The dwindling sunshine dappled through the challenger’s back window and over the black leather interior. I shifted in the backseat, growing increasingly uncomfortable by the minute. The cadence of the voices coming from the front made my skin itch. A simple conversation had escalated into an all-out war of words and although I possessed the wherewithal to realize I was invisible to the key players, I also knew that the wounds being inflicted would be slow healing.
It had started innocently enough; Sebastian tucking a strand of Genesis’ hair behind her ear while she leaned affectionately into his touch.
“I’m going to miss this,” he murmured, his eyes focused on the road as they departed the high school parking lot.
“What? Prom?” she asked with a grin, straightening the tiara on her head.
“No, this. Us.”
Genesis grimaced, twirling the engagement ring on her finger that Sebastian had given to her no more than an hour prior. “What do you mean? We have the rest of our lives—”
“But I’ve only got 7 months left with you before it all goes to shit.”
Genesis took the tiara off and set it on her lap, letting out a long sigh. “Well congratulations, Sebastian. You managed to win Prom King, propose to me, and spoil what was otherwise a great fucking night within hours of each other.”
He looked over at her, his eyes hardening. “Those fucking preg‐ nancy hormones are ripe. I’m trying to level with you here, convey how much I love spending time with you—”
“By reflecting upon our future life together as ‘shit’?”
“What would you call it?”
Genesis shifted in her seat, her body trembling with rage. But something else brimmed in those ice-blue eyes of hers, a sense of betrayal she never thought possible. “I-I’d call it an unrealized dream come true. Something unplanned, but the greatest culmination of our love thus far.” She looked down and rubbed her unnoticeable bump. “Sharing me with our unborn child doesn’t mean you’re losing me, Beast.”
She reached over to place her hand on his shoulder, but he jerked away, his jaw ticking at the attempted comforting gesture. “Spin it however you want, Gen.”
Genesis withdrew her hand as though she had been bit, her face crestfallen as she bit into her lip enough to draw blood, tears pooling in her eyes. “I’m not spinning anything. We’re having a baby, you’re going to be a father, and—”
“Quit throwing it in my goddamn face, Gen,” he roared, his voice so loud my ears started humming.
I watched as Genesis’ head snapped up, her sobs stifling to whim‐ pers. Her eyes flashed with newfound vigor and her hand came forward, the smack of her palm leaving an impressionable mark upon his cheek.
Sebastian’s teeth clenched and his knuckles turned white, his grip on the leather-bound steering wheel so tight that I could almost hear the skin of his palm rubbing away. Without another word, he revved the engine and jerked the steering wheel hard right, accelerating into the deep ditch. The car’s elongated hood sunk into the hillside before Sebastian yanked the wheel 180 degrees, causing the car to whip to the other ditch, gravel spewing in its wake.
Genesis’ bone-chilling screams tore apart the night sky as sparkling glass fell like confetti on New Year’s Eve. The sound of crunching metal played on a loop as the vehicle repeatedly flipped end over end before finally spinning to a stop in the middle of Greenwich Cemetery Road.
The sun had set, giving way to a moon that shone brightly like the promise of a new day. But the demolished car and mangled carcasses lying below were the embodiment of mayhem, a canvas of guts and gore.
I blinked and found myself back in the forest, surrounded by the scorching heat of blue flames. Sebastian’s sinister presence still lurked nearby. My eyes pinned his, nausea bubbling within me as I processed the final puzzle piece of information, my sister’s words swirling through my head.
Who said it was an accident?
“Genesis…you…” I gagged on the bile clogging my throat, my body lurching as I emptied the contents of my stomach. When the heaving subsided, I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and steeled my gaze, cognizant that the next words I spoke would be an admission of why I was being haunted-- an understanding of why Madam Lagos was killed.
Sebastian steepled his fingers, tapping them to his lips in pensive amusement as he waited for me to finish my declaration. But the words wouldn’t come from me.
No, instead, they were voiced from the lips of his undead lover, the soul he had maltreated. Her ice-blue eyes sliced to him, devastation brimming within their depths. Her words a whispered acceptance of what had occurred. “You killed me, killed us.”
Genesis stood next to me, cradling her stomach as though her unborn child still lay protectively within. Tears fell from her eyes as she bowed her head in despair, forming a sizeable puddle at her feet. “I loved you, Sebastian, and in a single, blind moment of fury, you shattered me completely, fracturing my soul and subjecting me to an afterlife of abandonment. I never would have thought you capable of doing such a thing, especially not to me. I passed from this Earth unaware that the person I trusted most with my life was the underlying cause for ending it.”
