My name is Mallory Tourney. I have red hair, “iridescent” eyes, according to Mother (they’re actually the greener end of hazel), a small mouth, and a thin nose. I have a narrow chin, sharp cheekbones, and a high forehead, all made to look even fiercer than it actually is by the fact that my hair is cut incredibly short; mostly because it gets really hot where I live, and long hair is not conducive to happiness in that environment. My mother is American, and my father used to be British citizen. For reasons I cannot fathom, he switched allegiances to the States. When people complain that I “talk funny,” I refer them to this fact. I also, on occasion, refer them to a dictionary. At my school, Blackthorn, I am one of the best students, second only to Orcus Locke.
Blackthorn is located, funnily enough, in Oregon and it has got to be the loneliest place ever to exist. See, Blackthorn is located out in the middle of no-freaking-where. You could, quite literally, be ten miles away from the school, and you, firstly, wouldn’t have left school grounds, and, secondly, the nearest town would be another twenty miles away. And people always say, “Oh, that’s weird, why would your parents send you there? They must really hate you.” Firstly…they do…. Secondly: it’s a government run facility. It’s literally the United States government training young people to work for them (they use the word ‘with’, but you’d have to be exceptionally stupid to really believe that). “They wouldn’t do something like that!” people squawk in horror. Yeah, and they totally wouldn’t drop an atomic bomb on millions of civilians, or invade a nation for no reason other than plundering a country’s natural resources. Would they? I think people are so baffled by it because nobody expects something like this in Oregon of all places, but there we are. What made it even worse for me was the fact Orcus Locke was there. It was like going to hell, but worse.
It’s almost shameful how I was so aware of him. Of course it wasn’t easily helped by the fact that we had a basically identical schedule, or by the fact that he always, every day, without fail, sat behind me and whispered at the back of my head, no matter what we were supposed to be doing in class. Since Orcus was the brightest kid in school, he never failed a test or a quiz, even if he didn’t pay attention in class. He was incredibly bright, and it made all the teachers love him; he was unnaturally polite, too, and every other student thought he was a hero. And that’s the thing about being a sociopath, you can fool almost anyone.
Orcus Locke came from a very wealthy, but not very famous, family. Because his family was wealthier than almost everyone else on the planet, he had a lot of connections. Those connections landed him in Blackthorn (and I have spent my school years cursing his family name, but I don’t think curses work on Satan). He used everybody to his advantage, it didn’t matter who they were, or what position they happened to hold in society. Orcus Locke could twist them round his little finger, and achieve things nobody else could. Somehow, for some ungodly reason (probably the very same reason I frequently refer people to dictionaries) everybody loved Orcus. . . .except me.
I’d known Orcus since the third grade, and even then he was a little snake. We had never actually interacted, aside from a few of the snide remarks we threw back and forth; that didn’t last as long as I would have liked, which would have been indefinitely. No, somewhere along the way (in sixth grade) he took an interest in me, almost to the point of obsession. I realize that sounds really arrogant, but I won’t apologize, because I’m about to explain why. Personally, I would be inclined to say that his obsession was attention; since I never gave him any, he wouldn’t be satisfied until he had it. Holding attention gives you a degree of power over people, and if Orcus ever loved anything (truly), it was power. I swear, he got drunk off of his own arrogance more than he ever did real booze.
Orcus, as I remember him, was between five-eleven and six foot, and extremely handsome. He had short, neat black hair that combed handsomely. His eyes were an herbal-green, and his nose was sharp and pointed. His face was long and thin, but the bones were proportioned properly, and the result was God’s masterpiece. His lips were pale and his mouth was thin, and his teeth the most brilliant white I’ve ever seen. He had long, spidery fingers, and very pale skin, the result of spending so much time in the library. I mean, Jesus, this asshole was a thing of beauty. I would probably have been just as captivated by the charm as anyone else, except I really, really hate being second best.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not spoiled; not by any stretch of the imagination. I like to think I’m not, at least. Nor am I the “people’s champion”, or some other equally ridiculous piece of horseshit that will make you identify with my struggle. But when you have a family like mine you begin to hate everyone who is better than you, simply because they are the reason that your own relations regard you as the weak link in the chain. In my very self-aggrandizing opinion, I’m better than the whole of them combined. Even second best is considered failure; it matters not how prestigious the competition, or how many contestants, just that you are the winner.
Blackthorn, as I should probably tell you, has no more than four-hundred students at any given time, each of them working tirelessly to achieve a level of greatness that should be unattainable by any except the purest of saints – if those saints were morally corrupt teenagers. We were not taught the same subjects as every other student in the Continental United States; rather, we were taught different types of Martial Arts in P.E., computer hacking in computer apps (I mean, it was part of the program, but Christ, I hated it); code-writing and breaking in English; lots of mathy things in math (I just really hate numbers); and then, of course, we learnt six languages over the course of our school career (required); actual Anatomy, complete with dead bodies and everything; and so many other things that it was really surprising that we weren’t blowing up towns (or Senators) as a stress reliever during the summer holidays.
