“You know how you feel utterly alone, sometimes, like nobody else can ever understand why you are the way you are?”
Emmett: Emmett soars.
Above him, the sky yawns, the color of nothing. Below, the ruined city lays broken, the deathless things within reduced to specks and inaudible whispers. He likes it that way. His wings bear him higher, higher.
Soon New Orleans is so far below him as to render the ruins invisible, the destruction mundane. Up here, nobody can disturb him.
Higher, higher. He wonders if there’s such a thing as space, in the Shadowlands. Do ghosts burn in the atmosphere? Perhaps the planets, too, are hollowed-out husks of themselves, lifeless and remote in the Skinlands only to be even more dreary on the other side of the grave.
Eventually, he stops. His wings flutter and keep him airborne, but other than that, he surrounds himself with void.
He might howl, but then he’d have to hear himself.
At last, he is as a dead man ought to be.
But of course, soon he becomes bored. He conjures shapes to amuse himself, shadows and soft sound effects to accompany his low, ghostly theater.
Sandman, the dead fortune-teller called him.
And how did that old song go?
Somewhere, a sweet voice croons, almost more of its own volition rather than his.
“Mister Sandman, bring me a dream…”
What was that Caroline had said? “The sun’s been up for hours.”
His thoughts turn to Sami. His lover. His rapist. His victim.
His thoughts turn to her, and he wonders if vampires dream.
GM: The Shadowlands’ ashen skies are as gray as Em’s mood on those “worst days of my life” that he told Yvette about. The days that were just miserable and consisted of binging on Webflix, eating junk food, and lacking energy to so much as dress or shower. The days that were too miserable to even make for good stories.
That’s how gray the sky is.
Fat and miserable hail-like tears weep down over him. They’re cold. They hurt where they hit him.
It doesn’t even smell pure or fresh up here. It smells like mildew and rot. It smells like the entire world is decaying and he can’t escape it even up here. Bolts of lightning sporadically lance past in the distance. They don’t flash through the sky so much as burn through it, incinerating the clouds in their path and leaving only cheerless gray void behind.
Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream
Make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen
Give him the word that I’m not a rover
Then tell him that his lonesome nights are over
Sandman, I’m so alone
Don’t have nobody to call my own
Please turn on your magic beam
Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream
Yet as Em ponders his question, the sky shifts. The rain intensifies. Becomes sheets rather than droplets, thick enough to swim rather than fly in.
It has color, too. Muted color, not as bright as he’d expect it to be. But the coppery aroma is overpowering.
What else, he supposes, would vampires dream about?
Sami is there, too. She’s naked and lazily floating through the sanguine waters, mouth open to drink everything in her path. Half-imagined faces and images sporadically form and dissolve, but none last for long. There is only the eternal flow of blood. Sami’s face is pretty still, but her fangs are too large for her mouth, and her features have a hard and predatory cast, like a jungle cat that just happens to occupy a human body.
Emmett: This is new.
But not unwelcome. A splash of color does him good, even if it is red.
He admires her form, but they’re both dead and all the fun is taken from it. Instead, he eyes the images that form like rapids in the rivers of blood.
GM: Emmett sees a bald and ebon-skinned man whose eyes gleam like polished ivory. They suck in the light, but reflect none. All is taken by him. All is consumed. He smiles through the flowing blood, displaying two so-sharp fangs. It is a dead smile that does not reach his eyes. His distant manner reminds Emmett of a prince: authoritative, self-assured, regal. He radiates an air of nobility that feels altogether distinct from the Malveauxes or Devillers. Some part of the deceased conman wants to bow and pay obeisance.
Emmett: His better nature, perhaps, with how easily he fights it off.
He can taste Sami’s fear of the bald vampire in the tinge it adds to the coppery stench.
A useful face to scare her with. It would go well with a name, but baby steps.
GM: The next figure is beautiful. She appears in the flower of late adolescence, and has delicate features, soft sun-blonde hair that falls slightly past her shoulders, and deep brown eyes. She smiles at Em, which together with her slight build and short-feeling height, give her a harmless appearance—the sort of girl who couldn’t intimidate a grade schooler.
Until her fangs poke out, at least.
Emmett: She looks like Cécilia, but for the eyes. Maybe that accounts for the secondhand envy that turns Em’s dead stomach as he looks at her.
Sami always was a jealous creature.
