott and I. Scott appeared totally unrepentant, and stared at me expectantly. I had enough decency to look a little ashamed.
“No, Dad,” I blurted, suddenly feeling defensive, “but he started it! He just barged into my room like a psycho nit, and then yelled at me when I told him off!”
Scott rolled his eyes. “Tattle-tell.”
“Mature response,” I teased. Just how old was he? Sometimes I forgot that he was Turned™ when he was twenty.
Dad chuckled, and I smiled unabashed. Nothing Scott or I ever did was really sincere. We fought all the time, and constantly told on each other. Dad was used to our incessant antics, having been at the receiving end of them for many, many years. I like to imagine that when he and Scott were in college together, they used to cut up and act out just like Scott and I now did, but I find it difficult to imagine my father ever letting down his hair. Er, so to speak. Dad’s bald. He started balding when I was thirteen, and shaved it all off immediately because he didn’t want to deal with it. He looks better bald, in my opinion, than he ever did with hair. Or maybe I’ve just grown accustomed to it.
Dad’s expression was hard to read at that moment. He looked tired, but amused at the same time. “Alright, I think that’s enough stupidity for one afternoon.”
“Sir, yes sir,” Scott barked with a salute, then vamp-sped out of the room.
Dad sighed, and I could swear I heard him mutter under his breath ‘little vamp shit.’ I refused to believe that was what I really heard. My father didn’t say things like that. It just wasn’t done. He looked at me and prophesied, quite seriously, “That man will be the death of me.”
I felt a smile come across my face against my will. “Start hanging garlic over your bed?”
“I doubt that would deter a determined vampire,” he said dubiously. “I see you’re in good form today. How has school been?”
I reported to Dad that I was excelling in all my classes, per usual, and so was Erik, according to his last report cards. I was the one who saw Erik the most, so Dad and Mom, whenever they came home from a long period away, would typically come to me and ask for a status update on the goings-on of us children. It was routine. As always, Erik and I did well in school, and as always, Father (or Mother) would give us a pat on the back. It wasn’t as fun as when we were little; I used to get rewarded for every test I aced. Then one day, after I’d aced several of my advanced placements when I was nine, the ice cream that Mom brought home for yours truly ended up being poisoned (not just food poisoning, someone literally put cyanide into the chocolate sprinkles), I woke up in the emergency room, and I haven’t been near the stuff since. I miss ice cream.
Dad nodded in response to my report on mine and my brother’s academics, and said, “Good to hear. Have there been any incidents worth noting?”
He was referring to incidents with Erik and Vlad, of which I told him there had been none that I knew of. I left out the one that had happened when Vlad had flipped out over the batteries in the TV remote for no reason and called me a witch. What Dad didn’t know wouldn’t furrow his brow none; the less Dad’s brow was furrowed, the less of a glaring disappointment I felt I looked like.
I followed him to his home office and and watched as he started transferring paperwork from his briefcase to the walnut credenza. “Yes, Friday?” He inquired over his shoulder without looking at me or pausing in his work. “Was there something else?” Yes, there was something else. Lots of somethings-elses, but only one something-else that my Dad needed to know.
“I met Lorcan Halloway in school,” I told him, “and he befriended Vanessa and I. We befriended him, I mean. I mean, there was befrien—we, we’re friends now. He’s an interesting character, the three of us have been getting along amicably. I thought that you would want to know, and I’m fully prepared to relinquish any association with him, if it is a problem for us.” The last thing the family needed were complications of the legal sort. Though I honestly couldn’t imagine how my association with Lee would complicate anything, family-wise.