When I arrived at Blackthorn in the sixth grade, selected out of thirty-thousand applicants, I was hoping against hope that Orcus Locke would not be present (you had to be contacted by special men in very powerful places to even be allowed an application). My hopes were dashed when he opened the car door for me, leering like some demon from the blackest pits of Hell. I maintain to this day that he was expelled from the Seventh Circle for insubordination to his father, Satan; I have yet to be proven wrong. Sixth grade was a struggle right then and there, and seventh and eighth grade didn’t shape up to be any better. Ninth was when all hell began to break loose in our competition (on one occasion we were in the infirmary for a whole fortnight). This, around which my sob story of misfortune centers, was Senior Year, and I had hoped for at least something resembling quiet. Unfortunately, this is where my sob story becomes interesting, so this is where we truly actually start. Everything before was just me whinging. My most insincere apologies.
I had arrived at the school in the same way as usual: listening to my parents fight about which coffee chain was better (Starbucks or Dutch Bros) and trying to ignore the fact that my brother was barraging me with his utter confidence in my incapacities.
“Okay, so, just a quick question,” I said, “since, you know, you’re the smart one.”
Ben smiled. “Go for it.”
“If I killed you, and you became a ghost, but then I resuscitated you, would you still be a ghost, or would you be sucked back into your body?” It was like listening to a really bad Pearl Jam album, and then suddenly turning off the stereo with Gallic war-cries and, also, a hammer.
He stared at me for a very long moment, like he couldn’t quite comprehend what I was saying (I was threatening to kill him, just so we’re all clear). He looked up to the front seat at my parents, and I followed suit. My mother was looking at me with that tight-lipped disdain that she reserved for special occasions, like when I said something funny, when I showed up Ben, when I picked up a book, when I breathed…. My father, on the other hand, had that look that people get when they want to laugh, but they can’t, so they cry instead.
“I’ll have Dr. Wellston call you this weekend,” said Mother.
Dr. Wellston is the psychiatrist I’ve been seeing since I was thirteen and set a pond on fire (before you become too baffled, my parents had been throwing a party with a lot of people I hate, so I stole all sixty crates of booze, emptied them into the back pond, and set it on fire. It’s a thing, it’s called chemistry). I hated her, mostly because she was patronizing, nosy, invasive, insisted she was there to help, and also constantly told me that I could, in fact, trust her (she’s a doctor; don’t trust doctors) with my secrets; she was bound by law to keep them. I often replied that citizens are bound by law not to be in possession of drugs, yet cartels make a shit-ton of money trafficking the stuff.
I sighed. “Never mind,” and reached for the handle to the door. Once again, as I had been for the past six years (now seven), I was too slow, and car-door popped open, revealing an all too familiar grinning face. I felt my soul slowly dissolving with the shrieking agony of a raped monkey.
“Miss Tourney,” he said.
“Son-of-Satan!” I screamed in mock joy. “You’ve had your horns
cut off! And look, your tail’s gone! Son-of-Satan, how could you?!” Sadly, this didn't irritate him at all.
“Locke?” said Mom’s voice. “Orcus Locke?”
Orcus smiled. “Yes, ma’am,” he replied. He wasn’t too thrown by my greeting; when you’re ripping out someone’s throat every year (unfortunately, that is a metaphorical statement), you get used to the barbs they shoot at you (also metaphorical, which is also unfortunate).
“The super-smart one?” said Dad, peering over Mother’s shoulder trying to get a good image of Orcus. Any second now and my parents would be joining the fan club. I threw my dad a “please don’t” look; he just winked. I had no idea what to do with that, so I settled for getting out of the car.
You’d think they’d have noticed by now that he’d opened the car door every year, but, as much as it pains me to say it, they must be excused. Since they’re usually fighting about something ridiculous, be it the size and weight of raindrops in ratio to snowflakes (actually a thing), whether ants go forward or backward, or whether it is physically possible for a person to have eyes in the back of his head (also an actual argument), they couldn’t possibly have noticed Orcus over the past seven years. And this was the first year that Ben had ever accompanied us.
The devil-child just smiled. “Well, sir, I have had some very stiff competition.”
Mother’s eyebrows shot sky-high. “From whom?”
Orcus gestured to me. “Miss Mallory Tourney.” He managed to look politely perplexed.
My mother’s mouth dropped open unashamedly, and she turned to stare at me. My dad just looked a slightly more self-satisfied than I usually do. I felt my cheeks flush, and I heard myself mutter something about getting my trunk and suitcases out of the back of the car. To my great and utter surprise, Orcus allowed me to pass. I couldn’t stand being in the car anymore, so Orcus’ sudden decision to be a gentleman was actually greatly appreciated. I wanted to kill him.
“You seem surprised,” I heard him say.
I didn’t answer for my parents like I knew Mother would have wanted me to, but I was the tiniest bit busy planning all of their murders at the moment, so I wasn’t exactly thinking about what was going to happen and how many letters and phone-calls I would get, chastising me for “disrespectful behavior.”
“Well, we sort of are,” my brother replied snappishly. “She hasn’t got quite all the necessary wiring, if you follow my meaning.”