Inspiration takes him. He stares at the object of Sami’s bitterness, and conjures from the blood a scene he remembers: the hallways of McGehee, but formed from blood and viscera. It isn’t perfect, of course, but it feels like the place; here a corner of the classroom where she raped him, there a stretch of cheerful lockers made macabre by their new, crimson composition. Sami finds herself walking among schoolgirls made of angular contrasts, positive and o-negative, their faces indistinct yet a patchwork of features Em vaguely recalls from those many hours of auditions. They whisper incessantly as they part before her, giggling and scheming.
At the other end of the sanguine hallway is her rival, her features alone cast in haughty, disdainful relief.
She smirks at the vampire.
Whispers something to the indistinct girl next to her.
“Look!” her sycophant titters. “Sami’s naked in school!”
And she is, isn’t she? The hallway of phantom schoolgirls bursts with laughter, fluttering and merciless.
GM: The result, given the rest of the dream’s tenor, is perhaps predictable.
Sami goes berserk.
She leaps—no, pounces—at the Celia not-quite-lookalike like a panther and tackles her to the ground. There’s not an instant of hesitation as she rips open the blonde’s throat and ravenously drinks. The girl’s shrieks gorily cut off.
Emmett: The assembled not-schoolgirls’ laughter become higher and crueler.
“Look how sharp her fangs are! What a silly, beastly whore!”
And Sami hated that word.
She had told him that, once. She’d never told anybody else.
GM: The vampire looks up from her kill with a bestial howl of rage. Another schoolgirl dies just as gorily as Sami crashes into her, madly ripping and tearing.
Emmett: He looks, and smiles.
Be fun to mess with her some more, right?
Well, too bad.
He takes his leave.
GM: I’d think long and hard there.
Are you suuure?
Emmett: Not at all. If you have something interesting in mind, I might hear you. Or you can be unreasonable and we can fight again. I like my odds, you know. Have to win sometime. And now I know it tires you out. He studies his nails. So kind of a win/win, you ask me.
GM: Ah, but here’s the thing, Em.
You’ve made me so, so, so fucking strong, with all your dumb mistakes, I can fight you all day. I’m the fattest, happiest Shadow in all the Shadowlands.
And you know what else?
Every time you bring Maman a soul like you did there? I get even stronger.
So you wanna fight me, happy to oblige.
If I lose, whatever. It’s no loss.
But I win? You’re that much closer to being mine.
Emmett: But it is a loss, isn’t it? Forever’s a long time. The more I make you pay for fun, all the better. That’s what Cici was saying back there. War of attrition.
Huh. I really am smarter when you aren’t a part of me.
You want to play with her? I’ll arm wrestle you for it.
GM: Nah, you go ahead. We can leave her.
I’ll just take over when we see your little casper pals again. See what kind of trouble I can really cause.
Or maybe something more subtle around Cécilia than cum over her face.
If you’re so sure that whole ‘war of attrition’ favors you more than me.
Emmett: He lets it pass without comment.
Except to snicker.
I got all the subtle between us, cutie.
Emmett: He leaves the dream almost without noticing that he is. Back to the storm, and the void.
He thinks for a minute. Though he can’t see it, the sun is out.
Which means every bloodsucker in the city sleeps, except the one he knows isn’t. Or maybe vamps don’t really mind staying up, after all.
And maybe the person he’s thinking of he’s figured all wrong.
But probably not.
Celia: The world does not change around him.
Perhaps he expects it to. A significant display of power should come with at least a change of scenery. A spark. An exploding star. Something, anything, that tells him he did it right. That there’s a bloodthirsty vampire in this dream with him. Everything he knows of her comes to mind: the blood at her spa, the fallen soul, the conversations they’d had about monsters.
Maybe he remembers her tapping her teeth that one time when she had tried to say it without saying it, after the night she’d called him up crying about bodies on the floor.
There is nothing.
Clouds float around him. Thick clouds that obscure the ground from his vision. Gray, dreary. He floats in one and out another. The water droplets inside the cloud freeze behind him, crimson in his wake. He can smell it: blood. It isn’t nearly as thick as Sami’s dream, just a twinge that tickles his nose, a spot of color in an otherwise achromatic land.
Perhaps he is wrong.
Perhaps Celia is no more a vampire than he.
There. Something floating in the distance. Dark as the night around it. Darker, even, a spot of black; it sucks in the light around it, a black hole that nothing can escape. It would blend into the sky if not for the fluttering at the edges of its silhouette, silver from the light of the moon. Far off stars twinkle in the night above them.
What monster dreams of starry nights?