Father was quiet for a moment, devoting his attention to assorting paperwork. When he finished, he sat down in his black leather chair and loosely laced his fingers together in a contemplative gesture. I’d seen him perform this gesture a hundred-thousand times. It was as much his signature as the chair he was sitting in. “The Halloways are Blackwood’s most recent additions, but they aren’t my firm’s client,” he finally said. “The Niall-Logan Corporation is our client. Our firm primarily interacts with the American counterparts of Niall-Logan’s board of directors. Lorcan’s father, Declan, appears to supervise the board from time to time. I’ve met his father all of twice. He’s asked me for a private consultation, but currently, I don’t see how your association with this boy could be an issue, unless there’s something else I need to know?” My Dad gauged me carefully while I held as still as a stump. If a stump had hair. And one black eye, one gray-green. And could breathe. Dammit, I needed to concentrate, I was putting too much thought into stumps, and they weren’t even relevant—
Then again, maybe I should tell my father some things. Maybe I should tell him about the weird vibes Vanessa and I both got off of Lee when we met him. Maybe I should tell him that there seemed to more to him th—
“Perhaps you ought to bring him by and introduce him to your mother and I.” Whenever you and mother are both home, I wanted to say, but I held my tongue. “I always enjoy meeting your friends.” By which he meant, ‘I enjoy testing your friends to see if they’re worth your time.’ I knew that, by his saying this, it meant I would have to bring Lee by for inspection soon. I didn’t argue with it, it was perfectly fair - I didn’t want an issue like Candace to happen again, though I doubted that Lee would stoop to such things considering who his family was. He had far more to lose, and less to gain by befriending me. If he passed Marcus Colville’s inspection, there might be hope . . .
I stood and straightened the hem of my shirt. “Well, he’s a character, that’s for sure. Very Irish, blond, and tall. He has a whole two rows of white teeth, and, uh, two normal looking feet. I’ve heard him say ‘craic’ and I didn’t know what it meant, still don’t know.” I shrugged. “I, uh, initially thought he was talking about drugs. But he said he wasn’t.” I was rambling. I had to stop myself before more crap spilled out of my mouth.
Dad smiled. I frowned. The phrase ‘red flag’ flew through my mind.
Rarely have I seen my parents together in the last two years, as they have been consistently busy fighting court battles and settling business deals. Mom had been in Reykjavik for most of the last month, funding Doctor Bjørnagun Kristiun’s latest biologically engineered work of art. The doctor’s work was important and he was a close friend of the family, ever since his prototype cure to lycanthropism famously saved Mom from a werewolf bite. The story was a hit in the news a few years ago because it basically marketed itself - wealthy woman of an infamous Old-Money family gets bitten by rabid werewolf, a doctor suffering from genetic lycanthropism offers his prototype miracle cure out of the goodness of his heart, she funds his research in gratitude, reputation win. Still, I resented the Icelandic werewolf a bit for keeping my mother from her family obligations. It didn’t seem to faze Dad at all (though I knew they loved each other), but I sometimes wondered how he dealt with it.
Mom arrived late in the evening four days after my Dad did, with a severe case of jet lag. In the interim, I kept away from the temptation of studying the Bad Book further, even though I felt like its mysteries were taunting me. I was preoccupied, busily stewing over my newfound fascination with Lee’s eyes, his hair, his profile, his smile, the way his expression would dramatically change when he thought I wasn’t looking . . .
I wanted to believe that Lorcan underestimated my skills of observation. I could be a very sneaky snoop, when I wanted to be. I wanted to believe he didn’t catch me staring, or hanging off of his words, or getting lost in the charming lilt of his accent. I wanted to believe that, because I needed to believe that the feelings and opinions of others didn’t matter to me. He did catch me, though - and there were a few instances where we both knew without speaking what was really going on. I would always look away, or down, or brush it off, but he knew. What was most maddening was the little knowing smirk he gave me, that little upturn of the corner of his lips that spoke volumes. He knew what I was doing, even if I didn’t know it; he knew what I was thinking, when I didn’t realize it; he knew, because somehow, impossibly, Lorcan Halloway was smarter than me.
That was a blow to my ego, I won’t lie. I wasn’t the best or greatest human being around - I was arrogant and conceited, and sometimes I would lord it over the peons around me for my own amusement. I was like the bastard kid who fried ants in the sun with a microscope to see if it really worked. I somehow always managed to justify my behavior to myself by admitting it openly, and making no apologies whatsoever whenever the subject came up, which I liked to think made me better than the average jerk. In reality, I’m not sure if the distinction matters. A self-aware jackass remains one. Around Lee, there were disturbing moments where I would feel like the ant under his eye, only unlike the ants I used to mindlessly burn out of boredom, I knew what was going on, and there was nothing I could do about it but squirm.
Despite my stupid girl-feelings on the matter, I did find myself actually liking Lee’s company. He was pleasant to be around, and Vanessa got along with him well enough after she got used to his presence. There was still something about him that unsettled me that I couldn’t put my finger on, though. I knew that whenever I talked to him, this weird feeling in my gut would surface. I hadn’t yet found a way to describe the feeling. It was uncomfortable, but not. It made me jittery. I didn’t like it at all, even though Lee, Nessa and I all got along just fine as friends.