I could hear the grin in Orcus’ voice: “Apparently she does if she can manage to keep up with me. Forgive me, but if she’s managed to make my pace, she must be a mad genius.”
I froze half-way through dragging my trunk out of the car. Was he defending me? The logical answer was obviously ‘yes,’ but my paranoia began to read more into it than was probably there. He wanted something, I thought. He was always collecting debts on some kind of something. He probably thought that defending me against my family was something for which he would receive great thanks. He was incredibly wrong, even as grateful as I was.
Dad looked over the seats to the back of the car, his gaze alighting on me. “Is that so?” he asked. “She’s never once said so.” He furrowed his brow in confusion. I simply ducked my head.
“Yes,” said Orcus with another smile. “In my experience she is very modest.”
“Modest?” my brother snorted. “Mal isn’t modest.”
“Halt den mund, Benjamin,” I snapped, dropping my duffle bag on top of my trunk. Not the greatest comeback ever, Tourney, but it would have to do for now. But, he didn’t speak German, anyway, so it didn’t matter.
Ben looked at Orcus pointedly. “What she lacks in modesty she makes up for in temper.”
Orcus inclined his head. “And there we agree,” he complied.
I angrily swung my bags over my shoulder, and picked up my trunk. “Good-bye, children! Make good choices!” And with that I stormed away, not bothering to acknowledge the stony glares I knew were being sent through the back of my head (being related to this family is partly why I set the pond on fire).
Blackthorn is vast and sprawling. If it weren’t, there’d be a lot of student casualties, what with the noxious fumes from the boys’ dorms, and the really horrible target practice, and the occasional, random wild animal that kind of just…appeared…and so on, and so on. As I marched off in high dudgeon, I meandered down several walk-ways, crossed the center-square, down more walk-ways, and there I was, finally in front of Silent Hall. It was big, black, and looming, kind of like the square body of an overgrown Catholic priest. If I could say mine was the only building this depressing, I would. As it was, all of Blackthorn had this same, overgrown Catholic priest feel to it, like we were going to be chided and punished for something as petty as eating meat on a Friday. Then again, Blackthorn was never meant to be a home away from home; it was a training facility, not a place of comfort. I used to call it ‘prison’, but then stopped when I grew up and visited an actual prison, and realized that I’d been quite lucky. I had gotten to the door of Silent when a hand grabbed my arm. I turned to see a very disturbed-looking Orcus Locke.
“What?” I snapped.
“They’re awful,” he rejoined. “How do you live with them?”
I shrugged. “When you’re born with a certain family, you learn to hide in closets and cabinets.”
“I’ve never hidden in a cabinet.”
“You didn’t grow up with my family though, did you?” I rejoined. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, Mr. Locke – ”
“The boys and I are meeting down by the river later. Care to join us?” he asked his eyes glinting.
I stared at him a moment, and then gave him the answer which I knew would irritate him the most: “No, you daft pancake.” His hopeful eyes clouded over, and I continued, hoping to drive the point home. “If you honestly think, for even a second, Locke, that I would ever consider joining you, and of all places down by the river—”
“I apologize for asking,” he interrupted, his cloudy eyes glowing in his fury. “I had hoped we could draw a truce this year.”
My stomach twisted into knots. “Why?” I managed.
“Sometimes,” he stated cryptically, “one’s worst enemy is one’s best ally.”
I rolled my eyes and turned to walk away, but Orcus grabbed my hand. “Let go of me, Orcus,” I demanded.
“I didn’t realize your hands were so soft,” he commented. “I’m surprised.”
“Orcus Locke, release me now.”
I squeezed my eyes shut, counting ten. . . .twice. “Please.” My voice sounded strained, even to me.
“Meet us down by the river,” he whispered.
I opened my eyes and gave him a cold look. Dare I make myself uncomfortable in the short run to benefit my long run health and possibly also achieve a sense of satisfaction I'd never in my life known? Yes, I did dare.
“Never mind then,” I quipped. “I’ll just introduce you to my roommates then, shall I?” I tightened my grip and began to drag him toward the double doors. Even an arrogant prick like Orcus wouldn’t cross into that territory. It was a major no-no in school policy.
He released me immediately. “I’ll be patient, then.”
“You have fun with that,” I said.
Orcus smiled. “You’ll give in to me some day, Mallory.”
I racked my brain for a decent quip. Nothing came (per usual), so I backed away a little bit. “Don’t make this weird,” I finally bit out. It was the best I could do.
Orcus laughed, and I didn’t quite know what to make of it. I had never heard him laugh before, and it wasn’t, surprisingly, unpleasant. The way he laughed, though, told me that he was not to be trusted, not one with whom it was safe to be alone.
“I disturb a great many people,” he replied. He took my wrist and pulled me forward. “I do hope that it does not affect your sensible judgment.” Then he leaned forward and gave me a small peck on the cheek. “I will see you later, Mallory,” he called over his shoulder as he walked away. Several people stopped to stare at me, and I felt my face go bright red from embarrassment and confusion, and then white with fury as I stormed up to my dorm room, the anger rolling off me, not so much in waves as in rip tides.