The fluttering fabric catches his eye, beckoning him closer. A dress, a gauzy thing of tulle that dances with every movement the floating thing makes. The girl to whom it belongs is draped in the dark thing’s arms, body bowed with one arm beneath her knees and the other at her back. Her feet are bare, head bent back, throat exposed. The dress is torn across her chest.
The thing has the vague form of a man, though his figures are blurry, indistinct. The shadows shift around him. And in his arms the girl Em is looking for.
Dark curls spill across her throat, float through the air behind her as their bodies drift along an unfelt breeze. The thing is at her neck, slurping. Red stains its mouth, her body; droplets of blood fall to the earth below, freezing before they ever hit the ground.
The thing stops drinking to whisper something in her ear.
“You’re safe now, baby girl.”
Emmett: And then it’s him, carrying her.
“Hey, Cici. It’s been a minute.”
Celia: Her eyes snap open at the sound of his voice. The dark figure is gone, another dream whisked away, and in his place…
“Emmett.” His name comes out as a whisper. She lifts a hand to touch his cheek.
Emmett: “Yeah,” he says, hollowly. “Look at you, huh?”
She touches his cheek. It’s a jolt when her fingers don’t go through his flesh.
“I went to your spa, earlier. But you weren’t there.”
Celia: Her fingers slide into his hair, eyes alight. Maybe it’s the moon. Or maybe she’s genuinely thrilled to see him.
“I thought they killed you.”
Emmett: “They did,” he says. “It’s not so bad once you get used to it. But you know that, anyway.”
He’s quiet, for a minute.
“You never visited.”
Celia: “I came. In the hospital. My grandmother told me you had been arrested, but you were…” Her eyes slide down him, as if looking for his legs. “I didn’t know how to fix you.”
GM: Her grandmother told him she sentenced him to death, too.
He made his own bed. He dug his own grave. He knew full well what not to do, and still did it anyway.
Emmett: He wiggles one foot. “Dying fixes a lot of things, turns out.”
They float there, for a while. Him carrying her.
“Would you like to go somewhere else? I can redecorate.”
Celia: The world is never as nice as it is in her dreams.
“We never got to explore the upstairs.”
Years ago. The date that wasn’t a date above his favorite restaurant. The memory of absinthe and rum dance across her tongue, like the two of them had twirled around the ballroom.
Emmett: “That’s true,” he says, and he twirls her neatly to her feet. He couldn’t pull it off in real life, but this is a dream.
When she lands, twirling under his arm, they’re on the same floor they danced over so many years ago. She’s dressed in the same clothes as then, too.
He leads her in a dance across the empty ballroom, the lights of the Quarter night outside the windows.
“I missed you,” he whispers in her ear. “Even when I didn’t know I was missing you.”
Celia: It’s all the same, though somehow more surreal than it had been in the flesh, and her arm is whole; it no longer dangles, broken and bound by a splint, and the steps she takes with him are not hindered by the smarting flesh of her backside. It’s a perfect replication. Mirror image, but better.
Even knowing who he is—the word cousin echoes through her mind—doesn’t make her maintain proper decorum. She holds herself close to him as they spin across the floor.
In her dreams she isn’t a monster; his whisper sends shivers down her spine.
“This was my last happy memory,” she tells him.
Emmett: “Well, now it doesn’t have to be. I can visit you tomorrow, if you like. And the day after. We can do whatever we want, in dreamland. I think that’s sort of my specialty.”
He spins her, and is content to dance in silence for a while; or near-silence. Soft music plays, swells with their movements.
“They made you a vampire,” he says, seconds or hours later, with her arms around his neck and his chin grazing her nose. “The night everything went to shit.”
“Is it silly that I’m jealous?”
Celia: She’s quiet as they dance, her eyes on him. His legs. His face. The eyes that she had found in someone else; she’d whisked him away rather than let go again.
She doesn’t deny his claim. When she smiles she shows teeth; an echo of a long ago smile, one where she had tried to tell him despite the warning of death.
“They killed us both,” she sighs, “but you stayed dead. I don’t want you to be dead.” Her lip trembles. She looks away. “We were supposed to be friends. Partners.”
Emmett: “I stayed dead,” he agrees. “But I’m here now.” His lips graze her forehead, and his fingers run through her hair. “We can be those things now. I was actually hoping that you would still want to be.”
They’re in his apartment, suddenly, splayed out on that too-small couch, limbs tangled.