Sebastian winced as though her words had shot a bullet straight through him. His baby blues brimmed with emotion as he ran a hand through his dirty-blonde hair. When he spoke, his tone was low and filled with fervor. “Don’t you see all that I’ve done for you? I lived because of you, got up every day in this useless fucking existence just to see your goddamn face, to breathe you in. I won’t say I’m sorry because we’re both still here, Gen, still together. You, unable to leave because you chose this aloof bitch to parlay your unfinished business on, and me, because of my brother.”
My blood froze, oxygen immediately depleting from my blood‐ stream. “Abel? What does he have to do with you being here?” I asked with a choked whisper.
Sebastian threw back his head and laughed obnoxiously. I was hyper-aware that Genesis was his lone soft spot. She was the angel on his shoulder, consistently warding off monsters desperate to control him. Until it had become too much. Now, he was the beast he claimed to be, cloaked in malevolence as his blackened eyes studied me. His lips twisted into a cruel and sadistic grin. “Ah, you didn’t know.”
My insides were screaming with questions, but I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of voicing a single one. I set my jaw, transforming my face into an expressionless mask. I dug my fingernails into my fisted palms, vowing to beat the devil before me at his own fucking game. “Does it make you roll over in your grave? Seeing us together?” I taunted.
“Quite the opposite. I’m rather amused by the relationship that’s blossomed between you two. But make no mistake with where his loyalties lie.”
The way my name rolled off his lips typically made me want to fall to my knees in submission. But this time, there was an inflection in his voice that filled me with dread. As I turned to meet his gaze, his face did little to hide his guilt. I stared into those green eyes that had served as my escape, a haven of ease and solace…and suddenly felt deserted.
“Sebastian,” Abel whispered. “Why is she here? It’s against the rules.”
“Rules?” he asked with a scoff. “A bit late for that, brother. Purga‐ tory doesn’t follow restrictions established by this world…” He raised an eyebrow before continuing. “And apparently, neither do you.”
My head was spinning. Purgatory? Did he really just say that? My eyes scanned over each pair of soulless eyes that encircled us, sorrow crushing me as each apparition’s regrets engulfed me in a cyclonic cocoon of misery. I fell to my knees once more, unable to withstand the weight of their repentance. “Abel?” My voice was soft, my eyes questioning as they lifted to meet his.
Before he even spoke, I saw the duplicity on his face, felt his heart collapse like the wilted petals of a dying flower. I knew that whatever he was about to tell me would forever change the dynamic of our relationship. Until then, I had prepared myself for EVERYTHING— except his betrayal. I bit my lip, trying to hold back the tears crashing against the floodgates. “Abel,” I murmured again, trying to formulate other words.
Sebastian clapped a hand on Abel’s shoulder. “Come on, bro. You gonna tell her, or should I?”
Abel’s jaw hardened and he stepped forward, reaching for my hand. “We need to talk.”
“No shit,” I snapped, recoiling from his touch—something that previously had been so comforting and now served as an invasive reminder of the passion we’d shared. It made me want to fucking vomit—again! I was doing that a lot lately. I pushed to my feet, a haze of red cloaking my vision. “What did you do?” I asked, my voice shaky.
He pushed a hand through his hair, my eyes trying not to notice the way his biceps bulged against his t-shirt. He exhaled deeply before responding. “What I had to. When Kinsley and I arrived… they’d been dead too long.” He swallowed hard, regret etched across his features as his gaze shifted to Genesis. “I couldn’t bring you guys back.”
His eyes shifted back to mine and he licked his lips. “Coe, I told you I’d do anything for you, and I mean it, fuck, I mean it more than anything. But I made this decision before you, and despite everything, I’d make it again. He’s my brother. I’m marked because I gave parts of my soul to Emerson, but also because of what I did for Sebastian.”
I bit into my lip until I could taste the metallic sweetness of blood. I needed some sort of reminder of my vulnerability. Because right then, I felt animalistic—feral almost. Rage unlike anything I’d ever known took over and all I wanted to do was inflict pain. I wanted to rip the blindfold off that had been preventing me from truly seeing these people for who they all were—worthless pieces of shit. My feet carried me, taking over my body as they propelled me toward Abel. I pushed my palms against his chest, fire coursing through my veins. He didn’t square his shoulders but allowed himself to be shoved back a few steps. “So, what’d you do, Abel? Huh?” I pushed him again, then advanced once more as he staggered backward. “You going to fucking tell me or are you going to sit there like a pussy, spewing bullshit about how I make you feel—”
I went to shove him once more, but he grabbed both of my wrists, his green eyes boring into my skull like motherfucking lasers. His teeth were gritted. The vein running through his jaw pumped furi‐ ously. His tone was raspy and low, slithering through his words like a cobra about to strike. “I never took him to be judged. I went against everything a Reaper is supposed to fucking do and allowed him to stay here, stuck in this purgatory as we contemplated scenarios to reanimate him.”