On the day my mother arrived back in town I got my first clue. My first hint. The first legitimate evidence that my paranoia wasn’t paranoia, that I wasn’t totally insane, or just a girl with a crush. I knew instinctively that something had to be ‘up’ with Lorcan Halloway. Nothing in my life, and no one in it, could ever be simple. It’s like, a law somewhere. I’m sure of it.
Since Lee had made our duo into a trio, the fascination in our school with the new rich Irish heir had gone down considerably. It wasn’t surprising. Anyone who hung around me was clearly a nut job to be avoided. The three of us would cut it up in between classes and during lunches, talking about everything and nothing, trading witticisms . . . It passed the time. Vanessa would usually dominate the topics and Lee and I would follow along, content to bask in the chatter. Though, in-between our idle conversations, usually when Nessa was going off on some unbelievable thing she’d heard on the Internet or a fascinating historical fact she’d read about, I would stare. I would stare at our surroundings, at Vanessa, at the sky, at my fingernails, but mostly I would stare at Lee.
I never said I wasn’t a creep.
That day, when what was really going on dawned on me, Lee caught me staring. Nessa wasn’t there, so it was just the two of us - she’d gone inside to pee, and left me all alone with this dangerously pretty Irish boy. I felt betrayed, and then he caught me staring, and my heart fell into my shoes because he caught me. He caught me, and for once I didn’t look away - a stubborn part of me that I’d never felt before caught his blue, blue eyes and met them with my own dichotomous pair. His gaze was such that I felt for a frightening few seconds that he could stare into my soul, and my breath caught in my chest. I suddenly couldn’t breathe or look away, and I was trapped in his stupidly intense eyes.
Under his stare, I felt like the ground had been ripped away; my stomach did a series of flips that made my head spin, and I experienced the queer sensation of free-fall while I was standing still. In my mind’s eye, there was an image of a pit of darkness, opening up under my feet and swallowing me whole.
A few breathless seconds passed before I was finally able to breathe normally and look away, but it was not by my own volition. What I mean is, Lee had somehow held me in that too-long moment, and I was only able to look away when he released me. I watched him smirk the sort of smirk that should be illegal when it happened. It wasn’t my imagination. It was evil, I knew it was, I felt it in my bones. He smirked evilly at me, at the hold he had over me, and it hit me with a cold rush of adrenaline that he was enjoying this. He was watching me squirm, and it made him happy. I felt sick and hyper at the same time. When we broke eye contact, goosebumps raised on my arms.
Now, I know the difference between reality and delusion. So that’s why I was pretty scared by this unreal moment, and spent the rest of the day debating whether or not I was an insane, paranoid idiot, all because just before Lee allowed me to break eye contact, I had heard a voice in my head, deep and full of something I couldn’t name. It was a voice that was wasn’t a voice, not a real sound but an uncontrolled thought that spliced into my consciousness with stunning ferocity. It felt cold and strange, like snakes slithering through my brain. It said, ’I HAVE YOU.’
It had to have stemmed from Lee, nothing else made sense - it happened to me just as he smirked, and when he finally looked away, I heard the sound of my own heart beating like a war drum in my ears.
I HAVE YOU.
I saw it, I heard it, I knew, and Lee knew too - he was playing with me, toying with me, and he wanted me to know. He wanted me to play ball with him. For some reason, that notion filled me with terror. I felt like my insides had tied themselves into a knot that lodged itself my chest. I kept quiet for the rest of the day and didn’t make eye contact with anyone. Vanessa asked me once what was wrong, and I told her it was a headache. She frowned. I didn’t care.
At the end of that day, I realized some things. One was that I was really messed up, but that wasn’t exactly news. Another was that I had a serious issue with being unable to walk away - when something catches my interest, there is no force alive that can divert my attention. Lee had managed to snatch my attention like nothing since Sandra’s black magic book did, and he knew it. He knew what he had done, and it wasn’t unwitting - he was doing it on purpose, and he wanted me to know he was doing it on purpose. He was pulling me in, fascinating me, distracting me. Not only did I have a stupid, girly crush on him, but I was fascinated with the mystery he had presented me with. It was like a mind game. He had something that I didn’t know about, that no one else knew about except for me, and the only reason I knew was because I had a very one of my own. Behind his pretty eyes, lyrical accent, and white smile, Lorcan Allister Halloway had a dark secret.