“Do you want to be friends, cousin? Something else?”
His hand traces her thigh, slides under her dress.
“We’re alone, now. Me a ghost, you a lick. Nobody to judge.”
Celia: It’s a familiar scene. His couch, close together, his hands sliding up her thigh. The material parts before him. Something tells her this is wrong—cousins— but she doesn’t think she cares. Are they really still cousins if they’re both dead? She has imagined more heinous things than sleeping with her dead (ghost?) cousin.
This is how that night should have ended. Not with blood.
She remembers the rejection. It’s an old ache inside her chest. A blame for which she’d never pointed fingers. One moment of what she’d thought was happiness and then the soul-crushing rejection that had led to her entire world crumbling around her. Does he mean it now, or is he just playing games again?
Her fingers hook through his shirt, pulling him closer. Her lips find his neck, breath cool against the shell of his ear. She whispers that she missed him, then asks him what he wants.
Emmett: “To tell you,” her cousin says, as he waves away her clothing as if dismissing smoke. “I know what you did. The night we fucked.”
She’s naked, suddenly, in his arms. Pressed against him. It’s her dream, but his movie.
“I know you did to me what you did to Maxen.”
He doesn’t, actually.
But he’s pretty sure. And her face will tell him.
Celia: This isn’t the way the night is supposed to go. She’s naked but there’s nothing intimate about it; she’s exposed, vulnerable, looking up at him with eyes widened by surprise… and hurt.
She doesn’t want this anymore. She moves to pull away, covering herself: an arm across her chest, a hand between her legs.
Emmett: He looks at her.
His face falls.
“I’m sorry. I must have been mistaken.”
The dream is still.
“I was going to say, that…”
“Well. I guess it doesn’t matter now.”
“I’m sorry I ruined your life, Celia. I ruined my own, too.”
“I’m sorry for scaring you. I thought… but it doesn’t matter. I was going to say, I’ve done bad things. Worse things, than that. And I know how much it hurts. The regret.”
“I’ll go. If you’d like.”
Go somewhere and rot, probably.
He stands, and she sees him as he is. The dead man, with the dead arm. The empty eyes. The dark wings.
“I’m sorry I… I’m sorry.”
Celia: His words keep her glued to the couch. She averts her gaze, but she doesn’t try to flee. Not like she had that night, when running made everything worse.
She listens. To his apologies, to his fragmented sentences, to the emotion beneath them.
To the boy that she raped just to prove she could.
“We were both broken,” Celia finally says to him. “You were just transparent about it, while I clung to some vague idea of pretend.”
Emmett: “But you broke because of me,” he said. “Should never have turned you down. I wanted you but didn’t want you to hate me. I should have kept you with me, that night. I’m sorry,” he says again, uselessly.
“Let me make it better.”
Celia: “You can’t put me back together, Em. Life doesn’t work that way. Once you crumple a flower it stays crumpled.”
Emmett: “But I can kiss it better.”
He reaches for her. Pulls her close, slowly.
“We can pick up the pieces.”
Celia: Flowers don’t have pieces, she almost tells him, just petals and stems and sometimes thorns, and when you pull them apart they die.
She’s wary. He’d been the catalyst before, there’s no denying the hand that he’d had in her fate. But she’d made choices, too. She can’t blame him for everything that had happened. She’s stiff, but doesn’t pull away.
“Why?” she finally asks. “Why me? Why now?”
Emmett: “Because you’re the only family I have left that wants me around,” he says, hating himself for not being able to think of a lie.
Celia: Not for her, then. For his own reasons.
No one ever wants Celia for herself.
The disappointment is clear on her face.
“Oh,” is all she says.
Emmett: “And that I trust.”
“And… might trust me.”
“And because I was telling the truth when I said I missed you, even though I couldn’t remember exactly why, beyond that you treated me like a real person when nobody else would.”
Celia: “What do you mean, you don’t remember why?”
Emmett: “I do now, but they… did things. To my head. To make me forget what we did. What I saw on the tape. What happened to you. I was a mess when I got out. I couldn’t keep what happened straight in my head.”
Celia: “They do that,” she says. They. Not we. “They’ve done it to me.”
She quits fighting against him. If he wants to pull her close again she doesn’t move to stop him, though her arms and hands remain firmly where they are against her naked body.
Emmett: “I should have known,” he says, and as he wraps an arm around her her body is draped in a blanket, protected, soft.
“You know how you feel utterly alone, sometimes, like nobody else can ever understand why you are the way you are?”