I shook my head, my heart already fractured into pieces as I forced myself to ask the next question. “Reanimate him? He was dead, Abel! It’s not your—”
“Don’t fucking say it, Colette. I brought your sister back so don’t sit on your hypocritical throne and judge me for wanting to do the same for my brother.”
“My sister isn’t a sadistic asshole!” I yelled at him, yanking my fists free to beat furiously on his chest.
I’m not certain how long I pounded my frustrations out upon that solid wall of muscle, nor how long he endured my tantrum—seemingly immune to the physical punishment I was doling out. When I finally relented, my arms were flaccid, hanging loosely at my sides in fatigue, and I was panting, my chest rising and falling in rapid bursts. We stood nose-to-nose, shooting daggers at one another.
“Abel,” Genesis called.
We both ignored her, still amid our lovers’ quarrel, our teeth bared, our eyes deadlocked.
“Abel,” she snapped.
Like two petulant children being called in from recess, we turned to her in unison and shouted “What?”
And that’s when I finally noticed the pale blue orb that enveloped her. Genesis was bathed in its soft light, her skin almost luminescent. Slowly, her wounds healed, and her scars faded, revealing her true appearance before death. She was breathtakingly beautiful, her long brown hair shiny and flowing in soft curls to her waist, her ice-blue eyes sparkling with life.
“My wait is over. It’s time to go,” she said, her voice choking back sobs of happiness. The brightest smile I’d ever seen spread across her flawless features and for the first time since she’d appeared to me outside the cemetery’s gates, she looked at peace.
The fury within Abel faltered instantly at her words, the resolve in her voice causing him to grimace as he processed her message. “How?”
“Oh, you missed that part, brother,” Sebastian said haughtily. “Allow me to explain. Your sweet Colette here has finally connected the dots. I’m surprised really, given her naivety, but truth eventually comes to all who seek it. And thus, the shackles binding Genesis to this realm have been broken and her burden absolved. Or to put it in simpler terms: the accident that took our lives was no accident at all. It was spurred by a selfish desire to keep what was mine. I’m a lot like you in that regard—I don’t share.”
Abel pulled at his hair in frustration, his teeth gritted. “What the fuck are you saying, Beast?”
“Sometimes, the evil that festers within us is too much to defeat and we succumb to the madness.” His hooded eyes fell upon Genesis and he reached for her hand. He clutched it possessively with his own, then cradled it against his cheek. Genesis flinched at the intimate gesture, her face twisting into a scowl. “My actions may feel like a betrayal to you and our unborn son, my love, but one promise I’ll always fulfill.”
“Your promises mean shit to me now, Sebastian. You can rot here for all the fucks I don’t give. My task has been completed. The truth of our deaths will circulate thanks to her,” Genesis nodded emphatically at me, “and people will forget about you, Beast. Your grave will become desolate and overgrown, devoid of mourners, and you’ll be stuck here—alone—to wallow in self-pity.”
Genesis yanked her hand free from Sebastian’s grip, then slipped her hand into Abel’s. She looked up at him, her eyes glistening with tears. “I’m ready. You lead the way.”
Abel’s palm flooded with white light and he flicked the end of her nose in a brotherly gesture. “I’ll miss you, Gen.”
I saw the corner of Sebastian’s lips twitch once; the only tell he gave.
“I’ll follow…wherever you go,” he called out as they started retreating.
Abel’s eyes snapped to me, his eyes almost black with realized intent. I saw his mouth open and could read my name on his lips, but my ears never registered the sound.
Overhead, a black crow circled, his cawing also muted.
A buzzing like waning fluorescent lights echoed in my head.
I felt the prickly sensation of ice splintering across my chest and watched a flurry of goosebumps spread over my skin. My eyes widened as I saw Sebastian’s meaty palm grip my shoulder.
Then, I felt nothing but weakness as the magnitude of an invisible oppressive force hammered my body into submission and I surrendered to darkness.