He lifts her chin to stare into her eyes. “We don’t need to feel that way anymore.”
Celia: She does know. She hates being alone. There’s no one to talk to about things, no one she can trust, no one she can turn to that won’t seek to use it against her.
She pulls the blanket tighter around her shoulders, sinking into it.
“Isolation is devastating to the human psyche.” She’d read that somewhere once, and she’s often wondered if their self-imposed isolation is what makes licks so awful to each other.
“You told me, once, that I could come back to you. But then you disappeared.” They both had.
Emmett: “Only for a time. When I could come back… well, I’m here now. And so are you.”
He squeezes her shoulder, to reassure her of his presence.
Celia: The gesture does what it’s meant to. Less wary, Celia curls against him, a position that might have become familiar had things not panned out this way.
“Are you back for good?”
Emmett: “If I have anything to say about it. I’m still pretty new to this.”
“This dream stuff, too. Can you imagine doing this all the time? We could have so much fun, and nobody would be able to touch us while we dream together.”
The couch doesn’t move, but the world around them swirls like wet paint that takes on new shapes and colors. A star-filled night on a ship manned by pirates in cute outfits, bright rags and scarves.
A castle with soaring turrets, a bayou creaking with the noises of insects.
The sun. Warmth on her skin.
He laughs, delighted. “We can go anywhere.”
Celia: The sudden appearance of the sun makes the thing within her chest snarl. Its claws scrape and grind against her insides, yowling its displeasure. She feels it rise up inside of her and pushes it back down with as much of her focus as she can spare; outwardly she doesn’t so much as flinch, though she does pull the blanket up over her head and tucks herself further into Emmett’s body. As if his slight form will shield her from the rays.
“Mermaids,” she says, “underwater.” Underwater, where the sun can only penetrate so far.
Emmett: ”Under the sea!” chirps a certain trademarked cartoon crab, and the sun’s rays are suddenly replaced by the faint feeling of water against her skin. They aren’t soaked, though, even though when she looks up she sees the titular mermaid of this particular movie zooming overhead in response to the dance number.
“Don’t tell anyone,” Em says, dead serious, “but this was always my favorite Disney movie.”
Celia: Celia’s hair can’t escape the blanket to float around her head the way it should beneath the water, but that doesn’t stop the smile that spreads across her face at the sight of the crab, mermaid, and fish swimming just in front of them. She thinks she hears them singing, but that might just be a trick.
“It had catchy songs,” Celia agrees, “though when I was a kid that scene when the witch got big always scared me. I also,” she confesses to him, leaning in to whisper in his ear, “cried when the dad lion died.”
“Do you think mermaids are real?”
Emmett: But it isn’t a trick.
Darling it’s better, down where it’s wetter, take it from meeee…
“They can be real when I’m with you,” he says.
Celia: She can make them real too, she knows. She’s thought about it. Going to the ocean and giving herself a tail.
“My dad took us all to the pool once. We played hookie. Iz and I were real young, maybe… I was six? Seven. And she and David and I pretended to be mermaids in the deep end, kicking our legs like flippers.”
“There’s a documentary about them. Mermaids, I mean. About their evolution and how they’re real. It’s not… I mean in the credits it says it’s fake, but sometimes it’s nice to pretend.”
Emmett: “Yes, it is,” he says, and they sit there watching the mermaids for a while.
“We can spend every dream like this.”
Celia: “Pretending? Or together?”
Emmett: “Both. And who’s pretending? There are mermaids there. Look, I can make them wave.”
Celia: “But they’re not real.”
“Are you real, Em, or is this one of those trauma dreams?”
Emmett: “I’m really dead, and I really miss our talks. Does it feel traumatic?”
Celia: That isn’t what she’d been referring to, but she supposes she shouldn’t admit to her (ghost?) cousin that she’s just killed a handful of people.
“It was never traumatic with you, Em. You always had a happy place in my memories. Even when things were… not good.”
Emmett: “That’s good. I always wanted you to be happy. Are you, now?”
The mermaids dance and sing as he hugs her close. They might not be real, but they might as well be.
“You can talk to them, if you want,” Em says. “We don’t just have to watch.”
Celia: Happiness. There’s a loaded question if there ever was one. She’s killed countless people. Taken a boy from his life because his eyes remind her of her dead cousin. Alienated the only lick who knew enough about her to love her anyway.
Christ, that’s the problem isn’t it. That she expects there’s anything real to be found in this society of selfish, self-serving licks who do anything and everything they can to get ahead. They laugh at her because she hasn’t been sucked into their bullshit game of fucking over everyone she can just for kicks and spends her time being adored instead.
How can she tell him that? How can she tell him that they broke her the night she died and she’s been trying to hold herself together and cover up her scars with concealer and false lashes ever since?
She extends a hand toward the mermaid, touching her fingers to her fish tail as the red head swims by.
“I have a daughter,” she says finally, as if that is an answer.
“She’s happy.” That’s what’s supposed to matter to moms, isn’t it? She wouldn’t know. Her womb is as dead as the rest of her.
“Where did you go, when you left?”
Emmett: “You mean when I died.”
The mermaid giggles at her touch and swims above them, fish-end dangling.
Celia: Maybe. She’d meant when he’d disappeared for years. She won’t admit to stalking him, though, or watching his apartment.
“Yes,” she says instead.
Emmett: “There’s a place that overlaps with the real world. It’s grayer and full of ghosts and quite boring. It’s called the Shadowlands.” He shrugs. “It’s where I live now, I guess.”
Celia: “That sounds… awful.”
Ghosts are real. Everyone says the Quarter is haunted, but somehow she’d never thought about it.
“No Heaven or Hell, then? Bible lied to us.”
Emmett: “Yeah, but you knew that already. And this place is kind of like Hell, if you squint.”
“Funny thing, though? It beats Death Row.”
Celia: “That’s… bleak.” Her grandmother had sentenced him. It weighs on her. That and being unable to visit. Barred from seeing him before they put him down. Just legless, in the hospital. Broken.
“What do you get up to over there?”
Emmett: “It’s a bleak world, Cici. And mostly, I… plan. I do things I’m not so proud of and try to get revenge on the people that did me wrong. Take care of the people I should have taken care of better. Like you, I guess, though you’ve done all right for yourself.”
He’s quiet for moment there.
“Can you help me?”
Celia: Has she? She’s glad he thinks so. She’s always hated disappointing people she cares about.
Emmett: “Your father. And my uncle.”
Celia: “Ron.” She’s never spoken about him to anyone else. Just Em. “What… what do you want me to do?”
Emmett: “Get close to him, if you can bear it. Maybe tell him you’re his daughter. He’s… he’s not a good guy, but after Jermaine, he went weird about being a dad. You might be able to get him invested in you. I have some relatives he might need to look after, some movies I might want him to publish. I might need to slide into his dreams, too. But it’d be helpful to have… somebody like you… in the Skinlands, too. Who can handle him.”
He squeezes her hand. “You don’t have to. I understand.”
Celia: “I haven’t approached him for twenty-seven years. He doesn’t know I exist.” The lie comes easily. They always do. “Do you… know the best way to bring that up around him? The best way to handle him?”
Emmett: Em considers for a moment.
“You’ll want to be patient, accommodating,” he tells her. “He has a whole procedure for testing people claiming to be his kids. He’ll have you take a swab in front of him, probably be pretty cold at first. But he’ll be grateful if you seem to understand that. He’s one jaded motherfucker, Ron. Showing him you get why is half the battle.”
Celia: “He raped my mom,” Celia says flatly. “I don’t suppose he’ll offer any sort of apology for that. She was sixteen. Sixteen.”
She exhales in a sigh, pushing the air between her lips.
“Should I go out for a movie, then, or approach him directly?”
Emmett: “Maybe he will, maybe not,” Em says. “But it’ll mean as much either way. If you don’t seem to hold it against him, he’ll be intrigued, I think. And approach him directly, for sure. Maybe say you want to collaborate. You’ve got all the social media stuff going on, right?”
Celia: “I’ve got a pretty large following,” Celia admits, “and… honestly, I love my mom, but I wouldn’t exist if not for him, so.”
“I suppose if he did want to collab he’d get a nation-wide audience instead of the locals. I’ve been putting off talking to him for years.”
Emmett: “Well, there’s another way to get his attention.”
“You can mention me.”
“I know he’s your uncle, but… what, specifically, would you want me to mention about you?”
Emmett: “That you’re how you know you’re his kid. Because we were cousins, and I told you.”
Celia: “Doesn’t he… not like you?”
Emmett: “Not at all. Which is why you can bond with him over what a piece of shit I was.”
“I would keep my name out of it at first. Use it to grab his attention if he starts trying to roll you over.”
Celia: “What’s your plan? Use him or ruin him?”
Emmett: “Use him. My grudge can wait. And anyways, he kind of had a point. I killed his son.”
Celia: “Because, Em…” She turns to him, touching a hand to his cheek. “He was nothing but a squirt of cum in my momma’s cunt. You’re my family. My friend. And if you tell me, I can help. Will help.”
Emmett: “I know, Celia.” He touches her hand. “I’m trying to play a lot of hands right now. Things are difficult.”
Celia: “Em. I’ve been in your corner. Always. You don’t have to pretend with me.”
She doesn’t tell him the worst of it: that she was head over heels for him all those years ago. That if she hadn’t found out she was his cousin everything would have been completely different.
Emmett: He sighs. “There was a dead girl in your salon. Her ghost, anyways. You make a lot of ghosts?”
Celia: His question about the girl makes her pause. She draws back into herself, removing her hand from him.
“I… do what I have to,” she hedges, unsure of what answer he’s looking for. She doesn’t quite meet his gaze. Doesn’t admit to killing her.
“I do what she tells me,” she finally says, falling back on the familiar lie.
Emmett: “So do I. I’m not pretending. There’s a deal I made. Souls for power. If you kill people, I can—”
He frowns. “She?”
Celia: “Kill people?” she asks at the same time.
Emmett: “Who’s she? You have somebody you need to listen to?”
Celia: “I…” she hesitates. “You called me a vampire, but I’m… I’m not. But… what do you mean, deal for power?”
Emmett: He frowns. “Why are you sleeping during the day?”
Celia: “Tell me about your deal,” she presses, “and I’ll tell you about… me.”
Emmett: He hesitates. “I… okay. But I’m confused.”
“I made a deal with a… thing. That eats ghosts. And living things. And if I give it enough to eat, it’ll grant me my heart’s desire.” He shrugs. “Who knows if she’s telling the truth. But it’s all I have, right now. Perks of being a family friend.”
Celia: “What’s your heart’s desire, Em?”
Emmett: “Don’t know, yet.”
“I guess I’ll think about it when I get there.”
Celia: “Because I…” she pauses, flushing. In dreams she’s as human as any breather, and the pink in her cheeks is testament to that.
He runs a thumb across her cheek. “What’s wrong?”
Celia: “I went to your grave, you know. After you died. Because I couldn’t visit you while you waited for the needle.” Her eyes are downcast, but when she looks up at him he can see the sincerity there. “I thought about… ways to help. To bring you back. To… to get you a body that you could inhabit.”
Her eyes close momentarily, a long blink or staving off her emotions. She can’t tell him what she felt for him those nights they were together. But a new body, one that isn’t bound to him in blood? That wouldn’t be unnatural.
“I didn’t know that ghosts were real.” Keep up the lie. “And everything I’d heard was fiction. Hearsay.”
GM: It wasn’t much of a grave. White concrete cross identical to thousands of others, all spaced exactly 3×9 feet away from each other. DOC number, name, birth date and death date. Even the dead inmates at Angola still wear uniforms.
‘Marble’ proved a little high an expectation too.
Celia: She doesn’t need to tell him that, though.
She had gone regardless. And left roses.
Not that it matters.
Who checks the graves of dead people, really.
“I thought, maybe… maybe your heart’s desire is to come back.”
Emmett: “I don’t know if that’s in the cards.”
Celia: Her heart sinks. Maybe it’s always been broken.
“Ghosts, though. You want me to kill people.”
Emmett: “But that doesn’t mean I can’t become something… better. Stronger.”
“Something that can be with you.”
“And…I don’t know. Not if you aren’t…Not if that’s something you aren’t doing anyways. I thought you were a vampire.”
Celia: She wants to believe him. But he’d turned her down twice now.
“D’you mean that? That you… that you want to be with me?”
“Even if we’re… y’know.”
Emmett: He answers her with a kiss.
A proper one, too. Years pass, and they pass too quickly. Her mouth tastes like smoke and absinthe. When his lips break from hers, they hover close, still, so she can feel his words on her lips as he speaks them.
“Shit, Celia. I’m dead. Who cares, anymore? I’m here. You’re here. It’s just us, in your dreams. Why can’t we do what we please?”
Celia: Oh. Oh. It’s… everything she’s been thinking about for years now. What it might have been like if he hadn’t turned her down. His tongue curled around hers, his hands on her waist, her hips, everything.
She doesn’t mean to come apart at the seams, but she does, and he’s there to keep her from drifting too far. She’s breathless by the time it’s over, pressed close against him. Cousin, but more than that, isn’t he? Hadn’t he always been? Hadn’t she always denied what she felt for him, years later, tried to ignore the pull because it wasn’t right, wasn’t proper, but they’re both dead now, what does it matter?
Celia is curled against him before it’s over, perched on his lap with her arms around his neck, and when he finally pulls away he can hear the disappointment in her sigh.
“I kill people,” she finally asks, “and this… this is…?” she trails off. How can she admit it to him, even if he’d guessed?
Emmett: “It’s okay,” he tells her, seeing how she struggles. “It’s just us, and the mermaids. Or wherever else you want to be.”
A crab skittles around them, still whistling faintly.
Celia: She doesn’t need to finish her thought. She doesn’t know what she is asking anyway. Confirmation? A promise? Why label it? A ghost and a vampire wake up in a dream.
“If every dead person becomes a ghost, then there’s two of them you can take from the Ninth Ward.” She gives him the address.
“I killed them,” she says shortly. No further clarification, no justification as to why.
Maybe that’s what she’s been looking for. Someone to whom she doesn’t need to explain her actions. Someone just as messed up as she is.
Emmett: “Okay,” he says quietly. “That’s…helpful, actually. Thanks.” He squeezes her shoulder. “So if you’re not a vampire…what happened to you, Celia?”
Celia: There’s the flaw in all the lies she’s told: he was there that night. He’d seen her disappear from the apartment. Had seen what was on the tape; had he been the one to edit it, to scrub her voice from the footage they’d given to the detective? He’d had that movie thing going, once.
Lie, a voice inside her head says. Protect what she’s built. But it’s Em. He’d always helped her, had plotted with her how to take out Maxen, had come running when she’d called that night with the monsters.
She’d already told him she’d killed two people. He hadn’t even asked why. If they’d deserved it. Volunteered to do more for him, as if knowing that he were there to collect the souls of the dead made killing them for parts worth it. Their blood will nourish her, their souls someone else.
She bites her lip. Looks away from him. She’d already lied to him. Last time she’d come clean after something like this it hadn’t ended well.
“They call them licks,” she says, as if that explains it. “Or Kindred, I guess. ‘Vampire’ is apparently offensive.” The corners of her lips curl upward in amusement.
“But even licks don’t eat souls,” Celia says after a moment, “what other sort of monster are you indebted to?”
Emmett: He sighs, and the room sighs with him. Mermaids shudder, coral shifts.
“The one I told you about, long ago. Abélia Devillers.”
Celia: “You told me she isn’t human,” Celia recalls, “but if she isn’t human and she isn’t Kindred… what else is out there?”
Emmett: Em shrugs. “We have forever to name them. I’m not too caught up in it.”
He strokes her hair. “Mermaids are a bit old, now. Do you want to be puppies? Astronauts? I could take us to the moon, if you like. Then everybody in the world would wonder why the sky was so beautiful tonight.”
Celia: Trouble, she had told him once, and it crosses her mind again now. She flushes at both word and touch.
“I would like to see the moon,” Celia says to him, “and galaxies more distant than that. Or the rings of Saturn, or Neptune’s cloudy skies. Alien landscapes. Anything that isn’t New Orleans. You can do it all, Em?”
The couch spins, hangs suspended in space, with the light of the moon turning their faces white. There’s no sun in this galaxy, but the stars more than compensate. They glitter in a matrix of nothing, a grid of jewels without flaw.
Just like her.
“All the things you can dream of,” he tells her. “Every time you fall asleep. Forever.”
The world is a blue-green ball the size of her head. In real life, she knows she could never see it turn, but in her dreams, it tilts and lists on its axis like a gentle mobile.
He’s kissing her, again, but not just on her lips. On her neck, her ear. Her thighs, her womanhood, her toes and fingers. Ten tongues press themselves to her, twenty lips send goosebumps down her flesh.
“We can do anything together. If you’ll dream with me.”
Celia: For a moment the stars are all she can see, shining brightly in the distance. They light her face, her hair, her eyes. Eyes full of wonder, adoration… and there, burning in their depths as his mouth and phantom tongues descend, desire. The answer that she gives him is wordless: a parting of lips, a soft sigh, a complete surrender. Her to him, him to her; does it matter? They’re the same. Together they can be whole.
The stars in her eyes shift until he is all she can see. Yes, of course, of course she’ll have him. She’ll dream with him every night. Forever.
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